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The Holy Father’s general prayer intention for February is: “That prisoners, especially the young, may be able to rebuild lives of dignity.”

His missionary intention is: “That married people who are separated may find welcome and support in the Christian community.”


Join me this weekend on “Vatican Insider” as I take you on a pilgrimage to Venice for a visit to the world famous St. Mark’s Basilica, to the church of La Madonna della Salute – Our Lady of Good Health, known by Venetians as La Salute – and then to the delightful Shrine of Our Lady of Graces, a small and very beautiful treasure. Venice, oncxe called the Serenissima Republic of Venice has many hidden treasures and we’ll explore a few of those.


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This morning in the Consistory Hall, the Pope received thirty representatives of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches. He told them they should focus on the way the churches offered communion in the first centuries, and sacraments such as baptism.

This commission was constituted in 2003 following an initiative of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the ecclesiastical authorities of the family of Oriental Orthodox Churches.

During the last ten years, from a historical perspective, the commission has examined the roads through which the Churches have expressed their communion in the first centuries, and what this means for our search for communion today. During the five-day meeting this week, the commission embarked upon a deeper examination of the nature of the Sacraments, especially Baptism with the aim of producing a joint document on “Communion and Communication in the first five centuries of Christianity.”

Francis recalled the inspiring commitment to dialogue of His Holiness Ignatius Zakka I Was, Patriarch of the Syro-Orthodox Church of Antioch and all the East, who died last year, and joined in prayer with the clergy and the faithful for this “dedicated servant of God.”

“At this time,” said the Holy Father, “we especially feel dismay and deep sadness at what is happening in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria. I think of all those living in the region, including our Christian brothers and sisters, and many minorities, who are experiencing the effects of a prolonged and painful conflict. I join you in praying for a negotiated solution and in imploring God’s goodness and mercy upon all those affected by this immense tragedy. All Christians are called to work together, in mutual acceptance and trust, in order to serve the cause of peace and justice. May the intercession and example of many martyrs and saints who have borne courageous witness of Christ in all our Churches sustain and strengthen you and your Christian communities.” (source VIS)


(VIS) – Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin has sent a telegram on behalf of the Holy Father to Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, archbishop of Mexico, Mexico, following an explosion in the Maternity Hospital of Cualjimalpa that claimed several victims and casualties, including a number of babies. The explosion was caused during the transfer of fuel to the center of the city.

The telegram said that Pope Francis, “greatly saddened by this tragic news, offers his prayers for the eternal repose of the souls of the departed” and “wishes to convey his heartfelt condolences to the families of the deceased, along with expressions of comfort, and his fervent hope for the swift recovery of the injured. He imparts the comfort of his apostolic blessing as a sign of hope in the Resurrected Lord.”


It was basically a quiet day at the Vatican, especially for Pope Francis who did not have any public speeches but who did receive a number of people in private audiences including Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples who just returned from Vietnam, a papal nuncio, two archbishops from Brazil and Italy, the ambassador from Colombia on his farewell visit and a delegation of Italo-Latin American parliamentarians.

However, there was an important story concerning changes Pope Francis has made in the bestowal of the pallium on new metropolitan archbishops. First reported in America magazine, the announcement appeared today on the Vatican news portal, news.va


Vaticanista Gerard O’Connell wrote in the January 28 edition of America magazine that Pope Francis has decided that the public ceremony of investiture of the pallium on metropolitan archbishops will henceforth take place in the prelates’ home dioceses and not in the Vatican as has been the case under recent pontiffs. America is a national Catholic weekly magazine published by Jesuits in the United States.

O’Connell writes that this year, however, the Holy Father will concelebrate Mass with the archbishops on June 29 and afterwards will give each metropolitan the pallium “in a private manner.” The pallium ceremony traditionally takes place in Rome on the June 29th solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles. (Photo from news.va)


The America reports says Pope Francis “believes that in this way the ceremony  ‘will greatly favor the participation of the local Church in an important moment of its life and history’. Monsignor Guido Marini, the Master of Ceremonies of papal liturgies stated this when he broke the news in a January 12 letter to nuncios in countries where there are metropolitan archbishops that were expected to receive the pallium from the Pope in the Vatican on June 29, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul.”

Msgr. Marini, who also gave an interview to Vatican Radio, said, “Pope Francis believes that this new custom can serve to advance that journey of synodality in the Catholic Church which, from the beginning of his pontificate, he has constantly emphasized as particularly urgent and precious at this time in the history of the Church.”

It will be the nuncio, the papal ambassador, in each country who will formally bestow the pallium in a ceremony to be determined individually with each new metropolitan.

The pallium, which is placed on the shoulders of each archbishop and worn at all liturgical ceremonies in his own archdiocese, is a band of white wool with two hanging pieces, front and back, that is decorated with six black crosses and represents the authority of a metropolitan archbishop and unity with the Holy Father.  The Pope also wears a pallium. The wool used in weaving the palliums comes from baby lambs  – lambs under one year of age – that are blessed each year in the Basilica of St. Agnese in Rome on her January 21 feast day and then brought to the Apostolic Palace to the Holy Father.

In 2013 Abp. Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis received the pallium from Pope Francis: you can see it here as he shows it to a friend. (JFL photos)

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The America article said Pope Francis decided to make this change “after a long reflection and upon receiving advice which he had requested.” He said the Holy Father has decided that, “the pallium will be blessed during the Mass on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul in the Vatican, but placed on the Metropolitan Archbishop in his own diocese, by his representative, the Apostolic Nuncio.”

On June 27, 2012, new rites for bestowing palliums were announced. A Holy See Press Office statement said, “Things will remain substantially the same but this year, following a logic of development in continuity, it has been decided simply to move the rite itself, and it will now take place before the Eucharistic celebration.” The statement indicated that the changes were made to shorten the rite. The names of the archbishops will be read out before the opening procession and the rite of the palliums will take place once the Holy Father reaches the altar.  The changes to the rite were approved by Pope Benedict.



Wednesday at the general audience in the Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis returned to the theme of the family and dedicated his catechesis to fathers and fatherhood. Weeks ago the Pope had announced that, between the two synods dedicated to the family – October 2014 and this coming October – he would be dedicating a series of catechesis to the family. In a previous audience he spoke on mothers and motherhood and today, at the end of his talk, said he will further pursue this theme and focus on “the beauty of paternity,” saying, “May the Lord help us to understand these things well.”

At the end of the general audience, performers from the Medrano circus entertained the Holy Father, who visibly enjoyed the jugglers and other acts, and the faithful who filled the hall on a cold January morning

Pope Francis began his talk by noting that, “Father is a universal word, known to all. It indicates a fundamental relationship that is real and ancient as the history of mankind. Today, however, we have reached the point of affirming that ours would be a ‘society without fathers’. In other words, in particular in western culture, the figure of the father seems to be symbolically absent, seems to have vanished. … At first, this was perceived as a form of liberation: freedom from the father-master, …. Indeed, in the past in some cases authoritarianism, indeed even oppression, reigned in some homes: parents who treated their children like servants, who did not respect the personal needs of their growth, fathers who did not help them to embark on their path in freedom, to assume their own responsibilities for building their future and that of society”.

And now, said the Pope, “we have gone from one extreme to the other. …. from the invasive presence of fathers … to their absence. … Fathers are so focused on themselves, on their work and at times their personal fulfilment, that they even forget their families, leaving children and the young to their own devices. … Now, on this shared path of reflection on the family, I would like to say to all Christian communities that we must be more careful: the absence of the paternal figure in the life of children and the young produces voids and wounds that can be very serious.” The Pope explained how serious it is when children do not have “examples and authoritative guidance in their everyday life” or “closeness and love from their fathers.”

“The feeling of orphanhood experienced by many young people,” explained the Holy Father,” is more profound than we might think. They are orphans in their families because their fathers are often absent, also physically, from the home, but above all because when they are present, they do not act like fathers: they do not speak with their children, they do not give their children, by their example accompanied by words, those principles, those values, those rules for life that the young need in the same way as they need bread. … At times it seems as if fathers are not sure what position they should occupy in the family, or how to educate their children. And so, in doubt, they abstain, they withdraw and neglect their responsibilities, possibly seeking refuge in an improbable relationship of parity with their children.”

The Pope said that sometimes the civil community”neglects or poorly exercises” its responsibilities and this too leaves children “as orphans, and does not offer them true prospects. The young are therefore orphaned of sure paths to follow, orphaned of teachers in whom they can trust, orphaned of ideals to warm their hearts, orphaned of values and hopes that support them day by day. They are filled with idols but robbed of their hearts; they are driven to dream of enjoyment and pleasure, but they are not given work; they are deluded by the god of money and denied true richness.”

Pope Francis concluded by noting that, “just as Jesus promised that he would not leave us orphans, let us ask him to deepen and renew our appreciation of fatherhood and to raise up good fathers for the benefit of our families, our Church and our world.”


(From Beirut – AsiaNews) – A meeting of the Patriarchs and Christian leaders of the East was held yesterday in Bkerke, the seat of the Patriarchate of Lebanon to address the situation of Christians in the Middle East and ask the Arab and international community to stop supporting terrorism, aid the refugee emergency and work for their return home. The need for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis was also underscored.

Patriarch Beshara Rai said that the goal of the gathering was to study the situation of Christian refugees and that of the faithful who have decided to stay in their country, despite war and difficulties. For them, he added, it is urgent to help them secure a job, schools, housing so “they can stay in their respective countries and preserve their Christian tradition and mission.” The other goal is an appeal “to the two communities Arab and international” to come to the aid of the refugees, helping them to return home and to rebuild their houses. This can be done “by ending the war in Syria and Iraq by peaceful means, through political negotiations and a serious dialogue between the warring parties, neutralizing terrorist organizations.” This can only be achieved if the Arab and the international community “cease to support [the terrorists] in financial and military terms, closing the borders where it is necessary to prevent the movement of mercenaries”.

“Political and economic designs – he added – cannot justify these terrible attacks against humanity.” For the Christian patriarchs and leaders, greater efforts must be made to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, on the basis of the formula “two peoples, two states”, allowing the return of refugees to their homes. “It ‘obvious – said Patriarch Rai – that both the Israeli Palestinian conflict and Israeli-Arab conflict is the root cause of the misfortunes that we are experiencing today in the Middle East.” Christian leaders are asking for greater effort on the part of governments and non-governmental organizations to assist refugees and securing the release of all those who have been abducted, or detained, whether civil, military or religious figures. These include the two bishops, the Greek-orthodox bishop of Aleppo, Boulos Yazigi, and the Syriac Orthodox, Youhanna Ibrahim, in the hands of fundamentalist groups in Syria for almost two years.

The situation in Lebanon was also discussed particular the lack of President since last May and the Christian and Muslim political groups who are boycotting the election of the head of state. The meeting was attended by Greek-orthodox patriarch Youhanna Yazigi; Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Mar Aghnatios Afram II; Patriarch Greek-catholic Gregory III Laham; Syrian Catholic Patriarch Mar Aghnatios Youssef III Younane; Joseph Arnaout, representative of the Armenian Catholicos of Cilicia, Nercès Bedros IX; Michel Kassargi, Chaldean bishop in Lebanon; Pastor Sélim Sahyoun, President of the High Council of the Evangelical community in Lebanon and Syria; the Apostolic Nuncio Gabriele Caccia; several representatives of Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant charitable organizations.


