AsiaNews has a great number of very good journalists and guest authors who write for them about current events, noteworthy people and historical moments in Asia and the Middle East. I felt the two pieces I offer below were newsworthy because of the papal trip, of course, but also because of the historical role of Egypt in the Middle East and on the world scene.

You can follow the various moments of Pope Francis’ 27-hour visit to Cairo via EWTN television, radio reports and on

When I was a member of the Holy See delegation to the 1994 UN conference on population in Cairo, we had dinner one night at the residence of the nuncio to Egypt, where Pope Francis will spend the night tonight. I remember it as a large, older home with some lovely gardens, a very private and tranquil setting in a bustling city of so many millions. If I find my photos (no digital cameras then!) I’ll post them.


Just a brief programming note as I am dedicating most of today’s column and various additional posts on Facebook to Pope Francis’ apostolic trip to Egypt. My “guest” this weekend, so to speak, is Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization who, on March 27 celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the first anniversary of Mother Angelica’s passing. I offer his reflections in his homily as well as a brief  interview we did with him after Mass.

In the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio. 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 9:00am (ET). 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 5:30am and 10pm CET on Sundays. It’s also available on demand on the EWTN app and on the website. CHECK YOUR TIME ZONE. Here’s a link to download VI to your iTunes library:   For VI archives:


by Loula Lahham

The President of the Republic al-Sisi personally supervising the security apparatus. Cairo wants to show itself as a tolerant, fraternal and welcoming country. Today, the intervention at al-Azhar peace conference. Over 35,000 people (accredited) for tomorrow’s Mass at the aeronautics academy. More extremist threats against Christians in Minya.

Cairo (AsiaNews) – Today, Friday, April 28, an Alitalia plane will land at Cairo International Airport, with His Holiness Pope Francis, and dozens of cardinals, bishops, priests, religious, interpreters and assistants.

For some days, security preparations have been at the highest level and are directly under the personal supervision of the President of the Republic. The goal is to show the world an Egypt characterized by tolerance, fraternity, solidarity, terms that run counter to those of all who perpetuate conspiracies and want to erode the nation, drowning it in religious obscurantism.

This goal has united everyone: the presidency, the army, the interior ministry and the local authorities. The streets that will be crossed by the papal cavalcade have been washed, the trees watered, parking banned in the neighborhood where the apostolic nunciature is located, which will host the Pope during his stay in Egypt. Tension is visibly growing. No mistakes will be allowed. Official Egypt wants to prove that it is up to an event of this magnitude.

Yesterday morning, the international peace conference, organized by al-Azhar, the highest instance in the Sunni Islamic world, began, in the presence of, among others, the spiritual leaders of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Churches.

Al-Azhar –

The main theme of the conference will be the challenges and dangers that today pose a threat to world peace. And also, and above all, the “false interpretation of religious texts,” as the great imam of al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayeb has pointed out. Pope Frances speech is scheduled for this afternoon at the closing of the meeting.

Moreover, the spiritual leader of the Coptic orthodox expressed his joy in receiving the Holy Father for a very fraternal dialogue between “Catholics” and “Orthodox”. And at the end of this first day, Pope Francis will pronounce a special ecumenical prayer for the memory of all the victims who have died from terrorism of a religious matrix in Egypt.

On Saturday morning, April 29, at 10 am local time solemn mass will be celebrated at the Cairo military aeronautics stadium in the eastern suburbs of the Egyptian capital, which can hold up to 35,000 people. Priests have been called to participate in the liturgy and for the distribution of communion to the faithful; They will wear a stole bearing the official logo of the papal visit, with the slogan in English and Arabic: “The Pope of Peace visits an Egypt of Peace”.

The choirs of the six oriental Catholic rites (Coptic, Greek, Syro, Armenian, Maronite, Chaldean) have finished their preparations and the attendance of the faithful will only be admissible upon special invitations sent to some 237 Catholic churches as well as schools and religious institutes . There is a central altar dedicated to the Pope; the stadium stands are decorated with flags of the Vatican and Egypt. All or almost all preparations have been carried out by the Office of Religious Affairs and the Department of Egyptian Army Engineering. Several local and international television broadcasters will broadcast the event live.

The Pope will arrive half an hour before the scheduled start time for Mass and greet the crowd of the faithful who will have come from the four corners of the country from an open golf car. The Mass will last about 90 minutes and will be preceded by several documentaries on the Vatican and the Pope.

In an exclusive statement issued at the last moment, Msgr. Emmanuel Ayad, bishop of Luxor and head of the Egyptian organizing committee, said: “Everything is fine and the preparations are almost over. I am proud to see the participation of all the official bodies of Egypt in the context of this great event. Everyone is doing their best. The President of the Republic and the army did much more than we could have ever imagined. Moreover, we are faced with a visit not only to the local Church, but  one that has taken on a greater magnitude that embraces the entire Egyptian nation. The Pope is expected with great joy and excitment by all, all of Egypt loves him and sees in him a great builder of peace. ”

We should remember that while Egypt wants to portray a welcoming and tolerant image, yesterday the Christians in a village of the governorate of Minya (about 245 km south of Cairo) called Kom Al-loufi, could not pray in their church because of extremist threats.


by Guy Djandji*

The country that Pope Francis will visit is afflicted by a failed economy, overpopulation, corruption, pollution, terrorism and fatalism. But it is home to a much bigger treasure than its millennial history: the joyous heart of its people.

Cairo (AsiaNews) – In the Book of Exodus, in the Old Testament, God deals with Egypt with ten punishments to punish the Pharaoh who prevented the Jews from leaving the country and persuading him to let them go. Among the calamities that Yahweh inflicted upon the Egyptians, we notice the most extreme: the water of the Nile turn into a river of blood; a plague of locusts swarm all over the earth; The country falls into darkness and, in the end, the most terrible, the death of the firstborn of Egypt. The rigor of these harsh punishments are striking. Today, Egypt is facing scourges that are equally devastating and which leave those who visit her with a sense of sadness mixed with impotence.

Why is the Egyptian people afflicted by such plagues? Will she ever heal and recover her good health?

Demographics: no doubt one of the major sources of poverty and instability in the country. The population is close to one hundred million and has a growth rate of more than 2.5%. Cairo, the megalopolis whose population is estimated at between 20 and 23 million, attracts hundreds of thousands of new arrivals from rural areas every year. Alexandria, the second largest city, is crumbling under the weight of a population of nearly seven million, which has tripled in 50 years. Egypt is crushed everywhere, its infrastructures cannot meet the demand. Large families are still considered a blessing and their prosperity is measured by the number of children. Religious and cultural factors are difficult to change.


Pope Francis leaves tomorrow on a two day apostolic visit to Egypt that is fraught with both perils and promises. EWTN television will cover all live events in collaboration with CTV (Vatican Television Center) and media coverage in general is expected to be massive and intense. Below are some reports on this papal pilgrimage  – a press briefing, thje itinerary and the hopes and expectations.


(CNS) — Despite the ongoing risk of terrorism, Pope Francis plans to travel to Egypt as a sign of being close to the people there, said Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman.

Heightened security is part of the “new normal” in many countries, but even in the wake of the Palm Sunday attacks in Egypt, it is the pope’s desire “to go ahead, to also be a sign of his closeness” to those affected by violence and all the people of Egypt, Burke told journalists April 24.

At a Vatican briefing outlining some details of the pope’s trip to Cairo April 28-29, a reporter asked if there were any worries or concerns about the pope’s security.

Burke, speaking in Italian, said he wouldn’t use the word “worries” or concerns, but would say that, “we live in a world where it is now something that is part of life.” He added, “However, we move ahead with serenity.”

The pope has requested that a “normal car” — not an armored vehicle — be used when he is driven from one venue to another, Burke said. It will not be an open-topped vehicle, he added.

The pope will use a “golf cart,” however, rather than the open-air popemobile when he makes the rounds through the crowds at the air defense stadium, where Mass will be celebrated April 29.

He also will use the golf cart for circulating among the more than 1,000 seminarians, religious and clergy expected to attend an outdoor prayer service at the Coptic Catholic Church’s St. Leo’s Patriarchal Seminary in the Cairo suburb of Maadi April 28.

Burke said that after Pope Francis’ private meeting with Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, at the patriarch’s residence April 28, the two leaders will go together to the nearby church of Sts. Peter and Paul, which had been bombed during a Sunday Mass in December 2016, killing 24 people and injuring at least 45 others.

They will pray “for all the victims from these past years and months, pray for Christians killed,” Burke said.

The two will leave flowers outside the church, light a candle and then have a moment of prayer for the victims from the December attack, the Vatican spokesman said.

