Notes on papal meeting with special nun; behind the scenes at the vigil

MADRID — Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Spain did focus on young people, including young religious women, but it wasn’t an exclusive focus.

Yesterday afternoon Pope Benedict met briefly with Cistercian Sister Teresita, who just turned 104. But what is even more interesting, she entered the Cistercian cloister on the very day Joseph Ratzinger, the pope, was born: April 16, 1927. With the exception of a few hours during Spain’s Civil War in the 1930s, Sister Teresita has spent the last 84 years inside the convent at Buenafuente del Sistal.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters that also present at the meeting was a younger consecrated woman, a sister of the Sacred Heart, who retired back to Spain after working with then-Cardinal Ratzinger at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He did not give her name.

On another note, Father Lombardi also spoke a bit about what happened last night, during the storm that hit Cuatro Vientos airfield just after the pope arrived.

Pope leading Eucharistic adoration. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

He said the pope “was very decisive” about remaining with the young people and leading them in Eucharistic adoration even when the sound system failed. Father Lombardi said Msgr. Guido Marini, papal master of ceremonies, went to the pope several times and suggested that the evening be cut short. The pope decided not to read the bulk of the speech he prepared, but he said, “No,” to the idea of leaving.

While the pope was waiting for the worst of the storm to pass and for the sound system to come back on, firefighters lowered a big screen on the altar platform because it was a danger in the wind, Father Lombardi said. But other than that, he said, the pope was safe the whole time.

Father Lombardi also asked people to read the full text of the speech the pope had prepared and “take it as if it were delivered,” especially because the vigil was the World Youth Day appointment where the pope planned to speak about the importance of the vocation of marriage.

Here is the Vatican translation of that section of the prepared text:

During this prayer vigil, I urge you to ask God to help you find your vocation in society and in the Church, and to persevere in that vocation with joy and fidelity. It is a good thing to open our hearts to Christ’s call and to follow with courage and generosity the path he maps out for us.

The Lord calls many people to marriage, in which a man and a woman, in becoming one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24), find fulfillment in a profound life of communion. It is a prospect that is both bright and demanding. It is a project for true love which is daily renewed and deepened by sharing joys and sorrows, one marked by complete self-giving. For this reason, to acknowledge the beauty and goodness of marriage is to realize that only a setting of fidelity and indissolubility, along with openness to God’s gift of life, is adequate to the grandeur and dignity of marital love.

Christ calls others to follow him more closely in the priesthood or in consecrated life. It is hard to put into words the happiness you feel when you know that Jesus seeks you, trusts in you, and with his unmistakable voice also says to you: “Follow me!” (cf. Mk 2:14).

Dear young people, if you wish to discover and to live faithfully the form of life to which the Lord is calling each of you, you must remain in his love as his friends. And how do we preserve friendship except through frequent contact, conversation, being together in good times and bad? Saint Teresa of Jesus used to say that prayer is just such “friendly contact, often spending time alone with the one who we know loves us” (cf. Autobiography, 8).

Pope hears confessions in the park at WYD

MADRID — Pope Benedict XVI began his third day in Madrid by hearing confessions in one of 200 portable confessionals set up in a park for World Youth Day pilgrims.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the pope offered the sacrament of reconciliation to four World Youth Day volunteers: two young men and two young women. The pope heard the confessions of two in French, one in German and the confession of a Spaniard in Italian.

While the pope used one of the same portable white confessionals that all penitents and priests in the park used, a white screen was placed around his to increase privacy.

Pope Benedict XVI leaves a confessional after offering the sacrament of reconciliation to four World Youth Day volunteers in Madrid's main park Aug. 20. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Organizers originally had said the pope would offer the sacrament to three young people.

“There was a fourth in case there was time,” Father Lombardi said. “They told the pope, ‘We have three young people, plus one in reserve,’ and the pope said, ‘What’s a reserve for confession?’”

(CNS/Paul Haring)

“The pope wanted to give a sign of his personal participation for the importance of the sacrament of confession, which — as we know — in our day isn’t used as much as in previous eras.

