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Pope Francis Names New Auxiliary Bishop of Sacramento

WASHINGTON - Pope Francis has appointed Rev. Reynaldo Bersabal as auxiliary bishop of Sacramento. Bishop-elect Bersabal is a priest of the Diocese of Sacramento and currently serves as pastor of Saint Francis of Assisi parish in Sacramento, California. The appointment was publicized in Washington, D.C. on April 20, 2024, by Cardinal Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

The following biographical information for Bishop-elect Bersabal has been drawn from preliminary materials provided to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

Father Bersabal was born October 15, 1964, in the Philippines. He was ordained to the priesthood on April 29, 1991.

Bishop-elect Bersabal’s assignments in the Philippines after ordination include: parochial vicar at Our Lady of Snows parish (1991); parish administrator at Our Lady of Guadalupe parish (1992); and parish priest at St. Francis Xavier parish (1995). Father Bersabal was incardinated into the Diocese of Sacramento on April 7, 2004. His assignments in the diocese include: parochial vicar at St. James parish in Davis (1999-2001); parochial vicar at St. Anthony parish in Sacramento (2002-2003); pastor at St. Paul parish in Sacramento (2003-2008); pastor at St. John the Baptist parish in Folsom (2008-2016); and pastor at St. James parish in Davis (2016-2022). Since 2022, he has served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Sacramento.

Bishop-elect Bersabal’s priestly ministry in the Philippines has included: assessor of marriage cases for the metropolitan tribunal of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro City (1996); chancellor of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro City (1998); and archdiocesan director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the Philippines (1998). Since his incardination into the Diocese of Sacramento, Bishop-elect Bersabal’s ministry has included: interim director of the Newman Catholic Center in Davis (2000); assistant diocesan vocation director (2000-2002); dean of the southern suburbs/city deanery (2004-2008); member and treasurer of the diocesan presbyteral council  (2007-2010); dean of the Gold Country deanery (2011-2014); dean of the Yolo Deanery (2020-2022); member of the diocesan priests personnel board (2023-present); liaison for the Filipino presbyterate (2012-present); member of the diocesan liturgical commission (2023-present); and a member of the diocese’s independent review board (2023- present). He speaks English, Spanish, and Tagalog.

The Diocese of Sacramento is comprised of 46,597 square miles in the State of California and has a total population of 3,786,209 of which 1,056,698 are Catholic.

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Spring semester: 'School of Prayer' now in session for Holy Year finals

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Every important journey should be preceded by adequate preparation, and the run-up to the Holy Year 2025 is no exception.

Pope Francis asked Catholics to get ready for the jubilee journey with a Year of Prayer and now, a few months after the year was officially announced, a kind of prayer prep-school is in session.

Every jubilee asks pilgrims to come to Rome ready, not just with lodging and logistics, but, most of all, with the right spiritual disposition, which is a heart ready to welcome the gifts of grace and forgiveness the jubilee offers.

"I ask you to intensify your prayer to prepare us to live well this event of grace and to experience the strength of God's hope," the pope said when he formally announced the Year of Prayer at his Jan. 21 Angelus. The year is "dedicated to rediscovering the great value and absolute need for prayer in personal life, in the life of the church and in the world."

"Teach Us to Pray" is a resource available online in English and other languages from the Dicastery for Evangelization's section for new evangelization, which is coordinating the Holy Year.

The 75-page booklet, it said, "is intended to be used by the faithful during this time of preparation for the opening of the Holy Door."

"Let us immerse ourselves through prayer in an ongoing dialogue with the Creator, discovering the joy of silence, the peace of abandonment and the power of intercession in the communion of saints," it said.

To help the faithful "renew the spirit of prayer in all those situations in which we are called to live in daily life," it said, there are different sections focused on different facets of life.

"Each part -- from the meaning of personal prayer to its practice in community life -- offers reflections, guidance and advice for living more fully in dialogue with the Lord present in our relationship with others and in every moment of our day," it said. There are also sections dedicated to young people, sanctuaries and spiritual retreats.

The booklet is just one of the materials the dicastery is sharing online at evangelizatio.va and on the Holy Year website, iubilaeum2025.va.

