Vatican astronomer to receive American Astronomical Society prize

Father George V. Coyne, S.J.

Jesuit Father George V. Coyne, president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation and former director of the Vatican Observatory, will be honored by the American Astronomical Society Jan. 4.

The AAS will present the American-born astronomer with the George Van Biesbroeck Prize for his leadership of the Vatican Observatory Summer Schools and its mentoring program for young astronomers, as well as for his role in promoting connections between science and religion.

The prize will be presented at the start of the society’s 215th meeting in Washington.

CNS plans to be there and have a story later in the day.

Need to pray? Try iRosary

Technology has come to praying the rosary.

The Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., recently reported that a new iPhone app, iRosary, helps guide the faithful through the rosary and the mysteries on any particular day. It also allows a user to stop the prayer and return at a later time in case you’re interrupted.

Developed by Dave and Jackie Brown, parishioners at St. Francis Church in Bend, the application has been around for about a year. The couple’s idea for the app arose after their young daughter, Isabella, made an unexpected recovery from leukemia. They said they wanted others to experience the comfort of prayer, particularly the rosary.

Isabella is doing fine now. And the Browns are offering iRosary through iTunes at $2.99 per download. It recently surpassed the 20,000 download mark, making it the most popular Catholic application on the site.

Reporter Ed Langlois wrote that the small screen depicts animated beads that can be moved with a touch. Corresponding prayers pop up on the screen along with devotional images.

Another popular app allows traveling Catholics to find local Mass times. It’s a free download and is available at CatholicWeb.com.

The sainthood cause of Father Emil Kapaun continues

Father Emil Kapaun, U.S. Army chaplain

Advocates for the sainthood cause of Father Emil Kapaun are continuing their work on behalf of the Kansas native who died as a prisoner of war in North Korea in 1951.

The Father Kapaun Guild has developed an extensive Web site that tells the story of the heroic U.S. Army chaplain, who ministered to sick and wounded soldiers for seven months before his death despite his own painful injuries. Fellow prisoners of war said he led them in prayer daily, lifting their spirits in very difficult and trying conditions.

Army records show he died at age 35 of pneumonia. Fellow prisoners maintain he died from malnutrition and starvation in an army hospital.

His body never was returned and it is believed he is buried in a common unmarked grave near the prison hospital in Pyoktong, North Korea.

Father Kapaun’s story was told recently in a series in The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle. Videographer Travis Heying of the Eagle staff has produced a documentary, “The Miracle of Father Kapaun,” on the priest’s life as well.

The Wichita Diocese will host showings of the documentary Feb. 1 and 2. It also is scheduled to be shown on public television in Wichita in January.

The diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Advance, has reported on the native son priest numerous times over the years.

Oblate priest found guilty in protest at Colorado nuclear missile silo

 An Oblate priest who has long protested against America’s nuclear weapons arsenal was found guilty Dec. 21 of criminal mischief and trespassing on government property at the site of a nuclear missile silo in northern Colorado.

Father Carl Kabat, 76, was sentenced by Weld County Court Judge Dana Nichols to time served — 137 days — after his Aug. 6 arrest at the silo near New Raymer, Colo.

Nichols also imposed court costs totaling $254.50 and is allowing prosecutors to file a notice of restitution to Warren Air Force Base for damages. Father Kabat vowed not to pay either bill.

Testifying during the two-day trial, Father Kabat admitted he had cut a fence and entered the property, his most recent action to oppose the nation’s nuclear weapons policies. He had argued that his action was mandated by God’s law in order to oppose a greater evil. However, Nichols instructed jurors to limit their deliberations to whether the priest broke the law in entering the silo site.

The conviction was the 18th for Father Kabat in his prayerful quest to rid the world of nuclear weapons. He has served more than 17 years behind bars since his first protest in 1976.

The trial concluded in time for Father Kabat to return to the Catholic Worker house in St. Louis where he lives and spend the holidays with family and friends.

You can read an earlier post about his arrest here.

Pope fine after Christmas Eve knock-down

Pope Benedict in St. Peter's Basilica after being knocked down. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict appeared to suffer no ill effects after he was knocked to the marble floor of St. Peter’s Basilica on Christmas Eve by a woman the Vatican described as “unbalanced.”

French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, 87, was less fortunate. He suffered a broken hip and was spending Christmas in Rome’s Gemelli hospital.

