Pope fractures wrist in fall

UPDATE: Pope Benedict is undergoing a procedure under local anesthesia to set his wrist, the spokesman of Parini Hospital in Aosta told the Italian news agency ANSA. ANSA also said the pope asked to be treated like any other patient and had to wait in the radiology department for his X-ray, then again outside the surgical unit for the treatment room where the fracture was reduced.

SECOND UPDATE: Full story.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI fell overnight, fracturing his right wrist. The pope was in the Salesian-owned chalet in the northern Italian Alps where he is vacationing.

Papal spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi said, “after a fall in his room overnight, the Holy Father suffered a slight fracture of his right wrist.”

“Nevertheless, in the morning the Holy Father celebrated Mass and had breakfast, then was accompanied to the hospital in Aosta where the slight fracture was discovered and his wrist was immobilized.”

Earlier, Father Lombardi told reporters that the 82-year-old pope was advised by his doctor to go to the hospital for tests.

When asked if the pope lost consciousness, Father Lombardi told CNS, “Absolutely not.” And, he said, the pope walked to the car and into the hospital on his own two feet.

As of 11 a.m. Rome time, the pope was still in the emergency room and Father Lombardi expected him to return to the chalet in Les Combes in the early afternoon.

The spokesman said he had not yet spoken to the pope’s doctor Patrizio Polisca, who accompanied the pope to Les Combes, so he does not know if the pope’s wrist is in a cast or is simply wrapped and splinted.

The pope is scheduled to recite the Angelus Sunday with visitors gathered outside the parish church in Romano Canavese, a town about 50 miles away from the chalet. Father Lombardi said it was too early to know if that plan would change.

First moon landing had Catholics excited, wary for the future of space travel

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, the first manned spacecraft to land on the moon.

Astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin poses for a photo beside the U.S. flag during the first manned lunar landing in 1969. Pope Paul VI told astronaut Neil Armstrong that he was right on the mark in describing the Apollo 11 mission as "one giant leap for mankind." (NASA)

Astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin poses for a photo beside the U.S. flag during the first manned lunar landing in 1969. Pope Paul VI told astronaut Neil Armstrong that he was right on the mark in describing the Apollo 11 mission as "one giant leap for mankind." (NASA)

 Besides that whole “historic space exploration achievement” thing, the Apollo 11 mission was a monumental event for media — the live video feed from the moon walk was seen by an estimated 500 million people worldwide, the largest television audience at the time. (Although the possible destruction of those original recordings from the lunar cameras probably isn’t going to help change the minds of anyone who believes in the “moon landing hoax.”)

Thankfully, no one accidentally erased the 1969 archives of Catholic News Service. In articles carried by CNS — then called National Catholic News Service — that summer, Catholics’ excitement for the space mission was well-documented. The yellowing, brittle copies of stories we found in our library filled two manila folders labeled “Space Exploration.” They have headlines like “Monks sing ‘space hymn'” (July 19, 1969) and “Pope hails astronauts as ‘conquerors of the moon'” (July 21, 1969).

In the United States, Catholics gave the momentous occasion special attention at Mass. Parishes in Newark, N.J., included a special invocation for a successful mission in their prayer of the faithful, and Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston published a “Lunar Prayer.” Catholic church leaders celebrated a Mass at the Patrick Air Force Base after touring the Kennedy Space Center in the days before the launch.

Pope Paul VI was particularly excited about the moon landing, if his numerous glowing messages, audiences, and addresses are any indication. The Vatican even gave the space program a papal flag to leave on the surface of the moon, along with a message from Pope Paul VI.

“For the glory of the name of God, who gives men such power, we pray and wish well for this wondrous endeavor,” he hand-wrote alongside the text of Psalm 8.

In the following months, however, CNS reported that church leaders across the globe wondered whether the advances might repeat the problems of the last great technology boom, the Industrial Revolution, which some bishops believed created prosperity for certain groups and nations while exploiting or ignoring the rest of society.

“Scientific and technological progress is not always followed by comparable progress in the fields of morality, law and international cooperation,” said New Zealand Cardinal Peter McKeefry in August 1969.

Theologians and church leaders had been questioning the enormous cost of the programs since the start of the “space race.” Four years before the moon walk, CNS reported that German theologian and Jesuit Father Karl Rahner expressed his concern in a June 1965 interview with America magazine.

“I am always surprised to see how little the official church and other Christians have considered the moral implications of space travel,” he said.

“But we must still ask ourselves whether it is not moral vulgarity of a low order to pour out so many billions to send people to the moon, while at the same time we are faced with worldwide hunger.”

Nevertheless, the Rome bureau of CNS reported in October 1969 that Synod of Bishops awarded the three astronauts with a gold medal from the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and the pope praised the moon landing in a private audience with the astronauts.

