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The announcement yesterday that Pope Francis will not be moving to the Apostolic Palace “for now”, but will remain living in the suite at the Domus Sanctae Marthae where he moved immediately to following his election has been presented as quite a break with tradition. And in a way it is, but a cursory glance at the history of the papacy reveals it’s not that big a deal as some would have us think.
The Apostolic Palace is located to the right of the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica and includes the Papal Apartments at the top right corner. Popes have been using the Palace as their official residence since the 17th century, although they didn’t actually live there at the time. Their residence was the Quirinal Palace, which now lies outside the borders of Vatican City and is the home of the President of Italy. The Papal Apartments were used the official residence of the Popes in their capacity as Supreme Pontiff. The Quirinal Palace served the same purpose for their role as temporal ruler of the Papal States.
The Papal States were conquered by the Italian unification armies in the 1870s and Blessed Pope Pius IX became a “prisoner in the Vatican”. The Apostolic Palace was the only part of the Papal States not occupied by the Italians.
So the Apostolic Palace has only served as the fulltime residence of the Popes since 1870. That’s not a long time in the entire history of the Church. But to say that the Popes did not live in some form of (relative) luxury before 1870 is not true. There was the Quirinal Palace, and before that several residences attached to basilicas in Rome and the Lateran Palace, going back to the 4th century. And Pope Francis, in refusing to move to the Apostolic Palace, hardly makes a choice for poverty. The Domus Sanctae Marthae is a very adequate personal residence, although it admittedly has a far smaller surface area than the Papal Apartments.
In his current residence, Pope Francis has the use of a sitting room, a study (pictured), a bedroom and a private bathroom. There are also a shared dining room and four chapels. Comparing that to the Papal Apartments: that features a chapel, an office for the Pope and one for his secretaries, a bedroom, a dining room, a kitchen and rooms for two secretaries and the household staff. Most of these spaces will continue to see use, as Pope Francis will pray the Angelus from one of its windows and receive guests in the building’s library. Undoubtedly, the secretaries’ office will also continue to be used.
Pope Francis’ choice not to relocate to the other side of St. Peter’s Square effectively allows him some more freedom and keeps him in touch with the people working at the Vatican, something he greatly values.
Crowds spilling out of St. Peter’s Square, and a grateful Pope who didn’t do much different for his last public Angelus prayer. Speaking about today’s Gospel reading about the Lord’s Transfiguration on the mountain, he briefly spoke about his own future, which he clearly considers a new calling:
“Dear brothers and sisters, I feel that this Word of God is particularly directed at me, at this point in my life. The Lord is calling me to “climb the mountain”, to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church, indeed, if God is asking me to do this it is so that I can continue to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done thus far, but in a way that is better suited to my age and my strength. Let us invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary: may she always help us all to follow the Lord Jesus in prayer and works of charity.”
A week from today, on 14 September, Pope Benedict XVI will depart on what is, in some ways, one of the most risky apostolic journeys of his papacy. He will be returning to the Middle East for the fourth time – after Turkey (2006), Jordan, Israel and Palestine (2009) and Cyprus (2010) – and this time the ever-looming spectre of local tensions is very concrete in the form of the civil war raging in next-door Syria. And with Lebanon’s recent history firmly tied up with that of Syria, the papal journey has been in limbo until recently.
Lebanon is the most Christian country in the Middle East, with almost 40% of the population belonging to several Christian churches, with the Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch being the largest of these. Other Churches in union with Rome that have a significant presence in Lebanon are the Greek Melkites, the Armenian, the Chaldean, the Syrian and the Roman Catholic Church. All these Churches have their own circumscriptions, which makes for an intricate landscape of dioceses, patriarchates and vicariates. There are 33 active bishops and patriarchs in the country, headed by the Patriarchs Béchara Pierre Raï (Maronite), Nersès Bédros XIX Tarmouni (Armenian) and Ignace Youssif III Younan (Syrian). Also of note are Lebanon’s only cardinal, Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir (Maronite emeritus) and Ignace Pierre VIII Abdel-Ahad (Syrian emeritus).
The upcoming papal visit will be a three-day affair, with major events careful spaced over the available time. On 14 September, the Holy Father will obviously be welcomed in Beirut, and he will sign the Post-Synodal Exhortation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops (which he himself kicked off during his visit to Cyprus two years ago). On 15 September, Pope Benedict will meet with representatives of the government, diplomats, religious leaders (always interesting in a country with a strong Muslim presence) and the world of culture. He’ll also meet with young people, another staple of papal visits abroad, at the Maronite Patriarchate in Bkerké. The last day, 16 September, will see a public Mass and the presentation of the Post-Synodal Exhortation, as well as the recitation of the Angelus and the departure ceremony.
