FaithWorld

Hope for new Vatican coins without the tourist markup

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Coin collectors eager to get some Vatican euros without the tourist markup may soon be able to thank Brussels for nudging the Holy See to issue some of its money as real money. Nearly all of the euro coins minted every year with the image of Pope Benedict are sold to collectors. They go at the Vatican souvenir shop for 30 euros a set, which is already a tidy markup from their 3.88 euro face value. What’s worse, they can be hard to find, which means many end up on a secondary market where the sets go for multiples of their original sale price. Here’s one on sale on the Internet for 89 euros, another for 99 euros. Prices are probably higher in coin shops.

The European Commission took up this issue last July when it asked the European Central Bank (ECB) for advice on renegotiating the monetary agreement the EU has with the Vatican City State allowing it to use the European currency.  Before the euro was introduced, the world’s smallest state issued its own lira similar to the Italian lira. The Vatican has the right to issue 1,074, 000 euros in coins per year. But, as the Commission noted, it “issues virtually all its circulation coins in collectors’ sets (in the euro area less than 1% of the coins are sold above face value in coin sets).”

eurojp2Ëuro circulation coins are primarily a payment instrument: they should circulate freely in the market and be used for payments. Circulation coins absorbed by coin collectors do not serve their original purpose but are exclusively used as collectors’ items,” it noted.

The ECB recently released its recommendation saying the Vatican should circulate at least 51% of the coins it issues and suggests a joint committee to ensure this and other agreements between Brussels and the Holy See are actually implemented.

So will the Vatican lose out on this tidy little business? No, it seems that someone in Brussels has thought about that as well. The Commission report, which my Frankfurt colleague Sakari Suoninen dug out for me, suggests the Vatican’s quota for issuing coins annually could be almost double to 2,100,000 euros. If that happens, it could continue to issue almost as many collectors’ sets and still circulate over a million euros in coins. Tourists might even get some in change at the souvenir shop.

Searching for clues from the Roman Catholic-Anglican summit

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There wasn’t much information in the official communique after Pope Benedict and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams met at the Vatican on Saturday. The terse text mentioned “cordial discussions” about challenges facing Christians, the need to cooperate and their intention to continue bilateral theological dialogue. The only reference to the issue of the day, Benedict’s offer to take alienated Anglicans into the Catholic Church, was mentioned in passing as “recent events affecting relations between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.” Hmm, pretty thin pickings….
The Pravda-like opaqueness of the communique (read it here) prompted me to zoom in on the photographs we got from the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano for any other clues there. Let’s see if they help as we go along. The “pope’s paper” (here in PDF) published the communique at the bottom of its front page, below two articles on the pope’s meeting with artists and one on Iran’s nuclear program. An interesting hint at the Vatican’s priorities that day.

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Given this thin statement, our news story led off: “The archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Benedict agreed the need for closer ties between their churches on Saturday, in their first meeting since last month’s surprise Vatican offer to disaffected Anglicans.” Read the whole story here.

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Williams later spoke to the BBC (starting at 33:19) and Vatican Radio. He told the BBC that the meeting “went as well as I could have hoped, really.” He said he expressed Anglican concerns at the way the pope’s offer — officially called an “apostolic constitution” — was handled and the two then looked ahead to future ecumenical discussions.

In Sistine Chapel, pope tells artists beauty can lead to God

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Pope Benedict met artists from around the world in the Sistine Chapel on Saturday and urged them to inject spirituality into their work, saying contemporary beauty was often “illusory and deceitful.”

“Beauty … can become a path toward the transcendent, toward the ultimate Mystery, toward God,” he told the artists meeting beneath the vaulted ceiling of the chapel painted by Michelangelo. “Too often … the beauty thrust upon us is illusory and deceitful … it imprisons man within himself and further enslaves him, depriving him of hope and joy.”

The Vatican said it invited some 500 artists to the event, regardless of religious, political or stylistic allegiances. More than 250 accepted, mostly from Italy, including singer Andrea Bocelli and award-winning film composer Ennio Morricone. Amongst the other guests were Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid, whose Maxxi modern art museum has just opened in Rome, and F. Murray Abraham, the American actor who won an Oscar for his role as Salieri in the Mozart film, Amadeus, in 1985.

