Mayor cooks up polenta and venison for papal entourage

VATICAN CITY — The papal spokesman’s update on Pope Benedict today contained very little information about the pope himself. Basically, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi said the pope took an evening walk yesterday despite the rainy weather.

However, the e-mail dispatched from Les Combes, where the pope has been vacationing since July 13, did say that the mayor of Introd — which includes Les Combes — joined members of the papal entourage for dinner last night. The pope’s physicians, security agents and other aides are staying in a guesthouse next to the pope’s chalet.

Father Lombardi said the mayor “provided an excellent polenta with venison” from the small European roe deer, “which he cooked himself with great skill.”


Pope Benedict stands outside his vacation chalet in Les Combes. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano)

This morning, the spokesman said, the pope is putting the final touches on the homily he will give this evening when he celebrates vespers with priests, religious and laypeople in the cathedral of Aosta.

In addition, he said, the papal vacation compound is a beehive of activity as workers set up benches and barriers in preparation for the arrival of an estimated 5,000 people Sunday for the recitation of the Angelus.

Today’s edition of L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, contains an interview with Father Aldo Armellin, who the newspaper describes as the contact between the Diocese of Aosta and the papal party.

The priest said there are a lot of people “who try to get close to the pope” while he’s on vacation. Some send notes, some send small gifts and others “want to show their affection and make him feel part of the family by welcoming him with a homemade dessert typical to the region.”

Year for Priests: Grateful for a special visitor

By Maryknoll Father Michael J. Snyder
One in a series

DAR ES SALAAM, Tananzia — Many people come to my office door here at the Catholic Chaplaincy of the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences.  The university shares its campus with the national hospital with 1,200 beds and over 1,000 day patients.  There is also a large slum called Jangwani situated not far from the hospital.  The news has spread that Fr. Michael will help people in need.  That’s nice, but it has resulted in a steady stream of people coming to the door.

Many of the cases are genuine, some are con artists, and others, while poor, pretty much will say anything it takes just to get some assistance.  For so many, giving them money is just not the answer to the problems facing them.  Poverty is such a horrible disease!  Sometimes I feel I need a social worker who can listen and direct people to places where they can find the proper assistance.  My own background as a social worker years ago comes in handy.

I think the news is spreading that Fr. Michael asks many questions and often does not give money, so the numbers at my door are reducing.  Nevertheless, yesterday a lady came to the office.  She was ill, stricken with AIDS.  Her children and husband have died.  She has been told to vacate the room her husband was renting.  She has no money and feels it is time to return to her parents’ home in Mwanza, which is situated on the other side of Tanzania.  Her name is Rehema, which translated to English means “compassion.”  I tried to console her and direct her to the local parish.  Already she receives medicine from the archdiocesan AIDS outreach program named PASADA.  She seemed lost, her spirit broken.

I decided to give her 35,000 shillings (US$30) for the bus trip to Mwanza. She thanked me and began to shed tears.  As she stood to leave she said she would board a bus that very day.  Rehema extended her hand to me and then went down on one knee thanking me so much for helping her.  I took her hand into both of mine and prayed for a safe journey.  As Rehema left the office, it occurred to me that this had been a precious moment.  I had just been in the presence of God.  Jesus had come to me as Rehema asking me to never harden my heart to those who come to my office in need.

Rehema felt blessed for my assistance, but in reality I was the one being assisted and indeed blessed!  Later that day, I was the one on bended knee, grateful for such a precious moment.

Fr. Michael J. Snyder is a member of the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, commonly known as Maryknoll. A native of New Jersey, he was ordained in 1979 and assigned to work in Tanzania, East Africa. In addition to various parish assignments, Fr. Mike served as the regional superior for the Maryknoll priests, brothers, and lay missioners working in Tanzania (1989-1995). In 1996 he returned to the U.S. to serve on the General Council for Maryknoll until 2002. Fr. Mike also served as vocation director for Maryknoll for seven years. In 2007 he returned for missionary service in Tanzania where he resides today.

Click here for more in this series.

Fond memories of Walter Cronkite

Fred Caesar, a special assistant for communications at the Catholic Health Association, is one of numerous journalists personally touched by the life of Walter Cronkite, the CBS newsman who died last week. He sent us his thoughts this week, and we thought they were interesting enough to publish here.

