No nook neglected: Spring cleaning at the Vatican

VATICAN CITY — City workers have been out in force the past few weeks getting Rome ready for the massive numbers of people expected for the canonizations this Sunday of Blesseds Pope John XXIII and John Paul II.

Road crews finally put down a thick coat of fresh white paint for pedestrian crossings that had been worn bare from heavy traffic.


The city of Rome is gearing up for the April 27 canonizations. Workers have repainted pedestrian crossings around St. Peter’s Square. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

City workers are also doing necessary patch-ups like fixing broken paving on the sidewalks:


City workers replace and repair broken paving stones near St. Peter’s Square. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)


and smoothing out some bumpy ‘Sampietrini’ cobblestones:


City workers smoothing out the ‘Sampietrini’ cobblestones along one section of the main boulevard leading to St. Peter’s Square. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)


But one thing happened today that was a bit unexpected even though I think it turned out to be one of the most important sprucing-up jobs someone thought of assigning:


Peek-a-boo! A Vatican worker cleaning the live-cam that sits atop the colonnade overlooking St. Peter’s Square. (Screengrab from CTV live feed)


A Vatican worker spent a good 15 minutes scrubbing and shining the glass in front of the Vatican television live-cam that sits on top of the colonnade overlooking St. Peter’s Square.


A Vatican worker sprays a cleansing foam on the live cam overlooking St. Peter’s Square. (Screengrab of CTV live feed)

He used a large variety of cleaners and even a big puff of his own breath to wipe off all the dust, grime and inevitable bug and bird droppings from the glass protecting the camera’s lens.

Check out his hard work here:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Vatican has six live webcams on its website, but this is the ‘default’ cam on the Vatican live player giving people a birds-eye view of the square 24/7 when it’s not broadcasting important papal and other Vatican events.


Crowded streets, churches attest that Holy Week and Easter have never been more alive in this El Salvador city

SOYAPANGO, El Salvador — The Easter Bunny doesn’t live here. There are no egg hunts, no large bags of candy for sale or Easter baskets or bonnets in these crowded streets. But there are crowded churches and the advent of Easter has never been more alive.

Good Friday crowd in Soyapango, El Salvador. (CNS photo/Rhina Guidos)

Crowd gathers on Good Friday in Soyapango, El Salvador. (CNS photo/Rhina Guidos)

In El Salvador, which means “The Savior” in Spanish, and which is named after Christ, Holy Week leading up to the Easter Vigil, the big event here, is bigger than Christmas, New Year’s and Easter combined.

In Soyapango, people take most, if not the entire week off of work, and attend about 30 different public acts.

“It’s not a family holiday in the sense that people don’t spend their time around a table with food,” said Father Estefan Turcios Carpaño, the parish priest at San Antonio Parish in Soyapango, the third largest municipality in the country with about 290,000 predominantly Catholic residents.

Parishioners spend their time at a different table, the table of the Lord, he said.

Lines for those waiting for the sacrament of reconciliation have been long, leaving many to wait an hour or two, or longer, for confession. On Thursday, the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador ran out of hosts for those who attended the chrism Mass in the capital nearby.

It’s hard to move through the streets because they’re swollen with the faithful participating in the religious processions, and even the smaller events, such as the re-enactment of Jesus in the olive grove. There are crosses everywhere, reminders of how special this time is, even inside the small sauna of a nearby holistic center.

Women stand in line for Good Friday services  Soyapango, El Salvador. (CNS photo/Rhina Guidos)

Women stand in line for Good Friday services Soyapango, El Salvador. (CNS photo/Rhina Guidos)

San Antonio can only accommodate about 2,000 to 3,000 at a time in the main church. While it would be enviable to any pastor, the parish faces a problem of physical space.

The church swells so much during Holy Week that Father Turcios has had to employ the help of other priests to celebrate Mass and Holy Week events in separate events in nearby neighborhoods, to stave off people from the main church.

He has found a way to broadcast parts of the celebration on a Facebook page, so that everyone will be comfortable and able to listen and reflect during this important holiday.

Helen Girón, 27, was born and grew up in the United States, until her family moved from Texas to El Salvador about a decade ago. Back in Texas, the celebrations focused on one day, Easter Sunday, she said. And it always felt a bit more focused on the material, on what Easter accoutrements could be bought and sold in the stores, she said.

