Red Saturday

Following Black Friday, the busiest shopping day in North America, many bishops, pilgrims and reporters will flood the Vatican the next day to take part in a ceremony when red is the colour theme of the day. Symbolizing the blood of the martyrs, the scarlet colour is reserved for the vesture of the highest rank within the Church after the pope, that of the cardinals, otherwise known as princes of the Church.

When Pope Benedict announced on October 24 that he would create six cardinals on November 24, it came as a surprise to all, unlike consistories that took place in the last 20 years when they had always been predicted by Vaticanists. The primary reason why this is possible is the small size of the consistory. The preparatory work for the consistory, including its logistical, liturgical and tailoring aspects, has become much easier when only 6 cardinals are involved.

It has been no secret that Pope Benedict XVI favours more consistories for the creation of cardinals in shorter intervals and in small sizes. Part of the reason is to make the liturgy simpler and shorter. In the recent year, the rite of giving the cardinalatial rings and of canonizing saints have been moved outside of eucharistic liturgy, when in the past they took place after the Liturgy of the Word in a Mass. This is to make a distinction between sacraments and such ecclesial acts in the authentic spirit of liturgical renewal.

The six prelates to be inducted into the College of Cardinals are:
Pope Benedict expressed that he would appoint the American Cardinal-designate James Harvey as the Archpriest of St. Paul Outside the Walls. It remains unknown as to whether he will stay as the Prefect of the Papal Household. He has been the direct superior of the incarcerated ex-butler Paolo Gabriele who caused the Vatileaks scandal. If he leaves the post and becomes solely the Archpriest of San Paolo fuori le mura, which is mostly a ceremonial office for retired cardinals and does not have well-determined responsibilities, it will be an example of promoveatur ut amoveatur. (Update: At Roman noon on November 23, the pope has transferred Archbishop Harvey from the office of Prefect of Papal Household to that of Archpriest of St. Paul.)

No Italians (actually no Europeans) are named this time, due to criticisms that the last consistory created 7 Italian cardinals. In the February consistory, 6 of the new Italian cardinals were heads of various Roman dicasteries and so it should not have been a surprise. Rather, the liberals took an opportune attack on the Italian Cardinal Bertone, whom the pope entrusted with the most "powerful" office of Secretariat of State, who not only deals with states of the world but also coordinates and mediates the work within the Roman Curia. While the Patriarch of Venice, the Archbishop of Turin, and 3 other heads of different curial departments (Paglia, Celli and Fisichella) are expected to receive a red hat among the Italians, they will have to wait.

By November 23, when Cardinal Martino reaches the age of 80, there will remain 114 cardinals under the age of 80. On the next day, the 6 new additions will happily fill up the College of Cardinals with 120 electors, the maximum stipulated by the apostolic constitution Romano Pontifici eligendo in 1975. The total number of cardinals will reach 211.

Here are some interesting facts about this Red Saturday consistory:
  • (Correction) The only other consistory to create only non-European cardinals was held in 1924.
  • The last consistory with no Italian cardinals was held in 1927.
  • The last time there were multiple consistories within the same year was 1929.
  • The last consistory with 6 or fewer cardinals created was Paul VI's consistory in 1977 of 4 cardinals.
  • The last consistory with no "honorary cardinals" (prelates who had reached the age of 80 when created cardinal) was in 1998.
  • Since 1991, before most consistories for the creation of cardinals, the pope has also taken the opportunity to invite all cardinals to discuss certain topics in the context of an extraordinary consistory. Because of an extraordinary and ordinary consistory that were held earlier this year, the pope decides not to hold an extraordinary consistory this time. The last time such has not happened was in 2003 when Pope John Paul II's health was failing.
  • Like the last consistory in February, the order of cardinals created in this consistory follows the liturgical precedence (except the first cardinal). A curial prelate, Archbishop Harvey, will be the first one to be created and will address the pope on behalf of the new cardinals (and would become the Cardinal Protodeacon in February 2022), followed by a Patriarch, a Major Archbishop, and 3 Archbishops in order of the dates of their episcopal ordination.
  • When Major Archbishop Thottunkal becomes a cardinal, the Syro-Malankar Church (recently raised to major-archepiscopal rank in 2005) will be the last patriarchal Church that has a member in the College of Cardinals to share the governance of the catholic Church.
Because of the small number of cardinals to be created, the lack of an extraordinary consistory, and the intensive Synod of Bishops in October, I expect that the number of cardinals taking part in this consistory will be a record low in the last 30 years. (Update: From live television, I counted 102 out of 205 cardinals who were present at the creation of the 6 cardinals. The attendance ratio fell just short of half of the total number, as I predicted.) The religious fervour of the faithful will definitely not.
(c) GCatholic.org
Consistory of 2006


