Yesterday was too important a day not to write about – so here’s an extra vacation column for  Joan’s Rome – or is it Joan’s Hawaii!


I participated, as a spectator, in a little bit of history last night, August 15, when a huge fireworks display was set off on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii to mark the 70th anniversary, a day earlier, of Japan’s surrender to the Allies, an act marking the end of World War II. Known as V-J Day (Victory in Japan), August 14, 1945 was the end of the war in the Pacific, following the end, several months earlier, of the war in the European theater.

Yesterday’s celebrations were called “70 Years of Peace.“

The display – you can also see my videos – began with fireworks shaped like three chrysanthemums, symbolizing the victims of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, those who died in the atom bomb attacks on Hiroshima (Aug. 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (Aug. 9 1945), and all who died in World War II.

U.S. and Japanese civil and military officials participated in daylong ceremonies on Pearl Harbor, including the laying of wreaths. Amid great security, the public was welcomed to Ford Island in mid-afternoon where they could purchased food for dinner as they watched the program of speeches and music that began at 7 pm, an hour before the fireworks.

The pyrotechnic display was offered by the city of Nagaoka, a sister city to Honolulu, and the Japanese city that Admiral Yamamoto – who planned and executed the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor – called home.

I watched the fireworks from the Aiea home of my friends, Trip and Jan McKinney. We had eaten dinner on the lanai (terrace) of their hillside home that overlooks Pearl Harbor, and then watched the display, along with another good friend of theirs. It was very exciting to be on Honolulu on this occasion and to participate in such an historic moment.

Here are a few of the photos I took. I will soon post the videos on my Youtube page (youtube.com/joansrome) and on Facebook (facebook.com/joan.lewis.10420)




Just a quick note to remind you that I am on vacation and not posting daily columns here BUT I am posting in Facebook (facebook.com/joan.lewis.10420). Wanted to touch bases today with an interesting story that I will also be posting this on Facebook!


Another plane flight, another fascinating seat mate, another wonderful story!

I had an exceptional and serendipitous meeting on my flight last Saturday from Los Angeles to Honolulu where I was seated next to David Ciardi, an astronomer and research scientist from Caltech University.

Our conversation began with “well, what brings you to Honolulu – or do you live there?”

I replied that I live in Italy and was going to Hawaii on vacation. David said, “I am an astronomer” (no one had ever said that to me before in a first meeting!) and told me he was heading to Honolulu to attend the 29th General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (IAU). I learned that this is a two week-long meeting that brings together over 2500 astronomers from an estimated 75 countries around the world.

I said I imagined the Vatican Observatory would be represented and David said he was sure it would be as it is one of the most respected authorities in the field of astronomy.  As we exchanged business cards, I said I know the Vatican has been famous for centuries for its telescopes and, as a matter of fact, is known for the VATT (Vatican Advanced Telescope Technology) atop Mount Graham near Tucson, AZ. In fact, I have been to the observatory in Castelgandolfo on a number of occasions for their celebrated biennial summer school courses for graduate and under-graduate students of astronomy.

Once in my hotel, I did some research on the IAU website and sure enough, the Vatican has sent four of the Jesuits who run the Vatican observatory …three based in Tucson. I wrote to my Rome Jesuit astronomer friend, Bro. Guy Consolmagno to see if he could put me in touch with them.

Bro. Guy contacted the Jesuits here, gave them my cell phone number and I got a call Monday from Fr. Christopher Corbally. We made an appointment for an interview on Tuesday and he was wise enough to get me press credentials, knowing that security was tight at the Hawaii Convention Center, with credentials being checked very carefully.

I spent Tuesday morning doing a crash course in astronomy, reading the latest stories and news from and about the IAU, and studying the IAU website, etc., as I certainly wanted to prepare a thoughtful interview. Fr. Corbally and I met at 4 pm at the convention center and had a wonderful conversation before, during and after the interview. (The interview will air on Vatican Insider upon my return to Rome.)

