Father Frank Pavone, founder and national director of Priests for Life, and Janet Morana, executive director, were in Rome this past week on their annual visit that includes meetings in some offices of the Roman Curia. Father also teaches some courses at Regina Apostolorum seminary. We always get together several times during their visits, as we did this week – Monday night for dinner, Thursday night dinner at my house and the traditional meal the night before they leave for the States.

Yesterday, as we traditionally do their last night in Rome, we planned on going to 5:45 pm Mass at the basilica of Our Lady of the Angels and Martyrs with the Santa Susanna American Catholic community and follow that up with dinner at La Scaletta.

Thursday I had interviewed Janet about their Rome visit, the March for Life last month in DC and all the pro-life activities of Priests for Life. We talked at length about Vice President Pence’s appearance at the March in Washington and the pro-life, pro-religious freedom direction the Trump administration is embracing. The March for Life of course is dedicated to efforts to overturn the 1973 Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion.

As we spoke Janet reminded me that someone we both know, Norma McCorvey, the ”Roe” of the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, was failing in health, and suggested that I interview her about this woman who made history in the U.S. and then spent a lifetime trying to undo that history.

It was Norma’s courageous decision later in life, to renounce abortion – the goal she had espoused as the plaintiff in Roe v Wade – and to denounce it as the deliberate killing of a human being in its mother’s womb that led her to turn her life around completely. She spent decades trying to overturn the law she had been instrumental in creating – even though she never set foot in court. She found out about the SCOTUS 1973 decision that legalized abortion the morning afterwards when she opened her front door and saw the headlines on the daily newspaper.

Nor did she ever have an abortion. Prior to 1973 abortions were illegal, even though some states had rare exceptions, such as the life of the mother being in jeopardy.

Janet and I agreed to do that interview and decided to meet before going to Mass yesterday. It took just under 15 minutes and we were soon on our way to the basilica.

After Mass, in the car on the way (we thought) to the restaurant, both Father and Janet were getting messages and tweets on their phone and we learned that Norma, after a battle with COPD, had died while we were in church. Father Frank called Norma’s daughter Melissa and, learning that the family was gathered around Norma’s bed, he prayed with them over the phone.

Father Frank returned to the apartment that Priests for Life has in Rome to briefly work on his computer and to take and make phone calls from his staff, the news media, etc. He did a Facebook Live (link is below) and wrote the letter you see below.

We eventually made it to the restaurant but dinner was punctuated by countless phone calls from the media. Janet handled calls from the Priests for Life staff as well.

I had time to remember how I first met Norma on Staten Island in November 2013.

Father Frank was celebrating the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood and the 20th anniversary of the founding of Priests for Life. There were several days of celebrations, meetings, Masses and meals. Norma was one of the many cherished guests at all the celebrations, and I had a number of meals – breakfasts, lunches and dinners – with her to learn her amazing story.

Here we are at the dinner celebrating Father’s ordination anniversary: Norma is in the center of the first photo –



She was so down to earth that I felt like I’d known her for years and yet, her story, from childhood on, was so totally unlike my life and my memories that I felt I was participating in a movie, something that was make-believe. It was not make-believe. It was history in the making.

The most striking part of her story was her feeling that, all those decades ago, because she was so young and vulnerable she had been used, deceived, misled by the lawyers she trusted to help her with their third pregnancy, an unwanted one.

Here, as promised, is Father Frank’s message written just an hour or so after Norma’s death yesterday at the age of 69:

I am sorry to have to inform you that a great friend of the pro-life movement, and of me personally, died a few hours ago. Norma McCorvey, the Jane Roe of the Supreme Court’s Roe vs Wade decision, was called home by the Lord today at 11:07am Central Time.

I got to know Norma in 1995, when she first became pro-life and was baptized by my friend Rev. Flip Benham. We stayed in touch regularly. Three years later I was privileged to bestow upon her the Sacrament of Confirmation as she entered the Catholic Church. Over the years, our Executive Director Janet Morana and I connected with Norma regularly, both on a personal and professional basis.