The Vatican today released Pope Francis’ Message for Lent 2015. Entitled “Make your hearts firm.” it was signed in the Vatican on October 4, 2014, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

While a papal Message is always important, I am dedicating this column today to the celebrations in Italy and elsewhere of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.  I covered Pope Benedict’s historic visit to this camp when he traveled to Poland in May 2006, his first foreign trip as Pope (not counting his trip in August to Cologne for World Youth Day, a place and time chosen by his predecessor, St. John Paul). Benedict chose Poland to honor his predecessor who had died 13 months earlier after a pontificate of nearly 27 years

I spent a day at Auschwitz, a day I will never forget as long as I live. I wrote about that visit on my May 31, 2006 “Joan’s Rome.”  I just re-read that column – probably the longest I ever wrote – and am breathless – once again!  So that none of us ever forget the Holocaust, I offer that column today, accompanied by some of the many photos I took.

(Not to slight Pope Francis, here is a link to his Lenten message: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/lent/documents/papa-francesco_20141004_messaggio-quaresima2015.html)

Every year on January 27, Italy marks Holocaust Remembrance Day but this year it is a bigger – and more poignant – commemoration because today marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the largest Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, in Poland. With events scheduled in schools, churches, Rome’s synagogue and in Parliament, Italy is remembering the day when Auschwitz-Birkenau, where more than 1.1 million prisoners were put to death, was liberated by the Soviet army in 1945.

In fact, Pope Francis marked this anniversary with this tweet: Auschwitz cries out with the pain of immense suffering and pleads for a future of respect, peace and encounter among peoples.


I know to the core of my being that I will never forget May 28, 2006.

The day I visited Auschwitz.

The day a German-born Pope visited “this abyss of terror” where over 60 years ago other Germans killed 1.5 million people, overwhelmingly Jewish, in gas chambers and crematoriums, by working them to death or shooting them, or through atrocious, horrifying medical experiments.

The day that survivors of Auschwitz were embraced by a German Pope who, shortly afterward, in his talk in Italian – not in Polish, not in his native German, but in his adopted Italian, with sensitivity and deference to his listeners – said: “In silence, then, we bow our heads before the endless line of those who suffered and were put to death here; yet our silence becomes in turn a plea for forgiveness and reconciliation, a plea to the loving God never to let this happen again.”

The day began, as it would end, with a series of unforeseen events. The first happened when I left my hotel – just yards away from Blonie Park where the papal Mass was to start at 9:45 – to go to the press section, a ten- or fifteen-minute walk at a fast pace as the park is enormous, capable of holding one and a half million people. Every street in sight was closed. As far as the eye could see there were metal barriers, uniformed guards of all types, police cars and wagons and ambulances – and (as we later would discover) one million people, who flowed into Blonie like a rushing cascade of humanity. I not only had to show ID to get into the park, I had to show it to leave the hotel grounds.

Journalists wore plasticized ID cards with name, rank, news organization, photo and a few other details. Behind that main identification badge were slightly smaller plastic cards with the specific name and date of a specific venue, allowing access (or not allowing it if you were without the proper ID) to that event. I showed all the proper identification to the guards, was allowed through the myriad gates, and proceeded to walk in the direction that a uniformed guard told me was the spot for journalists.

The policeman’s minimal English and my minimal Polish should have alerted me to the distinct possibility that I was being pointed in the wrong direction. And, after 15 minutes of making my way through the biggest crowd I ever recall being part of – past food and drink vendors (all sales of alcohol were banned from 6 p.m. Friday to midnight Sunday, throughout the entire city: the keys on a cash register that indicate liquor sales were locked down until midnight Sunday), and countless men in uniform, of whom I asked directions to the press section. After 15 minutes I knew instinctively I was just as far from the press section as when I started out because I could now see the papal altar and to one side was the press section. However, it was across the park from where I had been directed.

So I sprinted back to the starting gate, so to speak, spoke to several policeman and told them I had to get to May 3 Street (I did learn something in all of this!) to get to the press section. No, I was told after 10 minutes of waiting as police used their walkie-talkies. The press section had been closed much earlier (earlier by 30 minutes than it was supposed to have closed). No one was allowed in. I was incommunicado with my colleagues because cell phone calls were being jumbled for security reasons. Mass had started by now and I had no choice but to go to the Press Center since I could not get to the press section, nor could I work in the hotel (as you know from my previous blog).

But even the Press Center was not looking like an alternative. Every road within sight was closed. No cars, taxis or busses in or out of our area. I asked one friendly policeman who spoke a little English what he could suggest. I said I must work. Did he have any ideas? He said: “You. Wait. Here.” I saw him speak to colleagues, then get on a walkie-talkie and all of a sudden, I was whisked off to the Press Center with a police escort!

Only the sun coming out could have warmed my heart more. The fun part was arriving at the Center where many colleagues were milling about outside, surprised looks on their faces, wondering why I arrived in a police car. It later dawned on me that a lot of people at the park who saw me leave in a police car probably wondered what on earth I had done!

There was little time at the center for real work because the busses for Auschwitz were due to leave at 11:30. In fact, that created a huge problem for people attending the Pope Benedict’s Mass – which would not be over by the time the busses left. And that is one of the problems in covering such events – and it was far worse for those on the papal flight. It is usually physically impossible to cover all the events – getting bussed to one event, staying while the Pope is present in order to get your story and then, with breakneck speed, trying to get to the next papal event – if there is a bus, if it hasn’t already left, a lot of “ifs” involved. Even a private car does not help that much. Another problem is that once you are in a venue, you are usually not allowed to leave before the Pope does. So you are back at square one.

It is worse for those on the papal flight because when they arrive at a venue, they have precious little time as a rule to see the site, watch the event or interview people, because, not long after the Pope arrives, they have to depart for the next venue. Auschwitz upset most of the correspondents on the papal plane because they were told to leave for their busses to go to the airport 15 minutes after Pope Benedict’s arrival. The most historic moment of the entire apostolic trip and they could not witness it in its entirety.

The visit to Auschwitz was overshadowed by an attack, the previous day, on Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, 50, on a Warsaw street when a young man yelled “Poland for the Poles” and sprayed the rabbi’s face with what appeared to be pepper spray, when he questioned the man about what he said. Poland’s interior ministry issued a statement calling the attack “a provocation aimed at creating an image of Poland as an anti-Semitic country.” The Israeli embassy also had its say.

The rabbi minimized the attack when he spoke to the press. Focusing instead on Benedict’s visit Sunday to Auschwitz where the two would meet, Rabbi Schudrich said the visit “will not be easy for Benedict XVI, and perhaps even unpleasant, but I think he feels it is his duty to go there. I respect his decision. The fact he is here has great significance.” He told the Polish news service that, “anyone who ever visits Auschwitz, in which the greatest genocide in the world was committed, will never be the same.”

Before World War II, Jews numbered about 4 million in Poland, about ten percent of the entire population. After the war, they numbered only a few thousand and today still are relatively small in number. The anti-Semitism that had been prevalent before the war, then diminished somewhat, returned in the late 1960s, 70s and 80s but, with the fall of communism and the Berlin Wall in 1989, the new government – and successive governments – attempted to improve relations with the Jews and with Israel. However, one of the parties within the coalition of the current government, ruling together with the Law and Justice Party, is the League of Polish Families, considered to be on the far right, with a strain of anti-Semitism, say observers. This, add the observers, impairs efforts to improve relations with Jews and with Israel.

On Sunday, the media was brought by bus to Oswiecim, Poland, to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp site where a media center had been erected just a few hundred yards from the area of the camp where Pope Benedict and other religious leaders would participate in an inter-religious, multi-lingual ceremony commemorating the victims of Nazism.

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To reach the media tent we drove around the perimeter of Auschwitz-Birkenau (known as Auschwitz II) – about one and a half miles from the camp known as Auschwitz I, which the Pope visited privately. My companion on the bus to Auschwitz, Natalia Reiker, a knowledgeable and articulate Polish girl working for Reuters in Warsaw, told me that to truly sense and understand what had happened on these now quiet grounds and grassy knolls, the camps should be visited on a normal day, when there are no tents for the media, no stage for a musical ensemble, no outdoor tables for sandwiches and beverages for the media, no satellite dishes punctuating the landscape, no platform with chairs for several thousand guests.

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She is right, of course. But I was nonetheless speechless at what I saw: the tall guard towers, the miles, it seemed, of barbed wire fences, the row upon row upon row – as far as the eye could see – of sad brick barracks which housed those who were allowed to survive the gas chambers in order to labor.

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Sunday everything seemed so peaceful, almost bucolic. No emaciated prisoners toiling in the fields or kitchens or crematoriums. No trains arriving with their huddled, frightened masses. No screams being heard from laboratories where excruciatingly horrifying experiments were carried out on defenseless human beings. Just the stillness of an empty compound, the breath of the forest with its swaying trees, the patter of rain that fell intermittently.

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And yet the silence spoke to me. It helped me be with my own thoughts. It helped me imagine what had happened here, conjuring up images from movies I had seen that tried to portray man’s inhumanity to man. And that was the phrase that stuck with me all day: man’s inhumanity to man.

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In the media center tent, we watched images of Pope Benedict as he and his entourage arrived at Auschwitz I, after a triumphant leave-taking of Krakow.

This solitary figure in white entered Auschwitz alone and on foot, looking pensively ahead as he walked 300 meters to the yard of Block 11. The metal gate at the entrance (the only entrance to the camp) through which the Pope walked, was made by Polish prisoners and shipped to this camp in the summer of 1940. The sign above the gate with the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes you Free) was made by a group of prisoners who were locksmiths. The letter “B” in the first word “arbeit (work)” was purposefully turned upside down by the men as they made the sign, as an act of disobedience.

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After the camp was liberated by Soviet soldiers, they wanted to ship the inscription part of the gate off to the U.S.S.R. but former inmates bribed a sentry, removed the original inscription, substituted it with a new one, and hid the original in the town hall. The original inscription was brought back and is the one seen today.

Pope Benedict walked through the gate because he had been told that the German soldiers entered by car but prisoners had to enter on foot. And so he chose to walk into Auschwitz.

The Pope prayed and lit a memorial candle, handed to him by former inmates, at the execution wall. He then greeted 32 former inmates, one of whom, a woman, Salomea Kanikula, was a survivor of atrocious medical experiments. He visited and prayed in the death cell of St. Maximilian Kolbe and lit a candle left there by John Paul II in 1979. After signing the commemorative book, the Holy Father went to the Center for Dialogue and Prayer, met the staff, volunteers and Carmelite sisters who live in a nearby convent, signed another commemorative book and blessed the activity of the center.

Benedict’s arrival at Birkenau was scheduled for about 5:45 but he was about 30 minutes behind schedule at this point. This former concentration camp was the site of the gas chambers used to exterminate the prisoners: They were blown up or set on fire by Germans as they left the camp in 1945.

In the pouring rain of a cloudburst, the Pope and a small entourage arrived at Birkenau where, under the cover of a large, white umbrella, he greeted people and then walked slowly past the row of 22 tablets, each written in a different language, that commemorated the more than 1.5 million people who perished at Birkenau. Candles inside blue glass holders were placed at each plaque by young boys and girls of various nationalities.

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About 1,500 guests were in what was called the “O Zone,” the area nearest the Pope, including 200 former inmates, representatives of Jewish communities in Poland and around the world, and members of movements and organizations actively involved in promoting Christian-Jewish dialogue and Polish-German dialogue. Also present was Polish President Lech Kaczynski, members of the diplomatic corps, senior members of the Vatican and the Church in Poland, and the ambassadors of Israel to Poland and the Vatican.

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Outside the “O Zone,” but still close to the Pope, were several thousand invited guests, mostly faithful from the diocese where Auschwitz is located, and members of the media.

