Happy St. Nicholas feast day! Happy onomastico or name day to all those named Nicholas or a derivative thereof! This saint is a patron of Bakers, Brides and Grooms, Children, Greece, Pawnbrokers and Travelers!

Welcome back to Rome, Pope Francis! What an amazing – and surely exhausting – trip to Cyprus and Greece! For papal inflight interview on plane from Athens to Rome: Pope: “The EU document on Christmas is anachronistic” – Vatican News

At the end of the Vatican news report there is a video interview in English with a young Greek, Filippo Parusis : Pope concludes Greece & Cyprus journey with visit to St. Mary Major – Vatican News


Pope Francis returns to Rome at the end of his Apostolic Journey to Cyprus and Greece, praying at the feet of Our Lady for the many people he met during his visit.

By Francesca Merlo

Pope Francis’s 35th Apostolic Visit abroad has come to an end. He concluded his 6-day trip to Cyprus and Greece with a meeting with Greece’s young people, before he was sent off with an official departure ceremony from Athens airport.

The journey from Athens to Rome’s Ciampino airport takes just over two hours, during which time the usual in-flight press conference takes place with journalists on board the papal plane.

On the car ride back to the Vatican, the Pope stopped off at the Basilica of St. Mary Major to pray briefly at the feet of the ancient Roman icon of Mary Salus Populi Romani.

According to the Holy See Press Office, Pope Francis entrusted the many “encounters, faces, and painful stories of the past days” to Our Lady.

Opportunity for unity

Pope Francis’ trip has been a significant one for Greeks, who saw the Pope’s visit as a message for Christian unity for a country with a Catholic minority and an Orthodox majority.

The Pope, in fact, met with a delegation from the Greek Orthodox Church, in which he recalled the metaphor of the age-old olive trees present in Greece, comparing their deep and sustaining roots to the shared, apostolic roots of Christianity which have endured over the centuries.

He also met privately with the Orthodox Primate, Ieronymos II, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, who paid him a courtesy visit at the Apostolic Nunciature on the eve of his departure back to Rome.


Another important aspect of the Pope’s journey was his visit to the Greek island of Lesbos, which he had previously been to in 2016.

The Pope often appeals for humanity for the migrants attempting to cross borders and seas in search for a better life, and the island of Lesbos has seen throusands of migrants and refugees as they reach the island in an attempt to travel to Europe.

During a meeting with some of those currently living in camps on the island, Pope Francis asked every man and woman, “to overcome the paralysis of fear, the indifference that kills, the cynical disregard that nonchalantly condemns to death those on the fringes.”

Young people

The meeting with young people at the Saint Dionysius School of the Ursuline Sisters in Athens closed a journey that aimed to give impetus to the new generations grappling with a future marked by uncertainties and fears.

One young man, Filippo Parusis, described the Pope’s visit as important “even for those who do not believe”.

He told Vatican News’ Massimiliano Menichetti in Athens that because the Pope is someone who cares about “all of the different communities of this world”, having him visit and share his messages is a wonderful opportunity, especially for “a young man who is interested in the social problems of the world.”



It is not my intention in these days to be a one-person reporter for Pope Francis’ jam-packed schedule for his ongoing visit to Cyprus and then his weekend departure for and visit of Greece. EWTN news has interesting reports and photos, as does the Vatican news portal. For photos and videos of the papal, trip, here are links to events from today: Pope at Holy Synod: Differences are not irreconcilable – Vatican News and Pope at Mass in Cyprus: Only together can we be healed from blinding darkness – Vatican News

What I will bring you today in my feature report of the papal trip are bits and pieces of history, and some astonishing facts about the places that the Holy Father has visited so far. It’s a kind of “everything you wanted to know about Cyprus but were afraid to ask”!

When the Vatican prepares a papal trip, that preparation includes an amazing booklet for the media that is an encyclopedia of information – a thousand facts, small and large, about people, places, buildings, etc, the time difference between Rome and the locale visited, the time differences that might occur within a given country, info on all the people involved in a visit – civil and religious leaders, diplomats, etc.

I have used a lot of that detailed information in my report below, as well as some information and photos from when I was in Cyprus for Pope Benedict’s trip in June 2010.

Probably the only thing the booklet leaves out is a list of good restaurants! But then, finding those restaurants is the fun part for the media (if and when they even have time for a decent meal)!


This week, in what is normally the interview segment. I present part II of my special on St. Peter’s Basilica. You will remember that November 18th we celebrated the liturgical feast of the dedication of the basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul’s Outside the Walls. Two weeks ago I guided you through the basilica of St. Paul’s and last week, in Part I, I explored the equally historical and stunning St. Peter’s Basilica. Today we continue that visit.

I usually post photos at this point when I announce a guest or a Special in the interview segment but I am spending time today on photos from Cyprus in the following article. I’ll pay you back in future days with some pretty special pictures taken on a day when I spent over an hour exploring the basilica in relative calm with very few, in fact hardly any, visitors.

IN THE UNITED STATES, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (stations listed at www.ewtn.com) or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio, or on http://www.ewtn.com. 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 www.ewtnradio.net ALWAYS CHECK YOUR OWN TIME ZONE! For VI archives: go to https://www.ewtn.com/radio/audio-archive and write the name of the guest for whom you are serarching in the SEARCH box. Below that, will appear “Vatican Insider” – click on that and the link to that particular episode will appear.


