The following was going to be my lead news in today’s column but all that changed with the appointment of a new director for the Holy See Press Office – see that story below. However, I think it is noteworthy that the world’s oldest priest turns 107 today! Here is a Reuters story from Belgium:

NALINNES, Belgium (Reuters) – A strict daily routine is the recipe for a long life, according to the world’s oldest priest, Belgian Jacques Clemens, who will celebrate his 107th birthday on Monday.

Clemens, who has also celebrated his 80th anniversary as a Catholic priest, gets up every morning at 5.30 a.m. and goes to bed at 9.00 p.m.

When Clemens was about to retire at 75, his bishop asked him to remain in service until they found a successor – he only stopped holding regular church services at his parish in the southern Belgian village of Nalinnes last year.

At Mass yesterday –

Father Jacques Clemens attends a mass at St. Benoit church in Nalinnes, Belgium, July 10, 2016.   REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Father Jacques Clemens attends a mass at St. Benoit church in Nalinnes, Belgium, July 10, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Happy Birthday, Fr. Clemens!

POPE NAMES AMERICAN TO HEAD HOLY SEE PRESS OFFICE

Today’s big news story at the Vatican is the nomination of a new director for the Holy See Press Office, Greg Burke, a long time friend and colleague, and the naming of a female laywoman, also a journalist, to be the assistant director. History in the making in Vatican communications.

Pope Francis has named American journalist Greg Burke as the new director of the Holy See Press Office, effective August 1st. In another big appointment at a Vatican communications office, Francis also named a laywoman, Spanish journalist Paloma Garcia Ovejero, as assistant director of the press office. (N C Register photo)

GREG BURKE - NC REGISTER

The press office was headed by another Opus Dei numerary, Joaquin Navarro Valls, for 22 years during the papacy of John Paul II. Named in 1984, Navaro-Valls served as the papal spokesman until July 2006. Burke is thus the second layperson to head the press office but today’s nominations indicate the first time that two lay people head the sala stampa.

Paloma Garcia Ovejero –

PALOMA

Pope Francis has spoken for several years about women having a bigger role in the Church had many have noted that he had done little to implement that in the Roman Curia. Today’s nomination changed that perception, at least a little.

Another perception that the Pope changed in some way with Burke’s nomination is the idea there has been an anti-American feeling in the Curia. In fact, a number of Americans have been given other positions and moved out of the Roman Curia while none have been appointed to high-ranking positions inside the Vatican as they were with St. John Paul and Benedict XVI. At one point, Americans were second only to Italians in the Curia in numbers.

Both Burke, a native of St. Louis, and Garcia Ovejero speak multiple languages. She was the Vatican correspondent for the Spanish broadcaster COPE, and has ties to the Spanish Episcopal Conference.

I have known Greg since the mid-1980s when I was covering the Vatican as the Rome Bureau Chief for the National Catholic Register. I had that position until returning to the U.S. in December 1985, at which point Greg’s was a name I suggested to my superiors at the Register as someone who could succeed me.

Most of the news stories today about these appointments point to Greg Burke’s last position before being tapped as a communications consultant for the Secretariat of State – his work as the Fox News correspondent in Rome. He had also been a correspondent for TIME magazine.

I remember hearing Greg’s name being bandied about as a successor to Joaquin Navarro- Valls in May 2006 during Pope Benedict’s trip to Poland to honor his late predecessor, John Paul II. I mentioned it in either a blog or on air and did hear from Greg rather quickly – where had I heard that, he asked. I told him that, with the imminent departure of Navarro-Valls, his name had come up among journalist colleagues as an able, affable, competent, unflappable successor to the popular Spaniard who held the office for so long.

Exactly ten years ago, on July 11, 2006, a little over a month after Benedict’s Poland trip, the Pope named Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi as the successor to Navarro-Valls.

And now we have that able, affable, competent, unflappable successor to Fr. Federico Lombardi!

Will there be a successor to Greg Burke as a senior communications adviser in the Secretariat of State? Will there still be that office? Burke was the first to occupy that newly-created position four years ago. He was named deputy director of the press office in January 2016.

I cannot close without praising Fr. Lombardi’s leadership at the helm where he sailed a ship for ten years in waters that would have capsized a better boat!

He has been such a wonderful presence over the years – his calm, his knowledge, his availability, his extraordinary thoroughness on any topic he had to tackle – his truly encyclopedia knowledge! He had the knack of telling the world – especially vis-a-vis Pope Francis – what the Pope meant to say when his words created doubt or confusion, without every saying “What the Holy Father meant was…..”

I wonder if anyone else at the Vatican has lost as much sleep – and surely countles meals! – as Fr. Lombardi!

These words are altogether too few to express ny heartfelt thanks to this great and very humble man who has been our guide, guardian and mentor for ten years!

MEMBER OF PONTIFICAL COMMISSION MEETS WITH AUSTRALIAN ABUSE VICTIMS – PRESS OFFICE STATEMENT ON PROTECTION OF MINORS

MEMBER OF PONTIFICAL COMMISSION MEETS WITH AUSTRALIAN ABUSE VICTIMS

(Vatican Radio) The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors issued a statement on Friday in response to Cardinal George Pell’s hearings via video link with Australia’s Royal Commission investigating institutional responses to child sexual abuse.

The statement notes that a member of the Pontifical Commission, Jesuit Fr Hans Zollner, has met with survivors of clerical sex abuse who have come over from Australia for the hearings.  The survivors requested the meeting in order to share ideas about healing and about how to protect children from abuse in the future.

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While acknowledging that the problem is not limited to the Catholic Church, the survivors spoke especially about models of educating children, parents and teachers to effect structural change within the Church and to safeguard vulnerable people.

