Welcome to my holiday edition of Vatican Insider!

We now have Christmas just behind us and the start of the New Year 2019 just ahead of us. I hope your days have been beautiful and blessed by health, happiness and the holiness and joy of the season. The next time you read or hear someone say the word JOY, remember that J is for Jesus, O is for others and Y is for you – the order of our priorities!

In place of an interview this weekend, I have prepared a special on Christmas in the Vatican. I know you are busy with family and friends and holiday events and perhaps a few football games but if you have time, tune in to Vatican Insider.

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)



Luke 2, 8Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. 9The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.10The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. 12And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

Yesterday, Christmas, we rejoiced in the birth of Our Savior Jesus, the Word made flesh, the Son of God, the small, fragile babe Who came to earth to grow in wisdom, age and grace, to live and to die for us, to redeem mankind.

Jesus’ birth was joyful and his death was as well because his death on the Cross was followed by the Resurrection and our redemption.

While we might be fearful of death, we must remember that Jesus died for us so we could be with Him in heaven after our earthly life.

All those thoughts – and the beautiful homilies I heard these days – touched my life personally in a surprising way late one recent night.

My Christmas plans for time in Chicago and Milwaukee with friends and family stunningly changed several days ago with a phone call that my sister’s husband Paul had just died. I made plans to fly to California and revised my Chicago-Rome travels, doing so only when I knew the date of the funeral.

I flew to San Diego yesterday, Christmas Day, and was able to spend part of Christmas with Gail, her 3 children and 9 grandchildren. We actually had a beautiful afternoon and evening – lots of tears, love, laughter, sharing and a beautiful turkey dinner with everyone pitching in – there were 17 of us! We even played a game my sister had ordered and we laughed until we cried….the good tears!

Words always fail at a moment like this. The words that do help, and help more as time passes, are prayers – and that is what I ask of you today, my faithful blog and Facebook friends. Include Paul and Gail and the family in your prayers in coming days, especially that the Lord will fill their hearts and souls with peace and understanding and with the strength to accept the difficult moments that will be ahead.

My prayer is also that they remember the countless beautiful moments of the past – Gail and Paul’s September 2018 50th anniversary celebrations, the family cruise, the years of fun vacations and travels and family reunions on the East Coast and in the Midwest, the weddings and the births of grandchildren, the years of love and joy and laughter and sharing that made their lives – my life – so memorable and blessed!

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen


I leave tomorrow to spend Christmas and New Year’s in Chicago with family and friends and I already have a calendar filled with special events, including feeding the homeless on Christmas Day with other volunteers from Catholic Charities in Chicago. I did this last year and it was an exceptional experience. I’ll surely be posting some photos of the food-laden tables and smiling volunteers!

I’ll be coming into your homes this season as I’ve prepared some specials for “At Home with Jim and Joy,” and for my weekend radio program, “Vatican Insider.” So stay tuned for those specials!

Wishing all of you, my friends, family and faithful readers, a blessed, holy, happy and healthy Christmas and a splendid New Year, a year that will be so wonderful you’ll find it hard to believe!

Before I go, however, I have a special gift for you – read on….


This powerful Christmas column by late columnist Jimmy Bishop will surely leave you speechless for its beauty, simplicity and yet depth of understanding. I heard this for the first time a number of years ago when Andy Williams recited this in one of his Christmas albums:

“He was born in an obscure village, the Child of a peasant teen who knew not man. He grew up in another obscure village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never married or owned a home. He never held a job, yet paid taxes. He never set foot inside a metropolis. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never wrote a book, or held an office. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. He received no awards, no medals, no prizes from His peers.

“While He was still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him. His friends deserted Him. He was turned over to His enemies, and went through the mockery of a trial. He had no lawyers, no friendly juries, no fair hearing. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While He was dying, His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had – His cloak. After He died, He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave. Those who stood watch could not explain His disappearance.

“And yet two thousand years have come and gone, and today He is still the central figure for much of the human race. All the armies that ever marched and al the navies that ever sailed and all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as this ‘One Solitary Life’.”


Had an interesting Vatican experience this morning. Every year at Christmas Vatican employees receive a panetone and a bottle of spumante. I learned only last week that retirees also receive this gift and was told where to go on Via della Conciliazione. I went this morning, showed my ID, said yes, I am a Vatican retiree, that my pension goes to the Vatican bank, etc. MY name was not on any list and I learned that only retirees with 20 or more years of service get the panetone and spumante…..under 20, even 19 years, will not get you a Christmas gift. I wonder if Pope Francis knows this!


Tune in this weekend to Vatican Insider for Part II of my conversation with Dominican Father Benedict Croell, director of Development and Mission Advancement atSt. Thomas Aquinas Pontifical University, known by its friends here in Rome as the Angelicum. Part I aired last weekend.

Fr. Croell hails from Broomfield, Colorado. Among his university studies was time at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. He has served in parish, university and itinerant preaching ministries as well as in the Order’s East African missions where he was novice master for friars in their initial stage of formation from 7 countries. He was Director of Vocations for the Eastern Province Dominicans from 2010-18 at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. He was named a Missionary of Mercy by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s along with 21 other U.S, Dominican Friars during the Ash Wednesday Mass.

Here are a few more photos of the breathtaking views from the Angelicum

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)


At today’s general audience in the festive setting of the Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis catechesis on Christmas focused on the idea of “surprises.” While the world insists on exchanging presents, he asked, “what gifts and surprises would God want?”

“Dear brothers and sisters,” Francis began. “In a few days it will be Christmas. In this busy season, we might ask ourselves how the Lord himself would like us to keep this feast. If we look at the first Christmas, we see that it is full of God’s surprises. Mary is visited by an angel; Joseph is told to take her in, to become a father to her Child and to flee with the Holy Family to Egypt. But the greatest surprise of all is that God himself becomes a little Child, born in humility and poverty.

“Christmas changes our world,” the Holy Father continued. It speaks to us of God’s self-giving love that should inspire the way we live and relate to one another. It tells us that we best celebrate the Savior’s birth by imitating Mary’s trusting faith and Joseph’s quiet openness to God’s will, and by opening our hearts to the Lord, who asks us to make room for him in our busy lives.”

“Amid the bustle of our Christmas preparations,” stressed Francis, “may we not forget the very One whose birth we are celebrating! And in worshiping the Son of God, born in the poverty of our flesh, may we be mindful of the poor and those in need all around us. This Christmas, may you and your families experience the joy and peace proclaimed by the angels, and be ever more open to God’s wonderful surprises!”



Today the Vatican released the papal message for the 52nd World Day of Peace on the theme “Good politics is at the service of peace.” This world day takes place every year on January 1, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

In his message, Francis begins by stating “Peace be to this house!”

“In sending his disciples forth on mission, Jesus told them: ‘Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you’,

“Bringing peace is central to the mission of Christ’s disciples. That peace is offered to all those men and women who long for peace amid the tragedies and violence that mark human history. The “house” of which Jesus speaks is every family, community, country and continent, in all their diversity and history. It is first and foremost each individual person, without distinction or discrimination. But it is also our “common home”: the world in which God has placed us and which we are called to care for and cultivate.”

Francis reflects on the role of “good politics at the service of peace,” saying those who hold political office must exercise their office in service to others, basing their work on the foundation of charity and human virtues.

At the same time, Pope Francis warns of the vices that can afflict politics, including corruption, xenophobia, racism, lack of concern for the environment, and contempt for exiles. “ The Pope encourages politicians to “foster the talents of young people and their aspirations” in order to promote peace, noting that “Everyone can contribute his or her stone to help build the common home.”

The Holy Father repudiates a politics of intimidation and fear, and denounces “the uncontrolled proliferation of arms.” Peace, he insists, is based on respect for each person… respect for the law and the common good, on respect for the environment” as well as “the moral tradition inherited from past generations.”

In conclusion, Pope Francis says that peace “is the fruit of a great political project grounded in the mutual responsibility and interdependence of human beings.” But, he says, “it is also a challenge that demands to be taken up ever anew” – a challenge that “entails a conversion of heart and soul.”

Read the message here:


The Vatican Tuesday released a note about the February 2019 meeting for the protection of minors that will bring together heads of the world’s Episcopal conferences. Holy See Press Office Director Greg Burke underscored the importance of the note, saying: “The organizers are urging participants to meet with victim survivors in their own countries before coming in February. This is a concrete way of putting victims first, and acknowledging the horror of what happened. The meeting on the protection of minors will focus on three main themes: responsibility, accountability and transparency.”

The Note read:

“The organizing committee for the meeting for the protection of minors in the Church, to be held in the Vatican from 21 to 24 February, 2019, has made steady progress in preparations for the gathering. A letter sent today regarding those preparations exhorts all participants to follow the example of Pope Francis and meet in person with victim survivors before the Rome summit.

The first step must be acknowledging the truth of what has happened,” the letter says. “For this reason, we urge each episcopal conference president to reach out and visit with victim survivors of clergy sex abuse in your respective countries prior to the meeting in Rome, to learn first-hand the suffering that they have endured.” Such personal encounters are a concrete way of ensuring that victim survivors of clerical abuse are first and foremost in the minds of all at the February gathering as they come together “in solidarity, humility, and penitence” to move forward in addressing the abuse crisis.

In addition, the letter includes a brief request for information to be used for internal preparation for the meeting. The meeting will focus on three main themes of responsibility, accountability, and transparency as participants work together to respond to this grave challenge.”

JFL: Pope Francis himself has met with abuse victims. He met a group in Dublin, following the World Meeting of Families in August. During the in-flight press conference on the way back to Rome, the Pope said he had felt it was important to “listen” to those involved and, as a result, to be able to “ask for forgiveness” at the public Mass. Earlier this year, in January, at the nunciature of Santiago de Chile, Pope Francis met another group. On that occasion he both prayed and cried with them. In April and again in June, he received several people who had suffered abuse as minors in Chile, at the Casa Santa Marta, where he lives. A note from the Vatican Press Office confirmed that those present were encouraged to speak for as long as they felt necessary. There are meetings that are made public, and others that are not. (vaticannews)




Happy Birthday, Pope Francis!


Like millions of people who are getting ready for the birth of our Savior, the Vatican is putting the finishing touches on Christmas preparations. We’ve seen that the amazing Jesolo sand nativity scene and the tall, elegant fir tree are up and yet another Vatican Christmas tradition – Bambinelli Sunday – took place yesterday at the Angelus. The Third Sunday of Advent for many years has been the day when the children of Rome bring the Baby Jesus statues – the bambinelli – from their Nativity scenes to St. Peter’s Square to be blessed by the Pope during the Angelus.

The Holy Father told the children, “when you gather in your homes in prayer before the manger, looking at the Child Jesus, you will feel amazement at the great mystery of God made man; and the Holy Spirit will give your heart the humility, tenderness and goodness of Jesus. This is the true Christmas! May this be so for you and for your families.”

A cold snap and some strong winds – the so-called tramonta from across the Apennines – have dominated Rome for days but an estimated 25,000 faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square for this festive occasion.

Earlier Sunday morning in the Paul VI Hall, Francis met with the staff and little patients of the Santa Marta Pediatric Dispensary – perhaps one of the best-kept secrets of the Vatican! Established in 1922 by Pope Pius XI, the dispensary occupies several floors of a building at the Perugino entrance to Vatican City and is about 100 feet from the Santa Marta residence where Pope Francis lives! Also present Sunday morning were friends and family members of the dispensary’s young patients.

As a surprise, and in anticipation of Pope Francis’ 82nd birthday on Monday, the children and staff of the Santa Marta presented him with a big birthday cake. (The following link to a Vatican news report in Italian has some good video of that Santa Marta event and the Pope’s speech:

Pope Francis said he often “wondered if the Child Jesus ever had the flu or perhaps a cold. If so, what did his mother do? I am not sure there was a dispensary in Nazareth or in Egypt, but I certainly know that if the Madonna had lived in Rome she would have taken him to this dispensary, surely. I thank all of you, who are the structure and life of the Dispensary, the doctors, the collaborators, the nurses …; and also the collaboration of the boys, the fathers and the mothers of the children. It is seen in the spontaneity of children. Working with children is not easy, but it teaches us so much. It teaches me one thing: that to understand the reality of life, we must lower ourselves, as we lower ourselves to kiss a child. They teach us this. The proud, the proud can not understand life, because they can not lower themselves.”


By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp (vaticannews)

Pope Francis Monday received in audience members of the International Commission against the Death Penalty. In prepared remarks that were given to members of the Commission, Pope Francis begged countries still applying the death penalty to “adopt a moratorium”.

Every life is sacred

Since the beginning of his ministry, Pope Francis told commission members, the truth that “every life is sacred” had convinced him to commit himself to abolishing the death penalty at the international level. This commitment became concrete, the Pope said, with the recent change of paragraph 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He said Church teaching now reflects “the doctrine of the latest Pontiffs as well as the change in the conscience of Christians who reject a penalty that seriously harms human dignity.”

