Rome, Italy, Oct.03,2009 – On the eve of the Jewish New Year, which was celebrated on September 19 this year, Benedict XVI sent the chief rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, a telegram of good wishes and friendship. In it, he confirmed that he will soon visit the synagogue of Rome, "animated by the profound desire to manifest my personal closeness and that of the whole Catholic Church" to the Jewish community.
The synagogue in Rome will be the third one visited by Benedict XVI, after the synagogue in Cologne in August of 2005 and the Park East synagogue in New York, in April of 2008. Before him, John Paul II had visited the synagogue in Rome on April 13, 1986.
CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, Oct.02, 2009 - Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Benedict XVI have discussed anti-Christian violence in Pakistan, emphasizing the need to overcome discrimination.
The leader of the Islamic republic visited the Pope today in Castel Gandolfo.
A communiqué from the Vatican press office characterized the discussion as "cordial," saying it "provided an opportunity to examine the current situation in Pakistan, with particular reference to the fight against terrorism and the commitment to create a society more tolerant and harmonious in all its aspects."
"Evoking recent episodes of violence against Christian communities in some localities, and the elements that have favored such serious incidents, emphasis was given to the need to overcome all forms of discrimination based on religious affiliation, with the aim of promoting respect for the rights of all citizens."
Christians and Hindus combined make up only 5% of Pakistan's 176 million people.
A series of violent incidents in the last few months have resulted in the death of several Christians at the hands of Muslim fundamentalists.
In this regard, Christians are urging the repeal of an anti-blasphemy law, which they claim gives Muslims "an invisible sword."
These laws were at the heart of a conflict in September, for example, when a Muslim mother, enraged at her adolescent daughter's romance with a Christian, accused the young man of desecrating the Quran. The boy was arrested and executed in prison.
The anti-blasphemy regulation went into effect in 1986; it calls for life imprisonment or death for those who blaspheme Mohammed or desecrate the Quran. Most of those who have been prosecuted under the law are Muslims.
However, the World Council of Churches says the law keeps minorities living in a "state of fear and terror" since it is often invoked as a way to punish minorities in business disputes.
In 2000, then President Pervez Musharraf tried to reform the law but failed under the pressure of fundamentalist groups.
Zardari, in office for just over a year, has announced that his government would work against the abuse of the legislation and increase vigilance.
LES COMBES, Italy, Aug 1, 2009 - Pope Benedict XVI said the Vatican and Italian police who watched over him while he was on vacation in the Italian Alps were like "guardian angels, discreet and efficient."
But he was not quite so sure what his own guardian angel was up to.
"Unfortunately, my guardian angel -- certainly following orders from above -- did not prevent my accident," he said, referring to the fact that he tripped in the dark July 17 and broke his wrist.
Before leaving Les Combes to fly to the papal summer villa in Castel Gandolfo south of Rome July 29, the pope met with the police, firefighters and other officials who were involved in maintaining public order and security while he vacationed in northern Italy.
Still referring to his broken right wrist, the right-handed pope told them, "Perhaps the Lord wanted to teach me greater patience and humility, and give me more time for prayer and meditation."
The pope said he had spent the past 16 days immersed in a "heavenly peace," with the silence interrupted only by the songs of birds, rain falling on the grass and the wind blowing through the trees.
He told the dozens of security officers, "Angels are invisible, but efficient at the same time. And you were the same -- invisible, but efficient."
"I enjoyed a heavenly peace here. No disturbance could enter. But many good things -- both material and immaterial -- got in. Many cakes, cheeses, wines," he said.
Pope Benedict posed for a separate group photograph with each of the public security agencies responsible for patrolling the Salesian-owned chalet where he was staying and with the journalists who followed him to the Alps.
The pontiff, in a document issued "motu proprio" (on his own initiative), returned Father Tomislav Vlasic to the lay state and dispensed him from his religious vows as a member of the Order of Friars Minor.
Vlasic was confined to a Franciscan monastery in L'Aquila, Italy, in February 2008 after he refused to cooperate in a Vatican investigation of his activities for suspected heresy and schism.
He also was being investigated for "the diffusion of dubious doctrine, manipulation of consciences, suspected mysticism, disobedience towards legitimately issued orders and charges contra sextum (against the Sixth Commandment not to commit adultery)," as stated in the interdict signed by Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
According to the congregation, all the charges against Vlasic were "in the context of the Medjugorje phenomenon."
Vlasic was placed under an interdict threatening "severe cautionary and disciplinary measures" if he violated a range of prohibitions that included making any public appearances.
However, his laicization was the result of a request from Vlasic himself, according to a letter sent by Franciscan Father Jose Rodriguez Carballo, the order's minister general, to Franciscan provincials in the Adriatic region.
