Vatican Watch December 2015

MONDAY 27

God is not a magician…

The Big Bang theory and evolution do not contradict the existence of God the Creator, Pope Francis told the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, because “evolution presupposes the [prior] creation of things that evolve.”

God gave creation full autonomy while also guaranteeing his constant presence, he said.

“When we read the account of creation in Genesis, we risk thinking that God was a magician… But it is not like that,” he said. “He created living beings and he let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave each one…”

Despite many advances, scientific mysteries remain, said Rafael Vicuna, professor of molecular genetics and molecular biology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.

How is it that inert, inanimate matter turned into something living, and that the first living single-celled organisms were still so amazingly complex, he asked in his talk, remarking, “Life is more than molecules.”

Another mystery is how everything in the universe, from the smallest atomic particles to every galaxy, is spinning and orbiting, said Rudolf Muradyan, a quantum and mathematical physicist who also works in cosmology.

In his talk he said that spin “is the only thing that prevents the universe from totally collapsing,” noting that it cannot be accounted for by the Big Bang Theory, which only explains linear motion.

Pierre Lena, a French Catholic astrophysicist, said laws at work in the entire universe are “eternal, creative, uniform in space and time and stable” enough to be fairly predictable.

“But these laws have a mystery,” he said. “Why are they there? We can’t touch them, but they act. They are not God,” he said, “but they are a sign of the supranatural existence of something.”

WEDNESDAY 29

Pope urges prayer, international action to fight Ebola virus

A Kenyan Port Health Services worker commands a small boy, one of nine Kenyans stranded in  Ebola-hit Liberia, to return to a observation room for Ebola screening in Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi.

A Kenyan Port Health Services worker commands a small boy, one of nine Kenyans stranded in Ebola-hit Liberia, to return to a observation room for Ebola screening in Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi.

Pope Francis pleaded for the international community to take stronger, coordinated steps to “annihilate” the Ebola virus and help the millions of people impacted by the disease.

“I want to express my deep concern for this relentless illness that is spreading particularly on the African continent and especially among populations that are already disadvantaged,” the Pope said.

Pope Francis offered his prayers and solidarity with the sick, as well as with the doctors, nurses, volunteers, religious orders and humanitarian agencies working “heroically to help our sick brothers and sisters.”

Caritas Internationalis — the umbrella organization for Catholic charities around the world — announced it would hold a special meeting in Rome to coordinate an increased response to the epidemic, especially in West Africa, and to global panic and stigmatizing of those from that region.

Caritas is also called to care for the thousands of healthy but poor people whose lives “have been turned upside down by this crisis,” said US Msgr. Robert Vitillo, Caritas health adviser.

Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas aid agency and a member of Caritas Internationalis, announced in late September that it has committed more than $1.5 million to anti-Ebola efforts in West Africa.

WEDNESDAY 29

New Lighting system in Sistine Chapel The first major makeover the Sistine Chapel has had since 1994 brings with it completely new LED lighting and high-tech air quality systems.

“If you look at this art in the Sistine Chapel, it is breathtaking,” said John Mandyck, chief sustainability officer for UTC Building & Industrial Systems which has overseen the project. “But ironically it is the act of breathing or exhaling carbon-dioxide that was destroying the frescoes.”

The new technology will preserve the treasured frescoes — painted by Michelangelo 500 years ago — along with “the ability to keep up” as technology advances over time, Mandyck said.

The $3.8 million dollar, state-of-the-art systems have custom LED lighting which uses 7,000 lights, giving the frescoes a softer, brighter look.

The high-energy-saving lights themselves, according to designer LED4Art, a European Union-led project in collaboration with universities, are expected to save roughly 60 percent on costs.

There are also two cameras and 70 sensors placed throughout the chapel to register and react to the inside environment.

The cameras estimate the number of people in the room, and the purification and air-conditioning units adjust accordingly.

THURSDAY 30

The devil is real

Christian life is a constant battle against the devil, who is not the stuff of legend, but really exists, Pope Francis said in a morning homily.

The evil one’s traps and temptations are many, and “the devil is not tossing flowers at us,” but “flaming arrows” aimed to kill, the Pope said during his morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae where he lives.

