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Vatican releases new instruction on authenticating, protecting relics

As pope turns 81, kids entertain with song, dance and 13-foot pizza

IMAGE: CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Celebrating his 81st birthday, Pope Francis blew out the candles on a 13-foot long pizza after being serenaded with song and dance by children and employees from a Vatican pediatric clinic.

A group of children receiving assistance from the Vatican's St. Martha Dispensary, a maternal and pediatric clinic, had given the pope a birthday party Dec. 17 marked with singing, dancing and a cake adorned with gold and white fondant decorations.

They also rolled out a large pizza with a single lit candle on it. The pope was joined with several children from the clinic and counted down before blowing out the candle.

"Eat the 4-meter pizza: Eat well, it will do you good and make you grow," the pope told the children.

The pope said their joy was a gift and is like "good earth that makes life grow with good fruits."

"Do not make children sad. When children see that there are problems at home, that their parents are fighting, they suffer," he said. "They must always grow with joy."

After meeting the children, Pope Francis greeted an estimated 25,000 pilgrims in St. Peter's Square for his Sunday Angelus address.

After reciting the Angelus prayer, the pope was about to greet several individual groups present in the square before the crowd burst into song, singing "Happy Birthday."

Touched by the gesture, the pope said: "Thank you. Thank you very much."

Celebrating the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, Pope Francis invited Christians to prepare for Christ's coming through "constant joy, persevering prayer and continual thanksgiving."

"Joy, prayer and gratitude are the three attitudes that prepare us to live Christmas in an authentic way," the pope said before inviting the crowd to repeat the words: "Joy, prayer and gratitude."

Pope Francis also blessed the statues of baby Jesus that will be at the center of Nativity scenes in Rome schools, churches and homes.

Addressing the children who brought their figurines to the square, the pope said, "When you pray at home, in front of the creche with your family, let yourselves be drawn toward the tenderness of the child Jesus, who was born poor and fragile in our midst to give us his love. This is the true Christmas."

With Christmas also around the corner, the pope also met with members of the Italian branch of Catholic Action's children's section, parish-based groups of young people, ages 4-14, for his traditional pre-Christmas audience with them.

The pope said the Christmas season is a reminder of helping those in need who are the "image of the child Jesus who was turned away and who did not find a place to stay in the city of Bethlehem."

He called on them to ask themselves how they can better serve the suffering Christ in those who are cast aside by society.

"Here are your 'peripheries;' try to fix your goal on companions and people that no one sees, and dare to make the first step to meet them, to give them a bit of your time, a smile, a gesture of tenderness," the pope said.

"In this upcoming feast of holy Christmas, you are called to always make him known more and more among your friends, in the cities, in the parishes and in your families," he said.

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As pope turns 81, kids entertain with song, dance and 13-foot pizza

Press must be factual, free from manipulation, pope says

On his birthday, Pope Francis hosts pizza party for sick children

Vatican City, Dec 17, 2017 / 07:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis celebrated his 81st birthday with a pizza party for sick children Sunday, reflecting on the joy of children and the importance that they are raised with the faith.

“The joy of children is a treasure,” he said Dec. 17. “And we ought to do everything so that they continue to be joyous.”

“A joyous spirit is like good land that grows life well, with good fruit,” he said in his Vatican meeting with the children being treated by the Pediatric Dispensary of Santa Marta.

Pope Francis encouraged the children to speak with their grandparents. Grandparents “have memory, have roots, and it will be the grandparents that give roots to the children,” he said.

He asked that the children may not be “uprooted children, without the memory of a people, without the memory of the faith, without the memory of so many beautiful things that have made up history, without the memory of values.”

“And who will help children to do this? The grandparents,” said the Pope, adding that the elderly “love us very much.”

He exhorted parents to “teach them to talk with God.”

“May they learn to pray, to say what they feel in their heart,” Pope Francis said. “It is joy, to talk with the grandparents, with the elderly, and to talk with God.”

He then encouraged the children to eat the pizza, saying it will make them grow.

Before eating, he prayed the Hail Mary with the children.

Pope Francis' three Christmas ingredients: joy, prayer, gratitude

Vatican City, Dec 17, 2017 / 12:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- With Christmas just eight days away, Pope Francis said three simple attitudes can help prepare us to welcome Jesus Christ.

“Saint Paul invites us to prepare for the coming of the Lord by assuming three attitudes: constant joy, persevering prayer and continual thanksgiving,” the Pope said. “Joy, prayer and gratitude are three attitudes that prepare us to live Christmas in an authentic way.”

Pope Francis’ remarks to the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square came ahead of the Angelus for Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, which this year coincided with Pope Francis’ 81st birthday, Vatican News reports.

He said the liturgy in recent Sundays has focused on how to be vigilant and how to prepare for the way of the Lord. For Gaudete Sunday, the liturgy invites Christians to joy.

The Pope cited St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, “always be happy.”

