Saturday, March 31, 2012

So long March, so long best part of the year; is it October yet?

On the evening of March 31st I sit down and blog away about my favorite time of the year as it retreats for the next six months.  There is no other way to put it for me; I don't like the hotter weather months of the year.  For us in southeast Louisiana, that roughly equates to April through September.  Of course, down here, any month can bring some heat and humidity.  And sometimes April can be pleasant.  However, by the time we reach around April 20th until well past Labor Day, everyday will be hot and humid.  Couple the weather with that crazy daylight savings time, all we have for the next 180 days or so is the hot weather and endless evening daylight to cut the always growing grass.

Ok, ok, I know that this sounds so negative.  Before I get to carried away I realize that every day, every month, every season of the year, including summer, is ordained by God the Father.  And there will be many events and traditions in the next six months that I actually enjoy and bring about good memories.  I just can't get past the heat.  Let's just look forward a little; April will usher in the last important days of Lent before next weekend's glorious celebration of Easter!  And we will see the start of baseball season soon, and the really important golf tournaments and horse races.  We have another big family event in a few months with a wedding in the family.  That event will give us the opportunity to go visit our son and daughter in law, who are expecting my first grandchild.  I will have to remember that fact this year; in early September I become a grandpa so I might just have to love September now too!

For all you who can't wait for the summer season, please have a little sympathy for me.  I'll try not to moan and groan too much, except when I will be complaining about cutting grass.

So long best half of the year; come on April; I'm ready!

Palm Sunday Homily

Have you ever known anyone who speaks out of both sides of their mouth?  You know; say one thing one day then a completely different thing another day.  Truth is, we all have probably spoke out of both sides of our mouth sometime in our lives.

We may recall a politician or perhaps a public figure, like a talk show host or famous entertainer, who has spoken out of both sides of their mouths.

As people of faith, do we speak out of both sides of our mouths when it comes to following Jesus?

This Palm Sunday gave us the opportunity today to hear two Gospels proclaimed.  In the opening Gospel from St. John we hear of that first Palm Sunday.  The crowds are welcoming Jesus with praises of Hosanna and Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna to the Son of David!  Jesus was truly receiving "rock star" treatment.  And then we hear the account of the Passion, Crucifixion and death of Jesus from the Gospel of St. Mark.  We not only read, but participate in those angry words from the crowd: Crucify Him!  Away with Him! We have no king but Ceaser!  Give us Barrabas!  Crucify Him!  Remember, these were many of the same people just days earlier praising Jesus and singing Hosanna's.  These people certainly are speaking out of both sides of their mouths.  And we, the people gathered today, say these words out loud as we participate in this Gospel.  From our lips we are asked to say these same words, Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!

This is our reminder that we too are guilty of the same sin of the people of two-thousand years.  We gather on Sunday and sing Him praise, we worship Him because He is our King of kings and Lord of lords.  But how often do we push Him aside during the week?  How often do we reject Him in our everyday hustle and bustle?  When we reject others; when we are not kind to people we know or have no care or concern for our persecuted brothers and sisters, we are shouting Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!  We are speaking from both sides of our mouths.  When we sin, we seperate ourselves from Him.  When we insist on doing it our way; following our will and not the will of the Father, we too are shouting Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!

On this Palm Sunday, on this day when we have heard the Passion, we can acknowledge that we too speak from both sides of our mouths but we go forward depending on God's loving mercy and forgiveness.  As we leave here today, with those blessed palms as our reminder, can we pray the words from today's Gospel uttered at the foot of the cross by the Centurion: truly this man was the Son of God.  May our prayer all week be our personal proclamation that for us, Jesus indeed is the Son of God!  In the days leading up to our Easter celebration, we still must journey through Lent and the days of the Triduum.  On Wednesday, we have the opportunity for a moment of sacramental grace at the deanery Reconciliation Service in Mandeville.  And Thursday, we gather as a parish family to remember the Last Supper when Jesus gave us the great gifts of the Mass, the Eucharist, the Priesthood and the gift of service in the washing of the feer.  Our celebration begins at 7 p.m. Thursday evening.  Please make every effort to come.  And don't forget we will have Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, in the Altar of Repose until Midnight.  Then we arrive at Good Friday; will we remember this day solemnly and prayerfully?  Or do we use this day as a reason to throw a lavish crawfish boil, complete with family & friends and lots of laughs?  Now, I'm not against crawfish boils, and fun.  But this Friday is Good Friday.  It is a day to contemplate that great gift of Jesus' death on a cross for you and me!  Our remembrance of the Passion begins at 3 p.m. and we will have a "living" Way of the Cross, presented by our young people, at 7 p.m.

All these things we can do, to honor the Savior and remember His great love for us.  May our week of preparation for Easter include our desire to be humble, like Jesus was humble, becoming obedient to the Father, to the point of death.  Like Jesus, may our humility help us to empty ourselves of excessive worldliness, and accept the gifts of Jesus' great love. 

Following Jesus' example, may we not speak out of both sides of our mouths.  Instead, may we proclaim, as we heard in today's second reading: Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father!

The latest on the New Orleans Saints: appeals all around

New Orleans Saints, Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis and Joe Vitt appealing NFL penalties
With time running out, New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton, General Manager Mickey Loomis and assistant coach Joe Vitt appealed their bounty-gate suspensions Friday, while separately the team also asked NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to reconsider the punishments he imposed on it.

