With the new year barely started, Pope Benedict XVI's calendar is filling up fast with several major events.
The pontiff’s schedule includes four foreign trips, a major meeting of bishops on the Middle East, and a large Rome conference in honor of priests. The Pope also may appoint several new cardinals and announce a number of canonizations and beatifications, one of which may be that of Pope John Paul II.
Benedict also turns 83 this year and will celebrate five years as supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church.
One of his most significant engagements will take place Jan. 17, when he makes a much-anticipated trip to Rome’s synagogue across the Tiber. The Pope is expected to use the occasion to help ease Jewish concerns over his decree last month attributing “heroic virtues” to Pope Pius XII.
Despite persuasive historical evidence that the wartime Pope acted heroically to save Jews during World War II, many Jewish leaders remain unconvinced and would rather that the Pope had waited until the Vatican’s archives on Pius’ pontificate were made available to the public — something not expected to happen for another five years.
The Pope won’t be making any long-distance journeys this year but will embark on an historic trip to England and Scotland in mid-September. It will be the first papal state visit to Britain, although the Vatican has declined the ceremonial trappings that usually accompany such a visit (a stay at Buckingham Palace and a ride in a horse-drawn carriage down the Mall are out).
But the visit still promises to be a momentous one. Informed sources say the Pope is likely to address politicians and diplomats in London, give a lecture at the University of Oxford, and meet Queen Elizabeth in Scotland.
The trip’s main purpose, however, will be the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman. Benedict has long been an admirer of the 19th-century English theologian, and he is expected to break with precedent and preside over the ceremony himself in Birmingham on Sept. 19.
His U.K. trip will follow three other foreign visits:
- In April, the Pope will travel to Malta to mark the 1,950th anniversary of when the Apostle Paul was shipwrecked on the island.
- The following month, he will make a pilgrimage to the Marian Shrine of Fatima in Portugal.
- And in June he’ll fly to Cyprus, principally to present the working document for the Synod of Bishops on the Middle East scheduled for October. While there, he will continue his efforts to reach out to the Orthodox Church and his visit just might include the first-ever meeting between a Pope and the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Closer to home, the Pope is scheduled to visit the Shroud of Turin, believed to be the cloth that covered Jesus after his crucifixion, on May 2. The Shroud is on public display for a limited time (April 10 to May 23).
In July and September, Benedict will visit two Italian towns closely associated with two popes: Popes Celestine V (the only pope to have abdicated and whose birth took place 800 years ago this year) and Leo XIII (the oldest pope, who was born 200 years ago this year and died at the age of 93).
In October, Benedict will fly to the Sicilian capital, Palermo, to participate in a meeting with families and youth. He may use the occasion to condemn the Mafia, which continues to plague the island, although Mafia crimes are now more prevalent in Naples and the nearby region of Calabria.
Also that month the Pope will host the synod on the Middle East attended by Church leaders from across the region. The persecution of Christians and their large-scale emigration from the region will be high on the agenda.
Other Possible Events on Papal Schedule
Less certain but by no means impossible this year is a consistory, a formal meeting of the church’s College of Cardinals the Pope could convoke. If it takes place, Benedict is expected to make between 12 and 19 new cardinals, one of whom is almost certain to be American Archbishop Raymond L. Burke. Born in Richland Center, Wis., Burke is widely respected in church circles for his holiness and intellect. He now is prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the nearest office the Catholic Church has to a supreme court, which usually has a cardinal as its head.
The Pope also may announce up to half a dozen or so senior appointments within the Vatican as several cardinal heads of Vatican departments reach or exceed the usual retirement age of 75.
Also this year, Benedict hopes to publish the second volume of his book “Jesus of Nazareth” and may release his conclusions on a major meeting on the Bible, which took place in 2008.
Many Vatican observers last year drew attention to Pope Benedict’s efforts to foster Christian unity, leading some to call him the “Pope of Christian Unity.” His concerns in this area are likely to continue in 2010, not only with the Orthodox Church but also in his attempts to bring back the breakaway traditionalist Society of St. Pius X (the society split from the church in the 1980s after refusing to accept reforms of the Second Vatican Council). Last year, the Vatican and the society agreed to meet bi-monthly, with a view to restoring unity. The fruits of those meetings may begin to be seen this year.
Also of interest this year will be how many groups of Anglicans respond to the Pope’s provision, announced last year, to accommodate large numbers of disaffected Anglicans into the Catholic Church. How it will impact ongoing dialogue with the Anglican Communion also may become clearer this year.
Relations with Islam are likely to top the Pope’s agenda over the next 12 months, especially as concerns over terrorism by Islamic extremists resurface.
Catholic-Jewish relations also could occupy much of the Pope’s time as the effects of previous decisions continue to rankle with Jewish groups.
Finally, the Pope undoubtedly will continue to remind Europeans that their continent risks falling into an abyss of secularism and relativism unless they return to the continent’s Christian roots.
Therefore, a number of familiar issues will remain very much part of this pontificate in 2010. But as with each of the past five years, expect a few surprises, too.
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