Pope Francis reiterated that the doctrine accepting the death penalty came from a “period that was more legalistic than Christian” which “ignored the primacy of mercy over justice”. The Pope affirmed the Church’s current teaching that “in the light of the Gospel, the death penalty is always inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”.

Moral rehabilitation

At the same time, an ongoing prison sentence that does not allow the moral rehabilitation of the person and his or her reinsertion into the community is a “hidden death”, Pope Francis said. No one can be deprived either of life, or the hope of “redemption and reconciliation”, he said.

Obligation of nations

The Church’s commitment to opposing the death penalty needs to be equalled by the international community, Pope Francis continued. The sovereign right of nations to determine their legal systems cannot be in contradiction with international law or “the universal recognition of human dignity, the Pope said. He also praised the UN’s resolution encouraging that member nations “suspend the application of the death penalty”.

Direct appeal to nations

Pope Francis then made a direct appeal to countries that have not yet abolished the death penalty. To those countries where the death penalty is legal but not applied, he asked that they continue applying the moratorium not only by not carrying out death sentences, but by not imposing death sentences in the first place. “The moratorium”, he said, “cannot be lived by the person condemned to death as a mere prolongation” of the time until the execution of the sentence. To the countries still applying the death penalty, the Pope begged them to “ adopt a moratorium in view of abolishing this cruel form of punishment.”

Ethic of caring

Society has developed its penal culture around the concept of injury caused to another or to their rights. “Less attention has been paid to the omission of doing good to others”, the Pope said. The traditional approach to justice “must be complemented with an ethic of caring”. Such an ethic would consider “causes of behaviour, the social context, the situation of vulnerable offenders of the law, and the suffering of the victims”. Reasoning in this way is guided by divine mercy and takes each specific case into account. In the end, “we need a style of justice that besides being a father, is also a mother”. This ethic of reciprocal care for one another is the basis for a loving society in which people are committed to the common good, Pope Francis said.

Commitment to abolition of death penalty

Returning to the theme of the abolition of the death penalty, Pope Francis’ prepared remarks concluded with a declaration that both the Church and the Holy See desire “to collaborate with the International Commission against the Death Penalty in building the necessary consensus to eradicate capital punishment and every form of cruel punishment. “It is a cause”, he said, “that all men and women of good will are called to and it is a duty for those of us who share the Christian vocation of Baptism”.


The following statement was released this morning by Holy See Press Office Director Greg Burke:

“The seventh meeting of the Vietnam-Holy See Joint Working Group will be held in Ha Noi on December 19th. The meeting aims to deepen and develop bilateral relations, following what was agreed at the end of the sixth meeting of the Working Group, held at the Vatican in October 2016, and subsequently on the occasion of the visit of His Excellency Hà Kim Ngoc, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam at the Vatican in August 2017 and that of Msgr. Camilleri in Ha Noi in January 2018, as well as the recent visit by His Excellency Truong Hoà Binh, First Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam, who last October 20th at the Vatican was received in audience by His Holiness Pope Francis. During its stay in Vietnam, from the 18th to the 20th December, the Delegation will also meet the Bishops of the country who will be present in Ha Noi to take part in the Mass when the new Metropolitan Archbishop Joseph Vu Van Thien takes possession.”



Dominican Father Benedict Croell is my special guest this week on Vatican Insider. He heads the Development and Mission Advancement at the St. Thomas Aquinas Pontifical University, known by its friends here in Rome as the Angelicum. I’ve done occasional profiles of Rome’s pontifical universities and today I turn to the Dominican-inspired and -run Angelicum, its staff and students, its courses, programs and future plans – its famous alumni and so much more.

There was entertainment at the coffee break by two professors.

Fr. Croell hails from Broomfield, Colorado. Among his university studies was time at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. He has served in parish, university and itinerant preaching ministries as well as in the Order’s East African missions where he was novice master for friars in their initial stage of formation from 7 countries. He was Director of Vocations for the Eastern Province Dominicans from 2010-18 at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. He was named a Missionary of Mercy by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s along with 21 other U.S, Dominican Friars during the Ash Wednesday Mass.

Here is the view from his office in this historic building – you can see Pza. Venezia, the Roman Forum, the Victor Emanuel monument and much more!

