VATICAN CITY — For the third consecutive year, Pope Benedict XVI has chosen to spend his summer vacation in the Castelli hills rather than travel to the northern mountainous regions of Italy.

The Holy Father departed Rome July 3, traveling by helicopter to his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, about 20 miles outside of Rome.

The Pope is said to be especially fond of the Apostolic Palace and gardens at Castel Gandolfo and usually stays there until the first week of October. He has also preferred to vacation closer to Rome since he broke his wrist while on holiday in Valle d’Aosta in 2009.

As is customary during his vacation period, which lasts four weeks, private and special audiences are suspended, as is the Wednesday general audience, which will resume on Aug. 1 at the Apostolic Palace at Castel Gandolfo. But on Sundays and solemnities during this period, the Holy Father will continue to pray the Angelus with the faithful who gather in the courtyard of his summer residence.

During his stay this year, the Pope will be devoting his energies to reading, writing and preparing himself for future engagements. Much of his time is expected to be spent working on completing the third and final volume of his book Jesus of Nazareth, which he began writing on his 2010 vacation. The publication of the volume, which will focus on the Gospel passages relating to Jesus’ childhood, is not expected until the beginning of next year, at the earliest.

The vacation at the papal villa overlooking the tranquility of Lake Albano will be a welcome rest for him and present more of an opportunity for prayer and peace after recent trials. These have included the leaking of confidential Vatican documents, the arrest of his valet, setbacks in the talks between Rome and the Society of St. Pius X and troubles at the Institute for the Works of Religion — the Vatican Bank.

Apart from reciting the Marian prayer on Sundays, the Pope will still have a few engagements. Today, he will visit the motherhouse of the Missionaries of the Divine Word in Nemi, a town bordering another volcanic lake close to Castel Gandolfo.

At 6pm on Wednesday, the feast of St. Benedict, the Pope will attend a private concert featuring the works of Ludwig van Beethoven, performed at the Apostolic Palace by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and conducted by Daniel Barenboim. The orchestra was founded in 1999 by Barenboim, an Argentine native of Russian-Jewish descent, and the late Palestinian critic and author Edward Said. Comprising musicians from Israel, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Turkey and Spain, the orchestra seeks to enable a dialogue between the various cultures of the Middle East. The concert is being held in recognition of Benedict XVI’s promotion of “active dialogue between Jews, Christians and Muslims.”

This will be the second concert Barenboim has performed for the Holy Father this summer. On June 1, he conducted the Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala in Milan in the presence of Benedict, who was attending the World Meeting of Families.

Then, on July 15, the Holy Father will make a pastoral visit to Frascati, also a town in the Castelli hills, famous for its wine, which has been produced for nearly 2,000 years. The Pope will celebrate Mass in the town’s own “St. Peter’s Square” then return to Castel Gandolfo to pray the Angelus.

Once his vacation is over, the Pope is scheduled to meet folk groups from Bavaria on Aug. 3 and attend a concert organized by Caritas Regensburg on Aug. 11. In the morning of Aug. 15, as is customary, the Pope will celebrate Mass in the parish of St. Thomas of Villanova in Castel Gandolfo on the feast of the Assumption. His final engagement at the papal summer residence will be to attend another concert, which will be performed by musicians from the Diocese of Wuerzburg, Germany, on Sept. 26.

The Pope will also be traveling while based at the papal summer residence. From Sept. 14-16, he is scheduled to visit Lebanon, the preparations for which, despite being near war-torn Syria, are continuing well. The Pope will be making the trip to deliver the apostolic exhortation of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East that took place in 2010.

Once back, from the papal villa, the Pope will fly by helicopter to the Marian shrine at Loreto in central Italy on Oct. 4. The aim of the visit is to entrust to the intercession of the Virgin the work of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization that will take place at the Vatican Oct. 7-28 and the Year of Faith, which also begins that month.

The trip will take place on the 50th anniversary of Blessed Pope John XXIII’s historic pilgrimage by train to Assisi and Loreto on the eve of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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