You know how it is when you have a specific agenda planned for the day and then all sorts of extra events and commitments and people insert themselves and voilà, it is late in the day and many things are still on that well-planned agenda! Such was my day today, so my only stories involve the death of a great American cardinal and Pope Francis registering as a participant for the 2016 World Youth Day on a tablet!


Cardinal William Baum, 88, died on Thursday, July 23, after a long illness. As a column by CNS notes, “he was a cardinal for 39 years — the longest such tenure in U.S. church history. Cardinal Baum witnessed history from the Second Vatican Council through the election of the first Latin American Pope, and he made history himself.”

He was archbishop of Washington, prefect of a Vatican congregation and penitentiary major. I knew the cardinal for the first half of his ten years as prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education (1980 to 1990), and we met many times over the years that he lived in Rome.


The cardinal suffered serious eye problems for many years and I learned one day that we shared the same eye doctor and surgeon.

I had a detached retina in my left eye in December 2001 and was in a Rome eye hospital for nine days, undergoing several corrective surgeries, including laser surgery on my right eye to hopefully prevent a similar occurrence. December 23, to my great surprise, the nurse announced that I had a visitor and that visitor was Cardinal Baum, along with Sr. Lucy, a Sister of Mercy of Alma, Michigan, who was a nurse.

We had a lovely visit, and I learned later that quite a number of the patients wondered who I was to have such an important visitor!

Later that afternoon, I received a call from Sister Lucy who, in a conversation with the cardinal, remarked to him that I probably had no plans for Christmas Day – two days later – as I would only be released from the hospital on December 24th. She asked if I had plans, telling me that Cardinal Baum would be delighted if I would join him for Mass and lunch in his apartment on Christmas Day!

Moved to tears, I told sister I would be there for 10 am Mass. The surgeon had instructed me to remain in a prone position, on my right side, for 22 hours a day for at least two weeks but he did give me special permission to be up and around Christmas Day, knowing I had cancelled plans to be with family in the U.S. because of the surgery.

I took a taxi to his residence – a wonderful apartment on the top floor of the same building that houses the Holy See Press Office. The sisters had previously been to Mass and were busy in the kitchen preparing our turkey dinner. There were only three of us at Mass and it was intimate and beautiful, a very different and wonderful Christmas morning. After Mass we gathered in a small study just off the amazing terrace overlooking Via della Conciliazione and St. Peter’s Square. The sisters had decorated a Christmas tree and all the gifts beneath the tree were from the cardinal for his guests – several of whom were at Pope John Paul’s “Urbi et Orbi” blessings.

When all the guests had arrived, we drank a Christmas toast and the cardinal distributed his gifts. One of the presents he gave me consisted of two audio books! He knew I’d not be able to read for weeks – he had had the same issue a number of times . and these proved to be very welcomed gifts!

Dinner was so special – the turkey and all the stuffings were divine! – and afterwards all the sisters came into the living room and we sang Christmas songs. Truly, a day to remember, unique in so many ways . a very happy and Merry Christmas indeed!

I have other wonderful stories to tell about Cardinal Baum, but not today. He was an extraordinary gentle and saintly person, so kind and wise and a great listener – always interested in his guests, and interesting for his guests!

Pope Francis sent a telegram to Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, expressing his sadness over the death of Wuerl’s predecessor:

“I was saddened to learn of the death of Cardinal William Wakefield Baum, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, and I offer my heartfelt condolences, together with the assurance of my prayers, to you and to all the faithful of the Archdiocese.  With gratitude for the late Cardinal’s years of episcopal service in Springfield-Cape Girardeau and in Washington, and for his long service to the Apostolic See as Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education and subsequently Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary, I join you in commending the late Cardinal’s soul to God the Father of mercies.  To all present at the Mass of Christian Burial and to all who mourn Cardinal Baum in the hope of the Resurrection, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of strength and consolation in the Lord.”

To read the CNS story about Cardinal Baum’s long and wonderful years of service to the Church, click here:


In post-Angelus reflections on Sunday, Pope Francis remembered the people of Syria as they live through terrorist attacks and an internal conflict that has lasted for years, and he issued an urgent and heartfelt appeal for the release of Fr. Paolo Dall’Oglio, an Italian Jesuit who was kidnapped in that country two years ago.

The Holy Father also named the Greek and Syriac Orthodox archbishops of Aleppo, Boulos Yazigi and Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, who were kidnapped Syria’s border with Turkey in 2013. Francis said he hoped that, with the commitment of international and local authorities, these prelates would be released immediately.

Then, with two young people joining him at his study window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis held a tablet and, with the touch of a button, he registered as the first participant for the 2016 World Youth Day that will be held in Krakow, Poland. In remarks to the faithful, he said that WYD 2016 will be celebrated during the Year of Mercy, saying, “in a sense, a jubilee of youth, called to reflect on the theme ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy’.” (photo


He invited the youth of the world to live this pilgrimage to Krakow as “a moment of grace in their communities.”

Vatican Radio reported on a Message for WYD 2016 released by Polish Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the council that organizes Youth Days.

Taking place in the context of the Jubilee Year of Mercy which begins on December 8th this year, the Krakow event follows on from the last World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro where Pope Francis told young people to read the Beatitudes because, he said, it “will do you good”. In his message Cardinal Rylko notes that the Pope has made the theme of mercy a priority of his pontificate and that the Krakow meeting will mark an international Jubilee of Young People dedicated to this theme.

It’s the second time that World Youth Day has been held in Poland – the first such event took place in 1991 at the Marian shrine of Czestochowa with Pope John Paul II. The Polish pontiff will also be spiritually present at the 2016 event as young participants visit the tomb of St Faustina Kowalska at the Divine Mercy shrine, inaugurated by Pope John Paul during his last visit to his homeland in 2002. There, they will be able to take part in a programme of meditations and recitation of the Divine Mercy chapelet.

Numerous confessionals will also be set up and Pope Francis himself is likely to offer the sacrament of reconciliation to a number of young men and women attending the celebration. A symbolic Holy Door will also be built at the shrine, through which the Pope will process at the start of the prayer vigil and Eucharistic Adoration on Saturday July 30th. Following the final Mass on Sunday 31st, Pope Francis will give lighted lamps to five young couples from the five continents to symbolically send all the participants out as missionaries of God’s mercy throughout the world.