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Vatican City, Jul 29, 2014 / 06:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Holy See Press Office confirmed today that Pope Francis will be traveling to Sri Lanka Jan. 12-15 and to Philippines Jan. 15-19.

The papal trip – which will be the second to Asia in six months – had been informally announced by the Pope Francis in May, during the press conference he held aboard a plane returning from the Holy Land.

“As far as Asia is concerned, two trips are planned: this one to South Korea for the meeting with Asian young people, and then, next January, a two-day visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, in the areas struck by the typhoon,” said the Pope.

The itinerary of the voyage will be disclosed in the coming months, but Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila and Msgr. Nevin Pereira, coordinator of Sri Lankan immigrants in Italy, have speculated on possible papal stops.

The pontiff is expected to visit Manila and the areas devastated by Super Typhoon Yolanda, also known as Hayan. The typhoon struck the Philippines Nov. 8 and caused the death of around 6,000 people.

Cardinal Tagle has also announced that the theme of the papal visit will be “Mercy and Compassion.” The cardinal has asked the Catholics of the countries to do “corporal works of mercy” to honor the papal visit.

Pope Francis’ visit will also mark the 20th anniversary of the 1995 Manila World Youth Day, the largest ever papal event, which gathered around 5 million young people to pray with St. John Paul II.  

Msgr. Pereira revealed to CNA June 11 that Pope Francis will be welcomed by the president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and will have lunch with all the politicians from both major parties of the country.

According to Msgr. Pereira, the Pope will visit the Institute for Theological Studies in Asia and the Basilica of Our Lady of Sri Lanka, where a meeting is planned with all the religious, priests and nuns of the Island.

Msgr. Pereira also voiced hope that Pope Francis will celebrate the canonization of Bl. Joseph Vaz, an Indian missionary who traveled to Sri Lanka during the Dutch occupation.

Both of the countries Pope Francis will be visiting have endured internal conflicts.

Sri Lankan civil war began July 23, 1983, and ended in May 2009. The war – due to ethnic tensions between the Buddhist Sinhalese majority and the Hindu Tamil minority – caused the death of estimated 80,000 to 100,000 citizens.

Meeting the Sri Lankan workers in Italy Feb. 8 for the celebration of the 68th anniversary of the independence of the country, Pope Francis urged them to “heal the wounds and collaborate with the enemy of yesterday to build the tomorrow together.”

The Pope conceded that “it is not easy,” but said “it is the only path that gives hope of future, development and peace.”

In the Philippines, there have been times of tensions between Christian and Muslim Filipinos, especially the Muslim Moro people native to Mindanao.

Pope Francis proved very attentive to this by elevating to the role of cardinal in the recent Feb. 22 consistory Orlando Beltran Quevedo, O.M.I, archbishop of Cotabato.

The cardinal has advocated for peace between Christians and Muslims in the country and wrote an influential paper in 2003, in which he investigated the causes of the Moro Muslims insurgency and called for the overcoming of prejudices and biases, asking Christian and Muslim leader to play a major role.
 

Vatican City, Jul 27, 2014 / 11:07 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis stressed the priceless value of encountering Jesus, noting that Jesus’ parables speak of those who are willing to trade everything for the Kingdom of God.

“He who knows Jesus, who encounters him personally, remains fascinated and attracted by so much kindness, so much truth, so much beauty, and everything in great humility and simplicity,” the Pope said July 27.

“Look for Jesus, meet Jesus: this is the great treasure!” the Pope exhorted.

Speaking before the noontime Angelus prayers, he addressed thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square from his window in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.

The Pope reflected on the two parables in the Sunday Mass reading from the Gospel of Matthew: the parable of the treasure discovered buried in a field and the parable of the pearl of great price.

He said these parables show that the discovery of the Kingdom of God can come “suddenly,” as when the farmer discovers unexpected treasure in a field and sells everything to buy it. The Kingdom of God can also come “after a long search,” like the case of the merchant who sought a precious pearl.

Pope Francis stressed the primary lesson of both parables: the farmer and the merchant “give up everything else” to buy what they have found.

