HAPPY NEW YEAR – BUON ANNO – FELIZ AÑO NUEVO – BONNE ANNÉE! – LORD, THANK YOU!

Happy New Year for Latin lovers: FELIX SIT ANNUS NOVUS!

LORD, THANK YOU!

Pope Francis tweeted these three little words today. Three words, 12 letters of the alphabet, yet packed with meaning and gratitude and love for the Lord, first in Francis’ life and (hopefully) first in ours!

I echo the Holy Father’s thought: Lord, Thank You!

Thank You for the countless blessings you showered on me during 2014.

Thank You above all for making me part of one of the most wonderful families on earth, a family that has grown so beautifully over the years with nieces and nephews and great-nieces and nephews! From infancy and childhood, through the teen and college years, right up to today, I have experienced love and laughter, sharing and caring, moments of indescribable joy and moments of loss – but all were shared by family who cared. Thank you for my very special life of unforgettable, unique memories, of senior moments (the ones you remember, not forget!!). I know in my heart that I am one of the luckiest persons alive!

Thank You for the immense blessing of my Catholic faith and for enabling me to grow in it over the decades, especially through my work, through my years at the Vatican, reading papal documents, learning the Church’s teaching in depth – a time that prepared me for what I do now for and with EWTN. Heartfelt thanks for Pope Francis as he leads us in our spiritual growth!

Thank You for being at my side when I write my daily column, for illuminating me, for guiding me as I seek to teach and the truth about the faith. I do pray when I write because at times I feel the responsibility of writing about You and Your Church is – can I say it? – scary, even daunting. So many people read what we in the media write. They look for the truth, not for spin, not for personal versions of the faith, not for words that please or flatter or make one feel better, not for words that will make life easier, but for faith-filled words that will help us understand things when life is not easy, when we face challenges, when we face opposition, when the Truth is challenged.

Thank You, Lord, for filling my life not just with family and faith but with an unimaginable number of friends, friendships that span the globe, friendships born in most instances from a shared faith, friendships that, as the expression goes, “warm the cockles of my heart.”

And thank you, my wonderful family and my friends near and far – my EWTN colleagues, my lifelong friends or people I’ve met more recently through my work, through “Joan’s Rome,” even through Facebook! I feel I know you, even though many of us have never met. Thank you for your support, your encouragement, your caring, your very kind, heartfelt words when we communicate! It all means the world to me!

And here is what I wish for you for 2015 –

http://llerrah.com/wishingyoubestnewyear.htm

God sit on your shoulder(s)!

Joan

POPE FRANCIS’ PRAYER INTENTIONS FOR JANUARY 2015 – THE “WISDOM OF THE HEART” IN CARING FOR THE SICK

I am a bit under the weather today with the start of a cold, due without a doubt, to being out for some time yesterday in freezing temps and a strong wind, weather conditions that hit Rome over the weekend (as you can see in this ANSA story: http://bit.ly/1D439RE)

In case you have wondered about the expression “under the weather,” here is what I found online (one of several explanations but all were generally similar): To be under the weather is to be unwell. This comes again from a maritime source. In the old days, when a sailor was unwell, he was sent down below to help his recovery, under the deck and away from the weather.

Just two news items today – Pope Francis’prayer intentions for January 2015 and his Message for the World Day of the Sick. There is a wonderful paragraph that he dedicates to caregivers and I cite that entirely (the 5th Para in my summary).

The December 30 papal tweet: Today people are suffering from poverty, but also from lack of love.

POPE FRANCIS’ PRAYER INTENTIONS FOR JANUARY 2015

The Holy Father’s general prayer intention is: “That those from diverse religious traditions and all people of good will may work together for peace.”

His missionary intention is: “That in this year dedicated to consecrated life, religious men and women may rediscover the joy of following Christ and strive to serve the poor with zeal.”

THE “WISDOM OF THE HEART” IN CARING FOR THE SICK

The Vatican today published Pope Francis’ Message for the World Day of the Sick, established by St. John Paul, that is traditionally celebrated on February 11, 2015. The theme for this 23rd World Day is “I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame,” taken from Job 29: 15.

The Pope starts by saying he “turns to all of you who are burdened by illness and are united in various ways to the flesh of the suffering Christ, as well as to you, professionals and volunteers in the field of health care.” He adds that he wants to consider the theme from the perspective of “sapientia cordis” – the wisdom of the heart.

Francis writes that “this ‘wisdom’ is no theoretical, abstract knowledge, the product of reasoning.  Rather, it is, as Saint James describes it in his Letter, “pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity” (3:17).  It is a way of seeing things infused by the Holy Spirit in the minds and the hearts of those who are sensitive to the sufferings of their brothers and sisters and who can see in them the image of God.”

“Wisdom of the heart,” writes the Pope, “means serving our brothers and sisters.  Job’s words: ‘I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame’, point to the service which this just man … offered to those in need.” The Pope called this “moral grandeur.”

“Today too,” continues the papal Message for the World Day of the Sick, “how many Christians show, not by their words but by lives rooted in a genuine faith, that they are ‘eyes to the blind’ and ‘feet to the lame’!  They are close to the sick in need of constant care and help in washing, dressing and eating.  This service, especially when it is protracted, can become tiring and burdensome.  It is relatively easy to help someone for a few days but it is difficult to look after a person for months or even years, in some cases when he or she is no longer capable of expressing gratitude.  And yet, what a great path of sanctification this is!  In those difficult moments we can rely in a special way on the closeness of the Lord, and we become a special means of support for the Church’s mission.

