I leave for vacation this coming Saturday and, in order to depart with peace of mind, I’ve spent most of the past week preparing a number of special segments for “At Home with Jim and Joy” for those Mondays and Thursdays of each week I will be away.  I also prepared four Specials for my weekend radio program, “Vatican Insider.”  It has all been a lot of work but will be worth it as I relax in Chicago, Honolulu and San Diego with friends and family for what everyone says when they leave on vacation, “some well-deserved time off!

I am so in the mood for Waikiki and Pearl Harbor and other amazing places in Oahu, not to mention the best part, my friends, that I’ve set my dining room table with items from Honolulu. My table is set year round for four people (just in case someone drops in) and this is my Hawaii table!


Pope Francis has sent a Message to Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressing his condolences to the loved-ones of the victims of hurricane Harvey, promising continued spiritual solicitude for all those affected, and asking for the prayerful solidarity that has already been shown, to continue in the days and weeks to come.

The message was sent by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin in the Pope’s name:

“His Holiness Pope Francis asks you kindly to convey the assurance of his spiritual closeness and pastoral concern to all those affected by the violent hurricane that swept through the states of Texas and Louisiana in these days.  Deeply moved by the tragic loss of life and the immense material devastation that this natural catastrophe has left in its wake, he prays for the victims and their families, and for all those engaged in the vital work of relief, recovery and rebuilding.  He likewise trusts that the immense and immediate needs of so many individuals and communities will continue to inspire a vast outpouring of solidarity and mutual aid in the best traditions of the nation.  With these sentiments, and with the renewed promise of his prayers, the Holy Father sends his blessing as a pledge of consolation, strength and peace in the Lord.”



Following this press release from EWTN, is a brief account of an amazing trip I took to Vietnam in June 2013 to the places where Fr. Capodanno lived and died. I re-count here, but only very, very briefly, some of my adventures as I wrote about them in my daily blog. I’d have done Facebook Live but it wasn’t around then! However, I posted a lot of videos on youtube.com/joansrome and many, many photos each day.  I hope you enjoy this!


Tonight, Wednesday, August, at 10:00 p.m. (EDST), EWTN will premiere an all-new film about Vietnam War hero and U.S. Navy Chaplain, Father Vincent R. Capodanno, M.M., Servant of God. The 90-minute film, Called and Chosen – Father Vincent R. Capodanno, explores the life of the Maryknoll missionary-turned-military-chaplain, who died at the age of 38 in Vietnam’s Quế Sơn Valley, administering the sacraments to embattled U.S. Marines and pulling the wounded to safety. Father Capodanno received the Medal of Honor posthumously on January 7, 1969, and the Holy See’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints is now considering whether to recognize him as a Saint.

EWTN will broadcast encore showings of the new film on Saturday, Sept. 2, at 3:00 p.m. (EDST), and on Monday, Sept. 4, at 3:00 p.m. (EDST).

Called and Chosen was filmed in New York and California under the direction of Mr. James Kelty, who has written and directed a number of films for EWTN, including the award-winning Kateri. Mr. Kelty will be among guests interviewed in the special EWTN Live which airs at 8:00 p.m. (EDST) the night of the premiere. Other special guests will be Mr. George J. Phillips, USMC (Ret.), Chairman of the Board of the Father Capodanno Guild, who served with Father Capodanno and whose testimony is also in the film; and Mrs. Mary Preece, Vice-Postulator of Cause of Father Vincent R. Capodanno. EWTN will air encores of this program on Thursday, Aug. 31, at 1:00 a.m. (EDST), and on Thursday, Aug. 31, at 9:00 a.m. (EDST).

“Not only was Father Capodanno a hero, he was one of those people who had charisma while still being a very humble person,” Mr. Kelty said. “People just wanted to be around him — everyone who knew him told me that.” According to EWTN, Called and Chosen is most riveting in the last hour of the film, which intersperses the testimonies of Marines who served alongside Father Capodanno with realistic battle scenes that put viewers in the heart of the action. Viewers see a Military Chaplain who went into battle – even though it wasn’t required of him – armed only with the weapon of his faith.

The premiere comes as the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS), prepares to observe the 50th anniversary of Father Capodanno’s death in 1967. On Sept. 5 at 6:30 p.m., His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, USA, will celebrate the annual Mass on the anniversary of his death at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 400 Michigan Avenue, Northeast, Washington, D.C. The Mass will be concelebrated by dozens of priests from the AMS. Many of the surviving Marines who served with Father Capodanno, including Mr. Phillips, will participate, along with current senior military leaders and active-duty personnel.


There are some journeys that, when you start to write a diary or some account, the opening words come easily.

After what I had hoped would be an uneventful flight from Rome to Frankfurt and then an overnight flight to my final destination (I experienced a 24 hour delay that I wrote about in a separate blog), I decided to introduce this trip and open this column with just the three-word title of a 1987 movie entitled “Good Morning Vietnam!”

It is Monday morning, June 10, 2013, and it is a beautiful day as I near Vietnam at the start of a journey that really is a pilgrimage, a journey to some very sacred places in this historic and magnificent Asian land. It is also a spiritual journey to places associated with Servant of God Fr. Vincent Capodanno, a Maryknoll priest and missionary who, in his brief life as a priest was also a much loved chaplain who was affectionately called “the Grunt Padre” by “his” marines in Vietnam  ……


I have been in Vietnam for two and a half days and have had enough adventures to last a lifetime.  In those brief days I have met some of the loveliest people ever, the warm, hospitable, generous – and always smiling, it seems – Vietnamese.  The expression “they would give you the shirt off their back” is so true here.

Each day has seemed like two days, given the miles traveled, the people I have met, the events and Masses and so many things that fill the hours. Starting to write a travelblogue at 9 pm or later leaves little time for the length and depth I would like to offer about each place and person, so what I am unable to cover this week, I will bring you next week on these pages.

