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Pontifical University in Peru rejects Vatican deadline

Lima, Peru, Apr 10, 2012 / 04:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Pontifical Catholic University of Peru says it refuses to comply with a Vatican deadline to reform its statutes until an unrelated legal dispute with the Archdiocese of Lima has been resolved.

As “of today there is no agreement on a comprehensive solution to the problems that exist,” the university announced on its website April 9.

The university rector notified the Apostolic Nunciature in Peru on Monday that it would not convene an assembly to approve the reforms which were demanded by the Vatican as a condition for maintaining its status as a Catholic and Pontifical institution.

The Vatican had given the school until April 8 – later extending the deadline to April 13 upon the university's request – to comply, which marked the first time the Holy See has set such a deadline for a school to reform.

University officials have been refusing to accept the Church’s guidelines for Catholic universities, which were laid out the papal document “Ex Corde Ecclesiae.” The apostolic constitution was promulgated in 1990 by Pope John Paul II to clarify what is expected of an authentically Catholic university.

An investigation of the university was carried out Dec. 5 -11, 2011 by Cardinal Peter Erdo of Budapest, who found the Lima-based institution to be at odds with the Catholic Church in several significant areas of policy.

In an unrelated dispute, the school has pitted itself against the Archdiocese of Lima involving the wishes of Jose de la Riva-Aguero, a Catholic patron who donated the land where the university was built.

Riva-Aguero had stipulated in his will that the land would belong to the university as long as a representative of the Church was allowed a seat on its board of directors. The  university had defied a ruling by the Peruvian civil courts to give the Archdiocese of Lima a seat on its board of directors.

In their April 9 statement, officials blamed the Archbishop of Lima, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, for the failure to reach an agreement before the deadline. Officials said a “comprehensive solution” involving the administration of the university’s assets could not be reached, despite the issue having no relation to the Vatican reforms.

On April 4, the university suspended the meeting of the assembly scheduled for April 13, alleging that an “impasse” had surfaced regarding the administration of the inheritance left by Riva-Aguero. The assembly would be convened, they noted, “when there is a corresponding agreement” with the Church.

Peruvian newspaper El Comercio recently published an interview with Cardinal Cipriani which took place during Holy Week, where he lamented that the “rector wanted to link the issue of the Riva-Aguero estate with the situation of the university’s Catholic identity and statutes.” 

“This was not requested by Rome, those are not the statutes,” he emphasized. “That is a negotiation.”

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Eduardo Verastegui plays Jesus in Peru's Way of the Cross

Piura, Peru, Apr 10, 2012 / 12:05 pm (CNA).- Mexican actor and pro-life advocate Eduardo Verastegui played the role of Jesus in a Good Friday Way of the Cross in the northern Peruvian province of Piura.

Prodded by residents of the town of San Jacinto to take part in the depiction of the Passion, Verastegui accepted to play the role of Jesus. He was in the region with 40 volunteer missionaries from the United States.

The Mexican actor persuaded a few of his companions to join in the presentation, including Mexican singer Alexander Acha, the son of famous singer Emmanuel. Acha played a Roman soldier.

On Holy Thursday a day prior, Verastegui gave a talk addressing life issues at the Church of the Most Blessed Sacrament in the city of Piura.

During his visit to Peru he was also accompanied by Disney actors David Henrie and Gregg Sulkin of the series, “The Wizards of Waverly Place.”

The trip was sponsored by the Catholic mission organization “Manto de Guadalupe,” which Verastegui founded for charitable purposes and to promote pro-life advocacy.

Manto de Guadalupe is also collaborating in the construction of 18 homes for the poor in the region of Piura, and it is producing a documentary to promote missionary work among young people.

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Thousands join Catholic Church on Easter

Denver, Colo., Apr 10, 2012 / 09:27 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Thousands of new Catholics were baptized and thousands more Christians were received into full communion with the Catholic Church at the Easter vigil last weekend.

