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Pope Francis met on Friday with Irish bishops who are in Rome this week on their ad limina visits – the first such visit since 2006.
Following the encounter, which lasted for over two hours, some of the bishops came to Vatican Radio to share their impressions and to talk about the most significant challenges facing their Church today.
Less than half of the bishops meeting with Pope Francis on Friday had been on an ad limina visit before. Yet all of them were clearly impressed by the level of openness and dialogue they discovered in all the offices of the Roman Curia and particularly in their closed door, informal and unscripted conversation with the Pope.
Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh is president of the Irish bishops conference:
“He said at the beginning, ‘I’ll throw in the ball and let’s see what happens’, so it turned out to be a conversation about the Church in Ireland, about the struggles and challenges we’re having, but also about the importance of a ministry of presence, a ministry of the ear, where we’re listening to the hopes, struggles and fears of our people….”
Featuring high on the agenda were discussions about the family and about the need to reach out to young people, especially those whose faith has been shattered by the numerous sex abuse scandals. As the bishops were meeting with the Pope in Rome, a new report was being published in Belfast about abuse cases and the bishops pledged their full cooperation in order to support victims and ensure the highest standards of child protection throughout the Church.
During their meetings the bishops said they spoke frankly of problems such as poverty and homelessness, the current political crisis in Northern Ireland, but also concerns about the place of women in the Catholic Church today, as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin explained:
“No subject was off the agenda….Pope Francis again said to talk about our experiences, our challenges, our criticisms….One theme that came up on numerous occasions was the position of women in the Church, we brought it up in almost every congregation we went to and there was a willingness to listen and a recognition that we were asking a valid question, because the Irish episcopal conference is quite concerned about that theme”
The bishops said they also talked about preparations for the World Meeting of Families which will take place in Dublin next year, adding that they discussed with Pope Francis the possibility of his visit to Ireland for the occasion, a first papal trip there since Pope John Paul travelled to the country, back in 1979.
Pope Francis greeted the members of the General Inspectorate for Public Security at the Vatican of the Italian State Police (Polizia di Stato) in a traditional new year meeting on Friday. Although Vatican City State has its own police force – the Vatican Gendarmerie Corps – this force cooperates closely with its Italian counterparts, and the Italian police help patrol St. Peter’s Square.
In his address, Francis expressed his gratitude to all of them for their generous service, not without difficulties and risks. “I know that you run risks”, he said. “You are, in a certain sense, the ‘guardian angels’ of St. Peter’s Square. Indeed, every day you keep watch over this peculiar centre of Christianity, and other relevant areas of the Vatican, with great care, professionalism and a sense of duty. And especially in these recent times, you have shown competence and courage in facing the many challenges and various dangers, working with generosity in the prevention of crimes. In this way you have ensured safe access for pilgrims to the Basilica and to meetings with Peter’s Successor. For all this I thank you. I thank you: they are not merely words, these, they come from the heart. Thank you! I know the hardships of your work and the sacrifices that you must make every day. Know that I appreciate you greatly and often think with sincere gratitude of you and your valuable work”.
“The extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, an event of unique spiritual significance, has seen many pilgrims flock to Rome from all over the world in recent months. You too have been required to make greater efforts in your work, to ensure that the celebrations and events connected with the Jubilee were able to take place in safety and serenity. The external order over which you kept watch with great diligence, thoughtful care and constant willingness, thus contributed to fostering inner calm in pilgrims in search of peace in their encounter with the Lord’s mercy”.
The Pope recalled that the Christmas celebrations came to an end just a short while ago, in which “we turned our gaze to Bethlehem, to that land and that family who became Jesus’ dwelling. Christmas urges us to measure ourselves, once again, with the lowering of the Son of God, Who wished to make Himself similar to us in everything other than sin, to make us understand the love with which He loved, and loves, us. This immeasurable love is a constant invitation to turn to acceptance, solidarity and forgiveness of our brothers. In this way we will be able to experience within ourselves that peace that the angels in Bethlehem proclaimed to men of good will”.
The Holy Father concluded by asking the Lord to protect those present and commending them to the Virgin Mary, and reiterating his gratitude for the tenacity and fidelity with which they perform their work. “I ask you to pray for me, and impart my heartfelt apostolic blessing”.
Pope Francis prayed the Angelus with pilgrims and tourists gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday. In remarks ahead of the traditional prayer of Marian devotion, the Holy Father focused on the witness borne by John the Baptist to Jesus Christ.
“The Church,” said Pope Francis, “is in every age called to do that, which John the Baptist did: to show Jesus to the people, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Departing from his prepared text, Pope Francis added, “There’s always trouble when the Church proclaims herself: she loses her way, and knows not where she goes.” Rather, “The Church proclaims Christ – she does not carry herself, she carries Christ, for He and He alone is the one who saves His people from sin: he frees them and leads them to the land of true liberty.”
