Mass this morning in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception at the North American College was, as is every liturgy as NAC, truly splendid. Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò was the main celebrant but there were at least 100 in the sanctuary at the offertory, including cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, and acolytes.

Lunch later was a wonderful moment as well – a great menu, lots of terrific conversation and untold laughs as well. I cherish every moment I can spend with these young men, the newly ordained priests and deacons or the men now in their first, second or third year from dioceses around the U.S. and also Australia.

I did not take a single photo today, just enjoyed every moment. I prayed for everyone who has asked me for prayers for whatever reason and I handed those petitions over to Mary!


December 8, the Solemnity of the Immacolata, the day devoted to the Immaculate Conception, is a holy day and a national holiday in Italy and hugely important for Italian families. Occurring as it does this year on a Thursday, many working Italians will take Friday off as well, creating a ponte or bridge to a long weekend.

Several main streets in the center of Rome are closed for the traditional afternoon visit by the Pope to both St. Mary Major basilica and to the Spanish Steps, Piazza di Spagna, to pay homage to the image of Mary there. This famous square in the heart of Rome is named for the Palazzo di Spagna, a magnificent building on the piazza that has housed the Spanish embassy to the Holy See since 1647.

Every year, early in the morning of December 8, Roman firemen place a garland atop the statue of Mary Immaculate and by day’s end, thousands of Romans will have followed in their footsteps, offering floral homages to Mary. The column and statue were originally erected with the help of 220 firemen, which is why the floral tributes always include a garland of flowers placed in Our Lady’s arms by a member of Rome’s fire department. The tradition of offering flowers to her image here on this feast day was begun by Pope Pius XII.


Single flowers as well as bouquets are placed on a table at the foot of the column bearing the statue and, for many hours, Conventual Franciscan Friars and Minim Friars arrange them in an orderly fashion, often creating elegant wreaths.

The ancient Roman column of cipolin marble was found in 1777 in the monastery of Our Lady of the Conception in central Rome and brought to Piazza di Spagna on September 8 (birthday of the Virgin Mary), 1857 to celebrate the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception three years earlier.

Here is the dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception as declared on December 8, 1854 by Pope Pius IX in his Bull Ineffabilis Deus: “We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which asserts that the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from every stain of original sin is a doctrine revealed by God and, for this reason, must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful.”


At the Angelus on Thursday, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis reflected on the day’s readings about the Fall of Adam and Eve and the Annunciation, saying “The readings of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary are two crucial passages in the history of the relationship between man and God:  We might say they lead us to the origins of good and evil.”

The first reading, hr said, tell us about the origins of sin, man’s first ‘no’ to God, when “he preferred to look at himself, not his Creator, thus shattering communion with God. … This makes sin, but the Lord does not leave man at the mercy of his evil; He immediately seeks him out and asks a question full of apprehension: ‘Where are you?’ It is the question of a father or a mother searching for a lost child…and this God does with much patience, in order to bridge the distance which arose at the beginning.”

The, we have the Annunciation, said Francis, when “God comes to dwell among us, [and] he becomes man like us. … And this was made possible by ‘a great yes,’ that of Mary at the Annunciation. Through this ‘yes’ Jesus began his way along the road of humanity; it began in Mary, spending the first months of his life within mother’s womb; not appearing already an adult and strong, but by following the entirety of the path of what it means to be human.”

Pope Francis underscored the fact Mary is described as “full of grace,” meaning there is “no room for sin…without a shadow of evil.”

The Holy Father then encouraged Christians to give their “Yes” to God, as this allow the Lord to create for us a “new story,” as opposed to sin, which makes us “old inside.”

In Advent, especially, said the Pope, “God desires to see us and awaits our ‘yes’.'”

After reciting the Marian prayer, Pope Francis offered his prayers for the victims and families of the 6.5 earthquake that the Aceh Province of Indonesia on Wednesday, killing at least 100 people. The same region of Indonesia was hit by the December 2004 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that killed over 100,000 people in just this one province and tens of thousands more in faraway lands.

“I wish to assure you of my prayers for the victims and their families, for the injured and for those who have lost their homes. May the Lord give strength to the population and support the rescue efforts.”


Pope Francis visited the Piazza di Spagna in Rome on Thursday for the celebration of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, where he laid a bouquet of white roses near the Column of the Immaculate Conception and prayed especially for families and for workers. He made his way to Rome’s Spanish Square to pay homage to the Immaculate Virgin, just as the Bishop of Rome has annually for the past 50 years.


