Vatican Connections: August 29, 2014

With the pope’s one major summer trip over and done with, attention can now return to what we could call “housekeeping” matters: appointing new bishops to dioceses that have been awaiting appointments, and filling up the papal agenda for this fall.

This week Pope Francis named the new Archbishop of Madrid, Spain. Cardinal Antonio Rouco Varela turned 75 in 2011.  During World Youth Day Madrid 2011 Cardinal Rouco Varela delivered his resignation letter directly to Pope Benedict XVI. The appointment of a successor, like many others, was delayed.

After much speculation by Vatican watchers, the cardinal’s sucessor was finally made public: Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra, currently leading the Archdiocese of Valencia, will move to Spain’s capital. That left an opening in Valencia, a vibrant, seaside diocese brimming with vocations. In an unexpected move, the pope moved Cardinal Antonio Cañizarez Llovera from the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship to his home diocese of Valencia.

Cañizarez Llovera’s time in the Roman Curia was undoubtedly coming to an end – he was one of the few curial officials who had not been permanently confirmed in his job by Pope Francis. However, forgetting that this pope has no qualms about breaking unwritten “rules”, most believed Cañizarez Llovera would be named to Madrid.

Quashing any notion that the appointment was some sort of punishment or humiliation, the cardinal told Vatican Insider, a vatican news web site run by the Italian paper La Stampa, “It was my wish. I said to Francis: I want to have the odor of sheep. I asked to go back to a diocese, to whichever diocese he wanted to send me.” The cardinal comes from Utiel, a town in the autonomous region of Valencia and sees the appointment as a welcome homecoming.

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On the North American side there is one major appointment expected soon: the replacement for Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, 77.

The cardinal submitted his resignation in 2012 when he turned 75. This year when he revealed that he was once again dealing with cancer, the Vatican informed that a replacement would be surfaced quickly for Chicago.

Cardinal George  was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2006 and suffered a relapse in 2012. Earlier this year he revealed the cancer was once again showing signs of activity and he would under go a more aggressive round of chemotherapy. This week the archdiocese announced the cardinal had cancelled a scheduled trip to Rome in October in order to undergo treatment as part of a clinical trial run by the University of Chicago.

 

 

 

 

Vatican Connections: Friday, August 8, 2014

Most of the 80,000 Iraqi Christians forced out of their villages in recent days and weeks have taken refuge around the churches in Ain Kawa, a Christian neighbourhood of Erbil, according to aid officials in Iraq.

A member of the Sant’Egidio Community in Iraq reported to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association that Christian churches are working together in Erbil to create and “emergency unit” in order to provide urgent care for displaced Christians.

Pope Francis renewed his call for peace, this time asking all Christians to pray for peace. On Friday he appointed Cardinal Fernando Filoni as his special envoy to Iraq. The cardinal will travel to Iraq to meet Church and government officials as well as Christians displaced from their homes.

Vatican spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi told journalists Cardinal Filoni will travel to the Iraqi Kurdistan region where most Christians have taken refuge.

Cardinal Filoni was the Vatican Nuncio to Jordan and Iraq from 2001 to 2006. He was the only diplomat who remained in Iraq during the 2003 U.S. -led invasion.

In an interview with Vatican Radio Cardinal Filoni said it would not be easy to organize his trip because the region he intends to visit is not easy to reach. He said his first goal is to show the pope’s solidarity with Iraqi Christians.

No date has been set for his visit to Iraq but Fr. Lombardi said Cardinal Filoni would not be joining Pope Francis on his up coming trip to Korea August 13 to 16.

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As the Vatican gears up for the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in October, one Vatican department is bearing the fruit of the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments sent a circular letter to episcopal conferences around the world about the Sign of Peace during the Mass.

Nine years after the Synod, during which bishops questioned whether the sign of peace should be moved within the liturgy, the congregation determined the sign of peace should stay where it is.

However, it should be carried out simply. If for some reason “it is forseen that it will not take place properly” it can be omitted.  The congregation also said the priest should not leave the altar in order to exchange the sign of peace with the congregation, and there should not be any special music selected or played specifically for the exchange of peace.

