An interesting story from the UK about China and the Vatican – especially given the announcement at a recent press conference in the Vatican that the two countries have mutually agreed to loan artworks to each other. China will send 40 works of art to be exhibited in the Vatican Museums and the identical number of works from the Vatican will be sent to China to go on display in Beijing’s Forbidden City, The exhibits will run simultaneously in March, 2018.


(Nov. 30, – Chinese travel agents are being threatened with hefty fines unless they cancel scheduled tours to the Vatican City amid strained relations between Beijing and the seat of the Catholic Church.

Tour operators are reportedly being ordered to “delete or cancel” the Vatican and St Peter’s Basilica from their list of destinations.

According to Radio Free Asia (RFA), any company found to be in contravention of the state-issued directive could be fined up to £34,000 (300,000 yuan).

The US-backed news organisation says it had spoken with employees from several travel agencies which had all received formal instructions to prevent Chinese tourists from travelling to the Vatican.

Relations between China’s ruling Communist Party and the Vatican have been strained since Chinese Catholics fled to Taiwan after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists in 1949

And in 1950, a Catholic priest was jailed for complicity in an alleged plot to assassinate then-supreme leader Mao.

The Asian superpower has since made it clear it would like to restore relations with the Vatican, but only if it agrees to sever links with Taiwan, which China sees as a renegade province.

The Vatican is the only European state with which Taiwan has full diplomatic relations, whereas every other EU nation recognises the island as a Chinese territory.

RFA says an employee at the Tuniu China International Travel Service said her company had received orders to remove the Vatican from its itinerary.

Millions of tourists visit the Vatican City every year.

He said: “We used to, but we’re not offering that itinerary any more.

“Groups aren’t going there any more.

“We received a directive from the State Tourism Bureau telling us not to let people go there, so there’s nothing we can do about it.”

The Vatican covers just a quarter of a square mile, but is home to a series of world-class tourist attractions including St Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel.


I sincerely hope that my longtime friend and a colleague at Vatican Radio, Philippa Hitchens, is allowed a good rest and a day or two off when she returns to Rome from covering the papal trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh. She has done such a terrific job for Vatican Radio and has brought so much color and behind the scenes info to us.


Pope Francis Wednesday celebrated Mass at a sports ground in central Yangon, on the third day of his pastoral visit to Myanmar.

The Vatican Radio correspondent in Yangon, Philippa Hitchen reported that the event marked a highlight of his journey for the small Catholic Church in the country….

This was the moment the Catholic community in Myanmar had been patiently waiting for, since Francis’ arrival in the country two days ago. As he acknowledged in his homily, many of the faithful had come to Yangon from remote, rural villages or mountainous communities and had journeyed for several days on foot, by train, bus or the uncomfortable, open-sided trucks that are the most common form of transport here. They’d been camping out close to the sports ground since Monday, in anticipation of  this historic, first papal Mass on Burmese soil.

Myanmar’s turbulent history

The Kyaikkasan ground itself, built under British rule as Rangoon’s racecourse, is closely connected to the turbulent past century of the country’s history. During the years of military dictatorship, following the 1962 coup, it was used as a temporary detention centre. Following the death of Burma’s most famous diplomat, former U.N. Secretary General, U Thant, his coffin was briefly displayed here, before being seized by students protesting against the military’s refusal to honour their globally respected political leader.

Healing memories of the past

Pope Francis in his homily alluded to this turbulent history, noting how “many in Myanmar bear the wounds of violence” and are searching for ways to heal “every hurt and every painful memory”. While we often try to do this through anger and revenge, he said, it is only through forgiveness and mercy that we can truly find healing in our hearts. He described this loving mercy, modelled by Jesus on the Cross, as kind of “a spiritual GPS” that unfailingly guides us, even when we seem to have lost our way.

Witnessing to love and compassion

The pope praised the small flock in Myanmar for its tireless work among the poorest and most vulnerable people, mentioning especially the local Caritas and the Pontifical Mission Societies. But there are many other small groups of Catholics, up and down this country, working in schools and clinics, refugee camps and rehabilitation centres, quietly witnessing to those values of loving kindness and compassion.

