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Pope Francis confirms ex-management consultant as Vatican’s auditor general

Dome of St. Peter's basilica, Vatican City. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

Vatican City, May 5, 2021 / 08:05 am (CNA).

The Vatican announced Wednesday that Pope Francis has confirmed a former management consultant as the Vatican’s auditor general.

The Holy See press office said May 5 that the pope had named Alessandro Cassinis Righini, who has served as acting auditor general since June 2017, to the role.

On his publicly accessible LinkedIn page, the auditor general lists the start date of his new position as March 2021.

He succeeds Libero Milone, who served as auditor general from 2015 to 2017.

Milone was dismissed just two years into a five-year mandate after being hired as the Vatican’s first auditor general in a move to introduce more financial transparency in the Vatican City State.

Three months after stepping down, Milone claimed that he was “threatened” into resignation by an “old guard” opposed to his work.

Although he declined to give details due to non-disclosure agreements, he claimed that he had been targeted after launching an investigation into a possible conflict of interest involving an Italian cardinal.

Describing his version of the events that led up to his resignation, Milone said that he was called to the office of Archbishop Giovanni Becciu, then a senior official at the Vatican Secretary of State, on June 19, 2017, and told that the pope had lost faith in him and requested his resignation.

Becciu accused the auditor general of “spying” on the finances of senior officials -- a claim Milone strongly rejected.

Becciu, who received the red hat in 2018, resigned in September 2020 as prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints and from the rights extended to members of the College of Cardinals.

The Vatican’s new auditor general was born in Rome on Dec. 29, 1965. After graduating in economics and commerce from the University of Rome La Sapienza, he gained an MBA from the School of Business Management of Bocconi University in Milan.

Married with three children, he taught strategic management at the University of Rome La Sapienza and at the Libera Università Internazionale degli Studi Sociali Guido Carli.

After gaining experience at the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, he worked as a researcher at the Fondazione Centro Studi Investimenti Sociali (Censis).

He then served as a management consultant for Braxton Associates in London and the Deloitte Group.

In March 2016 he was appointed as a deputy auditor, serving under Milone.

In September 2020, as acting auditor general, he signed a memorandum of understanding with the Vatican’s prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy on the fight against corruption.

The auditor general is responsible for auditing the financial statements of the Holy See and the Vatican City State.

According to the Vatican website, the Office of the Auditor General consists of the auditor general, “who directs and represents the office,” and a group of auditors “with solid and proven professional experience,” assisted by support personnel.

It says: “The auditor general is appointed ad quinquennium [for five years] by the Holy Father and chosen among persons of proven reputation, who do not exercise activities that are incompatible with the appointment, who are free from any conflict of interest, and who have recognized professional competence and skills in the relevant areas concerning the work of the Office.”

“The auditor general may be appointed only for two terms.”

Pope Francis to issue apostolic letter on ministry of catechist

Pope Francis waves to pilgrims during his March 28, 2018 general audience in St. Peter's Square. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, May 5, 2021 / 06:20 am (CNA).

Pope Francis will issue an apostolic letter next week on the ministry of catechist.

The Holy See press office said May 5 that the papal letter, issued motu proprio (“on his own impulse”), would be presented at a press conference on May 11.

It described the apostolic letter, Antiquum ministerium, as the means “by which the ministry of catechist is instituted.”

The Italian section of the Vatican News website said: “The motu proprio therefore will formally establish the ministry of catechist, developing that evangelizing dimension of the laity called for by Vatican II.”

It noted that in a 2018 video message, Pope Francis said that the vocation of catechist “demands to be recognized as a true and genuine ministry of the Church, which we particularly need.”

Further details will be unveiled at the news conference, which will take place at the Vatican. Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, and Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the Pontifical Council’s delegate for catechesis, will speak at the event.

The Code of Canon Law (Can. 785) defines catechists as “lay members of the Christian faithful, duly instructed and outstanding in Christian life, who devote themselves to setting forth the teaching of the gospel and to organizing liturgies and works of charity under the direction of a missionary.”

