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Mar 14 16 6:02 AM
30,000 flowers: how the Vatican decorates at EasterIn his landmark document on creation, the Pope pointed out that his namesake St Francis of Assisi was so close to the natural world that he even preached to the flowers. On Easter Sunday, in an altar in front of St Peter’s Basilica, something resembling a communing with nature will take place when Pope Francis celebrates Mass surrounded by a stunning floral display made up of 30,000 tulips, hyacinths and daffodils. The square will be an awash of yellow, dark purple, salmon and orange while hundreds of three foot tall delphiniums will decorate the famous colonnades surrounding the piazza. Then, afterwards, when he gives his blesses to the city of Rome and the world, the Pope will appear on a balcony surrounded with white 'Avalanche' roses.These flowers are not the handy work of priests and nuns in the Vatican gardens, but are arranged by a team of florists from the Netherlands who the Pope thanks from the balcony and then personally greets afterwards. Since 1986, the country which is the world’s largest exporter of flowers has been in charge of the flowers to St Peter’s at Easter.It is a tradition which started following Pope John Paul II’s controversial visit to Holland a year earlier which had been marred by protests. The warmest welcome, however, were the flowers organised by the “Bloemenbureau”, the Dutch national flower society and later the Vatican agreed that the Netherlands would be in charge of the Easter floral display. This is by no means a simple task, and requires months of meticulous preparation starting in the autumn. From February the bulbs are kept in greenhouses at specific temperatures so they come into bloom on Easter Sunday and are transported in refrigerated trucks to the Vatican on the Tuesday before. A team of 25 is this year led being led by floral designer Paul Deckers who has been involved with the St Peter’s displays since 1988. He said positioning of the flowers starts at 6am on Saturday morning with a final check taking place in the early hours of Easter Sunday. The Vatican approve their plans and are keen to ensure that the flowers do not block television cameras filming the liturgy. This year Deckers was keen for the display to reflect the mercy of God, a theme which the Church is currently marking with a jubilee year. For this reason he chose to use 3,500 'Avalanche' roses in a range of colours including soft pink and peach.“I want a colourful interconnectedness,” he said. “I’d like to create a sense of the flowers speaking the languages and feelings of people.After Sunday the fresh flowers are then distributed to nearby churches and monasteries while the bulbs are planted in the Vatican gardens. (What a beautiful "windfall" for those very lucky churches and monasteries!)While he might be in charge of a huge operation, Deckers stressed that creating an Easter floral decoration at home need not be complicated. He suggests getting a basic landscape of foam, moss and wood and use simple flowers such as daffodils. “It doesn’t have to be a lot,” he said. “Look at nature and you get inspiration.”
Mar 31 16 3:23 AM
Wanted in Rome - Italy’s first Ivory Crush takes place at Circus Maximus in Rome.Italy joins the international fight against the poaching and illegal trafficking of elephant ivory and rhino horn, with the nation’s first public ivory crush taking place at the Circus Maximus at 17.00 on 31 March.Almost one ton of seized ivory, including tusks and carved objects, will be destroyed at the event which has been organised by US nonprofit organisation Elephant Action League in collaboration with Italy’s environment ministry and forestry police.The ivory will be destroyed first by an industrial stone crusher and then a steamroller, in the presence of Italy’s environment minister Gian Luca Galletti.The event will also be attended by a government representative from Kenya which will make history on 30 April when it burns 120 tons of ivory – the largest ivory stockpile ever destroyed by any country – at Nairobi National Park.
Mar 31 16 6:55 AM
Goethe's Excellent Italian AdventureTwo hundred years after Goethe’s “Italian Journey” was first published, the story still reflects German longing for art, antiquities, lemon trees, sun-splashed coastlines and, of course, Rome.Early in his career, Germany’s great writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe yearned for the land of classical Greeks.It inspired him to retell the Greek myth of Iphigenia who, in distant exile, is the most dramatic and elegiac asylum-seeker in all of German literature.His research took him on a journey to southern Europe – and led to quite a different book.Goethe set off for southern Europe in the late 1700s, carrying an early version of his text “Iphigenia on Tauris.”He only made it to Italy.The tale of his pilgrimage, reconstructed years later from letters and diary entries into “Italian Journeys,” still voices German yearnings for the South.Shortly after his 37th birthday, the poet headed south almost as if fleeing and incognito — to the “land where lemons blossom,” as his Mignon would later sing in the “Wilhelm Meister” novels.This year marks the 200th anniversary of his renowned “Italian Journey,” the first volume of which was published in 1816, followed by the second volume a year later.By then Goethe was the world-acclaimed author of such works as “Sorrows of Young Werther,” “Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship,” “Torquato Tasso” and “Iphigenia on Tauris,” which he completed in Italy.Upon meeting Germany’s greatest literary figure of the modern era, Napoleon is said to have called out: “Voilà un homme!” or “There’s a real man!” — as if the emperor had expected a god.Goethe undertook careful preparations for his Italian sojourn which started in September 1786 and lasted until May 1788. By then, Italy was already a hot spot for cultural tourists, particularly the English who were already filling libraries with their reports from the South.He assiduously prepared for what would be more than one and a half years away from his ministerial duties in Weimar.After his unfulfilled love for Freifrau von Stein — and because his lifelong appointment to the ducal court in Weimar might become an obstacle to research and poetry — Goethe decided that he wanted to become an unknown artist roaming freely.For his trip to Italy, he chose the pseudonym Johann Philipp Möller.Then, shortly after his 37th birthday, the poet headed south almost as if fleeing and incognito — to the “land where lemons blossom,” as his Mignon would later sing in the “Wilhelm Meister” novels.He took along numerous German guides to Italy, and in Rome bought the two-volume “History of the Art of Antiquity” by Johann Joachim Winckelmann. The 18th century German art historian also never made it to Greece, but his themes on the “noble simplicity and silent grandeur” of classical sculpture found widespread acclaim.In his own cultural quest, Goethe viewed Roman antiquity against the backdrop of its Hellenistic origins, and believed himself close to classical Greece. He visited the Doric temples at Paestum in southern Italy as well as on Sicily, once colonized by Greek settlers. On the seas between the mainland and Sicily, he imagined the mythic Odysseus, sea monsters and seductive sirens.Rome, it turns out, was Goethe’s actual goal. When he made it there on November 1, 1786, he exclaimed: “I have finally arrived in this capital of the world!”By then he had already traveled over the Brenner Pass and visited Lake Garda, where he first saw olive, fig and lemon trees. He stopped in Verona, Venice, Ferrara and Tuscany. Full of blind impatience, he stayed in Florence, the chief city of Renaissance art, for only three hours.Along the way, he mostly avoided Italian high society and only occasionally revealed himself as the author of “Young Werther,” a European bestseller published a decade earlier.His anonymity was likewise respected by friends in Rome — including the German painter Wilhelm Tischbein, whose “In Campagna” famously portrayed the writer lounging in the countryside and wearing a wide-brimmed hat.Goethe lived as a sort of artistic and intellectual vagabond in Italy.Among the high points was Sicily where Goethe, an accomplished natural scientist, sought the “primal plant.” On his first major voyage he immediately grew seasick. From Naples, he witnessed Vesuvius erupting across the gulf.Goethe considered Naples to be the most beautiful city, but not the capital of the world. This title was reserved for Rome, because of its treasures of antiquity and the Vatican – although the writer couldn’t relate to the Baroque style of Roman churches.He admired art in the Vatican Palace and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, as well as frescoes by Raphael, but had contempt for all political aspects of the papacy. (Heaven only knows what he would have thought of Vatileaks, to say nothing of the blatant opposition to Pope Francis that some high-profile Curial prelates seem to be infected with.)In Rome, the city of love, Goethe became involved with a woman of simple means, the “Faustina” who has never been completely deciphered. According to U.S. psychoanalyst K.R. Eissler, the celebrated poet had been a virgin until the encounter. In a letter from Italy, he confessed to a friend that he feared venereal disease and worried about the threat of marriage to the “honest” young Italian woman.That it took Goethe 30 years to publish his “Italian Journey” is still a puzzle today. It was the most intense experience of a poet whose works so intensely evoke sensuality.He was never in London or Paris (despite an invitation from Napoleon), never in Vienna and only briefly in Berlin. Rome and southern Italy remained his grandest adventure.Why he kept it so long to himself cannot be explained by even a million Goethe interpretations.
