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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

By Robin Gomes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Friday of Mercy: Pope blesses ‘Palace’ for the Poor
Pope Francis inaugurates the new Night and Day Care Center for homeless people near St. Peter’s Square, as part of his Friday of Mercy initiative. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-11/pope-francis-friday-mercy-palazzo-migliori-homeless.html

Saturday: Pope to Dicastery for Laity, Family, Life: make the heart of the Church your own
Addressing participants in the first plenary assembly of the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life on Saturday, Pope Francis urged them to cultivate two basic attitudes: feeling with the heart of Mother Church and having a brotherly gaze. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-11/pope-francis-dicastery-family-laity-life-plenary.html

Sunday: Pope to Bambino Gesu Children’s Hospital: ‘Blessed are the hands that heal’
Pope Francis urges staff of the Bambino Gesu Hospital not to spare themselves as they heal sick children and to redouble their efforts to find cures for rare diseases. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-11/pope-francis-bambino-gesu-hospital-150-anniversary.html

Sunday: Pope at Mass on World Day of the Poor: ‘the poor lead us straight to God’
Pope Francis marks the 3rd World Day of the Poor celebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for poor people in Rome and beyond. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-11/pope-francis-mass-world-day-poor-homily.html

Sunday: Pope at Angelus: ‘Be peacemakers, witnesses of hope’
Pope Francis invites the faithful to live their lives responding to hatred with love, to offence with forgiveness, and to always be attentive and loving towards the poor. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-11/pope-francis-angelus-gospel-world-day-poor.html

Sunday: Pope Francis’ lunch with the poor
Pope Francis joins some 1.500 poor people and volunteers for lunch marking the 3rd World Day of the Poor. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-11/pope-francis-lunch-vatican-world-day-poor.html


I don’t know how many of you have been following the very long political odyssey in Venezuela that has caused indescribable anguish as the citizens seek food staples, medicine and so many other necessities of life, that have been in short supply – in some cases, non-existence – for years now! The bishops have issued a plea, a call to Venezuela’s president and other political leaders to remedy the situation, stating how alarmed they are “to see how the evils pointed out in our Pastoral Exhortation of January of this year have worsened.”

I have friends in Venezuela, and what the bishops write is in no way an exaggeration of the current situation, according to my friends.

Another troubling situation, yet very different as it concerns a life and death matter for an English toddler. I’m sure you’ve seen a headline or two about little Alfie Evans whose respirator, the one keeping him alive in the face of a yet to be fully understood illness, was to be removed yesterday by a court order. Rome’s Bambino Gesu Children’s hospital is trying to bring Alfie to Rome: you can follow this other odyssey in the third story I posted below.


Pope Francis spent yesterday and is spending today in meetings with the C9, the body of nine cardinal advisors to the Pope as they gather in their 23rd session.

However, there was a brief break yesterday for the Holy Father. Not only did he offer 3000 servings of Italy’s celebrated gelato to the homeless and needy to mark his onomastico or name day on Monday (feast of St. George – Jorge), Pope Francis actually marked this day by spending time with the needy and homeless of Rome, according to a brief note from the Office of Papal Charities.


In an urgent appeal, the bishops of Venezuela ask government leaders to address the grave humanitarian concerns afflicting the nation and they describe the President’s current bid for re-election as illegitimate at this time.
By Linda Bordoni (vaticannews)

The bishops of Venezuela have released a strongly-worded statement in which they list a series of grave problems afflicting the people and express their concern for the “surprising indifference of government officials” in the face of these problems.

They also make an urgent appeal to President Nicolas Maduro to reconsider his re-election bid and focus on tackling grave humanitarian concerns afflicting the people.

“As pastors driven by the love of Christ and as citizens of Venezuela” the bishops say at the beginning of a statement which was released on Monday, “we turn to Catholics and to all men and women of good will to share our concerns.”

“We are alarmed to see how the evils pointed out in our Pastoral Exhortation of January of this year have worsened: Hyperinflation has increased the general impoverishment of the population, with the decomposition of the quality of life of all. The general lack of electricity, water and gas services throughout the country makes life more and more difficult,” the statement says.

All this, the bishops point out, in the face of the surprising indifference of government officials who are charged with solving these problems.

