Pope Benedict XVI canonized five new saints and said their dedication to the Eucharist, the poor and the world of work made them models for today's Christians in an era of economic crisis.
By orienting their lives to Christ, the five men and women showed that "it is possible to lay the foundations for construction of a society open to justice and solidarity, overcoming that economic and cultural imbalance that continues to exist in a great part of our planet," the pope said.
The pope celebrated the canonization Mass in St. Peter's Square April 26, joined by tens of thousands of pilgrims who held up photos or drawings of the saints. Four of the new saints were Italian and one was Portuguese.
Dressed in bright gold vestments, the 82-year-old pontiff listened as biographies of the five were read aloud, and then pronounced the canonization formula, drawing applause from the crowd. Afterward, relics of the new saints were brought to the altar.
In his homily, the pope said the saints' life stories hold valuable lessons for modern Christians. Each of the newly canonized had a special devotion to the Eucharist, and each transformed that spiritual power into social action, he said.
The five new saints are:
-- St. Arcangelo Tadini, a parish priest from the northern Italian area of Brescia, who preached strongly in defense of workers' rights during the industrialization period of the late 1800s. He organized an association to help factory workers, established a spinning mill to give young girls of the area gainful employment, and eventually founded a religious order of sisters who worked alongside women in the factories.
Pope Benedict said his Gospel-inspired social activity was "prophetic" and is particularly relevant in the current economic crisis. He said the saint taught people that a deep personal relationship with Christ is the key to bringing Christian values into the workplace.
-- St. Bernardo Tolomei, who, inspired by his love for prayer and for manual labor, founded a unique Benedict ine monastic movement in Italy in the 14th century. Born in Siena, he was forced by an onset of blindness to give up a public career, and he decided to found a small hermitic community. He later founded the monastery of Santa Maria di Monte Oliveto Maggiore, and died in 1348 of the plague while helping victims of the disease; his burial place, in a common pit, has never been found.
The pope called him "an authentic martyr of charity" and said his service to others was an inspiration to all.
-- St. Nuno de Santa Maria Alvares Pereira, a Portuguese army hero in the late 1300s, who, after the death of his wife, abandoned his military career and gave up his wealth to enter a Carmelite monastery. In particular he helped the poor, distributing food to the needy. He was totally dedicated to Marian prayer, and fasted in Mary's honor three days of the week.
The pope said he was happy to canonize a person whose faith grew while in the military, a context generally viewed as unfavorable to holiness. It demonstrates that the values and principles of the Gospel can be realized in any situation, especially when they are employed for the common good, he said.
-- St. Geltrude Comensoli, born in the mid-19th century in the Brescia area, who established a religious institute dedicated to the adoration of the Eucharist. In approving the institute in 1880, Pope Leo XIII asked her to include as part of its mission the education of young female factory workers.
Pope Benedict said this connection of contemplative charity with "lived charity" was particularly important "in a society that is lost and often wounded like our own." He said the saint's life shows that adoration takes precedence over acts of charity, because "from love for Christ died and resurrected, and truly present in the Eucharist, comes that evangelical charity that pushes us to consider all men as brothers."
-- St. Caterina Volpicelli, who founded a community of sisters centered on Eucharistic adoration and service to the poor, especially young orphans, in the slums of Naples in the mid-1800s.
The pope said she correctly saw that in order to bring the Gospel to bear on society it was necessary to "liberate God from the prisons in which man has confined him."
Banners depicting the newly canonized were hung on the faOade of St. Peter's Basilica, and fluttered in the breeze during the two-hour liturgy. At the end of the Mass, the pope greeted pilgrims in several languages and said he hoped the new saints would inspire people to witness the Gospel courageously in their daily lives.
Amman, Jordan, April 26, 2009 - Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to the Middle East can serve as an opportunity to build hope among Arabs while broadening interreligious understanding, said Jordan's Prince El Hassan bin Talal.
Speaking with Catholic News Service, the prince said the May 8-11 papal visit "should not be seen as a passing, calming serene visit that is transient or just another visit to the region, but should rather focus in our minds that we can revive the heritage of trust and good faith" that Catholics and Muslims share.
