Eric J. Lyman writes for Religion News Service.
Posts By This Author
Italy and Vatican On Guard after Threat from Islamic State
The Italian government is on high alert after threats from the Islamic State called Italy “the nation signed with the blood of the cross.”
Italy is one of a handful of major Western counties that has not been victim of a large-scale terror assault since the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S.
Italian officials fear extremists could enter the country amid the growing tide of refugees arriving by boat from North Africa. About 500 extra troops have been stationed to guard symbolic targets in Rome and monitor the streets of the capital for suspicious activity.
The video threat, released with images of 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt who were beheaded this month, warned that Islamic State forces were “south of Rome,” in Libya. At its closest point, Libya is little more than 100 miles from the Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia.
This comes four months after the Islamic State’s propaganda magazine Dabiq ran a cover photo of the militant group’s flag flying above the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican with the headline: “The failed crusade.”
Irish Abuse Victim, Boston Cardinal Named to Vatican Sex Abuse Panel
An Irish woman who was a victim of sexual abuse as a child is among eight members of a special commission appointed by Pope Francis on Saturday to start the long and arduous process of confronting the church’s chronic sexual abuse problems.
The creation of the commission is one of the strongest steps Francis has taken to confront the problem that has severely stained the church’s reputation and cost it billions in court settlements and legal fees. The pontiff has called the issue of sexual abuse “the shame of the church” and vowed to take strong steps to confront the issue.
Mob Threats Aside, Pope Francis Will Pray with Victims of Organized Crime
The Vatican said Monday that Pope Francis will preside over a prayer vigil dedicated to victims of mob violence in Italy and their families.
The special service, to be held Friday, is expected to include at least 700 Italians who lost a family member to violence connected to Italy’s various organized crime organizations.
Benedict XVI on John Paul II: I Always Knew He Was a Saint
Pope John Paul II won’t officially become a saint until a special high-profile ceremony next month at the Vatican. But the man who succeeded him says he has seen him in that light for years.
The Polish pontiff “did not ask for applause and never looked troubled when he was making difficult decisions,” Benedict said. “He acted in accord with his faith and beliefs, and he was willing to endure blows against him. I could and should not imitate him, but I did try to continue his legacy and his mission the best way I could.”
Italian Publisher Unveils Magazine Dedicated to Pope Francis
Il Mio Papa, a new weekly magazine that will focus entirely on Pope Francis — complete with a weekly centerfold poster of the pontiff — is scheduled to hit Italian newsstands on Wednesday.
The magazine, whose name translates to “My Pope,” will go heavy on photography and colorful layouts, according to a news release from publisher Mondadori. It’s the first magazine entirely devoted to just one pontiff.
The magazine will include stories about people and events that inspire the pope; background information on papal remarks; a “saints of the week” column; a collection of international cartoons about the pope; and a list of that week’s television programs dedicated to issues related to faith and Christianity.
Vatican Theologians OK Alleged Miracle Attributed to Pope Paul VI
Vatican theologians have given their approval to a miracle attributed to the intercession of Pope Paul VI, moving him a step closer to sainthood.
The team of medical professionals and doctors that advise the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints already had approved the same miracle in December. Now that a panel of theologians has signed off, the miracle only requires a review by Pope Francis to be considered official.
When that happens, Paul will be beatified — the final step before sainthood. A second miracle is typically required for canonization.
Russell Crowe Really Wants Pope Francis to See 'Noah'
Actor Russell Crowe is using social media to try to cajole Pope Francis into seeing his latest film, the controversial “Noah,” which stars Crowe as the waterlogged biblical patriarch.
The $125 million film, which will go into wide release next month, already has some religious groups upset over a story line they say takes too many liberties in director Darren Aronofsky’s adaptation to the silver screen. Crowe says he’d like Francis to see the film to make up his own mind.
Crowe — who won an Oscar 14 years ago for “Gladiator,” which was set in ancient Rome — tweeted an invitation to the pope, reading in part, “The message of the film is powerful, fascinating, resonant.”
