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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

1985 FILE PHOTO OF AMBASSADOR WILSON WITH POPE JOHN PAUL II

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)

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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)

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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 paterfabian.tumblr.com

Two popes sending holiday “thank you” messages

Pope receives letter from child as he visits Bambino Gesu children's hospital in Rome

Pope Francis receiving a letter from a child during a visit to the Bambino Gesu children’s hospital in Rome Dec. 21. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

VATICAN CITY — If you sent Pope Francis a card or letter for his birthday, Christmas, and/or the new year, he says, “Thank you!”

Even though he likes to call or write back directly to the people who contact him, he knows he can’t do so for everyone.

So this Sunday he gave a general shout-out and heartfelt thanks to all his well-wishers, saying he received “many messages” over the holidays from all over the world.

“I would love to, but unfortunately it’s impossible to reply to everybody! Therefore, from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank the children for their beautiful drawings. No kidding, they’re really beautiful! Kids make beautiful drawings. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!

First of all, I thank the children. And I thank young people, the elderly, families, parishes, religious women, Catholic associations and movements and different groups that wanted to show their affection and closeness. I ask everyone to keep praying for me; I need it, and to pray for this service to the church.”

– Pope Francis’ Angleus address Jan. 5

Pope Benedict also thanked those who took part in a recent initiative that gathered hundreds of greetings and personal reflections, and presented him with a special box of pencils (his preferred writing instrument) to encourage him to keep writing.

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A box of pencils sent to retired Pope Benedict by a group of fans. Photo courtesy of Sonia Swabey.

The “Pencils for Benedict XVI” campaign gathered 479 messages from people worldwide. People were asked to highlight what the pope-emeritus means to them and how he has influenced their lives.

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A hardcover book compiling people’s reflections on Pope Benedict. It was delivered to the retired pope before the holidays. Photo courtesy Sonia Swabey.

The reflections were compiled and published in a hardcover book that was then delivered to the retired pope along with the pencils.

The collection and gifts were organized by UK Web developer Sonia Swabey and her team at their website and forum www.georgganswein.com — a site named in recognition of the retired pope’s personal secretary and prefect of the papal household, Archbishop Georg Ganswein.

Sonia sent me an update saying Pope Benedict replied with a letter asking her to tell people how happy he was with the collected messages.

Here is an excerpt from the retired pope’s letter:

“Time after time it is a great experience of real catholicity to, through these texts, meet people who have been touched by my Petrine ministry and feel strengthened on their way. It is really moving for me how with this the living worldwide church stands concretely before me and speaks to me. By this I may see and feel how faith transcends all boundaries of geography, culture, language and profession and this brings about communion.

… Let them all know how thankful I am for their good words and how in this way a spiritual communion is built up, which carries us all towards the Lord.”

– Retired Pope Benedict to Sonia Swabey

“Wake up the world!” Quotable quotes from Pope Francis’ meeting with religious

Pope smiles as he arrives to lead general audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Pope Francis at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square Dec. 18. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — Today’s article in the Italian Jesuit journal, La Civilta’ Cattolica, offers more fresh insight from Pope Francis into how men and women can live out religious and consecrate life more fully. As a member of the world’s largest order of religious men and as someone who served as head of the Jesuit province in Argentina, the pope’s insight is particularly valuable.

The article gives an in-depth account of the three-hour, closed-door informal meeting the pope had with 120 superiors general of men’s religious orders Nov. 29.

While you can access the full 17-page article in English, Spanish or Italian at the journal’s website, here is a sampling of some of our favorite excerpts (CNS translations of the original Italian).

  • Today’s religious men and women need to be prophetic, “capable of waking up the world,” of showing they are a special breed who “have something to say” to the world today.
  • “The church must be attractive. Wake up the world! Be witnesses of a different way of doing things, acting, living! (Show) it’s possible to live differently in this world.”

