Breaking: Pope Francis to visit Cuba before US visit this fall

The Vatican today confirmed the rumors that started last week: Pope Francis will indeed visit Cuba days before his trip to the United States this fall.

Francis played a prominent role in President Obama’s decision last December to begin the process of restarting diplomatic relations with the small Communist country ninety miles south of Florida.

Michael O’Loughlin and Ines San Martin from Crux write the following:

While details have not been announced, the stop in Cuba will precede the pope’s three-city tour of the United States in late September, during which Francis will give addresses to Congress and the United Nations, as well as celebrate a public Mass in Philadelphia.

“I am able to confirm that the Holy Father Francis, having received and accepted the invitation from the civil authorities and bishops of Cuba, has decided the pay a visit to the island before his arrival in the United States” the Rev. Federico Lombardi told journalists.

The visit could be seen as something of a victory lap for Francis, who was credited by the leaders of both nations for helping to broker an agreement reestablishing diplomatic relations between the two countries.

You can read the rest of their story here.

Lenten Reflection Series: The Redemptive Power of Christ and the Cross

Today Christians around the world commemorate the death of Jesus on a Friday we so strangely call good. On his journey to the cross, Jesus experiences the fullness of human dysfunction: greed, jealousy, disloyalty, fear, abandonment, and death itself.

We too experience this in our own flesh. Good Friday allows us to admit our own destructiveness, our own vanity, and our own failures. Too often we have built our lives on the misfortunes of others. Too often we have preached peace and justice for the world, but have practiced hate and indifference in our own homes and communities. And too often we have ignored the suffering of our families, our friends, and our neighbors because of how busy we imagine ourselves to be.But Jesus enters into all of this to save all of it. Christianity is a human encounter with a person who endured temptation, suffering, and death on a cross to redeem every man, woman, and child.

Today, the Church invites to undertake the paschal mystery of Jesus, a journey that includes the cross. The road is uncomfortable, but it isn’t sterile. With Jesus, we can change, turn around, and be converted. And with his cross, our Easter joy can be complete.

This reflection​ is partially excerpted from an essay the author wrote​for TIME on April 18, 2014​.​

Lenten Reflection Series: The Human Face of God’s Love

For the fast few years, I’ve felt especially lucky to have been born on today’s feast of the Annunciation, a day where we commemorate Jesus’ entrance into human history through Mary of Nazareth. With her courageous yes to God, Mary gave me the greatest gift I’ve ever received: Jesus Christ.
The Annunciation shows how us that nothing—absolutely nothing—will keep us from God’s love. Despite our continued failures, God pitched a tent among us and entered into our human lot.

In a few days, the Church will relive the story of Jesus’ passion and death. In the paschal mystery, we see all of human brokenness on display: greed, violence, hatred, injustice and disloyalty. But we also see that Jesus enters into all of it, and redeems all of it. He goes all the way down to bring all of us up. No one is left behind.

So today too is a celebration of the beginning of the greatest love story ever told. We must never forget who we are, where we came from, or what our destiny is. Ours is a cosmic story about the goodness of creation, the pain of sin and brokenness, and God’s redeeming love in Jesus.

In Mary, God becomes our brother. The Lord of our life is given a name and a face: it is Jesus of Nazareth, the human face of God’s love. In him and his life, death, and resurrection our Easter joy will be complete.

Lenten Reflection Series: A time to learn how to love again

Throughout the season of Lent, we’re featuring the Millennial Lenten Reflection Series co-sponsored by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Franciscan Mission Service. Each small reflection will be written by a young person, focusing on that day’s Mass reading. You can sign up for the series here.

The ancient and holy season of Lent comes upon us once again. The readings today remind us that this season is not about superficial disciplines that outwardly appear “religious” but inwardly don’t change us.

The words of the prophet Joel should ring in our ears this Lenten season: “rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord your God.”

John Chrystodom put it this way: “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”

The Lenten season and the disciplines that accompany then is not a series of disjointed self-help exercises. It’s a time to encounter once again the God who never tires of loving us. It’s a time to learn how to love again.

So to celebrate this Lent, let’s fast on indifference and feast on generosity. When we make of our neighbor our sister, we honor the one who came among us, who died for us and who set us free.

‘We Were Strangers Once Too': Obama Announces Action on Immigration

President Barack Obama gave a powerful speech tonight that highlighted the brokenness of our immigration system, the connection between fighting for families and enacting immigration reform, and the way welcoming immigrants reflects our faith and values.

President Obama deserves praise for his decision to take the first step in bringing relief and hope to millions of aspiring Americans and their families who are seeking a home in the United States. Since the beginning of this debate, the Catholic Church has been a leading advocate for comprehensive immigration reform. As we enter into the holiday season, we must all remember that Jesus himself was a child immigrant seeking a home and a future in a foreign country.

President George W. Bush first called for reform in 2007, but since that time, the United States Congress has not passed any significant immigration reform bill into law. After Speaker Boehner and his colleagues in the House failed to vote on the Senate-passed bill for over a year, the President had a moral obligation to act decisively.

Our nation’s history is that of an immigrant people, and starting tonight, there’s sufficient hope that our future will be as well. To our brother and sister immigrants who are seeking a permanent home in the United States, we echo the words of Pope Francis: “The Church is at your side as you seek a more dignified life for yourselves and your families.​”

Pope Francis to Build Showers in St. Peter’s Square for the Homeless

via RNS:

“In his latest bid to ease the suffering of the poor — and upend the expectations of the papacy — Pope Francis plans to build showers for the homeless under the sweeping white colonnade of St. Peter’s Square.

Three showers are to be built into refurbished public restrooms provided for Catholic pilgrims along the marble columns leading into the historic basilica, which was completed in 1626.

The Vatican’s deputy spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said Thursday that the project was a joint initiative of the pope and Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner who distributes charity on the pope’s behalf. Construction is due to begin next week.”