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Posts tagged ‘Sacred Capital of the Vatican’

Dutch royals return from Vatican with royal heirloom

June 22, 2017

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Dutch king and queen are returning home from a state visit to the Vatican with a royal heirloom: the baton purportedly carried by William of Orange during the 16th century Dutch War of Independence from Spanish rule.

The head of the Jesuit religious order, the Rev. Arturo Sosa Abascal, handed over the wooden baton Thursday at a ceremony in the Apostolic Library after King Willem-Alexander and his Argentine-born wife, Queen Maxima, met with Pope Francis.

According to the Dutch royal household, Spanish Catholic forces took possession of the baton after they quashed the Protestant revolt headed by William of Orange at the Battle of Mookerheide in 1574. The baton had been housed in a Jesuit convent in Spain. It’s going on display at the Dutch military museum in Soesterberg.

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Pope names cardinals for Laos, Mali, Sweden, Spain, Salvador

May 21, 2017

VATICAN CITY (AP) — In a surprise announcement Sunday, Pope Francis named new cardinals for Spain, El Salvador and three countries where Catholics are a tiny minority: Mali, Laos and Sweden. “Their origin, from different parts of the world, manifests the universality of the Church spread out all over the Earth,” Francis said, speaking from the window of the Apostolic Palace to thousands of faithful in St. Peter’s Square.

The five churchmen chosen are Monsignor Jean Zerbo, archbishop of Bamako, Mali, where he has been involved in peace efforts amid Islamist extremism; Monsignor Juan Jose Omella, archbishop of Barcelona, Spain; Monsignor Anders Arborelius of Stockholm, who became a Catholic at the age of 20; Monsignor Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, apostolic vicar of Pakse, Laos; and Monsignor Gregorio Rosa Chavez, an auxiliary bishop who works as a parish pastor in San Salvador, El Salvador.

Francis will formally elevate the five to cardinal’s rank in a ceremony at the Vatican on June 28. Then the new “princes of the church,” as the red-hatted, elite corps of churchmen who elect popes are known, will co-celebrate Mass with Francis the next day, the Feast Day of Saints Peter and Paul, an important Vatican holiday.

Since being elected pontiff in 2013, Francis has made a point of visiting his flock in places where Catholics are in the minority, as well as of working to improve relations between churches and among believers of different faiths.

His brief pilgrimage last year to Sweden, where Lutherans are the Christian majority, was hailed by some as instrumental in helping to improve relations between the two churches. While there, he joined Lutheran leaders in a common commemoration of the Protestant Reformation that divided Europe five centuries ago.

Arborelius, who is 67, converted to Catholicism when he was 20. In 1998, when he was consecrated as a bishop in Stockholm’s Catholic cathedral, Arborelius became Sweden’s first Catholic bishop, of Swedish origin, since the times of the Reformation,

In Mali, a country bloodied by Islamist extremism, Muslims constitute the predominant religious majority. Zerbo’s clerical resume reveals him to be a churchman working for reconciliation in society, a virtue repeatedly stressed by Francis. The Vatican noted that Zerbo, 73, who was named an auxiliary bishop of Bamako in 1998 and 10 years later was made that city’s archbishop, has played a role in peace negotiations.

Extremists attacked a hotel in Bamako in 2015, killing 19 people. Last month, the U.N. peacekeeping chief for Mali called the security situation there alarming, warning that extremist groups operating under the al-Qaida banner were carrying out more sophisticated attacks and Islamic State militants were slowly making inroads.

There has been slow progress in implementing a peace deal reached in June 2015 between Mali’s government, Tuareg separatists and armed groups in the north. In Laos, the tiny Catholic community has often struggled to persevere, including under communist-led rule. Mangkhanekhoun, 73, was ordained a priest in 1972 and has served as a bishop since 2001. The Vatican paid tribute to his work in visiting faithful in mountain villages. Since early this year, he has served as apostolic administrator in Vientiane.

Catholicism has been the majority religion in Spain and in El Salvador, although in parts of Central and South America, evangelical Protestant sects have been gaining converts from the Catholic church.

The resume of Chavez, 74, also includes credentials valued by the pope, who has made serving the poor a key focus of the Catholic church’s mission. Chavez heads the Latin American division of Caritas, the Catholic charity. He was appointed an auxiliary bishop in 1982 for San Salvador, where he now will be based as a cardinal after serving as a parish pastor in the city.

Chavez worked closely with the late Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, who during El Salvador’s civil war was shot to death by a right-wing death squad while saying Mass in 1980. Pope Francis has denounced Catholic clerics who “defamed” Romero after the slaying, a campaign that delayed Romero’s eventual beatification.

Francis’ pick for the Spain cardinal’s post, Omella, 71, worked as a missionary in Zaire earlier in his career and serves on the Vatican’s powerful Congregation of Bishops office. Since December 2015, he has been archbishop of Barcelona.

