VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) – On Wednesday Pope Francis launched a new series of catechesis on mercy for his general audiences, telling pilgrims that the love and forgiveness of God can’t be overcome by anything, including our sin.

“In the Book of Exodus, God defines himself as the God of mercy.  This is his name, through which he reveals to us his face and his heart,” the Pope said in his Jan 13 general audience.

The description of God as being “steadfast in love and faithfulness” is beautiful, he said, adding that this description “says everything. Because God is great and powerful, but this greatness and power unfold in loving us, so little, so incapable.”

Used in this way, the word love indicates an attitude of affection, grace and goodness, he said, distinguishing this from the type of superficial love we see in soap operas.

It’s always love that “makes the first step, that doesn’t depend on human merits but gives an immense gratuity,” he said, adding that “nothing can stop divine solicitude, not even sin, because it knows how to go beyond sin, overcoming evil and forgiving it.”

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall for his weekly general audience. This week he began a new series of catechesis dedicated to mercy according to the bible, a decision he said he made so that we can “learn mercy by listening to what God himself teaches us with his word.”

After listening to the day’s reading from Exodus, the Pope pointed to how God tells Moses that he is “the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”

These words are echoed throughout the Old Testament, he said, noting that the same formula is found in other texts. Although the variations are different, “always the emphasis is put on mercy and on the love of God who never tires of forgiving.”

Francis said that when referring to God, the word “mercy” evokes an attitude of tenderness, much like the kind a mother shows toward her children.

“The image is that of a God who is moved and softens for us like a mother when she takes her child in her arms, desiring only to love, protect, help and is ready to give everything, even herself. A love, then, that can be defined in a good way as ‘visceral,’” he said.

He noted how God is also referred to as “compassionate,” and that it is out of this compassion that the Lord in his greatness “bends down to whoever is weak and poor, always ready to welcome, to understand and to forgive.”

Pope Francis then referred to the parable of the Prodigal Son. After the younger son took his inheritance and squandered it, the father never abandoned him or closed himself in resentment, but continued to wait for his return.

Once the younger son came back, the father ran to meet him and embraced him, Francis said, explaining that “so great was the love and joy for having found him again, (the father) didn’t even allow him to finish his confession – it’s like he covered his mouth.”

Then the father called the older son and invited him in to the celebration. Even though the older son is bitter, the father “tries to open his heart to love, because no one is excluded from the feast of mercy,” the Pope observed.

Francis noted how this same merciful God is described as being “slow to anger,” and is willing to wait patiently, like a wise farmer who waits for his crop, for the seeds of repentance to grow in our hearts.

“God is totally and always reliable. He is a solid and stable presence. This is the certainty of our faith.”

Pope Francis closed his address by praying that during the Jubilee of Mercy, all would entrust themselves entirely to the Lord, “and experience the joy of being loved by this God who is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and great in love and faithfulness.”

After greeting pilgrims present from various countries around the world, the Pope offered special prayers for the victims and families of yesterday’s suicide bombing near the famous Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

At least 10 people were killed and several injured when a suicide bomber, identified as a Syrian, blew himself up in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district, which is near the Blue Mosque. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack.

In his comments, Pope Francis invited faithful to pray for the victims, and asked that the merciful God “give eternal peace to the deceased, comfort to the families, firm solidarity to society as a whole,” and that he “convert the hearts of the violent.”

By Elise Harris

TYLER – Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals and Clinics has signed a letter of intent to become part of CHRISTUS Health, an international Catholic not-for-profit health system.

The partnership was announced at a press conference Jan. 7 at Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler.

“We pride ourselves on our commitment to bringing the best patient care and services to East Texas. This has been an integral part of our mission as a faith-based health provider for more than 75 years, and we will continue to realize that vision for East Texas for years to come,” said Lindsey Bradley, President and Chief Executive Officer of TMFHC.

