February 11 has traditionally been an important day in the Vatican as it marks the signing on Feb. 11, 1929 of the Lateran Pacts with Italy that, among other things, formally established Vatican City State  thus, the 86th anniversary today. It is also the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes and is celebrated as the World Day of the Sick, instituted on May 13, 1992 by Pope John Paul II.

And now, February 11 is forever in the annals of Church history because that is the day, two years ago, that Benedict XVI announced that he would resign the papacy at 8 pm on February 28, the first to do so of his own initiative since Pope Celestine V in 1294.


Two years ago today, this is part of what I wrote on these pages:


Where does one start to write about a day that is historical, stunning, amazing, sad – there are so many reactions and emotions?  Having lived in Rome for 34 years (this very month) and having worked for or covered the Vatican and the papacy for the overwhelming majority of those years, all of the above emotions have been part of my day.

Over the years, from my first visit to Rome as a college student to this very day, I have met or been in the presence of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and have actually spoken to the last three.

The whole world knew that the death of a Pope was the only way the papacy was vacated, that there could be a “sede vacante,” literally, a vacant chair.

No one is alive on this earth today who ever heard a Pope say what Pope Benedict XVI did this morning: “…Well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.”

Click on the link below for an account by someone present in the room that day – what Archbishop Leo Cushley saw and heard and felt on February 11, 2013. Named in July 2013 as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh in Scotland, he had previously been head of the English-language section of the Secretariat of State.  You will see a video of Benedict XVI announcing his impending resignation: http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2015/02/11/a-monsignor-sobbed-then-silence-fell-an-eyewitness-account-of-benedict-xvis-resignation/

Just one news story today (with two parts) – Pope Francis’ immensely beautiful catechesis on children at the weekly general audience!  Even if you don’t have children,  says the Pope, you are someone’s son or daughter. Thus, his words apply to all of us. They are warm and loving and heartfelt, and we feel as if it is a father speaking and, indeed it is, it is our Holy Father sharing his love of mankind.

It could be considered one of the most beautiful, touching talks of his papacy, and the reader or listener remains hard-pressed to pick a favorite sentence or paragraph.

My favorite words of that entire, wonderful catechesis came at the very end, and I found myself with the hint of a tear in my eyes as I reflected on the gesture the Pope is talking about.  Pope Francis extends his arm to indicate he is talking about St. Peter’s Square and he says, off-the-cuff: “Let me tell you how beautiful it is when I go among you and see the Dads and Moms who lift up their children for a blessing! This is an almost divine action! Thank you for doing this!”


Following, in its entirety, is Pope Francis’ general audience catechesis on children, within the framework of his overall weekly catecheses this year on the family:

Dear brothers and sisters,

After reflecting on the figures of mother and father, in this catechesis on the family I would like to mention the child or, rather, the children. I draw inspiration from a beautiful image from Isaiah. The prophet writes: “Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you— your sons from afar, your daughters in the arms of their nurses. Then you shall see and be radiant, your heart shall throb and overflow”(60, 4-5a).

It is a beautiful image of the happiness that is realized in the reunion between parents and children, walking together towards a future of freedom and peace, after a long period of deprivation and separation.

In fact, there is a close bond between a people’s hope and the harmony between generations. There is a very close link between a people’s hope and inter-generational harmony. The joy of children makes their parents hearts throb and reopens the future.

Children are the joy of family and society. They are not a problem of reproductive biology, or one of many ways to realize oneself in life. Let alone their parent’s possession. Children are a gift. Do you understand? Children are a gift!

Each is unique and each is unrepeatable; and yet unmistakably tied to his or her roots. Being a son or daughter, according to God’s plan, means carrying within the memory and the hope of a love that has realized itself in lighting up another original and new human being. And for parents every child is different, is an individual…

Allow me to share a childhood memory, my mother would always say – there were five of us in our family – when asked which one was her favorite, she would say ‘I have five children like I have five fingers…if they beat one of my fingers all five hurt…all of my children are mine, but each one is different, just like my fingers…this is the way it is in the family, all children are different but all children…

You love your child because he is a child, not because he is beautiful, healthy and good; not because he thinks like me, or embodies my desires. A child is a child: a life created by us but destined for him, for his good, the good of the family, society, humanity.

This is where the depth of the human experience of being son and daughter comes from, which allows us to discover the most gratuitous dimension of love, which never ceases to amaze us. It is the beauty of being loved before:

How often I meet mothers here [the Holy Father indicates St. Peter’s Square] who show me their pregnant bellies and ask me to bless them, because these children are loved before coming into the world!