The Holy Father also says “Wisdom of the heart means being with our brothers and sisters.  Time spent with the sick is holy time.  It is a way of praising God who conforms us to the image of his Son, who ‘came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’.”

And then Pope Francis issues a warning.

After noting how our sick brothers and sisters, “thanks to our closeness and affection, feel more loved and comforted,” he writes: “How great a lie, on the other hand, lurks behind certain phrases that so insist on the importance of ‘quality of life’ that they make people think that lives affected by grave illness are not worth living!

The Pope goes on to say, “Occasionally our world forgets the special value of time spent at the bedside of the sick, since we are in such a rush; caught up as we are in a frenzy of doing, of producing, we forget about giving ourselves freely, taking care of others, being responsible for others,” we forget the Lord’s words: “You did it unto me’ (Mt 25:40).

He underscored, “the absolute priority of ‘going forth from ourselves toward our brothers and sisters’ as one of the two great commandments that ground every moral norm and as the clearest sign for discerning spiritual growth in response to God’s completely free gift.”.

The Pope explains further that “Wisdom of the heart means showing solidarity with our brothers and sisters while not judging them.  Charity takes time.  Time to care for the sick and time to visit them.  Time to be at their side like Job’s friends: ‘And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great’. .. Job’s experience of suffering finds its genuine response only in the cross of Jesus, the supreme act of God’s solidarity with us, completely free and abounding in mercy.”

“Even when illness, loneliness and inability make it hard for us to reach out to others, notes Francis, “the experience of suffering can become a privileged means of transmitting grace and a source for gaining and growing in sapientia cordis.” When people accept in faith “the mystery of suffering and pain,” they can “themselves become living witnesses of a faith capable of embracing suffering, even without being able to understand its full meaning.”

6 MILLION SAW POPE FRANCIS IN VATICAN IN 2014 – POPE SAYS LARGE FAMILIES ARE HOPE FOR SOCIETY, TELLS CHILDREN: “YOU ARE THE UNIQUE FRUIT OF LOVE” – POPE COMMENTS ON MISSING PLANE, FERRY DISASTER – FATHER LOMBARDI ON PAPAL HIGHLIGHTS OF 2014

I hope each and every one of you, my faithful readers cum friends (whcther you have been with me since 2006 or have just joined the Joan’s Rome family!), had a beautiful, blessed, serene and faith-filled Christmas with family and friends! Mine was special in ways I could not have imagined and, while I missed family, especially the little ones, the Lord filled my days with beautiful people and happy moments and a very memorable Christmas Eve Mass with the Santa Susanna community.

This past weekend I visited Sutri, a lovely, small historic town about a 40-minute drive fron Rome, where some longtime American friends had retired to a terrific new apartment. Angela and Victor used to live just a block away from my home but moved to Sutri a few years back and I had never seen their place – our very busy lives and travels never seemed to intersect at the same time.

It was a wonderful visit and we talked up a storm, sharing memories of the decades and decades we have lived in Rome, although both Angela and Victor have deep roots in Italy with their parents having been born here.

What I found so amazing about the weekend out of Rome (Saturday afternoon to Sunday evening) was how long such a short time period can seem when you are away from your own home – a mini-mini vacation, yet a short period that reinvigorates and makes you feel as if you have been away longer. Try it some time when you need a break and you will see that even a very short break can change your outlook!

 6 MILLION SAW POPE FRANCIS IN VATICAN IN 2014

According to the Prefecture of the Papal Household, just under 6 million people – 5,916,800 to be exact – attended events presided over by Pope Francis at the Vatican in 2014.

Here are the numbers provided by the Prefecture, the Vatican office that arranges all papal events and audiences, from pilgrims at the Angelus and general audiences, to presidents and heads of State and government encounters: 1,199,000 people attended the weekly general audiences, 567,100 were at special audiences and events, 1,110,700 attended liturgical celebrations, and 3,040,000 were counted in St. Peter’s Square for the Sunday Angelus.

These numbers do not include the faithful who saw Pope Francis or attended papal events outside of Vatican City.

POPE SAYS LARGE FAMILIES ARE HOPE FOR SOCIETY, TELLS CHILDREN: “YOU ARE THE UNIQUE FRUIT OF LOVE”

Sunday, before reciting the Angelus, Pope Francis had quite an amazing visit in the Paul VI Hall with 7,000 members of Italy’s National Association of Large Families, including hundreds of little ones, children of all ages, as the association marked its 10th anniversary!

Sunday was special because it was the feast of the Holy Family and what better setting could there have been to celebrate the family, to celebrate large, loving families than to do so in the Vatican and with the Holy Father!

POPE FRANCIS - Large Families

Giuseppe and Raffaella Butturini, an Italian couple with 10 children, organized this remarkable encounter. They had written the Pope previously and asked him to celebrate their anniversary at the Vatican and he immediately said ‘yes.’

The couple said in an interview that the National Association of Large Families was born “when two fathers, who were shopping, met at a supermarket back in August 2004. They were looking at the same fish and thinking the same thing: ‘Oh, it would be great to have this for lunch, if we could only afford it…’. It was too expensive for someone who had to provide for four or six children.” Heads were put together and the rest, as they say, is history.

