Vatican City

Pope laments closed parishes at first general audience

Thanks 'beloved predecessor' Benedict

Pope laments closed parishes at first general audience

(By Denis Greenan). Vatican City, March 27 - Pope Francis recalled his predecessor Benedict XVI and lamented the rising number of closed parish churches in the developed world in his first general audience since becoming pontiff two weeks ago Wednesday. "Brothers and sisters, good morning," said the Argentine pontiff. "I'm pleased to welcome you to this my first general audience. "I take the baton from the hands of my beloved predecessor Benedict XVI". Francis, the first pope from the Americas, visited Benedict at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo at the weekend and the two prayed together. Benedict, 85, shocked the world last month by announcing he was retiring from a role that is usually for life, saying he no longer had the mental and physical strength to continue to lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. Francis went on to say he was saddened at seeing so many parish churches closed 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 gives 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 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. Pope Francis compared talking badly about other people to Judas's betrayal of Jesus in a short homily he gave at a Mass inside the Vatican on Wednesday, Vatican radio reported. Referring to Judas selling out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, Francis said during a Mass at the Casa Santa Marta residence that "sometimes we, with our brothers, with our friends, amongst ourselves, do almost the same thing". He said that this happens "when we chatter about each other," saying that this is effectively selling and that "the person who we chat about is merchandise, they become merchandise". He added: "and how easily we do this. It's the same thing Judas did". The pope also paid a surprise visit to Vatican employees who were attending Mass in St Peter's early on Wednesday. It was also revealed Wednesday that Francis' first words after being elected pontiff two weeks ago were that he was a "great sinner". The head of the Vatican Television Centre (CTV), Dario Vigano' said Cardinal Angelo Comastri had told him that Francis's first words as pope were: "I'm a great sinner. Trusting in the mercy and patience of God, with suffering, I accept".

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