Planting seeds of hope

agreet

Screengrab of Vatican TV footage of today’s private audience between Pope Francis and U.S. President Barack Obama.

VATICAN CITY — One of the many moments pool reporters look forward to when a head of state meets the pope is the gift exchange.

The Vatican most often offers a unique piece of artisan art with a spiritual or Vatican theme. But when it comes to gifts from visiting dignitaries, it’s anything goes: chess sets, sacred or secular art, traditional and native crafts, books and rare manuscripts or teddy bears.

Today U.S. President Barack Obama gave Pope Francis a small chest full of fruit and vegetable seeds that are used in the White House Gardens.

“If you have a chance to come to the White House, we can show you our garden as well,” the president said.

“Como no!” the pope replied in Spanish, “Why not?” or “Of course.”

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The seeds were inside individual blue velvet pouches.

“These I think are carrots,” the president said as he opened one of the pouches.

The president said the idea for the seeds came after he heard that Pope Francis had decided to open to the public the gardens at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.

The custom-made box the seeds came in is made from reclaimed wood from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore — the first cathedral in the United States and an international symbol of religious freedom.  [UPDATE: read this story by the Archdiocese of Baltimore's The Catholic Review for more interesting background on the box!]

The basilica’s cornerstone was laid by Jesuit Father John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop and archbishop in the United States.

According to the White House, the inscription on the chest reads:

Presented to His Holiness Pope Francis
by Barack Obama
President of the United States of America
March 27, 2014

In addition to the seeds for the papal gardens, the U.S. president was also passing on a donation from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, which is donating enough seeds to yield several tons of produce to any charity the pope chooses.

“The gift honors the commitment of your Holiness to sow the seeds of global peace for future generations,” a White House statement said.

 

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The gifts the president received from the pope included a large bronze medallion of an angel representing solidarity and peace. The angel is “embracing and bringing together the northern and southern hemispheres of the earth, while overcoming the opposition of a dragon,” the Vatican said.

However, Pope Francis specified that the gift was actually a personal gesture from him, “from Jorge Bergoglio. When I saw it, I said: ‘I’ll give it to Obama; it’s the angel of peace,” he told the U.S. president.

The other medal, which the pope said, “is from the pope,” is a replica of a 17th-century medallion commemorating the laying of the first stone of Bernini’s colonnade in St. Peter’s Square.

“I will treasure this,” Obama said.

He also received a copy of the pope’s Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World, “Evangelii Gaudium,” a gift the pope has been giving visiting heads of state.

The president said with a smile: “I actually will probably read this in the Oval Office when I’m deeply frustrated. I’m sure it will give me strength and calm me down.”

When the remark was interpreted for the pope, he smiled, said “I hope,” and chuckled, too.

 

 

U.S. presidents and popes: A look back and a look at tomorrow

U.S. PRESIDENT ARRIVES AT VATICAN FOR MEETING WITH POPE

U.S. President Barack Obama arriving at the Vatican July 10, 2009, when he met Pope Benedict XVI. (CNS photo/Dario Pignatelli, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY — With tomorrow’s encounter between Pope Francis and Barack Obama, there will have been 28 U.S. presidential-papal meetings either in the Vatican or in the United States over the past 100 years.

On his blog, Luis Badilla gave a great run-down [click link or see below] of every encounter starting in 1919 between Woodrow Wilson and Pope Benedict XV. A total of 11 presidential-papal meetings took place before the United States and the Vatican finally established formal diplomatic ties exactly 30 years ago.

Tomorrow will be Obama’s second visit to the Vatican since his meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, but it will be his first meeting with Pope Francis.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the USCCB has a commentary here about US-Vatican relations and tomorrow’s visit. Here’s a snippet:

Francis will have the opportunity to touch the heart of President Obama. President Obama will have the opportunity to advise the leading churchman of what the Land of the Free can do to improve life for many more of humankind.

Both pope and president have high hopes for the meeting, and given the will that exists, something good can come from it. It’s worth a prayer.

