Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe

Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe

This morning, Pope Francis sent a telegram to Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston with his condolences for yesterday’s bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Below is the full text:

 His Eminence Cardinal Sean O’Malley
Archbishop of Boston

Deeply grieved by news of the loss of life and grave injuries caused by the act of violence perpetrated last evening in Boston, His Holiness Pope Francis wishes me to assure you of his sympathy and closeness in prayer. In the aftermath of this senseless tragedy, His Holiness invokes God’s peace upon the dead, his consolation upon the suffering and his strength upon all those engaged in the continuing work of relief and response. At this time of mourning the Holy Father prays that all Bostonians will be united in a resolve not to be overcome by evil, but to combat evil with good (cf. Rom 12:21), working together to build an ever more just, free and secure society for generations yet to come.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State

Last evening, as the situation in Boston was still quite fluid, Cardinal Sean issued a statement “expressing his deep sorrow” for the victims of the “senseless acts of violence”:

 The Archdiocese of Boston joins all people of good will in expressing deep sorrow following the senseless acts of violence perpetrated at the Boston Marathon today. Our prayers and concern are with so many who experienced the trauma of these acts, most especially the loved ones of those who lives were lost and those who were injured, and the injured themselves.

The citizens of the City of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are blessed by the bravery and heroism of many, particularly the men and women of the police and fire departments and emergency services who responded within moments of these tragic events. Governor Patrick, Mayor Menino and Police Commissioner Davis are providing the leadership that will see us through this most difficult time and ensure that proper procedures are followed to protect the public safety.

In the midst of the darkness of this tragedy we turn to the light of Jesus Christ, the light that was evident in the lives of people who immediately turned to help those in need today. We stand in solidarity with our ecumenical and interfaith colleagues in the commitment to witness the greater power of good in our society and to work together for healing.

Throughout the next few days, let us remember all those affected by these acts of violence in our thoughts and our prayers. Let us also remember the first responders, the medical professionals, and those who will minister to the spiritual and mental well-being of those affected in our prayers as well. Below is a prayer shared by Bishop Coyne of Indianapolis, who was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Boston.

Prayer for Victims of Terrorism

Loving God,
Welcome into your arms the victims of violence and terrorism.
Comfort their families and all who grieve for them.
Help us in our fear and uncertainty,
And bless us with the knowledge that we are secure in your love.
Strengthen all those who work for peace,
And may the peace the world cannot give reign in our hearts.

Amen


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Remarks by President Barack Obama

This year, we mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War — a time when thousands of our prisoners of war finally came home after years of starvation and hardship and, in some cases, torture. And among the homecomings, one stood out.

A group of our POWs emerged carrying a large wooden crucifix, nearly four feet tall. They had spent months on it, secretly collecting firewood, carving it — the cross and the body — using radio wire for a crown of thorns. It was a tribute to their friend, their chaplain, their fellow prisoner who had touched their souls and saved their lives — Father Emil Kapaun.

This is an amazing story. Father Kapaun has been called a shepherd in combat boots. His fellow soldiers who felt his grace and his mercy called him a saint, a blessing from God. Today, we bestow another title on him — recipient of our nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor. After more than six decades of working to make this Medal a reality, I know one of Father Kapaun’s comrades spoke for a lot of folks here when he said, “it’s about time.”

Father, as they called him, was just 35 years old when he died in that hellish prison camp. His parents and his only sibling, his brother, are no longer with us. But we are extremely proud to welcome members of the Kapaun family — his nephews, his niece, their children — two of whom currently serve in this country’s National Guard. And we are very proud of them.

We’re also joined by members of the Kansas congressional delegation, leaders from across our armed forces, and representatives from the Catholic Church, which recognizes Father Kapaun as a “Servant of God.” And we are truly humbled to be joined by men who served alongside him — veterans and former POWs from the Korean War. (Applause.)

