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Guayaquil, Ecuador, Jul 6, 2015 / 12:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- During a Mass said on Monday, the first full day of his visit to Ecuador, Pope Francis called for prayers that the upcoming Synod on the Family might discern the needs of the family, an institution irreplaceable to society.  

“The Church will celebrate the Ordinary Synod devoted to the family, deepen her spiritual discernment and consider concrete solutions to the many difficult and significant challenges facing families in our time,” the Pope said during his July 6 homily.

“I ask you to pray fervently for this intention, so that Christ can take even what might seem to us impure, scandalous or threatening, and turn it – by making it part of his 'hour' – into a miracle.”

The family “cannot be replaced by other institutions,” he added. For this reason, “it needs to be helped and strengthened, lest we lose our proper sense of the services which society as a whole provides.”

The Mass with the Holy Father was celebrated in Ecuador's Los Samanes Park in Guayaquil, the country's largest city, with 1 million people in attendance, according to estimates.

Ecuador is the first stop in Pope Francis’ visit to the continent of his birth, which is taking place July 5-13. The journey will also include stops in Bolivia and Paraguay.

In his homily, the Pope reminded the faithful that the family is a small “domestic Church.”

“When we experience the love of our parents, we feel the closeness of God’s love,” the Roman Pontiff said.

“In our own families and in the greater family to which we all belong, nothing is thrown away, nothing is useless.”

Pope Francis centered his remarks on St. John's Gospel account of the wedding at Cana, which was read during the Mass. The scene recounts Mary telling Christ that their hosts have run out of wine, to which he responds that it is not yet “his hour” – a reference to his forthcoming Passion.

“Mary’s maternal concern is seen in her plea to Jesus,” the Pope said.

“The wedding at Cana is repeated in every generation, in every family, in every one of us and our efforts to let our hearts find rest in strong, fruitful and joyful love.”

Pope Francis invited the faithful to “journey with (Mary) to Cana” by following her example as shown in this scene, first by reflecting on her attentiveness to the needs of others.

During the wedding scene, Mary notices that her hosts have run out of wine which, the Pope said, “is a sign of happiness, love and plenty.”

He compared the Gospel passage to those within families who have run out of this “wine” – people who feel unloved or neglected, or who suffer difficulties such as unemployment or illness.

“How many elderly people feel left out of family celebrations, cast aside and longing each day for a little love?” he said.

In contrast, through her attentiveness and concern, Mary demonstrates her maternal nature toward others, Pope Francis said.

“Mary is not a 'demanding' mother, a mother-in-law who revels in our lack of experience, our mistakes and the things we forget to do,” the Pope said. “Mary is a Mother! She is there, attentive and concerned.”

Pope Francis then reflected on the example of confidence with which Mary approached Christ at the wedding feast.  

“Mary prays. She does not go to the steward, she immediately tells her Son of the newlyweds’ problem.”

She receives the seemingly disheartening response from Christ, who says: “What does it have to do with you and me? My hour has not yet come.”

Despite this reply, the Gospel recounts how Mary tells the servants to do as Christ tells them, bringing him large jugs of water which he changes into wine.

In this scene, Mary “places the problem in God’s hands,” the Pope said. “Her concern to meet the needs of others hastens Jesus’ hour. Mary was a part of that hour, from the cradle to the cross.”

“She accepted us as her sons and daughters when the sword pierced her heart. She teaches us to put our families in God’s hands, to pray, to kindle the hope which shows us that our concerns are also God’s concerns.”

Having reflected on Mary's example of prayer in Cana, Pope Francis spoke of the role of prayer within the family.

“The family is a school where prayer also reminds us that we are not isolated individuals; we are one and we have a neighbour close at hand: he or she is living under the same roof, is a part of our life, and is in need.”

Finally, Pope Francis observed how Mary acts, demonstrating how service, which is “the sign of true love,” is learned within the family.

In telling the servants to “do whatever he tells you,” Mary is giving “an invitation to us to open our hearts to Jesus, who came to serve and not to be served,” the Pope said.

“We learn this especially in the family, where we become servants out of love for one another. In the heart of the family, no one is rejected.”

“The family is the nearest hospital, the first school for the young, the best home for the elderly.”

Pope Francis concluded by turning back to the narrative of the wedding at Cana, and how, thanks to Mary, everyone could enjoy the “finest of wines,” especially those without hope.

“The time is coming when we will taste love daily, when our children will come to appreciate the home we share, and our elderly will be present each day in the joys of life,” the Pope said.

“The best wine is yet to come for those who today feel hopelessly lost … whisper it to the hopeless and the loveless. God always seek out the peripheries, those who have run out of wine, those who drink only of discouragement.”

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Lahore, Pakistan, Jul 6, 2015 / 12:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Police last week saved a Christian couple from a mob in Pakistan that attempted to kill them for allegedly committing blasphemy, the latest such violent incident in the country.

“Muslims of the town gathered there and dragged the poor couple who didn't know what they had done. They were being beaten to death,” local police chief Sohail Zafar Chattha said, according to Agence France Presse.

The attack took place in the village of Makki in Punjab province June 30.

