(VIS) – Following the first announcement of the next extraordinary Holy Year by Pope Francis on 13 March, the Holy Father will proceed with the official indiction of the Jubilee of Mercy with the publication of the Bull of Indiction on Saturday, April 11 at 5.30 pm in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The rite of publication will involve the reading of various passages of the Bull before the Holy Door of the Vatican Basilica. Pope Francis will subsequently preside at the celebration of First Vespers of Divine Mercy Sunday, thus underlining in a particular way the fundamental theme of the extraordinary Holy Year: God’s Mercy.

The term bull (from the Latin bulla = bubble or, more generally, a rounded object) originally indicated the metal capsule used to protect the wax seal attached with a cord to a document of particular importance, to attest to its authenticity and, as a consequence, its authority. Over time, the term began to be used first to indicate the seal, then the document itself, so that nowadays it is used for all papal documents of special importance that bear, or at least traditionally would have borne, the Pontiff’s seal.

The bull for the indiction of a jubilee, for instance in the case of an extraordinary Holy Year, aside from indicating its time, with the opening and closing dates and the main ways in which it will be implemented, constitutes the fundamental document for recognising the spirit in which it is announced, and the intentions and the outcomes hoped for by the Pontiff, who invokes it for the Church.

In the case of the last two extraordinary Holy Years, 1933 and 1983, the Bull of Indiction was published on the occasion of the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. For the next extraordinary Holy Year, the choice of the occasion on which the publication of the Bull will take place clearly demonstrates the Holy Father’s particular attention to the theme of Mercy.


(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis has named the former president of the Prefecture for Economic Affairs of the Holy See, Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, the new prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education. He replaces retiring Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski who has been prefect since 1999.

The Congregation for Catholic Education is responsible for houses of formation of religious and secular institutes; universities, faculties, institutes and higher schools of study, either ecclesial or civil dependent on ecclesial persons; and schools and educational institutes depending on ecclesiastical authorities.

In addition, the Holy Father named Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, Archbishop of Cologne, Germany as a new member of APSA, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See.

APSA is the office of the Roman Curia that administers “the properties owned by the Holy See in order to provide the funds necessary for the Roman Curia to function” (Pastor Bonus, 172 as revised by the July 8, 2014 Motu proprio of Pope Francis on the transfer of what had been the Administration’s Ordinary Section to the Secretariat for the Economy).


An AP story from Bosnia-Herzegovina reports that Salem Hajdarovac didn’t sleep for a whole week when he heard his workshop had been granted the honor of carving a special chair that Pope Francis will sit on during his visit to Bosnia. Hajdarovac and his son Edin, both devoted Muslims, started working on the chair on Monday in their little workshop in the central Bosnian town of Zavidovici.

In this photo taken on Saturday, March, 28, 2015 Bosnian Muslim craftsman Salem Hajdarovac engraves decoration onto part a wooden chair in his workshop in Bosnian town of Zavidovici, 170 kms north of Sarajevo (AP Photo/Amel Emric).

Edin Hajdarovac

They have put all other orders on hold to produce the perfect chair by June 6, when the pontiff will hold a mass in Sarajevo aimed at boosting efforts toward brotherhood in the country ravaged by war two decades ago.

Many Bosnians, including Muslims, Catholics and Christian Serb Orthodox, see Francis as a worthy successor of John Paul II, who is perceived as a champion of inter-faith cooperation and peace.



Sunday at 9.30 am Pope Francis began the solemn liturgical celebration of Palm Sunday in St. Peter’s Square where, at the center of the square, at the obelisk, he blessed the palm and olive branches and, continuing the procession, celebrated Mass for the Passion of the Lord. Palm Sunday marks Word Youth Day on a diocesan leval  and thousands of Young people from Rome and other dioceses were present for the 30th WYD on the theme “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”


The Pope’s homily focused on humility, during which he remembered “our brothers and sisters who are persecuted because they are Christians, the martyrs of our own time – and there are many.”

In his homily, following the proclamation of the Passion of the Lord according to Mark, Francis said, “At the heart of this celebration, which seems so festive, are the words we heard in the hymn of the Letter to the Philippians: ‘He humbled himself’. Jesus’ humiliation. These words show us God’s way and, consequently, that which must be the way of Christians: it is humility. A way which constantly amazes and disturbs us: we will never get used to a humble God!

“Humility is above all God’s way: God humbles himself to walk with his people, to put up with their infidelity. This is clear when we read the the story of the Exodus. How humiliating for the Lord to hear all that grumbling, all those complaints against Moses, but ultimately against him, their Father, who brought them out of slavery and was leading them on the journey through the desert to the land of freedom.

“This week, Holy Week, which leads us to Easter, we will take this path of Jesus’ own humiliation. Only in this way will this week be ‘holy’ for us too. We will feel the contempt of the leaders of his people and their attempts to trip him up. We will be there at the betrayal of Judas, one of the Twelve, who will sell him for thirty pieces of silver. “We will see the Lord arrested and carried off like a criminal; abandoned by his disciples, dragged before the Sanhedrin, condemned to death, beaten and insulted. We will hear Peter, the ‘rock’ among the disciples, deny him three times. We will hear the shouts of the crowd, egged on by their leaders, who demand that Barabas be freed and Jesus crucified. “We will see him mocked by the soldiers, robed in purple and crowned with thorns. And then, as he makes his sorrowful way beneath the cross, we will hear the jeering of the people and their leaders, who scoff at his being King and Son of God. This is God’s way, the way of humility. It is the way of Jesus; there is no other. And there can be no humility without humiliation.

“Following this path to the full, the Son of God took on the ‘form of a slave’. In the end, humility also means service. It means making room for God by stripping oneself, ’emptying oneself’, as Scripture says. This – the pouring out of oneself – is the greatest humiliation of all.

“There is another way, however, opposed to the way of Christ. It is worldliness, the way of the world. The world proposes the way of vanity, pride, success, the other way. The Evil One proposed this way to Jesus too, during his forty days in the desert. But Jesus immediately rejected it. With him, and only by his grace, with his help, we too can overcome this temptation to vanity, to worldliness, not only at significant moments, but in daily life as well. In this, we are helped and comforted by the example of so many men and women who, in silence and concealment, sacrifice themselves daily to serve others: a sick relative, an elderly person living alone, a disabled person, the homeless.

“We think too of the humiliation endured by all those who, for their lives of fidelity to the Gospel, encounter discrimination and pay a personal price. We think too of our brothers and sisters who are persecuted because they are Christians, the martyrs of our own time – and there are many. They refuse to deny Jesus and they endure insult and injury with dignity. They follow him on his way. In truth, we can speak of a ìcloud of witnesses’ – the martyrs of our own time.

“During this week, let us set about with determination along this same path of humility, with immense love for him, our Lord and Saviour. Love will guide us and give us strength. For where he is, we too shall be.”

In brief remarks after Mass at the Angelus, the Holy Father spoke of World Youth Day, including the 2016 celebration in Krakow, Poland. He entrusted that celebration to Mary and also entrusted to “her intercession the victims of last Tuesday’s aviation tragedy, among whom there was also a group of German students.”


It is time once again to tell you the marvelous story of how a sailor from Liguria saved an obelisk from falling and extracted a papal promise for an honor for his native city.

In 1586, Pope Sixtus V, to complete the design of St. Peter’s Square, ordered architect Domenico Fontana to place in the center of the square a giant Egyptian obelisk which had been brought to Rome in 39 A.D. by Emperor Caligula. For centuries it has been in the emperor’s circus in what today is Vatican City, and moving the obelisk from that point to the center of St. Peter’s Square would be a herculean task.