 

 

Vatican Connections: August 2, 2015

Last summer Pope Francis was sending millions of young people into a frenzy at World Youth Day Rio. This summer he will be attending the Asian Youth Day in Daejon, Korea, It will be the first time a pope has attended this Asian youth event.

In truth, Asian Youth Day will be one part of a packed itinerary. Only two of the pope’s 11 scheduled public events are related to the youth event. His other activities include a beatification Mass in Seoul, and visits to two shrines dedicated to Korean Martyrs.

Upon arrival in Seoul, Pope Francis will have the usual protocol visits, meeting with Korean President Park Geunhye and civil authorities, as well as the Korean bishops

His first full day in Korea will have him celebrating Mass at the World Cup stadium in Daejeon and meet with Asian youth at Solmoe Sanctuary, the shrine dedicated to St. Andrew Kim. The shrine marks the site where St. Andrew Kim was born lived until he was seven years old. His remains are buried in the nearby Cathedral.

On August 16 the pope will celebrate a Mass at Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Gate where he will beatify Paul Yun Ji Chung.

Chung was a young man from a noble Korean family who discovered Catholicism around 1783 and catechized his family. In 1790 the bishop of Beijing banned Asian Catholics from using Confucian ancestral rites. Chung and his cousin burned the family’s ancestral tablets so they could not be used again. When Chung’s mother died, he gave her a Catholic funeral.

News of the Catholic funeral reached the Royal Court. Chung and his cousin were arrested and interrogated but refused to renounce their faith. They were sentenced to death and beheaded. It was nine days before the family received the bodies for burial, but the blood stains were still fresh and there was no decomposition. The faithful soaked handkerchiefs in the still-fresh blood. Reportedly, people who came into contact with these handkerchiefs were miraculously healed.

Chung and 123 companions will be beatified by the pope.

To close Asian Youth Day, Pope Francis will celebrate Mass at Haemi Castle which was the backdrop of the 1864 Donghak Rebellion.

On the final day of the visit Pope Francis will celebrate a Mass for Peace and Reconciliation at Seoul’s Meyongdong Cathedral.

 

Vatican Connections: July 25, 2014

Several weeks ago Pope Francis, while giving a homily in Cassano allo Ionio, declared that members of the Mafia are not in communion with God, “they are excommunicated”.

Outside of Italy the homily got attention because it was so unexpected and didn’t really make sense. For Italians in the south, the declaration was long overdue. Priests have been killed in the southern Italy for standing up to parishioners who are involved in organized crime, for not giving in to their “requests”, for preaching forcefully against everything the mafia represents, and for working to keep youth from being sucked into the mob by community pressure and promise of wealth.

This week’s “Vatican Letter” from Catholic News Service’s Cindy Wooden looks at the complicated relationship between the Church and the Mafia in southern Italy. :

Catholic mask: Italian bishops try to reveal truth behind mafia’s faith

By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The godfather who stands up for a child’s baptism one day and spends the rest of the week running a brutal crime ring unfortunately is not the stuff of movies.

In southern Italy, the Mafia, the ‘Ndrangheta and other organized criminal gangs still cloak themselves in symbols of Catholicism, and the region’s bishops have had enough.

It’s not that the bishops have just begun to act — they have been coordinating their anti-mafia work since the 1970s — but they have seen just how deeply tied the mafia is to local Catholic cultural expressions and how essential those fake religious ties are to the continued thriving of mafia relationships.

The bishops of Calabria met in late July to discuss ways to cut those ties and make it clear to people in their region that hanging onto a holy card or applauding when a statue of Mary is carried past does not make a criminal Catholic.

One possibility they are considering is petitioning the Vatican for an exemption from canon law that would allow them to ban godfathers, godmothers and confirmation sponsors completely.

It was not a coincidence that the blockbuster film series based on the book by Mario Puzo and directed by Francis Ford Coppola was called “The Godfather.”

Archbishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini of Reggio Calabria asked the Vatican months ago if he could suspend for 10 years the naming of godfathers in his archdiocese.

