A trip to Latin America, a Synod of Bishops on new evangelization, the start of the Year of Faith, creation of new cardinals and proclamations of new saints are all on Pope Benedict XVI’s calendar for 2012.
Of particular interest to the United States, the pope will also continue his meetings with groups of U.S. bishops making their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican during the first half of the year. His talks to the bishops are expected to focus on themes of education, religious freedom and the relationship between culture and religion.
The 2012 highlights are only a small part of the pope’s day-to-day schedule, which includes hundreds of meetings, speeches, messages and liturgies. The German pope, who turns 85 in April, also pursues a “private” agenda of writing whenever he gets the chance, as he works to complete the latest in his “Jesus of Nazareth” series of books — this one on Jesus’ infancy and childhood.
Pope Benedict is virtually certain to call a consistory to create new cardinals in 2012. He may do so as early as February, when there will be at least 13 “vacancies” in the roster of voting-age cardinals (those under the age of 80); or he may wait until fall, when 10 more cardinals will have turned 80.
When he does name new cardinals, the list could include one or more Americans. U.S. prelates in line for the red hat — now or later — include Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien, pro-grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem; and Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York. From Canada, Archbishop Thomas C. Collins of Toronto is a likely choice.
Pope Benedict plans to travel to Mexico and Cuba in March, on a trip that will turn a spotlight once again on Latin America, home to nearly half the world’s Catholics. It will also move the pope onto the radar of U.S. media, which have cut back on their coverage of the pope and the Vatican in recent years.
The pope may also travel to Lebanon, probably in the spring. An invitation from Lebanese leaders came a month ago, and Vatican officials have said the pope wants to deliver his follow-up document on the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, held at the Vatican in 2010. Such a visit would give the pope a high-visibility platform to weigh in on religious freedom issues during a period of volatile political change in the region.
The fall of 2012 will bring several important events, including the world Synod of Bishops Oct. 7-28. New evangelization has become the leitmotif of almost everything Pope Benedict does these days, and the gathering of bishops will help translate the term into practical pastoral initiatives. The essential idea is to find ways to energize Catholics, reminding them of their duty to witness the faith publicly and proclaim it to others.
The synod will follow the somewhat streamlined format introduced by Pope Benedict in 2005: a shorter assembly, shorter individual speeches and more free discussion in the synod hall.
The Year of Faith was designed by the pope to help Catholics rediscover the basic content of their faith, and the Vatican’s preparation materials — due out very soon — will have a strong doctrinal element. The special year will begin Oct. 11, 2012, which is the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and some Vatican sources say the pope may publish a document that connects the two events.
Sometime during 2012, the pope is expected to proclaim new saints, including two with special significance to U.S. Catholics: Blessed Marianne Cope of Molokai and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. Mother Marianne led a group of sisters from New York to the Hawaiian Islands in 1883 to establish a system of nursing care for leprosy patients; Blessed Kateri, daughter of a Christian Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father in upstate New York, will become the first Native American to be canonized.
The date for these two canonizations has not been set, but many think it may happen on Oct. 21, World Mission Sunday, stated Catholic News Service.
At least 26 Catholic pastoral workers were killed in mission lands or among society’s most disadvantaged communities, although they were more often the victims of violent crimes than persecution for their faith, said a Vatican news agency.
Each year, Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, publishes a list of pastoral workers who died violently. The 2011 list was released Dec. 30.
The agency said that over the course of the year, it registered the deaths of 18 priests, four religious women and four laypeople. Twenty-five church workers were killed in 2010 — a figure down from an unusually high number of 37 workers murdered in 2009, according to Catholic News Service.
For the third consecutive year, the Americas, particularly Latin America, registered the most murders with the death of 13 priests and two laypeople: seven in Colombia, five in Mexico and one each in Brazil, Paraguay and Nicaragua. Six pastoral workers were killed in Africa, four in Asia and one priest was killed in Europe.
In their commitment to serving the needs of others, the men and women made their own safety their last priority, Fides said.
Like other years, “many were killed in an attempted robbery or kidnapping that ended badly, caught in their homes by bandits in search of imaginary riches. Others were killed in the name of Christ by those opposing love with hatred, hope with despair, dialogue with violent opposition, the right to perpetrate abuse,” it said.
