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« Reply #225 on: May 06, 2014, 05:35 AM »

Pope Francis hits out at 'people who follow Jesus for money'

Pontiff criticises 'profiteers and climbers' within Catholic church as he begins overhaul of scandal-hit Vatican bureaucracy

Agence France-Presse in Vatican City, Monday 5 May 2014 13.52 BST   
Pope Francis has condemned "profiteers" and "climbers" who use the Catholic church for financial gain as he embarks on Vatican reforms aimed at promoting greater transparency and doing more to help the needy.

"There are climbers in the church. There are a lot of them!" the pope said during a morning mass in the Vatican residence where he has lived since being elected last year.

"People who follow Jesus for money, try to profit from the parish, the diocese, the Christian community, the hospital, the college," he said.

"We have known a lot of good Catholics, good Christians … And then we discover that they have been carrying out somewhat shady dealings. They were real profiteers and they made a lot of money." he said.

"They presented themselves as benefactors but they took a lot of money and not always clean money," he said.

Francis has said he wants a "poor church for the poor" and has begun an overhaul of the scandal-hit Vatican bureaucracy and bank, the Institute for Religious Works.

Two former directors of the Vatican bank are facing trial in Italy for money-laundering, while a former leading Vatican accountant is a defendant in a separate trial for trying to smuggle money illegally through the bank.

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« Reply #226 on: May 09, 2014, 05:33 AM »

Pope Demands 'Legitimate Redistribution' of Wealth

MAY 9, 2014, 6:32 A.M. E.D.T.   

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is calling for governments to redistribute wealth to the poorest and for a new spirit of generosity to take hold.

Francis made the appeal during a speech Friday to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the heads of major U.N. agencies who are meeting in Rome this week.

The pontiff has frequently lashed out at the injustices of capitalism and the global economic system that excludes so much of humanity.

On Friday, he called for the United Nations to promote an "ethical mobilization" of solidarity with the poor and a new spirit of generosity that also addresses the root causes of poverty and hunger.

He called for "the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the state, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society."
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« Reply #227 on: May 11, 2014, 06:12 AM »

Pope Attends 300,000-Strong Rally for Catholic Schools

by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 May 2014, 20:38

Pope Francis on Saturday attended a giant rally for children and teachers from Italy's Catholic schools, with the Vatican saying that 300,000 people turned out for the event in and around St Peter's Square.

Excited children threw baseball caps, kerchiefs and even a paper plane at the 77-year-old Argentine pontiff as he toured the Vatican piazza and the avenue leading to St Peter's Basilica on his white "popemobile".

"This is not a lament, it's a celebration for education! We know there are problems and things that don't work but you are here, we are here because we love school," the pontiff told the crowd.

Francis also shared a memory about his first teacher, adding: "We love school because it is synonymous with openness to reality, or at least it should be".

The event was organised by the Italian Bishops' Conference whose leader Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco pointed to "problems" and "difficulties" in Italy's education sector and said: "Sometimes it's a struggle to rekindle the hope of being able to teach".

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has promised to invest more in education after successive austerity budget cuts that have hit schools in recent years.

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« Reply #228 on: May 12, 2014, 06:20 AM »

Israel hate crimes 'poison atmosphere' for pope visit

By Daphne Rousseau

Haifa (Israel) (AFP) - The head of the Roman Catholic church in the Holy Land said Sunday that Israeli hate crimes against local Muslims and Christians are souring relations ahead of a papal visit.

"The unrestrained acts of vandalism poison the atmosphere -- the atmosphere of co-existence and the atmosphere of collaboration, especially in these two weeks prior to the visit of Pope Francis," Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal said.

"It is also a blight on the democracy that Israel ascribes to itself," he told a news conference in the northern port city of Haifa.

The pope's visit is scheduled to begin in Jordan on May 24, and he is then due to spend two days in the Holy Land from May 25.

On Friday, vandals spray-painted anti-Christian graffiti on a Jerusalem church, just days after the Roman Catholic church demanded that Israel act following the discovery of racist slogans daubed on a Vatican-owned property elsewhere in the city.

"The bishops are very concerned about the lack of security and lack of responsiveness from the political sector, and fear an escalation of violence," the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said in a statement on Wednesday.

In the wake of last week's attack, Israeli police moved to boost security around holy sites.

Israel has been struggling to contain the spiralling number of so-called "price tag" hate crimes by Jewish extremists that target Palestinian and Arab property, including mosques and churches.

Although police have made scores of arrests, there have been no successful prosecutions for price tag attacks, and the government has come under mounting pressure to authorise the Shin Bet internal security agency to intervene.

- Increase in attacks -

Police, in a joint operation with the Shin Bet, arrested two Israel men on Sunday on suspicion of committing hate crimes.

"There were two guys that were arrested by police who are suspected of being involved in criminal activity from nationalist motives," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

"They are being questioned in connection with a number of incidents," he said.

Rosenfeld acknowledged there had been "a definite increase" in hate crimes against churches and mosques recently, but he could not confirm a clear connection with the papal visit.

"It's difficult for me to say yes or no, black or white," he said, stressing that it was not immediately possible to analyse whether the spike was because of the upcoming visit or other factors.

Twal took the Israeli authorities to task for what he saw as laxity in pursuing the perpetrators.

"How can it be that they don't catch the perpetrators?" he asked, saying the attacks were "only drawing condemnation" from Israel's leaders but resulting in few arrests.

"Given that the vandals are largely unprosecuted, one must question the priority of the government to get to the bottom of the problem," he said.

Israeli ministers held an emergency meeting on Wednesday, pledging to enforce harsh measures against perpetrators.

"We are encouraged by the fact that Justice Minister Tzipi Livni held an emergency meeting to combat this senseless vandalism," Twal said.

"Hopefully, the issue does not remain solely a matter of sound bites and round table discussion. Until these words become acts, we remain sceptical."

Police and the Shin Bet are reportedly concerned that Jewish extremists could increase attacks on Christian sites ahead of the pope's arrival in an attempt to attract media attention.

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« Reply #229 on: May 13, 2014, 06:18 AM »

‘Modern’ Pope Francis turns to old-school exorcism to fight the scourge of secularism

By Sophia Deboick, The Guardian
Monday, May 12, 2014 10:33 EDT

As Mother Teresa lay in a Calcutta hospital the year before she died, her violently disturbed sleep became intolerable, her doctors seemingly unable to help. The problem, the visiting Archbishop of Calcutta suggested, was not a medical matter but something altogether more sinister: this living saint was being attacked by the devil. It was only after an exorcist was called that peace was restored.

That a woman regarded as so holy could have been subject to diabolical visitations was reported with surprise. Yet, if a course for Catholic clergy that took place in Rome last week is anything to go by, exorcism is far from rare. The programme trains about 200 priests a year in the ancient rite. For outsiders, exorcism appears anachronistic, a throwback to the superstitions of the middle ages. What the scale of last week’s course shows, however, is that the devil is alive and kicking in Pope Francis’s apparently modernising church.

In recent decades, the church has been surprisingly vocal on the issue. In 1975, the former Roman Inquisition published a study called Christian Faith and Demonology, with the aim of making the reality of the devil clear. Three years earlier, Pope Paul VI – surely a man of the modern age, given his 1968 encyclical prompted by the contraceptive pill and the miniskirt – said evil “is a living spiritual being, perverted and corrupting” and certainly not “a conceptual and imaginary personification of the unknown causes of our ills”. Just last Tuesday, Francis himself put great emphasis on the role of the devil when speaking of the protomartyr Saint Stephen, saying that the “struggle between God and the devil” was apparent in the persecution of the church’s people. For the hierarchy, the devil is not to be forgotten nor softened into a metaphor.

Meanwhile, modern holy people have kept the devil alive in the Catholic popular imagination. The 20th-century saint Padre Pio encountered him as a smoke-breathing dog and a naked dancing girl, also reporting being dragged from his bed by demonic forces. And the French mystic Marthe Robin, who died only in 1981, apparently lost two teeth as a result of the devil punching her in the face.

