VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Meeting a group of major U.S. donors to Catholic charitable works, Pope Benedict XVI asked them to pray "for the freedom of Christians to proclaim the Gospel and bring its light to the urgent moral issues of our time."

The Pope met April 21 with about 80 members of the Papal Foundation, who presented him with an $8.5-million donation that will be used to fund scholarships and 105 Catholic projects in close to 50 countries.

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VATICAN CITY - While the text of the Bible is fixed, the same Holy Spirit that inspired its writing continues to inspire its proclamation and interpretation in the church, Pope Benedict XVI said.

The Catholic Church's understanding of the Bible grows through time thanks to the Holy Spirit's guidance and to reflection, study, prayer and preaching, the Pope said in a message to members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, an international group of scholars who advise the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

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VATICAN CITY - When a community is faced with crisis, persecution and trouble, it should come together in prayer for strength from God, not formulate strategic plans to defend itself from difficulties, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Unity is fundamental, he said, and the community needs to come together and ask "only to proclaim the word of God fearlessly in the face of persecution," not to avoid tests, trials and tribulation.

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VATICAN CITY  - Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his 85th birthday with guests who treated him to Bavarian "oompah" music and folk dancing in the apostolic palace.

Bavarian bishops, minister-president of Bavaria -- Horst Seehofer, and a 150-person regional government delegation visited the Pope April 16 in the Vatican's Clementine Hall.

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI does not want to undo the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, but he is working to ensure that "the foundation and heart of the Christian faith shines again," said Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch in a book released in time for the seventh anniversary of the pope's election.

Bishops, theologians and concerned Catholic have an obligation to help the faithful understand the theology and teaching of the pope, Cardinal Koch wrote in the book that was to be presented in Rome April 16, Pope Benedict's 85th birthday and just three days before the anniversary of his election.

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI's 85th birthday, April 16, and the seventh anniversary of his election, April 19, are obviously occasions for wishing the Pope well and reflecting on the events of his reign thus far. Inevitably, however, these milestones also prompt speculation about what Vatican officials and observers refer to diplomatically as "papal transition."

Pope Benedict, after all, is already the sixth-oldest Pope since the 1400s, when records became available. It has been almost two years since he told a German interviewer, "My forces are diminishing" and that, when it comes to public appearances, "I wonder whether I can make it even from a purely physical point of view."

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VATICAN CITY - With Easter flowers and blossoming trees still decorating St. Peter's Square, Pope Benedict XVI held his weekly general audience and encouraged Catholics to let the risen Lord into their hearts and to share his peace with the world.

As he did with the disciples after Easter, "even today the risen Lord can enter into our homes and hearts even if, sometimes, the doors are closed," the Pope said April 11.

"He alone can roll back the burial stone that man often puts over his feelings, relationships and behavior; stones that sanction death, division, hatred, anger, jealousy, mistrust, indifference," Pope Benedict said.

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When he turns 85 on April16 Pope Benedict XVI will be just the sixth pope to reach that milestone age and the oldest pontiff in 109 years. Last month, the Pope warmly told former Cuban president Fidel Castro, who is eight months Benedict’s senior, “Yes, I’m old, but I can still carry out my duties.”

Benedict was described as a transitional figure when he became pontiff seven years ago. He was 78. It had been 300 years since the Vatican welcomed a new pope that old. But although less robust than on the day he ascended the throne of Peter, Benedict is still keeping a busy schedule and serving the Church with faith and distinction. Some transition.

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy - Like many residents of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI spent the Easter Monday holiday outside the city, but he suggested that people use at least part of the extra day off to look again at the Gospel accounts of the Easter story.

Reading the accounts "allows us to meditate on this stupendous event that transformed history and gives meaning to the life of every person," the pope said April 9 as he greeted visitors gathered in the courtyard of the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo.

Before reciting the "Regina Coeli," a Marian prayer used in place of the Angelus from Easter to Pentecost, he said the four Gospels do not try to describe or explain the moment of Jesus' resurrection; "that remains mysterious -- not in the sense of less real, but hidden."

Instead, the Gospels describe how the women went to the tomb and found it empty.

