The following is a declaration from Holy See Press Office director, Greg Burke: “The Holy Father has learned with great concern what has happened in Barcelona. The Pope is praying for the victims of this attempt and wishes to express his closeness to the entire Spanish people, in particular to the wounded and to the families of the victims.”


I first read the story of the mudslide and subsequent loss of life in Sierra Leone in an email I received from the Healey International Relief Foundation on whose board I sit. I receive a number of email updates throughout the year and also spend time on their web and Facebook pages (the links are in the article below). HIRF has been doing amazing work in Sierra Leone for a number of years, starting with the post civil war period, building up hospitals, clinics, schools for young boys and girls, centers for children mutilated during the war, and much more.

I had read nothing about this mudslide before receiving this email so I did forward it to a few people in the Vatican. The Pope responded yesterday with a telegram, and I added that message to the HIRF article.

As I was about to post this article, I learned of the Barcelona attack that has killed an unknown number of people and injured many more when a person driving a van plowed into a crowd in the busy, very popular tourist avenue, Las Ramblas. I am guessing we will have another papal telegram in coming hours.


Post by: Vicki Middleton HIRF  (Healey International Relief Foundation)

“It is indeed a sad day in Freetown.” These are the words of our in-country director, Ishmeal Charles, as he and others from Caritas-Freetown were on-site to aid the survivors from a deadly mudslide that occurred early Monday, August 14th. (photo from Youtube)

Local reports have the death toll from this horrific mudslide as high as 300 and nearly 3,000 families and children homeless. These numbers are expected to rise in the coming days as rescue and recovery efforts continue. The BBC reports that many may have been asleep when the mudslide occurred and 60 children are possibly among the dead.

Charles described the scene and his feelings,

  The rain started since about 4am this morning. Now we have seen so many people losing their lives and houses.

My pain, my agony and tears are all over all our faces. So sad Sierra Leone is from one trouble to another. (photo Reuters)

Seeing so many people trying to protect their houses, old, young and children. To sad to be real.

We are out here in the field.

The rainy season in Sierra Leone lasts from June to August, with heaviest rains in August. The rains and inadequate drainage system often result in frequent flooding in Freetown during this time. In 2015, 10 people were killed by the floods and thousands left homeless.

Summarizing the situation Charles said, “It has never been this bad. I have lived here all my life, this is the worst I have ever seen in my lifetime.” He continued, “We are not able to describe well the terrible conditions.”

Click here to listen to Charles describe the situation. The interview starts at 18:28.

In the days and weeks ahead we will be working with our in-country partner Caritas-Freetown to help those who are suffering from this tragedy rebuild their lives. Click below on our Facebook and Twitter links to stay up-to-date on the situation in Sierra Leone and our efforts to help. http://hirf.net/aboutus/   and Facebook:


Pope Francis, through Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, send the following telegram to Archbishop Charles Edward Tamba of Freetown:

“Deeply saddened by the devastating consequences of the mudslide on the outskirts of Freetown, His Holiness Pope Francis assures those who have lost loved ones of his closeness at this difficult time.  He prays for all who have died, and upon their grieving families and friends he invokes the divine blessings of strength and consolation.  His Holiness likewise expresses his prayerful solidarity with the rescue workers and all involved in providing the much needed relief and support to the victims of this disaster.”



After one of my first summer visits to Honolulu, my friend Bishop Larry Silva sent me a pastoral letter he had written to surfers for the Year of Faith. I came across that a few days ago and though I’d share it with you, with Bishop Larry’s permission. He wrote to tell me that, though he has never been surfing, he had received a letter from a surfer in Australia who urged him, as the Bishop of Hawaii, to write a pastoral letter to surfers.

He mentioned this to his Vicar General and Youth and Young Adult Ministry Coordinators and they convinced him to write the letter, some of which was contributed by the surfer from Australia. Bishop Silva said he wrote the spiritual contributions, adding, “In any case, I hope it touched someone with the Good News.”

Just think: “surf’s up” somewhere in the world as you read these lines!