Cyprus, of course, is the island intimately associated with Sts. Paul and Barnabas and, as you will discover, St. Lazarus! It is featured a number of times in the Bible and is, though not everyone knows it, part of what we call the Holy Land.

Following are some of the more interesting facts about people and places in Cyprus that you may not have known about. As I wrote above, these are taken from the Vatican’s booklet for the media on the papal trip and from information I learned in 2010 when I covered Benedict XVI’s trip to Cyprus.

The small island republic of Cyprus with 850,000 inhabitants has been independent since 1960 but has been divided since 1974 when Muslim majority Turkey invaded and occupied the northern 37 percent of this Mediterranean island. The rest of Cyprus – 81 percent – is Christian: about 78 percent are Orthodox and only 3 percent are Catholic. Either question – the religious one or the political one – at both national and international levels – is complex. The Turkish occupied part of the Republic of Cyprus is known as the Turkish northern Republic of Cyprus but only and solely to Turkey – not the UN or any other country. Pope Benedict visited in 2010. This is still the scenario – in a very small nutshell – for the papal trip. Cyprus is a member of the European Union.

There has been is a UN peacekeeping force since 1964 on Cyprus in what is known as the UN buffer zone between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot parts of the island. After the 1974 events, the U.N. extended and expanded the mission to prevent a possible war, in addition to just trying to keep the military status quo. For decades the U.N. and others have tried to find a diplomatic solution for the divided island.

The capital Nicosia is right in the center of the island of Cyprus, the third largest island in the Mediterranean. In 1974, after the invasion of the Turks, it found itself divided into two parts, Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot, by a Green Line, a demarcation boundary consisting of barbed wire and some sections of walls, within which there is an area patrolled by the U.N. Blue Helmet peacekeeping force. Capital since 965, Nicosia is the only divided capital city in all of Europe.

During the Third Crusade in 1187, Nicosia ​​was defeated by Richard the Lionhearted and sold to the Knights Templar who controlled it until the revolt of the Nicosians in 1192. Later, the capital was ruled by the Lusignan kings until 1489, by the Venetians (1489-1571), by the Ottoman Empire (1571-1878) and by the British from 1878 until 1960, the year in which Cyprus achieved independence. In 1974, a Greek military junta attempted a coup d’état, trying to overthrow the government of Cyprus and annex the island to Greece. Turkey responded by invading the country and taking control of the northern part of the island and the northern part of Nicosia. In 1983, the Turks of the north proclaim independence: the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is born, recognized by the Ankara government but not by the international community.

The papal plane landed at Larnaca airport yesterday, December 2, at 3 pm, local time. Interestingly enough, the first bishop of Larnaca was Jesus’ friend St. Lazarus, who settled in the city after the miracle of his resurrection. His tomb is located in the church named for him and built in the eighth century by Emperor Leo VI the Wise.

The Pope is staying at the apostolic nunciature, as is traditional on papal trips. The nunciature was established on February 13, 1973 with Pope St. Paul’s brief “Id semper fuit.” It is located in the Holy Cross Franciscan Convent complex owned by the Custody of the Holy Land, whose friars have been working since the 13th century century on the island, and includes the only Latin Catholic church in Cyprus, the parish church of Holy Cross. The building is located in the so-called “no man’s land, “a United Nations controlled area, located along the “green line”, between the lines of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot military personnel.

This morning, Friday, December 3, the Holy Father went to the Orthodox archbishopric to pay a courtesy visit to Orthodox Archbishop Chrysostomos I of Cyprus. In an interesting bit of history, the archbishop’s palace was built between 1956 and 1960 by archbishop Makarios III who, honored with a marble statue in the palace courtyard. became the first president of Cyprus!

Pope Francis this afternoon went to Holy Cross church for a meeting with migrants.

I was outside this church in 2010 for Pope Benedict’s visit and it has an interesting story. It is just east of the Paphos Gate, inside the ancient city walls of Nicosia, and its rear wall borders the United Nations buffer zone that separates the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot parts of Cyrpus. Built on a previous church of 1642, the first stone of the current building was placed on April 8, 1900 thanks to the Spanish Royal Family and the Franciscan Friars. Inside,on the ceiling, is the Spanish royal coat of arms and, under the rose window. the coat of arms of the Custody of the Holy Land.

I learned today from colleagues in Cyprus with the papal trip that the scenario for Franis’ visit to Holy Cross was basically the same today as it was 11 years ago for Pope Benedict: U.N. peacekeeping forces keeping a strict vigil over the church and environs given that it is located in the so-called “no man’s land,” the U.N.-controlled buffer zone between the northern Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus (and of the city of Nicosia) and the Greek Cypriot part of the island.

The media not on the papal plane had to remain outside the gated and protected and surveiled square in front of Holy Cross church. As ecclesial guests arrived, they were checked into the compound by guards. I am guessing it was the same today. Here are 20 of the photos I took then, just to give you an idea:

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As Pope Francis moves from place to place in Cyprus that I have seen, I am re-living my unforgettable 2010 adventure. I’ve re-read all of the blogs I posted and have seen every one of my hundreds of photo, including many wonderful close-ups of Pope Benedict.




