During a brief ceremony April 29, top Vatican officials and a handful of the pope’s former aides sang a litany in the grotto of St. Peter’s Basilica as the pope’s casket was placed temporarily before the tomb of St. Peter, in an area closed off to visitors.
Among those participating were Sister Tobiana Sobodka and six other Polish nuns who served the late pope in the papal household.
The casket, which was covered with an embroidered gold cloth, was to be moved to a spot in front of the main altar on the basilica’s upper level on the morning of May 1, so people can pray before it after the beatification Mass. Then it will be moved to a new tomb site in the chapel of St. Sebastian, located on the main floor of the basilica.
The inscribed marble slab that covered Pope John Paul’s original tomb will be sent to Krakow, Poland, where it will be placed in a new church dedicated to Blessed John Paul, the Vatican said.
Vatican officials said the three-layer casket would remain unopened during the beatification and the veneration. The pope’s body lies inside a coffin made of cypress wood, surrounded by another coffin of lead, which is covered by a third wooden coffin.
The relic for the beatification Mass, a vial of the late pope’s blood, will be carried to the altar in a silver reliquary by Sister Tobiana and French Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, whose cure from Parkinson’s disease was accepted as the miracle that paved the way for Pope John Paul’s beatification.
At a press briefing in the Vatican press office April 29, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, announced a new beatification page at http://www.vatican.va that includes a multimedia tribute to Pope John Paul II, featuring more than 500 photographs and excerpts from papal texts in six languages.
Vatican officials also said they had created a team of “digital sentinels,” Catholics of every age who have volunteered to bring the witness and teaching of Pope John Paul to the Internet, especially through Facebook and Twitter.
Their efforts were to focus on the beatification events, but will continue afterward. The Vatican said about 1,000 journalists and opinion leaders were ready to follow their live Twitter feed, and 3,000 people on Facebook were involved in the “sentinel” groups.
The Vatican said the vigil on the eve of the beatification in Rome’s ancient Circus Maximus racetrack would feature the recital of the luminous mysteries of the rosary, an innovation of Pope John Paul II, in a video link-up with five Marian sanctuaries around the world.
The Diocese of Rome said eight major churches in the center of the city will be open all night for pilgrims who wish to pray. The Vatican planned to open St. Peter’s Square at 5:30 a.m. the morning of the beatification.
Religious leaders, including two prominent Catholic bishops, challenged lawmakers to avoid cutting federal spending on anti-poverty programs that help the poorest and most vulnerable people during the country’s mounting budget crisis.
The challenge came April 27 as the leaders introduced the Circle of Protection campaign, pointing to biblical values of justice and care for the “least of our brothers and sisters” that Congress and the White House must uphold as the debate over the 2012 federal budget unfolds.
“The poor don’t have powerful political voices speaking on their behalf so we are speaking on their behalf. We want to be a strong moral voice that speaks for the common good and those who are most poor,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.
“A just (budget) framework cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in service. They require shared sacrifices by everyone,” he said during one of three nationwide media teleconferences introducing the campaign.
Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, Calif., echoed his California colleague in a separate teleconference for Spanish-language media.
Also supporting the effort is Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA.
The campaign’s introduction comes as Congress was set to return from a two-week recess May 2. One of the key issues on its agenda will be the 2012 budget.
As jockeying over budget priorities evolves, Congress also faces having to raise the country’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling. While congressional leaders agree it must be done, a contingent of conservative House members, led by newly elected Tea Party representatives, have said they will oppose raising the ceiling unless significant spending cuts are promised.
President Barack Obama has set an early July deadline for raising the ceiling.
Congressional Republicans have said they have a long wish list of budget cuts but have not revealed what they are. Lawmakers of both parties have insisted that military spending is untouchable.
A plan for 2012 offered by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., already has been adopted by the House. It calls for reducing the tax rates for the top 2 percent of the earners from 35 percent to 25 percent and compensating for the loss of revenues by cutting spending in domestic social services and international development programs and embarking on a 10-year effort to change the way Medicare and Medicaid operate.
Congressional Democrats have opposed the plan, saying it places the elderly and poor at too great a risk.
The religious coalition, which includes leaders from Catholic, mainline Protestant, evangelical, African-American and Latino Christian churches, maintains that addressing the deficit is vital to the country’s future, but that all areas of government spending as well as ideas for raising tax revenues must be on the table.
Of particular concern are low-cost, high-impact programs that often mean the difference between a life with dignity and one faced with insurmountable challenges, the leaders said. They cited programs as diverse as low-income energy assistance for poor Americans and the distribution of mosquito nets for people in malaria-prone countries as programs that preserve human dignity.
