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Thursday, December 15, 2005


VATICAN CITY, DEC 15, 2005 (VIS) - The Holy Father:

 - Accepted the resignation from the office of auxiliary of the archdiocese of San Antonio, U.S.A., presented by Bishop Thomas J. Flanagan, upon having reached the age limit.

 - Erected the new diocese of Pekhon (area 25,890, population 450,000, Catholics 37,194, priests 23, religious 46) Myanmar, with territory taken from the archdiocese of Taunggyi, making it a suffragan of the same metropolitan church. He appointed Bishop Peter Hla, auxiliary of Taunggyi, as first bishop of the new diocese.

 - Appointed Bishop George Hugh Niederauer, bishop of Salt Lake City, as metropolitan archbishop of San Francisco (area 2,620, population 1,744,050, Catholics 425,210, priests 425, permanent deacons 62, religious 1,004), U.S.A. The archbishop-elect was born in Los Angeles, U.S.A. in 1936, he was ordained a priest in 1962 and consecrated a bishop in 1995.
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VATICAN CITY, DEC 15, 2005 (VIS) - The Holy Father today received in separate audiences thirteen prelates from the Conference of the Polish Episcopate on their "ad limina" visit:

    - Bishop Stanislaw Stefanek S. Chr., of Lomza.

    - Archbishop Jozef Miroslaw Zycinski of Lublin, accompanied by Auxiliary Bishops Ryszard Karpinski, Mieczyslaw Cislo, and Artur Grzegorz Mizinski.

    - Bishop Andrzej Dziega of Sandomierz, accompanied by Auxiliary Bishop Marian Kazimierz Zimalek.

    - Bishop Zbigniew Kiernikowski of Siedlce, accompanied by Auxiliary Bishop Henryk Marian Tomasik.

    - Archbishop Edmund Michal Piszcz of Warmia, accompanied by Auxiliary Bishop Jacek Jezierski.

    - Bishop Jan Styrna of Elblag, accompanied by Auxiliary Bishop Jozef Wysocki.

  This evening, he is scheduled to receive in audience Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach S.J., superior general of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).
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VATICAN CITY, DEC 15, 2005 (VIS) - A nativity scene, one of the most famous works of art to be housed in the Roman Basilica of St. Mary Major, will be presented to the public today following several months of restoration work.

  The nativity scene was created by the Florentine sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio - whose death 700 years ago is currently being recalled with a series of exhibitions and cultural events throughout Italy - between 1290 and 1292 at the behest of Nicholas IV, the first Pope from the Franciscan Order. The pontiff ordered Arnolfo di Cambio to construct a nativity scene in the form of a chapel, in order to encourage devotion for the relic of the manger, which according to tradition is housed in St. Mary Major.

  The sculpture has undergone interventions and alterations over the centuries, and only a few figures from the original nativity scene have survived: St. Joseph, the ox and the ass, and the three Magi. The most famous intervention was that undertaken by the architect Domenico Fontana who in 1590, by order of Pope Sixtus V, transferred the whole group beneath the altar of St. Mary Major's Sistine Chapel, which was then being built.

  The restoration, ordered by Cardinal Bernard Law, archpriest of the Basilica, involved studies on the work's artistic and historical context, and the technique with which it was created, as well as photographic studies and a series of scientific investigations on remaining traces of polychromy. The restoration revealed, among other things, that a sculpture of the Virgin with Child, which had long been considered to be a work of the late Renaissance, is actually the original of Arnolfo di Cambio's nativity scene, its front re-sculpted in accordance with the artistic fashions of the late sixteenth century.

  The restoration work was directed by the experts Arnold Nesselrath and Luciano Ermo of the general direction of the Vatican Museums. The nativity scene is currently on display in the museum of St. Mary Major, awaiting the completion of restoration work in the basilica's Sistine Chapel.


VATICAN CITY, DEC 15, 2005 (VIS) - The Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff today published the calendar of celebrations due to be presided by the Holy Father over the Christmas period:


- Saturday, 24: Vigil of the Solemnity of the Birth of Our Lord. Benedict XVI will preside at Midnight Mass in the Vatican Basilica.

 - Sunday, 25: Solemnity of the Birth of Our Lord. Benedict XVI will address his Christmas Message to the world and impart the "Urbi et Orbi" blessing at noon in St. Peter's Square.

 - Saturday, 31: Benedict XVI to preside at Vespers and "Te Deum" of thanksgiving, at 6 p.m. in St. Peter's Basilica.


- Sunday, 1: Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God and 39th World Day of Peace. Holy Father to preside at Mass in the Vatican Basilica at 10 a.m.

- Friday, 6: Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. Holy Father to preside at Mass in the Vatican Basilica at 9.30 a.m.

- Thursday, 8: Baptism of Our Lord. Benedict XVI will preside at Mass in the Sistine Chapel at 10 a.m., during which he will impart the Sacrament of Baptism to a number of children.


VATICAN CITY, DEC 15, 2005 (VIS) - Benedict XVI today received members of the joint coordinating committee of the International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

  At beginning of his address, the Pope expressed his happiness at the resumption of dialogue following years of "serious internal and external difficulties." On September 12 this year, Bartholomew I, ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, made known the decision of the Orthodox Churches to reactivate the commission, and it was decided that the first meeting of this new phase of dialogue would be held in Rome from December 13 to 16, 2005.

  The Holy Father pointed out that the renewed dialogue will consider two aspects: "On the one hand, eliminating the remaining differences, and on the other, upholding the fundamental desire to do everything possible to re-establish full communion, which is so essential for the community of the disciples of Christ, as the preparatory document of your work makes clear."

  "We must seek out God's will," the Pope went on, "though it may not correspond to our simple human projects. We must achieve full unity of the Church and reconciliation among Christians, even at the cost of submitting our own will to the will of the Lord."

  Benedict XVI stressed that, in order to advance along the path of unity, we must "ask the Lord's help ... because unity is above all a gift of God," and "invite all Christians to joint prayer."

  After recalling how the Vatican Council II Decree "Unitatis redintegratio" calls for mutual knowledge and dialogue, the Pope emphasized how this "will also contribute to 'multiple dialogue in the Christian world as it seeks its own unity'."

  The mixed coordinating committee has 21 members: ten Catholics and 11 Orthodox. It is headed by Ioannis, metropolitan of Pergamo (ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople), and Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who are also heads of the International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
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