Vatican posts Villanova virtual tour of St. Peter’s Basilica

VATICAN CITY — If you want to explore every nook and cranny of St. Peter’s Basilica but don’t want to fight the crowds, just click here on the Vatican website.

The Villanova team checks images they shot in January in St. Peter's Basilica. (CNS/Paul Haring)

The Villanova team checks images shot in January in St. Peter's Basilica. (CNS/Paul Haring)

A team of faculty and students from Pennsylvania’s Villanova University spent hours shooting hundreds of photos of the basilica and months digitally stitching them together so the Vatican could put a virtual tour of the world’s largest Christian church online.

The virtual tour of St. Peter’s is the fifth Villanova project released by the Vatican. You can also use your computer to tour the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls and the Sistine Chapel.

In England, paying to see the pope

Catholics in England will have to pay to attend some events during Pope Benedict XVI’s Sept. 16-19 trip to Scotland and England, according to reports in our client paper in London, the Catholic Herald. Catholics will pay 25 pounds ($39) to attend the beatification Mass at Birmingham’s Cofton Park Sept. 19, and the 1,000 priests concelebrating also will have to pay. Attendees at the Sept. 18 vigil at London’s Hyde Park will pay 10 pounds. Read the reasoning behind ticket distribution and prices.

In Washington, Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the U.S. bishops’ media relations director who has been involved in the planning of three papal trips, said no admission was ever charged for the U.S. events.

In Britain, since tickets will be hard to come by, Catholics are being encouraged to line the streets to see Pope Benedict.

Hike for Sudan — the sprint to Katahdin

Chris O’Keefe, the former Salesian volunteer who is thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail to raise money for a Catholic diocese in Southern Sudan, is making his final sprint to the finish — 422.2 miles in 17 days.

AT thru-hiker Chris O'Keefe

O’Keefe began his backpacking journey of nearly 2,200 miles in Georgia in February, hoping to finish in late May.  He was forced to hike and snowshoe through heavy snow and had to leave the trail temporarily in April with shin splints. This summer, he left the trail to take a class at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he will resume classes later this summer.

Carrying a base pack that weighs only eight pounds, including his sleeping bag but excluding food, O’Keefe hopes to average about 26 miles a day through the mountains of New England, reaching the northern part of the Appalachian Trail — Mount Katahdin, Maine — Aug. 9 or 10.

He has redesigned his website — www.hikeforsudan.org — to contain more information on Sudan. You also can follow his progress or make a donation on the site.

Catholic Worker returns to Davenport, Iowa, after 20 years

Michael Gayman stands in front of a home he purchased in Davenport, Iowa, to open as a Catholic Worker house of hospitality. (CNS/The Catholic Messenger)

The Catholic Worker Movement, often described as a rag-tag effort to live out the Gospel precept of love of neighbor, has returned to Davenport, Iowa.

Michael Gayman, decided to purchase a house and offer hospitality after spending more than two years with a Catholic Worker community in California and deciding to return to eastern Iowa to be closer to family.

Barb Arland-Fye, editor of the Catholic Messenger, newspaper of the Davenport Diocese, reports that it’s been 20 years since a Catholic Worker house has been open in Davenport.

The house will be named the Oaks of Mamre Catholic Worker. Its name is connected to the story in Genesis (18:1-16) in which Abraham extends generous hospitality toward three strangers, not realizing that one of the three is God. Abraham’s compassionate act occurred near the great oaks of Mamre.

“We aim to keep alive hospitality as an ancient sacred code of conduct,” Gayman said in a letter to friends. “We will be offering food, and a place to rest along life’s journey.”

Pope’s summer program

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy — How does the pope spend his vacation? Most people would be right when they guess: reading, writing, playing the piano, walking, and praying. But who knew he also likes to feed the goldfish at one of the artificial pools in the gardens of the papal summer residence?

Thanks to footage released to news agencies by the Vatican Television Center, we got a sneak peek of some of the things the pope has been doing since he began his month-long vacation July 7 in this beautiful mountain town about 20 miles south of Rome.

The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, also published a rundown of the pope’s summer program just a few days ago saying the pope was enjoying a relaxing period dedicated to prayer and reflection. It said he also sets aside time to listen to or play music and take long walks in the afternoons with his personal secretary, Msgr. Georg Ganswein.

Because all public and private audiences have been suspended until Aug. 4, the pope has been able to catch up on a number of projects, most importantly, beginning work on his third and final volume of “Jesus of Nazareth.”

He’s also going through stacks of mail and preparing talks he will be giving on his upcoming trips to the United Kingdom, Sept. 16-19; Palermo, Oct. 3; and Spain, Nov. 6-7.

He’s also preparing for the Oct. 10-24 special Synod of Bishops on the Middle East as well as the apostolic exhortation from the World Synod of Bishops on the Bible.

Among the few special guests the pope will receive at the papal summer residence include his secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and the pope’s brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger.

From Aug. 28-29, the pope will host his traditional “Ratzinger Schulerkreis” (Ratzinger student circle) with former students of his. This year the topic will be the hermeneutic of Vatican II, a theme the pope talked about in his address to the Roman Curia Dec. 22, 2005. Here’s another interesting take on the topic.

Helping light the night for cancer research

The latest issue of the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington, Va., highlights a little boy who is suffering from leukemia.

According to the story by Dave Borowski, 8-year-old Tomas Nichols has endured more than two years of spinal taps, chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants and more. That’s almost more than an adult could endure, but  Tomas is persevering and not just for himself: He’s helping raise money to fund cancer research.

His parents say their school and church communities have been a big support for the family. “Our faith helps us as a family,” says his mom, Lenka. With what Tomas and his family are going through, “all the little things in life that you thought were important are not important,” adds his dad, Paul.

