I thank the Lord every morning when I get up for giving me another day – a day to enjoy his creations, my home and family, a day to be with friends, to travel, dine, laugh and share stories with those near and dear to me and, very importantly, to work to teach about and build His Church. A day to experience the thousandfold blessings that seem to envelope me every day of my life!

Today I am giving extra special thanks to the Lord because it has been an extra special birthday every moment since awakening. I spent part of he morning reading over 150 cards and email messages and opening a gift from a friend in the U.S. That was followed by a hair trim at noon, and I wonder how many of you have a hairdresser who would give you this for your birthday! Heart-shaped Margarita pizza with “Best Wishes Joan” in mozzarella!


I then joined a group of friends and, as it turns out, fans of my work on EWTN and my book on the Holy Year at La Vittoria restaurant where, for many years now, I have always had my birthday lunch. Bob Moynihan of Inside the Vatican, his right hand gal, Debbie Tomlinson and Michael Hesemann have been in Rome and are leaving late this afternoon for Bavaria, Germany, where they and a small pilgrimage group will be visiting towns associated with Pope emeritus Benedict, né Joseph Ratzinger’s youth. If I’d not already explored these marvelous towns, I’d be jealous!

La Vittoria’s owner, my good friends Claudio and his wife Palmerina, gave me these magnificent flowers! You may well remember the big birthday bash I had a year ago at La Vittoria!



I also received others gifts, including a bottle of red wine from Armenia from Michael and a delightful summer straw hat in this great bag from Bob’s group.



Tons of fun and laughter and photos and stories – and that was just by lunch time. Celebrations continue!

PS. I just checked and I have about 150 more emails and cards to read!


At today’s special Jubilee audience in a very hot St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis focused on the Works of Mercy, saying mercy is real and true when it is lived and practiced.

“Dear Brothers and Sisters: During this Holy Year of Mercy, we have not only considered the gift of God’s mercy in itself, but also the works of mercy which we are called to practice as part of the Christian life. To paraphrase Saint James, we can say that mercy without works is dead. To be merciful like God our Father demands constant sensitivity to the needs, material and spiritual, of those around us. Jesus himself tells us in no uncertain terms that we will be judged by the mercy we show to the poor: those who hunger and thirst, the naked, the stranger, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:35-36).

“Particularly in our prosperous societies, Christians are called to guard against the temptation of indifference to the plea of so many of our brothers and sisters.  In our rapidly changing and increasingly globalized world, many new forms of poverty are appearing. In response to them, may we prove creative in developing new and practical forms of charitable outreach as an expression of the way of mercy.”

At the end of his catechesis in English, he spoke of his trip to Armenia and announced further travel plans:

“This past weekend I made a Pastoral Visit to Armenia, the first nation to embrace the Christian faith and a people which has remained faithful even in the midst of great trials. I also plan to go to Georgia and Azerbaijan in the near future, to affirm the ancient Christian roots of those countries and to support every effort to encourage peace and reconciliation in a spirit of respect for all.  With gratitude for the welcome and fellowship showed me by the Armenian Apostolic Church, I ask the Virgin Mary to strengthen Christians everywhere to remain firm in the faith and to work for a society of ever greater justice and peace.”



There was a lovely, intimate reception at noon today at the North American College for the lone U.S. archbishop to receive his pallium from the Pope at Mass this morning in St. Peter’s Basilica, Abp. Bernie Hebda of Minneapolis-St. Paul. I had the pleasure of meeting quite a number of family members who were in Rome for the ceremony, including one aunt for whom this is her first visit to the Eternal City.

We have known each other for quite some time and he is, quite simply, one of my favorite human beings, one of the best priests you’ll ever know! A totally humble man with great talent and a wonderful sense of humor, he is one of the most appreciated prelates I have ever known. I had been working in the Roman Curia since 1990, a year when many Americans, lay people and priests, were called to Rome, and our friend Bernie came in 1995

The smiling prelate we all know –

Bernie 2

When Fr. Hebda, a native of Pittsburgh, was first called to the episcopacy, he was appointed to the diocese of Gaylord in Michigan, a diocese that wept when he was called to Newark as coadjutor in September 2013. Newark rejoiced in his presence but not for long as he was appointed to Minneapolis-St. Paul in March of this year, following a year as  apostolic administrator of that archdiocese (simultaneous with serving as coadjutor archbishop of Newark. While in the curia, my good friend was undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts.

