Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos excitedly greeted Pope Francis as he arrived on the second leg of his Apostolic Trip to Asia. The Holy Father's plane landed in Manila's Villamor Air Base at 6:35 p.m.local time after a six plus-hour flight from Colombo International Airport.
Before departing Sri Lanka, the Pope sent a message to President Maithrapala Sirisena, thanking him and the people of the country for their welcome.
"As I depart from Sri Lanka, I extend to you, the government and your fellow citizens my heartfelt gratitude for your warm welcome and every kindness shown to me during my visit," he wrote. "I renew to your Excellency and the entire country the assurance of my prayers for peace, unity and prosperity."
After celebrating a private Mass this morning at the Apostolic Nunciature in Colombo, the Holy Father made his way to the airport. However, he made a quick stop at a Chapel dedicated to "Our Lady of Lanka," at the Benedict XVI Cultural Institute.
According to the Holy See Press Office, the Pope was received by 10 Jesuit priests at the institute and remained for a few minutes in silent prayer. Also present were local fisherman, many of whom helped in the building of the Center.
Arrival in Manila
Music, dancing and cheers from thousands of people welcomed the Holy Father as his plane reached the tarmac of Manila's air base. The Holy Father was greeted by President Benigno Aquino III as well as bishops and prelates of the country, including Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila.
The Holy Father waved to the excited crowd, which included hundreds of youth performing a choreographed dance in the Pope's honor. After a few brief moments in the airport, the 78-year-old Pontiff made his way to the Popemobile.
Thousands of Filipinos lined the streets and waved banners in what seemed an endless throng of people leading up the nine kilometer (five and a half mile) stretch that lead to the Apostolic Nunciature of Manila. The Holy Father will conclude his day with a private dinner at the Nunciature.
Tomorrow morning, Pope Francis will travel to the Presidential Palace in Manila for an official welcoming ceremony, followed by a private meeting with the President and a meeting with government authorities and the diplomatic corps.
Pope Francis today pointed to three lessons to be taken from the Church's newest canonized saint, Joseph Vaz, a missionary to Sri Lanka, and the island nation's first canonized saint.
The Pope spoke of St. Joseph Vaz during a Mass for canonization that he celebrated this morning (local time) in Colombo.
He spoke of the life of the saint (1651-1711), a priest of the Oratory in his native Goa, who because of religious persecution, "dressed as a beggar, performing his priestly duties in secret meetings of the faithful, often at night. His efforts provided spiritual and moral strength to the beleaguered Catholic population.”
The Pontiff noted particularly the saint’s desire to minister to the sick and to serve the suffering.
He then went on to speak of three reasons that the saint is an “example and a teacher.”
“First, he was an exemplary priest,” the Pope said. “[...] He teaches us how to go out to the peripheries, to make Jesus Christ everywhere known and loved. He is also an example of patient suffering in the cause of the Gospel, an example of obedience to our superiors, an example of loving care for the Church of God.”
The Holy Father said St. Joseph lived, as we do, in a “period of rapid and profound transformation; Catholics were a minority, and often divided within; there was occasional hostility, even persecution, from without. And yet, because he was constantly united with the crucified Lord in prayer, he could become for all people a living icon of God’s mercy and reconciling love.”
The second lesson the Pope drew from St. Joseph applies directly to the Sri Lankan society, on a path of reconciliation after decades of civil war.
The Church on the island, while a small minority, has a unique role to play given that both Sinhalese and Tamils form part of the Catholic community.
“Saint Joseph shows us the importance of transcending religious divisions in the service of peace,” the Pope said. “His undivided love for God opened him to love for his neighbour; he ministered to those in need, whoever and wherever they were.”
Francis said that the Church in Sri Lanka today is following the saint's example, making “no distinction of race, creed, tribe, status or religion in the service she provides through her schools, hospitals, clinics, and many other charitable works.”
