TIME

Pope Canonizes First Saints From Holy Land Since Early Christianity

Pope Francis leads a mass in St Peter's square for the canonization of four blessed nuns, two who lived in Ottoman Palestine, on May 17, 2015 in Vatican City.
Alberto Pizzoli—AFP/Getty Images Pope Francis leads a mass in St Peter's square for the canonization of four blessed nuns, two who lived in Ottoman Palestine, on May 17, 2015 in Vatican City.

(VATICAN CITY) — Pope Francis canonized two nuns from what was 19th century Palestine on Sunday in hopes of encouraging Christians across the Middle East who are facing a wave of persecution from Islamic extremists.

Sisters Mariam Bawardy and Marie Alphonsine Ghattas were among four nuns who were made saints Sunday at a Mass in a sun-soaked St. Peter’s Square. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and an estimated 2,000 pilgrims from the region, some waving Palestinian flags, were on hand for the canonization of the first saints from the Holy Land since the early years of Christianity.

Church officials are holding up Bawardy and Ghattas as a sign of hope and encouragement for Christians across the Mideast at a time when violent persecution and discrimination have driven many Christians from the region of Christ’s birth.

They were canonized alongside two other nuns, Saints Jeanne Emilie de Villeneuve from France and Maria Cristina of the Immaculate Conception from Italy.

“Inspired by their example of mercy, charity and reconciliation, may the Christians of these lands look with hope to the future, following the path of solidarity and fraternal coexistence,” Francis said of the women at the end of the Mass.

Bawardy was a mystic born in 1843 in the village of Ibilin in what is now the Galilee region of northern Israel. She is said to have received the “stigmata” — bleeding wounds like those that Jesus Christ suffered on the cross — and died at the age of 33 in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, where she founded a Carmelite order monastery that still exists.

Ghattas, born in Jerusalem in 1847, opened girls’ schools, fought female illiteracy, and co-founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Rosary. The order today boasts dozens of centers all over the Middle East, from Egypt to Syria, that operate kindergartens, homes for the elderly, medical clinics and guest houses.

In his homily, Francis praised Bawardy as having been “a means of encounter and fellowship with the Muslim world,” while Ghattas “shows us the importance of becoming responsible for one another, of living lives of service to one another.”

“Their luminous example challenges us in our lives as Christians,” he said.

The canonization was celebrated in the Holy Land as well as by Palestinians in Rome. Bassam Abbas, a Palestinian-born doctor who has lived in Italy for 35 years, travelled from Civitavecchia, northwest of Rome, for the event with his wife and three children. They are Muslim, but their children go to a Catholic school.

“We are proud of this event,” Abbas said outside St. Peter’s Square as he waved a giant Palestinian flag. “We want peace for Palestine, peace which transcends religion.”

In addition to the Palestinian delegation on hand for the Mass, Israel sent a delegation headed by its ambassador to the Holy See, while France, Italy and Jordan also sent official delegations.

In the birthplace of Christianity, Christians make up less than 2 percent of the population of Israel and the Palestinian territories. Although they have not experienced the violent persecution that has decimated Christian communities elsewhere in the region, the population has gradually shrunk over the decades as Christians have fled conflict or sought better opportunities abroad.

Francis has raised the plight of Christians across the Middle East as a cause for concern, denouncing how the Islamic State group has violently driven thousands of religious minorities from their homes in Syria and Iraq.

TIME Vatican

Pope Calls Palestinian Leader an ‘Angel of Peace’

Pope Francis meets Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas during an audience at the Vatican on May 16, 2015.
Alberto Pizzoli—AP Pope Francis meets Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas during an audience at the Vatican on May 16, 2015.

Pope Francis also gave Mahmoud Abbas a gift during their visit

(VATICAN CITY)—Pope Francis praised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as an “angel of peace” during a meeting Saturday at the Vatican that underscored the Holy See’s warm relations with the Palestinians as it prepares to canonize two 19th-century nuns from the region.

