VATICAN CITY — For Pope Benedict XVI, 2012 has been a year of momentous events: two consistories, a trip to Cuba and the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council to name just a few.
Here, we take look back on seven of the top events during this pontifical year.
This was the year in which the Holy Father awarded two New Yorkers a red hat: Archbishops Timothy Dolan of New York and Edwin O’Brien, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. They were among 22 distinguished Churchmen to be made cardinals at a consistory in Rome on Feb. 18. But the appointments were criticized for being top-heavy with European cardinals, leading to the Holy Father calling for another mini consistory in November (two consistories are very rarely held in one year).
During the fall cardinal-making ceremony, all the bishops who were conferred the title were from outside Europe and included the American curial Archbishop James Harvey. This was the fifth time Benedict has created new cardinals, and he has now elevated 90 to the College of Cardinals, significantly influencing who will be elected his eventual successor.
Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization
The establishment of a special Church commission to defend religious liberty, a pastoral document on how to encounter Jesus Christ and a new apologetics of Christian thought were just some of the fruits that came out of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization, which took place Oct. 7-28.
Reflecting on the three-week meeting at the Vatican, the Holy Father said the meeting was “really uplifting, comforting and encouraging.”
“With renewed enthusiasm, it seems to me, we are on our way,” he said. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, relator general of the meeting, said a great sense of unity characterized the meeting, but that its success would depend largely on how the local Church implements its recommendations.
Year of Faith Begins/50th Anniversary of Opening of Vatican II
Pope Benedict XVI opened the Year of Faith in Rome Oct. 11 with a call for a New Evangelization rooted in an authentic interpretation of the documents of the Second Vatican Council. The Council opened 50 years ago that very day. The Pope stressed that “reference to the documents saves us from extremes of anachronistic nostalgia and running too far ahead.”
He also issued a new reflection on the Council, recalling it as a “moment of extraordinary expectation.” The Council Fathers, the Pope wrote, “neither could nor wished to create a different faith or a new Church,” but, rather, to “renew them.”
“This is why a hermeneutic of rupture is absurd and is contrary to the spirit and the will of the Council Fathers,” he added.
The Year of Faith runs until Nov. 24, 2013.
Voyages to Mexico and Cuba
From March 23-29, 2012, the Pope made the first of just two apostolic voyages outside Italy this year: to Mexico and Cuba. In Mexico, he urged the people to maintain their faith and continue to turn to the Virgin Mary in the face of violence and chaos caused by the country’s deadly drug war. He then visited Cuba, saying the country needs change, but adding that it will only happen if citizens are able to freely seek truth, fraternity and reconciliation.
The Pope stressed the Church doesn’t call for privileges, but, rather, for the right to practice its faith openly. He strongly rejected communism, saying it had failed Cuba and no longer corresponds to reality. The visit included a half-hour meeting with an ailing Fidel Castro. The Pope managed to persuade the Cuban government to re-introduce a public holiday on Good Friday.
Trip to Lebanon
Benedict XVI flew into Beirut for a three-day visit to the Middle Eastern country in September, despite a bloody internecine war in Syria and riots across the Islamic world reportedly in reaction to an anti-Islam movie posted on YouTube. The main purpose of the visit was to sign and deliver his apostolic exhortation on the Church in the Middle East — the Pope’s reflections on the synod on the same theme that took place in the Vatican in October 2010.
The Holy Father was largely greeted enthusiastically by Muslims and Christians in the country, the most pluralist of all Middle East countries, with a large Christian population. He made impassioned pleas for peace, reconciliation and interreligious harmony in the region and appealed to Christians not to emigrate.
Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 3
The final volume of Pope Benedict XVI’s trilogy Jesus of Nazareth went on sale in the United States and 20 other languages Dec. 4. Focusing on The Infancy Narratives, it is much smaller than the previous two volumes, numbering just 144 pages. The Pope says he prefers to see it not as a volume, but as “a sort of small ‘antechamber’ to the two preceding volumes on the future and message of Jesus of Nazareth” and adds that he has sought “to interpret, in dialogue with exegetes of the past and of the present, what Matthew and Luke recount at the beginning of their Gospels about the infancy of Jesus.” Initial reviews were positive, with readers describing it as lucid and accessible.
Pope Takes to Twitter
Having advocated using modern forms of social media to spread the Gospel message, 2012 was the year the Pope took the famous micro-blogging site by storm. His first tweet on Dec. 12 was: “Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart.” He then proceeded to answer three questions from fellow tweeters on the faith in the context of the Year of Faith. The Holy Father quickly racked up more than a million followers within a week of the launch of his account, called @pontifex.
Paolo Gabriele, the Pope’s former valet, was jailed for 18 months for leaking hundreds of private documents from the Pope’s office. Gabriele insisted he committed the crime out of love for the Pope and to uncover corruption in the Vatican. The Pope was reported to have been shocked and saddened by Gabriele’s actions but wished to see justice done. The Pope extended a pardon to his former valet just days before Christmas.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.