KIDNAPPED FRANCISCAN RELEASED IN SYRIA – ASTRONOMERS AND THE EPIPHANY – MAGI OR SHEPHERDS?

Tuesday I wrote that, starting January 6, the traditional monthly prayer intentions of Pope Francis will be available on video, thanks to a new initiative launched by the worldwide Apostleship of Prayer. Click here to see that first monthly message on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nq7us5Lf5IU&feature=youtu.be

The Holy Father speaks in Spanish but there are subtitles in other languages. This video has English subtitles. The app is called Click to Pray. The Pope’s prayer intention for January is that “sincere dialogue between men and women of different religions may yield fruits of peace and justice.”

Today was a quiet day for the Holy Father who had no public commitments or audiences. Vatican employees returned to work today after the one-day holiday yesterday for the Epiphany.

And now a bit of news about the area around St. Peter’s:

I was in Pius XII Square today, the small square immediately before you enter St. Peter’s Square and observed some interesting things. There was some traffic on Via della Conciliazione today, although on my previous recent walks to and in the area, that broad avenue had been closed to cars. I have no idea if there is a schedule for when Via della Conciliazione is open to traffic or not.

In addition, as the film crew and I went from my home (where we taped an interview for “Vaticano” about my investiture into the Order of the Holy Sepulchre) to Pius XII Square, we walked just outside the left hand colonnade of St. Peter’s Square and saw workers erecting permanent, waist-high metal barriers on the street adjacent to the colonnade on Via Paolo VI. The barriers are about six feet or so from the colonnade, and follow its natural curve. Only time will tell the purpose of this metal fence but common sense says it has to do with the flow of pilgrims to and from St. Peter’s Square (and basilica?) and will be, in some way, an extra security measure. I’ll update you on that as I learn more.

KIDNAPPED FRANCISCAN RELEASED IN SYRIA

(Vatican Radio)  The Custody of the Holy Land announced late Monday that Fr. Dhiya Aziz, OFM has been liberated, and the Custos, Franciscan Fr. PierBattista Pizzaballa confirmed the announcement in brief remarks to Vatican Radio.

“The situation remains very grave and dramatic in Syria, though we are doubtless happy and relieved that Fr. Dhiya [Aziz] has been released,” he said. The Custody had had no news of the Fr. Dihya since Saturday, July 4, in the late afternoon. Fr. Dhiya was allegedly treated well during his kidnapping.

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A statement from the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land thanked those around the world who prayed for a successful outcome to this trial that Fr. Dhiya endured, as well as the faithful of Yacoubieh, of which he is the pastor, his religious family and his family in Iraq. It goes on to say, “The Custody does not forget that other religious are still missing in Syria and it invites everyone to continue praying for peace in [that] country.”

(For a lot more about the Franciscan Custody, visit www.custodia.org: You can read their story with the photo of a very happy Fr. Aziz as well as a wonderful piece of news about the opening of Holy Doors in the Holy Land by clicking on:  A holy door to celebrate the Holy Family).

ASTRONOMERS AND THE EPIPHANY – MAGI OR SHEPHERDS?

A fascinating piece in the online L’Osservatore Romano by Bro. Guy Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory, that I hope you will enjoy:

The feast of Epiphany is special to us astronomers. Of all the visitors who came to see the newborn Savior, only shepherds and astronomers are specifically mentioned by St. Matthew. Of course, this fame comes with a cost. Epiphany is also the season when we astronomers are besieged with requests to “explain” the Star of Bethlehem.

Johannes Kepler famously attempted to identify the Star as a “nova” caused by the conjunction of planets. On October 9, 1604, Kepler had been timing a conjunction of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn; the following night, a bright star suddenly appeared in that part of the sky, between Jupiter and Saturn. Kepler leapt to the obvious, but false, conclusion that the conjunction of planets somehow caused the new star. (We now recognize the new star as a supernova, the last such one seen in our own galaxy. Among other things, this supernova inspired a series of lectures on astronomy by Galileo… which would lead, ultimately, to his first use of a telescope to study the stars in 1609 — the same year Kepler published the first of his famous laws of planetary motion.)