Soon afterward, the pope will go to the apostolic nunciature, where he will be staying, and will greet a group of children who attend a Comboni-run school in Cairo and later will greet more than 300 young people who made a pilgrimage to Cairo to see the pope, he added.


(CNS) Here is the pope’s schedule as released by the Vatican. Times listed are local, with Eastern Daylight Time in parentheses. Friday, April 28 (Rome, Cairo) — 10:45 a.m. (4:45 a.m.), Departure from Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci International Airport for Cairo. — 2 p.m. (8 a.m.), Arrival at Cairo airport. Official welcoming ceremony at the Heliopolis presidential palace. Courtesy visits with el-Sissi and Sheik el-Tayeb. Speeches by the grand imam and the pope to participants in an international conference on peace. — 4:40 p.m. (10:40 a.m.), Meeting with local authorities. Speeches by el-Sissi and Pope Francis. Courtesy visit to Pope Tawadros. Speeches by Pope Tawadros and Pope Francis. Saturday, April 29 (Cairo, Rome) — 10:00 a.m. (4:00 a.m.), Mass in Cairo. Homily by pope. — 12:15 p.m. (6:15 a.m.), Lunch with Egypt’s bishops and the papal entourage. — 3:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.), Prayer gathering with clergy, men and women religious, and seminarians. Speech by pope. Farewell ceremony. — 5 p.m. (11 a.m.), Departure from Cairo airport for Rome. — 8:30 p.m. (2:30 p.m.), Arrival at Rome’s Ciampino airport.


(Vatican Radio)  The logo for Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey to Egypt, which takes place April 28-29, has been released by the Egyptian Catholic Church.

The three main elements present in the logo are Egypt, Pope Francis, and Peace.

“Pope of Peace in Egypt of Peace” are the words in Arabic and English at the base of the logo.

Egypt is represented by the Nile River – a symbol of life – as well as by the pyramids and the Sphinx, which highlight the long history of civilization in this African country.

The Cross and Crescent Moon at the center of the logo represent the coexistence between the various components of the Egyptian people.

A white dove signifies peace, which is both the highest gift to which every human being can aspire and the greeting of monotheistic religions.

Finally, the dove precedes Pope Francis to announce his arrival as the Pope of Peace in a country of peace.


(Vatican Radio) Preparations are in full swing for Pope Francis’ upcoming apostolic visit to Egypt.

The Pope is scheduled to fly to Cairo on Friday 28th for a 2-day pastoral journey during which he will celebrate Mass, participate in a Conference for peace, meet with clergy, encourage the small Egyptian Christian community in their faith and of course promote and deepen inter-religious dialogue in the predominantly Muslim nation.

One of the highlights of the visit is his meeting with the Orthodox Coptic Patriarch, Tawadros II.

The Pope’s presence in Egypt is seen as particularly poignant in the wake of the Palm Sunday attacks on the Orthodox Coptic churches in Tanta and Alexandria.

Vatican Radio’s Stefano Leszjinsky spoke to missionary Sister Angela Colombi, Provincial of the Comboni Order in Egypt about her expectations for the Pope’s visit:

Sister Angela Colombi says all Egyptians are awaiting the Pope – not only the Christians!

“The Christians of course see in him not only a religious leader, but also a man of peace; the logo of the journey in fact says ‘The Pope of peace for Egypt – Egypt for peace’ – people see in him a person who is trying to tell the world we are children of the same God so why not live in peace?” she said.

Many of Sister Angela’s students will be present for the welcome ceremony for Pope Francis together with other school children and students from across Cairo.

She says they have been asked to wear their school uniforms and bring posters with the name of the school as well as Egyptian and Vatican flags.

“For me, she says, this will also teach the children to welcome – not only the Pope – but to have an attitude of welcome and to create an atmosphere of tolerance and welcome”.


(Vatican Radio)  The Holy See has expressed deep concern over the current situation in the Middle East and reiterated its support for a two-state solution in Palestine.

Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, made the comments in an address to the Security Council.


Citing the “recent use of chemical agents in Syria” and the “Palm Sunday terrorist bombings in Egypt”, Archbishop Auza said, “The Holy See is deeply concerned with the current situation in the Middle East.”

He lauded Lebanon for “heroically” hosting millions of refugees from neighboring countries and territories in conflict.

In addition to this burden, he said Lebanon is also facing the threat of militias and armed groups operating within its territories.

Turning to the situation in Palestine, Archbishop Auza said, “Since 1947, the Holy See has constantly supported the two-state solution for the State of Israel and a Palestinian State to exist side by side in peace. The Holy See wishes to reiterate its belief that the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians can move forward only if it is directly negotiated between the Parties, with the strong and effective support of the international community.”

He warned against “unilateral decisions, acts of violence and inflammatory rhetoric” and said, “Pope Francis calls on both parties to listen to the voices of dialogue, show goodwill and extend gestures of encounter to give their peoples that peace for which their hearts deeply long.”

Click here for the full text of Archbishop Auza’s address:


AFRICA/EGYPT – There are hopes that Pope Francis’ visit to Egypt may boost plans for ‘Holy Family Way’ pilgrimages

Cairo – Pope Francis’ imminent visit to Egypt could be an opportunity for this important north African country to become a centre of pilgrimage for Christians the world over in the footsteps of the Holy Family who, according to the Gospels, took refuge here to save the life of the Infant Jesus threatened by King Herod. This is the opinion of Egyptian tourism experts who have for some time tried to fit Egypt into the circuit of Christian religious tourism, as a means to counterbalance, at least in part, the enormous losses suffered by Egypt’s tourist industry due terrorism and the general situation of instability in the region.

The most recent to view in this key the forthcoming visit of Pope Francis is Nader Guirguis, a member of the departmental Commission for promoting the Holy Family Way, who, referring to historical references based on the Gospel account, affirmed that ‘Flight into Egypt’ of Jesus and the Holy Family could possibly have lasted several years. Attacks on churches have obviously not affected the intention to propose Egypt as a land of pilgrimage for Christians all over the world, to visit places connected with Jesus and the Holy Family, preaching in the time of the Apostles and the earliest centres of Christian monasticism.

How to promote the “the Holy Family Way” – a pilgrim itinerary in places which according millenary traditions were visited by the Holy Family in Egypt – has for some time been a central issue for politicians and Egyptian tourist operators. At the beginning of 2017 Al Abdel Aal, speaker of the House of Representatives, during a visit to the Copt Patriarch offices, said the valorisation of the tourist project for an itinerary according to the path followed by Jesus, Mary and Joseph, was of interest and importance for all Egyptians, not only Christians .

The first proposals to promote also in a touristic key a Holy Family Way were made twenty years ago. At the end of 2016 – local sources told Fides – a Commission to promote the Holy Family Way chaired by Hisham el Demeiri was constituted at Egypt’s Tourism Ministry. More than two years ago an itinerary was born in the footsteps of the Holy Family in Egypt, which would start at Al-Arish – largest city of the Egyptian governorate of North Sinai and the scene of recent Jihadist violence against Copt Christians – and continue on to the Wadi Natrun delta, and reach the Asyut Holy Mary Virgin Monastery, known as Deir Al-Muharraq.



(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has broken new ground in the way he communicates his message when the first-ever papal TED Talk went on line.

TED is a non-profit organization dedicated to spreading ideas in the form of short talks. What began in 1984 as a conference covering Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED), today provides talks from a wide range of different speakers – except popes. Until today,according to Sean Lovett of Vatican Radio.

He wrote that, “those of us following TED’s annual Conference in Vancouver had been promised a surprise ‘world figure’ who would deliver his 18-minute message on the conference theme, ‘The Future You’, alongside tennis superstar, Serena Williams, entrepreneur, Elon Musk, and chess champion, Garry Kasparov.

But no one expected to see the Pope’s face appear on the screen. (photo)

“I very much like this title – ‘The Future You’”, began Pope Francis, “because, while looking at tomorrow, it invites us to open a dialogue today, to look at the future through a ‘you’…The future is made of you’s…because life flows through our relations with others”.

Speaking in his typically personal and informal style, the Pope reminded us of how “everything is connected” and of how “life is about interactions”. “None of us is an autonomous and independent ‘I’”, he said. “We can only build the future by standing together, including everyone”.

His second message regarded “educating people to a true solidarity” in order to overcome the “culture of waste” that puts products at the centre of techno-economic systems, instead of people. “The other has a face”, he said. “The ‘you’ is…a person to take care of”.

The Pope illustrated his point by quoting Mother Teresa and the parable of the Good Samaritan, before going on to talk about Hope – which he described as “a humble, hidden seed of life that, with time, will develop into a large tree”. “A single individual is enough for hope to exist”, he said. “And that individual can be you”.

