(Per requests, here is Pope Francis’ entire homily in English delivered during yesterday’s penitential liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica. The Act of Consecration was a separate pronouncement):

In the Gospel reading for today’s Solemnity, the angel Gabriel speaks three times in addressing the Virgin Mary.

The first is when he greets her and says, “Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). The reason to rejoice, the reason for joy, is revealed in those few words: the Lord is with you. Dear brother, dear sister, today you can hear those words addressed to you. You can make them your own each time you approach God’s forgiveness, for there the Lord tells you, “I am with you”. All too often, we think that Confession is about going to God with dejected looks. Yet it is not so much that we go to the Lord, but that he comes to us, to fill us with his grace, to fill us with his joy. Our confession gives the Father the joy of raising us up once more. It is not so much about our sins as about his forgiveness. Think about it: if our sins were at the heart of the sacrament, almost everything would depend on us, on our repentance, our efforts, our resolves. Far from it. The sacrament is about God, who liberates us and puts us back on our feet.

Let us recognize once more the primacy of grace and ask for the gift to realize that Reconciliation is not primarily our drawing near to God, but his embrace that enfolds, astonishes and overwhelms us. The Lord enters our home, as he did that of Mary in Nazareth, and brings us unexpected amazement and joy. Let us first look at things from God’s perspective: then we will rediscover our love for Confession. We need this, for every interior rebirth, every spiritual renewal, starts there, from God’s forgiveness. May we not neglect Reconciliation, but rediscover it as the sacrament of joy. Yes, of joy, for our shame for our sins becomes the occasion for an experience of the warm embrace of the Father, the gentle strength of Jesus who heals us, and the “maternal tenderness” of the Holy Spirit. That is the heart of Confession.

And you, dear brother priests who are ministers of God’s forgiveness, offer to those who approach you the joy of this proclamation: Rejoice, the Lord is with you. Set aside rigidity, obstacles and harshness; may you be doors wide open to mercy! Especially in Confession, we are called to act in the person of the Good Shepherd who takes his sheep into his arms and cradles them. We are called to be channels of grace that pour forth the living water of the Father’s mercy on hearts grown arid.

A second time the angel speaks to Mary. She was troubled by his greeting, and so he tells her, “Do not be afraid” (v. 30). In the Scriptures, whenever God appears to those who receive him, he loves to utter those words: Do not be afraid! He says them to Abraham (cf. Gen 15:1), repeats them to Isaac (cf. Gen 26:24), to Jacob (cf. Gen 46:3) and so on, up to Joseph (cf. Mt 1:20) and Mary. In this way, he sends us a clear and comforting message: once our lives are open to God, fear can no longer hold us in thrall. Dear sister, dear brother, if your sins frighten you, if your past worries you, if your wounds do not heal, if your constant failings dishearten you and you seem to have lost hope, do not be afraid. God knows your weaknesses and is greater than your mistakes. He asks of you only one thing: that you not hold your frailties and sufferings inside. Bring them to him, lay them before him and, from being reasons for despair, they will become opportunities for resurrection. Do not be afraid!

The Blessed Virgin Mary accompanies us: she cast her own anxiety upon God. The angel’s proclamation gave her good reason to be afraid. He proposed to her something unimaginable and beyond her abilities, something that she could not handle alone: there would be too many difficulties, problems with the Mosaic law, with Joseph, with the citizens of her town and with her people. Yet Mary did not object. Those words – do not be afraid – were sufficient for her; God’s reassurance was enough for her. She clung to him, as we want to do tonight. Yet so often we do the exact opposite. We start from our own certainties and, when we lose them, we turn to God. Our Lady, on the other hand, teaches us to start from God, trusting that in this way everything else will be given to us (cf. Mt 6:33). She invites us to go to the source, to the Lord, who is the ultimate remedy against fear and emptiness in life. There is a lovely phrase written above a confessional here in the Vatican that reminds us of this. It addresses God with these words, “To turn away from you is to fall, to turn back to you is to rise, to abide in you is to have life” (cf. SAINT AUGUSTINE, Soliloquies I, 3).

