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Vatican

Exhibit offers peek inside Vaticanís 'splendors'

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PITTSBURGH -- The entrance to the Vatican Splendors exhibit evokes a part of St. Peter’s Basilica that few tourists ever see: the archaeological excavation beneath the altar, where the modest grave of St. Peter lies amid elaborate first-century pagan mausoleums.

The choice of beginning with the grave of Peter, the first pope, reflects organizers’ hopes that the visit be a spiritual as well as aesthetic experience.

“In a certain sense, Jesus Christ will walk with us through the exhibition. The other person who will walk with us is St. Peter,” said Msgr. Roberto Zagnoli, the curator and director of the ethnological department of the Vatican Museums.

Nearly 300 artworks and artifacts of the Vatican Splendors exhibit will be on display here until Jan. 9, when it will move and reopen Jan. 29 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., before returning to the Vatican.

Ticket and tour information for both venues is at http://www.vaticansplendors.com.

Acrimony with Israel clouds close of Middle East Synod

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In some ways, the surprise of the Oct. 10-24 Synod of Bishops for the Middle East may not be that it ended amid acrimony involving Israel, the Vatican, and the mostly Arab bishops of the region. Instead, the surprise may be that it took so long to happen.

As the synod wrapped up on Sunday, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon complained that it had turned into “a forum for political attacks on Israel, in the best history of Arab propaganda.”

Ayalon specifically objected to a comment made at the synod’s closing press conference on Saturday by Greek Melkite Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros, who’s actually based in Newton, Massachusetts.

Bustros was commenting on a line in the synod's final message, which rejected use of the Bible to justify injustice.

“We Christians cannot speak of the ‘promised land’ as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people,” Bustros said. “This promise was nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen people – all men and women of all countries have become the chosen people.”

On cardinals, consistories and 'Caritas in Veritate'

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If there’s one thing even the most religiously illiterate person tends to get about the Catholic church, it’s the difference between a cardinal and everybody else. Cardinals matter: they set a leadership tone, and, of course, they elect the next pope.

The news this week that Benedict XVI has named 24 new cardinals, including 20 who are under 80 and hence eligible to vote in a conclave, merits a few reflections. (My news story on the appointments, including the full list of names, can be found here: Wuerl and Burke among 24 new cardinals).

First, it would not seem that Benedict XVI has stacked the deck in any ideological sense. While there are no real liberals in this crop (not by the standards of secular politics, or for that matter in ecclesiastical terms), neither is the Nov. 20 consistory stuffed with arch-conservatives. In general, there’s a rough balance between traditionalists and pragmatists. The American appointments offer an example, with both the uncompromising Archbishop Raymond Burke and the centrist Archbishop Donald Wuerl.

Thumbnail bios of new cardinals -- part 3

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VATICAN CITY -- Following are thumbnail bios of some of the 24 new cardinals announced by Pope Benedict XVI Oct. 20 at the Vatican:

Cardinal-designate Elio Sgreccia

Cardinal-designate Elio Sgreccia, 82, an Italian bishop, is a bioethics expert who served as president of the Pontifical Academy for Life from 2005 to 2008. During that time he articulated, with Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican position on many thorny issues such as embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia, the definition of brain death, abortion, in vitro fertilization.

Elio Sgreccia was born in Arcevia, Italy. He was ordained June 29, 1952, and served as rector of the local seminary. Pope John Paul II consecrated him a bishop Jan. 6, 1993.

Cardinal-designate Sgreccia served as secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family before Pope John Paul named him as head of the academy for life Jan. 3, 2005. John Paul died just three months later; the cardinal-designate led the academy under Pope Benedict until he retired in 2008.

Catholics, Orthodox agree: Pope is sticking point

Visit a Roman Catholic and an Eastern Orthodox liturgy, and the differences are stark: Catholic statues vs. Orthodox icons, celibate vs. married priests, communion wafers vs. hunks of bread.

