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VATICAN LETTER Dec-13-2012 (810 words) Backgrounder. With photos. xxxi

In 2012, the pope called for liberty, identity, evangelization

By Francis X. Rocca
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI turned 85 in April, and while he certainly showed signs of age -- in March he started walking with a cane on some public occasions -- he kept up a busy schedule throughout 2012, traveling to three foreign countries, presiding over a world Synod of Bishops and turning out yet another bestselling book.

Following are 10 highlights of the pope's year:

1. At consistories in February and November, the pope created a total of 28 new members of the College of Cardinals. The first group included Cardinals Timothy M. Dolan of New York; Edwin F. O'Brien, a former archbishop of Baltimore; and Thomas C. Collins of Toronto. The second group was notable for its global character: new cardinals from Asia, Africa and the Americas, which the pope said showed the church "speaks in the various cultures of the different continents." Among the second group was Cardinal James M. Harvey, a former prefect of the papal household and a native of Milwaukee.

2. Visiting Latin America in March, Pope Benedict told Mexicans that no secular ideology can free the region from poverty, violence and other social problems without faith in Christ. Human rights activists complained about the pope's decision not to meet with political dissidents in Cuba, but during his visit he appealed for greater religious liberty under the Communist regime and persuaded President Raul Castro to make Good Friday a national holiday.

3. In four speeches from January to May, the pope told U.S. bishops visiting the Vatican that the church must engage all the more closely with America's increasingly secular society for the benefit of the entire nation, by defending values that include religious liberty, sexual morality and the traditional definition of marriage.

4. The year's biggest public distraction for the pope and his collaborators was surely the so-called "VatiLeaks" affair, over the publication of private papal correspondence and other documents, some of them alleging mismanagement and corruption within the Vatican. The news became a global story following the May arrest of the pope's butler, whom a Vatican court in October found guilty of aggravated theft for his role in the leaks.

5. The Vatican made several high-profile moves to reinforce the religious identity of Catholic institutions. In May, it announced a major reform of the U.S. Leadership Conference of Women Religious, to ensure the group's fidelity to Catholic teaching in areas including abortion, euthanasia, women's ordination and homosexuality. The same month, the Vatican tightened its control of Caritas Internationalis, the global confederation of Catholic aid agencies. In December, the pope issued new rules designed to ensure that the activities of Catholic charities conform to church doctrine.

6. The pope's September visit to Lebanon came at a moment of heightened tension in the region, with a civil war under way in neighboring Syria and an American-made anti-Islamic film inspiring often-violent protests in several Muslim countries. But the pope's calls for peace and religious liberty for the region's Christians drew a warm response across sectarian and political lines in Lebanon, turning the risky trip into a clear success for Vatican diplomacy.

7. For three weeks in October, the world Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization brought more than 260 bishops and religious superiors to the Vatican, along with dozens of official observers and experts, to discuss how the church can revive and spread the faith in increasingly secular societies. Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, the synod's relator, expressed the gathering's urgent tone when he decried the "tsunami of secular influence that has swept across the cultural landscape" of the West.

8. Pope Benedict marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the start of a special Year of Faith by celebrating Mass in St. Peter's Square Oct. 11. About 400 bishops from around the world, including 15 of the 70 surviving members of the council, attended. In his homily, the pope called on Catholics to revive the "authentic spirit" of Vatican II by re-proposing the church's ancient teachings to an increasingly Godless modern world.

9. Just in time for Christmas, publishers released "Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives," the third and final volume in the pope's popular series on Jesus' life and teachings. Although some reports portrayed the pope as a spoilsport for noting that the Gospels do not mention the presence of animals at the Nativity, the book's subject matter and short length help make it one of the most accessible among its scholarly author's more than 60 works.

10. Only a day after Pope Benedict inaugurated his Twitter accounts on Dec. 12, he had already attracted 1.7 million followers. Vatican officials said that show of interest, and the serious questions on faith submitted to the pope by thousands of users, made his foray into social media worth the inevitable dose of hostile commentary.

- - -

Editor's Note: A video looking at the pope's year in review will be available Dec. 14 at http://www.youtube.com/user/CatholicNewsService.

END


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