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What changes may be coming to the College of Cardinals in 2021?

Vatican City, Feb 25, 2021 / 06:37 pm (CNA).- When Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako turns 80 on Feb. 27, the cardinals eligible to vote in a conclave will drop to 127, seven more than the limit of 120 set by Paul VI and confirmed by John Paul II.

In 2021, five more cardinals will turn 80, and thus age out of voting in the conclave: Cardinals Wilfrid Fox Napier, George Pell, Maurice Piat, Beniamino Stella, and Angelo Scola.

This means that by the end of the year, cardinals eligible to vote in a conclave will be down to 122, prompting questions of whether Pope Francis will appoint more.

During his pontificate, Pope Francis strongly reshaped the College of Cardinals. In seven years, he has summoned seven consistories (one per year) and created 101 new cardinals, 79 of whom are eligible to vote in a conclave and 22 of whom are not, because they are above the age of 80. To put this in perspective, St. John Paul II summoned nine consistories in 27 years of his pontificate, an average of one every three years. 

A conclave now would be composed of 73 cardinals created by Pope Francis, 39 created by Benedict XVI, and 16 created by John Paul II. 

Many observers in the Roman Curia believe that, taking into consideration Pope Francis’ modus operandi and the ongoing generational shift within the Curia, it is likely that the pontiff will choose to expand the College of Cardinals to 130, and give the red biretta to the new prefects of the Vatican dicasteries.

Cardinal Robert Sarah's replacement– Pope Francis accepted his resignation on Feb. 21 – will likely be a non-cardinal in need of a red hat. 

Cardinal Beniamino Stella, 79, will leave the Congregation for the Clergy when he turns 80 next August. 

Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, is already 77 and will soon retire. Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, is 76.  Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is 76 too, while Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, is 77. 

The president of the Vatican City State administration, Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, turned 78 last October.

This means that the pope could have six new prefects to appoint in the Roman Curia, all positions traditionally run by cardinals.

This, plus the ongoing reform and restructuring of the Curia, will give Pope Francis the opportunity to expand the College of Cardinals, thus having a greater influence on who his successor will be.


Who might be Cardinal Sarah's successor?

Vatican City, Feb 25, 2021 / 04:44 pm (CNA).- After Robert Cardinal Sarah's retirement as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, the big question around the Vatican is who will take his place.

Informed sources say that Pope Francis would be looking at three possible options.

The first would be that Pope Francis would raise Archbishop Arthur Roche, 70, from the congregation's secretary to its prefect.

Archbishop Roche was appointed Secretary of the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments by Benedict XVI in 2012. Before, he was president of the British International Commission on Liturgy from 2002 to 2012. He also served as auxiliary bishop of Westminster from 2001 to 2002, coadjutor Bishop of Leeds from 2002 to 2004, and Bishop of Leeds from 2004 to 2012.

During Pope Francis' pontificate, he has been a go-between Pope Francis and Cardinal Sarah in liturgical issues. He was entrusted with writing a commentary to the motu proprio Magnum Principium, which shifted the responsibility of translating liturgical texts to bishops' regional and national conferences. The comment came out along with the publication of the motu proprio.

In 2019, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Roche as a member of the team to examine the appeals on delicta graviora, the gravest crimes dealt by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which includes the sexual abuse of minors.

The second option is Bishop Claudio Maniago of Castellaneta. Maniago, 62, has been president of the Italian Bishops Conference's Commission on liturgy since 2015. In that position, he oversaw the new translation into Italian of the Roman Missal, which included a new version of the Our Father.

Pope Francis appointed Bishop Maniago as a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and in 2016.

The third option would be Bishop Vittorio Viola of Tortona. A member of the Order of Friars Minor, Viola, 55, has been a bishop since 2014.

Pope Francis picked Viola as bishop, raising him from his position of president of the Assisi Caritas. He had also been the Custodian of the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels in Assisi. He got to know Pope Francis during the pope's visit to Assisi on Oct. 4, 2013, when he sat next to him during a lunch with the poor.

Viola was ordained a priest by Bishop Luca Brandolini, one of Archbishop Annibale Bugnini's closest collaborators.

Viola is also a good friend of Bishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi, who was secretary of the Congregation for the Divine worship from 2003 to 2005.

