In Wednesday's general audience, the Holy Father urged the faithful to avoid distractions and concentrate on what is essential to this feast: "God became man to come to each one of us." He further renewed his appeal "to open wide the doors of our heart to the message of light and peace of Christmas."
Pilgrims are already pouring into Rome. According to the Central Welcoming Service of the Vatican Jubilee Steering Committee, some 60,000 people will gather tomorrow night in St. Peter's Square to attend the opening of the Holy Door and Midnight Mass with the Pope.
To cope with this "invasion," which is only expected to grow during the Holy Year, the Holy See and the Italian government are counting on the help of volunteers. It is expected that 40,000 people will help out for a few days over the course of the year. There are already volunteer teams at critical sites of the city -- near the entrance to St. Peter's Square, in the airport, and in the main train station. In coming days, more information centers will be opened near the Vatican and in the smaller train stations.
Alfredo Paoletti, head of the Central Welcoming Service, says that since the volunteers are being organized by both the Holy See and the government, they will be helping pilgrims and tourists alike, providing information about religious celebrations, assistance to the handicapped, as well as providing information on museums and parks.
"In addition to giving information to those who ask," explained Paoletti, "the volunteers will also be distributing the Pilgrim Card to those who come from outside the country." This Card is an instrument to guarantee that pilgrims coming from around the world will be able to participate in the major Jubilee celebrations.
Already 1.2 million people have reserved a Pilgrim Card for their Jubilee visits to Rome. The total number of visitors is expected to reach 26 million.
The greatest difficulty in Rome right now is the large number of construction sites that were not able to complete their work on time, in part due to a very rainy December. Most serious is the main train station, which is full of cranes and workers. Several streets are closed to traffic, leading to an even greater chaos than normal for drivers.
Jubilee volunteers recommend that pilgrims plan their visits well in advance, especially using the Pilgrim Card. Otherwise, it could be very easy to miss out on the free tickets to popular Jubilee events, and extremely difficult to find lodging in the Eternal City. ZE99122305
Pius IX's cause for beatification was one of the longest and most difficult in Church history. It wus begun under Pius X on February 11, 1907, and was re-launched by Benedict XV, without much success, and later by Pius XI. After the Second World War, the process was re-initiated by Pius XII on December 7, 1954. The cause advanced during Paul VI's pontificate. The collection of the acts of the canonical process (i.e. "positio") was completed, including the analysis of the candidate's life, questioning of the witnesses and evaluations by historians and theologians.
The decree on the heroic exercise of theological and cardinal virtues was finally promulgated by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on July 6, 1985, and approved by John Paul II, allowing his proclamation as "Venerable." Among Pius IX's most outstanding virtues were his unconditional love for the Church, his charity, and his high regard for the priesthood and for missionaries. The miracle attributed to Pius IX, which was verified by the Medical Commission on January 15, 1986, and definitively proclaimed on Monday of this week, was the inexplicable cure of a French nun.
Pius IX, born Giovanni Maria Mastai Ferretti on May 13, 1792 in Senigallia, Italy, was elected Pope on June 16, 1846. His election raised the hopes of patriotic and liberal circles of Catholics; one of his first acts was to promulgate an amnesty for all political prisoners. In addition, he supported several reforms in the Papal States, which included central Italy, and several outlying areas, such as Assisi. During his first two years in the Chair of Peter, he gained a reputation for being a liberal, patriotic, and reforming Pope.
In April 1848, when it became obvious that International Masonry organizations were supporting attacks, revolutions and disorders against the Papacy and traditionally Catholic nations, Pius IX distanced himself from the more radical Italian patriotic factions. When insurrections broke out in Rome, Pius IX moved to Gaeta; shortly thereafter, in 1849, the Roman Republic was proclaimed in the Eternal City by Giuseppe Mazzini, Carlo Armellini and Aurelio Saffi. Churches were pillaged, and Mazzini seized works of art, which were Church property, to repay British Freemasons the loans that helped to fund the capture of Rome.
Thanks to the intervention of French troops, the Roman Republic fell and the Pope was able to return to the capital in 1850. But it was at this point that Pius IX began a policy of intransigence ("Non possumus") toward the secular power; the Pope had become the most formidable adversary of Masonry's anti-clerical wing.
In 1854, Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and, during Vatican Council I (1869-70), the dogma of papal infallibility. In 1864 he promulgated the encyclical "Quanta Cura," with the "Syllabus" appended -- a list of prohibited doctrines, with which the Church condemned all liberal and Enlightenment thought. With the unification of Italy, the last Pope-King successively lost the regions of Romagna (1859), Umbria and the Marches (1860) and finally Rome itself in 1870, with the taking of the Porta Pia on September 20, marking the end of papal temporal power.
Since then, Italian Masonry has celebrated its own annual feast on September 20, in memory of the victory against the Church. Throughout his pontificate, Pius IX wrote or approved some 124 documents against the Masons -- 11 encyclicals, 61 brief letters, 33 addresses and allocutions, and documents of various Curial offices. According to Pius IX, all the evils that fell on the Church and society at that time originated in the atheism and scientism of the 17th century, articulated by Freemasonry and upheld by the French Revolution. In the encyclical "Qui Pluribus" (1849), Pius IX wrote about "men linked by an evil union" who corrupt customs and combat faith in God and Christ, postulating naturalism and rationalism and, above all, initiating the conflict between science and faith. Another error attributed to this circle of thinkers was their mythical appreciation of progress in opposition to faith.
