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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Official Vatican Photo of Pope Francis Released

The Vatican News Service released this official photo of the new Holy Father with his signature. It's dated the day of his election. According to the news service: "In the crucifix is the image of Jesus the Good Shepherd, carrying the sheep on his shoulders, with the flock following him."  

I think it's a great photo.  Does it look like a Polaroid?  Check out the signature, it doesn't match the forgeries I talked about here.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Simony or Scam- Need a Rosary Blessed by the Pope?

Have you looked on eBay since the papal election?  If you haven't, go ahead and type "Pope Francis" into the search bar.  When I did it, there were 2,433 related things for sale.  You'll find all sorts of papal memorabilia, ranging from commemorative t-shirts to a large clock featuring the Holy Father's head.  Sadly, the first listing that came up for me was a little surprising: 50 rosaries supposedly blessed by Pope Francis on 3/14/2013.  The listing goes as far as to say "Great resale opportunity" and that each rosary comes with a "proof of blessing."  Want to see it yourself?  Here's a link to eBay item #251247240040.

So I guess I should provide some background about how people get religious articles blessed by the pope.  If you visit the Vatican and see the pope during his regular General Audience on Wednesdays, he will impart a formal Apostolic Blessing.  It's clearly stated that his intention is to bless all in attendance and any religious object brought to the audience for him to bless.  Most people bring crosses or religious medals, but to give you an idea of how far people take this, there were some pilgrims carrying a very large (and heavy) statue at the audience I attended with Benedict XVI. I had no idea how they got it there, or how they were going to get it back out.

Unfortunately, there's always people trying to make a quick buck (or a Euro in Italy), and will do so at the cost of sin. This sort of thing isn't anything new; even in the Old Testament sacred items were being traded for profit.  If you dig into eBay's history, you'll see where there has been ongoing scandal (that periodically catches media attention) including the selling of consecrated hosts, holy oils, various types of relics, and so forth.  Outside of any sinful intention, many Christians have created an online market on eBay for sought after relics because it's an easy way to obtain them for private veneration.  There are even religious groups that raise money to try to purchase authentic relics from eBay and other similar websites to prevent the sacred from being treated like tokens or artifacts. 

A big part of the problem is that it's hard to verify the authenticity of things.  For this particular auction listing for the blessed rosaries, it shows a picture of the "proof of blessing" that comes with each rosary.  Funny thing is, if you go to another auction listing by the same seller, what is supposed to be the pope's signature is very different! 

Besides, how do you know what the new pope's signature looks like? And just to clarify, the Vatican doesn't offer a "proof of blessing" on any random item that's brought to a papal audience, there's no way it could keep up with such a demand.

So let's pretend these rosaries were actually blessed by Pope Francis. If that's the case, then is it sinful to sell them? You bet it is. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls it simony. Paragraph 2121 clearly defines it and refers to Simon the magician who tried to purchase spiritual abilities from the Apostles Peter and John (Acts 8). Canon 1171 also addresses blessed objects: "Sacred things which are destined for divine worship through dedication or a blessing are to be treated with reverence and not be employed for improper or profane use even if they are under the control of private individuals."

You might be able to argue that the seller isn't selling the blessing, just the beads and chain that make up the rosary. Maybe the sale price covers the cost of the seller's time and efforts to obtain the rosaries and get them blessed.  Perhaps the seller is actually doing a service for people that can't get to the pope to get their rosary blessed.  I suppose you can make an argument for these points.  What I can say with certainty is if 90% of the price goes into the seller's pocket, then it's probably simony, a scam, or both.

Don't get me wrong.  It's good to offer a service for people, especially providing religious goods, and there's nothing wrong with making a living doing so.  It's perfectly acceptable for shrines and retreat centers to sell medals, crosses, and spiritual books.  It's great that your parish might have a gift shop that sells First Communion and Confirmation gifts which helps raise money for the church.  The big difference is that the clergy are happy to bless the items AFTER they are purchased, and you're not being lied to or scammed!

Some people might think I'm being too technical here, but the bottom line is that blessed objects aren't merchandise and shouldn't be sold.  If something is purchased and blessed afterwards, there's nothing wrong with that unless it's sold again, especially if it's being sold because it's blessed.  

So what do you do if you want to get a rosary blessed by the pope but can't get to Rome?  Anything but buy one already blessed.  The best thing to do is talk to a priest or vowed religious you know.  Chances are he/she can connect you with someone who is going to Rome or who is currently studying or working there.  That person can take your item or obtain one there for you, get it blessed by the pope, and get it back to you.  People who travel to Rome are asked to do this all the time.  Another option is contacting one of the reputable gift shops in Rome. A decent store near the Vatican will sell you the item, then take it to the next General Audience and have it blessed for no additional charge.  If the item is advertised as already blessed, or they charge you a fee for getting it blessed, then don't use them.

