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My People

Vol. 30, Issue 2, February 2017

"If my people, who are called by My name, humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and revive their land." — 2 Chronicles 7:14


"... When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: 'Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we're free at last.' "

- Rev. M.L. King, Jr.

Nonviolence Is Key To Building Peace

Nonviolence was the focus of Pope Francis' message for the World Day of Peace on January 1. Pope Francis message for the Day, dated December 8, 2016, follows:

"1. At the beginning of this New Year, I offer heartfelt wishes of peace to the world's peoples and nations, to heads of state and government, and to religious, civic, and community leaders. I wish peace to every man, woman, and child, and I pray that the image and likeness of God in each person will enable us to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity. Especially in situations of conflict, let us respect this, our 'deepest dignity,'[1] and make active nonviolence our way of life.

"This is the fiftieth Message for the World Day of Peace. In the first, Blessed Pope Paul VI addressed all peoples, not simply Catholics, with utter clarity. 'Peace is the only true direction of human progress - and not the tensions caused by ambitious nationalisms, nor conquests by violence, nor repressions which serve as mainstay for a false civil order.' He warned of 'the danger of believing that international controversies cannot be resolved by the ways of reason, that is, by negotiations founded on law, justice, and equity, but only by means of deterrent and murderous forces.' Instead, citing the encyclical Pacem in Terris of his predecessor Saint John XXIII, he extolled 'the sense and love of peace founded upon truth, justice, freedom, and love.'[2] In the intervening fifty years, these words have lost none of their significance or urgency.

"On this occasion, I would like to reflect on nonviolence as a style of politics for peace. I ask God to help all of us to cultivate nonviolence in our most personal thoughts and values. May charity and nonviolence govern how we treat each other as individuals, within society and in international life. When victims of violence are able to resist the temptation to retaliate, they become the most credible promotors of nonviolent peacemaking. In the most local and ordinary situations and in the international order, may nonviolence become the hallmark of our decisions, our relationships, and our actions, and indeed of political life in all its forms.

A broken world

"2. While the last century knew the devastation of two deadly World Wars, the threat of nuclear war and a great number of other conflicts, today, sadly, we find ourselves engaged in a horrifying world war fought piecemeal. It is not easy to know if our world is presently more or less violent than in the past, or to know whether modern means of communications and greater mobility have made us more aware of violence, or, on the other hand, increasingly inured to it.

"In any case, we know that this 'piecemeal' violence, of different kinds and levels, causes great suffering: wars in different countries and continents; terrorism, organized crime, and unforeseen acts of violence; the abuses suffered by migrants and victims of human trafficking; and the devastation of the environment. Where does this lead? Can violence achieve any goal of lasting value? Or does it merely lead to retaliation and a cycle of deadly conflicts that benefit only a few 'warlords?'

"Violence is not the cure for our broken world. Countering violence with violence leads at best to forced migrations and enormous suffering, because vast amounts of resources are diverted to military ends and away from the everyday needs of young people, families experiencing hardship, the elderly, the infirm, and the great majority of people in our world. At worst, it can lead to the death, physical and spiritual, of many people, if not of all.

The Good News

"3. Jesus Himself lived in violent times. Yet He taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for 'it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come' (Mk 7:21). But Christ's message in this regard offers a radically positive approach. He unfailingly preached God's unconditional love, which welcomes and forgives. He taught His disciples to love their enemies (cf. Mt 5:44) and to turn the other cheek (cf. Mt 5:39). When He stopped her accusers from stoning the woman caught in adultery (cf. Jn 8:1-11), and when, on the night before He died, He told Peter to put away his sword (cf. Mt 26:52), Jesus marked out the path of nonviolence. He walked that path to the very end, to the cross, whereby He became our peace and put an end to hostility (cf. Eph 2:14-16). Whoever accepts the Good News of Jesus is able to acknowledge the violence within and be healed by God's mercy, becoming in turn an instrument of reconciliation. In the words of Saint Francis of Assisi: 'As you announce peace with your mouth, make sure that you have greater peace in your hearts.'[3]