Does Europe’s new prez really think it’s a Christian club?

rompuy1Europe’s new president, Herman Van Rompuy, is little known outside his native Belgium. One of the few background facts about him circulating since his election is his opposition to Turkish membership in the European Union.  The operative quote, expressed in a 2004 speech when he was an opposition deputy in the Belgian parliament, is:

“Turkey is not a part of Europe and will never be part of Europe. An expansion of the EU to include Turkey cannot be considered as just another expansion as in the past . . . The universal values which are in force in Europe, and which are fundamental values of Christianity, will lose vigour with the entry of a large Islamic country such as Turkey.” (Photo: Herman Van Pompuy, 19 Nov 2009/Sebastien Pirlet)

The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, said something quite similar In an interview with Le Figaro, also in 2004: “Turkey always represented another continent throughout history, in permanent contrast with Europe,” he said, and joining it to Europe would be a mistake. Europe is united by its “culture which gives it a common identity. The roots which formed … this continent are those of Christianity.”

Russian Orthodox wants joint traditional front with Catholics


(Video: Archbishop Hilarion holds a news conference in French during his Paris visit, 13 Nov 2009/courtesy of Orthodoxie.com)

Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, the Russian Orthodox Church’s top official for relations with other churches, has been busy this past week putting his revived church’s stamp on the world Christian scene. Over the weekend, he urged Catholics and Orthodox to join forces to defend their traditional version of Christianity. His comments, made during a visit to Paris to inaugurate his Church’s first seminary outside of Russia, come only days after positive remarks he made last week about how the Vatican and Moscow were slowly moving towards a meeting between Moscow’s Patriarch Kirill and Pope Benedict. Also last week, Hilarion indicated the Russian Orthodox might end their ecumenical dialogue with Lutherans after Germany’s Protestants elected a divorced woman, Bishop Margot Kässmann, as the new head of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD). After all this, he planned to take off for a visit to China. russian-church-in-paris (Photo: Saint Seraphin Russian Orthodox Church (Ecumenical Patriarchate) in a courtyard in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, 27 Sept 2009/Tom Heneghan)

At his news conference, the 43-year-old archbishop said the Catholic and Orthodox churches were “already working together in many areas. Their views are almost identical in matters of doctrine and social ethics. They could show all these values in secular society, nationally or internationally, for example regarding the concept of family, environment, economy, education etc.. Orthodox and Catholics should find a common language and speak with one voice to defend the values that derive from their faith. They could also work effectively in many areas of social and charitable work. This testimony and cooperation, I am sure, could help us take a different approach to the theological issues that divide us. They could make the question of unity more interesting to a wider audience, which is little concerned with theological issues such as the Filioque or primacy issues, but sensitive to questions that concern everyday life. I had the honour to raise these issues with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI last September, during my visit to Rome.”

He also evoked this theme at the opening of the Russian Orthodox seminary in a former 17th-century Catholic convent in Epinay-sous-Sénart outside of Paris. “The opening of an Orthodox seminary of the Moscow Patriarchate in Paris is an unprecedented event,” he said. “The seminary is called among other things to become an important center of rapprochement between traditional Christian Churches in Europe … The primary task of Paris Seminary is to offer high-quality theological education. The seminary is also to become a link between the Russian Orthodox Church and Christians in France.”

Pope, Moscow patriarch moving slowly towards possible meeting

hilarionA senior Russian Orthodox leader has said the idea of a meeting between Moscow’s Patriarch Kirill and Pope Benedict could be moving towards the preparation stage. Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, the “foreign minister” of the Russian church, made clear that neither a date nor a location for such the long-awaited meeting was under discussion. But given the glacial pace at which progress on this issue is made, even the change in tone from Moscow is worth noting.