“An alliance with CHRISTUS Health will allow us to build upon the foundation set forth by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth many years ago with a partner that shares our faith-based values and dedication to quality care. We will not only continue to serve the people of East Texas diligently, but grow to expand access to the highest quality healthcare as East Texans have come to expect,” continued Bradley.

Trinity Mother Frances was “founded in the Catholic mission of healthcare in East Texas,” Bradley said. “We’ve been proudly doing that from the very beginning, and we decided that we would be better able to serve an ever broader area of East Texas by seeking out a partner. In the last nine months we’ve been engaged in an organized process to seek out a partner that shares the same culture, the same vision, and that has a reason to want to expand and grow Catholic healthcare in East Texas.”

Bradley said that included “not serving only those who have insurance, but serving the disadvantaged and those who have limited access to healthcare.”

That partner, he said, is CHRISTUS Health, which is “Texas based. They’ve been here in Texas for 150 years. They know Texas.”

CHRISTUS also knows East Texas. The system operates facilities in Texarkana and Atlanta, including the 312-bed CHRISTUS St. Michael Hospital in Texarkana, the 50-bed CHRISTUS St. Michael Rehabilitation Hospital in Texarkana, and the 64-bed CHRISTUS St. Michael Hospital in Atlanta.

The CHRISTUS system is sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of Houston and San Antonio. The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth will become the third sponsoring religious congregation of the CHRISTUS system, expanding their healthcare ministry to the areas served by the system.

“We see this as a great opportunity to expand the healing ministry of Jesus Christ,” Bradley said.

He stressed that the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth will remain a visible presence at the hospital.

“Our sisters are the embodiment of who we are,” Bradley said. “I hope we get more sisters. But the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth are here, they’ve been here, and they will be here.”

He also said the name so many in East Texas have grown to know and trust will not change.

“Mother Frances Hospital is named for the foundress of our sponsoring congregation,” he said, referring to Blessed Frances Siedliska. “That is a treasured name and it will not change.”

“We are a world-class healthcare organization. And, we are committed to maintaining that standard here, in East Texas. This announcement today is the beginning of the path that will solidify world-class healthcare in East Texas for decades to come,” said Ray Thompson, FACHE, Chief Operating Officer, Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals and Clinics. “We are proactively defining our future, and this is a day of celebration for our two health systems and for the people of East Texas.”

“We are an integrated healthcare system, and a significant portion of that model of care is our trust in physician leadership,” said Steven P. Keuer, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals and Clinics and President, Trinity Clinic. “We approach actions with the mindset of ‘How will this affect the patient?’ Our goal is to keep the care of our patients as our priority. This combination reflects those values, and it is important for everyone to know that the physicians of this organization were deeply involved in this process from the beginning.”

“Our process of evaluation has given us the opportunity to get to know the people of CHRISTUS Health and their organization on a personal level and to find common ground,” said Scott Smith, Senior Vice President and Institute Chief, Primary Care, Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals and Clinics. “It gives us a sense of comfort, of hope and of pure joy to be making the right decision for us and for East Texas.”

Smith said TMFHC officials “came up with a list of at least 20 ‘must haves’” during the process of searching for a partner. Among those were “maintaining our Catholic-based heritage and our faith-based healing ministry through healthcare.”

CHRISTUS, he said, “met all of them. We felt there was a very strong blend of cultures. Not only are they dedicated to patient-centered care and improving care, they are also dedicated to doing it through the healing ministry of Jesus Christ. So we could not be more pleased with this partnership.”

“When TMFHC joins with CHRISTUS Health system, it will create a combined platform that we believe will provide significant growth opportunities and healthcare options,” said Ernie Sadau, Chief Executive Officer for CHRISTUS Health. “Together we will forge a stronger Catholic healthcare system East Texans will depend on for years to come. We believe that growing our network of facilities in East Texas will give the CHRISTUS-Trinity Mother Frances system more opportunities to expand access to care in the region, as well as continue to improve the quality of care we provide. It will also offer us more opportunities to pursue new models of health care delivery that depend on a strong geographic presence, ensuring that the residents of Tyler and across East Texas continue to have access to high quality healthcare and the latest ways of accessing the care they need.

