VATICAN CITY - Though exactly what happened to Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 remained unclear, Pope Francis offered prayers for the 298 passengers and crew members who died when it came down in eastern Ukraine.

Published in Vatican

Updated 07/22/14

VATICAN CITY - As the last Iraqi Christians in Mosul fled the city, Pope Francis urgently called for prayers, dialogue and peace.

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KIEV, Ukraine - Ukrainian Catholic bishops thanked people around the world for their prayers over the last six months and asked for continued prayers for peace in their country.

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When Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meet at the Vatican June 8, it will be another sign of how Pope Francis has returned the Vatican to the global stage to a degree not seen since the 1980s, when John Paul II’s shuttle pilgrimages helped end the Cold War.

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In the powerful image shown around the world, Pope Francis is standing at the imposing wall that partitions Bethlehem from the outside world. His right palm presses the concrete, his head is bowed in silent prayer. Graffiti above him proclaims, “Pope we need some1 to speak about justice.”

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The Supreme Court Monday (May 5) declared that the Constitution not only allows for prayer at government meetings, but sectarian prayer.

Published in International
September 13, 2013

Revisit Taizé prayer

One evening this past summer, I walked down a set of dark stairs into a candlelit basement. I was with a group of 20 young adults. Eastern icons of Jesus on the cross were placed around the room, representing for me the sacred history of God’s interactions with His people.

Published in YSN: Speaking Out

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI expressed his concern for everyone affected by Hurricane Sandy and encouraged all those working to rebuild from the disaster.

"Conscious of the devastation caused by the hurricane which recently struck the East Coast of the United States of America, I offer my prayers for the victims and express my solidarity with all those engaged in the work of rebuilding," he said Oct. 31 at the end of his weekly general audience.

Nearly 1,000 miles wide, Sandy's strong gales reached as far west as Lake Michigan. As of Oct. 31, it caused at least 55 deaths in seven states and left more than 8.5 million homes and businesses without power from the Carolinas to Ohio.

In the Caribbean government officials put the death toll across the islands at 69, with more than 50 in Haiti, where widespread flooding devastated parts of the already impoverished country.

After reciting the Angelus Oct. 28, the Pope called for prayers and concrete help for the people of Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica and the Bahamas, where, he said, the hurricane struck "with particular violence."

During his main audience talk Oct. 31, the Pope underlined the importance of the Church in preserving and passing on the faith across generations and throughout history. Some 10,000 people gathered under the rain in St. Peter's Square to hear the Pope's catechesis.

Though finding Christ is an intensely personal experience that transforms one's own heart, mind and individual existence, "faith is given in and through the community of the church," the Pope said.

The Creed and one's beliefs are not built upon a "private dialogue with Jesus," but are the result of a dialogue and a listening that shatter individualism and open one up to God's love and to others, he said.

"Faith comes to me given as a gift from God through a community of believers, which is the Church," he said.

People discover through baptism that they are not only united to Jesus, "but also to all those who walked and are walking the same path" toward holiness.

"Our faith is truly personal only if it is communal: It can be my faith only if it lives and moves in the 'we' of the Church, only if it is our faith, the common faith of the one church," the Pope said.

It is important to remember that faith is born in the Church and leads people to the Church, he said; "No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as mother."

Tradition is "an uninterrupted chain of the life of the Church, the proclamation of the Word of God and the celebration of the sacraments that reaches us" from the past, he said.

Tradition is what "gives us the guarantee that that which we believe in is the original message of Christ, preached by the Apostles," he said.

This way, every man and woman from every generation and every continent can have access to the "immense resources" of sacred Scripture and the faith, and "enrich themselves from the treasures of grace" given to humanity by God, the Pope said.

In fact, the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, "Lumen Gentium," reminded people that God doesn't seek to make people "holy and save them merely as individuals, without bond or link between one another. Rather has it pleased him to bring men together as one people, a people which acknowledges him in truth and serves him in holiness."

By radiating the truth of the Church, each person becomes a point of reference for others by passing on the person of Jesus and his message, Pope Benedict said.

Only by "letting oneself be guided and molded by the faith of the Church," Christians, who despite their weakness, limits and difficulties, become "like an open window" that lets God's light shine on the world.

Keeping one's faith closed up inside oneself contradicts the very nature of faith, the Pope said.

"We need a Church in order to have confirmation of our faith and to experience the gifts of God: his word, the sacraments, the support of grace and the witness of love," he said.

In a world of rampant individualism which only weakens human relations, "faith calls us to be church, carriers of love and of the communion of God for all humanity," he said.

Published in International

ROME (CNS) -- Benedictine Father William Skudlarek said Buddhists have helped him learn to listen more when he prays, and Muslims have helped him show deeper reverence in prayer.

