Monday, 28 May 2007

Vatican goes solar

The Vatican's Paul VI Centre is to get a green makeover with the installation of a giant rooftop garden of solar panels that will power all of the building's heating, cooling and lighting needs year-round.

Catholic News Service reports that the mastermind behind the environmentally friendly project, Pier Carlo Cuscianna, head of the Vatican's department of technical services, says that the sun will provide all the building's energy needs.

And that is only the beginning.

Cuscianna told Catholic News Service that he had in mind other sites throughout Vatican City where solar panels could be installed, but that it was too early in the game to name names.

Even though Vatican City State is not a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol, a binding international environmental pact to cut greenhouse gases, its inaugural solar project marks a major move in trying to reduce its own so-called carbon footprint, that is, the amount of carbon dioxide released through burning fossil fuels.

The carbon dioxide-slashing solar panels will be installed sometime in 2008 after prototypes, environmental impact reports and other studies have been completed, Cuscianna said.

In a 23 May article in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Cuscianna wrote that safeguarding the environment was "one of the most important challenges of our century."

The Italian engineer said appeals by Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II to respect nature inspired him to help power the Vatican's energy needs with renewable resources.

He recalled how, in this year's World Day of Peace message, Pope Benedict warned of "the increasingly serious problem of energy supplies" that was leading to "an unprecedented race" for the earth's resources.

Cuscianna also found inspiration from Pope John Paul's 1990 peace message, dedicated in its entirety to the need to respect God's creation.

"We cannot continue to use the goods of the earth as we have in the past," the pope wrote, calling for "a new ecological awareness" that leads to "concrete programs and initiatives."

Cuscianna took the initiative and helped draw up and deliver to the Vatican governor's office a feasibility study of going solar.

He said the Paul VI hall was chosen first for a number of reasons: Cooling and heating the large audience hall makes it one of the top energy guzzlers in the Vatican, and its roof was in need of repair.

When the project is finished, more than 1,000 solar panels will cover the football field-sized roof.

While not revealing how much the solar project will cost, Cuscianna said "it will pay for itself in a few years" from the savings on energy bills.

Whatever solar power the hall is not using will be funnelled into the Vatican's energy grid and benefit other energy needs, he said.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Herod's broken sarcophagus and tomb located

Archaeologists from Jerusalem's Hebrew University say that they have finally located the long-missing tomb and the deliberately destroyed sarcophagus of King Herod the Great, who is blamed by tradition for the massacre of the Holy Innocents.

Christian Today reports that the tomb was found at Mount Herodium by Professor Ehud Netzer from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Institute of Archaeology.

The grave, sarcophagus and mausoleum were found on Mount Herodium's northeastern slope. The location and unique nature of the findings, as well as the historical record, leave no doubt that this was Herod's burial site, Professor Netzer told reporters.

The sarcophagus was broken into hundreds of pieces, no doubt deliberatelyChristian Today says.

This activity, including the destruction of the monument, apparently took place in the years 66-72 CE during the first Jewish revolt against the Romans, while Jewish rebels took hold of the site, according to Josephus and the archaeological evidence.

The rebels were known for their hatred of Herod and all that he stood for, as a "puppet ruler" for the Romans.

The Age reports that if confirmed, the tomb's discovery at the palace complex of Herodium, 12 kilometres south-east of Jerusalem, in the occupied West Bank, could be one of the most significant finds in Middle-Eastern archaeology in many years.

The Jewish ruler of the Roman client state of Judea, Herod is believed to have played a key role in the developments of both the Judaic and Christian faiths at a time of spiritual and military turmoil.

As procurator of Judea, he is credited with a huge building program, including the reconstruction and expansion of the second Jewish Temple on Mount Moriah, in Jerusalem, the exposed remnant of which - the Western Wall - is today revered as the holiest site in Judaism.

Herod became the ruler of the Holy Land under the Romans around 74 BC. Christian tradition has it that Herod was a wicked king who, advised by soothsayers of the advent of the Messiah, ordered the massacre of all newborn children in Bethlehem, from which the baby Jesus narrowly escaped.

According to the Gospels, it was Herod's son, Herod Antipas, who mocked Jesus after his arrest in Jerusalem and then sent him back to Pontius Pilate for trial and execution.

The search for Herod's tomb actively began 30 years ago. Archaeologists have long assumed that Herod was buried at Herodium, Haaretz says, but decades of excavations failed to turn up the site until now. The first century historian Josephus Flavius described the tomb and Herod's funeral procession.

Monday, 7 May 2007

Pope Benedict meets ex-Iranian President Khatami

In a bid to renew "serene dialogue" between cultures and to promote peace in the Middle East, Pope Benedict has met with Iran's former President Seyyed Mohammad Khatami.

According to a Holy See statement, the pope and Khatami discussed "the conditions and the problems of Christian communities in the Middle East and in Iran".

"In relation to the situation in the Middle East, the need for strong initiatives of the international community was stressed in order to start serious negotiations that take into account the rights and interests of all, respecting international laws and with the knowledge that it is necessary to re-build reciprocal trust," the statement continued.

Vatican sources said that the meeting took place in the pope's library and that it lasted over 30 minutes.

AdKronos International reports that Mr Khatami also met Vatican secretary of state Tarcisio Bertone at the presence of the secretaryfor relations with states Dominique Mamberti.

In remarks made before his talks with the pope, Khatami, a moderate Muslim Shiite cleric, said the talks "must first of all heal open wounds." He also expressed the wish that "common efforts will enable to heal relations between the Catholic Church and the Muslim world."

Khatami was referring to the controversial speech by the pontiff on 12 September 2006 at Germany's Regensburg University interpreted as linking Islam to violence.

The protests in the Islamic world sparked by the speech led to the postponement to this week of the seminar on inter-religious dialogue at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, originally scheduled earlier last year, which the former Iranian president attended Friday before meeting the pontiff.

The seminar was organised by the university in cooperation with the Iranian embassy to the Holy See and was attended by leading clerics and researchers from North African countries, Lebanon and the US.