“But the World Youth Days demonstrate its continuing relevance and the fact that when there is a clear, widespread and generous offer of the possibility for the sacrament of reconciliation, young Christians happily welcome it,” Father Lombardi said.

Pope to declare St. John of Avila a doctor of the church

MADRID — Pope Benedict XVI announced this morning that he will declare St. John of Avila the 34th “doctor of the church.”

The Spanish saint, who lived 1500-1569, was famed as a preacher, confessor and spiritual writer. He is best known for the works “Audi, Filia” (“Listen, Daughter”), which is a guide to the spiritual life, and for his “Treaty of God’s Love.” In Spain he is honored as the patron saint of diocesan priests.

St. John of Avila will become the 34th doctor of the church. St. Therese of Lisieux was the 33rd and it was at World Youth Day in Paris in 1997 that Blessed John Paul II announced his intention to name her among the church’s greatest, most influential spiritual writers and theologians.

He will join a list that includes early church fathers like Sts. Jerome, John Chrysostom and Augustine, and Catholic household names like Sts. Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure and fellow Spaniard, St. John of the Cross. There are three women doctors of the church: Sts. Therese of Lisieux, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa of Avila.

Here is the Vatican’s translation of the pope’s announcement:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

With great joy, here in this Cathedral Church of Santa María La Real de la Almudena, I announce to the People of God that, having acceded to the desire expressed by Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela, Archbishop of Madrid and President of the Bishops’ Conference of Spain, together with the members of the Spanish episcopate and other Archbishops and Bishops from throughout the world, as well as many of the lay faithful, I will shortly declare Saint John of Avila a Doctor of the universal Church.

In making this announcement here, I would hope that the word and the example of this outstanding pastor will enlighten all priests and those who look forward to the day of their priestly ordination.

I invite everyone to look to Saint John of Avila and I commend to his intercession the Bishops of Spain and those of the whole world, as well as all priests and seminarians. As they persevere in the same faith which he taught, may they model their hearts on that of Jesus Christ the good shepherd, to whom be glory and honor for ever. Amen.

Vatican liturgist ready for World Youth Day; missal published

VATICAN CITY — Msgr. Guido Marini, the master of papal liturgies, is ready for World Youth Day.

The chief Vatican liturgist has posted on the Vatican website the multilingual missal of prayers Pope Benedict XVI will use Aug. 18-21 in Madrid.

The missal includes descriptions — in Spanish and Italian — of each event and the texts of the prayers to be used at events like the welcoming ceremony and the meeting with the disabled, as well as at the Masses.

The introduction to the missal says, “Young people from every part of the earth, from every ethnic group and culture, will arrive in Madrid because they want to remain solid in the faith, rooted and grounded in Christ.”

Spanish sculpture that will be part of the WYD Way of the Cross service (CNS/WYD Madrid)

The theme, “Planted and Built Up in Jesus Christ, Firm in the Faith,” uses “metaphors of the root and of construction to show the depths of union with the Lord, the strength of the bond and the key to its vitality. To be rooted signifies belonging; one who is rooted maintains strong bonds with his or her origins,” the presentation said.

The missal includes the prayers the pope will say at the beginning and end of the Way of the Cross service Aug. 19, but does not include the text of the meditations that were written by Spanish Sisters of the Cross. The description says that in remembering Christ’s suffering, the meditations will remind people of “the suffering and pain that many young people in different parts of the world experience because of war, fratricidal conflicts, persecution because of their faith, marginalization and drug addiction. In addition, the victims of abortion, terrorism and natural catastrophes will be remembered.”

The book also describes the “Celebration of Forgiveness” being held in Madrid’s Retiro Park. It says 200 confessionals will be set up in the park beginning Sunday, Aug. 14, and priests from around the world will hear confessions in dozens of languages. The pope will hear the confessions of a small group of pilgrims Aug. 20.

Remembering Blessed John Paul’s words in Sudan

VATICAN CITY — In his weekly editorial for Vatican television and radio, the papal spokesman marked the independence of South Sudan by reminding listeners of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Sudan in 1993 and the extremely strong words he used to defend the rights of Christians in the predominantly Muslim nation.

