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In Lithuania, Francis tells priests to hear their people's cries

Kaunas, Lithuania, Sep 23, 2018 / 12:34 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis told priests and religious in Lithuania Sunday to listen to the cries of suffering that come from the People of God, who are looking to them for hope.

“The cry of our people must strike us, like Moses, to whom God revealed the suffering of his people in the encounter at the burning bush,” the pope said Sept. 23. “Listening to the voice of God in prayer makes us see, makes us hear, know the pain of others in order to free them.”

“The cry that makes us seek God in prayer and adoration is the same that makes us listen to the lament of our brothers,” he continued. “They hope in us and we need, starting from a careful discernment, to organize ourselves, plan and be bold and creative in our apostolate.”

There is no room for improvisation when it comes to responding to the needs of God’s people, he said.

Pope Francis spoke during an encounter with priests, religious, and seminarians in the Cathedral of Kaunas in Lithuania, part of the program of the second day of a visit to the Baltic states Sept. 22-25.

In their encounter, the pope offered one piece of advice in particular – for priests to be close to their people and close to God in the tabernacle.

He said a priest more concerned with the administrative or functionary parts of his job “opens the office at that time, does his job, closes the office.” And meanwhile, the people are all outside. “He does not approach people.”

“Dear brothers and sisters, if you do not want to be an executive, I will tell you one word: closeness!... Closeness to the Tabernacle, face to face with the Lord. And closeness to people.  The Lord wants you shepherds of the people, and not clerics of the State!”

The pope said that closeness and mercy are linked, and “a priest cannot but be merciful. Above all in the confessional.” He told priests to think about how Jesus would treat the person coming to confession and to welcome them.

“Already enough has he been beaten by life, that poor guy! Let him feel the embrace of the forgiving Father,” he said. If absolution cannot be given to someone right away, he advised encouraging the person to pray and to come back to talk. “Never chase someone from the confessional! Never drive [someone] away,” he said.

May Lithuania become model of fight for human rights, Pope prays at former KGB headquarters

Vilnius, Lithuania, Sep 23, 2018 / 11:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis prayed that Lithuania become an example of defense of human rights in a gathering Sunday with former 20th-century freedom fighters, political prisoners, exiles and their families.

“May Lithuania become a beacon of hope,” the pope prayed. “May it become a land of memory and action, constantly committed to fighting all forms of injustice. May it promote creative efforts to defend the rights of all persons, especially the most defenseless and vulnerable.”

“And may Lithuania be for all a teacher in the way to reconcile and harmonize diversity.”

Sunday’s gathering took place at the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fighters, a former KGB headquarters in Vilnius, where Soviets detained and executed hundreds of people. The event mourned victims of Nazi and Soviet oppression in Lithuania and honored those who fought for human rights.

In his prayer, the pope reflected on Christ’s cry in the gospels; “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

“Your cry, O Lord, continues to resound,” the pope prayed. “It echoes within these walls that recall of the sufferings endured by so many sons and daughters of this people.”

“Lithuanians and those from other nations paid in their own flesh the price of the thirst for absolute power on the part of those who sought complete domination.”

The pope urged Lithuanians to remember their history, and to continue to fight against violations of human rights today.

“May that (Jesus’) cry encourage us not to succumb to the fashions of the day, to simplistic slogans, or to efforts to diminish or take away from any person the dignity you have given them,” he prayed.

“Lord, grant that we may not be deaf to the plea of all those who cry out to heaven in our own day.”

The pope’s meeting with former freedom fighters took place on the second day of his four-day trip to the Baltic states. During the gathering, Lithuanians read poems and performed songs from times of exile and Soviet repression.

Prior to his meeting with the freedom fighters, Pope Francis stopped to pray in Rudninku Square, where the historic Vilnius ghetto was located before its destruction 75 years ago. Lithuania had a Jewish population of about 208,000 before World War II. An estimated 95 percent of that population was killed in the Holocaust.