In face of these precise accusations, Masonry reacted with violent scorn. In the first instance, a "Masonic Anti-Council, Freethinkers Assembly" was convoked with the idea of leading an international movement dedicated to the ceaseless persecution of the Vatican. Among the writings that were distributed at this meeting, one stated: "The Anti-Council desires light and truth, science and reason, not blind faith, fanaticism, dogmas, or burning at the stake. Papal infallibility is a heresy. The Roman Catholic religion is a lie; its Kingdom is a crime."
In this atmosphere of constant belligerence, Pius IX did not lose courage and continued his work of consolidating the Church on the principle of unity. He placed much emphasis on popular spirituality, relations with the saints, especially Mary through the recognition of the apparitions at La Salette and Lourdes. He supported processions, pilgrimages and all popular forms of devotion. In 1870 he established a new way of electing bishops and prelates, chosen no longer from among notables, but among ordinary priests, where pastoral merits were evident. His popularity grew enormously. He was obstinate in his determination not to come to an arrangement with the Italian State.
Pius IX died on February 7, 1878, but Freemasonry continued to persecute him even after his death. On the night of July 12-13, 1881, his casket was transferred from the Vatican to Rome's Verano cemetery. Masonry organized an irreverent protest, including blasphemies, vulgar and obscene songs, and throwing of stones against the funeral procession, which responded by praying the Rosary, reciting Psalms, the Office of the Dead, and pious ejaculations.
The protest reached a climax when the funeral procession crossed the Tiber near Castel Sant'Angelo. To the cry, "Death to the Pope! Death to priests!" a group of protesters attempted to throw the corpse into the Tiber. Catholics, however, encircled the Pontiff's remains and managed to overcome the opposition.
Thus the choir of the Blessed will gain a new voice during the Jubilee year, that of a man of great human depth and a great Pope, champion of the Immaculate Conception and the rights of the Church. ZE99122205
Christians and Muslims over the past year have battled over a plot of land next to the Church of the Annunciation where Christians want to build a plaza to accommodate pilgrims and Muslims want to build a mosque. Last month, Israel sided with the Muslims, allowing them to build a slightly scaled-down building if they remove a prayer tent they had erected. Christians, including the Vatican, were incensed by the perceived affront.
It's like a bleeding wound, we cannot ignore it," said Uri Mor, director of the Religious Affairs Ministry's Christian Communities Department, referring to the Nazareth dispute. Mor said that the Israeli government has given Muslims an ultimatum to dismantle the tent they erected and which they raise for prayers every Friday during the month of Ramadan.
Saint Nicholas, whose feast day is December 6, lived from 280-343. He was a priest and later the Bishop of Myra, in modern Turkey. Unfortunately for the historian, he has been such a popular saint that many legends have sprung up, and it is difficult to separate myth from reality.
The legends say that Nicholas was a very holy child, some going so far as to say that he refused his mother's milk on Fridays to keep the Church discipline of abstinence. Apparently he came from a rich family and was known for his generosity. He gave gifts to the peasants of Myra, trying to do so in secret by night, out of humility.
The most famous story about Nicholas comes from his time as a Bishop. It seems a poor man had no money to provide a dowry for his three daughters. Bishop Nicholas climbed onto the roof of the house and dropped three bags of gold down the chimney. These landed in the socks that were hanging by the fire to dry, explaining today's tradition of Christmas stockings. The three bags of gold, incidentally are the origin of the pawnbrokers' symbol of three golden balls, as St. Nicholas is also their patron saint.
While much of the foregoing is undoubtedly legendary, or at least embellished by the ages, it is a fact that in 303, the Roman Emporer Diocletian demanded that all the citizens of the empire worship him as a god. This order applied to the territories of Asia Minor as well. Many Christians were imprisoned or killed for their refusal to worship the emporer. When he too refused to submit, the Bishop was arrested and held in a small cell for more than 5 years.
In 313, Constantine came to power and Nicholas was released. Christianity was no longer oppressed, and Nicholas returned to serve Myra as Bishop. He remained in that post until his death, on December 6, 343.
His fame for sanctity spread rapidly, with the first churches in his name being built around 450. By 800, he was recognized as a saint in the Eastern Church, and by 1200, St. Nicholas' Day was celebrated in Paris. By the 1400s, St. Nicholas was the most popular religious figure, apart from Jesus and Mary, with more than 2,000 chapels built in his honor.
The image of St. Nicholas gradually changed to that "right jolly old elf" described by Clement Clarke Moore in his "A Visit from St. Nicholas," better known as " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas." He traded in his mitre and crozier to dress "all in fur, from his head to his foot." The illustrations for a series of advertisements for Coca-Cola gave Santa his current "look," whose red cap and suit are known the world over.
Still, behind the figure most embodying the commercial nature of Christmas in the minds of the public, we find a humble and saintly Bishop, and a clear Christian message for our times: the need for generosity both towards our neighbors, and towards God. ZE99122324