In these days, news reports and scenes of death continue to enter our homes, even as bombs are destroying the homes of many of our defenceless Ukrainian brothers and sisters. The vicious war that has overtaken so many people, and caused suffering to all, has made each of us fearful and anxious. We sense our helplessness and our inadequacy. We need to be told, “Do not be afraid”. Yet human reassurance is not enough. We need the closeness of God and the certainty of his forgiveness, which alone eliminates evil, disarms resentment and restores peace to our hearts. Let us return to God and to his forgiveness.

A third time the angel speaks to Mary and says: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you” (Lk 1:35). That is how God intervenes in history: by giving his very Spirit. For in the things that matter, our own strength is not enough. By ourselves, we cannot succeed in resolving the contradictions of history or even those of our own hearts. We need the wisdom and gentle power of God that is the Holy Spirit. We need the Spirit of love who dispels hatred, soothes bitterness, extinguishes greed and rouses us from indifference. We need God’s love, for our love is fragile and insufficient. We ask the Lord for many things, but how often we forget to ask him for what is most important and what he desires most to give us: the Holy Spirit, the power to love. Indeed, without love, what can we offer to the world? It has been said that a Christian without love is like a needle that does not sew: it stings, it wounds, and if it fails to sew, weave or patch, then it is useless. This is why we need to find in God’s forgiveness the power of love: the same Spirit who descended upon Mary.

If we want the world to change, then first our hearts must change. For this to happen, let us allow Our Lady to take us by the hand. Let us gaze upon her Immaculate Heart in which God dwelt, “our tainted nature’s solitary boast”. Mary is “full of grace” (v. 28), and thus free from sin. In her, there is no trace of evil and hence, with her, God was able to begin a new story of salvation and peace. There, in her, history took a turn. God changed history by knocking at the door of Mary’s heart.

Today, renewed by God’s forgiveness, may we too knock at the door of her immaculate heart. In union with the Bishops and faithful of the world, I desire in a solemn way to bring all that we are presently experiencing to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I wish to renew to her the consecration of the Church and the whole of humanity, and to consecrate to her in a particular way the Ukrainian people and the Russian people who, with filial affection, venerate her as a Mother. This is no magic formula but a spiritual act. It is an act of complete trust on the part of children who, amid the tribulation of this cruel and senseless war that threatens our world, turn to their Mother, reposing all their fears and pain in her heart and abandoning themselves to her. It means placing in that pure and undefiled heart, where God is mirrored, the inestimable goods of fraternity and peace, all that we have and are, so that she, the Mother whom the Lord has given us, may protect us and watch over us.

Mary then uttered the most beautiful words that the angel could bring back to God: “Let it be to me according to your word” (v. 38). Hers was no passive or resigned acceptance, but a lively desire to obey God, who has “plans for welfare and not for evil” (Jer 29:11). Hers was the most intimate sharing in God’s plan of peace for the world. We consecrate ourselves to Mary in order to enter into this plan, to place ourselves fully at the disposal of God’s plans. After having uttered her “Fiat”, the Mother of God set out on a long journey to the hill country, to visit a relative who was with child (cf. Lk 1:39). May she now take our own journey into her hands: may she guide our steps through the steep and arduous paths of fraternity and dialogue, along the way of peace.




O Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, in this time of trial we turn to you. As our Mother, you love us and know us: no concern of our hearts is hidden from you. Mother of mercy, how often we have experienced your watchful care and your peaceful presence! You never cease to guide us to Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

The statue of Our Lady of Fatima that is in St. Peter’s Basilica today is on loan from the sanctuary of the shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in San Vittorino, Italy:

Yet we have strayed from that path of peace. We have forgotten the lesson learned from the tragedies of the last century, the sacrifice of the millions who fell in two world wars. We have disregarded the commitments we made as a community of nations. We have betrayed peoples’ dreams of peace and the hopes of the young. We grew sick with greed, we thought only of our own nations and their interests, we grew indifferent and caught up in our selfish needs and concerns. We chose to ignore God, to be satisfied with our illusions, to grow arrogant and aggressive, to suppress innocent lives and to stockpile weapons. We stopped being our neighbour’s keepers and stewards of our common home. We have ravaged the garden of the earth with war and by our sins we have broken the heart of our heavenly Father, who desires us to be brothers and sisters. We grew indifferent to everyone and everything except ourselves. Now with shame we cry out: Forgive us, Lord!