Maryknoll ends financial support of School of Americas Watch

Excommunicated Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois’ support for the ordination of women to the priesthood has cost the School of the Americas Watch $17,000 in funding annually from his religious order.

Citing Father Bourgeois’ continued involvement with the advocacy organization that has worked for 20 years to close the U.S. Army’s Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas, the order’s superior general said in a recent statement it did not want to appear to support the priest’s views by supporting SOA Watch.

“The decision is not intended to be punitive and is not designed to put pressure on Father Bourgeois or on the SOA Watch organization and its activities,” Maryknoll Father Edward Dougherty, superior general, said. “Maryknoll continues its solidarity with the people of Latin America and the Caribbean, and is unambiguous in its support of the goals of the SOA Watch.”

Father Dougherty met with Father Bourgeois May 24 to convey the society’s decision.

Maryknoll spokesman James McCullough said the order was not pressured by church officials to end the SOA Watch funding.

Father Bourgeois was excommunicated “latae sententiae” — automatically -– in 2008 for not recanting his public statements supporting the ordination of women. The church teaches that, for several fundamental reasons, the church is unable to ordain women.  Although he was excommunicated, Father Bourgeois remains a member of the Maryknoll community.

Hendrick Voss, SOA Watch’s communications coordinator, said the economic hit is significant on the SOA Watch’s $360,000 annual budget.

“We have had a good relationship with Maryknoll since the School of Americas Watch started,” Voss told Catholic News Service. “So we were saddened that Maryknoll would let the personal opinions and personal observations of Father Roy lead to a cut in funds.”

Father Bourgeois, who founded SOA Watch in 1990, first gained the attention of Vatican officials after participating in a reported ordination sponsored by Roman Catholic WomenPriests Aug. 9, 2008, in Lexington, Ky. In a meeting with his Maryknoll superiors after the ceremony, he received a canonical warning related to his role. At the time, Father Bourgeois said he had no intention of participating in any other such event.

He has maintained that his beliefs are based on his understanding of justice and equality as expressed in the Gospel and has repeatedly called on the church to turn away from the “sin of sexism.” In new norms issued July 15 the Vatican declared the attempted ordination of women  major church crime. 

The school, which trains soldiers from throughout Latin America, has been targeted for closing by SOA Watch, which was founded after the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter on the campus of the University of Central America in San Salvador, El Salvador, by members of country’s military. SOA Watch has tied graduates of the school to atrocities in Latin America.

Voss said efforts are under way to raise money to cover the lost funding. The organization has raised more than $4,000 toward the effort to date. The loss will not affect plans for thousands of people to gather for the annual vigil Nov. 20-21 at the gates of Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., calling for the school’s closing, Voss said.

Relics of Blessed Mother Teresa touring US, Canada

As we and other Catholic press outlets have reported, relics of Blessed Mother Teresa are being hosted by a number of U.S. and Canadian cities on a tour that is part of a number of worlwide events taking place this year to mark the birth centenary of the founder of the Missionaries of Charity.

One recent stop for the relics — which include Mother Teresa’s sandals and rosary, was the Cathedral of St. Paul in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Check out this slide show on the website of  The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper.

The debate continues on abortion and health care

Anyone who closely followed the debate in March over whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act did or did not leave open the possibility of federal funding of abortion will want to read this new analysis by Helen Alvare, a law professor at George Mason University who served in the 1990s as director of planning and information for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. Alvare addresses point by point the arguments raised by Timothy Jost of Washington and Lee University School of Law in his rebuttal of the USCCB legal analysis of the health reform plan and takes Commonweal magazine to task for relying too heavily on Jost.

This is a debate likely to continue for a while. Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the USCCB pro-life committee, said recently that constant vigilance will be needed as the health reform law is implemented to be sure no federal funds go to pay for abortions.  We wrote about his comments here.

Alvare concludes that the USCCB’s stand that the health reform plan “fell morally short remains measurably more convincing than Commonweal’s and Jost’s conclusion that the bishops were too scrupulous and alarmist in their reading” of the bill. Read her full article here and see whether you agree.

Follow-up: Both Commonweal and Jost have issued lengthy responses to Alvare’s article. You can read them here and here.

Pax Christi calls for celebrations to mark Convention on Cluster Munitions

Remnants of a cluster bomb discovered in Bosnia-Herzegovina. (CNS/Damir Atikovic, Norwegian People's Aid)

The Convention on Cluster Munitions enters into force Aug. 1.

The agreement, which prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster munitions, was seen as a milestone among disarmament proponents when it was adopted by 107 countries meeting in Dublin in 2008.

Since then, countries have been formally considering the convention. To date, 106 countries have signed it and 37 more have ratified it. Noticeably missing from the list are China, India, Iran, Israel, Russia, Pakistan, Syria and the United States.

Pax Christi International is calling particular attention to the convention. The Catholic peace organization, based in Brussels, Belgium, is asking parishes and local to celebrate the historic pact by educating others about the agreement.

Proponents of the ban said that banning cluster munitions protects civilians from unacceptable harm because such weapons are inaccurate and unreliable when used. Handicap International reports that 98 percent of victims of cluster munitions are civilians.

Cluster munitions are large weapons that carry dozens or even hundreds of small bombs. When deployed from the air or the ground, the “bomblets” scatter over a wide area and do not distinguish between civilian and military targets, critics say. In many cases, significant numbers of the mini-bombs fail to explode and land in open areas where children can find them or adults can step on them, causing them to go off and inflict serious injury.

The convention culminated a long campaign coordinated by the Cluster Munition Coalition, a network of 200 civil society groups including nongovernment organizations, faith-based groups and professional organizations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations.

Pax Christi International is a coalition member.

The coalition continues its work to ban cluster munitions around the world through educational programs and grass-roots organizing.

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