VATICAN CITY — In the latest move showing Pope Francis’ determination to prevent further bloodshed in Syria, the Holy Father has sent a letter to leaders of the G20 group of nations who are meeting in Russia, urging them “to lay aside the futile pursuit” of a military solution to the conflict and instead renew their commitment to dialogue and negotiation.
News of the Pope’s appeal came as the Vatican briefed the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See Sept. 5, during which the Holy See issued a rare and detailed six-point program for peace as an alternative to the use of violence.
In his Sept. 4 letter, addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is chairing this year’s G20 meeting in St. Petersburg that opened yesterday, the Pope said it is “regrettable that, from the very beginning of the conflict in Syria, one-sided interests have prevailed and in fact hindered the search for a solution that would have avoided the senseless massacre now unfolding.”
He added that G20 leaders “cannot remain indifferent to the dramatic situation of the beloved Syrian people, which has lasted far too long and even risks bringing greater suffering to a region bitterly tested by strife and needful of peace.”
“To the leaders present, to each and every one, I make a heartfelt appeal for them to help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution,” the Holy Father said. “Rather, let there be a renewed commitment to seek, with courage and determination, a peaceful solution through dialogue and negotiation of the parties, unanimously supported by the international community.”
The Holy Father also said the leaders have a “moral duty to do everything possible to ensure humanitarian assistance” reaches all those affected by the conflict, also beyond Syria’s borders.
Principles for Peace
Earlier, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s foreign minister, held a special briefing at the Vatican for all ambassadors accredited to the Holy See to inform them of the “significance of Pope Francis’ initiative” to hold a special day of fasting and prayer on Sept. 7.
But many of the diplomats were surprised to also be handed a three-page “non paper”, or aide-memoire, detailing the Holy See’s concerns for Syria and a list of six points which it considers “important for preparing a possible [peace] plan for the future of Syria.”
The document, entitled “Regarding the Situation in Syria,” focuses on “following general principles,” which include re-launching dialogue and reconciliation, avoiding division of the country into different zones and maintaining its territorial integrity.
The Holy See asks that there be a “place for everyone” in a new Syria, in particular for minorities such as Christians. It says Alawites (President Bashar al-Assad’s ruling sect) must also have guarantees or they may emigrate or risk their own lives by remaining in the country.
“Such a risk would make it more difficult to reach a compromise with them,” the Holy See says, and it argues that all minorities must be involved in preparing any new constitution and laws.
The document proposes the establishment of a ministry dedicated to minorities, insists on the concept of citizenship with equal dignity and emphasizes the importance of respecting human rights and religious freedom. It also stresses the importance of asking “members of the opposition to distance themselves from extremists groups, isolate them and reject terrorism openly and clearly.”
The last of the six points underlines the importance of ensuring “all necessary cooperation and assistance for the immense task of reconstruction in the country.”
Elsewhere, the document recalls the “numerous and heartfelt” interventions by the Pope on the crisis, as well as those by the Holy See.
“Absolute priority must be given to ending the violence,” the Holy See says, adding that the “joint effort of the international community is essential.”
It stresses the importance of respecting humanitarian law and that one “cannot remain passive” in the face of continuing violations of it. “The use of chemical weapons must be stopped and condemned with particular determination,” it says.
The document is particularly strong on humanitarian assistance, saying the situation is “extremely grave” and that it’s foreseeable by the end of the year that half of Syria’s population will need assistance. To allow aid to reach all parts of the country, it calls for a ceasefire, even a partial one, and guaranteed safety for aid workers.
Recalling that the Catholic Church is “at the forefront in providing humanitarian aid,” the Holy See also appeals for “solidarity and cooperation” on all part of all governments in the region and non-governmental organizations.
The document ends by stressing the urgency of the cessation of violence, avoiding a possible “sectarian degeneration” of the conflict. It reiterates the need for dialogue and negotiation and underlines that the focus must be “on the good of the people, not the seeking of positions of power or other unilateral aims.”
A diplomat who attended the briefing said he and his colleagues were “surprised at the detail of the program,” which they saw as an effort on the Holy See’s part to restart the Geneva II negotiations.
Those talks, expected to take place in late 2013, are aimed at ending the Syrian conflict and organizing a transition period and post-war reconstruction. But Geneva II has so far stalled, as the United States has been unable to persuade the opposition to take part.
“The briefing showed us that the Vatican means business; it’s not just rhetoric or platitudes,” the diplomat said, and he noted the high level of representation at the meeting in the Old Synod Hall.
“All ambassadors from the G20 were there; it was in effect a full house, essentially a three-line whip,” he said.
