This weekend – February 27 and 28 – marks the second anniversary of the resignation of Benedict XVI. His resignation became official at 8 pm on Thursday, February 28. On those last two days of February 2013, among the many “good-byes” he said, Benedict held his final general audience on Wednesday the 27th, greeted members of the College of Cardinals and, in a memorable scene the world will never forget, departed Vatican City by helicopter for Castelgandolfo where he would spend two months as workers readied the monastery he now lives in. Upon his arrival, he greeted the populace of Castelgandolfo from a balcony of the apostolic palace, a building whose doors were slowly and solemnly closed by Swiss Guards promptly at 8 pm.  At that moment, the See of Peter became vacant.

We pray for the continued health, happiness and tranquility of this Servant of the Servants of God, a title he dearly loved!


My guest this week on the interview segment of Vatican Inside is a longtime friend, Msgr. James Checchio, who is in his 10th year as rector of the Pontifical North American College, We look at those 10 years and at NAC’s growth – growth in the number of seminarians attending NAC but also in the physical sense of new buildings, etc.  The newest building was inaugurated on the January 6 feast of the Epiphany by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin. I posted photos on this page as well as a few videos on my Youtube page (joansrome). A do-not-miss conversation this weekend.

I took these photos in Msgr. Checchio’s new office in the new building.

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As you know, in the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at or on Sirius-XM satellite radio. If you live outside the U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:30 am (Eastern time) and re-airs Sundays at 4:30 pm (ET). Check for your time zone. Past shows are found in Vatican Insider archives:


I have always loved this old and very beautiful church and try to stop in, even for just a brief Hail Mary, anytime I am near it. One day, not long ago, I was walking from the Gregorian University to catch a bus on the nearby Pza. Venezia and saw that an evening Mass would begin shortly, so I went into the church and briefly explored before attending Mass. I quickly went into the crypt area and took the following photos, I only had my phone so will have to go back some day for better and more comprehensive pictures of the tomb of two of the 12 Apostles who are buried in Rome.



Franciscan friars administer this basilica and, as they say on their website ( “Just a few meters off of the Piazza Venezia, often considered to be the very center of Rome, you will find the administrative center of the Order at the Friary of the Twelve Holy Apostles (Santi Apostoli) next to the Basilica of the Twelve Holy Apostles first given to the Conventual Franciscan Friars in 1517 by the Holy See. The Friary is owned by the Vatican, while the Basilica is under the care of the Italian State.  Given the expense of maintaining such magnificent buildings as the Basilica, we are grateful that the State is assuming so much of the expense so that the Order is able to use our monies for our work around the world, even though it is a very sacred place, containing the mortal remains of the Apostles Philip and James the Less.

“The Friars living here have a variety of ministries. Not only are we engaged in the work of the General Government of the Order, but we also care for the Basilica, work at the Vatican, teach in some Universities in Rome, serve the poor, develop the arts within the Order, plus everything that is involved in taking care of a house this size. There are 37 Friars presently assigned to the Friary, ranging in age from 31-99. They come from 11 different countries representing 18 different jurisdictions within the Order. Being in the heart of Rome, Italian is the most common language for everyday use, but one often hears all four of the official languages of the order spoken.”

Here is Brian Lenz’s account of the Lenten station church Mass here in 2014:

And for a real-in-depth visit, explore this site:

Even TripAdvisor writes: “Santi Apostoli, or Santi Dodici Apostoli as the Italians say, is the Church of the Twelve Holy Apostles at the Piazza bearing the same name. This is really an astonishing Church, hidden behind Piazza Venezia. We visited this hidden gem during a guided tour of ancient Rome with ‘When in Rome Tours’ and we were glad we did…… Santi Dodici Apostoli was the parish church of Michelangelo and his tomb was shortly placed here before its transportation to the Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze. …A visit of Santi Apostoli is really worthwhile. So when you are at Piazza Venezia or at the Trevi Fountain, look for Piazza Santi Apostoli and spend an hour to absorb the beauty of this unique Church.”


The Holy Father and members of the Roman Curia who accompanied him to Ariccia for a six-day retreat that started last Sunday afternoon, have returned to Vatican City.  The final prayers and meditation by Carmelite Father Bruno Secondin were held Friday morning at the Pauline Fathers’ Casa Divin Maestro. Busses carrying the Pope and prelates back to the Vatican left Ariccia about 10:30 this morning. ( photo)


At the end of the retreat Pope Francis thanked Father Secondin for leading the spiritual exercises: “On behalf of all of us, I too would like to thank the father for his work among us during the spiritual exercises. It’s not easy to give exercises to priests, right?  We’re a bit complicated, all of us, but you succeeded in sowing seeds. May the Lord make these seeds that you have given us grow and I also hope that myself and all the others can leave here with a piece of Elijah’s cloak, in our hands and in our hearts. Thank you, Father!”


(Vatican Radio) Even during his retreat in the hills of Rome, immersed in Lenten spiritual exercises, Pope Francis is following the situation in Syria with deep concern. Speaking to Vatican Radio, Archbishop Mario Zenari, the apostolic nuncio in Damascus, says “the Pope is constantly adjourned of developments and his prayers are tuned to the suffering of the people.”

