Several years ago I signed up for daily emails from Atlas Obscura and they are almost always the most interesting of all the emails I receive. I love learning about new things and places and people and tidbits of history. I love reading about places I’ve never visited, where to find the incorrupt bodies of saints in Rome, the history of food (sometime with recipes 2,000 years old!), facts about the world below the sea, the world above us and all places in between. The new and unusual – trivia but not trivial! As Atlas Obscura describes itself: hidden places, incredible history, scientific marvels, and gastronomical wonders on a globe-trotting journey.

Tomorrow is the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles, patron saints of the Eternal City, a big holiday in Rome and the Vatican. Whether Atlas Obscura planned this or not, here’s a story about a chapel dedicated to St. Peter from today’s email:

BUILT IN 1901, ST. PETER’S Chapel is the oldest Naval chapel in the United States. It is home to one of the largest collections of Tiffany stained glass windows under one roof and is filled with historic naval memorials.

St. Peter’s Chapel – Vallejo, California – Atlas Obscura


POPE FRANCIS HAS ASKED PEOPLE TO PRAY AFTER 46 MIGRANTS WERE FOUND DEAD IN A TEXAS TRAILER TRUCK ON MONDAY. “I sorrowfully heard the news of the tragedy of the #migrants in Texas and #Melilla,” the pope said in a social media post on June 28. “Let us #PrayTogether for these brothers and sisters who died following their hope of a better life; and for ourselves, may the Lord might open our hearts so these misfortunes never happen again.” The migrants were found dead in an abandoned tractor-trailer in San Antonio, Texas on the evening of June 27. Sixteen other people were hospitalized, including four children, according to the Associated Press. Pope Francis asks for prayers after 46 migrants found dead in Texas trailer truck | Catholic News Agency

THE VATICAN HAS RELEASED A VIDEO OF POPE FRANCIS TELLING A GROUP OF BISHOPS FROM BRAZIL THIS WEEK THAT HIS MOBILITY HAS IMPROVED. “I have been able to walk for three days,” the pope said with a wave on June 27 as he walked with the help of a cane across the library of the Apostolic Palace. Pope Francis’ wheelchair could be seen in the back of the room as he greeted the Brazilian bishops. The pope has used a wheelchair for many of his public audiences for nearly two months. The 85-year-old pope’s comment comes after he used a cane to walk a short distance during the closing Mass of the World Meeting of Families on June 25 and across the stage of Paul VI Hall in an audience with Neocatechumenal Way members on June 27. Pope Francis: ‘I have been able to walk for three days’ | Catholic News Agency



Hope Association, an Italian-based non-profit organization has mobilized the procurement and delivery of the devices, says the Office of Papal Charities.

By Vatican News

Pope Francis continues to make his heartfelt appeal for generosity and solidarity for communities and countries hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic by personally leading the way through concrete acts of closeness and affection.

He carries this out through the Office of Papal Charities, a department of the Holy See headed by the Apostolic Almoner, or papal almsgiver, Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski.

The cardinal said in a statement released Monday by the Holy See Press Office ithat, n the latest move, the Pope’s charity is being directed to Brazil.  Eight Draeger intensive care ventilators and 6 portable Fuji ultrasound scanners are being shipped to needy hospitals in Brazil.

Cardinal Krajewski said this has been made possible through the generous commitment of Hope Association, an Italy-based non-profit group that helps needy children and communities.  Highly specialized in humanitarian projects on health and education, he said the Hope Association finds ways to obtain high-tech life-saving medical equipment through donors, and arranges for their shipping and installation in hospitals.

These medical devices will be delivered to hospitals in Brazil chosen by the Apostolic Nunciature, so that “this gesture of Christian solidarity and charity can really help the poorest and neediest people,”

On several occasions, the Office of Papal Charities has mobilized medical material and equipment to be donated to many health facilities in situations of emergency and poverty around the world so that many human lives are treated and saved.

After the United States, Brazil has the world’s worst coronavirus scenario, reporting more than 3.3 million cases and close to 108,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.


