Anticipating the December 12 Feast of Our Lady of Guada­lupe, patroness of the Americas, Pope Francis said, “I ask all the people of the Americas to open wide their arms, like the Virgin, with love and tenderness.” Speaking in Spanish during his general audience, the first Pope from the Americas explained that “when Our Lady appeared to St. Juan Diego, her face was that of a woman of mixed blood, a mestiza, and her garments bore many symbols of the native culture.” “When the image of the Virgin appeared on the tilma (cloak) of Juan Diego,” the Pope said, “it was the prophecy of an embrace: Mary’s embrace of all the peoples of the vast expanses of America — the peoples who already lived there, and those who were yet to come.” In his main audience talk, Pope Francis concluded the series of audience talks about the Creed started by retired Pope Benedict XVI during the 2012-2013 Year of Faith.


“It’s a disgrace” that people are treated “as objects, deceived, raped, often sold many times for different purposes and, in the end, killed or, in any case, physically and mentally damaged, ending up thrown away and abandoned,” Pope Francis said in a speech to 17 new ambassadors to the Vatican who were presenting their letters of credential to the Pope. Speaking to the group of diplomats, the Pope dedicated his entire talk to human trafficking because, he said, it is “an issue that worries me very much and today is threatening people’s dignity.” He called for more cooperation and effective strategies, a common sense of responsibility and “a more decisive political will” to stop trafficking.


While he did not attend the Vatican’s tree-lighting ceremony, the Pope personally thanked the German donors and their Czech neighbors for the tree during an audience earlier in the day. The 82-feet-tall tree was a gift of the German city of Waldmuenchen, but it grew just over the border in the Czech Republic. Mayors from Bavaria in Germany and Bohemia in the Czech Republic joined hands to light the tree.


Children watch as Pope Francis blows out candles on a birthday cake presented to him during an audience in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican.

Children watch as Pope Francis blows out candles on a birthday cake presented to him during an audience in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican.

On Saturday, December 14, children and parents he met in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall gave the Pope a surprise birthday party marked with singing and a real cake with candles. The children and families use the Vatican’s St. Martha Dispensary, a maternal and pediatric clinic. In the hall, a group of children piled large blocks on top of each other to reveal the Pope’s picture and the Italian word “Auguri,” meaning “Happy Birthday.” Another group of kids wearing white T-shirts with a yellow letter printed on each one, assembled themselves to spell out “Happy Birthday, Pope Francis” in Italian. When presented with the cake, the Pope blew out the candles. He joked, “I’ll tell you later if it’s good or not.” He thanked the children for their joy and gifts, which included a sweater.

Sunday 15: “CHRISTIANS CAN’T BE GLOOMY BECAUSE JESUS ALWAYS BRINGS JOY” “God is the one who came to save us and offer help, especially to hearts gone astray,” Pope Francis said before praying the Angelus on Gaudete (“Rejoice”) Sunday. “The Church is not a refuge for sad people, the Church is a house of joy” because the Christian message is “Good News” — “a proclamation of joy for all people,” he said. Despite the rain, tens of thousands of pilgrims turned out in St. Peter’s Square for the weekly prayer and to have the Pope bless the figurines of Baby Jesus that children bring and then place in their Nativity scenes at home or at school. Before the Pope appeared at the window of the apostolic palace, people in the square sang “Happy Birthday” ahead of his December 17 birthday when he would turn 77.

Monday 16: POPE RECONFIRMS CARDINAL OUELLET Pope Francis has reconfirmed Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, seen as one of the most influential offices of the Roman Curia, and expanded the international membership of the Congregation. Among the new members named were Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington; Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England; Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega of Guadalajara, Mexico; and Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota, Colombia. The departing members of the congregation include US Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the Church’s highest court; Cardinal Justin Rigali, retired archbishop of Philadelphia; and 70-year-old Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, president of the Italian bishops’ conference. Confirming Cardinal Ouellet as Prefect, Pope Francis also confirmed 18 current members of the Congregation, including Australian Cardinal George Pell of Sydney and US Cardinal William Levada, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Besides French Cardinal Andrè Vingt-Trois of Paris, the other 15 members reconfirmed are officials or recently-retired officials of the Roman Curia. Cardinal Ouellet, the 69-year-old former archbishop of Quebec, was first appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 to head the congregation that oversees the vetting and appointment of bishops for Latin-rite dioceses around the world. Technically, all heads of Vatican congregations and councils lose their jobs at the end of a pontificate. Just three days after his election in March, Pope Francis formally reconfirmed the prefects, presidents and secretaries of Vatican congregations and councils donec aliter provideatur (“until otherwise provided”), meaning for the time being. While temporary reappointments are normal at the beginning of a pontificate, the Vatican said the Pope intended to take “time for reflection, prayer and dialogue before making any definitive appointments or confirmations.”

