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Vatican preview of 2003

VATICAN, Dec 30, 02 ( -- As the calendar year comes to a close, Vatican officials are joining with many others around the world in taking stock of the year's most important events, and looking forward to next year's schedule.

In a December 30, the Vatican pointed to several important items that are already on the schedule for 2003. Among them were the continuation of the Year of the Rosary, the beatification of Mother Teresa, and the 25th anniversary of the election of Pope John Paul II.

The Pope's schedule -- which, of course, is contingent on his health -- includes trips to Spain and Croatia in May. The latter will be the 100th foreign voyage of his pontificate -- a record of travel that has brought him to 131 different countries. Vatican officials have also discussed the possibility of trips to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovakia later in the year.

The Holy Father has revealed that he hopes to travel of Pompei on October 16 -- the anniversary of his papal election -- to visit a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. That trip to southern Italy would mark the conclusion of the Year of the Rosary which he announced on October 16, 2002. The Pope has said that he wishes to make the trip, "if God allows," so that he can "once again venerate an icon of the Virgin."

The world situation is tense as the new year begins, Vatican officials point out. Pope John Paul has made repeated pleas for peace, especially during the Christmas season; he will renew those pleas on January 1, as he marks the annual day of prayer for peace. And on January 13, he will deliver his annual address to the diplomats accredited to the Holy See, providing them with an overview of world affairs as seen from the Vatican perspective.

Aside from concerns about warfare -- particularly in Iraq and in the Holy Land -- the Vatican has voiced concerns about threats to religious freedom, particularly in Russia. The Pope has also been persistent in stating that the new constitution being framed for the European Union must give formal recognition to religion, and to the role of Christianity in forming European culture.

During the new year, some 30 cardinals will reach the age of 75, and be required under canon law to submit their resignations. A number of influential prelates have already passed that age, and been asked by Pope John Paul to continue in their current offices. (Among these are Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger of Paris; and Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek of Minsk, Belarus-- who at the age of 88 is the oldest cardinal still heading a major archdiocese.)

Also, 7 cardinals are scheduled to celebrate their 80th birthdays in 2003, thus becoming ineligible to vote in a papal conclave. Thus, even if there are no deaths in the College of Cardinals, the number of electors will drop from 114 at least to 107. The Italian newspaper Il Messaggero has advanced the theory that as the number of cardinals falls, the Pope might call a consistory to name new members of the college.


6 Jan 2003