Day of Prayer and Fasting
In the meantime, many Church groups have mobilized to take part in tomorrow’s day of prayer and fasting for peace in the Middle East. At the vigil in St. Peter’s Square that evening, diplomats will be placed alongside Pope Francis.
The Holy Father is expected to arrive at 6:30pm, and sources say it is likely he will remain there in prayer for a “considerable part of the time.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent and a contributor to EWTN News Nightly.
This article appeared in Newsmax, 3 September 2013:
Pope John Paul II will be canonized on April 27 next year, a top Vatican source has told Newsmax exclusively.
Although the Vatican has not officially confirmed the date, Pope Francis has already let it be known in a private conversation that the Sunday after Easter is the date he wants for the ceremony.
The source told Newsmax: “I was surprised by his frankness, but he took a step back, laughed and then [said] the date. He was surrounded by top officials who didn’t seem to mind.”
Among those within earshot was Archbishop Georg Ganswein, prefect of the Pontifical Household, who will be partly responsible for organizing the canonization ceremony.
Pope John XXIII, who was pontiff from 1958 to 1963 and convened the Second Vatican Council, is also expected to be canonized on the same date.
The Vatican is expected to make an official announcement on Sept. 30 when a consistory of cardinals will formally approve the canonization date.
During a papal press conference on his return from Rio de Janeiro July 28, Pope Francis said both Popes will be canonized “together,” but said it was unlikely the canonizations would take place during the autumn or winter as many Poles will be traveling to Rome for the ceremony by bus, and the road conditions could be bad.
After speaking with Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul II’s former private secretary and archbishop of Krakow, he said two other possible dates arose: Christ the King Sunday, which falls this year on Nov. 24, and Divine Mercy Sunday — the Sunday after Easter — which will be on April 27, 2014.
Pope Francis said he thought there was “too little time” for the canonizations to take place in November and said he needed to speak with the person in charge of saints’ causes, Cardinal Angelo Amato. The cardinal said at the end of August that the date will be officially announced on Sept. 30.
Asked on Tuesday if he could confirm the date, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi told Newsmax: “The consistory is held precisely in order to establish and announce the date publicly, so I don’t think it’s correct to say that the thing is already decided. If it isn’t, we should save ourselves for the consistory.”
But he added: “We can say that it is very likely, given that the Pope made an explicit reference to [Divine Mercy Sunday] in the interview on the return flight from Rio, saying that he realized that in winter, it would be difficult for pilgrims from Poland and countries of Central and Northern Europe to attend, and so it was better to postpone until the spring.”
Divine Mercy Sunday is a special day for John Paul, who established the feast day in 2001. Its origins date back to Polish nun Faustina Kowalska, who had a devotion to the Divine Mercy after an encounter with Jesus.
In visions and conversations with Jesus, Kowalska, who lived from 1905-1938, said Jesus asked her specifically for a feast of Divine Mercy to be established so mankind would take refuge in Jesus.
John Paul II died on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005.
The theme of mercy is also central to the pontificate of Pope Francis, who has frequently said, “This is the time for mercy.” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio July 30 that Francis has “great effectiveness in helping people understand the theme of God’s love and mercy, which reaches out to soothe and heal the wounds of humanity.”
Pope Francis signed a decree July 5 that gave the go-ahead for the canonizations of both John Paul II and John XXIII. Usually two miracles attributed to a candidate’s intercession are required to become a saint. A French nun, who was inexplicably cured of Parkinson’s disease, led to John Paul II’s beatification on May 1, 2011.
A second miracle, which must occur after a beatification, involved a Costa Rican woman who was cured of a cerebral aneurysm the very day of John Paul II’s beatification.
For John XXIII, Pope Francis took the rare step of waiving the requirement of a second miracle, paving the way for his canonization.
Many are rejoicing at the speed at which John Paul II — whom many chanted ‘santo subito!’ (Saint now!) at his death — is being canonized. They see this as a further testament to his holiness, but some are uneasy at the haste of the process.
Often it can take centuries between the death of a person with a reputation for holiness and their canonization. But for John Paul II’s cause for canonization, the process was partially expedited after pressure was placed on Benedict XVI to waive the usual five years between a candidate’s death and the opening of their cause. Benedict agreed to the waiver in May 2005.
When the late Polish pontiff is elevated to altars on April 27, it will have been only nine years and 25 days since his death.
Read Latest Breaking News from Newsmax.com http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/John-Paul-Canonization-saint/2013/09/03/id/523587#ixzz2dvYXcXG1
East German Stasi Considered Ratzinger a Fierce Foe:
By Edward Pentin
ROME, SEPT. 15, 2011 (Zenit.org).- In 1974, a Trabant — an old East German car — was chugging through the Thuringian countryside, a province in the communist German Democratic Republic.
