Tea and cake for Pope Francis as he celebrates 78th birthday.
Shouts of “Tanti auguri” – or, “Happy Birthday!” – filled St. Peter’s Square as Pope Francis circled around throngs of pilgrims on his pope mobile during the weekly general audience.
The Holy Father, who turned 78 on Dec. 17, stopped to blow out the candles on a cake given to him by group of Legionaries of Christ seminarians. He also took a sip of mate tea – a traditional South American drink popular in Argentina – offered to him by pilgrims.
One of the lucky little pilgrims to receive a kiss from the Pope on his birthday was a small baby girl named Gaia who has been in Rome receiving medical treatment at the nearby Bambino Gesu’ hospital.
Gaia’s mother, Daniella from Cortona, Italy, has tried to come every week for the Wednesday General audience since arriving in Rome several months ago – in fact, she told CNA this is the second time her baby has been kissed by Pope Francis.
Daniella added that she hopes Pope Francis will “inspect the Church,” because she believes “he has the capacity.”
“I like this Pope very much. For this reason I come to see him.”
Standing nearby was Richard Tirocke from Maryland in the United States. He told CNA that even though he did not practice his Catholic faith as seriously as he used to, it was nonetheless “incredible” to have had such a close encounter with Pope Francis. “I watched him kiss that baby,” he said. “I got to touch the baby’s head!”
Alex and Flora Apulsen from Florida arranged their vacation in Rome to ensure that they could be in the Square with the Pope. “We wish all his wishes will come true” on his birthday, Alex said. “This is truly a Pope for the people. It’s a very specially experience to be here.”
“He is a very great Pope,” said Flora. “We wish him happy birthday and all good things happen to him.”
Joe Pender from Sydney Australia told CNA he came to the Audience in the hopes of getting close to Pope Francis, and to receive a blessing.
“I wish him a good day, first of all, but most of all that he’s filled by the Holy Spirit today, and really blesses everyone as he continues to do every day.”
By Ann Schneible
Vatican City, CNA/EWTN News
Only a repentant heart will receive salvation, Pope Francis says.
Pope Francis touched on the importance of being humble and open to the Lord’s correction, encouraging the faithful to offer him their sins to God in order to be saved.
“The humble, poor people that trust in the Lord: these are the ones who are saved and this is the way of the Church, isn’t it?” the Pope asked during his Dec. 16 daily mass in the Vatican’s Saint Martha Guesthouse.
“This is the path I must follow, not the path in which I do not listen to His voice, do not accept correction and do not trust in the Lord.”
Pope Francis centered his reflections on the day’s readings, taken from the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah and from the Gospel of Matthew, which the pontiff said both speak of a “judgment” on which both salvation and condemnation depend.
While Zephaniah in the first reading talks about a “rebellious and polluted” city, there is still the presence of some who repent of their sins, the Pope observed, saying that this group is the “people of God” who possess the “three characteristics (of) humility, poverty and trust in the Lord.”
However the people in the city who refused to trust in the Lord and accept the corrections he gave him cannot receive salvation because they are closed to it, he said, while it is the meek and the humble who trust that will be saved.
“And that is still valid today, isn’t it? When we look at the holy people of God that is humble, that has its riches in its faith in the Lord, in its trust in the Lord – the humble, poor people that trust in the Lord: these are the ones who are saved.”
The Pope then turned to the gospel reading in which Jesus tells the chief priests and elders the story of a father who asks his two sons to work in their vineyard. While the first son says that he will go and does not, the second initially denies his father’s request, but later goes to work.
In telling this story, Jesus makes it clear to the chief priests and elders that they were not open to the voice of God preached by John the Baptist, adding that this is why tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the kingdom of heaven before they do.
This statement from Jesus echoes the situation of many Christians today who feel “pure” simply because they go to mass and receive communion, the Pope noted, explaining that God asks for more.
“If your heart is not a repentant heart, if you do not listen to the Lord, if you don’t accept correction and you do not trust in Him, your heart is unrepentant,” he said, observing how the Pharisees were “hypocrites” for being scandalized at the attention Jesus gave to prostitutes and tax collectors.
Although they were affronted at Jesus acceptance of the sinners, they then “secretly approached them to vent their passion or to do business,” the pontiff explained, saying that because of their hypocrisy they are not welcome in paradise.
Pope Francis said that this judgment gives hope provided that we have the courage to open our hearts to God, even if that means giving him the full list of our sins.
