Today is the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. In a short while, as I write, Pope Francis will be at the basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls for the traditional Second Vespers that mark the end of the annual week of Prayer for Christian Unity. EWTN will carry that event (5:30 pm Rome time).

As you will see in two stories below, we need prayers not only for Christian unity but also for Ukraine (Pope Francis has declared tomorrow, Wednesday, January 26, as a Day of Prayer for Ukraine) and for Tonga ravaged by an underwater volcano explosion and resulting tsunami that was tens of times stronger than the Atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, as scientists are now telling us.


Pope Francis has proposed Wednesday, January 26 as a day of prayer for peace for Ukraine, and has expressed his concern over the increasing tensions that threaten peace and security in Ukraine and the rest of Europe. In an interview with Vatican News, Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, the Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine, spoke of the crisis in the country, over which there is a spectre of conflict.

Svitlana Duckhovych – Vaticannews

These are the hours of diplomacy that seek to defuse conflict between Ukraine and Russia through negotiation. The West and Russia are trying to mediate a crisis that has now lasted for years for the Ukrainian population, from the “low-intensity” conflict, as analysts define it, to the current winds of war. (photo: talks between US and Russia)

The apostolic nuncio to the country, Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, speaking to Vatican News, says people are comforted by the closeness shown once again by Pope Francis last Sunday at the Angelus.

How has the Pope’s appeal been received in Ukraine?

Here in Ukraine, Pope Francis is one of the religious personalities most respected by the local population, so this appeal by the Pope after last Sunday’s Angelus prayer was immediately received as very important news, which lifts the heart, expresses closeness and solidarity, and during times of difficulty like these in Ukraine, knowing that you are not alone and forgotten is already a great help.

 How is the current situation being perceived among the population?

In this period of my mission as nuncio, there is the war that has been going on for eight years in the eastern regions of the country, and it has certainly created many problems. There are those who have lost their loved ones, and I have also personally met several people who have been hard hit – there are those who have lost their health, their homes, their jobs – but all this has made Ukrainians stronger in the face of difficulties.

The risk of a possible worsening of the conflict is experienced with more courage. There is concern, but at the same time, I have noticed a lot of love for the homeland and also a great decision to do one’s part if there are difficulties. As many people know, there are native Ukrainians here, and there are regions with a predominance of Russians, or others where there is a significant presence of Polish, but this month I have been able to appreciate the love on everyone’s part. I am not saying that there are no difficulties, but in general the conflict seems to have increased cohesion throughout the country.

How is the local Church experiencing this situation?

I am answering mainly with reference to the Catholics in Ukraine, but there are also the Orthodox Churches and other Churches. As we know, in the Greek Catholic Churches and also in the Latin Rite Catholic Churches since 2014, the year the conflict began, during all the Eucharistic celebrations and also in other moments of prayer, there is always a moment of prayer for peace. In these last few weeks, the prayer for peace is even more present, stronger, and it will be especially so on Wednesday, January 26, at the invitation of Pope Francis and in union with him and all men of goodwill.

What is the importance of prayer for the Ukrainian people at this time?

I have asked myself this question many times and my conclusion is that we must consider above all our vocation as believers in Christ and our vocation as human beings. As we have seen, even Pope Francis in last Sunday’s appeal stressed that we are not worthy to call ourselves men and women if we do not consider others as our brothers and sisters.

The prophet Isaiah said: God will not hear your prayer unless you are converted, unless you live justice, unless you live mercy. Therefore, this prayer that we live, we live it for peace; but the meaning of this prayer is above all that we convert ourselves, to live fidelity to God and to live brotherhood and mercy towards all, with humility, with courage, with creativity, to say to the Lord: I now entrust everything into your hands.


Monday evening, January 24, Cardinal Michael Czerny S.J., ad interim prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, presided over a special prayer service for the people of Tonga, devasted by the destructive volcano eruption and tsunami of January 15. Although only three people died, the natural disaster has caused massive and longterm damage in the island nation that now depends on international aid for reconstruction. The prayer service was held in the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. At the end of the prayer service, the cardinal addressed those present.