I did a live stand-up for EWTN at 5 p.m. and, to better view the entire ceremony at Auschwitz-Birkenau, I remained on the TV platform afterwards. As I climbed the stairs to the platform for the stand-up, I found I had an excellent vantage point for all the ceremonies but as I got to the Position Three camera, my heart stopped.

Not 30 feet away were the tracks for the trains that had brought 1.5 million prisoners to this camp, the overwhelming majority of whom were murdered in the gas chambers, just yards away. I just stood and stared. Beyond the tracks was the vast space of barbed wire and barracks and guard towers and thick forests. And then I saw it: The tracks simply ended. They went nowhere. They ended. As did the lives of all who entered Birkenau.

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We had seen train tracks off to our right on the road we used to enter Birkenau. They went through the main building and gate – but we couldn’t see where they ended until we actually arrived at the commemorative area. Pope Benedict was seated perhaps 50 yards away from where the tracks dead-ended.

As I turned to face the camera – with the train tracks behind me – I again had my breath taken away. In front of me now, not 100 feet away, was a gas chamber, or the ruins of one. It had been blown up by the Nazis as they left the camp in the hopes of leaving no signs of their barbaric acts – yet it was there, its remnants a stark reminder, once again, of man’s inhumanity to man. Later, as I returned to the media tent, I saw the black floor of another chamber and the vents through which gas had been pumped into the chambers.

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I tried to think of the individual victims, to do what Pope Benedict suggested in his talk at Birkenau, when he spoke of the inscriptions on the tablets. “They would stir our hearts profoundly,” he said, “if we remembered the victims not merely in general but rather saw the faces of the individual persons who ended up here in this abyss of terror.” These were people, with names, faces, families, feelings. Not a statistic. Not “one and a half million people” – but one person. And another. And yet another. All individuals.

I could only do that if I closed my eyes. But I did try. I try to imagine the faces of friends, to imagine that people I knew were plucked off the street or torn from their homes, crammed into a train and brought to what the Pope called “this place of horror,” simply because they were Jewish or gypsy, or whatever their “crime” was. People stripped of their human dignity and worth. People treated as “material objects,” not “as persons embodying the image of God.” People seen as “part of the refuse of world history in an ideology which valued only the empirically useful.” People whose “life (was) unworthy to be lived.

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In the midst of the pain of remembrance, of the Kaddish, the Jewish song for the deceased, of the reciting of Psalm 22 and prayers in six languages, including Roma, Russian, Polish, Hebrew, English and German (recited by Pope Benedict), the most astonishing thing happened.

An immensely beautiful rainbow appeared in the sky! An awesome, unforgettable magical moment in the midst of remembering godless evil.

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Was this not the hand of God, answering the Pope’s question: “Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?” Was it God telling us: “I was there, but no one let me speak. They tried to kill Me too. I am here now, and I’m speaking.”

The magic and yet mystery of the rainbow as it swept away the black rain clouds was lost on no one. Someone tapped Pope Benedict on the shoulder to tell him to turn around and look at this phenomenal sign. The rainbow stayed in the sky for what seemed like a long time. Rainbows can be so ephemeral, but it appeared that this one had a message, a message uniting all of us, irrespective of language, nationality or religion.

What is at the end of a rainbow? Hope? Joy? Peace? Reconciliation? A better tomorrow in a better world? Perhaps even man’s humanity towards man?

As the rainbow graced the sky, Pope Benedict began his address: “To speak in this place of horror, in this place where unprecedented mass crimes were committed against God and man, is almost impossible – and it is particularly difficult and troubling for a Christian, for a Pope from Germany,” said Benedict XVI.

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“In a place like this, words fail; in the end, there can only be a dread silence – a silence that is itself a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did You remain silent? How could You tolerate all this? In silence, then, we bow our heads before the endless line of those who suffered and were put to death here; yet our silence becomes in turn a plea for forgiveness and reconciliation, a plea to the living God never to let this happen again.”

He recalled the 1979 visit by John Paul II, who “came here as a son of that people which, along with the Jewish people, suffered most in this place and, in general, throughout the war. ‘Six million Poles lost their lives during the Second World War: a fifth of the nation,’ he reminded us. Here too he solemnly called for respect for human rights and the rights of nations.”

“John Paul II came here as a son of the Polish people. I come here today as a son of the German people. For this very reason, I can and must echo his words: I could not fail to come here. I had to come. It is a duty before the truth, and the just due of all who suffered here, a duty before God, for me to come here as the successor of John Paul II and as a son of the German people – a son of that people over which a ring of criminals rose to power by false promises of future greatness and the recovery of the nation’s honor, prominence and prosperity, but also through terror and intimidation, with the result that our people was used and abused as an instrument of their thirst for destruction and power.”

“How many questions arise in this place!” he exclaimed. “Constantly the question comes up: Where was God in those days? … How could He permit this endless slaughter, this triumph of evil? The words of Psalm 44 come to mind, … This cry of anguish, which Israel raised to God in its suffering, at moments of deep distress, is also the cry for help raised by all those who in every age … suffer for the love of God, for the love of truth and goodness.”

“We cannot peer into God’s mysterious plan – we see only piecemeal, and we would be wrong to set ourselves up as judges of God and history. Then we would not be defending man, but only contributing to his downfall. No, when all is said and done, we must continue to cry out humbly yet insistently to God: … Do not forget mankind, Your creature!”

“Let us cry out to God, with all our hearts, at the present hour, when new misfortunes befall us, when all the forces of darkness seem to issue anew from human hearts: whether it is the abuse of God’s name as a means of justifying senseless violence against innocent persons, or the cynicism which refuses to acknowledge God and ridicules faith in Him.”

“The place where we are standing is a place of memory, it is the place of the Shoah. The past is never simply the past. It always has something to say to us; it tells us the paths to take and the paths not to take. … Some [of the] inscriptions [here] are pointed reminders. There is one in Hebrew. The rulers of the Third Reich wanted to crush the entire Jewish people, to cancel it from the register of the peoples of the earth. … If this people, by its very existence, was a witness to the God Who spoke to humanity and took us to Himself, then that God finally had to die and power had to belong to man alone – to those men, who thought that by force they had made themselves masters of the world.”

“Then there is the inscription in Polish. First and foremost they wanted to eliminate the cultural elite, thus erasing the Polish people as an autonomous historical subject and reducing it, to the extent that it continued to exist, to slavery. Another inscription offering a pointed reminder is the one written in the language of the Sinti and Roma people. Here too, the plan was to wipe out a whole people. … There is also the inscription in Russian, which commemorates the tremendous loss of life endured by the Russian soldiers who combated the Nazi reign of terror; but this inscription also reminds us that their mission had a tragic twofold aim: by setting people free from one dictatorship, they were to submit them to another, that of Stalin and the communist system.” The inscription in German serves as a reminder that “the Germans who had been brought to Auschwitz-Birkenau and met their death here were considered as … the refuse of the nation.”

“Yes, behind these inscriptions is hidden the fate of countless human beings. They jar our memory, they touch our hearts. They have no desire to instill hatred in us: instead, they show us the terrifying effect of hatred. Their desire is to help our reason to see evil as evil and to reject it; their desire is to enkindle in us the courage to do good and to resist evil.”

As I read, then listened to Benedict’s words, I could only imagine his pain as he wrote them. I imagined a sting of tears as he thought of the atrocities performed by one human being on another, of the senselessness and destructive force of violence and hatred, of the apparent absence of God at the darkest moment, when mankind most needed God’s light.

May 28, 2006.

The day I went to Auschwitz.

The day that Benedict XVI ended his visit to Poland with a dramatic visit to the extermination camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, where he spoke about his native land, about Nazism, mass crimes, terror and intimidation, about the horrors that German soldiers perpetrated on Jews in the Shoah, and their attempt to silence or kill God. But, in this place of remembrance, he also spoke of “the purification of memory demanded by this place of horror,” of reconciliation, conversion, peace and God’s love.


Pope Francis gave a beautiful homily this morning during his daily Mass in the Santa Marta Chapel and focussed on the indispensable role of women in the tranmission of the faith. The Vatican Radio translation into English (which they do daily for the papal Masses) is the third news story today.


It was a busy weekend for Pope Francis who met with a number of groups on Saturday, including participants in a three-day seminar on consecrated life and the search for Christian unity, and then on Sunday not only prayed the Angelus with the faithful in St. Peter’s Square but later that afternoon presided at vespers in the basilica of St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls to end the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

The Pope Saturday highlighted the vital role played by men and women religious of different Christian Churches in the ecumenical journey, saying “men and women religious who pray for unity are like ‘an invisible monastery’ bringing together Christians of different denominations from different countries around the world.” (photos from news.va)POPE FRANCIS - CONSECRATED PEOPLE

Participants in this three-day meeting concluded each day with Vespers in the Orthodox, Anglican and Catholic traditions, and participated Sunday in the liturgy presided over by Pope Francis in St Paul’s.

Quoing from the Vatican Council II document “Unitatis Redintegratio” that stressed that spiritual ecumenism is the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, Francis said, “consecrated people like yourselves therefore have a particular vocation in this work of promoting unity.”

He then named three conditions at the core of the search for Christian unity : 1. no unity without conversion of heart, which includes forgiving and asking for forgiveness; 2. no unity without prayer and 3. “no unity without holiness of daily life. so the more we put our search for unity into practise in our relations with others, the more we will be modelling our lives on the message of the Gospel.”

Sunday evening at St. Paul’s, the Pope presided at the second Vespers on the solemnity of the conversion of St. Paul, bringing to a close the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, whose theme this year was “Give me to drink” (John, 4.7). Present at the liturgy were representatives from other Churches and ecclesial communities in Rome.

The focus of the Holy Father’s homily was the Gospel pasage about the Samaritan woman. He explains that, “On his way from Judea to Galilee, Jesus passes through Samaria. He has no problem dealing with Samaritans, who were considered by the Jews to be heretics, schismatics, separate. His attitude tells us that encounter with those who are different from ourselves can make us grow.”


“Jesus is patient, respectful of the person before him, and gradually reveals himself to her. His example encourages us to seek a serene encounter with others. To understand one another, and to grow in charity and truth, we need to pause, to accept and listen to one another. In this way, we already begin to experience unity. Unity grows along the way; it never stands still. Unity happens when we walk together.

Francis said, “So many past controversies between Christians can be overcome when we put aside all polemical or apologetic approaches, and seek instead to grasp more fully what unites us, namely, our call to share in the mystery of the Father’s love revealed to us by the Son through the Holy Spirit. Christian unity, we are convinced, will not be the fruit of subtle theoretical discussions in which each party tries to convince the other of the soundness of their opinions. When the Son of Man comes, he will find us still discussing! We need to realise that, to plumb the depths of the mystery of God, we need one another, we need to encounter one another and to challenge one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who harmonizes diversities and overcomes conflicts, reconciles differences.”

“In the call to be evangelizers,” stated Pope Francis, “all the Churches and ecclesial communities discover a privileged setting for closer cooperation. For this to be effective, we need to stop being self-enclosed, exclusive, and bent on imposing a uniformity based on merely human calculations. Our shared commitment to proclaiming the Gospel enables us to overcome proselytism and competition in all their forms. All of us are at the service of the one Gospel.”

“In this moment of prayer for unity, I would also like to remember our martyrs, the martyrs of today. They are witnesses to Jesus Christ, and they are persecuted and killed because they are Christians. Those who persecute them make no distinction between the religious communities to which they belong. They are Christians and for that they are persecuted. This, brothers and sisters, is the ecumenism of blood’.”