The list of those killed included:
– A nun identified only as Sister Angelina, who was killed by militants of the Ugandan guerilla movement, the Lord’s Resistance Army, while she was taking medical assistance to refugees in South Sudan.
– Maria Elizabeth Macias Castro, a member of the Scalabrinian Lay Movement in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, who assisted migrants and was kidnapped and murdered by drug dealers.
– Sister Valsha John of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary was killed in her home in northern India. She helped protect indigenous communities from being driven from their lands by coal mining companies. She had been repeatedly threatened by criminals who had warned her not to interfere, but government authorities reportedly ignored her requests for help and left her without protection, said Fides.
Fides said its provisional list only includes pastoral care workers, not the many other Catholics who died for their faith this year such as the late Pakistan minister of minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, and those killed in the bombings of Christian churches in Nigeria on Christmas.
The Prefecture of the Papal Household, the office responsible for handing out free tickets to papal events, estimated more than 2.5 million people saw Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican in 2011.
The prefecture — headed by U.S. Archbishop James M. Harvey — estimated 500,000 people attended a liturgy celebrated by Pope Benedict in the month of May, according to Catholic News Service.
Pope Benedict beatified Pope John Paul II May 1. While there may have been only 500,000 people with tickets in St. Peter’s Square and on Vatican territory, Italian police had said more than 1 million people were gathered in and around the Vatican and in front of large video screens in several parts of Rome for the Mass.
Almost half of the visitors and pilgrims at papal events in 2011 were members of the crowds gathered on Sundays for the pope’s recitation of the Angelus. The Vatican said more than 1.2 million people joined the pope for the noon prayer at the Vatican or in Castel Gandolfo, his summer residence.
The pope held 45 weekly general audiences on Wednesdays in 2011, speaking to a combined total of about 400,000 people.
Special papal audiences for groups drew about 102,000 people to the Vatican and papal liturgies were attended by about 846,000 people, the papal household said.
The 2.5 million figure for 2011 marked an increase in participation compared to 2010, when the office estimated the crowds at a total of just under 2.3 million people.
The Vatican estimated that just more than 18 million people joined Pope Benedict for an audience, Angelus or Mass from his election in April 2005 through his weekly general audience Dec. 28, 2011.
A spokesman for the Mexican bishops’ conference confirmed details of Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming visit to Mexico originally published by the newspaper Reforma, which reported the papal visit would occur March 23-26, according to Catholic News Service.
The spokesman, Father Manuel Corral, stressed that details of the visit “are not official,” although he said the pope would only visit the state of Guanajuato and its environs in west-central Mexico. Father Corral said specific details of the visit would likely be made public before the end of the year.
Reforma, citing comments from the president of the bishops’ conference, Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes of Tlalnepantla, reported that Pope Benedict would celebrate Mass March 25 at the Parque Guanajuato Bicentenario in Silao, near the city of Leon and 220 miles northwest of Mexico City.
Pope Benedict also is expected to visit Cuba during his trip, the first to both countries since he was elected in 2005.
According to a new study, there are currently 2.18 billion Christians in more than 200 countries around the world, representing nearly a third of the estimated 6.9 billion 2010 global population.
The study, conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, found Christians to be so geographically widespread that no single continent or region can indisputably claim to be the center of global Christianity.
The Pew study, “Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population,” cites that 100 years ago, two-thirds of the world’s Christians lived in Europe but today only about a quarter of all Christians live there. More than one-third of Christians reside in the Americas; about a quarter live in sub-Saharan Africa and 13 percent live in Asia and the Pacific, according to a Catholic News Service report.
The data indicates that during the past 100 years, the number of Christians around the world has more than tripled from historical estimates of approximately 600 million in 1910 to more than 2 billion today. But the world’s overall population has also risen rapidly, from an estimated 1.8 billion in 1910 to 6.9 billion in 2010. As a result, Christians make up about the same portion of the world’s population in 2010 (32 percent) as they did a century ago (35 percent).
The study also reveals that although Europe and the Americas are still home to a majority (63 percent) of the world’s Christians, that share is much lower than it was in 1910 when it was 93 percent. In the past 100 years, the number of Christians grew significantly in sub-Saharan Africa and the Asia-Pacific region.