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)



Friday at noon, the Holy Father received the promoters, organizers and artists of the Christmas Concert at the Vatican that will take place tomorrow, December 15, in the Paul Hall VI. It is promoted by the Congregation for Catholic Education, and proceeds will be donated to the Pontifical Foundation Scholas Occurrentes and the Salesian Missions Don Bosco Foundation.

By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp (vaticannews)

“The Church’s mission has always been expressed through the creativity and talent of artists,” he said.

Pope Francis’ reflection was framed by the two organizations that will benefit from proceeds raised through the Concert. The first is a ministry of the Salesian Fathers called Missione Don Bosco (Don Bosco Mission), dedicated to the education of South Sudanese children in a refugee camp in Palabek, Uganda. The second will benefit Scholas Occurrentes who educate children in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, where 130,000 Christians are refugees.

The Pope said that refugee children “must have suffered terrible situations”. He compared them to Jesus who descended to earth from “another place” where “He lived in a communion of wisdom, light and love with God the Father, with the Holy Spirit”. Here on earth, Jesus experienced “our limitations, and our sins in order to give us the Holy Trinity’s love”, the Pope said.

Jesus, too, had to escape Herod’s wrath, Pope Francis continued. This forced the Holy Family to experience the “anguish of persecution”. hus little Jesus reminds us that half of today’s refugees in the world are children, guiltless victims of human injustices.

The Church responds
One of the many ways that the Church responds to this tragic reality is through educational networks, Pope Francis said, introducing the work of the two charities. Refugee children “also need formation so that tomorrow they can work and participate as conscientious citizens for the common good”. Education is also a way to help people get back on their feet, give them back their dignity, provide the courage to face life and appreciate one’s own talents, the Pope said.

How artists help
Pope Francis then concluded his reflection saying that artists have always helped the Church express its mission. “Artists succeed in touching the most intimate parts of men and women’s consciences. For that, to those of you present here, go my thanks and my encouragement to pursue your work, to enkindle the warmth and tenderness of Christmas in every heart.”


The Apostolic Eleemosynary or Office of the Apostolic Almsgiver, also known as the office of papal charities, today announced in a communiqué that, on behalf of Pope Francis, it has invited – on Tuesday 18 December – a group of poor people to a Christmas lunch offered by the athletes of the Fiamme Gialle (Yellow flames) Sports Group, in the sports center of the Guardia di Finanza, Italy’s treasury department police, at Castelporziano. The insignia of the treasury department are yellow flames.

This meal is also being offered through Caritas of the Diocese of Rome, in the cafeteria of a reception center in Ostia in via Lungomare Toscanelli.

The athletes themselves will cook the lunch and serve it to the guests, sharing with them a day of celebration, full of fun that sport can offer in a family atmosphere, and also symbolic gifts.

The initiative was made possible by Athletica Vaticana, which hopes to re-launch the appeal of Pope Francis to live Christmas in the name of solidarity and concrete attention to those in need. It is a testimony of charity and fraternity through the language of sport which, by its nature, provides for inclusion and respect for the dignity of the last.

Polish cardinal Konrad Krajewski is the Papal Almoner.


I spent a wonderful morning at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas with Fr. Benedict Croell, a Dominican friar originally from Colorado who is now the university’s Director of Development and Mission Advancement. The university is known in Rome as the “Angelicum,” a reference to the title “Angelic Doctor” given to the one of the most celebrated Dominicans, St. Thomas Aquinas.

I’ve done several radio interviews for “Vatican Insider” in which I have profiled some of Rome’s pontifical universities, and today I spoke with Fr. Croell to profile this Dominican university.

I not only interviewed Father Benedict but was guided by him on a tour of the grounds of this amazing 16th century building in the heart of Rome– literally from top to bottom, from the stunning views of Rome from the top floors to the refectory in the basement – and lots of places in between!

You’ll be able to listen to that interview this coming weekend on Vatican Insider and I’ll also share some of the many pictures I took today.

Over the years I’ve been to the Angelicum for lectures (days ago a talk by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito), and years ago for a canon law course but never saw as much of the actual university as I did today!

When I first started to work at the Vatican I decided I wanted to expand my knowledge in a number of areas in order to better serve the Church and I started by taking a canon law course at the Angelicum with Fr. Joseph Fox, OP. I did not take this to obtain a degree but just to improve my knowledge of this one area of the Church – her law. Fr. Benedict noted this admission of mine and added me to his list of alumna!

