Pope Francis’ general prayer intention for November: “That all who suffer loneliness may experience the closeness of God and the support of others.”

His intention for evangelization: “That young seminarians and religious may have wise and well-formed mentors.”


My guest this weekend on Vatican Insider is Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C. We spoke outside the Paul VI Hall during the morning coffee break on Wednesday during the second and final week of the recent synod on the family. It is fascinating to hear him talk now, given that he spoke during the synod and the synod itself ended two weeks ago and a lot has been said since.


Cardinal Wuerl was on the committee that wrote the Final Report of the synod, a document quite changed from the interim report that had been released on Monday, October 13, two days before we spoke in Rome. Translation issues from Italian to English on that interim report – which was just that, an interim report, a draft, not a final document – caused massive confusion that week on a number of hot button issues (like the pastoral ministry for homosexuals) among synod participants, the media and the faithful around the world.

Yesterday, however, the Vatican released the official English translation of the Final Report (At the synod only the Italian text was considered an official document) . Click here to read that report:


A communique published today by the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” announced that the council secretary, Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso is on his third and final day in Damascus, Syria where he has been attending the meeting of the assembly of Catholic bishops in Syria. Msgr. Dal Toso also met with various institutions, especially Catholic, that are currently involved in humanitarian aid activities in the country.

Cor Unum, meaning “one heart,” is considered the Pope’s charity arm.

In these meetings, special appreciation was expressed for the commitment of the Holy Father and the Holy See to supporting the Christian communities and the population as a whole, who suffer as a result of the conflict, and for encouraging dialogue and reconciliation among the various parties.

Emphasis was also placed on the important role of Catholic aid organisms that serve and benefit all Syrians. However, said the communique, in the face of an ever-growing need, this assistance will have to be intensified in the future through the generous contribution of the international community.


ANSA, the Italian news agency, in a report on Halloween and the celebrations of All Saints and All Souls on Saturday and Sunday, notes that, throughout Italy, the Catholic Church has taken pains to organize October 31 events in hopes of drawing youth away from the temptation of carving a pumpkin or attending a Halloween costume party.

Alternative events, said the report, include all-night prayer vigils, Masses, and Christian rock concerts. “It’s OK to have a party if the children want one, but let us not forget All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day,” said the Catholic weekly, “Famiglia Cristiana” (Christian Family).

“This kind of feast…does not belong to our Christian roots,” commented Bishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi.

Halloween is not a traditional date on the Italian calendar but has been growing in popularity in recent years, with trick-or-treating becoming more common and pumpkin sales rising. ANSA says that Codacons, a consumer group, reports that some 10 million Italians celebrate Halloween each year, spending an estimated 300 million euros ($420 million). More than a million pumpkins are sold at this time and stores known for Carnevale costumes, now sell masks, costumes and accessories.

One place in Italy has a much longer Halloween history. A small town in the southeastern region of Puglia, Orsara di Puglia, has been celebrating it for the past 1,000 years, says ANSA. According to local historians, the only real difference between the American tradition and the town’s version of Halloween is the date. Halloween, a secular take on All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day, is traditionally celebrated on the night of October 31, but in Orsara di Puglia the pumpkins come out on the evening between November 1 (All Saints Day) and Nov 2 (All Souls Day). Hollowed-out and candle-lit pumpkins are placed outside homes on the evening of All Saints Day to keep away evil spirits and witches. Townsfolks also light huge bonfires in the streets so as to illuminate the path of souls on their way to Purgatory.

Historians have traced Orsara’s tradition back to a short-lived 8th-century incursion by a Germanic people, the Longobards, who in more northern parts supplanted older civilisations and reigned as the Lombards.


The November 1 solemnity of All Saints, and November 2 feast of All Souls were always holidays in the Vatican during the years I worked there and today, November 1, no matter what day of the week it falls on, is always a big holiday in Italy, When I was at the Vatican, John Paul II was Pope and we celebrated his baptismal name day, Karol (Charles), on November 4. That day was always a holiday because the Vatican and Roman Curia always celebrated a Pope’s name day. When the stars aligned and November 1 and 2 fell on a Friday and Saturday and November 4 on Monday, we had a four-day weekend.

Thinking about those years as I did today, the vigil of All Saints Day, I remembered a column I wrote about this holiday the first year I began writing Joan’s Rome.

Art Buchwald, a famous humorist and columnist wrote an annual column for the Washington Post about Thanksgiving. Even if you almost had it memorized from years of reading, you still enjoyed reading it every Thanksgiving. Today I present my (now annual) All Saints column in the hopes that you enjoy it, whether you were a Joan’s Rome fan in 2006 or have recently joined the team!

I have checked some of the prices I quote in this story and have found – no surprise – that most of them have increased, some of them markedly, in the past three years.

Here is that (updated) 2006 column:

As I write this column, there is an almost unreal morning silence outside – unreal for Rome whose chaotic traffic, if nothing else, can cause untenable noise pollution. To enjoy silence, most Romans look forward to Sundays, holidays and the months of July and August when people go away on vacation.

It is so quiet because today is a big holiday in Italy and the Vatican – November 1, the feast of All Saints. The Vatican also observes November 2 – All Souls Day – a commemoration that used to be an Italian holiday but has been removed from the calendar of public holidays. Not that that makes much difference to Italians who use any excuse to create what they call a “ponte,” a bridge to an extra long weekend. If November 1 falls on a Tuesday or Wednesday, for example, Italians will take off the days prior to that date and enjoy a really long “ponte” weekend.