Here is the full statement from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors:

Over the past two days, Fr. Hans Zollner SJ, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, met in two occasions with Mr David Ridsdale, Mr Andrew Collins and Mr Peter Blenkiron, victims/survivors of clergy sexual abuse from Ballarat, Australia, who have come to Rome for Cardinal George Pell’s hearing by the Royal Commission. Cardinal Pell had asked to arrange this meeting after these gentlemen requested to meet with a member of the Pontifical Commission. These gentlemen explained the reason for wanting to meet with a member of the Pontifical Commission is that, “We would like to discuss ideas we have had about healing and the future to protect children from institutional abuse. We know this problem had been wider than the Catholic Church but our experiences have been in this environment. We are keen to develop links with your group as it is a world-wide issue.”

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The victims/survivors spoke of models of educating children, parents and teachers so as to effect structural change within the Church and society concerning the effective safeguarding of children and adolescents. This discussion comes at a time when the Pontifical Commission decided at their 2016 February Plenary Assembly to have one strategic focus on safeguarding of minors in Catholic schools at their September 2016 Assembly.

Fr. Hans appreciated very much the victims’/survivors’ concerns and their proposals for preventive measures, and he will report back to the other members of the Pontifical Commission, so that all can learn from the victims’/survivors’ experience to improve the Commission’s work in healing in the present, and better understand how to prevent sexual abuse by those in service to the Church from happening again in the future.

During the meeting, Fr. Hans explained to the victims/survivors the purpose of the Commission and also talked, in particular, about his work and initiatives in prevention from abuse within and outside the Church as President of the “Centre for Child Protection” of the Institute of Psychology of the Pontifical Gregorian University. The Ballarat survivors met also with some of the students of the Diploma-programme in Safeguarding of Minors, offered at the Gregorian University.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors was created by Pope Francis in March of 2014. The Chirograph of His Holiness Pope Francis states specifically, “The Commission’s specific task is to propose to me the most opportune initiatives for protecting minors and vulnerable adults, in order that we may do everything possible to ensure that crimes such as those which have occurred are no longer repeated in the Church. The Commission is to promote local responsibility in the particular Churches, uniting their efforts to those of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for the protection of all children and vulnerable adults.”

PRESS OFFICE STATEMENT ON PROTECTION OF MINORS

The director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., today, March 4, issued the following note regarding the protection of minors from sexual abuse:

“The depositions of Cardinal Pell before the Royal Commission as part of its inquiry carried out by live connection between Australia and Rome, and the contemporary presentation of the Oscar award for best film to ‘Spotlight’, on the role of the Boston Globe in denouncing the cover-up of crimes by numerous paedophile priests in Boston (especially during the years 1960 to 1980) have been accompanied by a new wave of attention from the media and public opinion on the dramatic issue of sexual abuse of minors, especially by members of the clergy.

The sensationalist presentation of these two events has ensured that, for a significant part of the public, especially those who are least informed or have a short memory, it is thought that the Church has done nothing, or very little, to respond to these terrible problems, and that it is necessary to start anew. Objective consideration shows that this is not the case. The previous archbishop of Boston resigned in 2002 following the events considered in “Spotlight” (and after a famous meeting of American cardinals convoked in Rome by Pope John Paul II in April 2002), and since 2003 (that is, for 13 years) the archdiocese has been governed by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, universally known for his rigour and wisdom in confronting the issue of sexual abuse, to the extent of being appointed by the Pope as one of his advisers and as president of the Commission instituted by the Holy Father for the protection of minors.

The tragic events of sexual abuse in Australia, too, have been the subject of inquiries and legal and canonical procedures for many years. When Pope Benedict XVI visited Sydney for World Youth Day in 2008 (eight years ago), he met with a small group of victims at the seat of the archdiocese governed by Cardinal Pell, since the issue was also of great importance at the time and the archbishop considered a meeting of this type to be very timely.

Merely to offer an idea of the attention with which these problems have been followed, the section of the Vatican website dedicated to ‘Abuse of minors: the Church’s response’, established around ten years ago, contains over 60 documents and interventions.

The courageous commitment of the Popes to facing the crises that subsequently emerged in various situations and countries – such as the United States, Ireland, Germany, Belgium and Holland, and in the Legionaries of Christ – has been neither limited nor indifferent. The universal procedures and canonical norms have been renewed; guidelines have been required and drawn up by the Episcopal Conferences, not only to respond to abuses committed but also to ensure adequate prevention measures; apostolic visitations have taken place to intervene in the most serious situations; and the Congregation of the Legionaries has been radically reformed. These are all actions intended to respond fully and with far-sightedness to a wound that has manifested itself with surprising and devastating gravity, especially in certain regions and certain periods. Benedict XVI’s Letter to the Irish faithful in March 2010 probably remains the most eloquent document of reference, relevant beyond Ireland, for understanding the attitude and the legal, pastoral and spiritual response of the Popes to these upheavals in the Church in our time; recognition of the grave errors committed and a request for forgiveness, priority action and justice for victims, conversion and purification, commitment to prevention and renewed human and spiritual formation.

The encounters held by Benedict XVI and Francis with groups of victims have accompanied this by now long road with the example of listening, the request for forgiveness, consolation and the direct involvement of the Popes.

In many countries the results of this commitment to renewal are comforting; cases of abuse have become very rare and therefore the majority of those considered nowadays and which continue to come to light belong to a relatively distant past of several decades ago. In other countries, usually due to very different cultural contexts that are still characterised by silence, much remains to be done and there is no lack of resistance and difficulties, but the road to follow has become clearer.

The constitution of the Commission for the protection of minors announced by Pope Francis in December 2013, made up of members from every continent, indicates how the path of the Catholic Church has matured. After establishing and developing internally a decisive response to the problems of sexual abuse of minors (by priests or other ecclesial workers), it is necessary to face systematically the problem of how to respond not only to the problem in every part of the Church, but also more broadly how to help the society in which the Church lives to face the problems of abuse of minors, given that – as we should all be aware, even though there is still a significant reluctance to admit this – in every part of the world the overwhelming majority of cases of abuse take place not in ecclesiastical contexts, but rather outside them (in Asia, for instance, tens of millions of minors are abused, certainly not in a Catholic context).

In summary, the Church, wounded and humiliated by the wound of abuse, intends to react not only to heal herself, but also to make her difficult experience in this field available to others, to enrich her educational and pastoral service to society as a whole, which generally still has a long path to take to realise the seriousness of these problems and to deal with them.