Before we have done anything to deserve it, before we can speak or think, even before coming into the world!

Being a child is the fundamental condition to know God’s love, which is the ultimate source of this real miracle. In the soul of every child, not matter how vulnerable, God puts the seal of this love, which is the basis of his or her personal dignity, a dignity that nothing and no one can destroy.

Today it seems more difficult for children to imagine their future. Fathers – as I mentioned in the previous catechesis – have perhaps taken a step back and the children have become more uncertain in taking their steps forward. We can learn about good inter-generational relations from our Heavenly Father, who leaves us each of us free but never leaves us alone. And if we fail, He continues to follow us patiently without diminishing His love for us. Our Heavenly Father never takes a step back, Our Heavenly Father never takes a backward step in His love for us never, he always moves forward and waits for us, but never, ever backwards; He wants his children to be brave, He wants us to progress.

The children, for their part, should not be afraid of the commitment to build a new world: it is only right that they should want to improve on what they have received! But this must be done without arrogance, without presumption. We must know how to recognize a child’s worth, and children should always honor their parents.

The fourth commandment asks children – and we all are children! – to honor their father and mother (cf. Ex 20:12). This commandment comes right after the ones concerning God Himself. After the first three about God we have this fourth one. In fact it contains something sacred, something divine, and something that is at the root of every other kind of respect among men. And the biblical formulation of the fourth commandment adds: “That you may live a long time in the land the LORD your God is giving to you gives you”.

The virtuous link between generations is a guarantee of the future, and it is a guarantee of a very human story. A society of children who do not honor their parents is a society without honor, when you do not honor your parents you lose your honor! It is a society destined to fill itself with arid and greedy young.

However, even a society with a greedy generation, that doesn’t want to surround itself with children, that considers them above all worrisome, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society.

Just think of the many societies we know here in Europe.  They are depressed societies because they don’t want children, they don’t have children.  The birth rate doesn’t even reach 1%, why? Everyone should think about that and answer it personally.

If a generous family of children is viewed as if it were a burden, there is something wrong! As the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VI teaches, but having more children cannot be automatically viewed as an irresponsible choice. The choice to not have children is selfish. Life rejuvenates and acquires energy when it multiplies: It is enriched, not impoverished! Children learn to take charge of their family, they mature in the sharing of sacrifices, and they grow in appreciation of its gifts. The experience of joyful fraternity animates the respect and care of parents, who are due our gratitude.

Many of you, here, have children.  And we are all children. Let’s do something, it won’t take long.  Let each one of us think, privately, about your children – if you have them – and about our parents, and let us thank God for the gift of them…[followed by a lengthy pause]

May the Lord bless our parents and your children.

Jesus, the eternal Son, made child in time, help us to find the way of a new outpouring of this human experience so simple and so great that is being children. In the multiplication of generations there is a mystery enrichment of life for all, which comes from God Himself. We must rediscover it, challenging prejudice; and live it, in faith, in perfect joy.

Let me tell you – Pope Francis added extemporaneously –  how beautiful it is to pass among you and see the Dads and Moms who lift up their children for a blessing, it is an almost divine action! Thank you for doing this!


Wednesday, following the general audience catechesis, Pope Francis made a heartfelt appeal for solidarity with migrants who continue to come to Mediterranean countries, Italy in particular, and who continue to die because of drowning, of hunger or even of exposure to the elements when the weather is especially harsh. (BBC photo – Pope on large boat in center)


His call for increased attention and aid follows news of the death of some 200 migrants who have died of hypothermia in the latest deadly tragedy of the sea.

The Pope’s voice was noticeably lower, even slower and sadder, than when he spoke on his catechesis on children

In his appeal, Francis said he is “following with preoccupation news from Lampedusa where there have been more deaths among the migrants caused by cold during their journey across the Mediterranean.”  “I wish to assure my prayers for the victims and once again encourage solidarity so that no one is without necessary aid,” he said.


In July 2013 Pope Francis said Mass for migrants on Italy’s tiny island of Lampedusa, and condemned the “global indifference” to their plight. When he arrived, he threw a wreath in the sea in memory of the many people who have drowned trying to reach Europe.

In its report on the papal appeal, Vatican Radio noted that a statement from the United Nations refugee agency said survivors coming ashore today had reported that another rubber boat was unaccounted-for, likely raising the toll.  nEarlier this week, the Italian coast guard reported that at least 29 people had died from hypothermia while travelling from north Africa to Italy’s coast.