Papal message for World Peace Day to focus on overcoming indifference
VATICAN CITY — Selfishness and fear keep too many people ignorant of the suffering of others and prevent them from finding creative ways to express solidarity and to promote peace, said a statement from the Vatican's justice and peace office.
To promote a reflection on the need for a "conversion of mind and heart" open to the needs of others, Pope Francis has chosen "Overcome indifference and win peace" as the theme for the church's celebration of the World Day of Peace 2016.
Announcing the theme for the Jan. 1 celebration, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace said that peace is difficult to achieve when people are indifferent "to the scourges of our time."
The problems everyone must be aware of, the council said in an Aug. 11 statement, include "fundamentalism, intolerance and massacres, persecutions on account of faith and ethnicity," disregard for human rights, human trafficking and forced labor, corruption, organized crime and forced migration.
Pictured: Afghan children are seen in late May at a temporary shelter in an internally displaced persons camp on the outskirts of Balkh province, Afghanistan. To promote a reflection on the need for a "conversion of mind and heart" open to the needs of others, Pope Francis has chosen "Overcome indifference and win peace" as the theme for the church's celebration of the World Day of Peace 2016. (CNS photo/Sayed Mustafa, EPA)
Simply increasing the amount of information about the problems is not enough, the council said: People must open their hearts and minds to the suffering of others.
"Today, indifference is often linked to various forms of individualism which cause isolation, ignorance, selfishness and, therefore, lack of interest and commitment," the statement said.
World Peace Day 2016 will be celebrated within the Year of Mercy, which Pope Francis will open formally Dec. 8.
The peace day theme and a papal message about it -- expected to be released in mid-December -- aim to help people reflect on how they can "build together a more conscious and merciful and, therefore, more free and fair world," the council said.
"The creation of a culture of law, education in dialogue and cooperation are, in this context, the fundamental forms of a constructive response," the statement said.
— Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
Pope: Celebrations, including Mass, are essential for family life
VATICAN CITY — Families need moments of rest and celebration, time for standing back and recognizing the gifts of God and how well they have developed, Pope Francis said.
Celebrations are times "to enjoy that which cannot be produced or consumed, that cannot be bought or sold," the pope said Aug. 12 at his weekly general audience.
Continuing his series of talks about the family in anticipation of the September celebration of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and the world Synod of Bishops on the family in October, Pope Francis said he would be looking at "the rhythm of family life," focusing first on celebrations, then on work and on prayer.
Pictured: Nuns attend Pope Francis' weekly audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Aug. 12. (CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters)
"Celebrations are God's invention," he said, pointing to the description in the Book of Genesis of how, after creating the world, God took a day of rest and contemplated all he had created.
Life becomes truly human when people take the time to do the same, the pope said. "A celebration is above all a loving and grateful gaze at work done well," whether it's a wedding celebration of a relationship that has matured or birthdays and graduations when people "look at their children or grandchildren who are growing and think, 'How beautiful.'"
The best parties are always those that gather families together, Pope Francis said. "Family life, seen with the eyes of faith, shows itself to be worth more than the effort it requires. It is a masterpiece of simplicity and is beautiful precisely because it is not artificial, not fake."
While not ignoring one's obligations at work, he said, it also is important to allow celebrations of birthdays, marriages, new births, welcomes or farewells "to infiltrate" the workplace. "They are moments of familiarity that throw a cog in the production line. It does us good."
Days of rest, especially Sunday celebrations of Mass and time with the family, are important reminders that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God and is not a "slave to work."
Unfortunately, he said, even in the modern world there are women and children who have been reduced to slave-like conditions. "This is against God and against the dignity of the human person!"
In other cases, the pope said, people have made themselves slaves to work, thinking the point of life is to earn a lot of money. Even when they celebrate, he said, they allow consumerism "to swallow" the party by thinking the more money they spend, the better the celebration will be.
"But is that why we work?" he asked. "Greed for consuming, which leads to waste, is a horrible virus that, among other things, leaves us more tired than we were before. It poisons real work and consumes our lives."
"Celebrations are a precious gift God has given the human family. Let's not ruin them," he said.
The most important celebration for a family, the pope said, is Sunday Mass, which brings people "the grace of Jesus Christ, his presence, his love, his sacrifice, his making us a community, his being with us."
When people bring their lives to Jesus in the Eucharist, the real meaning of life is revealed, Pope Francis said. "Work, family, our daily joys and efforts, even suffering and death -- all are transfigured by the grace of Christ."
— Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
Vatican U.N. representative reports high interest in papal visit
VATICAN CITY — Requests for copies of Pope Francis' environmental encyclical and the demand for tickets to see him at the United Nations indicate enthusiasm and expectations for Pope Francis' visit are running high, said the Vatican representative.
Archbishop Bernardito Auza, head of the Holy See's permanent observer mission at the United Nations, told Vatican Radio: "There is so much interest. Everybody wants to see the pope, even from a distance. The dream of so many is to have a selfie with the pope."
Pope Francis is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly Sept. 25.
Pictured: Pope Francis poses for a selfie with faithful at the Vatican Jan. 21. The Vatican's U.N. representative said everyone wants a selfie with the pope. (CNS photo/Maurizio Brambatti, EPA)
Archbishop Auza told the radio Aug. 13 that the release in June of Pope Francis' encyclical, "Laudato Si'," increased interest in the pope's visit and increased the number of requests he has received for tickets to see the pope. His office has distributed hundreds, if not thousands, of copies of the document, he said.
The U.N. delegations of developing countries in particular, he said, "see the pope as a kind of flag bearer, somebody who expresses their aspirations and positions."
The encyclical and its plea for strong international action to slow climate change have been a constant topic of discussion at U.N. gatherings, and not just in private conversations, the archbishop said.