“Catechists are to be formed in schools designated for this purpose or, where such schools are lacking, under the direction of missionaries,” it says.

In his 1990 encyclical Redemptoris missio, Pope John Paul II described catechists as “irreplaceable evangelizers.”

He wrote: “It is with good reason that the older and established churches, committed to a new evangelization, have increased the numbers of their catechists and intensified catechetical activity. But ‘the term “catechists” belongs above all to the catechists in mission lands ... Churches that are flourishing today would not have been built up without them.’”

“Even with the extension of the services rendered by lay people both within and outside the Church, there is always need for the ministry of catechists, a ministry with its own characteristics.”

He continued: “Catechists are specialists, direct witnesses and irreplaceable evangelizers who, as I have often stated and experienced during my missionary journeys, represent the basic strength of Christian communities, especially in the young churches.”

A 1993 guide for catechists, issued by the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, said: “Through religious instruction, preparation for the sacraments, animation of prayer and other works of charity, they help the baptized to grow in the fervor of the Christian life.”

“Where there is a shortage of priests, the catechists are also entrusted with the pastoral guidance of the little community separated from the center. Often, they are called to witness to their faith by harsh trials and painful privations.”

“The history of evangelization past and present attests to their constancy even to the giving of life itself. Catechists are truly the pride of the missionary Church!”

In his 2020 post-synodal apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia, Pope Francis said that there was a need to strengthen lay leadership in the Amazon region.

He wrote: “A Church of Amazonian features requires the stable presence of mature and lay leaders endowed with authority and familiar with the languages, cultures, spiritual experience and communal way of life in the different places, but also open to the multiplicity of gifts that the Holy Spirit bestows on every one. For wherever there is a particular need, he has already poured out the charisms that can meet it.”

“This requires the Church to be open to the Spirit’s boldness, to trust in, and concretely to permit, the growth of a specific ecclesial culture that is distinctively lay. The challenges in the Amazon region demand of the Church a special effort to be present at every level, and this can only be possible through the vigorous, broad and active involvement of the laity.”

In January this year, the pope issued a motu proprio, Spiritus Domini, changing canon law to allow women to serve as lectors and acolytes.

Lector and acolyte are publicly recognized ministries instituted by the Church. The roles were once considered “minor orders” in the tradition of the Church and were changed to ministries by Pope Paul VI.

Pope Francis: The contemplative dimension of being human gives life flavor

Pope Francis at his general audience address in the library of the Apostolic Palace May 5, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, May 5, 2021 / 04:35 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Wednesday encouraged people to embrace the contemplative dimension of being human both in prayer and their daily lives.

In his general audience address on May 5, the pope said that the “contemplative dimension of the human being -- which is not yet contemplative prayer -- is a bit like the ‘salt’ of life: it gives flavor, it seasons our day.”

“We can contemplate by gazing at the sun that rises in the morning, or at the trees that deck themselves out in spring green; we can contemplate by listening to music or to the sounds of the birds, reading a book, gazing at a work of art or at that masterpiece that is the human face,” he said.

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

The pope said that for those who live in a big city, where everything tends to be “artificial and functional,” there can be the risk of “losing the capacity to contemplate.”

Pope Francis recommended contemplative prayer, “the ‘breath’ of our relationship with God,” which he said “sharpens our gaze” and “purifies the heart.”

“Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus,” he said, quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

He recounted the story of a peasant in Ars, France, who told St. John Vianney while praying before the tabernacle: “I look at him and he looks at me.”

“The light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men,” he said.

“Everything comes from this: from a heart that feels that it is looked on with love. Then reality is contemplated with different eyes. ‘I look at Him and He looks at me.’ It is like this: loving contemplation, typical of the most intimate prayer, does not need many words.”

The pope stressed that in the Gospel there is “no opposition between contemplation and action.”

