A little name change

Sharp-eyed viewers of these pages may have noticed a slight name change: Rather than calling this the CNS News Hub, we’re now simply calling it the CNS Blog.

The reason for the name change is equally simple. When this all started in 2006, the News Hub was a way chiefly to link to interesting stories from CNS clients. Over time, though, it morphed into more of a traditional blog, with links to client stories plus news nuggets and other interesting tidbits about CNS that didn’t fit into a traditional news story format.

And with the papal trip to the United States just two weeks away, look for even more robust posting here. We’ve got big plans for the trip and for our blog, so stay tuned.

Also worth noting …

From here and there around the Catholic press:

 – Spreading the message of mercy. A story in the Arlington Catholic Herald in Virginia about a local nun who feels a close connection to St. Faustina Kowalska, the Polish nun who promoted the divine mercy devotions on the Sunday after Easter.

St. Vincent’s ‘Flat Stanley’ visits Congress, travels afar. A feature from the Intermountain Catholic in Salt Lake City on how second-graders at a local Catholic school learn geography and language arts by following the travels of their own Flat Stanley.

Diocese begins stem-cell-education program. A campaign in the Diocese of Rochester, N.Y., to counter a state plan to fund stem-cell research is described by the Catholic Courier.

Pope to see ballgame in D.C.

Nationals Park in February undergoing final preparations for opening this spring. (CNS/Paul Haring)I don’t usually blog on the weekend, but this is too good to pass up. Did you know that Pope Benedict is going to catch a ballgame at the new Nationals Park in D.C. when he’s here in just over two weeks?

Benedict is scheduled to visit the White House on April 16, a Washington Nationals game on April 17, then New York, where he will speak at the United Nations on April 18, visit Ground Zero and finally Yankee Stadium on April 20.

Which journalist wrote that blooper of a sentence? I’m not naming names, but the story appears to have originated on the Web site of Folio magazine. It then got picked up almost word for word on The Huffington Post. (I found it innocently enough when I clicked on a link on the Benedict in America site, though the latter didn’t repeat the ballgame error.)

I’m upset that Pope Benedict is going to get to see a game at the new stadium before I do — unless he’s got an extra ticket and can take me along.

The nightmares of preparing for a papal visit

The next time a journalist tells you that preparing for a papal trip is a nightmare, you might want to take it as a literal statement.

From applying for media credentials to planning preview stories, assigning coverage to purchasing additional equipment, it’s been nonstop since Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Vatican’s representative to the United States, announced the papal visit in November. And that does not even touch upon security screening that journalists must go through for the first papal trip to the U.S. in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

CNS Visual Media Manager Nancy Wiechec dreamed that a USCCB employee insisted that he needed a mug shot — literally — of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. He insisted he needed a photo to reproduce on coffee mugs, immediately. When Wiechec pointed out that the pope was arriving in the U.S. the following day, the employee grew belligerent.

One USCCB staffer who has been working on papal trip preparations dreamed that when Pope Benedict arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, she was the only person there to greet him. She said that as she searched frantically for the welcoming dignitaries, she assured the pontiff that people would come, but they were stuck in D.C. traffic.

I realized that I might have shared too much of my office tension when my husband announced his nightmare: He arrived at the office late one night during the papal trip to take me home from work. I was the only person standing in front of the building when, suddenly, Secret Service agents surrounded us and demanded identification. I had the proper ID, but he did not. So, he recounted, I took the car and waved goodbye, while he was hauled away in a horse-drawn paddy wagon.

As the trip approaches and the stress increases, you might think we wished we were not involved.

In your dreams! This is the kind of thing journalists live for.

Pastry dialogue

I wandered into Rome’s Jewish ghetto neighborhood because I read an intriguing little report about Pope Benedict’s favorite bakery.

The tiny Limentani pastry shop has long been a favorite of mine. I go for the same reason most Jewish pizzapeople go: their “Jewish pizza,” a type of miniature fruit cake packed with almonds, raisins and other stuff I’ve never identified. It looks terrible and tastes great.

I asked the senior woman behind the counter about the report that the pope had their sweets delivered to his table. Through a series of phrases and gestures, she let me know that it was somewhere between maybe and probably true.

“The other pope, too,” she said. Before I could respond, customers in the jam-packed bakery began talking excitedly about John Paul II, the “other pope,” the one who in 1986 came to visit their synagogue a block away.

