Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican have a busy schedule this fall, filled with papal visits, a synod of bishops and possibly even a consistory.
The Holy Father will be staying at his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo at least until the end of September but before he returns to Rome he has three important engagements:
• First is his traditional ‘Schülerkreis’ Aug. 27-29. The meeting with the Pope’s former students, which dates back to when he was a theology professor in Regensburg, Germany, will be held as usual at Castel Gandolfo and this year will focus on the hermeneutic of the Second Vatican Council: whether the Council texts represent ‘discontinuity and rupture’ with tradition or ‘reform, renewal and continuity.’ The Pope’s view on this was best explained in an address he gave to the Roman Curia in December 2005, and was recently neatly summarised here.
• 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.
• The Holy Father will make his much anticipated state visit to Great Britain. He flies to Edinburgh, Scotland, Sept. 16 to meet Queen Elizabeth II and celebrate Mass in Glasgow. He will then spend most of the rest of the apostolic voyage in London where he will celebrate Mass in Hyde Park and pray with the Archbishop of Canterbury in Westminster Abbey. On the last day, Sept. 19, he is to beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman in Birmingham – the linchpin event of the visit.
After he returns from Castel Gandolfo, Benedict XVI has the following scheduled engagements:
• On October 3rd he is to visit Palermo, capital of the Italian island of Sicily. He will celebrate an outdoor Mass there and address families and youth – two areas of major concern to the Sicilian bishops’ conference. The local Church is keen that the Pope sees the “true face” of the island, one not scarred by the mafia and social problems, but “a history that our saints have marked.” John Paul II visited the island in 1982 and 1995.
• A week later, Benedict XVI will open the special Synod of Bishops on the Middle East which will run October 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 neighbours and fellow citizens.” A large number of experts as well as synod fathers from across the region are expected to be in Rome for the meeting, and take part in discussions on the fringes of the synod.
• On November 6th, the Holy Father will embark on his fifth visit outside Italy this year: a two-day trip to Spain. He will fly to Santiago de Compostela, the important pilgrim destination of the Middle Ages which is increasingly popular today among both believers and non-believers. 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 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. This will be Benedict XVI’s second visit to Spain, a country which has had a very secular government since 2004. He first visited in 2006 for the World Meeting of Families, and will also be returning in August 2011 for World Youth Day in Madrid.
Meanwhile in September, several newcomers to the Roman Curia will take up their positions: Archbishop Kurt Koch starts work as president of the Pontifical Council for the Promoting Christian Unity and Cardinal Marc Ouellet takes the reins of the Congregation for Bishops. Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the former rector of the Pontifical Lateran University, will also begin establishing the new Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, instituted earlier this year by Benedict XVI.
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.
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 the Causes of Saints, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo, Sri Lanka, and Archbishop Reinhard Marx of Munich, Germany.
Although it could conceivably happen in the fall, most Vatican-watchers believe it will be called next year, probably in the spring.
A consistory notwithstanding, these will be a demanding few months for the Holy Father and the Vatican, but a time that has the potential to bear much good fruit.