 

Swiss Guards and Vatican officials accompanying U.S. President Barack Obama when he arrived at the Vatican July 10, 2009. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Swiss Guards and Vatican officials accompanying U.S. President Barack Obama when he arrived at the Vatican July 10, 2009. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

John Carr, the former secretary of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development at the USCCB and now director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University, has his analysis of what might transpire during tomorrow’s historic meeting, which, he says:

…will be full of symbolism and substance—and contrasts: a young president growing older and more frustrated and an old pope who seems to be growing younger and more empowered. The pope and the president could have a unique discussion on how to keep “hope and change” alive in their demanding offices amid challenging times.

 

Here’s Badilla’s list:

Of the 28 meetings between popes and U.S. presidents, 21 were held at the Vatican, 1 at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo and 6 in the United States. Blessed John Paul II met the most U.S. presidents with 15 encounters while George W. Bush holds the record for the U.S. president with the most papal audiences, 6 in all. Only Blessed John Paul and Benedict XVI have been hosted at the White House.

1. Woodrow Wilson – Benedict XV
Vatican – Jan. 4, 1919
2. Dwight D. Eisenhower – Bl. John XXIII
Vatican – Dec. 6, 1959
3. John F. Kennedy – Paul VI
Vatican – July 2, 1963
4. Lyndon Johnson – Paul VI
New York City – Oct. 4, 1965
5. Lyndon Johnson – Paul VI
Vatican – Dec. 23, 1967
6. Richard Nixon – Paul VI
Vatican – March 2, 1969
7. Richard Nixon – Paul VI
Vatican – Sept. 29, 1970

8. Gerald Ford – Paul VI
Vatican – June 3, 1975

Former U.S. President Gerald Ford with Pope Paul VI, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former first lady Betty Ford at the Vatican in this 1975 file photo. (CNS photo/KNA)

Former U.S. President Gerald Ford with Pope Paul VI, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former first lady Betty Ford at the Vatican in this 1975 file photo. (CNS photo/KNA)

9. Jimmy Carter – Bl. John Paul II
White House – Oct. 6, 1979
10. Jimmy Carter – Bl. John Paul II
Vatican – June 21, 1980
11. Ronald Reagan – Bl. John Paul II
Vatican – June 7, 1982
12. Ronald Reagan – Bl. John Paul II
Fairbanks, Alaska – May 2, 1984
13. Ronald Reagan – Bl. John Paul II
Vatican – June 6, 1987
14. Ronald Reagan – Bl. John Paul II
Miami, Sept. 10, 1987
15. George H.W. Bush Sr. – Bl. John Paul II
Vatican – May 27, 1989
16. George H.W. Bush Sr. – Bl. John Paul II
Vatican – Nov. 8, 1991
17. Bill Clinton  – Bl. John Paul II
Denver, CO - Aug. 12, 1993

Former President Bill Clinton standing with Pope John Paul II during a welcoming ceremony in Denver Aug. 12, 1993. (CNS photo)

Former President Bill Clinton standing with Pope John Paul II during a welcoming ceremony in Denver Aug. 12, 1993. (CNS photo)

18. Bill Clinton  – Bl. John Paul II
Vatican – June 2, 1994
19. Bill Clinton  – Bl. John Paul II
Newark, N.J. – Oct. 4, 1995
20. Bill Clinton  – Bl. John Paul II
St. Louis - Jan. 26, 1999
21. George W. Bush – Bl. John Paul II
Castel Gandolfo – July 23, 2001
22. George W. Bush  – Bl. John Paul II
Vatican – May 28, 2002
23. George W. Bush – Bl. John Paul II
Vatican – June 4, 2004

Former President George W. Bush with Pope John Paul II during a meeting June 4, 2004 at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Former President George W. Bush with Pope John Paul II during a meeting June 4, 2004 at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Reuters)

24. George W. Bush – Benedict XVI
Vatican – June 9, 2007
25. George W. Bush  – Benedict XVI
White House – April 16, 2008
26. George W. Bush – Benedict XVI
Vatican – June 13, 2008
27. Barack Obama – Benedict XVI
Vatican – July 10, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI greeting U.S. President Barack Obama at the Vatican July 10, 2009. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope Benedict XVI greeting U.S. President Barack Obama at the Vatican July 10, 2009. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

28. Barack Obama – Francis
Vatican – March 27, 2014

 

A Polish priest, a pistol and a plane

VATICAN CITY — In an era of such heightened airport security, it seems impossible a regular passenger would ever be allowed to board a plane with a handgun.

the priest

Polish Father Dariusz Ras, director of the John Paul II museum in Wadowice, Poland. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

But if you’re on a flight tonight from Rome to Poland, that young blond priest with an unusual black carry-on case just might be packing a pistol — the very same pistol Turkish gunman, Mehmet Ali Agca, used in his assassination attempt of Blessed John Paul II.