In the meantime, the best way to follow my daily adventures, to be at my side as I travel through the countryside, visit a shrine, see a UNESCO World Heritage site, attend Mass in a private home in a Vietnamese village or the DaNang cathedral, is to follow my YouTube page.  The videos tell the story, in the order in which I experienced events. They are brief and to the point and, I feel, allow you to share the culture and people I am experiencing.

To recap a bit: Monday, June 10 I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, met my friend Ted, a volunteer to promote the cause of canonization of Servant of God Fr. Vincent Capodanno, and we flew to DaNang in central Vietnam where we were met by a driver arranged by Bishop Tri (his own driver, to be honest). We drove to the Shrine of Our Lady of LaVang – a long drive not because the distance was great but because the speed limits here are very low, often not over 50 kilometers an hour. LaVang is the national shrine of Our Lady in Vietnam (more videos!).

We attended Mass, ate dinner at a small, local café-cum-souvenir store and stayed the night in the guest house, leaving at 5 am on Tuesday, June 11 for DaNang, passing through Hue, the fourth largest city in Vietnam where we stopped for breakfast at the lovely and historical Hotel Morin.

The rest of the day included checking in the hotel, lunch with Bishop Tri, visiting the cathedral, a nearby school, and other church property.

Wednesday, June 12, was a very long, very beautiful and faith-filled day. Ted and I visited a new church in a small village southwest of DaNang whose pastor said Mass in a home in another very small village near the battlefield where Fr. Capodanno died on September 4, 1967. Very often a priest can only come once a month to small villages to say Mass and today was a bonus for the visitors as the Mass was a special one to commemorate Fr. Capodanno, who is known by everyone here.

Mass was followed by an incredibly abundant lunch prepared and offered by the 68 faithful who came from neighboring villages.

The man in the middle knew Fr. Capodanno:

After Mass Ted and I were taken on motorbikes and then walked a bit to within a few hundred feet of the field where Fr. Capodano was killed on September 4, 1967. I did a video of that as well.

On our way back to DaNang, we stopped again at Xuan Dhanh parish to drop Fr. Andrew off, then proceeded to DaNang for our late afternoon meeting with the bishop and Sr. Catherine of the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres to talk about the liturgy for the Mass on Friday to commemorate Fr. Capodanno. I attended a very special Mass in the cathedral where the altar boys were marking the feast of their patron saint, St. Dominic Savio.

That was followed by a visit to Sr. Catherine’s convent, then back to the hotel for a quick meal before chatting with Teresa Tomeo on our weekly get-together, but at 8:40 DaNang time.


As I write these words, it is 9 am on a hot Friday morning, June 14, in DaNang and I am in the courtyard of Sacred Heart Cathedral where the gates have been opened to welcome the bus loads of pilgrims from nearby and from far villages who have come today for Mass at 10 that Bishop Joseph Tri has organized to celebrate Servant of God Fr. Vincent Capodanno.

June 14th was the day, 55 years ago, that Vincent Capodanno was ordained to the priesthood in the Maryknoll order, a missionary order that sent him abroad during his short life as a priest. Eventually he became a chaplain and died giving the last rites to solders in Vietnam, not far from DaNang.

The courtyard is huge but I know it will soon be filled by scores of motorbikes and bicycles in addition to the buses – probably not a single car! For a while I sat on a stone bench next to a lovely sculpture of the Holy Family, listening to the hustle and bustle and horns of DaNang traffic outside the complex that comprises the cathedral, bishop’s residence, school rooms, church halls and the convent.

I videoed the Mass as well as taking a ton of photos.

With the terrific young choir who sang every song in English:

After Mass:

Following Mass, the cathedral offered a buffet lunch for about 400-500 people. It was astonishing hospitality and prepared by a group of women in the parish!! It was a ton of fun and I could have stayed and spoken to the people for hours, especially the wonderful, joyful, enthusiastic young people! I wanted to charter a plane and bring them to Rome!

This is not even the tip of the iceberg of what I wrote about Vietnam and all the places I visited while in this land. My final days were spent in Ho Chi Minh Ville (former Saigon). I’d love to have more time to post photos of the beautiful people of this land, of the scenery, the historic places, the flowers, the temples and churches, the food –but mainly the people.




Recently, 450 former Swiss Guards and their family members participated in their 27th general assembly in Soleur, Switzerland. During the gathering, the current Swiss Guard commandant gave a talk in which he said, it is perhaps “only a matter of time” before Rome is hit by a Barcelona-style attack but “the Guards are well prepared to face any threats, notably terrorism.” (photo: http://www.cath.ch)

His words were a clear reference to the latest videos produced by ISIS showing the terrorists destroying churches in the Philipines and ripping up photos of Popes Francis, and Benedict, saying “we are coming to Rome.”

Graf, commandant at the Vatican since 2015, noted that Swiss Guards are not just subjects to be photographed by tourists with their colorful uniforms, swords and halberds. They form a real protective detail that is trained with the most modern techniques because it is always necessary to be ready and able to face attacks such as that in Barcelona.

Swiss Guards are constantly adapting to current challenges. So much so that now the intitial training period for recruits in Switzerland has gone from two to four months and is organized in collaboration with the police of the Canton of Tessin. Subjects such as weapons training and shooting practice, body guard training, fire protection, first aid and juridical questions are part of the program.