In public and in private, he said, people "cite passages from the encyclical, which is an indication not only that they have talked about it, but that many have read it and have enjoyed reading it."
The pope's call in the encyclical and in his speeches for an economic model that does not think only of "immediate profit without thinking what it does to the environment or what it does to the poor," he said, "really strikes a chord among most of the delegations."
Archbishop Auza is hopeful that the encyclical and the inspiration it is providing will help national delegations rally the political will to reach an agreement for strong measures to counter climate change when they meet in Paris in November and December for the U.N. Climate Change Conference.
"The encyclical has been used at every turn in order to argue for a significant accord during the Paris conference," he told Vatican Radio.
The encyclical has given delegates "inspiration, philosophy, theology -- we might say moral arguments -- on why we should do this," he said. "I'm sure that the encyclical has already influenced a lot the minds and dispositions of many delegations, many countries.
"Of course, I have talked to some delegations who say, 'Yes, we really love this line of thinking of the pope, of listening to the pope, but we also have our technical problems," he said. But he is still hopeful that the pope will be persuasive.
— Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
Pope's visit tests security forces charged with guarding his every move
WASHINGTON, D.C. — It comes as no surprise that security promises to be extremely tight everywhere Pope Francis goes during his U.S. trip in September -- so tight that no one is saying much about it.
The Secret Service, the lead agency developing the security plan, and local law enforcement authorities have declined or not responded to requests by Catholic News Service to discuss any aspect -- no matter how general -- of security preparations for the pope's busy Sept. 22-27 visit.
The trip has been designated as a "National Security Special Event" by the Secret Service. Surely the trip is giving law enforcement and homeland security agencies a stringent test as they have worked for nearly year to shore up any potential weaknesses in the multimillion-dollar plan that might be exploited.
By law, the "national security" designation for the event automatically puts the Secret Service in charge of security protocols, leaving everyone else to follow along.
That's not all bad, said Manny Gomez, president of MG Security Service in New York.
"This event is going to get more security than a presidential visit because of the 'X factor' and he is an international person," the former FBI special agent said. "It's going to be a huge production because it has to be. We're not going to be the city that loses the pope."
However, no matter how thorough the plan, it's never 100 percent foolproof and if someone is determined enough to get through the protective bubble around Pope Francis, they will find a way, he cautioned.
The key for the Secret Service and its allies at the FBI is making sure any people who are a threat to the pope's safety are under watch.
"When it comes to these events, the intelligence factor is huge," Gomez told Catholic News Service. "We always try to find out if there are any threats, any actionable information we need to act on. For example if there is somebody actually out there threatening the pope, they will be visited by agents to see if that person is a viable threat and that person will be dealt with accordingly."
Beyond such threats, the pope himself poses difficult challenges, especially because he is not averse to deviating from established protocols. Driven by a desire to be in touch with the faithful, Pope Francis has been known to make an impromptu stop every now and then to greet and bless the people of whom he is most fond.
"The pope is truly a man of the people and he loves to go out and press the flesh. He doesn't provide much lead time when he gets off the popemobile, which itself is not very secure," Gomez said.
"That's the most critical time that agents, etc., will have to contend with because that is something that is not planned."
The most detailed plan announced thus far has come from Philadelphia, where Pope Francis will attend the World Meeting of Families. Authorities have announced that an area described as a "traffic box" will be designated in the center city starting 6 p.m. (Eastern time) Sept. 25. How long it will be in effect after the end of the papal Mass Sept. 27 near the Philadelphia Museum of Art has not been determined. Expecting a throng of 1.5 million people, city officials are prepared to continue street closures into Sept. 28 in the area of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
All weekend cars will be allowed to travel within the traffic box and leave it but will not be allowed back into the perimeter. The restrictions include personal vehicles and any sort of bus -- including motor coaches, school buses, minibuses, RVs and passenger vans with a capacity of eight to 14 people.
Pedestrians and cyclists, however, will face no restrictions leaving and re-entering the traffic box.
In New York, officials are trying to determine if Penn Station, which 600,000 commuters use each weekday, will be closed when Pope Francis celebrates Mass during rush hour Sept. 25 at nearby Madison Square Garden.
Other street closures are a matter of routine to New Yorkers as world dignitaries regularly visit the United Nations.
Information related to Washington's security plans was pending Aug. 14. The pope will be moving around the nation's capital as he meets President Barack Obama at the White House, celebrates the canonization Mass for Blessed Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, addresses Congress on Capitol Hill and meets homeless people at lunch at a downtown parish.
Eloy Nunez, associate professor of public safety administration at St. Leo University in Florida, said authorities are expected to conduct various sweeps at each venue and along the routes the pope will travel.
Canine units checking for explosives, guards being posted at entry points, helicopters roaming the skies and eagle-eye snipers keeping watch from rooftops are just some of the measures undertaken for visits by dignitaries in cities around the country, said Nunez, a retired Miami-Dade police officer who helped plan the security detail at the 2007 Super Bowl.
Police in each city will play a major role in the Secret Service's plans because the agency has neither the staffing and resources nor the expertise needed for such undertakings.
"The Secret Service is very professional," he said. "They send advance teams. They're there to coordinate and discuss, but the meat and potatoes that do the security for the dignitaries are the local police departments."
In addition to security concerns, authorities must have a mass casualty plan in place, under which evacuation routes are in place and hospitals are on alert should a disaster occur.
"You have to have decontamination plans. You're involving hazmat, fire and rescue (units) and all the hospitals in the area," Nunez said. "And there's the power company on hand."
Both Nunez and Gomez have no doubt that the best plan possible will be in place in each city and that local police will take pride in the effort to keep the pope safe.
Only when the pope enters his jet for the return trip to Rome can the security effort be considered a success.
— Dennis Sadowski, Catholic News Service