Noting the three-day offensive this week that has seen at least 220 people abducted by so-called Islamic State militants, most of them from Assyrian Christian villages in the north east, the nuncio said, “not only the Christians are afraid. Those who have the possibility to do so are fleeing the region.” He says that the perception of the people is that they have been abandoned by the international community because there have been no tangible changes to the situation as yet.

He expresses his belief that measures that have been undertaken to isolate the fundamentalists such as freezing bank accounts, cutting off provisions and fuel and tracking down potential Jihadists in Europe must continue. He describes the situation as one of the most serious humanitarian catastrophes after the Second World War, saying, “it is under the eyes of all! The civil conflict must be halted but so must the advance of the so-called Caliphate.”

Abp. Zenari says, “we are dealing with two different fronts: the civil war front which has been going on for almost five years, a conflict which has killed over 200,000 people, has injured more than a million and displaced 11 million; and then there are all the terrible things that are happening in the areas under the control of the so-called Islamic State: two different fronts, the one worse than the other!”


(Vatican Radio) The Director of the Holy See Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, has responded to a collection of articles published in the Italian weekly L’Espresso. The articles purport to show internal struggles within the Vatican on ongoing economic reforms.

“Passing confidential documents to the press for polemical ends or to foster conflict is not new, but is always to be strongly condemned, and is illegal,” Father Lombardi said. “The fact that complex economic or legal issues are the subject of discussion and diverse points of view should be considered normal. In light of the views expressed, the Pope issues guidelines, and everybody follows them.”

Father Lombardi continued, “The article makes direct personal attacks that should be considered undignified and petty. And it is untrue that the Secretariat for the Economy is not carrying on its work with continuity and efficacy. In confirmation of this, the Secretariat is expected in the next few months to publish the financial statements for 2014 and the estimated budgets for 2015 for all of the entities of the Holy See, including the Secretariat itself.”



Today’s station church is San Lorenzo in Panisperna, located at Number 90 of the street of the same name. One website tells us that, according to tradition panisperna is a reference to panis (bread) and perna (ham) which were distributed by the Poor Clare nuns on August 10, St. Lawrence’s Day, but there are many other possible explanations. Lorenzo is Italian for Lawrence.

The first church was built in the fourth century. However, this church is also known as San Lorenzo in Formoso and this is probably a reference to Pope Formosus who built the ninth century church here, (wikimedia photo) that was rebuilt in the13th century and again in the 16th century.


Interesting enough, the birth name of Pope Formosus is not known. Even the official Annuario Pontificio has no birth name for this Pope: he is just listed as the bishop of Pontus (before his election). His birth date, however, seems to be sometime in 816. He was Pope from October 6, 891 to his death in April 896.

St. Lawrence’s story is told in Brian Lenz’s blog account of the 2014 Lenten pilgrimage undertaken by seminarians at NAC:

Another great site to visit today’s station church:


Willy’s is a sad and also strangely beautiful and extremely touching story – the story of so many people, so often nameless people, in our big cities. And yet, what a beautiful ending to this homeless man’s earthly existence! He was homeless, as we will read, but not friendless. He did not have a roof over his head but he surely had God in his heart.

Photo from


As I learned of this story (read below), I began to wonder if we might have prayed together at Sant’Anna’s church in the Vatican, although I am more likely to go to the 8 am Mass than the 7 am one that he attended. Did I ever pass him in Borgo Pio in one of the hundreds of times I’ve walked down that street? If I did pass him, I did not know his name. May he now rest in peace – finally!

(Vatican Radio) The Holy See  Press Office has confirmed the news of the burial of a homeless man in the Teutonic College cemetery within Vatican City State. Willy was a homeless man of Flemish origin.  His exact age was unknown but he was believed to have been around 80 years of age. He died on December 12 last year and was buried in the Teutonic Cemetery on January 9 this year.  (JFL photos)

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Willy was a familiar face to many in the area of the Vatican. He attended daily Mass in Sant’Anna parish in the Vatican and spent his days and nights on the streets around St. Peter’s Square, Borgo Pio and Via di Porta Angelica.

The pastor of Sant’Anna in the Vatican, Father Bruno Silvestrini, had dedicated the Nativity Scene at Christmas to Willy, adding a homeless man among the shepherds. He loved to pray, he had a good heart, attended the morning Mass at St. Anna every day and always sat in the same place.

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“For over 25 years he attended the 7:00 Mass,” Fr. Silvestrini told Vatican Radio, explaining why he wanted a homeless among the shepherds in the Nativity Scene. “He was very, very open and had made many friends. He spoke a lot with young people, he spoke to them of the Lord, he spoke of the Pope, he would invite them to the celebration of the Eucharist. He was a rich person, of great faith,” said the pastor of St. Anne’s, adding, “there were prelates who brought him food on certain days. Then, we no longer saw him, and subsequently we heard about his death. I’ve never seen so many people knocking on my door to ask when the funeral was, how they could help to keep his memory alive … He never asked for anything, rather he was the one who would strike up a conversation and through his questions of faith, suggest a spiritual path to those with whom he spoke.”