12saints+dg2781.jpgNew Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton has appealed his suspension which was supposed to begin Sunday.
There is no precedent for either the harsh penalties Goodell imposed March 21 or these appeals, and thus it was difficult to gauge what chances the men or the club have of seeing a reduction in their sentences. In the case of Payton, the suspension was set to begin Sunday; whereas the other penalties would have kicked in during the NFL draft or at the beginning of the season.
In any case, Goodell made it clear at the NFL owners meeting this week in Palm Beach that he would rapidly expedite any appeals, and a final decision would likely be rendered within days, not weeks.
Still, in Payton's case, the appeal could buy time and money. Because the suspensions are in abeyance while the appeal is considered, it gives Payton more time to huddle with Loomis and the team's scouts as April's draft approaches, more time to sketch out plans with his coaching staff, and more time on the team's payroll. As it stood, Payton's suspension would have cost him roughly $5.8 million, according to various reports; Saints officials declined comment on the financial aspect of the matter.
The suspensions of Loomis and Vitt, on the other hand, were not set to begin until the beginning of the season so the appeals will have no immediate impact on their situation. Goodell gave Loomis and Vitt eight- and six-game bans, respectively.
The Saints as an organization, meanwhile, appealed Goodell's stripping of second-round draft picks this year and next and a $500,000 fine. The sweeping, harsh punishments were imposed after the NFL deemed the Saints guilty of running a bounty system in which cash bonuses were paid for hurting opponents from 2009 to 2011. Payton and Loomis said they accept responsibility for what transpired on their watch, but neither they nor the other figures absorbed in the scandal, most notably Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams who has been suspended from football indefinitely, have ever admitted they countenanced deliberately injurious play. Williams did not appeal his suspension.
Friday's appeals come at a time Goodell is still mulling the penalties he will impose on players for their part in the scandal. The NFL says 22 to 27 Saints defenders were "willing and enthusiastic" participants in the bounty pool, although it has never identified the players other than linebacker Jonathan Vilma and it is unclear how many of that group are still on New Orleans' roster.
Goodell has said he will not impose those punishments until he has finished interviewing unnamed player leaders and conferred with the NFLPA. His meeting with union leaders, who, like the owners, held their annual meeting earlier this week, had not happened as of Friday.
In an interview with Pro Player Insiders, NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said he is troubled by the notion Goodell may have already set player penalties and is seeking the union's imprimatur. A better scenario would be one in which Goodell suggests punishments but is open to the NFLPA's suggestions, Smith said.
"Obviously, the first word that popped out to me was the word 'determine,'" Smith said, according to an interview transcript. "I'd much rather that be the word 'discuss.' As of yet, they haven't turned over anything that we would consider to be direct evidence of player involvement in a 'pay to injure' scheme that we could consider for discipline. It's very hard to have a productive discussion about punishment when one side has kept, to itself, all the information."
Yet the NFLPA is also holding its cards close. It has spoken with various players involved in the matter, league sources said, and Saints quarterback Drew Brees, defensive end Will Smith, and former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita were all in attendance at the union's meeting this week. But just what the NFLPA believes happened in New Orleans as a result of those discussions is also a secret.
To some extent, the silence surrounding the two investigations - and the NFLPA did not get a chance, as requested, to speak with Loomis, Payton, Vitt or Williams - has contributed to a feeling, widely held by Saints fans, that New Orleans is being made an example of by a league worried about its potential legal liability over pending lawsuits from former players, and nursing a vendetta against the Loomis/Payton regime for its perceived arrogance.
Goodell denied that in Palm Beach, and union officials have thus far declined to speculate on the NFL's possible motives. The league has acknowledged, however, that "pay for performance" or "incentive" programs have been alarmingly common in pro football.
There is a chance the NFLPA will use the upcoming discussions between Smith and Goodell as a springboard for hiring a sort of independent adjudicator for disciplinary matters, according to league sources. There is a concern that in cases where the commissioner deems an infraction to have been "conduct detrimental" to the game that the commissioner's office is able to function as a sort of star chamber, assessing evidence, ruling and sentencing all at once, and then charged with hearing any appeals of its own decision.
To be sure, such a proposal is unlikely to gain any traction with the commissioner's office or the owners it serves, and at the moment there is no indication Goodell seeks or expects a confrontation over his discipline. But league sources said Friday the union is bracing for punishments it is unlikely to sign off on without a fight.
"What I would expect is to have a conversation soon and certainly it would be our expectation that the request for all information, as it relates to particular players, will be provided before any discipline takes place," Smith said. "It's a very, at least from our perspective, a very unfair situation where you have a number of allegations floating back and forth in the press. It's difficult for those players to be in a situation where they can hardly defend themselves from unsubstantiated accusations that are being made in the public."
That said, Smith made it clear the union, which, like Goodell, insists player safety is its paramount concern, will not tolerate a "pay for injure scheme."

Friday, March 30, 2012

Deacon, preacher and martyr

St. Benjamin

St. Benjamin
St. Benjamin
Feastday: March 31
Died: 424

St. Benjamin, Martyr (Feast Day - March 31) The Christians in Persia had enjoyed twelve years of peace during the reign of Isdegerd, son of Sapor III, when in 420 it was disturbed by the indiscreet zeal of Abdas, a Christian Bishop who burned the Temple of Fire, the great sanctuary of the Persians. King Isdegerd threatened to destroy all the churches of the Christians unless the Bishop would rebuild it.
As Abdas refused to comply, the threat was executed; the churches were demolished, Abdas himself was put to death, and a general persecution began which lasted forty years. Isdegerd died in 421, but his son and successor, Varanes, carried on the persecution with great fury. The Christians were submitted to the most cruel tortures.
Among those who suffered was St. Benjamin, a Deacon, who had been imprisoned a year for his Faith. At the end of this period, an ambassador of the Emperor of Constantinople obtained his release on condition that he would never speak to any of the courtiers about religion.
St. Benjamin, however, declared it was his duty to preach Christ and that he could not be silent. Although he had been liberated on the agreement made with the ambassador and the Persian authorities, he would not acquiesce in it, and neglected no opportunity of preaching. He was again apprehended and brought before the king. The tyrant ordered that reeds should be thrust in between his nails and his flesh and into all the tenderest parts of his body and then withdrawn. After this torture had been repeated several times, a knotted stake was inserted into his bowels to rend and tear him. The martyr expired in the most terrible agony about the year 424.

Relecting on last week and looking forward to Holy Week

As this week comes to a close we are entering Holy Week.  Beginning with the vigil Masses tomorrow in the late afternoon through Sunday, we arrive at Palm Sunday.  We hear of Jesus' arrival on a donkey with the shouts of Hosanna and the waving of palm branches only to fast forward to the reading of the Passion an he shouts turn to Crucify Him!  Crucify Him! 

By this time next week we will be in the middle of the sacred Triduum, those 3 days of remembering Jesus at the Last Supper, then his arrest, passion, crucifixion and burial, followed by that quiet day as Jesus is in the tomb,  Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday; the Sacred Triduum.

How was your last full week of Lent?  How faithful have you been to your Lenten journey? 

