VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) – In his annual Christmas “Urbi et Orbi” blessing Pope Francis prayed for all those affected by violence, conflict and poverty throughout the world, asking that they rejoice in salvation offered by the birth of Christ.

“Only God’s mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil, at times monstrous evil, which selfishness spawns in our midst. The grace of God can convert hearts and offer mankind a way out of humanly insoluble situations,” the Pope said on Christmas Day, Dec. 25.

God alone is able to save us, he said, adding that “where God is born, hope is born. Where God is born, peace is born. And where peace is born, there is no longer room for hatred and for war.”

Pope Francis spoke to those gathered in St. Peter’s Square to hear his Christmas message and receive the special blessing which goes out “to the city and the world.”

In his message, he lamented that ongoing conflicts continue to strain peaceful living in the Holy Land, and prayed for peace there as well as in war-torn countries such as Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, sub-Saharan Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, South Sudan, Colombia and Ukraine.

Francis also turned his thoughts to all those affected by “brutal acts of terrorism” throughout the world, particularly the “massacres” which have recently taken place in Egyptian airspace, in Beirut, Paris, Bamako and Tunis.

He then offered prayers for refugees forced to flee their homes due to violence, as well as for victims of human trafficking, for the unemployed and for all who suffer due to poverty.

In contemplating the birth of Jesus, the Pope asked that we open our hearts to receive the grace offered on Christmas Day, “which is Christ himself.”

Jesus, he said, “is the radiant day which has dawned on the horizon of humanity. A day of mercy, in which God our Father has revealed his great tenderness to the entire world. A day of light, which dispels the darkness of fear and anxiety.”

It is also a day of peace, “which makes for encounter, dialogue and reconciliation. A day of joy: a great joy for the poor, the lowly and for all the people,” Francis said.
Below is the full text of Pope Francis’ Christmas message:

Dear brothers and sisters, Happy Christmas!
Christ is born for us, let us rejoice in the day of our salvation!

Let us open our hearts to receive the grace of this day, which is Christ himself. Jesus is the radiant “day” which has dawned on the horizon of humanity. A day of mercy, in which God our Father has revealed his great tenderness to the entire world. A day of light, which dispels the darkness of fear and anxiety. A day of peace, which makes for encounter, dialogue and reconciliation. A day of joy: a “great joy” for the poor, the lowly and for all the people (cf. Lk 2:10).

On this day, Jesus, the Savior is born of the Virgin Mary. The Crib makes us see the “sign” which God has given us: “a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). Like the shepherds of Bethlehem, may we too set out to see this sign, this event which is renewed yearly in the Church. Christmas is an event which is renewed in every family, parish and community which receives the love of God made incarnate in Jesus Christ. Like Mary, the Church shows to everyone the “sign” of God: the Child whom she bore in her womb and to whom she gave birth, yet who is the Son of the Most High, since he “is of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:20). He is truly the Savior, for he is the Lamb of God who takes upon himself the sin of the world (cf. Jn 1:29). With the shepherds, let us bow down before the Lamb, let us worship God’s goodness made flesh, and let us allow tears of repentance to fill our eyes and cleanse our hearts.

He alone, he alone can save us. Only God’s mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil, at times monstrous evil, which selfishness spawns in our midst. The grace of God can convert hearts and offer mankind a way out of humanly insoluble situations.

Where God is born, hope is born. Where God is born, peace is born. And where peace is born, there is no longer room for hatred and for war. Yet precisely where the incarnate Son of God came into the world, tensions and violence persist, and peace remains a gift to be implored and built. May Israelis and Palestinians resume direct dialogue and reach an agreement which will enable the two peoples to live together in harmony, ending a conflict which has long set them at odds, with grave repercussions for the entire region.

We pray to the Lord that the agreement reached in the United Nations may succeed in halting as quickly as possible the clash of arms in Syria and in remedying the extremely grave humanitarian situation of its suffering people. It is likewise urgent that the agreement on Libya be supported by all, so as to overcome the grave divisions and violence afflicting the country. May the attention of the international community be unanimously directed to ending the atrocities which in those countries, as well as in Iraq, Libya, Yemen and sub-Saharan Africa, even now reap numerous victims, cause immense suffering and do not even spare the historical and cultural patrimony of entire peoples. My thoughts also turn to those affected by brutal acts of terrorism, particularly the recent massacres which took place in Egyptian airspace, in Beirut, Paris, Bamako and Tunis.

