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As Australian Catholic school abandons tests and grades, critics are concerned

Sydney, Australia, May 19, 2019 / 04:17 pm (CNA).- A Catholic school in west Sydney has done away with grades, class levels, and tests to promote a more personalized school experience - but educational experts are skeptical.

St. Luke’s Catholic College in Marsden Park is now offering a curriculum personalized to each student, as well as life coaches and staff to build a broader range of skills.

The high school students study essential curriculum, like math, science, and english, three days a week. During the rest of the week, they can pursue their own interests, like music, graphic design, and sports.

“The current model of schooling was designed in the 1800s for a world that was built for manufacturing,” Principal Greg Miller told ABC News.

Because the world has changed, he said, the students benefit from different lessons with life coaches to focus on a student’s strengths and passions. This system is called inquiry-based learning.

“Studying for a test where content changes dramatically, in today's world, will not help the students to respond to real-world challenges and problems as they arise,” said Miller, according to ABC News.

“Their ability and capability to ask and pose questions to collaboratively work with each other is what's needed.”

According to The Conversation, a review panel of the government released a report last year that reinforced the idea of personalized curriculum and levels based on progress.

However, some experts have expressed concern that inquiry-based learning is an extremely experimental model where students could miss out on key parts of the core curriculum.

Jennifer Buckingham, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies, said there was not enough evidence to back the new model.

“It is an experiment that isn't based on the evidence that we have about what is effective instruction and what are effective models of schooling,” she said, according to ABC News.

“There have been a few schools around Australia adopting this style of teaching, this style of schooling, and at the moment the evidence is suggesting it's not been as successful in things like literacy and numeracy. And therefore for the children at that school there is a great risk that this experiment will fail.”

Pope: Christ's love helps us love those 'on the other side'

Vatican City, May 19, 2019 / 05:56 am (CNA).- The boundless love with which Jesus Christ loves each and every person is the same love Catholics are compelled to show their “enemies,” Pope Francis said Sunday.

Speaking during his address before the recitation of the Regina Coeli prayer May 19, the pope asked people to answer a question in their hearts: “Am I capable of loving my enemies?”

“We all have people – I do not know if they are enemies – but that do not agree with us, who are ‘on the other side,’” he said.

“Or does anyone have people who hurt them,” he added, urging people to ask themselves: “Am I capable of loving those people? That man, that woman who hurt me, who offended me? Am I able to forgive him?”

It is the love of Jesus for us that makes the act of loving and forgiving others possible, he said, reflecting on the moment at the Last Supper, when, after washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus gives them a “new” commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

“Jesus loved us first,” Pope Francis said. “He loved us despite our frailties, our limitations and our human weaknesses. It was He who made us become worthy of his love that knows no limits and never ends.”

“The love that is manifested in the cross of Christ and that He calls us to live is the only force that transforms our heart of stone into a heart of flesh,” he stated. “The only force capable of transforming our heart is the love of Jesus, if we also love with this love.”

“And this love makes us capable of loving our enemies and forgiving those who have offended us.”

Francis noted that the commandment to love one another, when Jesus gave it, was not novel, but that what made it “new” was the part which says, “as I have loved you.”

Speaking shortly before his Crucifixion and death, Jesus showed his disciples the origin and example of the kind of love people are called to give.

“The novelty is all in the love of Jesus Christ, the one with which he gave his life for us. It is a question of the love of God, universal, without conditions and without limits, which finds its apex on the cross.”

“In that moment of extreme lowering, in that moment of abandonment to the Father, the Son of God has shown and given to the world the fullness of love,” he said.

May the Virgin Mary, the pope prayed, “help us, with her maternal intercession, to welcome from her Son Jesus the gift of his commandment, and from the Holy Spirit the strength to practice it in everyday life.”

 

US bishops oppose Trump immigration plan, say families are foundational

Washington D.C., May 19, 2019 / 03:09 am (CNA).- Leaders of the U.S. bishops’ conference voiced concern over President Donald Trump’s new immigration plan, stressing that families should be strengthened and promoted in the immigration system.

“We oppose proposals that seek to curtail family-based immigration and create a largely ‘merit-based’ immigration system,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, who heads the conference’s migration committee.

“Families are the foundation of our faith, our society, our history, and our immigration system,” they said. “As Pope Francis notes: ‘Family is the place in which we are formed as persons’.”

DiNardo and Vásquez responded May 17 to the immigration plan announced by Trump the previous day. They said that although they appreciate the effort to address concerns in the current immigration system, the new plan falls short in several areas.

