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May 1, 2016

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my people, vol. 29, issue 5

My People


Communication And Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter

(Editor's note: This report was provided by Vatican Information Service.)

Vatican City (VIS) - "Communication and mercy" is the title of Pope Francis' Message for the fiftieth World Day of Social Communications, to be held on May 8. The Message is symbolically signed by the Holy Father on Sunday January 24, 2016, feast of St. Francis of Sales, patron of journalists. The following is the full text of the Message:

"... The Holy Year of Mercy invites all of us to reflect on the relationship between communication and mercy. The Church, in union with Christ, the living incarnation of the Father of Mercies, is called to practice mercy as the distinctive trait of all that she is and does. What we say and how we say it, our every word and gesture, ought to express God's compassion, tenderness, and forgiveness for all. Love, by its nature, is communication; it leads to openness and sharing. If our hearts and actions are inspired by charity, by divine love, then our communication will be touched by God's own power.

As sons and daughters of God, we are called to communicate with everyone, without exception. In a particular way, the Church's words and actions are all meant to convey mercy, to touch people's hearts, and to sustain them on their journey to that fullness of life which Jesus Christ was sent by the Father to bring to all. This means that we ourselves must be willing to accept the warmth of Mother Church and to share that warmth with others, so that Jesus may be known and loved. That warmth is what gives substance to the word of faith; by our preaching and witness, it ignites the 'spark' which gives them life.

Communication has the power to build bridges, to enable encounter and inclusion, and thus to enrich society. How beautiful it is when people select their words and actions with care, in the effort to avoid misunderstandings, to heal wounded memories, and to build peace and harmony. Words can build bridges between individuals and within families, social groups, and peoples. This is possible both in the material world and the digital world. Our words and actions should be such as to help us all escape the vicious circles of condemnation and vengeance which continue to ensnare individuals and nations, encouraging expressions of hatred. The words of Christians ought to be a constant encouragement to communion and, even in those cases where they must firmly condemn evil, they should never try to rupture relationships and communication.

For this reason, I would like to invite all people of good will to rediscover the power of mercy to heal wounded relationships and to restore peace and harmony to families and communities. All of us know how many ways ancient wounds and lingering resentments can entrap individuals and stand in the way of communication and reconciliation. The same holds true for relationships between peoples. In every case, mercy is able to create a new kind of speech and dialogue. Shakespeare put it eloquently when he said: "The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed: it blesseth him that gives and him that takes" (The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I).

Our political and diplomatic language would do well to be inspired by mercy, which never loses hope. I ask those with institutional and political responsibility, and those charged with forming public opinion, to remain especially attentive to the way they speak of those who think or act differently or those who may have made mistakes. It is easy to yield to the temptation to exploit such situations to stoke the flames of mistrust, fear, and hatred. Instead, courage is needed to guide people towards processes of reconciliation. It is precisely such positive and creative boldness which offers real solutions to ancient conflicts and the opportunity to build lasting peace. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."

How I wish that our own way of communicating, as well as our service as pastors of the Church, may never suggest a prideful and triumphant superiority over an enemy, or demean those whom the world considers lost and easily discarded. Mercy can help mitigate life's troubles and offer warmth to those who have known only the coldness of judgement. May our way of communicating help to overcome the mindset that neatly separates sinners from the righteous. We can and we must judge situations of sin - such as violence, corruption, and exploitation - but we may not judge individuals, since only God can see into the depths of their hearts. It is our task to admonish those who err and to denounce the evil and injustice of certain ways of acting, for the sake of setting victims free and raising up those who have fallen. The Gospel of John tells us that "the truth will make you free." The truth is ultimately Christ Himself, whose gentle mercy is the yardstick for measuring the way we proclaim the truth and condemn injustice. Our primary task is to uphold the truth with love. Only words spoken with love and accompanied by meekness and mercy can touch our sinful hearts. Harsh and moralistic words and actions risk further alienating those whom we wish to lead to conversion and freedom, reinforcing their sense of rejection and defensiveness.

Some feel that a vision of society rooted in mercy is hopelessly idealistic or excessively indulgent. But let us try and recall our first experience of relationships, within our families. Our parents loved us and valued us for who we are more than for our abilities and achievements. Parents naturally want the best for their children, but that love is never dependent on their meeting certain conditions. The family home is one place where we are always welcome. I would like to encourage everyone to see society not as a forum where strangers compete and try to come out on top, but above all as a home or a family, where the door is always open and where everyone feels welcome.

