At the end of a day with many unexpected happenings, I find there is no time left to finish the piece I have started on my visit to the Benedictine Monastery of Brevnov. I want to do it justice and accompany it by some of the many photos I took so I’ll dedicate special time to that story tomorrow.

I’m sure you saw my earlier post on vespers and the encounter by Pope Francis with 70,000 young altar servers from around the world. Perhaps you even saw some of it on TV or followed live coverage, as you can of similar papal events, on http://www.vaticannews,va

In addition to “programmed” work days and/or “unexpected happenings,” I have computer issues that enormously slow me down every single day – has been this way for months with no remedy in sight except to bring the computer to the tech people at the store where I bought it in December. However, I’m afraid the idea of turning my computer over to people I don’t know terrifies me. Yes, of course, I have a backup on an external hard drive.

Bearing in mind I’ve not dropped my computer or spilled anything on it, here and the three main issues I’m dealing with:

1. The cursor goes where it wants when it wants. I can be typing a story or an email or whatever and when I cannot see the last words I just typed, I search high and low on the page and voila, there it is, usually a couple of lines or a paragraph above the one I was writing.
2. The language changes whenever the computer feels that should be done. I am programmed for English UK – Italian keyboard. BUT, in the middle of a sentence (throughout my working day) it changes to English UK – UK keyboard – all the symbols are different – quote marks, parentheses, astericks, etc.
3. The absolute worst part is that, without any warning whatsoever, I can lose the last line or paragraph of whatever I have been typing. If I have failed to save a document for a line or two or a para or two, those lines or that para is gone (you cannot see it but my cursor just moved as I was typing those last words!). I have NO idea what key – or combination thereof! – I have touched – certainly not the ‘delete’ key!

All of the above have happened in each of the preceding paragraphs!


Just for fun, here are a few of the photos I took during my time in Prague that will give you just a small idea of the variety, the charm and the beauty of the buildings in Prague.

I offer a few single pictures and then a slideshow:

And now a slideshow:

And this structure is know as the “the dancing couple” – sometimes called “Fred and Ginger” (as in Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers from days well gone by)



As I write, Pope Francis has just entered St. Peter’s Square on what has been probably the hottest day of the year – we have been in the high 90s (38 celsius) and tomorrow are supposed to reach 100 – to say vespers with and address some 70,000 young altar servers from 18 countries and islands. This is the 12th annual event and the young men and women traditionally come to Rome for several days, including time with the Holy Father.

Vespers start at 6:30 and after that Pope Francis, on the final day of his “working vacation,” will address the young people.

I hope and pray there will be enough water to go around. I know that, in the past on similar hot days, the Vatican has made sure there are hundreds, if not thousands of bottles of water ready for the pilgrims.

The young altar servers have been in Rome for several days and each group, be it a parish or a diocese, distinguishes itself by wearing identifying neck scarves, hats or shirts (or all three). You’d have to have stayed at home for four days note to note the huge crowds of young people!

They hail from Italy, Belgium, Croatia, Luxembourg, Austria, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Switzerland, Serbia. Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Hungary, the United States and from several Caribbean islands. The largest group – at least 50,000 – comes from Germany.

The following is a piece from Vatican media – it speaks of the goRome! App, something you might want to try!

More than 70,000 altar servers from 18 different countries, and many more nationalities, begin the 12th International Pilgrimage for Altar Boys and Girls under the motto, “Seek Peace and Pursue it!” (Psalm 34:15).

By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp (vaticanmedia)

“Seek Peace and Pursue it!” is the motto for the 12th International Pilgrimage of Altar Boys and Girls which began in Rome on Monday and ends on Saturday. More than 70,000 altar servers between the ages of 13 and 23 from 18 countries, and many more nationalities, are participating in this year’s pilgrimage.

Altar servers – missionaries of peace

The International Pilgrimage of Altar Boys and Girls is organized by Coetus Internationalis Ministrantium (CIM), an international organization for the pastoral care of altar servers. Founded in 1960, the organization, then and now, seeks to foster peace beyond borders in order to create a world at peace. Dr Klára Csiszár, Vice President of CIM, says that CIM fosters a sense that altar servers are missionaries who “help to carry the world-changing power of God’s love from the altar into the world”.

Bringing altar servers together from many nations, and even more nationalities, helps deepen religious identity, strengthen communion, and “shows the young people the worldwide dimension of their ministry”, says Bishop Stefan Oster, SDB, President of the Commission for Youth Ministry of the German Bishops’ Conference.

Blind date scheduled

Pilgrims will be identifiable by a scarf personalized according to diocese and country. In addition to various spiritual and liturgical experiences, some pilgrims will go on a blind date, meeting others at random to pray and play together. The highlight of the event is on Tuesday evening when the pilgrims will participate in an Extraordinary Audience with Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square.

goRome! App

Pilgrims can download the goRome! App where they can find a game with St Tarcisius, practical information for getting around Rome, prayers, event locations, handy words in Italian, emergency information — and even locations to the nearest water fountain and gelateria. The goHome! Section will then accompany the altar servers home after the pilgrimage as they reenter their normal lives after such a strong faith experience.