Jesus “never lacked the time, space, silence, the loving communion that allows one’s existence not to be devastated by the inevitable trials, but to maintain beauty intact,” he said. “His secret was his relationship with his heavenly Father.”

Pope Francis spoke from the library of the Apostolic Palace due to coronavirus restrictions. The speech was the 32nd reflection in his cycle of catechesis on prayer, which he launched in May 2020 and resumed in October following nine addresses on healing the world after the pandemic.

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

At the end of his audience, the pope reminded Catholics to pray the rosary throughout May. He mentioned that this month Catholic shrines around the world are hosting daily rosaries prayed for the intention of an end to the coronavirus pandemic and the resumption of work and social activities.

“There is only one great call in the Gospel, and it is that of following Jesus on the way of love. This is the pinnacle and center of everything,” Pope Francis said.

“In this sense, charity and contemplation are synonymous, they say the same thing. St. John of the Cross believed that a small act of pure love is more useful to the Church than all the other works combined.”

“What is born of prayer and not from the presumption of our ego, what is purified by humility, even if it is a hidden and silent act of love, is the greatest miracle that a Christian can accomplish. And this is the path of contemplative prayer: ‘I look at him, he looks at me.’ This act of love in silent dialogue with Jesus does so much good for the Church.”

Pope Francis’ prayer intention for May is for the regulation of financial markets

Phillippine stock market board / Katrina.Tuliao via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0).

Vatican City, May 4, 2021 / 08:46 am (CNA).

Pope Francis is asking Catholics to pray throughout May for the regulation of financial markets to “protect citizens from its dangers.”

“How far is the world of big finance from most people’s lives. Finance, if not regulated, becomes pure speculation animated by monetary policies. This situation is unsustainable. It’s dangerous,” Pope Francis said in a video message released May 4.

“To prevent the poor from paying the consequences again, financial speculation must be strictly regulated.”

The Vatican released a video message to present the pope’s prayer intention for May.

The pope is asking Catholics to pray “that those responsible for finance will collaborate with governments to regulate financial markets and protect citizens from its dangers.”

Each month, the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network produces a video to spread the pope’s prayer intention. In 2021, these intentions have ranged from prayer for women who are victims of violence to prayer that more people will return to the sacrament of confession.

Fr. Frédéric Fornos, S.J., president of the network, said that “this prayer intention must be understood in the context of the crisis we’re living through, which has made evident the great inequality there is in the world.”

In 2020, global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) recorded its largest drop since the end of World War II, with millions of job losses as a result of restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The pope said it again recently,” Fornos said. “We cannot be content with ‘a return to an unequal and unsustainable model of economic and social life, where a tiny minority of the world’s population owns half of its wealth.’”

In this month’s video, Pope Francis stressed that “finance is a tool” to be put at the service of people and to “take care of our common home.”

He said: “We still have time to start a process of global change to put into practice a different, more just, inclusive, sustainable economy that leaves no one behind. Let’s do it.”

Pope Francis to preside at Mass for Rome’s Burmese community

Vatican Media.

Vatican City, May 3, 2021 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis will preside at a Mass for Rome’s Burmese community on May 16, as the death toll continues to rise following February’s military coup in Burma.

The Holy See press office announced May 3 that the pope will celebrate Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for Burmese Catholics living in the Italian capital. The Mass will take place at the Altar of the Cathedra at 10 a.m. local time on the Solemnity of the Ascension.

The announcement came a day after Pope Francis once again expressed concern about the Southeast Asian country, officially known as Myanmar, where security forces have fired on people protesting against the Feb. 1 coup.

The advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners estimates that 766 people have died in the crackdown.

Speaking after the Regina Coeli on May 2, the pope said: “We have entered the month of May, in which popular piety expresses devotion to the Virgin Mary in many ways. This year it will be marked by a prayer marathon involving important Marian shrines, to implore the end of the pandemic. Yesterday evening was the first stop, in St. Peter’s Basilica.”

