FaithWorld

Japan’s rare Catholic PM Taro Aso meets Pope Benedict

aso-popeJapanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, a member of Japan’s tiny Roman Catholic minority, had a chance toenjoy some time away from political trouble at home when he met with Pope Benedict on Tuesday.

As his first stop during a trip to attend July 8-10 summit of G8 leaders in Italy, Aso went to the Vatican, gave the pope a Sony digital video camera and discussed the global economic crisis with him. (Photo: Prime Minister Aso presents video camera to Pope Benedict, 7 July 2009/Danilo Schiavella)

His visit was timely in that respect — Benedict published an encyclical on economic and social issues today, calling for a bold reform of the world economic order to overcome the financial crisis and redirect the focus of business to the welfare of all people.

aso-pope-officeAso, the first Japanese prime minister to meet a pope in 10 years, told Benedict that Japan wanted to cooperate with the Vatican, according to his aides. According to the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano, the two men had a cordial discussion that “touched on current international issues such as the economic crisis and the commitment of Japan and the Holy See to Africa. On the bilateral level, the good relations between Japan and the Holy See were noted.” (Photo: Aso and Benedict in the papal private library, 7 July 2009/Osservatore Romano)

For the unpopular prime minister, who looks set to lose a general election due by October, meeting Pope Benedict was probably a personal highlight of his trip, even though voters would not care much.

Catholic regular at Shinto shrines to visit pope at the Vatican

yasukuniPope Benedict has been criticised for his handling of relationships with the world’s other religions. On Monday Tuesday, he is due to receive at the Vatican Japan’s Prime Minister Taro Aso, who has little difficulty with mixing and matching various faiths.

Though an avowed member of Japan’s tiny Roman Catholic minority, Aso regularly pays respects and offers gifts at Shinto shrines. Japan’s indigenous religion of Shinto is polytheistic — its doctrine says the world is crowded with divinities, mostly in natural phenomena such as the sun, moon, wind and mountains. Combining this with Christianity’s monotheism may sound like a contradiction, but it is something many Japanese Catholics take in their stride. (Photo: Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, 31 May 2007/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

Aso’s visits have in the past included trips to Tokyo’s Yasukuni shrine, which is dedicated to war dead and to 14 people judged by an Allied tribunal to be Class A war criminals. Many in Asia see it as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism. But Aso has stayed away since becoming prime minister last year, probably more to avoid offending China than for religious reasons. For more on Aso and his faith, see our post about him when he took office.

GUESTVIEW: Fellay ordains SSPX priests, hints timid opening

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Nicolas Senèze is deputy editor of the religion service at the French Catholic daily La Croix and author of La crise intégriste, a history of the SSPX. He wrote this for FaithWorld (translation by Reuters) after covering the ordinations in Ecône for La Croix.

fellay-alps1 (Photo: Bishop Fellay greets children in Ecône, in Valais canton in southwestern Switzerland, 29 June 2009/Denis Balibouse)

By Nicolas Senèze

Bishop Bernard Fellay has gone and done it. On the morning of June 29, before crowds of the faithful gathered on the large meadow outside the Saint Pius X seminary in Ecône, Switzerland, the Superior General of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X (SSPX) ordained eight new priests. Just like Bishop Alfonso de Galaretta did on Friday in Zaitzkofen, Germany, and Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais 10 days ago in Winona, Minnesota in the United States. They went ahead and ordained these men despite the Vatican’s declaration that the ordinations were “illegitimate”, i.e. illegal according to the law of the Roman Catholic Church.

Vatican daily proclaims Michael Jackson immortal – for his fans

or-1It’s not every day that the Vatican newspaper suggests that a man accused of paedophilia and said to have converted to Islam might be immortal. But that’s what L’Osservatore Romano did today. In a tribute to Michael Jackson — itself another sign of the “new look” that editor-in-chief Giovanni Maria Vian has given it — the paper included him in a pop music heaven at an unusually earthly location:

“But will he really be dead? It wouldn’t be surprising if, in a few years, he was spotted in a gas station in Memphis, perhaps with his former father-in-law Elvis Presley, another of those myths – like Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix or John Lennon – that never die in the imagination of their fans. And Michael Jackson, who died yesterday at the age of fifty, is definitely a pop music legend.”

The tribute reviews Jackson’s career, from the time “when he was still black” through his “humanly difficult … crossover” to “new genres not entirely attributable to any specific area, where one cannot distinguish between black and white.” It praises his mega-album Thriller “which is known also to those who do not frequent these musical worlds” and calls him a “great dancer” (grande ballerino).

Vatican editor defends himself against U.S. conservatives

oss-romWhen Gian Maria Vian took over as editor of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano in late 2007, most observers yawned. No-one really expected much change at the staid newspaper. But within a few months, the paper started to rock and roll — at least as much as a paper like that can.

Slowly but surely, change has come to the 148-year-old mouthpiece of the Vatican, considered by many in the past a bland broadsheet at best and once called the “Catholic Pravda”, a reference to the communist party organ in the former Soviet Union.

It started publishing color pictures and more articles by and about women — not bad for an institution that is still a male bastion. It also began including more international cover, war cover and economic cover.
Some of its unorthodox commentaries have also been lighthearted and provocative. To wit: it ran an editorial saying that perhaps the washing machine had done more to liberate women than the pill or the right to work. It post-humusly forgave John Lennon for once boasting that the Beatles were more famous than Christ. And, it finally set the record straight that no, the pope does not wear Prada.