Personal testimony

One of the pilgrims is Jonas Ferstl, an 18-year-old from Germany, who became an altar server after making his First Communion because he wanted to continue connecting with the Faith. He describes serving at the altar as a wonderful experience and that the service he performs in Church should also be identifiable elsewhere. With the recent death of his grandfather, he has felt the importance of his faith. It is that faith, he says, that assures him that his grandfather is in a better place.

(The papal homily and his address to young people will soon be posted in summary form on in both Italian and English)



I have only been back from magnificent, historical Prague, capital of the Czech Republic for two days but the memories, the visits, the sightseeing, the long wonderful conversations with new friends, the relaxing and delicious meals but especially the people are embedded deep in my mind and my heart.

This is a land that has been marked by Christianity for over 1000 years and I touched only the tip of this special iceberg

My first morning in Prague, I spent two wonderful hours with Cardinal Dominik Duka, archbishop of Prague, whose fascinating life story, especially the years under communism, could be made into a film.

As a seminarian and priest in the then Czechoslovakia, he was forced to work in various factories, at one point he was a locksmith, at another he worked in the design department of an automobile factory. He spent some time in prison and one cell-mate was the playright and dissident Vaclav Havel, who served as the last president of Czechoslovakia from 1989 to the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1992 and then as the first president of the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003.

Cardinal Duka spoke to me of the physical and spiritual rebuilding in the new Czech Republic that had to be done after the fall of the Berlin Wall and communism in 1989. Churches and schools, convents and monasteries had to be physically repaired or rebuilt. The Church had to re-build many of its services and pastoral ministries as well – those for families, vocations, youth, education to name but a few.

He emphasized two aspects of Church life – one was the very strong pro-life movement in his nation, citing in particular last spring’s 10,000-person March for Life in Prague. He also emphasized the importance and impact of Caritas in Czech society – an NGO in the Czech Republic and very respected by the government. Caritas has over 7,000 employees and large numbers of volunteers throughout the country. One of their big annual events is Christmas dinner in the archbishop’s place for 300 poor people and the cardinal plays an important role that day.

Photos from my first evening in Prague, a walk through the Franciscan Garden to a restaurant for dinner with Stanislav Zeman, the archbishop’s spokesman:

The restaurant –

As I mentioned Friday in my column, I visited two monasteries – the Benedictine monastery of Brevnov – founded in 993! – and the Premonstratensian monastery of Zeliv, about 85 kilometers from Prague, founded in 1139 by Prague’s Archbishop Otto and Prince Sobeslav.

I chose to visit the monasteries not only because of their amazing history but because of how they survived the darkest period of their lives, the communist decades, to come back and become thriving religious communities, closely linked to the cities and towns nearby.

I immensely enjoyed my time at the monasteries but my joy was doubled when I discovered my new friends from the Czech Bishops Conference had never been to either place!

Both were fully functioning monasteries up to the communist years when they were forced to close, the religious sent away (or imprisoned or in forced labor) and became offices for communist officials or, for example, Zeliv served as a prison from 1950 to 1956 and after that became a psychiatric hospital until 1990!

Today both Zeliv and Brevnov are fully functioning and financially autonomous monasteries – places of prayer, of course, but they have restaurants and small hotels and spaces for seminars and meetings, etc. Zeliv even has a terrific brewery!

I will be doing separate stories with photos on each of these monasteries, as I will of my visit with Cardinal Duka (once I listen to our 90-minute taped conversation!), and I’ll post photos of the city, the Charles Bridge, St. Vitus Cathedral, and Our Lady Victorious church with its celebrated statue of the Infant of Prague!

Pix from my hotel balcony – the Jalta (prounounced Yalta) Boutique Hotel – that overlooks the famous Wenceslas Square which, as you can see, is not a square at all! It is a long, very wide boulevard with a broad meridian that has pathways, gardens, play areas for children and cafes. This is flanked by several lanes for traffic on either side and the street side houses hotels, restaurants, stores and offices.

St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle

I fully intend to return someday and that might even be this fall for a surprising reason. I learned something quite astonishing when I had dinner with Cardinal Duka’s spokesman, Stanislav, the night of my arrival….a fact the cardinal mentioned the next day when he was my host for two hours in the archbishop’s residence.

How many of you know that the former Eastern European country of Czechoslovakia was born in Washington, D.C. in 1918!? The Czech and Slovak peoples will jointly celebrate this 100th anniversary and many events have taken place, are underway or will take place in October this year, the actual anniversary month. Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993, in what has been called “the velvet revolution,” a revolution without bloodshed.

