Oct 312011

Click image to watch the YouTube video of the entire Oct. 30, 2011, Angelus

by Anura Guruge

After his busy day in Assisi on Thursday, October 27, where he looked very frail and hunched, the pope did not venture far from his quarters on Sunday. As is fairly common (and made a virtual hallmark by the aging John Paul II (#265)) the pope delivered the customary, Sunday noon time Angelus, from the window of his private study, within the Papal Apartment, on the top [i.e., 3rd floor], of the Apostolic Palace. The pope seemed rested, though some of his arm movements were slow and delayed.

Per my countdown clock the Benedict XVI will become the 6th oldest pope, as of 1400, in 120 days [4 months]. That is on February 29, 2012. 245 days from then, i.e., EXACTLY a year from today, he can become the 5th oldest, leapfrogging Innocent XII (#243). 71 days later, he could be #4 brushing aside the ‘Eternal Pope’, Pius IX (#256). So a lot to look forward to — IF his health stands up.

Over the weekend, there was again talk as to whether he may resign. That is pie in the sky. I personally don’t think that this pope will resign. If anything the Vatican will opt for their ‘Plan B’. One of the Vatican’s paid lap-dog wrote a piece claiming that there was nothing the matter with the pope’s health. Well, credibility has never been his strong suite.

A 60' seated Buddha in Thailand from c. 1324

The pope started the Angelus with a reading of a letter by St. Paul, to Thessalonians, that the Gospel should be treated as: ‘not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word’. Following the Marin prayer, the pope expressed his empathy to those in Thailand as well as those in the Italian regions of Liguria and Tuscany, that have been affected by recent, heavy rainfall and floods. He assured them of his prayers. That always make me chuckle. Yes, as I have openly admitted in my posts, I find the whole concept of prayer incredibly puzzling to say the least. Prayers AFTER natural disasters irk me. To me it is akin to closing the barn door after the barn has been flooded killing all the horses. I would rather there was NO flood and no horses killed. Pray for that — IF you think God actually listens to you.

But, that he ‘prayed’ for the Thai, touched me. Yes, it is yet another country that I have spent time in. My parents lived in Bangkok from about 1972 to 1979. Actually my father was supposed to be going to Bangkok this week to deliver a speech to celebrate the birthday of the King’s father. He couldn’t go because of the floods. If the pope, as God’s vicar on earth, had interceded BEFORE the floods then my father and the King would be so much happier. I actually looked this up to be sure. Thailand is one of the LEAST Christian of countries. Only 0.7% of its 65.5 million population is Christian. So that is under 500, 000. But, it is cool that the pope reached out. I just wonder how many Thais have actually heard of the pope. Read this post.

Oct 282011

by Anura Guruge

Shock. Horror.

And they won’t even need the Pope’s permission, though I am sure they will have to get the Queen’s permission — as is ONLY right.

My knowledge of British history, at best in sketchy, since I never learned any British history at school. So, I will confess that I did NOT know that there were rules, dating back to 1688 and 1700, that barred those in the direct line of succession marrying Catholics (though they would have, obviously, always had the right to abdicate from the line.)

Click image to read a good article about it all.

When I was around 12 my father used to grill me on a regular basis about the Commonwealth — when we were in the car. [We didn’t have a car radio at that time.] I had a map with all the Commonwealth countries marked in red — highlighting the adage that the sun never set on the British Empire. Alas, since then my knowledge of the Commonwealth has plummeted. I have to look it up every now and then — as when I talk about Ouellet getting the Commonwealth votes. So, I was not sure about the 16 countries that still had the Queen as their monarch, other than Britain, Canada, Australia and NZ. Here is the list, if you are in any way curious. Kind of sad. Other than Cananda, OZ and NZ it is now mainly islands. Sri Lanka isn’t one of them. Yes, I appreciate that I am very much in the minority here but I used to like the old system — with the Governor Generals. The first few passports I had were all issued in the name of the Queen and I used to find that very reassuring. I will have to look. I am not sure whether I still have any of those old passports. What I do have, for the amusement value, are all those ‘yellow‘ immunization booklets that you had to have if you bummed around the world. You had to hand the yellow booklet along with your passport. You had to check the booklet to make sure all your shots were up to date. Ah, the good ol’ days of international travel.

