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Behind Vatican Walls: Castel Gandolfo and Ferragosto

Vatican_Gardens

Rome, the eternal city, is conveniently located just barely inland from Italy’s Tyrrhenian coast and is surrounded by hills. This combination of geographical features means the summer months are hot, humid and smoggy. By August, it is next to impossible to breathe in the city. Thus Roman residents flee and take refuge in the beach or mountain village of their choice. Since 1623, popes have taken part in this exodus from Rome. Until now.

Jesuit Pope

Perhaps it is to be expected that a Jesuit would not feel the need to have a second residence. Maybe it is because he has lived in far hotter climates where retreating to a summer residence is a luxury reserved for the rich; or perhaps it is just a symptom of his need to stay close to his “habitat”. Whatever the reason Pope Francis has shown no interest in using the residence at Castel Gandolfo himself. For the third year in a row he has not scheduled a long term stay at the summer residence.

This omission has residents of the hilltop town disappointed. Besides the stunning views of Lake Albano, quaint restaurants along the lakeside featuring fresh porchetta and fish, and picturesque hiking trails, the town’s only bankable attraction is the fact that the pope lives here during the summer and leads the Angelus every Sunday. The current pope’s decision to stay in Rome means local business owners face an uncertain future with hard times ahead. At least, this is what some media reports would have you believe.

Why do the residents of Castel Gandolfo feel such a profound sense of abandonment? More importantly, have they really been left high and dry by the pope?

A history of abandonment

At 55 hectares the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo is larger than Vatican City State, and can be traced back to days of the emperor Domitian. After Domitian died his successors saw no need for his villa (a familiar story). By 1596 the Savelli family owned an estate built over the ruins of Domitian’s villa.

Alas, the Savelli family fell on hard times and failed to repay an important loan. Pope Clement VIII issued a papal bull seizing the Savelli Villa as repayment for the outstanding loan and incorporated a large part of the property as Holy See territory. In 1623 Pope Urban VIII, who had a habit of leaving Rome during the summer to avoid disease, began using the villa at Castel Gandolfo as his official summer residence. He believed a pope should not have to stay in other people’s homes. Since then popes have retreated to Castel Gandolfo during the summer months.

As often happens with a centuries old institution, each pope left his mark on the residence. Today the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo includes a residence for the pope and a team of household staff, a fully functional farm that can provide food to the Vatican (including honey), an observatory (run by the Jesuits) and a vast, manicured garden. Pope Francis’ decision not to use the summer residence does not in any way mean that the house or the town are empty.

Open Doors

In 2014, the Vatican announced that the gardens of the Papal Summer Residence would be open to the public for the first time. Though visitors must purchase a ticket in advance from the Vatican Museums website, and tour times are limited, the Castel Gandolfo Papal Gardens are a must see for both garden and archeology enthusiasts. The remains of Domitian’s villa have been incorporated into the design of the terraced gardens.

While the gardens are open to the ticket-holding public, there are currently no facilities within those gardens for tourist essentials like food, drink, and souvenirs. (Or so it would seem from the reports of friends and colleagues who have visited the gardens). Thus the merchants of Castel Gandolfo stand to gain year round from the steady stream of visitors to these previously restricted gardens.

Links

For a less paraphrased history of the Papal Residence at Castel Gandolfo and all its previous inhabitants, check out the Vatican City State website.

Behind Vatican Walls: Migrants

Pope Francis has returned to his regular schedule of activities at the Vatican. He held his first general audience this week after taking a one month break. His statement that divorced and remarried Catholics should not be treated as if they have been excommunicated made headlines around the world. However, the real issue that the pope – as well as Europe and various humanitarian organizations- is focused on is the issue of migration.

This week was the one year anniversary of the expulsion of Iraqi Christians and Yezidis by Islamic State militants. In a letter to the auxiliary bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Pope Francis said he has often felt the desire to speak out about the inhuman and unexplainable persecution faced by people in various parts of the world because of their faith. He said this persecution often goes on in front of everyone’s eyes and is met with silence. He also extended his thoughts to the communities that opened their doors to welcome the displaced Christians and Yezidis. He said these communities “avoided averting their eyes” to the dramatic situation. Pope Francis renewed his call for the international community to take action against those who persecute religious minorities.

