Passover is around the corner — that means it’s matzah time

In the last couple of decades Catholic parishes have conducted Christianized “Seder” suppers. These “Seders” are not true Seders, of course, since they usually include Catholic prayers and symbols. However, they serve a couple of great catechetical purposes. The ceremony brings home the story in the Old Testament of the Jews flight from Egyptian captivity in Moses’ time. It also helps Catholics understand how Jews today celebrate that important event in their history.

One of the things served at every Seder is matzah, the bread of affliction, unleavened because the fleeing Hebrews had no time to wait for their bread to rise before they left for the Promised Land. And at Passover, not just any matzah will do. Seders require shmurah matzah, made from wheat that has been carefully grown and processed.

Our friends at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency went inside the Manischewitz shmurah matzah factory in Newark, N.J., for an inside look at how this ceremonial bread is made. Watch the fascinating video story.

So next week, when you are at a parish “Seder” or if you’re fortunate enough to celebrate a Passover Seder with a Jewish friend, when they pass the matzah you can say, “You know, I’ve seen this made.”

Boys of pope’s choir celebrate ‘family day’

By Robert Duncan
Catholic News Service

A teaching moment for a mother and her son who look at Michaelangelo's 'Last Judgment' painting in the Sistine Chapel. (Robert Duncan photos)

VATICAN CITY — I recently tagged along with young members of the Sistine Chapel Choir for a private “family day” tour of the famous Vatican chapel. The boys, aged 8 to 13, came in their everyday clothes and brought their brothers and sisters along for the exclusive walk through the Apostolic Palace.

Inside the Sistine Chapel, the very place where popes are elected, the boys choir gave an impromptu performance for their families, while their younger siblings turned the greater part of the site into a playpen. I even saw one youngster taking his first steps inside!

A young member of the Sistine Chapel Choir takes a picture of Michaelangelo's 'Last Judgment" painting with his iPhone.

The group of about 35 boys are scheduled to go to London later this spring to perform in Westminster Cathedral. This will be the first time the  Sistine Chapel Choir sings in England.

For more information on the boys’ coming trip, click here.

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

Clericus: NAC Martyrs head to quarterfinals


Seminarians from the Pontifical North American College celebrate during a soccer match in the Clericus Cup in Rome in early March. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

ROME — The Pontifical North American College soccer team trounced St. Paul College 5-1 over the weekend and will head into the Clericus Cup quarterfinals.

First year seminarian, Scottie Gratton of the Diocese of Burlington, Vt., scored four of the five goals.

Clericus Cup organizers said it was a “lively and fast” game with the NAC Martyrs netting three goals in just the first 14 minutes of play.

Only eight of the 16 teams go onto the quarterfinals April 21.

The NAC leads its division with seven points, tied with the Pontifical Gregorian University (last year’s Clericus Cup champions) and Sedes Sapientae.

The joy of chocolate Easter eggs

By Bridget Kelly
Catholic News Service

ROME — A couple of weeks ago on my way home from class, I passed a young girl who was impatiently tearing open a beautifully wrapped Easter egg. Her eyes instantly lit up as she anxiously bit through the unwrapped chocolate egg.

Soon enough I was able to understand her excitement as I watched her play with a small toy, which was located inside the egg. Fascinated by the young girl’s enthusiasm, I decided to research the history of chocolate Easter eggs in Italy.

Representing birth, renewal and life, eggs have been given as gifts for centuries all over the world. Pastry shops in Italy have transformed this tradition through the use of chocolate. The Valzani Family owns a small pastry shop in Rome, which is famous for their delicious homemade chocolate Easter eggs. Virginia Valzani says the chocolate egg tradition began during the late 19th century in Europe and is still practiced today.

Bridget Kelly is an intern in the CNS Rome bureau while she attends Villanova University’s Rome program.

Video: Cuba’s patroness and the basilica that houses her

Learn about Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, Cuba’s patroness, and the basilica that houses her. Pope Benedict is honoring her tonight with an outdoor Mass in Santiago de Cuba, and tomorrow morning he will visit the shrine itself, about 30 miles away.

Previewing the papal trip to Cuba

Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Cuba this afternoon. Take a minute to check out some of our preview material:

(CNS/Emily Thompson)

A schoolgirl poses for a photo at a park in Santiago, Cuba. (CNS/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

The stories above were from a reporting trip to Cuba last month by CNS visual media manager Nancy Wiechec and CNS staff reporter Patricia Zapor, who also spoke about their trip to Cuba on the Religion & Ethics Newsweekly program this past weekend. Not to be missed is this photo gallery of some of the colorful images they brought back. (They also wrote a blog on the things the pope will and won’t see while in Cuba.)

In addition, CNS Rome senior correspondent Cindy Wooden, who has been reporting from  Havana this weekend while awaiting the pope’s arrival, wrote this Vatican Letter last week, The cry of the poor: Pope likely to repeat criticism of Cuba embargo, giving a Vatican perspective on the Cuba visit.

Also of note is this blog item by the chairman of Catholic Relief Services, Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, on what this trip means to him.

CNS Rome bureau chief Francis X. Rocca, traveling on the papal plane to both Mexico and Cuba, also previewed the Cuba visit in this video report from Rome, focusing particularly on communism’s effect on the church since the rise of Fidel Castro more than 50 years ago.

Waiting for the pope in Cuba

HAVANA — While Pope Benedict XVI was in the air on his way to Mexico this morning, Cuba’s foreign minister opened the official papal visit press centers in Havana and Santiago de Cuba. The pope arrives in Santiago de Cuba Monday and travels to Havana Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez apparently told reporters that Cubans would welcome with pope with affection and listen to him with respect.

But when the press center opened, I was two blocks away trying to get my credentials at the foreign ministry’s office for international press. At this moment, I’m still trying to get the passes I need to cover the pope’s trip, but they kindly have allowed me into the press center.

Already staffed with dozens of assistants, telephone operators and folks handing out internet access cards, the press center is one of the clearest signs that Pope Benedict’s arrival is just days away.

Along the five miles of main road leading from the airport to Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, where the press center and press hotels are, there are two welcome signs. “Bienvenido a Cuba, Sua Santidad Benedicto XVI,” (Welcome to Cuba, Your Holiness Benedict XVI), both say. Other than those two signs, there’s not much else.

However, on the wall of a shuttered shop between the foreign ministry office for journalists and the press center, there was a small poster: “Bienvenido a Cuba, peregrino de la caridad” (“Welcome to Cuba, pilgrim of charity”). The poster refers to the main motive of the pope’s trip here — the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the icon of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre.

Of course, if I had to wait outside the papal press center for my credentials, I could have enjoyed the beautiful view of the sea and some strolling musicians.