The devil continues to be as useful for the modern church as he has been in the past, when he bolstered the case for the burning of heretics. The concept now provides a dramatic way to underscore the dangers of a godless society. The organiser of last week’s course, Dr Giuseppe Ferrari, argues that a rise in the number of people abandoning religion and dabbling in the occult has increased Satan’s power. As head of the Gruppo di Ricerca e Informazione Socio-Religiosa, a Catholic organisation concerned with the threat posed by cults and sects, Ferrari says good exorcists are needed more than ever, since: “We live in a disenchanted society, a secularised world that thought it was being emancipated, but where religion is being thrown out, the window is being opened to superstition and irrationality.”

This seems like an extreme position, but it is in perfect alignment with Francis’s views, which go further than his brief mentions of the devil last week suggest. In his very first homily as pope, delivered in the Sistine Chapel on the day after his election, Francis bluntly quoted the French author and Catholic convert Léon Bloy: “Anyone who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil.”

In its biblical guises – Lucifer as chief of the fallen angels, the dragon of Revelation, the serpent in the Garden of Eden, or the tempter of Jesus in the wilderness – the idea of a supreme embodiment of evil is one that will always endure. And in the church’s battle against secularism, the devil may have found a valuable new role.

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« Reply #230 on: May 15, 2014, 06:10 AM »

Pope Speaks out against Arms Trade, Refugee Crises

by Naharnet Newsdesk
15 May 2014, 14:28

Pope Francis spoke on Thursday of the "absurd contradiction" between the international community's calls for peace, the proliferation of the global arms trade and the lack of attention to the suffering of refugees.

"Everyone talks about peace, everyone says they want it but unfortunately the proliferation of all types of arms is leading us in the opposite direction," Francis told a group of new ambassadors to the Holy See.

"It would be an absurd contradiction to talk about peace, negotiate peace and at the same time promote or allow the arms trade," he said at the Vatican ceremony.

Addressing the issue of refugees after the death of 17 asylum-seekers in a shipwreck near Libya on Monday, the pope said: "We can't just chase after emergencies".

"It is time to confront this issue in a serious and responsible way with a political perspective," he said.

"In a way it is cynical to proclaim human rights and at the same time ignore or fail to care for the men and women forced to leave their homelands who die trying or do not receive international solidarity," he said.

"There are stories that make us cry and shame us about human beings, brothers and sisters... who undertake perilous voyages and undergo kidnapping, torture and all types of suffering, ending up sometimes dead in the desert or at the bottom of the sea," he said.

Immigration rights campaigners estimate that more than 20,000 migrants have died in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach Italian shores in the last 20 years.

Hundreds of irregular migrants -- most of them Eritrean, Somali and Syrian -- are arriving in Italy on an almost daily basis in what the government has termed an "emergency" that requires European intervention.

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« Reply #231 on: May 21, 2014, 06:31 AM »

Pope to Take Part in U.N. Food Conference

by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 May 2014, 13:28

Pope Francis will take part in an international conference on nutrition hosted by the U.N. food agency and the World Health Organisation in Rome in November, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said on Wednesday.

FAO chief Jose Graziano da Silva in a statement praised the Argentine pope's "commitment to the future we want".

The Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) follows one held in 1992 and is aimed at bringing together world leaders to find "new ways to boost national and global efforts that improve diets and health", FAO said.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is also expected, FAO said, along with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete.

The Rome-based food agency said that 842 million people in the world were chronically hungry but "many more die or suffer the ill effects of inadequate nutrition".

FAO and the WHO estimates 162 million children under the age of five are stunted while at the same time 500 million people are obese due to unhealthy diets.

In a message for World Food Day in October 2013, Pope Francis called for solidarity and an end to indifference to the plight of the hungry.

"It is a scandal that there is still hunger and malnutrition in the world," the pope said, adding: "Something has to change in ourselves, in our mindsets and in our societies".

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« Reply #232 on: May 22, 2014, 10:14 AM »

Pope Blasts Planet-Killing Conservatives: ‘If We Destroy Nature, Nature Will Destroy Us’ (Video)

Via Americans Against The Tea Party. By Americans Against the Tea Party, ‎5‎/‎22‎/‎2014‎ ‎11‎:‎59‎:‎31‎ ‎AM

Aren’t you tired of those socialist, godless, hippie pigs trying to tell you that global warming is a thing? After all, if global warming was an actual fear it would be in the Bible. Wait, what’s that? Oh, he did? I see.

THIS JUST IN! The Pope has sold his soul to Barack Henry Hussein Satan Soetoro Obama’s New World Order agenda , and is now willfully spreading lies and climate change propaganda designed to blind Americans to Agenda 21 as he prepares the FEMA camps for population by red-blooded, God-fearing Patriots who hate Communism and love freedom.

While speaking to a massive crowd in Rome on Wednesday (we mean actual massive, not Operation American Spring “massive”), Pope Francis called on his fellow Christians to become “Custodians of Creation,” warning about the catastrophic effects of climate change even the Tea Partiest of Tea Partiers can’t ignore–he used the Bible!

Not only did this heathen liberal argue that respect for the “beauty of nature and the grandeur of the cosmos” is a Christian value, but he offered a dire warning if we fail to protect God’s creation. “Safeguard Creation,” he said. “Because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us! Never forget this!”

How does the Pope justify taking this stance? In a move that will have Sarah Palin frothing at the mouth as soon as she learns to read, Pope Francis backed up his story with the Biblical model of creation–starting with the book of Genesis, where God is said to have declared the world “good” and entrusted humanity with its care and protection.

“Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude,” Francis said.

“But when we exploit Creation we destroy the sign of God’s love for us, in destroying Creation we are saying to God: ‘I don’t like it! This is not good!’ ‘So what do you like?’ ‘I like myself!’ – Here, this is sin! Do you see?”

Click to watch:

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« Reply #233 on: May 22, 2014, 08:08 PM »

Just wanted to thank you for posting that last video. It's pretty profound for me to hear those words come out of his mouth.
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« Reply #234 on: May 23, 2014, 06:19 AM »

Campaigners hope pope's visit to Israel will see Vatican Holocaust files released

As Pius XII's canonisation is considered, Nazi hunters want to see files on alleged links between Vatican and war criminals

Uki Goni in Buenos Aires, Thursday 22 May 2014 19.37 BST      

The pope's visit to Jerusalem this weekend has given fresh hope to campaigners – some of whom are close friends of the pontiff – who believe that he might use the occasion to open the Vatican's secret Holocaust-era files.

Among them is Efraim Zuroff, chief Nazi hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and director of its Jerusalem office. Zuroff told the Guardian: "Giving full access to the Vatican archives from the Holocaust would be a very important step in facilitating a truthful evaluation of several subjects, among them what the Vatican knew about the Holocaust and when they received that information."

Pope Francis will soon have to decide whether Pius XII, the controversial wartime pope who is accused by some of not having spoken out publicly against the mass murder of Jews, should be canonised before the Holocaust files are opened.

Although the Vatican many years ago announced a slow timetable for the release of the documents, it is believed that Pope Francis may now speed up that schedule as a gesture of goodwill towards the Jewish community. He had voiced his support for making the files public before ascending the papal throne.

Abraham Skorka, an Argentinian rabbi who is a longtime friend of the pope and will accompany Francis on this weekend's tour of the Holy Land, claims he has a standing promise from Francis to open the files.

"He undoubtedly feels this is an issue that must be clarified in order to build a sense of mutual confidence that could permit a deeper dialogue between Christians and Jews," Skorka told the Guardian as he prepared to join Francis in Israel.

Four years ago, Skorka and the pope, who was then Buenos Aires archbishop Jorge Bergoglio, co-wrote On Heaven and Earth, a book of dialogues in which Skorka pressed the future Pope hard on the Vatican's files. "What you said about opening the archives relating to the Shoah [Holocaust] seems perfect to me," Bergoglio responded in the book. "They should open them and clarify everything. The objective has to be the truth."

An American historian, Michael Phayer, who is author of The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, believes Pius XII privately shielded some Jews from Nazi persecution, but was unwilling to publicly condemn the Holocaust for fear Hitler would order the bombing of the Vatican.

"The fate of the Jewish people was very low on the Vatican's radar," says Phayer. "Pius XII had concerns, which he considered valid, such as the communist threat, that outranked the Holocaust."

