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12/23/2007 2:35 PM
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A translation of the Holy Father's words at Angeus today as been posted in AUDIENCE AND ANGELUS TETS.

I extend warm greetings to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Angelus. On this fourth Sunday of Advent, we contemplate God’s ancient promise to send us his Son, "Emmanuel" – "God is with us". As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, I pray that you may open your hearts to welcome him with joy. God bless you all!

Pope calls on Christians
to spread their faith

VATICAN CITY, Dec. 23 (AP) - POPE Benedict XVI told the faithful gathered in Saint Peter's Square on Sunday that 'nothing can keep us from this onerous and fascinating duty' of spreading the Christian faith throughout the world.

The pope referred to guidelines issued earlier this month by the Vatican's doctrinal office on the missionary policy of the Roman Catholic Church.

'The document serves as a reminder to all Christians, in a situation in which it is often not clear to many faithful themselves the reason for evangelizing, that accepting the Gospel pushes one to communicate the gift of salvation,' the pope said during the traditional Sunday noon Angelus prayer on the last Advent Sunday before Christmas.

'Nothing can exempt or keep us from this onerous and fascinating duty.' The pope also anticipated 'the joy of Christmas,' saying that it fills believers with a hope that 'pushes us to announce the presence of God.'

'Nothing more beautiful,
urgent and important
than announcing the Gospel'

Vatican City, Dec. 23 (AsiaNews) – “Nothing can release or free us” from the task of announcing the Gospel and “nothing is more beautiful, urgent and important” than this, said Benedict XVI before a crowd of some 30,000 people who gathered in Saint Peter’s Square a day before celebrating the night when God became man.

In today’s Angelus he spoke of the true meaning of Christmas and again about the “duty” of Christians, especially the Church, to evangelise.

“Tomorrow night we shall celebrate the great mystery of Love that never ceases to amaze us, namely love that became man,” he said. Indeed at this time of the year the words 'Come Lord' are often invoked."

"The mission of the Church is to provide an answer to the words ‘Come Lord Jesus’ so that through his coming “our hearts may change and justice and peace infuse the world.”

“In a situation in which many faithful have no clear idea as to the reasons for evangelisation,” the recent document released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “reminds us all that welcoming the Good News is by itself a way to signal that we were given salvation as a gift,” said the Holy Father.

“The truth that can save life can brighten the heart of those who receive it with love for their fellow man thus enabling them to feel free to return what they freely received.”

“There is nothing more beautiful, urgent and important than to freely return what we have freely received from God. Nothing can release or free us from this weighty task.”

“Each Christian and each community should feel the joy of sharing with others the Good News, that God loves the world so much that he gave his only Son so that the world may be saved through him.” “This is the true meaning of Christmas that we must always rediscover and live intensely.”

Before his closing greetings “to experience the upcoming festivities in the light and peace that come from Christ the Saviour,” Benedict XVI praised an initiative taken by the Osservatore Romano on behalf of the children of Uganda.



[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 12/23/2007 10:03 PM]
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12/23/2007 4:03 PM
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By Giuseppe Massari

Translated/adapted from PETRUS today:

A recent survey for SKY TV in Italy showed that 64% of Italians chose Pope Benedict XVI as their Person of the Year 2007.

Of course, this should not be surprising to us, only to those who have been cold or lukewarm in their attitude towards the Pope.

The Pope certainly does not need a consensus of popularity, but nevertheless this poll once again belies all the Cassandras, the retrograde thinkers, the know-alls, all those who claimed at the start that this was going to be a Pontificate not worth remembering.

These prophets of doom also said Benedict XVI's Pontificate would be a return to the past that would mean dark times for the Church.

Instead, the faithful have taken this Pope to their hearts, for his way of presenting himself and making himself understood clearly, without need for any spectacular gestures.

One might say that Benedict XVI entered the Papacy 'on tiptoes' - in the wake of a great predecessor - but he quickly settled in, with his well-measured words, his doctrinal interventions, his encyclicals, his effective presence even among the youth.

And Benedict's 'silent revolution' is bearing fruit. The faithful, judging by the audiences he draws, appear to be drawing closer to the mystery of beauty which is Christ as Benedict announces him, so that the faithful may know Christ and learn the true experience of faith, hope and charity.

They are doing so, through his Vicar on earth, for whom they have shown affection, esteem, sympathy and human warmth.

We can only wish long life to a Pope who is discreet, cultured, extremely prepared, prudent, wise, and rich with such profound humanity.

Through this site, we wish to convey to the Holy Father all our gratitude and our best wishes for a long and fecund spiritual and pastoral life.





Translated from PETRUS:

The Midnight Mass presided by Pope Benedict XVI tomorrow to celebrate the birth of Christ will be broadcast by 88 TV networks in 60 countries, with 42 carrying the telecast live, the Vatican said today.

For the Pope's Christmas message Urbi et Orbi, to be delivered at noon on Christmas Day, 95 networks in 57 countries have signed up, including all the countries of Europe.

In Africa: Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Togo, Uganda; in the americas: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, USA; in Asia: India, Indonesia, Korea, Lebanon and the Philippines; and Australia, site of the next World Youth day.


I'm always thrilled and very encouraged wehn I see how many countries care enough about the Christian celebration of Christmas and the Pope's Christmas message to make it a worldwide media event. Certainly, no single celebrity or secular event in this celebrity-obsessed world can match the worldwide TV audience that the Vatican draws regularly for the Pope's major feastday Masses and messages. And that is a comforting thought in today's world.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 12/25/2007 10:34 PM]
12/23/2007 11:12 PM
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Translated from PETRUS today:

VATICAN CITY - The President of the Council of Ministers, Romano Prodi, has sent a Christmas letter to Pope Benedict XVI through Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

Recalling the numerous religious events and pastoral visits that the Pope carried out in Italy during the year, Prodi chose to dwell on the message in defense of the traditional family contained in the Pope's message for the World Day of Peace in 2008.

"It is a theme which touches each of us subjectively," he wrote, "as well as the social order and the state." He notes that the Holy
Father has stated very strongly that "the family is the primary setting for 'humanization' and represents the basic cell of social organization, as recognized even in our Constitution."

"But the Holy Father also amplified, in a most enlightening way, an examination of the influences of the family, showing how the family is ultimately the primary source for values about peace, and that it is from the family that such values reach out to be spread in the world."

"In this respect," Prodi's letter continues, "Italy has been committed to affirm and protect the values of peace and democracy even in far countries whose citizens aspire to a better life, and for whom we are called on to offer whatever aid we can give, alongside international organizations."



Also from PETRUS:

Pope Benedict XVI personally telephoned Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Christmas Eve to express his Christmas wishes for him and the 'beloved Italian people'.

This was learned from both the Vatican and Quirinale press offices.

The Pope's call was made in response to a Christmas letter from Napolitano, which a Vatican sources described as 'a beautiful message'.

The two men met at the Vatican in November 2006 when Napolitano made a state visit shortly after he was elected President. Since then, he has often sent messages of support during the Pope's travels adn for his various initiatives.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 12/26/2007 8:07 AM]
12/24/2007 4:53 AM
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Surprise: The Pope Takes the Curia to Brazil

In his pre-Christmas address to the Roman curia, Benedict XVI reiterated the purposes of his trip
to the largest country in Latin America: to bring the Church back to a stance of mission
and to proclaim Jesus to all the peoples of the earth. Including the Muslims

by Sandro Magister

ROMA, December 24, 2007 – In a surprise move, Benedict XVI dedicated almost all of his pre-Christmas address to the Roman curia three days ago to a reflection on his trip to Brazil.

In the addresses to the curia that preceded Christmas of 2005 and 2006, pope Joseph Ratzinger had expounded theses that are absolutely central to his pontificate: beginning with his interpretation of Vatican Council II.

This time, instead, he concentrated his address precisely on what has been apparently the least successful event of his pontificate: his trip to Brazil, from May 9-14, which had little impact on public opinion, prompted various criticisms within the Church, and opened, in Aparecida, a conference of the Latin American bishops that was also less dazzling than others in the past.

But it's enough to consider what the pope said, taking the trip to Brazil as his point of departure, to understand how this time as well he went to the heart of the Church's reason for being.

The objections that Benedict XVI confronted were two. The first is that in Aparecida the wrong theme was selected, and the Church withdrew into excessively spiritual and interior questions, instead of facing the great challenges of history, in matters of justice, peace, freedom.

To this he responded that only the encounter with Jesus and his Gospel infuse within men "those powers of goodness without which all of our programs in the social order do not become reality, but – in the face of overwhelming pressure from other interests that are contrary to peace and justice – remain only abstract theories."

He formulated the second objection this way:

"Is it still permissible to 'evangelize' today? Shouldn't all the religions and conceptions of the world instead coexist peacefully and seek, together, to do what is best for humanity, each in its own way?"

To this he responded that, yes, it is right that there be common action among the different religions "in defense of the effective respect of the dignity of each human person, to build a more just and supportive society." And in this regard, he cited the letter of the 138 Muslim leaders and his response.

But this does not preclude the proclamation of Jesus to society; on the contrary:

"Those who have recognized a great truth, those who have found a great joy must transmit it; they simply cannot keep it for themselves. [...] In Jesus Christ there has arisen for us a great light, 'the' great Light: we cannot put it under a bushel basket, but must raise it up on the lamp stand, so that it may give light to all in the house."

Two days later, at the Angelus on Sunday, December 23, Benedict XVI again insisted upon this missionary effort, citing the "Doctrinal note on some aspects of evangelization" released last December 14 by the congregation for the doctrine of the faith:

"The document proposes, in effect, to remind all Christians – in a situation in which it is often no longer clear even to many of the faithful what the reason for evangelization is – that the reception of the Good News in faith itself urges the communication of the salvation received as a gift. [...] Nothing is more beautiful, urgent, and important than freely giving back to men what we have freely received from God! Nothing can exempt or relieve us of this onerous and fascinating commitment. The joy of Christmas, which we can already taste in anticipation, while it fills us with hope, drives us at the same time to proclaim to all the presence of God among us."

This is the skeleton of the address to the Roman curia. But the interesting thing is following the argumentation.

[Magister then posts some excerpts from the address. However, a full translation of the Pope's address on Dec. 21 to the Curia was posted in a timely manner in HOMILIES, DISCOURSES, MESSAGES.]


I'd like to comment briefly on Magister's piece. I am truly surprised that he should be surprised at the Pope's emphasis on the message of Aparecida, because it is all of a piece with his emphasis lately on the role of the Church and the individual Christian in evangelization and mission. He has referred to these themes in almost all of his last discourses since the CDF came out with the Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization. The Holy Father is simply staying on message, as he generally does.

Moreover, I take exception to Magister's judgment that the trip to Brazil was 'the least successful event of his Pontificate'. Who and how does one decide that, if you please? Judgment calls like this can only be extremely subjective.

One only has to read the Holy Father's recounting of the highlights of the trip to Brazil to realize how much each of the events on his program had a specific purpose and target audience - the youth at Pacaembu, the faithful at the canonization Mass for Frei Galvao, the bishops of Brazil in Sao Paulo Cathedral, the recovering drug addicts at Facenda da Esperanca, and the bishops of Latin American in Aparecida. How can anyone say that any of those events were 'unsuccessful'? If none of the events were unsuccessful, then how can the whole trip be unsuccessful, or 'least succesful'?

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 12/24/2007 11:11 PM]
12/24/2007 11:56 AM
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It's Christmas Eve, and it was very jarring and more than distasteful to wake up today and see that one of the few 'news' items about the Pope is a presumptuous, utterly sanctimonious "Christmas letter to the Pope' in the Japan Times by one Kevin Rafferty, who is identified as a former editor of The Universe, a British Catholic newspaper.