 “Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the LORD on high is mighty!” Psalm 93:4 (RSV)

Aloha, Surfers!

­Surfing is a sport of kings that captivates the hearts of the dedicated participant and the spectator alike. Surfers are unique. Perhaps part of your attraction is your marvel of the sea, so you spend much time in the ocean at beautiful locations. (St- Augustine Church in Waikiki in background)

Captain James Cook captured this attraction in 1777 when he observed a surfer and wrote: “I could not help concluding that this man felt the most supreme pleasure while he was driven on so fast and smoothly by the sea.”

Surfers are always trying to get their friends into the waves. The exhilarating feeling they experience cannot be put into words but needs to be experienced. Some see surfing as ‘mystical’ and an experience of the presence of God. The spiritual parallel is eloquently captured by St Thomas Aquinas: “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

Just as you search for waves, do not be afraid to search for truth. Do not let the many competing voices cause you to give up on the possibility of discovery. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” [John 14:6] As Pope Benedict XVI encourages: “The happiness you are seeking, the happiness you have a right to enjoy has a name and a face: it is Jesus of Nazareth.” (World Youth Day, Madrid, 2011)

Surfers know the meaning of risk but still have the courage to set out into the mighty waters. For some there is the concern that following Jesus is a big risk. Yet as the Pope goes on to say: “If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation.”

A relatively unknown but truly remarkable connection to Christianity is that twenty of the last thirty surfing World Champions have had a secret Christian symbol, the fish, on their boards. In Greek the word for fish is icthos, and this is an acronym for: Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior. Not many other sports can make such a claim and be so connected to the sea.

There is a tendency in surf culture to see surfing as a religion: to settle for creation rather than Creator. Yet the ocean is an “icon of God”. The beauty, awe, and joy you experience should lead on to the Author of the universe: our loving God (Rom 1:19-20). The search for the “sweet spot” on perfect wave is really a search for ultimate happiness, which leads us to God, because nothing else totally satisfies that desire. As St. Augustine put it: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

In what can sometimes be a self-absorbed sport, one of the greatest icons of surfing is Eddie Aikau. He heroically sacrificed his own life in an attempt to save those on the capsized Hokulea by paddling for help to the island of Lanai. As his plaque reads at Waimea Bay: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” [John 15:13]. Eddie, who grew up as an altar boy, is a timely reminder of the noblest of human actions.

Eddie’s heroism happened south of Molokai Island, where St. Damien, affectionately known as the Leper Priest, ministered to those with Hansen’s Disease. We can learn much from this great Saint of Hawaii, a missionary priest who spent 16 years caring for the poorest of the poor before contracting the disease himself. St. Damien is a witness to “authentic love,” modeled by Jesus himself, which is the purpose of human life, the key to lasting marriages, and the path to joy and inner peace that each heart desires.

While there are many redeeming aspects of surf culture, it would be naive to pretend that it did not have a darker side. The polluted waters of drugs, partying, hedonism, and immodesty come readily to mind. As Christian surfers you are called to be the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). As unofficial ambassadors of Aloha, I implore you to stand up for truth, for the right to life, and to be the hands and feet of Christ in a world that needs to hear the Good News. Powerful currents want to drown the truth, but you, with the help of God, are called to help us all rise above the waves and move according to God’s plan.

If you have drifted away from living the Catholic faith, remember that our Heavenly Father is waiting with outstretched arms, seeking to heal and transform you through the Sacrament of Penance (John 20:23) and the Eucharist (John 6). A short drive to your local parish is all that it takes to reconcile with God through a sincere confession. Just like surfing, progression in the spiritual life involves commitment and escaping our comfort zone.

To our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who are separated from the Catholic Church: You may be surprised to find that early Christian writings (such as Ignatius, Clement, Irenaeus and the Didache) contain what Catholics believe today. Unity with the Church, which Sacred Scripture describes as the ‘pillar and foundation of the truth’ [1 Timothy 3:15 NAB] is vital in building the Kingdom of God and a culture of life.