Pope Francis’ third and final message was dedicated to what he called “the revolution of tenderness”. Tenderness means “being on the same level as the other”, he said. It is not weakness, but strength: “the path of solidarity…of humility”. And through humility, even power becomes a service and a force for good.

The Pope concluded by affirming that the future of humankind is not in the hands of politicians or big companies but, most of all, in the hands of those people “who recognize the other as a ‘you’ and themselves as part of an ‘us’”. Because: “We all need each other”.

Listen to the English-dubbed version of the Pope’s TED talk (appears at end of written summary of papal talk):


(Vatican Radio) The Director of the Holy See Press Office, Greg Burke, held a briefing for the press on the 19th meeting of the cardinals who are advisors to Pope Francis.

The Council of Cardinals met with the Holy Father for three days, starting on Monday. All of the members of the council were present. Pope Francis was absent from the morning meeting on Wednesday due to the general audience.

The working sessions took place from 9 am to 12:30 pm and again from 16:30 to 19:00. They were dedicated to further considerations on the various dicasteries of the Roman Curia. In particular, discussions continued on the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (Propaganda Fide), and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization. The Cardinals also considered texts to propose to the Holy Father regarding the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts; and three tribunals: the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, and the Tribunal of the Roman Rota.

During the meetings, the council also studied the selection and formation of the personnel in the service of the Holy See, both clerics and members of the lay faithful. Officials and superiors from the Secretariat of State, from the Council for the Economy, and from the Labor Office of the Holy See took part in the discussions. Archbishops Angelo Becciu, Paul Richard Gallagher, and Jan Romeo Pawłowski were present on behalf of the Secretariat of State. For the Council for the Economy, in addition to Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Prof. Franco Vermiglio, a member of the Council, spoke at the meeting. Bishop Giorgio Corbellini and a lawyer, Salvatore Vecchio addressed the cardinals for the Labor Office.

Another important theme treated by the council was the relationship between the Episcopal Conferences and the Roman Curia. Cardinal George Pell gave an update on the work of the Secretariat for the Economy, of which he is the President, with special attention to the review of the budget for the current year. Cardinal Seán O’Malley updated the council on the work of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of minors, focussing especially on the programme of global education, the last plenary assembly, and the visits to various dicasteries.

The next meeting of the Council of Cardinals will take place June 12-14.


When I got up this morning I wondered why it was so delightfully quiet outside and then I realized that it’s April 25, Italy’s Liberation Day, a national holiday that commemorates the end of the Fascist regime and the end of the Nazi occupation of Italy This is the 72nd such celebration of the Festa della Liberazione. In Rome this holiday starts with a ceremony at the Altare della Patria, commonly known as the Victor Emanauel monument or Vittoriano, in the presence of the Italian president.  State schools, some private schools, offices and many stores are closed and transportation is reduced. Many places also closed yesterday, Monday, the ponte or bridge, between the two-day weekend and today’s holiday.

Yesterday afternoon in St. Peter’s basilica, Pope Francis celebrated the funeral rites for Cardinal Attilio Nicora, the former president of the Vatican’s Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), who died on Saturday at the age of 80. The funeral rites and homily were delivered by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals. The Holy Father presided at the rites of Commendatio and Valedictio. There are now 221 members of the College of Cardinals, 117 of whom are cardinal electors (those under the age of 80) (photo:

Today the Holy Father received in audience 22 prelates of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario on their “ad Limina Apostolorum” visit. Canadian bishops are fulfilling the ad limina obligation by region.


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on Tuesday for the intentions of his “brother,” Coptic Patriarch Pope Tawadros II, whom he will be meeting in three days’ time as he makes an apostolic voyage to Egypt.

The day’s Mass commemorates Saint Mark the Evangelist, who is recognized as the founder of the patriarchate of Alexandria. “I offer this Mass for my brother, Pope Tawadros II, Patriarch of Alexandria of the Copts,” Pope Francis said. He prayed for “the grace that the Lord might bless our two churches with the abundance of the Holy Spirit.

The Cardinal counsellors who make up the C-9 advisory group were among the faithful taking part in the Pope’s daily Mass.

In his homily during the liturgy, Pope Francis said the Gospel must be proclaimed with humility, overcoming the temptation of pride. He spoke about the necessity for Christians to “go out to proclaim” the Good News. A preacher, he said, must always be on a journey, and not seek “an insurance policy,” seeking safety by remaining in one place.


Following is the text of Pope Francis’ video message to the people of Egypt on the vigil of his April 28-29 apostolic voyage:

Dear people of Egypt! Al Salamò Alaikum! Peace be with you!

With a joyful and grateful heart I will come in a few days’ time to visit your dear homeland: cradle of civilization, gift of the Nile, land of sun and hospitality, where Patriarchs and Prophets lived and where God, Clement and Merciful, the One and Almighty, made His voice heard.

I am truly happy to come as a friend, as a messenger of peace and as a pilgrim to the Country that gave, more than two thousand years ago, refuge and hospitality to the Holy Family fleeing from the threats of King Herod (cfr. Mt 2:1-26). I am honoured to visit the land visited by the Holy Family!

I greet you cordially and thank you for having invited me to visit Egypt, which you call “Umm il Dugna” / Mother of the Universe!

I warmly thank Mr. President of the Republic, His Holiness the Patriarch Tawadros II, the Great Imam of Al-Azhar and the Coptic Catholic Patriarch who have invited me; and I thank each one of you, who make space for me in your hearts. I also thank all those people who have worked, and are working, to make this trip possible.

I hope that this visit will be an embrace of consolation and of encouragement to all Christians in the Middle East; a message of friendship and esteem to all inhabitants of Egypt and the region; a message of fraternity and reconciliation to all children of Abraham, particularly in the Islamic world, in which Egypt occupies a primary position. I hope that it may also offer a valid contribution to interreligious dialogue with the Islamic world, and to ecumenical dialogue with the venerated and beloved Coptic Orthodox Church.

Our world, torn by blind violence, which has also afflicted the heart of your dear land – needs peace, love and mercy; it needs workers for peace, free and liberating people, courageous people able to learn from the past to build a future without closing themselves up in prejudices; it needs builders of bridges of peace, dialogue, brotherhood, justice, and humanity.

Dear Egyptian brothers, young and elderly, women and men, Muslims and Christians, rich and poor … I embrace you warmly and ask God Almighty to bless you and protect your country from every evil.

Please, pray for me! Shukran wa Tahiaì Misr! / Thank you, and long live Egypt!


I bought this parchment years ago in Egypt when I visited the site of this celebrated church, Abu Sargah, which is the oldest church in Egypt dating back to the 5th century A.D. In Coptic Cairo, this church (also spelled Abu Sarga) was constructed upon the crypt of the Holy Family during their sojourn in Egypt. On our visit, we could not descend into the crypt as there had been water damage and it was flooded. I framed the parchment between two pieces of glass as this show the details of the work.

The church is dedicated to Saints Sergius and Bacchus who served as soldiers in the Roman Army. They were faithful followers of Jesus, and were martyred in Syria in 296 for refusing to worship the Roman gods.

The Abu Sargah website notes that the church once housed Egypt’s oldest altar which was transferred to the Coptic Museum. The roof is one of the most interesting features of the church and said to have been constructed in the shape of Noah’s Ark.

We read in Matthew 2 about the Flight into Egypt when St. Joseph was warned in a dream after the visit of the Three Magi:

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared  8 and sent them on to Bethlehem with the words, ‘Go and find out all about the child, and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’

9 Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And suddenly the star they had seen rising went forward and halted over the place where the child was. 10 The sight of the star filled them with delight, 11 and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.

12 But they were given a warning in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.

13 After they had left, suddenly the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.’

14 So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until Herod was dead. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: I called my son out of Egypt.


After a wonderful 9 days in Washington and New York, I am safely back in Rome. Those were days spent with good friends and making new friends, celebrating Easter in the U.S. for the first time in years and dining out in favorite restaurants but also time dedicated to work, posting blogs and FB stories, doing an inteview for “Vatican Insider,” talking with Teresa Tomeo on our weekly slot on “Catholic Connection and preparing last weekend’s VI special on the Via Lucis.

You will find the print version that story – one I enjoyed researching and then recounting on VI – below. Enjoy again!

I went to Mass yesterday at St. Patrick’s Cathedral with Newt and Callista Gingrich. Cardinal Dolan presides at the 10:15 Sunday Mass, and he spotted us and asked us to come to his residence afterward where we had coffee and sweets and shared some time with a couple from Birmingham (!) and another from the island nation of Malta.