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Willy died in Holy Spirit hospital, where he had been brought by ambulance on a cold December evening. The cold had caused him to collapse and some passers-called for the emergency services. He died on December 12, but his body remained at the hospital morgue because no one could identify him.

When those used to seeing him on the streets noticed his absence and began to search for him he was finally traced to the hospital in Lungotevere in Sassia on the banks of the Tiber.

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The costs of his funeral were covered by a German-speaking family, the funeral was held in the chapel of the Teutonic Cemetery, and Willy was buried in the old Germanic cemetery, in Vatican City State.


FOUNDATION AWARDS FRENCH ECONOMIST – French economist and author Pierre de Lauzun is the winner of this year’s “Economy and Society Award” of the Centesimus Annus – Pro Pontefice Foundation. He was selected in particular for his 2013 book dedicated to a Christian perspective of finance from medieval banking to contemporary financial models: “Finance. Un regard chrétien. De la banque médiéval à la mondalisation financière.”  The prestigious international award was announced today at a press conference in the Vatican.

CARDINAL STAFFORD’S LENTEN REFLECTIONS – Pope Francis, in his Message for Lent this year, called on the faithful everywhere to make this privileged time of prayer and penance a time in which –  as we pray in the litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus – we all ask the Lord to Make our hearts like His.  “In this way,” writes Pope Francis, “we will receive a heart which is firm and merciful, attentive and generous, a heart which is not closed, indifferent or prey to the globalization of indifference.” These were all themes that the Major Penitentiary-emeritus of the Church, Cardinal James Francis Stafford, took up in a reflection on Lent and the Pope’s Lenten Message. Vatican Radio is offering – in two parts – Cardinal Stafford’s reflections. He starts by placing the Message in the context of Pope Francis’ broader pastoral writings, specifically the Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii gaudium, and the examination of conscience that the Holy Father offered to the Roman Curia at Christmas 2014. Click here to listen to Part One of Cardinal Stafford’s reflections:

SCOTTISH CATHOLICS URGED TO HELP FLOOD VICTIMS IN MALAWI – Catholics in Scotland are being urged to give generously this Lent to support families in Malawi who’ve been made homeless by the worst flooding in half a century. Dozens of people died and up to 200,000 were displaced by January’s torrential rains that swept away houses, crops and entire village communities in the south-east African nation. As part of its Lent appeal this year, the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund, or SCIAF, is raising money for those affected by the floods, as well as supporting small scale projects to help women farmers improve their maize crop and provide a stable income for their families. For every pound raised through the ‘Wee Box’ appeal, as it’s known, the British government will double that donation. Archbishop Leo Cushley of Edinburgh has just returned from a week-long visit to Malawi to see first-hand where the money from SCIAF’s Lent appeal will go.

PONTIFICAL ACADEMY FOR LIFE TO MEET – The Pontifical Academy pro Vita will dedicate its upcoming general assembly to end of life assistance to the elderly. The assembly, which will take place in the New Synod Hall from March 5 to 7, is the 21st to be held by this institution. The official theme is “Assisting the Elderly and Palliative Care.” On March 6, there will be a workshop open to the public, especially scholars, healthcare and pastoral workers, and students who are interested in acquiring a deeper knowledge of the theme from a number of viewpoints: theological-philosophical, ethical and medical, cultural and social.

(sources:, Vatican Radio, VIS)


There was no general audience today as the Pope continues his week of spiritual exercises with members of the Roman Curia in Casa Divin Maestro, a religious house in Ariccia, south of Rome. Vatican Radio reports that Pope Francis and the Roman Curia are in the middle of their weeklong retreat. According to L’Osservatore Romano, the retreat master, Carmelite Father Bruno Secondin, has shared reflections with the Curia on the prophet Elias. In his reflection, Fr. Secondin compared the worship of the false idols in Elias’ time with a modern-day religiosity that is interested in the superficial and in measures of faith “according to statistics.” He called the participants to authentic and “audacious” worship. The Pope and the Curia will conclude their Spiritual Exercises on Friday.


One of Rome’s oldest, most famous and most visited churches, the basilica of St. Mary Major, is today’s Lenten station church. There is an embarassment of riches when it comes to websites and photos of this great Marian basilica. You can start with the virtual visit courtesy of the Vatican website:

Then, I would visit Brian Lenz’s site, as we have been doing daily, thanks to his permission to give a link to his 2014 pilgrimage to and through the Lenten station churches:

And here is more on the basilica from the NAC website:

I took these photos two years ago at the August 5 “snowfall” of thousands of white rose petals from the ceiling of St. Mary Major (see above links to understand what’s behind the snowfall!).





In a recent personal and private letter that Pope Francis wrote to an Argentinian lawmaker, a phrase of his made national and international headlines. In that letter, Francis lamented the fact of the growth of drug use in Argentina, and said he hoped it would not lead to the “mexicanization” of the country. Today, Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, made a statement clarifying an expression used by Pope Francis in an informal and private email.

The Vatican Secretary of State, he said, has sent a note to the Mexican ambassador to the Holy See, explaining that Pope Francis had no intention of hurting the feelings of the Mexican people “whom he loves very much,” or of ignoring “the commitment of the Mexican in combatting drug trafficking.” Father Lombardi noted that the expression “to avoid mexicanization” had been used by the Holy Father in a “strictly private and informal email” in response to an Argentinian friend who is very committed to the struggle against drugs, and who had used the that expression.

“The note shows clearly that the Pope intended nothing else but to comment on the gravity of the phenomenon of drug trafficking afflicting Mexico and other Latin American countries,” Father Lombardi said. Precisely because of the seriousness of the situation, he continued, addressing the problem of drug trafficking “is a priority of the Government; to counter violence and to restore peace and serenity to Mexican families, by addressing the underlying causes of this plague.”

Father Lombardi said that drug trafficking is “a phenomenon, like others in Latin America” that the Holy Father has called attention to, even in meeting with Bishops, emphasizing the need for cooperation and consultation at all levels.



Some years ago, when I was working for the Holy See at the Vatican Information Service, I wrote a piece on the history of papal retreats. Because there is generally so little news during such a retreat, given that Pope does not hold audiences in this period and the heads of Roman Curia offices are also involved in the retreat, we had to find something for our readers so I researched the history of papal retreats:

Pope Francis and Roman Curia on retreat:


Annual retreats for the Pope and Roman Curia trace their origins to Pope Pius XI who, on December 20, 1929 marked the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination by publishing the Encyclical “‘Mens nostra,’ On The Promotion of Spiritual Exercises” which he addressed to “Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops and Other Local Ordinaries in Peace and Communion with the Apostolic See.” In that encyclical, the Pope informed the faithful that he had arranged to hold spiritual exercises every year in the Vatican, a custom still practiced by the Holy Father and ranking members of the Roman Curia. In the early years this retreat was held during the first week in Advent but now takes place in the first full week of Lent. Cardinal Achille Ratti, archbishop of Milan, was elected to the papacy on February 6, 1922, and took the name of Pius XI. He died on February 10, 1939.

On January 6, 1929 feast of the Epiphany, Pius XI declared a Jubilee Year to mark the upcoming 50th anniversary of his ordination and asked the faithful to “share in the joy of their common father and to join with us in rendering thanks to the Supreme Giver of all good.” At the end of that year, in the Encyclical “Mens nostra,” he looked back at the “many and rich fruits” of the Jubilee and wrote that, as a way to “express our heartfelt gratitude, … we have deemed it fitting … to establish something most excellent which will, we trust, prove a source of many advantages to the Christian people. We are speaking of the practice of Spiritual Exercises, which we earnestly desire to see daily extended more widely, not only among the clergy, both secular and regular, but also among the multitudes of the Catholic laity.”

Pius XI then wrote at length on the history of “Sacred Retreats,” citing the words on this subject of his predecessors, of Doctors of the Church and founders of religious orders such as Don Bosco of the Salesians and, most especially of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, “whom we are pleased to call the chief and peculiar Master of Spiritual Exercises.”

The Pope in fact, on July 22, 1922 had “declared and constituted St. Ignatius of Loyola the heavenly Patron of all Spiritual Exercises and, therefore, of institutes, sodalities and bodies of every kind assisting those who are making the Spiritual Exercises.”   He underscored the “joy and consolation” he found in Spiritual Exercises and he announced: “And in order that we may secure this joy and consolation, both for ourselves and for others who are near us, We have already made arrangements for holding the Spiritual Exercises every year in the Vatican.” While highlighting the value of retreats, he admonished: “Nor should the priests of the Clergy, secular and regular, think that the time spent on the Spiritual Exercises tends to the detriment of the apostolic ministry.”

In 2014, the spiritual exercises for Pope Francis and members of the Curia marked the first time that they were held outside Vatican City, specifically in Ariccia, not far from Rome, in a religious house.


Today’s Lenten station church is Saint Anastasia on the piazza of the same name in the Campitelli neighborhood of Rome. This is an area that includes the Roman Forum, Piazza Venezia and the Victor Emanuel monument and Capitoline hill where Rome’s City Hall is, flanked by two museums. Here’s a wonderful link to the blog and photos by NAC’s Brian Lenz as he describes Mass here last year:

The relics of Saints Anastasia and Faustina, her mother, are under the main altar. At the end of the left aisle there is a chapel dedicated to St. Jerome (340 to 420) with the altar on which he used to say Mass whenever he was in Rome. Today this is the altar of the Blessed Sacrament and Sant’Anastasia has perpetual adoration.


As I mentioned in an earlier posting, the practice of station churches had its origins in the first centuries of Christianity when most of the early Popes celebrated the liturgy on special days at special churches in the Eternal City. This eventually became principally a Lenten devotion. In his liturgical reform, Pope St. Gregory the Great, who reigned from 590 to 604, established a station church for each day of Lent, thus making the whole season a pilgrimage on the path to conversion while preparing for Easter.

Sant’Anastasia was, in those earlier times, the station church for Christmas (it seems Anastasia and her mother were martyred on December 25), and Pope Saint Gregory celebrated the second Mass of Christmas in this church.