I took these photos during that visit:









What is interesting is that the IAU general assembly has been planned for years but was taking place amid protests against the building of the TMT telescope atop a mountain held sacred by native Hawaiians on the island of Hawaii, also known as the Big Island. It was a peaceful protest but the message from the native Hawaiians was that they do not want the building on a sacred spot of the TMT the Third Meter Telescope that would be one of the biggest in the world. Plans and financing for this project have been underway for a long time and people here told me the protesters – many were native Hawaiians – were simply awaiting the presence of the IAU astronomers.

In any event, as you see, the expression really is true: “It’s a small world!”


I leave tomorrow to spend some vacation time in Hawaii with the multitude of friends I have there – my Hawaiian ohana or family – and then on to southern California to see family whom I have not seen in two years! I’ll finally get to meet my great-niece Charlotte who turns two in the fall! I’m quite excited, as is anyone leaving on vacation, just knowing I will have some time to relax, no deadlines to meet, few alarm clocks, no set daily schedule. I admit it usually takes me a few days to remember that I don’t have a deadline for a TV spot, for the three radio programs I have each week, for posting a daily blog and adding news and photos to Facebook and Youtube.

However, don’t forget to check in with me on FACEBOOK (https://www.facebook.com/joan.lewis.10420) and YOUTUBE (https://www.youtube.com/user/joansrome) as I will be posting photos and videos, and perhaps even some news. So stay tuned and come with me to Hawaii!

For your special enjoyment in my absence I offer a “Joan’s Rome” travelblogue©. We will visit the apostolic palace at Castelgandolfo where Popes John Paul and Benedict vacationed for years but which now is fairly deserted as Pope Francis prefers staying at the Santa Marta residence in the Vatican. Castelgandolfo is a lovely town in a beautiful part of Italy, and I have had the incredible good fortune to have visited the papal palace on a number of occasions. I have posted this before but for some of you it may be the first time.

The first extended visit was a number of years ago when I was welcomed by the director of papal villas, Saverio Petrillo, whose book on the papal palace I used to write this story, along with much information he gave me as we spent an afternoon strolling the grounds, the gardens and the pontifical farm!

On several other occasions I spent an entire day in the palace when it hosted the offices, library and classrooms of the papal observatory andf offered summer courses in astronomy. Those offices have been transferred to a new location on the papal property but the telescopes are still in the palace – asd you will see in one photo.

I also visited the apostolic palace in February 2013 after Pope emeritus Benedict announced his resignation. I took these photos the day of the media visit to Castelgandolfo town and inside the palace courtyard.

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I hope you enjoy this! Have a great summer, stay well and safe travels.

Above all, may God sit on your shoulder!|


Roman Pontiffs have spent summers here for centuries, enjoying stupendous panoramas and a climate that is far cooler than Rome’s, which can be quite torrid in July and August. Pope John Paul affectionately called it “Vatican Number Two.”

I am talking, of course, about the summer papal residence at Castelgandolfo that has a long and colorful history and possesses beauty to rival that of the apostolic palace and gardens in Rome.

Castelgandolfo is one of a number of small towns located on beautiful sprawling hills which surround and overlook Lake Albano, about a half hour drive southeast of Rome. The lake fills an old volcanic crater, is 961 feet above sea level and is fed by underground sources and drained by an artificial outlet. Lake Albano, said to have been built around 398 B.C., is about two square miles (5 sq km) in size and has a maximum depth of 558 feet.


Located on what was once known as Alba Longa, a city in ancient Latium, reputedly the birthplace of Romulus and Remus, Castelgandolfo and the cluster of nearby towns are known as the Alban Hill towns. Romans also call these picturesque towns the “Castelli Romani” because of the fortified castles originally built on those hills by noble families, around which small towns grew and flourished. Each “castello” bore the name of the lord of the manor.


Castelgandolfo took its name from the Gandulfi family. Originally from Genoa, they built a small square fortress with crenelated walls, an inner courtyard, several towers and an adjacent garden on the hill where the town that bears their name stands today. The Savelli family later bought the property and owned it until 1596 when, because of a debt they could not pay to Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605), the land became patrimony of the Holy See, forming the nucleus of the papal residence that exists today.