They state that the very plans put into place by President Maduro to assuage food scarcity are not working, and “it all translates into more hunger and unemployment.”

Added to this, they say, is “the increase in unhealthiness due to the uncontrollable appearance of epidemics and diseases in the most vulnerable populations, with the aggravating factor of the lack of medicines for treatment. This problem is generating a large number of protests throughout the country, which, although silenced by the media, are increasing.”

The bishops highlight the fact that more and more Venezuelans, from all levels of society, are emigrating “in increasingly precarious conditions.” They point out that this breaks family ties, brings desolation and abandonment of the elderly and children.

They also express gratitude to the countries that have welcomed and received Venezuelans who have been forced to leave and to Church organizations for the assistance offered to migrants.

“Faced with humanitarian problems of such magnitude, the statement says, the Presidential elections, called for May 20, lack legitimacy.”

The bishops elaborate on this concept saying “the electoral campaign has not been conceived with guarantees to ensure a free, reliable and transparent electoral process.”

They point out that far from providing a solution to the crisis, an electoral campaign could aggravate the crisis and trigger an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe.

“It is therefore urgent to postpone (the vote) to the last trimester of the year.” they say.

The bishops reiterate their urgent appeal to the rulers and leaders of the nation to take responsibility for the many issues and to listen to the people and engage with them without further delay. They suggest the help of private sectors and even of sister countries could be solicited in the attempt to control hyperinflation and to facilitate the search for political solutions.

“All Venezuelans must be aware that at stake at this time is not only an electoral event or even the transitory deterioration of the quality of life of a people, but its very existence as a free, fraternal and democratic nation.”

The bishops of Venezuela conclude their appeal calling for a change in direction in order to “take a different course from this saga of death”, through “the strength of faith and the power of hope” urging “those who believe in the living and Risen Christ to be courageous and to take responsibility in the knowledge that the last word does not belong to loneliness, suffering or hopelessness, but to God.”


(ANSA) – Rome, April 24 – A tug-of-war continued Tuesday between Britain and Italy over Alfie Evans, a terminally ill British toddler who has been made an Italian citizen in a bid to beat British court orders to let him die.

As Alfie survived being taken off life support and his parents practised mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, negotiations continued on bringing the child to Rome but the UK insisted it had jurisdiction, well-informed sources said.

Amid the new developments, British High Court appeals judge Anthony Hayden, who signed the ruling pulling the plug on Alfie, set a fresh hearing for this afternoon. The hearing has been called in Manchester at 15:30 local time (16:30 Italian time), his spokesman said. Lawyers from all parties including the family and Liverpool’s Alder Hey Hospital have been summoned, sources said.

Italy said it was ready to fly in a respirator for Alfie in a bid to beat court orders to pull the plug, according to Rome’s Vatican-owned Bambino Gesù Hospital chief Mariella Enoc. The hospital said: “Alfie now has a respirator. The Bambino Gesù team is ready to leave on a plane provided by (Defence) Minister (Roberta) Pinotti.”

“I spoke a short while ago with Thomas, Alfie’s father. At this time Alfie has an oxygen mask but we need to transport him”. She added “a short time ago I spoke with Ambassador (Raffaele) Trombetta to whom I said that our team has been alerted and is ready to leave in a few minutes”.

Contacts between Italian representatives and British political, health and judicial authorities have been continuing since last night (Monday April 23) but for now the UK authorities say the child’s British citizenship must take precedence over his newly granted Italian one in deciding jurisdiction, Italian sources said Tuesday.

Vatican diplomacy is at work to get Alfie to Italy for treatment, sources said Tuesday.

For more, click here: https://www.ansa.it/english/news/2018/04/24/alfie-fights-on-amid-tug-of-war-between-uk-italy-2_5663c4c7-58b2-45ba-b841-774315c509ff.html


I had a fascinating dinner last night in a restaurant I had never been to, Isola della Pizza, on Via degli Scipioni, not far from Vatican City. A dear friend of mine, Clarence Gilyard, had just arrived in Rome to help the Vincentian Fathers with a special project for their 400th anniversary, and he invited me to join him and four other friends for what turned out to be a truly special evening.

