Presto change-oh! It’s the skullcap swap

Monday Oct. 21, UPDATE and CORRECTION:

First a correction from an attentive Facebook fan who sent us a link showing how the cap swap custom goes way back before our 21st-century popes.

I also heard back from one of the Providence College students, who tried to give Pope Francis a new zucchetto. Here’s her backstage look at how it all happened:

Joe had noticed the tradition of the zuchetto exchange, and had wanted to try it for himself. As we all pointed to it, Pope Francis took notice of it and stopped the Popemobile while he had been passing by.

Prior to this, a friend we were with said that she wanted to write the pope a note, to which I replied that I had a stack of bright pink post-it notes. Upon writing the note and all signing our names, we safety pinned it to the zuchetto to ensure it stayed in place for the Pope to read, which is why he didn’t keep the note. It read, “Providence College LOVES Papa Francesco. [signed by seven PC students].

When Pope Francis stopped in front of us, I couldn’t even react. It was like a dream; I was speechless. He had read our note and told us that the zuchetto was too big. He was so close to us and had been so engaged with us as regular audience members (even for the 30 seconds that it was) that it was so surreal.



A pilgrim trying to give Pope Benedict XVI a zucchetto when he arrived for a general audience in St. Peter’s Square June 1, 2011. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — The “zucchetto switcheroo” is a long-held tradition for popes and pilgrims.

A guest presents the pope with a brand new white skullcap and the pope is expected to take it and swap it with the one he’s wearing on his head.

While many pilgrims are familiar with the practice, we’ve noticed a newly elected pope usually needs a quick explanation from an aide or security guard when someone suddenly presents him with a fresh new cap purchased from the papal tailors at Gammarelli’s.

But once they know the drill, everyone from Blessed John Paul II to Popes Benedict and Francis has happily engaged in the tradition, letting the lucky pilgrim get a souvenir of a lifetime.

Pope leads general audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Joseph Day, a student at Providence College, gets back the new zucchetto he had handed Pope Francis before the start of the general audience Oct. 16. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

One such lucky pilgrim at yesterday’s general audience was a student from Providence College, R.I. who is spending a semester studying in Rome.

Joseph Day, a native of Rehoboth, Mass., stretched his arm out over the heads of his classmates to give Pope Francis a zucchetto with a hot pink sticky note stuck inside.

Pope leads general audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Pope Francis briefly putting on a new zucchetto given to him by a Providence College student at the Oct. 16 general audience in St. Peter’s Square. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Our photographer, Paul Haring, was there with his telephoto lens to capture the moment and the secreted note. According to news reports, Day had written “Providence College loves Pope Francis.”

The pope took off his own cap and put on Day’s gift, but then he gave it right back after glancing at the note.

It’s become a bit of a custom for Pope Francis to choose to keep his own skullcap after he places the gifted one briefly on his head and returns it to the gifter.

It’s just a guess on my part, but maybe he’s doing it to avoid any embarrassing misfits as happened in Rio this summer when someone gave him an oversize cap that looked like it had been stuffed in a pocket or backpack:

Pope arrives for World Youth Day ceremony on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro

Pope Francis greets the crowd at the World Youth Day welcoming ceremony on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro July 25. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis is ratings king for Italian TV

Pope greets crowd after celebrating Mass for catechists in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

A cameraman captures the moment as Pope Francis greets the crowd in St. Peter’s Square after celebrating a Mass for catechists at the Vatican Sept. 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — Italian television has seen its viewership ratings of papal events skyrocket since Pope Francis’ election.

The number of people tuning in to watch the pope celebrate major liturgical events and his Sunday Angelus has “soared,” according to the Italian daily, “Il Fatto Quotidiano.”

The Italian state television channel, RAI 1, reported a jump of almost three-quarters of a million people watching its coverage of the noon Angelus.

Viewership of the weekly pre-“pranzo” prayer went from 1.56 million people in 2012 to 2.27 million people this year, “Il Fatto” reported. Not bad for a country of 60.9 million people with just 30.3 million televisions sets.

Audience share of RAI 1’s papal Mass broadcasts saw an even bigger boost going from 15.82 percent during Benedict XVI’s pontificate to 22.35 percent today. That translates, the paper said, into nearly one in three households tuning in to Pope Francis to watch him celebrate Mass.

