The menu in the next day or two will be a bit sparse as every waking hour is filled with events, meetings, interviews, symposiums, receptions, etc., leaving little or no time to write in between (and this includes evening events). I will then be taking a few days off but always check this column as well as my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/joan.lewis.10420) because I’ll update you – even if only briefly) on important news, especially on Friday when I’ll talk about my weekend guest on “Vatican Insider.”

Friday, March 13 is also the second anniversary of Pope Francis’ election to the papacy!  Doesn’t seem possible at times!

And some news about that day: The Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff today announced that the Holy Father will preside at the rite of reconciliation of penitents, with individual confession and absolution, on Friday, March 13 at 5 p.m in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Sunday afternoon, International Women’s Day, I spent well over five hours in the Vatican at an event, “Voices of Faith,” that brought together talented, inspiring Catholic women of faith from around the world to talk about their experiences in reaching out to the world’s poor and marginalized, to the un-schooled, to those living in countries where they are threatened by terror groups, to women especially who are victims of human trafficking in so many places in the world.

Some truly remarkable women spoke the first two-hour segment of the afternoon as they explained their experiences with trafficked women, with trying to save women and girls from ISIS, with offering education possibilites to thousands of refugees around the world. And many more compelling stories. There was one male voice in the choir, that of a Jesuit priest from Nigeria who, as he told the story of his efforts to rescue the girls kidnapped so many months ago by Boko Haram terrorists and his letter to the nation’s president, became very emotional, with a similar ripple effect in the audience.

The second part of the afternoon featured a period of about an hour where four women, including a theologian, former Swedish ambassador to the Holy See, a Vatican Radio staff member and a doctor, spoke of their experience in (or with) the Catholic Church (one is Lutheran and one guest was a convert) as well as their hopes and dreams for the role of women in the Church.

Voices of Faith was organized by Chantal Goetz, the executive director of the Goetz Foundation and also the founder of Voices of Faith. This unique event, now in its second edition, was held in the Casina Pio IV, a beautiful and historic building in the Vatican gardens that houses the Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Sciences.

I will bring you the individual stories (video and photos), one by one, in coming weeks but if you want a preview of the people whose lives, ministries and stories mesmerized so many of us, click here: http://www.voicesoffaith.org/

Time now for just a few highlights from Sunday and this morning: Pope Francis’ Angelus reflections on Sunday, March 8, International Women’s Day, the visit to the Vatican by the Belgian royal couple on Monday, Cardinal Tauran’s being sworn in as Camerlengo and the ransom demand asked of the Vatican!


In reflections after reciting the Angelus on Sunday, March 8, Pope Francis greeted “all the women throughout the world who are seeking, every day, to build a more human and welcoming society. And a fraternal thank you to those who in a thousands ways bear witness to the Gospel and work in the Church.”

March 8th is traditionally celebrated around the world as International Women’s Day.

He explained that this special day is “an opportunity to reaffirm the importance and the necessity of their presence in life. A world where women are marginalized is a barren world, because women not only bring life, but they also give us the ability to see beyond – they see beyond themselves – and they transmit to us the ability to understand the world through different eyes, to hear things with more creative, more patient, more tender hearts. A prayer and a special blessing for all women present here in the square and for all women! Greetings!”


This morning in the Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis welcomed to the Vatican King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium who, after a cordial meeting and exchange of gifts. subsequently met with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary for Relations with States.


“During the cordial discussions,” said a Vatican communique, “the good bilateral relations between Belgium and the Holy See were confirmed. Attention was then paid to matters of mutual interest, such as social cohesion, the education of the young, the phenomenon of migration and the importance of intercultural and interreligious dialogue. Mention was then made of various problems of an international nature, with special reference to the future prospects of the European continent.”

Queen Mathilde was sporting crutches during the visit, following a fall some weeks ago, and was assisted in walking or sitting in a chair. Nothing seemed to dampen the s of the Belgian royals, nor that of a smiling Pope Francis.