“Here, it’s about building community,” she said. “This tradition helps us become more united.”

Another scene of crowded streets on Good Friday. (CNS photo/Rhina Guidos)

Another scene of the crowded streets on this Good Friday. (CNS photo/Rhina Guidos)

Father Turcios quotes Pope Francis to illustrate the fervor behind his parishioners: “No one is saved by himself.” We are saved, he said, as “a community of believers.”

It might be uncomfortable at times, said Irma Vargas, one of parishioners, about the elbow to elbow space inside and outside, but the music, the liturgy, the excitement of so many people is “like rainwater that gives life to a plant,” she said.

- – -

Guidos is an editor at Catholic News Service. For more photos of Holy Week in El Salvador, follow her on Twitter @Catholic_Editor.


God is still #1 for the nun who wants to have fun

ROME — Who would have thought there could be room for God in a Cyndi Lauper song, much less her 1983 hit, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”

But 25-year-old Ursuline Sister Cristina Scuccia found it when she pointed and looked up to heaven as she sang: “Oh daddy dear, you know you’re still number one!” before a packed studio audience on the talent-show The Voice of Italy last night

number 1 daddy

As she did with her March 19 performance of Alicia Keys’ “No one,”  Sister Cristina wowed the crowds as they stood and cheered in unison, “sorella, sorella, sorella…” [sister!]

She easily won the round against 23-year-old Luna Palumbo in their “battle” duet. While the two starkly contrasted in looks — one towering tall, curls flying, gold necklaces flashing, the other petite, hair tucked undercover, silver cross swaying — they were united in talent and a love for song.


Sister Cristina has said she is on a mission to share her gift and her joy for God, and last night’s show was another evangelizing moment as the four Italian super star “coaches” found themselves talking about faith and spirituality.

Be sure to watch the episode. And while the YouTube video has closed captions in English (which aren’t that great), our *ahem* much better CNS translation of last night is below.


The M.C.: It’s a great battle between two unique voices, incredible stuff.


Now speaking of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” those girls over there had a lot of fun, the sisters who came to accompany you dear Sister Cristina [points to Ursuline sisters in crowd].

Luna, come here. How amazing, guys. A fantastic performance! J-ax…

J-ax: No, don’t make me say anything for the next three hours. Let the others talk because I have to pull myself together for a second.

MC: Piero, there was some real rock & roll in this performance, don’t you agree?

piero2Piero Pelu’: Well, for me it was like something from a (Luis) Bunuel film. Maybe a lot of people don’t know who he was but he was a director who made movies that were totally insane, where every rule was broken.

MC: How do you two feel? Because you brought the house down.

Luna: Look, don’t ask me how I feel because I’m… I tell you, I feel like a wreck as usual.

Suor Cristina: Super excited, incredibly thrilled. Thank you!

MC: Raffaella, I’ll ask you how you felt about the performance.

raff2Raffaella Carra’: Luna completely bowled me over, I have to be honest. Sr. Cristina sang very well. You have amazing energy, you really own the stage, which is what I tell my team members to do, but you already know to do it. But I’m convinced that J-ax will choose you because if he doesn’t he’ll go to hell. Right?
MC: Noemi, what do you think?

noemi1Noemi: Great stuff! It’s fabulous because it reminded me of the movie Sister Act where there’s this renewal, this move toward people who live the modern world of today that I think is fabulous because to bring that here…

Plus, I believe in God and I think to bring God to something of this sort is something that’s really beautiful. Because it’s kind of missing a little today, this spiritual dimension. Thank you! It’s wonderful!

MC: Thanks to J-ax who formed this duo, which has truly turned this studio audience upside down. Right now I don’t know what is churning around in your head but the decision you have to make is really, really complicated because one of these two women will leave your team.

J-ax: Well, first of all, I thank my girls for having given me again such a thrill. I’m going to engage in a little gratuitous satire. No one asked me, but, when I came on The Voice, I was shooting wisecracks all over the place even about the 1980s.

jaxInstead I wanted to choose a song from the 1980s, the early ‘80s, which I think was the best period where there was still hope. And so this song spoke about girls who wanted to have fun just like boys had. So, for me, I nonetheless saw this  as being a spiritual song.
Luna, you are amazing, you have superpowers, like, when you sing, your hair grows, you’re like [a Japanese animation] the Super Saiyan from Dragon Ball with curls. Like, that’s you.

