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Pope Francis to youth in Greece: Don’t be ‘prisoners of the cell phone’

Pope Francis meets with young people at St. Dionysius School of the Ursuline Sisters in Maroussi, Athens, Dec. 6, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Athens, Greece, Dec 6, 2021 / 04:20 am (CNA).

Pope Francis urged young people in Athens on Monday not to be “prisoners of the cell phone,” but to truly share their lives with others.

Speaking in a school sports hall in a suburb of the Greek capital on Dec. 6, the pope said that helping others was “the way to bring about something truly new in history.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Many people today are constantly using social media, but are not themselves very social: they are caught up in themselves, prisoners of the cell phone in their hand,” he said, in his last address before departing for Rome at the end of a three-day visit to Greece.

“What appears on the screen is not the reality of other persons: their eyes, their breath, and their hands. The screen can easily become a mirror, where you think you are looking at the world, but in reality, you are all alone before a virtual world full of appearances, of photos dressed up to look always beautiful and acceptable.”

“Yet how beautiful it is simply to be together with other people, to discover the newness of others! Cultivate the mystique of togetherness, the joy of sharing, the enthusiasm of serving!”

The pope arrived in Greece on Dec. 3 after a two-day visit to Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. In a packed itinerary, he met Cypriot authorities, Orthodox bishops, local Catholics, and migrants, as well as celebrating Mass in the country’s largest stadium.

The 84-year-old pope’s three days in neighboring Greece included meetings with political authorities, Orthodox leaders, the Catholic community, local Jesuits, and migrants on the island of Lesbos. He also celebrated Mass at a concert hall in the capital.

Greece, officially known as the Hellenic Republic, is a predominantly Orthodox country of 10.7 million people, around 50,000 of whom are Catholic.

Seating on a dais at the end of a basketball court, the pope listened to the testimonies of three young people: Katerina Binibini, a young Filipina; Ioanna Vidali, from Tinos, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea; and Aboud Gabro, from Syria.

Screenshot from Vatican News YouTube channel.
Screenshot from Vatican News YouTube channel.

Katerina Binibini said that she struggled with doubt when confronted with people’s suffering.

“I have also had moments of anger and jealousy at seeing people who are not believers and who seem to have no pain or problems, while I, as a faithful Christian, feel constantly challenged,” she said. “Many times I think how unjust God is.”

But she said that the pandemic had helped her to accept setbacks and face life in a new way.

“I realized that in difficult times we are all equal and that we must convert our individualistic mentality to help others,” she said at the live-streamed event.

Screenshot from Vatican News YouTube channel.
Screenshot from Vatican News YouTube channel.

Ioanna Vidali, 26, spoke of how she strayed from her childhood faith while studying for university entrance exams. But her life changed after she saw “a Christ-like figure” in a dream.

“Since then, not only has my faith been strengthened, but I have also embraced the greatness of God’s love,” she said, adding that she now tried to share her faith by working with other young people.

Screenshot from Vatican News YouTube channel.
Screenshot from Vatican News YouTube channel.

Aboud Gabro, 18, described his family’s dramatic escape by boat from the war-torn city of Aleppo to Greece. He recalled what he said was the miraculous preservation of their lives when a device exploded when they were outside on their balcony. Later, a bomb struck his parents’ bedroom when they were inside, but they survived.

“After three attempts, we managed to land on the coast of hope. It was difficult to stay on a rock with no water and no food, waiting for dawn and for a coast guard ship to come and rescue us,” he said.

“We were full of joy when we arrived in Symi and then in Rhodes, where the inhabitants welcomed us with open arms, understanding our difficulties.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

In his homily, the pope addressed the questions raised by the three young people.

Picking up on Katerina’s admission of doubt, he said that Catholics should not be afraid of their uncertainties.

“On the contrary, doubts are ‘vitamins of faith’: they help strengthen faith and make it more robust. They enable faith to become more conscious, free, and mature,” he said.

Screenshot from Vatican News YouTube channel.
Screenshot from Vatican News YouTube channel.

But he warned young people against the temptation to despair when overwhelmed by their problems.

“That, my friends, is a temptation! A temptation to be rejected. The devil sows this doubt in our hearts in order to make us sad,” he said.

The way to overcome this temptation, he said, is to cultivate a daily sense of wonder.

He asked: “Do you know the starting point for all philosophy, but also for art, culture, and science? Do you know what it is? All that began with a spark, a realization, captured in the magnificent word: thaumàzein. It began with wonder, with amazement.”

He said that the same was true of faith.

“In the deepest sense, faith is not an idea or a system of morality, but a reality, a beautiful truth that does not depend on us and that leaves us amazed: we are God’s beloved children,” he said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope stressed that God continued to love young people no matter what they think or do.

“If we stand before a mirror, we may not see ourselves the way we would like, because we are too concerned with the things we don’t like. But if we stand before God, the perspective changes,” he said.

“We cannot help but be amazed that, for all our sins and failings, for him, we are, and always will be, his beloved children.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“So, instead of starting the day by looking in the mirror, why not open your bedroom window and focus on the beauty that you see all around you? Step outside yourself.”

