It’s becoming a thing! #capswap

VATICAN CITY — There was a lot of papal cap-swapping at today’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

But one audience member was expecting a freebie zucchetto  — without an exchange — as this photo shows, captured by our very own Paul Haring.

The man’s sign says: “Pope, give me your cap as a present.”

Pope leads general audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Pope Francis leads his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Oct. 23. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Decoding Francis: Vatican media adviser offers “10 things to know”

VATICAN CITY — If people are still unsure about what to make of Pope Francis, the Vatican’s media adviser offered his take on decoding the pontiff.


Greg Burke, media adviser to the Vatican, participating in a Vatican press conference Dec. 3, 2012. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“Pope Francis is not a politically-correct pope,” rather, he is “a loyal son of the church” who presents the hard truths with a heavy dose of mercy, said Greg Burke, senior communications adviser to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.

The former U.S. journalist, who’s been based in Rome the past 25 years, gave a behind-the-scenes talk last week to hundreds of benefactors celebrating the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums.

U.S. Msgr. Peter Wells — another top official at the Secretariat of State — also spoke at the same Oct. 18 event in the apostolic palace, where he gave his take on the reform of the curia and how they counteract secular media manipulating the pope’s message.

In trying to describe his papally-appointed role as the Vatican’s chief media strategist, Burke (an unabashed soccer fan) said, “We kick the ball to Francis and Francis scores the goals.” “We let the pope do his thing.”

He said Pope Francis clearly knows how to communicate and his effectiveness comes from his authenticity. “It’s not charm. It’s Christian charity, which is a whole lot more attractive than charm.”

He also said “Pope Francis is not a politically-correct pope, in my opinion.”

Pope greets people in wheelchairs after celebrating Mass in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Pope Francis greeting people in wheelchairs after celebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican June 16. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

There’s been a lot of spin in the press about what the pope has been saying, but “I believe the pope wants to get beyond left and right” by getting people to focus on the Gospels, on God and his truth and mercy.

“He’s a loyal son of the church” who sees its task as being like “a field hospital” that runs to and helps people who are hurting, he said.

The pope is not advocating a “feel-good” religion of “I’m OK-you’re OK-Catholicism,” but talks about the truth of the Gospel that includes mercy and forgiveness.

“The Gospel is not there to make us feel good. The Gospel is there and makes very practical demands on us,” and one of those demands is to “tell people the truth and walk with them to the Lord,” Burke said.

Burke said, “the pope’s picture should have one of those warning labels” on it, much like a pack of cigarettes does, but with the words: “Danger: This man could change your life.”

Here’s Burke’s Top Ten List to describe and better understand the Argentine pontiff:

Pope greets man as he meets with patients, others at hospital in Rio

Pope Francis greeting a man at Rio de Janeiro’s St. Francis of Assisi Hospital — a clinic for recovering drug addicts. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (July 24, 2013)

1. Mercy — The story of the Prodigal Son is a recurring theme and the pope repeatedly says that God never tires of forgiving and welcoming his lost children back home.  “The church is waiting here for you with open arms,” is the message, Burke said.

2. Moxie/courage — “We’re all going to get challenged by Pope Francis. Get ready!” People who live comfortably or live in developed nations will be especially challenged, Burke said, adding, “This is good. This is the Gospel.”

3. Margins, missions — Francis is continuing with his predecessors’ criticism of a world divided by haves and have-nots. The pope “is not a fan of cheap grace and feel-good religion. He wants to see Christians who are not afraid to get their hands dirty,” Burke said.

Woman prays as pope leads vigil to pray for peace in Syria

A woman in prayer as Pope Francis led a vigil to pray for peace in Syria in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Sept. 7. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

4. Prayer — Non-believers often don’t notice how important prayer is for religious life. For example, Blessed Mother Teresa was often looked upon by the secular press as “a social worker wearing a habit.” But, Burke said, the pope has constantly been stressing the importance of prayer and urging people to pray.

5. Encounter — The pope is asking people to embrace a “culture of encounter” where they experience God and meet with others, including non-believers. This attitude of encounter and communion also starts at home, with your family, Burke said.

Pope Francis gives thumbs as he leaves St. Peter's Square after celebrating Palm Sunday Mass

Pope Francis giving a thumbs up after celebrating Palm Sunday Mass at the Vatican March 24. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

6. Joy — The pope “gets a thumbs’ up on that,” he said, as he’s able to show his joy so plainly. He said that according to Pope Francis, the biggest dangers and temptations in life are “discouragement, discord, the doldrums and the devil.”