May Mary, Star of the Sea and our spiritual mother (John 19:27), be a shining example of faithfulness to God and a sure guide through the stormy waters of our earthly pilgrimage.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Larry Silva

Bishop of Honolulu

January 5, 2013



Today in Italy we are celebrating the biggest holiday of the summer season “Ferragosto,” the name Italians give to the August 15 solemnity of the Assumption. Ferragosto refers to the feriae augusti, meaning “holidays of August.” These appear to have originated in 18 BC when the Roman Emperor Augustus declared that the entire month of August would be dedicated to the feriae, a series of festivals and celebrations, the most important of which fell on the 13th and was dedicated to the goddess Diana.

Though the term ferragosto is pagan in origin, in Italy it refers to the mid-summer holidays but is interchangeable with the feast of the Assunta, the Assumption, strictly a religious celebration. There has been a constant tradition in the Church that Mary was assumed into heaven, and as early as the fifth century, this feast was celebrated in Syria, spreading to other parts of the world over the centuries. In the 12th Century, this feast was celebrated in the city of Rome, and in France. From the 13th century onwards, this was a certain tenet of faith and in 1950, Pope Pius XII declared this dogma infallibly and ex cathedra.

The pace of life is much slower in Rome in July and August, particularly August, and you’ll see a lot of chiuso per ferie (closed for vacation) signs posted on the shutters of stores, pharmacies, florists, some restaurants and coffee bars, newsstands, tobacconists, hardware stores, movie theaters, and small, neighborhood food markets known as alimentari or delicatessens. The phones of friends, including many who work in the Roman Curia, ring empty.

The local toy store:

A local café:

I was out this morning for Mass and the peace and quiet of Rome, due to shuttered stores and greatly reduced traffic, was simply marvelous. It seemed like you could shoot a cannon down the middle of some of the city’s main streets and not hit a thing!

Mail Boxes

Another neighborhood store:

Souvenir stores and the mini markets that dot every street in Rome will be open for business as usual. The markets open about 7 in the morning and close at or after midnight.

Life is extra quiet in the Vatican. When the Pope is away on vacation (or, in Francis’ case, on a reduced work schedule in the Vatican), this mini-state is deserted. The Vatican stores, pharmacy and medical center all have reduced hours because many employees are away on prolonged vacations. Vacations are quite generous in the summer, at Christmas and at Easter for employees of Vatican City State or the Roman Curia. Employees who live outside of Italy receive an added three days of vacation for travel time and those who live outside of continental Europe receive five additional days.

These vacations usually compensate for working six days a week the rest of the year, which makes weekend travel generally impossible. There are few public and private audiences when the Pope is on vacation. Curial activity slows down in the summer, and stops completely on August 14, 15 and 16. Only the press office and Secretariat of State are open for business, but with only a skeleton staff.

However, 2017 is a vast improvement over the early years I lived in Italy, especially when there were very few supermarkets. Once upon a time, Italians bought most of their food at three places: the local alimentari, the neighborhood butcher and the local fruit and vegetable store. Each one was assigned a letter – either A or B – for summer vacations. When A stores closed, B could not. And vice versa. This was to avoid all stores in one neighborhood closing at the same time, forcing people to go longer distances for food.

I can also remember when the local newspapers actually published the names of the few doctors, including specialists, who were available in Rome at vacation time, as well as a list of the few pharmacies that would be open in a given period.

Years ago, many coffee bars and restaurants closed for close to a month in the summer, especially because so few had air-conditioning. Since the historically hot and brutal summer of 2003 (four non-stop months of record heat, ending in mid-September), more and more stores, bars and restaurants have installed air-conditioning. Ten thousand people died in France that summer, and approximately 1,000 died in Italy.

By law restaurants and bars must close one day a week and that day is always posted outside the entrance or on the shutter. Some overlook this law, while others ask special permission to open on a seventh day. For example, if a restaurant had its weekly closing on a Monday but Monday of a given year was Christmas or Ferragosto, the owner would ask permission from the proper authorities to open that day (or simply open, without the proper permission!).