“But this generation, and many others, made people think that the devil was a myth, a character, an idea, the concept of evil,” the Pope said. Even believers “are not too convinced” of his reality.

“The devil exists and we have to fight against him. Paul says so — I’m not the one saying it,” the Pope said, referring to the day’s reading from Ephesians (6:10-20).

Christian life “is a very beautiful battle because when the Lord wins at every step of our life, he gives us a joy” with his free gift of salvation, the Pope added.

THURSDAY 30

Despite continuing theological, ethical and ministerial differences, the Roman Catholic Church and the schismatic Old Catholic Conference can continue to work together, Pope Francis told the Old Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Union of Utrecht.

“In the heart of Europe, which is so confused about its own identity and vocation, there are many areas in which Catholics and Old Catholics can collaborate in meeting the profound spiritual crisis,” the Pope said.

The Old Catholic Church was formed by a group of Austrian, German and Swiss bishops who broke communion with the Catholic Church after papal infallibility was formally defined by the First Vatican Council, 1869-70.

Since 1931 part of the Anglican Communion, it accepts only doctrine formed before the Great Schism in 1054, and the first seven ecumenical councils. In recent years, it has accepted the ordination of women.

SATURDAY 1

Legionaries of Christ: Learning from Mother Church

“The experience of the mer­cy of the Church… we want to proclaim to the world,” said Fr. Benjamin Clariond, spokesman for the Legionaries of Christ (LC), as the Congregation published its Constitutions, newly approved by the Holy See.

The norms were reduced from 802 articles to 235 — the result of the apostolic visitation mandated by Pope Benedict in 2010 and led by Cardinal Velasio de Paolis, following the revelations of sexual abuse by the Congregation’s Founder, Marcial Maciel Degollado.

The Legionaries operate parishes, schools and colleges in 22 countries worldwide.  Overhauled in the new Constitutions is the Congregation’s structure, including councils to “moderate authority,” and the limiting of terms “so that nobody would perpetuate himself” as a superior, said Fr. Clariond.

Regarding priestly formation, “having spiritual directors who do not have a position of authority,” he said, guarantees “the freedom for discernment, openness for transparency.” He noted that the Congregation — despite the blow dealt by the scandal of its founder — is still a source of vocations.

SUNDAY 2

Pope prays at tombs of his predecessors

Pope Francis and Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, pray in front of the tomb of St. Peter the Apostle in the crypt of the Basilica  on November 2, the Feast of All Souls.

Pope Francis and Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, pray in front of the tomb of St. Peter the Apostle in the crypt of the Basilica
on November 2, the Feast of All Souls.

Following the Feast of All Souls tradition, Pope Francis descended at sunset into the grottoes beneath the high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica to pray before the tombs of his predecessors.

The commemoration began at 6 pm Rome time with a reading from Scripture and the recitation of the prayer for the dead. The Pope then paused for a moment of silent prayer before the tombs of his predecessors, beginning with that of St. Peter. Positioned just below the Renaissance basilica and above Constantine’s 4th century basilica, the grottoes contain chapels dedicated to various saints and tombs of kings, queens and popes, dating from the 10th century.

WEDNESDAY 5

Pope to visit Shroud, commemorate birth of St. John Bosco

People viewing the shroud of Turin.

People viewing the shroud of Turin.

Pope Francis announced he will visit the Shroud of Turin during its public display in Turin’s cathedral April 19-June 24, 2015, as well as commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of St. John Bosco, founder of the Salesians.

The Shroud’s rare exhibition is part of a yearlong celebration of the saint, who dedicated his life to helping and educating young people in Turin during economic and social difficulties caused by industrialization in the later 19th century. According to tradition, the 14-foot-by-4-foot linen cloth is the burial shroud of Jesus. It has a full-length photonegative image of a man, front and back, bearing signs of wounds that correspond to the Gospel accounts of the torture Jesus endured.

Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II both visited the shroud during previous public exhibitions.

Pope sets retirement age of 75 for bishops, including in Curia

While all bishops offer to resign at age 75, those who are not cardinals and are working in the Roman Curia — including as presidents of pontifical councils — automatically end their service on their 75th birthdays, said a new document from Pope Francis.

