Five Things I Learned This week From Pope Magazine

This week's edition of "Il Mio Papa."

This week’s edition of “Il Mio Papa.”

For you non-Italian readers, here is this week’s news from the only weekly mass-market magazine about the Pope, “Il Mio Papa:”

  • The Pope Confesses: “I’m a sinner too”
  • The inside scoop on the cross he wears around his neck
  • Francis warns politicians: no heaven for the corrupt
  • The Angelus prayer and audience in the square
  • Meet the cousins of the Pope in Piedmont

And, for the cover story of “My Pope,” Francis and Obama: an historic meeting. (The line above it reads: “What they said and the gifts they exchanged.”)
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Vatican Approved Prayer App Now Gratis

The Italian priest who created the only Vatican-approved prayer app has now slashed the price from $0.99 to gratis.

Given the popularity of the iBreviary app, Don Paolo Padrini decided to give the current version away for free. (Profits from the app previously went to refurbishing a parish shelter.)

Available in English, French, Spanish, Italian, Latin and an Ambrosian Rite version (for mobile Milanese), this virtual breviary, or book of hours, gives the morning prayer, evening prayer and night prayer or complines for the day. It is the first app of its kind to obtain approval from the Vatican.

As a paid app, it was in the top 100 of its category (reference) beating out similar mobile prayer helpers like iPieta and iMissal.

What’s next? Don Padrini tells us his developers are hard at work on an iPad version they hope will be ready to launch when the new device hits stores.

Hygienic Holy Water Flows in Italian Church


Although many communal fonts in Italian churches have run dry because of the flu scare, one small parish church has a custom-designed font that dispenses holy water for making the sign of the cross in a more hygienic fashion.

It works much like a touchless soap dispenser in a public bathroom: the faithful place their hands underneath it, triggering a motion sensor and holy water runs forth.

Nicknamed the “sacred dispenser,” the container is covered in terracotta with a matching basin. It hangs on the wall in the church of Tre Fanciulli a Fornaci, about 30 kilometers (18 miles) north of Milan.

“I thought it up seven years ago while working my pizzeria,” inventor Luciano Marabese told newspapers. The parish priests in the town of about 5,000 had related to Marabese the disturbing news that drug addicts were washing needles in church fonts. Between spinning one pizza and the next, Marabese came up with the idea of safer holy water.

“It’s been in the church since 2005, but since the flu scare, I’ve been contacted by half of Europe — Spain, Portugal, Poland — only the Vatican hasn’t called yet. ”

The hygienic holy water dispenser costs about €1,500 ($2,200), with part of the proceeds going to humanitarian projects in Africa.

Italian Writes Guide Book to Mass


A new guide book for Catholics is designed to lead them back into church by reviewing the services.

Journalist Camillo Langone, also a long-time restaurant reviewer, sat in pews all over Italy to write over 300 pages on weekly mass ceremonies. What makes a good mass (communion given in the mouth, incense) bad mass (electric guitars and too many tambourines), is, much like a restaurant, up to the reviewer, who in this case describes himself as a “fervent Catholic.”

It’s not the first guide book to church going, but it’s the first in Italy, seat of the Vatican and country where the flock is fleeing rapidly. The battle may be an uphill one: 90 percent of Italians are baptized Catholics but only about a third are churchgoers.

Langone’s “Guide to Mass” also reviews the priests of over 200 services, whether their sermons are creative or soporific and whether the church architecture (poor acoustics, hot summer and cold in winter) is conducive to prayer.

Italian Priest Launches “Karaoke Mass” for Forgetful Parishioners

Tired of looking out on a silent congregation, a priest in Southern Italy has launched Karaoke-style mass.

Back in May, Father Antonio Russo was appointed parish priest in the church of Santa Sofia in Albanella, a town of about 6,000 some 300 kilometers south of Rome. Finding himself surrounded by mute parishioners, Don Russo decided to take action.

Santa Sofia: Where Karaoke Mass is Held

Santa Sofia: Where "Karaoke" Mass is Held

He installed a large screen near the altar that provides all the words to the liturgy plus all the verses to the songs, hoping to get some more participation. A lay person controls the Karaoke board from the pews with a remote control.

“The spirit is to get the faithful to participate,” said Don Russo. “We hope to make the church an important point of reference. ”

The battle may be an uphill one: 90 percent of Italians are baptized but only about a third are churchgoers.

Vatican Launches “Saint Catalog”


Italians say that a confused person doesn’t know which saint to pray to. The process of finding a saint to appeal to for protection will be easier come next week when the Vatican launches a catalog of saints.

The International Guide to Saints features over 2,000 patron saints in prayer card form hailing from around Europe, the US and South America.

The catalog idea in Italian and English is a good one for on-the-go requests for intercession, but does seem a little behind the times, now that Italian Catholics can get daily prayers on iPhones and iPods with a free app.

Called “santini” or little saints, these prayer cards are found in Italian wallets from students (Giuseppe da Copertino, patron of those struggling with exams) to frequent fliers (St. Christopher, in these chaotic days of Alitalia strikes is invoked a lot) and singles, who can put their status in the hands of San Faustino.

