Benedetto XVI Forum


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The 'almanac' entry for today, 12/2/09, is in the preceding page.


Reuters' choices for
papal photos of 2009

At the Church of Santo Volto di Gesu (the Holy Face of Jesus) in Rome
during a pastoral visit on March 26, 2009.

Two other pictures chosen are from papal visits abroad: left, a cardinal approaches the altar at the Pope's Mass in Stara Boleslaw, Czech Republic, last September; right, an albino among the faithful at a papal Mass in Angola in March.

For pure visual imagery, the photo at Santo Volto is a great choice. Why the two others were chosen is less clear to me.

Reuters has added this to their Pope-related Photos of the Year:


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02/12/2009 14.33
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The Holy Father's catechesis today was on Guillaume (William) of St. Thierry, a 12th century monk and theologian.

The audience was held in St. Peter's Square instead of Aula Paolo Vi where it is usually held in fall and winter, because there were too many pilgrims present. [Aula Paolo VI can only accommodate 9,000 at the most.]

Here is how the Pope synthesized his catechesis in English:

In our catechesis on the Christian culture of the Middle Ages, we now turn to William of Saint-Thierry, an outstanding monastic theologian and a close friend of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

William took active part in the twelfth-century movement of monastic renewal and, after serving as abbot of Saint-Thierry, he entered the Cistercian monastery of Signy.

A central theme of his writings is the nature and power of love, seen as the ultimate vocation and the driving force of the human spirit. For William, this innate human drive finds perfection in the love of the triune God, the source and goal of all love.

As the culmination of a process of purification and integration of the affections, the love of God brings supreme human fulfilment, and a profound experiential knowledge of both God and the world about us. In William’s celebrated phrase, Amor ipse intellectus est – love itself brings knowledge.

By contemplation of the mysteries of the faith, we grow in the image of God and, by uniting our will to his, we become one with him.

May the example and teaching of William of Saint-Thierry strengthen our desire to love God above all things and to let that love overflow in love of our neighbour. May we thus discover authentic joy and the foretaste of eternal bliss.


Here is a translation of today's catechesis:

Dear brothers and sisters,

In a previous catechesis, I presented the figure of Bernard of Clairvaux, 'Doctor of Tenderness', and a great protagonist of the 12th century.

His biographer - a friend and admirer - was Guillaume (William) de Saint-Thierry, to whom I will devote my reflection today.

William was born in Liege (Belgium) some time between 1075 and 1080 to a noble family. Gifted with lively intelligence and an innate love for study, he attended famous schools of the time, like those in his hometown and in Rheims, France.

He came into personal contact with Abelard, the teacher who first applied philosophy to theology in such an original way that he provoked much perplexity and opposition. Even William expressed his own reservations, and called on his friend Bernard to take a position against Abelard.

Responding to God's mysterious irresistible call to the consecrated life, William entered the Benedictine monastery of Saint-Nicaise in Reims in 1113, and several years later, became the abbot of the monastery of St-Thierry, in the diocese of Rheims.

At that time, the demand was widespread to purify and renew monastic life in order to make it authentically evangelical. William worked for this in his own monastery as well as within the Benedictine order, in general.

However, he met with not inconsiderable resistance to his attempts at reform, and therefore, despite the opposing counsel of his friend Bernard, he left the Benedictine abbey in 1138, exchanged his black robes for the white robes, to join the Cistercians in Signy.

From that time until his death in 1148, he dedicated himself to the prayerful contemplation of the mysteries of God, which had always been his most profound desire, and to composing works of spiritual literature that are important in the history of monastic theology.

One of his first works is entitled De natura et dignitate amoris (The nature and dignity of love)), which expresses William's fundamental ideas that are valid even for us today.

The principal energy that motivates the human spirit, he says, is love. Human nature, in its most profound essence, consists in loving. Only one task is entrusted to every human being: to learn to love, sincerely, authentically, freely. But this task can only be absolved in the school of God, where man can reach the goal for which he was created.

William writes: "The art of arts is the art of love... Love is inspired by the Creator of nature. Love is a spiritual force which leads the spirit as by natural gravitation to the place and goal to which it belongs" (La natura e la dignità dell’amore 1, PL 184,379).

Learning to love requires a long demanding journey, which William articulates in four stages corresponding to the ages of man: infancy, youth, maturity and old age.

In this itinerary, the person must impose upon himself an effective asceticism, strong self-control to eliminate any disordered affection and any surrender to selfishness, thus uniting one's life to God - the spring, the goal and the power of love - until one reaches the peak of spiritual life that William defines as 'wisdom'.

At the end of this ascetic itinerary, there is great serenity and sweetness. All the faculties of man - intelligence, will, affections - then rest in God, whom we know and love in Christ.

Even in other works, William speaks of this radical calling to love of God, which constitutes the secret of a successful and happy life, and which he describes as an incessant and growing desire, inspired by God himself in the heart of man.

In a meditation, he says that the object of this love is Love with a capital 'L', namely God. It is God who pours himself into the heart of he who loves, and makes the heart capable of receiving God.

"God gives himself to satiety but in such a way that even so, the desire for God never grows less. This impetus to love is the fulfillment of man" (De contemplando Deo 6, passim, SC 61bis, pp. 79-83).

It is striking that William, in speaking of the love of God, attributes a remarkable importance to the affective dimension. Basically, dear friends, our heart is made of flesh, and when we love God, who is Love himself, how can we not express in this relation with the Lord even our most human sentiments, like tenderness, sensitivity, delicacy? The Lord himself, becoming man, wanted to love us with a heart of flesh.

According to William, love has another important property: it enlightens the intelligence and allows us to know God better and in a profound way; and in God, to know persons and events.

The knowledge that comes from the senses and the intelligence reduces but does not eliminate the distance between subject and object, between the 'I' and the 'you'.

Instead, love produces attraction and communion, to the point where there is a transformation and assimilation between the subject who loves and the beloved object.

This reciprocity of affection and sympathy allows a more profound knowledge than that which results only from reason. Thus, the famous statement by William: "Amor ipse intellectus est" - Love in itself is knowledge.

Dear friends, let us ask ourselves: Is our life not like that? Is it not true that we really know only those that we love? Without a certain sympathy, one cannot know anyone nor anything! This goes above all for the knowledge of God and his mysteries which surpass the capacity of comprehension by our intelligence: We know God if we love God!

A synthesis of the thinking of William of St-Thierry is contained in a long letter to the Carthusians of Mont-Dieu, whom he visited and wished to encourage and comfort.

The learned Benedictine Jean Mabillon in 1690 gave this letter a significant title: Epistola aurea (Golden letter). Indeed, the teachings on spiritual life it contains are precious for all who wish to grow in communion with God, in holiness.

In this treatise, William proposes an itinerary in three stages. He says it is necessary to pass from the 'animal' man to the 'rational' man, in order to get to the 'spiritual' man.

What did our writer mean with these three terms? In the beginning, a person accepts the view of life inspired by the faith, through an act of obedience and trust. Then, through a process of internalization, in which reason and will play a great role, faith in Christ is accepted with profound conviction, and one experiences a harmonious correspondence between what one believes and hopes, and the most secret aspirations of the spirit, our reason, our affections.

Thus, one reaches the perfection of spiritual life when the realities of the faith are sources of intimate joy and of truly satisfying communion with God. Then one lives only in love and for love.

William based this itinerary on a solid view of man, inspired by the ancient Greek fathers, especially Origen, who, with daring language, had taught that the vocation of man was to become like God who created him in his image and likeness.

The image of God present in man urges him towards likeness, that is, towards an increasingly fuller identification between one's will and the divine will. One does not achieve this perfection, which William calls 'unity of spirit', with personal effort, no matter how sincere and generous, because something else is necessary.

This perfection is reached through the action of the Holy Spirit, who takes up his dwelling in the soul and purifies, absorbs and transforms in love every impulse and desire of love that is present in man.

"You then become another likeness of God", we read in the Epistola aurea, "that is no longer called a likeness, but unity of spirit - when man becomes one with God, one spirit, not merely because of unity in an identical will, but in not wishing to be anything else. Man thus deserves to become not God, but what God is - man becomes by grace what God is by nature" (Epistola aurea 262-263, SC 223, pp. 353-355).

Dear brothers and sisters, this author, whom we may describe as the "singer of love and of charity" teaches us to make the basic choice in our life, that which gives sense and value to all our other choices: to love God, and through his love, to love our neighbor. Only thus can we encounter true joy, a token of eternal beatitude.

Let us therefore place ourselves in teh school of saints to learn how to love in an authentic and total way, to enter this itinerary of existence.

With a young saint and Doctor of the Church, St. Therese of the Child Jesus, let us tell the Lord that we wish to live for love and of love.

I will conclude with a prayer from this saint: "I love you, and you know it, divine Jesus! The Spirit of love burns me with its fire. Loving you, I draw near to the Father, whom my weak heart keeps, without fleeing. O Trinity! You are a prisoner of my love. To live for love, here below, is an endless giving, without asking for recompense... When one loves, one makes no calculations. I have given everything to the Divine Heart which overflows with kindness. And I proceed lightly - I have nothing left, and my only wealth is to live from love".

In his greeting to Italian-speaking pilgrims towards the end of the GA, the Pope had these special words:

Today is the 25th anniversary of the promulgation of John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et paenitentia, which called attention to the importance of the Sacrament of Penitence in the life of the Church.

On this significant occasion, I wish to re-evoke some extraordinary figures who were 'Apostles of the Confessional", tireless dispensers of divine mercy: St. Jean Marie Vianney, St. Giuseppe Cafasso, St. Leopoldo Mandic, St. Pio of Pietrelcina.

May their testimony of faith and charity encourage you, dear young people, to flee from sin and to plan your future as a generous service to God and to your neighbor.