For this to happen, we must first listen. Communicating means sharing, and sharing demands listening and acceptance. Listening is much more than simply hearing. Hearing is about receiving information, while listening is about communication, and calls for closeness. Listening allows us to get things right, and not simply to be passive onlookers, users, or consumers. Listening also means being able to share questions and doubts, to journey side by side, to banish all claims to absolute power and to put our abilities and gifts at the service of the common good.

Listening is never easy. Many times it is easier to play deaf. Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect, and to ponder what the other person says. It involves a sort of martyrdom or self-sacrifice, as we try to imitate Moses before the burning bush: we have to remove our sandals when standing on the 'holy ground' of our encounter with the one who speaks to me. Knowing how to listen is an immense grace, it is a gift which we need to ask for and then make every effort to practice.

Emails, text messages, social networks, and chats can also be fully human forms of communication. It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal. Social networks can facilitate relationships and promote the good of society, but they can also lead to further polarization and division between individuals and groups. The digital world is a public square, a meeting-place where we can either encourage or demean one another, engage in a meaningful discussion or unfair attacks. I pray that this Jubilee Year, lived in mercy, "may open us to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better; and that it may eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination." The internet can help us to be better citizens. Access to digital networks entails a responsibility for our neighbor whom we do not see but who is nonetheless real and has a dignity which must be respected. The internet can be used wisely to build a society which is healthy and open to sharing.

Communication, wherever and however it takes place, has opened up broader horizons for many people. This is a gift of God which involves a great responsibility. I like to refer to this power of communication as 'closeness.' The encounter between communication and mercy will be fruitful to the degree that it generates a closeness which cares, comforts, heals, accompanies, and celebrates. In a broken, fragmented and polarized world, to communicate with mercy means to help create a healthy, free, and fraternal closeness between the children of God and all our brothers and sisters in the one human family.

Virtue Enriches Humanity

Pope Francis addressed a March 3 meeting of the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Life in Vatican City. The Pope's address follows:

"... I offer my welcome to all of you, gathered for the General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life. I am especially pleased to meet Cardinal Sgreccia, always on his feet, thank you! These days will be dedicated to studying the practice of virtue in the ethics of life, a theme of academic interest, which addresses an important message to contemporary culture: the good that mankind accomplishes is not the result of calculations or policies, nor is it the result of hereditary genetics or of social status. Rather, it is the fruit of a willing heart, of free choice which seeks true goodness. Science and technology are not enough: doing good requires wisdom of heart.

"In various ways, Sacred Scripture tells us that good or evil intentions do not enter the person from without, but come from within one's 'heart.' 'From within,' Jesus said, 'out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts' (Mk 7:21). In the Bible, the heart is the organ not only of feelings but of spiritual faculties, reason and will; it is the seat of decisions, and of the manner of thinking and acting. The wisdom of choice, open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, also concerns the heart. From here are born good works but also mistakes when the truth and the prompting of the Spirit are rejected. The heart, in other words, is the synthesis of humanity formed by the very hands of God (cf. Gen 2:7) and beheld by its Creator with singular satisfaction (cf. Gen 1:31). God pours his own wisdom into the heart of man.

"In our time, certain cultural orientations no longer recognize the imprint of divine wisdom in created things, not even in the person. Human nature is thus reduced to mere matter, pliable to any design. Our humanity, however, is unique and very precious in the eyes of God! For this reason, the first nature to safeguard, so that it may bear fruit, is our very humanity. We must give it the clean air of freedom and the life-giving water of truth. We must protect it from the poison of selfishness and falsehood. Then a great variety of virtues will be able to blossom in the soil of our humanity.

"Virtue is the most authentic expression of good that man, with God's help, is capable of achieving. 'It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1803). Practicing virtue is not a simple habit; it is the habit that is constantly renewed to choose to do good. Virtue is not an emotion, nor is it an ability acquired in a training course, much less a biochemical mechanism. It is the highest expression of human freedom. Virtue is the best that the human heart has to offer. When the heart moves away from goodness and from the truth contained in the Word of God, it is exposed to a multitude of dangers. It is deprived of direction and risks calling good evil, and evil good; virtue is lost, more easily replaced by sin, and then vice. Those who step onto this slippery slope fall into moral error and are burdened with an increasing sense of existential anguish.