In an increadsingly secularized society, the religious and spiritual formation of the guards takes on growing importance, according to the commandant. One could even speak of the “Francis effect,” he said. He expressed his happiness at the priestly and religious vocations that have developed during service in the Swiss Guards. A number of young men who join the guards are seeking an orientation in their lives and do not have only an interest for the military or security aspect. (source: http://www.cath.ch)

Security around the Vatican has been fairly tight for years, going back to the Great Jubilee of 2000. Measures tightened at the start of the Holy Year of Mercy in Dcember 2015 and never relented when it ended last November. In fact, secutiry around Vatican City became noticably stepped up after a series of attacks with vehicles that killed people in Nice, Berlin, London, Stockholm and recently Barcelona.

At the Vatican, there are 110 very well trained Swiss Guards defending the Pope and Vatican City and about the same number of superbly trained gendarmes.

Security measures throughout Italy and at the Vatican include police cars and vans, Italian Army jeeps with soldiers carrying heavy weapons, and untold numbers of plainclothesmen. All of these protect important monuments, churches and embassies, and gathering spots such as Rome’s famed Piazza Navona and Piazza del Popolo.

Cement barriers have been strategically place on such broad avenues like Via della Conciliazione, the street that leads to St. Peter’s Square and Vatican City, an historic street now closed to traffic.

People entering St. Peter’s Square last Sunday for the Angelus had their bags checked, via airport-style security or checks by individual officers. This is also done for the weekly general audiences and for those wishing to enter St. Peter’s Basilica. Visitors to the Vatican Museums go through airport-style security.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, secretary of State, said the ISIS video was worrisome but pointed to the high level of readiness at the Vatican.  “Obviously, one cannot help but worry, above all for the senseless hatred that it is.” But he said the Vatican has not added more measures to its notable security forces and preventive measures.




Sunday, August 27, feast of St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine; Today how many mothers shed tears, like St Monica, so that their children will return to Christ! Do not lose hope in God’s grace!

Monday, August 28, feast of St. Augustine the once errant son of St. Monica who became a saint: “You made us unto Yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you”. (St Augustine’s “Confessions”)


The Holy See Press Office made the following announcement this morning:

“Welcoming the invitation of the respective heads of state and bishops, His Holiness Pope Francis will make an Apostolic Visit to Myanmar from 27 to 30 November 2017, visiting the cities of Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw, and to Bangladesh from 30 November to 2 December 2017, visiting the city of Dhaka. The program for the Visit will be published shortly.

On Sunday, in fact, at the Angelus, Pope Francis offered prayers for the victims of massive flooding in Bangladesh, Nepal, and northern India over the past several days: “I express my closeness to all the [affected] populations, and pray for the victims and for all who suffer because of this calamity.”

Annual monsoon rains have caused the flooding, which has claimed the lives of more than 1,200 people, and disrupted the lives of some 24 million others. Rescue and relief efforts are ongoing, with international aid agencies reporting thousands of villages cut off. People in remote and isolated areas have been without food and clean water for many days. (Vatican Radio)

Also Monday, the Vatican released the official logos for Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey to Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Myanmar logo

The logo for his visit to Myanmar depicts Pope Francis releasing a white dove from within a heart drawn in the colors of Myanmar’s flag: yellow, green, and red. An outline of Myanmar’s landmass sits beside the Pope within the heart, while the motto for his journey is shown above: “Love & Peace”.

Bangladesh logo

The logo for Pope Francis’ visit to Bangladesh has colored streamers in the shape of a dove, with a cross raised over a water lily (Bangladesh’s national flower) within it. Above, the official motto for the Apostolic Journey, “Harmony and Peace”, is written in red.


CARDINAL DANIEL DINARDO, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, and president of the U..S Conference of Catholic Bishops, released a statement regard the Texas floods on the website of the USCCB: “Please join me and pray for all of those affected by the storm and in need of assistance during this natural disaster,” the cardinal said Aug. 26. “In addition, I ask the faithful to also keep the emergency response personnel and volunteers in your prayers. For those residing in our Archdiocese, in Texas and along the Gulf Coast, be safe and may God have mercy on those affected by Hurricane Harvey.” Sunday he said: “Your safety and the safety of your loved ones is paramount during this emergency. Please do not be concerned about attending Mass today, and heed the warnings of civil authorities to shelter in place. More here: http://www.usccb.org/news/2017/17-150.cfm

CARDINAL SECRETARY OF STATE PIETRO PAROLIN, this evening at 6:30 in the millennia-old St. Peter’s Basilica in Ciel d’Oro di Pavia, northern Italy, celebrated Mass on the tomb of St. Augustine on the liturgical memory of the saint. The remains of St. Augustine have been in Pavia since the 8th century. In a note published by the Pavia Committee for St. Augustine, the cardinal said: “I have a great love and admiration for St. Augustine. I consider him a friend, a teacher, a model. The pages of his writings that move me and fill me with fire are when he speaks of Jesus, of eternal life and the intense desire to attain it, of prayer, of Christian virtues and above all of love and humility. Relative to my work at the Holy See, the pages that greatly interest me are where St. Augustine enters into dialogue with the society of his time, and gives the Church the task of promoting harmony and solidarity, that is, to make herself build the City of God within earthly cities.”



I have once again been dealing with Internet problems – meaning that Internet is out and, according to the phone company, it is a neighborhood issue and they are working on it. I’ve written and recorded the news segment for my weekend radio program, “Vatican Insider” but cannot at the moment get that to my colleagues in Alabama as they are the ones who put the whole show together. I did transmit the interview with Fr. Apparcel yesterday so they have that.

I have already posted to Facebook (facebook.com/joan.lewis.10420) the very important Vatican radio and TV interview with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin after his four-day visit to Russia. I was able to do that via my cell phone, but posting this column via my phone is not possible.

It is 5:40 pm here. Unless things clear up in the next 90 minutes, my only possibility is to go to La Vittoria restaurant with my computer and hope their Internet is working so that I can post this column and send the news audio segment to EWTN. If time allows I will add some photos and post the link to Vatican Radio’s interview with Cardinal Parolin.