I was with Pope John Paul for that visit in February 1993 when we spent just eight hours in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, at the end of a week-long trip that also included Benin and Uganda.

The 50 or 60 journalists traveling with the pope had only a couple international phone lines and telex machines to use to file our stories. I remember feeling fairly panicked that I wouldn’t be able to file my story before we had to head back to the airport for the flight back to Rome. In those days, before everyone had fast internet connections, it usually didn’t matter if we had to wait a day to file.

Pope John Paul II was greeted by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir when he arrived in Sudan in February 1993. (CNS/Arturo Mari, L'Osservatore Romano)

But Pope John Paul was blatant and bold as he denounced the persecution of Sudanese Christians. He said their names were written “on the palms of the hands of Christ, pierced by the nails of the crucifixion.”

There were soldiers carrying guns everywhere. It was the first time I’d seen military with weapons standing in plain sight on the platform where the pope was celebrating Mass. (It was also the first and only time I’ve seen camels grazing at the edge of a field where a papal Mass was being celebrated.)

In the end, I only got one story out from Khartoum, but it included news of the pope’s meeting with President Omar al-Bashir, who is still in office. The pope told al-Bashir, who came to power in a 1989 military coup, that the measure of a national government’s maturity is the way it respects human rights and protects its minorities.

And Pope John Paul told church workers that when he looked at what was going on in Sudan, “I see clearly a particular reproduction of the mystery of Calvary in the lives of the majority of Christian people.”

As Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the papal spokesman, pointed out in his editorial, it’s been more than 18 years since Pope John Paul visited the African nation, “an estimated 2 million people have died and 4 million were displaced, but now there are hopes that the war really is over and that the new Republic of South Sudan, desired by an overwhelming majority of its inhabitants, can start a new chapter in peace.”

The pope and ‘El Gordo’

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain — Spanish lottery lovers have seen a sign from God, well, specifically from Pope Benedict XVI, who is visiting their country today and tomorrow.

The famed Christmas lottery, called Loteria de Navidad, has the largest cash prize payout of all the lotteries in the world.

Its first prize is dubbed “El Gordo” because it is a “fat” chunk of money. Last year’s top prize gave out $4,200,000. There are hundreds of smaller cash winnings and the drawing on Dec. 22 every year can take hours.

As I was reading one of today’s local Galician newspapers, I saw a small article about how the main lottery outlet that sells the tickets was receiving a “multitude of requests by telephone and Internet” for the numbers 61110 and 71110.

Apparently a large number of people think the dates of the pope’s visit 6/11/10 and 7/11/10 (Europeans put the day first and the month second) are mighty auspicious and want to cash in.

I checked last year’s winning numbers and the closest winners were 61112 and 71104 — not too far off.

Loving service is key to happiness, pope says in Spain

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain — When societies and governments are no longer at the loving service of all people, then arrogance and exploitation risk snuffing out true human development and fulfillment, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Only by loving and serving others like Jesus did, even with the simplest of gestures, will humanity regain a sense of happiness and hope, he said during an outdoor Mass celebrated in front of the 12th century cathedral of Santiago de Compostela Nov. 6.

Some 6,000 people filled the tiny square to capacity and 200,000 more were present in the small city, lining the streets and squares, according to local authorities. The cathedral bells tolled and pilgrims cheered and screamed “Viva el papa!”

The pope’s two-day visit to Spain brought him first to one of Catholicism’s most popular and ancient pilgrimage sites, Santiago de Compostela. His second and final stop on the trip was to Barcelona, where he was to consecrate the unfinished masterpiece of Catalan Architect Antoni Gaudi, the Church of the Sagrada Familia.

On the four occasions the pope spoke Nov. 6, including to journalists aboard the papal flight from Rome, he underlined that society needs to embrace the transcendent values of religion.

