Happy Birthday, Vatican City!

Pope John Paul II's plans for February include many traditional appointments, the ongoing once-every-five-years ad limina visits by (this time) French bishops, audiences for heads of state, two special World Days and Vatican City's own Independence Day on Feb 11.

Feb. 2, Candlemas Day, the feast of the Presentation of Our Lord, marks the eighth World Day of Consecrated Life, a special day instituted by John Paul to celebrate the role of consecrated men and women. It's traditionally celebrated with a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, preceded by the liturgy of light, the lighting and blessing of candles, and a procession.

As the Holy Father put it: “The feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is especially suitable to host the grateful praise of consecrated persons. … The image of Mary who, in the Temple, offers her Son to God speaks eloquently to the hearts of the men and women who have totally given themselves to the Lord through the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for the Kingdom of heaven.”

Feb. 11 is a Vatican holiday as residents and Curia officials celebrate Vatican City State's birth as a sovereign entity. This year, the tiny city-state of 108.7 acres — the size of an average 18-hole golf course — is marking the 75th anniversary of the signing of the Lateran Pacts. The treaties were signed Feb. 11, 1929, in the popes’ room of the Lateran Palace by Benito Mussolini, the representative of the king of Italy, and by Cardinal Pietro Gasbarri, the secretary of state of Pope Pius XI.

The Lateran Pacts ended the famous “Roman question” that strained relations between the popes and the state of Italy after 1870. For many centuries before then, popes had temporal authority over the fairly extensive Papal States. When the Papal States were annexed by the kingdom of Italy in 1870, the popes sought compensation that was not obtained until the signing of the Lateran Pacts.

The Lateran Pacts were a triple agreement: a political treaty, a financial convention and a concordat. Ratified in June 1929, they were inserted in the Italian Constitution in 1947. Among other things these agreements established the sovereign Vatican City State, made Catholicism the official religion of Italy and regulated Church-state relations. The concordat was revised in 1984, at which time Catholicism was no longer the official state religion.

Feb. 11 also marks the 12th World Day of the Sick. A Mass will be celebrated at 4 p.m. in St. Peter's Basilica in the presence of many invalids as well as members of Unitalsi, an Italian organization that accompanies the ill on pilgrimages to Lourdes. John Paul will come to the basilica at the conclusion of Mass and bless the sick and their caregivers. He instituted this day in a letter dated May 13, 1992 — exactly 11 years after he nearly died from an assassin's bullet — asking that it be celebrated annually on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

On Feb. 12, the Pope will welcome Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez. Two days later he will greet pilgrims from Slovakia, possibly including the country's President Rudolf Schuster. On Feb. 21 he will welcome members of the community of the Roman Major Seminary for their annual visit and on Feb. 26 he will welcome the clergy of Rome for their traditional annual visit.

The morning of Feb. 19 there will be a ceremony in the presence of the Holy Father for the promulgation of decrees for several causes of canonization.

That same day the Old Synod Hall will host a meeting to mark the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Pontifical Academy for Life. On Feb. 11, 1994, John Paul instituted this pontifical academy, whose objectives are the study of the principal problems of biomedicine and law in defense of life, above all in the direct relation they have with Christian morality and the directives of the magisterium.

The last days of February mark the start of Lent and the spiritual retreat for the Pope, heads of dicasteries and other high-ranking Curia members.

Feb. 25, Ash Wednesday, the Pope will preside at the celebration of the word and the imposition of ashes at 10:30 a.m. in Paul VI Hall. All those who have requested tickets for the weekly general audience will be invited to participate in this event. There will be no traditional Ash Wednesday afternoon service in the basilica of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill.

The annual, weeklong Lenten retreat for the Roman Curia starts Feb. 29 in the Vatican's Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the presence of the Holy Father. For a virtual tour of this stunning, newly redone chapel, visit www.vatican.va/redemptoris_ma ter/index_en.htm.

Joan Lewis works for Vatican

Information Service.