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What happens when the pope receives a head of state?

Pope Francis receives Argentine President Alberto Fernández in a private audience at the Vatican on Jan. 31. 2020. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Aug 27, 2021 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Have you ever noticed those people who accompany visitors through the rooms of the Apostolic Palace toward the papal library, where official meetings with the pope take place? Perhaps this choreography struck you as old-fashioned and out of step with the modern world.

But these carefully choreographed scenes are full of meaning. They are part of the Vatican’s ceremonial life. This ceremonial is a language that tells us how an institution wishes to present itself to the world. Unraveling the meaning of the ceremonial helps us to grasp more of what happens inside of the Apostolic Palace.

Vatican ceremonial is made up of “apparently not very visible, but substantial things,” according to Msgr. Stefano Sanchirico, a former prelate of the Prefecture of the Papal Household.

The pope only has formal meetings with three categories of individuals: monarchs and heads of state; heads of government; and -- less frequently, and exceptionally -- ministers for foreign affairs.

Along with these three categories, the pope also personally meets with ambassadors accredited to the Holy See on two main occasions: when they present their credentials and when they bid farewell at the end of their missions.

There are also three categories of visit to the Vatican: a state visit, a solemn audience, and a private audience.

State visits have become very rare. The formula of the audience is now preferred, Sanchirico explains, since “it is more flexible and easy.”

The decline of state visits did not begin under Pope Francis but started a long time ago. The ceremonial, as we can see, does adapt in some ways to the times.

Considering that visits to the pope are principally diplomatic, one might think that they are regulated by the protocol of the Secretariat of State, which oversees Holy See diplomacy. But it is in fact the Prefecture of the Papal Household that manages the visits. The pope does not receive the heads of state accompanied by other senior officials but with dignitaries and family members.

Pope Francis receives Italian President Sergio Mattarella in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace on April 18, 2015. Vatican Media.
Pope Francis receives Italian President Sergio Mattarella in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace on April 18, 2015. Vatican Media.

The state visit is the most important of the three categories. The last such visit was made by the Italian President Sergio Mattarella on April 18, 2015. On that occasion, the protocol was adapted. Family members are not generally included in a state visit, but Mattarella was able to bring his daughter and grandchildren with him.

How does a state visit work?

“The state visit begins from St. Peter’s Square,” Sanchirico says, “where a first squad of the Swiss Guard greets the guest and then accompanies him inside the Vatican. The procession enters from the Arco delle Campane [an entrance to the Vatican on the left facing St. Peter’s Basilica], turns behind St. Peter’s Basilica, and arrives at the Courtyard of San Damaso."

In the courtyard, the head of state finds the following people lined up: a double squad of the Swiss Guard in Grand Gala uniform, the Gentlemen of His Holiness with the Prefect of the Papal Household, and the General Councilor of the State, and the commander of the Swiss Guard. The flag of the guest’s nation is raised on a flagpole.

According to canon law, the Gentlemen of His Holiness are “lay dignitaries of the Papal Household.” Paul VI established the title of Gentlemen of His Holiness in the motu proprio Pontificalis Domus, issued on March 28, 1968. With that document, Paul VI reformed the Papal Household, streamlined the list of titles, and generally overhauled the whole structure and ethos of the papal court.

The Gentlemen of His Holiness are under the Prefecture of the Papal Household. They are summoned to receive and accompany the pope’s guests: heads of state and government, ambassadors to the Holy See, and other prominent international personalities.

The Prefect of the Papal Household introduces the guest to the dignitaries and the Gentlemen of His Holiness. After the introductions, the pontifical band plays the guest’s national anthem, and the guest is then seated in a living room next to the elevators.

“Today,” Sanchirico notes, “the delegations go up on the elevator, but previously they arrived in the Second Loggia [on the second floor] via the papal staircase.”

Each member of the guest’s delegation is assigned to a Gentleman of His Holiness.

The procession is formed in the Second Loggia, the floor where the papal library is located.

The procession is led by the commander of the squad of the Swiss Guard, who is a sergeant major. The Sediari pontifici follow. They are members of the Papal Antechamber (Anticamera Pontificia) and their role is strictly connected with the service to the pope. In the past, they carried the sedia gestatoria, or gestatorial chair, bearing the pope.

After the Sediari, other figures in the papal court join the procession, including the Decano di Sala dell’Anticamera Pontificia, who is responsible for the public part of the papal apartment and coordinates the Sediari. The Decano is followed by the Addetti di Anticamera di Sua Santità, who are also part of the Papal Family (Familia Pontificalis.)

Then there is a squad of eight Swiss Guards, in the center of which is the guest with the Prefect of the Papal Household on his right, then the spouse of the head of state, and the commander of the Swiss Guard.