Bernie   1

At the end of today’s pallium Mass in St. Peter’s, the Pope spoke briefly to each of the new metropolitans but took a bit more time when speaking of Abp. Hebda. And here’s possibly why that happened: A coadjutor automatically succeeds the archbishop of a diocese when he retires or dies. In my recollection, my many years of work at VIS, I don’t recall a coadjutor being moved from the diocese to which he should succeed to yet a new diocese as archbishop. Perhaps my memory is faulty but no one I spoke to today at the reception – including the new metropolitan – can remember that happening.

In any case, my wonderful friend, countless people wish you well and are praying for you like mad! God sit on your shoulder!


In St. Peter’s Basilica today, June 29, solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles, Pope Francis handed 25 new metropolitan archbishops the pallium which is the sign of their ties with the Pope, the Successor of St. Peter and their authority in their own archdiocese. The 25 new archbishops were those named after July 1, 2015. June 29 is a holiday in Rome as well as the Vatican.

In 2015 Francis changed the traditional ceremony in which the prelates receive the pallium, deciding that the public ceremony of investiture of the pallium on metropolitan archbishops will henceforth take place in their home dioceses and not in the Vatican as has been the case under recent pontiffs.

The Holy Father today concelebrated Mass with the new archbishops and afterwards gave each metropolitan the pallium in what the Vatican called when announcing the change “a private manner.” The Pope also spoke briefly to each metropolitan at that time.

The pallium is a white woolen circular band embroidered with six black crosses which is worn over the shoulders and has two hanging pieces, one in front and another in back. Worn by the Pope and by metropolitan archbishops, it symbolizes authority and expresses the special bond between the bishops and the Roman Pontiff. In a 1978 document, “Inter Eximina Episcopalis,” Pope Paul VI restricted its use to the Pope and metropolitan archbishops. Six years later, Pope John Paul decreed that it would be conferred on the metropolitans by the Pope on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

Pallium   2 - RV

Every year in the Vatican, on January 21, in keeping with the tradition for the liturgical memory of St. Agnes, two lambs, blessed earlier in the morning in the Roman basilica named for this saint, are presented to the Pope. The lambs are raised by the Trappist Fathers of the Abbey of the Three Fountains. When their wool is shorn, the Sisters of St. Cecelia weave it into the palliums (pallia is another plural form) that, on the June 29th feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles, are given to new metropolitan archbishops as signs of their office.

Palliums  1

Usually in attendance at the January 21 ceremony in the Apostolic Palace are 21 people, including two Trappist fathers, several nuns, two canons of the Chapter of St. John, the dean of the Roman Rota, and two officials from the Office of the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, and a number of other invited guests.

The baby lambs, under one year of age, are normally tucked into wicker baskets, and both lambs and baskets are adorned with red and white ribbons and flowers, white to symbolize purity and red to signify the blood of a martyr. In 2004 St. John Paul II blessed the lambs during a general audience in the Paul VI Hall as both the audience and St. Agnes’ feast day occurred on a Wednesday.

Pallium 2013


Agnes died about 305 and is buried in the basilica named for her on Rome’s Via Nomentana. Historical accounts vary about the birth, life and manner of death of Agnes but generally it is recounted that, in order to preserve her virginity, she was martyred at a very young age, probably 12. She is usually depicted with a lamb because the Latin word so similar to her name, agnus, means “lamb.” The name Agnes is actually derived from the feminine Greek adjective hagné meaning “chaste, pure.”


How I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall – or an invited guest – at this Vatican celebration of Benedict XVI’s 65th anniversary of his priesthood! Beautiful words from and about both men.

I also had a very privileged day – a single, unique day – when I spoke to both Popes, the reigning Pope Francis and Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. How many people on earth could even say that! Those special moments occurred on Saturday, October 19, 2013 – a story I will tell some day!

In the meantime, I want to get ahead of myself with today’s column. I have some photos I took in Germany in 2006 when Pope Benedict visited his native Bavaria for the first time as Pope, including pictures of the church in which he and his brother Georg were altar boys together and learned to play the organ. I found a photo online of the brothers on the day they were ordained to the priesthood 65 years ago tomorrow. I was going to post those photos tomorrow, on the actual anniversary day but given this morning’s marvelous celebrations in the Vatican, I’ll place them within this article. The two photos of the Popes embracing are from AP and CTV.


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Tuesday hosted a celebration for the 65th anniversary of the priestly ordination of his predecessor Benedict, the pope emeritus. Joseph Ratzinger, who took the name Benedict XVI when he was elected to the papacy in 2005, attended the celebration in the Sala Clementina within the Apostolic Palace. More than thirty cardinals were also present, as well as a number of other invited guests.


