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God will judge us by how we treated the poor, says Pope Francis

Vatican City, Apr 6, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Many people suffering from poverty are victims of the “structural injustice” of today’s global economy, Pope Francis said in his daily Mass homily on Monday.

“We will be judged for our relationship with the poor,” Pope Francis said on April 6.

The pope said that the first question Jesus will ask at the final judgment will be: “How did you treat the poor? Did you feed them? Did you visit those in prison, in hospital? Did you help the widow and the orphan? Because I was there.”

In his homily via livestream from Casa Santa Marta, the chapel in his Vatican City residence, Pope Francis focused on these words of Jesus in the Gospel of John: “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

“When Jesus says: ‘You always have the poor with you,’ it means: ‘I, I will always be with you in the poor. I will be present there,’” Pope Francis explained.

The pope said that many of today’s poor are “hidden” because they are “ashamed to show that they are not making ends meet.”

“It is a part of the cityscape to have poor people. However, the vast majority of the poor are victims of economic policies, of financial policies. Some recent statistics make the summary like this: there is a lot of money in the hands of a few and so much poverty in many … and this is the poverty of so many victims of the structural injustice in the global economy,” he said.

Pope Francis then told the story of the time he visited an abandoned factory in Buenos Aires where middle-class families took refuge after being evicted for not paying rent.

“They went there because they could not pay the rent. The new poor, who must leave the house because they cannot pay, go there. It is that injustice of the economic or financial organization that brings them so. And there are many, many [people] to the point that we will meet them in the judgment,” he said.

“And this is not being a communist, this is the heart of the Gospel: we will be judged on this,” the pope added.

In the Gospel of John, he noted, Judas thought of money, but did not care for the poor because he was a thief.

“This story of the unfaithful administrator is always current,” Pope Francis said. “We think of some charitable or humanitarian organizations that have many employees.”

The pope said that there are many humanitarian organizations that use sixty percent of their funds to pay the salaries of their many employees. “It is a way of taking money from the poor,” he said.

During his daily Mass, Pope Francis also asked people to pray for overcrowded prisons.

“Where there is overcrowding - many people there - there is a danger, in this pandemic, that it will end in a serious disaster. We pray for those responsible, for those who have to make decisions in this, to find a right and creative way to solve the problem,” the pope said.

Pope Francis on Palm Sunday: Let us stand before the crucifix in our homes

Vatican City, Apr 5, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- On Palm Sunday, Pope Francis offered Mass in a nearly empty St. Peter’s Basilica and urged Catholics quarantined at home to remember "what really matters" in life: loving God and serving others.

“The tragedy we are experiencing summons us to take seriously the things that are serious, and not to be caught up in those that matter less; to rediscover that life is of no use if not used to serve others. For life is measured by love,” Pope Francis said April 5 in his Palm Sunday homily.

Holy Week liturgies at the Vatican are taking without the presence of the public this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

During the Palm Sunday broadcast, the pope said that Catholics can look to the suffering Christ as an example of a life lived completely in the service of others.

“In these holy days, in our homes, let us stand before the Crucified One -- look, look at the crucifix, the fullest measure of God’s love for us, and before the God who serves us to the point of giving his life, and let us ask for the grace to live in order to serve,” he said.

Pope Francis said that the coronavirus pandemic has allowed people to see that “the real heroes” are not the “famous, rich and successful people,” but are those who “are giving themselves in order to serve others.”

“May we reach out to those who are suffering and those most in need. May we not be concerned about what we lack, but what good we can do for others,” he said.

Pope Francis offered Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica with the miraculous crucifix of San Marcello and the Byzantine icon of Mary, Salus Populi Romani, near the altar. Both icons were present in St. Peter’s Square during the pope’s extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing on March 27.

“Jesus ‘emptied himself, taking the form of a servant’ ... His love for us led him to sacrifice himself and to take upon himself our sins. This astonishes us: God saved us by taking upon himself all the punishment of our sins. Without complaining, but with the humility, patience and obedience of a servant, and purely out of love,” he said.

The pope asked: “What can we do in comparison with God, who served us even to the point of being betrayed and abandoned?”