Polish Father Dariusz Ras is the director of the John Paul II museum, which is located in the pope’s childhood home in Wadowice.

He was in Rome today to attend a formal handing-over ceremony to receive the gun Ali Agca used to shoot the pope May 13, 1981, in St. Peter’s Square.

During a visit to the Vatican press office, the priest told a small group of us journalists that he’ll be circled by special agents at the airport and will have to hand the case over to the pilot, who will keep it locked up during the flight.

It took a year to get permission and the necessary permits to receive and transport the gun over national borders. The gun will be on a three-year loan to the museum, which will celebrate a special April 9 inauguration ceremony.

The museum’s 16 exhibits each focus on a particular aspect of the Polish pope’s history, helping visitors “get inside the life” of Pope John Paul, Father Ras told me. They were “very interested,” he said, in having the gun on display in the section on the assassination attempt.

the gun

A photograph taken of a photograph — courtesy of Italian journalist Franco Bucarelli — of the handgun used by Ali Agca to shoot Pope John Paul II.

The gun is in the custody of the Italian Ministry of Justice in its archive of criminal evidence. According to the Lateran Pacts, any crime committed in St. Peter’s Square, an open area that borders on Italian territory, falls to the Italian police, which is why Italians took over the investigation and trial of Ali Agca.

Father Ras said the Gemelli hospital, where popes go for hospitalized treatment and care, is donating the hospital room furniture, including hospital bedsheets, used by Blessed John Paul during his time there.

Biggest downside of being pontiff is the paperwork, Pope Francis says

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

(CNS/Paul Haring)

(CNS/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The thing Pope Francis dislikes most about his job as pontiff is the paperwork, he told residents of an Argentine slum in which he used to minister.

“Paperwork, office work, it’s the thing I always struggled with,” the pope said in response to the question, “What’s the thing you like least about your mission as pope?”

The pope’s remarks came during a pre-recorded televised video message to the residents of Village 1-11-14 — a Buenos Aires’ shantytown inhabited mostly by South American immigrants.

Members of the community radio station, Radio FM 88 of Bajo Flores, conducted the interview with the pope at the Vatican before he left for a Lenten retreat outside of Rome March 9.

The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published small portions of the interview March 14.

The station broadcast the question-and-answer interview for residents on large screens after a March 13 Mass celebrating the one-year anniversary of the pope’s election.

As Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, the pope used to minister in the slums of the city: sharing simple meals with residents, celebrating the sacraments in their parishes and taking Communion to the elderly in their homes.

He encouraged and supported priests to minister in the “peripheries” where the city’s poorest and most marginalized lived, the newspaper said.

The pope was asked in the interview about the work of these “curas villeros,” or priests ministering in the shanties, and whether they represented leftist ideals.

The pope said the priests’ work “wasn’t something ideological but rather (is) an apostolic mission.”

In reference to a question about a priest slain in 1974 and other priests similarly accused of being communist, the pope said, “They were not communist.” Instead, they were “great priests who fought for life: They worked to bring the Word of God to the marginalized. They were priests who listened to the people of God and fought for justice.”

The pope also pointed out the need to have an approach “of poverty, service and helping others” while also letting oneself be helped by others. He asked his audience to pray for him, saying he “needed the support of the people of God, especially through prayer.”

Teach your children well: The Pope Francis guide to education

VATICAN CITY — Among his many traits, retired Pope Benedict XVI is well-known as a brilliant professor. But how many people know about Pope Francis’ early ties to teaching and education?

