Vatican City

Pope bemoans closed parishes, tells faithful to carry 'joy'

Francis speaks only Italian in first general audience

Pope bemoans closed parishes, tells faithful to carry 'joy'

(see related stories) Vatican City, March 27 - Pope Francis said he was saddened at seeing so many parish churches closed at his first general audience on Wednesday and called on the faithful to go out and take the "joy" of Catholicism to others to combat the phenomenon. "Holy Week is a time of grace which the Lord gifts us to open the doors of our hearts, our lives, our parishes - what a pity, so many parishes are closed! - in our parishes, movements, associations, and to step outside towards others, to draw close to them so we can bring the light and joy of our faith," he said referring to the week that leads to Easter. "Always step outside yourself! And with the love and tenderness of God, with respect and patience, knowing that we put our hands, our feet, our hearts, but then it is God who guides them and makes all our actions fruitful. The new pope broke tradition for the umpteenth time since being elected two weeks ago by greeting the different language groups attending the general audience in Italian, rather than in their native languages. Some commentators said this could be a sign of his intention to stress that he is the Bishop of Rome as well as the head of the whole Church. Francis also made an appeal for an end to violence and conflict in the Central African Republic in the wake of a weekend coup. "I am closely following what is currently happening in the Central African Republic and wish to assure my prayers for all those who are suffering, especially the relatives of the victims, the wounded and those who have lost their homes and have been forced to flee," Francis said. "I call for an immediate halt to the violence and looting, and a political solution to the crisis to be found as soon as possible that would restore peace and harmony to that dear country for too long marked by conflict and division". Francis tweeted after the audience. "To experience Holy Week is to enter more and more into God's logic of love and self-giving," read the post on the papal account, @pontifex.

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