“All she asks in return is the freedom to carry out this mission,” he stated. “Religious freedom is a fundamental human right. Each individual must be free, alone or in association with others, to seek the truth, and to openly express his or her religious convictions, free from intimidation and external compulsion.
“As the life of Saint Joseph Vaz teaches us, genuine worship of God bears fruit not in discrimination, hatred and violence, but in respect for the sacredness of life, respect for the dignity and freedom of others, and loving commitment to the welfare of all.”
Reverence for others
Thirdly, the Pope spoke of St. Joseph Vaz as a zealous missionary, characterized by his respect for others.
“Saint Joseph knew how to offer the truth and the beauty of the Gospel in a multi-religious context, with respect, dedication, perseverance and humility,” he said. “This is also the way for the followers of Jesus today. We are called to go forth with the same zeal, the same courage, of Saint Joseph, but also with his sensitivity, his reverence for others, his desire to share with them that word of grace (cf. Acts 20:32) which has the power to build them up. We are called to be missionary disciples.”
The Pope concluded by expressing a prayer that the Christians of Sri Lanka might be “confirmed in faith and make an ever greater contribution to peace, justice and reconciliation in Sri Lankan society."
"This is what Christ asks of you," he said. "This is what Saint Joseph teaches you. This is what the Church needs of you.”
In an interview with Vatican journalists Andrea Tornielli and Giacomo Galeazzi, Pope Francis said that concern for the poor is in the Gospel, and not an invention of communism.
Excerpts from the interview were released by the Italian newspaper, La Stampa, and is part of a new book titled “Papa Francesco - Questa Economia Uccide” (Pope Francis - This Economy Kills).
The book, which profiles the social teaching of the Church “under the direction of Pope Francis”, was released today in Italian.
Among the issues discussed by the Holy Father was the current state of capitalism and globalization. While saying that globalization has helped many out of poverty, the Pope noted that inequalities have arisen.
“When money, instead of man, is at the center of the system, when money becomes an idol, men and women are reduced to simple instruments of a social and economic system, which is characterized, better yet dominated, by profound inequalities,” he said.
“So we discard whatever is not useful to this logic; it is this attitude that discards children and older people, and is now affecting the young.”
The Holy Father echoed his thoughts on youth unemployment, which he said is a consequence of “a culture of waste”. It is that same culture, he said, that “leads people to discard babies through abortion.”
“I am shocked by the low birth rates here in Italy; this is how we lose our link to the future,” he said. “The culture of waste also leads to a hidden euthanasia of older people, who are abandoned.”
The Pope went on to call for a society and an economy where “man and woman are at the center, instead of money.”
The Gospel, the Economy and the Poor
Pope Francis also stressed the need for an ethical approach to the economy and politics. Various leaders and heads of State who have visited him, he said, have called for religious leaders to help give them “ethical indications.”
Recalling Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate, the Pope said that the world is in need of “men and women with their arms raised in prayer to God” that “engender genuine development.”
“At the same time I am convinced that we need these men and women to commit themselves on every level, in society, politics, institutions and the economy, to work for the common good,” he said. “We cannot wait any longer to deal with the structural causes of poverty, in order to heal our society from an illness that can only lead to new crises.”
He also highlighted the Church’s tradition of concern for the poor, saying that it stems from the Gospel and the first centuries of Christianity. However, he said that today many misinterpret that same teaching.
“If I repeated some passages from the homilies of the Church Fathers, in the second or third century, about how we must treat the poor, some would accuse me of giving a Marxist homily,” he lamented.
Citing the teachings of St. Ambrose, St. John Chrysostom and Blessed Paul VI, the Pope said that the sharing of goods and care for the needy is rooted in the Gospel.
“As we can see, this concern for the poor is in the Gospel, it is within the tradition of the Church, it is not an invention of communism and it must not be turned into an ideology, as has sometimes happened before in the course of history,” he said.