The "Notes on Prayer" series, produced by the dicastery, is on sale in Italian, but as of April 17 there was no date for when the eight booklets will be ready in English. The bishops of Spain have translated the first two volumes and made them available with many other materials at haciaeljubileo.com.

The texts carry titles such as "Praying today. A challenge," "The Parables of Prayer," "Praying with Saints and Sinners," "Mary's prayer," and "The Prayer Jesus Taught Us: The 'Our Father.'"

The plan is to make them available to the world's bishops' conferences and dioceses.

In the meantime, there is no shortage of other study material.

There are 38 talks dedicated to prayer Pope Francis gave during his Wednesday general audiences between May 2020 and June 2021. While they are not organized in a cohesive format, readers can scroll through the Vatican's archive at vatican.va to find them in nine languages.

The dicastery is also sharing links to resources and initiatives organized by others and open to everyone.

For example, the Canadian bishops' conference is offering a series of eight free-access webinars on prayer in English and French.

Titled, "A Great Symphony of Prayer," the webinars run in April and October to "delve deeper into the themes highlighted in the 'Notes on Prayer' series," it said. "The meetings will be recorded and made available, with a commentary, on the website of the Canadian Episcopal Conference www.cccb.ca at the end of the series."

Pope Francis leads
Pope Francis recites a special prayer of thanksgiving with about 200 children at St. John Vianney parish on the far eastern edge of Rome, where he went April 11, 2024, to inaugurate his "School of Prayer" initiative in preparation for the Holy Year 2025. He spoke to the children about prayers of thanksgiving and answered their questions. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The pope inaugurated his own "School of Prayer" in April when he met with about 200 children attending their catechism class in a Rome parish. The "school" is a series of encounters where the pope will meet with different groups of people to pray together and discuss the various forms of prayer such as thanksgiving, intercession, contemplative prayer, consolation, adoration and supplication.

The pope's lesson with the children preparing for their first Communion was on the theme of prayers of thanksgiving. He said, "It is important to say thank you for everything."

Even when there are difficulties and conflicts in the world, Pope Francis told them there is always something to thank God for, encouraging them to think before they go to sleep, "'What can I thank the Lord for?' And give thanks."

He gave them a special prayer of thanks composed for the occasion; the prayer thanked God for the gift of life, the gift of parents, the gift of creation, the gift of Jesus, who is "our brother and savior, friend of the small and the poor" and the gift of his love.

As usual, the pope hopes his initiatives inspire others.

In the preface to the first book in the "Notes on Prayer" series, the pope wrote, "I am certain that bishops, priests, deacons and catechists will find in this year appropriate ways to place prayer at the heart of the proclamation of hope that the 2025 Jubilee will make resound in this troubled time."

Prayer is not a "magic wand," the pope has said, but it is through prayer that "a new incarnation of the Word takes place."

"We are the 'tabernacles' where the words of God seek to be welcomed and preserved, so that they may visit the world," he said Jan. 27, 2021, during an audience talk on prayer.

"The Word inspires good intentions and sustains action; it gives us strength and serenity, and even when it challenges us, it gives us peace," he said.

 

No Employer Should be Forced to Participate in Abortion, says Bishop Rhoades

WASHINGTON - “No employer should be forced to participate in an employee’s decision to end the life of their child,” Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee for Religious Liberty said today, in response to newly released regulations by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The regulations implement the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which itself provides helpful accommodations to pregnant women in the workplace. The EEOC, however, has defied Congress’s intent and added a mandate for employers, including religious employers, to provide accommodations, such as leave time, for abortion.

Said Bishop Rhoades, “The bipartisan Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, as written, is a pro-life law that protects the security and physical health of pregnant mothers and their preborn children. It is indefensible for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to twist the law in a way that violates the consciences of pro-life employers by making them facilitate abortions. No employer should be forced to participate in an employee’s decision to end the life of their child.”

The USCCB submitted formal comments to the EEOC in September 2023 (available here) when the federal agency proposed these regulations.

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Cardinal: Vocation is call to happiness; right path is discerned in prayer

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- At its most basic level, a vocation is a call to happiness, said Korean Cardinal Lazarus You Heung-sik, prefect of the Dicastery for Clergy.