Jeanette DeMelo, communications director for the Archdiocese of Denver, reflected on the vigil Mass’ beginnings in darkness and the symbolism of its transformation into full light.

“Christ our light comes and breaks through the darkness that we experience in suffering and in death and in sin,” she told CNA April 9. “I think that also happens for each of those people who are coming into full communion with the Church. There is that experience of the light of Christ.”

Young and old, single and married, immigrants and native-born Americans, all came together as the newest members of the Church for the feast of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

One of those received into the Church is Houston resident Randall Wilson, a meteorologist who was born and raised a Baptist. He first experienced the Catholic Mass while on a date and felt drawn back for more, according to the U.S. bishops’ conference.

“The richness and fullness of the Catholic Church isn't found anywhere else. Looking back, I see how much was missing,” he said ahead of Easter. “I’m not even 100 percent Catholic yet, but I can't imagine my life without the holy sacraments, without praying the holy rosary, without confessions and without the holy Eucharist.”

Those who were not already Christian received the sacrament of Baptism, while those converting from other Christian traditions made a profession of faith with the newly baptized. They all participated in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, which is a process for conversion and study of the Catholic faith.

About 22 people from a variety of backgrounds, mostly unbaptized catechumens, entered the Catholic Church at downtown Denver’s Holy Ghost Church.

“Our sanctuary was completely filled. It was great also for our pastor, with his first time celebrating the Easter Vigil,” parochial vicar Fr. Michael Warren, OMV, told CNA April 9.

One man had come from a “very difficult family background” and underwent many “spiritual struggles,” the priest reported.

He had doubts about his ability to finish the RCIA program and doubts about his ability to be loved by God.

“There were lots of times he was tempted to drop out of the program, but he persevered,” Fr. Warren said. “He was probably the happiest of the whole lot, because he had known such a great trial. He was so happy when the moment finally came to be able to enter the Church.”

At St. Agnes Parish in St. Paul Minnesota, a family of nine Hmong children were baptized on Saturday.

After their mother died, they went to live with their uncle. He enrolled them in the parish school, where they had powerful experiences at Mass and took religious classes that encouraged them to ask their school’s pastor for baptism.

Felichia Laws, a 30-year-old Texas resident, told the bishops’ conference that her new daughter’s baptism helped encourage her to join the Catholic Church.

“During my daughter’s baptism, my body was overcome by so much joy and fulfillment that it is very hard to put into words,” said Laws, who began the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults just before her daughter received baptism.

“I realized then that though I had started the process for her, I also wanted the same baptism for me.”

Teenaged brothers Alex and Chris Barbosa were baptized at St. John Catholic Church in Monroe County, Michigan.

Chris, 13, told the Monroe News his reason for baptism was “hope.”

Sixteen-year-old Alex said he wanted “to form a better relationship with God.”

“It was destined to be,” he said.

The numbers of new Catholics run into the tens of thousands.

In the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, nearly 2,400 joined the Catholic Church. Groups of over 1,000 people joined the Church in the Archdioceses of Denver, New York, San Francisco, San Antonio, and Washington.

The Diocese of Orange set a record number for new Catholics, with 921 newly baptized and 668 already baptized Christians entering the Church.

Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of Washington have welcomed over 1,000 people into the Church at Easter for each of the past nine years.

According to the 2011 Official Catholic Directory, over 43,300 adults were baptized as Catholics last year, while 72,800 people were received into full communion with the Church.

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Contrasting reasons given for canceling Vatican stem cell congress

Vatican City, Apr 10, 2012 / 06:01 am (CNA).- Officials at the Pontifical Academy for Life are offering two different and contrasting explanations for canceling a controversial summit that would have included embryonic stem cell researchers.

In one letter, which was sent to a scheduled speaker, the academy's chancellor and officer for studies state that the conference was canceled for economic reasons – and not because of the “lobbying activity” of  “some pro-life activists” who “do not enjoy any credit” from the pontifical academy.