The study also breaks down where Catholics — numbering 1.1 billion worldwide and half of the global Christian population — reside.
Brazil, with 134 million Catholics, has the world’s largest Catholic population, which totals more than the number of Catholics in Italy, France and Spain combined. Other countries with the highest percentages of Catholic populations include: Mexico, the Philippines and the United States. The 10 countries with the largest number of Catholics contain more than half of the world’s Catholics.
The rest of the global Christian population breaks down to: Protestants 37 percent; Orthodox Christians 12 percent; other Christians such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses 1percent.
Christians are by far the world’s largest religious group. Muslims, the second-largest group, make up a little less than a quarter of the world’s population, according to previous studies by the Pew Forum.
Although Christianity began in the Middle East-North Africa, that region today has both the lowest concentration of Christians — about 4 percent — and the smallest number of Christians (about 13 million) of any major geographic region.
The study provides data on the world’s Christian population by region, country and tradition and is based on about 2,400 sources, including census figures and nationally representative population surveys. It is part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation to analyze religious change and its impact on societies around the world.
God sent his son into the world to save it from evil, pride and violence, Pope Benedict XVI said in his Christmas message “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world).
“The child whom we contemplate is our salvation! He has brought to the world a universal message of reconciliation and peace,” the pope said Dec. 25 as he stood on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica and gave his solemn Christmas blessing.
Tens of thousands of people were gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the noon address and blessing. Under bright sunny skies, they listened to the music of military bands, admired the Vatican’s Nativity scene and snapped pictures of the Swiss Guards, who were wearing armor over their colorful medieval uniforms, according to a Catholic News Service report.
In his Christmas message, like in his homily at Mass the night before, Pope Benedict spoke about God’s desire to save humanity and his decision to do that by being born in Bethlehem, living among people, dying for them and rising from the dead.
“Come to save us! This is the cry raised by men and women in every age, who sense that by themselves they cannot prevail over difficulties and dangers,” the pope said. Jesus “is the hand God extends to humanity to draw us out of the mire of sin and to set us firmly on rock, the secure rock of his truth and love.”
Pope Benedict said most of the world’s problems are caused by human sin, “the evil of separation from God, the prideful presumption of being self-sufficient, of trying to compete with God and to take his place, to decide what is good and evil, to be the master of life and death.”
Jesus came to earth to bring people back to God, to turn them from their sin and to promote reconciliation, dialogue and cooperation, he said.
As is customary, Pope Benedict used his message to ask Christians to pray and offer concrete help to people who are suffering this Christmas: from famine in the Horn of Africa; flooding in Thailand and the Philippines; tensions between Israelis and Palestinians; violence in Syria; a lack of peace and security in Iraq and Afghanistan; the struggle for democracy and human rights in across North Africa and the Middle East; and for the people of Myanmar, South Sudan and Africa’s Great Lakes region.
Just before the pope appeared at the balcony, news agencies reported a bomb blast at a Catholic Church on the outskirts of Abuja, Nigeria. Initial reports said there were more than 10 dead.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the blast, “precisely on the occasion of the celebration of Christmas, unfortunately once again is a sign of the ruthlessness of a blind and absurd hatred that has no regard for human life and tries to create and increase more hatred and confusion.”
“We are close to the suffering of the church and the entire Nigerian people so harshly tried by terrorist violence, even in these days that should be days of joy and peace,” Father Lombardi said.
At midnight Mass Dec. 24 in St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope said, “God has appeared — as a child. It is in this guise that he pits himself against all violence and brings a message that is peace.”
At the beginning of the two-hour liturgy, children from Italy, Guatemala, Gabon, Burkina Faso, South Korea and France brought white flowers up to a statue of the baby Jesus near the altar.
The 84-year-old pope processed in on a mobile platform.
Children carried the gifts of bread and wine to the pope during the offertory. The procession was led by two very young Korean boys, and the pope, with a big smile, watched them approach, blessed them and patted their heads.
At the end of the Mass, the children took the flowers to the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Basilica, where a deacon placed the statue of baby Jesus. The pope followed behind them on his mobile platform and when everything was in place, fake snow began to fall on the scene. It was the first time, according to L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.