"To be true followers of Jesus today also includes embracing His teaching about nonviolence. As my predecessor Benedict XVI observed, that teaching 'is realistic because it takes into account that in the world there is too much violence, too much injustice, and therefore that this situation cannot be overcome except by countering it with more love, with more goodness. This "more" comes from God.'[4] He went on to stress that: 'For Christians, nonviolence is not merely tactical behavior but a person's way of being, the attitude of one who is so convinced of God's love and power that he or she is not afraid to tackle evil with the weapons of love and truth alone. Love of one's enemy constitutes the nucleus of the "Christian revolution." '[5] The Gospel command to love your enemies (cf. Lk 6:27) 'is rightly considered the magna carta of Christian nonviolence. It does not consist in succumbing to evil..., but in responding to evil with good (cf. Rom 12:17-21), and thereby breaking the chain of injustice.'[6]

More powerful than violence

"4. Nonviolence is sometimes taken to mean surrender, lack of involvement and passivity, but this is not the case. When Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she clearly stated her own message of active nonviolence: 'We in our family don't need bombs and guns, to destroy to bring peace - just get together, love one another... And we will be able to overcome all the evil that is in the world.'[7] For the force of arms is deceptive. 'While weapons traffickers do their work, there are poor peacemakers who give their lives to help one person, then another and another and another;' for such peacemakers, Mother Teresa is 'a symbol, an icon of our times.'[8] Last September, I had the great joy of proclaiming her a Saint. I praised her readiness to make herself available for everyone 'through her welcome and defense of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded... She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity; she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crimes - the crimes! - of poverty they created.'[9] In response, her mission - and she stands for thousands, even millions of persons - was to reach out to the suffering, with generous dedication, touching and binding up every wounded body, healing every broken life.

"The decisive and consistent practice of nonviolence has produced impressive results. The achievements of Mahatma Gandhi and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in the liberation of India, and of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. in combating racial discrimination will never be forgotten. Women in particular are often leaders of nonviolence, as for example, was Leymah Gbowee and the thousands of Liberian women, who organized pray-ins and nonviolent protest that resulted in high-level peace talks to end the second civil war in Liberia.

"Nor can we forget the eventful decade that ended with the fall of Communist regimes in Europe. The Christian communities made their own contribution by their insistent prayer and courageous action. Particularly influential were the ministry and teaching of Saint John Paul II. Reflecting on the events of 1989 in his 1991 Encyclical Centesimus Annus, my predecessor highlighted the fact that momentous change in the lives of people, nations, and states had come about 'by means of peaceful protest, using only the weapons of truth and justice.'[10] This peaceful political transition was made possible in part 'by the non-violent commitment of people who, while always refusing to yield to the force of power, succeeded time after time in finding effective ways of bearing witness to the truth.' Pope John Paul went on to say: 'May people learn to fight for justice without violence, renouncing class struggle in their internal disputes and war in international ones.'[11]

"The Church has been involved in nonviolent peacebuilding strategies in many countries, engaging even the most violent parties in efforts to build a just and lasting peace.

"Such efforts on behalf of the victims of injustice and violence are not the legacy of the Catholic Church alone, but are typical of many religious traditions, for which 'compassion and nonviolence are essential elements pointing to the way of life.'[12] I emphatically reaffirm that 'no religion is terrorist.'[13] Violence profanes the name of God.[14] Let us never tire of repeating: 'The name of God cannot be used to justify violence. Peace alone is holy. Peace alone is holy, not war!'[15]

The domestic roots of a politics of nonviolence

"5. If violence has its source in the human heart, then it is fundamental that non-violence be practiced before all else within families. This is part of that joy of love which I described last March in my Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, in the wake of two years of reflection by the Church on marriage and the family. The family is the indispensable crucible in which spouses, parents, and children, brothers and sisters, learn to communicate and to show generous concern for one another, and in which frictions and even conflicts have to be resolved not by force but by dialogue, respect, concern for the good of the other, mercy and forgiveness.[16] From within families, the joy of love spills out into the world and radiates to the whole of society.[17] An ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence between individuals and among peoples cannot be based on the logic of fear, violence, and closed-mindedness, but on responsibility, respect, and sincere dialogue. Hence, I plead for disarmament and for the prohibition and abolition of nuclear weapons: nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutual assured destruction are incapable of grounding such an ethics.[18] I plead with equal urgency for an end to domestic violence and to the abuse of women and children.