Holy Mother, amid the misery of our sinfulness, amid our struggles and weaknesses, amid the mystery of iniquity that is evil and war, you remind us that God never abandons us, but continues to look upon us with love, ever ready to forgive us and raise us up to new life. He has given you to us and made your Immaculate Heart a refuge for the Church and for all humanity. By God’s gracious will, you are ever with us; even in the most troubled moments of our history, you are there to guide us with tender love.

We now turn to you and knock at the door of your heart. We are your beloved children. In every age you make yourself known to us, calling us to conversion. At this dark hour, help us and grant us your comfort. Say to us once more: “Am I not here, I who am your Mother?” You are able to untie the knots of our hearts and of our times. In you we place our trust. We are confident that, especially in moments of trial, you will not be deaf to our supplication and will come to our aid.

That is what you did at Cana in Galilee, when you interceded with Jesus and he worked the first of his signs. To preserve the joy of the wedding feast, you said to him: “They have no wine” (Jn 2:3). Now, O Mother, repeat those words and that prayer, for in our own day we have run out of the wine of hope, joy has fled, fraternity has faded. We have forgotten our humanity and squandered the gift of peace. We opened our hearts to violence and destructiveness. How greatly we need your maternal help!

Therefore, O Mother, hear our prayer. Star of the Sea, do not let us be shipwrecked in the tempest of war. Ark of the New Covenant, inspire projects and paths of reconciliation. Queen of Heaven, restore God’s peace to the world. Eliminate hatred and the thirst for revenge, and teach us forgiveness. Free us from war, protect our world from the menace of nuclear weapons. Queen of the Rosary, make us realize our need to pray and to love. Queen of the Human Family, show people the path of fraternity. Queen of Peace, obtain peace for our world. O Mother, may your sorrowful plea stir our hardened hearts. May the tears you shed for us make this valley parched by our hatred blossom anew. Amid the thunder of weapons, may your prayer turn our thoughts to peace. May your maternal touch soothe those who suffer and flee from the rain of bombs. May your motherly embrace comfort those forced to leave their homes and their native land. May your Sorrowful Heart move us to compassion and inspire us to open our doors and to care for our brothers and sisters who are injured and cast aside.

Holy Mother of God, as you stood beneath the cross, Jesus, seeing the disciple at your side, said: “Behold your son” (Jn 19:26). In this way he entrusted each of us to you. To the disciple, and to each of us, he said: “Behold, your Mother” (v. 27). Mother Mary, we now desire to welcome you into our lives and our history. At this hour, a weary and distraught humanity stands with you beneath the cross, needing to entrust itself to you and, through you, to consecrate itself to Christ. The people of Ukraine and Russia, who venerate you with great love, now turn to you, even as your heart beats with compassion for them and for all those peoples decimated by war, hunger, injustice and poverty.

Therefore, Mother of God and our Mother, to your Immaculate Heart we solemnly entrust and consecrate ourselves, the Church and all humanity, especially Russia and Ukraine. Accept this act that we carry out with confidence and love. Grant that war may end and peace spread throughout the world. The “Fiat” that arose from your heart opened the doors of history to the Prince of Peace. We trust that, through your heart, peace will dawn once more. To you we consecrate the future of the whole human family, the needs and expectations of every people, the anxieties and hopes of the world.

Through your intercession, may God’s mercy be poured out on the earth and the gentle rhythm of peace return to mark our days. Our Lady of the “Fiat”, on whom the Holy Spirit descended, restore among us the harmony that comes from God. May you, our “living fountain of hope”, water the dryness of our hearts. In your womb Jesus took flesh; help us to foster the growth of communion. You once trod the streets of our world; lead us now on the paths of peace. Amen.



I returned safely to Rome this morning after my 5-day whirlwind, jam-packed trip to NY. It’s always good to be home after a trip, especially when one’s luggage arrives safe and sound! More details about that trip in a day or two but for now, just three important notices:

1. Here is a link to the interview EWTN’s Colm Flynn did in Dubai with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin: https://urldefense.com/v3/__https://youtu.be/JGna8ad5w7E__;!!GfxeEQ!FA5woR3SIeh5t8Um3TvwsfeonU6Qgre19hbXj7-mUQnqrP74b9wpT5Z7jRGE$

2. Because tomorrow’s Solemnity of the Annunciation is a Friday, Canon 1251 allows the faithful to eat meat on this Friday! Rejoice and be glad – but principally for the Annunciation!