“That is to say, always remain in joy, even when things do not go according to our desires,” Francis explained. “Anxieties, difficulties and sufferings permeate our lives, and so many times the reality around us seems to be inhospitable and arid, like the desert in which the voice of John the Baptist resounded, as the Gospel of today recalls.”

John the Baptist’s voice in the desert reveals that Christian joy rests on “the certainty that the desert is inhabited.”

This is Jesus, who in the words of the Prophet Isaiah comes “to bring the good news to the poor, to bind the wounds of broken hearts, to proclaim the freedom of slaves, the release of prisoners, to promulgate the year of grace of the Lord.”

Jesus’ mission in the world consists of “liberation from personal and social sin and the slavery that it produces.”

“He came to earth to give back to men the dignity and freedom of the children of God, which only He can give,” said Pope Francis.

Unceasing prayer helps us enter into relationship with God, the source of true joy.

“The joy of the Christian comes from faith and from the encounter with Jesus Christ, the reason for our happiness,” the Pope continued. “The more we are rooted in Christ, the more we find inner serenity, even in the midst of everyday contradictions.”

The Christian who has met Jesus cannot be “a prophet of misfortune” but must be “a witness and a herald of joy,” said Francis. This is “a joy to share with others; a contagious joy that makes life's journey less tiring.”

St. Paul also stressed “the grateful love of God,” his generosity, mercy, patience and goodness. Christians are to be “living in an endless state of thanksgiving.”

Pope Francis closed his remarks before the Angelus by entrusting the congregation to the intercession of the Virgin Mary.

“She is ‘the cause of our joy,’ not only because she is the Mother of Jesus, but because she continually leads us to Him,” he said.

After the Angelus, the Pope called for the release of six women religious kidnapped in Iguoriakhi in Nigeria’s southern Edo State.

On Nov. 13 gunmen abducted the sisters, three professed women and three aspirants, from their convent. There have been no claims of responsibility for the crime in a country where kidnapping for ransom has become common.

“I unite my heart to the appeal of the bishops of Nigeria for the liberation of the Sisters of the Eucharistic Heart of Christ,” he said.

“I pray with insistence for them and for all the other persons who find themselves in this painful condition,” he continued, adding “may they all, on the occasion of Christmas, finally return to their homes.”

From Pope Francis, a checklist for good journalism

Vatican City, Dec 16, 2017 / 06:25 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Journalism must prize truth and reflection over sensationalism and clamor, Pope Francis told journalists on Saturday.

“It is important that the criteria of judgment and information are offered patiently and methodically so that ‎public opinion is able to understand and discern, and is not stunned and disoriented,” the Pope said Dec. 16, according to Vatican News.

The Pope encouraged journalism that embodies “serenity, precision and completeness.” It must use calm language that favors “fruitful reflection” and thoughtful, clear words that reject “clamorous and ambiguous speech.”

The Pope spoke to about 350 members of the Italian Periodical Press Union and the Italian Federation of Catholic Weeklies, who met him at the Vatican.

“Your free and responsible voice is fundamental for the growth of any society that wants to be called democratic, so that a continuous exchange of ideas and a profitable debate based on real and correctly reported facts are assured,” the pontiff told them.

He noted the dominance of speed and sensationalism in some reporting, which lacks precision and thoroughness. It is dominated by overheated emotions, not thoughtful reflection.

The pontiff stressed the need for reliable information, verified data and news that does not aim to amaze and excite. Rather, it creates in readers a healthy critical sense that allows them to ask appropriate questions and make justified conclusions.

“There is no need to fall into the ‘sins of communications’: misinformation, that is saying only a part which is calumny and which is sensational, or defamation that seeks out things past and old and bringing them to light today,” said Pope Francis. “They are very grave sins that damage the heart of the journalist and damage the people.”

Pope to youth: expand your wisdom and meet the elderly

Vatican City, Dec 16, 2017 / 04:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis met with the youth of Catholic Action on Saturday as the movement marks its 150th anniversary year.

The pontiff encouraged the young people to meet with the movement’s “grandparents.”

“This is something very beautiful and important,” he said, adding that “the elderly are the historic memory of every community, a heritage of wisdom and faith to be heard, preserved, and valued.”

“These are your peripheries!” he said.

The delegation of 12 boys and girls, accompanied by their teachers, came from 12 different Italian dioceses, Vatican News reports. The movement aims to expand Catholic influence in society.

The Pope encouraged the youth to fix their attention on “the decisive events of the life of Jesus” and “to seek to become ever more like Him, your greatest and most faithful friend.”

He encouraged them to be ready to shoot a photograph and to be “good photographers,” both of the deeds Jesus has done and of the reality of their world.

They should be attentive to those who have forgotten, “the poorest, the weakest, those relegated to the margins society because they are considered as a problem.”

They should seek out those “no one ever sees” and “dare to take the first step to meet them, to give them a little bit of your time, a smile, an act of tenderness.”