"Vocation is essentially the call to be happy, to take charge of one's life, to realize it fully and not waste it," the cardinal told the Vatican newspaper in an interview published ahead of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations April 21.

God wants each person to be happy and to live life to its fullest, he told the newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

In Jesus, he said, God "wants to draw us into the embrace of his love; thus, thanks to baptism, we become an active part of this love story and, when we feel that we are loved and accompanied, then our existence becomes a path to happiness, to a life without end."

The path to happiness, he said, "is then embodied and realized in a life choice, in a specific mission and in the many situations of every day."

Cardinal Lazarus You Heung-sik
Cardinal Lazarus You Heung-sik, prefect of the Dicastery for Clergy, is seen in a file photo from April 2023. (CNS photo/Cindy Wooden)

Insisting that the "first vocation" of all people is the call to happiness, Cardinal You said that it is wrong to think that an individual's desires have no role to play.

In discerning God's call, he said, "the first road signs to follow are precisely our desires, what we sense in our hearts may be good for us and, through us, for the world around us."

At the same time, the cardinal said, everyone knows how their desires can sometimes lead them astray "because our desires do not always correspond to the truth of who we are; it may happen that they are the result of a partial vision, that they arise from wounds or frustrations, that they are dictated by a selfish search for our own well-being or, again, sometimes what we call desires are actually illusions."

At that point, discernment is necessary, which, he said, "is basically the spiritual art of figuring out, with God's grace, what we should choose in our lives."

Prayer is essential for discernment because "a vocation is recognized when we bring our deep desires into dialogue with the work that God's grace does within us," Cardinal You said. Through that dialogue of prayer, clouds of doubt and questions gradually clear, and "the Lord makes us understand which path to take."

Pope Francis and Cardinal Lazarus You Heung-sik
Pope Francis is received with smiles and applause by Cardinal Lazarus You Heung-sik, prefect of the Dicastery for the Clergy, and a group of bishops participating in an international conference on the ongoing formation of priests in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican Feb. 8, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

"We must not run the risk of thinking that the spiritual aspect can develop apart from the human one, thus attributing to God's grace a kind of 'magical power,'" he said. "God became flesh and, therefore, the vocation to which he calls us is always embodied in our human nature."

The cardinal said he has devoted much of his life to priestly formation, and he knows that in many parts of the world many priests are experiencing hardships, trials, exhaustion and, especially, profound loneliness.

Priests and the people they minister with need to learn to share duties and responsibilities, he said, and diocesan priests need to learn to rely on and support each other.

But even more, the cardinal said, "there is a need for a new mentality and new formation paths because often a priest is educated to be a solitary leader, a 'one man in charge,' and this is not good for him."

"We are small and full of limitations, but we are disciples of the Master. Moved by him we can do many things. Not individually, but together, synodally," he said, reminding readers of what Pope Francis has said: "You can only be missionary disciples together."

 

In age of excess, temperance helps one experience real joy, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Exercising the virtue of temperance is not a recipe for a boring life, Pope Francis said, but rather it is the secret to enjoying every good thing.

If one wants "to appreciate a good wine, savoring it in small sips is better than swallowing it all in one go. We all know this," the pope said April 17 at his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square.

Continuing a series of audience talks about vices and virtues, the pope focused on temperance, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines as "the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods."

Pope Francis smiles during general audience
Pope Francis smiles at visitors gathered for his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 17, 2024. (CNS photo/Pablo Esparza)

Temperance is "the virtue of the right measure" in what one does and what one says, the pope said. "In a world where so many people boast about saying what they think, the temperate person prefers instead to think about what he or she says."

"Do you understand the difference?" Pope Francis asked people in the square. It means "I don't say whatever pops into my head. No, I think about what I must say."

A temperate person does not allow "a moment’s anger to ruin relationships and friendships that can then only be rebuilt with difficulty," the pope said. Temperance with words is especially important in families to keep "tensions, irritations and anger in check."

Aide helps Pope Francis in his wheelchair
Pope Francis' aide, Sandro Mariotti, helps the pope position his feet after he gets into his wheelchair at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 17, 2024. (CNS photo/Pablo Esparza)

"There is a time to speak and a time to be silent, but both require the right measure," he said.

Being temperate, he said, does not mean never getting annoyed or frustrated, Pope Francis said, but he kept repeating the phrase with "the right measure" and "the right way."

