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Papal preacher on Good Friday: Political ideologies wound fraternity in the Catholic Church

Vatican City, Apr 2, 2021 / 11:10 am (CNA).- Politics turned into ideologies have wounded fraternity in the Catholic Church, Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., said at the Vatican’s Passion of the Lord liturgy on Good Friday.

“I believe that we all need to make a serious examination of conscience in this regard and be converted,” the papal preacher said April 2. “Fomenting division is the work par excellence of the one whose name is ‘diabolos’ that is, the divider, the enemy who sows weeds, as Jesus referred to him in the parable (see Mt 13:25).”

Cantalamessa, who was made a cardinal in November in recognition of his over 41 years as Preacher of the Papal Household, gave the homily at Pope Francis’ Good Friday liturgy at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica.

At the beginning of the liturgy, Pope Francis entered a silent basilica and lay prostrate for about two minutes on the floor at the foot of the steps to the altar. He then stood for another three minutes in silence.

After the Liturgy of the Word, including the chanting of the reading from the Gospel of St. John, Cantalamessa preached on the topic of human fraternity, the subject of Pope Francis’ 2020 encyclical Fratelli tutti, to the congregation of around 140 people and around 50 cardinals.

“As creatures of the same God and Father, all human beings are brothers,” Cantalamessa said, explaining that the Christian faith adds another “decisive dimension” to this fact.

“We are brothers not only because we all have the same Father in virtue of creation, but we also have the same brother, Christ, ‘the firstborn among many brothers’ in virtue of redemption,” he said. “For us, that means universal fraternity starts with the Catholic Church.”

The 86-year-old Capuchin friar said today he was going to put aside the topic of ecumenism, which is fraternity among all Christian believers, to focus on the Catholic Church.

“Fraternity among Catholics is wounded!” he said. “Divisions between Churches have torn Christ’s tunic to shreds, and worse still, each shredded strip has been cut up into even smaller snippets.”

“I speak of course of the human element of it, because no one will ever be able to tear the true tunic of Christ, his mystical body animated by the Holy Spirit,” he explained. “In God’s eyes, the Church is ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic,’ and will remain so until the end of the world.”

He added that “this, however, does not excuse our divisions, but makes them more guilty and must push us more forcefully to heal them.”

According to the cardinal, the most common cause of bitter division among Catholics is not dogma, the sacraments, or ministries: “none of the things that by God’s singular grace we fully and universally preserve.”

“The divisions that polarize Catholics stem from political options that grow into ideologies taking priority over religious and ecclesial considerations and leading to complete abandon of the value and the duty of obedience in the Church,” he said.

He noted that even when they are not spoken about or are denied, these divisions are very real in many parts of the world.

“This is sin in its primal meaning,” Cantalamessa stated. “The kingdom of this world becomes more important in the person’s heart than the Kingdom of God.”

He invited all Catholics, starting with pastors, to make a serious examination of conscience about what is more important in their own heart, to learn from Jesus’ example in the Gospel, and to be converted.

Christ “lived at a time of strong political polarization,” he said. “Four parties existed: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, and the Zealots. Jesus did not side with any of them and energetically resisted attempts to be pulled towards one or the other.”

“The earliest Christian community faithfully followed him in that choice, setting an example above all for pastors, who need to be shepherds of the entire flock, not only of part of it,” he added.

Pastors “need to ask themselves where it is that they are leading their flocks – to their position or Jesus’,” he said, also noting that “the Second Vatican Council entrusted especially to laypeople the task of translating the social, economic and political implications of the Gospel into practice in different historical situations, always in a respectful and peaceful way.”

Cantalamessa quoted Pope Francis’ words from paragraph 277 of Fratelli tutti, that “Others drink from other sources. For us, the wellspring of human dignity and fraternity is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. From it, there arises, ‘for Christian thought and for the action of the Church, the primacy given to relationship, to the encounter with the sacred mystery of the other, to universal communion with the entire human family, as a vocation of all.’”

During the #GoodFriday liturgy at St. Peter's Basilica, Cardinal Cantalamessa preaches on fraternity and quotes from Pope Francis' encyclical Fratelli tutti.

"For us, the wellspring of human dignity and fraternity is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

— Hannah Brockhaus (@HannahBrockhaus) April 2, 2021 “The mystery of the cross that we are celebrating obliges us to focus precisely on this Christological foundation of fraternity which was inaugurated on Calvary,” the preacher said.

He explained that “if there is a special charism or gift that the Catholic Church is called to cultivate for all the Christian Churches, it is precisely unity,” as Pope Francis’ recent trip to Iraq demonstrated firsthand.

“To the One who died on the cross ‘to gather into one the dispersed children of God' (Jn 11:52), with a humble spirit and contrite heart we lift up the prayer addressed to him by the Church before Communion at every Mass,” he concluded.

“Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles: Peace I leave you, my peace I give you; look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will. You live and reign forever and ever. Amen.”

Pope Francis visits Vatican vaccination center

Vatican City, Apr 2, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis on the morning of Good Friday visited the auditorium where the Vatican is vaccinating 1,200 people in need this week.

The Holy See Press Office said the pope went to the Pope Paul VI Hall shortly before 10:00 a.m. April 2 to greet the people waiting to receive their first dose of the vaccine against COVID-19.

Francis also spoke to the doctors and nurses who have volunteered their time to administer the vaccine.

Pope Francis greets people waiting to receive the vaccine against COVID-19 April 2, 2021. / Credit: Holy See Press Office.The Office of Papal Charities is offering doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, purchased by the Holy See, to around 1,200 of "the poorest and most marginalized people" during Holy Week.

The press office said as of April 2, around 800 people have received the first dose.

Among those were a group of over 100 residents of a homeless shelter run by the Missionaries of Charity, and residents of other shelters in the city.

Pope Francis greets medical workers administering the vaccine against COVID-19 April 2, 2021. / Credit: Holy See Press Office.Volunteers from the Community of Sant'Egidio, Caritas of Rome, and other Catholic charitable associations have accompanied those receiving the vaccine, who were also greeted by the papal almoner, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski.

Krajewski himself recovered from COVID-19 after being hospitalized for 10 days in December.

The almoner has set up a webpage where people can sponsor the vaccination of a person in need through an online donation to the Office of Papal Charities.

Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, papal almoner, brings a man to receive the vaccine against COVID-19 in the Vatican March 31, 2021. / Credit: Vatican Media.The Pope Paul VI Hall was where Pope Francis and Vatican employees were vaccinated beginning earlier this year.

Providing vaccinations for Rome's poor and homeless is the Vatican’s latest effort to respond to Pope Francis’ appeals to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine against COVID-19 during the pandemic.

Photos of Pope Francis credit Holy See Press Office. Photo of Cardinal Konrad Krajewski credit Vatican Media.

Report: Pope Francis celebrates Holy Thursday Mass with Cardinal Becciu

CNA Staff, Apr 1, 2021 / 02:15 pm (CNA).- Italian media reported Thursday that Pope Francis celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper with Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who resigned from his Vatican post last September.

Citing sources close to the cardinal, La Repubblica said that the pope celebrated the Mass at around 5:30 p.m. Rome time on April 1 in the chapel of Becciu’s private apartment.

The Holy See press office has not confirmed the reports, but Vatican News posted a brief story, saying that there was no official confirmation as the Mass was a private papal engagement.

The Mass would have taken place around the same time as the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at St. Peter’s Basilica. The Vatican Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, dean of the College of Cardinals.

The Vatican did not say in advance why the 84-year-old pope opted not to preside at this year’s Mass. Francis did, however, offer the Chrism Mass on Thursday morning in St. Peter’s Basilica.

La Repubblica said that Francis used to visit Becciu every Holy Thursday for lunch with Roman priests and decided to maintain the tradition, even after Becciu dramatically resigned on Sept. 24 as prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and from the rights extended to members of the College of Cardinals.

La Stampa reported that nuns who help to maintain Becciu’s home and members of the Focolare Movement were also present at the Mass.

The Italian newspaper said that the cardinal’s brother, Tonio Becciu, told the ANSA news agency that the cardinal had called him to tell him about the pope’s visit.

“His Holiness went to his apartment in the afternoon and they celebrated Coena Domini [the Mass of the Lord’s Supper] together. We are all very happy. It is really a beautiful thing,” Tonio Becciu was quoted as saying.

The Associated Press reported that Becciu’s private secretary had confirmed that the Mass took place.

Becciu served as “sostituto,” or second-ranking official at the Secretariat of State, from 2011 to 2018, when Pope Francis named him a cardinal and moved him to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.

During his tenure in that position, he was linked to a number of financial scandals, most recently the Secretariat’s investment of hundreds of millions of euros with the Italian businessman Rafaelle Mincione and the controversial purchase of a London building.

The financial scandals are the focus of a continuing Vatican investigation that is expected to result in prosecutions.

Becciu has repeatedly maintained his innocence of financial wrongdoing, including at a press conference on the day after his resignation.

“I didn’t commit any crimes,” Becciu told journalists Sept. 25. “I received no communication on the part of the [Vatican] magistrates. I’m ready. If they want me to explain [my actions], I’ll explain.”

“I’m maintaining my serenity,” he said. “I renew my trust in the Holy Father.”

The cardinal described the meeting with the pope and his subsequent resignation as “surreal,” because “yesterday, until 6:02 p.m., I felt I was a friend of the pope, a faithful agent of the pope ... and then there, speaking, he tells me that he no longer trusts me.”

