There is a rather surprising link between my first story and that of the Pope baptizing newly-separated Siamese twins.

Most Mondays and every Friday, I go to La Vittoria for dinner. I was seated outside last night and at a certain point an Italian women, obviously intending to eat inside, stopped at my table near the door, smiled and asked, somewhat hesitatingly, if she had seen me earlier filming near St. Peter’s Square. I replied that indeed I had been filming for a Catholic television program and she told me she recognized the ‘lovely blue dress’ I had been wearing in the square and at dinner.

I learned her name was Carmela. She asked me what my work entailed and I told her that my TV segments, radio shows and writings focused on the Vatican, the papacy, and the Catholic Church. I explained that the program for which she saw me filming in the square was called “At Home With Jim and Joy” and focused on marriage, the family and pro-life issues.

Carmela told me of her volunteer work with Catholic institutions, including Rome’s Bambin Gesu pediatric hospital, adding that because of Covid, volunteer work was at a minimum.

She then recounted that some of her friends at Bambin Gesu told her of Siamese twins who had been separated at the hospital and then blessed by the Pope. I had not heard the story and – lo and behold! – it appeared today on the pages of Vatican News. Except the Pope had not just blessed the girls, he baptized them.

And now you know another reason why I love going to La Vittoria – for the stories I hear and the people I meet!


As most of you probably know, I appear every week on “At Home with Jim and Joy” on their Monday edition (the show also airs Wednesday and Fridays). There was a technical glitch yesterday that showed a different clip from Rome than the one I filmed for the show. That has been remedied and the show can be seen here (the segment starts at 19:40): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bCj9PoYtEU

The theme of last night’s program was friends and friendships and their meaning in our lives. In high school we were asked to write a poem about friendship. I searched for the original (which I know I have in my vast archives) and did not find it but I do remember the first words: “True friendship is a priceless treasure, a bright star whose light never fades…”

I also told Jim and Joy: “And God indeed has graced my life with amazing, beautiful friends – friends all around the world – lay friends, priest friends, friends in the Roman Curia, so many members of my parish here in Rome – people who have been there in both the tumultuous and joyful moments of my journey. And the tumultuous moments certainly include the Covid era we are living through! Weeks and months – maybe even now for many! – of being unable to be in the presence of those friends – to share, listen, understand, advise – even to hug them! That’s what I miss most! But just knowing they are there for me and that I am here for them is another kind of grace.”

And many of you reading this column know full well I am describing you!


Hermine Nzotto, the mother of conjoined baby girls who were successfully separated in an extraordinary surgery at Rome’s Bambino Gesù hospital in June, writes to Pope Francis, thanking him for baptizing her daughters a few days ago.

By Robin Gomes

Hermine Nzotto wrote a letter to Pope Francis who recently baptized her twin baby girls.   In her letter, Nzotto, a native of the Central African Republic (CAR), recounts her life as a “peasant girl from the forest” in the town of Mbaiki, some 100 km from the capital Bangui, where her Siamese twins were born with fused skulls on June 29, 2018.

Hope of Holy Door in CAR
The twins were transferred to Bangui, where they were cared for in a hospital built with the help of Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital, a Vatican-owned hospital in Rome. The unit built in the Central African Republic was a project started after Pope Francis visited the war-torn country in November 2015.

In Bangui, the hospital made arrangements and transferred the mother and her daughters to Rome on September 10, 2018, to see if they could be separated.  At the end of the third surgery on June 5 that ran for 18-hours and involved some 30 specialists, the two girls, Ervina and Prefina, were successfully separated. They were baptized by Pope Francis recently at a private ceremony at Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican.

During his 2015 visit to Bangui, the Pope had launched the Jubilee of Mercy by opening the Holy Door of the cathedral.  That door assumes an added significance for the mother and her daughters, as Nzotto expresses in her letter to the Pope.

