By Cindy Wooden
Pope says the visit to Turkey was "an unforgettable spiritual and pastoral experience, which I hope will help produce an increasingly sincere cooperation among all the disciples of Christ and a beneficial dialogue with Muslim believers" and adds that in the Blue Mosque, he prayed for God to help all believers.
VATICAN CITY (CNS) - Pope Benedict XVI said that as he stood facing Mecca in Istanbul's Blue Mosque on Nov 30 he prayed that God would help all believers recognize each other as brothers and sisters.
Using his Dec 6 weekly general audience to share reflections about his Nov 28 to Dec 1 visit to Turkey, the pope said, "Divine providence allowed me to make a gesture that initially was not foreseen, but which, in the end, turned out to be very significant."
Describing what happened at the mosque, the pope said, "pausing a few minutes in recollection in that place of prayer, I turned to the one Lord of heaven and earth, merciful father of all humanity". "May all believers recognize that they are his creatures and give a witness of true brotherhood," he added.
Right, Pope Benedict XVI and Mustafa Cagrici, the grand mufti of Istanbul, pray in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. When the mufti said he was going to pray, the pope bowed his head, folded his hands and moved his lips in silence for about a minute. The historic visit marked the second time a pope has entered a mosque. CNS photo
The pope said the trip was focused on "three concentric circles": encouraging Turkey's small Catholic community, strengthening relations with the Orthodox church and reaching out to the Turkish government and its Muslim majority.
He asked the estimated 9,000 people gathered in the Vatican's audience hall to "join me in thanking God" for how well the trip went. The trip occurred in the wake of Muslim anger over papal remarks on Islam during a speech in Regensburg, Germany, in September.
Pope Benedict said, "I entrust to God the fruits that I hope will flow from it, both as concerns our relations with our Orthodox brothers and sisters and for our dialogue with Muslims."
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Although the main focus of the trip was to celebrate the feast of St. Andrew and relations with the Orthodox ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, the pope said, the first day's meetings with government officials, including the head of the religious affairs department, were important.
With its constitution affirming the secular nature of the state, he said, Turkey is an "emblematic state" in handling tensions faced in various parts of the world. "On the one hand," he said, "there is a need to rediscover the reality of God and the public relevance of religious faith; on the other hand, it must be ensured that the expression of that faith is free, that it is without fundamentalist degenerations and that it is capable of firmly repudiating every form of violence."
Above, Pope Benedict XVI and Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople greet the faithful as they stand on the balcony of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, Turkey. CNS photo
Pope Benedict said that while showing his "esteem for Muslims and for Islamic civilization" he also asked government officials to take steps to ensure that the religious minorities protected by the constitution have the concrete protection they need in order to live their faith fully.
The trip also was an opportunity to show support for Catholic-Muslim dialogue and to urge Muslims and Christians around the world to work together "on behalf of the human person, for life, for peace and justice", he said.
Pope Benedict said his meetings with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and, especially, their presence at each other's liturgies, consolidated their feeling of brotherhood and their commitment "to continue on the path toward the re-establishment of full communion".
"I returned here to the Vatican with my soul filled with gratitude to God and with feelings of sincere affection and esteem for the beloved Turkish nation which made me feel welcomed and understood," he said.
SINGAPORE - This year, Mission Orientation Programme (MOP) participants travelled to Pattaya, Thailand where they visited places where there were many "victims of rejection and contempt" described in Pope John Paul II's encyclical, "Redemptorist Missio", which they studied as part of their formation programme.
MOP, which is organized by a sub-group of the Archdiocesan Commission for Missionary Activity (ACMA), offers participants a retreat away from the busyness of Singapore and exposes them to different mission opportunities.
Some of the places the participants visited from Nov 9-16 included Father Ray Brennan's Orphanage, The AIDS Center and the Fountain of Life Center, where women are given education to help them to leave the sex industry. It is not only the women who are ministered to in Thailand, as the participants learnt. A Franciscan lay missionary from the United States, Lynda Crone, is heading the BUDDIE (Building Understanding and Developing Dignity in Everyone) Programme.
This fraternity reaches out to men who patronize the sex industry in Thailand, offering them love and support to help them break away from seeking illicit comfort. The participants also went to the Redemptorist Vocational School for the Disabled, where marginalized or disabled people are taught English and computer programmes to prepare them for gainful employment.
For Magdalene Lee, these visits were profound experiences. "In the missionaries we encountered in the field, I met Christ. Truly, he still walks today, as he walked 2,000 years ago, among society's outcasts, the sinners, including the pimps and prostitutes on Walking Street and Pattaya beach!" Magdalene shared.
Marina Pereira, another participant said, "I came away from this trip much humbled, because in Singapore, we have everything, and we often take for granted all the material and social comforts of our country." She had joined MOP because she felt mission work gives meaning to life, a meaning that we often forget in our "rat race", she added.
(Written by Joyce Gan with information from Marina Pereira and Magdalene Lee)
By Joyce Gan
SINGAPORE - Christmas came early for the families of some prison inmates this year. On entering the lobby of Changi Prison Link on Wednesday Dec 6, they were greeted with the joyful sounds of Christmas carols sung by carollers organized by the Roman Catholic Prison Ministry (RCPM).