Immediately behind this group are the members of the entourage of the head of state, each accompanied by a Gentleman of His Holiness.

Sanchirico says that “the procession reaches the Sala Clementina, where a section of the Swiss Guard pays the honors. During the state visit, the delegation is welcomed by the lay head of the Papal Family, the Assistant Prince to the throne. He takes the place of the dignitary who accompanies the president [head of state], who shifts his position close to the president’s wife.”

The Papal Almoner, who is part of the Papal Family, also joins the procession.

“Formally, the Almoner is a prelate of the Antechamber, a member of the participating secret chamber,” notes Sanchirico. This is because “the Almoner was a reality of charity that emanated directly from the pope; it has no universal characteristic.”

The procession leads through from the Sala dei Sediari to the Sala di Sant’Ambrogio, where there is a small passage that leads directly to the pope’s library, then to the Sala dei Papi, and the Hall of the Urban VIII Chapel.

Step by step, the procession thins out, with the guest ultimately finding themselves alone with the pope.

First, the Sediari leave the procession, then the Addetti di Anticamera, and finally the Gentlemen of His Holiness. The latter wait in the “Room of the Ambassadors,” while the spouse of the head of state stays in the “Sala Della Consorte” (Consort’s Room).

None of the guests is ever left alone. The pope welcomes only monarchs as a couple.

Arriving at the Sala del Tronetto, the pope exits the private library, greets the head of state in the center, and then leads them to the library, where the interview takes place at the papal desk, with two identical chairs.

During the private meeting, the prelates in the antechamber go to greet the other guests.

At the end of the meeting, the doors open. First, the spouse is introduced, then the guest’s entourage. Finally, each member of the staff is introduced to the pope. A state visit also includes an exchange of speeches before the group photo and farewell.

The procession resumes and the group is reconstituted step by step along the way.

First, the Papal Family greets the guest in the Clementine Hall, and then the head of state goes down to the First Loggia, where there is a meeting with the Secretary of State.

After the bilateral meeting, the procession resumes at the Sala Regia, where the guest meets with the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See.

Then the religious part begins. If the head of state is Catholic, they go to St. Peter’s Basilica to pay homage at the Prince of the Apostles’ tomb and perform an act of devotion in front of the image of the Madonna del Soccorso and the Blessed Sacrament.

The guest finally meets with the Chapter of St. Peter. The chapter was established in 1043 by St. Leo IX. It was intended to guarantee regular prayer in St. Peter’s and, in earlier years, to assist the pope in managing the goods of St. Peter’s patrimony.

After that, the farewell takes place, with the band performing the pontifical anthem in front of St. Peter’s Basilica.

All of this happens with the state visit. How different is this from a private audience?

“The places are the same,” says Sanchirico, “[But] the state visit involves an exchange of speeches, which does not occur during an audience.”

Of course, the ceremonial also provides for distinctions depending on the rank of the guest. If they are a monarch or head of state, the pope goes out to the Sala del Tronetto and meets them in the middle of the room. The pope does not, however, go out to welcome the head of government. The chair in which a prime minister sits is smaller and is placed differently.

Pope Francis with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović at the Vatican, May 28, 2015. Vatican Media.
Pope Francis with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović at the Vatican, May 28, 2015. Vatican Media.

Some precautions are no longer observed. For example, at the exchange of gifts, a prime minister should remain in front of the counter, thus marking a difference.

Also, the pope gives a pontifical medal to the guest and their entourage.

“This is silver if it is a prime minister, while it is always gold” if the pope is meeting with a sovereign or a head of state, Sanchirico explains.

The format of the meeting in which ambassadors present their credentials to the pope has recently been revised.

“We have returned to the previous type of ceremonial,” observes Sanchirico, “although there is no longer a distinction between ambassadors, who were received in the Throne Hall, and plenipotentiary ministers, who were received in the Tronetto Hall.”

“The ceremony is now totally public, in the presence of the delegation, and takes place in the Throne room with the subsequent private meeting in the library and has, mutatis mutandis, the same characteristics as the state visits.”

When he receives the credentials, the pope meets with the non-resident ambassadors in groups and delivers a speech. In contrast, he meets the resident ambassadors in private, with no public speech delivered.

Pope Francis urges Catholic lawmakers to protect human dignity online

Pope Francis greets participants in a meeting promoted by the International Catholic Legislators Network in the Vatican's Clementine Hall, Aug. 27, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Aug 27, 2021 / 05:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis urged Catholic lawmakers Friday to protect human dignity online by using public policy to combat child pornography, data breaches, and cyber attacks.