Francis made the compliment during the traditional exchange of gifts at the end of an official audience in the Apostolic Palace. He presented Abbas with a medallion and explained that it represented the “angel of peace destroying the bad spirit of war.”

Francis said he thought the gift was appropriate since “you are an angel of peace.” During his 2014 visit to Israel and the West Bank, Francis called both Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres men of peace.

Abbas is in Rome for the canonization Sunday of two 19th-century nuns from what was then Ottoman-ruled Palestine. The new saints, Mariam Bawardy and Marie Alphonsine Ghattas, are the first from the region to be canonized since the early days of Christianity.

Church officials are holding up the new saints as a sign of hope and encouragement for Christians in the Middle East at a time when violent persecution from Islamic extremists has driven many Christians from the region of Christ’s birth.

In a statement Saturday, Abbas praised the two new saints as inspirational models for today’s Palestinians and urged Christians like them to remain in the region.

“We call on Palestinian Christians to stay with us and enjoy the rights of full and equal citizenship, and bear with us the difficulties of life until we achieve liberty, sovereignty and human dignity,” he said.

Abbas’ visit comes days after the Vatican finalized a bilateral treaty with the “state of Palestine” that made explicit its recognition of Palestinian statehood.

The Vatican said it had expressed “great satisfaction” over the new treaty during the talks with the Palestinian delegation. It said the pope, and later the Vatican secretary of state, also expressed hopes that direct peace talks with Israel would resume.

“To this end, the wish was reiterated that with the support of the international community, Israelis and Palestinians may take with determination courageous decisions to promote peace,” a Vatican statement said.

It added that interreligious dialogue was needed to combat terrorism.

TIME Vatican

Vatican Recognizes State of Palestine in New Treaty

Pope Francis celebrated the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Fatima during his traditional weekly General Audience in St. Peter's square on May 13, 2015 in Vatican City.
Stefano Costantino—Splash News/Corbis Pope Francis celebrated the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Fatima during his traditional weekly General Audience in St. Peter's square on May 13, 2015 in Vatican City.

The treaty is the first legal document to establish official diplomatic relationship between the Vatican and the Palestinian state

(VATICAN CITY) — The Vatican has officially recognized the state of Palestine in a new treaty.

The treaty, which was finalized Wednesday but still has to be signed, makes clear that the Holy See has switched its diplomatic relations from the Palestine Liberation Organization to the state of Palestine.

The Vatican had welcomed the decision by the U.N. General Assembly in 2012 to recognize a Palestinian state. But the treaty is the first legal document negotiated between the Holy See and the Palestinian state and constitutes an official diplomatic recognition.

“Yes, it’s a recognition that the state exists,” said the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is due to visit Pope Francis on Saturday before the canonization of two new saints from the Holy Land a day later.

The Vatican has been referring unofficially to the state of Palestine for at least a year.

During Pope Francis’ 2014 visit to the Holy Land, the Vatican’s official program referred to Abbas as the president of the “state of Palestine.” In the Vatican’s latest yearbook, the Palestinian ambassador to the Holy See is listed as representing “Palestine (state of).”

The Vatican’s foreign minister, Monsignor Antoine Camilleri, acknowledged the change in status, given that the treaty was initially inked with the PLO and is now being finalized with the “state of Palestine.” But he said the shift was simply in line with the Holy See’s position.

TIME Vatican

Castro Thanks Pope for Role in Bridging U.S.-Cuba Relations

President of Cuba Raul Castro and Pope Francis meet at the Paul VI Hall private studio during a private audience on May 10, 2015 in Vatican City.
Vatican Pool/Getty Images President of Cuba Raul Castro and Pope Francis meet at the Paul VI Hall private studio during a private audience on May 10, 2015 in Vatican City.

Francis will visit Cuba in September en route to the United States

(VATICAN CITY) — Cuban President Raul Castro received a warm welcome at the Vatican Sunday from Pope Francis, who played a key role in the breakthrough between Washington and Havana aimed at restoring U.S.-Cuban diplomatic ties.