Kepler was prompted to use this supernova to explain the Star of Bethlehem after coming across a book by Laurence Suslyga of Poland that dated the birth of Jesus at around 4 B.C. By assuming that great conjunctions like the one he had just observed would lead to bright “new stars,” he decided to look for such a conjunction at the predicted time of Jesus’ birth. Not surprisingly, he found one.

Nor was he the last. Since then, thousands of amateur scholars have searched tables of conjunctions — and nowadays, computer planetarium programs — to come up with possible explanations. The fact is, there are any number of possible planetary arrangements, or comets, or exploding stars to match any of the (equally numerous) calculations for the true birthdate of Jesus. A recent search for “star of Bethlehem” on amazon.com comes up with 4,396 books and videos available for sale on the topic. And just about every one of them is convinced their argument is the correct one. Without at doubt, most of these explanations — perhaps all of them — are mere coincidences, just as the chance arrangement of planets and supernova in 1604 fooled Kepler.

One book which pointedly does not attempt to give an astronomical explanation is by a fellow Jesuit at the Vatican Observatory, Fr. Paul Mueller, and myself. Instead of arguing over which conjunction works best, we ask a different question: Why does it matter?

We don’t mean that in an impertinent way. It is curious to contemplate what exactly it is about this story that so many generations of astronomers and amateurs have found so fascinating. Part of it may be the hope that science can “prove” the Bible to be true; a false hope, since speaking as a scientist myself I know how tenuous such proofs can be. (Nor would I trust any religion simply because science had “proved” it.) But part of it must be the link between the glory of the stars at night and the glory of the Savior among us. That, I am confident, is the connection that Matthew was trying to make.

Indeed, my experience as a scientist makes me approach the Magi story with a completely different set of unanswerable questions. What made the Magi travel so far from the comforts of home? What were they looking for, really? Seeing the motivations behind many of my fellow scientists, I can easily believe that the Magi could have been moved by a mixture of motives, both profound and profane. Maybe they were trying to test the accuracy of their astrological predictions. Maybe they were looking to get away from an irritating boss, or an unhappy home life. Maybe they were looking for a king worthy of their worship.

Another mystery to me is, how did they finally recognize Jesus when they found him? Then, as now, folks immersed in scholarship can stereotypically be less tuned into the realities of ordinary life… at least in my case, one baby looks much like another. And yet they knew to leave their gifts with a poor child in a manger.

And perhaps the most important part of the Magi story has nothing to do with the star itself. After having left their homes, for whatever reasons, and after encountering the one whom they recognized as a king, they did a most unexpected thing: they returned home. Back to that irritating boss, or that unhappy home life. Back to those tedious astronomical calculations. Back from their search for a king, even after they had found him. But, as Matthew tells us, they went back by a different route. The encounter changed them. But it did not change their life or work, or the way they discovered the truth.

The “wise men” were scholars, just like the scholars who work today at the Vatican Observatory. But scholarship is not the only route to the truth. Shepherds also discovered the infant in the manger. They were inspired by the songs of the angels. (Oddly, no one asks shepherds today for an “explanation” of those songs!)

Fr. James Kurzynski, a priest of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, recently wrote about this contrast on the Vatican Observatory’s blogsite, www.vofoundation.org/blog. He is himself both an amateur astronomer — a wise man — and a pastor, a shepherd of souls. And at the end of his reflection he asks his readers, “How do you come to truth? Are you one of the “Magi,” gravitating toward natural reason? Are you a “Shepherd” who is compelled by Divine Revelation? Or are you a little bit of both?”

The story of the Magi inspires us to look at our own journey. What are we looking for? Why do we look? How do we know it when we find it? And are we brave enough to return home with it, once we have found it?

