On June 2, 2017, Pope Francis appointed the new president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. He is 66-year-old German Joachim von Braun, a specialist on agricultural and economic development. This appointment is in line with the encyclical Laudato Sí, which defends the idea of integral ecology.
Joachim von Braun will replace 88-year-old Swiss microbiologist and geneticist Werner Arber, who had held the position since 2011. The new president was born in 1950, in North Rhine-Westphalia; he studied agronomics, then obtained a doctorate at the University of Bonn before working as a university lecturer and researcher in agricultural economics in universities in Göttingen, Kiel, and Bonn.
Joachim von Braun is considered a leading international expert on the problems of hunger and malnutrition. He was director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) headquartered in Washington from 2002 to 2009, then Director of the Center for Development Research at the University of Bonn, where he is a professor of Economics.
His research fields include international economic development, economics of natural resources, poverty, agriculture, and science and technology policy, as well as international trade: all fields that are at the heart of the integral ecology developed in the encyclical Laudato Sí, and therein doubtless lies the explanation for Pope Francis’ choice.
The Pontifical Academy of Sciences’ work is regularly a source of controversy. On April 28, 2015, for example, it organized, with the pope’s blessing, a symposium on the “moral dimension of climate change and sustainable development.” One of the authorized speakers at the symposium was Jeffrey Sachs, known for his open support of controlling the birth rate through contraception and abortion.
More recently, during a symposium on “biological extinction” which was held from February 28 to March 1, 2017 (behind closed doors this time), the Academy did not hesitate to invite Paul Ehrlich, a scientist who advocates limiting the number of inhabitants on earth to an ideal number of one billion.
Unfortunately, this was not just a false step. In 2015, the Holy See chose Hans Schellnhuber, a member of the Academy who contributed to the pages on natural science in the pope’s encyclical, to present the encyclical Laudato Sí. This influential scientist, the famous founder of the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research, counselor to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and to the European Commission, had the opportunity of saying on global warming: “It’s a triumph for science because at last we have stabilized something—namely the estimates for the carrying capacity of the planet, namely below one billion people.”
Don Bosco’s relics, stolen on June 2 from the Salesian Basilica of Castelnuovo in Asti (Piedmont), known as Castelnuovo Don Bosco, were found on June 15, 2017.
The urn containing the remains of the holy priest’s brain had been hidden inside a copper tea kettle in a kitchen cupboard.
The thief is a 42-year-old man had already had run-ins with the police. He was arrested in his home in Pignerol, about two miles south of Turin, nearly 40 miles from the basilica. He had been identified by the forensic police of Parma thanks to the fingerprints he left on the site of the theft and to the pictures taken by the basilica’s video surveillance system. After admitting he was guilty, the man was taken to the prison of Asti.
The investigation says he did not steal the relics to ask for a ransom or sell them to collectors, but because he thought the reliquary was made of solid gold. The urn was found in perfect condition and the relics were still sealed.
The archbishop of Turin, Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia, expressed his “great joy” at this happy ending. “I was sure this would be the result, because the figure of the patron saint of young people is so loved and honored throughout the world that nobody, not ever a thief or a brigand, could have resisted the unanimous prayers,” he told Vatican Radio on June 16, 2017. He also thanked the police and prayed that St. John Bosco would forgive the thief.
The Archdiocese of Paris draws a lesson from the evolution in the collection baskets over the last ten years. This situation offers some suggestions for the future. The Archdiocese has just undertaken a large survey on parish tithing, and the first results offer two main lessons. First of all, the number of donors has dropped: the capital now has 58,000 regular givers, which is 9% less than ten years ago.
To counterbalance this first number, however, the survey shows that the tithes have increased by 17%: this means that the average amount given is higher, 450€, the median amount being 200€.
What factors can explain the decrease in the number of donors, considering that since the attacks in November 2015, the average religious practice has increased throughout the diocese? Christophe Rousselot, director of financial resource development, sees it as the fruit of a “sociological evolution.”