While that anniversary was being remembered, two boats of migrants went down off the coast of Libya and tensions rose in Calais, France where thousands of migrants have attempted to cross English Channel by stowing away on ferries, trucks, and cars.

In the Palermo, Italian and Irish navy vessels brought the survivors of two shipwrecks into port along with the bodies of 25 migrants who perished. Both ships went into distress of the coast of Libya.

In Calais an estimated 3,000 migrants are camped out, trying to cross the English Channel. French police have been trying to keep those migrants from getting onto trucks and ferries departing for Britain. One Sudanese man was arrested 50 kilometers from the British entrance to the tunnel. The man almost succeeded in walking through the rail tunnel.

The desperation of migrants is great enough that they would rather pay traffickers for a spot on a barely sea-worthy vessel than remain in their homeland or their assigned refugee camp. Yet the sheer numbers of people hoping for a better life in Europe is putting governments and citizens on the defensive. But in the face of increased discrimination there are signs of hope.

In Germany, one politician has opened his home to two Eritrean refugees, despite the threats he knew his action would draw from his fellow citizens.

Photos – CNS


AliciaEvery week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person.

Behind Vatican Walls: Pope Francis in Cuba and US

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With one papal trip barely over, attention is already turning to the next papal trip: Cuba and the U.S. The official schedule was released at the end of June.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released the theme and logo of that portion of the trip some time ago. The motto is “Love is our Mission” and the logo features a pencil sketch of the pope waving to the skyline of a city.

The Diocese of Holguin just recently released their logo for the papal visit: A stylized mitre feature representations of the sea, the land, and the sky capped off with a stylized cross. The motto for that leg of the pope’s journey: “Missionary of Mercy”.

Pope_Cuba3

Meanwhile, Cuban president Raul Castro told Cuban media preparations are underway to receive the pope with the “affection, respect, and hospitality he deserves.” Castro went on to say that Pope Francis’ analysis of the problems facing humanity are cause for admiration. Castro also said he followed the recent papal visit to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay very closely.

Behind Vatican Walls: When in Bolivia…

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Much has been made of the messages Pope Francis delivered during his visit to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. As always, the pope made reference to local saints and historical episodes in his homilies and addresses, thrilling the locals and confusing foreigners following on television. Here’s a rundown of the some of the people and things Pope Francis referenced during his visit.

In Bolivia, during his meeting with the men and women religious of that country, Pope Francis mentioned two women whose names drew instant applause from the audience.

Blessed Nazaria Ignacia Teresa de Jesus

Born in Madrid, Spain, this religious nun worked with the poorest, smallest and weakest in Bolivia. Her work with disenfranchised Bolivians led her to found the first Bolivian religious community for women.

Early in life Nazaria was drawn to Christ. At her first communion she told Jesus “I want to follow you as closely and a human creature can.” However, her parents faith life was lukewarm and they did not understand her fervent faith. As a young woman she tried to enter the community of the Little Sisters of the Defenceless Elderly. Her father refused to give his permission. The mother superior consoled her saying “you will go to America and return with companions.” That same year her family moved to Mexico for economic reasons and Nazaria find a community of the same religious order there. She finally entered the community and after her novitiate was sent to Bolivia. There she worked with the poor elderly in small communities, but still she felt another call in her heart. She had an opportunity to talk to the Papal Nuncio to Bolivia and told him of the call she felt. He encouraged her and helped her get permission to found a new community: The Missionary Sisters of the Pontifical Crusade (today they are known as the Missionary Crusaders of the Church).

Under Nazaria’s guidance this little community worked with miners, indigenous ranch hands, women, children, and all those most oppressed by the social economic conditions in Bolivia. She went so far as to help women form the first union for female labourers. Today the community has houses and centres in Spain, France, Portugal, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea.