Trump said his plan prioritizes American values and workers, while attracting “the best and brightest from all around the world.”

The proposal would not seek to cut back on total annual legal immigration numbers, but would significantly reduce the current family-based portion of the immigration system, instead focusing on applicants with high education and skill levels.

The current system awards a majority of immigration visas based on family connections in the U.S. About 12% are approved based on skill level – a number that would be increased to more than 50% under Trump’s proposal.

According to the New York Times, officials said this would result in nearly 75% of immigrants to the United States holding a bachelor’s degree or higher, and would increase the average immigrant salary from $43,000 to $96,000.

Nuclear families would be prioritized under the proposal, while it would be harder for extended family members to immigrate based on family connections.

The plan also involves the completion of a border wall and new technology to monitor the southern border. It would “a permanent and self-sustaining border security trust fund,” financed by border crossing fees, Trump said.

Critics of the proposal argue that it fails to address the root causes of the migration crisis at the southern border and inhumanely turns away those in need. Democrats in Congress have indicated that they will oppose the plan.

The plan does not provide legal status for Dreamers, those brought to the United States illegally as children. Nor does it provide a clear path forward for Temporary Protected Status holders.

In their statement, DiNardo and Vásquez called these omissions deeply troubling.

They also said that “securing our borders and ensuring our safety is of the utmost importance, but this will not be achieved by heightening human misery and restricting access to lawful protection in an attempt to deter vulnerable asylum-seeking families and children.”

“Instead, we must confront the root causes of migration and look to humane and pragmatic solutions, such as improving our immigration courts, expanding alternatives to detention, and eradicating criminal networks,” they said. “We urge lawmakers to put aside differences and engage in meaningful action on humane and just comprehensive immigration reform.”

Wisdom, gratitude, healing, fellowship: A military family’s journey to Lourdes

Lourdes, France, May 18, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Every pilgrim to Lourdes has their own motivations and reasons for making the journey. For the Mayors, the International Military Pilgrimage came with an additional grace: a family reunion.

Captain Mark E. Mayor and Captain Matthew N. Mayor are identical twins. Both have served for a decade in the U.S. Army. Both are members of the Knights of Columbus.

While the two have been stationed together in the past, they now live a continent apart. Mark is stationed at USAG Wiesbaden, in Germany. Matthew is stationed at Ft. Jackson, SC, but is a student at Northwestern University through the Army Advanced Civil Schooling program.

Last year, Mark and his wife, Malori, were both pilgrims on the Warriors to Lourdes trip. Malori, a registered nurse, volunteered on the medical team, assisted with helping wounded pilgrims, and played the violin at Mass throughout the weekend. This year, all three of the Mayors made the journey to Lourdes.

Mark and Malori told CNA that they are taking a different approach towards this year’s pilgrimage. Last year, they said they both came with a “spiritual agenda,” and were praying for a specific intention. This year, they said they are instead coming to Lourdes with an attitude of gratitude, and will be more relaxed about the experience.

"Coming with an agenda, though, was something that I think was a mistake, last year,” said Mark. This year, he intends to seek wisdom, something that he thinks he and his wife were inadvertently granted last year as well.

During the 2018 pilgrimage, Malori and Mark were praying they would conceive a child. This did not immediately happen, but Malori thinks that she received the gift of courage to break down the stigma and taboo of infertility. She used her blog to share stories about infertility and to inform her readers about holistic, natural, Church-approved methods of tackling fertility.

“I think that's what we needed, that was our miracle for last year, even though we came with an agenda, God gave us the wisdom to seek out the right resources,” said Mark. “I think that's the key takeaway with this pilgrimage."

Malori is now expecting their first child, who is due in January 2020.

“Even before I became pregnant, though, I was kind of reflecting on last year's experience at Lourdes, and realizing that I need to come here with a different posture, a different attitude; not 'give me what I want, right now, on my timeline,' but to just come with gratitude,” she explained.

This gratitude is “not necessarily for infertility--that would be very, very hard to be grateful for that cross itself,” but rather for how she and her husband have grown through this experience together.

Matthew told CNA that he had first learned of the Warriors to Lourdes pilgrimage through his brother and sister-in-law, and was inspired to apply for this year. He said that he came into Lourdes with an open mind, and that he is seeking healing for both physical and mental wounds.

“My only expectation is to come here with an attitude of gratitude, to be thankful for the blessings that I have in my life right now," said Matthew. Matthew also explained that he is looking forward to fellowship with members of the military, as the transition from living on a base to living in the civilian world can be jarring and lonely. The chance to interact with others is “a huge deal for me, to have that fellowship” he said.