The gathering included some families from outside of Italy.

“You have come here with the most beautiful fruits of your love. Maternity and paternity are gifts from God, your task is to receive this gift, to be amazed by its beauty and to let it shine in society. Each one of your children is a unique creation that will never be repeated in the history of humanity. When we understand this, that each person is willed by God, we are astonished by the great miracle that is a child.”

“And you, boys and girls,” he said to the children who were all sitting together, “are precisely this: each one of you is the unique fruit of love, you come from love and grow in love. You are unique, but you are not alone. And the fact of having brothers and sisters is good for you: the sons and daughters of large families are more inclined to fraternal communion from early childhood. In a world that is frequently marked by selfishness, the large family is a school of solidarity and sharing; and these attitudes are of benefit to all society.”

“You, children and young people, are the fruit of the tree that is the family: you are good fruit when the tree has good roots – grandparents – and a good trunk – the parents. … The presence of large families is a hope for society.” He then had very special words for grandparents: “This is why the presence of grandparents is very important: a valuable presence both in terms of practical assistance, but above all for their contribution to education. Grandparents preserve the values of a people, of a family, and they help parents transmit them to their children. Throughout the last century, in many countries in Europe, it was the grandparents who transmitted faith.”

“Dear parents,” exclained Francis, “thank you for your example of love for life that you protect from conception to its natural end, in spite of all the difficulties and burdens of life, that unfortunately public institutions do not always help you to bear. … Every family is a cell of society, but the large family is a richer, more vital cell, and the state has much to gain by investing in it.”

In closing, the Pope prayed for “those families who are most affected by the economic crisis, those in which the mother or father have lost their jobs and in which the young are unable to find work, and those families in which the closest relationships are marked by suffering and who are tempted to give in to loneliness and separation.” (source VIS)

POPE COMMENTS ON MISSING PLANE, FERRY DISASTER

At the Angelus Sunday, Pope Francis spoke of separate accidents in the Mediterranean, one of which involved two merchant ships and another with a ferry boat that caught on fire en route from Greece to Italy, and said “I am close with my affection and prayer to the families and loved ones who are undergoing these difficult situations with apprehension and suffering” and also to those involved in the rescue operations. He said his thoughts were also with those on board the missing AirAsia plane that disappeared during a flight between Indonesia and Singapore.”

The missing plane with 162 people aboard, has not yet been found. A total of eight people have died in the ferry boat fire, while most passengers were rescued (as I write) by other ships or saved by helicopters. The ferry, the Norman Atlantic, did not sink but smoke was still billowing after the fire was contained.

Sunday was the feast of the Holy Family and the Pope noted that the Holy Family – the infant Jesus, his mother Mary and St. Joseph – are a shining example of mercy and salvation for the entire world.  “This light which comes from the Holy Family encourages us to offer human warmth in those family situation in which, for various reasons, there is a lack of peace and harmony and forgiveness. Our concrete solidarity is just as present, especially when it comes to families who are undergoing difficult situations because of illness, lack of work, discrimination and the need to emigrate.”

At is often his wont, Francise departed from his prepared text and asked the faithful to pray with him in silence for families facing these difficulties and who lack understanding and unity. He asked them to remember that Jesus is “the source of that love which unites family and people, overcoming every mistrust, isolation and distance.”

He then spoke of the role of grandparents, as he did in his earlier meeting with large families, noting “how important” their presence is within the family and society as a whole. “A good relationship between young and old people is a key element in the functioning of the civil and ecclesial community. … When we look at the elderly couple in the Bible, Simeon and Anna, let’s “give a round of applause to all the grandparents in the world.”

FATHER LOMBARDI ON PAPAL HIGHLIGHTS OF 2014

(Vatican Radio) Father Federico Lombardi S.J., highlights some of the events that have made 2014 an extremely busy and significant year for Pope Francis.

In a long interview with Vatican Radio, the Director of the Vatican Press Office lists an impressive number of events, speeches, journeys and appeals pronounced by Pope Francis in the year gone by, and says that perhaps the most powerful images to linger in our minds are those of the Pope amongst the people: his reaching out to the faithful in every circumstance, the warmth of his embrace in particular towards children,  people with disabilities or ill health.

Listing the five international apostolic journeys undertaken by Pope Francis this year, Lombardi says that each of them carried within a particular message that places the Church at the center of all the current issues of our times. During 2014 the Pope travelled to the Holy Land, to Korea, to Albania, to Strasbourg and to Turkey, and Lombardi has words for each of these visits.

He is happy, he says, that the Pope travelled to the Holy Land because it is like a journey to the roots of our faith, to the roots of Christianity, to the very places of the history of Salvation, and this he says “has a strong symbolic and spiritual power”. And pointing out the ecumenical aspect of his Holy Land visit, Lombardi speaks in particular of the strong personal relationship Pope Francis has interwoven with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and of  how this is so important for the achievement of full Christian Unity.

And speaking of the Pope’s journey to Korea, Lombardi points out that in a couple of weeks Pope Francis will again return to the Asian continent when he journeys to Sri Lanka and to the Philippines. These visits – Lombardi points out – signal a renewed attention of the Church towards a “predominant portion of today’s and tomorrow’s humanity, both from a demographic point of view” and because of its incredible diversity: “a borderless land for evangelization in social, cultural and political situations of all kinds”.

