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June 23-27, 2001    
The Pope

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The Papacy and Ukraine in History
Biography of John Paul II up to his Pontificate
The Pontificate of John Paul II
John Paul II on Eastern Christianity
The Vatican and the Holy See

The Vatican and the Holy See

The Vatican City State is an independent, sovereign state within the city of Rome. It contains the seat or see of the Bishop of Rome, who is the direct successor of St Peter, the leader of the Apostles chosen by Jesus Christ, and is the head of the Catholic or Universal Church. Nowadays he is known as the Pope. The see of the Pope is known as the See of Peter or Holy See, which is its official name.

The Papal States, territory formerly in the possession of the popes, were taken over by the Italian government in the nineteenth century. In this way the Holy See lost its sovereignty and independence, but these were eventually restored. This occurred in 1929 when the Italian Government and the Holy See signed the Lateran Treaty and the Vatican City State was created.

This geographical territory is the home of the Pope and the administrative organization that assists him in the government of the Church. This administration is known as the Roman Curia and consists of a series of departments rather like ministries. They are known as Congregations or Councils and are usually headed by Cardinals, as advisers to the Pope, or Archbishops.

Some of the most well known Congregations are the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by the famous Cardinal Ratzinger, the Congregation for Bishops and the special Congregation for the Eastern Churches. This last is responsible for matters that are of particular importance to those Churches that follow non-Latin traditions and Eastern rites such as the Byzantine Rite.

More details on the Curia can be found at www.vatican.va.

The Vatican is famous for its art and architecture, its most famous building being the basilica of St Peter which is built over the tomb of the first Pope. St Peter's, however, is not a cathedral; the cathedral of Rome is the basilica of St John Lateran from where, in the middle ages, the Pope governed the Church. The best known work of art is the work of Michelangelo in the frescos of the Sistine Chapel. But over many centuries a much greater collection has accumulated and is on display in the Vatican Museums. More information is at: www.vatican.va/museums/index.htm.

The historical continuity of the Holy See has made the Vatican Library the home of a great collection of ancient manuscripts and texts, a large part of which has still barely been catalogued. More information is available at: www.vatican.va/library_archives/vat_library/index.htm

There is also an Online Public Access Catalogue and reproductions can be requested.

News services and general information are available at: www.vatican.va/news_services/press/index.htm.

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