Caption contest draws humorous entries

By Jim Lackey

We have been having a little fun with this photo, taken over the weekend by our Rome-bureau photographer, Paul Haring:

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In the photo from Saturday, Pope Francis is speaking to Italian youngsters, some of whom were born in prison and all of whom have at least one parent in jail. They were treated to a special train trip to Rome thanks to the Pontifical Council for Culture.

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

After the pope watched some of the youths flying kites in a cleared-out parking lot next to the Vatican audience hall, he spoke to the group and answered questions, telling them to never stop dreaming.

The photo of the pope speaking inside the hall, of course, cried out for a caption contest. (Given the nature of the Holy Father, we were certain he wouldn’t mind.) Thanks partly to a helpful nudge from our friends at U.S. Catholic magazine, here’s some of what we got:

Naturally, some thought it was a papal fish (or snake) story:

Others wondered why the pope had an official name badge hanging from his neck, as if he needed proof that he belonged in the hall:

But someone had a possible answer:

Here are the best of the rest:


At the Vatican: “Women are here,” they are tackling problems

VATICAN CITY — The women who run the Vatican newspaper’s monthly supplement, “Women — Church — World,” do not mind at all that their conference Friday through Sunday is just the latest in a long line of Vatican meetings focused on women.

“It is almost an incessant reminder, ‘There are women here, women are here,’ so I think it is positive that there is conference after conference,” said Dominican Sister Catherine Aubin, a professor at Rome’s Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas.

“It is important to open people’s eyes because it seems that sometimes, in some church spheres, we women do not exist. All of these conferences might help open people’s eyes,” said the French sister, who also works on the monthly supplement.

The cover of the conference program.

The cover of the conference program.

The conference, “The Church before the Condition of Women Today,” will be live streamed on the website of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. Sessions will focus on violence against women, challenges facing the family and changing ideas about women’s identity and roles.

Lucetta Scaraffia, a writer for the Vatican newspaper and professor of modern history at Rome’s La Sapienza University, said she and the other organizers make the deliberate decision not to include a discussion on the need to expand women’s voices and roles in the church, although “it is right” that women are asking for that.

This week’s conference, she said, starts from a recognition that “we are already part of the church and that we can take responsibility ourselves for looking at certain situations and presenting the position of the church.”

The speakers, Scaraffia said, will demonstrate that Catholic women, acting in the name of the church, already are tackling many of the problems that most deeply impact the life of women — and their families and societies — around the world.

U.S. student choir livens things up in Vatican press hall

By Laura Ieraci

VATICAN CITY — The usual frenetic sound in the Vatican press hall of journalists hammering away at their computer keyboards was briefly muted yesterday by the powerful and soulful voices of the Walsh University Chamber Singers.

The 26 students, who travelled to Rome from North Canton, Ohio, popped into the press hall after the papal audience for an impromptu concert.

The Walsh University Chamber Singers gather for a photo in the John Paul II Conference Room at the Vatican press office yesterday. (Photo Danilo Mori/Walsh University)

The Walsh University Chamber Singers gather for a photo in the John Paul II Conference Room at the Vatican press office yesterday. (Photo Danilo Mori/Walsh University)

The journalists welcomed the change of pace; some recorded the students’ performance of a Gospel hymn and of Franz Biebl’s Ave Maria in four-part harmony on their cell phones. The choir is directed by Britt Cooper, an associate professor of music at Walsh.

At the papal audience earlier that morning, the students belted out a 45-second tune for Pope Francis when the master of ceremony announced their presence in St. Peter’s Square. Somewhat bittersweet, Pope Francis rode into the square on his popemobile at that very moment, and the cheers of excited pilgrims blotted out their voices.

Their enthusiasm, however, seemed hardly dampened during their performance in the press hall, which took place after a spontaneous request by Danilo Mori, the director of the university’s Italy campus.

The singers were in Rome on their May 2015 Italy Tour; the choir’s first Italy tour was in 2011.

The 2015 tour schedule included several performances at sacred sites, including at Mass at the basilicas of Santa Maria Novella in Florence for Pentecost, May 24, and St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome May 26. They were also to perform at a Memorial Day event at the American Cemetery in Nettuno, about 40 miles outside Rome.

But the choir has welcomed every opportunity to sing — planned or not — performing spontaneously at different sites they have visited, said Mori.

Mori said the choir members are not necessarily music majors, but they are committed to music, practicing six hours per week and polishing their repertoire, which includes songs in English, Italian, French and Latin.

Walsh is a Catholic university, located in the Diocese of Youngstown and founded by the Brothers of Christian Instruction in 1960. It has about 4,000 students.

