A change of plans for pope’s audience

VATICAN CITY — For the first time, Pope Benedict XVI will hold his weekly general audience in the main public square of Castel Gandolfo.

The main doors of the papal summer villa at Castel Gandolfo seen from the town square. (CNS)

The Vatican originally scheduled the pope’s Sept. 1 audience for St. Peter’s Square. The pope was supposed to helicopter back to the Vatican tomorrow morning, hold the audience in St. Peter’s Square, then head back to the summer villa at Castel Gandolfo, in the hills about 15 miles south of Rome.

But this morning, the Prefecture of the Papal Household announced that tomorrow’s audience will be in the main square outside the papal villa. The faithful can fill the square and the main street leading to it. And the pope will be seated in front of the main doors of the villa, the prefecture said.

If the pilgrims aren’t with a group that has a bus, they will have to catch an early morning train from Rome. Also, it might be more difficult to see the pope, but the entrance to the villa is sloped, so he will be a bit higher than the people in the square.

Generally, the pope’s audiences are suspended completely in late July to allow him time for a real vacation. Then in August and September, when he’s in residence at Castel Gandolfo, the decision to hold the audience in the villa’s courtyard or at the Vatican usually depends on how many people request tickets. The courtyard is small.

Notice in St. Peter's Square advising pilgrims that tomorrow's audience has been moved to Castel Gandolfo. (CNS)

Apparently, there were more requests this week than using the courtyard could satisfy, but not enough to force the pope to come back to the Vatican for the morning.

Visitors who arrived at the Vatican today to pick up their free tickets for tomorrow’s audience were advised in extra-large print. The video screens in the square, which usually are used to broadcast papal events, advised pilgrims that plans had changed.

Protecting air travelers and airmail?

VATICAN CITY — This year marks the 90th anniversary of Pope Benedict XV’s proclamation of Our Lady of Loreto as the patron of air travelers.

The Vatican is celebrating the anniversary with a new airmail letter sheet called an aerogram. Each sheet of the foldable, lightweight blue paper costs €1 (about $1.30) and includes the price of postage for sending it anywhere in the world.

(CNS/Vatican Philatelic Office)

Describing the story behind the aerogram, which will go on sale Sept. 20, the Vatican said, “The Holy House of Loreto is one of the most visited Marian shrines in Italy. Inside can be found the Holy House of Nazareth, the place where Our Lady received the Annunciation…. According to tradition, the Holy House was transported by angels from Nazareth to Italy.”

The bronze plate reproduced on the aerogram is sometimes mounted on the body of airplanes; it shows angels flying the house across the sea and, in Latin, invokes a safe flight.

Pope and his former students to gather at Castel Gandolfo

VATICAN CITY — The Swiss archbishop chosen by Pope Benedict XVI to be the new head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity will be the featured speaker at a gathering with the pope and about three dozen of his former students.

The annual meeting of the “Ratzinger Schulerkreis” (Ratzinger student circle) begins tomorrow at Castel Gandolfo and will bring together about three dozen scholars who did their doctoral dissertations under the direction of the former Professor Father Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict. The “schulerkreis” has met regularly since the late 1970s and the practice continued even after the former professor became pope.

L’Osservatore Romano reported that discussions at this year’s meeting will focus on understanding the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and the balance it tried to strike between reform and maintaining tradition.

Father Joseph Ratzinger, right, talks with an unidentified prelate in this photo taken in 1962 during the Second Vatican Council. The future pope attended all four sessions of the council as a theological adviser. (CNS/KNA)

The Vatican newspaper said the “schulerkreis” presented Pope Benedict with a list of possible speakers and the pope chose Archbishop Kurt Koch, the former bishop of Basel, Switzerland. The archbishop is the new head of the Vatican’s ecumenism office. Archbishop Koch will give one lecture on “The Second Vatican Council Between Tradition and Innovation,” and another on the council’s document on the liturgy and on the liturgical reforms it launched.

Archbishop Koch’s talks will be followed by discussion among the participants, including the pope, the Vatican newspaper said. The pope will celebrate Mass for his former students Sunday morning and have breakfast with them. Then the group will participate in the pope’s recitation of the Angelus.

The pope’s annual meetings with his former students are held behind closed doors, although participants have begun organizing the publication of each session’s papers. They will present the pope with the book containing the 2008 presentations by two Protestant theologians from Germany who were asked to offer their reflections on the historicity of the New Testament and on Christ’s own understanding of his passion and death.

Master of soles

Pope Benedict XVI wearing his signature red leather shoes made by an Italian artisan as he arrives for his weekly general audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican in 2007. (CNS photo/Reuters)

VATICAN CITY — In a unique effort to help promote Christian unity, the pope’s shoemaker has made the same pair of shoes for both Pope Benedict XVI and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.