May they help you, dear people with ailments, to experience the mercy of the Crucified Christ in your suffering.

And may they inspire you, dear newlyweds, to create a family in an atmosphere of constant faith and reciprocal understanding.

Finally, may the example of these saints, assiduous and faithful ministers of divine forgiveness, be for priests - especially in this year for Priests - and for all Christians an invitation to trust always in the goodness of God, in availing and celebrating trustfully the Sacrament of Reconciliation.


In the top left photo on this panel, the Pope is greeting former Italian Senate President Marcello Pera, with Lateran University rector Mons. Rino Fisichella, both participants in the Lateran's international congress on science, theology and philosophy. No information so far on the center row photos.

NB: This morning, the Vatican Press Office posted the text of the Pope homily at the Mass with the theologians yesterday.
Another one of his precious unscripted homilies.
I have placed the translation in the post about the Mass on the preceding page

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Thanks to Lella and her blog
for leading me to the website of the Roman parish of Regina Pacis
(Queen of Peace), which carries an item that is not even posted yet
on the Diocese of Rome's news site! It's a very informative website
that posts the full text of the Pope's various homilies, addresses
and messages, in addition to its parish coverage.

Benedict XVI to visit
terminal patients in a Rome hospice
and the Caritas hostel near
Rome's main train station

Translated from the website of

VATICAN CITY - On December 13, Pope Benedict XVI will visit a Roman center for terminally ill patients, and on February 14, the Caritas hostel near Rome's main train station (Stazione Termini).

Along with the celebration of Vespers at the Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls, on the eve of the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on January 26, these will be the Holy Father's only visits outside the Vatican in early 2010. [NB: The schedule also includes his visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome on January 17.]

The Santo Cuore Hospice in Trastevere was set up when palliative treatment for terminally ill patients became a public policy issue in Italy.

Earlier, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the Pope's vicar in Rome, announced that the Holy Father will be visiting the hostel Don Luigi di Liegro, run by Caritas of Rome, on February 14. It also has an outpatient medical center and a soup kitchen.

The Caritas center is in the parish of Regina Pacis.

Cardinal Vallini said the Holy Father's visit would be "a concrete sign of his closeness and dedication" to the European campaign against poverty that the European Union is observing in the year 2010.

He said it was the Pope's response, as Bishop of Rome, to the call made by the European Catholic Episcopal Conference addressed to the bishops of the Continent to promote the campaign by visiting charitable institutions in their respective dioceses.

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New hints of movement
toward Vatican-Moscow 'summit'?

December 02, 2009

On the eve of a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Russia’s President Dmitri Medvedev, there are new signs of substantial progress in relations between the Holy See and the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, and hint that a “summit” meeting between the Pope and Russian Patriarch Kirill might be under discussion.

The Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow has published a collection of speeches by Pope Benedict XVI, and a government official in Belarus has suggested that his country might be an appropriate place for the much-anticipated ecumenical summit.

The new book produced by the Moscow patriarchate, Europe Spiritual Homeland, is a collection of talks by Pope Benedict over the past decade — both before and after his election as Roman Pontiff—addressing the spiritual crisis in Europe.

The book, published in Italian and Russian, carries an introduction by Archbishop Hilarion, the chief ecumenical officer of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Since the January election of Kirill to succeed Alexei II as Patriarch of Moscow, ecumenical contacts with the Vatican have increased dramatically.

The new Russian Patriarch has strong personal ties with Pope Benedict; he met with the Pontiff on three different occasions while serving as the chief ecumenical official for the Moscow patriarchate.

Patriarch Kirill has expressed a keen interest in cooperating with the Catholic Church, especially in the struggle against secularism in Europe: the topic of the new collection of papal speeches.

On the same day’s a the book’s introduction, the director of religious affairs for the government of Belarus told reporters that his country might be an ideal location for a meeting between Pope Benedict and Patriarch Kirill.

At a press conference in Minsk, Leonid Gulyako said that relations between the Orthodox and Catholic churches have always been warm in Belarus. The country’s President Alexander Lukashenko had issued an invitation for Pope Benedict to visit Belarus during an April meeting at the Vatican.

Although there has been no public discussion of any plan for a meeting between the Pope and the Russian Patriarch, officials of both the Vatican and the Moscow patriarchate have suggested in the past that such a meeting would probably take place neither in Rome nor in Moscow but at some “neutral” location.

The visit to Rome by President Medvedev is significant in itself, since the Russian leader has advanced the possibility that Russia might open a full embassy to the Holy See. (The Russian Federation currently has a special diplomatic representative at the Vatican.)

Medvedev — who was baptized into the Orthodox Church as an adult, and whose wife Svetlana Medvedev is a known for her devotion to the Orthodox Church — could also serve as an intermediary in furthering talks between the Holy See and the Moscow patriarchate.


Book diplomacy between
Pope and Patriarch


Rome, Dec. 3 (Translated from ASCA) - Pope Benedict XVI has thanked the Patriarchate of Moscow for its decision to publish his discourses on Europe, even as the Vatican announced that Rome will soon return the favor, by publishing a book by Patriarch Kirill entitled Freedom and responsibility: In search of harmony.

In April, Archbishop Hilarion, president of the patriarchate's Department of External Relations, will come to Rome for the presentation of the book at the Catholic University of Milan. Hilarion wrote the Introduction to the Russian-Italian book Europa patria spirituale by Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI. The Introduction was published in L'Osservatore Romano on Wednesday.

[I finally finished the translation - it's 17 pages long as a WORD document, and I will post it in the ISSUES thread, possibly in two boxes. Even if it does not say a word about Benedict XVI or the book itself, it is very informative on the positions held by the Russian Orthodox Church about the European Union it wants and on specific social issues.]

In a message conveyed through the Secretariat of State, the Holy Father expressed his thanks "for the dedicated and significant gesture of all those who contributed (to the project) and for the sentiments that prompted it".

This 'book diplomacy' is yet another in a series of small 'signals' that with patriarch Kirill's assumption of the Russian Orthodox leadership, Rome and Moscow are growing closer slowly but constantly.

It is obviously too early to speculate on a possible date for a meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch but the possibility that this could take place sooner rather than later appears to be growing.

There are many points of convergence between the two Churches, starting with Europe. In the face of a continent now dominated by a 'militant secularism' that is just as dangerous as the 'militant atheism' of the Soviet regime - as Hilarion writes in his Introduction - Rome and Moscow are in total accord.

In the past few days, with the Treaty of Lisbon entering into effect (enforcing a European Constitution), Catholics and Orthodox have made known that they will present a 'common front' in the dialog with the institutions of teh European Union in Brussels and Strasbourg.

Article 17 of the constitution calls for 'open, transparent and regular dialog' between the EU and the Churches of Europe.

The representative of the Russian Orthodox Church to the EU, Archpriest Antony Ilyin, has met with Fr. Piotr Mazurkiewicz, secretary general of the Conference of Catholic European Bishops, have met to lay down the bases for this collaboration.

Ilyin said: "Both sides understand the importance of the fact that teh Treaty of Lisbon is now in effect... and have therefore decided to start preparing a common position for our relationship with EU institutions and officials".

He said this task is made easier because Catholics and Orthodox "already have similar positions on most of the urgent issues".

At the presentation of the Pope's book yesterday in Rome, Fr. Milan Zust, S.J., who is the official at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity specifically responsible for relations with Moscow, said the publication of the book was "a most important step in building that reciprocal trust and esteem which makes our common witness in Europe so clear".

Sergej Svonarev, Archbishop Hilarion's vicar, said: "Let us stabilize our dialog on these issues and institute regular meetings that will focus on the theme 'Religious values, European values'."

Recently, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant leaders in the United States launched the Manhattan Declaration in defense of life and other non-negotiable Christian values.

The next step in the Rome-Moscow rapprochement may well be a similar declaration for Europe.


And from an unexpected source - the usually anti-Pope, anti-Church The Guardian - one of the items I didn't get to see yesterday after my modem failed. Its overview casts an even wider net for the prospects of Christian reunification, It is featured in the newspaper's History section:

Moving towards a united Christianity
by Adrian Pabst
Wednesday 2 December 2009

In the past two months, relations between the three main Christian churches have moved in more promising directions than perhaps during the past 50 years of uninspiring liberal dialogue.

By opening a new chapter of theological engagement and concrete co-operation with Orthodoxy and Anglicanism, Pope Benedict XVI is changing the terms of debate about church reunification. In time, we might witness the end of the Great Schism between east and west and a union of the main episcopally-based churches.

First there was the Rome visit in September by the Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Moscow's man for ecumenical relations. In high-level meetings, both sides argued that their shared resistance to secularism and moral relativism calls forth a further rapprochement of Orthodoxy and Catholicism.

Declaring that "More than ever, we Christians must stand together", Hilarion insisted that each side can appeal to shared traditions and work towards greater closeness in a spirit of "mutual respect and love".

That this was more than diplomatic protocol was confirmed by the Catholic Archbishop of Moscow, Monsignor Paolo Pezzi. In an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, he said that union between Catholics and Orthodox "is possible, indeed it has never been so close".

The formal end of the Great Schism of 1054, which has divided the two churches for a millennium, and the move towards full spiritual communion "could happen soon".

[These statements are rash and rather unrealistic - even if we just limit it to the prospect of the Catholic and Orthodox churches getting back together. Moscow is at odds with Constantinople whose Ecumenical Patriarchate is primus inter pares in the Orthodox world. And the theologians are just starting to discuss the role of the Pope in a reunified Church - historically, this has been the major stumbling block!]

Even on doctrinal matters, Roman Catholicism and Russian Orthodoxy are essentially in agreement. Hilarion acknowledged that the two have different ecclesiological models, with the former favouring a more centralised structure led by the Pontiff while the latter emphasises the autonomy of provinces and local churches.