As you probably know, at 3pm today, local time, Pope Francis landed in Cyprus for the start of a 5-day trip to Cyprus and Greece. Pope Benedict XVI visited this island in June 2010.

Yesterday, as is his habit before an apostolic trip, the Holy Father went to St. Mary Major basilica to pray for the successful outcome of his trip before the beloved image of Salus populi romani. The Vatican provided a photo:

This morning, before leaving the Casa Santa Marta residence in the Vatican, Pope Francis greeted about 12 refugees accompanied by the papal almsgiver, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski. The migrants, now residing in Italy, are from Syria, Congo, Somalia and Afghanistan. They had spent some transitional time in the Lesbos camp that Pope Francis had visited in 2016 and when they arrived Rome they were welcomed and cared for by the Sant’Egidio Community. Among them, some had come to Rome with the Pope on the papal plane from the Greek island of Lesbos in 2016.

After leaving the Vatican, enroute to the airport, the Pope stopped at the parish of Santa Maria degli Angeli near Fiumicino Airport, where he prayed in front of the image of Our Lady of Loreto and met about 15 refugees hosted from the parish. Our Lady of Loreto is the patron saint of pilots and airline workers.

Francis today travelled for the first time on the new Italian state airline ITA, after the demise in October of Alitalia, the national airline that had accompanied popes on trips for decades. Written on the side of the plane in large lettering were the words “Born in 2021!”

Aboard the plane, press office director Matteo Bruni told the Pope that the 77 journalists accompanying him, including 7 from Cyprus and Greece, were happy to be travelling with him again, to which Francis replied: “Thank you! Good morning and thank you very much for your company. It is a beautiful journey, and we will also touch some sores. I hope we can all welcome all the messages we find. Thank you very much for your company!”

After a private welcome ceremony Thursday afternoon at Larnaca airport, the Holy Father went to the capital of Nicosia where he met with religious, deacons, catechists and ecclesial associations and movements in the Maronite cathedral of Our Lady of Graces.   The Maronites have been on Cyprus since 686. At 6 pm local time (Cyprus is one hour ahead of Rome), the Pope went to the presidential palace for a meeting with civil authorities and members of the diplomatic corps.

(All segments of the papal trip can be followed online at the Vatican site News from the Vatican – News about the Church – Vatican News This includes live video during an event. Tomorrow’s schedule includes: 8:30 am COURTESY VISIT TO THE ORTHODOX ARCHBISHOP OF CYPRUS CHRYSOSTOMOS II at the Orthodox Archbishopric of Cyprus; 9 am, MEETING WITH THE HOLY SYNOD at the Orthodox Cathedral in Nicosia; 10 am, MASS at the “GSP Stadium” in Nicosia and, at 4 pm, ECUMENICAL PRAYER WITH MIGRANTS at the parish church of the Holy Cross in Nicosia. Calculate the time difference between where you live and the local time in Cyprus and Greece. EWTN will be transmitting a number of events)


What a great catechesis today on St. Joseph in this series that Pope Francis is dedicating to the father of Our Savior at this end of the Year of St. Joseph! I have been touched by every weekly audience catechesis on St. Joseph but perhaps this is my favorite so far. I’m sure you know that this year dedicated to Joseph ends on December 8 but for many, I am also sure, like myself, St. Joseph will continue to be a focus of our prayers and petitions.

In this last year, I read what I could and learned a lot about St. Joseph that I had not known. I feel closer to him than ever before and have turned to him very frequently this past year, as I will continue to do, especially every time I look at my Sleeping St. Joseph figurine, just inches from my laptop!


Continuing his catechesis on St Joseph, Pope Francis offered engaged couples a reflection on moving beyond the ‘enchantment’ that comes with falling in love, toward a mature love that can stand the test of time.

By Christopher Wells

Pope Francis offered his catechesis at Wednesday’s General Audience as a message for all engaged couples, as he reflected on St Joseph as a “just man” and “Mary’s betrothed spouse.”

St Joseph, a just man

Turning to the Gospel of St Matthew, the Pope noted that in ancient Israel, the official betrothal, or engagement, was an integral part of the marriage customs. The woman, although continuing to live in her parents’ home, was considered the “wife” of the betrothed spouse.

So “when Mary was found with child,” she was exposed to the accusation of adultery; Joseph was “just” precisely because, while following the letter of the law, he chose – out of love for Mary – not to expose her to the rigour of the law, but to send her away quietly.

The voice of God in discernment

At that moment, however, an angel appeared to Joseph; as Pope Francis explained, “God’s voice intervenes in Joseph’s discernment.” The Pope emphasized the importance for each of us, too, to cultivate a just life, and at the same time to recognise the need for God’s help “to consider the circumstances of life” from a broader perspective.

Being engaged, Mary and Joseph “probably cultivated dreams and expectations for their future,” the Pope said. When God intervened “unexpectedly” in their lives, He also opened their hearts.

Where true love begins

Pope Francis recognised that life is often not what we imagine it to be, that it can be difficult to move from “falling in love” to “the logic of mature love.” The former is often marked by a kind of “enchantment,” that fades with time. But it is precisely when that first excitement of love ends, that “true love begins.”