Despite the heaviness on her heart over the killing of some 58 million children since Roe vs. Wade, she always knew how to take the Lord’s hand and let his grace lift her up. She experienced the Rachel’s Vineyard retreat program to help heal her wounds (even though she never had an abortion herself), and she devoted herself in ways big and small to bring an end to the tragedy of abortion.

Friends, Norma’s story will live on. It is a story of hope. If she can convert, and find forgiveness from her involvement with abortion, then anyone can. And if she could say one thing right now to the world, I’m convinced it would be, “Learn my story, and have hope.”

You can see the Facebook Live video I made shortly after I heard of her passing — — and can see our press release as well as a lot of articles and interviews with Norma at

Also I am happy to tell you that in the coming months, we will be organizing special memorial services in various regions of the country to remember Norma, commend her to the Lord, and commit ourselves even more to live out the lessons her life teaches us. So please stay tuned for those announcements!

And if you have a moment, please

  1. a) Share this email and its links so that others may learn about Norma, and
  2. b) Send a message of condolence to her family by clicking here.

I’ll have more to say about Norma in the coming days on my Facebook Live broadcasts at Please join me there!

God bless you!



A great voiced was silenced over the weekend, the voice of a theologian, philosopher, diplomat, witness to Vatican Council II, a prolific writer, speaker and teacher, a mentor to countless numbers of people and, above all, a friend – Michael Novak.

Michael died Friday at the age of 83.

Over the years I’ve shared many special, indeed unique, moments with Michael, in Rome and in the U.S. We’ve broken bread together at a number of meals – mostly in Rome! – and had many fascinating conversations, on the set of television shows, waiting in green rooms to go on air, over dinner in a diplomat’s home, in the courtyard of the Swiss Gaurds residence in Vatican City (as you’ll see in the video below).

If Michael was present at an event, you knew that event would be special, that the day would just be better. He was soft spoken and that was one reason why you leaned in and listened intently to him when he spoke — that, in addition to the priceless stories he told, the insights he shared about Popes and presidents, the advice he’d give when asked.

Praise for a life well-lived is coming from around the world for Michael – all of it deserved, none of it exaggerated.

I am grateful the Lord put Michael in my life, even if only for brief moments. Because every moment with Michael was an enriching experience. Thank you for those moments, Michael.

Here is one of our last exchanges – the endorsement he wrote for my book, A Holy Year in Rome:

“I have been going to Joan Lewis for at least 35 years for practical guidance around Rome, and what she is hearing on the streets and from her many contacts in every sort of Vatican office.  Readers will be delighted by her newest guide to this city, from which scores of thousands will be in touch with what her many friends have been learning from her for years.  Joan Lewis is an unusual guide for two reasons: She loves Rome, and as an American has been soaking up its daily joys for more than three decades.  Second, she loves those who ask guidance from her and presents Rome in an informal, personal, and friendly way, like a companion walking at your side. Enjoy!”

And here is the video I took as Michael spoke at a reception offered by the Swiss Guards in 2014 on the occasion of the canonization of Saints John XXIII and John Paul II:


Pope Francis tweeted today: A youthful heart does not tolerate injustice and cannot bow to a “throw-away culture” nor give in to the globalization of indifference.


Last December I attended an ecumenical Christmas concert in the Vatican in support of Christian refugees from Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. The guest of honor was Eliyo – the professional name of Sarah Ego, an Assyrian Orthodox singer who was born in Augsburg, Germany. Sarah sang traditional German Christian chorals, several songs in Aramaic, Schubert’s Ave Maria in Latin and several Christmas carols in English. Sarah speaks Aramaic, in fact, at home, as you will hear her explain in this conversation we had when she returned to Rome recently for a quick visit. We talk about her background, her origins, her grasp of five languages, and her aspirations. So stay tuned ….



