pope benedict xvi

At 77, Pope Francis Keeps a Busy Pace, and Aides Keep Their Fingers Crossed

Pope Francis passes news photographers in St. Peter’s Square. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service

When cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel a year ago to choose a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, a frail 85-year-old who had become the first pope in six centuries to resign, many of them had one non-negotiable for the next pontiff: that he not be over 70 years old.

So what did the cardinals do? They elected 76-year-old Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina — a man who had part of a lung removed in his 20s and who today “walks kind of crookedly,” as a former aide once put it, because he wears orthopedic shoes to help alleviate chronic lower back pain.

All in all, though, Pope Francis, now 77, seems to be doing quite well at the one-year mark of his papacy, despite maintaining a nonstop pace of liturgies, meetings, public appearances, and hours of prayer throughout a day that starts before 5 a.m.

“He eats works, it’s true,” said the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, a Jesuit priest — like Francis — who conducted a book-length interview with the pope last year and knows him well.

Benedict Rejects Rumors on Why he Resigned as 'Simply Absurd'

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

As the anniversary of his surprising resignation approaches, Pope Benedict XVI has rejected as “simply absurd” the speculation that he was forced to step down, and he said he still wears the distinctive white papal cassock for “purely practical reasons.”

“At the moment of my resignation there were no other clothes available,” Benedict wrote in a brief letter to an Italian journalist that was published on Wednesday.

The emeritus pope also said that he kept the name Benedict, rather than reverting to his birth name of Joseph Ratzinger, because it was a simple solution.

The Surprising Afterlife of Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York in 2008. RNS file photo by Jin Lee/Staten Island Advance

When Pope Benedict XVI officially left the Vatican in a helicopter a year ago this week, becoming the first pontiff in 600 years to resign, many in his conservative fan base were aghast, even angry.

He has betrayed us, said those who thought Benedict’s papacy would be the final triumph of old-school Catholicism. He has undermined the papacy itself, they worried. Lightning even struck the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica hours after Benedict departed, surely a bad omen.

Rumors that he was suffering from a terminal illness were taken as gospel truth. After all, what else could explain Benedict’s unorthodox decision to abandon the Throne of St. Peter?

Pope Francis Charges Cardinals to Oppose 'Any Discrimination'

Hundreds of bishops and cardinals look on as Pope Francis formally appoints 19 new cardinals. RNS photo: David Gibson

Pope Francis created his first batch of new cardinals on Saturday and used the ceremony to launch a new appeal for peace amid the violence racking so many countries.

Francis focused his remarks on the plight of Christians, but in an extemporaneous addition to his prepared text he also called on the church “to fight any discrimination” and “exclusion.”

“The church needs your compassion, especially at this time of pain and suffering for so many countries throughout the world,” Francis told the 18 new cardinals who were present in St. Peter’s Basilica, along with hundreds of other cardinals and bishops whose colorful vestments and diverse origins offered a grand tableau of global Catholicism.

More Protests Over Koch Gift to Catholic University of America

Andrew Abela of Catholic University. Photo by Ed Pfueller, via The Catholic University of America/RNS

A group of leading Catholic activists and academics has renewed criticism of Catholic University of America over a large gift from the billionaire industrialist and conservative funder Charles Koch, and over a school official’s statements that seem to endorse Koch’s questioning of climate change and the right of public workers to unionize.

In a letter sent on Monday to CUA President John Garvey and Andrew Abela, dean of CUA’s new business school, more than 50 Catholic signatories said Charles Koch and his brother, David, “have a clear political and ideological agenda.”

The Kochs’ libertarian-leaning positions, they said, “are in direct conflict with traditional Catholic values.”

On Anniversary of Resignation, Benedict XVI Has No Regrets

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.

Expectations High for Summit between Pope Francis and Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin. RNS, courtesy Kremlin.ru via Wikimedia Commons

Next week’s summit between Pope Francis and Russian President Vladmir Putin may be the most important meeting between a pontiff and a visiting head of state in nearly a quarter of a century, with war-torn Syria expected to be the top priority.

Francis has met with more than a dozen heads of state or government as pontiff, and Putin has met with both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II. But this meeting stands out.

It’s been just four years since full diplomatic ties were re-established between Russia and the Holy See, set against a backdrop of centuries of tension between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Vatican to Display Bones of St. Peter for First Time

A statue of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. RNS photo by David Gibson

The Vatican said it would display for the first time bones believed to be the mortal remains of St. Peter, the leader of Jesus’ 12 apostles, to mark the end of the Year of Faith on Nov. 24.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, wrote in Monday’s editions of L’Osservatore Romano, that the Catholic faithful making a pilgrimage to St. Peter’s tomb to mark the end of the Year of Faith will enjoy “the exposition … of the relics traditionally recognized as those of the apostle who gave his life for the Lord on this spot.”

Fisichella was referring to the long-held belief that Peter was crucified upside down and died in either A.D. 64 or 67 on the spot now marked by the Clementine Chapel inside the basilica that bears his name.

Report Says U.S. Tapped Cardinals’ Phones Ahead of Conclave

Cardinals attend Mass at St. Peter’s before the conclave on March 12, 2013. Via RNS/Courtesy BostonCatholic via Flickr.

The National Security Agency spied on cardinals as they prepared to select the new pope — perhaps including even Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who emerged from last spring’s conclave as Pope Francis, a leading Italian news magazine reported in Wednesday’s editions.

The news magazine Panorama said the same NSA eavesdropping program that angered leaders in Germany, France, Spain, and Mexico also listened in on calls to and from the Vatican, including the phones in the Santa Marta guesthouse that housed Bergoglio and the rest of the College of Cardinals.

Pope Francis still lives in the guesthouse, but the magazine did not speculate whether the phones there were still tapped.

Pope Francis Breathes New Life into Cardinal Bernardin’s Contested Legacy

Pope John Paul II elevated Archbishop Joseph L. Bernardin of Chicago to cardinal in a Feb. 2, 1983 consistory. RNS file photo

The election of Pope Francis in March heralded a season of surprises for the Catholic Church, but perhaps none so unexpected – and unsettling for conservatives – as the re-emergence of the late Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin as a model for the American Catholic future.

While there is no indication that Francis knows the writings of Bernardin, who died in 1996, many say the pope’s remarks repeatedly evoke Bernardin’s signature teachings on the “consistent ethic of life” – the view that church doctrine champions the poor and vulnerable from womb to tomb – and on finding “common ground” to heal divisions in the church.

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