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Monday, December 28, 2009


VATICAN CITY, 24 DEC 2009 (VIS) - The Pope tonight celebrated Midnight Mass in the Vatican Basilica for the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord.

  In the course of the Eucharistic celebration, following the reading of the Gospel, the Holy Father delivered his homily.

  "The story of the shepherds is included in the Gospel for a reason", he said. "They show us the right way to respond to the message that we too have received. What is it that these first witnesses of God's incarnation have to tell us?

  "The first thing we are told about the shepherds is that they were on the watch - they could hear the message precisely because they were awake. We must be awake, so that we can hear the message. ... The principal difference between someone dreaming and someone awake is that the dreamer is in a world of his own. ... To wake up means to leave that private world of one's own and to enter the common reality, the truth that alone can unite all people. Conflict and lack of reconciliation in the world stem from the fact that we are locked into our own interests and opinions, into our own little private world. Selfishness, both individual and collective, makes us prisoners of our interests and our desires that stand against the truth and separate us from one another".

  "To awake", the Pope explained, "means to develop a receptivity for God: for the silent promptings with which He chooses to guide us; for the many indications of His presence. ... The gift of a capacity to perceive God seems as if it is withheld from some. And indeed our way of thinking and acting, the mentality of today's world, the whole range of our experience is inclined to deaden our receptivity for God. ... And yet in every soul, the desire for God, the capacity to encounter Him, is present. ... Lord, open the eyes of our hearts, so that we may become vigilant and clear-sighted, in this way bringing You close to others as well!

  "Let us return to the Christmas Gospel. It tells us that after listening to the Angel's message, the shepherds said one to another: ''Let us go over to Bethlehem', ... they went at once'. 'They made haste' is literally what the Greek text says. What had been announced to them was so important that they had to go immediately. In fact, what had been said to them was utterly out of the ordinary. It changed the world. ... They made haste; they went at once. In our daily life, it is not like that. For most people, the things of God are not given priority, they do not impose themselves on us directly.

  "And so the great majority of us tend to postpone them. First we do what seems urgent here and now. In the list of priorities God is often more or less at the end. ... The Gospel tells us: God is the highest priority. If anything in our life deserves haste without delay, then, it is God's work alone. ... The shepherds teach us this priority. From them we should learn not to be crushed by all the pressing matters in our daily lives. From them we should learn the inner freedom to put other tasks in second place, however important they may be, so as to make our way towards God, to allow Him into our lives and into our time. Time given to God and, in His name, to our neighbour is never time lost".

  "Some commentators point out that the shepherds, the simple souls, were the first to come to Jesus in the manger and to encounter the Redeemer of the world. The wise men from the East, representing those with social standing and fame, arrived much later. ... They had to undertake a long and arduous journey in order to arrive in Bethlehem. They needed guidance and direction.

  "Today too there are simple and lowly souls who live very close to the Lord. ... But most of us in the world today live far from Jesus Christ, the incarnate God who came to dwell amongst us. We live our lives by philosophies, amid worldly affairs and occupations that totally absorb us and are a great distance from the manger. In all kinds of ways, God has to prod us and reach out to us again and again, so that we can manage to escape from the muddle of our thoughts and activities and discover the way that leads to Him.

  "But a path exists for all of us. The Lord provides everyone with tailor-made signals. ... Left to ourselves we could not reach Him. The path is too much for our strength. But God has come down. He comes towards us. He has travelled the longer part of the journey. Now He invites us: come and see how much I love you. ... Let us journey towards God in all sorts of ways: along our interior path towards Him, but also along very concrete paths - the liturgy of the Church, the service of our neighbour, in whom Christ awaits us.

  "Let us once again listen directly to the Gospel. The shepherds tell one another the reason why they are setting off. ... Literally the Greek text says: 'Let us see this Word that has occurred there'. Yes indeed, such is the radical newness of this night: the Word can be seen. For it has become flesh. ... God's sign, the sign given to the shepherds and to us, is not an astonishing miracle. God's sign is His humility. God's sign is that He makes Himself small; He becomes a child; He lets us touch Him and He asks for our love.

  "How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God's power and greatness", said the Holy Father in conclusion. "But His sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, He is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like Him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love".
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VATICAN CITY, 24 DEC 2009 (VIS) - The Holy Father appointed Fr. Olivier Schmitthaeusler M.E.P., vicar general of Phnom-Penh, Cambodia, and secretary of the Episcopal Conference of Cambodia, as coadjutor of the apostolic vicariate of Phnom-Penh (area 31,946, population 5,387,000, Catholics 13,085, priests 58, religious 111). The bishop-elect was born in Strasbourg, France in 1970 and ordained a priest in 1998.
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VATICAN CITY, 25 DEC 2009 (VIS) - Holy See Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. today released the following communique:

  "Yesterday evening, during the entry procession of the celebration, an unbalanced person - one Susanna Maiolo, age 25, with Italian and Swiss nationality - leapt over the barrier and, despite an intervention by the security guards, managed to reach the Holy Father and grasp his pallium, causing him to lose his balance and fall to the ground. The Pope was able to get up immediately and continue the procession, and the rest of the celebration took place without incident.