Right, Catholics from different parishes who volunteered because they "just like to sing", had several practice sessions before carolling with the RCPM at the Changi Prison Link for visiting families of inmates.
Earlier that morning, the volunteers had brought packages of food and gifts for visiting families and decorated a Christmas tree to cheer up the place. The carollers were not from the RCPM but came for practice sessions in response to a notice in the "What's On" section of the Nov 5 issue of CatholicNews. Edward Choo, coordinator for the carollers, said they received many responses. "We're not counsellors but we're just here to tell them (the family of the inmates) about the coming of Jesus," he said.
The experience reminded Jimmy Yuen from the RCPM Ex-co of the real meaning of Christmas. "Christmas to me, is peace and joy. It's about family and reunion."To the volunteers, this spirit is expressed in ministering to the visiting families, regardless of their race or religion. One RCPM member shared her joy in witnessing the families' surprise and joy when they were presented with the gifts.
Ms Nor, a Muslim, said, "I wasn't expecting this." RCPM Coordinator Sister Gerard Fernandez felt that "it's a wonderful opportunity that the prisons is giving us, to give joy to families of the inmates", to which Visit Office Chief Yeo Kee Siang expressed gratitude to the RCPM for "bringing joy to this place".
RCPM Chaplain Father Paul Pang brought a load of Christmas packages and commented that every Catholic should remember that life includes a little caring "to bear witness to our faith".
Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio's 2006 Christmas Message
Above, Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio enjoys a pre-Christmas get-together with children dressed in Santarina dresses.
"He came to his own people but they did not accept him." (Jn 1:1)
We just celebrated the Asian Mission Congress, which took place in Chiang Mai last October, with the influx of more than a thousand delegates from 28 Catholic communities in Asia.
It was an occasion to reflect on how to tell the story of Jesus in Asia. Yes, really in Asia where the richness of many traditions, cultures and populations meet; in Asia where the Saviour, Son of David, from the stock of Jesse, was born, in accomplishment of the messianic promises: "Behold the virgin is with child and will give birth to a son whom she will call Emmanuel, which means God with us" (cf. Is 7:14).
With the birth of the Saviour, the history of mankind was illuminated with a Light that is Life for all who accept it but condemnation for those who reject it. With some sense of disillusionment and grief, we read from the Prologue of John the disheartening phrase: "He came to his own people but they did not accept him."
It is now up to us, who have received the Light, to transmit it to those who live around us. "Woe unto me if I do not proclaim the Christ!" (cf. 1 Cor 9:16). This is a Pauline warning that is addressed to each and every one of us. It is our duty - each person in according with his role - to continue this mission of announcing Christ with joy, faithfulness and sacrifice in the small daily gestures, which demonstrate our being "Christians" to others. This is done in living faith, which manifests love, respect and tolerance because "God is Love" (cf. Jn 13:35). It is Love, which took flesh and became visible in his Son Jesus, the Saviour, an event that we relive in a special way at Christmas. God is not far from us, unknown, enigmatic, or perhaps dangerous. He is close to us, so close that he became a child and we can familiarly relate with him as our brother(cf. Benedict XVI, Homily 4th Sunday of Advent, Dec 18, 2005).
Dear friends, through CatholicNews, I heartily send you my sincere greetings for Christmas, while I pray that the Infant Jesus gives you abundant blessings, serenity and perfect happiness.
Devotedly yours in Christ,
Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio
Archbishop Nicholas Chia's 2006 Christmas Message
"The Word was the source of life, and this life brought light to mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out." (Jn 1:4-5)
My Dear People of God, We live in a world darkened by war, violence, natural disasters, suffering of different kinds - poverty, sickness, loneliness, rejection, discrimination, failures, the death of loved ones, disappointment etc...
Fortunately the lamp that Jesus lit when he came into the world continues to burn. His light was not lit in Bethlehem once and then extinguished! It shines in the midst of devastation, disaster and upheaval. It is a persistent and defiant light which no darkness can overpower. It shines for all who believe in him and follow him.
Jesus' luminous goodness shone throughout his life through his teaching and ministry of love and service. Countless number of people came to him in darkness and went away bathed in light - the sick, the blind, the widows, the lepers, the sinners, the outcasts.
The glowing goodness of Jesus continues to illuminate the world. In Jesus and in his Gospel we have a sure source of light. His light has come to show us how to live and guide us towards God's eternal Kingdom. "Anyone who follows me will never walk in darkness but will always have the light of life." His light brings us peace and fulfilment. Each of us can be a source of light to a darkened world. But unless our own lamp is lit we won't be able to enlighten anyone else.
There is great joy being in the light but there is even greater joy in being a source of light for others.
God has called us out of darkness into the wonderful light of his Son. We must try to live as children of the light. The effects of the light are seen in goodness, right living, truth and loving service.
Christmas reminds us that Christ the Light has come. Let our hearts be open to receive him and let us radiate his light to our family members, our fellow Catholics, our neighbours, our colleagues and those we come into contact with by our kindness, concern, love and service. In a special way let us reach out in love and compassion to the poor, the sick, the lonely.
A very Blessed Christmas and a Happy and Holy New Year to you!
Devotedly yours in Christ,
Archbishop Nicholas Chia