“We can refuse to betray him for whom we were created, and not abandon what really matters in our lives. We were put in this world to love him and our neighbors. Everything else passes away, only this remains,” he said.

Pope Francis said that just as God the Father sustained Jesus in the suffering in his Passion, the Lord also supports each person whose love and service of others is a via crucis in itself.

“Today, in the tragedy of a pandemic, in the face of the many false securities that have now crumbled, in the face of so many hopes betrayed, in the sense of abandonment that weighs upon our hearts, Jesus says to each one of us: ‘Courage, open your heart to my love. You will feel the consolation of God who sustains you,’” Pope Francis said. 

The pope led the Angelus prayer following the Palm Sunday Mass. He urged Catholics to learn from the Blessed Virgin Mary, who gazed upon her crucified son with inner silence and “the gaze of the heart.”

“Beloved, let us set out with faith this Holy Week, in which Jesus suffers, dies and rises again. People and families who cannot participate in liturgical celebrations are invited to gather in prayer at home, also helped by technological means,” he said.

“Let us cling spiritually to the sick, to their families and to those who treat them with self-sacrifice; let us pray for the dead, in the light of paschal faith,” Pope Francis said.

Sin starts with giving in to small temptations, Pope Francis warns

Vatican City, Apr 4, 2020 / 03:51 am (CNA).- Before we commit a sin, there were usually small temptations which we let grow in our soul, eventually making excuses for ourselves and our fall, Pope Francis said during Mass Saturday.

“That process which makes us change our hearts from good to bad, which takes us downhill,” he said April 4, is “something which grows, slowly grows, then infects others and ultimately excuses itself.”

Speaking from the chapel of his Vatican residence, the Casa Santa Marta, the pope advised first seeking forgiveness, and then reflecting on the temptations which preceded your fall into sin, considering also whether you have led others to sin.

“When we find ourselves in a sin, in a fall, yes, we must go to ask the Lord for forgiveness, it is the first [step] that we must take,” he urged.

But then ask yourselves, he said: “How did I come to fall there? How did this process start in my soul? How did it grow? Who have I infected? And how in the end did I justify myself for falling?”

Francis argued that “the devil is cunning” and usually tempts people to sin gradually: “it starts with a little thing, with a desire, an idea grows, infects others and ultimately, justifies itself.”

This process of temptation is illustrated in the day’s Gospel from St. John, he said.

In the Gospel, the chief priests and the Pharisees have met to discuss Jesus, who is causing them anxiety because through his signs, many Jews have begun to believe in him, and they feel they must do something.

The high priest Caiphas said Jesus should be killed, defending the decision with his prophecy, saying “it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people.”

Quoting the Gospel, Francis said “from that day therefore they decided to kill him.”

He explained that the Pharisees and chief priests justified killing Jesus to themselves, because if they did not, the occupying Romans “will destroy our temple and our nation,” but what brought them to this decision was a gradual process that “began with small concerns in the time of John the Baptist and then ended in this assembly.”

After this meeting, “everyone went home quietly,” the pope noted. They felt this was the decision they had to make.

This, the pope said, is “a figure of how temptation operates in us.”

Before Mass, Francis had noted that in difficult times, such as the present coronavirus pandemic, people are given the opportunity to do good.

But there are also plenty of people, he said, who take advantage of the moment for their own profit.

“Let us pray today that the Lord give us all a righteous conscience, a transparent conscience, which can be seen by God without being ashamed,” he urged.

In his homily, the pope recalled once again that behind every sin there is temptation, “which started small, which has grown.”

“All of us, when we are overcome by temptation, end up calm, because we have found a justification for this sin, for this sinful attitude, for this life not according to the law of God. We should have the habit of seeing this process of temptation in us,” he advised, adding that “the Holy Spirit enlightens us in this inner knowledge.”

 

Cardinal Turkson brings rosaries to Rome hospital treating coronavirus patients

Vatican City, Apr 3, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Peter Turkson visited Rome’s largest hospital on Friday, encouraging staff and handing out rosaries blessed by Pope Francis.