Love, he said, does not mean that the other person, or our life, should correspond to our imagination, but that we choose “in complete freedom to take responsibility for one’s life as it comes,” as Joseph did when he chose, at God’s command, to take Mary as his wife.

From falling in love to mature love

Pope Francis continued, “Christian engaged couples are called to bear witness to a love like this that has the courage to move from the logic of falling in love to that of mature love.” A couple’s love, he said, “advances in life and matures every day.”

And he repeated to engaged couples the advice he had given before: Never let the day end without making peace with your spouse.

A prayer to St Joseph

Pope Francis concluded his catechesis once again with a prayer to St Joseph:

Saint Joseph,
you who loved Mary with freedom,
and chose to renounce your fantasies to give way to reality,
help each of us to allow ourselves to be surprised by God
and to accept life not as something unforeseen from which to defend ourselves,
but as a mystery that hides the secret of true joy.

Obtain joy and radicality for all engaged Christians,
while always being aware

that only mercy and forgiveness make love possible. Amen.


At the end of the general audience catechesis on St. Joseph, Pope Francis highlighted World AIDS Day and also spoke of his trip, starting tomorrow, to Cyprus and Greece, He asked people to accompany him with and through prayer. He said he will make this journey “to visit the beloved peoples of those countries, rich in history, spirituality and civilization,” where there are sources of apostolic faith and fraternity among Christians of diverse denominations.

He also noted that meetings with migrants and refugees will be among the highlights of the trip, including another visit to the Greek island of Lesbos where many wait in camps for documentation allowing them to go to other countries. Of Lesbos, he said, “I will also have the opportunity to approach a humanity wounded in the flesh of so many migrants in search of hope. …I ask you, please, to accompany me with your prayers.”



In 2006 I covered the November visit to Turkey by Benedict XVI and learned a great deal about Catholic-Orthodox relations, as well as those between the Catholic Church and Islam. I studied at length both aspects of the papal trip – the visit to the Orthodox patriarchate and the Church’s relations with Islam given that Pope Benedict made history with a much applauded visit to Istanbul’s Blue Mosque.

It was an extraordinary trip and I have indelible memories and myriad photos. I mention this because of Pope Francis’ message today to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I for the November 30 feast of St. Andrew, patron of the Patriarchate. There is an annual exchange of delegations for this feast, with Rome sending a delegation to Istanbul, and for the June 29th feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, patrons of Rome, when the Patriarchate sends a delegation to the Vatican. For Pope Francis’ letter to Bartholomew, click here: Pope to Bartholomew: Working together makes our communion visible – Vatican News

Today I present provide a capsule summary of what I learned and wrote about at the time concerning the history of Orthodox-Catholic relations.

In the meantime, the Vatican today released Pope Francis’ prayer intention for December, inviting everyone to pray for catechists, “summoned to announce the Word of God,” that they might “be its witnesses, with courage and creativity, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, with joy and much peace.” Click here for video and message with English subtitles: Pope’s December prayer intention: For Catechists – Vatican News


Today is the feast of St. Andrew, patron of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Holy See and the Patriarchate exchange regular annual visits and send delegations for the feast days of their respective patrons. The Vatican celebrates the June 29 feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles and the Orthodox patriarchate marks the November 30 feast of St. Andrew. Roman Catholics believe St. Peter was given the mandate by Christ to lead the church and was thus the first Pope. The Orthodox believe that mandate was given to his brother, Andrew.

Both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have travelled to Turkey to celebrate this feast together with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. I was in Turkey to cover Benedict’s trip in November 2006 but did not accompany Francis in 2014.

On both occasions a Divine Liturgy was celebrated in St. George Church, located in the Phanar neighborhood (also spelled Fanar) of Istanbul. The name is the Turkish transliteration of the original Greek word meaning a lighting lantern, a streetlight, a lightpost with a lantern. The name is also linked to the classical phanárion and the more modern fanári meaning “lantern.”

The Phanar neighborhood became home to many Greeks as well as to the Patriarchate of Constantinople after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, 400 years after the Great Schism, the divide between Constantinople and Rome, between the Eastern and Western Churches.

Today, a complex known as Phanar houses the offices of the patriarchate and the residence of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. Just as the term Vatican – Vatican City State – is used the describe the heart of the Catholic Church, the Holy See, Phanar is often shorthand for the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

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In his talk on November 30, 2006, Pope Benedict said, “the divisions that exist among Christians are a scandal to the world and an obstacle to the proclamation of the Gospel.”

One of the principal reasons for the thousand-year old split between Catholics and Orthodox is the Petrine ministry – Petrine referring to St. Peter – and the Petrine ministry being the office of the Pope.

Benedict made reference to that as well in his talk. He said that Christ gave Peter and Andrew the task of being “fishers of men,” but entrusted that task to each in different ways. Peter, said the Pope, was called “the rock upon which the Church was to be built and entrusted him with the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.” Peter travelled from Jerusalem to Antioch to Rome “so that in that city he might exercise a universal responsibility.”

“The issue of the universal service of Peter and his Successors,” said Benedict XVI, “has unfortunately given rise to our differences of opinion, which we hope to overcome.”

