Big and small creatures flock to St. Peter’s

(UPDATE: More photos!)

VATICAN CITY — While the wide boulevard leading to St. Peter’s Square can seem like a zoo on general audience Wednesdays, there’s no mistake — it definitely becomes a petting zoo every January 17 — the feast of St. Anthony Abbot, patron saint of animals and farmers.


A little boy pets a baby donkey during an annual blessing of animals near St. Peter’s Square. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

Italian farmers and ranchers bring their horses, donkeys, cows, steer, sheep, goats, pigs, rabbits and hens, and local residents come with their dogs, cats and bunnies for the annual blessing.


Bunnies and geese waiting for their special blessing. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)


Cardinal Comastri, papal vicar for Vatican City, blessed dozens of animals and their owners. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

Italian farmers and pet owners have a special devotion to St. Anthony as their patron saint, which is why his feast day marks the celebration and not, like in other countries, the feast of that other famous patron saint of animals: St. Francis of Assisi on Oct. 4.

Bleats, barks and honks accompanied the “Our Father” as Cardinal Angelo Comastri blessed farm animals and pets gathered outside St. Peter’s Square.

Italian police mounted on horseback paraded up the wide boulevard leading to the square and two police dogs, with their agents, circled and sniffed pedestrians enthusiastically — unaware they were off-duty to get a blessing.


Italian military police on horseback celebrating the feast of St. Anthony Abbot. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)


Who’s photobombing whom? The goose or the cardinal? (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)


Elsa the Cow is moooving on up! (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)


Bella, a Maltese dog, got a special grooming for her special day. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)


Fresh mandarin oranges for the crowds. And under all those feathers is a horse. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

horse parade

Another division of Italian police on horseback. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)


And wherever there are horses, there’s a cleanup crew not far behind! (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

How well do God, Jesus and church hold up over time, over cultures?

VATICAN CITY — How do God, Jesus and the church hold up over the centuries in the print world? Do word frequencies immortalized in books somehow reflect cultural or spiritual sentiments over time?

Well, you can have fun doing a little informal research on those topics or others with the Google Ngram Viewer. The viewer, which came out in 2010, essentially mines the more than 5 million books Google has scanned from the past 5 centuries. That’s only 4% of all books, but it’s working with more than 500 billion words over a vast period of time. There’s bound to be something useful in that.

You type in a word or name, using commas to separate a series of words and then choose the language and time frame you want to survey. Other search tips are here.

The results track how many times the word appears so you’ll have to be careful with the kind of conclusions you draw from word frequencies (i.e. does high usage indicate positive popularity? Probably not, but it does give a glimpse into what and how much was being written about a topic that was considered important and worthy enough of print.)

Here’s just a small look at how God (blue lines), Jesus (red lines) and the church (green lines) fare in different languages and cultures over time:


english 1







German: (spike from 1943-1950…)


Russian: (notice impact of Revolution of 1917 and fall of USSR…)


Have fun with your own combinations! Let us know what you find.

Facing reality: popes have ordinary moments, too

UPDATED Jan. 16: The animated GIF is comprised of a dozen or more still photo frames shot within about 4 seconds. Each was cropped exactly the same. One of these frames is the featured photo. Neither the GIF nor the main photo were taken from video.

VATICAN CITY — Photographers covering the Vatican are witnesses to both the grandeur and ordinariness of the events that unfold here.

In a display of the ordinary, today I shot this unusual frame of Pope Francis as he rubbed his face.


Pope Francis’ expression invites many captions, but he was really just rubbing his face. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

He had just finished delivering his blessing at the end of his catechesis at the Wednesday general audience. The 77-year-old pope first rubbed his eyes, then his face. It was essentially the pope’s four seconds of down time before spending the next hour and a half greeting bishops, people with disabilities and many others.


An animated GIF of Pope Francis taking a breather at the end of his catechesis. (CNS photos/Paul Haring)

My colleagues and I frequently see the pope doing ordinary human things: blowing his nose, taking a drink of water, scratching his face, etc…. We’ll sometimes photograph these moments but usually don’t use them. There is a certain sense of decorum among us — about what is appropriate for public consumption and what should be kept private.