"In all the Gospels, the women have a great space in the accounts of the apparitions of the risen Jesus, just as they do in the accounts of the passion and death of Jesus," the pope said.

"At that time in Israel, the witness of the women could not have an official, juridical value," he said, but the Gospels' emphasis on their stories demonstrates that they "lived an experience of a special bond with the Lord."

That special bond, he said, "is fundamental for the concrete life of the Christian community and this is true always, in every age, and not just at the beginning of the church's story."

Pope Benedict was scheduled to return to the Vatican April 11 for his weekly general audience, then head back to the papal villa, about 15 miles south of Rome, until April 13.

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BEIRUT (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI will visit Lebanon Sept. 14-16, Maronite Catholic Patriarch Bechara Rai announced during Easter Mass at the patriarchal seat in Bkerke, Lebanon.

Patriarch Rai said April 8 that the Pope will meet with the country's religious and civil officials, including President Michel Sleiman, a Maronite Catholic. During an open-air Mass in Beirut Sept. 16, the Pope will present the apostolic exhortation on the October 2010 special Synod of Bishops, which met under the theme: "Communion and Witness."

In a statement, Sleiman said the pope's visit would affirm the depth of the "historical relations that tie Lebanon with the (Vatican) and will form an occasion to focus on Lebanon's position, message and role as a witness of freedom and coexistence."

It marks the pope's second visit to the Middle East; in May 2009 he visited Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The announcement comes amid increased concern over the plight of Christians across the Middle East, emigrating in increasing numbers.

Of Lebanon's population of nearly 4 million, approximately 33 percent are Christian, considered a high estimate. Half a century ago, Christians represented about half the population.

In Iraq, a Christian exodus since the American-led invasion in 2003 has reduced the Iraqi Christian population by two-thirds.

In an interview with Vatican Radio broadcast April 9, Archbisop Paul Sayah, vicar general of the Maronite Patriarchate, said the pope's visit would "inject a new dynamism," not only in the Lebanese society and Christians, but in the whole region.

Noting that the Christian presence in Lebanon has a "significant impact" on the country, Archbishop Sayah said the visit would "incite the Lebanese once again to play the role they are expected to play in this part of the world."

The archbishop said the apostolic exhortation would offer "a special message not only to Lebanon but also, and especially, to the countries of the region" where the outcome of the "so-called 'Arab Spring'" is still "not yet clear."

The pope's message, he said, will be especially important for the "tragic situation" in Syria, "which I am sure the Holy Father will address in one way or another."

The Arab world "badly needs a word of encouragement, a word of hope," he said, emphasizing that Christians in the region need directives on how to approach the "new reality" of the difficulties they face amid a revolution in their homeland.

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VATICAN CITY - Light and darkness, truth and lies, hope and despair are in a constant battle in the world, but with his death and resurrection Jesus conquered sin and death for all time, Pope Benedict XVI said on Easter.

"If Jesus is risen, then -- and only then -- has something truly new happened, something that changes the state of humanity and the world," the Pope told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square before giving his Easter blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world).

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VATICAN CITY - Uncovering the cross and genuflecting before it in his stocking feet, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated the Liturgy of the Lord's Passion in St. Peter's Basilica.

The Pope presided at the service April 6 and chanted the solemn prayers of intercession for the church, for himself and for the world, but during the homily he sat and listened.

Following tradition, the homily was delivered by the preacher of the papal household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa.

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VATICAN CITY - During a Mass in which priests renew their promises of fidelity to Christ, Pope Benedict XVI firmly criticized dissent from church teachings and disobedience of God's will as illegitimate pathways toward reform and renewal.

Surrounded by more than 1,600 priests, bishops and cardinals, the Pope cautioned against calls for women's ordination, saying such campaigns seemed more "a desperate push" to fulfill one's own preferences rather than a sincere attempt to conform one's life more closely to Christ.

During the April 5 chrism Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, which focuses on Holy Thursday as the day Jesus shared his priesthood with the apostles, the Pope said he wanted to use the occasion to ask all priests, including himself, to meditate upon what their consecration really means.