In the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio. Outside the U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:00am (ET). On the SKY satellite feed to the UK and parts of Europe, VI airs on audio channel 0147 at 11:30 am CET on Saturdays, and 5:30am and 10pm CET on Sundays. It’s also available on demand on the EWTN app and on the website. CHECK YOUR TIME ZONE. Here’s a link to download VI to your iTunes library:   For VI archives:


This morning, Pope Francis visited Università Roma Tre, a state-run university, the first Pope ever to do so. The 25-year old university has a reputation for its teaching and research, but is also known for its so called “third mission,” that is, attention to the social problems of Italy’s capital city. Pope Francis principally spoke off the cuff and answered questions from students. He meeting was televised and carried by Vatican Radio. One student and her husband were brought to Italy from the island of Lesbos on the papal plane when Pope Francis made a one day visit last year to refugees on this Greek island.

The Vatican Radio summary of that talk is here:


My visit to this lovely, ancient and rather small basilica on February 14 was so impromptu that I did not think of going online to first research a bit of history. I remembered to bring my camera, of course, as you will see from the photos that follow, but knowing some history would have been helpful for the Facebook Live video that I did while visiting the chapel containing the head (skull) of St. Valentine was on a a whim as well.

I did go online today and present the following brief history, as well as my own photos of the basilica.

Santa Maria in Cosmedin is the Byzantine Rite church for Melkite Catholics in Rome, as well as a minor basilica of the 9th century. Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is located at Piazza della Bocca della Verità 18. It is no longer a parish church, and although officially titular it has not had a resident cardinal for some time.


The name Cosmedin comes from the Greek word “kosmidion,” meaning ornamented, thanks to its beautifully decorated interior. Nowadays, the church is practically bare, although it still has some magnificent elements such as the floor mosaics, the bishop’s chair, the baldachin and the medieval choir enclosure.


Another treasure worth discovering is the glass shrine with the skull of St Valentine, patron saint of love, located on the left side of the church.


The restored Medieval façade has a portico with seven arches, in which visitors queue to place their hand in the mouth of the legendary Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth). Legend has it that if a person places his or her hand in the mouth of the statue and lies, the mouth will close and cut their hand off.



Next to the church’s porch is an impressive Romanesque bell tower built during the twelfth century.

Crypt: The crypt, constructed in the eighth century, is located beneath the altar and was built to store the relics taken from the catacombs by Pope Adrian I. The crypt is shaped like a small basilica. The sidewalls have several niches, each with shelves made of marble, where the different relics are displayed.

The marble-workers of Rome (marmorarii Romani) active in the 12th and 13th centuries produced, among other things, stunning floors in Roman basilicas (perhaps you noticed them if you’ve been to Rome). In fact, I mention the words cosmatesque and cosmati often in my book, A Holy Year in Rome, because these are the terms used to describe the characteristic use of polychrome marble and mosaic inlay by these Roman artists. Those terms, I have been told, refer to the Cosma family, the “first family” of marble cutters who invented this style of flooring. I learned from research that the Cosmatus (Cosma) was a Roman family, seven members of which, for four generations, were skilful architects, sculptors and workers in decorative geometric mosaic, mostly for church floors.


With my visit Tuesday to Santa Maria in Cosmedin, I think I’ve found my favorite church for cosmatesque art, almost a kaleidoscope of colors, as you will see in my photos:






A briefing was held at the Holy See Press Office this morning to summarize the 18th meeting of the C9 Council of Cardinals that ended a three-day meeting that began Monday, February 13.

Press office Vice Director Paloma Garcia Ovejero noted that Pope Francis was not present for the second part of the Monday morning meeting because of the ad limina visit of the of Costa Rica. He was absent this morning due to the weekly general audience but will be present at the afternoon session of the C9. Following is the summary of this week’s meetings:


On Monday and Tuesday the Cardinals concelebrated Mass with the Pope.

Following their first meeting on February 13, the Cardinals released the following statement through the Holy See Press Office:

The Council of Cardinals began its eighteenth session today.

At the beginning, Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, coordinator of the group, after greeting the Holy Father, thanked him on behalf of all the Members for his words in the Christmas address to the Roman Curia on 22 December 2016, acknowledging his encouragement and guidance for the work of the Council. In relation to recent events, the Council of Cardinals pledges its full support for the Pope’s work, assuring him at the same time of its adhesion and loyalty to the figure of the Pope and to his Magisterium.