The university opened a campus in Italy in 2007, located on 10 acres of land in Castel Gandolfo in the hills outside Rome. About 100 students from Walsh come to Italy each year to take part in the fall, spring and summer programs, which offer them an opportunity to “come into contact with the Catholic world and the Catholic identity close-up,” said Mori.



El papa Francisco visitará Cuba antes de comenzar su visita a Estados Unidos

Una monja mueve la bandera del Vaticano mientras asiste a la misa de Papa Juan Pablo II en La Habana el 25 de enero de 1998. El Vaticano confirmó que Papa Francisco visitará Cuba en septiembre. (CNS/Alyssa Banta)

Una monja mueve la bandera del Vaticano mientras asiste a la misa de Papa Juan Pablo II en La Habana el 25 de enero de 1998. El Vaticano confirmó que Papa Francisco visitará Cuba en septiembre. (CNS/Alyssa Banta)

CIUDAD DEL VATICANO (CNS) — El sacerdote jesuita Federico Lombardi, portavoz del Vaticano, dijo a reporteros el 22 de abril que el papa ha “recibido y aceptado la invitación de las autoridades civiles y los obispos de Cuba” y ha decidido visitar la isla antes de ir a los Estados Unidos.

El papa está programado, tentativamente, para llegar a Estados Unidos tarde el 22 de septiembre a Washington y visitará Washington, Nueva York y Filadelfia del 23 a 27 de septiembre. Detalles, como el itinerario y fechas de el viaje del pontífice a Cuba, se darán a conocer más tarde, dijo el padre Lombardi.

En 1998, no mucho después de que llegó a ser arzobispo de Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio publicó un folleto que se centró en los discursos y homilías que Santo Juan Pablo II hizo durante su histórica visita a Cuba unos meses antes. En el documento hizo dos puntos importantes: el diálogo no es sólo posible, pero es necesario; y, un diálogo sincero y honesto beneficiaría tanto a los Estados Unidos como a Cuba.

Al mismo tiempo, el arzobispo Bergoglio repetidamente abogó por la plena libertad de la iglesia católica en Cuba a predicar el Evangelio y ministrar a los pobres y denunció sistemas ideológicos que ofenden la dignidad trascendente de la persona humana.

Durante su visita en el 2012 a Cuba, el papa Benedicto XVI hizo los mismos puntos. Una vez que regresó a Roma, dijo que había ido a mostrar su apoyo a la misión de la iglesia cubana de “proclamar el Evangelio con alegría a pesar de la falta de medios y de las dificultades que aún quedan por superar, para que la religión pueda realizar su servicio educativo y espiritual en el ámbito público”.

Pope: Mercy is “the beating heart of the Gospel”

Pope Francis preaches in St. Peter's Basilica, explaining why he's called a Holy Year.

Pope Francis preaches in St. Peter’s Basilica, explaining why he’s called a Holy Year. (Screen grab)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis formally presented his official proclamation of the 2015-2016 extraordinary jubilee or Holy Year of Mercy this evening before celebrating vespers in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The proclamation, called a “bull of indiction,” is titled “Misericordiae Vultus” (“The Face of Mercy”) and explains how in Jesus Christ, in his words and actions, the mercy of God has been revealed.

Pope Francis said in the document that he wants the year, which will begin Dec. 8, to be a time for Catholics to contemplate just how merciful God has been to them and to understand better how they are called to be merciful to others in turn.

Mercy, the pope wrote, is “the beating heart of the Gospel.”

“How much I desire that the year to come will be steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God,” he wrote. “May the balm of mercy reach everyone, both believers and those far away, as a sign that the kingdom of God is already present in our midst.”

Nothing in the church’s preaching or witness, he said, can be lacking in mercy.

The Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica decorated this evening. (Screen grab)

The Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica decorated this evening. (Screen grab)

Pope Francis asked that every diocese in the world designate a “Door of Mercy” at their cathedral or another special church or shrine, and that every diocese implement the “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative on the Friday and Saturday before the fourth week of Lent. In Rome the last two years, the pope has opened the celebration with a penance service in St. Peter’s Basilica and churches around the city were open for the next 24 hours for confessions and eucharistic adoration.

The pope said he will designate and send out “Missionaries of Mercy” to preach about mercy; they will be given special authority, he said, “to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See.” Under church law, those sins involve: a man who directly participated in an abortion and later wants to enter the priesthood; priests who have broken the seal of confession; priests who have offered sacramental absolution to their own sexual partners; desecrating the Eucharist; and making an attempt on the life of the pope. Usually, the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican court, handles those cases.

Venerating the cross before vespers in St. Peter's Basilica.

