Everything you need to ring out 2013, usher in 2014 with Pope Francis

Pope kneels in prayer as he celebrates Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at Vatican

Pope Francis kneeling in prayer when he celebrated Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — As 2013 comes to a close, people can follow today’s traditional evening prayer service with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The celebration of Vespers, which begins at 5 p.m. Rome time (11 a.m. EST),  will end with the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the singing of the “Te Deum” hymn of thanksgiving to God.

The liturgical booklet is here and the video feed (starting at 4:30 p.m. Rome time) here.

After the prayer service, the pope is scheduled to visit the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square.

Ring in the new year Jan. 1 by following the papal Mass celebrating the feast honoring Mary, Mother of God.

The liturgical booklet is here and the video feed (starting at 9:30 a.m. Rome time/3:30 a.m. EST) is here.

Pope Francis holds dove before his weekly audience at the Vatican

Pope Francis holding a dove before his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square May 15. (CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters)

Don’t forget that the church also celebrates the World Day of Peace Jan. 1. Pope Francis’ first peace day message, about the spirit of fraternity being the foundation of peace, is here.

If kids were Magi, they’d bring blankets

The kids in the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis.,  are pretty practical.

Grand-prize winner of MCA 2012-2013 Christmas Artwork Contest. Entry by Sun C. of Archdiocese of Newark, N.J.

Grand-prize winner of Missionary Childhood Association 2012-2013 Christmas Artwork Contest. Entry by Sun C. of Archdiocese of Newark, N.J.

In an essay contest sponsored by the diocesan newspaper, The Compass,  students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade overwhelmingly said they would have taken blankets to baby Jesus if they had been the Magi.

Food and water were were close seconds, followed by clothes, especially pajamas.

When asked why the Magi brought gold, frankincense and myrrh, the answers varied, but some children believed the gold was used by Mary and Joseph to fund their journey.

These students also understood the religious symbolism in these gifts.  One fifth grader said the frankincense symbolized Jesus’ role as a priest and a third-grade student said “myrrh meant Jesus would die for our sins.”

One student thought the gifts were the result of a misunderstanding, because they assumed they would be meeting an adult king, not a newborn.  If they knew the king was a baby, one fourth grader pointed out, “they should have brought a pillow, blanket and an outfit.”

Other gifts these students thought the Magi should have considered included: rubies, pearls, sapphires, diamonds, platinum, toys, a Bible, a cross, a compass, and gifts the whole family could use such as a new house and camels.

The contest is the 26th annual kids contest sponsored by the diocesan newspaper.

On a national level, the Missionary Childhood Association sponsors an annual Christmas Artwork Contest.

The winning artwork is reproduced as the official Christmas card of the national office of the Pontifical Mission Societies, and 23 other drawings are selected as winners and featured on the art contest tab here as e-greetings.

The grand-prize winning entry (above) of the Magi was drawn by an 8th-grade student. Its emphasis on the star and not the gifts leaves room to imagine the possibility of a useful item or two in tow.

Pope’s homily: Jesus is the light who brightens the darkness

VATICAN CITY — Here is the Vatican’s English translation of the prepared text of the homily of Pope Francis for Christmas night Mass Dec. 24:

1. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1).

This prophecy of Isaiah never ceases to touch us, especially when we hear it proclaimed in the liturgy of Christmas night. This is not simply an emotional or sentimental matter. It moves us because it states the deep reality of what we are: a people who walk, and all around us -– and within us as well –- there is darkness and light. In this night, as the spirit of darkness enfolds the world, there takes place anew the event which always amazes and surprises us: the people who walk see a great light. A light which makes us reflect on this mystery: the mystery of walking and seeing.

Pope Francis places a statue of the baby Jesus before the altar of St. Peter's Basilica at the beginning of Mass. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis places a statue of the baby Jesus before the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica at the beginning of Mass. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Walking. This verb makes us reflect on the course of history, that long journey which is the history of salvation, starting with Abraham, our father in faith, whom the Lord called one day to set out, to go forth from his country toward the land which he would show him. From that time on, our identity as believers has been that of a people making its pilgrim way toward the promised land. This history has always been accompanied by the Lord! He is ever faithful to his covenant and to his promises. “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5). Yet on the part of the people there are times of both light and darkness, fidelity and infidelity, obedience, and rebellion; times of being a pilgrim people and times of being a people adrift.

In our personal history too, there are both bright and dark moments, lights and shadows. If we love God and our brothers and sisters, we walk in the light; but if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us and around us. “Whoever hates his brother – writes the Apostle John – is in the darkness; he walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 Jn 2:11).

2. On this night, like a burst of brilliant light, there rings out the proclamation of the Apostle: “God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race” (Tit 2:11).

The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God. He has entered our history; he has shared our journey. He came to free us from darkness and to grant us light. In him was revealed the grace, the mercy, and the tender love of the Father: Jesus is Love incarnate. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom, he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. He is the meaning of life and history, who has pitched his tent in our midst.