For example, "a word of rebuke is at times healthier than a sour, rancorous silence," he said. "The temperate person knows that nothing is more uncomfortable than correcting another person, but he or she also knows that it is necessary; otherwise, one offers free reign to evil."

A temperate person "affirms absolute principles and asserts non-negotiable values," the pope said, but he or she does so in a way that shows understanding and empathy for others.

In other words, he said, a temperate person has the gift of balance, "a quality as precious as it is rare" in a world given to excess.

"It is not true that temperance makes one gray and joyless," Pope Francis said. On the contrary, it increases "the joy that flourishes in the heart of those who recognize and value what counts most in life."

 

Pope: Temperance means acting thoughtfully

Pope: Temperance means acting thoughtfully

Pope Francis continued his catechesis series on virtues and vices by discussing the virtue of temperance.

Pope, Council of Cardinals continue discussion of women in the church

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis and his international Council of Cardinals continued their discussions about the role of women in the church, listening to women experts, including a professor who spoke about how culture impacts women's roles and status.

The pope and the nine-member Council of Cardinals invited women, including an Anglican bishop, to make presentations at their meetings in December and in February as well.

The council met April 15-16 in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the pope's residence, the Vatican press office said.

On the first day, Sister Regina da Costa Pedro, a member of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate and director of the Pontifical Mission Societies of Brazil, shared "concrete stories and the thoughts of some Brazilian women," the press office said.

Stella Morra, a professor of theology at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, "examined the role cultures have in the recognition of the role of women in different parts of the world," the press office said.

A priest and two women made presentations at the council's December meeting and published their papers in Italian in a book with a foreword by Pope Francis, "Smaschilizzare La Chiesa?" ("De-masculinize the Church?).

During the preparation for the synod on synodality and during its first assembly in October, the pope wrote in the foreword, "We realized that we have not listened enough to the voice of women in the church and that the church still has a lot to learn."

"It is necessary to listen to each other to 'de-masculinize' the church because the church is a communion of men and women who share the same faith and the same baptismal dignity," he wrote.

February meeting of Pope Francis and Council of Cardinals
Pope Francis and his international Council of Cardinals continue their discussion of women's role in the church at the Vatican in this file photo from Feb. 5, 2024. Bishop Jo Bailey Wells, deputy secretary-general of the Anglican Communion, left, Salesian Sister Linda Pocher and Giuliva Di Berardino, a consecrated virgin from the Diocese of Verona, Italy, are the women who addressed the group. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

At the February meeting, the pope and cardinals heard from: Bishop Jo Bailey Wells, deputy secretary-general of the Anglican Communion; Salesian Sister Linda Pocher, a professor of Christology and Mariology at Rome's Pontifical Faculty of Educational Sciences "Auxilium"; and Giuliva Di Berardino, a consecrated virgin and liturgist from the Diocese of Verona, Italy.

Bishop Bailey Wells said she was invited to "describe the Anglican journey in regard to the ordination of women, both in the Church of England and across the (Anglican) Communion."

At the April meeting, the Vatican said, the second day began with a report about the ongoing Synod of Bishops on synodality by Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, and Msgr. Piero Coda, secretary general of the International Theological Commission.

The meeting concluded "with reports from each cardinal on the social, political and ecclesial situation in his home region," the press office said.

"Throughout the session there were references -- and on several occasions prayer -- dedicated to the scenarios of war and conflict being experienced in so many places around the world, particularly in the Middle East and in Ukraine," the statement said.

"The cardinals -- and with them the pope -- expressed concern about what is taking place and their hope for an increase in efforts to identify paths of negotiation and peace," it said.

The council will meet again in June.

The members of the council are: Cardinals Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state; Seán P. O'Malley of Boston; Sérgio da Rocha of São Salvador da Bahia, Brazil; Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India; Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, president of the commission governing Vatican City State; Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg; Gérald C. Lacroix of Québec; Juan José Omella Omella of Barcelona; and Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa, Congo. Bishop Marco Mellino serves as the council's secretary.

 

Seek contact with nature to change polluting lifestyles, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Humanity must have more direct contact with nature to counter the modern lifestyles that are destroying the planet, Pope Francis said.