November 1 is such an important day for Italians that many newspapers publish special inserts on how to get to a city’s cemeteries, where to park cars, what shuttle buses are available within cemeteries, etc. Cemetery opening hours – usually longer in the October 29 to November 5 period – are posted, as are the hours and routes of the “C” busses (“C” for <i>cimitero</i> or cemetery). In Rome there are 12 cemeteries and each one has special rules and regulations and opening hours. The larger ones will also have free shuttles buses (because no cars will be allowed) to take people to the graves of loved ones. In Rome’s largest cemetery, Verano, 16 stops have been programmed for these buses.

An estimated one million people are expected to visit Rome’s cemeteries in the weeklong period dedicated to the deceased. The city always makes a concerted effort at this time of year to clean cemeteries of trash, to repair walkways and even headstones and to do some serious gardening. Visitors too will clean tombs, bring fresh flowers and entire families will meet to mourn their dearly departed as well as to celebrate their lives. And then family members will usually all go out for lunch or dinner, sometimes even taking a picnic lunch along (though not for eating in the cemeteries – even though that is what the very first Christians did when they gathered at burial grounds or in the catacombs).

Once a Rome daily even featured a survey on the cost of funerals, saying “there is some meager consolation for those in mourning in the capital of Rome because a funeral there costs the least” of all cities questioned for the survey. I don’t have the figures for 2014 but in recent years average funeral costs ran about 6,000-8,000 Euros ($7,500-10,000, adjusted for inflation), with cremation costing between 3,000-4,000 Euros. These prices are supposed to include a walnut coffin with zinc interior (except for cremation, of course), flowers, the burial and documents. However, say newspapers, the best bargain is still a funeral paid for by the city, as they cost several thousand Euros less.

Churches worldwide usually have Sunday Mass schedules on November 1 as it is a Church precept that Catholics must attend Mass on All Saints Day.

On November 1 it is tradition at the Vatican for Popes to celebrate Mass for the Solemnity of All Saint’s at the Campo Verano cemetery in Rome and, on the following day, November 2, All Souls Day, to lead a prayer service in the Vatican Grottoes for all deceased Popes. That is, in fact, what is on Pope Francis’ agenda this weekend.

And, although these are predominantly religious celebrations, secularism has crept in. Masks and costumes, witches and pumpkins and orange and black color schemes have invaded Italy and those items and colors will be seen throughout the peninsula tonight as revelers celebrate All Hallows Eve.

The price of flowers soars for about a week every year during this season. I learned a very hard lesson about Italian customs on this feast day the first year I was in Rome.

It was the very end of October and I went to a private clinic to visit a friend who had just had serious surgery. I wanted to bring Lina an impressive bouquet of flowers to cheer her up but my budget did not allow for “impressive.” So I did the best I could. I bought about 8 or 10 chrysanthemums – because they were bigger flowers, they seemed more impressive as a bouquet. Surely just the thing to bring a smile to Lina’s face, I thought.

Well, I knew the minute I walked into her hospital room that something was wrong. I saw a strange look on her face (and also on the face of a cousin visiting her, a priest), but never for a minute did I associate it with the flowers. We chatted and visited and faces seemed to brighten up, so I dismissed the first impression I had received that something was wrong.

Only later did I learn that chrysanthemums are viewed by Italians as the flower of the dead and are the flowers that most people bring to place on the graves of their loved ones! Fortunately for me, Lina and Fr. John were wonderful, understanding friends who gently, some time later, told me what bringing chrysanthemums to someone in the hospital just days before the feast of All Saints is just not done! (Actually, Italians seem to frown on flowers in hospitals any time of the year.)

Like other hard-learned lessons in Italy, this was one mistake I never repeated.

My wish for you, my readers, is that you have a blessed and prayerful All Saints Day and All Souls Day.

(P.S. I realized just now that, among the tens of thousands of photos I have taken over the years, I have none of a Halloween theme in Rome!)



The Sistine Chapel is today’s big story as the new lighting, heating and ventilation systems installed by Carrier and the German firm Osram were introduced to the media last evening. Only a doctor‘s order could keep a good woman down and that is the reason I missed last night’s presentation. However, I have had other similar beautiful experiences and share those with you (see the first story below which I also put on my Facebook page.)

The Sistine Chapel was also the subject of one of the stories in a column I wrote on November 2, 2012 about the previous evening when Pope Benedict XVI celebrated vespers to mark the 500th anniversary of the completion of the chapel’s famed ceiling by Michelangelo in October 1512. (Enjoy the up-close-and-personal of the chapel with photos I took on an earlier visit.).

The last decades have seen the restoration of the Sistine Chapel’s main frescoes: work began on Michelangelo’s ceiling on November 7, 1984, after which the Last Judgment was restored and completed, and the chapel was re-opened to the public on April 8, 1994. The north and south walls with the Lives of Jesus and Moses were unveiled in December 1999.

On April 8, 1994 Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass in the Sistine Chapel on the occasion of the restoration of the Last Judgment. In his homily he said, “The frescoes that we are contemplating here introduce us into the world of the contents of the Revelation. The truths of our faith speak to us here from all sides. From them human genius took its inspiration undertaking to clothe them in forms of incomparable beauty.”

He also wrote about the Sistine Chapel in his 2003 book of poetry, “Roman Triptych: Meditations” in Part Two “On the Book of Genesis at the Threshold of the Sistine Chapel.” He reflects on man, as well as the image of God in the scenes from Creation to the Last Judgment.

In the event you will be visiting the Sistine in the near or distant future, you might want to print the following information about the side panels on the north and south walls that depict the lives of Jesus and Moses.