Pope Francis reportedly appreciated how Bishop Viola handled the parishes' re-organization in Tortona, and he showed strong decision-making skills. Bishop Viola was among the candidates to take over the position of Archbishop of Genoa. Pope Francis opted for a Conventual Franciscan in Genoa, Fr. Marco Tasca. But rumors insist that the pope had already decided to call Viola to the Vatican.

Vatican abuse trial: Witnesses say allegations about youth seminary were ignored

Vatican City, Feb 25, 2021 / 08:00 am (CNA).- Witnesses at the fifth hearing in a trial for alleged abuse and cover-up at a Vatican youth seminary testified on Wednesday to an unhealthy culture of ridicule and abuse of power.

The witnesses also alleged that reports of sexual abuse were ignored or dismissed by authority figures, including the cardinal in charge of St. Peter’s Basilica. 

Three former students at the Pius X pre-seminary testified before the city state’s court on Feb. 24 that the environment was “unhealthy,” indicating that taunts of a sexual nature were common and that they had witnessed one of the accused grope the genitals of other students.

The three witnesses also alleged that reports of abuse were known by Cardinal Angelo Comastri, the archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, who dismissed them as “false and calumny.” It was reported in the course of the hearing that Comastri may have blocked the removal of the pre-seminary’s then rector, one of the defendants.

Located inside Vatican City State, the Pius X pre-seminary is a residence for about a dozen boys aged 12 to 18 who serve at papal Masses and other liturgies in St. Peter’s Basilica and are considering the priesthood.

The pre-seminary is run by a religious group, the Opera Don Folci, which is overseen by the Diocese of Como in northern Italy. 

The defendants in the trial are 28-year-old Fr. Gabriele Martinelli, a former student at the pre-seminary, and 72-year-old Fr. Enrico Radice, the seminary’s former rector.

Martinelli has been charged with using violence and his position of authority to commit sexual abuse against a younger student. Radice has been charged with impeding investigations into the abuse allegations against Martinelli.

Martinelli has defended his innocence of the charges, calling the accusations against him “unfounded” and intended to “strike” at the pre-seminary.

Radice has maintained that he was never told about abuse by Martinelli by anyone, and has accused the alleged victim and another alleged witness of making up the story for “economic interests.”

Martinelli, who was not a cleric at the time of the alleged abuse, was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Como in 2017.

The alleged victim, identified as L.G., was born in 1993 and was 13 at the time the alleged abuse began, turning 18 about a year before it ended.

In testimony on Feb. 24, witnesses said that Martinelli was “protected” by the ex-rector and given roles of responsibility, bypassing even two other seminary faculty who were priests.

“The rector had allowed Martinelli to feel he was already a priest from the beginning,” according to one witness, who left the pre-seminary after a month, due to what he called “an exhausting experience” because of an environment of gossip and taunts about one’s physical appearance or “effeminate behaviors.”

The three witnesses said that they did not have direct knowledge of sexual abuse against L.G. as described in the charges, but testified that they had seen Martinelli engage in inappropriate behaviors such as sexual advances and momentary genital touching of boys other than the alleged victim L.G.

The Pius X pre-seminary was described by the former students as an environment with “psychological pressures,” where it was common to hear “homosexual jokes” and other lewd comments. Martinelli was described as having a “dominant role, very strong,” and a “homosexual demeanor.”

L.G. was described by one witness as “extremely credible,” but a bit delicate because of a difficult family situation.

One witness testified that Martinelli and L.G. seemed to hate each other and never speak, but that Martinelli also gave L.G. and another student special favors, positing that Martinelli was motivated by fear of what they could reveal about him. This other former student was also scheduled to testify on Feb. 24 but did not present himself at the hearing.

One witness recalled having seen Martinelli touch the genitals of another student, “like an implicit request for sexual intercourse.” This student refused the advance and afterward “fell out of favor” with Martinelli. He became “marginalized” and was psychologically pressured to leave the pre-seminary, which he eventually did.

This alleged victim was also scheduled to testify in the Feb. 24 hearing, but had been excused by the court for an unidentified reason.

All three witnesses spoke about knowledge on the part of superiors about inappropriate behaviors. One said that he was “very sure” that the seminary authorities were informed of the abuse accusations, that “Radice knew but did nothing,” and that attempts at making complaints to him fell on deaf ears.