If you thought the LA Times editorial 'Teaching the Pope' was outrageous, this one is much more so, accusing the Pope, among other things, of 'great intolerance for other religions' and 'ignoring Asia' just because he has not planned any trips there.

Anyway, I do not wish to soil these pages on Christmas by such sanctimonious screed which I could understand if it was in any way informed, but it proceeds completely on the most mistaken assumptions without regard for fact.

12/24/2007 12:00 PM
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At 16:55 today (Rome time), Pope Benedict will light the candle of peace from his study window. This will be telecast by CTV.

If you miss the direct telecast, Remeber that the Vatican now has PAPAL VIDEONEWS ON DEMAND
at any time on


VATICAN CITY, DEC. 23, 2007 ( The U.N. moratorium on the death penalty and the French president's proposal for a "positive laicism" are two reasons for hope this Christmas season, according to a Vatican spokesman.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, highlighted these two events on the Vatican Television weekly "Octava Dies."

"At Christmastime we all desire and hope that positive new realities will arise," he explained. "The birth of Christ is the great new thing, but it does not eliminate the importance of other new things that come about.

"[The newness of Christ] allows us to understand the meaning [of these things] more profoundly and make them less ephemeral."

The Jesuit pointed to two events from last week, "new realities of the world -- not of the life of the Church in the strict sense -- but things in which the Church intensely participates."

Father Lombardi first mentioned the U.N. General Assembly's Tuesday approval of a moratorium on the death penalty.

"It is not something that means that the death penalty will disappear from the world or that the consensus is universal," he said. "But it is an important step toward the growth of a common consciousness of respect for life, of just awareness of the limits of human justice and of a more rehabilitative than a vindictive understanding of punishment.

"The Catholic Church, which fights courageously against abortion and euthanasia, also commits itself with constancy to the removal of the death penalty from the world."

Father Lombardi then mentioned French President Nicolas Sarkozy's Thursday speech at the Lateran Basilica in Rome. The president said he is calling for "a positive laicism, that is to say, a laicism that watches over freedom of thought, of belief and unbelief, does not consider religion as a danger, but as an asset."

Father Lombardi mentioned this proposal, saying a second reason for hope this season "is the clarity with which French President Sarkozy recognized the importance of the Christian roots of his country and proposed a new and positive vision of the secularity of the state in which the contribution of believers and of the Church is desired and sought as essential for common construction and also, and above all, for nourishing that hope without which the world becomes a desert."

These two events, the Vatican spokesman said, are "human hopes that -- as Benedict XVI teaches in his last encyclical -- the believer sees and lives in the light of the great Hope -- for the whole world, for all."


MOSCOW. Dec 24 (Interfax) - The Patriarch of Moscow and all rUssia, Alexei II, has sent Christmas greetings to Pope Benedict XVI and heads of other churches that celebrate the holiday in late December.

"I cordially congratulate you on Christmas and wish you abundant grace from the Infant God, good health and Godspeed to your high service," Alexei-II writes.

"On these festive days Christians follow the commandment of St. John Chrysostom to rejoice at God's grace and praise the condescension of the Lord," the patriarch said.

The head of the Moscow Patriarchate's External Church Relations
Department, Metropolitan Kirill, also sent Christmas greetings to the pontiff and heads of other churches.

Christmas is the "declared unlimited love of God for the human race," Kirill wrote. "I cordially wish you health and continual help of God to your high service".

Catholics and the majority of local Orthodox churches, except the Russian, Serbian, Jerusalem and Georgian churches, celebrate Christmas on December 25.

UPI reports it two days later:

MOSCOW, Dec. 26 (UPI) - Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow sent Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI a congratulatory Christmas Day message wishing him well.

"I heartily congratulate you on the Nativity of Christ and wish you abundant grace on behalf of Infant God, well-doing, God's help in your service," the Russian spiritual leader said Tuesday.

He also extended his message of good cheer to leaders of other Christian denominations, ITAR-TASS reported.

While Catholics and Protestants celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, most Orthodox churches will mark the birth of Jesus Jan. 7.


VATICAN CITY, DEC. 24, 2007 ( Benedict XVI expressed his sorrow upon hearing of the death of Brazilian Cardinal Aloísio Lorscheider, who died Sunday at 83.

The Pope sent two telegrams, one to Archbishop Dadeus Grings of Puerto Alegre, Brazil, and another to Father José Rodríguez Carballo, minister-general of the Order of Friars Minor, to which Cardinal Lorscheider belonged.

In the messages, the Holy Father recalled the cardinal's "constant and generous dedication" to the Church. He served as bishop of Santo Angelo and archbishop of Fortaleza and Aparecida, as well as a member of various Vatican congregations. He also served as president of the Brazilian episcopal conference and the Latin American bishops' council.

"I offer fervent prayers for his soul," the Pontiff wrote, "so that God grants him eternal rest in the light of our savior, Jesus Christ."

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 12/26/2007 3:46 PM]
12/24/2007 4:03 PM
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Novelties as well as continuity with tradition
will mark the Papal liturgies this season


Translated from
today's issue of

Continuity with tradition and with the Council, a language of signs, but above all, careful attention to creating an atmosphere of meditation and prayer which should characterize all liturgical celebrations.

These are the principal criteria which, at Pope Benedict's wishes, the Office for Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations is following in preparing the solemn liturgies for the Christmas season and for the Pope in general.

There are quite a few novelties this year which are significant.

Among this, the fact that on Christmas Day, the figurine of Baby Jesus will be laid on the small 'throne' used during Vatican-II to hold the Gospel. This would highlight the mystery of the Word made flesh in the Baby of Bethlehem, who will be laid there as the Gloria is sung at the Christmas Mass.

And a special attention for the papal liturgical vestments for the season.

The vestments, as well as certain details in the rites themselves, are intended to underscore the continuity between liturgical celebration today and that which characterized Church tradition before Vatican-II.

Mons. Guido Marini, master of pontifical liturgical rites, noted: "Just as the Pope cites in his texts the Pontiffs who preceded him, so too in the liturgical context, the Pope may use the vestments of his predecessors to show the same continuity even in the lex orandi."

Thus, tonight at the Midnight Mass and at the Mass of the Epiphany, Benedict XVI will wear his own miter, but for the Urbi et Orbi blessing on Christmas Day, he will wear a miter that belonged to John Paul I; for the New Year's Day blessing, a miter that belonged to Benedict XV; and for the Feast of the Lord's Baptism, a miter that belonged to John Paul II.

As Mons. Marini has done since he took over as liturgical MC at the Vatican, the Cross will be placed in the center of the Altar. [For some reason, the Novus Ordo had displaced the Cross from the altar.]

This obviously indicates the centrality of the Cross in the Eucharistic celebration and the orientation which the entire congregation should have during the liturgy: looking at the Savior who died and was resurrected for us.

The altar will also have a seventh candle, as provided by the ceremonial manual for bishops, particularly for the papal liturgy, as a symbol of perfection - the reference is in the book of Revelations.

Two other signs will be common to all the liturgies of the Christmas season.

First, the use of a more solemn cathedra (chair) for the Pope is intended to underscore the special significance of the seat from which the Vicar of Christ on earth exercises his Magisterium over the universal Church.

Second, the Pope will always be assisted either by two deacons (as at the Midnight Mass, the Te Deum on December 31, and January 13, at the Baptism Mass) or by two cardinals (at the Christmas Day and New Year's Day benedictions, and on January 6) to emphasize the Pope's liturgical presidence.

Other novelties will be seen according to the feast celebrated.

On Christmas Eve, there will be a brief prayer vigil before the Midnight Mass, with the chanting of the Kalenda, an ancient hymn which shows the birth of the Savior as rooted in history.

After the deposition of the Baby Jesus on the Gospel throne, children representing all the children of the world will bring floral tributes to the Baby Jesus. this is a reminder of Jesus's admonition that men must become as children to enter the Kingdom of God.

At the end of the Mass, the Pope will carry the Baby Jesus to the manger in the creche on St. Peter's Square.

On Dec. 31, the New Year's Eve Vespers will be followed by the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, with a Te Deum to give thanks for the year past, and a eucharistic benediction. This underscores the centrality of Eucharistic adoration in the life of the Church and the Lord's disciples, and to accompany the start of the new year with the Lord's benediction.

On January 1, the prayers for the faithful at Mass will be inspired by the Pope's message for the World Day of Peace on New Year's Day. After the Mass, there will also be a veneration of the Madonna, since January 1 in the liturgical calendar is the Feast of Mary as the Mother of God. The image used is one that has been kept in the Vatican Museums.

On the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, the Credo will be recited in the form of renewal of the baptismal vows.

In any case, Mons. Marini said, "What is fundamental to a liturgical celebration is an atmosphere of meditation and prayer, as well as a sense of mystery - and to these, everything should contribute: words, images, gestures, song, music, silences."

He described it as the ars celebrandi which aims to make the liturgical sense luminous and clear. The true and authentic meaning of active participation in the liturgy, he said, is to participate in the moment that is being celebrated by the liturgy which recreates for us the history of salvation, and every element of liturgy should help to realize this.

"The fruit of authentic participation," he said, "is growing in holiness, and therefore, the transformation of our life to be in Christ and with Christ."

Avvenire, 23 dicembre 2007


In Il Riformista today, Paolo Rodari has a commentary and adds a few more details. Here is a translation:

Pope Benedict's
quiet and courageous
liturgical style

It's Christmas, and Pope Benedict XVI shows his respect for tradition.

Especially in the Pontifical liturgies to be celebrated during the season, which will reflect his sober, attentive but also courageous liturgical style.

A style which, with its impact on the heart of the believer's life of faith, namely, the liturgy, will profoundly leave its mark on the Pontificate of John Paul II's successor.

Because, in fact, the whole Catholic world looks to Rome - and how it celebrates the liturgy. And beyond this Pope's words and teachings, it is also his ars celebrandi that communicates the Pope's ministry to the Church and to the world.

Benedict XVI is conscious of this, and so is his new master of papal liturgical rites, Mon. Guido Marini.

It is due to this awareness that, step by step, pontifical liturgies over the past few weeks have seen the courageous revival of traditional liturgical practices that fell into disuse during the years of the post-Vatican II liturgical reform.

The changes carry out Benedict XVI's standards ][Teresa's note: Adhering, it must be said, to Sacrosanctum concilium, the liturgical constitution of Vatican-II, which has been largely ignored and even violated by advocates of laissez-faire liturgy].

In the first place, that the liturgy should favor a common orientation of the celebrant and the congregation 'ad Orientem', in the symbolic sense of 'the East' - the direction of He who is coming, the Lord who comes among his people, among those who with their prayers, attitudes and gestures demonstrate their receptivity and worship.

It is a basic attitude that recalls and confirms what the French writer Georges Bernanos wrote about the nature of liturgy and its purpose: "One has understood absolutely nothing of modern life unless one admits that it is a universal conspiracy against any form of interior life".

Just seemingly small changes that allow the liturgy to be as the Pope believes it should be. The return of the Crucifix to the center of the altar was first noted at a Requiem Mass celebrated by the Pope for a deceased cardinal shortly after this Mons. Marini took over in late October. At the Consistory rites, the Pope was attended by two deacons at Mass as prescribed by the current manual of celebrations. More attention has been given to the propriety of the papal liturgical vestments.

At the Midnight Mass tonight, there will be seven steps to the Cathedra of Peter's Successor, as the manual prescribes. The Pope has reportedly chosen to wear the chasuble he wore on for his 80th birthday Mass.

For the Christmas Day blessing Urbi et Orbi from the central loggia of St. Peter's, he will wear a cope that belonged to John XXIII and a miter that belonged to Benedict XV, with the three-brace Cross that belonged to Leo XIII.