Regarding Europe, Lombardi says that the Pope’s short journey to Albania was meaningful also for his desire to start from the periphery before going to the heart of the Continent – represented by his trip to Strasbourg when he addressed the  European Parliament and the Council of Europe; a particularly powerful and wide-ranging speech with the added weight of his own non-European  provenance and  viewpoint.

And finally Turkey, where the significance of ecumenism was again highlighted together with interfaith dialogue and his forceful “reaching out” to the Christians (and other minorities) in the Middle East who are pouring across borders to flee persecution and death.

Another important feature of 2014 mentioned by Father Lombardi pertained to the canonizations of Saint John XXIII, Saint John Paul II and the beatification of the Blessed Paul VI. He points out that the common denominator of these great events is the message of the Second Vatican Council which was at the heart of the ministry of these three Popes, a message of an “open Church” that deeply marks the ministry of Francis himself.

The Synod for the Family, Lombardi says,  provides another important theme for the year as does the Pope’s unwavering attention for justice and peace, for the poor, for those who are exploited, for human trafficking, for those persecuted for their faith.

Father Lombardi recalls the innumerable appeals Pope Francis made this year to not turn away from the dramatic situation in Syria and in Iraq, for the need to protect and support migrants and refugees, for attention towards the terrible reality of new forms of slavery including human trafficking. The Pope – Lombardi says – has mobilized the Church and all men and women of goodwill on each of these pressing issues.

Not to be forgotten is Pope Francis’s clear wish to bring reform to the Church itself and to the Curia, which Lombardi says, is part of a wide ranging project that he formulated in his Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”.

Concluding, Father Lombardi says there is a concept we could use to sum up and characterize Pope Francis’ 2014 and that is: his “culture of encounter”. The Pope’s attitude, the way he relates to people, the way he always offers his personality, his personal experience, his friendship as well as this thoughts and ideas really does bring about “the encounter between people,” just as both the American and Cuban Presidents pointed out when they thanked him for providing them with a new dimension in which to start building a bridge between their peoples.

TWAS THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS…. – “JESUS IS THE SALVATION FOR EVERY PERSON” – FEAST OF ST. STEPHEN, FIRST MARTYR OF THE CHURCH

TWAS THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS….

Pope Francis tweeted the following today, December 26, feast of St. Stephen, protomartyr: Let us pray today for all those who are persecuted for their Christian faith.

Today is a big holiday here in Italy and also part of the holiday period given to Vatican employees. It has been a beautiful day here in Rome, with blue skies and brilliant sun shining down on the tens of thousands of pilgrims who have come to Rome for Christmas, most of whom, at some point of another, also visited the Vatican, either to attend the Christmas vigil Mass on the 24th or be in St. Peter’s Square Christmas Day for the twice-annual Urbi et Orbi message and blessing from the Pope and again today for the Angelus.

With so many people out of the city for the holidays, either visiting relatives and friends or spending time at a second home in the mountains or near the sea, Rome has been fairly quiet as far as traffic goes. Busses ran until 9 pm on Decembet 24 and only a few hours in the morning on Christmas Day and again for a few hours in late afternoon. The quiet and peace has been a real gift!

I attended the vigil Mass on December 24 with the Santa Susanna community – one of the very rare times in my life I have not gone on Christmas Day. It was a family tradition to attend Mass on Christmas morning and that is pretty much what I have done every year.

The first vigil Mass – truly a Midnight Mass – that I ever recall attending was in Zermatt, Switzerland, a two-hour drive south of Fribourg where I spent my junior year in college. We spent a week here on Christmas vacation – most of us learning how to ski! – and then a week in Vienna. As no cars were allowed in Zermatt, the only transportation was walking, skiing or by sled – and that is how we went to Mass! In a sled! Singing wonderful Christmas carols! A magical, unique, unforgettable moment.

The second Midnight Mass I attended was December 24-25, 1993 when I was a reader for the Eucharist presided over by John Paul II! I had wanted to be home for Christmas to mark the first anniversary of my Dad’s death but was unable to for work reasons. My Mom was devastated – she so wanted me home but we were together in a way neither of us could have expected. When I was asked to read (twice, as I also read an introductory piece in English about the meaning of Christmas) at the papal Christmas Mass, I called Mom immediately and told her we would be together, though separated by miles, thanks to television!

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Christmas was beautiful this year in so many ways – the remarkably special liturgy with the Santa Susanna community and then the wonderful dinner party last night with friends, including the mother of a priest friend who works at the Vatican. Marge is here for the Christmas holidays and it was a joy to have her for a turkey dinner. I spent most of the day in the kitchen, as demanded by a turkey dinner but it was all worth it when all the guests went back for seconds (a second serving seems to be a mandatory party of a turkey meal).

It had been fun to decorate my home and then share it with friends, as I hope to do in coming days – maybe even weeks. Many friends who work at the Vatican have taken 10 or 12 days off (some even longer) so we will celebrate the New Year as well when they get back.

I have a number of beautiful nativity scenes – 3 from Bethlehem (two were gifts when I spent Christmas there – this should be the 11th commandment – Christians must spend one Christmas in Bethlehem!), a Mexican one and a magnificent Lladro nativity scene. I set up one Bethlehem nativity scene and the Lladro nativity as well. Here are a few photos of those nativity scenes and a few of my house (for my family):

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The centerpiece on my table was given to me by Claudio and Palmerina, owners of La Vittoria restaurant, near my home. Here is a photo of the nativity scene they have every year in the restaurant (can you imagine a restaurant in the US. doing this?! Some person or group would protest – so much for freedom of expression!)