One witness also claimed to have sent an anonymous letter to Pope Francis two years after leaving the pre-seminary about what he had seen there and stated that L.G. had once asked him to deliver a letter to the pope for him, which he did not do because he “didn’t feel like it and there was no opportunity.”

Fr. Pierre Paul, a priest and the director of the Capella Giulia, a choir of St. Peter’s Basilica, testified on Feb. 24, saying that L.G. had confided in him.

“He never explicitly told me what was wrong but it was understood that they were problems of the affective-sexual sphere,” Paul said.

Paul made a report to the Commission for the Protection of Minors, part of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, in 2017. He said Wednesday that he had wanted to make a report earlier but had been stopped by L.G.

Thursday morning, the court of the Vatican City State’s again convened for the questioning of the Bishop Oscar Cantoni of Como, who was installed in the diocese in 2016 and ordained Martinelli a priest in 2017.

Bishop Diego Coletti, the bishop emeritus of Como who led the diocese from 2006 to 2016, presented a medical note to be excused from questioning and was not present.

Cantoni testified on Feb. 25 that before ordaining Martinelli to the priesthood, he had spoken with the rector of the Pius X pre-seminary and the rector of the Pontifical French Seminary in Rome, which Martinelli attended for his priestly studies.

Both, according to Cantoni, had told him that Martinelli “had made a positive path” and was ready for ordination.

“All the people I had asked for an opinion on Martinelli, who had had anything to do with him after the [transitional] diaconate,” said there had been nothing wrong in his behavior, Cantoni said.

Cantoni admitted to there having been, between September 2006 and June 2012, signals from priests speaking about “sexually inappropriate conduct” on Martinelli’s part. But he said these accusations dated back to before Martinelli was a cleric and therefore were outside the existing norms for sexual abuse of a minor by clergy.

“Since he has been in Como, first as a deacon and then as a priest, there has not been a report. It was a transitory homosexual tendency linked to adolescence,” the bishop said.

Bishop Cantoni also added that since becoming a priest, no one has ever issued a complaint to him about Martinelli.

It was revealed in the course of the hearing that there had been some question about whose jurisdiction the Pius X pre-seminary fell under, since it is located on Vatican property, but managed by the Opera Don Folci, which is located in the Diocese of Como.

Cantoni said he asked for clarification on this question from Cardinal Comastri, who said he was not responsible as archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica and vicar general for the Vatican City State.

The bishop said that since “we lived in ambiguity,” he asked Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, who said that “there was no pact between the Vatican and Como.”

“I was able to clarify that the ultimate responsibility lies with the Diocese of Como,” Cantoni said.

The Diocese of Como is currently investigating the Opera Don Folci, focusing primarily on economic and pedagogical matters. The investigation has been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.

L.G., the alleged victim, will take the witness stand at the next hearing, scheduled for March 17. On March 18, the court will inspect the pre-seminary. Another hearing date has been set for April 14.

Pope Francis’ new doctor is a specialist in aging

Vatican City, Feb 24, 2021 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis on Wednesday named a specialist in aging to be his personal doctor, after his previous physician died earlier this year.

Roberto Bernabei, 69, is from Florence, Italy, and is a professor of internal medicine and geriatrics at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome.

He is also director of the School of Specialization in Geriatrics at the same university.

In the past, he was president of the Italian Society of Gerontology and Geriatrics, and also a member of the European Academy for Medicine of Ageing.

Bernabei is one of eight children of the well-known Italian director, producer, and journalist Ettore Bernabei, who died in 2016. He is married and has two daughters.

The personal physician of Pope Francis died in January from health complications related to the coronavirus.

The 78-year-old Fabrizio Soccorsi, who was being treated for cancer, died at Rome’s Gemelli Hospital. Pope Francis attended his funeral at the Vatican on Jan. 26.

The pope had named Soccorsi, an expert in hepatology, the digestive system, and immunology, as his personal doctor in August 2015.

As Francis’ physician, he often traveled with him on his international trips.

Pope Francis, who turned 84 in December, will be traveling to Iraq for four days next month.

Vatican foreign minister: religious freedom ‘being eroded’ by COVID-19 response

Vatican City, Feb 24, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).- A robust understanding of the right to religious freedom is being eroded in the global response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Vatican’s foreign minister said in a video message to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday.