The pope looked and sounded fine as he delivered his Christmas Day message and blessing from the central loggia of St. Peter’s, expressing Christmas greetings in more than 60 languages.

The day before, as the pope processed into the basilica at the start of the 10 p.m. liturgy, a woman wearing a red sweatshirt jumped the security barrier and knocked the 82-year-old pontiff to the ground. Amateur videos showed Vatican security guards trying to stop the woman, but she succeeded in pulling on the pope’s vestments, causing him to lose his balance and tumble. The woman was immediately swarmed by papal guards, and the pope was on his feet in a matter of seconds.

Vatican sources confirmed that the woman was the same person who attempted to rush the pope at Midnight Mass last year, but was tackled by guards before she could reach the pontiff.

Here is an amateur video of what happened last night:

The Vatican’s chief spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, issued this statement today:

Yesterday evening during the entrance procession of the celebration of Mass, an unbalanced person, Susanna Maiolo, 25, who has Italian and Swiss citizenship, went over the barrier and despite the intervention of security people was able to reach the Holy Father and grab his pallium, causing him to lose his balance, slip and fall. The pope was able to quickly get up and resume walking, and the entire celebration was carried out without any other problem.

Unfortunately, in the confusion that was created Cardinal Etchegaray fell and fractured his hip. He was taken to the Gemelli Polyclinic, and his condition is good, but he will have to undergo an operation in coming days.

Maiolo, who was not armed but who manifested signs of psychic imbalance, was taken to a health care facility for obligatory treatment.

As for the Holy Father, today’s program is confirmed without any modifications.

Among the estimated 7,000 people in the basilica, only those immediately close to the pontiff knew what was happening. But the entire congregation was alarmed when screams rang out, the entrance procession stopped and security personnel began running toward the pope.

Paul Haring, the CNS photographer on the scene, spoke after the Mass with two eyewitnesses to the incident.

Gregory Contreras, 20, from Winter, Calif., said he was five or six feet away when the pope passed. “I saw a young lady jump over the barrier, security grabbed her and then the pope and she fell down. It was a big pile.” He lost sight of the pope when security guards surrounded him. When the pope arose, people cheered and some yelled “Viva il papa!”

Preston Sprimont, 19, from Foothill Ranch, Calif., also witnessed the incident from the same location and said, “She had her hand on his collar, both hands it looked like.”

Urbi et Orbi: Little lights, to illuminate vast spaces

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict today delivered a message of Christmas hope, saying a world beset by conflicts and a “grave financial crisis” needs the light of Christ.

The pope spoke at his Christmas message and blessing “urbi et orbi” — to the city and to the world — from the central loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica. St. Peter’s Square, decorated with a Christmas tree and a Nativity scene, was filled for the occasion.

He expressed a special thought for the “little flock” of Christians who remain in the land of Christ’s birth, and for the Christian community in Iraq, which has been subject to increasing violence and intimidation.

Here is the Vatican’s English text of the pope’s message:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rome and throughout the world,

and all men and women, whom the Lord loves!

Lux fulgebit hodie super nos,

quia natus est nobis Dominus.

A light will shine on us this day,

the Lord is born for us”

(Roman Missal, Christmas, Entrance Antiphon for the Mass at Dawn)

The liturgy of the Mass at Dawn reminded us that the night is now past, the day has begun; the light radiating from the cave of Bethlehem shines upon us.

The Bible and the Liturgy do not, however, speak to us about a natural light, but a different, special light, which is somehow directed to and focused upon “us”, the same “us” for whom the Child of Bethlehem “is born”. This “us” is the Church, the great universal family of those who believe in Christ, who have awaited in hope the new birth of the Savior, and who today celebrate in mystery the perennial significance of this event.

At first, beside the manger in Bethlehem, that “us” was almost imperceptible to human eyes. As the Gospel of Saint Luke recounts, it included, in addition to Mary and Joseph, a few lowly shepherds who came to the cave after hearing the message of the Angels. The light of that first Christmas was like a fire kindled in the night. All about there was darkness, while in the cave there shone the true light “that enlightens every man” (Jn 1:9). And yet all this took place in simplicity and hiddenness, in the way that God works in all of salvation history. God loves to light little lights, so as then to illuminate vast spaces. Truth, and Love, which are its content, are kindled wherever the light is welcomed; they then radiate in concentric circles, as if by contact, in the hearts and minds of all those who, by opening themselves freely to its splendor, themselves become sources of light. Such is the history of the Church: she began her journey in the lowly cave of Bethlehem, and down the centuries she has become a People and a source of light for humanity. Today too, in those who encounter that Child, God still kindles fires in the night of the world, calling men and women everywhere to acknowledge in Jesus the “sign” of his saving and liberating presence and to extend the “us” of those who believe in Christ to the whole of mankind.

