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Pope Francis: Everyone must help promote human rights

Vatican City, Dec 10, 2018 / 12:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Everyone should, according to his or her specific gifts, fight to protect the fundamental rights of individuals, Pope Francis said Monday in a message to an international gathering on the topic. “Each person is therefore called to contribute with courage and determination, in the specificity of their role, to the respect of the fundamental rights of every person,” the pope wrote Dec. 10. “Especially [the rights] of those [who are] ‘invisible:’ of many who are hungry and thirsty, who are naked, sick, a stranger or imprisoned, who live on the margins of society or are discarded.” “This need for justice and solidarity,” he pointed out, “has a special significance for us Christians, because the Gospel itself invites us to turn our gaze to the least of our brothers and sisters, to be moved to compassion and to concretely commit ourselves to alleviate their suffering.” Pope Francis’ message was sent to the international conference “Human Rights in the Contemporary World: Achievements, Omissions, Negations,” taking place in Rome Dec. 10-11 at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Held on the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the conference included a keynote by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, given Dec. 10, and panels by international experts in the field of human rights. Also present at the conference were members of the Holy See’s diplomatic corps and representatives of the United Nations, Council of Europe, the bishops’ Justice and Peace commission, the academic world, and civil society. “I wish, on this occasion,” the pope wrote, “to address a heartfelt appeal to those with institutional responsibilities, asking them to place human rights at the center of all policies, including those of development cooperation, even when this means going against the current.” On the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “an in-depth reflection on the foundation and respect for human rights in the contemporary world seems opportune,” he said, adding that he hopes it will herald in a “renewed commitment to the defense of human dignity, with special attention to the most vulnerable members of the community.” He noted that contemporary society continues to fall short of upholding and protecting the equal dignity of all human beings as it should, with many injustices continuing in the world today, including that of great disparity in wealth, with one part of society living “in opulence” and another “disowned, despised, or trampled.” He listed, in particular, “the unborn children who are denied the right to come into the world,” “those who do not have access to the indispensable means for a dignified life,” those without access to education or just work, those forced into slavery or inhuman conditions, those subjected to torture “or who are denied the opportunity to redeem themselves,” and the victims of “forced disappearance” and their families. “My thoughts,” he said, “also go to all those who live in a climate dominated by suspicion and contempt, which are the subject of acts of intolerance, discrimination and violence because of their racial, ethnic, national or religious affiliation.” Pope Francis also recalled those who suffer violations of their fundamental rights due to armed conflicts “while unscrupulous merchants of death are enriched at the price of their brothers’ and sisters’ blood.” “In the face of these serious phenomena, we are all called upon [to help],” he said.

Pope Francis: Advent demands conversion, recognizing our mistakes

Vatican City, Dec 9, 2018 / 06:46 am (CNA).- Advent is a time of waiting and expectation, Pope Francis said Sunday, but this season also requires a “journey of conversion.” “To prepare the way for the Lord who comes, it is necessary to take into account the demands of conversion,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus address Dec. 9. Conversion requires changing your attitude, Francis explained. “It leads to humbly recognizing our mistakes, our infidelities, and defaults.” The pope focused on the invitation of St. John the Baptist, who proclaimed a baptism of repentance as a voice of one crying out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” “The Baptist invited the people of his time to conversion with force, vigor, and severity,” Francis said. “Yet he knew how to listen, he knew how to perform gestures of tenderness, gestures of forgiveness towards the multitude of men and women who came to him to confess their sins and be baptized.” “Even today, the disciples of Jesus are called to be his humble, but courageous witnesses to rekindle hope,” the pope said. The pope suggested that each person asks, “How can I change something in my attitude to prepare the way for the Lord?”  One necessary step is “making concrete gestures of reconciliation with our brothers, asking for forgiveness of our faults,” he explained. “The Lord helps us in this, if we have good will.” Christians are called to help people understand that “despite everything, the kingdom of God continues to be built day by day with the power of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “May the Virgin Mary help us to prepare the way of the Lord day by day, beginning with ourselves,” Pope Francis prayed.

On feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis points to Mary’s trust in God

Vatican City, Dec 8, 2018 / 08:43 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis encouraged Catholics to imitate Mary’s deep trust and openness to God when faced with serious problems. “Today we look at the beauty of Our Lady, who was born and lived without sin, always docile and transparent with God. This does not mean that life was easy for her. Living with God does not magically solve problems,” Francis told pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square Dec. 8. Pope Francis highlighted Mary’s radical trust at the moment of the Annunciation found in her response to the angel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” “Why not start your days like this? It would be nice to say every morning: ‘Here I am, Lord, today your will be done in me,” Pope Francis said, noting that the Angelus prayer provides an opportunity to repeat Mary’s words. After the Annunciation, the angel departed and Mary’s “problems began immediately,” he said. Mary knew that “she would become the Mother of God, but the angel had not explained it to others,” Francis explained. “Think of her irregular situation according to the law, the torment of St. Joseph, the skipped life plans, what the people would say …” “The angel leaves the Virgin alone in a difficult situation … And she trusts,” he said. “We ask the Immaculate to have the grace to live like this.” The pope expressed joy at the beatification of the Bishop Peter Claverie and 18 martyred companions, who were proclaimed blessed in Algeria on the feast day.  “Their courageous testimony is a source of hope for the Algerian Catholic community and a seed of dialogue for the whole of society,” Francis said. Pope Francis later prayed in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, venerating the Byzantine icon, “Salus Populi Romani,” inside. The Holy Father then offered a bouquet of flowers at the foot of the Column of the Immaculate Conception in the piazza below Rome’s Spanish Steps. Standing beneath the nineteenth-century Marian monument, Pope Francis entrusted all priests, religious, and Catholic families to the care of the Immaculate Mother. “O Mother of Jesus, one last thing I ask you, in this time of Advent, thinking of the days when you and Joseph were anxious about the imminent birth of your child, worried because there was a census and you had to leave your country, Nazareth, and go to Bethlehem,” Pope Francis prayed. “You know what it means to bring life into your lap and feel indifference, rejection, and sometimes contempt. This is why I ask you to stay close to the families that are living today in Rome, in Italy, in the whole world live in similar situations, so that they are not abandoned.”

Scottish mall refuses to allow nativity scene amid Christmas display

Edinburgh, Scotland, Dec 8, 2018 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Both Catholics and Protestants in Scotland are lamenting a shopping center's decision not to include a nativity scene in its Christmas display. Thistles Shopping Centre in Stirling, fewer than 40 miles northwest of Edinburgh, said it will it not include a nativity scene in its Christmas display this year, noting the mall “prides itself on being religious and politically neutral,” according to The Scotsman, an Edinburgh daily. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh said Dec. 5 that “At this time of year Christmas cribs grace many public squares all across the British Isles, bringing joy to nearly all who encounter them, regardless of their religion. And so it seems just a wee bit, well, Grinch-like for the Thistles Shopping Centre to ban the Christmas crib, and in the true spirit of Christmas, we would certainly ask them to reconsider their decision.” The Church of Scotland also lamented the decision of the shopping center, with a spokeswoman saying, “We find it very disappointing that the true meaning of Christmas has been completely lost here. When a shopping centre can focus purely on commercialism to the exclusion of the reason for the celebration of Christmas it is a sad day for all of us.” Stephen Kerr, member of parliament for Stirling, and the Legion of Mary have both requested that Thistles install a nativity scene. "While we understand that no one wants religious or political evangelists in a shopping centre, the request was simply to have a nativity, which would be manned and anyone approaching could ask about it,” said the Legion on Facebook.