But in a separate letter to some academy members, Chancellor Father Renzo Pegoraro said the meeting's indefinite postponement was due in part to the “threats coming from some persons” using “false and tendentious information” to raise “doubts or even fears” about the conference.

One member of the academy, who has seen both letters and because of the sensitivity of the situation requested anonymity, stated that the “attempt to explain the cancellation of the Congress as required for purely economic reasons is an obvious lie.”

The Third Conference on Responsible Stem Cell Research was due to take place at the Vatican from April 25-28. It was to feature contributions from several researchers whose work with embryonic stem cells involves techniques condemned by the Church.

Organizers at the pontifical academy said these researchers would be sharing their expertise in non-embryonic areas of research – such as adult stem cells – and would not promote views contrary to Catholic teaching. In late March, however, the conference was canceled without a public explanation.

In two subsequent letters, both dated April 4, the academy's chancellor appeared to offer conflicting accounts of the cancellation.

“Unfortunately we were obliged to take the grave and painful decision to call it off because we have not been able to get a sufficient number of sponsors,” chancellor Fr. Pegoraro and Officer for Studies Monsignor Jacques Suaudeau wrote in a letter to speakers for the conference.

“The still limited number of registrations to the congress, at one month from it, kept the returns well below what was expected, which did not guarantee that we could reach the necessary balance in the congress budget,” the chancellor and officer wrote.

“Most probably you heard about the growing opposition from the congress that came from some pro-life activists,” they noted in their letter. “These persons do not enjoy any credit from the Pontifical Academy for Life, as well as from the other organisms of the Holy See.”

“There has been therefore no decisive link between their lobbying activity against the Stem Cell Rome 2012 Congress and the decision to call it off.”

But a letter sent to some members of the academy, signed only by the chancellor and not by Msgr. Suaudeau, explained the decision differently.

“One of the reasons – but not the decisive one – of the postponing of the meeting to a date that remains to be chosen, were the threats coming from some persons who, with false and tendentious information, were able to rise (sic) interrogatives, doubts or even fears in influential persons worthy of respect.”

“As in the two previous occasions, the theme of this third congress was the clinical application of the research of somatic adult and umbilical stem cells,” Fr. Pegoraro explained in the letter to academy members.

The meeting, he said, aimed to “give support to the scientific progress in that field” – putting aside what he called “useless controversies about human embryonic stem cells,” a topic the conference would not have dealt with directly.

Fr. Pegoraro followed up this explanation to academy members by noting that the indefinite postponement of the meeting “became also necessary because of the lack of funding.”

Meanwhile, at least three members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who had declared their opposition to the embryonic researchers' participation in the congress, told CNA they have not received either of the April 4 letters explaining its cancellation.

The Pontifical Academy for Life's own statutes permit collaboration with “non-Catholic and non-Christian medical experts, so long as they recognize the essential moral foundation of science and medicine in the dignity of man and the inviolability of human life from conception to natural death.”

In comments provided to CNA, one member of the academy noted that the choice of speakers for the canceled conference was “obviously contrary to the statutes,” and “attracted opposition not merely from pro-life leaders who are not members,” but also “from a significant number of members of the Pontifical Academy for Life including some on the governing council.”

According to this source, some academy members' “objections to unsuitable speakers were simply rejected by the president,” Bishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula.

The member, who asked not to be identified, criticized certain officers of the academy for “seeking to deceive the public about the reasons for the cancellation of the stem cell congress, when evidence for the real reasons can be so readily provided to the public.”

According to this source, an earlier e-mail from one of the organizing officials gives “the real reasons for cancellation” – namely, that the academy was “ordered by a higher authority to replace the unsuitable speakers,” but decided the order was “not feasible” and instead chose to cancel the event.

The source within the academy also took issue with the perceived criticism of pro-life activists in the letter sent to the conference’s speakers, in which it was said that activists opposing the congress “do not enjoy any credit from the Pontifical Academy for Life, as well as from the other organisms of the Holy See.”