He noted the presence at vespers of the group he met Saturday, “men and women religious from various Churches and ecclesial communities who have taken part in an ecumenical meeting organized by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life, in conjunction with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, to mark the Year for Consecrated Life.” He said, “the pursuit of Christian unity cannot be the sole prerogative of individuals or religious communities particularly concerned with this issue. A shared knowledge of the different traditions of consecrated life, and a fruitful exchange of experiences, can prove beneficial for the vitality of all forms of religious life in the different Churches and ecclesial communities”.


At the end of Sunday’s Angelus prayer, the Pope was joined at his study window by a two young people from Italian Catholic Action of the diocese of Rome as the group concludes its traditional January journey of the “Caravan of Peace.” The youth were from two Roman parishes and the girl read a message of peace from ACI. In the past, each young person released a dove – the symbol of peace – after words by the Holy Father. However, last year two bigger birds – a crow and a seagull – attacked the smaller birds and, though captured on film, it was never known whether they survived the attack.

This year, the young people of Catholic Action in St. Peter’s Square released a mini hotair balloon containing messages of peace, as well as smaller balloons. (If you have visited the Vatican’s news.va website, you can be excused for thinking that doves were released this year. The photo of Pope Francis and the two ACI youngsters releasing doves is from last year, albeit the two young people this year look like twins to last year’s boy and girl!)

In earlier remarks, Francis had noted “with deep concern the escalation of the clashes in east Ukraine, which continue to claim many victims among the civilian population. While I assure my prayers to those who suffer, I renew my heartfelt appeal for the resumption of attempts at dialogue in order to bring an end to the hostilities.”

He also mentioned that Sunday marked World Leprosy Day, and expressed his closeness to “all those who suffer from this disease, as well as those who care for them and those who fight to eradicate the causes of contagion, that is, living conditions that are not worthy of mankind. Let us renew our commitment to solidarity with these brothers and sisters.”

Finally, the Pope addressed the large contingent in St. Peter’s Square fom the Filipino community in Rome. “The Filipino people are wonderful for their strong and joyful faith. May the Lord also support those of you who live far from your homeland. Many thanks for your witness, and thank you for all the good you do for us, as you sow faith among us and offer a beautiful witness of faith.”


(Vatican Radio) The primary and indispensable role of women in transmitting the faith to new generations: this was the focus of Pope Francis’ remarks to the faithful following the readings of the day at Mass on Monday morning in the chapel of the Santa Marta residence in the Vatican. On the day when the Church celebrates the memory of Saints Timothy and Titus – bishops and disciples of St Paul the Apostle – Pope Francis commented in particular on the second letter of Paul to Timothy.

Mothers and Grandmothers transmit the faith

Paul reminds Timothy, said the Pope, that his “sincere faith” comes from the Holy Spirit,  “through his mother and grandmother.” Pope Francis went on to say, “Mothers and grandmothers are the ones who, in the first place [in primis]  transmit the faith.” The Holy Father went on to say:

It is one thing to pass on the faith, and another to teach the matters of faith. Faith is a gift: it is not possible to study Faith. We study the things of faith, yes, to understand it better, but with study [alone] one never comes to Faith. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, which surpasses all [“academic”] formation.


Faith, moreover, is a gift that passes from generation to generation, through the “beautiful work of mothers and grandmothers, the fine work of the women who play those roles,” in a family, “whether they be maids or aunts,” who transmit the faith:

It occurs to me: why is it mainly women, who to pass on the faith? Simply because the one who brought us Jesus is a woman. It is the path chosen by Jesus. He wanted to have a mother: the gift of faith comes to us through women, as Jesus came to us through Mary.

Cherish the gift of faith  – don’t let it become watered down

“We need,” said Pope Francis, “in our own day to consider whether women really are aware of the duty they have to transmit the faith.” Paul invites Timothy to guard the Faith, the deposit of Faith, avoiding “empty pagan chatter, empty chatter of the world.” He went on to say, “We have – all of us – received the gift of faith: we have to keep it, at least in order that it not become watered down, so that it remains strong, with the power of the Holy Spirit who gave it to us.” We keep the faith by cherishing and nurturing it every day:

If we do not have this care, every day, to revive this gift of God which is Faith, but rather let faith weaken, become diluted, Faith ends up being a culture: ‘Yes, but, yes, yes, I am a Christian, yes yes,’ – a mere culture – or a gnosis, [a specialized kind of] knowledge: ‘Yes, I know well all the matters of Faith, I know the catechism’. But how do you live your faith? This, then, is the importance of reviving every day this gift: to bring it to life.”

Timidity and shame do not increase the faith

Saint Paul says that there are two things in particular that contrast with a living Faith: “the spirits of timidity and of shame”:

God has not given us a spirit of timidity. The spirit of timidity goes against the gift of faith: it does not let faith grow, advance, be great. Shame, in turn, is the following sin, [which says]: ‘Yes, I have faith, but I cover it up, that it not be seen too much’. It’s a little bit here, a little bit there – it is, as our forebears called it, a “rosewater” faith – because I am ashamed to live it powerfully. No: this is not the faith: [Faith knows] neither timidity nor shame. What is it, then? It is a spirit of power and of love and of prudence: that is what faith is This is the faith.”

Faith is not negotiable

Pope Francis explained that the spirit of prudence is knowing that we cannot do everything we want: it means looking for the ways, the path, the manners by which to carry the faith forward, cautiously. “We ask the Lord’s grace,” he concluded, “that we might have a sincere faith, a faith that is not negotiable depending on the opportunities that come, a faith that every day I try to revive or at least ask the Holy Spirit to revive it, and make it bear much fruit.”



A FUTURE AMERICAN SAINT: Thursday afternoon, January 22 the Holy Father received in a private audience Cardinal Angelo Amato, S.D.B., prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, during which he authorized the Congregation to promulgate 11 decrees – 1 for a miracle, 3 for martyrdom and 7 for heroic virtues, including Servant of God Aloysius Schwartz, American diocesan priest, founder of the Sisters of Mary of Banneux and the Brothers of Christ (1930-1992).

VATICAN INSIDER TO FEATURE SPECIAL ON THE CATACOMBS:  This week we again feature a “BEST OF” on Vatican Insider when I bring you on a visit to the catacombs. The technical issues with at least one of my three recorders have been solved, and things should be back to normal next week. In the meantime, enjoy your visit to “underground” Rome, to the burial places of the first Christians.

And I hope you enjoy the Pope’s Message for World Communications Day, released this morning (see below). It is wonderful and will not long to read at all!

Pope Francis has a Message for all of us: communications between individuals, especially in a family setting, was around long before radio, television, telephones, cell phones or tablets, Facebook or Twitter. He writes, “The great challenge facing us today is to learn once again how to talk to one another, not simply how to generate and consume information.”

He is basically urging us all to communicate face to face, parents as a couple, children with each other, everyone in a family setting, surrounded perhaps by several generations of family members. Francis says: “In the family, we learn to embrace and support one another, to discern the meaning of facial expressions and moments of silence, to laugh and cry together with people who did not choose one other yet are so important to each other. This greatly helps us to understand the meaning of communication as recognizing and creating closeness. When we lessen distances by growing closer and accepting one another, we experience gratitude and joy.”

The Pope doesn’t explicitly say that families should be together at dinner time, for example, to share each other’s daily adventures, trials and joys but you can sense it in between the lines.


Every year, on the January 24 feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron of Catholic journalists, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications offers a Mass for those who work in the Vatican’s media offices – the council itself, radio, CTV, the press office and L’Osservatore Romano –and those from the world’s media who report on the Vatican.

Archbishop Claudio Maria Cell, council president, was the main celebrant this morning of a concelebrated Mass at 9:30 in the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina on Via della Conciliazione, close to all Vatican offices. Later this morning, in the Holy See Press Office, he presented the Holy Father’s Message for the World Day of Social Communications on the theme “Communicating the  Family – a Privileged Place of Encounter with the Gift of Love.”

The papal Message is traditionally published on the feast of St. Francis de Sales and Communications Day is celebrated in most countries on the Sunday before Pentecost, thus, May 17, 2015.

“This year’s message,” says a communique from the council, “calls on the faithful to see families as “a resource rather than as a problem for society” and invites families to be examples of Christ’s love, kindness and fellowship.

“In a world where people often curse, use foul language, speak badly of others, sow discord and poison our human environment by gossip, the family can teach us to understand communication as a blessing,” the Pope writes.  “In situations apparently dominated by hatred and violence, where families are separated by stone walls or the no less impenetrable walls of prejudice and resentment, where there seem to be good reasons for saying “enough is enough”, it is only by blessing rather than cursing, by visiting rather than repelling, and by accepting rather than fighting, that we can break the spiral of evil, show that goodness is always possible, and educate our children to fellowship.”

“From this text,” explained the archbishop, “there emerges a positive overall message, given that the Pope affirms that the family continues to be a great resource and not merely a problem or an institution in crisis. As we can see, the Pope is not interested principally in the problem between the family and communication linked to new technologies. He instead focuses on the most profoundly true and human dimension of communication.”

The message affirms, he added, that the family “has the capacity to communicate itself and to communicate, by virtue of the bond that links its various members.” He noted that “a paragraph is dedicated to prayer, defined as a fundamental form of communication that finds in the family its truest environment of discovery and experience.”

“In this context,” said the council president, forgiveness is understood “as a dynamic of communication because, when contrition is expressed and accepted, it becomes possible to restore and rebuild the communication which broke down.” He also remarked that a long paragraph is devoted to the most modern media and their influence on communication in and among families, both as a help and a hindrance.

He noted that the text clearly restates what has already been underlined in the teachings of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. “But it is important to rediscover yet again that the parents are the first educators of their children, who are increasingly present in the digital sphere. The presence of parents does not have a primarily technological dimension – generally children know more than their parents in this field – but is important on account of the wisdom they contribute.”

“It is well-known that one of the great risks is that children or teenagers may isolate themselves in a ‘virtual world’, significantly reducing their necessary integration in real everyday life and in the interrelationships of friendship. This is not to say that the relationships of affection or friendship that develop in the context of the web are not real. It must also be remembered that the young – and the not so young – are called upon to give witness to Christ in the digital world too, in the social networks we all inhabit.”

Click here to read Pope Francis’ Message for World Commnications Day in English: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/communications/documents/papa-francesco_20150123_messaggio-comunicazioni-sociali.html

Click here for Spanish: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/es/messages/communications/documents/papa-francesco_20150123_messaggio-comunicazioni-sociali.html


Pope Francis has sent a letter to each of the 20 prelates who will be elevated to the College of Cardinals during the consistory on February 14th in the Vatican. In his letter, the Pope reminded the prelates that being a Cardinal is a vocation to serve and stressed the need to be humble.

“Staying humble, while serving is not easy,” he wrote, especially when people consider the cardinalate “as a prize, or the peak of one’s career,” a dignified position of power or of superior distinction.  The Pope urged them to strive every day to stay away from such considerations.  And when celebrating the elevation to your new vocation, he continued, do so with humility and ensure that these celebrations are not contaminated by the spirit of worldliness which can intoxicate more than drinking brandy on an empty stomach, and can separate one from Christ’s Cross. (Vatican Radio)


MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives will immediately pass various resolutions filed by lawmakers thanking Pope Francis for inspiring and bringing hope to Filipinos during his historic five-day visit last week, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said yesterday.

Belmonte is among those who filed resolutions expressing the Filipinos’ gratitude to the pope, whose recent visit centered on the universal message of “mercy and compassion.”

The Speaker and other legislators filed House Resolution 1816, which stressed that Pope Francis “provided inspiration and encouragement to millions of Filipinos to make Jesus Christ the center of their lives.”