Two pilgrims trek 30 miles to Encuentro to raise awareness of immigration issues

Dallas, Texas, Sep 23, 2018 / 11:28 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Most of the delegates attending the National V Encuentro conference arrived by plane, or by car if they lived locally enough.

Not Antonio Mendez and José, who walked nearly 30 miles from Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral in Dallas to Grapevine, Texas, in time for the conference’s closing Mass. The two are looking to raise awareness of immigration issues.

Despite the very rainy and “not good” weather that plagued the Dallas area on Saturday, the pair were able to safely complete the walk without any major issues. They walked to the National V Encuentro, a meeting of Hispanic and Latino Catholics from throughout the United States. Mendez told CNA that he was inspired to do this walk in part by the recent controversy over family separations at the U.S. border.

"You have families struggling, (and they are) separated all over the country,” said Mendez. “Children, suffering. Who's going to take care of that?”

He felt the walk was a way of showing people that, “You have worth, you can do something, to make people (pay) attention and take care of that.”

Before the pilgrimage, the pair did not know each other. They met when Mendez asked at a Mass at the Cathedral if anyone would be able to provide him with a ride or assistance with the trek. José (who has asked that CNA not use his last name) offered his car, and then asked if he could join as well.

This pilgrimage was similar to one Mendez does each year prior to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ annual immigration Mass. That pilgrimage takes three days, and consists of Mendez walking 47 miles from his home parish in Orange County to the Cathedral in Los Angeles. He does this to honor those who were unable to safely migrate to the United States.
 
The pair met with Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles shortly after arriving at the Gaylord Texan resort, where they had a brief chat.

Afterwards, Gomez told CNA that he feels the United States needs to make concrete moves on reforming its immigration policy, and that they were a symbol of how important the immigration issue is at this time.

“Antonio and Jose, coming from Dallas to Fort Worth to be with us here at the Encuentro is a reminder to all of us of the importance of the immigration issue at this time in our country,” said Gomez.

“They are very good Catholics, and the only thing they want to do is walk, praying that our elected officials, and all people in the United States, understand the importance of the immigrants that are in our country.”

Gomez said that he is continuing to pray that Congress is able to come up with a solution for the problems related to immigration currently in the United States. This spring, Congress was unable to reach a compromise on various measures, including the DREAM Act as well as the construction of a border wall.

“We can do it,” said Gomez.

“We are always praying for that and for them to understand how important it is for so many people that already are participating for the common good of our country.”

Gomez to Encuentro: Jesus sent disciples, Guadalupe sent Juan Diego, God sends you

Dallas, Texas, Sep 23, 2018 / 11:15 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At the final Mass of the National V Encuentro gathering, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles encouraged Hispanic and Latino Catholics to go out into the world and be missionary disciples for the Church, like the many holy lay people before them.

“Our reading of today's Gospel begins with these words: ‘Jesus and his disciples They left from there and started a journey,’” he said, referencing Mark 9:30-37.

“This is our story, yours and mine. This is the history of the Church. We are his disciples.”

Gomez gave the homily on the final day of the National V Encuentro, a meeting of Hispanic and Latino Catholics from throughout the United States that was the culmination of a years-long process of consultation at the parish, diocesan and regional levels.

The theme of this National Encuentro, held Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine, Texas, was “Discípulos Misioneros: Testigos del amor de Dios” or “Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of the love of God.”

Missionaries are made because they have first encountered Jesus, who then sends them on a journey, Gomez said.

“Your journey is now joined to Jesus. Your story is now part of the story of salvation, the journey of God’s people through history,” he added, like the disciples who spread the Gospel from Jerusalem to Rome, Asia and Africa.

“The journey of the Church continued towards the American continent with the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, in 1531,” Gomez said.

“We all know that story. We learned it when we were children, and we transmitted it to our little ones. It is a beautiful narration of the tender love of God, manifested in history.”

As Jesus sent the disciples, God through the Virgin of Guadalupe entrusted a mission to San Juan Diego - to go tell the bishop to build a church.

