VATICAN (CWN) -- The official Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano devoted two full pages of its January 15 edition to the question of priestly celibacy. The paper's coverage indicated that the tradition of celibacy was firmly established in the ancient Church.

      The newspaper's coverage was based on the work of theologian Stefan Heid, who has studied recent debates on celibacy in light of the traditions established in the early years of Christianity. He concludes that the tradition dates back to the first Apostles-- who, while some (such as St. Peter) were married, observed "perfect continence." Heid finds, from his study of the earliest Church councils, that the Apostles clearly understood Jesus to call for celibacy among priests, and thus they believed that in order to follow Jesus' example, they themselves must become celibate.

      In a related story about the ancient Church, the Vatican announced that a sixth catacomb in Rome will be opened to pilgrims and tourists by the year 2000.

      The Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology, whose members met with Pope John Paul II today, discussed their plans for the Jubilee celebration during the plenary meeting this week. The Commission, which oversees the five catacombs already open to the public, is working to open more such sites. A sixth catacomb, that of Sts. Peter and Marcellinus, will be opened soon.

      Pope John Paul encouraged the group with their project, noting that a visit to the catacombs can be a method of catechesis-- "a school of faith, hope, and charity"-- because the lives of the first Christian martyrs bear vivid testimony to the power of Christ's love. As he put it: "In the silence of the catacombs, the pilgrim of the year 2000 can recover his religious identity in a sort of spiritual journey which, in light of the first witnesses to the faith, will help him to understand the reasons and the urgency for the new evangelization."

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January 19, 1998 volume 9, no. 13          DAILY CATHOLIC