You might want to add an extra Ave Maria for Pope Francis to your prayers tomorrow when he turns 86! And this, just days after celebrating 53 years of priesthood on December 13! Heartfelt best wishes, Holy Father!


December 10th was the feast day of the Holy House of Loreto, my very favorite shrine in Italy that I’ve visited several times, and this seems like the perfect season to tell a special story about Mary’s house, the house in which she grew up.

I will tell you that, according to tradition, this Marian shrine is the home in which Mary lived, in which the Angel Gabriel appeared to her, announcing she would become the Mother of God, and the home she shared with Jesus and Joseph. It was transported to this Italian hill town overlooking the Adriatic on the night of December 10, 1294.

Tune in and you will learn exactly how it was transported to Italy!

As I prepared this Special, I felt myself leaning against the stone walls of this holy house – as I’ve done on every visit – praying to Mary, running my hands over the stones as I imagined she and Jesus and Joseph did countless times! Rarely have I been so induced to pray, so recollected in prayer, so sensing the presence of the Holy Family as I have in this holy home!

I hope you sense the awesomeness of this home as I tell its story!

The following series of photos were taken on a visit a few years back:

Outside –

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Inside – These photos include the marble “screen” designed by Bramante in which we find the Holy Houser – the screen has stunning bas reliefs. There are also photos of some of the side altars of which I speak, donated by various countries. You will also see some chalk drawings on the floor.

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My favorite art work in the basilica!

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Photos of the actual Holy House are not allowed inside but here is one from vaticannews.

IN THE UNITED STATES, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (stations listed at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio, or on 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.” VI airs at 5am and 9pm ET on Saturdays and 6am ET on Sundays. On the GB-IE feed (which is on SKY in the UK and Ireland), VI airs at 5:30am, 12 noon and 10pm CET on Sundays. Both of these feeds are also available on the EWTN app and on ALWAYS CHECK YOUR OWN TIME ZONE! For VI archives: go to and write the name of the guest for whom you are searching in the SEARCH box. Below that, will appear “Vatican Insider” – click on that and the link to that particular episode will appear.



My birthday lunch yesterday at La Vittoria (a years-old tradition) with (clockwise top right) Fathers Michael Maher, SJ (Milwaukee), Ryan Brady (Chicago) and Stefano Cascio (Rome). Breaking bread and sharing stories with them was a gift in itself. I know well the vocation stories of Ryan and Stefano, and both the stories and the men are wonderful and inspiring!

Walking home after lunch I stopped in at Homebaked where the celebration continued with Carolina and the staff as they offered me a gift, a baked-by-Jesse blueberry muffin, hugs and a heartfelt rendition of Happy Birthday!

Dinner at Taverna Agape in the ancient and beautiful Pza. San Simeone with Newt and Callista Gingrich who are in Italy for a visit. We enjoyed a superb dinner and there is always scintillating conversation with these terrific friends! Now my summer reading starts with Newt’s “Defeating Big Government Socialism – Saving America’s Future.”

So now you know why, when people say to me “God bless you!” I reply “He really has!”



I want to join the countless number of people throughout the world who today are wishing Pope emeritus Benedict XVI a wonderful, happy, serene 95th birthday!

A very special memory for me….

The birthday of a pope is always a special occasion in the Vatican but for years the April 16th birthday of Joseph Ratzinger – Benedict XVI – was also – and is today! – a special occasion for me.

Many of you may have read my blog post, “A Chalice Goes Home,” where I recount how, on this very same day, 95 years ago, my paternal grandparents gave a chalice to a new priest, Fr. Leo Raphael Toohey. When Fr. Toohey died, the chalice went back to my grandparents and I eventually inherited it.

My dream? To do what my grandparents did…

That chalice went “back home” 94 years and one month later when, on May 15, 2021, Fr. Ryan Brady was ordained to the priesthood in Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral and, a day later, said his first Mass using that chalice. By the way, Pope emeritus Benedict said Mass with that chalice on October 19, 2013!