Now, I obviously never met Father Kapaun. But I have a sense of the man he was, because in his story I see reflections of my own grandparents and their values, the people who helped to raise me. Emil and my grandfather were both born in Kansas about the same time, both were raised in small towns outside of Wichita. They were part of that Greatest Generation — surviving the Depression, joining the Army, serving in World War II. And they embodied those heartland values of honesty and hard work, decency and humility — quiet heroes determined to do their part.

For Father Kapaun, this meant becoming an Army chaplain — serving God and country. After the Communist invasion of South Korea, he was among the first American troops that hit the beaches and pushed their way north through hard mountains and bitter cold. In his understated Midwestern way, he wrote home, saying, “this outdoor life is quite the thing” — (laughter) — and “I prefer to live in a house once in a while.” But he had hope, saying, “It looks like the war will end soon.”

That’s when Chinese forces entered the war with a massive surprise attack — perhaps 20,000 soldiers pouring down on a few thousand Americans. In the chaos, dodging bullets and explosions, Father Kapaun raced between foxholes, out past the front lines and into no-man’s land — dragging the wounded to safety.

When his commanders ordered an evacuation, he chose to stay — gathering the injured, tending to their wounds. When the enemy broke through and the combat was hand-to-hand, he carried on — comforting the injured and the dying, offering some measure of peace as they left this Earth.

When enemy forces bore down, it seemed like the end — that these wounded Americans, more than a dozen of them, would be gunned down. But Father Kapaun spotted a wounded Chinese officer. He pleaded with this Chinese officer and convinced him to call out to his fellow Chinese. The shooting stopped and they negotiated a safe surrender, saving those American lives.

Then, as Father Kapaun was being led away, he saw another American — wounded, unable to walk, laying in a ditch, defenseless. An enemy soldier was standing over him, rifle aimed at his head, ready to shoot. And Father Kapaun marched over and pushed the enemy soldier aside. And then as the soldier watched, stunned, Father Kapaun carried that wounded American away.

This is the valor we honor today — an American soldier who didn’t fire a gun, but who wielded the mightiest weapon of all, a love for his brothers so pure that he was willing to die so that they might live. And yet, the incredible story of Father Kapaun does not end there.

He carried that injured American, for miles, as their captors forced them on a death march. When Father Kapaun grew tired, he’d help the wounded soldier hop on one leg. When other prisoners stumbled, he picked them up. When they wanted to quit — knowing that stragglers would be shot — he begged them to keep walking.

In the camps that winter, deep in a valley, men could freeze to death in their sleep. Father Kapaun offered them his own clothes. They starved on tiny rations of millet and corn and birdseed. He somehow snuck past the guards, foraged in nearby fields, and returned with rice and potatoes. In desperation, some men hoarded food. He convinced them to share. Their bodies were ravaged by dysentery. He grabbed some rocks, pounded metal into pots and boiled clean water. They lived in filth. He washed their clothes and he cleansed their wounds.

The guards ridiculed his devotion to his Savior and the Almighty. They took his clothes and made him stand in the freezing cold for hours. Yet, he never lost his faith. If anything, it only grew stronger. At night, he slipped into huts to lead prisoners in prayer, saying the Rosary, administering the sacraments, offering three simple words: “God bless you.” One of them later said that with his very presence he could just for a moment turn a mud hut into a cathedral.

That spring, he went further — he held an Easter service. I just met with the Kapaun family. They showed me something extraordinary — the actual stole, the purple vestment that Father Kapaun wore when he celebrated Mass inside that prison camp.

As the sun rose that Easter Sunday, he put on that purple stole and led dozens of prisoners to the ruins of an old church in the camp. And he read from a prayer missal that they had kept hidden. He held up a small crucifix that he had made from sticks. And as the guards watched, Father Kapaun and all those prisoners — men of different faith, perhaps some men of no faith — sang the Lord’s Prayer and “America the Beautiful.” They sang so loud that other prisoners across the camp not only heard them, they joined in, too — filling that valley with song and with prayer.