Guy Consolmagno. Director of the Vatican Observatory

VATICAN INSIDER, INSIDE THE PREPARATIONS FOR A PAPAL TRIP – CUBANS RECEIVE VIDEO MESSAGE FROM FRANCIS ON VIGIL OF TRIP – POPE ENCOURAGES DIALOGUE BETWEEN SCIENCE AND RELIGION, NAMES NEW DIRECTOR OF VATICAN OBSERVATORY – SECRETARY OF STATE SPEAKS ON PAPAL VISIT TO CUBA, U.S. – VATICAN WELCOMES SYRIAN REFUGEE FAMILY OF 4

Pope Francis tweeted today, Friday, September 18: I ask you to join me in praying for my trip to Cuba and the United States. I need your prayers.

A plethora of interesting stories about and from the Vatican today. One great story concerned the Holy Father’s nomination of someone I’ve know for quite a number of years, Jesuit astonomer Bro. Guy Consolmagno, as director of the Vatican Observatory. Bro. Guy, an enormously respected astronomer and highly requested as a speaker, is a native of Detroit.

As I said on my Facebook page this morning: When I discovered that Vatican astronomers were in Hawaii for the IAU general assembly at the same time I was vacationing there, I did not know how to reach them so I wrote Bro. Guy, whom I have known for years and have interviewed, and he contacted the four Vatican representatives in Honolulu. The result was my interview with Fr. Christopher Corbally that aired the last two weekends on my radio show, “Vatican Insider.” Congratulations, Bro Guy!

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An even greater story was that the Vatican has accepted a refugee family from Syria an will house the four members in a Vatican apartment near St. Peter’s (that story below – really fascinating reading!)

VATICAN INSIDER, INSIDE THE PREPARATIONS FOR A PAPAL TRIP

As you know, Pope Francis leaves tomorrow morning for Cuba where he will visit Havana, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba. He is the third Pope to visit this Caribbean island but the first whose native tongue is Spanish. He’ll depart Cuba at 12:30 pm on Tuesday, September 22 for the U.S., arriving in Washington D.C. at 4 that afternoon at Andrews Air Force base where he will be officially welcomed by President Obama. Francis will be received at the White House and, while in Washington, he will canonize Fr. Junipero Serra and address a joint session of Congress. His second U.S. stop is New York where he will speak at the United Nations as it marks the 70th anniversary of its founding. The Holy Father will then spend tine in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, the principal focus of his 10th foreign trip and his longest one to date. Interestingly enough, this is Francis’ first time ever in the United States and Cuba. although he said recently in an interview that he was on once at the Havana airport between flights.

This weekend, in place of an interview on Vatican Insider, I look at the behind the scenes preparations for a papal trip, at what goes into the making of a papal trip. So stay tuned for that special report that I prepared in July for his trip to Latin America.

As you know, in the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at www.ewtn.com) or on Sirius-XM satellite radio. If you live outside the U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:30 am (Eastern time) and re-airs Sundays at 4:30 pm (ET). Check for your time zone. Past shows are found in Vatican Insider archives: http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/file_index.asp?SeriesId=7096&pgnu=

CUBANS RECEIVE VIDEO MESSAGE FROM FRANCIS ON VIGIL OF TRIP

Pope Francis, in a videomessage to Cubans just hours before departing for this Caribbbean nation, said he was visiting their country to share their faith and their hope. He expressed the joy he felt when thinking about their fidelity to the Lord, and the strength it gave him thinking about the courage with which they face the difficulties of everyday and the love with which they help and support each other along the path of life. (photo news.va)

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Vatican Radio said in a report that the Pope thanked the Cuban people for their prayers in advance of his visit, saying he wanted to be with them as a missionary of mercy, adding “let me also encourage you to be missionaries of the infinite love of God.”