“On behalf of our sponsoring congregations, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of Houston and the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of San Antonio, our entire board and our 35,000 associates, I’m proud to say that this is truly a milestone event for CHRISTUS Health, but also for Catholic healthcare in East Texas,” Sadau said. “Our missions align – to expand the healing ministry of Jesus Christ. Our values align, our cultures align, the charisms of our sponsoring congregations, which are the foundations of who we are and how we deliver healthcare, align. That will allow us to expand healthcare in East Texas so that more and more people can be embraced by God’s healing love. That’s who we are.”

When due diligence is complete and the deal is final, TMFHC will become part of the CHRISTUS Health system. At that time, subject to formal approval by the CHRISTUS Health Board of Directors, four TMF representatives will join the CHRISTUS Health Board, including Lindsey Bradley and Ray Thompson, one representative from the Trinity Clinic, and one sister from the Congregation of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals and Clinics include the Louis and Peaches Owen Heart Hospital; Mother Frances Hospital Tyler, Jacksonville and Winnsboro; Trinity Mother Frances Rehabilitation Hospital, affiliated with HEALTHSOUTH; Tyler ContinueCARE Hospital, a long-term acute care facility; and Trinity Clinic. Trinity Clinic is the area’s preferred multi-specialty medical group, with more than 330 Physicians and Advanced Practice Providers representing 36 specialties in 31 locations serving East Texas.

CHRISTUS Health is headquartered in Dallas and is comprised of almost 350 services and facilities, including more than 50 hospitals and long-term care facilities, 175 clinics and outpatient centers and dozens of other health ministries and ventures. CHRISTUS services can be found in over 60 cities in Texas, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, New Mexico, Georgia, Mexico, and Chile. The system employs approximately 30,000 Associates and has over 13,500 physicians on facility medical staffs. CHRISTUS Health is listed among the 10 largest Catholic health systems in the U.S.

Mother Frances Hospital has served East Texas for almost 80 years. It was founded in 1937, when Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth came from Chicago to Tyler to open the first modern hospital in the region. The 60-bed municipal facility was scheduled to open on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph. But on March 18, the New London Consolidated School was rocked by a natural gas explosion, and the hospital opened its doors and beds a day early to the wounded streaming in from New London.

In a simple dedication ceremony the next day, Bishop Joseph P. Lynch of Dallas said the hospital had been consecrated by the sufferings of more than 100 explosion victims, and by the compassionate care given them by the sisters and hospital staff. The hospital and the nuns thus became forever entwined in the history of East Texas.

In the decades since, the hospital has expanded and become recognized for excellence in cardiac care, maternity care, Level II trauma, pediatrics, orthopedics and cancer. In 1995, the Mother Frances Regional Health Care Center merged with the Trinity Clinic physician group to form Trinity-Mother Frances Health System. Today, Mother Frances has more than 350 beds and is staffed by 340 physicians.

The CHRISTUS Health System, sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of Houston and San Antonio, is comprised of almost 350 services and facilities, including more than 60 hospitals and long-term care facilities, 175 clinics and outpatient centers, and dozens of other health ministries and ventures.

The system employs approximately 30,000 Associates and has more than 9,000 physicians on the medical staffs of its facilities in Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas, Chile and Mexico.s

There is a great slogan that is often seen today on billboards and bumperstickers.  It says, “Wise men still seek Him.”  And it’s true.  Those who are wise still seek to be close to Jesus — to know Him more intimately and to love Him more profoundly.  This is what we celebrate this Sunday on the Feast of the Epiphany.  The three Magi were probably wise men from Persia.  There is no evidence that they were necessarily kings, but they would have been pagan astronomers familiar with Judaism and prophesies about the Jewish messiah.  This is why the large star would have appealed to them: God was already showing the pagans that salvation had come to them.  This first epiphany is significant because it is the first time pagans (non-Jews) come to adore Jesus.