Vatican City Consumes More Wine Per Capita Than Any Other Country
Tiny Vatican City consumes more wine per capita than any other country in the world, according to information from the California-based Wine Institute.
According to the Wine Institute’s latest statistics, the Vatican consumed 74 liters of wine per person, around double the per-capita consumption of Italy as a whole. A standard bottle of wine is about .75 liters.
And while some of that consumption is clearly related to ceremonial Communion wine, Italian press reports say it’s more likely because Vatican residents are older (the lack of children are figured into the statistics), are overwhelmingly male, are highly educated, and tend to eat communally — all factors that tend to lead toward higher wine consumption.
Pope Francis Uses Smartphone Video to Urge Christian Unity
In an unusually informal video made on a smartphone held by a Pentecostal pastor, Pope Francis called on all Christians to set aside their differences, explaining his “longing” for Christian unity.
The seven-minute video, which was posted on YouTube, was made during a Jan. 14 meeting with Anthony Palmer, a bishop and international ecumenical officer with the independent Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches. Italian news reports say that the pope and Palmer knew each other when Francis served as the archbishop of Buenos Aires.
In his remarks, part of a 45-minute video, Francis said, in Italian, that all Christians are to blame for their divisions and that he prays to the Lord “that he will unite us all.”
On Anniversary of Resignation, Benedict XVI Has No Regrets
After a tumultuous year that saw the first papal resignation in nearly six centuries, the election of Pope Francis, and a dramatic reshaping of the church’s style and tone, the man who set those wheels in motion has no regrets.
Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI, now retired and living in seclusion inside the Vatican, is at peace in his new role and believes history will vindicate his difficult eight-year papacy, his closest aide said in a rare interview.
“It is clear that humanly speaking, many times, it is painful to see that what is written about someone does not correspond concretely to what was done,” Archbishop Georg Ganswein said in an interview with the Reuters news agency on the anniversary of Benedict’s surprise announcement on Feb. 11, 2013, that he would resign.
Bike Owned by Pope Francis Sells for 25 Times its Value
As investments go, this was a good one.
A Harley-Davidson motorcycle briefly owned by Pope Francis sold Thursday for $325,000, more than 25 times the Kelley Blue Book resale value for a similar bike.
Chalk it up to the so-called Francis Effect — credited for everything from increased church attendance in Italy to a surge of tourists arriving in Rome from the pope’s native Argentina. Now, evidently, it dramatically changes the value of objects the pope once owned.
UN Panel Blasts Vatican for Sex Abuse policies
A United Nations panel on Wednesday blasted the Vatican for protecting itself rather than victims of sexual abuse, and it called on the Holy See to create what it called an “independent mechanism” to investigate new charges of abuse.
The 16-page report from the Committee on the Rights of the Child accused the Vatican of “systematically” adopting policies that allowed priests to rape and molest thousands of young people over a span of decades. It also calls on the church to remove known or suspected abusers from its ranks immediately.
“The Committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators,” the report said.
Did Pope Francis Really Say That? Probably Not
Did you hear that Pope Francis plans to call a Third Vatican Council? Or that he uncovered previously unknown Bible verses? Or that he sees the story of Adam and Eve as just a fable?
Here’s the problem: None of it is true.
Still, that didn’t stop these and other stories from ricocheting around the Internet and, in some cases, even in traditional news sources. Among the dozens of other fake pope stories are claims that he called hell a literary device and that he believes all religions are equally true.
The tide of fake pope stories has risen so fast in recent months that the Pontifical Council for Culture issued a stern warning on its Facebook page.
Animal Rights Activists Push Vatican Not to Release Doves 'to Certain Death'
After two doves released by Pope Francis and two young children were attacked by aggressive predator birds, a leading animal rights group called on the pontiff to stop what they called “outdated traditions.”
The Vatican regularly releases doves as a symbol of peace, and in multiple instances they have been chased and sometimes captured and killed by more aggressive fowl in the area. But Sunday’s events were more noteworthy because the scene of a seagull and a crow swooping in to attack the doves was captured by several of the photographers in St. Peter’s Square as a crowd of tens of thousands — including several thousand children — looked on.