A fairly short visit, but an important one, as its impact will not be limited to Lebanon. Countries like Syria and Iraq, which also have fairly significant Christian minorities, are no doubt also a focal point of this visit.
In the meantime, let’s pray for safety for the Holy Father during his journey to a place where tensions run high, and for a fruitful apostolic journey, for Christians in Lebanon and abroad.
I don’t know about the custom in other parishes and churches, but I find that homilies often focus on the first reading and the Gospel reading, but tend to skip over the second one. Not to say that the first reading, usually from the Old Testament, or the Gospel reading are not worth spending many thoughts and words on, but the second reading, often from one of the letter of St. Paul, is also usually a rich treasure of devotion and knowledge of our faith. Take yesterday’s second reading for example, from the Letter to the Ephesians (1:3-14):
“Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ. Thus he chose us in Christ before the world was made to be holy and faultless before him in love, marking us out for himself beforehand, to be adopted sons, through Jesus Christ. Such was his purpose and good pleasure, to the praise of the glory of his grace, his free gift to us in the Beloved, in whom, through his blood, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins. Such is the richness of the grace which he has showered on us in all wisdom and insight.
He has let us know the mystery of his purpose, according to his good pleasure which he determined beforehand in Christ, for him to act upon when the times had run their course: that he would bring everything together under Christ, as head, everything in the heavens and everything on earth. And it is in him that we have received our heritage, marked out beforehand as we were, under the plan of the One who guides all things as he decides by his own will, chosen to be, for the praise of his glory, the people who would put their hopes in Christ before he came.
Now you too, in him, have heard the message of the truth and the gospel of your salvation, and having put your trust in it you have been stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit of the Promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance, for the freedom of the people whom God has taken for his own, for the praise of his glory.
Such an intricate text, which constantly doubles back in on itself, qualifying what came before, setting up what comes next. Saint Paul is surely not always an easy read, but one very much worth reading and reflecting upon. It’s food for thought, and an inspiration that invites to delve ever deeper into our own relationship with God, to understand it, and Him, and ultimately ourselves as well. Faith, a relationship with God and living life accordingly, is not simplistic or backward. On the contrary, it is challenging and progressive. Just as the Holy Father said at yesterday’s Angelus, “[T]he work of Christ and the Church never regresses, but always progresses”, so our faith life always progresses, propelling us forward towards the ultimate realisation of who we truly are, “adopted sons, through Jesus Christ”.
Art credit: “St. Paul reading and writing,” attributed to Guercino.
With the first half of the ongoing apostolic journey to Mexico and Cuba virtually behind us, it is time to take a look at some of the things that Pope Benedict XVI said to the faithful of Mexico, Latin America and the entire world, as the Church and the faith she teaches is never limited to geographical borders. Later today, the Holy Father will arrive in Cuba, and once that visit is wrapped up on Wednesday, we’ll take a look at the speeches and homilies given on the largest Caribbean island.
Pilgrim of faith, hope and love
“I come as a pilgrim of faith, of hope, and of love. I wish to confirm those who believe in Christ in their faith, by strengthening and encouraging them to revitalize their faith by listening to the Word of God, celebrating the sacraments and living coherently. In this way, they will be able to share their faith with others as missionaries to their brothers and sisters and to act as a leaven in society, contributing to a respectful and peaceful coexistence based on the incomparable dignity of every human being, created by God, which no one has the right to forget or disregard. This dignity is expressed especially in the fundamental right to freedom of religion, in its full meaning and integrity” [Welcoming ceremony, Guanajuato, 23 March].
“Confidence in God offers the certainty of meeting him, of receiving his grace; the believer’s hope is based on this. And, aware of this, we strive to transform the present structures and events which are less than satisfactory and seem immovable or insurmountable, while also helping those who do not see meaning or a future in life” [idem].
An instrument of good
“The disciple of Jesus does not respond to evil with evil, but is always an instrument of good instead, a herald of pardon, a bearer of happiness, a servant of unity. He wishes to write in each of your lives a story of friendship. Hold on to him, then, as the best of friends. He will never tire of speaking to those who always love and who do good. This you will hear, if you strive in each moment to be with him who will help you in more difficult situations” [Meeting with young people, Guanajuato, 24 March].
A new heart
“The history of Israel relates some great events and battles, but when faced with its more authentic existence, its decisive destiny, its salvation, it places its hope not in its own efforts, but in God who can create a new heart, not insensitive or proud. This should remind each one of us and our peoples that, when addressing the deeper dimension of personal and community life, human strategies will not suffice to save us. We must have recourse to the One who alone can give life in its fullness, because he is the essence of life and its author; he has made us sharers in the same through his Son Jesus Christ” [Homily at Expo Bicenternario Park, Léon, 25 March].
