THE SHORT TAKE….

Even though the weather was the coldest we’ve had all winter – with bone-chilling winds yesterday – there were a lot of big events at the Vatican that brought out fairly large numbers of faithful.

How cold was it? I did an unscientific, informal survey of several area restaurants and pizzerias whose owners told me their phones were ringing off the hook: Everyone wanted pizzas delivered, no one wanted to go out in the frigid temperatures!

My comment on the weather is just that – a comment. How can I complain about cold when I think of the tens of thousands of migrants, refugees, our countless brothers and sisters who, as they leave their country of birth, whether by choice or force, and have not found better times (in fact, have found worse ones!) leave everything behind – homes, possessions, security, etc. They probably do not know where their next meal is coming from, where they will rest their head for the night and even if they will hygiene facilities!

But the cold is the Number One story on Italian news tonight!

Sunday, in fact, marked the World Day for Migrants and Refugees and thousands of migrants and refugees of different nationalities entered St. Peter’s Basilica by the Holy Door to attend a special Mass for this world day. Afterwards they filled St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus and heard Pope Francis say: “Each of you carries a story, a culture, precious values; and unfortunately often experiences of poverty, oppression and fear. Your presence in this square is a sign of hope in God.” He urged them not to allow difficulties deprive them of hope and of the joy of life.

Francis also prayed for the victims of attacks by extremists in Burkina Faso and Indonesia. And, interestingly enough, he thanked the inmates of a detention center in Milan who made the hosts for the Mass dedicated to migrants and refugees.

Before the Marian prayer, the Pope reflected on the day’s Gospel about Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding at Cana. “In that miracle,” said Francis, “Jesus imparts an act of kindness toward the groom, a divine blessing upon marriage. Love between man and woman is a good way in which to live the Gospel and with which to undertake with joy the path towards holiness.” However, said Francis, “the miracle of Cana is not just about the bride and groom. Each human person is called to meet the Lord in his or her life.”

Also on Sunday: In the afternoon, Pope Francis visited Rome’s Jewish community 30 years after St. John Paul was the first ever pope to visit a synagogue. I put the EWTN/CNA account of that visit on my Facebook page – here is a link to the news story: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/lets-unite-against-war-and-violence-pope-francis-urges-at-roman-synagogue-15967/

This morning was nonstop for the pontiff. Following is an abbreviated version of his various audiences based on Vatican Radio and VIS stories on news.va. Photos also from news.va

Before I close: Don’t forget to watch ”At Home with Jim and Joy” today (Mondays and Thursdays, 2 pm ET) when I’ll bring some of the weekend news from Rome.

THE SHORT TAKE….

POPE WELCOMES PRINCE ALBERT II OF MONACO – The prince was accompanied by his wife Princess Charlene, a convert to Catholicism. A statement from the Holy See Press Office called the talks “cordial,” and said they highlighted the good bilateral relations between Monaco and the Holy See, and reference was made to the historical contribution of the Catholic Church in the life of Monaco. Other issues of common interest that were discussed included environmental protection, humanitarian aid, and the integral development of peoples. The parties considered some issues affecting the international community, including peace and security, the reception of migrants, and the general situation in the Mediterranean region, as well as the Middle East. Prince Albert gave Pope Francis a food basket containing fruit, vegetables, and cheeses from the royal farm/vacation home.

PriNCE ALBert

HOLY FATHER WELCOMES IMF MANAGING DIRECTOR. The Pope today welcomed Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF, International Monetary Fund. The two previously met in the Vatican December 10, 2014. The IMF, composed of 188 countries, was established in 1944 to help manage countries’ balance of payments. According to its website, it  is “working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world.”

VATICAN SECURITY PERSONNEL RECEIVED BY POPE. During his annual address to Officers and Agents of the General Inspectorate for Public Security at the Vatican, the Pope expressed appreciation for the work they carry out every day, as well as during pastoral visits in Italy. “Our meeting today is even more significant because it is within the context of the Holy Year of Mercy, an event of spiritual significance, which has already seen the presence of many pilgrims in Rome from all over the world.” He noted that, in a special way, the members of public security are called to a greater commitment “to ensure that the celebrations and events connected with the special Jubilee” run smoothly and take place in an atmosphere of serenity and peace. He asked the Lord to protect them in the fulfillment of the task they carry out in collaboration with other security forces. Francis added that, although the Christmas season is over, the crib can still be viewed in St. Peter’s Square –  a reminder to safeguard within ourselves the mystery we have just celebrated.

