Holy See and the Sultanate of Oman establish diplomatic ties
The Holy See and Oman have established full diplomatic relations, leaving only six countries worldwide without any diplomatic connection to the Vatican.
The announcement on February 23 did not come as a surprise as, in November during Pope Francis’ trip to Bahrain, there had been contact between the Vatican and Oman’s Foreign Ministry. (CNA)
Asteroids named after three Jesuits and a Pope
The Vatican Observatory announced on February 28 the naming of four newly-discovered asteroids after prominent Catholics, including Pope Gregory XIII (1572-1585), the reformer of the Western calendar and a supporter of papal astronomers. Christopher Graney, a scientist at the Observatory, said in a press release that the Working Group for Small Bodies’ Nomenclature (WGSBN) of the International Astronomical Union published its latest batch of named asteroids in early February, and that the newly-named asteroids include 560974 Ugoboncompagni, which honors Ugo Boncompagni (1502-1585), the baptismal name of Pope Gregory XIII. Gregory commissioned the astronomer Father Christopher Clavius, SJ — who also has an asteroid named after him — to reform the calendar in the 16th century (it is the calendar we still use in the West today).
The other three asteroid names honor Jesuit priests who work or worked at the Vatican Observatory:
—Asteroid 565184 Janusz honors Robert Janusz, SJ, who currently works at the observatory focusing on photometry (light measurement) in star clusters. He previously worked in the philosophy of computing with Fr. Michal Heller, a Polish priest and scientist who won the Templeton Prize in 2008.
—Asteroid 551878 Stoeger is named for Fr. Bill Stoeger (1943-2014), a California-born cosmologist who studied with Sir Martin Ross and worked with Stephen Hawking. Stoeger was a well-known spiritual director as well as a scientist: “I think he was the smartest person I ever knew,” recalled Observatory director Fr. Guy Consolmagno. “You could tell because he would never give a fast, glib answer to anything, but a thoughtful, well-reasoned reply.”
—Asteroid 562971 Johannhagen is named for Fr. Johann Hagen, SJ (1847-1930), director of the Vatican Obsevatory from 1906 until his death in 1930. He was noted for experiments on the Vatican grounds to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth. He was also the spiritual director of St. Elizabeth Hesselblad, Swedish founder of the Bridgettine Sisters who saved the lives of Jews during the Holocaust. (CNA)
Pope Francis ends free and discounted rent for Cardinals
Reuters and Vatican News reported March 1 that cardinals and other high-level personnel at the Vatican will no longer be able to live in Vatican-connected apartments for free or at special prices.
The Vatican owns an extensive amount of real estate both inside and outside Vatican walls. Apartments are principally managed by APSA (the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See).
The Pope’s decision to drop housing benefits for upper management was communicated in a note from the Vatican’s new prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, Maximino Caballero Ledo. The note, called a rescriptum ex audientia, was posted in the San Damaso Courtyard inside Vatican City, according to Reuters. (CNA)
Pope Francis adds Hollerich and four other Cardinals to his Council of Advisers
On March 7, Pope Francis appointed five new members to his council of cardinal advisers, including Synod organizer Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich and Canadian Cardinal Gérald C. Lacroix. The Vatican announced the nine members of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals who assist the Pope “in the governance of the universal Church.” The Pope also named Brazilian Cardinal Sérgio da Rocha, Spanish Cardinal Juan José Omella Omella, and Cardinal Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, the president of the Governorate of Vatican City State, to be new members of the council, along with Hollerich and Lacroix. (CNA)
Pope Francis meets with two who were kidnapped by Boko Haram
On March 8, Pope Francis met with two young Nigerian girls who suffered horrendous violence at the hands of the Boko Haram terrorist group. Sixteen-year-old Maryamu Joseph, who escaped from Boko Haram in July after being held against her will for nine years, greeted the Pope along with Janada Marcus, also a victim of Boko Haram kidnapping, at the end of his general audience. Both girls saw members of their families murdered by Boko Haram. Marcus’ father was beheaded by a machete in front of her in 2018, and Joseph saw her brother killed and cut into pieces in 2019.
The pontifical charity arranged for the girls to meet the Pope on International Women’s Day. “We must find the cure to heal this plague and not leave women alone,” the Pope said.
Both priests and lay faithful are regularly targeted by Islamic terror groups such as Boko Haram, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), and militant Fulani. In the face of this persecution, Nigeria has the highest Mass attendance of any country in the world. According to recent data compiled by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, 94% of Catholics in Nigeria attend Mass at least weekly. (CNA)
No “Privileged Categories,” says Francis
Pope Francis said that everyone in the Church is equal in dignity, thus a focus on hierarchical advancement is “pure paganism.” At his general audience in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope said: “There is no promotion here, and when you conceive of the Christian life as an advancement, that the one above commands others, because he has succeeded in climbing, that is not Christianity,” he said. “That is pure paganism.”
Pope’s Message of Hope headed to space
Pope Francis’ message of hope for humanity will be shot into earth’s orbit as a “nanobook” embedded inside a small satellite, and his words will also be transmitted back to earth each day for ham radio reception.
The new space mission, called Spei Satelles, is being promoted by the Dicastery for Communication and coordinated by the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The project was unveiled at the Vatican on March 27, the third anniversary of the prayer service the Pope led in an empty St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
Monsignor Lucio Adrián Ruiz, secretary of the Dicastery for Communication, said at a Vatican news conference that they have found many ways to spread the Pope’s words and images from that historic evening three years ago: first as a global livestream, then as a book, Why Are You Afraid? Have You No Faith?, which gathers together Pope Francis’ most significant speeches and comments during the pandemic.
While more than 150,000 copies of the book have now been sold around the world, the monsignor said the next step was to send the book literally around the world in a low earth orbit satellite as a symbolic gesture of extending the Pope’s loving embrace even farther.
The nanobook was created by Italy’s National Research Council (CNR). The lab converted the 150-page book into binary code that fits on a tiny chip, said Andrea Notargiacomo, head researcher in nanotechnology at CNR. The 2 mmby-2 mm chip is about the size of the tip of a crayon. If all goes as planned after its scheduled launch from Vandenberg Base (VSFB) in California June 10, any amateur radio receiver should be able to pick up its radio signals (437.5 MHz) transmitting papal messages of hope and peace in English, Italian and Spanish. (USCCB)
Vietnam-Holy See working group meets
Delegations from the Holy See and Vietnam had a “broad and deep exchange of views on Vietnam-Holy See relations, including issues related to the Catholic Church in Vietnam,” according to a press release on the 10th Meeting of the Vietnam-Holy See Joint Working Group. Both sides agreed that the Catholic Community in Vietnam will continue to be inspired by the Magisterium of the Church regarding their vocation to be good Catholics and good citizens. The two sides acknowledged the progress that has occurred in Vietnam-Holy See relations, including now regular contacts and consultations, the exchange of high level delegations, and the frequent pastoral visits to Vietnam by the Non-Resident Papal Representative, Archbishop Marek Zalewski. (VaticanNews)
Pope Francis returns to the Vatican after three days in the hospital
Pope Francis was discharged from the hospital April 1 after a three-night stay in Rome’s Gemelli Hospital. Before departing by car, the Pope greeted the crowd gathered outside of the hospital. In an emotional moment, he stopped to embrace and pray with a sobbing mother whose 5-year-old daughter died in the hospital the night before. When asked by journalist Delia Gallagher how he was feeling, the Pope quipped: “Still alive!”
The Pope also spoke to the hospital administrators as well as the team of doctors and medical staff who treated him before leaving the hospital around 10:30 a.m. local time. Before returning to Vatican City, he stopped to pray in the Roman Basilica of St. Mary Major, where he entrusted the sick children he met at the hospital to the care of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (CNA)