The Next Pope 2011

Oct 272011

Click to watch YouTube video of a frail pope arriving in Assisi

by Anura Guruge

On October 19, 2011, in the context of the controversial decision by Benedict XVI to refuse joint, interreligious prayer at the AssisiPeace Summit‘ on October 27 — to commemorate the 25th anniversary of John Paul II’s (#265) day of prayer, in 1986, at this same location (the birthplace of St. Francis) at a time when Cold War tension was running high.

Today is the 27th, and the pope arrived in Assisi at 9:45 am local time, by train, having left the Vatican, from the Vatican railway station (inside the walls) at 8 am.  The above video, available on YouTube, shows the pope arriving at Assisi and greeting some of the delegates from the various world religions. The pope definitely looks hunched, frail and out-of-sorts getting out from the bus. His appearance appears to have changed, markedly, in the last month — when one compares what he looked like during his 4-day trip to Germany. Something seems to have happened after the trip — per the recent theme and concern about the pope’s health.

[There was somebody, towards the start, with what looked like the yellow Buddhist robes draped around his shoulder who had a full head of hair. Not sure what religion he was supposed to represent, but I hope he didn’t claim he was a Buddhist. Buddhist monks who think it is cool, and acceptable, not to shave their heads, as is required of them, irk me, just as Catholic priests who disregard their vows of ‘celibacy’ and Western rite cardinals with shaggy beards. I don’t think priesthood, in any religion, is based on an à la carte menu of disciplines you are going to obey and those that you are going to flaunt. Anyway. As I had suspected, I didn’t see any Buddhist priests from Sri Lanka — but I might have missed them. I saw that my compatriot, looking very dapper in a purple cape, was near the head of the line, following all of the friars … or ones that looked like friars to me.]

Here is another video, at YouTube, of the pope delivering his address, in Italian.

Click to play the YouTube video

The pope’s address was on the theme ‘religion can never be justification for violence‘. Yes, that made me laugh. Given the concerns about his health I was willing to believe that maybe he had forgotten about the crusades (which were a tad before his time) but WW II? But, the pope, to an extent, redeemed himself, though he did not make an apology per se.

He then went onto say, per the English translation provided by the Vatican: ‘As a Christian I want to say at this point: yes, it is true, in the course of history, force has also been used in the name of the Christian faith. We acknowledge it with great shame. But it is utterly clear that this was an abuse of the Christian faith, one that evidently contradicts its true nature. The God in whom we Christians believe is the Creator and Father of all, and from Him all people are brothers and sisters and form one single family. …’

Yes, he did preface it with ‘we Christians believe …‘, but I am not sure how the last part of that sentence sat with members of some of the religions listening to this pontification. I am sure we will, over the next few days, start getting feedback from others.

Oct 262011

by Anura Guruge

The Next Pope 2011 book by Anura Guruge

Fr. Anthony's picture of the St. Peter's

Father Anthony, STL, from the UK, is a familiar, comforting and reassuring face to the regular readers of this blog.

He attended the November 20, 2010, cardinal creating consistory and sent us much appreciated notes, reflections and pictures.

I was privileged to have his permission and blessing to use a picture of the interior of the Basilica of  St. Paul Outside the Walls (Basilica Papale di San Paolo fuori le Mura) he took on that trip on the front cover of ‘The Next Pope 2011‘ — with the picture attributed to him. Father Anthony has this to say about the Basilica: ‘It is a very fine building and is the place where Pope John XXIII announced the decsion to convene the 2nd Vatican Council on January 25th 1959. It is in many ways very appropriate as an illustration because St Paul’s has the form that the ancient St Peter’s would have had, and it has become a place associated with various ecumenical occasions. It was there that Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey jointly led the first ever Angican/ Catholic worship preside over by a Pope and an Anglican Primate.’

In July, as was reported here, the Father celebrated 40 years of ordination.

Outside of St Paul's Outside the Walls

Fr. Anthony will be visiting Rome again, for nine days, in early November.

The English College in Rome has a programme to honor British priests celebrating special jubilees. They get to spend a few days at the College’s ‘second home’ in Villa Palazzola, on Lake AlbanoCastel Gandolfo also located there. According to its Web site it is renowned for its world famous cuisine.

Father Anthony’s jubilee is his 40 years as a priest.

The Father will spend a few more days in Rome, at Casa del Clero, a Vatican ‘property’ for Vatican employees and official visitors, before getting back to the U.K.