The pope spoke about the Sirens, the Greek mythological creatures that lured sailors to their deaths by the beauty of their songs. He recalled that Odysseus resisted their allure by asking to be tied to his ship’s mast.

“Another ancient figure, Orpheus, teaches us a better way,” the pope said. “He sang a more beautiful melody than that of the sirens, and thus reduced them to silence. That is why it is important to cherish the wonder, the amazement, the beauty of faith!”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“We are Christians not out of duty, but out of beauty. And precisely because we want to cherish that beauty, we have to say no to anything that would mar it.”

The pope praised Ioanna for talking about the importance of other people.

“Helping others is not for losers, but for winners; it is the way to bring about something truly new in history,” he said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“I am told that in Greek, the same word can mean ‘new’ and ‘young.’ Service is the newness of Jesus; service, dedication to others, is the newness that makes life ever youthful.”

“Don’t be satisfied with publishing a few posts or tweets. Don’t settle for virtual encounters, look for real ones, especially with those who need you: don’t look for visibility, but for the invisible. This is original, revolutionary.”

The pope described Aboud’s journey from Syria to Greece as “a true modern-day odyssey.”

“As for you,” he told the young people, “nourish the courage of hope. The kind of hope that you had, Aboud. How do you do this? By your choices, your decisions.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Choosing is a challenge. It involves facing the fear of the unknown, emerging from the chaos of uniformity, deciding to take your life in hand.”

“To make right choices, you should remember one thing: good decisions are always about others, not just about ourselves. Those are the decisions that are worth making, the dreams worth striving to accomplish, those that require courage and involve others.”

He concluded: “And as I take my leave of you, this is my wish for you: the courage to go forward, the courage to take risks, the courage not to remain in your armchair. The courage to take risks, to go towards others, never in isolation, always with others. And with this courage, each and every one of you will find yourself, find each other, and find the meaning of life.”

Catholics killed after bus plunges into river in Kenya

At least 33 Catholics were killed Dec. 4 when a bus fell into a river in Kitui County, Kenya. / Courtesy Photo

Nairobi, Kenya, Dec 6, 2021 / 03:48 am (CNA).

At least 33 people, including children, were killed Saturday on their way to a wedding, in a tragic accident involving a bus falling into a river in southeastern Kenya.

More than 60 people were on the bus in the Diocese of Kitui Dec. 4, when the coach plunged into the Enziu River as it tried to cross a submerged bridge, ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner reported.

Reports say that around 20 members of a Catholic parish's St. Cecilia Choir, two religious brothers, and several flower girls are among the dead, all of whom were supposed to be guests at a wedding at St. Joseph Nuu Parish in the Diocese of Kitui, a territory east of Nairobi, which serves over 230,000 Catholics.

Courtesy Photo
Courtesy Photo

The bus belonged to the St. Joseph Minor Seminary. In video footage reviewed by ACI Africa, the driver of the bus can be seen attempting to navigate the vehicle over a submerged bridge before it fell into the river.

Locals and multiple Kenyan agencies, including divers from the Kenya Navy, were part of the rescue operation, which managed to save around half of the passengers, according to local media reports.

Media also reported that the bus driver, Br. Stephen Kang’ethe, a member of the religious order the Brothers of St. Peter Claver, had waited two hours before deciding to attempt crossing the river. Kang’ethe and his fellow religious, Br. Kenneth Wanzala Okinda, have both been confirmed dead.

The wedding was a marriage convalidation for the brother of a Kitui priest, Father Benson Kityambyu, who lost 11 family members in the accident.

Two daughters and two grandchildren of the couple receiving the sacrament of matrimony were reportedly killed in the tragedy.

Courtesy Photo
Courtesy Photo

The bus was pulled from the river Dec. 5 by a crane.

The governor of Kenya’s Kitui County, Charity Kaluki Ngilu, wrote on social media, that “the ill-fated bus wreckage has been retrieved from the river bed and the process of ascertaining whether there are any more bodies still trapped in the wreckage or the river bed continues.”

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta led the nation in sharing his condolences to the bereaved families and wishing a quick recovery to those who were injured.

Pope Francis in Greece: ‘Let us ask for the grace of hope’

Pope Francis offers Mass in the Megaron Concert Hall in Athens, Greece on Dec. 5, 2021. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Dec 5, 2021 / 09:05 am (CNA).

In Athens, Pope Francis said Sunday that the Greek language gave the entire Church a word that sums up the gift of Christ.

This word is “eucharistia” — the ancient Greek word meaning “thanksgiving” adopted by the early Church as a word for the sacred host, the Eucharist.

“For us Christians, thanksgiving is at the heart of our faith and life,” Pope Francis said after offering Mass in Athens’ Megaron Concert Hall on Dec. 5.

“May the Holy Spirit make of everything we are and everything we do a 'Eucharistia', a thanksgiving to God and a gift of love to our brothers and sisters.”

In his homily, Pope Francis reflected on St. John the Baptist’s call for conversion as “a voice of one crying out in the desert.”