Zuroff, who has dedicated much of his life to tracking down surviving Nazi criminals, would also like access to any Vatican files related to the postwar Nazi fugitives from justice. "We need to know the role of Pope Pius XII and what role senior Vatican officials played, if any, in assisting the escape of prominent Nazi war criminals."

After the war, notorious Nazis such as the Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele and the Holocaust mastermind Adolf Eichmann were granted safe refuge in Bergoglio's hometown of Buenos Aires, with the aid of the Catholic church.

Zuroff says this might influence any papal decision on the matter. "I think that it could be a factor in finally being able to fully research these questions, although it appears to me that the new Pope's openness and friendship with the Jewish people may be more important ultimately," he says.

Should it choose to open its archives, the Vatican would be following an international trend.

"Since the end of the Cold War many countries, governments and institutions have finally faced the legacies of the second world war and the Holocaust," said Steinacher – a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The USA, Russia, countries from the former communist bloc and the Red Cross itself have opened their sensitive wartime and post-war archives in recent years, said Steinacher. "This is probably the best way to come to terms with the past. A decision by Pope Francis to open the archives for that wartime period would fit into the international trend."

But the historical context should probably be taken into account before accusing Pope Pius XII of knowingly aiding fleeing Nazis. "The understanding of responsibility was very different then," said Steinacher. "People believed that those responsible for the Holocaust were Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels and that others only followed orders. Now we have a completely different understanding of responsibility."


Vatican hopes secret files exonerate 'Hitler's pope'

Author uncovers evidence on Pius XII's wartime efforts to save Jewish refugees
Dalya Alberge   
The Observer, Saturday 9 February 2013 18.08 GMT   

Pius XII has long been vilified as "Hitler's pope", accused of failing publicly to condemn the genocide of Europe's Jews. Now a British author has unearthed extensive material that Vatican insiders believe will restore his reputation, revealing the part that he played in saving lives and opposing nazism. Gordon Thomas, a Protestant, was given access to previously unpublished Vatican documents and tracked down victims, priests and others who had not told their stories before.

The Pope's Jews, which will be published next month, details how Pius gave his blessing to the establishment of safe houses in the Vatican and Europe's convents and monasteries. He oversaw a secret operation with code names and fake documents for priests who risked their lives to shelter Jews, some of whom were even made Vatican subjects.

Thomas shows, for example, that priests were instructed to issue baptism certificates to hundreds of Jews hidden in Genoa, Rome and elsewhere in Italy. More than 2,000 Jews in Hungary were given fabricated Vatican documents identifying them as Catholics and a network saved German Jews by bringing them to Rome. The pope appointed a priest with extensive funds with which to provide food, clothing and medicine. More than 4,000 Jews were hidden in convents and monasteries across Italy.

During and immediately after the war, the pope was considered a Jewish saviour. Jewish leaders – such as Jerusalem's chief rabbi in 1944 – said the people of Israel would never forget what he and his delegates "are doing for our unfortunate brothers and sisters at the most tragic hour". Jewish newspapers in Britain and America echoed that praise, and Hitler branded him "a Jew lover".

However, his image turned sour in the 1960s, thanks to Soviet antagonism towards the Vatican and a German play by Rolf Hochhuth, The Deputy, which vilified the pope, accusing him of silence and inaction over the Jews. It was a trend that intensified with the publication of Hitler's Pope, a book by John Cornwell.

However, as the Vatican's secretary of state before the war, the future pope contributed to the damning 1937 encyclical of Pius XI, With Burning Anxiety, and, as Pius XII he made condemnatory speeches that were widely interpreted at the time – including by Jewish leaders and newspapers – as clear condemnations of Hitler's racial policies. Due to the Vatican's traditionally diplomatic language, the accusation that Pius XII did not speak out has festered.

Professor Ronald J Rychlak, the author of Hitler, the War and the Pope, said: "Gordon Thomas has found primary sources … He has tracked down family members, original documentation and established what really was a universal perception prior to the 1960s. He's shown what the people at the time – victims, rescuers and villains – all knew: that Pius XII was a great supporter of the victims of the Holocaust."

Asked why the Vatican had not made the new material available until now or, where stories were known, disseminated them more widely,Thomas said: "The church thinks across centuries. If there's a dispute for 50 years, so what?"

William Doino, a Vatican historian, described Thomas's research as "unique and groundbreaking". He spoke of the book's new insight, for example, into Hugh O'Flaherty, an Irish priest: "Everybody has always praised [O'Flaherty] because he helped Jews and escaped POWs. They made a movie about him, The Scarlet and the Black, with Gregory Peck. However, they always say he was acting on his own authority and that Pius was either aloof or not giving him anything. Gordon has spoken extensively with O'Flaherty's family, who gave him private correspondence and told him that O'Flaherty said that everything was with Pius XII's co-operation."

The book also tells the story of Vittorio Sacerdoti, a young Jewish doctor who was able to work in a Vatican hospital, inventing a fictitious deadly disease that deterred Germans from entering. Dozens of fake patients were taught to cough convincingly.

Thomas interviewed Sacerdoti's cousin, who recalled that as a child she was one of those patients – "feeling there was nothing wrong with her, yet having to cough regularly in the ward".

The Vatican is so excited by The Pope's Jews that it is supporting a feature documentary film being planned by a British producer who has bought the rights to it.

Allen Jewhurst, who has produced documentaries for BBC TV's Panorama, said that, with more than a billion Catholics worldwide, interest in the story is huge. After a meeting with two cardinals at the Vatican, he and Thomas now hope to get exclusive access to the archives. "This will, hopefully, be a definitive film," said Jewhurst.

Thomas, who also wrote the book Voyage of the Damned, about Jewish refugees, recalled: "The Vatican people said, 'How wonderful, the truth out at last'."

"The Pope's Jews: The Vatican's Secret Plan to Save Jews from the Nazis" is published by The Robson Press on 7 March


The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe – review

David Kertzer's nuanced book investigates an unholy alliance between fascism and the Catholic church

Lucy Hughes-Hallett   
The Guardian, Thursday 6 March 2014 10.00 GMT   

In 1938, Pope Pius XI addressed a group of visitors to the Vatican. There were some people, he said, who argued that the state should be all-powerful – "totalitarian". Such an idea, he went on, was absurd, not because individual liberty was too precious to be surrendered, but because "if there is a totalitarian regime – in fact and by right – it is the regime of the church, because man belongs totally to the church".

As David Kertzer demonstrates repeatedly in this nuanced book, to be critical of fascism in Italy in the 30s was not necessarily to be liberal or a lover of democracy. And to be antisemitic was not to be unchristian. The Pope told Mussolini that the church had long seen the need to "rein in the children of Israel" and to take "protective measures against their evil-doing". The Vatican and the fascist regime had many differences, but this they had in common.

Kertzer announces that the Catholic church is generally portrayed as the courageous opponent of fascism, but this is an exaggeration. There is a counter-tradition, John Cornwell's fine book, Hitler's Pope, on Pius XII (who succeeded Pius XI in 1939) exposed the Vatican's culpable passivity in the face of the wartime persecution of Italian Jews. But Kertzer describes something more fundamental than a church leader's strategic decision to protect his own flock rather than to speak up in defence of others. His argument, presented not as polemic but as gripping storytelling, is that much of fascist ideology was inspired by Catholic tradition – the authoritarianism, the intolerance of opposition and the profound suspicion of the Jews.

Pius XI – formerly Achille Ratti, librarian, mountain-climber and admirer of Mark Twain – was elected Pope in February 1922, eight months before Mussolini bullied his way to the Italian premiership. For 17 years the two men held sway over their separate spheres in Rome. In all that time they met only once, but they communicated ceaselessly by means of ambassadors and nuncios, through the press (each had his tame organ) and via less publicly accountable go-betweens. From the copious records of their exchanges Kertzer has uncovered a fascinating tale of two irascible – and often irrational – potentates, and gives us an account of some murky intellectual finagling, and an often startling investigation of the exercise of power.

