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Pope Francis appoints apostolic visitor for Eritrean Catholics in US and Canada

The flag of Eritrea. / Creative Photo Corner/Shutterstock.

Vatican City, Jan 19, 2022 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis appointed an apostolic visitor on Wednesday for Eritrean Catholics in the United States and Canada.

The pope named Father Tesfaldet Tekie Tsada, chaplain of the Eritrean community of Los Angeles, on Jan. 19 as apostolic visitor of Eritrean Catholics of the Alexandrian Ge’ez Rite in the two countries.

The Vatican announced on the same day that the pope had chosen an apostolic visitor for Eritrean Catholics in Europe: Msgr. Kesete Ghebreyohannes Weldegebriel, protosyncellus of the Archeparchy of Asmara, the metropolitan see of the Eritrean Catholic Church.

The move follows the pope’s decision in January 2020 to appoint an apostolic visitor for Ethiopian Catholics in Europe and name an apostolic visitor for Ethiopian Catholics in the U.S. and Canada in July of that year.

In the Latin Rite Church, an apostolic visitor refers to officials who perform a short-term mission on behalf of the pope. But in the Eastern Catholic Churches, an apostolic visitor often has a long-term role supervising communities which do not yet have their own ordinary.

The Eritrean Catholic Church is one of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the Holy See. It has an estimated 168,000 members and is based in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, but also has diaspora communities around the world.

Eritrea is a northeast African country with a population of 6 million that borders Ethiopia, Sudan, and Djibouti. In 2019, the government nationalized schools and hospitals run by the Catholic Church.

Eritrea gained independence from its larger neighbor Ethiopia in 1991 following a decades-long war.

The Eritrean Catholic Church traces its roots to apostolic times and uses the ancient Ge’ez language in its liturgies, which are celebrated according to the Alexandrian Rite, associated with St. Mark the Evangelist.

Pope Francis agreed in 2015 to formally separate the Eritrean Catholic Church from the Ethiopian Catholic Church, establishing it as a sui iuris (“of one’s own right”) metropolitan church, with Asmara as its metropolitan see.

Synod of Bishops’ resources website links to women’s ordination group

The opening day of the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in the Vatican Synod Hall on Oct. 3, 2018. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, Jan 19, 2022 / 10:15 am (CNA).

A website overseen by the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican has linked to a group campaigning for women’s ordination.

In a post dated Jan. 15, the Synodresources.org website shared information about the Women’s Ordination Conference organization, based in Washington, D.C.

Thierry Bonaventura, communication manager of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, told CNA on Jan. 19 that the website was not promoting the group.

“I would rather speak of ‘sharing,’ as the title of the website,” he said.

Bonaventura pointed out that the “About” section of Synodresources.org emphasizes that the website is “a tool for listening and a platform for sharing that does not replace the official website of Synod 2021-2023 (synod.va).”

“Rather than vertical, top-down communication, it aims to be horizontal communication,” it says.

The website was previously at the center of controversy after it linked to an LGBT outreach ministry.

Officials at the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops removed the link to New Ways Ministry after they became aware that the U.S. bishops’ conference expressed its disapproval of the organization in 2010.

But following an outcry, they restored the link and issued an apology.

Synodresources.org also links to the Latin-American Rainbow Catholic community, part of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, which says that it “brings together groups and their members who work for pastoral care and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people and their families.”

The Women’s Ordination Conference, founded in 1975, describes itself as “the oldest and largest organization working to ordain women as deacons, priests, and bishops.”

In his 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis, Pope John Paul II wrote that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

During an in-flight press conference in 2016, Pope Francis was asked whether there were likely to be women priests in the Catholic Church in the next few decades.

“As for the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, the last clear word was given by St. John Paul II, and this holds,” he replied.

The pope has asked two commissions to study the question of a female diaconate in the Catholic Church.

The first, established in 2016, examined the historic issue of the role of deaconesses in the early Church but did not reach a consensus.

He instituted a second commission in 2020, following discussion of the female diaconate during the 2019 Amazon synod.

Pope Francis changed Church law in January 2021 so that women can be formally instituted to the lay ministries of lector and acolyte.

The General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, a permanent institution based at the Vatican and dedicated to serving the Synod, is currently overseeing what has been called one of the largest consultation exercises in human history, ahead of the 2023 Synod on Synodality.

A vademecum, or handbook, released in September 2021 urged dioceses to include “all the baptized” in the process, including those on the margins of Church life.

It said: “Special care should be taken to involve those persons who may risk being excluded: women, the handicapped, refugees, migrants, the elderly, people who live in poverty, Catholics who rarely or never practice their faith, etc.”

A disclaimer on the homepage of Synodresources.org says: “The publication of any contribution should not be understood as an endorsement of its content; nor should anyone interpret such a publication as an act of formal recognition by the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops of the group or community submitting the contribution.”

A pop-up window explains that anyone can send material to the site, but not all contributions will be accepted.

It says: “The current synodal process is addressed to the entire People of God, to all the baptized. In chapter 2.1 of the Vademecum, we urged dioceses to involve people at risk of exclusion (women, migrants, the elderly or Catholics who rarely or never practice their faith).”

“At the same time, in order to participate fully in the act of discernment, it is important for the baptized to listen to the voices of other people in their local context, including those who have abandoned the practice of the faith, people from other faith traditions, people who have no religious beliefs at all.”

“Therefore, anyone is entitled to send material. At the same time, because we firmly believe that the experience of faith is and must be communitarian, we will only accept contributions that express the views of a group clearly identified. We regret that individual submissions will not be considered.”

The Vatican announced in May 2021 that the Synod on Synodality would open with a diocesan phase starting in October that year.

A second, continental phase will take place from September 2022 to March 2023.

The third, universal phase will begin with the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, dedicated to the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” at the Vatican in October 2023.

Pope Francis offers prayers for the people of Tonga after volcanic eruption and tsunami

Pope Francis’ general audience in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, Jan. 19, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Jan 19, 2022 / 08:05 am (CNA).

Pope Francis offered prayers for the people of Tonga on Wednesday as its islands recover from tsunami damage caused by a massive underwater volcanic eruption.

“My thoughts go out to the people of the islands of Tonga, who have been affected in recent days by the eruption of the underwater volcano, which has caused enormous material damage,” Pope Francis said at the end of his general audience on Jan. 19.

“I am spiritually close to all the afflicted people, imploring God for relief for their suffering. I invite everyone to join me in praying for these brothers and sisters.”

Seen in satellite images from space, scientists have called the volcanic blast in the South Pacific on Jan. 15 the largest eruption in the world in three decades.

Some of the archipelago’s outlying islands were hit by 49-foot-high waves which destroyed homes, the Associated Press reported on Jan. 19.

Communications from Tonga were cut off after the eruption. Reuters has reported at least three known deaths from the tsunami waves.

Caritas Australia, a Catholic charity, is working to contact its partners in Tonga to assess the situation on the ground.

“The volcanic ash is hampering emergency flights into the country and the damage to telecommunications infrastructure has made it difficult to get in contact with affected communities,” the charity wrote on its website.

“There are fears that the volcanic ash and saltwater inundation from the tsunami waves may contaminate drinking water and threaten the health and safety of vulnerable communities.”

The Polynesian country has a Catholic cardinal. Cardinal Soane Patita Paini Mafi, 60, was born in Tonga’s largest island and currently lives in its capital city, Nukuʻalofa.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane wrote on social media that he had sent a message of prayerful solidarity to Cardinal Mafi on behalf of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

“Our congregations will be praying for Tonga today,” Coleridge said on Jan. 16.

Pope Francis: ‘God is not afraid of our sins’

Pope Francis’ general audience in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, Jan. 19, 2021. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, Jan 19, 2022 / 05:10 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has encouraged people to encounter God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, with a reminder that the tender forgiveness of God is greater than the “ugliest” sin.

“God is not afraid of our sins, he is greater than our sins,” the pope said in his general audience on Jan. 19.

