More on exploring the role of Catholic media

TORONTO — Plenty of things to talk about on Day 1 of the annual Catholic Media Convention.  In fact, too much (as is usually the case at these meetings).

The day got off to a flying start with a message from Pope Benedict, which may have been unprecedented. Some here thought that this was the first time a papal message has been prepared for such a gathering. (Remember, one of the main hosts of the meeting, the Catholic Press Association, has been around for more than 85 years.) Papal messages like this are common when the bishops of a country gather, such as the annual fall general meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, but not for a seemingly “routine” gathering such as this one, no matter how large (and there are 475 people here).

The message was read to the gathering by Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, who now hold the post formerly held by Cardinal John P. Foley, a former Catholic press editor in Philadelphia. And as our story today notes, Archbishop Celli had his own words of wisdom for the assembled journalists:

In a speech to the convention, Archbishop Celli said today’s rapid technological and cultural changes challenge Catholic journalists to “deep reflection and innovative thinking so that we can better reach out to others and better communicate the good news to all humanity — whether practicing Catholics or non-believers.”

Also speaking today was Margaret Somerville, a Canadian ethicist who spoke about the importance of “word warriors” framing ethical debates on such issues as stem-cell research or modern reproductive techniques. She reminded the journalists that “a few words can turn the tide” and encouraged her audience to give readers and viewers “the words to say” to help the common good of a society.

But I’ll let some of my colleagues here further explain that later. (UPDATE: Here’s the full story.)

UPDATE: Since this was the first convention since Archbishop Foley’s elevation to cardinal last November, he was feted this evening at the convention’s opening dinner by several past and present Catholic press and broadcast leaders for his valuable Cardinal John P. Foley (CNS file photo)contributions to the cause of Catholic journalism as editor in Philadelphia, as an active member of the Catholic Press Association, and for his service to the church as head of the social communications council in Rome. With his characteristic, self-deprecating humor, he responded with a line he often has used in the past, but which bears repeating here — he said it felt great to be “canonized without the inconvenience of dying.”

Dem bones

VATICAN CITY — After a press conference unveiling the newly restored Mausoleum of the Valerii family in the Vatican necropolis under St. Peter’s Basilica, journalists were taken on a private tour of the underground burial chambers.

A handful of American journalists was accompanied by our intrepid guide, U.S. Father Jay Mello. He was ordained to the priesthood last year, is finishing his fifth year at Rome’s North American College, and will be returning to his hometown of Fall River, Massachusetts this June.  

Father Jay led us down the necropolis’ narrow corridors and ancient lanes, pointing out the immense marble sarcophagi and stone tablets that marked many of the graves.

He told us all sorts of interesting facts, theories and discoveries made over the decades in this dark, dank burial ground.

Turns out this forgotten pagan necropolis was discovered when there was no room left for popes to be buried in the grottos directly under the basilica. Workers started digging underneath the grottos in 1939 to carve out a spot Pope Pius XI had indicated and “here they discovered the basilica was built over a necropolis,” Father Jay said. 

Restorers cleaned out and repaired the chambers which had been buried in dirt while scholars searched the tombs for clues — especially for hard evidence to back up tradition that says the basilica was built on top of the burial spot of St. Peter.

The Valerii mausoleum had a charcoal drawing that was visible in the 1950s but is now nothing more than a few ghostly squiggles. The drawings and words saying “Peter pray to Christ Jesus for the holy ones by your tomb” were determined by one scholar to be concrete proof that Peter was buried in the vicinity of this chamber.

Father Jay then brought us to the spot considered to be the exact place where St. Peter was buried after he was crucified nearby. Inside a small hole chipped away in a wall covered with ancient graffiti, you can see a plexiglass box filled with what are revered as the bones of St. Peter.

There are 12 boxes in there, Father Jay said, and one box containing the saint’s relics is also tucked away inside the pope’s private chapel!

He said after Pope John Paul II had been shot in St. Peter’s Square in May 1981, he was still recuperating and unable to come down to St. Peter’s tomb to pray on the saint’s June 29 feast day.

So somebody went down to the tomb, Father Jay said, and brought one box of the relics up to the pope’s private chapel in the papal apartments and as far as anyone knows the box is still there today.