To our brothers and sisters who in many parts of the world are being persecuted for their faith, may the Child Jesus grant consolation and strength.

We also pray for peace and concord among the peoples of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and South Sudan, that dialogue may lead to a strengthened common commitment to the building of civil societies animated by a sincere spirit of reconciliation and of mutual understanding.

May Christmas also bring true peace to Ukraine, offer comfort to those suffering from the effects of the conflict, and inspire willingness to carry out the agreements made to restore concord in the entire country.

May the joy of this day illumine the efforts of the Colombian people so that, inspired by hope, they may continue their commitment to working for the desired peace.

Where God is born, hope is born; and where hope is born, persons regain their dignity. Yet even today great numbers of men and woman are deprived of their human dignity and, like the child Jesus, suffer cold, poverty, and rejection. May our closeness today be felt by those who are most vulnerable, especially child soldiers, women who suffer violence, and the victims of human trafficking and the drug trade.

Nor may our encouragement be lacking to all those fleeing extreme poverty or war, travelling all too often in inhumane conditions and not infrequently at the risk of their lives. May God repay all those, both individuals and states, who generously work to provide assistance and welcome to the numerous migrants and refugees, helping them to build a dignified future for themselves and for their dear ones, and to be integrated in the societies which receive them.

On this festal day may the Lord grant renewed hope to all those who lack employment; may he sustain the commitment of those with public responsibilities in political and economic life, that they may work to pursue the common good and to protect the dignity of every human life.

Where God is born, mercy flourishes. Mercy is the most precious gift which God gives us, especially during this Jubilee year in which we are called to discover that tender love of our heavenly Father for each of us. May the Lord enable prisoners in particular to experience his merciful love, which heals wounds and triumphs over evil.

Today, then, let us together rejoice in the day of our salvation. As we contemplate the Crib, let us gaze on the open arms of Jesus, which show us the merciful embrace of God, as we hear the cries of the Child who whispers to us: “for my brethren and companions’ sake, I will say: Peace be within you” (Ps 121[122]:8).

– Elise Harris

VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) – After months of anticipation, the miracle allowing for the canonization of Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta has officially been approved by the Vatican, though as of now no specific date for the event has been given.

Rumors of the canonization have been building for months. However, the Vatican made it official in a Dec. 18 communique, which also recognized the heroic virtue of Fr. Giuseppe Ambrosoli of the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus, giving him the title “Venerable.”

Though Pope Francis met with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, mere days ago to advance several causes of canonization, including an American, he met with the cardinal again in a private audience on his birthday, Dec. 17.

In the course of the meeting the Pope accepted the miracle attributed to Mother Teresa which has been being studied, namely, the healing of a Brazilian man inexplicably cured of brain abscesses.

Although no plans are official, Cardinal Amato has previously suggested Sept. 4, 2016 – which is being observed as a jubilee day for workers and volunteers of mercy – as a possible canonization date, since it is close to Sept. 5, the nun’s feast day and the anniversary of her death.

In September, Father Caetano Rizzi, the Vicar for Canonic affairs in the Brazilian diocese of Santos and the Promoter of Justice for the miracle, told CNA that the Pope was interested in canonizing Mother Teresa during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which runs from Dec. 8, 2015-Nov. 20, 2016.

In his Dec. 17 meeting with Cardinal Amato, Pope Francis also approved of the heroic virtue of Fr. Adolfo of the Institute of the Brothers of Christian Schools, as well as that of layman Enrico Hahn.

Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu Aug. 26, 1910, in Skopje, Macedonia. The youngest of three children, she attended a youth group run by a Jesuit priest called Sodality, which eventually opened her to the call of service as a missionary nun.

She joined the Sisters of Loretto at age 17 and was sent to Calcutta, where she taught at a high school. After contracting tuberculosis, she was sent to rest in Darjeeling, and it was on the way that she felt what she called “an order” from God to leave the convent and live among the poor.

The Vatican granted her permission to leave the Sisters of Loretto and to live her new call under the guidance of the Archbishop of Calcutta.

After she left her convent, Mother Teresa began working in the slums, teaching poor children, and treating the sick in their homes. A year later, some of her former students joined her, and together they took in men, women and children who were dying in the gutters along the streets.