The First Republic was declared on October 28, 1918, when novelist Alois Jirásek read the proclamation of the independence of Czechoslovakia in front of the Saint Wenceslas statue on Wenceslas Square. That will be the principal day of celebrations this year.

What has been called the Washington Declaration was drafted in the U.S. by Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and American sculptor Gutzon Borglum and presented to the U.S. government on October 17, published in Paris on October 18, and read at the statue of St. Wenceslas in the square named for him on October 28.

The wesbite of the U.S. embassy to the Czech Republic tells the story nicely:

The year 2018 marks the centennial of the founding of Czechoslovakia and the formal beginning of U.S.-Czech diplomatic relations, and the U.S. Embassy in Prague will proudly celebrate the occasion throughout the year. We will mark 100 years of U.S.-Czech relations by supporting projects focused on the U.S.-Czech friendship and history, and by participating in events around the country that highlight the U.S.-Czech partnership.

There are many U.S. links to the founding of the Czechoslovakian state. The United States hosted Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, along with other prominent Czechs and Slovaks, for the signing of the Pittsburgh Agreement on May 31, 1918 – the first step towards the establishment of the independent state of Czechoslovakia.

After Germany and Austria proposed peace negotiations in October, 1918, Masaryk issued a declaration of Czechoslovak independence while in the United States. Masaryk was then elected the first president of Czechoslovakia on November 14, 1918 and used the U.S. constitution as a model for the first Czechoslovak Constitution.

Masaryk also had strong personal links with the United States through his marriage to an American citizen, Charlotte Garrigue (whose name he took as part of his own), and through his lectures at the University of Chicago in 1902 and 1907.




I leave the vibrant and beautiful city of Prague city tomorrow morning and will bring you a full account of my journey in the next week when I take a closer look at another nation, in the life of the Universal Church.

As you may recall, my first full day, Wednesday began with the visit to and conversation with Cardinal Dominik Duka, archbishop of Prague, a visit arranged by his spokesperson, Stanislav Zeman with whom I had dinner my first night in town

I’ve been blessed to spend the last two marvelous days with friends from the Czech Bishops Conference, Fr. Tomas Tetiva, Frantisek Jemelka and Nela Fabianova, who have shown me around some spots that were on my agenda as I prepared this brief visit to a magnificent city and wonderful land.

Brevnov monastery –

ZELIV monastery –

My intention was to explore everything Catholic about Prague and the Czech Republic – the millennia-old history of the Church in this nation (though it has had different names a nation over that time), in particular a look at the Church after the many decades of persecution by the communists, how it came back to life after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and how it is still working on restoring churches and bringing buildings and organizations back to life.

I’ve visited only a few of the churches in the city but did spend quite a bit of time yesterday and today at two wonderful and very old monasteries – the Benedictine Monastery of Brevnov, founded in 993 and today, about 85 kilometers from Prague, the Premonstratentian Monaster of Zeliv, founded in 1139 by Prague’s Archbishop Otto and Prince Sobeslav.

I chose to visit the monasteries not only because of their amazing history but because of how they survived the darkest period of their lives, the communist decades, to come back and become thriving religious communities, closely linked to the cities and towns nearby.

Those are the stories you will hear next week. I will go home with a great love in my heart for this nation, for the richness of its history, the beauty of this city of Prague and the countryside I saw today, for each and every person I have met, for the strength of a nation and its people that lived through the worst and keep on trying to be the best.

I’d write an in-depth portrait of today’s monastery visit but I only have a few hours left this evening and I want to enjoy the city, walk around a bit more, have a wonderful dinner and dream of coming back.

Before I leave you I want to tell you about an amazing encounter I had last night (I speak of it on a video I just posted on my Facebook page), After Mass at the Church of Our Lady Victorious which is home to the celebrated statue of the Infant of Prague, I had taken photos and prayed quite a bit and was about to leave when a gentleman came up to me and asked, “Are you Joan, Joan’s Rome of EWTN?”

You could have knocked me over with a feather: I replied yes and we began a conversation, He is British, lives and works in Prague and is a fan of EWTN. Just an hour earlier he had the TV on and saw me – seems it was a relay of At Home with Jim and Joy!

One of my goals was to cross the famous Charles Bridge – the oldest in Prague – a pedestrian bridge with striking views of the city – and it was nearby so we walked across together and I learned a lot about this country as we talked.

When you travel, the expression “it’s a small world” takes on new meaning!

But, think about it, you have to leave home for the world to become small!


While I am exploring Prague and the nearby couç_Vnd, allowing me to take full advantage of my time in this remarkable and extraordinarily beautiful city. I am very grateful to them for giving me the occasion to a truly “roamin” Catholic. I’ll be back next weekend in person with another special.

