VATICAN CITY – For Pope Benedict XVI, the 2011 calendar already holds a full slate of meetings, liturgies and foreign trips.
What’s not on the calendar – at least so far – is a special “year of” or a “year for.” In 2008-2009, the pope declared a Year of St. Paul. He designated 2009-2010 the Year for Priests.
Perhaps 2011 will mark the Year of Business as Usual for the German pontiff, who turns 84 in April.
Unlike the past three years, there’s no Synod of Bishops on the horizon in 2011. Most people are not expecting a consistory this year, either, and there is no sign that the pope plans to convene the world’s cardinals at the Vatican for other reasons.
What many people don’t appreciate is that the papacy is not just about commemorative years and cardinal summits. “Business as usual” for the pope means a steady series of events that begins with a New Year’s Mass to mark World Peace Day and ends with a “te deum” prayer service of thanksgiving Dec. 31.
In between are hundreds of papal encounters with individuals and groups, ranging from heads of state to schoolchildren.
The first half of January is typical. After the New Year’s Mass, the pope presides over a liturgy to mark the feast of the Epiphany Jan. 6. Then he celebrates the feast of the Baptism of the Lord Jan. 9 in the Sistine Chapel, personally baptizing more than 10 infants.
The next day, the pope shifts gears and delivers his annual “state of the world” address to the diplomatic corps at the Vatican. He’s expected to underline his concern over recent acts of violence and discrimination against Christian minorities around the world, which was a main theme of the World Peace Day message this year.
And with that, Pope Benedict will be off and running.
In 2010, the pope presided over more than 50 major liturgies. Similar celebrations are already penned into the 2011 calendar, at home and abroad. They range from one-hour prayer services to three-hour ordination Masses and normally include at least two liturgies to proclaim new saints, one in the spring and one in the fall. Already on the probable saints list for 2011 is the founder of the Xaverian Missionary Fathers, Blessed Guido Conforti.
Easter arrives very late in 2011 – April 24 – and with it comes the heaviest week of liturgies and public appearances by the pope. Ahead of Easter, the Vatican plans to publish Pope Benedict’s new volume in his series on the life of Christ. Titled, “Jesus of Nazareth: Part Two, Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection,” it picks up where the best-selling first volume left off.
For U.S. bishops, 2011 will bring the start of a series of encounters with the pope and his aides, the weeklong “ad limina” visits that begin in November. Bishops from Region I in the Northeast will be the first group to arrive at the Vatican Nov. 7, followed by Region II (New York) Nov. 24 and Region III (New Jersey, Pennsylvania) Dec. 1. The last time U.S. bishops came through Rome on “ad limina” visits was 2004, so for many of them it will be their first major meeting with Pope Benedict.
Throughout the year, the pope will hold “ad limina” meetings with bishops from other countries: the Philippines, India, Indonesia, Australia, Angola, New Zealand and the Pacific Ocean area.
The pope will break away from the Vatican on four foreign trips: June 4-5 in Croatia; Aug. 18-21 in Madrid for World Youth Day; Sept. 22-25 in Germany, including the capital of Berlin; and Nov. 18-20 in the West African country of Benin. He’ll also make a two-day visit to Venice in May and three other trips in Italy during the year.
At the Vatican, the pope resumes his weekly audiences every Wednesday, where he has been sketching brief biographies of early church saints, writers and mystics. He normally makes at least one other public appearance each week, greeting pilgrims from his apartment window at midday on Sundays.
In addition to his World Peace Day message, the pope generally furnishes messages or letters to mark a whole slew of other annual events – for migrants and refugees, for the sick, for religious, for priestly vocations, for missionaries, for young people, for the hungry and for communicators.
Although Pope Benedict is widely seen as less prolific than Pope John Paul II, his verbal output each year is impressive: about 300 speeches and talks, more than 50 homilies and nearly 100 other missives of varying length and importance.
In his recent book-length interview, Pope Benedict said the day-in, day-out schedule of the papacy was pretty taxing for someone his age. He spoke openly about his diminishing energy, and even left open the possibility of eventual papal retirement – but as his 2011 calendar makes clear, he’s not ready for that yet.