“God always forgives: put this in your head and heart. God always forgives. We are the ones who get tired of asking for forgiveness. But he always forgives, even the ugliest things,” he said in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.

Speaking about God’s tenderness and mercy, Pope Francis said that the “things of God always reach us through the mediation of human experiences.”

“Tenderness is the best way to touch what is fragile in us. Look how nurses touch the wounds of the sick: with tenderness, so as not to hurt them more. And so the Lord touches our wounds with the same tenderness,” he said.

“This is why it is important to encounter God’s mercy, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in personal prayer with God, having an experience of truth and tenderness.”

The pope said that God’s tenderness is “greater than the logic of the world” and can be “an unexpected way of doing justice.”

“Without this ‘revolution of tenderness’ … we risk remaining imprisoned in a justice that does not allow us to get up easily and that confuses redemption with punishment,” he said.

At the end of his live-streamed audience, the pope’s thoughts turned to those who are in prison today.

“For this reason, today I want to remember in a special way our brothers and sisters who are in prison,” he said.

“It is right that those who have made a mistake pay for their mistake, but it is equally right that those who have made a mistake can redeem themselves from their mistake.”

“There can be no condemnations without windows of hope. … Let us think of our brothers and sisters in prison, and we think of God’s tenderness for them and we pray for them, so that they may find in that window of hope a way out towards a better life.”

This was Pope Francis’ eighth audience in a cycle of catechesis on St. Joseph that he launched in November 2021.

The pope dedicated this week’s general audience to a reflection on the saint as “a father of tenderness.”

As a part of this theme, he reflected on a Bible verse from the Book of Hosea (11:3-4): “He taught him to walk, taking him by the hand; he was for him like a father who raises an infant to his cheeks, bending down to him and feeding him.”

“It’s beautiful, this description from the Bible that shows God’s relationship with the people of Israel. And it is the same relationship we believe St. Joseph had with Jesus,” he said.

Pope Francis offered the following prayer to St. Joseph at the end of the audience:

St Joseph, father in tenderness,
teach us to accept that we are loved precisely in that which is weakest in us.
Grant that we may place no obstacle
between our poverty and the greatness of God's love.
Stir in us the desire to approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation,
that we may be forgiven and also made capable of loving tenderly
our brothers and sisters in their poverty.
Be close to those who have done wrong and are paying the price for it;
Help them to find not only justice but also tenderness so that they can start again.
And teach them that the first way to begin again
is to sincerely ask for forgiveness, to feel the Father’s caress.
Amen.

Judge dismisses ex-seminarian’s lawsuit against Pontifical North American College seminary

The Pontifical North American College is a major seminary in Rome that educates seminarians from U.S. diocese and elsewhere. / Bohumil Petrik/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Jan 18, 2022 / 12:37 pm (CNA).

A New York judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a former seminarian against the Pontifical North American College major seminary and its administrators, stating that the New York court does not have jurisdiction over the Rome-based seminary and its employees.

In a civil lawsuit filed in February 2021, plaintiff Anthony J. Gorgia, a former student at the NAC, had sought $125 million in damages in civil court against the seminary, as well as rector Father Peter Harman, former vice rector Father Adam Park, and NAC lecturer Father John G. McDonald, along with New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and the Archdiocese of New York.

Gorgia claimed in the lawsuit that he had been blocked from continuing his studies for the priesthood after he witnessed Park, then the vice rector, give an inappropriate back rub to a subordinate seminarian.

Lawyers for Gorgia and the plaintiffs were not immediately available for comment on Jan. 18 prior to publication.

According to court documents, Judge Lizette Colon of the New York State Supreme Court in Richmond County (Staten Island), New York, granted the defendants’ motions to have the complaints dismissed on Jan. 13, following a virtual hearing held on Jan. 5. 

Gorgia had originally filed suit on 12 causes of action, including defamation, wrongful discharge, sexual harassment, emotional distress, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, interference with prospective economic advantage, and Title VII discrimination.