“He and Rabbi Toaff were great friends,” one woman said. That prompted a whole new round of assent and acclamation in the shop. When Pope John Paul died, Elio Toaff, Rome’s former chief rabbi, made a moving visit to pray before the pope’s body. In his own spiritual testament, John Paul remembered the rabbi in a special way. “Now that was a pope!” one customer said.

They were still talking about Pope John Paul when I left the pastry shop, toting my pizza ebraica.

I passed by the synagogue, where 22 years ago I watched Pope John Paul pay his visit. I still remember the impression he made when he called Jews “our beloved elder brothers.”

At the street level of interreligious dialogue, those personal gestures endure. Pope Benedict also visited a synagogue in his native Germany, but he’s not as well known by the Rome Jewish community. His taste in pastries could change that.

Popemobile shipped to U.S.

(Cross-post from the CNS Vatican page.)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — While Pope Benedict XVI probably has not begun packing his bags for his April 15-20 trip to the United States, one big Vatican package was prepared just after Easter.

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he rides in the popemobile through downtown Sao Paulo shortly after his arrival in Brazil last year. (CNS/Reuters)The white, 2002 Mercedes-Benz popemobile has left the Vatican and will be delivered by an air cargo company in the first days of April, said Alberto Gasbarri, the chief organizer of papal trips.

The Vatican has three popemobiles currently in use:

– A four-month-old, open-topped Mercedes based on the company’s G500-series sport utility vehicle, used almost exclusively in St. Peter’s Square. The vehicle has an attachable, curved windshield that can protect the pope from rain and wind. Mercedes describes the color as “Vaticanmystic white.”

– Two closed, white popemobiles, which are modified versions of the Mercedes-Benz ML430 off-road vehicle. The “glass” top is a cube made of advanced, bulletproof plastic. Both vehicles feature a high seat so the pope can still be visible.

One of the ML430 models is being used for the U.S. trip, Gasbarri said.

While long, multiple-city papal trips often require shipping both popemobiles to different cities, then flying them to another stop, Gasbarri said, “With only two cities on this trip, one popemobile will be enough.”

An official in the Vatican motor pool said there really was not a choice to make between the two ML430s since “one is in the repair shop.”

Mercedes-Benz originally delivered one of the vehicles with a “mother of pearl” tint, but the Vatican decided it was too gray, and so repainted it, the motor pool official said.

PHOTO: Pope Benedict XVI waves as he rides in the popemobile through downtown Sao Paulo shortly after his arrival in Brazil last year. (CNS/Reuters)

Safe and sound

(CNS/Nancy Wiechec)The Vatican is the safest and most stable country on Earth, according to a British-based risk assessment organization. 

Jane’s Information Group analyzed 235 nations and independent territories around the world, taking into account each country’s political makeup, social and economic progress, security threats and its relations with other states. The result is that out of a perfect score of 100, Vatican City State tallied 99, tying with Sweden and Luxembourg.

Canada and the U.S. came in 23rd and 24th respectively. The United States lost points (it scored an average of 93 out of 100) in part because of the country’s high number of citizens who possess firearms and the amount of illegal drugs entering its borders.  

Christian Le Miere, managing editor of Jane’s Country Risk, which assembled the data, reportedly admitted it was “a little unfair” to let the Vatican nab the top slot since “it did not face the sort of threats and economic pressures of other countries,” wrote the UK’s TimesOnLine March 25.

While it does have excellent (and colorful) security forces as well as an extremely stable form of government, the Vatican isn’t exactly crime free. Statistically it has one of the world’s highest per capita crime rates. However, as a past CNS story reveals:

For the 108-acre independent state surrounded by Rome, the context is that while the number of full-time residents is fewer than 500 some 2,700 people work there and some 10 million people visit each year.

In 2002, the Vatican City State court dealt with 608 crimes — more than one for each resident, a ratio well above anything recorded anywhere by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crimes.

Nicola Picardi, the court’s promoter of justice or prosecutor, said the vast majority of the crimes were petty thefts.

“With the large number of faithful going into St. Peter’s Basilica or the Vatican Museums each day, naturally there are a few who occasionally join the crowd and lift a wallet or two,” said Gianluigi Marrone, a court judge.