"There remains the question of papal primacy and this will be a concern at the next meeting of the Catholic-Orthodox commission. But to me, it doesn't seem impossible to reach an agreement", said Pezzi. [No, it's not impossible, but unless the Holy Spirit breathes adn wills 'Now is the time', who knows how long it will take? But we should all be as optimistic as Mons. Pezzi and pray that this miracle may take place in Benedict XVI's Pontificate!]

Indeed, when Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope in 2005, one of his first acts was to drop the title of Patriarch of the West. Rather than affirming absolutist papal supremacism, Benedict indicated with this act that he seeks to blend the historical primacy of the See of Rome and the Pope's universal jurisdiction with that of local churches in east and west.

The next step for Rome is to incorporate the Orthodox emphasis on conciliarity as a counterweight to papal authority. Increasingly shrill attacks on Benedict by Catholic dissidents like Hans Küng represent little more than the angry expression of some liberals who are excluding themselves from pan-Christian reunification.

Meanwhile, closer church ties will be greatly helped by concrete co-operation. There's already considerable convergence on social teaching, as evinced by Kirill's preface to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone's book The Ethics of the Common Good in Catholic Social Doctrine.

Both Catholicism and Orthodoxy argue for a civil market economy embedded in communal relations and serving the public good rather than exclusively private profit, a prominent theme in Benedict's recent social encyclical "Caritas in veritate".

Similarly, last week's Rome visit by the Archbishop of Canterbury has advanced Catholic-Anglican relations. Far from humiliating the Primate of the Anglican Communion by parking papal tanks on the lawn at Lambeth [which is unthinkable for someone like Benedict, to begin with, however colorful Ruth Gledhill's military metaphor may be], Benedict emphasised the importance of Anglicanism in promoting the unity of all episcopally-based Christian churches.

The presence of Anglicans within Catholicism might lead to a better appreciation of Anglicanism's unique contribution to Christianity. It could also help Anglicans define an episcopal identity beyond the divide between liberals and evangelicals.

No less significant was the fact both the Pope and the archbishop spoke in favour of a different model of socio-economic development that does not rely exclusively on the state or the market.

Rather, it accentuates mutualist principles of reciprocity and gift-exchange and the absolute sanctity of human and natural life which is relational, not individualist or collectivist. [All straight out of Caritas in veritate!]

This shared social teaching is key in further developing concrete links and bonds of trust among Christians of different traditions.

Moves towards church reunification are signs of a revivified Christian Europe, one which can use its shared faith to transform the continent and the whole world.

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Thursday, December 3
Third photo from left is a painting of St. Ignatius sending off St. Francis on his mission to the Orient.
ST. FRANCISCO JAVIER (Francis Xavier) (b Spain 1506, d China 1552)
Jesuit missionary to the Orient, Patron Saint of Missionaries
He was a classmate of Ignatius Loyola in Paris, and together with five other friends, they founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuit order) in 1534. In 1541, he was sent to re-evangelize Portuguese colonies in Asia, and in the next 16 years until his death, he established missions in India, Ceylon, Malaysia and Japan. During this time, he was renowned for many miracles including raising the dead and calming stormy waters. He died in an offshore Chinese island on his way to establish missions in China. He was originally buried in Malacca (in what is now Malaysia), but the body was later transferred to a church in Goa, the Portuguese enclave in India [second photo from right ahows
the altar with his casket], and an arm is kept as a relic in the Jesuit church of Gesu in Rome. He and Ignatius were canonized together in 1622.

OR today.
At the General Audience, Benedict XVI introduces William of St-Thierry
a 12th century monastic theologian who extolled God as Love:
'Love is energy for the soul and man's fulfillment'
Other page 1 stories: Obama's risk in Afghanistan with his military decision; and continuing deaths in Bhopal, India,
from the United Carbide factory explosion that loosed isocyanate gas 25 years ago. This issue contains the Pope's homily
at the Mass with theologians on Tuesday morning (translation posted on the preceding page of this thread yesterday);
Cardinal Bertone celebrating his 75th birthday with Mass at the Pauline Chapel yesterday; and an essay 'defending'
the conversion of Edith Stein from Judaism in reply to a critical article in an Italian Jewish magazine.

NB: Why does the OR use a picture of the Pope showing his back, and a frontal picture of Bertone, both in the Pauline Chapel on separate occasions?
Just because the picture with the Pope shows the Michelangelo painting of St. Paul's conversion


The Holy Father will meet this afternoon with

- H.E. President Dmitri Medvedev of the Russian Federation, and his delegation.

Among today's nominations by the Pope:

- Fr. Bernard Ardura, O.P. as President of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences. Fr. Ardura (born 1943 in Bordeaux)
was Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture till now. He succeeds Mary Ann Glendon at the Social Sciences Academy.

- Fr. Barthélemy Adoukonou of Benin, to replace Fr. Ardura as Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture.
Fr. Adoukounou is secretary general of the bishops' conference of French-speaking West Africa and the Association
of Episcopal Conferences of Anglophone West Africa.

The Vatican released the text of the Pope's message for the XVIII World Day for the Sick in 2010, observed annually
on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes (February 11).

My cable modem is acting up and it turns out it must be replaced, so my Internet connection will be on and off
(yesterday it was mostly off, and today it is intermittent); consequently, my posting will be iffy.

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Bach's 'Christmas Oratorio'
at the Sistine Chapel tomorrow
in honor of Benedict XVI

by Marcello Filotei
Translated from
the 12/4/09 issue of


Is Bach's 'Christmas Oratorio' really an oratorio or a collection of cantatas? Certainly it is largely a collection of profane works that have been given a 'sacred' destination.

This has been common practice in various eras, and has been called 'parody' without any critical connotation. But it does stimulate reflection on the infinite question of the meaning of music and whether it is possible to give any piece of music a single interpretation.

According to the 19th-century Viennese critic Edward Hanslick, who was a firm Brahms admirer, music in itself does not express any sentiment other than what its composer may choose to give it by assigning it a test, a title, or any identifying reference [the usual term used is 'programmatic'].

It is a complex question and one of the best ways to confront it is to listen to works which help reflecting on it.

An occasion to do this is a concert in honor of Benedict XVI which will take place Friday evening, Dec. 4, at the Sistine Chapel, to mark the 60th anniversary of the Federal Republic of Germany and the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.


The first and third cantatas of Bach's Oratorio will be performed by the Augsburger Domsingknaben [Boys Choir of Augsburg Cathedral] and the Residenz Chamber Orchestra of Munich under Reinhard Kummler, in the presence of the Pope and German President Horst Koehler.

The abridgement is not unusual because structurally - even if Bach underlined in the foreword to his original score, that the work has a unitary course - the Oratorio is constructed as a sequence of six cantatas meant to be executed between December 23 and January 6, as it was performed the very first time in Leipzig in December 1734 to the Feast of the Epiphany in 1735.

In the first cantata, which narrates the birth of Jesus, Mary is depicted in a double role: as a mother concerned for the destiny of her Son, and as the first believer, the origin of the faith, 'spouse of Christ'.

This is announced in the contralto aria "Bereite dich, Zion, mit zärtlichen Trieben, / Den Schönsten, den Liebsten bald bei dir zu sehn! ("Prepare yourself, Sion, with tender desire./ To welcome soon He who is the most beautiful and the most beloved") which also underscores the importance of the contralto voice in the entire work.

The text calls on the city to make itself beautiful to receive its divine spouse, but to the same notes, in Hercules at the crossroads [the profane cantata from which the aria comes], the protagonist expresses very different states of mind as she must tear herself away from the fascination of an insidious personage: "I will not listen to you, I want nothing to do with you, despicable Lust!"

Which means that perhaps Hanslick was right to say that any musical phrase may mean anything. But on the other hand, Bach did create a tonal arrangement that was different from from the original, substituting for the Christmas Oratorio the second violins with the French horns, modifying the musical phraseology and adopting other orchestral strategies to make the Marian aria more ethereal.

In short, although the so-called 'affect theory' of music - according to which specific musical figurations are able to evoke corresponding states of mind - may have been in full vogue in Bach's time, does not really hold true all the time, the opposite is not necessarily true. [I think the 'affect theory' originally had to do with the tonalities suggested by the different musical keys, both major and minor - when it is possible to describe the specific mood generally elicited by a specific key. But it can all be modified by various 'orchestral strategies' and arrangements.]

Simplification hardly ever does justice to art. The important thing is that in the Christmas Oratorio, Bach succeeds to impose a profound coherence within each cantata as within the entire work.

Mary is one of the reference points. The third cantata, on the adoration of the shepherds, quickly shifts the focus on the Madonna. In the aria "Schließe, mein Herze, dies selige Wunder / Fest in deinem Glauben ein!" ("Embrace, my heart, this miracle of beatitude/ firm in your belief), she perceives the grandeur of the moments she is experiencing.

From his notes, we learn that he had thought of full heavy orchestration but decided instead to rely on the intimacy of teh contralto voice with violin obbligato. It is a moment of reflection that balances the grandiosity of both extremes of the cantata, which is built on luminous choral interventions.

This is a symmetry found in the first three cantatas of the Oratorio and confirms the unity of the work's conception. So perhaps, the Christmas Oratorio is really an oratorio, not just a collection of cantatas. Or, it really does not matter.

Here's a belated report after the Sistine Chapel meeting with artists, but something to be treasured, because it is not so much about that particular event alone but what it shows about Benedict XVI and his personal gifts - not least of all, his personal holiness - as well as his vision for the Church.


American monk's tribute
to Benedict XVI


Vatican City, Dec 2, 2009 CNA) - On November 21, Pope Benedict XVI attracted the eyes of the world to the Sistine Chapel where he welcomed a group of 250 international artists and urged them to renew an old friendship in the "quest for beauty."