"Sacred Scripture shows us the dynamic of a hardened heart: the more the heart leans toward selfishness and evil, the harder it is to change. Jesus says: 'every one who commits sin is a slave to sin' (Jn 8:34). When the heart is corrupted, the consequences in social life are grave, as the Prophet Jeremiah reminds us. I quote: 'you have eyes and heart only for your dishonest gain, for shedding innocent blood, and for practicing oppression and violence' (22:17). This situation cannot be changed by theories or by social or political reform. Only if we cooperate can the work of the Holy Spirit reform our hearts. God Himself, indeed, has assured His efficacious grace to those who seek Him and to those who convert 'with all their heart' (cf. Jl 2:12 ff.).

"Today there are many institutions committed to the service of life, whether in research or assistance; they promote not only good actions, but also a passion for the good. But there are also many structures that are more concerned with economic interests than with the common good. To talk about virtue means to affirm that choosing the good involves and engages the whole person; it is not a question of 'cosmetics,' an exterior adornment, which could not bear fruit. It is the uprooting of dishonest desires and the sincere quest for the good.

"Also in the sphere of the ethics of life, the necessary norms, which support respect of the person, are not enough on their own to fully ensure man's good. The virtue of one who works for the promotion of life is the ultimate guarantee that the good will really be respected. Today scientific knowledge and technical instruments are not lacking, its able to offer support to human life in weakest aspects. But humanity is so often lacking. Good actions are not the correct application of ethical wisdom, what is needed is a real interest in the frail person. The doctors and all health workers must always combine science, technology, and humanity.

"Therefore, I encourage universities to consider all this in their programs of formation, so that the students can improve those dispositions of the heart and mind, which are indispensable to receive and take care of human life, according to the dignity that belongs to it in any circumstance. I also invite the directors of health structures and of research to ask their employees to consider human treatment an integral part of their qualified service. In every case, may those who dedicate themselves to the defense and promotion of life be able to show first of all its beauty. In fact, as 'it is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but "by attraction" ' (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, n. 15), so human life is safeguarded and promoted effectively only when it is known and its beauty is shown. By experiencing genuine compassion and practicing the other virtues, you will be privileged witnesses of the mercy of the Father of life.

"While contemporary culture still keeps the premises that affirm man, regardless of his condition of life, as a value to be protected, it often falls victim to moral uncertainty, which does not enable it defend life effectively. Not infrequently then, it can happen that 'splendid vices' parade themselves under the guise of virtue. Hence, it is necessary not only that virtue inform man's thought and action in a real way, but that the virtues be cultivated continuously in discernment and that they be rooted in God, the source of all virtue. I would like to repeat here something I have said many times: we must beware of the new ideological colonization that invades human and Christian thought, under the pretense of virtue, modernity and new attitudes. It is actually colonization, that is, it takes away freedom. And it is an ideology, afraid of reality as God has created it. Let us ask the Holy Spirit for help, so that He will draw us out of egoism and ignorance. Renewed by Him, we can think and act according to God's heart and show His mercy to those who suffer in body and spirit.

"My wish for you is that your work in these days may bear fruit and accompany you and all those you meet in your service on a path of virtuous growth. I thank you and I ask you, please, not to forget to pray for me. Thank you."

Witness To Mercy

The Church celebrated the feast of Divine Mercy on Sunday, April 3. Pope Francis homily for this feast follows:

" 'Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book' (Jn 20:30). The Gospel is the book of God's mercy, to be read and reread, because everything that Jesus said and did is an expression of the Father's mercy. Not everything, however, was written down; the Gospel of mercy remains an open book, in which the signs of Christ's disciples - concrete acts of love and the best witness to mercy - continue to be written. We are all called to become living writers of the Gospel, heralds of the Good News to all men and women of today. We do this by practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, which are the hallmarks of the Christian life. By means of these simple yet powerful gestures, even when unseen, we can accompany the needy, bringing God's tenderness and consolation. Thus continues the great work of Jesus on Easter day, when He poured into the hearts of His fearful disciples the Father's mercy, bringing them the Holy Spirit who forgives sins and bestows joy.