Some historical background on the East-West split:

What has come to be known as the East-West Schism occurred in 1054 when Patriarch Michael Cerularius of Constantinople, leader of the Eastern Christian Churches, and Pope Leo IX, leader of the Western Church, excommunicated each other. The mutual excommunications were lifted only in 1965 when both Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, following their history-making meeting in Jerusalem in 1964, held ceremonies that revoked the excommunication decrees.

Differences between the two Churches on matters of doctrine, theology, and language had been growing for years, with the most prominent issue being papal primacy. There were also issued over claims of jurisdiction. However, the two Churches have been seeking unity ever since.

The Petrine ministry – the primacy of the Pope – was specifically mentioned vis-a-vis the Orthodox Church in the document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith entitled “Responses to Some Questions on Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church,” dated June 29, 2007.

Pope Francis quoted this document – specifically the fourth question – in his talk during the Divine Liturgy in 2014. (This 1,200-word document, excluding footnotes, with five questions and five answers is eminently readable: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070629_responsa-quaestiones_en.html



Having four days off in a row is such a special time, more so, of course, when it occurs because of an important holiday such as Thanksgiving.

This past Thursday I had so many great joys. The day started with Mass at St. Patrick’s and, at the end of Mass, the chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy to the Holy See, Patrick Connell, read President Biden’s Thanksgiving Proclamation. Seeing so many friends on a Thursday, a work day here, of course, was wonderful!

After Mass I went to Homebaked for brunch and picked up an entire Thanksgiving dinner that I had ordered days earlier from Jesse. Most of this week he spent baking all sorts of pies and blueberry muffins, filling orders for family turkey dinners and planning a lot of single Thanksgiving dinners such as the one I ordered.

If you don’t prepare a turkey dinner at home, you don’t have leftovers and, for me at least, leftovers are implicit in Thanksgiving! So I had my second turkey dinner on Friday (although I always eat fish on Fridays but made an exception). It was pouring rain and turning cold and so staying home with turkey and stuffing was the logical choice.

At 5pm I went to NAC, the North American College, for the first time in almost 21 months!! The seminarians, at the start of the Covid outbreak last year had gone back home to the U.S. or Australia, and then, throughout 2020 and up to this Thanksgiving Day, all events that involved guests – Thanksgiving Day, the December 8 celebration of the Immaculate Conception and the annual springtime Rector’s Dinner – were cancelled. As were the weekly Wednesday lunches to which guests are invited.

Mass in NAC’s beautiful chapel started the Thanksgiving celebrations. The rector, Fr. Peter Harman, in fact, in brief remarks at this turkey dinner, stressed the excitement everyone felt at finally being able to invite guests to the College! And it was indeed a special evening, a superb dinner and the magnificent pumpkin pies, paraded in by the fifth year students. I was seated at the California table. On Thanksgiving Day, tables are arranged by states with seminarians at NAC. Sometimes two states may share a table.

We’ve had rain here every day since Thanksgiving and the greyness is starting to weigh on people. The temps have gone down quite a bit and all of a sudden it is winter coat weather.   The positive side of rain and this kind of weather, however, is that it is conducive to taking care of a lot of projects around the house (and a few errands outside) and even to finding some extra time for something like reading! Sitting down for an hour or two and not feeling guilty because of other things on your daily agenda, including work!

Thanksgiving Day, as I was waiting at the bus stop outside our apartment building, I saw something fascinating on what is always advertisement space. Seems there is a campaign to provide people with something to read as they wait for or travel on a bus. I clicked on the QR code and downloaded a short story by one of the Grimm brothers! As you can see, it is supposed to be a 20-minute read. What a great idea! Or should I say, what a novel idea!

As I went out for dinner Saturday night, I read a new sign posted inside our building that said our doorman Carlo had Covid! Our building is being renovated, as you know, and all of the perhaps two dozen workers – with whom Carlo interacts daily – had to have Covid tests as did Vittorio at the nearby tabacchi store where Carlo and Francesco, another doorman, and several others gather daily.

Sunday, of course, was the start of Advent, a season I’ve always loved, a season of anxiety but also joy as we await the birth of our Savior, Jesus. I usually spend Sunday afternoons preparing a brief segment for each Monday’s edition of “At Home with Jim and Joy.” I either focus on their topic of the week or bring them breaking news from the Vatican. Tune in on a Monday and drop me a line!

The big news this week will be Pope Francis’ trip to Cyprus and Greece that starts Thursday, December 2 with his flight to Nicosia. I’d love to be reporting on that as I have terrific memories of my time in June 2010 to cover Pope Benedict’s trip to Cyprus, and in fact, just re-read several of my blogs on that apostolic journey. I also reported several times a day for EWTN’s Open Line radio program and did TV coverage as well.

Just a few post -Thanksgiving thoughts….




This page will be dark for a few days as EWTN employees have Thanksgiving Thursday and Friday off to be able to properly celebrate this beautiful and historic American feast. Should there be any big, breaking news, I’ll keep you informed.

Have a Happy 400th Thanksgiving Day! May it be a blessed, happy, safe and healthy day with your loved ones!


As you know, VI each week features a news summary, a Q&A when there is time and an interview segment. This week, in what is normally the interview segment. I present a special on St- Peter’s Basilica. You will remember that November 18th we celebrated the liturgical feast of the dedication of the basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul’s Outside the Walls. Both churches were built in the 4th century by Emperor Constantine.