For the past century, a growing belief has taken hold of Europe suggesting that God is an “antagonist and enemy” of human freedom, he said in his homily in the Plaza del Obradoiro at Compostela.

As a result, he said, human dignity is threatened because it has been stripped of its “essential values and riches” and “the weakest and poorest” in the world are marginalized and left to die.

Even Jesus knew that when the rulers of nations no longer serve the best interests of others, “there arise forms of arrogance and exploitation that leave no room for an authentic integral human promotion,” the pope said.

Christians cannot remain silent and must be “clear and valiant witness” to the Gospel, the pope said.

Yet while “we need to hear God once again under the skies of Europe,” his word must be spoken with holiness and with no ulterior motives other than to reveal God’s message of truth, the pope said.

God’s word also cannot be spoken authentically without concretely loving and serving others in all aspects of one’s daily life, he said.

The pope came as a pilgrim to a city with which he shares a symbol, the scallop shell of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and the Way of St. James. The pope’s coat of arms carries the pilgrim shell as a sign of the pope’s desire to carry out the pilgrim mission of journeying in search of the truth.

To go on pilgrimage “really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God” and to open oneself up to his grace and experience conversion, he said in remarks earlier in the day inside the city’s cathedral.

The pope came to commemorate the holy year of St. James, which occurs every time the feast of St. James — July 25 — falls on a Sunday.

He took part in some of the traditional pilgrim rituals such as kneeling in prayer in the small crypt housing the apostle’s tomb, walking through the holy door and admiring the immense stone and silver-plated statue of St. James that most pilgrims embrace.

The pope also lit a large silver incense burner, called a “botafumeiro” in Galician. Nine men pulled on thick ropes attached to a pulley that made the large burner swing across the church at impressive speed.

In his talk at the cathedral, the pope emphasized that the church wants to be at the service of the human person and that in order to do that it must declare what it true, just and good.

Thousands of people, including many families, lined the six-mile route from the airport to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Many were waving small yellow and white Vatican City flags and blue and white flags representing the autonomous region of Galicia. Giant salvos of confetti were shot over the popemobile as it cruised along the main road.

The city’s excitement in welcoming the pope as a fellow pilgrim was evident as city-sponsored banners celebrated “Camino do Papa” — the Way of the Pope. People greeting the pope at the cathedral wrapped a brown pilgrim’s cloak around him.

At at airport ceremony earlier, after the pope’s plane safely landed in dense fog, he was greeted by the Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia of the Asturias, Spanish cardinals and bishops, and government authorities from the local, regional and national level.

Pope Benedict said in his welcoming speech that he came to Spain “to confirm my brothers and sisters in the faith.”

He said that in Barcelona he hoped to nourish the faith that for centuries nurtured countless institutions and organizations dedicated to charity, culture and education.

Human progress and development requires not just fostering people’s material wellbeing, but also upholding and protecting their moral, spiritual and social needs, he said.

On plane to Spain, pope talks about art and faith

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT TO SPAIN – Without the desire for truth and the search for the transcendent, art and individuals’ lives are incomplete, Pope Benedict XVI said at the start of a two-day journey to the pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela and the cultural beauty of Barcelona.

When he consecrates the still incomplete architectural and artistic wonder of Barcelona’s Church of the Sagrada Familia Nov. 7, the pope will also highlight the importance of the Holy Family as a model for today’s families.

“God had his son born in a family and he calls us to build” and support the family, which is the basic and most fundamental cell of society, he said Nov. 6 in response to journalists’ questions aboard the papal plane.

The church dedicated to the Holy Family brings to light “the problem of the family and the (need for the) renewal of the family,” which are major concerns still today, he said.

The Holy Family of Nazareth “shows us where we can go both in building society” and in reuniting faith and religion with society, he said.

The pope said the church of the Sagrada Familia, designed by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi and begun in 1882, is a splendid example of the natural synthesis of tradition and novelty as well as of faith and art.

Humanity’s search for truth and beauty finds its expression in art, he said. “We need beauty,” he said.

For centuries the church served as “the mother of art,” generating countless paintings, musical compositions, and other priceless works handed down to generations today, he said.

