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« Reply #210 on: Apr 02, 2014, 06:20 AM »

‘Holy Grail’ in Spanish church faces skeptical inquisition from historians

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, April 2, 2014 7:50 EDT

Claims that the Holy Grail has been found after sitting for 1,000 years in a Spanish church face a tough inquisition from doubtful historians.

Visitors flocked to the museum of the San Isidro basilica in Leon after a new book said it contained the chalice from which Jesus Christ sipped at the Last Supper.

Experts on Tuesday poured doubt on that dramatic claim by two Spanish historians, saying the Grail — subject of tales from Medieval times to Indiana Jones and Monty Python — was a myth, not a real drinking vessel.

“The Grail legend is a literary invention of the 12th century with no historical basis. You cannot search for something that does not exist,” Carlos de Ayala, a medieval historian at the Madrid’s UAM university, told AFP.

The cup joined a list of hundreds of pretenders to the title of Holy Grail, including one in the eastern Spanish city of Valencia.

Made of onyx and encased in gold and precious stones, the goblet in Leon has been known as the chalice of the Infanta Dona Urraca, daughter of Fernando I, king of Leon in the mid-11th century.

- ‘Kings of the Grail’ -

The historians Margarita Torres and Jose Manuel Ortega del Rio identified it as the prized Biblical relic in their book “Kings of the Grail”, presented last week.

“All the scholars with whom I have discussed this announcement have evinced surprise at what we read in the news, which is why I will be interested to see what is actually written in the book,” said Therese Martin, a US academic who has written a history of the San Isidoro complex.

“Medievalists tend to understand the legends of the Grail in a symbolic rather than a historical way.”

Ortega and Torres said Egyptian parchments led them to identify the upper part of the chalice, which is formed from two goblets joined end to end, as the Grail.

“Perhaps the researchers’ book reveals new sources that have gone unnoticed until now,” said Martin, a medieval art historian at Spain’s national research centre CSIC.

“But even if the Infanta Urraca had believed that one of the ancient goblets that form the chalice was the Grail, it would be difficult to support such a theory nowadays.”

The museum’s director, Raquel Jaen, said the cup has been taken off display while curators prepare an exhibition space large enough to accommodate the crowds that flocked there after the authors unveiled their study.

“Some people who come are sceptical and others are curious to know more about how the research was carried out, while others come for religious reasons,” she said.

Local clergyman Antonio Trobajo, a public relations official for the Diocese of Leon, said he hoped the cup would not be exploited for “the promotion of tourism purely for the sake of curiosity”.

“It is irrelevant to faith whether it is authentic or not,” he told AFP.

“To me as a believer it makes no difference at all whether the cup of Christ is here or in Valencia or elsewhere, because I will continue to believe, not in the object but in the person.”

- Stolen from Jerusalem -

Torres said the Leon chalice was stolen from Jerusalem and taken to Cairo by the Fatimid Caliphate.

When a famine swept Egypt in 1054, an emir in Spain sent food to the Caliphate and asked for the chalice in return.

He then gave it as peace offering to Fernando, a powerful Christian Spanish king.

Torres and Ortega themselves admitted there are 200 supposed Grails in Europe alone, and attempted to debunk some of those contenders.

“None of the others relies on such a solid basis,” Ortega del Rio said.

Jaen said the claims were “very important not only for our museum but for the city,” despite the scepticism.

“The research was very much based on scientific methods. It is for others to evaluate its conclusions and tell us whether they are valid or not.”

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« Reply #211 on: Apr 03, 2014, 06:28 AM »

Queen arrives in Italy and will meet Pope Francis for first time

Queen will have lunch with President Giorgio Napolitano before her private audience with pope in Vatican

Lizzy Davies in Vatican City, Thursday 3 April 2014 08.45 BST      

The Queen has arrived in Italy for her first overseas visit in more than two years, a day-long trip that will see her meet Pope Francis for the first time.

Wearing lilac and looking relaxed, the Queen landed at Ciampino airport with the Duke of Edinburgh and was driven to the presidential palace of the Italian head of state, Giorgio Napolitano. The two heads of state are having a private lunch at the Quirinale before her private audience with the pope later on Thursday.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will be received by the 77-year-old pope in a papal study rather than the lavish apostolic palace where Francis met Barack Obama last week. On this occasion, the Queen is not expected to wear black or a mantilla (lace veil).

It is the Queen's first foreign trip since she went to Australia in 2011, and the first meeting between the supreme governor of the Church of England and the head of the Roman Catholic church since 2010, when emeritus pope Benedict XVI made a state visit to Britain.

