My first day back on the job, so to speak, started with a bang and that is today’s main piece of news from the Vatican – the official establishment of the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, and the naming of a prominent American as its first head.

I faced the day with great satisfaction for another reason: I was finally able to open my suitcase. Our doorman Carlo is on vacation and his substitute did not know where Carlo keeps the tools that could have helped me remove the lock so I did the next best thing – I went to the neighborhood gelateria!

You see, a friend had told me yesterday that Giorgio, the owner of Capitano Cono ice cream shop, about 30 feet from my front door, had a ton of tools in his shop and could undoubtedly help me. Giorgio had taken a few days off and was not in his store yesterday but he was there today and assured me he’d be able to open my luggage – and he did! It felt like Christmas!

I try to exert a lot of self discipline when I walk by Capitano Cono – and that’s several times a day!– because their ice cream is superlative, as are other desserts they offer. I’ve written about it before and I always tell people to come here for gelato when they are in the vicinity of the Vatican.

And now, on to the news….

It is Wednesday and the Holy Father held the weekly general audience in a jam-packed Paul VI Hall and also met this afternoon with French President Francois Hollande but I want to focus on the news of the new Vatican dicastery.


The big news here today was the Apostolic Letter Moto Proprio by Pope Francis that officially establishes the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life. A big part of this story is that the Holy Father named Irish-born American Bishop Kevin Joseph Farrell of Dallas, Texas as prefect of the dicastery.


The title of the Latin language document, “Sedula Mater” means “caring mother.”

Bishop Farrell was ordained for the Legionaries of Christ but became incardinated into the Archdiocese of Washington when he was named as an auxiliary in 2001. He was appointed to Dallas in 2007 and currently serves as treasurer of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. His brother is Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promiting Christian Unity.

The new Dicastery, said a Vatican statement, will be governed by special Statues and all responsibilities and functions held by the current Pontifical Councils for the Laity and for the Family will be transferred to the new office on September 1 when these two councils cease to exist.

Up to now, the heads of the nine Vatican offices known as congregations have been called ‘prefects.’ Those heading the various pontifical councils – 11 councils until recently – have the title of ‘president’. Pope Francis calls the new office a Dicastery and names its head a prefect but has not specified whether it will become a congregation.

In Sedula Mater Francis writes: “As a loving Mother, the Church has always throughout the centuries shown her concern for the laity, the family and life, by witnessing our Lord’s merciful love for humanity and we want to ensure that the riches of Jesus Christ are poured out appropriately and with profusion among the faithful.

“For this reason,” he continues, “we are taking prompt moves so that that the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia can respond to the situation of our times and adapt to the needs of the universal Church. In particular, our thoughts are turned towards the laity, the family and life to whom we wish to offer our support and help so that they are active witnesses of the Gospel.”

The family was the subject of two synods of bishops in 2014 and 2015 and of an entire series of Wednesday general audience catecheses between those two October meetings.

Outgoing president of the council for the family, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, was named by Pope Francis as the new president of the Pontifical Academy for Life. He was also appointed as Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. The new president of this institute, named today by the Pope, is Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, up to now dean of the Theology Faculty of Northern

Pope Francis’ appointment of Bishop Farrell to an important new Vatican dicastery comes just over a month after he named another American to head a Vatican office when he appointed Greg Burke as director of the Holy See Press Office.


If you want to visit a fascinating website in English about the Holy Land, go to  http://en.abouna.org/en/

Stories about the finding of Jesus’ home in Nazareth, an address to Arab women in the media by Jordanian Princess Basma, and religious tourism in Jordan are just of the few that will hold your interest.  Here are a few of the photos that are on the website today:

Religious tourism is image of Jordanian hospitality – Pope Francis at baptism site in the Jordan, with King Abdullah of Jordan and his wife, Queen Rania:


Jordanian women in the Media:


Jesus’ Home in Nazareth:


Our Lady of Peace Center, Caritas welcome displaced Christian Iraqis:


I have a ton of photos from the Peace Center as this was the very first place that Pope Benedict visited on his weeklong trip to the Holy Land in 2009 – and the first place I visited as well!  It was on that trip that I met Fr. Rifat Bader, director in Amman, Jordan, of the Catholic Centre for Studies and Media and responsible for the en.abouna.org website. You have seen his photo and heard his voice several times on “Vatican Insider” when our paths have crossed over the years during my trips to the Holy Land.  We also met up in 2010 in Cyprus when Pope Benedict went there on a pilgrimage.

Here is Fr. Bader (R) with Fr. Lombardi of the Holy See Press Office at a briefing for the media in Amman during the 2009 papal trip.

Jordan-Jerusalem May 2009 017


(Vatican Radio) – In his homily Tuesday at Mass in the Santa Marta residence, Pope Francis invited all Christians to accept God’s love without being critical and making objections.