In ensuing centuries, the property underwent many vicissitudes, including the purchase of additional lands, villas and gardens, and renovations and additions to the original palace. Some of the Roman Pontiffs who left their mark on the papal property include Urban VIII (1623-1644), Alexander VII (1655-1667) Clement XI (1700-1721, who bestowed the title “Pontifical Villa” on the property), Benedict XIV (1740), Clement XIII (1758-1769) and Clement XIV (1769-1774).


In 1623 Cardinal Maffeo Barberini was elected Pope, choosing the name Urban VIII (1623-1644). Even before his election he had spent vacations in Castelgandolfo and had even built a small home near the walls of the original castle/fortress. Once he became Pope he decided to make this spot his summer residence, readapting and enlargening the old fortress.

One of those who assisted him in this work was the illustrious Carlo Maderno who, in 1603, after completing the facade of Santa Susanna’s Church in Rome, was named as principal architect of the new St. Peter’s Basilica. Maderno designed both a large wing that overlooked Lake Albano, as well as the left part of the facade as seen today from Castelgandolfo’s main square. A modest garden was also planted at this time.


Pope Urban VIII moved into the Castelgandolfo residence on May 10, 1626, just six months before the completion of St. Peter’s Basilica, following 120 years of work. In 1627, the Pope’s nephew, Taddeo Barberini, acquired land and vineyards near the papal residence. Four years later he acquired yet more land and buildings and the entire complex became known as Villa Barberini. Today this is all an integral part of the pontifical property in Castelgandolfo.


Pope Alexander VII (1655-1667) completed the work begun by Urban VIII, including the long gallery that bears his name, with the assistance of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, noted painter, architect and sculptor. Interestingly, Bernini also designed part of the gardens of the papal residence and they can still be seen today.


Bernini is best remembered for having designed the splendid colonnade of 284 pillars that embraces St. Peter’s Square, one of the fountains in the square, the basilica’s Altar of the Cathedra, the tabernacle in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and the baldachin over the central papal altar. Alexander VII also asked Bernini to design the town’s parish church, which was named after St. Thomas Villanova.


The 19th century saw the unification of Italy, which greatly affected papal holdings, principally the vast Papal States. The Papal States, in fact, under Pope Pius IX were incorporated into the new Italy when the peninsula was unified in 1870. By the by, Pius IX’s 32-year pontificate from 1846 to 1878 was the second longest in history, following that of St. Peter. From the loss of the Papal States to the Lateran Pact between Italy and the Holy See on February 11, 1929 under Pius XI, no Pope ever left Vatican City for a holiday in Castelgandolfo.

With the Lateran Treaty, Villa Barberini now belonged to the Holy See and officially became part of the papal residence complex in Castelgandolfo. Pius XI helped to restore the buildings and land that had been unused for so many years. He even bought several orchards in order to set up a small farm, not only to produce goods for consumption in the Vatican but to underscore the importance of agriculture.


This last acquisition brought the total acreage of the papal property in Castelgandolfo to 136 acres (55 hectares). Vatican City State is 109 acres (44 hectares). In Castelgandolfo, more of the total acreage is dedicated to the farm (62 acres, or 25 hectares) and to gardens than it is to buildings.

The real work of restoration at Castelgandolfo under Pope Pius XI began in 1931. In 1933 the Vatican Observatory, run by the Jesuits, was moved from Vatican City in Rome to Castelgandolfo, because the city lights were too bright for astronomers. Still today, the director of the observatory has an apartment in the palace at Castelgandolfo.


Pius XI also built a new chapel in which he placed a replica of Poland’s Black Madonna of Czestochowa. Between 1918 and 1921, he had been, respectively, apostolic visitator and then nuncio in Poland, and had a predilection for the Black Madonna. This chapel has remained unchanged since his day. The Pope’s first summer visit was in 1934.


