THE CHURCH MARKS THE FEAST OF THE CHAIR OF PETER – HOLY SEE TAKES MEASURES TO PROTECT IMAGE OF HOLY FATHER

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Chair of Peter and, on this occasion, I want to send best wishes and many prayers to my friends of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Peter, based in Houston, Texas. Special wishes to my friend and a former colleague in the Vatican, Bishop Steven Lopes, ordained just over a year ago as the first bishop of the Ordinariate.

On today’s special feast, Pope Francis tweeted: Jesus entrusted to Peter the keys to open the entrance to the kingdom of heaven, and not to close it.

THE CHURCH MARKS THE FEAST OF THE CHAIR OF PETER

February 22 is the feast of the Chair of Peter and great honor is paid to the first Pope in St. Peter’s Basilica on this day every year.

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The special feast of the “cathedra” or Chair of St. Peter dates to the fourth century and honors and celebrates the primacy and authority of St. Peter. The word “cathedra” means seat or throne and is the root of the word cathedral, the church where a bishop has his seat from which he preaches and teaches.

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A mixture of tradition, legend and belief held for many years that this was actually a double chair, parts of which dated back to the early days of Christianity and to St. Peter himself. This chair or cathedra has been studied over the centuries and the last time it was removed from its niche in the Bernini altar was a six-year period from 1968 to 1974 where studies pointed to a single chair whose oldest parts date to the sixth century. What appeared to be an outer or second chair was a covering that served both to protect the throne and to carry it in procession.

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The Chair of St. Peter is actually a throne that Charles the Bald, the grandson of the Emperor Charlemagne, gave to Pope John VIII at the former’s coronation as emperor on Christmas Day 875. For many years the chair was used at liturgical events by Pope John and his successors: it was ensconced in Bernini’s Altar of the Chair in 1666.

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Bernini’s masterful Altar of the Cathedra was executed between 1658 and 1666. A bronze throne, which encases the Chair of Peter, dominates the apse, above the marble altar. It is supported by four statues of bishops: two Fathers of the Latin Church, Sts. Ambrose and Augustine, and two from the Greek Church, Sts. Athanasius and John Chrysostom.

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Above them, in the midst of gilt clouds, flights of angels and rays of sun is the Holy Spirit, illuminated by a stained glass window.

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Notwithstanding its appearance of lightness and harmony, records show that more than 120 tons of bronze were used for this breathtaking monument. This altar is today still used for numerous liturgical celebrations.

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What is so special about this feast day is that the Altar of the Chair is aglow for this one day a year with scores and scores of candles.

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In addition, this is one of two days every year when the statue of a seated St. Peter, on the right side of the main aisle, is robed in ecclesiastical finery, including papal vestments, the triple tiara and a papal ring.

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The other day you may see St. Peter robed in this manner is June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles, patrons of Rome.

HOLY SEE TAKES MEASURES TO PROTECT IMAGE OF HOLY FATHER

(Vatican Radio) The Secretariat of State of the Holy See issued a press release on Wednesday, detailing the steps being taken to protect the image of the Holy Father. Following is that communiqué:

The Secretariat of State, among its tasks, has also that of protecting the image of the Holy Father, so that his message can reach the faithful intact and that his person not be exploited.

It is in view of these same purposes, that the Secretary of State protects the symbols and coats of arms of the Holy See, through appropriate regulatory instruments provided for on an international level.

In order to make its protective action more effective with respect to stated purposes, and to halt situations of illegality that arise, the Secretariat of State will effect systematic surveillance activities apt to monitor the ways in which the image of the Holy Father and the coats of arms of the Holy See are used, [and] if necessary intervene with appropriate action.

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MARY IS THE FOCUS OF NEXT THREE WORLD YOUTH DAYS – THE YEAR OF MERCY CONTINUES WITH WWW.PETERSPENCE.VA

Pope Frances tweeted today: How much I desire that the years to come will be full of mercy, so that every person can experience the goodness and tenderness of God!

MARY IS THE FOCUS OF NEXT THREE WORLD YOUTH DAYS

The Vatican, through the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, today announced the themes for the next three World Youth Days as chosen by Pope Francis. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the focus of all three celebrations, the first two in 2017 and 2018 at the diocesan level and the third at the international in 2019 in Panama. Pope Francis presided at the last international WYD in July of this year in Krakow, Poland.