“Dear brothers and sisters, in our lives as individuals or nations, there will always be times when we feel that we are in the midst of a desert. Yet it is precisely there that the Lord makes his presence felt,” Pope Francis said.

“Indeed, he is often welcomed not by the self-satisfied, but by those who feel helpless or inadequate. And he comes with words of closeness, compassion and tenderness: ‘Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you.’ (Is 41:10).”

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

The pope encouraged the 2,000 people gathered in the hall to be “witnesses of hope and sowers of joy.”

“Brothers and sisters, let us ask for the grace to believe that with God things really do change, that he will banish our fears, heal our wounds, turn our arid places into springs of water,” he said.

“Let us ask for the grace of hope, since hope revives our faith and rekindles our charity. It is for this hope that the deserts of today’s world are thirsting.”

Pope Francis said that “to be converted” means “not listening to the things that stifle hope, to those who keep telling us that nothing ever changes in life.”

“Here your beautiful Greek language can help us by reminding us of the etymology of the verb ‘to convert’, metanoeίn, used in the Gospel,” he said.

“Composed of the preposition metá, which here means ‘beyond’, and the verb noéin, ‘to think’, it tells us that to convert is to ‘think beyond’, to go beyond our usual ways of thinking, beyond our habitual worldview.”

“By calling us to conversion, John urges us to go 'beyond' where we presently are; to go beyond what our instincts tell us and our thoughts register, for reality is much greater than that. The reality is that God is greater,” he added.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

The live-streamed Mass in Athens concluded Pope Francis’ fourth day of his apostolic trip to Cyprus and Greece taking place Dec. 2-6.

Pope Francis arrived in Greece on Dec. 4 after a two-day visit to Cyprus. In a packed itinerary, he met Cypriot authorities, Orthodox bishops, local Catholics, and migrants, as well as celebrating Mass in the country’s largest stadium.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

His three days in Greece have also included meetings with Orthodox leaders and migrants on the island of Lesbos.

The pope will return to the Vatican on Dec. 6 after offering a Mass at a Catholic school in Athens in the morning.

“Tomorrow I will be leaving Greece, but I will not leave you. I will carry you with me in my memory and in my prayers. And I ask you too, please, to keep praying for me,” Pope Francis said.

5 small Catholic businesses to help you finish your Christmas shopping

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Denver Newsroom, Dec 5, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

With Christmas quickly approaching, you may still need that perfect gift for that special someone on your list. We’ve compiled a list of small Catholic companies that offer wonderful and thoughtful gifts for anyone in your life. 

Every Sacred Sunday

Founded in 2017, Every Sacred Sunday Mass journals are a great gift for those who love to take notes and reflect during Mass each Sunday. The Mass journals have the full Mass readings for each Sunday and Solemnity throughout the year. It also offers a 4-part journaling template that helps you study scripture and grow in your prayer life. These sections include a place to write a Bible verse that stood out to you, a section for a prayer request and prayer of thanksgiving, a notes section for the homily or how God spoke to you during the Mass, and a section to write down something you’ll do that week to help you grow in your faith. 

West Coast Catholic 

A rosary from West Coast Catholic would be the perfect gift for someone looking to grow in their prayer life and grow closer to our Blessed Mother. These beautiful handmade rosaries are inspired by the natural colors and landscapes of the West Coast and by a person, place, or story from the Bible. If you’re shopping for a married couple, the Eden set includes a pair of decade rosaries resembling the relationship between Adam and Eve with the hope to inspire couples to pray together.

House of Joppa

A family-run business, House of Joppa offers modern, Catholic home decor and gifts that are beautiful, timeless, and intentional. Their gift sets make the perfect gift for anyone on your Christmas list. Each set is faith-inspired, and are bound to be one-of-a-kind treasures that will make a great addition to any home. The San Damiano Cross and Refuge Candle gift set is just one of the many options you can find for your loved ones this Christmas. 

The Little Catholic

Do you know someone looking for a beautiful piece of Catholic jewelry? Perhaps a Sacred Heart pendant, a Miraculous Medal, or a stunning crucifix? The Little Catholic offers fine crafted, elegant Catholic jewelry in gold and sterling silver. All of their pieces are handmade by local artisans in Los Angeles, California. Catholic jewelry is a wonderful gift that inspires faith and encourages evangelization through these outward signs we wear. 

OréMoose Catholic Leather

If you’re shopping for a man in your life, then we’ve got you covered. OréMoose Catholic Leatherwork creates handmade, custom leather bible and portfolio covers, wallets, coffee sleeves, koozies, satchels and so much more. These pieces are durable and stylish. Most pieces are engraved with a cross; however, you can also customize your piece with your own design or engraving. 

This Christmas, give the gift of God, of faith, of true beauty. After all, that is the reason for the season.

Pope Francis calls migrant crisis a ‘shipwreck of civilization’ during refugee camp visit

Pope Francis visits the Mavrovouni refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos on Dec. 5, 2021 / Vatican Media

Lesbos, Greece, Dec 5, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).

From a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, Pope Francis decried European indifference to the plight of migrants in the Mediterranean as a "shipwreck of civilization.”