The event began with music from the Sistine Choir and a speech by Pope Francis. In his remarks, the Supreme Pontiff recalled St Peter’s response to Jesus’ question, “Do you love me?” “Lord, you know that I love you,” answered the first Pope. And this, the current Pope said, “is the note that has dominated a life spent entirely in the service of the priesthood and of the true theology”.

Ratzinger ordination

Pope Francis said that Benedict continues to serve the Church, “not ceasing to truly contribute to her growth with strength and wisdom.” “And you do this,” he said, “from that little Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican, that is shown in that way to be anything but that forgotten little corner to which today’s culture of waste tends to relegate people when, with age, their strength diminishes.” He spoke, too, about the “Franciscan” dimension of the monastery, which recalls the Portiuncula, the “little portion” where St Francis founded his order, and laid down his life. Divine Providence, he said, “has willed that you, dear Brother, should reach a place one could truly call ‘Franciscan’, from which emanates a tranquillity, a peace, a strength, a confidence, a maturity, a faith, a dedication, and a fidelity that does so much good for me, and gives strength to me and to the whole Church.”

F and B 65

At the conclusion of his remarks, Pope Francis offered best wishes to Pope emeritus Benedict on behalf of himself and of the whole Church, with the prayer for Benedict, “That you, Holiness, might continue to feel the hand of the merciful God who supports you; that you might continue to experience and witness to us the love of God; that, with Peter and Paul, you might continue to rejoice with great joy as you journey toward the goal of the faith.”


The view from the little church –


Later, after more music and speeches by Cardinals Gerhard Müller and Angelo Sodano – respectively Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Dean of the College of Cardinals – Benedict offered words of thanks to all his well-wishers, and in a particular way to Pope Francis. Speaking to the Holy Father, Benedict said, “Your kindness, from the first moment of the election, in every moment of my life here, strikes me, is a source of real inspiration for me. More than in the Vatican Gardens, with their beauty, your goodness is the place where I dwell: I feel protected.”


The Pope emeritus also reflected on the concept of “thanksgiving,” reflecting on a word written, in Greek, on a remembrance card from his first Mass. That word, he said, suggests “not only human thanksgiving, but naturally hints at the more profound word that is hidden, which appears in the liturgy, in the Scriptures,” and in the words of consecration. The Greek word “eucharistomen,” he said, “brings us back to that reality of thanksgiving, to that new dimension that Christ has given it. He has transformed into thanksgiving, and so into blessing, the Cross, suffering, all the evil of the world. And thus He has fundamentally transubstantiated life and the world, and has given us, and gives us today the Bread of true life, which overcomes the world thanks to the strength of his love.”



PS. A cousin of the Ratzinger brothers showed us the little pewter cups that the young brothers used when they played at being priests –




Saint Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), Third Order Dominican, scholar, philosopher, theologian, mystic, spiritual writer, co-patron of Italy with St. Francis of Assisi and Doctor of the Church.

What an astonishing, wonderful story, what a remarkable and inspirational woman was St. Catherine. I truly felt her presence everywhere we visited in Siena and am now starting to read the two books I bought – her “Letters” and also “The Dialogues,” her spiritual legacy.

Kelly Wahlquist, founder of WINE, outside our bus in Siena as we wait for Teresa Tomeo to record a news brief inside the bus for her radio show.



And now to our wonderful St. Catherine.

Some reports say Catherine was the last of 24 children, others the youngest of 25, most of whom did not survive to adulthood, including her twin sister. Her parents, Jacopo and Lapa Benincasa were well off and her father was a fabric dyer.

They lived, as you will see, in a very large home in hilly Siena with fabulous views of the city and outlying countryside. I posted a number of photos last week but did not have time to write Catherine’s story. Some of today’s pix are a repeat.




Biographies state that Catherine was lively, curious, cheerful, fun loving and intelligent and very religious.

St. Dominic’s Church where the head of St. Catherine is preserved.


Her head is depicted in relief above the door.


( – When Catherine was twelve, her mother, with marriage in mind, began to urge her to pay more attention to her appearance. To please her mother and sister, she dressed in the bright gowns and jewels that were fashionable for young girls. Soon she repented of this vanity, and declared with finality that she would never marry. When her parents persisted in their talk about finding her a husband, she cut off the golden-brown hair that was her chief beauty As punishment, she was now made to do menial work in the household, and the family, knowing she craved solitude, never allowed her to be alone. Catherine bore all this with sweetness and patience Long afterwards, in <The Dialogue>, she wrote that God had shown her how to build in her soul a private cell where no tribulation could enter.