Skudlarek, a member of St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., is secretary-general of the international Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, a project of Benedictine and Trappist monks and nuns that promotes dialogue with Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims in some version of monastic life.

He was in Rome Sept. 17-25 to lead a workshop for members of the Congress of Abbots of the Benedictine Confederation of Monastic Communities.

The monastic dialogue began in the 1970s, and Skudlarek began participating in the mid-1990s.

The Benedictine said his contact with Buddhists has led him, twice a day, to sit in silence like Buddhists do when they meditate.

"I don't know if I can exactly describe what I've gotten from that, but I sense I've gotten something," Skudlarek said.

"I think I've come to a much deeper understanding of prayer as simply pure receptivity," he said. "I'm not there to tell God anything that God doesn't already know. I'm simply there and I'm simply present."

Skudlarek said he was also impressed by the committed celibacy of Buddhist monks, who don't have the motivation of following Jesus' example of total dedication to ministry.

In his more limited contact with Muslims, he has been struck by their dedication to praying five times a day.

Muslim prayer can seem very "formalistic" in its gestures and words, the Benedictine said, but he has come to recognize it as "a deeply spiritual path. It comes out of a sense of wanting to be totally faithful to God."

Muslims at prayer express "an almost palpable reverence, an incredible reverence," he said. "I look on my own prayer, and so much Christian prayer, and it seems sloppy by comparison. It just seems like it's too informal."

Exposure to Muslim prayer has increased his appreciation of the formal, communal prayers that mark his life as a Catholic monk, he said, teaching him to see them "not just as legalistic formalities, but as a way of heightening one's sense of what one is doing."

On the other hand, Skudlarek said, the Christian belief that God became human in Jesus Christ gives Christian prayer a "familial sense" that Islam, with its emphasis on the utter transcendence of God, does not have.

Although the monks and nuns engaged in the dialogue do discuss questions of theology, their focus is on "spiritual experience and spiritual practice," he said.

Catholic monks and nuns find common ground with Buddhists, and with Muslims practicing Sufism, or Islamic mysticism, in a regulated religious life devoted largely to contemplation, he said.

Monasticism is "a search for God, ultimately," and Catholic monks and nuns "are interested in how others search for what they would refer to as ultimate value or ultimate meaning," he said.

"This makes it sound very deep, very serious, but my experience of dialogue is what really happens, in the first place, is that we become friends with each other" and recognize that "all of us have more questions than answers," he said. "All of us are still searching."

In many ways, "it is not that we are on different paths all going up the mountain and going toward the same goal," Skudlarek said. "We are on the same path going in different directions ... we're ending up in different places."

"The way a Buddhist describes 'nirvana' is quite different from the way a Christian -- and maybe a Muslim and a Jew -- would describe heaven or paradise," he said.

"Don't ask me to explain that," Skudlarek said, "that's the theologians' work."

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TORONTO - With the busy schedule of a university student, Vanessa Nicholas-Schmidt was finding it difficult to fit prayer into her regular routine during her school years.

To remedy this, her spiritual director suggested she get creative, recommending a variety of different prayer styles.

“She said Jesus is not expecting the friendship to look any one way,” said Nicholas-Schmidt, program director at Faith Connections, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto’s youth ministry. “How can we talk to Jesus in a way that fits in with our lives no matter where we are on the journey?”

Published in Vatican

PICKERING, ONT. - Believers in every religion and through every century of human history have done something they can’t quite describe, justify or do without. They pray.

They may meditate, contemplate, recite, babble or immerse themselves in silence. They may seek solitude or seek company to pray with others. They may follow the rules of a liturgy, improvise or seek a simple, direct encounter with God.

Prayer can be rote execution of routine, woven into the fabric of daily life. Or it can be a unique, creative leap into transcendence. Prayers may be led by a spiritual master, immersed in custom and culture or reach for an unconstrained, individual expression of the spiritual.

Published in Features

One of the reasons we need to pray is so that we don’t lose heart. We all do sometimes. We lose heart whenever frustration, tiredness, fear and helplessness in the face of life’s humiliations conspire together to paralyse our energies, deaden our resiliency, drain our courage and leave us feeling weak in depression.

Poet Jill Alexander Essbaum gives us a poignant example in her poem, “Easter.” Reflecting on the joy that Easter should bring into our lives, she shares that Easter can instead be a season of defeat for us because its celebration of joy can highlight the shortcomings of our own lives and leave us with the feeling that “Everyone I’ve ever loved lives happily just past my able reach.”

And this feeling can drive us to our knees, in bitterness or prayer; hopefully prayer.

Published in Fr. Ron Rolheiser