Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Holy Profits: It turns out Pope Francis is an ace at financial turnarounds

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Pope Francis has brought the Vatican Bank back to life.

Profits have skyrocketed at the overseer of the Vatican’s vast finances, as the holy bank recovers from a series of financial scandals that spurred a complete overhaul of the bank.

Formally known as the Institute for the Works of Religion, the bank oversees more than €6 billion  ($6.5 billion) of assets from Catholic institutions, employees and pensioners of the Vatican, and other purveyors of charitable works. It said Monday (May 25) its net profit shot up to €69 million ($76 million) in 2014 from just €2.9 million ($3.2 million) the year before. 

Tap image to zoom

The profits mark a turning point for the beleaguered bank.

When Pope Francis took over leadership of the bank (which is run by 6 cardinals and other governing board members that report to the Pope), it was beset by a series of scandals that included money laundering, fraud, and criminal activity involving major Italian companies, and resulted in the resignation of the bank’s director and other top officials. While many Vatican leaders have attempted to right the financial ship over the years, Francis has proved the most aggressive.

Under his leadership, the bank has restructured the financial office. It named new directors and began implementing new international accounting standards. It tightened criteria around who could use the bank, shutting down shady accounts and screening the people it served to comply with global anti-money laundering policies.

While the Pope finally seems to be getting the Vatican’s financial house in order, it’ll be up to his holiness to keep the efforts toward more accountability, honesty, and transparency in high gear.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Pope to bishops: Stop ordering faithful around, fight graft

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VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has told bishops to strongly denounce corruption and to act more like pastors than "pilots" telling the faithful what to do.

Francis' strong words were aimed at members of the Italian bishops' conference, who opened their annual meeting at the Vatican on Monday. Francis, who is also the bishop of Rome, urged his bishops to be more Christ-like in showing humility, compassion, mercy and wisdom.
He told them to not shy away from denouncing the "diffuse mentality" of public and private corruption that he said impoverished families, honest workers and retirees, while marginalizing the neediest and depriving young people of hope. Italy is rife with corruption scandals, and its youth unemployment rate stands at 43 percent.
Francis asked the bishops to reinforce the "indispensable role" of ordinary folk in their dioceses. "In reality, lay people who have an authentic Christian formation shouldn't need a bishop-pilot, or a monsignor-pilot, or clerical input to assume their responsibilities at every level, from political to social, economic to legislative," he said.
"Rather, what they all need is a Bishop Pastor!"
He complained that often official church documents are too heavy on doctrine and theory "as if our orientation isn't aimed at our people and country but rather students and specialists."

Francis has complained about an over-emphasis on doctrine and "small-minded rules" and lamented that theologians can get in the way of the church's evangelizing work. On Monday, he urged bishops to make sure their documents "are translated in concrete and comprehensible proposals."
Francis also complained that the church often organizes conferences where "the same voices" are heard over and over, an apparent reference to the practice of hosting only like-minded speakers at church-sponsored academic conferences.
Francis said such a practice "drugs the community, homogenizing choices, opinions and people." He urged bishops to instead go "where the Holy Spirit asks them to go."

Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Pope says environmental sinners will face God's judgment for world hunger

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  • Francis declares ‘powerful of the Earth’ have obligation to feed the world
  • Pontiff to publish encyclical on environmental issues
Pope Francis leads a mass in St Peter’s basilica before the opening of the general assembly of Caritas Internationalis. ‘The planet has enough food for all, but it seems that there is a lack of willingness to share it with everyone,’ he said.
Pope Francis leads a mass in St Peter’s basilica before the opening of the general assembly of Caritas. ‘We must do what we can so that everyone has something to eat,’ he said. Photograph: Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

“The planet has enough food for all, but it seems that there is a lack of willingness to share it with everyone,” Francis said at a mass to mark the opening of the general assembly of the Catholic charitable organisation Caritas.

“We must do what we can so that everyone has something to eat, but we must also remind the powerful of the Earth that God will call them to judgment one day and there it will be revealed if they really tried to provide food for Him in every person and if they did what they could to preserve the environment so that it could produce this food.”
The striking comments from the Argentinian pontiff came ahead of the upcoming publication of a papal encyclical on the ethical aspects of environmental issues that is eagerly awaited by campaigners for action to address global warming.
An encyclical is a statement of fundamental principles designed to guide Catholic teaching on a subject. It is issued in the form of a letter from the pope to bishops around the world.