“Catherine grew up as an intelligent, cheerful and intensely religious person. She disappointed her mother by cutting off her hair as a protest against being overly encouraged to improve her appearance in order to attract a husband. Her father ordered her to be left in peace, and she was given a room of her own for prayer and meditation.”

“…..In the small, dimly-lighted room now set apart for her use, a cell nine feet by three, she gave herself up to prayers and fasting; she scourged herself three times daily with an iron chain, and slept on a board. At first she wore a hair shirt, subsequently replacing it by an iron-spiked girdle. Soon she obtained what she ardently desired, permission to assume the black habit of a Dominican tertiary, which was customarily granted only to matrons or widows. She now increased her asceticism, eating and sleeping very little. For three years she spoke only to her confessor and never went out except to the neighboring church of St. Dominic, where the pillar against which she used to lean is still pointed out to visitors.”

A Siena view –


“….The years of solitude and preparation were ended and soon afterwards she began to mix with her fellow men and learn to serve them. Like other Dominican tertiaries, she volunteered to nurse the sick in the city hospitals, choosing those afflicted with loathsome diseases—cases from which others were apt to shrink. There gathered around this strong personality a band of earnest associates….”

“….Her pity for dying men was not confined to those who were sick. She made it a practice to visit condemned persons in prison, hoping to persuade them to make their peace with God. On one occasion she walked to the scaffold with a young Perugian knight, sentenced to death for using seditious language against the government of Siena. His last words were: ‘Jesus and Catherine!’”


And Popes listened to this singularly remarkable woman…

“….Many of the troubles which then afflicted Europe were, to some degree at least, due to the seventy-four-year residence of the popes at Avignon, where the Curia was now largely French. Gregory had been ready to go back to Rome with his court, but the opposition of the French cardinals had deterred him. Since in her letters Catherine had urged his return so strongly, it was natural that they should discuss the subject now that they were face to face. “Fulfill what you have promised,” she said, reminding him of a vow he had once taken and had never disclosed to any human being. Greatly impressed by what he regarded as a supernatural sign, Gregory resolved to act upon it at once.

“On September 13, 1376, he set out from Avignon to travel by water to Rome, while Catherine and her friends left the city on the same day to return overland to Siena. On reaching Genoa she was detained by the illness of two of her secretaries, Neri di Landoccio and Stephen Maconi. The latter was a young Sienese nobleman, recently converted, who had become an ardent follower. When Catherine got back to Siena, she kept on writing the Pope, entreating him to labor for peace. At his request she went again to Florence, still rent by factions, and stayed there for some time, frequently in danger of her life. She did finally establish peace between the city governors and the papacy, but this was in the reign of Gregory’s successor.


“After Catherine returned to Siena, Raymund of Capua tells us, “she occupied herself actively in the composition of a book which she dictated under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.” This was the mystical work, in four treatises, called The Dialogue of St. Catherine. Her health was now so impaired by austerities that she was never free from pain; yet her thin face was usually smiling. She was grieved by any sort of scandal in the Church, especially that of the Great Schism which followed the death of Gregory XI. Urban VI was elected as his successor by the cardinals of Rome and Clement VII by the rebellious cardinals of Avignon.

“Western Christendom was divided; Clement was recognized by France, Spain, Scotland, and Naples; Urban by most of North Italy, England, Flanders, and Hungary. Catherine wore herself out trying to heal this terrible breach in Christian unity and to obtain for Urban the obedience due to the legitimate head. Letter after letter was dispatched to the princes and leaders of Europe. To Urban himself she wrote to warn him to control his harsh and arrogant temper. This was the second pope she had counseled, chided, even commanded. Far from resenting reproof, Urban summoned her to Rome that he might profit by her advice. Reluctantly she left Siena to live in the Holy City. She had achieved a remarkable position for a woman of her time. On various occasions at Siena, Avignon, and Genoa, learned theologians had questioned her and had been humbled by the wisdom of her replies.

“Although Catherine was only thirty-three, her life was now nearing its close. On April 21, 1380, a paralytic stroke made her helpless from the waist downwards, and eight days later she passed away in the arms of her cherished friend, Alessia Saracini. The Dominicans at Rome still treasure the body of Catherine in the Minerva Church, but Siena has her head enshrined in St. Dominic’s Church.”

As soon as we entered the Church of St. Dominic in Siena, I took a photo or two but overheard a guide with another group say no photos were allowed, so I stopped taking pictures. These two photos are from the basilica’s webpage:

St CAtherine , head  2

Changing topics drastically, let me tell you about Siena’s other claim to fame (though surely a lesser one): The Palio!