7. Service — By paying his hotel bill in person (even though he had just been elected pope), phoning people who write to him and other do-it-yourself tasks, the pope is leading by example with the message that “it’s not about power or privilege; if we’re here, we’re here to serve.”

Pope Francis steps off a plane in Rome, returning from his trip to Brazil

Pope Francis stepping off a plane after returning to Rome July 29 from his trip to Brazil. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

8. Simplicity/Humility — Living in a Vatican guest house instead of the apostolic palace, carrying his own briefcase on a trip… that’s just how the pope is and people will have to “get used to it because we’ll see more of it,” Burke said.

9. Compassion — Burke, who’s a numerary member of Opus Dei and went to Jesuit-run St. Louis University high school in St. Louis, said he used to joke with people “that everyone should have a Jesuit education. Now with Pope Francis, everyone is getting the benefits of a Jesuit education.”

“Compassion and suffering with others is something Pope Francis has a knack for” and it’s especially evident when he embraces people and is totally present one-on-one with an individual, even in large crowds.

10. Energy — Burke said for a 76-year-old, the pope “has a lot of energy and we’re going to be in for an interesting ride!”

Homily NoDoz: Public speaking school for seminarians

Pope leads general audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Pope Francis leading a general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 3. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — Inspired by Pope Francis’ criticism of boring homilies, a group of Italian seminarians apparently will now be taking courses in public speaking and effective communication.

According to the Italian daily La Nazione, the Pontifical Regional Seminary located in Assisi is making its future priests get lessons from consultants, who normally work with top business managers and stage actors.

One group of 15 seminarians reportedly start its three-day program today.

Apparently the idea was triggered, not just by Pope Francis’ unique speaking style, but by what he said in his Oct. 4 homily at Mass in the Cathedral of San Rufino.

Speaking to an audience of priests and men and women religious, the pope said it was impossible to preach if one didn’t first have one’s heart open to God and illuminated by his word.

“Enough of these endless, boring homilies which can’t be understood,” he told his listeners.



Presto change-oh! It’s the skullcap swap

Monday Oct. 21, UPDATE and CORRECTION:

First a correction from an attentive Facebook fan who sent us a link showing how the cap swap custom goes way back before our 21st-century popes.

I also heard back from one of the Providence College students, who tried to give Pope Francis a new zucchetto. Here’s her backstage look at how it all happened:

Joe had noticed the tradition of the zuchetto exchange, and had wanted to try it for himself. As we all pointed to it, Pope Francis took notice of it and stopped the Popemobile while he had been passing by.

Prior to this, a friend we were with said that she wanted to write the pope a note, to which I replied that I had a stack of bright pink post-it notes. Upon writing the note and all signing our names, we safety pinned it to the zuchetto to ensure it stayed in place for the Pope to read, which is why he didn’t keep the note. It read, “Providence College LOVES Papa Francesco. [signed by seven PC students].

When Pope Francis stopped in front of us, I couldn’t even react. It was like a dream; I was speechless. He had read our note and told us that the zuchetto was too big. He was so close to us and had been so engaged with us as regular audience members (even for the 30 seconds that it was) that it was so surreal.



A pilgrim trying to give Pope Benedict XVI a zucchetto when he arrived for a general audience in St. Peter’s Square June 1, 2011. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — The “zucchetto switcheroo” is a long-held tradition for popes and pilgrims.

A guest presents the pope with a brand new white skullcap and the pope is expected to take it and swap it with the one he’s wearing on his head.

While many pilgrims are familiar with the practice, we’ve noticed a newly elected pope usually needs a quick explanation from an aide or security guard when someone suddenly presents him with a fresh new cap purchased from the papal tailors at Gammarelli’s.

But once they know the drill, everyone from Blessed John Paul II to Popes Benedict and Francis has happily engaged in the tradition, letting the lucky pilgrim get a souvenir of a lifetime.

Pope leads general audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Joseph Day, a student at Providence College, gets back the new zucchetto he had handed Pope Francis before the start of the general audience Oct. 16. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

One such lucky pilgrim at yesterday’s general audience was a student from Providence College, R.I. who is spending a semester studying in Rome.

