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Pope Francis entrusts China to the Blessed Virgin Mary

Vatican City, May 24, 2020 / 05:45 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Sunday entrusted China to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and asked people to pray for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the most populated country in the world.

“Dear Catholic brothers and sisters in China, I wish to assure you that the universal Church, of which you are an integral part, shares your hopes and supports you in trials,” Pope Francis said May 24 after the Regina Caeli prayer.

“It accompanies you with prayer for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, so that the light and beauty of the Gospel, the power of God for the salvation of whoever believes, can shine in you,” the pope said.

Pope Francis imparted a special Apostolic Blessing upon China for the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians. The Marian shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai, which is dedicated to Our Lady Help of Christians, remains closed on this feast after the Diocese of Shanghai suspended all pilgrimages for the month of May to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“We entrust the pastors and faithful of the Catholic Church in that great country to the guidance and protection of our Heavenly Mother, so that they may be strong in faith and firm in fraternal union, joyful witnesses and promoters of charity and fraternal hope, and good citizens,” Pope Francis said.

“May Our Lady always guard you!” he added.

In his Regina Caeli address, the pope reflected on the words of Jesus recorded in Gospel of Matthew for the feast of the Ascension of the Lord: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

China is home to more than 10 million Catholics, with six million registered as members of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, according to official statistics.

The Holy See and the Chinese government signed a provisional agreement in 2018 on the appointment of bishops in the state-sponsored Church, the terms of which have still not been publicly released. In the wake of the deal, previously excommunicated bishops of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which is overseen by the Communist Party, were received into full communion with the Vatican.

A report published in 2020 by the U.S. China Commission found that Chinese Catholics suffered “increasing persecution” after the Vatican-China deal. It said the government was “demolishing churches, removing crosses, and continuing to detain underground clergy.” Priests and bishops have reportedly been detained or have gone into hiding.

Earlier this week, the Vatican revealed that Catholics in China were able to use the most popular Chinese state-monitored social media platform, WeChat, to livestream Pope Francis’ daily Mass during the coronavirus pandemic.

It is unclear whether Catholics in China were also able to watch the livestream of this Sunday Marian prayer for their country on WeChat due to the heavy censorship of all Chinese online media.



— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) May 24, 2020  

Pope Benedict XVI established the custom of praying for China on the Marian feast of Our Lady Help of Christians in 2007, and composed a prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan for the occasion.

Pope Francis entrusted to the intercession of Mary Help of Christians all Christian disciples and people of good will who are working for peace, dialogue between nations, service to the poor, and the custody of creation.

The pope also marked the fifth anniversary of publication of his environmental encyclical, Laudato si’. He said that he wrote Laudato si’ to “draw attention to the cry of the Earth and the poor.”

Pope Francis spoke during his Regina Caeli address via livestream video recorded in the library of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace. However, for the first time in more than 10 weeks, people were allowed to be present in St. Peter’s Square when the pope appeared in the window to give a blessing.

Each person who entered the square was required to wear a face mask and security enforced social distancing for the people gathered outside of St. Peter’s Basilica, which reopened to the public on May 18.

After more than 5 million people around the world have been documented with COVID-19, the pope asked Our Lady Help of Christians to intercede “for the victory of humanity over every disease of the body, heart, and soul.”

“The feast of Ascension tells us that Jesus, although he ascended into Heaven to dwell gloriously on the right hand of the Father, is still and always among us for us to derive strength, perseverance, and our joy,” Pope Francis said.

Vatican Museums will reopen June 1 as Italy opens borders to tourists

Vatican City, May 23, 2020 / 08:35 am (CNA).- The Vatican Museums announced Saturday that it will reopen on June 1, two days before Italy opens its borders to European visitors after nearly three months of lockdown.

Entrance to the Vatican Museums will only be possible via prior reservation to limit the number of people in the museum and stagger entrance times. All visitors will be required to wear a mask, and mandatory temperature checks will be conducted at the entrance.

To prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, group visits to the museums will be capped at a maximum of 10 people.

The Vatican Museums will have been closed for 12 weeks since the Italian government announced the closure of all museums and archaeological sites throughout the country on March 8.

Throughout Italy’s lockdown, the Vatican Museums maintained only essential services requiring about 30 employees. The museums employ nearly 1,000 people, among them are administrators, restorers, art historians, and ticket agents.

The Italian government has announced that Italy will open its regional and international borders on June 3, allowing tourists from the European Union to visit Italy without being subjected to a quarantine requirement.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said that this will create the conditions to help Italy’s tourism industry to recover.