Both white doves managed to escape their predators after a brief tussle, but it’s unclear what ultimately happened to them.
Vial of Pope John Paul II’s Blood Stolen from Italian Church
A vial containing the blood of the late Pope John Paul II was stolen from a village church in a mountainous area east of Rome, sparking a regionwide manhunt that includes more than 50 police and a team of dogs specialized in tracking.
It is not clear when the break-in at the small Church of San Pietro della Lenca in the region of Abruzzo took place, but it was discovered by a church custodian on Sunday. The thief or thieves made off with a large crucifix and a gold reliquary containing the vial of the blood of John Paul, who will be proclaimed a saint in April.
Once John Paul is elevated to sainthood, artifacts from his life will increase in value.
Pope Francis Meets Scandal-Scarred French President Francois Hollande
French President Francois Hollande, embroiled in a controversy surrounding an alleged affair with an actress, met Friday with Pope Francis, who was unusually somber in his public appearance with the scandal-scarred French leader.
There was no official comment about what the two men discussed in their private 35-minute meeting, but the pontiff — known for his friendly and informal style — appeared more stern and serious than usual as he sat across an ornate desk from Hollande.
Hollande has earned headlines across France and beyond for his alleged affair with actress Julie Gayet. The allegations sparked so much fury that French first lady Valerie Trierweiler had to be admitted to the hospital.
The jury is still out on whether the audience with the popular pontiff would help repair Hollande’s tarnished image at home.
Pope Francis Directs Curia to Hear Confessions
As part of Pope Francis’ pastoral reforms, all 44 senior members of the Roman Curia, or governing body, must take turns hearing confession at a church near the Vatican.
There is even speculation that Francis himself could hear confessions at the Church of the Santo Spirito in Sassia, just outside the Vatican walls, where his bishops and cardinals have been directed to perform the sacrament of penance and reconciliation.
“I think it’s likely the pope will discreetly hear confessions at some point,” said Giacomo Galeazzi, a veteran Vatican watcher from Italy’s La Stampa newspaper. “The pope has long been an advocate of the pastoral aspects of the ministry and now the Curia will as well.”
Pope Francis Tops Facebook’s List of Most-Talked-About Topics
ROME — It’s official, but no big surprise: Pope Francis is now the most-talked-about person on Facebook, according to information released Dec. 10 by the social media giant.
Pope Francis took the top spot, followed closely by Royal Baby George.
Famed Architect Santiago Calatrava Catches Vatican’s Eye
At the heart of the Vatican’s new “Metamorphosis of Space” exhibit featuring the works of Spanish architect and artist Santiago Calatrava is the first-ever public display for the model of New York’s St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.
The exhibit’s curator, Micol Forti, said the relationship between the project and the Vatican is casual — “It’s not even a Catholic Church,” she said of St. Nicholas — yet the magnetism of the model is immediately apparent.
“This exhibit is part of a dialogue with contemporary culture, and this particular piece is a large part of it,” Forti said. She pointed out an adjacent series of watercolor paintings Calatrava made to show a kind of evolution between the design of the church and a classic portrait of the Madonna and Child.
Are Those Really St. Peter’s Bones on Display at the Vatican?
When Pope Francis cradled the small box said to contain nine bone fragments believed to be the mortal remains of St. Peter, the first pope, he fanned the flames of a long-standing debate over the authenticity of ancient church relics.
Most old churches in Italy contain some ancient relic, ranging from a glass tube said to hold the blood of St. Gennaro in Naples to a section of what is believed to be Jesus’ umbilical cord in the Basilica of St. John of Lateran in Rome. Perhaps the most famous religious relic in Italy — the Shroud of Turin, believed by many to be Jesus’ burial cloth — will go on display again in early 2015, and Turin Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia this week invited Pope Francis to attend its public debut.
But St. Peter’s bones are of particular importance, since they are the very basis — both architecturally and spiritually — for Catholicism’s most important church. And yet the bones were only discovered during a series of excavations in the 1940s, almost 1,900 years after Peter died, in either 64 or 67 A.D.