The working sessions of the Council’s meeting took place each morning from 9:00-12:30, and each afternoon from 16:30-19:00; and were dedicated to further considerations concerning the different curial dicasteries. In particular, they continued the discussion on the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (Propaganda Fide), the Congregation for Oriental Churches, and the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue.

The cardinals also began their examination of the “Diakonia of Justice,” and thus considerable time was dedicated to the tribunals: the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Segnatura, and the Tribunal of the Roman Rota.

During the meetings, the Council also studied the process for the selection of candidates to the Episcopate.

Cardinal George Pell reported on his work at the Secretariat for the Economy, entrusted to him for the full realization of the economic reform requested by the Holy Father, with particular attention to the activity of personal formation and human resources.

The prefect for the Secretariat for Communications, Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, presented the current state of the reform of the communications of the Holy See, or the unification of Vatican Radio and the Vatican Television Center in the dicastery entrusted to him. Meetings have been initiated with the Secretariat of State, the Secretariat for the Economy, APSA, and the Labor Office to accompany this new phase of the reform. Further, the plan for restructuring Vatican Radio frequencies, and the new policies for the world of social networks were presented. Finally, there was a reflection on the project for the beginning of the reform of the Vatican publishing house, the Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

The next meeting of the Council of Cardinals will take place April 24-26, 2017.


The Pope’s Wednesday morning meeting with the faithful took an interesting turn today when Pope Francis, before the start of the weekly audience in the Paul VI Hall, met separately with a group of indigenous attending the Third Indigenous Peoples’ Forum convened by IFAD, the International Fund for Agricultural Development. Noting that they have have come together “to identify ways of giving greater economic empowerment to indigenous peoples,” Francis said: “I believe that the central issue is how to reconcile the right to development, both social and cultural, with the protection of the particular characteristics of indigenous peoples and their territories. (photo:


He went on to say, “This is especially clear when planning economic activities which may interfere with indigenous cultures and their ancestral relationship to the earth. In this regard, the right to prior and informed consent should always prevail, as foreseen in Article 32 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Only then is it possible to guarantee peaceful cooperation between governing authorities and indigenous peoples, overcoming confrontation and conflict.”

Those words were seen as indirect criticism of the Trump administration’s plan, over opposition from Indian groups, to allow the building of the multi-billion dollar Dakota oil pipeline. The Vatican has said this is not the case, according to media reports.

Later, in the Paul VI Hall, the Holy Father continued his weekly catechesis on Christian hope, saying that God’s peace, God’s love for us, remains with us, no matter what, even in fears, sufferings and disappointment. “Christian hope then is not based on who we are or what we are capable of, but on God’s love for each one of us. May we be instruments of hope, so that our greatest boast will be of a Father who excludes no one, but opens his home to all. And may we be a people who sustain one another with this message of Christian hope.”


CARDINAL RAYMOND BURKE HAS BEEN SENT TO GUAM to oversee a Church trial that is investigating accusations of sexual abuse by Archbishop Anthony Apuron of Agana. The former head of the Church’s supreme court, the Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, and the patronus of the Order of Malta, arrived today in Guam and will start meetings with witnesses Thursday morning. Cardinal Burke will preside a five-member “tribunal of the first instance” that was set up for this case last fall. Four other bishops acting as judges are also members of this tribunal. When Abp. Apuron, who claims he is innocent of the charges made as long ago as the 1970s, refused to resign, Pope Francis named a former Detroit auxiliary bishop as coadjutor, giving him full authority over the archdiocese. Bishop Michael Byrnes was named to this post last October by Pope Francis. Prior to that appointment, Pope Francis had named Abp. Savio Hon Tai Fai, secretary of the Congregation for Evangelization, to oversee the Catholic Church on Guam.

ORDER OF MALTA GOVERNING COUNCIL TO CONVENE APRIL 29 TO ELECT NEW GRAND MASTER – The electing body will meet in the Order’s Magistral Villa in Rome. On 29 April the Council Complete of State, the Order’s constitutional body, will elect the next Grand Master of the Sovereign Order of Malta (or, as provided for in the Constitution, a Lieutenant of the Grand Master, to hold office for a year). Following the resignation of the 79th Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing, on 28 January, the government of the Order of Malta – the Sovereign Council – met this morning in Rome, and established the April date.


