The Holy Father had announced on July 2 that he planned a series of weekly talks on St. Paul's life and teaching during the current Pauline year. But the Pope's regular cycle of weekly audiences was interrupted by his vacation and his trip to Australia for World Youth Day. Upon resuming his weekly sessions, the Pope devoted two audiences to other topics: on August 13 to the importance of prayer and on August 20 to the veneration of the saints. So his August 27 talk was only the second in the projected series.
The audience was also the first held at the Vatican in several weeks; on the two previous Wednesdays the Pontiff had met with the faithful in the courtyard of his summer residence. Today he traveled by helicopter from Castel Gandolfo to the Vatican, returning later in the day.
Explaining his plans to the crowd in the Paul VI auditorium, the Pope said that he would speak the following week about the pivotal event in St. Paul's life: his conversion on the road to Damascus. For now he offered an overview of the Apostle's life.
First the Pope explained that experts set the birth of St. Paul in the year 8 AD-- thus establishing this year as the 2000th anniversary-- because Saul was described as a young man at the time St. Stephen was slain, and as an old man when he was imprisoned in Rome.
Saul was born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia that was a provincial capital-- which, incidentally, was once ruled by Cicero, and later was the site of the first meeting between Marc Antony and Cleopatra.
Saul was a Jew who spoke Greek and a Roman citizen. Thus, the Pope remarked, he lived at the intersection of three important cultures. He was also a trained craftsman, who probably learned from his father to make tents.
At about the age of 12, young Saul left Tarsus for Jerusalem, to study in the strict tradition of the Pharisees. That study, the Pope observed, "instilled in him a great zeal for the Mosaic law," and caused him to view the followers of Christ as dangerous threats to Jewish orthodoxy and identity.
That intolerant attitude was changed completely along the road to Damascus, the Pope continued, and Paul became a tireless missionary for the Gospel. He undertook three great missionary journeys, which are described in the Acts of the Apostles, followed by his fourth trip as a prisoner to Rome.
Pope Benedict traced the route taken by Paul and his companions on those trips, as well as the key role that Paul played in the Council of Jerusalem. The Pope noted that while St. Luke reports that Paul spent two years in Rome under house arrest, the final events of the Apostle's life are not fully recorded. But apparently his appeal to the Emperor Nero was unsuccessful, and he died as a martyr. The Pontiff promised to speak about St. Paul's martyrdom, too, in a future Wednesday catechetical talk.
VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI warned that racism is alive in modern society, and he urged the church to help overcome all forms of racial intolerance.
He said racism today is often tied to economic and social problems. Although such problems may be real, they can never justify racial discrimination, he said Aug. 17.
While the pontiff did not mention specific countries, his words had an immediate echo in Italy, where a series of government actions against illegal immigrants have prompted strong debate inside and outside the church.
The pope, addressing pilgrims at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo outside Rome, began his remarks by quoting the prophet Isaiah about the "foreigners" who will be included in the Lord's universal house of prayer.
Likewise, the pope said, the church today is made up of people of every race and culture, and part of its mission is to help forge bonds of communion between races.
That task includes "helping civil society to overcome any possible temptation to racism, intolerance and exclusion," he said.
"One of humanity's great achievements is, in fact, overcoming racism," he said.
The pope said various countries had "new, worrisome signs of racism, often tied to social and economic problems," but such problems could "never justify racial contempt and discrimination."
The pope asked for prayers so that mutual acceptance may grow in the world.
In Italy, some Catholics have criticized the government's new crackdown on illegal immigration and other security measures, saying they are racially discriminatory.
Some of the strongest criticism came after the government, led by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, announced plans to fingerprint every Gypsy who lives in Italy. The Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana, Italy's top-selling newsweekly, said the plan was evidence of a "creeping racism."
In mid-August, Famiglia Cristiana stepped up its criticism of the Berlusconi government, saying in effect that officials were provoking a "war among the poor" instead of dealing with Italy's real criminal problems. The comments prompted an outcry.
On Aug. 14, the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said that while Famiglia Cristiana was an important Catholic magazine its views represented its own editorial line and not necessarily that of the Vatican or the Italian bishops.
Members of the political parties that form the governing coalition said the spokesman's statement represented a clear distancing of the Vatican from the magazine's criticism.
VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI has approved the beatification of Louis and Marie Zelie Guerin Martin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux.
The couple will be beatified Oct. 19, World Mission Sunday, during a Mass in the Basilica of St. Therese in Lisieux, France, the Vatican announced Aug. 19.
St. Therese and St. Francis Xavier are the patron saints of the missions.
The Vatican did not say who would preside at the Martins' beatification Mass.
With beatification, the diocese where the candidate lived or the religious order to which the person belonged is authorized to hold public commemorations on the person's feast day. With the declaration of sainthood, public liturgical celebrations are allowed around the world.
The Martins were declared venerable, one of the first steps in the sainthood process, in 1994. But despite the active encouragement of Pope John Paul II to move the cause forward, the miracle needed for their beatification was not approved by the Vatican until early July.
Louis lived 1823-1894 and his wife lived 1831-1877. They had nine children, five of whom joined religious orders.