“That he no longer trusts me because he had seen reports from the [Vatican] magistrates that I had embezzled,” he said.

Cardinal Re at Vatican Mass: ‘Holy Thursday reminds us how much we have been loved’

CNA Staff, Apr 1, 2021 / 11:30 am (CNA).- Holy Thursday evening reminds us how much God loves us, a Vatican cardinal said at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at St. Peter’s Basilica.

Preaching at the Mass on April 1, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re noted that the Holy Thursday liturgy recalls the night when Jesus instituted the Eucharist and priesthood, giving his disciples a new commandment to love one another.

“Holy Thursday evening, therefore, reminds us how much we have been loved,” Re said in his homily at the Mass, celebrated at the Altar of the Chair.

“It tells us that the Son of God, out of His love for us, gave us not something, but He gave us Himself -- His Body and His Blood -- that is, the totality of His person, and that, for our redemption, he accepted to suffer the most ignominious death.”

Re, the dean of the College of Cardinals, offered the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which was celebrated last year by Pope Francis. The Vatican did not say why the 84-year-old pope, who suffers from sciatica, opted not to preside at this year’s Mass. Francis did, however, celebrate the Chrism Mass on Thursday morning in St. Peter’s Basilica.

For a second consecutive year, attendance at the Holy Thursday evening Mass was tightly restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic. Masked worshipers sat spaced apart and the offertory procession and foot-washing were omitted to limit the risk of spreading the virus.

Concelebrants at the Mass, which marked the start of the Paschal Triduum, included cardinals and bishops, senior Vatican Secretariat of State officials, and canons of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Re, an 87-year-old Italian cardinal, preached after the Gospel reading, John 13:1-15, which describes Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples at the Cenacle in Jerusalem.

He said: “The existence of the Eucharist can only be explained because Christ loved us and wanted to be near every one of us forever, even till the end of the world. Only a God could have imagined such a great gift and only an infinite power and love could have brought it about.”

“The Church has always considered the Sacrament of the Eucharist as the most precious gift it has been endowed with. It is the gift through which Christ walks with us as light, as strength, as nourishment, as help in all the days of our history.”

Re, who served as prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops from 2000 to 2010, continued: “The Eucharist is the center and heart of the life of the Church. It must be the center and heart of the life of every Christian as well.”

“Those who believe in the Eucharist never feel alone in life. They know that in the dimness and in the silence of all the churches there is Someone who knows their name, who knows their story, Someone who loves them, who waits for them and who listens willingly.”

“And before the tabernacle, everyone can confide whatever is in their heart and receive comfort, strength, and peace of heart.”

He urged Catholics not only to believe in the Eucharist but also to live it by serving their neighbors.

He said: “The Eucharist is a call of openness to toward others, to fraternal love, to know how to forgive and to help those in difficulty; it is an invitation to solidarity, to support each other, to abandon no one.”

“The Eucharist calls us to an industrious commitment to the poor, the suffering, the marginalized; it is the light to recognize the face of Christ in the faces of our brothers and sisters, especially in the wounded and most in need.”

Re was elected dean of the College of Cardinals in January 2020, succeeding Cardinal Angelo Sodano. He is serving a five-year term under new term limits established by Pope Francis in a motu proprio issued December 2019.

In his homily, Re described how Christ instituted the Catholic priesthood at the Last Supper.

“Christ, the true priest, said to the Apostles: ‘Do this in memory of me.’ Do this -- that is, the Sacrament of the Eucharist -- ‘in memory of me.’ And three days later, Easter Sunday evening, He also said to the Apostles: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven’ (John 20:23),” he said.

“Thus, Christ transmits on His Apostles the priestly powers so that the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Pardon might continue and be renewed in the Church. He gave humanity an incomparable gift.”

Vatican liturgies throughout the Triduum will be smaller than usual due to the ongoing pandemic.

Good Friday will include both the papal liturgy of the Passion of the Lord at 6 p.m. local time and the Stations of the Cross with Pope Francis at 9 p.m. in St. Peter’s Square.

The pope will offer the Easter Vigil Mass on April 3 in St. Peter’s Basilica at 7:30 p.m. and will also celebrate the Easter Sunday Mass at 10 a.m. after which he will offer the traditional “Urbi et Orbi” blessing.

Re noted in his homily that Holy Thursday is also an “evening of betrayal,” because Judas left the Last Supper with the intention of handing Jesus over to the authorities. The cardinal said that at the table in the Cenacle, “God’s love and man’s betrayal faced each other.”

“Holy Thursday is, therefore, also an invitation to become aware of our own sins; it is a call to put our lives in order a bit and to embark on the path of repentance and renewal to obtain God’s pardon,” he reflected.