“Baptizing my miraculous Mary and Frances by Your Holiness assures me that God is truly close to the least,” Nzotto writes to the Pope, using the baby girls’ baptismal names. “If tomorrow my daughters are able to be among the luckiest children on earth who go to school and learn what I do not know and which I now desire to know, and one day to be able to read Bible verses to my daughters, then it is not a Holy Door that you opened in Bangui in 2015, which closed a year later.

Rather, she continues, “it is a bridge that you built for eternity, which needy people like me and people of goodwill like the team of doctors who are treating my separated inseparable ones can cross.”

In her letter, the mother of the two girls expresses her heartfelt gratitude to the doctors of the Bambino Gesù Hospital, Dr Mariella Enoc, the president of the hospital who arranged her transfer and the surgery and Dr Carlo Efisio Marras, the head of the Neurosurgery department, whose team “miraculously separated and resurrected” her daughters.

In conclusion, Hermine Nzotto writes, “Prayer is what can unite the people of the earth.”  Hence, she promises her prayers to Mary for Pope Francis saying, he who dared to defy mosquito bites and visit the CAR during the rebellion in 2015, knows better than her what to ask of the Virgin Mary for the world.


Today is the feast day of St. Clare of Assisi and I though I’d share her sublime story with you. I subscribe to fransciscanmedia.org for their daily emails with the lives of saints, and I found today’s account about Clare quite compelling. At the end I put a link to a video I did for “Joan’s Rome” about St. Clare and the church named for her in Assisi during a visit with EWTN colleagues.


(www.franciscanmedia.org) One of the more sugary movies made about Francis of Assisi pictures Clare as a golden-haired beauty floating through sun-drenched fields, a sort of one-woman counterpart to the new Franciscan Order.

The beginning of her religious life was indeed movie material. Having refused to marry at 15, Clare was moved by the dynamic preaching of Francis. He became her lifelong friend and spiritual guide.

At 18, Clare escaped from her father’s home one night, was met on the road by friars carrying torches, and in the poor little chapel called the Portiuncula received a rough woolen habit, exchanged her jeweled belt for a common rope with knots in it, and sacrificed her long tresses to Francis’ scissors. He placed her in a Benedictine convent, which her father and uncles immediately stormed in rage. Clare clung to the altar of the church, threw aside her veil to show her cropped hair, and remained adamant.

Sixteen days later her sister Agnes joined her. Others came. They lived a simple life of great poverty, austerity, and complete seclusion from the world, according to a Rule which Francis gave them as a Second Order. At age 21, Francis obliged Clare under obedience to accept the office of abbess, one she exercised until her death.

The Poor Ladies went barefoot, slept on the ground, ate no meat, and observed almost complete silence. Later Clare, like Francis, persuaded her sisters to moderate this rigor: “Our bodies are not made of brass.” The greatest emphasis, of course, was on gospel poverty. They possessed no property, even in common, subsisting on daily contributions. When even the pope tried to persuade Clare to mitigate this practice, she showed her characteristic firmness: “I need to be absolved from my sins, but I do not wish to be absolved from the obligation of following Jesus Christ.”

Contemporary accounts glow with admiration of Clare’s life in the convent of San Damiano in Assisi. She served the sick and washed the feet of the begging nuns. She came from prayer, it was said, with her face so shining it dazzled those about her. She suffered serious illness for the last 27 years of her life. Her influence was such that popes, cardinals, and bishops often came to consult her—Clare herself never left the walls of San Damiano.

Francis always remained her great friend and inspiration. Clare was always obedient to his will and to the great ideal of gospel life which he was making real.

A well-known story concerns her prayer and trust. Clare had the Blessed Sacrament placed on the walls of the convent when it faced attack by invading Saracens. “Does it please you, O God, to deliver into the hands of these beasts the defenseless children I have nourished with your love? I beseech you, dear Lord, protect these whom I am now unable to protect.” To her sisters she said, “Don’t be afraid. Trust in Jesus.” The Saracens fled.

Joan’s Rome in Assisi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZkyGvWcJrE