President Kennedy’s Catholic stops in 1963

President Kennedy and his family Easter Sunday 1963 (CNS photo/Reuters)

President Kennedy and his family on Easter Sunday 1963. (CNS photo/Reuters)

President John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic to be elected to the nation’s highest office, regarded his religion as “a very private matter,” but the mere fact he was a Catholic scared off plenty of voters and also drew some in.

He tried to calm some fears by telling a group of ministers in Houston in 1960: “I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters — and the church does not speak for me.”

Even so,  his Catholicism was ever-present and many Catholic homes placed a photo of Kennedy on the wall right next to an image of Pope John XXIII.

As a Catholic in high office, he was obviously a big “get” if he paid a visit to a Catholic school or institution.

In the spring of 1963, he attended an event celebrating the 100th anniversary of Jesuit-run Boston College. The visit, according to a Washington Post report was his first stop at a “Catholic institution of learning” since becoming president.

During the visit, chronicled here,  Kennedy spoke for about 10 minutes, addressing school alumni.

He told them he was glad to be back  where his “accent is considered normal.” He then went on to praise the papal encyclical “Pacem in Terris” (“Peace on Earth”) which had been issued nine days previously.

President Kennedy meets Pope Paul VI in undated photo. (CNS)

President Kennedy meets Pope Paul VI in undated photo. (CNS)

“As a Catholic I am proud of it, and as an American I have learned from it,”  he said.

In another Catholic visit just weeks before his death, Kennedy paid a surprise visit Nov. 15 to the National Catholic Youth Organization Federation convention in New York City.
In typical fashion, he urged Catholic youths not only to serve their families and their church but also their country.

Catholic press accounts at time of Kennedy’s assassination and on 50th anniversary of his death

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy Nov. 22, 1963, and the 50th anniversary of this tragic event have garnered extensive media coverage.

Kennedy's funeral procession (CNS photo/U.Kennedy Presidential Library) (Nov. 21, 2013)

Kennedy’s funeral procession making its way to Capitol in Washington Nov. 24, 1963. (CNS photo/U.S. Army Signal Corps, courtesy John F. Kennedy Presidential Library)

The Catholic press has done its share, too, specifically honing in on the Catholic faith of the nation’s 35th president with stories focusing on a priest who administered last rites to the president after he was shot, the homily at his funeral Mass in Washington’s St. Matthew’s Cathedral and the priest who narrated the funeral for a worldwide audience on television and the radio.

The Kennedy assassination folder in the archives of Catholic News Service contains stories (like the one below)  from the funeral Mass in Washington, a Requiem Mass celebrated at a Rome cathedral and special permission for a Mass celebrated at the Kennedy home in Hyannis, Mass., since the president’s father, Joseph, was not well enough to attend the Mass in Washington.

Nov. 25, 1963 story by CNS (formerly NCWC News Service)

Nov. 25, 1963, story on Kennedy funeral by CNS’ predecessor, NCWC News Service.

In his homily at the funeral Mass in Washington, according to our story, Boston Cardinal Richard Cushing, a friend of the Kennedy family, said he had been with the president “since the earliest days of his public life.”

“I have been with him in joy and in sorrow, in decision and in crisis, among friends and with strangers. … Now, all of a sudden, he has been taken from us and we shall not see his like again,” he added.

The cardinal also stressed the public service call of President Kennedy, saying: “It is a consolation for us all to know that his death does not spell the end of this public service.”

Indeed many people continue to keep that vision alive through participation in the Peace Corps or other volunteer work, still remembering Kennedy’s oft-repeated phrase:  “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

President Kennedy reaches out to crowd outside Texas hotel in 1963 CNS photo/Cecil Stoughton, courtesy John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

President Kennedy reaches out to crowd outside Texas hotel in 1963. (CNS photo/Cecil Stoughton, courtesy John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

And people also continue to examine Kennedy’s family, his presidency and his Catholicism.

The newspaper of  the Diocese of Dallas, The Texas Catholic, has written extensively about Kennedy’s impact and what his death meant to the city, nation and world.

The USCCB’s blog also examines Kennedy’s Catholicism,  his politics and continuing influence.