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Following is Pope Francis Christmas Day message and blessing and his words at the Angelus today, feast of St. Stephen.

“JESUS IS THE SALVATION FOR EVERY PERSON”

Urbi et Orbi Message of Pope Francis Thursday 25 December 2014

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy Christmas!

Jesus, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, is born for us, born in Bethlehem of a Virgin, fulfilling the ancient prophecies.  The Virgin’s name is Mary, the wife of Joseph.

Humble people, full of hope in the goodness of God, are those who welcome Jesus and recognize him.  And so the Holy Spirit enlightened the shepherds of Bethlehem, who hastened to the grotto and adored the Child.  Then the Spirit led the elderly and humble couple Simeon and Anna into the temple of Jerusalem, and they recognized in Jesus the Messiah.  “My eyes have seen your salvation”, Simeon exclaimed, “the salvation prepared by God in the sight of all peoples” (Lk 2:30).

Yes, brothers and sisters, Jesus is the salvation for every person and for every people!

Today I ask him, the Saviour of the world, to look upon our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria, who for too long now have suffered the effects of ongoing conflict, and who, together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution.  May Christmas bring them hope, as indeed also to the many displaced persons, exiles and refugees, children, adults and elderly, from this region and from the whole world.  May indifference be changed into closeness and rejection into hospitality, so that all who now are suffering may receive the necessary humanitarian help to overcome the rigours of winter, return to their countries and live with dignity.  May the Lord open hearts to trust, and may he bestow his peace upon the whole Middle East, beginning with the land blessed by his birth, thereby sustaining the efforts of those committed effectively to dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

May Jesus, Saviour of the world, protect all who suffer in Ukraine, and grant that their beloved land may overcome tensions, conquer hatred and violence, and set out on a new journey of fraternity and reconciliation.

May Christ the Saviour give peace to Nigeria, where [even in these hours] more blood is being shed and too many people are unjustly deprived of their possessions, held as hostages or killed.  I invoke peace also on the other parts of the African continent, thinking especially of Libya, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and various regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I beseech all who have political responsibility to commit themselves through dialogue to overcoming differences and to building a lasting, fraternal coexistence.

May Jesus save the vast numbers of children who are victims of violence, made objects of trade and trafficking, or forced to become soldiers; children, so many abused children.  May he give comfort to the families of the children killed in Pakistan last week.  May he be close to all who suffer from illness, especially the victims of the Ebola epidemic, above all in Liberia, in Sierra Leone and in Guinea.  As I thank all who are courageously dedicated to assisting the sick and their family members, I once more make an urgent appeal that the necessary assistance and treatment be provided.

The Child Jesus.  My thoughts turn to all those children today who are killed and ill-treated, be they infants killed in the womb, deprived of that generous love of their parents and then buried in the egoism of a culture that does not love life; be they children displaced due to war and persecution, abused and taken advantage of before our very eyes and our complicit silence. I think also of those infants massacred in bomb attacks, also those where the Son of God was born.  Even today, their impotent silence cries out under the sword of so many Herods. On their blood stands the shadow of contemporary Herods.  Truly there are so many tears this Christmas, together with the tears of the Infant Jesus.

Dear brothers and sisters, may the Holy Spirit today enlighten our hearts, that we may recognize in the Infant Jesus, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, the salvation given by God to each one of us, to each man and woman and to all the peoples of the earth.  May the power of Christ, which brings freedom and service, be felt in so many hearts afflicted by war, persecution and slavery.  May this divine power, by its meekness, take away the hardness of heart of so many men and women immersed in worldliness and indifference, the globalization of indifference.  May his redeeming strength transform arms into ploughshares, destruction into creativity, hatred into love and tenderness.  Then we will be able to cry out with joy: “Our eyes have seen your salvation”.

With these thoughts I wish you all a Happy Christmas!

FEAST OF ST. STEPHEN, FIRST MARTYR OF THE CHURCH

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today the liturgy recalls the witness of Saint Stephen. Chosen by the Apostles, together with six others, for the diaconate of charity in the community of Jerusalem, he became the first martyr of the Church. With his martyrdom, Stephen honored the coming into the world of the King of kings, offering to Him the gift of his own life. And so he shows us how to live the fullness of the mystery of Christmas.

The Gospel of this feast gives a part of Jesus’ discourse to his disciples in the moment in which He sends them on mission. Among other things, He says, “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.” (Mt 10:22). These words of the Lord do not disrupt the celebration of Christmas, but strip it of that false saccharine-sweetness that does not belong to it. It makes us understand that in the trials accepted on account of the faith, violence is overcome by love, death by life.

To truly welcome Jesus in our existence, and to prolong the joy of the Holy Night, the path is precisely the one indicated in this Gospel: that is, to bear witness in humility, in silent service, without fear of going against the current, able to pay in person. And if not all are called, as Saint Stephen was, to shed their own blood, nonetheless, every Christian is called in every circumstance to be to live a life that is coherent with the faith he or she professes.

Following the Gospel is certainly a demanding path, but those who travel it with fidelity and courage receive the gift promised by the Lord to men and women of good will.