The following info is from NAC’s page about station churches:

Had we come to this church when it was first built we would still have been able to hear the sounds of chariots and the crowd inside the nearby Circus Maximus, one of the great symbols of the Roman Empire.  Now the stadium, like the empire that built it, is nothing more than ruins and memory, while the Faith it strove to crush by the execution of martyrs like St. Anastasia is still here.  Little remains of factual history of her story, other than remembering her martyrdom in Sirmium, in modern day Serbia.  Her cult arrived in Rome towards the end of the fifth century from Constantinople.

This was originally a district of Roman houses and shops, part of which was demolished to build a small, Greek cross plan church by Pope St. Damasus in the late fourth century.  It is possible that this church was originally sponsored by a member of the Imperial family named Anastasia and named in her honor, later being rededicated in honor of St. Anastasia when devotion to her spread to Rome.  Another saint associated with this church is St. Jerome.  There is a tradition that when staying in Rome he would often celebrate Mass here, possibly because he came from the same region as St. Anastasia.  Around the year 500, the nave was extended, giving the church approximately the same dimensions it has today.  The unequal width of the aisles, with the right being slightly wider, is a result of older structures being used as foundations for this addition.  As the practice of stational Masses during Lent developed, this was assigned as the collectum for the procession to St. Sabina, and as a result, the processional crosses used for the stational processions were kept here when not in use.  Another role of the church during this period was as the chapel to the exarch (governor and representative) in Rome of the Byzantine Emperor, who lived on the Palatine Hill.  As a result of this, the pope would come to personally celebrate Mass here on Christmas morning, which was also the feast of St. Anastasia.

Pope Leo III refurbished the church at the turn of the ninth century, and with an ambo being given by Innocent III in 1210.  Remains of the original Roman and Gothic windows of the right clerestory can still be seen if one looks back to the church from the area of the Circus Maximus.  Sixtus IV undertook a renovation from 1471-1484, which was followed by another in 1510.  This presaged a wave of additions and changes over the next two centuries.  In 1580, the chapel off of the right aisle was added.  Five years later the high altar was constructed, being moved to its present location in 1644.  The chapel off the left aisle, balancing that across the nave, was added in 1615, and the current façade was constructed from 1634 to 1640.  Finally, the interior underwent a massive renovation in 1721-1722, giving it the appearance it has today.  The pillars separating the nave from the aisles were reconfigured, and the walls and ceiling covered with stucco decoration.  Minor restorations were carried out in the course of the nineteenth century.

(There’s also this:’Anastasia)



Sunday afternoon at 4, Pope Francis and many high-ranking members of the Roman Curia left Vatican City in two chartered busses for the town of Ariccia, a 20-mile drive south of Rome, to start a period of spiritual retreat at the Casa Divin Maestro (Divine Master House), run by the Pauline Fathers.

These photos were taken by a friend, Isabella, in town on a brief visit from Vienna. She chanced to be at the Petriano gate of the Vatican, near the synod hall, as everyone left for Ariccia.


Click here to see where the Holy Father and other guests are staying (be sure to click on ‘Places and Surroundings” for some lovely additional photos):

The theme of the retreat is “Servants and Prophets of the Living God.” The preacher of the papal retreat week is Carmelite Fr. Bruno Secondin who will focus on a pastoral letter of the Prophet Elias.


Following a 4:45 pm arrival, the Sunday afternoon schedule called for Eucharistic adoration at 6 pm, vespers at 6:45 and dinner at 7:30.

The schedule for successive days is as follows:

  • –         7.30 am, lauds and a brief reflection
  • –         8.00 am, breakfast
  • –         9.30 am, first meditation
  • –         11.30 am, Eucharistic concelebration
  • –         12.30 lunch
  • –         4 pm, second meditation
  • –         6 pm, Eucharistic adoration
  • –         6.45 pm, vespers
  • –         7.30 pm, dinner

On Friday, the final day, the program includes Eucharistic concelebration at 7.30 am, the retreat conclusion at 9.30 am and a 10.30 departure for the Vatican.

The daily meditations will touch on the following topics: “Walks of authenticity,” “Paths of freedom,” “Let yourself be surprised by God,” “Justice and intercession.” The theme of the final day is, “Gathering the mantle of Elias: prophet of brotherhood.”

All audiences, private and special, including the Wednesday general audience, are suspended during the retreat.


Pope Francis has declared Armenian poet and monk, Saint Gregory of Narek, a Doctor of the Universal Church.  Meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints on Saturday, the Pope confirmed the proposal put forward by the plenary session of the Congregation to confer the title of Doctor of the Universal Church on the 10th century saint. (photo from armenianweekly.comSt-Gregory of NArek

St. Gregory of Narek is widely revered as one of the greatest figures of medieval Armenian religious thought and literature. Born in the city of Narek about 950 A.D., St. Gregory came from a line of scholars and churchmen.

St. Gregory received his education under the guidance of his father, Bishop Khosrov, author of the earliest commentary on the Divine Liturgy, and from Anania Vartabed, abbess of Narek Monastery. He and his two brothers entered monastic life at an early age, and St. Gregory soon began to excel in music, astronomy, geometry, mathematics, literature, and theology.