3. The Vatican has published in 35 languages the prayer that Pope Francis will recite tomorrow afternoon in St. Peter’s Basilica when he makes an Act of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary during a penitential liturgy. That will be carried on EWTN television. It will also be available at vaticannews. va   Here is a link to those languages: Act of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of MaryAct of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary – Activities of the Holy Father Pope Francis | Vatican.va



What a beautiful day this is – March 25, feast of the Annunciation!

Pope Francis’ brief message today (which I posted earlier on Facebook) and his praying the Our Father with Christians from around the world, all united to Rome at the same time, was a very moving experience. I had been looking forward to this since Sunday when he announced it and was just sitting down in front of TV when my doorbell rang! To say I was astonished is an understatement! No one is out and about and we are all in quarantine these days so who would ring my doorbell!

It was our doorman Carlo to tell me that the building’s satellite system, which had been down since Friday the 13th (yes!), hours after I got back from the US, was back up and the technicians wanted to know if I had satellite back. I checked my TV and all I saw was “no signal from the antenna.” And this was happening precisely at 12 noon when I wanted to see the Pope and pray with him!

Carlo and three technicians came to my place – masks and all – and with a few manoeuvers managed to get my satellite back up and running. I had opened the door for them before they arrived and was in the living room as they worked – we were all the required distance of separation if not more!

How are we living these days? I sanitized the door handle and everything else they had touched – just in case! Better safe than sorry, as the expression goes!

In any case, I prayed the Our Father ten minutes late but then did it several times today!

I have one amazing memory that I think about every year on this day, the feast of the Annunciation. It happened ten years ago…..

On February 18, 2010, I was in Lebanon on my way to Iraq when the government announced that it had made March 25 a national Christian-Muslim Day, something that had never occurred before in the history of Christian-Muslim relations. The decision was confirmed two days later during a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Prime Minister Hariri in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.

On February 18, I was in the offices of a Catholic newspaper in Beirut where people were scurrying to get this announcement in the press! The first joint celebration occurred a month later on March 25 as an official national holiday sanctioned by the government of Lebanon. All public buildings, schools, banks and university were closed and the government encouraged private businesses to do the same.

For Christians, Mary is the Mother of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. For Muslims, Mary is a much-revered figure as the Mother of the prophet Jesus. In September 1995 I was a member of the Holy See delegation to the UN conference on Women in Beijing. On September 8, a member of the Iran delegation came to our office with a beautiful picture of Mary, saying their delegation wanted to celebrate her birthday that day and this was their gift to us!

Fra Angelico’s Annunciation:

Two years ago, again in the Middle East, in Amman, Jordan for the first time Christians and Muslims held an inter-religious celebration to mark the Annunciation. Patriarchal vicar Bishop William Shomali said the celebration was part of the “theological, religious, and spiritual dialogue” that accompanies everyday life in Jordan. “We want to show the common points between Christians and Muslims on the Annunciation, in which even Muslims believe.”


Earlier today I posted two decrees from two different Vatican congregations regarding how Easter liturgies are to be celebrated worldwide in the Church during the coronavirus epidemic. You will probably get news in this regard from your own bishops but now you know the rules and understand what he will say we can do – and not do – and why.

Two more decrees came down from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – one is a Note for the presentation of the Decree Cum sanctissima on the liturgical celebration in honor of Saints in the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite, and the second is a Note for the presentation of the Decree Quo magis approving seven Eucharistic Prefaces for the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite.

Each is fairly lengthy and I do not have time now to summarize those now. However, if Vatican News posts a summary before I can get to that, I’ll put the link up here, on Facebook and on Twitter.


As you hopefully know by now, two events in the Vatican with Pope Francis are scheduled for coming days: tomorrow, March 25, feast of the Annunciation (12 noon Rome time), and Friday, March 27 from 6 to 7 pm Rome time (announced by Francis at Sunday Angelus: https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2020-03/pope-calls-for-christians-to-unite-in-prayer-for-end-to-pandemic.html)

I have been asked by many people if the prayer the Pope has asked all Christians to recite, the Our Father, when he does so at noon tomorrow will be said around the world by Christians in sync with Rome or at their local time zone noon hour.

