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Although it was not his last day on the Chair of Peter, Pope Benedict received the best farewell we could have given him during his last general audience, yesterday morning. And, in turn, it was the best sendoff he could have given us.

general audience, st. peter's square

Secular media reluctantly reported “several thousand” faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square, but the official numbers were 150,000, which does not include the pilgrims who were forced to remain in the surrounding streets. In total, the number of faithful who wanted a last glimpse of the Holy Father may have been as high as 400,000.

I watched the audience via a livestream provided by SQPN, with live commentary by Fr. Roderick (recording available here). Nobody really knew what to expect until the audience had gotten underway. The Pope’s extra long tour across the square was no surprise, but as he had taken his place on the platform in front of the facade of the basilica, his very personal reflection did take many by surprise. Rather than a reflection on a Gospel passage or theological topic, Pope Benedict took the opportunity to express his gratitude: to God, the cardinals and the entire Curia, all of those working behind the scenes, the Diocese of Rome, and the entire people of God. Several times, he expressed his desire to remember in prayer everyone he ever encountered. A very touching passage, I found, was how people would write to the Holy Father:

“It’s true that I receive letters from the world’s greatest figures – from the Heads of State, religious leaders, representatives of the world of culture and so on. I also receive many letters from ordinary people who write to me simply from their heart and let me feel their affection, which is born of our being together in Christ Jesus, in the Church. These people do not write me as one might write, for example, to a prince or a great figure one does not know. They write as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, with the sense of very affectionate family ties. Here, one can touch what the Church is – not an organization, not an association for religious or humanitarian purposes, but a living body, a community of brothers and sisters in the Body of Jesus Christ, who unites us all. To experience the Church in this way and almost be able to touch with one’s hands the power of His truth and His love, is a source of joy, in a time in which many speak of its decline.”

Although today we will get our last glimpse of the man who has been our spiritual father for almost eight years, he is not leaving us, he said yesterday:

“The “always” is also a “forever” – there is no returning to private life. My decision to forgo the exercise of active ministry, does not revoke this. I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences and so on. I do not abandon the cross, but remain in a new way near to the Crucified Lord. I no longer wield the power of the office for the government of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, within St. Peter’s bounds. St. Benedict, whose name I bear as Pope, shall be a great example in this for me. He showed us the way to a life which, active or passive, belongs wholly to the work of God.”

Today, we are saying our final goodbyes, but it really isn’t a farewell. Although we may not see or even be aware of it, in the gardens of Vatican City there will be a loving heart, continuously praying for all of us.

Tomorrow, the frenzy of conclave preparation gets underway, but today, let’s remember, let’s say our goodbyes and let’s pray.

general audience

Because of a lack of words on the blog today, here are some photos of the last days, a period of farewell and gratitude:

benedict ash wednesday

Shaking hands with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, after the latter had given an emotional thank you message on behalf of the Curia.

benedict ash wednesday

And so, the last public liturgy of Pope Benedict XVI ends, as he is helped off the steps of the sanctuary on Ash Wednesday.

benedict vallini

Cardinal Agostino Vallini welcomes the Pope, father and teacher.

benedict vallini

Professor Pope. Benedict in his element, speaking to the priests of Rome about the Second Vatican Council, spontaneously and without prepared notes.

benedictIn a third press briefing in as many days, Fr. Federico Lombardi shared the schedule of Pope Benedict’s final days as Pope. As indicated earlier it is nothing out of the ordinary (if you can call such a busy schedule normal for a man of almost 86…) and befitting the personality of the Holy Father. His decision to abdicate, momentous as it is, is also an exercise in humility.  And, if anything, Pope Benedict is a humble man, never working for himself, never seeking the spotlight. Reflecting this, Fr. Dwight Longenecker has a lovely anecdote:

“I met Joseph Ratzinger once on a visit to Rome. I was walking across St Peter’s Square when I noticed the famous figure of the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith heading across the square wearing a cassock, overcoat and simple black beret. I smiled and bid him good morning. He smiled back politely and nodded and went on his way to the office. He always did seem better behind the scenes.

His farewell this week was rather like my meeting with him. A simple man walking across the public square of history–happy to be headed to the privacy of his study–where he has some work to do.”