NORTH WALL – LIFE OF CHRIST: Baptism of Jesus (Perugino)– The Temptation of Jesus (Botticelli) – the Calling of the First Disciples (Ghirlandaio) – Sermon on the Mount (Rosselli) – Jesus giving the Keys to Peter (Perugino) – The Last Supper (Rosselli)

SOUTH WALL – LIFE OF MOSES: Moses’ Journey through Egypt (Perugino) – Different scenes (Botticelli) – Crossing the Red Sea (Rosselli and d’Antonio) – Moses with the Ten Commandments (Rosselli) – the Punishment of Korah, Datham and Abiram (Botticelli) – Moses’ last acts and death (attributed to Luca Signorelli)

By the way, you can take a virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel through the Vatican website:

Here are links to two good articles about last night’s unveiling:–finance.html


I was so sorry not to have been able to attend last night’s event in the Sistine Chapel with the new lighting, heating and ventilation system installed by Carrier, I have had many beautiful experiences in this stunning chapel, including attendance at a number of liturgies – the original and real purpose of a chapel. I was there for a special Mass for the Swiss Guards in January 2006 as they celebrated the 500th anniversary of the establishing of the Guards by Pope Julius II. There were only about 120 of us, all told, including celebrants, Swiss Guards and the choir. What a privilege!

And I well remember being in the chapel with fellow journalists in December 1999 when the restored panels depicting the lives of Jesus and Moses were unveiled. Experts from the Vatican museums restoration team were there to answer our questions and it was an amazing once-in-a-lifetime evening, much as last night was. I am sure.(I did speak to some friends a few days ago who were privileged to see the chapel even before last night’s unveiling and they said it was spectacular)

Of the December 1999 visit with fellow journalists, one thing stands out in particular. Towards the end of the evening as people began to trickle out of the chapel, I had been talking with Father Raymond de Souza and at a certain point we both realized – at the same instant – that we were the last two visitors in the chapel! There was a gendarme or two and a Swiss guard or two but no one made a move to ask us to leave so we enjoyed the solitude and immense beauty for about five more minutes, alone with our thoughts and meditations even prayers.

Father Raymond and I exited the chapel descending the imposing Scala Regia and exiting at the Bronze Door to a silent, majestic St. Peter’s Square where the cobblestones glistened in the darkness of a cool December evening after a brief rainfall.

An evening that was unforgettable, spiritual and, yes, magical!


The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was established in 2011 to welcome Anglicans coming into full communion with Rome. It was the first such ordinariate to be established under the November 2009 Vatican document instituting this structure. The Ordinary, Msgr Keith Newton, a former Anglican bishop, recently sent greetings to both Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict to, as the latest Ordinariate newsletter notes, “express the love, loyalty and gratitude of the clergy and people in the run-up to the anniversary of the publication in November 2009 of the Apostolic Constitution, “Anglicanorum Cœtibus,” that instituted the ordinariates.

In his letter to Pope Francis, Msgr. Newton expressed the sentiments of “hundreds of lay members of the Ordinariate with their priests from the length and breadth of Great Britain for a weekend of addresses, conversations and celebrations, centred around the celebration of Mass in Westminster Cathedral.” He said, “it is with deep gratitude that through the provisions of that Apostolic Constitution we are now united with you in the full communion of the Catholic Church. I ask you, Holy Father, to remember the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in your prayers, as we remember you, and to grant us your Apostolic Blessing.

Msgr. Newton’s letter to Pope emeritus Benedict XVI spoke of the same gathering at Mass in Westminster Cathedral on the vigil of the fifth anniversary of the publication of “Anglicanorum Coetibus”: “We will never forget that it was your wisdom and vision that brought about that Apostolic Constitution and so we thank you for bringing us, joyfully, into the full communion of the Catholic Church. I ask you to continue to remember in your prayers the members and the mission of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, as you will always occupy a special place in the hearts and prayers of all of us.


Pope Emeritus Benedict XVl has written to the Ordinariate by way of response to a letter he had received from Nicolas Ollivant, chairman of the Friends of the Ordinariate, a charity set up to support the Ordinariate’s work. In his own letter to the Pope emeritus, Ollivant enclosed a brief history of the church in Warwick Street. (Both photos are from the Ordinariate newsletter)


Benedict XVI – born in Bavaria – answered with the following letter – published on the Ordinariate website and in their newsletter and translated from the original German:

“Since I know that you read the German language without difficulty, I may answer your friendly letter of 1 September in my mother tongue, since my English would not quite suffice to do so.

“Your thanks for the establishment of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham has greatly moved me, and I ask you to convey my thanks to all its members. Naturally, I am particularly glad that the former Bavarian Chapel has now become your Ordinariate’s church, and serves such an important role in the whole Church of God. It has been a long time since I have heard news of this holy place, and it was therefore with all the more interest and gratitude that I read the description with which you accompanied your letter.

“Once more, many thanks, and may God bless you all.

“Yours in the Lord,

“Benedict XVI”


A recurring incident of an injury suffered many years ago from a car accident forced a doctor’s visit today and, as a result, for a period I have to spend a little less time sitting for long hours at my desk. However, I know that I can keep my legs elevated and work easily with a laptop (though, technically a lap only exists when you sit!), so this column should not suffer too much.

It is not yet Halloween but there is Christmas news from Italy. Pope Francis, via an audiovisual link up, on December 7 will light the largest Christmas tree in the world as Pope emeritus Benedict XVI did in 2011. By pressing a button on a tablet, the Holy Father will light thousands of small bulbs that form the shape of a Christmas tree in Gubbio on the slopes of Mount Ingino. A press conference this Friday in Gubbio will provide more details!


The Pope observed that the Church represents the Body of Jesus, and that its visible dimension- that is the structures and people who make up the Church – are at the service of its spiritual reality, witnessing to God’s love for all mankind.