"The Jubilee of Mercy that ended in November encouraged each one of us to look deeply within and to allow God's mercy to enter there. The Jubilee taught us to realize how many and diverse are the individuals and social groups treated with indifference and subjected to injustice and violence. They too are part of our 'family;' they too are our brothers and sisters. The politics of nonviolence have to begin in the home and then spread to the entire human family. 'Saint Therese of Lisieux invites us to practice the little way of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile, or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship. An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures that break with the logic of violence, exploitation, and selfishness.'[19]

My invitation

"6. Peacebuilding through active nonviolence is the natural and necessary complement to the Church's continuing efforts to limit the use of force by the application of moral norms; she does so by her participation in the work of international institutions and through the competent contribution made by so many Christians to the drafting of legislation at all levels. Jesus Himself offers a 'manual' for this strategy of peacemaking in the Sermon on the Mount. The eight Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:3-10) provide a portrait of the person we could describe as blessed, good, and authentic. Blessed are the meek, Jesus tells us, the merciful and the peacemakers, those who are pure in heart, and those who hunger and thirst for justice.

"This is also a program and a challenge for political and religious leaders, the heads of international institutions, and business and media executives: to apply the Beatitudes in the exercise of their respective responsibilities. It is a challenge to build up society, communities, and businesses by acting as peacemakers. It is to show mercy by refusing to discard people, harm the environment, or seek to win at any cost. To do so requires 'the willingness to face conflict head on, to resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a new process.'[20] To act in this way means to choose solidarity as a way of making history and building friendship in society. Active nonviolence is a way of showing that unity is truly more powerful and more fruitful than conflict. Everything in the world is inter-connected.[21] Certainly differences can cause frictions. But let us face them constructively and non-violently, so that 'tensions and oppositions can achieve a diversified and life-giving unity,' preserving 'what is valid and useful on both sides.'[22]

"I pledge the assistance of the Church in every effort to build peace through active and creative nonviolence. On January 1, 2017, the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development will begin its work. It will help the Church to promote in an ever more effective way 'the inestimable goods of justice, peace, and the care of creation' and concern for 'migrants, those in need, the sick, the excluded and marginalized, the imprisoned and the unemployed, as well as victims of armed conflict, natural disasters, and all forms of slavery and torture.'[23] Every such response, however modest, helps to build a world free of violence, the first step towards justice and peace.

In conclusion

"7. As is traditional, I am signing this Message on December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary is the Queen of Peace. At the birth of her Son, the angels gave glory to God and wished peace on earth to men and women of good will (cf. Luke 2:14). Let us pray for her guidance.

" 'All of us want peace. Many people build it day by day through small gestures and acts; many of them are suffering, yet patiently persevere in their efforts to be peacemakers.'[24] In 2017, may we dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words, and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent people and to building nonviolent communities that care for our common home. 'Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer. Everyone can be an artisan of peace.'[25]"


[1] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 228.

[2] PAUL VI, Message for the First World Day of Peace, January 1, 1968.

[3] "The Legend of the Three Companions", Fonti Francescane, No. 1469.

[4] BENEDICT XVI, Angelus, February 18, 2007.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] MOTHER TERESA, Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1979.

[8] Meditation, "The Road of Peace," Chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, November 19, 2015.

[9] Homily for the Canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, September 4, 2016.

[10] No. 23.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Address to Representatives of Different Religions, November 3, 2016.

[13] Address to the Third World Meeting of Popular Movements, November 5, 2016.

[14] Cf. Address at the Interreligious Meeting with the Sheikh of the Muslims of the Caucasus and Representatives of Different Religious Communities, Baku, October 2, 2016.

[15]Address in Assisi, October 20, 2016.

[16] Cf. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, 90-130.

[17] Cf. ibid., 133, 194, 234.

[18] Cf. Message for the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, December 7, 2014.

[19] Encyclical Laudato Si', 230.

[20] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 227.

[21] Cf. Encyclical Laudato Si', 16, 117, 138.

[22] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 228.

[23] Apostolic Letter issued Motu Proprio instituting the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, August 17, 2016.

[24] Regina Coeli, Bethlehem, May 25, 2014.

[25] Appeal, Assisi, September 20, 2016.