“I bring you the pope’s embrace. You are not alone in the fight against the coronavirus!” Turkson, who is prefect of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, told hospital staff and chaplains April 3, according to a press release.

The cardinal, who was accompanied by the two undersecretaries of the dicastery, met with staff and told them he was bringing the greeting of Pope Francis to all of the coronavirus patients and their families.

The three Vatican officials also handed out rosaries blessed by Pope Francis and assured hospital personnel of “the prayer and support of the Church in this difficult moment of struggle against the pandemic and of physical and spiritual trial,” the release stated.  

Agostino Gemelli University Policlinic is Rome’s largest general hospital and a teaching hospital for the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan.

During the coronavirus outbreak, the Gemelli hospital is working in partnership with one of Rome’s dedicated COVID-19 hospitals, the nearby Columbus Hospital.

The hospital’s foundation started a COVID-19 research unit to help fight the virus and to coordinate the research efforts throughout Italy.

As of April 3, there are more than 3,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Rome’s region of Lazio, with nearly 1,400 of these patients being treated in the hospital. The reported number of deaths is 199.

A rosary for an end to the coronavirus was broadcast live on national Italian television from the St. Joseph Moscati chapel of the Gemelli hospital April 2. The rosary concluded with a prayer for the intercession of Pope St. John Paul II on the anniversary of his death.

'In the risen Jesus, life conquered death,' Pope Francis says in Holy Week video

Vatican City, Apr 3, 2020 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis on Friday sent a video message to Catholics around the world, urging them amid the global coronavirus pandemic to hope, solidarity with those who suffer, and to prayer.

“In the risen Jesus, life conquered death,” Pope Francis said in  an April 3 video, speaking about the upcoming Holy Week which will begin on Sunday, and culminate with Easter.

“We will celebrate Holy Week in a truly unusual way, which manifests and sums up the message of the Gospel, that of God’s boundless love,” the pope said.

“And in the silence of our cities, the Easter Gospel will resound,” Pope Francis said. “This paschal faith nourishes our hope.”

Christian hope, the pope said, is “the hope of a better time, in which we can be better, finally freed from evil and from this pandemic.”

“It is a hope: hope does not disappoint, it is not an illusion, it is a hope. Beside each other, in love and patience, we can prepare a better time in these days.”

The pope expressed solidarity with families, “especially those who have a loved one who is sick, or who have unfortunately experienced mourning due to the coronavirus or other causes.”

“These days I often think about people who are alone, and for whom it is more difficult to face these moments. Above all I think of the elderly, who are very dear to me. I cannot forget those who are sick with coronavirus, people who are in hospital.”

“I also remember how many are in financial straits, and are worried about work and the future, a thought also goes out to prison inmates, whose pain is compounded by fear of the epidemic, for themselves and their loved ones; I think of the homeless, who do not have a home to protect them.”

“It is a difficult time for everyone,” he added.

Amid that difficulty, the pope praised “the generosity of those who put themselves at risk for the treatment of this pandemic or to guarantee the essential services to society.”

“So many heroes, every day, at every hour!”

“Let's try, if we can, to make the best use of this time: let's be generous; let's help those in need in our neighborhood; let's look for the loneliest people, perhaps by telephone or social networks; let's pray to the Lord for those who are tried in Italy and in the world. Even if we are isolated, thought and spirit can go far with the creativity of love. This is what we need today: the creativity of love.”

More than one million people worldwide have contracted the coronavirus, and at least 60,000 have died. The pandemic has led to a global financial crash, in which tens of millions have lost jobs in recent weeks. While some parts of the world are now thought to be on the downslope of the viral spread, many nations have locked themselves down in the midst of the pandemic, or in the hope of quelling it early in its spread within their borders.

In Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus, more than 120,000 people have contracted it, and there have been almost 15,000 recorded deaths from the virus. 

To conclude his video, the pope urged tenderness and prayer.

“Thank you for allowing me into your homes. Make a gesture of tenderness towards those who suffer, towards children, and towards the elderly,” Pope Francis said. “Tell them that the pope is close and pray, that the Lord will soon deliver us all from evil.”

