I weaved my way past, trying to find the right angle. All I wanted was to get a good look at the image of Christ Pantocrator — that is, Almighty — that crowns the inside of the dome at the center of the church. But there were too many walls and too many obstructions. No matter where I stood, every view was partly blocked. No matter what I did, I could never quite see all of Jesus.
Since I was born Baptist, I think I was taught in utero to be skeptical of all this Roman Catholic stuff. Of Mary. Of popes and princes. Of these incense-tainted, saintward prayers. Of the overreliance on the heritage that traces back to St. Peter (though of course we would never have called him St. Peter). At one point, our guide said, “Upon this rock, I build my church blah blah blah.” She meant no disrespect. Yet it was one of the funniest, most unwittingly perfect things she has said, pithily capturing our sometimes-cavalier attitude toward this church and, for some of us, institutional religion more broadly.
A pilgrimage must go places we neither know nor completely understand. It’s an expression of faith — real or imagined, a mountain or maybe just a mustard seed. It acknowledges that we want and need more. More what? Perhaps courage. Maybe trust. Certainly a sense that we shouldn’t fear our doubts.
Here is what I packed with me for my pilgrimage, aside from too many clothes and shoes: Fear about spending the next week with a large group of strangers, some of which is my shyness and introversion and some of which is trepidation about being in a space where I’m the only non-white person and the only gay person (a diversity twofer!). Anger at what’s happening in the U.S. — which my passport, but not always the rhetoric, tells me is my country. Worry about the journey ahead. Longstanding doubts about God and faith and this thing we call church and whether any of it makes sense.
Pope Francis is studying an invitation to visit the Grand Mosque of Rome — extended to him several days after his first visit to the city’s Great Synagogue. If he accepts, Francis would be the first pope to visit the mosque. He received the invitation on Jan. 20 during a short audience he gave to Muslim community leaders at the Vatican.
A year after he delivered a blistering diagnosis of 15 “diseases” plaguing the Roman Curia, including “spiritual Alzheimer’s,” Pope Francis on Dec. 21 listed a 12-point “catalog of needed virtues” that the bishops and cardinals who run the Holy See should seek to follow.
Pope Francis launched the jubilee of mercy on Dec. 8 with the opening of the Vatican’s holy door, joined by his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square, surrounded by heavy security.
“This extraordinary year is itself a gift of grace,” Francis told the faithful gathered at the Vatican.
“To pass through the holy door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them.”
Despite Luther being thrown out of the Catholic Church during his lifetime, the Vatican reacted positively to news of the square’s upcoming inauguration.
“It’s a decision taken by Rome city hall which is favorable to Catholics in that it’s in line with the path of dialogue started with the ecumenical council,” said the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, deputy director of the Vatican press office, referring to a gathering of churchmen to rule on faith matters.
Italy reacted with disgust last week to the lavish funeral procession held for alleged Mafia boss Vittorio Casamonica, including a gilded horse-drawn carriage procession, rose petals dropped from a helicopter, and the “Godfather” movie soundtrack.
Now the Roman Catholic Church is grappling with its role in the extravagant funeral as it wrestles with how it might continue to offer the sacraments to members of crime syndicates without appearing to condone their lifestyles.
During the Aug. 20 funeral, the walls of Rome’s San Giovanni Bosco Catholic Church were adorned with posters, reading “King of Rome” and “You have conquered Rome, now you will conquer heaven.”
Major sporting events could be held at the Vatican if Rome wins its bid to host the Summer Olympics in 2024.
Pope Francis, a keen soccer fan, is reported to be enthusiastic about the idea. He is expected to meet the head of Italy’s National Olympic Committee, Giovanni Malago, and other officials at the Vatican on Dec. 19 after a Mass to commemorate the committee’s 100th anniversary
Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, former head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, said he believed Francis would back plans to hold events such as archery in the Vatican gardens.
