The Holy Father also drew attention to a series of upcoming anniversaries this week and in doing so to the plight of millions worldwide, without a country to call their own: “In the coming days, in Geneva and other cities, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the World Organization for Migration, the 60th anniversary of the Convention on the Status of Refugees and the 50 th anniversary of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. I entrust to the Lord all those who, often forcibly, must leave their homeland, or who are stateless. While I encourage solidarity for them, I pray for all those who are doing their utmost to protect and assist these brothers and sisters in emergency situations, even if it means exposing themselves to serious hardships and dangers”.
Pilgrims and visitors to St Peter’s this Sunday huddled under umbrella’s as the mild December weather gave way to incessant rain. A decidedly Advent atmosphere permeated the square where the nativity scene is currently under construction. This year it will be dedicated Mary, the Mother of God, and as is tradition it will be inaugurated on 24 December. Waiting for midday and the Pope to appear, children gathered around an enormous Christmas tree, that will be hoisted into position next to the central obelisk by a crane on Monday. The gigantic spruce is a gift to the Holy Father from the Zakarpattia region in Ukraine and is a towering 30.5 metres high. The tree will be blessed and lit on 16 December in the presence of the bishops of Ukraine.
With preparations for Christmas well underway at the Vatican, commenting on this Sunday’s Gospel Pope Benedict spoke of Advent as the season of inner preparation for the coming of the Lord:
Dear brothers and sisters!
This Sunday marks the second stage of Advent. This period of the liturgical year highlights the two figures who played a prominent role in preparation for the historical coming of the Lord Jesus, the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist. In fact today’s Gospel of Mark focuses on the figure of the Baptist. Indeed it describes the personality and mission of the Precursor of Christ (cf. Mk 1.2 to 8). Beginning with his outward appearance, John is presented as a very ascetic figure dressed in camel skin, he feeds on locusts and wild honey, found in the desert of Judea (cf. Mk 1.6). Jesus himself once held him in contrast to those who "wear fine clothing” in the “royal palaces " (Mt 11.8). The style of John the Baptist was meant to call all Christians to choose a sober lifestyle, especially in preparation for the feast of Christmas, when the Lord - as Saint Paul would say - "became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich"(2 Cor 8.9).
With regard to the John’s mission, it was an extraordinary appeal to conversion: his baptism "is tied to a fiery invitation to a new way of thinking and acting, it is above all linked to the announcement of God's justice" (Jesus of Nazareth I, Milan 2007, p. 34) and the imminent appearance of the Messiah, defined as "he who is mightier than I" and who will "baptize with the Holy Spirit" (Mk 1,7.8). Therefore, John’s appeal goes far beyond and deeper than a call to a sober lifestyle: it is a call for inner change, starting with the recognition and confession of our sins. As we prepare for Christmas, it is important that we find time for self contemplation and carry out an honest assessment of our lives. May we be enlightened by a ray of the light that comes from Bethlehem, the light of He who is "the Greatest" and made himself small, he who is "the Strongest" but became weak.
All four Evangelists describe the preaching of John the Baptist referring to a passage from the prophet Isaiah: " A voice proclaims:In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God'"(Isaiah 40.3 ). Mark also adds a quote from another prophet, Malachi, who says: " Now I am sending my messenger— he will prepare the way before me " (Mk 1.2, see Mal 3.1). These references to the Old Testament Scriptures "speak of the saving intervention of God, coming out of his inscrutability to judge and save, we must open the door to Him, preparing the way" (Jesus of Nazareth, I, p. 35).
To the maternal intercession of Mary, the Virgin who awaits, we entrust our journey towards the Lord who comes, as we continue our journey of Advent to prepare our hearts and our lives for the coming of Emmanuel, God-with-us.
Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese REPORT
News that four religious sisters from the US-based charism, the Sisters of Life, will run an afternoon retreat for women at the Broadway campus of the University of Notre Dame (UND) has met with an overwhelming response.
"So far just over 100 women have registered although many more are expected," says Jessica Langrell, UND's Chaplaincy Convenor.
The women who have registered for the retreat, to be held on Wednesday, 14 December range in age from 17 to 70.
"We have teenagers through to the over 50s and 60s and some mothers will even be accompanied by their youngest children," Jessica says
The theme of the retreat, "Behold I make all things new" is taken from Corinthians (2 COR 5:17).
"The retreat is a chance for women of all ages to deepen and strengthen their prayer life and to be inspired in their faith," Jessica adds.
