Enjoying extra day of leap year? Thank Pope Gregory XIII

Every four years we get an extra day thanks in part to Julius Caesar and Pope Gregory XIII.

The day compensates for the fact that it takes the earth takes 365.2425 days to circle the sun instead of the cut-and-dried 365.

Julius Caesar, with the help of his team of astronomers back in 46 B.C., came up with a calendar that added an extra day every four years. The calendar had the right concept but over time ended up adding too many days.

The modern Gregorian calendar, which was put into use in 1582 under Pope Gregory,  gave more specific rules to leap year, saying the extra day could only be inserted on years that are evenly divided by four and not in years ending with an “00” such as 1900 or 2100 as they aren’t divisible by 400.

Coincidentally, the extra day of leap year, with it’s Februrary placement, does not make Lent 41 days, as this post explains but it could certainly provide some time for extra reflection.

Details emerge about last summer’s attack on WYD Madrid website

VATICAN CITY — Reporters covering World Youth Day in Madrid last August and pilgrims attending the event knew the organization’s website was having trouble with hackers, but the seriousness of the attack and the ideology behind it are making news this week.

Young people await the pope at the opening of WYD Madrid last August. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Just hours after the pope arrived in Madrid Aug. 18 for the event, television screens in the WYD press center notified reporters the website was “experiencing technical difficulties due to hacking.” Techies covering WYD quoted event officials as saying the site had received threats before the event began.

Still, the site was back online within an hour.

News stories this week brought up the hacking attempt after Imperva, a computer security company, released a report, “Anatomy of an Anonymous Attack,” outlining what the company said it has learned about the hacking activities of the group that calls itself “Anonymous.” The report does not mention World Youth Day or the Vatican, but The New York Times reported that it confirmed “the Vatican” or, more accurately, World Youth Day, was the target.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the article focused on the WYD site and as far as he knew, the Vatican’s own site had not experienced serious problems.

In an email this afternoon, Yago de la Cierva, who was director of World Youth Day Madrid, said, “We received word of a threat from the group Anonymous in July through a video they published online. However, we do not know if they were responsible directly for the actual attacks that we underwent during August.”

In addition to the notice on the screens in the WYD press center, he said, the staff posted information about the attack on the WYD social network sites, such as Facebook. In response, someone posted a comment complaining that WYD had shut Madrid down and threatened further cyber-attacks.

De la Cierva said the attacks could have been the work of “some radical fringes” of a protest movement present in Madrid at the time or the work of those sponsoring rallies to protest the pope’s trip to Spain.

“The consequences of those attacks were serious because the whole media center operation was based on our site: bookings, briefings, calls, sending out the pope’s texts in different languages, etc. We had to get back to paper, as you probably remember,” he told me.

As for Imperva’s role in uncovering the attack, he said, “I am pretty sure we didn’t hire anybody to solve the problem. What we did was to tell both Telefonica (one of WYD sponsors and our hosting provider) and the police, since the attacks were a cybercrime. We don’t know if either of them called Imperva. We didn’t.”

Rome’s ‘Master of the Sacred Palace’

By Robert Duncan
Catholic News Service

ROME — Last year I produced a profile of Dominican Father Wojciech Giertych, theologian of the papal household, for the Dominican Province of St. Joseph. As theologian of the papal household, he is the official editor of all drafts of texts and speeches presented to the pope for him to read or issue in his name. Father Giertych’s task is to ensure that the contents of the drafts are in line with Catholic tradition.

I spent four hours filming an in-depth interview with Father Giertych last spring and was able to visit his quarters. In this video, which contains the first three minutes of a 20-minute program, Father Giertych comments on the state of modern society and on his role in guarding the deposit of faith. He does this while giving us a “special performance” of Chopin’s “Nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp minor.” It is said that the pope, who lives two floors above him, will answer his Chopin-playing with a bit of Mozart.

Enjoy, and for the full program, visit kindlylight.org!

Robert Duncan is a multimedia journalist in the Catholic News Service Rome bureau.

Top movies, family films for 2011. Are your Oscar favorites here?