He later filed a cross-motion to withdraw the Title VII discrimination, sexual harassment, and defamation causes, and the request was granted by the judge. A request to add additional complaints to the suit for breach of implied contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing were denied.

Gorgia's request for the court to permit the late service of the complaint was also denied.

According to the court’s decision, the dismissal of the suit against defendants was granted on multiple grounds, including because the plaintiff failed to provide adequate evidence that the New York court has personal jurisdiction over the NAC and its administrators, since the school’s primary place of business is in Rome, Italy.

“The court’s exercise of jurisdiction over the NAC, Harman, Park, and McDonald would also be improper as it would violate the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution,” Colon wrote in her decision.

Colon also granted the dismissal because, she said, the plaintiff failed to properly serve the defendants with the lawsuit.

The judge granted the dismissal of the complaints against the Archdiocese of New York and Dolan for failure to timely serve the complaint, lack of subject matter jurisdiction and the ministerial exception doctrine, and failure to allege facts sufficient to state a cause of action.

Colon declined to impose sanctions on Gorgia as requested by the Archdiocese of New York and Dolan for filing “a frivolous and harassing lawsuit.”

“The Court finds the Plaintiff’s actions in filing his complaint were not frivolous … and were made with a good faith basis. The imposition of sanctions is not warranted,” the judge wrote.

Gorgia began his seminary studies in 2015 for the Archdiocese of New York. In the summer of 2017, he started at the North American College in Rome, the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, he left the NAC in 2018 for a period during the first semester of his second year of formation to undergo an operation on his spine in his home diocese.

In the lawsuit, Gorgia accused Harman, Park, and McDonald of creating “false accusations'' about him to prevent his planned return to the seminary after an estimated six-week recovery period. Gorgia claims this was done because of his heterosexual orientation and the defendants’ desire “to protect themselves from exposure of their predatory homosexuality at the NAC.”

The lawsuit stated that Gorgia submitted a letter of resignation as a seminarian of the archdiocese of New York in January 2019, “under duress.”

The suit also claimed that Cardinal Dolan did not fulfill his responsibilities toward Gorgia as a seminarian of his archdiocese by refusing to meet with him or hear his side of the story, and by asking him to complete a nine-month parish internship assignment before being considered for a return to the NAC based on, Gorgia claims, three “utterly false” reasons.

The Archdiocese of New York had said the claims in the case “are absurd and have no basis in fact or law. We are prepared to defend against it, and are seeking its dismissal in court.”

Pope Francis to confer new lay ministries for first time in St. Peter’s Basilica

Pope Francis celebrates Mass on the first Sunday of the Word of God Jan. 26, 2020. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Vatican City, Jan 18, 2022 / 08:20 am (CNA).

The Vatican has announced that Pope Francis will confer the ministries of catechist, lector, and acolyte upon lay men and women for the first time in St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday.

Candidates from three continents will receive the new ministries during the papal Mass for the Sunday of the Word of God on Jan. 23.

Two people from the Amazonian region in Peru will be formally made catechists by the pope, along with other candidates from Brazil, Ghana, Poland, and Spain.

The ministry of lector will be conferred on lay Catholics from South Korea, Pakistan, Ghana, and Italy.

Each of these ministries will be conferred through a rite prepared by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments that will be presented for the first time, according to a Vatican communique issued on Jan. 18.

“Before the homily, the candidates will be summoned, called by name and presented to the Church,” it said.

Those called to the ministry of lector will be presented with a Bible, while catechists will be entrusted with a cross.

In this case, it will be a copy of the pastoral cross used by popes St. Paul VI and St. John Paul II.

Pope Francis established the ministry of catechist as an instituted, vocational service within the Catholic Church last May.

The newly instituted ministry is for lay people who have a particular call to serve the Catholic Church as a teacher of the faith. The ministry lasts for the entirety of life, regardless of whether the person is actively carrying out that activity during every part of his or her life.

