Anticipating what the pope might say (Part 2)

With all the media speculation on what the pope might say in America next month, there’s a story of ours that’s not getting the attention it deserves. CNS Rome bureau chief John Thavis last week wrote that one need look no further than Pope Benedict’s Palm Sunday Mass homily for themes he’ll likely address here. (Here’s our first-day story on what the pope said that day.)

Thanks to the Internet, it’s been fairly easy to find both the media speculation and the Catholic blog reaction, as well as other reports in the Catholic press on the trip. One Catholic blogger gave our Thavis kudos for another story he wrote — a profile of the enigma Benedict XVI is for many non-Christians. (Scroll down to the bottom of this blog entry for an analysis of our story.)

I may sound like a broken record (and my use of that analogy probably betrays my age), but we’d like to think that with three reporters permanently stationed in Rome, CNS is the place to look for both the best Vatican coverage and the best coverage of what this trip really means for America and for Catholicism.

Easter leftovers …

… but still tasty just the same:

— Dave Hrbacek, the outdoors-blogging photographer and writer at The Catholic Spirit in St. Paul, Minn., whom we’ve written about here before, has a great little entry on the power of confession, further cementing him as one of my favorite unknown Catholic bloggers.

— For those of you who love stories of  individuals’ journeys to Catholicism, here’s another one, courtesy of the Arkansas Catholic in Little Rock.

— Not really Easter related but still a story of faith-formation is this piece from the Catholic Sentinel in Portland, Ore., telling about a “public trial” that led to a conviction of a Portland 15-year-old girl on charges of being a Christian.

Jerusalem, at Easter, as it should be

A Christian pilgrim prays after an Easter Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem March 23. (CNS/Yannis Behrakis, Reuters)As soon as I entered the Old City of Jerusalem through Jaffa Gate on Easter morning, I knew something was amiss. It was as if, with those few steps into the walled city, I had walked into another reality.

Jewish children dressed up as chefs and pirates clung to their mothers’ who were pushing baby carriages as they walked briskly to their destination to celebrate the festive Jewish holiday of Purim, where children wear costumes and adults exchange gifts of sweets and pastries.

A few early-rising backpackers walked out the doors of nearby hostels, blinking in the bright sunshine.

A group of local Muslim women, covered from head to foot, headed down the ancient roads, perhaps to get in some early morning shopping at the vegetables stalls, or maybe they were going back home after their morning prayers at a nearby mosque.

Pilgrims from the Philippines picked their way over the large protruding stones of the remnants of the ancient Roman road on their way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on this beautiful, sunny morning.

Along the way, the few shopkeepers who had opened their stores early called out to them genially to look at their wares. Some of the pilgrims stopped and examined the exotic-looking dresses, the colorful ceramics and olive-wood carvings. But there was no time to shop as they were on their way to Easter Mass — the highlight of their eight-day pilgrimage.

The muted thudding of the wheels of the special green carts merchants use to get their wares from one place to the other in the Old City echoed through the stone-paved roads as messenger boys pushed the carts down the steps descending deeper into the shuk, the Arab market. Somewhere along the metal awnings above, the shops birds were singing their morning songs.

My eyes consciously blocked out the site of the heavily armed Israeli soldiers along the roads — on high alert following the shooting attack on a Jerusalem seminary which left eight students dead earlier in the month.

And for one brief warm spring day, Jerusalem was as it should be.

PHOTO: A Christian pilgrim prays after an Easter Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem March 23. (CNS/Yannis Behrakis, Reuters)

‘Meditation made easy’

Also for Easter reflection, St. Anthony Messenger magazine has a primer on meditation. The article explains that, though we think meditation is only for monks and nuns, we already meditate each day of our life and we probably also already engage in contemplation, a practice some Catholics believe is only attempted by deeply spiritual people. 

Story, video on new Stations of the Cross

For your Good Friday contemplation, our friends at FaithLife, the biweekly news bulletin of the Diocese of Erie, Pa., sent in a story as well as a video on an artist and an art professor working on new hand-made mosaic Stations of the Cross for a local parish. The story can be accessed here (it’s in .pdf format but can be read by magnifying the page), but perhaps more interesting is the accompanying video showing how the mosaics were created.

‘Pay It Forward’ contest reaps bountiful harvest

For the past few weeks here we’ve been following the progress of the “Pay It Forward for Lent” contest of The Catholic Spirit in St. Paul, Minn. Read here about its remarkable success.

Vatican visitors’ passes go electronic

Huge crowds and the reality of living in the post-9/11 world have led the Vatican to take several steps over the years to increase security for the pope and for all who work within the Vatican walls.

The latest step is an electronic one: Visitors seeking access to the 109-acre state through the St. Anne Gate, the principal business entrance to the Vatican, now have their names registered on a computer and are given a visitor’s pass with a magnetic strip on the back.

By waving the card in front of a scanner, a little gate opens and the pass-bearer enters into Vatican City State. At the same time, a little signal is sent to the computer, registering the time. When the pass is returned, the computer logs the time again.

One type of pass is good only for access to the Vatican pharmacy and is given only if the person presents a prescription from a doctor.

The other pass is used for people who have an appointment at any other Vatican office, but it is accompanied by the same square slip of paper the Vatican used for passes before it entered the electronic age. The paper says precisely which office the guest is allowed to visit.

Vatican police officers and — once you approach the Apostolic Palace — Swiss Guards stationed throughout Vatican City ask to see the paper pass to ensure the visitor gets directly to the right office. Arriving very early, then taking a wander through the Vatican gardens is frowned upon, especially on sunny afternoons when Pope Benedict XVI may be out taking a stroll.