Editor’s Note: As you prepare for this Sunday’s Academy Awards telecast, take a look at John Mulderig’s choices, reprinted below, for 2011’s top movies. And at the end you’ll find a bonus listing of the year’s top 10 family films.

By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service


NEW YORK (CNS) — In late 1965, the three-decade-old National Legion of Decency announced that it was changing its name to the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures.

That switch represented more than just altered terminology. It signaled an intent on the part of the U.S. church’s officially sanctioned film agency to take a more open and positive — though by no means uncritical — approach in its assessment of cinema.

In keeping with this new emphasis, that same year, the film office issued its first list of the 10 best movies released over the previous 12 months.

As with many an innovation, the list gradually became a tradition, one that the media review office of Catholic News Service — which now performs the work originally done by the Legion and its successors — intends faithfully to honor. So here — in alphabetical order – are, first, our choices of the Top 10 films of 2011 suitable for a variety of audiences, followed the 10 best films for family viewing.

Here are the 10 best films overall:

A modern-made silent film, “The Artist” recounts the contrasting fortunes of a dashing star (Jean Dujardin) for whom the arrival of the “talkies” presages decline, and one of his adoring fans (Berenice Bejo) who’s destined for stardom. French director Michel Hazanavicius’ film is, by turns, zany and hilarious, sad and affecting, uplifting and inspiring (A-III, PG-13).

Robin Wright as Mary Surratt in "The Conspirator." (CNS/Roadside Attractions)

“The Conspirator” is an engrossing historical drama about the lawyer (James McAvoy) who defended Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), the pro-Confederate widow charged with conspiring to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Director Robert Redford’s portrait of a protagonist admirably committed to the rule of law is made all the more effective by the fair assessment of those with other legitimate priorities (A-III, PG-13).

Stylish — though frequently violent — “The Debt” follows a game of cat-and-mouse across two time periods as three Mossad agents (Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Ciaran Hinds) track down and capture a Josef Mengele-like Nazi war criminal (Jesper Christensen). While suitable only for mature viewers, as directed with flair by John Madden, this gritty drama will certainly keep them guessing right up to the end (L, R).

In “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2,” director David Yates’ gratifying wrap-up to a decade of blockbuster adaptations, the titular wizard (Daniel Radcliffe) continues to battle his evil nemesis (Ralph Fiennes) aided, once again, by his two closest friends (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson). Many of the symbols and themes in this final narrative echo Scripture and comport with Judeo-Christian beliefs (A-II, PG-13).

Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer in "The Help." (CNS/DreamWorks)

Set in the early 1960s, the warm, deftly acted drama “The Help” compellingly portrays the efforts of a rebellious white Southerner and would-be journalist (Emma Stone) to write a book documenting the lives of group of black housemaids (most prominently Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer). Writer-director Tate Taylor’s adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel uses vivid characterizations to bring the Civil Rights-era struggle for human dignity alive (A-III, PG-13).

The 3-D fable “Hugo” follows the adventures of a 12-year-old orphan (Asa Butterfield) who lives in one of Paris’ great train stations during the 1930s. Director Martin Scorsese’s paean to the City of Lights, the human imagination and the pioneers of early cinema casts a charming spell (A-II, PG).

“The Ides of March” is a savvy but raw political drama about an up-and-coming press spokesman (Ryan Gosling) who discovers that the campaign manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman) for whom he works and the candidate (George Clooney) in whom he deeply believes are not all they seem. With a sharp script and a powerful cast, Clooney, who also directed and co-wrote, turns in a slick study in the corrupting effects of power (L, R).

Writer-director Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” asks the question: Would you be happier living in a long-ago, mythically remembered past? A frustrated Hollywood screenwriter and would-be novelist (Owen Wilson) gets to find out when he gains mysterious entree to the French capital of the 1920s (A-III, PG-13).

“Of Gods and Men” is a brilliant dramatization of real events, recounting the fate of a small community of French Trappist monks (led by Lambert Wilson and including Michael Lonsdale) living in Algeria during that nation’s civil war in the 1990s. Using the tools of the monastic life itself, director Xavier Beauvois finds a path to the heart of the Gospel through simplicity, a compassionate sense of brotherhood and an atmosphere of prayer enriched by sacred music and potent silence (A-III, PG-13).