Pay closer attention, and other distinctions become apparent, including how each side makes the sign of the cross, when they celebrate Easter and how they refer to the Holy Spirit.

In the nearly 1,000 years since Christianity split into East and West, the two sides have grown farther and farther apart. Yet basic compromises -- or simply agreeing to disagree -- could resolve most issues, according to representatives from both sides who recently met at Georgetown University.

The trouble, it turns out, is the pope.

After a recent meeting of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, two dozen participants from both sides issued a statement aimed at guiding the churches back to their shared roots. Members could imagine a reunited church with a new calendar and old prayers, but “the central problem is the role of the pope,” said Paulist Fr. Ronald G. Roberson, associate director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ ecumenical office.

Pope to seminarians: abuse crisis can't discredit priesthood

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VATICAN CITY -- In a letter to the world's seminarians, Pope Benedict XVI said that in the face of widespread religious indifference and the recent moral failings of clergy, the world needs priests and pastors who can serve God and bring God to others.

The pope encouraged seminarians to overcome any doubts about the value of the priesthood and priestly celibacy that may have been prompted by priests who "disfigured" their ministry by sexually abusing children. He said that "even the most reprehensible abuse cannot discredit the priestly mission."

Repeated calls for common Christian Easter date

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VATICAN CITY -- At a synod concerned primarily about peace and the continued presence of Christians in the Holy Land, one of the suggestions made repeatedly was that Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans and Orthodox finally celebrate Easter together each year.

"We truly hope for the unification of the Easter holiday with the Orthodox churches," Latin-rite Auxiliary Bishop William H. Shomali of Jerusalem told the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East Oct. 14.

Read NCR's full coverage of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East: Index of stories from the Synod.

Beyond a 'tea and cookies' dialogue with Islam

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ROME -- Given the setting of the Middle East, Christians are compelled to pursue dialogue with the vast Muslim majority; in fact, it would be virtually impossible to avoid.

Several participants at the Oct. 10-24 Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, however, seem eager to push that dialogue beyond a “tea and cookies” stage, where the point is merely being polite to one another, into blunt talk about religious freedom, democracy, and what one speaker described as “satanic plans by fundamental extremist groups” to extinguish Christianity in the region.

While it’s not clear what real impact either the local churches of the Middle East or Catholicism generally can have on those fronts, there appears to be a strong feeling in the synod that it’s time to lay things on the line.

One such call came from Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros, a Greek-Melkite prelate in the United States.

Read the full report here: Beyond a 'tea and cookies' dialogue with Islam

Muslim scholars say Mideast needs Christians

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VATICAN CITY -- Two Muslim scholars, a Sunni and a Shiite, told the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East that Islam promotes respect for Christians and Jews and that the entire Middle East will suffer if Christians vanish from the region.

Read NCR's full coverage of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East: Index of stories from the Synod.

Cry from Middle East synod: 'Power to the Patriarchs!'

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ROME -- Ferment around defending the heritage and prerogatives of the Eastern Catholic churches continues to swirl at the Oct. 10-24 Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, as yesterday a Lebanese prelate proposed launching a Vatican commission to study ways of revitalizing the office of Patriarch.

In broad strokes, Eastern bishops typically have two reasons for wanting to emphasize the role of the patriarchs. Internally, it’s an argument for greater collegiality, or shared decision-making, in Catholicism, as a corrective to what is perceived as excessive papal power; externally, it’s a way of giving the patriarch a higher international profile as a way of insulating their flocks in the Middle East against possible pressures and attacks.

Auxiliary Bishop Guy-Paul Noujaim pointed to Pope John Paul II’s invitation to study new ways of exercising the primacy of the pope, “inspired by the ecclesical forms of the first millennium.”

The office of patriarch became a pillar of Christianity’s structure during it first 1,000 years, but Noujaim suggested that the traditional “privileges” of the patriarchs went into decline during the second millennium.

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