Venerable Virginia Blanco Tardia

Pope Francis also mentioned the Venerable Virginia Blanco Tardia, a lay woman known for her untiring work with the Catholic Action movement in Bolivia. Blanco Tardia was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia and joined Catholic Action at age 16. She was studious and cultured and went on to become a teacher and catechist. All accounts of her life say she was an “exemplary catechist” educating the children of farm workers in both Spanish and Quechua.

During her lifetime he founded an “Economic Kitchen” for the poor, a prayer group called the “Prayer & Friendship Group”, and a centre that provided medical services to those who couldn’t afford healthcare anywhere else. Along side this she served as the diocesan president of the Women’s Association of the Catholic Action for many, many years. Blanco Tardio died of a cardiac arrest in 1972 in Cochabamba.

Paraguayan Women

Addressing the diplomatic corps and civil authorities in Paraguay, Pope Francis praised Paraguayan women for saving the country during its most dramatic and disastrous period of history, the Triple Alliance War (or The Great War) that lasted from 1865 to 1870.

The ruler at the time, Francisco Solano Lopez, inherited his position from his father and feels the need to prove himself as a leader. Argentina and Brazil, meanwhile, both believe they have legitimate claims over Uruguay….which is also Paraguay’s only access point to the sea. When Brazil invades Uruguay, Solano Lopez declares war on Brazil and sends troops into Uruguay through Argentine territory. Brazil and Argentina meanwhile reach an agreement regarding Uruguay and join forces against Paraguay.

This leads to a war in which Paraguay is outnumbered and up against Brazil and Argentina’s modern weapons. Solano Lopez conscripts every able bodied Paraguayan male to the front lines. Women have to step in to work the land and provide the support needed to keep the troops fighting. Still, famine and disease set in.

According to some estimates, the war wiped out 60% of Paraguay’s population and 90% of the country’s men.  For each man left alive in the country there are eight women. Even though the country is in ruins the women of Paraguay keep going. They keep working, producing food, producing goods, and tending to the needs of those who have survived the war. More importantly, despite having seen the evil that humanity is capable of, they decide to continue having children. This decision saves Paraguay as a nation, but also saves the culture and language of this fledgling nation. Pope Francis has repeatedly referred to the women of Paraguay as the most glorious women of Latin America.

“Chiquitunga”

During his meeting with the young people of Paraguay Pope Francis heard the testimony of Liz,  a 25 year old woman, a daughter of separated parents, who has become the sole caregiver for her mother and grandmother. Liz’s mother is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and her grandmother is bedridden. Through the generosity of her friends, fellow parishioners, and extended family, Liz was able to become a nurse. While sharing her story and her struggles with Pope Francis she said she found inspiration and strength in the example of “Chiquitunga”, who she learned of while working in a hospital.

Chiquitunga is the nickname for Maria Felicia de Jesus Sacramento (born Maria Felicia Guggiari Echeverria). Chiquitunga was born in Villarrica, Paraguay to a faithful Catholic family. At the age of 16 she joined Catholic Action and consecrated herself to the service of God. She taught catechism, provided pastoral care for young labourers and university students, and helped the poor, elderly and abandoned in the poorest areas of her city. She wrote of the great joy she felt being able to serve these people because she found Christ in their faces.

Despite the joy that she felt serving those in need, she felt called to the contemplative life. At age 30 she entered the Carmel de la Asuncion and took the habit of the Discalced Carmelites. Chiquitunga lived only four years after entering the monastery. She died on Easter Sunday 1959 of hepatitis, which had already killed other sisters in her community. The cause for her beatification was opened in 1997.

CNS photo/Paul Haring

Behind Vatican Walls: The Peripheries of Latin America

PopeFrancis_SouthAmerica

On July 5 Pope Francis embarks on his ninth voyage outside of Italy. It will also be the second time since his election that he sets foot on on South American soil. This visit will take him to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, and have him delicately side step home country. The visit and each of his stops along the way reflect his concern for those on the social, economic and geographical peripheries. His stops along the way will also highlight the rich Catholic history in these countries and once again show the world how the World of God took root in Latin American soil among the lowliest.

Native Marian Patronesses

In Ecuador and Paraguay, the pope will visit the national shrine dedicated to the Marian patroness of those two countries: Ecuador’s El Quinche sanctuary dedicated to Our Lady of El Quinche, and Paraguay shrine to Our Lady of Caacupé. Both Madonnas started out as patronesses of the local native tribes who were considered the lowest of the low in society at the time.

In Ecuador in 1594, Our Lady of El Quinche was given to local natives after the people who originally commissioned the statue of Our Lady failed to pay the artist for his work. The artist, Don Diego Robles, traded the figure to natives in exchange for a special type of wood he wanted to work with. She quickly became the protectress of the Andean natives. Yet she was not officially crowned until 1943. Her feast day is celebrated November 21.

In Paraguay the Holy Father will visit the shrine of Our Lady of Caacupe. Devotion to Our Lady of the Miracles, as she is known, goes back to the 16th century. A Guarani man who had become Christian was hiding from members of the Mbayes tribe. They were fiercely anti-Christian and vowed to kill any and all natives who converted to Christianity. The Guarani man hid in a tree and prayed to Our Lady for protection. The Mbayes walked by his hiding spot without realizing he was there. When he was certain they were gone, he took wood from the tree and carved a figure of Our Lady. In 1603, a flood devastated the Pirayu Valley. When the waters receded, the marian statue resurfaced. The shrine was obviously expanded over time, but to this day Paraguayans walk from their villages to her shrine to venerate her and thank her for favours received.

To highlight even further the important role of Latin America’s native populations in the Church, all of the papal Masses will include either readings or prayers in Quechua, Aymara, and Guarani.

Martyrs

Although the pope will not visit a marian shrine in Bolivia, he will stop at another significant site. When he makes his way from La Paz to the airport in El Alto, the motorcade will stop at the place where his confrere Fr. Luis Espinal, SJ, was killed. The Spanish-born Jesuit had degrees in Theology and Philosophy, as well as audiovisual Journalism and had been producing a weekly television program on Spanish state television called “Urgent Questions.” When he used one episode of the program to look at the realities of life in a poor area of Barcelona, the program was abruptly pulled from the schedule. Just as he was grappling with questions of what to do if he could not speak freely in Franco’s Spain, the bishop of La Paz, Bolivia offered him a position teaching at the Catholic University of La Paz. Espinal accepted and moved to Bolivia in 1968. He taught and worked for local radio station. He also founded a magazine and the Assembly for Human Rights.

Espinal’s journalism was focused on drawing attention to the conditions facing Bolivian peasants: poverty despite the presence of an abundance of natural resources, low wages for those who laboured to extract those natural resources, rural populations without access to basic services, poor health care and short life expectancy…the list went on.  His books focused on the need for people of faith to pay attention to the poorest in society, and his activism was aimed at gaining greater respect for the human rights of all Bolivians from the government. In 1977 he took part in a 19 day hunger strike alongside Bolivian miners and their families. The strike led to the creation of a formal opposition to the government. That, in turn, led to the resignation of then-president Hugo Banzer. At the same time, the hunger strike gained Fr. Espinal enemies. On March 21, 1980 Fr. Espinal was kidnapped by paramilitary forces. His badly beaten body was found the following day by members of his community.

Today, Fr. Espinal is regarded as a national hero who used his journalism and film studies to help build up Bolivia. The reality, however, is that still one out of four Bolivians live on less than two dollars a day according to the World Bank. Fr. Espinal’s work was vital but still incomplete.

The Poor and Oppressed

Also in Bolivia, Pope Francis will take part in an international gathering for Popular Movements. The first such gathering was held at the Vatican in October 2014. The meeting, being held in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, is similarly sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, though the movements taking part are not religious movements. Delegates are members of unions, assemblies, community organizations, and social justice groups. The “cartoneros” – the men who collect cardboard and other recyclables off the street – that Pope Francis ministered to as Archbishop of Buenos Aires are among the groups represented at this meeting.