POPE ON MARXISM, WOMEN CARDINALS AND THE JOY OF CHRISTMAS In another wide-ranging interview with an Italian journalist, Pope Francis denied he was a Marxist but said he took no offense at the label; dismissed the notion of women cardinals; and reflected on Christmas as an occasion of joy, tenderness and hope. The Pope made his remarks in an interview with Andrea Tornielli of the Italian daily La Stampa and the website Vatican Insider. (For the text, see our January issue, pp. 24-27.) “Marxist ideology is wrong, but I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended” at being branded one, Pope Francis said. Asked about the possibility of creating women cardinals, Pope Francis said: “I don’t know where this idea sprang from. Women in the Church must be valued, not clericalized. Whoever thinks of women as cardinals suffers a bit from clericalism.” The Pope reaffirmed his commitment to ecumenism, noting that Christians around the world are already bound together by their common experience of martyrdom. Yet he emphasized that, despite the world’s misery, “Christmas is joy, religious joy, an inner joy of light and peace” and “speaks of tenderness and hope.”

Tuesday 17: POPE PROCLAIMS SAINTHOOD OF JESUIT COMPANION OF ST. IGNATIUS Pope Francis issued a decree declaring one of his favorite Jesuits, Blessed Peter Faber, a saint. The decree is what the Vatican terms an “equivalent canonization,” in which the Pope inserts the name of the new saint in the universal calendar of saints without verifying a miracle performed through his intercession and without holding a formal canonization ceremony. The pontiff formalized the Church’s recognition of the 16th-century priest, who with St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Xavier, was a founding member of the Society of Jesus, by “inscribing him in the catalog of saints.” St. Faber, who was born in 1506 in what is now France, shared lodgings with Ignatius and Francis Xavier at the College of St. Barbara at the University of Paris. Faber actually was the first of the Jesuits to be ordained a priest and he celebrated the Mass in 1534 during which St. Ignatius and the others took their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Wednesday 18: CHRISTMAS OFFERS LESSON IN HUMILITY During his weekly public audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said Christmas is an occasion of joy but also a lesson in humility, when the faithful are called to imitate the example of God-made-man. “God abases himself, descends to earth as someone small and poor, which means that to be like him we should not put ourselves above others, but on the contrary, abase ourselves, give ourselves in service, make ourselves small with the small and poor with the poor,” he said. “If God, through Jesus, involved himself with man to the point of becoming one of us, that means whatever we have done to a brother or sister we have done” to God, he said. Greeting visitors from various linguistic groups after his audience talk, the Pope noted the presence of members of Argentina’s San Lorenzo soccer team, of which he is a longtime fan. Following the audience, team representatives presented the Pope with a replica of the national championship trophy they had won a few days earlier.


Pope Francis receives a letter from a child during a visit to the Bambino Gesù children’s hospital in Rome December 21 (CNS photos)

Pope Francis receives a letter from a child during a visit to the Bambino Gesù children’s hospital in Rome December 21 (CNS photos)

With lots of kisses, but very few words, Pope Francis spent more than two and a half hours visiting sick children, their parents and doctors at Rome’s Bambino Gesù children’s hospital. In the end, the little patients gave Pope Francis a basket filled with little notes containing descriptions of their prayers and their dreams. “Thank you,” the Pope told the children. “We will present them together to Jesus. He knows them better than anyone; he knows what is in the depths of your hearts. Especially with you children, Jesus has a special bond. He is very close to you.” He also wandered throughout the hospital, visiting dozens of rooms, kissing the tops of heads, accepting drawings and even blessing a stuffed animal.

Sunday 22: REMEMBER THOSE LIKE HOLY FAMILY WHO ARE HOMELESS After reciting the midday Angelus prayer from the window of the apostolic palace, Pope Francis saw a protest sign in St. Peter’s Square that read “The poor cannot wait,” and the pontiff urged individuals and government leaders to recognize the pain, struggles and rights of families — like Jesus, Mary and Joseph — who do not have a home. The sign was carried by members of a loose coalition of protesters who had been demonstrating across Italy since early December. Known as the “pitchfork movement,” it included farmers, truckers and families protesting taxes and government austerity programs. Pope Francis praised social involvement, but he insisted that citizens must resist the temptation of violence and defend their rights through dialogue. In his main Angelus address, Pope Francis focused on the Gospel’s description of Joseph finding out that Mary was expecting a child and facing a struggle between his love for her and his obedience to God’s law, which prescribed shunning her because they were not married.


Pope Francis and retired Pope Benedict XVI chat at the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery at the Vatican December 23.

Pope Francis and retired Pope Benedict XVI chat at the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery at the Vatican December 23.

“Let us allow our hearts to be touched, let us allow ourselves to be warmed by the tenderness of God; we need his caress,” the Pope said, standing on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica and addressing an estimated 70,000 people in the square below on Christmas Day. Instead of reading Christmas greetings in more than 50 languages — from Chinese to Swahili — as his predecessors had done, Pope Francis spoke only in Italian. As is traditional, his Christmas address included prayers and pleas for peace in war-torn and tense countries around the world, including Syria, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Israel and Palestine and Iraq, where a car bomb exploded outside a church a few hours earlier, killing at least a dozen people. Departing from his prepared text, Pope Francis asked nonbelievers who feel unable to pray to “enlarge their hearts” by ardently desiring peace. Pope Francis also prayed for the elderly, for battered women, for the sick, for migrants and refugees, for those persecuted for their faith, for the victims of human trafficking and for the conversion of traffickers. The Holy Father celebrated Christmas Mass December 24 in St. Peter’s Basilica, starting his homily with the first line from the night’s reading from Isaiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Pope Francis carried a statue of the Baby Jesus to a golden manger in front of the altar at the beginning of Mass. After the liturgy, walking behind children from Italy, the Philippines, Argentina, Congo and Lebanon, he carried the statue to a Nativity scene. While the Pope added only a few improvised words to his prepared text, one phrase he added was a familiar refrain of his pontificate: the Lord is merciful. “Our Father always forgives us,” he said. “He is our peace.”

Thursday 26: POPE PRAYS FOR PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS Observing the feast of the Church’s first martyr, St. Stephen, Pope Francis prayed for Christians suffering persecution and discrimination around the world, even in countries that nominally honor religious liberty. “Today we pray in a particular way for Christians who undergo discrimination because of their witness to Christ and the Gospel,” he said. “We are close to these brothers and sisters who, like St. Stephen, are unjustly accused and made targets of violence of various kinds. I am sure that, unfortunately, there are more of them today than in the early days of the Church. There are so many.” The Pope then led the crowd in the square in prayer for persecuted Christians, first with a moment of silence and then with a recital of the Hail Mary.

Friday 27: RETIRED POPE BENEDICT VISITS POPE FRANCIS FOR LUNCH Three days after Pope Francis paid his predecessor a visit on Christmas Eve, retired Pope Benedict joined the Pope for lunch at the Vatican guesthouse. The two shared the meal December 27 at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where Pope Francis lives. According to a report by Vatican Radio, the Pope and the retired Pope were joined by their personal secretaries and by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s secretary for relations with states, and US Msgr. Peter B. Wells, assessor in the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Sunday 29: DON’T FORGET PLIGHT OF EXILES, ELDERLY MARGINALIZED BY OWN FAMILIES Just as people must never ignore the plight of today’s immigrants and refugees, they must also remember today’s “hidden exiles” — the elderly and other relatives who are abandoned or forgotten by their own families, Pope Francis said. Remembering how Jesus, Mary and Joseph had to live in exile, seeking escape in Egypt, Christians must also think about the tragedy of “migrants and refugees who are victims of rejection and exploitation, who are victims of human trafficking and slave labor,” he said before praying the Angelus with visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square. After the Angelus, the Pope underlined how the family will take center stage during the next consistory or consultation with the College of Cardinals in February and at an October Synod of Bishops, whose work, he said, he was entrusting to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The Pope created a special prayer for the world’s families, which he recited to the crowd gathered in the square. The prayer, dedicated to the Holy Family, asks for their intercession to help today’s families be places of love, prayer and healing; be free from violence and division; and be mindful of the sacredness and beauty of the traditional family.

