VATICAN CITY — A new encyclical, a visit to Rio and possibly two consistories of new cardinals are just some of the highlights expected for Pope Benedict XVI this coming year.
Over the past few months, the Holy Father has been putting the finishing touches on his fourth encyclical, scheduled to be published during Lent. Dedicated to the subject of faith and published to coincide with the Year of Faith, the encyclical will be used by the Pope to offer encouragement to a world in crisis, Vatican sources say.
It will follow three other encyclicals during this pontificate: two on the other theological virtues of charity, Deus Caritas Est (2005), and hope, Spe Salvi (2007), and a “social encyclical” — Caritas in Veritate (2009) — on how love and truth are essential to building the common good.
Although he will turn 86 in April, and many have observed an increasing frailty, the Holy Father continues to travel. He has pledged to visit Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day in June. But, so far, this is his only visit planned to take place outside Italy, and Pope Benedict continues to cut back on his long-haul travels, making just two trips in 2012.
But there is an outside chance that he may visit Panama and Colombia. The Vatican has said that officials have been considering visits to these countries in the coming year, although nothing has yet been confirmed.
During the Year of Faith, which runs through Nov. 24, many large and unprecedented events are planned. In May in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope will welcome all the Church’s ecclesial movements. The meeting, similar to those that took place during Pentecost in 1998 and in 2006, is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of faithful.
June will be one of the Holy Father’s busiest months. He will be convening the first-ever meeting with all the Church’s apostolic nuncios, papal delegates and permanent observers to international organizations. The meeting is being convened with a view to being “an exchange of experiences to deepen the feeling of mission for the pontifical representatives” during the Year of Faith, according to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state.
On June 16, the Pope will host a world meeting of pro-life advocates at the Vatican, dedicated to the gospel of life. Also, for the first time, the Holy Father will lead an hour of Eucharistic adoration on the feast of Corpus Christi. The tradition fell out of use after the Second Vatican Council, but it has seen a resurgence, partly thanks to the Pope’s personal encouragement and that of his papal predecessor, Blessed John Paul II.
In October, the Pope is expected to break a record when he canonizes 802 holy men and women in the same ceremony: 800 martyrs from Otranto, Italy, killed in 1480 out of hatred for the faith, plus the first Colombian saint, Mother Laura, and a Mexican nun, Blessed Mother Maria Guadalupe.
Following his foray into Twitter, the Pope — or, rather, his team of communicators — is likely to extend his use of digital social media to help spread the message of the Gospel. In a few weeks, he will begin tweeting in Chinese and Latin.
In a Jan. 1 interview for the Italian network Tgcom24, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli said once “some technical difficulties” are overcome, China will be added. “The Pope’s desire is to talk to the broadest number of people, to get in touch with men and women of every country,” said the president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. “So why not also in the Chinese language?”
Also this year, Vatican sources say the Pope may take the rare step of holding two cardinal-making consistories in 2013, as he did in 2012. The number of cardinals under the age of 80, the only ones eligible to vote for a new pope, will be 10 short of the maximum limit of 120 by Oct. 19.
Like last year, consistories may take place in both February and then again in November. Such regularity is rare, though it was relatively common up until the 1950s. Vatican officials say smaller, more frequent consistories are easier and more efficient to handle.
As always, there will be some surprises this year, and away from the Apostolic Palace, news will also be made. The Vatican Bank will choose a new president in January to succeed Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, who was forced to step down last year.
Later this year, President Barack Obama is also expected to choose a new ambassador to the Holy See to replace Miguel Diaz, who has returned to academia. The choice will be hard, with Obama having to choose someone close or sympathetic to his administration’s policies while at the same time favorable to the U.S. bishops and the Holy See.
Despite his age, Pope Benedict is still in relatively good health. In an interview shortly before Christmas with a German newspaper, his 88-year-old brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, said, apart from some trouble walking, the Pope’s health “was in order” and that he was “relatively fresh and constantly taking exercise.”
That helps him “stay fresh,” Msgr. Ratzinger said about his younger brother, and prevents a “dampening of his spirits.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.