The pope is due to address the UN Special Summit on Sustainable Development in September and the international community will seek to reach a universal agreement on climate change at a summit in Paris in December.
Climate change sceptics have warned Francis not to take sides in the debate but all the signs so far are that he sees the problem as man-made and as one which can be alleviated by political action.
Caritas is a confederation of 165 Catholic charity and aid groups operating in 200 countries worldwide.
It holds a general assembly once every four years. This year’s meeting, the first under Francis’s papacy, runs to Saturday.
The archbishop of Manila, Luis Antonio Tagle, is tipped to take over from the Honduran cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga as the organisation’s president, the latter cleric having served the maximum two terms.


Taken from: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/12/pope-environmental-sinners-will-face-god-judgment

Monday, May 11, 2015

'Many powerful people don't want peace,' Pope tells children

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Pope Francis kisses a child during an audience with the boys and girls of the

"Fabbrica della Pace" groups at the Vatican, May 11, 2015. (Reuters/Max Rossi)

The "industry of death" exists in the world as many people in power live off war, Pope Francis told Italian schoolkids in the Vatican on Monday.
“Many powerful people don't want peace because they live off war," the Pontiff said as he met with pupils from Rome’s primary schools in the Nervi Audience Hall.
Talking to children during the audience organized by the Peace Factory Foundation, he explained that every war has the arms industry behind it.
"This is serious. Some powerful people make their living with the production of arms and sell them to one country for them to use against another country,” the Pope was cited by AGI news agency as saying.
The head of the Catholic Church labeled the arms trade “the industry of death, the greed that harms us all, the desire to have more money."
“The economic system orbits around money and not men, women,” he told 7,000 kids present at the audience.
Despite the fact that wars “lose lives, health, education,” they are being waged to defend money and make even more profit, the Pope said.
“The devil enters through greed and this is why they don't want peace," 78-year-old Francis said.
"There can be no peace without justice," the Pope said and asked the children to repeat those words out loud three times.

Pope Francis calls to end 'barbarous violence' and bloodshed in global hotspots

“Peace must be built day by day and even if, one day in the future, we can say that there will finally be no more wars, then too peace will be built day by day because peace is not an industrial product, it is artisanal: it is built day by day through our mutual love, our closeness,” he said.
In his April Easter Address, the Pontiff urged to end “absurd” violence, bloodshed and persecution in hotspots around the world.
“We ask for peace, above all, for Syria and Iraq, that the roar of arms may cease and that peaceful relations may be restored among the various groups which make up those beloved countries,” he told tens of thousands of pilgrims at St. Peter's Square in Vatican.
Francis also asked the Lord to “bring light to beloved Ukraine” and called for resuming the “peace process” between Israelis and Palestinians “to end years of suffering and division.”


Taken from: http://rt.com/news/257545-pope-francis-war-arms/

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Raul Castro thanks Pope Francis for brokering Cuba-US deal

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Cuban President Raul Castro has praised Pope Francis for brokering the restoration of relations between Cuba and the US, announced in December.
At the end of an audience at the Vatican, Mr Castro said he had thanked the Pope for his contribution for the historic rapprochement.
Secret negotiations to put an end to more than five decades of hostilities were carried out inside the Vatican.
The Pope will visit Cuba on his way to the US in September.
"I am very happy. I have come here to thank him for what he has done to begin solving the problems of the United States and Cuba," said Mr Castro.
The communist leader had stopped at the Vatican after attending Russia's World War Two Victory Day in Moscow.
After the audience with the Pope, Mr Castro said he was so impressed by a Vatican audience with Pope Francis that he might return to the faith he was born into.
Mr Castro praised the pontiff's wisdom, adding: "I will resume praying and turn to the Church again if the Pope continues in this vein."
The Catholic Church has maintained ties with Havana since the 1959 revolution.

Analysis: Will Grant, BBC correspondent, Havana

The fact that the man who helped lead the Cuban Revolution would even joke about returning to the Catholic Church shows just how far the relationship between Havana and the Vatican has moved forward recently.
That has been particularly true under Pope Francis. First, the Pontiff played a crucial role in smoothing the path to negotiations between Cuba and the US over the past 18 months. Furthermore, he has given his blessing to the process and to the Cuban government by arranging to come to Cuba in September before his visit to the US.
As a Latin American himself, Pope Francis has always been able to maintain good ties with Latin American leaders from both the left and the right. He has repeatedly called for the US trade embargo on Cuba to be lifted, for example.
Now he has hosted, and seemingly wooed, Raul Castro in Rome strengthening the ties even further. Hardly surprising Mr Castro is considering returning to Mass!
But the state-run newspaper Granma omitted Mr Castro's comments about returning to the Church when it reported the meeting on its website. A reflection, perhaps, of how surprising it is for Cubans to hear Mr Castro make such comments, whether tongue-in-cheek or not.

