Pope Francis is 78 today and I’ve been thinking how much I’d like to see all the goodies – the cakes and cookies and Argentinian specialities and flowers and cards – that have undoubtedly arrived in the Vatican and at the Santa Marta residence for Pope Francis. I think it is a sure bet that the Pope is sharing all of the edibles with the less fortunate – perhaps the homeless and many others who frequent the Dono di Maria run by the Missionaries of Charity, located just a few yards from the left hand colonnade of St. Peter’s Square.

I think you will really enjoy the Pope’s catechesis on the family today – a theme he began last week and will develop over quite a period of time. When he speaks, you somehow picture him sitting around your dining room table and telling you about the Holy Family, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, a young baby, then a growing lad, then an adult who, only at the age of 30, leaves home to undertake the mission given him by God the Father.

I picture Pope Francis as he tells this story, then looks around the table to see our reaction, and then delights as we turn off the lights, bring in a cake with lit candles, sing “Happy Birthday” and cut into it with great joy.

How I’d love to slip into the Santa Marta dining room tonight!

I don’t have much more at this moment but here are a few lines from Reuters about the Vatican assistance in the release of American Alan Gross from Cuba:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Negotiations for the release of ailing U.S. aid worker Alan Gross lasted for about a year, with significant involvement by the Vatican, U.S. Senator Richard Durbin told Reuters on Wednesday. Durbin said the White House called him on Tuesday night with the news of Gross’ pending release. “I was overjoyed by this news,” Durbin told Reuters by telephone from Joint Base Andrews, a military base outside of Washington, where Gross was expected to land within hours.


Pope Francis turned 78 today, amidst great joy and celebrations in St. Peter’s Square, before and during the weekly general audience and all day long as cards, letters and telegrams arrived from around the world, many of which were read on Vatican Radio.

As he made his way through the crowds, Pope Francis stopped by a group of seminarians from the Legion of Christ, who offered him a birthday cake, complete with lighted candles. The Holy Father also took the opportunity to take a sip of maté, a traditional Argentinian drink, offered by pilgrims at the audience. Over 2,500 tango enthusiasts danced on Via della Conciliazione, the board avenue leading up to St Peter’s Square, for the birthday of the first Pope from Latin America. (Photo from news.va)

POPE FRANCIS - birthday

The Holy Father also received 1,760 pounds of chicken meat for the poor, provided by a Spanish producer and the Vatican said the meat would be distributed to soup kitchens. As he toured St. Peter’s Square in the opem jeep under clear, sunny skies (a real change from the weather this past week!) little children stopped to hand him cards and he seemed especially delighted with the hand-drawn greetings.

Though Pope Francis made no reference to his birthday during the audience, the monsignori from the Secretariat of State who read the summaries of the papal catechesis in different languages, did wish the Holy Father a very Happy Birthday.

Vatican Radio published a prayer for Pope Francis:

V. Let us pray for Francis, the Pope.

R. May the Lord preserve him, give him a long life, make him blessed upon the earth, and may the Lord not hand him over to the power of his enemies. V. May Your hand be upon Your holy servant.

R. And upon Your son whom you have anointed. Let us pray. O God, the Pastor and Ruler of all the faithful, look down, in your mercy, upon your servant, Francis, whom you have appointed to preside over your Church; and grant, we beseech you, that both by word and example, he may edify all those under his charge; so that, with the flock entrusted to him, he may arrive at length unto life everlasting. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

During today’s audience, Francis asked for prayers for the victims of the “inhuman terror attacks perpetrated in the past days in Sydney, Australia and in Peshawar, Pakistan.” And he asked those present to join him in his prayers to the Lord “to receive the deceased in peace, to bring comfort to their families and to convert the hearts of the violent who do not hold back even before children!”

Taliban militants in Pakistan killed at least 132 children and 9 staff members at a school in Peshawar on Tuesday, and an Islamist militant killed two people during a siege on a café in Sydney on Monday, and was himself killed by police.