The city of Siena tells us that the July 2 and August 16 “Palio race – which lasts less than 2 minutes – is the subject of debate and competition all year round and can cause men and women to laugh or cry; such is the Palio, the greatest traditional festival in Siena. Siena is divided into 17 contrade or districts. The Sienese people belong first to a contrada and then to the city. Each contrada competes against one another in the Palio, and rivalry and competition are an integral part of the preceding months before the event. Ten contrade are selected for each race, each contrada is assigned a horse, and the horses compete in la corsa of Piazza del Campo while thousands of people come as spectators and participants, transforming the main piazza into a teeming sea of people.”

This depiction of the Contrada of the Goose is on a wall just outside the outer courtyard of St, Catherine’s family home.


That image is to the left of the outer courtyard of the family home.


Of the 17 contrade, most are named for animals: eagle, caterpillar, snail, owl, dragon, giraffe, porcupine, unicorn, she-wolf, ram, goose, female panther, and turtle. Then there are four contrade named for tower, ocean shell, wave and forest.

If you can, try and find a replica of the July 2 Palio on Youtube!



Here is a note from Vatican Radio about Pope Francis’ inflight press conference last night on the return trip to Rome from Armenia. A complete transcript of the conference is due in coming days:

Pope Francis spoke on the Armenian genocide, the relation of the Church to homosexuals, and Britain’s vote last week to leave the European Union, as well as a host of other topics in a wide-ranging press conference on his flight back to Rome following his Apostolic Voyage to Armenia. (photo:

Francis - press conference

Sunday’s in-flight press conference began with questions about the Apostolic Voyage to Armenia that Pope Francis had just concluded. Asked about his message for Armenia for the future, the Holy Father spoke about his hopes and prayers for justice and peace, and his encouragement that leaders are working to that end. In particular, he talked of the work of reconciliation with Turkey and with Azerbaijan. The Pope will be travelling to Azerbaijani later this year.

Pope Francis also spoke about his use of the word ‘genocide,’ acknowledging the legal import of the expression, but explaining that this was the term commonly in use in Argentina for the massacre of Armenians during the first World War.

During the press conference, Pope Francis also addressed a number of religious and ecumenical issues. Speaking about the controversy that arose from remarks by the Prefect of the Pontifical Household, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, who in a speech earlier this month had spoken of a shared “Petrine ministry,” Pope Francis insisted there was only one Pope, while praising the pope emeritus as a “great man of God.”

About the Pan-Orthodox Council, which concluded Sunday in Crete, the Pope said, “A step was made forward . . . I think the result was positive.” In response to a question about upcoming commemorations of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant “Reformation,” Pope Francis said, “I think perhaps this is also the right moment for us not only to remember the wounds on both sides, but also to recognize the gifts of the Reformation.” He also had words of praise for Martin Luther. The Pope praying and working together are important for fostering unity.

Pope Francis also answered a question about women deacons, and his decision to form a commission to study the issue. He said he was surprised and annoyed to hear that his remarks were interpreted to mean that the Church had opened the door to deaconesses. “This is not telling the truth of things,” he said. But, he continued, “women’s thought is important,” because they approach questions differently from men. “One cannot make a good decision without listening to women.

Reporters also questioned the Pope about recent events, including the recent “Brexit” vote in Britain. He said he had not had time to study the reasons for the British vote to leave the European Union, but noted that the vote showed “divisions,” which could also be seen in other countries. “Fraternity is better, and bridges are better than walls,” he said, but he acknowledged that there are “different ways of unity.” Creativity and fruitfulness are two key words for the European Union as it faces new challenges.

The secular press, meanwhile, latched onto remarks Pope Francis made concerning the Church’s relationship to homosexuals. Insisting once again that homosexuals must not be discriminated against, the Pope said that the Church should apologize to homosexuals and ask forgiveness for offending them – but he added, the Church should also ask forgiveness of any groups of persons who had been hurt by Christians who do not live up to the Gospel. There will always be good and bad Christians in the Church, he said, citing Christ’s parable of the wheat and the weeds. “All of us are saints, because all of us have the Holy Spirit. But we are all sinners, [and] I [am] the first.”

Finally, answering a question from Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Pope Francis reflected on his visit to the Memorial at Tzitzernakaberd, and his upcoming journey to Poland, which will include a visit to Auschwitz. The Pope said that in such places, he likes to reflect silently, “alone,” praying that the Lord might grant him “the grace of crying.”

At the conclusion of the press conference, Pope Francis thanked the reporters for their hard work and goodness.