Saint depictions through the centuries are considered an art form. If you’re looking for some intercession on the run, try an Italian newsstand. Several publishers in Italy sell collect-them-all series of saint images.

Testing Italy’s iRosary

e-rosaryFor Catholics who can’t remember their Hail Mary’s, there’s help: an electronic rosary.

Long a joke in the tech community, two ingenious Italians are the latest to launch an e-rosary.

I went to check it out a couple of weeks ago at one of the religious book stores here in Milan, where it sat on top of a glass case filled with elaborate ex-votos. The clerk was busy with an elderly signora, a regular, buying a block of Mother Teresa prayer books, so I had the chance to fiddle with it.

Version 1.0 of the rosary pod looks like a big, lightweight egg — nearly filled my hand — but felt as if only the will of God might keep it glued together. It is, however, easy to use: I accidentally set it off almost immediately, then couldn’t figure out how to get the woman’s droning voice to stop. (It is also oddly sans headphones.)

One of the inventors, Onorio Frati, told the AP recently that he created it to pray on the job. This seems a clunky solution at best, even with the smaller shuffle version.

Prices start at €29.50 (US$41.70), which seems a lot, considering a no-name mp3 player with enough memory for the rosary and the Pope’s podcasts costs about the same.

More than for busy workers, it seemed targeted towards tech-phobic old people, but I couldn’t imagine any of the spry nonna-types I know using something cumbersome and unlikely to look nice sitting around your house or coming out of your handbag.

There have been plenty of attempts to create portable religious aids, but none of them have really been super-fervent solutions.

Maybe Steve Jobs will get on the case.

Cloistered nuns open up with webcam* (*maybe)

A group of Italian cloistered nuns, who already run a website, want to hook the convent up with a webcam.

It’s a great story. Reaching out to the world with new technology in a place that, historically, used to be a kind of prison for the troubled, troublesome or often unwanted daughters of wealthy families.

But one thing I’ve learned with years of reading the Italian press is that they rarely let hard facts get in the way of a good tale. The combination of webcam girls – those teenagers who adopt sexually provocative poses for friends – and strangers, often for money or gifts – with the group also known as “brides of Christ” seemed, uh, interesting.

The whopper about the Canadian officials arriving in Italy to spread around the fortune of a bootlegging emigrant is a classic example of how what makes it into Italian papers won’t hold up after only a few phone calls.

A lot of journalism basics — getting your who, what, when, where and whys straight — seem to be optionals.

Anyway, after reading and re-reading the story titled “Webcam Enters Cloisters,” I thought I’d better investigate before pitching. The article didn’t exactly say the webcam was installed. And it side-stepped when exactly this might happen.

I was in New York — keeping busy with the World Cup and ranting about flip-flops — so I sent an email to the convent asking about the webcam.

Then promptly forgot about it, until “cybernun” Sister Antonella, who also runs the web site of the Dominican order, answered my email:

“We’ve got plans for a web cam on the drawing board..but I don’t know yet when it will happen.

The idea would be to install a webcam in the church so it would broadcast some moments of prayer.

I can’t tell you much more at the moment, these kind of projects have to be duly thought through and properly considered.” (my quick translation).

Ah. So maybe. It’s worth keeping tabs on, even though the story doesn’t stand a chance in hell.

She ended her email by telling me she’ll put me in her prayers, which beats the heck out of those legal disclaimers you get most of the time.

Italian town battles over ‘fighting’ saint

by Nicole Martinelli

A debate over war and religion in an Italian town has lead to the creation of a ‘pacifist’ statue of St. Michael, the archangel credited with defeating the devil.

City council members in Monza, 12 miles north of Milan, voted last year to spend 150,000 euro ($183,000 USD) for a new statue of St. Michael, or Michele as he is called in Italian, to grace the town’s main square.
The largely left-leaning council was, however, uncomfortable building a tribute to a fighting saint when Italian public opinion has been largely against the war in Iraq. And so St. Michael was commissioned without his usual attribute, a prominent sword.

The archangel found in Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions is sometimes referred to as a “warrior-prince” for his role at the helm of celestial armies against wicked forces. Depicting saints with attributes is a common practice that dates back to when art was the only means of relating episodes of the bible to a largely illiterate community.

His ‘disarmament’ has led to wide protest, including one by Massimiliano Romeo, of the Lega Nord party, who rushed into city hall brandishing a plastic toy “Zorro” sword. Political opponents aren’t the only ones to take issue with the new statue; religious groups have taken the protest to the web arguing that the unarmed statue strips the saint of his significance.

The new, peaceful St. Michael was unveiled to the 700 Micheles and Michelas of Monza, namesakes of the saint, and the parachutists St. Michael also protects on Sept. 29. Petitioners, wearing t-shirts asking for the resignation of the mayor, were also out in force gathering signatures to add a sword and ‘correct’ the 3.8 meter-high(12 feet) bronze statue.

One local religious figure, says the debate over the sword, though far from over, misses the target. Monsignor Enrico Rossi reminds both sides that it is high time to brush up on iconography, pointing out that sculptor Benedetto Pietrogrande took his inspiration from an historic local fresco where the saint is empty-handed.?1999-2004
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