Several years ago, Joseph Ratzinger wrote Der Geist der Liturgie. Eine Einführung (the spirit of liturgy: An introduction), inspired by the famous "Spirit of Liturgy' by Romano Guardini. The book was an unexpected best-seller.

The future Pope wrote in his foreword then that if his book "succeeds in its turn to stimulate something of a 'liturgical movement' towards liturgy and its correct celebration, interior as well as exterior", then the reasons that made him write the book "would be fully realized."

So from small things may come a great movement of judicious restoration of what is good from the past, removing the crust of unregulated liberties in the post-conciliar years that took away much of the beauty from Catholic liturgy.

Benedict XVI wants to set the example that even within the Novus Ordo, liturgy can and should be celebrated as a comment of 'adoration in common', to use Ratzinger's words, a time to "go forward together to meet He who is coming: the essence of liturgy is not to be closed in on itself, but the common setting forth which is expressed in a common orientation."

The Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum was an important step in this return to a 'common orientation', as well as the small changes we have been noting in papal liturgical rites. [A note that will clarify questions about the execution of the Motu Proprio is ready and will be released by the Vatican shortly].

And all this, faithful both to tradition as well as Vatican-II, according to liturgical criteria that reflect the entire bimillennial history of the Church.

Il Riformista, 24 dicembre 2007

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 12/26/2007 3:47 AM]
12/24/2007 8:11 PM
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Vatican, Dec. 26, 2007 ( - Pope Benedict XVI continued a tradition begun by his predecessor when he lit a candle on Christmas Eve in the window of his apartment in the apostolic palace.

Pope John Paul II began placing a candle in the window in 1981, during the period of martial law in his native Poland. He continued to place a candle in his window on Christmas Eve each year thereafter, as a symbol of the hope for peace.

Pope Benedict has carried on that practice. Each year hundreds of pilgrims gather in St. Peter's Square as dusk approaches on Christmas Eve, to cheer the Pope as he appears briefly to place the candle.

The tradition of placing a candle in the window on Christmas Eve has a rich tradition. In Ireland, pious Catholics maintained the custom of lighting a candle to indicate that there was "room at the inn," thus welcoming the Christ Child into their homes. During decades of persecution, the candle became a signal that any priest was welcome to celebrate Mass in that house.


Contrary to the Anglophone reports based on a mistranslation of a Vatican release,
the Nativity Scene did not do away with the manger. As correctly reported
in this Forum, the Nativity scene is simply re-imagined in a dream of Joseph
who 'sees' it set in his own house in Nazareth. [The band members behind the Holy Family
were only there for the unveiling rites, obviously.]

UPI later filed this erroneous story - it was not the Pope who unveiled the Nativity scene - it was Cardinal Lajolo, Governor of Vatican state.

Pope unveils new-style nativity scene

VATICAN CITY, Dec. 25 (UPI) -- Pope Benedict XVI revealed a new-style nativity scene in St. Peter's Square depicting Jesus' birth in Joseph's house.

The pope unveiled the scene, which is apparently based on St. Matthew's version of the Nativity and does not include the stable and manger typically associated with nativity scenes, ANSA reported Tuesday. The ribbon on the scene was cut Monday. [And the scene does include the manger! - Was the reporter even there? ]

St. Matthew's version of Jesus' birth states Joseph took Mary into his house and that is where she gave birth. The version makes no mention of a journey to Bethlehem.

The pontiff recently spoke on the importance of nativity scenes and Christmas trees to the world's 1.1 billion Catholics.

''They are elements of that typical Christmas atmosphere which is part of the spiritual patrimony of our communities,'' he said. The pope said the items created a climate ''infused with religious feeling and family intimacy.''

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 12/26/2007 8:05 PM]
12/24/2007 10:58 PM
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Thanks to Lella who posted this in Italian in her blog yesterday. It comes from IMMAGINI DI SPERANZA (Images of Hope), a book published in Italy in 2005, and is particularly appropriate to read on Chistmas Eve, so I am posting it here even if it is not news of the usual kind, but the "Good News'. I've also moved this post down to precede the Midnight Mass coverage, instead of where it was earlier.

I would very much like to e-mail it as well to the Archbishop of Canterbury who so cavalierly dismissed many elements of the Christmas story, including the ox and the donkey, in his recent interview on BBC Radio, as posted earlier in NOTABLES.

The ox and the donkey
in the Nativity scene


The Pope views a Nativity Scene from Mexico, 12/21/07.

At Christmas time, it is our heartfelt wish that in the frenzy of feasting, we will also have time for reflection and the joy of contact with the goodness of our God, which will give us the courage to move forward.

At the start of this reflection on what the feast can tell us today, a brief look at the origins of Christmas celebration would be very useful.

The Church's liturgical year, first of all, did not develop with reference to the birth of Christ, but to his resurrection. That is why the oldest feast in Christianity is not Christmas but Easter. In fact, it was only the resurrection of Christ that founded the Christian faith and therefore gave rise to the Church.

Because of this, Ignatius of Antioch (who died around 117) defined Christians ass "those who have stopped observing the Sabbath but live according to the Lord's day": to be Christian meant to live in the Paschal manner, by virtue of the Resurrection, which was celebrated every week in the Paschal feast of the Sunday Mass.

The first one to affirm with certainty that Jesus was born on December 25 was Hippolytus of Rome in a comment to Daniel, written around 204. Bo Reicke, who was a professor of Biblical exegesis in Basel, called attention to the festive calendar, according to which the stories in the the Gospel of Luke about the birth of the Baptist and of Jesus are linked.

We may deduce that Luke already presupposes in his Gospel the date of December 25 as the date of Jesus's birth. In those days, it was celebrated as the feast of the dedication of the temple established by Judas Maccabeus in 164 B.C. Thus, the birth of Jesus came to symbolize the fact that with him, who appeared like the light of God on a wintry night, the consecration of the true temple came to pass - the coming of God to this earth.

In any case, the feast of Christmas took clear shape in Christianity only in the fourth century when it took the place of the Roman feast of 'sol invictus' (invincible sun) which taught the faithful to conceive of the birth of Christ as the triumph of the true Light. Reicke's research showed that this transformation of a pagan feast to a Christian solemnity was in keeping with an ancient Judaeo-Christian tradition.

Nonetheless, the particular human warmth which so moves us at Christmas to the point that it has surpassed Easter in the heart of Christians, only developed in the Middle Ages when Francis of Assisi, profoundly enamored of Christ the man, God-with-us, introduced this new element.

His first biographer, Tommaso da Celano, tells us in his Seconda Vita:

"More than any other feast, Francis celebrated Christmas with indescribable joy, because on that day, God became a baby and suckled milk like all other babies. He would embrace with tenderness and transport any image which represented the Baby Jesus and would speak to it with compassionate and gentle words as one would to a baby. On his lips the name of Jesus sounded sweet as honey."

It was this sensibility that gave rise to the famous Christmas celebration in Greccio, perhaps inspired by his pilgrimage to the Holy Land and by the Nativity scene in Rome's Santa Maria Maggiore.

He was also urged by his thirst for closeness to Jesus, to relive the experience of Bethlehem as close as possible, so he could directly experience something of the joy at the actual birth of Jesus and transmit this to all his friends.

In his first biography, Celano writes about the night of that first Christmas creche, in a manner that remains touching to any reader and which contributed decisively to the dissemination of the most beautiful of Christmas traditions, the creche. or Nativity scene.

We can therefore rightly say that the night in Greccio gave back to Christianity the feast of Christmas, so that its authentic message, its particular warmth and humanity, the humanity of our God, could communicate itself to the souls of men and give our faith a new dimension.

The feast of the Resurrection had focused our attention on the power of God who triumphed over death and teaches us to hope in the life to come. But what was now highlighted was the defenseless love of God, his humility and his goodness, which are manifested in this world in our midst to teach us a new way to live and to love.

It may be useful to pause a little at his point to ask: Where is this Greccio, which has assumed such significance for the story of the faith? It is a small town in Umbria, not far from Rome, to the northeast. Lakes and mountains have given the town its particular fascination and silent beauty, which succeeds in moving us even today, especially since it has hardly been touched by the confusion attendant to mass tourism.

The convent of Greccio, some 2000 feet above sea level, has retained much of its original simplicity; it has remained modest, like the little town at the foot of its mountain. The forest surrounds it as in Francis's time, and invites us to pause and reflect.

Celano recalls that Francis had a particular liking for the residents of the area, because of their poverty and simplicity. That is why he went there often to rest, drawn by the idea of living in an extremely poor and simple cell, where he could dedicate himself undisturbed to the contemplation of celestial things.

Poverty, simplicity, silence and speaking to nature: these were surely the attractions that linked the Saint of Assisi to this place. It became his Bethlehem and would inscribe the mystery of Bethlehem once again in the geography of our soul.

But let us go back to the Christmas of 1223. Some land in Greccio had been placed at Francis's disposition by a nobleman named Giovanni who, according to Celano, although he had noble lineage and high position, "gave no importance to nobility by blood but rather sought to gain nobility of the spirit", such that he earned Francis's affection.

Celano writes that Giovanni had the grace of a marvelous vision in which he saw a baby asleep in a manger, which awoke when Francis came near. He adds:

"This vision in fact coincided with what was really happening, because until then, the baby Jesus had effectively fallen into the sleep of oblivion in many hearts. Through his servant Francis, remembrance of him has been revived and impressed indelibly in memory."

This picture describes with precision the new dimension that, through his vivid and passionate faith, Francis conferred on the Christian feast of Christmas: the discovery of God's revelation embodied in the Baby Jesus.

In this way, God has really become Emmanuel, God-with-us, from whom no barrier of superiority or distance separates us: As a baby, he made himself so close to us that we can easily address him familiarly and reach his heart directly.

In the Baby Jesus we see the defenselessness of God's love: God comes to us unarmed, because he does not intend to conquer externally, but rather to win us over and transform us internally. If anything is capable of winning over man, his despotism, his violence and his greed, it is the helplessness of a baby. God took on that defenselessness, in order to win us over and lead us to our true selves.

In this respect, let us not forget that the greatest title of Jesus Christ is that of "Son", Son of God: his divinity is indicated by this term, which presents Jesus as a perennial baby. His condition as a child corresponds uniquely to his divinity, which is the divinity of the 'Son'.

Therefore, it is an indication of the way that we can reach God, the way to divinization. It is in this light that we should understand his words: "Unless you repent and become as children, you will not enter the kingdom of God" (Mt 18, 3).

Whoever has not understood the mystery of Christmas has not understood the decisive fact of Christianity. Whoever has not accepted it cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. It is this that Francis wished to remind Christianity in his time and in all the times that followed.

* Following Francis's instructions, on that Holy Night of 1223, an ox and a donkey were placed in the cave in Greccio. In fact, he told Giovanni: "I would like to present the Baby born in Bethlehem, so that in some way, I will see with my own eyes the discomfort which he experienced, not having all the things necessary for a newborn baby, and how he was placed in a manger and lay on the hay between the ox and the donkey."

From then on, the ox and the donkey have become part of all Nativity scenes. But how did the idea itself originate? As we know, the Nativity accounts in the New Testament do not say a word about them. If we look deeper into the question, then we will discover something important both for Christmas tradition as well as for the liturgical and popular spirituality of Christmas and Easter for the Church.

The ox and the donkey are not simply products of popular piety and fantasy, but they have become ingredients of the Nativity because of the Church belief in the unity of the Old and New testaments. In Isaiah 1,3, we read: "The ox knows its owner, and the donkey, his master's manger; but Israel does not know and my people do not understand."

The Fathers of the Church saw in these words a prophecy which refers to the new people of God, the Church made of Jews and pagans. Before God, all men, Jews as well as pagans, were like oxen and donkeys, without intelligence and knowledge. But the baby in the manger opened their eyes, so that now they recognize the voice of the owner, the voice of their Lord.