In the meantime, IN THE UNITED STATES, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (stations listed at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio, or on 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.” VI airs at 5am and 9pm ET on Saturdays and 6am ET on Sundays. On the GB-IE feed (which is on SKY in the UK and Ireland), VI airs at 5:30am, 12 noon and 10pm CET on Sundays. Both of these feeds are also available on the EWTN app and on ALWAYS CHECK YOUR OWN TIME ZONE! For VI archives: (write Vatican Insider where it says Search Shows and Episodes)



I am about to go to Mass at Our Lady Victorious, the church in Prague that is home to the lovely Infant of Prague, a statue whose name is known the world over.

I have spent another amazing day in this very beautiful and hospitable country but time is short now so this is more of a “please come back tomorrow” column than it is a daily diary. You see, I want to write about my day at the historic Benedictine monastery of St. Adalbert and St. Margaret when I have time to do the story justice and post my photos, and tell you about my new friends, workers in the Lord’s vineyard.

I’ll be visiting another monastery tomorrow, well outside of Prague. These stories are all about the rebirth of the Catholic Church and religious congregations in the Czech Republic in the post-communist years.

Thanks for understanding! More tomorrow!




I had a long and wonderful conversation this morning with Cardinal Dominik Duka, the archbishop of Prague and, as soon as humanly possible, I’ll be listening to that tape and writing about that amazing interview.

I’ll only mention one thing I learned from the cardinal and am doing so because today is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Humanae vitae, On Human Life. I did learn there is a very good pro-life movement here. After Easter this year, for example, over 10,000 people in Prague alone marched from the St. Vitus cathedral in the Prague Castle complex downhill to Wenceslas Square (where I am staying) quite an undertaking as I’ve discovered. The cardinal told me that other dioceses in the country have their own pro-life celebrations and marches.

Cardinal Duka is standing before the throne where Popes John Paul and Benedict XVI sat during their visits to Prague:


What better way to celebrate today’s 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae than to visit ! This HV50 site has everything you to know about the document, the pro-life movement, how we can participate, Humanae vitae videos and resources, etc.

Celebrating 50 years of anything is a wonderful milestone, 50 years of life, 50 years at a job, 50 years of marriage. Fifty years for a still very controversial document, born in a controversial context, is a miracle.

As we all know, either from experience or because we’ve read about it, the cultural and sexual revolution underway in the United States and elsewhere in the 60s was defined by a spirit of rebellion against tradition and authority, and if life was too difficult, you could do drugs to take the edge off. Drugs, doing your own thing, and divorcing yourself from law and order became the new and socially accepted way to escape reality. Self-indulgence was a key ingredient of those years and when did self-indulgence ever produce wonderful results?!

As I mentioned the other night on At Home with Jim and Joy in a segment about Humanae vitae and the context in which it was born, I lived through those years and I’m reasonably sure I came through unscathed because of my great family, the values they instilled, my strong Catholic upbringing. In all honesty, I was simply turned off by what I saw as it was antithetical to what I had been taught.

Pope Paul VI’s bombshell encyclical of July 1968, Humanae vitae, upholding the traditional Catholic ban on artificial birth control was born in this context, along with a widespread fear about overpopulation following World War II. Society in the 60s began to openly promote and support abortion rights and especially sterilizations in an attempt to curb population growth.

In rebellion typical of the decade, the use of contraceptives skyrocketed, also among Catholics. Dissent was massive, especially with Paul VI’s warnings of the harm that widespread use of contraception would cause in society – lowering of moral standards, marital infidelity, less respect for women.

For over a year now, in writings and symposiums dedicated to this week’s 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, many have praised the prophetic message of the document, saying it still “stands as a profound and affirmative” defense of traditional values and family life, and was prophetic in its warnings of the breakdown of the family and the depersonalization of sexual acts such as we see today.

Those who disagree, the naysayers, would only have to look at society today to see the breakdown, the lowering of moral standards, the legalization of abortion and huge numbers of abortions performed every year, marital infidelity, less respect for women – and a lot more.

I wonder how many of you know of Pope John Paul’s contribution to the commission that drafted this encyclical. At the time, he was archbishop of Krakow, Poland and he strove then – as he did as a priest and bishop and would do later as Cardinal and Pope – to emphasize the Church’s teachings on life and marriage and the family by always putting the person at the center.

Always the Number One fan of Humanae vitae, as Pope John Paul, his magnificent writings on marriage and the family, especially Familiaris consortio and his theology of the body catecheses, were actually a rampart against dissenters, and eventually became the Church’s formal teaching on life, family and marriage.

A number of dissenters of the teachings of Paul VI and John Paul II are alive and well today and, it seems, attempting a re-reading of Humanae vitae and other teachings. We saw some of this at the two synods on the family in 2014 and 2015 when the papal teachings of the past were basically ignored in favor of what is being called a “paradigm shift” towards a pastoral approach, rather than a strictly doctrinal one. Witness Amoris laetitia and its suggestion in a footnote that communion for those Catholics who divorced and civilly remarried – but technically still adultery – might be possible.