He told the Florence daily La Nazione that events could also be staged at the pope’s summer palace at Castel Gandolfo outside Rome.
“It seems like a good idea, I think the pope will approve,” Saraiva Martins said.
Last week I spent a few days in Rome with, among others, Tony Jones. As someone who hasn’t ever been to Rome, it was particularly helpful for me to have a Christian historian along. It’s easy enough, having seen one amazing display of ruins after another, or cathedral after awesome cathedral, to lose some perspective. So along the way, Tony would stop and point out the historic significance of various landmarks. Then of course, we’d go grab a bourbon and talk.
Both of us, at one point or another in the week, thought of the Monty Python scene from Life of Brian, in which the disgruntled rebels exclaim, “What have the Romans ever done for us?” So of course, some wise guy in the group starts rattling things off, like the aqueducts, roads, education, and so on.
So this led to a minor debate between Tony and me about the benefits of empire. Now, keep in mind that Tony is never one to pass up an opportunity to serve as the antagonist, but his argument as outlined in his blog post cheekily titled “In Praise of Empires,” is that it’s en vogue to trash empire, both present and past.
To put a finer point on it, we chatted about whether Constantine, the Roman emperor responsible for establishing the Nicene Creed, was an ass-hat.
After a pledge by Pope Francis to “excommunicate” mobsters from the Catholic Church, an archbishop in southern Italy has proposed a 10-year ban on naming godparents at baptisms and confirmations as a way to stop the Mafia from spreading its influence.
Vatican officials say reports that Pope Francis has been slipping out at night to visit the homeless in Rome are “simply not true,” though that hasn’t stopped the stories from capturing the public imagination.
That’s probably because such tales seem right in line with Francis’ unconventional and pastoral style. What’s more, the faithful always love it when a church leader sneaks under the radar to make a point — witness the fascination with the Mormon bishop who recently disguised himself as a panhandler and then revealed his identity when he climbed into the pulpit.
But breaking out of the “gilded cage” of the Vatican has been a dream of many popes and other churchmen who fear losing touch with their calling as pastors — or simply their connection to ordinary life.
When Pope Benedict XVI retired in February, I wrote an article in appreciation for his papacy. While he served as a great model of humility in stepping down from his role as Pope, what I appreciated more about Pope Benedict was his first encyclical, turned into a book called God is Love . In it, Benedict wrote these profound words:
Love is possible, and we are able to practice it because we are created in the image of God. To experience love and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world — this is the invitation I would like to extend with the present encyclical. (93)
God is Love is a powerful written reminder of the essence of Christianity. I hope more Christians of all stripes will read it.
Indeed, I appreciate Benedict for writing those beautiful words, but I love Pope Francis because he’s publicly living those words.
In an unusual move, the Vatican has asked the world’s bishops to quickly canvas the faithful for their views on topics like gay marriage, divorce, and birth control ahead of a major meeting of church leaders set for next fall.
But it’s not clear how or whether the American bishops will undertake such an effort, or if they will only send their own views to Rome.
The letter from the Vatican to New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was dated Oct. 18 and it asked that a series of questions be shared “immediately as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received” in time for a February planning meeting in Rome.
Vatican officials say they expect next year’s celebration for the canonizations of former popes John Paul II and John XXIII to be attended by as many as 100 heads of state in what is likely to be the biggest draw to the city since John Paul’s funeral in 2005.
The crowd estimates were made Tuesday, the feast day for John Paul. This will be the last time he will be venerated as Blessed Pope John Paul II; after the canonization ceremony on April 27, 2014, he will be known as St. Pope John Paul II.
John Paul’s 2005 funeral may have been the single largest gathering in Christian history, with estimates as high as 4 million mourners gathered in the Italian capital, along with at least 80 presidents, prime ministers, and monarchs.
Pope Francis criticized what he called the “idolatry of money” on Sunday in a trip to one of the poorest regions of the European Union.