Options emerge for handling the ‘other sexual abuse crisis’

Washington D.C., Dec 7, 2018 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The recent sexual abuse scandals which have rocked the Church in the United States and beyond have mostly focused on the abuse of minors. At the same time, many recent revelations and allegations, as in the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, have involved the sexual abuse or harassment of adults.   How the Church deals with clerical sexual misconduct when it does not involve minors remains a thorny issue, but an increasingly urgent one. Independent investigations are currently underway by local bishops to examine allegations of serious sexual misconduct in seminaries in Boston, Philadelphia, and Newark.   In a recent interview, Pope Francis highlighted how a “fashionable” acceptance of homosexual relations had entered the Church. During the recent USCCB assembly in Baltimore, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler made the same point, offering it as the explanation for how McCarrick was serially promoted, despite his sexual behavior apparently being known to the hierarchy.   Also in Baltimore, Cardinal Séan O’Malley of Boston, who heads of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, said that the bishops need to have a “fulsome discussion about adult misconduct and how to deal with that.”   Such a discussion could play a crucial role in forming a common answer to a problem looming large, both in America and Rome. While not yet drawing much attention, several different ideas have begun to surface.   O’Malley offered his own recommendation for how to address the issue, at least in part.   “I wonder if now is not the time to change the definition of vulnerable adult which we have been using in canon law,” the cardinal told the bishops.   The gravest crimes in the Church are handled by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Regarding sexually abusive relationships, their competence extends to cases of the abuse of minors and “vulnerable adults.”   The CDF’s current definition of a vulnerable adult is someone who “habitually lacks the use of reason,” essentially someone with a clearly diminished psychological or rational capacity.   The definition does not apply to many recent cases including, or example, the allegations that McCarrick sexually imposed himself on seminarians. Nor does it apply to instances where priests or bishops take advantage of a spiritual or hierarchical relationship to coerce or groom a subordinate, employee, or parishioner into an illicit sexual relationship.   Some bishops are left exasperated when cases of clear clerical sexual misconduct are returned to them by the CDF as not falling under their narrow legal purview, even when the matter is clearly serious.   Some CDF officials have themselves been left with similar frustrations as they try to make headway with the McCarrick case under intense pressure to deliver a result, but with many of the allegations not appearing to violate a specific canon law.   “I think we need to extend [the definition of vulnerable] to adults who can be the victims of abuse of power,” O’Malley said in Baltimore.   An expanded definition along the lines suggested by O’Malley would allow the CDF to treat the cases of sexual misconduct like those alleged against McCarrick.   It could also allow for cases involving lay men and women induced into a relationship with a priest giving them pastoral care to be termed “vulnerable” and come under the same legal treatment as the abuse of minors. It is worth noting that in several states sexual contact between a minister and someone under their pastoral care is a criminal offence. In several states, including for example Minnesota, the consent of the other party is not a defence under the law.   But some worry that broadening the scope of cases handled by the CDF could lead to total gridlock at the already stretched congregation. Prominent voices like Marie Collins, herself an abuse survivor and former member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, have drawn repeated attention to the lack of manpower at the CDF for handling existing cases of abuse of minors.   Some have also raised the point that illicit sexual contact between adults should not be conflated with the abuse of minors, even if there are apparently aggravating circumstances. Abuse of minors, they note, has its own special gravity.   During the Baltimore meeting, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago noted that sexual misconduct by clerics with adults and minors were completely different situations, and should be handled differently.   “I would strongly urge that they be separate [in the way they are handled] because it’s a different discipline,” Cupich told the U.S. bishops.   “In some of the cases with adults involving clerics it could be consensual sex, anonymous [sex], but also involving adult pornography. There is a whole different set of circumstances that need to come into play here as it is examined, and a whole different skill set as well.”   Cupich noted that the Chicago archdiocese uses a separate disciplinary board for misconduct involving adults and said that “it really does help us sort out the issues.”   While there are some concerns about broadening the definition of a vulnerable adult, other options are being discussed. One of these involves handling clerical sexual misconduct with adults simply as a moral failure and a violation of clerical continence.   Bishops already have the authority to punish clerics engaging in illicit sexual relations. But in severe cases where they want to see the priest laicized, a bishop has to petition the pope through the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy. Laicization is usually only granted in cases where the barriers to and eventual return to ministry are insurmountable, like the fathering of children or severe public scandal.   CNA has learned that some such cases have recently been handled in a new way, one which can take account of coercive pressure or abuse of power, and result in laicization when appropriate, but which keeps the distinction between illicit sexual behavior by clerics and the specific abuse of minors or vulnerable adults as currently defined.   Some canonists familiar with recent decisions by the Congregation for Clergy have told CNA that abuse of office has begun to be applied as an aggravating factor in some cases of sexual misconduct with adults. Canon law provides for this to be done already (canon 1326, 2º), but abuse of office has not previously been invoked when treating cases of adult sexual misconduct.   In the case of a priest who, for example, engages in the sexual coercion of seminarians, or has an illicit affair with a parish employee or parishioner, it has been unlikely that Rome would grant laicization absent a long-established pattern of punishment and reoffending, even in cases where the behavior continued for a period of years before detection.   Applying abuse of office as an aggravating factor allows for distinctions to be drawn between cases in which there is evidence of coercion or abuse of power versus one-off lapses or relations where the cleric’s ministry was not a factor, and for different levels of punishment where appropriate.   CNA spoke to a canonist who works closely with the Congregation for Clergy on such cases. They said that while this newly developing method was not a perfect solution to handling cases of sexual misconduct with adults, it offered a practical way forward.   “It’s one way to canonically recognize the gravity of an illicit sexual relationship by a cleric without trying to make every case analogous to the abuse of a minor,” they told CNA. “It doesn’t mean every guilty priest can or should be laicized, but it does create the scope for escalating punishments where they are merited.”   Such an approach, which provides greater scope for assessing individual cases and weighing mitigating and aggravating circumstances, could prove prescient.   In an interview released last week, Pope Francis seemed to acknowledge what some have been calling a crisis of continence among certain sections of the clergy.   “This is something I am concerned about, because perhaps at one time it did not receive much attention,” the pope said, calling active homosexuality among the clergy in some places “a reality we can't deny.”   The reality does appear to be undeniable; statistics indicate that as much as 80 percent of sexual abuse allegations against clergy concern boys or young men.   While underlining the prohibition on ordaining men with deep-seated homosexual tendencies, the pope went on to say that gay priests had a duty to live celibacy with “impeccable responsibility” and that if they could not “it's better for them to leave the ministry or the consecrated life rather than to live a double life.”   While the pope’s mind appears to be clear, there is – at present – no settled mechanism for local bishops to conform to it.   While it remains to be seen how much attention will be given to clerical sexual misconduct generally during the February meeting of the heads of the world’s bishops’ conferences in Rome, it is increasingly clear that sexual abuse of minors cannot be discussed or addressed in isolation.   Solving a wider crisis of clerical sexual misconduct will require a bigger conversation, one that may be happening already.