Russell Shaw, author and Our Sunday Visitor contributing editor,  sums up some of the modern Catholic views of Kennedy this way in the Nov. 6 issue of Our Sunday Visitor:

“Half a century after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, disagreement runs deep regarding his place in American Catholic history. Conflicting images of the man — fallen hero of the Camelot myth, cynical and manipulative rogue, or perhaps something harder to define — compete for Catholics’ allegiance.

Such images “compete for the allegiance of non-Catholic Americans too,” Shaw continues. “Yet for Catholics, the ambivalence has a particularly sharp edge. Kennedy was one of our own. Both his death and the meaning of his life are matters of special poignancy for us.”

Up close and personal: My first papal audience

By Caroline Hroncich

photo (5)

Pope Francis arriving at the general audience Nov. 20. (CNS photo/Caroline Hroncich)

VATICAN CITY–It’s difficult to not get swept up by the excitement of attending a papal audience, and this Wednesday was my first time.

St. Peter’s Square was packed with eager pilgrims all waiting for a chance to meet Pope Francis. With the help of Paul Haring, CNS’s senior photographer, I was able to maneuver my way to the front of the square.

It looked as though it was going to rain, but all qualms about the weather faded when Pope Francis entered the square. He appeared as a little white dot emerging in a sea of black suits from the left side of St. Peter’s Basilica, waving happily from the popemobile.

The only way to describe the reactions of the crowd when Pope Francis appeared is pure excitement. The square erupted in shouts of “Papa Francesco.” I snapped a few photos, and after Pope Francis passed by, I was allowed to enter the “VIP section” in the front of the square. From my vantage point in the front I watched as Pope Francis rode around and waves of people moved quickly from one side of the square to the other to get up close shots of him. People were standing on their chairs trying to get the best possible view of Pope Francis as he kissed babies and greeted pilgrims. It was pure craziness mixed with excitement.

photo 4

View from my seat at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square. (CNS photo/Caroline Hroncich)

One amazing thing about attending a papal audience is being able to listen to the pope speak. You don’t realize how rarely you are given the opportunity to listen to Pope Francis’ voice. He is also an incredibly animated speaker and could barely say four words without applause erupting from some part of the crowd.

After he spoke, everyone in the square prayed the Our Father together in Latin, and Pope Francis descended to greet the handicapped. Watching him interact with people was one of my favorite parts of the entire experience. From my spot in the front, I watched as Pope Francis hugged and greeted hundreds of people, each one looking more excited than the last. Witnessing the pure joy on the face of someone who’s just met the pope is a truly spiritual experience.

When I returned to the office after being in the square for nearly three hours, Robert Duncan, CNS’s videographer, who’d been watching the live feed of the audience, showed me a screen grab of myself snapping photos on my iPhone while Pope Francis rode around in the popemobile. I’m in the little red circle — with my phone completely blocking my face — but it’s me all the same!

As an intern, I’m incredibly grateful to be able to get these kinds of opportunities. Regardless of how many times I’ve seen the basilica, it never gets old walking past the Vatican every morning on my way to work.

Caroline in action

Screen shot of me taking photos of Pope Francis.

Editor’s note: Caroline Hroncich is a student at Villanova University and she is interning at Catholic News Service’s Rome bureau for the semester.

Comet ISON brightens significantly in pre-dawn sky; celestial Thanksgiving feast on schedule

Comet ISON brightened last week and is already putting on a spectacular show for comet watchers.

isonComet_outlinesThe first time interloper to the inner sanctums of the solar system remains on schedule for a reaching peak brightness early Thanksgiving morning.

Karl Battams, astrophysicist and computational scientist at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, wrote on the NASA Comet ISON Observing Campaign website that the comet may be undergoing some changes. What they are, astronomers aren’t sure yet. But they’re enjoying the show.

Astronomers theorize the brightening could be attributed to some fracturing of the three to four-mile wide comet or because it has gotten close enough to the sun to allow more gases to flow outward. It’s estimated that

A Nov. 17 photo by Austrian astronomer Michael Jaeger revealed a 10 million-mile tail that spanned 7 degrees across the sky. That’s pretty long by anyone’s estimation.