Apr 20 16 10:22 AM
CWN - On April 29, the Trevi Fountain, one of the most popular and emblematic tourist spots in Rome, will be dyed red in recognition of all Christians who even today give their life for the faith. The event is being organized by Aid to the Church in Need and seeks to “call attention to the drama of anti-Christian persecution.”In a statement posted on their website, the aid group said they hope this initiative will be “the start of a long lasting, concrete reaction everywhere so that the persecuted people of the 21st century can as soon as possible return to fully enjoying their natural right to religious freedom.”The organizers added that “the systematic violation of the right to religious freedom, especially that of Christians, must become the central issue of the public debate.”Speaking at the event will be the Chaldean Catholic Bishop of Aleppo, Syria, Antoine Audo, and Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, the International President of Aid the Church in Need. Iraq and Syria are two of the countries where there is a severe persecution of Christians, with the Islamic State killing, enslaving and driving people out of their homes. Christians in Nigeria are also at risk from attacks by the militant group Boko Haram, while Christianity is illegal in countries including North Korea and Somalia. As of now, various associations have joined the initiative including Communion and Liberation, Caritas Italy, the Christian Workers Movement, the Focolare Movement and pro-life organizations.Pope Francis has spoken frequently during his papacy on modern-day martyrs. On April 7, the Pope called martyrs “the lifeblood of the Church.”“It is the witness of our martyrs of today – so many! – chased out of their homeland, driven away, having their throats cut, persecuted: they have the courage to confess Jesus even to the point of death,” he said.
Apr 23 16 5:57 AM
The Vatican’s Gallery of Maps Comes Back to LifeRemoving centuries of mistakes; the Brenner Pass problemIn the days when pontiffs rarely left Rome, Pope Gregory XIII commissioned giant maps depicting all of Italy—so that he could explore the peninsula without leaving the city’s safety. By 1582, a team of top artists had painted and illustrated 40 meticulous maps, most of them measuring some 15 feet by 16 feet, onto the walls of a vast gallery. In their original form, the paintings had an almost 3-D effect, with city landmarks, mountain valleys and the white crests of ocean waves clearly visible.But the centuries were not kind to the Vatican’s Gallery of Maps, which stretches the length of a football field and is the world’s largest series of painted maps. The works were gravely damaged by dust and water over the years. Botched restorations erased or covered up key features, and a glue used in a 19th-century effort left the maps dulled by a yellow patina. In recent years, most visitors to the gallery—part of the Vatican Museums—simply ignored the maps as they rushed to the Sistine Chapel near the gallery’s far end.Some of those tourists now may start slowing down on their way to Michelangelo Sistine masterpieces. A four-year restoration by a team of more than a dozen experts has returned the gallery to something close to its original grandeur, with an inauguration set for Saturday.In the 16th century, Pope Gregory assigned the monk and geographer Ignazio Danti to carry out the project. In turn, Danti hired several artistic stars of the day and up-and-comers as well to illustrate the maps, including Girolamo Muziano, Cesare Nebbia and the Flemish brothers Matthijs and Paul Bril. The Brils excelled at landscape paintings—an essential skill for the work.“The maps had no mistakes,” said Maria Ludmila Pustka, head of restoration at the Vatican Museums—at least based on what was known of Italian geography at the time. “Danti did an excellent job. [The artists] omitted what they didn’t know for sure or didn’t have details—they didn’t bluff.”A map of the Ciociaria region in Central Italy. The ancient hilltop town of Anagniacan be seen near the upper edge of the map.WikipediaBut a few decades after the maps’ creation, things began to go downhill. Pope Urban VIII’s restoration of 1630 omitted some details that had blurred, such as a hamlet on a lake. Urban—a scion of the Barberini family, whose symbol is a bee—had a map representing the papal territories reworked so that it was filled with bees. He also placed bees above the golden-colored dragon that symbolized the family of Gregory XIII. (The bees are still there.)Separately, an image of the Brenner Pass between Italy and Austria disappeared, apparently painted over because its position high on a gallery wall made it hard to reach.In 2011, the Vatican decided to restore the maps and turned to the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, made up mainly of art-loving Catholics. Among other projects, the group has funded restorations in the Sistine Chapel and the Pauline Chapel, which is the private chapel of the pope and features frescoes by Michelangelo.The Patrons’ California chapter, of about 300 members, jumped at the maps project, which cost around $2.3 million. It was an obvious choice for those of Italian descent, many with special links to the maps, said Michael Feeley, chairman of the chapter. One family “paid for the map of Umbria because [family members were] devoted to St. Francis of Assisi,” a town in the Umbria region, Mr. Feeley said. The chapter eventually raised 25% more than needed.In the restoration, experts injected organic glue into the plaster holding the artworks in place to anchor them, then divided each of the 40 maps into 64 sections—roughly the size of a sheet of typewriter paper—just as the original artists had.The restorers then laid special paper over each section to absorb the yellow glue from the 19th-century restoration that had blurred the colors, removed the paper and spread a special glue made from seaweed onto the maps to hold the original colors in place. The restorers colored or redrew any missing details.The restoration tried to reproduce the original techniques of the map artists by adopting chemical-free color pigments and by using an ancient recipe for the Roman stucco.Detail from the ceiling of the Gallery of Maps.Jean-Pol Grandmont - WikipediaVisitors to the restored galleries will be able to identify street names in Bologna that still exist 500 years later and can make out the arcades in St. Mark’s Square in Venice. (Good heavens! Now I really must see the Galleria again!) Some visitors of Italian descent often linger in search of their ancestors’ village, said Romina Cometti, restorations project manager at the Patrons of the Arts.The restoration has brought a new clarity to the depiction of Lepanto, the naval battle in which Catholic states defeated the Ottoman fleet in 1571. The gallery also depicts Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon River and Hannibal with his elephants ready to fight the Roman legions, as well as St. Leo I, who persuaded Attila the Hun not to sack Rome.“The paintings are so precise in their details,” added Mrs. Pustka. “I challenge Google Maps to be so accurate.”