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The three themes are taken from the Gospel of Saint Luke:

32nd World Youth Day, 2017: “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His Name” (Lk 1:49)

33rd World Youth Day, 2018: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God” (Lk 1:30)

34th World Youth Day, 2019: “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38)

Noting that the themes are a continuation of the reflections begun by Pope Francis for the last three World Youth Days on the Beatitudes, the dicastery communique recalled Pope Francis’ remarks at World Youth Day in Krakow, when he invited young people to have “memory of the past, courage for the present and to have/be hope for the future.” The themes “are intended to give a clear Marian tone to the spiritual journey of the next three WYDs” and at the same time “give a picture of young people on a journey between the past (2017), present (2018), and future (2019), inspired by the three theological virtues of faith, charity, and hope.”

The Dicastery note says the “path that is being proposed to young people can also be seen to be in harmony with the reflection that Pope Francis has entrusted to the next Synod of Bishops: Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment.”

THE YEAR OF MERCY CONTINUES WITH WWW.PETERSPENCE.VA

The annual collection taken up around the world for the Pope’s charities, known in the United States and many other countries as Peter’s Pence and in Italy as the “obolo di San Pietro” now has its own page on the Vatican website – www.peterspence.va

The announcement was made this morning by the Secretariat of State as it unveiled  the new website. It went online on yesterday, November 21 and is currently available in English, Italian, and Spanish, though it will soon be translated into other languages.

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This annual collection usually occurs on or around the June 29th Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. Funds are given to the Holy Father who then chooses the recipients whom he feels are most in need.

The dicastery communique notes that faithful throughout the world will now have the opportunity to “reflect on the significance of their acts and offer, also online, their concrete support for the works of mercy, Christian charity, peace, and aid to the Holy See.” It adds that, “created by desire of the Holy See, the site is the fruit of an important synergy between the Governorate of the Vatican City State, the Secretariat for Communications, and the Institute for the Works of Religion” (i.e. the Vatican Bank).

The site presents papal messages, the history of Peter’s Pence, lists various works of mercy and, of course, offers the chance to donate online.

 

THE ROLE OF THE VATICAN AND POPE FRANCIS IN U.S.-CUBA RAPPROCHEMENT

Mr. Murphy of Murphy’s Law has paid another visit! My building had some work done two days ago on one of the main water pipes, and an announcement to this effect said there would be no water from 9 am to about 1 pm. However, it was not mentioned that the water would be drained from the pipes of all households linked to that side of the building, and that it would be wise to turn off washing machines, hot water heaters, or any other appliance that used water. Unaware of this, I had my water heater on, as I always do, and by the end of the afternoon, emptied of water to heat, it had burned out! This comes on the heels of three items – almost simultaneously – headed to the appliance cemetery: my wash machine, the fridge and my satellite decoder box (not, strictly speaking, an appliance). New items have been bought and installed (I did the decoder box myself).

Thank the Lord, I have a trusted plumber and he and an assistant spent several hours draining and removing the old heater, which is in the main bathroom, buying and installing a new one, in addition to which they fixed two problems in a second small bathroom and the kitchen.

After they left, I had a quick lunch at 4:15 and have had to put off appointments I had for this afternoon as well as the cleaning of all three rooms where Domenico had worked, to write this column, given the historic moment for the Vatican, Pope Francis, Cuba and the U.S.

I’ll start with a fascinating personal story today about Cuba that was directly linked to my work at the Vatican Information Service (VIS) in its early years, in the early- and mid-90s.

First, some background, to understand the story:

Sometime around 1989, Pope John Paul II asked Joaquin Navarro-Valls, then the head of the Holy See Press Office, if there was an efficient and timely way to get Vatican news to the nuncios – the papal ambassadors – throughout the world. The world’s bishops, nuncios and episcopal conferences had to rely on domestic newspapers, TV and radio for their news of the Pope and Vatican, although there was, of course, Vatican Radio and other Catholic news agencies. The Vatican paper, L’Osservatore Romano, which reprinted papal speeches and documents in their entirety and gave all the news not covered by secular or other media (nominations, daily papal audiences, etc) often took weeks or even months to travel to Church offices around the globe.

Thus, as a result of John Paul II’s request that Navarro-Valls explore the possibility of a way of daily communicating with nuncios and bishops, VIS was born. Nuncios and bishops had to pay for an annual subscription in the early, pre-Internet years, as each daily bulletin – first in Spanish and English, and later in Italian and French – was sent via fax. The subscription cost was not inconsequential. However, the money that came from the archdioceses and dioceses that could afford the full annual payment was shared with dioceses who wanted to received the VIS fax but could not afford to, thus efectively subsidizing them. We made sure that no nuncio, no bishop would go without VIS simply because they did not have the subscription money – or the equipment, a fax machine.

In time, VIS became known throughout the Church and individuals, schools, universities, parishes, and many other like groups subscribed to VIS. Its first transmitted news service via fax was December 21, 1990. The second was after the Christmas holidays, on December 28 and our regular, five-days a week transmissions began on January 1, 1991.

And, in time, the Internet became the vehicle for communicating. I must say here that VIS had a page on the brand new WWW (World Wide Web) even before the Holy See had its page, http://www.vatican.va!

Once the idea was explained to Pope St. John Paul and he gave the go-ahead, Navarro Valls found office space in the building housing the press office and the proxess of interviewing staff began. VIS was transmitted in the early years in English and Spanish (these were the two languages most used by nuncios and bishops as either their first or second language) and there were five of us on staff. I was the English language writer and editor, in the early days Fernando Monge and then Alfonso Bailly Baillere wrote the Spanish version of VIS and Carmen Sanchez Asiain translated from English into her native Spanish, and back again! Carmen’s English was impeccable as she had spent considerable time in both Ireland and India where she always spoke English. She died tragically of a heart attack at age 56 on September 30, 1996.

And now my Cuba story, brief as it is:

Early in the 1990s, it became known to Pedro Brunori the Italo-Argentinian head of VIS from 1990 to 1998, that Church officials in Cuba wanted to receive the daily VIS bulletin but did not have a fax machine and they were not allowed by the State to have one. In addition the telephone line they had was under surveillance. The Vatican solved the problem by sending Pedro to Cuba on a diplomatic passport with a small suitcase that contained a satellite phone. That phone line served to received the daily VIS bulletin.

There were many similarly wonderful stories about VIS’ first years that I will tell someday in a book.

As I said on my Facebook page today, posting one of the Vatican stories about its role and that of Pope Francis in the just-announced rapprochement between the United States and Cuba, “St. John Paul II opened doors on his visit to Cuba in late January 1998 and now Pope Francis, the first Pope from Latin America, has opened the doors even further as it has become known of the Vatican’s role in the new U.S.-Cuba relations.

Before John Paul II would even consider travelling to Cuba, the Vatican set out a number of conditions that had to be met (another story for a day when I have more time). Months and months of behind the scenes talks and meetings took place to solve the issues and make possible the papal trip. Following the announcement yesterday of new U.S.-Cuba ties, many are asking now: Did the U.S. lay out any conditions concerning issues such as freedom, human rights, access to means of communication, etc. and say they had to be met first? We do not know now. We do know, in reports from Cuba, that the Catholic Church is the most trusted institution in the country by the people.

Here are some of the stories from the Vatican today: the Pope’s reaction, remarks by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, the communique from the Vatican Secretariat of State, and a Vatican Radio summary of yesterday’s events. All stories are by Vatican Radio at news.va

THE ROLE OF THE VATICAN AND POPE FRANCIS IN U.S.-CUBA RAPPROCHEMENT

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis on Wednesday offered his congratulations to the governments of the United States and Cuba, as they announced the two countries will start talks on resuming diplomatic relations. A statement from the Vatican Secretariat of State said that in recent months the Pope had written to both Cuban President Raul Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama, inviting them to “resolve humanitarian questions of common interest.” The Holy See also met with delegations from both countries in the Vatican last October, providing what the statement calls “its good offices to facilitate a constructive dialogue.” The communiqué says the Holy See will continue to offer support for initiatives on the part of both countries to strengthen bilateral relations and promote the well-being of their respective citizens.

Here is that communique from the Secretariat of State:

“The Holy Father wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history. In recent months, Pope Francis wrote letters to the President of the Republic of Cuba, His Excellency Mr Raúl Castro, and the President of the United States, The Honorable Barack H. Obama, and invited them to resolve humanitarian questions of common interest, including the situation of certain prisoners, in order to initiate a new phase in relations between the two Parties The Holy See received Delegations of the two countries in the Vatican last October and provided its good offices to facilitate a constructive dialogue on delicate matters, resulting in solutions acceptable to both Parties. The Holy See will continue to assure its support for initiatives which both nations will undertake to strengthen their bilateral relations and promote the wellbeing of their respective citizens.”