For me, this last full week of Lent brought varied opportunities, the most memorable of them being Wednesday night spent inside Rayburn Prison and proclaiming the Passion with the men.  Always so spiritually enriching when visiting Rayburn.  I also spent one evening this past week giving a tour of the church to 1st grade students, being very careful to explain the importance of everything in the church, especially the sanctuary, in terms 6 year old kids could understand.  Another evening was just the opposite from an evening spent with little ones; adult faith formation focused on the Eucharist and those actions and words of Mass that give us the Real Presence of Jesus' Body & Blood.

Tonight we held our final Stations of the Cross, although next Friday night MHT will have the living Stations of the Cross.  I'm looking forward to this as the entire presentation is conducted by our youth team members.

So tonight we should all be preparing, in a special way, for these important holy days that take us, eventually, to the Resurrection, which we celebrate with gusto this Easter, just a little over one short week away.

Be prepared!

An amazing video from the monks of St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary College

After seeing the stunningly beautiful vocations video for St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary College, right here in Covinton, LA on the Northshore of New Orleans, at a few others website, I decided to link their website so you too can see this amazing video for yourself.  Not only view the video but take a look around the website of this "best kept secret" in the New Orleans area and the Catholic Church in and of New Orleans.

Here is the website:

St. Joseph Abbey is special to me because the Benedictine Monks staffed my home parish for many, many years of St. Jane de Chantal in Abita Springs.  Also, the Abbey became the place I attended daily Mass for years as well as attending vespers as often as I could.  The Abbey is the place of the great youth festival known as Abbey Fest and the site of many wonderful retreats including one during my formation and retreats for the subsequent classes of deacon candidates after my ordination.

Enjoy!  Ora et Labora!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Ladder of Perfection

St. John Climacus

St. John Climacus
St. John Climacus
Feastday: March 30
525 - 606

Abbot of Sinai, so called “Climacus” from the title of his famous book, The Climax, or The Ladder of Perfection; also known as John Scholasticus. He was a Syrian or a Palestinian who started his eremitical life at sixteen, living for many years as a hermit on Sinai. He then went to Thale. Revered also as a scriptural scholar, he authored The Ladder of Perfection to provide a comprehensive treatise on the ideal of Christian perfection and the virtues and vices of the monastic life. Composed in thirty chapters, it was intended to correspond to the age of Christ at the time of his baptism by John the Baptist. John was elected abbot of the monks of Mt. Sinai at the age of seventy He died there on March 30.

Cardinal Dolan on Bill O'Reilly

Cardinal Dolan has been just what the doctor ordered for the Catholic Church here in the good old United States of America.  He has skillfully taken the lead in the HHS mandate crisis and is the right man at the right time to lead the USCCB.

Here is the website so you can read the transcript and see the video for yourself:

Let's not grow complacent in our duty as Catholics to vote, to have a well formed conscience, to prayerfully understand the pro-life teachings of the Church and continue to support the USCCB in their fight against the government of the United States to supress religious liberty!

To bury the dead

Requiem Mass of Christian Burial at St. John the Evangelist

Posted: Mar 28, 2012 8:37 AM by Cecilia Stevenson
Requiem Mass of Christian burial will be held on Saturday April 28th, 2012 at 10:00am in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. This burial will lay to rest 92 of Acadiana's less fortunate who died over the last several years without the benefit of having their family at their final rest.
Bishop Michael Jarrell, Bishop of the Diocese of Lafayette, will be the celebrant of the funeral Mass and will conduct the services. Father Chester Arceneaux, Rector of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, will con-celebrate this special Mass. Burial will take place on the hollowed grounds of St. John's historic cemetery in a columbarium built to respectfully bury the cremated bodies of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
A prayer vigil will take place in the Cathedral Center beginning at 9:00am on Saturday March 28th, 2012. There will be a praying of the Holy Rosary, and a guard of honor provided by the Vietnam Veterans of America. The guard will honor those deceased who served our country in any of the military services. The guard will also provide a twenty-one gun salute, playing of Taps, and full military rites for the funeral Mass.
Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist gives an open invitation and encourages the communities participation in this noble and most worthy act of charity towards our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. They would like to encourage everyone to remember all the faithful departed in your prayers.

Eternal rest grant unto them o Lord...........and let perpetual light shine upon them.

>>>This is the Diocese of Lafayette, La.
Basically this is being held for all those who have never been claimed by family or friends from the local coroners office.  A wonderful thing they are doing; fulfilling one of the Church's corporal works of mercy.

President Carter calls out fellow Democrats on abortion!

Jimmy Carter: Democrats Should Abandon Pro-Abortion Position

by Steven Ertelt | Washington, DC | |

Appearing on the radio talk show of conservative radio host Laura Ingraham today, former President Jimmy Carter said he believes the Democratic Party should moderate its position on abortion, which it currently supports without limits and funded at taxpayer expense.
Carter said toning down the stridently pro-abortion position would help win back Republicans who abandoned the Democrats because of abortion and other liberal social issue positions.
Carter said:
“I never have believed that Jesus Christ would approve of abortions and that was one of the problems I had when I was president having to uphold Roe v. Wade and I did everything I could to minimize the need for abortions. I made it easy to adopt children for instance who were unwanted and also initiated the program called Women and Infant Children or WIC program that’s still in existence now. But except for the times when a mother’s life is in danger or when a pregnancy is caused by rape or incest I would certainly not or never have approved of any abortions.”
“I’ve signed a public letter calling for the Democratic Party at the next convention to espouse my position on abortion which is to minimize the need, requirement for abortion and limit it only to women whose life are in danger or who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest. I think if the Democratic Party would adopt that policy that would be acceptable to a lot of people who are now estranged from our party because of the abortion issue.”