“In this context, there is an initiative that is very close to my heart: that of the Burmese Church, which invites us to pray for peace with a Hail Mary for Myanmar in our daily rosary. Each of us turns to our Mother when we are in need or in difficulty; this month, we ask our Mother of Heaven to speak to the hearts of all leaders in Myanmar so that they may find the courage to walk the path of encounter, reconciliation, and peace.”

Pope Francis has repeatedly called for harmony in the country, which has a population of 54 million people and borders Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, and Thailand. He became the first pope to visit the Buddhist majority nation in November 2017.

At his general audience on March 17, the pope referred to an image circulating on social media of a Catholic nun in Burma kneeling before police, begging them not to attack protesters.

He said: “I also kneel in the streets of Myanmar and say: ‘Stop the violence.’ I too stretch out my arms and say: ‘May dialogue prevail.’”

The pope made an appeal to the international community on March 3 to “ensure that the aspirations of the people of Myanmar are not stifled by violence.”

In a speech to diplomats accredited to the Holy See in early February, he expressed his wish that “the path towards democracy taken in recent years by Myanmar may be resumed through the concrete gesture of the release of the various political leaders imprisoned.”

Polish Catholic shrine leads global prayer marathon for end of pandemic

The icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa at the Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa, Poland. / @JasnaGoraNews.

CNA Staff, May 3, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

The Polish Catholic shrine of Jasna Góra led a global rosary marathon Monday for an end to the coronavirus pandemic.

The sanctuary in Częstochowa, southern Poland, is the third of 30 Catholic shrines worldwide chosen to lead the rosary during the month-long initiative launched by Pope Francis.

Fr. Samuel Pacholski, prior of Jasna Góra Monastery, which houses the revered icon of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, said: “We feel honored and privileged to take part in this prayer marathon.”

The pope began the prayer marathon on May 1, the start of the traditional month of Mary, when he led the rosary in St. Peter’s Basilica. The initiative will end on May 31 in the Vatican Gardens.

The first shrine to lead the event was Walsingham in England on May 1, followed by the shrine of Jesus the Savior and Mother Mary in Elele, Nigeria, on May 2.

The rosary took place at Jasna Góra at 6 p.m. local time and was live streamed. The Joyful Mysteries were recited in five languages.

The event fell on a significant day for Polish Catholics. May 3 marks the Feast of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Queen of Poland, as well as Constitution Day, a national holiday.

Poles have venerated Mary as Queen of Poland since King John II Casimir proclaimed her “Queen of the Polish Crown” in 1656. The May 3 feast was established at the request of the Polish bishops after the country regained its independence following the First World War.

Constitution Day commemorates the adoption of the Polish Constitution of May 3, 1791.

In addition to the prayer marathon, the shrine also hosted a meeting of the permanent council of the Polish bishops’ conference on May 3. Bishops’ conference president Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki presided at a Mass at the shrine marking the Marian feast day.

/ @JasnaGoraNews
/ @JasnaGoraNews

The Pauline Fathers, who founded Jasna Góra Monastery in 1382 and serve as guardians of the icon of Our Madonna of Częstochowa, prepared a candle for the prayer marathon.

The size of a Paschal candle, it is decorated with papal insignia, the image of Our Lady, and a photograph of the shrine.

“We are responding eagerly to this papal prayer initiative. Throughout May we will continue praying the rosary, imploring the end of the pandemic,” said Fr. Pacholski.

Pope Francis presides at consistory for canonization of blesseds

Pope Francis holds an Ordinary Public Consistory in the Consistory Hall of the Apostolic Palace, May 3, 2021. / Vatican Media.

CNA Staff, May 3, 2021 / 09:05 am (CNA).

Pope Francis presided Monday at a consistory for the canonization of seven blesseds.

The Ordinary Public Consistory took place at 10 a.m. local time May 3 in the Consistory Hall of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican with cardinals currently resident in or visiting Rome.