He underlined that the Church visible is not just the priests, bishops or Popes.  It is made up of Baptized men and women all over the world who carry out immeasurable acts of love. Families who are firm in the faith, parents who give their all to transmit the faith to their children, the sick who offer their suffering to the Lord.

Pope Francis noted that often as a Church we experience our fragility and our limitations, which rightly  provoke profound displeasure, especially when we give bad example and become  a source of scandal, “because people go by our witness” as Christians.

“Through her Sacraments and her witness to Christ in our world, the Church seeks to proclaim and bring God’s merciful love to all, particularly the poor and those in need”.

“Dear Brothers and Sisters,” began the English summary of the audience “In our catechesis on the Church, we have seen that the Church is a spiritual reality, the mystical Body of Christ. Yet we know that the Church is also a visible reality, expressed in our parishes and communities, and in her institutional structures. This visible reality is itself mysterious, for it embraces the countless and often hidden works of charity carried out by believers throughout the world. To understand the relationship between the visible and the spiritual dimensions of Christ’s Body, the Church, we need to look to Jesus himself, both God and man.

“Just as Christ’s humanity serves his divine mission of salvation, so too, with the eyes of faith, we can understand how the Church’s visible dimension is at the service of her deepest spiritual reality. Through her sacraments and her witness to Christ in our world, the Church seeks to proclaim and bring God’s merciful love to all, particularly the poor and those in need. Let us ask the Lord to enable us to grow in holiness and to be an ever more visible sign of his love for all mankind. (Source: Vatican Radio)


(From Vatican Radio) In greeting Spanish speaking pilgrims at the general audience Wednesday, Pope Francs spoke of the 43 Mexican students who disappeared on  September 26 in Iguala, in the southern state of Guerrero, and were burned alive by drug traffickers.

The Pope said : “I would like to raise a prayer and draw close in our hearts to the people of Mexico, who are suffering from the loss of these students and many similar problems. May our hearts be close to them, in prayer at this time.”

The archdiocese of Mexico City has issued a statement in response to the disappearance of 43 trainee teachers.  An editorial published in the archdiocesan newspaper Desde la Fe reads:  “The evil that Mexico suffers is a true decomposition of the social fabric, an evil from which no sector of the country escapes.”

“The seriousness of the crisis demands a deep replanting of our morals, our laws and the social and political organization of our homeland.”

“It is necessary to reconstruct the country. It is urgent that there be a commitment from all sectors of society to combat the immorality, impunity, corruption and cynicism that has our nation on its knees and covered in shame. The political class has showed itself to be unworthy and their parties have shown themselves to be totally incompetent for such a large task”.

Catholic News Service reports that the trainee teachers went missing on September 26 in Iguala, 120 miles south of Mexico City. Classmates and authorities said the students went to collect money for a trip to the capital, but were pulled over, shot at by police, detained and turned over to a criminal group known as Guerrero Unidos.

Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said the attack was ordered by Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, in order to prevent the students from protesting an event organized by Pineda.

Authorities said organized crime paid the mayor of Iguala and his wife — whose whereabouts remain unknown — more than $200,000 per month and plied the police with more money. Political observers say the collusion is unsurprising and increasing in some places as politicians on the local level are often unaccountable and feel free to act with impunity and without oversight.


At the conclusion of the Wednesday general audience, Pope Francis once again spoke of his concern for those affected by Ebola, stating, “In the face of the worsening Ebola epidemic, I wish to express my deep concern about this relentless disease that is spreading especially in the African continent, above all among the most disadvantaged population.” He expressed his prayerful closeness to the victims, their families and all the caregivers, including volunteers, religious institutes and associations who, he said, “are working heroically to help our brothers and sisters who are sick.”

The Pope then made another heartfelt appeal to the international community, asking that it “make all necessary efforts to eradicate this virus, effectively relieving the hardships and sufferings of those who are so sorely tried.” He invited the faithful to pray for the victims, those who are ill and those who have died.


Just a brief column today as I was out for most of the day, got home late and am now getting ready to go to the opera to see Verdi’s “Rigoletto” with two friends from Jordan who arrived Rome this afternoon and had bought tickets for this evening’s show.

I did go to Via Aurelia Antica (the ancient Aurelian way) this afternoon to film a spot for @ Home with Jim and Joy and had a delightful surprise. I will be talking to Jim and Joy this week about Pope Francis’s words last Saturday to 7,000 members of the Schoenstatt movement who were in Rome to celebrate the centenary of their founding in Germany. We learned that they have a place on the Aurelia Antica and asked permission to film on the grounds – and that was our surprise as you will see here from a few photos I took with my phone.



The little church in the background, if you look closely at the architecture, is a replica of the church in Koblenz where Schoenstatt was founded. They have 160 such chapels and shrines around the globe. I carried Pope Francis’ words to them in this column yesterday.

The Pope gave another important talk today to a group of people whose main cheerleader he is – the poor and marginalized. You can read his important remarks in the VIS story that follows.


(VIS) – This morning in the Synod Hall the Holy Father met with participants in the World Meeting of Popular Movements (27 to 29 October), organized by the Pontifical Council “Justice and Peace” in collaboration with the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences and with the leaders of various movements.

The Pope spoke about the term solidarity, “a word that is not always well accepted”, that is much maligned and almost “unrepeatable”; however it is a word that indicates much more than a few sporadic acts of generosity. It means thinking and acting in terms of community, of prioritizing the life of all over and above the appropriation of goods by the few. It also means fighting the structural causes of poverty, inequality, unemployment, lack of land and housing, and the denial of social and labor rights. It means facing the destructive effects of the empire of money: forced displacement, painful migration, human trafficking, drugs, war, violence and all these situations that many of you suffer and that we are all called upon to transform. Solidarity, in its deepest sense, is a way of making history and this is what the popular movements do”.

