Vatican promotes science festival

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican’s Council for Culture is promoting its first science festival, which will be held in Owerri, Nigeria, this Friday to May 2.

(CNS file/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

(CNS file/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

The aim of the festival is to open up young people, families, and adults to the joys and wonders of science and technology, organizers said at a Vatican press conference today.

Exhibits will be hands-on, interactive and won’t rely on electricity to get them working — so power outages won’t present any problems. Sections will include experiments with and instruction on energy, the environment, health and nutrition, and music.

The initiative has been organized by the City of Science in Naples, a Rome-based association of Nigerian and Italian university students, the Rome Diocese’s pastoral office for universities, and the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Organizers say this is just the first step of a long-term plan to create a permanent science center in Owerri.

The Vatican council’s press release said:

Science and technology are also indispensable  for sustainable development in Africa.

In Africa, scientific instruction and education in schools is not enough to foster curiosity about science and get the wider public involved.

Science and technology are indispensable tools for empowering people and should be supported with efforts that promote curiosity toward science and the intelligent use of technology.

These ‘fuelish’ things: observations for Earth Day

CNS reporter Mark Pattison and photographer Bob Roller arrived in the Midwest this past weekend and are traveling through Iowa and Minnesota for a week for a series of stories on rural America.

ALONG INTERSTATE 35 — Less than six miles into northern Iowa stand dozens upon dozens of wind turbines. Trying to count as I drive to stay with traffic along I-35, I see what must be at least 60 on the east side of the freeway. There are dozens more on one or possibly two “wind farms” on the west side of the freeway.

Another slew of turbines greets motorists on I-35 in the vicinity of Charles City, Iowa. In fact, one of the great optical illusions of all time is the sensation that there’s a wind turbine in the freeway median. It’s not, but only when southbound motorists curve to the left, is it revealed that the turbine is on the right side of the interstate.

These are quite tall wind machines, each with three long blades, to capture the energy in the wind and transfer it to electrical power. They are far from the quaint Dutch windmills that inspired them.

Later, on Interstate 380, I pull off at a Phillips 66 gas station. Here, the big surprise for the non-Iowa native is that mid-grade gasoline is cheaper than regular. Why? Because it includes ethanol derived from corn. Lower price, higher octane says a sticker on the gas pump touting “cleaner air for Iowa” for those who fill up with the mid-grade stuff. I’m sold.

In truth, there has been criticism in some quarters that corn, one of Iowa’s major crops, is being used for fuel instead of for food. The jump in gas prices last year to more than $4 a gallon in many parts of the country made ethanol from corn seem like a viable alternative, even with government subsidies to make ethanol’s price competitive. Now, with gas prices half of what they were last summer, I wonder where corn growers will direct their crop this year.

While corn itself has been viewed as the mover and shaker in ethanol for decades, it’s only the kernels that provide the fuel. If science could find a way to use the cob and render it suitable for fuel, then energy production could achieve a significant breakthrough.

I am reminded of the one passage in the Gospel parable of the prodigal son where the wanton heir, now reduced to feeding pigs on an estate, “longed to fill his belly with the husks” of the corn he was feeding the pigs. An energy-insatiable America continues to strive to find new sources for energy resources. Are we akin to — or kin of — that prodigal son, who squandered his wealth (in our case, energy that could be better stewarded) without looking to the future?

$300 becomes $6,773 in Pay It Forward project

A Catholic newspaper’s $300 investment yielded benefits worth nearly $6,800 for groups ranging from Third World missions to new mothers and local homeless people. The Arkansas Catholic reports on the happy results of its Lenten Pay It Forward project here.

Bishop D’Arcy not opposed to ‘peaceful’ protests about commencement

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (CNS) — Bishop John M. D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend said he was not opposed to “peaceful” demonstrations against the University of Notre Dame’s invitation to President Barack Obama to speak at this year’s commencement.

(full story)

The Vatican requests a retraction

The story in this morning’s Times of London had all the ingredients of a Fleet Street scoop: Prince Charles’s upcoming papal audience, King Henry VIII’s divorce and Pope Benedict’s faux pas gift.

The problem was, the report was “completely untrue and has no basis whatsoever in fact,” according to the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi.

It may be a sign of the times that the Vatican issued a sharply worded request for a retraction of the story only a few hours after it appeared in print. I certainly can’t remember the last time the Vatican Press Office made public a letter of complaint to a major news outlet.


“I would ask you to issue an immediate and unambiguous denial,” said Father Lombardi’s letter to the Times editor-in-chief.

Could it be the Vatican is getting fed up with inaccurate reporting?

The Times story said that when Prince Charles comes to the Vatican next week, Pope Benedict planned to present him with “a gift that may strike an unwelcome chord”: a facsimile of the 1530 appeal by English peers to Pope Clement VII asking for the annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon.

As everyone knows, Pope Clement refused that appeal, King Henry married his mistress anyway and renounced Roman Catholicism, establishing the Church of England.

As the Times put it, the pope’s gift appeared to be either “an unfortunate accident or a piece of mischievous theater.” That was no doubt enough to set people off at the Vatican.

One part of the story did appear to be true: The Italian company Scrinium is in fact producing a limited-edition facsimile of the famous letter of Henry VIII, in collaboration with the Vatican Secret Archives, which holds the document in its underground vaults.

Pope sets date for visit to earthquake zone

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI will visit the earthquake-devastated area of L’Aquila in central Italy on April 28, the Vatican announced over the weekend.

A fireman surveys a damaged church in St. Gregorio near L'Aquila. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

A fireman surveys a damaged church in St. Gregorio near L'Aquila. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

The pope will first helicopter to the tent city outside the mountain village of Onna, one of the hardest hit towns, and then go to L’Aquila to pray at the ruins of a university dormitory that collapsed, killing seven students.

He’ll visit the 13th-century Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio, heavily damaged in the April 6 quake, and then meet with survivors and relief workers. During the three-hour visit, the pope will survey other damaged towns from the air.

Vatican officials said the pope has been eager to travel to the earthquake zone, about 70 miles east of Rome, but wanted to make sure his visit did not complicate or impede rescue and relief efforts.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. While not exactly widely known, the month gives child advocates a chance to raise awareness of a social ill that claims far too many victims.

Communities across the country have hosted programs to call attention to child abuse and encourage people to report incidents rather than to ignore them.

Likewise, U.S. dioceses have sponsored programs and provided information about the signs of abuse. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has prepared resources for dioceses with their programs.

Although less than two weeks remain in the month, there’s still a chance to get the word out. The USCCB packet has several useful resources, including prayer cards, a brochure identifying activities to help raise awareness and a poster.

Resources can be ordered online or downloaded.