I’m afraid that for Sister Cristina, the others here will accuse me of ‘divine doping.’ I mean, after this performance you’ve unlocked the next level, like in role playing games, you’ve become the Mother Superior for real.

Ax-isms [My wisecracks] aside. I noticed something, something that is very rare. When Sister Cristina sings, she has a gift: the ability to radiate joy. I saw it, looking at the coaches, looking at the audience. It’s instantaneous. I am, how can I say this, really sorry to have to choose [interminable pause]
But I’m going ahead with Sister Cristina.

MS: Sister Cristina wins this amazing battle, she will go on to the next ‘Knock Out’ round with her coach, J-ax. This means the joined forces of the devil and holy water will go on. Congratulations! Sister Cristina, ladies and gentlemen!

[crowd cheers for the sister]

Sorella, sorella….


Stay tuned for her next debut!


A glance at Auschwitz and Blessed John Paul II

By Emily Antenucci

OSWIECIM, Poland — Imagine you are standing, eyes closed, in a field stretching for miles. It’s green with grass and trees, colorful with flowers, the air filled with the songs of birds chirping their favorite tune. Now you open your eyes and you see: debris, which is burnt black and stacked tall in piles; barbed wire fences enclosing you from the rest of the world; and the ruins of wooden and brick barracks occupying the green fields around you.

That’s what Oswiecim looks like, although the beauty and blooming nature are painted over with an atmosphere of darkness and despair. The fields and ruins are infamously known as the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex, site of the two largest concentration camps developed by the Nazis in World War II. I was there this past weekend. Yes, they are notorious and yes, it is very emotional to be there, but I highly recommend visiting because, truth be told, no words can express the experience.



The view from the stairs of Block 10-11 in Auschwitz I. (CNS photo/Emily Antenucci)

As someone who learned about World War II in school, I knew it would be impossible to truly fathom the magnitude of the horrors that took place at Auschwitz. Having walked along the train tracks where the prisoners were dropped off and having been inside the blocks and barracks where the prisoners lived, I realized that my previous thinking was a massive understatement. Where in school, we learn by memorizing terms and statistics, after this past weekend I can now place meaning behind those definitions and stories behind those numbers. An informative, powerful experience, I still found myself leaving the camps even more distraught and confused than when I first arrived.

photo1 (1)

The view from the train platform where prisoners were dropped off inside Birkenau. (CNS photo/Emily Antenucci)

Constant questions popped into my head during my visit. One of my immediate thoughts while walking the grounds was: Where was the church when this was happening? While I know this controversial topic has been discussed and debated for decades, it still plagued me. Almost immediately, I thought of Blessed John Paul II, who was born Karol Jozef Wojtyla and was archbishop of Krakow before being elected pope. He grew up miles from these camps during that fear-filled period and was influenced by the Holocaust and World War II in many ways.

Living and working so closely with those affected, he carried his experiences with him when he was elected pope. For example, he was the first pope to visit Auschwitz and the first pope in memory to enter a synagogue. He repeatedly asked forgiveness for Catholics’ past acts of antisemitism in an effort to move in a new direction of friendship.

Set to be canonized at the end of April, Pope John Paul set the standard for his successors to continue the tradition of spreading peace and understanding between Catholicism and Judaism. While there are still many unanswered questions in my mind revolving around the church and World War II, focusing my thoughts on how Pope John Paul took it upon himself to take action is something that helped ease my mind a bit.

photo4 (1)

A written background of Blessed John Paul II presented in the Oskar Schindler’s Factory Museum in Krakow, Poland. (CNS photo/Emily Antenucci)

Visiting Auschwitz and Krakow, I was reminded not only of the horror people are capable of committing, but I was also in the place where Blessed John Paul began his journey of Catholic-Jewish reconciliation and I was there just two weeks before his canonization.

Now imagine you are standing in that same green field, eyes closed, knowing the unspeakable brutality that went on in the exact place where you stand. How can we imitate the growing flowers that are bringing new life from a place of death? Who is working today to make sure such atrocities never happen again? What work is there left to do?

Emily Antenucci is an intern in the CNS Rome bureau while she attends Villanova University’s Rome program.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Any birthday surprises in store?