“In our age particularly, one of the greatest challenges confronting us is the administration of technology for the common good,” Pope Francis said in the Apostolic Palace on Aug. 27.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“By means of policies and regulations, lawmakers can protect human dignity from whatever may threaten it. I think, for example, of the scourge of child pornography, the misuse of personal data, attacks on critical infrastructures such as hospitals, and the spread of false information on social media and so on,” he said.

Speaking to the International Catholic Legislators Network, the pope encouraged the politicians to “make every effort to undertake serious and in-depth moral reflection on the risks and possibilities associated with scientific and technological advances.”

Pope Francis said that moral reflection on technology would help ensure that laws and regulations focus on “promoting integral human development rather than progress as an end in itself.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“The wonders of modern science and technology have increased our quality of life,” he said. “At the same time, left to themselves and to market forces alone, without suitable guidelines provided by legislative assemblies and public authorities guided by a sense of social responsibility, these innovations can end up becoming a threat to the dignity of the human person.”

The International Catholic Legislators Network is a group of Catholic parliamentarians from around the world that holds an annual private meeting in Rome.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The group, founded in 2010 by the Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and David Alton, a member of Britain’s House of Lords, is dedicated to religious liberty, Church-state relations, the protection of life, and communicating Catholic thought in secular politics.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Your work as lawmakers and political leaders is more important than ever. Charged with serving the common good, you are now being challenged to direct your efforts to the integral renewal of your communities and of society as a whole,” Pope Francis said.

“This entails more than simply combating the virus or seeking to return to the status quo prior to the pandemic -- no, that would be a failure -- it demands confronting the deeper causes that the crisis has laid bare and aggravated: poverty, social inequality, widespread unemployment, and the lack of access to education.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Among those present at the papal audience were Christiaan Alting von Geusau, president and rector of the International Theological Institute in Vienna, Cardinal Schönborn, and Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of the Syriac Orthodox Church.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“In an age of upheaval and political polarization, legislators and politicians in general are not always held in high esteem,” the pope said. “Yet what loftier vocation can there be than that of serving the common good and placing the welfare of the community before our personal advantage?”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“If we are to heal our world so harshly tried by the pandemic, and build a more inclusive and sustainable future in which technology serves human needs without isolating us from one another, we need not only responsible citizens, but also capable leaders inspired by the principle of the common good,” Pope Francis said.

Vatican suppresses Italy-based Regina Pacis Community after apostolic visit

The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, Aug 27, 2021 / 04:36 am (CNA).

The Vatican has reportedly suppressed the Regina Pacis Community, a society of apostolic life based in Verona, Italy, citing “institutional shortcomings” and a lack of “charismatic-institutional maturity.”

According to the news agency L’Arena di Verona, the Vatican’s consecrated life office issued a decree suppressing the community on July 24. The bishop of Verona, Giuseppe Zenti, sent a letter informing the diocese of the decision on Aug. 17.

The Regina Pacis Community was founded in 1986 by married couple Alessandro Nottegar and Luisa Scipionato Nottegar as a Catholic community devoted to prayer, evangelization, and service to the poor.

Alessandro Nottegar, a doctor who died from a heart attack just a month after the community’s founding at the age of 42, was declared “venerable” by Pope Francis in 2017 -- one of the steps on the path to beatification and canonisation.

His widow, Luisa Nottegar, and the couple’s three daughters are still living.

The move comes just months after the Vatican suppressed two Catholic associations based in southern Italy -- the Movimento Apostolico and Maria Madre della Redenzione -- after determining that their founder’s alleged supernatural revelations were inauthentic.

The first members of the Regina Pacis Community were married couples and families, though the group eventually extended to include religious men and women, as well as priests. It was present in Verona, several cities in Brazil, and Medjugorje prior to its suppression.

L’Arena di Verona reported that the Diocese of Verona carried out a canonical inspection of the community four years ago, after which the Holy See nominated two pontifical commissioners to undertake a deeper investigation.

In his letter, Bishop Zenti reportedly said that the “painful decision” to suppress the community “came after a reasonable time in which it was possible, first by the visitors and then by the commissioners, to listen to the reality and to the people involved, both still present and those who left the community itself.”

Zenti’s letter quoted parts of the decree from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, which reportedly said that the community was found to have difficulties in relations between members and “institutional shortcomings, especially in the government,” L’Arena di Verona said.

The decree also reportedly said that “the Regina Pacis Community association does not show that it has acquired a charismatic-institutional maturity that can ensure healthy development for the future,” that it lacked “originality and reliability of the founding charism,” and had “poor consistency of the inspirational texts, especially in the ecclesiological sphere and in the formation of the association.”

The Vatican visitation into the community was performed by Sr. Marisa Adami of the Sisters of the Holy Family and by Fr. Amedeo Cencini.

Cencini headed a 2019 investigation into the ecumenical Bose Community, which eventually led to the removal of its founder, Fr. Enzo Bianchi.

Pope Francis meets Nadia Murad as Nobel Prize winner advocates for Afghan women

Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Dec. 20, 2018. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Aug 26, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis on Thursday met with Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad, a human rights advocate who has been speaking out on behalf of women and girls in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Murad’s meeting with the pope on Aug. 26 comes as the survivor of ISIS enslavement has expressed concern for the future of Afghan women under Taliban rule.

“I know what happens when the world loses sight of women & girls in crises. When it looks away, war is waged on women’s bodies. This must not happen in Afghanistan. The international community must act so that the Taliban doesn’t continue to rob women of their rights & freedoms,” Murad wrote on Twitter on Aug. 16, the day after the Taliban took control of Kabul.

The private papal audience at the Vatican was Murad’s third meeting with the pope. She also met with Pope Francis in Dec. 2018 shortly after receiving the Nobel Prize for her “efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.”

Murad said that she had an “in-depth discussion about the Yazidi community’s experience of genocide” during their last meeting.

Pope Francis told journalists in March that he was inspired to travel to Iraq partly by Murad’s memoir, “The Last Girl.”

“Nadia Murad tells terrifying things. I recommend you read it. In some places, it may seem heavy, but for me, this is the underlying reason for my decision,” the pope said on his return flight from Baghdad on March 8.

Islamic State militants captured Murad six years ago after killing six of her brothers, her mother, and more than 600 Yazidis in her Iraqi village. She was enslaved, along with most of the young women in her community, and repeatedly raped by the ISIS fighters.

After being sold as a slave multiple times and suffering both sexual and physical abuse, Murad escaped ISIS at the age of 23 after three months of captivity. After relocating to Germany, she used her freedom to become an advocate for Yazidi women who remained in ISIS captivity.

She is serving as a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking and founded Nadia’s Initiative, an organization to help female victims of violence.

Murad was the first Iraqi to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She was finally able to bury the remains of two of her brothers in her hometown in Kocho in February 2021.

The U.S. State Department declared in 2016 that Yazidis, along with the Christian and Shia Muslim religious minorities, were victims of a genocide perpetrated by the Islamic State.

Murad has said that Pope Francis’ trip to Iraq last March was “a sign of hope for all minorities.”

“Not only is Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq historic in itself, but it also comes at a historic time for the Iraqi people, as they rebuild from genocide, religious persecution, and decades of conflict,” Murad told Vatican News in March.

“The pope’s visit shone a light on the potential for peace and religious freedom. It symbolized that all Iraqis -- no matter their faith -- are equally deserving of dignity and human rights.”

Pope Francis names religious sister to No. 2 position in Vatican’s social development office

Sr. Alessandra Smerilli speaks at a press conference at the Vatican on July 7, 2020. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, Aug 26, 2021 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Thursday named Italian economist and Catholic religious sister Alessandra Smerilli as secretary of the Vatican’s social development office on an interim basis.

Smerilli was appointed “ad interim” secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development following the departure of secretary Msgr. Bruno Marie Duffé and deputy secretary Fr. Augusto Zampini, who have returned to their home dioceses, the Vatican announced Aug. 26.

The 46-year-old Salesian sister is an economist and professor. She has been an undersecretary at the human development dicastery since March 24 and was one of the principal organizers of the 2020 Economy of Francesco event.

Since 2019, Smerilli has also served as a councilor of the Vatican City State and a consultant to the secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. In spring 2020, she was asked to coordinate the economic taskforce of the Vatican COVID-19 Commission.

On Aug. 26, Pope Francis also named Smerilli delegate of the COVID-19 commission of the Vatican, meaning that the commission is now under the exclusive leadership of Smerilli, Fr. Fabio Baggio of the Migrant and Refugees section, and human development prefect Cardinal Peter Turkson.

The changes at the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development follow a recent inspection carried out by Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago.

The July apostolic visitation was one of several inspections that have taken place at Vatican dicasteries ahead of the expected release of a new apostolic constitution governing the Roman Curia.

As reported by Vatican News, Duffé, 70, leaves the Vatican at the conclusion of a four-year mandate and returns to the Archdiocese of Lyon in France.

Zampini, 52, joined the Vatican in 2017. He was deputy secretary of the human development dicastery from April 2020 and now returns to the Diocese of San Isidro in his native Argentina.

In an Aug. 26 update on the dicastery’s website, Zampini said that he was “grateful to the Holy Father for entrusting me with the challenging task of coordinating the Vatican COVID-19 Commission and serving as adjunct secretary of the dicastery.”