According to the following reports (and others I’ve read), the prayer will be in sync with Rome:

(CNS) – Pope Francis has invited Christians around the world to respond to the coronavirus pandemic by joining him at the same time in praying the Lord’s Prayer at 7 a.m. Eastern time (noon in Rome) on Wednesday, March 25, the solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.

(www.vaticannews.va) – “The Philippine Catholic Church is joining two worldwide prayer initiatives of Pope Francis this week as a response to the coronavirus, or COVID-19, pandemic. It is also reaching out to the homeless in the capital. “Heeding the Pope’s invitation, we recommend that we will pray together the Lord’s Prayer at 7:00 pm on March 25,” wrote Fr. Marvin Mejia, Secretary-General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in a circular on Monday. Speaking during Sunday’s Angelus prayer, Pope Francis called on Christians to respond to the pandemic with the “universality of prayer, of compassion, of tenderness. … In these trying days, while humanity trembles due to the threat of the pandemic, I would like to propose to all Christians that together we lift our voices towards Heaven,” he said. He particularly invited Christian communities and leaders of Christian Churches to join in reciting the Our Father at noon on Wednesday, March 25, Rome time, or at 7:00 pm in the Philippines. (By Robin Gomes – vaticannews)


PAPAL MESSAGE FOR WORLD DAY OF PRAYER FOR VOCATIONS – Pope Francis sends a message to mark the 57th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, to be celebrated on May 3. Pope Francis begins his message by recalling a letter he wrote last year in which he chose four key words – pain, gratitude, encouragement, and praise – as a way of “thanking priests and supporting their ministry.” Today, he says, those same words can “be addressed to the whole people of God,” alongside a passage from Matthew’s Gospel that recounts the “remarkable experience of Jesus and Peter during a stormy night on the Sea of Galilee” (cf. Mt 14:22-33). Pope Francis says, “After the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus told his disciples to get into the boat and precede Him to the other shore, while He took leave of the people.” He explains: “The image of the disciples crossing the lake can evoke our own life’s journey.”  FULL STORY: https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2020-03/pope-francis-sends-message-for-world-day-of-prayer-for-vocations.html

U.S. SEMINARY STUDENTS SENT HOME: (CNA).- Amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the Pontifical North American College seminary has sent students to return to their homes and dioceses in the U.S. NAC rector Fr. Peter Harman told CNA by email March 23 that the decision to send students home had been made “in consultation with” the seminary’s board of governors. He added that about 20 or so students would stay at the seminary with the faculty as they are unable to get home or would not have a place to self-quarantine. Harman said seminarians will undergo a 14-day quarantine after returning home and their studies will continue through the means established by the Roman universities at which they take classes. “We made this decision for their safety, thinking that being in smaller groups at home would be safer than one large campus, not being able to assure direct health care here for the indefinite future,” he said. “We still have everyone healthy, and would rather undergo this convenience than jeopardize their health.”

VATICAN NEWSPAPER SUSPENDS PRINT PUBLICATION: L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican daily newspaper, announced today in its print and online editions that, as of March 26, it will have to temporarily suspend the printed editions of the paper in its daily, weekly and monthly editions until the coronavirus situation ends, and working conditions can return to normal. Distribution to newsstands in the city and printed copies to be mailed will halt. In fact, the newspaper will continue to be edited and can be viewed in digital format on the web page: www. Osservatoreromano.va in its new guise, simpler and more integrated with the Vatican News site, which will be inaugurated tomorrow, Wednesday 25 March, solemnity of the Annunciation. For those wishing to receive the paper in digital form, send your email address to: helpdesk@spc.va (JFL: daily, weekly and monthly editions are in Italian. I am not sure if the digital paper includes the weekly editions in other languages – am checking on that. I believe this is the first time in the paper’s history – founded July 1, 1861 –  that it has suspended printing. I have heard that some copies may be printed for Pope Francis, for the pope emeritus and for the Secretary of State. Click here for the March 13 and March 20 editions in English: https://www.vaticannews.va/en/vatican-city/news/2020-03/osservatore-romano-pdf-english-weekly-edition.html

CORONAVIRUS IN THE VATICAN (HOLY SEE PRESS OFFICE): Answering questions from journalists, Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni, said: “At present there are four cases of coronavirus positivity found (in Vatican staff): in addition to the first case previously reported, one case is an employee of the Merchandise Office and two are employees of the Vatican Museums. The four people had been placed in solitary confinement before they tested positive and their isolation has lasted for over 14 days; currently they are being treated in Italian hospitals or at home.”


