For New Year, pope urges help for refugees, respect for life

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis began the New Year
praying the world would demonstrate a marked increase in solidarity and welcome
for migrants and refugees.

“Let’s not extinguish the hope in their hearts; let’s
not suffocate their hopes for peace,” the pope said Jan. 1 before reciting
the Angelus with a crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

For the New Year’s celebration of World Peace Day and the
feast of Mary, Mother of God, Pope Francis had chosen to focus on migrants and
refugees and their yearning for peace.

“For this peace, which is the right of all, many of
them are willing to risk their lives in a journey that, in most cases, is long
and dangerous and to face trials and suffering,” the pope told an
estimated 40,000 people gathered in the square around the Christmas tree and
Nativity scene.

Pope Francis said it is important that everyone, including
individuals, governments, schools, churches and church agencies, make a
commitment to “ensuring refugees, migrants — everyone — a future of

Entrusting the needs of migrants and refugees to the
maternal concern of Mary, the pope led the crowd in reciting a traditional
Marian prayer: “Under thy protection we seek refuge, holy Mother of God; despise
not our petitions in our needs, but from all dangers deliver us always, Virgin,
Glorious and Blessed.”

Pope Francis had begun the day celebrating Mass in St.
Peter’s Basilica for the Marian feast, which he said was a celebration of
“a magnificent truth about God and about ourselves: From the moment that
our Lord became incarnate in Mary, and for all time, he took on our humanity.”

“To call Mary the mother of God reminds us,” he
said, that “God is close to humanity, even as a child is close to the
mother who bears him in her womb.”

God becoming human in the baby Jesus, the pope said, is an
affirmation that human life “is precious and sacred to the Lord,” so
“to serve human life is to serve God.”

“All life, from life in the mother’s womb to that of
the elderly, the suffering and the sick, and to that of the troublesome and
even repellent, is to be welcomed, loved and helped,” he said.

Pope Francis also drew people’s attention to the fact that
in the Gospel stories of Jesus’ birth, Mary is silent. And the newborn Jesus,
obviously, cannot speak.

“We need to remain silent as we gaze upon the crib,”
he said. “Pondering the crib, we discover anew that we are loved; we savor
the real meaning of life. As we look on in silence, we let Jesus speak to our

“May his lowliness lay low our pride; his poverty
challenge our pomp; his tender love touch our hardened hearts,” the pope

Celebrating evening prayer Dec. 31 and offering thanks to
God for the year that was ending, Pope Francis gave a special acknowledgement
to people — especially parents and teachers — who are “artisans of the
common good,” working to help their families, neighbors and communities
each day without fanfare.

But, he said, people also must acknowledge that God gave
humanity the year 2017 “whole and sound,” yet “we human beings
have in many ways wasted and wounded it with works of death, with lies and
injustices. Wars are the flagrant sign of this backsliding and absurd pride.
But so are all the small and great offenses against life, truth and solidarity,
which cause multiple forms of human, social and environmental degradation.”

The pope also led the midday Angelus prayer Dec. 31, the
feast of the Holy Family.

The Sunday Gospel reading recounted Mary and Joseph taking
the baby Jesus to the temple “to certify that the child belongs to God and
that they are the guardians of his life and not the owners,” the pope

Mary and Joseph experience the joy of seeing their son grow
in wisdom, grace and strength, the pope said. “This is mission to which
the family is called: to create the best conditions that will allow for the
harmonious and full growth of children, so that they can live a life that is
good, worthy of God and constructive for the world.”

Growth and rebirth are possibilities open to every family,
he said. “Whenever families, even those wounded and marked by frailty,
failure and difficulty, return to the source of Christian experience, new paths
and unimagined possibilities open up.”

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