"At the same time, the story we have just heard presents an evident contrast: there is the fear of the disciples, who gathered behind closed doors; and then there is the mission of Jesus, who sends them into the world to proclaim the message of forgiveness. This contrast may also be present in us, experienced as an interior struggle between a closed heart and the call of love to open doors closed by sin. It is a call that frees us to go out of ourselves. Christ, who for love entered through doors barred by sin, death, and the powers of hell, wants to enter into each one of us to break open the locked doors of our hearts. Jesus, who by His resurrection has overcome the fear and dread which imprison us, wishes to throw open our closed doors and send us out. The path that the Risen Master shows us is a one way street, it goes in only one direction: this means that we must move beyond ourselves to witness to the healing power of love that has conquered us. We see before us a humanity that is often wounded and fearful, a humanity that bears the scars of pain and uncertainty. Before the anguished cry for mercy and peace, we hear Jesus' inspiring invitation: 'As the Father has sent me, even so I send you' (Jn 20:21).

"In God's mercy, all of our infirmities find healing. His mercy, in fact, does not keep a distance: it seeks to encounter all forms of poverty and to free this world of so many types of slavery. Mercy desires to reach the wounds of all, to heal them. Being apostles of mercy means touching and soothing the wounds that today afflict the bodies and souls of many of our brothers and sisters. Curing these wounds, we profess Jesus, we make Him present and alive; we allow others, who touch His mercy with their own hands, to recognize Him as 'Lord and God' (Jn 20:28), as did the Apostle Thomas. This is the mission that He entrusts to us. So many people ask to be listened to and to be understood. The Gospel of mercy, to be proclaimed and written in our daily lives, seeks people with patient and open hearts, 'good Samaritans' who understand compassion and silence before the mystery of each brother and sister. The Gospel of mercy requires generous and joyful servants, people who love freely without expecting anything in return.

" 'Peace be with you!' (Jn 20:21) is the greeting of Jesus to His disciples; this same peace awaits men and women of our own day. It is not a negotiated peace, it is not the absence of conflict: it is His peace, the peace that comes from the heart of the Risen Lord, the peace that has defeated sin, fear, and death. It is a peace that does not divide but unites; it is a peace that does not abandon us but makes us feel listened to and loved; it is a peace that persists even in pain and enables hope to blossom. This peace, as on the day of Easter, is born ever anew by the forgiveness of God which calms our anxious hearts. To be bearers of His peace: this is the mission entrusted to the Church on Easter day. In Christ, we are born to be instruments of reconciliation, to bring the Father's forgiveness to everyone, to reveal His loving face through concrete gestures of mercy.

"In the responsorial Psalm we heard these words: 'His love endures forever' (Ps 117/118:2). Truly, God's mercy is forever; it never ends, it never runs out, it never gives up when faced with closed doors, and it never tires. In this forever we find strength in moments of trial and weakness because we are sure that God does not abandon us. He remains with us forever. Let us give thanks for so great a love, which we find impossible to grasp; it is immense! Let us pray for the grace to never grow tired of drawing from the well of the Father's mercy and bringing it to the world. Let us ask that we too may be merciful, to spread the power of the Gospel everywhere, and to write those pages of the Gospel which John the Apostle did not write."

Is New Film True To Life?

by Michael Halm

"The Church is the house of mercy, and it is the "soil" where vocations take root, mature, and bear fruit." Pope Francis

Many are asking how true to life the new film "Miracles from Heaven." It is based upon the book, Miracles From Heaven: A Little Girl, Her Journey to Heaven and Her Amazing Story of Healing by Christy Wilson Beam, published last year. The Beam family have worked with the making of the film and have seen the final film and can best answer this question. they had to re-live the experience during the writing of the book and now again with the movie.

Kevin Beam says that real life was a bit different than portrayed in "Miracles from Heaven." He is portrayed in the movie as the calm parent who keeps faith throughout everything and does whatever he can to support his family. It also misportrays Heaven.

"It was a daily reset for me," he says, "and I feel like on the surface I had to be incredibly strong, first off for Anna because she was going through so much physically on a daily basis, that I need to be strong for her and then for the entire family."

"It doesn't come across in the movie, but they were there for me way more than I was there for them and our family. We just fed off of each other. Christy would be right there for me, Abby, Addeline, even Anna! There's times when she's comforting me when I was trying to comfort her."

"It doesn't mean that I wasn't challenged, it doesn't mean that I didn't question why things were happening, but I ultimately didn't question the source. I knew that God was ultimately in control. Never did I imagine that the outcome would be as beautiful as it was, but I knew that God knew."

"That whole time period was just so hard." Abby agrees. "In the movie it happens a lot quicker than it actually did in our lives. It actually went on for a period of a few years of when she was sick. So it was such a large section of my life that I don't really think about as much because it was so hard. Seeing it on screen was hard.

