In what was could be considered a minor historical day for the Holy Father and Vatican, Pope Francis held his first weekly general audience in the presence of faithful since last March. Because of the coronavorus pandemic, the Pope has presided over these weekly events via live streaming for months, coming to the faithful from the papal library in the Apostolic Palace.

It was obvious from a number of things for those who attended the audience or followed on television, that the Vatican had carefully thought out how to accommodate the faithful without endangering anyone’s health. Two sections were marked off in the courtyard by wooden barriers, each section capable of seating 250 people at the current social distancing requirements.

This is from Tuesday afternoon:

Pilgrims could start going through security at 7:30 for the audience that began at 9:30 am. After security they would have temperatures taken, hands had to be sanitized and then there was the long climb up several huge, deep staircases to reach the San Damaso courtyard. I am sure there were many breathless people at the final step! I did see one baby carriage in the crowd as I watched tv coverage and had to wonder how it got to the courtyard (was elevator use allowed?).

All pilgrims wore facemasks as required but the Holy Father did not as he greeted people, shook a few hands, caressed several young people and did the elbow-to-elbow greeting so popular in Italy. The Secretariat of State monsignori who gave the summaries of the papal catechesis did not wear masks either. Nor was the microphone sanitized after each use has been suggested in such gatherings (as far as I could tell, although it might have been cleaned and simply not shown on tv).

The Holy Father seemed really very happy to be back in the presence of the faithful, as could be seen both before and after the catechesis in his interaction with the faithful. The courtyard is indeed a much more intimate setting for such a gathering than is St. Peter’s Square or even the Paul VI Hall which can seat 7,500 people.


ope Francis, continuing his reflections on the current pandemic, began by noting “we have seen how closely connected we are, dependent on one another precisely because we were created by God and share a common home. We can only emerge stronger from the present crisis if we do so together. The Church’s social doctrine thus speaks of the need for the virtue of solidarity.” (following photos by EWTN’s Daniel Ibanez)

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“The word ‘solidarity’ is a little worn and at times poorly understood,” said the Pope, “but it refers to something more than a few sporadic acts – the odd sporadic act – of generosity. Much more! It presumes the creation of a new mindset; a new mindset that thinks in terms of community and the priority of life of all over the ‘appropriation of goods by a few’. This is what ‘solidarity’ means.”

“Think of the account of the Tower of Babel,” said Francis. “which describes what happens when we try to reach heaven – that is, our destination – ignoring our bond with humanity, creation and the Creator. It is a figure of speech. This happens every time that someone wants to climb up and up, without taking others into consideration. Just myself, no? Think about the tower. We build towers and skyscrapers, but we destroy community. We unify buildings and languages, but we mortify cultural wealth. We want to be masters of the Earth, but we ruin biodiversity and ecological balance.”

Still on the image of the Tower of Babel, Pope Francis said, “I remember a medieval account of this ‘Babel syndrome’ that occurs when there is no solidarity. This medieval account says that, during the building of the tower, when a man fell – they were slaves, weren’t they? – and died, no-one said anything, or at best, ‘Poor thing, he made a mistake and he fell’.

“Instead,” he continued, “if a brick fell, everyone complained. And if someone was to blame, he was punished. Why? Because a brick was costly to make, to prepare, to fire… All of this. It took time to produce a brick, and work. A brick was worth more than a human life. Every one of us, think about what happens today. Unfortunately, something of the type can happen nowadays too. When shares fall in the financial markets, all the agencies report the news – we have seen it in the newspapers in these days. Thousands of people fall due to hunger and poverty, and no-one talks about it. Pentecost is diametrically opposed to Babel.”

“In the midst of crises,” concluded Francis, “a solidarity guided by faith enables us to translate the love of God in our globalised culture, not by building towers or walls – and how many walls are being built today! – that divide, but then collapse, but by interweaving communities and sustaining processes of growth that are truly human and solid. And to do this, solidity helps.


It was a quiet day in the Vatican. Not even a press office bulletin was published but that is not necessarily surprising in August, the main vacation month of the year in Italy. A fair number, perhaps I can even say a high number, of Vatican employees are away this month and things in the Vatican, in Rome and in Italy in general are expected to be back to normal by early, probably mid-September.

Today, the offerings are meager and basically concern the state of things in Italy vis-a-vis Covid-19, restrictions, travels, new laws, etc.


Police enforce rules obliging people to wear masks in crowded places.
( Rome police have fined a man €400 for refusing to wear a mask among the crowd at the Trevi Fountain on Friday night, after he made fun of the officers by saying “covid-19 doesn’t exist,” reports Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

The 29-year-old Italian, whose friends also mocked the situation before eventually putting on their masks to avoid the penalty, became the first person in Rome to be fined under the new regulations obliging people to wear masks in crowded areas at night.

Masks must now be worn in public areas where social distancing is not possible between 6 pm and 6 am, while the order closing discos also applies to outdoor dancing venues such as beaches.

The move is part of a coordinated operation by police to monitor the capital’s smaller squares and streets where social distancing is difficult to maintain, in addition to the usual nightlife hotspots of Ponte Milvio, Trastevere, S. Lorenzo, Campo de’ Fiori, Pigneto and Piazza Bologna.

The news comes as Italy registered 1,071 new covid-19 cases on 22 August, the highest number since 12 May when the country was still in lockdown, with 215 new cases in the central Lazio region which includes Rome, according to data released by the Italian health ministry.


( The Italian government has extended the country’s existing state of emergency, which expands the government’s powers in tackling the coronavirus health crisis, until 15 October.