I posted a musical animated Valentine Day card on my FB page but don’t know how to place it in this column so you’ll just have to go to Facebook (com/joan.lewis.10420) and click on the image – here’s the wish I made with that card: It’s a piece of cake to wish my family, friends and many fans around the world a very sweet Valentine’s Day! Many heartfelt wishes for a splendid day! Thank you for being part of my life!

As I read Bishop Nulty’s letter (below) I realized I did not know that St. Valentine’s skull was preserved in Santa Maria in Cosmedin so I decided on a whim to visit that church this afternoon and take some photos. Although I did not know it when I boarded a bus to get to Santa Maria, there was an improvised demonstration near Pza. Navona today and that tied up traffic for quite a while a while. I waited things out and eventually got to the church, although I probably could have gone to Florence and back by train in the same time frame!

My visit to this ancient jewel of a church was the absolute highlight of my day! And it was a truly splendid day in Rome, weather-wise! Made for walking and sightseeing and eating gelato and dining al fresco and enjoying Roman parks and monuments and fountains. By now, you may have even seen the Facebook Live of this chapel and church that I did on a whim – beautiful moments! Tonight I’ll post only the photos of the St. Valentine chapel and relics ….more to come tomorrow.

Santa Maria in Cosmedin – St. Valentine Chapel



 I have great childhood memories of Valentine’s Day, and I have the feeling that countless numbers of you had the same school experiences that we had as youngsters, namely, you brought a card for each member of your class on which you wrote you very best friend’s name – and you had dozens of BFFs –and these were all exchanged in a brief moment of free time during the school day. The local five and dime sold boxes of 50 or more cards for perhaps a dollar and your Mother bought a good number of boxes so that each member of the family had the several dozen cards needed for their respective class.

In many cases, there were no envelopes: the cards were simple – a design on one side, words of endearment on the other and it was on that side that you wrote your classmate’s name and signed the card.

If there were cards left over, we gave them to family members, though most of the time Mom and Dad merited a separate, individual card, usually handmade. If we received an allowance, chances are such cards were store bought.

At dinner on February 14, in addition to red flowers or some other decoration on the table, Mom always placed a decorated shoe box with a big slit on the middle into which we would put all the cards for our family, cards we made after having spent hours in our bedrooms, with doors closed so our stunning handicraft would be a surprise! Mom opened the box and then called out individual names as she read the cards. We all pretended to be surprised at receiving so many cards! Another natural part of a Valentine Day dinner was a heart-shaped dessert and dozens of those small hard candies with romantic sayings stamped on them.

In our family, as we grew up, each of us had what we called our “box of things,” boxes filled with Valentine cards, school mementoes, birthday and Christmas cards, letters from boy- or girl friends (I even had a pen pal in Italy and have not been able to locate her!), dance cards, etc.” As my siblings and I went through my Dad’s “boxes of things” after he died, we found dozens of his gorgeous Valentine cards to my Mom. And we found more, years later, when Mom died – her letters to him. I still have a number of those!

As I wish each of you a Happy Valentine’s Day, my hope is that you have similar wonderful memories that you can put into your “box of things.”


A lovely St. Valentine’s Day story from Ireland where Bishop Denis Nulty presided at the blessing of an engaged couple at the Shrine of Saint Valentine in the historic Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the heart of Dublin city.

Bishop Nulty began his remarks by noting that in late January, he and his brother bishops from Ireland were in Rome on their ad limina visit.

He noted that, “Two particular memories from those most memorable days in Rome, have a direct connection to what we are about here at the Shrine containing the holy relics of Saint Valentine in the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  The first one relates to a question asked by Cardinal Kevin Farrell at a meeting we attended with the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.  The second involved a per chance visit to the eighth century Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin.”