“The Holy See would like to reiterate the urgency of protecting the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. In particular, religious belief, and the expression thereof, lies at the core of the dignity of the human person, in his or her conscience,” Archbishop Paul Gallagher said on Feb. 23.

Gallagher, the Holy See’s secretary for relations with states, said that “the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic reveals that this robust understanding of religious freedom is being eroded.”

“The Holy See would like to stress that, as is recognized in numerous human rights instruments, the freedom of religion also protects its public witness and expression -- both individually and collectively, publicly and privately -- in forms of worship, observance and teaching,” he said.

Speaking at the high-level segment of the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council, the archbishop explained that respecting the “inherent value” of the right to religious freedom requires political authorities to engage with religious leaders, faith-based organizations, and civil society groups committed to promoting freedom of religion.

“Amid the current COVID-19 pandemic, certain measures imposed by authorities to ensure public health also impinge on the free exercise of human rights,” he noted, explaining that many people in vulnerable situations, such as the elderly, migrants, and children, “have been disproportionately affected by the current crisis.”

“Any limitations on the exercise of human rights for the protection of public health must stem from a situation of strict necessity,” he emphasized.

“Such limitations must be proportional to the situation, applied in a non-discriminatory fashion and used only when no other means are available.”

He said that the true promotion of fundamental human rights depended on the underlying values from which those rights are derived.

“Any practice or system that would treat rights in an abstract fashion, separated from preexisting and universal values, risks undermining their raison d’être,” he explained.

“In such a context of ‘rights’ devoid of values, human rights institutions become susceptible to prevailing visions or ideologies,” Gallagher said, “and may impose obligations or penalties that were never envisioned by the States Parties thereto, which may actually, in some cases, contradict the values they were supposed to promote.”

These institutions “may even presume to ‘create’ so-called ‘new rights’ that lack an objective foundation, thus, drifting away from their purpose of serving human dignity,” he added.

The archbishop illustrated this point with the example of the right to life, which he said is “first and foremost a good to be cherished and protected.”

He explained that developments such as enforcing the end of the death penalty or countering acts of torture “are reasonable extensions of the right to life because they maintain their fundamental basis in the inherent good of ‘life.’”

“However, when this right is divorced from its fundamental basis, there is a real risk of undermining the value it is intended to uphold,” he said, pointing to the “unfortunate precedent” of the Human Rights Committee’s General Comments n.36 on the right to life, “which -- far from protecting human life and dignity -- twists its meaning to imply the ‘right’ to assisted suicide and to end the lives of unborn children.”

In his message, Gallagher recalled that the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares that “the recognition of the inherent dignity of all the members of the human family, and of their equal and inalienable rights, constitutes the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace.”

He also noted that the UN Charter asserts its “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.”

“These two documents recognize an objective truth, one that is independent of the need for consensus and is not conditioned by time, place, culture or context, namely, that every human person is innately and universally endowed with equal dignity,” he said.

“We must admit, however, that these objectives are still far from being ‘recognized, respected, protected and promoted in every situation,’” the archbishop stated.

Pope Francis praises ‘exemplary witness’ of Italian ambassador killed in Congo

Vatican City, Feb 24, 2021 / 04:15 am (CNA).- Pope Francis expressed his condolences on Tuesday after three people were killed in an attack on a United Nations convoy traveling in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Luca Attanasio, the Italian ambassador to Congo, died of his wounds from the attack. Vittorio Iacovacci, an Italian Carabinieri officer, and Moustapha Milambo, their Congolese driver, were also killed.

The group had been traveling on Feb. 23 from Goma to visit the site of a humanitarian initiative by the World Food Program at a school in Rutshuru in the east of the country when the U.N. vehicles were ambushed. 

In a Feb. 23 telegram to Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Pope Francis wrote: “With pain, I learned about the tragic attack that occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo … I express heartfelt condolences to their families, the diplomatic corps, and the carabinieri on the death of these servants of peace.”

The pope honored the 43-year-old ambassador for his “exemplary witness” through his work to “establish fraternal and cordial relationships, to establish serene and harmonious relationships in the heart of the African country.”