The scene in St. Peter's Square Christmas Eve just before Mass began. (CNS/Paul Haring)

The scene in St. Peter’s Square Christmas Eve just before Mass began. (CNS/Paul Haring)

3. The shepherds were the first to see this “tent”, to receive the news of Jesus’ birth. They were the first because they were among the last, the outcast. And they were the first because they were awake, keeping watch in the night, guarding their flocks. Together with them, let us pause before the Child, let us pause in silence. Together with them, let us thank the Lord for having given Jesus to us, and with them let us raise from the depths of our hearts the praises of his fidelity: We bless you, Lord God most high, who lowered yourself for our sake. You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich and you made yourself poor; you are all-powerful and you made yourself vulnerable.

On this night let us share the joy of the Gospel: God loves us, he so loves us that he gave us his Son to be our brother, to be light in our darkness. To us the Lord repeats: “Do not be afraid!” (Lk 2:10). And I too repeat: Do not be afraid! Our Father is patient, he loves us, he gives us Jesus to guide us on the way which leads to the promised land. Jesus is the light who brightens the darkness. He is our peace. Amen.

Shy Italian monk from Assisi has become recording sensation

If you haven’t heard of 35-year-old tenor Franciscan Friar Alessandro Brustenghi, from Assisi, Italy, you should check out his story here.

He is the only friar in the world to land a major record deal (Decca Records/Universal Music Classics). His arias have made him a YouTube sensation. (In fact, he’s also featured in a video our Rome bureau produced in Assisi, “Francis: The saint and the pope,” shortly after Pope Francis’ election last March. He sings at the opening of the video, and he’s interviewed beginning at 3:30 — don’t miss it!)

He just released a new album, “Voice of Joy,” a collection of traditional Christmas carols, seasonal melodies and sacred arias. In keeping with his vow of poverty, all of the proceeds from concerts and album sales are directed to the Order of Friars Minor to benefit Franciscan efforts worldwide. In Assisi, at the friary founded by St. Francis, he has the job of welcoming visitors and is a carpenter. He was “discovered” in 2011 or so by some heavy-hitters in the music industry.

Cover of Franciscan friar's album (Courtesy Decca Records)

Cover of latest CD recorded by Franciscan friar. (Courtesy Decca Records)

This fall he was on tour in the U.S. One of those stops was at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, where he sang selections from his CD “Voice from Assisi,” nominated as Best Classical Album of the Year in 2012 at the Classic BRIT Awards in the United Kingdom.

One of the songs he performed to a rapt audience in the sanctuary of the monastery’s main church was the theme song from Franco Zeffirelli’s 1972 film “Fratello Sole, Sorella Luna” (“Brother Sun, Sister Moon”), which is of course a biopic about St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare. The song was written by the legendary folk-rock-pop troubadour Donovan.

In late October, Friar Alessandro performed a free concert at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, Calif., for 1,400 children from disadvantaged neighborhoods in San Francisco and Oakland. Organizers said 300 volunteers worked months “to create one magical day for the children” and expose them to “the beauty of the arts.” A documentary about him was broadcast recently on the Eternal Word Television Network.

Hippin to the hoppin: An exclusive CNS ‘interview’ with @hiphopAugustine


St. Augustine depicted at Crosier House in Phoenix. (CNS photo/Crosiers)

VATICAN CITY — The St. Augustine we all know was a fifth century theologian hangin’ in Hippo,

famous for his writin, playin’ hard, then makin it right agin.

Today there’s a new dogg in the ‘hood, mixin God’s wisdom with beats so good.

It’s Augustine of Hiphop on Twitter, yo. Here’s a sample, so you’ll know:

But before you peeps flit over to da Twitter,

Grab a peek @ our big hitter — a CNS “interview” (a bit one-sided) with @hiphopAugustine, as he explains in refrain, who he is, where he’s been.


thanks fo the chance to do a interview

I hope ya don’t mind if I talk the way I always do

my hip hoppin days, they started one August

on the streets of Thagaste

when I says to myself — self, maybe life is more

than chasin another score,

doin dares, swipin pears, and who knows what for?

I oughta change my taste

I oughta try to be chaste

and let

my debt

be met

by grace . . . but not yet, not yet

it’s been a long journey since then

became a rhetorician

Momma kept prayin I’d become a Catholic Christian

so they was family tension

I guess I better mention

the Manichaean thugs, they attracted my attention

shoot, they was a manic flock

looked down on the common stock

said “if you aint talkin Mani I don’t wanna talk”

I stayed for a few years

Momma, she be sheddin tears

finally I ditched them and they spiritual careers

I be like Odysseus wit his turns and twists

started chillin wit a crew of Neoplatonists

they pointed me to wisdom

had a slammin system

but somethin still was missin

they talked about God but didn’t know how to listen

they God was all far away

I don’t mean to be dissin

but what else can I say?

it was like they got the goal but not the way

long story short, I kept pressin on

and a baller bishop by the name of Ambrose of Milan

paved my way to Christ

I became enticed

the way he told how God descended and was sacrificed

so I told my momma — boy was she surprised

and I got baptized

and the book of my life got mad revised

errbody conform

to some kind of norm

but you can only stay fresh

if you follow the Word-made-flesh

I try to spread the word

though I be soundin absurd

to the ears of the world — I gotta make it heard

so December 17, started tweetin up a storm

stayin true to form

I’m fiery for the kingdom cuz it’s wack to be lukewarm

peace out

— @hiphopAugustine

A sneak peek at the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican’s Nativity scene will be unveiled tomorrow evening, but Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe of Naples and the artists who created the scene gave a sneak preview to journalists today.