The obelisk had been in the Vatican gardens, near the Constantinian basilica (the first one) and had laid there, forgotten for many years under layers of mud and stagnant water. Giacomo della Porta was asked by Sixtus V to recover the obelisk and, struck by its majestic beauty, the Pope asked that projects to raise the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square be studied.

On September 10, the day the 85-foot high, 350-ton obelisk was transported by 900 workers, 140 horses and 44 winches, Benedetto Bresca, a ship’s captain from the Italian Riviera area of San Remo-Bordighera, was in the square.

The head engineer had told Pope Sixtus that total silence was needed to raise the obelisk, once it was in the square. Thus, the Pope announced to the huge crowd that had assembled to watch the manoeuvre that anyone who spoke during the delicate and risky operation would face the death penalty. As work was underway, the ropes used to raise the obelisk gave signs of fraying and weakening and the obelisk itself began to sway. However, Benedetto, as a sailor, knew what the problem was – and how to solve it and so, notwithstanding the pontiff’s ultimatum, he shouted “water on the cords, water on the cords.” The head engineer realized the sailor was right, the cords were watered, they became taut and strong and the obelisk was raised, without further danger to anyone.

Instead of punishing the audacious sailor, Pope Sixtus rewarded him by giving Benedetto and his descendants the privilege of providing the Vatican with the famous Ligurian palms used for Holy Week ceremonies in the Vatican. And so it has been for over four centuries, with only a few brief interruptions.

Known as parmureli, the leaves from date palm trees in San Remo and Bordighera are woven and braided into intricate sculptures, some only inches high, while others are perhaps two meters high. Many years, more than 200 of the six-foot high parmureli are sent to the Vatican from Liguria for Palm Sunday – for the Pope, cardinals, archbishops, etc.



Many years ago, when the parmureli arrived by sea, the ship that carried them placed one of the palm leaf sculptures on the mast that usually displayed a flag. The palm “flag” thus gave that vessel from San Remo-Bordighera precedence into the port over all other vessels.

Click here to watch my “Joan’s Rome” video about the obelisk; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WVysLk0Kk8&index=16&list=PL69B6AD83630DB515



(Vatican Radio) St Peter’s Basilica will go dark for one hour Saturday evening, joining once again the international “Earth Hour” effort to raise awareness about climate change.

The annual initiative, which began in 2007, invites cities around the world to turn off the lights on their national monuments and public buildings, as well as in offices, shops and homes, to help raise awareness about the need to adopt more environmentally sound practices.

Earth Hour is being observed 28 March in major cities across the world, from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30, local time in each country. This year in Rome, the Great Synagogue and the Great Mosque will join the initiative for the first time.


The Los Angeles Times gives this background on Earth Hour:

Earth Hour 2015 will happen at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, when landmarks, hotels, universities, buildings and individuals shut off their lights to raise awareness of climate change. It’s an

The World Wildlife Fund organizes the annual event, which started in 2007 in Sydney, Australia. The organization reports that 7,000 cities, 1,200 landmarks and 172 countries and territories will go dark this year.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and Times Square in New York City are among the landmarks that plan to participate. You can stay home and turn out the lights or go to these events and places.

Las Vegas: Casinos and hotels on the Strip will power down their exterior lighting and marquees, leaving one of the world’s most famous roadways in darkness.

Los Angeles: The blue glow of Staples Center, Pacific Park’s Ferris wheel at the Santa Monica Pier and the colorful pylons at Los Angeles International Airport will go dark.

San Francisco: Ghirardelli Square is dousing the lights and throwing a #GoDark Earth Hour Party from 6 to 9:30 p.m. It’s a dark chocolate (get it?) tasting party too. The Golden Gate Bridge and Transamerica Pyramid building will cut the lights too.

Ritz-Carlton and Hilton hotels: Some hotels around the world will switch off non-essential lights at all properties and organize events too. The Ritz-Carlton says in a statement that its hotel in Dubai’s International Financial Center will host “Stories by Candlelight” for kids while guests at the Istanbul Ritz-Carlton will be treated to a traditional Turkish shadow play in the lobby.

Hilton hotels are participating too. The Conrad Macao, Cotai Central will turn off external lights, dim indoor lights in restaurants and lounges, and create a 280-candle display of the Earth Hour logo in the lobby.

UNESCO sites: Thirty UNESCO World Heritage Sites will go dark, including the Acropolis in Athens, Edinburgh Castle in Scotland and the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.

Info: Find an event or location near you at http://www.earthhour.org/



Join me on “Vatican Insider” this weekend for my conversation with Chantal Goetz, executive director of the Fidel Goetz Foundation and founder of the Voices of Faith, an event that took place in the Vatican on March 8, International Women’s Day. Voices of Faith brought together talented, inspiring Catholic women of faith – lay and religious –from around the world – as well as a Jesuit priest from Nigeria – to talk about their experiences in reaching out to the world’s poor and marginalized, to the un-schooled, to those living in countries where they are threatened by terror groups, to women especially who are victims of human trafficking in so many places in the world. (JFL photos)

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The Pontifical Academy of Sciences:


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 www.ewtn.com) 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: http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/file_index.asp?SeriesId=7096&pgnu=


This morning in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Vatican, Franciscan Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, delivered his fourth Lenten sermon, continuing his reflections entitled ‘East and West Before the Mystery of Salvation’. Sermons are held in this chapel on Fridays during Lent and Advent for the Holy Father and senior members of the Roman Curia. (news.va photo)


Click here for full text of Fr. Cantalamessa’s talk: http://www.news.va/en/news/fr-cantalamessa-gives-his-fourth-lenten-sermon-in


A statement released today by the Holy See Press Office, speaking of the Pope’s concern for the plight of Christian families in Iraq, notes that Francis is sending a curial cardinal to Iraq to express the Pope’s solidarity with these people. Cardinal Filoni, before becoming prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, had been named apostolic nuncio to Iraq and Jordan by Pope John Paul in 2001. He received episcopal ordination from John Paul shortly afterwards. He served in Iraq and Jordan until February 25, 2006.

The communique says, “Pope Francis has a constant concern for the situation of Christian families and other groups of victims who have been expelled from their homes and villages, particularly in the city of Mosul and the Nineveh plains, many of whom have taken refuge in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. The Pope prays for them and hopes they can return and resume their lives in the lands and places where they have lived and built good relationships for hundreds of years.

“In this coming Holy Week, these families are sharing together with Christ the unjust violence of which they have been made victims, participating in the suffering of Christ himself. In a desire to be close to these families, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, is returning to Iraq as a sign of nearness, affection, and unity in prayer with them.

“The families of the Diocese of Rome, united with their bishop in the feeling of nearness and solidarity with these families, through a special collection in the parishes, are sending the traditional Easter cakes in the shape of a dove (the celebrated “colomba”) to share the joy of Easter and as a herald of good based on the faith in the Resurrection of Christ.

“The Holy Father, moreover, makes himself present in a concrete way with a tangible sign of solidarity. Not wanting to forget the suffering of the families in northern Nigeria either, he has also sent a similar sign of solidarity through the local Bishops’ Conference.”


The Vatican Friday confirmed two events on Pope Francis’ agenda in coming months. On April 18, he will receive Italian President Sergio Mattarella for the first time in an official visit to the Vatican. President Mattarella was elected on February 3.

The Holy See Press Office also confirmed the pastoral visits that the Holy Father will make to the Italian cities of Prato and Florence on November 10 on the occasion of the 5th National Ecclesial Congress of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) that will be held from November 9 to 13 on the theme, “A New Humanism through Jesus Christ.