In his homily, Pope Benedict said the birth of Jesus was something completely new in salvation history: God became visible.
“No longer is he merely an idea, no longer do we have to form a picture of him on the basis of mere words,” he said.
Before Christ’s birth, ancient people feared that God might be “cruel and arbitrary,” and instead, Christmas proves that “God is pure goodness,” the pope said.
“At this hour, when the world is continually threatened by violence in so many places and in so many different ways,” he said, the world cries out to God.
They pray that God’s “peace may triumph in this world of ours,” he said.
Pope Benedict said Christmas is about the birth of the savior, the prince of peace, and not some sappy sentimentality.
“Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity. Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light,” he said.
Chaldean Catholic officials have canceled traditional Christmas Eve midnight Masses because of security risks, stated a report from Catholic News Service.
Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk in northern Iraq told the agency Aid to the Church in Need that Christians will spend Christmas in “great fear” because of the risk of new attacks.
All services and Masses have been scheduled for daylight hours, he said in an interview with Rome-based AsiaNews.
“Midnight Christmas Mass has been canceled in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk as a consequence of the never-ending assassinations of Christians,” he said, citing the Oct. 31, 2010, attack on the Syrian Catholic cathedral that left 57 people dead in the Iraqi capital.
Archbishop Sako also expressed concern over the growing conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims vying for political power. He said the conflict has led to growing instability, especially in the days since the pullout of U.S. military troops in mid-December.
The archbishop’s concerns follow a series of incidents in the northern province of Kurdistan, which had been considered safe haven for Christians.
In Erbil, Kurdistan’s capital, Christian Sermat Patros, 29 was kidnapped Dec. 12. Between Dec. 2 and Dec. 5, at least 30 Christian-owned businesses were torched in Zakho near the Turkish border. A Christian couple also was found shot dead in their car Dec. 13 in Mosul.
The Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has been awarded a grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation that largely underwrites a comparative cultural survey of Catholic youth in the United States,stated the USCCB.
The survey aims to identify common and distinctive cultural traits that affect the openness and ability of Catholic youth to respond to a call to a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. The Secretariat has commissioned the Center for Applied Research (CARA) at Georgetown University to conduct a national survey of never-married Catholics, ages 14 and older, to study their views about vocations and their own consideration of a vocation.
Statistical data found in two reports commissioned by the Secretariat, “The Class of 2011: Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood” and “The Profession Class of 2010: Survey of Women Religious Professing Perpetual Vows,” indicate fewer than expected religious vocations among the Hispanic and Latino Catholic population in the U.S.
Father Shawn McKnight, executive director of the Secretariat, said that Hispanics/Latinos constituted 15 percent of the ordination class and 10 percent of the religious profession class, while constituting 34 percent of the total adult Catholic population.
“There is not enough objective data to explain the reasons for their underrepresentation,” Father McKnight said.
The Secretariat seeks to identify specific reasons for their underrepresentation, to guide the efforts by dioceses and religious communities to promote vocations.
In the same reports, other cultures show a stronger representation. For example, Asians constitute four percent of the adult Catholic population in the U.S., yet 10 percent of the past year’s ordination class were Asian. This is a consistent trend over the past 15 years. In the 2010 class of women who made their religious profession of perpetual vows, 19 percent of the entire class was Asian. Further study is needed to explore why there is such a difference in representation.
The identification of cultural elements that support and challenge a culture of vocations among Asian, Latino and the general youth population would be helpful information for collaborating organizations, such as the National Religious Vocations Conference and the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors. The results of this study would also benefit those involved with the evangelization of youth, as they would indicate how the influences of culture impact the ability to reach out to all Catholic youth.
“This study will aid in the New Evangelization by serving as a helpful resource in determining emerging needs within the church as well as assisting in the development of timely and effective responses,” said Peter Murphy, PhD, executive director of the USCCB Secretariat of Evangelization and Catechesis. “The success of ministry among a growing number of Hispanics/Latinos requires leadership from the Hispanic/Latino community itself, especially in the priesthood and religious life,” added Father Allan Deck, former head of the USCCB Secretariat for Cultural Diversity in the Church. “This proposal is the single most important effort to find the best ways to provide the priestly leadership necessary for Hispanics/Latinos to flourish in the church.”