From this perspective the events in Rome of the last few days may be interpreted in a positive light. Cardinal Pell must be accorded the appropriate acknowledgement for his dignified and coherent personal testimony (twenty hours of dialogue with the Royal Commission), from which yet again there emerges an objective and lucid picture of the errors committed in many ecclesial environments (this time in Australia) during the past decades. This is certainly useful with a view to a common ‘purification of memory’.
Recognition is also due to many members of the group of victims who came from Australia for demonstrating their willingness to establish constructive dialogue with Cardinal Pell and with the representative of the Commission for the protection of minors, Fr. Hans Zollner S.J., of the Pontifical Gregorian University, with whom they further developed prospects for effective commitment to the prevention of abuse.
If the appeals subsequent to ‘Spotlight’ and the mobilisation of victims and organisations on the occasion of the depositions of Cardinal Pell are able to contribute to supporting and intensifying the long march in the battle against abuse of minors in the universal Catholic Church and in today’s world (where the dimensions of these tragedies are endless), then they are welcome.

 

VATICAN SPOKESMAN: POPE FRANCIS “A MESSENGER OF MERCY AND PEACE” – A PROFILE OF CIUDAD JUAREZ, LAST PAPAL STOP IN MEXICO – INTERNET SENSATION NUNS TO SING FOR POPE FRANCIS

As I am about to post, the Pope is about to start his final day in Mexico, traveling from Mexico City to Ciudad Juarez, just across the U.S. border from El Paso, Texas. You will be able to watch it on EWTN, either on TV or online at ewtn.com.

In the following stories, you will find a look back at Pope Francis’ days in Mexico through the eyes of papal spokesman and head of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, a profile of the final papal stop, Ciudad Juarez, and a look at a group of 12 nuns, Las Siervas (The Servants) whose singing has become an Internet sensation. They will be singing in Ciudad Juarez.

VATICAN SPOKESMAN: POPE FRANCIS “A MESSENGER OF MERCY AND PEACE”

(Vatican Radio) On the last day of his pastoral visit to Mexico, Pope Francis on Wednesday visits inmates at a prison in Ciudad Juarez on the U.S.-Mexico border. Before heading back to Rome Wednesday evening, he will also meet people from the working world and celebrate Mass in the city located just across the border from El Paso, Texas. On Tuesday, the Holy Father visited Morelia in central Mexico where he celebrated Mass with religious, consecrated people and seminarians and later was greeted by tens of thousands of young people at the local stadium.

Holy See Press Office Director, Fr. Federico Lombardi says the Pope has come to Mexico as “a messenger of mercy and of peace.” Even through his gestures and small actions, the Pope “was teaching love and demonstrating love and mercy of God… not only through his words,” adds Fr. Lombardi. In this way, he said, the Pope “has contributed very much to the harmony and reconciliation of a society that has dramatic tensions and problems with violence and internal conflicts and disparities of situations in the society.”

In an interview with Vatican Radio’s Veronica Scarisbrick, Fr. Lombardi notes that Pope Francis has made his mark in Mexico “in a very pastoral way, not as a politician, not as a person who comes with easy solutions for problems that are so incredibly difficult. But he demonstrates understanding for the situation, for the people and the temptations that they have: [the] discouragement [they feel] in this situation. And he encourages them, and he witnesses the love of God, and invites [them] to the profound devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe that is in the heart of Mexicans.”

Pope challenges Mexicans to put love, hope into practice

Pope Francis has also been challenging Mexicans to embrace this witness concretely, in their own lives, in their families and in society, Fr. Lombardi affirms. “I think he leaves to the Mexican people a treasure of hope – a horizon of hope for the future.” It was this message that the Pope stressed in a particular way to the young people he encountered, “because they are the majority of the society and the future is concretely in their hands even if they have difficulties [in finding] their way in this society.”

Fr. Lombardi observes that one of the things that has impressed Pope Francis the most on this trip is “the love of the people [on the streets] for him.” For the Pope, theirs is a gratuitous, freely-given love: “they come to demonstrate spontaneously in the street to demonstrate sincerely that they love the Pope, the Church. That they desire to be a community which hopes [for] a better situation.” Pope Francis, Fr. Lombardi adds, is “grateful for the witness of love that he has received and he has tried to give his contribution to [the Mexican people] to overcome this historical, difficult moment.”

Moving moments

Fr. Lombardi admits that he personally found two moments of the trip particularly moving: “the silent dialogue between the Pope and the Virgin of Guadalupe” in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe at the end of Saturday’s Mass in Mexico City. And the moment during Monday’s meeting with families in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, when a severely disabled child in a wheelchair was brought towards the Pope. The episode, Fr. Lombardi remarks, reminded him of the Gospel story “in which the people bring the paralytic to Jesus: the Pope has seen this and then came down from the podium to encounter this child and to bless him…. It was a very particular moment: the witness of faith of the people bringing this sick young man to the Pope and the love of the Pope” who interrupted the testimonials of families “to go down where he sees this desire of blessing for a person that was in very, very particularly grave sickness.”

A PROFILE OF CIUDAD JUAREZ, LAST PAPAL STOP IN MEXICO

(Vatican Radio) This evening Pope Francis will celebrate Holy Mass in Ciudad Juarez at the end of his six-day stay in Mexico. But in the morning his first appointment will be at the Cereso 3 State prison in the city that used to be a hotspot of gang power.

Our correspondent in Mexico Veronica Scarisbrick tells us more.
For many years now Ciudad Juarez has represented first for Mexicans and then for Central Americans a personal dream, that of crossing the border to reach ‘El Norte’, the United States.

This search for a better future for most has often become a dashed dream. For those who make it here crossing the border is often impossible, for those without papers the risk of falling into the hands of traffickers is even greater.

Just imagine for a moment the state of mind of migrant minors who reach this desolate place, dubbed until not so long ago the murder capital of the world. A place notorious for the unsolved murders of hundreds of women and rife with all kinds of violence, much of it gang and drug based.