‘Stirring experience’ for small flock

For all those people, this was truly a unique event, quite unimaginable until just a few months ago when the papal visit was first announced. Cardinal Charles Bo, at the end of Mass, described it as a “stirring experience” for this little flock.  An event that may hopefully, in some small way, be part of the national healing process that’s so urgently needed here.


Pope Francis had an action-packed afternoon in Myanmar on Wednesday, meeting with the nation’s Buddhist leaders at a peace pagoda and with the country’s Catholic bishops at the archbishop’s residence where he’s staying. He also managed to squeeze in an unscheduled encounter with the local Jesuit community there, as he likes to do on every foreign journey.

Philippa Hitchen is in Yangon and reports that the focus of the day’s events was on the role of all religions in shaping society through the shared values of justice, dignity and peace.

The meeting with Buddhist leaders was a very formal affair, with a row of barefoot monks, wrapped in their maroon or rust coloured robes, seated in stiff backed chairs opposite the pope and the rest of the Vatican delegation. An occasion for official speeches rather than animated interfaith discussions.

Nevertheless, the pope spoke emphatically about the need to strengthen friendships between believers of different faiths, promoting that culture of encounter that can “surmount all forms of misunderstanding, intolerance, prejudice and hatred”. He quoted from a famous collection of Buddha’s verses and encouraged recent efforts by religious leaders to meet together and discuss increased cooperation.

Weaving peaceful interfaith relations

In a similar way, with Catholic bishops later in the day, the pope returned to the theme of both interfaith and ecumenical relations, a pivotal part of the Church’s life here, where Catholics are a small minority within both the Christian and the wider Buddhist community.

He talked about weaving peaceful relations among people of different faiths, reminding me of the delicate designs I’ve seen woven into the brightly coloured clothes of the many different ethnic groups here.

Bishops must be prophetic voice

He told the bishops they must be healers, helping to overcome the scars of conflicts that continue to impede peace and development. He urged them to accompany their people, like shepherds who “bear the smell of the sheep”, going out into the fields and villages, rather than staying inside the sacristies of their churches.

Finally, he urged the bishops to be a prophetic voice within their rapidly changing society, asking them to focus especially on the environment, taking care of this nation’s “rich natural resources for the benefit of future generations”.

Priority of environmental protection

I only wish he had time, as I did last week, to visit the new Holy Cross church, built at the foot of a mountain in the spectacular Kachin National Park. Located at the source of the Irrawaddy river which runs the length of the country, the church is managed by La Salette Father Jerome Eiphan, whose dream is to develop a centre for environmental protection. Funding is scarce and the challenges are many, yet it’s a good example of how the Church here is quietly promoting those values of justice and peace that the pope was talking about today.


POPE FRANCIS TWEETED TODAY: I want my visit to embrace all the people of Myanmar and to encourage the building of an inclusive society.

Just a few highlights of Pope Francis’ first full day in Myanmar (meeting with religious leaders, welcome ceremony at airport in capitol city, meeting with government officials, presidential palace:


(Vatican Radio) On the first full day of his journey to Myanmar, Pope Francis travelled on Tuesday to the new capital city of Nay Pyi Taw for an official welcome ceremony at the presidential palace.

Our correspondent for this visit, Philippa Hitchen, also went to visit the city and sends this report…

Nay Pyi Taw, where Pope Francis travels on Tuesday to meet the president and popular Burmese leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

It’s a four hour drive north from Yangon, on the road to Mandalay (literally!) although the pope is taking a short plane trip to the city, which was purpose built by the former military government, just over a decade ago. Its name means ‘Abode of the King’ and it was designed to showcase what the rulers of the day hoped would be the nation’s rapid transformation into a leading Asian economic powerhouse.

Purpose built modern metropolis

Almost overnight in 2005, administrative offices were transferred, lock, stock and barrel from Yangon to the new site, which was officially inaugurated with a giant military parade the following year.

The part of the city that the pope – and most other visitors – see is an eerie ghost town of wide, empty roads, lined with gleaming government offices, huge luxury hotels and amusement parks that light up like a kind of Disneyland after sundown.