The Rev. Jim Wallis, president and CEO of the evangelical social justice organization Sojourners, said the choices ahead will reveal what values the country holds highest.
“We have to remember that budgets are not just about (financial) scarcity. They’re about choices, moral choices. Our choices reveal … what’s important, what’s not, who’s important, who’s not,” he said.
“The Circle of Protection means if you come after the poor, you will have to come through us first,” he added.
Despite the coalition’s formation, the leaders on the conference calls acknowledged that they face a major challenge in motivating their congregations to take up the banner for the poor if they have any hope of convincing Congress that people on the margins must be a priority for the country.
“There’s a lot of discernment here,” Bishop Blaire said in a Catholic News Service report. “While we’re laying (out) biblical principles of justice, people have to accept the responsibility to discern those implications.”
“Each church has to work at the local level,” he added. “The more we can bring people together to address these issues, the better it will work. It’s not just a matter of issues or some kind of statement that we have. It requires engagement. What we have done here is lift up the voice. It’s really up to us in our local churches to engage the needs of the poor.”
The city of Rome launched beefed-up security measures in the days before the May 1 beatification of Pope John Paul II. Officers were even brushing up on their English to better help the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims expected for the event.
More security personnel and tighter passenger and baggage controls were put into effect starting April 25 for area airports, seaports and train stations.
Italian authorities said there would be random bag searches and ID checks at the Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino airport, Civitavecchia seaport and Termini train station in Rome.
People with criminal records and those who would be “potentially dangerous for tourists” were to be “moved away from” the area in and around Termini train station, reported the Italian daily, La Repubblica, April 24.
Special security cameras were installed in “hot spots” in and around St. Peter’s Square where the beatification Mass will be held, the paper reported April 23.
More than 2,000 police, military police, firefighters, traffic officers and other security personnel were to patrol “three rings” of increasing degrees of security around the square, it said. Police were to even patrol the Tiber River in the area of the Vatican.
Police officers and operators responding to the emergency call number 113 had all completed intensive English language lessons so as to better serve visitors, it said.
Officers were to do a security sweep of trash cans, manholes and street drains in the area, parking was to be prohibited and vehicle traffic was to be diverted away from the roads closest to the April 30 prayer vigil at Circus Maximus and St. Peter’s Square the following morning. Only pedestrians were to be allowed to circulate in areas determined to be “high security,” La Repubblica said.
In a letter to a leading rabbi, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento stressed the need to “purposefully remember” the Holocaust to ensure that “never again will such dark evil prevail.”
The bishop addressed his letter to Rabbi Reuven Taff, president of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Sacramento, to mark the upcoming May 1-8 Days of Remembrance for Holocaust victims.
The eight-day period was designated by the U.S. Congress for civic commemorations and special educational programs that help people remember and draw lessons from the Holocaust. It occurs annually on the Sunday before the Jewish observance of Holocaust Memorial Day, which commemorates the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising, and continues through the following Sunday.
The United Nations designated another date, Jan. 27, to commemorate Holocaust victims. Called International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the date commemorates the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, the largest Nazi concentration camp.
“Thinking of the Holocaust, the soul shudders, remembering the horror of the Shoah,” Bishop Soto wrote in his letter, dated April 13.
He said the commemoration of the Holocaust not only recalled the “multitude of innocent victims” but also served as a reminder to “remain ever vigilant against the possibility of genocide.”
The bishop noted that Jews and Christians “share an immense spiritual patrimony” and said that the “righteous voices from the centuries of religious witness demand that we never tire of the ceaseless task to overcome evil with good. Only a world at peace, with justice for all, can avoid repeating the mistakes and terrible sins of the past.”
In a Catholic News Service report, Bishop Soto said he wanted to assure the Jewish people that the Catholic community is “saddened and shamed by the acts of hatred, persecution and anti-Semitism directed against Jews by Christians at any time or place.”
He stressed the need to “build a future in which there will be no more anti-Jewish feeling among Christians or anti-Christian feeling among Jews, but rather the mutual respect required of those who adore the one creator and Lord, with Abraham as our common father in faith.”
The blast injured at least four people — two police officers patrolling the street outside the church and two civilians walking by, according to news reports.
Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad told Vatican Radio that Catholics in Iraq are trying to unite their sufferings with the suffering of Christ on the cross so that their country eventually experiences resurrection.
“So, our hope is fortified because we are placing everything in the hands of the Lord,” Bishop Warduni told Vatican Radio after the bomb exploded.
“We pray that the crucified Lord would unite all people, that the risen Lord would give us the grace to live the joy of the resurrection,” he said in a Catholic News Service report.
“We have hope that the Lord will be with us always,” the bishop said. Iraqi Catholics want to be able to tell others: “See how much God loves everyone and is always with us,” he said.