The extension of the current state of emergency – introduced six months ago and set to expire on 31 July – was approved on 29 July, despite objections from the opposition which accused Italian premier Giuseppe Conte of trying to keep too much power despite a dramatic fall in the rate of contagion.

Describing the extension as “inevitable,” Conte told the senate: “The virus continues to evolve and has not run its course. It would be incongruous to abruptly suspend such an effective measure.”

However Conte also stressed that there was “no intention to dramatise the situation” or to fuel “an unjustified state of alarm.”

What exactly is the state of emergency?
The state of emergency grants special powers to national and regional authorities in tackling the fallout from the coronavirus crisis quickly, cutting through the usual bureaucratic procedures to implement, modify or revoke emergency measures if and when required.

It will also facilitate the continuation of smart-working, will allow for the ban on flights to and from countries considered at risk, and will speed up the process in getting schools ready to reopen in September, reports Italian news agency ANSA.


( Rome doctors hope to produce ‘Made in Italy’ coronavirus vaccine by next spring.

Human trials of an Italian-developed covid-19 vaccine have begun on volunteers at Rome’s Spallanzani hospital on 24 August, reports Italian news agency ANSA.

The first person to volunteer for the vaccine, a 50-year-old woman, was inoculated at 08.30 this morning at the Spallanzani, a specialist centre for infectious diseases which has played a central role in battling Italy’s coronavirus crisis.

The woman said she was “excited and proud” to be the first volunteer to take the vaccine and hopes that it will help to “save lives,” ANSA reports.

After being observed by doctors for four hours, the woman will return home and be monitored for the next 12 weeks, said hospital director Francesco Vaia, who stated that if the trials go well a vaccine could be ready on a commercial basis by next spring.

Earlier this month, when the Spallanzani put out the call for 90 volunteers to come forward to take the vaccine, more than 3,000 people volunteered, in what Vaia said demonstrated the “great heart of the Italian people.”

The vaccine has been produced by Italian biotechnology firm ReiThera of Castel Romano, near Rome, with funding from the Lazio Region whose president Nicola Zingaretti said: “Today, an historic phase in research begins.”

The news comes the day after Italy registered 1,210 new coronavirus cases, up from 1,071 the day before.


Today I have a serious story and then a fun one from Italy in the coronavirus era….


( – August 10, 2020) –   Italy’s new emergency decree sets out how the country will continue fighting the coronavirus in the months to come. Here are the most important measures you need to know about.

Approved by the cabinet on Friday night, the decreto agosto or ‘August decree’ contains both safety rules and stimulus measures designed to support businesses as Italy seeks to recover from its Covid-19 lockdown.

It is the latest in a series of government decrees – formally called a DPCM (Decreto del presidente del consiglio, or ‘prime minister’s decree’) – issued under Italy’s coronavirus state of emergency that introduced the sweeping restrictions of the past six months. The last such decree expired on July 31st.

The new decree comes into force on August 10th and applies until September 7th.

The rules on travel, face masks and social distancing are accompanied by a stimulus package worth €25 billion that extends Italy’s employee furlough scheme and allows taxpayers to defer payments, among other measures. Italy is seeking funds from the European Union to help cover the cost.

While the decree (available here) stretches to nearly 200 pages, these are the main measures to know about.

Face masks compulsory until at least September

As expected, the new decree keeps Italy’s rules on facemasks in place: everyone must wear them in enclosed public spaces such as shops, restaurants or public transport. The only exceptions are children under 6 or people with a disability that makes it impossible.

Those rules will apply until at least September 7th, when the government will decide whether to extend them again.

Travel restrictions remain in place

Unfortunately for most people outside Europe, Italy has not eased its travel restrictions in the latest decree and won’t do so until September at the very earliest.

That means that only essential travel to Italy – not tourism – is allowed from the United States, India, Russia and most other countries, while even essential travel is restricted from 16 countries on Italy’s ‘risk list’.

Nationals and residents of the EU, Schengen Zone or United Kingdom can continue to travel freely to Italy. Residents of ten non-EU countries currently on the EU’s ‘safe list’ can visit, but are obliged to quarantine for 14 days on arrival.

For a full explanation of Italy’s travel rules, click here.

Cruise ships return

Italy will allow cruises to resume from August 15th, the new decree says.

But in line with Italy’s travel restrictions, they will only be allowed to sail to and from other countries in the EU – excluding Bulgaria and Romania. Ships must certify that none of their passengers have been to any non-EU or Schengen countries in the 14 days before docking in Italy, even briefly.

Cruise operators must also take safety precautions on board, including checking passengers’ health before embarkation, asking staff and passengers to wear face masks indoors and enforcing social distancing.

Social distancing on public transport

Trains and buses won’t be travelling full until at least September, after the government ordered operators to continue leaving seats empty to limit contact between passengers.

Some companies had been planning to relax social distancing requirements after the last decree expired at the end of July, but the Health Ministry insisted that passengers should continue to sit at least a metre apart and never face to face.

The government kept the requirement in place for trains, buses and metros in its new decree, despite opposition from some regional governors who have issued ordinances allowing local transport to run at 100 percent capacity.

To read more about the economic policies in this piece, click here:


( – Italy has seen a revival of the ‘wine window’ tradition that dates back to the era of the ‘Black Death’ in the Middle Ages, thanks to the current covid-19 health restrictions.

More than 150 of these tiny 17th-century windows still exist throughout Tuscany, reports Italian newspaper La Stampa, however many have been sealed up or lost over the centuries.

In addition to the historic centre of Florence, the so-called buchette del vino can be found in 27 Tuscan towns.

