Are Those Really St. Peter’s Bones on Display at the Vatican?

St. Peter in Prison (The Apostle Peter Kneeling). Photo courtesy Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons/RNS

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.

Brazil Tries to Combat Religious Intolerance of Minority Faiths

Juliana Lima and Jenifer Felicio, Candomble young women, pose for a photograph. Photo via RNS/by Robson Coelho

The couple practiced Candomble, an African-Brazilian faith with roots in Brazil’s slave trade.

They dressed in white and believed in an all-powerful God who is served by lesser deities, blending Catholicism with African spiritualism, or the belief that the dead communicate with the living.

But their neighbor, who attended a local evangelical church, disapproved. On a balmy day one year ago he shot and killed the husband as he was screwing in a light bulb in his yard.

Saint G.K. Chesterton? Some Delight, Others Worry About Effort to Canonize Writer

Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society. Photo via RNS/courtesy American Chesterston Society

Christians and Jews are mounting campaigns for and against a path to sainthood for British writer G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), one of the world’s best-known Catholic converts.

Roman Catholic Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton, where Chesterton lived and worked, has ordered an examination of Chesterton’s life — the first step in what is likely to be a long and unpredictable process toward canonization.

The Man I Didn't Want to Love

Pope Francis, by Catholic Church (England and Wales) /

Pope Francis, by Catholic Church (England and Wales) /

Like most of the world last spring, I watched in fascination as Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope. The first day, I was non-plussed. Another old, white guy? Big surprise. The second day, I began to take notice: he was a Jesuit and he chose the name Francis, the first pope ever to do so. The third day, I got a little discouraged as Catholic pundits and news organizations across the nation scrambled to prop up his conservative credentials and hardline stances. But as the week unfolded, I heard the stories of how he paid his own bills, carried his own bags, and rode in a modest sedan across town and my heart melted a little bit. Then came his ordination, and in one simple gesture, stopping to cradle a disabled man in his arms, he captured my imagination. I was willing to entertain the possibility that he just might be a different kind of pope.

The ‘Cold-Call Pope’ Reaches Out and Touches a Lot of People

RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

Pope Francis waves to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square in March. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

VATICAN CITY — Of all the novelties that Pope Francis has brought to the Vatican, few have endeared him to the public — and unsettled his aides — as much as his penchant for picking up the phone and calling someone out of the blue.

The pontiff with the pastor’s touch has phoned his cobbler in Argentina to inquire about a shoe repair, called to cancel his newspaper subscription, and phoned a woman who was raped by a local police officer to counsel her.

Just this week, Francis phoned a pregnant Italian woman whose fiancé had pushed her to have an abortion.

Anna Romano instead dumped the guy, wrote to the pope about her problems, and on Sept. 3 received a surprise call from the Holy Father, who offered encouragement and even said he would baptize the baby if she couldn’t find a willing priest.

The Cardinal on Colbert: Dolan Does Comedy Central

Cardinal Timothy Dolan says Mass in Madrid in 2011, Jeffrey Bruno / Shutterstock

Cardinal Timothy Dolan says Mass in Madrid in 2011, Jeffrey Bruno /

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the most famous funny man in the American hierarchy, went on The Colbert Report Tuesday night to trade quips with another funny guy — and another well-known Catholic — host Stephen Colbert.

Indeed, as Colbert — inhabiting his onscreen persona as a blowhard rightwing pundit — said in welcoming Dolan: “You’re the second most famous Catholic in America – after myself.”

But it was actually Dolan who got the first gag, and giggles, as he walked onto the set and ostentatiously bowed and kissed Colbert’s hand as if he were greeting the pope.

“I’ve got to get a nice big ring if you’re going to be kissing my hand!” replied Colbert, who seemed — uncharacteristically —  unsure of how to play the exchange.

In fact, while Colbert was in full faux bloviating mode, he seemed to let Dolan set the pace of their chat; Colbert didn’t poke too hard on topics that could have prompted controversy.

Part of the relative deference may stem from the fact that Colbert is a serious Catholic who has taught Sunday school at his New Jersey parish. Or perhaps it was because Colbert knows Dolan personally, having appeared — out of character — at a forum on faith and humor last year at Fordham University. Or maybe Colbert was a bit out of practice: This was his first show after a two-week summer break, part of which he spent in Rome.

Catholic Gift Stores See a (Papal) Bull Market

RNS photo by David Gibson.

Giovanni Pierinelli checks on his Baby Jesus inventory at the Catholic Marketing Network. RNS photo by David Gibson.

Centuries ago, Roman Catholics helped kick-start the market for religious articles with their insatiable demand for rosaries, icons, prayer cards, and all manner of devotional objects and spiritual souvenirs.

But in recent decades, evangelical Protestants have dominated the art of religious retailing, building a national network of bookstores and stamping the Christian message on almost any item that an American consumer might want, from perfume to golf balls to flip-flops.

Now, Catholic entrepreneurs are looking to catch up, and at the 17th annual Catholic Marketing Network trade show last week (Aug. 6-9) there was a sense that the Catholic sector has a new opportunity to expand — if businesses can update their approach and broaden their inventory beyond the usual catalog of sacred objects.

“If you are a Catholic gift and bookstore and you are not willing to reinvent yourself, you are going to be out of business,” said Alan Napleton, president of the network, which organizes the convention.

Pope Pens Personal Message to Muslims at Ramadan’s End

Pope Francis in March. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

Pope Francis in March. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

In message published on Friday, Pope Francis took the rare step of personally expressing his “esteem and friendship” to the world’s Muslims as they prepare to celebrate the end of the Ramadan fast.

While it is a long-established Vatican practice to send messages to the world’s religious leaders on their major holy days, those greetings are usually signed by the Vatican’s department for interfaith dialogue.

In his message, Francis explains that in the first year of his papacy he wanted to personally greet Muslims, “especially those who are religious leaders.”

Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, had fraught relations with Muslims. In a 2006 speech he quoted a Byzantine emperor who said Muhammad had only brought “evil and inhuman” things to the world, sparking a worldwide crisis in Christian-Muslim relations.