“While I lift up prayers in suffrage for the eternal repose of these noble sons of the Italian nation, I encourage you to trust in God’s providence. None of the good accomplished is lost in His hands, even more so when it is confirmed through suffering and sacrifice,” Pope Francis wrote.

“To you, Mr. President, to the relatives and colleagues of the victims, and to all those who mourn their loss, I send my blessing from my heart.”

The U.N. announced on Feb. 23 that it would be leading an investigation into the attack, which occurred close to Congo’s Virunga National Park, where many rebel groups are active. No group has yet claimed responsibility. The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, an armed group active in the area, has denied any involvement.

The Associated Press reported that more than 2,000 people were killed last year by armed groups in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where millions of others have been displaced by the violence.

Four World Food Program staff members, who were also part of the humanitarian convoy, are safe and accounted for, according to the U.N.

The new Italian prime minister Mario Draghi was present at Rome’s Ciampino airport late Tuesday night for the arrival of the coffins of Ambassador Attanasio and Officer Iacovacci.

Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, the archbishop of Kinshasa, said in an interview with the Italian Catholic television station TV2000 that the Democratic Republic of Congo has been “devastated for years for economic and geostrategic reasons.”

“The world can no longer be silent in the face of these human tragedies,” he said.

From Pius XI to Pope Francis: A history of Spiritual Exercises at the Vatican

Vatican City, Feb 22, 2021 / 07:00 am (CNA).- For nearly 100 years, popes have set aside time for an annual retreat and meditation on spiritual exercises. 

Pope Francis and the Roman Curia began a weeklong Lenten retreat Sunday, but for the first time since the Second Vatican Council, this retreat is not taking place as a time of communal prayer due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, the pope has asked the members of the Roman Curia to make their own arrangements for a private Lenten retreat this year on Feb. 21-26. All papal events, including the Wednesday general audience, are canceled for this week.

Pope Pius XI began the practice of annual spiritual exercises at the Vatican, inviting Jesuit priests to lead the Ignatian exercises for himself and the Curia in 1925. Pius XI was a great admirer of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, proclaiming him patron of spiritual exercises in 1922.

In his encyclical on promoting the practice of spiritual exercises, “Mens nostra,” Pius XI officially established the Vatican’s spiritual exercises as an annual practice in 1929.

He wrote: “For, long since, this Apostolic See, which had often commended the spiritual exercises by word, taught the faithful by its own example and authority, converting the august Vatican temple into an Upper Room for meditation and prayers; which custom We have willingly received, with no small joy and consolation to Ourselves.”

“And in order that we may secure this joy and consolation, both for ourselves and for others who are near us, We have already had arrangements made for holding the spiritual exercises every year in the Vatican.”

The spiritual exercises at the Vatican originally took place during the first week of Advent. Among the Jesuits who preached the Ignatian exercises at the Vatican was Fr. Paolo Dezza, who led the meditations in 1942 for Pope Pius XII. Dezza would later become St. Paul VI’s confessor. 

While Jesuits typically led the annual papal spiritual exercises for 30 years, Pope John XXIII invited other Italian clerics, including a parish priest and a bishop, to lead the meditations for the curia. He also suspended the exercises completely in 1963 due to the meetings of the Second Vatican Council.

Pope St. Paul VI moved the annual meditations from Advent to Lent and was the first to select non-Italians to preach the spiritual exercises. He notably invited a young cardinal from Poland to lead the Lenten retreat: Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, who preached in 1976 on “Christ, a sign of contradiction” two years before he was elected pope.

Pope St. John Paul II invited Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, to preach the spiritual exercises in 1983 and in 2000 Msgr. François-Xavier van Thuân preached the year before he was made a cardinal.

Benedict XVI invited cardinals from Africa to preach the spiritual exercises, among them Cardinal Francis Arinze and Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya.

Pope Francis was the first to move the spiritual exercises from the Vatican to a retreat house outside of Rome. For the past seven years, the retreat has taken place in a retreat house in the town of Ariccia in the Alban Hills southeast of Rome, although the pope was unable to participate in 2020 due to a cold.

Last year, Pope Francis took part in the Lenten retreat “from home,” following along with the spiritual exercises and reflections from his Vatican residence, the Casa Santa Marta.