“Now that the commission is ready to enter a new phase, and in accordance with my bishop, I have asked Pope Francis to be allowed to return to my diocese,” he said.

Smerilli is one of two women to hold a second-ranking position in an important Vatican office, after the nomination of Sr. Nathalie Becquart to the Synod of Bishops in February.

Smerilli said that she was grateful to Pope Francis for “the demanding task” he had asked her to take on.

“I pray to the Lord to help me to honor this call in a spirit of obedience to the Church, with humility, passion, creativity, and ability to listen that it requires,” she commented.

“My desire and commitment is to serve the mission of the Church in the best possible way, for as long as the pope sees fit.”

Vatican urges countries to accept refugees from Afghanistan

Early morning in Kabul, Afghanistan. / Mohammad Rahmani via Unsplash

Vatican City, Aug 25, 2021 / 08:05 am (CNA).

A Vatican diplomat has urged countries to “move from declaration to action” by welcoming refugees from Afghanistan.

In a speech to the emergency session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the situation in Afghanistan, Msgr. John Putzer said that the Holy See was calling on all parties to uphold the “human dignity and fundamental rights of every person.”

He underlined that this included “the right to life, the freedom of religion, the right to freedom of movement and the right to peaceful assembly.”

“At this critical time, it is of vital importance to support the success and safety of humanitarian efforts within the country, in a spirit of international solidarity, so as not to lose the progress that has been made, especially in the areas of healthcare and education,” Putzer said in Geneva, Switzerland, on Aug. 24.

Putzer serves as the chargé d’affaires of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva. A native of Wisconsin, the American priest served in the Vatican diplomatic corps in the Democratic Republic of the Congo before moving to Geneva.

He said that the Holy See had been following the situation in Afghanistan with “great concern” and was hoping for a “peaceful and swift resolution” through dialogue.

“The Holy See ... remains convinced that inclusive dialogue represents the most powerful tool for achieving such peace and calls on the entire international community to move from declaration to action by welcoming refugees in a spirit of human fraternity,” he said.

Taliban fighters swept through large swathes of the country and captured the capital, Kabul, on Aug. 15. The group’s rapid advance came as many Afghan civilians and U.S. citizens were still seeking to leave the country before the complete withdrawal of U.S. and other forces.

The U.S. has facilitated the evacuation of more than 70,000 people from the Kabul airport, with 21,600 people evacuated from Afghanistan over the course of 24 hours on Aug. 24, according to the Pentagon.

President Joe Biden has said that he plans to stick to an Aug. 31 deadline for evacuations, despite requests from allied forces to extend the deadline to ensure that their citizens and at-risk Afghans can get out safely.

“Every day we’re on the ground is another day that we know ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both us and allied forces and innocent civilians,” Biden said at the White House on Aug. 24.

The U.K. government has announced plans to accept 20,000 Afghan refugees in coming years, according to the BBC. Canada has also announced that it will help to resettle 20,000 Afghans.

Uganda has agreed to take in 2,000 Afghan refugees. India is granting emergency visas to Afghan nationals for the next six months, and Mexico has also already welcomed asylum seekers arriving from Afghanistan.

In Europe, some countries are more hesitant. The Swiss government has said that it will not accept large groups of refugees from Afghanistan and Austria will not take in any Afghan refugees.

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), has said that he is “ashamed” of some European countries’ responses to the situation in Afghanistan.

“We had given hope to this people and now we have left them in Dante’s Inferno. And then I feel shame. Shame on Europe and on the West. We talk so much about values. But where are our values in Afghanistan now?” Hollerich said, according to the Italian news agency SIR.

The cardinal urged EU countries to “act according to your conscience.”

The Taliban previously controlled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001. During that time, a strict interpretation of Islamic law was imposed and girls were not permitted to go to school.

Human rights advocates have expressed concern that, with the Taliban regaining control of Afghanistan and changing the country’s name to the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” Sharia law will likely be imposed stringently.

Under Sharia, including in Afghanistan prior to the Taliban takeover, apostasy from Islam is punishable by death.

At the emergency meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council, Nasir Ahmad Andisha, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, said that serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses had already been documented in the country.

“Violations are already taking place as we speak,” he said.

Another speaker at the special session made an appeal for Christians and other religious minorities whose lives are threatened by the Taliban.

Giorgio Mazzoli, a legal officer representing the Christian group ADF International at the U.N., said that he wished to call the council’s attention to “the dire plight of religious minority communities in Afghanistan.”

He said that religious minorities in Afghanistan had “already been living in a hostile legal and social environment for decades and are now at extreme risk of being targeted with deadly violence.”

“Among them are an estimated 10,000 Christians, many of whom ‘guilty’ of converting from Islam -- a crime punishable by death under Sharia law,” he said.