Their origin goes back to the time of the plague, when they were introduced as part of anti-contagion measures, allowing merchants to sell wine and top up bottles without coming into contact with the customer. (nypost photo)

In the era of the coronavirus, the tradition has now turned full circle and the ‘germ-free’ wine windows are enjoying something of a Renaissance.

Their revival is being championed by the Wine Windows Association that, in addition to promoting the ancient tradition, has been busy affixing plaques under the pint-sized holes.

The Florence-based cultural association says that it is not just vino being handed out through the little windows these days, with the magical sight of hands offering customers gelato, coffee, spritz and even books.

For full details (in English) about the history of the buchette del vino, and where to find them, see the Wine Windows website.


An interesting article today by Vatican News on the background of weekly papal general audiences. Pope Frances resumed this weekly encounter today at the end of his brief working vacation in the Vatican. As he has done for months because of Covid-19, the catechesis was live-streamed from the papal library in the Apostolic Palace. Following that piece is a summary of Francis’ new weekly catechesis on “Healing the World.”

Come spend several minutes with me as we go to Assisi to celebrate today’s feast of St. Clare of Assisi. We visit the church named for her and venerate her perfectly preserved remains:


By Vatican News

Pope Francis’s summer break is over. As of Wednesday, August 5th, Pope Francis resumed his weekly general audiences, which he suspends annually in July. The last public general audience held in the Paul VI audience hall took place on March 7.

These audiences begin at 9:30 local Rome time and last for about one hour. After public general audiences, Pope Francis customarily greets a number of people.

After the last public audience in March, the Vatican moved the audiences from St. Peter’s Square to the library of the Apostolic Palace in order to comply with measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. On March 18, for the first time, Vatican News began offering an English commentary for the general audience.

As Pope Francis again picks up his weekly general audience, it will be his 318th catechesis. The only other time outside of July (vacation) that general audiences are suspended are during the papal trips. As soon as Pope Francis returns from such a trip, he always recaps his journey. Sometimes this happens the day following his return.

During the general audience, the Pope gives a catechesis on the Christian faith. Short summaries of these catecheses are translated into 7 languages: French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic and Polish. Longer summaries of these catecheses are published on Vatican News and full texts can be found on the official Vatican web portal.

The general audiences can be viewed live with playback available on the various language channels of the Vatican Media YouTube channel.

So far, Pope Francis has completed 15 catechesis series. The first series was on the Creed, a theme he took up from his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. Themes that followed this series were on: the Sacraments, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Church, the family, mercy, Christian hope, the Ten Commandments, the Our Father, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Beatitudes. The last cycle he began is on Christian prayer.

Sometimes, Pope Francis makes appeals at the conclusion of the general audience. Some of these appeals call for peace in areas ravaged by war and terror, others remind us of the plight of persecuted Christians, some appeal for Christian solidarity with victims of natural disasters, or draw attention to tragedies such as migration, unemployment or poverty. In his General Audience prior to the summer break, he prayed for the victims of an earthquake in Mexico. On June 10, he took the opportunity to condemn the tragedy of child labor.

Pope Paul VI held the weekly general audience in St Peter’s Basilica. When the Vatican audience hall was inaugurated on June 30, 1971 Pope Paul VI said: “We inaugurate this beautiful and large hall that We wanted to build above all for two reasons: to free St. Peter’s Basilica from the large and vivacious crowds that had become normal, and to offer Our visitors an even more suitable place for large gatherings.”

In 1963, Pope Paul VI commissioned the building of what would later become known as the Paul VI Hall. It seats 6300 people and is still used for general audiences in extreme cold or when it rains. In 2007, solar panels were installed on its roof.

With Pope John Paul II’s pontificate, attendance at the weekly general audience went beyond the capacity of Paul VI Hall. To deal with the huge crowds who wanted to attend them, the venue was moved St. Peter’s Square. In fact, as Pope John Paul II was entering St. Peter’s Square for the general audience of May 13, 1981 that an attempt was made on his life.

The coronavirus pandemic has now made this impossible. However, through radio, television and digital platforms, the Pope’s general audience is made available to millions of the faithful throughout the world with simultaneous commentary in French, German, English, Spanish and Portuguese.


Live streaming once again from the papal library in the Apostolic Palace, as he has done throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis today began a new series of weekly catecheses and announced the themes for coming weeks as well.

“Dear Brothers and Sisters,” began the Holy Father, “In responding to the grave challenges caused by the present pandemic, we Christians are guided by the wisdom and strength born of the virtues of faith, hope and love. As God’s gifts, these virtues heal us and enable us in turn to bring Christ’s healing presence to our world.”

He then noted that these theological virtues, “can inspire in us a new and creative spirit to help us face today’s deeply rooted physical, social and spiritual infirmities and change the unjust and destructive behaviors that threaten the future of our human family.”

Francis said that, “today the Church seeks to continue the Lord’s healing ministry, not only to individuals but also to society as a whole. She does this by proposing a number of principles drawn from the Gospel that include the dignity of the human person, the common good, the preferential option for the poor, the universal destination of goods, solidarity, subsidiarity and the care for our common home.”

Pope Francis concluded his catechesis by noting the themes for future weekly encounters: “In coming weeks, I will reflect on these and other themes of the Church’s social doctrine, confident that they can shed light on today’s acute social problems and contribute to the building of a future of hope for coming generations.”

At the end of language greetings to pilgrims tuning in to the audience, Pope Francis prayed for Lebanon in the aftermath of the explosion in Beirut on Tuesday.