(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Thursday morning began a special prayer for peace as part of the 5th centenary celebrations marking the birth of St Teresa of Avila. The Pope led the hour of prayer at the Casa Santa Marta before saying Mass along with the Superior General of the Discalced Carmelite Order, Father Saverio Cannestrà.

The worldwide Teresian family is participating in this initiative including Carmelite priest Fr Eugene McCaffrey from the Avila Carmelite Centre in Dublin, Ireland, who is also written on St Teresa.

“We’re delighted with the whole initiative and a little taken by surprise… and we’re joining with the Holy Father and with the whole Church…”  he told Vatican Radio’s Lydia O’Kane.

Father McCaffrey said that St Teresa “spent her whole life not just teaching prayer but praying and drawing people into the great mystery of the relationship with God. He added that his community would be having a “Birthday Party” to celebrate this milestone in the life of this Saint and Doctor of the Church.

Below please find World Prayer for Peace, proposed to the Holy Father Pope Francis:

Dear brothers and sisters:

The Order of Discalced Carmelites, friars, nuns, and seculars, the entire Teresian family, in union with the whole Church, today celebrates the 500th anniversary of the birth of its foundress, Saint Teresa of Jesus, Doctor of the Church.

At the request of the Father General of the Order, during the span of this day a world hour of prayer for peace will take place in all convents, monasteries, and fraternities. I unite myself joyfully to this initiative and begin with these words our supplication to God, Father of all of us, so that, through the intercession of Christ Jesus, he will pour his Spirit over all the nations, so that dialogue among men will triumph over violence and the conflicts that scourge our world.

To this prayer I invite all faithful Catholics, all Christians of other denominations, and also members of other religions and men and women of good will.

“The world is all in flames […] and are we to waste time asking for things that if God were to give them we would have one soul less in heaven? No, my Sisters, this is not the time to be discussing with God matters that have little importance” (Teresa of Jesus, Way of Perfection 1,5).

The world is all in flames is the sorrowful cry of Teresa as she contemplates the conflicts, wars, and divisions in society and the Church of her time. Today we also make this our cry and present it to Jesus as a supplication: Lord, the world is all in flames!

We, like Saint Teresa, know that by our own efforts we will not attain the precious gift of peace. Therefore, with our petition let us hold tightly to the power of the redeeming Cross of Christ: “Oh my Lord and my Mercy, my only Good! What more do I seek in this life than a union so close to you, that there can be no distinction between you and me? With such a companion, what can be difficult? With you so close to me, what dare I not attempt for your sake?”

Joined to the Cross of Christ and from the hand of the Virgin, his Mother and our Mother, and from the hand of Teresa, we beseech God to increase the opportunities for dialogue and encounter among men, that we learn to ask for forgiveness so that peace may grow in the world like the fruit of the reconciliation that he has come to bring to us.

Let us pray.


I have been very negligent in posting news about each day’s station church in Rome during Lent. Heartfelt apologies, as I know many of you wrote me that you enjoy this segment of my blog. Assignments and appointments have meant most of my day was writing, recording, editing or being out of the office so I am going to take the easy way out in order to feature the Lenten station churches for this fifth week in Lent: Following is the calendar of churches for this week as featured at www.pnac.org

Below that are a few links to articles about and some photos of the churches featured Monday through Friday of this week.  Thanks for understanding!


Date Lenten Day Church
3/22/2015 Sunday S. Pietro in Vaticano
3/23/2015 Monday S. Crisogono in Trastevere
3/24/2015 Tuesday S. Maria in via Lata
3/25/2015 Wednesday S. Marcello al Corso
3/26/2015 Thursday S. Apollinare
3/27/2015 Friday S. Stefano Rotondo
3/28/2015 Saturday S. Giovanni a Porta Latina













FRIDAY – SAN STEFANO ROTONDO: https://www.google.it/search?q=church+of+Santo+Stefano+Rotondo&biw=1138&bih=518&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=YUoUVZXXCMHTUZ2IgOgP&ved=0CAYQ_AUoATgU&dpr=1.2




At a rain-soaked general audience on Wednesday, feast of the Annunciation, Pope Francis explained to the faithful that, “in our journey of catechesis on the family, today is a somewhat special stage: It will be a break for prayer.”  Having spoken of mothers, fathers, grandparents, brothers and sisters in previous weekly audiences, the Pope last week spoke of children, saying he would return to this topic this week, yet noting today he is “taking a break for prayer” for a special purpose.


Francis began his remarks with his customary, “Dear brothers and sisters, good day!” and then added, laughingly, “good day, yes, but not a beautiful day, eh?”

He also noted that, “today the audience takes place in two different places, as we do when it rains: you here in the square, and many sick people in the Paul VI Hall, who are following the audience on the big screens. Now, as a gesture of brotherly courtesy, let us greet them with a round of applause.” The faithful applauded and Francis, with his typical humor, remarked, “It’s not easy to applaud with an umbrella in hand, eh?”

“In the Church on March 25, “ stated the Holy Father, “we solemnly celebrate the Annunciation, the beginning of the mystery of the Incarnation. The Archangel Gabriel visits the humble girl of Nazareth, and announces that she will conceive and bear the Son of God. With this announcement, the Lord illumines and strengthens the faith of Mary, as He will later do for her husband, Joseph, so that Jesus could be born in a human family. This is very beautiful: it shows us how profoundly the mystery of the Incarnation, just as God wanted, comprises not only the conception in the womb of the mother, but also being welcomed into a true family.”

He went on to say, “Today I want to contemplate with you the beauty of this bond, the beauty of this condescension of God; and we can do so by reciting together the Hail Mary, which in the first part resumes the very words that the Angel addressed to the Virgin. I invite you to pray together. (And the faithful prayed the Hail Mary in Italian with the Pope).

The Pope then pointed to a second aspect of today’s solemnity: “On March 25, the solemnity of the Annunciation, the Day of Life is celebrated in many countries. For this reason, twenty years ago, Saint John Paul II on this date signed the Encyclical ‘Evangelium vitae’. To celebrate this anniversary, many members of the Movement for Life are in the Square today. In ‘Evangelium vitae’ the family occupies a central place, insofar as it is the womb of human life. The words of my venerable Predecessor remind us that the human couple was blessed by God from the beginning to form a community of love and life, to which He entrusted the mission of procreation. Christian spouses, celebrating the Sacrament of Matrimony, open themselves to honor this blessing, with the grace of God, for all of life.

“The Church, for her part, is solemnly committed to the care of the family that results from it, as a gift of God for her own life, in good fortune and in bad: the bond between the Church and the family is sacred and inviolable. The Church, as a mother, never abandons the family, even when it is disheartened, wounded, and mortified in so many ways; it will always do everything to seek to cure and heal it, to invite it to conversion and to reconcile it with the Lord.

So then,” said Francis, “if this is the task, it appears clear how much prayer the Church needs in order to be up to fulfilling this mission at all times! A prayer full of love for the family and for life. A prayer that knows how to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to suffer with those who suffer.

Pope Francis than proposed “renewing the prayer for the Synod of the Bishops on the family. We are taking up this commitment again next October, when the ordinary Assembly of the Synod, dedicated to the family, will take place. I would like for this prayer, and the whole Synod journey, to be animated by the compassion of the Good Shepherd for His flock, especially for persons and families that, for different reasons, are “troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.”

“All of us – the Pope, Cardinals, Bishops, priests, religious, lay faithful – we are all called to pray for the Synod. We need prayer, not gossip! I also invite those who feel far away, or who are not accustomed to do so, to pray. This prayer for the Synod on the Family is for the good of everyone. I know that this morning you were given a little prayer card, which you have in your hands. It might be a little wet. I invite you to hold on to it and keep it with you, so that in the coming months you can recite it often, with holy insistence, as Jesus has asked us.