“And you, pray for me. Have a good dinner.”

Vatican extends lockdown measures through Easter Monday

Vatican City, Apr 3, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- The Holy See has extended its lockdown measures through April 13, the Monday of the Octave of Easter, in accordance with Italy’s recently extended national lockdown, the Vatican announced Friday.

St. Peter’s Basilica and square, the Vatican Museums, and several other public offices in the Vatican City State have been closed for more than three weeks. Originally scheduled to last through April 3, these measures have now been extended an additional nine days.

A total of seven confirmed cases of the coronavirus have been diagnosed among Vatican employees to date. 

According to a statement from Matteo Bruni, the director of the Holy See press office, departments of the Roman Curia and of the Vatican City State have continued working only “in essential, obligatory activities which cannot be deferred.”

The Vatican City State has its own legal order that is autonomous and separate from the Italian legal system, but the Holy See press office director has repeatedly said that Vatican City is implementing measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus in coordination with the Italian authorities.

During the Vatican lockdown, which went into effect March 10, the city state’s pharmacy and supermarket remain open. Instead the mobile post office in St. Peter’s Square, the photo service office, and bookstores are closed.

The Vatican continues “to ensure essential services to the Universal Church,” according to a March 24 statement.

Cardinal Parolin says he hopes closed churches will reopen soon

Vatican City, Apr 3, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- The Vatican Secretary of State said Friday that he hoped churches closed because of the coronavirus crisis would be reopened “as soon as possible.”

In an interview published on the Vatican News website April 3, Cardinal Pietro Parolin also said he was disturbed by reports of Catholics dying without the Sacrament of the Sick and expressed concern about the disease’s impact on impoverished countries. 

The cardinal said: “The suspension of celebrating the liturgy was necessary to avoid large gatherings. However, in almost every city, churches remain open. I hope those that may have been closed will reopen as soon as possible. Jesus is present there in the Eucharist; priests continue to pray and celebrate Holy Mass for the faithful who cannot participate there. It is nice to think that the doors to God’s house remain open, just as the doors of our houses remain open, even though we are strongly encouraged not to go out except for essential reasons.” 

Parolin acknowledged the suffering of Catholics who are currently deprived of the Sacraments because they are living under lockdown.

“I would like to say that I share their sorrow,” he said. “But I would like to recall the possibility of making a spiritual communion, for example.” 

“Moreover, Pope Francis, through the Apostolic Penitentiary, granted the gift of special indulgences to the faithful, not only to those affected by COVID-19, but also to healthcare providers, family members and all those who care for them in various ways, including through prayer.” 

“In a vigil like this one, there is also another aspect that must be highlighted and reinforced. This is possible for everyone: to pray with the Word of God; to read, to contemplate, to welcome the Word who is coming. With His Word, God has filled the void that frightens us in these hours. God communicated Himself in Jesus, the complete and definitive Word. We must not simply fill time, but fill ourselves with the Word.”

The cardinal said he was troubled by stories of Catholics dying alone without the consolation of the Sacraments. 

“This is one of the consequences of the epidemic that, in a certain sense, upsets me,” he said. “I have read and heard dramatic and moving stories. When, unfortunately, a priest cannot be present at the bedside of a person who is dying, every baptized person can pray and bring comfort by virtue of the common priesthood received with the Sacrament of Baptism.”  

“It is beautiful and evangelical to think that at this difficult time, in some way, even the hands of doctors, nurses, healthcare providers, who every day comfort, heal or accompany the sick in their last moments, become the hands and words of all of us, of the Church, of the family that blesses, says goodbye, forgives and comforts. It is God's caress that heals and gives life, even eternal life.”

Parolin said that he was especially worried about how coronavirus would affect developing countries. 

He said: “Unfortunately, we are facing a pandemic and the virus is spreading like wildfire. On the one hand, we see how many extraordinary efforts are being made by developed countries. Many sacrifices have been made by ordinary individuals, families and national economies, to effectively tackle the health crisis and combat the spread of the virus.” 