When May 5 rolls around, activities associated with the National Day of Prayer will go on largely unfettered, thanks to an April 14 decision by a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The court ruled that the Freedom From Religion Foundation did not have standing to challenge President Barack Obama’s right to proclaim the National Day of Prayer because its plaintiffs could not show any harm done to them.
The foundation filed suit in 2008, claiming the day violated church-state separation. A U.S. District Court judge ruled in 2010 the day was unconstitutional. The Obama administration appealed the ruling, arguing the day recognizes the role of religion in the United States.
The National Day of Prayer has been around since Congress passed a bill in 1952 requiring the president to select a day each year. A 1988 bill fixed the first Thursday of May as the date. Catholic participation in the day is a sidelight — the National Day of Prayer Committee is a nonprofit Christian evangelical organization — but the degree of liberty enjoyed by one religious group will affect the degree of liberty all other groups will have.
The suit — which foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said will be appealed to the full circuit court, but only on the “standing” issue, not the case’s merits — is evidence that the quest for religious liberty, while fought more publicly on the international stage, has a home front as well.
While religious liberty is not absolute — worshippers, for example, can’t justify violating parking regulations just because those parking “spaces” are close to their church — tests continue to pop up from time to time to determine just how much religious freedom Americans have.
Two decades ago, religious liberty advocates were greatly disappointed when the Supreme Court ruled that the use of peyote by some American Indians in a religious ritual was illegal and therefore unconstitutional. Congress in 1993 responded with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which codified those freedoms.
“Americans take religious liberty for granted. It is the first freedom,” said Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at both the Cato Institute and the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, in an April 1 essay for the American Spectator. “One’s sense of the transcendent underlies all other beliefs and behaviors.”
Bandow added, “A government which refuses to protect the most basic liberty of conscience, the right to worship God, is unlikely (to) respect political and civil freedoms. Indeed, the belief that individuals are made in the image of God is the firmest foundation for any commitment to human rights.”
Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Curry of Los Angeles, speaking April 11 at The Catholic University of America in Washington, said Supreme Court decisions on the issue dating back to 1947 — when the high court first used the “wall of separation” phrase to describe the distance between church and state – “have skewed academic discussion and public understanding of the meaning of American religious liberty.”
According to Catholic News Service, Bishop Curry added, “Religious liberty currently is a subject that cries out for intellectual clarity, insight, and for the virtue of courage to challenge what is the present futile and ideologically driven conventional wisdom. The fact that the interpretation of American liberty is so skewed by the influence of anti-Catholicism presents both an opportunity and a particular challenge to Catholic scholars and Catholic academia.”
He declared, “A renewed emphasis on the meaning of a secular government is the key to the defense of American religious liberty.”
At chrism Masses around the country, bishops urged priests to remain true to their calling and persevere through challenges they face.
Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez told priests gathered for the April 18 chrism Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels to remember their calling is “part of something greater” in their role as stewards “of the mysteries of God.”
“Our priesthood is not the result of a career decision we made. Our priesthood is the response we made to the personal call that God addresses to each of us,” he said in a Catholic News Service report.
The annual chrism Mass is celebrated during Holy Week by a bishop and the priests of his diocese and is typically the largest annual gathering of clergy in any diocese. During the Mass, priests renew the commitments they made at their ordination.
Chrism oils to be used during the year for the ordination of priests and bishops, baptisms, confirmations, the consecration of altars and the blessing of churches are blessed during the Mass.
Archbishop Gomez, who became the head of the Los Angeles Archdiocese in March, noted that Pope John Paul II used to call the yearly celebration “the feast of priests.”
He said the chrism Mass provided a “wonderful opportunity for the renewal of our priesthood.”
The archbishop thanked the priests for their service and reminded them to help each other grow in holiness amid the many challenges they face.
During the April 19 chrism Mass at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg, Fla., Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg called the Mass a “day for celebrating and strengthening the bond between the bishop and his priests.”
When priests around the world have disagreed with their bishops, with some threatening to boycott the chrism Mass, he said he was confident such a boycott would never happen “because the priesthood is too important in their lives to use this day to send a message.”
Bishop Lynch reflected on conversations he has had with diocesan priests over the years and noted that almost all of them considered themselves privileged to do their work and happy in their ministry, but they also have expressed concerns and frustrations.
In response to frustration, he said he believed the initial calling such priests felt to their vocation “will survive us and will survive this particular moment in the church.”
He urged the priests who “anguish about the direction of the church today” to focus on the importance of their role of proclaiming the Gospel message.
“If the church is to be ever more relevant to our people today, it gains the greatest credibility from what you say (and) how you act, than from the actions of a conference of bishops or even the Holy See and you have no idea how painful it is for me to say that,” said Bishop Lynch, who served as general secretary of the bishops’ conference in Washington in the early 1990s.
