A Vatican Christmas mystery

VATICAN CITY — In the popular imagination, the Vatican is a hotbed of intrigue.

The latest mystery in the Vatican press office is “the case of the missing ox and donkey.”

The press office Nativity scene this morning; sheep take the place of the ox and donkey ... until the mystery is solved.

The press office Nativity scene this morning; sheep take the place of the ox and donkey … until the mystery is solved.

Like every Vatican office, the press office has a Nativity scene. It was set up last Friday — and I even helped. The set was in complete compliance with Italian pre-Christmas rules: Mary and Joseph were there, but the baby Jesus will not make an appearance until midnight Christmas. The Three Kings are still in the box and will remain there until the feast of the Epiphany Jan. 6. The shepherds, sheep and angel are all present in expectation of the Savior’s birth.

And, of course, there was an ox on one side of the empty manger and a donkey on the other side.

But as of yesterday, no trace was found of the two animals.

Press office staff asked me if I knew who took them; I wasn’t a suspect, it’s just that the CNS cubicle is closest to the “presepio.”

I didn’t see anything, but I had my suspicions. (A likely suspect, one of my colleagues, called to say it wasn’t him. However, he’s willing to go to the Vatican jail for a few days … but just because he thinks he could get a “scoop” by interviewing, or at least being jailed with, the papal butler.)

Some people at the press office think it’s funny, others don’t, but all agree it has to do with Pope Benedict XVI’s new book, “Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.”

In the book, the pope said the Gospels make no mention of animals being present in the stable when Jesus was born, but he also said no Nativity scene would be complete without them.

Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, assistant director of the Vatican press office, said jokingly, “We will open a formal inquest.”

Tragedy in Connecticut ‘wrenches hearts of all,’ says cardinal


Vigil at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown, Conn. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Little Olivia Engel was one of the victims in Friday’s horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Msgr. Robert Weiss, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church there, told Reuters the 6 -year-old was to have been an angel in the church’s live Nativity that night.

“Now she’s an angel up in heaven,” he told the British news agency. The Litchfield County Times carried an account of his remarks. The church is in the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., and videos of other interviews the priest has given were just posted on its website.

The Nativity play was canceled Friday night, and a special evening Mass was celebrated. The church remained open all night for prayer. This morning news media reported that people were flocking to the church for the parish’s four Sunday Masses, seeking solace in the aftermath of the violence, which left  20 children and seven adults dead.

Police officials identified the gunman as Adam Lanza, 20, and said he killed himself as first responders arrived on the scene.

“Let us come together to pray for and support the families directly affected by today’s events, as well as the Newtown community at large,” said a statement posted Friday on the St. Rose parish website. “As a parish community and family, we ask that you all join in prayer at the Masses this weekend. Let us bring our sorrows to the foot of the cross and the Holy Mass together as a family. God bless you.”

The Nativity play went on as scheduled last night, but religious education classes were canceled for today.

The elementary school is in the north Danbury area of the Bridgeport Diocese. Brian Wallace, diocesan director of communications, told Catholic News Service Friday that Msgr. Weiss was at the school almost immediately. When the enormity of the tragedy began to unfold, he said, other priests, chaplains and Catholic Charities personnel “were on the ground.”

In a statement released late Friday evening, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the shooting “wrenches the hearts of all people” and the “tragedy of innocent people dying through violence shatters the peace of all.”

“At this time, we pledge especially our prayerful support to the Diocese of Bridgeport and the community of Newtown as they cope with this almost unbearable sorrow,” he said. “We pray that the peace that passes understanding be with them as they deal with the injuries they have sustained and with the deaths of their beautiful children.”

“Once again we speak against the culture of violence infecting our country even as we prepare to welcome the Prince of Peace at Christmas,” Cardinal Dolan said in his statement. “All of us are called to work for peace in our homes, our streets and our world, now more than ever. In the shadow of this shooting, may we know that God’s sacrificial love sustains us and may those pained so deeply by this tragedy experience that care in their own hearts.”

Bridgeport’s homepage also includes several other messages, including one from Pope Benedict XVI, sent by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state.

He conveyed the pope’s “heartfelt grief and the assurance of this closeness in prayer to the victims and their families, and to all affected by the shocking event.”

“In the aftermath of this senseless tragedy, he asks God, our Father, to console all those who mourn and to sustain the entire community with the spiritual strength which triumphs over violence by the power of forgiveness, hope and reconciling love,” Cardinal Bertone said.

A crowd surrounds St. Rose of Lima Church Dec. 14. (CNS photo/Reuters)

A crowd surrounds St. Rose of Lima Church Dec. 14. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, who was Bridgeport’s bishop from 2001 until he was named to Baltimore in March, said he was “profoundly saddened by this terrible tragedy. My heart goes out to the parents who lost their children and to a grieving community. I will continue to pray for all those affected by this unspeakable event, and I remember in a special way St. Rose of Lima Parish which I visited so often and remember with deep love and respect.”