His successor, Pope Pius XII, especially loved Castelgandolfo and spent a great deal of time at this residence, except for the years of World War II. However, during some of the worst moments of the war, Pius allowed the inhabitants of Castelgandolfo and nearby towns to take refuge on the papal property, given that it enjoyed the status of extraterritoriality. After the landing at Anzio in 1944, the citizens of Castelgandolfo were allowed to stay at the papal palace whereas those from other towns were allowed sanctuary in the Villa Barberini property. Pius XII’s first postwar visit to the lakeside villa was in 1946. He returned often after that and died there on October 9, 1958.      


Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) also enjoyed sojourns at Castelgandolfo. He started two traditions here as pontiff: praying the Angelus with the faithful on Sundays in the inner courtyard, and celebrating Mass in the parish church of St. Thomas Villanova on the August 15 feast of the Assumption.

Pope emeritus Benedict loved to pray the rosary here.


Paul VI inaugurated papal trips by helicopter from Castelgandolfo. Continuous use of a helicopter for short papal trips began during the Holy Year of 1975 when Paul VI would return to Rome for the weekly general audiences. He died here on August 6, 1978.


John Paul II, then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, Poland, spent several hours here on October 8, 1978. He returned 17 days later as Pope, having been elected on October 16. He spent most of every summer here, and often came for several days after an especially long and arduous foreign trip.

Benedict XVI also enjoyed the beauty, peace and subdued rhythm of summer life at Castelgandolfo, and spent many summers here for a couple of months following his election to the papacy in April 2005.

Do you recognize this photo?!


Pope Francis has never sojourned at Castelgandolfo but has told Benedict XVI on many occasions he would be more than welcome to stay here. The Pope emeritus did spend two weeks this summer (2015) at the apostolic palace he so loves.

I earlier mentioned one part of the pontifical property that is called Villa Barberini. Here we find many buildings, including the home of the director of pontifical villas and apartments used by the cardinal secretary of state and by the prefect of the papal household in the summer. The formal gardens, a 62-acre farm, and the remains of Emperor Domitian’s (81-96) palatial 14 square kilometer home are all also part of Villa Barberini.


Recently retired as director of the Pontifical Villas at Castelgandolfo, Saverio Petrillo has been serving the Holy See since June 1958. He was named director of the villas in 1986 and authored a book entitled “The Popes at Castelgandolfo.” He was an excellent, knowledgeable and discreet guide to the papal property and residences.


Dr. Petrillo began his work in Castelgandolfo at the age of 18 when he was asked to take the place of a Vatican employee who was ill. In the ensuing years he has familiarized himself not only with the physical property – the farm, gardens and buildings – but with the multi-century history of the villas as well. His office, as well as other administrative offices, was located in one of the buildings of the Villa Barberini part of the pontifical property, and offered splendid views of the Castelli Romani and, in the distance, Rome and the Mediterranean.


Separate from Villa Barberini, but only a short distance away, are the Apostolic Palace and other gardens. The palace – the building overlooking the lake – is where the Pope resides and where the faithful can join him in the courtyard on Sundays for the noon angelus. At Castelgandolfo, Dr. Petrillo told me on a visit, the Holy Father has the same basic rooms that he has in Rome – a study, private chapel, dining room and library. The rooms, as is the entire palace complex, are on a smaller, more intimate and homey scale. “Everything here,” he said, “is very intimate, warm and family-like. Even the pace of life is slower, more suited to man.”


On our tour of the farm, Saverio Petrillo pointed out that it produces eggs, milk (there are 25 cows) and yogurt on a daily basis: these are brought early in the morning to the apostolic palaces in both Castelgandolfo and Rome and are sold as well in the Vatican City supermarket under the name “Ville Pontificie di Castelgandolfo” – Pontifical Villas of Castelgandolfo. Olive oil is also produced, but in very small quantities. Dr. Petrillo observed that, until a few years ago, Vatican City had its own bakery and also sold fresh fruits and vegetables in its market.