He noted the relief work led by Caritas with the help of the New Zealand navy, and called for prayers asking God to relieve the brothers and sisters in Tonga from “discouragement and despair” and “to make the violence of nature cease” so that Tongans may rebuild what has been destroyed. He invited people to implore God “to touch the hearts of men and women, so that they devote the resources of science to relieving peoples from natural disasters, climate change, disease, poverty, and exclusion.” Cardinal Czerny calls for prayers and solidarity for Tonga – Vatican News



Pope Francis on Wednesday met with Estela de Carlotto, founder and president of the “Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo,” an Argentinian grandmothers’ association set up to track down “los desaparecidos” – the disappeared – the grandchildren abducted from families as well as from female prisoners who gave birth in secret detention centers during the military dictatorship of 1976-1984. She brought several family members, including her grandson Ignacio Guido, the son of her daughter Laura, who was abducted while pregnant, tortured and killed by the military 36 years ago. Ignacio had been missing since then but was found in August this year thanks to a DNA bank set up by families and survivors of the dictatorship. The Argentinian Pope received gifts from the family including a CD of music composed by Ignacio, a musician, and a scarf worn by members of the “Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo.” (Photos from L’Osservatore Romano)

Argentina Grandmothers 1 Argentina - Grandmothers 2


In other news from Wednesday, Vatican Radio reported that Msgr. Massimo Palombella, director of the Sistine Chapel, presented Pope Francis with a CD: “Habemus Papam. La musica del Conclave (We Have a Pope. Music from the Conclave).” The CD contains the music used during the liturgical ceremonies surrounding the election of Pope Francis: The “Missa pro eligendo Pontifice,” (Mass for the Election of a Pope), the “Veni Creator” used during the entrance into the Sistine Chapel, the music of the Mass celebrated with the College of Cardinals the day after his election, the music of the inaugural Mass of Pope Francis and, for the first time, 11 minutes containing the announcement “Habemus Papam” and the first words of Pope Francis on the evening of March 13, 2013. (L’Osservatore Romano)

Conclave CD

In an interview with “Avvenire,” the newspaper of the Italian Episcopal Conference, Msgr. Palombella said he wanted to offer the real experience of the events. “There is a cough, or a plane flying over St. Peter’s Square…it makes it seem as if you are there live,” he said.

The CD uses audio tracks provided by Vatican Radio and CTV. It is the first of a planned series produced with Deutsche Grammophon. Future CDs will include the canonization of Popes St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II, as well as a CD of the repertoire of the Sistine Chapel Choir produced in a studio setting.


Thursday morning, Pope Francis welcomed a delegation from the World Evangelical Aliance and said he was confident the Holy Spirit “can inaugurate a new stage in the relations between Catholics and Evangelicals—a stage that allows us to realize more fully the will of the Lord to bring the Gospel even to the furthest ends of the earth.” He said he was “pleased to learn that, in different countries in the world, Catholics and Evangelicals have established relations of brotherhood and collaboration.”

The Pope noted that, “The Sacrament of Baptism reminds us of a fundamental and very consoling truth: that the Lord always goes before us with His love and His grace. It precedes our communities; it precedes, anticipates, and prepares the hearts of those who proclaim the Gospel and of those who welcome the Gospel of Salvation.” He added that, “the Gospel is not merely about our personal relationship with God. … The Gospel is about the kingdom of God; it is about loving God who reigns in our world.”

Francis also acknowledged the “divisions, …rivalries and conflicts” among Christians, saying these “weaken our capacity to fulfil the command of the Lord to preach the Gospel to all nations” and they “disfigure the beauty of the seamless garment of Christ but never completely destroys the profound unity generated by the grace in all the baptized. The efficacy of the Christian announcement would certainly be greater if Christians would overcome their divisions and could celebrate together the Sacraments and together spread the Word of God and witness to charity.”


The bishops of Malawi, in Rome on their mandatory quinquennial “ad limina” visit, were received by the Holy Father this morning who offered “a joyful welcome to you who have come from ‘the warm heart of Africa’.” He expressed his “esteem” for each bishop and for their work, singly and collectively for “God’s holy people in Malawi. The effectiveness of your pastoral and administrative efforts is the fruit of your faith as well as of the unity and fraternal spirit that characterize your episcopal conference.!

Francis also expressed his “appreciation for the admirable spirit of the Malawian people, who, though faced with many serious obstacles in terms of development, economic progress and standards of living, remain strong in their commitment to family life. It is in the family, with its unique capacity to form each member, particularly the young, into persons of love, sacrifice, commitment and fidelity, that the Church and society in Malawi will find the resources necessary to renew and build up a culture of solidarity.”

“You yourselves,” stated the Pope, “know well the challenges and the value of family life, and, as fathers and shepherds, you are called to nurture, protect and strengthen it in the context of the ‘family of faith’, which is the Church. Indeed, for Christians, family life and ecclesial vitality depend on and reinforce each other.”

