Things the pope will and won’t see in Cuba when he visits

The effects of Communist rule and the longstanding U.S. trade embargo make for an interesting societal landscape in Cuba — one that’s unfamiliar to many visitors. CNS correspondent Patricia Zapor and I, back from a recent visit to the island, compiled this list of things the pope will and won’t see when he is there.

Won’t See:

The back bumper of a vintage Buick Eight Special in Old Havana. (CNS/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

  • Mobile phones
  • New churches
  • American cars (post 1950s)
  • Commercial advertising
  • Good beer selection
  • The iPad
  • Fast-food joints
  • Church schools
  • Beef
  • Wealthy homes

Will See:

  • Phone booths
  • Old churches
  • Classic cars
  • Cigars
  • Rum
  • Free live music
  • Bicycle taxis
  • Baseball fans
  • Pork and chicken
  • Friendly people

World Water Day: More work than turning on the tap

Residents in Gukakot, South Sudan, have access to clean water since the installation of three wells in their village in January. (Courtesty Isaac's Wells)

Imagine having to walk an hour or more to a river, the only water source around, filling a couple of large jugs and then trudging back home over rocky ground or on a well-worn path through dense underbrush so your family can have something to drink and cook with for the day. Then imagine doing it again tomorrow, the day after, the day after that and every day.

That’s the reality for millions of people around the world. The United Nations said in February that 787 million people — 11 percent of the world’s population — have no access to safe, clean water and are at risk of contracting a water-borne illness or disease on any given day.

Today, the U.N.’s World Water Day calls attention to the importance of managing and sustaining fresh water for everyone. While the most vulnerable may be those who struggle to find safe water sources daily, they are not the only people at risk. Water supplies anywhere can face assaults from pollution and lack of sustainability to shortages caused by climate change.

The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace recognizes the importance of water as well. In a statement, “Water an Essential Element of Life,” timed for the Sixth World Water Forum March 12-17 in Marseille, France, the council said access to water is a human right and must not be made into a for-profit commodity dependent on market forces.

“There persists an excessively commercial conception of water which runs the risk of mistaking it for just another kind of merchandise and making investments for the sake of profit alone, without taking into account water’s worth” as a public good, the council said.

“There is a risk of not seeing one’s brothers and sisters as human beings possessing the right to a dignified existence, but rather seeing them as simply customers,” which leads to making water and sanitation available only to those who can pay, the council added.

Numerous development agencies and nonprofit groups also recognize that water is a human right and have sponsored water projects in some of the most isolated communities around the world.

In places such as South Sudan, water is an especially critical need.

Aleu Akot, one of the thousands of lost boys of Sudan who fled their homeland in the 1990s during the height of the country’s civil war and landed in the United States, has helped bring water to his village of Gukakot in Warab state.

Through Isaac’s Wells, a small organization based in Cleveland, the community now has three newly drilled wells. Akot said the project allows people who fled the region during the civil war to return to their homeland and live in peace.

“The people all around, they are very happy,” he told Catholic News Service from the home of Jackie Tuckerman, co-director of Isaac’s Wells. “One well will feed 2,000, 3,000 people in that area. Before they traveled to get water, and the water wasn’t clean. They still travel very far, but they will travel and get clean water there.”

That’s a far cry from what most of us experience. All we need to do is turn on the nearest tap.

Vatican Museums to offer visits under the stars

ImageVATICAN CITY — If you are planning a trip to Rome in the early summer or fall, then you may want to take advantage of visiting the Vatican Museums at night.

For the fourth straight year, the museums will be opening its doors to the public every Friday night from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. starting May 4.

The museums’ director, Antonio Paolucci, spearheaded the nighttime initiative in 2009 as a way to give Rome residents a chance to see a part of their heritage and identity.

Because the museumsclose Monday through Saturday at 6 p.m. and at 2 p.m. on the one Sunday a month they are open, local residents who work or go to school find it hard to fight the lines and see the museums.

But there is no reason tourists can’t take advantage of the extended hours, too, to not only avoid the lines but to get a whole different perspective of the museums and its art under the stars.

The museums’ normal schedule is Monday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Friday night openings, which must be booked in advance online, will be in effect from May 4 to July 13 and then pick up again Sept. 7 to run until Oct. 26.