“Apart from any other considerations that observation seems to me disgraceful,” the academy source remarked. “What does the Pontifical Academy of Life stand for if has no respect for pro-life activists?”

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Catholic University students help design hermitage in busy DC

Washington D.C., Apr 10, 2012 / 03:36 am (CNA).- Architecture students at The Catholic University of America are seeing their design efforts come to life through a project to build a modern-day hermitage in the middle of Washington, D.C.

William Jelen, director of the collaborative project, called the experience “one of the best teaching tools there is,” explaining that he had no idea what a modern-day hermitage would be like.

He said that the design emphasized “the relationship of the sacred with the profane” and was intended to show that “each moment in our lives can be an opportunity for sacred appreciation and meditation.”

Current and former students at the School of Architecture and Planning gathered March 29 at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America to watch their design take on physical form.

Amid the busy backdrop of northeast D.C., the students witnessed the construction of a building that will one day allow for quiet prayer and contemplation.

When it is completed, the 350-square-foot structure will provide a silent and solitary space where a single person can reside for either long or short periods of time.

The hermitage will contain a sleeping area and restroom, as well as a kitchenette, deck and garden.

The design, which won the 2010 Unbuilt Award from the American Institute of Architects in D.C., will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It will also be environmentally sustainable, making use of a ground source heat pump, natural ventilation and floorboards of recycled lumber.

The hermitage is scheduled to be finished in July, and three more will be built at a later date.

Alec Higinbotham, who graduated from The Catholic University of America’s architecture and planning school in 2010, returned to see the construction of the building that he helped design.

He explained that while it was one thing to see the digital model of the hermitage, “it’s another thing to see it brought to life.”

Fourteen students were involved in designing the structure. Fifteen more have worked to design furniture and help facilitate the construction of the building.

The project was initially planned after the Franciscan Friars requested the help of the architecture students to design the hermitage in 2009.

Students from The Catholic University of America also helped the friars last year with installing solar panels in the monastery’s gardens in order to power its greenhouse.

Randall Ott, dean of the Architecture and Planning School, expressed gratitude to the monastery “for giving our students the chance for this experience.”

He said that while the students know “how to draw and design,” the hermitage project gives them a greater depth of experience by allowing them to watch the building come into being.

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Cardinal, former Syrian Patriarch, dies in Rome

Rome, Italy, Apr 9, 2012 / 05:12 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Ignace Moussa Daoud, the former patriarch of the Syrian Catholic Church, died in Rome on April 7, the morning of Holy Saturday.

Pope Benedict XVI remembered the 81-year-old cardinal in prayer and praised him in a telegram to the current Syrian patriarch, Ignace Youssif II Younan.

“I wish to express to you my union in prayer with your Patriarchal Church, with the family of the deceased cardinal and with all those who are affected by this bereavement,” the Pope said.

The Pope prayed that God will welcome “this faithful pastor” into his joy and peace. He said the cardinal “dedicated himself with faith and generosity to the service of the People of God.”

In 2007, Cardinal Daoud retired as prefect emeritus of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Eastern Churches.

There are about 132,000 faithful in the Syrian Catholic Church, according to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. The largest populations of Syrian Catholics are in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq.

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Catholics urged to imitate St. Thomas More in contraception battle

Arlington, Va., Apr 9, 2012 / 04:15 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholics should follow the example of St. Thomas More in their current conflict with the Obama administration, said Fr. Paul D. Scalia, son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

More's faithful witness and willingness to sacrifice his life rather than violate his conscience “are instructive for us in this present crisis,” said Fr. Scalia, who serves as pastor of St. John the Beloved Parish in McLean, Va.

In an April 4 article for the Catholic Herald, the diocesan newspaper of Arlington, Fr. Scalia reflected on the life of St. Thomas More, the well-known 16th-century lawyer, author and martyr who served as the chancellor of England under King Henry VIII.

He observed that More was faced with a moral dilemma when the Catholic Church would not allow King Henry to divorce his wife, and the king responded by simply redefining the Church.

More could not support the king’s decision in good conscience and therefore resigned from public life. He did not voice his opposition to the king, but merely attempted to live as a private citizen in silence.
 
“But King Henry’s rebellion against the Church inevitably trampled on the conscience of individuals as well,” said Fr. Scalia, explaining that even though he had resigned from his position, More was commanded to take an oath affirming the king’s divorce.

When he refused to violate his conscience by taking the oath, he was imprisoned and then beheaded.
 
The years that followed were filled with persecution of Catholics, who were fined and imprisoned for their religious beliefs.

Fr. Scalia compared More’s struggle with the king to that of Catholics against a new U.S. mandate that will require private health insurance plans to cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, regardless of whether those providing the plans object to such coverage.

He said that the similarities between King Henry’s decree and the contraception mandate issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services “are striking and instructive.”
 
Just as King Henry redefined the Church in England, the Obama administration “seeks to do likewise in the United States” with its recent mandate, he said.

The administration and some Congressmen have even “lectured the bishops about what the Church should do or think.” In doing so, he explained, they have violated the Church’s right to self-governance of internal affairs.
 
Fr. Scalia also noted that just as King Henry’s actions affected both the Church as an institution and private individuals such as More, the contraception mandate threatens not only the rights of Church organizations but those of individual Catholic citizens, who will also be penalized if they do not obey the mandate.

Fr. Scalia advised that if history is repeating itself in the current persecution of the Church, the faithful must “deliberately choose to imitate” St. Thomas More’s witness. 

Catholic should reflect More’s “integrity and holiness of life,” he said, observing that the saint’s silence on the issue of the king’s divorce spoke volumes because he was known to be a man of integrity.

Although we currently “do not have the luxury of remaining silent,” we must still follow in More’s path of integrity, uniting our words and actions to present the truths of our faith, he said.
 
Fr. Scalia emphasized that Catholics should imitate More’s joy, which he maintained even in the midst of oppression. This joy may not always be externally visible, but should remain steadfast inside of us, because we know “that no suffering or persecution in this world can separate us from the love of Christ.”
 
Catholics should also imitate More’s patriotism, said Fr. Scalia, recalling More’s famous statement before his death, “I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

In the same way, he said, we will be good Americans by defending the First Amendment’s promises and “being devout Catholics first.”

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Live your faith in the marketplace, cardinal tells business leaders

Lyon, France, Apr 9, 2012 / 12:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Christians should integrate their faith with their work in the private sector, the head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace for told business leaders as he launched a new teaching document.

“Humanity is to make creation serve its needs through the transformative power of work,” Cardinal Peter K. Turkson told 2,000 Christian businesspeople in Lyon, France. “In its exercise of business, therefore, humanity would become a 'rock' that sustains creation through the practice of love and justice.”

“And this appears to be really the vocation of the Christian business leader: to practice love and justice and to teach the business household for which he or she is responsible to do likewise, for the sustenance of all creation, beginning with our brothers and sisters.”

Cardinal Turkson addressed the 24th International Christian Union of Business Executives (UNIAPAC) World Congress on March 30, taking up themes of the pontifical council's new document “Vocation of the Business Leader: A Reflection.”

He described the 30-page text – which grew out of a February 2011 seminar on Pope Benedict XVI's social encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” – as “a helpful guide to business leaders seeking to grow in the virtue of charity as befits their vocation.”

A major problem for Christians in the modern world, according to the document, is the temptation of a “divided life” – involving a “split between the faith which many profess, and their daily lives.”

This separation of faith from professional life “is a fundamental error which contributes to much of the damage done by businesses in our world today” – including the neglect of family life, an “unhealthy attachment to power,” and the “abuse of economic power” that disregards the common good.

The pontifical council's critique of the “divided life” is rooted in the words of Christ himself, who taught that “no one can be the slave of two masters … You cannot love both God and money.”

