Sunday, March 01, 2009

"Exercise" Break

Following today's noontime Angelus -- for this Sunday, a meditation on the angels -- the Pope went off-radar for the week to immerse himself in the annual spiritual exercises for the Roman Curia, underway at this hour in the Redemptoris Mater chapel of the Apostolic Palace.

As previously noted, this year's preaching duties for the six-day, 17 session Lenten retreat have fallen to Cardinal Francis Arinze, the former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The Nigerian cardinal is leading the exercises two weeks before the pontiff departs Rome for his most extensive foreign trip yet and first African visit; the seven-day trek to Angola and Cameroon begins on the 17th.

On a related note, making a Retreat Eve change in the ranks of his top aides, yesterday B16 accepted the age-induced resignation of Cardinal Renato Martino as president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, naming the veteran diplomat Archbishop Antonio Maria VegliĆ² to take his place.

Now 71, the incoming Migrant Czar served since 2001 as the #2 at the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, previously helming the Holy See's diplomatic presence in venues ranging from Papua New Guinea and Senegal to Lebanon and Kuwait.

While Martino was relieved of the migration post, the 76 year-old cardinal remains president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Given the red hat in 2003 after two decades at the UN headquarters in New York, the former Vatican observer has led both offices since 2006, and a separate successor at the Vatican's equivalent of a "war department" is likely soon in the offing.

With yesterday's appointment, Benedict XVI has now named 14 of the 23 topmost dicastery heads since his 2005 election. Three more Curial chiefs are serving past the retirement age of 75, most prominently the lead bishop-maker Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, who marked the milestone in late January.

While all papal audiences and appearances are suspended for Retreat Week, moves already decided on by the Pope may still be announced over the coming days.

As always, stay tuned.