In the medieval representations of Christmas, we see that the two animals are given almost human faces, how they incline consciously and respectfully before the mystery of the baby. This was perfectly logical, because they had the value of being prophetic symbols behind which is concealed the mystery of the Church, our mystery, according to which, before the eternal, we are all oxen and donkeys, who had our eyes opened on that Holy Night, so that now we can recognize the manger of our Lord.

But do we really recognize it? When we place the ox and the donkey in our Christmas creche, we must remember the words of Isaiah, which are not only Gospel - therefore, the promise of future knowledge - but also a judgment on our actual blindness.

The ox and the donkey recognize, but "Israel does not know and my people do not understand". Who are the ox and the donkey today, who are 'my people' who do not understand? How do we recognize the ox and the donkey, ad how do we recognize 'my people'? How is it that beings without reason recognize, while reason is blind?

To find answers to these questions, we should return once more with the Fathers of the church to that first Christmas. Who recognized? And who did not? And why did this happen?

Well, someone who did not recognize was Herod. He understood nothing when he was told of the Baby. On the contrary, he was blinded even more by his thirst for power and his consequent mania for persecution (Mt 2,3).

And 'along with him, all Jerusalem" did not recognize. Neither did the educated, the scholars of Scripture, the specialists of interpretation who knew the exact and correct Biblical passage and still understood nothing (Mt 2,6).

Instead, those who recognised were 'the ox and the donkey' - that is, in comparison to those exalted persons: the shepherds, the Magi, Mary and Joseph. Could it have been otherwise? The cave stall, where the Baby lay, was not inhabited by refined persons; it was, in fact, the home of the ox and the donkey.

And what is our position? Are we very far from that stall precisely because we are too refined and intelligent? Have we not lost ourselves in scholarly Biblical exegesis in an attempt to demonstrate the historical authenticity or lack of it of a certain passage, to the point of becoming blind to the Baby and not to see anything more of him? Don't we perhaps live too much in 'Jerusalem', closed in on ourselves, in our self-sufficiency, our fear of persecution, such that we are no longer able to perceive in the night the voices of angels so that we may join them in adoring him?

On the Holy Night, the faces of the ox and the donkey remind us of the question: My people do not understand, do you understand the voice of your Lord?

When we place the figurines in our Christmas creche, we should pray God to grant to our hearts that simplicity that recognizes the Lord in the Baby, as Francis once did in Greccio. Then we may experience what Tommaso da Celano - almost with the same words Luke used about the shepherds on that first Christmas (Lk 2,20) - said about the participants of that midnight Mass in Greccio: And everyone went home, filled with joy.

The Pope and the Nativity Scene in the papal apartment this year.


P.S. Apparently the above homily appears in THE BLESSING OF CHRISTMAS

published by Ignatius Press, which puts together sermons and writing of Cardinal Ratzinger that are suitable for reflection during Advent and Christmas.

And on Dec. 24, Carl Olson posted the following excerpt from the 'ox and ass' homily I translated above, starting with the paragraph I marked with an asterisk to the end of the homily:

I am posting the excerpt here as the 'official' translation:

Francis directed that an ox and an ass should be present in the cave of Greccio on Christmas night. He had told the nobleman John: "I wish in full reality to awaken the remembrance of the child as he was born in Bethlehem and of all the hardship he had to endure in his childhood. I wish to see with my bodily eyes what it meant to lie in a manger and sleep on hay, between an ox and an ass."

From then on, the ox and ass have had their place in every crib scene —but where do they actually come from? It is well known that the Christmas narratives of the New Testament do not mention them. When we investigate this question, we discover an important factor in all the customs associated with Christmas and, indeed, in all the Christmas and Easter piety of the Church in both liturgy and popular customs.

The ox and ass are not simply products of the pious imagination: the Church's faith in the unity of the Old and New Testaments has given them their role as an accompaniment of the Christmas event. We read in Isaiah: "The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master's crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand" (1:3).

The Fathers of the Church saw in these words a prophecy that pointed ahead to the new people of God, the Church consisting of both Jews and Gentiles.' Before God, all men, Jews and Gentiles, were like the ox and ass, without reason or knowledge. But the child in the crib has opened their eyes so that they now recognize the voice of their Master, the voice of their Lord.

It is striking to note in the mediaeval pictures of Christmas how the artists give the two animals almost human faces and how they stand before the mystery of the child and bow down in awareness and reverence. But after all, this was only logical, since the two animals were considered the prophetical symbol for the mystery of the Church — our own mystery, since we are but oxen and asses vis-à-vis the Eternal God, oxen and asses whose eyes are opened on Christmas night, so that they can recognize their Lord in the crib.

Who recognized him, and who failed to recognize him?

But do we really recognize him? When we place the ox and ass beside the crib, we must remember the whole passage in Isaiah, which is not only good news — in the sense of the promise of a future knowledge -but also a judgment pronounced on contemporary blindness. The ox and ass have knowledge, "but Israel does not know, my people does not understand."

Who is the ox and ass today, and who is "my people" without understanding? How can we recognize the ox and the ass? How can we recognize "my people"? And why does the lack of reason recognize, while reason is blind?

In order to discover the answer, we must return with the Fathers of the Church to the first Christmas. Who recognized him? And who failed to recognize him? And why was this so?

The one who failed to recognize him was Herod, who did not even understand when they told him about the child: instead, he was blinded all the more deeply by his lust for power and the accompanying paranoia (Mt 2:3). Those who failed to recognize him were "all Jerusalem with him" (ibid.). Those who failed to recognize him were the "people in soft garments" — those with a high social position (Mt 11: 8). Those who failed to recognize him were the learned masters who were experts in the Bible, the specialists in biblical interpretation who admittedly knew the correct passage in Scripture but still failed to understand anything (Mt 2:6).

Those who recognized him were the "ox and the ass" (in comparison to these men of prestige): the shepherds, the Magi, Mary and Joseph. But could things have been otherwise? Those with a high social position are not in the stable where the child Jesus lies: that is where the ox and the ass have their home.

And what about us? Are we so far away from the stable because our garments are much too soft and we are much too clever? Do we get entangled to such an extent in learned exegesis of the Scriptures, in demonstrations of the inauthenticity or the historical accuracy of individual passages, that we become blind to the child himself and perceive nothing of him? Are we so much in Jerusalem", in the palace, at home in ourselves and in our arrogance and our paranoia, that we cannot hear at night the voice of the angels and then set out to adore the child?

In this night, then, the faces of the ox and the ass look at us with a question: My people does not understand, but do you perceive the voice of your Lord? When we place the familiar figures in the crib scene, we ought to ask God to give our hearts the simplicity that discovers the Lord in the child - just as Francis once did in Greccio. For then we, too, might experience what Celano relates about those who took part in Midnight Mass in Greccio — and his words echo closely Saint Luke's words about the shepherds on the first Christmas night—each one went home full of joy.

Just to keep some Christmas facts together, I am posting this item here:

The first official Christmas
celebration was in 335 in Rome

VATICAN CITY - It's the dawn of the year 336 and in the Church of St. Athanasia in Rome, Christmas is being celebrated. It was the first Christmas officially celebrated in history.

The identification of the Church where the first ceremony honoring the birth of Christ was held is the work of archeologist Andrea Carandini who gave a lecture at the Ministry of Cultural Assets to discuss some archeological discoveries in the Palatine Hill and the home of Augustus.

It was in 335, said Carandini, that the Emperor Constantine, in agreement with Pope Silvester, officially established the date of December 25 for the birth of Christ.

The Church, which is now dedicated to St. Athanasia, weas called the church of Bethlehem and was built precisely behind the Palatine bridge, the pagan site par excellence of ancient Rome. In fact, however, the choice was seen as an outright provocation. Constantine himself was careful to avoid coming to the Eternal City.

Not just that. It seems that under the church of St. Athanasia, they have found a door that appears to have a door that led directly to the Lupercale, the cave where according to legend, Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf. That is why it was transformed by Augustus into a place of worship for the Romans.

At Carandini's lecture, also present was the Minister of Culture Francesco Rutelli wcho spoke about "a reconstruction consistent with the hypotheses developed by Carandini in the past ten years."

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 12/26/2007 5:21 PM]
12/25/2007 2:10 AM
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Pope celebrates Midnight Mass

VATICAN CITY, Rome (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI urged the faithful to set aside time in their lives for God and the needy, as he ushered in Christmas early Tuesday by celebrating Midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.

Dressed in white and gold-colored robes, Benedict blessed the crowd of pilgrims, Romans and tourists as he walked in a procession up the main aisle to the central altar, which was decorated with red poinsettia flowers.

As a choir sang, Benedict sprinkled incense on the altar under Bernini's massive bronze baldachin before opening the service with the traditional wish for peace in Latin: "Pax vobis" ("Peace be with you"). The faithful responded: "Et cum spiritu tuo." ("And also with you.")

Four children, some in native costume from their countries, brought flowers to the altar, placing them near a statue depicting baby Jesus while Benedict joined a choir in a hymn.

In a homily delivered in Italian in front of thousands packing the basilica, Benedict asked the faithful to make room for God, as well as the less fortunate, in their lives.

Echoing a theme he has raised about an increasingly secular world, Benedict said that many people act as if there is no room for spiritual matters in their lives.

"Man is so preoccupied with himself, he has such urgent need of all the space and all the time for his own things, that nothing remains for others, for his neighbor, for the poor, for God," he said.

"Do we have time for our neighbor who is in need of a word from us, from me, or in need of my affection? For the sufferer who is in need of help? For the fugitive or the refugee who is seeking asylum? Do we have time and space for God?"

Benedict drew parallels between what he perceives as modern society's refusal of God and the story of how Jesus was born in a manger because there was no space for his family at a nearby inn. Watch the pope conduct Midnight Mass »

"In some way, mankind is awaiting God, waiting for him to draw near. But when the moment comes, there is no room for him," he said.

But the message of Jesus' birth, which is marked on Christmas, is also that "God does not allow himself to be shut out," Benedict said. "He finds a space, even if it means entering through the stable; there are people who see his light and pass it on."

For those unable to get into the midnight service there were giant screens set up in St. Peter's Square, which was made festive with a twinkling Christmas tree and the Vatican's Nativity scene.

Officials unveiled the life-size Nativity on Monday, revealing the statues of Mary and Joseph, Jesus' parents, in a huge house-like structure located next to the Vatican's giant, twinkling Christmas tree.

This year, the scene of Jesus' birth was depicted in a recreation of Joseph's Nazareth home rather than the traditional manger in Bethlehem. Officials at the unveiling said the shift underscored the idea that Jesus was born not just in a single place, but everywhere and for everyone.

Hours before Midnight Mass, Benedict briefly appeared at his studio window to light a candle as a symbol of peace, blessing the crowd with the light before leaving it on the sill.

At noon on Tuesday (5 a.m EST), Benedict was to deliver his traditional Christmas Day "Urbi et Orbi" speech — Latin for "to the city and to the world" — from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, in which he often touches on current events and issues of concern to the Vatican. He then is expected to issue Christmas greetings to the faithful in more than 60 languages.


Thank God the Vatican has provided an English-language translation promptly. The beautiful homily tonight was yet another luminous example of the fresh spiritual look that Benedict XVI is able to give the most familiar Gospel phrases, so that he makes us hear it as thought for the first time. In this case - "There was no room at the inn."

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"The time came for Mary to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Lk 2:6f.).

These words touch our hearts every time we hear them. This was the moment that the angel had foretold at Nazareth: "You will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High" (Lk 1:31).

