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Pope, President Trump speak of hopes for peace

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis and U.S. President Donald Trump spent 30 minutes speaking privately in the library of the Apostolic Palace May 24, and as the president left, he told the pope, "I won't forget what you said."

The atmosphere at the beginning was formal and a bit stiff. However, the mood lightened when Pope Francis met the first lady, Melania Trump, and asked if she fed her husband "potica," a traditional cake in Slovenia, her homeland. There were smiles all around.

Pope Francis gave Trump a split medallion held together by an olive tree, which his interpreter told Trump is "a symbol of peace."

Speaking in Spanish, the pope told Trump, "I am giving you this because I hope you may be this olive tree to make peace."

The president responded, "We can use peace."

Pope Francis also gave the president a copy of his message for World Peace Day 2017 and told him, "I signed it personally for you." In addition, he gave Trump copies of three of his documents: "The Joy of the Gospel"; "Amoris Laetitia," on the family; and "Laudato Si,'" on the environment.

Knowing that Pope Francis frequently has quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Trump presented Pope Francis with a large gift box containing five of the slain civil rights leader's books, including a signed copy of "The Strength to Love."

"I think you will enjoy them," Trump told the pope. "I hope you do."

After meeting the pope, Trump went downstairs to meet Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican foreign minister. He was accompanied by Rex Tillerson, U.S. secretary of state, and H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser. The meeting lasted 50 minutes.

Tillerson later told reporters that climate change did not come up in the meeting with the pope, but that U.S. officials had "a good exchange on the climate change issue" with Cardinal Parolin.

"The cardinal was expressing their view that they think it's an important issue," Tillerson said. "I think they were encouraging continued participation in the Paris accord. But we had a good exchange (on) the difficulty of balancing addressing climate change, responses to climate change, and ensuring that you still have a thriving economy and you can still offer people jobs so they can feed their families and have a prosperous economy."

Asked how Trump responded to Cardinal Parolin's encouragement to stick with the Paris climate agreement, Tillerson said: "The president indicated we're still thinking about that, that he hasn't made a final decision. He, I think, told both Cardinal Parolin and also told Prime Minister (Paolo) Gentiloni that this is something that he would be taking up for a decision when we return from this trip. It's an opportunity to hear from people. We're developing our own recommendation on that. So it'll be something that will probably be decided after we get home."

Tillerson also told reporters he did not know what Trump meant when he told the pope, "I won't forget what you said."

The Vatican described the president's meetings with both the pope and with top Vatican diplomats as consisting of "cordial discussions," with both sides appreciating "the good existing bilateral relations between the Holy See and the United States of America, as well as the joint commitment in favor of life, and freedom of worship and conscience."

"It is hoped that there may be serene collaboration between the state and the Catholic Church in the United States, engaged in service to the people in the fields of health care, education and assistance to immigrants," the Vatican said.

The discussions also included "an exchange of views" on international affairs and on "the promotion of peace in the world through political negotiation and interreligious dialogue, with particular reference to the situation in the Middle East and the protection of Christian communities."

Because of the pope's weekly general audience, Pope Francis and Trump met at 8:30 a.m., an unusually early hour for a formal papal meeting. The early hour meant Pope Francis still could greet the thousands of pilgrims and visitors waiting for him in St. Peter's Square.

Many of those pilgrims, though, had a more difficult than normal time getting into the square. Security measures were tight, with hundreds of state police and military police patrolling the area and conducting more attentive searches of pilgrims' bags.

Reaching the St. Damasus Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, where the U.S. flag flew for the morning, Trump was welcomed by Archbishop Georg Ganswein, prefect of the papal household, and a formation of 15 Swiss Guards.

Accompanied by the archbishop up an elevator and down a frescoed hallway, the president passed more Swiss Guards in the Clementine Hall.

Although the president and Pope Francis are known to have serious differences on issues such as immigration, economic policy and climate change, the pope told reporters 11 days before the meeting that he would look first for common ground with the U.S. leader.

"There are always doors that are not closed," the pope told reporters May 13. "We have to find doors that are at least a little open in order to go in and speak about things we have in common and go forward."

After leaving the Vatican, the president was driven across Rome for meetings with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

Asked by reporters there how his meeting with the pope went, Trump responded, "Great."

"He is something," Trump said. "We had a fantastic meeting."