“On the other hand, however, I must confess that I am even more concerned about the situation in the less developed countries. There, healthcare facilities are not able to ensure necessary and adequate care for the population in the event of a more widespread diffusion of the COVID-19 virus.”  

“The Holy See’s vocation is to consider the entire world. It seeks not to forget those who are farthest away, those who suffer the most, those who perhaps struggle to gain the attention of the international media.”

He continued: “There is a real need to pray and to commit ourselves, all of us, so that international solidarity never fails. Despite the emergency, despite the fear, now is not the time to shut ourselves off from others.”

Parolin confirmed that there were currently seven coronavirus cases among Vatican employees. All of them had passed the critical phase and were now improving, he said.

The cardinal, who works closely with Pope Francis, said that the pope was searching for new ways to reach out to people suffering around the world. 

“Pope Francis is seeking every way possible to be close to people throughout the world,” he said. “Contact with people has always been fundamental for him, and he intends to maintain this, even if in a new and unprecedented way.” 

“The daily live broadcast of the Holy Mass from Santa Marta is a concrete example. The constant prayer for the victims, their families, healthcare personnel, volunteers, priests, workers, families is another. All of us collaborators are trying to help him maintain contact with the Churches in all the countries of the world.”

He explained that Vatican officials were seeking to ensure that as many people as possible could follow the liturgies of the Easter Triduum while confined to their homes.

“We have studied different options than the traditional ones,” he said. “In fact, it will not be possible to welcome pilgrims, as has always been the case. In full respect of the regulations to avoid infection, we will try to celebrate the great Rites of the Easter Triduum in order to accompany all those who, unfortunately, will not be able to go to church.”

Pope Francis names new bishop of Belleville, Illinois

Vatican City, Apr 3, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Illinois, and named his successor.

Bishop Braxton submitted his resignation when he turned 75 in June 2019. His successor is Fr. Michael G. McGovern, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago. 

Bishop Braxton was appointed as the eighth Bishop of Belleville in 2005, replacing Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, who is now Archbishop of Washington. 

Bishop Braxton’s tenure at times has been marked by controversy. In 2008, he issued a public apology for spending restricted mission funds on liturgical vestments, altar linens, and office furniture. He said he had mistakenly believed he had discretionary power over the money he used. He has also been criticized over his handling of clerical abuse, but has defended his record. 

Considered one of the leading voices in the United States Church on racial issues, the bishop has written many articles on African American Catholics, which have been translated and published abroad. 

According to a biography on Belleville diocese’s website, his hobbies included whale watching, inline skating and white water rafting.

Fr. McGovern, 55, has served as pastor of St. Raphael the Archangel parish in Old Mill Creek, Illinois, since 2016. In February this year, he was named interim episcopal vicar of Vicariate I of the Chicago archdiocese, which comprises 51 parishes. 

According to a biography on the website of Vicariate I, he grew up in a large Catholic family in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood. After graduating from St. Ignatius College Prep and Loyola University, he entered Mundelein seminary in 1990. He was ordained by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in 1994. He has served as a member of the presbyteral council and college of consultors of the Chicago archdiocese.

Pope Francis: Reflect on the seven sorrows of Mary, our Mother

Vatican City, Apr 3, 2020 / 02:45 am (CNA).- It is good to think about the seven sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who freely accepted her calling to be the Mother of God and our mother, Pope Francis said during his daily Mass on Friday.

Offering Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta April 3, he said: “Today it will do us good to stop a little and think about the pain and sorrows of Our Lady. She is our mother.”

The Friday before Palm Sunday is sometimes called the Friday of Sorrows in remembrance of the seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary.

“And how she bore [the sorrows], how she bore them well, with strength, with tears: it was not a false distress, it was just the heart destroyed by grief,” Francis explained.

He spoke about the veneration of Our Lady of Sorrows, listing her “seven sorrows.”

“The first, just 40 days after the birth of Jesus, is the prophecy of Simeon, who speaks of a sword that will pierce her heart,” he explained.

The second sorrow of Mary is the flight into Egypt; the third is the “three days of anguish” when the child Jesus was in the temple, lost to her and St. Joseph.

