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Vatican

New book confirms: Benedict XVI is his own best spokesperson

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ANALYSIS

One keen irony about the papacy of Benedict XVI is that while the Vatican regime over which he presides has sometimes come off as ham-fisted in terms of public relations, the pope himself is almost universally acknowledged as a gifted communicator.

A veteran theologian and teacher, Benedict can express complex theological ideas in crystalline sentences that don’t require a Ph.D. to grasp, and he has a knack for phrasing the Christian message in positive terms -- what I’ve called his “Affirmative Orthodoxy.”

In the old days, a pope would say or do something controversial, and then his aides would smooth things over. More recently, it’s actually been the pope who gets the Vatican back “on message” after someone else has put his foot in his mouth. (This, by the way, should not be taken as a criticism of Benedict’s official spokesperson, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, who does a heroic job under the circumstances.)

We’ve had another example of that dynamic in recent days with the release of volume two of Benedict’s book Jesus of Nazareth (published in the United States by Ignatius Press.)

Pope calls for aid to civilians in Libya

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VATICAN CITY -- As fighting between rebels and government forces in Libya intensified, Pope Benedict XVI called for aid and assistance to civilians caught in the conflict.

"Recent clashes have caused many deaths and an increasing humanitarian crisis" in Libya, the pope said after praying the Angelus with pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square March 6.

He expressed his concern over the growing crisis and said his prayers were with all victims and "those who find themselves in distress."

"I appeal for assistance and aid for the people who are hit" by the crisis, he said.

More than 1,000 people were believed to have died in the two weeks after pro-democracy protests began in mid-February. A violent crackdown on the popular movement also triggered a large exodus of people, including migrants; more than 100,000 people were said to have fled to Egypt and Tunisia.

Rebels opposed to the 42-year rule of Col. Moammar Gadhafi tried to take control of cities in the country's western and eastern regions, and forces loyal to the Libyan dictator launched aerial bombing raids in a counteroffensive.

Mother Teresa as mystic and apostle of the ordinary

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ROME -- In the court of popular opinion, Mother Teresa -- now Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, after her beatification in 2003 -- is regarded as a heroic Saint of the Poor, perhaps the 20th century’s most compelling example of a radical option for the world’s most vulnerable and forgotten people.

While that’s undeniably right, two of the world’s leading experts on Mother Teresa say, it also risks being reductive.

'Sex abuse is the Catholic 9/11'

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ROME -- Massimo Franco is a veteran journalist who writes for Corriere della Sera, the most prestigious daily newspaper in Italy. Recently he published a book titled C’era Una Volta un Vaticano (“Once Upon a Time, there was a Vatican”), arguing that underneath the PR meltdowns and internal crises of the Vatican under Benedict XVI lies a radical historical shift – from the Vatican as the chaplain of the West, to the Vatican as representative of a minority subculture.

For centuries, he argues, the Vatican thought and acted like the representative of a cultural majority in the West – a mentality forged in the era of Christendom, and given new life during the Cold War, when the Vatican and the great Western powers were fundamentally on the same page. It’s no longer adequate to the changed cultural landscape of the 21st century, he says – and the inability of senior Vatican personnel to adapt to this new world is the fundamental force, he argues, beneath their apparent disorientation.
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Franco sat down March 1 for an interview to discuss the trials and tribulations of Benedict’s papacy.

Black Catholics have 'uncommon faithfulness'

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ROME -- African-American Catholics have a dynamic history of "uncommon faithfulness" in the church, but it's one that has been generally invisible -- even to other Catholics, a U.S. nun from New Orleans told a Rome audience.

Dominican Sr. Jamie Phelps, director of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of New Orleans, explored the U.S. observance of Black History Month in February from a Catholic perspective.

She spoke Feb. 25 at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas of Aquinas, also known as the Angelicum, at a program organized by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

The U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Miguel Diaz, said black Catholics were a little-known but important segment of American society, and he wanted Rome to hear about it.

Phelps recalled that when she was growing up, people would look puzzled when she and her family showed up at Catholic events and tell her, "You're supposed to be Protestant."

There are about 3 million African-American Catholics in the United States today, she said. They generally identify closely with the teachings of the church, on matters from abortion to concern for the poor.

Pope meets about humanitarian crisis in Libya

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI met with the director of the World Food Program to learn about the humanitarian crisis developing on the border of Tunisia and Libya, said a statement distributed by the Vatican.

In a private audience March 2, the pope was briefed by Josette Sheeran, who, as head of the United Nations agency, had just returned from a trip to the area.

Thousands of people have fled Libya into neighboring Tunisia as forces loyal to Libyan dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi fight with protesters in the western and eastern parts of the country. Gadhafi's forces have been conducting aerial bombing raids in an effort to repress the protests against his regime, and some observers estimate 2,000 people have died since the protests began in late February.

In a WFP statement released by the Vatican, Sheeran said that the pope had asked her for the meeting in order to be informed and to "express his concern for the innocent people trapped in this terrible tragedy."

Forgiveness as the Catholic yoga

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ROME -- In a post-modern, pragmatic, "gimme-something-that-works" sort of world, Eastern religions have had considerable success in exporting elements of their spirituality and tradition that meet perceived contemporary needs. Plenty of fitness-conscious people have been exposed to Hinduism through yoga, for example, just as many stressed-out Westerners have been intrigued by Buddhism though transcendental meditation (TM).

Vatican: iPhone apps wonít forgive sins

VATICAN CITY -- Just in case Catholics are wondering if a new iPhone app might be able to forgive their sins, the Vatican has issued a clarification: No.

“One may not speak in any sense of confessing via iPhone,” Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, said in a statement on Wednesday.

According to its U.S. producers, “Confession: A Roman Catholic App” is designed to help users prepare for confession through a “personalized examination of conscience for each user, password protected profiles, and a step-by-step guide to the sacrament.”

The Indiana-based company, Little iApps LLC, says its app is the first to receive an imprimatur, or official permission for publication, from a Catholic bishop—in this case, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

Lombardi said the “Sacrament of Penance necessarily requires the relationship of personal dialogue between the penitent and the confessor and absolution by the confessor present.”

“This cannot be substituted for by any information technology application,” he said.

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