Venerating the cross before vespers in St. Peter’s Basilica. (Screen grab)

And he urged all Catholics to spend more time practicing what traditionally have been called the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The corporal works are: Feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned, giving drink to the thirsty and burying the dead. The spiritual works are: Converting sinners, instructing the ignorant, advising the doubtful, comforting the sorrowful, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving injuries and praying for the living and dead.

Here is the Vatican’s translation of the prepared text of the pope’s brief homily this evening at first vespers for Divine Mercy Sunday:

                Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The greeting of the risen Christ to his disciples on the evening of Easter, “Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:19), continues to resound in us all. Peace, especially during this Easter season, remains the desire of so many people who suffer unprecedented violence of discrimination and death simply because they bear the name “Christian.” Our prayer is all the more intense and becomes a cry for help to the Father, who is rich in mercy, that he may sustain the faith of our many brothers and sisters who are in pain. At the same time, we ask for the grace of the conversion of our own hearts so as to move from indifference to compassion.

St. Paul reminds us that we have been saved through the mystery of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. He is the reconciler, who is alive in our midst offering the way to reconciliation with God and with each other. The Apostle recalls that, notwithstanding the difficulties and the sufferings of life, the hope of salvation which Christ has sown in our hearts nonetheless continues to grow. The mercy of God is poured out upon us, making us just and giving us peace.

Many question in their hearts: Why a Jubilee of Mercy today? Simply because the church, in this time of great historical change, is called to offer more evident signs of God’s presence and closeness. This is not the time to be distracted; on the contrary, we need to be vigilant and to reawaken in ourselves the capacity to see what is essential. This is a time for the church to rediscover the meaning of the mission entrusted to her by the Lord on the day of Easter: to be a sign and an instrument of the Father’s mercy (cf. Jn 20:21-23). For this reason, the Holy Year must keep alive the desire to know how to welcome the numerous signs of the tenderness which God offers to the whole world and, above all, to those who suffer, who are alone and abandoned, without hope of being pardoned or feeling the Father’s love. A Holy Year to experience strongly within ourselves the joy of having been found by Jesus, the Good Shepherd who has come in search of us because we were lost. A Jubilee to receive the warmth of his love when he bears us upon his shoulders and brings us back to the Father’s house. A year in which to be touched by the Lord Jesus and to be transformed by his mercy, so that we may become witnesses to mercy. Here, then, is the reason for the Jubilee: because this is the time for mercy. It is the favorable time to heal wounds, a time not to be weary of meeting all those who are waiting to see and to touch with their hands the signs of the closeness of God, a time to offer everyone the way of forgiveness and reconciliation.

May the Mother of God open our eyes, so that we may comprehend the task to which we have been called; and may she obtain for us the grace to experience this Jubilee of Mercy as faithful and fruitful witnesses of Christ.


Proclaiming the Holy Year at the Holy Door

By Elliot Williams*

VATICAN CITY — Saturday evening, in front of the Holy Door in the atrium of St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis’ will give the archpriests of the major basilicas of Rome copies of his “bull of indiction,” or formal proclamation, of the Holy Year of Mercy. An aide will read portions of it at the door before participants process into St. Peter’s for evening prayer.

The Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica. (CNS/Paul Haring)

The Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica. (CNS/Paul Haring)

The site chosen for the brief rite was not made casually; the door symbolizes a passage or transition into a special year of evangelization and prayer.

Pope Francis will be back at the door Dec. 8 to formally open it and the Year of Mercy.

Popes typically announce a jubilee every 25 years, although extraordinary Holy Years have been proclaimed for special anniversaries — for example, a Holy Year was celebrated in 1983 to commemorate the 1,950th anniversary of Christ’s death and resurrection.

The Holy Door is opened to evoke the concept of forgiveness, which is the main focus of a Holy Year.

According to “Mondo Vaticano,” a mini-encyclopedia published by the Vatican, the designation of a Holy Door may trace back to the ancient Christian practice of public penitence when sinners were given public penances to perform before receiving absolution.

The penitents were not allowed to enter a church before completing the penance, but they were solemnly welcomed back in when their penance was fulfilled. Still today, Holy Year pilgrims enter the basilica through the Holy Door as a sign of their repentance and re-commitment to a life of faith.

Both the opening and closing of the Holy Door take place with formal ceremonies to mark “the period of time set aside for men and women to sanctify their souls,” the book says.

The ritual for opening the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica goes back to 1499 when Pope Alexander VI opened the door on Christmas Eve to inaugurate the Holy Year 1500. This was when the door was wooden.

The bronze door panels that stand at St. Peter’s today, made by Vico Consorti, were consecrated and first opened Dec. 24, 1949, by Pius XII in proclamation of the 1950 Jubilee, a scene represented in the bottom right panel.