Flanked by the Rome’s mayor, Pope Francis placed a bouquet of white roses at the base of the column of the Immaculate Conception and led those present in a prayer for her feast day. He prayed especially for abandoned children, for families struggling to make ends meet, and for men and women in search of work.

He said, “We have need of your immaculate heart, to love freely, without secondary aims but seeking the good of the other, with simplicity and sincerity, renouncing masks and tricks.”

Above all, the Holy Father prayed Our Lady to “Let us not give in to discouragement, but that, trusting in your constant help, we may engage ourselves fully in renewal of self, of this city and of the entire world.”

After the prayer, the Pope greeted many of those gathered in the square and blessed the sick and elderly. He then made a short stop at the Basilica of St. Mary Major’s, before returning to the Vatican, to pray silently before the image of Maria Salus Populi Romani, the protectress of the people of Rome.

Click here for his full prayer: http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2016/12/08/pope_makes_traditional_visit_to_immaculate_conception_statue/1277760



The Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy has issued an updated instrument for the formation of priests. The document, entitled Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis or ‘The Gift of Priestly Vocation’, was promulgated on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, December 8 and published in L’Osservatore Romano.

“The gift of the priestly vocation, placed by God in the hearts of some men, obliges the Church to propose to them a serious journey of formation,” the opening line of the document reads. In an interview with L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, says the updated Ratio Fundamentalis is meant to provide guidelines for the formation of priests, which “needed to be revamped, renewed, and restored to the center.”

Click here to read the full interview.

Updated norms

The last Ratio was published in 1970 and updated in 1985. Cardinal Stella said the new norms seek to take into account the rapid evolution in “historical, socio-cultural, and ecclesiastical contexts.”

He said inspiration was drawn from Pope Francis’ teachings and spirituality, especially regarding “temptations tied to money, to the authoritarian exercise of power, to rigid legalism, and to vainglory.”

Innovation and continuity

Cardinal Stella said the guidelines take up “the content, methods and orientation produced up to this day in the field of formation”, while at the same time building on the “existing patrimony” of the Church. He said that, “in the life of the Church innovations are never separate from Tradition, but, on the contrary, integrate it, and enhance it.”

The document, he said, draws on Pastores dabo vobis from 1992 to promote an “integral formation,” that is, “the ability to unite, in a balanced way, the human, as well as the spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral dimensions, through a gradual instructional personalized course.”

One important innovation is the introduction of a “propaedeutic period upon entrance to the Seminary.”

The Ratio Fundamentalis proposes the propaedeutic stage of formation be “not less than one year or more than two” and is meant to validate the vocation of candidates. The document also emphasizes the need for dioceses and religious orders to guard against admitting potential sex abusers to the priesthood.

“The greatest attention must be given to the theme of the protection of minors and vulnerable adults,” it says, “being vigilant lest those who seek admission to a seminary or a house of formation, or who are already petitioning to receive Holy Orders, have not been involved in any way with any crime or problematic behavior in this area.”

Ratio Fundamentalis restates the language of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the ordination of persons with homosexual tendencies.

“The Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture’. Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women. One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.” (cf. Ratio Fundamentalis 199; CCC nn. 2357-2358).

Cardinal Stella said the guidelines have added three stages to priestly formation: “the “stage of discipleship,” “configuration stage,” and “pastoral stage,” each of which has a corresponding itinerary and formative content, orientated toward an assimilation with the image of the Good Shepherd.”

In brief, he said, “to be a good priest, in addition to having passed all the exams, a demonstrated human, spiritual and pastoral maturation is necessary.”

Humanity, spirituality, discernment

Cardinal Stella told L’Osservatore Romano the three keywords he would choose to describe the document are: ‘humanity, spirituality, and discernment.’

He recalled Pope Francis’ recent address to the Society of Jesus: “I am noticing,” he said, “the lack of discernment in the formation of priests. We are risking, in fact, becoming accustomed to ‘black and white’ and to that which is legal. We are quite closed, by and large, to discernment. One thing is clear, today in a certain quantity of Seminaries, a rigidity has been re- established which is not related to situational discernment.”

Word for priests

The Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy concluded with a word for priests. He said, “To each one of them I would like to say above all: do not become discouraged! The Lord never offers less than his promises, and if you have called upon him, he will make his light shine upon you, whether you live in darkness, aridity, fatigue or a moment of pastoral failure. I would like to recommend to priests that they not let the healthy disquiet, which maintains their progress on the right path, be extinguished!”