Until the summer of 2013, Popes generally spent all or much of the summer period at Castelgandolfo. St. John Paul and Benedict XVI often spent some time in July in northern Italy at a vacation home belonging to a diocese or diocesan seminary. Long walks in the woods, some picnics, down time for reading and, in the case of Benedict, quiet time to play the piano, and cooler temps marked those periods.

That time in northern Italy was usually followed by two months at Castelgandolfo – August and September, with a return to Rome in late September. Both John Paul and Benedict loved the papal palace, its views of Lake Albano, the cool air, and the lovely gardens with their many spots for prayer and meditation. On August 15. they always celebrated Mass on the feast of the Assumption in the small local parish of San Tommaso.

Pope Francis does not spend time in the historic and beautiful Castelgandolfo residence as his predecessors have done. His has admitted to “not knowing” how to take a vacation. His idea of a vacation is not to change residences but to change his schedule just a bit, perhaps sleeping later, dedicating more time to reading, etc. In July there were no general audiences, nor were there guests at the morning Masses in the Santa Marta. General audiences resumed on August 2 but Francis’ August appointment schedule has a lot of blank pages.

The residents of Castelgandolfo miss “their” Pope. Businesses once thrived when John Paul and Benedict spent time there, not just in the summer but often after a long trip or an arduous Holy Week. Today those businesses are suffering and if you seen a sign on a building that says chiuso, it may be more permanent than just a few weeks of vacation.



Weekend tweets from Pope Francis:

August 12: Dear young people, you are the hope of the Church. Do you dream about your future? Then take part in #synod18! https://t.co/XNDm29yp3s

August 13: In Mary we see that humility is not a virtue of the weak but of the strong who don’t have to treat others badly to feel important.


(Vatican Radio) “When you do not cling to the word of the Lord, but have more security in consulting horoscopes and fortune tellers, you sink”. Those were Pope Francis’ words during his Angelus address on Sunday in St Peter’s Square. He was referring to the Gospel of the day where Jesus walks on the waters of Lake Galilee to save Peter and the disciples from sinking in their boat due to the heavy waves of the sea.

The Pope recounted how this story is rich in symbolism. The boat, he continued, “is the life of each of us, but it is also the life of the Church; The wind represents difficulties and trials.”

Peter’s invocation: “Lord, command me to come to you!” And his cry, “Lord, save me”, the Holy Father noted  “are so much like our desire to feel the closeness of the Lord, but also the fear and anguish that accompany the toughest moments of our lives and our communities, marked by internal fragility and external difficulties.”

Pope Francis explained, that at that moment, Peter was not sure of the word of Jesus, which was like a rope to cling to in hostile and turbulent waters. This is what can happen to us as well, he said,   “when you do not cling to the word of the Lord, but to have more security in consulting horoscopes and fortune tellers you sink”.

The Gospel of today, the Pope underlined, “reminds us that faith in the Lord and in his word does not open a path where everything is easy and quiet for us; It does not take away the storms of life.

But faith, the Holy Father went on to say, “gives us the assurance of a Presence, that is Christ, which pushes us to overcome the existential buffs; Faith, in short, is not a loophole from the problems of life, but it sustains our journey and gives it meaning.


Today’s papal tweet: When something makes us suffer, let us listen to the voice of Jesus in our hearts: “Do not fear! Go ahead! I am with you!”


My guest this week on Vatican Insider is Vicki Thorn, founder of Project Rachel and the Executive Director of the National office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation & Healing in Milwaukee. Since we taped this in Rome, I have also learned that Vicki has been named as a corresponding member of the Pontifical academy for Life. She was a member in the academy previously but its strategies, membership and statutes have been reformed under Pope Francis…another topic for another time.

In the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at www.ewtn.com) or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio. 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.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:00am (ET). On the SKY satellite feed to the UK and parts of Europe, VI airs on audio channel 0147 at 11:30 am CET on Saturdays, and 5:30am and 10pm CET on Sundays. It’s also available on demand on the EWTN app and on the website. CHECK YOUR TIME ZONE. Here’s a link to download VI to your iTunes library: http://www.ewtn.com/se/pg/DatService.svc/feed/~LE.xml   For VI archives: http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/file_index.asp?SeriesId=7096&pgnu=


(A follow up to my FB post of yesterday)

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis has ordered the Belgian arm of the Brothers of Charity religious order to stop offering euthanasia in its psychiatric hospitals.