Pope Francis turns 85 today. If you wish to send him a greeting, go to his Twitter account and tweet your greetings: Pope Francis (@Pontifex) / Twitter


Instead of an interview this weekend, in a Special I am going to bring you to the Vatican and to the Eternal City and together we will explore how Christmas and the New Year are celebrated in this magnificent city. Because of Covid and variants, rules are changing here almost on a daily basis – rules about large numbers of people gathering, etc. Some events have been or are being downsized but I still want to give you a general idea of how Christmas is celebrated in this magical land.

I will look at traditions, old ones and recently inaugurated, how families celebrate, what special dishes they eat, the great importance of nativity scenes in families and churches and institutions and public squares. And I’ll bring you to all the places you must visit during the Christmas and New Year season. I start our visit at the Vatican so be sure to stay tuned after the news for that Special.

IN THE UNITED STATES, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (stations listed at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio, or on 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.” VI airs at 5am and 9pm ET on Saturdays and 6am ET on Sundays. On the GB-IE feed (which is on SKY in the UK and Ireland), VI airs at 5:30am, 12 noon and 10pm CET on Sundays. Both of these feeds are also available on the EWTN app and on ALWAYS CHECK YOUR OWN TIME ZONE! For VI archives: go to and write the name of the guest for whom you are serarching in the SEARCH box. Below that, will appear “Vatican Insider” – click on that and the link to that particular episode will appear.


This morning, on his birthday, Pope Francis received at the Apostolic Palace a first group of about ten refugees who arrived in Italy yesterday thanks to an agreement between the Holy See, the Italian and Cypriot authorities, as already anticipated during the recent Apostolic Journey to Cyprus and Greece, according to a note from the Holy See Press Office. (Vatican media)

The group will be supported directly by the Holy Father, while the Community of Sant’Egidio will take care of their inclusion in a one-year integration program.

The Pope welcomed the refugees in the throne room and listened to their stories, and those of their journey from Congo Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Somalia and Syria. Some of them are doctors and computer technicians. “You saved us!” said, moved, a Congolese boy, turning to him.

The Pope addressed them individually a few words of welcome and affection, and thanked them for their visit. Wishing him “long life and good health” on his birthday, the refugees gave the Pope a painting of an Afghan refugee as a gift, depicting migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean. (Vatican media)

Pope Francis inquired about a little girl he met in the Mavrouni camp, in Lesbos, who will come to Italy in the coming days with her family to be treated, and after a photo together, he greeted the group and asked everyone to pray for him.

Click here for vaticannews video: Pope Francis receives a group of refugees from Cyprus – Vatican News



I had one single ambition on this beautiful day marking the 100th birthday of an incredible Pole who became a parish priest, bishop and cardinal and then voted by the College of Cardinals to succeed two men whose names he took – John and Paul: to be in the presence of a pontiff I so loved and loved to serve for so many years.

St. Peter’s Basilica was to open today for the first time in two months and I wanted to be there and to pray to and with John St. Paul.

I live very close to the Perugino entrance to Vatican City and, as a Vatican retiree with proper ID and related privileges, I can use that entrance whenever I need to access certain offices, the department store, the basilica, etc.

I wore my mask but the two gendarmes at the entrance knew me and I was delighted when they said yes, I could certainly return to the basilica! When I got to the basilica entrance there ere two volunteers from the Order of Malta taking temperatures – as they are doing to people who use the main basilica entrance.

I’d been so excited to go that I left my cell phone at home so could not take photos o the basilica as I had only seen it once before in my life, But at least I know there will now be other times!

The very central part of the main aisle has wood barriers on both sides, closing a space of about 6 to 8 feet across, so you cannot walk directly across the basilica, from one side to the other, at any point. As I entered on the south side of the basilica, I had to walk behind the papal altar to get to the north side and John Paul’s tomb where I prayed the rosary. I chose the Luminous Mysteries today because John Paul added them to the traditional Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries.

I did not meditate that well on the mysteries, I must say. I had so many memories of John Paul, mental photos that came fleetingly to my mind. I studied the altar, the many flowers and gorgeous floral bouquets that had been places during the day (I did not see any during the papal Mass). Every distancing allowable space in the pews was occupied and that made me very happy but did not at all surprise me. I saw and felt the love.