Giant presidential complex

At the heart of this strange, modern metropolis lies the colossal presidential palace complex, surrounded by gardens, with a moat and tall, iron railings. It’s inside this vast building that the pope begins his visit, meeting privately with both President Htin Kyav and Aung San Suu Kyi, officially the State Counsellor and Minister for Foreign Affairs, although most people here call her simply ‘The Lady’.

Peace, reconciliation and minority rights

After that, Pope Francis goes onto a giant convention centre to give his first address to government leaders, diplomats and the country’s ruling elite. It’s here that everyone will be listening very attentively to his words about peace and reconciliation, religious freedom and the rights of Myanmar’s many ethnic minorities that are likely to be key themes on this short, but vital papal visit the region.


Before his departure for the new capital city of Myanmar, Pope Francis met with 17 leaders of Myanmar’s religious communities Tuesday morning, telling them that peace consists in unity in diversity, not in uniformity.  The Pope met leaders of Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Catholic and other Christian communities at the Archbishop’s House in Yangon, at the start of his first full day of his November. 27-30 apostolic visit to Myanmar.

The Holy See spokesman, Greg Burke said that the during his 40-minute meeting with them, the Pope urged them to work together to rebuild the country and that if they argue, they should argue like brothers, who reconcile afterwards.

After various leaders spoke, Pope Francis spoke off-hand in Spanish helped by an interpreter.  Alluding to the Psalms, he said, “ How beautiful it is to see brothers united!”   He explained that being united does not mean being equal.  “Unity is not uniformity, even within a religious community.  Each one has his values, his riches as also shortcomings. We are all different. … Peace consists in a chorus of differences, unity comes about in differences.”

Francis said, “Peace is harmony,” and he noted a trend in the world towards uniformity to make everybody equal, denouncing this as a “cultural colonization” that “kills humanity.” He said religious leaders should understand the richness of our differences – ethnic, religious or popular – and what results from these differences is dialogue. “As brothers, we can learn from these differences,” the Pope stressed, exhorting the religious leaders to “build the country, which is so rich and diverse even geographically.”

After that meeting, the Pope travelled to the new capital city of Nay Pyi Taw for an official welcome ceremony at the presidential palace. After meeting the president, government officials and the diplomatic corps, he flew back to Yangon.  His scheduled included (all times local-Myanmar is 5 and a half hours ahead of Rome):

14:00 – Departure by air for Nay Pyi Taw

15:10 – Arrival at Nay Pyi Taw Airport – Official welcome

15:50 – Welcome ceremony in the Presidential Palace

16:00 – Courtesy visit to the president

16:30 – Meeting with the state counsellor and minister of foreign affairs

17:15 – Meeting with the authorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps in the International Convention Centre – Address of the Holy Father

18:20 – Departure by air for Yangon

19:25 – Arrival at Yangon Airport and transfer to the archbishopric.


Pope Francis on Tuesday spent his first full day in Myanmar where he traveled to the country’s capital to meet with the country’s de facto civilian leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. After meeting with her privately, she pronnounced an official welcome speech at the Myanmar International Convention Center where the Pope met with authorities, representatives of civil society and the diplomatic corps.

In her address to the Pope, Suu Kyi quoted from the Sermon on the Mount saying it presents a challenge for political and religious leaders and she mentioned that,“of the many challenges that our government has been facing, the situation in the Rakhine has most strongly captured the attention of the world”. (JFL: A reference to the plight of the Rohingya people whose name the Pope had been requested not to use during his trip, specifically by Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon)

She also said that the aim of the Myanmar Government is ”to bring out the beauty of our diversity and to make it our strength, by protecting rights, fostering tolerance, ensuring security for all”.

Following is her speech:

Holy Father Pope Francis,

Distinguished Guests,

It is a great joy and a great honour for me to welcome you to this gathering that reaffirms our faith in the power and possibility of peace and loving kindness. Let me begin by thanking His Holiness for being with us today. ‘Grazie per essere arrivato qui da noi’.