At Bethlehem, in fact, the angels announced to the shepherds, “on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests” (Lk 2:14). This peace given by God is able to soothe the conscience of those who, through the trials of life, know to welcome the Word of God and observe it with perseverance to the end (cf. Mt 10:22).

Today let us pray in a special way for all those who are discriminated against because of their witness to Christ. I want to say to each of them: If you carry this cross with love, you have entered into the mystery of Christmas, you are in the heart of Jesus and of the Church. Let us pray also that, thanks to the sacrifices of the martyrs of today, the commitment to recognize and concretely to ensure religious liberty — an inalienable right of every human person — would be strengthened in every part of the world.

Dear brothers and sisters, I hope all of you will enjoy a peaceful Christmas feast. May Saint Stephen, Deacon and Proto-martyr, sustain on our daily path all of us, who hope to be crowned, in the end, in the festive assembly of the Saints in paradise.

AFTER THE ANGELUS

Dear brothers and sisters, I greet you in the joy of Christmas and I renew my best wishes for peace for all of you: peace in families, in parishes and religious communities, in movements, and in associations. I greet everyone named Stephen or Stephanie: Best wishes!

In these past few weeks I have received so many Christmas greetings from Rome, and elsewhere. Because it is not possible for me to respond to each one, I want to express today my heartfelt thanks for all of them, especially for the gift of prayer. Thank you from the heart! May the Lord repay your generosity.

And don’t forget: Christian coherence — that is, thinking, feeling, and living as a Christian. And not to think as a Christian and live like a pagan. Not that! Today let us ask Stephen for the gift of Christian coherence… And please, continue to pray for me. Don’t forget!

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN IRAQ!

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN IRAQ!

Together with Pope Francis I am, in my prayers, thoughts and heart, with my brothers and sisters in Kurdistan, so many of whom I met and got to know on my two visits. We prayed together, shared meals, and had long conversations. I visited churches, convents, schools, kindergartens and homes – many memories, many friends, all of whom have been in my heart since the day I first set foot on Iraqi soil. Archbishops Bashar Warda of Erbil and Amel Nona of Mosul, two very good friends, are especially in my prayers tonight, the birth of Our Lord and Savior. God sit on your shoulders, my dear friends! May He bless you abundantly and preserve you in faith and hope! Merry Christmas!

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis this evening telephoned refugees sheltered in Kurdistan to express his closeness to them on Christmas night.

Christmas - IRAQ

The telephone call to Father Benoca, who heads the Christian community in the Ankawa Refugee Center near Erbil, the capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan, was broadcast live by an Italian Catholic TV station.

Thousands of persecuted Christians have sought refuge in the camp following the invasion of Islamic State militants of Mosul.

Over the telephone line, the Pope told refugees that he is “close to them with all of his heart” and assured him he praying for them.

“You are like Jesus on the night of his birth when he had been forced to flee. You are like Jesus in this situation, and that means we are praying even harder for you”.

“Dear brothers – Pope Francis said – I am very, very close to you with all of my heart. May the Lord caress you with His tenderness”

http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-to-refugees-in-kurdistan-you-are-like-jesus-t

Bishops, patriarchs, teachers, seminarians, nuns taking their final vows, kindergarten classes, Masses in churches throughout Kurdistan – today, now, where are these many friends with whom I shared so much?!

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And these friends – the nuns, but especially the little children – where are they? How are they? So many were from Mosul!

POPE FRANCIS’ CHRISTMAS TALK TO ROMAN CURIA (IN A NUTSHELL) – CARDINAL TAURAN IS NEW CAMERLENGO OF HOLY ROMAN CHURCH – MY CHRISTMAS GIFT TO YOU: “ONE SOLITARY LIFE” – THE BEAUTY AND SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS ARE ALIVE AND WELL

I am taking a few days off during the Christmas season so this column will be sporadic – but always feel free to check in, as well as to visit my Facebook page (facebook.com/joan.lewis.10420) where I will be posting photos of Christmas in Roman, the nativity scenes around the city, etc. Tomorrow, this column will not appear but I will be working to prepare my weekend radio show, “Vatican Insider,” and will also be live at 9:39 (ET) with Teresa Tomeo on our weekly get-together on “Catholic Connection” (but coming to you a day earlier than our usual Wednesday appointment. I’ll also be off Christmas Eve and Christmas Day!

Although things have improved immmensely, I am still being treated for phlebitis and my doctor cautioned against air travel, especially a long trip to California. I missed Christmas with family last year as well because of eye surgery. However, when God gives you a lemon, you make limoncello! I am determined to make this a beautiful, memorable Christmas – my house is decorated and I have put up a wonderful tree, including ornaments from my grandmother, ones Mom and Dad bought over the years as we were growing up and many beautiful ones I have collected on travels or received as gifts. It took longer than usual to decorate the tree, simply because I was lost in the flood of memories of beautiful Christmases past as I unwrapped each ornament!

I am excited about hosting friends for turkey dinner on Christmas Day, and have put gifts under the tree for them. My biggest gifts are my friends, those who will be with me Christmas day and the many others I will see or host at my home over the Christmas seasons.

In lieu of sending Christmas cards to family and friends around the word, I am making some special purchases to bring to Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner who is in charge of the papal blessings office and the Pope’s point man for distributing papal charity. You may have seen the news that the Vatican is building three showers for the homeless in space that is adjacent to the public bathrooms, just off the right hand colonnade of St. Peter’s Square. Bit by bit, I am buying quantities of underwear and socks to bring to the archbishop as these items, along with towels, will be needed when a homeless person showers. This is, in a way, a Christmas gift to Pope Francis whose idea this was!