The father has promised to send us more pictures and if possible thoughts and reflections of the ‘Vatican scene’.

 This morning he sent me this, with permission to publish his words:

If you really think anyone would be interested in my November visit to Rome you are welcome to mention it. I will certainly draw people’s attention to the book, if I have an opportunity.
I will be keeping my ears open and will let you know anything I hear. Also any pictures that might be worth sending.
I am reading the book at odd moments. Although I had read the profiles when you sent them earlier, it is fascinating to read them now as part of the book.
Regarding the Pope’s health, my impression is that there is no obvious medical problem, as far as we can see. However, I think that the changes in the Ad Limina alongside the use of the mobile platform does suggest a certain worry/anxiety on the part of the Papal household that the Pope is getting over fatigued. His health was never robust but he has had no real problems since his election. I can certainly see that he has aged quite a bit between his visit to Britain in September 2010 and now.
He walks more slowly, and to  my eyes seems more frail. on the other hand he was able to carry out a taxing schedule in Germany, and his talks there show that his mind is still very sharp. We must not forget that he is going to be 85 next April. Maybe you should re-think your prognosis and make it 95!
If you want to publish any of those thoughts you are welcome. I have no inside knowledge, but I use my eyes!
Oct 252011

by Anura Guruge

Yesterday, Monday, October 24, 2011, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, headed by Ghanaian Cardinal Turkson, released a document titled: Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority.

Per the Vatican this document focuses on two key issues:

1/  Build a framework of rules of global governance ….

2/  Proposals for reforming the international financial system ….

Wow. ‘Global governance’ and proposals for financial reform from the financial whiz ‘kids’ at the Vatican.

To me, the most telling aspect of this document, appeared near the top. It starts by referring to 2011 G-20 Cannes Summit, November 3-4, the sixth meeting of the G-20 heads of government — with the The Group of Twenty (G-20) being the Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors of the world’s top 19 financially significant countries plus the European Union (EU) coming together, since it was established in 1999, to systemically address and tackle key issues in the global economy. Here is lies the rub. The Vatican, quite rightly, is not a part of the G-20. The Vatican acknowledges that. Then, they go onto to say, that this rather long-winded document is a note to share the Vatican contributions to the discussions of the G-20 Summit!

Yes, it has to be hard. Just a few hundred years ago the Vatican was a world financial Super Power. It had the sole power to decide which nations would be allowed to exploit complete hemispheres of the globe. These days, however, its major economic initiative is restricted to spending US $ billions, per annum, to try and contain the horrendous damages done by the never-ending clergy sex abuse criminal activity. Just today, another new story of decades worth of abuse in London — with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith now ordering an official investigation! To be fair, we all should be thankful to the billions being injected into the global economy by the Catholic Church to compensate the poor victims, their gallant lawyers and those that have been hired to defend the Church. That money, especially in the US and Ireland, would have helped revive flagging consumer spending. So, that is good.

The Vatican even thinking that it has the credibility, let alone a right, to offer suggestions about setting up a new ‘UN’ to oversea global financial authority is ludicrous. Physician heal thyself!

Try putting together the words ‘Vatican’ and ‘Bank’ in the same sentence. It sure doesn’t evoke a mental image of ‘integrity’ and ‘astuteness.’  Instead, what comes to my mind is: corruption, murder of Italian magistrates, avarice, suicides (with bodies hanging from underneath bridges in London), Marcinkus from Chicago, forged bond certificates, worthless letters of guarantee from the Vatican and even the possible death of poor John Paul I (#264)!

[Being reminded of those forged bond certificates this morning, on my daily run, got me thinking (as is my wont). Hhhhmmm. The German’s did it very successfully during WW II. This never ending source of money to contain the sex abuse crimes? Unlike the US, the Vatican can’t print money. But …. Hhhhhmmmm. I checked. No, I am not the first to think about that. It has already been discussed! So, much for the Vatican trying to lecture us on greed.]

Peter with the Tax Collector from Masaccio (cropped)

Yes, the October 24th document references work by past popes, but forget that there are those that do recall all of the financial shenanigans of the Vatican — just in recent past.