Last week I took an in-depth look at St. Paul’s and this week I explore the equally historical and stunning St. Peter’s Basilica. Last week I pointed out an interesting fact: at one point a colonnade linked the two basilicas notwithstanding the fact they are separated by just under 3 miles!

Before I take you on that tour, in a departure from that usual format, I start this edition of “Vatican Insider” with something I wrote a few years ago for Thanksgiving Day.

Here are some of the photos I’ve taken during visits to this very special church!

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IN THE UNITED STATES, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (stations listed at www.ewtn.com) or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio, or on http://www.ewtn.com. 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 www.ewtnradio.net ALWAYS CHECK YOUR OWN TIME ZONE! For VI archives: go to https://www.ewtn.com/radio/audio-archive and write the name of the guest for whom you are serarching in the SEARCH box. Below that, will appear “Vatican Insider” – click on that and the link to that particular episode will appear.


It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! The Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square was raised yesterday, all 92 feet of it, a red fir from an area of the Dolomite mountains on the Italian border with Austria. A press office communiqué noted that the tree is from a Sustainable Forestry Management project and that the Trentino Delegation also provided the wooden decorations. As always, the Vatican Governorate will take care of sustainable lighting with low energy consumption.

This is the 40th tree to grace St. Peter’s Square, following a tradition established in 1982 by Pope St. John Paul.

The traditional inauguration of the nativity scene and the lighting of the Christmas tree are scheduled for Friday, December 10. The tree is placed next to the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square. In front of the obelisk, as is tradition, will sit the nativity scene offered by Peru.


I hit a double-header this morning when I went to Rome’s Spallanzani hospital for the booster dose of the Moderna anti-Covid vaccine. They were also offering the flu vaccine and I said ‘si’ faster than you can say ‘si’! Spallanzani is Italy’s premier research center and home to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

I was able to celebrate that good news by joining colleagues at the EWTN Rome bureau for another celebration – the 500th episode of “Vaticano”! A multi-flavored crostata was enjoyed by all (photo by bureau chief Andreas Thonhauser)

A very interesting Covid-related story comes from Austria whose bishops were due in Rome next Sunday for the start of their ad limina visit. According to the Catholic agency Kathpress, in an article that quotes the president of the Episcopal mconference, Archbishop Franz Lackner of Salzburg, the bishops have asked to postpone the ad limina visit because of the severity of the Covid pandemic and resulting full national lockdown. Their ad limina will now take place sometime in 2022.

All the bishops have been fully vaccinated. However, with travel so severely restricted now, it was considered prudent for them to remain in Austria, especially when citizens are limited in their movements.

According to a local website, Austria has paused leisure travel during its new national lockdown and will no longer accept PCR tests for entry. In Austria, due to the current Coronavirus infection situation, a temporary lockdown is in effect from 22 November until 13 December at the latest. Travel to Austria for touristic purposes will only be possible again after this period. Latest Information on the Coronavirus Situation in Austria

From the BBC: (Nov. 22) – Austria has returned to a full national lockdown as protests against new restrictions aimed at curbing Covid-19 infections spread across Europe. From midnight, Austrians have been asked to work from home and non-essential shops have closed.

Last week Austria became the first European country to make Covid vaccination a legal requirement, with the law due to take effect in February. Politicians in neighbouring Germany are debating similar measures as intensive care units there fill up and case numbers hit fresh records.


Pope Francis, through Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, sent a telegram of condolences and prayers to Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee, for the tragedy that occurred Sunday in Waukesha, a Milwaukee suburb: “The Holy Father asks you kindly to convey the assurance of his spiritual closeness to all affected by the tragic incident that recently took place in Waukesha. He commends the souls of those who died to Almighty God’s loving mercy and implores the divine gifts of healing and consolation upon the injured and bereaved. He joins you in asking the Lord to bestow upon everyone the spiritual strength which triumphs over violence and overcomes evil with good.”

Sunday afternoon in Waukesha, during what was to have been a festive Christmas parade, a man driving a red SUV sped through the parade of marchers, musicians, a group called Dancing Grannies and many young people, killing 5 and leaving more than 40 injured.

The driver, Darrell Brooks, now in custody, has a long criminal record and is a registered sex offender. He had recently been released from jail on a $1,000 bail.

On Monday, November 22, Archbishop Listecki released a video message about the Waukesha tragedy a day earlier, saying, “when confronted with the shock and the grief encountered by our brothers and sisters in Waukesha, it is now important for us to turn to our faith, which offers us God’s loving presence and consolation.”

The archbishop noted that, “among the injured are one of our Catholic priests, as well as multiple parishioners and Waukesha Catholic school children. …I know that people of every faith and tradition will call their communities together and offer to God, their sense of confidence in his ability to guide us through this difficult period and offer hope and healing.”



This artistic competition is open to all young people between 16 and 35 years old, both as solo artist or a music group with performer. To learn more, click on link below.


Pope Francis met with participants in the upcoming Christmas Contest, a Christmas concert in which young people compete with original Christmas music, and told them that Christmas is not “out of tune” with the trial we are still facing with the pandemic.