The Vatican Museums receive millions of visitors each year, and generated around $87 million annually as of 2015, half of which was surplus revenue for Vatican City, according to the Economist. In the months that the museums have been closed due to the pandemic, Vatican City has likely lost millions of dollars in revenue.

Due to the travel restrictions, the first visitors to the reopened Vatican Museums on June 1 will likely be local Romans, rather than the usual tourists.

To accommodate local visitors, the museums have extended their hours to encourage afternoon and evening visits, especially over the weekend.

The museums will be open Monday through Saturday beginning at 10 a.m. each day. On Friday and Saturday the museums and gardens will stay open until 10 p.m. with an optional cocktail hour in the courtyard.

The Vatican Museums have also added an open-bus tour of the Vatican Gardens.

“I would like this moment of difficulty to turn into an opportunity,” Bishop Fernando Vérgez Alzaga said in an interview published by L’Osservatore Romano.

The museum and gardens at the Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo will also be reopening on June 6 with additional safety measures.

Vergez, the general secretary of Vatican City State, encouraged Italian families to visit the museums and the gardens.

“The weekend … could become an ideal opportunity to seize the extraordinary opportunity to visit the summer residence of the popes and the splendid Gardens of Villa Barberini. The hot and beautiful sun of these days seems to invite us to this!” Vergez said.

Pope Francis appoints new archbishop for Taiwan’s capital

Vatican City, May 23, 2020 / 07:05 am (CNA).- Pope Francis appointed Saturday Bishop Thomas An-Zu Chung as the next Metropolitan Archbishop of Taipei, Taiwan.

Chung, who currently serves as bishop of Chiayi, Taiwan, will replace Archbishop John Hung Shan-chuan, who has retired at the age of 76.

The Holy See is the only remaining country in Europe that recognizes Taiwan as a country. The Holy See and Taiwan have had formal diplomatic relations for 77 years. However, the nunciature in Taipei has not been led by a nuncio since Oct. 25, 1971, when the United Nations ceased to recognize the Taipei-based government as the government of China.

The pope also appointed Chung to serve as the apostolic administrator of the Matzu Islands, an archipelago of 36 islands in the East China Sea, and the Kinmen Islands, which are located under four miles from the mainland People’s Republic of China.

Chung, 67, was born in Yunlin, Taiwan, and ordained a priest in Tainan at the age of 29. Pope Benedict XVI first appointed him as a bishop in 2006. He served as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Taipei from 2006 to 2008 before he was named Bishop of Chiayi.

As Metropolitan Archbishop of Taipei, Chung will oversee the largest city on the island of Taiwan with a population of 7.4 million people. The title of “metropolitan bishop” refers to the diocesan bishop or archbishop of a metropolis, namely, the primary city of an ecclesiastical province or regional capital.

The Holy See has recognized the Taiwanese government, officially known as the Republic of China, since 1942. The Vatican does not have formal diplomatic relations with the government of the People’s Republic of China, which consolidated control of the mainland at the conclusion of a civil war in 1949.

The split between China and Taiwan dates back to 1949, following the communist military success in China’s civil war that led Chiang Kai-shek and the nationalist forces to retreat to the island.

The Holy See and the Chinese government signed a provisional agreement in 2018 on the appointment of bishops in the state-sponsored Church, the terms of which have still not been publicly released. In the wake of the deal, previously excommunicated bishops of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), which is overseen by the Communist Party, were received into full communion with the Vatican.

In Taiwan’s recent bid to participate in World Health Organization’s World Health Assembly meetings during the coronavirus pandemic, the Holy See was the only diplomatic ally of Taiwan which did not make an appeal to allow Taiwan to participate, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who told the Taipei Times on May 15 that the Vatican would voice its support for Taiwan through other methods.

The Embassy of Taiwan to the Holy See donated 280,000 surgical face masks to the Vatican and the bishops of Italy in April.

Pope Francis also appointed a new metropolitan archbishop of La Paz, Bolivia on May 23. The pope named Bishop Percy Lorenzo Galván Flores of Corocoro to follow Archbishop Edmundo Luis Flavio Abastoflor Montero.

There are more than 550 metropolitan archdioceses worldwide.

Around the globe, Catholics hope papal Mass online will continue

Rome Newsroom, May 21, 2020 / 10:45 am (CNA).- After the Vatican stopped livestreaming Pope Francis’ daily Masses this week, Catholics from around the world have urged the pope to resume the broadcast.

The pope’s Mass livestream ended May 18, the day dioceses throughout Italy were able to resume public Masses. But many Catholics in other countries remain without access to the Mass. 