“Despite the harsh weather conditions brought about by (Tropical Storm) Amang, Pope Francis proceeded to the Province of Leyte to hold mass for 150 thousand pilgrims and survivors of Typhoon Yolanda, braving the strong winds and rains to personally bring his message of hope and renewal to our countrymen,” the proposed bill read.

To read rest of story, click here: http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2015/01/24/1416140/house-pass-resolutions-gratitude-pope-francis




The Holy Father Thursday welcomed an ecumenical delegation of the Lutheran Church from Finland on its annual visit to Rome during the January 18 to 25 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and the feast of St. Henry of Uppsala, patron saint of Finland.

He quoted from St. John Paul who, thirty years ago, welcomed the first such delegation and said, “The fact that you come here together is itself a witness to the importance of efforts for unity. The fact that you pray together is a witness to our belief that only through the grace of God can that unity be achieved. The fact that you recite the Creed together is a witness to the one common faith of the whole of Christianity.”

Reiterating the words of Bishop Vikstrom, in Rome with the delegation, Francis said, “there is so much that Catholics and Lutherans can do together to bear witness to God’s mercy in our societies. A shared Christian witness is very much needed in the face of the mistrust, insecurity, persecution, pain and suffering experienced so widely in today’s world.”

The Pope said, “The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine on Justification which was solemnly signed some fifteen years ago between the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church, can produce further fruits of reconciliation and cooperation between us. …Let us hope that further convergence will emerge from that dialogue on the concept of the Church, the sign and instrument of the salvation brought to us in Jesus Christ.”


Thursday morning Pope Francis received a group of agents from the General Inspectorate for Public Security in the Vatican as it celebrates the 70th anniversary of the presence of the Italian forces of order in the Vatican. He thanked the officials and members of their families for the work they carry out on a daily basis “with professionalism and dedication.” The officers work normally in and around St. Peter’s Square and they staff the airport-style security maches for people entering St. Peter’s Basilica or entering the square for a papal general audience.

As we start a new year, he said, “we have many hopes and expectations, and we also see on the horizon the shadows and dangers that trouble humanity. As Christians we are called upon not to lose heart or to be discouraged. Our hope rests upon an immovable rock: God’s love, revealed and given in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”

Francis explained that, “In the light of this firm hope, your work assumes a different meaning that brings human and Christian values into play. Indeed, you have the task of protecting and supervising places of the utmost importance for the faith, and of guaranteeing the security of millions of pilgrims. Many people who come to visit the heart of Christian Rome frequently turn to you.”

“May every person,” said the Holy Father, “feel helped and protected by your presence and your care. … We are all called to be our neighbor’s guardians. The Lord will call us to account for the responsibilities entrusted to us, for the good and the bad we have brought upon our neighbors.”


Vatican City, January 22, 2015 – The Holy Father declared on 10 January 2015 by way of a Rescriptum ex audientia Ss.mi presented to the President of the IOR Supervisory Commission of Cardinals that the Statute of the Istituto per le Opere di Religione (IOR) has been changed to elevate the number of members in the IOR Supervisory Commission of Cardinals and the IOR Board of Superintendence from five to six respectively. The Rescriptum ex audientia Ss.mi has come into effect on 10 January 2015 and will be published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis in due course. In addition, the nomination of a non-voting Secretary General to the IOR Board of Superintendence has been formalized by the President of the Supervisory Commission of Cardinals.

The full Rescriptum ex audientia Ss.mi as well as information on the IOR governance structure and its key personnel can be found on the Institute’s website at www.ior.va.

About the Istituto per le Opere di Religione (IOR):

The “Istituto per le Opere di Religione” (IOR) is an institute founded on 27 June 1942 by Papal Decree. Its origins date back to the “Commissione Cardinalizia ad Pias Causas” established in 1887 by Pope Leo XIII. The purpose of the IOR is to serve the global mission of the Catholic Church by providing for the custody and administration of its customers’ assets, and rendering dedicated worldwide payment services to its customers. The Institute’s mission was confirmed by the Holy Father, Pope Francis, on 7 April 2014. The IOR operates from a single location – its headquarters in the Vatican City State – and is regulated by the “Autorità di Informazione Finanziaria” (AIF), the financial supervisory body for the Vatican City State. The IOR serves approximately 15,500 customers. As of 31 December 2013, the Institute was entrusted with customers’ assets totalling €5.9 billion.


When Pope Francis appealed for peace in Niger yesterday at the general audience, he was referring to events in that country that have received little coverage in the secular media. The following reports, datelined Niamey, Niger, are from Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples:

(Fides) – “Between Friday 16 and Saturday 17 January, various churches and religious communities in Niger suffered extensive damage because of demonstrators protesting against the publication of the French weekly Charlie Hebdo. In the Diocese of Maradi and Niamey, several churches were burned, along with some religious houses. Other Protestant churches were also affected by the protesters.” Fr. Nicolas Ayouba, superior of the Redemptorists of Niger, confirmed the news to Fides, adding: “According to the latest news, our Community of St. Clement of Niamey was not attacked, while the church of St. Gabriel yes. All the Redemptorists are still in good condition.”

The churches of St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Gabriel, St. John, St. Teresa and St. Joseph were burned and looted in Niamey, as well as two convents of nuns. Because of the situation, all Sunday celebrations were suspended.

The Apostolic Administrator of Niamey, Archbishop Michel Cartatéguy told Vatican Radio: “As a Christian community, we are still under shock. All our churches – 12 out of 14 – have been completely looted: there is nothing left … everything is burned. The cathedral was not touched, because of my request to monitor it. We have suspended all activities of the Catholic mission; we have closed our schools, our dispensaries … We are not able to understand what is going on. I summoned all the priests and community leaders to pray in silence, and we meditated on love for enemies. Many of our religious, who today have lost everything, were protected, and still are, by Muslim families. I said to the highest authorities: ‘We have nothing against the Muslim community, on the contrary’. Indeed, we must further strengthen the bonds of unity and brotherhood that we have built.”

In another report, Fides said, quoting a statement sent to the agency, “The bishops of Niger have suspended “until further notice” all the activities of the Catholic Church (schools, health centers, charitable activities), “following the looting of churches and infrastructure of our institutions, and the desecration of our places of worship. The measure will allow us to pray and to read, in serenity, the painful events that we have suffered.” The bishops “thank very warmly all those who have expressed their solidarity in these difficult times.”



Just before 9 am Wednesday morning, in keeping with the tradition for the January 21 liturgical memory of St. Agnes, two lambs, blessed earlier in the morning in the Roman basilica named for this saint, were presented to Pope Francis in the atrium of the Santa Marta residence where he lives. The lambs are raised by the Trappist Fathers of the Abbey of the Three Fountains. When their wool is shorn, the Sisters of St. Cecelia weave it into the palliums that, on the June 29th feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles, are bestowed on new metropolitan archbishops as signs of their office.


The pallium is a white woolen circular band embroidered with six black crosses which is worn over the shoulders and has two hanging pieces, one in front and another in back. Worn by the Pope and by metropolitan archbishops, it symbolizes authority and expresses the special bond between the bishops and the Roman Pontiff. In a 1978 document, “Inter Eximina Episcopalis,” Pope Paul VI restricted its use to the Pope and metropolitan archbishops. Six years later, Pope John Paul decreed that it would be conferred on the metropolitans by the Pope on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

Usually in attendance at the January 21 ceremony in the Apostolic Palace are two Trappist fathers, several nuns, two canons of the Chapter of St. John, the dean of the Roman Rota, and two officials from the Office of the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, and a number of other invited guests.

The baby lambs, under one year of age, are normally tucked into wicker baskets, and both lambs and baskets are adorned with flowers. In 2004 St. John Paul II blessed the lambs during a general audience in the Paul VI Hall as both the audience and St. Agnes’ feast day occurred on a Wednesday.

Agnes died about 305 and is buried in the basilica named for her on Rome’s Via Nomentana. Historical accounts vary about the birth, life and manner of death of Agnes but generally it isrecounted that, in order to preserve her virginity, she was martyred at a very young age, probably 12. She is usually depicted with a lamb because the Latin word so similar to her name, agnus, means “lamb.” The name Agnes is actually derived from the feminine Greek adjective hagné meaning “chaste, pure.”

A couple of years ago I was intrigued by the January 21 press office communiqué about this event. It had been slightly altered since the announcement the previous day that the Pope would bless “two live baby lambs.” Naturally it was the word “live” that intrigued me – as if he might bless lambs that were no longer alive. That word did not appear the day of the blessings!

In 2011, L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican paper, carried an interview with Sr. Hanna Pomniaowska, one of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth who prepares the lambs every year for their Vatican visit. This order of nuns has been preparing the baby lambs for 130 years and it was their founder, Blessed Frances Siedliska, who started this custom in 1884. Up to that date another order of nuns had prepared the lambs but it became difficult when the nuns began to age. At that time the Sisters of the Holy Family took over the duties.

Two lambs are brought to the sisters on January 20 by the Trappist Fathers of Tre Fontane (Three Fountains). The nuns then bring the lambs to the top floor of their residence where there is a terrace with a laundry room where the lambs are washed with delicate soap usually used for children until their wool is white as the driven snow and they are dried with a hair dryer that, in recent years, has replaced the towels they once used.

The nuns are careful to completely dry the lambs so that, at their tender age, they do not fall sick. The room is well heated. After the lambs are dried they are placed in a tub that is covered with straw and closed with canvas so they don’t catch cold.  A meal of straw is fed to the lambs who then spend the night in the laundry.

The morning of January 21, the nuns place two small capes on the lambs, one is red to indicate St. Agnes’ martyrdom and the other is white to indicate her virginity. There are also three letters on each mantle: S.A.V. (St. Agnes Virgin) and S.A.M. (St. Agnes Martyr). The sisters weave crowns of interlocking red and white flowers, place them on the baby lambs’ heads, and then put the lambs in a decorated basket. The lambs are tied so they don’t escape.  In fact, one of them did escape a few years back, jumping up and running from the altar at St. Agnes basilica.

In the morning the lambs are brought to St. Agnes Basilica where they are placed on the altar and blessed. Following this ceremony, two papal sediari or chair bearers bring the lambs in a van to the Vatican where they are presented to the Holy Father. It is usually the sisters who are celebrating a jubilee of religious vows who are present in the papal chapel of Urban VIII.


The general audience today was dedicated, as is customary in the first Wednesday after a papal trip, to Pope Francis’ just-completed and very successful pilgrimage to Sri Lanka and the Philippines. He named the highlights of each country, and when he spoke of families with numerous children – a topic of his interview on the papal plane with  journalists – he said – to great applause – that large families are not the cause of poverty, as many say, rather it is the econonic system.  He also received enthusiastic applause when he spoke of corruption.

As he began the catechesis in the Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis confessed, “I will always keep in my heart the recollection of the joyful welcome I received from the crowds.” He said the culmination of his stay in Sri Lanka was the canonization of St. Joseph Vaz, whose “example of holiness and love for his neighbor continue to inspire the Church in Sri Lanka in her apostolate of charity and education. He added that the new saint represented “a model for all Christians, who are called upon today to offer the salvific truth of the Gospel in a multi-religious context.”

Francis mentioned his meeting with governmental authorities, emphasizing the importance of dialogue, respect for human dignity and efforts to involve all in finding suitable solutions for reconciliation and the common good.

The Holy Father highlighted his encounter with religious leaders, noting the good relations that exist between the various communities. “In this context, I wanted to encourage the cooperation that has already been initiated between the followers of different religious traditions, also in order to heal with the salve of forgiveness the wounds of those still afflicted by the sufferings of recent years.”