Located in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert, it’s Mexico alright but without a crumb of glamour. There’s a river that provides a natural physical divide, and a looming chain link fence divide.

And it’s by this chain link fence that Pope Francis will celebrate Holy Mass on the evening of Wednesday 17th of February at the end of his six day stay in Mexico. Right on the border with the United States, so near that it’s within earshot of the El Paso inhabitants on the other side of the fence.

CIUDAD JUAREZ

Pope Francis flies in to Ciudad Juarez in the morning and his first appointment is at the Cereso 3 State prison that used to be a hotspot of gang power.

Officials with the diocese say 800 inmates have already been chosen for that special meeting with Pope Francis, half of them women. On this occasion he will also meet with family members.

Ciudad Juarez is not a place for the faint hearted but it seems that when Pope Francis arrives here the worst of the bloodshed of this once hell hole has been left behind.

Certainly during this Jubilee Year of Mercy it will give Pope Francis a chance to console prisoners, workers, and the inhabitants of this long suffering Mexican City.

Inhabitants many of whom have been orphaned, widowed or simply traumatized by the violence they’ve witnessed.

INTERNET SENSATION NUNS TO SING FOR POPE FRANCIS

Here’s a great story from Mexico City by CNN: A group of pop-singing nuns will perform before Pope Francis on Wednesday, thanks in part to a viral video that made them an overnight sensation. “Siervas” or “The Servants,” took the Internet by storm late last year after the band posted a music video to YouTube.

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The clip, “Confía en Dios” or “Trust in God,” has been viewed more than 270,000 times. It shows the 12 sisters playing classical and rock instruments, and singing their catchy tune in their religious robes on top of a rooftop helipad.

“We posted our video online only a few months ago and couldn’t believe how popular it became,” Sister Monica, one of the group’s leaders told CNN. “A Mexican priest watched it and messaged us saying, ‘Come to Mexico,’ so we did.”

The Peru-based nuns are scheduled to perform in the city of Juarez, the final stop in the Vatican leader’s Mexican tour. They will be the warm-up act before his last Mass of the trip.

The group’s unique blend of rock instruments and religious hymns has made them popular among Catholics and non-Catholics alike, with nearly 30,000 followers on Facebook.

For Sister Cindy, the band’s standup bass player, the trip is a dream come true. “I went to the Brazil [in 2013] during the Pope’s trip there and got to see him in the popemobile, but never dreamed I would actually get to play for him,” she said. “Words cannot begin to express how overwhelmed I am.”

In addition to playing in Juarez, Siervas will have gigs in Mexico City, Chihuahua and San Juan del Rio.

The sisters are hoping their online success will help transmit their faith to a wider audience.

“The Lord is always present in our lives, even in the tough times,” said Sister Andrea, who is originally from Argentina. “I think our video brings a very universal message that people connect to.”

The international ensemble, which has been together for a little over a year, includes members from China, Japan, Ecuador and Chile, among others.

Despite the group’s diversity, they all speak the same language when singing in unison and expressing their “Trust in God.”

“Our faith speaks volumes,” Sister Cindy said. “That is what we are hoping to transmit to Pope Francis and to young people around the world.”

A VENETIAN CARDINAL, A TUSCAN COMEDIAN AND A PRISONER FROM CHINA EXPLAIN MERCY

The Italian actor, comedian, screenwriter and director Roberto Benigni, who figures prominently in the story I feature today, came to my attention in the amazing film, “Life is Beautiful.” I’ve seen him a number of times on television in Italy and well remember his performace at the 1998 Academy Awards when he won for Best Actor in that 1997 film, jumping from seat to seat, over the heads and shoulders of his fellow actors, to reach the stage.

I also remember him from a very brief sentence on a desk calendar I had a few years ago: “Did you know that the Bible is the only book whose Author also created its readers?!”

A VENETIAN CARDINAL, A TUSCAN COMEDIAN AND A PRISONER FROM CHINA EXPLAIN MERCY

Did you hear the one about how a Venetian cardinal, a Tuscan comedian and a prisoner from China explain mercy?

It sounds like a line from a comedy routine, right? And it was, in part!

Roberto Benigni, Italian comic and actor par excellence was in Rome Tuesday for the presentation of the book, “The Name of God is Mercy,” a conversation between Pope Francis and a friend of many years, vaticanista Andrea Tornielli (on right in photo).

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He was the final guest to talk about the book, following talks by Fr. Federico Lombardi, head of the Holy See Press Office, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, secretary of State, Fr. Giuseppe Costa, head of the Vatican publishing house and Zhang Agostino Jianqing, a Chinese prisoner in a Padua jail.

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Fr. Lombardi spoke about the book in very endearing terms and heartfelt comments, and was the moderator of this morning’s event as well.

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I found the entire morning to be fascinating, and discovered, at the end of the presentations, that I had been at the Augustinian conference center for well over two hours and had never once looked at my watch. That has never happened in a press conference I have attended!

The star of the day – and the most awaited guest, judging by the applause when he arrived with Cardinal Parolin and the avalanche of photographers and TV cameras – was Roberto Benigni (you will surely remember him for “Life is Beautiful”). And he did not disappoint with his presentation!

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For me, however, the most compelling account this morning was that of the Chinese prisoner who told his personal story, highlighting his encounter with “God’s mercy” – including his conversion from Buddhism to Christianity. He is in prison in Padua but has been in Rome for two days, and yesterday was one of the guests who met the Holy Father at the official presentation of Tornielli’s book. Agostino never directly explained why he had been given 20 years in prison but at one point, in the account of his life, did use the word “victim.”

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He said “I am from a Buddhist family. In 1997, at the age of 12, I arrived in Italy with my father. I was studying but I got bored at school. I kept running away, my behavior got worse, I fought with my parents who never gave me money to have fun. I became violent and superficial. I was concentrating only on having a good time, money and girls.”

Without going into detail, he told how he was condemned to 20 years in prison and it was in prison he converted to Christianity, thanks to help given by his Buddhist mother.