May 2 16 1:35 PM
Behind a former service station on Via Casilina, a dusty path leads to a vast prairie. Along the path, a 6 feet-high wall of car wrecks shields the prairie from the neighbourhood while in the distance looms Rome’s disused city airport. These 120 hectares once hosted “Casilino 700”, Europe’s largest camp. “Casilino 700” arose in the early 1960s when southern Italians migrated to Rome. In 1968, a Roma family from Bosnia joined them. By 1996, the camp was lodging 2,000 persons. When in 2000 the left-wing government razed the camp, its residents moved to the adjacent “Casilino 900”. In 2010, the right-wing government razed “Casilino 900” and transferred its residents to state-built camps. ‘Per sbaraccare, occorre baraccare,’ proclaimed Mussolini in 1933. Rome’s shantytowns and their dwellers have always been at the centre of local politics. Policies typecast the dwellers invariably as “nomadi” (nomads) even when they have been sedentary for generations. And though the camps lodge Roma as well as non-Roma, politicians always refer to the dwellers as “zingari” (gypsies).The “July 21” organisation, who advocates the rights of Italy’s gypsy population, seizes the opportunity of the upcoming elections: it published a report, “Roma: oltre le baraccopoli” (Rome: beyond the shantytowns), that proposes a solution to Rome’s camps.Rome’s shantytowns appeared towards the end of Italy’s unification when migrants from Southern Italy improvised shelter in the new capital. Among them were Italian travellers. In 1957, 15,000 persons were living in 50 camps. By the end of the 1960s, the number of families living in camps had rocketed to 13,684. Rome’s authorities started building council housing and by the early Eighties Rome’s camps had almost disappeared. In the late 1980s, however, Roma who fled the ethnic conflict in former Yugoslavia migrated to Italy. Rome’s shantytowns reappeared. Left-wing mayor Francesco Rutelli ordered the first of Rome’s 8 official camps (“campi attrezzati”). When in 2007 Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU, more Roma as well as ethnic Romanians and Bulgarians migrated to Italy. Right-wing mayor Gianni Alemanno proposed to build 5 extra official camps (first renamed as “villaggi della solidarità”, then as “villaggi autorizzati”).Nowadays, in Rome, more than 5,000 persons are living in official camps, 400 in dormitories and 2,500 in small, illegal settlements.Rome’s official camps lie along or beyond the “GRA”, Rome’s ring road. Each camp is monitored and secured 24/7. Extended families live in campers of 33m2 that are surrounded by litter and vermin. Many residents suffer from hypertension and respiratory difficulties. There have been outbreaks of hepatitis A. The average life expectancy in the camps is 50 years: Europe’s lowest and 20 years less than the Italian average. Frequent moving between settlements as well as large distances to the nearest school made many children abandon school: only 2,500 of Italy’s 13,000 children of Roma origin attend class regularly.In June 2014, mayor Ignazio Marino stopped securing and monitoring Rome’s camps. Since then, the official camps have become a no man’s land ruled by the law of the stronger. Usually, a camp is a temporary phase in a migrant’s trajectory. Rome’s official camps, however, do not perform a transit function. Instead, they have become real termini: the isolated camps offer no opportunities for employment. ‘Who is born here has very little contact with the outside world,’ says Marco Brazzoduro, professor at Rome’s “La Sapienza” university and president of the Romanì federation. ‘Who lives in a camp has no other horizon and ends up inuring. The camp becomes a total institution, completely self-referential.’ Rome’s authorities operate a policy of eradication. Last year, for example, 80 informal settlements have been razed. The authorities dismantle settlements without having sufficient place to lodge its residents. Hence, many residents spread out and build micro settlements. These settlements, however, are not safe. Many a resident, especially small children, have died of cold or perished in a fire. In 2011, while the parents were looking for food and water, four siblings were carbonised in a shack when the gas cylinder the family used for cooking and heating burst. More than 20 times the family had been evicted and the shack they were living in was to be razed a couple of Mid 2014, “July 21” revealed that sheltering 6,000 people in eight derelict and overcrowded camps cost the city of Rome 24 million €/year. In all 35 companies had obtained contracts without passing any official tender. Most of the money went to monitoring and security and only 0.4 percent to social inclusion of the camp residents. Half a year later exploded the “Mafia Capitale” scandal: Roman politicians were earning fortunes with sheltering immigrants and gypsies. One of the accused, Salvatore Buzzi, boasted: “I earn more money with sheltering immigrants and gypsies than with selling cocaine.” Buzzi’s businesses invoiced 2 million €/year for maintaining Rome’s official camps. “Roma: oltre le barracopoli” proposes to close all official camps and dormitories and to dismantle all micro settlements over a period of 5 years. One-on-one consultation with the families should yield individual solutions. In particular, no family unit should be disrupted as now is the case in the dormitories. For the residents of the micro settlements who are willing to return to their home country, the authorities should engage in international cooperation. For the residents of the official camps who originate from former Yugoslavia, the authorities should regularise their citizenship –for years, many residents, some 2nd or even 3rd generation immigrants, have been living in Italy in legal limbo. Last but not least, the camp dwellers should get access to council housing. Rome’s shantytowns vanished in the early 80s when the dwellers, including Italian travellers, moved into council housing. Yet, will Rome’s council housing residents accept large gypsy families for a neighbour? When former mayor Ignazio Marino proposed to open council housing to the Roma, he faced fierce resistance. And even when Roma would be offered council housing, will Rome after some time see arise urban gypsy ghettos of the like of Eastern Europe? Behind the former service station on Via Casilina, clothes are drying on a washing line. Two Roma families from the “Via di Salone” camp, the official camp the authorities deported them to when they razed “Casilino 900”, have settled in the building. Further down the path stand several tents. In the area where Gianni Alemanno in 2010 called the razing of “Casilino 900” a ‘historical day’ on which he ‘wiped out Rome’s shame’, every day new settlers arrive. The neighbourhood protests; two council representatives have asked for an inspection of the area on “illegal constructions”.
Jul 3 16 6:01 AM
Live from the Colosseum in Rome! Inside a Party to Save Italy's TreasuresThe man who spent a small fortune to save the from ruin, celebrated with a glitzy gala held inside the ancient arena.ROME—Sitting on a gilded, red velvet chair inside the ancient Roman Colosseum on a glorious July evening listening to a soprano sing O soave fanciulla from La Bohème, two things come to mind. The first, of course, is that this sure beats the usual Friday night routine (no offense, Netflix). The second is a haunting and somewhat horrifying reflection. Did the gladiators and slaves who fought in this very spot more than 2,000 years ago notice how the setting sun casts dancing shadows as it dips below amphitheater’s arched windows, or were too focused on the carnage of the bloody battles they were embroiled in? It is impossible to be in such a place and not think of its history. Sure, there are no longer bloodstains on the ancient travertine, but there are definitely ancient spirits—gladiator ghosts perhaps—everywhere. The Roman Colosseum, or Flavian Amphitheater as it is officially known, is perhaps the most recognizable of all the remnants of the Roman Empire’s former glory. It was inaugurated in 80 A.D. as a gift by the Emperor Vespasian to the people of Rome, and has survived centuries of battles, of pillaging and, more recently, of pollution. It has been covered with garbage, excavated, built upon, dug under and trampled by millions of tourists each year. It has almost crumbled countless times, its wrinkles and fissures a true testament of the effects of time.If not for the intervention of entrepreneur Diego Della Valle, chairman of luxury shoe company Tod’s, it might not have survived much longer. The billionaire, estimated by Forbes to be worth $1.4 billion, parted with €25 million for a multi-phase renovation to ensure the survival of the important monument after chunks of marble started falling off the façade in 2012. When it emerged that Italy was too broke to pay to keep the structure from crumbling, Della Valle raised his hand and shamed a host of other Made in Italy entrepeneurs to adopt their own monuments. As a result, Fendi has cleaned up Rome’s Trevi Fountain, Diesel is scrubbing up the Rialto Bridge in Venice and Bulgari has adopted the Spanish Steps.Della Valle celebrated the completion of phase one on Friday night with a private orchestral concert and a sit-down dinner for 300 invited guests held inside the ancient ruin. The event was a spectacular display of the best of culture and history, with politicians, glitterati and a handful of lucky journalists dining on shrimp risotto, sea bass and wild fruits on linen draped, candle-lit tables lining the upper ring of the ancient amphitheater. A pop up lounge bar was constructed on the landing overlooking the Roman Forum where those who didn’t want the evening to end sipped cocktails under dim lighting.Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi sat at Della Valle’s table, which was placed where emperors once gazed out over the games below. (He left the dinner unexpectedly when news of the terror attacks that killed nine Italians in Bangladesh broke.) At one point at the end of the concert, the travertine on the inside of the amphitheater was lit up in red, white and green, white and red like the Italian flag. All that was missing were gladiators and lions. The renovation was not just about shoring the walls and cleaning the grit from the cracks. Workers uncovered centuries of grime to expose the original subtle pinkish hue of the external marble. A total surface of 143,650 square feet has been scrubbed and 31 of the arches have been restored and reinforced. 1,200 meters of iron gates, frames and parapets have been replaced. Scores of artifacts were uncovered during work to expose the amphitheater’s lower levels, including a low-relief depicting gladiators that date back to when the Colosseum was built, and another from the 14th century depicting Christ on the Altar. The project also included extensive surface mapping and the cataloguing of various types of decay and microorganisms, from algae to lichen, that had to be removed. All this, and Della Valle has only spent €10 million of his €25 million budget. The rest of the work is expected to be finished by 2022. “We are so pleased with the results so far, exposing new colors and details” Della Valle told The Daily Beast as he made the rounds from table to table on Friday night. “But it’s not enough. We need to inspire people to sponsor these types of restorations not just in Italy but around the world.” The next phase of the work will include new lighting and other less obvious improvements that will help stabilize the structure for centuries to come. The continuing renovation will also include a full floor to make the area look just as it did when gladiators fought. The floor was removed during excavations conducted in the 19th century. The new floor will include the same sort of hatches that were used to lift wild animals from the network of cages to the arena floor. That enhancement, as well as the renovation of the lower levels, is being paid by the Italian government, according to Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, who no doubt now wants part of the glory that goes with saving one of the most important monuments in the world. The new floor will allow the government to rent out the Colosseum for “very high level cultural events” like the one hosted on Friday night.