With reference to the Philippines, the Pope underscored “the constant fruitfulness of the Gospel and its capacity to inspire a society worthy of mankind, in which there is a place for the dignity of each person and the aspirations of the Filipino population.”

He explained that the main aim of his visit was to express his closeness to those brothers and sisters who had suffered as a result of the devastation wrought in November 2013 by typhoon Yolanda. “The power of God’s love, revealed in the mystery of the Cross, was made evident in the spirit of solidarity shown by the many acts of charity and sacrifice that marked those days of darkness.”

He also mentioned the young volunteer Kristel, who was killed in a freak accident after his visit to Tacloban when scaffolding collapsed due to extreme weather conditions. In fact, typhoon-like conditions forced the Pope to leave Tacloban on the island of Leyte four hours earlier than planned and to thus cancel some events on the Tacloban agenda.

Francis went on to speak about his encounter with families in Manila. “I have heard it said that families with many children and high birth rates are among the causes of poverty. It seems to me a simplistic opinion. I can say that the main cause of poverty is an economic system that has removed the person from the center and replaced him with the god of money; an economic system that excludes and creates the throwaway culture in which we live. … It is necessary to protect families, which face various threats, so that they can bear witness to the beauty of the family in God’s plan.”

Sustained applause greeted these remarks.

Finally, he talked about his meeting with the young. “I wanted to offer them my encouragement for their efforts in contributing to the renewal of society, especially through their service to the poor and the protection of the natural environment. Care for the poor is an essential element of our Christian life and witness – because corruption steals from the poor – and requires a culture of honesty,” he concluded, and once again greeted by applause.


Following the general audience catechesis, the Pope launched an appeal for prayer for “the victims of the events of recent days in beloved Niger. Let us invoke from the Lord the gift of reconciliation and peace, so that religious feeling is not transformed into a cause of violence, oppression and destruction. I hope that a climate of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence may be reinstated as soon as possible, for the good of all.”

Speaking on Wednesday, the Holy Father mentioned specifically the “brutalities perpetrated against Christians, children and Churches.”

“War must not be waged in the name of God” he said, receiving yet more applause.

Vatican Radio reported that last week, in Niger’s capital Niamey and in the town of Zinder, at least 15 people were killed in two days of violent protests against the publication in France of a satirical magazine depicting Islam’s prophet. Over a dozen Christian Churches and other buildings were set ablaze. Security forces have been using tear gas to disperse hundreds of opposition supporters taking part in banned demonstrations in the capital.


The Vatican announced today that Pope Francis has appointed the following members of the College for the Review of Appeals to the Ordinary Session of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, instituted by the Rescriptum ex Audientia SS.mi of 3 November 2014:

President: Bishop Charles J. Scicluna, auxiliary of Malta;

Members: Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education; Cardinal Attilio Nicora, president emeritus of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA) and the Financial Information Authority (AIF); Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts; Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, president of the Prefecture of the Economic Affairs of the Holy See; Archbishop Jose Luis Mollaghan, emeritus of Rosario, Argentina; and Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta Ochoa de Chinchetru, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.

Supplementary members are: Cardinal Julian Herranz, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts; Bishop Giorgio Corbellini, president of the Labour Office of the Apostolic See and of the Disciplinary Commission of the Roman Curia.




Aboard the papal plane, Jan 19, 2015 / 03:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News)  –  Speaking to journalists aboard the Jan. 19 flight from Manila to Rome concluding his Asian pilgrimage, Pope Francis discussed what he learned from Filipinos; his upcoming trip to Philadelphia and other U.S. cities; how one can be a responsible parent without resorting to birth control; the colonization of gender ideology; and the possibility of a papal trip to Africa.

Below is a full transcript of the discussion between Pope Francis and journalists during Monday’s flight:

Pope Francis: First of all I greet you: good day, thank you for your work. It was challenging, and as we say in Spanish, “pasado per agua” (it rained on the parade). It is beautiful, and thank you very much for what you have done.

POPE FRANCIS - inflight interview

Kara David (GMA Network): Good day Holy Father. Sorry, I will speak in English. Thank you very much for visiting our country and for giving so much hope to the Filipinos. We would like you to come back to our country. My question is: the Filipinos have learned a lot from listening to your messages. Is there something the Holy Father has learned from the Filipinos, from your encounter with us?

Pope Francis: The gestures! The gestures moved me. They are not protocol gestures, they are good gestures, felt gestures, gestures of the heart. Some almost make one weep. There’s everything there: faith, love, the family, the illusions, the future. That gesture of the fathers who think of their children so that the Pope will bless them. Not the gesture of one unique father. There were many who thought of their children when we passed by on the road. A gesture which in other places one does not see, as if they say ‘this is my treasure, this is my future, this is my love, for this one it’s worth working, for this one it’s worth suffering’. A gesture that is original, but born from the heart.

A second gesture that struck me very much is an enthusiasm that is not feigned, a joy, a happiness, a capacity to celebrate.  Even under the rain, one of the masters of ceremonies told me that he was edified because those who were serving in Tacloban, under the rain, never lost the smile. It’s the joy,  not feigned joy.  It wasn’t a false smile. No, no!  It was a smile that just came out, and behind that smile there is a normal life, there are pains, problems.

Then there were the gestures of the mothers who brought their sick children. Indeed mothers in general bring them there. But usually mothers did not lift the children up so much, only up to here. The dads do, one sees them. Here dad! Then many disabled children, with disabilities that make some impression; they did not hide the children, they brought them to the Pope so that he would bless them: ‘This is my child, he is this way, but he is mine’.  All mothers know this, they do this. But it’s the way they did this that struck me. The gesture of fatherhood, of motherhood, of enthusiasm, of joy.

There’s a word that’s difficult for us to understand because it has been vulgarized too much, too badly used, too badly understood, but it’s a word that has substance: resignation. A people who knows how to suffer, and is capable of rising up. Yesterday, I was edified at the talk I had with the father of Kristel, the young woman volunteer who died in Tacloban.  He said she died in service, he was seeking words to confirm himself to this situation, to accept it. A people that knows how to suffer, that’s what I saw and how I interpreted the gestures.

Jean Louis de la Vessiere – France Press: Holy Father, you have now gone twice to Asia. The Catholics of Africa have yet to receive a visit from you.  You know that from South Africa to Nigeria to Uganda many faithful who suffer from poverty, war, Islamic fundamentalism, hope you will visit this year. So I would like to ask you, when and where are thinking of going?

Pope Francis: I will respond hypothetically. The plan is to go to the Central African Republic and Uganda, these two, this year. I think that this will be towards the end of the year, because of the weather, no? They have to calculate when there won’t be rains, when there won’t be bad weather. This trip is a bit overdue, because there was the Ebola problem. It is a big responsibility to hold big gatherings, because of the possible contagion, no?  But these countries there is no problem. These two are hypothetical, but it will be this year.

Fr. Lombardi: Now we give the floor to our friend Izzo Salvatore, from the Italian information agency AGI.

Izzo Salvatore: Holy Father, in Manila we were in a very beautiful hotel. Everyone was very nice and we ate very well, but as soon as you left this hotel you were, let’s call it morally accosted, at least, by the poverty. We saw children among the trash, treated possibly I would say as trash. Now, I have a son who is six years old and I was ashamed because they were in such poor conditions. I have a son Rocco who has understood very well what you are saying when you say to share with the poor. So on the way to school, he tries to distribute snacks to the beggars in the area. And, for me it’s much more difficult. Also for others, adult people it’s very difficult. Just one cardinal 40 years ago left everything to go among the lepers – that’s Leger (Archbishop Paul-Emile Leger of Montreal, who in 1968 and at the age of 64 resigned from his post to live with lepers, editor’s note) – so, I wanted to know why is it so difficult to follow that example also for the cardinals? I also wanted to ask you something else. It’s about Sri Lanka. There we saw all of the “favelas” on the way to the airport, they are shack supported against the tree. They practically live under the trees. Most are Tamils and they are discriminated against. After the massacre of Paris, right after, perhaps rashly, you said there is an isolated terrorism and a state-sponsored terrorism. What did you mean by “state-sponsored terrorism”? It came to my mind when I saw the discrimination and suffering of these people.

Pope Francis: Thanks. Thank you.

Salvatore: One more thing Holy Father, I wanted to tell you that my agency, AGI Italia which is turning 65 years old. So without taking anything away from ANSA, I wanted to let you know that we are working very hard in Asia, because with the tracks that Enrico Mattei left, AGI makes collaborative agreements with modest agencies in Palestine, in Pakistan, in Algeria, in a lot of countries. We also would like your encouragement. There are around 20 agencies that are associated with us in developing countries.

Pope Francis: When one of you asked me what message I was bringing to the Philippines, I said: the poor. Yes, it’s a message that Church today gives; also the message that you mention of Sri Lanka, of the Tamils and discrimination, no? The poor, the victims of this throwaway culture. This is true. Today, paper and what’s left over isn’t all that’s thrown away. We throw away people. And discrimination is a way of throwing away: these people are discarded. And there comes to mind a bit the image of the castes, no? This can’t go on. But today, throwing away seems normal. And you spoke of the luxurious hotel and then the shacks. In my diocese of Buenos Aires, there was the new area, which is called Puerto Madero, up to the train station, and then the start of the “Villas Miserias,” the poor. One after another. And in this part there are 36 luxurious restaurants. If you eat there, they take off your head. Right there is hunger. One next to the other. And we have the tendency to get used to this, no? To this, that… yes, yes, we’re here, and there, are those thrown away. This is poverty.

I think the Church must give examples – always more examples – of refusing every worldliness. To us consecrated, bishops, priests, sisters, laity who truly believe, the gravest sin and the gravest threat is worldliness. It’s really ugly to look on when you see a worldly consecrated, a man of the Church, a sister. It’s ugly. This is not the way of Jesus. It’s the path of an NGO that is called “church” but this isn’t the Church of Jesus, that NGO. Because the Church is not an NGO but another thing; when they become worldly, a part of the Church, these people, it becomes an NGO and it ceases to be the Church.

The Church is Jesus, died and risen for our salvation, and the testimony of the Christians that follow Christ. That scandal that you’ve said is true, yes. Scandal: we Christians often cause scandal. We Christians scandalize. Whether we are priests or laity, because the way of Jesus is difficult. It’s true that the Church needs to “be despoiled.” But you’ve made me think about this terrorism of states. This throwing away, even if it is like a terrorism. I hadn’t ever thought about it honestly but it makes me think. I don’t know what to say to you but truly those are not caresses, truly. It’s like saying “no, you no, you out.” Or, when it happened here in Rome that a homeless man had a stomach pain. Poor man. When you have stomach pain you go to the hospital into the emergency response unit and they give you an aspirin or something like that and then they give you an appointment for 15 days later, and after 15 days you come. After, he went to a priest and said, “But, no…” And the priest saw and was moved and said, ‘I’ll take you to the hospital but I want to do me a favor.  When I start explaining what you have, you act like you’re fainting.’ That’s how it happened. He was an artist. He did it well. There was a peritonitis. This man was discarded. He went out alone, he was discarded, and he was dying. That parish priest was smart, he helped us well. Stay away from worldliness, right? Is it a terrorism? Well, yes. We can think about this, yes, but I’ll think about it well. Thanks, and congratulations to the agency.

Jan Cristoph Kitzler: I would like to return for a minute to the encounter you had with families. You have spoken of ideological colonization. Would you explain a bit more the concept? You also mentioned Paul VI, speaking of the “particular causes” that are important to the pastoral care for families. Can you give an example of these particular cases and maybe say also if there is need to open the way, to have a corridor, for these particular cases?