"There is a sort of combination of hope, expectation and nostalgia for a golden age -- for a Camelot, if you will -- which I think invites Arabs to hope for a better future when such a visit takes place, as with many other visits the pope has made to other parts of the world," the prince told CNS.
Pope Benedict 's visit to Jordan will be part of an eight-day trek to the Middle East that includes several days in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The trip comes against the backdrop of wide separations along ethnic, sectarian and class lines among people in the region, as well as a rapidly mounting exodus of upper middle-class Palestinians because of violence and strict laws governing their movement. The outward migration is taking much-needed skills and talent from the region, Prince Hassan said.
The prince expressed a desire that people would begin to move from a position of "war against ... something" such as intolerance, racial hatred, anti-Semitism or fear of Islam to "a struggle for something."
"In that sense, I have the greatest hope that the visit of the pope, His Holiness, could be a major step in visualizing a struggle for a law of peace," Prince Hassan said.
He said he also would like to see the visit focus on the religious impact of culture. The prince said culture is not sustainable without recognizing its religious roots and how it influences the defense of peace, social justice, human rights and global concerns.
"My fear is that culture and religion remain an afterthought to security and the economy," he said. "Security is not worth the name if it's not built on human beings. Because it is human beings who are the prime movers of security or insecurity.
"Whatever label we carry -- Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist -- at the end of the day we are human beings."
Pope Benedict and Prince Hassan have met several times. The prince met then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who at the time was the Vatican's prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in 1993. The future pope gave the prince an edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church at that encounter.
"In subsequent conversations," Prince Hassan recalled, "we spoke of values, ethics and morals."
Both were among the co-founders in 1999 of the Geneva-based Foundation for Interreligious and Intercultural Research and Dialogue.
The prince -- who won the 2008 Niwano prize for religious contributions to peace -- has long been a leading proponent of interfaith dialogue. The 62-year-old brother of Jordan's late King Hussein is founder of the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies based in Amman and president emeritus of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, an international organization that promotes peace through cooperation and dialogue. He also has authored nine books, including "Christianity in the Arab World" and "To Be a Muslim: Islam, Peace and Democracy."
Prince Hassan's experience in interfaith affairs has helped him see the value of dialogue and understanding between people of different faiths. He said he hopes people of the Middle East will seek stronger understanding through the numerous areas in which faiths converge rather than resort to violence over their differences.
The prince called for "a law of peace" to replace "a law of war" in the world. He suggested that a "courageous step" for peace could be taken by the world's religious leaders if they would meet in Jerusalem.
"I think there is a feeling among the majority of people in this part of the world that the hatred industry is winning, and this causes a lot of discomfort and a lot of anxiety," Prince Hassan said. "The visit, such as that of His Holiness the pope, is reassuring.
"We have to believe in a compassionate God, a wise God. This is what I would hope that the compassionate and wise symbol of our times -- His Holiness the pope -- can bring to the region," he said.
NAZARETH, Israel, April 21, 2009 - With just over three weeks to go before Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to celebrate Mass in a new municipal amphitheater in Nazareth, bulldozers were working around the clock.
Nizar Muammar, a Catholic and one of the project architects, said April 20 that the site will be ready: It will include a stage, 7,000 permanent seats and more than 30,000 temporary chairs set up on what is becoming a terraced hillside.
The covered stage, which will serve as the platform for the altar with seating for 500 cardinals, bishops and priests, was still a hole with concrete forms and reinforced beams sticking up.
Muammar said there are three access roads to the site; there will be two big parking lots for pilgrim buses and seating for more than 40,000 people.
He said he was hoping Catholic officials would give final approval to his design for the stage, altar and papal throne.
With the roar of big machinery in the background, Muammar surveyed the site, pointed out what would go where, but he refused to reveal details about his design.
"Our motif was the story of the Annunciation and the town of Nazareth, the home of the Holy Family," he said.
He seemed to be joking when he said designers were working on getting an angel to appear, and he refused to say if the carpenters would leave their tools behind to evoke St. Joseph's trade.