A quick reading through the document left me puzzled. It appears to lay blame on ‘individuals’ for our current woes. While everything in the end is done by individuals, I for one, draw a very distinct demarcation about what happened in the US as a result of the mortgage crisis and what is happening in Europe as we write. The European problem, in Greece, Italy, Portugal, Ireland and Spain, is caused by COUNTRIES getting into debt above their heads and now not having the money to pay the creditors. That bank will suffer, does not mean that, this time around, it is totally the fault of the bankers. This whole thing is just weird. The pope donates just $400,000 to help the starving in Africa, but invests US $1 Million in an US stem cell research company. And then this document.

Well, in this (rare) instance, I am not the only one baffled by the Vatican’s audaciousness. Time, normally very deferential to the Vatican, had this to say earlier toady. This was the take by the National Post yesterday. Slate thought it was a great conspiracy theory. And let me leave the last word to The New York Times.

Oct 242011

by Anura Guruge

Yesterday I talked about the Vatican/Pope investing US $1 Million in a publicly traded US company NeoStem [stock ticker NBS] that does adult stem cell research. When I had a quick look at the stock performance chart for 2011 I was quite surprised to see that after a small ‘pop’ on the pope news in June, the stock had tanked. [That it was listed on AMEX rather than NASDAQ also caused my nose to twitch. Hhhmmmm.]

Given that in my priorities in life, contrary to what people believe, my interest in the stock market far exceeds my fascination with popes, this morning I decided to do some more research into NBS. At 65 cents the stock is cheap — such a price typically indicating a distressed stock. Basically penny shares. The stock appears to have dropped from around US $1.50 to $0.65 since the pope’s injection of $1 million. I call that Reverse Midas touch.

That is a 56% drop since the pope showed interest. So the $1 million is now down to $460,000 — though to be fair it could explode from there, IF there is a big breakthrough. I just find it very strange that the stock isn’t ticking UP given all the media coverage it got just this weekend — especially the joint conference at the Vatican in November.

Nobody seems to think highly of the company.

You could genuinely argue that if you are a contrarian, this is the ideal time to jump into this stock. Lets face it, at this price you could buy a few hundred and not even notice that you spent any money on stock.

I also noticed that the company has an acute shortage of MANAGERS. On my research, they show 8 executives, but these 8 posts are held by just 4 people, with the founder, Dr. Robin L. Smith, in the fore. Haven’t really worked out what her deal with the Vatican is. Not sure whether she is even a Catholic. I have read that it was her that cut the deal with the Vatican.

I am beginning to think that much of the negativity now associated with the company ACTUALLY might have to do something with the Vatican investment! Basically, others thinking, these folks are now going to be too hamstrung by the Vatican to do anything significant. I could be wrong. But, there is something wrong with this picture.

There is one last thing I want to mull over. US $1 Million is not even bagatelle to the pope or the Vatican. They, on average, seem to pay 4 times that to settle with the kids abused by priests. So investing $1 Million in NBS, to them, is akin to me forking out $1 to buy a scratch ticket. Loosing $500,000 is nothing to them … though I, given that I remember these things … realize that THIS LOSS is more than the total that the pope donated to the relief effort in Africa just last month! Amen.

Oct 232011

Click on image to watch YouTube video on bible burning protestor

by Anura Guruge

I knew that there was to be a length canonization service this morning, in St. Peter’s Square, to induct three new Saints, all three of them, viz. Italian bishop Guido Maria Conforti, Spanish nun Sister Bonifacia Rodriguez de Castro and an Italian priest Luigi Guanella, having founded religious orders during the 19th century.

I will readily confess, given what transpired last Sunday, and the current ‘buzz’ about the pope’s health, my primary interest was to see what kind of wheels the pope would be using today — given that I am anxious to see the pope on a Segway (though I do not think that this alone would signal a segue). What I was greeted was news of an English speaking protestor, atop the Bernini collonnade, more or less underneath the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace, burning a bible (as an agitated bishop watched) and hurling it down on the crowds below. It was certainly dramatic and again raised questions as to the efficacy of Vatican security (though I do subscribe to the notion that the pope’s best bodyguard doesn’t rely on firearms, and as far as I know wear an earpiece or fancy dark shades).

The pope, certainly looking tired, was on a different motorized, open, moving platform (than the one used inside St. Peter’s last week) — this one resembling a chopped-off version of the moving stairs used with aircraft when there is no jet-bridge at hand. Here is another article and video from USA Today.