Pope Francis smiles as he meets with students from Jesuit schools at Vatican

Pope Francis smiles as he meets with students from Jesuit schools at the Vatican June 7, 2013. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Teaching is a normal part of the Jesuit vocation, and the future pope started out teaching high school literature and psychology right after he got his degree in philosophy. Then, after getting his theology degree, he continued teaching, this time theology and philosophy, and served as a rector of a major seminary in Buenos Aires.

The pope’s experience and insight inspired him to always encourage educators and teachers.

And now a new book, released this month, compiles the reflections, messages and talks he gave to teachers and educators in Argentina between 2008 and 2011.

The book, “Education for Choosing Life,” is being published in English by Ignatius Press. It shows how the pope sees education as “an act of hope” and how faith and the Christian vision of humanity fuel that hope.book cover

He also expresses the need for passion and creativity as added weapons against the spirit of the “mundane” that’s seeking to numb, distract or discourage our youth.

The book is available in other languages through other publishers, but the Ignatius Press’ English-version can only be sold in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, according to the publishers’ website.

Pope Francis’ unique approach to teaching made a huge impact on at least one of his former students, and you can read our story about it right here.

Pope Francis reacts to children during special event for families in St. Peter's Square

Pope Francis reacts to children during a Year of Faith family life celebration at the Vatican Oct. 26, 2013. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

The same March 1 “La Civilta Cattolica” article with Jorge Milia included an article the young Father Bergoglio wrote for the high school’s annual publication for the students, parents and alumni in 1965.

The piece focuses on the importance of teaching young people to discern truth from rhetoric and “the song of the Sirens.”

Pope Francis reacts to children during special event for families in St. Peter's Square

Pope Francis at a Year of Faith celebration of family life Oct. 26, 2013. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

He wrote that we are accomplices in “the tragedy of truth being welcomed just halfway” unless we are sure young people are prepared to go out into the world with the full guidance and expression of the truth.

He asked:

When graduates go on to university or elsewhere, will they know how to use “the sword” of truth expressed clearly, forcefully and completely against “the noisy skylarks of eternal students, the huge bigmouths at the service of error, who are like giant pots: the emptier the vessel, the more sound they make?”

Rhetoric and lies can be “brilliant and seductive,” Father Bergoglio wrote. Too often when trying to teach about truth, teachers and adults stop halfway “with ice cold timidity, incapable of addressing the message to others with the luminosity of the whole truth.”

The future pope wrote that the problem isn’t just knowing what the truth is and being dedicated to it, it’s also knowing how to express it “with brilliance and fruitfulness.” And that can only be done, he wrote, by trying to live like Jesus — reflecting deeply on the truth and expressing it definitively, courageously and clearly as an act of love.

The conclave guessing game: lessons from a numbers geek

Cardinals seen in Sistine Chapel to begin conclave to elect successor to Pope Benedict at Vatican

Cardinals from around the world in the Sistine Chapel March 12, 2013, as they began the conclave to elect a new pope. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

VATICAN CITY — A year-ago today, as the world’s cardinals solemnly filed into the Sistine Chapel to elect a new pope, news outlets, blogs and betting sites were abuzz with papal prognostications.

I wanted to take an informal stab at it myself using some tips from the U.S. statistician, Nate Silver, who had correctly predicted the outcome of the 2008 U.S. presidential election.

I thought it’d be a fun experiment to apply some of the approaches he had outlined in his book, “The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail — but Some Don’t.”

Here’s what I looked at in the few days before the conclave:

  • What were the challenges facing the world and the church in 1978 and 2005?
  • What “winning” qualities did Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI — the men who were elected those years — possess?

From there, I drafted a rough list of what church leaders and others were saying in 2013 about the pressing challenges.

Here are just a few examples:

Cardinals seen in Sistine Chapel to begin conclave to elect successor to Pope Benedict at Vatican

Shut off from the outside world, cardinals from around the world cast ballots to elect a new pontiff in a conclave that began March 12, 2013. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

  • Religious freedom, oppression in parts of Asia; persecution and violence in the Middle East and Africa; infringements in the western world.
  • Secularism and globalization.
  • Latin America losing Catholics, Asia growing.
  • Church needing to be “attractive,” new evangelization and need to be “outspoken.”
  • Making Jesus the center of liturgy, lives, prayer.
  • Problem of sex abuse.
  • Catechism and solid foundations of faith.
  • Attention to young people.
  • Orthodoxy, importance of Catholic identity for universities, charities.
  • Lapsed Catholics; family; sacraments.
  • Vocations.