Years prior to working with the Catholic Health Association of the United States, I worked for almost 20 years in TV and radio news. During that span of time I worked for three CBS TV stations (one NBC too): KMOX-TV (now KMOV-TV) in St. Louis, WHP-TV in Harrisburg, Pa., and WGME in Portland, Maine. I was the news director at the latter stations.

In 1980 when working at WHP-TV, Walter Cronkite called me one afternoon to apologize. As news director I had sent him a letter in January 1980 inviting him to record a special commentary to be included in our station’s planned program in March to mark the first anniversary of the Three Mile Island accident. Well, in late March of 1980 at around 4 in the afternoon I was told that Walter Cronkite was on the phone.

(Photos courtesy Fred Caesar)

(Photos courtesy Fred Caesar)

My first thought was that someone was playing a prank. I picked up the phone and it really was Walter Cronkite calling me about two hours before his evening newscast. He said he had received my January letter and had put it aside but it had been misplaced until recently. He said that was not how he normally handled his correspondence and wanted me to know that he was very sorry for not responding earlier. He asked how the anniversary program was shaping up and said he was sorry it was too late for him to prepare anything. (Here he is about two hours from a major evening newscast of his own asking how our local program was shaping up!) He then asked that I extend his thanks to our news team for their work in contributing information during the last 12 months to the CBS Evening News about events at Three Mile Island. I recall saying something about that I wished him all the best and thanked him for the call.

This truly showed what a great man he was. He didn’t have to call me, and could have just sent a note. I was honored. But there is more.

Back in St. Louis in the early 1970s, KMOX-TV was moving to new studios in St. Louis and was discarding files at the time. In a stack of things to be pitched were a few promotional photos of Walter Cronkite at his anchor desk from the 1960s. Well, I pulled a few of the photos from the stack and put them in my memorabilia box. In 1986, when working at WGME-TV in Portland, Walter Cronkite was doing a book-signing event in southern Maine one afternoon. He had just co-wrote the book “North by Northeast.” I prepared a brief note to accompany one of my old promotional photos and put in an envelope and then asked our reporter covering the event to see if Walter Cronkite would sign the photo. He did. For years I have had the signed photo hanging on my wall in my office. I have used it as an inspiration and to recall good memories.

Year for Priests: A faith seen round the world

By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series

priestsRecently, a parishioner offered her gratitude for my work in her parish because, as she said, “It is the first time I ever felt like I belonged to something big enough to hold my faith.”  As we spoke, she went on to say that she has always felt a disconnect with the rest of the church.  Though she understands the theology and tradition of the Mass and our prayers that unite us together, she has longed for hear about the “big picture” — how the Gospel affects other parts of the world, what teachings are in progress, and the stories of faith beyond her own experience.

Though some people find this appeal of the universal church unsettling, it made perfect sense to me.  Other forms of information and sociology have embraced our universal and global connectedness through various forms of technology and media.  Why should people expect any different from their priests and parishes?

Almost one year ago, I was asked to help coordinate the Vocation Expo at World Youth Day in Sydney.  One of the many features of that exhibit that struck me was the attraction of young people to religious orders and movements that spoke of their relationship with the “universal church.”  After a while, I began to understand why this connection was so important.  Quite simply, the church offers stability and longevity.  Amidst so much change and diversity, the church has room for everything — it is the center of every polarity.  Furthermore, when our particular charisms are placed in line with the streams of the church, their effects are amplified.  We not only launch our ideas with momentum, but they progress with greater traction.  In the church, we have a container big enough for our imaginations.

In the Scriptures, Christ breaks through the old notions that God resides only in the temple in order for God to be greater than their experience of temple worship.  The same is true with Catholics today who need to know that God’s presence is more comprehensive than what is found in Sunday Mass.

So the challenge for all of us, all ministers and priests, is quite simple (if I may be so bold) — reference the instances of faith seen and heard around the world.  Read the weekly statements from Rome and the U.S. bishops and pass them on to others.  True, not all are appropriate, but I have been surprised at the excitement and willingness of so many to discuss the issues and learn from them.

Father Chris Valka, CSB, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil in May and will be teaching at Detroit Catholic Central High School in Michigan beginning in late summer.

Click here for more in this series.

Next up on Hill: hearing for nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Vatican

The Senate hearing for theology professor Miguel Diaz, President Barack Obama’s pick to be the new U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, takes place Wednesday. 

He’ll be one of four ambassador nominees facing questions from the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee. The others are Obama’s choices for ambassador to Morocco, Saudi Arab and Tajikistan.