The accession of Mussolini, known in his youth as mangiaprete – priest-eater – didn't bode well for the papacy. The fascist squads had been beating up clerics and terrorising Catholic youth clubs. But Mussolini saw that he could use the church to legitimise his power, so he set about wooing the clergy. He had his wife and children baptised. He gave money for the restoration of churches. After two generations of secularism, there were once again to be crucifixes in Italy's courts and classrooms. Warily, slowly, the Pope became persuaded that with Mussolini's help Italy might become, once more, a "confessional state".

Only gradually did it become clear how much the church might lose in the process. Pius fretted over inadequately dressed women – backless ballgowns and the skimpy outfits of female gymnasts were particularly worrisome. Mussolini played along, solemnly declaring that, in future, girls' gym lessons would be designed only to make them fit mothers of fascist sons. He was accommodating in aiding the Pope's war on heresy – banning Protestant books and journals on demand. But Mussolini was creating a heresy of his own. Schoolchildren were required to pray to him: "I humbly offer my life to you, o Duce." In January 1938, he summoned more than 2,000 priests, including 60 bishops, to participate in a celebration of his agricultural policy. Neither the Pope nor his secretary of state were happy, but they feared offending the dictator. And so the priests marched in procession through Rome. They laid wreaths, not at a Christian shrine, but on a monument to fascist heroes. They saluted Mussolini as he stood on his balcony and attended a ceremony where they were required to cheer his entrance, to pray for blessings upon him and roar out "O Duce! Duce! Duce!" That the fascists (beginning with their precursor, Gabriele d'Annunzio) had appropriated ecclesiastical rituals and liturgies could perhaps be taken as a compliment to the church, but to recruit its priests for the worship of a secular ruler was to humiliate God's vicar on earth. Mussolini was cock-a-hoop. It was easy to manipulate the church, he told his new allies in Nazi Germany. With a few tax concessions, and free railway tickets for the clergy, he boasted, he had got the Vatican so snugly in his pocket it had even declared his genocidal invasion of Abyssinia "a holy war".

When it comes to the "Jewish question", Kertzer demonstrates that the Pope's failure to protest effectively against the fascist racial laws arose not simply from weakness, but because antisemitism pervaded his church. Mussolini scored a painful hit when he assured Pius that he would do nothing to Italy's Jews that had not already been done under papal rule. Roberto Farinacci, most brutal of the fascist leaders, came close to the truth when he announced: "It is impossible for the Catholic fascist to renounce that antisemitic conscience which the church had formed through the millennia." And Catholic antisemitism was thriving. Among Pius's most valued advisers were several who – as Kertzer amply demonstrates – saw themselves as battling against a diabolical alliance of communists, Protestants, freemasons and Jews.

Avoiding overt partisanship, Kertzer coolly lays out the evidence; he describes his large and various cast of characters, and follows their machinations. We meet the genial Cardinal Gasparri who, narrowly missing the papacy himself, became Pius's secretary of state, handling the negotiations that led in 1929 to the Lateran Accords between the Vatican and the regime. Gasparri, a peasant's son who had risen far, considered Mussolini absurdly ignorant and uncouth; Mussolini thought him "very shrewd". We meet the Jesuit father, Tacchi Venturi, Pius's unofficial emissary, a firm believer in conspiracy theories, who claimed to have been nearly killed by an antifascist hitman (the story doesn't stand up). We meet Monsignor Caccia, Pius's master of ceremonies, who was known to the police and to Mussolini's spies for luring boys to his rooms in the Vatican for sex, rewarding them with contraband cigarettes. And we meet the motley crew familiar from histories of fascism: the doltish Starace, Mussolini's "bulldog"; Ciano, plump and boyish and, in the opinion of the American ambassador, devoid of "standards morally or politically"; and Clara Petacci, the girl with whom Mussolini spent hours of every day on the beach. Some of this is familiar territory, but what is new, and riveting, is how fascists and churchmen alike were forced into intellectual contortions as they struggled to justify the new laws. "Racism" was good. "Exaggerated racism" was bad. "Antisemitism" was good, as long as it was Italian. "German antisemitism" was another thing entirely.

Eventually Pius XI drew back from this casuistry. Kertzer describes the old pope on his deathbed, praying for just a few more days so that he could deliver a speech with the message that "all the nations, all the races" (Jews included) could be united by faith. He dies. Cardinal Pacelli – suave, emollient and devious, where Pius XI was a table-thumper who had no qualms about blurting out uncomfortable truths – clears his desk, suppresses his notes and persuades the Vatican's printer, who has the speech's text ready for distribution, to destroy it so that "not a comma" remains. Eighteen days later Pacelli becomes Pope Pius XII. It is a striking ending for a book whose narrative strength is as impressive as its moral subtlety.

• Lucy Hughes-Hallett's The Pike: Gabriele d'Annunzio has won the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction, the Costa biography award and the Duff Cooper prize.


How the Vatican built a secret property empire using Mussolini's millions

Papacy used offshore tax havens to create £500m international portfolio, featuring real estate in UK, France and Switzerland   

David Leigh, Jean François Tanda and Jessica Benhamou   
The Guardian,
Monday 21 January 2013 20.23 GMT   

Few passing London tourists would ever guess that the premises of Bulgari, the upmarket jewellers in New Bond Street, had anything to do with the pope. Nor indeed the nearby headquarters of the wealthy investment bank Altium Capital, on the corner of St James's Square and Pall Mall.

But these office blocks in one of London's most expensive districts are part of a surprising secret commercial property empire owned by the Vatican.

Behind a disguised offshore company structure, the church's international portfolio has been built up over the years, using cash originally handed over by Mussolini in return for papal recognition of the Italian fascist regime in 1929.

Since then the international value of Mussolini's nest-egg has mounted until it now exceeds £500m. In 2006, at the height of the recent property bubble, the Vatican spent £15m of those funds to buy 30 St James's Square. Other UK properties are at 168 New Bond Street and in the city of Coventry. It also owns blocks of flats in Paris and Switzerland.

The surprising aspect for some will be the lengths to which the Vatican has gone to preserve secrecy about the Mussolini millions. The St James's Square office block was bought by a company called British Grolux Investments Ltd, which also holds the other UK properties. Published registers at Companies House do not disclose the company's true ownership, nor make any mention of the Vatican.

Instead, they list two nominee shareholders, both prominent Catholic bankers: John Varley, recently chief executive of Barclays Bank, and Robin Herbert, formerly of the Leopold Joseph merchant bank. Letters were sent from the Guardian to each of them asking whom they act for. They went unanswered. British company law allows the true beneficial ownership of companies to be concealed behind nominees in this way.

The company secretary, John Jenkins, a Reading accountant, was equally uninformative. He told us the firm was owned by a trust but refused to identify it on grounds of confidentiality. He told us after taking instructions: "I confirm that I am not authorised by my client to provide any information."

Research in old archives, however, reveals more of the truth. Companies House files disclose that British Grolux Investments inherited its entire property portfolio after a reorganisation in 1999 from two predecessor companies called British Grolux Ltd and Cheylesmore Estates. The shares of those firms were in turn held by a company based at the address of the JP Morgan bank in New York. Ultimate control is recorded as being exercised by a Swiss company, Profima SA.

British wartime records from the National Archives in Kew complete the picture. They confirm Profima SA as the Vatican's own holding company, accused at the time of "engaging in activities contrary to Allied interests". Files from officials at Britain's Ministry of Economic Warfare at the end of the war criticised the pope's financier, Bernardino Nogara, who controlled the investment of more than £50m cash from the Mussolini windfall.

Nogara's "shady activities" were detailed in intercepted 1945 cable traffic from the Vatican to a contact in Geneva, according to the British, who discussed whether to blacklist Profima as a result. "Nogara, a Roman lawyer, is the Vatican financial agent and Profima SA in Lausanne is the Swiss holding company for certain Vatican interests." They believed Nogara was trying to transfer shares of two Vatican-owned French property firms to the Swiss company, to prevent the French government blacklisting them as enemy assets.

Earlier in the war, in 1943, the British accused Nogara of similar "dirty work", by shifting Italian bank shares into Profima's hands in order to "whitewash" them and present the bank as being controlled by Swiss neutrals. This was described as "manipulation" of Vatican finances to serve "extraneous political ends".