Well, we were able to see most of it. The Baby Jesus has been tightly swaddled — from head to toe — with a white sheet.

The formal unveiling ceremony will be at 4:30 p.m. Christmas Eve. Until that time, the baby is under wraps and photos showing the whole scene are under embargo.

Before meeting reporters in St. Peter’s Square, Cardinal Sepe met with Pope Francis and introduced him to the artists who worked on this year’s Nativity scene. The cardinal, who told reporters he had to invite Pope Francis to visit Naples or the townspeople would have “martyred” him, said his favorite part of the scene is the poor mother who brings her son to see the Baby Jesus.

The mother and son, he said, are symbols for all the poor and simple people who find hope and salvation “in the Lord who is newly born.”

A detail of "The Beggar," a figure in the Nativity scene in St. Peter's Square. (CNS/Paul Haring)

A detail of “The Beggar,” a figure in the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square. (CNS/Paul Haring)

The figures are the work of the imagination and hands of artist Antonio Cantone, who said the figure he has the most affection for is described only as “The Beggar.” Roughly dressed and dirty, he’s sitting at the feet of the Baby Jesus’ manger.

“It’s no accident that we have him sitting closest to the baby,” Cantone said. “It’s an image of how the poor are closest to God.”

“He has nothing,” Cantone said. “If you notice, we’ve put the Three Kings’ gifts further away. The beggar brings himself.”

Amedeo LaNave, the scenographer, said his responsibility was the part where they ignored Neapolitan Nativity tradition. The scene in St. Peter’s Square does not have the backdrop of a village in the 1800s, like most in the Naples’ tradition do. In fact, it doesn’t have a backdrop at all. While the characters are all facing southeast, the rough structure sheltering them has cutouts all around it so it can be seen from every angle. And if you’re standing to the east, its background will be St. Peter’s Basilica.

“We’re calling it ‘la piazza nel presepe,’” or the square in the Nativity scene.

An engagement the engaged won’t want to miss

St. Valentine pictured in stained glass window at basilica in Terni, Italy

St. Valentine pictured at basilica in Terni, Italy. (CNS photo/Paul Haring).

VATICAN CITY — Attention engaged couples: if you have already completed or are still attending marriage preparation courses, would you like to spend St. Valentine’s Day at an audience with Pope Francis?

The Pontifical Council for the Family is sponsoring the event (“The Joy of a ‘Yes’ that’s Forever”) in the Vatican’s Paul VI audience hall Feb. 14.

Couples need to apply by Jan. 30, 2014 by contacting their diocesan marriage and family office or by emailing the pontifical council directly at events@family.va

family st valentine's day

The Pontifical Council for the Family is sponsoring an encounter with Pope Francis for engaged couples. The event will be held at the Vatican on St. Valentine’s Day.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, head of the family council, has a special tie to the St. Valentine tradition. As a former bishop of Terni, he is a successor to the third-century martyred bishop of Terni, St. Valentine. The archbishop, in fact, would celebrate a “promise Mass” with engaged couples in the town’s Basilica of St. Valentine on the Sunday before the feast day.

Now the feast day will get special attention at the Vatican.

Pope Francis will undoubtedly have some good advice for couples, especially given what he has said so far:

Those who celebrate the sacrament [of marriage] say, “I promise to be true to you, in joy and in sadness, in sickness and in health; I will love you and honour you all the days of my life.”  At that moment, the couple does not know what will happen, nor what joys and pains await them. They are setting out, like Abraham, on a journey together. And that is what marriage is!

Setting out and walking together, hand in hand, putting yourselves in the Lord’s powerful hands.  Hand in hand, always and for the rest of your lives. And do not pay attention to this makeshift culture, which can shatter our lives…

Pope greets family as they present offertory gifts during Mass for families in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Pope Francis greets a family during a Mass for families in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Oct. 27. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

…In order to have a healthy family, three words need to be used. And I want to repeat these three words: please, thank you, sorry. Three essential words!

We say please so as not to be forceful in family life: “May I please do this? Would you be happy if I did this?” We do this with a language that seeks agreement.

We say thank you, thank you for love! But be honest with me, how many times do you say thank you to your wife, and you to your husband? How many days go by without uttering this word, thanks!

And the last word: sorry. We all make mistakes and on occasion someone gets offended in the marriage, in the family, and sometimes – I say – plates are smashed, harsh words are spoken but please listen to my advice: don’t ever let the sun set without reconciling. Peace is made each day in the family: “Please forgive me”, and then you start over. Please, thank you, sorry! … Let us say these words in our families! To forgive one another each day!

— Pope Francis meeting with families Oct. 26, 2013