“There is no aspect of family life – childhood and youth; friendship, engagement and marriage; spousal intimacy, fidelity and love; interpersonal relations and support – which is excluded from the healing and strengthening touch of God’s love, communicated through the Gospels and taught by the Church. There is scarcely a greater commitment that the Church can make to the future of Malawi – and indeed, to her own development – than that of a thorough and joyful apostolate to families…. Thus, by doing everything you can to support, educate and evangelize families, especially those in situations of material hardship, breakdown, violence or infidelity, you will bring inestimable benefit to the Church and all of Malawian society.”

He also asked the bishops to be close to orphane children and to victims of AIDS.


According to a newsletter from the Secretariat for the Economy, this office has distributed a new handbook this week to all Vatican offices outlining financial management policies that will go into effect on January 1, 2015. The Manual has been endorsed by the Council for the Economy and approved by Pope Francis in forma specifica.

The newsletter quotes Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the secretariat, as saying, “The purpose of the manual is very simple. It brings financial management practices in line with international standards and will help all entities and administrations of the Holy See and Vatican City State prepare financial reports in a consistent and transparent manner.” Cardinal Pell added that, “Having sound and consistent financial management practices and reporting helps provide a clear framework of accountability for all those entrusted with the resources of the Church.”

The new policies will strengthen the planning process for Vatican/Holy See offices,so that resources can be used more effectively and efficiently in serving the mission of the Church. The Secretariat for the Economy will provide training and support to the Vatican/Holy See offices to help implement the new policies. The consolidated Financial Statements will be reviewed by a major international auditing firm.



Wednesday, October 8, 2014

As I write, the Sixth General Congregation of the synod, the Wednesday afternoon session, is underway and participants are treating the theme, “Difficult Pastoral Situations: Family Situations/unions between persons of the same sex.”

Below you will find a report on today’s weekly general audience as well as the wonderful speech given yesterday afternoon by an American couple present as auditors at the synod. I will be interviewing Jeff and Alice Heinzen tomorrow and we will talk about their synod presentation, among other things. They are from the diocese of La Crosse in Wisconsin. Alice is director of the diocesan Office for Marriage and Family Life, and Jeff is president of McDonell Catholic Schools in Chippewa Falls.

I would love to know how many of you see yourselves – either as parents now or in your growing up years – in the paragraph that starts, “In our reflection we realized that the witness of our parents, revealed in their daily actions God’s plan for marriage and family life…” I thought for a monent they were talking about my childhood!

I met Jeff and Alice this afternoon at the North American College, and will be returning to NAC very shortly for another event.

To help you follow, understand and enjoy the synod, remember that:
– Written texts – summaries as well as full texts – of speeches at the synod can be found here in different languages:
– You can follow synod events, the Pope’s general audience and press conferences and briefings with video here:
– You can find some extras, including photos, on my Facebook page:


Another sunny day in Rome and another large and very happy crowd in St. Peter’s Square to participate in Pope Francis’ general audience. The audience began with the Holy Father’s usual ride around the square in the open jeep and then his unexpected invitation to two young boys to join him in the ride!

The Pope told the faithful that his catechesis would be on the “many brothers and sisters who share with us our faith in Christ, but who belong to other confessions or to traditions different from ours.” Noting the lack of full unity among Christians, he asked: “What is our current attitude to this situation? Are we indifferent or do we firmly believe that we can and must walk towards reconciliation and full communion?”

He appealed for Christian unity and pointed out that divisions between Christians of different denominations are hurtful for the Church and for Christ. He was also quick to point out that “many of us, even within our Catholic Church, have resigned ourselves to this division that has often been cause of conflict, suffering and even wars – yes, wars! – throughout the course of history.”

“Now,” asked the Pope, “faced with this, is there anything that we as members of Holy Mother Church, can and should do? Without doubt there must be no lack of prayer, in continuity and in communion with Jesus. And together with prayer, the Lord asks of us a renewed openness: He asks us not to close ourselves against dialogue and encounter, but rather to accept all that is valid and positive that is offered to us even from those who think differently to us or who adopt different positions. Let us not focus on what divides us, but rather on that which unites us, seeking to know and love Christ better and to share the richness of His love. … We are divided against ourselves. However, we all have something in common: we believe in Jesus Christ, the Lord … in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We walk together, we are on the same path … let us help each other! Let us receive communion on the way. This is spiritual ecumenism: walking the path of life together in our faith in Jesus Christ the Lord.”

Above all, stressed Francis, “we know that it was Christ‘s deep desire that His disciples remain united in His love, that they be one.”