In this case, the photo seemed to convey just how tiring it is to lead an audience and greet so many people outside in winter weather for two and a half hours.

My colleagues at the Rome bureau liked the photo because it showed a certain vulnerability. What do you think?

As a teen, the Holy Father’s father gave talks on the papacy

Undated handout photo of Argentine Cardinal Bergoglio and family members

The future Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, pictured as a young man in the back second from left, and his family (his paternal grandmother, Rosa, and father, Mario, are seated) in this undated photo. (CNS photo/Clarin handout via Reuters)

VATICAN CITY — Obviously oblivious to the fact that he would have a son who, one day, would become pope, a 17-year-old Mario Bergoglio actually became a sort of informal expert on the papacy, giving two talks on the subject in his native Italy.

An Italian author, Stefano Masino, made that and other interesting discoveries about Pope Francis’ closest relatives when he conducted detailed research in local, national and diocesan archives in Italy. Some of his findings were published today in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

Mario, Pope Francis’ father, grew up in the northern Italian city of Asti in the Piedmont region and took an active part in the diocese’s youth group.

In 1925, when he was a 17-year-old high school student, the Diocesan Youth Federation organized a two-month-long series of conferences dedicated to a variety of topics. Some teens were assigned to give talks on the history of Catholic Action; the relationship between prayer, action and sacrifice; and responsible journalism.

Mario Bergoglio was assigned “The Papacy” and was given a very good write-up in the local paper after his talk.

In the paper’s Dec. 12, 1925, edition, the article said:

“Mario Bergoglio, an accounting student, spoke passionately and forcefully — with frequent and apt historical references — on the theme, “The Papacy.” Captivating his audience and receiving their applause, he can surely be counted on for successfully being an ardent proponent of our ideal.”

Three years later, during an annual Father’s Day celebration organized by a Catholic youth association, he also delivered “a most beautiful explanatory speech on the papacy,” heaping high praise on the pope at the time, Pope Pius XI.

Less than a year before he and his parents were set to immigrate to Argentina, he took part in a “Catechist Contest” in 1928, testing — alongside the local bishop — the line-up of contestants.

Pope Francis has often talked very lovingly of his paternal grandmother, Rosa, who taught him how to pray and helped instill in him his great faith in Christ.

But her son — the pope’s father, Mario — also inherited the same sensibility.

In fact, in this book-length series of interviews, the future pope says his father took his decision to become a priest very well, “More than well, he was happy.”

While the pope’s mother, who was also very religious, worried he was acting too hastily, “I definitely knew my father was going to understand me better,” the future pope said.

His father’s mother, Rosa, “was a very strong religious role model for him (for Mario), and he had inherited that religiousness, that fortitude,” he said.

Pope Francis, too, inherited those gifts and, though he “came from the ends of the earth,” didn’t fall far from the Bergoglio’s tree of faith.

Pope names 19 new cardinals, including six from Latin America

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis named 19 new cardinals, including the archbishops of Westminster and Quebec and six men from his home region of Latin America, and announced a consistory for their formal induction into the College of Cardinals Feb. 22.

The pope announced the nominations to the faithful in St. Peter’s Square shortly after noon Jan. 12, after praying the Angelus.

The consistory will bring the total number of cardinals to 218 and the number of cardinals under age 80 to 122. Until they reach their 80th birthdays, cardinals are eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope.

Two current cardinal electors will turn 80 in March, bringing the number of electors back to the limit of 120 set by Pope Paul VI. (Other popes have occasionally exceeded that limit for short periods of time.)

Five of the new electors are from Latin America, an increase by one-third of the current number from the region. Latin America, home to about 40 percent of the world’s Catholics, will account for 16 percent of the group eligible to choose the next pope.

Four of the new cardinal electors are from Italy, leaving that nation’s share practically unchanged at nearly a quarter.

Four new cardinal electors are Vatican officials, three of them in offices that traditionally entail membership in the college.

Another three of the new cardinals are already over the age of 80 and, therefore, ineligible to vote in a conclave. The pope uses such nominations to honor churchmen for their scholarship or other service to the church.