The Mussolini money was dramatically important to the Vatican's finances. John Pollard, a Cambridge historian, says in Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy: "The papacy was now financially secure. It would never be poor again."

From the outset, Nogara was innovative in investing the cash. In 1931 records show he founded an offshore company in Luxembourg to hold the continental European property assets he was buying. It was called Groupement Financier Luxembourgeois, hence Grolux. Luxembourg was one of the first countries to set up tax-haven company structures in 1929. The UK end, called British Grolux, was incorporated the following year.

When war broke out, with the prospect of a German invasion, the Luxembourg operation and ostensible control of the British Grolux operation were moved to the US and to neutral Switzerland.

The Mussolini investments in Britain are currently controlled, along with its other European holdings and a currency trading arm, by a papal official in Rome, Paolo Mennini, who is in effect the pope's merchant banker. Mennini heads a special unit inside the Vatican called the extraordinary division of APSA – Amministrazione del Patrimonio della Sede Apostolica – which handles the so-called "patrimony of the Holy See".

According to a report last year from the Council of Europe, which surveyed the Vatican's financial controls, the assets of Mennini's special unit now exceed €680m (£570m).

While secrecy about the Fascist origins of the papacy's wealth might have been understandable in wartime, what is less clear is why the Vatican subsequently continued to maintain secrecy about its holdings in Britain, even after its financial structure was reorganised in 1999.

The Guardian asked the Vatican's representative in London, the papal nuncio, archbishop Antonio Mennini, why the papacy continued with such secrecy over the identity of its property investments in London. We also asked what the pope spent the income on. True to its tradition of silence on the subject, the Roman Catholic church's spokesman said that the nuncio had no comment.


From the archive, 12 February 1929: Fascism and the Vatican

Originally published in the Manchester Guardian on 12 February 1929

The Guardian, Saturday
12 February 2011   

The concordat between the Quirinal and the Vatican signed in Rome yesterday is an event of such profound significance that no one can tell what its ultimate consequences will be.

One thing seems to be sure – Mussolini has achieved a great diplomatic success, perhaps the greatest of his career. On this there is general agreement. His gain is absolute. Whether the Vatican's gain is so absolute, seems a little uncertain. There is evidently much Italian nationalist sentiment in the Vatican itself. In other words, the Vatican has considerable Fascist sympathies. Pope Pius XI is credited with much admiration for Mussolini. That the Italian clergy as a whole are pro-Fascist is easy to understand, seeing that Fascism is a nationalist, authoritarian, anti-liberal, and anti-Socialist force.

Will the concordat mean closer cooperation between clerical reaction and the various forms of political reaction (such as Fascism) all over Europe? It is impossible to tell as yet, but the question is one that gives Continental Liberals some uneasiness, and there must be some misgivings even amongst progressive Roman Catholics. To many the Pope's spiritual sovereignty is a mystical conception that is violated by any temporal sovereignty, however small the realm over which it is exercised. That this temporal sovereignty should include membership of the League of Nations is a dangerous thought.

Happily there is a clause in the concordat by which the Vatican State expresses its wish to "remain extraneous to the temporal competitions between other States, as well as international congresses convened for this purpose." Presumably the League is such an "international congress." It does indeed seem improbable that either the Roman Catholic hierarchy or the Roman Catholic world would wish to see the Vicar of Christ dragged into the very temporal battles that are fought in the public arena at Geneva. It is reported from Rome that the care of the Roman Catholic missions in the Near East shall be conferred upon Italians. If that is so, Italian influence in the Near East will be reinforced at France's expense, for until now the missions have been in French hands. And yet another question may have to be answered, not yet, but some time. The Fascist dictatorship is strong. But the day will surely come when it will go the way of all tyrannies. What will be the attitude of a free Italy towards a Vatican State so intimately bound up with the Fascist dictatorship?

These archive extracts are compiled by members of the Guardian's research and information department. Email:

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« Reply #235 on: May 24, 2014, 06:18 AM »

Pope Francis faces political and religious minefield in Holy Land

Vatican says purpose of visit is mainly religious, but political spectres hang over three-day tour of Jordan, Palestine and Israel

Peter Beaumont in Bethlehem, Friday 23 May 2014 19.19 BST   

In a refugee camp near Bethlehem, final preparations are being made for Pope Francis's first official trip to the Holy Land, which begins on Saturday night. On Saturday, in the Phoenix Centre, a modern community hall on the outskirts of the Deheisheh camp, Francis will sit with children from Palestinian refugee families. They will sing to him, show him their pictures and receive a blessing. After barely 15 minutes he will be whisked away on the next leg of his three-day tour of Jordan, Palestine and Israel.

The walls have been hung with giant composite pictures – archive images of the displacement of Palestinian refugees in 1948 merged with pictures documenting the changing Palestinian landscape until the present day.

Walls in streets across Bethlehem, through which the Pope will drive in an ordinary, non-bulletproof car, carry images from the same project, comparing the Palestinian experience to the suffering of Jesus. The point of these pictures, curator and director of Jack Persekian explained to the Guardian, is to emphasise to the pope the continuity of Palestinian experience since 1948.

In Israel, banners welcoming the pontiff hang from west Jerusalem lampposts. Almost 9,000 police have been drafted in to protect Francis.

A handful of Jewish religious radicals who it had been feared might try to disrupt the visit have been placed under administrative orders, and roads and some checkpoints to the West Bank will be sealed.

The Vatican has insisted that the purpose of his visit is primarily religious – to mark the anniversary of the meeting 50 years ago between Pope Paul VI and the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Patriarch Athenagoras – and "absolutely not political". But the symbolism engrained in the political landscape Israel and Palestine – both religious and secular – has been impossible to avoid. Here are some of the political spectres hanging over his tour.

Visit to the 'State of Palestine'

The Vatican and Palestine are both non-voting observer nations in the UN's general assembly, but it has been noted by some as significant that the Vatican's own schedule for the visit refers to Mahmoud Abbas as "president of the State of Palestine". Ten months of meetings between the Palestinian Authority and the Vatican over a deal expected to be signed this year on the Catholic church's status in areas governed by the Palestinian Authority have also been treated as negotiations between sovereign states. Vatican spokesman Rev Federico Lombardi has said that the use of "state of Palestine" reflects the UN general assembly's 2012 resolution upgrading Palestine's status, although it has irritated Israeli officials.

Arrival at Bethlehem heliport

On the highest hill overlooking the town, the rarely used facility was built in 1995. Both Israeli settlement building and sections of the Israeli separation wall are visible from the landing pad.

Phoenix Centre

The pope insisted on meeting "ordinary people". The children chosen are from "families with someone who was martyred, injured or jailed − and also some ordinary people as well", said the centre's director, Mamoun Lahham. Each child will wear a T-shirt with the name of the village the family was originally displaced from.

The wall

After negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the Vatican, Francis's route through Bethlehem will take him within a few metres of an imposing section of the Israeli separation wall that now cuts the old road from Jerusalem to Hebron near Rachel's Tomb. At this point there will be refugees from two camps lining either side of the road. The routing will create a photo opportunity that places Francis against the backdrop of one of the most visible signs of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Mass in Manger Square

Unlike his predecessors Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, the only large-scale open mass of the visit – for some 9,000 people – will be in Manger Square, Bethlehem. Because of the security operation surrounding Francis while he is in Jerusalem, Palestinian Christians in the city have expressed their disappointment that they are unlikely to encounter him.

Meetings with Israeli officials

Francis will meet Mahmoud Abbas in the presidential compound in Bethlehem,but his official meetings with Israeli political leaders have been arranged to avoid the contentious international status of occupied East Jerusalem. He will be officially welcomed to Israel by President Shimon Peres after flying by helicopter to Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv from Bethlehem. His private meeting with the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, will be at the Notre Dame centre in Jerusalem, which is Vatican sovereign territory.