Pope Francis is in Armenia for a three-day visit and you can follow coverage of that on EWTN television, on our news pages at and also via periodic radio reports from Armenia.

June 24, the feast of St. John the Baptist, is celebrated in a big way in Rome, and is the onomastico, the name day, of all those named John (of Joan!). For many individuals and families in Italy, the name day is a bigger celebration that the birthday. After all, we got our name at our baptism! As Pope Francis often asks: Do you know when you were baptized?


It has been a wonderful first full day in Rome after a period of travel. I finally slept more than five hours and that alone was a gift from heaven! I spent late morning and early afternoon preparing this week’s edition of my EWTN radio program “Vatican Insider. I then went to the Rome office of CNA/EWTN/ news to be on Teresa Tomeo’s program, “Catholic Connection.” Immediately afterwards I walked (in 96 degree weather) about five blocks to LUMSA, a Catholic University with some offices near the Vatican to join my friends who organized the Kairos Forum conference in co-sponsorship with the Pontifical Council for Culture. The theme this year is “Living Fully 2016: Disability, Culture and Faith, a Celebration.”

Speaking of the Kairos Forum and conference, my guest this weekend on VATICAN INSIDER is CRISTINA GANGEMI, a disability advisor to the Bishops Conference of England and Wales, and director of the Kairos Forum that seeks to highlight and respond to the spiritual and religious needs of people with disabilities. As I said, the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture is co- sponsoring with Kairos this academic symposium and conference entitled, LIVING FULLY 2016 whose aim is to celebrate the lives and stories of disabled people within culture and faith. Cristina will tell us all about Kairos and the Vatican conference.



When I arrived at LUMSA I saw Cristina’s son Gianluca who was an intern for five months with EWTN, during which time he was the producer for my twice weekly segments for “At Home with Jim and Joy.” Here’s the shirt he was wearing


Linda and Jack Del Rio (coach of the Oakland Raiders) are very supportive of Kairos and provided the conference workers and volunteers with a number of these shirts.


Here’s a link to the Living Fully 2016 website, with press releases, speakers, etc.:

How to listen to VATICAN INSIDER: In the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio. In the U.S. or outside the U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:00 am (Eastern time). On the SKY satellite feed to the UK and parts of Europe, VI airs on audio channel 0147 at 11:30 am CET on Saturdays, and 5:30 am and 10 pm CET on Sundays. It’s also available on demand on the EWTN app and on the website. CHECK FOR YOUR TIME ZONE. Past shows are in VI archives:

As I write, I await a text message from the WINE group about possibly joining some of them for dinner in Trastevere. If not, the Kairos group invited me to join them at 8:30 at La Scaletta!


Below is a link to a column posted yesterday by Kelly Wahlquist, founder of WINE, Women in the New Evangelization, and co-leader of the WINE pilgrimage to Italy, along with Teresa Tomeo. I was with the group for most of their stay in Umbria and we arrived Rome on Wednesday evening after a day spent with St. Rita in Cascia.

Following a somewhat late dinner Kelly, Teresa and I sought a place in the hotel to start writing our daily posts together. Hotel wifi presented a few issues and Kelly seemed to have the worst luck, as you will read below. I, of course, returned home and solved the wifi issue there! As you will see, at the end of her piece, entitled Journey through Italy “virtually” impossible, Kelly also gives links to columns posted by Teresa and me.





Very late Tuesday evening I posted a brief note about my second full day in Umbria with the wonderful women of WINE, noting that I had risen at 5:30 am and, after our early morning departure for Siena and points beyond, arrived back at my Assisi hotel at 11:30 pm, too devoid of both time and energy to write about what I called “The Day the Lord Made.

I hope to finally bring that day to life for you.

Interspersed throughout this column are some of the photos I took in Siena and, if time allows, I’ll create a slideshow of the beauties of the Umbrian countryside as we drove to the wine country of Montalcino and the Banfi winery estates (the larges continuous private estate in Europe, according to our guide). If not today, tomorrow.

(A word about the larger photos at the end. They came in an email from Sharon Wilson and I love the size. I have not yet found a way to make the photos that I have downloaded from my camera a larger size)


WINE, as you may know by now, is Women In the New Evangelization. Twenty-five women joined Kelly Wahlquist, WINE founder, and Teresa Tomeo and me for this first-ever WINE trip to Italy to explore the great and glorious women saints of this beautiful land. My role in this pilgrimage was principally the first part of the itinerary – the Umbrian days of Assisi, Siena, Norcia, Montalcino and Cascia – although I’ll have some encounters with the group in Rome.