According to the apostolic letter Antiquum ministerium, a lay person called to be instituted in the ministry of catechist should have “deep faith and human maturity,” be an active participant in the life of the Christian community, and “capable of welcoming others, being generous and living a life of fraternal communion.”

Among the candidates to be inducted into the ministry by Pope Francis this week is the president of the Roman Oratory Center, which was founded by Arnaldo Canepa, who dedicated more than 40 years of his life to the catechetical instruction of children.

The pope changed Church law in January 2021 so that women can be formally instituted to the lay ministries of lector and acolyte.

In the apostolic letter Spiritus Domini, the pope modified the Code of Canon Law, which previously limited the ministries to lay men.

A lector is a person who reads Scripture — other than the Gospel, which is only proclaimed by deacons and priests — to the congregation at Mass.

After abolishing the minor orders, Pope Paul VI wrote that an acolyte was a ministry in the Church with the “duty to take care of the service of the altar, to help the deacon and the priest in liturgical actions, especially in the celebration of the Holy Mass.”

Potential responsibilities for an acolyte include distributing Holy Communion as an extraordinary minister if such ministers are not present, publicly exposing the Eucharist for adoration in extraordinary circumstances, and “the instruction of the other faithful, who, on a temporary basis, help the deacon and the priest in liturgical services by carrying the missal, cross, candles, etc.”

Due to travel restrictions related to the outbreak of the omicron variant of COVID-19, candidates from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda will not be able to take part in the Mass, as originally planned. Attendance in St. Peter’s Basilica will also be limited to only 2,000 people as a precaution.

The Mass will be broadcast live by EWTN at 9:30 a.m. Rome time (1:30 a.m. MDT).

Cardinal Parolin and Archbishop Peña Parra test positive for COVID-19

Cardinal Pietro Parolin attends an ordination at the Basilica of Sant'Eugenio in Rome, Sept. 5, 2020. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, Jan 18, 2022 / 07:05 am (CNA).

Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra have tested positive for COVID-19, the Holy See press office confirmed on Tuesday.

Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, has “very mild” symptoms, while his Venezuelan substitute, Peña Parra, is asymptomatic, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told journalists on Jan. 18.

Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra meets with Pope Francis in Vatican City on August 17, 2018. .  Vatican Media
Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra meets with Pope Francis in Vatican City on August 17, 2018. . Vatican Media

Both members of the Roman Curia were fully vaccinated and had received booster shots.

Earlier this week, Parolin, who travels frequently for his diplomatic role, canceled a trip to Erba in northern Italy scheduled for Feb 6. The cardinal turned 67 on Jan. 17.

Parolin issued further coronavirus restrictions within Vatican City last month, requiring people to provide either proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or evidence of recovery from it to enter Vatican offices.

Many cardinals have tested positive for COVID-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, including Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Cardinal De Donatis, and Cardinal Raymond Burke.

Pope Francis sends aid to migrants at Belarus border and victims of typhoon in Philippines

Pope Francis’ general audience in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, Jan. 5, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Jan 18, 2022 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has sent 100,000 euros (around $114,000) in aid to migrants at the border between Poland and Belarus, the Vatican said on Tuesday.

The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development announced on Jan. 18 that the pope had also given the same sum to victims of a devastating storm in the Philippines.

The Vatican department said in a press release that the pope had earmarked the funds for migrants living in freezing winter conditions along the roughly 250-mile border separating Poland and Belarus.

It said that the money would also help Caritas Poland, the country’s biggest charitable organization, “to address the migratory emergency on the border between the two countries.”

The border crisis flared up last summer when thousands of people, largely from Middle Eastern countries, sought to enter the European Union by crossing the Belarus-Poland border.

The Polish government and the EU accused Belarus of helping the migrants to gather at the frontier and enter Poland, an EU member state since 2004. The Belarusian government, led by President Alexander Lukashenko, denied the claim.

Polish officials argued that Belarus, a landlocked Eastern European country, fomented the crisis in response to sanctions imposed by the EU after Lukashenko declared victory in a disputed presidential election in August 2020.