Wherever there is an “us” which welcomes God’s love, there the light of Christ shines forth, even in the most difficult situations. The Church, like the Virgin Mary, offers the world Jesus, the Son, whom she herself has received as a gift, the One who came to set mankind free from the slavery of sin. Like Mary, the Church does not fear, for that Child is her strength. But she does not keep him for herself: she offers him to all those who seek him with a sincere heart, to the earth’s lowly and afflicted, to the victims of violence, and to all who yearn for peace. Today too, on behalf of a human family profoundly affected by a grave financial crisis, yet even more by a moral crisis, and by the painful wounds of wars and conflicts, the Church, in faithful solidarity with mankind, repeats with the shepherds: “Let us go to Bethlehem” (Lk 2:15), for there we shall find our hope.

The “us” of the Church is alive in the place where Jesus was born, in the Holy Land, inviting its people to abandon every logic of violence and vengeance, and to engage with renewed vigor and generosity in the process which leads to peaceful coexistence. The “us” of the Church is present in the other countries of the Middle East. How can we forget the troubled situation in Iraq and the “little flock” of Christians which lives in the region? At times it is subject to violence and injustice, but it remains determined to make its own contribution to the building of a society opposed to the logic of conflict and the rejection of one’s neighbor. The “us” of the Church is active in Sri Lanka, in the Korean peninsula and in the Philippines, as well as in the other countries of Asia, as a leaven of reconciliation and peace. On the continent of Africa she does not cease to lift her voice to God, imploring an end to every injustice in the Democratic Republic of Congo; she invites the citizens of Guinea and Niger to respect for the rights of every person and to dialogue; she begs those of Madagascar to overcome their internal divisions and to be mutually accepting; and she reminds all men and women that they are called to hope, despite the tragedies, trials and difficulties which still afflict them. In Europe and North America, the “us” of the Church urges people to leave behind the selfish and technicist mentality, to advance the common good and to show respect for the persons who are most defenceless, starting with the unborn. In Honduras she is assisting in process of rebuilding institutions; throughout Latin America, the “us” of the Church is a source of identity, a fullness of truth and of charity which no ideology can replace, a summons to respect for the inalienable rights of each person and his or her integral development, a proclamation of justice and fraternity, a source of unity.

In fidelity to the mandate of her Founder, the Church shows solidarity with the victims of natural disasters and poverty, even within opulent societies. In the face of the exodus of all those who migrate from their homelands and are driven away by hunger, intolerance or environmental degradation, the Church is a presence calling others to an attitude of acceptance and welcome. In a word, the Church everywhere proclaims the Gospel of Christ, despite persecutions, discriminations, attacks and at times hostile indifference. These, in fact, enable her to share the lot of her Master and Lord.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, how great a gift it is to be part of a communion which is open to everyone! It is the communion of the Most Holy Trinity, from whose heart Emmanuel, Jesus, “God with us”, came into the world. Like the shepherds of Bethlehem, let us contemplate, filled with wonder and gratitude, this mystery of love and light! Happy Christmas to all!

The pope then offered Christmas greetings in 65 languages, saying in English: “May the birth of the Prince of Peace remind the world where its true happiness lies; and may your hearts be filled with hope and joy, for the Savior has been born for us.”

‘God’s sign is that he makes himself small’

Nativity scene featured on Pope Benedict XVI's Christmas card. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — Celebrating Christmas Mass tonight in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about a modern tendency to be “tone deaf” to God.

Christmas, he said, reminds people that “God is the highest priority.”

But rather than reveal himself with an astonishing miracle or an imposing sign of power and greatness, God’s sign at Bethlehem is his humility, the pope said.