CNA interviewed Abbot Michael John Zielinski, Vice President of the Pontifical Council for the Cultural Heritage of the Church and Sacred Archeology, for further insight into the meaning of this 'quest' and its significance in this Papacy.

Commenting on the via pulchritudinis, beauty as a way to God, and the Holy Father's recent emphasis on it, the Benedictine abbot replied, "This is nothing new. Take a look at Pope Benedict XVI's liturgy. The Pope's liturgy is not a return to tradition, it's the way to tradition. It is clearly the expression of... continuity. He's bringing out, as it were, making manifest the way of beauty to God."

Zielinski then mused on the Pope's awareness. "Have you seen him around people? He listens very carefully. He observes.”

The abbot recalled that during the Pope's audiences, “he has these penetrating eyes. He doesn't observe the mass (of people), he observes the individuals... In his spiritual life, he is also very observant. He understands the needs of the Church."

"I think we'll truly understand this Pontificate in the future because he's taking us to our principles," opined the abbot. "In a world where there's inflation of words and images, his life of silence, prayer and study is truly a prophetic act today."

Abbot Michael John alluded to a quote from Thomas Merton, the 20th Century Catholic writer, who once said, "prayer is losing time for God."

"The Pope believes that 'losing' that time is important... You are prepared for the next life in that time."

You might notice also, said the Benedictine, that the Pope's "physical self is not over the top, you never see him moving about (exaggeratedly)..., whereas his thought is extensive, it has infinite horizons."

"His Pontificate is so different from the last one and yet so complementary."

The abbot remarked that there is a reform going on in the Church, "the reform of Benedict XVI."

Abbot Michael John said we will soon begin to see the fruits of the Pope's “reform.” "He's preparing the younger generations. He's offering them a vision, a vision of life, the world and the church and what it means to be a Christian today. He's preparing us, opening the eyes of our hearts.”

“The vision," Zielinski added, "is a hidden sense, a hidden desire, that of energy and force, and from this vision will come forth new life, ... new forms, new expressions, new representations."

"In Australia at World Youth Day, the young boys and girls returned home with eyes full of vision, and now," he said, "the world is waiting to see what that vision is going to produce; they'll write books, write music, build their houses, churches and cities."

"Hopefully, it will be a life of peace and justice, ... a life that can give witness to the Giver of life."

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It's that time of year when magazines know they can boost their sales by publishing lists that are supposed to encapsulate the year about to pass. God knows what arcane formulas the editors use to come up with their rankings, but whatevere it is, their lists usually reflect the prevailing editorial mindset - aggressively liberal and secular, in the case of the best-known magazines that do this thing regularly - which they want to pass off as the Zeitgeist.


This year, Foreign Policy magazine, published by the Newsweek-Washington Post group, decided to choose the 'top 100 Global Thinkers of 2009', whom you may find here in its Dec. 3 issue
and surely Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, a George W. Bush appointee, must have been the most surprised man in the world to find himself named #1 "for staving off a new Great Depression', outranking his current boss, the Obama the once-and-future-Messiah himself, #2 "for re-imagining America's role in the world".

Our Benedict XVI is ranked #17 for the most risible of reasons - - even though,yet again, he should be and is sui generis -


NB: The only reason I bother with this list is 'for the record' - and that for a change, they chose a nice picture of the Holy Father.

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Into the deep sea of history:
Benedict XVI and 'Anglicanorum coetibus'

By George Neumayr
Dec. 3, 2009

According to his critics, Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy would alienate, not attract, be rigid, not flexible. But as he presides over an imaginative papacy of growing Christian unity, their predictions fall away.

Unable to compute that disaffected Anglicans had approached Pope Benedict and asked for entry into the Church, they cast his apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus as an act of aggressive evangelization.

“Vatican Fishing for Disgruntled Anglicans,” declared the Washington Post. The New York Times described it as “an extraordinary bid to lure traditionalist Anglicans en masse.”

The coverage contained an implicit assumption: that the Catholic Church is a man-made sect which steals members from other man-made sects.

Were that assumption true, were the Catholic Church a grasping human organization among others, the negative spin on Anglicanorum Coetibus might be understandable.

But the assumption is false. The Church comes from Jesus Christ, and the Pope and her bishops are called to be “fishers of men,” as he told the disciples.

True, Pope Benedict’s accommodation of disaffected Anglicans in Anglicanorum Coetibus is not “ecumenical,” as defined by modern liberals. But it is apostolic, and that’s what matters. He is not, after all, the world’s ecumenical coordinator but the Vicar of Christ.

In Pope Benedict’s inaugural sermon, he noted the fisherman’s ring each Pope receives, a symbol that the “Church and the successors of the Apostles are told to put out into the deep sea of history and to let down the nets, so as to win men and women over to the Gospel — to God, to Christ, to true life.”

And the fishing to which Christ calls his Church does not kill but saves, emphasized Pope Benedict: “for a fish, created for water, it is fatal to be taken out of the sea, to be removed from its vital element to serve as human food. But in the mission of a fisher of men, the reverse is true. We are living in alienation, in the salt waters of suffering and death; in a sea of darkness without light. The net of the Gospel pulls us out of the waters of death and brings us into the splendor of God’s light, into true life.”

With Anglicanorum Coetibus and the other bold initiatives of his papacy, Benedict is fulfilling his Petrine role not only as fisherman but also as shepherd. The successor of Peter is called to unite and save all, for the fragmentation of Christians is contrary to the will of God, as Benedict explains in the introduction to the apostolic constitution:

In recent times the Holy Spirit has moved groups of Anglicans to petition repeatedly and insistently to be received into full Catholic communion individually as well as corporately. The Apostolic See has responded favorably to such petitions. Indeed, the successor of Peter, mandated by the Lord Jesus to guarantee the unity of the episcopate and to preside over and safeguard the universal communion of all the Churches, could not fail to make available the means necessary to bring this holy desire to realization.

The Church, a people gathered into the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, was instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ, as “a sacrament — a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all people. Every division among the baptized in Jesus Christ wounds that which the Church is and that for which the Church exists; in fact, “such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages that most holy cause, the preaching the Gospel to every creature.” Precisely for this reason, before shedding his blood for the salvation of the world, the Lord Jesus prayed to the Father for the unity of his disciples.

Anglicanorum Coetibus is not an affront to Christian unity, as some claim, but a significant step towards it, not an act of arrogant sectarianism, but a repudiation of it.

In the document’s flexibility and generosity, Pope Benedict shows once again that his orthodox understanding of the Church as one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic makes him open to everything save heresy.

Ironically, it is the heterodox inside the Church who recoil from this openness and appear rigid as they try and lock the doors to traditionalists who do not pass insubstantial litmus tests.

In his approach to disaffected Anglicans, the Society of Pius X, and the Orthodox, among others, Pope Benedict has rejected that species of small-minded sectarianism. He does not treat unity as uniformity and force traditionalist searchers to swallow a uniform version of post-Vatican II Catholicism before entering the Church.

The Catholic left clamored for “diversity” and a “reformed” religion from Pope Benedict, but this is not what they had in mind. They fear that his gestures to traditionalists, both outside and inside the Church, threaten to retard liberal progress. Let us hope they are right.

Catholics, in fact, may find exposure to the elements of the Anglican patrimony permitted under this apostolic constitution to be far more edifying and historically Catholic than exposure to the progressive ad hoc practices at their own parishes.

Benedict, as he launches out into the deep sea of history, is not so much re-shaping Catholicism as restoring it and reminding the world that true Christianity is not a sect but a universal religion.

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Papal message:


VATICAN CITY, 3 DEC 2009 (VIS) - Pope Benedict XVI's message for the eighteenth World Day of the Sick in 2010, which is celebrated annually on February 11, Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Noting how the forthcoming Day coincides with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the foundation of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, the Holy Father expresses the hope that this fact "will be the occasion for a more generous apostolic commitment at the service of the sick and of their carers".

"In the mystery of Christ's passion, death and resurrection", writes the Pope, "human suffering finds meaning and fullness of light. ... At the Last Supper the Lord Jesus, before returning to the Father, bent to wash the Apostles' feet in a foretaste of His supreme act of love upon the Cross. With this gesture He invited His disciples to follow His own logic of a love that especially gives itself to the weakest and to those most in need. Following His example all Christians are called to relive, in different contexts, the parable of the Good Samaritan".

Jesus, says the Holy Father, "exhorts us to attend to the bodily and spiritual wounds of so many of our brothers and sisters whom we meet on the roads of the world. He helps us to understand that, with the grace of God accepted and lived in everyday life, the experience of sickness and suffering can become a school of hope".

"At the current historical-cultural time", the Message continues, "there is an increasing need for an attentive and extensive ecclesial presence alongside sick people, as well as a presence in society capable of effectively transmitting evangelical values for the protection of human life in all its phases, from conception until natural end".

The Pope expresses his heartfelt thanks "to the people who daily 'serve the sick and suffering' ensuring that 'that their apostolate of mercy may ever more effectively respond to people's needs'".

In the current Year for Priests, Benedict XVI also addresses the "'ministers of the sick', sign and instrument of Christ's compassion which must reach everyone who suffers". In this context he invites clergy "to show no reserve in offering help and comfort. Time spent alongside the suffering is rich in grace for all other dimensions of pastoral care.

"Finally," he adds in conclusion, "I address you, dear sick people, and I ask you to pray and to offer your suffering for priests, that they may remain faithful to their vocation and that their ministry may be rich in spiritual fruits for the benefit of the entire Church".

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Dec. 3, 2009

This afternoon, 3 December 2009, His Holiness Benedict XVI received in audience Dimitri Medvedev, president of the Russian Federation. The president had previously met with Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone S.D.B. who was accompanied by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for Relations with States.