“There are two problems,” he told Vatican Radio July 1. “There is the use of religious symbols and even a sacrament to present a ‘clean’ face to society, but there is also the concrete fact that being a godfather at a baptism or sponsor at confirmation forms a bond between families.”

While that can be a good thing, the archbishop said that “the ‘Ndrangheta is built on the foundation of collaboration and strict bonds between families,” and serving as a godfather “extends the family’s bonds, allowing them to better dominate more territory.”

In an interview a week later with SIR, the Italian bishops’ news agency, he said some parents “put off baptism for years — even until adolescence or beyond — because they are waiting for the godfather to get out of prison.”

Father Enzo Gabrieli, spokesman for the president of the Calabrian bishops’ conference, said the bishops of the 12 dioceses in the region all agree on the need for “re-evangelization” about the role of godparents and sponsors, but the situation varies so much from one diocese to another that concrete measures also should vary.

The choice, he said, is to “either suspend the naming of godfathers for a time or concentrate completely on education.”

In his Archdiocese of Cosenza-Bisignano, Father Gabrieli told Catholic News Service, the biggest problem with godparents and sponsors is that friends and relatives tend to be chosen as a sign of affection with little or no awareness that their role is to assist the growth in faith of the baptized or confirmed.

For Father Gabrieli, like for the region’s bishops, the solution lies not simply in condemning gangsters, but in helping Christians live their faith seriously and coherently.

Pope Francis made headlines June 21 when he visited Calabria and said, “Those who follow the path of evil, like the mafiosi do, are not in communion with God; they are excommunicated!”

Using the term “excommunicated” got people’s attention, but it was not Pope Francis’ first condemnation of the mafia and organized crime.

In March, almost exactly a year after the solemn inauguration of his ministry, Pope Francis met in a Rome church with mafia victims. In addition to listening to them and praying for them, he used the occasion to address mafiosi: “Men and women of the mafia, please change your lives, convert, stop doing evil. We pray for you. Convert, I ask on my knees! It is for your own good.”

“Convert,” he said. “There is still time not to end up in hell, which is what awaits you if you continue on this path.”

The need for local bishops to take concrete steps to educate their people and purify church practices became evident soon after Pope Francis visited Calabria: In what media described as a threat to boycott Mass, mafia members jailed in Locri asked their chaplain why they should bother going to Mass if they are excommunicated; and scandal erupted in early July when participants in a Marian procession bowed — with a statue of Mary — in front of the house of a presumed mafia boss.

The bishop of Oppido Mamertina-Palmi, where the bowing incident took place, banned all religious processions for the time being. The bishop of Mileto-Nicotera-Tropea banned a procession scheduled for July 16 in Vibo Valentia after local law enforcement officials notified the parish that men suspected of having mafia ties were among those scheduled to carry the statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Archbishop Salvatore Nunnari of Cosenza-Bisignano, president of the Calabrian bishops’ conference, suggested a two-year stop to all processions to give church leaders time to ensure future processions would be strictly Catholic.

The bishops’ conference of Calabria, led by Archbishop Nunnari, will publish joint pastoral guidelines in October, Father Gabrieli said, but each bishop also is expected to issue his own rules for ending the mafia’s access to public expressions of faith. Unless, of course, they are ready to repent.


Photo courtesy of CNS

Vatican Connections: July 19, 2014

The  Church could play a significant role in tackling youth unemployment in Europe, according to a noted banker and economist.

Mohammad Yunnus, known for establishing the micro-credit Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, made the suggestion at a conference hosted by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The conference, called The Global Common Good: Towards a More Inclusive Economy” brought together economists and bankers from around the world.

Yunnus said the current economic system “is comparable to a machine that feeds itself continually sucking the lifeblood from the wide base of humanity to transport it up high towards a restricted elite.” He said moral responsibility has no space in a company’s annual financial report, and Economics schools don’t tackle such issues with their students.

While charity is a worthy concept, it is an unsustainable model according to Yunnus. Instead a new model is needed that is a mix between the for-profit business model and the charity model. In this alternate business model money “does its job, and comes back [into the business] and can be re-used infinately through independent businesses that are self sustaining.”