He went on to remark that this meeting does not correspond to any form of ideology and that the movements work not with ideas, but with reality. “It is not possible to tackle poverty by promoting containment strategies to merely reassure, rendering the poor ‘domesticated’ , harmless and passive”, he continued. “This meeting corresponds to a more concrete desire, that any father or mother would want for their children: an aspiration that should be within the reach of all but which we sadly see is increasingly unavailable to the majority: land, housing and work. It is strange, but if I talk about this, there are those who think that the Pope is communist”.

“Today, the phenomenon of exploitation and oppression assumes a new dimension, a graphical and hard edge of social injustice: those that cannot be integrated, the marginalized, are discarded, “cast-offs”. This is the throwaway culture … This happens when the center of an economic system is the god of money and not humanity, the human person. At the center of every social or economic system there must be the person, the image of God, created as the denominator of the universe. When humanity is displaced and supplanted by money, this disruption of values occurs”.

Pope Francis mentioned the problem of unemployment, and added that “every worker, whether or not he is part of the formal system of paid work, has the right to fair remuneration, social security and a pension. ‘Cartoneros’, those who live by recycling waste, street vendors, garment makers, craftspeople, fishermen, farmers, builders, miners, workers in companies in receivership, cooperatives and common trades that are excluded from employment rights, who are denied the possibility of forming trades unions, who do not have an adequate or stable income. Today I wish to unite my voice to theirs and to accompany them in their struggle”.

He went on the mention the theme of peace and ecology. “We cannot strive for land, housing, or work if we are not able to maintain peace or if we destroy the planet. … Creation is not our property, that we may exploit as we please; far less so, the property of the few. Creation is a gift, a wonderful gift that God gave us, to care for and to use for the benefit of all, always with respect and gratitude”.

“Why, instead of this, are we accustomed to seeing decent work destroyed, the eviction of many families, the expulsion of peasants from the land, war and the abuse of nature? Because this system has removed humanity from the center and replaced it with something else! Because of the idolatrous worship of money! Because of the globalization of indifference – ‘what does it matter to me what happens to others, I’ll defend myself’”. Because the world has forgotten God, the Father: it has become an orphan because it has turned aside from God”.

He emphasized that “Christians have something very good, a guide to action, a revolutionary program, we might say. I strongly recommend that you read it, that you read the Beatitudes”.

He concluded by highlighting the importance of walking together and remarking that “popular movements express the urgent need to revitalize our democracies, that are so often hijacked by many factors. It is impossible to imagine a future for society without the active participation of the majority, and this role extends beyond the logical procedures of formal democracy”.



It was the AP (Associated Press – or Amazing Priests, if you like) story that was published last Thursday that started the ball rolling on what has now become an avalanche of views of my video of the two priests, Fathers David Rider and John Gibson dancing at the Rector’s Dinner last April at NAC (they were seminarians then). As I write, there have been 1,415,931 views! Trisha Thomas did the research and wrote the story and took AP’s cameramen to NAC to video some footage. Her extensive account of this saga is on her blog:

It was quite a weekend for me – not only watching the numbers grow on the video and continuing to answer requests to air it or otherwise feature it but I have also been spending time with some friends who are visiting Rome: Isabella and her mother who were in town from Vienna, Austria; Gary and Meredith Krupp from New York (you know Gary from my radio shows and blogs and from The World Over), and Marie Fiscus from Toronto, Canada. Michael Hesemann just landed in Rome and two of my dearest friends from Amman, Jordan, are about to land.

Marie works for Air Canada and is in Rome on a brief holiday. She has friends from previous visits and one of her friends, Luigi, who has a B&B in Rome, arranged, though his brothers (it is definitely WHO you know in Italy), for a small group to attend a beautiful concert last night in St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls. We all met up at the basilica and ended up in the third row to hear Verdi’s “Requiem” performed by the IlluminArt Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra from Japan, conducted by the amazing 44-year-old female conductor Tomomi Nishimoto.

One of the men who helped arrange everything for this small group of Luigi’s friends is Gilberto, who has worked for the Vatican in one capacity or another for 50 years!! We discovered after the concert that we live about 100 feet from each other on Via di Porta Cavalleggeri! Gilberto was our guardian angel all evening and made it possible for me to greet a longtime friend, Cardinal James Harvey, archpriest of the basilica. Truly an evening to remember – in so many ways.

I uploaded two brief videos of several minutes of the “Requiem” and only wish I had known precisely when the concert would finish (even though I was reading the lyrics in the program) because the end was extraordinary! Not the music! The silence! As the last note was played, every member of the choir and orchestra bowed their heads and they – and we – all remained in total silence for perhaps a minute! A stunning and unexpected – and perfect! – conclusion!

Here is a slide show of St. Paul’s basilica and a few pictures of the orchestra.

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And now a look back at some of the news of the weekend. I am highlighting the Pope’s remarks to members of the Schönstatt movement because he talks about marriage and the family and we’ve only recently concluded the synod on the family.


Saturday morning, in a lively exchange with over 7,000 members of the Schoenstatt movement, an international Marian and apostolic organization marking the centenary of its founding in Germany, Pope Francis participated in a Q&A session, replying to questions on a broad range of topics. Schoenstatt members are both lay and religious, including many priests, from scores of nations around the world.

Pope Francis stated that the institution of Christian marriage has never been attacked so much as nowadays given the temporary or “throw-away” culture that has become so widespread. He said marriage should not be seen just a social rite and urged priests to stay close to couples and especially children experiencing the trauma of a family break-up.