Prayer for China

On Pentecost in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI wrote an affectionate letter to the Chinese Catholics, pleading for communion within the Church of China and between China and Rome. In closing, he asked the whole world to pray for the Church of China on May 24 (memorial of Our Lady Help of Christians) every year:
"I would like that date to be kept by you as a day of prayer for the Church in China. I encourage you to celebrate it by renewing your communion of faith in Jesus our Lord and of faithfulness to the Pope, and by praying that the unity among you may become ever deeper and more visible. I remind you, moreover, of the commandment that Jesus gave us, to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us...
"On that same day, the Catholics of the whole world – in particular those who are of Chinese origin – will demonstrate their fraternal solidarity and solicitude for you, asking the Lord of history for the gift of perseverance in witness, in the certainty that your sufferings past and present for the Holy Name of Jesus and your intrepid loyalty to his Vicar on earth will be rewarded, even if at times everything can seem a failure."
In anticipation of the fifth Day of Prayer for the Church in China, the Pope added last Sunday:
"We join in prayer all the Catholics in China, that they may proclaim with humility and joy Christ’s death and Resurrection, that they may be faithful to the Church and to the Successor of Peter and live their daily life consistently with the faith that they profess. May Mary, Faithful Virgin, sustain the journey of Chinese Catholics, render their prayer ever more intense and precious in the eyes of the Lord, and make the affection and participation of the universal Church grow on the path of the Church in China."
Here let me share some pictures of cathedrals in China that I have visited:

Clockwise from top-left:
(1) Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Guangzhou (廣州)
(2) Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Hangzhou (杭州)
(3) Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Beijing (北京)
(4) Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi, Xi'an (西安)
(5) Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Nanjing (南京)
(6) Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Shenyang (瀋陽)
(7) Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola, Shanghai (上海)
(8) Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Taiyun (太原)

I will definitely share more pictures and stories about churches in China in the future.

Please pray for courage of the Chinese bishops loyal to the Pope, for the sanctity of the priests and religious in China, for the laypeople who suffer because of their faith, for an open attitude of the Chinese government to the Church, and for a miracle from God to allow evangelization to the 1.3 billion people in Mainland China longing for the truth.


Lily of the Mohawks

Today marks the Optional Memorial of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in Canada, the last time this is celebrated. Next year she will be known as Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, and the rank of the feast will be promoted as Memorial. In the United States of America, her optional memorial is celebrated on July 14. It is unclear if USA will transfer the memorial to April 17 after her canonization.

During the same liturgy of the consistory for the creation of cardinals on February 18, Pope Benedict XVI also held a consistory for the canonization of saints in which he announced the date of her canonization as October 21, the Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary time, 2012. She will be raised to the altar together with six other saints, including Marianne Cope (who cared for the lepers in Moloka'i, Hawaii), Jacques Berthieu (the protomartyr of Madagascar), Pedro Calungsod (the protomartyr second saint of the Philippines), and Anna Schäffer (a German mystic and stigmatist).

Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 in Auriesville, New York, to a Mohawk father and Algonquin mother. When she was four, a smallpox epidemic killed her whole family and left her visually impaired and disfigured. She met a Jesuit at the age of 18 who baptized her two years later on Easter day, and named herself after St. Catherine of Siena. Since then, she offered her sufferings and mortification of the flesh to pray for conversion of her kinsmen and for her own sanctity.

French troops attacked the Mohawk tribe, and in 1677, her mission relocated to Côte Sainte-Catherine, Quebec. There she lived a life of purity, poverty and holiness. When she died in 1680, her childhood facial scars disappeared and witnesses saw how her face transformed to great beauty. Many miracles were attributed to her, including the healing of a non-Catholic smallpox-infected young boy. The miracle for her canonization dates from 2006 to another young boy who suffered from a flesh-eating bacterium.