In August 2008, the Democratic Party approved a platform that mirrors President Barack Obama’s pro-abortion views.
“The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right,” the platform reads.
The party has removed any language calling for abortions to be “rare,” or even “safe,” preferring to concentrate on keeping them legal.
That fact wasn’t lost on Karen Cross, the political director for National Right to Life.
She said the platform is even out of step with Democrats, and pointed out that 42% of those who identified themselves as Democrats in a June 2008 Polling Company survey said the oppose all or most abortions.
“Once again, the pro-abortion leadership of the Democratic Party demonstrates an allegiance with the extreme pro-abortion lobby and continues to show that it is out of step with a large number of its own membership and out of step with the majority of the American people,” Cross told
The final aspect of the language hearkens to Obama’s pledge to Planned Parenthood in a July 2007 speech saying his first action as president would be signing the so-called Freedom of Choice Act. That’s a Congressional bill that would overturn every abortion limit nationwide from a ban on partial-birth abortions to parental notification laws.
The platform statement on abortion doesn’t end there but includes two more paragraphs that serve as a public relations ploy to moderate that extreme position on abortion.
It talks up birth control and promotion of contraception as supposedly a means to end abortions even though stats seems to show promoting the morning after pill, for example, fails to reduce abortions.
“The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to affordable family planning services and comprehensive age-appropriate sex education which empowers people to make informed choices and live healthy lives. We also recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions,” the platform proposal reads.
It also provides the party and Obama with political cover by saying it supports childbirth and helping pregnant women.
“The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman’s decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre- and post-natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs,” it concludes on abortion.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Bishop of Ratzeburg

St. Ludolf of Ratzeburg

St. Ludolf of Ratzeburg
St. Ludolf of Ratzeburg
Feastday: March 29
Died: 1250

Ludolf was a Norbertine priest (a canon regular of the Premonstratensian Order). In 1236 he was chosen to become bishop of the German see of Ratzeburg. While fulfilling his episcopal duties, he continued the practices of his Norbertine religious life. For his courageous defense of the Church, he was imprisoned and harshly treated by Duke Albrecht of Saxony-Lauenburg. Subsequently he fell ill and died from what he had suffered. A soldier tormented by excruciating pains in his head resulting from an arrowhead that had become embedded in his flesh during battle invoked the intercession of Saint Ludolf. Soon afterward, he found that the arrowhead had shifted to the surface of his head wound, so that he was able to extricate it with his hand. In thanksgiving to God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Saint Ludolf, the soldier donated to the Church a lavishly decorated missal and several beautifully adorned liturgical vestments.

Pope Benedict's final day in Cuba

 Pope calls for greater freedoms in Cuba as he ends two-country tour

By David Ariosto, CNN
Wed March 28, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI meets with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, left, Havana on Wednesday.STORY HIGHLIGHTS

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- Greeted by throngs of Catholic worshipers from across the region, Pope Benedict XVI ended his two-country tour in Havana's Revolution Plaza with a reference to what he described as a need for "authentic freedom."

Changes between Cuba and the world can come only if "each one is prepared to ask for the truth and if they decide to take the path of love, sowing reconciliation and brotherhood," the pope said Wednesday.

He also met with the Communist country's former leader, Fidel Castro, before heading to the airport for a Rome-bound flight Wednesday evening.

In a farewell speech just before boarding the plane, he criticized the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, saying "restrictive economic measures, imposed from outside the country, unfairly burden its people."

Benedict, whose office has routinely cast the trip in the context of a spiritual pilgrimage, at times addressed political issues -- often subtly, and on occasion more overtly.

At the start of his visit, aboard a flight from Rome, he denounced violence caused by the drug war in Mexico and blasted Cuba's Marxist political system by saying it "no longer corresponds to reality."

Later, he prayed for "those deprived of freedom" while in Cuba's southeastern city of Santiago de Cuba. And he made several references to freedom in his final sermon in Havana, addressing a nation that human rights groups have routinely denounced for its abuses.

Many in Cuba and around the world listened closely to the pope's homily at the enormous open-air Mass Wednesday to see whether he would expand on -- or be more forceful in -- his apparent criticisms. But his comments often seemed couched in a broader discussion of religious openness.

"It is with joy that in Cuba there have been steps so that the church can carry out its mission," but the country must continue to strengthen this path, he said.

Tens of thousands of faithful packed Revolution Plaza to hear Wednesday's Mass.

The pope arrived in the so-called popemobile, his bulletproof vehicle, which slowly made its way to the altar. At some points, he appeared just a few feet from the crowd, which shifted as onlookers tried to get a closer look.

Rescue workers carried away at least three people who fainted in what was a comparably mild Caribbean heat, after waiting for hours for the pope to arrive.

"Every time the pontiff comes comes here, there's always some sort of transformative period for us afterward," said Jorge Luis Rodriguez, a Havana resident who joined the thousands that filled the square on Wednesday.

But Cuban dissidents complained that police prohibited some activists from leaving their homes to attend the Mass and that others were detained.

Amnesty International said in a statement that activists were "facing a surge in harassment in a bid to silence them during the pope's visit."

Government opponents were detained, threatened or stopped from traveling freely leading up to pontiff's arrival, according to the human rights group.

"The clampdown has seen an increase in arrests, activists' phones have been disconnected, and some have had their houses surrounded to prevent them (from) denouncing abuses during Pope Benedict's tour," the group said.

CNN could not independently confirm those reports.

The pope's visit comes 14 years after Pope John Paul II addressed massive crowds near the towering sculpture of Che Guevara in the historic first papal visit to the island nation.

Elsida Martinez, a Havana resident who said she watched from the square when John Paul spoke in 1998, said there was a noticeable difference between the two pontiffs. Cuba itself was also different, she said.

"When we saw John Paul, Cubans didn't really know anything about religion," Martinez said. "Now we're open more. We practice (religion) more. We believe more."

When John Paul came "it was a different period in our history," said Camilo Ortiz, a 50-year-old Havana resident, but the former pontiff's visit still "had more power" than Benedict's.

"During that time, there were many difficulties here," Ortiz added. "Now, there are some changes, and things are a little better."

After the island's so-called "special period," which began in the early 1990s after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Cuba -- which had long enjoyed Soviet subsidies -- was confronted with a prolonged period of economic hardship.

When John Paul visited years later, the country was still reeling from its effects.

Cuba is Benedict's second stop on a tour that has also taken him to Mexico, where he denounced the violence-plagued drug war before traveling to the island nation.

"In Cuba, there will not be political reform," said Marino Murillo, vice president of the island's council of ministers, responding to the pope's remarks about its Marxist political system.

But some Havana residents at Wednesday's Mass said they were optimistic.

"For me, there's a hope" that comes with Benedict's visit, Ortiz said. "There's a hope that something's going to change."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Today's highlight from the Pope's full day in Cuba

Pope Benedict XVI Visit to the Shrine of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre
EWTN ^ | March 27, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI kneels at the sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre in El Cobre village on the outskirts of Santiago de Cuba March 27, 2012.