In its passenger seat sat Professor Joseph Ratzinger and at the wheel was Father Joachim Wanke, then an assistant at a local seminary — the only one in the GDR.
The two priests, writes Rainer Erice, a journalist for the German radio station Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk Thüringen (MDR), were on a harmless sightseeing tour, taking in the historic cities of Jena and Weimar. It was a moment of relaxation during Father Ratzinger’s short visit to East Germany, the purpose of which was to give several lectures to students and theologians in Erfurt, Thuringia’s capital.
That Professor Ratzinger was spied upon by Stasi informants is already known. In 2005, it was revealed that the East German agents had had files on the newly elected Pope. But now new files, uncovered this week by MDR, add more light on how the secret police viewed the future Pontiff, and who was employed to inform on him.
The documents reveal that in 1974, the Stasi were well aware that Father Ratzinger was a rising star in the Church, but they lacked suitable spooks to track him. All they knew at that stage (from an unofficial informant called Birke, an employee of the bishop of Meissen) was that Professor Ratzinger had given lectures on modern theology to students and academics during his visit.
As the theology professor’s role in the Church grew, however, so the East German secret police began to take more of an interest in his activities and stepped up their efforts, according Erice’s report. By the time Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger of Munich visited Berlin in 1978 for a meeting with Cardinal Alfred Bengsch, chairman of the Berlin Bishops’ Conference, the foreign section of East Germany’s homeland security had taken over the task of spying on him and had assigned numerous unofficial informants in both East and West Germany.
The GDR secret service viewed Professor Ratzinger as “conservative, reactionary and authoritarian,” Erice writes, and contended that John Paul II had appointed the then-Cardinal Ratzinger as organizer for “counter-revolutionary development in Poland.” More Stasi notes reveal they considered him as “one of the fiercest opponents of communism”; they believed he supported nuclear deterrence between the East and West military blocs, and that he considered pacifism “unrealistic.”
But Erice adds that despite “several hundred pages” of information on Joseph Ratzinger, there was “little that was meaningful,” and individual reports of foreign espionage had been “almost completely deleted.” The discovered documents related only to “basic information about the author and the occasion of when the information was gathered.”
Yet the documents reveal some interesting facts, namely details about the Stasi agents employed to inform on Joseph Ratzinger. Erice writes that “at least a dozen unofficial employees” were assigned to the task. These included two East German university professors known to the Stasi as “reliable”: Agent “Aurora” was a professor of scientific atheism in Jena and Warnemünde, while Agent “Lorac” worked undercover as a theology professor in Leipzig. Agent “Georg” was in the executive committee of the Berlin Bishops’ Conference and was apparently well versed on the internal workings of the Church.
In West Germany, the Stasi’s network included a Benedictine monk in Trier known by the codename “Lichtblick” (Ray of Hope). Lichtblick spied for the Stasi for decades and, according to Erice, “shared very extensive and reliable reports about Vatican events.” Another unofficial agent, known as “Antonius” was a journalist with the German Catholic news agency KNA and provided “masses” of information about the Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger and the Vatican.
Another journalist was hired in Munich under the alias “Chamois”, while a particularly prominent spy was a politician belonging to the Christian Social Union party and a former confidant of Franz Josef Strauss, once a leader of the party. The agent was known by the codenames “Lion” and “Trustworthy”. Their network also went beyond the borders of Germany. In Italy, the Stasi employed Agent “Bernd” who provided information on the Holy See’s foreign policy.
Shy, but charming
With all these informants in place, Erice writes that the Stasi were well prepared when Joseph Ratzinger travelled to Dresden in 1987 to meet a group of Catholics. “The Stasi mounted a huge effort in monitoring the meeting,” Erice says, and they strove to avoid drawing attention to any surveillance that was taking place, especially when passing through the border. “The security forces were instructed to give him preferential and polite treatment at the border crossing,” say the reports, and that “worldly evils such as customs inspections” usually applied to Western visitors “had to be omitted.”
But despite their great efforts, Erice says the Stasi made some basic mistakes. They incorrectly spelled Cardinal Ratzinger’s native town Merkl instead of Marktl. And although they wanted to portray him negatively, they couldn’t help but make the occasional positive observation. In addition to praising his high intelligence, they noted: “Although he would be shy at first with an interlocutor, he possesses a winning charm.”