Now, let us say it together:

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, In you we contemplate the splendor of true love, We turn to you with confidence.

Holy Family of Nazareth,

Make our families, also, places of communion and cenacles of prayer, Authentic schools of the Gospel, and little domestic Churches.

Holy Family of Nazareth, May our families never more experience violence, isolation and division:

May anyone who was wounded or scandalized rapidly experience consolation and healing.

Holy Family of Nazareth, May the upcoming Synod of Bishops re-awaken in all an awareness Of the sacred character and inviolability of the family, its beauty in the project of God.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Hear and answer our prayer. Amen.


Mike Haines, the brother of David Haines, who was murdered by ISIL in September 2014, spoke briefly with Pope Francis at the end of today’s general audience. Imam Shahnawaz Haque from East London accompanied Haines to the audience.

Speaking ahead of the weekly general audience, British Ambassador to the Holy See Nigel Baker said: “Mike Haines will be bringing to the Vatican his message of inter-religious understanding. Pope Francis has called for a common commitment to end fighting, hatred and violence. Mike Haines is living that commitment in an extraordinary way.”

Since his brother’s execution last September, Mike Haines has dedicated his time and effort to spreading a message of tolerance among all faiths, coming together to unite against extremism.  He shared that message with Pope Francis. In October 2014, Mike Haines signed a joint letter with Barbara Henning – the widow of Alan Henning who was also murdered by ISIL in 2014 – calling for “unity of people of all faiths in our society” and urging “churches, mosques, synagogues to open their doors and welcome people of all faiths.”  Barbara Henning also met the Pope this morning after the general audience.

Joining Haines, Henning and Ambassador Baker at the papal audience were the Muslim leaders who, since Tuesday, have been participating in an encounter organized by the Rome-based Sant Egidio Community and the Imam al-Khoei Foundation entitled, “Catholics and Shiites. The Responsibility of Believers in a Global and Plural World.” The Imam al-Khoei Foundation is an international foundation linked to the top Iraqi Shiite Islam authority, Ayatollah Ali Sistani. The contents of the Egidio meeting were presented to the Pope this morning by ten Shiite leaders from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia Saudita, Bahrain and Kuwait.


Pope Francis Tuesday expressed his closeness to the families of the victims of a plane crash in the French Alps in a telegram sent by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro. Parolin wrotes that the Holy Father “joins in the grief of the families” of the victims, including many children, and is also praying for those who died, “entrusting them to the mercy of God.”

“Having learned of the tragic plane crash in the region of Digne, which caused many casualties, including many children, His Holiness Pope Francis joins in the grief of the families, expressing his closeness to them in sorrow. He prays for peace for the deceased, entrusting them to the mercy of God that He might welcome them into His dwelling place of peace and light. He expresses his deep sympathy for all those touched by this tragedy, as well as for the rescue workers working in difficult conditions. The Holy Father asks the Lord to give strength and consolation to all, and, as a comfort, he invokes upon them the abundance of divine Blessings.”

The German A320 Airbus carrying 150 people came down in a remote, snow-covered mountainous region in the French Alps. There were no survivors. The cause of the crash is not yet known, however, the first black box flight recorder has been located. Weather at the time of the crash was calm, but it later deteriorated and there are forecasts of snow Wednesday further hampering search efforts.

The Germanwings flight was travelling non-stop from Barcelona in Spain to Duesseldorf in Germany. Germanwings spokesman Thomas Winklemann said the descent lasted for eight minutes.

Sixteen of those aboard the plane were pupils from Joseph-Koenig school in the German town of Haltern, returning from an exchange trip. A memorial Mass was held Tuesday for the victims and the local church remained opened all night for those wishing to mourn.

Wednesday, the leaders of Germany, France and Spain visited the crash site. (source: Vatican radio)


The Elemosineria Apostolica, the office of papal charities where people procure papal blessings, has organized a special visit to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel for a group of 150 homeless people. Thursday, March 26, thanks to an initiative of the papal almoner, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the artistic treasures of the Vatican Museums will be opened up to poor, who usually only see the steps of the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square.

The visit is set for the early afternoon and the Museums will be closed earlier than usual to allow for the special guests. After arriving at the Petrine entrance to Vatican City (the entrance traditionally used by faithful to enter the Paul VI Hall, the guests will be divided into three groups for guided tours. Before arriving at the Museums, the groups will enjoy a privileged visit to grounds of Vatican City, passing by the Casa Santa Marta and behind the apse of Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Their first stop in the Museums will be at the newly re-arranged Pavilion of the Carriages, where historical papal carriages and automobiles are on display. Afterwards, the groups will visit the Gallery of the Candelabra and the Gallery of the Maps on their way to the Sistine Chapel. The viewing of Michelangelo’s masterpiece will be a private showing, reserved solely for the guests of the papal almoner; the Chapel will be closed to the public during the visit.

In conclusion, after the guided visit and a common prayer, the group will be treated to a dinner hosted by the Office of Papal Charities.


(VIS) – The Holy Father has expressed his gratitude for the proceeds raised by the lottery that took place in January.in support of his works of charity. The entire sum has been consigned to Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, almoner of His Holiness. In view of the widespread participation and generosity of many people, Pope Francis has made more prizes available to enable the initiative to be repeated.

The second lottery draw will take place on the June 29th solemnity of the Saints Peter and Paul, patrons of Rome, and the lucky numbers draw (each ticket costs 10 euros) is scheduled for 30 July, in the presence of a commission to guarantee correct procedures. Prizes can be claimed during the following 30 days in the Department of Events Coordination of the Governorate of Vatican City State. Also on this occasion, like the first lottery, the proceeds will go directly to the Pope.

Tickets will be available from the Vatican Pharmacy, Post Office, the Vatican supermarket, the sales outlets of the Philatelic and Numismatic Office, and the Vatican Museums bookshop.




A press conference was held this morning in the Vatican to present the agenda for Pope Francis’ visit to Turin in June and to explain the program for the 67-day exhibit that will feature the celebrated Shroud of Turin.

Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive in Turin in northern Italy about 8 a.m. on Sunday, June 21 and, a half hour later, will meet with representatives of the world of work in the Piazzetta Reale. He will then proceed to the cathedral where he will pray before the Holy Shroud as well as before the altar of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. At 10.45 a.m. he will celebrate the Eucharist in Piazza Vittorio and will recite the Sunday Angelus prayer.

Shroud of Turin

Following Mass and the Angelus, the Pope will proceed to the archbishop’s residence to lunch with young detainees from the “Ferrante Aporti” penitentiary for minors, several immigrants and homeless people, and a Rom family.

At 2.40 p.m. the Holy Father is scheduled to visit the shrine of the Consolata, pausing for a brief period of private prayer. At 3 p.m., in the basilica of Our Lady Help of Christians, he will meet with Salesians, who are marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of their founder, St. John Bosco, and the Daughters of Our Lady Help of Christians. An hour later, in the Church of Cottolengo, he will meet with the sick and disabled.

Returning to Piazza Vittorio at 6 p.m., Francis will meet with young people of the city, after which he will retire to the archbishop’s residence. The Pope will surely speak of Pier Giorgio Frassati when he meets with the youth of the city and archdiocese.

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, who died in 1925 at the age of 24, is as beloved now by Italian youth as he was at the time. Born into a very wealthy family, Pier Giorgio was an avid sportsman, had a great sense of humor, loved to be with his friends but, above all, loved helping those who were poor or sick or somehow disadvantaged. A Catholic social activist, he was a member of the Third Order of St. Dominic.