The Pope’s appeal came after his second catechesis in preparation for next October’s Ordinary Synod of Bishops. He said that the Extraordinary Synod that took place last October represented the first step of a journey that will conclude next year with another synodal assembly on the theme “Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the World.” Francis said that his weekly Wednesday prayers and meditations are part of that common journey, and that is why he has chosen to reflect, this year, on the family: “this great gift of the Lord to the world, right from the beginning, when he entrusted Adam and Eve with the mission to “be fruitful, increase in number and fill the earth.”

The proximity to Christmas illuminates the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God, he said, and this opens a new chapter in the universal history of man and woman. “And this new beginning occurs within a family, in Nazareth. He could have come spectacularly or as a warrior, an emperor… No, he came as the son of a family, in a family.”

Francis explained that, “God chose to be born “in a human family, that He Himself had formed. He created this family in a remote village in the outer reaches of the Roman Empire. Not in Rome, the capital of the Empire, not in a great city, but in an almost invisible and somewhat notorious periphery. This is even noted in the Gospel, almost as if it were a turn of phrase: ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Perhaps, in many parts of the world, we too still speak in this way when we hear the name of certain peripheral areas of large cities. And yet, it was precisely there, in the outskirts of the great Empire, that there began the most holy and good story of Jesus among mankind.”

Jesus, noted the Pope, stayed in that periphery for over 30 years as narrated by Luke, and many people say today “what a waste, 30 years at home.” There were no miracles or preaching, but just a very normal family life. Pope Francis spoke of the tenderness aroused by the descriptions of Jesus’ life as an adolescent who was raised in an atmosphere of religious devotion, learning from the words and examples of Mary and Joseph, and growing in wisdom, age and grace.

“Every Christian family – as Mary and Joseph did – must first welcome Jesus, listen to Him, speak with Him, shelter Him, protect Him, grow with Him; and in this way, make the world better. Let us make space in our heart and in our days for the Lord. This is what Mary and Joseph did, and it was not easy: how many difficulties they had to overcome! It was not a false or unreal family. The family of Nazareth calls to us to rediscover the vocation and the mission of the family, of every family. And so what happened in those thirty years in Nazareth can also happen to us: making love, not hate, normal; mutual help common, instead of indifference and hostility. It is not by chance that Nazareth means ‘she who preserves’, like Mary who, as the Gospel tells us, ‘treasured all these things in her heart’. From then on, whenever there is a family that preserves this mystery, even if it should be at the outer reaches of the world, the mystery of the Son of God is at work. And He comes to save the world.”

At the end of the audience, 2,500 people danced the milonga to the sound of the bandoneon near St. Peter’s Square to celebrate Pope Francis’ 78th birthday. The initiative, “A tango for Francis,” emerged on the social networks and, as was seen earlier today, thousands of people joined in. (Source: Vatican Radio, VIS)


As anticipated, the Holy Father has nominated new members of the Commission for the Protection of Minors, chosen from various parts of the world, so as to allow a broad representation of different situations and cultures.

The complete composition of the Commission is therefore as follows:

Cardinal Seán O’MALLEY, OFM Cap. (United States), president

Mons. Robert OLIVER (United States), secretary

Rev. Luis Manuel ALI HERRERA (Colombia)

Dr. Catherine BONNET (France)

Marie COLLINS (Ireland)

Dr. Gabriel DY-LIACCO (Philippines)

Prof. Sheila the Baroness HOLLINS (England)

Bill KILGALLON (New Zealand)

Sr. Kayula Gertrude LESA, RSC (Zambia)

Sr. Hermenegild MAKORO, CPS (South Africa)

Kathleen McCORMACK AM (Australia) Dr. Claudio PAPALE (Italy)

Peter SAUNDERS (England)

Hon. Hanna SUCHOCKA (Poland)

Dr. Krysten WINTER-GREEN (United States)

Rev. Dr. Humberto Miguel YÁÑEZ, SJ (Argentina)

Rev. Dr. Hans ZOLLNER, SJ (Germany)

The next plenary session of the Commission will take place, as previously stated, in the Vatican on from 6-8 February 2015. Brief information on members of the Commission is given below.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap. (United States), archbishop of Boston, serves as the president of the Commission and is a member of the Council of Cardinals which advises Pope Francis.