“Think about that, my dear brothers and sisters: Jesus entrusted him with the mission of his Church in the New World to a layman,” he said. “Not to a priest or a bishop. Not a member of a religious order.”

“You are the sons and daughters of the Virgin of Guadalupe in our time; you are the spiritual heirs of Juan Diego. The mission entrusted to him is now entrusted to you.”

Just like Juan Diego, God is calling the Hispanic and Latino Catholics of the United States to be saints, missionary disciples and leaders of the Church, Gomez said.

“He is calling the lay faithful to work together with the bishops to renew and rebuild his Church. Not only in this country, but throughout the continents of the Americas,” he said.

Hispanic and Latino Catholics are being called to lead not for power or ambition, he added, but “to lead by your holiness. True unity in the Church will only come about if every one of us - clergy and laity - is striving to be holy as God is holy.”

“Let's always move forward with confidence. Let's be men and women of the encounter! What
each one of us leads many people to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ,” Gomez said.

“And may Our Lady of Guadalupe always go with us on the journey we make as disciples of Jesus. May she help us to be saints, to be heroes, instruments of unity and healing. These times demand it. And for this is what we were made for.”

 

Pope Francis: Christian life always includes the cross

Kaunas, Lithuania, Sep 23, 2018 / 06:14 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As can be seen throughout history, the life of a Christian cannot escape the sacrifices and sorrows of the cross, Pope Francis said Sunday at Mass in Lithuania.

“The Christian life always involves experiences of the cross; at times they can seem interminable.”

“Earlier generations still bear the scars of the period of the [Soviet] occupation, anguish at those who were deported, uncertainty about those who never returned, shame for those who were informers and traitors,” he said Sept. 23.

Pope Francis spoke about the cross at Mass during his second day of a four-day visit to the Baltic states. The Mass was celebrated for around 100,000 people in Kaunas, Lithuania. He will also visit Estonia and Latvia.

The disciples in the day’s Gospel, he said, did not want Jesus to speak about sorrows and the cross, “they wanted nothing to do with trials and hardships,” but wanted to discuss who was the greatest among them.

The thirst for power and glory is a sign that someone has failed to heal from the memories of the past, and perhaps to take “an active part in the tasks of the present,” he continued. “For there is nothing truly human that does not find an echo in the heart of Christ’s disciples.”

Because when a community feels “true and profound solidarity with all humanity,” he said, “and its history,” they want to spend their lives in joyful service, making known their hope in Jesus Christ.

“That is why we are here today. We want to welcome Jesus, in his word, in the Eucharist, in his little ones,” Francis said. “To welcome him so that he can heal our memory and accompany us in this present time that presents us with exciting challenges and signposts, so that we can follow him as his disciples.

The Mass was followed by the midday Angelus prayer. Both fell on the 75th anniversary of the final destruction of the Vilnius Ghetto during the Holocaust. During the three-year German occupation, more than 95 percent of Lithuania’s Jewish population were killed.  

“Let us think back on those times, and ask the Lord to give us the gift of discernment to detect in time any [reoccurrence] of that pernicious attitude, any whiff” of anti-Semitism, he said.

In the day’s Gospel, Jesus warns against the temptation to have power and to dominate others, a temptation, which he said, “can dwell in every human heart.” How often, he asked, has a group of people considered themselves superior to others, with greater rights and privileges?

“What is the antidote that Jesus proposes when this impulse appears in our heart or in the heart of any society or country?” he said. “To be the last of all and the servant of all; to go to the place where no one else wants to go, where no one travels, the furthest peripheries; to serve and come to know the lowly and the rejected.”

He referenced the Hill of Crosses, a pilgrimage site in northern Lithuania, “where thousands of people, over the centuries, have planted the sign of the cross,” and asked those present to pray during the Angelus that the Blessed Virgin Mary would “help us all to plant our own cross, the cross of our service and commitment to the needs of others.”

“As we remember the ‘yes’ spoken by Mary, let us ask her to make our ‘yes’ as generous and fruitful as hers,” he concluded.