Ash Wednesday reminds us of the world to come, Francis says
Marked with ashes, Christians set off on a Lenten journey where they strive to leave behind everything that will turn to dust and instead focus on drawing closer to God and the promise of eternal life, Pope Francis has said.
In his homily at the Dominican-run Basilica of Santa Sabina last week, the Pope said the Old Testament fast was announced with a trumpet blast: “It is a loud sound that seeks to slow down our life, which is so fast-paced, yet often directionless. It is a summons to stop, to focus on what is essential, to fast from the unnecessary things that distract us. It is a wake-up call for the soul.”
Moving back toward the Lord requires moving past things that often distract or derail a person’s journey, he said, listing: “thinking only of feeling good, solving some problems and having fun”, or the search for wealth, the thirst for power or the accumulation of things.
“The small mark of ash, which we will receive, is a subtle yet real reminder that of the many things occupying our thoughts, that we chase after and worry about every day, nothing will remain,” he said. “Earthly realities fade away like dust in the wind.”
Global number of priests on decline for first time in almost a decade
The percentage of Catholics in the world has remained steady, while the number of priests has decreased for the first time in almost a decade, according to Vatican statistics.
Meanwhile, the numbers of bishops, permanent deacons, lay missionaries and catechists have all increased, it said.
At the end of 2017, the worldwide Catholic population exceeded 1.3 billion, which continued to be about 17.7% of the world’s population, said a statement by the Vatican press office.
The statement reported a handful of the statistics in the Statistical Yearbook of the Church, which reported worldwide Church figures as of December 31, 2017.
According to the statistical yearbook, the number of Catholics increased in every continent. But while that growth in Africa and the Americas kept pace with their respective region’s population growth, Asia showed a 1.5% increase in the number of Catholics while the region’s population grew less than 1%.
For the first time since 2010, the Vatican statement said, the total number of priests – diocesan and religious order – around the world decreased, going from 414,969 in 2016 to 414,582 in 2017.
Ordinations of diocesan priests continued to decline slowly from 6,577 in 2012 to 5,815 in 2017.
Vatican prays for victims of tornado
Pope Francis sent his prayers and condolences to Alabama last week after devastating tornadoes over the weekend killed 23 people and left dozens of survivors without homes.
“Deeply saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life and the injuries caused by the tornado which struck Alabama in recent days, His Holiness Pope Francis expresses heartfelt solidarity with all affected by this natural disaster,” a telegram sent on behalf of the Pope stated.
Pope Francis prays for “healing and consolation” for the injured and those who grieve, and that “Almighty God may grant eternal rest to the dead, especially the children,” the cable continued.
Victims of the storm include four children aged six to 10. Between three and five tornadoes with winds measuring as high as 170mph touched down in eastern Alabama, and travelled 70 miles.
“Upon all who are suffering the effects of this calamity, the Holy Father invokes the Lord’s blessings of peace and strength,” Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin wrote on behalf of Pope Francis.