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Pope on first Sunday of Lent: Now is the time for conversion

Vatican City, Feb 18, 2018 / 09:10 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Lent is a time to face our temptations and be converted by the Gospel, Pope Francis said in his Angelus address on the first Sunday of Lent.

His reflections were based on the passage in the Gospel of Mark, when Jesus is tempted by Satan in the desert for 40 days.

Jesus goes into the desert to prepare for his mission on earth, the Pope said.

While Jesus has no need of conversion himself, he must go to the desert out of obedience to God the Father and "for us, to give us the grace to overcome temptation."

“For us, too, Lent is a time of spiritual ‘training’, of spiritual combat: we are called to face the Evil one through prayer, to be able, with God’s help, to overcome him in our daily life,” he continued.

Immediately after he is tempted, Jesus goes out of the desert to preach the Gospel, which demands conversion from all who hear it, the Holy Father said.

“(Jesus) proclaims, ‘Repent, and believe in the Gospel!’ — believe, that is, in this Good News that the kingdom of God is at hand. In our life we always have need of conversion — every day! — and the Church has us pray for this. In fact, we are never sufficiently oriented toward God, and we must continually direct our mind and our heart to Him."

Lent is the time to have the courage to reject anything that leads us away from God and repent, Francis noted, “but it is not a sad time!”

“It is a joyful and serious duty to strip ourselves of our selfishness, of our ‘old man,’ and to renew ourselves according to the grace of our Baptism,” he said.

During Lent, we must listen to the call of Christ and be converted, recognizing that true happiness lies in God alone, Francis said.

He concluded his address with an appeal to Mary:

“May Mary Most Holy help us to live this Lent with fidelity to the Word of God and with incessant prayer, as Jesus did in the desert. It is not impossible! It means living the days with the desire to welcome the love that comes from God, and that desires to transform our life, and the whole world.”

 

The One For Whom Difference Makes No Difference – A Funeral Sermon On John 6:37-40

I wondered what difference his being different made to others. Because you know as well as I that the world can be a difficult place when you are different. The world can be way to quick to see and name difference as a deficiency and way to slow to create a place and space for one who is different. And too often that one lives at the extremes of either being avoided or taken advantage of.

St. Flavian

On Feb. 18, the Roman Catholic Church remembers Patriarch Saint Flavian of Constantinople, who is honored on the same date by Eastern Catholics of the Byzantine tradition and by Eastern Orthodox Christians.Known to Eastern Christians as “St. Flavian the Confessor,� the patriarch endured condemnation and severe beatings during a fifth-century dispute about the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ. Though he died from his injuries, his stand against heresy was later vindicated at the Church’s fourth ecumenical council in 451.St. Flavian is closely associated with Pope St. Leo the Great, who also upheld the truth about Christ’s divine and human natures during the controversy. The Pope’s best-known contribution to the fourth council – a letter known as the “Tome of Leo� – was originally addressed to St. Flavian, though it did not reach the patriarch during his lifetime.Flavian's date of birth is unknown, as are most of his biographical details. He was highly-regarded as a priest during the reign of the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II (which lasted from 408 to 450), and he became Archbishop of Constantinople following the death of Patriarch Saint Proclus in approximately 447.Early in his patriarchate, Flavian angered a state official named Chrysaphius by refusing to offer a bribe to the emperor. The ruler's wife Eudocia joined the resulting conspiracy which Chrysaphius hatched against Flavian, a plot that would come to fruition in an illegitimate Church council and the patriarch's death.As head of the Church in Constantinople, Flavian had inherited a theological controversy about the relationship between deity and humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. In an occurrence that was not uncommon for the time, the doctrinal issue became entangled with personal and political rivalries. Flavian's stand for orthodoxy gave his high-ranking court opponents a chance to act against him by encouraging the proponents of doctrinal error and manipulating the emperor in their favor.The theological issue had arisen after the Council of Ephesus, which in 431 had confirmed the personal unity of Christ and condemned the error (known as Nestorianism) that said he was a composite being made up of a divine person and a human person. But questions persisted: Were Jesus' eternal divinity, and his assumed humanity, two distinct and complete natures fully united in one person? Or did the person of Christ have only one hybrid nature, made up in some manner of both humanity and divinity?The Church would eventually confirm that the Lord's incarnation involved both a divine and a human nature at all times. When God took on a human nature at the incarnation, in the words of Pope St. Leo the Great, “the proper character of both natures was maintained and came together in a single person,� and “each nature kept its proper character without loss.�During Flavian’s patriarchate, however, the doctrine of Christ’s two natures had not been fully and explicitly defined. Thus, controversy came up regarding the doctrine of a monk named Eutyches, who insisted that Christ had only “one nature.� Flavian understood the “monophysite� doctrine as contrary to faith in Christ’s full humanity, and he condemned it at a local council in November of 448. He excommunicated Eutyches, and sent his decision to Pope Leo, who gave his approval in May 449.Chrysaphius, who knew Eutyches personally, proceeded to use the monk as his instrument against the patriarch who had angered him. He convinced the emperor that a Church council should be convened to consider Eutyches’ doctrine again. The resulting council, held in August 449 and led by Dioscorus of Alexandria, was completely illegitimate, and later formally condemned. But it pronounced against Flavian and declared him deposed from the patriarchate.During this same illicit gathering, known to history as the “Robber Council,� a mob of monks beat St. Flavian so aggressively that he died from his injuries three days later. Chrysaphius seemed, for the moment, to have triumphed over the patriarch.But the state official’s ambitions soon collapsed. Chrysaphius fell out of favor with Theodosius II shortly before the emperor’s death in July 450, and he was executed early in the reign of his successor Marcian.St. Flavian, meanwhile, was canonized by the Fourth Ecumenical Council in 451. Its participants gave strong acclamation to the “Tome of Leo� – in which the Pope confirmed St. Flavian’s condemnation of Eutyches and affirmed the truth about Christ’s two natures, both divine and human.

