I arrived back in Rome yesterday after a fabulous Christmas and New Year break in Wisconsin and Illinois with several friends and a ton of relatives, mostly the young and very small kind! I finally met Harry, 15 months-old, the only one of my 20 great-nieces and –nephews that I had not met! And he will have a sibling in early March! I cherish every minute with family and always wish I could spend more time, although I’d have to zigzag across America – Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Wisconsin, Arizona, Oregon and California – if I wanted to do it all in one trip!

It portends to be a quiet week for Pope Francis, with the exception of his visit yesterday afternoon to Greccio and Mass tomorrow morning in St. Peter’s Basilica for the feast of the Epiphany, a holiday in the Vatican and in Italy. The weekly papal schedule I check at Vatican Radio indicated no planned activities for today, Thursday or Friday.

However, I do have two stories for today: the papal visit to Greccio (including some photos I took there on a visit a while back), and announcement about Pope Francis’ monthly prayer intentions.


(Vatican Radio) – Starting Wednesday January 6, the traditional monthly prayer intentions of Pope Francis will be available on video, thanks to a new initiative launched by the worldwide Apostleship of Prayer.

The Apostleship of Prayer, set up in 1844 by a group of Jesuit seminarians in France, is also launching a new international website and app aimed at facilitating collaboration and sharing of resources between teams from the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network.

Click To Pray is an App launched in November 2014 by the Apostleship of Prayer in Portugal to help young people to pray. In August 2015, the app was presented to Pope Francis during a private audience and the latest version will go live in January in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French.

The production of a video with Pope Francis sharing his monthly prayer intentions was done in collaboration with CTV, the Vatican Television Centre. The video, in 10 langauges, will be available on YouTube as well as on social media sites including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, encouraging people all over the world to pray with the Pope each month. The first video will feature the Pope’s prayer intention for January: “That sincere dialogue among men and women of different faiths may produce the fruits of peace and justice”.


The “Francis” in the title could easily refer to St. Francis or Pope Francis, although similarities might end with the beds: I imagine the 21st papal bed is more than the 13th century “bed” used by the saintly Francis – a wood floor with a rock for a pillow!

Pope Francis made a private visit to the Italian hilltown of Greccio in the Lazio region north of Rome on Monday afternoon. Greccio is celebrated as the place where, in December 1223, St. Francis set up the first nativity scene, using local animals and a carved image of the Christ Child in a manger to recreate the events of Our Lord’s birth in Bethlehem.

The tradition continues in the same hillside cave which has become a popular local shrine, and visitors can also see the monastic cell in the nearby convent where St Francis slept.

Pope Francis, in late morning, first went by car to Rieti, where he met privately with Bishop Domenico Pompili with whom he had lunch. Afterwards, accompanied by the bishop, he left for Greccio, arriving shortly before 3 p.m. He greeted a group of young participants in the diocesan meeting “Giovani Greccio 2016.” He also visited the adjacent church.

Upon arrival at the shrine he was welcomed by the Franciscan friars, and paused to pray before the fresco depicting the first creche realized in Greccio by St. Francis of Assisi. He then greeted the Franciscan community and, after a brief visit, departed by car for Rome. (Vatican Radio, VIS)

I have a special place in my heart for Greccio, especially after a visit a couple of years ago with Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi.

Before we visit the shrine, here are some pictures of the countryside around Greccio and at the shrine.

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As a tourist officer told us about Greccio, “Francis is everywhere at Greccio — in the impossibly small cell where he slept; in the equally cramped, five-foot-wide stone corridor ’dormitory’ for his early followers with crosses carved in the wall, apparently to mark individual ‘beds’; in another rough-rock cell outside where the bulging mountain forms a wall.”

Those “rooms” are reached by these stairs.


Saint Francis, we are told, was very fond of the inhabitants of Greccio for their piety and austerity of life and he was close friends with one Giovanni Velina who, many say, was a landowner who supported Francis in his project to represent the birth of Christ.

The founding of the hermitage is steeped in legend. According to one local myth, Francis asked a young boy from the village to throw a chunk of coal in order to establish where the convent was to rise. From the doors of the city, the coal landed on the spur of rock where the sanctuary stands today.

Another legend has it that Francis asked a young man who had a bow and arrow to shoot one arrow and wherever it landed, the hermitage would be built. That arrow traveled what should have been an impossibly long distance and landed very high on the hills of Rieti where today we visit the Greccio shrine.

The antechamber to the room where the first living nativity scene was in 1223, and the “nativity” room. The 1223 living presepe scene is re-created every year.

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Over the years the sanctuary expanded from just a few rooms, and in the last years of Francis’ life, a small community was established there and Greccio was the only Rieti valley settlement that built structures dedicated exclusively to the friars during Saint Francis’ life.

Our visit to various rooms used by Francis, his followers and those who came after him brings us to the church that Saint Francis built in the early 13th century. It is covered by a barrel vault ceiling decorated with a star-speckled sky and the image of Saint John of Parma. The furnishings are quite interesting: the stalls in the choir, the lectern, and the rotating wooden support of the lantern that illuminates the pages of the choir book.

The choir room.

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The shrine also houses the Saint Bonaventure Dormitory. Legend says that it was erected during the period Bonaventure was Minister General of the Order (1260-1270). A narrow hallway in wood leads to fifteen small cells that are also in wood. The friars lived in these simple yet evocative spaces for centuries until 1915 when they moved into the upper floors of the building.



According to legend, the first cell on the right sheltered two extraordinary friars: Saint Bonaventure, whom the structure was named after, and Saint Bernardine of Siena.


The church adjacent to the shrine:


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