If you are reading these lines, you’ll know my Internet returned OR I am having dinner and working at La Vittoria!

In case I cannot post photos, here’s a link to St. Patrick’s! https://stpatricksamericanrome.org/

Here’s the link to Cardinal Parolin’s intervew after his four-day Russia trip! Fascinating  information! http://www.news.va/en/news/exclusive-pope-francis-pleased-with-card-parolins


My guest in the intervew segment this week is Paulist Fr. Greg Apparcel, rector of St. Patrick’s Church in Rome, the new home iu the Eternal City for Catholic Americans and English-speaking Catholics after 95 years at the historic church of Santa Susanna. That move is a long story but there is now light at the end of the tunnel. Father Greg tells the story very well – who we are as a faith commmunity, our programs and outreach and where the church actually is. If you have plans to come to Rome, St. Patrick’s and your fellow American Catholics should be on your itinerary.

I have some great photo os Fr. Greg that he sent 2 days ago in an email and for reasons beyond my ken, I cannot find them – so check the St. Patrick’s link until I do find them (am transmitting this column from La Vittoria): https://stpatricksamericanrome.org/

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 www.ewtn.com) 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: http://www.ewtn.com/se/pg/DatService.svc/feed/~LE.xml   For VI archives: http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/file_index.asp?SeriesId=7096&pgnu=


I believe I have mentioned in the past that I am on the Board of HIRF, the Healey International Relief Foundation, an organization dedicated solely, as its website says, to improving the quality of life of vulnerable individuals and families in Sierra Leone who have long ben affected by civil way and adverse socioeconomic conditions. The Healey motto is “Turning Scars into Stars.”

We have all been following events since the terrible mudslide that killed an estimated 400 people and I wanted you to know how people have been helping. Injust got this letter from HIRF:


 Thank you to all those who continue to support Sierra Leone and the victims of the massive mudslide and flooding in Freetown.  Thus far, your donations have provided healthcare services and food to those in need.  Without your help, immediate aid relief would not have been possible. We have detailed our efforts below and continue on with determination during the weeks to come.  Again, a very heartfelt thank you. Tenki, Tenki!

To view pictures of our work on the ground click here for mobile devices and click here for laptops or computers.


Great loss and suffering brings countless worry.  With so many troubles to be concerned with, where one is going to get their next meal, or how one will feed their family should NOT be one of them. nding provided through our appeal is going directly to supply meals. With our partners Caritas-Freetown and the Tzu Chi Foundation we are providing lunch daily to survivors of the flooding in the Culvert area of Freetown.  The team has also provided dinners to those taking up temporary residence at the Mudslide Shelter Site in Regent.


After the massive flooding and mudslide in Freetown, it was critical to go into the affected communities and provide healthcare services.  Not only for individual health but also to protect against the outbreak of any communicable diseases.  The fear of disease is high, especially cholera.

Our mobile health clinic was onsite immediately following the mudslide in the Regent area and has been deployed in other critical areas every day since.  To date, over 850 patients have been treated and clinic visits are ongoing throughout the Freetown area.  Funding provided though our appeal was used to purchase the needed medicines and supplies to treat the patients, many of whom are women and children.




Papal tweet August 24: Humanity needs hope in order to live and needs the Holy Spirit in order to hope.

A lot to ponder in this talk today by Pope Francis. I can’t wait to talk to some officials and experts in liturgy about the content, in particular because the Holy Father did not go into specific detail about change, what stays, what was perhaps on the way out and should go – or might stay – etc.


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis gave an important address on the liturgical reform on Thursday, speaking to participants of the 68th Italian National Liturgical Week.

The liturgical reform, he said, did not “flourish suddenly,” but was the result of a long preparation. It was brought to maturity by the Second Vatican Council with the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, “whose lines of general reform respond to real needs and to the concrete hope of a renewal; it desired a living liturgy for a Church completely vivified by the mysteries celebrated.”

The direction marked out by the Council, the Pope continued, found expression in the revised liturgical books promulgated by Blessed Paul VI. But “it is not enough to reform the liturgical books; the mentality of the people must be reformed as well.” The reformation of the liturgical books was the first step in a process, he said, “that requires time, faithful reception, practical obedience, wise implementation” on the part first of the ordained ministers, but also of the other ministers, and indeed, of all who take part in the liturgy.

Today, Pope Francis said, “there is still work to do in this direction, in particular rediscovering the reasons for the decisions made with the liturgical reform, overcoming unfounded and superficial readings, partial receptions, and practices that disfigure it.” He said that this is not a question “of rethinking the reform by reviewing its choices, but of knowing better the underlying reasons [for it]… [and] of internalizing its inspirational principles and of observing the discipline that governs it.”

The Supreme Pontiff insisted, “After this magisterial, and after this long journey, we can assert with certainty and magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible.”

Reflecting on the theme of this year’s Liturgy Week – “A living Liturgy for a living Church” – Pope Francis dwelt on three points:

1)The liturgy is “living” in virtue of the living presence of Christ; Christ is at the heart of the liturgical action.

2)The liturgy is life through the whole people of God. By its nature, the liturgy is “popular” rather than clerical; it is an action for the people, but also by the people.

3) The liturgy is life, and not an idea to be understood. It brings us to live an initiatory experience, a transformative experience that changes how we think and act; it is not simply a means of enriching our own set of ideas about God.

The Church, Pope Francis said, “is truly living if, forming one single living being with Christ, it is a bearer of life, it is maternal, it is missionary, going out to encounter the neighbour, careful to serve without pursuing worldly powers that render it sterile.”

The Holy Father concluded his reflection by noting that the Church in prayer, insofar as it is catholic, “goes beyond the Roman Rite” which, although it is the largest, is by no means the only Rite within the Church. “The harmony of the ritual traditions, of the East and of the West,” by means of the same Spirit, gives voice to the one only Church  praying through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ, to the glory of the Father, and for the salvation of the world.”


It certainly sounds like the today’s papal tweet applies to the people of Amatrice and nearby towns!

Today marks the first anniversary of the tremendous 6.2 quake that killed 299 people last year in central Italy, in particular the charming town of Amatrice which was basically razed to the ground. The entire rebuilding process will be very, very long, as you see in the photos below and the accompanying article. Posted August 23 on www.thelocal.it

One year after an earthquake struck the Amatrice region – and less than 24 hours after another struck the island of Ischia in the Gulf of Naples – Italy on Thursday will remember the 299 victims killed in the August 23rd, 2016, disaster that still haunts the country.

Survivors will hold a candle-lit procession in the early hours, even as Ischia island to the south, recovers from Italy’s latest quake — and critics again criticize the government for failing to shore-up the nation’s poorly constructed buildings. (photo afp April 2017)

It was well before dawn on August 24, 2016 when a 6.0-magnitude quake razed much of Amatrice and the surrounding region, killing families in their beds or trapping them in dust-filled cavities in the rubble.

Children in their pajamas were pulled lifeless from the debris, one youngster having used up the last of the oxygen tunnelling in the wrong direction in a futile bid to reach safety.

There was more to come. Shell-shocked locals suffered three more violent quakes, on October 26 and 30 and January 18 — the last one sparking an avalanche that would wipe out a hotel and kill 29 people. (photo afp: April 2017)

Damage to homes, schools, hospitals and churches in the region are estimated at 23.55 billion euros ($27.7 billion).

Hours before dawn on Thursday, relatives of the 239 victims who died in Amatrice on the 24th will meet at 1:30 am to remember their loved ones with candles and prayers.

At 3:36am the moment the earthquake struck, a bell will toll 239 times, before a memorial mass is held.

Other commemorations are planned for Wednesday or Thursday in devastated hamlets nearby, from Accumoli to Pescara del Tronto, whose mayor recalled this week “we didn’t know where to put all the dead”.

Continue reading here: https://www.thelocal.it/20170823/italy-prepares-to-remember-2016-amatrice-earthquake-victims



Pope Francis tweeted today: The Lord is close to all those who are victims of old and new forms of slavery: inhuman labour, illegal trafficking and exploitation.

At today’s general audience, the Pope spoke of Monday’s 4.0 quake on the Italian island of Ischia, a quake that occurred just three days before the one-year anniversary of the devastating quake in central Italy that killed 300 people. In fact tomorow marks that sad anniversary and tonight a candlelit procession is scheduled for the town that lost the most inhabitants and buildings, Amatrice.

How well I remember being awakened in the wee small hours of the morning a year ago –  I looked at my clock when my shaking bed awoke me and it said 3:35 am!

If you are down Naples way on a trip to Italy, Ischia is well worth a visit, a short boat ride, as you will see in a few of the photos I’ve posted below and on this website: http://www.ischiareview.com/


In a filled-to-capacity Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis Wednesday resumed the weekly general audience after a holiday break last week. Continuing his catecheses on the virtue of Christian hope, he began by noting that the Bible tells us that, “the ultimate destination of our Christian pilgrimage will be the heavenly Jerusalem. And on this pilgrimage we encounter the God of surprises who treats us with infinite tenderness, like a father welcoming his children home after a long and difficult journey.”

Francis then spoke of those who “experience life as a prolonged period of suffering,” saying, “I think of the fearful faces of those haunted by violence and war.” At this point, he departed from his prepared remarks, and listed recent violence “that has made news headlines” such as “the attacks in Barcelona and the sad news coming out of the Democratic Republic of Congo,” where there have been attacks on Christians and Catholic churches.

However, the Pope explained, “We believe that neither death nor hatred have the last word, for we Christians see, with great hope, a larger horizon: the Kingdom of God, where all evil is banished forever.  It is Jesus himself who is the light of this new future, and who even now accompanies us on our way.  Creation did not stop on the sixth day of Genesis, because God is continually looking after us, always ready to pronounce his blessing: “Behold, I make all things new!”

At the end of the audience, Pope Francis said his “thoughts and affection turn to those suffering from the earthquake Monday evening on the island of Ischia.”

Ischia is a volcanic island in the Gulf of Naples, Italy, well known for its lovely small towns and its many spas and mineral-rich thermal waters. It is about 19 miles off shore from Naples.

The Holy Father asked the faithful to join him in prayer for the dead and wounded  and their families and those who lost their homes.”

The Ischia quake killed two, injured dozens and destroyed a number of buildings.



Pope Francis tweeted today: When we are feeling sad, when it feels like everything is going wrong, we should remember: “God loves me. God never abandons me”.



(Vatican Radio) Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin on Monday described the tone of his two-hour meeting with Metropolitan Hilarion, chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow,  as “very constructive”.

The cardinal is on a four-day visit to Russia during which he is scheduled to meet the Russian Patriarch Kirill and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday before holding talks with President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Wednesday.

The website of the Moscow Patriarchate showed a picture of Parolin clasping hands with Hilarion and holding talks in a room decorated with Orthodox icons. It said the two men discussed “key topics of bilateral relations… in the context of the current international situation.”

Answering journalists’ questions after the Monday meeting, the Vatican Secretary of State said that a good part of the conversation touched on the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine as well as on the Holy See’s concern for the situation in Venezuela.

The Russian news agency Tass highlighted the fact that the Russian Orthodox Church and the Holy See reportedly share the same position regarding “the need for a peaceful solution for the middle-eastern region and in particular for Syria” and that a return to normality in that country will be possible only after the total expulsion of IS militants from the occupied territories.”

Cardinal Parolin reportedly noted that Christians are beginning to return to the areas that have been taken back from the so-called Islamic State, but said that notwithstanding some positive developments, the general situation remains very difficult, especially from a humanitarian point of view.


(Vatican Radio)  Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov for talks on Tuesday, during which they discussed issues of international concern and agreed to visa-free diplomatic travel. (photo news.va)

During the press conference following their talks, the Holy See and the Russian Federation signed an Agreement waiving visa requirements for holders of diplomatic passports.

Cardinal Parolin and Foreign Minister Lavrov called this a sign of the two countries’ desire to continue to work together on bilateral relations and issues of international concern.

Cardinal Parolin said he raised questions regarding the Catholic Church’s life and activity in Russia with his counterpart.

He said difficulties remaining between the Vatican and Russia include “working residency permits for non-Russian personnel and the restitution of several churches necessary for the pastoral care of Catholics in the country.”

Christians in Middle East

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov evoked the need for solutions for Christians living in the Middle East.

“We need to find similar solutions that would provide proper balance between different ethnic and religious groups in Yemen, Libya, and Iraq, where state building processes are underway,” Mr. Lavrov said.

Cardinal Parolin said he recognized the difference in approach between Russia and the Holy See on these issues. But he said the two share a “strong concern for the situation of Christians in several countries of the Middle East and the African continent”.

“The Holy See nourishes constant concern that religious liberty be preserved in all States and in all political situations,” Cardinal Parolin said.

Dialogue in Venezuela

Responding to a question about the situation in Venezuela, Cardinal Parolin said he believes Russia can help to overcome this very difficult moment.”

He said Russia can promote the Vatican’s efforts to create dialogue between Venezuela’s government and the opposition.

“This is the only solution the Holy See sees for an exit to this situation.”

Cardinal Secretary of State Parolin meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Wednesday.


Given the enormous interest – we can safely say ‘mania’ – for today’s rare total solar eclipse in parts of the United States, I thought you might be interested to know that, among the millions who will be watching the 2017 eclipse will be a good number of Vatican astronomers – the Jesuits who staff and run the Vatican Observatory, also known as the Specola. They will be watching from Castelgandolfo, from Tucson, Arizona and probably any place that has a good telescope (or ultra safe eyewear).

American Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, director of the Vatican Observatory since 2015, will be watching events from Hopkinsville, Kentucky, where he is a guest of Sts. Peter and Paul parish.

I’ve been to the Specola at Castelgandolfo a number of times and, just for fun and a news story, I’ve attended a few of the VOSS (Vatican Observatory Summer School) summer courses there. I only spent one day on those occasions, listening to talks, sharing picnic lunches with students on the terraces of the papal palace at Castelgandolfo and, one day I even did well in a pop quiz!

I’ve known Brother Guy for a number of years and have interviewed him on several occasions for Vatican Insider. We are trying to coordinate our schedules so that I can visit the fairly new location of the Specola offices, classrooms and museum. The Vatican telescopes, however, remain at the original papal palace.

And two years ago I had a serendipitous encounter with Vatican astronomers in Hawaii!

At the start of my 2015 vacation, on my flight to Honolulu from Los Angeles, I was seated next to David Ciardi, an astronomer from Caltech University. He told me that the IAU – International Astronomical Union – was holding its 29th General Assembly in Honolulu. This was a two-week long meeting that brought together over 2,500 astronomers from 75 countries around the world – including Vatican City State! Bro. Guy was kind enough to send me the names of the Jesuit astronomers who were at this meeting and I was able to interview Fr. Christ Corbally for Vatican Insider.

Sources for the story below include visits to the Specola, conversations with Brother Guy and others and the observatory website. The photos are from my visits to the papal palace and observatory, except for two pictures from the observatory website that I identify as such.

I love the title of one article on the observatory website: “For Heavens Sake: Papal Astronomers Promote Harmony of Science, Faith.”


When Popes spent the summer period at the Apostolic Palace at Castelgandolfo, one of the many hill towns or “castelli romani” southeast of Rome, they enjoyed cooler air, a slower ace of life and a view of lovely and placid Lake Albano, which fills an old volcanic crater, and the beautiful sprawling hills which surround it.

The palace at Castelgandolfo also offers Popes another, more spectacular view, should they so wish – a view of the universe through the telescopes of the twin observatory towers atop the pontifical residence.

The Specola, as the Vatican Observatory is also called, is not only one of the most highly respected observatories in the world but is actually one of the oldest astronomical institutes, dating back to 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII formed a committee to look at the scientific data and ramifications involved in a reform of the calendar. One of the committee members, Fr. Christoph Clavius, a Jesuit mathematician from the Roman College, wrote books favoring this reform and, with some of his brother Jesuits interested in astronomy, confirmed studies done by Galileo. In fact, his name is used in the Vatican Observatory website: http://www.vaticanobservatory.va/content/specolavaticana.html

Astronomy for centuries was considered “the queen of sciences.” As Fr. Clavius wrote in 1570: “Astronomy uses geometrical and arithmetic demonstrations which, in agreement with the opinion of all philosophers, arrives at the first degree of certitude.”

Astronomy thus became a subject of great interest to the papacy and, in ensuing centuries, Roman Pontiffs founded three observatories: that of the Roman College, the observatory of Capitoline Hill and the Specola Vaticana in the Tower of the Winds in the Vatican. Telescopes in the Vatican occupied different locations over the years. In 1935 the Specola was moved to Castelgandolfo because the light emanating from the city of Rome was too strong to allow for accurate observation and research from within the city.

For the same reasons a new telescope was built in Arizona, in the United States in 1993. The Vatican’s state of the art VATT – Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope – is located on Emerald Peak at an altitude of 3,200 meters in the Mt. Graham mountain chain, northeast of Tucson, Arizona. The telescope became operative in 1993 when the Vatican, in collaboration with Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona in Tucson, used new technology in making the telescopic mirror, thus entering the era of the advanced technology telescopes. The telescope was made by using a rotating furnace, which shortened the construction time and offered a mirror that was lighter in weight than its predecessors. This method of making mirrors has been used with great success ever since.

Pope Pius XI, in a speech on September 29, 1935 at the new observatory at Castelgandolfo gave it a motto – Deum Creatorum Venite Adoremus (Come let us adore God the Creator) – and said he rejoiced in being present at “the inauguration of this new, and might we say, improved ‘Specola Vaticana’ in this our residence at Castelgandolfo.” He also said: “It is quite well known that the Supreme Roman Pontiffs have for many centuries needed astronomy and have called on it to help in the placement of holy temples and especially in the calculation of the date of Easter.”

Pope Leo XIII is actually credited with “re-founding” the Vatican Specola over four decades earlier. In July 1890 he approved the Directives for the Specola Vaticana and, on March 14, 1891, promulgated the Motu proprio Ut mysticam (As a mystery), writing that he wished to refute those who charged the Church with being “obscurantist and closed to scientific progress.” Leo XIII said he intended to reinstitute the Specola so that “everyone might see clearly that the Church and her pastors are not opposed to true and solid science, whether divine or human, but that they embrace it, encourage it, and promote it with the fullest possible dedication. …  And we desire that the Specola be considered at the same level as the other Pontifical Institutes founded to promote the sciences.”

Successive Roman Pontiffs have always supported the Vatican Observatory and its directors, who have always been priests-scientists and, for over 100 years, Jesuits. In fact, given the importance of their work, 35 lunar craters bear the names of Jesuits astronomers. The current director is American Brother Guy Consolmagno, a native of Detroit who spends part of each year at the Castelgandolfo headquarters, part of the year teaching astrophysics and doing research in Tucson and some time each year traveling and lecturing. He was named to this post by Pope Francis in 2015.

Popes, and in a special way John Paul II, have not only supported the Specola but have written and spoken extensively, on the science-faith dialogue.

In an October 31, 1992 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope John Paul called the case of Galileo Galilei, condemned in the 17th century for his heliocentric theory, a “case of tragic mutual incomprehension which now belongs to the past.” The Pope was addressing the academy on a report given by Cardinal Paul Poupard on the results of 11 years of work by a special commission established by John Paul in July 1981 to study and definitively resolve the Galileo case. The year 1992 marked the 350th anniversary of Galileo’s death.

Saying the Galileo case was “shelved,” John Paul II added: “The underlying problems of this case concern both the nature of science and the message of faith.” In Galileo’s time, he declared, “the majority of theologians did not recognize the distinction between Sacred Scripture and its interpretation and this led them to transpose into the realm of the doctrine of the faith a question which in fact pertained to scientific investigation.”

Though the main body of astronomical observations and research is done today in Arizona, the Apostolic Palace at Castelgandolfo remains the headquarters of the Vatican Observatory.

Before it moved to a new site in the papal gardens in 2009, the observatory staff worked out of the top floors of the Apostolic Palace – right above the private rooms of the papal residence. In 2003, the final days of the 2003 astronomy summer school sessions in the Apostolic Palace coincided with the first days of Pope John Paul’s vacation at Castelgandolfo.  Never had such a group been at the papal residence while the Holy Father was also there, and the 26 students in attendance expressed “awe” at the thought of “studying in the Pope’s home.” Fr. George Coyne, the then director of the Specola, called this a “first.”

In 2009 the Specola moved from the summer papal palace to new headquarters in the papal Gardens at Castelgandfolo. A former convent, the building was specifically remodeled with the needs of the Specola in mind, and space is divided into three areas: 1. The ground floor is public area and workspace: offices, libraries, labs and a small museum of historic scientific equipment and a valuable meteorite collection, 2. Area used primarily by the Vatican Observatory Summer Schools, and 3. Upstairs is the living area for the Jesuit astronomers, including the community chapel.

Among precious objects in the museum is a valuable mineral collection that includes pieces going back 4.5 billion years, a piece of moon rock brought back to Earth in 1972 by the Apollo XVII mission, and fragments of meteorites from Mars.

Though the interior is completely new, the building itself dates back to 1631, the same year that Princess Caterina Savelli of Albano built a convent for the Clarisse Sisters (also known as the “Poor Clares”) on this site. During the Napoleonic wars (sometime between 1791 and 1810) this building was sacked by French troops. With the unification of Italy in 1870, the convent was closed and the sisters moved into the palace in Castelgandolfo, along with a community of Basilian nuns who had been exiled from the part of Poland then controlled by Russia.

In 1929, with the signing of the Lateran Treaty, the two groups of sisters were able to move back into their old quarters, now incorporated within the gardens. The building again was subject to the ravages of warfare in 1944. Following the invasion of Anzio by the Allies and their slow march up the coast to Rome, the building was hit twice, on February 1 and February 10, 1944. After the war, Pope Pius XII approved the reconstruction of the convent.

The building was also damaged during an earthquake in 1989; repairs and restructuring of the building were completed in 1998. In 2007, work began to completely restructure the end of the building that belonged to the Basilica sisters, who had left the premises, to match the needs of the astronomers. After two years of extensive work, the new Specola headquarters was dedicated by Pope Benedict XVI on September 16, 2009. The Clarisse sisters continue their prayer and work in the northwestern end of the building. (photo: http://www.vaticanobservatory.va/content/specolavaticana.html)

The observatory holds summer school sessions every two years, Known as VOSS (Vatican Observatory Summer School), the next scheduled session in June 4 –29, 2018. As the website says: “The VOSS 2018 will train the next generation of researchers on the marvels of big data, time domain astrophysics, and variability surveys.” Among the main themes: Theory of stellar pulsation and evolution: pulsation and evolutionary properties of radial variables, Stellar kinematics: radial velocities and proper motions.