Pope Francis says Paul VI will be canonized this year

Vatican City, Feb 17, 2018 / 08:53 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During his annual Lenten meeting with the priests of Rome last week, Pope Francis confirmed that Blessed Pope Paul VI will be made a saint sometime this year.

"Paul VI will be a saint this year," the Pope said Feb. 15, at the end of a long question and answer session with priests of Rome. The text of the private meeting was published by the Vatican Feb. 17.

During the meeting, Francis gave lengthy answers to four questions from priests. Afterward, texts containing meditations by Pope Paul VI, a gift from the Pope, were handed out to each of the priests. “I saw it and I loved it,” Francis said about the book.

“There are two [recent] Bishops of Rome already saints,” he continued, referring to St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II, who were canonized together in April 2014.

Besides Blessed Pope Paul VI, he noted that John Paul I's cause for beatification is also ongoing. "And Benedict and I," he added, are "on the waiting list: pray for us!"

According to Vatican Insider, Feb. 6 the Congregation for the Causes of Saints approved the second miracle needed for the canonization of Bl. Pope Paul VI by a unanimous vote.

The next step is for Pope Francis to also give his approval, with an official decree from the Vatican. Then the date for the canonization can be set. The canonization could take place in October of this year, during the Synod of Bishops on the youth, Vatican Insider reported.

The miracle attributed to the cause of Paul VI is the healing of an unborn child in the fifth month of pregnancy. The case was brought forward in 2014 for study.

The mother, originally from the province of Verona, Italy, had an illness that risked her own life and the life of her unborn child, and was advised to have an abortion.

A few days after the beatification of Paul VI on Oct. 19, 2014, she went to pray to him at the Shrine of Holy Mary of Grace in the town of Brescia. The baby girl was later born in good health, and remains in good health today.

The healing was first ruled as medically inexplicable by the medical council of the congregation last year, while the congregation's consulting theologians agreed that the healing occurred through the late pope's intercession.
 

Pope reappoints O’Malley to head further work of safeguarding commission

Vatican City, Feb 17, 2018 / 05:10 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Saturday the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has reconfirmed Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston as head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, also reconfirming seven members and appointing nine new.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM), is an advisory body to the Pope on the issue of safeguarding minors and vulnerable adults from sexual abuse. Its first 3-year mandate concluded in December 2017 and was awaiting the Pope’s confirmation of new and old members.

The new members are Benyam Dawit Mezmur from Ethiopia; Sr. Arina Gonsalves, RJM from India; Neville Owen from Australia; Sinalelea Fe’ao from Tonga; Myriam Wijlens from the Netherlands; Ernesto Caffo from Italy; Sr. Jane Bertelsen, FMDM from the U.K.; Teresa Kettelkamp from the U.S.; and Nelson Giovanelli Rosendo Dos Santos from Brazil.