He told me some 60 people work year round on the papal properties in Castelgandolfo, including gardeners, tree trimmers, those who work at the farm, electricians, other maintenance people, etc. Only 20 people permanently reside in buildings on the property.

The heliport, which is not far from the farm, was first used by Paul VI in 1963 when he visited the cathedral at Orvieto. Continuous use of a helicopter for short papal trips began during the Holy Year of 1975 when Paul VI would return to Rome for the weekly general audiences.


Pope John Paul II, a very athletic pontiff, asked that a swimming pool be installed at Castelgandolfo to be used for health reasons. Although I did not see the 60-foot long pool on my tour of the papal villa and gardens, Dr. Petrillo loves to tell the story that when the Pope heard that some people objected to the cost of a pool, he humorously said: “A conclave would cost a lot more.” This was John Paul’s explanation about how effective physical exercise was in helping him bear the strains of a tiring pontificate.


The beautifully maintained and manicured formal gardens of Villa Barberini have been used by Popes through the centuries for long walks and moments of prayer. The flowers, bushes and trees – of many varieties, and trimmed to perfection in geometrical shapes – provide beauty, seclusion and tranquility. Covering many acres, the stunning formal gardens also provide lovely vistas of the Roman countryside. There are statues, fountains, and a labyrinth of walkways and roads, one of which dates to Roman times and is paved exactly like the Old Appian Way.


One olive tree in the gardens has a special story: Just an olive branch at the time, it was given by King Hussein of Jordan to Pope Paul VI during his trip to Jerusalem in 1964. The late king’s son and heir, now King Abdullah, was able to visit the gardens and saw the fully grown tree.

Ruins of Emperor Domitian’s villa can be found everywhere and occasionally one will see a niche with a statue from the villa.




The Emperor Domitian, who ruled from 81 to 96, had built a 14-square kilometer villa on this site. Constructed on three levels, the top was for the servants, the middle was for the imperial family and their guests and the bottom was the crypto-portico, which is in near perfect condition nearly two thousand years later. The crypto-portico, reached now by a staircase built into the gardens, was constructed to provide the emperor and his guests with a cool place to walk, talk, and sit to escape from the summer heat of Rome. Enormous in size, it resembles a tunnel – with one end open and the other closed. The closed end has a raised stage-like level, accessible by a staircase: today there is a large cross here. The ceiling is curved and, on the western wall, there are windows at the top level. Dr. Petrillo said these were once covered with alabaster to let in the late afternoon, setting sunlight – but not the heat.



Also at Villa Barberini is the Antiquarium, a museum which houses a small but prized collection of artifacts from Domitian’s villa which were discovered over the past century. Only restricted numbers of scholars are allowed to visit the Antiquarium which includes busts, statues, columns, portals, and tables made of marble and various stones, to mention but a few objects.



Pope Francis, after a month-long break, resumed his weekly general audiences this morning and once again dedicated the catechesis to the family, a subject he has dedicated many months to, and he reflected on what he called “the situation of our brothers and sisters who have divorced and entered a second union.”

As I listened to the catechesis in the Paul VI Hall, I tried to imagine some of the headlines in the media, knowing many would focus on – as they should – the fact that the Pope said that people who divorce and marry again are not excommunicated and should not be treated as such but knowing that others would say the Pope opened the door to communion for the divorced and remarried, a topic discussed in the 2014 synod on the family and one which will gain headlines this coming Octobber in another synod on the family.

Pope Francis did not open that door, He did not mention communion, nor did he use the word sacrament for those who are divorced and remarried.

What did the Pope really say? I am going to help you understand this catechesis by providing the entire English translation, the official Vatican English language summary and then take a look at No. 1650 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1650) on this matter. The translation was by ZENIT and I made only a couple of changes for clarity.

Here are some of the photos I took this morning in the Paul VI Hall.







Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

With this catechesis we take up again our reflection on the family. After speaking last time of wounded families caused by the misunderstanding of spouses, today I would like to focus our attention on another reality: how to take care of those that, following the irreversible failure of their marital bond, have undertaken a new union.