Serve The Sick And Suffering

The World Day of the Sick will be celebrated on February 11. Pope Francis' message for the Day, dated December 8, follows:

"... On February 11 next, the Twenty-fifth World Day of the Sick will be celebrated throughout the Church and in a special way at Lourdes. The theme of this year's celebration is 'Amazement at what God has accomplished: "The Almighty has done great things for me ...' " (Lk 1:49). Instituted by my predecessor Saint John Paul II in 1992, and first celebrated at Lourdes on February 11, 1993, this Day is an opportunity to reflect in particular on the needs of the sick and, more generally, of all those who suffer. It is also an occasion for those who generously assist the sick, beginning with family members, health workers, and volunteers, to give thanks for their God-given vocation of accompanying our infirm brothers and sisters. This celebration likewise gives the Church renewed spiritual energy for carrying out ever more fully that fundamental part of her mission which includes serving the poor, the infirm, the suffering, the outcast, and the marginalized (cf. John Paul II, Motu Proprio Dolentium Hominum, February 11, 1985, 1). Surely, the moments of prayer, the Eucharistic liturgies and the celebrations of the Anointing of the Sick, the sharing with the sick and the bioethical and theological-pastoral workshops to be held in Lourdes in those days will make new and significant contributions to that service.

"Even now, I am spiritually present at the grotto of Massabielle, before the statue of the Immaculate Virgin, in whom the Almighty has done great things for the redemption of mankind. I express my closeness to all of you, our suffering brothers and sisters, and to your families, as well as my appreciation for all those in different roles of service and in healthcare institutions throughout the world who work with professionalism, responsibility and dedication for your care, treatment and daily well-being. I encourage all of you, the sick, the suffering, physicians, nurses, family members, and volunteers, to see in Mary, Health of the Infirm, the sure sign of God's love for every human being and a model of surrender to His will. May you always find in faith, nourished by the Word and by the Sacraments, the strength needed to love God, even in the experience of illness.

"Like Saint Bernadette, we stand beneath the watchful gaze of Mary. The humble maiden of Lourdes tells us that the Virgin, whom she called 'the Lovely Lady,' looked at her as one person looks at another. Those simple words describe the fullness of a relationship. Bernadette, poor, illiterate, and ill, felt that Mary was looking at her as a person. The Lovely Lady spoke to her with great respect and without condescension. This reminds us that every person is, and always remains, a human being, and is to be treated as such. The sick and the those who are disabled, even severely, have their own inalienable dignity and mission in life. They never become simply objects. If at times they appear merely passive, in reality that is never the case.

"After her visit to the Grotto, thanks to her prayer, Bernadette turned her frailty into support for others. Thanks to her love, she was able to enrich her neighbors and, above all, to offer her life for the salvation of humanity. The fact that the Lovely Lady asked her to pray for sinners reminds us that the infirm and the suffering desire not only to be healed, but also to live a truly Christian life, even to the point of offering it as authentic missionary disciples of Christ. Mary gave Bernadette the vocation of serving the sick and called her to become a Sister of Charity, a mission that she carried out in so exemplary a way as to become a model for every healthcare worker. Let us ask Mary Immaculate for the grace always to relate to the sick as persons who certainly need assistance, at times even for the simplest of things, but who have a gift of their own to share with others.

"The gaze of Mary, Comfort of the Afflicted, brightens the face of the Church in her daily commitment to the suffering and those in need. The precious fruits of this solicitude for the world of suffering and sickness are a reason for gratitude to the Lord Jesus, who out of obedience to the will of the Father became one of us, even enduring death on the cross for the redemption of humanity. The solidarity shown by Christ, the Son of God born of Mary, is the expression of God's merciful omnipotence, which is made manifest in our life - above all when that life is frail, pain-filled, humbled, marginalized, and suffering - and fills it with the power of hope that can sustain us and enable us to get up again.

"This great wealth of humanity and faith must not be dissipated. Instead, it should inspire us to speak openly of our human weaknesses and to address the challenges of present-day healthcare and technology. On this World Day of the Sick, may we find new incentive to work for the growth of a culture of respect for life, health, and the environment. May this Day also inspire renewed efforts to defend the integrity and dignity of persons, not least through a correct approach to bioethical issues, the protection of the vulnerable and the protection of the environment.

"On this Twenty-fifth World Day of the Sick, I once more offer my prayerful support and encouragement to physicians, nurses, volunteers, and all those consecrated men and women committed to serving the sick and those in need. I also embrace the ecclesial and civil institutions working to this end, and the families who take loving care of their sick. I pray that all may be ever joyous signs of the presence of God's love and imitate the luminous testimony of so many friends of God, including Saint John of God and Saint Camillus de' Lellis, the patrons of hospitals and healthcare workers, and Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, missionary of God's love.