“As disturbing accounts of killings, harassment, and intimidation against them are rapidly emerging, we urge states and the international community to give utmost attention to these persecuted minorities and guarantee the conditions for their prompt and safe exit from the country, irrespective of whether they have valid travel documents.”

Mazzoli also called on governments to temporarily halt deportations to Afghanistan and reconsider rejected asylum applications from Afghans who fear “persecution because of their faith or beliefs.”

“The harrowing prospects for freedom, democracy, and the rule of law, compounded by a deepening humanitarian crisis, are forcing thousands of Afghan men, women, and children into displacement within the country, and compelling many more to seek escape from persecution and oppression,” he said.

“The unfolding situation on the ground requires an immediate, robust and coordinated response from the international community, whereby respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is considered as an absolute prerequisite for a credible peace and reconciliation process.”

Pope Francis: ‘Hypocrisy in the Church is particularly detestable’

Pope Francis’ general audience in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, Aug. 25, 2021. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, Aug 25, 2021 / 03:55 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said on Wednesday that hypocrisy within the Church is “particularly detestable.”

Speaking at the general audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on Aug. 25, the pope underlined that hypocritical behavior damaged Church unity.

“Hypocrisy in the Church is particularly detestable, and unfortunately there is hypocrisy in the Church, and there are many hypocritical Christians and ministers. We should never forget the Lord’s words: ‘Let what you say be simply Yes or No; anything more than this comes from evil,’” he said, quoting Matthew 5:37.

“Brothers and sisters, today, let us think about the hypocrisy that Paul condemns, and that Jesus condemns: hypocrisy. And let us not be afraid to be truthful, to speak the truth, to hear the truth, to conform ourselves to the truth, so we can love. A hypocrite does not know how to love.”

“To act otherwise means jeopardizing the unity of the Church, that unity for which the Lord Himself prayed.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope’s live-streamed address, dedicated to the theme “The dangers of the Law,” was the sixth in his cycle of catechesis on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians.

The pope reflected on Galatians 2:11-14, in which Paul recalls that he rebuked St. Peter for ceasing to eat with gentiles for fear of conflict with strict Jewish Christians, who stressed that Jews were prohibited from eating with non-Jews under Mosaic Law.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“First, Peter had been eating with the Christians of pagan origin without any difficulty; however, when some circumcised Christians from Jerusalem arrived in the city, he then no longer did so, because he did not want to incur their criticism,” the pope said.

“That’s the mistake: he was more focused on criticism, on making a good impression. And this is serious in Paul’s eyes, because other disciples imitated Peter, especially Barnabas, who with Paul had even evangelized the Galatians.”

Vatican Media.
<p>Vatican Media.</p>

Pope Francis said that, without intending to, Peter was creating “an unjust division” within the community.

Addressing pilgrims who were seated in the hall and wearing face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the pope said that Paul was, in essence, accusing Peter of hypocrisy.

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

He suggested that hypocrisy could be defined as “the fear of the truth.”

“In an environment where interpersonal relations are lived under the banner of formalism, the virus of hypocrisy easily spreads,” he said.

He noted that hypocrisy is frequently condemned in the Bible. He highlighted the example of Eleazar, an elderly Jewish man who refused to save his life by eating meat sacrificed to pagan deities.

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Quoting from the Second Book of Maccabees, the pope said that Eleazar had refused because the younger generation would conclude that he had “gone over to an alien religion” and be led astray.

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

“What a beautiful episode to reflect on to distance ourselves from hypocrisy,” the pope remarked. “The Gospels, too, report several situations in which Jesus strongly reproaches those who appear just externally, but who internally are filled with falsity and iniquity.”

He encouraged pilgrims to read the 23rd chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel and note how many times Jesus refers to “hypocrites.”

He added that hypocrites are people who “pretend, flatter, and deceive” because they lack the courage to face the truth.

“For this reason, they are not capable of truly loving -- a hypocrite does not know how to love -- they limit themselves to living out of egoism and do not have the strength to show their hearts transparently,” he said.

“There are many situations in which hypocrisy is at work. It is often hidden in the workplace where someone appears to be friends with their colleagues while, at the same time, stabbing them in the back due to competition. In politics, it is not unusual to find hypocrites who live one way in public and another way in private.”

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

After the address, a precis of the pope’s catechesis was read out in seven languages.

In his remarks to Polish-speaking pilgrims, the pope noted that Aug. 26 is the feast day of Our Lady of Częstochowa, who is venerated at the Jasna Góra Monastery in southern Poland.

He recalled that in 2016, during World Youth Day in Kraków, he visited the icon also known as the Black Madonna of Częstochowa.

