More headlines … (2/13/09)

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Lessons from a scandal

Special Mass for the father of modern science

VATICAN -ASTRONOMY

This 1635 portrait of astronomer Galileo Galilei by Dutch painter Justus Sustermans was part of a January exhibit in the Palazzo Pitti art gallery in Florence, Italy. (CNS photo/Marco Bucco, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY — Catholic cosmophiles will want to know about a special Mass being celebrated in Rome’s Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs this Sunday to mark the 445th anniversary of the birth of Galileo Galilei. It’s just one of a number of initiatives the Vatican is involved in to commemorate the International Year of Astronomy.

Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, will preside over the Mass, which starts at noon.

Members of the Switzerland-based World Federation of Scientists have been invited to attend and a number of Chinese scientists will be present, according to the federation’s press release.

The Chinese participants are also going to present a bronze statue, presumably of Galileo. Another special guest will be the Russian explorer of the North Pole, Arthur Chilingarov.

After the Mass, people can visit a special exhibit in the basilica, which was the last one constructed by Michelangelo. It was built between 1563 and 1566 amid the ancient ruins of the Baths of Diocletian.

 The show will feature Galileo’s major discoveries and inventions such as a re-creation of the pendulum and the inclined plane. There will also be photographic display panels and film footage of interesting events and experiments. For example, visitors can watch a video of U.S. astronaut David Scott conduct Galileo’s famous objects-fall-at-the same-rate experiment.

Galileo discovered that all objects released together fall at the same rate regardless of mass, like the 10-pound weight and the one-pound weight he reportedly sent careening down off the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Commander of the Apollo XV mission to the moon, David Scott, dropped a feather and a hammer at the same time on the moon and, because there is no air resistance on the moon, they hit the ground at the same time.

Did you know that the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels also houses a famous meridian calendar?

Cardinal William Keeler (who is the titular cardinal of the basilica) and the Archdiocese of Baltimore helped find donors and collect funds for the restoration of the basilica’s glass dome in 2001. The dome’s lantern has stained-glass panels, prisms and blown-glass spheres that reveal the seasons and the time of day by the way sunlight enters and falls on the basilica floor.

Sunlight is diffused over a circle on the floor during the spring and autumn and concentrated on one-half of the circle during the summer and winter.

Another Rome meridian? St. Peter’s Square and the obelisk. Read this great article by Vatican astronomer Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno to find out more!

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South African church in uproar over new English-language Mass translations

A furor has erupted in the South African Catholic Church over the first round of English-language changes in the Mass.

The Southern Cross, a southern African Catholic weekly newspaper, reports that clergy, liturgists and laity are up in arms about some of the new language being used during the constant parts of the Mass, saying the changes are confusing and fail to reflect the common usage of the English language and culture in the region.

Some commentators have said the changes fail to  recognize the different ways English is spoken. Many fear that similar confusion and anger will rise up in some of the 10 other English-speaking countries governed by the revisions should there be no recognition of language and cultural differences.

The Southern Cross has reported extensively on the changes and reaction to them in recent weeks. The newspaper also has devoted more space on its Web site to its bloggers, such as Jesuit Father Anthony Egan, and more space in its print version for opinion pieces, commentary and letters to the editor since the Dec. 1 changeover.

The changes, which the South African bishops put into effect the first Sunday of Advent, are among those being discussed by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy.

The first round has been widely discussed by the committee and approved by the Vatican. But there are two more phases to go before the new English missal is finalized.

It seems that the bishops may have moved ahead a bit too quickly as the changes they put in place were to be withheld until the remaining translations are finalized. Those revisions are to be completed by November and submitted to the Vatican for approval then.

Final implementation of all the changes is set for Advent 2011 or 2012.

Bloggers and columnists suggest that the entire English-speaking world and the Vatican take note of what has transpired in southern Africa, lest similar upheavals result around the globe.

Lincoln’s connection to a Catholic high school

On the 200th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s birth, the 16th president is getting a fair amount of attention.  Here in Washington,  people can visit Lincoln’s summer home or the theater where he was assassinated. There are also special events, exhibits and lectures about Lincoln at several Washington museums, and of course, at the Lincoln Memorial .

But another Washington spot with a lesser-known Lincoln connection is Jesuit-run Gonzaga College High School founded in 1821. A new book — set for release on the anniversary of Lincoln’s birth – details connections between the school and the president’s assassination. The 135-page book, “In the Web of History: Gonzaga College and the Lincoln Assassination” was written by Gonzaga graduate, Paul Warren. Proceeds from sales of the book will benefit the high school.

The book notes that Gonzaga parents and graduates had positive and not so positive roles in Lincoln’s assassination. The first policeman on the scene was the parent of a Gonzaga student. And Dr. John Frederick May, a Gonzaga alum, treated Lincoln in his final moments and also identified the corpse of his assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

On the not so positive side: A Gonzaga graduate, David Herold, was hanged for his involvement in the assassination plot, and a Gonzaga parent owned the stable where Booth boarded his horses.

Mary Surratt, who owned the boarding house where the conspirators met, was also connected, although not as directly, to the  Jesuit high school. According to a column about the book in The Washington Post, Surratt’s sons had been taught in southern Maryland by the priest who was president of Gonzaga at the time of the assassination. That priest, Jesuit Father Bernardin Wiget, was said to have heard Surratt’s confession prior to escorting her to be hanged.