Pope Francis on Sunday baptised 28 babies during Mass in the Sistine chapel, telling their families that Jesus’ first sermon was the sound of his crying in the stable at Bethlehem.
Surrounded by the sounds of baby noises, the Pope gave a short, off-the-cuff homily on the faith which is given to children in Baptism. Faith, he said, does not just mean reciting the Creed on Sundays, but rather it means believing in the truth, trusting in God and teaching others with the example of our lives.
Faith, the Pope continued, is also the light which grows in our hearts – that’s why a lighted candle is given to every person being baptized. In the early years of the Church, he noted, baptism was called ‘illumination’ to show the way in which faith helps us see things in a different light. To the parents who had brought their children to be baptized, he said “you have the task of making that faith grow, of nurturing it, so that it may bear witness to others”.
As the sounds of crying grew louder, the Pope joked that the concert had begun. The babies are crying, he said, because they are in an unfamiliar place, or because they had to get up early, or sometimes simply because they hear another child crying. Jesus did just the same, Pope Francis said, adding that he liked to think of Our Lord’s first sermon as his crying in the stable. And if your children are crying because they are hungry, the Pope told the mothers present, then go ahead and feed them, just as Mary breastfed Jesus.
Milan’s Duomo is decidedly the most impressive structure in Milan. Standing proud in Piazza del Duomo, this famous cathedral has seen more than 600 years pass by and has the history to prove it!
The Duomo is the fifth largest Christian church in the world.
Outdone by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil, Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York and Seville’s Cathedral, Milan Cathedral is still one big church! Covering a surface of 109,641 square feet and an entire city block, its size is even more impressive considering it’s the oldest church on that list.
With 135 gargoyles, each one is a reminder of the many hands that helped create Milan Duomo
And it has the most statues.
They say there are more statues on this gothic-style cathedral than any other building in the world. There are 3,400 statues, 135 gargoyles and 700 figures that decorate Milan Duomo! Climb the stairs or take the lift to the rooftop to fully appreciate the architecture of the most renowned silhouette in the city. From the terrazza you’ll see breathtaking views across Milan and, on clear days, the snow-capped peaks of the Alps. You can also see the famous Madonnina, the gold-colored statue of Mary that stands on the cathedral’s highest spire.
You can set your watch by its sundial
Near the main entrance you’ll see a sundial on the floor. A ray of sunlight from a hole on the opposite wall strikes the clock, shining the bronze tongue on June 21, the summer solstice, and the meridian on the winter solstice, December 21. Though ancient (it was placed in Milan Duomo in 1768 by astronomers from the Accademia di Brera) the sundial is surprisingly precise – even used to regulate clocks throughout the city
And don’t miss the little red bulb
Above the apse (the arched part above the altar) there is a spot marked with a red lightbulb. This marks the spot where one of the nails of Jesus’ crucifixion was allegedly placed. Every year on the Saturday closest to September 14 the archbishop of Milan ascends to the apex in a wooden basket decorated with angels to retrieve the nail. The basket itself was constructed in 1577, though it was significantly reconstructed in 1701 when the angels were added. But you’ve got to be visiting at the right time – the nail is exhibited at the altar until the Monday after vespers before it’s lifted back up again.
It took thousands of workers, a new canal system and over six centuries to complete…
The construction of the Duomo officially started in 1386 by Bishop Antonio da Saluzzo and was supported by the ruler of Milan Gian Galeazzo Visconti who had grand visions of the cathedral. Though originally started in terracotta stone, once the grandeur of the project was realized Condoglian marble from Lake Maggiore was chosen. The entire building is made up of this pink-hued white marble. To bring it from the quarries of Candoglia, canals were dug leading to the construction site, evidence of which is still visible along the famous navigli, the canals left over from the network built in southern Milan specifically for that purpose! Thousands of artists, sculptors and specialized workers were involved in the construction of the Cathedral of Milan. Architects from across Europe were invited to work on the project (at least 78 different architects total) and as it grew and grew, its construction dragged on over the years. It was consecrated in 1418 but only the nave was really finished at that time. Heavy construction continued for another 200 years.
… but it’s still not finished!
After its consecration in 1418 Milan Cathedral remained incomplete for centuries. Politics, lack of money, indifference in a seemingly never-ending project and other setbacks kept the cathedral on standby for what seemed like forever. Actually, it was Napoleon who finished the façade and jump-started the final stages of construction in the early 19th century. Considering its construction is still continuing, this could be considered the longest-worked cathedral in the world. A five-year project to clean the building was started in 2002 and routine restorations and cleaning are continually taking place to keep maintain its gleaming stone.