By Francesca Merlo

Pope Francis on Monday met with participants of the upcoming Christmas Contest.

The event, organized by the Pontifical Foundation Gravissimum Educationis and Missioni Don Bosco Valdocco, “gives a voice to young people by inviting them to create new songs inspired by Christmas and its values.” (vaticannews file photo)

The Pope extended a “special welcome” to all the young people “who have enthusiastically taken up the challenge.”

Advent and Covid

The Pope expressed his happiness at meeting them “at the threshold of Advent, the period that every year introduces us to Christmas and its Mystery.”

He noted that this year, too, the lights of Christmas seem dimmed by the consequences of the pandemic that, the Pope added, “still weighs heavily on our time.”

All the more reason why we are called to question ourselves and not to lose hope, said Francis, describing the feast of the Birth of Christ as not being “out of tune” with the trial that we are going through, “because it is par excellence the feast of compassion, of tenderness. Its beauty is humble and full of human warmth.”

The spirit of Christmas

Pope Francis went on to stress that the beauty of Christmas shines through in the sharing of small gestures of concrete love.

“It is not alienating; it is not superficial or escapist. On the contrary, it broadens the heart, opens it to gratuitousness, to the gift of self, and can also generate cultural, social and educational dynamics.”

This is the same spirit with which the Church has given life to the Global Education Pact, continued the Holy Father. He described it as a broad educational alliance “to form mature people, capable of overcoming fragmentation and opposition and rebuilding the fabric of relationships for a more fraternal humanity.”

Courage and creativity

But, he continued, “in order to achieve these objectives, courage is needed: ‘The courage to put the person at the centre’ and to ‘place oneself at the service of the community’,” he said.

It takes both courage and creativity, added the Pope. “For example,” he said, “you have composed new Christmas songs and shared them for a larger project, a project that believes in beauty as a way of human growth, to dream together of a better world.”

Beauty to avoid despair

Bringing his message to a close, Pope Francis repeated the words of Pope St Paul VI: ‘This world in which we live needs beauty so as not to fall into despair’.

What beauty? asked the Pope. “Not a false one, made up of appearances and earthly wealth which is empty and generates emptiness. No, rather, the beauty of a God who became flesh, the beauty of faces, of stories; the beauty of the creatures who make up our common home and who – as St Francis teaches us – share in the praise of the Most High.”

Pope Francis concluded his speech thanking the young people, artists, and sportsmen and women “for not forgetting to be custodians of this beauty, which the Lord’s Christmas makes shine in every daily gesture of love, sharing and service.”


If you are an American history buff, you may be interested to know that 158 years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln delivered what we know as the Gettysburg address, a brief, 278-word speech that has resounded loudly ever since, in particular the opening words: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

If you are an aficionado of trials and have been following the Vatican financial trial, below you will find a Vatican news story on the fourth hearing that took place November 17th. There is a pool of Vatican-accredited print journalists allowed in the tribunal to cover the proceedings for international media.

For background on that trial: (CNA) – The trial is the culmination of more than two years of investigation by the Vatican into what happened in and around the Secretariat of State’s 350 million-euro purchase of an investment property in London between 2014 and 2018. The Vatican maintains that the deal was problematic and designed to defraud the Secretariat of State of millions of euros. The defendants in the trial have been adamant their actions were above board, and that Vatican authorities were in the know.


Welcome to a new edition of Vatican Insider. Before I look at the new highlights, I invite you to stay tuned afterward when, in what is usually the interview segment, I present a special on the basilica of St. Paul in light of the November 18th liturgical feast of the dedication of the basilicas of Sts. Peter and St. Paul’s Outside the Walls. Both churches were built in the 4th century by Emperor Constantine. Interestingly enough, as you will hear, at one point a colonnade linked the two basilicas notwithstanding the fact they are separated by just under 3 miles! I will also dedicate a Special to St. Peter’s Basilica.

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In the fourth hearing of the proceedings on the alleged illegal activities carried out with funds from the Secretariat of State, the proceedings were suspended due to procedural issues. The defense attorneys requested nullity due to redaction of the material submitted. Enrico Crasso’s lawyers said that the Pope was interviewed as a witness but the promoter of Justice denied it. The next hearing is set for 1 December.

By Salvatore Cernuzio (vaticannews)

The trial in the Vatican regarding alleged illicit dealings with the funds of the Holy See has not yet come to a head and will probably still take some time. After the partial restitution of documents to the Office of the Promoter of Justice, there are only six remaining defendants out of the initial ten: Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, the former director and president of AIF, Tommaso Di Ruzza and René Brüllhart, the financiers Enrico Crasso, Gianluigi Torzi, and the manager Cecilia Marogna (the positions of the four companies have also been eliminated)

“It will take time to start, if we ever manage to start,” said the president of the Vatican Tribunal, Giuseppe Pignatone, opening the fourth session in the multipurpose room of the Vatican Museums. The hearing – which lasted 2 hours and 40 minutes, with a one-hour break in between – was entirely dedicated to the issue of cuts and omissions by the Promoters of Justice on the documents submitted on 3 November.

Postponed to 1 December
There were procedural disagreements with the defense attorneys who, on the one hand, objected once again arguing that the trial was null and void due to a “mutilation” of the evidence and an “inadmissible” method of investigation that prevented the full exercise of the right of defense.