“The Mediterranean, which for millennia has brought different peoples and distant lands together, is now becoming a grim cemetery without tombstones. This great basin of water, the cradle of so many civilizations, now looks like a mirror of death,” Pope Francis said in Lesbos on Dec. 5.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

“Let us not let our sea be transformed into a desolate sea of death. Let us not allow this place of encounter to become a theatre of conflict. … Please, brothers and sisters, let us stop this shipwreck of civilization,” he said during the live-streamed meeting.

About 200 refugees were present to welcome the pope to the Mavrovouni migrant reception and identification center located along the shore of Lesbos, according to the Vatican.

Pope Francis shook hands and offered blessings to the migrants he encountered as he walked through the camp.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

“Sisters and brothers, I am here once again, to meet you and to assure you of my closeness. I am here to see your faces and look into your eyes. Eyes full of fear and expectancy, eyes that have seen violence and poverty, eyes streaked by too many tears,” he said in his speech.

“Those who are afraid of you have not seen your faces. Those who fear you have not seen your children. They have forgotten that dignity and freedom transcend fear and division. They have forgotten that migration is not an issue for the Middle East and Northern Africa, for Europe and Greece. It is an issue for the world,” he said.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

Lesbos, also known as Lesvos and Mytilene, is a temporary home in the Aegean Sea for thousands of migrants. The new Mavrovouni camp that the pope visited has a capacity of 8,000 people, but is not full due to COVID-19 restrictions.

In his speech, Pope Francis repeatedly quoted Elie Wiesel, the Auschwitz survivor and author who died in 2016.

“‘When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders become irrelevant,’” the pope said, quoting Wiesel’s 1986 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech.

In a meeting with migrants in Cyprus two days prior, Pope Francis also brought up Nazi concentration camps when discussing the suffering of migrants.

“We complain when we read the stories of the camps of the last century, those of the Nazis, those of Stalin. We complain when we see this and say, 'but how did this happen?' Brothers and sisters, it is happening today, on nearby shores,” the pope said in Nicosia on Dec. 3.

Andrea Gagliarducci/CNA
Andrea Gagliarducci/CNA

Pope Francis said in Lesbos that he is distressed when he hears proposals that common funds be used to build walls.

“Problems are not resolved and coexistence improved by building walls higher, but by joining forces to care for others according to the concrete possibilities of each and in respect for the law, always giving primacy to the inalienable value of the life of every human being,” he said.

This was Pope Francis’ second visit to Lesbos, which has a population of around 115,000, and housed more than 17,000 refugees before the Moria camp burned down on Sept. 8, 2020.

Pope Francis made a daylong visit to the island in April 2016 during which he visited the Moria refugee camp and returned bringing 12 refugees with him to Italy.

“Five years have passed since I visited this place … After all this time, we see that little has changed with regard to the issue of migration,” the pope said.

“With deep regret, we must admit that this country, like others, continues to be hard-pressed, and that in Europe there are those who persist in treating the problem as a matter that does not concern them,” Francis said.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

During his visit to the camp, Pope Francis listened to a testimony from Christian Tango Mukaya, a Catholic refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mukaya is the father of three children -- two of whom have been with him since his arrival at the Lesbos camp in November 2020. He said that his other child and wife were not able to join him in Greece and he has not heard from them in over a year.

The refugee shared how his current Catholic parish in Lesbos has been a great support to him during this time of difficulty.

“With the strength of prayer and the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Our Mother and Mother of the Church, I was able to overcome the difficulties I encountered in life as a refugee,” Mukaya said.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

Pope Francis' visit to the refugee camp occurred on the fourth day of his apostolic journey to Cyprus and Greece taking place Dec. 2-6.

After his visit to the camp, the pope will return to Athens by plane to preside over a Mass in the afternoon at the Megaron Concert Hall in the Greek capital at 5pm.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

The pope concluded his time in Lesbos by praying the Sunday Angelus from the refugee camp.

“Let us now pray to Our Lady, that she may open our eyes to the sufferings of our brothers and sisters. Mary set out in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant. How many pregnant mothers, journeying in haste, have found death, even while carrying life in their womb,” he said.

“May the Mother of God help us to have a maternal gaze that regards all human beings as children of God, sisters and brothers to be welcomed, protected, supported and integrated. And to be loved tenderly. May the all-holy Mother teach us to put the reality of men and women before ideas and ideologies, and to go forth in haste to encounter all those who suffer.”

Smallness can be a blessing, Pope Francis tells Greece's Catholic minority

Pope Francis meets with clerics, religious, consecrated persons, seminarians, and catechists at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Dionysius the Areopagite in Athens, Dec. 4, 2021. / Vatican Media

Athens, Greece, Dec 4, 2021 / 13:40 pm (CNA).

The smallness of a Christian community can be a sign of closeness to God, Pope Francis told members of Greece’s tiny Catholic minority in Athens Saturday evening. He reflected on the example of St. Paul in evangelizing ancient Greece and proclaiming that their pagan culture held the seeds of Christian faith.