The Mexican bishops’ conference declared a nationwide tour of relics of Blessed John Paul II a “total success” as an estimated 27 million Catholics came to venerate the items — including a vial of the late pontiff’s blood — and pray for peace in Mexico.
Bishops’ spokesman Father Manuel Corral told Catholic News Service that the tour, which concluded Dec. 15 in Mexico City, drew large crowds in each of the country’s 91 dioceses and achieved its aim of having Catholics “praying for peace” along with “encouraging people … giving them hope during a difficult time.”
The turnout, he added, “was more than we had hoped for.”
The tour of Blessed John Paul’s relics came at a difficult time for Mexico as drug cartel and organized crime violence has claimed more than 40,000 lives since 2006. Some areas have experienced declines in violence over the past year, such as Ciudad Juarez, but other parts of the country, including Acapulco, have worsened.
Father Corral said a desire for ending the violence was a factor in bringing out such sizable crowds. He also credited the enduring popularity of Blessed John Paul, who visited Mexico five times during his papacy and helped pave the way for Mexico and the Vatican establishing relations after decades of estrangement.
“He was a beloved man in Mexico,” Father Corral said.
Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to make his first official trip to Mexico in the spring. Father Corral said Dec. 20 that details of the trip would be made public shortly.
Like the number of marriages among Americans in general, the number of marriages performed in the Catholic Church has been in decline over the past few decades.
“Since 1972, the number of marriages celebrated in a Catholic church has fallen nearly 60 percent” in the U.S., said Sheila Garcia, associate director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, citing a study conducted for the secretariat by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University and released in 2008.
In 1972, there were 8.6 marriages in the church per 1,000 Catholics, but last year the figure was 2.6 church marriages for every 1,000 Catholics, she said.
That trend is among the reasons that led the bishops to launch their National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage in 2004 and the related “For Your Marriage” website to help people better understand the Catholic viewpoint on marriage and to strengthen the bonds of couples, whether they are Catholic or not, married in the church or not.
“What we have said is that you need three things to support marriage — a vision, skills and a supportive community,” Garcia told Catholic News Service. “The church clearly offers a vision for marriage. We believe you can have a marriage that is faithful, permanent and open to children. We believe with God’s grace that can be achieved.”
Through practical articles on such topics as finance and communications, the website at http://foryourmarriage.org offers tools to help couples strengthen their marriages. A campaign involving television and radio spots, print ads and billboards works to communicate the message that “the church cares about marriage as an institution and cares about your marriage,” Garcia said. “You can turn to the church for support.”
The 2008 CARA report found that 53 percent of adult Catholics in the U.S. were married, 25 percent had never married, 12 percent were divorced, 5 percent widowed, 4 percent living with a partner and 1 percent separated from their spouse.
A new report from the Pew Research Center analyzing Census Bureau data offered similar statistics. It found that only 51 percent of Americans 18 and over were married in 2010, 28 percent had never been married, 14 percent were divorced or separated and 6 percent widowed. The Pew report did not include a figure for those living with a partner.
But the Pew study also found that 39 percent of the respondents said marriage was becoming obsolete — an opinion that Brian R. Barcaro said the vast majority of the 300,000 users of CatholicMatch.com would dispute. Barcaro co-founded CatholicMatch.com with two others in June of 1999 and said there have been “thousands and thousands” of marriages resulting from the service since then.
“Overall our members would not be very similar” to the average single person surveyed by Pew, Barcaro said. “Their attitudes would be much more positive toward marriage than in the Pew study.”
He said “98, 99 percent” of CatholicMatch.com members “come with the idea that they want to meet someone that could be a future spouse.” The remaining 1 or 2 percent just want a community experience that can provide “perspectives on living life as a single Catholic,” he added.
But Barcaro said “one of the myths” about single people today is that they are all “college-age kids, 20somethings.”
“We do have a number of members in that age group,” he said, “but the majority are in their very late 20s or 30s or 40s.” Many of them have found themselves 10 or 15 years out of college and discovered that “things did not happen the way I thought they would” in terms of finding a spouse, Barcaro said.
“If you don’t meet the love of your life in college, then you get into a job and career and that impacts your social circles,” he added. “In college there are lots of natural social circles, but afterward it becomes much more difficult.”