According to the Pauline priest who runs the Casa Divin Maestro retreat center, where the papal retreat has taken place since 2014, a typical day during the retreat begins with Mass. After breakfast, the bishops and cardinals listen to the first meditation in the chapel. 

The second meditation is heard after lunch, Fr. Olinto Crespi told CNA in 2017. Other time is devoted to prayer. The retreat house also offers internet access, so dicastery heads who need to answer emails or do some work during the week may do so.

As there is no preacher for the curia’s private Lenten spiritual retreats this year, Pope Francis gave each member of the Roman Curia a book to include in their spiritual reading.

The book was written by an unnamed Cistercian monk in the 17th century and is entitled “Abbi a cuore il Signore,” which means “Keep the Lord in your Heart.” It was originally written to aid monks in the Italian monastery of San Bartolo to grow in their spiritual lives.

In the text, the “Master of San Bartolo” wrote: “God will meet you where your humanity has descended all the steps of weakness and you will have reached the awareness of your limitation. If you yourself do not choose the path of abasement, life will take you where you would not want because, as the Lord teaches, only those who live their weakness with humility will be exalted.”

Vatican cardinal reflects on the value of penance in a time of pandemic

Vatican City, Feb 22, 2021 / 05:30 am (CNA).- The penance called for in the Christian life, and accentuated during Lent, can help us make sense of the sacrifices we have been called on to make during the coronavirus pandemic, a Vatican cardinal has said.

In a letter for Lent 2021, published in L’Osservatore Romano on Feb. 18, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza reflected on “penance in the time of emergency.”

Piacenza is major penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary, a tribunal of the Apostolic See which has jurisdiction over indulgences and the absolution of the gravest sins.

He wrote that the 40 days of Lent and Christ’s victory over evil have “an incomparable importance for the life of man, because they concern not only the temporal good of bodily health, but the much more radical one of eternal salvation.”

He said that, unlike what has been emphasized during the COVID-19 pandemic, Lent is about “not only healing or immunity from contagion, but the victory over sin, which makes man a slave, and over death, which puts an end to any aspiration that is only human.”

With Lent, we can see beyond the periods of lockdown and pandemic to “time as a whole,” with a perspective “illuminated by the light of the resurrection,” the cardinal said.

He noted that the health emergency appeared “just when renunciation, sacrifice, and penance seemed banned from the lexicon of a West that has become deaf to all forms of mortification.”

Now, he explained, people around the world have been asked “to renounce, at least in part, the exercise of personal freedoms” to follow health safety protocols and obey the indications of established authorities.

According to the cardinal, during the pandemic, the mass media have been sending a threefold message: denouncing an imminent danger and emphasizing one’s responsibility for oneself and others; indicating a future point at which everything will be resolved for the best; and setting a deadline for the required waiting and sacrifice.  

“In part, these have also always been the coordinates of Christian penance…” Piacenza said, “which, in holy Lent, is proposed and offered to all.” 

He added that in the world, there is always “an imminent danger,” the spirit of evil, in front of which Christians are called to “arm” themselves with penance.

The positive horizon is “the victory won by the Cross of Christ and shared by those who welcome him into their own existence,” he explained. And there is an end to the battle, “represented by the ‘sacred number’ of the 40 days, a time of true conversion and salvation.”

The major penitentiary emphasized that Christian penance is not a “tiring and uncertain attempt to obtain, with one’s own strength, some divine favor.”

“On the contrary,” he said, “it consists in the irrepressible need, which arises in every authentically Christian heart, to respond with all of oneself to that Love, all divine and all human, which in Christ took on the evil of the world and, with his own cross and resurrection, renewed the universe shaken by sin.”

The Church has always considered penance to be a “true and proper virtue, given and animated by the Holy Spirit,” and through which “man opens himself to the great victory of Christ,” Piacenza wrote.

Through penance, the human person learns to abandon his whole life to Christ and accepts to suffer with him, assuming the consequences of his own sin, and “offering just reparation.”

“But above all,” the cardinal said, with penance, the Christian learns “to know the mysteries of the Heart of Christ and to have part, now and ever more, in the new life of the One who, ‘in exchange for the joy that was placed before him, submitted to the cross, despising ignominy, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God’ (Hebrews 12:2).”