I will miss everyone in my family, of course, especially the little ones, two of whom I have not met: Charlotte, 14 months old and Harry, 2 months old! He is Number 20 of my great nieces and nephews!

Here they are, in all their splendor. I have several photos of Harry but seem unable to process them for this column.

My niece, Susan Tompkins Smith has three children – Austin, Jr (AJ), Nathan and Charlotte.SMITH CHILDREN

SMITH FAMILY - SUSAN AND CHARLOTTE

Charlotte was a San Diego Charger fan even when very little:SMITH FAMILY - young Charger fan

Harry is the first child for my youngest niece, Julie Lewis Stauter and Jeff. I have a feeling he will be a Chicago Bears fan! He has the Lewis trademark red hair and blue eyes!HARRY STAUTER

For important Vatican and papal news, you can always access news.va for updates. The Roman Curia holdays are December 24 through the 27, then December 31 and January 1. Many officials and staff members take advantage of those six days, and add a few to create a 10-day or two week vacation period but, as you will see, many of my colleagues in the Vatican media will be working to keep you posted on all events.

Today, I offer you a nutshell version of Pope Francis’ talk to officials of the Roman Curia, a link to his entire, surprising speech, and also a link to his words to employees of Vatican City and the Roman Curia and their family members.

I’ve been so involved in work and in plans for my own holidays that I did not realize that I could have (should have) attended this audience as “retired” Vatican employees were more than welcome! I discovered when I went to Vatican City this morning that the post offices, grocery store, and health services were all closed (the bank was open) so that employees could participate. The errands I intended to run this morning are now on my agenda for tomorrow morning.

Do you want to make God laugh? Tell Him your plans for the day!

I have some gifts for you, as you will see: The first is the must-read “ONE SOLITARY LIFE,” and I follow that with several stories that truly reflect the spirit and beauty of the Christmas Season – all this after the Vatican stories!

P.S: Only 5,000 more hits and my video of the dancing seminarians will hit 2 million views!

Before I close this special Christmas column, I’d like to wish all my readers and radio listeners and TV viewers a blessed, beautiful and holy Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year filled with many special moments and people. God sit on your shoulder!

POPE FRANCIS’ CHRISTMAS TALK TO ROMAN CURIA (IN A NUTSHELL)

Not many smiling faces this morning after the first few minutes of Pope Francis’ Christmas greetings to the top officials of the Roman Curia, those who head the congregations, councils, commissions, tribunals, etc, Below is a nutshell account of the papal talk by Vatican radio, a talk that several media defined as “a blistering critique” of the Curia. After his meeting with Curia officials, the Holy Father greeted employees of Vatican City and the Roman Curia.

For more on those talks, please click here:

http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-francis-to-vatican-employees-christmas-a-time

http://www.visnews-en.blogspot.it/2014/12/francis-curia-that-is-outdated.html

Pope Francis received the heads and other senior officials of the departments of the Roman Curia on Monday, in their traditional exchange of Christmas greetings. In remarks prepared for the occasion and delivered Monday morning, the Holy Father focused on the need for those who serve in the curia – especially those in positions of power and authority – to remember and cultivate an attitude and a spirit of service.

“Sometimes,” said Pope Francis, “[Officials of the Curia] feel themselves ‘lords of the manor’ [It. padroni] – superior  to everyone and everything,” forgetting that the spirit, which should animate them in their lives of service to the universal Church, is one of humility and generosity, especially in view of the fact that none of us will live forever on this earth.

This “disease” of  feeling “immortal” or “essential” – irreplaceable – was one of fifteen maladies, which Pope Francis identified during the course of his address: from a tendency to prefer Martha’s portion over Mary’s, to over-planning (and micromanaging), to wearing being a perpetual downer and wearing a “funeral face” all the day long.

“These and other maladies and temptations,” said Pope Francis, “are a danger for every Christian and for any administrative organization, community, congregation, parish, ecclesial movement, etc., and can strike at both the individual and the corporate level.”

“It is the Holy Spirit,” continued the Holy Father, “who sustains every sincere effort at purification and every authentic desire for conversion. He is the one, who makes us understand that every member participates in the sanctification of the [mystical] body [of Christ, which is the Church], and to its corruption.”

“Therefore,” said Pope Francis, “we are called in this Christmas season and for the whole period of our service – for so long as we exist – to live, ‘[according to] truth in charity, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and up-builds itself in love’(Eph. 4:15-16).”

CARDINAL TAURAN IS NEW CAMERLENGO OF HOLY ROMAN CHURCH

Pope Francis on Saturday, December 20, named Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran as Camerlengo of Holy Roman Church, replacing Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who turned 80 on December 2 and therefore cannot participate in a conclave. The much-admired and highly respected French cardinal was for years under John Paul II the extraordinarily able Secretary for Relations with States.

As Camerlengo (chamberlain) he is the administrator of the property and revenues of the Holy See during the Sede Vacante (vacant see – from which we get our word ‘vacancy’) or during the absence of the Pope, doing so without taking extraordinary initiatives. Upon the death of a Pope, the camerlengo’s task is to certify the death and inform the cardinal vicar of Rome, who is entrusted with the task of revealing the news to the people. The camerlengo takes possession of the Ring of the Fisherman and destroys it and all other papal seals. He seals off the papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, in the Lateran Palace and in Castelgandolfo.

