Pope John Paul II is making Dr. Matthew Bunson hustle.
“It s very difficult to keep up with him,” said Dr. Bunson, 37, general editor of the Catholic Almanac.
The 83-year-old Pontiff s beatifications and canonizations, encyclicals, announcements, travels, and key homilies and addresses are updated annually in the almanac, a 640-page soft-cover tome that covers virtually everything Catholic.
“A good percentage of the Catholic Almanac every year is devoted to this Pontiff,” said Dr. Bunson, “but all of the book, every year, is looked at to make sure that what we are presenting is absolutely accurate and reliable.”
The 2004 edition marks the 100th anniversary of the publication, which began as St. Antony s Almanac in 1904. The inaugural 64-page almanac included a calendar and feature articles on prayer and devotion, but its primary purpose was to foster knowledge and understanding of St. Anthony of Padua, the 13th century Portuguese preacher and first theologian of the Franciscan Order.
It became more of a general-purpose church almanac in 1931, when the editors wrote that they intended to publish “a factual handbook of basic and current information on matters pertaining to the Catholic Church and its members.”
Today the almanac provides extensive coverage and statistics of the church that has more than a billion members worldwide.
Among the most challenging sections to edit, Dr. Bunson said, are the year in review news summaries, the more elaborate “special reports” on topical events, and compiling church statistics for individual countries.
“Putting all that information together and making sure it is accurate requires great effort and determination,” he said.
Among the information printed in the almanac are biographies of all American bishops; biographies of every cardinal; data on all U.S. dioceses; explanations of church doctrine and liturgy; a Catholic glossary, and addresses and phone numbers of Catholic dioceses, colleges, universities, retreat houses, and organizations.
It also contains a lengthy history of Catholicism, including a list of names, birthplaces, and reign of every pope starting with Saint Peter, Christ s apostle.
It even includes a list of 37 “anti-popes” who “exercised the papal office in an uncanonical fashion.”
The almanac does not dodge controversial topics, as evidenced in the 2004 edition s special report on the sex-abuse scandal in the U.S. Catholic Church.
“We re pretty straightforward,” Dr. Bunson said. “We like to include everything that should be included.
“The objective is to provide Catholics and readers with as much information as possible that is factual, reliable, and, of course, accurate.
“Our objective is to provide them with that information in a manner that is accessible to them and to keep them well-informed. I think we were fairly unflinching in our coverage of the scandal as it was unfolding as well as in details of our special reports.”
Dr. Bunson, who earned a doctorate in ministry from the Graduate Theological Foundation, has written more than 30 books, including several on Catholic saints, and works out of a home office in Las Vegas.
In addition to his full-time staff, Dr. Bunson relies on the expertise of many church scholars and consultants.
“We are blessed with a number of experts who assist us each year, particularly in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops,” said Dr. Bunson, who took the helm as general editor in 1998, succeeding the Rev. Felician Foy, who had been editor of the almanac for 45 years.
About 10,000 copies of the Catholic Almanac are published annually and the 2004 issue sells for $24.95.
“We have quite a variety of readers,” Dr. Bunson said. “The seminaries find it helpful. Everyone in the media tends to read this quite a bit. We also have a lot of parish libraries that buy it, and chancery offices, and quite a few readers in Rome. Oftentimes, average Catholics find it very helpful.”
The editorial deadline is set for early September, but it can be extended.
“It varies slightly depending upon events,” Dr. Bunson said.
The deadline for the 2004 edition, for example, was delayed to include the coverage of Pope John Paul s Sept. 28 announcement that he was appointing 30 new cardinals.
The appointment of Bishop Leonard Paul Blair as bishop of the Toledo diocese was announced by the Vatican in October - too late to make the 2004 Catholic Almanac, Dr. Bunson said.