Meeting Jesus on his way to Calvary is the fourth sorrow. “The fifth sorrow of Our Lady is the death of Jesus, to see her Son there, crucified, naked, who dies,” the pope said.

The sixth sorrow is the removal of Jesus’ dead body from the cross, “and she takes him in her hands as she had taken him in her hands more than 30 years earlier in Bethlehem,” Francis reflected.

The seventh sorrow is Jesus’ burial. “And so, Christian piety follows this path of the Madonna who accompanies Jesus,” he said.

“It will do us good to stop a little and say to Our Lady: ‘Thank you for accepting to be Mother when the angel told you and thank you for accepting to be Mother when Jesus told you.’”

He encouraged Catholics to honor the Virgin Mary as their mother, noting that Jesus himself gave her that role.

Jesus “did not make her prime minister or give her titles of ‘function,’” he said. “Only ‘Mother.’”

According to Francis, Mary accepted the title and duties of being our mother but did not take any titles for herself.

“She did not ask herself to be a quasi-redeemer or a co-redeemer: no. The Redeemer is one and this title does not double,” he said.

The pope added that “in the motherhood of Our Lady we see the motherhood of the Church which receives everyone, good and bad: everyone.”

During the coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis is offering his daily Mass for the victims and their families.

He noted at the start of Mass April 3 that people are now beginning to think about the “aftermath of the pandemic, to all the problems that will come: problems of poverty, work, hunger...”

Pope Francis invited everyone to pray “for all the people who help today, but who also think about tomorrow, in order to help us all.”

John Paul II embraced his suffering with love: Cardinal reflects 15 years after saint’s death

Vatican City, Apr 2, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Pope St. John Paul II embraced suffering with love, even during his illness, a cardinal and the archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica said on the 15th anniversary of the saint’s death.

The spread of the coronavirus pandemic, and the growing number of infected and dying people “has fallen on an unprepared society, highlighting the spiritual emptiness of many people,” Cardinal Angelo Comastri told Vatican News April 1.

“Pain undoubtedly frightens everyone,” he stated. “But when it is enlightened by faith it becomes a way to cut back selfishness, banalities and frivolities.”

Pope St. John Paul II died at the Vatican on April 2, 2005, 15 years ago, after months of illness and a years-long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

Comastri recalled one of the pope’s final “appearances” before his death, when, unable to attend, he watched the Good Friday Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum via video from his private chapel.

“The image we saw on television is unforgettable,” Comastri said. “The pope, who had lost all his physical strength, holding the Crucifix in his hands, gazing at it with pure love. One could sense he was saying: ‘Jesus, I too am on the Cross like you. But together with you I await the Resurrection.’”

According to Comastri, “John Paul II was a true master of pain redeemed by love and transformed into an antidote to selfishness: a redemption of human selfishness. This is possible only by opening one’s heart to Jesus: only with Him can one understand and give value to pain.”

“John Paul II,” he said, “knew that life is a race towards God’s Banquet: the Feast of God’s embrace, His infinite glory and happiness.”

“John Paul II lived his suffering with this spirit: even in the hardest moments,” he noted, adding that “he never lost his serenity. Why? Because before him he always had the purpose of life.”

According to Comastri, “today many people no longer believe in that purpose. That’s why they live pain with despair: because they can’t see beyond the pain.”

“We Christians live pain in communion with the Crucified Jesus: clinging to Him, we fill our pain with love and transform it into a force that challenges and overcomes the selfishness that is still present in the world.”

The cardinal recalled an interaction he had with Pope St. John Paul II in March 2003. The pope had asked Comastri to be the preacher for his Lenten spiritual exercises with the Roman Curia that year.

“Afterwards, he received me with great kindness and said: ‘I thought of giving you a cross like mine.’ I reflected on the double meaning of the word, and replied: ‘Holy Father, it would be difficult for you to give me a cross like yours.’”

“John Paul II smiled and said: ‘No, this cross,’ and he pointed to a pectoral cross he wanted to give me. Then he added: ‘You too will have your cross: transform it into love. This is the wisdom that illuminates life.’”

Comastri said “I have never forgotten this wonderful advice given to me by a saint.”