Secret talks

For Pope Francis, the restoration of relations between the US and Cuba has been a major diplomatic achievement, says the BBC's David Willey in Rome.
The US had imposed a trade embargo after Cuba's revolution, which it began to lift late last year.
After the 50-minute private audience on Sunday, Mr Castro told reporters: "The pontiff is a Jesuit, and I, in some way, am too. I studied at Jesuit schools."
After suggesting he might turn again to the Church, he added: "I mean what I say."
Both Mr Castro and his brother, revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, were baptised as Roman Catholics, but most Church activities were suppressed after the revolution.
Francis will be the third Pope to travel to Cuba, following visits there by John Paul II in 1998 and Benedict XVI in 2012.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

“Boko Haram is finished”

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“Boko Haram is finished” shouts a soldier, dancing and waving his rifle with his troops.

The soldiers, from Niger, helped liberate the northern Nigerian town of Damasak from Boko Haram.
Arabic graffiti painted on walls and Boko Haram’s black and white flag fluttering on the dome of a mosque are among the few reminders of the Islamists’ four-month reign over the town, which forces from Chad and Niger freed this month.
The town’s recapture was the latest victory in a regional offensive that, analysts suggest, has turned the tide against the six-year insurgency.
“Troop morale is sky-high,” says Niger’s force leader Colonel Toumba Mohamed. “It wasn’t easy to push [the enemy] out, but we did and now they are reduced to almost nothing.”
Last year Nigerian forces scattered as Boko Haram, fighting to establish a “caliphate” in northern Nigeria, seized a swathe of towns  in Borno state and bore down on the regional capital, Maiduguri. By the start of this year, it controlled about 20 local government areas, a territory the size of Belgium.

In a dramatic reversal, Nigeria’s army said this week it had pushed the rebels out of all but three districts. The recapture of Baga, scene of one of the jihadists’ worst massacres, in January, was hailed as a major psychological victory.

Nigerian Bishop Sees Vision of Christ, Says Rosary Will Vanquish Boko Haram

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Leader of embattled Catholics sees militants as "demonic"

The Nigerian bishop who is on the front lines with his people in the face of the Islamist terror organization Boko Haram minces no words when it comes to the evil that Christians face.

For one thing, he calls it "demonic."

In 2009, “we witnessed the emergence of Boko Haram, a demonic cult, which arose to ban Western education,” said Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme of Maiduguri, Nigeria, at a religious freedom conference in Spain last weekend.

But that is no cause for despair. The bishop claims that Jesus Christ appeared to him in a vision, giving him the answer to the problem: the rosary.

“Towards the end of last year I was in my chapel before the Blessed Sacrament… praying the rosary, and then suddenly the Lord appeared,” Bishop Dashe told Catholic News Agency April 18. He said Jesus didn’t say anything at first, but extended a sword toward him, and he in turn reached out for it.

“As soon as I received the sword, it turned into a rosary,” the bishop said, adding that Jesus then told him three times: “Boko Haram is gone.”

“I didn’t need any prophet to give me the explanation,” he said. “It was clear that with the rosary we would be able to expel Boko Haram.”

The bishop said he didn’t want to tell anyone, but “felt that the Holy Spirit was pushing him to do so.”

The Diocese of Maiduguri is in northeastern Nigeria's Borno State. The violence wreaked by Boko Haram has led to a drop in the Catholic population there from around 125,000 in 2009 to about 50,000 to 60,000, the bishop said.

Bishop Doeme has been spreading another Christian message recently as well: forgiveness.

“It is up to God and not us to avenge and take retribution,” he has said in parishes he visited during Easter week. According to Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Doeme told the faithful that in the end, revenge and retribution would only lead to a vicious cycle of violence and war, and that the fundamental values of the Christian faith are to love our enemies and persecutors. Healing can only begin when the faithful forgive the past and look to the future with great hope and faith.

There is a lot of healing that must take place. More than 6,000 have died in Boko Haram-led violence since 2009, according to Human Rights Watch. The militants have killed 1,000 people across Nigeria in the first three months of 2015 alone. Last month, the group pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State group.