Mass in the Cenacle

For a minority of Jewish religious extremists, the most controversial part of the trip will be a visit to the Cenacle – or the "room of the Last Supper" – in Jerusalem. Located on the second floor of a stone complex on the remains of a Byzantine church in the Old City, before the Ottoman period the building was administered by the pope's own Franciscan order until the mid-16th century. The place is also regarded as sacred by Muslims and by Jews who say it is the site of the Tomb of King David. It has been the focus of two decades of negotiations between the Vatican and Israel over religious access as Christians are permitted to visit and pray there but not usually celebrate mass. Following rumours – denied by the Israeli authorities – that Israel planned to hand the site to the Vatican, and fearing disturbance by Jewish hardline youth to the visit, Israeli police have placed around a dozen under administrative orders.

The Pope's delegation

Underlining the interfaith and ecumenical nature of the short visit, the pope's delegation includes a rabbi and a Muslim cleric and he will meet the grand mufti of Jerusalem and the two chief rabbis. Francis will visit sites regarded as holy to the three main monotheistic religions: the Western Wall, al-Aqsa mosque and the churches of the Nativity and Holy Sepulchre. This has led to some complaints from Catholic and Christian faithful that there is too much emphasis on inter-faith relations and not enough on the local faithful.

Visit to Yad Vashem and Mount Herzl

Like all heads of state who visit Israel, Pope Francis will visit the Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem. He will also lay a wreath at the grave at the founder of Zionism Theodor Herzl on Mount Herzl. Pope Francis's friend and fellow Argentinian Rabbi Abraham Skorka, who is part of his delegation, said last week: "That is a meaningful act. He understands the importance of the land of Israel and the state of Israel to the Jewish people."

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« Reply #236 on: May 24, 2014, 06:21 AM »

100-year-old beggar celebrated as living saint in Bulgaria


Sofia (AFP) - A 100-year-old beggar in a threadbare coat, "Grandpa" Dobri, is already celebrated as a saint in Bulgaria -- a symbol of goodness in a country ravaged by poverty and corruption.

For over 20 years, Dobri Dobrev has been begging on the streets of Sofia, collecting alms worth tens of thousands of euros. And he has given it all to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

This has made him the largest private donor of the golden-domed Alexander Nevski cathedral even as he maintains an ascetic lifestyle.

"Take some bread, it comes from God!" the hunched old man mutters under his straggly white beard, offering believers the buns that other people give him as they drop coins into his plastic cup and bend to kiss his hand.

"He gave us 35,700 leva (18,250 euros, $24,900) in 2009, while living a life deprived of all comfort," Bishop Tikhon, chairman of the cathedral’s trustees board, told AFP.

"Dobri is an extremely rare phenomenon."

Several smaller monasteries and churches also say they have received between 2,500 and 10,000 euros each from the small man wearing peasant leather sandals.

These sums are considerable in Bulgaria, which remains the European Union's poorest member seven years after joining the bloc and where the average monthly salary is about 420 euros.

- 'Richness of his soul' -

Dobri is a comforting figure to Bulgarians amid pervasive corruption and deprivation, sociologists say.

"While the media is full of scandalous reports on the luxurious lifestyle of certain Church dignitaries, Grandpa Dobri personifies moral values such as self-denial and generosity," said Theodora Karamelska, a sociology professor at Sofia's New Bulgarian University.

For Bulgarians he is like a saint "thanks to his romantic appearance and the richness of his soul," she added.

The background of this man, who refuses any interviews, is patchy. Born in the summer of 1914, he partially lost his hearing in one of the bombings of the Bulgarian capital during World War II.

"This made him pious in his own way," said Elena Genova, a distant relative, in their native village of Baylovo, 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Sofia.

"He left his wife and their four children, including a new born baby, to take up different jobs around monasteries," she said.

"In the past 20 years, he has devoted himself to collecting alms."

She affectionately calls him "Grandpa" Dobri and often helps him count the money he has collected.

The old man lives in a small room basically furnished with a bed and a table next to the church in Baylovo, which was renovated with 10,000 leva donated by him. A neighbour or another helper gives him a ride when he needs to go to Sofia.

- Fans on Facebook -

The media dubbed Dobri "The Living Saint from Baylovo", and his name -- which comes from the Bulgarian word for "good" -- has become a symbol for goodness in a country where religious faith has been on the rise since the fall of communism 25 years ago.

"My 10-year-old granddaughter won a literary competition on 'goodness' by writing about Dobri," said Ivanka, who sells candles in the Sofia cathedral.

"God gave him the gift of clairvoyance: he told one mother where to find her missing daughter," added Maria Zabova, who rings the bells at Alexander Nevski.

Graffiti artists recently painted a huge image of the white-haired man holding a candle on a 10-storey building in a Sofia neighbourhood.

An Internet site -- -- and two pages on the social media Facebook created by his fans praise his "goodness, honesty, purity, generosity and holiness."

Certain admirers have already suggested that Dobri's saintliness should eventually become official with a canonisation.

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« Reply #237 on: May 25, 2014, 06:11 AM »

Pope Endorses ‘State of Palestine’ in West Bank Visit

MAY 25, 2014
BETHLEHEM, West Bank — Arriving here on Sunday, Pope Francis made an impassioned appeal for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and gave the Palestinians an uncommon boost by openly endorsing “the State of Palestine.”

Francis called for “a stable peace based on justice, on the recognition of the rights of every individual, and on mutual security,” and for intensified efforts for the creation of two states — meaning a Palestinian state alongside Israel — within internationally recognized borders.

“In expressing my closeness to those who suffer most from this conflict, I wish to state my heartfelt conviction that the time has come to put an end to this situation, which has become increasingly unacceptable,” he said in remarks after a meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.

Referring to Mr. Abbas as “a peacemaker,” the pope then attested to “the good relations existing between the Holy See and the State of Palestine,” according to an official translation of the speech provided by the Holy See press office.

Mr. Abbas said he would welcome any initiative issued by the pope to make peace real.

This was the first papal visit to the Palestinian territories since the November 2012 General Assembly vote upgrading Palestine to a nonmember observer state of the United Nations, giving it the same status as the Vatican.

Ashraf B. Khatib of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Negotiation Affairs Department expressed satisfaction, saying, “The whole visit marks a head of state coming to a state.” The pope was received at the presidential compound here by an honor guard and all the trappings of an official state visit.

Then, as the pope traveled in an open-top car from the compound toward Manger Square, he made an unscheduled stop at a section of the wall with a military watchtower separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem, part of the contentious barrier Israel has constructed along and through the West Bank. The barrier is loathed by the Palestinians, but Israel argues that it is essential for Israeli security.

Francis’ Holy Land visit has been billed by the Vatican as a purely religious pilgrimage centered around meetings in Jerusalem later Sunday and Monday with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic reconciliation between the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches.

But for the Palestinians and for Israel, the political dimensions of the visit were inescapable, with every papal word and gesture coming under scrutiny.

“We and the Vatican are twins at the United Nations,” said Issa Kassissieh, Palestine’s ambassador to the Holy See, in a recent briefing with reporters. By arriving here directly by helicopter from Jordan, and not via Israel, Mr. Kassissieh said, the pope was sending “a political message that he is coming to the State of Palestine.”

But the visit is taking place at a time of upheaval in the Middle East, and weeks after the breakdown of the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The Palestinian authorities were hoping to use the visit to the place where Jesus is said to have been born to highlight the hardships of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation and to press for a sovereign, independent state on the ground.

Manger Square, where Francis was to celebrate Mass in front of the Church of the Nativity, was bedecked with huge photomontages of classic artworks featuring Christian imagery superimposed with images from the Palestinians’ modern reality. So Caravaggio’s “Ecce Homo” merged with a photograph of Palestinians crossing an Israeli checkpoint on their way to Jerusalem, equating Palestinians with Jesus and his suffering.

The stage was decorated with a backdrop of a Nativity scene, Palestinian and Vatican flags, and a border of flowers in yellow and white, the Vatican colors. Up to 10,000 people were expected to try to cram into the square, mostly Palestinian Christians from the West Bank and about a third of them Christian Arabs and foreign workers from Israel who arranged to come through their churches.

A cheer went up in the square when a large screen broadcast Francis emerging from a Jordanian helicopter at the Bethlehem heliport, having landed half an hour ahead of schedule.