The Algerian martyrs shed their blood for Christ, pope says

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2018 / 10:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Ahead of the beatification Saturday of Bishop Pierre Claverie and his 18 companions, who were martyred in Algeria between 1994 and 1996, Pope Francis said martyrs have a special place in the Church. “The Church has always paid special devotion to the martyrs, who have faith and love for the Lord Jesus, even to the shedding of their blood as witness,” he wrote in a letter to Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu. Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Becciu, as the pope’s envoy, will celebrate the Dec. 8 beatification of the 19 Algerian martyrs at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Holy Cross in Oran. In his letter, composed in Latin, the pope recalled the suffering and persecution experienced by Christ, quoting his words to his disciples that “a servant is no greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” These words have been confirmed throughout time and place in the persecution and martyrdom of Christians, he continued. “Persecutions are not a reality of the past,” he said, quoting his 2018 apostolic exhortation Gaudete et exsultate, “for today too we experience them, whether by the shedding of blood, as is the case with so many contemporary martyrs, or by more subtle means, by slander and lies.” He also said that “at other times, persecution can take the form of gibes that try to caricature our faith and make us seem ridiculous.” But Christians should not be afraid of persecution, Francis said, because Christ told his followers that “all power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. […] And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” The death of these 19 martyrs has acted like a seed planted in the desert, and “the seeds have sprouted,” resulting in the growth of virtues, Francis said. The martyrs loved eternal life more than death, and now “they possess what they loved, and they will possess it even more fully at the resurrection of the dead.” Pope Francis authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to recognize the martyrdoms in January. Bishop Claverie, who was a French Algerian and the Bishop of Oran from 1981 until his Aug. 1, 1996 martyrdom, is one of the future blesseds. He and his companions were killed during the Algerian Civil War by Islamists. In addition to Claverie, those being beatified are: Brother Henri Vergès, Sister Paul-Hélène Saint-Raymond, Sister Esther Paniagua Alonso, Sister Caridad Álvarez Martín, Fr. Jean Chevillard, Fr. Alain Dieulangard, Fr. Charles Deckers, Fr. Christian Chessel, Sister Angèle-Marie Littlejohn, Sister Bibiane Leclercq, Sister Odette Prévost, Brother Luc Dochier, Brother Christian de Chergé, Brother Christophe Lebreton, Brother Michel Fleury, Brother Bruno Lemarchand, Brother Célestin Ringeard, and Brother Paul Favre-Miville. The best known of Claverie's companions are the seven monks of Tibhirine, who were kidnapped from their Trappist priory in March 1996. They were kept as a bartering chip to procure the release of several imprisoned members of the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria, and were killed in May. Their story was dramatized in the 2010 French film Of Gods and Men, which won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival. After the death of the monks of Tibhirine, Bishop Claverie knew his life was in serious danger. A bomb exploded at the entrance of his chancery Aug. 1, 1996, killing him and an aide, Mohamed Bouchikhi.

Pope Francis explains symbolism of Vatican Christmas tree and sand nativity

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2018 / 09:30 am (CNA).- As the Vatican illuminated its 65-foot Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square Friday, Pope Francis shared the deeper meaning found in the traditional festive spruce. The signs and symbols found in Christmas traditions can “help us to contemplate the mystery of God made man to be close to each one of us,” Francis said Dec. 7. “The Christmas tree with its lights reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world, the light of the soul that drives away the darkness of animosity and makes room for forgiveness,” he continued. The great height of this year’s Christmas tree -- cut from Italy’s Cansiglio forest -- symbolizes that the Son of God, who lowered himself in assuming the human condition to draw man up to himself, the pope explained. God raises man “from the fogs of selfishness and sin” and invites him to “participate in his divine and incorruptible nature.” The Vatican also unveiled the annual nativity scene in St. Peter’s square, this year sculpted entirely out of sand. The 52-foot-wide sand sculpture of Mary, Joseph, the Child Jesus, and an angel was created by four international artists using around 700 tons of sand brought from the Dolomites. The concept of a sand nativity originated from a tradition from the Northern Italian beach-town of Jesolo, where professional sand sculptors from around the world create original renderings of the nativity and other Christian stories for locals and visitors to enjoy each Christmas season. Pope Francis reflected that sand is a humble, poor material that “recalls the simplicity, the smallness with which God showed himself at the birth of Jesus in the precariousness of Bethlehem.” “Contemplating the God child, who emanates light in the humility of the nativity scene, we can also become witnesses of humility, tenderness and goodness,” Francis said. Pope Francis encouraged families and communities come together to reflect upon the meaning of  these Christmas traditions: “The nativity and the tree, fascinating symbols of Christmas, can bring families and meeting places a reflection of the light and tenderness of God to help everyone to live the feast of the birth of Jesus.”

