By Matthew Bunson - OSV Newsweekly, 12/30/2012
Pope Benedict XVI has just completed one of the most grueling years of his entire pontificate. He made journeys to Mexico and Cuba in March and then Lebanon in September. He opened the Year of Faith, marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and held two consistories to create a total of 28 new cardinals.
The year was also marked by the unexpected arrest of the pontiff’s own butler Paolo Gabriele on charges of stealing papal documents and a media obsession with the subsequent trial by a Vatican court.
Let’s hope that 2013 will bring no new scandals, but the events of 2012 will give shape to much of the coming year. In fact, the two most defining features for the pope’s schedule in 2013 both began in 2012: the Year of Faith that he inaugurated on Oct. 11 and that will continue until November 2013 and new anniversaries involving Vatican II.
Connected with the Year of Faith is the much anticipated publication of the next papal encyclical. Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said it will be released in the first half of the year, with speculation that it will be promulgated perhaps during Lent or around Easter. While his last encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”) in 2009, focused on Catholic social doctrine, the pope’s new encyclical returns to the theme of the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. His first two encyclicals were Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love,” 2006) and Spe Salvi (“Saved in Hope,” 2007), and the new encyclical will examine faith, a topic with obvious ramifications both for the Year of Faith and the pope’s stress on the New Evangelization.
The project of the New Evangelization will also be a frequent topic in papal addresses — making the events of this last October also a part of the coming year. The Synod of Bishops that gathered in Rome in October had as its task the examination of the New Evangelization. The bishops approved a series of proposals for the Church, and it is customary for the pontiff to issue a meditation on the work of the bishops in what is termed a post-synodal apostolic exhortation. Customarily, it takes the pope more than a year to complete the reflection, but Pope Benedict may expedite the document to coincide with the closing of the Year of Faith.
One of the surprises during the synod was the appointment by Pope Benedict of six new members to the College of Cardinals. This was the second consistory in the same year, an unusual event that had not happened since 1929 and the closest timing of two consistories since 1959-1960. The new members brought the College back to its maximum of 120 members who are eligible to vote in a conclave that might gather to elect a new pope. However, that number began falling again as cardinals reached the age of 80 and therefore became ineligible to vote. In 2013, 10 Cardinals reach the age of 80, and there is an assumption that the pope will convene another consistory during the year, perhaps in the summer or in the fall. Still, as the pope seems concerned with maintaining the international composition of the College and not allowing the number of electors to decline too sharply, a consistory in the spring is not out of the realm of possibility.
Similarly, the fall is almost certain to bring the canonization of new saints for the Church, which likely will attract tens of thousands of pilgrims to St. Peter’s Basilica. As has been the pope’s custom, look for the canonizations to take place sometime in October.
St. Peter’s will also be the scene for celebrating several anniversaries throughout the year. The 50th anniversary of the passing of Pope Blessed John XXIII is June 3 and the similar anniversary of the election of Pope Paul VI is June 21. In September, Pope Benedict will mark the 50 years since the opening of the second period of the council by Pope Paul. On Dec. 4 arrives the commemoration of the approval and promulgation in 1963 of the council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, that set in motion the reform of the Church’s liturgical life, a process not without controversy and about which the pope has long spoken and written.
Dec. 4 will also bring the 50th anniversary for the release of the council’s groundbreaking Decree on the Means of Social Communications, Inter Mirifica. As the pope has stressed the need for the Church to utilize all means of social communications in promoting the New Evangelization, the event will not pass without special mention.
One final anniversary to be observed by the pope in 2013 is the 1,700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan, the declaration by co-Emperors Constantine the Great and Licinius Licinianus in 313 that ended all persecution of the Church and allowed Christianity to become the dominant creed of the Roman Empire.
Of course, there will also be considerable attention paid to the pope’s travels with several possible trips to Colombia and back to the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The journey to Colombia would be part of the pope’s visit to Brazil for World Youth Day. The pope went to the Czech Republic in 2009 but has been invited back as part of the planned celebrations in 2013 commemorating the 1,150th anniversary of the arrival of Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Moravia.
The big story for papal travel will be his trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to preside at World Youth Day, scheduled for July 23-28. The visit will also permit him to highlight key themes of the New Evangelization and the Year of Faith both for the pilgrims from around the world and the people of Brazil. The Church in Brazil is facing various problems of declining Mass attendance, inroads by the Pentecostals and evangelicals and the toxic spread of secularism and materialism.
And then there is the pope’s birthday on April 16, when he turns 86. A few days later he will become the third-oldest pope of all time, behind Clement XII (r. 1730-1740, who lived to be almost 88) and Leo XIII (r. 1878-1903, who lived to the age of 93). While showing signs of someone in his 80s, Pope Benedict is still apparently in good health. But stories will inevitably circulate about both his age and his health.
Pope Benedict is one of the greatest theologians of the last century. Thanks to the encyclical, addresses, homilies and exhortations to the faithful, we can look forward to 2013 being one of the most valuable years for appreciating the depth of his understanding of the faith.
Matthew Bunson is editor of The Catholic Almanac (OSV, $32.95) and The Catholic Answer magazine.
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