Martin Sheen in "The Way." (CNS/Producers Distribution Agency/ARC)

In “The Way,” after his semi-estranged son (Emilio Estevez) dies while hiking the ancient pilgrimage route to the Spanish shrine of Santiago de Compostela, a California doctor (Martin Sheen) resolves to complete the journey as a means of honoring the lad’s memory. Estevez, who also wrote and directed, takes viewers on a reflective, and ultimately rewarding, exploration of elemental themes that challenges materialistic values (A-III, PG-13).

– – –

And here are the 10 best films for families:

In “The Adventures of Tintin,” director Steven Spielberg’s visually sumptuous animated adaptation of Belgian cartoonist Herge’s famed comic books, the curiously coiffed young reporter (voiced by Jamie Bell) finds himself drawn into a centuries-old mystery. Themes congruent with Judeo-Christian values are advanced through sympathetic main characters, a screenplay faithful to its classic source material and envelope-pushing 3-D technology (A-I, PG).

Actor Samuel L. Jackson narrates “African Cats,” an impressive nature documentary charting the varied fortunes of a pride of lions and a clan of cheetahs. Directors Keith Scholey and Alastair Fothergill provide the whole family with a top-quality cinematic safari (A-I, G).

Director Joe Johnston’s comic book adaptation “Captain America: The First Avenger” relates the origins story of the superhero (Chris Evans) with a complete absence of cynicism and a crackling undercurrent of dry wit (A-II, PG-13).

Lightning McQueen, voice by Owen Wilson, in "Cars 2." (CNS/Disney)

“Cars 2,” director John Lasseter’s winsome sequel, sees a veteran racecar (voice of Owen Wilson) competing against a cocky Italian speedster (voice of John Turturro) in the first-ever World Grand Prix. Amid the sight gags and belly laughs are good lessons about family, friendship, self-esteem and acceptance of others (A-I, G).

In “Gnomeo & Juliet,” it’s love at first ceramic clink for two garden gnomes — voiced by Emily Blunt and James McAvoy. Director Kelly Asbury’s clever animated comedy offers wholesome fun for the entire family (A-I, G).

Vivid animation and a ringing endorsement of the traditional family combine to make director and co-writer Simon Wells’ endearing adventure “Mars Needs Moms” a film kids can enjoy and parents will appreciate. Seth Green plays a 9-year-old boy who comes to recognize the deep love his mother (Joan Cusack) has for him after she’s kidnapped by Martians (A-I, PG).

Amy Adams and Jason Segel in "The Muppets." (CNS/Disney)

Kermit the Frog (voice of Steve Whitmire) and Jim Henson’s other singing, dancing, wisecracking puppets return to the big screen in “The Muppets,” an old-fashioned and genuinely funny comic outing directed by newcomer James Bobin. (A-I, PG)

“Rio” is a buoyant animated adventure with music about a Brazilian-born macaw (voice of Jesse Eisenberg) who returns to his homeland after being raised as a cosseted pet in Minnesota. Lessons about environmental stewardship and love-inspired loyalty are decked out in kaleidoscopic colors in director Carlos Saldanha’s 3-D flight of fancy (A-I, G).

AnnaSophia Robb in "Soul Surfer." (CNS/Tri-Star)

Director Sean McNamara’s fact-based drama “Soul Surfer” recounts the story of a devoutly Christian competitive surfer (AnnaSophia Robb) whose life is changed forever by a shark attack. It’s an uplifting tale bolstered by stunning cinematography and an unapologetic treatment of religious faith (A-II, PG).

In “Winnie the Pooh,” directors Stephen Anderson and Don Hall’s delightfully innocent, predominantly animated adaptation of A.A. Milne’s classic children’s books, the immortal bear (voice of Jim Cummings) finds his characteristic quest for honey interrupted by his friend Eeyore’s (voice of Bud Luckey) latest crisis — and by other complications (A-I, G).

Mulderig is assistant director for media reviews at Catholic News Service.

Editor’s Note: Here are the CNS classifications for the movies mentioned in this article: A-I — general patronage; A-II — adults and adolescents; A-III — adults; L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. 

A big day for lovers of Latin

Few know that today is the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of Pope John XXIII’s apostolic constitution “Veterum Sapientia” on the promotion of the study of Latin. Watch the video below posted today by our Rome bureau on how one group of American students there is trying to keep the language alive.

When we asked this morning on Twitter if anyone knew of today’s anniversary, The Criterion, archdiocesan newspaper of Indianapolis, promptly tweeted back that they were aware of it because it was on their front page 50 years ago. Scroll down and take a look at a portion of Page 1 of their March 2, 1962, edition (.pdf) that trumpeted the story.



Screenshot of the lead story on The Criterion's front page 50 years ago.

Canonization Mass in October will bring seven new saints

(CNS/Paul Finch)

VATICAN CITY — Like Pope Paul VI and Blessed John Paul II often did, Pope Benedict XVI will mark World Mission Sunday in October by creating new saints.

In the United States and Canada, many people are aware that the saints to be proclaimed Oct. 21 at the Vatican include Blessed Marianne Cope of Molokai and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.

(CNS/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

Mother Marianne led a group of sisters from New York to the Hawaiian Islands in 1883 to establish a system of nursing care for leprosy patients; Blessed Kateri, daughter of a Christian Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father in upstate New York, will become the first Native American to be canonized. She was baptized by a Jesuit missionary in 1676 when she was 20, and she died in Canada four years later.

After the creation of new cardinals Saturday, the College of Cardinals gave their assent to the pope’s decision to make seven new saints this year. The other five who will be canonized in October are:

— Jesuit Father Jacques Berthieu, who was born in Polminhac, France, and was martyred June 8, 1896, in Ambiatibe, Madagascar.

— Peter Calungsod, a lay catechist born in Cebu, Philippines, and martyred April 2, 1672, in Guam.

— Father Giovanni Battista Piamarta, an Italian priest and founder of the Congregation of the Holy Family of Nazareth for men and the Humble Servants of the Lord for women. He died in 1913.

— Carmen Salles y Barangueras, the Spanish founder of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. She worked with disadvantaged girls and prostitutes and saw that early education was essential for helping young women. She died in 1911.

— Anna Schaffer, a lay German woman who wanted to be a missionary, but could not because of a succession of physical accidents and diseases. She accepted her infirmity as a way of sanctification. Her grave has been a pilgrimage site since her death in 1925.

Pope, new cardinals concelebrate Mass

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI and the 22 new cardinals he created yesterday concelebrated Mass this morning in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Bernini's sculpture of the Chair of St. Peter (CNS/Paul Haring)

The pope used Bernini’s sculpture of the Chair of St. Peter to illustrate his homily since the Mass marked the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, a liturgical solemnity that highlights Jesus giving Peter the authority to lead the church in love. The statue is topped by a window with a stained-glass dove representing the Holy Spirit.

The Catholic Church is like a window into which the light of truth shines and through which a response of love should radiate, the pope said in his homily. “The church herself is like a window, the place where God draws near to us, where he comes toward our world.”

He said the throne in Bernini’s sculpture symbolizes the authority Jesus gave to Peter, supported by four ancient church theologians — two doctors of the church from the East and two from the West, representing the unity and diversity within the universal church.

The support of the theologians “teaches us that love rests upon faith. Love collapses if man no longer trusts in God and disobeys him,” the pope said.

“Everything in the church rests upon faith: the sacraments, the liturgy, evangelization, charity,” as well as “the law and the church’s authority,” he said.

Catholics cannot make things up as they go along, he said. They must follow tradition, the Sacred Scriptures and the teaching of the apostles explained and interpreted by the fathers of the church and the popes.

“The church is not self-regulating, she does not determine her own structure, but receives it from the word of God, to which she listens in faith as she seeks to understand it and to live it,” he said.

All the church teaches and does in the world must be motivated by love and lead to love, the pope said.

“A selfish faith would be an unreal faith,” Pope Benedict said.