Among the new so-called honorary cardinals is Cardinal-designate Loris Capovilla, who served as personal secretary to Blessed John XXIII.

Here is the list of the new cardinals:

– Italian Archbishop Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, who will turn 59 Jan. 17.

– Italian Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, 73.

– German Archbishop Gerhard  Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 66.

– Italian Archbishop Beniamino Stella, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, 72.

– English Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, 68.

– Nicaraguan Archbishop Leopoldo Brenes Solorzano of Managua, 64.

– Canadian Archbishop Gerald Lacroix of Quebec, 56.

– Ivorian Archbishop Jean-Pierre Kutwa of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, 68.

– Brazilian Archbishop Orani Tempesta of Rio de Janeiro, 63.

– Italian Archbishop Gualtiero Bassetti of Perguia-Citta della Pieve, 71.

– Argentine Archbishop Mario Poli of Buenos Aires, 66.

– Korean Archbishop Andrew Yeom Soo-jung of Seoul, 70.

– Chilean Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati Andrello of Santiago, 72.

– Burkina Faso Archbishop Philippe Ouedraogo of Ouagadougou, 68.

– Philippine Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, 74.

– Haitian Bishop Chibly Langlois of Les Cayes, 55.

– Italian Archbishop Loris Capovilla, 98.

– Spanish Archbishop Fernando Sebastian Aguilar, retired, of Pamplona, 84.

– Saint Lucian Archbishop Kelvin Felix, retired, of Castries, 80.

Church-state cooperation on the world stage: one nation’s milestone

VATICAN CITY — It seems hard to believe, but it took 117 years for the United States to re-establish full diplomatic relations with the Vatican.

Decades of debate (that are periodically re-ignited) voiced concern that any formal relationship by the U.S. would signal improper government support of religion. The argument against has said that diplomatic ties were inappropriate because the Vatican, though constituted as a civil state, is the Holy See of the Catholic Church.

However, the increased push on the world stage by Blessed John Paul II and his predecessors for peace and human rights played a big role in building a sense of there being common ground and goals between the two countries.

The upgrading of relations with the United States was followed by a big expansion of the diplomatic corps to the Vatican.  Blessed John Paul’s pontificate saw a near-doubling of the number of countries with which the Vatican holds diplomatic relations.


The late William A. Wilson was the first U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. He is greeted by Blessed John Paul II at the Vatican in this 1985 file photo. U.S. President Ronald Reagan named Wilson ambassador in 1984 after establishing full diplomatic relations with the Vatican. (CNS photo)

Today is the 30th anniversary of the official resumption of U.S-Vatican relations and we thought we’d dig into our CNS archives to see how we covered that historic moment.

First, the story from Washington covered by the intrepid Jim Lackey: (Click the link for a more readable pdf version: 1CNS_USVaticanRelations)


And here’s a look at Vatican reaction from the Rome bureau by John Thavis:

(Click the link for a more readable pdf version:  CNS_USVatican)


Missioners leaving South Sudan place ‘worries and concerns in God’s hands’

Priests, nuns and lay volunteers from around the world spent years trying to help South Sudan building itself into a country, but now some find themselves caught by ongoing violence.

Theresa Kiblinger, Salesian Lay Missioner, nurse and blogger.  (CNS photo/Adam Rudin, Salesian Lay Missioners)

Theresa Kiblinger, Salesian Lay Missioner, nurse and blogger.
(CNS photo/Adam Rudin, Salesian Lay Missioners)

Some foreign missionaries have chosen to stay. Others, like Theresa Kiblinger, a Salesian Lay Missioner working in Maridi, South Sudan, left for a short Christmas break and are unable to return.

In a Jan. 7 blogpost, Kiblinger, a nurse, spoke of the joy of preparing for Christmas, then her distress at being unable to return after leaving with another missioner for a short break in Uganda.

