Vatican City, Jun. 2, 2008 (vaticans.org) - Pope Benedict XVI will not hold private meetings with any of the heads of state who are in Rome this week for a meeting of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), informed sources at the Vatican report.
By avoiding all meetings with visiting world leaders, the Vatican could sidestep diplomatic pressure for a papal audience with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian government has confirmed that Iran’s ambassador to the Holy See, Mohammad Javad Faridzadeh, had requested a papal audience for Ahmadinejad. For several days before that formal request, Iranian diplomats had been energetic in suggesting that Ahmadinejad would like to speak with the Pontiff.
In the past, visiting heads of state have arranged courtesy visits with the Pontiff while attending other events in Rome. But the heavy international pressure on Iran made it difficult to arrange such a meeting for Ahmadinejad without suggesting Vatican support for the . Iran has repeatedly sought to enlist Vatican support, in its bid to resist pressures from US.
Several other government leaders will be in Rome for this week's FAO meeting. Last week the Argentine government announced that President Cristina Kirchner will meet with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, rather than with the Pontiff. Kirchner's government has been seriously at odds with the Catholic hierarchy in Argentina, so in her case, too, a papal audience could have involved political complications.
Beijing, May, 30, 2008 (vaticans.org) - Priests under house arrest; others forced to visit a Buddhist temple; others under surveillance for days, to prevent them from praying "with the pope"; dozens of faithful in Hong Kong warned not to go to Sheshan: this is the world in which some of the dioceses of China have experienced (or better: forcibly omitted) the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China instituted by Benedict XVI.
The day was suggested by the pope for last May 24, to coincide with the traditional pilgrimage to the shrine of the Virgin of Sheshan, near Shanghai. The local government and the Patriotic Associations permitted the pilgrimage only for the priests and religious of the diocese of Shanghai, and prohibited the faithful of other Chinese communities from participating in it.
For this year, because of the pope's initiative, the diocese of Shanghai had been expecting at least 200,000 people. But because of all of the limits imposed, only 2,500 faithful were able to visit the Marian shrine on May 24.
In order to enforce the prohibitions and bans, in some dioceses the police monitored or arrested official and underground priests.
According to information obtained by AsiaNews, underground Shanghai bishop Joseph Fan Zhongliang and all of his clandestine priests were severely controlled or placed under house arrest since the beginning of May, to prevent them from participating.
About a dozen underground and official priests of Zhengding (Shijiazhuang, Hebei) were arrested on May 23, and not released until after May 25. Some of them were forced to "take a trip" in the company of the police, or were forced to remain at home or in a hotel.
The official priests of the diocese of Shanbei (Shanxi) were forced to "take a trip" to a Buddhist temple in Shanxi, beginning on May 23. They were not set free and allowed to return to their dioceses until May 25.
The priests of the diocese of Hohhot (Inner Mongolia) were required to meet with the police. An official of the office for religious affairs ordered them "not to respond to the appeal of the pope of Rome", and prohibited them from making any public gesture of prayer for the Church in China for May 24.
In the diocese of Taiyuan (Shanxi), the Shrine of our Lady of Graces (Bansishan), a traditional pilgrimage destination, was closed by the local government. On May 24, thousands of police blocked the access road to the shrine to stop the flow of pilgrims, who were forced to return home. According to eyewitnesses, the police forces greatly outnumbered the pilgrims.
The priests of the diocese of Xuanhua (Hebei) were threatened with "serious consequences" if they should dare to carry out religious activities on May 24. The same was done for the underground priests of Linqing (Shandong).
To this depressing picture must be added the hardships of 80 Catholics of Hong Kong, who were stopped in Shanghai and blocked from going to Sheshan. The diocese of Hong Kong had originally planned a pilgrimage of 1,000 people for May 24. But the difficulties and obstacles posed by the local government led Cardinal Zen to cancel the pilgrimage. In spite of this, 80 people of the diocese went privately to Nanjing, and then to Shanghai. From here, they hoped to obtain permission to go to Sheshan. Instead, the group was blocked and prohibited even from celebrating Mass in the churches of Shanghai. The police and the office for religious affairs threatened to revoke the license to operate in China from the travel agency that had planned the trip.
Some of the faithful interviewed by AsiaNews affirm that the restrictions and controls are connected to the tension created by the uprisings in Tibet, which are casting suspicion on any assembly of people. But it is now also clear that there was an attempt to override a gesture called for by the pope, to create unity between the Church in China and the universal Church.
One underground Christian has told AsiaNews that there is a genuine "war" underway on the part of the Patriotic Association, against the instructions of the pope. "The pope's letter [editor's note: published last June 30] condemns the interference of the PA in the life of the Church. The secretaries of the PA are thus afraid of losing their privileges of control over the life and property of the Church. For this reason, they are blocking the Holy Father's instructions any way they can".
"All of this", he adds, "hurts China: is this the kind of religious freedom that the Chinese government is presenting to the world, a few months from the Olympics? If China wants the respect of the international community, before all else it must respect its people's right to religious freedom".
Since the government invests resources in many different projects, the Holy Father reasoned, "there does not appear to be any justification for excluding adequate support for the work of Church institutions in the field of education." Public investment in Catholic schools, he said, "could not fail to produce beneficial effects" for secular society.