“Five years ago, I was able to stand with young people before her black countenance and entrust to her the Church in Poland and the world,” he said.

“May her maternal protection be for you, your families, and all Poles a source of peace and every good. I bless you from my heart.”

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

He then sent his best wishes to athletes taking part in the Paralympic Games in Japan from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5.

“Yesterday, the Paralympics began in Tokyo. I send my greetings to the athletes and I thank them because they offer everyone a testimony of hope and courage. They, in fact, show how sporting efforts help to overcome seemingly insurmountable difficulties,” he said.

The pope also greeted Catholics from Montegallo, a commune in central Italy that was struck by an earthquake on Aug. 24, 2016.

“Dear brothers and sisters, your presence gives me the opportunity to turn my thoughts to the victims and to the communities of central Italy, including Accumoli and Amatrice, which have suffered the harsh consequences of that seismic event,” he said.

“With the concrete help of the institutions, it is necessary to give proof of ‘rebirth’ without letting distrust get in the way. I urge everyone to move forward with hope. Courage!”

The general audience ended with the recitation of the Our Father and the Apostolic Blessing.

After the audience, the pope stood up to greet individual bishops and priests, before being guided down the steps of the auditorium.

Pope Francis sends $230,000 for Haiti earthquake victims

Pope Francis gives his Wednesday general audience in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall on Aug. 4, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Aug 24, 2021 / 05:20 am (CNA).

Pope Francis will send over $230,000 in aid for victims of the Haiti earthquake which struck Aug. 14.

The amount is “an initial contribution” to help the people of Haiti “in this emergency phase,” according to the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development.

In an Aug. 24 press release, the dicastery said the money will be distributed to the Catholic dioceses most in need, with collaboration from the Vatican’s embassy in Haiti, the apostolic nunciature.

The funds “will be used to assist the earthquake victims and is intended to be an immediate expression of the feeling of spiritual closeness and paternal encouragement towards the people and territories affected, demonstrated by the Holy Father,” it said.

A 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the island of Haiti on the night of Aug. 14. The death toll from the devastating quake had risen to over 2,200 people on Aug. 22, according to Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency.

More than 340 people are still missing and 12,268 are injured. The protection agency said nearly 53,000 homes were destroyed in what is the largest natural disaster to hit Haiti since the 2010 earthquake.

According to BBC News, people are sleeping outside in fear that aftershocks will tumble more buildings, and health experts in the country are bracing for a public health disaster.

“The sanitation situation is quite critical... it is our hope that we don’t have an outbreak of cholera,” Nadesha Mijoba of the Haitian Health Foundation told BBC News.

Pope Francis called for international solidarity to alleviate suffering in Haiti after his Angelus message on Aug. 15.

“I wish to express my closeness to those dear people who have been hard hit by the earthquake,” he said, asking people to offer a Hail Mary to Our Lady of Haiti.

“As I raise my prayers to the Lord for the victims, I address a word of encouragement to the survivors, desiring that the international community will take a shared interest in them. May the solidarity of all alleviate the consequences of the tragedy,” Pope Francis added.

The president of the Italian bishops’ conference has pledged to give $1.17 million to Haiti, to be distributed through the bishops’ charity office, Caritas Italiana.

Pope Francis is also sending emergency financial aid to Bangladesh and Vietnam, the human development office said Aug. 24.

He will send around $69,000 to Bangladesh, which is struggling after being hit by a severe cyclonic storm at the end of May. Cyclone Yaas caused strong winds and tidal surges which severely damaged the country’s coastal areas and fishing villages.

The Vatican said the pope will also donate around $117,000 to Vietnam, which is “in a state of grave need due to the socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Sunday Mass should be the culmination of all parish activities, Cardinal Parolin says

Pope Francis says Mass at the chapel of Santa Marta in the Vatican, Sept. 11, 2018. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Aug 23, 2021 / 10:37 am (CNA).

After pandemic lockdowns led to the suspension of Catholic liturgies in many parts of the world, the Sunday Mass must be reaffirmed as the source and summit of parish life, the Vatican Secretary of State said in a message sent Monday on behalf of the pope. 

“The suspension of liturgies during the long period of lockdown and the difficulties of the subsequent recovery confirmed what had already been observed in the Sunday assemblies on the Italian peninsula: an alarming indication of … the change of epoch,” Pietro Cardinal Parolin wrote in an Aug. 23 message for Italy’s National Liturgical Week.

The cardinal said that attendance at Sunday Masses in Italy is unbalanced in terms of the generations and cultures represented. 

He said that parishes face difficulties in reestablishing the Mass “in being the true summit of all its activities and the source of missionary dynamism to bring the Gospel of mercy to the geographical and existential peripheries.”