Frassati’s father, a self-proclaimed agnostic, founded the newspaper La Stampa and was active in national politics, serving in the Italian Senate and later as the country’s ambassador to Germany.

Young Pier Giorgio was not the apple that fell close to the tree: in fact, he was dedicated to works of social action, charity, prayer and community, and involved with Catholic youth and student groups, often keeping some his charitable works from his parents. In fact, when he died at 24, PierGiorgio’s parents naturally expected family and high ranking political friends to attend the funeral but were stunned when droves of people from all walks of life, including the poorest of the poor, flocked to the church to pay their respects.

In 1989 Pope John Paul II visited his tomb and paid homage to him, calling him a man of the Beatitudes.  Hebeatified Pier Giorgio on May 20, 1990.

The Pope’s visit to Turin continues on Monday 22 when, at 9 a.m., he will visit the Valdese Temple.

Returning to the archbishop’s residence, Francis will meet privately with some of his relatives, celebrating a Mass for them in the chapel and having lunch with them afterwards.

Before his departure from “Torino Caselle” airport, he will pay a short visit to the members of the Committee of the Shroud, the organizers and supporters of his visit.


(VIS) – This morning a press conference was held in the Holy See Press Office to present the upcoming exhibition of the Holy Shroud of Turin (Turin, 19 April – 24 June 2015), on the occasion of the second centenary of the birth of St. John Bosco, which will be especially dedicated to the young and to those who suffer. The Pope will also make a pilgrimage to Turin from 21 to 22 June.

Speakers at the conference included Archbishop Cesare Nosaglia of Turin, papal guardian of the Shroud; Elide Tisi, Turin mayor; Roberto Gottardo, president of the diocesan commission for the Shroud; and Rev. Luca Ramello, director of the youth ministry for the diocese.

Archbishop Nosaglia explained that the Shroud represents, for the Universal Church, a point of reference of the first order for the faith life of many people and communities who recognize, in this image, the signs of the Lord’s passion, of a Jesus who “inspires our lives and challenges us to fully realize our deepest vocation. Therefore,” he added “the theme I have chosen for the next exhibition is ‘The Greatest Love’: the gift of salvation which is made visible in our response, the worship of God and service to our brothers”.

The archbishop noted that, “the Pope’s trip, like the exhibition as a whole, is also intended to give thanks for ‘the Saint of youth’, and for the service that the Salesian family carries out in Turin and throughout the world in the fields of education, mission, sport and communication. … The world of youth is particularly involved in the Salesian mission, and during the Pope’s visit there will be a sort of mini Youth Day, a series of meetings, encounters, prayer, moments of celebration that help resume contact with the young. An extraordinary sign will be the presence of the World Youth Day Cross, which will make a stop in Turin during its journey to Krakow.”

Another special mark of this exhibition will be attention to the world of those who suffer. This year those pilgrims who are sick or disabled, along with those who accompany them, will be able to benefit from new hospitality structures based on the model of the “Accueil” in Lourdes. It is also hoped that the pilgrimage to the Shroud will offer an opportunity to partake in the sacrament of Reconciliation, as a “concrete sign of forgiveness” and, as on previous occasions, “in various places priests will hear the confessions of the faithful in all the world’s major languages.”

Archbishop Nosaglia emphasized that the 2015 exhibition has been organized according to the criterion of austerity, given the period of severe economic and social crisis throughout the area, and he thanked those entities that have offered their cooperation to help limit costs as far as possible.

He also announced that during the display of the Shroud, Beato Angelico’s celebrated “Lamentation over the Dead Christ” will be exhibited in the diocesan museum, on loan for the occasion from the city of Florence.


“As you are aware, visiting the Shroud is completely free. Traditionally many pilgrims leave a simple offering at the end of their journey, deposited with full discretion at the exit of the Cathedral and in the places of confession. On this occasion all the offerings will be given to the Pope when he is with us in Turin on 21 June. We will ask him to use them, naturally with full freedom, for a work, or a project to assist the poorest or neediest.”

NOTE FROM JOAN: If you intend to be in Turin during the period of the exhibition of the Shroud, you must register at the following site to reserve a day and time for a visit: www.sindone.org

This is the official website and it is in several languages. “Sindone” means “shroud” in Italian.


If you want to visit a fascinating website in English about the Holy Land, go to  http://en.abouna.org/en/

Stories about the finding of Jesus’ home in Nazareth, an address to Arab women in the media by Jordanian Princess Basma, and religious tourism in Jordan are just of the few that will hold your interest.  Here are a few of the photos that are on the website today:

Religious tourism is image of Jordanian hospitality – Pope Francis at baptism site in the Jordan, with King Abdullah of Jordan and his wife, Queen Rania:


Jordanian women in the Media:


Jesus’ Home in Nazareth:


Our Lady of Peace Center, Caritas welcome displaced Christian Iraqis:


I have a ton of photos from the Peace Center as this was the very first place that Pope Benedict visited on his weeklong trip to the Holy Land in 2009 – and the first place I visited as well!  It was on that trip that I met Fr. Rifat Bader, director in Amman, Jordan, of the Catholic Centre for Studies and Media and responsible for the en.abouna.org website. You have seen his photo and heard his voice several times on “Vatican Insider” when our paths have crossed over the years during my trips to the Holy Land.  We also met up in 2010 in Cyprus when Pope Benedict went there on a pilgrimage.

Here is Fr. Bader (R) with Fr. Lombardi of the Holy See Press Office at a briefing for the media in Amman during the 2009 papal trip.

Jordan-Jerusalem May 2009 017


(Vatican Radio) – In his homily Tuesday at Mass in the Santa Marta residence, Pope Francis invited all Christians to accept God’s love without being critical and making objections.

Taking his cue from the Gospel reading of the day that speaks of how the children of Israel complained against God during their journey through the desert when they objected to the “wretched food” provided, the Pope pointed out that God offers us salvation in a thousand different ways but too often we are incapable of accepting his “divine ways.”

He said that in that Gospel passage the Lord sent in punishment saraph serpents which bit the people and many of them died. Thus, Moses prayed for the people and, obeying the Lord’s command, he mounted a bronze serpent on a pole giving salvation to anyone who looked at it after being bitten.

Only Moses’s intercession, and the symbol of the cross on which Christ will die, said the Pope, provides salvation from the poison of the snakes.

Describing the attitude of many Christians today as “spiritually whimsical,” Francis said that we often commit the same kind of error, “becoming sullen and grumbly.”

“How many of us Christians find ourselves ‘poisoned’ by the dissatisfactions of life. Yes: God is good but… We are Christians but… This kind of Christian ends up not opening his heart to God’s salvation, but always posing conditions. ‘Yes, I want to be saved but in this way…’ This attitude poisons the heart.”

Pope Francis said that to not accept God’s gift in the way it is offered is a sin. It poisons our soul, deprives it of joy. But Jesus, he said, solved this problem by climbing Mount Calvary.

“Jesus takes that poison upon himself. This ‘tepidness’ of ‘half-way’ Christians who show enthusiasm at the start of Jesus’ journey only to become dissatisfied on the way. The only way to heal is to look at the Cross, to look at God who takes upon himself our sins: my sin is there.”

How many Christians, concluded Pope Francis, today “die in the desert of their sorrow, grumbling and not accepting God’s way.”

“Let’s look at the serpent, at the poison, … the poison of all the sins in the world, and let us ask for the grace to accept difficult moments. To accept the divine way of salvation, to accept this ‘wretched food’ that the children of Israel lamented… Let’s accept the paths that the Lord leads us on. May this Holy Week that begins on Sunday help us to turn away from the temptation to become ‘Christians yes, but…’.”