If the name Clarence Gilyard rings a bell, you might remember him as a regular in TV shows such as Matlock and Walker Texas Ranger (he was Jimmy, Chuck Norris’ partner and friend ), to name a few of the many roles he has played. Clarence and I met at the 2011 World Youth Day in Madrid and have corresponded ever since. He was in Rome a few years ago at Christmas with his family and I even had them all to my house one night for dinner.

Clarence has not missed a WYD since then and we both reminisced about Krakow – his time at WYD last July and my recent visit for research for my book on St. John Paul. He and his family live in Las Vegas where he teaches drama, film and theater at UNLV. He’s also been a consultant on the Communications Committee of the USCCB.

At the last World Youth Day, Clarence met Fr. Tomaž Mavrič, Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission, also known as Vincentian Fathers and Brothers or Lazarists. With his background in theater and film, Clarence was asked by Father Tomaz if he would help on a video they are producting for the October celebrations. Thus the weeklong visit to Rome.

You’ll be hearing more about this congregation founded by St. Vincent de Paul in coming months, especially from all the parishes, centers and universities that bear the name Vincent de Paul. There is probably a parish near you by that name!

As the congregation’s website notes, Vincent de Paul was born in the village of Pouy in 1581. As a boy he lived among the poor and experienced the conditions under which they lived. In 1600 he became a priest. For a time he sought to escape from the poverty of his origins, but with the help of spiritual directors he felt himself called to deeper holiness and, through the events of his life, was finally led by divine providence to a firm determination to dedicate himself to the salvation of the poor. While he was exercising his ministry in Gannes, it was on January 25, 1617, in Folleville, he saw that the evangelization of the poor was an urgent need. He himself held that this was the origin of his vocation, and of the Congregation of the Mission.

Also joining Clarence and Father Tomaz for dinner were two Swiss Guard friends of ours and Fr. Joseph Agostino of the Vincentian Family Office in Philadelphia, in Rome for a brief visit to help plan the anniversary celebrations. Father Tomaz has asked me for some advice concerning media relations and I said I’d help in anyway I could.


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met on Monday afternoon with a group of young patients, doctors and nurses from Rome’s ‘Bambino Gesù’ children’s hospital. The children, aged between 5 and 18, are taking part in a documentary programme on Italian television exploring the experiences of young patients and their families at the Catholic hospital.

The ‘Bambino Gesù’ (Child Jesus) hospital, just a stone’s throw away from the Vatican, is the largest pediatric research facility in Europe. It treats over a million and a half young patients each year, with children travelling from all over the world to make use of its specialized services and equipment.

This was the second time the youngsters had come for a papal audience, which was being filmed for the TV series showing every Sunday evening on the RAI 3 channel.

In his greetings to the children and staff, including the hospital director, Dr Mariella Enoc, Pope Francis spoke of the importance of providing a welcoming family environment. Each patient, he said, has a name and an individual story, which is more important that the sickness that he or she has come to cure.  The hospital, he said, must always be first and foremost a family which takes care of the needs of each of its members.

Going into the hospital, Pope Francis said, can be quite frightening and he noted that some of the younger children cried at the audience because they confused a pope, dressed in white, with a doctor, who is coming to give them an injection. But a loving caress, he said, calms those fears and doctors are called to treat patients with their hearts and their love, as well as with their medical skills.

Finally Pope Francis thanked all the staff for providing “a witness of humanity” in the way they treat the children in their care. “You are a family,” he said, “and nothing is more important than that!”


Apologies for the blank pages these last few days but I have been very much under the weather with the worst cold I ever recall suffering. Sitting at a desk and writing a column was the last thing on my mind. I am writing today simply because I am trying to reacquire some energy.

I did do the TV commentary Tuesday afternoon for EWTN for the papal visit to the statue of the Immaculata at Pza. di Spagna in Rome, and also my live radio show with Teresa Tomeo yesterday, albeit in slightly reduced form.

Below are two articles from news.va – I especially love the one about the children’s hospital patients designing their own Holy Door! I am corresponding, in fact, with a religion teacher who students have been doing the same thing, and I am willing to think that is happening in many schools.

And here is a carousel of photos from the Fiat Lux – Let there be light – sound and light show Tuesday at the Vatican. It might take a few seconds to load.


(Vatican Radio) Reflecting on the meaning of the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis on Wednesday said that “especially in our times, in which forgiveness is a rare guest in the areas of human life, the call to mercy becomes more urgent”.