Final thought.  Want to know what's more important than a rosary blessed by the pope?  A rosary used for prayer.

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3/21/2013 Update: I sent the eBay seller a message with a link to this blog article. To my surprise, he replied back. To be fair and charitable, what he wrote has been added as a comment below. I'm a little skeptical, but take a look and let me know what you think!  

Also, I did just find Pope Francis' signature with his official photo. You can see it here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Some Thoughts On The New Pope

Before talking about our new pope, can I point out how fascinated I am with the Church and modern technology? 

Never before have billions of people been able to watch the chimney at the Sistine Chapel yet never step foot in St Peter's Square.  Probably with only a few exceptions, the entire world found out about the new bishop of Rome within moments thanks to the news media and internet.  Compared to a thousand years ago (or say a hundred popes ago), it might have taken half a century to find out about the election of a new pope. It's quite possible that Rome may have been through a couple more popes before people in far away lands found out the first one had died!

For me, I definitely took advantage of all the technology I could.  A few minutes after 2PM, I was bombarded with constant text messages while watching a live feed on a colleagues iPhone and monitoring all the posts on Facebook and Twitter on another device before making it to a television.  I wanted to see and hear the new pope for the first time.  Like so many, I had never experienced it before.

It was all worth it, and in fact I was absolutely captivated by Pope Francis.  When he came onto the loggia of St Peter's Basilica and quietly stood there (with some shock and awe), I could tell he was a holy man.  Wearing only the white cassock, and forgoing the rochet covered by the red mozzetta normally worn by his predecessors, his simplicity was obvious (especially when the prelates and attendants around him were all decked out in their ecclesiastical best).  He didn't even wear his stole until he blessed the assembly.

He seems to be very personable and a man of humility, as evidenced by his first words to the Church.  Here is the text from the Vatican News website:

Brothers and sisters good evening.
You all know that the duty of the Conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother Cardinals have gone almost to the ends of the earth to get him… but here we are. I thank you for the welcome that has come from the diocesan community of Rome.

First of all I would like to say a prayer pray for our Bishop Emeritus Benedict XVI. Let us all pray together for him, that the Lord will bless him and that our Lady will protect him.

And now let us begin this journey, the Bishop and the people, this journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches, a journey of brotherhood in love, of mutual trust. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world that there might be a great sense of brotherhood. My hope is that this journey of the Church that we begin today, together with the help of my Cardinal Vicar, may be fruitful for the evangelization of this beautiful city.

And now I would like to give the blessing. But first I want to ask you a favor. Before the Bishop blesses the people I ask that you would pray to the Lord to bless me – the prayer of the people for their Bishop. Let us say this prayer – your prayer for me – in silence.

I will now give my blessing to you and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will.

Brothers and sisters, I am leaving you. Thank you for your welcome. Pray for me and I will be with you again soon... We will see one another soon.

Tomorrow I want to go to pray to the Madonna, that she may protect Rome.
Good night and sleep well!

I knew very little about Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio before his election to the papacy today, but I'm delighted in what I have heard so far.  He was a late vocation with a graduate degree in chemistry before entering formation.  He is the first member of the Society of Jesus to be elected Pontiff.  As a part-product of Jesuit higher education, I know the Society gets a bad rap sometimes (and many times it's well deserved), however I've come to know so many of them who are faithful servants, often committed to the poor and other important social justice issues as Cardinal Bergoglio was.  I also heard that as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he resided in an apartment and often took public transportation to the office- not the perceived norm of an archbishop and member of the College of Cardinals.

In his former posts, he was known for being straight forward and for his efficacy, some of which the world saw when His Holiness asked the massive crowd in St Peter's Square to pray for him in silence.  He bowed his head, and they did.

I also have to say, I love the new name, and it seems to match up with the first impressions of the new Holy Father. I'm really surprised that no previous pope had ever taken the name since so many have a devotion to St Francis. Initially, I wasn't sure if he took the name in honor of St Francis of Assisi or for St Francis Xavier (one of the founders of the Jesuits, and also my son's patron). All credible sources say it is for St Francis of Assisi which is consistent with his episcopal motto  "Lowly yet chosen." 

I'm looking forward to getting to know this new pope.  Thanks to all the modern technology available to us, we now can. 

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Funny side note, I'm glad that Vatican has clarified that the Holy Father will be known as "Pope Francis" not "Pope Francis I."  It's a little weird to be called "the first" without having "a second."  It would be like naming a child "John Smith, Sr" without knowing if there will ever be a John Smith, Jr.

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