The Church knows well that such a situation contradicts the Christian Sacrament. However, her look as a teacher draws always from her heart of mother; a heart that, animated by the Holy Spirit, always seeks the good and salvation of persons. And this is why she feels the duty, “for love of truth,” to “discern the situations well.” Saint John Paul II expressed himself thus in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio (n. 84), pointing out, for instance, the difference between one who has suffered the separation and one who has caused it. This discernment must be made.

If, then, we look at these new bonds with the eyes of little ones – and the little ones are looking – with the eyes of children, we see even more the urgency to develop in our communities a real acceptance of persons that live such situations.  Therefore, it is important that the style of the community, its language, its attitudes are always attentive to persons, starting with the little ones. They are the ones who suffer the most in these situations. Otherwise, how will we be able to recommend to these parents to do their utmost to educate the children in the Christian life, giving them the example of a convinced and practiced faith, if we hold them at a distance from the life of the community, as if they were excommunicated? We must proceed in such a way as not to add other weights beyond those that the children in these situations already have to bear! Unfortunately, the number of these children and youngsters is truly great. It is important that they feel the Church as a mother attentive to all, always willing to listen and to come together.

In these decades, in truth, the Church has not been either insensitive or slow. Thanks to the deep reflections carried out by Pastors, guided and confirmed by my Predecessors, the awareness has greatly grown that a fraternal and attentive acceptance is necessary, in love and in truth, towards the baptized who have established a new cohabitation after the failure of their sacramental marriage; in fact, these people are not at all excommunicated, they are not excommunicated! And they absolutely should not be treated as such: they are always part of the Church.

Pope Benedict XVI intervened on this question, soliciting careful discernment and wise pastoral support, knowing that “simple recipes” do not exist (Address to the 7th World Meeting of Families, Milan, June 2, 2012, answer n. 5).

Hence the repeated invitations of Pastors to manifest openly and consistently the community’s willingness to receive and encourage them, so that they live and develop increasingly their belonging to Christ and to the Church with prayer, with listening to the Word of God, with frequenting of the liturgy, with the Christian education of the children, with charity and service to the poor, with commitment to justice and peace.

The biblical icon of the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18), summarizes the mission that Jesus received from the Father: to give his life for the sheep. This attitude is also a model for the Church who receives her children as a mother that gives her life for them. “The Church is called to be always the open House of the Father […]” No closed doors! No closed doors! “All can participate in some way in ecclesial life, all can form part of the community. The Church […] is the paternal home where there is a place for each one with his difficult life” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, n. 47).

In the same way all Christians are called to imitate the Good Shepherd. Above all Christian families can collaborate with Him by taking care of wounded families, supporting them in the community’s life of faith. May each one do his part in assuming the attitude of the Good Shepherd, who knows each one of his sheep and excludes no one from his infinite love! (ZENIT news service)


Dear Brothers and Sisters: We return now to our catechesis on the family, by reflecting on the situation of our brothers and sisters who have divorced and entered a second union. Though their unions are contrary to the Sacrament of marriage, the Church, as a Mother, seeks the good and salvation of all her children. As these situations especially affect children, we are aware of a greater urgency to foster a true welcome for these families in our communities. For how can we encourage these parents to raise their children in the Christian life, to give them an example of Christian faith, if we keep them at arm’s length?

I am especially grateful to the many pastors, guided by my Predecessors, who have worked diligently to let these families know they are still a part of the Church. There is no easy solution for these situations, but we can and must always encourage these families to participate in the Church’s life, through prayer, listening to the Word of God, the Christian education of their children, and service to the poor. As the Good Shepherd gives his life for the sheep, so the Church as a Mother gives her life for all her children, by being always the “house of the Father, with doors wide open”. May everyone, especially Christian families, imitate the Good Shepherd, who knows all his sheep and excludes no one from his infinite love.


(CCC 1650) Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ—”Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery”—the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence.