During the cordial discussions pleasure was expressed on both sides at the cordial relations that currently exist between them, and it was agreed to establish full diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Russian Federation.

Following an exchange of opinions on the international economic and political situation - also in the light of the Encyclical "Caritas in veritate" of which the Holy Father presented the president with a copy in Russian - attention turned to the challenges currently facing security and peace. The talks then turned to cultural and social questions of mutual interest, such as the value of the family and the contribution believers make to life in Russia.


Vatican and Russia agree
to full diplomatic ties


VATICAN CITY, Dec. 3 (AP) – Pope Benedict XVI and visiting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed Thursday to upgrade Vatican-Kremlin relations to full diplomatic ties, the Vatican said.

The step forward on the diplomatic front comes at the same time as a warming in previously tense relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican.

A Vatican statement said Benedict and Medvedev agreed that Russia will upgrade its representation at the Vatican from a special mission to embassy level and that the Vatican will reciprocate in Moscow.

The two men also discussed challenges to "security and peace" in the world and "themes of mutual interest such as the value of the family and the contribution of believers to the life of Russia," the Vatican said.

Medvedev, on a one-day visit to Rome, met with the German Pope for 30 minutes, speaking through interpreters. He had earlier met with Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

After decades of hostility between the Vatican and the Kremlin during the Cold War, the major breakthrough came when former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev met with Pope John Paul II in December 1989.

But the lifting of restrictions on religion led to new tensions with the Orthodox church, which accused the Vatican of poaching for souls in traditional Orthodox territory — a charge the Vatican denied.

The standoff prevented John Paul II from fulfilling his wish of making a pilgrimage to Russia.

Vatican officials, however, say that despite improved atmosphere such a trip is not on Benedict's agenda now. The Vatican statement after Thursday's meeting did not mention it.

Benedict had met with Medvedev's predecessor, Vladimir Putin, two years ago. As a gift, Medvedev presented Benedict with 22 volumes of an encyclopedia on the Russian Orthodox Church to complete a set brought by Putin.


Russia, Vatican to establish
full diplomatic relations


ROME, Dec. 3 (AFP) – Russia and the Vatican have agreed to establish full diplomatic relations, ending long-standing tensions, the Kremlin announced Thursday after President Dmitry Medvedev met Pope Benedict XVI.

"President Medvedev told Pope Benedict XVI that he had signed a decree concerning the establishment of full diplomatic relations with the Vatican," Russian presidential spokeswoman Natalia Timakova said.

"He asked the foreign ministry to lead discussions to establish the relations and raise the level of representation to apostolic nuncio and embassy," she added.

Since 1990, the two sides have maintained representation below the rank of ambassador.

The Vatican confirmed in its own statement: "It was decided to establish full diplomatic relations." It welcomed the "cordial ties" between the two.

Relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church have been tense for centuries, and were again strained in recent years by Orthodox accusations of Catholic proselytising in post-Soviet Russia.

During their meeting, the Russian President presented the Pope with a box decorated with an image of Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow which was pulled down after the Russian Revolution but rebuilt at the end of Soviet rule.

He also offered him 22 new volumes of an Orthodox encyclopedia. Medvedev's predecessor, Vladimir Putin, had presented the Pope with the first volumes at their meeting in 2007.

"I will not be able to read all that," the Pope quipped.

"We will help you," replied the Russian president.

The head of the Roman Catholic Church in turn presented gifts including a lithograph of St Peter's Cathedral, and a Russian translation of his last encyclical.

The meeting lasted half an hour "and showed the highest level of dialogue between Russia and the Holy See and the Russian Orthodox Church", Timakova said.

Frosty ties between the two churches have thawed since the new leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, assumed his position in February.

He was previously the Russian Orthodox Church's official in foreign relations and met Pope Benedict XVI several times before he became Patriarch.

"Moscow's movements are closely linked to the level of relations between the Vatican and the Orthodox Church," Vatican watcher Marco Tosatti told AFP.

"The Russian government cannot offend the Patriach in Moscow, they cannot do anything that could displease him."

Putin was received three times at the Vatican -- by Pope Benedict XVI in March 2007 and Pope John Paul II in 2000 and 2003.

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev met John Paul II 20 years ago on the eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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This was anticipated a few months back, with the speculation that the President will formally invite the Pope to visit Vietenam. He'll also have to explain to the Pope why his government has been so harsh with Catholics in the past two years...

Vietnamese President
to make rare Vatican trip


President Thiet; at right, celebrations near Hanoi last week to open a double Jubilee Year for Vietnamese Catholics.

HANOI, Dec. 3 (AFP) – Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet will make a rare visit to the Vatican next week to reinforce ties between the communist state and the Holy See, the government said Thursday.

The two sides do not have diplomatic relations but in recent years have begun a reconciliation.

Triet's December 11 Vatican stop will be part of a European tour taking in Italy, Spain and Slovakia.

"During his visit to Italy, Nguyen Minh Triet will have a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI," said Nguyen Phuong Nga, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman.

They will discuss "measures to reinforce relations between Vietnam and the Vatican," which she said have recently been progressing well.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung made a historic visit to the Vatican in 2007, marking a major thaw in relations.

Early this year a senior Vatican official held the first formal meetings with Vietnamese authorities in Hanoi to discuss diplomatic ties.

Nga said she was not able to give details of Triet's Vatican agenda, including whether the issue of confiscated Catholic land will be broached.

The losses started with the end of French colonial rule in 1954. In December 2007, Catholics began a series of demonstrations over seized land that led to occasional clashes with the police.

A Catholic priest, Nguyen Van Ly, was jailed for eight years in 2007 for spreading propaganda against the communist state.

The case drew condemnation from diplomats, Vietnam watchers and human rights groups, and in early July this year a bipartisan group of 37 United States senators sent a letter to Triet calling for Ly's release.

His sister has said he is in deteriorating health.

Vietnam has Southeast Asia's largest Roman Catholic community after the Philippines -- about six million in a population of 86 million.

Religious activity remains under state control in Vietnam.
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Friday, December 4
ST. JOHN DAMASCENE (John of Damascus) (676-749)
Monk, Theologian, Poet and Writer, Doctor of the Church
Often called 'the last of the Church Fathers', he was born to a prominent Arab Christian family in Damascus
and lived under Muslim rule all his life. After serving an Umayyad Caliph as a tax official, he entered the Mar
al Saba monastery in Jerusalem. He is best known for his writings against Iconoclasm (the image-destroyers)
but his interests ranged from theology and philosophy to law and music. Besides writing treatises defending
the Christian faith, he wrote hymns which are still sung today in Eastern Christian churches. He is one of
the ten 'Doctors of the Early Church', the group of Church doctors recognized after the eight great doctors
of the Western and Eastern Churches

OR today.
Illustration: The Shrine of St. Anthony in Padua.
The only Papal news in this issue is the Holy Father's message for the World Day of the Sick on Feb. 11,
2010. There is a Page 1 feature on St. Anthony of Padua in connection with the reopening today of the
Cappella dell'Arca housing his mortal remains at his Shrine in Padua, after a two-year structural
restoration of the 16th-century high Renaissance chapel. Other Page 1 stories: Europe's Central Bank
says anti-crisis measures should remain in place to shore up a recovering economy; immigrant labor
will become even cheaper due to the crisis; a terrorist bomb kills three in Damascus; and four Somali
government ministers are killed in a terrorist attack in Mogadishu by Muslim rebels.


At 9 a.m. today, the Holy Father attended the first of the Advent Sermons by the Preacher
of the Royal Household in the Redemptoris Mater chapel of the Apostolic Palace.

Later, he met with

- His Beatitude Anastas, Archbishop of Tirana, Durres and All Albania, with his delegation.
Address in English.

- Bishops of Brazil (South Sector-3&4) on ad limina visit.

At 5 p.m. today, the Holy Father will be honored with a performance of Bach's 'Christmas Oratorio'
by the Augsburg Cathedral Boys' Choir and the Residenz Chamber Orchestraof Munich at the Sistine
Chapel. The presentation is a tribute to the Pope from the President of Germany, Horst Koehler, to mark
the 60th anniversary of the Federal Republic of Germany and the 20th since the Fall of the Berlin wall.

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Beauty and faith, art and liturgy:
Benedict XVI leads the way


MERRIMACK, New Hampshire, Dec. 2, 2009 ( Catholic liturgy has a great capacity to instruct people in appreciating beauty, which will in turn help attract them to truth, says artist David Clayton.

David Clayton and two of his modern icons.

Clayton is an artist-in-residence at Thomas More College, and a teacher for the newly launched Way of Beauty program. [Known for his paintings of contemporary icons, he has a science degree from Oxford and trained as an artist in Italy.]

In this interview with ZENIT, he speaks about the program's goals to instruct artists and their patrons in the appreciation of true beauty.

Clayton reflects on Benedict XVI's words in a Nov. 18 general audience, when the Pontiff spoke about Christian architecture, focusing on Gothic cathedrals such as Chartres and Notre Dame.

What struck you about the Pope's statement?
Well, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts has put into place a program aimed at training students to do exactly what he is calling for. He even used the same name, the Way of Beauty (except, being the Pope he used Latin of course, "via pulchtritudinis," and that makes it sound even better!)

Beauty has an important part to play in attracting people to the truth.

We have to state clearly what the truth is, but we must do so beautifully, otherwise people are less likely to be attracted to it.

Is it pure coincidence that the Pope delivered this speech just after you launched the program?
It is a coincidence that we have just started it in the last couple of months, but in another way it isn't. He made the point that his two predecessors had asked for a return to a culture of beauty. We are doing what we are doing as a direct response to them as well.

It was John Paul II especially and his Letter to Artists that inspired me to try to establish a program at a Catholic school that would enable the "new epiphany of beauty" that he called for.