That faith — that they might be delivered from evil, that they could make it home — was perhaps the greatest gift to those men; that even amidst such hardship and despair, there could be hope; amid their misery in the temporal they could see those truths that are eternal; that even in such hell, there could be a touch of the divine. Looking back, one of them said that that is what “kept a lot of us alive.”

Yet, for Father Kapaun, the horrific conditions took their toll. Thin, frail, he began to limp, with a blood clot in his leg. And then came dysentery, then pneumonia. That’s when the guards saw their chance to finally rid themselves of this priest and the hope he inspired. They came for him. And over the protests and tears of the men who loved him, the guards sent him to a death house — a hellhole with no food or water — to be left to die.

And yet, even then, his faith held firm. “I’m going to where I’ve always wanted to go,” he told his brothers. “And when I get up there, I’ll say a prayer for all of you.” And then, as was taken away, he did something remarkable — he blessed the guards. “Forgive them,” he said, “for they know not what they do.” Two days later, in that house of death, Father Kapaun breathed his last breath. His body was taken away, his grave unmarked, his remains unrecovered to this day.

The war and the awful captivity would drag on for another two years, but these men held on — steeled by the memory and moral example of the man they called Father. And on their first day of freedom, in his honor, they carried that beautiful wooden crucifix with them.

Some of these men are here today — including Herb Miller, the soldier that Father Kapaun saved in that ditch and then carried all those miles. Many are now in their 80s, but make no mistake, they are among the strongest men that America has ever produced. And I would ask all of our courageous POWs from the Korean War to stand if they’re able and accept the gratitude of a grateful nation.

I’m told that in their darkest hours in the camp in that valley, these men turned to a Psalm. As we prepare for the presentation of the Medal of Honor to Father Kapaun’s nephew, Ray, I want to leave you with the words of that Psalm, which sustained these men all those years ago.

Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely, your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


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Photo of the Day

PopeFrancis_NewsVAPope Francis takes possession of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Cathedral of Rome.

Photo Credit: L’Osservatore Romano


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POPE FRANCIS

Mass of Inauguration Homily

March 19, 2013

Photo: AP

Photo: AP

Dear Brothers and Sisters, I thank the Lord that I can celebrate this Holy Mass for the inauguration of my Petrine ministry on the solemnity of St Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary and the patron of the universal Church. It is a significant coincidence, and it is also the name-day of my venerable predecessor: we are close to him with our prayers, full of affection and gratitude.

I offer a warm greeting to my brother cardinals and bishops, the priests, deacons, men and women religious, and all the lay faithful. I thank the representatives of the other churches and ecclesial communities, as well as the representatives of the Jewish community and the other religious communities, for their presence. My cordial greetings go to the Heads of State and Government, the members of the official Delegations from many countries throughout the world, and the Diplomatic Corps.

In the Gospel we heard that “Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary as his wife” (Mt 1:24). These words already point to the mission which God entrusts to Joseph: he is to be the custos, the protector. The protector of whom? Of Mary and Jesus; but this protection is then extended to the Church, as Blessed John Paul II pointed out: “Just as Saint Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model” (Redemptoris Custos, 1).

How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time of his betrothal to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care. As the spouse of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when she gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the frantic search for their child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught his trade to Jesus.

How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church? By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to his own. This is what God asked of David, as we heard in the first reading. God does not want a house built by men, but faithfulness to his word, to his plan. It is God himself who builds the house, but from living stones sealed by his Spirit. Joseph is a “protector” because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions. In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!

The vocation of being a “protector”, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!

Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened. Tragically, in every period of history there are “Herods” who plot death, wreak havoc, and mar the countenance of men and women.

Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world! But to be “protectors”, we also have to keep watch over ourselves! Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives! Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down! We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness!