It’s been a busier than usual Wednesday for me, and the day will soon end with Vespers and Mass with the Marian Fathers to mark their feast day of the Immaculate Conception. The Marians usually celebrate Vespers and dinner on the vigil of the December 8th feast day but this year had to change the date. The Marian Father you are most familiar with is surely Fr. Joe Roesch – you’ve seen him a lot of EWTN, especially when it comes to programs having to do with Divine Mercy.

In between the my time at the Angelicum and dinner with the Marian Fathers was “Catholic Connection” with Teresa Tomeo.

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and I want to leave you with two inspiring stories about her. You might want to read the second article in silence, contemplating the history, symbolism and meaning of the famed icon.


The eyes of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe are one of the great enigmas of science, according to a Peruvian engineer José Tonsmann, who has extensively studied this “mystery.”

The eyes of the image are especially mysterious. Although their dimensions are microscopic, the iris and the pupils present the highly detailed images of 13 people. The same people are present in the left eye and the right, with different ratios, just as images are transmitted by human eyes.

The reflection transmitted through the eyes of the Virgin of Guadalupe is thought to be the scene in which Juan Diego brought the flowers given him by Our Lady as a sign to Bishop Fray Juan de Zumarraga, on December 9, 1531.

Tonsmann studied the images of Our Lady’s eyes using his experience from analyzing microscopic and satellite photographs, skills from his background while at IBM.

Tonsmann began to develop his study of the eyes in 1979. He widened the iris in the eyes of the Virgin to a scale some 2,000 times the actual size and, through mathematical and optical procedures, was able to make out the characters printed in the eyes of the Virgin.

According to Tonsmann’s findings, in the image of Guadalupe, we have something “that has not been painted by human hand.”


by Father Michael Morris

Great art has contributed to the culture of the Church. But once in a rare while, another kind of sacred image appears that does not seem to be the work of human hands. The Shroud of Turin and the Veil of Veronica are examples. In the Western Hemisphere, the greatest and most potent image attributed to heavenly intervention is that of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Miraculous vision

It appeared in 1531 on the cactus-fiber cloak, or tilma, of a native Mexican who had been baptized and given the name Juan Diego. It had been 10 years since Hernando Cortez had overtaken the Aztec Empire and subjugated the land that he called New Spain. With great difficulty, the missionaries tried to make converts among the native peoples.

Juan Diego’s conversion had been sincere, and he was on his way to Mass one cold December morning when Our Lady appeared to him on a hill called Tepeyac and spoke to him in his native tongue. She ordered him to tell Bishop Juan Zumarraga of Mexico City to build a church there in her honor. When he finally gained an audience with Bishop Zumarraga, the good bishop hesitated, not knowing whether to believe the native’s astonishing story. He asked Juan Diego to have the lady give him a sign in order to assist him in his decision.

On his return home, Juan Diego again encountered the Virgin, who bid him to return to the bishop with the same message the next day. She would provide him with a sign. Upon returning to his village, however, Juan learned that his beloved uncle was near death and urgently bid him to find a priest to assist him in his final hours. Now burdened with two urgent requests, Juan Diego opted to first aid his uncle by finding a priest.

He purposefully took another route around Tepeyac in order to avoid the Virgin. But she intercepted him, assuring him that his uncle would be cured. She ordered him to climb the barren hill and gather the roses he would find on its summit and take them to the bishop who had requested a sign. Juan Diego did so and before departing on his journey the Virgin herself arranged the miraculous blooms in the folds of his cloak. This time Juan Diego encountered even more difficulty in gaining admittance to the bishop, but he persisted, and when he was finally ushered in and opened up his tilma to the cascade of unseasonable flowers he was surprised to watch the prelate fall to his knees.

Image’s power

The roses alone were not what had astonished the bishop. Juan Diego soon discovered that Our Lady had provided an even more marvelous sign. It was a portrait of her as he had seen her, an image that has become the most powerful and beloved likeness of the Virgin in all of human history.

She had dark skin and hair like the native peoples who were soon attracted to her image and persuaded by what they saw. Though she would seem to be a goddess, wearing a cloak of stars and blocking the sun’s rays while standing on the moon held aloft by an attendant angel, her head was bowed in humility. Something greater was coming through her. Beneath her folded hands a maternity sash was tied. She was pregnant. A new beginning was about to unfold.