The returning commission members are Dr. Gabriel Dy-Liacco from the Philippines; Bishop Luis Manuel Alí Herrera from Colombia; Fr. Hans Zollner, SJ from Germany; Hannah Suchocka from Poland; Sr. Kayula Lesa, RSC from Zambia; Sr. Hermenegild Makoro, CPS from South Africa; and Mons. Robert Oliver from the U.S.

In a statement released Feb. 17, O’Malley said that Pope Francis “has given much prayerful consideration in nominating these members. The newly appointed members will add to the commission’s global perspective in the protection of minors and vulnerable adults.”

In his reconfirmation of previous members, the Pope has also “ensured continuity in the work of our Commission, which is to assist local churches throughout the world in their efforts to safeguard all children, young people, and vulnerable adults from harm,” O’Malley said.

According to a press release, the 16 members are made up of eight women and eight men spanning multiple disciples of international expertise in the field of safeguarding children and vulnerable adults from the crime of sexual abuse.

“Representatives from several new countries will now offer their insights and experience to the Commission, reflecting the global reach of the Church and the challenge of creating safeguarding structures in diverse cultural contexts,” the release stated.

The members of the commission include both victims of clerical sexual abuse and parents of victims. The commission has stated that it will continue to uphold its practice of defending each person’s right to choose whether or not to disclose their experiences of abuse publicly.

“The members appointed today have chosen to not do so publicly, but solely within the Commission. The PCPM firmly believes that their privacy in this matter is to be respected,” they stated.

It was announced that the commission’s new term, as decided at their last plenary meeting in September 2017, would begin with listening to and learning from people who have experienced abuse, their family members and others who support them.

They also affirmed that the “victim/survivor first” approach will continue “to be central” to their policies and educational programs.

“The PCPM wishes to hear the voices of victims/survivors directly, in order that the advice offered to the Holy Father be truly imbued with their insights and experiences,” the release stated.

The first plenary meeting of the new Commission will be held in April and will begin with a private meeting with people who have experienced abuse. They will discuss proposals of ways to continue to foster an on-going dialogue with victims and survivors around the world.

They announced that discussions have also already been underway to create an “International Survivor Advisory Panel” (ISAP), building off the experience of the Survivor Advisory Panel of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission in England and Wales.

The working group to research and develop a proposal for the ISAP has been led by Baroness Hollins, a founding member of the commission, who will lead a presentation at the April plenary session.

Goals for the panel include studying prevention from a survivor’s perspective and being proactive in raising awareness for the need for healing and care for everyone who has suffered abuse.

According to their statement, over the last four years the commission has worked with almost 200 dioceses and religious communities around the world “to raise awareness and educate people on the need for safeguarding in our homes, parishes, schools, hospitals, and other institutions.”

“The members would like to thank all those who have embraced this call and to thank the Holy See for supporting and encouraging these efforts,” it concluded.

Mortality And The Fragility Of Life – An Ash Wednesday Sermon On Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

We live in a tension between the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death. And we work pretty hard at denying, ignoring, forgetting, outrunning, and overcoming those twin realities. But they are always there. They are always present to us in the same way the ashes with which we will be marked were already a part of and present in the palms we carried last year on Palm Sunday. What’s that like for you? In what ways have those two realities, the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death, made themselves known in your life? Maybe that's what you are facing today.

Commentary: The Vatican gap between theory and practice

Rome, Italy, Feb 16, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Yesterday Pope Francis issued a new letter motu proprio entitled Imparare a congedarsi, or “Learning to take your leave.”

Pope Francis made only some minor adjustments to canon law concerning the retirement of bishops, specifically those serving as papal representatives in diplomatic posts and in Curial offices.

Legally speaking, not much changed. Imparare is a tidying up exercise. All bishops are now asked to submit their resignations at the age of 75, which become effective when they are formally accepted by the pope. Previously, those in certain positions saw their positions lapse de iure upon their reaching a certain age.

While the document is ostensibly about retirement, and going gracefully, in fact it clears the way for Vatican officials to carry on in their posts past the age of 75.

In itself, there is nothing novel about bishops in important or sensitive roles carrying on past the age of retirement. It is common practice that diocesan bishops in major sees have their resignations accepted nunc pro tunc, or “now for later,” effectively keeping them in post indefinitely. Similarly, few Curial cardinals are expected to depart from service promptly on their 75th birthdays. Harmonizing the law, so that it effectively applies to everyone in the same way, is not exactly revolutionary.

