Pope heads to the hills to pray

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI and his brother, along with the pope’s assistant secretary, quitely took off for the mountains last evening.

The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, reported today that the three went to the tiny town of Rosciolo di Magliano dei Marsi, home to the tiny romanesque Church of St. Mary. Built around 1080, it was connected to a Benedictine monastery that no longer exists. Along with the pastor and another priest, the pope and his little entourage recited the vespers for the feast of St. Clare, then went for a little walk on the mountain paths. The town is at an elevation of about 3,000 feet above sea level.

L’Osservatore reported that Pope Benedict, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger and Msgr. Alfred Xuereb returned to the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo shortly after 8:30 p.m.

Inspecting confessionals and thanking North Americans

By Tom Tracy

MADRID — Children played and joggers passed as Madrid’s cardinal made a brief visit to inspect 200 temporary confessionals constructed in Madrid’s equivalent to Central Park.

The confessionals at the Jardines del Buen Retiro will play an important spiritual role in next week’s World Youth Day events — and their open-air design mimics the forested environment of the park, said Cardinal Antonio Rouco Varela.

Cardinal Rouco, who will greet Pope Benedict XVI when he arrives in Spain Aug. 18, was all smiles as he shook hands with construction workers finishing up the confessional projects Aug. 11. He also spoke with others strolling by and who were surprised to find him there.

A company in Avila was responsible for the white confessional structures lined up in two long rows running through a portion of the park. Pilgrims will be able to seek shelter from the sun and seek confession in their own languages.

“I came over to see the installation of the ‘Festival of Forgiveness,’” the cardinal said.

After shaking hands with the construction chief, the cardinal told Catholic News Service that the design fits in with the theme of the park and that reconciliation should be a part of the Christian pilgrimage experience.

“This is a symbol for the pilgrim: to come back to life and to be new men and women again through this dialogue with a priest,” he said, adding that Pope Benedict may visit the park and hear a confession or two Aug. 20.

The cardinal also took the opportunity to thank North American youth for registering in such large numbers for World Youth Day. He said the Europeans, including the Italians, will probably make up the largest group in attendance, but the numbers from North America will be significant.

“We are grateful for your presence,” Cardinal Rouco said.