I did notice one thing and am guessing it was planned. There were 8 candles on the altar above John Paul’s tomb and 10 more were added during the day on the marble altar railing, two candelabras of 5 candles each for a grand total of 18 candles!

The meditation on the third Luminous mystery in the book I use when I say the rosary began: “Jesus preached in the synagogues, streets and hills of Galilee, offering individuals fulfilment of all their hopes and dreams. People listened, spellbound, as he told them how to gain entrance into this new kingdom: “Repent, turn around, and believe the Good news. God had made a way for you to come back to Him.”

All I could think of was, “that’s John Paul! He preached everywhere in the world!” And it was he who said upon being elected Pope, “ Open wide, open wide your doors to Christ! Be not afraid!”

One of my very favorite photos of John Paul –

I wanted to meditate more on this and talk to John Paul some more and ask another favor or two but I heard a bell that almost made me jump for joy (a bell rang JUST NOW on my phone as I wrote the word bell). The bell meant there was Mass!

Mass! And Communion!

I joined perhaps 50 other people at the Altar of St. Joseph where two of the 12 Apostles are buried, Simon and Jude. All pews were marked with a small yellow dot where seating as allowed – perfect social distancing. The priest who said Mass did not have a mask but he did have gloves: his assistant had both. There was beautiful music and the organist was a great tenor as well!

Communion – Yes, the Eucharist! – went very well. It was orderly, with ushers allowing us to exit our pews properly.

What most amazed me was that when I received communion and began to return to my pew, I started crying!   I felt like I had just received my first communion – at least my first coronavirus era Eucharist!

After Mass I did the final thing I had been wanting to do for a while – confession. I did not know the basilica would close at 6 and it was 5:40 but I found an English (and Chinese- and Italian-)-speaking priest so confession was the final part of the triple whammy!

I can tell you a few things for certain after my afternoon experience…

Even with restrictions, when you go to a real Mass for the first time in probably months, you will discover what you knew all along. You will rejoice. You will smile. You will feel special. You will know you are in a special place. Mass is the highlight, the focus, the center, of our spiritual lives. We share the Eucharist with other members of the Body of Christ as the epitome, the epicentre if you will, of our life on earth as Catholics.

You will also discover the beauty of the priesthood as you experienced it with your pastor or others these past months via live streaming Masses – Masses done with care, homilies preached with love. Maybe you went to confession in your car, sitting 6 feet from your confessor and praying those in the cars behind you had hearing problems!! Much has to be sacrificed to prepare these Masses, new technology had to be learned and used but the priests did that – they did it for us, the faithful.

And I think you will discover like never before what the Eucharist means to you!

PS– a link to other memories I have of St. John Paul:




If I could have been in two places today, one of them would have been Poland, spending time in Krakow and then in Wadowice where Karol Wojtyla – the future Pope John Paul II, was born on this very day 100 years ago.

The place I was actually in was, of course, Rome – you can read about that in my next column today! (So I guess that is actually 3 places)

Below are several of the stories published today about St. John Paul. I wonder how many people around the world are reading these stories and others about John Paul in the various languages of this website. I wonder how many people are savoring their memories of this saintly pontiff, truly a man for all seasons.

I have no idea of the number of people who met or saw or were somehow in the presence of this Pope – in Rome or during his many unforgettable travels – in just the 26 and a half years he was Pope. I have no idea how many more lives he touched before 1978 as a pastor, bishop and the cardinal archbishop of Krakow before being elected to the papacy on October 16, 1978 when he took the names of his two predecessors, John and Paul. That number is absolutely in the millions and more likely in the tens of million if not more!

How many of them – of us – are both entranced and also prayerful at those memories, of how blessed we were to have this man, this Pope, in our lives. Of how sad we feel at knowing there are people who did not know, see, meet or be touched by St. John Paul.


Celebrating Mass on the 100th anniversary of the birth of Karol Wojtyla, the future St. John Paul II, Pope Francis described his predecessor as a man of prayer, closeness, and justice.

By Christopher Wells

Pope Francis celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of St John Paul II by offering Holy Mass at the altar where the Polish Pope is buried in St Peter’s Basilica.