Benedict XVI is, of course, not the first Pontiff to have had much of his life closely monitored by secret agents. Blessed Pope John Paul II was heavily spied upon by the KGB and the SB (Poland’s secret police). According to research revealed by George Weigel in his recent book “The End and the Beginning,” the agencies began taking a keen interest in Karol Wojtyla’s activities after he was made auxiliary bishop of Krakow in 1958.
Weigel recalls that between 1973 and 1974, Polish authorities considered arresting Karol Wojtyla and charging him with sedition. Secret police stalked him on kayaking trips and tried to compromise his closest associates, occasionally bungling their operations. And it wasn’t just the Pope who was in their sights; the Vatican was, too.
“What most surprised me was the sheer magnitude of the effort, which involved millions of man-hours and billions of dollars,” Weigel said in an interview with the National Catholic Register last year. “I was also unaware of the degree to which Soviet-bloc intelligence agencies attempted to manipulate the Second Vatican Council for their purposes — and how unaware of this assault the Vatican seemed to be (and continued to be until 1978).”
This week’s disclosures come just days before Benedict XVI makes a Sept. 22-25 state visit to Germany, which will include a stop in Erfurt.
He will be welcomed to the city by the current bishop of the diocese, his driver on that 1974 visit, Joachim Wanke.
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has chosen an accomplished Italian Vatican diplomat as the new Vatican secretary of state, replacing Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who is stepping down on account of his age.
Archbishop Pietro Parolin, who currently serves as the Pope’s representative to Venezuela, will become what is considered to be the closest equivalent of a Vatican “prime minister,” presiding over the running of the Curia, the Holy See’s diplomatic service and relations with states.
At just 58 years of age, he will be the youngest secretary of state since Eugenio Pacelli, who was appointed in 1930 at the age of 53 and later became Pope Pius XII. Archbishop Parolin will take over from Cardinal Bertone on Oct. 15.
In a statement released by the Vatican Aug. 31, Archbishop Parolin expressed his “deep and affectionate gratitude to the Holy Father” for the “unmerited trust” he had shown in him.
He assured the Pope of his “willingness and complete availability to work with him and under his guidance for the greater glory of God, the good of the Holy Church and the progress and peace of humanity, that humanity might find reasons to live and to hope.”
Archbishop Parolin said he felt “very strongly the grace of this call” and “the full weight of the responsibility placed upon me.”
“This call entrusts to me a difficult and challenging mission, before which my powers are weak and my abilities poor,” he said. “For this reason, I entrust myself to the merciful love of the Lord, from whom nothing and no one can ever separate me, and to the prayers of all.”
Archbishop Parolin, whose episcopal motto is “What will separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35), also thanked those who have helped him and will assist him in his new position.
He said he was sorry to leave Venezuela, where he has been stationed since 2009, and paid tribute to his family, friends, Benedict XVI, Cardinal Bertone and others to whom he owes “a great debt.”
“It is with trepidation that I place myself in this new service to the Gospel, to the Church and to Pope Francis,” he said, but added he would do so “with trust and serenity — disposed — as the Holy Father has asked us from the beginning — to walk, to build and to profess.” He ended his statement invoking Our Lady of Monte Berico, Guadalupe and Coromoto, to give him the courage to “walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Lord’s cross.”
A Credentialed Diplomat
Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Parolin after a lengthy period of reflection and widespread consultation with cardinals whom he trusts, such as Honduran Cardinal Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, John Paul II’s long-serving secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, and Cardinal Bertone.
The Vatican diplomat is well regarded in Rome. He earned respect within the Vatican principally as undersecretary for relations with states between 2002 and 2009. Although the post is regarded as the Holy See’s “deputy foreign minister,” it has considerable influence.
During that time, he became known for cementing ties between the Holy See and Vietnam that laid the foundations for advances in religious freedom in the communist state. He improved relations with China, helping to re-establish direct contact with Beijing in 2005, and tried to keep relations on track in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympics. He visited China twice, and his time as undersecretary was said to mark a real turning point in Church relations with Beijing.
Further, he has earned a reputation for being well connected yet humble, with an unassuming, modest personality. He was responsible for advancing negotiations with Israel to fulfill the 1993 Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel, on tax and property rights for the Church, even though the agreement is still yet to be signed. He was personally at the forefront of Vatican efforts to approve and implement the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
As undersecretary, he was also involved in handling sensitive relations with Iran. Diplomatic sources say he was largely responsible, while working closely with the British Embassy to the Holy See, for the liberation of 15 British navy personnel captured by Iranian forces in the Arabian Gulf in April 2007. He is also credited with playing a key role in Vatican efforts to revive dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The Holy See diplomat took further interest in combatting human trafficking, promoting and protecting religious freedom and safeguarding the environment.
