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A roundup of this week's events in Rome


A Synod of Bishops is styled as an event of the universal church, so even when it focuses on a specific region, as with the Oct. 4-25 Synod for Africa, it's still directed at the whole Catholic world. From an American point of view, therefore, there's nothing wrong with looking at the synod, now two-thirds complete, and asking: What does it mean for us?

It's actually a terrific question, for two reasons.

Vatican announces start of dialogue with traditionalists


VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican announced the start of a long-awaited dialogue aimed at repairing a 21-year break with a group of traditionalist Catholics.

The first encounter between the leaders of the Society of St. Pius X and Vatican experts will take place Oct. 26 at the Vatican, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said Oct. 15.

Ghanaian archbishop says church has failed Africa



Here's an exercise to try sometime: Find any random cross-section of twenty people who know something about Catholicism in Africa, and ask them to tick off five names of the most impressive African bishops they know. The odds are fairly good that the name of Archbishop Charles ("Call me Charlie") Palmer-Buckle of Accra, Ghana, will surface with some frequency.

Palmer-Buckle, 59, is taking part in the Synod for Africa as a papal appointment. A leader in peace efforts in Ghana and a veteran of the international Catholic scene through his work with groups such as Caritas Internationalis and Catholic Relief Services, Palmer-Buckle is widely considered to be among the heavyweights of his generation in the African hierarchy.

'We've been uprooted into a life of service'


Though neither of us realized it at the time, new U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Miguel Diaz and I met on a propitious day for Diaz’s boss, President Barack Obama. A little over two hours after our interview ended, news broke that Obama had been awarded the Noble Peace Prize. One of the first global institutions to issue its congratulations was the Vatican, which expressed “appreciation” for the choice and encouraged what it described as Obama’s commitment to “peace in the international arena,” especially nuclear disarmament.

tAll in all, not a bad day for Obama’s man at the Vatican.

tDiaz is the first Hispanic to serve as ambassador to the Holy See, as well as the first professional theologian. (He’s currently on extended sabbatical as a professor of theology at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University in Minnesota.) Born in Cuba, Diaz and his family left when he was eight, eventually settling in Miami. He has working-class roots; his father was a waiter and his mother a seamstress. Diaz and his wife Marian have four school-aged children.

Despite today’s developments, in many ways Diaz has his work cut out for him. Not only does he have to learn the argot and customs of international diplomacy on the fly, but he represents a president who can seem an ambivalent figure seen through the Vatican’s prism: congenial on many matters of foreign policy, but problematic on abortion, contraception, and other life issues. Of course, Diaz also knows that Obama is an even more controversial figure in some circles of Catholic opinion in the States.

Synod leaders: Church needs to get its house in order



Grappling with how Catholicism in Africa can be a force for reconciliation, justice and peace, a handful of African bishops seemed to suggest today that in the first place, the church needs to get its own house in order.

In effect, these prelates suggested, it will be difficult for the African church to preach what it’s not seen to practice.

Pope calls Africa an 'immense spiritual lung'



Here's something you don’t see every day: St. Peter's Basilica, typically a showcase for traditional and sober forms of Catholic worship, rocking to the beat of bongo drums and bass guitars, as a Congolese chorus belted out catchy African hymns such as "Nakoma Peto" and "Yamba Makabu."

Such was the scene in St. Peter’s Sunday morning, during an opening Mass for the second Synod of Bishops for Africa, which is set to run Oct. 4-25 in Rome.

Synod for Africa opens to high hopes, but realism


All Things Catholic

On Sunday morning, Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate the opening Mass of the Synod for Africa, which meets in the Vatican Oct. 4-25. It's one of those events in the life of the church which ought to be enormously important, though whether it will actually live up to its potential remains to be seen.

I'm in Rome to cover the synod. I'll be posting regular reports on the NCR Today blog, and will try to offer a more analytical perspective in this column. This is the second Synod for Africa; the first met in 1994, on the cusp of the Rwandan genocide.

A great weekend for affirmative orthodoxy in Prague


Prague, Czech Republic

Pope Benedict XVI’s Sept. 26-28 trip to the Czech Republic in some ways loomed as a potential minefield, given that it’s one of the most secular societies on earth, as well as a land that harbors a traditional animus against both Germans and the Catholic church.

For a one-sentence summary of how things went, here it is: Affirmative orthodoxy is alive and well, and it had a great weekend in Prague.


Healing the schism with traditionalists


From a strictly demographic point of view, one could argue that the intense interest surrounding relations between the Vatican and the Society of St. Pius X, popularly known as the "Lefebvrites," is terribly exaggerated. Worldwide, the society has a little under 500 priests, roughly the same number as the Diocese of Buffalo. It claims one million faithful, a number impossible to confirm but which, even if true, would represent less than one-tenth of one percent of the global Catholic population.

Yet for a variety of reasons, the Vatican's effort to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again by reconciling with the Lefebvrites carries a significance way out of proportion to those numbers.

Vatican denies ëreform of reformí


Some Italian media reports to the contrary, Vatican officials have denied that any new “reform of the reform” in Catholic liturgy, such as curbing Communion in the hand or having priests face away from the people during Mass, is pending.

A Vatican source speaking on background told NCR, “Especially in the English-speaking world, [Pope Benedict XVI] knows that now is not the time for more upheaval, since we already have the new Roman Missal on the way.”



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