Your Holiness, you bring us strength and hope in your understanding of our need, our longing, for peace, national reconciliation and social harmony. Our national anthem, adopted at the time of our independence, begins with the words: “Never swerving from just freedom,” reflecting the strongly held conviction of the founding fathers of our nation that true freedom cannot survive without justice. These words resonate with us today, just as they did with those who fought for independence that our people might be able to realize their full potential. It is incumbent on us to continue the task of building a nation founded on laws and institutions that will guarantee each and everyone in our land justice, freedom and security. Thus, the words of Your Holiness that the prophets of old saw justice as the basis of all true and lasting peace “resonates with us, and serves as a reminder that in our quest for peace we must be guided by the wisdom and aspirations of our fathers.

Your Holiness, the challenges that Myanmar faces are many, and each challenge calls for strength, patience and courage. Our nation is a rich tapestry of different peoples, languages and religions, woven on a backdrop of vast natural potential. It is the aim of our Government to bring out the beauty of our diversity and to make it our strength, by protecting rights, fostering tolerance, ensuring security for all. Our most cherished endeavor is to carry forward the peace process based on the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement that was initiated by the previous Government. The road to peace is not always smooth but it is the only way that will lead our people to their dream of a just and prosperous land that will be their refuge, their pride, their joy. The quest for peace has to be reinforced by the attainment of sustainable development, that the future of coming generations might be assured.

Of the many challenges that our government has been facing, the situation in the Rakhine has most strongly captured the attention of the world. As we address long standing issues, social, economic and political, that have eroded trust and understanding, harmony and cooperation, between different communities in Rakhine, the support of our people and of good friends who only wish to see us succeed in our endeavours, has been invaluable. Your Holiness, the gifts of compassion and encouragement that you bring to us will be treasured and we take to heart your words in the message of the celebration of the fiftieth World Day of Peace on 1st January 2017:

“Jesus himself offers a “manual” for this strategy of peacemaking in the Sermon on the Mount. The eight Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:3-10) provide a portrait of the person we could describe as blessed, good and authentic. Blessed are the meek, Jesus tells us, the merciful and the peacemakers, those who are pure in heart, and those who hunger and thirst for justice.

        This is also a programme and a challenge for political and religious leaders, the heads of international institutions, and business and media executives: to apply the Beatitudes in the exercise of their respective responsibilities. It is a challenge to build up society, communities and businesses by acting as peacemakers. It is to show mercy by refusing to discard people, harm the environment, or seek to win at any cost.”

Your Holiness, we are proud and happy that you have come to our country a mere six months after the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Myanmar. This is not only the opening of a new era of close relations, it also constitutes a revival of old ties that I, and others of my generation, remember with affection and appreciation. I began my education at the St. Francis Convent in Rangoon which makes me fancy that I am entitled to special blessings from your Holiness. But all the blessings you confer will be shared by all of us that we may be able to spread goodwill and joy throughout our land.

Your Holiness, each age in the life of a nation brings its own responsibilities just as it has to bear the legacies of the past. We today who have been given the opportunity to effect changes that could open new vistas of progress for our nation, will strive to discharge our duties with probity and humility. We wish to leave to the future a land that has been nurtured with care and respect, a healthy land, a beautiful land. We wish to leave to the future a people united and at peace, secure in their capacity to grow and prosper in a changing world; a compassionate and generous people, always ready to hold out a helping hand to those in need; a people strong in skills and whole in spirit.

Your Holiness, the children of your Church in this country are also the children of Myanmar, loved and cherished. We thank them, as we thank you, for praying for our nation and all the peoples of the world. The road ahead is long but we will walk it with confidence, trusting in the power of peace, love and joy.

Your Holiness,

‘Continuiamo a camminare insieme con fiducia’. (Let’s continue to walk together with trust)

I thank you all.


In his first public discourse on Myanmar soil on Tuesday, Pope Francis encouraged the nation on the “arduous process of peace-building and national reconciliation,” saying it can be achieved on only through a “commitment to justice and respect for human rights,” a process in which religious leaders have a crucial role to play.

The Pope made the remark to Myanmar’s state authorities, leaders of civil society and the diplomatic corps, after he was given a state welcome at the presidential palace in the country’s new capital Nay Pyi Taw, some 320 km north of the former capital Yangon, where the Pope landed on Monday and where he will spend the rest of his stay in Myanmar.