Oct 232011

by Anura Guruge

It made it to the Sunday Morning news shows today, with all the shock, awe and intrigue overtones neatly woven in: The pope is sponsoring stem cell research to the tune of US $1 million. Wow.

I have to confess, I had seen this story flash across my screen a few times over the last few days, and hadn’t given it too much thought. Then, there was yesterday’s story with a whole new slew of speculation that the pope may have undisclosed health issues.

Stem cells, if we can harness them effectively, are the ultimate in miracle cures. They can even replace missing teeth — and living in New Hampshire, I will be so happy when that comes to pass! But, on a more prosaic level, the potential of using stem cells to combat strokes, blindness, Parkinson’s, diabetes and spinal cord injury have been talked about for decades. This pope, as I elaborated in a reply to a Darien Clark comment last night, has suffered multiple strokes. [His current issues to do with confusion, e.g., upside down pallium, and fatigue, e.g., use of mechanical platform, could be due to minor strokes.] His brother, now in permanent exile in Castel Gandolfo, is said to be nearly blind. John Paul II (#265) was debilitated by Parkinson’s. At least one prominent cardinal has Parkinson’s and given their lifestyles there have to be many with diabetes. So, any breakthroughs in stem cell research could have immediate and direct relevance to the pope and his ‘family.’

The Vatican is being very specific about the scope and parameters of its deal, originally announced in June of this year, with the the publicly traded US company NeoStem [stock ticker NBS]. The research that the pope is sponsoring is ADULT stem cell research, as opposed to the more promising embryonic stem cell research. That basically is it.

NeoStem's stock price for 2011. The deal with the pope in June has taken a toll. At 65 cents it is cheaper than a cup of coffee (if you get my drift).

The Church is dead against embryonic stem cell research (which involves the use and destruction of human embryos) but wants to be seen as involved in the other aspect of stem cell research. To this end there will even be a 3-day conference, at the Vatican, this November, on developments in adult stem cell research. It is being jointly hosted by the Pontifical Council for Culture and NeoStem. Not exactly sure what the cultural aspect is, but it just highlights that this is somewhat uncharted waters for the Vatican.

Well, I am not the expert, but I wonder exactly where the demarcation line is when it comes to the Church and life. The Church opposes married couples seeking technology help in getting pregnant, but at least one cardinal proudly boasts a pace-maker. Yes, I understand that these are at the two ends of the life cycle, but if you can’t mess with one end why is it OK to mess with the other? But, maybe, stem cell work will help the Church think more clearly about these matters in the future.

Oct 222011

by Anura Guruge

A week ago the pope’s health became a worldwide media issue when the pope opted to use a mechanical platform to navigate the long aisles of St. Peter’s — with the explanation that the Vatican wanted to minimize the exertion on the 84-year old pope.

My trusty countdown clock informs me that in 129 days (~4 months) the pope will leapfrog over his predecessor John Paul II (#265) to become the 6th oldest pope since 1400. The pope now is at the same age that John Paul II was in 2005 — the year of his demise. To be sure, the pope appears to be in better physical shape than his predecessor (though I am having some concerns about him having ‘senior moments’ on an increasing basis).

Last night Louis Epstein an expert Catholic watcher sent me an e-mail that said: Meanwhile…another hint that the next conclave might not be that far beyond the next consistory? … with a link to an post on Catholic News.

This morning, Father John, who also misses little, if any, send me an e-mail with the subject line: Reason why “The Next Pope 2011” will be a best seller.
He then went onto say: Another news story of a Papal change of custom to conserve energy. Where there is smoke there is fire  . . .  something is up and they ain’t saying.  We will find out what the smoke is all about  . . .  but by that time the only smoke we will care about will be the one coming out from the Sistine Chapel!

He also sent me the SAME LINK as Louis … which is this.

The post basically says that the Vatican has eliminated most of the individual private meetings between the pope and bishops visiting Rome ad limina vists — to reduce the ‘stress’ on the pope. This is quite an admission and, without doubt, devalues the whole meaning of these visits — whose express purpose is direct, face-to-face communications between the bishops and the pope.

So we have now had, in short order, three hard to ignore data points:

1/ September 21, 2011: Upside down pallium.

2/ October 16, 2011: trouble walking the length of St. Peter’s.

3/ October 21, 2011: ad limina push back.

Hhmmmm ….

Ad Limina, February 2010, the the Scottish bishops (from their Web site)

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