The basilica of St. Dominic in Siena – the head of St. Catherine is enshrined here – no photos allowed. I had already taken a picture of this stained glass window before I knew that:


I’ve had a chance for personal encounters with some of the women as we journey on the bus through Umbria, walk through the medieval home towns of saints we know and love or dine together on exquisite dishes from Umbria – homemade pastas, wild boar as a main course or fettucine sauce, porchetta, and gorgeous fresh vegetables and fruits. And, of course, delicious wines, including a wine-tasting lunch in Montalcino after our visit to Siena.



I am overwhelmed with the beauty of the spirit and character of the women I have met from Nebraska, Minnesota, Florida and points beyond. As stories were told, I heard and saw women of immense faith, women who are, want to be and will be in the forefront of the new evangelization, in ways large and small, in their families, hometowns and perhaps even well beyond.


I have walked and dined with women of courage. Some had heartbreaking stories. Many have led fairly average lives with the usual highs and lows, the joys and sorrows of married life or single life. Some had had spiritual crises, were away from the faith and then returned with a vengeance, with a renewed spiritual fire. Others never lost that fire.

St. Catherine was one of 24 children, the daughter of a dyer. They lived in a very large house. These photos were taken in the inner courtyard:



20160621_113857 20160621_113851

There were two common denominators in all stories: faith and joy.

The chapel in which St. Catherine took her vows.


After all, as was noted in several conversations, St. Paul has exhorted us to always be able to explain the reasons for our joy, our hope, our acceptance of suffering. In fact, he told Romans in 5: 3-5: “… but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

These three pictures depict what was once the kitchen of this large house:




Joy and laughter and sharing with a smile – these were always on the faces of the women, wherever we were, on the bus, in restaurants, in a church.

The outside of the house in which St. Catherine grew up:


We prayed the rosary on the bus, we sang hymns (and many other songs), and we sang grace before meals one night as we enjoyed a picnic supper one night on the terrace of Grand Hotel in Assisi. (see video) As we watched the sun set over Assisi, we listened to reflections by Kelly and also interspersed her thoughts with some of our own.

And this is what the women of WINE did each day. Each of us became stronger in our own faith because each of us was re-affirmed by the others.

What set Tuesday apart for 8 of us was the dinner we had at Mangiar Di Vino in Assisi, after a glorious day in Siena. The bus was to return to the hotel where most of the gals were staying in the hillside above Assisi. I wanted to return to my hotel in the center of Assisi and had planned on dining alone and then packing for our departure the next day but 5 of the women (we were late joined by two others) on the bus decided they too wanted to spent a last night in Assisi, not at the hotel.

The WINE bus left us off at a small square where we got a small city bus (a separate story if I had time to tell!) to another square from which it was a four-minute downhill (a VERY important word in Assisi, Siena and Cascia) walk to the main Assisi square and the nearby restaurant.

We lucked out as there was a table for 6 on the small terrace – it was a lovely night and we wanted to eat outdoors. The first thing we noted as we sat down was our paper placemats. They had a design that looked like it was created by children and soon we noted the drawings were of chalices and there was the Holy Spirit nin the upper left corned and then the words, in Italian and English “I am the Vine, you are the branches, whoever remains in me….”

How beautiful! Can you imagine such a thing happening in the U.S., unless it was in a Catholic home or a church rectory?! There is a story behind the mats which I intend to discover and share with you. Our waitress gave each one of a new placemat to take home!

Unexpectedly, two more of the WINE women, Jody and Kelly, found us at Mangiar Di Vino and sat near but not at our table as there was no more room. They, however, sat next to a couple (he was Italian, she was Russian) and began an animated conversation that lasted throughout dinner.

The name of the restaurant is more or less a play on words. Mangiar is from mangiare, to eat or dine and Di Vino can mean ‘divine’ or ‘of wine.’  Thus, Mangiar Di Vino (Eating Divinely) or ‘Dining and Wine.’

For us it was a divine experience.

The food was divine and the conversation ever so stimulating. We spoke of WINE, the Church, our faith, our personal journeys, how the Lord is calling each of us, and so much more.

Early in our meal, a priest and a nun arrived at the restaurant, eating indoors as there was no room on the small terrace. I greeted the priest in Italian and he responded. They finished their meal before we did and, as they exited the restaurant, the Father turned, looked at me for a few seconds and then said, slowly, with a smile, “EWTN….”

The gals all said ‘Yes’ in unison and one told me to ask him for a blessing. It turned out he was Spanish and so I asked in Spanish and he came to our table and gave the whole group a beautiful blessing in English.

