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Pope Francis permitted spending $1m to free nun kidnapped in Mali, cardinal says

Pope Francis greets the recently freed Sister Gloria Cecilia Narváez Argoti at the Vatican, Oct. 10, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, May 5, 2022 / 16:05 pm (CNA).

At the Vatican’s finance trial on Thursday, Cardinal Angelo Becciu said that Pope Francis had allowed spending up to 1 million euros ($1.05 million) toward the liberation of a missionary abducted in Mali. 

Sister Gloria Cecilia Narváez Argoti was kidnapped in February 2017 and held until her Oct. 9, 2021 release. 

Cardinal Becciu, who was the second-ranking official in the Secretariat of State from 2011 to 2018, was questioned May 5 about investments during a hearing in the Vatican trial. The cardinal has been charged with embezzlement, abuse of office, and witness tampering.

In his testimony he discussed his dealings with Cecilia Marogna, a self-described “security consultant” accused of misappropriating Secretariat of State funds.

The 40-year-old from Sardinia is also a defendant in the trial. She has been charged with embezzlement for allegedly receiving hundreds of thousands of euros from the Secretariat in connection with Becciu, and then reportedly spending the money earmarked for charity on luxury goods and vacations — which she denies.

Cardinal Becciu said that he sought Marogna’s help to secure Sister Gloria’s release. 

The AP’s Nicole Winfield wrote that the cardinal said Marogna “advised him that she could work with a British intelligence firm, The Inkerman Group, to secure the nun’s release.”

After securing Francis’ approval to proceed with Inkerman, Cardinal Becciu said he and Marogna met in London in January 2018 with three representatives of the firm, who said total costs could be 1 million euros.

For the sake of confidentiality and “to impede the association of Vatican institutions with similar events,” he said, it was agreed that Marogna would act as an intermediary between the Vatican and Inkerman, receiving payments from the Secretariat of State for the operation.

Cardinal Becciu testified: “In a subsequent meeting with the Holy Father, once in Rome, I spoke to him in more detail about the conversation we had with the Inkermans and the sum that we should have estimated in broad terms: about 1 million euros, part to pay for the creation of a network of contacts, and part for the effective liberation of the nun. I pointed out that we shouldn't have gone beyond that figure. He approved.”

The AP reported that Vatican prosecutors say they have evidence that the Secretariat of State sent 575,000 euros to Marogna, as well as “an equivalent amount directly to a British bank account held by Inkerman.” 

Shortly after her release, Sister Gloria posted on Twitter thanking God and all those who made possible her liberation.

"My thanks to His Holiness Pope Francis, to the Italian government, to the Italian intelligence agencies, to the Malian authorities, to Cardinal Zerbo," the nun said in her Oct. 17, 2021 tweet.

After she was released, Jean Cardinal Zerbo of Bamako told AFP, "We  prayed a lot for her release. I thank the Malian authorities and the people of goodwill which made this release possible." 

Sister Gloria, a Colombian national, also thanked “Dr. Iván Duque, President of Colombia, and the entire Colombian government, the Colombian ambassador to Italy, Dr. Jorge Mario, GAULA, the Bishops’ Conference, the bishops and priests, the mean and women religious, parish groups, committed laity, prayer groups."

The nun also thanked “the educational institutions, teaching and administrative staff, students and alumni, the congregation of Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate, my family, all those people who prayed for me and made my liberation possible.’”

Armed men kidnapped Sister Gloria, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate, in Karangasso, about 90 miles south of San, Feb. 7, 2017. The men forced her to hand over the keys to the community's ambulance. The vehicle was later found abandoned. Three other sisters were present at their house but escaped.

According to the AP, a judge in the country charged four individuals in relation to the kidnapping in April 2017.

In July 201 Sister Gloria identified the group then holding her as Jama'at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, a militant Islamist group in West Africa and the Maghreb.

Cardinal Becciu questioned on investments as his former deputy seeks damages

A hearing in the Vatican finance trial is held on Nov. 17, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, May 5, 2022 / 11:30 am (CNA).

Cardinal Angelo Becciu was questioned about investments during a hearing in the Vatican’s ongoing finance trial on Thursday, while his former deputy, Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, is seeking damages as a civil plaintiff.

From 2011 to 2018, Becciu was the second-ranking official in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, a powerful curial department that is one of four civil plaintiffs in a trial to prosecute Vatican officials and collaborators in connection with the controversial deal to purchase a London investment property.

The Secretariat of State is currently one of the injured parties, along with the Vatican’s two financial bodies, APSA and the IOR, and internal financial watchdog authority ASIF.

A lawyer for Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, a suspect turned key witness for the prosecution, said at the start of the May 5 hearing that the former head of administration at the Secretariat should also be awarded damages as a civil plaintiff.

In a 50-page declaration on May 5, Becciu argued his innocence against charges of embezzlement, abuse of office, and witness tampering.

In his personal statement, which he took almost two and half hours to read, the 73-year-old cardinal responded to accusations against him and explained details of his position as Sostituto (Substitute) of the Secretariat of State from 2011 to 2018, including that it relied on him having total faith in his collaborators, while at the same time total autonomy.

The declaration was followed by several hours of intense and heated questioning, during which Becciu responded to requests from a prosecutor for more information about certain investments made by the Secretariat of State.

Responding to questions, the cardinal denied that the Secretariat used funds from Peter’s Pence, the pope’s charitable fund, for the investment in the London building.

Becciu was also asked whether Pope Francis was informed of the Secretariat of State’s investments, to which the cardinal said he would submit occasional reports to the pope, but there were no specific authorizations.

Becciu added that he is “old school — In odiosis non feci nomen pontifici,” explaining the Latin phrase as meaning that “one tries to preserve the moral authority of the pope without involving him in earthly things. That does not mean not informing him, but not giving him the responsibility.”

In September 2020, Becciu resigned as prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and from the rights and privileges of the College of Cardinals. He has always denied any wrongdoing.

Throughout Becciu’s questioning, which will continue at a May 18 hearing, court president Giuseppe Pignatone did not allow a number of the prosecutor’s questions. At one point, the judge also called for a five-minute break to allow the attorney and defendant to cool down.

Becciu was questioned in the May 5 hearing after Pope Francis dispensed the cardinal from the obligation of the pontifical secret, a rule of confidentiality protecting sensitive information regarding the governance of the universal Church.

The cardinal had previously invoked the pontifical secret to argue that he could not speak about his dealings with Cecilia Marogna, a self-described “security consultant” accused of misappropriating Secretariat of State funds.

The 40-year-old from Sardinia is also a defendant in the trial. She has been charged with embezzlement for allegedly receiving hundreds of thousands of euros from the Secretariat in connection with Becciu, and then reportedly spending the money earmarked for charity on luxury goods and vacations — which she denies.

Pope Francis encourages religious orders to ‘make their synodal journey’

Pope Francis meets participants in the plenary assembly of the International Union of Superiors General on May 5, 2022. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, May 5, 2022 / 09:56 am (CNA).

After arriving in a wheelchair for a meeting with religious sisters at the Vatican on Thursday, Pope Francis delivered a message about how important he believes it is for religious congregations to “make their synodal journey.”

The pope spoke off the cuff at his audience with the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) in the Paul VI Hall on May 5 and then took time to answer some of the sisters’ questions in a closed-door meeting.

In his prepared written remarks, which were handed out to the religious sisters, the pope wrote that the synodal process provides an opportunity for “young and old to exchange their wisdom and visions of consecrated life.”

“In addition to actively participating in the synodal process at the local Church level, it is very important that communities, congregations, make their own synodal journey,” the pope said.

“I am counting on you so that the synodal process that we are experiencing in the Church may also take place within your institutes,” he added.

Pope Francis said that a synodal process within a religious congregation can also be a chance to “let uncomfortable questions emerge.”

The Synod on Synodality is a global, two-year consultative process of “listening and dialogue” in the Catholic Church that began in October 2021. The first stage is a diocesan phase expected to last until Aug. 15.

The Vatican has asked all dioceses to participate, hold consultations, and collect feedback on specific questions laid out in synod documents.

Religious communities, lay movements, associations of the faithful, and other ecclesial groups are encouraged to participate in the synodal process in this local context. But it is also possible for them to contribute directly to the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, according to the synod’s vademecum.

Many religious orders have already been participating in the first stage of the Synod on Synodality through their local dioceses.

The UISG, for women religious, and the Union of Superiors General (USG), for male religious, have also been collecting responses from the consultative phase.

The two bodies were given the task of synthesizing the responses from religious orders for the General Secretariat and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

According to the UISG, if every religious congregation in the world participates, there will be more than 2,000 responses, which will need to be distilled into one 10-page document to be submitted by August.

At the end of the current process, an assembly of the Synod of Bishops is scheduled to take place in Rome in October 2023 to produce a final document to advise the pope.

Many other themes were reportedly addressed in Pope Francis’ unscripted discussion with the UISG, including the war in Ukraine, discernment within religious communities, and colonialism.

Members of the UISG are meeting in Rome on May 2-6 for a plenary assembly on the theme “Embracing Vulnerability on the Synodal Journey.”

“I know that there are many concerns that probably keep you awake at night — the lack of vocations, the constantly rising average age, the abandonment of the consecrated life, among others — but I hope that your main concern is how to proceed so as not to abandon the missionary vision,” the pope said.

Pope Francis merges 4 foundations into new Vatican hospitality body

Pope Francis is pictured outside the Casa Santa Marta on July 1, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, May 5, 2022 / 07:45 am (CNA).

Pope Francis issued a decree on Thursday merging four foundations into a new Vatican institution dedicated to hospitality.

The document, known as a chirograph, united the foundations under a new body known as the Domus Vaticanae. The pope said that he was taking the step “considering the new situation that has matured over time.”

The May 5 decree merged the Domus Sanctae Marthae, Domus Romana Sacerdotalis, Domus Internationalis Paulus VI, and Casa San Benedetto foundations into the new institution, which the pope established as a public canonical juridic person based in the Vatican City State.

The text said that the new body would pursue the hospitality goals of the merged foundations in line with the provisions of the apostolic constitution Universi Dominici gregis, “which reserves the building of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, during the conclave for the election of the Supreme Pontiff, for the exclusive use of the cardinal electors.”

Universi Dominici gregis, issued by Pope John Paul II in 1996, sets out the rules governing the process of electing a new pope.

Section 43 of the apostolic constitution says that “From the beginning of the electoral process until the public announcement that the election of the Supreme Pontiff has taken place … the rooms of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, and in particular the Sistine Chapel and the areas reserved for liturgical celebrations are to be closed to unauthorized persons.”

The Domus Sanctae Marthae, also known as the Casa Santa Marta or St. Martha’s House, is a guest house adjacent to St. Peter’s Basilica. It was opened in 1996 to accommodate clergy visiting the Vatican, as well as cardinals taking part in papal conclaves. Pope Francis chose to live in the building, rather than the Apostolic Palace, after his election in 2013.

In 1999, John Paul II established the foundations Domus Romana Sacerdotalis and Domus Internationalis Paulus VI, offering hospitality to clergy assigned to the diplomatic service of the Holy See or working in the Roman Curia, as well as priests, bishops, and cardinals visiting Rome.

Benedict XVI established the Casa San Benedetto foundation in 2008 to provide accommodation for retired Vatican diplomatic personnel.

The decree said that the four foundations “are to be considered suppressed” and their “patrimony will be transferred” to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), which oversees the Vatican’s real estate holdings and other sovereign assets.

The pope also approved the statutes that will govern the Domus Vaticanae.

Pope Francis issued a second chirograph on May 5, creating an interdicasterial commission for the revision of General Regulations governing the Roman Curia in light of the new Vatican constitution Praedicate evangelium.

The decree, dated April 12, said that the commission would be chaired by Archbishop Filippo Iannone, the president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. Its members will include Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, the Substitute (Sostituto) of the Vatican Secretariat of State, Bishop Nunzio Galantino, the president of APSA, and Father Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves, the prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy.

Pope Francis uses wheelchair in public for first time since colon surgery

Pope Francis enters the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall in a wheelchair on May 5, 2022. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, May 5, 2022 / 04:50 am (CNA).

Pope Francis used a wheelchair during a public meeting on Thursday, the first time he has done so publicly since leaving the hospital after colon surgery in July 2021.

The 85-year-old pope has had difficulty walking due to a painful torn ligament in his knee.

He was pushed in a wheelchair onto the stage of the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on May 5, at the start of a meeting with participants in the plenary meeting of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG).

During his recent public appearances, he has apologized for being unable to stand and walk to greet participants.

He also needed assistance when standing up from his chair after the May 4 general audience.

Pope Francis said in an interview this week that he would be undergoing a small medical procedure, “an intervention with infiltrations,” to provide some relief.

Therapeutic injections are sometimes used to relieve knee pain caused by ligament tears.

The pope’s movements have been visibly more limited for months.

During an April 2-3 visit to Malta, extra measures were taken to ensure that the pope would not have to take stairs, due to his knee problem.

In the course of his hospital stay after colon surgery last year, Pope Francis greeted medical staff from a wheelchair.

World Day of Prayer for Vocations 2022: Pope Francis says ‘Church must become increasingly synodal’

Pope Francis lays hands on a Bangladeshi deacon as he ordains him to the priesthood during a Dec. 1, 2017, Mass in Dhaka. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, May 5, 2022 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said on Thursday that “the Church must become increasingly synodal.”

The pope made the comment in his annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations message, published May 5, as Catholics worldwide participate in a global consultation process leading to the 2023 Synod on Synodality.

In the message, he emphasized that vocations have a communal as well as a personal dimension.

He wrote: “Each of us shines like a star in the heart of God and in the firmament of the universe. At the same time, though, we are called to form constellations that can guide and light up the path of humanity, beginning with the places in which we live.”

“This is the mystery of the Church: a celebration of differences, a sign, and instrument of all that humanity is called to be.”

“For this reason, the Church must become increasingly synodal: capable of walking together, united in harmonious diversity, where everyone can actively participate and where everyone has something to contribute.”

The 59th World Day of Prayer for Vocations will take place on May 8, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, also known as Good Shepherd Sunday. The annual event was launched by Pope St. Paul VI in 1964.

In the 1,600-word message titled “Called to Build the Human Family,” the pope reflected “on the broader meaning of ‘vocation’ within the context of a synodal Church, a Church that listens to God and to the world.”

He underlined that the word “vocation” should not be understood as referring only to priests and religious.

“All of us are called to share in Christ’s mission to reunite a fragmented humanity and to reconcile it with God,” he said.

“Each man and woman, even before encountering Christ and embracing the Christian faith, receives with the gift of life a fundamental calling: each of us is a creature willed and loved by God; each of us has a unique and special place in the mind of God.”

“At every moment of our lives, we are called to foster this divine spark, present in the heart of every man and woman, and thus contribute to the growth of a humanity inspired by love and mutual acceptance.”

He said that Christian history showed that God has a vision for each person’s life.

“Michelangelo Buonarroti is said to have maintained that every block of stone contains a statue within it, and it is up to the sculptor to uncover it,” he wrote.

“If that is true of an artist, how much more is it true of God! In the young woman of Nazareth, he saw the Mother of God. In Simon the fisherman, he saw Peter, the rock on which he would build his Church.”

“In the publican Levi, he recognized the apostle and evangelist Matthew, and in Saul, a harsh persecutor of Christians, he saw Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles.”

“God’s loving gaze always meets us, touches us, sets us free, and transforms us, making us into new persons. That is what happens in every vocation: we are met by the gaze of God, who calls us.”

Pope Francis encouraged Catholics to welcome God’s gaze and enter into a “vocational dialogue” with the Lord and others. He said that this dialogue “makes us become ever more who we are.”

“In the vocation to the ordained priesthood, to be instruments of Christ’s grace and mercy,” he wrote. “In the vocation to the consecrated life, to be the praise of God and the prophecy of a new humanity. In the vocation to marriage, to be mutual gift and givers and teachers of life. In every ecclesial vocation and ministry that calls us to see others and the world through God’s eyes, to serve goodness and to spread love with our works and words.”

The pope highlighted the example of José Gregorio Hernández Cisneros, a medical doctor who died in 1919.

“While working as a physician in Caracas, Venezuela, he wanted to become a Third Order Franciscan. Later, he thought of becoming a monk and a priest, but his health did not allow it,” the pope noted.

“He came to understand that his calling was the medical profession, in which he spent himself above all in service to the poor. He devoted himself unreservedly to those who had contracted the worldwide epidemic known as the ‘Spanish flu.’”

“He died, hit by a car, as he was leaving a pharmacy after purchasing medicine for one of his elderly patients. An exemplary witness of what it means to accept the call of the Lord and embrace it fully, he was beatified a year ago.”

The Synod on Synodality is a global, two-year consultative process of “listening and dialogue” that began in October 2021. The first stage is a diocesan phase expected to last until Aug. 15.

The Vatican has asked all dioceses to participate, hold consultations, and collect feedback on specific questions laid out in synod documents.

At the end of the current process, an assembly of the Synod of Bishops is scheduled to take place in Rome in October 2023 to produce a final document to advise the pope.

The story of Sister Lucindis, the nun who made St. Peter’s Square her home

Sister Marie Lucindis Stock. / Shutterstock/courtesy photo.

Vatican City, May 5, 2022 / 03:00 am (CNA).

It’s likely that many of the priests, cardinals, and bishops working inside the Vatican knew her face, although no one knew the real story of the Pallottine Missionary sister who had made St. Peter’s Square her home.

They would have walked by the unknown woman often, passing by her perch on the base of a Vatican column, her rosy, wind-chapped cheeks peeking out from her puffy blue coat and pilling hat.

“I can’t say that she was a saint. Only the Lord knows this,” Father Hans-Peter Fischer, the only priest in Rome she spoke to, said in April. He told CNA the story of Sister Maria Lucindis Stock a month after her death on March 11.

The 82-year-old Sister Lucindis, as she was called, was buried inside the Vatican in the cemetery of the Campo Santo Teutonico, a place she knew well. It was there, in the chapel just off the cemetery, that Fischer first encountered her more than a decade ago.

In 2011, the German religious sister started to attend the 7 a.m. daily Mass at Santa Maria della Pietà, celebrated by Fischer, the rector of the church and adjoining German seminary.

Father Fischer, second from right, oversees the burial of Sister Maria Lucindis Stock in the Campo Santo Teutonico. Courtesy of Paul Badde.
Father Fischer, second from right, oversees the burial of Sister Maria Lucindis Stock in the Campo Santo Teutonico. Courtesy of Paul Badde.

At first, Fischer thought the elderly woman was an ex-religious. “She was a bit particular,” he said, pointing to his head. He noted that “she always lived in the square.”

Fischer recalled that Lucindis spoke only German. She knew very little Italian, but “she spoke with the heart.”

Day after day, “she was alone in the square watching the people,” the priest recalled. “She roamed from morning to night. I don’t know if she prayed.”

Sister Maria Lucindis Stock in the offices of the Campo Santo Teutonico. Courtesy of Paul Badde.
Sister Maria Lucindis Stock in the offices of the Campo Santo Teutonico. Courtesy of Paul Badde.

Lucindis was not homeless herself, but she was esteemed by the men and women who spend the day in and around St. Peter’s Square and sleep along its edges at night, Fischer said.

Most nights, Lucindis slept at the general house of her order, the Pallottine Missionary Sisters of the Catholic Apostolate, which is a 10-minute walk from the Vatican.

Other nights, she found an open bed in one of the nearby shelters for the homeless.

“She was a very great challenge for her community,” Fischer explained. He said the other sisters always treated her well, even while she made things difficult by her unusual behavior.

The gravestone of Sister Maria Lucindis Stock in Campo Santo Teutonico in Vatican City. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA.
The gravestone of Sister Maria Lucindis Stock in Campo Santo Teutonico in Vatican City. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA.

“I have always obeyed,” Lucindis used to say, according to Fischer. “But I must obey the Lord.”

The priest said that the Pallottine sisters tried to get psychiatric help for their community member. She was admitted first to a hospital in Italy, and later in Germany, but she protested both times and eventually ran away.

Lucindis told Fischer that after her escape from the German hospital she lived in Israel for two months, followed by Hong Kong for another month.

In Hong Kong, Lucindis slept in train stations and in the home of a friend she had made, she told the priest. She said that in February 2013 the news reached her that Benedict XVI had resigned as pope, which prompted her to make her way back to Rome to be present at his final Wednesday audience in St. Peter’s Square.

Fischer knew nothing about this story for years, until Lucindis confided in him in an hour-long conversation on her deathbed, after she received the last rites.

Sister Maria Lucindis Stock receives Holy Communion from Father Hans-Peter Fischer on March 4, 2022. Courtesy photo
Sister Maria Lucindis Stock receives Holy Communion from Father Hans-Peter Fischer on March 4, 2022. Courtesy photo

He was called to her room in the convent on March 4, as the only priest from whom she would agree to receive the sacraments.

Lucindis had developed an infection in her legs. It was treatable with an antibiotic, but after a short stay in the hospital, she asked to leave and did not continue to take the medication. The infection spread to her blood.

Despite developing blood poisoning, the 82-year-old continued to go to the place she knew best, St. Peter’s Square, until about a week before her death, the priest said.

When Fischer brought her the sacraments, “it was a celebration,” he recalled. She was “very awake” and “very pious,” and that time helped her to reconcile with her community.

Sister Maria Lucindis Stock with members of the Pallottine Sisters and Father Hans-Peter Fischer, on March 4, 2022. Courtesy photo
Sister Maria Lucindis Stock with members of the Pallottine Sisters and Father Hans-Peter Fischer, on March 4, 2022. Courtesy photo

After several hours of intense lucidity, Lucindis slowly faded, like the dying wick of a candle.

The religious association that owns the Campo Santo Teutonico offered to bury Lucindis in its cemetery in Vatican City, out of respect for her own request.

“It was clear that [Sister Lucindis] would not have accepted to return home to Germany, because she never accepted this in life,” Fischer said.

The association, the Archconfraternity to the Sorrowful Mother of God of the Germans and Flemings, had in 2014 and 2015 overseen the burial of two homeless men in their cemetery, which is usually reserved for the association’s members.

There, Lucindis was laid to rest, close to the place she had spent her days, in relative obscurity.

The Campo Santo Teutonico in Vatican City. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
The Campo Santo Teutonico in Vatican City. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Fischer said that he expected her funeral in Santa Maria della Pietà to be attended by the small group of sisters of her order and her two brothers, who traveled from Germany. But the church was packed. He has no idea how so many people heard about her death.

People thought Lucindis was homeless, he said, recalling one Holy Thursday Mass she attended in his church, pushing, as always, her little wheeled cart: a humble woman surrounded by bishops and cardinals of the Vatican.

Japan’s PM tells Vatican of concern about human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang

Pope Francis meets with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the Vatican, May 4, 2022. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, May 4, 2022 / 10:57 am (CNA).

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met with Pope Francis on Wednesday and told Vatican officials of his deep concern about China’s actions in the South China Sea and the human rights situation in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

According to a statement from the Japanese Embassy to the Holy See on May 4, Kishida had “a fruitful exchange of views” with Pope Francis, “addressing issues such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, East Asia, North Korea.”

In particular, the Japanese leader told the pope about North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile toward the Sea of Japan and “expressed concern about North Korea’s activities in the field of missile and nuclear weapons tests.”

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told journalists that Pope Francis condemned the use and possession of nuclear weapons during the 25-minute meeting as “inconceivable.”

Following his meeting with the pope, the prime minister met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin for 55 minutes.

“Prime Minister Kishida expressed deep concern over unilateral attempts to subvert the status quo by force in the East China Sea and South China Sea, as well as the human rights situation in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang region, expressing apprehension over the nuclear and missile issue of North Korea, which also executed a ballistic missile launch today,” the embassy statement said about the meeting with Parolin.

As prime minister, Kishida has often criticized China’s actions in the South China Sea, where the Chinese Communist Party claims nearly all the territory, causing disputes with Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei, which have competing territorial claims.

Cardinal Parolin, who is a key architect of the Holy See’s provisional agreement with China, has remained mostly silent on the human rights situation in Hong Kong and China’s Xinjiang region, where Uyghur Muslims face forced labor and other violations.

A brief statement issued by the Holy See Press Office did not specifically mention Hong Kong or Xinjiang.

It said: “Attention then turned to issues of an international nature, with particular attention to the war in Ukraine, stressing the urgency of dialogue and peace and expressing the hope, to this end, for a world free of nuclear weapons.”

The Japanese government does not have its own nuclear weapons and is the only country in the world to have suffered a nuclear attack.

Shinzo Abe, the former prime minister of Japan, suggested that Japan should consider “nuclear sharing” after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

According to the Japanese embassy statement, Kishida, however, “expressed his intention to collaborate with the Holy See to create a ‘world without nuclear weapons,’” and thanked Pope Francis for visiting his hometown, Hiroshima, which was hit by an atomic bomb in 1945.

The meeting between the pope and the prime minister marked the 80th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and the Holy See.

“Having learned that in the past he had a desire to carry out missionary activity in Japan, following the example of the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier, Prime Minister Kishida thanked Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, for his particular consideration towards his country,” the Japanese embassy said.

Pope Francis: Faith is not something only ‘for old people’

Pope Francis speaks at the general audience in St. Peter's Square on May 4, 2022. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Vatican City, May 4, 2022 / 07:35 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said on Wednesday that having faith is not something only “for old people,” but an essential element of life.

“In many trends in our society and culture, the practice of faith suffers from a negative portrayal, sometimes in the form of cultural irony, sometimes with covert marginalization,” Pope Francis said at his general audience on May 4.

Speaking in St. Peter’s Square, the pope said that having faith is, instead, something to be proud of because “it has changed our lives, it has purified our minds, it has taught us the worship of God and the love of our neighbor.”

“The practice of faith is not the symbol of our weakness, but rather the sign of its strength,” he said.

The pope spoke at the general audience about the witness that the elderly can offer to younger generations by remaining faithful until the end, like the biblical figure of Eleazar, whose story is described in the Second Book of Maccabees.

Pope Francis encouraged the elderly to be like Eleazar in showing young people a consistent witness to the faith.

“We will show, in all humility and firmness, precisely in our old age, that believing is not something ‘for old people.’ No. It’s a matter of life,” he said at live-streamed audience.

The pope compared the tendency in modern society for people to claim to “have an interior spirituality,” and then do whatever they please, to “the first heresy of the Gnostics.”

The Gnostic heresy, named for the Greek word “gnosis,” meaning “knowledge,” exaggerated the importance of knowledge over faith and considered the body and matter to be evil. The result was a denial of the Incarnation of Christ and a focus more on thinking rather than living a good Christian life.

Pope Francis said: “The practice of faith for these Gnostics, who were already around at the time of Jesus, is regarded as a useless and even harmful external, as an antiquated residue, as a disguised superstition. In short, something for old men.”

“The pressure that this indiscriminate criticism exerts on the younger generations is strong,” he added.

The pope said that the “seductive trap” of Gnosticism is the proposal that “that faith is a spirituality, not a practice.”

“Faithfulness and the honor of faith, according to this heresy, have nothing to do with the behaviors of life, the institutions of the community, the symbols of the body. Nothing to do with it,” he said.

Pope Francis highlighted the commendable example of Eleazar, who “lived the coherence of his faith for a whole lifetime.”

He said: “The biblical story … tells of the episode of the Jews being forced by a king’s decree to eat meat sacrificed to idols. When it’s the turn of Eleazar, an elderly man highly respected by everyone, in his 90s … the king’s officials advised him to resort to a pretense, that is, to pretend to eat the meat without actually doing so. Hypocrisy … These people tell him, ‘Be a little bit of a hypocrite, no one will notice.’”

“It is a little thing, but Eleazar’s calm and firm response is based on an argument that strikes us. The central point is this: dishonoring the faith in old age, in order to gain a handful of days, cannot be compared with the legacy it must leave to the young, for entire generations to come,” the pope said.

Pope Francis remained seated throughout the general audience. He required assistance as he slowly hobbled up a ramp to reach his chair in St. Peter’s Square. The pope is reportedly receiving therapeutic injections for his knee injury this week.

In his greetings to pilgrims from different parts of the world, the pope encouraged people to pray the rosary every day during the month of May. He encouraged Polish pilgrims, in particular, to “entrust the fate of your homeland and peace in Europe to the Holy Virgin.”

Addressing French-speaking pilgrims, he greeted members of La Voie romaine (the Roman Way), an association supporting a group of mothers of priests walking from Paris to Rome to ask the pope to lift restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass.

The mothers left the French capital on March 6 and arrived in Rome on April 30. They were expected to meet the pope at the end of the general audience, presenting him with thousands of messages from Catholics who say they were adversely affected by the motu proprio Traditionis custodes.

Pope Francis apologizes for not leaving his chair at Wednesday audience

Pope Francis’ general audience in St. Peter’s Square, May 4, 2022. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Vatican City, May 4, 2022 / 05:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis remained seated during the traditional blessings of newlyweds and pilgrims at his Wednesday audience as he undergoes treatment for a torn ligament in his right knee.

Before the final blessing on May 4, the pope said: “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to stop among you due to my knee injury. And for that, I apologize for having to greet you from a seated position, but it is a thing of the moment. Hopefully, it will pass soon and I will be able to come to you later in other audiences.”

Pope Francis receives assistance walking at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square, May 4, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Pope Francis receives assistance walking at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square, May 4, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

The 85-year-old pope, who is reportedly receiving therapeutic injections for his knee injury this week, required assistance as he slowly hobbled up a ramp to reach the chair where he sat for the general audience.

Pope Francis arrived in St. Peter’s Square seated in the popemobile and waved to the small crowd, which only filled about a quarter of the large piazza.

The Mercedes SUV popemobile did multiple laps around the square, so that the pope could also greet the people at the very back of the crowd. At one point, the popemobile stopped and the Vatican security team lifted up babies and young children for the pope to kiss and bless.

Pope Francis spoke at the live-streamed general audience about the important witness that the elderly can offer to younger generations by remaining faithful until the end, like the biblical figure of Eleazar, whose story is described in the Second Book of Maccabees.

“Faith deserves respect and honor to the very end: it has changed our lives, it has purified our minds, it has taught us the worship of God and the love of our neighbor. It is a blessing for all,” he said.

While greeting some bishops and cardinals at the end of the audience, the seated pope gestured to his knee. One cardinal could be seen placing his hand on the pope’s knee as if offering a prayer for his recovery.

Pope Francis said on April 30 that his doctor had ordered him not to walk. During the last several weeks, he has canceled meetings and opted to spend more time seated during public audiences or Masses.

In an interview published on May 3, the pope said that he planned to undergo a medical procedure on his knee with injections.

“I have been like this for some time, I cannot walk,” Francis said, according to the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera.

“It also brings a little pain, humiliation,” he said.