Taking his cue from the Gospel reading of the day that speaks of how the children of Israel complained against God during their journey through the desert when they objected to the “wretched food” provided, the Pope pointed out that God offers us salvation in a thousand different ways but too often we are incapable of accepting his “divine ways.”

He said that in that Gospel passage the Lord sent in punishment saraph serpents which bit the people and many of them died. Thus, Moses prayed for the people and, obeying the Lord’s command, he mounted a bronze serpent on a pole giving salvation to anyone who looked at it after being bitten.

Only Moses’s intercession, and the symbol of the cross on which Christ will die, said the Pope, provides salvation from the poison of the snakes.

Describing the attitude of many Christians today as “spiritually whimsical,” Francis said that we often commit the same kind of error, “becoming sullen and grumbly.”

“How many of us Christians find ourselves ‘poisoned’ by the dissatisfactions of life. Yes: God is good but… We are Christians but… This kind of Christian ends up not opening his heart to God’s salvation, but always posing conditions. ‘Yes, I want to be saved but in this way…’ This attitude poisons the heart.”

Pope Francis said that to not accept God’s gift in the way it is offered is a sin. It poisons our soul, deprives it of joy. But Jesus, he said, solved this problem by climbing Mount Calvary.

“Jesus takes that poison upon himself. This ‘tepidness’ of ‘half-way’ Christians who show enthusiasm at the start of Jesus’ journey only to become dissatisfied on the way. The only way to heal is to look at the Cross, to look at God who takes upon himself our sins: my sin is there.”

How many Christians, concluded Pope Francis, today “die in the desert of their sorrow, grumbling and not accepting God’s way.”

“Let’s look at the serpent, at the poison, … the poison of all the sins in the world, and let us ask for the grace to accept difficult moments. To accept the divine way of salvation, to accept this ‘wretched food’ that the children of Israel lamented… Let’s accept the paths that the Lord leads us on. May this Holy Week that begins on Sunday help us to turn away from the temptation to become ‘Christians yes, but…’.”


As I write, a great international celebration is underway in Saint Mary Major Basilica to mark the 20th anniversary of St. John Paul’s great Encyclical, “Evangelium Vitae.

The Pontifical Council for the Family, organizer of this event, announced in a communique that Salus Populi Romani, the icon of Mary so dear to Pope Francis and one that he visits prior to and after his international pilgrimages, will be the centerpiece of tonight’s vigil dedicated to life.

This vigil is intended particularly to give thanks for the abundant fruit produced by St. John Paul II during his life, priestly ministry and almost 27-year papacy, in addition to raising awareness of the benefits of prayer for life.

The vigil will have three successive parts: It begins at 5:00 pm with greetings by the principal celebrant, followed by a moment of reflection on some artistic features of the basilica connected with life. At 6:00 pm, an original Rosary will be recited, with focus on the contemplation of Gospel passages related to the theme of life and interspersed with short testimonies and reflections from invited guests. At 7:00 pm, Mass will be presided by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family.

Archbishop Paglia has said that, “the anniversary of the Encyclical and this vigil commemorating it on the eve of the Annunciation are particularly significant, because they highlight the intimate connection between the mystery of life and the experience of the family, composed of suffering and sociability. Defending life means, then, participating in the alliance between God, man and woman.”

The evening will be marked by an international character because this anniversary will also be celebrated in other parts of the world. The Rosary will be recited and dedicated to life in the shrines of Fatima (6:30 pm), Lourdes and Guadalupe. There will also be celebrations in Nazareth.


Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, reports from Ramallah that the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Fouad Twal, has invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to attend the May 17 Mass at the Vatican for the canonization of two Palestinians, Blessed Sister Marie Alphonsine Ghattas and Blessed Sister Mariam of Jesus Crucified Bawardi.

Jordanian Fr. Rifat Bader, director of the Catholic Centre for Studies and Media in Amman and responsible for the abuna.org website, made the announcement on en.abouna.org. Patriarch Twal is Jordanian-born. “Abouna” means “father” in Arabic.

The invitation was addressed directly by the patriarch to President Abbas during the visit paid by a patriarchal delegation at the presidential headquarters in Ramallah on Sunday, March 22. During the talks, President Abbas thanked Patriarch Twal and praised the role carried out by the local Church at the service of society and the Palestinian people, especially in the field of education, welfare and health.

Blessed Mariam Bawardi was born in the village of Ibillin in Galilee, and founded the Carmel of Bethlehem. Blessed Marie Alphonsine Ghattas was born in Jerusalem and helped to start the Congregation of the Sisters of the Rosary. Patriarch Twal has just published a pastoral Letter dedicated to the two sisters who will soon be proclaimed saints by the Church.