The amphitheater project, funded by the city of Nazareth and the Israeli government, is creating "hundreds of jobs," he said. "We have a very tough schedule to meet, and are working around the clock."
Italy, April 20, 2009 - Pope Benedict XVI underlined the importance of a U.N.-sponsored international conference on racism and urged participants to take concrete steps to combat discrimination and intolerance around the world.
The conference, which opened in Geneva April 20, was being boycotted by the United States and several other Western countries because of fears that it would provide a platform to critics of Israel.
The pope, speaking at a noon blessing at his villa outside Rome April 19, said the conference was important because, despite the lessons of history, racist attitudes and actions are still present in contemporary society.
He encouraged participants to take "firm and concrete action, at the national and international levels, to prevent and eliminate every form of racism and intolerance." Above all, he said, a vast educational effort is needed so that human dignity and fundamental human rights are better understood and respected.
"For its part, the church teaches that only recognition of the dignity of man, created in the image and likeness of God, is able to constitute a sure reference point in this commitment," he said.
"I sincerely encourage all delegates present at the Geneva conference to work together in a spirit of mutual dialogue and acceptance in order to put an end to every form of racism, discrimination and intolerance," he said.
The Vatican sent a delegation to the Geneva conference, which was convened to examine the statement adopted in 2001 at the U.N.'s first conference on racism held in Durban, South Africa. The United States and Israel left the 2001 conference when some Arab representatives argued that Zionism was equivalent to racism.
Shortly after the pope's remarks, Germany became the latest country to announce it would not attend the Geneva conference, joining the United States, Israel, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada and Italy.
Critics of the conference were especially concerned that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called the Holocaust a myth, was scheduled to address the assembly in its opening session.
In a statement released April 18, the U.S. State Department said the text under consideration at the Geneva conference "singles out one particular conflict and prejudges key issues that can only be resolved in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians."
The statement said the United States also has serious concerns with relatively new additions to the text regarding "incitement" to religious hatred that run counter to the U.S. commitment to unfettered free speech. Unfortunately, the U.S. statement said, it appeared that those concerns would not be addressed at the Geneva conference.
Some Muslim countries have pressed for a ban on language considered insulting to Islam.
President Barack Obama said the United States would not participate because the Geneva conference risked a repeat of the Durban experience of 2001, when "folks expressed antagonism toward Israel in ways that were oftentimes completely hypocritical and counterproductive."
The text under consideration in Geneva has been revised in recent months, and the latest draft does not include references to Israel or Zionism.
Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said she was shocked and disappointed at the U.S. decision not to attend the conference. She said the boycott by several countries undercuts the global effort to fight racism and intolerance.
Vatican City, April 07, 2009 - Just hours after an earthquake hit the city and province of L'Aquila in central Italy, causing dozens of deaths and major damage to churches and other buildings, Pope Benedict XVI offered his prayers for the dead, their loved ones and rescue workers.
The quake struck April 6 at 3:30 a.m. local time and was felt strongly even in Rome, about 70 miles west of L'Aquila.
Among the victims was Abbess Gemma Antonucci, head of the Poor Clares' cloister of St. Clare in Paganica, outside L'Aquila.
Father Dionisio Rodriguez Cuartas, the pastor in Paganica and director of Caritas L'Aquila, said the roof of the Poor Clares convent caved in. As of midday April 6 rescue workers were still trying to free another of the nuns, he told SIR, the news agency of the Italian bishops' conference.
Italy's interior minister, Roberto Maroni, said at least 50 people died, including several children, throughout the region.
In a telegram to Archbishop Giuseppe Molinari of L'Aquila, the Vatican secretary of state said Pope Benedict had asked him to convey his "participation in the pain of the dear population struck by this tragic event."
"In assuring fervid prayers for the victims, particularly the children, His Holiness invokes the Lord to comfort the families, and while he addresses affectionate words of encouragement to the survivors and those involved in the rescue operations, he sends all a special apostolic blessing," Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone told the archbishop.