"Dear brothers and sisters - the sick, healthcare workers, and volunteers - I ask you to join me in praying to Mary. May her maternal intercession sustain and accompany our faith, and obtain for us from Christ her Son hope along our journey of healing and of health, a sense of fraternity and responsibility, a commitment to integral human development, and the joy of feeling gratitude whenever God amazes us by His fidelity and His mercy.

"Mary, our Mother, in Christ you welcome each of us as a son or daughter. Sustain the trusting expectation of our hearts, succor us in our infirmities and sufferings, and guide us to Christ, your Son and our brother. Help us to entrust ourselves to the Father who accomplishes great things. "With the assurance of a constant remembrance in my prayers, I cordially impart to all of you my Apostolic Blessing."

Podcasts Spread Faith

by Michael Halm

Ascension Presents is a central location for entertaining faith-filled Catholic podcasts collected by Ascension Press. It is yet another way of permeating the culture's newest media. It also gives links to the contributors' more extensive websites.

Fr. Mike Schmitz, for example, ministers to students at the Newman Center in Duluth, MN diocese and posts as "the Bulldog Catholic." His recent short videos give answers to the many questions young people ask him, like "Will God Heal My Wounds?," "What Is Sin?," "Do We Deserve God's Love?," "Can I Get a Tattoo?," "Are all Catholics Hypocrites?," "Does God Love Some People More?," "Venting or Gossiping?," "Why Does God Let Bad Things Happen?," "What constitutes a Practicing Catholic?," "Can I Go to Confession on the Phone?," "Will My Pet Be In Heaven?"

Fr. Josh Johnson is a young priest from LaSalle University, Baton Rouge, LA, and host of the hip-hop radio show "Tell the World."

"I was raised Catholic," he says, "but I just never liked the Catholic Church growing up. I thought it was boring and I didn't understand it." He now explains "an old-school form of prayer that is pretty epic" in "What is Lexio Divina?" and answers questions like "Does God Always Show Us the Fruits of Our Prayers?" and asks "Who Do You Listen To?"

Fr. José Robles-Sanchez is a priest of the diocese of Alexandria, LA. In "The Light Shines in the Darkness" he talks about the light and darkness of family life, telling the teens at the Ascension Cafe that they can bring light into their family and all of their relationships. He challenges them to pray for their mothers and fathers, and help save families.

Maria Mitchell produces the "Caffeniated Conversations" series in which she literally converses over coffee with Spirit-led Catholics, like Lea Darrow with her young daughter Violet. Darrow shared that her new podcast, "Do Something Beautiful," was inspired by St. Teresa of Calcutta. After leaving behind her career as a model, Leah felt called to share with others that inner beauty is better and more lasting, that true modesty is not restrictive, but instead liberates by highlighting our God-given dignity.

Jackie and Bobby Angel shared with Mitchell about their faith, their baby Abigail, and the ins and outs of married life. At their website they blog on such things as "Our Lady of Fatima and Evangelization" and "Learning Accountability from Sam and Frodo."

Jeff Cavins talked about his favorite subjects, biking, bull-riding, and spreading the gospel through "Great Adventure" and "Bible Timeline," and "Encountering the Word" series. Church artist Anthonly Visco talked about the many aspects of religious art that have inspired him to make it his vocation. He encouraged young artists to always imitate their Creator in their work and never let themselves get dissuaded from their call.

Jason Evert explained the story behind Pope St. John Paul II's letters to Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, so misreported by the secular media. Anna-Teresa was a married Polish philosopher and friend of the pope before and during his papacy. As Pope St. John Paul II himself said, "God uses human friendship to lead hearts to the source of divine charity." Jason and his wife Crystalina founded The Chastity Project.

Together they discussed with Mitchell how practicing chastity frees us to discover what love is really about. They answer the tough question, "Why is sex in marriage good and sex outside of marriage bad?" from both the husband's and wife's perspective in "YOU: Life, Love, and the Theology of the Body."

The musicians of His Own, Kara Klein, Maria Spears, and Christine Simpson, shared about their mission to inspire women to become all that God has created them to be. Pro-life speaker Megan Mastroianni shared her story about how God brought her down an unexpected path, and how she's loving every bit of it.

Catholic apologist and speaker Matt Fradd talked about fighting what he calls "the enemy of real love." Fradd founded The Porn Effect, a ministry that helps individuals end their pornography addiction. Maura Preszler, founded a similar ministry, Made in His Image, to teach women their dignity as Human. Women are telling stories of deliverance from their own enslavement to abuse, eating disorders, and negative self-images, while sharing their true identity sisters in Christ. Preszler also was inspired by St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body.