In announcing his selections, Francis expressed hope that the new cardinals with their work and “their advice will sustain me more intensely in my service as bishop of Rome, universal pastor of the church.” In other remarks to the faithful in the square, Francis referred to the situation of another Catholic minority — Chinese whose loyalty to the pope has put them at odds with authorities of the state-sanctioned Catholic church in China, and sometimes brought persecution.

He prayed that Catholics in China would be able to bring their “personal contribution for the communion among believers and harmony in the entire society.” Francis is eager to see improved Vatican-China relations. Both sides have for decades been at odds over Chinese authorities’ insistence that they have the right to appoint bishops, a prerogative the Vatican says only belongs to the pope.

He urged Catholics in China to “stay open to meeting and dialogue, always.”

World’s oldest standing army has 40 new Swiss Guards

May 06, 2017

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The world’s oldest standing army has 40 new members after a Vatican Swiss Guard swearing-in ceremony. Each man took a loyalty oath Saturday evening in a ritual-rich ceremony in the St. Damaso courtyard of the Apostolic Palace. The May 6 date commemorates the day in 1527 when 147 guardsmen died while protecting Pope Clement VII during the Sack of Rome.

Earlier Saturday, Pope Francis told the Guards they’re called to “another sacrifice no less arduous” — serving the power of faith. The recruits, who enroll for at least two years, must be single, upstanding Swiss Catholic males younger than 30.

Wearing blue-and-gold uniforms and holding halberds — spear-like weapons — they are a tourist delight while standing guard at Vatican ceremonies. Their main duty is to protect the pope.

Trump to visit Israel, Saudi Arabia, Vatican, meet with pope

May 04, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Thursday his first foreign trip as president will feature stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican, where he will meet with Pope Francis, an ambitious foray onto the world stage that will include meetings with NATO and a summit in Italy.

Senior administration officials said Trump chose Saudi Arabia as his first stop to show his commitment to improving U.S. relations with the Muslim world. Trump will meet with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and other leaders where they are expected to discuss efforts to defeat terrorism and discredit radical ideologies, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe internal planning.

Trump, joining religious leaders in the Rose Garden on Thursday, said his first foreign trip would “begin with a truly historic gathering in Saudi Arabia with leaders all across the Muslim world.” “Saudi Arabia is the custodian of the two holiest sites in Islam and it is there that we will begin to construct a new foundation of cooperation and support with our Muslim allies to combat extremism, terrorism and violence and to embrace a more just and hopeful future for young Muslims in their countries,” Trump said.

The weeklong trip will mark the president’s first trip abroad and come about six weeks after the U.S. launched Tomahawk missiles against a Syrian air base in the aftermath of a chemical weapons attack in the war-ravaged country.

The trip will inject Trump into the thorny quest for Middle East peace, a prospect that has proven elusive for Trump’s predecessors. The announcement follows Trump’s meeting on Wednesday with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and his optimistic pledge to mediate peace efforts between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Trump has sought to forge strong ties with Israel’s President Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of his presidency in hopes of facilitating peace. The visit to Israel will reinforce that alliance, officials said.

“Our task is not to dictate to others how to live but to build a coalition of friends and partners who share the goal of fighting terrorism and bringing safety, opportunity and stability to the war-ravaged Middle East,” Trump said.

The Palestinians want to create a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. Abbas noted that demand when he joined Trump at the White House.

But Netanyahu has rejected the 1967 frontier as a baseline for border talks and ruled out partitioning Jerusalem where Palestinians hope to establish a capital. Netanyahu’s government has expanded settlements despite U.S. efforts to curb the construction.

The White House had said previously that Trump would travel to Belgium for the NATO meeting and Italy for the G7 summit before Memorial Day. The president previously called NATO “obsolete” but has since recanted after listening to European leaders make the case for the military alliance.

Trump will be making his first overseas trip late into the start of his presidency compared to his predecessors. Former President Barack Obama visited nine countries by late April 2009, his first three months in office, meeting with allies such as Canada, Britain and Germany. The last first-term president to wait until May to venture abroad was Jimmy Carter in 1977.

His visit will also give him the opportunity to connect with Roman Catholics with his visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican. The White House said the president met privately Thursday with Roman Catholic cardinals.

Trump and Francis couldn’t be more different in their approaches to some of the pressing issues of the day, with immigration and climate change topping the list. Francis has spoken of the need for bridges between nations, not the walls that Trump has called for. He has called for an end to the use of fossil fuels, while Trump has pledged to cancel payments to U.N. climate change programs and pull out of the Paris climate accord.

But both share a populist appeal and speak with a down-to-earth simplicity that has endeared them to their bases of supporters. And both share a common concern about the plight of Christians in the Middle East at the hands of Islamic militants.