“Yesterday in Beirut, near the port, there were massive explosions causing dozens of deaths, wounding thousands and causing serious destruction. Let us pray for the victims, for their families; and let us pray for Lebanon so that, through the dedication of all its social, political and religious elements, it might face this extremely tragic and painful moment and, with the help of the international community, overcome the grave crisis they are experiencing.”

According to local authorities, the explosion was caused by tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse in the port of Lebanon’s capital.


Tomorrow, July 18, marks the 150th anniversary of the promulgation of the Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus that defined the dogmas of the primacy of the Pope and that of papal infallibility in the First Vatican Council in 1870. If those topics are of interest to you and you also love Church history, then this article is for you:

To read this weekend’s L’Osservatore Romano in English, click here:


This weekend, in what is normally the interview segment of “Vatican Insider,” I present another of the Specials I have prepared for you in these months of Covid restrictions for in-person interviews but we are working on something to remedy that. This weekend I’m calling this Special “Inquiring Minds Want To Know” because I’m going to bring you some trivia – some little known, and often unusual facts about the Vatican – some fun stories about bells and flags and basilica floors. For example, flags – only two states in the world have officially square flags: Vatican City is one. What is the other? did you know that there is a German cemetery in Vatican City? Then listen to the great story about the mosaic of Mary on the façade of the Apostolic Palace. So stay tuned for “Inquiring Minds Want To Know”! I might even quiz you at the end!

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: (write Vatican Insider where it says Search Shows and Episodes)


Pope Francis has donated 2500 Covid-19 tests to Gaza’s Ministry of Health through the Congregation for Oriental Churches. The test kits were delivered by Caritas Jerusalem and Fr. Gabriel Romanelli of the Sacred Family parish in Gaza. The donation is part of the initiative pro-
moted by the emergency fund established by Pope Francis to help the countries most impacted by the spread of the coronavirus. According to Fr. Romanelli, “the kits sent by the Pope will help to make more precise diagnoses and as soon as we received them we took them to the laboratory
at the Ministry of Health. In fact, there is only one machine in all of Gaza that is able to perform the analysis”.


FRIDAY 17THIS CONSIDERED AN UNLUCKY DATE IN ITALY. But that’s not the only strange Italian superstition you’ll need to be aware of. Particularly among the older generation, you’ll discover that Italians tend to take superstitions seriously, often doing things ‘per scaramanzia’ – to ward off bad luck. So if you want to ensure good fortune comes your way, here are some of the things to watch out for, according to Italian customs.   (You would not have a dinner party with 17 people)

First, the good news. Italy has its own date that you should be wary of: Friday the 17th. Just as some Western airlines avoid including the 13th row on planes, you might find number 17 omitted in Italian planes, street numbering, hotel floors and so on, so even if you’re not the superstitious type, it’s handy to be aware of. The reason for this is because in Roman numerals, the number 17 (XVII) is an anagram of the Latin word VIXI, meaning “I have lived” — the use of the past tense suggests death, and therefore bad luck. It’s less clear what’s so inauspicious about Friday.

Thought there was no point crying over spilled olive oil? Think again. In Italy, this is very bad luck indeed. And it’s not just because Italians don’t want to see their top quality oil wasted (though the tradition likely has its roots in a time when olive oil was a luxury), or because oil stains are tough to get out of clothes. The act of spilling the liquid is considered to bring ill fortune. (

VISIT THE COLOSSEUM UNDER THE STARS WITH GUIDED TOURS IN ENGLISH AND ITALIAN – Guided tours of the Colosseum will take place every Saturday night this summer, from 25 July to 29 August 2020, thanks to the return of the Luna sul Colosseo experience. The tours last about an hour and begin on the arena floor, with its views into the underground tunnels where gladiators and wild animals were held before combat, and also includes a visit to the first level of the ancient amphitheatre.

The tours, conducted in Italian and English, are designed for groups of up to 20 people, with visitor safety and social distancing guaranteed by Parco Colosseo. Tickets cost €24, and there is a family package costing €44 (two adults plus up to three children under the age of 18). Visitors must wear masks and maintain social distancing. Booking must be made online, by selecting the day and time of visit, via the Colosseum website or Coopculture website. (source: WantedinRome)

‘A LITTLE CORNER OF ENGLAND IN NAPLES’: THE SECRETS OF A FAMED ITALIAN TIE SHOP – Film stars, British royalty and local Naples residents all buy handmade ties from one shop so famous for its artisanal finery that some customers boast collections of thousands. The painstaking needlework cannot be rushed, despite demand for E. Marinella ties usually far outstripping production. In Naples, the tiny shop near the sea remains much as it was when it opened in 1914, with its wood-framed windows, chandelier, and counter where the red, blue, polka dot or diamond-patterned ties are displayed.

Maurizio Marinella, 64, who is the third generation to head up the company, says his family’s success in the southern Italian city, which struggles with poverty and unemployment, was “a kind of miracle”.  “It all started in 20 square metres in Naples, where everything is a little  more difficult than elsewhere,” he told AFP.




Health Minister Roberto Speranza on Tuesday addressed the Senate to present the government’s new decree extending the restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus until July 31.

“Today 13 million people (worldwide) have been infected and half a million have died,” Speranza said. “It is evident that we cannot lower our guard and we must not be divided about this. There is debate within the scientific community but no one says it is not necessary to wear facemasks, keep one’s distance or wash hands.”

The measures include the obligation to wear facemasks on public transport, in shops, public offices, hospitals and clinics, and workplaces where it is not possible for people to be at least one metre apart from each other.

