Who preaches to the pope

Who preaches to the pope

Father Cantalamessa © dpa

Few people in the Vatican have been doing this job for as long as Raniero Cantalamessa. For almost 40 years now, the Capuchin priest has been the preacher of the Pontifical House. On Monday he will be 85 years old.

No, his name is not an artist's pseudonym. The official preacher of the Papal Household is really Raniero Cantalamessa. The Italian capuchin has already been entrusted with the task by John Paul II. – barely two years after the latter had been elected pope.

And while dozens of eminences and excellencies at the Curia left – or were left – the successors to the Chair of Peter, Benedict XVI left. And Francis, Cantalamessa at his post.

Externally, the religious certainly has similarities with Anselm Grun: friendly face, white hair and beard but shorter. Also, the Capuchin is similarly famous in Italy as the Benedictine from Munsterschwarzach. From 1994 to 2010, Cantalamessa hosted a 15-minute program on the Sunday Gospel every Saturday on the Italian television station Rai Uno.

Pontifical retreat leader and preacher

What exactly is incumbent upon the preacher of the papal household is not even mentioned in the decree by which Paul VI. in 1967 reorganized the Papal Household. There the "Predicatore Apostolico", as he is also called, is mentioned only once as a spiritual member of the papal family, which in turn belongs to the papal household.

A full-time job is not the task. Traditionally – and this has great weight in the Roman Curia – the Papal Household Preacher delivers a sermon on Fridays during Advent and Lent. Just as in some places bishops give Lenten or Advent sermons.

Cantalamessa, however, does this in the presence of the Pope, cardinals, bishops, religious superiors and other important heads of the Curia.

Usually this special homily takes place in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Apostolic Palace. Cantalamessa also used to lead the Curia's retreats there at the beginning of Lent, before Francis got his senior staff out of the Vatican – and invited them to a house in the Alban Hills.

The task of preaching to the pope used to be entrusted alternately to the leaders of the four so-called preaching orders: the Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites and Augustinian hermits.

Paul IV. (1555-1559) made the papal court preacher a permanent institution. His successor Benedict XIV. decided in 1743 that only a member of the Capuchin Friars Minor should hold this office.

Cantalamessa: house preacher since 1980

The current Capuchin pope-preacher Raniero Cantalamessa was born on 22. Born July 1934 in a village near Ascoli Piceno in the Marche region of Italy. After entering the order, he was ordained a priest in 1958. In 1962 he obtained a doctorate in theology in Fribourg, Switzerland, and a second doctorate in classical philology in 1967 at the Catholic University of Sacred Heart in Milan.

There he subsequently taught Ancient Church History and Patristics, and was also head of the Department of Religious Studies. Paul VI. Appointed in 1975 to the International Commission of Theologians. Then in 1980, John Paul II. have him as his house preacher. In addition to Advent and Lenten homilies, Cantalamessa delivers the homily at the Good Friday liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica.

Yet he attracted unwanted international attention in 2010 when he compared sweeping attacks against the church for sexual abuse with anti-Semitic slurs. In his homily, he quoted an unnamed Jewish friend: the use of stereotypes and the shift from personal to collective guilt in the abuse debate reminded him of "the most shameful aspects of anti-Semitism". Cantalamessa was forced to apologize shortly thereafter.

For the Curia's retreat, Francis has most recently invited out-of-town preachers – a theologian from Lisbon and a Benedictine from Florence. Which is not to say he was unhappy with Cantalamessa. Most recently, the pope entrusted him with the challenging task of accompanying the divided U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on a week-long retreat he ordered on the abuse scandal.

Francis also appointed Cantalamessa as spiritual assistant for Charis, the Vatican's new service and coordination agency for the charismatic movement. In the past, he himself had little to do with this form of piety, says the Capuchin. In the meantime, however, he considers this "stream of grace" important for recharging the partly tired church.

For about ten years, Cantalamessa, soon to be 85, has retired to the countryside. He was increasingly drawn to a contemplative life, he confessed in a 2009 interview. About 90 kilometers north of Rome, he lives in a former Capuchin convent in the 6th district.Cittaducale near Rieti, a town with 700 inhabitants.

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