IRENAEUS NAMED DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH – Pope Francis on Thursday received in audience Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and authorized him, in accordance with the opinion of the plenary session of the cardinals and bishops who are members of the same dicastery, to confer the title of Doctor of the Universal Church on Saint Irenaeus. The Pope preciously announced this intention during an audience with members of the St. Irenaeus Orthodox-Catholic Joint Working Group in the Vatican last October. On that occasion, he described Saint Irenaeus, (who, though born in Smyrna, in what is now Turkey, served as Bishop of Lyons between 130 and 140 AD) as “a great spiritual and theological bridge between Eastern and Western Christians.” He died in 202. (Source: vaticannews)

COVID FORCES CHANGES IN ROMAN CURIA RETREAT – Due to the continuing epidemiological emergency caused by Covid-19, once again this year it will not be possible to hold the spiritual exercises of the Roman Curia at Casa Divin Maestro in Ariccia. A statement released Thursday by the Holy See Press Office said: “The Holy Father has therefore invited the cardinals residing in Rome, the heads of dicasteries and the superiors of the Roman Curia to make their own personal arrangements, withdrawing in prayer, from the afternoon of Sunday, March 6, to Friday, March 11.” During that week, all the Holy Father’s engagements will be suspended, including the general audience of Wednesday, March 9. (source: vaticannews)

FIRST EMERGENCY AID ARRIVES IN TONGA – The first aid flights since the disaster in Tonga caused by the undersea volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami have arrived. Wednesday evening flights from Australia and New Zealand, loaded with humanitarian aid and aid to deal with the emergency, landed at the international airport after the runway was cleared of the ash and debris that had covered it. Emergency aid is being distributed without contact to avoid the risks associated with the coronavirus pandemic. Caritas counts on a team of volunteers in the area and is also trying to respond to the needs of the affected population. The most urgent need is drinking water contaminated by the ash from the eruption. The local government has declared a state of emergency and organized a distribution of water to the Ha’apai islands (the closest to the volcano). While the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade stated that “aid was distributed that, thanks to Caritas Tonga and Caritas New Zealand, had already been stored in some areas. These emergency supplies include water purification equipment, canisters, hygiene kits, buckets and faucets. (source L’Osservatore Romano)



Ranking members of the Roman Curia departed the Vatican Sunday afternoon for Ariccia where they will spend the next five days on retreat, but Pope Francis will not be joining them as planned.

He announced this from his study window after praying the Angelus today with the faithful in St. Peter’s Square, noting that a persistent cold will not allow him to participate in the spiritual exercises. He added that he would follow the retreat from the Vatican and said, “I unite myself spiritually to the Curia and to all those who are living moments of prayer, making a retreat at home.”

The papal work schedule has been reduced since last Thursday due to his cold. As the Vatican news reported on its site, “Some media had carried reports full of fears (and fake news) that the pontiff was ill with coronavirus.”

These annual spiritual exercises for the Pope and Roman Curia usually start on the Sunday following Ash Wednesday. They are being held in Ariccia, a 20-mile drive south of Rome, at the Casa Divin Maestro (Divine Master House), run by the Pauline Fathers.

Click here to see where the curial prelates are staying (be sure to click on “Places and Surroundings” for some lovely additional photos):

The Pope Sunday asked the faithful to pray for him and his collaborators. He also tweeted the same request: “I ask you to remember me in your prayers and also the members of the Roman Curia, who this evening begin a week of Spiritual Exercises.”

The retreat will have as its theme, “The Burning Bush (Exodus 3,2) – The encounter between God and man in the light of the Book of Exodus, the Gospel of Matthew and the prayer of the Psalms

Meditations are being proposed by Jesuit Father Pietro Bovati, secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and will be preached as follows:

Sunday 1 – Introduction: Experience of God and journey: Moses, and the praying Christ
Monday 2 – The prodigy of birth: the gift – The experience of God: the call
Tuesday 3 – Resistance to grace
Wednesday 4 – The night crossing – The path in the desert
Thursday 5 – Battle and prayer – Intercession
Friday 6 – The presence of God

In this period, all of the Pope’s audiences, including Wednesday’s general audience, are suspended. Retreatants are scheduled to return to the Vatican on Friday.