In its report on the meeting, Vatican Radio listed some of the wide range of issues treated by the Holy Father as he answered questions off-the-cuff: mistaken views about marriage and its true meaning, the temporary or throw-away culture, the need to be courageous and daring, Mary’s missionary role, the Devil’s aim for disunity and a look at why the concept of solidarity is under attack.

In a question about marriage, the Pope was asked what advice he would offer to those who don’t feel welcome in the Church. He stressed the need for priests to stay close to each member of their flock without becoming scandalized over what takes place within the family. He said a bishop during the recent synod on the family asked whether priests are aware of what children feel and the psychological damage caused when their parents separate? The Pope noted how, in some of these cases, the parent who is separating ends up living at home only part-time with the children, and he described this as a “new and totally destructive” form of co-habitation.

Francis said the Christian family and marriage have never been so attacked as they are nowadays because of growing relativism over the concept of the sacrament of marriage.  When it comes to preparing for marriage, he said all too often there is a misunderstanding over the difference between the sacrament of marriage and the social rite. Marriage is forever, he said, but in our present society there is a temporary or throw-away mindset that has become widespread.

Turning to the missionary role of Mary, the Pope reminded people that nobody can search for faith without the help of Mary, the Mother of God, saying a Church without Mary is like an orphanage. When asked how he maintains a sense of joy and hope despite the many problems and wars in our world, Pope Francis replied that he uses prayer, trust, courage and daring. To dare is a grace, he said, and a prayer without courage or daring is a prayer that doesn’t work.

Asked about reform of the Church, the Pope said people describe him as a revolutionary but he pointed out that the Church has always been that way and is constantly reforming itself.  He stressed that the first revolution or way of renewing the Church is through inner holiness and that counts far more than more external ways such as reforming the Curia and the Vatican bank. Pope Francis also spoke about the importance of having a freedom of spirit and warned against closing ourselves up in a mass of rules and regulations, thus becoming a caricature of the doctors of law.

The theme of our throw-away society was touched on a number of times by the Pope – as he has done throughout his pontificate. In yet another reply, he said our present-day culture is one that destroys the human bonds that bind us together. And in this context, he continued, one word that risks dying or disappearing in our society is ‘solidarity’ and this is also a symptom of our inability to forge alliances.

Pope Francis also warned about the Devil, stressing that he exists and that his first weapon is creating disunity.


An estimated 80,000 plus faithful filled St. Peter’s Square on Sunday to pray the noon Angelus with the Pope and listen to his Sunday reflections on the day’s Gospel reading.

Sunday’s Gospel by Matthew recounts the day that some Pharisees put Jesus to the test by asking him which commandment was the most important in the Law. Francis explained that Jesus, citing the book of Deuteronomy, answered: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”

“He could have stopped there,” said the Pope. “Instead, Jesus adds something else that was not asked by the expert of the law. Indeed, he said: ‘And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself’. Even this second commandment is not invented by Jesus, but rather taken from the Book of Leviticus. Its newness consists precisely in putting together these two commandments – the love for God and love for one’s neighbor – revealing that they are inseparable and complementary, they are two sides of the same coin. You cannot love God without loving your neighbor and you can’t love your neighbur without loving God.”

In fact, said Pope Francis, “the visible sign that a Christian can show to give witness to the world … of the love of God is the love of his brethren. The commandment of love for God and one’s neighbor is the first, not because it is the first in the list of commandment. Jesus does not place it at the top, but rather at the center since it is the heart from which everything must begin and to which everything must return and refer to. … In the light of Jesus’ words, love is the measure of faith, and faith is the soul of love. We can never separate religious life from the service of the brothers and sisters, to those real brethren we meet.

After these reflections and praying the Angelus with the faithful, the Holy Father recalled the beatification Saturday in Sao Paulo, Brazil of Mother Assunta Marchetti: the Italian-born co-founder of the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo, known as “Scalabrinians” after the late 19th century bishop of Piacenza, Giuseppe Scalabrini, who helped found the missionary congregation originally dedicated to maintaining Catholic faith and practice among emigres to the New World, which now focuses its missionary work on migrants, refugees and displaced persons.

Pope Francis had greetings for pilgrims from Italy and around the world, with special words for the Peruvian community in Rome, which came to St. Peter’s Square in procession with an image of El Senor de los Milagros – the Lord of Miracles – an image of Christ crucified that was painted by an anonymous freedman in the 17th century in Lima, and that has become a focus of deep veneration and intense devotion, especially among Peruvians. (source VIS)



This morning, Pope Francis addressed the Pontifical Academy of Sciences as they meet in plenary session, and witnessed the unveiling of a bust of his predecessor, Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI. Speaking in the academy headquarters, the lovely Casina Pio IV in the heart of the Vatican gardens, Francis called his predecessor, “a great Pope: great for the power and penetration of his intellect, great for his significant contribution to theology, great for his love for the Church and of human beings, great for his virtue and piety.” Today’s unveiling comes as the academy meets on the theme of evolving concepts of nature.

The Pope recalled that Benedict XVI was the first to invite a president of this academy to participate in the Synod on new evangelization, “aware of the importance of science in modern culture.”


Pope Francis noted that the Catholic intellectual tradition has always affirmed the fundamental compatibility of a natural order that unfolds and develops, with the idea that the universe has been made, and does not merely happen. “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation,” he said. “The scienctist, must [nevertheless] be moved by a trust in the idea that nature hides, within her evolutionary mechanisms, potentialities that it is the task of intellect and freedom to discover and actuate, in order to achieve the [kind of] development that is in the design of the Creator.”

