POPE FRANCIS WELCOMES BABY LAMBS BLESSED ON FEAST OF ST. AGNES
Just before 9 am Wednesday morning, in keeping with the tradition for the January 21 liturgical memory of St. Agnes, two lambs, blessed earlier in the morning in the Roman basilica named for this saint, were presented to Pope Francis in the atrium of the Santa Marta residence where he lives. The lambs are raised by the Trappist Fathers of the Abbey of the Three Fountains. When their wool is shorn, the Sisters of St. Cecelia weave it into the palliums that, on the June 29th feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles, are bestowed on new metropolitan archbishops as signs of their office.
The pallium is a white woolen circular band embroidered with six black crosses which is worn over the shoulders and has two hanging pieces, one in front and another in back. Worn by the Pope and by metropolitan archbishops, it symbolizes authority and expresses the special bond between the bishops and the Roman Pontiff. In a 1978 document, “Inter Eximina Episcopalis,” Pope Paul VI restricted its use to the Pope and metropolitan archbishops. Six years later, Pope John Paul decreed that it would be conferred on the metropolitans by the Pope on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.
Usually in attendance at the January 21 ceremony in the Apostolic Palace are two Trappist fathers, several nuns, two canons of the Chapter of St. John, the dean of the Roman Rota, and two officials from the Office of the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, and a number of other invited guests.
The baby lambs, under one year of age, are normally tucked into wicker baskets, and both lambs and baskets are adorned with flowers. In 2004 St. John Paul II blessed the lambs during a general audience in the Paul VI Hall as both the audience and St. Agnes’ feast day occurred on a Wednesday.
Agnes died about 305 and is buried in the basilica named for her on Rome’s Via Nomentana. Historical accounts vary about the birth, life and manner of death of Agnes but generally it isrecounted that, in order to preserve her virginity, she was martyred at a very young age, probably 12. She is usually depicted with a lamb because the Latin word so similar to her name, agnus, means “lamb.” The name Agnes is actually derived from the feminine Greek adjective hagné meaning “chaste, pure.”
A couple of years ago I was intrigued by the January 21 press office communiqué about this event. It had been slightly altered since the announcement the previous day that the Pope would bless “two live baby lambs.” Naturally it was the word “live” that intrigued me – as if he might bless lambs that were no longer alive. That word did not appear the day of the blessings!
In 2011, L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican paper, carried an interview with Sr. Hanna Pomniaowska, one of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth who prepares the lambs every year for their Vatican visit. This order of nuns has been preparing the baby lambs for 130 years and it was their founder, Blessed Frances Siedliska, who started this custom in 1884. Up to that date another order of nuns had prepared the lambs but it became difficult when the nuns began to age. At that time the Sisters of the Holy Family took over the duties.
Two lambs are brought to the sisters on January 20 by the Trappist Fathers of Tre Fontane (Three Fountains). The nuns then bring the lambs to the top floor of their residence where there is a terrace with a laundry room where the lambs are washed with delicate soap usually used for children until their wool is white as the driven snow and they are dried with a hair dryer that, in recent years, has replaced the towels they once used.
The nuns are careful to completely dry the lambs so that, at their tender age, they do not fall sick. The room is well heated. After the lambs are dried they are placed in a tub that is covered with straw and closed with canvas so they don’t catch cold. A meal of straw is fed to the lambs who then spend the night in the laundry.
The morning of January 21, the nuns place two small capes on the lambs, one is red to indicate St. Agnes’ martyrdom and the other is white to indicate her virginity. There are also three letters on each mantle: S.A.V. (St. Agnes Virgin) and S.A.M. (St. Agnes Martyr). The sisters weave crowns of interlocking red and white flowers, place them on the baby lambs’ heads, and then put the lambs in a decorated basket. The lambs are tied so they don’t escape. In fact, one of them did escape a few years back, jumping up and running from the altar at St. Agnes basilica.
In the morning the lambs are brought to St. Agnes Basilica where they are placed on the altar and blessed. Following this ceremony, two papal sediari or chair bearers bring the lambs in a van to the Vatican where they are presented to the Holy Father. It is usually the sisters who are celebrating a jubilee of religious vows who are present in the papal chapel of Urban VIII.
HOLY FATHER GIVES THANKS FOR PILGRIMAGE TO ASIA
The general audience today was dedicated, as is customary in the first Wednesday after a papal trip, to Pope Francis’ just-completed and very successful pilgrimage to Sri Lanka and the Philippines. He named the highlights of each country, and when he spoke of families with numerous children – a topic of his interview on the papal plane with journalists – he said – to great applause – that large families are not the cause of poverty, as many say, rather it is the econonic system. He also received enthusiastic applause when he spoke of corruption.