Today her tomb lies in a shrine dedicated to her in the parish of St. Francis Xavier, Kahnawake, a reserve of the Mohawk nation on the south shore of St. Lawrence River, 10 km south west of Montreal. The church was built in 1720 when the mission finally settled down in Kahnawake and Kateri's relics were brought here too. Pilgrims can touch her marble tomb on the right side in the church. A gift shop and a museum can also be found next to the church.

There is also a small national shrine dedicated to the saint in Fonda, New York, where she once lived. Do not miss the impressive National Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville, which is only 8 km away.

Kateri is not only revered by native people but also by traditional aboriginal people. She will be first native American woman to become a saint. Canada and USA proudly consider her as their saint. Next year on April 17, we will be celebrating the 333rd anniversary of St. Kateri Tekakwitha's entry into heaven in even greater fervour.


Anglican Catholics in Canada

On the Sunday of the Divine Mercy of the Lord, the first fourth (see comments below) Anglican group in Canada is received into the Catholic Church with the intent of joining an Ordinariate for former Anglicans. The group includes 40 members of the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Ottawa, which has been a member of the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada (ACCC) and of the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC). They were received into full communion with the Catholic Church in St. Patrick's Basilica in Ottawa by Archbishop Terrence Prendercast earlier today.

With Benedict XVI's apostolic constitution Anglicanorum cœtibus (and complementary norms), personal ordinariates can be established in countries where sufficient number of Anglicans wish to enter into communion with the Catholic Church. Similar to a Diocese, an Ordinariate possesses public juridic personality in Canon Law, and has jurisdiction of possibly a whole country. These Ordinariates can celebrate the Holy Eucharist and other sacraments according to the Anglican tradition which have been approved by the Holy See.

Former Anglican bishops who enter an Ordinariate (as Ordinary or not) may receive ordination to the diaconate and priesthood, but only those who are not married can receive ordination to the episcopate. The head of an ordinariate is called an Ordinary. He must receive ordination as priest from the Catholic Church but would have similar power to a diocesan Bishop and be similarly vested. The only difference for Ordinaries who cannot receive episcopal ordination in the Catholic Church is that they cannot perform ordinations.

Canada does not have sufficient members to form a personal ordinariate of its own. Anglicans from the country will join the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter in the United States, established four months ago. This is only the second ordinariate for Anglicans, with the first one being the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in England, established in 2011. The Canadians will form a Deanery within the Ordinariate, under the patronage of St. John the Baptist, who has special significance to Canada.

Ottawa's Cathedral of the Annunciation will lose its status as cathedral as it is incorporated into the American Ordinariate with the Principal Church of Our Lady of Walsingham (de facto Cathedral) in Houston. The former cathedral will now be known as the "Sodality of the Annunciation", where a sodality is a "parish in waiting". Former Anglican Bishop Peter Wilkinson and Suffragan Bishop Carl Reid as well as some priests belonging to the sodality will undergo formation until they receive presbyteral ordination in the Catholic Church, presumably from Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto. At that time, these new Catholic members will be formally made part of the American Ordinariate which will expand its jurisdiction to cover Canada, and the sodality will be raised to the dignity of a parish.

I was in a business trip in the Canadian capital last year for two days. After work I had a 2-hour tour of seven cathedrals: Roman Catholic Cathedral Basilica of Notre Dame, Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral of the Assumption, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation and St. Nicholas (Orthodox Church in America), the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Xenia (Russian Church Abroad), the Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Elias, the Christ Church Anglican Cathedral, and the Anglican Catholic Cathedral of the Annunciation.

It was in the latter cathedral that I attended the Liturgy of the Hours and a Mass, the first time that I attended a high Anglican liturgy. I was very impressed by the beautiful English Mass texts, somewhat similar to the new English translation of the Catholic Mass which would take effect months afterwards. My thought was that it combines the solemnity of the Tridentine Mass and the most elegant English text. I could not receive Communion then (by reason of canon law), but next time I will be able to! I had the opportunity of briefly speaking to the bishop after Mass, when I told him I was anxiously waiting for the parish to become Catholic. He told me to pray for that day. My unworthy prayers were fulfilled today!

Ottawa has lost a cathedral and but has gained more joy. Praise be to God.


Easter Sunday

After Wednesday of Week I and Wednesday of Holy Week, we come back for the last time to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the first church dedicated to Mary in the West on this last day of our stational pilgrimage.