I did a spot for At Home with Jim and Joy for today’s show that featured the feast of the Annunciation and a special story of how this is celebrated in the Middle East where the populace is, of course, predominantly Muslim. I’d like to share that with you now.

For Christians, Mary is the Mother of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. For Muslims, Mary is a much-revered figure as the Mother of the prophet Jesus. In September 1995 I was a member of the Holy See delegation to the UN conference on Women in Beijing. On September 8, a member of the Iran delegation came to our office with a beautiful picture of Mary, saying their delegation wanted to celebrate her birthday that day and this was their gift to us!

Years later, specifically on February 18, 2010, I was in Lebanon on my way to Iraq when the government made March 25 a national Christian-Muslim Day, something that had never occurred before in the history of Christian-Muslim relations. The decision was confirmed two days later during a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Prime Minister Hariri in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. That day I was in the offices of a Catholic newspaper in Beirut where people were scurrying to get this announcement in the press! The first joint celebration occurred a month later on March 25 as an official national holiday sanctioned by the government of Lebanon. All public buildings, schools, banks and university were closed and the government encouraged private businesses to do the same.

Last year, 2018 in Amman, Jordan, for the first time Christians and Muslims held an inter-religious celebration to mark the Annunciation. Patriarchal vicar Bishop William Shomali said the celebration was part of the “theological, religious, spiritual dialogue” that accompanies everyday life in Jordan. “We want to show the common points between Christians and Muslims on the Annunciation, in which even Muslims believe.”


If ever I could have bilocated, today would have been the day and Loreto, Italy, the place. I am in Chicago for some days for work, appointments and interviews but I would have loved to be next to the Pope, or at least in the crowd of faithful who greeted him today in Loreto at the Shrine of the Holy House. Loreto is one of my absolute favorite shrines in all of Italy.

The last time I was there was on November 14, 2017 with the pilgrimage women of WINE, Women In the New Evangelization. I posted a column a day later. Unfortunately the story appears but the photos do not as wordpress only saves photos for a few days. I don’t have access to them in Chicago as they are on my external hard drive in Rome. Here’s the story of this very special home (if you can add Loreto to your Italian travels, do so!): https://joansrome.wordpress.com/2017/11/15/loreto-hic-verbum-caro-factum-est-here-the-word-was-made-flesh/

Loreto had to be extra special today for another reason. After Pope Francis recited the Angelus, all the church bells in Loreto and throughout the Marche region where Loreto is located rang simultaneously! How glorious that had to have been!


By Devin Watkins (vaticannews)

Pope Francis celebrated Mass in the Sanctuary of the Holy House of Loreto on Monday, to mark the Feast of the Annunciation.

Tradition holds that the Virgin Mary lived within the relocated walls housed in the Sanctuary, and there received the Angel’s message of the Annunciation.

Following Mass, the Holy Father spoke to the 10,000-strong crowd of the faithful gathered in the square in front of the Basilica.

Pope Francis said the Sanctuary is “a privileged place to contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God,” since it is “the house of Mary.”

Many pilgrims, he said, come from around the world to the “oasis of silence and piety” to draw strength and hope, calling the Holy House of Loreto a home for the young, families, and the sick.

Home for the young

Pope Francis said it is a home for young people, because the Virgin Mary “continues to speak to new generations, accompanying each one in the search for his or her vocation.”

It was for that reason, the Pope said, that he had chosen to sign his post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on young people in Loreto. The document is entitled “Christus vivit – Christ lives”, and is the culmination of the Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment that was held in October 2018.

“In the event of the Annunciation the dynamic of the vocation appears, expressed in the three moments that marked the Synod: 1) listening to the Word-project of God; 2) discernment; 3) decision,” he said.

Home for families
Pope Francis said the House of Mary in Loreto is also a home for the family.

“In the delicate situation of today’s world,” he said, “the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman assumes an essential importance and mission.”

He invited Catholics to rediscover the plan traced out by God for the family and to reaffirm its central role in society.