He became a priest at the age of 25 and dedicated himself to God. He lived most of his life in the monastery of Narek, where he taught at the monastic school. St. Gregory began his writings with a commentary on the “Song of Songs,” which was commissioned by an Armenian prince. Despite his reservations that he was too young for the task, the commentary became famous for its clarity of thought and language and its excellence of theological presentation.

He also wrote a number of famous letters, sharagans, treasures, odes, melodies, and discourses. Many of his prayers are included in the Divine Liturgy celebrated each Sunday in Armenian Churches around the world.

St. Gregory’s masterpiece is considered to be his Book of Lamentations. Also known as Narek, it is comprised of 95 prayers, each of which is titled “Conversation with God from the depth of the heart.” A central theme is man’s separation from God, and his quest to reunite with Him. St. Gregory described the work this way: “Its letters like my body, its message like my soul.” He called his book an “encyclopedia of prayer for all nations.” It was his hope that it would serve as a guide to prayer for people all over the world. After the advent of movable type, the book was published in Marseille in 1673, and has been translated into at least 30 languages.

St. Gregory of Narek is considered the greatest poet of the Armenian nation and its first and greatest mystic. His writing style and command of the Armenian language are unparalleled, and his saintly person has been an inspiration to the Armenian faithful for centuries. St. Gregory’s poetry is deeply biblical and is filled with images and themes of sacred history, while also distinguished with an intimate and personal  character. Numerous miracles and traditions have been attributed to him and he is referred to as “the watchful angel in human form.”  St. Gregory died in 1003 A.D.

St. Gregory of Narek is remembered by the Armenian Church in October of each year. (sources; Vatican Radio,

The work of St. Gregory of Narek encouraged the development of Classical Armenian as a literary language. His writings also adorn the liturgical rites of the ancient Armenian Church, including the Badarak, or eucharistic liturgy, which Gregory’s father described as “the great medicine”: “We beseech you,” the priest says to himself as he ascends the sanctuary, “with outstretched arms, with tears and sobbing prayers.”

St. Gregory’s monastery thrived for nearly a millennium, but it did not survive the bloodshed known to the Armenian community as the Armenian Genocide (1915-1922), in which some 1.5 million Armenians — as well as Assyrians, Chaldeans, Greeks and Syriac Christians — died. Yet, the writings of this “angel in human form” survive, carrying to God the cries of millions of hearts. (

(The title Doctor of the Church is a special title given by the Church to certain saints. It is an official designation that confirms that the writing, teaching and preaching of the person, male or female, is of help to Christians throughout the ages. A doctor of the Church is recognized for holiness, the depth of doctrinal insight and an extensive body of writings which the church can recom­mend as an expression of the authentic and life-giving Catholic Tradition.

As of today, there are thirty-five male and female Doctors of the Catholic Church who hail from all ages of the Church’s history. Of these, four are women (Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Hildegard of Bingen). On Sunday, October 7, 2012, Pope Benedict proclaimed St. Hildegard of Bingen and St. John of Avila as the newest doctors of the Church. (source: Fr. Tom Rosica, English language assistant to Holy See Press Office)


This minor basilica, known as St. Peter’s in Chains is the titular church of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington.  The following are a few of the photos I took when the cardinal took possession of his church in the spring of 2011. He became a cardinal the previous November.

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A site to visit:

Also this:

And the following from:

After the long trek up the Oppian Hill, we now stand before the graceful Renaissance portico of St. Peter in Chains.  According to the more likely hypothesis on the archeological history of this church, the first place of Christian worship on this site dates from the late fourth or early fifth century, being completed by Pope Sixtus III.  In 431, a priest from here named Philip was a papal legate to the Council of Ephesus, at which he identified himself as coming from the titulus Apostolorum.  This likely refers to that early church’s dedication.  Disaster would strike the first church shortly after this time in the form of either fire or earthquake, leading to its almost total destruction.  Luckily, the Byzantine Emperor and his wife had pledged their support to the previous church, and continuing in this spirit their daughter Eudoxia helped to rebuild the church.  The front and back walls of the original church had remained mostly intact, so this reconstruction consisted mainly of rebuilding the nave of the church.  This was undertaken and the repairs were completed around the year 450, around the same time that the chains from St. Peter’s imprisonment in Jerusalem were given to the church; when these were placed with the chains from St. Peter’s imprisonment in Rome, the two fused together.  In the year 519, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian wanted to bring the chains to Constantinople, but was rebuffed.  Towards the end of that century, the church was rededicated at the same time that the relics of the Maccabee brothers were brought here.  Two centuries later the church was restored by Pope Adrian I; at this time the church was called by the alternate name of the Basilica Eudoxiana, commemorating the woman whose munificence had allowed its rebuilding.