Pope Sixtus V, whose reign only lasted 5 years, was buried in this major basilica. He was responsible for finishing construction of several major basilicas and other churches, and moving moving some of the obelisks to St. Peter's Basilica and other churches. Also buried in the basilica is Bernini, the father of Baroque who designed the baldacchino, tabernacle, dove window and several statues in St. Peter's Basilica.

This concludes our 47th day of our station church pilgrimage in which we visited 40 different churches. I hope you have enjoyed it and benefited spiritually from the stories of the Roman churches and martyrs. Christus resurrexit, sicut dixit, Alleluia! Happy Easter!


Holy Saturday

Returning to the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Cathedral of Rome (see First Sunday of Lent, Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday), let us look at the highlight of the archbasilica: the papal altar. The main altar is always the focus and raison d'être of any church. It is the visible symbol of unity when the bishop celebrates the Eucharist with the people, as Christ instructed on Holy Thursday.

The main altar is surrounded by the golden baldacchino. Many people often miss the relics in the upper part, as the basilica may not be lighted when they are there. If you look carefully, you can find two silver busts of St. Peter and St. Paul, the pillars of the Church. In fact, the skulls of the two apostles are stored inside the busts.

The bodies of St. Peter and St. Paul are buried within the Basilica of St. Peter and the Basilica of St. Paul respectively. Excavation of these bodies showed that the skulls were missing, because they are located in St. John Lateran.

Tomorrow we will end the tour of the Roman stations.


Good Friday

On this epic day of salvation, we come back to the  Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem built by St. Helen to store the relics brought back from Jerusalem. This, however, is not a popular destination of tourists or pilgrims because of its distance from the centre of Rome. This gives the advantage that the basilica is most of the time empty, allowing you to spend quiet time in the basilica, admiring the mosaics under the dome.

Among the relics found of St. Helen, you can see here in display a nail attached to the True Cross, and part of the wood attached to the Cross on which is written "Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews" in Hebrew, Latin and Greek (see Jn. 19:19; Mt 27:37; Mk. 15:26; Lk 23:38).

Helen actually found three crosses at the site of Jesus's burial, but could not determine which one was the True Cross. The bishop of Jerusalem suggested that the crosses be brought to a dying woman. When she touched the first and second one, nothing happened, but on being touched by the third Cross, she was instantly healed.

The piece of wood attached to the True Cross was actually detached when found. It is quite amazing that it can last till today.


Holy Thursday

On this last day of Lent and the first day of the Holy Triduum, we come back to the Cathedral of Rome for the third time (see First Sunday of Lent and Palm Sunday). The Basilica of St. John Lateran was the first public church in Rome, donated by Emperor Constantine to the Church.

The Lateran Palace next to the basilica has been the residence of popes until the 14th century. When popes returned from Avignon to Rome, the palace had been damaged by fire, with the result that the official papal residence was moved to the Vatican Hill.

Once you go inside the basilica, your eyes will fall on the 12 huge statues of the apostles lining the central nave. Above them you can see paintings of scenes from the Old and New Testaments.

We'll come back here one more time on Holy Saturday.


Wednesday of Holy Week

Returning to the Papal Basilica of St. Mary Major dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Romans surely love this original structure preserved since the 5th century.

The basilica was formerly known as the Basilica of Our Lady of the Snow because snow fell upon this site on a hill to indicate the exact dimension of the church to Pope Liberius. The day was recorded as August 5, and so it has been celebrated as the Feast of Our Lady the Snow.

This is most likely a legend, but if you attend Mass therein on this feast day, you will see a show of fake snow scattered from inside the dome of the basilica during Mass. Yes, the celebration of the Eucharist can come in 4D too!


Tuesday of Holy Week

"After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Jew named Aquila... with his wife Prisca... Paul went to see them because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers." (Acts 18: 1-3) He later travelled with them to Ephesus (Acts 18:18-19).

Today's station Church of St. Prisca was built in the 4th century upon Prisca's house. Recent excavations found first century walls marked with Chi Rho ☧, the first two letters of the word "Christ" in Greek. The façade was built in the 17th century.

Cadinal Justin Rigali, archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia, is currently the cardinal priest of the titular church. He retired a year ago when he reached the age of 75. Having served as the secretary of the Congregation for Bishops and the archbishop of St. Louis, he was transferred to Philadelphia in 2003, one of the eight traditional cardinalatial sees in USA. Pope John XXIII was the titular of the church before he was elected to the Petrine see.