Tuesday 31: IN NEW YEAR, STEP OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE, GET INVOLVED The new year will be brighter only if everyone steps outside their safe havens, gets involved and works together to solve local problems with generosity and love, Pope Francis said. Leading the annual Te Deum prayer service to thank God for his blessings in 2013 and the gift of salvation in Christ, the Pope asked people to reflect on how they have spent the past year — the precious days, weeks and months the Lord has given as a gift to everyone. The Pope underlined the important work and duty of the Church in contributing to people’s lives and future, and how, with the leaven of the Gospel, the Church is a sign and instrument of God’s mercy. After the prayer service, Pope Francis traveled by Popemobile to St. Peter’s Square to get a close look at the Nativity scene.

JANUARY Wednesday 1: “TIME TO STOP VIOLENCE, DISCORD, AND BEGIN MAKING PEACE AT HOME” Speaking to tens of thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the first noon Angelus of 2014, the Pope referred to his peace day message, which he said called for building a world where everyone “respects each other, accepts others in their diversity and takes care of each and every one.” The Pope referred to a letter he had received the day before from a man struggling to understand why there were still so many tragedies and wars. Earlier in the day, the Pope celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. Prayers for peace were offered in five languages; the Spanish version asked that God “bless all women and all mothers, called to bring forth, to guard and to promote life.” In his homily, the Pope said Mary, the Mother of God, became the mother of all humanity when Jesus, dying on the cross, gave her to the world. In his homily, Pope Francis also mentioned the Marian icon Salus Populi Romani (“Health of the Roman People”) in Rome’s Basilica of St. Mary Major, which he said was the first Marian shrine in the West where the image of the Mother of God — the Theotokos — was venerated.


Pope Francis smiles during Mass at the Church of the Gesù in Rome January 3. The Mass was celebrated on the feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus in thanksgiving for the recent canonization of Jesuit St. Peter Faber (CNS photo).

Pope Francis smiles during Mass at the Church of the Gesù in Rome January 3. The Mass was celebrated on the feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus in thanksgiving for the recent canonization of Jesuit St. Peter Faber (CNS photo).

The zealous proclamation of the Gospel must never be coupled with “inquisitional clobbering, with condemnation. No, the Gospel is proclaimed with kindness, fraternity and love,” he told more than 300 of his fellow Jesuits. The Pope celebrated the feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus at the Church of the Gesù, the Jesuits’ main church in Rome. It was the first Jesuit Pope’s third visit as pontiff to the church where St. Ignatius of Loyola and other Jesuit leaders are buried. The Mass was also a celebration of thanksgiving for the recent canonization of St. Peter Faber, who, with St. Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier, was a founding member of the Society of Jesus and the first of the Jesuits to be ordained a priest.

Monday 6: POPE FRANCIS VISITS A NATIVITY SCENE Surrounded by cheese sellers, shoemakers and bleating, baying animals, Pope Francis immersed himself in a lively re-enactment of a special day in Bethlehem. He even let a lamb rest on his shoulders and greeted a tiny baby named Francis, who played the part of Jesus, when he visited a live Nativity scene at the Church of St. Alfonso Maria dei Liguori on the northern outskirts of Rome. The Pope greeted each of the participants and many of the parishioners who attended. One special guest lay waiting in a small hut: a 2-month-old baby named Francesco, who had been baptized that morning and played the role of Jesus in the pageant. A woman dressed as a shepherd placed a small lamb on the Pope’s shoulders. Children sang a Christmas song and gave the Pope a bouquet of red roses. At the end of his visit, the Pope talked about the importance of a new year beginning with Jesus, who stays by everyone’s side to overcome evil. He asked everyone to pray for children who would be born in 2014 and for all grandparents, who he said are the source of wisdom.

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