The writings of the current Pope just seem to build on this. Every week, it seems, his addresses have focused on the Church Fathers in such a way that he seemed to be leading up to this.

So, for example, he refers often to Augustine of course, and he has drawn our attention also to St. Boethius, who is the father whose work was so influential in the teaching of the quadrivium, the "four ways" -- the higher part of the seven liberal arts.

This is pretty much a traditional education in beauty and was influential in the School of Chartres, which was at the center of the gothic tradition of the Church.

The Pope had a meeting with artists from all over the world on Nov. 22. What impact do you think this event will have on art?
In itself, probably little. Most of the figures are prominent in the current creative environment, which is secular.

I hope I'm wrong, but I think it will be difficult for them to just turn on a tap of beauty in any way that is very different from what they are already doing. It is asking them to change course in what they are already doing and that's not easy.

However, they may be inspired to get involved in long term projects that point the way to the next generation, and very importantly it draws attention to the issue and gets a lot of publicity, highlighting how important this is from the perspective of within the Church.

What has the Church done, or what could it do, to reach out more to the world of art?
I think that more important than persuading the artists, we should be persuading the patrons of the arts.

The artists will always do what they are paid to do. I think that we need enlightened patrons.

Part of this is training priests in seminaries to understand exactly what Catholic culture is. However, I think that as much, if not more, can be done by the laity -- really it comes down to us to demand better art and to come up with the money to pay for it.

I am on the board of an organization called the Foundation for Sacred Arts that is trying to promote the idea of knowledgeable artists and architects going into seminaries to give talks and courses that will help the priests to choose what is good.

And of course, we have the Way of Beauty at Thomas More College. It rests on understanding our own culture and, very importantly, how it is rooted in the liturgy.

Why is beauty so often missing from modern art and architecture? And what could or should be done to go back to the original beauty?
Modern culture is secular. It reflects a worldview in which God is not acknowledged. It does this very well, and so this is why it is so powerful and yet so ugly.

Catholic culture should not, in my view, look to secular culture for inspiration. To do so would be to look at art forms that were developed to communicate an anti-Christian worldview.

If you try to Christianize popular culture, for example, you end up with a form that is trying to communicate values that are good through a medium that was developed to communicate something else. The result is that it loses all its power and it comes across as weak and sentimental.

There is another reason. There is a saying that all the great art movements began on the altar. Catholic culture is always rooted in the cult that is central to Catholicism, that is, the Mass and the Divine Office.

If our liturgy is lacking in dignity and beauty, then Catholic culture will be too.

One of the great things that is happening in the Church now is a liturgical renewal. This is more powerful in creating a culture of beauty than anything else, and it is the current Pope who, more than anyone, is overseeing a restoration of liturgical orthodoxy.

This is the most powerful way to reach out to artists, and for that matter anyone else (if I can come back to your earlier question) that the Church has at its disposal. The reaching out is done by the Holy Spirit; it is a supernatural magnet!

Once we get the liturgy sorted out, everything else will fall into place. [Very well said! In art - and liturgy uses a compendium of arts - form reflects content, another way of saying, in the case of liturgy: Lex orandi, lex credendi.]

Tell us about your project of the way of beauty. Why did you choose an academic environment in which to establish it?
Thomas More College offers a unique practical training in beauty that will enable ordinary Catholics to contribute to the culture of beauty.

Rooted in our own tradition, it is trying to further what the West has been waiting for. We need skillful artists, of course. We also need knowledgeable patrons of the arts.

But most of all we need people who know what beauty is, know how to use it in their worship, and demand it in their churches, their homes, their workplaces.

This is why every student at the college goes through this course. They learn to participate in, and create, a culture of beauty that directs us to God. It is based upon the traditional quadrivium that I mentioned earlier. The subjects are number, geometry, harmony/music and cosmology, but these are not taught as they would be normally.

It is a tradition that teaches the patterns and harmony that comprise all that is beautiful and how they correspond to the patterns in the liturgy.

This is reflected in what we think of first when we talk of Catholic culture: art, architecture, literature, music. But these are values and principles that can be employed in all our human activity. Whatever we do, we can do it beautifully, inspired by God.

As beauty is apprehended intuitively, an education in beauty develops our intuitive faculty -- we become more creative. True originality is that which looks to the origin of all that is good, God.

Crucial to this education of beauty and creativity is the guided practice of the creation of beauty.

This begins in the teaching of people to pray with visual imagery in the context of the Mass and the Divine Office. We teach through practice, sacred geometry -- the traditional abstract art form that manifests these principles and is the basis for the proportion and compositional design in art and architecture.

Those who are artistic can choose to do iconography courses and fine carpentry courses. Everyone is required to do creative writing courses that teach using traditional methods.

The result is that we also teach people to recognize the theological language of the artistic traditions of the Church, the iconographic, the gothic and the baroque. We teach people the visual language.

As the students go through the whole of our liberal arts program, which is a great books program, they will start to see how the whole of Catholic culture is run through with these values.

As well as being a fascinating journey through our culture, this will give us the knowledge to be enlightened patrons for the Church and to choose images discerningly for our own pray and worship. It is also an excellent foundation for Catholics wishing to go on and study art intensively. They will know how to apply their skills in the service of the Church.

It sounds as though this would be of interest to more than just your students. Is there a way that others can get access to this?
Yes, we are running a summer program in 2010. This is for anyone aged 16 and above. It will take place at our college campus in New Hampshire. As well as a course in the Way of Beauty -- teaching people the basics of the quadrivium- we also run courses in drawing and painting. We teach iconography and naturalistic drawing in the baroque style using the academic method.

What people should be aware of is that talent has very little to do with being an artist. If you love art and love the Church, then with the right training, you will learn the necessary skills to do it. We have internationally known artists doing the training here and people will be amazed at the results they achieve.

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This morning, the Holy Father received in audience His Beatitude Anastas, Archbushop of Tirana, Durrës and All Albania, of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania).

Here is the text of the Pope's address to his guest, delivered in English:

Your Beatitude,

"Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thess 1:2).

I am pleased to extend a fraternal welcome to Your Beatitude and to the other distinguished representatives of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania accompanying you today.

I recall with gratitude, in spite of the sad circumstances, our meeting at the funeral of the late Pope John Paul II. I also remember with satisfaction how my same venerable Predecessor had the occasion to greet you in Tirana during his Apostolic Visit to Albania.

As is well known, Illyricum received the Gospel in Apostolic times (cf. Acts 17:1; Rom 15:19). Since then, Christ’s saving message has borne fruit in your country down to our own day.

As the very earliest writings of your culture bear witness, through the survival of an ancient Latin baptismal formula along with a Byzantine hymn about the Lord’s Resurrection, the faith of our Christian forefathers left wonderful and indelible traces in the first lines of the history, literature and arts of your people.

Yet the most impressive witness is surely always found in life itself. During the latter half of the past century, the Christians in Albania, both Orthodox and Catholic, kept the faith alive there in spite of an extremely repressive and hostile atheistic regime; and, as is well known, many Christians paid cruelly for that faith with their lives. The fall of that regime has happily given way to the reconstruction of the Catholic and Orthodox communities in Albania.

The missionary activity of Your Beatitude is recognized, particularly in the reconstruction of places of worship, the formation of the clergy and the catechetical work now being done, a movement of renewal which Your Beatitude has rightly described as Ngjallja (Resurrection).

Since it acquired its freedom, the Orthodox Church of Albania has been able to participate fruitfully in the international theological dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox. Your commitment in this regard happily mirrors the fraternal relations between Catholics and Orthodox in your country and offers inspiration to the entire Albanian people, demonstrating how it is possible for fellow Christians to live in harmony.

In this light, we would do well to emphasize the elements of faith which our Churches share: a common profession of the Nicene–Constantinopolitan creed; a common baptism for the remission of sins and for incorporation into Christ and the Church; the legacy of the first Ecumenical Councils; the real if imperfect communion which we already share, and the common desire and collaborative efforts to build upon what already exists.

I am reminded here of two important initiatives in Albania, the establishment of the Interconfessional Biblical Society and the creation of the Committee for Interreligious Relations. These are timely efforts to promote mutual understanding and tangible cooperation, not only between Catholics and Orthodox, but also among Christians, Muslims and Bektashi.

I rejoice with Your Beatitude and with all the Albanian people in this spiritual renewal. At the same time, it is with gratitude to Almighty God that I reflect on your own service to your country and on your personal contribution to fostering fraternal relations with the Catholic Church.

Be assured that we, for our part, will do all that we can to offer a common witness of brotherhood and peace, and to pursue with you a renewed commitment to the unity of our Churches in obedience to the New Commandment of our Lord.

Your Beatitude, it is in this spirit of communion that I am pleased to welcome you to the city of the Apostles Peter and Paul.

In the globe above, Albania is the tiny strip of white to the left of the heel of the Italian peninsula on the European mainland.

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Jews should know
'they have had no better friend
in the Vatican since Christianity began
than Benedict XVI'

by David P. Goldman
December 1, 2009

The Jerusalem-based quarterly Azure (Techelet in Hebrew) has the unique virtue of appearing simultaneously in Hebrew and English. I have been a steady reader since its inception and strongly recommend it.

In the Autumn 2009 issue, Azure’s new editor-in-chief Assav Sagiv writes vividly about the need for Jews and Christians to cooperate on matters of urgent mutual concern. The magazine’s website has a preview of Sagiv’s editorial:

Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Israel this past May is not likely to be remembered as a landmark event. Nor is it likely to be viewed as a turning point in the history of Jewish-Catholic relations. Sadly, however, it will be remembered as a decidedly less-than-pleasant affair.

To be sure, feelings were tense from the outset, with Israeli politicians on both the right and the left openly expressing their dissatisfaction at the pope’s impending visit; Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin went so far as to boycott the official welcoming ceremony at Ben-Gurion Airport.