Meanwhile, the first lady went to the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesu children's hospital -- right next door to the Pontifical North American College, which is where U.S. seminarians in Rome live. Trump's daughter, Ivanka, went to the Community of Sant'Egidio, a Catholic lay movement, for a meeting on combating human trafficking.

The United States and the Vatican have long partnered on anti-trafficking initiatives, a common effort White House officials had said Trump hoped to discuss with the pope. The White House also pointed to a shared commitment to promote religious freedom around the world and to end religious persecution.

The evening before Trump met the pope, the Vatican newspaper carried two articles on Trump policies. One, echoing the U.S. bishops, praised the Trump administration's decision to extend by six months the Temporary Protected Status program for Haitian citizens in the United States.

The second article was about the budget plan the Trump White House released May 23. L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, noted that it contained cuts in subsidies "for the poorest segments of the population" and "a drastic -- 10 percent -- increase for military spending."

What is more, the newspaper said, "the budget also includes financing for the construction of the wall along the border with Mexico. We are talking about more than $1.6 billion."

The border wall is an issue where Pope Francis and President Trump have a very clear and public difference of opinion.

In February 2016, shortly after celebrating a Mass in Mexico just yards from the border, Pope Francis was asked by reporters about then-candidate Trump's promise to build a wall the entire length of the border.

"A person who thinks only of building walls, wherever it may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian," the pope said.

Trump, asked by reporters to comment on that, said Mexico was "using the pope as a pawn," and he said it was "disgraceful" for a religious leader to question someone's faith.

On the eve of the pope's meeting with Trump, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, editor of an influential Italian Jesuit journal, noted that the differences between the two were drawing a lot of attention. However, he wrote, "Francis, the pope of bridges, wants to speak with any head of state who asks him to because he knows that in crises" like the world faces today "there are not only absolute 'good guys' and absolute 'bad guys.'"

"The history of the world is not a Hollywood film," Father Spadaro wrote on his blog May 23.

The pope's approach, he said, is "to meet the major players in the field in order to reason together and to propose to everyone the greatest good, exercising the soft power that seems to me to be the specific trait of his international policy."

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Contributing to this story were Junno Arocho Esteves and Carol Glatz at the Vatican.


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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

After years of cramped spaces, Ukrainian Catholics bless chapel in Odessa

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mariana Karapinka

By Mariana Karapinka

ODESSA, Ukraine (CNS) -- When Anastasia Voinikova joined the local Ukrainian Catholic community more than 20 years ago, liturgies were celebrated at the basement of the Roman Catholic church.

Later, in 2005, the community was able to purchase a private house and reconstruct it into a small chapel, which served as the cathedral for the Odessa Exarchate, which covers huge territory of southern Ukraine and at that time, Crimea.

But about 10,000 Ukrainian Catholics lived in Odessa, and the chapel could not house more than 100 people at a time.

On May 21, local Ukrainian Catholics blessed a new chapel at the outskirts of Odessa. With the help of Dutch and German aid agencies -- and some financial support from Ukrainian Catholics in the United States -- parishioners were able to buy abandoned Soviet-style construction materials and construct the chapel.

The faithful were really engaged in this project, because they waited so long for more suitable place to pray, said Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Mykhaylo Bubniy of Odessa.

"We dreamed of a golden-domed church," he told Catholic News Service. "This is very important in our circumstances in Odessa, where we are often not considered as a 'real' church. A dome is a sign."

"It's hard to be a Greek (Ukrainian) Catholic in Odessa," said Voinikova, "because the Orthodox majority doesn't recognize us as a canonical church, they just reject us."

For more than dozen years community members sought a parcel of the land from the local authorities to build the proper church, as allowed by law. But because of the harsh opposition from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church -- affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church's Moscow Patriarchate -- their demands were rejected.

The Orthodox hierarchy considers southern Ukraine part of its "canonical territory" and objects to the right of other communities to establish their structures there. Roman Catholics and some Protestants have had it easier than Ukrainian Catholics, because those churches were present from the establishment of the port and the city.

Ukrainian Catholics came later, explained Bishop Bubniy.

"During the times of the Soviet Union and after Ukraine got independence, many people from the Western part of the country, who were traditionally Greek (Ukrainian) Catholic, moved to Odessa. We just followed our faithful, who invited us," he said.

"But it would be wrong to say that only Western Ukrainians are members of our community," he added. "There are many locals who are joining our church."

The May blessing of the new parish also included members of the Roman Catholic and Armenian Catholic communities; different Protestant denominations; even the apostolic nuncio to Ukraine.