“There can be no zero risk without a vaccine,” the minister said. “We must not underestimate the pandemic risk. The circulation of the virus is accelerating and it is not losing strength”. He said the government was sticking to its ‘prudent line’ regarding arrivals from outside Europe after several outbreaks in Italy stemming from imported cases of infection.

“We must not turn back with the prevention measures in order to reignite our economy,” Speranza said. “We cannot render in vain the sacrifices made. Today there is a ban on arrivals and transit from 13 countries.** We will constantly update this list and the 14-day quarantine remains for all arrivals from extra-European countries.

“We are in danger of importing the novel coronavirus from citizens who come from abroad or Italian citizens returning home. The maximum attention is on migrant landings too, with a period of quarantine. Nothing will be underestimated”.

The minister added that the government has not yet made a decision on extending the coronavirus state of emergency, amid talk of it being extended until the end of October. (ANSA).

** The United States is not among those countries

Italy has lifted a ban on carry-on luggage in overhead lockers on aircrafts to and from Italy, with effect from 15 July, reports Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano. The dropping of the ban, which was introduced on June 26 for “health reasons” due to fears of covid-19 contagion, was confirmed on Radio 1 by Italy’s undersecretary for health, Sandra Zampa, reports Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

From July 15, travellers will be permitted to bring trolley luggage on board, while those carrying items of personal clothing such as jackets must place them in single-use sterilized containers that will be provided on the aircraft. Passengers must wear masks on board planes as well as when boarding and throughout their time at airports in Italy. (

Rome’s Circus Maximus, the ancient chariot racing arena, is preparing to welcome the city’s summer opera festival, organised by Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, for the first time. Workers are putting the final touches to a giant stage and a high raised stand with seating for a maximum of 1,400 audience members, all of whose seats are spaced wide apart to allow for social distancing.

Rome’s opera house technical director, Francesco Arena, told Reuters news agency that the Circus Maximus is “returning in a way to its origins” by transforming itself “from a circus to a theatre, an opera house in this case.”

The opera festival under the stars will open on July 16 with a new production of Verdi’s Rigoletto, conducted by Daniele Gatti, which will be broadcast on Italy’s RAI 5 television channel.




Join me again on Vatican Insider on this final weekend of June – unbelievable! As you know by now, in recent months because of Covid-19 and restrictions placed on and by individuals for in-person interviews, I’ve prepared a number of Specials in place of interviews. Last week we visited the final basilica on our tour of Rome’s Seven Pilgrim Basilicas by going to St. Sebastian’s basilica and catacombs.

This week I take you on a tour of Vatican City State – its gardens, fountains, statues, buildings, the mosaic studio, the department store, train station and much more. At the very end I will tell you how to reserve tickets to visit Vatican City, its stunning gardens and even Castelgandolfo –all offered by the Vatican Museums.

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: (write Vatican Insider where it says Search Shows and Episodes)



As confirmed Covid-19 infections continue to surge in the US state of Florida, Archbishop Thomas Wenski says Catholic Churches in Miami are taking precautions seriously. “The priests were still offering the people of God the essential service of their prayers, even when they could not be physically with them.” In an interview with Vatican Radio, the Archbishop of Miami, Archbishop Thomas Wenski, described the current situation in the US state of Florida. “Many of our hospitals have reported a growing number of admissions. There are a couple of hospitals that are at their maximum, but there are still hospitals able to receive patients, so we’re not anywhere near the crisis of New York of a few months ago.” CONTINUE:


The bishop chairmen of three committees of the United States Bishops’ Conference have written to federal lawmakers in the US, urging them to consider proposals aimed at improving formation of police officers and accountability for police. Released on Wednesday, the letter comes in the wake of the current re-examination of “the evil of racism, both historic and present, and its devastating effects on individuals and society” occasioned by the “terrible and unjust killing of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and so many others.” Archbishop Paul Coakley, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop Mario Dorsonville, chairman of the Committee on Migration; and Bishop Shelton J. Fabre, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism acknowledge that “law enforcement officers perform a great and needed service” to society, but say “it is clear that there have been too many failures in serving everyone, with tragic consequences.” CONTINUE:


The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection released its 2019 Annual Report. The conference announced on Thursday that its Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection has released “Findings and Recommendations on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” The 2019 report for the year July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019 shows that 4,220 adults came forward with 4,434 allegations of abuse. The figures are a marked increase compared to the previous year. The statement says that the rise is due in part to new complaints that were added during trials, compensation programs and bankruptcy proceedings in progress. The document also shows 37 allegations were made by current minors, of which 8 were substantiated, 7 were unsubstantiated, and 6 were unable to be proven. Twelve allegations are still under investigation, 3 others were referred to religious orders, and 1 was referred to another diocese. CONTINUE:


Since so many of you – family members, friends and fans – have been in touch with me these many weeks and months with questions about the trip to Italy that you had to postpone from this spring, or a trip you have on your agenda for this fall, I am trying to follow events in both Italy and Europe as much as I can to bring you the latest news and updated information on travel.

When possible I will do so on a daily basis (see below). And, of course, anything can change on a daily basis. A number of airlines, for example, do not yet know when they can resume direct service to Italy.

I really am looking forward to saying WELCOME in coming months, to sharing a cappucino in Pza. Navona or a glass of red wine and a delicious dinner al fresco in one of Rome’s many splendid restaurants!


As has been the case for months now, this week’s general audience took place at 9:30 in the library of the Apostolic Palace, and Pope Francis dedicated his ongoing catecheses series on prayer to the prayer of Moses.