“The Holy Father hopes that the National Liturgical Week, with its proposals for reflection and moments of celebration … may identify and suggest some lines of liturgical pastoral care to be offered to parishes, so that Sunday, the Eucharistic assembly, the ministries and the rite may emerge from the marginality towards which they seem inexorably to precipitate, and to recover their centrality in the faith and spirituality of believers,” he said.

All public liturgies were suspended in Italy for ten weeks in 2020 when the country faced the highest mortality rates of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The sad experience of last year's liturgical ‘fast’ highlighted the goodness of the long journey that has been made since the Second Vatican Council, along the path mapped out by the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium,” Cardinal Parolin asserted.

“The time of privation made it possible to perceive ‘the importance of the divine liturgy for the life of Christians, who find therein that objective mediation required by the fact that Jesus Christ is not an idea or a sentiment, but a living Person, and his Mystery a historical event. The prayer of Christians passes through tangible mediations: Sacred Scripture, the Sacraments, liturgical rites, the community.’”

The 71st National Liturgical Week is taking place in Cremona Aug. 23-26 after it was postponed last year due to the pandemic. Cremona is located in Lombardy, the region in Italy hit hardest by COVID-19.

“The weekly gathering in the ‘name of the Lord’, which from the very beginning has been perceived by Christians as indispensable and indissolubly linked to their identity, was severely affected during the most acute phase of the spread of the pandemic,” Cardinal Parolin said.

“But love for the Lord and pastoral creativity pushed pastors and lay faithful to explore other ways of nourishing the communion of faith and love with the Lord and with their brothers and sisters, while waiting to be able to return to the fullness of the Eucharistic celebration in peace and security.”

“It was a difficult and painful wait, illuminated by the mystery of the Lord's Cross and fruitful in many works of care, fraternal love and service to the people who suffered most from the consequences of the health emergency,” he said.

Pope Francis: Do not water down the truth of the Eucharist

Pope Francis greets pilgrims during the Angelus on July 25, 2021. / Vatican Media/CNA

Vatican City, Aug 22, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Sunday encouraged Catholics to not water down the reality of Jesus Christ’s humanity and his teaching that the Eucharist is his Body and Blood.

“Indeed, Jesus affirms that the true bread of salvation, which transmits eternal life, is His very flesh,” Pope Francis said during his Angelus message at the Vatican Aug. 22.

“To enter into communion with God, before observing the laws or satisfying religious precepts,” he continued, “it is necessary to live out a real and concrete relationship with Him.”

Pope Francis, speaking from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, reflected on the day’s Gospel reading from St. John.

The passage follows the story of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, when Jesus invited the crowd “to interpret that sign and believe in Him, who is the true bread come down from heaven, the bread of life; and He revealed that the bread He will give is His body and blood,” Francis said.

“These words,” he stated, “sound harsh and incomprehensible to the ears of the people, so much so that, from that moment, many of His disciples turn back; that is, they stop following the Master.”

Even today the revelation of Jesus’ humanity, and the fact that the Eucharist is Jesus’ Body and Blood, can cause scandal, he said. It is something difficult for people to accept, he added, explaining that this is what Saint Paul calls the ‘folly’ of the Gospel in the face of those who seek miracles or worldly wisdom.”

“What sense can there be, in the eyes of the world, in kneeling before a piece of bread? Why on earth should someone be nourished assiduously with this bread?” he said.

According to Pope Francis, we should be surprised if the words of Jesus Christ do not throw us into crisis, “because we might have watered down His message,” he stated.

He also urged Catholics not to seek God in “dreams and in images of grandeur and power,” but to recognize him in the humanity of Jesus and in the humanity of other people.

“God made Himself flesh and blood: He lowered himself to the point of becoming a man like us,” the pope said. “He humbled Himself to the extent of burdening Himself with our sufferings and sin, and therefore He asks us to not seek Him outside life and history, but in relationship with Christ and with our brothers and sisters.”

He recalled that Catholics, during the recitation of the Nicene Creed at Mass on Christmas and the Annunciation, kneel during the words stating Jesus was made incarnate and became man.

Francis closed his Sunday message by encouraging Catholics to ask for the grace to be provoked and converted by Jesus’ “words of eternal life.”

“May Mary Most Holy, who bore her Son Jesus in the flesh and joined herself to His sacrifice, help us to always bear witness to our faith in our real lives,” he said.

After praying the Angelus, a traditional Marian prayer, Pope Francis greeted various groups present in St. Peter’s Square, including the priests and seminarians of the Pontifical North American College, a major seminary in Rome for seminarians of the United States and other countries.

A group of new students, the class of 2025, arrived at the college last week.