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Everything listed under: Pope Benedict

  • One year later: How Benedict's decision changed the church

    One year ago, Pope Benedict announced his resignation. I had just returned to Rome ahead of the publication of my book, and some of my journalistic colleagues thought I'd been tipped off. Not exactly. I had been emailing some of those same colleagues in previous weeks, wondering whether the pope might be preparing to resign. But when it actually happened, I was as shocked as anyone.

    Looking back, I think Benedict's decision stands out for its courage and humility. I was among those who foresaw potential problems with "two popes" -- one retired, one active -- but experience has proved me wrong on that. The church has not suffered divided allegiances. On the other hand, there has been heightened sensitivity, at the Vatican and among many Catholic faithful, to any criticism of Benedict's pontificate. In view of Pope Francis' great popularity, finding fault with Benedict has become the third rail of Vatican commentary. I suspect it will take some time before that disappears.

    I wrote a brief reflection here on the anniversary of Benedict's announcement for the blog Il Sismografo, a valuable clearinghouse for online news about the Vatican.


  • Benedict may have some feline company in the Vatican

           A cat stretches its legs near the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican

    It looks like Pope Benedict will be able to enjoy the company of cats in his retirement home inside the Vatican.

    This curious photo, made available by the Vatican newspaper, shows a black-and-white spotted cat ranging through an area next to the Mater Ecclesiae monastery, where the retired pope took up lodgings today.

    The Vatican Gardens is said to have a number of stray cats roaming the grounds, and they will find a friend in the former pope. As a cardinal, he famously fed the stray cats in the Borgo neighborhood where he lived, according to Vatican officials.

    As pope, we were told he never kept a house cat, but from was rumored to have fed the cats in the Vatican Gardens. Maybe this one is an old acquaintance.


  • New pope is planning encyclical, first foreign trip

    There's some interesting news (and some non-news) out of the Vatican today.

    First, it looks like Pope Francis will be finishing ex-Pope Benedict's encyclical on faith. The Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said he would not exclude the possibility that Francis' first encyclical would be issued later this year. The spokesman noted that before his resignation, Pope Benedict had already done initial work on an encyclical to mark the "Year of Faith."

    Father Lombardi also said Pope Francis would continue to reside in the Vatican guest house, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, instead of moving into the more formal (and much larger) papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace. The pope likes his room at the guesthouse, and apparently enjoys the relative freedom of movement it offers him.

    "At the moment, he doesn't seem to want to change his lodging, although this is not a definitive decision," Lombardi said.

    Pope Benedict, meanwhile, is still scheduled to move into a monastic building located behind the Vatican Gardens, probably sometime in early May.

    It also looks like Brazil will be the only foreign country visited by Pope Francis this year, the spokesman said. He'll travel to Rio de Janeiro in July for World Youth Day. Lombardi's remarks appeared to exclude the possibility that the Argentine-born pontiff would add a stop in his homeland.

    Pope Francis is expected to visit Assisi sometime during the year, as well.

    Meanwhile, an official said there was no substance to recent news reports that the Vatican was preparing a document on Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. The denial came from Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family.


  • A prominent convert leaves the church

                  Magdi Allam

    A prominent Muslim-born journalist baptized by Pope Benedict XVI, Magdi Allam, has announced he’s leaving the church because it is too “weak with Islam.”

    Allam, writing on his Web site, said the “euphoria over Pope Francis” and the rapid way Pope Benedict was set aside was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” and convinced him to abandon his conversion to Christianity.

    Benedict baptized Allam in 2008 during an Easter vigil service at the Vatican, saying he wanted to inspire other former Muslims to practice Christianity openly. At the time, some of the Vatican’s Muslim dialogue partners said the high profile given to the conversion was a deliberate provocation.

    Allam said that what drove him away from the church most of all was “religious relativism, in particular the legitimization of Islam as a true religion, of Allah as the true God, of Mohammed as a true prophet, of the Koran as a sacred text and of mosques as places of worship.”

    He said it was “authentic suicidal folly” that Benedict had prayed in a mosque in Istanbul, and that Pope Francis, in one of his first speeches, said that Muslims “worship the one, living and merciful God.”

    Allam said he considers Islam an “intrinsically violent ideology.”

    His very public departure from the church must be an embarrassment to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who personally accompanied Allam on his path to Christianity. Fisichella was later named head of the Vatican’s new Pontifical Council for New Evangelization – presumably the council is using a more productive model of evangelizing than highly politicized “conversions” from other religions.


  • What was in the box?

            Francis and Benedict sat facing a large box and two envelopes

    One unanswered question from yesterday’s meeting between Pope Francis and retired Pope Benedict: What was in the box?

    The Vatican video showed the two men sitting down for their 45-minute private conversation, facing a table on which a white box was placed. On top of the box were two large envelopes.

    As soon as the image was shown in the Vatican press office, reporters joked that the box must have held the famous Vatileaks dossier, the confidential report prepared for Benedict by three cardinals and left by the ex-pope to Francis.