POPE ENCOURAGES DIALOGUE BETWEEN SCIENCE AND RELIGION, NAMES NEW DIRECTOR OF VATICAN OBSERVATORY

Pope Francis today named Jesuit Bro. Guy Consolmagno, an American and native of Detroit, as the new head of the Vatican Obseratory. Bro. Consolmagno is the current President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation, as well as curator of the Vatican meteorite collection in Castel Gandolfo, one of the largest in the world. His research explores the connections between meteorites and asteroids, and the origin and evolution of small bodies in the solar system.

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis Friday addressed participants at a symposium organized by the Vatican Observatory, saying their scientific research on the universe can help promote interreligious dialogue which is more urgent than ever nowadays. He also encouraged an ever deeper dialogue between science and religion.

He began his address by recalling the history of the Vatican Observatory in Castelgandolfo which was formally inaugurated by Pope Pius XI back in 1935 with the words “Deum Creatorem venite adoremus” carved into the wall. The Observatory’s management was entrusted to the Society of Jesus.

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Quoting from his encyclical Laudato Si, the Pope said: “Rather than a (scientific) problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with joy and praise. … The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us.”

Pope Francis noted that the participants at the symposium were discussing themes related to the dialogue between science and religion and recalled the words of St. John Paul who, in a letter to a previous director of the Vatican Observatory, stressed the need for an ever deepening dialogue between the two. He said such a dialogue, while protecting the integrity both of religion and science, should, at the same time, promote progress for both.

The Holy Father said when it comes to interreligious dialogue, which nowadays is more and more urgent, scientific research on the universe can offer a unique perspective, shared by believers and non-believers, which helps us to reach a better religious understanding of creation. It’s for this reason, he said, that the Astrophysics (Summer) Schools that the Observatory has organized during the past 30 years are a precious opportunity for young astronomers from across the world to dialogue and collaborate in the search of truth.

The Pope noted that the symposium was also discussing the importance of communicating the message that the Church and its pastors are embracing, encouraging and promoting authentic science. He concluded his address by telling the participants that it was very important for them to share the gift of their scientific knowledge of the universe with other people, freely giving what they received for free. “I encourage you to continue along this journey of exploring our universe.”

SECRETARY OF STATE SPEAKS ON PAPAL VISIT TO CUBA, U.S.

(Vatican Radio) Cardinal Pietro Parolin says migration will be one of the most important themes raised by Pope Francis during his visit to Cuba and the U.S. from the 19th to the 28th of September. Speaking in a wide-ranging interview with the Vatican Television Center, Cardinal Parolin also confirmed that the Pope would definitely relaunch his message during his speeches to the U.S. Congress and the United Nations about the need to care for creation that was at the heart of his recent encyclical Laudato Si. The cardinal also spoke about how he hoped the canonization of Blessed Junipero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan missionary, would encourage integration within the U.S. Church of an increasingly relevant and important Hispanic component in the nation.

Asked first about the journey to Cuba and the rapprochement between Havana and Washington, Cardinal Parolin reiterated the Holy See’s view that the (U.S.) economic embargo against Cuba should be lifted.  At the same time, he said the bishops hoped that this step could be accompanied “by a greater opening (in Cuba) when it comes to freedom and human rights.”

Touching next on the Pope’s visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre in Cuba, Cardinal Parolin said it was a “normal” thing to do, because of “the strong Marian devotion of the Latin American and Cuban people” and by going there the Pope would encounter the heart of the Caribbean island and its people.

Asked next whether migration would be one of the main themes of the papal visit to the U.S., Cardinal Parolin said he was sure this would be the case because this is an issue very keenly felt by the Pope to which he often refers.  The Cardinal said it was his earnest hope that this encounter between the Pope who is carrying this problem within his heart and a nation that has experienced many waves of migrants landing on its shores “can offer some guidelines” for resolving this ongoing migration crisis.

During his visit to the U.S. Pope Francis is due to canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan missionary, whom he has described as the founding father of the United States.  When asked whether this event is a call for the U.S. to rediscover its Spanish and Catholic history, Cardinal Parolin agreed.  He said the main message offered by this canonization is to encourage integration within the U.S. Church of an “increasingly important and relevant Hispanic component” in the nation.

