Pope Benedict XVI will be spending his summer vacation this year in the mountainous Valle d’Aosta region in the northwestern Alpine region of Italy.
The Holy Father will be staying in a chalet in the hamlet of Les Combes at Introd July 13-29. This is the third time he has chosen to spend the first weeks of his summer break in the mountain residence, having last spent his first vacations there as Pope in 2005 and 2006.
Last year, he stayed in Bressanone in the German-speaking Alto Adige region in northeastern Italy, and in 2007 he went to Lorenzago di Cadore in the Italian Dolomites.
It’s not clear why the Pope has chosen to return to Les Combes this year, but it may have something to do with the nearby town of Aosta being the birthplace of the theologian and doctor of the church St. Anselm of Canterbury. This year, the Church is commemorating the 1,400th anniversary of St. Anselm’s death. Les Combes was also a favorite of John Paul II, who spent 10 vacations there. In 1996, the residents honored the late Pope by building a museum in the hamlet dedicated to his pontificate.
According to a Vatican statement, the Holy Father will pray the Angelus twice during his stay: July 19 in the town of Romano Canavese in the nearby region of Piedmont and July 26 at his residence in Les Combes. As usual, his Wednesday general audiences will be suspended during his vacation.
On his return to Rome, the Holy Father will travel to the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, 20 miles from the Italian capital, where he will spend the rest of the summer.
“We are very pleased that the Holy Father Benedict XVI returns for the third time in Valle d’Aosta,” said Bishop Giuseppe Anfossi of Aosta. “We consider his stay a great grace, and we will be attentive to creating the best conditions to ensure the Holy Father has a calm period of rest.”
The Pope’s chalet, originally built for John Paul II, is located on a mountain hillside about 600 yards from the hamlet of Les Combes. Made of wood, it has a slate roof and two floors connected by a staircase and elevator.
The Holy Father’s room is on the first floor and has a balcony with a commanding view of the Aosta valley and Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest peak. On the ground floor is an upright piano, especially installed for Pope Benedict when he first spent his vacation there in 2005.
The Holy Father is expected to have few visitors and no public engagements apart from the Angelus addresses, although he may call in at a nearby seminary, as he did during his earlier vacations here, and give an impromptu question-and-answer session to priests.
Also in keeping with his previous visits, he may make a brief excursion to Mont Blanc, as well as make short walks in the forests and hills surrounding his residence, which borders the Gran Paradiso national park. His Angelus address there will be held in a sports field adjacent to the chalet. In previous years, up to 7,000 faithful have climbed the mountainside to pray the Angelus with him, with many making the journey from nearby France.
Aosta’s connection with St. Anselm is just part of the region’s rich European Christian heritage. The Via Francigena, the historic pilgrimage route that stretches from Canterbury to Rome, passes through the middle of the region, and the area has countless ancient churches, hermitages and shrines. The region was also home to St. Bernard, who built hospices to welcome many pilgrims, including Pope Innocent II, King Henry IV of England and Federik Barbarossa, the holy Roman emperor.
The founding of Aosta, whose name is derived from its Roman name, Augusta Praetoria, marked the start of the Roman colonization of the region.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the valley passed into the hands of the Burgundian kings, and, from the 11th until 20th century, the Savoy family, who later formed the Italian monarchy, ruled the region.
The town of Romano Canavese is the birthplace of the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. The cardinal is understood to have been a key figure in arranging for the Pope to recite the Angelus there, and he will celebrate Mass in the town shortly before the Pope’s arrival by helicopter.
The Holy Father greatly values his vacations but considers them less as a time of complete rest as an opportunity to study and pray.
Speaking at his weekly general audience June 3, the Pope reminded the faithful that God shouldn’t be forgotten or ignored while on vacation.
“Whether immersed in the frenetic rhythms of work or on vacation, we must set aside time for God,” he said.
“We must open our lives to him by turning to him with a thought, a reflection, a brief prayer, and above all, we must not forget Sunday as the Lord’s day, the day for liturgy,” he added, “in order to see — in the beauty of our churches, of sacred music and the word of God — the beauty of God himself, allowing him to enter into our being.
“Only then can our lives become great; they truly become life.”
Edward Pentin writes