The cardinal’s secretary, Fr. James, took this photo with a cell phone and for the life of me I cannot seem to enlarge it. For the nth time I’ve searched online and on the WordPress site for how to resize photos once they are uploaded and I have not been succssful in resizing.

Today’s Vatican news: The nineteenth meeting of the Holy Father Francis with the Council of Cardinals began this morning. The work of the “Council 9” will continue until Wednesday, April 26.


(Vatican Radio)  The Vatican Museums have launched a new scientific-cultural initiative entitled “Museums at Work” to show visitors the process of restoring a work of art.

Taking place over the coming months in Room XVII of the Vatican Pinacoteca, the “Museums at Work” program seeks to show the public “the everyday activities of the Pope’s Museums”.

The initiative presents the restoration of the triptych of “The Virgin bestows her belt to Saint Thomas, The Mass of Saint Gregory, and Saint Jerome Penitent” (1497) by Viterbo Antonio del Massaro. (photos

The Vatican Museums’ website says the triptych is “a painting possibly destined for an important Roman monastic community with strong doctrinal interests and particular devotion to the Virgin and to the Fathers of the Church.”

Restoration efforts for the triptych were financed by the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Patrons of the Arts.


Because we are still in the Easter season, I thought it would be timely, fun and informative to introduce you to something that relatively few people know about – the Via Lucis – the Way of Light – also known as the Stations of the Resurrection. (Sources: Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall in Canada;, CNA, Vatican)

First, let’s look at the 50 Days of Easter as explained on the website of the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall in Canada: “We spend 40 days preparing for and counting down to the great celebration of Easter, the day that Christians around the world remember the resurrection of Christ. What many do not realize is that Easter is not a single day but rather it is a season made up of 50 days. We continue to live Easter for six consecutive Sundays before commemorating Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven. The Easter season culminates the following week with the feast of Pentecost, the day the apostles were sent out, accompanied by the Holy Spirit, on their great mission.  ”At Masses during the Easter season, the usual Old Testament reading is replaced by readings from the Acts of the Apostles. The Acts of the Apostles recount the story of the Church’s earliest days, and the beginnings of our faith. These stories of heroism, controversies, persecutions and miracles all testify to the continued presence of the Risen Christ in the world, through the lives of his disciples, and the actions of the Holy Spirit.”

How is this related to the Via Lucis? This post-Easter period, as told by the Apostles, IS the Via Lucis!

Now, we all know that the Via Crucis – the Way of the Cross – follows the course of Jesus’ passion, death, and burial. This is observed by the devotion to the Stations of the Cross, a collection of 14 images that are found in virtually all Catholic churches. What fewer people know about is the Via Lucis – the Way of Light, also called the Stations of the Resurrection – which celebrates the most joyful time in the Christian liturgical year, the 50 days from Easter (the Resurrection) to Pentecost (descent of the Holy Spirit).

The idea for depicting the Way of Light was inspired by an ancient inscription found on a wall of the San Callisto Catacombs on the Appian Way in Rome. This cemetery is named for St. Callistus, a slave who eventually became the 16th pope, reigning from 217 to 222. The inscription found at St. Callistus comes from the first letter St. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth (around 56 A.D.), in response to the report that some members were denying the Resurrection.

Paul wrote: “I delivered to you as of first importance what I had been taught myself, namely that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised to life on the third day, in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, and then to all the apostles. Last of all, he appeared to me, too, as though I was born when no one expected it.”

In the traditional scheme of the Stations of the Cross, the final Station is the burial of Jesus. Though this constitutes a logical conclusion to the Via Crucis, it has been increasingly regarded as unsatisfactory as an end-point to meditation upon the Péaschal mystery which, according to Christian doctrine, culminates in, and is incomplete without, the Resurrection. For this reason a fifteenth Station, representing the Resurrection, is sometimes added to the Stations of the Cross. Even this practice has, however, been subject to criticism as insufficiently representing the two-fold dynamic of the Paschal mystery: the suffering and death of Jesus on the one hand, and on the other his Resurrection and glorification.

In the summer of 1988, Father Sabino Palumbieri, Professor of Anthropology at the Salesian University in Rome, proposed the creation of a new set of stations, centered upon the Resurrection and the events following from it, so as to emphasize the positive, hopeful aspect of the Christian story which, though not absent from the Stations of the Cross, is obscured by their emphasis upon suffering.

The first major public celebration of this devotion was in 1990, after which it gained greater currency. Fr. Palumbieri helped develop the idea to combine the events mentioned in the St. Callistus inscription with other post-Resurrection events to create a new set of stations, the Stations of the Resurrection. These new stations emphasize the positive, hopeful aspect of the Christian story that is not absent from the Way of the Cross, but is not as evident because of its tortuous side.

This Way of Light, as it was called, thus serves as an optimistic complement to the Way of the Cross, and was fashioned of fourteen stations paralleling the fourteen Stations of the Cross. Father Sabino wrote of this idea in the 1999 document, “Give Me a Firm Footing,” that described the realizations he had “after a profound crisis of existential meaning…because of the prospect of death.” This was followed by a study of the Gospels and recognizing that, “With the Risen One, I know why I live.”

“Personally – thanks to this turning point of faith – I was able to continually proclaim the Risen One and in this way propose, as Paul VI said, Christianity as joy, as continual striving to supersede the stalemate of suffering without an outlet. The Lord Jesus is for me He who has made me meet along my journey hundreds of brothers and sisters, youth and adults, so that together we might better remember this central portent which is the resurrection from the dead in a community in journey. In this community a new form of popular piety, by his grace, was sketched out. It is the Via Lucis, which is the physiological second moment of the Via Crucis, that by now has spread itself throughout the five continents. Its celebration has been accompanied by moments of special grace at Jerusalem, at Moscow, on the soil of the martyrs in the catacombs of Saint Callistus. So many suffering people write to me saying that every day they do a station of the Via Lucis, drawing from it strength, joy and peace. Also the very poor communities of Madagascar, of Brazil, Peru. It does not mean abolishing the Via Crucis, which is the mirror of the suffering of Calvary without end in the world. It means only completing it with the Via Lucis, which is the mirror of the hopes of the world, especially of those to whom it most rightly belongs, the poor.”

All the Stations of the Resurrection are based on scripturally-recorded incidents contained in the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.

As with the Stations of the Cross, the devotion takes no fixed form, but typically includes for each Station a reading from Scripture, a short meditation and a prayer. Where a series of pictures is used to aid the devotion, it takes the form of a procession with movement from one Station to the next sometimes being accompanied by the singing of one or more verses of a hymn.

This devotion has received formal recognition by the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.   In December 2001, it promulgated a Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, which commended the Via Lucis as follows:

“A pious exercise called the Via Lucis has developed and spread to many regions in recent years. Following the model of the Via Crucis, the faithful process while meditating on the various appearances of Jesus – from his Resurrection to his Ascension – in which he showed his glory to the disciples who awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14, 26; 16, 13-15; Lk 24, 49), strengthened their faith, brought to completion his teaching on the Kingdom and more closely defined the sacramental and hierarchical structure of the Church. Through the Via Lucis, the faithful recall the central event of the faith – the resurrection of Christ – and their discipleship in virtue of Baptism, the paschal sacrament by which they have passed from the darkness of sin to the bright radiance of the light of grace (cf. Col 1, 13; Eph 5, 8). For centuries the Via Crucis involved the faithful in the first moment of the Easter event, namely the Passion, and helped to fix its most important aspects in their consciousness. Analogously, the Via Lucis, when celebrated in fidelity to the Gospel text, can effectively convey a living understanding to the faithful of the second moment of the Paschal event, namely the Lord’s Resurrection. The Via Lucis is potentially an excellent pedagogy of the faith, since “per crucem ad lucem” [through the Cross (one comes) to the light]. Using the metaphor of a journey, the Via Lucis moves from the experience of suffering, which in God’s plan is part of life, to the hope of arriving at man’s true end: liberation, joy and peace which are essentially paschal values. The Via Lucis is a potential stimulus for the restoration of a “culture of life” which is open to the hope and certitude offered by faith, in a society often characterized by a “culture of death”, despair and nihilism.”

As of 2007 there is no universally-agreed list of Stations of the Resurrection, nor have any Church authorities sought to impose a definitive list, and as a result some churches have commissioned sets of sculptures for the Stations according to their own distinctive scheme which may not be followed elsewhere.

This is, in fact, similar to the history of the Stations of the Cross, which attained their normative form only after many centuries of widely varying local practice. There is agreeement on the number of stations – 14 – to emphasize the complementarity between the Stations of the Cross – Via Crucis – and the Stations of the Resurrection – Via Lucis.