( We’re back from our Ferragosto break, so here’s a quick look at the latest news here in Italy today:

The government held out until after the traditional August holiday weekend, but on Sunday night ordered nightclubs to shut down again and said masks must be worn at night in public amid a sharp rise in new coronavirus cases – many of which are being blamed on partying holidaymakers. (Masks must be worn from 6 pm to 6 am in public areas where people may congregate such as popular piazzas or squares)

Government health advisors also warned that further business closures could follow if people don’t stick to the rules – and insisted that Italy’s schools must reopen as planned in September “at any cost.”

On Sunday evening, the first cruise ship set sail from Italy since before lockdown as the MSC Grandiosa departed from the port of Genoa. Meanwhile, anti-cruise campaigners in Venice celebrated a temporary reprieve from liners in the lagoon.

And sadly, forestry police in northern Italy are investigating the “inexplicable” and “catastrophic” deaths of some four million bees overnight in the Lombardy region.



Not much news here at the Vatican today as Pope Francis is at about the mid-point of his July working vacation, a period of time when general audiences, most private audiences and most all public events are taken off his agenda, with the exception of the Sunday Angelus. How does he spend his time? Well, it’s a safe bet to say he reads reports and news from and about the Church around the world, from officials at offices of the Roman Curia and personal correspondence from friends and colleagues.

The Holy Father and his cardinal advisors and others have been working for years on reform of the offices of Vatican City and, principally, those of the Roman Curia, and we seem to be close to seeing the result of that work – the publication of the Apostolic Constitution that will replace Pope Saint John Paul’s 1988 constitution, “Pastor Bonus” that instituted reforms in the central government of the Catholic Church.

What Pastor Bonus did essentially was to lay out in great detail the organization of the Roman Curia, specifying the names, duties, norms and jurisdiction of each particular office, who oversees what and so on.

And that is what most people expect from Pope Francis, although some early signs point to epochal changes in the administrative structure of the Roman Curia.

Drafts of the constitution have been sent to the world’s bishops, to heads of Roman Curia offices and to heads of religious orders and congregations around the world, among others. Once finalized and signed by the Pope (seems that has been done), the constitution must then be translated into the Church’s major languages.

Will there be a summer surprise?


By Vatican News

Pope Francis donated a ventilator to the Campanha de Maraba Hospital in Brazil as the number of infections and deaths due to the Covid-19 virus continues to increase in the South American country.

Expressing his gratitude in a video, Bishop Vital Corbellini of Marabá said that, “it was a beautiful charitable action of Pope Francis through the Apostolic Nunciature” which will be used to “save as many lives as possible.”

“We ask that it be used especially for the Indigenous Peoples, because they are the most in need,” Bishop Corbellini told Vatican News.

The Pope’s gift
The respirator, one of four sent by the Holy Father to Brazil, along with a temperature monitor, arrived in Marabá on Sunday. Bishop Corbellini, in turn, presented them to the health facility’s coordinator during a small ceremony on Monday, July 13.

The hospital, situated in Pará, has ten beds reserved for indigenous patients who have contracted Covid-19, two of which are currently occupied.

Pope Francis’ closeness
“The Pope cares about Indigenous Peoples whose rights are often violated,” said the Bishop, adding that the government does not pay much attention to them.

“Their lands, forests and rivers are occupied, so it is necessary to look after them with affection and help them live well,” he stated. “Now we have this device that can help save lives. That is why we are delivering it here – to this very important hospital of Marabá,” Bishop Corbellini added.

According to the Department of Health of the State of Amapá, 91 percent of the beds in intensive care are occupied.




Pope Francis expressed his nearness to the people of Brazil in a telephone call to the Archbishop of Aparecida on Wednesday.

By Devin Watkins (

As the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic shifts to Latin America, Pope Francis made a personal phone call as a sign of his pastoral care for all Brazilians.

The Pope telephoned Archbishop Orlando Brandes of Aparecida on Wednesday. According to the archbishop, the Pope asked him to assure everyone of his prayers.

“I am always near to you, as my heart reaches out to all Brazilians,” the Pope said.

Pope Francis also extended his affection and prayers to the nation as a whole, and not merely to Christians, said Archbishop Brandes.