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

The gathering opened with the praying of Terce, or mid-morning prayer, from the Liturgy of the Hours.

Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, then presented summaries of the lives of the seven men and women to the pope and the cardinals.

The cardinals voted to approve the canonizations.

The vote is the last step in the process and allows a date to be set for a Mass of canonization.

In a break with custom, the Vatican did not announce the date or location of the canonizations on Monday. It did not give a reason for the omission, but it is likely due to the difficulty of organizing events amid the pandemic.

Vatican News said that the seven candidates would be “raised to the altars in the coming weeks and months, according to a schedule to be set at a later time.”

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

The most prominent figure among the seven is Charles de Foucauld, the French missionary killed in Algeria in 1916. He was a soldier, explorer, Catholic revert, priest, hermit, and religious brother, who served among the Tuareg people in the Sahara desert in Algeria.

Pope Francis approved his canonization cause in May 2020.

The consistory also voted on the canonization of Devasahayam Pillai, a layman from India who was martyred after converting from Hinduism to Catholicism in the 18th century.

Pillai, who is also known by his baptismal name of Lazarus, was beatified in 2012 in southern India. He will be the first lay Catholic in India to be declared a saint.

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

Other canonization causes voted on were those of Bl. Maria Francesca of Jesus (née Anna Maria Rubatto), foundress of the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of Loano, and Bl. Maria Domenica Mantovani, co-foundress and first general superior of the Institute of the Little Sisters of the Holy Family.

The cardinals also voted on the canonizations of three priests who founded religious congregations and institutes: Bl. César de Bus, Bl. Luigi Maria Palazzolo, and Bl. Giustino Maria Russolillo.

The College of Cardinals is divided into three ranks: cardinal bishops, cardinal priests, and cardinal deacons.

Ten years after receiving the red hat, cardinal deacons can ask the pope to elevate them to a cardinal priest and to opt for a titular church. This practice is known in Latin as “Optatio.”

The Holy See press office said that at Monday’s consistory eight cardinals were elevated from cardinal deacons to cardinal priests: Angelo Amato (Santa Maria in Aquiro); Robert Sarah (San Giovanni Bosco in Via Tuscolana); Francesco Monterisi (San Paolo alla Regola); Raymond Leo Burke (Sant’Agata de’ Goti); Kurt Koch (Nostra Signora del S. Cuore); Mauro Piacenza (San Paolo alle Tre Fontane); Gianfranco Ravasi (San Giorgio in Velabro); and Walter Brandmüller (San Giuliano dei Fiamminghi).

Pope Francis to open event on Italy’s demographic decline

Pope Francis baptizes a child in the Sistine Chapel on Jan. 12, 2020. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, May 3, 2021 / 07:00 am (CNA).

The Vatican announced Monday that Pope Francis will open an event on Italy’s demographic winter as the country’s birth rate has hit a historic low.

Pope Francis will give the opening remarks for the General States of Birth initiative on May 14 at the Auditorium della Conciliazione, just outside the walls of Vatican City State.

The mostly online meetings organized by the Forum of Family Associations seek to address the 50 years of steady decline in births across Europe, and especially in Italy, and what can be done to reverse it.

Italy’s national statistics institute predicts that the country will see a significant decline in births in the years immediately following the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2019, births in Italy already hit a historic low since Italian unification in 1861.

Pope Francis has described this as the dramatic result of a “disregard for families.” Europe’s low birth rate “is a sign of societies that struggle to face the challenges of the present, and thus become ever more fearful of the future, with the result that they close in on themselves,” the pope said in 2018.

That year, Italy’s birth rate was 1.29 children per woman -- just ahead of Malta and Spain’s rates of 1.23 and 1.26 respectively for the lowest rate in Europe.

The General States of Birth initiative will feature Italian government ministers, company executives, journalists, actors, and athletes who will give talks on the family, including Elena Bonetti, Italy’s family minister.