The current economic system is also “an insult to the human being” and the current level of youth unemployment, which seems to have been accepted “as if it was predestined by God…do we not insult God by accepting this destiny?” He said special funds for social enterprises have been created in Bangladesh specifically for unemployed young people, who are now reaping the rewards of this type of support.  He said the same approach could be used in Europe.  “The Church could easily create funds for social enterprises with the aim of solving the problem of youth unemployment in Europe.”

The creation of funds for social business enterprises would mean more options for helping people in need, and less likelihood those people would remain dependent on assistance.

Yunnus was one of 65 participating in the conference, including Bank of England Chancellor Mark Carney, US Economist Jeffrey Sachs, World Bank director Bertrand Badre, and Oxfam International Director Winnie Byanyima.

 

 

Vatican Connections: July 11

Pope being presented with Pope App

Traditionally in Rome once the last wisps of fresh air are sucked out of the atmosphere by the July heat and humidity, the city vacates and the Vatican essentially shuts down. Not this summer.

Bishops who cover abuse

The second week of July delivered a plate full of news-worthy Vatican events. On July 6 the pope met with six people who had been abused by clergy as children. Not only did he ask for forgiveness, but during his homily he said bishops who fail to report abuse the appropriate authorities will face consequences. Now the question being asked is: when will we see that statement backed up with concrete guidelines or changes to cannon law?

In December, when Cardinal Sean O’Malley announced the creation of the commission to journalists at the Vatican, he said one of the areas the commission would focus on would be compliance and non-compliance of Bishops. As of early July, the commission was still finalizing its own statutes and identifying experts who should be added to the commission. As yet the commission does not have any members from Latin America or Asia. Drafting regulations regarding Bishops’ roles in reporting abuse would, at this point, would be pointless if those rules do not reflect reality across the globe. Don’t expect the commission to turn its attention to the matter of bishops before its membership is finalized.

Money Management

Next up was the presentation of the Vatican financial summary for the year. The real financial news came mid-week with the announcement of a new president for the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR)  and some restructuring of various Vatican financial offices.

Ernst Von Freyburg, who was appointed in 2013 just days before Pope Benedict XVI ended his papacy, is stepping down as head of the bank. He is being replaced by Jean Baptiste de Franssu. Von Freyburg was not prepared to be the full time director of the Vatican Bank. His successor will be based in Rome and dedicate himself to the bank full time.  IOR has also closed thousands of accounts belonging to people who do not have direct ties to the Vatican anymore. With this housecleaning, IOR will refocus it’s work and become more of a “neighbourhood savings and loan” (without the loan aspect).

As was announced several weeks ago, the Secretariat for the Economy will have a Project Management office. That office will be run by Danny Casey, former business manager for the Archdiocese of Sydney and World Youth Day Sydney. The secretariat will also assume the “Ordinary Section” of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (known by its Italian acronym APSA). That means the secretariat will deal with matters related to employees and employment at the Holy See, keep track of income and expense and prepare a budget every year, and over see the financial functions of Vatican offices and departments.

APSA will refocus its work to managing the buildings and assets of the Holy See and acting as the treasury of the Holy See. In the short term APSA will also focus on building relationships with other central banks.

The Secretariat for the Economy has also set up a “technical committee” to study the Vatican’s Pension Fund. In a press conference Cardinal George Pell, head of the Secretariat for the Economy, said Vatican employees pensions are secure for the next 20 years at least, but new statutes are needed to ensure long term viability of the fund.

Communication

A committee was also appointed to “propose reforms” to the Vatican media and communications structures. The global consulting firm Mackinsey & Co was contracted in December 2013 to review the current state of the Vatican’s various communication and media offices. The new 11 member committee will look at the final report from that assessment and propose ways to implement change.

Heading the committee is Lord Christopher Patten, former chair of the BBC Trust and the person who was brought in to coordinate Pope Benedict XVI visit to the UK in 2010. Lord Patten is also the Chancellor of Oxford University and served as the last Governor of Hong Kong. The rest of the committee is made up of Catholic media experts from around the world, including the American Greg Erlandson, publisher of Our Sunday Visitor.