Visit to the Shrine of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre
On Tuesday morning, 27 March 2012, the Holy Father visited the house of the statue of Our Lady of Charity, where he entrusted to her the future of their country and encouraged them to build their lives on Christ, following the the Virgin's example.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I have come as a pilgrim to the house of the blessed statue of Our Lady of Charity, la Mambisa as you call upon her with affection. Her presence in this town of El Cobre is a gift from heaven for all Cubans.
I am pleased to offer cordial greetings to everyone here present. Receive the affection of the Pope and carry it with you from this place, so that everyone can experience consolation and strength in faith. Let all those you meet know, whether near or far, that I have entrusted to the Mother of God the future of your country, advancing along the ways of renewal and hope, for the greater good of all Cubans. I have also prayed to the Virgin for the needs of those who suffer, of those who are deprived of freedom, those who are separated from their loved ones or who are undergoing times of difficulty. I have placed in her Immaculate Heart your young people, that they may be authentic friends of Christ and not succumb to things which bring sadness in their wake. Before Mary of Charity, I remember in a particular way Cubans who are the descendents of those who arrived here from Africa, and the nearby people of Haiti, who still suffer the consequences of the earthquake of two years ago. And I cannot forget the many country people and their families who wish to live the Gospel deeply in their homes and who offer their homes as mission centres for the celebration of Mass.
Following the example of the Most Holy Virgin, I encourage all the sons and daughters of this dear country to continue to build their lives on the firm rock which is Jesus Christ, to work for justice, to be servants of charity and to persevere in the midst of trials. May nothing or no one take from you your inner joy which is so characteristic of the Cuban soul. May God bless you. Thank you very much.

A golden rose left by Pope Benedict XVI sits next to the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre at her sanctuary in El Cobre village on the outskirts of Santiago de Cuba March 27, 2012.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Pope now in Cuba

Pope urges Cubans to follow Mary in patient faith

By Michelle Bauman

Increase font size Decrease font size

Pope Benedict XVI at the solemn papal Mass in Santiago, March 26, 2012.
Pope Benedict XVI encouraged the people of Cuba to imitate Mary in having an “active and fruitful” faith which leads to authentic freedom by embracing God’s will despite hardships.
“It is worth the effort,” the Pope said, “to devote your entire life to Christ, to grow in his friendship each day and to feel called to proclaim the beauty and the goodness of his life to every person.”
In honor of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the statue of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, Pope Benedict celebrated Mass in Antonio Maceo Revolution Square on the evening of March 26.
He said that his first Mass in Cuba takes on a “special luster” because it falls not only in the Jubilee Year commemorating the statue’s discovery, but also on the feast of the Annunciation, celebrated by the universal Church.
He explained that he was “deeply touched” to hear of the Cuban people’s fervent and dedicated preparation for the Marian jubilee.
Mary is “central” to the mystery of the Incarnation, he said in his homily.
The Pope observed that when believers look at Mary, they are “filled with wonder, gratitude and love at seeing how our God, coming into the world, wished to depend upon the free consent of one of his creatures.”
“It is touching to see how God not only respects human freedom: he almost seems to require it,” he said.
The “yes” of both Mary and Christ reveals that it is only through faithful obedience to God’s will that we arrive at “true liberty” and “authentic redemption,” finding “our genuine identity” as the fruit of God’s infinite love, he explained.
Mary is “the exemplar and model of the Church,” which is also called to bring Christ’s saving presence to the world, the Pope said.
With the Incarnation of Jesus, God has taken on “our human reality in most concrete and tangible way,” he said, adding that “when God is put aside, the world becomes an inhospitable place for man, and frustrates creation’s true vocation to be a space for the covenant.”
Pope Benedict encouraged the Cuban faithful to continue in their bold, sacrificial efforts to present the Church’s “true face as a place in which God draws near and encounters humanity” in the concrete circumstances in which they live.
As Easter approaches, he said, Christ’s disciples must follow him “without fear or doubts on his journey to the Cross.”
He urged the people to accept opposition and affliction “with patience and faith,” knowing that the Resurrection has overcome evil and the Lord will not fail to bless generous commitment to him with “abundant fruits.”
The Incarnation also “shows us the incomparable dignity of every human life” and highlights the importance of family, the Holy Father said, explaining that from the very beginning, God’s plan called the family – founded on matrimony – is “the fundamental cell of society and an authentic domestic church.”
He called on married couples in Cuba to be “a real and visible sign of the love of Christ for the Church.”
“Cuba needs the witness of your fidelity, your unity, your capacity to welcome human life, especially that of the weakest and most needy,” he said.
Pope Benedict appealed to the Cuban people to reinvigorate their faith so that they “may live in Christ and for Christ.”
He encouraged them to “strive to build a renewed and open society, a better society, one more worthy of humanity, and which better reflects the goodness of God.”

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16th century English martyr: "my spirit rejoices greatly"

St. Margaret of Clitherow

St. Margaret of Clitherow
St. Margaret of Clitherow
Feastday: March 26

St. Margaret Clitherow was born in Middleton, England, in 1555, of protestant parents. Possessed of good looks and full of wit and merriment, she was a charming personality. In 1571, she married John Clitherow, a well-to-do grazier and butcher (to whom she bore two children), and a few years later entered the Catholic Church. Her zeal led her to harbor fugitive priests, for which she was arrested and imprisoned by hostile authorities. Recourse was had to every means in an attempt to make her deny her Faith, but the holy woman stood firm. Finally, she was condemned to be pressed to death on March 25, 1586. She was stretched out on the ground with a sharp rock on her back and crushed under a door over laden with unbearable weights. Her bones were broken and she died within fifteen minutes. The humanity and holiness of this servant of God can be readily glimpsed in her words to a friend when she learned of her condemnation: "The sheriffs have said that I am going to die this coming Friday; and I feel the weakness of my flesh which is troubled at this news, but my spirit rejoices greatly. For the love of God, pray for me and ask all good people to do likewise." Her feast day is March 26th.

The Son learned obedience through suffering...

Pain and suffering!  We all have experienced it.  We all recognize that none of us are immune from it.  As a Permanent Deacon I hear plenty about pain and suffering from those who are compelled to share with me, in part, because I am clergy.  I hear about brave people dealing with illnesses and sickness, caring for infirmed relatives, and I hear of the pain and suffering from others these days related to economic issues; finances, loss of a job or anxiety about the future.  Pain and suffering!