This was the moment that Israel had been awaiting for centuries, through many dark hours - the moment that all mankind was somehow awaiting, in terms as yet ill-defined: when God would take care of us, when he would step outside his concealment, when the world would be saved and God would renew all things.

We can imagine the kind of interior preparation, the kind of love with which Mary approached that hour. The brief phrase: "She wrapped him in swaddling clothes" allows us to glimpse something of the holy joy and the silent zeal of that preparation.

The swaddling clothes were ready, so that the child could be given a fitting welcome. Yet there is no room at the inn.

In some way, mankind is awaiting God, waiting for him to draw near. But when the moment comes, there is no room for him. Man is so preoccupied with himself, he has such urgent need of all the space and all the time for his own things, that nothing remains for others - for his neighbour, for the poor, for God.

And the richer men become, the more they fill up all the space by themselves. And the less room there is for others.

Saint John, in his Gospel, went to the heart of the matter, giving added depth to Saint Luke's brief account of the situation in Bethlehem: "He came to his own home, and his own people received him not" (Jn 1:11).

This refers first and foremost to Bethlehem: the Son of David comes to his own city, but has to be born in a stable, because there is no room for him at the inn. Then it refers to Israel: the one who is sent comes among his own, but they do not want him.

And truly, it refers to all mankind: he through whom the world was made, the primordial Creator-Word, enters into the world, but he is not listened to, he is not received.

These words refer ultimately to us, to each individual and to society as a whole. Do we have time for our neighbour who is in need of a word from us, from me, or in need of my affection? For the sufferer who is in need of help? For the fugitive or the refugee who is seeking asylum?

Do we have time and space for God? Can he enter into our lives? Does he find room in us, or have we occupied all the available space in our thoughts, our actions, our lives for ourselves?

Thank God, this negative detail is not the only one, nor the last one that we find in the Gospel. Just as in Luke we encounter the maternal love of Mary and the fidelity of Saint Joseph, the vigilance of the shepherds and their great joy, just as in Matthew we encounter the visit of the wise men, come from afar, so too John says to us: "To all who received him, he gave power to become children of God" (Jn 1:12).

There are those who receive him, and thus, beginning with the stable, with the outside, there grows silently the new house, the new city, the new world.

The message of Christmas makes us recognize the darkness of a closed world, and thereby no doubt illustrates a reality that we see daily. Yet it also tells us that God does not allow himself to be shut out. He finds a space, even if it means entering through the stable; there are people who see his light and pass it on.

Through the word of the Gospel, the angel also speaks to us, and in the sacred liturgy the light of the Redeemer enters our lives. Whether we are shepherds or "wise men" - the light and its message call us to set out, to leave the narrow circle of our desires and interests, to go out to meet the Lord and worship him. We worship him by opening the world to truth, to good, to Christ, to the service of those who are marginalized and in whom he awaits us.

In some Christmas scenes from the late Middle Ages and the early modern period, the stable is depicted as a crumbling palace. It is still possible to recognize its former splendour, but now it has become a ruin, the walls are falling down - in fact, it has become a stable.

Although it lacks any historical basis, this metaphorical interpretation nevertheless expresses something of the truth that is hidden in the mystery of Christmas. David's throne, which had been promised to last for ever, stands empty. Others rule over the Holy Land.

Joseph, the descendant of David, is a simple artisan; the palace, in fact, has become a hovel. David himself had begun life as a shepherd. When Samuel sought him out in order to anoint him, it seemed impossible and absurd that a shepherd-boy such as he could become the bearer of the promise of Israel.

In the stable of Bethlehem, the very town where it had all begun, the Davidic kingship started again in a new way - in that child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The new throne from which this David will draw the world to himself is the Cross. The new throne - the Cross - corresponds to the new beginning in the stable.

Yet this is exactly how the true Davidic palace, the true kingship is being built. This new palace is so different from what people imagine a palace and royal power ought to be like. It is the community of those who allow themselves to be drawn by Christ's love and so become one body with him, a new humanity.

The power that comes from the Cross, the power of self-giving goodness - this is the true kingship. The stable becomes a palace - and setting out from this starting-point, Jesus builds the great new community, whose key-word the angels sing at the hour of his birth: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those whom he loves" - those who place their will in his, in this way becoming men of God, new men, a new world.

Gregory of Nyssa, in his Christmas homilies, developed the same vision setting out from the Christmas message in the Gospel of John: "He pitched his tent among us" (Jn 1:14).

Gregory applies this passage about the tent to the tent of our body, which has become worn out and weak, exposed everywhere to pain and suffering. And he applies it to the whole universe, torn and disfigured by sin.

What would he say if he could see the state of the world today, through the abuse of energy and its selfish and reckless exploitation?

Anselm of Canterbury, in an almost prophetic way, once described a vision of what we witness today in a polluted world whose future is at risk: "Everything was as if dead, and had lost its dignity, having been made for the service of those who praise God. The elements of the world were oppressed, they had lost their splendour because of the abuse of those who enslaved them for their idols, for whom they had not been created" (PL 158, 955f.).

Thus, according to Gregory's vision, the stable in the Christmas message represents the ill-treated world. What Christ rebuilds is no ordinary palace. He came to restore beauty and dignity to creation, to the universe: this is what began at Christmas and makes the angels rejoice.

The Earth is restored to good order by virtue of the fact that it is opened up to God, it obtains its true light anew, and in the harmony between human will and divine will, in the unification of height and depth, it regains its beauty and dignity.

Thus Christmas is a feast of restored creation. It is in this context that the Fathers interpret the song of the angels on that holy night: it is an expression of joy over the fact that the height and the depth, Heaven and Earth, are once more united; that man is again united to God.

According to the Fathers, part of the angels' Christmas song is the fact that now angels and men can sing together and in this way the beauty of the universe is expressed in the beauty of the song of praise. Liturgical song - still according to the Fathers - possesses its own peculiar dignity through the fact that it is sung together with the celestial choirs.

It is the encounter with Jesus Christ that makes us capable of hearing the song of the angels, thus creating the real music that fades away when we lose this singing-with and hearing-with.

In the stable at Bethlehem, Heaven and Earth meet. Heaven has come down to Earth. For this reason, a light shines from the stable for all times; for this reason joy is enkindled there; for this reason song is born there. At the end of our Christmas meditation I should like to quote a remarkable passage from Saint Augustine. Interpreting the invocation in the Lord's Prayer: "Our Father who art in Heaven", he asks:

What is this - Heaven? And where is Heaven? Then comes a surprising response: "... who art in Heaven - that means: in the saints and in the just. Yes, the heavens are the highest bodies in the universe, but they are still bodies, which cannot exist except in a given location.

Yet if we believe that God is located in the heavens, meaning in the highest parts of the world, then the birds would be more fortunate than we, since they would live closer to God.

Yet it is not written: 'The Lord is close to those who dwell on the heights or on the mountains', but rather: 'the Lord is close to the brokenhearted' (Ps 34:18[33:19]), an expression which refers to humility. Just as the sinner is called 'Earth', so by contrast the just man can be called 'Heaven'" (Sermo in monte II 5, 17).

Heaven does not belong to the geography of space, but to the geography of the heart. And the heart of God, during the Holy Night, stooped down to the stable: the humility of God is Heaven.

And if we approach this humility, then we touch Heaven. Then the Earth too is made new. With the humility of the shepherds, let us set out, during this Holy Night, towards the Child in the stable! Let us touch God's humility, God's heart! Then his joy will touch us and will make the world more radiant. Amen.

Make room for God, urges Pope
By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY, Dec. 25 (AP)- Pope Benedict XVI has led the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics into Christmas with a midnight mass, urging people to find time and space for God, the needy and the suffering.

Benedict, marking the third Christmas season of his reign, said a solemn mass for about 10,000 people inside St Peter's Basilica on a chilly night. The ceremony was broadcast live to 42 countries.

Wearing gold and white vestments, the 80-year-old pontiff wove his sermon around today's significance of the birth of Jesus.

He said the fact that Jesus was born in a manger because there was no room for Mary and Joseph at the inn in Bethlehem had modern parallels.

"In some way, mankind is awaiting God, waiting for him to draw near. But when the moment comes, there is no room for him," he said.

"Man is so preoccupied with himself, he has such urgent need of all the space and all the time for his own things, that nothing remains for others - for his neighbour, for the poor, for God. And the richer men become, the more they fill up all the space by themselves. And the less room there is for others."

The spirit of Christmas, the Pope said, should make everyone recognise the darkness of a world where many people were closed into themselves because they did not want to receive God or his message.

"Do we have time for our neighbour who is in need of a word from us, from me, or in need of my affection? For the sufferer who is in need of help? For the fugitive or the refugee who is seeking asylum?

"Do we have time and space for God? Can he enter into our lives? Does he find room in us, or have we occupied all the available space in our thoughts, our actions, our lives for ourselves?" he said.

In the run-up to Christmas, the Pope several times urged Catholics to rediscover its religious significance, lamenting that the holiday had been dominated by materialism.

On Monday the Pope lit a peace candle and placed it at the window of his apartment overlooking St. Peter's Square as the Vatican's life-size nativity scene was unveiled to the public below.

Later today, the Pope will deliver his traditional Christmas "Urbi et Orbi" blessing from the basilica's central balcony. He was also due to deliver Christmas greetings in more than 60 languages.

The Pope after the deposition of the Baby Jesus in the Nativity Scene inside St. Peter's Basilica.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 12/26/2007 4:18 PM]
12/25/2007 2:39 AM
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Oh quam gloriosam!!!!!
What a beautiful and dignified Midnight Mass it was!!!! Of course, it was earlier in the day for you, Teresa. It's now 1.30 am here and I am not a bit tired - running on a big HIGH!!!!!
Thank you for posting the first photos. I loved the white chasuble with gold embroidery. I think it's new, though I'm not totally sure.
Anyway, I trust Papa will soon be tucked up for the rest of the night.


12/25/2007 4:12 AM
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MIDNIGHT MASS, 12/25/07 - II

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 12/26/2007 3:43 AM]
12/25/2007 8:28 AM
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Pope Makes Appeal on the Environment

Pope Benedict XVI gives Christmas Night Mass at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.

The New York Times
Published: December 25, 2007

ROME — Pope Benedict XVI reinforced the Vatican's growing concern with protecting the environment in the traditional midnight Christmas Mass on Tuesday, bemoaning an "ill-treated world" in a homily given to thousands of pilgrims here in the seat of the world’s billion Roman Catholics.

On the day Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ some 2,000 years ago, Benedict referred to one early father of the church, Gregory of Nyssa, a bishop in what is now Turkey. "What would he say if he could see the state of the world today, through the abuse of energy and its selfish and reckless exploitation?" the pope asked, according to the Vatican's English translation.

He expanded on the theme briefly by saying that an 11th-century theologian, Anselm of Canterbury, had spoken "in an almost prophetic way” as he "described a vision of what we witness today as a polluted world whose future is at risk."

In recent months, Benedict has spoken out increasingly about environmental concerns, and the Vatican has even purchased "carbon offsets," credits on the global market to compensate for carbon dioxide emissions, for the energy consumed in the world’s smallest state, Vatican City.

In his third Christmas Mass since being elected pope in 2005, Benedict also inaugurated the Nativity scene on St. Peter's Square.

The pope devoted most of his homily to the theme of the difficulty Christ's earthly parents, Mary and Joseph, had finding lodging in Bethlehem as Mary neared giving birth.

"The time came for Mary to deliver," the pope said. "And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn."

"Those words touch our hearts every time we hear them," he continued.

Benedict compared that with what he suggested was a lack of room in the hearts of people today to hear the message of Christ's birth.

"In some ways, mankind is awaiting God, waiting for him to draw near," he said. "But when the moment comes, there is no room for him. Man is so preoccupied with himself, he has such an urgent need for all the space and all the time for his own things, that nothing remains for others — for his neighbor, for the poor, for God. And the richer men become, the more they fill up all the space by themselves."


