Jesse Tree ornaments available for download

Here’s something rather unique: Our friends at Faith magazine in the Diocese of Erie, Pa., have posted free, downloadable Jesse Tree ornaments. Rich Papalia, Erie’s graphics manager and Webmaster, says the response has been tremendous. Here’s your chance to familiarize yourself with the Jesse Tree tradition and prepare your family for Christmas.

Vatican passes on makeover offer

Pope Benedict XVI arrives for his weekly general audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican Nov. 28. (CNS/Paul Haring)The Vatican has no intention of hiring famed Italian movie and opera director Franco Zeffirelli to be the pope’s image-maker or to be an Inquisitor for religious films.

The Italian maestro told the Italian daily La Stampa over the weekend that he was putting himself at the Vatican’s disposal to revamp Pope Benedict’s “cold” delivery and “opulent,” “flashy” vestments.

Zeffirelli, whose 1977 miniseries “Jesus of Nazareth” is regarded as one of the most faithful adaptations of the Christ story, said he would also protect how religious figures and the church were portrayed on the screen. He said he was “at the proposal stage” with officials in plans to create a review board at the Vatican “for defending the faith in cinema, (and) sacred imagery.”

“I must have full authority — which the Holy Father would not deny me — to strike down the continual blasphemies committed with the intention of making the Christian message popular,” he told the paper.

Even though the 84-year-old director will be busy putting on “Tosca” at Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera in January, he said he would work “full time” being the Vatican’s media watchdog.

The Vatican is not engaged in talks with the director nor will it be taking up his generous offers. The story and the director’s proposals were summarily dismissed either with hearty laughter or “Oh please, you can’t be serious!” from key people I spoke with.

Folks at the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Social Communications hadn’t heard about the director’s proposals, one official said.

As for remaking Pope Benedict’s image, he already has a new master of cermeonies, Guido Marini, and, besides, there are many who like the pope just the way he is.

Some media quickly interpreted Zeffirelli’s dreams as reality, while others were more skeptical. For example, the Italian bishops didn’t even list the Dec. 15 La Stampa story as part of their daily news roundup that day. After all, just three weeks ago Zeffirelli told the Italian paper Corriere della Sera he is related to Leonardo da Vinci.

“My great-great-grandfather impregnated the peasant girl who gave birth to Leonardo,” the paper quoted him as saying. Leonardo was born over 500 years ago.

PHOTO: Pope Benedict XVI arrives for his weekly general audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican Nov. 28. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Utah bishop’s latest podcast is on Advent

As far as I know, Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City and the staff of his diocesan paper, the Intermountain Catholic, are the only folks producing a regular podcast featuring the bishop in, as the title of the series says, “His Own Words.” (We’ve previously linked to the podcasts here, here, and here.) The bishop’s latest podcast, posted just yesterday, is on Advent. The paper’s podcast page notes that you also can subscribe to the bishop’s podcasts through iTunes, for those of you familiar with how to download some of the free stuff available there.

‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’: The story behind the song

That’s the headline on an article in this month’s St. Anthony Messenger magazine on the origins of the popular Christmas classic song “Do You Hear What I Hear?” The song, performed and recorded by dozens of artists, was not of European origins — it was written during the Cuban missle crisis in 1962, the article says.

‘They’re absent from Mass, but they haven’t left the church’

If the subject of Mass attendance intrigues you, you’ll probably be interested in this: The Diocese of Providence, R.I., which according to the Rhode Island Catholic has a committee beginning to study Mass attendance rates in the state, brought an Australian church official to town to discuss a study he recently completed on Mass attendance “down under.” The diocesan paper’s story on the visit noted both similarities and differences between the U.S. and the Australian experiences and found reasons to be optimistic despite the potentially bad news.

Where has this year gone?

As if I needed any reminder of how fast this year is flying by, here’s a story out of Knoxville, Tenn., on preparations for sending busloads of students to Washington next month for the annual March for Life, from The East Tennessee Catholic. Is it really only a few weeks away?

More evidence of Bibles in China

Bibles in Chinese are seen in the back of the Catholic cathedral in Nanjing, China, in this 2007 file photo. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)Remember the buzz last month that Bibles were being banned at the Olympics in Beijing next summer?

Like many rumors, this one had an air of believability, especially to people who may not be current on the state of religion in China. As we said last month, Bibles freely circulate in China, despite that regime’s other controls on religion.

I was reminded of this little dust-up by a story we picked up earlier this week from our partners in Asia, UCA News, which reported on a popular Bible Diary that quickly sold out and went to a second printing. There’s even a link where the items can be downloaded.

We’ve often said we’re not above tooting our own horns. Here comes another: For an excellent look at the state of the Catholic Church in China, read our series from earlier this year.

PHOTO: Bibles in Chinese are seen in the back of the Catholic cathedral in Nanjing, China, in this 2007 file photo. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)