Pope Benedict received a birthday cake at the White House April 16, 2008, when he turned 81. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has yet to reveal what retired Pope Benedict has planned for his 87th birthday today.

It will definitely be low key and most probably include a friendly phone call from Pope Francis, who is always picking up the phone on people’s birthdays.

While Pope Benedict usually liked to keep celebrations simple, the people around him liked to splurge, especially when he visited Washington, D.C., in 2008.

April 16 was his first full day in the United States, and the White House presented him with a gorgeous four-tier lemon cake after opera star Kathleen Battle belted out the “Happy Birthday” song.

Things got really raucous when a group of Bavarians came to the apostolic palace on April 16, 2012. A small band treated the pope to ”oomppah” music and kids did the skirt-swirling, shoe-stomping, thigh-slapping “Schuhplattler” dance.


Children in traditional Bavarian dress danced for Pope Benedict on his 85th birthday in the Clementine Hall in 2012. (CNS photo/Gregorio Borgia, pool via Reuters)

Dressed in traditional costume, the children presented the pope with white flowers and a maypole covered with colorful ribbons and recited a German birthday poem.

Remember, you can send greetings and well-wishes to:

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Mater Ecclesiae monastery

00120 Vatican City State

Touchdown! Franciscans reach goal with a winning kick.


ROME — Bypassing strapped government funding, a community of Franciscan friars in Rome was able to raise more than a quarter of a million dollars in 30 days through the crowd-funding platform, Kickstarter.

francis cell

The small cell where St. Francis of Assisi used to sleep when he came to Rome. (Screengrab from the Franciscans’ Kickstarter webpage)

The Franciscans in charge of the Church of St. Francis at Ripa will be using the money to restore the darkened, crumbling cell where St. Francis of Assisi stayed during his visits to Rome.

More than 1,100 people, mostly from the United States, contributed to the Franciscans’ Kickstarter account, raising $130,000.

Organizers said the largest donation ($20,000) came from William Doty, the son of Catholic philanthropists, the late George Doty and his late wife, Marie, of New York City.   While most donors were from the United States, contributions also came from Italy, the UK, Singapore, Dubai, Russia and Latin America.

The Franciscans turned to private donations through Kickstarter as a way to let people from around the world get involved in the project. They also didn’t want to approach the state for funding because they preferred scarce government funds be earmarked for needed social programs.

We here at Catholic News Service posted the story about the restoration project and the need for funding in mid-March — about half-way through the fundraising campaign. We reached more than 4,000 people with that post, but it was an April 1 article in The New York Times that gave the campaign its most effective fundraising source. Organizers said they got 171 offers and more than $23,000 from the link in the NYT’s story.

Work on the room’s soot-covered walls, rotting wooden ceiling, scuffed floors and flaking frescoes will start soon. The Franciscans would like it restored in time for this year’s Oct. 4 feast day of St. Francis. His namesake, Pope Francis, has been invited to the restoration’s unveiling that same day.


The long & winding road…to sainthood!

VATICAN CITY — Have you ever wondered what it takes to become a saint?

Pope Francis gave us a thorough list of the secrets to holiness on the Feast of All Saints last year.

“Saints aren’t superheroes nor were they born perfect,” he said. It’s just that “when they experienced the life-changing encounter with God,” they never left his side.

But what about “the bureaucratic” aspect of saint-making? What needs to happen to declare someone a blessed, a martyr or a saint?

Well, we drew up a handy, super simplified flowchart to walk you through the sainthood process.

Click here or on the image below to get a large-screen view.


sainthood flowchart

Remembering murdered Jesuit confrere, pope appeals for peace in Syria

UPDATE: Full story on the pope’s remarks and more.

VATICAN CITY — Here is our translation of Pope Francis’ remarks today about the murder of Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt and the continuing war in Syria:

Monday in Homs, Syria, Father Frans van der Lugt, my 75-year-old Dutch Jesuit confrere, was assassinated. He arrived in Syria about 50 years ago and always did his best for everyone with graciousness and love, and so was loved and held in esteem by Christians and Muslims.

