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The Vatican

Catholic Online

The state of Vatican City is the smallest sovereign state in the world. A tiny enclave within the city of Rome, it occupies 109 acres and is almost completely surrounded by medieval walls. As a result of the Lateran Pacts of 1929, the Italian Government granted St. Peter's Basilica and Square and the surrounding area within the Vatican walls as the Holy See's sovereign and independent territorial base. Besides St. Peter's, Vatican City also includes the Apostolic Palace, administrative and residential buildings, museums, archives, and libraries, a cemetery, and gardens covering almost one-third of the entire area. Thirteen other buildings in Rome, as well as the Pope's summer residence at nearby Castel Gandolfo, enjoy extraterritoriality under the terms of the Lateran Pacts.

Vatican City is the physical base of the Holy See, the central government of the Roman Catholic Church. The word "See," in Italian "sede," literally means a seat, as a bishop's seat or diocese, in this case that of Peter and his successors, the popes. The Pope exercises supreme spiritual authority over the worldwide Roman Catholic Church and supreme legislative, executive, and judicial authority over the Curia Romana and the State of Vatican City. The Pope governs through the Curia Romana, the Holy See bureaucracy that was reorganized in the June 1988 reform.

Rome now is one of the grandest cities in the world. Millions of pilgrims and tourists come every year to admire, and be awed by, its treasures of architecture, art, and history. But is was not always this way. By the fourteenth century, the great ancient city had dwindled to a miserable village. Perhaps 20,000 people clung to the ruins despite the ravages of disease and robber barons. Popes and cardinals had fled to Avignon in southern France. Rome was dwarfed in wealth and power by the great commercial cities and territorial states farther north, from Florence to Venice.

In the Renaissance, however, the popes returned to the See of Saint Peter. Popes and cardinals straightened streets, raised bridges across the Tiber, provided hospitals, fountains, and new churches for the public and splendid palaces and gardens for themselves. They drew on all the riches of Renaissance art and architecture to adorn the urban fabric, which they saw as a tangible proof of the power and glory of the church. And they attracted pilgrims from all of Christian Europe, whose alms and living expenses made the city rich once more.

The papal curia--the central administration of the church- -became one of the most efficient governments in Europe. Michelangelo and Raphael, Castiglione and Cellini, Giuliano da Sangallo and Domenico Fontana lived and worked in Rome. Architecture, painting, music, and literature flourished. Papal efforts to make Rome the center of a normal Renaissance state, one which could wield military as well as spiritual power, eventually failed, but Rome remained a center of creativity in art and thought until deep into the seventeenth century.

Institutions

The Apostle Peter, considered the first bishop of Rome, was martyred and buried in the Vatican area, and later a large Christian necropolis grew around his tomb. On this site, in the fourth century, Emperor Constantine built a great basilica, replaced during the 16th and 17th centuries by St. Peter's--the Renaissance-Baroque masterpiece we admire today. Although medieval popes had their main residence in the Lateran, they expanded and fortified their Vatican palaces for periodic stays (for security reasons or for ceremonial visits to St. Peter's). Later in the 14th century, upon returning from the "Avignon captivity" in France, the popes made the Vatican their administrative and residential center. In 1861, the newly unified Italy took over most of the papal territories, and in 1870 Rome itself was incorporated into the new Kingdom of Italy. From that time the popes considered themselves prisoners in the Vatican, until the Lateran Treaty of 1929 recognized the Holy See as an independent and sovereign state, with Vatican City as its territorial base.

The Holy See, the central government of the Catholic Church, is the composite of the authority, jurisdiction, and sovereignty vested in the Pope and his advisors to direct the worldwide Roman Catholic Church with its one billion members. The Holy See has a legal personality under international law giving it recognition as a sovereign state which allows it to enter into treaties and to send and receive diplomatic representatives. The Vatican City State -- a small enclave surrounded by the city of Rome, provides territorial sovereignty that guarantees its ability to operate in freedom as the juridical equivalent of other states.

The Pope is the Head of State and enjoys absolute executive, judicial, and legislative authority, which he delegates to the Roman Curia. He is elected for life by an electoral College of Cardinals. Pope John Paul II, elected on October 16, 1978, is the first non-Italian Pope in nearly five centuries. He has transformed the Holy See's role in international affairs, and has emerged as one of the most influential leaders of his time. Under his pontificate, the Holy See has become a leading voice for justice, peace, and human rights worldwide, respected even in countries without large Catholic populations.

The Head of Government is the Pope's Secretary of State, who operates as the equivalent of a Prime Minister. He governs the Holy See with the support of the Roman Curia - the Vatican City-based government composed of twenty Cabinet-level departments (congregations and councils) each typically headed by a Cardinal and staffed by professional bureaucrats and diplomats. Curial representatives reflect the multinational character of the Catholic Church. The Secretariat of State, in coordination with the Congregations and Councils, is responsible for the Holy See's internal affairs and external relations.