Respecting and loving the earth as well as seeking direct contact with nature "are values that we need so much today as we discover ourselves increasingly powerless before the consequences of irresponsible and short-sighted exploitation of the planet," he told members of the Italian Catholic Movement of Adult Scouts.

Meeting with the members, dressed in their scouting uniforms, at the Vatican April 13, the pope said people in modern society are "prisoners of lifestyles and behaviors that are as selfishly deaf to every appeal of common sense as they are tragically self-destructive; insensitive to the cry of a wounded earth, as well as to the voice of so many brothers and sisters unjustly marginalized and excluded from an equitable distribution of goods."

"In the face of this, the Scouts' sober, respectful and frugal style sets a great example for all," he said.

Pope Francis highlighted the group's recent charitable efforts, such as donating an incubator for infants to an emergency care center in Lampedusa, Italy, a landing point for migrants coming into the country.

Pope Francis enters the Clementine Hall at the Vatican for a meeting with members of the Italian Catholic Movement of Adult Scouts.
Pope Francis enters the Clementine Hall at the Vatican for a meeting with members of the Italian Catholic Movement of Adult Scouts April 13, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The incubator, he said, " symbolizes the joy of a child coming into the world, the commitment to ensure that he or she can grow well, the expectation and hope for what he or she may become."

"We live in a time of a dramatically falling birthrate," the pope said, noting that the median age in Italy is 46 while the median age in nearby Albania is 23. The falling birthrate shows that humanity "seems to have lost its taste for creating and caring for others, and perhaps even its taste for living," he said.

Sending the incubator to the Lampedusa reception center "further underlines that love for life is always open and universal, desirous of the good of all, regardless of origin or any other condition.

The scouts also helped build a nautical carpentry workshop in Zambia which he said is aligned with the human vocation of transforming God's gifts "into instruments of good," particularly in a world "where there is so much talk, perhaps too much, about producing weapons to make war."

Citing his 2015 encyclical "Laudato Si', On Care for Our Common Home," the pope encouraged the scouts to "take charge" of the current climate crisis and from there, to deeply consider "the specific place that human beings occupy in this world and their relations with the reality that surrounds them."

New Survey of Men Being Ordained to the Priesthood Underscores the Significant Influence of Parents on Children’s Vocational Discernment

WASHINGTON – A newly-released study from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, surveyed men who will be ordained to the priesthood in 2024. The data shows that families continue to be the seedbed of religious vocations: of the 392 respondents, 95% were raised by their biological parents, and 88% were raised by a married couple who lived together.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations (CCLV) released The Class of 2024: Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood in anticipation of the 61st World Day of Prayer for Vocations on April 21. This annual commemoration occurs on the Fourth Sunday of Easter. Pope Francis has expressed his gratitude for “mothers and fathers who do not think first of themselves or follow fleeting fads of the moment, but shape their lives through relationships marked by love and graciousness, openness to the gift of life and commitment to their children and their growth in maturity.”

Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing, chairman of the CCLV committee, echoed Pope Francis stating, “Mothers and fathers, united in marriage, are the first witnesses to love for their children. It is within the family that children are taught the faith, learn the meaning of love, and grow in virtue. This year’s study of ordinands underscores the fundamental role that families, in particularly, parents, play in building up the kingdom of God. It is through the love and support of the family that children develop into the men and women God calls them to be.”

Of the 475 men scheduled to be ordained this year, 392 completed the survey for an overall response rate of 83%. These ordinands represent 128 dioceses and eparchies and 29 distinct religious institutes in the United States. Some of the major findings of the report are:

  • On average, respondents first considered a priestly vocation when they were 16 years old. The youngest age reported was three years old and the oldest was 53 years old.
  • The average age at ordination was 34 years old. Since 1999, the average age was 35 and ranged between 33 and 37.
  • Most respondents are White/Caucasian (67%), followed by Hispanic/Latino (18%), Asian/Pacific Islander (11%) and Black/African American (2%).
  • Of those who are foreign-born (23%), the most common countries of origin are Mexico (5%), Vietnam (4%), Colombia (3%), and the Philippines (2%).
  • Of those who worked full-time before entering seminary (70%), the most common fields of employment were education (21%), business (16%), and Church ministry (13%).

