VATICAN CITY - Advent's liturgical preparation for Christmas calls Christians to renew their faith in the reality of God's great love and to make a commitment to bringing his love to the world today, Pope Benedict XVI said.

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VATICAN CITY - The world authority envisioned by two popes as a way to ensure global peace and justice would not be a superpower, but primarily a moral force with limited jurisdiction, Pope Benedict XVI said.

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VATICAN CITY - Warning that Catholic charitable activity must not become "just another form of organized social assistance," Pope Benedict XVI issued new rules to strengthen the religious identity of Catholic charities and ensure that their activities conform to church teaching.

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VATICAN CITY - To celebrate the launch of his new Twitter account, Pope Benedict XVI will tweet the answers to a handful of questions from his followers.

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Traditionalist and progressive camps that see the Second Vatican Council as breaking with the truth both espouse a "heretical interpretation" of the council and its aims, said the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a special appeal against HIV and AIDS, Pope Benedict XVI called for special attention to those unable to afford life-saving drugs, especially pregnant and nursing women affected by the disease.

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VATICAN CITY - Greeting hundreds of Christians from Lebanon, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged their presence in the Middle East and launched a fresh appeal for peace in the region.

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Recalling that Christ's mission transcends "all ethnic, national and religious particularities," Pope Benedict XVI created six new cardinals from four different continents, representing the Latin rite of the Catholic Church as well as two Eastern Catholic Churches.

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VATICAN CITY - The Nativity story, like the whole story of Christ, is not merely an event in the past, but has unfolding significance for people today, with implications for such issues as the limits of political power and the purpose of human freedom, Pope Benedict writes in his third and final volume on the life and teachings of Jesus.

Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives is only 132 pages long, yet it includes wide-ranging reflections on such matters as the significance of the virgin birth and the distinctive views of nature in ancient pagan and Judeo-Christian cultures.
The book was formally presented at the Vatican Nov. 20, and was scheduled for publication in English and eight other languages in 50 countries Nov. 21.

In the book, Pope Benedict examines Jesus' birth and childhood as recounted in the Gospels of Sts. Matthew and Luke. His interpretation of the biblical texts refers frequently to the work of other scholars and draws on a variety of academic fields, including linguistics, political science, art history and the history of science.

The book's publication completes the three-volume Jesus of Nazareth series, which also includes From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (2007) and Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (2011).

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said at the Nov. 20 book launch that the three books are the "fruit of a long inner journey" by Joseph Ratzinger, whose personal views they represent. While much of what the Pope says is accepted Catholic dogma, the texts themselves are not part of the Church's magisterium and their arguments are free to be disputed, Lombardi said.
In his new book, the Pope argues that Matthew and Luke, in their Gospel accounts, set out to "write history, real history that had actually happened, admittedly interpreted and understood in the context of the word of God."

The Pope calls the virgin birth and the Resurrection "cornerstones" of Christian faith, since they show God acting directly and decisively in the material world.

"These two moments are a scandal to the modern spirit," which expects and allows God to act only in ideas, thoughts and the spiritual world, not the material, he writes. Yet it is not illogical or irrational to suppose that God possesses creative powers and power over matter, otherwise "then He is simply not God."

Pope Benedict examines the political context of the time of Jesus' birth, which featured both the so-called "Pax Romana" — the widespread peace brought by the Roman ruler Caesar Augustus — and King Herod's thirst for power, which led to the slaughter of the innocents.

"Pax Christi is not necessarily opposed to Pax Augusti," he writes. "Yet the peace of Christ surpasses the peace of Augustus as heaven surpasses Earth."

The political realm has "its own sphere of competence and responsibility"; it oversteps those bounds when it "claims divine status and divine attributes" and makes promises it cannot deliver.

The other extreme comes with forms of religious persecution when rulers "tolerate no other kingdom but their own," he writes.

Any sign God announces "is given not for a specific political situation, but concerns the whole history of humanity," he writes.
The Pope writes that the Three Wise Men symbolize the purification of science, philosophy and rationality.