He delivers the principal catechesis in Italian and summaries are then given by multi-lingual staff members of the Secretariat of State, as are language greetings by the Pope.

The Holy Father began by noting, “In our continuing catechesis on prayer, we now consider the prayer of Moses. The book of Exodus portrays Moses – from a human point of view – as a failure. Yet at a certain point in his life, he encounters God in the wilderness.

“From a burning bush,” said Francis, “the Lord calls Moses to return to Egypt in order to lead his people to freedom. But Moses, faced with the majesty of Almighty God and his demands, resists the call, protesting his unsuitability for such a great task.

“Nevertheless,” explained the Pope, “God entrusts him with the responsibility of conveying the divine law to the people of Israel, and Moses becomes their great intercessor, especially when they are tempted or have sinned.”

Stating that we too can become intercessors, Pope Francis concluded: “With hands outstretched to God, Moses makes of himself a kind of bridge between earth and heaven, pleading for the people when they are most in need. In this way he prefigures Jesus, our great intercessor and high priest. We Christians are also called to share in this type of prayer, interceding for those who need God’s help, and for the redemption of the whole world.”


Marking the Day of Conscience, inspired by the witness of Portuguese diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Pope Francis appeals that freedom of conscience be respected always and everywhere.

By Vatican News

During his general audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis recalled that June 17 marks the “Day of Conscience”.

The day was inspired by the testimony of Portuguese diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who, eighty years ago, decided to follow his conscience, and in doing so, saved the lives of thousands of Jews and many others who were being persecuted.

In his words on Wednesday, the Pope appealed that “freedom of conscience always and everywhere be respected”.  “May every Christian”, he said, “give an example of the consistency of an upright conscience enlightened by the Word of God.”

Aristides de Sousa Mendes’ act of conscience was deeply embedded in his Catholic faith. It led him to disregard the direct orders of his government to help those in need.

During the Second World War, de Sousa Mendes, despite knowing the consequences he would face for his actions, issued visas to all refugees regardless of nationality, race, religion, or political opinions.

“I could not have acted otherwise”
This sense of humanity and courage led to his ostracization from the world in which he had lived. He was unable to continue his job as a diplomat and was forbidden from earning a living in order to support his family. His children, too, were prevented from finding gainful employment.

He spent the rest of his life trying to clear his name but was ignored by the Portuguese political regime at the time.

Aristides de Sousa Mendes died in poverty on April 3rd, 1954 at the Franciscan Hospital in Lisbon. But even at the end of his life he knew his actions had been justified in saving thousands of innocent lives. As he put it himself“I could not have acted otherwise, and I, therefore, accept all that has befallen me with love.”


There is a very interesting and helpful website put up by the EU, the European Union, that answers all (or most) of your questions about travel to and within the EU. The site is called “Re-open EU” and, as it describes itself, it contains regularly updated information available in 24 languages:

Users may select their preferred language and country of destination on the website, click on “go!” and find an interactive map providing the latest information on key point for travellers, such as: Is travel into the country for tourism purposes possible? Are non-essential (other than medicine and food) shops open? Are there any risk areas under lockdown in this country? And much more!

For example, in Italy (see below), the health situation is qualified as “green” by the EU at this point, which means that there are no areas in the country that are currently under lockdown.

You might be interested to learn that there is now a very interesting app in Italy called “Immuni” that, in the several days since it ended its test period in 4 Italian regions and has gone nationwide, has been uploaded by 2.5 million people in Italy. It is also now available in English. The app sends a notification to people who were in close contact with a user who tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, alerting them of the risk of infection. Thanks to Bluetooth Low Energy technology, this takes place without the app gathering any date on the identity or location of its users:

And here’s a link to all the travel info I posted yesterday on Joan’s Rome (and reposted in my Facebook page: /joan.lewis.10420):



If you are thinking of travelling to Europe, specifically to Italy, read every word of the articles I have posted.

I want to emphasize a few things they mention:
1.      Restrictions on carry-on luggage: I have heard and read that only one piece of carry-on will be allowed by most or all airlines (ie, a purse or small suitcase but not both: (MY ADVICE: check with the airline on which you will be travelling for this and any other pertinent information)
2.      Despite Alitalia restarting its New York-Rome route (see below), it is not yet known WHEN UNRESTRICTED TRAVEL FROM THE US WILL BE ALLOWED (the bold is mine)


(source: The Local – June 15, 2020 – – @thelocalitaly)

Pack an extra face mask and cut back on hand luggage: the Italian government has introduced new coronavirus precautions for anyone taking a flight in Italy.

As part of its latest Covid-19 decree, signed on June 11th, Italy’s government relaxed the rules on how far apart passengers have to sit – but introduced new restrictions on cabin baggage and set a time limit on how long travellers can wear the same face mask.

The new rules came into force on June 15th, the same day that most other members of the European Union dropped their restrictions on travel to and from Italy. Italy has allowed travel within the EU, Schengen Area and UK since June 3rd.

The precautions apply to everyone flying to or from an Italian airport, regardless of where you’re from or where you live, and will remain in place until further notice.

Here are the main rules you need to know about.

Social distancing is no longer compulsory on most planes

Italy has dropped the requirement for airlines to seat passengers at least a metre apart – which effectively halved the number of people who could board each flight – so long as the plane is equipped with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter.

According to the International Air Transport Association, HEPA filters capture more than 99 percent of airborne microbes and keep fresh air flowing continuously, resulting in all the air in the cabin being replaced entirely every two to three minutes. Almost all large commercial aircraft operating in Italy and throughout Europe use them.