On the other hand, the Promoters of Justice asserted that the cuts to the submitted material were related to new and ongoing areas of investigation, raising the question of investigative secrecy. Having heard both sides, Pignatone did not pass a ruling and postponed the hearing to 1 December, at 9:30 am.

A new substitute judge
At the beginning of the hearing, only Cardinal Becciu was present from among the defendants. President Pignatone announced the appointment of a substitute judge, Lucia Bozzi.

Pignatone explained that this decision was made given the number of charges, defendants and witnesses involved in this trial that “will not be short-lived.”

An enormous amount of material
The entire session focused on the material that the Office of the Promoter of Justice filed last 3 November, following the Court’s order of 29 July, which was repeated on 6 October. The material consists of more than 115 hours of recorded conversations, contained in 53 DVDs: one DVD with telephone taps, the other 52 with the audio and video files of the five interrogations of Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, who, at the time of the facts was the head of the administrative office of the first section of the Secretariat of State, and is now considered a “key witness.”

The defense attorneys protested the “obvious inadequacy of the time to examine the enormous amount of material.” They then strongly criticized the fact that large excerpts of the declarations, including those of Perlasca (involving, for example, cuts of up to 60 minutes), were omitted by the promoter of Justice due to “investigative needs”.

Request for nullity
Fabio Viglione, Cardinal Becciu’s lawyer, spoke of a “falsified, mutilated nature” of the evidence – of both the audio-video evidence and the so-called forensic copies of the seized computer devices. He explained that there was no desire to raise controversy with the Vatican magistrates, but they would rather prefer to have the complete material available in order “to be able to defend ourselves.” According to the lawyer, “this system is inadmissible”, as what is being objected to is a “nullity that cannot be remedied”.

Viglione also asked for a further verification of Monsignor Perlasca’s trial status, since the Office of the Promoter clarified that for the monsignor from Como “a separate procedure has been carried out,” but without other details such as dates, eventual charges or termination of the case, information that is useful to know “out of necessity and not curiosity”.

Interrogation of Monsignor Perlasca
The same requests were collected and reiterated by lawyer Luigi Panella, the defender of Enrico Crasso, who stated that the redaction of the deposited materials constitute an “absolute and irremediable nullity” and that “from the examination of more than one hundred hours emerges a profile of incompleteness of the written transcripts, drawn up in summary form that does not give an accurate account of what was said”.

With his computer in hand, the lawyer then tried to play over the microphone, the clip of the 29 April 2020 video interrogation of Monsignor Perlasca, on the alleged extortion of 15 million euros on the purchase of the property on Sloane Avenue, alleged against Torzi, Crasso, Monsignor Mauro Carlino and Fabrizio Tirabassi. At one point during the interrogation, the Promoter of Justice interrupted the witness saying, “Monsignor, this has nothing to do with it! Before doing what we are currently doing, we went to the Holy Father and asked him what happened.”

Panella’s deduction that the Holy Father was interviewed as a witness but there was no statement by the Pope in the records. From the video, the lawyer insisted that, Perlasca’s “supreme bewilderment” was clearly visible, and he was so “shocked” that on 31 August 2020, he spontaneously presented himself to the magistrates without a defender. Panella added that the direct intervention of the Pope, as a person informed of the facts in the proceedings was “unheard of.” He also noted that he had commissioned a technical assessment of the censored material (about 28 pages) from which several critical issues emerged, in particular the lack of some minutes of the recordings.

The reply of the promoter of Justice
After a break of about an hour, the Promoter of Justice, Alessandro Diddi, intervened and began by describing the questions raised by the defense as “specious”. Regarding the involvement of Pope Francis, he said: “Let me be clear, this office has never questioned the Holy Father, and has never contested the statements of the Holy Father to Monsignor Perlasca.” He explained that there was a moment in which Monsignor Perlasca was saying things that led him to hit a wall and the Office of the Promoter pointed it out to the Monsignor, saying “Look, you are going against a wall, because we were aware of what the Holy Father – I say this with emotion – testified long ago about this affair.”

The reference was to Pope Francis’ response to reporters at a press conference on the plane from Thailand to Japan in November 2019, in which he explained how the beginning of the proceedings came about and why the office had a meeting with the Holy Father.

New elements of the investigation
Refuting requests for nullity, the representative of the prosecution also justified the audio-video redaction and the “investigative secrecy” as an “unquestionable” choice since other elements parallel to the investigation of the purchase and sale of the London Palace had arrived in the course of the investigation. In addition, the defense was present for the most part for the redacted materials.

As to the more than 115 hours of video recordings deposited, Diddi explained that they “are faithful transcriptions of what was verbalized.” He said that he did not think that the theme of the trial is how we made the video recordings and we need to be clear about what we want from the process. “If there are those who think that the Promoter’s Office has produced fakes, denounce us for ideological falsification,” he said, adding that, “these insinuations are a disgrace.”

Complex issues
At the conclusion of the hearing, Pignatone announced that the Vatican Tribunal reserves the right to “provide for the complex issues raised.” However, he added, “we will not begin the examination of the questions of this process until the defense has complete knowledge of the acts.”