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis spoke on Thursday at his joy over the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba, two nations who have been estranged for many years, saying this was a result of diplomacy. His remarks came in a brief off-the-cuff address to new non-resident ambassadors to the Holy See as they presented their Letters of Credence: Bahamas, Bangladesh, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Finland, Malaysia, Mali, Mongolia, New Zealand, Rwanda, Tanzania and Togo. He said the work of an ambassador is to take small steps aimed at building peace, bringing the hearts of people closer together and sowing brotherhood between peoples and nations.

“I give you a warm welcome and I hope that every time you come here you feel as though at home. Our welcome and our respect (are) for you and also for your people and the heads of your Governments.  I greet you all and hope your work will be fruitful. The work of an ambassador is a job of taking small steps, doing small things but whose aim always is to build peace, to bring the hearts of people closer together and sow brotherhood between peoples.  This is your work, but done with small things, very small things. And today we are all happy because yesterday we saw two nations, who were estranged for so many years, take a step to bring them closer together. This was achieved by ambassadors, by diplomacy. Yours is a noble, very noble work. I hope it will be fruitful and may God bless you. Thank you.”

(Vatican Radio)  Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the (Vatican) Secretary of State, said on Thursday that Pope Francis played a very significant role in facilitating the rapprochement between the U.S. and Cuba. Speaking in an exclusive interview with Vatican Radio, Cardinal Parolin spoke of the Holy See’s satisfaction over the agreement between the U.S. and Cuba to restore diplomatic ties and praised the leaders of the two nations for their courageous decision.

Q: What was the specific role of Pope Francis – the first Pope to come from the South American continent?

A. I would like to repeat the satisfaction of the Holy See for this important step in the relations between the United States and Cuba.  And also to stress that the role of the Holy Father was very significant in this conclusion.  Of course, in the sense that since the beginning of his pontificate, he has stressed the importance for the person and the groups and people to meet together. What we have called the culture of encounter. I think that this is the proper word. But his teaching then, his teaching which also pointed out this importance and this necessity. At the same time, the help to the two parties, the United States and Cuba, writing to the two presidents and stressing the importance of finding a solution to their historical differences.

Q. What was the Holy See’s diplomatic role in these negotiations?

A. In this case, the Holy See has tried to facilitate the dialogue between the two parties according to the, let’s say, the objective that the Holy Father Pope Francis has given to the diplomacy of the Holy See. Which is of course traditional in its history, but now he (it) has (a) new  accent (emphasis)(sic) because of the situation, the particular situation of our world – which is to build bridges between persons and groups and nations.  And then it was, let’s say, a service of facilitating and of promoting the dialogue between the two parties.

Q. The roles of President Obama and the Cuban President were also important in these negotiations…

A. Of course, of course.  I would like to, just to highlight the courage they had in this decision.  It is a decision, I think…very important and of course, not everybody agrees with that but I think that it was important from the side of the two presidents to have the courage and the strength to make such a decision.  And I think that we have really, finally, at the end, to thank God who inspired such good sentiments and intentions (of) the two leaders.  Hoping that this example could be taken by many other leaders in the region and in the world and to try, really, to overcome differences and conflict through negotiation and through dialogue.

(Vatican Radio) After more than a half-century of hostility, the United States and Cuba are to work toward the establishment of full diplomatic relations – and U.S. President Barack Obama says that Pope Francis played an instrumental role in creating the conditions for the development.

The Secretariat of State of the Holy See issued a statement offering Pope Francis’ expressions of  “warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history.”

The announcement of efforts to normalize relations came in the context of the release of U.S. aid worker Alan Gross and an exchange of intelligence officers being detained on the island and in the U.S.

U.S. President Barack Obama said that Pope Francis played a role in bringing him and Cuban leader Raul Castro together.  “His Holiness Pope Francis issued a personal appeal to me, and to Cuba’s President Raul Castro, urging us to resolve Alan’s case, and to address Cuba’s interest in the release of three Cuban agents who have been jailed in the United States for over 15 years,” Obama said.

Raul Castro also welcomed the exchange and the move to normalize relations. “[President] Obama’s decision,” said Castro, “deserves the respect and acknowledgment of our people.”

Relations between Cuba and the U.S. deteriorated rapidly and eventually disintegrated entirely in the wake of the takeover of the island by Communist revolutionaries led by current Cuban president Raul Castro’s brother, Fidel, in 1959.