The Christmas Mass began with a security incident as the pope processed into the basilica. A woman jumped the barriers separating the crowd from the pope and briefly knocked the 82-year-old pontiff to the ground, according to Vatican spokesman Father Ciro Benedettini. The pope was unharmed and quickly rose to his feet and continued down the main aisle to the altar, as applause rang out in the basilica.

French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray was also knocked over in the incident and was taken to the Vatican’s first aid station for treatment. UPDATE: Cardinal Etchegaray, 87, was later taken to Rome’s Gemelli hospital for tests, Father Benedettini said. The woman was being held by Vatican police. After the Mass, the Italian TV network RAI aired footage of the woman, dressed in red, leaping toward the pope. Last year, a woman dressed in red tried to rush Pope Benedict as he processed out of the basilica after Midnight Mass, but she was tackled by security agents before she reached the pope. There was immediate speculation that the same woman had repeated the gesture this year.

Unlike previous years, the pope’s “Midnight Mass” began at 10 p.m. instead of midnight.

Here is the Vatican’s English translation of the pope’s homily:

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

“A child is born for us, a son is given to us” (Is 9:5). What Isaiah prophesied as he gazed into the future from afar, consoling Israel amid its trials and its darkness, is now proclaimed to the shepherds as a present reality by the Angel, from whom a cloud of light streams forth: “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:11). The Lord is here. From this moment, God is truly “God with us”. No longer is he the distant God who can in some way be perceived from afar, in creation and in our own consciousness. He has entered the world. He is close to us. The words of the risen Christ to his followers are addressed also to us: “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20). For you the Savior is born: through the Gospel and those who proclaim it, God now reminds us of the message that the Angel announced to the shepherds. It is a message that cannot leave us indifferent. If it is true, it changes everything. If it is true, it also affects me. Like the shepherds, then, I too must say: Come on, I want to go to Bethlehem to see the Word that has occurred there. The story of the shepherds is included in the Gospel for a reason. They show us the right way to respond to the message that we too have received. What is it that these first witnesses of God’s incarnation have to tell us?

The first thing we are told about the shepherds is that they were on the watch – they could hear the message precisely because they were awake. We must be awake, so that we can hear the message. We must become truly vigilant people. What does this mean? The principal difference between someone dreaming and someone awake is that the dreamer is in a world of his own. His “self” is locked into this dreamworld that is his alone and does not connect him with others. To wake up means to leave that private world of one’s own and to enter the common reality, the truth that alone can unite all people. Conflict and lack of reconciliation in the world stem from the fact that we are locked into our own interests and opinions, into our own little private world. Selfishness, both individual and collective, makes us prisoners of our interests and our desires that stand against the truth and separate us from one another. Awake, the Gospel tells us. Step outside, so as to enter the great communal truth, the communion of the one God. To awake, then, means to develop a receptivity for God: for the silent promptings with which he chooses to guide us; for the many indications of his presence. There are people who describe themselves as “religiously tone deaf”. The gift of a capacity to perceive God seems as if it is withheld from some. And indeed – our way of thinking and acting, the mentality of today’s world, the whole range of our experience is inclined to deaden our receptivity for God, to make us “tone deaf” towards him. And yet in every soul, the desire for God, the capacity to encounter him, is present, whether in a hidden way or overtly. In order to arrive at this vigilance, this awakening to what is essential, we should pray for ourselves and for others, for those who appear “tone deaf” and yet in whom there is a keen desire for God to manifest himself. The great theologian Origen said this: if I had the grace to see as Paul saw, I could even now (during the Liturgy) contemplate a great host of angels (cf. in Lk 23:9). And indeed, in the sacred liturgy, we are surrounded by the angels of God and the saints. The Lord himself is present in our midst.

Lord, open the eyes of our hearts, so that we may become vigilant and clear-sighted, in this way bringing you close to others as well!