In spite of continuing local variability, there appears to be an increasing convergence upon the following 14 as an accepted list of Stations of the Resurrection: These 14 stations, in fact, appeared in the April 2015 edition of MAGNIFICAT with Meditations and Prayers and an introduction by MAGNIFICAT Editor-in Chief, Dominican Father Peter Cameron.

  1. Jesus is raised from the dead
  2. The finding of the empty tomb
  3. Mary Magdalene meets the risen Jesus
  4. Jesus appears on the road to Emmaus
  5. Jesus reveals Himself in the breaking of bread
  6. Jesus appears to the disciples in Jerusalem
  7. Jesus gives the disciples his peace and the power to forgive sins
  8. Jesus confirms the faith of Thomas
  9. Jesus appears to disciples on shore of Lake Galilee
  10. Jesus confers primacy on Peter
  11. Jesus entrusts the disciples with Universal Mission
  12. The Ascension of Jesus
  13. Mary and the disciples wait the coming of the Holy Spirit
  14. The Holy Spirit descends at Pentecost

Other sources, however, including some recent ones, replace some of these Stations with others, such as: The earthquake – The Angel appears to the women – Jesus meets the women –  Mary Magdalene proclaims the Resurrection to the disciples Jesus and the beloved disciple – Jesus appears to over five hundred at once – Jesus appears to Saul.

I hope you enjoyed this report that I aired as a special on “Vatican Insider.” I loved learning about the Via Lucis, the Stations of the Resurrection and think it would be wonderful to organize a pilgrimsage to the Holy Land based on these Stations!



This may well be the shortest column I’ve ever posted but it has been an extraordinary day and the hands on the clock are just turning too fast. I am in between appointments and came back to my room at the Paulist Fathers residence just to post these few lines.

If possible, I will try to find time tomorrow to write a bit about last night’s reception at the beautiful and historic residence of Archbishop Bernadito Auza, the Holy See permanent observer to the U.N. The reeption was for the Bethlehem University Foundation, as I mentioned in yesterday’s column and it was a joy for me to see so many friends from the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and the Christian Brothers whom I first met in Bethlehem at the university.

This morning I was invited by Newt and Callista Gingrich to go to the Fox studios to watch Newt as the guest on their 12 noon show, “Outnumbered.” Lots of fun – took a ton of photos. Newt afterwards appeared on Neil Cavuto and then we went to lunch, joined by two friends.

Here is a photo after the show – Callista and a friend Kate and I joined everyone on the curvy couch so Newt was really outnumbered.

Just a few photos at the moment as I am about to leave for another appointment.


We all know that the Via Crucis – the Way of the Cross – follows the course of Jesus’ passion, death, and burial. This is observed by the devotion to the Stations of the Cross, a collection of 14 images which are to be found in virtually all Catholic churches. What fewer people realize is that there is also a Via Lucis, the Way of Light, also known as the Stations of the Resurrection. This period celebrates the most joyful time in the Christian liturgical year, the 50 days from Easter (the resurrection) to Pentecost (descent of the Holy Spirit).

In this week’s Vatican Insider, I offer a special on the Via Lucis, an in depth look at these wonderful stations.

In the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio. 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 9:00am (ET). 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 5:30am and 10pm CET on Sundays. It’s also available on demand on the EWTN app and on the website. CHECK YOUR TIME ZONE. Here’s a link to download VI to your iTunes library:   For VI archives:


I’m in New York as I write but will be back in Rome on Monday, April 24.

I was invited to attend an event this evening at the residence of the Vatican’s nuncio and Holy See Permanent Observer to the United Nations, Archbishop Bernardito Auza. He is hosting a reception for the Bethlehem University Foundation, headed by my good friend, John Schlageter. John and I and other members of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre will be there, as will friends of the Order and supporters of the university in an effort to help raise both awareness and funds for this Christian Brothers-run University. I’m also scheduled to interview Abp. Auza for “Vatican Insider.”

I’ll dedicate an entire column in the future to the university as it does amazing work not just in the educational field but in Christian-Muslim relations, in helping to build lives for young people as professionals in many fields who hope to bring peace to their part of the world.


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Thursday announced that the two young shepherd children from Fatima, Francisco and Jacinta Marto will be canonised during his forthcoming pastoral visit to the Portuguese town on May 13th.

During an ordinary public consistory in the Vatican, the Pope announced the canonization of  35 people, the majority of whom were 16th and 17th century Latin American martyrs. They include 30 Brazilian priests and lay people killed by Dutch soldiers for their refusal to convert to Calvinism during the colonization of north eastern Brazil in 1645. Three other martyrs were young Mexican boys, educated by Franciscan missionaries and murdered for their refusal to follow the local indigenous religion.

The new saints also include a Spanish priest, who founded an institute for abandoned children at the turn of the 20th century, as well as a Capuchin friar from Naples who defended the rights of the poor of his day, in the early 18th century.

Centenary of Marian apparitions

But undoubtedly the best known names on Thursday’s list of newly proclaimed saints are those of Portuguese brother and sister Francisco and Jacinta Marto, the shepherd children who, along with their cousin Lucia Santos, saw the apparitions of Our Lady in Fatima exactly one hundred years ago.

Beatified by Pope John Paul II

Unlike Lucia, who became a nun and lived to the age of 98, Francisco and Jacinta died in childhood, aged just 9 and 11, as a result of the great flu epidemic that swept through Europe in 1918. On May 13, 2000 they were beatified by Pope John Paul II during his pastoral visit to Portugal.

Sr. Lucia’s cause for beatification

Meanwhile the case for Sr Lucia’s beatification concluded its first phase in Portugal earlier this year and is now being examined at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the Vatican.


(Vatican Radio) On April 28, Pope Francis will journey to the Egyptian capital Cairo, where he will visit the prestigious al-Azhar center of Islamic studies.  Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the Orthodox world, is also expected to join the Holy Father, together with Coptic Pope Tawadros II.

Both Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew have been invited by the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb to attend an international peace conference there.

During the brief April 28-29 visit, the Pope will meet with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, as well as celebrate Mass for the local Catholic community.

His visit comes less than a month after two bomb attacks on Coptic churches in Egypt by so-called Islamic State militants left 45 people dead and dozens of others injured.

Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald is the former nuncio to Egypt and former head of the Vatican’s Council for Interreligious Dialogue. He talked to Vatican Radio’s Philippa Hitchen about expectations ahead of this short but highly significant papal visit…

Archbishop Fitzgerald says it’s significant that the Pope is going to Egypt where there are so many difficulties and uncertainties, with “extremists who are against the institutions and against Christians in a particular way”. He notes it’s not the first papal visit, since Pope John Paul II travelled there in the year 2000 and was “received remarkably well”.

Friendship between two Popes

He says the significance lies also in the relationship between Pope Francis and the head of the Coptic Church Pope Tawadros, whose first journey after being elected patriarch of Alexandria was to visit the Vatican. This trip, he says, “will be another moment consolidating this friendship between the two Popes”.

Personal relations and theological dialogue

Archbishop Fitzgerald says the dialogue with the Oriental Churches about the role of the Pope as bishop of Rome is ongoing and this theological dialogue is important, but it will be personal relationships, rather than theological discussions, that will be at the heart of the Cairo visit.

Reciprocal visit to Grand Imam

Regarding relations with the Muslim world, the archbishop says that one of the main motives for the visit is also to consolidate progress in the relationship between the Vatican and al-Azhar. He recalls that the Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb came to see the Pope in Rome and this reciprocal visit will be “highly appreciated”.

Meeting of leaders “a sacrament”

Archbishop Fitzgerald says that while Pope Francis is known as a man of surprises, it’s unrealistic to expect any big changes as a result of this trip. But in itself the meeting between the two leaders is important: he says “let’s call it a sacrament”, because “it’s not just a symbol” but rather it’s “producing something which goes beyond their own persons”.

Muslims and Christians combating extremism

Commenting on the most recent round of talks between the Vatican and al Azhar, Archbishop Fitzgerald notes that “extremism has been condemned by the majority of Muslim leaders around the world”. He stresses the importance of monitoring social media since so many young people are radicalized through the Internet. He notes that al-Azhar is also working with the Dominicans in Cairo, forming a group to study extremism together.

Finally, Archbishop Fitzgerald recalls that, just as not all Christians see Pope Francis as a figure of authority, in the same way al-Azhar has “a prestigious role within the Islamic world, but it is not followed by all Muslims around the world. So while “we pray for miracles”, he concludes, “we don’t always expect them”.