“So, dear friends, I would tell you this: Consider your smallness a blessing and accept it willingly. It disposes you to trust in God and in God alone,” the pope said in remarks to bishops, priests, religious, seminarians, and catechists at Athens’ Cathedral Basilica of St. Dionysius the Areopagite.

“Being a minority – and do not forget that the Church throughout the world is a minority – does not mean being insignificant, but closer to the path loved by the Lord, which is that of littleness: of kenosis, of abasement, of meekness,” he continued. “Jesus came down even to becoming hidden in the weakness of our humanity and the wounds of our flesh. He saved us by serving us.”

While Christians can often be “obsessed with external appearances and visibility,” St. Paul teaches that the Kingdom of God “does not come with signs that can be observed.” Rather, “it comes secretly, like rain, slowly, over the Earth.”

Greece’s 10.7 million people are predominantly Eastern Orthodox. Only about 50,000 are Catholic. The pope arrived in Greece for a three-day trip on Saturday after a two-day visit to Cyprus.

In his Saturday evening remarks, Pope Francis emphasized St. Paul’s trust in God and his wise approach towards the Greeks he evangelized. The apostle knew that God had already planted the seeds of evangelization before him, and saw “the desire for God hidden in the hearts of those people, and wanted gently to share with them the amazing gift of faith.”

“Paul proclaimed the God unknown to his hearers. He thus was able to present the face of a God, who in Jesus Christ sowed in the heart of the world the seed of resurrection, the universal right to hope,” said the Roman Pontiff during the live-streamed meeting.

“When Paul proclaimed this good news, most of them laughed at him and went their way,” the pope said. However, some Athenians joined the apostle and became believers, including the cathedral’s namesake, St. Dionysius. “A small remnant, yet that is how God weaves the threads of history, from those days until our own,” the pope remarked.

Pope Francis praised Greece as “a land that is a gift, a patrimony of mankind, on which the foundations of the West have been built.”

“All of us are sons and daughters of your country, and in her debt: without the poetry, literature, philosophy and art that developed here, we would not be familiar with many aspects of human existence, or be able to respond to many profound questions regarding life, love, suffering, also death,” he told the gathering.

“At the dawn of Christianity, this rich heritage gave rise to an inculturation of the faith, carried out, as if in a ‘laboratory,’ thanks to the wisdom of many of our Fathers in the faith, who by their holiness of life and their writings remain a beacon of light for believers in every age,” he added. St. Paul helped inaugurate “this encounter between early Christianity and Greek culture.”

“He began this work of synthesizing those two worlds. He did it in this very place, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles,” said the pope.

Pope Francis found in the apostle two attitudes that can help contemporary Christians enculturate the faith. First, St. Paul showed “confident trust” in God. Some philosophers who encountered his preaching in Athens considered him a “charlatan” and brought him to the Areopagus not simply to “offer him a platform,” but “to interrogate him” about his “new and strange teaching.” According to the pope, Paul was “being put to the test.”

“This was not a moment of triumph for Paul,” Pope Francis explained. “He was carrying out his mission in a difficult situation. Perhaps, many times along the way, we too feel weary and even frustrated at being a small community, a Church with few resources operating in a climate that is not always favorable.”

“Think about Paul in Athens. He was alone, in the minority, unwelcome and with little chance of success. But he did not allow himself to be overcome by discouragement. He did not give up on his mission. Nor did he yield to the temptation to complain,” said the pope.

“This is very important: watch out for complaints,” he emphasized. “That is the attitude of a true apostle: to go forward with confidence, preferring the uncertainty of unexpected situations rather than the complacency that comes from the force of habit. Paul had that courage.” This courage was “born of trust in God,” who “loves to accomplish great things always through our lowliness.”

As shown by St. Paul, an attitude of acceptance “does not try to occupy the space and life of others, but to sow the good news in the soil of their lives.” This approach, the pope said, “learns to recognize and appreciate the seeds that God already planted in their hearts before we came on the scene.”

“Let us always remember that God always goes before us, God sows before we do. Evangelizing is not about filling an empty container; it is ultimately about bringing to light what God has already begun to accomplish,” Pope Francis said.

St. Paul did not proselytize but based his work on the meekness of Christ. He did not approach the Athenians with the attitude that they were all wrong, as if to say, “Now I will teach you the truth.” Rather, he accepted their religious spirit, invoking their altar dedicated to “an unknown god.”

“The Apostle dignified his hearers and welcomed their religiosity,” the pope said. “Even though the streets of Athens were full of idols, which had made him ‘deeply distressed,’ Paul acknowledged the desire for God hidden in the hearts of those people, and wanted gently to share with them the amazing gift of faith.”

“The Holy Spirit always does more than what we can see from the outside. Let us not forget this. In every age, the attitude of the apostle begins with accepting others,” said Pope Francis. He encouraged Christians “to cultivate an attitude of welcome, a style of hospitality, a heart desirous of creating communion amid human, cultural or religious differences.”

“The challenge is to develop a passion for the whole, which can lead us – Catholics, Orthodox, brothers and sisters of other creeds, including agnostics, anyone – to listen to one another, to dream and work together, to cultivate the ‘mystique’ of fraternity,” said the pope.