Observers with clear skies will see the comet just before sunrise in the southeastern sky. The moon may wash out some of its brightness, but should become a non-factor as the comet reaches peak brightness next week.

If Comet ISON isn’t enough, there is another bright comet that can be observed in the early morning hours.

Comet Lovejoy, while not as spectacular, is just barely at naked eye visibility and now can be seen between the Big Dipper and the constellation Leo. Binoculars or a small telescope will definitely help. It will continue to move westward and then southwestward in early December through neighboring constellations.

Surely, this Thanksgiving promises quite a visual feast for early risers.

Update December 5:

Comet ISON exists no more except for widely scattered dust particles.

The visitor from the edges of the solar system broke up on closest approach to the sun on Thanksgiving Day and won’t be putting on a the show that many comet watchers had expected.

There was a bit of hope that the comet survived its passage around the sun when a bright ball of light with a couple of short tails was observed by satellites. But that brightening was the last gasp for ISON.

Battams’ wrote a short obit memorializing the comet on the Comet ISON Observing Campaign website.

For now astronomers will be studying the data in an effort to help them better understand the makeup of the solar system.

It’s never too early to think about Christmas wishlists…

audience nov 20 2013

Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square Nov. 20, 2013. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — Have you attended one of the pope’s weekly general audiences in St. Peter’s Square?

If so and you’d like a memento of that day, you should know that you can order online a DVD of Vatican Television’s full coverage of the event.

Obviously anyone can purchase the DVDs and you can pick any general audience spanning from April 21, 2010 to today’s. Those dates include some historic gatherings like Pope Benedict’s last general audience Feb. 27.

The Italian-based website has partnered with the Vatican for a while now, helping people around the world order and receive print, audio and visual media produced by Vatican outlets as well as some religious articles.

In fact, with the Christmas countdown now at “35 Days to Go,” it may not be too early to look for some special gifts from the Vatican.

The site offers things like:

Some unique offerings include:

  • Cardinals seen in Sistine Chapel to begin conclave to elect successor to Pope Benedict at Vatican

    Cardinals entering the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel March 12 as they begin the conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

    A double CD titled “Music of the Conclave,” with the complete live recordings of the liturgical music sung by the Sistine Chapel Choir and the cardinal electors chanting before entering the conclave that eventually elected Pope Francis.

  • A four-CD box set of “the only recording ever” of Pope Benedict praying the entire rosary in Latin.
  • (Though they’re sold out…) the official and misspelled “LESUS” medal of Pope Francis’ pontificate.
  • A stuffed “Bedtime Bunny” that children can take to bed and, when they press its tummy, helps them recite a classic bedtime prayer.


That hug from the pope “felt like paradise”

Pope Francis' General Audience

Pope Francis hugs Vinicio Riva in St. Peter’s Square at the end of his general audience, November 6, 2013. CNS photo/ Claudio Peri, EPA)

VATICAN CITY — When an Italian photographer published images of Pope Francis embracing a man disfigured by neurofibromatosis, no one knew his name or where he was from.

Two Italian news outlets have found the man and interviewed him about that morning  Nov. 6 in St. Peter’s Square. He said the pope’s embrace felt like being in heaven.

“My heart was bursting,” he told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera. When the pope hugged him tight, “I felt like I was in paradise.”

Vinicio Riva, 53, lives in a small village near Vicenza in northern Italy with his younger sister Morena, who has the same genetic disorder, and their Aunt Caterina, who cares for them.

Vinicio told the Italian magazine Panorama that the thing that struck him most was that the pope didn’t hesitate at all.

“I’m not contagious, but (the pope) didn’t know that. But he did it, period: he caressed my whole face and while he was doing it, I only felt love.

First, I kissed his hand, while he caressed my head and wounds with his other hand,” Vinicio explained.

“Then he pulled me toward him, hugging me tight and kissing my face. My head was against his chest and his arms were wrapped around me. He held me so tightly, cuddling me, and he didn’t let go. I tried to speak, to say something, but I wasn’t able to: I was too choked up. It lasted just a little more than a minute, but, for me, it seemed like forever.