Pope Francis: Ideological colonization. I’ll give just one example that I saw myself. Twenty years ago, in 1995, a minister of education asked for a large loan to build schools for the poor. They gave it to her on the condition that in the schools there would be a book for the children of a certain level, no? It was a schoolbook, a book prepared well, didactically, in which gender theory was taught. This woman needed the money but that was the condition. Clever woman, she said yes and did it again and again and it went ahead like this and that’s how it was achieved. This is ideological colonization.

They introduce to the people an idea that has nothing, nothing to do with the nation. Yes, with groups of people, but not with the nation. And they colonize the people with an idea that changes, or wants to change, a mentality or a structure. During the synod, the African bishops complained about this. Which was the same story, certain loans in exchange for certain conditions — I say only these things that I have seen.

Why do I say ideological colonization? Because they take, they really take, they take the need of a people to seize an opportunity to enter and grow strong — with the children. But it is not new, this. The same was done by the dictatorships of the last century. They entered with their own doctrine — think of the Balilla (Mussolini’s fascist youth organization — editor’s note), think of the Hitler Youth. They colonized the people, but they wanted to do it. But how much suffering — peoples must not lose their freedom. Each people has its own culture, its own history. Every people has its own culture. But when conditions come imposed by imperial colonizers, they seek to make these peoples lose their own identity and make a uniformity. This is the globalization of the sphere — all the points are equidistant from the center. And the true globalization — I like to say this — is not the sphere. It is important to globalize, but not like the sphere; rather, like the polyhedron. Namely that each people, every part, conserves its own identity without being ideologically colonized. These are the ideological colonizations.

There is a book, excuse me but I’ll make a commercial, there is a book that maybe is a bit heavy at the beginning because it was written in 1903 in London. It is a book that at that time, the writer had seen this drama of ideological colonization and wrote in that book. It is called “The Lord of the Earth,” or “The Lord of the World.” One of those. The author is Benson, written in 1903. I advise you to read it. Reading it, you’ll understand well what I mean by ideological colonization.

This is the first response. The second: What I want to say about Paul VI is that it is true that openness to life is the condition of the sacrament of matrimony. A man cannot give the sacrament to the woman, and the woman give it to him, if they are not in agreement on this point to be open to life. To the point that it can be proven that this or the other did not get married with this intention of being open to life, the matrimony is null. It’s a cause of the annulment of the marriage, no? Openness to life, no. Paul VI studied this, with the commission, how to help the many cases, many problems. They are important problems, that are even about love in the family, right? The everyday problems — so many of them.

But there was something more. The refusal of Paul VI was not only to the personal problems, for which he will tell the confessors to be merciful and understand the situation and pardon. Being understanding and merciful, no? But he was watching the universal Neo-Malthusianism that was in progress. And, how do you call this Neo-Malthusianism? There is less than one percent of birth rate growth in Italy. The same in Spain. That Neo-Malthusianism that sought to control humanity on the part of the powers. This doesn’t mean that the Christian must make children “in series.” I met a woman some months ago in a parish who was pregnant with her eighth child, who had had seven C-sections. But does she want to leave the seven as orphans? This is to tempt God. I speak of responsible paternity. This is the way, a responsible paternity. But, what I wanted to say was that Paul VI was not more antiquated, closed minded. No, he was a prophet who with this said to watch out for the Neo-Malthusianism that is coming. This is what I wanted to say.

Fr. Lombardi: I now give the question to Valentina, but I would like to draw your attention to the fact that we are now over China — we seem to have now become accustomed to holding press conferences over China, as we did returning from Korea.

Valentina Alazraki: On the flight from Sri Lanka you used the image of the gesture that this poor man (Gasbarri) might have merited if he insulted your mother would have merited a punch. Your words were not well understood by everyone in the world and seemed to justify the use of violence in the face of provocation. Could you explain a little better what you meant to say?

Pope Francis: In theory we can say that a violent reaction in the face of an offense or a provocation, in theory yes, it is not a good thing, one shouldn’t do it. In theory we can say what the Gospel says, that we should turn the other cheek. In theory we can say that we have freedom of expression, and that’s important. But in theory we all agree. But we are human and there’s prudence, which is a virtue of human coexistence. I cannot constantly insult, provoke a person continuously, because I risk making him angry, and I risk receiving an unjust reaction, one that is not just. But that’s human. For this reason I say that freedom of expression must take into account the human reality and for this reason it must be prudent. It’s a way of saying that one must be educated, prudent. Prudence is the human virtue that regulates our relations. I can go up to here,  I can go up to there, and there, beyond that no. What I wanted to say is that in theory we all agree: there is freedom of expression, a violent aggression is not good, it’s always bad. We all agree, but in practice, let us stop a little because we are human and we risk provoking the other. For this reason freedom must be accompanied by prudence. That’s what I wanted to say.

Nicole Winfield, AP: For the English Group, I would like to ask you again about this year’s trip. You already told us that the trip to United States was previewed and mentioned three cities: New York, Washington and Philadelphia. Then, with the canonization of (Fr. Junipero) Serra, we ask if a stop to California is foreseeable, or at the Mexican border. Then, in South America, you told our colleague Elisabetta that three trips in three Latin American countries are previewed. Which are the countries? And do you think to beautify personally Archbishop Romero, who was recently considered a martyr (by the commission of theologians of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints, editor’s note)?

Pope Francis: I start from the last one. There will be a war between Cardinal Amato and monsignor Paglia (laughs) over which of the two will do the beatification. No, beatifications are normally carried out by the Cardinal of the dicastery (for saints’ causes), or another (bishop).

Let’s go the first question of the United States. Yes, the three cities are Philadelphia, for the Meeting of Families; New York, I have the date already but I can’t remember, for the visit at the U.;N and Washington. It is these three.  I would like to go to California for the canonization of Junipero, but I think there is a problem of time. It requires two more days. I think that I will do that canonization at the shrine (of the Immaculate Conception) in Washington, it is is a national thing. In Washington, I’m not sure where, there is a statue of Junipero, at the capitol. To enter the USA from the border of Mexico would be a beautiful thing, as a sign of brotherhood and of help to the immigrants. But you know that to go to Mexico without going to visit the Madonna (of Guadalupe) would be a drama. A war could break out (laughing). And also it would mean three more days, and this is not clear. There I think there will only be those three cities. Later there will be time to go to Mexico. Did I forget something? Latin America countries? We have foreseen for this year – everything is still in draft form — Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. These three. Next year, God willing, I would like to go, but nothing is planned yet. Chile, Argentina and Uruguay and Peru are missing there, but we don’t know where to put it.

Father Lombardi: Thank you. We already have quite a precise and wide program of the (Pope’s) travels. Everything is provisional (this is just a draft schedule) – nothing is decided yet.

Carla Lim: Thank you very much for inspiring our country; on behalf of the Filipino people, thank you so much. Please forgive me because I cannot speak Italian. You mentioned, in some of your speeches, about corruption, and corruption takes away the resources from the people. What can your holiness do to fight corruption, not just in the government, but maybe in the Church as well?

Pope Francis: She’s tough, this one, eh? (Inaudible). Corruption today in the world is the order of the day, and the corrupt attitude easily and immediately finds a nest in institutions, because an institution that has so many branches here and there, so many chiefs and vice-chiefs, like that, it’s very easy for it to fall or provide a nest for corruption and every institution can fall into this. Corruption is taking from the people. That corrupt person who does corrupt deals or governs corruptly or associates himself with others in order to do corrupt deals, robs the people. The victims are those — where is he, the one of the anniversary? (he refers to Salvatore Izzo)– they are those who you said were behind the luxury hotel, no? They are the victims of corruption. Corruption is not closed in on itself; it goes out and kills. Do you understand? Today corruption is a worldwide problem.

Once in 2001, more or less, I asked the chief of the cabinet of the president at that time, which was a government that we thought to be not so corrupt, and it was true, it was not so corrupt, the government: “Tell me, the aid that you send into the interior of the country, whether it be in cash or food or clothes, all these things, how much gets to the place.” Immediately this man, who is a true man, clean, said, “35 percent.” That’s what he told me. The year 2001 in my homeland.

And now, corruption in ecclesial institutions. When I speak of the Church I like to speak of the faithful, the baptized, the whole Church, no? In that case, it’s better to speak of sinners. We are all sinners, no? But when we speak of corruption, we speak either of corrupt persons or of institutions in the Church that fall into corruption. And there are cases, yes, there are. I remember once, in the year 1994, when I had been barely named bishop of the Flores quarter of Buenos Aires, two employees or functionaries of a ministry came to me to tell me, “you have so much need here with so many poor in the villas miserias.” “Oh yes,” I said, and I told them. “We can help you. We have, if you want, a subsidy of 400,000 pesos.” At that time, the exchange rate with the dollar was one to one. $400,000. “You can do that?” “Yes, yes.” I listened because, when the offer is so big, the offer challenges even a saint. But they went on: “To do this, we make the deposit and then you give us half for ourselves.” In that moment I thought about what I would do: either I insult them and give them a kick where the sun doesn’t shine, or I play the fool. I played the fool and said, in truth, we at the vicariate don’t have an account; you have to make the deposit at the archdiocese’s office with the receipt. And that was it. “Oh, we didn’t know.” And they left. But later I thought, if these two landed without even asking for a runway — it’s a bad thought — it’s because someone else said yes. But it’s a bad thought, no? Does corruption happen easily? Let’s remember this: sinners yes, corrupted no, corrupted never. We must ask pardon for those Catholics, those Christians who scandalize with their corruption. It’s a wound in the Church. But there are so many saints, so many saints. And sinner saints, but not corrupt. Let’s look at the other side, too: the Church is holy. There are some here and there. Thank you for having the courage to ask this question.

Anais Feuga (Radio France): We’ve flying over China. Coming back from Korea, you said you’re ready to go to China tomorrow. In the light of this declaration, can you explain why you didn’t receive the Dalai Lama when he was at Rome a little while ago, and where do relations with China stand?

Pope Francis: Thanks for asking me this question. It’s a habit in the protocol of the Secretariat of State not to receive heads of state and people at that level when they’re taking part in an international meeting here in Rome. For example, for FAO I didn’t receive anyone. That’s the reason he wasn’t received. I saw that some newspapers said I didn’t receive him out of fear of China. That’s not true. At that time, this protocol was the reason. He asked for an audience, and it was said … but a date, a certain point. He asked before, but not for this moment, we are in relation. The motive was not a refusal of a person, or fear of China. Yes, we are open, we want peace with everyone. How do the relations with China stand? The government of China is respectful, we’re respectful, let’s take things one step at a time. That’s how things are done in history, no? We don’t yet know, but they know I’m available either to receive someone, or to go to China. They know. There was another question or not? Thank you.

Marco Ansaldo (La Repubblica): Holy Father, you have done an amazing trip, very rich, full of things, in the Philippines. But I would like to take a step back, because terrorism strikes Christianity, Catholics in many part of the world. We have recently seen it in Niger, but there are many examples. In the last trip we did, coming back from Turkey, you launched an appeal to Islamic leaders, saying that a step, a very firm intervention from them was needed. Now, it does not seem to me that this has been considered and welcomed, despite your words. There are some moderate Islamic countries, I can easily provide the example of Turkey, that have at least an ambiguous attitude toward terrorism – and let’s mention the cases of ISIS and of Charlie Hebdo. I do not know if you had the occasion to reflect and think how to go beyond your invitation over this past one month and a half, since your appeal had not been welcomed and was important. You, or someone on your behalf, I see here Monsignor Becciu or Cardinal Parolin himself, because this problem will keep on questioning us. Thank you.