According to the book, the priest also had another role. When word got out that a wheelbarrow with the word “Gonzaga” on it was found behind the Surratt house, he was said to have quietly ordered that it be removed.

The economy and religious investors

The Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, which announced last week that it intends to judge publicly traded corporations in part now on how environmentally friendly they are, has — like many organizations and companies — a descriptive  paragraph about it and its work in its press releases.

ICCR describes itself as “a coalition of nearly 300 faith-based institutional investors representing over $100 billion in invested capital.” That was the same wording, including the dollar figure, that ICCR used last year before the financial markets had their meltdown. So, does the center’s investment team know something the rest of the market players don’t?

“We’ve not taken a census of our members. Faith-based institutions have not been required to report” their holdings, said Leslie Lowe, director of  ICCR’s “Energy and the Environment” program.

“We’re having our annual meeting in June,” Lowe added. “Maybe we’ll ask that question (then).”

Editor seeks changes in human rights provision that cost magazine $30,000

Basilian Father Alphonse de Valk, editor of the Canadian magazine Catholic Insight, is weighing in on a provision of the Canadian Human Rights Act, according to this story in The Western Catholic Reporter.

The provision led to a costly accusation that the magazine was “purveying hate literature” because of its editorial stance opposed to same-sex marriage. The commission dismissed the case in July 2008, but it cost the magazine almost $30,000 in legal fees.

“On matters of faith and doctrine, we seek to be faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church,” Father de Valk wrote in a letter to Justice Minister Rob Nicholson Feb. 2. “In our view, the attacks on us, therefore, are also attacks on the freedom of the Catholic Church in Canada.”

“The changes to the charter made by the Supreme Court over the years now pit the new sexual orientation equality rights against the rights of large sections of the Canadian population,” he said. “In the future, this may well become the source of grave divisions and political unrest.”

More headlines … (2/11/09)

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Vatican City turns 80

VATICAN CITY — When I told my mother yesterday that I attended an exhibit at the Vatican commemorating Vatican City State’s 80th anniversary, her response echoed many others: “The Vatican is only 80 years old? Hasn’t it been around forever?”

map of Vatican City State

An engraving made in 2007 of the layout of Vatican City. (CNS photo courtesy of Vatican Library)

In a sense, she’s right. St. Peter was crucified upside down and buried on the Vatican hill nearly 2,000 years. However, the sovereign state of Vatican City wasn’t born until Feb. 11, 1929.

On Monday I attended a special event for journalists: the preview of an exhibit showcasing the Vatican’s eight decades of existence as an independent state. The exhibit opens to the public today, the actual 80th anniversary and an official holiday at the Vatican.

There were at least 50 to 60 journalists in attendance on Monday, led by an Italian guide through the exhibit spread over two floors of the “Braccio di Carlo Magno,” an exhibit space under the end of the colonnade in St. Peter’s Square. When we entered the main door, we were immediately faced with a giant model of Vatican City. I was struck by its intricate detail, as were the many journalists who pushed their way forward to snap a picture of the state in wooden miniature.

After passing through the entrance, we arrived in a room dedicated to Pope Pius XI. He reigned as pope from 1922 to 1939 and was responsible for helping end the breach between the papacy and the Italian government. The agreement with Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini resulted in the signing of the Lateran Treaties, making the Vatican’s independence official.

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The pope's Citroen Lictoria parked in the Vatican gardens after its restoration in 1996 (Photo from: http://citroens.citroen1.info)

Pope Pius’ gold and white cope was on display in the center of the room; I was shocked by its enormous size! Our guide explained that the cope was crafted so that it covered the pope’s portable throne on all sides when he was seated and carried through the crowds. I was equally impressed by his tiara, decorated with gold, pearls, and gems. But most impressive was definitely his car — a one-of-a-kind Citroen Lictoria, complete with a throne in the back seat.

The exhibit displays items gathered over the years, including wall-sized maps and portraits of the seven popes who have reigned since 1929. It also shows photographs of the Vatican’s railway and radio stations.

Perhaps most exciting of all the items on display are the original documents of the Lateran Pacts, resting in a glass case secured with an alarm system. The documents have never been on public display before and will surely draw large crowds to the exhibit.

I was impressed by the presentation of the pacts: the room is designed so that visitors feel as if they are attending the signing with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, Mussolini and others. On the right-hand side of the room, a life-size photograph of the actual event covers the wall. In front of the wall, the long table that appears in the photograph stands behind the encased documents.

It’s hard to believe that the Vatican is less than 100 years old. Even more shocking is the fact that from 1870 to 1929 the pope felt obliged to stay behind the Vatican’s walls due to his uncertain status with the Italian government. This was just one of the many surprising details revealed by the Vatican’s anniversary exhibit that made my visit worthwhile.

Happy 80th birthday, Vatican City!

Australian churches take stock after fire

Church buildings and their communities are among those devastated by this week’s raging brush fires in Australia.

The Australian agency CathNews has an article focused on the towns of Marysville and Kinglake, where the parish churches were destroyed.

“Father Julian Langridge, parish priest at Lilydale, Healesville, Marysville, Dixons Creek, Yarra Glen and Toolangi, said so far he had been able to contact only one of about 25 Marysville parishioners.”

This article in The Age includes more details and links to various ways of offering aid or words of support.

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