Then I scribbled down some of the winning qualities that people were looking for and would be needed to face the challenges:

  • A spiritual leader (strong prayer life).
  • Energy, strength to travel; but how young/old is too young/old?
  • Can clean up Curia/problems that make church look bad.
  • Makes faith attractive.
  • Smart; simple, clear communication.
  • Honest, down-to-earth.
  • See young people as important.
  • Represents the message the church wants to send the world.
  • From Asia, Latin America, Africa.
  • Charismatic; humble; multilingual.
Cardinals enter Sistine Chapel to begin conclave to elect successor to Pope Benedict at Vatican

Cardinals entering the Sistine Chapel in prayer March 12, 2013, as they begin the conclave. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Silver said also to list any biases that might affect the way the data is read. So I listed the common opinion that the pope “not be Italian” and the need for someone “young” or with “strength of mind and body,” as Pope Benedict himself had said.

Then I looked at several cardinals and their lives, and rated them according to how well each man possessed the needed/winning qualities to confront today’s challenges. I calculated what chances they had of winning, of losing, and of having won in the past.

I only had time to look at 14 cardinals out of the 117 electors. But one of those men was Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, whom I gave an 80% chance of winning and a 60% chance of losing (mostly because of his age — he was 76, and lack of languages).

bergoglio stats

A print-out of cardinal-electors, showing my Nate Silver-inspired stat results on March 12, 2013, for Cardinal Bergoglio’s chances of being elected pope.

But those pretty good percentages put him behind what I had calculated for Pope Francis’ close friend, 70-year-old Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras. I had given him a 90% chance of winning and a 10% chance of losing, noting his focus on the poor, writings on globalization, his strong voice for Latin America, language abilities, courage to “put out into the deep,” his work on sanctity of life; and importance of evoking God in a secular world.

Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila got the next highest marks with a 90% chance of winning, but a 20% chance of losing (too young) noting the following “winning” qualities: “Asian, rides the bus, humble, Vatican II scholar, has ‘star power,’ intellect,” communicates clearly, with focus on youth.

CANDLES ADORN SCULPTURE NEAR HOLY SPIRIT WINDOW IN ST. PETER'S BASILICA

Window of the Holy Spirit above Bernini’s sculpture, “The Throne of St. Peter,” in St. Peter’s Basilica Feb. 19, 2012. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The good thing about Silver’s approach is you’re supposed to adjust the percentages as you collect more data and I didn’t have that much time to find out more about Cardinal Bergoglio. Had I known he was another friend of public transport, I would have boosted his Win score up to 85%!

But probably the best lesson Silver offers is to never forget the limitations posed by human nature, our biases and our limited access to all the information out there.

We want to try to predict the future and be sure about what’s going to happen. But, he said we should be more humble about our ability to perceive and predict the world. And then when you add the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit at work, well, then all bets are off!

A special blessing in Rome

VATICAN CITY — Catholic News Service was proud to have U.S. Cardinal J. Francis Stafford bless the new office of the Rome bureau, which is now just a short sprint from St. Peter’s Square.

CNS' new office at Via della Conciliazione 44

CNS Rome bureau’s new office on the Via della Conciliazione near the Vatican in Rome. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

CNS has had a presence in Rome since the 1920s and the bureau’s new location, with a view of the basilica, places us “on the final leg of the pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Peter,” the cardinal said, a pilgrimage in search of the truth and communicating that truth.

Here is a an excerpt from the cardinal’s lovely and reflective remarks to us during the office blessing March 3. His full text will be republished by CNS’ documentary service, Origins.

“You are engaged in communication. Within the church your work on behalf of the Holy See and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops would be described as ministry, a holy calling, a response to a divine welcome. Communications is your sacred profession. It requires an inner spiritual maturity and a search for more than hard facts. It requires a seeking after the truth.”

– Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, retired head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, former bishop of Baltimore, Memphis and archbishop of Denver

office blessing stafford

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford blessing the CNS Rome bureau’s new office March 3. He is surrounded by CNS director and editor-in-chief Tony Spence, the staff of the Rome bureau and family members. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

 

After the blessing, CNS hosted a small party, inviting Vatican officials, religious involved in communications, journalists and friends from the United States and around the world.