In 1950, the Missionaries of Charity were born as a congregation of the Diocese of Calcutta. In 1952, the government granted them a house from which to continue their mission of serving Calcutta’s poor and forgotten.

The congregation quickly grew from a single house for the dying and unwanted to nearly 500 houses around the world.

Mother Teresa set up homes for prostitutes, battered women, orphanages for poor children and houses for those suffering from AIDS.

She was a fierce defender of the unborn, and is known to have said, “If you hear of some woman who does not want to keep her child and wants to have an abortion, try to persuade her to bring him to me. I will love that child, seeing in him the sign of God’s love.”

She died Sept. 5, 1997, and was beatified just six years later by St. John Paul II Oct. 19, 2003.

By Elise Harris

BALTIMORE CNA/EWTN News) – In a historic statement outlining the challenges pornography poses to the family and individuals as well as the tools available within the Church and society to combat its negative effects, the U.S. bishops say they have created a resource for healing and mercy.

Read the document “Create in Me a Clean Heart”>>>

“Our statement is not meant to just be a condemnation of pornography,” explained Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, N.Y., “but an outreach and a welcome in the spirit of Pope Francis’ call: that God is merciful.”

Bishop Malone serves as chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which created the document.

“The statement is really meant to raise the consciousness of our people both on the problems of pornography but also of the ways the Church offers for people to be healed of it. It’s our plan then to develop resources and make those known to people,” Bishop Malone elaborated.

The bishops passed the statement, “Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography” with 98 percent approval on Nov. 17, during the bishops’ annual November meeting in Baltimore. The document is the first formal statement the bishops have issued specifically addressing pornography use and production.

The document is available online in both Spanish and English, and addresses both the challenges pornography presents as well as suggested resources and practices to help families and individuals impacted by pornography use. The bishops also are investigating creating an abridged version that can be distributed as a pamphlet.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, who served on the committee that created the document, explained that the call to address the issue of pornography grew out of an increasing need they were finding in their dioceses.

“We, as priests and pastors are coming across it increasingly in the confessional, for example,” he explained, adding that many people “are dealing with a lot of guilt and they bring it to the confessional.” In addition, “pornography is breaking up marriages, breaking up relationships.”

Bishop Malone said that while technological advances like internet access and smartphones should not be condemned and are good in and of themselves, they “can also be an instrument for bad things like pornography.”

“It has just become so pervasive and so easily accessed by people, including children,” he continued.

Additionally, he said, “as Catholics we would say that the use and the production of pornography is seriously sinful, so there’s that aspects as well.”

However, the bishops’ statement does not only speak out on the effects of pornography on society and the soul but also tries “to see that there are ways to find healing and freedom.”

“Especially for us, as Christians, as Catholics, we see that in Christ there’s tremendous grace of freedom from pornography and from other bad things that catch hold of us, and healing.” Bishop Malone pointed specifically to the Sacrament of Reconciliation to address “the sinful dimension of it.”

“One of the ways the Church wants to reach out in mercy is to say that if you’re caught up in this use of pornography, God’s mercy is there for you, beckoning you to come and receive that mercy and become free,” he stated.

The bishop also noted other resources such as counseling and “support groups for people who struggle with pornographic addictions” as ways for individuals and families to seek healing from pornography’s effects.

The document also offers other practical solutions for “parents and others to protect our kids” from pornography use and involvement with the industry, Archbishop Wenski added. He suggested that because parents “can’t presume the children are protected,” they should monitor children’s computer use and other activities.

In focusing on what can be done to address pornography use, the Church offers a plan of action and a way forward Archbishop Wenski said. “I think our statement is also trying to be a message of hope, saying ‘listen, let’s get better and treat ourselves.’”

VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) – On Sunday Pope Francis again expressed shock and sorrow for Friday’s terror attacks in Paris, condemning the acts as an “affront to human dignity,” and encouraging attendees to find hope in Jesus.

“I wish to express my deep sorrow for the terrorist attacks which on Friday evening covered France in blood,” the Pope said in his Nov. 15 Angelus address.

“Such barbarity leaves us shocked and makes us wonder how the human heart can conceive and carry out such horrible events, which have shaken not only France but the entire world.”

Speaking to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope said that when faced with such “intolerable” acts of violence, one “cannot but condemn the disgraceful affront to human dignity.”

Francis assured his closeness to French president Francois Hollande, as well as to the families of the dead and wounded, entrusting them to the mercy of God.