Joseph Day, a native of Rehoboth, Mass., stretched his arm out over the heads of his classmates to give Pope Francis a zucchetto with a hot pink sticky note stuck inside.

Pope leads general audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Pope Francis briefly putting on a new zucchetto given to him by a Providence College student at the Oct. 16 general audience in St. Peter’s Square. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Our photographer, Paul Haring, was there with his telephoto lens to capture the moment and the secreted note. According to news reports, Day had written “Providence College loves Pope Francis.”

The pope took off his own cap and put on Day’s gift, but then he gave it right back after glancing at the note.

It’s become a bit of a custom for Pope Francis to choose to keep his own skullcap after he places the gifted one briefly on his head and returns it to the gifter.

It’s just a guess on my part, but maybe he’s doing it to avoid any embarrassing misfits as happened in Rio this summer when someone gave him an oversize cap that looked like it had been stuffed in a pocket or backpack:

Pope arrives for World Youth Day ceremony on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro

Pope Francis greets the crowd at the World Youth Day welcoming ceremony on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro July 25. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis is ratings king for Italian TV

Pope greets crowd after celebrating Mass for catechists in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

A cameraman captures the moment as Pope Francis greets the crowd in St. Peter’s Square after celebrating a Mass for catechists at the Vatican Sept. 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — Italian television has seen its viewership ratings of papal events skyrocket since Pope Francis’ election.

The number of people tuning in to watch the pope celebrate major liturgical events and his Sunday Angelus has “soared,” according to the Italian daily, “Il Fatto Quotidiano.”

The Italian state television channel, RAI 1, reported a jump of almost three-quarters of a million people watching its coverage of the noon Angelus.

Viewership of the weekly pre-“pranzo” prayer went from 1.56 million people in 2012 to 2.27 million people this year, “Il Fatto” reported. Not bad for a country of 60.9 million people with just 30.3 million televisions sets.

Audience share of RAI 1’s papal Mass broadcasts saw an even bigger boost going from 15.82 percent during Benedict XVI’s pontificate to 22.35 percent today. That translates, the paper said, into nearly one in three households tuning in to Pope Francis to watch him celebrate Mass.

Pope Francis waves as he leads his first Angelus in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the window of the apostolic palace as he leads his first Angelus in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican March 17, 2013. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

Pope Francis’ first Angelus address in March grabbed a 45 percent audience share and the Via Crucis a few weeks later nabbed 36 percent — numbers that are usually the norm during live coverage of Italians’ other “religion:” national soccer playoffs.  In a play on words, the Italian paper said when it comes to audience draw, “a Mass (Messa) is worth Messi,” the champion Argentine soccer star.

TV 2000, the television station of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, had its day of fame when it broadcast live Pope Francis’ visit to Assisi earlier this month, making the tiny station the 5th-most watched channel that day, ahead of some major commercial channels.

The Italian all-news channel, SkyTG24 is giving more airtime than ever before to the pope’s Sunday Angelus, the paper said, because “when Francis is on air, people don’t change the channel.”

Vatican gets greenlight for .catholic domain

Priest takes photo with tablet as Pope Francis celebrates Mass in St. Peter's Basilica

A priest taking pictures with a tablet as Pope Francis celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica July 7, 2013. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY — As top-level domain names are being rolled out and up for grabs, the Vatican has scored control of .catholic.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN),  which coordinates the assignment of Internet domain names and addresses around the world,  has been allowing entities to apply for ownership of hundreds, and soon thousands, of new domain names such as .london, .insurance and .xbox, among others.

The Pontifical Council for Social Communications completed the application process last summer and just received approval that it will now control the new Internet address extension .catholic and decide who is allowed to use it.

icann 2

Screengrab of ICANN website listing new generic top-level domain names.

The Vatican will control .catholic and its equivalent in other languages using Latin letters, as well as the equivalent of the word “Catholic” in the Cyrillic, Arabic and Chinese alphabets. Its request for .catholic in Chinese is number one on the ICANN list of priority domain names, right above .Amazon in Japanese.

Msgr. Paul Tighe, secretary of the council, told me this morning that “we are very happy the approval has been achieved, but there is still a lot of work to do before it goes live.”

Contrary to reports that the domain name will go live this month, Msgr. Tighe said seeing sites with the .catholic extension online still has “a long way to go.”  There are still bureaucratic kinks to iron out, like contracts to sign, technical trials to run and clear guidelines to set up for potential users of the domain name.