During his one hour visit to this meeting Pope Francis, along with Bolivian President Evo Morales, will take part in what is billed as a “dialogue” about the need for changes in society so that everyone can have access to the basics of life, and what the popular movements can and should be doing to bring about those changes.

As the meeting includes groups that are not Catholic, this stop is yet another instance of Pope Francis showing the world that some things are so urgent we must join forces across religious lines.

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)


Alicia

Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person.

Behind Vatican Walls: Synod 2015 Lineamenta

Pointing_Francis

The idea that a pope, or any pastor, would call his flock to assess how their lives are impacting the earth, caused waves and turned heads last week. Barely a week later, the Vatican has released the working document, or “lineamenta” for the upcoming Synod on the Family.

Scheduled for October 2015, the synod is expected to pick up the key discussion points raised at last year’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family and, hopefully, move some of those points to the stage of concrete proposals to be implemented around the church.

Many of the same issues from the 2014 working document found their way into the 2015 lineamenta, but several new topics finally made it onto the synod’s radar. Among those newly discovered topics:

  • widowhood
  • families with special needs children
  • responsible procreation
  • impact of ecology on families, especially poor families in developing countries

Grandparents and widowhood

The lineamenta focuses on the role of grandparents in several sections. First grandparents are recognized as key players in the transmission of the faith, but not only. In one paragraph grandparents are recognized as the family members who pass on family traditions and cultural customs, giving children a way to connect with their own roots and thus their identity. Those same grandparents, according to the document provide vital economic support – in cash or in kind- to young couples with growing families. I.e.: grandparents babysit their grandchildren for free.

When it comes to dealing with the loss of a long-time spouse, the lineamenta proposes that grandchildren play an important role in helping their grandparents adjust when they become widows or widowers. Having a family to direct their attention to, in a new way, helps fill the void when a spouse dies. The whole Christian community is called upon to gather around widows and widowers who, for a variety of reason, do not have family to support them in this new chapter of their lives.

Families with special needs children

Attention is given – finally- to families with special needs children. These families face countless, daily challenges that they never imagined when they were expecting their child. As many families with special needs members will tell you, they also receive tremendous blessings through that child. However, there are few resources in the church for these families: few options for the educating their children in the faith, and limited structures in the church to support them. Given medical advances the lifespan of special needs children had extended significantly. Today, parents of special needs children also find themselves asking with increasing urgency, “what happens to my child when I’m gone?”

Divorced Catholics

The thorny issue of divorce returns to the scene. Yet this time there are a few variations on the theme. Specifically, the lineamenta looks at divorced Catholics who have not remarried but believe they are in a state of sin and abstain from the sacraments. Conversely, divorced and civilly remarried Catholics who for a variety of reasons abstain from sex in their new relationship. They can, according to the lineamenta, receive the sacraments. Whatever the particular situation the lineamenta states that pastoral care and accompaniment must be given to all divorced catholics. To that end priests need to be better trained, and dioceses would do well to establish specialized pastoral program for people who find themselves in such a situation.

Starting a conversation

The guiding principle behind all of the issues brought up in the synod document is that the current global culture is not favorable to families. The church, therefore must be able to offer what the rest of the world cannot. When it comes to the difficult issues that cause estrangement from the Church, the lineamenta reminds the synod fathers that all too often baptized Catholics find themselves distanced from the Church not by choice, but by circumstance or because of things that happen to them “through the actions of third parties.” That acknowledgement is key to ensuring that a serious, open, level discussion takes place.


Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person.

Behind Vatican Walls: Laudato Si’

LS1

The pope’s ecology encyclical, Laudato Si, was finally, officially released this week. The label “ecology” does not fully capture the breadth and depth of what Pope Francis discusses in the document. He does outline the problems with our planet, but shows how climate issues cannot be disconnected from human issues like poverty, migration and quality of life. Then he leads readers to the roots of the problem: humans. Human activity and a disordered view of the role humans should play in relation to the creation lead to plundering of the earth’s resources, technological advancement at breakneck speed just to have power over everything and everyone else on the planet have – according to Pope Francis – got us into our present global situation.