The Queen did not attend his Argentinian successor's inauguration last March, and was instead represented by the Duke of Gloucester. But she has a long history of papal meetings, having made her first visit to the Vatican as Princess Elizabeth in 1951, where she was received by Pius XII, and presided over an unprecedented thaw in relations between the UK and Holy See.

During her reign, the Queen has been received by a pope three times at the Vatican: by John XXIII in 1961, by John Paul II in 1980 and again in 2000. The first encounter with the Polish pope marked the first time a British monarch had made a state visit to the Vatican, a landmark gesture reciprocated two years later when the pontiff made a pastoral visit to the UK.

The Queen's meeting with Francis, therefore, will be her seventh with a leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

Nigel Baker, Britain's ambassador to the Holy See, described the visit as a "reaffirmation" of the ties between the Holy See and the UK, noting that it was taking place in the centenary year of the formal re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two, which occurred in 1914.

However, the visit is not without its potential tensions. "Thursday's meeting comes at a time when, on the surface, relations between the Catholic church and the Church of England are at an all-time high. But dig a little deeper and issues arise," said Dr Rebecca Rist, papal expert from the University of Reading, who singled out the CoE's ordination of women priests and push for female bishops.

Another issue that some say could set the two heads of state on a collision course is the status of the Falkland Islands, the British territory in the South Atlantic over which Britain and Argentina went to war in 1982.

As cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis spoke out about the ongoing row in blunt terms in 2012, paying tribute to Argentine soldiers who had died in the conflict and accusing Britain of having "usurped" the islands.

But since becoming pope he has steered clear of such proclamations and diplomatic observers expect that approach to continue. "The Vatican has been very clear with us, including in the last week and at a very senior level, that that longstanding neutrality on the [Falklands] issue remains in force," said Baker.

Although the papal audience is likely to dominate the headlines, the Queen is in Rome at the invitation of president Napolitano. The two veteran heads of state were supposed to see each other last spring before the widely respected former Communist was due to finish his seven-year mandate but the Queen had to cancel due to ill health. But as Napolitano was re-elected for a surprise second term, the two – who have already met four times in their current capacities – have another chance to catch up.

Napolitano, who is 88, holds the monarch in high regard, using a dinner in 2012 at the British ambassador's residence in Rome to praise her and express gratitude for the royal family's support for the Italian resistance movement during the second world war. The Queen acceded to the throne in 1952.

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« Reply #212 on: Apr 05, 2014, 06:32 AM »

Vatican to investigate sexual allegations against Cardinal Keith O'Brien

Pope sends Holy See's sex crimes prosecutor Charles Scicluna to look into claims of sexual misconduct by Scottish prelate

Lizzy Davies in Rome, Friday 4 April 2014 21.53 BST   

A Vatican-appointed bishop will fly into Scotland next week to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct surrounding Cardinal Keith O'Brien, it has emerged.

O'Brien's successor as archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Leo Cushley, announced the unusual step in letters sent to his clergy this week, according to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR).

The Pope's spokesman, Federico Lombardi, told the Guardian he had "nothing to add" to the report, which said that, following a request from Pope Francis, the Maltese auxiliary bishop Charles Scicluna would visit the archdiocese from 8-10 April.

According to the NCR, Cushley's two letters said Scicluna, the Vatican's former sex crimes prosecutor, would "listen to and report the testimony offered by past and present members of the clergy … concerning any incidents of sexual misconduct committed against them by other members of the clergy whomsoever."

The bishop – who co-represented the Holy See at a fierce public grilling by a United Nations panel of experts in January – has asked those wishing to speak to him to "prepare their narrative in writing", Cushley reportedly added. The letters reportedly do not mention O'Brien by name.

The move comes more than a year after O'Brien resigned amid allegations published in the Observer of sexual misconduct from three priests and one former priest. The Vatican subsequently ordered him to spend a period of time in "prayer and penance".

Last month, one of the men appealed directly to Pope Francis to intervene, describing the church as a "formidable machine" and accusing officials of having "passed the buck, misrepresented the truth, engaged in cover-up and … shamelessly procrastinated".

"I want to ask Pope Francis can you sort this out?" the man told the Observer.

As the Argentinian pontiff marked his first year on the papal throne last month, his response to the sexual abuse scandal was singled out by many observers as a blind spot in an otherwise impressive record.

In a statement, Cushley reportedly said Scicluna's visit was "a positive step towards truth and eventual reconciliation". "This may not be an easy thing to do, but it is the right thing to do," he added.