The Church, when it invites us to overcome what I have called ‘the globalization of indifference’, is free from any political interest and any ideology.
In his homily at Casa Santa Marta this morning, Pope Francis said that true peace and freedom can only be found through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Father reflected on the Gospel of St. Mark, which recalled the Apostles being frightened upon seeing Jesus walking on water. The Holy Father said that despite seeing the miracles done by Christ, the Apostles were in fear because “their hearts were hardened.”
Among the reasons why one would have a “heart of stone,” the Pope said that it can easily happen to someone who has gone through a “painful experience.” The Apostle Thomas, who refused to believe in the Resurrection, was just such an example.
Another reason the Holy Father cited is to be closed in on one’s self. “To make a world in one’s self, closed. In himself, in his community or in his parish, but always closed,” he said.
“And being closed can turn into so many things: pride, sufficiency, to think myself better than others, also vanity, no? There are mirror-men and women, who are closed in on themselves and constantly looking at themselves. These religious narcissists, no? But, they have a hard heart, because they are closed, they are not open. And they look to defend themselves with these walls that they have around them.”
Pope Francis continued his homily explaining another reason for a hardened heart: that of “barricading” one’s self behind the letter of the law. The irony of this, he continued, is that those who seek security within the law end up becoming like a “man or a woman in the cell of a prison behind bars: a security without freedom.”
“The heart, when it is hardened, is not free and if it is not free it is because it does not love: that was how the Apostle John’s First Letter concluded. Perfect love chases away fear. In love there is no fear because fear presumes a punishment and he who fears is not perfect in love. He is not free,” the Pope said.
Concluding his homily, Pope Francis said that the only one who can "teach love and free mankind from this hardened heart is the Holy Spirit.”
“You can do thousands of courses of catechesis, thousands of spiritual courses, thousands of yoga courses, zen and all those things. But all of that will never be capable of giving you the freedom of a son,” he said.
“It is only the Holy Spirit that can move your heart to say ‘Father.'"
“We are not often orphans … We are children,” Pope Francis exclaimed, reminding the faithful we have a mother in Mary, in the Church, and our own human mother.
The Holy Father made this powerful statement during today’s weekly general audience given in the Paul VI Audience Hall, just one day after the Epiphany.
Continuing his catechesis on the family, reflecting specifically on mothers, the Pope urged Christians to realize the essential role of mothers and to appreciate them properly.
“Without mothers, not only would there not be new believers, but the faith would lose a good part of its simple and profound warmness.”
Motherhood is more than childbearing, the Pope underscored, saying it is "a life choice" and a "giving of life," entailing three elements: sacrifice, respect for life, and passing on those human and religious values essential for a healthy society.
“Mothers are an antidote to the spread of a certain self-centeredness, a decline in openness, generosity and concern for others,” the Pope stressed.
The Argentine Pontiff lamented how mothers are often taken advantage of as they sacrifice themselves, even in Christian communities, and reminded the pilgrims how at the center of the life of the Church is the Mother of Jesus.
Francis recalled that Archbishop Oscar Romero spoke of a “martyrdom of mothers,” stating that: “Giving life does not only mean to be killed; giving life, to have the spirit of martyrdom, is to give in duty, in silence, in prayer, in the silence of daily life … giving life gradually.”
The Pope reflected that this is exactly what mothers do, as well as calling on the faithful to understand more their daily struggles in raising a loving family.
In the first prayers and religious gestures that children learn, even before they know the explanations, “mothers transmit the most profound sense of religious practice,” the Pope said.
Not only is the "seed of faith" planted and begins growing in these first, very precious moments, but mothers also, the Pope said, inscribe in children the value of faith.
To the mothers present and to all around the world, Francis thanked them for all they do for their families, the Church and the world.
Concluding his address, Pope Francis called for applause for all mothers.
Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Pope Francis gave this morning at Mass for the feast of the Epiphany in St. Peter's Square.