Within those walls, the Pope said, Mary lived out the many facets that characterize family relationships, “as a daughter, fiancée, and mother,” saying that her experience shows that the Church must care for families and young people in tandem and not separately.

Home for the sick
Finally, Pope Francis said the Holy House of Loreto is a home for the sick.

“Here are welcomed those who suffer in body and spirit, and our Mother brings to all the mercy of the Lord from generation to generation.”

The Holy Father said illness wounds the family, but that the family must welcome the sick person by loving, supporting, encouraging, and caring for them.

And the Pope sent his thoughts and prayers to people around the world who suffer from various illnesses and maladies. “Your suffering can become a decisive collaboration for the coming of the Kingdom of God,” he said.

Pope Francis closed his visit to the Basilica of the Holy House of Loreto with the Angelus prayer, asking all to pray for young people, families, and the sick.


By John Waters (vaticannews)

On the Feast of the Annunciation, Pope Francis signed his Apostolic Exhortation for the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.

“Christus vivit – Christ lives” is a letter to the world’s young people that represents the fruit of the October Synod. The Vatican will release the full text in the near future.

The Basilica of the Holy House in Loreto contains the walls of what tradition holds to be the house in which the Virgin Mary lived when the Angel Gabriel announced that she was to give birth to Jesus.

During his visit to Loreto, Pope Francis spoke about the Exhortation and explained that there are 3 sections to the document, which mirror 3 phases of the Synod process. To explain this further, he outlined this process whilst referencing the story of the Annunciation.

“The first moment, that of listening, is manifested by the words of the angel: ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.’ It is always God who takes the initiative in calling people to follow Him”, said the Pope.

He went on to explain that young people need to find moments of quiet and stillness to listen to God’s call and that God’s voice will not be heard amongst noise and agitation.

Instead, quiet and stillness will help young people discover that “His plan for our personal and social life is not perceived by remaining on the surface, but by descending to a deeper level, where moral and spiritual forces act. It is there that Mary invites young people to come down and tune in to God’s action.”

Then comes the phase of discernment, which is “expressed in Mary’s words: ‘How will this happen?’ Mary does not doubt; her question is not a lack of faith; on the contrary, she expresses her own desire to discover God’s ‘surprises’. In her there is attention to grasping all the demands of God’s plan for her life, to knowing it in its facets, to make one’s collaboration more responsible and complete.”

Pope Francis said this is the proper attitude with which to follow God’s call in our lives, since this attitude allows people to discover not only what God’s plan is for their lives, but also how God’s grace will help them to develop the skills and abilities needed to live out his call for them.

“Decision is the third step that characterizes every Christian vocation, and it is made explicit by Mary’s response to the angel: ‘Let it be done to me according to your word.’ Her ‘yes’ to God’s plan of salvation, implemented by means of the Incarnation, is the handing over to Him of her whole life. It is the ‘yes’ of full trust and total openness to God’s will,” said the Pope.

He highlighted the Virgin Mary as the model Christian disciple and suggested that today’s young people try to imitate her example as they search for God’s plan for their lives.

The Pope pointed out that Mary had lived a multitude of family relationships.

She was a daughter, a fiancée, a bride and a mother, so all young people, no matter what their role in life and calling from God, can find an example and inspiration in her.


I visited the Holy Land for the first time with a small pilgrimage group from Rome’s Santa Susanna community, along with faculty from Marymount International School. We numbered 30 people, including two priests, Fr. Tom Holahan and Fr. Phil DeRea. As I was thinking today of tomorrow’s feast of the Annunciation, I remembered our visit to Nazareth and the Basilica of the Annunciation and though I would repost that story.

My only apology is for the size of the photos. It took me a long time to find then originals and much longer to try and re-size them – to absolutely no avail! I tried to create a carousel of the few photos I found in an attempt to re-size them. That seems to have been an exercise in futility!


LUKE 1, 26-38

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.”

