A papal crown makes for not-quite-perfect gift

VATICAN CITY — A gift can be appreciated and used even when it’s not perfect. That seems to be what happened last Sunday when a different papal coat of arms appeared on a tapestry hung from the window of Pope Benedict XVI’s apartment. 

A closeup of the tapestry used Sunday, featuring the tiara. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano)

The Catholic blogosphere has been abuzz since Sunday with images, questions and opinions about the tapestry because it featured a crown or tiara topping the crest, rather than the miter Pope Benedict chose — apparently very intentionally — when he was elected in 2005. 

“The pope’s coat of arms has not changed. It is what was explained at the beginning of his pontificate,” Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told Catholic News Service this morning. 

The 2005 explanation of the elements of the pope’s crest — including the decision to replace the traditional tiara with a bishop’s miter — is available  on the Vatican website

The tapestry featuring the pope's official coat of arms -- with a miter. (CNS/Paul Haring)

“The Holy Father Benedict XVI decided not to include the tiara in his official personal coat of arms. He replaced it with a simple miter, which is not, therefore, surmounted by a small globe and cross as was the tiara. The papal miter shown in his arms, to recall the symbolism of the tiara, is silver and bears three bands of gold (the three powers: Orders, Jurisdiction and Magisterium), joined at the centre to show their unity in the same person.” 

Father Lombardi said Sunday’s tapestry — the one with the tiara — was a gift, hung “without any intention of changing the crest.” 

He also said, “If it is used again, it will be modified” to match the pope’s official coat of arms, featuring the miter.

Mass closes Port-au-Prince hospital damaged in earthquake

The devastated St. Francis de Sales Hospital hosted its final event today: a Mass to say goodbye and remember the 70 people who died when a wing housing the pediatric unit collapsed during the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Bishop Joseph Lafontant, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince, and Archbishop Bernardito Auza, papal nuncio, concelebrated the Mass on the grounds of the crumpled facility.

Plans call for building a modern 200-bed facility on the site, said Anna Van Rooyen, chief of party, health and HIV for Catholic Relief Services. She is working with the hospital staff in the rebuilding effort.

Plans call for construction to begin some time after the first anniversary of  the quake and take at least 18 months, Van Rooyen told CNS.

Despite sustaining serious damage, St. Francis de Sales Hospital remained open and its staff accepted patients immediately after the earthquake. Gallant staff members treated seriously injured patients under harsh conditions in tents set up in an outdoor courtyard for months. Equipment and beds were salvaged from what was left standing.

The hospital closed last month so it could move to a temporary location in Cazeau, north of the international airport and about 12 miles from the old facility in the center of the Haitian capital. Still working under tents, but in a more orderly setting, the staff is treating up to120 patients at any one time.

Teen provided translation for Verdi’s ‘Requiem’

Our Oct. 8 story on the concert-drama “Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin” has a few side notes which deserve mention. Although the language of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Requiem” — primarily a funeral Mass — was unfamiliar to the Jewish concentration camp prisoners who performed it more than 16 times while in the Nazi prison camp in Terezin, Czeckoslovakia, in 1943-44, they knew exactly what the words of the choral work meant — thanks to a young translator.

Conductor Murry Sidlin leads rehearsal of 'Requiem' at former Nazi camp. (CNS photo from CUA)

Murry Sidlin, who is former dean of the music school at  The Catholic University of America and the creator and conductor of “Defiant Requiem,” told Catholic News Service that the choir was singing what they couldn’t say to their captors and giving hope to fellow prisoners — and all  from a Latin text. The prisoners had insight into these Latin phrases about liberation and God’s judgment, because of  a teenage girl in the camp who had converted to Catholicism and was familiar with Latin. According to Sidlin, the young girl met with the camp’s conductor, Rafael Schaechter, to provide the translation of the work. She survived the camps and went on to become a Carmelite nun. She died a few years ago.

Another note: Verdi’s “Requiem” — honoring the famous novelist and poet Alessandro Manzoni, who died in 1873 — was first performed in Milan in 1874.  Sidlin suspects that Verdi — “the political animal he was” — would have been honored that his work found new life in rehearsals in the dark basement at a concentration camp and the multiple public performances there.

“If he knew they had reached out to his work from a concentration camp, he would be on bended knees in tears with humility,” said Sidlin, who has made it part of his life’s work to give credit to this group of singers and their conductor for fighting their captivity with music.

What’s your take on the Orthodox-Catholic consultation vision statement?

A vision for what the unity of the Orthodox and Catholic churches might look like was offered by the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation earlier this month. CNS published a story Oct. 8 that looked at what the consultation had to offer for consideration.

In one of the documents developed during a meeting that ended Oct. 2, members of the consultation laid out their thoughts on issues such as the primacy of the pope and suggestions upon which to build a “worldwide ecclesial communion.” Topics addressed included acceptance of each church’s diversity and continuing traditions and practices and the selection or election of bishops.

A second document looked at using advanced scientific instruments to calculate the date of Easter so the entire Christian world can celebrate the resurrection of Christ on the same day. Only rarely does the celebration of Easter in the Latin and Orthodox churches correspond. One such time is in 2011 when both churches celebrate Easter April 24.

What do you think of the vision of the consultation? What will unity between the Catholic and Orthodox churches mean? How soon can unity occur? Are there too many differences to overcome?