Bishop Nulty explained that, “Cardinal Kevin Farrell heads the new dicastery which holds within its brief the World Meeting of Families, and this pastoral celebration will be hosted in Dublin from 22 – 26 August 2018.  The Cardinal, a native of Dublin, was keen to hear what kind of preparation courses or programmes couples undertake as they approach the sacrament of marriage here in Ireland.  His question allowed me, as President of ACCORD, Catholic Marriage Care Service, to speak of the great work done throughout the country by the ACCORD family, work that includes the marriage counselling and marriage preparation work; but work that encompasses an ever increasing demand for our Schools Programme.”

He then recounted his Rome experience: “And now to that per chance visit to the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, my visit was on the final afternoon of our Ad Limina visit.  On the left side of the Basilica I found an altar with a glass reliquary containing the skull of Saint Valentine.  While the Carmelite Father John Spratt was richly rewarded for his preaching in the famous ‘Gesu’ in Rome by Pope Gregory XVI by receiving the gift of the relic containing the sacred body of Saint Valentine and a small vessel tinged with his blood; his skull obviously remained in Rome!  His head may be in Rome, but his heart is here in Dublin!  As I stood and prayed at the Shrine, just like here in Whitefriar Street Church, I noticed many young couples calling in, holding hands, lighting a candle or offering a prayer.

The bishop said that, “In The Joy of Love, Pope Francis urges the universal Church to make more of Saint Valentine’s Day: “In some countries, commercial interests are quicker to see the potential of this celebration than we in the Church” (par 208).  In this respect I am delighted to refer to the initiative offered for Saint Valentine’s Day this year by the team behind the preparations for next year’s World Meeting of Families, and these are the six gift tokens which can be given to your loved one this very day.  The tokens suggest a technology free evening; setting aside time for prayer; going for a hand-in-hand walk together; a special dinner cooked by one of the couple; loads of tender hugs and a journey down memory lane to remember how the couple met and how their love has grown.  The tokens are free and are available from every ACCORD centre, as well as in cathedrals, Veritas stores and at Knock Shrine.  A novel and romantic idea!”

Bishop Nulty pointed out how, in today’s world, “sadly, technology can cause huge damage to relationships.  Years ago the text, the tweet, the Snapchat app, Instagram, Whatsapp were not even considerations in counselling, but today they contribute hugely to the fractured narrative that unfolds in many counselling sessions.  What was said in that tweet; the picture that was shared on social media; the reactive immediate response on snapchat can do enormous damage to a relationship, to trust and to the individual themselves.

“On behalf of ACCORD, I wish every blessing on Carol and Tim whose engagement rings I blessed a short time ago at the Shrine of Saint Valentine.  I include a blessing and best wishes on all couples preparing for marriage presently and a special prayer and thought for those availing of our counselling services.  This annual blessing ceremony allows us in ACCORD to reflect on the valuable contribution marriage and stable families offer the wider society.”

Together with Saint Valentine we pray:

O glorious advocate and protector Saint Valentine,

Look with pity upon our wants,

Hear our requests,

Attend to our prayers.

Relieve by your intercession the miseries under which we labour,

And obtain for us the divine blessing,

That we may be found worthy to join you

In praising the Almighty for all eternity,

Through the merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.




The Cardinals Council today began its eighteenth session. They will be meeting until Wednesday of this week. At the beginning of this morning’s meetings at the Domus Sanctae Marthae Cardinal, Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, coordinator of the group, after greeting the Holy Father, thanked him on behalf of all the Members for his words in the Christmas address to the Roman Curia last December 22, 2016, expressing gratitude for the Pope’s encouragement of the work of the Council of Cardinals. Regarding recent events, the Council of Cardinals expressed its full support for the work of the Pope, while ensuring full adhesion and support of His person and His Magisterium.

December 2016 address:


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis prayed the Angelus with pilgrims and tourists gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday. In remarks ahead of the traditional prayer of Marian devotion, the Holy Father offered a meditation on the Sermon on the Mount, speaking about how Jesus wishes to help his listeners to reflect on the Mosaic Law.