Peace founded on justice

‎Speaking in Italian, the Pope observed that according to age old wisdom, justice means a steadfast will to give ‎each person his due which forms the “basis of all true ‎and lasting peace.” The denial of this caused the “tragic experience of the two world wars,” the Pope said, that led to the establishment of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration ‎of Human ‎Rights as the basis for the international community’s efforts to promote ‎justice, peace and human ‎development worldwide, and to resolve conflicts ‎through dialogue, not the use of force. The Pope said the presence of the diplomatic corps before him confirms Myanmar’s commitment to uphold and pursue these foundational principles.

The Holy Father noted that the people of Myanmar have suffered much and continue to suffer from “civil conflict and hostilities that have ‎lasted ‎all ‎too long and created deep divisions.” The Pope said that in its task of restoring peace, “the healing of ‎those ‎wounds must be a paramount political and spiritual ‎priority.”

The Pope stressed that the future of the nation must be peace, a peace based on ‎respect for the dignity and rights of each member ‎of society, respect for each ‎ethnic group and its identity, respect for the rule of law, and respect for ‎a ‎democratic order that enables each individual and every group – none excluded – ‎to offer its ‎legitimate contribution to the common good.‎

Role of religious leaders

In this great task of national reconciliation and integration, the Pope said, Myanmar’s religious communities have a privileged role to play. He pointed out that “religious differences need not be a source of division and distrust, but ‎rather a force for unity, forgiveness, ‎tolerance and wise nation building.” He said religions can help repair “the emotional, spiritual and psychological wounds of those who ‎have ‎suffered in the years of conflict,” and “uproot the ‎causes of conflict, build bridges of dialogue, seek justice and be a ‎prophetic voice for all who suffer.” The Pope considered it a “great sign of hope” that leaders of the ‎various religious traditions in Myanmar are making efforts ‎to work together, in ‎a spirit of harmony and mutual respect, for peace, for helping the poor and ‎for ‎educating in authentic religious and human values. In seeking to build a culture ‎of encounter and ‎solidarity, they contribute to the common good and to laying the ‎indispensable moral foundations for a ‎future of hope and prosperity for coming ‎generations. ‎

Youth – future of Myanmar

Stressing that the future of Myanmar lies in the hands of young people, the Pope called on the nation to provide them with real opportunities for employment and a quality education, saying, it will be an investment that will yield a rich return, which is urgently needed for inter-generational justice. They need to be trained not only in technical fields but especially in ethical values, such as honesty, integrity and human solidarity that can consolidate democracy and the growth of unity and peace at every level. Intergenerational justice, the Pope pointed out, also demands that future ‎generations ‎inherit a natural environment unspoiled by human “greed and depredation.”

Pope Francis said that the main purpose of his visit to Myanmar was to “pray with ‎the nation’s small but fervent Catholic community, to confirm them ‎in their faith, ‎and to encourage them in their efforts to contribute to the good of the nation.”  He said he also wanted to embrace the entire population of Myanmar and ‎to offer a word of ‎encouragement to all those who are working to build a just, ‎reconciled and inclusive social order.



(Vatican Radio) The people of Myanmar welcomed Pope Francis to Yangon on Monday afternoon, although a first glance around the cities of Yangon and the capital Naypyitaw show few signs of any major preparations.

Philippa Hitchen has been travelling around the country, in preparation for this pastoral visit and reports on the expectations of the Catholic community ahead of the pope’s arrival.

One or two isolated posters and billboards can be spotted around the central St Mary’s cathedral in Yangon and the adjacent archbishop’s house where the pope will be staying for the duration of this three day visit. Further out of the centre, away from the shopping malls and smart hotels, in the townships that make up the sprawling metropolis, the other Catholic parishes have also been preparing for this first ever papal visit to the largely Buddhist nation.