Fr. Lombardi, who had previously noted Pope Francis’ love for prisoners and his frequent visits to prisons, added: “Yesterday, when Agostino met the Pope, he gave him a photo of him with his friends and brothers in prison with their signatures and their words to the Pope and Pope Francis himself wrote a beautiful dedication, saying he was close to them, prayed for them and asked them to pray for him.”

When it was Benigni’s turn to speak, he said, “Pope Francis is a marvelous revolutionary.” The Tuscan comic said he was very emotional when he realized he was “in the smallest state of the world with the greatest man in the world.”

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“Pope Francis walks and walks and never ever stops. He is taking the entire Church towards a place that we don’t think about anymore, towards Christianity, towards Jesus Christ, towards the Gospel. And how does he do this? He does it through mercy, which is not a mushy thing but a severe virtue. Francis is always moving, he goes from the least to the least.” Benigni highlighted the Pope’s visit to Lampedusa and the opening of the Holy Door in Bangui.

And Benigni himself never stopped. His rapid fire talk, continuous smile and nonstop hand movements and gesticulating are his hallmarks – and they were in full force today, especially when he mentioned the Pope’s name, or the words ‘mercy’ and ‘joy’ and ‘love’.

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Lombardi noted the reciprocal esteem that Pope Francis feels for Benigni when, in his last homily of 2014, he spoke of the actor – though not by name – calling him “a great Italian artist,” who was then involved in a “Ten Commandments” special for television.

Benigni said, “only Pope Francis could think of presenting this book with a Venetian cardinal, a Chinese prisoner and a Tuscan comic.”

Continuing his exuberant presentation, he said, “you cannot speak in moderation about this Pope.”

The comic said, “when I was little, I wanted to be a priest. In school I was asked, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ I answered, “the Pope.” Well, everyone began to laugh and then I understood I had to be a comedian!”

And the hundreds of guests in the Augustinian, including Fr. Lombardi and Cardinal Parolin, laughed with him.

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The Tuscan actor and comedian then spoke of the telephone call received from the Vatican about possibly talking at today’s presentation. “As soon as I heard the words ‘His Holiness would like…’, I didn’t even want to hear the rest of the sentence and I immediately said ‘yes’. I’m ready to be a Swiss guard, the Pope’s driver, whatever Francis needs.”

As to the book, Benigni said, “it is so beautiful” and “so full of mercy, you could sell it by the pound.” “It is also aimed at nonbelievers. Life is an eternal struggle between those who believe and those who don’t believe, between love and no love and loving meaning depending on someone who could be taken away from us. What is this divine risk?20160112_110355

He added: “The text raises our hearts without watering down our brain. Mercy is not a firm virtue seated on a chair: it is active, it never stops for a second. Mercy goes to sinners and to the poor. It is filled with joy, joy in pain. These two are the weight- bearing columns of Christianity. We must challenge the unhappy, we must love happy people who are humble and joyful and close to God.”

Noting the first miracle of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, which he said was his favorite Gospel, Benigni spoke of the healing of St. Peter’s mother-in-law, saying, “you know he healed her because afterwards his mother-in-law would cook for all of them. Jesus so enjoyed the joys of life.”

(Vatican Radio reported that Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, on Tuesday expressed his sorrow for the terrorist attack which took place in Istanbul, Turkey. “What is happening [in Turkey] pains us. What is happening there, what continues to repeat itself, confirms that the best medicine in the face of these evils is always mercy.”

At least 10 people were killed in a suicide bomb attack Tuesday morning in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, near the city’s famous Blue Mosque.

His words came in response to a sideline question at the presentation of “The Name of God is Mercy.” In the book, the Holy Father answers 40 questions posed by Andrea Tornielli, and is divided into nine chapters.)

POPE LIGHTS ASSISI CHRISTMAS TREE FOR REFUGEES – TRIAL UNDERWAY IN VATILEAKS 2 CASE – FR. LOMBARDI ON VATILEAKS TRIAL, VATICAN LAW AND JUSTICE

It is so exciting here in Rome as we are just hours away from the start of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, an event announced on March 13, 2015, the second anniverary of Pope Francis’ election. You should see St. Peter’s Square: the chairs are up for tomorrow’s papal Mass, pilgrims are viewing the Christmas Tree and Nativity scene and security is all over the place – visible and invisible.

Tomorrow, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, is a holiday in Italy and countless  numbers of people are taking four days off to celebrate, including the two-day weekend plus yesterday and tomorrow’s feast day. Many, including entire families with little children, have come to Rome for the Holy Year events.

Tomorrow’s agenda starts at 9:30 am with the papal Mass to open the Holy Year of Mercy, including the opening of St. Peter’s Holy Door, and continues in the afternoon with the traditional visit by the Holy Father to Pza. di Spagna where he will offer a floral homage to the statue of Mary Immaculate and say a prayer. EWTN will be carrying this ceremony and, of course the morning Jubilee Mass.

Tune in today (2pm ET) to At Home with Jim and Joy when I will bring you some updates on Jubilee preparations.

I am not sure what this page will offer you tomorrow. It is a holiday for Italy but not for the media. I will be busy in St. Peter’s Square and the Holy See Press Office and in the afternoon will do the TV commentary for Pope Francis’ visit to Pza. di Spagna. Tomorrow evening at 6, Rome time, there will be the recitation of the rosary in St. Peter’s Square at the statue of St. Peter: this will take place every night at that hour during the Holy Year.

If you are in the Eternal City tomorrow, come to St. Peter’s Square between 7 and 8 pm, Rome time, when there will be a light show on the facade and dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

POPE LIGHTS ASSISI CHRISTMAS TREE FOR REFUGEES

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Sunday evening lit – remotely from the Vatican – the Christmas tree and nativity scene in the lower piazza of the Basilica of St.Francis in Assisi.