The Secretariat of State is divided into two sections, both under the Cardinal Secretary of State, the Vatican equivalent of Prime Minister. The First Section, headed by "Sostituto," or Deputy Secretary of State, oversees the curia and manages internal affairs. The Second Section, headed by the Foreign Minister, directs foreign policy and relations with other states. There are ten Holy See congregations, of which the most important are the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (church doctrine), the Congregation for the Bishops (worldwide appointment of bishops), and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (missionary activities). Twelve pontifical councils advise the Pope on religious and social issues. The Council of Justice and Peace is active internationally on issues of human rights and global development.

The curia also includes three tribunals (courts), several offices concerned with running the papal household, and a commission for the administration of Vatican City. The Prefecture for Economic Affairs, similar to a treasury department, is also responsible for the administration of the patrimony of the Holy See (funds received under terms of the Lateran Pact). An economic commission of 15 cardinals oversees all finances, including the Vatican Bank (the Institute of Religious Works).

The Pontifical Swiss Guard are posted at the entrances to Vatican City to provide security for the borders and protect the Pope and Cardinals. The internal police force is the Gendarmerie of the State of Vatican City. The exterior security of Vatican City State is the responsibility of Italy under the Inspectorate of Public Security to the Vatican.

Between 1315 and 1388 the Swiss Confederates inflicted three crushing defeats on the Habsburgs, whose aspiration to regional dominion clashed with Swiss self-determination. During that period, five other localities (cantons in modern-day parlance) joined the original three in the Swiss Confederation. Buoyed by their feats, the Swiss Confederates continuously expanded their borders by military means and gained formal independence from the Holy Roman Empire in 1499. Routed by the French and Venetians near Milan in 1515, they renounced expansionist policies. By then the Swiss Confederation had become a union of 13 localities with a regularly convening diet administering the subject territories. Swiss mercenaries continued for centuries to serve in other armies; the Swiss Guard of the Pope is a vestige of this tradition.

Besides the Swiss Guards, the State of Vatican City also maintains a modern security/ police corps known as the vigilanza. The state has its own post office, power plant, railway station, and publishing house. It also issues its own coins, stamps, license plates, and passports. Radio Vatican is the official radio station and L'Osservatore Romano is the semiofficial daily newspaper.

The Holy See has one of the largest and the oldest diplomatic representations in the world, with diplomatic relations with 174 countries. Seventy-one countries have resident Embassies to the Holy See. The Holy See participates actively in international organizations, and has membership or observer status in the United Nations, European Union, OSCE, OAS, UNHCR, WHO, and World Trade Organization. The Pope's views and the Holy See's worldwide diplomacy can and do affect an array of U.S. international goals.

Vatican City State

Vatican City State has a permanent population of around nine-hundred - mostly prelates and guards. Another 3000 staff live outside the State. The Holy See has its own internet, television and radio stations, which broadcast worldwide in many languages, pension and health scheme for staff, a newspaper, a bank, border controls, civil and criminal law codes, currency, and world renowned cultural institutions like the Vatican Library and Museums. The Holy See's economy is supported by levies on Catholic dioceses around the world, voluntary contributions, the sale of postage stamps, coins, and publications, and fees for admission to museums. The Holy See's assets include property and financial investments, as well as its priceless art collections. It has an annual operating budget of around $200 million.

The Vatican Museum is one of the world's greatest repositories of art. Originally the apostolic palaces of various popes, the museum's 4 1/2 miles of paintings, sculptures, tapestries, maps, precious objects, Egyptian and Etruscan art, and famous frescoes are open to the public. Treasures from every cultural period can be viewed in rooms that are treasures themselves, decorated with frescoes by masters such as Raphael and Michelangelo.

St. Peter's Basilica, another Michelangelo masterpiece, is open to the public and contains other famous art works including Michelangelo's Pietŕ and Bernini's bronze baldacchino (canopy). Rome was a world center of classical, renaissance, and baroque culture, and the artistic offerings of the city and surrounding region are virtually unlimited.

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences--under the direct patronage of the Pope--is one of many Vatican institutions dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. Over eighty pontifical academics are selected by the Pope to represent different geographic areas and branches of science. The academy is a respected forum for scientific conferences and sponsors research in various scientific fields. The Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, the Pontifical Academy for Life, and the Pontifical Theological Academy also fall under the patronage of the Pope, as do institutions devoted to music, philosophy, finance, and architecture.

The prestigious Jesuit Gregorian University founded in 1551, the Angelicum or University of St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Urbaniana and Lateran Universities are included among the 17 pontifical universities in Rome. Although these institutions primarily train religious and clergy for service in the church, they are also open to laypersons.

The Vatican flag represents the crossed keys of St. Peter and papal tiara on yellow and white stripes and its national anthem is a papal march by 19th century French composer Charles Gounod.

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