She does add however, "I just left feeling my faith so reassured. I'm just so excited for other people to see it and hopefully leave with that same sense of just faith that God is real and God is there."

"She was on 10 medications a day ... she just lived on the sofa in the fetal position with a heating pad on her stomach. That was her life."

Christy shares that she has heard from many people around the world who told her that her daughter's story has affected them deeply. All of the positive response have been a confirmation for her that writing the book was the correct thing to do. "So grateful," she says. "So grateful."

Annabel herself related that when she was stuck in the tree for five house before firefighters could extract her, she visited heaven, where she asked Jesus if she could stay. And he said, "No, Annabel, I have plans for you on Earth that you cannot complete in heaven."

According to the Beams, Jesus sent Annabel back with a guardian angel who looks over her. Christy says, they couldn't be happier about the way things turned out.

Keen Green's simple comment was, "This precious family's grief and struggles are deeper than most could endure, yet Divine Providence steps in to rescue more than just a little girl ... but all who partake of her witness of Him."

Mothers, who can identify with the author, write especially enthusiastically about the book, which rates near five out of five on Amazon. Those who already know that miracles are part of everyday life also welcomed the Beam's witness.

Becky Jackoby wrote of the book, "While she speaks of her faith, she does not dramatize it nor does she discount it. It is integral to the family's personal experience and is related with realistic dialogue of a believer's heart. For the most part, the family's story is related in enough detail to understand both the severity of the child's condition as well as the impending healing. The miracle is subtly described and almost downplayed, which was a bit disappointing until I thought more about the story.

"Being a mother and grandmother myself, I found myself sympathizing with Christy's substantial emotional, financial, and sacrificial investment in the care of Annabel's serious illness as well as the commitment of each family member to quality of life. In fact, Christy devotes the first half of the story to Annabel's care.

Kristin Plausky commented, "As a mom, I couldn't put this book down. I can't even imagine the heartbreak, pain, and stress it must be in your life to have a child so chronically ill that they must take the cocktail of medications that this poor child was taking just to keep a somewhat reasonable quality of life. As a mother it broke my heart. And then there was the terror of having that same child in such a nightmare situation, I can't even comprehend.

"The author did a fantastic job of keeping the reader engaged and pulling at our heartstrings. The tension in the storyline kept the book glued to my hands, there was no way I could put it down until I finished it."

Jennifer Rainey wrote, "I could not put this book down! It is always amazing to see God work and perform miracles! Annabel stole my heart from the beginning as did the rest of the family and kept it until the end! It warmed my heart that she wants to have the same career in life as the one person who was by her side during her darkest days in the hospital!"

Prison To Praise

Inside Russia

by James Saunders

(Editor's note: Mr. Saunders writes from Illinois. We welcome contributions from prisoners. We would like to hear from a variety of prisoners.)

In the West, many see Russian President Vladimir Putin more as a schoolyard bully than as a ruthless tyrant. He's mischievous and unfriendly, but his behavior, we tell ourselves, is the result of insecurity. If we ignore him, he'll grow out of it. Many are amused by and even admire Putin's personality and behavior. He is the John Wayne of world politics: decisive, uncompromising, and masculine. He's traditional, conservative, and pragmatic in a world growing ever more liberal, secular, and dangerously idealistic.

But we must not be deceived by Vladimir Putin.

There is ample evidence of what this man is about and what he is capable of more than enough to undermine the nave perspective so many have of him. Many of those who ignore this reality are going to suffer for it in the long run.

In 1999, a bout of terrorist attacks occurred in Moscow and other Russian cities. Explosives were planted in cars, apartment complexes, and shopping centers. Hundreds of people were killed and many more injured. The whole country was being gripped by fear and anxiety. Boris Yeltsin, aging and in poor health, was Russia's president when those bombs were terrorizing Russia. In August of 1999, Vladimir Putin transitioned from head of the FSB (Russia's Foreign Security Service, successor to the KGB) and became Russia's prime minister, serving under Yeltsin. At the time, Putin was positioning himself to run for president in the 2000 elections.

In her new book "The Man Without a Face - The Unlikely rise of Vladimir Putin," Russian journalist Masha Gessen documents multiple examples of Putin's ruthless and calloused personality. In one lengthly section, Gessen probes the failed bombing of an apartment building on September 22, 1999, in the city of Ryazan.