The Holy Father then said, “I cannot resist the temptation to share personal memories and sentiments. We have been talking about communion… communion among us. And today I am so grateful to the Lord because today it is 70 years since my own First Communion. And to take First Communion means to enter into communion with others,” with all those who belong to different communities but believe in Jesus Christ.

He concluded thanking the Lord for the Sacraments of Baptism and Communion and urged all Christians to go forward towards full Christian Unity. “And when our goal appears too distant and we are discouraged, we can find comfort in the fact that God will always listen to his Son’s prayer that all Christians be one.”


Synod President Delegate Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle (of Manila) was on duty Tuesday, and, at the start of the afternoon session, noted that the focus would be on the Second Part of the Instrumentum laboris, namely, The Pastoral Program for the Family in Light of New Challenges. He explained that under this heading is Chapter One entitled, The Pastoral Program for the Family: Various Proposals Underway. “To refresh your mind,” the cardinal told participants, “this chapter treats the following topics: The Responsibility of Bishops and the Clergy and the Charismatic Gifts in the Pastoral Care of the Family (50); Marriage Preparation (51-56); Popular Piety and a Familial Spirituality (57); Support for a Familial Spirituality (58); and Testimony on Behalf of the Beauty of the Family (59-60).”

Cardinal Tagle then introduced the first speakers of the afternoon – Jeff and Alice Heinzen from the diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin U.S. They were asked to address the second part of the Synod’s working document, the Instrumentum laboris, namely, “The Pastoral Program for the Family in Light of New Challenges”. Here is their intervention (from Vatican Radio):

“My husband and I have asked ourselves this question: “How did our parents live their lives as a married couple that has led us to where we are today as faith-filled married Catholics?”

“In our reflection we realized that the witness of our parents, revealed in their daily actions God’s plan for marriage and family life. I have fond memories of participating in neighborhood Corpus Christi processions and my father leaving early for work to attend daily Mass. During the month of May, I remember our family praying the rosary. I remember the frequent tender kisses my parents readily gave each other. We knelt beside our beds each night in prayer to ask for protection and blessings on our family. Every Sunday, we attended Mass as a family, then went from Church to visit our relatives. To all this we can add our mothers who reminded us to always love our siblings, to use our best manners with others, and to save our pennies to help those less fortunate. Our homes were schools of love and virtue and our parents were the primary educators.

“Our parents bore faithful witness to the joy and beauty of God’s plan for love and life. Unfortunately, not only in our evaluation of current culture, but also due to our pastoral experience, we know that many young people do not see the witness of married love that we experienced. So many youth grow up in homes broken by divorce or with no experience of married parents due to out-of-wedlock pregnancies. We have entered, as some social scientists have described, the age of the diminished family structure. This is more than a crisis. To quote Saint John Paul II, “[T]he role of parents as educators is so decisive that scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it.” Sociological research testifies to this problem and information in the Instrumentum Laboris confirms it. Children raised without the blessing of married parents, who have created a home animated by love and faith, will likely struggle to trust in God and their neighbors. How can they create life-long marriages?

“Our diocese in the United States is not unlike those around the world. We have seen the number of marriages decline each year and the rate of cohabitation increase. We have seen a steady drop in the number of baptisms. We have watched our youth fall prey to the confusion of a hedonistic culture. We know countless divorced adults who have joined other faith communities because they do not feel welcomed in the Catholic Church. And, our hearts ache for single parents who struggle to care for their children. Like you, we strive to find simpler, more effective ways, to better share the blessings of God’s plan for marriage and family.

“The Instrumentum documents pastoral programs that attempt to address the negative issues impacting marriage and family life. Sadly, these efforts are not meeting the magnitude of the cultural challenges facing us today. We must develop more robust and creative methods to share the fundamental truth that marriage is a divine gift from God, rather than merely a man-made institution. This will require us to examine the methods by which we teach our children about the nature of human sexuality and the vocation of marriage. When speaking of the call by God to serve, marriage should be included in all programs designed to explore vocations. And, it should compel us to ask how we provide for the aftercare of marriage that can help couples deepen their relationship. We therefore see the issue before us not as a crisis of truth, but rather as a crisis of methodology. How do we as a Church, effectively share what we know to be true in practical, simple and convincing ways, so that all men and women are challenged and supported to live life-long marriages and build homes that reflect the domestic Church?

“In all of our pastoral planning, we must remember that “nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). Solutions to the identified crisis can be found. This Synod has the ability to provide aid to husbands, wives and families. Let us open our minds and hearts to the Holy Spirit so that God’s will may be accomplished.”