The Holy See Press Office confirmed that the Pope gave his personal approval to a Vatican letter sent at the beginning of August, which gives the Catholic charity until the end of August to stop the practice at all of its 15 centers in Belgium.

Euthanasia is legal in the country, and in May the Brothers of Charity Group which administers the Belgian hospitals announced it would allow doctors to perform euthanasia on psychiatric patients.

The charity said in a statement it would be performed only if there were “no reasonable treatment alternatives”.

Joint letter affirming magisterium

Pope Francis also ordered Brothers of Charity who serve on the group’s board to sign a joint letter to their Superior General declaring that they “fully support the vision of the magisterium of the Catholic Church, which has always confirmed that human life must be respected and protected in absolute terms, from the moment of conception till its natural end.”

Brothers who refuse to sign the joint letter renouncing the practice of euthanasia will face sanctions under canon law, while the Catholic charity group can expect to face legal action and even expulsion from the Church if it fails to change its policy.

Brothers of Charity statement

Bro. René Stockman, General Superior of the Brothers of Charity, released a statement in response to the position of his Belgian brothers.

“The central point and the foundation within Christian ethics is that life is absolute, which cannot be touched. Life is a gift from God and entails an assignment. And because life is absolute, it is a state worthy of protection,” he wrote.

Mattias De Vriendt, a spokesman for the Belgium charity, said it had received the Vatican’s request but had not yet responded.

He confirmed the charity’s hospitals had received requests from patients seeking euthanasia recently but could not say whether any procedures had been performed.


Expressing great concern over mounting tension in the Korean peninsula and beyond over North Korea’s missile and nuclear bravado, South Korean bishops are seeking spiritual aid to diffuse the situation.  The bishops are urging their faithful to seek the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary for peace in their land, in view of the upcoming solemn feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Aug. 15.

In a message, Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung of Seoul asked Catholics to pray the rosary in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparition in Fatima.  “The Virgin Mary urged us to pray the rosary for the conversion of sinners and for peace in the world,” said Cardinal Yeom. “The rosary is our spiritual weapon to defeat evil effectively and it will help us overcome challenges in our faith and transfigure us to become workers for world peace,” he said.

The August 15 feast of the Assumption is profoundly linked with Korean history.  The National Liberation Day of Korea‎ is marked in commemoration of that day in 1945 when Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule.  The Catholic Church in South Korea is also dedicated to the Blessed Mother and it considers its liberation as a “gift from Mary.”

“For the safety and the future of all Koreans, North Korea should come to the discussion table and abandon their nuclear weapons,” said Cardinal Yeom expressing grave concern over North Korea’s nuclear weapon and missile programmes. (Vatican Radio)



Apologies for the fact that the link to OWL in my story yesterday about the Vatican Apostolic Library did not work. I had tested it and for some reason it worked for me but when I went back to my piece today, I could not access it either.

OWL means Online Window into the Library and you can access it here: https://www.vatlib.it/newsletter/201708EN.pdf


A few days late but here is the papal prayer intention for the month of August:

Pope Francis has released a video message with his monthly prayer intention for August:: “That artists of our time, though their creativity, may help us discover the beauty of creation.”

The text of the video message: The arts give expression to the beauty of the faith and proclaim the Gospel message of the grandeur of God’s creation. When we admire a work of art or a marvel of nature, we discover how everything speaks to us of Him and of His love. That artists of our time, though their creativity, may help us discover the beauty of creation.

The worldwide Apostleshièp of Prayer develops these intentions for Pope Francis. For decades it was traditional for Popes to have two monthly prayer intentions – a general intention and a missionary one. Pope Francis has changed that, creating only one intention for each month and releasing it with a video.