This is the case for the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Nairobi, Kenya, where a lockdown has been extended until June 6 closing all places of public worship.

Sister Mary Anne Williamson wrote a letter on behalf of her religious community, asking if the Pope Francis’ live Mass broadcast could be reinstated. She told CNA that the sisters were “dismayed” when they learned that the broadcast of the pope’s Mass would be discontinued.

“When our churches closed about eight weeks ago, we began to have a Liturgy of the Word in our chapel. But then we heard that our sisters in our general house in Rome, also locked down, were celebrating with the Mass of the Holy Father from their house. We found EWTN on our TV channel server Zuku and began to join at 8 a.m. Nairobi time,” she said.

The sisters gathered together to watch the pope’s Mass after morning prayer in their chapel. Williamson said the missionary sisters found it meaningful to pray in this way in union with the pope and Christians throughout the world.

“We really appreciated the Holy Father's homily and the translations done by Sister Bernadette,” she said. “We also appreciated the moments of Eucharistic adoration at the end of the morning Mass at Santa Marta.”

“We know that the Mass of Pope Francis was appreciated by others and probably many around the world. We will continue to hope that Vatican Media will be able to broadcast again.”

While some countries in Europe are easing their lockdowns, Catholics in India, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, England, Switzerland, and other countries remain without access to public Mass. In Ireland, churches are not expected to reopen until July. 

Pope Francis first began streaming his morning Mass from the chapel of Casa Santa Marta, his Vatican City residence, on March 9, the day after dioceses across Italy suspended public Masses following a government ordinance. The Vatican spokesman said the livestream was being offered to “to allow those who wish to follow the celebrations in union of prayer with the Bishop of Rome.”

At the beginning of Mass each day, the pope offered a different prayer intention, often related to the suffering inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Announcing the end of the pope’s Mass livestreams, the Vatican spokesman said: “The Pope wishes that the People of God could thus return to communal familiarity with the Lord in the sacraments, participating in the Sunday liturgy and resuming, also in churches, the daily visitation of the Lord and his Word.”

An ACI Prensa article reporting on the conclusion of the daily Mass broadcast from the Vatican received more than 1,900 comments on social media, with people expressing gratitude for the livestream and asking why it was being canceled when dioceses in parts of Latin America are still under lockdown. 

“Thank you very much, Holy Father, but I hope you consider it for the countries of Mexico and America that we remain quarantined and it is very valuable to vibrate with your presence and guidance. May the Lord bless you and be with you always,” Carmen Vazquez wrote in Spanish.

From Costa Rica, Sandra Fernandez Es wrote: “It is a great loss, how sad. I had already become used to watching it in the very early morning, and it was very good for me.”

“I came to think I was the only one who would miss Mass with the Pope. In Puerto Rico, we are still quarantined,” said Iris Lugo.

Mary Grenada wrote from Argentina: “Too bad!!! It was very important for us every day to have mass at home. I hope they send our request to continue to the Pope. Thank you!!! From Argentina.”

Catherine Addington wrote on Twitter on May 19 : “I miss the @Pontifex daily Mass livestream.”


I miss the @Pontifex daily Mass livestream ?

— Catherine Addington (@caddington11) May 19, 2020  

Vatican News reported May 20 that thousands of people in China had watched a translated livestream of the pope’s Mass via WeChat and that the news that the live broadcast would be ending was “greeted with some suffering and also with some tears.”

Vatican News said that it had received messages from thousands of people expressing appreciation for the pope’s Mass livestream during the pandemic.

Sister Mary Anne told CNA that she believes that even in places where churches are reopened, like Italy, the homebound and other Catholics would likely appreciate the opportunity to view the pope’s Masses and hear his homilies.

She said that during quarantine the sisters in Kenya had been teaching students using Zoom, but internet and electricity cuts to some students’ homes made it challenging. 

“We know we are among the fortunate ones with a chapel, internet access, food and shelter. Our life of prayer and work can continue, although in new ways,” she said. “Our days, especially our Eucharistic adoration in turns, are offered for our suffering world and the end of this pandemic.”

As public Masses resume in some parts of the world, parishes will also be deciding whether to continue the Mass livestreams that they offered during the pandemic. 

Fr. Gregory Apparcel, rector of St. Patrick’s Church, Rome’s English-speaking parish, told CNA that the parish livestream had gained a much wider audience than he had expected.

“We also have many, many people participating in these Masses from the U.S. and other countries where public Masses are not yet available. And, also from many people who are homebound for many other reasons,” he said.

The priest said he had received requests to continue the Masses despite the lockdown’s end.