This marks the beginning of the sede vacante, a period when the camerlengo prepares the papal funeral and subsequent nine days of mourning, the ”novendialis.” The camerlengo also starts to prepare the pre-conclave General Congregations, which are chaired by the cardinal-deacon of the College of Cradinals. Today, that is Cardinal Angelo Sodano, 87. During the sede vacante, the camerlengo’s coat of arms, composed of 30 red ribbons like all cardinals, is also topped with the banner of the Pope and two crossed keys that are surmounted by the papal tiara.

During the sede vacante, the camerlengo can also mint new coins that, even if they have legal tender, will never be put in circulation as they are exclusively intended for collectors. The coins portray his coat of arms, with the words “Sede Vacante” and the year of issue.

Cardinal Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, has been a close collaborator of Pope Francis in his reform of the Roman Curia and IOR, the Vatican bank. (some background from AGI)

 MY CHRISTMAS GIFT TO YOU: “ONE SOLITARY LIFE”

This powerful Christmas column by late columnist Jimmy Bishop will surely leave you speechless for its beauty, simplicity and yet depth of understanding. Here is the Christ of Christmas! Andy Williams recited this in one of his Christmas albums (which is where I first heard it) and you can listen to it online.

“He was born in an obscure village, the Child of a peasant teen who knew not man. He grew up in another obscure village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never married or owned a home. He never held a job, yet paid taxes. He never set foot inside a metropolis. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never wrote a book, or held an office. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. He received no awards, no medals, no prizes from His peers.

“While He was still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him. His friends deserted Him. He was turned over to His enemies, and went through the mockery of a trial. He had no lawyers, no friendly juries, no fair hearing. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While He was dying, His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had – His cloak. After He died, He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave. Those who stood watch could not explain His disappearance.

“And yet two thousand years have come and gone, and today He is still the central figure for much of the human race. All the armies that ever marched and al the navies that ever sailed and all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as this ‘One Solitary Life’.”

THE BEAUTY AND SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS ARE ALIVE AND WELL

Here are three smaller gifts for you, three heartwarming stories that reflect the beauty and spirit of Christmas. The video, “Mary, Did You know?” is a must see, truly. It has had 14 million views and you find that you drop whatever you are doing just to listen!

POPE DONATES SLEEPING BAGS TO HOMELESS: Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, supervised the distribution of hundreds of sleeping bags to the homeless of Rome, as a gift from Pope Francis, on December 18. Swiss Guards drove a minibus around the city on Wednesday evening, stopping at sites where homeless people are known the gather, handing out the sleeping bags—which were decorated with the papal insignia. Nearly 400 were distributed.

STUDENT RAISES THOUSANDS FOR HOMELESS MAN WHO OFFERED HER TAXI MONEY (The Guardian – Abby Young-Powell): An art student living in Preston has raised over £21,000 for a homeless man after she says he offered her his last £3 so that she could get a taxi home safely.

Dominique Harrison-Bentzen, who studies at the University of Central Lancashire, says she had lost her bank card and needed to get home after a night out when the homeless man, known only as Robbie, offered money to help. The 22-year-old says she declined the offer, but was so moved by his gesture that she started a campaign to raise enough money to help him get a flat. She set up a donation page and asked people to each donate £3 for her fundraiser, which involved spending the night on the street, along with supporters who had heard about her story through social media.

Harrison-Bentzen says: “I suddenly realised that I had no money and a homeless man approached me with his only change of £3. He insisted I took it to pay for a taxi to make sure I got home safe. I was touched by such a kind gesture from a man who faces ignorance every day, so I set on a mission to find this man. The more I spoke about him the more kind gestures I learned about him, such as him returning wallets untouched to pedestrians and offering his scarf to keep people warm.

“He has been homeless for 7 months through no fault of his own and needs to get back on his feet but cannot get work due to having no address. So that’s when I decided to change Robbie’s life and help him, as he has helped many others.” The campaign has received global attention, going viral on social media. Since the donation page was set up, it has frequently reported technical difficulties due to “an unusually high number of visitors”. Many have tweeted their support, including Ian Brown of the Stone Roses.

A CAPPELLA GROUP OFFERS INCREDIBLE CHRISTMAS TRIBUTE TO MARY: The a cappella group Pentatonix has released an incredible rendition of the hymn “Mary, Did You Know?“, set in a candlelit cave with no instruments but their voices. It currently has over 14 million views on YouTube. What a beautiful Christmas tribute to Mary! With only five members, the group Pentatonix is one of the most popular musical acts of this Christmas season. Pentatonix was formed in 2011 when they competed and became the victors of the TV show “The Sing-Off,” before rising to global fame.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifCWN5pJGIE

ST. PETER’S SQUARE – LIGHTING OF CHRISTMAS TREE, NATIVITY SCENE

ST. PETER’S SQUARE – LIGHTING OF CHRISTMAS TREE, NATIVITY SCENE

Christmas tree was donated by the Italian region of Calabria, which Pope Francis visited in June, and the Nativity scene was prepared by the city of Verona, known for its opera. See the full story behind each of these gifts on my previous blog – LET THERE BE LIGHT!

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