This morning in the Urban VIII Chapel of the Apostolic Palace, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, took the oath as Camerlengo or chamberlain of Holy Roman Church. He was appointed on December 20, 2014.

Holy See Press Office director, Fr. Federico Lombardi, explained that Pope Francis presided over the short liturgy for this occasion, reading the liturgical texts provided, though not making a speech. Cardinal Tauran read the text of the oath, and then briefly spoke some words of thanks. In the event of the “sede vacante,” the vacant see that occurs with the death or resignation of the Pope, the Camerlengo is one of only two officials who retain their positions in the Vatican administration. His role is to administer the temporal goods of the Church until the election of a new Pope. The Camerlengo also verifies the pontiff’s death and then destroying his ring.

Click here to see Cardinal Tauran’s bio from the Vatican website: http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/documentation/cardinali_biografie/cardinali_bio_tauran_jl.html


Here is the ransom story so far: (combined reports; the Guardian, AP) – The Vatican admitted Sunday that it had received a ransom demand in exchange for the return of two documents written by the great Renaissance artist Michelangelo that were stolen from its archives almost 20 years ago.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi said the Vatican had recently been offered the return of the documents in exchange for a payment, but that officials have refused. Instead, Lombardi said the matter has been turned over to the Vatican gendarmerie for further investigation.

The ransom demand was first reported by the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero. The paper said that the demand had been made by a person it described as a “former Vatican employee” and added that the person had asked for 100,000 euros ($108,600).

According to Lombardi, the documents were stolen in 1997, when a nun who worked in the Vatican archives informed church officials that they had disappeared. It is not clear why the theft was never made public. The Guardian reported that the documents, one of which bears Michelangelo’s signature, were taken from the archive of the department responsible for the upkeep of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Michelangelo was appointed architect of St. Peter’s Basilica in 1546 at the age of 72. He died eighteen years later in 1564, and the cathedral was not consecrated for another 62 years.


I am taking a few days off during the Christmas season so this column will be sporadic – but always feel free to check in, as well as to visit my Facebook page (facebook.com/joan.lewis.10420) where I will be posting photos of Christmas in Roman, the nativity scenes around the city, etc. Tomorrow, this column will not appear but I will be working to prepare my weekend radio show, “Vatican Insider,” and will also be live at 9:39 (ET) with Teresa Tomeo on our weekly get-together on “Catholic Connection” (but coming to you a day earlier than our usual Wednesday appointment. I’ll also be off Christmas Eve and Christmas Day!

Although things have improved immmensely, I am still being treated for phlebitis and my doctor cautioned against air travel, especially a long trip to California. I missed Christmas with family last year as well because of eye surgery. However, when God gives you a lemon, you make limoncello! I am determined to make this a beautiful, memorable Christmas – my house is decorated and I have put up a wonderful tree, including ornaments from my grandmother, ones Mom and Dad bought over the years as we were growing up and many beautiful ones I have collected on travels or received as gifts. It took longer than usual to decorate the tree, simply because I was lost in the flood of memories of beautiful Christmases past as I unwrapped each ornament!

I am excited about hosting friends for turkey dinner on Christmas Day, and have put gifts under the tree for them. My biggest gifts are my friends, those who will be with me Christmas day and the many others I will see or host at my home over the Christmas seasons.

In lieu of sending Christmas cards to family and friends around the word, I am making some special purchases to bring to Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner who is in charge of the papal blessings office and the Pope’s point man for distributing papal charity. You may have seen the news that the Vatican is building three showers for the homeless in space that is adjacent to the public bathrooms, just off the right hand colonnade of St. Peter’s Square. Bit by bit, I am buying quantities of underwear and socks to bring to the archbishop as these items, along with towels, will be needed when a homeless person showers. This is, in a way, a Christmas gift to Pope Francis whose idea this was!

