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French seminary trains for Orthodox resurgence

EPINAY-SOUS-SENART, France -- Inside a plain stone building that was once a Catholic convent in the center of town, a dozen black-robed seminarians struggle over French theological phrases.

The nuns are long gone, their Catholic crucifixes replaced by Russian icons and incense that form the trappings of a bold experiment: the Russian Orthodox Church's first seminary outside the former Soviet Union.

Officially launched in November, the small Paris-area school nurses big ambitions: to train a new generation of Orthodox priests capable of serving Russia's growing Diaspora. Even more, the school hopes to foster exchanges between Europe's Christian East and West; and, more specifically, help nurture warming ties between Moscow and the Vatican.

Papal secretary visits pope's Christmas attacker


VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI's personal secretary visited the woman responsible for knocking the pope down during a Christmas Eve Mass.

Msgr. Georg Ganswein, papal secretary, visited Susanna Maiolo at the psychiatric hospital in Subiaco, outside of Rome, where she was transferred Dec. 25.

The papal secretary made the private visit to Maiolo "to show her the Holy Father's interest in her situation," the papal spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said in a written statement Jan. 3.

Papal scare not really a shocker


Video images of Susanna Maiolo’s Christmas Eve lunge at Benedict XVI – her second in as many years, and by far the bolder attempt – certainly made for a striking bit of reality TV, Vatican-style. Yet for anyone who’s spent much time in close proximity to the pope, they weren’t really a shocker.

In comparison to presidents, prime ministers, or even rock stars, the security membrane around a pope is remarkably permeable. While it’s rare for the pope to get bowled over by someone hurling themselves at him, as happened in St. Peter’s Basilica Thursday night, that’s more a matter of luck (or providence) rather than a reflection of how thoroughly insulated he is from potential threats.

Everyone who follows the pope probably has their favorite illustrations of the light security touch; here are a couple of mine.

Humpty Dumpty in the Vatican



TOKYO -- In Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll’s sequel to Alice in Wonderland, Alice meets Humpty Dumpty.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master -- that’s all.”

The egg-man is convinced that whatever nonsense he utters makes sense because he says it does.

Vatican moves John Paul II and Pius XII closer to sainthood


Two instances of something may not constitute a trend, but they can at least suggest a strategy. Last week, an apparent Vatican strategy on turning popes into saints came into view: When you’re going to move a controversial pope along the path to sainthood, bundle him with a more popular pontiff – the PR calculation apparently being that acclaim for the latter may drown out negative reaction to the former.

Call it a “two-for-one” strategy, one that appears especially probable when the controversy concerns Jewish/Catholic relations.

The Vatican announced Dec. 19 that Pope Benedict XVI has approved decrees of heroic virtue for two of his 20th century predecessors: Pope John Paul II and Pope Pius XII.

A decree of heroic virtue is a finding that someone lived a saintly life. It allows the candidate to be referred to as “venerable,” and means the only hurdle left for beatification is a documented miracle, with one more miracle necessary for canonization, the formal act of declaring someone a saint.

Send the pope Xmas photos; share papal e-cards


VATICAN CITY -- Young people can send Pope Benedict XVI a Christmas greeting personalized with a photograph and they can send their friends electronic Christmas cards featuring a message from the pope.

The Vatican's special Web site for young people -- -- has been doing a brisk business since it was launched last May and already visitors can see more than 300 of the photographic Christmas greetings that have been sent to the pope.

Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, which designed and maintains the site, told Vatican Radio that it was natural for a site that wanted to bring the pope and young people closer together to make an extra effort at Christmas.

"We wanted to ensure that in this Christmas season there could be a livelier, more beautiful, more profound" encounter between the pope and young people, he said.

Canon law changes for deacons, some marriages


VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI has made changes in church law to clarify the role of deacons and to remove an ambiguity about the marriage status of some Catholics.

The modifications were ordered by the pope in a document, "Omnium in Mente," ("In the Mind of All") published Dec. 15 in Latin and Italian by the Vatican.

Two rewritten canons in the Code of Canon Law reinforced the distinction between the role of governance belonging to bishops and priests and the role of service belonging to deacons.

Benedict issues forceful environmental message


Benedict XVI has already earned a reputation as the “green pope” because of his repeated calls for stronger environmental protection, as well as gestures such as installing solar panels atop a Vatican audience hall and signing an agreement to make the Vatican Europe’s first carbon-neutral state. Now he’s cemented that profile by issuing his most comprehensive document on environmental ethics to date, in the form of an annual message for the World Day of Peace.

Strikingly, the document appeared as the nations of the world were meeting in Copenhagen to hammer out a deal on climate change – one of a host of environmental threats Benedict identified as an urgent moral priority.

The pope’s language was forceful.

“How can one remain indifferent in the face of problems such as climate change, desertification, the degradation and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase in extreme weather, and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical areas?” he asked.

Where hype meets reality


Somebody with a flair for taxonomy could probably go to town creating tongue-in-cheek categories for news stories on the Catholic beat. Entries might include the “scandal” story, the “sleeper” story (one whose significance takes a while to sink in), and the “woe-is-me” story (involving anybody put upon by officialdom).

Then there’s what might be called the “invitation to hype” story, meaning a development that stirs massive discussion and controversy, even though its real-world significance isn’t actually all that great. A classic example came in 2007, with Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to authorize wider celebration of the old Latin Mass. Intense debate ensued about what the move augured for the direction of the church, yet two years later the tiny number of people regularly attending Mass in the old rite could probably be captured with the Italian expression quattro gatti e un cane -- “four cats and a dog.”

At least in the United States, we may have a new entry in the “invitation to hype” category, with the Vatican’s recent decision to create new structures, called “personal ordinariates,” to welcome former Anglicans wishing to become Catholic.



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July 18-31, 2014


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