At first light this morning, in the silence of St. Peter’s Basilica, the voyage to Bergamo began for the remains of Pope St. John XXIII – Bergamo, the diocese in which Angelo Roncalli served for 40 years, and Sotto il Monte where he was born November 25, 1881.

The theme of the trip is a phrase from this Saint who returns to his land and people for the 60th anniversary of his election to the papacy: “We begin from the land where I was born and we continue right up to heaven.”

This will be an 18-day pilgrimage, an exceptional gift from Pope Francis. There was a precedent that took place in the spring of 1959 when Pope John XXIII (Italians often called him, as they do all Popes, by his last name, Papa Roncalli) authorized the departure of the remains of St. Pius X for his native Venice.

This morning, in the basilica, it was the archpriest of St. Peter’s, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, who presided at the ceremony of the departure of the intact remains of John XXII. His remains were transferred from the Vatican Grottoes to the main part of the basilica in 2001, the year of his beatification, when he was placed in the glass coffin that all persons visiting the basilica can view.

JFL photo:

Cardinal Comastri recalled John XXIII’s love for his native land where “he breathed the faith in the beautiful example of his parents. Today, John XXIII fulfils the pilgrimage of gratitude and blessings towards the land where he was born, where he became Christian and where his priestly vocation matured.”

Reciting a prayer for those present, the cardinal spoke of “God’s profume” in John XXIII, his always having sowed seeds of hope, helping people to be “instruments of peace at home and in the public square.”

There will be a number of stops on his pilgrimage for St. John XXIII, whose remains arrived in the heart of Bergamo this afternoon at 3:30. The first stop was the prison in Via Gleno in remembrance of Pope John’s visit to detainees in Rome’s Regina Coeli prison. His remains will travel to the seminary and, at 9 pm, will be solemnly welcomed in the cathedral for a prayer vigil.

For a video of the morning ceremony that accompanied this story by Vatican Media, click here:

I have an imminent appointment and am trying to post this column before that – photos and all, although I intend to post a lot more pictures tomorrow as time is my enemy right now. If some of the video links do not work, I will try to rectify that later.



Cardinal Loris Capovilla, secretary to Pope Saint John XXIII died today at the age of 100. He turned 100 October 14 of last year. Here is what I posted that day:


Today marks the 100th birthday of Cardinal Loris Capovilla, former secretary to Cardinal Angelo Roncalli when he was archbishop of Venice and later, in 1958, elected to the See of Peter, talking the name John XXIII. He is now, of course, St. John XXIII.

I visited Cardinal Capovilla (and wrote about it on my blog) on March 19 last year, 18 days after he received the red hat in Sotto il Monte, not far from Bergamo in northern Italy, where he lives. This was just weeks before his former “boss” would be canonized, together with John Paul II!

At one point, I asked Cardinal Capovilla if I could record two special questions I had for him on my iPad. First, I asked him to imagine what John XXIII would say about the much-changed world we live in today. I then noted how “Good” Pope John loved children, asking what he might say if there were 20 children in the room, instead of the three of us. We spoke only in Italian, so I’m afraid that might limit the audience for this video but it is just sheer fun to watch his amazing energy at 98 and a half!

And here is what I wrote Friday, March 21, 2014, just two days after my visit to Sotto il Monte.


I returned late last night from very beautiful and very historical Bergamo in northern Italy, about an hour from Milan by train. I made this brief trip because I wanted to see all the places in Bergamo associated with the future Saint John XXIII, and to visit Sotto il Monte, a 20-minute drive from Bergamo, where he was born and raised.

I was on the go from morning to very late at night on Tuesday and Wednesday, and even yesterday I never stopped exploring right up to my 5 pm train departure for Milan, then Rome. I had a very small window of time on Wednesday between talking to Teresa Tomeo in our weekly slot on “Catholic Connection,” and being picked up at 4 pm by my new friend, Mimma Forlani, author of a book about John XXIII. I hoped to use that time wisely and so I wrote a column about my visit up to that point, 24 hours filled with amazing new friends and places and events.

I only had my iPad with me and I wrote a long column, hit POST – and everything disappeared because my “session” had timed out!

I won’t try to re-write that column here. However, I have posted 3 videos from my time in Sotto il Monte so perhaps you can enjoy those for now (I record and post the videos you see on my Youtube page with my iPad). Here are links to two of those:

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And now, to the big story of my Sotto il Monte visit!


I had a totally unexpected and very wonderful visit in Sotto il Monte with Cardinal Loris Capovilla who for many years was Blessed John XXIII’s secretary, and was made a cardinal only a month ago in the February 22 consistory. I had not contacted the cardinal before I left Rome and only got his direct line the night I arrived. I phoned Wednesday morning at 9, the cardinal himself answered and we had a delightful conversation. I told him I was in Bergamo and that a friend would be accompanying me to John XXIII’s birthplace that morning.


I told him I had worked for many years at the Vatican and that we shared the experience of being secretary to a cardinal. He asked me for whom I had been a secretary, and I told Cardinal John Wright, prefect for 10 years (1969 to 1979) of the Congregation for the Clergy. I was his secretary from 1975 to his death in 1979. His priest secretary at the Vatican at that time was one Fr. Donald Wuerl!

After other brief words, Cardinal Capovilla asked when I would be in Sotto il Monte, I replied about 10:15 and he said to come to Ca Maitino where he lives as soon as we arrived.

Sr. Anna welcomed us and, after showing us around while another person was with the cardinal, ushered us into his large, sunny office. Cardinal Capovilla was seated at a broad table – a mere desk would never have been big enough to accommodate the books, agendasand letters and the stack of his newly minted stationary and envelopes with his cardinalatial crest.

I introduced Mimma who told the cardinal how delighted she was to meet him, having written a book about his “boss,” Pope John XXIII.


I told the cardinal what a delight it was to meet the man who had so faithfully served the first Pope I’d ever met – John XXIII. And I gave him copies of the photos I took at my first ever audience with a Pope – with John XXIII – on March 22, 1961. Cardinal Capovilla was absolutely delighted, and said they were great photos, and rare ones in that there are relatively few pictures of Pope John in color.

I also told Cardinal Capovilla – an amazing, energetic 98 and a half, with a memory as long as his years and a mind like a trap! – that I had visited the nunciature in Istanbul where Bishop Angelo Roncalli was nuncio from 1935 to 1944. I explained that I was a member of the Holy See delegation to the UN conference on Human Settlements that took place in Istanbul for several weeks in June 1996. The then nuncio offered a beautiful dinner for the delegation in the residence where John XXIII lived all those years.


One of the most astonishing aspects about the building was that nothing had been changed or replaced or moved since Angelo Roncall left in 1944! The damask-covered walls, the heavy drapes in the dining room and reception roms, even every single furnishing in the chapel – everything was the same!  We could sit in the bishop’s chair and kneel on his kneeler in the chapel but were asked not to move the chair or prie-dieu as that is how they were in December 1944 when the future Pope left Turkey. I promised the cardinal I would send him copies of the photos I took that evening.

Our conversation was so stimulating. The cardinal spoke of the past, the present and the future, and says he does not truly feel old or consider himself to be old. Here are a few photos from that March 19 morning with Cardinal Capovilla, a wonderful, uplifting, surprising one-hour visit! I have audio and video we well, but I must first translate some of the latter before I share that with you.

Cardinal Capovilla dedicates a copy of his book to me, “Preach the Gospel to all People” – in Latin – “with joy and hope!”