This year promises to be a busy one for the Holy Father, with Christian unity, secularism in Europe, and relations with Islam and Judaism being among the most serious papal concerns.
Marked in Pope Benedict XVI’s calendar are foreign trips, a synod of bishops on the Middle East, and a large Rome conference to close the Year for Priests.
The Pope is also likely to appoint several new cardinals and announce a number of canonizations and beatifications, one of which may be that of John Paul II. Benedict XVI also turns 83 this year and will celebrate five years of ministry as the Successor of Peter.
One of his most significant engagements took place Jan. 17 when he visited Rome’s synagogue, across the Tiber River from Vatican City. The Holy Father was very warmly received, and those gathered gave him a standing ovation at the end of his address.
He made no explicit reference to the Pius XII controversy, except to underline the efforts the Apostolic See made to save Rome Jews during Nazi persecution. Historians say the “hidden and discreet” assistance given by the Vatican can be traced to the direct intructions of Pius XII.
The Holy Father won’t be making any long-distance journeys this year, but will embark on what promises to be a historic trip to England and Scotland in mid-September. It will be the first-ever state visit by a pope to Britain, although he has declined the ceremonial trappings that usually accompany such a visit. (A visit to Buckingham Palace and riding in a horse-drawn carriage through London won’t be taking place.)
But the visit still promises to be a momentous one. Informed sources say the Pope is likely to address politicians and diplomats in London, give a lecture at the University of Oxford, and meet Queen Elizabeth in Scotland.
The trip’s main purpose, however, is expected to be the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman. The Pope is expected to break with precedent and preside over the ceremony himself in Birmingham on Sept. 19.
His U.K. apostolic voyage will follow three other foreign visits. The Holy Father will travel to Malta April 17-18 to mark the 1,950th anniversary of St. Paul being shipwrecked on the island. The following month he will make a pilgrimage to the Marian shrine of Fatima in Portugal. And June 4-6 he’ll be in Cyprus, principally to present the working document for the meeting of the Synod of Bishops on the Middle East scheduled for October.
While there, he will also continue his efforts to reach out to the Orthodox Church, and his visit just might include the first meeting between a pope and the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Closer to home, on May 2, the Pope is scheduled to visit the Shroud of Turin, which is on public display for a limited time (April 10-May 23).
The Holy Father will close the Year for Priests by leading a large meeting of clergy in Rome June 9-11. Then, in July and September, Benedict will visit two Italian towns closely associated with two popes: Popes Celestine V (the only pope to have abdicated and whose birth took place 800 years ago this year) and Leo XIII (the pope who lived the longest, who was born 200 years ago this year and died at the age of 93).
In October, Benedict will fly to Palermo, Sicily, to participate in a meeting with families and youth. Also that month he will host the Synod on the Middle East attended by Church leaders from across the region. Restrictions on Christians and their large-scale emigration from the region will be high on the agenda.
During much of the year, the Pope will be surrounded by a greater security presence, following the security breach at Christmas midnight Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Less certain but by no means impossible this year is a consistory during which he is expected to make between 12 and 19 new cardinals. One of them will almost certainly be American Archbishop Raymond Burke. The former archbishop of St. Louis currently serves as prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, an office usually held by a cardinal.
The Pope may also this year announce several new senior appointments within the Vatican, as some cardinal heads of Vatican departments reach or exceed the customary retirement age of 75.
Later this year, Benedict XVI is expected to publish the second volume of his book Jesus of Nazareth, which he has already written, and he may also release his apostolic exhortation about the Synod on the Word of God, which was held in 2008.
His efforts to promote Christian unity are likely to continue in 2010, not only with the Orthodox Church, but also in bringing back the Lefebvrist Society of St. Pius X. The bimonthly negotiations between the Vatican and the society may begin to show fruit this year.
Also of interest in 2010 will be how many groups of Anglicans respond to Anglicanorum Coetibus, the Pope’s apostolic constitution aimed at accommodating large numbers of disaffected Anglicans into the Catholic Church. How it will impact ongoing dialogue with the Anglican Communion may also become clearer this year.
Relations with Islam are likely to figure highly on the Pope’s agenda over the next 12 months, especially as concerns over terrorism by Islamic extremists resurface and ongoing Christian persecution remains a problem in Muslim-majority countries. Catholic-Jewish relations are also likely to occupy much of the Pope’s time, as the effects of previous decisions continue to rankle Jewish groups, while the Israeli government has yet to live up to its agreement regarding the normalization of the legal status of Catholic Church properties and personnel in Israel.
Finally, the Pope will doubtless continue to remind Europeans that they risk falling into an abyss of secularism and relativism unless they return to the Continent’s Christian roots.
A number of familiar issues will therefore remain very much part of this pontificate in 2010. But as with each of Pope Benedict’s past five years, expect a few surprises, too.
Edward Pentin writes from Rome.