Pope Francis has added a few activities to his August agenda, resuming some public meetings after his July travels and working vacation. He met today with a huge group of altar servers in St. Peter’s Square and will resume the weekly general audience tomorrow, so stay tuned for that!


I went to St. Peter’s Basilica this morning, expecting to attend the 10am Mass at the altar of St. Joseph but there was already a very large group occupying almost every seat and, as they prayed, I could understand that we were nearing communion time, thus Mass was well underway. I heard the celebrant, a cardinal, speak in German so I knew I was among one of the groups of the estimated 9,000 altar servers from around the world, the largest contingent expected to be German.

The altar servers are in Rome from countries around the world, and participating in the Ninth International Pilgrimage of Acolytes and Altar Servers. The highlight of their trip was the encounter with Pope Francis in early evening in St. Peter’s Square. There were musical tributes and a speech by Bishop Német, president of “Coetus Internationalis Ministrantium,” to which the Pope reponded in German, a language he is said to know but rarely uses. (photo news.va)


The International Pilgrimage of Altar Servers, which takes place every five years, is organized by the group Coetus Internationalis Ministrantium, a group that includes representatives from countries throughout Europe, including Germany, Italy, and France, as well as smaller countries such as Croatia, Luxembourg, Serbia, and Slovakia. The international pilgrimage allows altar servers to take part in a unique experience for their service, and helps them to discover the diversity of the universal Church.

The Pope reflected on the theme of this year’s pilgrimage, “Here I am: Send me!” He began by thanking the young people “for coming in such great numbers; you have withstood the heat of the sun in Rome in August.”

Francis stated, “It is important to realize that being close to Jesus and knowing him in the Eucharist through your service at the altar, enables you to open yourselves to others, to journey together, to set demanding goals and to find the strength to achieve them. It is a source of real joy to recognize that we are small and weak, all the while knowing that, with Jesus’ help, we can be strengthened and take up the challenge of life’s great journey in his company.”

“In the Eucharist and in the other sacraments,” said the Holy Father, “You experience the intimate closeness of Jesus, the sweetness and power of his presence. You do not encounter Jesus placed on an inaccessibly high throne, but in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. His word does not shake the doorposts, but rather caresses the strings of the heart. … It is always God who takes the lead, because it is he who created you and willed you into being. It is he who, in your baptism, has made you into a new creation; he is always patiently waiting for your response to his initiative, offering forgiveness to whoever asks him in humility.”

Francis exclaimed, “If we do not resist him, Jesus will touch our lips with the flame of his merciful love, as he did to the prophet Isaiah. This will make us worthy to receive him and to bring him to our brothers and sisters. Like Isaiah, we too are invited to not remain closed in on ourselves, protecting our faith in an underground bunker to which we flee in difficult moments. Rather, we are called to share the joy of knowing we are chosen and saved by God’s mercy, the joy of being witnesses to the fact that faith gives new direction to our steps, that it makes us free and strong so as to be ready and able for mission.”

“Dear altar boys and altar girls, the closer you are to the altar, the more you will remember to speak with Jesus in daily prayer; the more you will be nourished by the Word and the Body of the Lord, the better able you will be to go out to others, bringing them the gift that you have received, giving in turn with enthusiasm the joy you have received.  Thank you for serving at the Lord’s altar …. Thank you also for having begun to respond to the Lord, like the prophet Isaiah, “Here I am. Send me.”



The Holy Father’s universal prayer intention for August: “That volunteers may give themselves generously to the service of the needy.”

His intention for evangelization: “That setting aside our very selves we may learn to be neighbors to those who find themselves on the margins of human life and society.”


(Vatican Radio)  The Vatican announced on Monday that the remains of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, better known as Padre Pio, will be exposed for veneration in St. Peter’s Basilica during the Jubilee of Mercy from 8-14 February 2016.  (photo news.va)


Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, wrote in a letter to the Archdiocese of Manfredonia-Vieste-San Giovanni Rotondo that it was Pope Francis who desired that Padre Pio’s reliquary be present in the Vatican for Ash Wednesday of the Jubilee of Mercy.

