Brazil Bound

CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters
CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters )

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI provided a number of surprises last year. And with a number of significant events scheduled for 2007 — and with the Holy Father’s capacity for spontaneity — more surprises may be in store this year.

Of the events planned, the Pope’s visit to Brazil is among the most anticipated. The main purpose of the visit is to open the fifth general conference of the Latin American bishops’ conference (CELAM) at the Marian shrine in Aparecida.

By coming to Brazil, the Holy Father will be visiting the country with the largest Catholic population in the world, but also a nation that is experiencing growing secularization. And like other Latin American countries, the number of Catholics has also been diminishing because of conversions to the evangelical and Pentecostal sects of Protestantism.

Brazil was also the focus for the liberation theology movement in the 1970s, a doctrinal error that Benedict rejected in the 1980s in his capacity as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Some analysts predict this year’s visit will give him an opportunity to provide a more authentic understanding of the Church’s preferential option for the poor, just as his recent visit to Turkey highlighted the Church’s desire for an intercultural dialogue with Muslims based on truth and charity.

Another widely anticipated event is a motu proprio document through which the Pope would allow broader use of the Tridentine Mass.

Vatican sources say the motu proprio’s text, which is currently being examined and is likely to be issued in early 2007, is not expected to give blanket approval for celebration of the Mass of St. Pius V, as that could create confusion and friction.

Instead, the Holy Father may relax some restrictions requiring local bishops to give explicit permission for a priest to celebrate the Tridentine Mass.

“Circles who insist on celebrating the Tridentine Rite often say that it is the only valid rite and that the new rite [promulgated in 1969] is heretical, and that’s the problem,” said Abbot Notker Wolf, Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Order.

The publication of a post-synodal document on the Eucharist is also expected early this year.

Another possible document might address the hot-button question of condom use as a means of HIV/AIDS prevention. Speaking to the Register Dec. 20, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Health Care, said a draft document on the matter, which was initially assembled by his council, is now being examined by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Cardinal Lozano could not say when a final document was likely to be published. But Vatican sources confirm that it is a priority of the Pope to correct false media claims that the Church is about to change its position regarding the immorality of using condoms as a means of contraception.

“Benedict XVI is very disturbed when he hears intellectually untenable positions,” said one official. “The teaching simply cannot change.”


Benedict’s Book

In March, the Pope’s new book Jesus of Nazareth: From His Baptism to His Transfiguration will be published. According to papal spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the book, which the Holy Father began writing in 2003, is “not a long encyclical on Jesus, but a personal presentation of the figure of Jesus by the theologian Joseph Ratzinger.”

Meanwhile, other papal pilgrimages are planned. In September, Benedict will travel to Austria to mark the 850th anniversary of the Mariazell, a Marian shrine on the Danube. The trip will also include a visit to Vienna.

The Pope has also been invited to Berlin March 25 for a special session of the European Council to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which marked the beginnings of the European Union. Although that trip has not yet been confirmed, it would afford a chance for the Holy Father to underline the importance of the Christian roots of Europe.

Closer to home in Italy, Benedict will travel to Assisi June 17, and possibly to Ravenna this fall to open the joint Catholic-Orthodox theological commission with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Such a meeting, and a planned Vatican symposium on Catholic-Muslim relations, would add substance to ongoing dialogue in both areas.

“After years of signs of courtesy,” said Abbot Wolf, “it’s high time to get down to work.”

Edward Pentin

writes from Rome.