“What was said in the ancient Covenant was not everything,” the Holy Father explained. “Jesus came to fulfil and promulgate God’s law definitively, to the last iota. He manifests its original purposes and fulfils the authentic aspects, and He does all this through His preaching and, even more so, with the offer of Himself on the cross. In this way Jesus teaches how to carry out fully the will of God, with a ‘higher justice’ than that of the scribes and the Pharisees. A justice inspired by love, charity and mercy, and therefore capable of realising the substance of the commandments, avoiding the risk of formalism. Formalism: I can do this, I can’t do that; I can up to this point, up to here I can’t… No. It is more, more”.

With regard to the commandment, “You shall not kill, He affirms that it is violated not only by effective homicide, but also by behaviour that offends the dignity of the person, including insulting words. “Certainly, these do not have the same gravity and culpability as killing, but they are on the same line, as they are its premises and reveal the same malevolence,” the Pope observed.

“Jesus invites us not to establish a scale of offence, but rather to consider them all harmful, inasmuch as they are motivated by the intention to do harm to our neighbour.

And Jesus gives us an example. Insulting: we are used to insulting; it is like saying ‘hello’ And this is along the same lines as killing. When we insult our brother, we kill him in his heart. Please, do not insult! We gain nothing by insulting.”

Another fulfilment is related to matrimonial law. “Adultery was considered a violation of a man’s right of ownership over a woman. Jesus instead goes to the root of the evil. Just as one arrives at homicide through insults and offence, one arrives at adultery through the intentions of possession with regard to a woman other than one’s wife. Adultery, like theft, corruption and other sins, is conceived first within and, once the wrong decision is made in the heart, it is made manifest in concrete behaviour. And Jesus says: he who looks at a woman who is not his own with the spirit of possession is an adulterer in his heart. He has already set out on the path to adultery. Let us think a little about this: the evil thoughts that head in this direction”.

”Jesus also says to His disciples not to take an oath, in as much as the oath is a sign of the insecurity and duplicity of human relations. God’s authority is exploited to guarantee our human affairs. Instead, we are called to establish among us, in our families and in our communities, an atmosphere of clarity and mutual trust, so that we can be considered sincere without resorting to higher interventions to be believed. Diffidence and mutual suspicion always threaten serenity!”

“May the Virgin Mary, woman of docile listening and joyous obedience”, he concluded, “help us draw ever closer to the Gospel, to be Christians of substance, not superficial. “And this is possible with the grace of the Holy Spirit, Who enables us to do everything with love, and thereby to carry out fully the will of God”.



For the interview segment on this week’s “Vatican Insider,” I feature Part II of my conversation with John Schlageter, executive director of the Bethlehem University Foundation. Hopefully we will bring you on a short visit to the Holy Land, to Palestine and Bethlehem University, one of my favorite places in the Holy Land.

As I wrote last week, John and I have been friends for years, starting when he was a lawyer for the Military Ordinariate of the United States specializing in First Amendment rights. We saw each other recently when I was in Washington, and I asked John to speak of his new position as executive director of the Foundation.


We talk about Bethlehem University, the Foundation, John’s work and the situation in the Holy Land,oly among many fascinating topics. Part I aired last weekend. If anything can help bring peace to this part of the world, it will be the contribution of Bethlehem University and its amazing students – John and I talk about them throughout our conversation.

Here are some quick facts about BU (from website:, interspersed with photos from my first visit to the campus. It was at vacation time and there were no students to feature – I’ll just have to go back when classes are in session! My second visit was when I spent the night in May 2014 in a guest apartment at the university before Pope Francis arrived the following morning from Amman, Jordan, to celebrate Mass in Bethlehem.



Bethlehem University – Founded in October 1973 with 112 students



Fall 2016 enrollment of 3,290 students:

214 Graduate students (Masters & Higher & Professional Diplomas)

3,076 Undergraduate students (Baccalaureate & Diploma)




719 Graduates (Acad. year 2015/2016)

Total 16,480 Degrees conferred as of August 2016

Total Number of Graduates: 15,282



Courses offered in Bethlehem, Qbeibeh near Ramallah and Online

A Jewish settlement seen from the university: I was told that what used to be a thriving olive tree grove serving Palestinians was razed to the ground to create this settlement:


Bethlehem University Foundation;