A shrine was immediately built on Tepeyac where Juan Diego spent the rest of his days as caretaker and guardian of the indelible portrait. The power of that image soon became evident. In the next decade between 8 million and 10 million natives were converted to the faith. Not since apostolic times had so many conversions taken place. The vast number more than made up for the losses suffered in a Europe that was now divided by the Reformation.

Dual meanings

When asked under what name the Virgin had appeared to him, Juan Diego responded with a phrase that seemed to the Spanish chronicler’s ear to sound like “Guadalupe,” the site of a venerated cult of the Virgin back in his native country. But some scholars believe that Juan Diego was actually saying in his native tongue a phrase that phonetically sounds like Guadalupe but actually means one “who treads upon the serpent.” Since the serpent god had been the very foundation of the Aztec religion that demanded human sacrifice atop stone pyramids erected in his honor, Our Lady’s description of herself in his native tongue has a more profound meaning. It was she who would overcome the serpent by bringing forth the one true God whose own sacrifice would take place in the ritual of the Mass celebrated in churches built atop the ruins of the pagan temples. The dual meanings in the word Guadalupe in effect united two peoples, the Spaniard and the native, forging a new culture whose identity is forever marked by this miraculous image.

The tilma should have disintegrated long ago, but it remains intact. Centuries of veneration, of touching, of kissing, of candle smoke and incense have not dulled its color. It has survived the ravages of flood, plague, fire and even an exploding bomb planted underneath it by agents of an anti-clerical and Masonic government. It has been the source of numerous miracles, the cause of much healing and a consolation to multitudes. Millions of pilgrims visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe every year.

Painted copies of the tilma have been reverently produced over the centuries. New versions were customarily touched to the original in order to transmit its miraculous properties. This derivative copy has the Virgin crowned and flanked by angels. Four cartouches in the corners of the painting recount the apparitions made to the sainted Juan Diego and his presentation to the bishop. And at the bottom the artist has included an image of the shrine that was built at Tepeyac.

When such a copy was presented to Pope Benedict XIV in 1754, he wept and uttered words derived from Psalm 147 that underscore the divine gift that has become the glory of Mexico: “He has not dealt in like manner with any other nation.”
Queen of all America

Venerations of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast day is Dec. 12, is not limited to Catholics of Hispanic heritage. Indeed, she is the patroness of all America — North, Central and South — as Pope Pius XII designated in 1945.

In the 1999 post-synodal apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America, Pope John Paul II stressed the Blessed Mother’s important role in spreading the message of her son throughout the land:

“The appearance of Mary to the native Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac in 1531 had a decisive effect on evangelization. Its influence greatly overflows the boundaries of Mexico, spreading to the whole continent. America, which historically has been, and still is, a melting pot of peoples, has recognized in the mestiza face of the Virgin of Tepeyac, ‘in Blessed Mary of Guadalupe, an impressive example of a perfectly inculturated evangelization’ ” (No. 11).

Father Michael Morris writes from California.- This article originally appeared in OSV Newsweekly.


Most of your Christmas shopping is done but you still need one special gift! Well, look no further – Pope Francis can help you!

Tomorrow is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Pope Francis will celebrate Mass for Latin America at 6 pm tomorrow in St. Peter’s Basilica. Pope Francis visited her shrine in Mexico in February 2016, praying before the tilma and Mary’s image for about 20 minutes. He started the tradition of a December 12 Mass for Latin America in 2014. While many people know the story of Our Lady and Juan Diego, here’s a reminder from Vatican Media.


December 12th is the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We take a look at the story behind the indigenous peasant who came across the Patron of the Americas, and how he fought for her message to be heard.
By Francesca Merlo

The Virgin of Guadalupe, like the shroud of Turin, appears on a piece of fabric. Both are sacred objects, hundreds of years old, and both depict an image said to be miraculous. The Virgin of Guadalupe was declared Queen of Mexico and is Patron of the Americas.

First apparition
Our Lady of Guadalupe first introduced herself as the Mother of God and the mother of all humanity when she appeared on the hill of Tepeyac in Mexico in 1531. An indigenous peasant, Juan Diego, saw a glowing figure on the hill. After she had identified herself to him, Our Lady asked that Juan build her a shrine in that same spot, in order for her to show and share her love and compassion with all those who believe.

Afterwards, Juan Diego visited Juan de Zumárraga, who was Archbishop of what is now Mexico City. Zumárraga dismissed him in disbelief and asked that the future Saint provide proof of his story and proof of the Lady’s identity.