The Pope was addressing the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the weekly General Audience.

He said that mercy can contribute much in building a more human world and has a fundamental role to play everywhere: “in society, institutions, at work and even in the family”.

Recalling the fact that on Tuesday, December 8th, he opened the Holy Door of the Jubilee of Mercy in St. Peter’s Basilica after having already done so in the Cathedral of Bangui in Central Africa, Pope Francis said, “today I would like to reflect with you on the meaning of this Holy Year, and answer the question: why a Jubilee of Mercy?”

He explained that in our age of profound changes, the Church needs the extraordinary moment offered by a Holy Year in which to offer her special contribution and make visible signs of the presence and closeness of God.

He said that the Jubilee is a favorable time to do so because by turning our eyes to God, the merciful Father, and to our brothers in need, it helps us focus attention on the essential content of the Gospel: “Jesus Christ, Mercy made flesh”.

“To celebrate a Jubilee of Mercy, he said, is equivalent to putting our Christian faith’s distinctive features back at the center of our personal lives and of our communities”.

“Dear brothers and sisters, Pope Francis continued, the Jubilee will be a ‘favorable time’ for the Church if we learn to choose ‘what God likes most’ without bowing to the temptation of thinking that there is something else that is more important”.

“Nothing is more important than choosing ‘what pleases God most,’ his mercy!” he said.

Pope Francis also remarked on the necessary work of renewal happening in the institutions and structures of the Church and described it as a life-giving experience which can guarantee that the Church continue to be “a city set on a mountain that cannot be hidden” (cf. Mt 5:14).

He said that the Jubilee Year will strengthen our certainty that “mercy can really contribute to building a more human world. Especially in our times, in which forgiveness is a rare guest in the areas of human life, the call to merciful, he continued,  becomes more urgent, and this everywhere: in society, institutions, at work and even in the family”.

In today’s world, Pope Francis said, mercy and forgiveness often appear overwhelmed by self-interest, hedonism and corruptness, while in the Christian life they can be stifled by hypocrisy and worldliness.   Forgetfulness of God’s mercy blinds us even to seeing sin for what it is.  That is why, he explained, this Holy Year of Mercy is so important.

The Pope concluded with the prayer that each of us may become ever more aware of God’s mercy at work in our lives and ever more effective in testifying to its transforming power in our world.


(Vatican Radio) The Vatican-owned Bambino Gesù Hospital in Rome is allowing patients to create their own Holy Door for the Jubilee. The hospital is on the Janiculum Hill, that overlooks St. Peter’s Basilica, but many of the children are not well enough to make the journey. Bambino Gesu means Child Jesus.

Therefore, children from the oncohematology and other departments have been busy designing and creating their own version of the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica, drawing from scenes in the Old and New Testaments.

The project allows the children to use their senses, imagination, and artistic skills, as well as discover things about biblical history and spirituality.

The chaplain of the Bambino Gesù Hospital said the goal is to give to young patients and their families the feeling of being part of a community of love and mercy, and allow them to take part in the Extraordinary Jubilee.

“There is a deep connection between conversion and the suffering we experience in particular situations,” said Father Luigi.

“Suffering is not only physical pain, but also the inner suffering from lack of meaning,” he continued.

“The more the spirit of God pervades our lives, the less we suffer, because we feel less alone,” Father Luigi said.

The chaplain said the Holy Spirit is “strength and light,” and that “unity with God” helps people deal with suffering.

“ If this it is true for everyone, it is even more so in this place,” Father Luigi said. “The value of this [Holy Door], even if symbolic, is important because it invites us to be united with the Lord, especially in suffering.”

The Bambino Gesù Hospital’s Holy Door project is ongoing, and will involve various activities looking at traditional pilgrimage sites around the Hospital.

Meanwhile, the Bambino Gesù Hospital’s facility in Palidoro, located in the Suburbicarian Diocese of Porto-Santa Rufina, will become the site of one the Diocese’s official Holy Doors for the Jubilee.

On December 17, the Door of Mercy will officially be opened in the Hospital’s chapel by Bishop Gino Reale, thus becoming one of the four Holy Doors of the Diocese, which is situated in the northern part of the Province of Rome.