Better than reading my one paragraph summary, here is the link to the full text of the encyclical in English. For other languages click on the the language of your choice in the upper right corner.

This papal letter was highly anticipated not just by Catholics but the world at large. Here is a collection of articles about Laudato Si and the key themes developed in it.

The New York Times had this assessment of Laudato Si, and the tradition of popes speaking out on global issues.

The Guardian provided comprehensive coverage of the encyclical, including this assessment.

While Canadian politicians did not acknowledge the encyclical (at least, none that got media coverage) The Globe and Mail did look at both the encyclical and its expected effects.

Catholic News Service, once again, has provided all the tools the average and not so average Catholic might need to fully digest this papal document (not that Pope Francis is difficult to understand.) First, a glossary of words and phrases that come up in the encyclical.

Then, a comprehensive list of the practical tips Pope Francis offers for saving our planet.

The Catholic Herald out of the UK offered this assessment of Laudato Si from a faith perspective, and it might scare those Catholics who would prefer their faith and their life be two separate things.

Watch this week’s Vatican Connections below.


 

Alicia

Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person.

Behind Vatican Walls: Papal Poem ‘Martin Fierro’

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The Vatican received a who’s-who of international leaders, each one bringing their own agenda and a unique assortment of gifts. In the span of three days, leaders from Argentina, Russia, and Canada came to visit, with a delegation of bishops from Latvia and Estonia squeezing in for an Ad Limina visit.

Russian leader Vladamir Putin brought the pope a picture of the Church of Jesus Savior, which was recently rebuilt in Moscow. Argentina’s president, the highly styled Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, showered the pope with gifts. She brought a basket of Argentine foods (almost certainly Yerba mate, Dulce de Leche, and Alfajores), a picture of Blessed Oscar Romero painted by an Argentine artist, and several books: one about MercuSur, the South American common market organization, one about Argentina architecture, and a copy of the epic Argentine poem “Martin Fierro” which has been quoted by the pope on various occasions.

Given that when the pope mentions a book it becomes a best-seller, what is this “Martin Fierro”?

Written in 1872 by Jose Hernandez, the 13 canto poem traces the path of a content but poor gaucho Martin Fierro. He is taken from his quiet life on the Pampas by the government and forced to help protect the country’s border from natives because he failed to vote in the last election for the local judge. Fierro is a poor gaucho, but life in the government fort is even worse than anything he’s known before: he and his fellow gauchos live in squalor and are treated brutally. Eventually Fierro’s rebellious streak kicks in and he deserts his post. Returning home he discovered his wife, children and home are gone. With nothing left, he wanders the Pampas alone.

Eventually, while in a humble drinking establishment, Fierro gets into a knife fight and kills a man. Sought after by the police, he flees and becomes a fugitive. Along the way he meets Cruz, a police officer who more attracted by Fierro’s ideals than keeping law and order. To avoid being captured Fierro and Cruz make their home among the natives.

A second poem, “The Return of Martin Fierro” sees the two men emerge from their exile. Fierro finds his two sons who are now grown and gives them his long-overdue fatherly guidance. The lessons he teaches and the advice he gives are core Christian values: hold firm to your faith in God, help the poor and aged, work hard, respect women.

The poems are considered an expression of the Argentine national identity: God-fearing people who keep their head down, work hard, treat others well, yet are mistreated by those with power and money. At the same time the poems were considered a warning against the European ideas being introduced to the country.

***

The renowned Italian composer and director Ennio Morricone has composed a Mass for Pope Francis and the 200th anniversary of the restoration of the Jesuit order.

A concert presenting the new Mass setting was held at Rome Il Gesu church this week. The concert was recorded by Italian state broadcaster RAI and will be available on the Rai5 website.

Watch this week’s Vatican Connections below.


AliciaEvery week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person.

