Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican have a busy schedule this fall, filled with two major papal visits, a synod of bishops and possibly even a consistory.
But already the Holy Father’s calendar of events has begun, first with his annual meeting with his former students and then a visit to the birthplace of Pope Leo XIII.
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 will visit Great Britain Sept. 16-19. (See page-one story.)
During his much anticipated visit to Scotland and England as a guest of Queen Elizabeth II, he will beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman and deliver a keynote speech to the country’s political leaders in Westminster. He will also pray with the archbishop of Canterbury in Westminster Abbey and celebrate two large open-air Masses in Glasgow and London.
Protests by secularists are expected, although these are likely to be far fewer than some media reports suggest. The Scotsman newspaper reported Aug. 29 that a survey of 1,000 Scots revealed only 5% objected to the Holy Father’s visit and added that Protest the Pope, a group of secularists, had canceled a planned demonstration in Edinburgh. Earlier in the month, the group attracted only 60 people to a meeting in Richmond, London, to protest the visit, despite widely publicizing the event.
Meanwhile, Benedict XVI has already begun his autumn schedule, holding his annual “Schülerkreis” at Castel Gandolfo. The meeting with Joseph Ratzinger’s former students at the University of Regensburg is traditionally held at the end of the summer. This year’s meeting, which took place Aug. 27-30, focused on analyzing interpretations of the Second Vatican Council and had as a guest Archbishop Kurt Koch, the newly appointed president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The archbishop examined “tradition and innovation” in the Council and “Sacrosanctum Concilium and the post-Conciliar reform of the liturgy.”
The meeting closed with a Mass presided by the Holy Father, who referred to the Sunday Gospel on Jesus’ exhortation to humility and love. He noted that God’s style is different than the pagans, who only give because they expect to receive. Especially during the Mass, the Pope said, the communicant is touched with gratitude for the fact that, although he has nothing to give to God and is full of sins, God invites him to his table. The sense of guilt the communicant feels prompts him to ask God for forgiveness.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna and also a former student of Professor Ratzinger, stressed in the Mass homily that the great vocation of the apostles didn’t make them arrogant, as God had placed them — especially the first of the apostles — in the last place. He then went on to explain that to bless is the response of Christians to humiliation and insults.
“Humility transforms insults into grace,” Cardinal Schönborn said. “Thank you, Holy Father, because you embody for us the attitude of Christ, who is meek and humble of heart.”
A week later, on Sept. 5, Benedict XVI spent a morning in Carpineto Romano, the birthplace of Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci, who became Pope Leo XIII. Pope Leo, who died on July 20, 1903, at 93, was the oldest ever Successor of Peter and is perhaps best known for writing the Church’s first great social encyclical, Rerum Novarum.
Once Pope Benedict returns to Rome, his first major engagement will be on Oct. 3, when he visits 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 Church there is keen to present “the true face of Sicily” to the Pope, one that is not just about the Mafia and social problems, but about its legacy of great saints. John Paul II visited the island in 1982 and 1995.
A week later, Benedict XVI will open the special Synod of Bishops for 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. 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’s 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 of the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi.
This will be Benedict XVI’s second visit to Spain, a country that has had a very secular government since 2004. He first visited in 2006 for the World Meeting of Families, and he will be returning in August 2011 for 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 calendars. 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.
But despite this being a busy fall for the Holy Father, his summer has — as usual — not been one of idleness. As well as writing the third volume of his book Jesus of Nazareth, he also found time to be interviewed by the German journalist Peter Seewald. The series of conversations that took place July 26-31 at Castel Gandolfo will form the basis of a new book to be published by the end of the year.
Edward Pentin writes from Rome.