Francis recently called for the U.S. and North Korea to step away from the brink and use negotiations and diplomacy to diffuse tensions on the Korean peninsula — an issue that is likely to feature in any Vatican audience.

During the campaign, when asked about Trump’s border wall with Mexico, Francis famously said anyone who wants to build a wall is “not Christian.” Trump shot back that it was “disgraceful” for a religious leader to question someone’s faith.

Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield in Vatican City contributed to this report.

Vatican recognizes state of Palestine in new treaty

May 13, 2015

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican officially recognized the state of Palestine in a new treaty finalized Wednesday, immediately sparking Israeli ire and accusations that the move hurt peace prospects.

The treaty, which concerns the activities of the Catholic Church in Palestinian territory, is both deeply symbolic and makes explicit that the Holy See has switched its diplomatic recognition from the Palestine Liberation Organization to the state of Palestine.

The Vatican had welcomed the decision by the U.N. General Assembly in 2012 to recognize a Palestinian state and had referred to the Palestine state since. But the treaty is the first legal document negotiated between the Holy See and the Palestinian state, giving the Vatican’s former signs of recognition an unambiguous confirmation in a formal, bilateral treaty.

“Yes, it’s a recognition that the state exists,” said the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said it was “disappointed.” “This move does not promote the peace process and distances the Palestinian leadership from returning to direct and bilateral negotiations,” the ministry said in a text message.

The United States and Israel oppose recognition, arguing that it undermines U.S.-led efforts to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian deal on the terms of Palestinian statehood. Most countries in Western Europe have held off on recognition, but some have hinted that their position could change if peace efforts remain deadlocked.

The treaty was finalized days before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visits Pope Francis at the Vatican. Abbas is heading to Rome to attend Francis’ canonization Sunday of two new saints from the Holy Land.

“This is a very important recognition as the Vatican has a very important political status that stems from its spiritual status,” said Abbas’ senior aide, Nabil Shaath. “We expect more EU countries to follow.”

The Vatican has been referring unofficially to the state of Palestine since 2012. During Pope Francis’ 2014 visit to the Holy Land, the Vatican’s official program referred to Abbas as the president of the “state of Palestine.”

The Vatican’s foreign minister, Monsignor Antoine Camilleri, acknowledged the change in status, but said the shift was simply in line with the Holy See’s position. The Holy See clearly tried to underplay the development, suggesting that its 2012 press statement welcoming the U.N. vote constituted its first official recognition. Nowhere in that statement does the Vatican say it recognizes the state of Palestine, and the Holy See couldn’t vote for the U.N. resolution because it doesn’t have voting rights at the General Assembly.

The Vatican’s efforts to downplay the move seemed justified given the swift condemnation of the development by Israeli groups: The American Jewish Committee said it was “counterproductive to all who seek true peace between Israel and the Palestinians.” The Anti-Defamation League said it was “premature.”

“We appreciate that the Vatican’s basic intention is to promote Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, but believe that this diplomatic recognition will be unhelpful to that end,” the ADL’s Abraham Foxman said.

The 2012 U.N. vote recognized Palestine as a non-member observer state, made up of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians celebrated the vote as a milestone in their quest for international recognition. Most countries in Africa, Asia and South America have individually recognized Palestine. In Western Europe, Sweden took the step last year, while several parliaments have approved non-binding motions urging recognition.

This isn’t the first time that the Vatican under Francis has taken diplomatic moves knowing that it would please some quarters and ruffle feathers elsewhere: Just last month, he referred to the slaughter of Armenians by Turkish Ottomans a century ago as a “genocide,” prompting Turkey to recall its ambassador.

AP writers Ian Deitch in Jerusalem and Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank contributed.

Vatican prepares to open showers, barber shop for homeless

February 06, 2015

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Rome’s homeless are about to get some TLC.

The Vatican said Friday it had finished renovations on public restrooms just off St. Peter’s Square that will include three showers and a free barber shop for the city’s neediest. Each “homeless pilgrim,” as the Vatican called the clients, will receive a kit including a towel, change of underwear, soap, deodorant, toothpaste, razor and shaving cream. The showers will be open every day but Wednesday, when the piazza is full for the pope’s general audience. Haircuts will be available Mondays.

Barbers volunteering on their days off – Rome’s barber shops are closed Mondays – as well as students from a local beauty school will be donating their time, as well as some sisters from religious orders and other volunteers.

The bathrooms were made with high-tech, easy-to-clean materials to ensure proper hygiene, the Vatican said in a statement. The walls are grey, with white washbasins and a high-tech looking barber chair.

Francis’ chief alms-giver, Monsignor Konrad Krajewski, has said the project is needed since homeless people are often shunned for their appearance and smell. The initiative is being funded by donations and sales of papal parchments sold by Krajewski’s office.