Turning next to two keenly awaited speeches by Pope Francis, one to the U.S. Congress and another to the United Nations, Cardinal Parolin was asked whether the Pope is likely to relaunch the message contained within his Laudato Si encyclical.  He replied saying “yes, definitely” but added that he believed the Pope’s remarks would extend beyond the issue of climate change and encompass a “more integral ecology” that takes into consideration the transcendental nature of the human person possessing fundamental rights, “especially the right to life and religious freedom.”

Asked about the criticism that has been raised by some in the U.S. who consider the papal encyclical an excessively strong attack on the capitalist system, Cardinal Parolin responded by saying he believed the Pope would invite everybody to reflect on those issues, adding that it was realistic to realize that “things are not going in the right direction” and therefore there’s also a need to find ways of solving this. “We need a change,” he said.

The final question put to Cardinal Parolin concerned the Pope’s meeting with families from around the world in the U.S. city of Philadelphia and whether that would be the final chance to listen to families on the road leading to next month’s Synod of Bishops on the Family taking place in the Vatican. The Cardinal said he agreed with that and said what will emerge from this meeting is the beauty of the family and the help that the Gospel can offer to families.  He said this would be the positive side, without forgetting the great challenges on this issue.  Concluding, the cardinal said the meeting in Philadelphia would give the whole Church “a new enthusiasm” and a desire to proclaim the gospel of the family, whilst at the same time, “helping families who find themselves in whatever type of difficulties in living the Gospel in its fullness which is a source of joy, peace and happiness for all.”

VATICAN WELCOMES SYRIAN REFUGEE FAMILY OF 4

(VIS) – According to a press release issued today by the Apostolic Almoner, the parish community of St. Anna in the Vatican has received a family of refugees, consisting of a father, mother and two children. They are Syrian Christians of Catholic Greek-Melkite rite, and fled from their war-torn home city of Damascus, arriving in the Vatican on Sunday, September 6, at the moment when, during the Angelus, the Pope launched an appeal to each parish, religious community, monastery and shrine in Europe to offer shelter to a family.

The four members of the family will stay in an apartment in the Vatican near St. Peter’s. The procedures for requesting international protection were initiated immediately. According to the law, for the first six months after presenting the request for asylum, applicants may not accept paid work. In this period they will be assisted and accompanied by the St. Anna parish community. Until the decision is made in Italy as to whether or not their status of refugee will be granted, further information regarding this family cannot be given. Furthermore, to protect them during this phase it would be appropriate for the mass media to respect their wish not to be sought or interviewed.

With regard to the accommodation of a second family in the Vatican parish of St. Peter, the Almoner is not currently able to provide further information.

In this context of Christian charity towards those who flee war and famine, it is worth highlighting that for many years the Popes, through the Apostolic Almoner, have contributed to the payment of taxes for the issue of stay permits for refugees through the Centro Astalli, directed by the Jesuits (since 2014, 50,000 euros have been disbursed for this purpose). In addition, the Almoner, again on behalf of the Pope, helps many individuals and families of refugees on a daily basis, as well as meeting needs, including healthcare, for many reception centres located in Rome.

Furthermore, a modern mobile clinic, donated to the Pope a few years ago and so far reserved solely for events at which he presides, has been made available several times a week to assist refugees in reception centers, including irregular ones, situated in the outskirts of Rome. The volunteers, who are doctors, nurses and Swiss Guards, are employees of Vatican City State institutions, the University of Rome at Tor Vergata, and members of the Association of the “Medicina Solidale Onlus” Institute.

 

A FRIDAY PAPAL TWEET – POPE FRANCIS’ PRAYER INTENTIONS FOR SEPTEMBER – VATICAN INSIDER HOSTS JESUIT ASTRONOMER, FR. CHRISTOPHER CORBALLY – SEEING IS BELIEVING, RIGHT? – THE CASE OF THE LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR

A FRIDAY PAPAL TWEET: War is the mother of all poverty, a vast predator of lives and souls.

POPE FRANCIS’ PRAYER INTENTIONS FOR SEPTEMBER

The Holy Father’s universal prayer intention for September is: “That opportunities for education and employment may increase for all young people.”

His intention for mission work and evangelization is: “That catechists may give witness by living in a way consistent with the faith they proclaim.”

VATICAN INSIDER HOSTS JESUIT ASTRONOMER, FR. CHRISTOPHER CORBALLY

There is a direct link between my vacation and my guest this week on the interview segment of Vatican Insider. Because of a very serendipitous meeting with an astronomer seated next to me on my flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu, I discovered that the IAU – International Astronomical Union –was holding its general assembly in Honolulu and I imagined that the Vatican, a very respected authority in this field, would be present.

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That was indeed the case and I met up with Jesuit Father Christopher Corbally in the Hawaii Convention Center in week two of the IAU meeting. Fr. Corbally is an astronomer with the Vatican Observatory Research Group in Tucson, home to the famous VATT, Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope. Among other things, he is a member of the Royal Astronomical Society, the American Astronomical Society, and a member of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science.

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I had to do a crash course about the IAU before we met at the convention center, and hopefully made sense with my questions and his answers. So join us this weekend as we talk planets and stars and galaxies!

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As you know, in the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at www.ewtn.com) or on Sirius-XM satellite radio. If you live outside the U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:30 am (Eastern time) and re-airs Sundays at 4:30 pm (ET). Check for your time zone. Past shows are found in Vatican Insider archives: http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/file_index.asp?SeriesId=7096&pgnu=

SEEING IS BELIEVING, RIGHT?

Here’s another riveting Francis moment!

Vatican Radio reported on Pope Francis’ visit Thursday afternoon to a Roman optician when he surprised a crowd of both locals and tourists as he stepped out of his Ford Focus on Rome’s tony Via del Babuino, not far from the ultra fashionable Spanihs Steps in the heart of Rome. The Pope was at the store to get his lenses for his glasses.

“I don’t want to change the frames,” he told the owner of the shop. “Just new lenses.”

Alessandro Spiezia, the owner of the optical shop, told The Associated Press he was supposed to go the Vatican on Wednesday, but the Pope’s secretary informed him Pope Francis wanted to instead go to his shop. Spiezia made the original pair of glasses for the Holy Father last year.

Pope Francis was in the shop for about 40 minutes, accoring to Vatican Radio, because Spiezia also gave him an eye exam.  While this was going on, a large crowd started gathering outside the shop to look at the Pope.

At the end of the encounter, Pope Francis made sure to settle his bill, saying “Please, Alessandro, let me pay what is owed.” He then got into his car, accompanied by a driver, and returned to the Vatican.

THE CASE OF THE LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR

I got the following email today from the Becket Fund For Religious Liberty. It was entitled “Federal Judges Criticize Ruling Against Little Sisters of the Poor“Predict that “clearly and gravely wrong” decision “will not long survive” 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In an almost unprecedented move, five federal judges issued an opinion sharply criticizing their court’s refusal to correct its recent decision that would force the Little Sisters of the Poor to assist the federal government with its contraception distribution scheme.

The opinion calls the decision against the Little Sisters “clearly and gravely wrong—on an issue that has little to do with contraception and a great deal to do with religious liberty.” The five judges criticized the decision of their colleagues for refusing to accept the Little Sisters’ sincere beliefs, warning that, “it is not the job of the judiciary to tell people what their religious beliefs are.”

“Yesterday’s opinion offers important support to the Little Sisters’ request that the Supreme Court hear their case,” said Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead counsel for the Little Sisters of the Poor. “These judges understand that courts and bureaucrats should not be telling nuns what the Catholic faith requires.”