Jul 22 16 5:27 PM
Rome: City of beauty, history and…#Pokemon?ROME — Pokemon Go, the location-based augmented reality game based on the popular animated cartoon, has swept across the United States and has made it here to Italy.The most coveted Pokestop in Vatican City, however, is the least accessible one: the window of the papal apartment where Pope Francis delivers his Sunday Angelus address.Using a mobile phone’s GPS and camera, players can catch and train virtual Pokemon as well as battle with other players at designated areas called Pokegyms.As players walk around, they can reach designated areas in the maps called Pokestops where they can pick items, such as Pokeballs, unhatched Pokemon eggs, and other goodies.The window of the papal apartments is one of the many Pokestops in Vatican City.Given my schedule, I’m not one to indulge in mobile games as often as I’d like, and maybe it’s for the better since I get hooked so easily. But after seeing all the fuss online, I decided to give it try. And yes, I got hooked.I found myself walking aimlessly through the streets of Rome stopping every so often at a Pokestop or trying to catch a rogue Pokemon for my collection.A walk from the office to St. Peter’s Square takes no more than 2 minutes. With Pokemon Go, it took me about 5 minutes, often times bumping into tourists because I was staring at my phone.Looking around the square, almost every tourist had a phone; I was looking for any novice Pokemon masters like myself looking for goodies at one of the many Pokestops in St. Peter’s.However, going around, discreetly looking at other people’s phones, I noticed they were either texting, snapping selfies in front of the basilica or recording videos of their children scurrying across the square.Pokemon Go might bring a lot of people back to church, but not in the way one would expect, particularly because some Pokestops are actually churches. While riding a bus near the Vatican, I passed by the Roman parish of St. Peter the Apostle. And yes, it’s a Pokestop.Nevertheless, I came to the realization that not only was I fully engrossed in the game, I was also alienating myself.I was standing in the area where St. Peter was martyred, walking on stones that have been stepped on by countless saints, and yet I could only focus on where I could score a few Pokeballs and a Revive potion.Technology has opened the doors to communicating with people and traveling to places we could only dream of.But leaving it unchecked left me looking at a place that only existed in a fantasy world and not enjoying the true beauty out there. I’m reminded of Pope Francis’ wisdom on communicating with others: “It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal.”The following day, I walked to the office — phone in pocket — and realized that catching the sun rise over St. Peter’s Basilica was way more satisfying than catching Pokemon.
Jul 23 16 3:13 AM
Woman faces huge fine for frolicking in Rome's Trevi FountainThe Trevi Fountain is known to make dreams come true, so long as you follow a specific set of directions: turn around, close your eyes, and throw a coin in over your shoulder.Nowhere in those directions does it say, "jump in to the fountain and hang around a while."One woman didn't get the memo, and was fined $500 for wading into the Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy. She was trying to recreate the iconic scene from Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita."The woman, Delilah Jay, was wearing an evening gown, fur, and full hair and makeup when she jumped into the famous fountain. She pranced around the water and blew kisses to the tourists.It wasn't long until a Police Officer whistled and asked her to get out of the fountain.The failed attempt cost this former model the hefty ticket. She remained in character and famous, and promptly withdrew the cash out of an ATM after she got out of the water. (Now that's what I call panache!)The woman said, "I explained that I did what I did because I love Italy, I love Fellini and I want to live 'La Dolce Vita.'"The publicity stunt worked in her favor, as she is currently promoting her new book, "Mistress, The Italian Way."On her website, Jay describes herself as a "real renegade," and a, "female Robin Hood for today's world."While those comparisons may be up to debate, there is no contesting Jay has "fabulous" down pat.
Jul 23 16 1:12 PM
Italy is a hotspot for hazardous volcanoes. As the crust of Africa’s tectonic plate burrows beneath that of Eurasia, magma rises from below, leading to nearly a dozen explosive mountains throughout the country. Vesuvius and Etna are the most infamous. But Colli Albani—a volcanic complex of hills some 30 kilometers outside Rome—has been a hidden threat. It seemed extinct because through all human history there was no clear record that it had erupted. Then in the 1990s scientists noticed that the hills were rising and an earthquake swarm shook the ground. Puffs of carbon dioxide seeped out of cracks in the hillside and silently killed roaming animals. Scientists started to dig further—literally—and found evidence that 11 eruptions had occurred over the last 600,000 years, proving the volcano was not extinct but dormant.In a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters, Fabrizio Marra of Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology and his colleagues suggest that Colli Albani is now waking from a long slumber. Because of Rome’s close proximity and the number of towns in the hills—the Pope’s summer residence in Castel Gondolfo among them—the possibility has drawn scientists in for a closer look, and has triggered a debate over the volcano’s near-term danger.Marra’s team collected samples of ash and lava from six past eruptions over the last 365,000 years and shipped them to Brian Jicha, a geochronologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, who dated the samples in his lab using the rate of decay of radioactive isotopes in the material as a kind of atomic clock. Jicha’s dates suggest that the eruptions happen at fairly regular intervals, and the most recent series occurred about every 31,000 years during the last 100,000 years. But the last one was 36,000 years ago.“The quiescent time has overrun the recurrence time of 31,000 years, a fact that indicates that the volcanic system is ready for a new eruption,” Marra says.The system appears overdue. But that alone does not suggest that the volcano is entering a new eruptive phase. Marra’s team points to a number of other indicators. In particular, new satellite data and geologic evidence revealed ongoing inflation—the hills have swelled by 50 meters over the last 200,000 years—which is likely caused by magma slowly seeping toward the surface. Previous research also hinted at this uplift but scientists did not know if that uplift was short-lived or continuing.“It’s pretty clear that this is not a system that you can call inactive,” says Alberto Malinverno, a geologist from Columbia University who was not involved with the research. “It seems to have these spurts of activity over timescales that are long for human beings, but it’s there.”Capitoline Hill in the very center of Rome is made of the huge deposits of volcanic rock that erupted during a large explosive phase at Colli Albani. The Tufo Lionato deposit and Tufo del Palatino date back 365,000 and 530,000 years. The Tufo Giallo di Prima Porta deposit was erupted by separate volcanic district northeast of Rome, called the Monti Sabatini, and dates to 515,000 years ago.Marra and his colleagues think the regular cycle of Colli Albani’s eruptions can be explained by changes in the region’s crust. Throughout the volcano’s quiescent time the land above was being pushed together by the surrounding geology, keeping the magma bubble sealed. But the pressure within the magma chamber built until it could overcome the compressive strength of the land above. Marra’s data suggest that this transition occurred in the last few thousand years.“It’s like you’re baking a cake and a bubble develops in the cake,” Malinverno says. “You can see that the crust in the surface at some point is going to split.”It has likely already started to open new pathways that will eventually allow magma to breach the surface. The volcano will erupt, the system will settle down, return to its sealed state and the cycle will begin again.Whereas Marra’s data suggests that the system is currently refilling its magma chambers, it still takes thousands of years to lead to an eruption, Marra cautions.“It is important to say that there is no sign at the moment that an eruption could happen soon,” he says. “For at least 1,000 to 2,000 years, such an event is very unlikely.”Adding to the uncertainty, not every scientist agrees that the volcano is entering an eruptive phase. Quiescent volcanoes, argues Guido Giordano, a geologist at Roma Tre University who was not involved in the research, can show similar signs of volcanic unrest. Even without new magma infiltrating the system, the old magma (even as it cools) continues to heat the ground above, leading to carbon dioxide release, seismic swarms and ground deformation.“If we have evidence—for example something geophysical—that suggests that something has changed, we have to cross-check that evidence with other evidence—for example something geochemical—before we can reach the conclusion that there is evidence of unrest, meaning input of new magma that may increase the level of hazards,” he says. “That’s the bottom line.” Giordano sees no other evidence of new magma entering the system, which suggests to him Colli Albani is dormant.Although Marra and Giordano disagree about the current state of the volcano, both say it is unstable and characterized by many well-known hazards, so scientists need to watch it closely.“I think the most important conclusion is not to go into a panic about the future of Rome but that this is an area that we need to keep tabs on and monitor with care,” Malinverno says.