Even more significant are the gifts that the Magi bring.  I offer for your reflection the meaning of each gift and how we as Gentile Christians, as Catholics in East Texas, can offer spiritual gifts to Christ this new year of 2016.  The first gift: gold, a gift fit for a king, but a practical gift.  Jesus, Mary and Joseph were poor.  They needed money to provide for Jesus’ needs.  Like Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, we have needs in this Catholic community.  Maybe we can look deeper into how we give.  Do we give God our left-overs, or do we give Him the very best?  We have to give God the sacrifice of our time, talent and treasure if we want the kingdom of Christ to grow in our town.

The second gift: frankincense, a gift for God.  In the sacred liturgy, you will notice incense being used at many Masses in the Diocese of Tyler on Sundays.  It is a sign of God’s presence and our prayers arising before Him.  In our daily lives, when we are not at church, are we really taking time to pray, to adore God, at least in the morning and in the evening?  A daily rosary?  If we struggle with this, let us resolve to make our daily prayer a gift for Jesus in 2016.

The third gift: myrrh, the oil used to anoint Levitical priests in the Old Testament, but also an oil used to embalm a dead body.  This is another epiphany (manifestation) about Jesus, His mortality and His destiny in God’s plan of salvation.  In our lives, myrrh can represent our own self-sacrifices throughout our day.  They can be little sacrifices in which we die to self, but more importantly, they can be little sacrifices to show our love for Jesus.  At the Mass of the Epiphany of the Lord, we offer our lives to worship our King, our God, and our Savior.  Come, let us adore Him!

Father Nolan Lowry, STL, is the pastor of St. Edward Parish in Athens, Texas.

On January 1, 2016, new legislation will go into effect in Texas which allows those with licenses issued by the State to openly carry handguns in places not prohibited by law. We will see our fellow citizens openly carrying weapons in stores, restaurants, theaters, parks, and other public places. This law revises the current “concealed carry” law but continues the requirements that those with licenses to carry handguns must be at least 21, have passed a criminal background check and have received classroom and shooting range instruction.

I respect and support the right that we have as Texans to defend ourselves and our families. As Catholics, we believe the legitimate defense of persons can be not only a right, but also a grave duty.

In the Diocese of Tyler, I strongly encourage those who choose to exercise this right to continue to do so in a prudent and responsible manner. With respect to our communal worship, I believe that openly carrying a weapon is not appropriate during the Sacred Liturgy and may understandably cause great discomfort to some gathered to worship alongside us.

Accordingly, as Bishop, I ask the faithful of the Diocese of Tyler and guests of our churches to observe my instruction that weapons are not to be openly carried during Holy Mass or other times of public worship. Peace Officers commissioned by local, state or federal agencies are exempt from this instruction.

As Texans adjust to this new law, I would also encourage the clergy and faithful of the Diocese to address any questions that may arise with calmness, kindness and respect, taking into consideration both the legitimate feelings and the rights of all involved.

Please direct any questions that may come up regarding this instruction or the position of the Diocese of Tyler to Mr. Peyton Low at the Chancery Office.

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For the churches of the Diocese, the following statement should be inserted into Sunday bulletins and/or read during the announcements:

OPEN CARRY & HOLY MASS
Respecting the right of Texans to defend themselves and their families while at the same time being considerate of those who may be uncomfortable around weapons in the context of our sacred liturgies, Bishop Joseph E. Strickland has instructed that weapons are not to be openly carried during Holy Mass or other times of public worship.  Peace Officers commissioned by local, state or federal agencies are exempt from this instruction.  For more information, visit www.dioceseoftyler.org.

If a person who is lawfully carrying a weapon in an open manner enters a church, ushers, greeters and clergy are asked to refer the person to this statement.

As always, if someone is acting suspiciously or if an individual perceives danger to himself or others, call 9-1-1 and follow local security procedures.

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