Joined by a very limited number of the faithful, the liturgy on Monday morning was the first Mass open to the public after almost two months of restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Lord has visited His People
Pope Francis began his homily by reminding us that God loves His People, and in times of difficulty “visits” them by sending a holy man or a prophet.

In the life of Pope John Paul II, we can see a man sent by God, prepared by Him, and made Bishop and Pope to guide God’s Church. “Today, we can say that the Lord visited His people”.

A man of prayer
Pope Francis focused on three particular traits that marked the life of John Paul II: prayer, closeness, and mercy.

Despite his many duties as Pope, John Paul II always found time to pray. “He knew well that the first task of the bishop is to pray”, Pope Francis said, noting that this is the teaching of St Peter in the Acts of the Apostles. “The first task of the bishop is to pray”, the Pope repeated. John Paul “knew this, and did it”.

Close to the people
St John Paul II was also close to the people, not detached or separated from them, but travelling the whole world to seek them out. Already in the Old Testament, we can see how God was uniquely close to His People.

This closeness culminated in the Incarnation, when Jesus Himself dwelt among His people.

John Paul followed the example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, drawing near to both the great and the small, to those close by and those physically far away.

Merciful justice
Finally, Pope Francis said, St John Paul II was remarkable for his love of justice. But his love for justice was a desire for justice completed by mercy. And so John Paul was also a man of mercy, “because justice and mercy go together”. John Paul, who did so much to promote the Divine Mercy devotion, believed that God’s justice “had this face of mercy, this attitude of mercy.”

Pope Francis concluded his homily with the prayer that the Lord might grant to all of us, and especially to pastors, the grace of prayer, of closeness, and the grace of justice in mercy, and merciful justice.



As the world marks 100 years since the birth of Karol Wojtyla, the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome inaugurates a Saint John Paul II Institute of Culture within the Faculty of Philosophy in John Paul II’s name.

By Devin Watkins

Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope, studied philosophy at the Angelicum from 1946 until 1948. The new institute is supported by two Polish foundations, Futura Iuventa and Saint Nicholas.

John Paul II: Inspiration and architect
To commemorate the new cultural institute, Pope Francis sent a letter on Monday to the Angelicum’s Rector, Fr. Michał Paluch, O.P., who hails from Poland.

The Pope said John Paul II is both “the inspiration behind this project and its first and most important architect.” He added that the Polish Pope left the Church a “rich and multifaceted heritage” due to “the example of his open and contemplative spirit, his passion for God and man, for creation, history and art.”

Deep esteem for humanity
Pope Francis wrote that John Paul II always sought to interpret historical events and personal sufferings in the light of the Holy Spirit. This attitude, said the Pope, led him to reflect deeply on man and his culture roots “as an essential reference point for every proclamation of the Gospel.”

He recalled that John Paul II, in his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, wrote that the “missionary attitude always begins with a feeling of deep esteem for ‘what is in man’, for what man has himself worked out in the depths of his spirit concerning the most profound and important problems.”

“We need to keep this approach alive,” said Pope Francis, “if we wish to be an outward-looking Church, not satisfied with preserving and administering what already exists but seeking to be faithful to our mission.”

Interpreting today’s cultural challenges
The Pope expressed his appreciation that the JPII Institute of Culture is part of the Angelicum University. “The Angelicum,” he wrote, “houses an academic community comprising professors and students from throughout the world and is a fitting place for interpreting the important challenges of today’s cultures.”

He said the Dominican tradition – which guides the university – will certainly favor the project, “so that it will be characterized by the courage of the truth, freedom of spirit and intellectual honesty.”

In conclusion, Pope Francis expressed his best wishes for the St. John Paul II Institute of Culture, and imparted his Apostolic Blessing upon all those involved.


Pope Francis makes the feast of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska an optional memorial for the universal Church, to be celebrated on October 5.

By Vatican News

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued a decree on Monday, 18 May, inscribing the celebration of Saint Maria Faustina (Helena) Kowalska, virgin, in the General Roman Calendar.

The decree – issued on behalf of Pope Francis – came on the same day as the Church marks 100 years since the birth of Karol Wojtyla. The future Pope St. John Paul II canonized St. Faustina in the year 2000. Her optional memorial will be celebrated around the world on 5 October.