The Sunday schedule was to include Eucharistic adoration at 6 pm, vespers at 6:45 and dinner at 7:30.

The schedule for successive days is usually as follows:
· – 7.30 am, lauds and a brief reflection
· – 8.00 am, breakfast
· – 9.30 am, first meditation
· – 11.30 am, Eucharistic concelebration
· – 12.30 lunch
· – 4 pm, second meditation
· – 6 pm, Eucharistic adoration
· – 6.45 pm, vespers
· – 7.30 pm, dinner


In case you missed the link I posted on Twitter and on Facebook, here is video of the final morning of Pope Francis and members of the Roman Curia on retreat in Ariccia, as well as their return to Vatican City (Vatican Media):


Welcome to Vatican Insider on this last weekend of February when my very special guest in the interview segment is Archbishop Bashar Ward of Erbil, northern Iraq to whom I spoke during his brief time in Rome with other Chaldean bishops on their ad limina visit. We spoke after he had appeared on EWTN’s News Nightly show and just before his departure for the U.S. where he has been giving talks at universities and creating both awareness of and funding for the plight of Christians in Iraq. As you may know, there are strong Chaldean Catholic communities in Detroit and San Diego in the United States.

In the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio. 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 9:00am (ET). On the SKY satellite feed to the UK and parts of Europe, VI airs on audio channel 0147 at 11:30 am CET on Saturdays, and 5:30am and 10pm CET on Sundays. It’s also available on demand on the EWTN app and on the website. CHECK YOUR TIME ZONE. Here’s a link to download VI to your iTunes library: For VI archives:


Pope Francis and the Roman Curia concluded their spiritual exercises this morning – a retreat that had begun late last Sunday afternoon on the theme “In praise of Thirst.”

The last meditation of Fr.José Tolentino Mendoça focussed on the “Beatitudes of Thirst” and concluded his cycle of meditations on thirst.
By Sr.Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp

The Beatitudes: Matthew sets the scene on the mountain. We therefore understand that “He is creating a parallel between Jesus and the figure of Moses—between the presentation of the Old Law, the Decalogue, and that of the New Law, the Beatitudes.”

The Beatitudes are our path

The Beatitudes are more than a law. They are, rather “ configuration of life, a true existential call.”In this way, they enlighten the path for the Church and for humanity as we journey toward an eschatological horizon.

The Beatitudes are a self-portrait of Jesus

Jesus’ Beatitudes are not only words that he proclaimed. “They represent the key by which to read his entire life.” We find in Jesus a model for living each of the Beatitudes. Above all, for us Christians, they are a “elf-portrait of the one who pronounced them.” Fr. Tolentino says that for Jesus this self-portrait “is an image of himself which he is constantly revealing to us and imprints on our hearts.” It is the model that we should use in order to “transform our own image.”

How are we proclaiming the Beatitudes?

God desires that our life be lived according to the beatitudes. “But what have we made of the Gospel of the Beatitudes? How have we proclaimed it? How do we put it into practice?” Do we see those who mourn, those who are in need of consolation, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the peacemakers?” If we do, Fr.Tolentino observes, “by being at their side,” the Church will rediscover her mission.

Beatitude people

The parable that best describes “Beatitude people” is that of the wedding guests (Luke 14:15-24). After the invited guests refuse to come, the “poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame” are invited. “The Church is not an exclusive club, closed, happy in measuring who to exclude. She must keep the doors open and, in an inclusive key, mirror in herself the world’s crossroads.”


Pope Francis’ Message for WYD 2018 was published today in several languages and summaries are offered at

For the full text, however, of this very beautiful Message to young people – “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God” (Lk 1:30) – you must go to Press Office and click on Daily Bulletin and this brings you to where you can scroll down to your preferred language:


Pope Francis’ message for the 33rd World Youth Day, which will be celebrated at diocesan level on Palm Sunday, March 25th, focuses on helping young people to overcome their fears and discern their true vocation (photos vaticannews) – By Philippa Hitchen

In the message, published by the Vatican on Thursday, the Pope notes that the forthcoming celebration marks another step in preparation for the international World Youth Day due to take place in Panama in January 2019. It also precedes the Synod of Bishops on the theme of youth scheduled for October this year, highlighting the importance of young people in the life of the whole Church.