Pope approves new legislation governing Vatican City

Vatican City, Dec 6, 2018 / 11:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis Thursday published new laws governing the administration of Vatican City State, including the formation of a new oversight body for verifying departmental compliance with regulations and procedures within the governorate. The laws were issued Dec. 6 in a motu proprio approved by the pope Nov. 25. It will go into effect, abrogating the previous legislation, June 7, 2019. One substantial change was the creation of a “Control and Inspection Unit,” with the task of verifying regulatory compliance and implementation and assessing the “efficiency and effectiveness of the activities” of the various entities within the governorate. The unit will also coordinate with external auditing groups for increased oversight. As an additional accountability measure, the director will now have “personal responsibility for the activity of the Directorate,” and for ensuring compliance with the norms. The laws indicate that another major change is the transfer of the Pontifical Palace of Castel Gandolfo from the administration of the Directorate of the Pontifical Villas to the administration of the Directorate of Museums and Cultural Heritage, which is responsible for the Vatican Museums. The day-to-day maintenance of the property and grounds of Castel Gandolfo will remain under the Directorate of the Pontifical Villas, and the museum activity of the villa will be managed by the Directorate of Museums. In his decree, Pope Francis stated that from the beginning of his papacy, he felt the need for a total reorganization of the governorate of the Vatican, “in order to make it ever more suitable to current needs, to the ecclesial service that it is called to lend to the mission of the Roman Pontiff in the world, and the particular institutional purpose of the Vatican City State.” Francis had placed Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, president of the Governatorate of Vatican City State, in charge of drafting the law beginning in February 2017. At the same time, a commission was created under Bertello for carrying out the work; it met periodically from March 2017 to July 2018. The pope wrote in the chirograph establishing the commission that the purpose of the new laws was to respond to “the urgent need to reorganize the structure of the State and to make it respond to today’s needs.” In drafting the laws, the commission followed the proposals of an advisory group set up in 2015 and followed “the criteria of functionality, transparency, regulatory coherence and organizational flexibility,” according to an explanatory note released with the laws by the presidency of the governorate. The same explanatory note stated that the predetermined objectives of the new laws were “rationalization, economization and simplification.” In this spirit, the legislation will reduce the number of departments from nine to seven (apart from the Vatican Observatory, which is counted separately as a scientific body) and the central offices have been reduced from five to two, with the combining of the Civil Status, Registry and Notary offices with the Juridical office and the suppression of the Office of Pilgrims and Tourists. The structure of the governing bodies, the presidency and the secretary general, were not significantly changed.

Pope Francis to visit Abu Dhabi in February 2019

Vatican City, Dec 6, 2018 / 05:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis will travel to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates Feb. 3-5 to participate in an international interfaith meeting, the Vatican announced Thursday.   “This visit, like the one to Egypt, shows the fundamental importance the Holy Father gives to inter-religious dialogue. Pope Francis visiting the Arab world is a perfect example of the culture of encounter,” papal spokesman Greg Burke said Dec. 6.   The papal trip is the second visit to a Muslim country scheduled for 2019; Pope Francis will also visit Morocco March 30-31.   The Abu Dhabi trip’s theme is “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace,” a line taken from a prayer by St. Francis of Assisi, with a focus on “how all people of goodwill can work for peace,” according to the Holy See Press Office.   Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan issued an invitation to Pope Francis, along with the Catholic Church in United Arab Emirates.   “We look forward to the pope’s historic visit aimed to maximize opportunities for dialogue and coexistence among nations,” the crown prince said, according to Al Arabiya.   Catholics in the U.A.E. are under the territorial jurisdiction of the Vicariate of Southern Arabia, which also includes the countries of Oman and Yemen. Swiss-born Bishop Paul Hinder OFM has served as Apostolic Vicar since 2005.   The Apostolic Vicariate was first established in 1888 by French Capuchin Franciscans, and was later entrusted Italian Capuchins 1916.   The official religion of the United Arab Emirates is Islam with a Sunni Muslim majority. About 12.6 percent of the total population is Christian, according to the Pew Research Center.   “Individuals belonging to non-Islamic faiths said they could worship in private without government interference but faced restrictions on practicing their religion in public,” according to the U.S. State Department.   The United Arab Emirates is unique in that many of its residents hail from other countries. An estimated 89 percent of the population of the U.A.E. are not citizens of the country.   According to St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi, there are more than two million Catholics in the Arabian Peninsula with about 100 priests and 80 religious sisters.