Both Mark and Matthew have suffered from their time in the military, and both have been diagnosed with having post-traumatic stress. Mark also experienced a traumatic brain injury. They both spoke about the importance of civilian interaction with members of the military after they have returned home, as they both believe this is key to preventing and treating mental illnesses that many troops experience.

When a member of the military returns home, Mark explained, they are “separated from the tribe,” which can trigger depression and other mental wounds. The International Military Pilgrimage is a way for people to “get the tribe back together,” and is a therapeutic experience for the pilgrims. And while the pilgrims are from different nations and from different branches of the military, Mark is comforted by the fact that they are all in Lourdes to worship God.

“We all celebrate one universal Catholic faith,” said Mark. “It's just something that I find it really humbling."

Lourdes is famous for its baths, which have produced 70 confirmed miraculous healings, and hundreds of other cures. The Mayors say they have all been deeply touched by their experiences taking a dip in the ice-cold water.

Malori called her trip to the baths “life-changing,” and said that it came with a sense of peace. Matthew agreed, saying it was an “eclectic and powerful experience.”

"My intentions were for continued healing in body, mind, and spirit, and for the grace of continued wisdom to fulfill and refill my well of fortitude," said Matthew. He said he was grateful and thanked God for being present for him in that moment.  

All agreed that Lourdes is a special place, and that the addition of the pilgrims attending the International Military Pilgrimage only increases the town’s unique sense of holiness.

"Minus all the people coming here with illnesses and wheelchairs, maybe this is a little bit of what like Heaven is,” said Malori. “Everyone's so peaceful and all these different countries coming together at the military pilgrimage--maybe this is like a taste of that."

Pope Francis: Wasting food shows a lack of concern for others

Vatican City, May 18, 2019 / 10:16 am (CNA).- In a meeting with members of the Federation of European Food Banks Saturday, Pope Francis warned against food waste, which he said shows a lack of concern for others.

“Fighting against the terrible scourge of hunger means also fighting waste. Waste reveals an indifference towards things and towards those who go without. Wastefulness is the crudest form of discarding,” he said May 18.

“To throw food away means to throw people away,” the pope added. “It is scandalous today not to notice how precious food is as a good, and how so much good ends up so badly.”

Francis noted that in today’s complex world, it is also important that the good done by charitable organizations is “done well,” and is not “the fruit of improvisation.”

Doing good “requires intelligence, the capacity for planning and continuity. It needs an integrated vision, of persons who stand together: it is difficult to do good while not caring for each other,” he said.

Even good initiatives guided by good intentions can get trapped by “extended bureaucracy, excessive administrative costs, or become forms of welfare that do not lead to authentic development,” he noted. “Wasting what is good is a nasty habit that can insinuate itself anywhere, even in charitable works.”

The pope also emphasized the importance of actions over words: “It is always easy to speak about others; it is much harder to give to others, and yet this is what matters.”

Food banks, he said, are good at taking what is “thrown into the vicious cycle of waste” and inserting it into a “virtuous circle” of good use instead.

The pope went on to speak about the economy, which he said has a “profound need” of working to the advantage of all, and especially those who are disadvantaged.

“It is good to see languages, beliefs, traditions and different approaches converging, not for self-interest, but rather to give dignity to others,” he said.

Noting the modern world’s connectivity and rapid pace, he decried the “frenetic scramble for money” which leaves people with an increasing interior frailty, disorientation, and loss of meaning. He added: “What I care about is an economy that is more humane, that has a soul, and not a reckless machine that crushes human beings.”

“We must find a cure,” he urged, by “supporting what is good and taking up paths of solidarity, being constructive.”

“We must come together to relaunch what is good, knowing full well that, even if evil is at large in the world, with God’s help and the good will of so many like yourselves, the world can be a better place,” he said.
 
“We need to support those who wish to change things for the better; we need to encourage models of growth based on social equality, on the dignity of human persons, on families, on the future of young people, on respect for the environment.”

Humility should be the foundation of media work, pope tells journalists

Vatican City, May 18, 2019 / 07:08 am (CNA).- Pope Francis told journalists Saturday that their profession has a great responsibility, the foundation of which should be humility.

“Humility is an essential virtue for spiritual life; but I would say that it can also be a fundamental element of your profession,” the pope said May 18.

He affirmed that there are other important qualities of a journalist, such as professionalism, writing skill, and ability to investigate and ask the right questions, but added that, “still, humility can be the cornerstone of your activity.”