The change means that flights can once more depart full and passengers are no longer guaranteed empty seats around them.

Social distancing is still required in airports and on shuttle buses carrying passengers to and from the aircraft.

Face masks have to be changed every four hours

Masks remain compulsory for the duration of your journey, and on longer-haul flights they must now be replaced every four hours. Passengers are advised to bring their own replacements.

You must keep your mask on throughout the airport, too.

Limited hand luggage

Airlines are instructed not to allow passengers to bring large cabin bags onboard in order to minimise how much passengers move around accessing overhead lockers.

The government’s decree doesn’t specify maximum dimensions, leaving it up to airlines to set their own limits.

Italy’s national airline Alitalia says its passengers are allowed only one piece of hand luggage total, instead of the bag plus personal item that used to be permitted. The airline’s usual size and weight limits apply.


(The Local) – As Italy begins to allow some international tourism, how many flights are available? (This article was updated on June 16th)

As of June 3rd, Italy is allowing arrivals with no quarantine requirements from within Europe, including from the UK.

Tourists arriving from these countries will not face any restrictions upon entering Italy, though depending on their own country’s rules they may be required to quarantine when they return home.

Non-urgent travel from outside Europe is still not permitted, with the EU’s external borders now expected to remain closed until at least July 1st.

But, while Italy is allowing (some) visitors again, getting here may not be easy as many airlines have not yet restarted flights. Here’s a look at which airlines are – or soon will be – flying to Italy again.

From June 1st, the Air France-KLM group began to gradually resume flight links with Rome, Milan, Venice, Bologna, Florence, Naples and Bari.

By the end of June there will be 78 weekly flights operated by Air France and KLM to Italy, the company said in a statement.

Italian airline Alitalia also announced in May that it would steadily resume flights between Rome and New York as well as certain flights to Spain, including from Rome to Madrid and Barcelona, from June 2nd.

It has also resumed some domestic Italian flights, including routes between Milan and southern airports.

From July, Alitalia said it plans to be operating at about 40 percent of its level it planned before the coronavirus crisis hit.

Alitalia continued to operate a limited number of international flights throughout the nearly three-month shutdown.

“Flight offering will increase according to demand, which is already recovering on some domestic routes, and benefiting from the progressive abolition by foreign countries of restrictions on flights and passengers from Italy” as well as relaxed measures Italy is imposing on inbound travellers, it said in a statement.

Despite Alitalia restarting its New York-Rome route, it is not yet known when unrestricted travel from the US will be allowed.

Low-cost airline Ryanair, which dominates many direct UK-Italy routes, is set to restart some Italian routes from June 21st, including between Rome and  Lisbon, Budapest, Manchester, Paris, Madrid, Athens, Prague, Warsaw, Valencia, Krakow and Brussels.

The Irish carrier, Europe’s largest low-fare airline, said 40 percent of its normal flight schedule will operate in July, serving 90 percent of its pre-lockdown routes.

Budget carrier Wizz Air restarted some scheduled flights from Rome’s Ciampino airport on June 16th. Direct flights are currently operating to and from Romania, Moldavia and North Macedonia.

UK-based Easyjet on June 16th restarted some domestic flights within Italy as well as one international route – from Brindisi to Geneva – after Italy loosened some of its rules on air travel.

The company had said in May that it wouldn’t be able to operate flights to Italy while the Italian government continued to require social distancing measures to be enforced on planes.

As new rules came into force on June 15th, Italy dropped a requirement for airlines to seat passengers at least a metre apart – which effectively halved the number of people who could board each flight – so long as the plane is equipped with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter.

Several other airlines continue to operate a limited number of flights to Italy, including Lufthana, KLM, and Turkish Airlines, with direct flights from each company’s hub airports only.


Things are moving very precipitously in Hong Kong and I am worried for all who live there, Catholic and not. The following is an excellent piece by UCAN staff and indicates the reasons why Catholics and the Church in Hong Kong are and should be worried, as we should be worried for these our brothers and sisters.


The Holy See warns that religiously-motivated hate crimes are on the rise, as the Covid-19 pandemic increases intolerance and inequality.

By Devin Watkins (vaticannews)

Msgr. Janusz Urbańczyk took part this week in an OSCE conference aimed at raising awareness about intolerance and discrimination. The Holy See’s Permanent Representative to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe focused his remarks at the 25-26 May event on the impact that intolerance has on Christians.

The OSCE is an intergovernmental organization whose members include most countries of the Northern Hemisphere and is concerned with conflict prevention and crisis management.

Religious intolerance on the rise
Hate crimes against Christians and members of other religions, said Msgr. Urbańczyk, negatively impact the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. “These include threats, violent attacks, murders and profanation of churches and places of worship, cemeteries and other religious properties,” he said.

The Vatican representative expressed “great concern” about a divide between religious belief and religious practice.

“The false idea that religions could have a negative impact or represent a threat to the well-being of our societies is growing,” he warned.

Believers are frequently told that prayer and religious convictions are a private matter that have no place in the public sphere.

Discrimination in digital space
The Internet and social media, said Msgr. Urbańczyk, often become a place to put others down or incite hatred of cultural, national, and religious groups.

The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the trend, since people are spending more time online during lockdowns.

Discrimination on social media, he noted, can lead to violence, the final step in a “slippery slope which starts with mockery and social intolerance.”

Dignity and unity
Msgr. Urbańczyk also urged OSCE member states to promote the inherent dignity of every person and the fundamental unity of the human race. He said these two principles form the basis of all truly democratic societies. National minorities, he added, should be free to profess and practice their religion.