“The standard of collaboration and cooperation, and the perfection which was reached … pay tribute to the capacity of modern man to reach beyond himself, to reach beyond human nature, to attain the perfection of achievement made possible by his God-given intelligence,” he said.

Video of Archbishop Di Noia’s ordination Mass

We had a story earlier this week on the ordination Mass for Archbishop J. Augustine Di Noia, an American Dominican priest recently appointed secretary of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. One of our summer interns, Jessie Abrams from Northwestern University, also captured the event in a video, shot at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception here in Washington.

As the story notes, the basilica was packed for the ceremony, which included a homily by Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Farewell to a Catholic journalist who suffered for his pen

Catholic journalists in the U.S. and Canada don’t spend much time thinking that they just might land in jail for what they write. About the worst thing that happens to us is that a reader takes issue with what we write or crazy bloggers go after us. Once in a while we get the sack. It’s easy to forget that the same can’t be said of our colleagues in other lands. They go to jail or worse, get killed.

One such heroic Catholic journalist died last week. We should note his passing.

Father Phero Truong Ba Can, longtime editor in chief of Vietnam’s Catholicism and The Nation magazine, died at 79. A funeral Mass was held for this great journalist in Ho Chi Minh City July 13 and drew thousands of mourners.

Father Can was born in 1930 in Vietnam and was ordained at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in 1958. After earning his doctoral degree, he returned to Vietnam and became editor of Face to Face. An article he penned, “25 Years of Socialism in the North,” earned him a nine-month stint in jail during the regime of President Nguyen Van Thieu.

Father Can was an ardent anti-war activist throughout the many years of conflict in Vietnam and remain committed to peace throughout his life. He fought for democracy and workers’ rights and against the torture of students during the Vietnam War and beyond. He thought Catholics in Vietnam should work for the welfare of their nation. It was a common theme in his writing.

In 2001, the International Catholic Union of the Press honored him with its Gold Award for lifetime achievement, though the award drew the ire of some Vietnamese Catholics.

Read a complete obituary on Father Can in CathNews Asia here and another by Tom Fox at NCR Online here.

Year for Priests: Serving African medical students a privilege

By Maryknoll Father Michael J. Snyder
One in a series

DAR ES SALAAM, Tananzia — It has been two and a half years since my return to Tanzania after 10 years of service in the U.S.  I had 20 years previous experience in this country.  This present assignment has brought me to Dar es Salaam and a new experience as chaplain at the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, the national medical university of Tanzania.

This medical school at Muhimbili Hospital was once the only one in Tanzania.  Formerly the School of Medicine of the University of Dar es Salaam, it had a student population of just 400 in the 1970s.  Today with a student body of 1,600 it stands alone.  Nearly 50 percent of the students are Catholic, a tribute to an historical emphasis placed on education by the Catholic Church.

Serving among them has been a privilege.  For some 60 students the day begins with Mass at 6:30 a.m. at our chapel.  Classes begin at 8:30 and continue right up to 5:00 p.m. with an hour and a half break for lunch.

I had heard that this is the cream of intelligentsia for the country and have come to learn how true it is.  The Catholic community at Muhimbili engages 40 students in different facets of leadership.  They take responsibility for accounts, banking, distribution of salaries, and organization of events and activities.  They are intelligent and mature yet maintain the spark and enthusiasm of youth.  If they are able to cope with the temptations that lead to corrupt practices and the lure to abandon Tanzania for lucrative jobs outside the country, these young people can make a tremendous contribution in the medical sector.

Maintaining the ideals and positive motivation of service is a major challenge facing them.  Perhaps the singular most interesting challenge for me as their chaplain can be described with a question:  How can the message of Christ alive within us nurture and prepare medical students for the sacrifices needed so that God’s hand may touch the thousands who seek them out for healing in a country where poverty prevails?

For the most part, the students are committed and want to help.  But they also have a right to a decent living.  They are smart and can see what is happening around them.  They have questions and they wonder how they will reconcile their faith with the desire for a decent living.  Salaries are low and resources scarce.  So, medical professionals are tempted to inflate their salaries by hoarding available services and charging patients extra for them.

Medical ethics is a major question.  In the classroom they are taught how to scientifically deal with illness.  They are given procedures that sometimes conflict with church teaching and wonder how they will be able to function as faithful Catholics in a medical system that promotes policies that are contrary to the church’s position.