  "Unfortunately, in the confusion, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray fell and broke the neck of his femur. He was taken to Rome's Gemelli hospital where his condition is good although he will have to undergo an operation in the next few days.

  "The young woman, who was unarmed but showed signs of mental unbalance, was taken to a psychiatric hospital where she will undergo obligatory treatment".

  Yesterday, 27 December, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray underwent a complete arthroprothesis of the hip. The operation was successful and his state of health is good, according to a communique released by the Holy See Press Office.

  The Holy See Press Office likewise announced that the incident involving Susanna Maiolo remains the competency of Vatican magistrates who, "in the light of the reports of doctors and of the Vatican Gendarmerie, will evaluate the next steps to be taken".
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VATICAN CITY, 25 DEC 2009 (VIS) - At midday today, Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, the Holy Father pronounced his traditional Christmas Message from the central loggia of the Vatican Basilica, and imparted the "Urbi et Orbi" blessing.

  Extracts of the Message are given below:

  "The liturgy of the Mass at Dawn reminded us that the night is now past, the day has begun; the light radiating from the cave of Bethlehem shines upon us".

  "The light of that first Christmas was like a fire kindled in the night. All about there was darkness, while in the cave there shone the true light 'that enlightens every man'".

  "Today too, in those who encounter that Child, God still kindles fires in the night of the world, calling men and women everywhere to acknowledge in Jesus the 'sign' of His saving and liberating presence and to extend the 'us' of those who believe in Christ to the whole of mankind.

  "Wherever there is an 'us' which welcomes God's love, there the light of Christ shines forth, even in the most difficult situations. The Church, like the Virgin Mary, offers the world Jesus, the Son, Whom she herself has received as a gift, the One Who came to set mankind free from the slavery of sin".

  "Today too, on behalf of a human family profoundly affected by a grave financial crisis, yet even more by a moral crisis, and by the painful wounds of wars and conflicts, the Church, in faithful solidarity with mankind, repeats with the shepherds: 'Let us go to Bethlehem', for there we shall find our hope.

  "The 'us' of the Church is alive in the place where Jesus was born, in the Holy Land, inviting its people to abandon every logic of violence and vengeance, and to engage with renewed vigour and generosity in the process which leads to peaceful coexistence. The 'us' of the Church is present in the other countries of the Middle East. How can we forget the troubled situation in Iraq and the 'little flock' of Christians which lives in the region? At times it is subject to violence and injustice, but it remains determined to make its own contribution to the building of a society opposed to the logic of conflict and the rejection of one's neighbour.

  "The 'us' of the Church is active in Sri Lanka, in the Korean peninsula and in the Philippines, as well as in the other countries of Asia, as a leaven of reconciliation and peace.

  "On the continent of Africa she does not cease to lift her voice to God, imploring an end to every injustice in the Democratic Republic of Congo; she invites the citizens of Guinea and Niger to respect for the rights of every person and to dialogue; she begs those of Madagascar to overcome their internal divisions and to be mutually accepting; and she reminds all men and women that they are called to hope, despite the tragedies, trials and difficulties which still afflict them.

  "In Europe and North America, the 'us' of the Church urges people to leave behind the selfish and technicist mentality, to advance the common good and to show respect for the persons who are most defenceless, starting with the unborn. In Honduras she is assisting in the process of rebuilding institutions; throughout Latin America, the 'us' of the Church is a source of identity, a fullness of truth and of charity which no ideology can replace, a summons to respect for the inalienable rights of each person and his or her integral development, a proclamation of justice and fraternity, a source of unity.

  "In fidelity to the mandate of her Founder, the Church shows solidarity with the victims of natural disasters and poverty, even within opulent societies. In the face of the exodus of all those who migrate from their homelands and are driven away by hunger, intolerance or environmental degradation, the Church is a presence calling others to an attitude of acceptance and welcome. In a word, the Church everywhere proclaims the Gospel of Christ, despite persecutions, discriminations, attacks and at times hostile indifference. These, in fact, enable her to share the lot of her Master and Lord".

  Following his Message, the Pope extended Christmas greetings in 65 languages and imparted his blessing "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world).
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VATICAN CITY, 26 DEC 2009 (VIS) - At midday today the Pope appeared at the window of his private study overlooking St. Peter's Square to pray the Angelus with thousands of faithful gathered below.

  "The One lying in the manger", said the Holy Father, "is the Son of God made man, Who asks us to bear courageous witness to His Gospel, like St. Stephen who, filled with the Holy Spirit, did not hesitate to give his life for love of his Lord. He, like his Master, died forgiving his persecutors and helps us understand how the entry of the Son of God into the world gave rise to a new civilisation, the civilisation of love which does not cave in before evil and violence but breaks down barriers between men, making them brothers in the great family of the children of God".