Christians in northern Kachin state

Eager pilgrims have been converging on Yangon from other cities too, especially from the northern Kachin state where the majority of Christians are located. I visited Bishop Francis Tang from the diocese of Myitkyina there, watching busloads of men, women and children gathering with their bags on the grass outside his church, in preparation for the two day journey down south. The bishops say up to 200.000 people are expected to attend the main papal events, including pilgrims from neighbouring Thailand, Vietnam, Korea and the Philippines.

Myanmar’s many ethnic minorities

Officially there has been good cooperation with the Myanmar authorities in the planning of this trip, though everyone is on tenterhooks over the crisis in northern Rakhine state. With western media focused almost exclusively on whether or not the pope will pronounce the word ‘Rohingya’, organisers are seeking to shine the light on the many other refugee problems that still plague this nation, made up of over 130 different ethnic minorities. Several of them are locked in long running conflicts that have seen hundreds of thousands of villagers fleeing their homes and living in squalid camps for internally displaced people. I visited one of the 32 located in Myitkyina alone, where the Church tries to supplement basic services provided to Christian families there by the World Food Programme and a variety of NGOs.

High expectations for papal visit

Expectations among these Christian communities are sky-high, hoping the pope can miraculously bring the civil war to an end, by encouraging the military and members of the various independence armies to return to the negotiating table. Without peace and respect for all the country’s minorities, they insist, this nation can never develop and improve living standards for the quarter of its population that still lives below the poverty line.

Messenger of peace and reconciliation

That includes people living in the squalid slums I can see from my hotel overlooking Yangon city centre, close to St Mary’s cathedral. Many of them, including plenty of non-Catholics, will be lining the route as the papal motorcade passes by on Monday, or queuing to enter the stadium where he’ll celebrate Mass on Wednesday. For them, this visit marks a once in a lifetime opportunity to welcome the man they’re hailing as a messenger of reconciliation and peace.


Pope Francis arrived on Monday in Yangon, where he was greeted by Myanmar’s political and religious authorities, as well as by crowds of ordinary people who lined the road to the archbishop’s residence where he’ll be staying for the three-day visit.

It’s stiflingly hot here in downtown Yangon, but that didn’t stop thousands of people crowding into the city to line parts of the route where the papal motorcade passed by today, on its way from the airport to the archbishop’s house. While I’d forgotten to put any sunscreen on, almost everyone here uses the pale yellow juice of a local plant smeared on their cheeks to protect them from the sun’s rays. They’d come from all across the country, especially from the northern states where the majority of Christians live, largely in isolated, rural or mountain villages.

‘Peace and Love’ logo

Their excitement was palpable as they waved Vatican or Myanmar national flags, waiting for the pope to pass by. Many were dressed in traditionally embroidered tops and ‘longyis’, those brightly coloured lengths of cloth that everyone – women and men – wear wrapped around them here. Others sported hats and T-shirts bearing the words ‘Love and Peace’, the logo for this trip, depicted above a multi-coloured outline of the country, to signify the 135 ethnic groups that make up this south-east Asian country.

Inside Archbishop’s House

Inside the garden of the archbishop’s house, a group of eager Catholics (including a couple of nuns, who stood out from the colourful crowd in their white habits and veils) were energetically dancing and singing. As the blue car, carrying Pope Francis swept through the gates, their cries of excitement rose to fever pitch, as he stepped out and began walking up the path to the cream-coloured, colonial style residence.

Tuesday’s papal programme

For the remainder of the day, he’s resting, after the more than 10-hour flight from Rome. Then on Tuesday, it’s back to the airport for the short journey up to the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, where he’ll be welcomed by the president and by Burmese leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Those meetings will, of course, be held behind closed doors and even his first public address to government officials and diplomats at a nearby convention centre will only be open to the few, carefully selected guests.

Outdoor Mass on Wednesday

So the crowds of eager Catholics who lined the streets today will have to wait until Wednesday morning for their chance to hear and see the pope in person. That’s when he celebrates an open-air Mass at a colonial era racecourse, which also served as a detention centre during the darkest years of military rule.

Patiently waiting for the Pope

Earlier in the week, I met many of the pilgrims on their way down to Yangon from other towns and villages around the country, including a dozen lucky children who were picked to form part of the welcome delegation at the airport today. Many of the Catholics are from poor families and most of them told me they didn’t have accommodation here in the city. They’re simply going to camp out on the grounds of that sports arena, patiently waiting for their big moment to arrive.