In a statement posted this morning, Mgr. Jerald A. Doyle, administrator of the Bridgeport Diocese, said: “On this Gaudete Sunday we realize how quickly our joy can be turned to sorrow and how our faith can be challenged.

“On behalf of the clergy, religious and all the faithful of the Diocese of Bridgeport I extend my prayers and condolences to the families of the victims. … Our concern and support go out to the whole community of Newtown as you try to assist and support one another, especially those who were directly impacted.”

“I assure you that the diocese is ready and willing to make available whatever resources it can to assist those affected by this tragedy, including counselors from Catholic Charities,” he continued. “As we continue our journey toward the Christmas feast, may our hope for the peace and comfort of the divine Savior, be a true source of assurance of his loving presence in our lives.”


Filipino boxer’s mom blames losses on leaving Catholicism

By David Agren

Almost as soon as Filipino boxing phenom Manny Pacquiao hit the mat — knocked out Dec. 8 by Mexican opponent Juan Manuel Marquez — experts, heartbroken fans in the Philippines and the former champion’s own mother offered explanations for his unexpected defeat.

Boxing observers suggested it was a question of in-ring style, saying that Pacquiao didn’t match up well with Marquez, who had lost twice and fought to a draw in three previous encounters with the Pacquiao. Some fans in the Philippines suggested Pacquiao had become a part-time pugilist, having been elected to political office. His mother found another explanation: faith.

The Inquirer Global Nation website highlighted an interview with Pacquiao’s mother, Mommy Dionisia, in which she said, “That’s what he gets for changing his religion.

“Since the ‘Protestant’ pastors came into his life, he has not focus on his boxing.”

The article went on to say: “She does not approve of Pacquiao leaving the Catholic Church. She wants him to quit and become a Catholic again. Many have noticed that in the last two fights which ended in defeat, Pacquiao did not enter the ring with a rosary around his neck as he did before.”

It ended by positing, “The 33 year-old Manny Pacquiao’s loss to Manuel Marquez is not about religion. He lost because he became a part-time boxer while the 39-year-old Marquez remains as full time professional boxer.”

Vatican II fathers OK’d languages people use daily

The first session of the Second Vatican Council ended Dec. 8, 1962, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, with a closing Mass and speech by Pope John XXIII. You read the speech and the CNS report on the closing congregation of the first session at our council daybook blog, Vatican II: 50 Years Ago Today.

What may surprise you is that one of the very first actions of the council fathers was to approve the use of the vernacular in Latin-rite liturgies. This surprised many Catholic around the world, too, because of the speed with which the fathers made this change. It seemed like overnight, the exclusive use of Latin in the Western rites had been supplanted with the languages people actually used in their daily lives.

Two of the entries in the blog discuss this change. One is the article explaining the approval; the other is a very good analysis by one of the council periti or experts in sacred liturgy, Benedictine Father Cipriano Vagaggini, who died in 1999.

A woman uses a hand missal in Swahili during a Mass in Kenya. (CNS Photo/Nancy Wiechec)

A woman uses a hand missal in Swahili during a Mass in Kenya. (CNS Photo/Nancy Wiechec)

As Father Vagaggini noted in his article, the approval did not spring like Athena from the head of Zeus, from the minds of the council father or Pope John. Liturgical reform had been well under way for almost 50 years by the time the council had begun. Missionaries had been pressing for the use of the vernacular for many years, especially in Asia and Africa, since Latin had almost no resonance with people on those continents.

The Benedictines were among the most prominent of the liturgical reformers of the first part of the 20th century. Nowhere was liturgical reform more studied in North America than St. John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minn., with its renowned School of Theology and Seminary. Today St. John’s is home to Liturgical Press, a pioneering publisher of liturgical resources since 1926.

Iowa Catholic woman is world’s oldest person

(Photo/Patti Brown, The Catholic Mirror, Des Moines)

(Photo/Patti Brown, The Catholic Mirror, Des Moines)

The Gerontology Research Group announced this week that 115-year-old Dina Manfredini is the oldest person in the world. She is Catholic and a longtime parishioner of Sacred Heart Parish in West Des Moines, Iowa. She inherited the title when 116-year-old Besse Cooper of Georgia died Dec. 4.

Here is a link to a profile of Manfredini by Patti Brown published last year in The Catholic Mirror, newspaper of the Diocese of Des Moines, and posted on the newspaper’s blog. Editor Anne Marie Cox tells us the paper was working to update the story on the supercentenarian, who was born April 4, 1897.