"They represent the inner dynamic of religion toward self-transcendence, which involves the search for truth, the search for the true God," the Pope writes.

The Pope also argues that the star of Bethlehem was a true celestial event. It "seems to be an established fact," he writes, that the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn happened in 7-6 B.C., which "as we have seen is now thought likely to have been when Jesus was born."

A key topic in the book is the role of human freedom in God's divine plan for humanity.

"The only way (God) can redeem man, who was created free, is by means of a free 'yes' to His will," the Pope writes. It is precisely "the moment of free, humble yet magnanimous obedience," such as Mary and Joseph showed when listening to God, "in which the loftiest choice of human freedom is made."

Jesus, too, in His human freedom, understood He was bound to obedience to His heavenly Father, even at the cost of His earthly life.

The missing 12-year-old, rediscovered by an anxious Mary and Joseph in the Temple, was not there "as a rebel against His parents, but precisely as an obedient (son), acting out the same obedience that leads to the cross and the Resurrection," the Pope writes.

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VATICAN CITY - Once the Vatican launches Pope Benedict XVI’s official Twitter feed before the end of the year, it’s hoped all the fake papal tweets will cease and desist, said a Vatican official.

There are dozens of unofficial @PopeBenedict handles and usernames in a number of different permutations and languages on Twitter; many are using an official portrait of the Pope as their avatar and some boast thousands of followers.

Some of these Twitter accounts are being run “obviously by people of goodwill” who tweet about real news and activities of the Pope, said a Vatican official who requested anonymity.

However, “We hope they will give up when they see the official site is up,” the official said.

The Vatican will have a verified and authenticated papal Twitter account, which will help users distinguish the official Pope Benedict stream from the imposters, the official said. No specific date has been set for its launch other than “before the end of the year,” he added.

Unfortunately, there are some phony accounts “that aren’t very helpful” because they obviously don’t have the best interest of the Pope or his teachings in mind.

For example, some bogus feeds produce off-colour or inappropriate commentary. But if it’s obviously satire, comedy or parody, “nothing can be done about that because of freedom of expression,” the official said. Yet, there’s little risk of people mistaking those accounts with the official account, he added.

However, if an account holder is using the Pope’s name with the aim of misrepresentation, misleading users or “username squatting” in order to prevent the Vatican from using the name or to illicitly offer the account name for sale, “then Twitter can close them down,” he said.

All the details about the official Pope Benedict Twitter account have not been hammered out, he said, such as which Twitter handles will be used and if there will be one username or different handles in different languages.

Feeds will be offered in five or six major global languages, though it’s not sure if Latin — the official language of the Church — will be one of them, he added.

Even though the Pope won’t be physically typing and sending the tweets, each message will be approved by the Pope himself, he said.

The idea of having an official papal Twitter account has been bouncing around for quite awhile.

To date, the Vatican offers a handful of official Twitter feeds in different languages, including Vatican news @news_va_en; Vatican communications @PCCS_VA; and the social network @Pope2YouVatican.

Pope Benedict sent his first ever papal tweet in 2011 when he inaugurated and launched the Vatican’s online news portal, www.news.va, which aggregates news content from the Vatican’s newspaper, radio, television and online outlets.

“Dear Friends, I just launched News.va. Praised be our Lord Jesus Christ! With my prayers and blessings, Benedictus XVI,” the Pope said with a tap on an iPad, sending the message onto the news site’s Twitter account.

Pope Benedict has long urged Catholics and Catholic media to use the Internet and social networks for evangelization.

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ROME - Presenting himself as "an elderly man visiting his peers," Pope Benedict XVI visited a Rome residence for the elderly, urging the residents to see their age as a sign of God's blessing and urging society to value their presence and wisdom.

"Though I know the difficulties that come with being our age, I want to say, it's wonderful being old," the 85-year-old pope said Nov. 12 during a morning visit to the residence run by the lay Community of Sant'Egidio.

The residence includes apartments for independent living as well as rooms for those requiring more skilled care. Younger members of the Sant'Egidio Community volunteer their time assisting and visiting with the residents, who include an elderly couple from Haiti whose home was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake.

Walking with his white-handled black cane, the pope visited several of the residents in their rooms and apartments before addressing them and members of Sant'Egidio in the garden.

One of the residents, 91-year-old Enrichetta Vitali, told the pope, "I don't eat so much anymore, but prayer is my nourishment." She asked the pope to "pray that I don't lose my memory so I can keep remembering people in my prayers."

The pope told those gathered at the residence on the Janiculum Hill that in the Bible a long life is considered a blessing from God, but often today society, which is "dominated by the logic of efficiency and profit, doesn't welcome it as such."

"I think we need a greater commitment, beginning with families and public institutions, to ensure the elderly can stay in their homes" and that they can pass on their wisdom to younger generations.

"The quality of a society or civilization can be judged by how it treats the elderly," he said.

Pope Benedict also insisted on recognition of the dignity and value of all human life, even when "it becomes fragile in the years of old age."

"One who makes room for the elderly, makes room for life," the pope said. "One who welcomes the elderly, welcomes life."

The pope told the residents that he knows the aged face difficulties, especially in countries where the global economic crisis has hit hard. And, he said, the elderly can be tempted to long for the past when they had more energy and were full of plans for the future.

However, the pope said, "life is wonderful even at our age, despite the aches and pains and some limitations," he said.

"At our age, we often have the experience of needing other's help, and this happens to the pope as well," he told the residents.

Pope Benedict said they need to see the help they require as a gift of God, "because it is a grace to be supported and accompanied and to feel the affection of others."

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VATICAN CITY - Sacred music can bolster people's faith and help lapsed Catholics rediscover the beauty of God, Pope Benedict XVI said.

"Sacred music can, above all, promote the faith, and, what's more, cooperate in the new evangelization," he told participants attending a conference and pilgrimage sponsored by the Italian St. Cecilia Association. St. Cecilia, whose feast day is Nov. 22, is traditionally honored as the patron saint of musical performers.

"Music and singing that are done well can help (people) receive the word of God and be moved in a positive way," the pope said in his address Nov. 10.

Many people, including St. Augustine, have found themselves attracted to God because of some profound experience prompted by the beauty of liturgical music and sacred song, he said.

In the church's missionary outreach, he said, it urges Catholics to recognize, respect and promote the musical traditions of the local people.

Traditionally Christian countries, like Italy, have a rich heritage of sacred music which can help lapsed Catholics rediscover God and be drawn again to the Christian message and the mystery of faith, he said.

Because of their important role in new evangelization, he urged church musicians to dedicate themselves "to improving the quality of liturgical song, without being afraid of reviving or emphasizing the great musical tradition of the church, which has two of its highest expressions in Gregorian and polyphony."

"Show how the church may be the place in which beauty feels at home," he said.

"Sacred song united to the words, form a necessary and integral part of the solemn liturgy," he said, quoting from the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy "Sacrosanctum Concilium."

The reason why sacred music is "necessary and integral," Pope Benedict said, isn't simply for aesthetic purposes, but because sacred song "cooperates in nourishing and expressing the faith and, therefore, in glorifying God and sanctifying the faithful."

Sacred music "is not an accessory or embellishment of the liturgy, but is the liturgy itself."

The pope thanked the men and women musicians and singers for helping the faithful "praise God and make his word sink deep in their hearts."

That evening, in the Sistine Chapel, the pope attended a concert with his brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, who was the director of the Regensburg Boys Choir for decades.

They listened to music from a Mass composed by Msgr. Ratzinger, as well as to pieces by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Msgr. Massimo Palombella -- the director of the Sistine Chapel Choir -- and Colin Mawby, a contemporary British composer who has served as director of music at Westminster Cathedral.

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VATICAN CITY - Instability and increasing violence in Syria have prompted Pope Benedict XVI to cancel the planned visit to the war-torn nation by a delegation of cardinals and bishops.

Instead, the pope announced Nov. 7, he has sent a smaller group to Lebanon to deliver a $1 million donation and boost the church's humanitarian response to the crisis.

The pope also appealed for dialogue to end the Syrian conflict, saying: "We have to do everything possible because one day it could be too late."

"I renew my invitation to the parties in conflict, and to all those who have the good of Syria at heart, to spare no effort in the search for peace and to pursue through dialogue the path to a just coexistence, in view of a suitable political solution of the conflict," Pope Benedict said at the end of his general audience in St. Peter's Square.

"I continue to follow with great concern the tragic situation of violent conflict in Syria, where the fighting has not ceased and each day the toll of victims rises, accompanied by the untold suffering of many civilians, especially those who have been forced to abandon their homes," he said.

He said he had hoped to send a delegation of three cardinals, three bishops and a priest to Syria during the world Synod of Bishops, which met for three weeks at the Vatican in October, to show solidarity with victims and encourage peace negotiations. The papal delegation to Damascus was to have included Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who is chairman of the board of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

"Unfortunately, due to a variety of circumstances and developments, it was not possible to carry out this initiative as planned," the pope said, "and so I have decided to entrust a special mission to Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum," which promotes and coordinates Catholic charitable giving.

Together with Cor Unum's secretary, Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, and Michel Roy, secretary-general of the Vatican-based umbrella group of Catholic aid agencies, Caritas Internationalis, Cardinal Sarah was to be in Lebanon Nov. 7-10, where he was to meet with priests, religious and lay representatives of Christian churches in Syria.

"He will visit a number of refugees from that country and will chair a meeting of Catholic charitable agencies to coordinate efforts, as the Holy See has urgently requested, to provide assistance to the Syrian people, inside and outside the country," the pope said of Cardinal Sarah's mandate.

The cardinal will deliver a $1 million donation made by participants in the Oct 7-28 synod and the pope himself. The money is to provide humanitarian aid and support local churches in an effort to bring some relief to those hit by the crisis, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters.

The papal delegation's visit itself is also meant to "prompt all sides involved, as well as those who hold dear the good of Syria, to seek a just and peaceful solution to the conflict, Father Lombardi added.

Syria's civil war has left thousands dead and has displaced hundreds of thousands of people since March 2011.

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI congratulated U.S. President Barack Obama on his re-election, saying that he prayed the ideals of freedom and justice that guided America's founders might continue to flourish.

The Vatican did not make public the full text of the pope's telegram to Obama, which was sent via Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Nov. 7.

"In the message, the Holy Father sent his best wishes to the president for his new term and assured him of his prayers that God might assist him in his very great responsibility before the country and the international community," the Vatican said in a statement.

The pope also told Obama he was praying that "the ideals of liberty and justice that guided the founders of the United States of America might continue to shine" as the nation goes forward, the statement said.

In remarks to reporters, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, voiced hopes that Obama would also promote "a culture of life and religious freedom."

It is the hope of everyone that President Obama "respond to the expectations" of the American people and "serve law and justice for the well-being and growth of every person, by respecting essential human and spiritual values and by promoting the culture of life and religious freedom, which have always been so precious in the tradition of the American people and their culture," the priest said.

U.S. Catholic bishops have been at odds with Obama over his support for legalized abortion and his administration's plan to require that the private health insurance plans of most Catholic institutions cover surgical sterilization procedures and artificial birth control, which are forbidden by the church's moral teaching.

The role of president of the United States is "an immense responsibility not just for the great nation, but for the whole world, given the United States' role on the world stage," Father Lombardi said, expressing hopes that the president would be able to "find the best ways to promote the material and spiritual well-being of all and effectively promote integral human development, justice and peace in the world."