As I write, a great international celebration is underway in Saint Mary Major Basilica to mark the 20th anniversary of St. John Paul’s great Encyclical, “Evangelium Vitae.

The Pontifical Council for the Family, organizer of this event, announced in a communique that Salus Populi Romani, the icon of Mary so dear to Pope Francis and one that he visits prior to and after his international pilgrimages, will be the centerpiece of tonight’s vigil dedicated to life.

This vigil is intended particularly to give thanks for the abundant fruit produced by St. John Paul II during his life, priestly ministry and almost 27-year papacy, in addition to raising awareness of the benefits of prayer for life.

The vigil will have three successive parts: It begins at 5:00 pm with greetings by the principal celebrant, followed by a moment of reflection on some artistic features of the basilica connected with life. At 6:00 pm, an original Rosary will be recited, with focus on the contemplation of Gospel passages related to the theme of life and interspersed with short testimonies and reflections from invited guests. At 7:00 pm, Mass will be presided by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family.

Archbishop Paglia has said that, “the anniversary of the Encyclical and this vigil commemorating it on the eve of the Annunciation are particularly significant, because they highlight the intimate connection between the mystery of life and the experience of the family, composed of suffering and sociability. Defending life means, then, participating in the alliance between God, man and woman.”

The evening will be marked by an international character because this anniversary will also be celebrated in other parts of the world. The Rosary will be recited and dedicated to life in the shrines of Fatima (6:30 pm), Lourdes and Guadalupe. There will also be celebrations in Nazareth.


Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, reports from Ramallah that the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Fouad Twal, has invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to attend the May 17 Mass at the Vatican for the canonization of two Palestinians, Blessed Sister Marie Alphonsine Ghattas and Blessed Sister Mariam of Jesus Crucified Bawardi.

Jordanian Fr. Rifat Bader, director of the Catholic Centre for Studies and Media in Amman and responsible for the abuna.org website, made the announcement on en.abouna.org. Patriarch Twal is Jordanian-born. “Abouna” means “father” in Arabic.

The invitation was addressed directly by the patriarch to President Abbas during the visit paid by a patriarchal delegation at the presidential headquarters in Ramallah on Sunday, March 22. During the talks, President Abbas thanked Patriarch Twal and praised the role carried out by the local Church at the service of society and the Palestinian people, especially in the field of education, welfare and health.

Blessed Mariam Bawardi was born in the village of Ibillin in Galilee, and founded the Carmel of Bethlehem. Blessed Marie Alphonsine Ghattas was born in Jerusalem and helped to start the Congregation of the Sisters of the Rosary. Patriarch Twal has just published a pastoral Letter dedicated to the two sisters who will soon be proclaimed saints by the Church.



After a jam-packed one-day visit to Naples and a Sunday marked by the Angelus prayer with thousands of faithful in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis has a quieter public agenda for today and tomorrow as he prepares for the Wednesday general audience and for Palm Sunday and Holy Week. Palm Sunday is this coming Sunday, of course, and it marks World Youth day on a diocesan level, as well as the start of all the Holy Week activities, especially the sacred Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday and the Easter vigil.

Today I offer the Pope’s words – and actions – at the Sunday Angelus, and then I’ll look at the “miracle of San Gennaro” that took place Saturday in the cathedral of Naples during Pope Francis’ visit.


Tens of thousands of faithful gathered under the rain Sunday in St. Peter’s Square to recite the Angelus with Pope Francis and hear his traditional Sunday reflections. He began, as is customary, by commenting on the day’s Gospel, where John notes that some “Greeks, Hebrews, had asked the Apostle Philip if they could see Jesus.” Francis said this request actually was the expression of “something universal” as it “reveals a desire present in the ages and cultures, a desire present in the heart of so many people who have heard of Christ, but have not yet met him.”

Francis explained that “we can offer three things to those who want to see Jesus, who search for Him, those who have not yet encountered Jesus or who have lost their faith: the Gospel, where we can encounter Jesus, listen to Him, know Him; the Cross, sign of the love of Jesus who gave Himself for us; and our witness of faith, poor but sincere. “ Francis said this faith can be seen when we live it, when it “is translated into simple gestures of fraternal charity. But mainly, in the coherence of our life, between what we say and what we do, coherence between our faith and our life, between our words and our actions,”

To help people live their faith, the Holy Father explained that he had a gift for those in the square Sunday morning: Holding up a small, pocket-sized Gospel, the Pope said thousands would be handed out in the square so that “we can meet Jesus, listen to Him, and get to know Him.” He made the same gesture last year during Lent when the idea was born with the aid of the papal almoner, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski.

In fact, Pope Francis specified that it would be a number of homeless people from Rome who would be handing out the 50,000 mini-Gospels, doing so with the assistance of religious such as the Missionaries of Charity. Saying this is “a beautiful gesture,” Francis said, “it is the needy, the homeless who will be giving us the Word of God.”

“Take it,” urged the Holy Father, “keep it in your pocket or in your handbag and read a passage a day. God’s word lights up our path. It will do you good!”

Also, after the Angelus prayer, the Pope thanked the people of Naples for the great welcome offered during his apostolic trip on Saturday. He also noted that Sunday marked World Day of Water, promoted by the United Nations. He stated that, “Water is the most essential element for life. The future of humanity depends on our capacity to guard it and share it.” And he appealed to the international community to ensure that the planet’s waters are adequately protected and that no one is excluded or discriminated against in the use of this common good.


If you asked Pope Francis for the highlight of his one-day trip to Pompeii and Naples last Saturday, he’d probably tell you that every visit, every place, every person, every prayer, was a highlight. And, of course, he’d be right.

And then you’d have to ask him: “But, Holy Father, what about the liquefaction of the blood in the reliquary of San Gennaro?! That has not happened in the presence of a Pope since 1848 when Pius IX visited Naples and the blood in the vial in the reliquary liquefied!”

Yes, by all media accounts, and by the very words and witness of Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, archbishop of Naples, another “miracle of San Gennaro” took place on Saturday, March 21, 2015.

At the end of the spontaneous, almost tumultuous visit of the Holy Father that afternoon with priests, deacons and religious in the cathedral, Cardinal Sepe took the reliquary for veneration by Pope Francis and the faithful. As the Pope held the reliquary and kissed it, the cardinal announced the blood of Gennaro “is already halfway liquefied,” adding, “It’s a sign that San Gennaro loves the Pope, who is Neapolitan like us” (photo: news.va)


Pope Francis is reported to have replied: “The archbishop said the blood is half-liquefied. It means the saint loves us halfway. We all have to convert a little more so that he loves us more.”

What does this mean? Was this a supernatural sign of God’s favor on this pontiff who has moved, inspired, taught and prayed with legions during his still young pontificate? How did Pope Francis feel when he saw the solid mass become liquid right before his very eyes? Did he know this had not happened in the presence of a Pope for 167 years?

Above all, you might ask “Who is San Gennaro?”

San Gennaro – St. Januarius in English – is the much-loved patron saint of the archdiocese of Naples and the principal patron saint of the city (Naples has several dozen patrons!), in addition to being the patron saint of the region oif Campania, blood banks and volcanic eruptions. Let’s be clear that Januarius is the patron to prevent volcanic eruptions, and this because of the devastating history of eruptions of Vesuvius that destroyed both Pompeii and Herculaneum, whose amazing ruins can be visited today.