As he began the catechesis in the Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis confessed, “I will always keep in my heart the recollection of the joyful welcome I received from the crowds.” He said the culmination of his stay in Sri Lanka was the canonization of St. Joseph Vaz, whose “example of holiness and love for his neighbor continue to inspire the Church in Sri Lanka in her apostolate of charity and education. He added that the new saint represented “a model for all Christians, who are called upon today to offer the salvific truth of the Gospel in a multi-religious context.”
Francis mentioned his meeting with governmental authorities, emphasizing the importance of dialogue, respect for human dignity and efforts to involve all in finding suitable solutions for reconciliation and the common good.
The Holy Father highlighted his encounter with religious leaders, noting the good relations that exist between the various communities. “In this context, I wanted to encourage the cooperation that has already been initiated between the followers of different religious traditions, also in order to heal with the salve of forgiveness the wounds of those still afflicted by the sufferings of recent years.”
With reference to the Philippines, the Pope underscored “the constant fruitfulness of the Gospel and its capacity to inspire a society worthy of mankind, in which there is a place for the dignity of each person and the aspirations of the Filipino population.”
He explained that the main aim of his visit was to express his closeness to those brothers and sisters who had suffered as a result of the devastation wrought in November 2013 by typhoon Yolanda. “The power of God’s love, revealed in the mystery of the Cross, was made evident in the spirit of solidarity shown by the many acts of charity and sacrifice that marked those days of darkness.”
He also mentioned the young volunteer Kristel, who was killed in a freak accident after his visit to Tacloban when scaffolding collapsed due to extreme weather conditions. In fact, typhoon-like conditions forced the Pope to leave Tacloban on the island of Leyte four hours earlier than planned and to thus cancel some events on the Tacloban agenda.
Francis went on to speak about his encounter with families in Manila. “I have heard it said that families with many children and high birth rates are among the causes of poverty. It seems to me a simplistic opinion. I can say that the main cause of poverty is an economic system that has removed the person from the center and replaced him with the god of money; an economic system that excludes and creates the throwaway culture in which we live. … It is necessary to protect families, which face various threats, so that they can bear witness to the beauty of the family in God’s plan.”
Sustained applause greeted these remarks.
Finally, he talked about his meeting with the young. “I wanted to offer them my encouragement for their efforts in contributing to the renewal of society, especially through their service to the poor and the protection of the natural environment. Care for the poor is an essential element of our Christian life and witness – because corruption steals from the poor – and requires a culture of honesty,” he concluded, and once again greeted by applause.
PAPAL APPEAL FOR PEACE, RECONCILIATION IN NIGER
Following the general audience catechesis, the Pope launched an appeal for prayer for “the victims of the events of recent days in beloved Niger. Let us invoke from the Lord the gift of reconciliation and peace, so that religious feeling is not transformed into a cause of violence, oppression and destruction. I hope that a climate of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence may be reinstated as soon as possible, for the good of all.”
Speaking on Wednesday, the Holy Father mentioned specifically the “brutalities perpetrated against Christians, children and Churches.”
“War must not be waged in the name of God” he said, receiving yet more applause.
Vatican Radio reported that last week, in Niger’s capital Niamey and in the town of Zinder, at least 15 people were killed in two days of violent protests against the publication in France of a satirical magazine depicting Islam’s prophet. Over a dozen Christian Churches and other buildings were set ablaze. Security forces have been using tear gas to disperse hundreds of opposition supporters taking part in banned demonstrations in the capital.
POPE NAMES MEMBERS TO NEW VATICAN APPEALS BODY
The Vatican announced today that Pope Francis has appointed the following members of the College for the Review of Appeals to the Ordinary Session of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, instituted by the Rescriptum ex Audientia SS.mi of 3 November 2014:
President: Bishop Charles J. Scicluna, auxiliary of Malta;
Members: Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education; Cardinal Attilio Nicora, president emeritus of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA) and the Financial Information Authority (AIF); Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts; Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, president of the Prefecture of the Economic Affairs of the Holy See; Archbishop Jose Luis Mollaghan, emeritus of Rosario, Argentina; and Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta Ochoa de Chinchetru, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.
Supplementary members are: Cardinal Julian Herranz, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts; Bishop Giorgio Corbellini, president of the Labour Office of the Apostolic See and of the Disciplinary Commission of the Roman Curia.