Today, February 2, the Church celebrates the World Day for Consecrated Life. As I write, Pope Francis is presiding the Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica to mark this world day that takes place within the Year of Consecrated Life that began November 30, 2014, and will conclude February 2, 2016.

February 2 is also the feast of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the temple. It has been tradition for several decades in the Vatican to dismantle both the Christmas tree and the nativity scene in St. Peter’s on this feast day, thus ending the Christmas season. This photo shows the dismantling but tomorrow I’ll bring you pix I took just days ago. Today, however, I still saw some nativity scenes in Vatican offices

Dismantliny Nativity Scene 2015

I have decided I like the Vatican’s Christmas calendar and so am on their time. My tree and the Christmas decorations in my home came down yesterday.


After praying the Angelus Sunday with the faithful in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis made the surprise announcement that he will make a one-day trip to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina on June 6:

“Dear brothers and sisters,” he began. “I would like to announce that on Saturday, June 6th, God-willing, I will go to Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia Herzegovina. I ask today that you pray so that my visit to that dear population be an encouragement for the Catholic faithful, lead to good gestures and contribute to the consolidation of brotherhood and peace, of inter-religious dialogue and friendship.”

This will be Pope Francis’ eighth international trip in almost two years of pontificate, following his trip in 2013 to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day, his 2014 travels to the Holy Land, South Korea, Albania, France and Turkey, and his January 2015 trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

In coming months he is scheduled to visit Naples on March 21, Turin on June 21 on the occasion of the exposition of the Shroud of Turin and then in September he will travel to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, having recently added New York and Washington to that U.S. visit.

The first Pope to visit Sarajevo was John Paul II who, against all advice to the contrary, given the extremely difficult political situation and continuing threats of violence, traveled there on April 12-13, 1997. Plans for a Sarajevo trip had actually begun two and half years earlier but the Pope was forced to cancel for security reasons as Bosnian Serbs shelled the city. Though he was to make more international trips before his death in 2005, the Sarajevo visit was considered to be one of the most difficult of John Paul’s papacy.

The Bosnian War, an international armed conflict that took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina from April 1992 to December 1995 was one of the results of the breakup of Yugoslavia. The main parties to this particular conflict were the forces of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina against those of the self-proclaimed Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat entities within Bosnia and Herzegovina. After the Croatian and Slovenia secessions from Yugoslavia, the multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence on February 29, 1992, a move that gained international recognition, but not internally by the different parties. At that time Bosnia-Herzegovina was inhabited by Muslim Bosniaks (44 percent), Orthodox Serbs (31 percent) and Catholic Croats (17 percent).  The war spread and was marked by ethnic cleansing of the Muslim Bosniak and Croat population, especially in eastern Bosnia and throughout the Srpska Republic.

More than 100,000 people died in this period and people are still being investigated today for war crimes.

When John Paul visited, at every stop he decried the violence of war and begged for peace. At the Sarajevo Airport, he said; “Never again war! Never again hatred and intolerance! This is the lesson taught by this century and this millennium that are now drawing to a close. This is the message with which I begin my Pastoral Visit. The inhuman logic of violence must be replaced by the constructive logic of peace.”

He told the Serbian Orthodox community: “After the years of the deplorable fratricidal war, at the approaching dawn of a new Christian millennium, we all feel the urgent need for a new reconciliation between Catholics and Orthodox, so that, with a new heart and a new spirit, it might be possible to resume the journey of an ever more perfect following of Christ, the High Priest and sole Shepherd of his flock.”

And to the Catholic bishops of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the future saint said: “The Church, at the end of this millennium and now at the threshold of the next, must continue perseveringly in her mission of proclaiming the Good News, so that ‘all men will be saved’ (1 Tm 2,4). May the three-year period of preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 find you zealous in your preaching, according to the program that I myself have set forth in the Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente. In following these objectives, you build up the body of Christ (cf. Eph 4,12) in these lands, in communion with the whole Church.”

And during the Angelus in Kosovo Stadium, he said: “From Sarajevo, the city symbolizing this 20th century as it draws to a close, may all the peoples of Europe hear the call for a united commitment on the path to peace! May the new millennium now at our doorstep open with a determined resolve to build an era of social growth in harmony, with the contribution of the particular gifts, with which each nation, in the course of its history, has been enriched by God, the Lord and Father of all peoples!”

In fact, Sarajevo has been called the “Jerusalem of Europe”[ and the “Jerusalem of the Balkans.” One author noted that, until late in the 20th century, Sarajevo was the only major European city to have a mosque, Catholic church, Orthodox church and synagogue within the same neighborhood.

It was in Sarajevo, of course that Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated on June 28, 1914, the event that sparked World War I. During the Bosnia War, Sarajevo was under siege for 1,425 days, apparently the longest siege of a city in the history of modern warfare.

The city and shrine town of Medjugorje is located in southern Bosnia-Herzegovina, about 60 miles south of Sarajevo. No mention of a side trip was made by Pope Francis Sunday in his Angelus announcement of a trip to Sarajevo.

On January 18, 2014, Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, confirmed that the international commission investigating the events in Medjugorje, including reported Marian apparitions, had held its last meeting a day earlier. The commission, created by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is presided by Cardinal Camillo Ruini. It had reportedly completed its work and was to submit the outcome of its study to the congregation. The results of that study have not yet been made public. The investigative comission was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in March 2010.


Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, today presented the upcoming plenary assembly of the council as it meets for four days on the theme, “Women’s cultures: equality and differences.” Joining him were four women, including the president of RAI, Italy’s state-owned television, the director of RAI 24 News, the actress Nancy Brilli, and a sociology professor at Rome’s LUMSA university.

Culture plenary 1

The plenary had attracted widespread attention before today’s presentation because the council website – in addition to posting the document that will be used by plenary members – had featured a video made predominantly by Italian women with Nancy Brilli that had to be withdrawn because of the number of people, including bishops, who had objected to it. Brilli asks women to contribute 60-second videos about their lives to be featured at the plenary. Italians who previewed the video approved but not so the English-speaking world, especially North America. The objection was more to Brilli, who comes off as almost flirtatious, than it was to what she was asking of women. (She is on the far right on this photo)

Culture plenary   2

Four themes are the focus of the document that will be used as a working guidline in the plenary assembly that starts Wednesday afternoon: Between equality and differences: the search for an equilibrium; “Generativity” as a symbolic code; The feminine body: between culture and biology, and Women and religion: a flight or new ways of participating in the life of the Church?

Topics included in the document – and that will be discussed at the plenary – include domestic violence, women’s role in generating life (“the body of the woman is the starting point of each human person”), and the pressures women face – far more than men – regarding their appearance, so much so they can become the victims of eating disorders and even plastic or other unnecessary surgeries.

Also to be discussed are selective abortion, infanticide, genital mutilation, crimes of honor, forced marriages, trafficking of women, sexual molestation, and rape as “some of the deepest injuries inflicted daily on the soul of the world, on the bodies of women and of girls, who become silent and invisible victims.”

The document says, “Plastic surgery that is not medico-therapeutic can be aggressive toward the feminine identity, showing a refusal of the body in as much as it is a refusal of the ‘season’ that is being lived out.” It said,  ‘Plastic surgery is like a burqa made of flesh’ according to one woman who gave us this harsh and incisive description. …Having been given freedom of choice for all, are we not under a new cultural yoke of a singular feminine model?”

The plenary document starts by noting that, “the expression ‘women’s cultures’ does not imply any division from men’s cultures, but shows our awareness that there is a women’s ‘perspective’ on the world and all that surrounds us, on life and on experience. This perspective is a normal part of the fabric of all cultures and societies; we can see it in the family and in work, in politics and the economy, in study and decision-making, in communications and literature, in art and sport, in fashion and cuisine, etc.”

It continues: “At the dawn of human history, societies divided roles and functions between men and women rigorously. To the men belonged responsibility, authority, and presence in the public sphere: the law, politics, war, power. To women belonged reproduction, education, and care of the family in the domestic sphere. In ancient Europe, in the communities of Africa, in the most ancient civilisations of Asia, women exercised their talents in the family environment and personal relationships, while avoiding the public sphere or being positively excluded. The queens and empresses recalled in history books were notable exceptions to the norm.

“From the latter part of the 19th century onwards, especially in the West, the division of male and female ‘spaces’ was put into question. Women demanded equality; they no longer accepted the role of the deuxième sexe, but wanted the same rights, such as that of voting, access to higher education, and to the professions. And so the road was opened for the parity of the sexes.

“This step was not, and is not, without problems. For, in the past (but only in the past?) women had to fight to exercise their professions or take on decisional roles that appeared to be exclusively meant for the male world. … In this globalised and strongly dialectical horizon, there is an urgent need to find answers. Our Plenary is engaged in discovering and understanding the feminine specificity in considering themes such as function, role, dignity, equality, identity, liberty, violence, economy, politics, power, autonomy etc.”

Discussion turns at length to the topics mentioned earlier, and the document ends with “A Look to the Future. The terrain, as we know, is plagued by prejudices and preconceptions from ancient positions and is rendered more inflammable by the fire of tradition and an excess of male presence often afraid of any encounter. It is no longer time for an automatic classification of all feminine requests in a great pool of feminism, in which claims that are more or less shared are thrown together.”

“It is not a question of bringing about a revolution against tradition. … A realistic objective could be that of opening the doors of the Church to women so that they can offer their contribution in terms of skills and also sensitivity, intuition, passion, dedication, in full collaboration and integration with the male component.

–   What spaces are proposed to women in the life of the Church? Do we welcome them, bearing in mind specific and changing cultural, social and identity sensitivities? Do we, perhaps, propose ways of participation based on schemes that are of no interest to them?

–   Have we ever asked ourselves what type of woman the Church needs today? Is the way they participate thought of and worked out together with them? Or are we handing them preconceived models that either do not meet their expectations or respond to questions that have already been superseded?

–   Are women deserting the Church? Perhaps in some cultural areas this is true, other geographic zones could suggest invaluable elements to be proposed and new horizons towards which our eyes can be turned. Could not the pastoral debate between different experiences, in which women are able to let their voices be heard and to offer their availability to serve, become a new “synodal” way of experiencing the faith and of living in the Church?

–  What are the characteristic ways in which women are present in different societies and cultures, from which we can take inspiration for a pastoral renewal so that women may play a more active part in the life of the Church?