“The pope’s hands are so soft. Soft and beautiful. And his smile (is) bright and wide.”

Neurofibromatosis results in numerous, often painful benign tumors. Vinicio said they constantly itch and he’ll wake in the morning with his shirt soaked with blood from scratching.

“The first signs appeared after I was 15. They said I would be dead by 30. Instead, here I am.”

He was frequently shunned by people who didn’t know him, he said.

The worst episode, he said, occurred one day as he sat in the front of a bus and a passenger told him to go sit in the back, saying, “‘You horrify me and I don’t want to look at you.’ No one, not even the driver came to my defense. In fact, many passengers agreed with the man. That really hurt,” he said.

Aunt Caterina told Panorama that when she and Vinicio would be sitting in hospital waiting rooms when he was young, she would hold him close and hug him tight whenever people cringed or moved away in fear.

She embraced him “to make them understand” — both Vinicio and the others — that there was nothing repulsive or scary about him, she said.

Vinicio works as a volunteer in a retirement home, where his father lives. However, when they see each other, their father can’t bring himself to hug his son, said Morena, the sister. Their father “is embarrassed by his disease. He only says, ‘Do you want a coffee?'”

But Vinicio disagreed with his sister, Morena, and said their father has his own way of showing his love.

He told Panorama that he has lots of friends and is loved by almost everyone in his village. He goes out with friends for pizza and to watch soccer matches. He also flirts with the nurses, the magazine said, and, although he only earns a small allowance volunteering, he spends a good chunk of that money on them.

“So dastardly a crime…” Pope Paul VI’s reaction 50 years ago

VATICAN CITY — After Pope Paul VI heard the news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, he took the unusual step of letting a U.S. film crew into his papal apartments to record him reading a message of condolences.

Aired by ABC television Nov. 23, 1963 , the papal message in English came the day after the president was killed during an open motorcade in Dallas, Texas.

We are deeply shocked by the sad and tragic news of the killing of the president of the United States of America, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and the serious wounding of Governor (John) Connally (of Texas), and we are profoundly saddened by so dastardly a crime, by the mourning which afflicts a great and civilized country in its head, by the suffering which strikes at Mrs. Kennedy, her children and the family.

With all our heart, We deplore this unhappy event. We express the heartfelt wish that the death of this great statesman may not damage the cause of the American people, but rather reinforce its moral and civil sentiments, and strengthen its feelings of nobility and concord; [official text cut in video: and we pray to God that the sacrifice of John Kennedy may be made to favor the cause he promoted and to help defend the freedom of peoples and peace in the world.]

He was the first Catholic president of the United States; We recall our pleasure in receiving his visit and in having discerned in him great wisdom and high resolution for the good of humanity. Tomorrow, we shall offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that God may grant him eternal rest, that he may comfort and console all those who weep for him on his death, and in order that not hatred, but Christian love, should reign among all mankind.

— Pope Paul VI  11/23/63

The pope had met the first Catholic president of the United States only a few months earlier July 2 at the Vatican.

Pope Paul’s papacy had begun just several days earlier on June 21, but it wasn’t the first time the pope had met JFK.


President John F. Kennedy shakes hands with Pope Paul VI at the Vatican July 2, 1963. The pope spoke to the president about race relations, space exploration, world peace and U.S. aid to developing nations. (CNS file photo)

In his speech, the pope recalled first meeting him almost 25 years earlier when the then-20- year-old accompanied his parents to the Vatican for the coronation of Pope Pius XII March 12, 1939.  President Kennedy’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., was U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain at the time and was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to act as his special representative at the papal coronation.

While President Kennedy’s 1963 visit marked just the third time a U.S. chief executive visited the pope while still in office, there had been another historic meeting a year earlier: when his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy visited Pope John XXIII March 11, 1962.

It was dubbed “one of the longest private audiences” Pope John ever granted. You can read some of the details in this gem I found deep in the Catholic News Service Rome bureau archives. Click on the image to read the whole story.

cns story jackie k

Hat tip to Fr. Joseph Komonchak and his post the other day recalling JFK’s visit to the Pontifical North American College in Rome while he was a seminarian there and first linking to these historic videos posted by HelmerReenberg.