In the mid-fifteenth century, the basilica was restored by the cardinal titular, Nicolo de Cusa.  Later that century two cardinals from the della Rovere family held the title: first Francesco and later Giuliano (later Popes Sixtus IV and Julius II, respectively) added to the complex of buildings on the site and ordered improvements on the church itself.  This included the addition of the porch in front of the basilica, to which an upper story would be added a century later.  Although Julius II would be ultimately be buried in St. Peter’s, his incomplete tomb, including the famous Moses, was completed in the current state by Michelangelo in 1545.  The church received additional interior decoration in 1577, when the frescoes of the apse were completed.  In the first quarter of the eighteenth century a more complete renovation was undertaken, including a new ceiling.  From 1876 to 1877, a sanctuary renovation created a confessio in front of a new high altar surmounted by a ciborium.  The chains of St. Peter, previously kept in a shrine in the left transept, were moved into the confessio for the veneration of the faithful.



Apologies for not publishing this on Saturday, February 21, when Mass was said here as one of the 40 Lenten station churches in Rome but a number of unexpected events and people crept into my life and I spent almost no time at the computer. In any event, I could not find much in English on the church of Sant’Agostino, but I offer a description from, and a link to an interesting website which has quite a number of photos. This lovely church contains the tomb of St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine.

For pictures on that same site, click here (and click on the photo to enlarge it):

(the following is from the North American College:

Coming from the busy streets near Piazza Navona, we find ourselves a quiet square before the graceful façade of today’s station.  Originally the liturgy of today was celebrated in the church of St. Tryphon.  This was an older church which once stood near here but was demolished to make room for the adjacent Augustinian convent, which was later confiscated by the Italian government after the invasion of Rome in 1870.

The church of St. Augustine, under the patronage of the great pastor and author of the fourth and fifth centuries, dates back to the medieval period, with the first church begun in 1296 and construction continuing over the following two centuries, finishing in 1446.  Soon after, this was almost completely rebuilt as the present structure, beginning in 1479 and completed in 1483.

While the exterior appearance still asserts the Renaissance origins of this church, the interior modifications began almost as soon as it was completed.  The pillars of the nave were covered with frescoes in the mid-sixteenth century; the high altar, a work of Bernini, was constructed in 1626-28.  A more general renovation took place in 1750 and again in 1860.  Through all of these changes the interior has maintained its order and proportions, reminding us of the age in which it was built when the new intellectual ideas of the Renaissance were spreading throughout Europe.



On this, the first weekend of Lent, I bring you a story about the Lenten station churches of Rome, a special I first aired last year at this time.  I exchanged emails at the time with Msgr. Jim Checchio, the rector of the North American College and three young men at NAC, the national seminary in Rome, about the station churches and their daily pilgrimage to morning Mass at these churches. Two of those young men were deacons last year and are now priests – Fathers David Rider of the archdiocese of New York and Kyle Sahd of Harrisburg. Seminarian Donato Infante of Worcester is now in his 4th year at NAC.

In addition, I mention Blessed John XXIII – he is now, of course Saint John XXIII.

We will go on a mini-pilgrimage of sorts as we visit these very special churches – many of which are basilicas – that tell a beautiful story over the 40 days of Lent, a story found only in Rome.

You will want to click on the following link at some point during Lent (why not start today!) because the North American College has created a wonderful page on its website about these churches, helping us visit them, learn their history and see their beauty. And, as you know (see following story) I am bringing you one of these churches each day in this column so this link will be equally helpful:

As you know, in the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at or on Sirius-XM satellite radio. If you live outside the U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:30 am (Eastern time) and re-airs Sundays at 4:30 pm (ET). Check for your time zone. Past shows are found in Vatican Insider archives:


The station church for today’s Mass is Saints John and Paul – Santi Giovanni e Paolo – one of the oldest in Rome (I know that seems like an impossible statement about a church in this city of old and very old churches!). I first visited this church about a dozen years ago when Cardinal Edward Egan of New York celebrated Mass there. Santi Giovanni e Paolo is his titular church as a cardinal. In fact, since 1946 this has been the titular church of the cardinal archbishops of New York – except for the current archbishop, Cardinal Timothy Dolan and this because because Cardinal Edward Egan, the first-ever archbishop emeritus of New York, still had the title of Santi Giovanni e Paolo.


Interestingly enough, the first New York archbishop to hold the title to this church was Francis Spellman: he received this when he became a cardinal in 1946. His predecessor to that title was Eugenio Pacelli, made a cardinal in 1929 and elected Pope in 1939 when he had to relinquish the title to Santi Giovanni e Paolo.

During his homily, Cardinal Egan mentioned that the magnificent chandeliers in the basilica were Waterford crystal and came from New York! He said they were donated to Saints John and Paul by the Waldorf Astoria Hotel when it underwent renovation. (JFL photos)

Courtesy visits - Vatican halls 006 Courtesy visits - Vatican halls 001

Here is a link to a blog you will want to read every day during Lent– not only to visit the station church of the day but to get to know a friend of mine and a wonderful young man, Brian Lenz, a seminarian at the North American college. He wrote this a year ago, after the NACers attended Mass here on the Friday after Ash Wednesday.

Two more links for this church:,_Rome  (skip the ad at the start)


Pope Francis Friday received the bishops of Ukraine who have been at the Vatican since Monday for their ad limina visit. They were led by Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church; and Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki of Lviv of the Latins. Archbishop Mokrzycki spent some years in Rome as secretary to both St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The Pope gave his prepared remarks to the bishops at the start of the audience, and then spoke personally with the prelates.

