Pope hopes Lunar New Year celebrations will foster friendship, peace

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis expressed his hopes that Lunar New Year celebrations would offer opportunities for people to experience warm friendships and to show care.

"This coming Feb. 10, in East Asia and various parts of the world, millions of families will celebrate the Lunar New Year," he said during his greetings after the midday Angelus prayer with visitors in St. Peter's Square Feb. 4. The holiday is widely celebrated in China, South Korea, Vietnam and countries with a significant number of people from China.

"I send them my warm greetings, with the hope that this feast may be an opportunity to experience relationships of affection and gestures of care, which contribute to creating a society of solidarity and fraternity, where every person is recognized and welcomed in his or her inalienable dignity," he said.

"I invite you to pray for peace, for which the world longs so much and which, today more than ever, is endangered in many places. It is not the responsibility of a few, but of the entire human family," he said. "Let us all cooperate to build it with gestures of compassion and courage!"

During an audience at the Vatican with a delegation from the National Federation Italy-China and the Chinese Martial Arts Academy of Vercelli in northern Italy Feb. 2, Pope Francis "dotted the eyes" of performers dressed as a dragon and lion in a traditional ceremony to symbolically awaken them and welcome in the Lunar New Year.

He complimented the performers for "this fine art" and thanked them for their thoughtfulness.

"I extend to all of you a warm welcome and I thank you for your visit" to mark the 10th anniversary of the founding of the federation -- a non-profit cultural association promoting solidarity and friendship between Italy and China -- and to prepare for the Lunar New Year, which ushers in a year of the dragon.

He expressed his appreciation for the group's efforts in fostering dialogue "and seeking to respond to the challenges posed by cultural integration, education and the promotion of shared social values." When "Italian and Chinese communities come to know each other better, this can lead to greater mutual acceptance and fraternal spirit."

The traditional Chinese dances, which the performers exhibited for the pope, "express the hope that the New Year will be prosperous and productive," he said. The performance included having the pope paint the eyes of the dragon with red paint to symbolically bring it to life.

In his greeting to the acrobats, he recognized their skill in "spectacular and even extremely risky feats of daring." He encouraged all of them "to keep taking risks on the path of dialogue, and in this way to become 'acrobats of peace and fraternity.'"