Jul 25 16 4:57 AM
Ancient icons on display at Vatican Museum, mixing Orthodox and Catholic stylesAccording to St. John of Damascus, "the whole Earth is a living icon of the face of God.” As such, this particularly powerful presence of icons has come to the Vatican museums with 33 individual works of art. Through the Belarus icon paintings from the 17th-21st centuries, one can find not only the face of God, but also a merging of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions. ANDREI ZHAROVIconographer"It is very important for us because we tell about Belarus tradition and about our Christian tradition, which is very important for all people. And this tradition unites us.” It is a unity that is displayed in Andrei's paintings, two of which are shown at the exhibit with Roman saints, "Saints Cosmas and Damien” and also "The Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God.” This Belarusian style began in the 17th century and has absorbed influences from the western and eastern cultures, giving it a uniqueness not found elsewhere. The early paintings portray spirituality though this unified structure and restrained color range, while more recent icons use a more distinctive form and bright colors. VLADIMIR I. PROKOPTSOVDirector General of National Art Museum of Belarus "There is a difference between the Byzantine and Russian styles. For example, there are faces not as stringent, while you can see that other faces are smiling. We have many landscapes. There are pictures in which landscapes are not usually seen, and yet here they are. There are many everyday items not used by Belarusians and they are present in these icons.”Biblical stories and characters are featured throughout the exhibition, like this icon of the "Kissing of Joachim and Anne” from the 17th century and this 18th century icon of "Michael the Archangel.” Gold is especially displayed throughout the background and framing, which reflects the historical tradition of metal crafting together with various forms of art.VLADIMIR I. PROKOPTSOVDirector General of National Art Museum of Belarus"The initial idea for this exhibit was born nine years ago, but when we prepared this exhibition we had to change everything. We had hundreds of large pieces, some two meters, but you see what's here, such small display windows. There was no room for hundreds of icons and so we had to reduce it. They have exhibited 33 icons. They have brought only those that fit in the display cases. The height of the windows has influenced the choice of pieces.”The exhibition is on display until July 25, and creators hope the ancient traditions and spiritual context will be evident in the eyes of all who witness this event.
ANDREI ZHAROVIconographer"It is very important for us because we tell about Belarus tradition and about our Christian tradition, which is very important for all people. And this tradition unites us.”
VLADIMIR I. PROKOPTSOVDirector General of National Art Museum of Belarus "There is a difference between the Byzantine and Russian styles. For example, there are faces not as stringent, while you can see that other faces are smiling. We have many landscapes. There are pictures in which landscapes are not usually seen, and yet here they are. There are many everyday items not used by Belarusians and they are present in these icons.”
VLADIMIR I. PROKOPTSOVDirector General of National Art Museum of Belarus"The initial idea for this exhibit was born nine years ago, but when we prepared this exhibition we had to change everything. We had hundreds of large pieces, some two meters, but you see what's here, such small display windows. There was no room for hundreds of icons and so we had to reduce it. They have exhibited 33 icons. They have brought only those that fit in the display cases. The height of the windows has influenced the choice of pieces.”
Aug 2 16 8:10 AM
There are few things worse than the fetid stench of an overflowing garbage dumpster on a sweltering, breezeless summer day. But the persistent odor of rotting cheese from pizza boxes, soiled diapers and other non-recyclables literally baking under the hot summer sun has become so common in Rome that most residents, and an increasing number of tourists, have learned to just cover their noses and walk on by, careful not to crunch the swarms of cockroaches or startle any of the rats that feed on the squalor.Cleaning up the city’s catastrophic garbage crisis was supposed to be the priority for Rome’s new mayor, Virginia Raggi, when she was elected in June. But already, more than a month into her mandate, the neo-mayor is struggling against a wall of corruption that is as high as the piled-up trash. And what could make matters worse is growing concern that Paola Muraro, the woman Raggi just tapped as the garbage czar to manage the crisis, has been embroiled in the criminal scandal that caused the problem in the first place.A few weeks ago, after a video went viral of children in one of the city’s leafy suburbs counting the rats scurrying from a dumpster (25 in five minutes), Raggi promised she would have the mess cleaned up by August 20. But it will be nothing short of a miracle if she even comes close to reaching that goal.At issue is the simple fact that organized crime syndicates have run the Italian capital’s waste management system AMA for so long it is apparently impossible to keep the city clean without them.“It’s a crazy system; I’m speechless,” Raggi said when she started to unravel the layers of corruption.Addressing city hall on Monday, she explained that AMA has a debt of around €600 million, including owing €200 million to suppliers and €35 million to banks that have carried loans. The company also has around 7,500 employees who aren’t all trained sanitation workers, meaning they are not equipped to handle the type of garbage they must collect, which includes medical waste and other toxic waste products.Raggi promises that now the city will take on the management role of waste collection, even if it means personally overseeing the job until the Rome is acceptably clean.Paola Muraro, her new garbage czar, was a consultant for AMA for more than 12 years, although Muraro maintains that she was only a consultant on waste removal, and not on the business side where the corruption occurred.According to an ongoing criminal investigation into the so-called “Mafia Capitale” that brought the city government to its knees last year, and which left the city without a mayor for more than eight months, the criminality extends not just to the city’s waste management system, but has also engulfed companies involved with just about anything that rots, including maintenance of the city’s cemeteries.When the Mafia Capitale thugs ran the contracts, few of which were awarded in public bids as the city constitution requires, they kept the city much cleaner as a way to cover the internal corruption, according to Giuseppe Cascini, the lead prosecutor in the Mafia Capitale criminal trial, who says fake management companies ran the contracts for the legitimate sanitation workers who carried out the task of keeping the city clean.Since the corrupt management companies have been purged, no one seems to be able to do as good a job as the mobsters did at collecting garbage. The sanitation workers have protested the new legitimate contracts, striking against more rigorous work conditions like longer hours and the use of time clocks to ensure they work regular shifts.They have also protested the fact that they now have to legitimately separate and recycle garbage that was apparently all dumped together for years at waste centers that are also now under investigation for alleged crimes in the way they dispose of especially toxic waste.Several dumps that were created to provide state-of-the art recycling facilities somehow never won bids for Rome’s garbage over those that used older methods. Instead, money was spent on new trucks, dumpsters and managers.“AMA, recklessly, is not equipped with the necessary plant infrastructure, instead offering opportunities to private groups that would pay to the company’s profits,” Raggi said on Monday as she laid out her plan to meet her August 20 deadline to rid the city of its filth. “We have to act fast.”With the clock ticking and the smell building, Raggi may have to dig into the city coffers to hire extra workers to sweep the city clean in time or risk the type of failure that could get her ousted. In the meantime, Muraro, tasked with overseeing the massive cleanup efforts, is expected to be questioned by Rome’s Ecomafia (environmental mafia) prosecutors this week for any role she had in creating the problems.In the meantime, the garbage keeps piling up, making the eternal city, every day, more of an infernal city.
Aug 6 16 5:14 AM
From marshy to manicured: Gardens' gruesome past grows into green havenVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Today's lush and immaculately manicured Vatican Gardens were once just a sprawl of mosquito-infested swamps, clay hillsides and hardy grape vines.The wild, unpopulated landscape on the fringes of early Rome slowly shifted as it changed to accommodate historical events over the course of 2,000 years: the martyrdom and burial of St. Peter; the blossoming of Christianity; the growth of papal power; and the eventual establishment of the world's smallest sovereign nation.The gardens make up almost half of Vatican City State's 109 acres and their colorful evolution is documented in a newly updated volume: "A Guide to the Vatican Gardens: History, Art, Nature," curated by historians and experts from the Vatican Library and Vatican Museums. Illustrated with full-color photographs and historic black and white engravings, the book has been translated into English.In the first century AD, the Roman Emperor Caligula set up a circus for chariot racing near a villa his mother, Agrippina, had built in the area, which was still far on the outskirts of ancient Rome. Shipping over a red granite obelisk from Egypt, he decorated the circus with the monument, which now stands in the center of St. Peter's Square.Emperor Nero expanded the circus, using it to showcase his cruelty against Christians like burning them alive to light his evening parties on the hill's gardens and crucifying others, like St. Peter, who was then buried in a roadside cemetery nearby.As the apostle's tomb became a place of worship, the "circus fell into disrepair, Agrippina's villa decayed and the uninhabited hill returned to wild scrub," wrote the book's co-author, Ambrogio Piazzoni, vice prefect of the Vatican Library.After Emperor Constantine converted and granted Christians the freedom to practice their faith, he ordered the construction of the first basilica dedicated to St. Peter, which meant razing part of the hill and covering over part of the cemetery.A few small buildings were constructed nearby over the next four centuries including a monastery, but the popes -- the successors of Peter -- didn't start living in this "rustic and unprotected location" by the basilica until the fifth century, Piazzoni wrote.With the Saracen Raid in 846, Pope Leo IV constructed a fortressed wall to defend the Vatican area from marauders. Inside the walls, there were meadows, vegetable gardens, orchards and vineyards while outside -- which is part of today's gardens -- were more pastures and woods.Once popes started residing permanently at the Vatican, they added their own personal touches to the vast expanse of greenery surrounding them.Pope Nicholas IV had his doctor, Simon of Genoa, cultivate medicinal plants and aromatic herbs in the tradition of the Benedictine monks, who were known for creating treatments for illnesses and distilled liqueurs and tinctures.This 13th-century papal initiative was to become the oldest botanical garden in Italy and marked the beginning of the formal scientific study of botany as a branch of medicine, "predating by centuries the teaching of botany" in academies and universities, Piazzoni wrote.Pope Pius V made sure the medicinal plant studies continued in the 16th-century by hiring a Tuscan botanist and geologist to take care of the gardens. The pope gave him the title of "medicinal plant expert of Our Lord" and furnished him with a "safe conduct pass" allowing him to travel anywhere in search of rare plants.The Vatican medicinal garden gradually lost importance -- becoming a humble lawn -- after Pope Alexander VII built a newer and larger botanical garden, which is still one of the largest in Italy, along the Janiculum hill in 1660. The Vatican lost that and many other properties after the loss of the Papal States in 1870.Given the variety of habitat and papal proclivities at the time, the Vatican Gardens were also home to a menagerie of wild animals including the brief upkeep of a leopard during the pontificate of Boniface VIII in the 13th century and Hanno, the elephant, which was a gift to Pope Leo X from Portugal's king in 1514.Pope Pius XII found an injured finch in the Vatican Gardens and nursed her back to health. "Gretchen," the finch, would keep the pope company and sit on his shoulder at mealtime while hopping down to peck at crumbs.Today, green parrots nesting in palm trees and a small sampling of cats are the only free-range fauna easily sighted in the Vatican Gardens.The gardens went largely unchanged from its Renaissance heyday at the end of the 1500s to the end of the 1900s, primarily, Piazzoni wrote, because the popes had moved their main residence to the Quirinale Palace -- judging it to be "more comfortable, functional and situated in a sunny and healthy place."Despite the disuse, the gardens were still cared for and embellished with additional fountains, shrines, statues and exotic or rare plant life.With the end of the Papal States, the pope moved back to the papal residence at the Vatican.Being largely confined to the small property, Pope Leo XIII spent a lot of time caring for the gardens and pursuing his love for hunting and viniculture. He reportedly tended his small vineyard himself, hoeing out the weeds, and visiting often for moments of prayer and writing poetry. He had a papal guard on duty with orders to shoot to scare off birds threatening his grape harvest.Modern-day popes still use the gardens for exercise, restful relaxation and meditation. Retired Pope Benedict XVI takes his daily walk there, praying the rosary along the wooded paths.Not just for popes anymore, the gardens were opened to the public several years ago as part of an organized tour either on foot or on an environmentally friendly open bus.The tours highlight the gardens' blend of art, nature and faith, but also help visitors sense what the book describes as the harmonious co-existence of so many species of flora and fauna, which "reinforce the ideals that constitute the universal mission of this extraordinary place" -- the love and care for God's creation.
Aug 25 16 2:26 AM
Catholics are an exceptionally generous folk, especially when the chips are down and people are in desperate need, as witnessed by the mammoth charitable operations run by the Church such as Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Relief Services in the States, Caritas Internationalis around the world, and so on.Already, Catholics of all stripes are mobilizing in response to the humanitarian crisis in Italy created by a magnitude 6.2 earthquake that struck on Wednesday, at latest count leaving at least 247 people dead, scores trapped, and at least a thousand temporarily homeless.Catholics, of course, aren’t the only people capable of great generosity in emergency situations, but in light of both the Gospel and Catholic social teaching, they bring an extra set of motives beyond simple human compassion.I have no desire to make light of a tragic situation, but it’s a simple fact that there’s one more reason why many Catholics may feel an emotional tug to respond to the situation in Italy - because the place most devastated was the small town of Amatrice, located in northern Lazio outside Rome.According to Amatrice’s mayor, for all intents and purposes the town of roughly 2,600 people “is no more.”Over the years, countless numbers of Catholic priests and bishops have studied in Rome, Catholic nuns and religious priests have served there, and laity from every corner of the planet have visited the Eternal City, either on pilgrimage or for conferences and events, and sometimes both.Virtually every one of them, at one point or another, ate at a Roman restaurant and had a plate of pasta made with amatriciana, a tomato-based sauce made with bacon-like bits of cured pork jowl, pecorino cheese and tomato. In its classic guise it’s served with buccatini, a thick long pasta believed to hold the sauce more successfully, although I have to say I prefer it with spaghetti.Legend has it that the sauce was born in Amatrice, hence the name, and over the centuries scores of cooks from Amatrice have served as the court food-preparer for popes. Amatriciana is the signature dish of the Roman kitchen, and, quite honestly, it’s virtually impossible to find it in quite the same way outside Italian airspace.The first time I ever experienced amatriciana was in the late 1990s, when I made my first reporting trip to Rome for the National Catholic Reporter in the company of Tom Fox, who was then the publisher, his wife Hoa, and my wife Shannon. We were walking down the Lungotevere, a street that runs along the Tiber river, and settled upon a restaurant that looked nice.I asked the waiter what was good, and he said they were known for their amatriciana. I ordered it, took my first bite, and felt a kind of bliss I can only describe as “transcendent” and “sacramental.”When my wife and I lived in Rome full-time, I would sometimes head out to Amatrice in August for its annual amatriciana festival, when the town’s restaurants would put up tables in the central square offering their various versions of the dish. For those in love with amatriciana, it was a small slice of heaven.Sadly, the Wednesday quake came just three days before Amatrice was set to celebrate the festival again Aug. 27-28.This is an impossible question to answer with any precision, but I found myself wondering yesterday how many Vatican decisions have been made, how many papal documents launched, how many bishop’s appointments agreed upon, and how many other important moments in Catholic life have occurred through the years over a plate of amatriciana.Quite honestly, I would almost go so far as to say that what matzoh ball soup and potato latkes are to Judaism, amatriciana is to Catholicism - a dish that simply screams, “Catholic.”I vividly recall once running into Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who was then still the Archbishop of Milwaukee, at a meeting of the US bishops shortly after my wife and I had moved back to the States. Dolan, a former rector of the Pontifical North American College, asked me how I was handling the readjustment, and I told him I was having a hard time going more than two or three days without a plate of amatriciana.“I know, I know,” he said, wistfully. “Maybe we should start a support group!”Obviously, the primary reason anybody, including Catholics, should want to offer support for the victims of Wednesday’s earthquake is out of concern for the human consequences of the tragedy - the lives lost, the property destroyed, and so on.The same point, by the way, applies to another magnitude 6 quake that hit on Wednesday in the Asian nation of Myanmar, the recent flooding in the United States, and every other situation in which people’s lives have been upended by disasters.However, at the “gut” level - by which I very much mean both emotionally and gastronomically - it’s almost impossible for Catholics who’ve spent any time in Rome not to feel a special degree of motivation to do something for a small town that’s given the Church, and the world, such a precious gift.Many Roman restaurants have decided to donate 2 Euro to earthquake relief for every plate of amatriciana they sell, with one Euro coming from the client and the other from the restaurant. I arrive in Rome on Sunday, and I have every intention of doing far more than my part.Readers who wish to assist relief efforts may contribute to a fund sponsored by the Italian newspaper La Stampa, the Italian Red Cross, and the Catholic charity Caritas.