San Gennaro, a bishop of Benevento, is a saint and martyr in both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. According to legendary sources, he died in 305 during the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian near Pozzuoli, at the sulphur mines near Solfatara, where he was visiting imprisoned deacons. The relics – the saint’s head and his blood which was, according to legend, soaked up with a sponge by a Christian woman and placed in two vials – were re-discovered in 1480. Cardinal Oliviero Carafa in 1497 ordered the relics brought to Naples.

What for centuries has been called “the miracle of San Gennaro” takes place three times a year: on his September 19 feast day, on December 16, which marks his patronage of Naples and the archdiocese, and on the Saturday before the first Sunday of May to mark the relocation of the relics to Naples. The first recorded reference to the “miracle of the blood” was in 1389.

In the chapel dedicated to San Gennaro in Naples’ cathedral is a silver reliquary resembling a small carriage lamp, inside of which are two vials. Both contain blood but the larger vial – about four inches in height and about two and a quarter inches in diameter – is about half full of a dark, solid mass, absolutely opaque when held up to the light, and showing no displacement when the reliquary is turned upside down. (photo: gazzettadelsud.com)

JANUARIUS RELIQUARY - gazzettadelsud

During the May, September and December ceremonies, the celebrant, usually the cardinal archbishop of Naples who today is Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, holds the reliquary by its extremities, without touching the glass, and from time to time turns it upside down to note whether any movement is perceptible in the dark mass enclosed in the phial. In a period ranging from minutes to a few hours – and on a couple of occasions, it took several days! –  the mass gradually detaches itself from the sides of the vial, become a liquid of a more or less ruby tint, and in some instances has been seen to froth and bubble up and increase in volume.

When the blood liquefies, the celebrant announces, “Il miracolo é fatto” – “the miracle has taken place” –  a Te Deum is sung, and the reliquary containing the liquefied blood is brought to the altar rail so that the faithful may venerate it by kissing the vessel. The miracle is also “announced” with a 21-gun salute at the 13th-century Castel Nuovo. Often, in the evening, there are fireworks for which Naples is noted, given the many firework factories in the area.

It is said that, should the blood not liquefy, a huge calamity will happen in Naples, however, rarely has this failed to occur. One especially interesting fact about the liquefaction of the saint’s blood is that it is what is called a recurrent non-medical, physical “miracle” that can be – and has been – studied scientifically.

Speaking of calamities: The story is told how, in 472, Vesuvius erupted violently and thousands of frightened citizens sought refuge in the catacombs where they prayed intensely to San Gennaro. As the volcano subsided, the people gave thanks and declared Gennaro their new patron. Even since, San Gennaro has protected Neapolitans from Vesuvius.

Another story related to the blood of St. Januarius – and attested to by eyewitnesses – reports that a block of basalt at Pozzuoli (where he died), reputed to bear traces of the blood of St. Januarius, grows vividly red for a short  time in May and September at the hour when the miracle of the liquefaction takes place in Naples. (source, Catholic Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, Naples archdiocese)



Today – both in this column and on my weekend radio program, “Vatican Insider” – I am going to take you on a very special trip, a pilgrimage actually, to the shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii, a half hour south of Naples, which has a beautiful and even touching story.

This weekend, Saturday, March 21, Pope Francis will pay a brief visit to this shrine where he will pray before the image of Our Lady and then meet with some of the recipients of the good works of this shrine such as the homeless, the poor, and unwed mothers. (JFL photos)



I was in Pompeii for Mass last Sunday and took some photos to share with you on this pager as I tell the story of the shrine. An acquaintance of mine from the days we both worked in the Roman Curia, Archbishop Tommaso Caputo, the prelate of this beloved Marian shrine, celebrated the 11 am Mass and I was blessed to have a chance to speak with him in the sacristy before Mass, with the help of a volunteer Dame of Malta, Cristiana.


My very first encounter with a prelate of this beloved Marian shrine is at the end of this story – a surprising and unexpected encounter that will help you understand why I have a special place in my heart and my memories for the late Archbishop Francesco Saverio Toppi.

That first meeting in 1997 was exceptional in many ways, as you will see, but I am heartbroken at not being able to find the photos I took during that visit! I have thousands of printed photos in albums and over 100,000 digital pictures, although I did not own a digital camera in 1997.


I’ll start the story of the shrine with a quote from the man who founded Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii:

“With the boldness of desperation, I lifted my face and hands to the heavenly Virgin and cried, ‘if it be true that you promised St. Dominic that whoever spreads the rosary will be saved, I will be saved because I will not leave Pompeii until I have spread your rosary.” These are the words of Blessed Bartolo Longo, said in Pompeii, Italy in October 1872.

But to go back a bit in time for the story of Blessed Bartolo and the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii.

At 1 PM on August 24, 79 B.C., Mount Vesuvius rumbled, roared and then erupted, heaving its molten insides onto the populace of Pompeii and burying the ancient city. What remained was only a ghostly silence of a once flourishing center.

The new Pompeii would arise 1,796 years later. Called the “miracle city” by its inhabitants, Pompeii as we know it today is the result of that promise made by Bartolo Longo, a lawyer and devout laymen, a promise that became a reality in 1875 when work began on the construction of the church dedicated to our Lady of the Rosary. The church, and the buildings housing the charitable works associated with it eventually led to the birth of the city, the new Pompeii.


Bartolo Longo was born in 1841 near Brindisi on Italy’s Adriatic coast. Those who knew him as a young man described him as cordial, easy-going, of a lively intelligence and devoted to the Church. However, his university years were to be troubled ones as anti-clerical sentiments were running strong in newly unified Italy. Prodded by anti-church liberals Bartolo “tested the waters” of spiritism and went through a crisis in his faith.

Aided by two good friends, Professor Vincenzo Pepe and the learned Dominican Father Alberto Radente, he not only rediscovered his faith but renounced his legal career and devoted himself to works of charity and religious studies.

Providence brought Bartolo Longo to the little town of Pompeii, a half-hour south of Naples, in 1872 where a widow and mother of five, the Countess Marianna De Fusco, asked him to administer her property. Struck by the human and religious poverty of the peasants of the area, Bartolo anguished over how he could help them better their lives. Following a divine inspiration, he decided to devote himself to teaching the catechism and spreading devotion to the rosary, remembering Father Radente’s words: “if you are looking for salvation, propagate the rosary. It is the promise of Mary. He who propagate the rosary shall be saved.”

For three years, Bartolo Longo organized yearly festivals in the fall to bring the people together for catechesis and to pray the rosary. This could be best achieved, he felt, if the people had a proper church with an image of our Lady of the Rosary as the focal point. Thus, in 1875 he began searching the stores of Naples, hoping to have one in time for that year’s concluding ceremonies on November 13.

The ever faithful and supportive Father Radente recalled that years earlier he had bought just such an image which he had entrusted to Sister Maria Concetta of the Conservatory of the Rosary at Porta Medina. Bartolo hurried to Porta Medina, asked for the painting and was horrified when he saw how ugly and in need of repair it was. He would later write: “Dear me! I felt a tightening around my heart as soon as I set eyes on it.”

When Countess De Fusco saw the painting of the Virgin with the Child Jesus handing rosaries to St. Dominic and St. Rose of Lima, she said: “it seems to have been made specifically to discourage devotion!”

To make matters worse, the size of the painting precluded Bartolo taking it to Pompeii on the train. The only other possible form of transportation was through a wagoneer who weekly transported a load of manure to Pompeii. So the wagon it was to be!

The painting was touched up for the November 13 ceremony and has since been restored three times, during which St. Rose was changed to St. Catherine of Siena. Today the painting hangs above the main altar of the basilica, beckoning to several million pilgrims annually as strongly as it once repulsed Bartolo Longo and his loyal supporters.



