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The area where the Vatican City State is located was known in ancient times as the "Vatican Hills". The Roman Emperor Caligula built his private circus here, an oval amphitheatre that would become the scene of the early Christian martyrs. There is also an underground necropolis at this site where, in about 1940, the probable tomb of the Apostle Peter was discovered (in the Gospel, Peter is the rock on which Christianity will be built; hence the name Holy See; the Chair of St. Peter).

Papal rule

During a period of 1000 years, roughly until 1870, the Popes ruled over a fairly large area of the Italian peninsula, stretching roughly from Bologna to Naples. During the process of unification of Italy, this area, called the 'Ecclesiastical States', was gradually absorbed by the Kingdom. After the troops of King Victor Emmanuel entered Rome in 1870, the Pope retreated to the Vatican.

Vatican becomes a state

In 1929, the Lateran Treaties were signed by the Holy See and the Italian government, whereby Italy explicitly recognised the sovereignty of the Vatican City State and the Holy See implicitly recognised the loss of the remaining ecclesiastical territory. Financial compensation was also given for the loss of territory. Part of the treaties was the Concordat that established Roman Catholicism as the state religion in Italy.

In 1984, under Prime Minister Bettino Craxi, certain provisions of the Lateran Treaty were amended. The most important amendment concerned the end of Roman Catholicism as the official religion of the Italian Republic.

Pope John Paul II

On Saturday evening, 2 April 2005, Pope John Paul II died at the age of 84. The death was announced by the ringing of the bells of St Peter's and the announcement by Archbishop Sandri, Deputy to the Secretary of State Cardinal Soldano. The funeral Mass took place on Friday 8 April in St Peter's Square in the presence of 200 sovereigns, heads of state, heads of government and 300,000 other people present.

Under the 26-year Pontificate of Pope John Paul II, diplomatic relations with the Holy See almost doubled from 85 to 175 countries.

The Pope was praised for his bridging function between the different faiths: he initiated dialogue with the Orthodox churches, with the Jewish churches and with the non-Christian faith communities. The Polish Pope was also admired for the role he played in the fight against communism in the 1970s and 1980s. The Pope was also known for his great interest in young people: he was the initiator of the World Youth Days (WYD). For many countries Pope John Paul II was not only the leader of a world church but also a world leader.

Pope Benedict XVI

On Tuesday evening, 19 April, it was announced that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had been elected Pope. The Pope, who was elected in one of the shortest conclaves, has taken the name Benedict XVI. He is the first German Pope since Victor II (1055-1057). On 24 April 2005, his inauguration took place in St. Peter's Square. On 10 June 2005, in a speech to African bishops, the Pope emphasised that the traditional teachings of the Church, focusing on Christian marriage, marital fidelity and chastity, are the only intrinsically safe way to prevent the spread of AIDS. The Pope caused a stir in March 2009 when, on a flight to Cameroon (where his first African journey began), he answered a question from a French journalist about AIDS. The Pope pointed out that the Catholic Church is doing a great deal in the fight against AIDS and stated that "If the soul is lacking, if Africans do not help each other, then one cannot solve this scourge by handing out condoms; on the contrary, they increase the problem." The Pope then called for a two-pronged approach: "making human sexuality humane and a spiritual renewal that leads to a new way of relating to each other, and real, genuine friendship for those who are suffering." The Pope's statements led to criticism from pressure groups. They pointed out that, according to them, condom use can actually prevent the spread of AIDS. They also feared that the Pope's words could be used by men as an excuse not to use condoms. The medical world criticised his words as well as expressing support for his position. According to the medical journal The Lancet, he distorted scientific evidence in order to promote Catholic doctrine, while medical anthropologist Edward Green supported the Pope.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Buenos Aires, 17 December 1936), has been the new pope of the Roman Catholic Church since 13 March 2013, succeeding Benedict XVI, who resigned on 28 February 2013 due to health problems. He is the first Jesuit to become Pope, the first from North/South America and from the Southern Hemisphere. Pope Francis is considered the 266th pope by the Roman Catholic Church.


Elmar Landeninformatie

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
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