Aug 26 16 6:19 AM
Seminarians abroad: Study in Rome promotes cultural sensitivityVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Learning to walk in the shoes of a "foreigner" is not on the formal syllabus of the Pontifical North American College, but it happens.The students at the U.S. bishops' seminary in Rome know they have a place to eat, sleep, pray and study, but they still experience some of the uprootedness that many of their future parishioners have experienced. And, like many Hispanic Catholics at home, the Hispanic seminarians in Rome preserve and share their religious and culinary traditions with their classmates.For Alfredo Porras, a 26-year-old seminarian from the Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, learning to live in Rome is an all-too familiar experience. He immigrated to the United States with his family from Venezuela.When he arrived in Rome, he said, he found himself repeating the phrase, "'This is my second time doing this' -- just because I moved to the States when I was 14 and I was placed in a new culture, new language, meeting new people, being away from family. Every seminarian here, in one way or another, gets to taste that same experience," he said.Although he remembers the struggles of moving to a new country, Porras told Catholic News Service that being in Rome reminds him of "what people immigrating to the United States are going through."Other migrants to Italy often go through years of bureaucratic maneuvering in the hopes of obtaining a visa. Ivan Torres, a seminarian from the Diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico, said that reality opened his eyes to the fact that "we are very spoiled here" and have "people walking us through the process.""I just couldn't imagine not having the help that we have and having to come over by yourself and be responsible for your children as well and wondering, 'Are they going to allow us in, are they going to give us these papers?'" the 24 year-old seminarian said.Torres said he always enjoyed speaking and interacting with other people, something made easier by his ability to speak English and Spanish.However, once in Italy, he soon experienced the difficulties of being unable to express himself or communicate with others."I didn't really understand that difficulty of not being able to express yourself. And that is something that is very real for immigrants and helps us to be a little bit more empathetic when trying to speak to people," he told CNS.The 240 seminarians at the NAC are well aware of the demographic mix of the communities they are preparing to serve. Hispanic-Americans now make up approximately 30.4 million of the estimated 69.5 million Catholics in the United States, according to Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.Shane Robert Hewson, a 26-year-old seminarian, told CNS that through his vocation, "God has called me to bridge this void" between Spanish- and English-speaking Catholic communities in the United States.Whether the Mass is in English or Spanish, he said, "it is the same Eucharistic sacrifice. To have that unity, but in diversity, I hope I can bring that in the diocese."Hewson, who hails from the Diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma, said he hopes his encounters with some of the migrant people in Rome will help him understand better the lives of Catholic Hispanic immigrants back in the United States.The experience, he said, has "been pressed upon my heart," and he hopes that it will help him recognize "they are coming from a world that is different and they are coming to a place they don't know and maybe it's a lot more difficult than they expected."All three seminarians take part in activities and classes throughout that year that not only offer an opportunity for Spanish-speaking seminarians to bond, but also invites non-Spanish speakers to join in and learn different aspects of the Latin American culture and language."Once a semester we have a Hispanic dinner together. We get together and start cooking food," Porras told CNS.In the student kitchen "a lot of times we make tacos; just the typical stuff you would expect that you can make here with the ingredients you have. So it's a nice way to get together," Hewson added.Seminarians at the pontifical college also celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12 with a Spanish Mass and a traditional Mexican meal cooked by the staff under the supervision of several Mexican-American seminarians.The experience of living in a foreign country and in a seminary as diverse as the Pontifical North American College, serves as an "invaluable lesson in sensitivity and hospitality," says Father Peter Harman, rector of the college."I think -- for me personally -- you're a little bit humbled but you have an appreciation for what it takes to live in a place that's not second nature for you to speak and interact. I think that for all of our men, when they go home, they should have a greater cultural sensitivity because they themselves have been in a place where it's a little harder to get around," he told CNS.Being forced to interact with people, even if you have not mastered their language, is also "a good priestly lesson," he said. "You eventually have to reach out and get out of your comfort zone."
Sep 12 16 2:57 AM
Paolo Bulgari, the chairman of luxury jeweller Bulgari which sponsored the €1.5 million restoration of Rome’s Spanish Steps, says the historic staircase should be fenced off at night to protect it from “barbarian” tourists.Bulgari was speaking to Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica ahead of the 21 September inauguration of the Spanish Steps, or the Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti, with a special concert by the S. Cecilia orchestra directed by Sir Antonio Pappano.Decrying the previously cracked and stained state of the now-pristine stairway, Bulgari said he believes that eating, drinking and sitting at the Spanish Steps should be stopped, asking if Rome wanted “quality or quantity tourism”?His remarks have received a mixed response, with some local traders expressing agreement with his proposal to limit access to the 18th-century monument following its 18-month restoration project.However Bulgari’s suggestion was rejected outright by Rome’s superintendent of cultural heritage, Claudio Parisi Presicce, who said it would be “unthinkable” to block public access to the steps.The jewellery firm undertook the refurbishment as a “special gift from Bulgari to its city” to mark its 130th anniversary.
Sep 18 16 12:51 AM
Sep 18 16 6:39 AM
Rome divided over proposal to build fence around the Spanish Steps to block "barbarian" touristsThey have been firmly on the tourist map ever since Gregory Peck engineered a meeting with Audrey Hepburn in the romantic comedy Roman Holiday, but there are now calls to reduce access to the Spanish Steps in Rome following a year-long restoration.Bulgari, the jewellery company, donated 1.5 million euros for the famous monument to be cleaned and restored, with cracked paving stones repaired and unsightly stains removed.The grand reopening of the Steps will be celebrated later this month with fireworks and a concert. The head of the luxury brand has called for a permanent fence to be built at the top and bottom of the travertine and marble staircase and for it to be locked every night to block access to “barbarian” hordes of tourists.Paolo Bulgari, the chairman of the eponymous jewellery company and the great-grandson of its founder, fears that the now-pristine Steps will be trashed once again if tourists are allowed to loll around at night, leaving bottles of wine and beer, dropping cigarette butts and writing their initials with marker pens.The sweeping steps, known in Italian as La Scalinata di Trinita dei Monti, were built between 1723 and 1726 and connect Piazza di Spagna with the Church of Trinita dei Monti.They have been closed off during the restoration and Mr Bulgari wants access to remain limited, at least at night. “It is a precious and fragile monument, like many others in Rome and across Italy. Now that it’s been restored, we cannot allow it to revert to being an open-air sewer,” he told La Repubblica newspaper. “We cannot leave it to the barbarians who eat and drink there, making it dirty. People should be able to stroll up and down it but they shouldn’t be allowed to use it like the steps of a stadium, sitting for hours, getting drunk and throwing their cigarette butts on the ground.“We donated money, and we were happy to do that, but if we don’t take adequate measures, within a few months it will again be a mess.”Many business owners in the area, which is crammed with brands such as Gucci and Prada, agree. “Young foreign tourists sit there all day, it’s become a meeting place,” said Gianni Battistoni, the owner of a smart men’s outfitters in nearby Via dei Condotti, Rome’s most exclusive shopping street. "The Spanish Steps are part of the whole world's heritage, but a non-invasive barrier, closed after a certain time, would be a good idea."But the idea of putting up a fence was rejected by Claudio Parisi Presicce, Rome’s superintendent of cultural heritage. “You can’t preserve precious monuments with fences. People should be able to walk up and down the Spanish Steps both during the day and at night. That’s how it was originally designed, to allow people to stroll.“We need do to more about preventing damage, starting with educating people. Tourists behave badly because they copy what they see Romans doing.” (While there may be some truth to that, it is also true that some tourists are quite simply ... barbaric. I was in Italy some years ago, and I came across some tourists who simply did not care about the rules of behaviour at the great tourists sites. At the Basilica di San Marco in Venice, I saw a female tourist who kept on taking photographs despite the fact that she'd been approached twice by a guard, who reminded her that taking photos in the basilica was prohibited. The third time around, the guard had to warn her that she would be escorted out if she persisted.)A notice at the foot of the steps warns visitors, in archaic English, not to behave badly. “It is forbidden to shout, squall or sing,” reads the sign, which also warns tourists not to “damage, disfigure or draw with any kind of means or instruments.”Tourists enjoying the autumn sunshine a few feet from where Gregory Peck, playing a suave foreign correspondent, charmed Audrey Hepburn, in the role of an unhappy, cloistered princess, were divided over the proposal. “I would rather see a fence there than $%@ ash and chewing gum all over the steps,” said Claire Walley, 28, from London. Her boyfriend, Alex Read, 29, said: “If it saves them spending a couple of million euros every few years on a clean-up, then I can see the argument for a fence – anything to preserve its integrity.”But Ottar Gudjonsson, 49, from Iceland, said: “In Iceland we don’t restrict access to anything, you can go wherever you like.” (At the risk of sounding brutally honest, Iceland, I daresay, doesn't have a tourist attraction as famous as the Spanish Steps.)Bulgari’s decision to finance the restoration of the Steps followed similar acts of corporate philanthropy. Tod’s, the luxury shoe company, paid for the Colosseum to be cleaned, while the fashion house Fendi footed the bill for the restoration of the Trevi Fountain.