Here is one of the many distinguished guests who stopped by:

cardinal burke spence rocca

From left, U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signature; Tony Spence, CNS director and editor-in-chief; Francis X. Rocca, Rome bureau chief.

Pope Francis’ appeal to the younger generation

By Emily Antenucci

VATICAN CITY — A warm sun and clear blue skies made for the perfect atmosphere at the papal audience today, where Pope Francis spoke about this first week of Lent. Posters, flags, flowers, hats and more were waved in the air as Pope Francis made his way around St. Peter’s Square in his shiny, white popemobile.

Pope Francis greets the  cheering crowd as he rides around St. Peter's Square in the popemobile before his general audience this morning. (CNS/Emily Antenucci)

Pope Francis greets the cheering crowd as he rides around St. Peter’s Square in the popemobile before his general audience this morning. (CNS/Emily Antenucci)

Waiting for him to come my way, I couldn’t help remembering the papal audience with Pope Benedict XVI I attended just four years ago. Although I was only 16 at the time and my memory of that day is a bit faded, the first difference I noticed was the audience’s attitude and tone. The energy this morning was high — there was excitement in everyone’s eyes and there was a clear eagerness in the crowd to see and be blessed in person by the genuine, down-to-earth man that dons all white. While I remember young people were the audience four years ago, their number has now skyrocketed.

What is it exactly about Pope Francis that brings in the “young” population? As the one year anniversary of the pope’s election March 13 approaches, I thought I would stick around after the audience to ask a few people their opinion.

“Pope Francis is not only wonderful and down-to-earth,” Ruth Figura of Belleville, Ill., told me, but his energy “will bring young people back to the church while renewing the faith of others as well.”

I spoke to a few Fairfield University alumnae (Maya Abinakad, Ariana Michaloutsos, Ashley Doran, and Kelly Mahon) who were visiting for a few days. They told me, “Pope Francis is modernizing things. He is pulling in young people because he makes connections and is more likeable.”

Pope Francis waves the crowd this morning. (CNS/Emily Antenucci)

Pope Francis waves to the crowd this morning. (CNS/Emily Antenucci)

Almost everyone I spoke to use the words “loving,” “likeable” and “human” to describe Pope Francis. They see young people being influenced by Pope Francis and finding or restoring their faith in the church. On the other hand, those who are considered “older” or have been involved in the church for years expressed their respect for Pope Francis, particularly as a pope who can appeal to young people.

What do you think? Why is Pope Francis drawing more people to his audiences? If you could describe his first year as pope in one word, which word would you chose?

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

Fast facts for fasting and Lent

VATICAN CITY — Ash Wednesday today begins the penitential season of Lent.

Woman prays on Ash Wednesday at New York church

A woman praying on Ash Wednesday at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York in 2013. Ash Wednesday marks the start of the penitential season of Lent, a time of reflection, prayer, fasting and charity before Easter. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Today and Good Friday are the two days of the year when the church requires fasting and abstinence for Catholics. Fridays during Lent are also obligatory days of abstinence from meat.

Sometimes there is some confusion about what this entails so here’s what’s required in a nutshell:

For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59.

When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal. Two smaller meals may also be taken, but combined they should not equal a full meal. Catholics may, of course, eat less, but this is considered the minimum required.

The norms concerning abstinence from meat (on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and Fridays during Lent) are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards.

Exemptions are also made for those who are physically or mentally ill, diabetic or are pregnant or nursing.

– USCCB Liturgical Resources for Lent

The Fellowship of Catholic University Students, FOCUS, has created a number of great resources like this handy illustrated guide created by Jonathan Teixeira:

fasting guide

An illustrated guide created by Jonathan Teixeira for FOCUS. More here: http://www.focus.org/blog/posts/an-illustrated-guide-to.html

And  a “Lent Sanity” app that delivers daily reflections and reminders about meatless Fridays.

lentsanity

LentSanity is a Lenten campaign launched by FOCUS — Fellowship of Catholic University Students

When it comes to the penitential aspect of Lent and Ash Wednesday, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver has a very good post here about the practice of penance. Here’s a snippet:

Most Catholics are familiar with the concept of giving up something for Lent, but what is not well understood is that these sacrifices, these acts of penance, have value because they teach virtue, not because the things sacrificed are bad.