Msgr. Robert Oliver (United States) serves as the Secretary of the Commission, following many years in child protection work for the Archdiocese of Boston, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as the Promoter of Justice.

Rev. Luis Manuel Ali Herrera (Colombia) is the Director of the Department of Psychology, professor of pastoral psychology in the Conciliar Seminary of the Archdiocese of Bogota, and as a parish priest.

Dr. Catherine Bonnet (France) is a child psychiatrist, psychotherapist, researcher, and author on child sexual abuse and perinatal violence and neglect.

Marie Collins (Ireland) is a survivor of child sexual abuse. A founder Trustee of the Marie Collins Foundation she served on the committee which drafted the Catholic Church’s all-Ireland child protection policy, “Our Children Our Church.”

Dr. Gabriel Dy-Liacco (Philippines) is an adult and adolescent psychotherapist and pastoral counsellor for various mental health concerns including of individuals, couples, families and groups, including victims and perpetrators of abuse.

Prof. Sheila the Baroness Hollins (England) has worked as a psychiatrist and psychotherapist with children and adults with intellectual disabilities including those who have been sexually abused, and is a life peer in the House of Lords.

Bill Kilgallon (New Zealand) is Director of the National Office for Professional Standards of the Catholic Church in New Zealand where he has lived for the last four years. Prior to that he had a long career in social work and health services in the UK.

Sr. Kayula Gertrude Lesa, RSC (Zambia) is a development professional, trainer and author on child protection, human trafficking, refugee rights and the right to information. She served as a member of the African Forum for Church Social Teaching (AFCAST).

Sr. Hermenegild Makoro, CPS (South Africa) is a member of the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood in the diocese of Mathatha in South Africa. She works as a high school teacher and for several years in the diocese as a trainer in pastoral work. After serving as an Associate Secretary General of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference for six years, Sr. Hermenegild was appointed as the Secretary General of the SACBC in 2012.

Kathleen McCormack (Australia) is a social welfare worker who served as Director of Welfare of Catholic Care in the Diocese of Wollongong for 29 years and held leadership roles in Family Services, Child Protection, Out Of Home Care and Ageing and Disability Services.

Dr. Claudio Papale (Italy) is a canon lawyer and a civil lawyer, professor of canon law at the Pontifical Urban University, and an official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Peter Saunders (England) was abused throughout his childhood in Wimbledon, South West London. Later in life, after earning a Business Studies degree, Peter discovered that he was one of millions who had suffered such abuse and who could not find any appropriate support. So he set up NAPAC, the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, for supporting all survivors and for developing greater resources for responding to child abuse.

Hon. Hanna Suchocka (Poland) is a professor of constitutional law and specialist in human rights at the University of Poznan, and was formerly Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland and Ambassador of Poland to the Holy See.

Dr. Krysten Winter-Green (United States) is a New Zealander with post-graduate degrees in Theology, Human Development, Social Work, Religion and Pastoral Psychology. She has served in dioceses around the world with homeless persons and those living with AIDS. Krysten’s concentration in the areas of child abuse include forensics, assessment and treatment of priest/clergy offenders.

Rev. Dr. Humberto Miguel Yanez, SJ (Argentina) is Director of the Department of Moral Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, professor of moral theology at the Gregorian and the Pontifical Urban University, and former Director of the Centre of Research and Social Action in Argentina.

Rev. Dr. Hans Zollner, SJ (Germany) is President of the Centre for Child Protection of the Pontifical Gregorian University and Director and Professor of the Institute of Psychology. He was Chair of the organising committee for the Symposium “Towards Healing and Renewal” on sexual abuse of minors (February 2012).