Oct 11 16 5:39 AM
Replicas Of Artifacts Destroyed By ISIS 'Rising From Destruction' In RomeAlongside the massive, rising death toll in territories controlled by the Islamic State, one of the major casualties has been a trove of ancient treasures that are part of the Middle East's cultural heritage.Now, replicas of several masterpieces vandalized or destroyed in Syria and Iraq have been created in Italy and are part of a UNESCO-sponsored exhibit called "Rising from Destruction." The exhibit, which goes through Dec. 16, has been set up in the Colosseum, the most visited site in Rome, drawing 6.5 million tourists a year."People started calling the amphitheater the 'Colosseum' from the colossus that was outside," a guide tells a group of tourists. While the ancient Romans saw a large statue of the Emperor Nero outside, today's visitors can now admire a different one inside — a human-headed winged bull.Standing some 16 feet high, it's a life-size replica of the original that stood outside the palace at Nimrud in Iraq, bulldozed into dust by the Islamic State last year in what had been the capital of the Assyrian empire, founded in the 13th century B.C."The winged bull was especially challenging because of its size," says art historian and restoration expert Cristina Acidini, who supervised the reconstructions in the Colosseum exhibit.Specially trained technicians, she explains, worked from photographs to create a small-scale model. Then, thanks to 3-D printers and other state-of-the art technology, the replica was created in several pieces. These were then "hardened with a special varnish, and after the hardening process, has been totally covered by layers and layers of real stones, three kinds of stones, that have been grinded, like dust," she says.The pieces were then assembled inside the Colosseum like a giant, three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.The other full-scale replicas in the exhibit are the reconstruction of a room in Ebla, Syria, where ancient archives had been discovered, and a portion of the ceiling from the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel in Palmyra, the UNESCO world heritage site that was home to some of the Middle East's best-preserved ancient artifacts.Francesco Rutelli, curator of the exhibit, says its message is "to show that all that has been destroyed can be reconstructed." Rutelli — who was once Italy's culture minister — says one country's cultural heritage is important for all humankind "because it is our heritage, not only the Syrian or Iraqi or Afghan or Latin American. It's a universal heritage."During its 10-month occupation of Palmyra, the Islamic State razed two ancient temples and a triumphal arch. In August 2015, ISIS militants also beheaded Khaled al-Asaad, the archaeologist who had been Palmyra's antiquities custodian for 40 years, because he refused to reveal the location of artifacts he had hidden.The Rome exhibit also contains two ancient marble busts — that Rutelli calls the "war-wounded of Palmyra" — damaged during ISIS's occupation of the ancient site. The busts will be restored in Italy and returned to Syria once the conflict is over.The curator says that while during a war it's very rare to open up a corridor for culture, the two busts were able to arrive in Rome thanks to a complicated diplomatic effort and the cooperation of both the Syrian Directorate of Antiquities and members of the opposition. "It's a very rare situation," says Rutelli. "We have to recognize that there are people who do not resign when the danger comes."
Oct 14 16 8:15 AM
The pope is not the only keeper of the keys in the VaticanVATICAN CITY (RNS) The sun is not yet up and Gianni Crea is making his way down a pitch-black corridor inside the Vatican’s world-famous museums.The museums take up much of the real estate on this 108-acre city-state in Rome, one of the oldest and holiest spots on Earth, and one with a history and a reputation for secrecy that have inspired all sorts of conspiracy theories – and more than a few blockbuster thrillers.But it is Crea who holds the keys to the place – hundreds of them, in fact, heavy metal ones of all sizes.In the pre-dawn darkness, the 44-year-old Italian selects a couple of them to open several thick wooden and steel doors leading into vast rooms filled with treasures that once belonged to the Egyptian pharaohs and the emperors of ancient Rome.There’s barely a sound and the corridors are still empty when the neatly dressed Crea suddenly flicks a switch to reveal walls lined with Renaissance frescoes and priceless tapestries.It’s a stunning moment, and Crea, who holds the title of “clavigero,” or chief key keeper at the Vatican Museums, never tires of it. He manages a dedicated team that opens and closes some 300 rooms every day.“We are in charge of the keys for the pope’s museums,” Crea tells Religion News Service enthusiastically as he opens one spectacular room after another.“In the museums, there are exactly 2,797 keys — 300 are used for the opening and closing of the museums. There are 10 of us — five employed for the opening and five for the closure.”The key keepers are just some of the more than 3,000 lay people who perform largely unheralded jobs in a place that is known for hierarchical pomp and circumstance, and above all, as the residence of the Roman pontiff.Yet Crea’s job is a reminder that for all the great art and grand personages filling the endless halls of the Vatican palaces, it is also a functioning city-state. And it runs thanks to workers like the key keepers who show up every day so that everyone else — including the pope — can do their jobs.Of course, the other thing the Vatican is known for is the periodic scandal, such as the leak of personal papers that helped lead to the historic resignation of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2013.That in turn led to the election of Pope Francis, who was chosen in part to clean up the Vatican.Such crises can make the Vatican — and the Italians who make up the bulk of the labor force — the butt of jokes, which is why Francis has been keen to drop in on the workers now and again, chatting or having lunch.It’s also why he made sure to single them out for praise during a Christmastime speech in 2014, asking their forgiveness for the “shortcomings” of him and his fellow churchmen, and delivering “a particular and, I would say, a necessary thanks to the Italians who, throughout the history of the church and the Roman Curia, have always worked with a generous and faithful spirit.”The Italians at the Vatican demonstrate a “unique industriousness and filial devotion,” Francis said, and that’s certainly true in the case of Crea, who comes from Reggio Calabria in southern Italy and has been a key keeper at the Vatican for 15 years.Crea begins his working day at 5:45 a.m. and takes the keys from a tiny underground “bunker” beneath the museums well before the tourists begin lining up. He loves sharing some of the museum’s most precious artworks with the rest of the world.“This is an extraordinary job because it gives me and my colleagues the possibility to open the pope’s museums to all the visitors who come here from every corner of the world,” Crea says. “It is unique.”More than 6 million people visit the Vatican Museums every year. What began in the early 16th century with a group of sculptures collected by the famous Renaissance pope, Julius II, has grown into a vast collection of art and sculpture surrounded by architectural splendor.As Crea makes his way through the rooms, he enters the gallery of tapestries, which span the 15th to 17th centuries, and then the spectacular gallery of maps, decorated under Pope Gregory XIII (who was pontiff from 1572 to 1585) and later restored by Urban VII.In his hand he also carries a sealed envelope that contains a key to the Sistine Chapel.Other Vatican staff are usually responsible for opening and closing the chapel, with its famous ceiling painted by the legendary Italian artist Michelangelo. Tourists can walk through briefly, and services are held here on occasion.But the Sistine Chapel is most famous as the venue for the conclave, where the College of Cardinals elects a new pope, in prayer and total secrecy.The key keepers have a spare key for the rare times the other staff members are not available, which is why it is sealed and stamped by Vatican gendarmes and senior museum officials. The envelope is only opened two or three times a year.“The Sistine Chapel is special,” Crea says as he rips the envelope and opens the door.“To be inside the chapel gives you a particular emotion. But you also find that in the rest of the museum, the picture gallery, the Raphael rooms, the Borgia apartment. They all give you different feelings. Each of them is special.”Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums, says the key keeper carries enormous responsibility for the collection.“The Vatican Museums span seven kilometers (four miles) through its galleries, rooms and gardens with 70,000 works of art on exhibit – paintings and sculptures — and there are more than 5,000 others in the warehouse,” Paolucci says.“Think about how delicate the responsibility is for this immense heritage. This man here, the key keeper, opens up everything. He has the keys to heaven.”Well, technically, and theologically speaking, it is the pope — the successor of St. Peter — who holds those keys, in keeping with the Catholic interpretation of Jesus’ words to Peter as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew.But given the number of thefts at other European museums in recent years, the more mundane aspects of security are also important.Crea says he has no concern, as the Vatican Museums are covered in video cameras and alarms and plenty of scrutiny from Vatican gendarme police and security patrols.His biggest worry, he says, is actually getting into his Rome apartment.Precise about managing the 2,797 keys at the Vatican, Crea says he often can’t find the one to his own front door.
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