I will miss everyone in my family, of course, especially the little ones, two of whom I have not met: Charlotte, 14 months old and Harry, 2 months old! He is Number 20 of my great nieces and nephews!

Here they are, in all their splendor. I have several photos of Harry but seem unable to process them for this column.

My niece, Susan Tompkins Smith has three children – Austin, Jr (AJ), Nathan and Charlotte.SMITH CHILDREN


Charlotte was a San Diego Charger fan even when very little:SMITH FAMILY - young Charger fan

Harry is the first child for my youngest niece, Julie Lewis Stauter and Jeff. I have a feeling he will be a Chicago Bears fan! He has the Lewis trademark red hair and blue eyes!HARRY STAUTER

For important Vatican and papal news, you can always access news.va for updates. The Roman Curia holdays are December 24 through the 27, then December 31 and January 1. Many officials and staff members take advantage of those six days, and add a few to create a 10-day or two week vacation period but, as you will see, many of my colleagues in the Vatican media will be working to keep you posted on all events.

Today, I offer you a nutshell version of Pope Francis’ talk to officials of the Roman Curia, a link to his entire, surprising speech, and also a link to his words to employees of Vatican City and the Roman Curia and their family members.

I’ve been so involved in work and in plans for my own holidays that I did not realize that I could have (should have) attended this audience as “retired” Vatican employees were more than welcome! I discovered when I went to Vatican City this morning that the post offices, grocery store, and health services were all closed (the bank was open) so that employees could participate. The errands I intended to run this morning are now on my agenda for tomorrow morning.

Do you want to make God laugh? Tell Him your plans for the day!

I have some gifts for you, as you will see: The first is the must-read “ONE SOLITARY LIFE,” and I follow that with several stories that truly reflect the spirit and beauty of the Christmas Season – all this after the Vatican stories!

P.S: Only 5,000 more hits and my video of the dancing seminarians will hit 2 million views!

Before I close this special Christmas column, I’d like to wish all my readers and radio listeners and TV viewers a blessed, beautiful and holy Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year filled with many special moments and people. God sit on your shoulder!


Not many smiling faces this morning after the first few minutes of Pope Francis’ Christmas greetings to the top officials of the Roman Curia, those who head the congregations, councils, commissions, tribunals, etc, Below is a nutshell account of the papal talk by Vatican radio, a talk that several media defined as “a blistering critique” of the Curia. After his meeting with Curia officials, the Holy Father greeted employees of Vatican City and the Roman Curia.

For more on those talks, please click here:



Pope Francis received the heads and other senior officials of the departments of the Roman Curia on Monday, in their traditional exchange of Christmas greetings. In remarks prepared for the occasion and delivered Monday morning, the Holy Father focused on the need for those who serve in the curia – especially those in positions of power and authority – to remember and cultivate an attitude and a spirit of service.

“Sometimes,” said Pope Francis, “[Officials of the Curia] feel themselves ‘lords of the manor’ [It. padroni] – superior  to everyone and everything,” forgetting that the spirit, which should animate them in their lives of service to the universal Church, is one of humility and generosity, especially in view of the fact that none of us will live forever on this earth.

This “disease” of  feeling “immortal” or “essential” – irreplaceable – was one of fifteen maladies, which Pope Francis identified during the course of his address: from a tendency to prefer Martha’s portion over Mary’s, to over-planning (and micromanaging), to wearing being a perpetual downer and wearing a “funeral face” all the day long.

“These and other maladies and temptations,” said Pope Francis, “are a danger for every Christian and for any administrative organization, community, congregation, parish, ecclesial movement, etc., and can strike at both the individual and the corporate level.”

“It is the Holy Spirit,” continued the Holy Father, “who sustains every sincere effort at purification and every authentic desire for conversion. He is the one, who makes us understand that every member participates in the sanctification of the [mystical] body [of Christ, which is the Church], and to its corruption.”