We heard about this yesterday at Mass.  In the 2nd reading from Hebrews we heard: although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered, and being made perfect he became the soure of eternal salvation to all who obey him.  Yes, Jesus was not immune from suffering, but he learned through it because He was always conformed to the will of the Father.

We too will not be immune from suffering.  God does not will that you and I suffer, but He does allow it.  And He has a plan for us, even in our suffering.  Consider the following: Like Jesus we can learn obedience from suffering and find the blessings in our sufferings.  This will require great faith and trust in God's holy will.  Since Jesus suffered, He is fully able to sympathize with us, in our pain and suffering.  Turn to Jesus in prayer, deeply intimate prayer, when we turn to Him.

Just as Jesus endured his pain and suffering, we too can endure the pain and suffering and remain faithful; remain hopeful!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pope celebrates Mass for 400,000 in Mexico; what a vibrant church!

Pope Benedict leads open-air Mass for tens of thousands during Mexico visit

Published March 25, 2012
| Associated Press

Tens of thousands of people gathered Sunday to attend the highlight of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to this violence-troubled country: an open-air Mass in the shadow of the Christ the King monument, one of the most important symbols of Mexican Catholicism.
The pope flew over the monument in a Mexican military Superpuma helicopter on his way to the Mass in nearby Bicentennial Park.
Benedict wanted to come to Guanajuato state specifically to see and bless the statue, which Pope John Paul II always wanted to visit but never did, said the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
The 72-foot (22-meter) bronze monument of Christ with its outstretched arms serves as a potent reminder to Mexicans of the 1926-1929 Roman Catholic uprising against the government and its anti-clerical laws that prohibited public Masses such as the one Benedict will celebrate before an estimated 350,000 people.
The statue "expresses an identity of the Mexican people that contains a whole history in relation to the testimony of faith and those who fought for religious freedom at the time," said Monsignor Victor Rene Rodriguez, secretary general of the Mexican bishops conference.
After nightfall Sunday the pope will remotely inaugurate its new lighting system.
Guanajuato state was the site of some of the key battles of the Cristero War, so-called because its protagonists said they were fighting for Christ the King. Tens of thousands of people died before peace was restored. The region remains Mexico's most conservatively Catholic.
With roads closed, pilgrims walked for miles to the Mass with plastic lawn chairs, water and backpacks. Old women walked with canes. Some Mass-goers wrapped themselves in blankets or beach towel-sized Vatican flags, trekking past vendors selling sun hats, flags, potato chips and bottles of juice.
Hundreds of young priests in white and black cassocks, waiting to pass through the metal detectors, shouted "Christ Lives!" and "Long Live Christ the King!" -- the battle cry of the Cristeros.
On Saturday, Benedict met with President Felipe Calderon in Guanajuato city and later told about 4,000 children massed in the colonial-era city's Peace Plaza that they are each a "gift of God to Mexico and the world."
"The disciple of Jesus does not respond to evil with evil, but is always an instrument of good instead, a herald of pardon, a bearer of happiness, a servant of unity," Benedict said. "I will pray for all of you, so that Mexico may be a place in which everyone can live in serenity and harmony."
He called on the young to be messengers of peace in a country traumatized by the deaths of more than 47,000 people in a drug war that has escalated during a government offensive against cartels.
Eight relatives of victims of violent crime were invited to meet the pope as he left Guanajuato's government palace, Calderon's office said. Lombardi noted it wasn't a sit-down meeting so much as a brief greeting.
While the pope drew a rapturous response from the faithful, his second day in Mexico was not without criticism, particularly concerning the church's treatment of children and sexual abuse.
Victims of Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, launched a book Saturday containing documents from the Vatican archives showing that Holy See officials knew for decades that Maciel was a drug addict who sexually abused his seminarians.
Alberto Athie, former priest and one of three co-authors of "The Desire Not to Know," called on Benedict to publicly recognize the church's responsibility for Maciel's abuse.
"The church won't fall. On the contrary, it will be reconstructed," Athie said.
The 84-year-old pope, who will be going to Cuba on Monday, did not directly address the scandal during his limited remarks Saturday. But Lombardi said his words about the need to protect children from violence referred also to the need to protect them from priestly sexual violence.
Lombardi insisted that neither Benedict nor John Paul covered up for Maciel as the book alleges. Benedict, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, headed the office that received the sex abuse complaint from Maciel's victims in 1998; it took the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith eight years to sentence Maciel to a lifetime of penance and prayer.
"I have to say that both popes were men, men of truth and transparency," Lombardi said. "I think it's truly unjust to consider Pope Benedict as someone who worked against the truth and transparency."
Benedict has taken up John Paul's drive to reach out to young Catholics, rallying millions of young faithful to join him for World Youth Days, the Catholic youth festivals held once every three years. And he has made the young a focus of his trip to Mexico.
That fits with the Vatican's drive to re-evangelize parts of the world where Catholicism has weakened, trying to rally the next generation to embrace a faith that their parents may have abandoned. While Europe has been Benedict's focus to date, Mexico also has seen its number of Catholics fall.
"The Mexican church feels like it's lost a few generations of Catholics," said Joseph Palacios, a professor of Latin American studies at Georgetown University, citing the battles over liberation theology that drove many left-leaning Catholics away. To get back its numbers, the Mexican church is "moving forward with the new generation," he said.
Tens of thousands, many of them teenagers, on Saturday watched the pope's remarks on big screen televisions set up in a pilgrim camp at the site of the papal Mass planned for Sunday. The atmosphere was like a rock concert as the TVs showed the pope emerging on a balcony in Guanajuato, with campers letting go a roaring chant of "Benedicto, Benedicto."
"We young people are getting closer to the church and to God, instead of getting closer to drugs and violence," said Juan Daniel Pacheco, 18, of Apaseo el Grande in Guanajuato state as he sought shade with his friends at one of the campgrounds that were quickly filling with faithful arriving for Sunday's Mass. "We are young people who will be able to change Mexico."
Of the 43.5 million Mexicans under age 20, 36.2 million are Catholic, or 83.2 percent, just under the national average. The largest group of Mexicans overall are children aged 5 to 9 -- a prime target for Benedict's efforts to rebuild a church that has fallen victim to the same secular trends that have emptied churches across Europe.
At the entrance to Guanajuato, Benedict received the keys to the city and then traveled by popemobile past faithful crowded along the cobblestone streets of the historic colonial-era city.
People packed narrow streets, balconies and rooftops and cheered wildly even as it started to sprinkle. Children and teenagers ran through crowds as Benedict passed to catch another glimpse of him. At one point, someone handed him a baby through an open window of the bulletproof popemobile. He kissed the baby and an aide passed the child back.
A group of 13 indigenous teenage girls traveled for 20 hours cramped in a van from northern Mexico just to see the pope officiate Sunday's Mass. Once in Guanajuato, the Tarahumara got an invitation from the office of Mexico's first lady, Margarita Zavala, to be in the crowd standing right beneath the balcony where Benedict gave his message to Mexico's youth.
The girls, aged 12 to 17, spent three days sewing their traditional dresses for the pope's visit.
Sister Sanjuana Oliva Briones, a Tarahumara Indian who led the group, said the girls were excited and happy with the experience.
"For many it is the first time they have been to a city. Others understand little Spanish," she said.