The Pope’s call came at a difficult time for Brazil. As of Thursday, over 772,000 cases of Covid-19 had been confirmed in the Latin American nation. Nearly 40,000 people have died with the novel coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Those numbers put Brazil in second place regarding confirmed cases, after the United States

At this difficult time, Pope Francis invited Brazilians to place themselves in the lap of Our Lady of Aparecida, the Patroness of Brazil.

Her image was enthroned in the Vatican Gardens in September 2016.

According to Archbishop Brandes, the Pope said, “I recall that I took the image of Our Lady of Aparecida in my lap – the Madonnina, which means ‘little mother’. I urge you all to rest in her arms.”

Pope Francis then blessed the people of Brazil, and concluded the phone call with a word of encouragement.

“Have courage and hope,” he said. “We are people of faith.”

This is the third call the Pope has made to Brazil since the pandemic began. He spoke first with Archbishop Leonard Steiner of Manaus on 25 April, and with Cardinal Odilo Scherer, the Archbishop of São Paulo, on 9 May.

Pope Francis made his first Apostolic Journey to Brazil for the 2013 World Youth Day. During that trip, he paid a special visit to the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida. There he entrusted his pontificate to her maternal care.


(ANSA) – Rome, June 11 – The turnover of Italy’s bar and restaurants is still over 50% down three weeks after emerging from lockdown, catering category association FIPE said Thursday. Staff has returned to pre-crisis levels in only a third of establishments, it said.

(ANSA) – Venice, June 11 – St Mark’s Basilica in Venice on Thursday reopened to visitors.   Only 150 people will be allowed into the iconic building every hour, authorities said. Authorities called for action to protect St Mark’s from acqua alta high tides after it suffered damage earlier this year.

View of the Basilica of Saint Marco on sunset during the lockdown emergency period aimed at stopping the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus. Although the lockdown and full absence of people, the scenery of the Italian squares and monuments remain fascinating, Venice, Italy, 28 April 2020. (ANSA foto Fabio Muzzi)

(ANSA) – Rome, June 11 – Obesity rose sharply during Italy’s recent coronavirus lockdown, according to a new Italian report. It said cardiologists and other medical professions “should get ready” for a “significant” rise in obesity levels.They should encourage people who are overweight and obese to return to a healthy diet and get regular exercise to shed the pounds gained during the lockdown, said the report, The Pandemic Effect, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition by researchers from the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia. It said anxiety and stress, as well as fear of getting enough food, led people to eat poorly and lead sedentary lives during the almost three-month confinement.

( – Italy lifts its lockdown and presto! The forlorn sunbeds of a hotel on the Venetian coast fill up once more with German and Austrian tourists. Much of Italy is still waiting for visitors to return after the government imposed an economically crippling shutdown to halt the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed over 34,000 people, mostly in the country’s north. But at the Cavalieri Palace in the resort town of Jesolo on Venice’s Adriatic coast, families play frisbee on the sand, sunbathe on deck chairs or order lunch at the hotel’s poolside bar. The four-star hotel is among the first to open its doors to international tourists.”As soon as the borders opened on June 3rd, we had the pleasant surprise of finding four to five German families and an Austrian one having breakfast in our restaurant,” the hotel’s owner Antonio Vigolo said with a smile. (

( – June in Rome normally sees the capital’s many outdoor festivals kick off for the summer. Sadly this is not the case in 2020, due to covid-19, however June does mark the reopening of the city’s museums and several major exhibitions. We list here some of the best things to do and places to go in June as the Eternal City begins its road to recovery, with a tip for each day of the month. (

( – Greece and Austria prepare to lift restrictions for Italian tourists. Austria will reopen its border with Italy from 16 June as the country relaxes its coronavirus restrictions, reports Italian news agency ANSA. The news was announced by Austrian foreign minister Alexander Schallenberg who said that a travel warning would remain in place for Lombardy, the north Italian region hardest-hit by the covid-19 crisis. Schallenberg also invited Austrians to “not forget common sense when packing” for their summer holidays abroad. Separately, Greece is to gradually lift all restrictions on Italian tourists entering the country by the end of this month, reports ANSA. (


Today was a typically busy work day, including researching and writing some scripts for “At Home with Jim and Joy” and working on my weekend Vatican Radio show, “Joan Knows” which I’ll tape tomorrow at the radio instead of Friday as I usually do because that day, January 6, is the feast of the Epiphany and a big holiday, both solemn and yet festive, in Italy and the Vatican. Many VR employees will have the day off.