Click here for his full talk:




Archbishop Josepk Kurtz of Louisville, president of the USCCB – United States Conference of Catholic Bishops – spoke to me in Rome in the middle of the second week of the synod on the family as the small language groups were meeting. Hear his report on both the talks in the synod hall the first week and what the work of the language groups entails.

20141015_130515 20141015_130859 Abp. Kurtz

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Pope Francis is going to receive the highest honor of Israel’s Bar Ilan University, the Award of Distinction, according to an announcement today by the university. Bar Ilan said the honor, which will be presented at the Vatican on October 27, was to pay tribute to Francis’ “continual efforts and his commitment to building bridges between different worlds, promoting peace and harmony among nations and faiths, defending human rights and fighting for them.” The university also praised Pope Francis for his “contribution to understanding and tolerance between Christians and Jews and for the warmth he has shown towards the Jewish nation, especially during his official visit to Israel (earlier this year).”


ANSA also reported that Pope Francis is working on his second encyclical. Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin on Thursday told the Pontifical University Antonianum on Thursday that the Pope’s new work is on the “protection of creation. The cardinal was speaking at the Antonianum during the presentation of Code 338, the only copy ever made of the Canticle of the Creatures by St. Francis.


Pope Francis on Friday welcomed members of the Orientale Lumen Foundation in America as they meet in Rome as part of an ecumenical pilgrimage. He told them that,

“every Christian pilgrimage is not only a geographical journey, but also and above all an opportunity to take a path of inner renewal taking us ever closer to Christ our Lord.” He added that, “these dimensions are absolutely essential in proceeding along the path that leads us to reconciliation and full communion among all believers in Christ. There is no true ecumenical dialogue without openness to inner renewal and the search for greater fidelity to Christ and to His will.”

Francis expressed his delight in learning that the pilgrims had decided to honor the memory of Popes St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II, saying “this decision underlines their great contribution to the development of ever closer relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches. The example of these two saints is without doubt enriching for all of us, since they always bore witness to an ardent passion for Christian unity”.

The Holy Father, noting his late November trip to Turkey, asked for prayers for his three-day pilgrimage, during which he will meet with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. (source: VIS)


The Holy See Press Office this morning presented the World Meeting of Popular Movements, that will be held in Rome from October 27 to 29. The three-day event was organized by the Pontifical Council “Justice and Peace” in collaboration with the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences and the leaders of various movements.

Presenters included Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of Justice and Peace, Archbishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences and Juan Grabois, head of the Confederation of Workers of the Popular Economy, dedicated principally to organizations and movements for the excluded and marginalized.

Grabois, who knew Pope Francis as archbishop of Buenos Aires, said that the then-Cardinal Bergoglio sympathized with the struggle of excluded workers in very difficult moments, and accompanied them in the work of assisting the cartoneros or peasants, who are forced to live on the streets and, in general, are the heirs of a crisis brought on by neo-liberal capitalism. “Francis summons us again today, from a universal perspective; he calls to the poor, organized in thousands of popular movements, to fight, without arrogance but with courage, without violence but with tenacity, for this dignity that has been taken from us, and for social justice.”

The World Meeting of Popular Movements will be attended by the social leaders of the five continents, representing organizations of increasingly excluded social sectors: workers in precarious employment conditions; migrants; temporary workers; the unemployed and the self-employed, without legal protection, labor rights or union recognition; peasants; the landless; indigenous peoples and those at risk of expulsion from the fields as a result of agricultural speculation and violence; and those who live in the peripheries and in temporary settlements, often migrants and displaced peoples, who are marginalized, forgotten, and without adequate urban infrastructure. Alongside them there are trades unions and social, charitable and human rights organizations, who have demonstrated their closeness to these movements and who, it has been suggested, might accompany them, respecting the role of grass-roots movements.

“The aims of this meeting include sharing Pope Francis’ thought on social matters, debating the causes of growing social inequality and the increase in exclusion throughout the world, reflecting on the organizational experiences of popular movements and the resolution of problems regarding land, housing and work, evaluating the role of movements in the processes of peace-building and care for the environment, especially in regions affected by conflicts and disputes over natural resources, discussing the relationship between popular movements and the Church, and how to go ahead in the creation of joint and permanent collaboration.”

Cardinal Turkson stated that it was essential for both the Church and the world to “listen to the cry for justice” from the excluded; “not only to the sufferings, but also to the expectations, hopes and proposals which the marginalised themselves have. They must be protagonists of their own lives, and not simply passive recipients of the charity or plans of others. They must be protagonists of the needed economic and social, political and cultural changes. … The Church wants to make its own the needs and aspirations of the popular movements, and to join with those who, by means of different initiatives, are making every effort to stimulate social change towards a more just world.” (VIS)


What a day this has been! To say I am floored and delighted about what has happened since mid-morning is an understatement! I received an email, a news alert, with the article that AP did last week after interviewing me about the video I took last April at the Rector’s Dinner at the North American College of the dancing seminarians. I had posted that video on and the response has been exceptional. As the article said, “Video of the dancing seminarians has gone viral!”

I posted a link to the story by AP on Facebook (they naturally also interviewed Fathers David and John) and life has not been the same since. The AP story has travelled far and wide and requests from media organizations wanting to feature the video have come in to me nonstop. It has been gratifying to know that two wonderful young men – David Rider, now an ordained priest for the archdiocese of New York, and John Gibson, ordained a priest for the diocese of Milwaukee – have brought and will bring so much joy into the lives of so many!