Pope Francis waves as he leads his first Angelus in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the window of the apostolic palace as he leads his first Angelus in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican March 17, 2013. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

Pope Francis’ first Angelus address in March grabbed a 45 percent audience share and the Via Crucis a few weeks later nabbed 36 percent — numbers that are usually the norm during live coverage of Italians’ other “religion:” national soccer playoffs.  In a play on words, the Italian paper said when it comes to audience draw, “a Mass (Messa) is worth Messi,” the champion Argentine soccer star.

TV 2000, the television station of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, had its day of fame when it broadcast live Pope Francis’ visit to Assisi earlier this month, making the tiny station the 5th-most watched channel that day, ahead of some major commercial channels.

The Italian all-news channel, SkyTG24 is giving more airtime than ever before to the pope’s Sunday Angelus, the paper said, because “when Francis is on air, people don’t change the channel.”

Vatican gets greenlight for .catholic domain

Priest takes photo with tablet as Pope Francis celebrates Mass in St. Peter's Basilica

A priest taking pictures with a tablet as Pope Francis celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica July 7, 2013. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY — As top-level domain names are being rolled out and up for grabs, the Vatican has scored control of .catholic.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN),  which coordinates the assignment of Internet domain names and addresses around the world,  has been allowing entities to apply for ownership of hundreds, and soon thousands, of new domain names such as .london, .insurance and .xbox, among others.

The Pontifical Council for Social Communications completed the application process last summer and just received approval that it will now control the new Internet address extension .catholic and decide who is allowed to use it.

icann 2

Screengrab of ICANN website listing new generic top-level domain names.

The Vatican will control .catholic and its equivalent in other languages using Latin letters, as well as the equivalent of the word “Catholic” in the Cyrillic, Arabic and Chinese alphabets. Its request for .catholic in Chinese is number one on the ICANN list of priority domain names, right above .Amazon in Japanese.

Msgr. Paul Tighe, secretary of the council, told me this morning that “we are very happy the approval has been achieved, but there is still a lot of work to do before it goes live.”

Contrary to reports that the domain name will go live this month, Msgr. Tighe said seeing sites with the .catholic extension online still has “a long way to go.”  There are still bureaucratic kinks to iron out, like contracts to sign, technical trials to run and clear guidelines to set up for potential users of the domain name.

As the monsignor told us in last year, the Vatican plans to allow “institutions and communities that have canonical recognition” to use the extension, “so people online — Catholics and non-Catholics — will know a site is authentically Catholic.”

The Vatican does not plan to allow individual bloggers or private Catholics to use “.catholic,” Msgr. Tighe said. Use of the domain would be limited to those with a formal canonical recognition: dioceses, parishes and other territorial church jurisdictions; religious orders and other canonically recognized communities; and Catholic institutions such as universities, schools and hospitals.

Controlling the domain name will promote “a more cohesive and organized presence” of the church online, “so the recognized structure of the church can be mirrored in the digital space,” he said.

Teach for America about ‘where you’re needed most’

By Priya Narapareddy

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) –- Stephen Haas said he would feel extremely nervous standing in front of a roomful of fourth- graders, knowing that he was responsible for not only teaching them, but also for helping them succeed against the odds.

Haas, a senior at The Catholic University of America in Washington, is aware of the effect poverty has on education and the high incarceration rates of children who grew up in poverty.

At Catholic University’s Oct. 8 session for Teach for America applicants, Haas learned that Arizona corrections’ officers kept records of the number of students who failed in elementary school to determine how many prison beds to build in a decade.

“I couldn’t be nervous if I didn’t care,” he said.  “Since I would care so much about them, I would be absolutely thrilled at the chance to do something good for them.”

Haas described education as a basic need for all people. “It’s the most important thing aside from food and shelter,” he said.

The session was led by Catholic University alum Anthony Buatti, who is recruitment director for Teach for America’s Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia Corps.

Buatti encouraged students to apply to teach in cities with a high need for teachers, such as Detroit, Oklahoma City and Memphis, Tenn.

“This whole experience is about going where you’re needed the most,” he said.

Buatti said poverty limits educational opportunity. He said 8 percent of students from low-income communities receive college degrees, compared to 80 percent of students from high-income communities.

Upon graduation from Catholic University of America, Buatti was offered a job with the FBI. He declined the position to join Teach For America’s Phoenix corps.

Buatti said he taught third grade in Phoenix for two years.

“My experience was incredible,” he said. “It was putting my beliefs and what I studied at Catholic into play.”

On Buatti’s first day as a teacher, he realized that he had no idea how to talk to an 8- year- old.

“It terrified me to think, ‘How can I break these concepts down for the kids to understand?’” he said.