“Bienvenido!” Francis said in his native Spanish, welcoming Castro in a studio near the Vatican public audience hall. The Cuban president, bowing his head, gripped Francis’ hand with both of his, and the two men began their private talks.

The meeting lasted nearly an hour, as the Argentine-born Francis and Castro spoke in their native Spanish.

Francis will visit Cuba in September en route to the United States.

Castro had already publicly thanked Francis for helping to bring Havana and Washington closer together after decades of U.S. government policy of strict isolation of the Communist-ruled Caribbean island. On Sunday, he stepped up his praise on Francis’ push for the two nations to put enmity aside and work for reconciliation.

As he took his leave, Castro told journalists, “I thanked the pope for what he did.”

Later, at the Italian premier’s office, Castro praised Francis for his “wisdom, modesty and all his other qualities.”

“I read all the speeches of the pope,” Castro said.

Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Castro “laid out to the pope the sentiments of the Cuban people in the wait and preparation for his upcoming visit to the island in September.”

Castro said that he will attend all the Masses that Francis will celebrate during the papal trip to Cuba.

After meeting with Premier Matteo Renzi, the Cuban leader expressed hope that his country would quickly see more fruits of the thaw between Cuba and the United States.

“Maybe the (U.S.) Senate will take us off the list of terrorist nations” soon, Castro told reporters.

Francis gave Castro a medal depicting St. Martin of Tours, known for caring for the destitute.

“With his mantle he covers the poor,” Francis told Castro, saying more efforts on behalf of the poor are needed.

A Cuban artist, Kcho, part of the Castro entourage, presented Francis with a painting of wrecked boats, and depicting a migrant in prayer. The artist told Francis he was inspired by Francis’ visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa, where many migrants arrive aboard smugglers’ boats.

Castro’s brother, Fidel, the Cuban revolutionary leader who ruled for decades before Raul, met with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in 1996. That Vatican encounter helped pave the way for John Paul’s 1998 pilgrimage to Cuba, the first visit by a pontiff to the island.

The Vatican’s general policy of opposing economic sanctions as a foreign policy tool carries appeal for Cuban leaders and people, after decades of the U.S. economic embargo.

With the Vatican keen on protecting its Catholic followers in Cuba, Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI also visited the island.

TIME Vatican

Pope Francis Gets a Custom Jersey From the Harlem Globetrotters

Pope Francis smiles as he plays with a ball next to a member of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team during the weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican
Giampiero Sposito—Reuters Pope Francis smiles as he plays with a ball next to a member of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team during the weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican on May 6, 2015.

He isn't the first Pope to hang out with the Globetrotters

The Harlem Globetrotters have a new star: Pope Francis.

Members of the exhibition basketball team presented the Pope with a custom jersey, showing the name “Pope Francis” and the number 90, on Wednesday at the Vatican, according to reports.

Team members showed off a few moves for the public waiting for an audience with the Pope before their own meeting.

Pope Francis isn’t the first Pope to hang out with the Globetrotters, who are in Italy as part of an international tour. Pope John Paul II met the team in 2000.

TIME Vatican

Pope Francis and Raul Castro to Meet at the Vatican

Pope Francis smiles as he arrives to lead his open-air weekly audience in St. Peter's square on April 29, 2015 at the Vatican.
Vincenzo Pinto—AFP/Getty Images Pope Francis smiles as he arrives to lead his open-air weekly audience in St. Peter's square on April 29, 2015 at the Vatican.

Pope Francis will receive Cuba’s president Raúl Castro at the Vatican on Sunday morning, May 10, the Holy See announced on Tuesday. The meeting will be “strictly private,” according to a statement from the Holy See Press Office, and the two heads of state will meet in the study of the Paul VI Audience Hall.