According to him, certain families living on the territory of certain parishes—such as St. Sulpice in the 6th arrondissement—can no longer retain the family apartments they inherited because of the rise in real estate prices in the neighborhood. The apartments are often bought by foreigners, non-Catholics, who do not become parishioners.
“On Rue de Rivoli,” he says, “it’s been ages since there have been families in the sector. The tithes of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois are left up to a few parishioners.” Then, pointing to another reason, he adds, “[O]ther neighborhoods are also very complex because they are inhabited by members of other religions.”
As for the increase in the amount of the tithes, it is supposedly due to the efforts made by the pastors to convince their flocks to be more generous; the survey also shows that the practice of direct debit, which makes the process easier for the donor, has become more widespread and currently represents 25% of donations. While the number of practicing Catholics has increased, there is still a lot of work to be done to make them more aware, especially the young people. Seeing that people from 18 to 30 often no longer carry checkbooks, some parishes have innovated in finding ways for them to participate in the tithes. Thus in the 7th arrondissement, at Saint-François-Xavier, Christophe Rousselot explains that a team from the diocese “stood at the bottom of the steps with a payment terminal, and were thus able to collect subscriptions and subscription renewals for automatic withdrawals after Mass.”
18 to 25 year olds have also been solicited over the past few years for the needs of the diocese itself, “which has created hundreds of automatic debits.” They are often very small, he adds, “from one to five euros, but it does create a habit.”
He concludes: “We are now going to see about young professionals, by appointing someone from our team who will be in contact with all the parishes, youth groups, and pilgrimages…”
For the record, ever since the Act of the Separation of Church and State, the Republic of France no longer “recognizes, pays or subsidizes any worship.” Deprived of all public resources, the bishops and priests had to turn to the generosity of the faithful. Thus the “clergy’s tithe” was established in 1906, and later came to be known as the “Tithe of the Cult.”
St. Pius X, in his catechism, places the grave obligation to tithe under the fourth precept of the Church which orders us to “pay the dues or making the offerings which have been established in recognition of God’s supreme dominion over all things and as a means of providing for the becoming support of His ministers.”
In Luxembourg, a special devotion to Our Lady of Fatima is practiced in a sanctuary in her honor. A commemorative stamp has just been issued for the occasion.
The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is very involved in the celebrations for the one-hundredth anniversary of the apparitions of Fatima. On every Ascension Thursday, nearly 20,000 faithful—many of whom are Portuguese immigrants or their descendants—go on pilgrimage to the heights of Wiltz where a sanctuary consecrated to Our Lady of Fatima was built in 1952.
The story of this sanctuary begins with the vow made by a group of faithful who had taken refuge in a cellar during the Battle of Ardennes. On January 13, 1945, under heavy fire and right when the city was about to be evacuated, a dozen faithful hiding in the priest-dean Prosper Colling’s cellar were encouraged by him to make a promise “to erect a public way of the cross with images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Our Lady of Fatima,” if they made it through the ordeal safe and sound. They immediately began a novena and on January 20, 1945, before the end of the novena, the German troops left the city.
The sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima “Op Baessent” was inaugurated on July 13, 1952, and a monumental Way of the Cross was built thereafter. The first official pilgrimage of Portuguese families took place in 1968. Since then, thousands of people have been walking every year on the feast of the Ascension from the Decanal Church of Sts. Peter and Paul to the sanctuary.
The statue of the Pilgrim Virgin of Fatima began touring the diocese on May 25, 2017, and on June 25, Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich, archbishop of Luxembourg, presided over the procession for the Virgin’s departure for Portugal.
To symbolize the close connection between the Grand Duchy and Fatima, a commemorative postage stamp worth 0.95€ has been issued along with Portugal, Poland, and Slovakia. The stamp, that shows the statue of the Virgin overlooking a crowd of pilgrims, was presented on Sunday, March 13, 2016, in Portugal, in the basilica of Fatima. The rector of the sanctuary of Fatima, Fr. Carlos Cabecinhas, and business representatives from Portugal, Slovakia, and Luxembourg were present for the ceremony.