Today I offer three stories – the good news of the general audience, the great news from China and the bad news story about fraudulent Jubilee souvenir vendors in Rome.

Here is the logo from the official website of the Jubilee of Mercy that will be on all OFFICIAL merchandise:


Some background for the second story: I discovered many years ago that I harbored great affection for Catholics wherever they were persecuted and suffering. For many decades I followed the situation of Catholics in what used to be called Eastern Europe, the communist bloc countries of Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, the USSR, etc.

My attention also turned to China in the 1990s when I was working for the Vatican and, in 1995, was part of the Holy See delegation to the 1995 U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing. We had daily Mass in our delegation suite (and the Chinese authorities who were placed in the hallway outside our rooms and this suite knew it!), always leaving the door a bit ajar on purpose. A Catholic Mass in a Chinese hotel would have been unthinkable before the U.N. conference or afterwards, even though freedom of religion was stated in a pamphlet about the Chinese constitution that was in every room.

There is the underground Church in China and the government-allowed Church – as you will see in the AsiaNews story.

I also have been following Church-State relations in Vietnam. I wrote about several of my experiences during my June 2013 trip to Vietnam – to DaNang and Hochiminhville (Saigon).

I was thus overjoyed when I read the AsiaNews story and why I called it great news. I could dedicate an entire book to all of the places I have mentioned. I have also been to Taiwan and there is flourishing freedom of religion there.


Pope Francis, at today’s weekly general audience, told pilgrims that he wanted the Jubilee to be an experience shared by all people. He said, “the Jubilee of Mercy was inaugurated this past week by the opening of the Holy Door, not only here in Rome but in dioceses worldwide, as a visible expression of our communion in the universal Church.”

He told his guests that he personally opened the first Holy Door in Bangui, the heart of Africa, when he visited the Central African Republic in November, noting that Rome is “the visible symbol of that mystery of communion between the Universal and each local Church.”

The Pope explained that, “Fifty years ago, the Second Vatican Council reminded us that the Church is called to be, in Christ, the visible sign of God’s merciful love for the entire human family. Each of us, by practicing charity, mercy and forgiveness, can be a sign of the power of God’s love to transform hearts and to bring reconciliation and peace.”

Mercy and forgiveness are not just nice words, said Francis, but rather visible signs that faith has transformed our hearts. “In our daily lives, we must never grow tired of loving and forgiving others as God loves and forgives us.”

“By going through the Door of Mercy during this Holy Year,” said the Holy Father, “we show our desire to enter more deeply into the mystery of Christ’s redemptive love. Jesus tells us that He Himself is the door to eternal life (cf. Jn 10:9), and he asks us, through genuine conversion, to open the doors of our hearts to a more sincere love of God and neighbor. … As we go through, we must also remember to keep the door of our hearts wide open.”

He then spoke extemporaneously and asked the faithful to “make sure that no one asks you to pay for going through that door! You don’t pay for salvation – Jesus is for free!”

Pope Francis said, “a special sign of grace in this Jubilee of Mercy is the sacrament of Penance, in which Christ invites us to acknowledge our sinfulness, to experience his mercy, and to receive the grace which can make us ever more effective signs of his reconciling love at work in our world.”


A “miracle” at the Holy Door in Zhengding: 10,000 underground Catholics celebrate the Jubilee without arrests (Gallery)

Rome (AsiaNews) – “It’s a miracle! It is protection from Heaven!” said some Catholics from the underground community in Zhengding (Hebei) after what happened on Sunday, December 13.

About 10,000 faithful from Zhengding, Lingshou, Beijing, and Baoding had gathered outside the cathedral (pictured) to celebrate the beginning of the Jubilee and the opening of the Holy Door.

The “miracle” is that police, always present in front of the church, did nothing to prevent the event and did not arrest anyone. (Perhaps) an even greater miracle was the fact that the underground bishop led the liturgy, which lasted from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm.

MSgr Julius Jia Zhiguo, who is not recognized by the government, has been under house arrest for years for refusing to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), and for remaining loyal to the pope.

The CPCA is a Communist Party agency whose aim is to establish a Catholic Church independent from the pope.

Msgr. Jia Zhiguo lives near Zhengding cathedral and is monitored day and night. He is often taken away for a week or two of “holiday” – i.e. classes of indoctrination and brainwashing – to convince him to join the CPCA.

Despite this, “it is amazing,” said a nun, “that so many people could gather for so long and no one was arrested. It is likely that there were plainclothes police mingled with the crowd, but nothing happened.”

A procession followed by a series of readings from Misericordiae Vultus, Pope Francis’ Bull of Indiction of the Jubilee of Mercy, preceded the solemn opening of the Holy Door in Zhengding. A single Eucharistic ceremony followed the door opening.

For years, the Chinese government has been trying to eliminate unregistered underground communities, whose “crime” is that of engaging in unsupervised religious activities. For this reason, priests involved in underground services are often imprisoned.

In recent months, many underground priests and bishops have come under strong pressure to join the CPCA, through enticements and offers of money.

Despite the constant monitoring to which he is subjected, Msgr. Jia Zhiguo is well liked by the police as well as the population.

For a long time, he hosted at his residence about 200 abandoned children and disabled people, taking care of them along with some nuns and faithful


(ANSA) Both pilgrims and counterfeiters have geared up for the Jubilee. Not only are fake rosaries, images and key rings flooding the religious-items market, there are also counterfeit personalized apostolic blessings on pontifical parchment with Holy See seals and photos of Pope Francis. Italian finance police confiscated 3,500 on Monday, a day when Interior Minister Angelino Alfano and Finance Police Chief Saverio Capolupo presented the first results of the Jubilaeum action plan against fraud and counterfeiting during the Holy Year.

“We knew that the Jubilee would have been hit by illicit business and fraudsters, and we thus prepared to fight against it,” the minister said. “A million counterfeit products have been confiscated this first week. The Jubilaeum plan aims to help pilgrims, increase perceived security and the fight against illegal trade, accommodation and counterfeit products. Every day as many as 32 finance police patrols are carried out in Rome to step up surveillance.”

A shop near St. Peter’s Basilica has been found to have housed the illegal printing press for the fraudulent apostolic blessings offered to unwitting pilgrims. The parchments had already had Pope Francis’s image and the papal and Vatican State emblems stamped on them. They also had – in Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and English – the words ‘blessing of the pilgrim’ on them and were personalized with names provided by the buyers.

The shopkeeper, who did not possess the necessary authorization from the Holy See, has been reported to the police for production and trade in counterfeit goods.

The parchments confiscated are worth over 70,000 euros, and the amount taken over during the first few days on sale is being calculated.

Interior Minister Alfano spoke about the lower number of visitors than expected during the beginning of this Holy Year, saying that it had nothing to do with the concerns raised by the recent attack in Paris. He noted that ”the number of pilgrims for the Jubilee are those expected and do not directly depend in any way on post-Paris anxiety. “Pope Francis’s strategy has been to open several Holy Doors and give value to other places of worship across the nation, such as Loreto and S.Giovanni Rotondo. “So it is not necessary to come to Rome to take part in the ceremony.”

On the issue of security, the interior minister said that ”on (the opening day) December 8, some 200,000 people took part in events in Rome and there was only one person reported to the police, for possession of a knife. This is proof that the (security) plan worked.”