Here I would add one more thing: caring, protecting, demands goodness, it calls for a certain tenderness. In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!

Today, together with the feast of Saint Joseph, we are celebrating the beginning of the ministry of the new Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, which also involves a certain power. Certainly, Jesus Christ conferred power upon Peter, but what sort of power was it? Jesus’ three questions to Peter about love are followed by three commands: feed my lambs, feed my sheep. Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross. He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect!

In the second reading, Saint Paul speaks of Abraham, who, “hoping against hope, believed” (Rom 4:18). Hoping against hope! Today too, amid so much darkness, we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope; it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds; it is to bring the warmth of hope! For believers, for us Christians, like Abraham, like Saint Joseph, the hope that we bring is set against the horizon of God, which has opened up before us in Christ. It is a hope built on the rock which is God.

To protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves: this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out, yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly. Let us protect with love all that God has given us!

I implore the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saints Peter and Paul, and Saint Francis, that the Holy Spirit may accompany my ministry, and I ask all of you to pray for me! Amen.


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PopeFrancis_001Yesterday, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., 76, was selected by the Cardinal-Electors as the 266th Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, choosing the name Francis after the great humble servant St. Francis of Assisi. He becomes the first Jesuit, the first South American, and the first from the southern hemisphere to be elected Pope.

From the very beginning, when Pope Francis emerged onto the center loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica in the simple white cassock, it was evident that our new Holy Father was going to perform his duties in such a way distinctive from his predecessors. When he asked the crowd that had gathered in St. Peter’s Square to pray with him for our Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, I was furthermore impressed with him. But, what helped me start to recognize the type of leader he would be for our church was his request of the crowd present in the square below him—“before the Bishop blesses his people, I ask you to pray to the Lord that he will bless me: the prayer of the people asking the blessing for their Bishop.” It was an incredibly moving and emotional moment.

Since news of his election became public, like most Catholics around the world, I have spent every available minute researching Cardinal Bergoglio. According to the biography sent out by the Vatican Press Office shortly after his initial Urbi et Orbi message, Pope Francis was born on December 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires to parents of Italian descent; his father immigrated to Argentina from Italy while his mother was born in Buenos Aires to Italian immigrant parents. Pope Francis is one of five children, three of whom are deceased. In an interview with Argentine media, his only remaining sister María Elena said that she had “prayed he wouldn’t be chosen” as Pope because of the tremendous challenges facing the Church. When she found out that the Cardinals had elected him as the new Holy Father, María recalled she wanted to give her big brother a hug.

PopeFrancisFamilyWithin his now-former archdiocese, Pope Francis is already being called “el papa de los villeros”—“the Pope of the slum dwellers”—because of his deep concern and compassion for the poor. As the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Bergoglio was very much aware of the plight of the poor within his community and chose to serve them and minister to them in way that truly exemplifies the Gospel message of Christ. He doubled the number of priests serving in the most impoverished areas of Buenos Aires, continually visited those who were imprisoned, and shared in the suffering of those in hospitals. The general consensus amongst the faithful: “Everyone here felt very close to him.”

Throughout his time as Cardinal Archbishop of the Argentine capital, the Holy Father lived in a simple apartment, cooked his own meals, and traveled to work using public transportation. His humility gave him a “closeness with the street” that allowed him to thoroughly recognize and respond to the needs of the people he served. He cherished his people in a way that only a shepherd cares for his sheep: “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.”—Isaiah 40:11

Ladies and gentlemen, the Holy Spirit has given us a tremendous pastor, a shepherd who will guide the Church of Christ with a firm yet gentle grasp, by compassionately serving those who are most in need, and through teachings that give us courage to embrace the many crosses that may arise along the journey of life. He will strengthen us by his prayers. He will lead by example. He will challenge us to grow in holiness. He will invite us to participate more fully in the life of the Church. And—most importantly—he will teach us what it means to be disciples of the Lord.

Viva il Papa!


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