Anyway, on to the schedule:

ash wednesday st. peter's squareWednesday 13 February, Ash Wednesday: In his last public liturgical celebration, Pope Benedict XVI will offer Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. Thousands of people are already queueing on St. Peter’s Square to attend this Mass, as pictured at right.

Thursday 14 February: The Holy Father will meet with priests of the Diocese of Rome.

Friday 15 February: A meeting with President Traian Basescu of Romania, followed by a group of Italian bishops on their ad limina visit.

Saturday 16 February: Meetings with President Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala, a group of Italian bishops on their ad limina visit, and Prime Minister Mario Monti of Italy.

Sunday 17 February: Pope Benedict will pray the Angelus with faithful in St. Peter’s Square, and in the evening he and members of the Curia will start their Lenten retreat. Cardinal Ravasi will lead this retreat, and no activities are planned until the 24th.

Sunday 24 February: Pope Benedict will pray the Angelus with faithful in St. Peter’s Square.

Monday 25 February: A meeting with several cardinals.

Wednesday 27 February: Pope Benedict will hold his final general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

Thursday 28 February: Following a farewell address to the College of Cardinals, a helicopter will take the Pope to Castel Gandolfo at 5pm. At 8 o’clock in the evening, the See of Peter falls vacant.

Photo credit: [1] l’Osservatore Romano, [2] Catholic News Service

Now that we have gotten somewhat used to yesterday’s news, and all speculation has, well, not died down, but channeled into a few set directions, here’s a look at the major players in the coming sede vacante period.

  • The Apostolic Penitentiary, concerned with questions of conscience from the faithful and the pressing matters related to it, will continue to function during the sede vacante. Cardinal Manuel Monteiro de Castro, who leads the office, will remain in office likewise.
  • Cardinal_Tarcisio_Bertone_CNA_Vatican_Catholic_News_3_15_12Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (pictured) will remain on as Camerlengo. He will head the management of the goods and finances of the Holy See. He will also chair the daily meetings of the College of Cardinals for the daily affairs of the Church. Upon the election of the new pope, he will accompany him to the papal apartments and hand him the keys. Cardinal Bertone will also declare the result of every ballot during the conclave. Upon his invitation, the cardinals will meet for discussion and reflection when needed. The vice-chamberlain, Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata, will work with him outside the conclave.
  • The cleric prelates of the Apostolic Chamber will assist the Camerlengo. They are Msgr. Assunto Scotti, Msgr. Luigi Cerchiaro, Msgr. Paolo Luca Braida (Italians all), Msgr. Philip James Whitmore (British), Msgr. Winfried König (German), Msgr. Osvaldo Neves de Almeida (Argentinian) and Msgr. Krzysztof Józef Nykiel (Polish).
  • valliniDuring the sede vacante, the archpriests of the papal basilicas will take over the Pope’s liturgical duties. They are Cardinal Agostino Vallini (pictured) for St. John Lateran, Cardinal Angelo Comastri for St. Peter’s, Cardinal James Harvey for St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls and Cardinal Santos Abril y Castelló for St. Mary Major.
  • Also involved in the papal liturgies during the sede vacante are the Master of Ceremonies, Msgr. Guido Marini, and the Almoner of His Holiness, Archbishop Guido Pozzo.
  • The pastoral care of the Diocese of Rome will be the responsibility of the Vicars-General: Cardinal Agostino Vallini. for Rome and Cardinal Angelo Comastri for the Vatican City State.
  • After the cardinals have entered the Sistine Chapel for the conclave, and after they have all taken the oath, Msgr. Guido Marini will call “Extra omnes!”. He will distribute the ballot papers to the cardinals and then leave the chapel..
  • Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, in place of the Cardinal-Dean (Cardinal Sodano is 85 and therefore too old to take part in the conclave), will announce the start of the first ballot after any remaining questions have been answered. Cardinal Re will also ask the newly elected Pope if he accepts his election. If Cardinal Re himself is elected, that task falls to Cardinal Bertone.
  • James+Harvey+Pope+benedict+XVI+Celebrates+tV38ct1drMglCardinal James Harvey (pictured), as the junior Cardinal-Deacon, will lock the doors of the Sistine Chapel before the first ballot. He will be responsible for who enters and leaves during the voting: assistants to those cardinals who may be too ill to be in the Sistine Chapel can leave and return to collect those cardinals’ ballots.
  • Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, as the College of Cardinals’ Protodeacon (the most senior Cardinal-Deacon) will have the honour to announce the “habemus papam” to the masses on St. Peter’s Square.