According to Brown’s story, she was born in a small town in northern Italy called Sant’Andrea “the month after William McKinley became president of the United States” — he was sworn into office March 4, 1897 — and “just a few weeks before Guglielmo Marconi sent the first wireless communication over the open sea.”

“She came to America as a bride in 1920 and settled with her husband, Riccardo, in a tiny mining camp on the southwest edge of Des Moines. Riccardo was 15 years old and had come to America first before sending for Dina.” The couple had four children. “My parents lived their faith. They were poor but we didn’t realize it,” daughter Enes Logli told the Mirror.

Some reports put the number of supercentenarians — those 110 years old or more —  living around the world ay 70. The Gerontology Research Group says the figure is between 300 and 450.  Another Catholic paper recently featured a centenarian — Charlie Barcio. At 108, he has a little way to go before he gets the “super” designation. He recently moved to an assisted living facility in Columbus, Ohio, from Victorville, Calif.

Reporter Tim Puet of the Catholic Times, newspaper of the Columbus Diocese, asked Barcio to sum up what’s meant the most to him in his long life, he said: “My church, my work and my wife.” He was born March 22, 1904, in Erie, Pa., three months after the Wright brothers made their first flight. Read more of his story here on Page 11.

Salt and Light, Canada’s Catholic media network, at 10


Salt and Light, Canada’s Catholic television network, is now 10.

Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, CEO of Salt and Light, tells Catholic News Service the network opens its celebration of a decade of broadcasting with a concert Dec. 6 featuring The Priests performing “Venite Adoremus.”

The sold out concert will take place in Toronto’s Telus Center for Performance and Learning.

“We have only just begun our work,” Father Rosica said in an email to CNS staff. “We will build on the solid foundation that has been laid and continue to produce award-winning programs, documentaries and tell stories of hope to the world around us. The church needs our strong, catechetical programs, beautiful, inspirational documentaries and positive message.”

Catholic News Service has enjoyed a long, collaborative partnership with Salt and Light.

The network has its roots in World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto. Inspired by the words of Blessed John Paul II at the event, Canadian businessman Gaetano Gagliano felt compelled to use mass media, television in particular, to spread the good news of Jesus. Gagliano formed the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and invited Father Rosica, who served as CEO of World Youth Day 2002, to join him in the leading the enterprise.

As they say, the rest is history.

Salt and Light has expanded into radio and social media with a presence on Facebook and Twitter. It also publishes a magazine.

Salt and Light can be accessed in 2.6 million Canadian homes through eight television carriers and has a worldwide reach through online streaming around the clock. The network continues to broadcast significant worldwide events and maintains partnerships with several Catholic television networks to broadcast Catholic programming.

For the anniversary, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, lauded the network for connecting the local church with the global church and for its outreach to young people.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Richard W. Smith of Edmonton, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop Gerald Cyprien Lacroix of Quebec have sent letters of congratulations to Father Rosica.

On a lighter note, writer Daniel Baird captured the spirit of the TV network in his recent column in The Walrus.

CNS joins all of them in extending heartfelt good wishes to Salt and Light for continued success, and we look forward to working together to share the good news of the church in the world today.

Street artists bring spirit of church to new art exhibit

(CNS/Greg Watry)

By Greg Watry

ROME — Two street artists are bringing the spirit of the church to a new art exhibition in Rome.  The -1 Art Gallery, located in the basement of the Casa dell’Architettura, opened a new exhibition titled “Sancta Sanctoroom” on Friday, Nov. 23.

Prominent Roman street artists Mr. Klevra and omino71 are the creative forces behind the exhibition, which illustrates scenes from the Book of Revelation.

Mr. Klevra gained notoriety for his unique street art, which often depicts religious figures such as the Madonna and Child.

The gallery is full of religious figures in Byzantine

(CNS/Greg Watry)

art style.  An image of the Virgin Mary welcomes patrons into the first room, which depicts the Apocalypse in an array of psychedelic colors.  On the left wall, the false prophet, surrounded by a beast and dragon, represents evil.  While on the right, the sacrificial lamb and two lions represent the unity of the Holy Trinity and good.  The New Jerusalem, a city painted in gold, sits in the background of the three figures.  The second room depicts the Last Judgment, when mankind’s sins are weighed and it is decided whether one goes to paradise or the inferno.

The work warrants much contemplation with its inclusion of minute details from the Book of Revelation and the hidden symbols scattered within the art.  Coupled with contemporary images and themes, the exhibition brings a modern twist to an ancient text.

Religious and art enthusiasts will both find something to enjoy in this gallery.  As with most street art, the exhibition has a lifespan and will only be open until Dec. 21.  After that, the walls will be repainted to make way for a new show.  So if you’re in the Rome area it is definitely worth checking out.