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from Nicholas Wapshott:

The pope’s divisions

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The political roundups of 2013 make little mention of perhaps the most important event to alter the political landscape in the last 12 months. It was not the incompetence of the Obamacare rollout -- though that will resonate beyond the November midterms. Nor was it House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) finally snapping at the Tea Party hounds who have been nipping at his heels.

No, it was the March 13 election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a cardinal from Argentina, as pope of the Roman Catholic Church.

It is significant the new pope chose as his name Francis, after Francis of Assisi, the 12th century saint who shunned comfort and wealth, and devoted his life to helping the poor and treating animals humanely. Pope Francis said he was inspired by a Brazilian colleague, who whispered to him, “Don’t forget the poor.” Since then he has rarely missed the chance to reprimand the rich and embrace the poor, as shown by his refusal to adopt the palatial papal lifestyle in favor of more modest accommodation.

The conservative saint Margaret Thatcher also embraced Francis of Assisi on being elected British prime minister in 1979. On the doorstep of 10 Downing Street, she quoted the verse attributed to St. Francis (though not written by him), “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony.”

from Thinking Global:

Making history at the Vatican

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I have covered far happier times for the Vatican. I reported on John Paul II’s pilgrimage through his native Poland some three decades ago, and I have been thinking about this while watching the Catholic Church’s 115 cardinal electors pray for divine inspiration on this historic day in Rome’s Sistine Chapel.

The cardinals will need every ounce of God’s help to determine who among them has the leadership and managerial wherewithal to both fix their scandal-ridden church and inspire a needy world. They can take some solace from the 1978 papal conclave held after John Paul I’s sudden death following just 33 days in office.

from Photographers' Blog:

How I became a pilgrim

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I grew up in a country with deep Catholic traditions. I was just a year old in 1978 when Polish cardinal Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II. It was a huge surprise in the then‐communist country, a satellite of the Soviet Union, that a son of Polish soil could become the head of the Catholic Church - which was painfully divided by the Iron Curtain.

Over the years, it became a natural feeling that the pope was Polish. The words ‘pope’ and ‘Pole’ becoming synonyms in my mind. John Paul II visited Poland eight times as the pontiff but I only had one chance to see him live when his papa‐mobile passed my home in 1991. I was 14 years old and took a picture of the event.

from FaithWorld:

INTERVIEW-Lisbon treaty to boost EU, church contact-Cardinal Dziwisz

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dziwisz 2There was something missing from our post yesterday entitled Pope John Paul remains touchstone for Poland’s Catholic Church -- a link to the story Reuters published based on the interview that Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz gave to Gabriela Baczynska and me. Since it hasn't been posted separately on the web, here's the story:

KRAKOW, Poland, Dec 16 (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Church should use the EU's new Lisbon Treaty to make its voice heard on moral issues in a Europe that has lost its Christian moorings, a leading Polish churchman said.

from FaithWorld:

After an African-American president, an African pope?

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turksonIf you start seeing pictures of the man at the right or hearing his name now and then, here's why.

On the international Godbeat, it's never too early to start speculating about who will become the next pope. The current head of the world's largest church, Pope Benedict, is admirably fit at 82, but facts like that never discourage avid Vatican watchers. "Vaticanistas" look beyond the present pope to find who else stands out in the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Who's on his way up? Who's taking on important jobs? Who's out there publishing books or giving lectures or visiting other cardinals or doing anything else that looks like -- perish the thought! -- a subtle campaign in an unofficial race whose candidates never throw their birettas into the ring.

from FaithWorld:

Vatican tangled in the Web

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jpii-and-laptopOne passage in Pope Benedict's letter today about the Williamson affair particularly stood out -- the part where he confessed to almost complete ignorance of the Internet. There can't be many other world leaders who could write  the following lines without blushing: "I have been told that consulting the information available on the internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on. I have learned the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news." This made it look as if the world's largest church was ignorant of the world's liveliest communications network.

That's not the case, of course. The Vatican runs a very full website of its own, www.vatican.va, as do Vatican Radio (in 38 languages), Catholic bishops conferences, dioceses and parishes as well as Catholic publications all around the world.

from FaithWorld:

The pope and the Holocaust: Regensburg redux?

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The uproar over traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson and his denial of the Holocaust highlights an open secret here in Rome: Vatican departments don't talk to each much, or at least as much as they should. The pope appears to have decided to lift the 1988 excommunication of four schismatic bishops of the SSPX (including Williamson) without the wide consultation that it may have merited. The Christian Unity department, which also oversees relations with Jews, was apparently kept out of the loop. The head of the office, Cardinal Walter Kasper, told The New York Times it was the pope's decision. Kasper's office and the Vatican press office, headed by Father Federico Lombardi, were clearly not prepared for the media onslaught that followed the discovery of Williamson's views denying the Holocaust. (Photo: Bishop Richard Williamson, 28 Feb 2007/Jens Falk)

Pope Benedict's lifting of the ban and Williamson's comments about the Holocaust are unrelated as far as Church law is concerned. The excommunications lifted last Saturday were imposed because the four were ordained without Vatican permission. As Father Thomas Resse, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, told me: "The Holocaust is a matter of history, not faith. Being a Holocaust denier is stupid but not against the faith. Being anti-Semitic, however, is a sin." This is an important distinction, but not one the Vatican seems to be able to get across.

from FaithWorld:

Pope’s secretary victim of Facebook hoax

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It had to happen sooner or later.

Someone pretending to be Pope Benedict's personal secretary Monsignor Georg Gänswein, a German priest whose good looks have made him a celebrity in his own right, has set up a false Facebook account in his name. Several journalists in Rome have received an invitation from someone claiming to be him and asking them to be his Facebook friend.

But the journalists noted something strange in the dialogue with the purported monsignor. He sprinkles his Italian with German words like gut (good)  -- something the real one doesn't  do since he speaks perfect Italian. The bogus monsignor also posted a video clip of the real Gänswein walking with the pope during the Benedict's summer holidays last year in the northern Italian mountains. The video -- shot by Vatican television -- is readily available.

from FaithWorld:

Cardinal Martino does it again

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Cardinal Renato Martino, the papal aide who angered Israel and Jews by comparing Gaza to a "big concentration camp" is no novice at being outspoken or controversial. The southern Italian cardinal speaks his mind, loves to talk and sometimes has had to pay the price. Martino, head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (effectively its justice minister), has a laundry list of people and governments with whom he has clashed. But that hasn't stopped him. (Photo: Cardinal Martino at the Vatican, 12 April 2005/Tony Gentile)

Perhaps his most famous remark came in December, 2003 when, shortly after U.S. troops captured former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Martino told a news conference at the Vatican that U.S. military were wrong to show video footage of Saddam. "I felt pity to see this man destroyed, (the military) looking at his teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures," he said at the time.

from FaithWorld:

Is the pope’s fan club thinning?

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Is the pope's fan club thinning? The number of faithful at his weekly general audience, held on Wednesdays, is certainly trending downward.

Data out this week shows that 534,500 people attended his 42 general audiences in 2008 -- or about 12,726 people each audience. That compares to 729,100 people at his 44 audiences in 2007 -- or about 16,570 people per audience.

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