American sculptor humbled to bring sand nativity to Vatican

Vatican City, Dec 5, 2018 / 10:36 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Growing up next door to Daytona Beach in Florida, Rich Varano spent a lot of time making things out of sand with his dad. He never imagined it could turn into his full-time gig – but 30 years later, he cannot imagine doing anything else. After discovering in his late 20s that one could, indeed, make a living being a sand sculptor, it is “all I’ve been doing ever since…” Varano said. He sculpts year-round, and has traveled extensively for the work. For the past 17 years he has participated annually in a special sand-sculpting event in the northern Italian beach-town of Jesolo, where professional sand sculptors from around the world create original sculptures of the nativity and other Christian stories for locals and visitors to enjoy during the Christmas season. This year, for the first time, the tradition was also brought to the center of the Catholic Church, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. “To be surrounded by such history, and art, and beauty, and magnificence, is quite humbling,” Varano told CNA. His first time in Rome, he said he found it to be beyond his expectation: “this is really a great place to be…” This is also the first year that Jesolo sculptors are working on two projects simultaneously; the one in Rome and the one in the resort town close to Venice. Jesolo’s exhibit for 2018 is made up of seven Old Testament scenes, viewed along a winding path. It begins with the creation of Adam and Eve and ends with the focal piece: Christ’s birth. The Vatican Sand Nativity, by contrast, is much larger, comprising about three-quarters of the sand being used in Jesolo to make up just one giant sculpture of Mary, Joseph, the Child Jesus, and an angel. The 52-foot-wide sculpture will be unveiled Dec. 7. Sand Nativity scene in the Italian town of Jesolo. Credit/ Town of Jesolo. “In the big picture, the largest difference probably between this and any other show I’ve done is it’s all about the sand sculpture, but we’re like the smallest part of the whole [operation],” Varano said. Working with the Vatican, and all the support needed to make the project happen “kind of dwarfs what us sculptors are doing,” he continued. “We’re here for 15 days doing the sculpture, but I was also here for a week before doing the preparation.” He said the idea for a sand nativity at the Vatican started three years ago and took until now to be put into effect. The sculpting alone he estimated to be over 175 total hours of labor. As artistic director and lead sculptor, Varano got to hand-pick his team of three other artists – from Russia, the Czech Republic, and Holland – each of whom, he said, have “incredible skill.” The design for the sculpture and a plan for its execution were very carefully laid out in advance, and methodically worked through, since they work in stages from top to bottom – and there is no possibility of fixing or changing something above once the work below it has begun. The sand itself, around 700 tons, was shipped from Jesolo to ensure the right quality for sculpting. Sand artists will typically use the same sand over and over again for different pieces, Varano said. He noted that he grew up in a strongly Catholic family and he is glad his work on religious subjects provides the opportunity for spiritual reflection. “These elements of the Bible have always been used as a beacon, as a guiding light for people,” he said, pointing out that with the many challenges and conflicts around the world, these images give him hope “that more and more, as time goes by, we can be as one and have peace.” “The theme and the motif of the nativity is just such a graceful and joyful experience, whether you’re working to create something that reflects it or just experiencing it by seeing it,” he said. “It’s a wonderful thing and for that we’re very grateful.” Varano said he and the other artists hope their work inspires joy in whoever sees it. “Because we enjoy making it and it’s a blessing to be able to do something you really love and enjoy doing that also brings joy to others. It’s its own reward.” “For me that’s been such a spiritual fulfillment,” he added. The sculptor told CNA he is often asked what it is like to work with a medium such as sand, which is impermanent by its very nature, but said the enjoyment and satisfaction for him, and he believes for many artists, comes more from the process of creating art than from holding onto it indefinitely. “And when you’re at this level, you could always make it again if you wanted to,” he said.