Being a small Church, he said, “makes us an eloquent sign of the Gospel, of the God proclaimed by Jesus who chooses the poor and the lowly, who changes history by the simple acts of ordinary people.”

The Church is not called to have “the spirit of conquest and victory, impressive numbers or worldly grandeur,” he said.

“All this is dangerous. It can tempt us to triumphalism,” said the pope.

“We are asked to be yeast, which rises patiently and silently, hidden within the dough of the world, thanks to the constant work of the Holy Spirit,” Pope Francis said.

“The secret of the Kingdom of God is in the little things, often quiet and unseen,” the pope reflected.

Pope Francis apologizes for mistakes of Catholics in meeting with Greek Orthodox leaders in Athens, Greece

Pope Francis speaks to His Beatitude Ieronymos II and other Greek Orthodox leaders in Athens Dec. 4. / Vatican Media

Athens, Greece, Dec 4, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis apologized for the ways Catholics have contributed to division with Orthodox Christians during a meeting with Greek Orthodox leaders in Athens on Saturday.

“Shamefully, patriarch, — I acknowledge this for the Catholic Church — actions and decisions that had little or nothing to do with Jesus and the Gospel, but were instead marked by a thirst for advantage and power, gravely weakened our communion,” the pope said on Dec. 4.

“In this way, we let fruitfulness be compromised by division,” he added. “History makes its weight felt, and here, today, I feel the need to ask anew for the forgiveness of God and of our brothers and sisters for the mistakes committed by many Catholics.”

Pope Francis spoke during a live-streamed meeting with leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church, including His Beatitude Ieronymos II, archbishop of Athens and All Greece, in the throne room of the Orthodox Archbishopric of Greece.

When Pope Francis arrived at the archbishopric, an Orthodox cleric started to protest, shouting “Pope, you are a heretic! Pope, you are a heretic!” before he was taken away by police.

Last month, a Greek Orthodox metropolitan, Andreas of Konitsa, spoke out against Pope Francis’ visit to Greece, also calling the pontiff a heretic.

The incidents reflect a longstanding suspicion of the pope in some corners of the Greek Orthodox Church. Pope John Paul II also tried to bring healing to the Catholic-Greek Orthodox rift during a controversial 2001 visit to Greece, the first by a Catholic pope in over 1,000 years.

John Paul II’s visit, during which he apologized for the sins of Catholics against their Orthodox brothers and sisters, was also strongly protested.

Francis is traveling to Athens Dec. 4-6, after spending two days in Nicosia, the capital city of Cyprus. He will also visit the Greek island of Lesbos, where he met Ieronymos II for the first time during a 2016 visit to the island. The two also met privately Dec. 4.

The populations of both Greece and Cyprus are predominately Orthodox Christian. Pope Francis also met Cypriot Orthodox leaders in Nicosia on Dec. 3.

Greece, officially known as the Hellenic Republic, is a country of 10.7 million people, around 50,000 of whom are Catholic.

Pope Francis told Greek Orthodox hierarchs Dec. 4 that despite the deep divide which still exists between Catholics and Orthodox, “we are comforted by the certainty that our roots are apostolic and that, notwithstanding the twists and turns of time, what God planted continues to grow and bear fruit in the same Spirit.”

“It is a grace to recognize one another’s good fruits and to join in thanking the Lord for this,” he said.

Francis reflected on the old olive trees which can be found in both Italy and Greece, noting that they “unite us” and remind him of the roots Catholics and Orthodox share in their apostolic founding, prior to the division which followed the Great Schism of 1054.

“Underground, hidden, frequently overlooked, those roots are nonetheless there and they sustain everything,” he said. “Saint Paul speaks of them when he stresses the importance of being ‘built upon the foundation of the apostles’ (Ephesians 2:20).”

Unfortunately, after the first centuries bore good fruit, especially in Hellenic culture, “worldly concerns poisoned us, weeds of suspicion increased our distance and we ceased to nurture communion,” the pope said, quoting St. Basil the Great, who said “that true disciples of Christ are ‘modeled only on what they see in him.’”

Pope Francis also invoked the Holy Spirit and his gifts of communion, wisdom, and consolation. “I pray that the Spirit of love will overcome every form of resistance and make us builders of communion,” he stated.

Quoting St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Homily 15 on the Song of Songs, Francis added that “Indeed, ‘if love truly casts out fear and fear is transformed into love, then we will discover that what saves is unity.’”

“On the other hand, how can we testify before the world to the harmony of the Gospel, if we Christians remain separated?” he asked. “How can we proclaim the love of Christ who gathers the nations, if we ourselves are not united?”

“Many steps have already been taken to bring us together. Let us implore the Spirit of communion to spur us to follow his lead and to help us base communion not on calculations, strategies and expedience, but on the one model to which we must look: the Most Holy Trinity.”

Pope Francis decries global ‘retreat from democracy’ in Athens speech

Pope Francis addresses a meeting with authorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps at the Presidential Palace in Athens, Greece, Dec. 3, 2021 / Vatican Media.