It’s not all ‘Greek’

Editor’s Note: CNS staffer Mark Pattison traveled to the Holy Land in September as part of a study tour sponsored by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and funded in part by the Catholic Communication Campaign. We will highlight his trip as the Vatican prepares for the Oct. 10-24 Synod of Bishops for the Middle East.

If you go to the Holy Land and talk to Christians in the region, you will be apt to hear a lot of talk about “Greek” Catholics.

Greek is the term that people in the region use to identify Eastern Catholics. In my recent visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Greek Catholics were usually Melkite Catholics, although in other parts of the Middle East, Chaldeans or Maronites might predominate. Eastern Catholics constitute a majority of Christians in the Holy Land. Melkite is just one of 22 Eastern rites in communion with Rome. More on that later.

The term “Eastern Catholic churches” is used for Catholic churches with origins in Eastern Europe, Asia or Africa that have their own distinctive liturgical and legal systems and are identified by the national or ethnic character of their region of orgin. The term “Greek Catholic” is used colloquially in the Middle East to differentiate between these Catholics and “Greek Orthodox,” who constitute a majority of Christians in the Holy Land.

After the Great Schism of 1054 separating the Catholic Church and the Orthodox, the Orthodox generally organized their church around national identity. That holds true today. In addition to Greek Orthodox, you may see Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, and a number of other Orthodox churches, each one with its own institutional autonomy.

If you were go to an Orthodox liturgy and witness its “Greek Catholic” counterpart, you would be hard pressed to find any significant differences in worship. The principal difference is outside the church building; Eastern Catholics profess their loyalty to the bishop of Rome, the pope, but the Orthodox do not do so.

One  difference that does exist is the date of major feasts. Often, major feasts are several days, if not weeks, apart from each other. Leaders in each tradition have often pointed to this as a sorrowful source a scandal to Christians everywhere.

Roman Catholics, for instance, celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25. The Orthodox do not celebrate this feast until Jan. 7.  However, many Eastern Catholics observe the feast of Theophany, when God in human form made himself manifest to other humans; this is a holy day of obligation in the Eastern Catholic calendar.

Easter has proven problematic as well. There are a few times when both Catholic and Orthodox celebrate Easter on the same day. But when it is not celebrated jointly, the Orthodox Easter is almost always later than the Catholic Easter.

Efforts have been made at arriving at a common date for Easter, but they have yet to bear fruit. An even stickier situation has been to set a fixed date for Easter.

In the Palestinian territories, the general agreement in place made is that Christians celebrate Christmas on the Catholic date of Dec. 25, but Easter on the Orthodox date — for 2011 on April 24, same as for Latin-rite Catholics.

And, now for those Eastern churches in communion with the see of Peter. There are five families or groupings for the 22 Eastern churches. They are:

Alexandrian: Coptic and Ethiopian churches.

Antiochene: Syro-Malankara, Syrian and Maronite churches.

Armenian: Armenian church.

Byzantine (often used in North America as a synonym for “Eastern”): Albanian, Belarussian, Bulgarian, Georgian,  Greek, Hungarian, Italo-Albanian, Melkite, Romanian, Russian, American Ruthenian, Slovak, Ukrainian and Yugoslav churches.

Chaldean: Chaldean and Syro-Malabar churches.

Saving energy in an arid land

Editor’s Note: CNS staffer Mark Pattison traveled to the Holy Land in September as part of a study tour sponsored by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and funded in part by the Catholic Communication Campaign. We will highlight his trip as the Vatican prepares for the Oct. 10-24 Synod of Bishops for the Middle East.

Israelis and Palestinians (and many of their neighbors) have been fighting or squabbling over the land both proclaim as their home for more than 60 years.

The Holy Land may be flowing with milk and honey, but not oil. Israelis and Palestinians have had the bad luck to claim one of the few oil-free patches of the Middle East as their homeland. How does that play itself out in real life?

Virgually every light fixture within sight in Israel and Palestine (and nearby Jordan, too) has been outfitted with a compact fluorescent bulb, which gives close to the same level of light as incandescent bulbs for a fraction of the energy usage.

If you want to buy a car in Israel, the tax the buyer pays exceeds the car’s cost. That ought to be enough to curb driving. If not, the price of gas at Israeli service stations started at about six-and-a-half shekels, the Israeli unit of currency, for a liter (a little bit more than a quart). Translated into U.S. currency, that comes to $7.25 a gallon.

Water, though, is a more contentious issue. Palestinians have charged that Israelis have diverted more than 80 percent of the water that flows through their territory to help slake the thirst of Israelis within the nation’s accepted boundaries, plus the more than 120 settlements built on land confiscated from the Palestinians. While the infrastructure is there to route water through Palestinian cities and villages, Israel controls the spigot. Many towns have to do without water two days a week. Some must go without even longer. According to Maria Khoury, wife of the mayor of Taybeh, West Bank, one nearby town is so parched that she knows when the water is running when she sees the village women hanging out their clothes to dry.

Pope to visit Europe’s oldest republic in 2011

VATICAN CITY — The pope will travel “abroad” next year to the tiny republic of San Marino. I say “abroad” because even though the 24-square-mile republic is located inside Italy, it’s an autonomous European nation. The Italian eastern coastal resort, Rimini, is about 10 miles away.

A Vatican source today confirmed reports  saying Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to spend the day June 19, 2011, in the diocese of San Marino-Montefeltro. Montefeltro, however, is on Italian territory. How often does that happen, that a diocese spans two countries?

At this point, the pope’s only other confirmed trip outside Italy is to Madrid in August for the celebration of World Youth Day 2011.


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