“They do not need to reason, to think, to reflect: they realize immediately the incomparable value of what they have found, and are willing to lose everything to have it.”

“So it is with the Kingdom of God,” the Pope explained. “He who finds it has no doubts. He feels that this is what he was searching for, what he was looking for, and what responds to his most authentic aspirations.”

The Pope reflected on how many saints were converted because they were so affected by Jesus. He noted that St. Francis of Assisi was a lukewarm Christian but when he encountered Jesus in a “decisive moment,” he found the Kingdom of God “and then all his dreams of earthly glory vanished.”

“The Gospel makes you recognize the true Jesus, it makes you recognize that Jesus is alive. It speaks to your heart and changes your life.”

When someone is “born again,” he explained, “you have found something that makes sense, that gives flavor, that gives light to all, even to hardships, even to suffering, even to death.”

The Pope repeated his previous encouragements to read the Gospels and asked everyone to carry a small book of the Gospels in their pocket or purse.

“Everything makes sense when there, in the Gospel, you can find this treasure, which Jesus called ‘the kingdom of God,’ that God who reigns in your life, in our lives,” Pope Francis said.

“To read the Gospel is to find Jesus and to have this Christian joy, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit.”

“Dear brothers and sisters, the joy of having found the treasure of the Kingdom of God shines, you see,” he continued. “The Christian cannot conceal his faith, because it shines through in every word, every gesture, even in the most simple, everyday: it shines, the love that God has given us through Jesus.”

On Sunday Pope Francis also renewed his calls for peace in the world.

After the Angelus, the Pope noted the July 28 anniversary of the start of World War I.

“This conflict, which Benedict XV called a ‘senseless slaughter,’ resulted, after four long years, in a most fragile peace,” he said.

“Tomorrow will be a day of mourning for this tragedy,” said Pope Francis, who lamented the millions killed and the “immense destruction” in the war.

“As we remember this tragic event, I hope that the mistakes of the past will not be repeated,” he said.

He urged everyone to learn from a history that is “increasingly dominated by the demands of peace through patient and courageous dialogue.”

Pope Francis particularly noted ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, Iraq, and Ukraine.

“I ask that you continue to join me in prayer that the Lord may grant the people and authorities of those areas the wisdom and strength needed to push ahead on the path of peace by addressing each dispute with the tenacity of dialogue and negotiation with the power of reconciliation,” he said.

“Brothers and sisters: Never war! Never war!” he exclaimed.

The Pope especially lamented war’s effects on children: those killed, wounded, and maimed; the orphaned; those who have lost “hope for a decent life”; and children who “do not know how to smile.”

“Stop, please!” he said to those involved in violent conflict. “I ask you with all my heart.”

Rome, Italy, Jul 26, 2014 / 01:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Saturday visited the Italian city of Caserta, encouraging the people of the region to place God at the center of their lives.

“Giving primacy to God means having the courage to say no to evil, violence, oppression; to live a life of service to others and in favor of lawfulness and the common good,” Pope Francis said July 26.

The Pope spoke during his homily at evening Mass in front of the Royal Palace of Caserta, a former residence of the King of Naples, Vatican Radio reports. The city is in the southern Italian region of Campania.

Pope Francis visited the city for the Feast of St. Anne, its patron saint.

The Pope stressed the importance of the presence of Jesus, saying his presence “transforms our lives and makes us sensitive to the needs of our brothers.” Jesus’ presence “invites us to accept every other presence, including that of foreigners and immigrants.”

He added that God is “the true treasure.”

“He who becomes a friend of God loves his brothers, is committed to safeguarding their lives and well-being, and also respects the environment and nature,” Pope Francis said.

The Pope said the beauty of the Campania region needs to be “protected and preserved.” He also called on the people of Caserta to have the courage to reject corruption.

 Everyone should be “servants of the truth,” living a gospel-inspired life that is shown in “the gift of self” and in giving attention to the poor and excluded.

On Monday Pope Francis will return to Caserta to visit with the Italian Protestant minister Giovanni Traettino, whom he befriended during his visits to Rome when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

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