This attack was thwarted when a local bus driver, returning to his apartment that evening, witnessed two individuals unloading heavy sacks from a car and planting them in the stairwell in the cellar of the apartment building. The man was suspicious and called the police. The police peered into the sacks, which were labeled "sugar" and saw wires and a clock. They called the bomb-squad and quickly evacuated the building. Hundreds of residents, some of whom were disabled, spent hours that night standing out in the cold.

The next morning, the whole country was talking about the failed attack. The interior minister called a press conference on September 24 to reveal that an explosion had been prevented.

But then something odd happened. Half an hour after the interior minister delivered his press conference, the head of the FSB (a close ally of Putin's) explained in a press conference that the failed attack was actually an FSB training exercise. Apparently the individuals who planted those sacks were FSB officers and there were no explosives inside.

Although many believed the story, the math didn't add up. Local police had actually seen the explosives in those sacks. Following the discovery more than 1,200 police officers had been dispatched to track down the terrorists. Why do that if it was only a training exercise? And the local chapter of the FSB had no knowledge of the training exercise. So, why was the interior minister allowed to make a fool of himself on nationwide TV discussing the failed attack? Eyewitness accounts suggested the car from which the sacks were unloaded belonged to Russian officials. And none of the citizens evacuated from their apartments believed it was a training exercise.

Gessen powerfully and logically demolishes the "training exercise" story in her book. But why would the FSB fabricate such a story? Because local authorities investigating the failed attack were following a Fact Trail that led directly to the FSB!

It is also important to note that the bomb-squad identified the explosive in the sacks as hexogen, a powerful material commonly used in bombs since World War II. As Gessen notes, that same explosive had been used in some of the other bombings in Moscow and elsewhere in the weeks prior to the Ryazan bombing. This raised an obvious question: Was Russia's own FSB responsible for some (or all) of those other terrorist attacks that actually killed and injured hundreds of Russians?

Many believe this was the case.

Then, after the failed Ryazan attack: "This deadly chain of terrorist bombings seemed to halt at the same time!"

The spate of bombings in 1999 was instrumental to Putin's emergence as Russia's president. During his appearances on Russian television his message, both in delivery and content, was robust, adamant, and to a nation in crisis, incredibly appealing.

Vladimir Putin was elected president of Russia in 2000. Putin has called the Soviet Union's collapse (in 1991) the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th century. He has dedicated himself to reversing that catastrophe" and restoring Russia to what he sees as its rightful position as a formidable world power.

He has already been very successful and it isn't finished.

In the parliamentary elections in 2003, President Putin cemented control over Russia in a way that recalled that nation's authoritarian history. We should remember that Mr. Putin was shaped and molded by the infamous KGB the ruthless murderous secret service arm of the Russian government made famous by Joseph Stalin.Clearly Putin had used his presidential powers to manipulate the process to ensure a victory for his United Russia party. His strong-arm moves struck intense fear in Europe.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) complained that the elections "did not meet international standards" and represented a "regression in the democratization of this country." Stratfor wrote, "What bothers the OSCE is less the hardball campaign tactics than the size of Putin's win. Putin has nearly a two-thirds majority in both chambers of parliament. The liberal parties have been devastated. The shape of Russian politics is shifting as antiauthoritarian parties disappear. Increasingly the choice is between mild or hard authoritarianism.

Vladimir Putin went on from the 2003 parliamentary election to amass more power both at home and abroad. In 2004, he enacted a law whereby regional governors, rather than being elected by the people, would be appointed directly by the president. Some people call the move "a step toward dictatorship."

In August of 2007 the Russian Air Force began to resume Cold Ward-style nuclear bomber flights.

What Kind Of Catholic Are You?

by Leiann Spontaneo

An article by Caryle Murphy (dated September 15, 2015, titled "Half of U.S. Adults Raised Catholic Have Left The Church At Some Point," on website http://www.pewresearch.org), states that despite the temporary and lasting departures from the church there are still deep reservoirs of loyalty to the church. Nearly 73% of current Catholics say they have been part of the church their whole life. A similar share also say they could never imagine leaving Catholicism no matter what. She goes on to say that there has been speculation that the popularity of Pope Francis and the atmosphere of change around his papacy might inspire many former Catholics to return to the church. So, American Catholics are still like family, just one where not everyone is living under the same roof.