Juan Diego returned to the hill and encountered Our Lady again. The Virgin told him to climb to the top of the hill and pick some flowers to present to the Archbishop.

Winter bloom
Although it was winter and nothing should have been in bloom, Juan Diego found an abundance of flowers of a type he had never seen before. The Virgin bundled the flowers into Juan’s cloak, known as a tilma. When Juan Diego presented the tilma of exotic flowers to Zumárraga, the flowers fell out and he recognised them as Castilian roses, which are not found in Mexico.

What was even more significant, however, was that the tilma had been miraculously imprinted with a colorful image of the Virgin herself.

This actual tilma, preserved since that date and showing the familiar image of the Virgin Mary with her head bowed and hands together in prayer, represents the Virgin of Guadalupe. It remains perhaps the most sacred object in all of Mexico.

The story is best known from a manuscript written in the Aztec’s native language Nahuatl by the scholar Antonio Valeriano. It was written sometime after 1556.

Over 20 million people visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe each year, now situated on the very same hill on which she appeared.

In 1990, Pope Saint John Paul II visited Mexico and beatified Juan Diego. 10 years later, in the year 2000, he was declared a Saint.



It was a festive holiday and holy day weekend here, with a focus on the December 8th feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holiday in the Vatican and throughout Italy. Millions of Italians traveled this weekend, many to Rome to be present for Friday’s inauguration of the Vatican’s sand nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square and the lighting of the 75-foot tall red fir Christmas tree, a gift of Italy’s northern Friuli-Venezia Giulia region and the diocese of Concordia-Pordenone. The 700-ton nativity sand sculpture is a gift of the resort town of Jesolo, north of Venice, and the Patriarchate of Venice. The scene seems as if it was carved of beige marble!

Saturday, the feast of the Immaculata, is the day that Popes traditionally travel to the Spanish Steps to place a floral homage at the foot of the column atop which is a statue of Mary Immaculate and to recite a prayer of petition. The tradition of offering flowers to her image here on this feast day was begun by Pope Pius XII. Francis continued that tradition Saturday and also visited the basilica of St. Mary Major. On his way home to the Vatican, the Pope stopped off at the main office of one of Rome’s major newspapers, Il Messagero, causing a bit of a traffic jam on this always-busy shopping street that overflows with shoppers on December 8. (photos Marina Testina EWTN)

Both Saturday and Sunday, the Holy Father recited the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square. Vatican gendarmes estimated the Saturday crowd of faithful at 45,000.

This feast day, of course, commemorates the conception of Mary in her mother’s womb without original sin.

The Immaculata is a very important feast for Americans as Mary Immaculate is the patroness of both the United States and the US seminary in Rome, the Pontifical North American College. On December 8, the seminarians, staff, faculty and invited guests, attend Mass in the chapel, after which they enjoy a special meal. Three toasts are always made – to the Holy Father, the United States and the seminary.

The Spanish Steps, this famous square in the heart of Rome, is named for the Palazzo di Spagna, a magnificent building on the piazza that has housed the Spanish embassy to the Holy See since 1647.

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


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

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

That pedestal is adorned with two bas-reliefs. One represents Saint Joseph being warned by the Angel during his sleep about the mystery of the Incarnation; the other shows Pius IX proclaiming the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Under the first bas-relief are written the simple but sublime words of the angelic greeting: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women.

Pius IX’s solemn definition of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 1854, a “day forever memorable in the Church’s annals.” After centuries of discussion and the 1849 consultation with the world’s bishops, the pope proceeded with the solemn definition that “the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of God, in consideration of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, was preserved free from all stain of original sin. …”

The Immaculate Conception also speaks to us of Mary’s love for God. Mary is the “most excellent work” of Christ’s salvation, redeemed by a “sublime grace.”

An important step in the development of the belief was the miraculous Medal, originally the Medal of the Immaculate Conception. In the second of three apparitions, on November 27, 1830, St. Catherine Laboure, at the time a novice of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, saw an image of Mary standing on a globe with rays of light coming from her hands, a sign of the help she wished to bestow. The image was framed with the words, “0 Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” The reverse of the medal showed the letter M surmounted by a cross with a bar; below it were the hearts of Jesus and Mary, all surrounded by the Twelve Stars of the Apocalypse. Catherine was instructed: “Have a medal struck from the image and those who wear it will receive the protection of the Mother of God.” Ad this was long before the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed.