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Vatican City, Mar 27, 2015 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The brother and widow of two British aid workers killed by Islamic State militants last autumn were among the participants in yesterday’s General Audience, during which they briefly met with Pope Francis and received his blessing.

“Pope Francis has called for a common commitment to end fighting, hatred and violence. Mike Haines is living that commitment in an extraordinary way,” Nigel Baker, the British ambassador to the Holy See, said in a March 24 statement a day before the audience.

Mike Haines is the brother of former aid worker David Haines, who was murdered by the Islamic State in September after being kidnapped while working near the Syrian-Turkish border  in 2013.

David Haines was 44, and the father of two. He had joined relief agency Acted in the delivery of clean water, food and tents in Syria amid the growing humanitarian crisis in refugee camps near Atme, 35 miles west of Aleppo on the Turkish border.

In the statement issued by the British Embassy to the Holy See, it was emphasized that since his brother’s death, Haines has dedicated both his time and effort to spreading a message of tolerance among all religions, urging them to unite against extremism.

Mike Haines “will be bringing to the Vatican his message of interreligious understanding,” Baker said.

Haines was accompanied to the papal audience by Shahnawaz Haque, and imam from East London.

Also present at the audience with Haines was Barbara Henning, the widow of British taxi driver Alan Henning, who was killed by the Islamic State in October, one month after Haines was beheaded by the extremists.

Henning was 47 and was also a father of two when he was killed. He had been helping to deliver aid to Syria during a fourth aid mission to the country when he was kidnapped within minutes of arriving last December.

The statement also notes that in October 2014, Mike Haines and Barbara Henning signed a joint letter calling for the “unity of people of all faiths in our society,” and urging “churches, mosques, synagogues to open their doors and welcome people of all faiths.”

Vatican City, Mar 26, 2015 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has told a French paper that doctrinal, or even disciplinary, decisions regarding marriage and family are not up for determination by national bishops’ conferences.

“It is an absolutely anti-Catholic idea that does not respect the Catholicity of the Church,” Cardinal Mueller said when asked, “Could certain doctrinal or disciplinary decisions on marriage and family be delegated to the episcopal conferences?”

“Episcopal conferences have authority on certain matters, but they are not a magisterium beside the Magisterium, without the Pope and without communion with all the bishops,” he continued.

The Famille Chretienne interview of Cardinal Mueller – whose office is tasked with promoting and safeguarding doctrine on faith and morals – was published March 26, and was translated into English by Rorate Caeli.

The cardinal was asked directly about comments made last month by Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, who is president of the German bishops' conference. Cardinal Marx told reporters, “We are not a branch of Rome. Each conference of bishops is responsible for pastoral care in its cultural context and must preach the Gospel in its own, original way. We cannot wait for a synod to tell us how we have to shape pastoral care for marriage and family here.”

Cardinal Marx’s statements come amid proposals by some in the Church to permit a wider access to Communion for the divorced and remarried. The subject was raised by some German bishops in the past, and has been a topic of discussion surrounding the Synod on the Family gatherings last year and this coming fall.

Church teaching holds that marriage is a permanent sacrament that does not come to an end if spouses obtain a civil divorce. An annulment process exists within the Church to examine whether the marriage was invalid in the first place. But without an annulment, individuals may not enter into a second marriage while the first marriage is still binding. Doing so bars one from receiving Communion.

Responding to the assertions of the president of the German bishops' conference, Cardinal Mueller, who was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Mainz, remarked that “an episcopal conference is not a particular council, much less an ecumenical council. The president of an episcopal conference is nothing more than a technical moderator, and he does not have any particular magisterial authority due to this title.”

“Hearing that an episcopal conference is not a 'branch of Rome' gives me the occasion to recall that dioceses are not the branches of the secretariat of a bishops' conference either, nor of the diocese whose bishop presides over the episcopal conference.”

Such an attitude, he said, “risks in fact the reawakening of a certain polarization between the local Churches and the universal Church, out of date since Vatican I and Vatican II. The Church is not a sum of national churches, whose presidents would vote to elect their chief on the universal level.”

Cardinal Mueller also reflected on the nature of the Church, recalling that it “is not a philanthopic organization. To say that we respect the opinions of all, that we wish for the good of all, is not enough.”

“To present the Gospel as a simple therapeutic message is not very hard, but it does not respond to the demands of Jesus. 'Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me,' Jesus says. The first apostles, the Fathers of the Church, the great bishops in the history of the Church, very often sailed against opposing winds. How could it be any different for us?”

Cardinal Marx – whom the German bishops have chosen as one of their three delegates at the upcoming Synod on the Family – had also said there are “certain expectations” of Germany in helping the Church to open doors and “go down new paths,” and that “in doctrine, we also learn from life.”

Cardinal Marx' comments have also been countered by another Vatican prelate of German origins.

Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, who was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Paderborn and is president emeritus of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, published a strenuous objection to the media statements of his fellow German bishop in the form of a March 7 letter to the editor of Die Tagespost.

Discussing Cardinal Marx' statements on bishops' conferences and ecclesiology, he wrote that his “theological blurriness makes you wonder,” adding that statements like “we are not a branch of Rome” are more suited “to the counter of a bar.”

“The head of the German bishop’s conference certainly has some competence when it comes to a second edition of the hymnal or the changing of the pilgrim route to Altötting,” Cardinal Cordes stated. “But the president argues something entirely different.”

“The president argues about the drama of the divorced and remarried! This matter reaches far beyond regional particularities of a pragmatic nature, of a given mentality and cultural background. This matter is bound to the very center of theology. In this field not even a cardinal can loosen such a complex Gordian knot in a single swordstroke … A responsible shepherd cannot be guided by a blurred 'mercy.' And while the president repeats that regarding the Magisterium, he wants to 'stay within the community of the Church,' he either ignores the limits that this Magisterium gives to pastoral care, or he is carefree in making a statement to make himself sound good.”

Like Cardinal Mueller, Cardinal Cordes lamented that in Cardinal Marx' comments, the idea of communion – among bishops, and with the Bishop of Rome – was sorely lacking, “even though the bishops expressly promised 'unity with the College of Bishops under the Successor of Peter' during their episcopal consecration. The sentence: 'We cannot wait for a synod to tell us how we have to shape pastoral care for marriage and family here' is not imbued with a spirit of 'Communio'.”

He charged that the message sent by Cardinal Marx “seems to be the result of an 'obedience that goes ahead', a deeply political strategy which creates 'facts' in order to dominate the process of decision-making and to put pressure on their colleagues.”

“Particularly deplorable are the statements during the press conference that the 'new solutions' – everyone knows what is meant – can be theologically justified,” Cardinal Cordes wrote. “Does he want to say that the dogma of the inseparability of marriage becomes intolerable because of the life situations of remarried people?”

Rome, Italy, Mar 26, 2015 / 08:48 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A son of Italian immigrants, Argentinian native Pope Francis will have the opportunity to meet with distant relatives during his visit to Turin for the first time since coming to Italy after his election.

The family members Francis will meet during his trip “are cousins. Different cousins and various other family members. I don't know them, I only know that there are some from Turin,” Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia told journalists March 25.

The archbishop, who oversees the Turin diocese, spoke with journalists during a press briefing announcing the details of the Pope’s June 21-22 visit this summer.

Pope Francis will meet with his relatives on the 22nd, and will be with them from 10:15 in the morning until 4:30 that afternoon. During that time, he will celebrate Mass and have lunch with them at the archbishop’s residence.

Archbishop Nosiglia said that the request for the encounter essentially made “by the Holy Father, because the Holy Father has always expressed the idea of going to Turin and meeting in some way with his family.”

Francis’ relatives have also contacted him, expressing their interest in meeting, the archbishop said, so “they found an occasion” in the Pope’s Turin visit, which he referred to as “a meeting point” of the desire for such an encounter on both sides.

Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Pope is the first of five children born to Mario José Bergoglio and Regina María Sívori, who were both originally from Italy’s Piedmont region, which is located roughly 27 miles southeast of Turin.

The Pope will travel to Turin to visit what is believed to be the burial shroud of Jesus, which will be on display to the public during a rare exposition lasting from April 19 to June 24. The last time the Shroud was on display was 2010.

The Shroud of Turin is among the most well-known relics believed to be connected with Christ's Passion and death.

A little more than 14 ft. long and 3-and-a-half feet wide, the cloth is stained with the image of a dead man – front and back – who had been brutally tortured and crucified.

Venerated for centuries by Christians as the burial shroud of Jesus, the relic has been subject to intense scientific study to ascertain its authenticity, and the origins of the image. Evidence suggests that the image had been burned onto the cloth.

Pope Francis’ visit to Turin also coincides with the bicentenary of the birth of Saint John Bosco, founder of the Salesian order and patron saint of youth.

After his arrival, Francis will make his way to the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, where he will venerate the shroud and pause for a short prayer at the tomb of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, another patron of the youth, who is buried in the cathedral.

In addition to the meeting with the Pope’s relatives, other highlights of his trip include Mass, a meeting with prisoners – some of whom are immigrants or homeless, a visit with sick disabled persons.

Francis will also hold an encounter with the area’s youth, and will have lunch with some of them on the 21st, during which he will respond to questions they ask ahead of time.

During the press briefing Archbishop Nosiglia said that due to the bicentenary of Don Bosco's birth, as well as the Pope’s encounter with young people and his visit to Bl. Pier Giorgio's tomb, the visit is being treated as a “mini” World Youth Day, leading up to the 2016 international gathering in Krakow.

The archbishop also noted how all donations made by pilgrims after their visit to the shroud during this year’s exposition will be given to Pope Francis. While tickets to view the shroud are free, pilgrims are invited to leave an offering.

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