Vatican Media Watch

Work Starts on Nativity Scene at St. Peter's

ANSA, Nov. 15 — Vatican preparations for Christmas got under way Nov. 15 as workmen began erecting the traditional Nativity scene in front of St Peter's Basilica, the Italian news agency reported.

The Nativity scene has been a regular Christmas fixture in St Peter's since 1982, when the custom of building a 13-foot-high house with life-size figures in it was started by Pope John Paul II. Along with a giant fir tree which is always placed near it in the square, the creche has become a Vatican fixture, and families often make special trips to see it.

Nativity scenes were the cause of controversy in Italy last year after several schools decided against having one in order to avoid offending Muslim pupils. Amid the controversy, John Paul II stressed that they were part of Christian culture.

He said, “They are a familiar and expressive representation of Christmas. They are an element of our culture and our art.”

Iraqi President Discusses Freedom With the Pope

AKI, Nov. 10 — Iraqi President Jalal Talabani met Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican on Thursday for talks believed to have centered on religious freedoms in Iraq and the country's new constitution, the news service Adnkronos International reported.

The Vatican is seeking a commitment by the Baghdad government because it fears that the Christian community, a tiny minority in a traditionally Muslim country, may be marginalized in the ongoing political processes and forced to flee from Islamic fundamentalism.

Talabani had a brief private audience with the Holy Father, followed by a meeting with Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano. Talabani also met with Italy's top officials, including Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The president stated, “I explained to His Holiness that the Iraqi Constitution will consider all Iraqis — Christians included — equal and will respect all religions. All kinds of freedoms will be guaranteed for all.”

Vatican Newspaper Denounces Abortion Pill

AGENZIA GIORNALISTICA ITALIA, Nov. 15 — L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's daily newspaper, claims that “a sort of contest between regions that are becoming avant-garde banners of the denial of the value of life” has developed as a result of the latest requests for authorization for experimentation on the abortion pill RU-486, the Italian news service reported.

The column “Rome Watchdog” stated the contest was “in the name of a misinterpreted lay status of the state, in the name of scientific progress that alleviates people's suffering, in the name of supposed emancipation of women.”

It is a “cruel, cynical hypocrisy, because the morning-after abortion pill aims at disguising the real nature of the abortion that it in fact comprises and remains a suppression of an innocent human life.”

Human life, the column stated, “is not something that is dispensable, something that can be the subject of banal experimentation to be used on a standardized and easy basis as a popular [and the most tragically effective] means of birth control.”

Irishman Named British Ambassador to the Vatican

GUARDIAN UNLIMITED, Nov. 15 — The Foreign and Commonwealth Office raised eyebrows in diplomatic circles when it announced an Irish Catholic in his mid-30s is to be the new British ambassador to the Vatican, the British website reported.

Francis Campbell, 35, is a former foreign policy adviser to Tony Blair.

He will be the first Irishman to represent Great Britain abroad since the partition of Ireland in 1921.