The pontiff, visiting the island of Sardinia off Italy’s western coast, departed from his prepared remarks to talk about his own family’s struggles as Italian immigrants in Argentina. Speaking on an island where more than half of workers under 30 are unemployed, Francis told the masses: “Don’t let yourselves be robbed of hope.”
American anti-abortion leaders will be in Rome on Sunday to participate in Italy’s third March for Life and lend their expertise to the nation’s small anti-abortion movement as it tries to learn from its American counterpart.
Jeanne Monahan, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, and Lila Rose of Live Action will be among those who will march through central Rome on Sunday morning, from the Colosseum up to Castel Sant’Angelo, a few hundred meters from the Vatican.
While the annual March for Life in Washington — which celebrated its 40th anniversary in January — attracts hundreds of thousands of people and heavy media coverage, in Europe anti-abortion movements have often kept a lower profile and haven’t been able to shape social discourse as in the United States.
Polls regularly show high levels of support for abortion rights throughout Europe. A January poll by Eurispes found that 64 percent of Italians favor legalizing abortion pills.
In Italy, abortion is currently legal in hospitals up to the third month of pregnancy.
Editor's Note: Pope Francis delivered the following homily at his inaugural Mass on Tuesday, emphasizing the need to protect the poor and the environment.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I thank the Lord that I can celebrate this Holy Mass for the inauguration of my Petrine ministry on the solemnity of Saint Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary and the patron of the universal Church. It is a significant coincidence, and it is also the name-day of my venerable predecessor: we are close to him with our prayers, full of affection and gratitude.
I offer a warm greeting to my brother cardinals and bishops, the priests, deacons, men and women religious, and all the lay faithful. I thank the representatives of the other Churches and ecclesial Communities, as well as the representatives of the Jewish community and the other religious communities, for their presence. My cordial greetings go to the Heads of State and Government, the members of the official Delegations from many countries throughout the world, and the Diplomatic Corps.
In the Gospel we heard that "Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary as his wife" (Mt 1:24). These words already point to the mission which God entrusts to Joseph: he is to be the custos, the protector. The protector of whom? Of Mary and Jesus; but this protection is then extended to the Church, as Blessed John Paul II pointed out: "Just as Saint Joseph took loving care of Mary and gladly dedicated himself to Jesus Christ’s upbringing, he likewise watches over and protects Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, of which the Virgin Mary is the exemplar and model" (Redemptoris Custos, 1).
How does Joseph exercise his role as protector? Discreetly, humbly and silently, but with an unfailing presence and utter fidelity, even when he finds it hard to understand. From the time of his betrothal to Mary until the finding of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, he is there at every moment with loving care. As the spouse of Mary, he is at her side in good times and bad, on the journey to Bethlehem for the census and in the anxious and joyful hours when she gave birth; amid the drama of the flight into Egypt and during the frantic search for their child in the Temple; and later in the day-to-day life of the home of Nazareth, in the workshop where he taught his trade to Jesus.
VATICAN CITY — Amid all of the prognosticating about who the cardinals could choose as the next pope in the conclave that starts here on Tuesday, one reliable thread has emerged: the desire to elect a pontiff who can be a pastor to the world as well as a taskmaster to the Roman Curia.
Finding such a combination in a single man, of course, may prove difficult if not impossible, which adds to the almost unprecedented level of uncertainty surrounding this papal election.
So if anything is possible, some say it might be better to reverse the prevailing wisdom — look for a pope who will talk tough to Catholics (and the world) while shepherding the Curia with a firm hand in order to better police the wayward.
The prospect might appall progressives and others who were happy to see the end of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy, but it has enough appeal to conservatives that they are trying to make the case.
One reason for their sense of urgency is that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger turned out to be more of a papal pussycat as Benedict XVI than the watchdog of orthodoxy that he had been for decades while serving under John Paul II.
Is now the time for a pope who could be more of a Ratzinger than a Benedict?