Seven questions for the pope

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI fielded seven questioners from Christians and non-Christians around the world, touching on such diverse topics as the fighting in Ivory Coast, Christ’s “descent into hell” and the suffering of Japanese earthquake victims.

The pope agreed to answer three questions on the program, but after a massive response from viewers who submitted questions, he answered seven questions.

Here is the Vatican’s English translation of the text of the Q and A, pre-recorded a few days ago and broadcast today on the Italian TV program, “In His Image.”

Q. Holy Father, I want to thank you for your presence here, which fills us with joy and helps us remember that today is the day in which Jesus showed His love in the most radical way, that is, by dying on the cross as an innocent. It is precisely on this theme of innocent sorrow that is the first question that comes from a seven-year-old Japanese child who says: “My name is Elena. I am Japanese and I am seven years old. I am very frightened because the house where I felt safe really shook a lot and many children my age have died. I cannot go to play at the park. I want to know: why do I have to be so afraid? Why do children have to be so sad? I’m asking the Pope, who speaks with God, to explain it to me”.

 A. Dear Elena, I send you my heartfelt greetings. I also have the same questions: why is it this way? Why do you have to suffer so much while others live in ease? And we do not have the answers but we know that Jesus suffered as you do, an innocent, and that the true God who is revealed in Jesus is by your side. This seems very important to me, even if we do not have answers, even if we are still sad; God is by your side and you can be certain that this will help you. One day we will even understand why it was so. At this moment it seems important to me that you know “God loves me” even if it seems like He doesn’t know me. No, He loves me, He is by my side, and you can be sure that in the world, in the universe, there are many who are with you, thinking of you, doing what they can for you, to help you. And be aware that, one day, I will understand that this suffering was not empty, it wasn’t in vain, but behind it was a good plan, a plan of love. It is not chance. Be assured, we are with you, with all the Japanese children who are suffering. We want to help you with our prayers, with our actions, and you can be sure that God will help you. In this sense we pray together so that light may come to you as soon as possible.

Q. The second question presents us with a Calvary because we have a mother under her son’s cross. This mother is an Italian named Maria Teresa and she asks you: “Your Holiness, has the soul of my son Francesco, who has been in a vegetative coma since Easter Sunday 2009, left his body, seeing that he is no longer conscious, or is it still near him?”

 A. Certainly his soul is still present in his body. The situation, perhaps, is like that of a guitar whose strings have been broken and therefore can no longer play. The instrument of the body is fragile like that, it is vulnerable, and the soul cannot play, so to speak, but remains present. I am also sure that this hidden soul feels your love deep down, even if unable to understand the details, your words, etc. He feels the presence of love. Your presence, therefore, dear parents, dear mother, next to him for Continue reading

Goodbye to the dean of the Vaticanisti

Arcangelo Paglialunga

VATICAN CITY — Vatican reporters said goodbye today to the dean of the Vaticanisti, Arcangelo Paglialunga, who died Wednesday at age 91.

Paglialunga, who worked off-and-on until the day of his death, was in many ways the living memory of the Vatican press office. His journalistic career spanned six pontificates, and he had stories about them all.

When I walked into the Sala Stampa Vaticana for the first time in 1983, Arcangelo was one of perhaps a dozen regulars who worked there. Like the others, he had a small desk, a pad of paper and a telephone — and that was it. He covered the Vatican for the Gazzettino di Venezia and the Giornale di Brescia, and I soon learned that he was one of the better informed members of the press corps.

With the press office renovation in 2000, Paglialunga was given a glassed-in, high-tech booth next door to ours. We were neighbors, and Arcangelo, who professed a great love for everything American, would frequently share some stories — like the time he ran down to welcome the American troops that arrived in St. Peter’s Square during the liberation of Rome in 1944.

He had copious notes on the papal audiences of every American president, beginning with Eisenhower’s meeting with Pope John XXIII in 1959. He once recounted that when Richard Nixon came to see Pope Paul VI in 1970, his secretary of defense, Melvin Laird, was taken to a Vatican waiting room, where he lit up a cigar. At a certain moment, the doors to the room opened and Laird unexpectedly found himself in the middle of the presidential entourage. He stuffed the lit cigar into his pocket, where it smoldered for the rest of the ceremony.

Paglialunga lived near the Vatican and on his way to work he often ran into Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as their paths crossed in St. Peter’s Square. The encounters offered Arcangelo an opportunity to chat with the cardinal, get to know him a bit and voice his own opinions. In 2005, Paglialunga was one of few reporters who gave Cardinal Ratzinger very good odds in the conclave that elected him pope.

The pope sent a message of condolences for Paglialunga, and it was read at the funeral rites today.

While the Vatican press office serves several hundred accredited journalists, the regulars are still a small number of reporters. It’s a fairly close-knit group. As Father Ciro Benedettini, the vice director of the press office, said today, Arcangelo considered the press office his second home and his second family. The feeling was mutual, and we will miss him.