Sr. Miriam James Heidland was in her Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity habit in line at Sam's Club when a little girl asked, "Who are you supposed to be?" Answering the question, she shared from the wisdom of Pope Benedict XVI, C.S. Lewis, and Michelangelo to explain how each and every one of us are supposed to be a unique masterpiece made in the image of God.

Christians Face Ongoing Persecution

The Vatican spoke about the importance of freedom of religion at an international meeting in Vienna, Austria on December 14. The conference focused on combating intolerance and discrimination against Christians. Msgr. Antoine Camilleri, Vatican Under-Secretary for Relations with States, spoke on behalf of the Vatican. His remarks follow:

"The Holy See considers it a duty to insist on the continuing - indeed, the lasting - importance of the freedom of religion or belief. From the Holy See's first engagement with the Helsinki negotiations, through the decades of the CSCE conferences and meetings, to the extensive work of the OSCE today, defending and promoting the freedom of religion or belief has been, and remains, a key and essential priority of the Holy See's relentless efforts to safeguard the inherent dignity of every man and every women. The Holy See does so, not because it is pursuing its own interests as the supreme governing authority of the Catholic Church or because it is uninterested in other rights or freedoms, but because the freedom of religion or belief is the litmus test for respect of all other human rights and fundamental freedoms, since it is their synthesis and keystone.

"Indeed, Pope St. John Paul II memorably stated that religious freedom constituted the 'very heart of human rights.'[1] Religious freedom, thus, is essential to defending the human rights of all people, whether they are believers or non-believers, since within the realm of conscience, that constitutes the dignity of the human person, there are interrelated and indivisible human rights, such as freedom of religion or belief, freedom of conscience, and freedom of expression. In fact, combatting Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians can be an effective tool in defending the human rights of other religious believers, and, indeed, the human rights of those who profess no religion.

"Therefore, the Holy See considers it a great honor to be invited to deliver the keynote address to this Conference on Combating Intolerance and Discriminations of Christians. Before doing so, I would like to begin by thanking Ambassador Eberhard Pohl, Chairperson of the Permanent Council, and Dr. Michael Link, Director of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, for their profound opening words. I also wish to express the Holy See's gratitude to the staff of the ODIHR for having organized this event.

"With regard to our Conference theme, I would like to dwell - albeit briefly - on three issues: 1) religious intolerance and freedom of religion or belief; 2) various forms, including more recent forms, of intolerance and discrimination against Christians; and 3) the potential for good that lies in engaging with religion or belief.

Freedom of religion or belief and intolerance/discrimination

"Discrimination and intolerance against Christians, which target men and women, not because of their race, sex, or language, but because of their faith, represent a violation and a direct challenge to the freedom of religion or belief, one of the human rights explicitly mentioned in the Helsinki Final Act, and safeguarded in subsequent OSCE commitments, as a priority of this Organization and its 57 participating States.

"Although, at first glance, it might seem surprising that the CSCE and the OSCE - as a regional security arrangement - should be engaged with issues of freedom of religion or belief and efforts to combat discrimination and intolerance against Christians, a deeper reflection of the issues involved make the reasons for this attention very clear. Intolerance and discrimination against Christians, as any intolerance and discrimination on religious grounds, are not only an indicator of human rights violations but they have also been proven to be a fertile ground for further violations of human rights that impair and threaten social cohesion, that may lead to violence and conflict, even between States. If the OSCE truly strives to bring about - from Vladivostok to Vancouver - security and co-operation, it must remain vigilant with regard to intolerance and discrimination that target men and women simply because of their faith in Jesus Christ.

Intolerance and discrimination against Christians - many forms

"Although the obvious focus of this Conference is on the OSCE region, and without doubt, there are many examples and incidences of concern within our region, I would be remiss if I did not at least recall the barbaric persecution of Christians that takes place in other parts of the world, sadly also at the very doorstep of the OSCE. The atrocities committed against Christians in Syria and Iraq are so horrific that words cannot adequately respond, and their plight must not be forgotten. Indeed, in these last few days, the deathly shadow of violent extremism and terrorism has fallen once again upon the Coptic community in Egypt.

"Considering the reality of the OSCE area, we must recognize that discrimination and intolerance, including hate crimes, impact many Christians and Christian communities, despite a frequently encountered notion that in this part of the world such discrimination or intolerance does not occur. Seemingly, belonging to the majority religion precludes Christians from being considered as victims of intolerance. Such a view, however, is not based on reality.