The nativity scene has been built into a seven-meter boat used by migrants to travel from Tunisia to the Italian island of Lampedusa in 2014. The ceremony was attended by 31 refugees from Afghanistan, Cameroon, Nigeria and Syria being hosted by Caritas Assisi. Also present was an Italian naval officer who had helped in some of the many rescues of migrants off the coast of Sicily. In this photo, you see the refugees next to some of the people from Assisi: (photo AP)

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The Italian State Railway and Italian Navy also distributed toys to families in need.

Here is Pope Francis’ message during the illumination:

“Watching that boat … Jesus is always with us, even in difficult times. How many brothers and sisters have drowned at sea! They are with the Lord now. But He came to give us hope, and we must take this hope. He came to tell us that He is stronger than death, that He is greater than any evil. He came to tell us he is merciful, all mercy; and this Christmas I invite you to open your hearts to mercy and forgiveness. But it is not easy to forgive these massacres. It’s not easy.

“I would like to thank [members of the] Coast Guard: the good men and women. I thank you, for you were the instrument of hope that brings us Jesus. You, among us, you have been sowers of hope, the hope of Jesus. Thank you, Antonio, you and all your teammates and all that this land of Italy has so generously received: the South of Italy is an example of solidarity for the whole world! For everyone who looks at the crib, they can say to Jesus: ‘But, I also have lent a hand because you are a sign of hope’.

“And to all refugees, I say a word, that of the prophet: Raise your head, the Lord is near. And with him is strength, salvation, hope. The heart, perhaps, [is] sorrowful, but the head [is] high in the hope of the Lord.”

TRIAL UNDERWAY IN VATILEAKS 2 CASE

Vatican City, 7 December 2015 (VIS) – The Holy See Press Office today issued the following communique: “This morning at 9.30, in the Vatican City State Tribunal, a further hearing was held in the criminal trial for the dissemination of confidential news and documents.

“The defendants were all present, accompanied by their respective lawyers (all five of whom are currently recognised as ‘private’ lawyers: E. Bellardini for Msgr. L.A. Vallejo Balda, L. Sgrò for F. I. Chaouqui, R.C. Baffioni for N. Maio, L. Musso for E. Fittipaldi and R. Palombi for G. Nuzzi).

“The College of Judges (President Prof. Giuseppe Dalla Torre, and the members Prof. Piero Antonio Bonnet, Prof. Paolo Papanti-Pellettier and Prof. Venerando Marano) heard the oral presentation from the defence, along with the objections and demands already submitted in writing prior to the established deadline (Saturday 5 December).

“With regard to each objection and demand submitted, the opinion of the Promoter of Justice represented by Prof. Milano and Prof. Zannotti was heard.

“The College therefore retired to the Counsel Chamber shortly before 10.30 for around one hour. Finally, it communicated its decisions, providing the proper detailed motivations. The hearing concluded before midday.

“The objection presented by Chaouqui’s defence regarded the presumed lack of jurisdiction of the Tribunal given that the events took place in Italy and were carried out by a person declared a ‘political refugee’ in Italy. The objection was rejected, and the College clarified that the current law attributes without doubt the jurisdiction of the Vatican City State Tribunal, and observed that Chaouqui, by appearing before the investigators and the Tribunal, had in practice recognised such jurisdiction.

“The demand presented by the Msgr. Vallejo Balda’s counsel for the defence for a psychological evaluation of the defendant was rejected. The Promoter of Justice explained that the Vatican legal system admits requests for a ‘psychiatric evaluation’ but not for a ‘psychological evaluation’, and that aspects of the personality and behaviour of the defendant can emerge adequately during the proceedings.

Click here to read the rest of this story: http://www.news.va/en/news/new-hearing-in-the-trial-for-dissemination-of-rese

FR. LOMBARDI ON VATILEAKS TRIAL, VATICAN LAW AND JUSTICE

The following note by Fr. Federico Lombardi, head of the Holy See Press Office, was published today. He addresses the question of the judges and lawyers at Vatican City State Tribunal, Vatican law and the trial of 5 people in the so-called Vatileaks 2 scandal:

In recent weeks, since the opening of the trial for the dissemination of reserved documents commonly known as “Vatileaks 2”, many observations and evaluations have been written regarding the judicial system of Vatican City State and in particular on the Tribunal where this trial and its related procedures are taking place. Since many of these observations are inappropriate, or at times entirely unjustified, it would appear opportune to offer some considerations enabling a clearer view and a more just evaluation of this fundamental aspect of the situation.

Firstly, although this should be self-evident, it is necessary to recall that Vatican City State has its own legal order, entirely autonomous and separate from the Italian legal system, and has its own judicial bodies for the various levels of judgement and the necessary legislation in terms of criminal matters and procedure.

Within this latter there exist all the procedural guarantees characteristic of the most advanced contemporary legal systems. Indeed, all the fundamental principles are established and fully implemented: an independent and impartial tribunal constituted by law, the presumption of innocence, the right to a technical defence (by private or ex officio legal representation), and the freedom of the judicial college to form an opinion on the basis of evidence in public hearing and in debate between the prosecution and the defence, leading to the issuance of a sentence able to be substantiated and with the possibility of being contested by appeal and ultimately annulled.

All those engaged in judicial roles, both investigators and judges, are selected via cooptation; they may not be recruited by way of a public selection procedure open to the citizens of the State, as normally occurs in other States. They are selected from among professionals of the highest level, with consolidated experience and a recognised reputation (as may be seen in their curricula vitae, which can be consulted via internet). Indeed, they are all professors in Italian universities.

With regard to the lawyers, a violation of the right to a defence has been hypothesised. In this respect it is necessary to avoid a basic mistake: the current Vatican legislation, applied by the legal authorities, is perfectly in line with procedural law in the majority of jurisdictions throughout the world, where a specific qualification is required for admission to practice in the courts; this is issued subject to certain prerequisites and the possession of specified qualifications. It is therefore unsurprising that a lawyer able to practice in Italy may not be able to do so in Vatican City State, just as he or she would not be able to practice in Germany or France. Arguments to the contrary would imply that a foreign defendant would be able to claim to be represented in Italy by a foreign private lawyer, which is not permitted. Such conditions do not constitute a limit imposed by the Vatican legal order, but rather a further confirmation of its autonomy and completeness. All lawyers are enrolled on an easily consulted professional register of lawyers with right of audience before the Vatican City State Tribunal. Ex officio or private lawyers may be selected from the professionals on this register.