Nazareth, is, of course, a town we know from the Gospel, from songs, from our childhood. Nazareth, a hill town in Galilee, city of the Annunciation, of Jesus’ childhood, of Joseph’s carpenter shop. The town where Jesus played with boys his own age, where he helped St. Joseph make tables and chairs and where his mother drew water from the only well in town and thus knew most of the women. A town of 63,000 overlooking the Jezreel Valley, Nazareth is one of the oldest sites in the Holy Land and today is the largest Arab town in Israel. It was not considered much of a town in Jesus’ time and in fact, Nathaniel of nearby Cana said, in John 1,47: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

Annunciation Basilica by night – our first view of this shrine

By day –

Modern Nazareth is not the bucolic setting one imagines from Christmas cards but a busy fairly modern town, though part of it, called Nazareth Village, offers a re-creation of what Nazareth would have been like at the time of the Holy Family. Our time in the Holy Land was principally dedicated to exploring the churches and places of our pilgrimage, not the cities and towns and villages, so I cannot say we got to know this Galilean hill town. However, I will, towards the end of this travelblogue©, fill these pages with pictures of people and places and foods and dress and local customs so you can get another idea of the country.

Though we had been staying in a Nazareth hotel, we had not yet visited the basilica of the Annunciation. We saw it by night on Monday as we returned from the Sea of Galilee region and our visit to Mount Tabor. However, Tuesday morning, before our departure for the Jordan Valley, Jericho and Jerusalem, we visited this church and the adjacent Church of St. Joseph’s Carpentry where Father’s Tom and Phil celebrated Mass. I’ll take you to St. Joseph’s tomorrow as I just have too many photos of each site to short change either one.

We were ushered into a courtyard where we saw the beautiful facade of this church, with the words, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us.” We walked under a portico, partly as protection from the rain, and partly to see some of the dozens of plaques featuring Madonna and Child and donated by churches or by the episcopal conferences of various countries around the world.

The basilica itself is almost an architectural oddity inside with its various levels and the remnants of the many churches – Byzantine and Crusader era – previously constructed over the original grotto area, and then destroyed over the centuries. Some of the pavement from earlier constructions is still visible and amazingly well preserved, considering the vicissitudes of history. In fact, in the sunken area we find the apse of a fifth century Byzantine church that had been built around the grotto of the Annunciation. On the north wall (though I do not have photos) are the remains of a 12th century Crusader church and some restored Byzantine mosaics.

The church is, of course, built over the site where the Angel Gabriel is said to have appeared to Mary to announce that she would become the mother of the Savior. The Basilica of the Annunciation was commissioned by Franciscans and consecrated in 1969. It seems that the architect, Giovanni Muzio, was asked to build a church that was “modern, multinational and mysterious.” For many the “mysterious” part is the architecture itself, as you will see from a few photos.

The greatest mystery was, of course, divine – the divine motherhood of Mary, announced to this humble teenager from this insignificant hill town by an angel of the Lord in a small, almost forlorn cave.

This site of the Annunciation was one of the most moving experiences of the trip. As we entered the church, the contrast between the bright facade and the dark interior was almost jolting. Is this truly such an important, revered site? Inside it seemed so somber, so dimly lit, with just one luminous area drawing your attention.

Drawn by that light, we walked to the middle of the church where we saw a low, sunken area with an altar, surrounded on three sides by stone seats, where another pilgrimage group was celebrating Mass.

And there, behind the altar, behind a gate, was the grotto of the Annunciation, the actual place where Mary, our Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, “Theotokos”, the Mother of God, received the announcement: “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

This was a moment that was moving beyond telling. As I touched the grate that separated me from the cave and the small altar inside, I felt closer to Mary here than in any other place we would visit. Mary has become my Mother in many new ways ever since I lost my earthly mother. And I felt the presence of both of them, side by side, right here. This was a simple home, a simple dwelling, a simple but unique woman, whose one word – “Fiat” – “thy will be done” – changed her world and the history of mankind.

I thought then, and I repeat it here: To be this humble, this willing to listen to and obey the word of God, without question, without guile, with just simple faith! What a lesson for all of us!

I lingered a bit near the grotto but we did not have much time for personal prayer as Fathers Tom and Phil were about to celebrate Mass in the nearby Church of St. Joseph. So many groups ask to celebrate Mass at important pilgrimage sites that it becomes very important to maintain a timely schedule.

As we left this simple and yet complex basilica and the simple yet uniquely historical area of the grotto, I knew with certainty I would return one day.



An alert reader noted the mistake in the March 25 schedule for papal liturgical ceremonies that was posted yesterday by the Holy See Press Office and that I reposted on this column: March 25 is actually the FEAST OF THE ANNUNCIATION.

That correction is being made on my March 3 blog.