I hope this gives you a little feel for what medical university campus ministry is all about in Tanzania.  Let me end with some comments from the students themselves when asked what the Catholic community at Muhimbili means to them:

* * *

I’m participating in the activities of my church because first I believe it is my responsibility to make my church active, and as I receive blessings from God everyday I also need to do something in return.  In addition to that, it gives me a sense of really belonging to the community.  I am happy to work with other members, as in doing so, I learn a lot about understanding myself and others and obtain skills on how to work well as a group anywhere in serving God.

– Cecelia Ngatunga (third-year medical student)

Praise the Lord!  The Muhimbili Catholic Community has enabled me to understand the meaning of love and humility in action, especially on Saturday evenings when we visit patients of different religions in the wards seeking to comfort them.  At our chapel people of different ages and medical professions are united together as the Muhimbili Catholic Community!

– George Alcard Rweyemamu (third-year medical student)

The advantage I see for being a member of the Muhimbili Catholic Community are the spiritual services offered, such as daily Mass.  I also value the church activities, especially the seminars and volunteer opportunities such as visiting the sick.  Finally, I enjoy socializing with different people that build me spiritually.

– Valeria Rugaiganisa (third-year nursing student)

* * *

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.

‘Rome, sweet home’

For New Orleans Catholic editor Peter Finney, a planned assignment to go to Rome cover his new archbishop — Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond — as he received his pallium June 29 from Pope Benedict XVI turned out to be a frustrating journey that took him only as far as Atlanta and back home again.

In his column in the July 11 issue of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the New Orleans Archdiocese, Finney describes his frustrating experience with a generous dose  of good humor.

“Fifty-six hours and three canceled airplane flights later, I had made it as far as Atlanta 400 miles away, a 7 mph pace that easily could have been matched by a B-list Kenyan runner with tender bunions,” he writes.

A postscript to Malia and Sasha’s Vatican visit

VATICAN CITY — While neither the Vatican nor the White House released photographs of Pope Benedict XVI with Malia and Sasha Obama, the Vatican newspaper published a couple more details about their Vatican visit.


Michelangelo's Last Judgment (CNS)

While their father was meeting privately with Pope Benedict, the girls and their mother were greeted by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state.

The newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, said Cardinal Bertone gave Sasha, 7, a puzzle of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel and Malia, 10, a Vatican Museums watch. In addition, he gave both girls a cap with Pope Benedict’s coat of arms on it.

While there are no public photos of the girls inside the Apostolic Palace, photographers did get a glimpse of Sasha’s bare feet while she was waiting for her parents to finish up their meeting with the pope and a photo of the whole family boarding Air Force One to Ghana immediately after the meeting.

The US background of John Paul’s synagogue visit


Pope John Paul was welcomed to the Rome synagogue by Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano)

VATICAN CITY — Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony apparently was partially responsible for Pope John Paul II’s historic 1986 visit to Rome’s main synagogue.

Today’s issue of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, contains a long interview with Cardinal Jorge Mejia, 86, a pioneer in Catholic-Jewish dialogue, former secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the retired head of the Vatican Secret Archives and Vatican Library.

When preparations were being made for the pope’s visit to the synagogue, the future cardinal was secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Relations with the Jews. The newspaper asked the cardinal how it came about that Pope John Paul was the first modern pope to visit a Jewish synagogue.

Cardinal Mejia

Cardinal Jorge Mejia in 2001 (CNS/Catholic Northwest Progress)

He said that he was invited to one of Pope John Paul’s famous working lunches where the topic was planning for the pope’s 1987 visit to the United States. Cardinal Mejia said he didn’t know why he had been invited.

“Among other things, the pope said that the archbishop of Los Angeles (then-Archbishop Mahony) proposed visiting a synagogue in the city,” he said.

When the pope asked his opinion, “I said that if he was going to visit a synagogue, he should start with the one in Rome, the diocese of the pope,” the cardinal said. “John Paul II asked me if, in my opinion, that was possible.”

Cardinal Mejia said he called Rabbi Elio Toaff, the chief rabbi of Rome, to ask about the idea and the rabbi responded by quoting Psalm 118, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Pope John Paul visited the synagogue April 13, 1986.

During his Sept. 10-19, 1987, trip to the United States, he met representatives of the U.S. Jewish community at a cultural center in Miami, but not at a synagogue anywhere. In Los Angeles other Jewish leaders were part of a group who participated in an interreligious encounter with the pope at the Japanese Cultural Center.

Year for Priests: How not to feel overwhelmed

By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series

Some of the more humorous conversations I have had with other priests concern the things we wished they would have taught us in seminary, but never did.

Most of us spend at least five years in seminary contemplating the mysteries of the faith and learning how to celebrate the various sacraments, but we are never exposed to construction and re-construction terminology, finance and investments, volunteer management, or the basics of communication and technology (to name just a few).  While I have also struggled with these issues, one of the greatest challenges I have found as a new priest concerns the politics that accompanies the organizational and administrative qualities of ministry.  As I have discussed these issues with others, I have found that the politics and more “human” elements of priesthood are difficult for many new priests to accept.