These are lawyers qualified not only at the Tribunals of the Church and the Holy See, but also in the Italian courts, as they are all registered in the respective councils of the Order of Italian lawyers. In addition, they also possess a second degree in canon law and a further diploma conferred following a three-year specialist course at the Roman Rota. Therefore, they are professionals who, aside from being in authorised to practise in Italy, are also in possession of further knowledge rendering them eligible for practice in a jurisdiction in which a knowledge of canon law is necessary.

These are prerequisites necessary to guarantee the professionalism and competence of those who are entrusted with ensuring the proper conduct of a trial which, for various reasons, attracts broad attention.

 

VIA DELLA CONCILIAZIONE TO GET NEW LIGHTING FOR JUBILEE – FRANCIS: PRAY FOR PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS, FOR MY TRIP TO AFRICA – ROME AND THE VATICAN, THE JUBILEE AND SECURITY – HEIGHTENED SECURIY MEASURES IN PLACE IN ROME, AT THE VATICAN

So much bad news these days – growing security concerns in Europe and around the world, terrorism rearing its ugly head day after day, violence and conflict in a nation soon to be visited by Pope Francis. With that in mind, I thought I’d start this column with a good news story, an illuminating one, to say the least”

VIA DELLA CONCILIAZIONE TO GET NEW LIGHTING FOR JUBILEE

ACEA, one of the companies in Rome that furnishes electricity and gas, has taken on an important assignment for the Jubilee of Mercy: replacing the current lighting on the 28 obelisk-like street lights on Via della Conciliazione, the broad avenue leading from the Tiber river to St. Peter’s Square.

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The new lamps will feature LED lighting, such as that revealed last December on the facade and dome of St. Peter’s Basilica and on the dome of St. Mary Major, illuminated just before the January 6 Epiphany. The intention is to improve visibility, reduce energetic consumption and costs and to underline the beauty of this entire monumental and historical area. All new fixtures are expected to be up by the end of November.

Neighborhood storekeepers and residents were initially worried when they saw the beautiful lamp tops being removed (seen in the first photo) and replaced by what they described as “rather ugly” street lights that “ruined the aesthetic look of the entire neighborhood.”  (second photo)

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Not to worry folks! The original lights will soon be back, more beautiful than ever with improved lighting!

FRANCIS: PRAY FOR PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS, FOR MY TRIP TO AFRICA

Sunday, amid massive security, including police cars circling St. Peter’s Square, uniformed officers, plainclothesmen and additional airport-style security machines, Pope Francis presided at the Angelus from his study overlooking St. Peter’s Square. Sunday was the feast of Christ the King. Pope Francis noted that, “The kingdoms of this world sometimes build themselves on arrogance, rivalry, oppression, and conytrasted that to the kingdom of Christ which is, he said, is ‘a kingdom of justice, love and peace’. … To reign as Christ does means serving God and our brethren.”

The Holy Father called for all the faithful everywhere to pray for persecuted Christians, highlighting Saturday’s beatification in Barcelona of 26 including priests, friars awaiting ordination, and Franciscan lay brothers who were martyred during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, The Pope said, “let us entrust to their intercession our many brothers and sisters who, sadly still today, in many different parts of the world, are persecuted because of their faith in Christ.”

Pope Francis also asked the faithful to pray for the success of his visit to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic, starting Wednesday. He sent a video message to the faithful of Kenya and Uganda, and a separate one to the Central African Republic in which he noted how this country “has for too long been affected by a violent situation and by insecurity of which many of you have been innocent victims.” He said he hopes to bring “consolation and hope” and that his visit “may contribute, in one way or another, to alleviate wounds and to favor conditions for a better, more serene future for Central Africa.”

Closely studying the situation in the CAR, Vatican security officials will decide the night before Francis’ scheduled departure for Central Africa if the trip will go as planned.

ROME AND THE VATICAN, THE JUBILEE AND SECURITY

(Vatican Radio) The director of the Holy See Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, said on Monday he has “utmost confidence” in the Italian authorities to ensure the safety of Rome and St. Peter’s Square during the upcoming Jubilee of Mercy.

“On the part of the Vatican, there was not a specific demand to increase security measures during the Jubilee,” Fr. Lombardi said. “It depends on the Italian authorities, and how they rate the situation.” He was speaking at a press conference at the headquarters of the Province of Rome, explaining the “InfoJubilee” initiative, a collaboration of Vatican Radio, Roma Servizi per la Mobilità, ACI Infomobility and the Italian State Railway.

The collaborative initiative will include radio programs, announcements at train stations, online services tracking street traffic, and other services helping pilgrims make their way around the city.

Also attending the press conference was the prefect of Rome, Franco Gabrielli, who said Italian authorities had already been putting measures in place to increase security for the Jubilee before the Paris terrorist attacks on November 13.

“The difference is not made by the numbers of military and police officers put into the field, but by the ability to arrange them so you can control the territory, and for activities of prevention,” Gabrielli said. “The things you see are not the most important,” he added. “The most important activities are invisible, such as intelligence.”

Gabrielli said measures will be decided based upon the events taking place, with the most difficult period being the Spring, beginning with the Easter celebrations.

“The Spring season is the time of year in Rome which brings in the most tourists, with school children on field trips and pilgrims, which will be even more numerous in the Jubilee,” he said. Gabrielli said during this period the police presence will be especially visible, but added care was being taken to not infringe on the rights of citizens.

Father Lombardi also took the opportunity to say the Jubilee will not “succeed or fail” based on the number of pilgrims who come to Rome.

“The spirit of the Jubilee extends throughout the world,” Fr. Lombardi said. “You do not have to come to Rome to access the spiritual benefits of the Jubilee… Everyone can celebrate in their (home diocesan) cathedral. There will be many Holy Doors opened, and anyone who wants to receive the fruits of the Jubilee Holy Door can do so in their own city, and with the same spiritual benefits.”