The Curia of the Church will in many ways cease to function once the Pope has abdicated. Only some pressing matters may be handled by the College of Cardinals, but she is not allowed to do anything that is normally under a Pope’s  authority.

Two days ago, as his Lenten retreat had just wrapped up, Pope Benedict XVI visited the Roman parish of San Giovanni Battista de La Salle. He celebrated Mass there and afterwards met with the faithful of the parish, which is part of the pope’s own diocese. The children had been getting creative in the run-up towards the Holy Father’s visit, as the photo below shows…

Just something light-hearted to close the day.

Photo credit: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

A painting of Pope John Paul II in Krakow, on the sixth anniversary of his death, 2 April 2011.

“O God, who are rich in mercy and who willed that the Blessed John Paul II should preside as pope over your universal church, grant, we pray, that instructed by his teaching, we may open our hearts to the saving grace of Christ, the sole redeemer of mankind. Who lives and reigns.”

This is the text of the opening prayer of Mass on the feast day of Blessed John Paul II, which the Vatican announced will be on 22 October. That date marks the liturgical inauguration of his papacy in 1978. Together with this announcement, a set of regulations was published for the celebration of the soon-to-be blessed’s feast day. As is the case for any beatified person’s feast, the celebrations are authorised on a local level, usually in the places where the person in question lived and worked. In this case, these places are the Diocese of Rome and the whole of Poland. In other places in the world, special permission needs to be obtained to insert the feast day into the liturgical calendar. The same goes for naming new parishes and churches after Pope John Paul II; that is for now only authorised in Rome and Poland. If and when someone is canonised and recognised as a saint, these limitations are lifted.

One standard rule regarding the feast days of the beatified will not apply in this case: thanksgiving Masses may be celebrated worldwide within a year after John Paul’s beatification, so no later than 1 May 2012, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments has said.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Michal Lepecki/Agencja Gazeta

Rome Reports, er… reports that Pope Benedict XVI has formed a commission to look into the alleged apparitions of the Blessed Virgin at Medjugorje. The formation of such a commission had been rumoured recently, but it now seems that concrete steps are being taken.   

Cardinal Ruini

The commission will be presided over by Camillo Cardinal Ruini, vicar general emeritus of the Diocese of Rome, and will be part of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The goal of the commission is simply to find out what exactly happened at Medjugorje, if it still continues to happen and to remove the doubts that still linger.  

At the moment, the Church has not issued any official statements about Medjugorje. That means that people are free to go there on pilgrimage, but that the Church will not support it as a pilgrimage site. It is, after all, unclear if it really us one. Local bishop Ratko Peric has spoken regularly against the supernatural origin of the Medjugorje phenomenon.

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I am a Dutch Catholic from the north of the Netherlands. In this blog I wish to provide accurate information on current affairs in the Church and the relation with society. It is important for Catholics to have knowledge about their own faith and Church, especially since these are frequently misrepresented in many places. My blog has two directions, although I use only English in my writings: on the one hand, I want to inform Dutch faithful - hence the presence of a page with Dutch translations of texts which I consider interesting or important -, and on the other hand, I want to inform the wider world of what is going on in the Church in the Netherlands.

It is sometimes tempting to be too negative about such topics. I don't want to do that: my approach is an inherently positive one, and loyal to the Magisterium of the Church. In many quarters this is an unfamiliar idea: criticism is often the standard approach to the Church, her bishops and priests and other representatives. I will be critical when that is warranted, but it is not my standard approach.

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Sancta Maria, hortus conclusus, ora pro nobis!

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Pope Francis

Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Province of Rome, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of God

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Bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden

Willem Cardinal Eijk

Cardinal-Priest of San Callisto, Metropolitan Archbishop of Utrecht

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