He recalled the story of a Saint who believed that he had given everything to God with great generosity. However in a conversation with the Lord, the saint was told that there was still something he was holding onto.
When the saint asked what it was that he still had not given, the Lord replied “Your sins,” the pontiff recalled.
The moment in which we are able to tell the Lord “these are my sins – they are not his or hers, they are mine…take them” will be the moment when we become that “meek and humble people” who trust in God, the Pope said, and prayed that “the Lord grant us this grace.”
by Elise Harris
Vatican City, CNA/EWTN News
Pope: Mary and Joseph exemplify mission,
vocation of family life.
Pope Francis spoke about Jesus’ choice to be born into a family, saying that it shows the importance of the vocation, which Mary and Joseph epitomized through their everyday holiness.
“We can learn so much from Mary and Joseph, and especially from their love for Jesus. They help us to rediscover the vocation and mission of the family, of every family,” the Roman Pontiff told pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square for his Dec. 17 general audience.
Jesus, he noted, “was raised in an atmosphere of religious devotion (and) he learned from the words and example of Mary and Joseph.”
In his second catechesis on the family, Pope Francis revealed that in preparation for next year’s ordinary synod of bishops on the family, the entire year’s weekly catechesis would be dedicated to that theme.
Advent, he said, is a time of prayerful expectation for the Lord’s coming, and it invites each person to think about how the family, God’s gift since the beginning of creation, is honored and confirmed through Christ’s incarnation.
“The closeness of Christmas reminds us that God wanted to be born into a family, in a small, remote village of the Roman Empire,” the Pope explained, noting how Jesus remained “in the bosom of a pious, working” family in Nazareth for close to 30 years before starting his public ministry.
Although the gospels don’t say much about Jesus’ childhood, it’s safe to assume that Jesus led a very normal family life, he said, noting how the Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus grew “in wisdom, age and grace” and learned from Mary and Joseph.
“Among other activities of everyday life, (Jesus) was dedicated to the fulfillment of social and religious duties: working with Joseph, listening to Scripture and praying the psalms,” the Bishop of Rome said, noting how Mary and Joseph “welcomed Jesus with love” despite having to overcome many difficulties for him.
“His was not an unrealistic family, a fable,” the pontiff said, explaining that Mary and Joseph are a prime example of how to live the mission and vocation of family life, particularly in the love they had for Jesus.
Pope Francis then called on every Christian family to make a place for Jesus in their home, because “it is through the love of such ‘normal’ families that God’s Son quietly comes to dwell among us, bringing salvation to our world.”
The Roman Pontiff concluded by praying that each family would have the desire to welcome Jesus with pure and grateful hearts.
He then greeted pilgrims present from numerous countries around the world and gave his blessing.
After the audience, tango dancers lined via della Conciliazione, the street leading up to St. Peter’s, as well as the square itself in order to honor the Pope for this 78th birthday.
By Elise Harris
Vatican City, CNA/EWTN News
Pope Francis to media: People are more valuable than ‘hits.’
Catholics working in media would do well to remember that communications is about informing people – not collecting “hits,” Pope Francis told representatives from the Italian station TV2000.
Journalists, editors, and technicians from TV2000, the Italian Bishops’ Conference broadcasting station, met with the Pope in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on Dec. 15.
Addressing those who work in Italian Church television, Pope Francis presented three points of consideration which lie “at the heart” of communications.
First, the Pope said, Catholic media has the “challenging mission” of trying to protect social communications from being “twisted and bent” for other purposes. Rooted in conviction, good communications come from the courage to speak candidly and freely. Otherwise, what is communicated comes across as fake, uninformative, and bland.
Communicators should also, through an openness to the Holy Spirit, work toward unity and harmony. By this, he said, they should avoid saturating the public with an “excess of slogans,” and simple solutions, which do not take into account the “complexities of real life.”
Last, Pope Francis stressed that communicators should not be concerned with the number of “hits” they receive but rather with speaking “to the whole person.”
The Pope also highlighted the “three sins” which communicators must avoid: misinformation, slander, and defamation. While the most “insidious” of these would appear to be slander, he continued, the most serious, in terms of communication, is in fact misinformation, for it “leads you to believe only one part of the truth.”
Pope Francis concluded his address by thanking those present for their work in the field of Catholic television, entrusting them to Mary and Saint Gabriel – “the great communicator,” who “communicated the good news.”
By Ann Schneible
Vatican City, CNA/EWTN News