  "Stephen's witness, like that of the Christian martyrs, shows our fellow men and women, so often distracted and disoriented, in whom they must place their trust in order to give meaning to life. The martyr is, in fact, the person who dies in the certainty of being loved by God and, placing nothing before love for Christ, knows he has chosen the right side".

  Benedict XVI explained that "today, presenting us St. Stephen the Deacon as a model, the Church is also showing us that acceptance and love for the poor is one of the privileged ways to live the Gospel and to bear credible witness before the world of the Kingdom of God that is to come".

  After then highlighting how the Feast of St. Stephen "also reminds of us the many believers who, in various parts of the world, undergo trials and suffering for their faith", the Pope called upon people to "support these people with prayer and never to fail in our own Christian vocation, always placing at the centre of our lives Jesus Christ, Who in these days we contemplate in the simplicity and humility of the manger".
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VATICAN CITY, 27 DEC 2009 (VIS) - Before praying the Angelus on this Sunday of the Holy Family, the Pope reminded the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square that "God wished to reveal Himself by being born in a human family, and hence the human family has become an icon of God.

  "God is Trinity", he added. "He is communion of love, and the family - with all the difference that exists between the Mystery of God and His human creature - is an expression thereof which reflects the unfathomable mystery of God-Love. ... The human family is, in a certain sense, the icon of the Trinity because of the love between its members and the fruitfulness of that love".

  Commenting then on today's Gospel reading which narrates how the twelve-year-old Jesus stayed behind in the Temple without His parents' knowledge, the Pope explained that "Jesus' decision to remain in the Temple was above all the fruit of his intimate relationship with the Father, but also the fruit of the education received from Mary and Joseph".

  And he went on: "Here we may catch a glimpse of the authentic meaning of Christian education. It is the result of a collaboration that must always be sought between the educators and God. The Christian family is aware that children are God's gift and project. Hence it cannot consider them as it own possessions but, serving God's plan through them, is called to educate them in the greatest of freedoms which is that of saying 'yes' to God in order to accomplish His will".

  The Holy Father them addressed some remarks to participants in the Feast of the Holy Family which is being celebrated today in Madrid, Spain. "God, by having come into the world in the bosom of a family, shows that this institution is a sure way to meet and know Him, and a permanent call to work for the loving unity of all people. Thus, one of the greatest services which we as Christians can offer our fellow men and women is to show them the serene and solid witness of a family founded upon marriage between a man and a woman, defending it and protecting it, because it is of supreme importance for the present and future of humankind.

  "In truth, the family is the best school in which to learn to live the values that dignify individuals and make peoples great. There too sufferings and joys are shared, as everyone feels cloaked in the affection that reigns in the home by the mere fact of being members of the same family".

  Benedict XVI prayed to God that family homes may always experience "this love of total commitment and fidelity which Jesus brought into the world by His birth, nourishing and strengthening it with daily prayer, the constant practice of virtue, reciprocal understanding and mutual respect.

  "I encourage you - trusting in the maternal intercession of Mary Most Holy, Queen of Families, and the powerful protection of St. Joseph, her husband - tirelessly to dedicate yourselves to this beautiful mission the Lord has placed in your hands. Be sure of my closeness and affection", he concluded, "and I pray you carry a very special greeting from the Pope to those of your loved ones who suffer greatest need and difficulties".
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VATICAN CITY, 27 DEC 2009 (VIS) - After praying the Angelus today, the Holy Father travelled by car to a canteen for the poor run by the Sant'Egidio Community in Rome's Trastevere district where he had lunch with 150 volunteers and needy people.

  Benedict XVI sat at table with twelve people, including a gypsy family, an Afghan Shiite refugee, a ninety-year-old widower and a young disabled person abandoned by his family. At the end of the meal, the Pope distributed presents to the thirty-one children present.

  "It is a moving experience for me to be here with you", said the Pope in his remarks, "to be with the friends of Jesus, because Jesus loves people who suffer. ... Over lunch I heard painful stories charged with humanity. ... And I am here among you to say I am close to you and love you".

  "Jesus' family also encountered difficulties from the beginning. They experienced the discomfort of finding no hospitality, and were forced to emigrate to Egypt to flee the violence of King Herod. You have experienced suffering, but here you have someone who takes care of you. In fact, some have found a family here thanks to the attentive service of the Sant'Egidio Community which offers a sign of God's love for the poor. What is happening here today is what happens in homes: those who serve and help merge with those who are helped and served, and pride of place is given to those who have greatest need".

  "In this time of particular economic difficulties we must all become signs of hope and witnesses of a new world for people who, closed in their own selfishness, believe they can be happy alone, and so spend their lives in a state of sadness or ephemeral joy which leaves the heart empty".

  After the luncheon, Benedict XVI unveiled a plaque commemorating his visit then returned to the Vatican.
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