Buatti said another challenge included knowing that only 28 percent of third-graders passed the previous year. He said he consulted Teach for America’s online database as well as veteran teachers at his school to learn about the needs of students as well as how to help them understand lessons.

In the 2013-14 school year, 11,000 corps members will reach more than 750,000 students while 32,000 alumni will continue to deepen their impact as educational leaders and advocates.

Buatti said 48 percent of his students passed the third grade after his first year of teaching. Although many more students had passed, he said he was not satisfied with his students’ final test scores.

“I thought, ‘I have to get this right,’” said Buatti. “They deserve better than this.”

Buatti pushed himself and his students harder the second year he taught. He said 96 percent of the class passed.

“We worked relentlessly,” he said.

Bernadette Poerio, a senior at Catholic University of America, is seen with friends in the Best Buddies program. She is campaus campaign coordinator ofr Teach for America and Best Buddies activities coordinator. (Courtesy photo)

Bernadette Poerio, a senior at Catholic University of America, is seen with friends in the Best Buddies program. She is campus campaign coordinator for Teach for America and Best Buddies activities coordinator. (Courtesy photo)

Haas, who was taught primarily at private Catholic schools, said his high school teacher Bruce Marcoon also focused on helping his students learn rather than building his reputation as a teacher.

“He would relate to us in a way we could all understand at an all-boys prep school,” said Haas. “For him, it was more about what the student got out of it than it was about him being a great teacher.”

Haas said Marcoon was straightforward in the classroom, as well as humorous, and always challenged his students to think.

“He stressed critical thinking, and thinking for ourselves,” said Haas. “I think that every student he has had has learned how to do those things from him.

Bernadette Poerio, Teach for America’s campus campaign coordinator at Catholic University, said she is preparing for her final Teach for America interview.

Poerio, a native of Woodbridge, N.J., is a senior at Catholic University. She said she hopes to become a high school English teacher.

Poerio said she hopes to share her passion for literature with students.

“This makes sense for everything I’ve done in my life,” she said.

Ain’t no mountain high enough for U.S. priest

VATICAN CITY — When the Vatican press hall announces papal appointments, we’re usually presented with a rather dry encyclopedic biography of the new appointees: where they went to school, what they studied, ordination date, and teaching and ministry positions held over the years.

But thanks to Catholic radio host Lino Rulli (aka The Catholic Guy), we have a really fun and insightful look at the man who will be the new auxiliary bishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis —  Father Andrew Cozzens.

The now 45-year-old priest from Stamford, Conn., took Lino (a Minnesota native) rock climbing a few years ago.

Somebody filmed the escapade and, aside from seeing Lino freak out, we see Father Andrew use rock climbing as a way to talk about faith:

“This is the beauty about rock climbing, it teaches trust. Trust is such an important thing in our relationship with God.”

Check out this leap of faith:


Marian Day schedule & liturgical booklet


The statue of Our Lady of Fatima in the Chapel of Apparitions at Fatima, Portugal. Her likeness is fashioned after the vision reported by three children on that spot in 1917. (CNS photo by Paul Haring) (Oct. 3, 2005)

VATICAN CITY — October is traditionally the month of the rosary and thousands of members of groups promoting Marian piety will be coming to the Vatican this weekend for an evening of Marian prayer with the pope on Saturday and a special Mass on Sunday.

By Pope Francis’ request, the original statue of Our Lady of Fatima will be brought to the Vatican for the celebrations. It will be only the 11th time since the statue was made in 1920 that it has been removed from the  Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal.

To help people prepare and follow events live online, here’s a brief schedule below and the official liturgical booklet for Saturday’s event and the official booklet for Sunday Mass.

Saturday October 12

5  p.m. (Rome time; 11 a.m. EDT)  Live streaming online here.

Pope Francis and pilgrims will welcome the statue of Our Lady of Fatima to St. Peter’s Square. There will be a Via Matris, or Way of the Mother, and a catechesis by the pope.

Afterward, the statue will be taken to the Rome Shrine of Divine Love, where the Diocese of Rome plans an all-night vigil and recitation of the rosary.


Pilgrims wave handkerchiefs as the statue of Our Lady of Fatima passes by following Mass at the basilica in Fatima, Portugal, Oct. 2, 2005. (CNS photo by Paul Haring)

Sunday October 13

10:30 a.m. (Rome time; 4:30 a.m. EDT) Live streaming here.

The statue will return to St. Peter’s Square for the recitation of the rosary and Mass with Pope Francis. The pope will consecrate the world to Mary during the event.

Oct. 13 is the date marking the first working session of the Second Vatican Council, which had been officially opened two days prior in 1962.

It is also the date of the sixth and final apparition of Mary to the three children in Fatima in 1917. The statue’s gold crown holds one of the bullets Blessed John Paul II had been shot with on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, May 13, 1981.

Pope Pius XII and Blessed John Paul II had consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and most recently, Pope Francis asked that his ministry be consecrated to Our Lady of Fatima.

Papal approaches to the divorced and remarried


The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica is seen as a couple strolls in the evening near Villa Borghese in Rome. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — What have recent popes said about the problem of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics?

It’s an issue that will get much attention at next year’s extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, said today.

In just a few excerpts below, it’s easy to see the continuity in their approaches to this pastoral challenge.

Concerning the church’s position that those who have been divorced and civilly remarried cannot receive Communion, the future-Pope Francis said Catholics in this situation can still get involved with the parish community:

“There are things in the parish they can do. They should try to be part of the spiritual community, which is what the pontifical documents and the church’s magisterium advise. The pope (Benedict XVI) indicated that the church would stand by them. Being unable to receive Communion is obviously painful for some. In those cases, it’s important to explain the issues carefully. There are some cases where this turns out to be difficult. It’s a theological explanation that some priests explain well and people understand.”

– from the book “Pope Francis. His Life in His Own Words: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio”


Pope Benedict XVI led a gathering during the World Meeting of Families at Milan’s Bresso Park in June 2012. (CNS photo/Alessandro Garofalo, Reuters).

This is the same message Pope Benedict gave during the 2012 World Meeting of Families in Milan last year when he encouraged priests to find ways to help these couples

“feel loved and accepted, to feel that they are not ‘excluded’ even though they cannot receive absolution or the Eucharist; they should see that, in this state too, they are fully a part of the Church. Perhaps, even if it is not possible to receive absolution in Confession, they can nevertheless have ongoing contact with a priest, with a spiritual guide. This is very important, so that they see that they are accompanied and guided.”

While these individuals are denied the Eucharist, he said there is another kind of communion:

“Then it is also very important that they truly realize they are participating in the Eucharist if they enter into a real communion with the Body of Christ. Even without ‘corporal’ reception of the sacrament, they can be spiritually united to Christ in his Body. Bringing them to understand this is important: so that they find a way to live the life of faith based upon the Word of God and the communion of the Church, and that they come to see their suffering as a gift to the Church, because it helps others by defending the stability of love and marriage.

They need to realize that this suffering is not just a physical or psychological pain, but something that is experienced within the Church community for the sake of the great values of our faith. I am convinced that their suffering, if truly accepted from within, is a gift to the Church. They need to know this, to realize that this is their way of serving the Church, that they are in the heart of the Church.”

Pope John Paul II prays during a ceremony in Paul VI hall at the Vatican

Pope John Paul II praying during a ceremony marking the opening of the Year of the Eucharist in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican 2004. (CNS photo from Reuters)

Blessed John Paul II underlined the balance that must be sought — that there be sympathy with guidance, and mercy with truth. As he said in his 1997 speech to those taking part in the family council’s assembly dedicated to “The Pastoral Care of the Divorced and Remarried:”

“The church, mother and teacher, seeks the welfare and happiness of the home and when it is broken for whatever reason, she suffers and seeks to provide a remedy, offering these persons pastoral guidance in complete fidelity to Christ’s teachings.”

In that talk, the late pope pointed to the guidelines spelled out in the document coming out of the 1980 synod on the family as well as the 1994 letter by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (headed by the future Pope Benedict), “Concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful:

Pastors “are called to help them experience the charity of Christ and the maternal closeness of the Church, receiving them with love, exhorting them to trust in God’s mercy and suggesting, with prudence and respect, concrete ways of conversion and participation in the life of the community of the Church.”

It’s interesting to see how the future-Pope Francis rooted his response in what Pope Benedict had to say, and Pope John Paul also quoted a document largely written by the future-Pope Benedict.

Why Higgs boson matters

U.S. Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, Vatican astronomer  (CNS photo)

U.S. Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, Vatican astronomer, said HIggs particle points to deeper reality. (CNS photo)

On Oct. 8 Francois Englert of Belgium and Peter Higgs of Britain won the 2013 Nobel Prize in physics for their theory on how matter acquires mass.

This work — which they began researching  in the 1960s — was confirmed last year by the discovery of the Higgs boson (a subatomic particle nicknamed  “the God particle”) at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva.