Giving up sweets, coffee, alcohol or listening to music is good because it helps us grow in our ability to turn away from something we desire. Fasting is also important because it helps us focus the eyes of our heart on Jesus, just as he focused the eyes of his heart on the Father in the 40 days he spent fasting. Our heart, made for God, longs for deeper intimacy with the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Fasting strengthens our ability to turn toward the good when we are faced with a temptation to sin.

– Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila

Be sure to check out the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ list of resources to help people “Give Up, Take Up and Lift Up!”  during Lent through fasting, alms-giving and prayer.

This site is meant to help people rediscover confession — something Pope Francis has urged people to do and “not lose even one more day. Go!”

PEOPLE SPREAD ASHES DURING ASH WEDNESDAY PRAYER SERVICE OUTSIDE WHITE HOUSE

People spreading ashes during a prayer service in front of the White House in Washington on Ash Wednesday in 2012. (CNS photo/Peter Lockley)

Lent is about real conversion and change, not just fulfilling obligations. So don’t forget to read Pope Francis’ Lenten message for inspiration on the importance of confronting the spiritual and material poverty in the world as well as his audience talk today about using Lent to launch a spiritual makeover and turn our lives around.

Pope Francis opens gates of private papal gardens to the public

VATICAN CITY — People visiting or living in Rome now have another jewel of nature and architecture to visit: the Pontifical Gardens in Castel Gandolfo.

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A view of the papal gardens at Castel Gandolfo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis came up with the idea to open these private papal gardens to the general public, starting March 1.

The papal property at Castel Gandolfo covers almost 136 acres, which is more territory than Vatican City’s 108 acres. The walled grounds include a papal summer residence, the summer residence of the Vatican secretary of state, the Vatican observatory, extensive formal gardens, woodland, hay fields, a working farm, a dairy and beehives.

Papal beekeeper displays honeycomb covered with worker bees at papal villa at Castel Gandolfo outside Rome

Papal beekeeper Marco Tullio Cicero, right, shows honeycomb covered with worker bees making honey at the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo, outside Rome. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

The papal villa, which is built atop the ruins of a Roman emperor’s country residence, has been a second-home for popes since 1626. Perched in the Alban Hills overlooking a volcanic lake, the papal residence south of Rome has served as a quiet and cool place to escape from Rome’s intense crowds and summer heat.

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One of the many fountains in the papal gardens of Castel Gandolfo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

But last year, Pope Francis made just a few brief visits to the villa and there are no signs he plans on using it as a vacation getaway like his predecessors have. Not letting a good thing go to waste, he has decided to throw the gates open to the public for organized tours.

People will need to book ahead online through the Vatican Museums’ website.

Ticket price per person is 26 euro ($36)  and visitors will need to get to the entrance of the pontifical villas on their own before the tours start at 8:30 and 11:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday. A special combo ticket of 42 euro ($58) will get you a Saturday garden tour (which has an additional Italian language-only tour starting at 10:30 a.m.)  along with a “no-line” special entry to the Vatican Museums on the following Monday.

There are a number of restrictions involved with the tour. For example, a lot of walking is involved so it is not recommended for people with limited mobility nor is it wheelchair accessible. Also, modest dress is mandatory so people wearing shorts, miniskirts or tank tops will not be permitted entrance.

restrictions

A number of special restrictions apply: click on the photo above to learn more.

However, it’s not the first time the papal grounds and villa have been opened to the public. During World War II, Pope Pius XII opened the doors of the villa to thousands of people fleeing the Nazi army. He also gave up his bedroom to expectant women among the refugees and fifty babies were born there during the war.

When Blessed John Paul II stayed there, he used to play hide-and-seek with the children of the gardens’ employees. Pope Benedict XVI liked to use his time there to write and, in the evenings, play his favorite works of Mozart, Bach and Beethoven on his piano, to the delight of the staff who’d overhear the tunes through the open windows.

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