Francis has stepped up the role of the Vatican “elmosiniere” as part of his insistence that the church look out for the poorest. In addition to small acts of charity, Krajewski’s office handed out 400 sleeping bags to the homeless over Christmas, distributed 1,600 phone cards to new migrants on the island of Lampedusa, and this past week gave away some 300 umbrellas that had been left behind at the Vatican Museums to help the homeless cope with days of heavy rain in the capital.

Pope to see Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan

May 24, 2014

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — On the first leg of his three-day Mideast trip, Pope Francis will get a firsthand look at the plight of Syrian refugees and witness the toll the civil war next door is taking on Jordan.

Francis frequently has lamented the plight of refugees, denouncing the “globalization of indifference” that often greets them in their newly adopted homelands. At the same time, he and his predecessors have decried the flight of Christians from the Holy Land, insisting recently: “We will not be resigned to think about the Middle East without Christians!”

After meeting with King Abdullah II and Queen Rania at the royal palace, Francis is due to celebrate Mass on Saturday in Amman’s International Stadium. The Vatican expects some 25,000 people to attend, many of them Palestinian, Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Later, he will meet one-on-one with refugees and disabled children at a church in Bethany beyond the Jordan, which many believe is the traditional site of Jesus’ baptism.

Christians make up about 5 percent of Syria’s population, but assaults on predominantly Christian towns by rebels fighting against President Bashar Assad’s rule have fueled fears among the country’s religious minorities about the growing role of Islamic extremists in the revolt. Christians believe they are being targeted in part because of anti-Christian sentiment among Sunni Muslim extremists and partly as punishment for what is seen as their support for Assad.

The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said Francis wants to offer comfort to all Christians who live in the region and encourage them to stay. “These Christians are living stones, and without their presence, the Holy Land and its holy sites risk becoming a museum,” Parolin told Vatican Television on the eve of the trip.

Jordan last month opened a third camp for Syrian refugees, a stark indication of the strains the civil war is creating for the country. The sprawling facility is designed to accommodate up to 130,000 people and potentially become the world’s second-largest refugee camp. Jordan is hosting 600,000 registered Syrian refugees, or 10 percent of its population. Jordanian officials estimate the real number is closer to 1.3 million.

For the Syrian Christians who will greet Francis, his presence is a chance to show the world their hopelessness as the conflict drags on. “We are very happy because he will see Christians in the Arab world, he will see us and see our suffering,” said Nazik Malko, a Syrian Orthodox Christian refugee from Maaloula who will be among the 600 or so people to greet the pope at Bethany beyond the Jordan. “We wish that peace will be restored in the whole world, and in Syria.”

Another Orthodox Christian from Maaloula, Yacoub Josef, said he couldn’t wait to leave. “We wish that the situation in Syria would be better, but we hope to immigrate because we have had enough of being homeless,” he said.

Francis will visit a Palestinian refugee camp on Sunday when he travels from Amman directly to the West Bank city of Bethlehem. It’s the first time a pope has landed in the West Bank rather than Tel Aviv first, and Palestinian officials are eager to show Francis the limbo endured by generations of Palestinians forced or driven out in the war over Israel’s 1948 creation. Today, along with their descendants, these refugees make up more than 5 million people scattered across the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

Parolin, the Vatican No. 2, said Francis would emphasize the Vatican’s longstanding position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “The right of Israel to exist and enjoy peace and security inside its internationally recognized borders, and the right of the Palestinian people to have a sovereign, independent homeland, freedom of movement and the right to live in dignity.”

Technically, the main reason for the trip is for Francis and the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic meeting in Jerusalem by their predecessors which ended 900 years of Catholic-Orthodox estrangement. That highlight will come on Sunday, when Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I preside over a joint prayer service in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected.

Representatives of other churches also will be present, including Cardinal Bechara Rai, the first leader of Lebanon’s largest Christian sect, the Maronite Catholic Church, to visit Jerusalem since Israel captured the city’s eastern sector. Lebanon bans its citizens from visiting Israel or having business dealings with Israelis.

Underscoring the sensitive political nature of the trip, Rai’s plans to visit Israel have drawn criticism. He angrily walked out of an interview with France 24 on Friday while in Amman, after the reporter pressed him on the motives for his visit.

“I don’t come to the Holy Land for political, economic or military goals. … Jerusalem is our city and we are in the Holy Land since hundreds of years, we cannot leave our land and our people,” he said.

Francis will spend Monday in Jerusalem, visiting the grand mufti of Jerusalem and Israel’s chief rabbis, albeit separately. He’ll also pray at the Western Wall and visit the Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem and will become the first pope to lay a wreath of flowers on Mount Herzl, named for the founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl. He returns to the Vatican Monday night.

Winfield reported from Rome.

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