There was one unexpected addition to my agenda – time spent in attempts (so far fruitless) to contact the Vatican (which owns the building in which I live and to whom I pay my rent)) and its technical services offices to see about the damage done to my bathroom ceiling when the bathroom of the couple living above me flooded due to a broken pipe. This happened while I was away and I noticed it yesterday morning when I looked up at the water heater to see if the water had heated (I always turn it off when I am away) properly.

Our doorman gave me some numbers yesterday but there was no answer when I called. I tried again today to call these offices, but again, no answer. I even called the Vatican switchboard to ask the nuns to put me through to the person whose name had been given to me.

As the Italians say at such moments, “pazienza!” I’ll try again tomorrow, of course.

I am also fighting a cold that struck me like lightning in the middle of the afternoon yesterday. Have been at home all day, trying to improve for tomorrow’s radio and TV segments. Working at home has definite advantages!



(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday continued his series of reflections on Christian hope, speaking of the inconsolable pain of a parent losing a child. He focused his words on the Old Testament figure of Rachel, wife of Jacob, who is described by the prophet Jeremiah as weeping bitter tears for her children in exile.

In the book of Genesis, we learn that Rachel died in childbirth, giving life to her second son, Benjamin. But the prophet Jeremiah talks about her inconsolable grief at the loss of her children who’ve been sent into exile.

There are no words or gestures, the Pope said, that can console a mother faced with the tragedy of losing a child.  (photo


There are many mothers today, he went on, who are crying and inconsolable, unable to accept the senseless death of a child. Rachel’s pain, he said, encapsulates the suffering of all mothers and the tears of all people who weep for an irreparable loss.

This story, the Pope said, teaches us how delicate and difficult it is to console another person’s grief. Before speaking of hope, he said, we must share in their tears and if we can’t find words to do that, then it’s better to keep silent, offering only a gesture or a caress instead.

And yet God responds to Rachel’s tears, the Pope said, promising that her children will return to their homeland. The bitter tears of the woman who dies in childbirth become the seeds of new life and generate new hope.

In a similar way, he said, the death of Christ on the Cross offers life and hope to the innocent children of Bethlehem who are murdered by King Herod in the days following Jesus’ birth.

Pope Francis spoke of his own reaction to people who ask difficult questions about why children suffer. “I don’t know what to reply”, he said, “I simply say, ‘Look at the Cross: God gave us his Son, he suffered and perhaps you will find a reply there”.

The Son of God entered into our human suffering, the Pope concluded, sharing our pain and welcoming death. From the Cross, he gave new life to Mary, making her the mother of all believers. Through Mary’s and Rachel’s tears, he fulfills the words of the prophet and generates new hope.

At the end of the audience, Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday expressed his “sorrow and concern” upon hearing news of the prison riots that took place Monday in Brazil. More than 50 people were killed, making the riots the deadliest to hit Brazil in two decades.


During his General Audience on Wednesday, the Holy Father called for prayer “for those who have died, for their families, for all the inmates of that prison, and for those who work there.” The Pope also renewed his appeal “that prisons might be places of re-education and re-integration into society; and that the conditions of life of prisoners might be worthy of human persons.”

In improvised remarks following the appeal, Pope Francis led the crowd in a prayer for the prisoners involved in the riots, both living and dead, and for all prisoners throughout the world. He prayed to Mary, the Mother of prisoners, that prisons might not be overcrowded, but might be places of rehabilitation.

Brazil’s justice minister on Tuesday proposed an overhaul of the penal system to tackle chronic prison overcrowding  The minister, Alexandre de Moraes, said his country needed to improve conditions in jails, which are home to an estimated 600,000 inmates, after visiting the prison in the jungle city of Manaus.