On the website http://americanmagazine.org, an article dated April 30, 2012 by William J. Byron and Charles Zech, tells the story of a survey of nearly 300 non-churchgoing Catholics, in a diocese in Trenton, New Jersey requested by Trenton's Bishop David M. O'Connell. There were many complaints about the quality of homilies, as well as about poor music at Mass. Results of the survey went on to claim that the quality of preaching needs attention, as does the image of clergy who fairly or unfairly are all too often seen as arrogant, distant, unavailable, and uncaring.

On the faithful side, Cathy Lynn Grossman reports (in an article on website http://USATODAY.com, dated April 5, 2012, titled "Reverts Return To Their Childhood Religions"), about a woman named Lydia Scrafano who said she missed it all, communion by a priest, the stained glass, the Virgin Mary. Unlike most she returned. And she returned to stay. She's not a convert. She's a revert. Religious denominations are stepping up efforts to reclaim, re-energize and sometimes re-educate these fallen-away faithful.

An article by Melanie Rigney and Anna M. LaNeve (titled "How To Help Catholics Come Home" on the website http://www.catholicdigest.com), discusses what to say and what not to say. What should you do? They state that many inactive Catholics believe they can be "good" Catholics without attending Mass every Sunday. Don't overreact. If an inactive Catholic challenges, offer to provide books, articles, or their resources on the subject that you can read and discuss together. Do invite. Always offer the opportunity to accompany you to parish events or Mass, especially on Holy days. If he or she declines, don't push it. But do extend the invitation at the appropriate time. Do pray. Do encourage. Check with the office of the parish near the person's home to see if it offers a program for returning Catholics. Among the best are Landings, Catholics Coming Home, and Catholics Returning Home. Don't despair. Some people need to talk about a return for years or decades before they act. Each person's spiritual journey is unique.

I'd like to close with a prayer. A woman named "Bella" had this prayer on her blogspot website and the invitation says "My dear friends in Christ, here is a prayer that you may wish to add to your prayers for those people that you know and love, who you would like to pray for their strengthening, return of or conversion to the beautiful Catholic faith. This prayer is from Fr. John Harden's Catholic Prayer Book, 1999.

"Almighty Father,

You desire not the death of the sinner, but that he may be converted and live. Pour out upon us Your mercy and hear the prayers of Your servents. Soften the hearts of Your children who have strayed from the true path which You established for their salvation. They are now forgetful of their duties as Catholics and pursue the pleasures of the world. Grant that they may quickly return to the practice of every Christian virtue, so that their lives may shine with the integrity of faith, the fervor of piety, and the ardor of charity. Restore them all to Your sacraments and the life of Your grace, through the merits of the most precious blood of Your Son, Our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen."

Light to the Nations

(A Christian Perspective on World News)

Stronger Than Sin

Vatican City (VIS) - Mercy and power were the theme of Pope Francis' catechesis in the general audience (on February 24) in St. Peter's Square, attended by more than twenty thousand faithful and pilgrims.

The Holy Father explained that various passages of the Bible speak about kings and men of power, and also of their arrogance and abuses, demonstrating that "wealth and power can be good and useful for the common good if placed at the service of the poor and of all, with justice and charity. However, as often occurs, if lived as a privilege, with selfishness and arrogance, they become tools of corruption and death."

An example of this unjust privilege is found in the account of the vineyard of Naboth. The king Ahab wishes to acquire it since it was situated adjacent to the royal palace, but Naboth refuses since for Israel the land is God's, and receives His blessing which is handed from generation to generation. Ahab is indignant at receiving this refusal, which he perceives as an offense to his power, undermining his authority. His wife, Jezebel, which also considered royal power to be absolute, decides to eliminate Naboth and makes false witnesses accuse him before the elders and the authorities of having blasphemed and spoken ill of the king, crimes which carried the death penalty. Naboth was executed and the king inherited his vineyard.

"Recalling these events, Jesus tells us: 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave.' If the dimension of service is lost, power transforms into arrogance and oppression." The story of Naboth, continued the Pope, "is not a story of other times; it is also the story of today, of the powerful who exploit the poor, exploit the people, to have more money. It is the story of human trafficking, of slave labor, of poor people who work illegally and with the minimum salary to enrich the powerful. It is the story of corrupt politicians who want more and more."

The episode of Naboth's vineyard teaches us "where the exercise of authority without respect for life or justice and without mercy leads us. And here we see where the thirst for power leads: it becomes avarice, the desire to possess everything." Francis gave the example of the words of the prophet Isaiah, "who was not a communist," when he observed the avidity of the rich landowners who sought to acquire more and more houses and land. "Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room, and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land."