The ministry of a bishop in a diocese or in the Roman Curia requires a total commitment of energy, and anything — including age — that decreases the ability to serve is a valid reason for offering to retire, said the brief new document which took effect November 5.

Annulment process should be cheaper and more efficient

Pope Francis said the Church’s marriage annulment process should be more efficient and perhaps even free of charge. “Some procedures are so long and so burdensome… people give up,” the Pope said. “Mother Church should do justice and say: ‘Yes, it’s true, your marriage is null. No, your marriage is valid.’ But justice means saying so. That way, they can move on without this doubt, this darkness in their soul.”

At a meeting with attendees of a course offered by the Vatican’s marriage tribunal, the Roman Rota, Pope Francis said bishops at the October 5-19 Synod on the family wished to “streamline the process” of judging requests for annulments, noting he had recently established a special commission to do so. Referring to suggestions that annulments be free of charge, he said, “We will have to see,” but added that “when the spiritual is attached to an economic interest, this is not from God.”

THURSDAY 6

Holy See promotes St. Francis exhibition in New York

Page from Canticle of the Creatures by St Francis of Assisi.

Page from Canticle of the Creatures by St Francis of Assisi.

The UN Headquarters in New York City announced it will host an exhibition on St. Francis of Assisi later in November.

The Holy See is among those promoting the exhibition, the first of its kind at the UN. Entitled “Francis, icons, words, images,” it will showcase key manuscripts dating from the 13th and 14th centuries lent by the library at the Sacred Convent in Assisi.

All of them have been recently restored after deteriorating badly over the past decades.

The highlight of the exhibition is the 13th century Codex 338 containing the writings of Francis, including his famous Canticle of the Creatures, widely viewed as a poetic and spiritual masterpiece. Other highly-prized exhibits include the papal bulls of Honorius III and Gregory IX.

At a press conference in Rome, US Ambassador to the Holy See, Kenneth Hackett, said the exhibition will expose a wider audience to the spirituality and legacy of the saint, popular in America “in terms of peace, ecology, saving the environment, his simplicity and his humility and particularly now with Pope Francis”—the first Pope to take his name.

FRIDAY 7

New Canonizations

Pope Francis authorized the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints to advance the sainthood causes of eight laypersons, priests, and religious of “heroic virtue” — including 12-year-old Silvio Dissegna — declaring them “Venerable.”

The next step toward canonization, “Blessed,” requires that at least one verifiable miracle be attributed to that person.

Born July 1, 1967 in the Turin province of Moncalieri, Italy, Dissegna was diagnosed with bone cancer in early 1978. He spent his illness in prayer, especially the Rosary, and offered his sufferings up for the Pope, missionaries and the conversion of sinners. He died on September 24, 1979 in Poirino, Italy.

Two French-born laywomen were also recognized: Marthe Louise Robin, mystic, stigmatist and founder of the Foyers de Charité who died February 6, 1981; and Jeanne Mance, founder of the Hotel-Dieu Hospital in Montréal, Canada, where she died June 18, 1673. Pope Francis also approved the cause of fellow Jesuit Fr. John Sullivan, S.J., who died in Dublin in 1933.

Others on the list include German priest Fr. Pelagius Sauter; Chilean Franciscan, Francesco Massimiano Valdes Subercaseaux, O.F.M; Italian abbot and founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of Reparation of the Holy Face of Jesus, Ildebrando Gregori; and Italian Fr. Raimondo Calcagno, of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri.

TUESDAY 11

New Body to Handle Sex Abuse Appeals

Pope Francis has established a special body within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to speed up the handling of appeals filed by priests laicized or otherwise disciplined in sexual abuse or other serious cases. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., Vatican spokesman, told reporters that the members of the doctrinal congregation had been examining an average of four or five appeals, mostly in sex abuse cases, at each of their monthly meetings.

The number, and the need for “more rapid examination” prompted Pope Francis to institute a “college” within the congregation to judge such cases, said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, presenting the papal order.