The full CARA report and profiles of the Ordination Class of 2024 may be accessed here: https://www.usccb.org/committees/clergy-consecrated-life-vocations/ordination-classes.

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Amid Nationwide Worker Shortages, Bishop Seitz Reaffirms Church’s Closeness with Immigrant Workers Who ‘Labor for Us All’

WASHINGTON – While American employers continue to struggle with filling more than nine million open jobs and a growing number of communities look to immigration as the solution, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso emphasized that it is often these much needed immigrant workers who are the most vulnerable members of our workforce. As chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration, he highlighted the vital role they fill in American communities:

“Immigrant workers are integral to the life of our nation. They tend our fields, maintain our roads, and staff our hospitals. Through these and other acts, they labor for us all. Without their contributions, American communities would grind to a standstill. Not only are they working in some of the most arduous conditions but frequently with limited legal protections, and they are more susceptible to human trafficking and other forms of exploitation. Sadly, the risks faced by many immigrant workers were recently underscored by the Baltimore Key Bridge collapse, in which six immigrant workers tragically lost their lives.

“The Church, in her abiding love for every person as a son or daughter of God, gives special consideration to the poor, the marginalized, and the excluded. As a society, we judge ourselves—and will be judged—by our treatment of those who are least empowered to advocate for themselves because of social, economic, and political obstacles. The Church remains committed to securing rights and justice for those who labor humbly in the shadows, and we urge leaders to undertake much-needed reforms that recognize their essential contributions.

“As we rejoice in the Paschal Mystery this Easter, may every follower of Christ live with the knowledge that ‘our brothers and sisters are the prolongation of the incarnation for each of us’ (Evangelii Gaudium), and may that reality motivate us to a radical solidarity befitting our Savior who gave his life for the sake of us all.”

Last week, Bishop Seitz sent a letter to Congress expressing support for further access to legal employment authorization for those with pending asylum claims. The letter references a recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which found refugees and asylees to have made a net fiscal impact of $123.8 billion to the American economy at both the federal and state levels over a fifteen-year period.

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Pope pleads for military restraint in the Middle East

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The morning after Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles at Israel, Pope Francis pleaded with nations to avoid a further escalation of the violence.

"I make a heartfelt appeal for a halt to any action that might fuel a spiral of violence with the risk of dragging the Middle East into an even greater conflict," the pope said April 14 after reciting the "Regina Coeli" prayer with visitors in St. Peter's Square.

According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Iran launched 330 exploding drones and missiles at Israeli military facilities late April 13 and early April 14. The vast majority of the weapons were intercepted.

Pope Francis told thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square, "I am following in prayer and with concern, also sorrow, the news that has come in the last few hours about the worsening of the situation in Israel because of the intervention by Iran."

People join Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square
As Pope Francis pleaded with nations to exercise restraint and avoid an escalation of violence in the Middle East after his recitation of the "Regina Coeli" prayer at the Vatican April 14, 2024, members of the Auxilium Cooperative, a social-service agency, hold up a sign that says, in Italian: "With Pope Francis for a Better World." (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

"No one should threaten the existence of others," the pope said. "Instead, all nations should take the side of peace, and help the Israelis and Palestinians to live in two states, side by side, in security."

Israelis and Palestinians have a "deep and legitimate desire" to live peacefully and independently, he said, "and it is their right! Two neighboring states."

Once again Pope Francis urged Israel and Hamas to stop the fighting in Gaza "and let the paths of negotiation be pursued with determination."

"Let that population, plunged into a humanitarian catastrophe, be helped; let the hostages kidnapped months ago be freed at once," he said, referring to the hundreds of Israelis taken hostage by Hamas in October.

"So much suffering," he said. "Let us pray for peace. No more war, no more attacks, no more violence! Yes to dialogue and yes to peace!"

Later in his remarks, addressing children and inviting them to participate in the first celebration of World Children's Day at the Vatican in May, Pope Francis said everyone needs young people's joy and their hopes "for a better world, a world at peace."

"Brothers and sisters, let's pray for the children who are suffering because of wars -- there are so many -- in Ukraine, in Palestine, in Israel, in other parts of the world, in Myanmar," he said. "Let's pray for them and for peace."