Piacenza closed his letter by imploring the Virgin Mary to help Catholics to develop “true Christian penance, which alone is capable of embracing and seeing transfigured on the occasion of salvation the current pandemic emergency, making grow in the heart of man the joy and freedom of those who know they belong to no power in this world, but only to Christ and His saving power.”

Pope Francis honors sacrifice of medical workers who died in coronavirus pandemic

Rome Newsroom, Feb 21, 2021 / 07:03 am (CNA).- Pope Francis on Saturday expressed his gratitude for the sacrifice of medical workers, especially those who have died in the coronavirus pandemic.

“The example of so many of our brothers and sisters, who have risked their lives to the point of losing them, inspires deep gratitude in all of us, and is a cause for reflection,” the pope said in a letter Feb. 20.

“In the presence of such self-giving, the whole of society is challenged to bear ever greater witness to love of neighbor and care for others, especially the weakest,” he added.

Pope Francis’ letter was addressed to Archbishop Vincent Paglia, who read it at a memorial service for health care workers who have died due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The online event, organized by the Pontifical Academy for Life, was held on the first anniversary of the discovery of a coronavirus case in Italy, in the town of Codogno.

Last November, the Italian government established Feb. 20 as the national day dedicated to health personnel.

The pope said the service and dedication shown by medical workers today and throughout the pandemic is like a “vaccine” against “individualism and self-centredness, and demonstrates the most authentic desire that dwells in the human heart: to be close to those who are most in need and to spend oneself for them.”

He also praised “the generous, at times heroic, development of the profession experienced as a mission,” and assured those participating in the event of his spiritual closeness.

“I greet you with my blessing,” he said.

In the past year, Italy has recorded almost 3 million cases of COVID-19 and over 95,000 deaths.

As of Feb. 18, an estimated 324 doctors and surgeons have died in Italy due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the National Federation of the Orders of Surgeons and Dentists.


Pope Francis: Christian life 'is a battle against the spirit of evil'

Vatican City, Feb 21, 2021 / 05:35 am (CNA).- Like Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert, Christians must be prepared to battle evil, knowing that “with faith, prayer, and penance,” the victory is assured, Pope Francis said Sunday.

In his weekly Angelus address, the pope reflected on the day’s Gospel reading from St. Mark, which says “the Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.”

During these 40 days, which take place immediately after Christ’s baptism, “the ‘duel’ between Jesus and the devil begins, which will end with the Passion and the Cross,” Francis said Feb. 21. “Christ’s entire ministry is a struggle against the Evil One in its many manifestations: healing from illnesses, exorcising the possessed, forgiving sins. A fight.”

“Every year, at the beginning of Lent, this Gospel of the temptations of Jesus in the desert reminds us that the life of the Christian, in the footsteps of the Lord, is a battle against the spirit of evil,” he underlined.

“It shows us that Jesus willingly faced the Tempter, and defeated him; and at the same time it reminds us that the devil is granted the possibility of acting on us too, with his temptations,” he added.

According to Pope Francis, “we must be aware of the presence of this astute enemy, who seeks our eternal condemnation, our failure, and prepare to defend ourselves against him and to combat him. The grace of God assures us, with faith, prayer and penance, of our victory over the enemy.”

In his message, the pope also reflected on the desert, “this natural and symbolic environment, so important in the Bible.”

“The desert is the place where God speaks to the heart of the human person, and where the answer to prayer flows,” he explained. “That is, the desert of solitude, the heart detached from other things and alone, in that solitude, opens itself to the Word of God.”

“Do not be afraid of the desert, look for more moments of prayer, of silence, to enter into ourselves. Do not be afraid.”

Satan may try to take advantage of our weaknesses and our needs with his lying voice, Francis said, but “we are called to walk in God’s footsteps, renewing our Baptismal promises: renouncing Satan, and all his works and all his empty promises.”

After the Angelus, the pope greeted Polish Catholics, saying “today my thoughts go to the Shrine of Płock, in Poland, where 90 years ago the Lord Jesus appeared to St. Faustina Kowalska, entrusting her with a special message of Divine Mercy.”

“Through St. John Paul II, that message reached the whole world,” he said, “and it is none other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who died and rose, who gives us the mercy of the Father. Let us open our hearts to him, saying with faith: ‘Jesus, I trust in You.’”