Monday of Holy Week

St. Praxades is the sister of St. Pudentiana, whose church we visited on Tuesday of Week III. They are daughters of the senator Pudens who gave hospitality to Peter when he first arrived in Rome.

Built in the 4th century, the Basilica of St. Praxades was one of the first 25 parishes of Rome. The present church dates back to the 8th century. Many relics were brought here by Pope Paschal I, including the bodies of Pudentiana and Praxades.

Cardinal Paul Poupard is the titular of the church. He had been auxiliary bishop of Paris before being his appointment as President of the Secretariat for Non-Believers. The Secretariat was later raised to the status of Pontifical Council before merging with the Pontifical Council for Culture in 1993. The cardinal remained as president of the pontifical council till 2007 when he retired. He was at the same time the president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue (for dealing with other non-Christian religions) from 2006 and 2007, when Pope Benedict XVI was considering to combine the two pontifical councils.


Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion

For the second time in Lent (see First Sunday of Lent), the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Mother Church of the world, is the station church. Romans will come back here two more times this week to complete the Lenten stations. Although the basilica is in Rome outside of the Vatican City, it belongs juridically to the Vatican City State. Italy has no jurisdiction here. The same is true for other major basilicas, some catacombs and some churches.

Shown here is the central apse with the cathedra of the Bishop of Rome, illuminated by mosaics depicting Christ Jesus and other saints. After a pope is elected, he will come here to take possession of the cathedral. That is why Pope Benedict XVI sat on this chair on 7 May 2005 shortly after his election.

We will return to the Lateran Basilica on Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday.


Saturday of Week V of Lent

On the day before Palm Sunday, Romans gather in this lovely 5th-century Church of St. John at the Latin Gate dedicated to St. John the Evangelist. According to the great historian and Father of the Church Tertullian, it is at this site that John was tortured in Rome (boiled in oil) and unharmed, before being exiled to Patmos where he wrote the Book of Revelation. The lovely bell tower was built in the 11th century. This church is very popular for weddings.

The Cardinal-Priest of the titular chuch is Cardinal Franciszek Macharski. He succeeded Karol Wojtyła to the archdiocese of Krakow, when the latter became Pope John Paul II. While Krakow is no longer the capital of Poland, it is the most influential bishopric in Poland, and a leading city in academic, cultural, and artistic life in the country. Until 1791, Krakow's archbishop also held the title of duke.


Friday of Week V of Lent

Dedicated by Pope Simplicius to St. Stephen around 470 after the body of the protomartyr was found in Jersualem, the Basilica of St. Stephen in the Round on the Celian Hill s the first circular church in Rome, modelled upon the Basilica of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Inside, the outer walls host 24 famous frescoes, depicting scenes of horrific martyrdom. The church is one of the handful churches which have survived their original 5th-century structure.

Cardinal Friedrich Wetter succeeded to the see of Munich in 1982 after Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI, was appointed as President of the Holy Office. Wetter was created cardinal in 1985 and was given this titular church. He served the German archdiocese for 22 years before retiring.

The previous Cardinal-Priest was József Mindszenty, the famous primate of Hungary who suffered tremendously under the Communist rule.

This historic church also serves as the national church of the Hungarians. One of the chapel is dedicated to St. Stephen of Hungary, king from 1000 to 1038.


Thursday of Week V of Lent

The Basilica of St. Apollinarus is a "modern" church compared to the ones we've seen, founded as "late" as in the 7th century. The present church was reconstructed in the 18th century. Today Opus Dei runs the station church, next to the prelature's Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.

Apollinarus was a disciple of Peter, the first bishop of Ravenna. He converted many people and was beaten and left to die.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran is the Cardinal-Deacon of the diaconal church, also the President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, responsible for forming good relationships with the Jews, Muslims, Hindu and other non-Christian religions. He is the most senior Cardinal-Deacon and so holds the office of Protodeacon. The Cardinal Protodeacon is responsible for declaring to the world the name of the new pope after a papal conclave. However, Cardinal Tauran will be promoted to the order of Cardinal-Priests next year and will concede the office to the American Cardinal Levada.

Do not miss the Basilica of St. Augustine around the corner.