* * *
That child, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, came not only for the people of Israel, represented by the shepherds of Bethlehem, but also for all humanity, represented today by the wise men from the East. It is on the Magi and their journey in search of the Messiah that the Church today invites us to meditate and to pray.
These wise men from the East were the first in that great procession of which the prophet Isaiah spoke in today’s first reading (cf. 60:1-6): a procession which from that time on has continued uninterrupted; in every age it hears the message of the star and finds the Child who reveals the tenderness of God. New persons are always being enlightened by that star; they find the way and come into his presence.
According to tradition, the wise men were sages, watchers of the constellations, observers of the heavens, in a cultural and religious context which saw the stars as having significance and power over human affairs. The wise men represent men and women who seek God in the world’s religions and philosophies: an unending quest.
The wise men point out to us the path of our journey through life. They sought the true Light. As a liturgical hymn of Epiphany which speaks of their experience puts it: “Lumen requirunt lumine”; by following a light, they sought the light. They set out in search of God. Having seen the sign of the star, they grasped its message and set off on a long journey.
It is the Holy Spirit who called them and prompted them to set out; during their journey they were also to have a personal encounter with the true God.
Along the way, the wise men encountered many difficulties. Once they reached Jerusalem, they went to the palace of the king, for they thought it obvious that the new king would be born in the royal palace. There they lost sight of the star and met with a temptation, placed there by the devil: it was the deception of Herod. King Herod was interested in the child, not to worship him but to eliminate him. Herod is the powerful man who sees others only as rivals. Deep down, he also considers God a rival, indeed the most dangerous rival of all. In Herod’s palace the wise men experience a moment of obscurity, of desolation, which they manage to overcome thanks to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, who speaks through the prophecies of sacred Scripture. These indicate that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David.
At that point they resume their journey, and once more they see the star; the evangelist says that they “rejoiced exceedingly” (Mt 2:10). Coming to Bethlehem, they found “the child with Mary his mother” (Mt 2:11). After that of Jerusalem, this was their second great temptation: to reject this smallness. But instead, “they fell down and worshiped him”, offering him their precious symbolic gifts. Again, it is the grace of the Holy Spirit which assists them. That grace, which through the star had called them and led them along the way, now lets them enter into the mystery. Led by the Spirit, they come to realize that God’s criteria are quite different from those of men, that God does not manifest himself in the power of this world, but speaks to us in the humbleness of his love. The wise men are thus models of conversion to the true faith, since they believed more in the goodness of God than in the apparent splendour of power.
And so we can ask ourselves: what is the mystery in which God is hidden? Where can I find him? All around us we see wars, the exploitation of children, torture, trafficking in arms, trafficking in persons… In all these realities, in these, the least of our brothers and sisters who are enduring these difficult situations, there is Jesus (cf. Mt 25:40,45). The crib points us to a different path from the one cherished by the thinking of this world: it is the path of God’s self-abasement, his glory concealed in the manger of Bethlehem, on the cross upon Calvary, in each of our suffering brothers and sisters.
The wise men entered into the mystery. They passed from human calculations to the mystery: this was their conversion. And our own? Let us ask the Lord to let us undergo that same journey of conversion experienced by the wise men. Let us ask him to protect us and to set us free from the temptations which hide the star. To let us always feel the troubling question: “Where is the star?”, whenever – amid the deceptions of this world – we lose sight of it. To let us know ever anew God’s mystery, and not to be scandalized by the “sign” which points to “a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12), and to have the humility to ask the Mother, our Mother, to show him to us. To find the courage to be liberated from our illusions, our presumptions, our “lights”, and to seek this courage in the humility of faith and in this way to encounter the Light, Lumen, like the holy wise men. Amen.
This is a modest effort at a "blog" my attempt to offer some brief reflections each day that come from various sources that I find interesting - primarily the daily reflections of Pope Francis as found on Zenit and Rome Reports. Fr. John