One priest who had worked in Odessa for 13 years said that opening such a small chapel in Odessa was a much bigger event than opening a huge cathedral in Western Ukraine.

"Every church is a house of God, but for our city, new church is a true blessing," said Roman Catholic Bishop Bronislaw Bernacki, "because Odessa needs God's word, faith, and mercy."

Bibhop Bubniy dreams of a parish "in every area of Odessa" and plans construction of a pastoral center with a school and kindergarten.

The parish already has a catechetical program, but U.S.-born Father Roman Mirchuk, administrator of the parish, sees the real work as just beginning.

"It is easy to build the church of stones, but much harder to 'build churches' in the hearts of people," he told CNS.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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After years of cramped spaces, Ukrainian Catholics bless chapel in Odessa

Odessa, Ukraine

When Anastasia Voinikova joined the local Ukrainian Catholic community more than 20 years ago, liturgies were celebrated at the basement of the Roman Catholic church.

Later, in 2005, the community was able to purchase a private house and reconstruct it into a small chapel, which served as the cathedral for the Odessa Exarchate, which covers huge territory of southern Ukraine and at that time, Crimea.

But about 10,000 Ukrainian Catholics lived in Odessa, and the chapel could not house more than 100 people at a time.

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God is no warlord claiming victory with enemies' blood, pope says

IMAGE: CNS/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- If it seems hard to find God in this world, it is because he chooses to be with the defeated and dejected and in places where most people are loath to go, Pope Francis said.

"God does not like to be loved the way a warlord would like, dragging his people to victory, debasing them in the blood of his enemies," the pope said May 24 at his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square.

The audience began just after Pope Francis had met U.S. President Donald Trump.

"Our God is a dim flame that burns on a cold and windy day, and, for as fragile as his presence seems in this world, he has chosen the place everyone disdains," Pope Francis told the crowd in the square.

Continuing his series of talks on Christian hope, the pope looked at the Gospel of Luke's account of the two disciples traveling on the road to Emmaus after Jesus had been crucified and buried.

In the story, the pope said, the disciples, are struggling to understand how such a fate could have befallen the man they had faith in: the son of God.

Their hope was merely human, he said, and it easily shattered after such an unforeseen defeat of God, who appeared "defenseless at the hands of the violent, incapable of offering resistance to evil."

"How much unhappiness, how many defeats, how many failures there are in the life of every person. In essence, we are all like those two disciples," he said. Just when life seems to be going well, "we find ourselves struck down, disappointed."

But just as Jesus was on the road with the disciples, the pope said, he is also walking with everyone on their journey through life.

"Jesus walks with all those who are discouraged, who walk with their head down," so he can offer them renewed hope, he said.

But he does so discreetly, the pope said. "Our God is not an intrusive God."

Even though he knows what is bothering the disciples, he asks them a question and listens patiently, letting them tap into the depths of their bitterness and sadness.

Whoever reads the Bible will not find stories of "easy heroism, blazing campaigns of conquest. True hope never comes cheap -- it always comes through defeat."

In fact, he added, the hope felt by those who have never suffered may not even be hope at all.

The disciples initially didn't recognize God on the road because their hope had been in a victorious, conquering leader, the pope said. They only recognize him when he takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them -- exactly like he did with his own life.

The church should be this way, too, Pope Francis said, by letting Jesus "take us, bless us, 'break' our lives -- because there is no love without sacrifice -- and offer it to others, offer it to everyone."

The church needs to be just like Jesus, not staying in a "fortified fortress," but out where everything is alive and happening -- on the road.

"It is there (the church) meets people, with their hopes and disappointments," listens patiently to what emerges from their "treasure chest of personal conscience" and offers the life-giving Word and witness to God's love, he said.

This is how people's hearts are rekindled with real hope, the pope said.

Just when the way seems blocked by "a wall ahead, Jesus is always next to us to give us hope and strengthen our hearts to go ahead, 'I am with you. Go on.'"

Christ's "therapy of hope" is that despite all appearances to the contrary, "we continue to be loved and God will never stop loving us," the pope said. "He will walk with us always, always, even during the most painful times, even in the most terrible moments, moments of defeat. That is where the Lord is."

At the end of the audience, the pope greeted pilgrims from Hong Kong on a day dedicated to Our Lady, Help of Christians, who is venerated at the Shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan in Shanghai.

Pope Benedict XVI established a world day of prayer for the church in China on the feast day.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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