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI praised the choice of the new patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, saying he was confident the new leader would help build a new Egypt that would serve the common good of the nation and the whole Middle East.

Bishop Tawadros, 60, was chosen Nov. 4 to lead Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, the largest Christian community in the country. He will be ordained Nov. 18 as Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria and patriarch of the See of St. Mark.

Pope Benedict said in a telegram to the new pope that he was "filled with joy" upon learning of the news and extended his "good wishes and prayerful solidarity."

"I am confident that, like your renowned predecessor, Pope Shenouda III, you will be a genuine spiritual father for your people and an effective partner with all your fellow-citizens in building the new Egypt in peace and harmony, serving the common good and the good of the entire Middle East," Pope Benedict wrote.

"In these challenging times it is important for all Christians to bear witness to the love and fellowship that binds them together," mindful of God's call for Christian unity, the Pope said.

Pope Benedict noted the "important progress" in ecumenical relations that was made under the guidance of the late Pope Shenouda, who died in March at age 88 after leading the Church for four decades.

More than 2,400 bishops and elite lay leaders voted to reduce a five-person short list to three nominees for a new pope. Bishop Tawadros' name was drawn from a glass bowl by a blindfolded child in a traditional ceremony held at Cairo's St. Mark's Cathedral; the Coptic Orthodox Church says the process lets "the hand of God" make the final choice.

Bishop Tawadros, whose birthday fell on the day of his selection, is bishop of Beheira. He studied pharmaceutical sciences at Alexandria University and reportedly ran a medicine factory before taking his vows.

"He is young — 60 is not so old — and he is well-educated," Fr. Rafic Grieche, spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic bishops' conference, told Catholic News Service. "He can make interior changes to his Church and at the same time be open to other churches and to the country's Muslims."

But the new pope will face a raft of challenges, with political debate in Egypt over how prominent a role Islamic law should play in the country's long-awaited constitution. His reaction to incidents of sectarian violence, which peaked in the months following Egypt's early 2011 uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak, will also be key.

Michael Meunier, president of the U.S. Copts Association, was one of the laymen who participated in the complex election process. He told Vatican Radio Nov. 4 that people saw in Bishop Tawadros a man "who could unite Egypt's Christians in these very difficult times, a man of dialogue."

Dialogue and reconciliation with other Christian churches are critical, Meunier said, "because we are faced with many other challenges from hardliners" and extremist elements in the Muslim community.

"On a whole there is no future for Christians in Egypt without dialogue with Muslims. We have to engage moderate Muslims in the political fight that we face in Egypt, for example the new constitution being drafted; there are a lot of fanatic elements in society and they are going after moderate Muslims, they are going after women and they are going after Christians," he said.

"It is important to have a pope who believes in dialogue with Muslims because it's the only way to help promote democracy, religious freedom, human rights and respect for all these values that we hope for," Meunier said.

Bishop Tawadros will have to win back the support of many Coptic youth, suspicious of the Church's involvement in politics during the Mubarak era. At the height of the 2011 uprising, Pope Shenouda implored Coptic Christians to remain at home, solidifying the Church's reputation for unquestioned loyalty to the state.

Speaking to television cameras at a monastery after his election, Bishop Tawadros suggested he might revise the explicitly political role the Church held under Pope Shenouda's leadership.

"The most important thing is for the Church to return and live consistently within its spiritual boundaries because this is its main work, spiritual work," he said, pledging to "rearrange the house from the inside."

Activists welcomed the new approach, but voiced skepticism over how easy it would be to achieve, given the increasingly important role of religion in Egypt's political discourse. Islamists won more than two-thirds of the seats in the country's last Parliament — dissolved in June — and President Mohammed Morsi is from the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

"It will be very difficult to get himself out of the political arena, when the (Muslim Brotherhood) mixes religion with politics," said Mina Thabet, a 23-year-old Coptic rights activist. "But I think he should."

"It has to change," said Grieche, referring to the days when the Church would back candidates from Mubarak's party in parliamentary elections.

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