12/25/2007 2:03 PM
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Yesterday, I posted two stories from Avvenire and Il Riformista about the Christmas liturgy. In Il Riformista, Paolo Rodari, among other things, anticipated details of the Midnight Mass rites, and quoted other statements made by Mons. Guido Marini about the Christmas season liturgy. It appears Rodari had an advance look at the interview published by Osservatore Romano in its issue of Dec. 24-25 which came out today.

It is an indication of Pope Benedict's interest that the importance of the liturgy be understood well, that this is the second front-page interview with Mons, Marini in less than a month in the OR (whose 'publisher', editor Gianmaria Vian makes clear, is the Pope). The first interview was during the recent consistory

Translated from

By Gianluca Biccini

The Nativity of Christ is not "just a fact of the past" but "a fact that even today is present and alive in liturgical celebration," according to Mons. Guido Marini, master of pontifical liturgical celebrations.

The key word is 'today', he says, which recurs repeatedly in the rites of the Christmas season. And in that word Mons. Marini sees a fundamental element of the celebrations in St. Peter's Basilica - from Dec. 24 through January 13 - which, in these days, becomes, in tangible manner, the pulsing heart of Christendom.

Taking charge of the papal liturgies for the first time during the Christmas season, Mons, Marini offered Osservatore Romano and its readers some points of reflection.

What is the common thread for the rites?
JOY! Christmas is characterized by joy, true joy, which comes from the discovery of God's eternal plan which illuminates the personal and communal life of every man, as well as the sense of history.

God reveals himself as love which fulfills generously the hopes in every heart and in every people. Liturgical celebrations have the ability to transmit this 'good news' through words, gestures, silences, signs, music, singing, the rite in its entirety. It is important that the rite becomes luminous, able to express what it contains.

So your responsibility is great: to get the faithful involved and make them understand what is happening.
That is the great task of every liturgical celebration, of the ars celebrandi. If it succeeds, then one truly has the active participation of everyone, because they will not only be taking part exteriorly in the celebration, but will be profoundly, spiritually engaged and able to enter into the action of Christ and the Church, thus growing in holiness and a transformation of one's life.

We truly participate in a liturgy when we arrive at the mystery of the Lord, our Savior, and come out of it interiorly changed and capable of giving oneself without reservation to God and our fellowmen.

Let's get back to the symbolic aspects. What vestments will the Pope wear?
Above all, it must be underscored that the vestments chosen, like some details of the rites themselves, are meant to underscore the continuity of the present liturgy with that which characterized the traditional liturgy of the Church.

The hermeneutic of continuity is always the right criterion for interpreting the course of the Church in time. This goes for the liturgy as well.

Just as a Pope cites his predecessors in his documents, to show the continuity of the magisterium, a Pope also does the same in the liturgical sense when he uses the vestments and sacred accessories that previous Popes have used, to indicate the same continuity in the lex orandi.

Thus during the Christmas season liturgies, Pope Benedict XVI will be wearing miters that belonged to Benedict XVI, John XXIII, John Paul I and John Paul II.

So, attention to external elements reflects attention to the spiritual content of the liturgy?
The beauty of a liturgical celebration in all its entirety is not simply external, even if this has its value because it reminds us that the liturgy is an act of worship, that the Eucharist is the greatest treasure of the Church, and we can never 'give' it enough.

The beauty also tries to express humanly the infinite beauty of God and his love. And therefore, liturgy cannot be not beautiful, nor lacking in dignity, order, precision and harmony, even in the smallest details.

The Crucifix will be at the center of the altar even for the Christmas Mass. How do you reconcile a nativity event with a symbol of death?
The Crucifix on the altar indicates the centrality of the Cross in the eucharistic celebration, which is the precise orientation that the congregation is called on to have during the liturgy. We do not look at each other - we look at Him who was born, died and resurrected for us, the Savior.

The Lord bring salvation. He is the Orient, the Sun who rises, to whom we should all look, and from whom we may all receive the gifts of grace.

What can a Christian today, a man or woman of the third millennium, gain from the celebration of an event that took place two centuries ago?
The liturgical celebrations of the season, starting with the Midnight Mass, allow us to contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation. In contemplating that mystery, everything should contribute to inspire awe and wonder.

How can we fail to wonder at the event of the Son of God becoming a baby for us and for our salvation? In him, the true and previously unknown face of God was revealed, and with him, the truth about man's life and destiny. The liturgy makes manifest the beauty of that mystery and the love of God which is rich with his infinite mercy. It is a splendid wonder that conquers the human heart.

So the star that shone over that cave in Bethlehem remains 'contemporary'?
The birth of Jesus is not just a fact of the past - it is a fact that is present and vivid today in the eucharistic celebration. Jesus Christ is the Living One. And there is a keyword which indicates this - the word 'today' which recurs so many times in the celebrations of the Christmas season.

[The interview ends with Mons. Marini describing the major features of the Midnight Mass celebrated last night at St. Peter's - as reported by Paolo Rodari in his aforementioned article for Il Riformista yesterday, and as we noted during the Mass last night.]


P.S. Caterina recognized that the miter worn by the Pope at the loggia today was the miter John Paul I wore at his installation Mass as Pope, as seen in the picture when then Cardinal Ratzinger paid him homage at that event:

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 12/26/2007 4:24 PM]
12/25/2007 3:08 PM
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NB: The Pope wore a miter that belonged to John Paul I and a cope that belonged to John XXIII,
and used the now-familiar Cathedra (Chair) of Leo XIII,

The Vatican has released the English translation of the Holy Father's Christmas message,
delivered at noon today from the central loggia of St. Peter's Basilica.

"A holy day has dawned upon us.
Come you nations and adore the Lord.
Today a great light has come upon the earth."

(Day Mass of Christmas, Gospel Acclamation)

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

"A holy day has dawned upon us."

A day of great hope: today the Saviour of mankind is born.

The birth of a child normally brings a light of hope to those who are waiting anxiously. When Jesus was born in the stable at Bethlehem, a "great light" appeared on earth; a great hope entered the hearts of those who awaited him: in the words of today’s Christmas liturgy, "lux magna".

Admittedly it was not "great" in the manner of this world, because the first to see it were only Mary, Joseph and some shepherds, then the Magi, the old man Simeon, the prophetess Anna: those whom God had chosen.

Yet, in the shadows and silence of that holy night, a great and inextinguishable light shone forth for every man; the great hope that brings happiness entered into the world: "the Word was made flesh and we saw his glory" (Jn 1:14).

"God is light", says Saint John, "and in him is no darkness at all" (1 Jn 1:5). In the Book of Genesis we read that when the universe was created, "the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep."

"God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light." (Gen 1:2-3). The creative Word of God – Dabar in Hebrew, Verbum in Latin, Logos in Greek – is Light, the source of life.

All things were made through the Logos, not one thing had its being but through him (cf. Jn 1:3). That is why all creatures are fundamentally good and bear within themselves the stamp of God, a spark of his light.

Nevertheless, when Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, the Light himself came into the world: in the words of the Creed, "God from God, Light from Light".

In Jesus, God assumed what he was not, while remaining what he was: "omnipotence entered an infant’s body and did not cease to govern the universe" (cf. Saint Augustine, Sermo 184, No. 1 on Christmas).

The Creator of man became man in order to bring peace to the world. For this reason, during Christmas night, the hosts of angels sing: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those whom he loves" (Lk 2:14).

"Today a great light has come upon the earth".

The Light of Christ is the bearer of peace. At Midnight Mass, the Eucharistic liturgy begins with this very chant: "Today true peace has come down to us from heaven" (Entrance Antiphon).

Indeed, it is only the "great" light manifested in Christ that can give "true" peace to men: that is why every generation is called to welcome it, to welcome the God who in Bethlehem became one of us.

This is Christmas – the historical event and the mystery of love, which for more than two thousand years has spoken to men and women of every era and every place. It is the holy day on which the "great light" of Christ shines forth, bearing peace!

Certainly, if we are to recognize it, if we are to receive it, faith is needed and humility is needed. The humility of Mary, who believed in the word of the Lord and, bending low over the manger, was the first to adore the fruit of her womb; the humility of Joseph, the just man, who had the courage of faith and preferred to obey God rather than to protect his own reputation; the humility of the shepherds, the poor and anonymous shepherds, who received the proclamation of the heavenly messenger and hastened towards the stable, where they found the new-born child and worshipped him, full of astonishment, praising God (cf. Lk 2:15-20).

The little ones, the poor in spirit: they are the key figures of Christmas, in the past and in the present; they have always been the key figures of God’s history, the indefatigable builders of his Kingdom of justice, love and peace.

In the silence of that night in Bethlehem, Jesus was born and lovingly welcomed. And now, on this Christmas Day, when the joyful news of his saving birth continues to resound, who is ready to open the doors of his heart to the holy child? Men and women of this modern age, Christ comes also to us bringing his light, he comes also to us granting peace!

But who is watching, in the night of doubt and uncertainty, with a vigilant, praying heart? Who is waiting for the dawn of the new day, keeping alight the flame of faith? Who has time to listen to his word and to become enfolded and entranced by his love? Yes! His message of peace is for everyone; he comes to offer himself to all people as sure hope for salvation.

Finally, may the light of Christ, which comes to enlighten every human being, shine forth and bring consolation to those who live in the darkness of poverty, injustice and war; to those who are still denied their legitimate aspirations for a more secure existence, for health, education, stable employment, for fuller participation in civil and political responsibilities, free from oppression and protected from conditions that offend against human dignity.

It is the most vulnerable members of society – women, children, the elderly – who are so often the victims of brutal armed conflicts, terrorism and violence of every kind, which inflict such terrible sufferings on entire populations.

At the same time, ethnic, religious and political tensions, instability, rivalry, disagreements, and all forms of injustice and discrimination are destroying the internal fabric of many countries and embittering international relations.

Throughout the world the number of migrants, refugees and evacuees is also increasing because of frequent natural disasters, often caused by alarming environmental upheavals.

On this day of peace, my thoughts turn especially to those places where the grim sound of arms continues to reverberate; to the tortured regions of Darfur, Somalia, the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia; to the whole of the Middle East – especially Iraq, Lebanon and the Holy Land; to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, to the Balkans and to many other crisis situations that unfortunately are frequently forgotten.

May the Child Jesus bring relief to those who are suffering and may he bestow upon political leaders the wisdom and courage to seek and find humane, just and lasting solutions.

To the thirst for meaning and value so characteristic of today’s world, to the search for prosperity and peace that marks the lives of all mankind, to the hopes of the poor: Christ – true God and true Man – responds with his Nativity.

Neither individuals nor nations should be afraid to recognize and welcome him: with Him "a shining light" brightens the horizon of humanity; in him "a holy day" dawns that knows no sunset. May this Christmas truly be for all people a day of joy, hope and peace!

"Come you nations and adore the Lord."

With Mary, Joseph and the shepherds, with the Magi and the countless host of humble worshippers of the new-born Child, who down the centuries have welcomed the mystery of Christmas, let us too, brothers and sisters from every continent, allow the light of this day to spread everywhere: may it enter our hearts, may it brighten and warm our homes, may it bring serenity and hope to our cities, and may it give peace to the world. This is my earnest wish for you who are listening.

A wish that grows into a humble and trustful prayer to the Child Jesus, that his light will dispel all darkness from your lives and fill you with love and peace.

May the Lord, who has made his merciful face to shine in Christ, fill you with his happiness and make you messengers of his goodness. Happy Christmas!


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VATICAN CITY, Dec. 25 (AP) - Benedict XVI issued a Christmas Day appeal Tuesday to political leaders around the globe to find the "wisdom and courage" to end bloody conflicts in Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan and Congo.