“It is hard to think about the sweet kids we left behind,” she wrote. “So many questions and feelings start to flood my mind. What will happen to them? When can I go back and see them? Will the fighting spread to them? Feelings of guilt because I can leave, but they have nowhere to go. The only thing I can do now is place all these worries and concerns in God’s hands knowing that he alone can provide, and trusting that he will wrap all my little nuggets in his comforting and protective arms. “

Kiblinger and several other Salesian Lay Missioners are being evacuated to a Salesian community in Nairobi, Kenya.

A hitchhiker’s guide to the popemobile

VATICAN CITY — With eagle eyesight, Pope Francis spotted him in a crowd of 50,000 people. Or maybe he first recognized the voice — one of dozens screaming “Santo Padre!” “Holy Father!”

Today at his first Wednesday general audience of the new year, Pope Francis plucked a fellow Argentine out of the throng and gave him the ride of his life.

Fr. Fabian Baez

Screen grab of Argentine Father Fabian Baez from Buenos Aires hitching a ride on the popemobile during the general audience in St. Peter’s Square Jan. 8.

Father Fabian Baez is a parish priest at the Our Lady of the Pillar church in the pope’s former Archdiocese of Buenos Aires.

He told La Nacion that he shouted “Santo Padre” to get the pope’s attention.

The pope saw the priest, made his driver stop the popemobile and gestured to him to come see him. They waited until the priest could make it past the people in front of him, the large wooden barricade and security.

As you can see in the video, the two hugged warmly, the pope asked if he were by himself and when he said, “Yes,” told him, “Come! Get on!” and take a seat next to the papal assistant.

As the priest clambers on, the pope rightly tells him:  “The picture will go around the world.”

After we asked the Vatican press hall to find out who the then-mystery hitchhiker was, they got back to us not just his name, but that the pope also told his aides that the priest is “a great confessor.”

Father Baez got to ride the whole long way around the square with the pope and then was given special seating at the start of the audience. The two even got to chat briefly at the end of the audience before the pope returned to his residence.

The priest summed up the day best on his Twitter feed:

“I’m going to change my biography. ‘The poor priest who got on the popemobile today with #PopeFrancis’”

If you know Spanish, check out his Twitter feed @paterfabian and his tumblr account

Four years after quake, strengthening Haiti’s institutions

The rebuilding of Haiti following the January 12, 2010 earthquake is either taking a lot longer than expected or is going reasonably well.

Darren Hercyk, Haiti country director for Catholic Relief Services, has found the perspective that prevails depends on who is visiting on a given day.

A girl sits outside a classroom at St. Anthony of Padua Church in the rural community of Petite Riviere des Nippes, Haiti, in this March 2011 photo. CNS/Bob Roller

A girl sits outside a classroom at St. Anthony of Padua Church in the rural community of Petite Riviere des Nippes, Haiti, in this March 2011 photo. CNS/Bob Roller

For newcomers, he told Catholic News Service recently, the country’s seemingly overwhelming disarray is a shock and they wonder where the billions of dollars in aid promised by the nations of the world immediately after the earthquake has gone.

“Others would be amazed by how much has been done,” Hercyk said.

He prefers to focus on what has been done, having been in Haiti for a year and a half guiding Catholic Relief Services’ largest country program.

For Hercyk and the hundreds of CRS staffers, the effort is more than rebuilding structures and facilities; it’s about strengthening Haitian institutions nationwide. Give Haiti another decade, he said.

“Haitians need to see the change coming from Haitians,” he said from his office in the Delmas neighborhood of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. “The road to sustainability goes through strengthening Haitian institutions.”

Those institutions include nongovernmental organizations and the Catholic Church.

“Strengthening Haitian institutions doesn’t mean just coordinating with them. It really means getting in there and having them do the project and you working with them while they’re doing them. That’s the commitment we’re seeing much more today,” he explained

“At CRS we realize we won’t see long lasting change unless we invest in the church,” he said.

Among the efforts getting attention are education, health care, safety and security, housing, food and nutrition and more.

But Hercyk stressed patience.

Nearly 172,000 people remained in more than 300 tent camps Sept. 30, according to the International Organization for Migration, even though hundreds of thousands of displaced people have returned to their neighborhoods or moved in with relatives. In many cases the housing that is available is subpar and expensive. People everywhere live in tight quarters.

