Eco-friendly E.T.?

VATICAN CITY — Journalists got an interesting freebie at the end of yesterday’s unveiling of the Vatican’s pavilion at this summer’s world Expo on water and sustainable development being held in Zaragoza, Spain.

It’s a blue squeaky toy that looks a bit like E.T. disguised as a Smurf. He is the Expo Zaragoza 2008 mascot and his name is Fluvi — Latin for river or stream. Spokesmen for the Expo said they decided on this figurine after the public (especially children) chose him out of a lineup of numerous potential mascots.

Spanish communications officers were handing them out at the end of the Vatican press conference along with an explanation in lightning-quick Spanish.

Basically, when your kids or your pet are done playing and squeaking this 100% all-natural-latex creature,  you yank a little piece of string out of Fluvi’s bellybutton, pop him in a flower pot, cover him with dirt, water him regularly and — “arriba arriba!” — you will eventually have a full-grown tomato plant flourishing on your windowsill. Not sure if they will be cherry tomatoes or giant heirlooms, though…

But in any case, this takes the whole Chia Pet idea to a groundbreaking new level.


Choosing godparents

Here’s a topic you rarely hear discussed in public — is there a proper way to choose godparents? It’s discussed on the blog site of America magazine. Author Valerie Schultz explores the topic in a brief and engaging way, asking if godparenting is merely an honorary title or if it carries spiritual significance. And when you read it, make sure you also read the third comment under Schultz’s original post.

Journalist-turned-seminarian reports on papal visit

The impact of Pope Benedict’s visit to the United States is still reverberating around the country. The Intermountain Catholic in Salt Lake City has posted the personal account of a seminarian — and former staff member — who traveled to New York to represent Mount Angel Seminary in St. Benedict, Ore., at the giant rally April 19 for youths and seminarians. The author, Christopher Gray (click here for our earlier article on him), also came back with a photo (right) that proves he had an excellent spot at the rally.

‘Casey Democrats’ and the fall election

Today’s Washington Post Sunday opinion section has an interesting look at “Casey Democrats,” often blue-collar, often Catholic, Democrats named for the late Pennsylvania former Gov. Robert P. Casey Sr., who made national headlines when he was denied a speaking role at the 1992 Democratic National Convention because he was pro-life. The article’s author is Mark Stricherz, probably better known in the blogosphere as one of the contributing writers for the GetReligion blog on media coverage of religion. (Stricherz often is right on the mark in his GetReligion analyses, such as his post yesterday on how most newspapers ignored religion in their reporting on last week’s legalization of gay marriage by the California Supreme Court, but I have one minor quibble with today’s Post piece: Stricherz at one point in the article refers to the “headquarters of the Westmoreland County archdiocese” when in fact he is writing about the Greensburg Diocese, which includes Westmoreland and three other southwestern Pennsylvania counties.)

A German shepherd for Italy

Pope Benedict XVI waves from his popemobile during a 2007 visit to the northern Italian city of Pavia. (CNS/Daniele Colarieti, Catholic Press Photo)GENOA, Italy — When Pope Benedict XVI was elected, many Italians figured the German pope might pay less attention to them than his predecessor.

Pope John Paul II, a Pole, made it a point to reach out pastorally to Italians in Rome and beyond, crisscrossing the country on more than 120 visits. But John Paul was younger, and as the first non-Italian pope in more than 450 years, he had an extra reason to remind Italians of his affection and interest.

Benedict, it turns out, has been no less attentive to his adopted country. Already he’s made pastoral visits to 11 Italian cities, and more are on his calendar.

These are not cameo appearances, either. In Genoa and Savona over the weekend, he presided over seven major events and delivered six talks, spending more than 12 hours with the faithful.

The venues in Genoa were packed, but of course not everyone shows up at the Masses and other encounters. Italians are divided over the role of the church and the voice of the pope in social affairs. I think one reason is that he’s a constant presence in the culture. It’s much different to host the pope for a five-day visit, as the United States did in April. Italians have him every day.

The Italians who crowded the streets in Genoa seemed to welcome the German pope as one of their own. For the people I spoke with, his being German was a total non-issue.

The pope knows Italy, having lived in the country for nearly 30 years. He also knows how to hit the right notes when he travels here, tapping into local history and tradition to make his larger points. His first stop in Liguria was at the popular 16th-century shrine of Our Lady of Mercy, where he placed the offering of a gilt rose. Standing near the historic port of Genoa this afternoon, he described the string of coastal churches and Marian sanctuaries positioned like a “crown between the mountains and the sea.”

The pope commemorated the many missionaries who left Genoa for the New World. But he also recalled the ordinary emigrants, materially poor but rich in faith and spiritual values, which they transplanted to the Americas. In a sense, he recognized that they were missionaries, too.

The ambassador’s American connection

Pope Benedict XVI poses for pictures with the new Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, Mordechay Lewy, at the Vatican May 12. (CNS/Catholic Press Photo/L\'Osservatore Romano)VATICAN CITY — When Mordechay Lewy presented his credentials as Israel’s ambassador to the Vatican the other day, he explained to Pope Benedict the reason for the unusual spelling of his last name.

Levi, of course, is a common Jewish name, as one of the Hebrew tribes. But when one of the ambassador’s ancestors decided to emigrate to the United States in the 19th century, it became Lewy.

“The fact that my grand-grandfather, from the town of Rogasen in the district of Posen (now Poznan in Poland), changed the spelling from Levi to Lewy was due to his illusory notion that Americans would pronounce Lewy better. He proved to be wrong,” the ambassador told the pope.

Lewy recounted how his great-grandfather participated in the American Civil War before returning to his homeland, which by then had become part of Imperial Germany, and starting a family in Berlin. From there, in the middle of the next century, the ambassador’s father saved himself from the Holocaust by illegally emigrating to Palestine.

That’s where the ambassador was born on May 15, 1948 — the day after the independence of Israel was declared.

Lewy met with a small group of reporters Thursday at the Israeli Embassy, and he handed us copies of his own speech to the pope. The ambassador knows Latin and, perhaps encouraged by the Vatican’s recent inauguration of a Latin-language Web page, his text was sprinkled with Latin phrases.

The opening line: “Benedictus qui largitur de majestate sua carni et sanguini” is the Latin version of a traditional Hebrew greeting that means, roughly, “Blessed is He who gives of his glory to flesh and blood.” Lewy told the pope this was a traditional blessing a Jew made out of respect when he encountered a monarch or a ruler.

‘The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian’ review now posted

Ben Barnes and Warwick Davis in a scene from the movie. (CNS/Disney)The review of “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” by the U.S. bishops’ Office for Film & Broadcasting is now posted in our movie review section. You’ll see that, for rather obvious reasons, the film is classified A-II — adults and adolescents.