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Vatican fresco cleaning reveals images of native Americans

It hasn’t drawn much attention yet, but the Vatican has quietly announced the discovery of what it believes is the first artistic representation of native Americans. A detail of a fresco by the Renaissance artist Pinturicchio, discovered during restoration work in the Vatican Museums, depicts men dressed only in feathered headdresses who appear to be dancing, and another on horseback. The painting was completed in 1494, shortly after Christopher Columbus returned from the New World with a detailed description of natives who painted themselves, danced and gave gifts of parrots. For hundreds of years, the frescoed figures were hiding in plain sight – sort of. They are part of the background in

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 r

A Pope Francis sampler

As I’ve written on this blog, Pope Francis has used his morning Mass homilies to deliver eloquent, off-the-cuff reflections on a variety of interesting topics. Meanwhile, for more than a month we’ve also had a steady diet of the new pope’s speeches and homilies at more formal events. Gradually, some themes are taking shape and his vision of the church has come into clearer focus. These more “official” talks are translated into various languages, which gives people around the world an opportunity to tap into the pope’s thought. Here is a sampler of Pope Francis in his own words, on topics ranging from safeguarding the environment to warding off the devil. Below each extract is a link to the o

Pope Francis on the risk of a ‘babysitter’ church

When Pope Francis said Mass this morning for Vatican bank employees, some might have expected a homily on financial ethics. Instead, he delivered a brief and insightful reflection on the strength of baptism. Essentially, the pope argued that unless lay Catholics are willing to courageously live and proclaim their faith, the church risks turning into a “babysitter” for sleeping children. Pope Francis was speaking to the mostly lay employees of the Vatican bank in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where his morning Masses have become daily teaching moments. He referred to the day’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles on the evangelizing efforts of the earliest Christians, who traveled from place to

Pope Francis passes a curious milestone

Pope Francis is passing a strange milestone today, one that is more on some people’s minds than I would have guessed: his 34th day in office. In 1978, Pope John Paul I died 34 days after his election, one of the briefest reigns in church history. His death shocked the world and launched conspiracy theories that the “smiling pope” was murdered by enemies inside the Vatican. I was in Rome at the time, and based on what I have learned over the years I remain unconvinced of any supposed plot to remove the reform-minded John Paul I. He had serious health problems, and there’s no good reason to doubt that he died of a massive heart attack. But in the popular imagination, the modern Vatican has nev

Advisory group is first big step toward real reform at Vatican

The new advisory group of eight cardinals established today by Pope Francis marks a giant step toward reforming the Roman Curia and cleaning up the missteps and power struggles that have embarrassed the Vatican in recent years. The Vatican’s brief announcement made it clear that the pope wants to take a new look not only at specific reforms of Roman Curia offices but also at general governance of the universal church. In establishing the group, the Vatican said, the pope was “taking up a suggestion that emerged during the General Congregations preceding the conclave.” Several aspects here are noteworthy: — The group includes only one Roman Curia official and seven residential archbishops fro

Cardinal Kasper: Pope Francis has launched ‘new phase’ on Vatican II

Cardinal Walter Kasper has an important piece in today’s Osservatore Romano, saying that Pope Francis, with his focus on poverty and social justice issues, has launched a new phase of implementation of the Second Vatican Council. Cardinal Kasper makes a strong argument that the council’s journey of renewal is not over and that the decades of discussion over its teachings should lead to new “practical consequences.” Pope Francis, he said, has pointed the way with his emphasis on a church that becomes poor and serves the poor. “In this sense, Pope Francis from the first day of his pontificate has given what I would call his prophetic interpretation of the council, and has inaugurated a new pha

On the road with ‘The Vatican Diaries’

This week brings another change of scenery and a change of pace. I’m on a book tour on the West Coast, beginning in Seattle and continuing to Portland, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Los Angeles and Denver. This is new territory for me, in more ways than one. Here are some first impressions: — Interest in the Vatican has once again been revived by the election of a new pope. At a book event yesterday at Elliott Bay Book Company, the Q&A period went on for quite some time, with several questions focusing on whether Pope Francis wants to change things – and if he does, whether he’ll be “allowed” to do so. There’s a general impression out there that no matter what a new pope’s good intentions, he’s

A headline and a non-headline: The pope’s ‘mini-Magisterium’

There was Big News and little news out of the Vatican today. The Big News grabbed the headlines: Pope Francis told the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation that he should “act decisively” with regard to cases of sexual abuse by priests, “continuing along the lines set by Benedict XVI.” This should be done “first of all by promoting measures for the protection of minors, as well as in offering assistance to those who have suffered abuse, carrying out due proceedings against the guilty, and in the commitment of bishops’ conferences to formulate and implement the necessary directives in this area that is so important for the Church’s witness and credibility.” “The Holy Father assured th

Creating space for a fresh papal calendar

I was happy to see that Pope Francis took some time for himself on Easter Monday and visited the excavations below St. Peter’s Basilica. This was not simply a tourist stop, of course, but a visit to the roots of the papacy – St. Peter’s tomb was discovered there in the late 1940s. As a former student of archeology, I hope Francis also makes his way to a smaller but equally impressive Roman necropolis in a northeastern corner of Vatican City. As I described in my book, it was unearthed in 2003 when the Vatican was trying to build a 900-unit underground car park (and thus became a bone of contention, so to speak.) It seems rather incredible, but previous popes have not really taken guided tour

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