Gian Carlo Blangiardo, the president of Italy’s national statistics institute Istat, will also present previously unpublished data and projections on the country’s birth rate in the coming decades.

Nations across Europe and East Asia have faced low birth rates for decades. South Korea, Japan, Italy, Spain, Greece, Puerto Rico, Ukraine, and Portugal were among the countries with the lowest birth rates in 2019, according to the World Bank.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported that the U.S. birth rate hit a record low in 2019, and real-time data from certain states shows that the national figure may have fallen even further in 2020.

Pope Francis called in February for “a new springtime” to end Italy’s demographic winter.

“Our society must be helped to heal from all attacks on life, so that it may be protected in all of its stages,” the pope said in an Angelus address Feb. 7, 2021.

“And allow me to add one of my concerns: the Italian demographic winter. In Italy, births have decreased and the future is in danger. Let us take up this concern and seek to ensure that this demographic winter ends and a new springtime of boys and girls thrives.”

Pope Francis: 'A truly Christian life bears witness to Christ'

Pope Francis waves to people in St. Peter's Square during his Regina caeli address May 2, 2021. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Vatican City, May 2, 2021 / 05:30 am (CNA).

It is our task as Christians to proclaim the good news of the Gospel and to bear the good fruit of love in the world, Pope Francis said at his Regina caeli address on Sunday.

"The fruit that, like the branches, we must give, bears witness to our Christian life," the pope said May 2.

"After Jesus ascended to the Father, it is the task of the disciples – it is our task – to continue to proclaim the Gospel in words and in deeds," he added. "And they and us, disciples of Jesus, do so by bearing witness to his love: the fruit to be borne is love."

Francis gave his weekly Sunday reflection from a window overlooking St. Peter's Square. Afterward, he led the recitation of the Regina caeli, a Marian prayer said during the Easter season.

The pope explained the importance of being attached to Christ, the vine, so that "we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and in this way we can do good to our neighbor and do good to society, to the Church."

"We recognize the tree by its fruits," he stated. "A truly Christian life bears witness to Christ."

Pope Francis' meditation centered on the day's Gospel reading from St. John, in which Jesus tells his disciples "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing."

"The Lord presents himself as the true vine, and speaks of us as the branches that cannot live without being united to him," the pope said, noting that Jesus used the verb "to abide," also sometimes translated as "to remain," seven times in the Gospel reading.

Francis said to abide or remain in Jesus is not a passive activity, "letting oneself be lulled by life," but an active and reciprocal action: "We abide in Jesus and Jesus abides in us."

"How can we do this?" he said. "Jesus says to us: 'If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.'"

"The fruitfulness of our life depends on prayer," he stated, explaining that in prayer we can ask Jesus for the gift of seeing the world with his eyes.

This way, he said, we can "love our brothers and sisters, starting from the poorest and those who suffer the most, as he did, and to love them with his heart and to bring to the world fruits of goodness, fruits of charity, and fruits of peace."

Pope Francis explained that first of all, we need the Lord. Before we can follow God's commandments, before we can live the beatitudes, and perform works of mercy, "it is necessary to be joined to him, to abide in him."

"We cannot be good Christians if we do not abide in Jesus. And yet with him, we can do everything," he underlined. "With him we can do everything."

"Let us entrust ourselves to the intercession of the Virgin Mary," he concluded. "She remained fully united to Jesus and bore much fruit. May she help us abide in Christ, in his love, in his word, to bear witness in the world to the Risen Lord."

At the end of the Regina caeli, Pope Francis sent his good wishes to Christians of the Orthodox Church and Eastern and Latin Catholic Churches, who celebrate Easter according to the Julian calendar, which falls this year on May 2.

"May the risen Lord fill them with light and peace, and comfort the communities living in particularly difficult situations. Happy Easter to them!" he said.

The pope also referenced the ongoing situation in Burma, where security forces have opened fire on people protesting the military coup, resulting in injuries and deaths.

He said the Church in Burma is encouraging everyone to devote one Hail Mary of their daily rosary during the month of May for peace in Burma.