The meeting comes as Pope Francis plans to visit the Caribbean island in September en route to the United States. The pontiff also helped to broker a deal easing relations between the United States and Cuba in December, an appeal that a senior U.S. administration official at the time called “very rare.”

“As we already know, President Raúl Castro has publicly thanked the Pope for his role in fostering the rapprochement between Cuba and the United States of America,” Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, director of the Holy See Press Office, said in the statement.

TIME Vatican

Here’s What Not to Do If Pope Francis Calls You Up

Pope Francis attends the weekly general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican on April 22, 2015.
Vandeville Eric—AP Pope Francis attends the weekly general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican on April 22, 2015.

Italian man hung up on the Pope twice, thinking he was a prank caller

(VATICAN CITY) — Hang up on Pope Francis and you might get a hug.

Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano says earlier this week, Francis dialed an ailing Italian man to comfort him. Francis has a habit of calling people who he has heard are suffering and telling them “Hello, I’m Pope Francis” when they answer their phone.

The newspaper said the man, Franco Rabuffi, hung up twice, thinking it was a prankster.

On the third call, he realized it truly was Francis and was speechless. The paper says Francis told Rabuffi he was amused. Rabuffi and his wife were invited to the pope’s public audience Wednesday in St. Peter’s Square, where Francis hugged them and assured them he really did dial the man’s phone.

The paper didn’t specify the man’s illness or age.

TIME Vatican

Pope Francis Calls for Equal Pay for Women and Men

He says gender-based pay disparities are "pure scandal"

Pope Francis expressed support for equal pay for men and women on Wednesday, calling income disparities “pure scandal.”

Speaking during his weekly general audience, Francis asked that Christians “become more demanding” about achieving gender equality, according to the National Catholic Reporter.

“Why is it expected that women must earn less than men?” he asked the crowd at St. Peter’s Square. “No! They have the same rights. The disparity is a pure scandal.”

The Pope emphasized that concern for women’s equality isn’t at odds with concern for declining marriage rates around the world, a shift he said Christians needed to reflect on “with great seriousness.”

“Many consider that the change occurring in these last decades may have been set in motion by women’s emancipation,” he said. But Francis called that idea “an insult” and “a form of chauvinism that always wants to control the woman.”

[NCR]

TIME Vatican

Vatican to Host Summit on Climate Change

Pope Francis leads general audience in Vatican City
Baris Seckin—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Pope Francis arrives at St. Peter's square on April 15, 2014 to lead his weekly general audience in Vatican City, Vatican on April 15, 2015.

The move is part of Pope Francis's environmental strategy

The Vatican will host a summit on climate change and sustainability efforts later this month, officials announced on Tuesday.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will give the opening address of the “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity” event, and faith and science leaders will give speeches and participate in panels. The goal of the summit is to highlight “the intrinsic connection between respect for the environment and respect for people—especially the poor, the excluded, victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, children, and future generations,” according to the Vatican’s website.

The summit is part of a larger effort by Pope Francis to bring the Catholic Church into the conversation about sustainability and the environment. The Holy See will write a papal letter to bishops this summer about the Vatican’s position on climate change—a fitting mission for a Pope whose namesake, Francis of Assisi, is the patron saint of the environment.

TIME Vatican

Pope Francis’ Old iPad Sold for $30,500 at Auction

"May you do something good with it," the Pope said

An iPad that once belonged to Pope Francis sold for $30,500 at an auction benefiting a school in Uruguay on Tuesday.

Despite the steep going price, school officials said they repeatedly failed to sell the Apple device through famed auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s before turning to local house Castells, NBC News reports.

The iPad is inscribed with the message “His Holiness Francisco. Servizio Internet Vatican, March 2013″ and includes a certificate signed by Fabian Pedacchio Leaniz, the Pope’s secretary.

Uruguayan priest Gonzalo Aemilius, who donated the iPad to the Francisco de Paysandu high school, said that Pope Francis told him, “May you do something good with it,” when he handed it over.

[NBC News]

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