The Best Of 2011 in the Church, Part 4/4

October: The Pope Meets With Religious Leaders in Assisi.
The month of October was marked with the pope's visit to the Italian town of Assisi. Religious leaders from all over the world met there as a symbol of peace. During a moment of silence, they all vowed for religious tolerance and to never use religion as a tool for violence. Benedict XVI spoke on the occasion: “Violence never again! War never again! Terrorism never again! In the name of God, may every religion bring upon the earth Justice and Peace, Forgiveness and Life, Love.”

Among the representatives were Bartholomew I, who is the main leader of the Orthodox Church, as well as Anglican Primate, Rowan Williams, the prince of Jordan and the Chief Rabbi of Rome. The meeting was the third of its kind. The first one began under John Paul II in 1986.

Earlier that month, the Vatican also greeted its new governor. With a simple ceremony, Italian Archbishop Giovanni Bertello was welcomed to his new post. During that very ceremony, the Vatican's new Secretary of the Governorate, Giuseppe Sciacca was also welcomed. That department is responsible for the Vatican's administrative issues, which include its currency, postal service, police force and museums.

On October 12 the pope openly condemned the deadly attacks that killed more than 25 Coptic Christians in Cairo, Egypt. Another 200 people were also injured. “I feel the sorrow of the victim's families and the entire Egyptian people, who are torn by attempts to undermine the peaceful coexistence between its communities, which is important to preserve, especially in this time of transition” said the pope.

Also in October, in light of the economic crisis, the Vatican released a proposal for a new approach toward the world's financial markets. It was called “Reforming the International Financial System.” It suggested a “Global Public Authority” that can make sure all players are following the rules of the game. The proposal aims to protect some of the global public goods, and in order to do so, it stresses the need to have a quick international coordination among States on issues like pollution and also financial stability, and also the need for better international coordination, quicker responses and true representation. The document is not part of the papal Magisterium but a way to improve discussions between different countries and institutions to ease the pain of the economic crisis. 

November: The Pope Travels to Benin, Africa.
The Catholic Church dedicates the month of November to pray for the dead. This is why early in the month, Benedict XVI visited the crypt of the popes, beneath St. Peter's and prayed for his predecessors. The pope also met with the “Israel Council of Religious Communities," it includes members from Islam, Judaism and Christianity. During the meeting, they discussed what the different religions could do for peace in the region and the pope said: “In our difficult times, the dialogue between religions is increasingly important to create a climate of understanding and respect that leads to friendship and mutual trust.”

The Vatican also held an important meeting with experts in adult stem cells. The pope said he supports their research because its respect for life and the good results they have seen. One example is Sharon Porter, who suffered from systemic sclerosis. Doctors took her stem cells and transplanted them back into her body. Since then, her medical condition improved dramatically.

In mid-November, the pope traveled to Africa for the second time. He went to Benin, an exemplary country of peace and democracy on the African continent. There, he signed his first official document on Africa called the Apostolic Exhortation 'Africae Munus', 'The effort of Africa'. It was based on conclusions from the synod of Africa in 2009. In it, the pope hits issues such as AIDS, condom use, political corruption and economic development. The most heart warming meeting was the one with the Missionaries of Charity that take in dozens of abandoned children. The pope met with some of the children, teaching them how to pray and showing them the rosary.

Back in Rome, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati visited the pope and officially invited him to travel to Lebanon in the coming year. The pope praised the peaceful coexistence of Christians and Muslims in his country, but said he was concerned for religious freedom in the region of the Middle East.

The month ended with a major change for English-speaking Catholics. The last Sunday of the month saw the introduction of the new translation for Mass, meant to be more faithful to the original text. The old text was used over the last 41 years.

December: The Pope Visits a Prison and Launches the Christmas Season.
In December, the Pope celebrated a Mass in Spanish at St. Peter's Basilica to commemorate the 200th anniversary of independence in Latin America. It was a beautiful Mass held with music that included Creole, a truly rare sight at the Vatican. The pope also announced that in the spring of 2012 he would travel to Mexico and Cuba.
In mid December an impressive Christmas tree gifted from Ukraine arrived in Saint Peter's Square, weighing nearly five tons and measuring 30m tall. During a ceremony with Slavic Christmas carols, a child was given the honor of lighting the tree for the pope.
A few days before Christmas, the pope visited the Rebibbia prison in Rome. There he was received by 300 prisoners. He then held a special question and answer session with the group of inmates and gave a speech during which he said: “Prisoners are human beings who deserve, despite their crime, to be treated with respect and dignity, they need our attention.” It was one of the most memorable moments of 2011. The meeting had a special significance for the pope, who stopped to speak with many of the prisoners.
On the afternoon of Christmas Eve the larger-than-life Nativity scene which has been in the planning stages since the end of the summer was unveiled by Benedict XVI. Standing about 25 metres wide and 7 metres high, it was seen and admired by hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Vatican throughout the Christmas season. This year the scene was dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God, in honour of John Paul II, whose devotion to Our Lady was well known and whose beatification took place on the first of May. Alongside the central nativity tableau, the scene featured other biblical episodes where Mary is at the heart of the action: the Annunciation, the meeting between Mary and her cousin Elisabeth, and the Presentation in the Temple, where the elderly Simeon recognises Jesus as the Saviour of the world and tells Mary that ‘a sword will pierce your heart’.

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