“Every once in a while, the police catch the thief,” Marrone told Catholic News Service.

Only a handful of major crimes stand out in recent Vatican history:

  • The 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square. 
  • The 1998 Swiss Guard murders-suicide when a young Swiss Guard shot and killed the Guard’s commander and the commander’s wife before taking his own life.
  • Last year, a 25-year-old Vatican police cadet died in an apparently suicide after he shot himself in the head in the bathroom of his Vatican barracks.
  • And just recently, the Vatican court realized that it had to start drafting its own anti-drug laws dealing with the possession and sale of illegal drugs after a Vatican employee was caught with 87 grams of cocaine.  

The Vatican does have its own prison, but it is rarely used — another indicator that this tiny territory, while not perfect, is as enviably safe and orderly as the UK intelligence group’s assessment. 

Anticipating what the pope might say (Part 2)

With all the media speculation on what the pope might say in America next month, there’s a story of ours that’s not getting the attention it deserves. CNS Rome bureau chief John Thavis last week wrote that one need look no further than Pope Benedict’s Palm Sunday Mass homily for themes he’ll likely address here. (Here’s our first-day story on what the pope said that day.)

Thanks to the Internet, it’s been fairly easy to find both the media speculation and the Catholic blog reaction, as well as other reports in the Catholic press on the trip. One Catholic blogger gave our Thavis kudos for another story he wrote — a profile of the enigma Benedict XVI is for many non-Christians. (Scroll down to the bottom of this blog entry for an analysis of our story.)

I may sound like a broken record (and my use of that analogy probably betrays my age), but we’d like to think that with three reporters permanently stationed in Rome, CNS is the place to look for both the best Vatican coverage and the best coverage of what this trip really means for America and for Catholicism.

Easter leftovers …

… but still tasty just the same:

– Dave Hrbacek, the outdoors-blogging photographer and writer at The Catholic Spirit in St. Paul, Minn., whom we’ve written about here before, has a great little entry on the power of confession, further cementing him as one of my favorite unknown Catholic bloggers.

– For those of you who love stories of  individuals’ journeys to Catholicism, here’s another one, courtesy of the Arkansas Catholic in Little Rock.

– Not really Easter related but still a story of faith-formation is this piece from the Catholic Sentinel in Portland, Ore., telling about a “public trial” that led to a conviction of a Portland 15-year-old girl on charges of being a Christian.

Jerusalem, at Easter, as it should be

A Christian pilgrim prays after an Easter Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem March 23. (CNS/Yannis Behrakis, Reuters)As soon as I entered the Old City of Jerusalem through Jaffa Gate on Easter morning, I knew something was amiss. It was as if, with those few steps into the walled city, I had walked into another reality.

Jewish children dressed up as chefs and pirates clung to their mothers’ who were pushing baby carriages as they walked briskly to their destination to celebrate the festive Jewish holiday of Purim, where children wear costumes and adults exchange gifts of sweets and pastries.

A few early-rising backpackers walked out the doors of nearby hostels, blinking in the bright sunshine.

A group of local Muslim women, covered from head to foot, headed down the ancient roads, perhaps to get in some early morning shopping at the vegetables stalls, or maybe they were going back home after their morning prayers at a nearby mosque.

Pilgrims from the Philippines picked their way over the large protruding stones of the remnants of the ancient Roman road on their way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on this beautiful, sunny morning.

Along the way, the few shopkeepers who had opened their stores early called out to them genially to look at their wares. Some of the pilgrims stopped and examined the exotic-looking dresses, the colorful ceramics and olive-wood carvings. But there was no time to shop as they were on their way to Easter Mass — the highlight of their eight-day pilgrimage.

The muted thudding of the wheels of the special green carts merchants use to get their wares from one place to the other in the Old City echoed through the stone-paved roads as messenger boys pushed the carts down the steps descending deeper into the shuk, the Arab market. Somewhere along the metal awnings above, the shops birds were singing their morning songs.

My eyes consciously blocked out the site of the heavily armed Israeli soldiers along the roads — on high alert following the shooting attack on a Jerusalem seminary which left eight students dead earlier in the month.

And for one brief warm spring day, Jerusalem was as it should be.

PHOTO: A Christian pilgrim prays after an Easter Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem March 23. (CNS/Yannis Behrakis, Reuters)

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