Do check out the Vatican Museums’ website to see what special exhibits and initiatives are on offer. They offer a treasure hunt option for kids called the Family Tour.  With an audio guide (in English, Italian or Spanish) and map, families are led on a special itinerary where kids can solve some mysteries, answer riddles and hunt for some of the Vatican’s artistic treasures.

U.S. bishop featured by Canadian Catholic TV network

Our friends at Salt + Light TV in Toronto recently spoke with Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City for its series of one-on-one interviews called “Witness.”  Bishop Wester is the new chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Communications and a former chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Migration.

As the only Catholic bishop in Utah, he also is at the forefront of Catholicism’s relationship with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So topics he discusses here include the differences between his native San Francisco and his current home city and how the Catholic Church and the Mormon community both emphasize family values and care for the poor. He also speaks eloquently on immigration reform and on contemporary challenges for the church in modern communications.

Despite loss, NAC Martyrs lead division


Seminarians from the Pontifical North American College cheer from the stands during the Clericus Cup in Rome March 3. (CNS photo/Paul Haring).

ROME — The Pontifical North American College is still leading its division in the Clericus Cup soccer series even though it lost in a shootout over the weekend.

The NAC Martyrs played on Saturday against Santa Maria della Riconciliazione, which has a number of Latin American and U.S. players.

Organizers of the the seminarian soccer series reported that the game got off to a slow start, but that the NAC put on the pressure in the second half.

Several missed shots-on-goal by both sides in the second half left the score 0-0. According to the Clericus Cup’s modified rules, a tie after regular play is broken with a shootout rather than by continuing  play with overtime and the Santa Maria team won 3-2.

However, because of a previous big win against Redemptoris Mater and Santa Maria’s loss to St. Paul’s College, the NAC are number one in their division with four points.

How our video on tap-dancing seminarian came to be

By Robert Duncan
Catholic News Service

ROME — I briefly met David Rider two years ago in New York City while on retreat at the archdiocesan seminary. I was surprised to run into him on the streets of Rome last spring. He was wearing clerics and I gave him one of those “don’t-I-know-you-from-somewhere” finger wags. Since then, we’ve run into each other often, he going to and from class at the Pontifical Gregorian University and I all about the city with my camera, on the job.

I’m a lover of the old Fred Astaire movies and all the great show tunes of his day, so when I discovered that Rider had left theater to give his life to the priesthood, I asked him to talk about all that jazz on camera. I hope the video I’ve produced pays homage to both the quintessential American art form and to Rider’s vocation story.

Robert Duncan is a multimedia journalist in the Catholic News Service Rome bureau.

New clearinghouse for doctrinal congregation’s documents


Screen grab from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's new website

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has unveiled a new webpage listing the major public documents and decisions it has issued since 1966 plus key commentaries.

It has separate categories for doctrinal and disciplinary documents and documents dealing with sacramental questions.

It also lists important speeches and statements issued since 1983 by the last two prefects of the congregation: U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada and then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

The series of volumes “Documenti e Studi” will only be helpful to folks who can read Italian. It’s a list of volumes published by the Vatican publishing house of the congregation’s major documents and proceedings of various symposia the congregation has organized.

Some choice documents in the archives:

Pope Benedict’s ‘amazing’ energy, attentiveness

Our Rome bureau talked to Archbishop Jerome G. Hanus, who this month took part in his fifth “ad limina” trip to Rome. The visits are to report to the pope and other Vatican agencies on the status of their dioceses and to pray at the tombs of the apostles.

In the interview the archbishop talks about the differences between his “ad limina” visits with Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, but also calls “amazing” Pope Benedict’s energy with and attentiveness to the visiting bishops, especially since Pope Benedict is already older than his predecessor was when he died.

Our Rome bureau’s scoop of the day

Posted by the ever-observant bureau about 30 minutes ago:

Havana’s online welcome

Screen grab of

VATICAN CITY — “To the dislike and failure of the White House´s diplomatic pressures, Pope Benedict XVI will arrive to Cuba on March 26th,” reports the Cuban foreign ministry’s new website dedicated to the papal visit.

Internet penetration on the island is 14%, according to the International Telecommunications Union, so the site is presumably intended largely for foreign consumption. Here visitors can read the government line on the state of religious freedom in Cuba, among other topics.

For another perspective, the USCCB website has a page dedicated to the pope’s trip to Mexico and Cuba, featuring coverage by CNS.


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