“In the Eucharist, God drew so near to us that we must never feel abandoned, because we are always sought by Him, loved and invited to obtain the joy of His pardon with repentance and with the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to begin a spiritual recovery with hearts open more to God and hearts open more to all our brothers and sisters.”

After Holy Communion, Re carried the Eucharist to the chapel of repose as the congregation sang “Pange, lingua,” a Latin hymn written by St. Thomas Aquinas for the Feast of Corpus Christi.

As he censed the Blessed Sacrament, the congregation sang “Tantum ergo,” a Eucharistic hymn also attributed to the Dominican Doctor of the Church.

After a period of silent adoration, the cardinal returned to the sacristy and the congregation left the basilica in silence.

In his homily, Re noted that in many places Catholics are unable to remain for hours before altars of repose on Holy Thursday evening because of coronavirus restrictions.

“The dramatic situation created by COVID-19, and the unfortunate risk this year of contamination, does not allow this, just as it happened last year,” he said.

“Returning, however, to our homes, we must continue to pray with our thoughts and our hearts filled with gratitude for Jesus Christ, who wanted to remain present among us as our contemporary under the appearances of bread and wine.”

He continued: “We have experienced in a universal way how a small virus can bring the entire world to its knees. Until this tragedy subsides, we must have recourse to all the human means that science puts at our disposal.”

“But another irreplaceable step is needed: we must raise a huge chorus of prayer so that the hand of God might come to our aid and end this tragic situation that has worrying consequences in the fields of health, employment, economy, education, and direct relationships with people.”

“As Jesus Himself taught us, it is necessary to go and knock loudly on the door of God, the Father Almighty.”

Pope Francis tells priests at Chrism Mass: ‘The cross is non-negotiable’

Vatican City, Apr 1, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis told priests at Thursday’s Chrism Mass at the Vatican that “the cross is non-negotiable” when preaching the Gospel.

“The preaching of the Good News is mysteriously linked to persecution and the cross,” Pope Francis said in his homily on April 1.

The pope went further to say that “the preaching of the Gospel is effective not because of our  eloquent words, but because of the power of the cross.”

The Chrism Mass of Holy Week is the Mass at which the pope, as the bishop of Rome, blesses the Oil of the Sick, the Oil of Catechumens, and the Chrism Oil, which will be used throughout the diocese over the coming year. 

This year, fewer than 100 priests from the Diocese of Rome were allowed to concelebrate the Mass and renew their priestly vows in St. Peter’s Basilica due to COVID-19 restrictions.

At the Mass offered at the basilica’s Altar of the Chair, the pope emphasized that the cross was present in the Lord’s life “from the very beginning.”

“It is there in the persecution of Herod and in the hardships endured by the Holy Family, like those of so many other families obliged to live in exile from their homeland,” he said.

The pope also explained how “over and over again in the Gospels” Jesus’ preaching is met by envy, rejection, and scorn.

“The closeness of Jesus, who dines with sinners, wins hearts like those of Zacchaeus, Matthew  and the Samaritan woman, but it also awakens scorn in the self-righteous,” Francis said.

The presence of the cross throughout the Lord’s life and preaching “makes us understand that the cross is not an afterthought, something that happened by chance in the Lord’s life,” the pope said. 

“It is true that all who crucify others throughout history would have the cross appear as collateral damage, but that is not the case: the cross does not appear by chance.”

Pope Francis said that mere circumstances did not condition the saving power of the cross.

“Why did the Lord embrace the cross fully and to the end? Why did Jesus embrace his entire  Passion: his betrayal and abandonment by his friends after the Last Supper, his illegal arrest, his  summary trial and disproportionate sentence, the gratuitous and unjustifiable violence with which he was beaten and spat upon? If mere circumstances conditioned the saving power of the cross, the Lord would not have embraced everything. But when his hour came, he embraced the cross fully. For on the cross there can be no ambiguity! The cross is non-negotiable,” he said.

The pope shared a story with the priests, a memory from his own experience in priestly ministry in Argentina.

“Once, in a very dark moment in my life, I asked the Lord for the grace to free me from a difficult and complex situation. A dark moment,” he said.

“I had to preach the Spiritual Exercises to some women religious, and on the last day, as was customary in those days, they all went to confession. One elderly sister came; she had a clear gaze, eyes full of light -- a woman of God.”

“At the end of the confession, I felt the urge to ask her a favor, so I said to her, ‘Sister, as your penance, pray for me because I need a particular grace’... If you ask the Lord for it, surely he will give it to me.’”

“She paused for a moment and seemed to be praying, then looked at me and told me, ‘The Lord  will certainly give you that grace, but make no mistake about it: he will give it to you in his own  divine way’.

Pope Francis concluded: “This did me much good, hearing that the Lord always gives us what we ask for, but that he does so in his divine way. That way involves the cross, not for masochism, but for love, love to the very end.”