During his time as undersecretary, the Holy See also worked to resolve tensions in a variety of trouble spots, from East Timor to the conflict between Ecuador and Peru over rights to the Amazonian territories along their disputed borders. The Vatican also pushed international efforts to ban cluster bombs and helped resolve a serious institutional crisis that had broken out in Zaire.
His subsequent time as apostolic nuncio to Venezuela, during the presidency of Hugo Chavez, was never easy. In 2010, Chavez ordered a review of Venezuela’s ties with the Vatican amid tensions between his government and the country’s bishops. It is said to be partly because of Archbishop Parolin’s skilfull diplomacy that relations did not deteriorate further before Chavez’s death on March 5 this year.
“He is a man of patient dialogue, an exemplary priest, formed also in the great diplomatic tradition of the Holy See,” said Marco Impagliazzo, president of the Sant’Egidio Community, adding that Archbishop Parolin “appears to have a personality best suited” to work with the Pope in his upcoming tasks. The lay community, which worked closely with Msgr. Parolin in the 2000s, said his appointment is “a sign of the pastoral style Pope Francis is impressing on the governance of the Church.”
His Earlier Years
Pietro Parolin was born in 1955 in Schiavon, Vicenza, in northern Italy, to a devout Catholic family. He experienced tragedy at the age of 10, when his father died in a car crash, leaving his widowed mother to bring up Pietro and his two siblings. He entered the seminary at the age of 14 and studied during the social turbulence of the late 1960s.
He was ordained on April 27, 1980, after which he took up graduate studies in canon law. Though he appeared to be headed for service on a diocesan tribunal dealing with family pastoral care, his career took a turn when he was summoned to work for the Holy See instead.
In 1986, at the age of 36, he graduated from the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the Holy See’s institute for training diplomats, and then he entered the Holy See’s diplomatic service. He served in the nunciatures of Nigeria and Mexico; the former gave him valuable experience with Christian-Muslim relations, while the latter post gave him a chance to work on the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Mexico.
In 1992, he was called back to Rome to work as an official in the Secretariat of State. While there, he was country director for Spain, Andorra, Italy and San Marino before being appointed undersecretary to relations with states in 2002. He speaks Italian, English, French and Spanish.
The Task Ahead
Archbishop Parolin’s personality is likely to fit harmoniously with that of the Holy Father, and he is said to share the same concerns as Pope Francis with regards to “careerism” in the Roman Curia.
His diplomatic skills and relative youth, meanwhile, have stirred up expectations that he will be a proactive and dynamic secretary of state. This is particularly important given criticisms in recent years of poor communications and a perceived lack of direction coming from the Secretariat of State.
The big question is whether he will make the Holy See’s most important dicastery a force for evangelization. As pope, Benedict XVI would frequently remind the Holy See’s diplomatic corps that they were priests first, diplomats second. For Archbishop Parolin, serving the Holy See has always been a way to exercise his priestly spirituality while at the same time taking a realist view of global diplomacy. His administrative competence and linguistic abilities are also expected to improve the Church’s image and, in turn, have a positive impact on evangelization.
Cardinal Bertone had a difficult seven years as secretary of state, especially during the Vatileaks scandal, which prompted him to offer Benedict XVI his resignation and which the former pontiff refused to accept. He was neither a diplomat nor a linguist, and many felt he was out of his depth. But when he addressed the Italian media Sept. 1, he said he took a “positive view” of his time as secretary of state.
“Of course, there were problems, especially in the last two years,” he said, and he blamed “a mix of crows and vipers.” But he added, “This shouldn’t overshadow what I believe to be a positive assessment.”
“I’ve always given everything,” he said. “Certainly I have had my faults, and if I think back now, I would have acted differently. But this does not mean I haven’t tried to serve the Church.”
Cardinal Bertone, who turns 79 in December, has some scheduled pastoral duties to complete before he steps down, including a pilgrimage to Fatima on Oct. 12, shortly before the transition takes place.
On Oct. 15, Pope Francis will receive in audience superiors and officials of the Secretariat of State “in order publicly to thank Cardinal Bertone for his faithful and generous service to the Holy See and to introduce them to the new secretary of state,” the Vatican said.
Pope Francis confirmed Aug. 31 the positions of Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu as sostituto for general affairs at the Vatican (the Vatican’s chief of staff), Archbishop Dominique Mamberti as secretary for relations with states (the Vatican’s foreign minister), Archbishop Georg Gänswein, as prefect of the pontifical household, Msgr. Peter Wells as assessor for general affairs, and Msgr. Antoine Camilleri as undersecretary for relations with states.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent
This article appeared in the National Catholic Register, 3 September 2013