"Each of us turns to our mother when he or she is in need or in difficulty," he said. "We, this month, ask our Heavenly Mother to speak to the hearts of all those responsible in Myanmar, so that they may find the courage to walk the path of encounter, reconciliation and peace."

Pope Francis also expressed his closeness to the people of Israel, where crowds at a Jewish religious festival on Mount Maron led to a crush of people resulting in 45 deaths and some 150 injuries the night of April 29 to April 30.

"I assure my remembrance in prayer for the victims of this tragedy and their families," he said.

Francis also mentioned the example of Bl. José Gregorio Hernández Cisneros, who was beatified in Caracas, Venezuela on April 30.

"He was a doctor, rich in science and faith. He was able to recognize the face of Christ in the sick and, as a good Samaritan, he helped them with evangelical charity. May his example help us to take care of those who suffer in body and spirit," he said, encouraging a round of applause for the new blessed.

'Hope for the future': Pope Francis asks Mary to intercede for end to pandemic

Pope Francis prays the rosary in the Gregorian Chapel in St. Peter's Basilica May 1, 2021. / Daniel Ibanez/Vatican Pool.

Vatican City, May 1, 2021 / 11:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis prayed a rosary Saturday for an end to the coronavirus pandemic, imploring the Virgin Mary to intercede for healing for the sick, comfort for the grieving, and hope for the future.

"Mother of Help, welcome us under your mantle and protect us, sustain us in the hour of trial, and ignite in our hearts the light of hope for the future," Pope Francis prayed May 1.

"At the beginning of the month dedicated to Our Lady, we unite in prayer with all of the shrines scattered throughout the world, with the faithful, and with all people of good will," he said, "to entrust in the hands of our Holy Mother all of humanity, strongly tried in this period of pandemic."

"In the present dramatic situation, full of sufferings and anxieties that grip the whole world, we turn to You, Mother of God and our Mother, and we seek refuge under your protection."

Around 160 people, including many families with young children, attended the pope's rosary, which was broadcast live from the Gregorian Chapel of St. Peter's Basilica.

The Gregorian Chapel contains the relics of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, a Doctor of the Church, as well as a 7th-century icon of Our Lady of Help.

The chapel altar under the icon was decorated with flowers for the rosary May 1, which kicked off a month of daily rosaries prayed at Catholic shrines around the world for the intention of an end to the coronavirus pandemic and the resumption of work and social activities.

Young adults and families led the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary and read the meditations, based on scripture passages.

At the end of the rosary, Pope Francis asked the Virgin Mary to turn her "merciful eyes to us in this coronavirus pandemic, and comfort those who are lost and weeping for their dead loved ones, sometimes buried in a way that wounds the soul."

"Support those who are anxious about sick people who, to prevent contagion, cannot be near," he said. "Instill confidence in those who are anxious about the uncertain future and the consequences on the economy and work."

The pope prayed for protection for healthcare workers and for priests. He prayed that scientists will find solutions to overcome the virus, and that national leaders will "work with wisdom, concern and generosity, helping those who lack the necessities to live, planning social and economic solutions with farsightedness and a spirit of solidarity."

Francis also prayed for women who have experienced domestic violence under the forced closures and all those who have been affected by the virus and by its consequences.

"Oh Mary, Comforter of the afflicted, embrace all your troubled children and obtain that God intervenes with his almighty hand to free us from this terrible epidemic, so that life can resume its normal course in serenity," he said.

"We entrust ourselves to you, who shines on our path as a sign of salvation and hope, oh merciful, oh pious, oh sweet Virgin Mary," he prayed. "Lead the steps of your pilgrims, who wish to pray and love you in the shrines dedicated to you all over the world, under the most varied titles that recall your intercession; be a sure guide for each one. Amen."

After the prayer, Pope Francis blessed rosaries to be sent to the 30 Marian shrines participating in the daily live-streamed prayers.