Eric J. Lyman

Eric J. Lyman writes for Religion News Service.

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Italy and Vatican On Guard after Threat from Islamic State

by Eric J. Lyman 02-23-2015
Photo via Jimmy Harris / Flickr / RNS

View down Via della Conciliazione to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Photo via Jimmy Harris / Flickr / RNS

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

by Eric J. Lyman 03-24-2014

Cardinal Seán O’Malley. Photo: George Martell/Pilot New Media, courtesy Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.

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.

Francis appointed four women and four men — a mix of clergy and laypeople — from eight different countries to a panel that will advise the church on the best ways to protect children, identify and punish abusers, and train church personnel. Plans for the panel first emerged in December.

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

by Eric J. Lyman 03-18-2014

Pope Francis leads Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in 2013. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy Catholic News Service/RNS

The Vatican said Monday that Pope Francis will preside over a prayer vigil dedicated to victims of mob violence in Italy and their families.

It’s a sensitive issue for Francis after a famed anti-mob prosecutor last year said the pope’s financial reforms were making mob bosses “very nervous” and could expose the pope to assassination plots.

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

by Eric J. Lyman 03-07-2014

Pope John Paul II participates in a procession in August 2000. RNS file photo courtesy Universal Press Syndicate.

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 reality that John Paul II was a saint became increasingly apparent to me in the years I worked together with him,” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said in an interview published Friday in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

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

by Eric J. Lyman 03-04-2014

Il Mio Papa, a new weekly magazine that will focus entirely on Pope Francis. Photo courtesy Mondadori Editore. Via RNS

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

by Eric J. Lyman 02-27-2014

During a visit in Sydney, Pope Paul VI bends to kiss a baby. Religion News Service file photo.

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'

by Eric J. Lyman 02-25-2014

Russell Crowe arriving for the premiere of “Les Miserables.” Photo via Featureflash/

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

by Eric J. Lyman 02-24-2014

Wine being poured. Photo courtesy of lenetstan via Shutterstock

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

by Eric J. Lyman 02-21-2014

Screen shot of a video of Pope Francis. Via RNS.

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

by Eric J. Lyman 02-11-2014

Pope Benedict XVI leaves Christmas Eve Mass in 2012. RNS photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

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.