Diaz teaches at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn., and at nearby St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn. His selection has been seen by some observers as an affirmation of the growing role Hispanic Catholics are playing in the U.S. Catholic Church.

How does the national health care reform debate look at the local community level?

With all the talk in Washington about health care reform measures lawmakers are wrangling over on Capitol Hill, what often gets lost in the national coverage of the debate is how people on the local community level are dealing with the high cost of health care.

But the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville, Tenn., is getting at that perspective. In a two-part series, July 10 and Aug. 7, the paper is telling the stories of  people like Earl Lewis, who as a heart-transplant patient has a monthly pharmaceutical bill of $2,400 for anti-rejection pills, and health care workers, like nurse practitioner Nancy Anness, who sees what patients are coping with every day.

Pope leads Angelus, thanks people for prayers

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI recited the Angelus today in the town of Romano Canavese in northern Italy, thanking the doctors who repaired his broken right wrist and thanking the faithful all over the world who offered their prayers for him.

“As you can see, because of an accident, my mobility is a bit limited, but my heart is fully present,” he assured the crowd gathered in front of the parish church in Romano Canavese, about 50 miles away from Les Combes, where he has been vacationing.

“I offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone — and there are many of you — who have demonstrated your closeness, your sympathy and your affection for me and who have prayed for me,” he said before reciting the Angelus. “I especially want to thank the doctors and the medical staff who treated me with such diligence, compassion and friendship. As you can see, they were successful … we hope they were successful.”

The pope used his casted right hand to wave and even wiggled his still slightly swollen fingers. The swelling has gone down enough to allow him to put the papal Fisherman’s ring back on his right hand.

The right-handed, 82-year-old Pope Benedict looked especially pleased with the notebook-sized portable computer he received as a gift from the mayor of Romano Canavese. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state who was born in Romano Canavese, told the Italian news agency ANSA that the broken wrist would make it difficult for the pope to use his Alpine vacation to continue work on the second volume of his book about Jesus.

Here’s a video news report of the pope’s Angelus that you can find on the Vatican’s YouTube channel:

Pope doing well, will continue vacation

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI spent a peaceful night in Les Combes after undergoing a brief surgical procedure yesterday to repair his right wrist, which he fractured in a fall, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi said this morning.

closeup of pope's left hand

Pope Benedict waves with his left hand, the intravenous catheter visible, as he leaves the hospital yesterday. (CNS/Reuters)

Last night, I forwarded to Father Lombardi a photo taken as the pope left the hospital. Our eagle-eyed photo/graphics editor, Nancy Wiechec, noticed something in a close-up of the pope’s left wrist — the one that is not in a cast. This morning, the papal spokesman told me that before the surgical procedure, the pope’s doctors had inserted a small intravenous catheter into his left wrist to deliver pain medication if needed once the local anesthetic wore off. “It was removed last night,” he said. 

The pope “slept well,” woke up, celebrated Mass this morning and had breakfast as normal, the papal spokesman said. The right-handed 82-year-old pope also is getting used to using his left hand and, of course, is disappointed that he can do no handwriting, Father Lombardi said. He did not, however, say how the pope is dealing with not playing the piano.

He also said the pope would continue his vacation in the northern Italian Alps and would travel tomorrow to Romano Canavese, the hometown of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, his secretary of state. The pope is scheduled to recite the Angelus at noon with people gathered in front of the parish church in the town about 50 miles from Les Combes.

On Friday, the pope will celebrate evening prayer with priests from the Diocese of Aosta, the spokesman said.

One pastor’s take on Year for Priests

The pastor at St. Pius X in Norfolk, Va., is encouraging parishioners to write letters and fill out prayer cards for priests to celebrate Year for Priests.

Father Venancio Balarote said it’s important to remember that priests are human.

“We need affirmation,” he said. “We need to know in reality, deep in our hearts — hey, we are all in this together in building the kingdom of God.”

CUA goes multimedia over Year for Priests

Since Pope Benedict XVI launched the start of  the Year for Priests June 19, The Catholic University of America in Washington has launched a multimedia Web site to help promote the special yearlong celebration.

The pope designated June 19 as the start of the celebration, because it’s the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priest, whom the pope has proclaimed patron of all the world’s priests.

Catholic University’s Web site is worth a look if you want to know more about the Year for Priests and the special events that will be going on. The site also promises to get even more high tech as the year goes on.


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