“I said I have to see our father, the peacemaker,” said Khader Azer, 39, a chef from Ramla, a mixed Jewish-Arab city in Israel. “Only God can make peace, but Pope Francis is trying.”

Francis’ reputation for humility as a pope of the people and the poor has resonated with many Palestinians, Christian and Muslim.

Later, at the Deheisheh refugee camp, the pope was to see more photomontages featuring refugee scenes from the 1950s. Jack Persekian, director of the Palestinian Museum, which produced the images, said the works were meant to reflect “a continuous ordeal.”

After celebrating Mass in Manger Square, the pope was to have lunch with five families who were chosen, according to Palestinian officials, to express the difficulties that Israeli policies cause the Palestinians. One family came from Gaza, the isolated, Hamas-ruled coastal enclave, where only about 1,300 Christians still live. Another family is split between Bethlehem and Jerusalem because of travel restrictions.

After a private visit to the Grotto of the Nativity, Francis was to meet 100 children from the refugee camps of the Bethlehem area at a community center on the edge of the Deheisheh camp, which is home to about 12,000 Palestinians exiled from their former family homes since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

In all, he was scheduled to spend six hours and 40 minutes in Bethlehem out of a three-day pilgrimage to the region. From Bethlehem, he was to fly by helicopter to Tel Aviv for an official Israeli reception at Ben-Gurion International Airport, and from there to Jerusalem, navigating the fraught politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Late Saturday, the Israeli police arrested rightist Jewish activists during a protest on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion. Venerated by Christians as the location of the room of the Last Supper and by Jews as King David’s burial place, the mount has become a focal point of tensions ahead of a private Mass that Francis is scheduled to celebrate there on Monday.

Manger Square in Bethlehem is now relatively tranquil, but once it was the scene of fierce gunbattles. In 2002, the Israeli Army engaged in a five-week standoff with armed Palestinians who broke into the Church of the Nativity compound, fleeing from invading Israeli forces.

The other side of Manger Square is dominated by Bethlehem’s central mosque.

Though Christians once were a strong majority in Bethlehem, the community has dwindled, as elsewhere in the Middle East, after decades of emigration spurred by opportunities abroad, violence and economic hardship. Christians now make up only about 35 percent of the population of the city. In general, Christians in the Holy Land now make up barely 2 percent.

Paul VI was the first pope to visit Bethlehem, in 1964, when the West Bank was under Jordanian control. Just over a decade later, he called on Israel to recognize “the rights and legitimate aspirations” of the Palestinian people, marking a significant milestone in Vatican-Palestinian relations.

The next two papal visits to Bethlehem, which came under the partial control of the Palestinian Authority in the mid-1990s, were made via Israel.

In 2000, Pope John Paul II was received here by Yasir Arafat. During a visit to the Deheisheh camp, John Paul described the plight of the Palestinians there as “barely tolerable.”

Benedict XVI came to Bethlehem in 2009 and visited the Aida refugee camp. There, to the chagrin of the Israelis, he spoke just a few paces from the separation wall.

Bethlehem’s mayor, Vera Baboun, recently showed reporters pictures of the gift to be presented to Francis by the city: an oil lamp of reddish Jerusalem stone carved with scenes of Bethlehem, the work of local artists. The lamp was to be packed in an olive-wood box engraved with a drawing of the separation barrier and covered with a black-and-white kaffiyeh, the scarf that has become a symbol of the Palestinian struggle.

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« Reply #238 on: May 27, 2014, 06:49 AM »

Pope Francis: Catholic church has zero tolerance for paedophile priests

Pope Francis says clergy preying on children is like 'a satanic mass' as he announces his first meeting with victims

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Pope Francis talks to reporters aboard the papal flight on his way back to the Vatican from Jerusalem. Pope Francis talks to reporters aboard the papal flight on his way back to the Vatican from Jerusalem. Photograph: POOL/REUTERS

Pope Francis has announced his first meeting with a group of sexual abuse victims at the Vatican, declaring that any priests involved in molesting children had performed the equivalent of "a satanic mass".

"We must go ahead with zero tolerance," the pope said, adding that three bishops were currently under investigation.

"Sexual abuse is such an ugly crime ... because a priest who does this betrays the body of the Lord. It is like a satanic Mass," said Francis in some of the toughest language he has used on a crisis that has rocked the Church for more than a decade.

Francis said he would meet with eight victims and Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley of Boston, who is the head of a commission set up to study ways of dealing with sexual abuse cases in the Catholic church.

Speaking to reporters for nearly an hour on the plane taking him back from a visit to the Middle East, the pope it would not be a mediation but a prayer meeting that he hoped could encourage the stalled peace process.

Francis said the victims, several from Europe, would attend his morning mass next month and then he would meet with them.

It will be his first meeting with sexual abuse victims since his election in March 2013.

O'Malley said last month in Rome that the commission he heads will recommend that negligent clerics be held accountable regardless of their rank in the church.

In many cases of abuse, most of which took place decades ago but surfaced in the past 15 years or so, bishops seeking to protect the cChurch's reputation moved priests from parish to parish instead of defrocking them or handing them over to police.

Victims' groups have pressed the Vatican to hold bishops who either shielded abusers or were negligent in protecting children to account, along with abusers themselves.

In February the UN committee on the rights of the child accused the Vatican of systematically turning a blind eye to decades of abuse and attempting to cover up sex crimes. The Vatican called the report unfair and ideologically slanted.

The pope said he believed Roman Catholic priests should be celibate but the rule was not an unchangeable dogma and "the door is always open" to change. It is something he said before his election but marks the first time he has repeated the remark as pope.


Pope Francis makes unofficial stop at Israeli terrorism memorial

Detour, at request of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, seen as attempt to appease hosts after stop at separation wall

Peter Beaumont in Jerusalem, Monday 26 May 2014 12.38 BST   

Pope Francis has deviated from his itinerary for his tour of the Holy Land for the second time in two days – this time to visit a memorial to Israeli victims of terrorism.

The surprise addition on Monday was made at the request of the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and was interpreted as an attempt to appease his Israeli hosts after his surprise decision to pray at the controversial Israeli separation wall in Bethlehem the day before.

Netanyahu's office said in a statement that Francis was prompted by the prime minister to stop at the stone and marble memorial, which is engraved with the names of Israeli civilians killed mainly in attacks by Palestinian militants.

In a sign of Israeli anger at the separation-wall visit – which Vatican aides insisted was the pope's personal and unprompted decision and had not been communicated to them in advance – some sources attempted to suggest Francis had been pressured into making the stop.

Among them was Oded Ben-Hur, a diplomatic adviser to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, and a former ambassador to the Vatican, who told the Jerusalem Post that Israel was unhappy the Palestinians had "used the pope as a political tool" by taking him to see the wall.

Netanyahu tweeted after the visit to the memorial: "I explained to the pope that building the security fence prevented many more victims that Palestinian terror planned to harm."

Francis, who has already earned a reputation of independence since becoming pope, has had to navigate a political minefield in his first official visit to the Holy Land.

The last leg of his visit was undertaken amid tight security with road closures, helicopters overhead and thousands of police drafted into Jerusalem.

A day after his unscheduled stop to pray at the graffiti-covered separation wall, Francis met a group of Holocaust survivors at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.

Laying a tribute of flowers in the papal colours of yellow and white in the Hall of Remembrance, the pope kissed the hands of half a dozen survivors and listened to their stories.

"Never again, Lord, never again!" Francis said. "Here we are, Lord, shamed by what man, created in your own image and likeness, was capable of doing."

The pope started the last leg of his three-day tour of the Middle East at the golden-topped Dome of the Rock, taking off his shoes before walking into the shrine from which Muslims believe Muhammad climbed to heaven.

Speaking to the grand mufti of Jerusalem and other Muslim authorities, Francis deviated from his prepared remarks to refer not just to his "dear friends" but "dear brothers". At the meeting he urged non-violence: "Dear friends, from this holy place I make a heartfelt plea to all people and to all communities who look to Abraham. May no one abuse the name of God through violence. May we learn to understand the suffering of others. May no one abuse the name of God through violence."