To be sure, all priests hold one piece of advice in common  — at some point near ordination, we have all been assured that we are ready, despite the overwhelming feeling that we are not.  “Who am I to (fill in the blank)” is a phrase that goes through the head of every priest with whom I have spoke as they contemplate what lies in front of them.

To this question, the answer is simple — the priest is who he is because of God and what God will do through him.  The practical challenge this recognition presents often lies in the finer points of ministry and control.  I have found that “allowing God to work through” versus “God being present in” is a subtle, but significant difference that I am not sure I will ever master.

One of my favorite paragraphs of Scripture comes from the First Letter of Peter where it suggests that we always be ready to give witness to our hope (1 Pt 3:13-17).  In fact, this entire book offers Christians practical wisdom and focus as to how we might overcome the sufferings and smallness of spirit in our lives.  And it is in these thoughts, where I find comfort — my role is to speak about the goodness of God.  Though I may be overwhelmed by the tasks in front of me and tempted by the gossip and negativity that surrounds me, the discipline I must practice focuses on the hope and happiness I find in ministry.

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.

The busy, busy White House beat

It’s been a big couple of weeks for Catholic news connected to the White House.

An interview with President Barack Obama, a gathering of the President’s Council on Faith-Based and Community Partnerships, the meeting last Friday between the president and Pope Benedict XVI, and, today, the opening of confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor and the announcement that Dr. Regina Benjamin has been nominated as surgeon general.  Both women are Catholic, though Sotomayor apparently has not been particularly active in a church recently.

President Barack Obama holds a round-table briefing with journalists from the Catholic press and the Washington Post in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington July 2. (CNS/White House)

President Barack Obama holds a round-table briefing with journalists from the Catholic press and the Washington Post in the Roosevelt Room of the White House July 2. (CNS/White House)

The round-table interview President Barack Obama gave to eight religion reporters and editors on July 2 was itself a goldmine of material.

We at CNS had separate stories about the president’s clarification of his intentions on a federal conscience clause for health care workers; his family’s quest for a church in Washington; discussion of his efforts to get pro-life and pro-choice camps working together on abortion reduction and on his hopes for his meeting with Pope Benedict the following week.

That last theme was the announced point of the press event, scheduled as a lead-in to the meeting with the pope, the two leaders’ first in-person encounter, which took place July 10 at the end of Obama’s visit to Italy for the G-8 summit.

Most of us in the interview at least tried to frame our questions in light of something related to Pope Benedict. However, as Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen points out in his blog on America magazine’s Web site, most of the questions were ultimately about U.S. domestic issues.

Some of our clients have asked me whether the interview was just so much spin, intended to boost Obama’s image among Catholics before the papal meeting. Of course something like that was part of what the White House had in mind. And everyone in the Roosevelt Room knew it.

But there were no restrictions on what we asked. The president took on all our questions — papal meeting-related and not — and answered them in depth, demonstrating a good grasp of why the issues we raised are important to our readers.

In the end, the round table served all our interests. Seven Catholic publications, none of which has the capability to staff the White House press room on a full-time basis (and a religion writer for the Washington Post who also doesn’t usually cover the White House), got our first access to the president. He was gracious and very engaged in our discussion.

No such meetings with religion media — at least none that included the mainstream Catholic press — ever took place during the administration of President George W. Bush.

President Bill Clinton had the Catholic press in once for a similar round table and on a second occasion I was included with religion reporters from various denominational press for another group interview.

The round table on July 2 was a part of outreach to religion media — and to religious leaders in general — that has far exceeded efforts of any presidential administration in the nearly two decades I’ve been on this beat.

Though there are surely detractors, this approach apparently has the backing of many on the White House staff.

One of those executive staff members, Denis McDonough, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, accompanied Obama on his visit to the Vatican, briefing reporters before and after the meeting with the pope.

But much of the groundwork in making arrangements and briefing the president before the meeting was the work of Obama’s main Catholic adviser, Mark Linton.

Though Linton’s official job is at the office for faith-based outreach at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, he’s continued to serve the role he had during the presidential campaign, as a liaison between Obama and Catholic leaders and communities.

Given the course of interactions with the Catholic Church in these first six months — from the uproar over Obama’s commencement address at Notre Dame to the reversal of the Mexico City policy on funding for family planning organizations, from ongoing collaboration between church-based organizations on immigration and health care legislation to the visit to the Vatican — Linton has more than had his work cut out for him.

Amid all that, I’m glad he remembered to invite the Catholic press in for a chat with the president.


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