“Business leaders who do not see themselves serving others and God in their working lives will fill the void of purpose with a less worthy substitute,” the text notes. “The divided life is not unified or integrated: it is fundamentally disordered, and thus fails to live up to God’s call.”

The suggested remedy involves a greater awareness of the Church's social teaching, and an embrace of the “universal call to holiness” in the professional sphere.

“A devout spiritual life is absolutely indispensable,” Cardinal Turkson told business leaders in his Lyon address. “One should be receiving the sacraments and praying frequently. When the spiritual gifts are sought, they will give one the grace to live an integrated life, and keep one from living a divided life.”

The justice and peace council's new document notes that these are “not optional actions for a Christian,” nor are they “mere private acts separated and disconnected from business.”

Rather, by approaching work through the eyes of faith, lay people can continue Christ's mission within their field of employment.

As Cardinal Turkson notes in the preface to “Vocation of the Business Leader,” the Church “does not relinquish the hope that Christian business leaders will, despite the present darkness, restore trust, inspire hope, and keep burning the light of faith that fuels their daily pursuit of the good.”

In Lyon, the cardinal told business leaders that an economic paradigm “centered on capital gains” has been shown to be obsolete.

Instead, he urged entrepreneurs to focus on doing God's will in the private sector – meeting “the needs of the world with goods that are truly good and truly beneficial,” and organizing work “in a manner that is respectful of human dignity.”

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Over 40 Cuban dissidents arrested in new wave of repression

Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, Apr 9, 2012 / 12:09 pm (CNA).- The Cuban Commission on Human Rights reported that 43 dissidents have been detained by the Communist government in a new wave of repression launched on April 2 in the city of Santiago.

Former political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer and his wife, Belkis Cantillo, a member of the Women in White, were among those arrested.

“We have been able to confirm that 43 dissidents have been detained – 10 women and 33 men – during the wave of repression on Monday in Santiago de Cuba, and all remain under arrest,” Elizardo Sanchez of the Cuban Commission on Human Right said on April 4. 

He said that most of them belong to the Patriotic Union of Cuba, a dissident movement that supports a peaceful transition to democracy.

In a statement sent to CNA on April 4, the Patriotic Union of Cuba said the repression began on Monday morning, when ten activists in the town of El Caney “gathered at the home of coordinator Guillermo Cobas to peacefully protest” the incarceration of Andres Carrion Alvares, Rogelio Tabio Lopez and Bismark Mustelier Galan.

Alvares shouted “down with Communism” before Pope Benedict XVI's Mass in Santiago during the pontiff's March 25-28 visit to the country, Lopez was detained last month in Guantanamo, and Galan was arrested in Palma Soriano.

The Union said similar protests held in other parts of the province of Santiago were also squashed by state police, who ransacked the home of Jose Daniel Ferrer and arrested him, his wife and five other dissidents.

Twenty-six other dissidents were arrested at the home of Raumel Vinajera, the coordinator for the Patriotic Union in Palma Soriano. Ten more were detained in the town of Vista Hermosa.

Jose Daniel Ferrer was one of the 75 dissidents arrested during what's known as the Black Spring of 2003. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison but was released in 2011 thanks to the intervention of the Church in Cuba.

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On Easter morning, Pope proclaims Christ as source of hope amid suffering

Vatican City, Apr 8, 2012 / 10:43 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Jesus Christ is “present as a force of hope through his Church,” Pope Benedict XVI announced in his Easter greeting addressed to the city of Rome and the world on April 8.

In his noon message, the Pope said the risen Lord inspires his Church to remain “close to all human situations of suffering and injustice,” including the persecution of Christians themselves. 

The text of Pope Benedict's Easter message follows:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rome and throughout the world!

"Surrexit Christus, spes mea" – "Christ, my hope, has risen" (Easter Sequence).