Afterwards, he prayed at the adjacent Western Wall, one of the most revered shrines for the Jewish and a sole remnant of their sacred Second Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

Like many visitors, he tucked a note between the ancient stones inscribed with the test in Spanish of the prayer Our Father.

He then embraced his good friend, the Argentinian rabbi Abraham Skorka, and a leader of Argentina's Muslim community, Omar Abboud, both of whom joined his official delegation for the trip in a sign of interfaith friendship.

The pope's visit to Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Israel ends on Monday evening when he returns to Rome.

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« Reply #239 on: May 28, 2014, 06:09 AM »

For Middle East, Region of Religious Conflict, Pope Suggests a Respite in Prayer

MAY 27, 2014

JERUSALEM — Pope Francis returned home from his three-day sojourn in the Holy Land with the typical bag of ceremonial gifts, including, from the children of Bethlehem’s refugee camps, a mock-up of an identification card in the name of Jesus that lists family members as Mohandas K. Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Yasir Arafat and Martin Luther King Jr. But the pope also carried with him a promise from the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to come soon to the Vatican for a joint peace prayer, an unprecedented effort to lend a spiritual lift to a desperate political stalemate.

The meeting is not going to produce a treaty, of course. But could it at least bring the sides back to the negotiating table?

Betting on breakthroughs, or even positive developments, is always perilous here. But Pope Francis certainly exhibited a deft touch during his visit.   

He is not a charismatic leader. His face was practically hidden by papers as he read his speeches in an undertone. There were no throngs of the faithful clamoring to catch a glimpse of his motorcade on the streets. But he is a humane leader, and with gestures grand and intimate, he managed to navigate one of the world’s most complex political minefields and to escape the region without seeming to offend.

Francis made his first visit to the Holy Land, making strong symbolic gestures to promote the perspectives of the Palestinian and Israeli leaderships.

There was his unscheduled stop to pray at the concrete barrier in Bethlehem that Palestinians loathe as a symbol of the restrictions on their lives imposed by the Israeli occupation, and then his similar silent meditation at an Israeli wall memorializing victims of terrorism. He managed to honor both sides of the intractable conflict even as he shamed them a bit.

There was also his instinctive walk down four steps to bless a woman in a wheelchair in Jordan rather than have her carried to where he stood on stage. And at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, he was equally nimble in bowing to kiss the hands of survivors, rather than the other way around.

“The most authentic gestures are those that we don’t think about, those that come to us, aren’t they?” the pope told reporters as he flew back to Rome late Monday night.

Pope Francis himself is careful not to oversell the coming prayer meeting. “It will be an encounter to pray, not for the purposes of mediation,” he said on the plane. “Prayer is important. It helps.”

Plenty of skeptics have already dismissed the prayer summit meeting as a public relations stunt with no political import, particularly because Israel will be represented by President Shimon Peres, who is set to leave his largely ceremonial post in July, rather than by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who controls Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.

But even people who do not depend on direct divine intervention said they saw much promise in the plan, given last month’s spectacular collapse of the latest in umpteen rounds of American-brokered peace talks.

“I don’t believe in miracles,” said Ghassan Khatib, vice president of Birzeit University in the West Bank and a former spokesman for the Palestinian Authority government, “but it could have other values.”

Any image of Israeli and Palestinian leaders together could mitigate the deep distrust between their constituents. The stewardship of the popular, humble pope could refocus attention in Europe and among the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics on a conflict that has been overshadowed by the turmoil in the Arab world and in Ukraine.

And after years in which extremists on both sides have exploited religion to block resolution, some Israeli and Palestinian analysts said a constructive dose of faith could at least provide inspiration.

“It’s proof of the failure of everything when we start resorting to prayer, but the gesture means more than just prayer,” said Raja Shehadeh, a Palestinian writer and lawyer. “He is recognizing Palestine as an entity and equating it with Israel by bringing the two heads together, and that is not unimportant.”

“The power of the papacy is there,” he continued. “It can’t determine things for us and for Israel, but it has weight and he seems to be using that weight in the right direction.”

Yossi Klein Halevi, an American-born Israeli author, said he thought for some time that “what we’re missing around the negotiating table are chaplains.”

“I’d like to replace some of the diplomats with genuine religious leaders, people who understand that this conflict is primarily about intangibles and not a line on a map,” said Mr. Halevi, a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. “The problem is, how do you separate politics from prayer, how do you get prayer to influence politics rather than politics intruding on prayer.”

The prayer meeting is expected to happen soon, but securing a date has been difficult, in part because of religion. Mr. Peres, though secular like President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, does not travel or hold public events on the Jewish Sabbath or on holidays. The festival of Shavuot runs from 8:20 p.m. next Tuesday to 9:30 p.m. Thursday in Rome, and the Sabbath starts less than 24 hours later.

The pope said he planned to have a rabbi and an Islamic leader alongside him to facilitate the prayer meeting.

Auxiliary Bishop William Hanna Shomali of Jerusalem’s Latin Patriarchate noted that the invitation came “at a deadlock in the peace process,” when “the political climate is tense.”

“In this empty space — no peace, no war — the pope comes with another voice because this pope believes in the dramatic effect of intense prayer,” Auxiliary Bishop Shomali said. “He believes that peace comes as a divine gift only, not as a fruit of politician’s work.”

He continued: “The problem is that, generally, we think to click on a mouse and have an immediate response, as when we click on a mouse and have an immediate answer from Google. The Lord is not Google. We have to click and wait.”

During a packed three-day schedule in Jordan, Bethlehem, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the 77-year-old pope, who long ago lost a lung to infection, often looked exhausted.

He gave at least a dozen speeches, in Italian. He did not smile much, except when serenaded by children: In Bethlehem, refugees sang “We’re thirsty for peace” in Italian and Arabic, and at Mr. Peres’s residence, girls in white dresses crooned in Hebrew, “Let it be, let it be, all that we ask, let it be.”

At almost every turn, the pope was photographed standing alone at spots rich with symbolism. (An Israeli journalist joked on Twitter that someone should whisper into the pope’s ear that he need not “pray at every wall in the Middle East.”)

Rabbi David Rosen, the Jerusalem-based international director for interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee, said the pope’s “superstar status is more about us than about him.”

“For us,” Rabbi Rosen explained, “the fact that he is such a no-nonsense, no-frills kind of person, a modest person with such integrity in such a high position, a simple and genuine mensch — that resonates with people so profoundly.”


Bethlehem church catches fire after pope's visit

Church of Nativity suffers small blaze hours after pontiff pays respects at shrine, believed to be birthplace of Jesus Christ

Agence France-Presse in Bethlehem, Tuesday 27 May 2014 14.05 BST   

A fire broke out in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity on Tuesday, just hours after Pope Francis wrapped up a three-day Middle East pilgrimage during which he visited the shrine.

Bethlehem's governor, Abdel-Fatah Hamayel, said it was a small fire caused by an oil lamp falling over just before dawn, leaving some damage to fabric wall hangings inside the grotto.

The fire was discovered when the security guard smelled smoke – the blaze broke out in the cave underneath the 4th-century basilica where Christians believe Mary gave birth to Jesus.

Inside, the charred remains of several brightly coloured wall hangings hung limply against the cave walls, which were blackened with soot. Two ornate icons of Mary holding Jesus had smoke damage.

A statement from Bethlehem police said a wooden-topped bowl had caught fire at the entrance to the grotto which caused candles to fall down and set fire to curtains, with a number of wall tiles also cracking in the heat.

Pope Francis visited the church on Sunday after celebrating an open-air mass in Bethlehem's Manger Square at the start of the Israeli-Palestinian leg of his Middle East pilgrimage, which began in Jordan on Saturday.

The basilica, which was built by the Roman emperor Constantine, attracts more than a million pilgrims every year, making it the biggest tourist attraction in the occupied Palestinian territories outside Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.

In a separate development, police were investigating an arson attempt on Tuesday, at Jerusalem's Church of the Dormition which occurred shortly after the pope finished celebrating mass in the nearby upper room.

"Someone entered the church and went down to the crypt, took a book that is used by pilgrims to a small room next to the organ, and set some wooded crosses on fire," Benedictine abbot Nikodemus Schnabel told AFP late on Monday.

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