But today there is “a certain dissonance” between the world of art and religion, he said, and “this hurts both art and faith.”

Art that is no longer rooted in the transcendent “would be an art that is incomplete,” he said.

Art and faith need to be brought back together again and be in dialogue, he said, because truth is expressed in beauty and in beauty one finds the truth.

“Therefore, where there is truth, beauty must emerge,” he said.

Civil society also needs to be open to the transcendent and Christian values, he said.

In Spain, he said, the trend toward “anticlericalism and secularism” was especially marked in the 1930s, which created “a clash between society and faith that also exists today.”

He said faith and society must come together, not be wedged apart.

Pope Benedict said a major theme of the trip is that of pilgrimage, which he said was an important element of his life and pontificate. His coat of arms details the shell which symbolizes the pilgrim’s journey to Santiago de Compostela, where tradition holds St. James the Greater is buried.

Life is both an inner journey of deepening one’s faith every day and an outward search for God in other people, he said.

When embarking on an actual pilgrimage to another place, “one transcends oneself, transcends the everyday world and in that way one also finds a new freedom,” he said.

Through pilgrimage, one discovers an inner peace and in making the journey with others, discovers the common bond that unites all humanity and learns to see God in the face of the other, he said.

Pope meets victims of sex abuse, child protection officers

Full story.

UPDATE: Pope Benedict met this afternoon for about 35 minutes with five sex abuse victims, according to Bill Kilgallon, head of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission.

Here is the text of the Vatican’s statement following the meeting:

On Saturday 18 September 2010, in the Apostolic Nunciature in London, the Holy Father met a group of persons who had been sexually abused by members of the clergy.

He was moved by what they had to say and expressed his deep sorrow and shame over what victims and their families had suffered. He prayed with them and assured them that the Catholic Church is continuing to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people, and that it is doing all in its power to investigate allegations, to collaborate with civil authorities and to bring to justice clergy and religious accused of these egregious crimes.

As he has done on other occasions, he prayed that all the victims of abuse might experience healing and reconciliation, and be able to overcome their past and present distress with serenity and hope for the future.

Following this meeting, the Holy Father will address a group of professionals and volunteers dedicated to the safeguarding of children and young people in church environments.

The Vatican also released a copy of the pope’s speech during a meeting with church child protection officers:

Dear Friends,

I am glad to have the opportunity to greet you, who represent the many professionals and volunteers responsible for child protection in church environments. The Church has a long tradition of caring for children from their earliest years through to adulthood, following the affectionate example of Christ, who blessed the children brought to him, and who taught his disciples that to such as these the Kingdom of Heaven belongs (cf. Mk 10:13-16).

Your work, carried out within the framework of the recommendations made in the first instance by the Nolan Report and subsequently by the Cumberlege Commission, has made a vital contribution to the promotion of safe environments for young people. It helps to ensure that the preventative measures put in place are effective, that they are maintained with vigilance, and that any allegations of abuse are dealt with swiftly and justly. On behalf of the many children you serve and their parents, let me thank you for the good work that you have done and continue to do in this field.

It is deplorable that, in such marked contrast to the Church’s long tradition of care for them, children have suffered abuse and mistreatment at the hands of some priests and religious. We have all become much more aware of the need to safeguard children, and you are an important part of the Church’s broad-ranging response to the problem. While there are never grounds for complacency, credit should be given where it is due: the efforts of the Church in this country and elsewhere, especially in the last ten years, to guarantee the safety of children and young people and to show them every respect as they grow to maturity, should be acknowledged. I pray that your generous service will help to reinforce an atmosphere of trust and renewed commitment to the welfare of children, who are such a precious gift from God.

May God prosper your work, and may he pour out his blessings upon all of you.

LONDON — Pope Benedict XVI expressed his “deep sorrow” to the victims of clerical sexual abuse, saying these crimes have caused immense suffering and feelings of “shame and humiliation” throughout the church.

The pope made his remarks Sept. 18 in Westminster Cathedral, where an overflow crowd of faithful spilled out into the street for his only public Mass in London.