As the monsignor told us in last year, the Vatican plans to allow “institutions and communities that have canonical recognition” to use the extension, “so people online — Catholics and non-Catholics — will know a site is authentically Catholic.”

The Vatican does not plan to allow individual bloggers or private Catholics to use “.catholic,” Msgr. Tighe said. Use of the domain would be limited to those with a formal canonical recognition: dioceses, parishes and other territorial church jurisdictions; religious orders and other canonically recognized communities; and Catholic institutions such as universities, schools and hospitals.

Controlling the domain name will promote “a more cohesive and organized presence” of the church online, “so the recognized structure of the church can be mirrored in the digital space,” he said.

Teach for America about ‘where you’re needed most’

By Priya Narapareddy

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) –- Stephen Haas said he would feel extremely nervous standing in front of a roomful of fourth- graders, knowing that he was responsible for not only teaching them, but also for helping them succeed against the odds.

Haas, a senior at The Catholic University of America in Washington, is aware of the effect poverty has on education and the high incarceration rates of children who grew up in poverty.

At Catholic University’s Oct. 8 session for Teach for America applicants, Haas learned that Arizona corrections’ officers kept records of the number of students who failed in elementary school to determine how many prison beds to build in a decade.

“I couldn’t be nervous if I didn’t care,” he said.  “Since I would care so much about them, I would be absolutely thrilled at the chance to do something good for them.”

Haas described education as a basic need for all people. “It’s the most important thing aside from food and shelter,” he said.

The session was led by Catholic University alum Anthony Buatti, who is recruitment director for Teach for America’s Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia Corps.

Buatti encouraged students to apply to teach in cities with a high need for teachers, such as Detroit, Oklahoma City and Memphis, Tenn.

“This whole experience is about going where you’re needed the most,” he said.

Buatti said poverty limits educational opportunity. He said 8 percent of students from low-income communities receive college degrees, compared to 80 percent of students from high-income communities.

Upon graduation from Catholic University of America, Buatti was offered a job with the FBI. He declined the position to join Teach For America’s Phoenix corps.

Buatti said he taught third grade in Phoenix for two years.

“My experience was incredible,” he said. “It was putting my beliefs and what I studied at Catholic into play.”

On Buatti’s first day as a teacher, he realized that he had no idea how to talk to an 8- year- old.

“It terrified me to think, ‘How can I break these concepts down for the kids to understand?’” he said.

Buatti said another challenge included knowing that only 28 percent of third-graders passed the previous year. He said he consulted Teach for America’s online database as well as veteran teachers at his school to learn about the needs of students as well as how to help them understand lessons.

In the 2013-14 school year, 11,000 corps members will reach more than 750,000 students while 32,000 alumni will continue to deepen their impact as educational leaders and advocates.

Buatti said 48 percent of his students passed the third grade after his first year of teaching. Although many more students had passed, he said he was not satisfied with his students’ final test scores.

“I thought, ‘I have to get this right,’” said Buatti. “They deserve better than this.”

Buatti pushed himself and his students harder the second year he taught. He said 96 percent of the class passed.

“We worked relentlessly,” he said.

Bernadette Poerio, a senior at Catholic University of America, is seen with friends in the Best Buddies program. She is campaus campaign coordinator ofr Teach for America and Best Buddies activities coordinator. (Courtesy photo)

Bernadette Poerio, a senior at Catholic University of America, is seen with friends in the Best Buddies program. She is campus campaign coordinator for Teach for America and Best Buddies activities coordinator. (Courtesy photo)

Haas, who was taught primarily at private Catholic schools, said his high school teacher Bruce Marcoon also focused on helping his students learn rather than building his reputation as a teacher.

“He would relate to us in a way we could all understand at an all-boys prep school,” said Haas. “For him, it was more about what the student got out of it than it was about him being a great teacher.”

Haas said Marcoon was straightforward in the classroom, as well as humorous, and always challenged his students to think.

“He stressed critical thinking, and thinking for ourselves,” said Haas. “I think that every student he has had has learned how to do those things from him.

Bernadette Poerio, Teach for America’s campus campaign coordinator at Catholic University, said she is preparing for her final Teach for America interview.

Poerio, a native of Woodbridge, N.J., is a senior at Catholic University. She said she hopes to become a high school English teacher.

Poerio said she hopes to share her passion for literature with students.

“This makes sense for everything I’ve done in my life,” she said.