What is odd about the motu proprio is that, for a document supposedly about retiring with grace, it spends rather more time talking about those who are staying on. Indeed, under Pope Francis, this exception is becoming the norm.

Despite the Pope’s stated preference for single five-year terms in the Curia, an ever-growing number of key Vatican officials are carrying on well past their terms. Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, who heads the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, has served 11 years in that office, and turns 80 next month. Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, is 77, and Cardinal Ravasi at the Pontifical Council for Culture turned 77 last year - though both are still in their first five-year terms.

The progressive Archbishop Piero Marini has been head of the International Eucharistic Congresses for 10 years and turned 76 a few weeks ago. Msgr. Pio Vito Pinto, the erratic Dean of the Roman Rota, is nearly 77. Those who are expected to retire with grace at the end of their terms, like Cardinal Müller, are so exceptional as to be newsworthy.

Given that this is the opposite of what the Pope has called for, the situation is something of a mystery. Imparare a congedarsi is clear that carrying on past an age limit is supposed to be “exceptional.” The Pope wrote that anyone being kept on is not being done a “favor” or being thanked for services rendered. Instead, such individuals are being asked to see important projects to their finish, or bridge a difficult period of transition. In theory, this makes excellent sense, and is the reason many officials of different ranks have previously been kept on past 75.

Yet it’s hard to see this rationale at work in all cases. Msgr. Pinto, for example, has been the subject of considerable criticism for his public outbursts against the four so-called “dubia cardinals” (technically his superiors), and his recent attempts to abolish the right of appellants before the court of the Roman Rota to chose their own lawyer (he wanted to assign lawyers personally from his own list of preferred advocates) ended in a humiliating climb-down after it was pointed out he was violating basic legal freedoms and endangering the Holy See’s concordat with the Italian Republic. Pinto has even had a “pro-dean” installed under him, essentially a successor in waiting, yet he remains in office now in his sixth year.

As with several of the Franciscan reforms of the Curia, the distance between theory and practice is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore, or explain. Despite the clear and praiseworthy possibilities offered in yesterday’s motu proprio, there seems little “exceptional” about some of those being kept in office long past retirement age.

Ed Condon is a canon lawyer working for tribunals in a number of dioceses. On Twitter he is @canonlawyered. His opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Catholic News Agency.

Mary Ann Glendon resigns from Vatican Bank oversight board

Vatican City, Feb 16, 2018 / 03:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Prominent American professor Mary Ann Glendon has resigned from the Board of Superintendence which oversees the Institute of Religious Works, the so-called Vatican Bank.

“Professor Glendon has expressed a desire to devote more time to other Catholic causes, and the IOR wishes her all of the best for the future, both personally and professionally,” the institute said Feb. 16.

The statement thanked the 79-year-old Glendon for her contributions, especially in the process of defining its legal framework.

The Massachusetts-born Glendon served as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush from 2008-2009. She is a professor at Harvard Law School with an expertise in international human rights, comparative law, and constitutional law.

Under Pope Francis, Glendon was a member of a papal commission set up to ensure transparency at the Vatican Bank and make recommendations for its future from June 2013 to May 2014. She then served as a member of the IOR’s Board of Superintendence beginning July 9, 2014.

The Institute for Religious Works was founded in 1942 under Ven. Pius XII but has origins dating back to 1887. It aims to hold and administer finances designated for “religious works or charity,” its website says. It accepts deposits from legal entities or persons of the Holy See and of the Vatican City State. The main function of the bank is to manage bank accounts for religious orders and Catholic associations.

According to 2016 figures, the bank has about $7 billion in assets from almost 15,000 customers. It has about 100 employees and turned a profit of about $44 million.

The Board of Superintendence governs the bank under a six-member Commission of Cardinals. The commission is supervised by Cardinal Santos Abril y Castelló.

Since his election as Bishop of Rome in 2013, Pope Francis has sought to reform the Vatican’s bank and other financial aspects of the Holy See. The process has not been easy. There have been various debates about jurisdiction, oversight, and auditing; establishment of new laws and guidelines; and changes in key personnel and leadership.

St. John Paul II named Glendon to the newly created Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences in 1994. She led a 22-member delegation of the Holy See to the Fourth U.N. Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995, and served on the Holy See’s Central Committee for the Great Jubilee 2000.

In 2004 she was named head of the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences, where she served through 2014.

She chairs the Holy See’s Select Committee on Legal Matters in the United States and is a past president of the International Association of Legal Science.