“Therefore,” said Pope Francis, “we are called in this Christmas season and for the whole period of our service – for so long as we exist – to live, ‘[according to] truth in charity, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and up-builds itself in love’(Eph. 4:15-16).”


Pope Francis on Saturday, December 20, named Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran as Camerlengo of Holy Roman Church, replacing Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who turned 80 on December 2 and therefore cannot participate in a conclave. The much-admired and highly respected French cardinal was for years under John Paul II the extraordinarily able Secretary for Relations with States.

As Camerlengo (chamberlain) he is the administrator of the property and revenues of the Holy See during the Sede Vacante (vacant see – from which we get our word ‘vacancy’) or during the absence of the Pope, doing so without taking extraordinary initiatives. Upon the death of a Pope, the camerlengo’s task is to certify the death and inform the cardinal vicar of Rome, who is entrusted with the task of revealing the news to the people. The camerlengo takes possession of the Ring of the Fisherman and destroys it and all other papal seals. He seals off the papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, in the Lateran Palace and in Castelgandolfo.

This marks the beginning of the sede vacante, a period when the camerlengo prepares the papal funeral and subsequent nine days of mourning, the ”novendialis.” The camerlengo also starts to prepare the pre-conclave General Congregations, which are chaired by the cardinal-deacon of the College of Cradinals. Today, that is Cardinal Angelo Sodano, 87. During the sede vacante, the camerlengo’s coat of arms, composed of 30 red ribbons like all cardinals, is also topped with the banner of the Pope and two crossed keys that are surmounted by the papal tiara.

During the sede vacante, the camerlengo can also mint new coins that, even if they have legal tender, will never be put in circulation as they are exclusively intended for collectors. The coins portray his coat of arms, with the words “Sede Vacante” and the year of issue.

Cardinal Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, has been a close collaborator of Pope Francis in his reform of the Roman Curia and IOR, the Vatican bank. (some background from AGI)


This powerful Christmas column by late columnist Jimmy Bishop will surely leave you speechless for its beauty, simplicity and yet depth of understanding. Here is the Christ of Christmas! Andy Williams recited this in one of his Christmas albums (which is where I first heard it) and you can listen to it online.

“He was born in an obscure village, the Child of a peasant teen who knew not man. He grew up in another obscure village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never married or owned a home. He never held a job, yet paid taxes. He never set foot inside a metropolis. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never wrote a book, or held an office. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. He received no awards, no medals, no prizes from His peers.

“While He was still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him. His friends deserted Him. He was turned over to His enemies, and went through the mockery of a trial. He had no lawyers, no friendly juries, no fair hearing. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While He was dying, His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had – His cloak. After He died, He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave. Those who stood watch could not explain His disappearance.

“And yet two thousand years have come and gone, and today He is still the central figure for much of the human race. All the armies that ever marched and al the navies that ever sailed and all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as this ‘One Solitary Life’.”


Here are three smaller gifts for you, three heartwarming stories that reflect the beauty and spirit of Christmas. The video, “Mary, Did You know?” is a must see, truly. It has had 14 million views and you find that you drop whatever you are doing just to listen!

POPE DONATES SLEEPING BAGS TO HOMELESS: Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, supervised the distribution of hundreds of sleeping bags to the homeless of Rome, as a gift from Pope Francis, on December 18. Swiss Guards drove a minibus around the city on Wednesday evening, stopping at sites where homeless people are known the gather, handing out the sleeping bags—which were decorated with the papal insignia. Nearly 400 were distributed.

STUDENT RAISES THOUSANDS FOR HOMELESS MAN WHO OFFERED HER TAXI MONEY (The Guardian – Abby Young-Powell): An art student living in Preston has raised over £21,000 for a homeless man after she says he offered her his last £3 so that she could get a taxi home safely.

Dominique Harrison-Bentzen, who studies at the University of Central Lancashire, says she had lost her bank card and needed to get home after a night out when the homeless man, known only as Robbie, offered money to help. The 22-year-old says she declined the offer, but was so moved by his gesture that she started a campaign to raise enough money to help him get a flat. She set up a donation page and asked people to each donate £3 for her fundraiser, which involved spending the night on the street, along with supporters who had heard about her story through social media.