Also Aug. 19, the Vatican announced four other beatification ceremonies:
-- Sister Vincenza Maria Poloni, founder of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy in Italy, will be beatified Sept. 21 in Verona, Italy.
-- Father Michael Sopocko, founder of the Sisters of Merciful Jesus and spiritual director of St. Faustina Kowalska, will be beatified Sept. 28 at the Church of Divine Mercy in Bialystok, Poland.
-- Father Francesco Pianzola, founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Queen of Peace, will be beatified Oct. 4 in Vigevano, Italy.
-- Father Francesco Giovanni Bonifacio, martyred in 1946 by Yugoslav communists, will be beatified Oct. 4 in Trieste, Italy.
Silvio Berlusconi's government was today engaged in a vigorous damage limitation exercise after Pope Benedict appeared to lend his immense moral authority to speculation that Italy was in danger of returning to fascism under the tycoon's hardline, rightwing leadership.
In his customary midday Sunday address, the pontiff expressed concern at "recent examples of racism" and reminded Catholics it was their duty to steer others in society away from "racism, intolerance and [the] exclusion [of others]".
On any other day, his remarks might have been seen as no more than a restatement of official Catholic doctrine. But they came instead in the midst of a furious dispute over an editorial published by Italy's bestselling Catholic weekly, Famiglia Cristiana.
In an editorial on Friday, condemning recent government moves against immigrants and Roma, the magazine said it was to be hoped fascism was not "resurfacing in our country under another guise". The jibe outraged Berlusconi's supporters, many of whom are themselves pious Catholics.
The leader of his parliamentary group in the upper house, Maurizio Gasparri, announced he would personally sue the priest who is Famiglia Cristiana's editor while the junior minister with responsibility for family affairs, Carlo Giovanardi, said the magazine was "possessed by ideological malice".
In an effort to calm the row, the Vatican's spokesman put out a statement stressing that Famiglia Cristiana was not authorised to speak on behalf of either the Holy See or the Italian bishops' conference - something which, as the magazine's editor noted, it had never anyway claimed to do.
Coming against this background, the pope's comments were interpreted by Berlusconi's critics as a signal that the Vatican was not climbing down or distancing itself from Famiglia Cristiana's interpretation.
Benedict cited in his address the story from Matthew's gospel of Jesus's encounter with a pagan woman and how he rose above his initial misgivings to perform a miracle for her daughter.
The pope said: "One of humanity's great conquests is indeed the overcoming of racism. Unfortunately, however, there are new and worrying examples of this in various countries, often linked to social and economic problems that nonetheless can never justify contempt or racial discrimination."
Berlusconi's family minister, Giovanardi, denied Benedict 's words were aimed at the government. "The pope has a global perspective", he said. "He wasn't talking about Italy."
Famiglia Cristiana's editor, Father Antonio Sciortino, agreed that the pope "was certainly speaking to the whole world". But he added: "And therefore also to Italy where, sorry to say, there are many signs of racism that trouble us and which cannot be hidden."
Urged on by his allies in the anti-immigrant Northern League, Berlusconi has ordered a crackdown on crime, and the illegal immigrants his government says is responsible for a disproportionate share of it.
Earlier this month, the Berlusconi government ordered troops onto the streets to combat an alleged crime wave it blames largely on illegal immigrants and Roma. Interior ministry figures show that more than a third of the arrests carried out by police last year were of non-Italians.
Illegal immigration has been made an offence; mayors have been given new security powers, and deportations have been stepped up.
So far, church leaders have been far more outspoken in their criticism of the government's policies than Italy's main, centre-left opposition party. Earlier this month, they succeeded in blocking an attempt by the mayor of Rome to pass a measure - seemingly aimed at Gypsies - that banned people from rummaging in garbage containers.
In June, Famiglia Cristiana said a government plan to take the fingerprints of Roma children was "indecent".
Pope Benedict XVI to Damascus to celebrate the year of St Paul, the apostle converted on the road to Damascus.
The grand mufti, a leader of Syria's 18 million Muslims, met with Italian journalists who were visiting Damascus as part of their own celebration of the Pauline year.
Vatican Radio reported on August 1 that the grand mufti said he hoped to meet Pope Benedict in Rome and he hoped the Pope would visit Damascus before the Pauline celebrations ended next June.
The Pope convoked the year-long celebration to mark the 2000th anniversary of St Paul's birth.
The Vatican nuncio in Syria Archbishop Giovanni Battista Morandini told the Italian reporters that the country's two million Christians – Orthodox and Catholics – had joined together to discuss St Paul's life, writings and witness.
The Vatican Radio report said Syria was not the only country that has extended a Pauline year invitation to the Pope; "other nations in the Middle East that saw the passage or presence of St Paul on their territory" have done likewise, Vatican Radio said, although it did not name the countries.
The Vatican has not confirmed any papal trips outside Italy after the Pope's September 12-15 trip to Paris and Lourdes, France.
However, in late July, Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone told an Italian Catholic newspaper that while decisions about papal travel for 2009 had not been finalised Africa was likely to be on the list.
"The Church in Africa deserves a trip by the Pope," Cardinal Bertone told the newspaper Avvenire.