In 2017 a four-member commission was established by the Vatican with the Pope’s approval, to study Humanae vitae. Never formally announced, the Vatican only confirmed its existence after an Italian website was able to verify the rumors with a Vatican document signed by the then deputy secretary of State.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life (an academy, by the way, founded by St. John Paul but totally restructured by Pope Francis), told Catholic News Agency that the initiative was aimed at “studying and deepening” the encyclical, it was not a “commission” whose purpose was to “reread or reinterpret” Humanae vitae. Paglia is known to want a “softer” approach to the teaching of Humanae Vitae.

I did not see anything from the Pope or Vatican today on this anniversary. …. Let’s see what is on the horizon.


I leave tomorrow for several days in Prague, the Czech Republic, a city I’ve heard is stunningly beautiful and historic and yet, in all my travels, I’ve never been there! I’ve set up some wonderful appointments and hope to do stories on the Church history of Prague and environs – the monasteries and churches,, the statue of the Holy Infant of Prague, how the church struggled to come back to life after decades of communism when churches were closed or destroyed, religious orders, banned and so on.

I’ll do my best to post something every day, however brief, but sometimes a travel schedule is literally packed from early morning to late night. I’ve spoken to my Italian cell phone provider and am assured I have enough GB in my phone to do some Facebook live posts during foreign travel – even if they too are brief.

So, stay tuned…….

Yesterday was the feast of St. Mary Magdalene which was officially declared such by Pope Francis in 2016 in the following decree: “By express wish of the Holy Father Francis, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published a decree, dated 3 June 2016, solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, with which the celebration of Saint Mary Magdalene, now obligatory memory, is raised in the General Roman Calendar to the degree of celebration.”

In May I wrote of a marvelous experience I had after a 6 pm Sunday Mass at San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, a church near my home where I have gone to Mass on a number of occasions. That special moment involved a relic for which the church has become famous and, since yesterday was St. Mary Magdalene’s feast, I wanted to re-post the story on her relic.

This church is so close to the Vatican that it really merits a visit after you’ve been to St. Peter’s Basilica, the Museums, gardens, etc.


I want to share with you one of the most moving and amazing experiences of my life that occurred after the 6 pm Mass last night in the church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini. Ambassador Callista Gingrich and her husband Newt were also at this Mass and I asked them afterwards if they knew the church housed an astonishing relic – the left foot of St. Mary Magdalene.

I brought them to the shrine and explained the story (which I had recently researched for one of my “Joan’s Rome” videos – see story below). As we were about to leave, the sacristan came up to me and, with a huge smile and holding a key in one hand, asked if we’d like to see the relic up close. Well, of course we wanted to!

He opened the shrine and then – the truly amazing moment of the evening! – he took the Cellini reliquary out, showed it to us and handed it to me! What is not visible when the reliquary is inside the shrine is the glass-covered opening that reveals the bones of Mary Magdalene’s foot!

(I originally posted several photos that Amb. Gingrich sent me but can no longer find those to repost today)

I held the reliquary for dear life and slowly, prayerfully, moved one hand across the top of the reliquary. I think my breathing slowed as I held the relic! Several others were standing near us in total silence, also relishing uniqueness of the moment.

Just writing about this experience leaves me breathless again.


San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini – St. John the Baptist of the Florentines – is known as the regional church for expatriates from Florence whose patron saint is John the Baptist. There was a flourishing expat Florentine community in Rome in the mid-15th century that featured the bankers and artists for which the city was famous. That expat Florentine community was concentrated on a bend of the Tiber River where the church stands today.

San Giovanni was built for the first Medici Pope, Leo X, who started a competition for the church’s construction. Great numbers of famous artists participated in the project but the building was on-again off-again for a few centuries. Two of the most celebrated artists are buried here – Carlo Maderno and Francesco Borromini.

Only in recent years, however, has San Giovanni dei Fiorentini made a singular claim to fame: it possesses relics of the foot of St. Mary Magdalene that rest in a shrine to the left of the main sanctuary.

Historians seem to agree that Mary Magdalene died and was buried in Ephesus and that, given historical vicissitudes, her body – or parts of it, what we will call relics – was brought to Constantinople, then to the south of France and, finally Rome.

How the relics got to the south of France seems to be the biggest mystery – not all legends agree. One, in fact, says Mary Magdalene lived in a cave as a hermitess in the south of France where she died.

The historical account found in the Church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini says her body was sent by ship from Sainte Baume in Provence to Rome where her left foot was removed according to the Greek tradition that this is always the first foot that rises when you enter the after life. Her foot came to rest in St. Peter’s basilica with other passion relics.

For many years, pilgrims who came to Rome to visit the tomb of Peter would first stop to venerate the foot of St Mary Magdalene who was the first person to enter the tomb of the Risen One. This foot was first kept in a precious reliquary of silver- and gold-smith Benvenuto Cellini.