“They hope that we will continue to do this, which we will try to do throughout the summer, and beyond if necessary,” he said.

“It has opened up a new ministry that we never thought we needed to do.”

Pope Francis says missions should facilitate encounter with Christ, not complicate it

Vatican City, May 21, 2020 / 09:45 am (CNA).- Missionary work is a cooperation with the Holy Spirit to bring people to Christ; it does not benefit from overcomplicated programs or fancy advertising campaigns, Pope Francis said Thursday.

In a message to the Pontifical Mission Societies May 21, the pope said “it has always been the case that the proclamation of Jesus’ salvation reaches people right where they are and just how they are in the midst of their lives in progress.” 

“Especially given the times in which we live,” he noted, “this has nothing to do with designing ‘specialized’ training programmes, creating parallel worlds, or constructing ‘slogans’ that merely echo our own thoughts and concerns.”

He urged the Pontifical Mission Societies, a worldwide group of Catholic missionary societies under the jurisdiction of the pope, “to facilitate, not complicate” their missionary work.

“One must provide answers to real questions and not just formulate and multiply proposals,” he advised. “Perhaps concrete contact with real-life situations, and not just discussions in boardrooms or theoretical analyses of our own internal dynamics, will generate useful insights for changing and improving operating procedures…”

He also pointed out that “the Church is not a customs office.”

“Anyone who participates in the mission of the Church is called not to impose unnecessary burdens on people already worn out or to require demanding programmes of formation in order to enjoy what the Lord gives easily, or to erect obstacles to the will of Jesus, who prays for each of us and wants to heal and save everyone,” he said.

Francis said that during the coronavirus pandemic “there is a great desire to encounter and remain close to the heart of the Church’s life. So seek new paths, new forms of service, but try not to complicate what in reality is quite simple.”

The Pontifical Mission Societies help to support more than 1,000 dioceses, mainly in Asia, Africa, Oceania, and the Amazon.

In his nine-page message to the group, Pope Francis gave several recommendations and warned of pitfalls to avoid in their missionary service, especially the temptation to become self-absorbed.

Despite the good intentions of individuals, sometimes Church organizations end up devoting much of their time and energy to promoting themselves and their own initiatives, he said. It becomes an obsession “to continually redefine their own importance and their own bailiwicks within the Church, under the guise of relaunching their specific mission.”

Referencing Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s speech at the ninth Rimini Meeting in 1990, Pope Francis said this “can foster the misleading idea that a person is somehow more Christian if he or she is occupied with intra-ecclesial structures, whereas in reality nearly all the baptized are daily living lives of faith, hope, and charity, without ever participating in Church committees or concerned for the latest news about ecclesiastical politics.”

“Do not waste time and resources, then, in looking at yourself in a mirror... break every mirror in the house!” he appealed.

He also advised them to keep prayer to the Holy Spirit at the center of their mission, so that prayer “may not be reduced to a mere formality in our meetings and homilies.”

“It is not helpful to theorize about super-strategies or mission ‘core guidelines’ as a means of reviving missionary spirit or giving missionary patents to others,” he said. “If, in some cases, missionary fervor is fading, it is a sign that faith itself is fading.”

In such cases, he continued, “strategies and speeches” will not be effective.

“Asking the Lord to open hearts to the Gospel and asking everyone to tangibly support missionary work: these are simple and practical things that everyone can readily do…”

The pope also emphasized the importance of taking care of the poor. There is no excuse, he said: “For the Church, a preference for the poor is not optional.”

On the topic of donations, Francis told the societies not to put their trust in bigger and better fundraising systems. If they are dismayed by a diminishing collection plate, they should place that pain in the hands of the Lord.

The missions should avoid becoming like NGOs, with their focus on funding, he said. They should look to all baptized people for offerings, recognizing Jesus’ consolation at even “the widow’s mite.”

Francis argued that the funds they do receive should be used to advance the Church’s mission and to support essential and objective needs of communities, “without squandering resources in initiatives marked by abstraction, self-absorption or generated by clerical narcissism.”

“Do not yield to inferiority complexes or the temptation to imitate those super-functional organizations that collect funds for good causes and then use a good percentage of them to finance their own bureaucracy and to publicize their brand name,” he advised.

“A missionary heart recognizes the real condition of real people, with their own limits, sins and frailties in order to become ‘weak among the weak,’” the pope encouraged.

“Sometimes this means slowing our pace in order to lead a person who is still by the wayside. At times this means imitating the father in the parable of the prodigal son, who leaves the doors open and looks out each day awaiting the return of his son.”