Twelve years ago today, just days after his 78th birthday, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected to the papacy, taking the name of Benedict XVI. A man who wanted only to return to Germany to teach and write, Pope Benedict accepted the choice of the College of Cardinals and, although already 20 years older than his predecessor had been when elected in 1978, he reigned until February 11, 2013.

Wishing you health and happiness, Pope emeritus Benedict! The legions of faithful around the world who love, admire and miss you, hope you feel that love!


Welcome to Part II of my account of the Shroud of Turin, believed to be the linen cloth that wrapped the body of the crucified Jesus during his three days in the tomb. Last week I looked at its journey through time and history and mentioned just some of the many tests done on this cloth since Secondo Pia took his famous photograph in 1898, a photo whose negative re-opened the case for the authenticity of the shroud.

Let’s look at more history and further scientific experiments:

In 1578, St. Charles Borromeo, archbishop of Milan, expressed the desire to venerate the precious relic of Christianity but because of frail health could not cross the Alps from Italy for the arduous trip. The Duke of Savoy, Emmanuel Filiberto, shortened the archbishop’s trip by bringing the shroud to Turin in May of that year. It has been in Turin for the past 437 years, except for brief periods when it was removed to protect it from the dangers of war.

For years it was wrapped width-wise around a wooden spool and housed in a silver reliquary above the main altar of an exceptionally beautiful chapel of black and gray marble designed by the Baroque architect Guarino Guarini. The chapel, specially designed for the shroud, is next to the Cathedral of St. John and is a masterpiece of architectural daring with an extraordinary dome of interlacing arches culminating in a gilded sunburst.

AT PRESENT, the Shroud is kept flat inside an aluminum and glass case at a constant temperature in an atmosphere of argon gas. It is covered by a drape, embroidered with the words: TUAM SINDONEM VENERAMUR, DOMINE, ET TUAM RECOLIMUS  PASSIONEM (We revere Your Holy Shroud, O Lord and (through it) we meditate on Your Passion).

On numerous occasions since 1898 when Secondo Pia photographed the Shroud – including the 1969 appointment of a Roman diocesan commission to study the linen – photographs using techniques vastly superior to those of 1898 have been taken, all upon special appointments and with the permission of its then legal owners, the house of Savoy, and now the Holy See. With these constantly improved photographs the studies of the shroud multiplied and intensified over the years, involving many nations and many men.

In the early 20th century, Dr. Pierre Barbet, a Paris surgeon and forerunner of today’s sindonologists, completed tests on cadavers to parallel his findings with what he “read” in the life – sized photographs of the crucified man.

Joining him were Paul Vignon, a French biologist, and Yves Delage, a member of the Academy of Science in Paris. Later, Giovanni Judica Cordiglia, degreed in medicine at Turin and in law at Pavia, and a professor of legal medicine at Milan, devoted his life and talents to the study of the shroud in yet another effort to arrive at its authenticity.

Modern scientific investigative techniques were also used by the late Max Frei, for years a criminologist with the scientific police in Zürich, Switzerland, Ian Wilson, a graduate student of history at Oxford University, Rev. Maurus Green, British priest and historian, and Fr. Peter Rinaldi, a Turin-born priest who at one time was vice president of the 7,000-member Holy Shroud Guild in the United States. These few names are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to name experts on the Shroud of Turin, but some of the earliest studies on the shroud have also been the most remarkable.

Max Frei, the Swiss forensic expert, aided by photographic enlargements, studied the micro sedimentations present on the fabric and he identified pollens indicating not only the shroud’s unlikely provenance but its itinerary in the years before it reached Turin. Over 30 specific pollens were named as belonging to plants in the Palestine area, Turkey and western Europe. Each plant, even now extinct ones, has its own specific pollen, distinguishable from all other plants and as individual as fingerprints. Frei’s long voyages, arduous studies and astounding results played a major role in lending credibility to the authenticity of the shroud.

Ultraviolet photography was first used in 1969 by Giovanni Battista Judica Cordiglia, son of the famed professor of legal medicine. This method, frequently used by police and art experts, traces organic substances which, if present on a tissue and illuminated by a mercury lamp emit fluoresences that show up on the special photographic plates. Ultra violet photography aids in neutron activation analysis and the evaluation of the origin of fibers and organic substances on these fibers and it was instrumental in Max Frei’s incredible findings.

American contributions have been significant over the years. Dr. Donald Lynn of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, used enhanced photograph and aided image techniques similar to those employed when the American spaceship Viking sent photos back from Mars. With the aid of a scanner, the markings on the shroud were broken down into a series of microscopic dots and these, in turn, were translated into a mathematical code. The codified dots were then fed into a computer whose multiple readings provided information on the composition of the fabric, organic substances on its surface and last, but not least in importance, an electronically-enhanced image of the entire shroud.

The enhanced photograph technique, in the case of the shroud, gave a three-dimensional effect. Simply put, it is much like listening to a Beethoven symphony in stereo – nothing new is added to the original music but its value is now enhanced. With the shroud the original images were reinforced.

In the 1970s and 80s, Captains John Jackson, a physicist, and Eric Jumper of the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs used in their research both a microdensitometer and an image analyzer, the VP 8, which gave a third dimension, that of depth, to the photographs. Their process translated electronically the diverse light intensities of the photographs of the shroud onto a third dimensional image, whereas normal photographs show light and shadow, theirs showed depth – the distance of the shroud from various parts of the body – in an analysis of flat versus volume.

These are modern methods of photography and scientific laboratory analysis allowed the human eye to see what previously went unnoticed and they confirmed beyond a doubt the authenticity of the shroud. Earlier accusations of a falsification by painting were destroyed as, with painstaking slowness and precision, it was revealed that a forgerer would have to have been erudite in modern photographic techniques in order to re-create the perfect negative image on the shroud. He would also have to been skilled in medical sciences to have known about the process of blood plasma separation represented by the carmine color stains on the Shroud.

Msgr. Ricci told me in our first conversation those many years ago that surgeons, reconstructing what has been “read” in the many photographs, confirmed the exactness of anatomical details. The state of rigor mortis is in perfect accord with the biblical description of Christ’s crucifixion. Studies of the various blood flows revealed the crucified man to have been in positions both of relaxation and then of pulling himself up.

Surgical experiments also revealed that if a body is nailed to a cross through the palm of the hand, the sheer weight of the body tears the flesh in a short period of time, thus offering no support. However, if a nail is placed through the wrist in the so-called Destot space, the weight will be more easily borne for a longer period. In addition, the carpus area of the wrist contains the median nerve, a highly sensitive motor nerve, and if a nail is hammered into this nerve it causes the thumb to bend inward toward the palm. This fact shows up on the hand imprints of the man of the shroud where only four fingers are visible.

Close study also revealed that the legs were slightly bent and that only one nail was used to pierce both feet, evidenced again by the flow of blood. This nail allowed the crucified man upward movement, and both wrist and feet wounds showed that he was alternatively in a position of relaxation and of upward movement, thus avoiding death by suffocation that would have occurred had he remained only in a hanging position.

For years the most debated point was the exact cause of death of the man of the shroud. The strong arguments against the death by suffocation seem to offer, on the one hand, conclusive proofs for death by infarction and hemo-pericardium, that is, the breaking of the heart. Msgr. Ricci’s intensive studies were based on a theory put forth in the mid-19th century by the English physician, William Stroud. Dr. Stroud’s research was favored by the fact that autopsies could be performed in England as soon as two hours after death whereas on the continent there was a mandatory interim of 48 hours.

Basing his studies on St. John’s Bible passage – “and immediately there came out blood and water” – referring to the soldier’s lance piercing the side of Christ two hours after his death, Stroud proceeded to prove that, had the heart been undamaged prior to death, the “blood and water” (plasma) would have flowed out, mixed together, in a single liquid. Whereas, in a previously ruptured heart the blood would already have separated into two elements, the red corpuscles and the plasma. Thus the hypothesis, based on the biblical eyewitness accounts and support by actual autopsies, of a ruptured heart.

The intensive mental anguish of Gethsemane that caused Christ to sweat blood even before his ordeal, the extreme shock caused by multiple scourge marks (over 120 separate lashes deeply inflicted can be counted by blood marks on the shroud), pain and the loss of blood through flagellation and the crowning with a helmet of thorns, all combined to cause heart failure. Christ’s loud cry at the moment of death, utterly impossible in the case of suffocation, announced the moment of rupture.

Modern cardiology supports the theory that extreme moral stress can precondition the body for heart attacks and that, given even minor physical provocation, the heart will give in to this stress.