"The continuous attacks against Christian churches and religious buildings, time, and time again, affirmed by ODIHR data, easily disprove the notion that Christians do not suffer intolerance. The premeditated destruction of churches, chapels, and halls, the deliberate vandalism of religious spaces and symbols, including crosses, statues, and other Christian artifacts, as well as theft and sacrilegious misuse of that which Christians consider to be holy, are all examples of not only disrespectful, but intolerant, and in most cases criminal acts committed with a bias motive.

New forms of intolerance and discrimination of Christians

"The Holy See has repeatedly noted that intolerance and discrimination of Christians is not simply about violent attacks or wanton destruction of religious artifacts and comes in many new forms. Such new forms of intolerance and discrimination need to be acknowledged. In one of his major addresses on Christianity in society, Pope Benedict XVI identified several deeply worrying trends:

" ' not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation. In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue - paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination - that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square. I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life.'[2]

"These examples of what may rightly be called 'anti-Christian sentiment,' represent a new form of intolerance and discrimination against Christians. As Benedict XVI pointed out, it is based on setting the freedom of religion or belief against some general notion of tolerance and non-discrimination.

"Tolerance and non-discrimination, however, should not be used, or interpreted, in a way that would restrict freedom of religion or belief or other fundamental freedoms. Anti-discrimination legislation that denies freedom of religion or belief - and often ignores the right of Christians to act in accordance with their beliefs and interests - stands in stark contrast to well-established OSCE commitments. Let me make an important distinction here: the Holy See strongly adheres to the principle that every right entails obligations and duties. Therefore, a self-professed Christian cannot claim that freedom of religion or belief entitles him to call for violence against non-believers. However, in the same fashion, a Christian preacher who respectfully and faithfully teaches the religious or moral tenets of his Church is protected by freedom of religion even if the majority opinion is uncomfortable with his proclamation. We must raise awareness of discrimination against Christians even in regions where international public opinion would normally not expect this to exist. To act and speak out publicly as a committed Christian in one's professional life has never been more threatened. Christians, as well as others, should therefore be allowed to express publicly their religious identity, free from any pressure to hide or disguise it.

"Such discomfort with or, indeed, opposition to any public role of religion lies behind what Pope Francis has referred to as the 'polite persecution of Christians' in many countries. In the guise of 'political correctness,' Christian faith and morals are considered to be hostile and offensive, and therefore, something to be removed from public discourse. But why is this? Why is religion, and Christianity in particular, feared when it seeks to make its voice heard on issues that are of interest, not only to believers, but to the common good of society? This fear of Christianity playing its legitimate role in the public square betrays a 'reductionist' view or approach to the freedom of religion or belief, confining it merely to the freedom of worship. Against such a trend, the Holy Father has affirmed that:

" 'Religious freedom certainly means the right to worship God, individually and in community, as our consciences dictate. But religious liberty, by its nature, transcends places of worship and the private sphere of individuals and families . Because religion itself, the religious dimension, is not a subculture; it is part of the culture of every people and every nation.'[3]

"Restrictions on religious freedom need to be challenged, as hate crimes invariably flourish in an environment where religious freedom is not fully respected and where religion is discriminated.

Religion or belief as a positive factor

"Despite the many challenges we face in combating intolerance against Christians, we should not forget that religion or belief - and therefore Christianity - has an unlimited capacity for good, not only for individuals or communities (one need only consider the Herculean charitable works that are carried out by Christians), but also for society as a whole.

"While acknowledging the positive role that religion can play in the public sphere and in society, Pope Francis, in his Encyclical Letter Laudato Si', reaffirmed that 'the Church does not pretend ... to substitute for politics.'[4] Nor does the Church claim to offer technical solutions to the world's problems since the responsibility of doing that belongs elsewhere. Religion, however, has a special task to offer its guiding principles to the community of believers and society in general. By its nature, it is open to a larger reality and thus it can lead people and institutions towards a more universal vision, to a horizon of universal fraternity that ennobles and enriches the character of humanitarian assistance. A person truly formed by a religious vision cannot be indifferent to the sufferings of men and women.