Behind Vatican Walls: Angelo Roncalli

Roncalli

On the evening of June 3, 1963, as Mass was being celebrated in the plaza below his window, Pope John XXIII quietly passed away. He had been suffering from stomach cancer for some time, although his illness had only been revealed to the public in March of that same year. Still, he faced that final year of his pontificate, his illness, and the transition to eternal life with the same simplicity and humour with which he faced his whole life.

Born November 25, 1881 in Sotto il Monte (Bergamo) Angelo Roncalli was the fourth of 13 children. His parents were sharecroppers – not even landowning farmers. The local school only went up to the third grade, after which the local children would begin working on the land with their parents – which is what happened to most of the Roncalli children.  If a family had the resources, some of their children would get further schooling in a neighbouring town or by private tutor. Some might call it providence, some might call it God’s plan, but at age ten when his friends and classmates were trading their school books for farm tools, Angelo was sent to the priest in a neighbouring town to be taught privately. Eventually he attended the Collegio Celana – an academy founded by St. Charles Borromeo – and entered the seminary at age 12. He completed his seminary studies years – and a year of military service- before the canonical minimum age for ordination, so he was invited to do further studies in Rome.

Despite the years of studies, he never considered himself anything more than a farmer’s son. In 1904, he was finally ordained. While preparing to celebrate his first Mass in his hometown he pulled the sacristan aside and gave him some very specific instructions: the sacristan was to stand behind the pulpit (think pre-Vatican II raised pulpits) out of sight of the congregation. If his homily became too complicated, too academic, the sacristan was to tug at the hem of Fr. Angelo’s alb. The sacristan never had to tug on the new priest’s alb.

Fr. Roncalli was named secretary to the bishop of Bergamo and was asked to teach at the local seminary. All proceeded quietly until 1915. He ended up serving as a military chaplain until the end of the war. After the war he turned his attention to students and continued serving as a chaplain to students and seminarians.

Eventually it became clear this humble, country priest had much more to offer. In the 1920s he was called to Rome to serve with the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and in 1925 was made Apostolic Visitor to Bulgaria and eventually Nuncio. Ten years later, he was named Apostolic Delegate to Turkey and Greece. It was not an easy period, by any means, but it brought him into contact with the Orthodox Church and the Muslim community. He visited Orthodox Churches and stood in awe before the icons they housed. At the outbreak of the Second World War he was in Greece, witnessing the devastation caused by fighting. From there he was made Nuncio in Paris, and eventually Cardinal Patriarch of Venice. He received his red biretta from French president Vincent Auriol who, as president of that country, had the right to bestow the cardinalatial hat on the departing Nuncio.

Cardinal Roncalli believed he would spend the final years of his doing exactly what he had always wanted to do: pastoral work with parishioners. Granted, the “parish” was all of Venice. There, in “La Serenissima” Cardinal Roncalli quickly became known for his long walks around the city during which he would stop to talk to the locals and his modest lifestyle. He made it known that his door was always open for anyone in need of a confessor. He also opened 30 parishes, helped the Catholic Action Movement grow, renovated the diocesan Basilica and re-organized the archives that contained the history of the see.

Cardinal Roncalli was convinced Venice would be his final earthly home. But when Pope Pius XII died and the cardinals were summoned to Rome, the faithful of Venice didn’t expect their patriarch to return.

Elected Pope, he did exactly what he had been doing in Venice: he listened to his parishioners. Now his parish was the whole world and his flock included the cardinals and bishops around the world. He soon noticed a recurring theme in his conversations with visiting cardinals and bishops: pastoral issues that needed answers, urgently. His faithful secretary, now Cardinal Loris Capovilla, recalls that not five days after being elected pope, during a meeting with one of the many cardinals who came to pay the respects to the new pontiff, Pope John XXIII scribbled the word “council” in Italian.