Father Frans van der Lugt (CNS/Reuters)

Father Frans van der Lugt (CNS/Reuters)

His brutal murder filled me with with deep sadness and made me think again of all the people who suffer and are dying in that martyred country, already too long a victim of a bloody conflict that continues to sow death and destruction. I also remember the numerous people who have been kidnapped — Christians and Muslims, Syrians and people from other countries, among whom there are bishops and priests. We ask the Lord to grant that they may quickly return to their loved ones and families and communities.

From my heart, I ask you all to join my prayer for peace in Syria and in the region, and I launch a heartfelt appeal to Syrian leaders and to the international community: Silence the weapons! Put an end to the violence! No more war! No more destruction! May there be respect for humanitarian law, care for the people who need humanitarian assistance and may the desired peace be reached through dialogue and reconciliation.”

Papa’s got a brand new bag

VATICAN CITY — Parishioners in Rome gave Pope Francis a brand new black bag in the hopes that it would hold up for many years of traveling and serving as the successor of St. Peter.


An unidentified parishioner at the church of St. Gregory the Great presents Pope Francis April 6 with a new leather bag, similar to the one he already uses for trips outside the Vatican. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“We hope that you have a long and fruitful pontificate, therefore, we thought that the bag you have may not be enough,” Father Renzo Chiesa told the pope.

The pope got the gift when he went to hear confessions and celebrate Mass at the church of St. Gregory the Great in the outskirts of Rome this Sunday.

Father Chiesa told the pope that they stuffed the bag full of letters and notes from parishioners so as “not to clog up the Vatican post office” with more mail for the pope.

Pope Francis holds personal bag as he boards plane at airport in Rome

Pope Francis holding his personal bag as he boarded a plane at airport in Rome July 22, 2013. (CNS photo/Giampiero Sposito, Reuters)

The bag is practically identical to the one the pope carries along with him on trips outside the Vatican.

He revealed to journalists on the plane to Brazil last July, what was inside:  “It wasn’t the key for the atom bomb,” he told them. There was a razor, a breviary, an appointment book, a book to read (about St. Therese).

He said, “I have always taken a bag with me when traveling — it’s normal.”

Should the term ‘war on poverty’ be dropped?

Michael Gordon, warehouse and procurement manager for a furniture bank run by Caritas, an agency providing services to homeless people in Richmond, Va., is shown in January. The program is one of thousands started  during the last 50 years in the country's renewed push to end poverty. (CNS/Jay Paul)

Michael Gordon, warehouse and procurement manager for a furniture bank run by Caritas, an agency providing services to homeless people in Richmond, Va., is shown in January. The program is one of thousands started during the last 50 years in the country’s renewed push to end poverty. (CNS/Jay Paul)

This week’s National Poverty Summit got a lot of people thinking about the language used when referring to people living in poverty.

New language is needed to build broader support to help people and families on their path to build a stable life, many of the 120 attendees agreed.

But Steven Bresnahan, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minn., did not want the discussion to stop there.

Near the end of the April 2 summit convened by Catholic Charities USA, Bresnahan asked the group if the term “war on poverty” was appropriate.

“Now think of the war in Vietnam, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq,” Bresnahan said deliberately and carefully.

“We’re taking a term at the time, when President (Lyndon) Johnson (in 1964) declared the ‘war on poverty,’ that was probably appropriate,” he continued. “But is that what we want to do to beat poverty? We want to overwhelm the hoards? We want to roll in with massive power? Think of all of those illustrations.”

Bresnahan afterward told Catholic News Service the same could be said about how social service workers are “fighting” poverty and working “on the front lines” and “in the trenches.”

The Catholic Charities executive didn’t expect an answer. He said was simply raising a question for people to consider.

“We’ve been talking about reframing and what language we use and it just struck me that the word ‘war’ implies that you settle something with violence and with having greater power,” Bresnahan explained. “If the other side doesn’t agree with you, part of the game of war is making them out to be evil so you can feel better.

“So that’s the language we’re using when we want to build relationships and bring about fundamental change in the country? It’s the wrong, wrong idea in my mind.”

Bresnahan had no immediate alternative. But he offered an idea from which a new image can be developed: the Marshall Plan under which Europe was rebuilt after World War II to ensure the peace, political stability and a healthy world economy. “We rebuilt Europe and we let Europe be themselves. So we walked with them, didn’t we?

“We need another word and I don’t know what it is.”

He then referenced Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) as a place to start.

“The war on poverty is an old term. It’s time to get a new one.”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 704 other followers