"The OSCE has clearly recognized this vital and essential public dimension of religious communities. In this regard, I draw your attention to principle 16 of the 1989 Vienna Concluding Document and Ministerial Council Decision No. 3/13. These commitments request participating States to include religious communities in public dialogue, also through the mass media. Consequently, States should welcome the interventions of representatives of religious communities that give their views - based on moral convictions deriving from faith - about everyday life and, in particular, on the legislative and administrative provisions of their countries.

"The Holy See is convinced that for both individuals and communities the dimension of belief can foster respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights, support democracy, and rule of law and contribute to the quest for truth and justice. Furthermore, dialogue and partnerships between religions, and with religions, are an important means to promote confidence, trust, reconciliation, mutual respect, and understanding as well as to foster peace.

"Our common efforts to combat intolerance or discrimination against Christians starts from our common recognition of freedom of religion or belief, and - as Pope Francis has pointed out:

" 'This includes "the freedom to choose the religion which one judges to be true and to manifest one's beliefs in public." A healthy pluralism, one which genuinely respects differences and values them as such, does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual's conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques. This would represent, in effect, a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism.'[5] ..."


[1] Pope John Paul II, Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace, January 1, 1999, n. 5.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Meeting with Representatives of British Society, including the Diplomatic Corps, Politicians, Academics and Business Leaders in Westminster Hall, September 17, 2010.

[3] Pope Francis, Meeting for Religious Liberty, Philadelphia, September 26, 2015.

[4] Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si', n. 188.

[5] Pope Francis, Evangelii gaudium, N. 255.

Prayer For Children, Workers, And Families

On December 8, after the Angelus, Pope Francis paid a traditional act of veneration to the Immaculate Conception at the Spanish steps. He placed a bouquet of white roses there. His prayer follows:

O Mary, our Immaculate Mother,
On your feast day I come to you,
And I come not alone:
I bring with me all those with whom your Son entrusted to me,
In this city of Rome and in the entire world,
That you may bless them and preserve them from harm.

I bring to you, Mother, children,
Especially those who are alone, abandoned,
And for this reason are tricked and exploited.
I bring to you, Mother, families,
Who carry forward life and society
With their daily and hidden efforts;
In a special way the families who struggle the most
For their many internal and external problems.
I bring to you, Mother, all workers, both men and women,
And I entrust to you especially those who, out of need,
Are forced to work in an unworthy profession
And those who have lost work or are unable to find it.

We are in need of your immaculate gaze,
To rediscover the ability to look upon persons and things
With respect and awareness,
Without egotistical or hypocritical interests.
We are in need of your immaculate heart,
To love freely,
Without secondary aims but seeking the good of the other,
With simplicity and sincerity, renouncing masks and tricks.
We are in need of your immaculate hands,
To caress with tenderness,
To touch the flesh of Jesus
In our poor, sick, or despised brethren,
To raise up those who have fallen and support those who waver.
We are in need of your immaculate feet,
To go toward those who know not how to make the first step,
To walk on the paths of those who are lost,
To find those who feel alone.

We thank you, O Mother, because in showing yourself to us
You free us of all stain of sin;
You remind us that what comes first is the grace of God,
The love of Jesus Christ who gave His life for us,
The strength of the Holy Spirit which renews all things.
Let us not give in to discouragement,
But, trusting in your constant help,
Let us engage ourselves fully in renewal of self,
Of this city and of the entire world.
Pray for us, Holy Mother of God!

Edge To Edge

Pray The News

Because we are sons and daughters of God, saved by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we do not merely read the news but make the news. We direct the course of world events by faith expressed in action and intercession. Please pray for the stories covered in this paper. Clip out this intercessory list and make it part of your daily prayer.

  • We pray for President Trump and his administration as well as all elected and appointed leaders to be guided by the Holy Spirit.
  • We pray for healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation in our land.
  • We pray that we will be on fire with love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
  • We pray that we will be peacemakers.
  • We pray for the sick and suffering and those who care for them.
  • We pray that we will appreciate each person's unique gift from God.
  • We pray for persecuted Christians and all who will be martyred.
  • We pray for all those in the religious and consecrated life.
  • We pray that we will have the heart of Jesus for the poor, marginalized, sick, and suffering.
  • We pray for the virtue of hope and that Christians will be beacons of hope in our troubled world.
  • We pray for an end to war, violence, abortion, euthanasia, and all attacks on life.
  • We pray with St. Francis of Assisi that we will be instruments of peace and builders of a more fraternal world.

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Published by: Presentation Ministries, 3230 McHenry Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45211, (513) 662-5378,



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