Let us return to the Christmas Gospel. It tells us that after listening to the Angel’s message, the shepherds said one to another: “‘Let us go over to Bethlehem’ … they went at once” (Lk 2:15f.). “They made haste” is literally what the Greek text says. What had been announced to them was so important that they had to go immediately. In fact, what had been said to them was utterly out of the ordinary. It changed the world. The Savior is born. The long-awaited Son of David has come into the world in his own city. What could be more important? No doubt they were partly driven by curiosity, but first and foremost it was their excitement at the wonderful news that had been conveyed to them, of all people, to the little ones, to the seemingly unimportant. They made haste – they went at once. In our daily life, it is not like that. For most people, the things of God are not given priority, they do not impose themselves on us directly.  And so the great majority of us tend to postpone them. First we do what seems urgent here and now. In the list of priorities God is often more or less at the end. We can always deal with that later, we tend to think. The Gospel tells us: God is the highest priority. If anything in our life deserves haste without delay, then, it is God’s work alone. The Rule of Saint Benedict contains this teaching: “Place nothing at all before the work of God (i.e. the divine office)”. For monks, the Liturgy is the first priority. Everything else comes later. In its essence, though, this saying applies to everyone. God is important, by far the most important thing in our lives. The shepherds teach us this priority. From them we should learn not to be crushed by all the pressing matters in our daily lives. From them we should learn the inner freedom to put other tasks in second place – however important they may be – so as to make our way towards God, to allow him into our lives and into our time. Time given to God and, in his name, to our neighbor is never time lost. It is the time when we are most truly alive, when we live our humanity to the full.

Some commentators point out that the shepherds, the simple souls, were the first to come to Jesus in the manger and to encounter the Redeemer of the world. The wise men from the East, representing those with social standing and fame, arrived much later. The commentators go on to say: this is quite natural. The shepherds lived nearby. They only needed to “come over” (cf. Lk 2:15), as we do when we go to visit our neighbors. The wise men, however, lived far away. They had to undertake a long and arduous journey in order to arrive in Bethlehem. And they needed guidance and direction. Today too there are simple and lowly souls who live very close to the Lord. They are, so to speak, his neighbors and they can easily go to see him. But most of us in the world today live far from Jesus Christ, the incarnate God who came to dwell amongst us. We live our lives by philosophies, amid worldly affairs and occupations that totally absorb us and are a great distance from the manger. In all kinds of ways, God has to prod us and reach out to us again and again, so that we can manage to escape from the muddle of our thoughts and activities and discover the way that leads to him. But a path exists for all of us. The Lord provides everyone with tailor-made signals. He calls each one of us, so that we too can say: “Come on, ‘let us go over’ to Bethlehem – to the God who has come to meet us. Yes indeed, God has set out towards us. Left to ourselves we could not reach him. The path is too much for our strength. But God has come down. He comes towards us. He has traveled the longer part of the journey. Now he invites us: come and see how much I love you. Come and see that I am here. Transeamus usque Bethlehem, the Latin Bible says. Let us go there! Let us surpass ourselves! Let us journey towards God in all sorts of ways: along our interior path towards him, but also along very concrete paths – the Liturgy of the Church, the service of our neighbor, in whom Christ awaits us.

Let us once again listen directly to the Gospel. The shepherds tell one another the reason why they are setting off: “Let us see this thing that has happened.” Literally the Greek text says: “Let us see this Word that has occurred there.” Yes indeed, such is the radical newness of this night: the Word can be seen. For it has become flesh. The God of whom no image may be made – because any image would only diminish, or rather distort him – this God has himself become visible in the One who is his true image, as Saint Paul puts it (cf. 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15). In the figure of Jesus Christ, in the whole of his life and ministry, in his dying and rising, we can see the Word of God and hence the mystery of the living God himself. This is what God is like. The Angel had said to the shepherds: “This will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12; cf. 2:16). God’s sign, the sign given to the shepherds and to us, is not an astonishing miracle. God’s sign is his humility. God’s sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God’s power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love. Origen, taking up one of John the Baptist’s sayings, saw the essence of paganism expressed in the symbol of stones: paganism is a lack of feeling, it means a heart of stone that is incapable of loving and perceiving God’s love. Origen says of the pagans: “Lacking feeling and reason, they are transformed into stones and wood” (in Lk 22:9). Christ, though, wishes to give us a heart of flesh. When we see him, the God who became a child, our hearts are opened. In the Liturgy of the holy night, God comes to us as man, so that we might become truly human. Let us listen once again to Origen: “Indeed, what use would it be to you that Christ once came in the flesh if he did not enter your soul? Let us pray that he may come to us each day, that we may be able to say: I live, yet it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20)” (in Lk 22:3).

Yes indeed, that is what we should pray for on this Holy Night. Lord Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, come to us! Enter within me, within my soul. Transform me. Renew me. Change me, change us all from stone and wood into living people, in whom your love is made present and the world is transformed. Amen.

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