May the jubilant voice of the Church reach all of you with the words which the ancient hymn puts on the lips of Mary Magdalene, the first to encounter the risen Jesus on Easter morning. She ran to the other disciples and breathlessly announced: "I have seen the Lord!" (Jn 20:18). We too, who have journeyed through the desert of Lent and the sorrowful days of the Passion, today raise the cry of victory: "He has risen! He has truly risen!"

Every Christian relives the experience of Mary Magdalene. It involves an encounter which changes our lives: the encounter with a unique Man who lets us experience all God’s goodness and truth, who frees us from evil not in a superficial and fleeting way, but sets us free radically, heals us completely and restores our dignity. This is why Mary Magdalene calls Jesus "my hope": he was the one who allowed her to be reborn, who gave her a new future, a life of goodness and freedom from evil. "Christ my hope" means that all my yearnings for goodness find in him a real possibility of fulfilment: with him I can hope for a life that is good, full and eternal, for God himself has drawn near to us, even sharing our humanity.

But Mary Magdalene, like the other disciples, was to see Jesus rejected by the leaders of the people, arrested, scourged, condemned to death and crucified. It must have been unbearable to see Goodness in person subjected to human malice, truth derided by falsehood, mercy abused by vengeance. With Jesus’ death, the hope of all those who had put their trust in him seemed doomed. But that faith never completely failed: especially in the heart of the Virgin Mary, Jesus’ Mother, its flame burned even in the dark of night. In this world, hope can not avoid confronting the harshness of evil. It is not thwarted by the wall of death alone, but even more by the barbs of envy and pride, falsehood and violence. Jesus passed through this mortal mesh in order to open a path to the kingdom of life. For a moment Jesus seemed vanquished: darkness had invaded the land, the silence of God was complete, hope a seemingly empty word.

And lo, on the dawn of the day after the Sabbath, the tomb is found empty. Jesus then shows himself to Mary Magdalene, to the other women, to his disciples. Faith is born anew, more alive and strong than ever, now invincible since it is based on a decisive experience: "Death with life contended: combat strangely ended! Life’s own champion, slain, now lives to reign". The signs of the resurrection testify to the victory of life over death, love over hatred, mercy over vengeance: "The tomb the living did enclose, I saw Christ’s glory as he rose! The angels there attesting, shroud with grave-clothes resting".

Dear brothers and sisters! If Jesus is risen, then – and only then – has something truly new happened, something that changes the state of humanity and the world. Then he, Jesus, is someone in whom we can put absolute trust; we can put our trust not only in his message but in Jesus himself, for the Risen One does not belong to the past, but is present today, alive. Christ is hope and comfort in a particular way for those Christian communities suffering most for their faith on account of discrimination and persecution. And he is present as a force of hope through his Church, which is close to all human situations of suffering and injustice.

May the risen Christ grant hope to the Middle East and enable all the ethnic, cultural and religious groups in that region to work together to advance the common good and respect for human rights. Particularly in Syria, may there be an end to bloodshed and an immediate commitment to the path of respect, dialogue and reconciliation, as called for by the international community. May the many refugees from that country who are in need of humanitarian assistance find the acceptance and solidarity capable of relieving their dreadful sufferings. May the paschal victory encourage the Iraqi people to spare no effort in pursuing the path of stability and development. In the Holy Land, may Israelis and Palestinians courageously take up anew the peace process.

May the Lord, the victor over evil and death, sustain the Christian communities of the African continent; may he grant them hope in facing their difficulties, and make them peacemakers and agents of development in the societies to which they belong.

May the risen Jesus comfort the suffering populations of the Horn of Africa and favour their reconciliation; may he help the Great Lakes Region, Sudan and South Sudan, and grant their inhabitants the power of forgiveness. In Mali, now experiencing delicate political developments, may the glorious Christ grant peace and stability. To Nigeria, which in recent times has experienced savage terrorist attacks, may the joy of Easter grant the strength needed to take up anew the building of a society which is peaceful and respectful of the religious freedom of all its citizens.

Happy Easter to all!

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