A spokesman for the archdiocese did not return requests for comment.

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« Reply #213 on: Apr 10, 2014, 06:27 AM »

Francis looks to heal Church with two pope saints

By Jean-Louis de la Vaissiere

Vatican City (AFP) - Pope Francis aims to unite conservative and reformist strands of Catholicism with the first canonisation of two popes this month -- an impressive masterstroke that has already stirred dissent in some quarters.

Conferring sainthood on John XXIII and John Paul II means bringing together two distinct schools of thought on what a pope should be -- a humble parish priest figure or a globetrotting, charismatic superstar.

John Allen, a Vatican affairs expert at the Boston Globe in the United States, has written that the joint canonisation shows Francis's "inclusive spirit".

"Francis is speaking not just to the outside world but to rival camps within the Catholic fold who see John XXIII and John Paul II as their heroes -- meaning liberals and conservatives, respectively," he said.

Just a few months into his reign, Francis broke with tradition last year by dramatically propelling the canonisation case for John XXIII -- known as "Good Pope John" and a pontiff with whom he shares similarities.

Less widely known than Poland's Karol Wojtyla, Italy's Angelo Roncalli played a key role in modernising Catholicism in the 1960s and to this day inspires progressives who want a more down-to-earth Church.

- 'Sainthood now!' -

The two popes will be canonised together in St Peter's Basilica on April 27, with many pilgrims -- anything from hundreds of thousands to a few million -- expected.

Rome city authorities are deploying thousands of police officers and setting up four giant screens in the city centre so pilgrims can follow the canonisation mass.

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, who last year became the first pontiff to resign since the Middle Ages, could also attend, meaning two living and two deceased popes would be present at the historic ceremony.

Enthusiasts can follow the action on the dedicated website which has even been coming out with daily vignettes depicting the two popes preparing for sainthood as comic-book characters.

While sainthood appeared a foregone conclusion for John Paul II from the moment a vast crowd of mourners chanted "Santo Subito!" (Sainthood Now!) at his funeral in 2005, the result for John XXIII was less obvious.

With his canonisation announcement in July 2013, Francis confirmed two miracles attributed to John Paul II in the traditional procedure for sainthood, but crucially skipped a step for John XXIII.

Francis declared the Italian pope, who only had one supposed miraculous healing to his name, so widely venerated already that he did not need a second miracle -- a rare loophole under Catholic Church rules.

"It highlights the fact that the devotion was not very widespread", said Marco Tosatti, a Vatican expert for the La Stampa daily, suggesting that fewer people praying to John XXIII meant less chance of miracles.

"He wanted to make someone he really likes a saint."

The move has irritated Wojtyla's Polish fans who say it overshadows their hero -- a divisive figure who critics say turned a blind eye to paedophile priests and waged a campaign against leftist clergymen.

Vatican conservatives have also expressed concern about bending the rules on sainthood, seeing this as the latest example of maverick behaviour from a pope who has shown impatience with tradition.

- Political flair -

Bergoglio has frequently expressed admiration for John XXIII, a former Vatican diplomat known as the driving force behind the reformist Vatican II Council.

He has also eulogized -- although less often -- John Paul II as a "missionary" and a "tireless preacher".

Vatican experts say that the double canonisation shows "political flair" by Pope Francis but it remains to be seen whether his efforts to unite Catholicism pay off.

Experts also point to some similarities between John XXIII and John Paul II, who both showed a tradition-breaking style tempered with conservatism on doctrine -- similar to Pope Francis.

But expert Bruno Bartoloni said John Paul II's fame overshadows that of John XXIII so much that the latter could end up being "a bit of a detail" at the ceremony.

"There was a veneration in Italy, he was extremely popular. Taxi drivers used to have his image on their dashboards! But now that generation is gone," he said.

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« Reply #214 on: Apr 10, 2014, 08:47 AM »

Prominent Jesuit: Pope Francis’s first major issuance ‘almost a direct refutation’ of the GOP

By Eric W. Dolan
Thursday, April 10, 2014 9:20 EDT

Pope Francis’s first major publication can be read as an attack on the Republican philosophy of low taxes for the wealthy and reduced support of welfare programs, according to a prominent Jesuit professor.

During a panel discussion at Georgetown University last month, American Jesuit and Boston College professor David Hollenbach was asked how the faithful should engage with the poor in light of Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.

