Just a heads up to let you know that these pages might be Joan’s Rome-lite this week!  The agenda for coming days includes a number of press conferences and Vatican events hosted by several pontifical councils as well as by Caritas Internationalis as it meets in general assembly this week, starting with the opening Mass late tomorrow afternoon in St. Peter’s Basilica with Pope Francis.

I have a number of friends who are in town or about to arrive for these events. I’ve been invited to the papal Mass tomorrow and to other sessions of the Caritas general assembly  during which time I hope to interview some people for Vatican Insider. Some events are near or inside Vatican City while others are up the road a bit, as they say.

There was a lot of news over the weekend and today as well. Pope Francis had a number of meetings on his agenda but for now I want to focus on his historic meeting Sunday with Raul Castro, president of Cuba and brother of the ageing Fidel Castro. Pope Francis will travel to Cuba in September before he visits the U.S. where he will address the United Nations in New York, the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C. and preside at the World meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

I’ll also bring you some of Francis’ greetings at Sunday’s Regina Coeli. By the way, I did post several other meaningful news stories on Facebook.

In a different vein: Don’t let anyone tell you computers don’t have a mind of their own!  I have no idea why (an expression I often use vis-a-vis computers) but I can only write in WORD today if I have closed my email accounts.


Sunday’s meeting between Pope Francis and President Raul Castro of Cuba was historic in quite a number of ways. Historic for the Pope as he rarely, if ever, receives people in audience on a Sunday. Historic in the time Francis dedicated to Castro – almost one hour (and almost unheard of). And even, as the press office statement said, “meaningful in the gifts exchanged.”

The president’s small motorcade arrived at the back entrance to the Paul VI Hall known as the “fungo,” or mushroom, where a central pillar supports a rounded roof area. This is just meters away from the Santa Marta residence where the Holy Father lives. Pope Francis asked that a small contingent of Swiss Guards be present, as it normally would be in the San Damaso courtyard where most heads of State are received when the Pope welcomes them to the Apostolic Palace. (photos:


The Holy See Press Office director, Fr. Federico Lombardi, gave some specifics about the meeting:

“This morning the Holy Father received in private audience the president of the Republic of Cuba, Raul Castro Ruz. The meeting took place in the Pope’s study adjacent to Paul VI Hall.

“Upon arrival, at 9.30 a.m., the president was received by the prefect of the Papal Household, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, accompanied by his substitute, Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu and the secretary for Relations with States, Bishop Paul Richard Gallagher. A personal meeting with the Pope then took place in the study, which lasted more than 50 minutes and was very cordial.


“The president, as he declared before leaving the Vatican, thanked the Holy Father for his active role in improving relations between Cuba and the United States. He also expressed the sentiments of the Cuban people as they await and prepare for his upcoming visit to the island in September.

“The Pope and the president then proceeded to the adjacent room for the presentation of the delegation accompanying Raul Castro, composed of around a dozen figures including the deputy prime minister, the minister for foreign affairs and the ambassador to the Holy See.

“The exchange of gifts was very meaningful. The president offered the Pope a valuable commemorative medal of the Cathedral of Havana and a contemporary painting, depicting a large cross made up of wrecked boats, with a migrant in prayer in the foreground. The artist, the Cuban Kcho, was present and explained to the Pope that it was inspired by his great efforts to raise awareness in the world of the problems faced by migrants and refugees, beginning with his famous trip to Lampedusa.

“The Pope gave the president a copy of his Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” and a large medallion depicting St. Martin covering the poor man with his cape. The Holy Father observed that he was particularly keen to give this gift, as it recalled the commitment not only to protecting the poor but also to promoting dignity.

President Raul Castro and his delegation left the Vatican shortly after 10.30 a.m.”

Castro, 83, had asked the Vatican if he could meet with the Pope on Sunday on his way back to Cuba from Moscow. He told the Vatican he wanted to personally thank the Pope for mediating between Cuba and the U.S., a mediation that led to a thaw in the “cold war” between the two over the past 50 years and the resumption of diplomatic ties.

Castro later met with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and, after that meeting, told reporters at a televised press conferenvce, he was “really impressed by (Pope Francis’) wisdom and his modesty.” The Cuban president also said:  e also told reporters“I promise to go to all his Masses, and with satisfaction. “I read all the speeches of the pope, his commentaries, and if the pope continues this way, I will go back to praying and go back to the church. I’m not joking.”

Both of the Castro brothers were baptized as Catholics and educated by Jesuits before the 1959 revolution. Francis’ predecessors, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, both visited Cuba where they met the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul.


Following his reflections on Sunday’s Gospel and the recitation of the Marian prayer in the presence of a jam-packed St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis had greetings for mothers, noting that, “today, many countries celebrate Mother’s Day.” He put aside his prepared remarks and, looking down on the vast crowd with a broad smile, asked, “Are there any mothers here?” The crowd’s reaction was immediate, they too smiled and said “yes” in many languages.


The Holy Father asked for a show of hands of the mothers present, and it looked like the wave was being done in St. Peter’s Square!  He then asked for applause for all mothers present in the square: “That applause embraces all mothers, all our dear mothers: those who live with us physically, but also those who live with us spiritually. May the Lord bless them all, and may the Mother of God, to whom this month is dedicated, watch over them all.”

(Vatican Radio) Also Sunday, during his Regina Coeli address, Pope Francis greeted participants in Italy’s fifth annual March for Life. “I greet all those participating in the initiative for life taking place this morning in Rome,” the Pope said. “It is important to work together to defend and promote life.”

Several thousand people from all parts of Italy and from around the world took part in the March through the heart of Rome’s historic centre. Among those taking part in the March was Cardinal Raymond Burke, the patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

Speaking with Vatican Radio, Cardinal Burke said, “St. John Paul II urged us, in his wonderful encyclical letter on the Gospel of Life, to make public manifestations to demonstrate the incomparable beauty, the inviolability of innocent, defenceless human life.” He said the March is “very important in Italy as a sign of the Italian peoples dedication to the apostolate for the restoration of the respect for all human life, from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.”

Cardinal Burke also mentioned the international aspect of the March for Life. “It’s wonderful to see the international participation” in the March, he said. “So many come from various countries because they want to join the Italian people in their testimony to the dignity of human life, created in God’s own image and redeemed by our Lord Jesus Christ.”