Athens, Greece, Dec 4, 2021 / 04:55 am (CNA).

Pope Francis lamented a global “retreat from democracy” in a speech on Saturday in Athens, the cradle of Western civilization.

The pope was speaking to political leaders, representatives of civil society, and members of the diplomatic corps at the Presidential Palace on Dec. 4, hours after arriving from Cyprus.

“Here democracy was born. That cradle, thousands of years later, was to become a house, a great house of democratic peoples. I am speaking of the European Union and the dream of peace and fraternity that it represents for so many peoples,” the pope said.

“Yet we cannot avoid noting with concern how today, and not only in Europe, we are witnessing a retreat from democracy.”

The pope arrived in Greece after a two-day visit to Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. In a packed itinerary, he met Cypriot authorities, Orthodox bishops, local Catholics, and migrants, as well as celebrating Mass in the country’s largest stadium.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The 84-year-old pope’s three days in neighboring Greece will be equally frenetic, with scheduled meetings with Orthodox leaders, the Catholic community, local Jesuits, migrants on the island of Lesbos, and young people.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Pope Francis made a daylong visit to Lesbos on April 16, 2016, after which he took 12 refugees back to the Vatican.

He is the first pope to visit mainland Greece since John Paul II, who in May 2001 became the first pope to visit the country in 1,291 years.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Greece, officially known as the Hellenic Republic, is a predominantly Orthodox Christian country of 10.7 million people, around 50,000 of whom are Catholic.

Vatican Pool.
Vatican Pool.

After a farewell ceremony at Larnaca International Airport in Cyprus, the pope departed for Athens. Following an official welcome at the airport, he traveled to the city’s Presidential Palace, where he paid a courtesy visit to Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou. Afterward, he met with the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Vatican Pool.
Vatican Pool.

In his live-streamed address, which cited the Greek philosophers Socrates and Aristotle, the pope stressed that democracy requires the participation of all citizens.

“It is complex, whereas authoritarianism is peremptory and populism’s easy answers appear attractive,” he said.

Vatican Pool.
Vatican Pool.

“In some societies, concerned for security and dulled by consumerism, weariness and malcontent can lead to a sort of skepticism about democracy.”

“Yet universal participation is something essential; not simply to attain shared goals, but also because it corresponds to what we are: social beings, at once unique and interdependent.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope said that another aspect of skepticism about democracy was the loss of faith in institutions.

“The remedy is not to be found in an obsessive quest for popularity, in a thirst for visibility, in a flurry of unrealistic promises or in adherence to forms of ideological colonization, but in good politics,” he said.

“For politics is, and ought to be in practice, a good thing, as the supreme responsibility of citizens and as the art of the common good. So that the good can be truly shared, particular attention, I would even say priority, should be given to the weaker strata of society. This is the direction to take.”

Vatican Pool.
Vatican Pool.

The pope quoted Alcide De Gasperi, one of the founding fathers of the European Union, who said in 1949 that “There is much talk of who is moving left or right, but the decisive thing is to move forward, and to move forward means to move towards social justice.”

The pope commented: “Here, a change of direction is needed, even as fears and theories, amplified by virtual communication, are daily spread to create division.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Let us help one another, instead, to pass from partisanship to participation; from committing ourselves to supporting our party alone to engaging ourselves actively for the promotion of all.”

Greece has a long southern coastline along the Mediterranean Sea and is a popular destination for migrants trying to enter the European Union, a political and economic bloc of 27 member states.

In his address, the pope acknowledged that migration brought new pressures to the local populace, especially in Greece’s islands.

“This country, naturally welcoming, has seen on some of its islands the arrival of numbers of our migrant brothers and sisters greater than the number of their native inhabitants; this has heightened the difficulties still felt in the aftermath of the economic crisis,” he said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Yet Europe also continues to temporize: the European Community, prey to forms of nationalistic self-interest, rather than being an engine of solidarity, appears at times blocked and uncoordinated.”

He went on: “In the past, ideological conflicts prevented the building of bridges between Eastern and Western Europe; today the issue of migration has led to breaches between South and North as well.”

“I would like to encourage once again a global, communitarian vision with regard to the issue of migration, and to urge that attention be paid to those in greatest need, so that, in proportion to each country’s means, they will be welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated, in full respect for their human rights and dignity.”

PHOTOS: The funeral of Fra’ Matthew Festing, the Order of Malta’s 79th Grand Master

The funeral of Fra’ Matthew Festing, the Order of Malta’s 79th Grand Master, takes place at St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta, Malta, Dec. 3, 2021. / Martin Micallef/Maltese Association Order of Malta via Flickr.

Valletta, Malta, Dec 4, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Fra’ Matthew Festing, the 79th Grand Master of the Order of Malta, was laid to rest in the crypt of a cathedral in Malta’s capital city following his state funeral on Friday.

When his coffin arrived at St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta on Dec. 3, a loud clap of thunder sounded, the order’s British association reported.

Cardinal Silvano Maria Tomasi, the pope’s special delegate to the Order of Malta, celebrated the live-streamed Requiem Mass. Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta and Msgr. Jean Laffitte, the Prelate of the order, concelebrated.

