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  1. 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 Saint 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 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.

  2. 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.

    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.”

  3. 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.”

  4. These Christian migrants prayed for a better future. Now Pope Francis is making it possible

    Grace and Daniel have been stuck in Cyprus' buffer zone for more than six months after they fled Cameroon. / Alexey Gotovskiy/EWTN

    Rome Newsroom, Dec 3, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

    As a sign of Pope Francis’ concern for migrants, the Vatican announced Friday that it is helping to arrange the transfer of about 12 refugees from Cyprus to Italy.

    Among the migrants that Pope Francis is helping to bring to Italy are Grace, 24, and Daniel, 20, Christians who fled Cameroon after schools were shut down due to the Anglophone Crisis, provoked by tensions between the English-speaking minority and French-speaking majority.

    The two migrants met after paying the same smuggler to help them cross from Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus to the Greek-speaking south, where they hoped to find asylum in the European Union.

    “We were misled,” Grace said. The smuggler told them where to cross over the 16-foot-high wall that divides the Cypriot capital of Nicosia, but they were promptly taken into custody by the United Nations forces stationed in the demilitarized buffer zone.

    “The most scary moment in my life so far,” said Grace, who injured her leg after jumping from the wall.

    Since crossing over the wall last May, Grace and Daniel have been stuck in the buffer zone that divides Cyprus, which is also called “no man’s land,” living in a tent for more than six months.

    Alexey Gotovskiy/EWTN
    Alexey Gotovskiy/EWTN

    In an interview with EWTN News ahead of Pope Francis’ arrival in Cyprus, Grace said that faith in God helped to give her strength in the difficult times in Cyprus. She hopes for a better future in which she can find work.

    Daniel, a Catholic, said that he would like to be able to continue his studies once he receives asylum in Europe.

    “That’s what is keeping us strong because, like our faith, we believe that in any circumstances that you find yourself, never give up in life, so that saying has been keeping us strong and I believe God can do something,” Grace said.

    Alexey Gotovskiy/EWTN
    Alexey Gotovskiy/EWTN

    Elizabeth Kassinis, the executive manager of Caritas Cyprus, told EWTN that the numbers of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers arriving in Cyprus “have been really dramatic.”

    “Cyprus right now receives more asylum seekers per capita than anywhere in Europe,” Kassinis said.

    “It is a frontline state … all of the local systems are overwhelmed,” she added.

    Recently, Kassinis has noted the arrival of people from Lebanon, which is in the midst of an economic crisis, in addition to the flow of migrants from Syria and African countries.

    The Caritas Cyprus migrant services center in Nicosia receives about 300 people requesting assistance each day.

    “Most of the numbers that we're getting now are people who've just arrived,” she said.

    Pope Francis is currently in Cyprus, where he met on Dec. 3 with a group of migrants, who shared their storieswith the pope in an ecumenical prayer service in Nicosia.

    “It is he, the Lord Jesus, whom we encounter in the faces of our marginalized and discarded brothers and sisters. In the face of the migrant who is despised, rejected, put in a cage … but at the same time … in the face of the migrant journeying to a goal, to hope, to greater human companionship,” Pope Francis said.

  5. Archbishop Gänswein: Benedict XVI had three COVID-19 vaccine doses ‘out of conviction’

    Archbishop Georg Gänswein in St. Peter’s Square on Sept. 25, 2019. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

    Vatican City, Dec 3, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

    Archbishop Georg Gänswein has said that both he and Benedict XVI have received three COVID-19 vaccine doses “out of conviction.”

    The pope emeritus’ private secretary made the remark in a nine-page interview in the December edition of the German publication Vatican-magazin.

    The Vatican began administering doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine in January and confirmed in February that the pope emeritus had received the second dose of the vaccine. It began to administer the third dose in October.

    Gänswein was asked about Catholic opposition to coronavirus vaccines, some of which were produced using cell lines from aborted fetuses.

    His interviewer said that Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the controversial former apostolic nuncio to the United States, had criticized the Vatican for promoting a vaccination campaign.

    Gänswein said that he could not understand the criticisms.

    “One cannot raise the question of vaccination to the level of faith. Nor can one speak of Pope Francis having launched a media campaign for vaccination. But he did call for it and also had himself vaccinated at an early stage. That is correct,” the 65-year-old archbishop said.

    “By the way, Pope Benedict and I have already been vaccinated for the third time. And we did so out of conviction.”

    Pope Francis recorded a public service announcement supporting vaccination that was released in August in collaboration with the Ad Council.

    Gänswein acknowledged that “every vaccination has advantages and disadvantages.” But he recalled that Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, the president of the Italian bishops’ conference, became seriously ill after contracting COVID-19 and afterward cautioned “against any form of ideological crusade against vaccination.”

    “One must not force anyone to vaccinate, that is quite clear. But one should appeal to the conscience,” Gänswein commented.

    Asked if Benedict XVI saw the issue the same way, he answered in the affirmative, saying: “Otherwise he would not have had himself vaccinated three times.”

    But Gänswein, who is from the Black Forest region of Germany, also criticized the Church’s response to the virus in his homeland.

    “As far as Germany is concerned, I have never understood why Church authorities have sometimes even exceeded state guidelines and have been so excessively loyal to the state during the crisis,” he said.

    “I understand the concern for safety and security. But when the welfare of the body is placed above the salvation of the soul, and that was not just my impression, then something is awry.”

    CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that the archbishop described Benedict XVI as “stable in his physical frailty and, thank God, crystal clear in his head.”

    “But it is also understandable that at 94 and after the death of his brother, which took its toll on him, his physical strength continued to decline. It is similar with his voice. The best medicine for him is humor and a steady daily rhythm,” the archbishop said.

    Gänswein became personal secretary to the future Pope Benedict XVI in 2003.

    He was appointed prefect of the Papal Household in 2012, continuing in the role after the resignation of Benedict XVI and the election of Pope Francis a year later.

    But he was placed on leave from his duties as prefect in 2020 to be able to dedicate his time exclusively to the former pope.

    He said that the decision had troubled him, but he had been able to discuss it with Pope Francis.

    “The good thing is that you can talk to him openly and directly,” he said.