The border crisis has also affected Lithuania and Latvia, both EU member states neighboring Belarus.

Poland responded to the crisis by declaring a state of emergency in the area, fortifying the border, and repelling groups seeking to force their way across with tear gas and water cannons.

The Belarusian government appeared to take steps to de-escalate the crisis in November. Almost 4,000 Iraqi citizens have been repatriated from Belarus, Iraq’s foreign minister said on Jan. 16.

Médecins Sans Frontières announced earlier this month that it had withdrawn its teams after Polish authorities repeatedly denied them access to migrants living in a forested border area in sub-zero temperatures.

“We are concerned that the current policy of restricting access to aid organizations and volunteer groups could result in yet more migrants and refugees dying,” it said on Jan. 6.

“These policies are yet again another example of the EU deliberately creating unsafe conditions for people to seek asylum at its borders.”

Papal funds will also help relief efforts in the Philippines after Super Typhoon Rai struck the southeast Asian country in December.

The tropical cyclone, known locally as Typhoon Odette, killed more than 400 people and has affected more than 7 million others, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The Vatican dicastery said that the funds would be sent to the worst-affected dioceses with help from the apostolic nunciature in the Philippines.

“It is intended to be an immediate expression of the Holy Father’s feeling of spiritual closeness and paternal encouragement towards the people and territories affected,” the dicastery said, recalling that the pope prayed for victims at his Sunday Angelus on Dec. 19.

“This contribution, which accompanies the prayer in support of the beloved Filipino population, is part of the aid that is being activated throughout the Catholic Church and that involves, in addition to various episcopal conferences, numerous charitable organizations,” it said.

Vatican asks bishops to invite local Protestant and Orthodox leaders to participate in synodal path

Cardinal Kurt Koch and Cardinal Mario Grech. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA and Diocese of Gozo via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Vatican City, Jan 18, 2022 / 04:05 am (CNA).

The Vatican has issued a letter asking Catholic bishops to invite local Orthodox and Protestant leaders to participate in the diocesan stage of the two-year process leading to the 2023 Synod on Synodality.

Cardinal Mario Grech, the general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, and Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, wrote a letter together asking Catholic dioceses to embrace the “ecumenical dimension” of the synodal process.

“The dialogue between Christians of different confessions, united by one baptism, has a special place in the synodal journey,” said the letter highlighted by the Vatican on Jan. 17.

“Indeed, both synodality and ecumenism are processes of ‘walking together.’”

Offering “some practical suggestions to ensure the ecumenical dimension of the synodal journey,” the cardinals encouraged bishops to reach out to leaders of other Christian communities in their area.

“After identifying the main Christian communities present in the area, [the bishop] should prepare and send a letter to their leaders (or better visit them personally for this purpose),” their letter said.

The bishops should then invite local Christian leaders to send delegates to pre-synodal diocesan meetings and submit written reflections on questions included in the preparatory documents.

National bishops’ conferences are likewise asked to invite representatives from other Christian communities and national councils of churches to participate in the synodal process.

The Synod on Synodality is a global, two-year consultative process of “listening and dialogue” that began in October 2021. The first stage is a diocesan phase expected to last until Aug. 15.

The Vatican has asked all dioceses to participate, hold consultations, and collect feedback on specific questions laid out in synod documents. At the end of the current process, an assembly of the Synod of Bishops is scheduled to take place in Rome in October 2023 to produce a final document to advise the pope.

The letter, signed on Oct. 28, was referred to in a Vatican press release on Jan. 17 ahead of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which takes place on Jan. 18-25.

The theme of this year’s Week of Prayer is “We saw the star in the East, and we came to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).

Cardinal Grech and Cardinal Koch said: “Like the Magi, Christians too journey together (synodos) guided by the same heavenly light and encountering the same worldly darkness.”

“They too are called to worship Jesus together and open their treasures. Conscious of our need for the accompaniment and the many gifts of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we call on them to journey with us during these two years and we sincerely pray that Christ will lead us closer to Him and so to one another.”