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Below is the full text of Pope Benedict's homily given at  the Holy Thursday chrism Mass in St. Peter's Basilica:

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RELATED ARTICLE - At Holy Thursday Mass, Pope criticizes dissent from church teachings

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

At this Holy Mass our thoughts go back to that moment when, through prayer and the laying on of hands, the bishop made us sharers in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, so that we might be “consecrated in truth” (Jn 17:19), as Jesus besought the Father for us in his high-priestly prayer. He himself is the truth. He has consecrated us, that is to say, handed us over to God for ever, so that we can offer men and women a service that comes from God and leads to him. But does our consecration extend to the daily reality of our lives – do we operate as men of God in fellowship with Jesus Christ?

This question places the Lord before us and us before him. “Are you resolved to be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to him, denying yourselves and confirming those promises about sacred duties towards Christ’s Church which, prompted by love of him, you willingly and joyfully pledged on the day of your priestly ordination?” After this homily, I shall be addressing that question to each of you here and to myself as well.

Two things, above all, are asked of us: there is a need for an interior bond, a configuration to Christ, and at the same time there has to be a transcending of ourselves, a renunciation of what is simply our own, of the much-vaunted self-fulfilment. We need, I need, not to claim my life as my own, but to place it at the disposal of another – of Christ. I should be asking not what I stand to gain, but what I can give for him and so for others. Or to put it more specifically, this configuration to Christ, who came not to be served but to serve, who does not take, but rather gives – what form does it take in the often dramatic situation of the Church today?

Recently a group of priests from a European country issued a summons to disobedience, and at the same time gave concrete examples of the forms this disobedience might take, even to the point of disregarding definitive decisions of the Church’s Magisterium, such as the question of women’s ordination, for which Blessed Pope John Paul II stated irrevocably that the Church has received no authority from the Lord. Is disobedience a path of renewal for the Church?

We would like to believe that the authors of this summons are motivated by concern for the Church, that they are convinced that the slow pace of institutions has to be overcome by drastic measures, in order to open up new paths and to bring the Church up to date. But is disobedience really a way to do this? Do we sense here anything of that configuration to Christ which is the precondition for true renewal, or do we merely sense a desperate push to do something to change the Church in accordance with one’s own preferences and ideas?

But let us not oversimplify matters. Surely Christ himself corrected human traditions which threatened to stifle the word and the will of God? Indeed he did, so as to rekindle obedience to the true will of God, to his ever enduring word. His concern was for true obedience, as opposed to human caprice. Nor must we forget: he was the Son, possessed of singular authority and responsibility to reveal the authentic will of God, so as to open up the path for God’s word to the world of the nations. And finally: he lived out his task with obedience and humility all the way to the Cross, and so gave credibility to his mission. Not my will, but thine be done: these words reveal to us the Son, in his humility and his divinity, and they show us the true path.

Let us ask again: do not such reflections serve simply to defend inertia, the fossilization of traditions? No. Anyone who considers the history of the post-conciliar era can recognize the process of true renewal, which often took unexpected forms in living movements and made almost tangible the inexhaustible vitality of holy Church, the presence and effectiveness of the Holy Spirit. And if we look at the people from whom these fresh currents of life burst forth and continue to burst forth, then we see that this new fruitfulness requires being filled with the joy of faith, the radicalism of obedience, the dynamic of hope and the power of love.

Dear friends, it is clear that configuration to Christ is the precondition and the basis for all renewal. But perhaps at times the figure of Jesus Christ seems too lofty and too great for us to dare to measure ourselves by him. The Lord knows this. So he has provided “translations” on a scale that is more accessible and closer to us. For this same reason, Saint Paul did not hesitate to say to his communities: Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. For his disciples, he was a “translation” of Christ’s manner of life that they could see and identify with.