After a long and frustrating afternoon at my computer, I decided about 8:30 to go to La Vittoria for a quick bite – let someone else do the cooking. As I started walking down Via di Porta Cavalleggeri, I saw several police cars with their lights on and realized they were in position to accompany Pope Francis’ car to the airport for his flight to Myanmar as it exited the Perugino Gate to the Vatican.

I also saw several cars waiting just up the street near the Perugino. I took a few photos and then decided it would be fun to do a Facebook Live as the motorcade left the Vatican. I waited a bit and was determined to do this but the temperature was so cold and the wind was picking up so that, after a long wait, I decided that wisdom was the better part of valor and abandoned my spot.

The papal plane was scheduled to leave Fiumicino Airport at 9:40 and I had reason to believe from reports I saw that the Holy Father would leave the Vatican at or before 9pm. But that did not happen. I read this morning that the plane actually left at 10:10pm. The late departure for the aircraft could have been due to a late Vatican City departure and/or a ceremony at the airport. Media colleague will surely let us know.


Not long after the plane departed, as is his habit, Pope Francis went back to greet members of the media. Holy See Press office Director Greg Burke accompanied the Pope and made some opening remarks, after which the Pope spoke very briefly.

Burke: Good evening, Holiness – or is it good night! We are always grateful to have you here with us, perhaps even more so this evening as it is already a bit past 10:30: you have spoken of a message of reconciliation, pardon and peace. This evening we’ll try to give you some peace so let’s be quick so that you have some time to sleep. If you wish to say something….

Pope Francis: Yes, good night – and many thanks for your company. Thanks also for your work that always sows so many god seeds. I wish you a good stay – hey say it is very hot. I’m so sorry but at least let’s hope it is a fruitful trip. I leave you now…



As is customary for EWTN employees, tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day, and Friday are holidays, so this column will take a rest – but not the author, as you will see!

Thanksgiving has always been for me, as it has for millions of Americans, one of my favorite holidays – a holiday from school or work, families traveling great distances to be together, the amazing aromas emanating from kitchens nationwide, parades and football games and, well, you know what I mean. I fully realize that football this year may be more of a divisive factor than one of unity! How very sad!

My favorite memory is when, at dinner, just before grace, each member of the family had to say what we were thankful for. The last time I celebrated Thanksgiving in America was in 2009! However Thanksgiving celebrations in Rome are truly memorable, very special days.

Mass is an integral part of the day. On occasion, as I will tomorrow, I have attended two Masses, one at the church for American Catholics in Rome – St. Patrick’s – and a second Mass at the Pontifical North American College, our seminary in the Eternal City. NAC, as the college is called, makes Thanksgiving a very special occasion by starting the day with a late morning Mass and then offering a traditional American turkey dinner to seminarians, faculty, staff and invited guests. There is always an additional Italian touch to this menu as we start with an antipasto and pasta! Fifth year students – ordained priests who have returned to Rome for a fifth year of studies – serve the meal. As pumpkins pies are paraded into the dining room, seminarians sing or recite “An Ode to Pumpkin Pie.”

One highlight of the day, at both St. Patrick’s and the North American College, is the reading of the Presidential Proclamation by an American Ambassador. This year, Ambassador-designate Callista Gingrich will read the proclamation at the end of Mass in St. Patrick’s and also at NAC during lunch. (By the by, the word ‘designate’ appears before her name until she presents her Credentials or Letters of Credence to Pope Francis. She will do that in December.)

It is amazing how many Americans do not know of the Presidential Proclamation! George Washington issued the first such proclamation on October 3, 1789. It began – and ended – with a reference to God… “Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor” The president then assigned a special day that year “to be devoted to thanking God for His beneficence.”


Dear Lord, how have you blessed me? Let me count the ways…..

My wonderful family, my beautiful faith, my ocean of friends, the friends throughout your great universe whom you have brought into my life.

Does a day pass that you do not bring some unique, new person into my life?

