COTONOU, BENIN -- NCR senior correspondent John L. Allen Jr. traveled with the pope in Benin. Below are a list of stories he filed.
Vatican documents on matters of social justice, unlike their counterparts on sexual matters, generally land at the bottom of news budgets, marginalized as esoteric and idealistic with little hope of achieving relevance in the real world.
So it was good fortune, or misfortune, depending on one’s point of view, that the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace happened to release its call for reform of the global financial system at a time of intense anxiety over global economics and as the Occupy Wall Street movement was spreading from city to city (see story).
The Vatican, often woefully inept at achieving timeliness and relevance, was, intentionally or not, dead on the mark in this instance. This document had relevance on arrival and a made-to-order news hook. Who could resist a Vatican call for overturning the era’s financial order?
The reactions were immediate, with those disposed to view American capitalism as an adjunct to American Catholicism strongly opposed. In those quarters, the document was dismissed as an insignificant piece from an insignificant Vatican office.
VATICAN CITY -- A Pakistani government official met with Pope Benedict XVI after his general audience to discuss "the expectations and hopes of Christians" in Pakistan, according to Fides, the Vatican's missionary news agency.
At the brief meeting Nov. 16, Akram Masih Gill, the minister of state for national harmony, said he asked the pope "to pray for the faithful Pakistanis who, during the difficulties they encounter every day, trust in his support."
Gill, a practicing Catholic, was named in August to head the ministry that deals with interfaith relations and minority affairs in Pakistan. His predecessor, Shahbaz Bhatti, also a Catholic, was assassinated last March.
During his visit to Rome, Gill met with Bishop Enrico Dal Covolo, rector of the Pontifical Lateran University, and established a joint project between the university and the Pakistani government agency to promote harmony and dialogues between different faith groups, Fides reported.
The project envisions the exchange of professors, students and books, as well as the joint organization of conferences on issues like dialogue between faiths and religious harmony.
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- The Springfield Diocese has been informed that the Apostolic Signature, the Vatican's highest tribunal, has upheld the diocese's decision to suppress and close three parishes.
According to a Nov. 10 press release issued by the diocese, the upholding of the parish closings "is a definitive finding which supports the actions of the diocese, thus removing any possibility for their restoration as parishes."
The three parishes in the western Massachusetts diocese involved in the final ruling are: St. Stanislaus Kostka in Adams and St. George and St. Patrick in Chicopee. The decision affirmed merging St. Stanislaus Kostka with Pope John Paul the Great Parish, and St. George and St. Patrick with Holy Name of Jesus.
It also affirms a ruling made earlier this year by the Vatican Congregation for Clergy that upheld the parish mergers.
In the same action, the press release said, the Vatican court indicated the diocese had not yet provided sufficient cause to use the former churches for nonreligious uses, a similar point made by the Vatican Congregation for Clergy in its decision.
VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI asked for prayers for his trip to Benin and for those suffering from violence on the African continent.
The pope, addressing pilgrims at his noon blessing Nov. 13, said he was traveling to Benin "in order to strengthen the faith and hope of Christians in Africa."
"I entrust this trip and the inhabitants of this beloved continent to your prayers, especially those who experience insecurity and violence," he said. He prayed that Mary give support to all those working for reconciliation in Africa.
During the Nov. 18-20 visit, the pope planned to unveil a document he wrote as a follow-up to the 2009 Synod of Bishops on Africa. The text synthesizes the synod's conclusions and presents pastoral priorities for the church in Africa.
The pope said the whole point of the synod was to help make Christians "the salt of the earth and the light of the world."
The pope's schedule in Benin included meetings with political authorities and interreligious representatives, an encounter with children, liturgies with Catholics and a Mass to present the post-synodal document.
VATICAN CITY -- Vatican officials are at an advanced stage in studying the possibility of a papal trip to Mexico and Cuba in the spring of 2012, the Vatican spokesman said.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the spokesman, told reporters Nov. 10 that the nuncios to Mexico and Cuba have been told to inform those governments that "the pope is studying a concrete plan to visit the two countries, responding to the invitations received" from them.
Father Lombardi said a definite decision regarding a trip in the spring should be made within a few weeks. The fact that the nuncios were asked to inform the governments demonstrates the advanced nature of the planning, he said.
The Mexican government and Mexican Catholics repeatedly have said they'd like Pope Benedict to visit "and he is happy to finally be able to respond," the Jesuit said. The pope went to Brazil in 2007, but would like to visit a Spanish-speaking country in the region and Mexico is the largest of them.
"Cuba is another country that really wants to see the pope," he said, and a papal visit could offer great encouragement to the people and the country "in an important period of their history."
Ireland's decision to rely upon a nonresident ambassador to the Holy See rather than to continue the expense of two embassies in Rome, one for Italy and one for the Vatican, makes economic sense.
Ireland is responsibly looking to meet its economic obligations to the EU in a manner that is least disruptive to existing personnel and its national interests. At a time when the world economy is anxiously waiting to see if Greece can meet the fiscal expectations of Eurozone obligations without imposing undue hardship on its citizens, Ireland deserves praise, not scorn or suspicion, for its good sense.
It is, of course, understandable how some uninformed by the context might see this as a diplomatic rebuke to the Holy See. There is no credible evidence to suggest it is. After all, while 179 countries have diplomatic relations with the Vatican, close to half of that number is nonresident, and housed outside Rome. What's more, Ireland hardly singled out the Holy See, announcing the closure of embassies in Iran and East Timor at the same time.
Recent reports about a possible relaxation of church rules to allow former priests to play greater roles in parish life represent more of a hypothesis than an imminent development, a senior Vatican official told NCR in late October.
WASHINGTON -- The cardinal recently selected by Pope Benedict XVI to play a key role in the October 2012 world Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization told high school religion teachers Oct. 28 that solid catechesis, confidence in the faith and sharing the faith are critical elements to carrying out the work of the new evangelization.
"You are on the front line of the new evangelization -- an effort that mirrors so clearly the work of the early church and the first disciples," said Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington to a conference of Catholic high school religion teachers as part of High School Principals Association professional development day at a local Catholic high school.
"The new evangelization is not a program. It is a mode of thinking, seeing and acting," Cardinal Wuerl said. "It is a lens through which we see the opportunities to proclaim the Gospel anew. It is also a recognition that the Holy Spirit is actively working in the church."
VATICAN CITY -- Angolan Catholics must resist customs in their country that go against the Gospel, including the practice of cohabitation without marriage, shunning or even killing children and old people accused of being witches, and divisions based on tribal origin, Pope Benedict XVI said.
"Christians breathe the spirit of their time and experience the pressure of the customs of their society, but through the grace of baptism, they are called to renounce the dangerous prevailing tendencies," the pope told the bishops of Angola and Sao Tome.
Meeting the bishops Oct. 29 at the end of their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican, Pope Benedict said there were three practices widely accepted in Angolan society that are contrary to the Gospel and the good of the human family.
The first, he said, is what Angolans call "amigamento," or cohabitation, which the pope said "contradicts God's plan for procreation and the human family."
Pope Benedict said the low rate of Catholic marriages in Angola indicates a serious problem, including for social stability.