However, "God is greater than evil, and the dirty games human beings play, and in His mercy He sends the prophet Elijah to help Ahab convert. The king, faced with his sin, is humbled and asks for forgiveness. How good it would be if today's powerful exploiters were to do likewise!" exclaimed Francis. "The Lord accepts his penance, but an innocent man was killed and this inevitably has consequences. Indeed, the evil committed leaves painful traces, and the history of mankind bears the scars."

In this case too, mercy shows the path to follow as it is able to cure wounds and change history. "Divine mercy is stronger than the sin of men. It is stronger, this is the example of Ahab! We know its power, when we remember the coming of the Innocent Son of God Who made Himself man to destroy evil with His forgiveness. Jesus Christ is the true king, but His power is completely different. His throne is the cross. He is not a king who kills, but on the contrary gives His life. His approach to all, especially the weakest, defeats solitude and the destiny of death that sin leads to. Jesus Christ, with His closeness and tenderness, leads sinners into the space of grace and forgiveness. And this is God's mercy."

(Source: Vatican Information Service)

seek a new humanism of work

Vatican City (VIS) - This morning (February 27) in the Paul VI Hall Pope Francis received in audience seven thousand Italian members of Confindustria (the General Confederation of Italian Industry). It was the first encounter in the Vatican in the history of the association, and took place within the context of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. The Holy Father observed that with this meeting, the men and women of Italian business confirm their commitment to contributing to a more just society, to reflecting together on the ethics of business, and to strengthening their attention to values, the "spinal column" of projects that offer a concrete alternative to the consumerist model of profit at any cost.

The theme "working together" inspires collaboration, sharing and preparing the way for relations regulated by a sense of joint responsibility. "In the complex world of business, working together means investing in projects able to involve those who are often forgotten or neglected, especially families. And, alongside them, we cannot forget the weakest and most marginalized categories, such as the elderly, who may still have the resources and energy for active collaboration, but are too often discarded as useless and unproductive. Then there are potential workers, especially the young who, imprisoned by uncertainty or long periods of unemployment, do not receive offers of work providing them with not only an honest salary but also the dignity that they are often deprived of."

Working together means "basing work not on the solitary genius of an individual, but on the collaboration of many. It means, in other words, building a network to bring to the fore the gifts of all, without however neglecting the unique qualities of each person. At the center of every business, therefore, is the person: not abstract, ideal or theoretical, but a real person with dreams, needs, hopes, and hardships. Faced with the many barriers of injustice, solitude, distrust, and suspicion that continue to be built in our times, the world of work, in which you are on the front line, is required to take courageous steps so that encountering each other and working together is not merely a slogan, but rather a plan for the present and the future."

The Holy Father reminded those present of their "noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world," for which they are called to be builders of the common good and promoters of a "new humanism of work."

"You are called to safeguard professionalism, and at the same time to pay attention to the conditions in which work is carried out," he said. "May you always be guided by justice, which refuses the shortcuts of favoritism, and the dangerous deviations of dishonesty and easy compromise. May the supreme law always be attention to the dignity of others, an absolute and indispensable value. May this aim of altruism always distinguish your work: it will lead you to refuse categorically the infringement of the dignity of the person in the name of productive demands, which mask individualistic short-sightedness, sad selfishness, and thirst for profit."

The Pope concluded by urging the members of Confindustria to represent, instead, a business open to the "broader meaning of life," allowing them "truly to serve the common good, by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all," so that it is "not insensitive to the gaze of those in need. This is truly possible, provided that the simple proclamation of economic freedom does not prevail over the real freedom of man and his rights, that the market is not absolute, but rather honors the needs of justice and, in the final analysis, of the dignity of the person. There is no freedom without justice and no justice without respect for the dignity of every person."

(Source: Vatican Information Service

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 the Church will be filled with the Holy Spirit of mercy and love.
  • We pray that we will be witnesses to God's mercy.
  • We pray for blessing, strength, and happiness for all mothers.
  • We pray for an end to all wars and for all those who have been killed in wars.
  • We pray for the victory of the civilization of love and life over the culture of death.
  • We pray that all forms of communication will be used to spread the Gospel.
  • We pray for persecuted Christians for continued strength and courage.
  • We pray for an end to abortion, euthanasia, violence, and all attacks on life.
  • We pray for all prisoners to give their lives to Jesus.