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The Feast of the Annunciation

The Annunciation of the Lord

By ,
The Annunciation, Central Russia, late 1800's. (Photo © Slava Gallery, LLC; used with permission.)
The Annunciation

Introduction to the Annunciation of the Lord:
The feast of the Annunciation of the Lord celebrates the angel Gabriel's appearance to the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-38), his announcement that the Blessed Virgin had been chosen to be the Mother of Our Lord, and Mary's fiat—her willing acceptance of God's holy plan.

Quick Facts:


Originally a feast of our Lord, but now celebrated as a Marian feast, the feast of the Annunciation dates back at least to the fifth century, and the date of the feast, which is determined by the date of Christmas, was set at March 25 by the seventh century.
The Annunciation, as much as or even more so than Christmas, represents Christ's Incarnation. When Mary signaled to Gabriel her acceptance of God's Will, Christ was conceived in her womb through the power of the Holy Spirit. While most of the Fathers of the Church say that Mary's fiat was essential to God's plan of salvation, God foresaw Mary's acceptance of His Will from all eternity.
The narrative of the Annunciation testifies powerfully to the truth of the Catholic tradition that Mary was indeed a virgin when Christ was conceived, but also that she intended to remain one perpetually. Mary's response to Gabriel—"How shall this be done, because I know not man?" (Luke 1:34) was universally interpreted by the Fathers of the Church as a statement of the Mary's resolution to remain a virgin forever.

Ahead of the Pope's trip to Cuba tomorrow, what to expect?

Rolling out welcome mat for pope, Cuba continues complex relationship with Catholic Church

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
Santiago, Cuba (CNN) - Facing the stage where Pope Benedict XVI will deliver his first Mass in Cuba during his visit here this week is a giant neon billboard of a young and victorious Fidel Castro brandishing a rifle.
It would appear to be a poor omen for the pope’s visit, if not for the message printed beside the Cuban leader: “Rebels yesterday, hospitable today, always heroic.” It’s the slogan for Santiago de Cuba, the first stop on the pope’s three-day trip to the island nation.
The freshly erected sign offers insight into the changing, often hard to read, relationship between the Cuban government and the Catholic Church.
After decades of chilly relations between church and state here, including the near dismantling of Cuba’s Catholic Church in the 1960s, the Castro regime is rolling out the welcome mat for the pope’s visit, even if it is offering no apologies for its past actions.
“Our country is honored to receive his holiness with Cuban patriotism, learning, vocation, solidarity and humanity,” read a front-page editorial published last week in Granma, the Cuban Communist Party daily newspaper, which on most days offers scathing critiques of life in the United States and glorified recountings of the Cuban revolution.
In the weeks leading up to the pope’s arrival, Cuban church leaders have been given greater freedom to speak publicly. Sites the pope will visit are undergoing hurried beautification. And in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución, an altar is being built where the pope will deliver mass to crowds expected to be in the hundreds of thousands.
It’s a marked change from the last (and first) papal visit to Cuba. When Pope John Paul II visited in 1998, the stage was placed off to the side of the square, as if to marginalize his influence. (Some Cubans claimed the aging pontiff was placed in a shadier area as protection from the sun.)
For Pope Benedict, the altar stands in the center of the plaza, the same place where Fidel Castro delivered many of his most incendiary speeches at the height of the Cold War, a point remarked upon by many Havana residents.
But is the leader of the global Catholic Church receiving more than just lip service from the secular and once officially atheist Cuban state?
The answer is, like nearly all things in Cuba, complex. During John Paul’s visit, he famously called on “Cuba to open to the world and the world to open to Cuba.”
And to some extent, some of those openings have taken place.
The church was considered a threat to the revolution in the days after he took power, Fidel Castro told theologian Frei Betto in the book “Fidel and Religion.”
The Catholic Church, Castro said, was “permeated by reactionary ideas, right wing ideas,” and populated by clergy who “tried to use the church as a weapon, an instrument, against the revolution.”
The church suffered greatly in the backlash, with most of the country’s priests leaving for exile. Religion was transformed into a topic to be discussed in whispers.
But life for Cuba’s Catholics changed with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the lead-up to John Paul’s visit. Christmas was reinstated as a holiday. Cuba went from being an officially atheist state to a secular one. Cubans were told by their leaders for the first time that they could be both openly religious and members of the Communist Party.
Now it is commonplace to see Cubans wear crucifixes and baptize their children. Church attendance, while still low, has rebounded.
But in spite of those advances, many here feel that John Paul’s call for greater openness has still not been realized.
“Perhaps the church can make a case that it’s looking at this whole thing long-term, by small incremental steps, maybe the church feels it’s moving the regime to a more open stance, more democratic reforms,” said Daniel Alvarez, a Religion Professor at Florida International University.
Outside Havana, a Catholic seminary opened just more than a year ago, the first building Cuba’s government has allowed the church to build since the revolution.
The seminary is home to 50 aspiring priests. They are the future of the Cuban church, says seminary rector Jose Miguel Gonzalez, and symbolize the strides the church has taken here.
“We have to keep progressing without fear, respectfully,” said Gonzalez. ”We have to do it despite few resources, the scarcity of priests, the few institutions we have. We don’t have any schools here, hospitals or means of mass communication.”
The church, Gonzalez said, is increasingly being sought out by once ardent supporters of the revolution.
“We have to open our doors to those people who lost their faith in a system,” he said. “An ideology and a humanism that turned out to be utopian and left them feeling cheated.”
But critics argue that the Catholic Church has more resources and power than any other nongovernmental organization in Cuba and that it uses them far too cautiously.
“In this visit the church, the pope have not made any overtures to the dissidents, a very vocal voice in Cuba,” Alvarez said. “The church has a lot of leverage and in the past has exercised it. What we are we wondering is will this pope take a step in that direction?”
Last week, 13 self-described dissidents occupied a Havana church for three days, refusing to leave until their demands to speak with the pope were met. After failing to negotiate the group’s exit, church leaders called in Cuban police, who removed the occupiers.
On Sunday, mre than 70 women who are members of “the Damas de Blanco” group were also detained before being released. The group – all women – hold weekly silent protests outside a Havana Catholic church asking for greater personal freedoms and the release of jailed family members.
While the state calls the women “mercenaries” in the employ of Washington, their protests usually do not lead to wide-scale police action.
The flurry of arrests were quickly criticized by Cuba’s dissident community and Cuban exiles, many of whom were already dissatisfied with the tone of the pope’s trip
“The church is not lifting a critical, prophetic voice against situations that the whole world sees as oppressive,” Alvarez said. “Why can’t the pope or the church insist there be more opening, more democratic reforms, more freedom for the people?”
It is not known how much the pope, a fierce critic of secularism, will press for greater religious freedom when he addresses the Cuban people and meets with President Raul Castro.
During that private meeting, church officials said, Raul Castro’s family has also been invited and officials anticipate that ex-President Fidel Castro may also be present.
If so, it may mark the first time a pope meets with a current and former leader of a communist state.
During a rare speech on Cuban-state television last week, Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino said the pope’s visit is meant to address questions of faith, not politics.
“The pope is determined to revive the faith of Christian countries that need to be re-evangelized,” he said. “The reviving of a sleeping faith, the reviving of a somewhat erased faith but one that was still in the people’s hearts.”
Some of that resurgent faith has been on display in recent weeks, when the Cuban church was allowed by the government to perform the via cruxis, public re-enactments of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.
As a cooling breeze blew in from the nearby seafront on Friday in the Havana suburb Alamar, a procession of the faithful carried a wooden Jesus Christ through a maze of crumbling, Soviet-built apartment buildings.
“I am so happy, overjoyed,” Alamar resident Delia Betancourt said. “I never thought my family and I would have the opportunity to see the pope twice in our life. It gives us and all of Cuba great hope.”
Addressing the small crowd that gathered for the evening ceremony, Ortega told them to arrive at Mass at Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución early and to wear a good hat to protect them from Cuba’s blazing sun.
The pope, he told the crowd, was traveling to Cuba to mend wounds from the past.
“He wants to be conciliatory pope,” Ortega told the crowd. “That’s to say a pope who unites people, who is capable of building bridges.”
But building bridges in Cuba, where old divisions still stretch wide, may be a fearsome challenge. Even for a pope.
Patrick Oppmann is CNN’s correspondent based in Havana. He also was in Cuba Pope John Paul II’s visit to the island. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CNN_Oppmann for updates on the Pope’s trip to Cuba.