Benedict delivered his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" speech — Latin for "to the city and to the world" — from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, blessing thousands of people gathered in the square below under a brilliant winter sun.

Wearing gold-embroidered vestments and a bejeweled bishops' hat, or miter, Benedict urged the crowd to rejoice over the celebration of Jesus Christ's birth, which he said he hoped would bring consolation to all people "who live in the darkness of poverty, injustice and war."

He mentioned in particular those living in the "tortured regions" of Darfur, Somalia, northern Congo, the Eritrea-Ethiopia border, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Balkans.

"May the child Jesus bring relief to those who are suffering and may he bestow upon political leaders the wisdom and courage to seek and find humane, just and lasting solutions," he said.

Beyond those conflicts, Benedict said he was turning his thoughts this Christmas to victims of other injustices, citing women, children and the elderly, as well as refugees and victims of environmental disasters and religious and ethnic tensions.

He said he hoped Christmas would bring consolation to "those who are still denied their legitimate aspirations for a more secure existence, for health, education, stable employment, for fuller participation in civil and political responsibilities, free from oppression and protected from conditions that offend human dignity."

Such injustices and discrimination are destroying the internal fabric of many countries and souring international relations, he said.

In a nod to his engagement with environmental concerns, the pontiff also noted that the number of migrants and displaced people was increasing around the globe because of "frequent natural disasters, often caused by environmental upheavals."

The pontiff delivered his message just hours after celebrating Midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.

Benedict followed his speech with his traditional Christmas Day greetings — this year delivered in 63 different languages, including Mongolian, Finnish, Arabic, Hebrew, Swahili, Burmese, and in a new entry for 2007, Guarani, a South American Indian language.

As he finished, the bells of St. Peter's tolled and the Vatican's brightly outfitted Swiss Guards stood at attention as a band played and a crowd numbering in the tens of thousands waved national flags and cheered.

Pope laments 'grim sound of arms'
in Iraq, other conflict zones

VATICAN CITY, Dec. 25 (AFP) - Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday lamented the "grim sound of arms" in the world's conflict zones from Sudan to Sri Lanka and especially the volatile Middle East, in his Christmas message.

"On this day of peace, my thoughts turn especially to those places where the grim sound of arms continues to reverberate," he said, emphasising "the whole of the Middle East -- especially Iraq, Lebanon and the Holy Land."

The pope spoke as two suicide bombings killed 29 people in Iraq on Tuesday, apparently targetting groups fighting Al-Qaeda militants.

Benedict also singled out Darfur, Somalia, the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Balkans and "many other crisis situations that unfortunately are frequently forgotten."

The 80-year-old pontiff, speaking from the loggia of St Peter's Basilica, prayed that political leaders would find "the wisdom and courage to seek and find humane, just and lasting solutions."

The pontiff spoke of "those who live in the darkness of poverty, injustice and war ... those who are still denied their legitimate aspirations for a more secure existence, for health, education, stable employment.

"It is the most vulnerable members of society -- women, children, the elderly -- who are so often the victims of brutal armed conflicts, terrorism and violence of every kind, which inflict such terrible sufferings on entire populations," he said.

The pope, who has spoken out with increasing frequency on environmental issues, said on Tuesday: "Throughout the world the number of migrants, refugees and evacuees is also increasing because of frequent natural disasters, often caused by alarming environmental upheavals."


P.S. This short editorial represents universal reaction to the Holy Father's Christmas message:

A timely, topical message
Malta Times
26 December 2007

The Pope’s official Christmas day message could not have been clearer and more to the point.

Benedict XVI may have been wearing traditional heavy robes bedecked in brocade but his message was extremely relevant to the most urgent problems facing humanity as 2007 nears its end.

His Holiness did not mince his words, even if the message was delivered in his, by now, trademark, soft-spoken voice.

He spoke out clearly against poverty, injustice and war and prayed that political leaders would have the courage and vision to end the conflicts around the world which are causing, "ethnic, religious and political tensions... [and] destroying the internal fabric of many countries and embittering international relations".

Pope Benedict mentioned specifically Palestine and the Middle East, Darfur, and Iraq amongst others. He did not point fingers or laid blame. But he did say very strongly that the senseless bloodshed must stop. Not only but also that there should be meaningful aid to help the people in these war torn countries to come out of the poverty and injustices that they are suffering.

It is for these reasons that Pope Benedict XVI’s Christmas message is so timely and topical.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 12/28/2007 12:29 PM]
12/26/2007 5:33 AM
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In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

As Prince Ghazi pre-announced in his Dec. 12 letter to Cardinal Bertone, the Muslims have written a Christmas message which is published in the website for A COMMON WORD. It appears to be addressed to all Christians. Here is the full text, which does not bear a letterhead, addressees, or signatories..

A Muslim Message of Thanks and of Christmas Greetings,
December 2007

In the Name of the God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

May God bless Muhammad and his kin just as He has blessed Abraham and his kin!

Al-Salaamu Aleikum; Peace be upon you; Pax Vobiscum

Peace be upon Jesus Christ who says: Peace is upon me the day I was born, the day I die, and the day I am resurrected (Chapter of Mary; the Holy Qur’an; 19:34).

During these joyful holidays we write to you, our Christian neighbors all over the world, in order to thank you truly for the beautiful and responses that we Muslims have been receiving from the very first day we issued our invitation to come together to ‘A Common Word’ based on ‘Love of God and love of neighbor’.

{See for the document and the responses).

We thank you and wish you all a joyous and peaceful Christmas Holiday Season commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ.

We Muslims bear witness that: There is no god but God, without associate, and that Muhammad is His Servant and Messenger, and that Jesus is His Servant, His Messenger, His Word cast to Mary, and a Spirit from Him …. (Sahih Bukhari, Kitab Ahadith al-Anbiya’)

We pray, during these blessed days, which happen to coincide with the Muslim feast of the Hajj or Pilgrimage, commemorating the faith of the Prophet Abraham , that the New Year may bring healing and peace to our suffering world.

God’s refusal to let Abraham sacrifice his son — granting him instead a ram — is to this day a Divine warrant and a most powerful social lesson for all the followers of the Abrahamic faiths, to ever do their utmost to save, uphold and treasure every single human life and especially the lives of every single child.

Indeed, it is worthy of note that this year Muslim scholars issued a historical declaration affirming the sanctity of human life — of every human life — as an essential and foundational teaching in Islam upon which all Muslim scholars are in unanimous agreement (see details at: ).

May the coming year be one in which the sanctity and dignity of human life is upheld by all.

May it be a year of humble repentance before God, and mutual forgiveness within and between communities.

Praise be to God, the Lord of the worlds.


It appears CNS only became aware of Prince Ghazi's letter today.

Muslim scholars send Christmas greetings,
accept dialogue invitation

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY, Dec. 25 (CNS) - An international group of Muslim scholars has accepted an invitation from Pope Benedict XVI for a major dialogue session at the Vatican.

Meanwhile, the group has issued a message of Christmas greeting to "our Christian neighbors all over the world."

A letter from Jordan's Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, architect of the Muslim scholars' project, said the group planned to send representatives to the Vatican in February or March to work out details of the dialogue.

The letter, dated Dec. 12 and addressed to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, thanked the pope for inviting the Muslim experts to meet with him and for the pontiff's personal encouragement of the dialogue initiative.

The letter also raised a delicate issue when it spoke of "some recent pronouncement emerging from the Vatican and from Vatican advisers ... as regards the very principle of theological dialogue with Muslims."

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the new president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said in October that he was not sure theological dialogue was possible with Muslims. That view also has been voiced by some other Catholics experts.

The prince's letter said that although the Muslim scholars think that complete theological agreement between Christians and Muslims is impossible by definition, they do wish to seek a common stand based on areas of agreement - "whether we wish to call this kind of dialogue 'theological' or 'spiritual' or something else."

The Muslim response was the latest in a series of cooperative steps that began in October, when 138 Muslim scholars addressed a letter to the pope and other Christian leaders. The letter called for new efforts at Christian-Muslim dialogue based on the shared belief in the existence of one God, in God's love for humanity and in people's obligation to love one another.

In November, the pope responded by inviting a group of the Muslim scholars to meet with him and with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The Vatican expressed the pope's appreciation for the "positive spirit" of the Muslim text.

Talal, president of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Amman, said in his latest letter that the Muslim scholars foresee a dialogue with two dimensions.

The intrinsic dimension refers to "our own souls," he said, and would be based on the shared affirmation of one God and the twofold commandment to love him and one's neighbor.

An extrinsic dimension, more connected to the world and society, would use the pope's "excellent idea" of the Ten Commandments as the basis of dialogue among Jews, Christians and Muslims, he said.

On this basis, the prince said, the Muslim scholars would approach the three specific areas of dialogue mentioned by the Vatican: respect for human dignity, objective knowledge about the religion of other believers, and promotion of mutual respect among younger generations of Christians and Muslims.

Talal's letter said the Muslim scholars' motive for dialogue is essentially "wanting to seek good will and justice" in order to practice what Muslims call "rahmah" and what Christians call "caritas" -- love and mercy.

[The rest of the story quotes from the Christmas message posted in full above.]

12/26/2007 7:46 AM
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VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI will make three pastoral visits in Italy in 2008,
Fr. Federico Lombardi announced today:

May 17-18: Savona and Genoa in Liguria (northwestern Italy)

June 14-15: Santa Maria di Leuca and Brindisi, in Puglia (southeastern Italy)

Sept. 7: Cagliari (capital of the island region of Sardegna)

The Pope will be making three trips abroad next year:

April 15-20: Washington, D.C. and New York

July 17-20: Sydney, Australia, for World Youth Day

Autumn (date still not set): Lourdes, France

Here's a fuller report
translated from


The faithful of Liguria, Puglia and Sardinia have welcomed with joy the news that Pope Benedict XVI will be making pastoral visits to their major cities next year. Alessandro Gisotti reports:

On May 17-18, the Pope will be in Savona and Genoa (Liguria).

Shortly after the Christmas Mass at St. Lawrence Cathedral, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, Archbishop of Genoa, announced the good news to his flock .

For the diocese of Savona-Noli, it will be very significant because the last Pope who visited them was Pius VII in 1815.

The Holy Father will be in Brindisi and Santa Maria di Leuca, Puglia, on June 14-15. This will be his second visit to the region since May 2005, when his very first trip outside Rome as Pope was to close the National Eucharistic Congress in Bari.

"It is a true Christmas gift," said the Archbishop of Brindisi, Rocco Talucci, announcing it to his diocese. He invited the faithful "to make the best spiritual preparation for an event that willt ouch the heart of everyone."

And finally, the Pope's pastoral visit to the island-region of Sardinia will be yet another Marian pilgrimage.

The Archbishop of Cagliari, Giuseppe Mani, annnounced to his diocese that the Pope will be in Cagliari, the Sardinian capital, on September 7, feast of Mary's Nativity, for the centenary celebration of the proclamation of the Madonna of Bonaria as the chief Patroness of Sardinia.

With these annoucements, it appears that the Holy Father's travels in 2008 will be limited to six - the three pastoral visits as Primate of Italy, and his trips to the United States, Australia and France.

Here's a late-breaking item from PETRUS:


The possibility was first mentioned in the news a few weeks back, and now, it is taking on almost a certainty.

At the Christmas Mass today in Mexico City's Cathedral, Cardinal Noberto Rivera Carrera told his congregation:

"In the next Christmas season, it is possible that the Pope will be arriving in our country to take part in the World Encounter of Families," scheduled to take place in January 2009.

"Let us celebrate with Mary and Joseph, who offer their baby to us, the Baby who is God, at the start of this millennium and during the time of preparing for the international family encounter, during which we will also probably meet His Holiness Benedict XVI."