“It is the Spirit of the Lord which is upon you Sunday after Sunday as you bring good news to the poor, as you proclaim liberty to those who are captives of so many things,” he said.
The first personal ordinariate created for former Anglicans who decided to enter the Catholic Church will reach almost 1,000 by the end of the Easter Vigil.
The count of people entering the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham includes more than 60 former Anglican clergy.
The personal ordinariate was established under Pope Benedict XVI’s November 2009 apostolic constitution “Anglicanorum coetibus.” It allows the group reception of former Anglicans into the Catholic Church while allowing them to retain much of their distinctive patrimony — including married priests — as well as their liturgical practices.
Msgr. Keith Newton, who heads the ordinariate, told Catholic News Service that although he was incardinated into the structure after it was established by Vatican decree Jan. 15, it was only during Holy Week that he felt it was coming alive.
“This is the start of it. The lay faithful moving into the Catholic Church is really the start of the ordinariate. Until now there have been only about a dozen members, but now it is growing to between 900 and a thousand,” he said.
“It is not an enormous number of people in Catholic terms, or even for the Church of England, but it is quite significant that such a number of people are making this step together,” Msgr. Newton added.
Because the structure is new, many Anglicans are watching the process carefully, he said.
“There will certainly be a second wave. This is only the beginning,” he said.
Msgr. Newton said he has been busy with confirmations and first Communion ceremonies at group receptions since April 18, when he received about 30 former Anglicans into the Catholic Church at St. George’s Cathedral, London.
Other groups are making the move throughout Britain, many in rural southern England where the Catholic Church does not have the same presence as it does in urban areas.
Most members of the ordinariate formally left the Church of England on Ash Wednesday, March 9, and have undergone an intensive period of instruction as they prepared for reception into the Catholic Church.
Those former Anglican clerics who wish to serve as priests in the ordinariate will be ordained to the diaconate shortly after Easter and then to the priesthood around Pentecost, June 12.
They include Rev. Len Black, who served as an Episcopalian pastor in the Scottish Highlands for 31 years, and who will be among the married Catholic priests.
He will lead a Scottish ordinariate group after he and 12 others are received into the church at the Easter Vigil in St. Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, Scotland.
“The pace of it all has been quite amazing,” he told Catholic News Service. “Lent has been a very, very strange season for me this year, but it is going to have a wonderful climax. … The group is going to have a celebratory lunch on Easter.
“At times I can’t believe I am caught up in all this. It is just a wonderful experience,” he said.
Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh will attend the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton in what a church spokesman has described as an unprecedented move.
While it is customary for British Catholic prelates to attend royal ceremonies, Cardinal Brady is the first senior Irish churchman to attend a British royal function.
Edinburgh Cardinal Keith O’Brien will represent Scottish Catholics while Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster will represent Catholics from England and Wales.
An Irish church spokesman attributed the invitation to Cardinal Brady’s contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process. His Armagh Archdiocese straddles the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic and is seen as a symbol of reconciliation on the divided island.
Prince William, Queen Elizabeth II’s eldest grandson, will marry Middleton in London’s Westminster Abbey April 29. Middleton, who is not of noble birth, will be ennobled on the day of the wedding and is expected to be named a duchess as well as receiving the honorary title of princess.
In March, Cardinal Brady welcomed Queen Elizabeth’s May 17-20 visit to the Irish Republic. He described it as “an important religious and civic event” and “a mark of the mutual respect that exists between our two countries.” It demonstrated the “bonds of friendship” between the Anglican Church and Catholic Church in Ireland, he said.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino said he is willing to risk excommunication from the Catholic Church rather than scrap the so-called Responsible Parenthood Bill, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News.
“I remain committed to pushing for the introduction of a law for responsible parenthood … at risk of excommunication, it is my obligation as a leader,” Aquino told graduates from the University of the Philippines.
“In the end I must listen to my conscience and do what is right,” the president said. He said he cannot stand by and watch the cycle of poverty continue as unplanned births spiral.
The proposed legislation faces strong opposition from the Catholic Church because of provisions that allow the use of contraception.
UCA News reported that, earlier, church officials called for the scrapping of the Responsible Parenthood Bill and the Reproductive Health Bill, now pending in the Philippine Congress.
Aquino spokeswoman Abigail Valte said the Responsible Parenthood Bill will not favor the church’s stand or the position of those supporting the Reproductive Health Bill.
“There is a need to revise, refocus and educate Filipino couples and provide them with all available information regarding natural and artificial methods of family planning, and for them to consult with the individual religious entities they belong to,” Aquino said earlier.