Pope Benedict in Mexico

Pope meets with Mexican children in 'Plaza of Peace'Date: 2012-03-25 03:54:34

March 25, 2012. ( On the second day of his visit to Mexico, Benedict XVI met with local children in Leon, located in the state of Guanajuato. He met with them in the town square called the 'Plaza of Peace', telling them that they could “count on the help of Christ and his Church”.

Pope's full text below:

Dear Young People,

I am happy to be able to meet with you and to see your smiling faces as you fill this beautiful square. You have a very special place in the Pope’s heart. And in these moments, I would like all the children of Mexico to know this, especially those who have to bear the burden of suffering, abandonment, violence or hunger, which in recent months, because of drought, has made itself strongly felt in some regions. I am grateful for this encounter of faith, and for the festive and joyful presence expressed in song. Today we are full of jubilation, and this is important. God wants us to be happy always. He knows us and he loves us. If we allow the love of Christ to change our heart, then we can change the world. This is the secret of authentic happiness.

This place where we stand today has a name which expresses the yearning present in the heart of each and every person: "la paz", Peace. This is a gift which comes from on high. "Peace be with you" (Jn 20:21). These are the words of the Risen Lord. We hear them during each Mass, and today they resound anew in this place, with the hope that each one of you will be transformed, becoming a sower and messenger of that peace for which Christ offered his life.

The disciple of Jesus does not respond to evil with evil, but is always an instrument of good instead, a herald of pardon, a bearer of happiness, a servant of unity. He wishes to write in each of your lives a story of friendship. Hold on to him, then, as the best of friends. He will never tire of speaking to those who always love and who do good. This you will hear, if you strive in each moment to be with him who will help you in more difficult situations.

I have come that you may know my affection. Each one of you is a gift of God to Mexico and to the world. Your family, the Church, your school and those who have responsibility in society must work together to ensure that you receive a better world as your inheritance, without jealousies and divisions.

That is why I wish to lift up my voice, inviting everyone to protect and to care for children, so that nothing may extinguish their smile, but that they may live in peace and look to the future with confidence.

You, my dear young friends, are not alone. You can count on the help of Christ and his Church in order to live a Christian lifestyle. Participate in Sunday Mass, in catechesis, in apostolic works, looking for occasions of prayer, fraternity and charity. Blessed Cristóbal, Antonio and Juan, the child martyrs of Tlaxcala, lived this way, and knowing Jesus, during the time of the initial evangelization of Mexico, they discovered that there is no greater treasure than he. They were children like you, and from them we can learn that we are never too young to love and serve.

How I would like to spend more time with all of you, but the time has already come for me to go. We will remain close in prayer. So I invite you to pray continually, even in your homes; in this way, you will experience the happiness of speaking about God with your families. Pray for everyone, and also for me. I will pray for all of you, so that Mexico may be a place in which everyone can live in serenity and harmony. I bless all of you from my heart and I ask you to bring the affection and blessing of the Pope to your parents, brothers and sisters, and other loved ones. May the Virgin accompany you.

Thank you very much, my dear young friends.