One of the biggest challenges facing the Vatican in term so it’s media and communication operations is not the infrastructure but the organization. No other state has the state Television and Radio stations separated into two completely different entities. The accreditation process for journalists can be head-ache inducing. Videographers and Photographers deal with one office, while the producers they work with must deal with en entirely different office in a different department.

These new structures and process should pave the way towards smoother, user-friendly operations at the Vatican. However, those inside who are accustomed to the age old Roman ways of hiring, organizing and working, will no doubt find themselves outside their comfort zones.

For the full list of

 

 

 

Vatican Connections: Woman named president of Pontifical University

sr mary melone _crop

When Pope Francis said he wanted to see space for women to have a more incisive and capillary role in the church, not many people understood what he meant. Reaction was split between the usual groups calling for the ordination of women on one side and the usual groups on the other side organizing all manner of symposiums and congresses about the theology of women. This week, the Fransiscan Pontifical Antonianum University took action and named the first ever female Rector Major of a pontifical university.

Sister Mary Melone is a member of the Fransiscan Sisters of Blessed Angelina. She holds several degrees in Theology, has been published in numerous theological journals, and has been the dean of the Antonianum’s Faculty of Theology since 2011.

Despite popular belief that the church actively keeps women out of key decision leadership positions, the Antonianum is not far behind its North American counterparts when it comes to naming women as university presidents. When it comes to Catholic universities, the Antonianum is ahead of the game.

Pontifical Universitites and non-Pontifical, Catholic Universities tend to have a specific religious order in their history. University presidents end up being members of that religious order. There are some exceptions: the University of St. Thomas, Houston has a lay president, despite its ties to the Basilian Fathers, and the Dominican – founded Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Conneticut is led by a lay woman.

Certainly things must be different for women in the secular academic world?

Yale was the first of the Ivy League universities to appoint a woman president, back in 1977. Since then, however, all her successors have been men. What’s more, it took the other Ivy League schools decades to follow the example.

Canadian Universities do not fare much better. While it is easier to find women in the president’s office at Canadian universities, the door to the presidential office did not open to Canadian women until the mid to late 1990s.

If the secular academic world is any indication, it may be decades before other Pontifical Universities discover the women within their ranks able to take on the presidency. Still, this week’s appointment shows that Pope Francis’ words may have taken root and we should prepare to see more women having their qualifications and credentials recognized in all manner of Catholic organizations.

Vatican Connections: June 27, 2014

Most priests are not adequately prepared to deal with difficult pastoral situations, according to Vatican officials studying the pastoral challenges to the family.

This was one of the topics included in the Instrumentum Laboris, or working document, for the upcoming Synod on the family. The document was the result of a consultation process, which involved sending questionnaires to bishops conferences around the world.

Although the intent was to have as many faithful as possible respond to the survey, it  did not receive the same distribution in all parts of the world.  The end result, however,  appears to be a comprehensive picture of the current openness to the Church’s teaching on marriage, family, sexuality, and related issues.

The questionnaire appears to have revealed a fundamental problem: lack of education on the part of both lay people, and priests.

The working document cites a lack of knowledge of church teaching as the fundamental challenge in several areas. Most Catholics have not read any of the Vatican II documents, or post-Vatican II encyclicals related to marriage and the family. Marriage preparation classes are often perfunctory, a “missed opportunity” for evangelization, and many divorced Catholics do not seek an annulment because they assume their first marriage was valid. Similarly, Natural Family Planning is touted as ineffective, but few people actually know what that method of family planning entails.

When it comes to difficult pastoral situations, like same sex unions, there are few concrete guidelines for priests to follow. This leads to a wide range of responses from priests, not all of which are effective. The working document states that priests themselves asked for the formulation of pastoral guidelines for these situations.

Challenges to family go beyond education, however. Poverty and unemployment are cited as two factors that can breakdown of a marriage, or move young people to cohabitate instead of marrying. “The Church is called to offer real support for decent jobs, just wages and a fiscal policy favouring the family as well as programmes of assistance to families and children,” according to the synod of bishops.

While the content of the working document is, in many cases, exactly what the faithful have been saying amongst themselves for years, this is the first time those views and assessments are being stated openly in a Vatican document.