More historical vicissitudes and the foot finally came to rest in San Giovanni dei Fiorentini – but only in 1984! – where it was buried away in a closet with other forgotten relics and historical pieces.

Amazingly enough it was discovered only in the year 2000 when San Giovanni began work on its Museum of Sacred Art!



I’ve prepared a rather different segment this weekend in place of the usual weekly interview on “Vatican Insider.” Just to tease you, here’s how it starts:

“Here we are at an almost mid-way point in the summer, a time when you’re possibly on vacation, and if not vacation, a tranquil weekend at home, hopefully relaxing and enjoying family and friends and some down time. Wherever you are, if you’ve decided to spend a brief moment with me on Vatican Insider this weekend, I think I have a fun offering for you in what is normally the interview segment.

I’m calling this segment INQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW because I’m going to bring you some trivia, that is, some little known and often unusual facts about the Vatican – some fun stories about bells and flags and basilica floors. It might be trivia but it is not trivial!

Let’s start with some bells: Did you know that the six bells of Saint Peter’s Basilica all have names?

Stay tuned so you can discover their names – there’s LOTS more where this came from!”

IN THE UNITED STATES, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (stations listed at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio, or on 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.” VI airs at 5am and 9pm ET on Saturdays and 6am ET on Sundays. On the GB-IE feed (which is on SKY in the UK and Ireland), VI airs at 5:30am, 12 noon and 10pm CET on Sundays. Both of these feeds are also available on the EWTN app and on ALWAYS CHECK YOUR OWN TIME ZONE! For VI archives: (write Vatican Insider where it says Search Shows and Episodes)


The links that follow are from the website that virtually every visitor to St. Peter’s Basilica should know – – a site put together after extraordinarily exacting research by my friend Alan Howard. I mentioned it in this column on Wednesday after the Mass I attended in the Madonna Bocciata chapel, using Alan’s information to supplement my photos.

SCAVI: The scavi should be an integral part of every trip to the Vatican but you must absolutely reserve in advance, often months in advance. Where are the scavi? What are they? How can I reserve tickets? Here are the answers:

Photo from Vatican website:

ST. PETER’S SQUARE: Before you even enter St. Peter’s Basilica, here’s what you should know about the colonnades, the square, the basilica façade, the statues of the Apostles in the square, the clock towers, and much more! Print this out and bring it with you on your next trip!

JFL photos:

TOURIST INFORMATION: This link is so rich in information for tourists, you’ll wonder how you missed it in the past (if you do not already know it):

That’s it for today – more in coming weeks!



I had another beautiful and memorable morning in St. Peter’s Basilica when Fr. Kevin Lixey, a friend of longstanding who heads the office of the Patrons of the Vatican Museums, celebrated Mass at 8 am in one of the many extraordinary chapels of the basilica. My friends Jack and Linda Del Rio were in town to visit their daughter Aubrey who interned for and now works for the Patrons office, and Father offered to say Mass for us in the basilica’s Grotto area today.

I had been to Mass only once before in the Chapel of the Madonna Bocciata but had failed to bring a camera. Today I want to tell you, in words and pictures, the wonderful story of this chapel and the image for which it is named – the “Rejected Madonna.”

The following description comes from a terrific website that everyone who has ever been to the basilica or plans on visiting Vatican City should become familiar with:

I interviewed Alan Howard, the man who put this together several years ago, for Vatican Insider during one of his visits to Rome. He told me at the time that he had offered the page to the Vatican – totally free of charge – and they were not interested! Nothing even remotely like this page – the in-depth detail, the myriad descriptions, the exhaustive research, was on the Vatican’s webpage at the time so this would have been a brilliant move.

Today I happily give him and his website credit for this story that follows (photos by JFL):

In this chapel is a fresco by the 14th century Roman painter Pietro Cavallini. It is called the “Madonna della Bocciata” because of Mary’s swollen face. According to an old legend, her face bled because a drunken soldier had thrown a bowl into the holy image after he lost a game of bowls.

This is the oldest chapel in the area around the sepulchre of Peter. It originates from a very small oratory commissioned by Gregory XIII in 1580. It was created when the new basilica was under construction, under the pavement of the southern transept (Altar of St Joseph), where the sainted Popes Leo I, II, III and IV had been buried.

In about 1592, Pope Clement VIII had the room prolonged and joined to the new peribolos of the grottoes. In ancient Greek and Roman architecture, ‘peribolos’ was a court enclosed by a wall, especially one surrounding a sacred area such as a temple, shrine, or altar.

In 1607, when Pope Paul V moved the relics of the sainted popes to the basilica, the oratory was dedicated to St. Sebastian. Later that year, a mosaic representing the Apostle Paul was found during the demolition of the apse of the old basilica. It was brought to the chapel and placed on the new altar; the chapel was re-dedicated to St Paul.