In the letter dated March 10 and made public July 24, Father Rodriguez said Vlasic was "responsible for conduct harmful to ecclesial communion both in the spheres of doctrine and discipline."
Pope Benedict has imposed conditions on Vlasic "under pain of excommunication ... and if necessary without prior canonical warning," among them the "absolute prohibition from exercising any form of apostolate," the letter said.
There is an "absolute prohibition from releasing declarations on religious matters, especially regarding the phenomenon of Medjugorje," and Vlasic is banned from residing in Franciscan houses, the letter said.
Father Rodriguez told the provincials to "instruct the guardians and superiors of friaries about full compliance, by Tomislav Vlasic, with the pontifical measures regarding him, in particular relative to the prohibition of residing in any houses belonging to the Order of Friars Minor, under pain of removal from office."
Father Rodriguez's letter was leaked to Marco Corvaglia, who posted it on his blog in the online version of La Stampa, an Italian newspaper.
Bishop Ratko Peric of Mostar-Duvno, the diocese in which Medjugorje is located, confirmed in a July 26 e-mail to Catholic News Service that the letter was authentic.
Vlasic was a central figure in the early days of the apparitions, which began in 1981 when Mirjana Dragicevic, Marija Pavlovic, Vicka Ivankovic, Ivan Dragicevic, Ivanka Ivankovic and Jakov Colo said they had seen Mary on a hillside near their town.
In 1984 Vlasic wrote to Pope John Paul II to say that he was the one "who through divine providence guides the seers of Medjugorje."
But retired Bishop Pavao Zanic of Mostar-Duvno did not believe the claims of the visionaries and accused Vlasic of creating the phenomenon.
Vlasic left Medjugorje in the mid-1980s to establish the Queen of Peace community in Parma, Italy, for both men and women after it was publicly revealed that he had fathered a child with a Franciscan nun and then tried to cover up their affair.
The visionaries say they are still seeing apparitions and that they have received more than 40,000 visits from Mary.
But three church commissions failed to find evidence to support the visionaries' claims and the bishops of the former Yugoslavia declared in 1991 that "it cannot be affirmed that these matters concern supernatural apparitions or revelations."
In 1985, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the doctrinal congregation and now Pope Benedict , banned official, diocesan or parish-sponsored pilgrimages to the shrine. However, individual Catholics are still free to visit and have a priest with them.
Cardinal Severino Poletto of Turin, papal custodian of the Shroud of Turin, visited the pope July 26 in Les Combes, Italy, where the pope was spending part of his vacation. The Alpine village is about 85 miles from Turin.
The cardinal gave the pope the latest news concerning preparations for next year's public exposition of the shroud and the pope "confirmed his intention to go to Turin for the occasion," said the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, in a written statement July 27.
The specific date of the papal visit has yet to be determined, the priest added.
The last time the Shroud of Turin was displayed to the public was in 2000 for the jubilee year. The shroud is removed from a specially designed protective case only for very special spiritual occasions, and its removal for study or display to the public must be approved by the pope.
The shroud underwent major cleaning and restoration in 2002.
According to tradition, the 14-foot-by-4-foot linen cloth is the burial shroud of Jesus. The shroud has a full-length photonegative image of a man, front and back, bearing signs of wounds that correspond to the Gospel accounts of the torture Jesus endured in his passion and death.
The church has never officially ruled on the shroud's authenticity, saying judgments about its age and origin belonged to scientific investigation. Scientists have debated its authenticity for decades, and studies have led to conflicting results.
A recent study by French scientist Thierry Castex has revealed that on the shroud are traces of words in Aramaic spelled with Hebrew letters.
She said that in 1978 a Latin professor in Milan noticed Aramaic writing on the shroud and in 1989 scholars discovered Hebrew characters that probably were portions of the phrase "The king of the Jews."
Castex's recent discovery of the word "found" with another word next to it, which still has to be deciphered, "together may mean 'because found' or 'we found,'" she said.
What is interesting, she said, is that it recalls a passage in the Gospel of St. Luke, "We found this man misleading our people," which was what several Jewish leaders told Pontius Pilate when they asked him to condemn Jesus.
She said it would not be unusual for something to be written on a burial cloth in order to indicate the identity of the deceased.
Frale, who is a researcher at the Vatican Secret Archives, has written a new book on the shroud and the Knights Templar, the medieval crusading order which, she says, may have held secret custody of the Shroud of Turin during the 13th and 14th centuries.
She told Vatican Radio that she has studied the writings on the shroud in an effort to find out if the Knights had written them.
"When I analyzed these writings, I saw that they had nothing to do with the Templars because they were written at least 1,000 years before the Order of the Temple was founded" in the 12th century, she said.