The Vatican has not yet named the experts who will participate in the Synod.

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A late breaking development from Rome regarding clerical sex abuse:

Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, the former nuncio to the Dominican Republic, has been found guilty of sex abuse by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The sentence: laicization. He will no longer be able to minister as a priest. The former nuncio has two months to appeal the decision.

The Vatican Gendarme is still conducting a criminal investigation. The Vatican said on Friday that the archbishop has been able to move freely until now. Given the findings of the CDF, “appropriate measures” will be taken to ensure he cannot flee before the criminal investigation is completed.

 

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Vatican Connections: June 6, 2014


In the lead up to the much anticipated prayer meeting with Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas, it has been business as usual at the Vatican. Pope Francis appointed a new board of directors for the Financial Information Authority and graciously thanked the previous directors, who have all reached the end of their term.

The new board is international. Only one of the four members is Italian. The others are from Switzerland, Singapore and the United States. The one Italian director, Maria Bianca Farina, is also the one female on the board. She is administrator of the Poste Italiana’s banking and insurance arms.

It is slowly becoming increasingly normal to see women’s names on the list of papal appointees. That brings us to Pope Francis’ often repeated statement that he wants to see space for women opened up in the church, space for a more “capillary and incisive” presence of women.

The question remains, what does that space look like? What would make women’s presence more incisive and capillary?

Every one has their own idea of what that role might look like, and what needs to change for that space to be created. Is that space really non existent? Are women’s roles in the church really just support roles? Are women limited to ironing altar linens and issuing press releases, as some critics assert?

To get a clearer picture of where women are working in the church today we’ll be featuring several different women over the next few weeks. All are educated, articulate, well formed women in positions where they bring Christ to the world.

This week we feature Fransiscan Sister of the Eucharist, Sr. Damien Marie Savino. Like many religious sisters these days, Sr. Damien Marie didn’t ever think of the religious life. She did a bachelor’s degree in Biogeography, and was embarking on a Masters in Plant Science when she met the Fransiscan Sisters of the Eucharist. As the Chair of the Environmental Science and Studies department at the University of St. Thomas in Houston she has forged a unique program that brings together environmental studies and theology.

We spoke to Sr. Damien Marie about how her role fits into the life the Church, why women are so vital to the life of the church, and what needs to change so that space can open up for women.

Vatican Connections: May 30, 2014

This week we’re unpacking the souvenirs from Pope Francis’ pilgrimage to the Holy Land, including the pending prayer meeting with Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres. We speak to Fr. Thomas Rosica about the symbolism of the papal itinerary and the significance of his gestures during the visit.

Late Breaking Update: Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas will meet at the Vatican on June 8 for their Prayer meeting.

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Pope Francis is not the only pontiff to leave his hosts, and the world, with long lasting souvenirs of his visit.

The soon to be beatified Pope Paul VI could be the first pope who left his mark while traveling. His 1964 pilgrimage to the Holy Land was the first time a pope traveled outside Italy. It changed the idea of a pope being a monarch of monarchs to whom others made pilgrimage, into a traveling pastor who left home to tend to his flock.

During that 1964 voyage, Paul VI met with Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras. It the first time in 1000 years that a pope and patriarch formally met. It also launched a dialogue process that continues to this day.

JPII in Poland

In 1979 Pope John Paul II visited his homeland for the first time since being elected pope. He gave an electrifying homily during Mass at Warsaw’s Victory Square. He closed his homily calling on the Holy Spirit to descend and renew the face of the earth, “this earth.” Although it was more than ten years before the country would be free of its Soviet-backed regime, that homily is seen as the catalyst, encouraging Poles to slowly, quietly, build a new nation.

Cuba

John Paul II had a more direct and immediate impact when he visted Cuba in 1998. He asked Fidel Castro to make Christmas Day a public holiday. Days later, Castro announced Christmas Day would indeed be a holiday for Cubans. Benedict XVI followed in his predecessors footsteps in 2012, asking Raoul Castro to make Good Friday a public holiday. His request was also granted. To this day Good Friday and Christmas Day are national holidays in Cuba.