Below is the official English-language translation of the decree:

“His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation” (Lk 1: 50). What the Virgin Mary sang in the Magnificat, contemplating the salvific work of God in favour of every human generation, found an echo in the spiritual encounters of Saint Faustina Kowalska who, through a heavenly gift, saw in the Lord Jesus Christ the merciful face of the Father and became its herald.

Born in the village of Głogowiec, near Łódź, in Poland in 1905, and dying in Krakow in 1938, Saint Faustina spent her short life amongst the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, generously conforming herself to the vocation she received from God and developing an intense spiritual life, rich in spiritual gifts and in faithful harmony with them. In the Diary of her soul, the sanctuary of her encounter with the Lord Jesus, she herself recounts what the Lord worked in her for the benefit of all: listening to Him who is Love and Mercy she understood that no human wretchedness could measure itself against the mercy which ceaselessly pours from the heart of Christ. Thus she became the inspiration for a movement dedicated to proclaiming and imploring Divine Mercy throughout the whole world. Canonized in the year 2000 by Saint John Paul II, the name of Faustina quickly became known around the world, thereby promoting in all the parts of the People of God, Pastors and lay faithful alike, the invocation of Divine Mercy and its credible witness in the conduct of the lives of believers.

Therefore the Supreme Pontiff Francis, accepting the petitions and wishes of Pastors, religious women and men, as well as associations of the faithful and having considered the influence exercised by the spirituality of Saint Faustina in different parts of the world, has decreed that the name of Saint Maria Faustina (Helena) Kowalska, virgin, be inscribed in the General Roman Calendar and that her optional memorial be celebrated by all on 5 October.

This new memorial shall be inserted into all the Calendars and liturgical books for the celebration of the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, adopting the liturgical texts attached to this decree which must be translated, approved and, after confirmation by this Dicastery, published by the Episcopal Conferences.

Anything to the contrary notwithstanding

From the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 18 May 2020.

Robert Card. Sarah, Prefect

Archbishop Arthur Roche, Secretary


In an interview, Polish Cardinal and personal secretary to Pope Saint John Paul II, Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, speaks on the personality of the saint.

By Vatican News

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Karol Wojtyła, the future Pope Saint John Paul II. Pope Francis, on Monday morning, celebrated Mass at the altar where the saint is entombed in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Saint John Paul II was elected Pope by the second papal conclave of 1978 that was called after the death of Pope John Paul I who died after a brief pontificate. Saint John Paul II’s papacy lasted from 1978 to 2005.

In an interview with Vatican News, Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, personal secretary to Pope Saint John Paul II, and Archbishop Emeritus of Krakow, Poland, speaks about his experience of living and working with the saint.

A man of prayer
Cardinal Dziwisz recalled that he lived with the saint after he had been appointed a Cardinal by Paul VI in 1967 and continued after Wojtyla became Pope. “The secret of his person is the depth of his spiritual life,” Dziwisz said. “He always prayed, he learnt the value of prayer as a boy and this aspect deepened afterwards.”

A man of kindness and love
“We must not forget his extraordinary personality,” stressed Dziwisz. He notes that Saint John Paul II treated everyone with great respect and love even if they were poor, weak or sick.

The Cardinal gave the example of a child sick with AIDS that the saint met during his visit to San Francisco in the United States. He recalled that the saint “took the child’s hands, kissed them, blessed them and then gave the child back to his family.” This gesture, said Dziwisz, “was truly more important than a sermon, especially at that time.”

The Polish Cardinal also pointed out that Saint John Paul II created the atmosphere of a family with those he lived with in the pontifical apartments. He remarked that the great simplicity and goodness of the saint moved everyone to become more dedicated to their work.

“He left a great legacy that is important not only for yesterday and today, but for the future.”




I wish you the Lord’s choicest blessings on your 93rd birthday, knowing that millions around the world join me in prayerful best wishes and in gratitude for the years of your pontificate!

I cherish the times that I was privileged to meet you and to exchange a few words, though brief.

And we all cherish the many memories we have of you as cardinal and then, as of April 19, 2005, as Pope Benedict XVI. (photos Vatican media)

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A heartfelt hug accompanies these best wishes!