Harrison-Bentzen says: “I suddenly realised that I had no money and a homeless man approached me with his only change of £3. He insisted I took it to pay for a taxi to make sure I got home safe. I was touched by such a kind gesture from a man who faces ignorance every day, so I set on a mission to find this man. The more I spoke about him the more kind gestures I learned about him, such as him returning wallets untouched to pedestrians and offering his scarf to keep people warm.

“He has been homeless for 7 months through no fault of his own and needs to get back on his feet but cannot get work due to having no address. So that’s when I decided to change Robbie’s life and help him, as he has helped many others.” The campaign has received global attention, going viral on social media. Since the donation page was set up, it has frequently reported technical difficulties due to “an unusually high number of visitors”. Many have tweeted their support, including Ian Brown of the Stone Roses.

A CAPPELLA GROUP OFFERS INCREDIBLE CHRISTMAS TRIBUTE TO MARY: The a cappella group Pentatonix has released an incredible rendition of the hymn “Mary, Did You Know?“, set in a candlelit cave with no instruments but their voices. It currently has over 14 million views on YouTube. What a beautiful Christmas tribute to Mary! With only five members, the group Pentatonix is one of the most popular musical acts of this Christmas season. Pentatonix was formed in 2011 when they competed and became the victors of the TV show “The Sing-Off,” before rising to global fame.




My guests this week on “Vatican Insider” are Jeff and Alice Heinzen of the diocese of La Crosse in Wisconsin who recently spent a hectic, work-filled two weeks in Rome as participants in the October synod on the family. Their talk introduced the afternoon session on Tuesday, October 7 during the first week of the synod. That session was dedicated to discussions on pastoral programs designed to meet the challenges facing families.

Alice is director of the diocesan Office for Marriage and Family Life and Jeff is president of McDonell Catholic Schools in Chippewa Falls. Listen to their fascinating take on the synod – their work, what they saw and heard.

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In the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at www.ewtn.com) or on Sirius-XM satellite radio. If you live 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.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:30 am (Eastern time) and re-airs Sundays at 4:30 pm (ET). Check for your time zone. Past shows are found in Vatican Insider archives:




It then asks: “What do the president of Russia, the richest man in China and the first woman ever to head a Big 8 automaker have in common? They’re all featured on Forbes’ 2014 ranking of the World’s Most Powerful People – an annual snapshot of the heads of state, CEOs, financiers, philanthropists and entrepreneurs who truly run the world.

“The list represents the collective wisdom of FORBES editors and advisors, who consider hundreds of nominees before ranking the planet’s 72 power brokers — one for every 100 million on Earth. We measure their power along four dimensions.

“First, we ask whether the candidate has power over lots of people. Pope Francis is the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, or about 1/6th of the world’s population. As another example, Doug McMillon, new CEO of Wal-Mart, employs 2.2 million people and is the top private employer on the planet.

To read the rest of the article, click here:



Pope Francis this morning addressed the bishops, friends of the Focolare Movement from different countries around the world as they meet for their annual autumn event. Joining them were representatives from different churches and ecclesial communities. This year’s conference theme was “The Eucharist, mystery of communion.”

The Holy Father emphasized that today’s troubled world needs a “clear testimony of unity between Christians and an explicit declaration of esteem, respect and, more precisely, fraternity between us.” He added, “indeed, if we intend to endeavor as Christians, to respond incisively to the many problems and crises of our time, it is necessary to speak and act as brothers, so that everyone can easily recognize us as such. This too,” said Francis, “is a way – perhaps for us the first – of responding to the globalization of indifference with a globalization of solidarity and fraternity.”