The 83-year-old pontiff, wearing a brilliant red chasuble, looked good on the third day of a four-day visit that featured a packed schedule of events with civil and religious leaders.

The pope’s homily, delivered in English and broadcast on national TV, focused on the image of the suffering Christ, and he connected it to “the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the church and by her ministers.”

“Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes, along with my hope that the power of Christ’s grace, his sacrifice of reconciliation, will bring deep healing and peace to their lives,” he said.

“I also acknowledge, with you, the shame and humiliation which all of us have suffered because of these sins; and I invite you to offer it to the Lord with trust that this chastisement will contribute to the healing of the victims, the purification of the church and the renewal of her age-old commitment to the education and care of young people,” he said.

The pope expressed his gratitude for the efforts to confront the sex abuse problem in the church, and he asked all Catholics to “show your concern for the victims and solidarity with your priests.”

In Britain, after dozens of priestly sex abuse cases came to light in the late 1990s, bishops adopted a series of measures to protect children, setting up a national office for child protection and encouraging the appointment of trained child protection officers in each parish and school. The bishops also made a commitment to turn every case of alleged child abuse over to the police.

On the plane carrying him to Great Britain Sept. 16, Pope Benedict said the church was not vigilant enough or fast enough in responding to cases of sexual abuse.

“These revelations were for me a shock, and a great sadness. It is difficult to understand how this perversion of the priestly ministry was possible,” he said. He said helping the victims overcome trauma was the church’s first priority, and said perpetrators must never be allowed access to children.

The pope’s comments have consistently drawn criticism from sex abuse victims’ advocacy groups like the U.S.-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP. His remarks on the plane were also dismissed by critics.

“It’s disingenuous to say church officials have been slow and insufficiently vigilant in dealing with clergy sex crimes and cover ups. On the contrary, they’ve been prompt and vigilant, but in concealing, not preventing, these horrors,” said Joelle Casteix in a statement published on the SNAP Website.

Among the relatively small number of protesters demonstrating against the pope’s visit in Britain, were those holding signs and banners that read: “Put the pope on trial” and “Pope, protector of pedophile priests.”

The liturgy at Westminster Cathedral featured Latin and English-language prayers, and was attended by representatives of other Christian churches, including Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams, who hosted the pope the day before at the Anglican headquarters in London.

The pope noted the giant crucifix that dominates the nave of the cathedral, and said this striking image and its connection with the Eucharistic sacrifice was at the heart of the Catholic faith.

“Here in England, as we know, there were many who staunchly defended the Mass, often at great cost, giving rise to that devotion to the most holy Eucharist,” he said.

He said the sacrificial mystery of Christ’s precious blood is reflected by people today who endure discrimination and persecution for their faith, as well as those who suffer in hidden ways — including the sick, the handicapped and those who suffer mentally and physically.

The pope spoke of the importance of the laity in the modern church, especially in witnessing the “beauty of holiness” and the “splendor of truth” to a world that needs both. But he also asked for an outpouring of prayers for new priestly vocations, saying that “the more the lay apostolate grows, the more urgently the need for priests is felt.”

Pope on global development for poor: ‘Too big to fail’

LONDON — An interesting passage from Pope Benedict’s speech to cultural and political leaders this evening at Westminster Hall in London touched on economic development as an area where moral and ethical values are sorely needed.

After saying the global economic crisis was partly caused by a lack of moral input in the world of finance, the pope turned to the fate of poorer countries:

I also note that the present Government has committed the United Kingdom to devoting 0.7% of national income to development aid by 2013.  In recent years it has been encouraging to witness the positive signs of a worldwide growth in solidarity towards the poor.  But to turn this solidarity into effective action calls for fresh thinking that will improve life conditions in many important areas, such as food production, clean water, job creation, education, support to families, especially migrants, and basic healthcare.  Where human lives are concerned, time is always short: yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed “too big to fail”.  Surely the integral human development of the world’s peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world’s attention, that is truly “too big to fail”.


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