“Yours is an indispensable role, and this also gives you a great responsibility,” he continued. “It asks of you a particular care for the words you use in your articles, for the images you transmit in your services, for everything you share on social media.”

Pope Francis added that, “humble journalists does not mean mediocre, but rather aware that through an article, a tweet, a live television or radio program, you can do good, but also, if you are not careful and scrupulous, evil to others and sometimes to entire communities.”

The pope spoke about humility in journalism during a meeting with around 400 members of the Association of Foreign Press in Italy, at the end of which he gave out copies of the book, “Comunicare il Bene,” (“Communicate the good”) which compiles some of his words to journalists over the last six years.

In his speech the pope acknowledged “how difficult and how much humility the search for truth requires,” saying, “I therefore urge you to work according to truth and justice, so that communication is really a tool to build, not to destroy...”

He also gave advice on the importance of humility, showing in what ways it helps a journalist to do his or her job well. For example, he said it is humility which drives someone to look deeper than the first, easy solution to a question.

If a mistake is made, it should always be rectified, he advised, especially in a time when, through the internet, false information is easily spread. He also warned media professionals to resist the temptation to publish something which has been insufficiently verified.

Humility, he continued, also helps journalists to not be slaves to haste, but to take the necessary time to understand something well.

Another quality of a humble journalist is seeking to know all the facts before relating them or commenting on them, he said, and as St. Francis de Sales once said, to use words carefully, “as the surgeon uses the scalpel.”

Pope Francis also urged those in media to work to bring to light the circumstances of those who have been rejected, excluded, and discriminated against.

“You and your work are needed to help not to forget many situations of suffering, which often do not have the light of the spotlight, or they have it for a moment and then return to the darkness of indifference,” he said.

Thanking journalists for their work, which if done in service, “becomes a mission,” the pope said they help people to not forget the lives “suffocated before they are even born” or those that, when born, suffer from hunger, hardship, war, persecution, or abuse.

He encouraged journalists to tell those stories, but to also tell the stories of people who sacrifice themselves, even heroically, to help others.

“Please continue to tell even that part of reality that thanks to God is still the most widespread: the reality of those who do not surrender to indifference, of those who do not flee before injustice, but build patiently in silence,” he said.

Pope Francis called these stories “a submerged ocean of good that deserves to be known and that gives strength to our hope.”

He assured the journalists, many of whom are secular, of the Church’s esteem for them, “even when you put your finger in the wound, and perhaps the wound is in the ecclesial community.”

He also quoted Pope St. John Paul II in a meeting with the same association in 1988, when he said: “The Church is on your side. Be Christian or not, in the Church you will always find the right esteem for your work and the recognition of freedom of the press.”

Venezuelan bishops say ending legislative immunity 'hijacks' democracy

Caracas, Venezuela, May 18, 2019 / 12:00 am (CNA).- The Venezuelan bishops’ conference has expressed opposition to a decision of the country’s Supreme Court, which has requested that legislative immunity be revoked for members of the National Assembly accused of treason, conspiracy, instigation of insurrection, civil rebellion and other charges.  That would open the way for legislators to be tried for those alleged crimes.

“With this request, the will of the Venezuelan people, who freely elected the National Assembly is, in fact, abolished,” the bishops charged in a May 15 statement.

They also said that Supreme Court requests on the matter “constitute disrespect and a transgression of the commitments enacted with the different international bodies on human rights.”

“The denial of immunity without previously determining its merits and ignoring the rights of the National Assembly, contravening the express constitutional provisions, gravely harms the functioning of democracy,” the bishops added.  

They also explained that these decisions in practice constitute “the hijacking of popular sovereignty,” which is represented by the legislators elected by the will of the citizens.

“That is the essence of a democracy: respect for the will of the people and the observance of the due legal and judicial processes.”

They also reminded that in the face of a political crisis a peaceful solution is required. “We reaffirm  the will for an institutional and democratic solution to the political and social situation in Venezuela.”

The Venezuelan bishops' Justice and Peace Commission pointed out that more than 30 representatives of the National Assembly are not exercising their functions because of the violation  of their parliamentary immunity, while others have been arrested, are in exile, or their election was invalidated as occurred with the representatives from Amazonas State.

“We categorically reject the persecution against the political and social leaders, especially against the Representatives of the National Assembly by means of criminalization and stigmatization, placing pamphlets on their residences or graffiti that put their lives at risk and that of their families,” the reaffirmed.