Rising inequalities
Lockdowns to stem the Covid-19 pandemic have contributed to rising inequalities and “de facto discriminatory treatment.” “Rights and fundamental freedoms,” said Msgr. Urbańczyk, “have been limited or derogated throughout the whole OSCE area.” These include the closure of churches and restrictions on religious services.

Tolerance and freedom
In response to these threats, the Holy See’s representative urged OSCE member states to promote both tolerance and fundamental freedoms, which include religious liberty.

“Tolerance,” said Msgr. Urbańczyk, “cannot be an alibi for denying or guaranteeing fundamental human rights.”


ROME: PANTHEON TO LIVE STREAM ROSE PETAL CEREMONY: Thousands of rose petals will rain down into the Pantheon on 31 May 2020 but this year the event takes place behind closed doors. The spectacular tradition of rose petals fluttering down through the oculus of the Pantheon is scheduled on Sunday 31 May from 10.00 following Mass for the Feast of Pentecost. However, due to the covid-19 crisis, this year the annual tradition will take place behind closed doors for the first time, broadcast live from the Pantheon’s official website, beginning at 10.00. The ancient ceremony involves fire-fighters dropping tens of thousands of rose petals 43 metres into the interior of the Pantheon, symbolising the Holy Spirit’s descent to Earth. Hopefully we will be able to return to witness the fascinating spectacle in person next year but in the meantime we can be grateful to modern technology and watch from afar. For full details see Pantheon website.

HERE’S HOW MUCH TOURISM ITALY CAN EXPECT TO GET THIS YEAR: Italy is hoping to restart tourism again from June, but how many visitors will actually come back this year? The Local spoke to the president of Italy’s National Tourism Agency to find out. Italy’s tourism sector, and its economy as a whole, has taken a major hit as visitors stay away this year due to the coronavirus outbreak. Huge losses were reported as travellers cancelled their bookings even before Italy shut down in early March, when all but the most essential travel to Italy became impossible. The resulting economic hit to one of the world’s most-visited nations is profound. Tourism employs an estimated 4.2 million people in Italy – just under a fifth of the entire official workforce. The tourism sector accounts for 13 percent of Italian GDP. Up to 420 million people visited Italy annually in the past few years, and until the coronavirus outbreak, that figure was only expected to keep growing. With Italy now planning to restart tourism in June, many hope this will be enough to keep tourist businesses afloat. But will visitors return in the same numbers? And if so, when? Giorgio Palmucci, President of Italy’s National Tourism Agency (ENIT), told The Local that hundreds of thousands of people are already planning to return to Italy in the second half of 2020 – with Brits and Americans leading the charge. “At the moment there are 300,000 reservations, a provisional figure which we hope will keep growing,” he said. can-expect-to-get-this-year

ITALY’S FRECCE TRICOLORI JETS GO ON NATIONWIDE TOUR: Italy cancels Festa della Repubblica parade in Rome. Italy’s Frecce Tricolori fighter jets are conducting a nationwide tour ahead of the 74th anniversary of the nation’s proclamation as a republic on 2 June. The tour, which began on 25 May with Trento, Codogno, Milan, Turin and Aosta, will fly over all the Italian regions over the coming days, culminating in an aerobatic display in Rome on 2 June, Festa della Repubblica. To celebrate Italy’s national day the jets will fly over the capital as Italy’s president Sergio Mattarella places a wreath at the Altare della Patria in the centre of Rome. The tour, which sees the jets emit plumes of the green, white and red of the Italian tricolour, is designed as a symbolic embrace of all regions during the coronavirus emergency in a sign of “unity, solidarity and recovery.”

AIR FRANCE-KLM GROUP TO RESUME FLIGHTS TO ITALY: Fiumicino, May 28 – The Air France-KLM Group will gradually resume links with Rome, Milan, Venice, Bologna, Florence, Naples and Bari from June 1, the group said Thursday. By the end of the month, 78 weekly flights will be operational by Air France and KLM to Italy, a statement said.  “Resuming flights to the Bel Paese is cause for great pride for us and confirms the importance of the Italian market for the Air France-KLM Group,” the statement said.

BOY, 18, GETS NEW LUNGS AFTER COVID-19 ‘BURNED’ HIS: May 28 – An 18-year-old Italian boy had a successful lung transplant 10 days ago after both of his were ‘burned’ by COVID-19, leaving him in a life-threatening condition, medical sources said Thursday. It is the first operation of its kind in Europe. The organs were rendered incapable of breathing in a few days, medical sources said. The operation was carried out at Milan’s Policlinico Hospital, under the coordination of the National Transplant Centre, with the regional transplant…Such an operation had only been tried before in some rare cases in China, while another one was carried out in Vienna a few days after the Milan one, which took place on May 18. The boy was put on an urgent waiting list on April 30 and less than two weeks ago suitable organs were found, donated by a person who died in another region, and who was negative for the coronavirus. centre and the northern Italy transplant program. The boy, who was named as Francesco, started suffering a fever on March 2 and on March 6 was taken into intensive care at Milan’s San Raffaele Hospital.

DAVID BACK ON SHOW JUNE 2: Florence, May 27 – Michelangelo’s David will be back on show on June 2 as Florence’s Accademia Gallery reopens after almost three months of lockdown, the gallery said Wednesday. The gallery will boast a new airing system while tickets will be discounted from 12 to eight euros, it said. Another novelty is the app The Right Distance, downloadable onto visitors’ smartphones, which will beep when they get too close to anyone else.

(Sources: Wanted in Rome, The Local, ANSA)