Those present included Malta’s President George Vella and Prime Minister Robert Abela, as well as Fra’ Marco Luzzago, Lieutenant of the Grand Master.

In his homily, Tomasi said: “Through the choice of becoming a Knight of Justice, Fra’ Matthew dedicated his life to the mission of the order, a mission that has remained constant through the centuries: tuìtio fidei et obsequium pauperum, the defense of the Faith and service to the poor.”

“After nine centuries, the mission of the order continues to inspire and it advances on the main road of the Church, faithful to its teaching and to all those who like Fra’ Matthew — and may he rest in peace — tried without fear of their limits to implement the Gospels’ message.”

Festing served as the Grand Master of the lay religious Catholic order, founded in Jerusalem in the 11th century, from 2008 to his resignation in 2017. He died in Malta on Nov. 12 at the age of 71.

Following the Requiem Mass, he was interred in the Crypt of the Grand Masters in St. John’s Co-Cathedral, becoming the order’s 12th Grand Master to be buried in the crypt and the first for hundreds of years.

Pro-life legal experts say they're encouraged by justices' questions in Dobbs abortion case

Anna Del Duca (right) and her daughter, Frances, traveled from Pittsburgh to attend a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, in conjunction with oral arguments for the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case. / Katie Yoder/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 4, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Three legal experts are expressing optimism for a pro-life victory in the U.S. Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that directly challenges Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationside.

“I am hopeful that the court will take the opportunity in Dobbs to correct the grievous error of Roe v. Wade, and get the court out of our nation's abortion politics,” Carrie Severino, president of the Judicial Crisis Network, told CNA after the Supreme Court heard arguments on Dec. 1.

The case involves a Mississippi law restricting most abortions after 15 weeks and centers on the question of “Whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional,” or whether states can ban abortion before a fetus can survive outside the womb. 

In Roe v. Wade, the court ruled that states could not ban abortion before viability, which the court determined to be 24 to 28 weeks into pregnancy. In 1992, the court largely upheld Roe in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. If Roe is overturned — one possible outcome of the Dobbs case — abortion law would be left up to each individual state. 

“Today the court did a great job articulating its constitutional role: not to pick winners and losers on divisive issues like abortion, but to remain ‘scrupulously neutral,’ as Justice Kavanaugh said,” Severino tweeted just hours after the arguments. “The way it works out will look different in different states, but the Court should let the people decide.”

Although the arguments were held in December, the Supreme Court generally releases decisions in high-profile cases, such as this one, at the end of its term in June. 

Keara Brown, originally from Columbus, Ohio, came with her Washington, D.C. team from pro-life group Live Action. They attended the pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. Katie Yoder/CNA
Keara Brown, originally from Columbus, Ohio, came with her Washington, D.C. team from pro-life group Live Action. They attended the pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. Katie Yoder/CNA

“I am very encouraged by oral argument and the prospect of a favorable decision this summer, but we should keep up our prayers for the justices,” legal scholar Erika Bachiochi told CNA.

Bachiochi serves as a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a senior fellow at the Abigail Adams Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she founded and directs the Wollstonecraft Project.

She identified one part of the oral arguments that she found surprising.

“Although I suppose shouldn’t have been, I was surprised by Justice Sotomayer’s naked pro-abortion rhetoric, especially with regard to her question concerning the ‘religious’ source of a 15-week abortion ban,” she said. “Does she really not know the science of fetal development?” 

During the oral argument, Justice Sonia Sotomayor questioned Scott G. Stewart, the solicitor general of Mississippi.

“How is your interest anything but a religious view?” she asked. “The issue of when life begins has been hotly debated by philosophers since the beginning of time. It's still debated in religions.”

She added, “So, when you say this is the only right that takes away from the state the ability to protect a life, that's a religious view, isn't it — because it assumes that a fetus' life at — when? You're not drawing — you're — when do you suggest we begin that life? Putting it aside from religion.”

In anticipation of the oral argument, the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the Susan B. Anthony List, documented information about 15-week-old unborn babies, who can, among other things, already exhibit whether they prefer sucking their right or left thumb.

Earlier this year, Bachiochi, together with law professors Teresa Collett and Helen Alvaré, filed an amicus brief representing 240 women scholars and professionals and various pro-life organizations in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

In a piece published by the National Catholic Register, Alvaré, a professor of law at the Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University, found the oral argument “promising for the pro-life cause.”

But, she added, “it would be impossible to cram into the few minutes of an oral argument all the reason, facts, principles, analyses — and hopes — of 50 years of pro-life argumentation,” she wrote. “There was no time to call out abortion advocates’ lies, more lies, and made-up statistics. No time to show that women have not depended upon abortion for their dignity and freedom, but that the opposite is true. No time to detail the miraculous, the beautiful humanity of the unborn.” 

“Based strictly upon the oral arguments, it is clear that Justices Sotomayor, Breyer and Kagan will vote to uphold abortion rights,” she said. “It is more difficult to pronounce where the remaining Justices might fall, but their comments were largely promising.”