For Pope Francis, the meeting with the delegation was joyful because it allowed them to update him on their activities of “solidarity in favor of the poor and of the most disadvantaged.”

Treat saints' relics right, says new Vatican directive

Vatican City, Dec 16, 2017 / 12:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The relics of Christian saints and blesseds deserve special care and their authenticity must be certified by the Church, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has said.

“Relics in the Church have always received particular veneration and attention, because the bodies of saints and blesseds, destined for resurrection, were on earth the living temple of the Holy Spirit and the instruments of their sanctity, recognized by the apostolic see through beatification and canonization,” said the Dec. 16 instruction from the congregation.

The instruction was sent to Catholic bishops, eparchs, and those who take part in procedures related to relics of saints, blesseds and those declared venerable and servants of God, Vatican News reports.

It contains 38 separate items. Among its directives: relics of saints and blesseds that lack a certificate from church authority cannot be exposed for the veneration of the faithful.

Current canonical practice of verifying the authenticity of relics and mortal remains of saints and blesseds remains in place to guarantee that these relics and remains are preserved and venerated. Among other topics, the instruction outlines how to obtain the consent of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints for the canonical recognition of relics and the procedure to follow for relics that are taken on pilgrimage.

The new document replaces the appendix to the 2007 instruction “Sanctorum Mater,” also issued by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Meet the man who holds the keys to the Pope's Museums

Vatican City, Dec 16, 2017 / 03:20 am (CNA/EWTN News).- “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus told St. Peter, as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew.

Gianni Crea, as the ‘clavigero’ – or key keeper – of the Vatican Museums, has a slightly different job. Beginning at 5:30 every morning, he traverses the dark and quiet halls of the Vatican, opening the more than 300 doors in the “Museums of the Pope.”

As the senior key keeper, Crea oversees nine other key keepers and is responsible for managing 2,797 keys. These keys unlock the 300-some gates and doors of the public spaces of the museums – passed through by thousands of people per day – as well as other various maintenance rooms, closets and personnel spaces.

The most important key of all – that of the Sistine Chapel – is kept not on the ring with the others, but in a white envelope.

“For me this is a unique and extraordinary privilege,” Crea told EWTN. “I have the opportunity to open these doors to all the tourists that come from all over the world to the museums of the Pope, but especially the Sistine Chapel, the seat of the conclave since 1492.”

Possibly the most famous chapel in the world, the Sistine Chapel is where the College of Cardinals convenes to cast their ballots during a papal election. The room’s ceiling frescoes, painted by Michelangelo, depict the story of creation, the Last Judgement, and other Old and New Testament stories.

In the “the Museum of Museums,” each of the more than 300 doors has its own unique key, which the key keepers learn by heart. Some doors themselves are impressive, such as door “401,” whose key is from the 1700s, the oldest on Crea’s keyring.   

Starting every morning at the “Atrium of the Four Gates,” Crea meets his colleague Alessio, selects the right set of keys, and the two proceed with their course.

Five key keepers turn on the lights and unlock the doors of the museums every morning, walking over two miles of the total nearly 5-mile length of the Vatican Museums.

The route “is unique and extraordinary because each door and each key has its charm and its secret that it reveals to the world,” Crea said. “The Vatican Museums are so fascinating and so beautiful that in each corner you discover something, each corner has its own peculiarity.”

His path takes him past many famous works and galleries, including the ‘Laocoön,’ which was the first statue acquired by the Museums in 1506, and Caravaggio’s ‘The Entombment of Christ.’

Passing through the Gallery of Statues, Crea said that “each statue ‘speaks’ about history; each statue has something different and fascinating (to tell).”

He also opens the Niccoline Chapel, which is found in the oldest part of the Apostolic Palace. It is covered in frescoes depicting scenes from the lives of St. Stephen and St. Laurence, painted by Fra Angelico and his assistants. It was used as the private chapel of Pope Nicholas V and is not usually open to the public.

In the “Raphael Rooms,” which used to be the private apartments of Pope Julius II, Crea uses one of the smallest keys on the ring to turn on the lights, illuminating the famous painting of the “School of Athens” by Raphael.

He ends his daily journey at the original “Scala del Bramante,” or “Bramante Staircase,” built in 1505, which Crea considers “one of the most beautiful spots of the Vatican Museums.” From the top you can find a beautiful view of Rome.

The modern Bramante staircase, inspired from the original, was built in 1932 and designed by Giuseppe Momo. The double helix design allows people to ascend and descend without crossing each other.

The Vatican Museums were founded in 1506 by Pope Julius II. The museums are made up of 54 galleries, including the Sistine Chapel, which is the last stop on a visitor’s route through the roughly 20,000 works on display.

The Vatican Museums are among the largest and most visited museums in the world, with more than 6 million visitors annually.


Alexey Gotovsky contributed to this article.