For many in Jerusalem, Bush means traffic

U.S. President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush are joined by Israeli President Shimon Peres, second from right, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, right, as they participate in an arrival ceremony at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv May 14. (CNS/Reuters)JERUSALEM — President George W. Bush is back in town. For the second time. I hear the helicopters announcing the U.S. president’s arrival to Jerusalem overhead as I type.

He is meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He is attending Peres’ much-touted “Facing Tomorrow Conference” along with many other dignitaries and intellectuals, artists and leaders of the future. He is visiting Masada and speaking at the Knesset.

And he is wreaking havoc, once again, on Jerusalem traffic. To be quite honest, that is the true significance of Bush’s visits for most Jerusalemites.

My son goes to school downtown, and the way to reach it from our home is just along the roads that Bush’s motorcade takes when he does all his visiting. The school has, once again, had to readjust school hours to accommodate the president’s comings and goings and has warned parents to be prepared for traffic jams.

So I have warned my editors that if my copy is late in this week, I am not slacking off. I am just stuck in traffic.

Latin’s revival

VATICAN CITY — Surprisingly, the pope’s own Latinist had nothing to do with the recent birth of Latin on the Vatican’s official Web site.

Wisconsin native Carmelite Father Reginald Foster told CNS the other day he didn’t have a hand in the birth of the new “Sancta Sedes” section on, but he said he was thrilled it had happened. 

Fr. Reggie works in the Latin-language section of the the Vatican’s Secretariat of State and has been translating papal texts into Latin for 30 years. He said he could never understand why, until now, papal and Vatican documents “would come out and people couldn’t find them in Latin.” 

“Well, someone maybe caught on and fixed the thing,” he said.

He also senses there is “renewed interest” in this so-called dead language, but nothing like the old days when there used to be a 10-minute news show in Latin that aired daily on Vatican Radio.  After it was suspended he said “People were saying ‘What’s this! How’s this possible?!'”

For now, Latin lovers will have to content themselves with Fr. Reggie’s weekly program “The Latin Lover” on Vatican Radio or they can come to Rome and study Latin with the Carmelite priest at his own academy or they can go online and see what it’s all about.

After all, not only is it still the official language of the Vatican, quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur !

(which means “whatever is said in Latin sounds profound.”)

Revisiting ‘do space aliens have souls?’

This week’s comments by the Vatican’s astronomer on whether space aliens would need Christ’s redemption is not the first time the church has examined the topic. Our Carol Glatz in Rome wrote a story two and a half years ago headlined “Do space aliens have souls? Inquiring minds can check Jesuit’s book.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Galaxy-gazing scientists surely wonder about what kind of impact finding life or intelligent beings on another planet would have on the world.

But what sort of effect would it have on Catholic beliefs? Would Christian theology be rocked to the core if science someday found a distant orb teeming with little green men, women or other intelligent forms of alien life? Would the church send missionaries to spread the Gospel to aliens? Could aliens even be baptized? Or would they have had their own version of Jesus and have already experienced his universal or galactic plan of salvation?

Curious Catholics need not be space buffs to want answers to these questions and others when they pick up a 48-page booklet by a Vatican astronomer.

If you’re losing sleep at night wondering how the church would deal with space aliens’ souls (maybe this would further exacerbate the priest shortage, but could it be a source for new vocations?), make sure you read both today’s story and our 2005 interview with Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno.

And if you’re still not satisfied, Brother Consolmagno’s booklet, “Intelligent Life in the Universe?” is still available online.

Water for life

A boy at a fountain in St. Peter's Square.VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has just announced a press conference next Monday to unveil its pavilion at this summer’s Expo Zaragoza 2008. Like the international exposition, the theme of the Vatican pavilion will be water.

It’s a topic that has appeared with increasing frequency on the Vatican’s radar in recent years, with Vatican agencies and academies looking at the technical and moral aspects of water distribution around the world. Pope Benedict has called water an “inalienable right” and warned that shortages could fuel conflicts.

Heading the lineup at the press conference May 19 will be Cardinal Renato Martino, whose Pontifical Justice and Peace Council prepared a document for the 2003 World Water Forum declaring that access to safe water was a right-to-life issue.

The exposition on the theme “Water and Sustainable Development” will run from June 14-Sept. 14 in the northern Spanish city of Zaragoza, and it marks the first time the Vatican has participated as a full member in such an event. The 6,000-square-foot Vatican pavilion will offer visitors a three-stage reflection on “Water, the essence of life”, “The spirituality of water” and “Water for life.”

The word is that the Vatican will integrate works of art into the exhibit, including some from the Vatican Museums. We’ll get details next week, but I’m just thinking … The Flood and The Parting of the Red Sea are frescoes, and they won’t be going anywhere. The colossal statue of the Nile? Too heavy. Representations of Christ’s baptism would fit in with the spirituality theme.

There’s one Vatican Museum tapestry that might be perfect, in its own way. It shows Maffeo Barberini (who became Pope Urban VIII in 1623), checking the level of Lake Trasimeno in central Italy, where he was overseeing a project to control flooding. Then, as now, water was vital.

Indulgence alert

Seeking an indulgence for remission of sin may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but judging from the Web hits on our story last December on how to gain an indulgence for the 150th anniversary of the apparitions at Lourdes, they certainly remain a popular form of Catholic devotion.

So there’s a new chance for a plenary indulgence in connection with the jubilee year of St. Paul that begins in just over a month. Details are in this story we posted this morning.

Pick a pope calendar

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, has just released its 2009 calendar. Well, actually, it’s just released two calendars for 2009.

One features what the newspaper calls “the most beautiful photographs of His Holiness Benedict XVI” — strolling while praying the rosary, kissing babies, kneeling in prayer — and the other, “the most beautiful photographs of John Paul II” — using his cape to play peek-a-boo with a little boy, praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, sitting in his chapel holding a crucifix a few days before he died.

The cover photo and 12 monthly photos in each calendar were taken by the photographers at L’Osservatore Romano, who also serve as the Vatican’s official photographers.

Unlike most things Vatican, the calendar is not multilingual. The months, the days of the week and the name of the saint honored each day are written only in Italian. And, although the calendar is large (about 16 and a half inches by 12 inches), it follows the standard format for Italian wall calendars: there are no boxes for writing in birthdays or appointments, just the date, day of the week and feast running in a long column down the side. 

The calendars cost 5 euros each (about $7.50) plus postage. They can be ordered by sending an e-mail to and specifying which calendar you want to buy. If you do not include a credit card number and expiration date, the newspaper will send you the details for making the payment by way of an international bank transfer — an operation that usually costs much, much more than the price of the calendar. Orders also can be faxed to L’Osservatore’s photo department, but must include credit card information. Dialing from North America, the fax number would be (011 39) 06 6988 4998.  

The Ethiopian Catholic Church

Michael La Civilta, executive editor on ONE magazine, writes about the tiny Ethiopian Catholic Church in the latest issue of the magazine. The magazine is the official publication of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, which works on behalf of the historic Christian East.