Two strangers entered out lives and excited almost as quickly but left an indelible mark with each of us, as we commented then and throughout the day yesterday. (You can vaguely see them inside the restaurant in the group photo I posted)

It was now our turn to say to leave, to say “buona notte,” “sweet dreams,” and “see you tomorrow.”

It was then that I noticed the floor mat next to our table:

Today was indeed “A Day the Lord Made”



Perhaps you’ve read what I’ve previously written about this conference and perhaps even heard my interview with Cris Gangemi, director of The Kairos Forum, on my weekend radio program. “Vatican Insider.” Time allowing, I will be present at a session or two of this very important four-day conference, explained in the following news release today from The Kairos Forum.


The international disability events “Living Fully 2016” began today in Rome with an academic symposium. The events were officially opened by Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.  The four days will be a celebration of disability, culture and faith.  Theologians and practitioners in the field of disability – both physical and intellectual, are gathering from the four corners of the globe to share their knowledge, insights and experience to foster greater engagement in Church communities far and wide. The event is pioneered by The Kairos Forum, a Caritas member disability organisation in the UK.  Cristina Gangemi, director was delighted when the Pontifical Council for Culture offered to be co Patron of this unique event.

“We are enormously grateful to Cardinal Ravasi for his practical support thus enabling this event to become a reality.  We hope that the outcome will be a greater awareness and positive culture, that faith communities of belonging for all abilities can be a reality. Our collective experience demonstrates how enriching these inclusive communities are – both practically and spiritually.”

Speakers at the symposium and conference include Professor Hans Reinders and Reverend Bill Gaventa, both longstanding scholars in disability theology.  Sr. Veronica Donatello Director of The Office of Disability and Catechesis at C.E. Katie Toone, communications Director, will speak on the topic of Pope Francis’ recent quote “Everybody or Nobody.”  Exploring the spectrum of disability, Fr Bill Braviner who serves an Anglican parish on Teeside and David Lucas of Disability & Jesus, will speak about disability within the context of faith.

The website:



Yet another stupendous day in Umbria with a very beautiful visit to Cascia where we met St. Rita. We saw her incorrupt body in the lovely basilica, completed in 1955, of this stunning Umbrian hilltop town after a visit to the Augustinian monastery where she lived for the last 40 years of her astonishing life. MUCH more to come about her life!

Once again, the story and the photos will have to wait until another day – hopefully tomorrow. Oops, it is already tomorrow – it is 12:20 am here in Rome and today mirrored yesterday in intensity and length of activity, the hours traveling on the bus, visiting the town of Casica, praying and yes, of course, breaking bread.

A lost cell phone and a return to Cascia to search for it (Dear St. Anthony, come around, something’s lost and can’t be found – and he found it!), a long ride to Rome from Cascia and then absolutely horrendous terrific in the Eternal City, made our day very long. Many Romans were at home watching Italy play Ireland in the European Cup (Ireland won 1-0) but tens and tens of thousand of young people flocked to the stadium in Rome for a rock concert and that was a great part of the traffic problems. But, as the Roman say, pazienza – patience.

I so want to tell you about the places we visited, the beautiful Italian saints in whose company we spent some prayerful time and the wonderful, moving stories of the WINE ladies on this pilgrimage but the body can do just so much in a long day. It is now 12:35 and time to post this and then retire. Tomorrow I have no commitments with my new friends and hope to find time to download photos and write some beautiful stories.

Teresa Tomeo and Kelly Wahlquist and I are share the daily columns we wrote and today was the day to share Teresa’s. At this late hour I cannot find it so will resume efforts in the morning when, presumably after a few good hours of sleep, I will be more alert.

I have not forgotten about the day that the Lord made – yesterday in Assisi. That is my priority for tomorrow.





I was up at 5:30 this morning for our early morning departure for Siena and points beyond and it is 11:30 pm as I write so you can imagine I have neither the time nor the energy to writer about a day made by the Lord for me, for our WINE group of women on pilgrimage and for a special and small group of us who dined together in Assisi on our last night St. Francis’ home town.

It is such an amazing and serendipitous – and yes, divine – story that I dare not write it late at night. Divine is the key word and I will explain tomorrow (hoping I have time after another full day), along with some photos. There were no Internet moments along our route to post photos so you will just have to wait – and I promise it will be worth it.

Up early again tomorrow for our departure for Cascia to experience St. Rita, then Rome, the Eternal City.

Today was a day on which I can easily say I was blessed beyond telling!