“I think there are multiple dimensions,” Hollenbach replied. “One of course is to find ways to help people who are members of the Church find a way to be in contact, become friends with those who are poor — an experiential dimension. That’s very important. But I don’t myself think that is going to solve the whole problem, because I don’t think it is going to be — as much as the document says it is the responsibility of every Christian to become friends with the poor, I don’t think it is actually likely to happen very much, or at least to happen as much as it’s needed.”

Christians also needed to examine the structure of society, and how political institutions treated the least among us, he added.

“There is an enormous amount of interesting material in this document [the Evangelii Gaudium], not focused as the central spotlight of the document, but… this document deals with solidarity and its relationship to subsidiarity. I mean, in a certain way that could be written almost as a direct refutation of the recent Republican budget proposal of a year ago. It is a direct challenge to some of the fundamental arguments that are being made in the United States Congress about structures.”

The pontiff released his Evangelii Gaudium, or Joy of the Gospel, last year. The 224-page document called for a “return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.”

“As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems,” Pope Francis wrote in the first major document to reflect his own vision for the Catholic Church.

The pope also attacked the theory of supply-side economics, which holds that reducing taxes on the wealthy helps everyone by increasing capital investment and consequently increasing job growth. The theory was advocated most prominently by President Ronald Reagan.

“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” the pope said. “This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

Hollenbach noted that Catholics had talked about altering the structure of society before, citing “Economic Justice for All,” a pastoral letter published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1986. But the calls for economic reform fell on deaf ears.

“People said, ‘Oh, I really agree with the part about the Bible, but I don’t buy all that stuff they said about the market,’” he explained. “And they wrote it all off.”

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« Reply #215 on: Apr 11, 2014, 05:48 AM »

Pope Francis says human trafficking is 'a crime against humanity'

Police from around the world and religious leaders pledge to work together and to fight against human trafficking

Lizzy Davies in Vatican City, Thursday 10 April 2014 18.23 BST   

Pope Francis has described human trafficking as "a crime against humanity" as international police chiefs and religious figures pledged in the Vatican to work together to fight modern-day slavery.

At the end of a two-day meeting, organised by the bishops' conference of England and Wales and chaired by the archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Pope Francis met privately with four women, all former sex workers who were the victims of trafficking.

In his address, the Argentinian pontiff said: "Human trafficking is an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ. It is a crime against humanity."

Attended by the home secretary, Theresa May, as well as Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the commissioner of the Metropolitan police, the conference was designed to encourage cooperation between the Catholic church and law enforcement officials on the ground.

The pope's backing for the project was invaluable, said Hogan-Howe, not only for the moral stance it would send and the network of 1.2 billion Catholics it would reach but also for his sheer pulling power.

"If I'd asked 20 police chiefs from Thailand [and] Australia to travel to London, they may have, but I can guarantee that if the pope shows his interest, people will be interested. And that leadership is so powerful," he said.

The pope's backing of the conference could help move human trafficking up the agenda of governments throughout the world, added Hogan-Howe. "Apart from its mere statement, it encourages governments to pass laws. It seems to me that by making such a declaration it encourages governments to take this as a very high priority."

The conference heard that only 1% of human trafficking victims currently come forward and the church believes it can play an important role in providing sanctuary for them, as well as support in reintegration, regularisation and psychological recovery.

Participants of the conference have dubbed themselves the Santa Martha group because many were accommodated in the Vatican guesthouse, or Casa Santa Marta, where the pope lives. They have agreed to meet again, in London, in November, said Nichols.

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« Reply #216 on: Apr 12, 2014, 06:42 AM »

Pope Francis asks forgiveness for child sex abuse by Catholic priests

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, April 11, 2014 9:04 EDT

Pope Francis on Friday personally asked forgiveness for child sex abuse by priests — the first time he has made such an apology since being elected last year.

“I feel compelled… to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children,” the pope said at a meeting with members of a children’s charity, Vatican Radio reported.

Francis said the number of guilty priests was “quite a few in number” but “obviously not compared to the number of all the priests”.

“The Church is aware of this damage,” he said.

“It is personal, moral damage carried out by men of the Church and we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem and the sanctions that must be imposed,” he added.

Francis was meeting with members of International Catholic Child Bureau, which works to protect the rights and dignity of children worldwide.

Thousands of cases of abuse by priests have come to light over the past decade and the Catholic Church is regularly accused of trying to cover up the crimes.

But the Vatican has vowed a zero-tolerance approach and has begun implementing prevention and detection measures to root out abuse, although this varies widely between different countries.

Francis’s predecessor Benedict XVI had also made a personal apology for the abuses.

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