For centuries, the doors were opened with a silver hammer, not a key, “because the doors of justice and mercy give way only to the force of prayer and penance,” the encyclopedia says. Opening the Holy Year 2000, St. John Paul used neither a hammer, nor a key, but strongly pushed the door open.

St. John Paul II pushes open the Holy Door on Dec. 24, 1999. (CNS/Arturo Mari, Vatican)

St. John Paul II pushes open the Holy Door on Dec. 24, 1999. (CNS/Arturo Mari, Vatican)

The theme of human sin and God’s mercy is illustrated in 15 of the 16 bronze panels that make up the current door, with episodes from both the Old and New Testament, including the Fall of Adam and Eve, the Annunciation, and the Merciful Father (and Prodigal Son).

Between the panels on the door at St. Peter’s are little shields with the coats of arms of all the popes that opened it during the ordinary Holy Years, the last being St. John Paul. Pope Francis’ coat of arms will be etched onto one of the empty shields that remain for future jubilee years after he opens and closes the door.

Pope Francis will give the “bull of indiction” also to the archpriests of the Rome basilicas of St. John Lateran, St. Paul Outside the Walls and St. Mary Major, which also have Holy Doors that are opened during jubilee years. The only other Holy Doors in the world are at Quebec City’s Basilica of Notre-Dame de Quebec; the shrine of St. John Vianney in Ars, France; and at the Cathedral of St. James the Great in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Elliot Williams is a Communication major at Villanova University. He is originally from Abington, PA, and is studying abroad at Roma Tre University, while interning for Catholic News Service’s Rome bureau. Elliot is an avid Nutella fanatic.

Do not be afraid; seek truth, beauty, love, pope says during Easter vigil

VATICAN CITY — Here is Pope Francis’ homily from tonight’s Easter vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica as translated by the Vatican:

4blogcandle pope

Pope Francis carrying candle during last year’s Easter Vigil. April 19, 2014. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Tonight is a night of vigil. The Lord is not sleeping; the Watchman is watching over his people (cf. Ps 121:4), to bring them out of slavery and to open before them the way to freedom.

The Lord is keeping watch and, by the power of his love, he is bringing his people through the Red Sea. He is also bringing Jesus through the abyss of death and the netherworld.

This was a night of vigil for the disciples of Jesus, a night of sadness and fear. The men remained locked in the Upper Room. Yet, the women went to the tomb at dawn on Sunday to anoint Jesus’ body. Their hearts were overwhelmed and they were asking themselves: “How will we enter? Who will roll back the stone of the tomb?…” But here was the first sign of the great event: the large stone was already rolled back and the tomb was open!

“Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe…” (Mk 16:5). The women were the first to see this great sign, the empty tomb; and they were the first to enter…

“Entering the tomb”. It is good for us, on this Vigil night, to reflect on the experience of the women, which also speaks to us. For that is why we are here: to enter, to enter into the Mystery which God has accomplished with his vigil of love.

We cannot live Easter without entering into the mystery. It is not something intellectual, something we only know or read about… It is more, much more!


Easter Vigil at St. Jude Church in Mastic Beach, N.Y. in 2013. (CNS file photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

“To enter into the mystery” means the ability to wonder, to contemplate; the ability to listen to the silence and to hear the tiny whisper amid great silence by which God speaks to us (cf 1 Kings 19:12).

To enter into the mystery demands that we not be afraid of reality: that we not be locked into ourselves, that we not flee from what we fail to understand, that we not close our eyes to problems or deny them, that we not dismiss our questions…

To enter into the mystery means going beyond our own comfort zone, beyond the laziness and indifference which hold us back, and going out in search of truth, beauty and love. It is seeking a deeper meaning, an answer, and not an easy one, to the questions which challenge our faith, our fidelity and our very existence.

To enter into the mystery, we need humility, the lowliness to abase ourselves, to come down from the pedestal of our “I” which is so proud, of our presumption; the humility not to take ourselves so seriously, recognizing who we really are: creatures with strengths and weaknesses, sinners in need of forgiveness. To enter into the mystery we need the lowliness that is powerlessness, the renunciation of our idols… in a word, we need to adore. Without adoration, we cannot enter into the mystery.

The women who were Jesus’ disciples teach us all of this. They kept watch that night, together with Mary. And she, the Virgin Mother, helped them not to lose faith and hope. As a result, they did not remain prisoners of fear and sadness, but at the first light of dawn they went out carrying their ointments, their hearts anointed with love. They went forth and found the tomb open.

And they went in. They had kept watch, they went forth and they entered into the Mystery. May we learn from them to keep watch with God and with Mary our Mother, so that we too may enter into the Mystery which leads from death to life.


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