Affordable,  safe housing is among Haiti’s greatest needs. In response, CRS has set out in developing a pilot program with U.S. Agency for International Development in the community of Caradeaux. It calls for building 125 units whereby people can develop a sense of home ownership. If it works, it will be a model for other areas around the overcrowded capital, where nearly a third of Haiti’s 10 million citizens live.

Two other programs also deserve mention.

CRS continues to develop a country-wide education program that takes advantage of the strengths of a particular school and helps others see where improvements are necessary. The program stems from a survey released in June 2012 that tabulated details on every school in the country including data on the obvious, such as teacher salaries and availability of technology, and the not so obvious, such as access to safe drinking water and waste removal.

The report is being used to identify shortcomings, roadblocks to improvements, teacher training needs and building needs so that resources can be funneled appropriately to Catholic schools, the largest provider of education in Haiti. For the record, Catholic schools account for 15 percent of schools in Haiti, while public schools number just 12 percent of schools. The remainder are run by other religious groups or private entities.

A bed is seen in a room at St. Francis de Sales Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 30, 2010, weeks after it was destroyed by an earthquake. CNS/Bob Roller

A bed is seen in a room at St. Francis de Sales Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 30, 2010, weeks after it was destroyed by an earthquake. CNS/Bob Roller

On the health care front, CRS and the Catholic Health Association in the U.S. have helped build a nationwide network of eight hospitals — with two others about to join — to share information, purchase equipment and medication, improve business operations and offer training programs. Hercyk credited CHA’s technical know-how for improving hospital operations.

“Our role is to create the network which can be a stand-alone institution,” he said.

Meanwhile, construction continues on the new St. Francis de Sales Hospital in the capital. The hospital was destroyed in the earthquake, but served as a triage center for some of the most seriously wounded people for weeks under tents set up in an outdoor courtyard. Hercyk said CRS plans to turn over the completed build on Oct. 1 with the goal of opening the state-of-the-art facility in time for the fifth anniversary of the disaster.

Fallout from the introduction of cholera in 2011 continues to plague Haiti, however. While incidences are down, any major rainstorm will continue to push the water-borne illness into new areas. Health care workers have done tremendous work limiting the disease in a country rife with health care challenges.

Through Dec. 19, more than 695,700 cases of the disease had been reported by the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population, with 8,515 deaths.

Papal calls to cloistered nuns are hit or miss

Nuns carrying an Argentine flag smile after Pope Francis leads Angelus at Vatican

Nuns carrying an Argentine national flag as they attended Pope Francis’ first Angelus in St. Peter’s Square March 17, 2013. (CNS photo/Paul Hanna, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY — It’s hit or miss — even for the pope — when calling a cloistered monastery. Pope Francis had much better luck today when he phoned a small community of nuns in southern Italy.

Apparently in today’s conversation with the Italian nuns, he joked about not reaching a real person when he called the Carmelite nuns in Cordoba, Spain, last week.

“My congratulations because you answered right away. When I called the convent in Barcelona (sic) I got an answering machine,” the pope reportedly told Sister Maria Gonzalez, the 48-year-old Guatemalan mother superior of the St. James Major monastery of Palo del Colle in Bari.

The Italian paper La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno reported that the pope called the Olivetan sisters right when they were preparing lunch around 12:30. Seventy-year-old Sister Paula answered the phone in the kitchen while the others were at the stove, she told the paper.

At first they thought it was a prank call, but the pope assured them with his blessings and prayers for a happy new year. Sister Maria said she was so flustered she couldn’t even speak in her native Spanish with the Argentine pope.

The pope’s reported remarks today were referring to another instance of him poking fun during a call last week to the Discalced Carmelites of Lucena in Cordoba, Spain.

When no one at that cloistered monastery answered his call, the answering machine kicked in.

The pope left the following message which you can hear here:

“What are the nuns doing that they can’t answer? This is Pope Francis, I wish to greet you at this end of the year. I will see if I can call you later. May God bless you!”

He did call later and he spoke with the prioress for 15 minutes.


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