The bishops' conference has asked the authorities to respect the will of the people. They also demanded  that “the security of persons that are the object of persecution and intimidation be guaranteed.”

“We ask God for the wisdom necessary for an institutional and peaceful solution to the grave political, social and economic crisis that has deepened in recent weeks, deteriorating democracy and the quality of life of the Venezuelan people, especially the poorest,” they concluded.

 

The ‘young man with a big, good heart’: STEM hero Kendrick Castillo laid to rest

Denver, Colo., May 17, 2019 / 03:35 pm (CNA).- On a warm Friday morning in May at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Littleton, Colorado, about 40 Knights of Columbus dressed in full regalia flanked the entrance of the church as friends and family of Kendrick Castillo filed in to commend him to God at his funeral.

Each attendee was handed a small card - on one side, Kendrick smiling, dressed in a Christmas sweater and sitting on a Jeep. On the other side, a simple tribute including his birth and death dates, funeral location, and the bible verse John 15:13 that seems to capture the way his life ended: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Kendrick was the lone casualty in the STEM high school shooting on May 7 in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. He died, witnesses say, after he jumped up in the line of fire and ran to stop one of the shooters with a couple other students.

His funeral was attended by relatives and friends that filled the large Catholic church, and included an honor guard of 80 Knights of Columbus, about half of whom dressed in the old feather-capped regalia, and half in the new uniform with a beret.

The Knights lined the aisles and drew their swords in tribute to Kendrick during the processional and recessional, honoring a young man who spent hundreds of hours volunteering for the Knights of Columbus with his dad. A group of Kendrick’s close friends from high school served as pallbearers.

Bishop Jorge Rodríguez, auxiliary bishop of Denver, and five other priests and deacons presided at the Mass.

In his homily, Rodriguez talked about how Kendrick imitated Christ and “pleased God” throughout his life as a selfless, loving person.

Kendrick was “a holy young man,” Rodriguez said. “A young man who was a good disciple of Jesus Christ. We call ‘saints’ those able to love to the end. Kendrick gave everything he is, and everything he had -family, a future, a degree, his life- so other young men and women could go back to their families, have a future, graduate and live.”

“Kendrick’s life is like the echo of Jesus’ words: ‘Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends,’” he added, again referencing John 15:13.

The bishop referenced Scripture throughout his homily, noting how Kendrick was pleasing to and loved by God.

“Only a young man with God in his heart and possessing a big good heart can do what he did: to lay down his life to save his friends. I’m sure John and Maria, that you feel proud of your son: God too is very proud of his child, Kendrick,” Rodriguez said.

“The Book of Wisdom repeats: ‘His soul was pleasing to the Lord.’ The soul is the center of our consciousness, freedom, the seat of love and will; that self that makes us God’s image and touches who we really are. God loves Kendrick’s soul because he is a good young man,” he added.

He noted that Kendrick was only a few days from his high school graduation when he was killed, and could have accomplished many more things on earth with his “big good heart,” but that he was now with God, where “all the evil of this world will not be able to touch him again.”

Instead, Kendrick experienced a much more profound kind of graduation, Rodriguez said.

“Kendrick graduated not for an academic degree, but he graduated in humanity and in Christian life,” he said.

At the end of life, everyone will be examined not on their academic knowledge or worldly success, the bishop noted, but on how well they loved.

“Kendrick passed this test with honors,” he said. “He accomplished in a short time a great career in honorableness, love and holiness. As Scripture says, the greatness of a man ‘cannot be measured in terms of years.’”

Even though Kendrick was a good person and is loved and cared for by the Lord, his death still causes “unbearable” pain, especially for his family, Rodriguez said.

The bishop encouraged John and Maria, the parents of Kendrick, to hold fast to the Gospel of John 6:40: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day.”

That passage, Rodriguez said, contains two promises for Kendrick: that he is enjoying eternal life in heaven, and that he will be raised with Jesus on the last day.

“Dream with that moment, when you will see Kendrick right in front of you, radiant, smiling and coming to you for a big hug,” he said.

He then encouraged everyone in attendance to follow the example of Kendrick’s faith and love, and thanked John and Maria for their son.

“John and Maria, Kendrick, your son, is a gift for all of us. And we all must commit to keep his legacy and to praise God for the gift of Kendrick’s years among us.”

“God loves your child. Now, he is with him. And he left, keeping you in his heart.”