The “college” will consist of seven bishops or cardinals, who may or may not be members of the doctrinal congregation. However, a case of a bishop accused of serious crimes would continue to be judged by the entire congregation.

THURSDAY 13

Vatican restrooms to have showers for the homeless

The archbishop who distributes charity on behalf of Pope Francis has announced that showers for the homeless will be installed in public restrooms in St. Peter’s Square.

The service will require volunteers and donations of soap, towels and clean underwear, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner said. “We have to be evangelical, but intelligent, too.”

Several people living on the streets of Rome say parishes or charities will give them something to eat, but finding a place to wash is much more difficult. The remodeling was scheduled to begin November 17. The archbishop said the three shower stalls would be located in the public restrooms a few steps north of Bernini’s Colonnade, just behind the Vatican post office.

THURSDAY 20

Cardinal Sandri marks 50th anniversary of Orientalium Ecclesiarum

Marking the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches, Orientalium Ecclesiarum, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, head of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, said, “Diversity at the center of the Church is something that reflects a project of God.”

The Eastern Churches historically faced “several prejudices,” namely, an ecclesiology of “uniformity” which, he said, “considered the Latin Church and its ‘rite’ as the universal model.”

In addition, he said, popular interpretation of the Roman pontiff’s role meant “the rights and privileges of the patriarchs were worn thin or dropped.” However, the decree on the Eastern Churches expressed “great esteem for their ways of governance, their canonical disciplines as regards priests — including the married priesthood — their piety, their ways of understanding the Christian mystery and their vision of the Church,” he wrote. “Diversity is an indicator of communion and almost the condition for its possibility, not its negation,” he said.

MONDAY 17

Pope Will Visit Philadelphia

Pope Francis said he would attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in September, making it the first confirmed stop on what is expected to be a more extensive papal visit to North America.

The Pope made the announcement in a speech opening an interreligious conference on traditional marriage.

“I would like to confirm that, God willing, in September 2015 I will go to Philadelphia for the eighth World Meeting of Families,” the Pope said.

The announcement had been widely expected, since Pope Benedict XVI had said before his retirement that he hoped to attend the Philadelphia event. Popes typically fulfill their predecessors’ publicly known travel plans, as Pope Francis did in July 2013 when he attended World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, who was in Rome for the families meeting, said the announcement was “a surprise in the sense that it was announced so early; you know, usually they don’t make these announcements — four months out is the typical, and here we are 10 months away, and the Holy Father said he is coming to Philadelphia.”

He continued: “The Holy Father has said that he’s going to be coming to Philadelphia for quite a few months,” he said. “He’s been telling me that personally, but for him to announce it officially that he is coming so early is really quite an unusual thing, so it’s going to re-energize our efforts. There’s lot of enthusiasm already, but I think 90 percent of the enthusiasm’s based on the fact that the Holy Father will be with us, and now that he’s said that, I expect that there will be even a double amount of enthusiasm… and I’m very happy about that.”

In August, Pope Francis told reporters that President Barack Obama and the US Congress had invited him to Washington, DC, and that the secretary-general of the United Nations had invited him to New York.

“Maybe the three cities together, no?” Pope Francis said, adding that he could also visit the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico on the same trip — “but it is not certain.”

THURSDAY 21

Feed the World, Safeguard the Planet

“The struggle against hunger and malnutrition is hindered by ‘market priorities’ and the ‘primacy of profit,’ which have reduced foodstuffs to a commodity like any other, subject to speculation, also of a financial nature,” Pope Francis said in an address to the Second International Conference on Nutrition in Rome.

Sponsored by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, the November 19-21 meeting brought together officials responsible for health, food and agriculture from 170 countries.

While international discussions often seem preoccupied with defining “new rights,” Pope Francis told them, people who are “hungry remain on the street corners and ask to be recognized as citizens, to receive a healthy diet.”

In his main talk, Pope Francis said: “If we believe in the principle of the unity of the human family, based on the common paternity of God the Creator, and in the fraternity of human beings, no form of political or economic pressure that exploits the availability of foodstuffs can be considered acceptable.” Pope Francis also warned about the “paradox of plenty,” which is the fact that there is enough food to feed everyone in the world.

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