On 21 February, when Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644) had the present Marian image put in the altar, the chapel was given the new name Bocciata. The painting is a fragment of a medieval fresco framed in Cosmatesque marble elements. It was once believed to be the work of Simone Martini, but now it is generally attributed to Pietro Cavallini (1273-1321) or his workshop.


The majestic and solemn Madonna (once probably enthroned) directs her intense gaze onto the spectator as she turns slightly to the Child on her lap, who she holds with her left hand and presents with the right one. The Child imparts His blessing as He looks down at the figure of the commissioner of the work, now missing, whose one extended arm can still be seen.

The image was originally located in the portico of the old basilica, between the Ravenna Door and the Door of the Dead (to the south). It became famous after a miraculous event in 1440, according to the testimony collected by Nikolaus Muffel from the court of Emperor Frederic II in 1453. A drunken soldier, in a bout of anger for the florins he lost in a game, in a sacrilegious gesture hurled a stone or ball at the Virgin’s face. The lesion is still visible on her left cheek. Drops of blood appeared on the image and fell down onto the stone paving (those stones are behind metal grates to the right and left of the altar – see photos below).

During the restoration of the portico in 1574, Pope Gregory XIII had the image removed and taken to the secretarium of the Basilica. In 1608, when the ancient building was demolished, the image was placed in the peribolos of the grottoes. It was the object of great veneration and became even more so in its present location dating from 1636.

As recorded in the inscription to the right from the altar, attached to the wall and protected by iron grates, to the sides from the image of the Madonna there are two stones from the ancient paving of the portico, where, according to tradition, the miraculous blood fell. Their surface has been worn away by the touches of the faithful.

Numerous ancient monuments used to be preserved in this chapel but during the restoration described above, it was simplified and the walls were whitewashed. During the thorough restoration of 2002, the paintings on the vault and on the walls below were given their original splendor. They were painted between 1618 and September 18, 1619, by Giovan Battista Ricci da Novara.

To the right, on the upper level of the wall, is a series of images commissioned by Paul V. They preserve the memory of the monuments of the old basilica that had been demolished some 12 years earlier. The series continues in the next chapel of the Madonna of Partorienti (Our Lady of Pregnant Women). Today, several centuries later, the paintings are of enormous interest and paramount historical importance.

Close to the entrance is The View of the Buildings in front of the Old Basilica. The represented buildings are recorded in the Latin inscriptions engraved on small marble plates below the painting. Starting from the right is: the facade of the Apostolic Palace of Paul II; the bell tower of Leo IV and Loggia for the Blessings of Alexander VI; the mosaic of the Savior on the facade; the Oratory of St Mary in Turri of Paul I; the palace of the Archpriest of Leo III.

In the next span is The View of the Oratory of John VII. In a style typical of the 17th Century, the fresco represents two walls of the ancient oratory that survived until 1608. It was decorated with 25 mosaic panels from 705-707 and it protected the medieval ciborium with the relic of the Holy Veil. The inscription says:

The oratory of the Holy Veil of Veronica
and of the Virgin Mother of God
built by John VII

This is an exact copy of the original by Ricci, made in 1949, when the deteriorating fresco was transferred onto canvas and placed on the opposite wall. The inscription below, dated 1609, comes from a different place and refers to another fresco of the oratory that no longer exists.

In the center of the vault are two episodes from the “Stories of the Confession.” Ricci inserted the frescoes in an older decoration and superimposed layers of paint are visible in some areas. The panel close to the altar represents St. Servatius, the Bishop of Tongres. In the middle of the 4th century, Servatius came on a pilgrimage to Rome. As the inscription indicates, he was praying at the tomb and received a prophetic message from Peter concerning the future of his Church.

In the other panel is St Amand, the Bishop of Maastricht, who according to tradition, received the order from St Peter to go and preach the Gospel in Gaul (the 7th century).


On the left wall, in a lunette close to the altar, was the now lost painting of the ancient altar of St Anthony the Abbot. Still to be seen, instead, is the redone ancient mosaic of St Paul, originally from the apsidal decoration of Innocent III. To the right, still in its original location, is Ricci’s fresco transferred onto canvas of the View of the Old Basilica.

At the entrance to the chapel (was) the simple sarcophagus of Cardinal Joseph Beran who died in exile in Rome in 1969. It was the wish of Paul VI that the Cardinal be buried here.

(JFL: CARDINAL BERAN TO BE RE-BURIED IN CZECH REPUBLIC (Prague Radio – English edition – January 4, 2018) – Pope Francis has given his consent to the transport of the remains of Cardinal Josef Beran to the Czech Republic, the ambassador to the Holy See Pavel Vošalík told the Czech News Agency on Wednesday. Cardinal Beran was persecuted by the Communist regime and was eventually exiled to Rome, where he died in 1969. He was buried in the Vatican because the Czechoslovak communist authorities didn’t approve the return of his body to his homeland. He is the only Czech buried in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica.