Wednesday of Week V of Lent

Pope Marcellus I was arrested by Emperor Maxentius, but was freed by Lucina, a Roman woman, who hid him in her house. The emperor eventually found the pope, had the house turned into a stable where Marcellus was forced to work and died. The house was converted into the Church of St. Marcellus in the later 4th century, becoming one of the first 25 parishes. The church was rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1519.

The church has been administered by the Order of Friar Servants of Mary, or Servites, since 1369. The order was founded by seven founders in 1233, and these seven saints are celebrated as an optional memorial in the General Roman Calendar.

Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, archbishop of Florence, is the new Cardinal-Priest of the titular church. He was created cardinal a month ago by Pope Benedict XVI.


Tuesday of Week V of Lent

The first chapel was built at the present site of Basilica of St. Mary in Via Lata in the 5th century, with the upper church built over it in the 9th century. The present basilica was built in 1491, with the façade and portico finished in the 17th century.

St. Paul may have spent two years in the crypt under the present church when he was under house arrest awaiting his trial.

Above the altar is a miraculous icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary called "Virgin Advocate". Relics of the deacon-martyr Agapitus lie under the altar. A crypt is also open for visit.

Cardinal Edward Cassidy, the former ecumenical chief from Australia, has been the Cardinal-Deacon of the diaconal church. When he had become cardinal for 10 years, the deaconry became a titular church for the time being, and he was promoted to the Order of Cardinal-Priest.

Within a walk of 200 metres, you can also admire the Titular Church of St. Marcellus (which we will visit tomorrow), the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles (which we visited earlier), and the Titular Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola.


Monday of Week V of Lent

As one of the first 25 parishes of Rome, the Basilica of St. Chrysogonus was built in the 4th century over the house of Crisogonus, later dedicated to a different Crisognous who was a martyr in Aquileia, a saint venerated also in the Orthodox Church.

The Tawianese Cardinal Paul Shan, bishop emeritus of Kaohsiung, is the cardinal priest of this titular church in the region of Trastevere. He has developed cancer, and in his age of 88, he still travels around the world to give witness to Christ. Although Kaohsiung is neither the capital nor metropolitan see of Taiwan, it holds de facto the primary importance due to its history and pastoral activities. The present bishop of Kaohsiung was given the personal title of archbishop to recognize the importance of the office.

The basilica was rebuilt in the 12th century and again in the 17th century. Remains of the first church were recovered in the early 20th century. Several well preserved sarcophagi can be found in this graceful basilica.

Fifth Sunday of Lent

On the Fifth Sunday of Lent, pilgrims return to the Vatican Hill after Saturday of Week I, the site of Peter's burial. After a grand church was built by Constantine in 330, it gradually came to ruins. The new Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican was commissioned in 1506, and it took 120 years to finish the construction.

You have to be inside the basilica to feel its great size, because otherwise proportionally it just looks like a Renaissance church. The baldachin over the main altar is 7-storey high. There are 44 altars, 11 domes, 778 columns, 395 statues and 135 mosaics inside the basilica. The façade itself is 45 m x 110 m big, which is longer than a standard FIFA football field.

Most do not know that St. Peter's Basilica is no longer the largest church in the world, but the second largest one. Which is the largest?

The interior of the basilica houses many precious relics and tombs of saints. Among the most important are the tomb of St. Peter (underneath the papal altar), St. Veronica's veil and tombs of 91 popes. Displayed here is the symbolic chair of Peter.


Saturday of Week IV of Lent

Today's station church, the Basilica of St. Nicholas in Prison, is dedicated to the 4th-century St. Nicholas of Myra (who became the popular Santa Claus). St. Nicholas never came to Rome, but this church was built over the site of a Byzantine-time prison, and St. Nicholas is the patron of prisoners. The bishop-saint who participated in the Council of Nicea is especially popular among Greeks who inhabited this area in Rome.

The church is popular for its Marian devotions, especially Our Lady of Pompeii and Our Lady of Guadalupe. See this panorama of the interior of the basilica. Don't miss the Basilica of St. Bartholomew across the bridge on the island, where the tomb of the apostle is found.

For the last 11 years, the protector of the Cardinal Title has been the Polish Zenon Grocholewski. He is the Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, in charge of Catholic universities around the world and all Latin-rite seminaries in non-missionary dioceses.