Signatura: Geissler 'acquittal' came after formal process

Vatican City, May 17, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The Vatican announced Friday that a former Curial official accused of sexual solicitation in the confessional was found not guilty after a penal process at the Church’s highest canonical court. Previous reports had indicated that the allegations were investigated by the Vatican, but had not indicated that the matter was resolved by a formal judicial process.

Fr. Hermann Geissler, 53, is a member of Familia spiritualis Opus (FSO), informally known as “Das Werk.” The priest served as an official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1993 until Jan. 29.

Geissler stepped down from his position after a former member of “Das Werk,” Doris Wagner, claimed last year in a lengthy piece in the German newspaper DIE ZIET that she had been sexually harassed in the confessional by a member of the religious community she then belonged to, identified in the article as “Hermann G.”

Geissler has maintained his innocence since the allegations first . The solicitation of a sin against the sixth commandment within the context of confession is considered in the Church law to be a “grave delict,” or offense, for which a priest can be dismissed from the clerical state.

A communique issued May 17 by the Vatican’s Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura said that after an administrative penal process, a five-judge panel “issued the decree of acquittal of the accused,” because the allegation was not “proven with due moral certainty.”

That release clarifies a May 16 release from Geissler’s religious community, which said that a decision was made at the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, “after a preliminary investigation according to Canon 1717,” that the “above-mentioned case does not constitute a delict.”

The “preliminary investigation” is the canonical process that precedes a formal trial. An administrative penal process, by contrast, is a kind of expedited canonical trial, at which judges hear evidence and arguments regarding an allegation, without all of the formal requirements of an ordinary trial. The Signatura’s release clarifies that Geisler was in fact subject to formal charges, for which he was found not guilty.

The administrative penal process is the same canonical procedure that was used earlier this year to try former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. McCarrick was found guilty of sexually abusing minors and adults, and of sexual solicitation in the sacrament of penance.

Geissler is well known as a theologian and a scholar of Bl. John Henry Newman. His religious community has not yet announced what next he will do.

Pope offers words of encouragement to African missionaries

Vatican City, May 17, 2019 / 03:05 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis spoke to African-based missionaries gathered at the Vatican on Friday, applauding their efforts to show compassion to the continent’s most vulnerable.

The Society of African Missions was received by the pope at the Consistory Hall of the Vatican Apostolic Palace.

The order has been in Rome for its General Chapter, taking place at the Vatican from April 30 to May 24. The theme of this year’s meeting is “A family faithful to its missionary charism in today’s complex and changing context.”

The pope commended the order’s dedication to its communal life, which he said leads to greater acts of charity toward the suffering victims on the “peripheries” of society, especially in the rural populations where the Christian faith is fragile.

“Faithful to your roots, you are called, as a family and since you are a family, to bear witness to the risen Christ through the love that unites you to one another, and with the radiant joy of an authentic fraternal life,” he said.

“Evangelization is always carried out by a community that acts ‘by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others,’” he further added, quoting Evangelii gaudium.

The Society of African Missions was founded in 1856 by Servant of God Melchior de Marion Brésillac and its first superior general Fr. Augustin Planque. The order seeks to provide the people of Africa with spiritual and physical nourishment including education, interreligious dialogue, and aid to displaced people.

The pope applauded the order for continuing to follow in the footsteps of its founders, with members even placing themselves in dangerous situations to advance the Gospel.

He pointed to the example of an Italian priest, a member of the order, who was kidnapped last September by unknown gunmen in Niger. The pope promised to pray for the priest, who is still believed to be in captivity.

“I would like to join in your prayer for your brother Fr. Pierluigi Maccalli, kidnapped for several months in Niger, and to assure the concern and attention of the Holy See regarding this worrying situation.”

He challenged the members to undergo greater conversion, immersing themselves into charitable works, reflections on scripture, and the sacraments. This dedication to the spiritual life will lead its members to find Christ in the work they do and further embrace their commitment to the vulnerable, he said.

“I also encourage you to persevere in your commitment, in close collaboration with members of other religions and institutions, at the service of children and the most fragile people, victims of war, disease, and human trafficking,” he said.

“Because the option for the least, for those that society rejects and sets aside, is a sign that concretely manifests the presence and solicitude of the merciful Christ.”

Concluding his address, Pope Francis invoked the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary that the group may witness the faith with a renewed zeal, listening to the Holy Spirit for opportunities to extend beyond the familiar and to new paths of evangelization.

“I encourage you to persevere, with renewed enthusiasm and dynamism, on the path travelled by the Society of African Missions and which has produced many fruits of conversion to Christ,” he said.

“With this hope, I entrust your missionary family to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, asking her to support your efforts.”