While archaeologists, scientist, doctors and theologians have probed, read, analyzed and interpreted the shroud to determine its authenticity, artists have played their role in determining its provenance and suggesting the identity of the man of the shroud.

In the first is centuries after Christ artistic representations of the Cross depicted Christ as a fish (its letters spelled out in Greek mean Jesus Christ son of God the Savior) or as a lamb. The figure of Christ-man on the cross was nonexistent. Slowly, however, in the post-Constantine era when Christians were allowed more freedom of expression, crosses appeared with a toned down, fully clothed Christ.

Curiously, though, the Byzantine art of the 4th to 11th centuries brought a coherence to the art of the cross, depicting a bearded Christ, half nude, suffering and nailed to the cross, suggesting that the shroud had been exposed in the Eastern world in that period and that artists portrayed what they saw on the shroud. Contemporary art in the Western world, however, still showed Christ fully clothed and usually beardless, thus providing a strong argument for the historians who quote the shroud as first appearing in the West only after 1204.

In the magical encounters between the ancient relic and men of science, art, and theology, the greatest mystery today lies in the question; how did the bodily imprints get out into the linen? Two theories are prevalent.

Perhaps Msgr. Ricci, referring to these theories, best answered when he said, “where research ends, faith begins.” For researchers, the imprints could have been caused by the powdered aloes and myrrh spread on the shroud in a temporary effort at preservation of the body prior to full burial. For the Jews the quickening approach of the Sabbath allowed only hasty, pre-burial rites. These substances could have had a chemical reaction due to vapors or body liquids and the dampness of the tomb, thus causing the imprints to surface.

On the other hand, they could have been caused by an inexplicable release of energy, “a microsecond burst of radiation scorching the surface of the cloth.” To date, there has been no scientific proof that would give credence to this second theory.

Outstanding, however, were the findings of Baima Bollone and Rodante that would confirm the first theory as being scientifically irrefutable. Their repeated experiments proved consistent in their results; if a fabric impregnated with aloes and myrrh, and in direct contact with a body covered with coagulated blood stains, was exposed to conditions of humidity or moisture, there would appear, in approximately 36 hours, bodily imprints identical in nature to those of the shroud.

In 1988 a carbon-14 dating test was performed on scraps of the shroud in independent tests in laboratories in Tucson, Arizona, Oxford, Great Britain and Zurich, Switzerland. Test results said the shroud dated from 1260 to 1390, which, of course, would rule out its used during the time of Christ.

However, tests done since then by scientists at the University of Padua in northern Italy, used the same fibers from the 1988 tests but dispute the findings. The newer examinations date the shroud to between 300 BC and 400 AD, which would put it in the era of Christ. Brendan Whiting, author of the 2006 book “The Shroud Story” introduced the world to the most powerful evidence that the 1988 Shroud c-14 data (dating the Shroud in the 14th Century) was invalid.

Most recent tests have determined that the earlier carbon dating test results were likely skewed by contamination from fibers used to repair the cloth when it was damaged by fire in the Middle Ages. In addiiton there woul d have been contamination from the hands used to repair the cloth.

The Catholic Church has never pronounced itself officially on the authenticity of the shroud or the identity of the man. Nor is it “within the church’s doctrinal definition to declare the authenticity of any relic.” Importantly, the church has never denied its authenticity.

Several Popes have openly expressed reverence for the shroud and Pope Pius XI dedicated a prayer to it. In September, 1936, Pius XI said: “There is still much mystery surrounding the sacred object: but it is certainly sacred as perhaps no other thing is sacred; and assuredly (one can say this is an acknowledged fact, even apart from all ideas of faith or of Christian piety) it is certainly not a human work.”

Pope Paul VI said, “Perhaps only the image of the Holy Shroud gives us a something of the mystery of this human and divine figure.”

More recently, Pope Francis and his predecessor Pope emeritus Benedict XVI both described the Shroud of Turin as “an icon” and Saint John Paul II called the Shroud “a mirror of the Gospel.”

Hundreds of scholars from a variety of fields have spent hundreds of thousands of hours and millions of words researching and writing about the shroud. This would be a book-length account if it were to include mention of only a score of these scholars.

The question remains: who is the Man of the Shroud?

The answer has been almost unanimous since experiments done following Secondo Pia’s photograph in 1898: sindonologists, some even previously atheists, have paralleled their findings with the evangelical account of the death of Christ and they conclude that scientific, objective evidence proves the man to be Jesus.

When asked if he believed the man of the shroud was Christ, Msgr. Ricci replied that there was perfect agreement between the Gospel account of the death of Jesus and the story told by the shroud. He said, “if one had recourse to the Gospel, the document of faith, and to a careful reading of the holy shroud, the archaeological document, you see that both speak of Christ with unmistakable certainty.”


One of my great passions in life and the subject of my first-ever published magazine story several decades ago has been the Shroud of Turin. I spent six months doing research, reading countless books and interviews by specialists and interviewing some of the same experts.

After the story was first published in 1979, I continued to follow research and scientific developments, attended press conferences, interviewed experts, followed the C-14 or carbon dating exams done on this celebrated linen cloth and read every word I could about papal visits to Turin. I have been in Turin several times in recent years when the Shroud was removed from its shrine for public viewing.

We are still, of course, in Easter season and today I offer you Part I of those years of research. My special radio report on the Shroud of Turin was aired in two parts on “Vatican Insider” – Part I on Palm Sunday weekend and Part II this past Easter weekend. (photos below – JFL and also Shroud website)

I prayed as I wrote this – perhaps you will want to pray as you read it.


As you know, the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ is celebrated every year throughout the Christian world during Holy Week. What you may not know is that it has also been studied by scientists in their laboratory. As worshipers gather to commemorate Christ’s passion, scientists have been studying the results of tests made on an object alleged to be directly connected with that passion.

The object of intense religious devotion as well as scientific curiosity is a simple strip of linen, known as the Shroud of Turin. It has been venerated by Christians for centuries as the burial cloth that wrapped the body of Jesus Christ in his tomb after his crucifixion and death.

The 2015 exposition of the Shroud was only the 8th time since 1900 that it has been made available to the public. It was displayed in 1931 for the wedding of Prince Umberto of Savoy with Maria Jose of Belgium; the House of Savoy was the owner of the Shroud for many centuries but has since given it to the Vatican.

The Shroud was displayed again in 1933 to mark the Holy Year called to mark the 19th centenary of the passion and death of Christ. In 1973 the world had the first televised showing. In 1978 it was again shown to mark the 4th centenary of its transfer to Turin from Chambery, France.

Three more showings before the 2015 exposition; 1. 1998 to recall the centenary of the first photograph of the shroud by lawyer Secondo Pia in 1998 and also the 5th centenary of the Turin cathedral, 2. the Great Jubilee Year 2000 and 3. in again in 2010.

The 1978 43-day exposition marked only the fifth time in the last 100 years that this relic of Christianity had received public exposure – and it marked and even rarer occasion for direct access to scientific study. After the public exposition, it was turned over to scientists for brief study in an attempt to clear up centuries of mystery surrounding the cloth.

While scientific research has told us much, it does not solve what may forever remain the greatest mystery – was this Christ’s burial cloth?

The pure linen cloth, of Middle Eastern origin, is a simple, opaque tissue of fishbone weave measuring 14′ x 3.5′ feet. It contains the full-length frontal and dorsal imprints of a man and has carmine colored stains corresponding to blood. It is spangled with a double series of dark spots caused by burns it underwent in a fire in the 16th century and the water used to douse the fire left broad, symmetrical rings clearly visible. Less visible, but seen upon close observation, are transverse marks corresponding to the creases of the linen that, before its final voyage to Turin in 1578, had been preserved in its reliquary by folding in 48 thicknesses.

Because the Santa Sindone, or Holy Shroud, lacked fully documented evidence of its provenance prior to surfacing in France in the 14th century, it was assumed that the images had, at some point, been painted on the linen cloth. In the Middle Ages controversies arose as to the authenticity of these images and accusations of falsification were prevalent. Proofs were lacking for both sides of the argument and the relic slipped into relative obscurity.

However, in 1898, during an eight-day exposition of the shroud, a lawyer and dilettante photographer from Turin, Secondo Pia – who had been commissioned to photograph the shroud by its legal owner, King Umberto I of the House of Savoy – astounded the world with the results of his photographs and re-opened the case for the authenticity of the shroud.

The original imprints of the man on the linen are a form of the negative in themselves and thus photographing them produces a negative of a negative with the result being a startling positive of the subject. The bloodstains and burn marks, however, distinctly impregnated in the material, follow photographic inversion principles and are dark on the original and the light on the negative.

Photography was then in an embryonic state but Pia’s amateur black and white photographs revealed a dimension of the shroud heretofore never seen and stimulated the imagination of scientists, archaeologists, photographers, theologians and doctors. At that moment, a multiple study of the famous linen began that continues to the present.

Paul Claudel, the eminent French writer, said: “The photographic discovery is of such importance that I do not hesitate to compare it to a second resurrection.” And so, since 1898 dozens of other prominent men of all walks of life, stimulated by scientific motives, intellectual curiosity or principles of faith, have devoted much of their lives to the study of this “document written in blood.”

One acknowledged expert in the field of Sindonology, or study of the shroud, was Msgr. Giulio Ricci, at one time president of the Rome Center for Sindonology, who in his 28 years of personal devoted study of the shroud and in close collaboration with scientists, archaeologists and theologians, contributed immensely to what we know today about the shroud and the man of the shroud.

When we first met several decades ago, two life-size transparencies, possessing a third dimensional effect, occupied part of his office and he traced, inch by inch, the anatomical details and individual markings of the shroud and explained their significance. And he – and the shroud – told a most wonderful story.

I first saw the real shroud in Turin during the 2010 exposition. By far the most outstanding, almost startling, aspect of the shroud – are the bodily imprints. They reveal the athletic and physically harmonious body of an adult male approximately 5’6″ tall. The longish hair, beard and mustache seem well cured and his face bears a look of almost serene majesty.

Closer scrutiny evidences the correctness of certain anatomical particulars; the conventional differences in symmetry between the right and left sides of a person and the 1; 8 ratio in normal head – body proportions. These are considered as partial proof for the authenticity of the shroud as these only fairly recently discovered details could not possibly have been known to an artist/forger six centuries ago.

Msgr. Ricci claimed that the man of the shroud was 5’6″ tall, basing this on archaeological proof of the average height of a Palestinian 2000 years ago, as well as close studies made of the folds in the shroud. He concluded that the exceptional height that some would wish to attribute to Jesus with a surface glance of the shroud’s imprints can be accounted for by numerous folds in the cloth.

Exaggerated lengths of certain parts of the anatomy, most notably the right forearm and hand and the anterior print of the tibia were due to the fact that the linen was folded at these points. The bodily imprints reveal themselves throughout the thickness of the folds so that when the shroud was unfolded to its full length the images appear in full but unnaturally prolongated. By subtracting the amount of material used in folding, as revealed by the crease marks on the shroud, the natural height results as 5’6″.

The body was laid in the lower half of the rectangular cloth with the feet toward the open and. The linen was then folded at the head and laid over the frontal portion of his body until it met at his feet where it was tucked under. Though the burial was hasty, the transverse lines of the cloth indicate that it was folded under his chin, beneath his forearms, around the femur, and wrapped both feet.

Although impressive, the bodily imprints do not tell the story of the passion and death of this man as vividly as do the carmine color stains.

Indicating the rivulets of blood on the back head and forehead, Msgr. Ricci told me that the head had been entirely covered with a helmet, and not the traditional crown, of sharp thorns piercing the delicate vascular surface, thus causing numerous wounds and great blood loss. He underscored the fact that, throughout oral tradition and written history the only mention ever made of a crucified man being crowned with thorns is the biblical account of the crucifixion of Christ.

Further bloodstains on the arms, back, shoulders and legs, and the study of their intensity and directional flow, tell the story of a man who had been flagellated, bound by both wrists and ankles, had borne an enormous weight on his shoulders causing the bruised skin to tear and bleed, and whose and whose wrists feet and right side were pierced through by sharp instruments.

Though death by crucifixion was common in the days of Christ, a most singular element manifests itself both in the biblical account of Christ’s death and on the shroud’s imprints. To either hasten or insured death, a final touch was always added to the crucifixion – the victim’s legs were broken. In the case of Christ, however, this was not done, the Gospels tell us. Instead his side was pierced with a lance as evidenced on the shroud by a complex of stains of deep red blood surrounded by a lighter, serous liquid.

It was, in fact, the scrutiny of the shroud’s bloodstains, using the most sophisticated techniques and comparing the results with the biblical accounts of the death of Jesus that convinced Msgr. Ricci and others that this was, indeed, the burial linen of Christ. The stains corroborate in a decisive manner the exegetical account of Christ’s ordeal on Calvary.

In addition, they support the biochemical laws of blood coagulation and the process of hemolysis and fibrinolysis by which, within a given time span, blood is transferred onto a fabric when the fibrin, a white insoluble protein formed in the process of clotting, “is half dissolved, neither before nor after.” Too few hours of contact with the body would have prevented bloodstains from appearing or have shown them up securely. Too many hours of contact, through excessive softening of the fibrin, would have blurred the stains. Instead, the shroud presents bloodstains in perfect harmony with the laws of coagulation and within the precise time span for transferring via homologous this and fibrinolysis, a scientifically demonstrated period of 36 hours which would correspond to the approximately 36 hours Jesus remained in the sepulcher between burial and his resurrection that first Easter Sunday.

Experiments in this area have also been made by Prof. Baima Bollone, a leading forensic expert and Dr. Sebastiano Rodante, a pediatrician, and the results were published early in 1978. Their tests proved unquestionably that the presence of both aloes and myrrh on a fabric aided in bringing about the process of hemolysis and fibrinolysis – in the case of the shroud, the transfer of the bloodstains.

Dozens more studies have been published in the intervening years by these men and many others.

Msgr. Ricci, summarizing the shroud’s distinct bloody testimony to the physical passion of the man of the shroud, excludes completely the theory that this linen is the result of a forger’s brush and latest scientific evidence does not contradict this statement.

“The shroud is not a document of faith,” he told me. “It is a document of scientific research. It was necessary to go back and re-study biblical, apocryphal, patristic, archaeological and historical sources, Jewish and Roman law as well as that of other Middle Eastern peoples. Above all, it was necessary to undertake an accurate geometric and medico-legal examination of the imprints.”

These multiple aspects of research into the problem of authenticity and identification of the man of the shroud posed a formidable challenge involving many nations. Foremost among these problems for sindonologists, scholars of the shroud, was determining its provenance and its odyssey concluding with its final resting place in the Guarini Chapel of St. John’s Cathedral in Turin.

Exact and detailed documentation of the shroud’s history in the centuries immediately following the death of Christ is wanting due to historical and even juridical factors – the troubled history of Jerusalem in that period, the lack of freedom and expression enjoyed by Christians in that part of the world and even the Jewish law that considered as unclean anything having to do with the death, so that any violation of the tomb, such as the taking of a shroud, even for a relic, was punishable by death.

Thus, in this obscure period when the shroud’s history seems untraceable, these voids in its odyssey can be accounted for if one considers the fear of contamination with death- related objects by the Jews, the hostility to the new Christians, and the onslaught of invasions and sacking by vandals – so that, had the precious relic been preserved by Jesus’ disciples, it would have been kept well hidden until safer conditions made it possible to openly expose and venerate the sacred object.

In the first centuries after Christ, frequent indirect references to this burial linen were made, and only in the post Constantine period was it named explicitly and displayed openly. Historical testimonials place it in Jerusalem prior to the 11th century. Towards 1005 it was transferred to Constantinople and chronicles a century later ascribed to its presence there when they recorded that Louis VII of France, on an official visit to that city in 1147, venerated the Holy Shroud. They also tell us that only 10 years later, in 1157, Nicholas Samudarson, abbot of Thyngeirara, while making an inventory of the relics in Constantinople included the Holy Shroud on his list.

The first clear references to its presence there in the monastery of St. Mary of Blachernae was made by Robert de Clari, a knight from Picardy who took part in the capture of Constantinople in 1204. As a spoil of war, the shroud was taken to France and kept first at Lirey where contemporary chronicles explicitly mention its regular expositions there. Its owner, Marguerite de Charny, made a gift of it in 1452 to the Duke of Savoy in Chambery where it remained until its transfer to Turin in 1578.

It was in the chapel specifically built for the Shroud by the Duke of Savoy that a fire broke out in 1532 and this relic was partially damaged when the heat caused the molten silver of the reliquary to penetrate and burn the fine linen. Nuns were ordered to repair the cloth and their stitch work can be seen today on the shroud.

This fire and subsequent repair work has a very important bearing on experiments that have been done to indicate the shroud’s age.




My favorite painting in the world – Eugene Burnand’s Saints Peter and John running to the tomb – their faces filled with hope, disbelief, incredulity and perhaps something verging on joy! Has He risen as He said! Will we again be together!

The first time I ever saw this I was overwhelmed with my own emotions because the John and Peter I met in this paining were as I had always imagined Jesus’two companions and Apostles!