Italian cobbler Adriano Stefanelli fashioned a pair of white satin shoes for the pope and the same exact style in black for the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

“It’s a small sign for strengthening the desire for Christian unity,” he told the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, Aug. 25.

He said he’s done this before: making similar pairs for the pope and Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople as well as for the late Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II.

While he mailed Patriarch Kirill his pair, Stefanelli — who’s from Novara in northern Italy —  personally presented the pope with his new shoes at the end of today’s general audience at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.

He gave the pope the white satin pair and a new pair of “ruby red” leather shoes, which the pope often wears in public.

It’s of course a myth that the pope’s shoes are made by Prada. Since 2003, Stefanelli has been one of a number of papal shoemakers.

Since Pope Benedict’s election in 2005, the 62-year-old artisan has donated  five pairs of hand-sewn shoes as well as one pair of “house slippers” and two pairs of hiking shoes to the pope. He’s also made shoes for Pope John Paul II, U.S. President Barack Obama and Lech Walesa.

When he crafts the pope’s shoes, Stefanelli says he aims for a simple design with nothing fancy and he adds “a very thin layer of anti-skid tread” to the leather sole.

Interesting tidbit: Pope Benedict’s shoe size is a 42, which in the U.S. is an 8 1/2 men’s.

Susan Boyle: I dreamed of singing for pope

Susan Boyle took the world by surprise when she sang “I Dreamed a Dream” on the television talent show “Britain’s Got Talent.” But she says her “greatest dream come true” is the opportunity to sing for Pope Benedict XVI.

Susan Boyle on "Britain's Got Talent" in 2009. (CNS/ITV)

The Scottish bishops’ conference confirmed last week that Boyle would be involved in the program of the pope’s Sept. 16 visit to Scotland and they provided details today.

Boyle will sing three songs at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow in addition to singing with the 800-member choir at the Mass the pope will celebrate.

Before the liturgy, she will sing the hymn “How Great Thou Art” and her signature song, “I Dreamed a Dream.” After the final hymn at the end of the Mass, she also will sing a farewell song to the pope, but the bishops did not say what song.

Abuse survivors move forward with plans at Vatican Oct. 31

The organizers of a campaign to bring survivors of clergy sexual abuse around the world to the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square Oct. 31 say the event will open what they are calling a “Year of the Survivor.”

Abuse survivors Bernie McDaid and Gary Bergeron of greater Boston told Catholic News Service that the year is meant to focus on survivors and their spiritual, physical and psychological needs.

“It’s never been done before. There’s never been a time when survivors have come together,” Bergeron said.

To help spread the word, McDaid and Bergeron have launched a website, www.SurvivorsVoice.org.

The site offers information about the planned Vatican gathering, statistics on the impact of abuse on survivors and opportunities to support survivors.

The men are hoping enough survivors and supporters make the trip to Rome to ring St. Peter’s Square for a candlelight vigil at nightfall.

They also have settled on a simple message to spread: “Enough.”

“I think the one universal term everyone around the world can agree to is ‘enough,’” Bergeron told CNS. “It’s time we got together and said, ‘This is enough.’”

Since first announcing the gathering in April, McDaid has been working with survivors globally. He said he recently returned from Ireland to gain support from abuse survivor organizations. He said German abuse survivors have been in touch.

Survivors also plan to leave a basket of letters at the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica seeking the support of church officials, McDaid said.

He compared the planned offering to the action of Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk who nailed his 95 Theses to the doors of All Saints’ Church  (Castle Church) in Wittenberg, Germany, Oct. 31, 1517, marking the start of the Reformation. The monk’s document criticized elements of Catholic belief and practice, particularly the selling of indulgences.

Bergeron hopes the effort will focus worldwide attention on all abuse survivors, not those who were victims of Catholic clergy.

“It’s not just a Catholic issue,” he said. “But we really need to change the way the world views the issue.”

Swiss Guards make pilgrimage to Bavaria

VATICAN CITY — The Swiss Guards spent their summer vacation in Bavaria, making a pilgrimage to places associated with the early life of Pope Benedict XVI.

Msgr. Alain de Raemy, the corps’ chaplain, told the Vatican newspaper that after a successful group pilgrimage in 2006 “in the footsteps of St. Martin of Tours,” their patron, the Swiss Guards decided to do a pilgrimage together every few years.

For the 2010 trek, some suggested the Holy Land, others mentioned the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Poland, but Bavaria won “for various reasons, especially to help the guards understand more closely the personality of the pontiff through direct contact with his birthplace, his land, his people,” the chaplain said.

Obviously, all the guards did not go at the same time; even though the pope is on vacation, a group of guards are on duty at all times both at the papal summer villa and at the Vatican.

The chaplain said the pilgrimage was conducted three times this summer with each tour involving 30 to 40 guards.

Marktl am Inn, the Bavarian village where Pope Benedict XVI was born. (CNS/Reuters)