The General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity shared a prayer which it said could be added to the other intentions of the Week of Prayer:

Heavenly Father,
as the Magi journeyed towards Bethlehem led by the star,
so by your heavenly light,
guide the Catholic Church to walk together with all Christians during this time of synod.
As the Magi were united in their worship of Christ,
lead us closer to your Son and so to one another,
so that we become a sign of the unity that you desire for your Church and the whole creation.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Pope Francis looks ahead to the 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea in 2025

Pope Francis meets with ecumenical delegation from Finland on Jan. 17, 2022. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jan 17, 2022 / 05:30 am (CNA).

In an ecumenical meeting with a Lutheran delegation on Monday, Pope Francis pointed to the upcoming 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea as a source of unity between Christians.

“Dear friends, we have set out on a journey led by God’s kindly light that dissipates the darkness of division and directs our journey towards unity,” Pope Francis said on Jan. 17.

“We have set out, as brothers and sisters, on the journey towards ever fuller communion.”

Pope Francis received an ecumenical delegation from Finland at the Vatican. The group traveled to Rome on pilgrimage for the feast of Saint Henrik, a 12th century bishop of Finland who is revered by Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans.

In the meeting, the pope pointed to the upcoming anniversaries of two major events in Church history as moments that can help Christians to see the goal of unity more clearly.

“In 2025, we will celebrate the 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea. The Trinitarian and Christological confession of that Council, which acknowledges Jesus to be ‘true God from true God’ and ‘consubstantial with the Father,’ unites us with all those who are baptized,” Pope Francis said.

The First Council of Nicaea held in 325 A.D. was called by emperor Constantine to confront the Arian heresy, which denied Christ’s divinity. The council promulgated the Nicene Creed, which is still accepted by Orthodox, Anglican, and other Protestant denominations.

“In view of this great anniversary, let us renew our enthusiasm for journeying together in the way of Christ, in the way that is Christ. For we need him and the newness and incomparable joy that he brings. Only by clinging to him will we reach the end of the path leading to full unity,” the pope said.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

Pope Francis also highlighted that 2030 will mark the 500th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession.

The Augsburg Confession included 28 articles presented by Lutheran princes in 1530 for approval by the Catholic Church. The Church responded with a Confutation that accepted 9 articles, approved 6 with qualifications, and condemned 13 articles.

“At a time when Christians were about to set out on different paths, that Confession attempted to preserve unity,” Pope Francis said.

“We know that it did not succeed in preventing division, but the forthcoming anniversary can serve as a fruitful occasion to encourage and confirm us on our journey of communion, so that we can become more docile to God’s will, and less to human strategies, more disposed to prefer to earthly aims the route pointed out by Heaven.”

The delegation from Finland included Jukka Keskitalo, the bishop of Oulu in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, and Bishop Teemu Sippo, the retired Catholic bishop of Helsinki.

Sippo was the first Finnish-born Catholic bishop to be appointed since the 16th century. More than 68% of Finland’s population is Lutheran, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

Representatives from the Sámi, Finland’s indigenous people – the only indigenous people of the European Union – were also present for the papal meeting.

“It is with particular joy that I welcome and greet the Sámi representatives,” Pope Francis said.

“May God accompany you on the journey towards reconciliation and healing of memory, and make all Christians free and determined in the earnest search for truth.”

The ecumenical meeting occurred one day ahead of the official start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity January 18-25.

Pope Francis has asked Catholics to offer up their “difficulties and sufferings” during this week for the unity of Christians.

“When will unity be achieved? One wonders, isn't that right? A great Orthodox theologian who is a specialist in eschatology said, ‘Unity will be in the eschaton.’ But the path to unity is important. It is very good that theologians study, discuss,” the pope told the Finnish delegation.

“But it is also good that we, God's faithful people, go together on the journey. Together. And we make unity through prayer, through works of charity, through working together. I know you are going down that path, and I thank you so much,” he said.

“Let us keep our gaze ever fixed on Jesus (cf. Heb 12:2) and remain close to one another in prayer,” Pope Francis said.