    Nun chats with a woman in Spain

    A nun chatting with a woman on a street corner in Seville, Spain, Aug. 2013. (CNS photo/Marcelo del Pozo, Reuters)

  • They need to live and behave in a truly different way, recognizing one’s weakness and sins, but acting with “generosity, detachment, sacrifice, forgetting oneself in order to take care of others.”
  • “It’s necessary to spend time in real contact with the poor. For me this is really important: it’s necessary to know from experience what’s real, to dedicate time going to the periphery to truly know the situation and the life of the people.”
  • Without firsthand experience with people’s lives, “then one runs the risk of being abstract ideologues or fundamentalists, and this is not healthy.”

    PRIEST ENGAGES YOUNG PEOPLE DURING EVENT AT ILLINOIS SHRINE IN JULY

    Fr. Nestor Torres of the Chicago Archdiocese working with young men and women at Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Des Plaines, Ill., this 2012 file photo. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

  • “Those who work with young people cannot limit themselves to saying things that are too ordered and structured like a treaty because these things fly over their heads. A new language is needed, a new way of saying things. Today God calls us to leave the nest that’s holding us and to be emissaries.”
  • A charism needs to be “lived according to the place, times and people. The charism is not a bottle of distilled water. It needs to be lived with energy, rereading it culturally, too.”

    GIRL SEEN DURING DEDICATION OF VIETNAMESE CHAPEL IN WASHINGTON

    The dedication of Our Lady of La Vang Chapel at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington Oct. 21, 2006. (CNS photo/Matthew Barrick, courtesy of the National Shrine)

  • “Inculturating a charism, therefore, is fundamental, and this does not mean relativizing it. We must not make a charism rigid and uniform. When we make our cultures uniform, then we kill the charism.”
  • “The specter to combat is the image of religious life as a refuge and comfort away from a world on the ‘outside’ that is difficult and complex.”
  •  Thinking formation is completed after seminary studies “is hypocrisy, fruit of clericalism.”

    Seminarian laughs during chorus rehearsal at Hispanic seminary in Mexico City

    Seminarians during a chorus rehearsal at the Hispanic Seminary of Our Lady of Guadalupe Nov. 22, 2013 in Mexico City. (CNS photo/David Maung)

  • Preparing new members for religious life is “a craft, not a police operation. We must include the formation of hearts. Otherwise we are creating little monsters. And then these little monsters mold the people of God. This really gives me goose bumps.”
  • People working in formation need to think about the people of God these men and women will be in contact with. “I’m reminded of those religious who have a heart as sour as vinegar: they are not made for the people. We must not create administrators and managers, but fathers, brothers and sisters, travel companions.”

Everything you need to ring out 2013, usher in 2014 with Pope Francis

Pope kneels in prayer as he celebrates Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at Vatican

Pope Francis kneeling in prayer when he celebrated Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — As 2013 comes to a close, people can follow today’s traditional evening prayer service with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The celebration of Vespers, which begins at 5 p.m. Rome time (11 a.m. EST),  will end with the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the singing of the “Te Deum” hymn of thanksgiving to God.

The liturgical booklet is here and the video feed (starting at 4:30 p.m. Rome time) here.

After the prayer service, the pope is scheduled to visit the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square.

Ring in the new year Jan. 1 by following the papal Mass celebrating the feast honoring Mary, Mother of God.

The liturgical booklet is here and the video feed (starting at 9:30 a.m. Rome time/3:30 a.m. EST) is here.

Pope Francis holds dove before his weekly audience at the Vatican

Pope Francis holding a dove before his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square May 15. (CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters)

Don’t forget that the church also celebrates the World Day of Peace Jan. 1. Pope Francis’ first peace day message, about the spirit of fraternity being the foundation of peace, is here.

An engagement the engaged won’t want to miss

St. Valentine pictured in stained glass window at basilica in Terni, Italy

St. Valentine pictured at basilica in Terni, Italy. (CNS photo/Paul Haring).