Pope Francis, on Friday, May 12, 2017 greeted participants in a conference organized by the Vatican Observatory entitled “Black Holes, Gravitational Waves and Space-Time Singularities. The conference took place at the Observatory at Castelgandolfo in the Roman Hills.

“I am deeply appreciative of your work,” said Francis, “and I encourage you to persevere in your search for truth.  For we ought never to fear truth, nor become trapped in our own preconceived ideas, but welcome new scientific discoveries with an attitude of humility.  As we journey towards the frontiers of human knowledge, it is indeed possible to have an authentic experience of the Lord, one which is capable of filling our hearts.”


Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ is Director of the the Vatican Observatory and President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. A native of Detroit, Michigan, he earned undergraduate and masters’ degrees from MIT, and a Ph. D. in Planetary Science from the University of Arizona; he was a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard and MIT, served in the US Peace Corps (Kenya), and taught university physics at Lafayette College before entering the Jesuits in 1989. (Photo: http://www.vaticanobservatory.va/content/specolavaticana.html)

At the Vatican Observatory since 1993, his research explores connections between meteorites, asteroids, and the evolution of small solar system bodies, observing Kuiper Belt comets with the Vatican’s 1.8 meter telescope in Arizona, and applying his measure of meteorite physical properties to understanding asteroid origins and structure. Along with more than 200 scientific publications, he is the author of a number of popular books including Turn Left at Orion (with Dan Davis), and most recently Would You Baptize an Extraterrestial? (with Father Paul Mueller, SJ).  He also has hosted science programs for BBC Radio 4, been interviewed in numerous documentary films, appeared on The Colbert Report, and for more than ten years he has written a monthly science column for the British Catholic magazine, The Tablet.

Dr. Consolmagno’s work has taken him to every continent on Earth; for example, in 1996 he spent six weeks collecting meteorites with a NASA team on the blue ice regions of East Antarctica. He has served on the governing boards of the Meteoritical Society; the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences (of which he was chair in 2006-2007); and IAU Commission 16 (Planets and Satellites). In 2000, the small bodies nomenclature committee of the IAU named an asteroid, 4597 Consolmagno, in recognition of his work. In 2014 he received the Carl Sagan Medal from the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences for excellence in public communication in planetary sciences.




Tune in to “Vatican Insider” this weekend for Part II of my conversation with Vicki Thorn, founder of Project Rachel and the Executive Director of the National office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation & Healing in Milwaukee. Vicki was recently re-appointed as a corresponding member of the Pontifical academy for Life.

I will be taking a look in the future at the Academy since its strategies, membership and statutes have been reformed under Pope Francis.

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 www.ewtn.com) 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: http://www.ewtn.com/se/pg/DatService.svc/feed/~LE.xml   For VI archives: http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/file_index.asp?SeriesId=7096&pgnu=


Friday, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, sent a telegram in Pope Francis’ name to Cardinal Juan José Omella y Omella, Archbishop of Barcelona, for the attacks in that city:

“In the face of the cruel terrorist attack that sowed death and pain on Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Pope Francis wishes to express his very deep pain for the victims who lost their life in such an inhuman action and he offers prayers for the eternal repose of their souls. In these moments of sadness and pain he wishes also to send his support and closeness to the many wounded, to their families and to the entire Catalan and Spanish society. The Holy Father condemns once again blind violence which is a most serious offense against the Creator, and he offers his prayers to the Most High that he help us to continue working with determination for peace and harmony in the world. With these wishes, His Holiness confers his Apostolic Blessing on all the victims, their families and on the dear Spanish people.”

(JFL: The cardinal visited a hospital where many of the wounded were taken: photo from diocese twitter account via Crux)


(Vatican Radio)  The Catholic bishops of Spain have condemned the terrorist attack in Barcelona’s city center, which killed at least 14 people and injured more than a hundred others on Thursday. Devin Watkins reports:

In a statement released shortly after the terrorist attack in Barcelona on Thursday, the Spanish Bishops’ Conference strongly condemned all terrorism and offered prayers for the victims.

They called it a “lamentable and detestable act”.

“Before this mournful and detestable act, the Spanish Bishops’ Conference wishes, first of all, to express its solidarity and prayer for all the victims and their families. We also convey our support for the whole of society under attack by these actions, in this case the citizens of Barcelona, as well as for the Security Forces.”

The Spanish bishops went on to condemn “every demonstration of terrorism” as “an intrinsically perverse practice, completely incompatible with a just, reasonable, and moral view of life.”

Terrorism, they say, “not only gravely infringes the right to life and liberty, but is also an example of the most terrible form of intolerance and totalitarianism”.

Turning to the victims of Thursday’s attack, the bishops invite all the faithful “to pray that God grant them eternal rest” and that “He return the injured to health and grant consolation to their families”.

Finally, the Spanish bishops pray that “these despicable actions may never be repeated.”


Yet another terrible tragedy – but this time a natural disaster, not a terror attack…

Pope Francis has sent a telegram to Bishop José Carrilho of Funchal, on the Portuguese island of Madera, to express his condolences for the victims of an accident that killed 13 people and wounded about 50 others when a tree fell on a group of Catholic faithful as they prepared to participate in a procession to celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary on Tuesday. (photo news.va)

The telegram was sent in the Pope’s name by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin.

The Pope expressed his distress at the many dead and wounded “in the misfortunate accident at Our Lady of the Mount Parish” and entrusted “our deceased brothers and sisters to the mercy of God.” He asked Bishop Carrilho to convey his grief to their families of all the victims.