VATICAN SECURITY

FRANCIS RECEIVES FINNISH ECUMENICAL DELEGATION OF LUTHERAN –  As is traditional, an ecumenical delegation from Finland, led by the Lutheran bishop of Helsinki, came to visit the bishop of Rome for the feast day of St. Henry of Uppsala, patron of the country. Pope Francis told his guests, “Your ecumenical pilgrimage is an eloquent sign of the fact that, as Lutherans, Orthodox and Catholics, you have recognized what unites you and together you wish to bear witness to Jesus Christ, Who is the foundation of unity. Expressing his joy at their visit, the Pope said, “In a special way, we can thank the Lord for the fruits of the dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics. Here I think in particular of the common document on ‘Justification in the Life of the Church’. Building on these foundations, our dialogue is making promising progress towards a shared understanding, on the sacramental level, of Church, Eucharist and Ministry. Finland has 5.5. million people, mostly Lutheran, but 1.1% is Orthodox Christian. The Catholic population numbers a little over 12,000 people.

LUTHERAN

IN OTHER PAPAL NEWS: Pope Francis is set to release a new children’s book in February, entitled “Love before the World”. Published by Loyola Press (original title, “L’amore prima del mondo”), the book contains the Holy Father’s responses to letters written by children from around the world. For example: What did God do before creating the world? “God loved.” Or: Why do my parents fight sometimes? “They are human.” These are some of the questions put to Pope Francis by children between the ages of 6-13 from 26 countries, including Albania, China, Nigeria, and the Philippines. Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ, director of ‘La Civiltà Cattolica’, met with the Pope at the Casa Santa Marta several times in recent months, giving him a chance to respond to the children’s letters spontaneously. “These are hard questions,” Pope Francis said, smiling. The drawings and questions of 31 children were chosen for the book, which will be presented to the Holy Father by several of the children who wrote the letters on 22 February. The book debuts in Italy on February 25 and around the world on March 1.

 

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POST-PARIS SITUATION IN ITALY AND ROME – POPE FRANCIS TO VISIT GREAT SYNAGOGUE OF ROME JANUARY 17 – DECEMBER 8: JUBILEE OPENS, VATICAN CHRISTMAS TREE UNVEILED – ST. JOHN LATERAN PREPARES HOLY DOOR FOR JUBILEE

POST-PARIS SITUATION IN ITALY AND ROME

As I came back from a late afternoon television taping in a Vatican office on Via della Conciliazione, I walked down this broad avenue to and then through St. Peter’s Square. I saw a massive police presence in the small square at the end of Conciliazione, Piazza Pio XII, and around the larger, more famous square, and this was at 5 pm.

In fact, as I could tell by the usual barricades being set up for traffic flow tomorrow, St. Peter’s Square was being readied for Pope Francis’ general audience in the morning. I am guessing that the pilgrims intent on being there have been advised to get to the square fairly early for security checks. I also saw a number of new airport-style security machines that were placed among the colonnades, looking like they had just come out of the box.  I imagine many more of those will be arriving in coming days.

A friend told me today that there are military people stationed in the cars of the Rome metropolitana or subway and around the stations, all bearing machine guns. Two other friends, young men in a store I know, told me they were stopped by police near St. Peter’s Square and asked for ID. That will surely increase as the days go by, as people come for a general audience or the Sunday Angelus and as we near the December 8 start of the Jubilee Year.

When unusual and potentially dangerous situations arise in Italy or Europe, the U.S. embassies send notices to citizens who are registered with them. Here is the notice I got after the Paris attacks (I post this also for people who might be traveling or live in Rome who are not registered at an embassy):

“In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, the U.S. Mission in Italy reminds U.S. citizens in Italy to review the Worldwide Caution, which provides information on the continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against U.S. citizens and interests throughout the world, including Europe.

“Recent terrorist attacks, whether by those affiliated with terrorist entities, copycats, or individual perpetrators, serve as a reminder that U.S. citizens need to maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness.

“For further information:

“See the State Department’s travel website for the Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and France Country Specific Information.

“Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.”

In other developments in Italy (various news sources):

– Airspace over Rome will be closed-off to drones during the upcoming Catholic Holy Year, or Jubilee, over fears that the remote-controlled aircraft could be used by ISIS in a terror attack. As well as closing-off airspace over Rome to drones, security checkpoints will be set up at St Peter’s square.

– Italy has tightened security in the wake of the Paris attacks on Friday night. Some 700 extra troops have been deployed onto Rome’s streets to combat the threat of militants while security has been tightened at Italy’s borders and airports across the country.

Squares across Italy now bear impromptu memorials and messages of support for the French people but amid the display of solidarity, Italians are divided over how to confront the threat of Isis. In Rome, people came to the central square of Piazza del Popolo on Saturday night and lit candles, lay flowers and wrote touching messages in support of the French people. In the square in front of Palazzo Farnese – currently the seat of the French Embassy in Rome – a sea of flowers, candles and cards lined the ground by Sunday evening (as you saw in the photos I posted).

– On Saturday the Italian government raised its terror alert and warned that Rome could be a target for ISIS.

POPE FRANCIS TO VISIT GREAT SYNAGOGUE OF ROME JANUARY 17

Following the invitation from the Chief Rabbi and Jewish Community of Rome, Pope Francis will pay a visit to the Great Synagogue in the afternoon of Sunday 17 January 2016. It will be the third visit by a Pope to the Great Synagogue of Rome, following John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The visit will take the form of a personal encounter between the Pope and the representatives of Judaism and the members of the Community. A more detailed program of the visit will be published in due course

DECEMBER 8:  JUBILEE OPENS, VATICAN CHRISTMAS TREE UNVEILED

When the Jubilee Year of Mercy begins on December 8th, all eyes will be looking towards Rome. So the Governorate of Vatican City has decided to take advantage of the attention and unveil the St. Peters Square Christmas tree on the same day.

This year’s tree, says a Vatican Radio report, has been donated by the German region of Bavaria, and is a 32-neter high two-pointed Spruce. The tree arrives Wednesday, November 18 and is set to be erected overnight by the staff of the Vatican Gardens.

The 2015 Nativity scene of 24 life-sized figures will be donated by the archdiocese of Trento, in collaboration with the Friends of the Crib of Tesero group. Except for the Holy Family and Three Magi, the scene will depict rural buildings and typical Trentino clothing from the mid-twentieth century.

The Christmas tree will be especially unique this year. It was announced that the Vatican has joined forces with the Countess Lene Thun Foundation and recreated designs made by children suffering from cancer. This Foundation offers recreational therapy to children in oncology wards across Italy. The children were asked to come up with designs that represent their dreams and desires. Some of the children who designed the decorations will meet Pope Francis on December 8. They will present him with some of the decorations they made and accompany him to the unveiling of the tree.

The Christmas tree will be illuminated on December 18.

JOHN LATERAN PREPARES HOLY DOOR FOR JUBILEE

On Monday, the Holy Door of the papal basilica of St. John Lateran was freed from the brick wall that had hidden it since the year 2000. The Cardinal Vicar of Rome, Agostino Vallini, said a prayer and then workers – seen in the photo – carefully tore down the wall that protects the Holy Door in between Jubilees.

HOLY DOOR - St John LAteran

Workers recovered a zinc box that contained the documents certifying the closure of the door at the end of the Year 2000 Jubilee. The box also contained 41 medals with the emblem of Pope John Paul II: A gold one minted in 2000; 23 silver ones representing the years of the pontificate of John Paul II at the time of the last Jubilee; and 17 bronze ones , one for each year since 1983, the year of the previous Jubilee.

Also present were the Cathedral Chapter of the Lateran; Msgr. Guido Marini, papal master of liturgical ceremonies, and Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, the council in charge of preparing and executing the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.

St John Lateran is the cathedral of the diocese of Rome, and the Holy Door will be officially opened by Pope Francis on December 13, the first Sunday of the Jubilee of Mercy. The Holy Year actually begins December 8 with the opening of the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica.