Some historic and noteworthy events await the Holy Father and Vatican officials after the summer break, when the Eternal City springs back to life.
Benedict XVI will be staying at his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo at least until the end of next month, but before he returns to Rome he has three important engagements to fulfill.
The most significant will be his much-anticipated visit to Great Britain on Sept. 16-19, during which he will travel to Scotland and England and beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman. Although a state visit, the apostolic voyage will also be of a pastoral nature that will aim to encourage the local Church and reach out to a once Christian, but now increasingly secularist, society.
But before then, on Sept. 5, Benedict XVI will spend a morning in Carpineto Romano, the birthplace of Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci, who became Pope Leo XIII. The Pope will fly by helicopter to the town, 30 miles from Rome, to mark the bicentenary of Pope Leo’s birth and celebrate Mass in the town square.
Leo XIII, who died on July 20, 1903, at the age of 93, was the oldest ever Pope and is perhaps best known for writing the Church’s first great social encyclical, “Rerum Novarum.” He also tried to reach out to the scientific world, founded centers of theological and Scriptural study, and opened the Vatican Archives to Catholic and non-Catholic researchers. He was also the first Pontiff to promote ecumenical dialogue.
A week before visiting Carpineto Romano, Benedict XVI continued his tradition of holding his annual “Schülerkreis” at Castel Gandolfo. The meeting with the Pope’s former students, which dates back to when he was a theology professor in Regensburg, Germany, was scheduled Aug. 27-29, and this year focused on the hermeneutic of the Second Vatican Council.
A key element in the discussions was Benedict XVI’s address to the Roman Curia in December 2005 in which he stressed that the Council texts did not point to a “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” but rather a “hermeneutic of reform, of renewal in continuity.” The former interpretation, he said, “caused confusion” while the latter “silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit.”
The Holy Father’s first major engagement after returning to Rome will be Oct. 3, when he visits the Sicilian capital Palermo. He will celebrate an outdoor Mass there and address families and youth — two areas of major concern to the Sicilian bishops’ conference. At a recent press conference, Archbishop Paolo Romeo of Palermo said: “We want to present to the Holy Father and to the whole world the true face of Sicily, which is not at all just about the garbage emergency, Mafia and social problems, but about a history that our saints have marked.” John Paul II visited the Italian island in 1982 and 1995.
A week later, Benedict XVI will open the special Synod of Bishops on the Middle East, which will run Oct. 10-24. The meeting will focus on “communion and witness” in the conflict-ridden region where Christians are becoming ever smaller in number.
While in Cyprus in June to present the working document on the three-week meeting, Benedict XVI told participants it would be an occasion “to highlight the important value of the Christian presence and witness in the biblical lands, not just for the Christian community around the world, but also for your neighbors and fellow citizens.” The synod will bring together Middle East experts from around the world including Cardinals Nasrallah Sfeir, the Maronite patriarch of Lebanon, Emmanuel Delly, the Chaldean patriarch of Baghdad, and Leonardo Sandri, the prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches. Although John Paul II held a synod on Lebanon in 1995, this will be the first time the Church has dedicated such a meeting to the whole region.
Then the following month, the Holy Father will embark on his fifth visit outside Italy this year: a two-day trip to Spain. On Nov. 6 he will fly to Santiago de Compostela, the important pilgrim destination of the Middle Ages, which is increasingly popular today among both believers and nonbelievers. Tradition holds that the remains of the Apostle James the Greater are buried there, and the Pope’s trip coincides with Santiago de Compostela Holy Year, which occurs every time St James’ feast day, July 25, falls on a Sunday.
The following day, the Pope will also visit Barcelona where he will consecrate and proclaim as a basilica the city’s famous church, La Sagrada Familia, the unfinished masterpiece by the devout Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. The Holy Father will also dine with bishops and visit a foundation for people with disabilities before returning to Rome in the evening.
Spain’s government is one of the most secular in Europe, and since coming to power in 2004 has passed a raft of legislation directly opposed to Catholic teaching. As if to show his concern, this will be Benedict XVI’s second visit to Spain: He first visited the country in 2006 for the World Meeting of Families in Valencia, and will be returning to Spain again next August to attend World Youth Day in Madrid.
These are just the most significant papal and Vatican events scheduled to take place this fall, but no doubt others will also find their way onto the papal and Vatican calendar. One such event could be Benedict XVI’s third consistory, although most Vatican-watchers predict that it’s more likely to take place next year.
Currently 107 cardinals are under 80 and so eligible to vote in the next conclave, 13 short of the 120 limit set by Paul VI. But by the beginning of 2011, at least 19 cardinal elector vacancies will have become available. Although it’s coming up to three years since the last consistory, the gap is well within the norms (John Paul II called a consistory on average every three years).
Those in line for a red hat include Archbishop Raymond Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, Archbishop Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo, Sri Lanka, and Archbishop Reinhard Marx of Munich, Germany.
Whether or not the consistory takes place, the Holy Father and the Vatican already have a busy but interesting few months ahead.