“I wish to forcefully reaffirm that the path of violence and hate can never solve the problems of humanity!” he said, adding that “to use the name of God to justify this path is blasphemy.”

He prayed that Mary would protect and watch over France, Europe and the entire world, and paused for a moment of silence before leading pilgrims in praying a Hail Mary.

The Pope’s comments come in wake of the worst terrorist attack Europe has seen since the Madrid train bombings of 2004, when Islamic extremists killed 191 people.

On Nov. 13 eight Islamic terrorists carried out a violent siege across Paris, targeting bars, restaurants, a concert hall and a football stadium in the heart of the city.

It was the deadliest attack on French soil since WWII, killing at least 129 people and leaving 352 injured, 99 of whom remain in critical condition, Reuters news reports.

Eyewitnesses reported hearing the terrorists cry out “Allahu Akbar!” – Arabic for “God is Great!” as the violence unraveled.

In his reflections on the day’s Gospel, Pope Francis focused on Jesus’ description of the end times in the day’s Gospel, taken from Mark Chapter 13.

Among the apocalyptic signs Jesus mentions are wars, famines and cosmic catastrophes, such as the darkening of the sun and the moon. However, the Pope emphasized that these elements “are not the essential part of the message.”

The heart of Jesus’ message, Francis said, “is himself; the mystery of his person and of his death and resurrection, and his return to the end of time.”

Our ultimate goal is to encounter the Risen Lord, he said, explaining that “we aren’t waiting for a time or a place, but we’re going toward a person: Jesus.”

Because of this, our main concern shouldn’t be how or when the signs will occur, but rather to be ready, and focused on how we should live and act today, he said.

He turned to the parable Jesus tells his disciples of the fig tree that sprouts and grows leaves when the summer is near. What the image shows us, he said, is that “the prospect of the end doesn’t distract us from present life, but makes us look to our days with a perspective of hope.”

“That virtue is so hard to live: hope. It’s the smallest of the virtues, but it’s the strongest,” he said, adding that our hope is found in a concrete person: “the face of the Risen Lord.”

Jesus’ victory at the end times will be the triumph of his Cross, Francis said. It is the proof that self-sacrifice done out of love for another is “the only victorious power” and the only stable point in the midst of the tragedies and turmoil of the world.

In addition to being the final destination of our earthly pilgrimage, Jesus is also a constant presence in our lives, he said, explaining that Jesus references the future as a means of inspiring his disciples to live the present better.

“(Jesus) stands against false prophets, against the visionaries who perceive that the end of the world is near, and against fatalism,” the Pope said, explaining that in every age the Lord seeks to rescue his disciples from “curiosity, dates, projections, horoscopes,” and to help them focus on the present.

In off-the-cuff remarks, Pope Francis asked how many of those gathered read daily horoscopes. He told them not to answer aloud, but to respond “internally.”

For those who read it, Francis told them instead to turn to Jesus, “who is with you,” adding that “It’s better. It will be better for you.”

The Pope closed by stressing the importance of being vigilant, and warned against the extremes of either impatience or “drowsiness,” as well as the temptations to either look too far into the future or remain too attached to the present, without thinking about our final destination.

“Even to this day there is no shortage of natural and moral disasters, nor of adversity and hardships of every kind,” he said, and reminded attendees that the Lord is the “only guiding light that refreshes our steps.”

TYLER – More than 1,000 people participated in a Sept. 27 procession for and celebration of St. Michael the Archangel at St. Peter Claver Church in Tyler.

Father Luis Larrea, pastor, said this is the fourth year for the event, which draws people from far beyond East Texas.

“We have a community of people here (in the parish) from the town of La Labor in Guanajuato, Mexico,” said Father Larrea. “The feast of St. Michael is a very big celebration in their town, and four years ago they asked if we could have one here.”

Members of that community have spread the word to others with ties to La Labor, he said, “and now people come from Dallas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas for this celebration. They come with banners, dancers, bands, everything. It is a very important day for them, and we are very glad to help them celebrate it.”

In the town of La Labor itself, he said, the Sept. 29 feast day celebration will draw “as many as 50,000 to 100,000 people.”

In preparation for the feast, Father Larrea said, “We in the parish pray a novena to St. Michael.”

The celebration is held each year on the Sunday closest to the Sept. 29 feast day.