Pope Francis: I even repeated that appeal to the diplomatic corps on the very day I left for Sri Lanka. In my speech to the diplomatic corps, I said that I hope that — more or less, I don’t remember the exact words – religious, political, academic and intellectual leaders express themselves on the issue. Even the moderate Muslim people ask that of their leaders. Some have done something. I also think that we should give some time: it is not easy, no. I am hopeful, since there are many good people among them, many good leaders, I am sure we will achieve it. But I wanted to underscore that I repeated that on the day I departed from Rome.

Christoph Schmidt: Holy Father, first of all I would like to say: Thank you very much for all the impressive moments of this week. It is the first time I accompany you, and I would like to say thank you very much. My question: you have talked about the many children in the Philippines, about your joy because there are so many children, but according to some polls the majority of Filipinos think that the huge growth of Filipino population is one of the most important reasons for the enormous poverty in the country. A Filipino woman gives birth to an average of three children in her life, and the Catholic position concerning contraception seem to be one of the few question on which a big number of people in the Philippines do not agree with the Church. What do you think about that?

Pope Francis: I think the number of three children per family that you mentioned – it makes me suffer- I think it is the number experts say is important to keep the population going. Three per couple. When this decreases, the other extreme happens, like what is happening in Italy. I have heard, I do not know if it is true, that in 2024 there will be no money to pay pensioners because of the fall in population. Therefore, the key word, to give you an answer, and the one the Church uses all the time, and I do too, is responsible parenthood. How do we do this? With dialogue. Each person with his pastor seeks how to do carry out a responsible parenthood.

That example I mentioned shortly before about that woman who was expecting her eighth child and already had seven who were born with caesareans. That is an irresponsibility. That woman might say ‘no, I trust in God.’ But, look, God gives you means to be responsible. Some think that — excuse the language — that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood. This is clear and that is why in the Church there are marriage groups, there are experts in this matter, there are pastors, one can search; and I know so many ways that are licit and that have helped this. You did well to ask me this.

Another curious thing in relation to this is that for the most poor people, a child is a treasure. It is true that you have to be prudent here too, but for them a child is a treasure. Some would say ‘God knows how to help me’ and perhaps some of them are not prudent, this is true. Responsible paternity, but let us also look at the generosity of that father and mother who see a treasure in every child.

Elisabetta Pique, La Nacion: Representing the Spanish language group, I have two questions.  This was a moving voyage for everyone. We saw people crying the entire time in Tacloban, even we journalists cried.  Yesterday you said the world needs to cry. We would like to ask you, what was – and it was all very moving – what was for you the most moving moment? That is the first question. The second, yesterday you made history, you surpassed the record set by John Paul II, in the same place, there were 6 or 7 million people. How does it feel to have seen – Cardinal Tagle was telling us that during the Mass in front of the altar you asked him, but how many people are here? How does it feel to have surpassed this record, to have entered into history as the Pope with the Mass with the highest attendance in history?  Thank you.

Pope Francis: The most moving moment: for me, the Mass in Tacloban was very moving. Very moving.  To see all of God’s people standing still, praying, after this catastrophe, thinking of my sins and those people, it was moving, a very moving moment. On the moment of the Mass there, I felt as though I was annihilated, I almost couldn’t speak. I don’t know what happened to me, maybe it was the emotion, I don’t know. But I didn’t feel another thing, it is something.  And then, the moving moments: the gestures were moving. Every gesture.  When I passed and a father would do this (gestures) and I blessed him, he would say thank you. But for them, a blessing was enough. I thought — I who have so many expectations — I want this and I want that. That was good for me, no? Moving moments. After I found out that in Tacloban we landed with winds at 70 kilometres per hour, I took it seriously the warning that we needed to leave no later than one o’clock because there was more danger.

Regarding the great turnout, I felt annihilated.  These were God’s people, and God was present. And the joy of the presence of God which tells us, think on it well, that you are servants of these people, these people are the protagonists. Something like this. The other thing is the weeping. One of the things that is lost when there is too much wealth or when values are misunderstood or we have become accustomed to injustice, to this culture of waste, is the capacity to cry. This is a grace we must ask for. There is a beautiful prayer in the old missal (1962, editor’s note) for tears. It went more or less like this: ‘O Lord, you who have made it so that Moses with his cane made water flow from a stone, make it so from the rock that is my heart, that water of tears may flow.’ It’s a beautiful prayer. We Christians must ask for the grace to cry. Especially wealthy Christians. To cry about injustice and to cry about sins. Because crying opens you to understand new realities, or new dimensions to realities.

This is what the girl said, what I said to her. She was the only one to ask that question to which there is no answer: why do children suffer? The great Dostoyevsky asked himself this, and he could not answer. Why do children suffer?  She, with her weeping, a woman who was weeping. When I say it is important that women be held in higher consideration in the Church, it’s not just to give them a function as the secretary of a dicastery — though this would be fine.  No, it’s so that they may tell us tell us how they experience, and view reality. Because women view things from a different richness, a larger one. Another thing I would like to underscore is what I said to the last young man, who truly works well, he gives and gives and gives, he organizes to help the poor. But don’t forget that we too need to be beggars – from them.  Because the poor evangelize us. If we take the poor away from the Gospel, we cannot understand Jesus’ message. The poor evangelize us. I go to evangelize the poor, yes, but allow them to evangelize you. Because they have values that you do not.

I thank you very much for your work, I have esteem for it.  Thanks very much.  I know it is a sacrifice for you. Thanks very much. I would like make these thanks concrete towards our dean,  whose birthday it is today (Valentina Alazraki, editor’s note). We can’t say how old you are but you’ve worked here since you were a child, as a child, as a child. Best wishes.



Heartfelt thanks to the many people – including a number of fans in the Phlippines – who wrote comments on my Facebook page (/joansrome) and to those who emailed me about my blog and my Facebook postings. Nothing could have beat actually being on the ground in Sri Lanka or the Philippines – or aboard the papal plane! – but good reporting from colleagues helps paint an accurate and colorful picture.

Here’ what people think:

ALLAN – He (Pope Francis) deals with reality in the society. Basic but crucial issues and concerns and he plunged into it unhesitatingly, trustingly. This is the faith that could testify all brave men like Pope Francis. His engagement, message, and missions is easy to understand because he put it on a real life situation. He live what he preach. I think this is what it is all about.

ANN MARIE – Been glued to my Filipino channel and EWTN the entire time. I read so many articles and browsed through so many videos and photos. Can’t get enough of Pope Francis and this heartwarming and inspiring experience. I just came from Rome and have seen the Pope there but I wanted to be in Manila experiencing first hand this historic event.

PATTI –  6 million people to share Holy Mass with the Shepherd of Christ.!! through their suffering faith has stood solid!! Bless our sisters and brothers in the Philipines!

DEXTER –  “I was there Miss Joan Lewis, it was super packed but i didnt hear anyone complained. I heard people say, “the smile of the Pope erases all the inconvenience” what a blessing it was…”

MARY – I agree, this trip by Pope Francis IS historic, but I also believe the Pope’s trip to the Holy Land, and other evangelization and ecumenical outreaches the Pope has made are historic. In my view, Pope Francis is the best Pope we have had in my lifetime when considering the living out of the full scope of the Catholic faith. Francis is truly a man for all seasons and for all people. I am praying for him, that his life and ministry will be long and blessed and glorify the Lord.

BRYAN – Let’s pray that God will bless this beautiful country with protection from the calamities of nature, especially now that “Peter” has visited His people there.

MARICELA – PAPA FRANCISCO, un regalo para el mundo, no lo pierdas de vista!

A NICE TOUCH!  In the middle of his press conference with the Vatican-accredited reporters during the flight back to the Vatican, the 78-year-old pontiff brought out a birthday cake for journalist Valentina Alazraki. “We can’t say how old you are but you’ve worked here since you were a child, as a child, as a child. Best wishes,” the Pope joked before concluding the press briefing. Pope Francis had asked Filipino pastry chef Tippi Tambunting last Friday to bake a birthday cake for his surprise. He also asked additional cakes for the rest of the media people on the plane.


Pope Francis returned last evening from his weeklong trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines and, as has been his wont on papal flights, gave an interview to journalists as they flew to Rome from Manila. The Pope was asked about his impressions of the events and people in the Philippines, future travel plans, responsible parenthood, corruption  and the need for the world to learn how to cry. He emphasized that he was most impressed with the many gestures of the Filipino people, gestures that show they know much about life, loving, caring and sharing and family, but they also “know suffering.” He mentioned their “true enthusiasm, joy, happiness, able to celebrate even in the rain.

The Holy Father spent an hour with journalists during the inflight interview. I am poting a separate column on that give-and-take called “An Hour With Pope Francis.”

After landing at Rome’s Ciampino Airport but before returning to the Vatican, Francis went to the basilica of St. Mary Major to pray to the Virgin “Salus populi romani” and to give thanks, as he has done since being elected Pope, for the positive outcome of his apostolic trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines.


Asia News reports from Colombo:  “For the first time in the history of Sri Lanka, we Tamil had the chance to see the Pope in our native places. It was truly a great blessing, not only for us but for all the people of this country”: This is the reaction of some Tamils from the north of the island describing to AsiaNews the significance of Francis’ visit to the shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary in Madhu in the diocese of Mannar, on January 14.

The moment of prayer together with the victims of the civil war was one of the pivotal moments of the journey made by the pontiff to the former Ceylon. “We believe,”said an elderly couple, “that Pope Francis’ visit is a good thing not just for us Tamils, but also for all civilians in the country, without distinction. In addition, we are pleased that he was welcomed by a leader with a good heart, kind and disciplined, not a corrupt president.”

A Tamil Hindu doctor says he is “happy that the Pope, spiritual leader of the Catholics, has come to visit his flock. And it was nice that he visited a Buddhist temple. His example teaches us to respect all religions and to allow everyone to practice their own. I appreciate Pope Francis: He came at a  good time, when the country has changed government and nourishes a new hope for a better future. ”

For a Catholic nun, the visit of Francis to the Marian shrine of Madhu “will remain engraved forever in our hearts. It is the first time for a Pope to come here to the north, meeting the most affected by the conflict. The credit also goes to Msgr. Rayappu Joseph [bishop of Mannar, ed], who strongly wanted his presence here.”


(News.va) After the historic visit of Pope Francis, the bishops of the Philippines gathered in Manila for the plenary assembly of the Bishops’ Conference. The meeting will last until January 22 and will discuss the main issues such as the new evangelization and the “Year of the Poor,” proclaimed by the local Church for 2015.

Speaking to Fides (news agency) Fr. Melvin Castro, secretary of the Commission on Family and Life of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference said, they would look at these urgent needs in a different light after the Pope’s visit. “Among the Bishops, among the clergy and the faithful, there is a great enthusiasm for what Pope Francis donated to our Church, he said. The Pope received spiritual energy from the crowd of faithful who welcomed him, and our Church in the Philippines received great consolation and strong enthusiasm to live and profess its faith, thanks to Pope Francis’ presence and words,” continues Fr.Castro.

“The Pope,” he said, “showed us a model of Church that is attentive towards the poor. This approach will have a strong impact in the long term in the Philippine Church. The poor teach that man is worth for what he is, and not for what he has.” Fr. Castro also notes the impetus given to the Filipino laity that, after the Pope’s trip, “will bear fruit of a greater involvement in pastoral care, especially for families and young people.” With regards to the family, Fr. Castro noted: “We are happy that the Pope spoke out in defense of the family and stigmatized the ideology that comes from Western culture, which exports divorce, abortion, homosexual marriage, inviting us to promote and defend family with the traditional values of Philippine culture,” concluded Fr. Castro.