Cardinal Beran, who died May 17, 1969, served as the archbishop of Prague from 1946 until his death and was elevated into the cardinalate in 1965. His cause of canonization commenced in 1997 and this bestowed upon him the title of Servant of God.

The remains of Cardinal Josef Beran were welcomed in Prague on April 20, 2018 and a day later transferred to the cathedral during a solemn Mass in commemoration of St. Adalbert.)

For more than 3 centuries, from 1616 to 1949, the marble statue of St Peter enthroned was on display in this chapel, together with other precious monuments. Still visible, is the fake baldacchino and an inscription on the vault.

On the right wall, in the vicinity of the altar, is a fragment of a Latin inscription from 732 with a relative explanatory plaque. It quotes one part of the decree of the synod of the Roman clergy held in front of the Confession of St Peter. Pope Gregory III had the text engraved on marble slabs. It established the cult of All Saints and of their numerous relics preserved in the Vatican basilica, to be held in the oratory founded by the pope himself. The text starts with the words (PE)TRO THEOPHANIO and lists the names of all the church dignitaries present at the synod, including the Deacon Zachary who succeeded Gregory III as Pope (741).

To the right from the entrance is a marble fragment from the old basilica: the facade of the tabernacle made by Cardinal Lorenzo Cybo, the nephew of Innocent VIII, to hold the relic of the Holy Lance (1495). The work is attributed to the workshop of Andrea Bregno.

The bas-relief represents two praying angels, dressed in flowing garments and spreading their wings. They are standing at the sides of a slightly open door on which is represented the spear and the sponge of the Passion of Christ. In the lunette above, under the starry paneled vault, is the image of Christ Victima, rising from the sepulchre while two heads of cherubs crown the upper corners.


I know the couple in this wonderful story and knew they were married Saturday in Santo Stefano degli Abissini church inside Vatican City and I’ve seen some great photos of the ceremony taken by friends of the couple in attendance. What a lifetime of memories in just an hour!

I knew of it but did not tweet or do a FB post about it – hopefully that shows I am a better friend than a journalist!

It has been sweltering in Rome and was indeed the same inside the church on Saturday as there is no air conditioning in this centuries old church, the oldest in Vatican City State. The church is rather small and may have been hot due to the presence of the 50 or 60 people inside for the wedding. Usually, however, as many of you know who have been to Rome in the summer, if you want to stay cool on a hot and humid day, you enter a church!

St. Stephen of the Abyssinians, dedicated to Stephen the Protomartyr, is the national church of Ethiopia whose liturgy is celebrated according to the Alexandrian rite of the Ethiopian Catholic Church. In terms of architectural history, it is the oldest surviving church in the Vatican. (it’s obviously the little church on the left in this photo)

Tradition says the church was built by Pope Leo I (ca. 400–461) and named Santo Stefano Maggiore. It was rebuilt in 1159 under Pope Alexander III, who also built a monastery for Ethiopian monks next to it.

In 1479, Pope Sixtus IV restored the church and assigned it to the Coptic monks in the city. It was at this time that the name was changed to reflect that it was served by Ethiopians (Abyssinian). It was altered under Pope Gregory XI (1700–1721), and again in 1928.

In recent years the church has undergone restoration and today is used principally for weddings or celebrations of special importance for the clergy who work in the Vatican.

I have also attended several wakes for Vatican prelates in Santo Stefano, including the late Cardinal Secretary of State Agostino Casaroli.


A Swiss guard and his Brazilian wife-to-be were taken aback to see Pope Francis appearing unannounced in the church to bless their wedding.

By Robin Gomes (vaticanmedia)

Pope Francis on Saturday surprised a Swiss guard and his would-be Brazilian wife, by appearing un-announced in the sacristy just ahead of the wedding ceremony and decided to marry them.


Neither the couple nor the few attending the ceremony knew about the Pope’s surprise move, said Brazilian Father Renato dos Santos, one of those present. The priest entered the sacristy of the church of St. Stephen of the Abyssinians in Vatican City to prepare for the celebration when he was taken aback by a smiling pope seated there waiting for him. The Holy Father took charge and went ahead.

“Never in my life, never would I have thought of finding the Pope in a sacristy,” Fr. dos Santos told Vatican News. The Brazilian priest noted the people inside the church were so surprised they were wondering if it was really Pope Francis. “I saw him as a true parish priest who takes care for his own sheep in the parish,” Fr. dos Santos said. “He’s always done it this way.”

Three verbs – success to marriage

The Holy Father’s homily was on three verbs: ‘to begin’, ‘to stop’, ‘to resume the journey’ – which he explained are needed to be able to live their marriage in fullness. “The Pope showed how dear to his heart marriage is,” Fr. dos Santos pointed out. “The Pope has great love for this sacrament which helps start a family and which wants to put God at the center,” he added.