The Sisters of Life community was founded back in 1991 by New York-based Cardinal John O'Connor to "protect and enhance the sacredness of every human life."
Sisters from the community were in Sydney for World Youth Day in 2008 and were also present this year in Madrid for WYD11.
"Australians everywhere responded to the Sisters of Life when they were here three years ago and many of us met up with them again in Madrid," says Jessica who describes those within the community as "very holy women filled with love."
This recent charism of women is dedicated to the new evangelisation and like all religious communities takes the three traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, as well as a special fourth vow to protect and enhance the sanctity of human life.
The community which includes sisters from New Zealand and Canada as well as from across the US, welcomes pregnant women at their convents, inviting them to live there while awaiting the birth of their child, assisting them and other pregnant women both pastorally and practically, as well as offering retreats full of healing and hope for those who have suffered the tragedy of abortion.
Although the Sisters of Life have yet to establish a community in Australia, they are well known for their teaching about the sacredness of life, their piety, grace, compassion, warmth and humour.
"They made a big impact on many young Catholics when they were in Sydney for World Youth Day and now their reputation precedes them, which is why as soon as we put posters up for the retreat on 14 December at UND, we were flooded with enquiries," Jessica says.
In addition to the retreat at UND, the four religious from the Sisters of Life will speak at the 12 December meeting in Sydney of Theology on Tap and from 8 - 11 December will join the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, Anna Krohn from the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, and other powerful theologians at 2011's annual iWitness Conference at Stanwell Tops, NSW.
There is no charge for the Sisters of Life Women's Afternoon Retreat at UND's Broadway campus on 14 December but registration is essential. To find out more and to register contact the university's Chaplaincy Convenor by emailing her atJessica.firstname.lastname@example.org.
POPE AND THE CEO RELEASE:
The Pope & The CEO: John Paul II's Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard
Andreas Widmer gives a behind-the-scenes look into Pope John Paul II, the most authentically human person I ve ever met, and reveals how those memories shaped and forged his success as a corporate executive. In what papal biographer George Weigel calls a powerful example of leadership at work, Widmer recounts his personal experiences serving Blessed Pope John Paul II in the Swiss Guard, and the secrets of successful leadership that he learned at the feet of the great pope.
John Paul II's witness to the reality of God's grace in the life of man, as divine presence and guidance, so inspired and touched the life of one of his body guards, a Swiss guard, that when the latter became an entrepreneur and a CEO, he set himself to emulate the virtues of leadership of the Pope. In this book, the Swiss-Guard-turned-CEO gives a personal witness to the successful application of the Pope's leadership virtues in the life of a CEO and offers the same to CEOs and his readers. The book is thus an excellent tribute to the memory of the Pope and a commendable guide to successful entrepreneurship.
John Paul II's witness to the reality of God's grace in the life of man so inspired and touched the life of one Swiss guard, that when the latter became an entrepreneur and a CEO, he set himself to emulate the virtues of leadership of the Pope. In this book, the Swiss-Guard-turned-CEO gives a personal witness to the successful application of the Pope's leadership virtues and offers the same to other CEOs and all of his readers. The book is thus an excellent tribute to the memory of the Pope and a commendable guide to successful entrepreneurship. -- Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
Andreas Widmer has given us a true gift by sharing his firsthand experience of Pope JPII's personal habits so that we can incorporate these in our own leadership journey. By making the Pope accessible and by appropriating the Pope's demeanor into his own personal and work lives, Andreas gave a us a role model who is truly worthy of the word and shows us that it is possible to achieve the sanctity of leadership even in the context of business.
Andreas Widmer gives us a true gift by sharing his firsthand experience of Pope JPII's personal habits so that we can incorporate these in our own leadership journey. By making the Pope accessible and by appropriating the Pope's demeanor into his own personal and work lives, Andreas gives a us a role model who is truly worthy of the word; he shows us that it is possible to achieve the sanctity of leadership even in the context of business. -- Carolyn Y. Woo, Dean, Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame; newly named President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services
Andreas Widmer is an honest man, a good man, and an insightful man. His reflections on what he learned from perhaps the greatest Christian of our time offer all of us a powerful example of leadership at work. -- George Weigel, Pope John Paul II s Biographer, Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington s Ethics and Public Policy Center
What we find in Andreas Widmer s book is the fruit, both of his own disciplined and [shrewdly perceptive] scrutiny of his life, and of the influence on that life of the years he spent, not only in close proximity to Blessed John Paul ll, but in what turned out to be a close friendship. It is a story suffused with the luminescence of wisdom and holiness. -- Thomas Howard, Author
The Masihi Foundation has organized a day of prayer and fun, with games and candy. There is also a Muslim human rights activist, who calls for greater "integration" of minorities in the Pakistani community. Catholic priest emphasizes the importance of education as a means of social redemption.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) - The Christian children of the "French colony" in Islamabad - a kind of ghetto where religious minorities live in conditions of marginalization and poverty – were treated to a small taste of Christmas. Yesterday, the Masihi Foundation organized a party for delivery of gifts to students who attend the local school, along with moments of fun and games, which was also attended by a Muslim human rights activist, who distributed sweets to those present . The educational institution run by the Pakistani Foundation that is fighting for the rights of minorities, which opened earlier this year by the bishop of the capital, is home to many children of the ghetto and is an element of hope and of social redemption for many Christian families who want a better future for children.