If this has anyone scratching their heads or wondering how it  fits in with their faith, then it’s time to check back with what a Catholic physicist and a Catholic astronomer had to say about this mysterious particle during the summer.

U.S. Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, the Vatican astronomer,  told Catholic News Service that the particle finding “indicates that reality is deeper and more rich and strange than our everyday life.”

When people go about their everyday business working or relaxing, they don’t think about the tiniest building blocks of physical matter, but “without these underlying little things, we wouldn’t be here,” he added.

Brother Consolmagno said the Higgs boson had been nicknamed “the God particle” as “a joke” in an attempt to depict the particle as “almost like a gift from God to help explain how reality works in the sub-atomic world.”

Because the particle is believed to be what gives mass to matter, it was assigned the godlike status of being able to create something out of nothing, he added.

These conjectures are not only bad reasons to believe in God, they are also bad science, he told CNS.

“You’ll look foolish, in say 2050, when they discover the real reason” for a phenomenon that was explained away earlier by the hand of God, he said.

But he did point out that faith and hope can exist in the scientific community. For example, “no one would have built this enormous experiment,” tapping the time and talents of thousands of scientists around the world, “without faith they would find something,” he said.

“My belief in God gives me the courage to look at the physical universe and to expect to find order and beauty,” he said. “It’s my faith that inspires me to do science.”

Father Andrew Pinsent, a former particle physicist who worked on an experiment at the previously mentioned CERN, wrote a column about the Higgs boson finding this summer for the Catholic Herald in England. The priest, currently a research director at Oxford University, said the discovery has “no obvious implications for theology” but said it is still “worth reviewing its implications for the human quest to understand life, the universe and everything.”

The priest pointed out that the research that went into discovering this subatomic particle was done in part to “fulfill one of the most noble human aspirations: to know the causes of things.”

He said the Higgs boson finding “is a piece of the puzzle of how (not why) the universe works” but he also said it was “scarcely a final answer.”

Pope Francis gives first ‘red carpet’ interview

VATICAN CITY — So far, Pope Francis has done impromptu interviews with journalists on a plane, in written correspondence and at his Vatican residence.

Now he’s done his first “red carpet” interview — responding to a TV reporter who squeezed through the throng and shouted a question over the cheering crowds.

floral carpet assisi san rufino

Screen-grab from Vatican television (CTV) coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to the Cathedral of San Rufino in Assisi.

It happened in Assisi when the pope was greeting people gathered outside the Cathedral of San Rufino. However, instead of an actual red carpet, he walked along a colorful carpet made of flowers.

The clip, which aired last night on a political talk show, goes like this:

The Italian TV reporter asks:

“Your Holiness, is there hope for Italy?”

The pope approaches the reporter and replies:

“There is always hope because the Lord gives us hope, the Lord gives us the strength to go on.”

Riding his wave of good luck, the reporter continues:

“What do we have to do in order to have hope?”

The pope says:

“Well, look for it, and the Lord will inspire you!” [gives a thumbs up]

To see the clip, find it here.



Higher Education: How to choose the best Catholic college or university for you

By Caroline Hroncich 

Students chat in 2012 on campus of Marquette University in Wisconsin

College students chat on the campus of Jesuit-run Marquette University in 2012 in Milwaukee. (CNS photo/courtesy Marquette University)

VATICAN CITY — What are the best Catholic colleges and universities in the United States? Thousands of students applying to college ask themselves this question every day, and there is no simple answer.

Catholic colleges and universities provide students with diverse opportunities, both educational and spiritual, and there are a variety of methods for evaluating them. Many Catholic colleges appear frequently in secular ranking systems such as US News and World Report  and the Princeton Review. US News ranks colleges based on admissions selectivity, average SAT/ACT scores, availability of scholarships and other financial resources, alumni giving rate, GPA, and retention and graduation rates. The Princeton review ranks schools based on how current students respond to surveys. They question students about such factors as academics, extracurricular activities and general quality of campus life.

Chaplain chats with student outside chapel at Pennsylvania Catholic university

Father Philip Lowe, chaplain of Neumann University in Aston, Pa., chats with students outside the campus chapel in 2013. (CNS photo/courtesy Neumann University)

Another basis for evaluating Catholic colleges and universities is through indicators of what is often called Catholic identity: consistency of curriculum with church teaching; and faith-enhancing activities such as campus ministries, daily Masses and community service programs. Guides published by the National Catholic Register and Cardinal Newman Society look at Catholic higher education from this perspective.


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