Francis began by noting, “You find yourselves, as a country, in a situation of grave conflict, which has been going on for several months and continues to claim numerous innocent victims and to cause great suffering to the entire population.” He said he was close to them through “prayers for the dead and for all those struck by violence, with the prayer to the Lord that He might speedily grant peace, and with the appeal to all the interested parties that they might apply the agreements reached by mutual accord and might be respectful toward the principle of international legality; in particular, that the recently signed truce might be observed and all the other commitments, which are the conditions for avoiding a resumption of hostilities.”

The Pope said he recognized “the historical events that have marked your land and are still present in the collective memory. They deal with questions that have a partially political base, and to which you are not called to give a direct response; but they are also socio-cultural realities and human tragedies that await your direct and positive contribution.”

“On the national level,” said the Holy Father, “you are full citizens of your country, and so you have the right to express, even in the common way, your thought on its destiny — not in the sense of promoting a concrete political action, but in the indication and re-affirmation of the values that constitute the coagulating element of Ukrainian society, persevering in the tireless pursuit of harmony and of the common good, even in the face of grave and complex difficulties.”

He also highlighted the new juridical questions. By March, all parishes of the Russia-annexed peninsula of Crimea must be registered in accordance with Russian law.

Francis highlighted the ongoing crisis in Ukraine with its “serious repercussions in the life of families.” He spoke of the “misguided sense of economic liberty that has allowed the formation of a small group of people that are enormously enriched at the expense of the great majority of citizens. The presence of such a phenomenon has, unfortunately, contaminated in various ways even the public institutions. This has generated an unjust poverty in a generous and rich land.”

The Pope then spent some time talking about the relations between the Greek Catholic and the Roman or Latin Catholic Churches of Ukraine:

“I would like, too, to leave you a further reflection on the relations between you brothers in the episcopate. I recognize the complex historical events that weigh on mutual relations, as well as some aspects of a personal nature.

“The fact that both episcopates are Catholic and are Ukrainian is indisputable, even in the diversity of rites and traditions. It is painful for me personally to hear that there are misunderstandings and injuries. There is need of a doctor — and this is Jesus Christ, whom you both serve with generosity and with your whole hearts. You are a single body and, as was said to you in the past by Saint John Paul II, and by Benedict XVI, I in my turn urge you to find among yourselves a manner of welcoming one another and of sustaining one another generously in your apostolic labours.

Francis added that, “the unity of the episcopate, as well as giving good witness to the People of God, renders an inestimable service to the Nation, both on the cultural and social plane and, above all, on the spiritual plane. You are united in fundamental values and you have in come the most precious treasures: the faith and the people of God. I see, therefore, of paramount importance the joint meetings of the Bishops of all the Churches sui iuris present in Ukraine. May you always be generous in speaking among yourselves as brothers!”

“Both as Greek-Catholics and as Latins,” concluded the Hoy Father, “you are sons of the Catholic Church, which in your land too was for a long time subject to martyrdom. The blood of your witnesses, who intercede for you from heaven, is a further motive that urges you to true communion of hearts. Unite your forces and support one another, making historical events a motive of sharing and unity.”


(VIS) – The following is the full text of the communique issued today by the Managing Board and the College of Auditors of the Vatican Pension Fund:

“Since for some months, and amplified by press reports, alarming data has been circulating regarding the situation of the Vatican Pensions Fund and on the sustainability of honouring the commitments undertaken towards present and future subscribers, the Managing Board of the Fund and the College of Auditors consider it opportune to officially communicate the actuarial situation, assets and income of the aforementioned Fund, as it appears in the actuarial Technical Financial Statements drawn up by the actuary and the Financial Statements regularly approved by the Secretary of State.

With regard to the actuarial aspect, there is a substantial balance between available resources and commitments to current and future employees, due also to interventions (approved by the Secretary of State following proposals by the Managing Board) both in terms of contributions (increase of rates throughout the years up to the current rate of 26% on the total of taxable income) and in relation to performance (increase of two years of working life, raising the age of retirement to 67 for laypersons and 72 for clergy and persons religious.

The Statements also show, throughout the years, the solidity of the assets and financial structure of the Fund itself. The funding ratio of the Pensions Fund is 0.95%. From a strictly income-based perspective, the economic and financial situation of the institution records a gradual increase of financial and real estate resources both in terms of capital resources which, from 1993 to 2013 increased on average from € 22,256,196 per year, and in terms of the upward trend in net profit, which during the last 6 years has passed from € 23,583,882 to € 26,866,657, sums sufficient to cover the current costs of pensions.

To complete the picture, the Fund’s assets on 31 December 2014 were recorded at €477,668,000. Adding the budget surplus for 2015, estimated to be around €27,140,000, a net worth by 31 December 2015 of over 504 million euros may be hypothesised, confirming the real solidity of the Fund, which has progressed from an initial budget of 10 billion of the old Italian lire in 1993 to over 500 million euros in little more than twenty years”.