Father Lombardi added, “this is not to say do not come to Rome.” “For those who are comfortable coming, come if you like to, and be happy to see the Pope. There is total freedom in living the Jubilee.”

The Holy Year begins on December 8, 2015, and ends November 20, 2016, the Feast of Christ the King.

HEIGHTENED SECURIY MEASURES IN PLACE IN ROME, AT THE VATICAN

ANSA news agency reports that over 2,000 security agents are to be deployed in Rome as part of tougher security measures for the upcoming Jubilee made necessary after last Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris, Rome police commissioner Nicolò D’Angelo said Friday. The new measures will come into effect on Monday, two weeks ahead of the start of the Holy Year on December 8.

The security plan provides for police patrols on local buses and Rome’s video surveillance system will be beefed up. There will also be more police patrols in outlying areas of the capital, D’Angelo said. The services aim to “increase the perception of our presence,” he explained.

Rome will be divided into “three important areas: from the outlying area to the one where security is highest” D’Angelo continued. “All the pilgrim routes will be strengthened with further additional services,” he added. The police commissioner also said Rome’s Olympic stadium – the location of football matches – was “obviously” a potential target and that security would be tightened there with additional, stricter controls.

In related news over the weekend, ANSA reported that Muslims on their way out of Rome’s Great Mosque after Friday prayers had harsh words for the Islamic terrorists who murdered 130 people last Friday in Paris. “They must be taken out, because they use the name of Allah in order to kill,” said one.

“I’m afraid because they can hurt me if I say the wrong thing,” said one woman. “But I want to speak my mind anyway, because I’m ashamed of being a Muslim”. “Those who go against peace are not Muslims,” said one young man in broken Italian.

“Italy has given me a lot,” said an older man. “I’ve lived here 37 years, I’ve had work and peace. Now I hope what happened won’t damage the image of Islam, which is always against violence.”

PRESS OFFICE ON LEAKS OF VATICAN DOCUMENTS – CONGREGATION ADDRESSES NEWS REPORTS ON ITS REAL ESTATE HOLDINGS

Pope Francis is back on Twitter!  Here is his November 12 tweet, the first since October 31:  As Christians, we are called to imitate the Good Shepherd and to help families experiencing difficulties.

PRESS OFFICE ON LEAKS OF VATICAN DOCUMENTS

Wednesday afternoon the following statement was released by the Holy See Press Office relative to news reports of alleged illicit financial activity by a Vatican office:

“In recent days articles have appeared in various media organs and news agencies that refer in a partial and imprecise fashion to the content of a confidential document, hypothesizing that in the past APSA has been exploited for an illicit financial activity. The Vatican’s judicial authority has opened an investigation in regard to the diffusion of this document. APSA (Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See) has always collaborated with the competent bodies, it is not the subject of an investigation and it continues to undertake its own activity with respect to norms in force.”

FR. FEDERICO LOMBARDI

Later Wednesday afternoon, the Holy See Press Office issued an additional statement on Wednesday that confirmed that a pair of Italian journalists are under investigation by Vatican police (the Gendarmeria), under the direction of judicial magistrates probing the leak of confidential documents that allegedly indicate mismanagement at high levels of the Roman Curia. (Vatican Radio)

Journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi each wrote a book released earlier this month, claiming to give details of what they describe as resistance to the Holy Father’s efforts to reform the machinery of central Church governance.

In his statement, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, said other officials are under scrutiny for possible involvement in the document leak as well.

Following is the full text of Fr. Lombardi’s statement, in Vatican Radio’s English translation:

The Vatican Gendarmeria, in its capacity as judicial police, had informed the Vatican judiciary of the operations of two journalists [Gianluigi] Nuzzi and [Emiliano] Fittipaldi, in connection with [their] possible participation in dissemination of reserved information and confidential documents – a crime under the Vatican City criminal code (Law n.IX SCV, of 13 July 2013 Art. 116b).

In the investigative activity already undertaken, the Judiciary has acquired elements of evidence of the fact of the two journalists’ involvement in the offense, who therefore are now under investigation.

The situations of other persons who, owing to their official positions, could have cooperated in the acquisition of the reserved documents in question, are also under investigation.

CONGREGATION ADDRESSES NEWS REPORTS ON ITS REAL ESTATE HOLDINGS

(VIS) – The following is the full text of the communique issued yesterday afternoon by the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples on news relating to its ownership of real estate.

“The Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, also known as ‘Propaganda Fide’, adheres fully to the Holy Father Francis’ line of thought and guidance with regard to the life and reform of the Roman Curia; in addition, it his committed to pursuing the institutional aims set forth in the Apostolic Constitution ‘Pastor Bonus’, as well as respecting the will of donors who over the years have contributed to its missionary work. Therefore, it welcomes all the administrative reforms anticipated by the Secretary for the Economy and submits all the budgets and final accounts to the latter.

“Certain insinuations on the part of certain sectors of the media, which circulate news not corresponding to the truth, are therefore unacceptable. It has been written, for example, that the Congregation offers luxury properties for rent at low prices as favours, and even that it hosts a spa or is the proprietor of the Hotel Priscilla.

“The real estate belonging to the Congregation, donated for the Missions, is rented at market value; there are exceptions in the case of situations of poverty. The aforementioned properties are rented in accordance with current Italian legislation, to which both the Congregation as the owner and the recipient are subject.

“The income deriving from the rent of these properties, for which regular tax is paid in Italy (in 2014 the Dicastery paid IMU – imposta municipale unica, property tax, of 2,169,200 euros in Rome alone) is destined principally for the maintenance of the Congregation, the Pontifical Urbanian University, the Pontifical Collegio Urbano, the missionary institutions and young Churches in the mission territories.

“Propaganda Fide is grateful to the benefactors who, with its help, make it possible for the Gospel to be announced and provide support for innumerable educational, social and healthcare initiatives in the poorest countries.

“We wish to clarify that, should such dissemination of false or biased information recur, this Congregation will be obliged to protect its image in the appropriate forums.”