In particular, the Holy Father underscored issues that call for a re-awakening of consciences, namely “the lack of freedom to publicly express one’s religion and to live openly in accordance with Christian ethics; the persecution of Christians and other minorities; the sad phenomenon of terrorism; the refugee crisis caused by wars and other reasons; the challenge of fundamentalism and, at the other extreme, exasperated secularism.”

The Pope said these issues challenge us to “seek with renewed effort, with constancy and patience, the ways that lead to unity, so that the world might believe, and so that we first may be filled with confidence and courage. Among these paths there is a special route, and it is the Eucharist as the mystery of communion. … There, in the Eucharist, we are clearly aware that unity is a gift, and at the same time it is a very serious responsibility.”


Pope Francis this morning addressed participants in the national assembly of the Italian Confederation of Major Superiors (CISM) and shared with them some points of reference for their path.

He pointed out that religious life helps the Church to achieve the “attraction” that enables her to grow. This is seen, he said, when the lay faithful witness a person who truly lives a religious life, and ask: “What is there here?” “What is it that leads this person beyond a worldly horizon?” The religious brother or sister thus “attracts.”

He urged religious to give prophetic witness of an evangelical life, saying “a prophetic witness coincides with sanctity. It is holiness that makes the Church grow. True prophecy is never ideological, it does not oppose the institution: it is institutional. …It does not follow fashion, but is always a sign of contradiction according to the Gospel, like Jesus was.”

“Please,” exhorted the Pope, “may there not be among you the terrorism of gossip, of small talk. Get rid of it! May there be fraternity! If you have something against your brother, tell him to his face. You might even end up in fisticuffs but that’s not a problem. That is better than the ‘terrorism’ of gossip.”

He said that charisms must be lived and made fruitful: “Charisms must not to be conserved like a bottle of distilled water, but must instead be made to bear fruit, with courage, placed at the service of current reality, of cultures, of history, as the great missionaries of our institutes teach us.”

”Fraternity,” said Francis, “is a sign that religious life must offer in our time, a time in which the dominant culture is individualistic and focused on subjective rights. Consecrated life can help the Church and society as a whole, offering witness of fraternity, that it is possible to live together as brothers in diversity, because in the community one does not put oneself first, but rather one finds oneself with people who are different in terms of character, age, formation, sensibility … and yet we seek to live as brothers. Of course we do not always succeed, but one recognizes one’s mistakes, asks for forgiveness and forgives others. This is good for the Church, …and for all of society.”


(Vatican Radio) – Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue has denounced the assassination of a young couple in Pakistan, who had been accused of blasphemy. In an interview with Vatican Radio, the cardinal added that he was “shocked” by the “barbarous acts.”

According to the couple’s Christian lawyer, the young Shahzad and Shama Masih were beaten by an angry Muslim mob on Tuesday and then burned alive. Police instead report the young couple was beaten to death and then their bodies burned.

“Obviously, one remains speechless before such barbarous acts,” said Cardinal Tauran. “And what is worse is that religion is invoked in a specific way. A religion cannot justify such acts, such crimes. There is this law on blasphemy, the ‘blasphemy law’, which poses a problem.”

The cardinal noted that there have been about 60 executions under the blasphemy law since it was adopted. He called for some international intervention in the matter, saying that a minimum of humanity and solidarity is required and that dialogue is necessary.

Since direct intervention in Pakistan’s domestic affairs is not appropriate, said the cardinal, legislators must be helped to understand that laws must respect the dignity of the person.

Cardinal Tauran said the Church must denounce such violent acts publicly, with consistency and force. He said he hopes Muslim leaders will do the same, especially because Muslims are victimized by these acts of violence as well, as they give a very negative image of Islam.

“Therefore, it is in their interest to denounce such acts in a vigorous manner,” he said.

The cardinal said solidarity is the way to continue giving hope to Christians facing daily threats and violence. He also underlined some encouraging and well-received initiatives by the Church in the Middle East.

“We need to bet on fraternity,” he said, “which is the theme of the World Day of Peace.”