Late yesterday afternoon the children of the community, dressed to the nines and accompanied by their parents, gathered at the school at the centre of the "French colony" to participate in this special celebration of "Christmas." Fr. Anwar Patras led the opening prayer and, referring to the school opened in the "ghetto", spoke of the fundamental importance of education for social redemption. "No human being - said the priest - can survive without education", which is a "primary good" such as food, clothing and shelter. Because the school is not only a place where for study and learning, but it is also a place to "meet and interact with friends and teachers." He concluded: "Education will prepare you for a wise leadership", hoping for a better future for new generations of Christians in Pakistan.
The inhabitants of the "French colony" work in menial and poorly paid positions, at least those who have a job. Among these, the majority are employed by the municipal district of the capital, Islamabad, for low grade jobs. Such as Gulfam Masih, employed to clean the streets, who confides to AsiaNews, he does not want his children to have to put up with a job like his and thanks God “for the opportunities they have to study." The father is happy to participate with his son in the "pre-Christmas" celebration and confirms that the children "can not wait" for the holiday. Alishba John, a child who is studying in a Christian school, adds that "the best things are the gifts, new clothes, meeting friends and playing together."
Muslim leader and human rights activist in Islamabad, Naveen Khan, also attended the celebration distributing Christmas sweets to the children along with Father Patras. "I follow closely the persecution of minorities in Pakistan - the Muslim activist tells AsiaNews - and I'm delighted to be here among children that are treated as untouchables." These people, she adds, are human beings even though they are persecuted or marginalized from the rest of the community. "I will spend Christmas with these children - she concludes - and tell the world that they are people of peace, who want to be an integral part of society."
With 1.6 per cent of the population and some 3 million believers, Pakistan’s Christian minority is the country’s second largest religious minority after Hindus. For a long time, it has been the victim of marginalisation and violence, made worse by the progressive Islamisation of the country launched by General Zia-ul-Haq in the mid-1980s.Most Christians are rural migrants. When they arrive in the cities, they are forced to live in so-called colonies, virtual ghettoes, and take humble jobs as cleaners and sanitation workers with a status comparable to that of India’s untouchables.
The France Colony (pictured) is in the heart of Pakistan’s Federal Capital of Islamabad. It gets its name from the fact that the old French Embassy was located in the area. It has 600 dwellings, surrounded by a wall. Access is provided by one main entrance, plus three or four rarely used openings, on the other side of the compound. Muhammad Saddique, a local Muslim, said that the wall was built after local “rich and noble Muslim families” called on city officials to protect them from the eyesore of the ‘Christian ghetto’.
|Isaiah 40: 1 - 5, 9 - 11|
|1||Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.|
|2||Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins.|
|3||A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.|
|4||Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.|
|5||And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."|
|9||Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, "Behold your God!"|
|10||Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.|
|11||He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.|
|Psalms 85: 9 - 14|
|9||Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land.|
|10||Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.|
|11||Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.|
|12||Yea, the LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.|
|13||Righteousness will go before him, and make his footsteps a way.|
|2 Peter 3: 8 - 14|
|8||But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.|
|9||The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.|
|10||But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up.|
|11||Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,|
|12||waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire!|
|13||But according to his promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.|
|14||Therefore, beloved, since you wait for these, be zealous to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.|
|Mark 1: 1 - 8|
|1||The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.|
|2||As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, "Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way;|
|3||the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight -- "|
|4||John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.|
|5||And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.|
|6||Now John was clothed with camel's hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey.|
|7||And he preached, saying, "After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.|
|8||I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."|
St. John Damascene
DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH
Feast: December 4