Vatican astronomer coming via livestream to you

VATICAN CITY — Have you ever wanted to talk to a Vatican astronomer? Well, here is your chance.

U.S. Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, an astronomer with the Vatican Observatory, is pictured with the observatory's meteorite collection. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo).

This Wednesday at noon Mountain Standard Time (2 p.m. Eastern), Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno will bring some starry knowledge down to Earth and help people understand the church’s views and the latest scientific discoveries about our universe.

The online version of the Arizona Daily Star newspaper will host the live “cosmic chat” with Brother Guy right here at this link and give people from all over the world a chance to hear him “make sense of the universe” and ask him questions.

Brother Guy, a prolific author and lecturer from Detroit, specializes in planetary science and is the curator of the Vatican Observatory’s meteorite collection at Castel Gandolfo, Italy. However, like many of the Vatican’s Jesuit astronomers, he spends a lot of time working at the Vatican Observatory Research Group in Tucson, Ariz.

For anyone who is in the Tucson area, Brother Guy and other astronomers will be featured in a series of public lectures on the universe hosted by the University of Arizona College of Science. Brother Guy will speak in the first of six lectures Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. at the UA’s Centennial Hall.

By the way, CNS had the story way before TV satirist Stephen Colbert did about the impact the discovery of alien life would have on Catholic belief!

Judge finds ‘Creech 14’ guilty of trespass at Nevada drone base

Fourteen faith-based peace activists have been found guilty of criminal trespass at a Nevada air force base.

The group was charged April 9, 2009, after walking through an open gate at Creech Air Force Base seeking to talk with soldiers piloting unmanned drones over Afghanistan and Pakistan from the military installation.

Continuing a long history of prayer witnesses at U.S. military installations near Las Vegas coordinated by the Nevada Desert Experience, the group was sentenced to time served by Judge William Jansen of the Las Vegas Justice Court. The 14 had spent a night or two in jail after their arrest.

The defendants included Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence; Jesuit Fathers John Dear and Steve Kelly; Franciscan Fathers Louis Vitale and Jerry Zawada; Holy Child of Jesus Sister Megan Rice; Catholic Workers Mariah Klusmire of Albuquerque, N.M., Brian Terrell of Maloy, Iowa, and Renee Espeland of Des Moines, Iowa; Dennis DuVall, Judy Homanich, Brad Lyttle, Libby Pappalardo and Eve Tetaz.

The case drew wide attention when Jensen allowed the defendants to build their defense around international law, which, they testified, required them to actively oppose what they consider the illegal use of the drones. They also argued they had a First Amendment right to assemble peaceably for a redress of grievance.

After a one-day trial in September, Jansen said he needed time to make a proper decision and set sentencing for Jan. 27, which the defendants readily pointed out was the 60th anniversary of the first nuclear tests at the Nevada test site.

In a 21-page opinion, Jansen said the group’s concern about the drones was not enough of an immediate threat to acquit anyone.

“In the end the people felt good they didn’t get the book thrown at them,” Jim Haber, coordinator of the Nevada Desert Experience, told Catholic News Service shortly after the judge’s decision was read in court.

“But we’re disappointed. Here’s an elder judge. He took all the time to do all this research, but basically didn’t come down any different than in any other case,” Haber said.

Haber pledged that the vigils will continue. In fact, the group was to be joined by others at a prayer vigil in Las Vegas later today; tomorrow at Creech and Saturday at the nuclear weapons testing site.

Faces of note in the gallery for presidential address

While news reports focused on all the collegial aisle-crossing in the House chamber for the State of the Union address Jan. 25, there were some interesting people in the gallery seats above the floor as well.

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl was among the guests of House Speaker John Boehner, along with an assortment of students and teachers representing the archdiocese’s Consortium of Catholic Academies, other supporters of school choice and the Heritage Foundation.

(CNS photo by Reuters)

In first lady Michelle Obama’s box were several Catholics who recently have made the news. They included Roxanna and John Green, and their son, Dallas. The family was among guests from Tucson, Ariz., with a connection to the Jan. 8 shootings that left 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green dead, along with five other people and 13 who were wounded. Also seated with the first lady were Daniel Hernandez, the intern who helped save his boss, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and Dr. Peter Rhee, one of Giffords’ physicians from Tucson’s University Medical Center.

Another guest of the first lady was Mikayla Nelson, a freshman at Central Catholic High in Billings, Mont., who led her team to a first-place finish at the National Science Bowl with the design of their solar car.

Also among Michelle Obama’s guests and saluted by President Barack Obama in his speech were Gary and Robert Allen, brothers who volunteered their roofing business in Rochester Hills, Mich., to help repair the Pentagon after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack there. The brothers’ company was highlighted in CAM Magazine, of the Construction Association of Michigan, for its work on the roof of St. Paul Albanian Catholic Church in Rochester Hills.

For 38 years, parish has provided hospitality to pro-lifers

By the end of today, volunteers in the parish hall at St. Peter’s on Capitol Hill will have handed out 175 dozen doughnuts, served gallons of hot coffee and hot water for tea and hot chocolate, and given out numerous small containers of juice  — all in the name of hospitality for pro-lifers coming to town for today’s annual March for Life.

Chartered buses started arriving around 4:30 a.m. and volunteers were already in the hall by 4 a.m., ready to offer refreshments and warm smiles to folks who traveled overnight to come to Washington to mark the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Pro-lifers come in waves throughout the morning and then head down to the National Mall for the noon rally, followed by a march up Constitution to the Supreme Court. St. Peter’s also offers four Masses.

Why do it? “Because the parish is always pro-life” and shows solidarity with the marchers, said volunteer Dr. Anthony Martinez. “It’s a full expression of our faith,” said coordinator Suzanne O’Connor. She said the parish has provided hospitality since the first anniversary of  Roe. But, she noted, it doesn’t happen without dozens of volunteers working throughout the day and helping in the days beforehand.

Members of the Winkhart family of Canton, Ohio, pray during the opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington Sunday evening. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

This weekend in Washington there was a lot of pro-life activity, including the Cardinal O’Connor conference at Georgetown University and the all-night vigil at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception — not to mention marches and rallies around the country, including in San Francisco, where organizers said a Jan. 22 march drew a record crowd of at least 40,000 pro-life activists. “We are here to break the bondage of the culture of death,” Walk for Life co-chair Dolores Meehan said.

Pope hails digital media possibilities, cautions on misuse

The Vatican has a website for young people,

VATICAN CITY — In his World Communications Day message issued today, Pope Benedict extolled the “wonders” of the digital age and said they had opened unprecedented opportunities to spread the Gospel.

The pope invited Christians to join social media, saying this new model of information sharing was something the church could and should work with. But he also said there was a “Christian” way of being online: honest, responsible and respectful of others.

He noted some risks posed by the digital revolution: superficiality, replacing real-life contact with virtual interaction and constructing an artificial public profile that doesn’t correspond to the authentic person.

At a press conference today, Vatican officials candidly acknowledged that the 83-year-old pope doesn’t surf the Internet much. He still writes with a pen and prefers to let aides navigate online, said Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.

At the same time, Father Lombardi said, the pope has approved and shown great interest in the Vatican’s Internet projects.

The next big thing on the Vatican’s digital horizon is the unveiling of an Internet portal for news and features from various Vatican media. Archbishop Claudio Celli, head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said he hopes an initial version of the site — in Italian and English — will be up and running by Easter.

Slain judge had ‘sincere love for his Catholic faith’

Slain Judge John Roll was remembered during the annual Red Mass Jan. 18 in Phoenix.  The Catholic Sun, the diocesan newspaper, has coverage of the Mass and the text of the homily, delivered by Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of Oakland, Calif.

In opening remarks before the Mass, Alan Tavassoli, president -elect of the St. Thomas More Society, recognized the life of Roll, who was fatally shot in the Jan. 8 shooting spree outside a Tucson, Ariz., Safeway. He called him a “great and humble servant of God” and compared the late judge’s life to the patron saint of the legal profession.

“His quiet example of abiding faith with its warmth is especially relevant in our society today as it was in the time of St. Thomas More,” he said.

The judge’s wife, Maureen, was in attendance at the Mass, just as she was three years ago, when Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver was invited to Phoenix by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted to deliver the homily at that year’s Red Mass. In a Jan. 12 column in the Denver Catholic Register, the archbishop recounts how some months later he received correspondence from Judge Roll. It was the first of “several extraordinary letters” from him, he said.

Archbishop Chaput acknowledged that “it’s impossible to fully know a man from correspondence alone,” but each of the letters, he said, had “the same four clear marks: generosity, intelligence, largeness of spirit and a sincere love for his Catholic faith.”

Exposed and developed: The pope’s official portrait

VATICAN CITY — In the days after Pope Benedict XVI was elected April 19, 2005, the phone was ringing off the hook at the CNS photo desk in Washington. People wanted photos of the new pope, with many wanting the official portrait. I remember working the desk during that time and telling people that an official portrait had not been released but we expected that the Vatican would provide one. I was struck by how insistent people were on obtaining the official portrait.

The one and only official portrait. ©L'Osservatore Romano

On April 28 that year, two photos arrived from the Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano newspaper that appeared to be portraits. They were not captioned and did not say they were official portraits. I wrote captions for both and put them on the wire immediately but did not refer to them as official, only as portraits released by the Vatican newspaper. They were marked for editorial use only.

One of the photos, showing the pope in white with his hands clasped, would go on to be displayed at countless churches throughout the world. Over the years, I wondered about how this photo was made and if this was the one and only official portrait. So I checked with Vatican sources with knowledge of the situation. I was told that this image is indeed the official portrait of Pope Benedict XVI and there is no other.

The image was taken April 20, 2005, one day after his election, when the new pope was at the Domus Sanctae Marthae. This is the residence inside the Vatican where cardinals stayed during the conclave. About 20 frames were taken on color negative film by an Osservatore Romano photographer for the purpose of an official portrait. (It wasn’t until 2006 that Vatican photographers began working almost exclusively with digital cameras.)

Since L’Osservatore Romano photographs are not currently credited, we don’t know who took the photo. The final decision about which frame to release was made with approval from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, the office that coordinates the work of the entire Vatican.

In my opinion, the official photo is very pleasing. I think it adequately conveys the pope’s essential qualities.

I have seen both very high quality and very poor prints of the official image. In some prints, the cross is blown out for example. It appears that an earlier scan of the image was poor, but that the current scan of the negative has very nice detail.

Here is the Osservatore Romano image number of the official photo:
00102- N.1000 Foto Ufficiale.jpg

The image is available to CNS clients for editorial use in their publications, but for other uses you need to contact the Osservatore Romano photo service.