The idea had bubbled up naturally in the pope’s mind in response to what he was hearing. He mentioned it to his secretary who said nothing. If  it was an inspiration of the Holy Spirit it would have to come to fruition on its own, and Cardinal Capovilla feared anything he said might get in the way of that inspiration and God’s will. Pope John XXIII, however, wanted to know what his secretary thought and so he mentioned it repeatedly – to no avail. Finally the pope couldn’t stand his trusted confidant’s silence and asked “aAe you staying silent because you think I’m too old and it’s too big a project?” The pope went on to explain why it was not too big a project for a man of his age and eventually said if died in the process of the council another pope would be chosen who would carry on the work of the guiding the council. He foretold exactly what would happen over the next five years or so.

Pope John XXIII opened the first session of the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962. It ran until December of that same year. The pope was part of the preparations for the second session but died just months before the second session was to convene. As he had told his secretary, his successor dedicated himself to the work of continuing the council and seeing it through to the end.

See video of Pope John XXIII’s life below:

See this week’s Vatican Connections below:


 

AliciaEvery week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person.

Photo: CNS/Courtesy of Archbishop Loris Capovilla

Behind Vatican Walls: Pope Francis to Visit Bosnia-Herzegovina

Bosnia_Pope

Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia – Herzegovina, June 6. The one day trip is packed full significant meetings. Vatican spokesperson, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi told journalists this week it would be “notevolissimo” or “highly noteworthy” if the Holy Father arrives at the Sarajevo airport on time at the end of his visit. The visit is set to be noteworthy even without Pope Francis pulling off a timekeeping miracle.

In 1994 St. Pope John Paul II decided to visit the war-ravaged city. The United Nations agreed to provide the pope’s flight. Despite the ongoing fighting the pope was firm in his resolve to visit. Just days before his scheduled trip, fighting intensified in Sarajevo and UN planes carrying supplies to the area were shot at. The UN cancelled its flights and the pope had to cancel his visit.

The pope was finally able to visit Sarajevo in 1997, just two years after the war ended. Despite an end to the fighting, the situation was still not good – especially for Catholics. In 1997, Catholic News Service reported that Catholics who held state jobs lost those positions and were discriminated against in housing and relocation programs. In a meeting with the bishops of Bosnia Herzegovina, St. John Paul II told the bishops not to be “intimidated by any earthly power” but instead use any legitimate means at their disposal to speak out against such discrimination. During that same visit the pope met with Muslim, Jewish and Orthodox leaders. The Bosnian Mufti – Mustafa Cercic announced afterwards that he would call on Muslims to begin a dialogue with Catholics.

In short, the visit of St. John Paul II seemed like a shot in the arm for a nation struggling to find itself again after a war, and for Catholics who had not seen much improvement in their situation two years after the fighting ended.

Pope Francis’ visit to the city comes 20 years after Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian presidents signed the peace agreement known as the Dayton Accords. While the immediate after-effects of war are long gone, reports indicate that division along ethnic lines still exist in Bosnian-Herzegovinian society. His visit, however, has excited citizens of all ethnic and religious groups. In the town of Zavidovici, a Bosnian Muslim woodcarver offered to carve a chair for the pope. The project was financed by the local Catholic parish.

Interreligious dialogue and Ecumenism will be a key theme of this visit: the pope will meet with leaders of other religions and Christian confessions, and he will visit a youth centre that brings together young people of all religious backgrounds. The centre is dedicated to St. John Paul II.

Below is the full itinerary of Pope Francis’ visit to Sarajevo:

9:00 am – Arrival at International Airport in Sarajevo

9:30 am – Welcome Ceremony, private visit with Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Meeting with local civil authorities

11:00 am – Mass at Koševo Olympic Stadium

1:15 pm – Lunch with Bishops of Bosnia Herzegovina

4:20 pm – Meeting with men and women religious at Sacred Heart Cathedral

5:30 pm – Interreligious and Ecumenical meeting at Franciscan International Student Centre

6:30 pm – Meeting with youth at St. John Paul II youth centre

7:45 pm – Farewell Ceremony at International Airport

8:00 pm – Departure for Rome

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This week, the Institute for Works of Religions, commonly known as the Vatican Bank, released its annual report for 2014. The report is available in English on IOR’s website.

Watch this week’s Vatican Connections below:

AliciaEvery week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person.

Photo: CNS/Fehim Demir, EPA