The Italian bishops are holding their 58th general assembly in Rome this week, with the meetings taking place in the Vatican Synod hall. The Pope spoke to the bishops about the main topics for this meeting: education and evangelization.
Italy today faces an "educational crisis," the Pope warned, raising a theme that he has mentioned frequently during his pontificate. The Pontiff has repeatedly spoken about the need to provide young people with adequate moral and cultural formation. From the Catholic perspective, he said, the educational crisis involves "the transmission of the faith to new generations."
Educators and pastors must battle with a culture of relativism, which "puts God within parentheses and discourages all true commitment," the Pope told the Italian hierarchy. To overcome that sort of opposition, he said, the Church needs to muster greater "evangelical energy" and to demonstrate the joy of faith.
The Pope said that he could see signs of a desire for change in Italian society-- signs of a new willingness to recognize the need for moral integrity and commitment. The Church has a special role to play in that societal recovery, he said, adding: "No other human and social problem can truly be solved if God does not return to the center of our lives."
While recognizing the autonomy of the secular political world, the Pope told the prelates that "it is important to resist all tendencies to consider religion, and in particular Christianity, as a purely private matter." He urged the bishops to continue their efforts to support marriage and family life, and to act as advocates the poor in Italy and around the world.
In other news, the Holy See has confirmed that on June 6, Pope Benedict will receive Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in a private audience. The Pope and Berlusconi last met on November, 19, 2005 during a previous Berlusconi term as prime minister.
Vatican City (vaticans.org) - Benedict XVI hopes that, thanks to agreements concluded with the government of Myanmar, the international community and "all who are ready to help" may bring to the victims of cyclone Nargis "the type of assistance required and enjoy effective access to the places where it is needed most". And "may God open the hearts of all so that a concerted effort may be made to facilitate and coordinate the ongoing endeavour to bring relief to the suffering and rebuild the country's infrastructure".
Help for the people struck by the catastrophe was, naturally, central to the thoughts that the pope addressed today to the bishops of the episcopal conference of Myanmar, received this morning after previous meetings in separate audiences, on the occasion of their five-year visit "ad Limina Apostolorum".
The Church of Myanmar, in the words of the pope, "is known and admired for its solidarity with the poor and needy. This has been especially evident in the concern you have shown in the aftermath of the cyclone Nargis". Benedict XVI praised in particular the actions of Catholic organisations and associations. "I am confident", he continued, citing his first encyclical, "that under your guidance, the faithful will continue to demonstrate the possibility of establishing 'a fruitful link between evangelization and works of charity'". "During these difficult days, I know how grateful the Burmese people are for the Church’s efforts to provide shelter, food, water, and medicine to those still in distress".
Turning his attention more exclusively to Church affairs, the pope then expressed his satisfaction with the growth of vocations, of both religious sisters and priests, and recommended a "robust and dynamic Christian formation" of all the faithful, inspiring them to take action in their workplace, family, and society.
Benedict XVI finally encouraged, for the majority Buddhist country, the development in mutual respect of "ever better relations with Buddhists for the good of your individual communities and of the entire nation".
Vatican City, May. 16, 2008 - When Pope Paul VI spoke about the "smoke of Satan" entering the Catholic Church, he was referring to liturgical abuses, according to the prelate who served as his master of ceremonies.
Cardinal Virgilio Noe, the chief Vatican liturgist during the pontificate of Paul VI, spoke candidly about the late Pope's concerns in an interview with the Roman Petrus web site. The Italian prelate-- who was also the Vatican's top liturgist under Pope John Paul I and the early years of the pontificate of John Paul II-- is now retired, and at the age of 86 his health is failing. In his interview with Petrus he concentrated primarily on his years serving Pope Paul VI.
Pope Paul accepted the liturgical reforms after Vatican II "with pleasure," Cardinal Noe said. He added that Paul VI was not be nature a sad man, but "he was saddened by the fact of having been left alone by the Roman Curia." Regarding the late Pope's famous remark about the "smoke of Satan," Cardinal Noe said that he knew what Paul VI intended by that statement. In that denunciation, he said, the Pope "meant to include all those priests or bishops and cardinals who didn't render worship to the Lord by celebrating badly Holy Mass because of an errant interpretation of the implementation of the Second Vatican Council. He spoke of the smoke of Satan because he maintained that those priests who turned Holy Mass into dross in the name of creativity, in reality were possessed of the vainglory and the pride of the Evil One. So, the smoke of Satan was nothing other than the mentality which wanted to distort the traditional and liturgical canons of the Eucharistic ceremony."
For Pope Paul VI, the cardinal continued, the worst outcome of the post-conciliar liturgical reform was the "craving to be in the limelight" that caused many priests to ignore liturgical guidelines. Cardinal Noe recalled that the Pope himself believed in careful adherence to the rubrics of the Mass, firmly believing that "no one is lord of the Mass."
Speaking for himself, the former top Vatican liturgist said that the liturgy must always be celebrated with reverence and careful respect for the rubrics. He said with regret that in the wake of Vatican II "it was believed that everything, or nearly, was permitted." Cardinal Noe said: "Now it is necessary to recover-- and in a hurry-- the sense of the sacred in the ars celebrandi, before the smoke of Satan completely pervades the whole Church."