There has never been a meeting between a pope and the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, the largest of the Orthodox Churches that make up the second biggest Christian family after Roman Catholicism. The late Pope John Paul II wanted to make history with a visit to Russia, but strains between the Vatican and Moscow over alleged Catholic proselytising in the former Soviet Union got in the way. (Photo: Archbishop Hilarion in Brussels, 11 May 2009/Francois Lenoir)

The election of Pope Benedict in 2005 and of Patriarch Kirill early this year seemed to close that chapter of the churches’ bilateral relations and open a new one moving towards a possible meeting. But despite the warmer tone in comments from each side, problems still remained.  Only last month, Hilarion denied reports of an impending meeting and said relations needed a “radical improvement.”

Vatican’s Anglican plan won’t alter celibacy for most priests

benedict-waveThe Vatican said on Monday its plan to allow married Anglican priests to convert to Catholicism does not signal any change to its age-old rule of celibacy for the overwhelming majority of Catholic priests. It set out its position in a preface to Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Constitution “Anglicanorum Coetibus” (Groups of Anglicans) regulating the admission of Anglican converts to Catholicism, including married priests and bishops.

“The possibility envisioned by the Apostolic Constitution for some married clergy within the Personal Ordinariates (the structure for ex Anglicans) does not signify any change in the Church’s discipline of clerical celibacy,” it said. (Photo: Pope Benedict, 4 Nov 2009/Alessia Pierdomenico)

The Vatican announced last month an initiative to make it easier for conservative Anglicans who feel their church has become too liberal to convert to Catholicism. This stirred widespread speculation on what it could eventually mean for the celibacy rule in the Roman Catholic church. There was also speculation about whether men who had left the Catholic priesthood to marry and later became Anglicans could return to the Catholic priesthood and remain married.

UK’s man at Vatican stresses ties that bind

campbellSpeaking against the background noise of exploding fireworks as Britons marked the failure of the Catholic Guy Fawkes’ Gunpowder Plot of 1605, Britain’s man at the Vatican, Francis Campbell, stressed the ties that bind his country and the Vatican on international relations.

Campbell, a Catholic from Northern Ireland who has been UK Ambassador to the Holy See since 2005, was delivering the St Thomas More Lecture (full text here) at the Allen Hall Seminary in London’s fashionable Chelsea district. (Photo: Ambassador Campbell/FCO)

The UK envoy emphasised how Pope Benedict’s approach to international relations had been shaped by his experience of growing up in Germany during the Nazi era. Campbell noted how Benedict, like his predecessor John Paul, “saw how fragile society actually was” and noted that he is one of the last of that generation still in authority.

Founder of Catholic Opus Dei group focus of movie

opus-deiIf Opus Dei had a rough ride in the blockbuster movie based on Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code,” it looks set for an altogether more sympathetic portrayal in another film that deals with the Catholic organization.

British director Roland Joffe, renowned for Oscar-nominated “The Killing Fields” and “The Mission,” is making “There Be Dragons,” a film set during the Spanish Civil War that focuses in part on the life of Opus Dei founder Jose Maria Escriva. (Photo: Image of Escriva at his canonisation at the Vatican, 6 Oct 2002/Paolo Cocco)

Principal photography is complete, and Joffe is now in the editing room aiming to have the movie, which stars Bond girl Olga Kurylenko, ready for theatres by autumn next year.

Will Queen Elizabeth give the pope a warm welcome next year?

queenOne can guess what Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams will say to Pope Benedict when the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion travels to the Vatican later this year. The more interesting question might be what  Queen Elizabeth is likely to say when she hosts the pope next year. (Photo: Queen Elizabeth, 13 June 2009/Luke MacGregor)

The timing of the trips couldn’t be more intriguing, especially the second one. The pope is due to visit Britain in September 2010 and is expected to preside there over the beatification of the late Cardinal John Henry Newman, a famous 19th-century convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism.

The queen is, after all, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, many of whose flock the pope is seeking to poach with his offer last week allowing Anglicans to convert en masse while keeping many of their traditions. And among her honorifics is “Defender of the Faith.” While that sounds impressive, it pales in comparison to Benedict’s long string of titles including “Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles and Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church.” But oneupmanship is a British sport, so one never knows how these things can turn out.