Palestine asks Vatican to defend Jerusalem’s status quo

Vatican City, Feb 16, 2018 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Palestinian Foreign Affairs minister, Ryadh al Maliki, met officials of the Vatican Secretariat of State Feb. 16, asking the Holy See to amplify its voice defending the status quo in Jerusalem.
 
“It is important to understand that the situation of Jerusalem also deals with Christians,” the minister told CNA after the meeting, during a short briefing with journalists in the State of Palestine’s recently opened embassy to the Holy See.

“We would like the Holy See lead a conference of Christians in the Middle East, in order to make their voice stronger.”
 
Minister al Maliki met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, and then with Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican “minister for foreign affairs.
 
Al Maliki reported that the meetings “shed light on the implication of President Trump’s decision to ‘award’ Jerusalem as capital of Israel, with the decision to transfer the US Embassy to Israel to the city.”
 
Trump’s decision, al Maliki said, “had the effect of connecting the city with only the Jewish world, setting aside the city’s connections with Christian and Muslims.”
 
This “also jeopardizes the negotiations,” concerning peace between Israel and Palestine, “because the issue of the status of Jerusalem was put off the table,” he said.
 
Al Maliki maintained that Palestine “wants to keep the conflict a a political level,” while Trump’s decision brings the issue to “a religious level.” He said  the status of the city is relevant to all religions which “recognize themselves in the city of Jerusalem.”
 
According to al Maliki, the Holy See expressed concern during the talks, and both parties agreed that the status quo of Jerusalem should be respected, and that the future of Jerusalem “must be negotiated and not imposed.”
 
The Holy See has made several recent statements regarding Jerusalem: Pope Francis made his latest appeal to respect the status quo in Jerusalem at the end of his Dec. 6, 2017 general audience.
 
On Dec. 10, the Holy See Press Office issued a communiqué reiterating that the Holy See maintained its position on the peculiar character of the Holy City, and stressed the importance of maintaining a compromise on the city’s status.

“Only a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians can bring a stable and lasting peace,” and “guarantee the peaceful co-existence of two states within internationally recognized borders,” the statement said.
 
Minister Al Maliki stressed that the State of Palestine “recognized the Holy See’s efforts,” but asked the Holy See to further raise its voice.
 
Al Maliki said he asked the Holy See to take the lead of a conference of Christians in order to shed light on the fact that Christian denominations have an interest in Jerusalem.
 
“It is also important,” al Maliki said “to give a signal to the Christians in the Holy Land, who feel abandoned and under pressure.”
 
He said that, after President Trump’s decision, the Israeli government has started to increase pressure on Palestinian Christians, “making their life harder,” by “imposing taxes, freezing the bank accounts and confiscating properties.”
 
According to al Maliki, this pressure aims at “changing the sacred character of the city, and to turn the city into a Jewish one.”
 
In particular, al Maliki is referring to a recent decision of Nir Barkat, Jerusalem’s mayor, to begin assessing municipal taxes on some church properties.  

In a joint statement, the Churches of Jerusalem stressed that this decision “goes agaist the historic position throughouth the centuries of the Churches and the Holy City of Jerusalem,” and that the measure “undermines the sacred character of Jerusalem, and jeopardises the Church’s ability to conduct its ministry in this land on behalf of its communities and the world-wide church.”
 
According to al Maliki, neither Cardinal Parolin or Archbishop Gallagher objected to the idea of a conference under the Holy See’s lead. However, no decision has yet been made.

Youth look forward to sharing hopes, concerns in pre-synod meeting

Vatican City, Feb 16, 2018 / 11:24 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Ahead of the pre-synod meeting set to take place next month, several young participants voiced excitement to meet with peers from all over the world to exchange ideas and talk about life's major questions.

“This is a step the Church is making to listen to all youth,” said Stella Marilene Nishimwe, a participant in the pre-synod gathering. “It will give us an opportunity to say everything that we think. This is an opportunity that we must really take.”

A young Burundi woman living in Italy, Nishimwe told journalists that she believes the March gathering is “something that God wants from the Church, to do something new for all the youth of the world.”

“Because youth from all over the world, whether they are Catholics or from other religions, we have the same questions,” she said, adding that she thinks it is important that the Church wants to walk with youth “in this world with so much pain, with so many questions that don't have answers.”