The Pope attended the last encounteer in Valencia, Spain, in July 2006.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 12/27/2007 2:44 AM]
12/26/2007 3:37 PM
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Although today is a Wednesday, no General Audience was scheduled, but the Holy Father led noonday Angelus prayers even if the Feast of St. Stephen today is not a major religious holiday. A translation of the Holy Father's words has been posted in AUDIENCE AND ANGELUS TEXTS.

Here is what the Pope said in English:

I greet all those present for today’s Angelus. On this Feast of Saint Stephen the Martyr, Christians throughout the world are reminded that those who stand firm with Christ to the end will be saved. Confident of our Lord’s love for us, may we always make a place for him in our hearts and in our lives. During these Christmas days, may God bless you with the saving power of his peace and love.

And here is an excerpt from the full homily:

It is necessary always to note this distinctive characteristic of Christian martyrdom: it is exclusively an act of love, for God and for men, including their persecutors...

How many sons and daughters of the Church, in the course of centuries, have followed his example! From the first persecutions in Jerusalem, to those of the Roman emperors, down to the ranks of martyrs in our time.

In fact, it is not rare that even today, we get news from various parts of the world about missionaries, priests, bishops, religious and lay faithful, who are persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, deprived of freedom or prevented from exercising freedom because they are disciples of Christ and apostles of the Gospel. And some suffer and die because of their communion with the universal Church and loyalty to the Pope. ...

The Christian martyr actualizes the victory of love over hate and death.

Let us pray for those who suffer because of their loyalty to Christ and his Church. Most Holy Mary, Queen of Martyrs, help us to be credible witnesses for the Gospel, replying to our enemies with the disarming force of truth and charity.



Lella shares stats posted by RAI, Italian state TV:

The Midnight Mass had 1,926,000 TV sets tunes, for 23% of the share,
and the Pope's Blessing Urbi et Orbi drew an audience of 3,308,000 for 35.44% of the share.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 12/26/2007 11:16 PM]
12/26/2007 3:50 PM
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Ahmadinejad felicitates Pope
on Christmas, New Year

This report comes from the site of the Islamic Republic News Agency, IRNA, official news agency of Iran,
accompanied with this photo:

Tehran, Dec 26 (IRNA) - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad felicitated Pope Benedict XVI on the birth anniversary of Jesus Christ who is the messenger of love, friendship, justice and spirituality on the advent of the New Year.

In a message to the Leader of the World Roman Catholics, the Iranian president said the present world is in dire need of guidelines of the divine prophets more than any other time in the history.

He expressed the hope that the New Year would be the year of elimination of oppression, violation and discrimination and that of peace, friendship and respect for the rights of people.

President Ahmadinejad further wished that the new Christian year would bring peace and tranquility to the international community on the basis of justice and spirituality.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 12/26/2007 11:02 PM]
12/27/2007 1:53 AM
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What's it like with Chinese Catholics today?
Interview with a priest who has a 'feel'

By Isabelle Cousturié

Translated from
the Italian service of

ROME, Dec. 24 - Six months after the publication of Benedict XVI's letter to the Catholics of China, what is the situation of the Church in China?

Is reconciliation taking place between the 'patriotic' Church and the 'underground' Church, as the Pope strongly urged?

Is it possible to speak of 'more' religious freedom in China?

ZENIT asked Fr. Yin Sihua, a French-speaking priest from Hongkong, who often makes pastoral visits to the mainland, to analyze the impact of the Pope's letter on the life of the Church in China today.

The Pope's letter was published six months ago. Were those tho whom it is addressed able to read it?
Despite the prohibitions that were imposed within a few hours of its release, the large majority of those who wanted to read it have read it. Many dioceses even printed it out surreptitiously, but certainly with the tacit consent of highly-placed authorities.

Does this mean that a silent majority is perhaps against the censorship that regulates Chinese media? It's probable. It's also probable that many Chinese now look with sympathy at the major religions. The thinking is that "They teach people to do good and are concerned with the common good - so why not let them practise freely?"

How was the letter received by Chinese authorities?
There were really no official reactions from the government or the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics. It appears they understand that there are limits they cannot go beyond, without risking international discredit and furnishing ammunition for those who accuse China of violating religious freedom.

In the past six months, there have been four episcopal ordinations (Editor's Note: Five, including that of the Bishop of Ningxia on Dec. 21) that were approved by the Holy See. It looks like Beijing is leaving the door open for future negotiations on the matter of bishops' nominations, and does not exclude, therefore, the possibility of diplomatic relations with the Vatican.

Six months ago, we could not tell what the impact of the letter would be, although it was widely awaited. You told us then, shortly after its publication, that the Chinese Catholics were very appreciative that the Pope told them he has their interests at heart, that he understands their problems, and that he trusted them to be able to resolve them among themselves. Now, is it possible to say how they have actually reacted to the letter and its recommendations?
Mostly, the reaction was favorable, even joyful. The letter allows the Catholics of the mainland to open up to the world, to feel that they belong to the universal Church, and that the Holy Father has them in his heart. I have observed positive effects in three areas:

First, it enlightened them on the real state of the Church in China, which is split up into many tendencies. It was always difficult to understand in a situation where the official propaganda sought to confuse and disinform the faithful. The Pope's message gave them reliable information and a fine, consistent analysis of the situation.
Moreover, the Holy Father offered a presentation of Catholic ecclesiology as it applies to the Chinese situation.

Starting with these, everyone has been led to ask questions and look for answers in the actual situation of the Church that they experience. It has made them better understand their brothers and sisters in the faith who made choices different from theirs. And they have started to look more profoundly into the basis of their faith.

Finally, some rapprochement has started between the two 'camps', a getting together that would have been considered a weakness or a betrayal earlier. Entire communities have been emerging from their isolation and have started to be interested in having a united Church in China. And they can only end up understanding that even those who have made different choices are nevertheless brothers and sisters whose faith is equally authentic as their own.

At the same time, the extremists on both sides have been disarmed - namely, those who joined the Patriotic Association out of conviction, and the hardliners of the underground Church. The latter feel that they have been 'denounced' by the Holy Father.

But on the whole, the Church fabric is starting to evolve towards a healing of the rift, division in the Church, something which is urgently needed. Of course, the process of reconciliation and reunification will take time

What are the remaining obstacles?
The major one is still the nomination of bishops. It seems Beijing has not given up trying to find, among the priests, those who are most favorable to actual government policies and who are most willing to cooperate with the regime.

Whereas the Holy See wants to name bishops who are firm in the faith, respectful of the need for Church unity, and with the ability to lead their congregation well.

The other great obstacle is the incessant control of religious activities. The underground Catholics claim, for instance, that for them to emerge from clandestinity would be to cast themselves at the mercy of the Patriotic Association, and therefore lose the freedom which they have labored hard to keep all this time. They say that they did not choose lightly to live underground, that it has been a great trial for them, perhaps even foolish defiance. But what freedom are they talking about, if they have to do everything clandestinely - including their very exercise of the freedom to protest? The Pope's letter made it very clear that he wants them to do their civic duties and that clandestinity is not at a normal condition for any Church.]

In the underground, their daily problems are tenfold, and the risks are enormous: divisions, infiltration, denunciation. For instance, how will they deal with those of them who now have doubts about staying underground or who are outright ready and willing to go from clandestinity to the official church?

And if you live 'underground', how do you keep the children from talking if their teachers ask them directly? How can they communicate with each other without being found out by the diligent agents of the government? How can they assure the continuity of a proper catechesis if they do not even have a fixed place for such instruction?

These hardline undergound Catholics did not choose it because they have a taste for secrecy, or because they oppose the government or because they are loyal to a foreign government as the authorities consider the Vatican to be. Rather, they went underground in the desire to keep the integrity of their faith in the face of excessive control of religious activities and unsupportable political pressures. So they will not give up easily.

For them to emerge, the Patriotic Association would have to be dissolved or become 'inoffensive', and the government should strop trying to control religious activities from A to Z, particularly as it has to do with meetings and activities of the bishops conferences.
And these things will not happen unless there is a change in government policy.

Two recent examples give us an idea of the very limited religious freedom which Chinese citizens have today.

In the recent ordination of the Bishop of Guangzhou, which had Vatican approval, there was no room for anything unscripted, let alone any flights of fancy.

The Office of Religious Affairs decided everything in advance, it named the bishop who would be the principal 'consecrator' it prohibited the reading of the Papal proclamation, it banned foreigners from entering the cathedral for the ceremony, and it drew up the list of persons who were allowed to attend. Government functionaries occupied the front rows, while several faithful could only stay outside the Church. Policemen surrounded the Church to guarantee that nothing would go wrong with the plans.

Everything had been minutely regulated except for one thing: the congregation did not show fervor, their participation left much to be desired. So, is China still trying to dictate not only the formation of Communist Party members but even that of the followers of Christ?

The second example is Mons. Han Dingxiang, who spent more than 20 years in prison and since 2006, had been somewhere unknown to his family or friends. He died in suspicious circumstances after being hospitalized for two weeks. His death surprised all those who were praying for him. He was only 68. Then, he was cremated and a funeral held the following day at 7 in the morning without any religious ceremony, and without giving his people any chance to pay him their last respects. Since then, his grave has been kept under strict police watch. (Mons. Han was born in 1939, ordained priest in 1986 and bishop in November 1989).


Much of what we have been reading about the situation in China is that in any given local church or diocese, the official treatment of the Church very much depends on the local authorities, that there is no nationwide state of persecution or systematic impediment to the practice of the Catholic religion.

In fact, any recitation of outright abuses and crimes like those against Mons. Han, do not even seem to number in the hundreds - dozens at the most, in an underground community that supposed numbers 8-10 million.

So let us hope better sense prevails among most of the 'underground' Catholics, at least in the areas where there is no outright persecution and threfore risk of mortal danger or imprisonment. These areas would appear to be in the majority.

The other thing is that one cannot expect the PA to fold up quietly and go. And that there is still the Office of Religious Affairs, regardless. If the 'patriotic' Chinese have been able to adjust to regimentation and discipline, in exchange for attending church openly and freely whenever they want - and mostly, with priests and bishops who are acceptable to them - then surely those coming out from clandestinity can also learn to do that.

Don't they realize how much better off they are than the Catholics in the countries of Communist Europe during all the years of Communist rule there - where religion was absolutely prohibited! (Poland was an exception because of the country's history.)

As for the way the Office of Religious Affairs scripted the ordination of the Bishop of Guangzhou, the most important thing is that the bishop was approved by the Vatican, and that all the bishops who consecrated him were also Vatican-approved. If the local 'gauleiters' conceded those two most important things, what does it matter that they controlled the guest list and kept foreigners away? And who were the government functionaries whom they gave priority to? They were probably Catholic as well, or else why would they bother to attend an ordination?

There are times when one must learn to compromise - and that is when compromise only involves cosmetic superficial matters of self-pride, not of principle. As Fr. Sihua rightly said, those who chose to be 'patriotic' rather than underground do not necessarily have a less authentic faith than those who chose to remain underground.

Perhaps the communties who have emerged or are emerging, according to Fr. Sihua, are those who live in areas whre they have no iron-fisted local authorities, either from the government itself or the PA. If their experience proves to be bearable and, in the end, helpful, then perhaps it will encourage more among those who do not face immediate imminent danger by declaring themselves openly.

One other thing must be taken into account - President Hu's recent declarations about religious freedom and working together with people of faith in his speech to the Politburo of the Communist Party.

As China prepares to host the Olympics in just 7 months from now, chances are it will ease up rather than crack down on religious freedoms. So it would be a good time for the underground Catholics to see if now is their best chance to emerge with the least risk.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 12/27/2007 2:03 AM]
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