    If the dossier needed a box that big, things were worse than anyone thought.

    More likely, sources said, was that the box contained correspondence for Benedict – letters, emails and other communication – that arrived after the German pope left office Feb. 28. The Vatican had said that goodbye messages were pouring in for the pope from world leaders and average people.

    Officially, there was no explanation for the cardboard container or the envelopes, which explained why today’s newspaper headlines spoke of the “mystery” box. Some hypothesized that Benedict was handing over all the important documents regarding unfinished projects of his pontificate, including Curia reform, negotiations with the Lefebvrists and his unfinished encyclical on the Year of Faith.


  • A historic meeting as Francis visits Benedict

                 Pope Francis meets with Benedict XVI 

    For the Vatican, today brought another “first” – two popes, one retired and one in office, met, had lunch and presumably talked about the various challenges facing the Catholic Church.

    Pope Francis and ex-Pope Benedict made sure they met in private, respecting Benedict’s wish that he retire to a “hidden” life that would in no way interfere with his successor.

    But in the eyes of the faithful, those concerns were not so important.

    “I came here to see the popes, naturally,” one Italian woman told Italian television as she waited in front of the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo, hoping the two would make a joint appearance at the window.

    “The popes” is something the Vatican does not talk about, because of course there is only one pope, Pope Francis. But Francis seemed to have no hesitation in seeking out his predecessor – to thank him, to share some impressions of his first 10 days in office and, perhaps, to ask advice.

    I think one reason Pope Francis made the trip to Castel Gandolfo, where Benedict is temporarily residing, is that since his resignation Feb. 28 the former pope has appeared almost as an exile. He was probably the only ecclesiastical figure in the Rome region who did not attend Pope Francis’ inaugural Mass last weekend, for example; instead, he had to watch it on TV.

    This is Benedict’s intention, and there are valid arguments for a retired pope keeping out of sight and out of mind. An ex-pope who travels the world, gives interviews and pronounces on Vatican affairs could create confusion for Catholics.

    But if Benedict were simply to keep a low profile, writing and speaking with his usual discretion but without trying to make himself “invisible,” it might actually help demystify the figure of a retired pope and make the whole idea more normal.

    The small crowd outside the papal villa, situated in the Alban Hills 17 miles from Rome, cheered as Pope Francis’ helicopter flew over and touched down behind the walls of the compound. From time to time they chanted the Italian names of the two popes: “Francesco” and “Benedetto.”

    What they couldn’t see was later described in detail by the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, and shown in some video footage released by the Vatican Television Center.

    Benedict, walking very slowly with a cane, embraced Francis warmly as the new pope strode from the helicopter. Both were dressed in white, but Benedict wore a simple cassock while Francis also wore the sash and shoulder-length cape that are part of a pontiff’s specific garb.

    The two got into an official limousine, Francis seated on the right – the pope’s traditional seat – and Benedict on the left.

    Inside the villa, they went immediately to the chapel to pray. Benedict deferred to Francis, asking him to take the place of honor on the front kneeler, but Francis replied, “No we are brothers,” and insisted that Benedict kneel next to him.

    Watching these images in the Vatican press office, I heard more than one person say quietly of Benedict: “He looks older.” And it was true. In just four weeks, the pope emeritus appeared to have grown more frail.

    The two then went inside the library for private talks that lasted 45 minutes. Francis brought Benedict a symbolic gift, an icon of Mary known as the “Madonna of Humility,” and he told the ex-pope: “Allow me to say – I thought of you, and your pontificate.” They clasped each other's hands.

    They were joined for lunch by two papal secretaries, before Pope Francis headed back to the Vatican. A spokesman said that, true to Benedict’s intentions, the two would not come to the balcony of the villa to greet the crowd.


  • From Germany with love

       Germans were among those saying goodbye to the pope

    Among the more than 100,000 people who filled St. Peter's Square to say goodbye to Pope Benedict today were pilgrims from Germany, including these two women who flew down to Rome for the day with a homemade banner reading: "Holy Father, we love you."

    Birgit Marschall, a 49-year-old Catholic, said she made the banner as a token of appreciation.

    "I just want to say goodbye and thank him, and assure him of our prayers. I'm thankful for every word he gave us," she said. She arrived in the square early and unfurled her banner right below the pope's window.

    Speaking in German at his noon blessing, the pope seemed to be on the same wavelength. "I thank you all for the signs of closeness and affection, and especially for your prayers," he said.

    Appearing at his final Sunday blessing, Pope Benedict referred indirectly to his retirement Feb. 28 and said he felt God was summoning him to a different kind of service in the church.

    "God is calling me to `climb the mountain' and dedicate myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this doesn't mean abandoning the church. On the contrary, if God is asking this of me it's precisely because I can continue to serve the church with the same dedication and love as always, but in a way more fitting to my age and my energy," he said.