Devotion to Mary
“Dear brothers and sisters, do not forget that true devotion to the Virgin Mary always takes us to Jesus, and “consists neither in sterile nor transitory feelings, nor in an empty credulity, but proceeds from true faith, by which we are led to recognize the excellence of the Mother of God, and we are moved to filial love towards our Mother and to the imitation of her virtues” (Lumen Gentium, 67). To love her means being committed to listening to her Son, to venerate the Guadalupana means living in accordance with the words of the blessed fruit of her womb” [Angelus, Léon, 25 March].
“Human evil and ignorance simply cannot thwart the divine plan of salvation and redemption. Evil is simply incapable of that … There is no reason, then, to give in to the despotism of evil. Let us instead ask the risen Lord to manifest his power in our weakness and need” [Vespers, Léon, 25 March].
 Reuters/Claudia Daut
 Reuters/Osservatore Romano
 Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images
 Hector Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images
 Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images
“Mamma mia… They want to stay in the pope’s house.”
Well, Holy Father, I don’t blame them.
It’s been a bit of a rough day for this blogger, so let’s close it off with something lighthearted, like the pope releasing two white doves at today’s Angelus.
Tip of the hat to Atonement Online, where I found the video.
And so the rumour mill sputters to life this Epiphany morning. At the month of this writing, Pope Benedict XVI is offering the consecration Mass of two new archbishops who will be sent out as Papal Nuncios (among them the new Nuncio to Ireland), but if those in the know (such as the usually well-informed Andrea Tornielli and Rocco Palmo) are right, the Holy Father will announce the names of some 15 new cardinals during noon’s Angelus. An expected date of 19 February for a consistory has long been taken as fact, but the announcement was not expected until almost two weeks from now.
Among the rumoured names are a number of curial prelates and archbishop ordinaries who were also on the list for the previous consistories of November 2010. One of these is our own Archbishop Wim Eijk. There are currently no Dutch cardinal electors, so based on that alone his elevation seems a matter of time. Still, we’ll know more at noon. I guess there will be much to blog about.
In the meantime, let’s not forget the reason for the day of Epiphany: God revealed His incarnation to the world, showing us all the path we must go to our salvation. May the new cardinals help steer the ship of the Church on that narrow and often stormy path.
I haven’t paid much, if any, attention on the blog to today’s interreligious meeting at Assisi, hosted by the pope. The main reason is that I am somewhat taken aback by the onslaught of negative comments about this meeting, even after the program and the intentions have been made public. Even now, as the religious leaders are gathering in the town of Saint Francis, I read tweets warning of dark clouds gathering. And, I’m sorry top say, it’s mostly the ultra-orthodox among us who are so against the whole affair that they are seemingly unable to have some faith in the intelligence and intentions of our Holy Father. From the announcement of the meeting, given during the Angelus of 1 January:
“It will aim to commemorate the historical action desired by my Predecessor and to solemnly renew the commitment of believers of every religion to live their own religious faith as a service to the cause of peace. Those journeying to God cannot but transmit peace, those who are building peace cannot but draw close to God. I ask you, from this moment, to accompany this project with your prayers.”
Now, I do understand some of the concerns that people may have. The 1986 meeting at Assisi did see a mingling of religious traditions, which is at least inconsiderate and at worst a blasphemy. But that is a concern that the Holy Father shares! That is why, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he did not attend the 1986 meeting. But these concerns do not merit an all-out boycott of today’s meeting.
In the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions Nostra Aetate, the Church declared that:
“The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself (Cf. 2 Cor. 5:18-19).” 
Although they are different and contain less than the full truth, the Church nonetheless recognises that other religions and faiths can contain glimmers of that truth. God, after all, is not limited, and He can reveal Himself to all men of good will, regardless of nationality, affiliation or faith. This does not diminish the fact that He has given the Church as the way to His eternal love, but nor does it doom people who have been unable to come in contact with the Church to eternal damnation.
Other faiths and religions exist. That is a fact of life. All people, and believers especially so, are called to promote peace and justice in the world. What power, what enormous grace must a committed meeting to pray for that peace and strengthen one another in our commitment to it have!
So, no, I am not against Assisi. Its goal is a worthy one, and I have full confidence in our Holy Father that the mistakes of the past will not be repeated. That confidence is confirmed by the program of the meeting: there will gatherings of all kinds of religions, people of different faiths speaking to and with one another. There will be no denying, as mixing them up does, the uniqueness and identity of each faith or religion, least of the Catholic Christian faith.
Photo credit: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images