By 1885 some 940 cures and miracles were ascribed to our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii. The number well exceeds that today as witnessed by countless ex-votos lining the walls of the shrine and adjacent buildings. On my first visit, as I lingered to study several hundred of the votive offerings – the ex voto –  a catechesis to Mary’s intercession, I realized that here was the true history of the shrine: A single man’s love for the rosary, transmitted to generations of faithful. He loved, they believed, and together they built what is today one of the preeminent Marian shrines in the world.


The ex votos are are too numerous to count at this shrine (though someone must know the official tally because they do keep records), as they are at so many other shrines in Italy and throughout the world. They line the walls of chapels and corridors – anywhere there is some space. Pilgrims buy (they can be purchased at shrines or in stores that sell religious objects) or often make their “ex votos” PGR.

Ex votos, as you can see in some of the photos, are usually in silver and come in a wide variety of shapes, frequently a heart with a flame and the letters PGR, indicating love and gratitude. Often the shape refers to a part of the body that the faithful consider to have had a miraculous cure – a silver ex voto in the shape, for example, of a leg, an arm, a head. An ex voto can be also a letter or some other form of missive, often addressed to God or His Mother Mary.


These votive offerings frequently have something to do with what is considered to be a healing or cure – a crutch, a piece of clothing from the person (baby clothes are numerous), a medical instrument, etc. You will see sports uniforms, parts of bikes (or a miniatuire bike or car), tennis rackets, deflated soccer balls – some object associated with the patient’s personal life.  There is no end to the imagination when it comes to votive offerings!

Each year on May 8 and on the first Sunday of October, thousands of faithful gather at the shrine for the feast of the supplication, to petition favors and to offer thanksgiving for favors received. In fact, most if not all the plaques of thanksgiving that line the walls and halls and corridors of the shrine, have the letters PGR on them: PER GRAZIE RICEVUTE – For Favors received.


The neoclassical pontifical shrine and Basilica of our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii in all its frescoed, marble splendor was dedicated in 1891, 15 years after Bartolo began to collect pennies from the peasants to build this citadel to Mary. But our devoted lawyer felt that this monument would be incomplete if works of charity were not part of it and so, over the years, until his death in 1926 Bartolo founded homes for orphan girls, for the sons of prisoners, and later orphaned boys.



Today this monumental complex, the pulsating heart of the new Pompeii, includes administrative offices, a chapel for confessions, a school, a home for elderly women and the offices of the monthly publication, The Rosary and the New Pompeii, that began in 1884. It also houses the living quarters and offices of the prelate of Pompeii and the shrine director.



On my first visit to the shrine a number of years ago, I had a long conversation with the then director, Msgr. Pietro Gaggiano who was also my guide to the shrine. It was a Sunday morning and after Mass we began our tour. At the end of our visit, Msgr. Gaggiano left his office for a minute, and when he came back, he asked me if I had lunch plans. I said I had nothing special planned and he said that Archbishop Francesco Toppi, the prelate of this shrine, wanted to invite me for lunch! (Photo: Gazzettadelsud.com – this was taken in the basilica and you can see the image of Our lady of the Rosary above the altar. The prelate’s full title is Prelate of the Territorial Prelature of Pompeii o Beatissima Vergine Maria del Santissimo Rosario)

Archbishop F S Toppi

It was a great lunch with marvelous conversation, and I was struck by one thing which I have since learned was a well known trait of this beloved archbishop, small in stature but a giant in his love for the Church, the shrine, Our Lady and his fellow human beings.

While I felt honored to be dining with the archbishop and I wanted to learn all I could about him and the shrine, he told me after lunch that he was honored by my presence and our conversation and by everything I could tell him about the Vatican and the Holy Father!

After lunch, Archbishop Toppi took my arm and walked me through the halls of the building we were in – shrine offices, visitors quarters, the prelate’s residence, etc. – a tour of places that the faithful and pilgrims never see – the private reception rooms, the impressive entrance for VIP visitors and guests, etc.

Towards the end of our visit, I had a very special treat when I was escorted to one of the rooms that Saint John Paul had been in during his 1979 visit. Abp. Toppi walked to an immense piece of furniture (just a tad taller than he was!), opened the top drawer and took out a very large book – the shrine’s VIP guest book.  He proudly opened it to John Paul’s signature, then showed me a few more famous names and then opened to a blank page and asked me to sign the book. I said I did not feel worthy to be part of such an important volume, and he replied, “But we are all children of God!”

My signature has now been immortalized in Pompeii.

The devotion of this Capuchin archbishop and Msgr. Gaggiano to the shrine and to Bartolo Longo was palpable as they spoke reverently of his exemplary life and emphasized the fact it was a layperson who accomplished the “miracle of Pompeii,” who founded the still flourishing works of charity and who in 1897 founded the Dominican Sisters of the Holy Rosary of Pompeii.

They also pointed with pride to Pope John Paul’s 1979 visit to the shrine and to the tomb of the man he would beatify the following year. In fact, Blessed Bartolo Longo is buried beneath the image as he had wished.

We spoke of miracles and of Saints.  I asked if it was harder today, in a fast-paced, secular world with temptations on every corner, to become a saint. Archbishop Toppi answered: “Every time has its trials and its temptations and every time has it Saints. We are conditioned by the times in which we live and we adjust to meet those times and face up to those trials.”

POST SCRIPTUM:  On April 2, 2014, exactly seven years to the day of his death, the cause for canonization for Archbishop Toppi was opened. The current prelate of the shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii, Archbishop Tommaso Caputo, having asked the opinion of the other bishops of the Campana region and having obtained the nulla osta of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints decxreed the introduction of the caiuse. The request was put forth by Fr. Carlo Calloni, OFM, Cap, postulator general of the cause of beatification of Archbishop Toppi.

Last April, Msgr. Gaggiano, former administrator of the shrine, was named rector of the seminary.


The Dean of the College of Cardinals today, March 20, released the following communiqué:

“The Holy Father has accepted the resignation of the rights and privileges of a Cardinal, expressed in canons 349, 353 and 356 of the Code of Canon Law, presented by His Eminence Cardinal Keith Michael Patrick O’Brien, Archbishop Emeritus of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, after a long period of prayer. With this provision, His Holiness would like to manifest his pastoral solicitude to all… the faithful of the Church in Scotland and to encourage them to continue with hope the path of renewal and reconciliation.”

This is a very rare move.

On February 25, 2013, days before his official resignation, Pope Benedict XVI accepted Cardinal Keith P. O’Brien’s resignation, and the cardinal announced at the time he would not attend the conclave that eventually elected Pope Francis. In a February 25, 2013 statement, the cardinal said: “Approaching the age of seventy-five and at times in indifferent health, I tendered my resignation as Archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh to Pope Benedict XVI some months ago. I was happy to know that he accepted my resignation ‘nunc pro tunc’ – (“now, but to take effect later”) on November 13, 2012.”

The Pope decided on February 18 that he would accept O’Brien’s resignation effective February 25.

The cardinal had become the focus of allegations by three priests and a former clergyman who say they received inappropriate sexual advances from him during the 1980s.

Cardinal Keith P. O’Brien will be spending several months in penance and prayer outside of Scotland after meeting with Pope Francis, said the Vatican at the time.

The Vatican press office released a one-paragraph statement on May 15, 2013 saying that Cardinal O’Brien, “for the same reasons he decided not to participate in the last Conclave, and in agreement with the Holy Father, will be leaving Scotland for several months for the purpose of spiritual renewal, prayer, and penance.”