Here is another of the many links:

Among those who asked for permission to feature the video online and/or in their TV news are ABC (as well as an ABC15 News affiliate in Phoenix where I have friends and family), SKY news in the UK, Telemundo, TIME online, TheMail online, CBS, the Press Association (UK’s biggest newswire) – and the beat goes on.

And now, a truly serious issue and strong papal speech – it is a long report by Vatican Radio on Pope Francis’ talk this morning to jurists because it includes his many off-the-cuff remarks.


(Vatican Radio) – In an address to members of the International Association of Criminal Law, Pope Francis on Thursday called on all men and women of good will to fight for the abolishment of the death penalty in “all of its forms” and for the improvement of prison conditions.

He also addressed the need to combat the phenomena of human trafficking and corruption, and stressed that the fact that the enforcement of legal penalties must always respect human dignity.

In a dense and impassioned discourse to the jurists assembled in the Vatican for a private audience, Pope Francis said that the “life sentence” is really a “concealed death sentence,” and that is why – he explained – he had it annulled in the Vatican Penal Code.

Many of the off-the-cuff comments during the Pope’s speech shone the light on how politics and media all too often act as triggers enflaming “violence and private and public acts of vengeance” that are always in search of a scape-goat.

Recalling the words of Saint John Paul II who condemned the death penalty, as does the Catechism of the Cathoic Church, Francis decried the practice and denounced  “so-called extrajudicial or extralegal executions,” calling them “deliberate homicides” committed by public officials behind the screen of the Law:

“All Christians and people of goodwill are called today to fight not only for the abolition of the death penalty be it legal or illegal, in all of its forms, but also for the improvement of prison conditions in the respect of the human dignity of those who have been deprived of freedom. I link this to the death sentence. In the Penal Code of the Vatican, the sanction of life sentence is no more. A life sentence is a death sentence which is concealed..

And Pope Francis had words of harsh criticism for all forms of criminality that undermine human dignity, saying there are forms of this even within the criminal law system which too often does not respect that dignity when criminal law is applied.

“In the last decades,” the Pope said, “there has been a growing conviction that through public punishment it is possible to solve different and disparate social problems, as if for different diseases one could prescribe the same medicine.”

He said this conviction has pushed the criminal law system beyond its sanctioning boundaries, and into the “realm of freedom and the rights of persons” without real effectiveness.

“There is the risk of losing sight of the proportionality of penalties that historically reflect the scale of values upheld by the State. The very conception of criminal law and the enforcement of sanctions as an ‘ultima ratio’ in the cases of serious offenses against individual and collective interests have weakened. As has the debate regarding the use of alternative penal sanctions to be used instead of imprisonment.”

Pope Francis spoke of remand or detention of a suspect as a “contemporary form of illicit hidden punishment” concealed by a “patina of legality” as it enforces “an anticipation of punishment” upon a suspect who has not been convicted. From this – the Pope points out – derives the risk of multiplying the number of detainees still awaiting trial, who are thus convicted without benefiting from the protective rules of a trial. In some countries – he says – this happens in some 50% of all cases with the trickledown effect of terribly overcrowded detention centers:

“The deplorable conditions of detention that take place in different parts of the world are an authentic inhuman and degrading trait, often caused by deficiencies of criminal law, or by a lack of infrastructures and good planning. In many cases they are the result of an arbitrary and merciless exercise of power over persons who have been deprived of freedom.”

Pope Francis also spoke of what he called “cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments and sanctions,” and compared detention in maximum-security prisons to a “form of torture.” The isolation imposed in these places – he says – causes “mental and physical” suffering that result in an “increased tendency towards suicide.” Torture – the Pope pointed out – is used not only as a means to obtain “confession or information”:

“It is an authentic ‘surplus’ of pain that is added to the woes of detention. In this way torture is used not only in illegal centers of detention or in modern concentration camps, but also in prisons, in rehabilitation centers for minors, in psychiatric hospitals, in police stations and in other institutions for detention or punishment.”

The Pope said children must be spared the harshness of imprisonment – as must, at least in a limited way – older people, sick people, pregnant women, disabled people as well as parents if they are the sole guardians of minors or persons with disabilities.

He also highlighted one of the criminal phenomena he has always spoken out against vehemently: human trafficking which – he says – is the result of that “cycle of dire poverty” that traps “a billion people” and forces at least 45 million to flee from conflict:

“Based on the fact that it is impossible to commit such a complex crime as is the trafficking of persons without the complicity, be it active or of omission of action of the State, it is evident that, when the efforts to prevent and combat this phenomenon are not sufficient, we find ourselves before a crime against humanity. This is even truer if those who are responsible for the protection of persons and the safeguard of their freedom become an accomplice of those who trade in human beings; in those cases the State is responsible before its citizens and before the international community.”

Pope Francis dedicated an ample part of his discourse to corruption. The corrupt person – according to the Pope – is a person who takes the “short-cuts of opportunism” that lead him to think of himself as a “winner” who insults and persecutes whoever contradicts him. “Corruption” – he said – “is a greater evil than sin,” and more than “be forgiven, must be cured.”

“The criminal sanction is selective. It is like a net that captures only the small fish leaving the big fish to swim free in the ocean. The forms of corruption that must be persecuted with greatest severity are those that cause grave social damage, both in economic and social questions – for example grave fraud against public administration or the dishonest use of administration.”

Concluding, Pope Francis exhorted the jurists to use the criteria of “cautiousness” in the enforcement of criminal sanctions. This – he affirmed – must be the principle that upholds criminal law:

“The respect for human dignity must operate not only to  limit the arbitrariness and the excesses of State officials, but as a criteria of orientation for the persecution and the repression of those behaviors that represent grave attacks against the dignity and the integrity of the human person.”