Ever since Paul’s time, history has furnished a constant flow of other such “translations” of Jesus’ way into historical figures. We priests can call to mind a great throng of holy priests who have gone before us and shown us the way: from Polycarp of Smyrna and Ignatius of Antioch, from the great pastors Ambrose, Augustine and Gregory the Great, through to Ignatius of Loyola, Charles Borromeo, John Mary Vianney and the priest-martyrs of the 20th century, and finally Pope John Paul II, who gave us an example, through his activity and his suffering, of configuration to Christ as “gift and mystery”. The saints show us how renewal works and how we can place ourselves at its service. And they help us realize that God is not concerned so much with great numbers and with outward successes, but achieves his victories under the humble sign of the mustard seed.

Dear friends, I would like briefly to touch on two more key phrases from the renewal of ordination promises, which should cause us to reflect at this time in the Church’s life and in our own lives. Firstly, the reminder that – as Saint Paul put it – we are “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4:1) and we are charged with the ministry of teaching (munus docendi), which forms a part of this stewardship of God’s mysteries, through which he shows us his face and his heart, in order to give us himself. At the meeting of Cardinals on the occasion of the recent Consistory, several of the pastors of the Church spoke, from experience, of the growing religious illiteracy found in the midst of our sophisticated society. The foundations of faith, which at one time every child knew, are now known less and less. But if we are to live and love our faith, if we are to love God and to hear him aright, we need to know what God has said to us – our minds and hearts must be touched by his word.

The Year of Faith, commemorating the opening of the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago, should provide us with an occasion to proclaim the message of faith with new enthusiasm and new joy. We find it of course first and foremost in sacred Scripture, which we can never read and ponder enough. Yet at the same time we all experience the need for help in accurately expounding it in the present day, if it is truly to touch our hearts. This help we find first of all in the words of the teaching Church: the texts of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church are essential tools which serve as an authentic guide to what the Church believes on the basis of God’s word. And of course this also includes the whole wealth of documents given to us by Pope John Paul II, still far from being fully explored.

All our preaching must measure itself against the saying of Jesus Christ: “My teaching is not mine” (Jn 7:16). We preach not private theories and opinions, but the faith of the Church, whose servants we are. Naturally this should not be taken to mean that I am not completely supportive of this teaching, or solidly anchored in it. In this regard I am always reminded of the words of Saint Augustine: what is so much mine as myself? And what is so little mine as myself? I do not own myself, and I become myself by the very fact that I transcend myself, and thereby become a part of Christ, a part of his body the Church. If we do not preach ourselves, and if we are inwardly so completely one with him who called us to be his ambassadors, that we are shaped by faith and live it, then our preaching will be credible. I do not seek to win people for myself, but I give myself. The Curé of Ars was no scholar, no intellectual, we know that. But his preaching touched people’s hearts because his own heart had been touched.

The last keyword that I should like to consider is “zeal for souls”: animarum zelus. It is an old-fashioned expression, not much used these days. In some circles, the word “soul” is virtually banned because – ostensibly – it expresses a body-soul dualism that wrongly compartmentalizes the human being. Of course the human person is a unity, destined for eternity as body and soul. And yet that cannot mean that we no longer have a soul, a constituent principle guaranteeing our unity in this life and beyond earthly death. And as priests, of course, we are concerned for the whole person, including his or her physical needs – we care for the hungry, the sick, the homeless. And yet we are concerned not only with the body, but also with the needs of the soul: with those who suffer from the violation of their rights or from destroyed love, with those unable to perceive the truth, those who suffer for lack of truth and love.

We are concerned with the salvation of men and women in body and soul. And as priests of Jesus Christ we carry out our task with enthusiasm. No one should ever have the impression that we work conscientiously when on duty, but before and after hours we belong only to ourselves. A priest never belongs to himself. People must sense our zeal, through which we bear credible witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let us ask the Lord to fill us with joy in his message, so that we may serve his truth and his love with joyful zeal. Amen.

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VATICAN CITY - The truly Christian response to Christ's death and resurrection must be the dedication of one's life and one's time to building a relationship with Jesus and being grateful for the gift of salvation, Pope Benedict XVI said.

"In this Holy Week, the Lord Jesus will renew the greatest gift we could possibly imagine: he will give us his life, his body and his blood, his love," the Pope said April 1, celebrating Palm Sunday in St. Peter's Square.

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