After a divided three-judge panel ruled against them, the Little Sisters promptly petitioned the Supreme Court to hear their case. Although the Little Sisters had not asked the entire Tenth Circuit to reconsider the panel’s opinion, the Tenth Circuit conducted a vote on its own initiative to determine whether the entire court should re-hear the case. When the court declined, the five judges issued their opinion explaining why the Little Sisters deserve protection (See video).

The opinion further criticizes the decision against the Little Sisters as reflecting a “dangerous approach to religious liberty.” The opinion noted that the reasoning of the court could be used to second-guess the religious beliefs of any faith, including religious minorities like Jews requesting a kosher diet.

But knowing that the Little Sisters and other religious ministries have already asked the Supreme Court to intervene, the five judges explained: “Fortunately, the doctrine of the panel majority will not long survive. It is contrary to all precedent concerning the free exercise of religion.”

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and a legal team including former Solicitor General and leading Supreme Court advocate Paul Clement filed the cert petition on behalf of the Little Sisters, their health benefits provider Christian Brothers, and the Baptist ministries GuideStone, Reaching Souls, and Truett-McConnell College.

IT REALLY IS A SMALL WORLD!

Just a quick note to remind you that I am on vacation and not posting daily columns here BUT I am posting in Facebook (facebook.com/joan.lewis.10420). Wanted to touch bases today with an interesting story that I will also be posting this on Facebook!

IT REALLY IS A SMALL WORLD!

Another plane flight, another fascinating seat mate, another wonderful story!

I had an exceptional and serendipitous meeting on my flight last Saturday from Los Angeles to Honolulu where I was seated next to David Ciardi, an astronomer and research scientist from Caltech University.

Our conversation began with “well, what brings you to Honolulu – or do you live there?”

I replied that I live in Italy and was going to Hawaii on vacation. David said, “I am an astronomer” (no one had ever said that to me before in a first meeting!) and told me he was heading to Honolulu to attend the 29th General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (IAU). I learned that this is a two week-long meeting that brings together over 2500 astronomers from an estimated 75 countries around the world.

I said I imagined the Vatican Observatory would be represented and David said he was sure it would be as it is one of the most respected authorities in the field of astronomy.  As we exchanged business cards, I said I know the Vatican has been famous for centuries for its telescopes and, as a matter of fact, is known for the VATT (Vatican Advanced Telescope Technology) atop Mount Graham near Tucson, AZ. In fact, I have been to the observatory in Castelgandolfo on a number of occasions for their celebrated biennial summer school courses for graduate and under-graduate students of astronomy.

Once in my hotel, I did some research on the IAU website and sure enough, the Vatican has sent four of the Jesuits who run the Vatican observatory …three based in Tucson. I wrote to my Rome Jesuit astronomer friend, Bro. Guy Consolmagno to see if he could put me in touch with them.

Bro. Guy contacted the Jesuits here, gave them my cell phone number and I got a call Monday from Fr. Christopher Corbally. We made an appointment for an interview on Tuesday and he was wise enough to get me press credentials, knowing that security was tight at the Hawaii Convention Center, with credentials being checked very carefully.

I spent Tuesday morning doing a crash course in astronomy, reading the latest stories and news from and about the IAU, and studying the IAU website, etc., as I certainly wanted to prepare a thoughtful interview. Fr. Corbally and I met at 4 pm at the convention center and had a wonderful conversation before, during and after the interview. (The interview will air on Vatican Insider upon my return to Rome.)

I took these photos during that visit:

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What is interesting is that the IAU general assembly has been planned for years but was taking place amid protests against the building of the TMT telescope atop a mountain held sacred by native Hawaiians on the island of Hawaii, also known as the Big Island. It was a peaceful protest but the message from the native Hawaiians was that they do not want the building on a sacred spot of the TMT the Third Meter Telescope that would be one of the biggest in the world. Plans and financing for this project have been underway for a long time and people here told me the protesters – many were native Hawaiians – were simply awaiting the presence of the IAU astronomers.

In any event, as you see, the expression really is true: “It’s a small world!”