The Pope’s much-anticipated speech at Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, hardly improved matters, at least for those who sought an express apology for the Holocaust (and didn’t get one).


What was overlooked amidst all this animosity and mistrust, however, is the fact that Benedict XVI— the former Joseph Ratzinger — is actually one of the best friends the Jewish people has ever had in Vatican City.

On the eve of the Pope’s visit, Aviad Kleinberg, a scholar of Christian history and a columnist for the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, attempted to remind his readers of this.

“Ratzinger was the confidant of Pope John Paul II, and his immense theological authority was a critical aspect of the previous Pope’s moves…. John Paul and Ratzinger buried once and for all not only the accusation of the Jews’ murdering the messiah, but the entire theological theory that the Christians replaced the Jews and are now the Chosen People and that the New Testament annuls the Old Testament. The Old Testament is still valid, declared the two, and the Jewish people is still God’s chosen and beloved people.”

A few days later, in reaction to what he called an “embarrassing demonstration of tactless and boorish behavior” toward the Pope, Kleinberg wrote:

“It is particularly obtuse of us to demand of others what we would never demand of ourselves. Try suggesting to any of our rabbis that they should declare what John Paul II and Benedict XVI have declared. For example, that Christians are our young and beloved brethren and that their covenant with the Lord is also intact — ‘Excuse me?’ you say. ‘Did we understand you correctly? Give us a break!’”

Indeed, while Catholic leaders of recent times have repeatedly expressed sorrow and even remorse for hundreds of years of antisemitism, the Jewish world has not yet shown a comparable willingness to reconsider its own perception of Christianity. No one, of course, has demanded this of Judaism, for understandable reasons.

Ever since Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century c.e., it was the Jews, the so-called Christ-killers, who were persecuted by the Church, and not the other way around.

Today, however, circumstances demand that all established religions reexamine their traditional attitudes toward each other. Christianity, in all of its various denominations, has generally risen to the occasion. Judaism, for its part, has not.

In the Israeli national discourse, Sagiv’s essay represents an extraordinary sort of tough-mindedness.

Within the Jewish State, where the Catholic presence is tiny (a few hundred Israeli Catholics attend Hebrew-language Church services) and the Arab Christian posture tends towards the extreme fringe of anti-Zionism, self-righteous outrage over past Christian persecution is the path of least resistance.

There is nothing to be gained tactically, moreover, by demanding that Jews acknowledge the good will of the Catholic Church, since the Vatican’s Middle Eastern policy remains hostage to the small and vulnerable population of Lebanese Maronites.

Encircled by Hizbollah, the much-diminished Maronites in communion with Rome could be wiped out any time Hizbollah’s masters in Iran give the command. That makes Rome gunshy over the Iranian problem, which most Israelis view as the main existential threat to the State of Israel.

Benedict’s unprecedented efforts to draw near to Judaism as a religion were summarized by the Bonn University theologian Karl-Heinz Menke, who argues that His Holiness is the first pope since St. Peter to read the whole of the Gospels as a Jewish work.

From a theological standpoint, the Jewish people have had no better friend in the Vatican since the founding of Christianity. There is quite gap between Benedict’s theological labors, though, and his inability to get Vatican foreign policy out of a rut.

What shines through the fog of peace – if that is the right phrase –is Benedict’s whole-hearted embrace of the continuing Election of Israel. Christians who agree that we still are God’s people, whatever our theological differences, are our friends, whatever other issues may arise.

My views on the subject run parallel to Assaf Sagiv’s, with some differences in emphasis – but to explain these, I would have to present material reserved for Azure subscribers.

Rather than nitpick Sagiv’s presentation, I recommend that anyone concerned with the great issues of our time subscribe to his excellent quarterly.

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A musical performance in the Sistine Chapel has got to be the ultimate concert experience!

Tribute from the German President:
Bach in the Sistine Chapel

The host and guest of honor: Benedict XVI
The concert patron and tribute giver: President Horst Koehler of the Federal Republic of Germany
The occasion: The 60th anniversary of the Federal Republic of Germany
and the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.
The program: First and Third cantatas from Johann Sebastian Bach's Christmas Oratorio
Performed by: The Augsburg Cathedral Boys Choir, the Residenz Chamber Orchestra of Munich, and soloists.


Here is a translation of the remarks delivered in German by the Holy Father after the performance:

Dear friends!

It is difficult to speak after such great and interiorly moving music. But as humble as they may be, words of greeting, gratitude and reflection are nonetheless in order.

I welcome you all to the Sistine Chapel. And to the Herr Bundes-President and his wife, my thanks that you have nonored us tonight with your presence.

Dear Mr. President, your visit really brings me joy, as it highlights the communion of the German people with the Successor of Peter, their compatriot.

And a heartfelt Vergelt's Gott ['Thank you' - literally, May God reward you for it!] for your profoundly moving words and for having made this evening possible.

I likewise thank the honorable Domkapellmeister Reinhard Kammler, the Augsburger Domsingknaben, and the ResidenczKammerorchester of Munich for the masterul performance of this great Oratorio. Thank you for this wonderful gift!

The occasion for this celebratory evening is, as we have heard, twofold. First, we celebrate this year the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany with the signing of its Constitution on May 23, 1949.

At the same time, we observe the 20th annviersary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, that fatal boundary which for many years divided our country and tore people, families, neigbors and friends from each other.

The events on November 9, 1989, were seen by those who experienced it as the unexpected dawn of freedom after suffering a long night of violation and oppression by a totalitarian system which ultimately amounted to nihilism, to an emptying of the soul.

In the Communist dictatorship, there was no treatment that was not evil in itself and always immoral. Whatever served the purposes of the Party was good, no matter how inhuman it was.

Today we often ask ourselves whether the Western social order is truly better and more human. The history of the Federal Republic of Germany is instructive in this regard, and for this, we have our Constitution to thank in large measure.

This document has guided the peaceful development of Germany in the past 60 years. Because it reminds men, responsible to God, the Creater, of human dignity at the forefront of rights that must be guaranteed by the state, and of consideration and respect for marriage and the family, which is sacred to many, as the basis of society.

May the citizens of Germany continue to work together dutifully for a free society in the task of spiritual and political renewal as expressed in the Constitution, after the experience of National Socialism and the Second World War.

Dear friends, if we look back at the history of our Fatherland in the past 60 years, we have reason to give our deepest thanks to God. And it makes us realize that this development was not our work alone. It was made possible by men who, from a deep Christian conviction of their responsibility before God, carried out the processes of forgiveness and reconciliation that enabled a new cooperation among the countries of Europe.

European history in the 20th century shows that responsibility before God is decisively significant for correct political action (cfr Caritas in veritate). God brings men together to a true togetherness, and he makes each individual conscious that in our relationship with others, there is a greater Presence, who is the origin of our life and our togetherness.

This is especially clear in the mystery of Christmas, in which God with his love comes to us, as man himself, as a child who asks for our love.

This togetherness, which is based on love and oriented towards eternal love, is impressively illustrated by a stanza in the Christmas Oratorio, in which Mary by the manger listens to the words of the shepherds who came as witnesses to the message of the angel about her Child.

Bach makes this moment, that as everything else that would happen, Mary would keep and reflect on in her heart (cfr Lk 2,19), into a call to every individual in a wonderful aria:

Schließe, mein Herze, dies selige Wunder
fest in deinem Glauben ein!
Lasse dies Wunder, die göttlichen Werke,
immer zur Stärke deines schwachen Glaubens sein.

(Believe, my heart, this holy wonder. Let this wonder, this Godly work, always strenghten your weak faith.)

Every man can be, for others, in communionw ith Jesus Christ, be a mediator to God. No one believes for himself alone - everyone lives his faith among other men. But no one can lay down this bridge to God by himself, since no one, on his own, can lay absolute claim to God's existence in order to hand it to others.

It is in communion with others who are also close to God what we can be mediators of God with each other. As such, we become capable of inspiring new thought and of bringing new strength in the service of an integral humanism.

He concluded in Italian:

I thank all those who organized this beautiful evening, to the musicians and all those who made this concert possible through their generous contribution.

May the splendid music that we have just heard in the unique setting of the Sistine Chapel reinforce our faith and our joy in the Lord, so that we can be his witnesses to the world.

I impart on everyone my Apostolic Blessing.


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Saturday, December 5
Panel shows an aerial view of Mar Saba, and the high altar where the saint's remains repose.
ST. SABAS (b Cappadocia [present Turkey] 439, d Jerusalem 532)
Venerable Father, Hermit, Abbot
Considered one of the founders of Eastern monasticism, Sabas came to Jerusalem at age 18, where he started his exemplary
monastic life in a monastery under the mentorship of St. Euthymius. At age 30, he was allowed to spend five days a week
in a cave, praying and weaving baskets. When his mentor died, he moved to a cave in the Kidron valley east of Bethlehem,
where he was eventually joined by other monks. This became the nucleus for the Great Lavra, now known as Mar Saba,
the first monastery founded by Sabas. St. John Damascene was the most famous pupil of the monastery. Subsequently, Sabas
travelled throughout Palestine establishing more monasteries, preaching and gaining Christian converts. He was appointed
Archimandrite of all Palestinian monasteries in 491. At age 91, he undertook a mission to Constantinople for the Patriarch
of Jerusalem. He died of an illness shortly after his return. In the 12th century, Crusaders took his body for safekeeping
to Rome, but Paul VI returned the remains to Mar Saba in 1965.

OR today.
Top story in this issue is the announcement of full diplomatic
relations between the Vatican and Russia after President Medvedev's
visit [which took place Thursday afternoon, so it didn't make it to the 12/4 issue].
The 91-ft tall Vatican Christmas tree arrived yesterday from the Ardennes in Belgium.
Other Page 1 stories: the Holy Father's meeting with the Orthodox Patriarch of
Albania yesterday; the US-Russia nuclear arms reduction treaty lapses before
a new agreement can be concluded; and India says it will impose its own voluntary
restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions but will not abide by any restrictions set
by the Copenhagen climate-change conference next week.


The Holy Father met today with

- H.E. Horst Koehler, President of the Federal Republic of Germany, and delegation.

- Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops (weekly meeting)

- Bishops of Brazil (South Sector-3&4, Group 2) on ad limina visit. Address in Portuguese.

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Translated from
Dec. 5, 2009


This morning, the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, H.E. Horst Koehler, and his wife, were received in audience by His Holiness, Benedict XVI.

Subsequently, the President met with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State, and Mons. Dominique Mamberti, secretary for relations with states.

There was an exchange of opinions on various subjects: the concert for the double anniversary this year of the establishment of the Federal Republic and the fall of the Berlin Wall, which was the occasion for this visit by the President; and the present economic crisis with its consequences on the international situation, particularly in Europe and in Africa.

The released captions do not identify what the structure is - it looks like an elaborate candleholder with a wind-driven mechanism to animate the figures.

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I don't think the Holy Father needs any aspirin at all about this! His 'populist' Catholicism, as in Bavaria and in grassroots Italy, is not the political one that Allen describes.

Benedict's headache
with populist Catholicism

Dec. 04, 2009

Like everybody else in this hyper-political age, Catholics are conventionally divided into "liberals" and "conservatives." (Whenever that taxonomy is rolled out, I'm reminded of a line from G.K. Chesterton: A progressive is someone who keeps making the same mistake, while a conservative is someone who prevents a mistake from ever being corrected. Chesterton is a patron saint for those of us who don't recognize ourselves in either camp.)

However useful that distinction can sometimes be, it's hardly the only way to slice the pie. Another is what we might call the difference between "institutional" and "populist" Catholicism.

In a nutshell, institutional types (however grudgingly) like to be on the same page with the Pope and the bishops, while populists (however respectfully) think the powers that be are occasionally full of it, so other Catholics have to say and do the things that bishops, for political or bureaucratic reasons, can't or won't.

Americans are certainly familiar with populist Catholicism, both on the right (including pro-life groups that sometimes seem as mad at the bishops for their timidity as at Planned Parenthood for its ideology) and on the left (think Patrick Kennedy's insistence that disagreeing with the hierarchy doesn't make him any less Catholic).

Among other things, this proves the point that populists of all stripes often have more in common with one another than with the institutional psychology against which they're reacting.

Recent events in Europe, however, illustrate the growing political punch of populist Catholicism on the global stage.

Last Sunday in Switzerland, voters approved a constitutional ban on the construction of minarets, the spires atop Islamic mosques where the call to prayer is issued five times a day. The result came over the explicit opposition of the country's Christian leaders, including the Swiss Catholic bishops, who issued a statement before the vote warning that "fear is a poor counselor."

Afterwards, an official from the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Migrants as well as L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, called the outcome a blow to religious freedom.

Despite that, 56 percent of Swiss voters favored the minaret ban. I haven't seen any exit polls, but one has to imagine that a decisive bloc was formed by those Swiss most concerned with their country's Christian identity, which would include a cross-section of Catholics. Switzerland is 42 percent Catholic, so the measure could not have passed without substantial Catholic support. [Not to mention that evangelical Christianity which accounts for 36.4% of the Swiss is probably better established in Switzerland than Catholicism!]

Officials of the Council of Europe said this week that the Swiss measure may be reviewed by European courts as a potential violation of freedom of conscience and human rights protections. [How can they rule that when it is the outcome of a free and open national referendum? It wasn't legislated!

A recent proposal from the far-right Northern League to add a cross to the national flag is producing a similar split between institutional and populist Catholic sentiment.

The Northern League, which routinely draws between five and fifteen percent of the national vote, is part of Italy's ruling center-right coalition. Historically the party has been fairly anti-clerical, seeing the Vatican as an expression of Roman centralization against the interests of its base of support in the north.

Recently, however, the party has repositioned itself as the voice of populist Catholic anxieties, directed against both the European Union and Islamic immigration. [In other words, they are using 'Catholic populism' exploitatively for their own ends!]

Roberto Maroni of the Northern League, currently Italy's interior minister, says his party is committed to the defense of grassroots Catholic values, "not what the elites want" – a catchy way of saying that while the Northern League may be taking up the Catholic banner, it's not taking cues from the Italian bishops or the Vatican.

From a populist calculus, the proposal to put a cross on the flag is a potent political double play. It comes in the wake of a controversial decision from a European court which held that displaying crucifixes in Italian public school classrooms violates church/state separation, and it also makes a statement about the Christian identity of Italy in the teeth of the country's rising Muslim population.

How serious the idea may be in a country where the tricolore, the three-colored flag, is something of a national fetish remains to be seen. What it illustrates, however, is a growing political sophistication among populists about the manipulation of symbolism.

[I think Allen over-states the significance of the Lega Nord proposal. Italian politicians, even the leading Catholic ones, are smart enough to know this is no winner, because it challenges Chucch and State separation unnecessarily. It is not an issue the Italian man-on-the-street will fight for.]

This arousal of populist Catholicism poses a real headache for Pope Benedict XVI.

In recent decades, the Vatican's highest priority for Europe has been recovery of the continent's Christian identity, and Benedict in particular has argued that Europe would be culturally incoherent if cut off from its Christian roots.

Yet at the same time, Benedict also has no higher inter-faith priority than outreach to Islam, the defining expression of his transition from "inter-religious" to "inter-cultural" dialogue. In essence, Benedict sees Christians and Muslims as natural allies in the struggle against secularism.

Benedict also has to worry about the fate of Christianity not just in Europe, but also in the Middle East, Africa, and India – places where the intersection of nationalism and religious identity makes life difficult for Christian minorities.

Many Church leaders fear that provocative acts such as the Swiss vote could trigger anti-Christian backlash in other parts of the world. [This was very much the primary reason advanced by the Swiss bishops and by the OR to denounce the minraet ban.] Italian essayist Massimo Franco recently described this as the Vatican's "geo-religious" perspective.

Looking down the line at the rest of the 21st century, declining fertility rates in the Middle East and North Africa suggest that the current high levels of Islamic immigration into Europe won't be sustained.

Long term, therefore, the Vatican may be able to hope for a "demographic fix" to its headache, since immigration might no longer be such a volatile force in European politics.

In the meantime, however, Benedict XVI has to walk a tightrope. He doesn't want to discourage those forces in Europe most passionately committed to a defense of Christian identity, but somehow he also needs to prevent them from upsetting his geo-religious applecart.

So far, there's been no comment from the Pope himself about either the Swiss vote or the proposal to put a cross on the Italian flag. The first test of Benedict's balancing act may come when, and if, this consummate European chooses to wade into these burning European debates.

The Pope will never make a statement about putting the cross on the Italian flag - it is not for him to say. For heaven's sake, the Vatican flag itself does not have the Cross on it! Diehard Italian secularists would say, "Then why don't you replace the papal seal on the Vatican flag with the Cross'?

As to whether the Swiss vote will make the situation more difficult for Christians in Muslim countries, it does not make a difference. The Muslim countries (with the exception of two Gulf emirates, whose immigrant Christian population easily outnumbers the native Arabs) do not allow Christians to construct any churches at all. The Swiss did not vote to ban the construction of mosques, just of minarets.

I also believe Allen may be overstating the case. Muslims themselves, after making the ritual protest noises, apparently do not consider the Swiss vote as insupportable as the French ban on burkas, or the Danish cartoons, for that matter.

In practical terms, only four of Switzerland's existing 150+ mosques have minarets - which means that even Muslim imams, at least in Europe, no longer find the minaret indispensable functionally [they use PA systems now for prayer calls], and obvously, quite optional in terms of mosque archtiecture.

[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 05/12/2009 20.56]
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Oporto will be last stop
on Pope's trip to Portugal

Translated from


ROME, Dec. 4 - Lisbon, Fatima, and now, Oporto [Porto, to the Portuguese] is confirmed.

Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Portugal (May 11-14, 2010) will wind up in the 'Cidade Invicta' [unconquered city], so-called for having successfully resisted attack by the Moors as well as by Napoleonic force centuries later.

The official announcement of the visit is expected to be made on Monday by the Vatican and the Portuguese government, it was anticipated today by Radio Renascença, the official radio station of the Church in Portugal.

Benedict XVI will arrive in Lisbon on May 11. After the welcome ceremony at the airport, he will proceed to the presidential palace of Belem for a call on the President of the Republic.

In the evening, there will be an open-air celebration [Mass?] at the Terreiro do Paco, on the square where the Royal Palace of Ribeira was once located.

The Pope will stay at the Apostolic Nunciature in Lisbon, where he will be meeting privately with the Prime Minister, Jose Socrates.

The following day, the Pope will visit the Centro Cultural de Belém for a meeting with the Portuguese world of culture. In teh afternoon, he will proceed to Fatima, where his first event will be Vespers with the clergy, religious and consecrated persons in the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.

The next day, May 13, the Holy Father will celebrate Mass on the anniversary of the Virgin Mary's first apparition to three Portuguese peasant children in 1917.

In the afternoon, he will meet with church associations engaged in charitable and social activities.

He flies to Oporto the next morning, May 14, where he will celebrate Mass on the Avenida dos Aliados in the center of the city. He will depart for Rome after the Mass.

I tried to check this out on the sites of the Fatima Shrine, the Portuguese bishops' conference and Radio Renascenza itself, to see if I could get other details. I cannot find a similar report, but I don't doubt it at all. Il Velino may have taken its report directly from a radio broadcast, not from the news that Renascenza posts in print form.

[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 06/12/2009 01.01]
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