Does a day pass that I am not enriched ad blessed by some amazing event which you placed in my path as a learning moment, a time of prayer, a period of silent Thanksgiving?

You blessed me at my baptism when you brought me into your beautiful Catholic Church and a faith to which I have always tried to be faithful.

You have blessed me by enriching that faith over the years, allowing me to work for you every day, to bring your Word and your teachings and your Truth to so many.

My words, by comparison, are very insignificant but truly heartfelt. I am filled with both thanksgiving and joy as I write these words, as my mind’s eye overflows with images of each family member, of friends here in Rome and around the globe, of the magnificent events that daily fill my life.

I sign most emails and letters with “God bless,” and then on another line “Joan” – but I read it silently as “God bless Joan.”

And You have blessed me! Heartfelt THANKS!

For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

For the beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon and stars of light,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above,
Pleasures pure and undefiled,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.
(Part of a Christian hymn composed by Folliott S. Pierpoint (1835-1917)





At today’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis continued his new catechesis on the Eucharist, and said today, “we consider the Mass as the memorial of Christ’s passover from death to life. In the Bible, a “memorial” is more than a mere remembrance of a past event; it is the making present of that event, which enables us to share in its saving power. At every celebration of the Eucharist, Jesus pours out his mercy upon us, as he did on the cross, in order to renew our hearts, our lives and our entire world.

In the words of Vatican Council II, said the Holy Father, “as often as the sacrifice of the cross is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out.”

He noted that, “each Sunday, we enter into Christ’s victory over sin and death and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are given a share in his very life. By making present the Lord’s paschal mystery, the Eucharist strengthens us to bear witness, like the martyrs of old, to his triumph over death and to love others as he does, freely giving of ourselves for their good.”

Francis explained that, “When we enter the church for Mass, we should think to ourselves: “I enter Calvary, where Jesus gives his life for me,” We should respond to this “in silence, in weeping,” and also with joy, because we have been saved from death and sin.

“Imagine,” he exclaimed, “that you are actually at Calvary. In that moment, you would look up and know that the man upon the cross is Jesus. Would you allow yourself to make chit-chat or take pictures?”No, because Jesus (is there)!”

The Pope was clearly on his message of last week when he decried the use of phones during Mass to take pictures, saying our attention should be entirely on what is happening at Mass, on what the priest is doing and saying.


Pope Francis tomorrow, November 23 in St. Peter’s Basilica, will preside over a Prayer for Peace in South Sudan and in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This event is organized by “Solidarity with South Sudan” in association with the Justice and Peace office of religious organizations worldwide, and invites Christians across the world to join in prayer for peace in the world, and especially for South Sudan and the DRC, two conflict-ravaged nations in which millions of displaced people are suffering the effects of violence and terrible humanitarian crises.

Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni spoke to Michel Roy, secretary general of Caritas Internationalis, the Catholic Church’s aid organization, about the situation in the two African nations and asked him why it is important to raise awareness.

Michel Roy says it is hugely important to break through the indifference that surrounds so many ‘forgotten conflicts’ and situations of terrible social and economic injustice in various parts of the world.

“We have chosen South Sudan and DRC as two examples of peoples and countries that are suffering so much from conflicts that they have never wanted and of which they are the victims” he said.

Roy goes on to describe the political and economic interests that fuel the conflicts and continuing lack of security in both of those countries which have caused millions of people to be displaced and to suffer all the consequences displacement entails. There are also the interests of neighboring countries and, in many cases, multi-national organizations at stake: “To stop a war once it has started is really difficult,” he said.

The needs of the people are many, Roy explained, they are hungry, they need food and medical assistance, and while FAO has launched a humanitarian program it is only partially funded and far from sufficient.

Schools and churches have been destroyed, young people have been recruited into militia groups and the lack of international support means there is not hope in sight.

“The needs are humanitarian – also in places like the Central African Republic, Darfur and many other nations, there is urgent need for humanitarian response which the international community is not ready to give it seems” he said.

Roy speaks of the need to mobilize politicians at all levels and to put pressure on the international community “to find ways to come out of this tragedy”.

“Peace can be reached, it’s a question of will,” he said.