By Edward Pentin
ROME, FEB. 17, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Unless you’re a senior member of the Church hierarchy, a head of state, or an ambassador to the Holy See, beware of anyone offering you a private audience with the Holy Father.
Benedict XVI rarely holds private audiences, even with apostolic nuncios, preferring instead to spend his time in study, prayer or taking care of other pressing matters. So it seemed odd to see a travel promotion offering such an exclusive meeting with the Pope as part of a luxury package tour to Rome.
According to a Feb. 14 article in “Travel Blackboard,” an online travel industry newsletter, Asian members belonging to the Leaders Club of The Leading Hotels of the World, a luxury hospitality chain, are currently being offered “an opportunity of a lifetime” to enjoy “the privilege of a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI.”
As part of a two-night package at the famous five star Hassler Hotel in Rome, it says the highlight of the stay “is the rare and private audience that can be arranged with Pope Benedict XVI in a venue not open to the public.”
When told of the offer, an official at the Prefecture of the Papal Household, the Vatican dicastery which arranges papal audiences, said it seemed “very misleading” and “very suspicious to say the least.” He was particularly mystified by the phrase “in a venue not open to the public.”
If someone has a special reason or are a recognized VIP, they can ask to be in the “prima fila” — front row seats where they can meet the Pope during a brief few minutes at the end of his weekly general audience. But it’s not an opportunity to sit down privately with the Pontiff and tell him about the delicious gelato you had near the Trevi Fountain.
“A private audience doesn’t mean ‘prima fila,'” stressed the official, and added it would be impossible for any company to have an agreement with the Vatican to provide such tickets.
When contacted, The Leading Hotels of the World passed me onto the Hassler Hotel, which is organizing the two day Rome experience. The hotel spokesman didn’t mention a private audience, but seemed to imply the offer referred to a “prima fila” meeting after the general audience.
“The Hassler would call the offices of the Vatican (ideally a couple of months in advance),” he said, adding that “nothing is pre-arranged with the Vatican” and that the papal audience “would last around 30-45 minutes.” He said the guests would be part of a group of 25-100 other people, depending on the time of year.
But in truth, any member of the public can attend the Pope’s weekly general audience (or often a papal liturgy) and request to be in the “prima fila” (though these are naturally much sought after and hard to obtain). Tickets for all of them are free of charge and a request can be made by sending a fax to Archbishop James M. Harvey, the American prefect of the Papal Household (+39 06.69.88.58.63). It’s also possible to ask for tickets through your nation’s embassy to the Holy See, but the Vatican says this avenue isn’t necessary as it just means getting the same result via three steps instead of one.
On the request must be your name, the date of the audience or ceremony, and the number of tickets required. Newlyweds are asked to make clear that they have recently been married as they are given special tickets for the general audience, and seated in a special section for “Sposi Novelli.”
The prefecture recommends enquiring early as it needs time to respond. Tickets are then sent by fax, post or can be picked up a day or two before at the “Bronze Door entrance” to the Vatican.
Such tickets won’t, therefore, grant you a private audience with the Holy Father, but you will have a very memorable experience — one that the hospitality chain rightly calls an “opportunity of a lifetime.”
You just don’t need to spend two nights in a luxury hotel to enjoy the privilege.
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Missions and Social Work
Benedict XVI will lead an Ordinary Public Consistory on Monday to vote on the canonization of three Church blesseds — two Italians and one Spanish — who are testimonies to the Church’s social and missionary outreach.
The Pope signed a decree in December that advanced their cause toward canonization.
Blessed Guido Maria Conforti (1865-1931) had wanted to follow the example of St. Francis Xavier, the Jesuit who took the message of Christ to Asia. But he was unable to travel to the mission fields for health reasons, so instead he founded the Society of St. Francis Xavier for Foreign Missions (also known as the Xaverian missionaries).
He was made Bishop of Ravenna at the young age of 37 and became Archbishop of Parma in 1907, where he stayed for almost 25 years. As bishop, he also continued to guide the society he founded, and in 1912 had the joy of consecrating one of his missionaries, Father Luigi Calza, as Bishop of Cheng-Chow.
Blessed Conforti travelled to China in 1928, but was taken ill after his trip and died, after a long illness, in 1931. John Paul II beatified him on March 17, 1995.
Don Luigi Guanella (1842-1915), was a priest who founded two congregations, both of which helped the marginalized during the industrial revolution: the Servants of Charity and the Institute of the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence. A great friend of Don Bosco, he wanted to join the Salesians, but instead was recalled to the diocese by the Bishop of Como.
For years, he was subject to misunderstanding, persecution and other obstacles but a turning point came when he was when he sent to the parish of Pianello where he met five religious prepared to undertake any service in Italy and abroad. This later gave rise to the two congregations he founded.
His apostolate to the poor made him a friend of Pope Saint Pius X who offered him much assistance. Blessed Guanella left a large legacy in Rome including the home of St. Pius X on the Janiculum hill where the Guanellian nuns care for elderly and disabled, the “St. Joseph” house on Via Aurelia Antica, and the parish of St. Joseph Cottolengo — all of them visited by Pope John Paul II. He died Oct. 24, 1915, and Pope Paul VI beatified him on Oct. 25, 1964.
Lastly, the Pope will canonize Blessed Bonifacia Rodríguez de Castro (1837-1905), a nun from Salamanca in Spain who worked for the social advancement of women workers. She founded the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and created the “Nazareth workshop” to help poor or unemployed women.
Like many founders of religious institutes, Mother Bonifacia faced strong hostility and at one point was excluded from her own congregation, after which she founded the workshop, which she managed almost until her death in 1905.
The Vatican is expected to reveal the date of the three blesseds’ canonizations after the consistory on Feb. 21.
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Edward Pentin is a freelance writer living in Rome. He can be reached at: email@example.com