The couple, who are both illiterate, used as a sleeping mat an advertisement awning that bore college slogans. These slogans allegedly included Arabic inscriptions from the Quran. A local barber and two clerics accused the couple of committing blasphemy, and a mob gathered in an attempt to lynch them.

After the couple was rescued from the mob, the two were moved to Lahore and placed with a Christian community.

One of the clerics has been arrested. Some residents told police that the barber may have been interested in acquiring the accused couple’s house, Agence France Presse reports.

Christian human rights lawyer Nadeem Anthony praised the police intervention, saying continued enforcement would discourage “the elements who take the law into their own hands.”

The Legal Evangelical Association Department, an interdenominational Pakistan-based Christian human rights NGO, on July 2 described Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws as “continually misused” against “the poor and defenseless Christians of Pakistan.”

Blasphemy accusations have prompted several other violent incidents.

Over 100 people have been charged for the November 2014 murders of a Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan, a city nearly 40 miles southwest of Lahore. The couple were accused of desecrating the Quran and angry villagers detained them at the brick kiln where they worked. The villagers reportedly told them to convert to Islam to make amends for their alleged crime. The couple were killed and their burned bodies were discovered in the kiln. Reports differed over whether they had been burned alive.

In Lahore in May a mob attempted to attack a young mentally ill Christian man following claims he burned newspapers with pages containing verses of the Koran. Police protected him, but the mob then attacked Christian homes and places of worship, including a church.

Pakistan's state religion is Islam, and around 97 percent of the population is Muslim. The nation has adopted blasphemy laws which impose strict punishment on those who desecrate the Quran or who defame or insult Muhammad.

The blasphemy laws are said to be often used to settle scores or to persecute religious minorities; while non-Muslims constitute only 3 percent of the Pakistani population, 14 percent of blasphemy cases have been levied against them.

Many of those accused of blasphemy are murdered, and advocates of changing the law are also targeted by violence.

In 2011 the Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, a Muslim critic of the blasphemy laws, was assassinated. Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic and the only Christian in Pakistan’s cabinet, was also assassinated the same year by militant supporters of the blasphemy laws.

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St. Maria Goretti
7/6/2015 12:00:00 AM
July 6 marks the feast day of St. Maria Goretti, a young virgin and martyr whose life is an example of purity and mercy for all Christians. Maria Goretti is best known for her commitment to purity and the courageous defense of her faith at the young age of eleven that made her willing to undergo death rather than participate in a sin against God. She is also remarkable for the forgiveness she willingly granted her attacker as she lay on her deathbed. Maria was born in Corinaldo, Italy on October 16, 1890. Her father, a farmer, died of malaria when she was young, and her mother had to work to support their six children. Maria took care of the younger children while her mother worked, and she prayed the Rosary every night for the repose of her father’s soul. She grew in grace and maturity, and her cheerful obedience and piety were noticed by those around her. On July 5, 1902, a neighboring farm hand, Alessandro Serenelli, tried to rape Maria. On several prior occasions, Alessandro had harassed Maria with impure advances, all of which she has vehemently rejected. This time, he locked her in a room and tried to force himself upon her. She fought against him, shouting, "No! It is a sin! God does not want it!" and warning him that this was the path towards hell. When Maria declared that she would rather die than submit to this sin, Alessandro angrily grabbed her and stabbed her 14 times with a knife. Maria was found bleeding to death and rushed to the hospital. As she lay dying, she forgave Alessandro for the crime he had committed against her, saying, "Yes, for the love of Jesus I forgive him...and I want him to be with me in Paradise." Although the doctors tried to save her, she died two agonizing days later, only eleven years old. Alessandro was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He remained unrepentant until one night, eight years into his prison term, when Maria appeared to him, dressed in white, gathering lilies in a garden. She smiled, turned towards Alessandro, and offered him the flowers. Each lily he took transformed into a white flame. Then Maria disappeared. From that moment, Alessandro converted and found peace. He repented of his crime and changed his life. He was released from prison three years early and begged forgiveness from Maria’s mother, which she duly granted. Alessandro moved to a Capuchin monastery, working in the garden as a tertiary for the remainder of his life. He was one of the witnesses who testified to Maria's holiness during her cause of beatification, citing the crime and the vision in prison. Many miracles were attributed to Maria Goretti after her death. In 1950, she was canonized by Pope Pius XII, becoming the youngest Roman Catholic saint officially recognized by name. Her feast day is celebrated by the Church on July 6, and she is the patron saint of purity, rape victims, young women, and youth in general. On her feast day in 2003, Pope John Paul II spoke about St. Maria Goretti at his Sunday Angelus, noting that her life provides an exemplary witness of what it means to be "pure of heart." "What does this fragile but christianly mature girl say to today's young people, through her life and above all through her heroic death?" asked the Pope. "Marietta, as she was lovingly called, reminds the youth of the third millennium that true happiness demands courage and a spirit of sacrifice, refusing every compromise with evil and having the disposition to pay personally, even with death, faithful to God and his commandments." "How timely this message is," the Holy Father continued. "Today, pleasure, selfishness and directly immoral actions are often exalted in the name of the false ideals of liberty and happiness. It is essential to reaffirm clearly that purity of heart and of body go together, because chastity ‘is the custodian’ of authentic love."
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