She said that what she mainly wants to share is the experience of “the life that we live.” Namely, “we want to find happiness, like everyone in the world, we want to live in unity, we want to feel at home in all parts of the world. We want to really find a path together...in this synod, I really want this.”

Nishimwe was one of four panelists at a Feb. 16 news conference on the upcoming pre-synod meeting, which will be held March 19-24 in Rome with some 300 youth from various backgrounds and countries throughout the world.

The event is a precursor to the October Synod of Bishops on “Faith, Young People and the Discernment of Vocation,” and will include youth in different states of life and from different vocations. Priests, seminarians and consecrated persons will also participate, as well as non-Catholics.

Special attention will also be given to youth from both global and existential “peripheries,” including people with disabilities, and some who have struggled with drug use or who have been in prison.

At the end of the gathering, notes of the various discussions will be gathered into one comprehensive concluding document, which will be presented to Pope Francis and used as part of the “Instrumentum Laboris,” or “working document,” of the October synod.

Alongside Nishimwe at the news conference were Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops; Bishop Fabio Fabene, the synod dicastery’s undersecretary; and Italian youth Filippo Passantino.

In comments to journalists, Passantino said participants are expecting to hear “an echo of their requests, of their needs, of their proposals” in the meeting, not only in the synod hall, “but also on social media, so that social media can become [a] great and luminous reflection to shine on their problems.”

Social media will also play a key role in the pre-synod gathering, which is being promoted on various platforms such as Facebook and Twitter with 15 special hashtags.

Passantino, who has helped to promote the event on social media, said many young people have shared their experiences, and that so far, most of the testimonies and questions posted have been related to problems such as finding work and building meaningful relationships in an increasingly superficial world.

He stressed the importance of youth being able to listen to one another and share their experiences, saying that “we will be listened to, but we must and we want to listen to all those situations of difficulty.”

The pre-synod meeting will kick off Monday, March 19, with an audience with Pope Francis, marking the 5th anniversary of the start of his papal ministry. True to form, Francis during the audience will take questions from young people from all five continents.

In the afternoon, participants will be divided into language groups, which throughout the week will discuss different themes outlined in the preparatory document for the synod, which was released Jan. 13, 2017.

Each session will include five questions to help guide discussion. The questions will focus on various topics, such as the search for meaning, technology, vocational discernment, politics and volunteer work.

Entertainment and moments of prayer will also be included. On Friday, April 23, participants will pray the Way of the Cross while walking to the Roman catacombs of San Callisto. On Saturday, they will spend the morning at the Pontifical Villa in Castel Gandolfo and in the evening will have a celebration with youth from the Diocese of Albano.

The event will conclude with Palm Sunday Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square, which also marks the diocesan celebration of World Youth Day, this year dedicated to the theme: “Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God.”

Participants in the gathering were selected by local bishops conferences for both the Roman and Eastern rites, and for those involved in movements, associations and ecclesial movements. Students at Catholic schools and universities will also attend.

In comments to journalists, Cardinal Baldisseri said the pre-synod gathering is not “an isolated event,” but is rather “a phase on the journey of preparation for the Synod of Bishops in October.”

The first step was the questionnaire that was sent out to bishops’ conferences worldwide, and which was also posted online in order to make it more accessible to young people. It was released in June 2017 for people ages 16 to 29, of all faiths and backgrounds, asking about lives, attitudes and concerns about the world.

According to Baldisseri, some 221,000 youth participated, with the majority being in the younger age bracket. Europe was the continent most highly represented, with Central and South America coming in second, and Africa in third.

The answers to the questionnaire will be one of four key ingredients in the October synod, he said, with the other three being the website for the questionnaire and social media accounts where youth can leave testimonies and answer questions; a September 2017 seminar on youth that took place in Rome; and the final document of the pre-synod meeting.

The pre-synod gathering will be “very, very important for the synod,” Baldisseri said. It aims to ensure that young people are heard and understood, so that the synod is not just an event “about” youth, but “with” them.

The meeting will seek to define specific pastoral projects and outreach plans. Parents, educators and priests will also be present to listen to what the youth are saying and be better equipped to address the problems and situations they encounter.

An exchange of cultural experiences and different religious backgrounds will also be encouraged.

In order to help young people unable to participate in the Rome gathering to have a voice in the discussion, special Facebook groups have been created based on language, which Bishop Baldisseri said will allow those not present to follow the discussion and interact with their peers from around the world.

Links to all social media pages, as well as the hashtags that will be used, can be found on the synod website: www.synod2018.va