VATICAN CITY — Attention engaged couples: if you have already completed or are still attending marriage preparation courses, would you like to spend St. Valentine’s Day at an audience with Pope Francis?

The Pontifical Council for the Family is sponsoring the event (“The Joy of a ‘Yes’ that’s Forever”) in the Vatican’s Paul VI audience hall Feb. 14.

Couples need to apply by Jan. 30, 2014 by contacting their diocesan marriage and family office or by emailing the pontifical council directly at events@family.va

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The Pontifical Council for the Family is sponsoring an encounter with Pope Francis for engaged couples. The event will be held at the Vatican on St. Valentine’s Day.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, head of the family council, has a special tie to the St. Valentine tradition. As a former bishop of Terni, he is a successor to the third-century martyred bishop of Terni, St. Valentine. The archbishop, in fact, would celebrate a “promise Mass” with engaged couples in the town’s Basilica of St. Valentine on the Sunday before the feast day.

Now the feast day will get special attention at the Vatican.

Pope Francis will undoubtedly have some good advice for couples, especially given what he has said so far:

Those who celebrate the sacrament [of marriage] say, “I promise to be true to you, in joy and in sadness, in sickness and in health; I will love you and honour you all the days of my life.”  At that moment, the couple does not know what will happen, nor what joys and pains await them. They are setting out, like Abraham, on a journey together. And that is what marriage is!

Setting out and walking together, hand in hand, putting yourselves in the Lord’s powerful hands.  Hand in hand, always and for the rest of your lives. And do not pay attention to this makeshift culture, which can shatter our lives…

Pope greets family as they present offertory gifts during Mass for families in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Pope Francis greets a family during a Mass for families in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Oct. 27. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

…In order to have a healthy family, three words need to be used. And I want to repeat these three words: please, thank you, sorry. Three essential words!

We say please so as not to be forceful in family life: “May I please do this? Would you be happy if I did this?” We do this with a language that seeks agreement.

We say thank you, thank you for love! But be honest with me, how many times do you say thank you to your wife, and you to your husband? How many days go by without uttering this word, thanks!

And the last word: sorry. We all make mistakes and on occasion someone gets offended in the marriage, in the family, and sometimes – I say – plates are smashed, harsh words are spoken but please listen to my advice: don’t ever let the sun set without reconciling. Peace is made each day in the family: “Please forgive me”, and then you start over. Please, thank you, sorry! … Let us say these words in our families! To forgive one another each day!

– Pope Francis meeting with families Oct. 26, 2013

 

 

Chanting a Christmas countdown

Lit candle seen on Advent wreath during Mass in Crypt Church at national shrine in Washington

An Advent wreath at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. The wreath, which holds four candles, is a main symbol of the Advent season, with a new candle lit each Sunday before Christmas. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis gave a plug for the “O Antiphons” in his homily today, urging people to recite these beautiful expressions of longing for the coming of the Messiah.

He said these prayers get people in the right spirit of humility, to empty their hearts of “sterile” pride, so they can be filled with God’s grace.

The  “O Antiphons” are seven prayers that are recited on the days immediately before Christmas, beginning Dec. 17. They introduce the Magnificat, or canticle of Mary, at evening prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.

The prayers — scriptural texts just a few lines long, begin with “O” and include the desire for Christ to come.  He is addressed by a different traditional title for the Messiah on each of the seven days to connect the coming of Christ with the prophetic writings of the Old Testament.

This video offers a running playlist of the seven antiphons in Gregorian chant for each day:

December 17

O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: come to teach us the path of knowledge!

December 18 

O Leader of the House of Israel, giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai: come to rescue us with your mighty power!

December 19

O Root of Jesse’s stem, sign of God’s love for all his people: come to save us without delay!

December 20

 O Key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom: come and free the prisoners of darkness!

December 21

O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.

December 22

O King of all nations and keystone of the Church: come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!

December 23

O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law: come to save us, Lord our God!

 

 

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