UPDATE: SSPX to ordain new priests despite Vatican warning

econe-1The Vatican warning to the ultra-traditionalist SSPX not to ordain new priests this month without Roman approval had no discernible effect on the rebel Catholic group. Soon after the Vatican declared the ordinations would be illegitimate, Father Yves Le Roux, rector of the SSPX’s St Thomas Aquinas seminary in Winona, Minnesota, said the ordination of 13 new priests there would go ahead on Friday.

“Absolutely. We are doing it,” he told our Vatican correspondent Philip Pullella by telephone. “This is something the Vatican feels it has to say. It’s a political statement but the reality is totally different.” (Photo: SSPX ordains deacons in Écône, Switzerland, 3 April 2009/Valentin Flauraud)

The SSPX seminary at Zaitzkofen, in the German state of Bavaria, declared its intention to go ahead with its June 27 ordinations in a statement posted on its website on Monday (here in German original and in English). It argued that Pope Benedict’s decision in January to lift the excommunications of the four SSPX bishops was a “confidence-building measure for the coming theological discussions with representatives of the Holy See” meant to thrash out an official position in the Church for the SSPX.” Further ordinations are due at the SSPX headquarters in Écône, Switzerland on June 29.

Vatican throws down gauntlet to ultra-traditionalist SSPX

bollettinoThe Vatican has thrown down the gauntlet to the ultra- traditionalist Society of Saint Piux X (SSPX), which planned to ordain 27 new priests this month without approval from Rome. A statement by the Vatican press office today declared that the ordinations would be illegitimate. The four SSPX bishops were only readmitted into the Roman Catholic Church in January after 20 years of excommunication. If they go ahead and ordain the priests anyway, they could risk being disciplined — possibly even excommunicated — again.

The SSPX claims its fidelity to the old Latin Mass and rejection of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) reforms represent authentic Catholicism as opposed to the “modernism” practiced in the world’s largest church since then. It has also claimed to be loyal to the pope, although this was always hedged with reservations about his authority because of the doctrinal dispute over Vatican II. Having won its bishops’ readmission without making any concessions, it looked set to test the limits again by ordaining priests without Vatican permission.

The Vatican statement quoted a March 10 letter by Pope Benedict to Catholic bishops saying the SSPX did not have any official status within the Church and would have to negotiate it in discussions with Rome. “Until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers – even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty – do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church,” he wrote.

Sikh temple project sparks dispute over copying holy sites

golden-temple (Photo: Sikhs pray at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, 17 Sept 2001/Rajesh Bhambi)

Are some holy sites so holy or so unique that they shouldn’t be copied? Should monuments like the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican or the Western Wall in Jerusalem have a kind of copyright so nobody can replicate them elsewhere?

It seems unlikely that believers of any faith would undertake such a project, if for no other reason that most holy sites are quite complex, with artwork that would be very expensive to reproduce. But some Sikhs in India are building what looks like a copy of the Golden Temple, their religion’s holiest shrine, in Sangrur, 265 miles (427 km) southeast of the temple in Amritsar. The project has sparked off a debate in the Sikh community and the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), which maintains gurdwaras in India’s Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh states, has protested against it and called on the religion’s five high priests to intervene. The Sikhs building the new gurdwara deny they’re copying the famous temple, simply giving a facelift to their dilapidated gurdwara.

As Mumbai’s DNA daily put it: “Imitation is sometimes not the most acceptable form of flattery.”

SSPX set to push the envelope against the Vatican again

mueller-regensburgThe ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), recently in the headlines for having a Holocaust denier as one of its four bishops recently readmitted to the Roman Catholic Church, looks set to push the envelope with Rome again by ordaining 21 new priests in three different countries on June 27.* Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller of Regensburg, the German diocese where the SSPX seminary at Zaitzkofen plans to ordain three of those men, has declared the planned ordinations a violation of Church law and has urged the Vatican to warn the SSPX not to go through with them. He told Bavarian Radio on Sunday that he hadn’t heard back from Rome yet and would bring up the issue with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) personally on his next monthly trip there.

*CORRECTION: Not all will be ordained that day — 13 priests will be ordained in Minnesota on June 19. (Photo: Bishop Müller, 21 Sept 2007/Michael Dalder)

In the subtle ways of the Vatican, a non-response from Rome to a bishop’s query is like the yellow signal on a traffic light. It’s neither yes nor no, in that vague way that says if it’s not openly forbidden, one might be able to live with it, but, uh, we don’t want to put that in writing, so over to you. The question now is whether the Vatican will opt to live with this latest challenge to its authority.

Pope on Facebook in attempt to woo young believers

pope-facebookl

You won’t get an email saying Pope Benedict added you as a friend and you can’t “poke” him or write on his wall, but the Vatican is still keen to use the networking site Facebook to woo young people back to church.

A new Vatican website, www.pope2you.net, has gone live, offering an application called “The pope meets you on Facebook,” and another allowing the faithful to see the Pope’s speeches and messages on their iPhones or iPods.

Phil Pullella looks at the Vatican’s latest bid to preach the gospel with new technologies. Read the full story here.