“The Holy Father has expressed his strong desire that the remains of St. Pio of Pietrelcina be exposed in St. Peter’s Basilica for Ash Wednesday of the upcoming Extraordinary Holy Year, the day in which he will send ‘Missionaries of Mercy’ throughout the world, giving them a special mandate to preach and confess so that they may be a living sign of how the Father welcomes all who seek his pardon,” Archbishop Fisichella wrote. The presence of St. Pio’s remains will be a precious sign for all missionaries and priests, who will find strength and support for their own mission in his admirable example of a untiring confessor, welcoming and patient, an authentic witness of the Mercy of the Father.”


Here’s a great story from Notre Dame’s architecure school about a graduate who has built a sanctuary for Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia. You will have to click on the link to read it because each of the three times I have clicked on the link and then attempted to cut-and-paste the story to this column, Microsoft Windows closed all my Word documents. Not the first time my life that has happened: the annoying part is that it closes all open Word docs. http://news.nd.edu/news/59604-notre-dame-architecture-graduate-designs-a-sanctuary-for-pope-francis/


Following is a press release from the Knights of Columbus that illustrates their plans for an expanded campaign of humanitarian aid to Christians in the Middle East:

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Having already donated more than $3 million in humanitarian aid to persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, the Knights of Columbus will expand its efforts even further with a national campaign to raise funds and foster awareness of the terrible suffering of Christians and others in the Middle East.

As part of the K of C effort, a new commercial on the issue will be airing nationally beginning this weekend. It can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mq–mXUhNfk

The Knights will also announce additional details of its program to aid Christian refugees at its international convention being held August 4-6 in Philadelphia. In attendance will be archbishops from Iraq and Syria, where the violence against Christians has been particularly severe.

An exposé on the deafening silence of the international community on this issue was published in the July 26 edition of The New York Times Magazine: “Is This the End of Christianity in the Middle East?” It reported that extremist groups “are enslaving, killing and uprooting Christians, with no aid in sight.”   In the article, which was featured on the magazine’s cover, author Eliza Griswold reported that, “according to a Pew study, more Christians are now faced with religious persecution than at any time since their early history.”

The Knights began its Christian Refugee Relief Fund in August 2014 with $1 million in matching funds that was quickly met and exceeded by its members and the public. The humanitarian assistance provided has included new housing for those who have had to flee their homes, as well as support for medical facilities in areas flooded with Christian and other refugees.

“Christians in the Middle East are facing a dire situation – and even extinction – while the response from the international community has woefully inadequate,” said Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson. “Pope Francis has urged the international community to take action to help Christians in the Middle East, and, as an organization that has long supported victims of religious persecution, the Knights of Columbus is responding by asking our own members, and the public at large, to help us save the lives of people who are being persecuted simply because of their Christian faith.”

Those wishing to assist with the relief efforts can donate by visiting http://www.christiansatrisk.org or by sending checks or money orders payable to Knights of Columbus Charities at P.O. Box 1966, New Haven, CT 06509-1966. The memo portion should indicate that the check is for Christian Refugee Relief.

One hundred percent of all donations directly supports humanitarian assistance and raising awareness for persecuted Christians and other religious minorities, especially in the Middle East. Donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. Knights of Columbus Charities, Inc., is recognized by the IRS as a charitable organization under section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code.

The K of C has a long history of providing humanitarian relief and has done so following the 9/11 terrorist attacks; the 2013 typhoons in the Philippines; hurricanes Katrina and Sandy; nationwide tornadoes; flooding in Mexico; and tsunamis in Indonesia and Japan.

In the area of support for victims of religious persecution, the Knights provided humanitarian assistance and created international awareness of the persecution of the Catholic Church in Mexico throughout the 1920s.

The Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization with nearly 1.9 million members worldwide. One of the most active charitable organizations in the United States, the Knights of Columbus donated more than $173.5 million and 71.5 million hours of service in 2014.

For more information visit http://www.kofc.org/en/christianRelief/index.html