Name your fears

Reflecting on the words of the Angel Gabriel, “Do not be afraid!”, spoken to Mary in St Luke’s Gospel, Pope Francis asks young people to name their own fears. Today, he says, there are many youngsters who continuously photo-shop their images or hide behind false identities, in an attempt to adapt to artificial and unattainable standards. The uncertainty of the jobs market, a sense of inadequacy and a lack of emotional security are other fears that afflict young people, he says.


In moments when doubts and fears flood our hearts, the Pope continues, discernment is vital so that we don’t waste energy being gripped by empty and faceless ghosts. The Bible doesn’t ignore the human experience of fear, he says, noting how Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Peter, the apostles and even Jesus himself experienced fear and anguish. The phrase “Do not be afraid” is repeated 365 times in the Bible, the Pope says, “as if to tell us that the Lord wants us to be free from fear, every day of the year”.

Don’t hide behind screens

Pope Francis says discernment should not just be an individual effort at introspection, but also means opening ourselves up to God and to others who can guide us through their own experience. Authentic Christians, he insists, are not afraid to open themselves to others and he urges young people not to close themselves up in a dark room “in which the only window to the outside world is a computer and smart phone”.

Do you accept the challenge?

Just as the Angel calls Mary by name, the Pope continues, so each one of us is called personally by God. Through God’s grace, we can take courage, despite all the doubts, difficulties and temptations that crop up along our way. If we allow ourselves to be touched by Mary’s example, he says, we too can learn to love God and to dedicate ourselves to the weakest and poorest among us. “Dear young people,” the Pope concludes, “as WYD in Panama draws closer, I invite you to prepare yourselves with joy and enthusiasm. WYD is for the courageous! Do you accept the challenge?”


Jesus’ own struggle with human weakness and temptation was Fr. José Tolentino Mendonça’s focus in the Wednesday afternoon meditation of spiritual exercises to the Pope and the Roman Curia, in Ariccia.

By Debora Donnini

In the seventh meditation of the Curial spiritual exercises in Ariccia, Father José Tolentino Mendonça proposes that our poverty is the place where Jesus intervenes. The greatest obstacle to the spiritual life is not our fragility, but our rigidity and self-sufficiency. Thus we need to learn from our own thirst. And so, Fr. Tolentino turned his reflections on thirst toward the Passion of Jesus.

Thirst is a path

Fr. Tolentino tells us that spirituality needs to be lived as a communitarian adventure. Gustavo Guitiérrez highlights in his book: “Drinking from a well is the spiritual journey of a people.” The well from which one drinks is a concrete spiritual life. That humanity which we struggle to embrace, our own, and the humanity of others, is the very humanity that Jesus embraces. For he lovingly bows down toward our reality, not toward an ideal that we construct. The mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God means adopting a non-ideological vision of life.

Letting go of the obsession for a perfect life

In a certain sense, thirst humanizes us and is the way that we become spiritually mature” Fr. Tolentino reminds us that it takes a long time to let go of the obsession for perfection in order to conquer the vice of projecting false images onto reality. Thomas Merton wrote that Christ wanted to identify himself with what we do not love about ourselves. This is why he took on himself our misery and our suffering. St Paul also testifies to the theory that faith is paradoxical: “when I am weak, it is then that I am strong.

The three temptations in the desert

The first temptation is for bread. Jesus knows our material needs, but reminds us that it is not by bread alone that we live. His response does not deny reality, but helps us consider that we are a “desert” which needs to be inhabited by the Spirit. To understand the second temptation, Fr. Tolentino used the example of the Israelites in the desert who require Moses to give them something to drink. We like them think that believing means having our thirst satisfied. But Jesus “teaches us to hand over our thirst in silence and abandonment as a prayer.” Jesus responds to the last temptation regarding idols: “The Lord your God you shall adore.” The saying of the Risen Lord in the Gospel of Matthew is helpful: “All power has been given in heaven and on earth.”

Jesus manifests his power in the extreme offering of Himself

The devil wants to be adored, but his power is only apparent, while Christ’s is associated with the mystery of the Christ—the extreme offering of himself. It is an enormous risk when the temptation of power distances us from the mystery of the cross, and thus we distance ourselves from service to our brothers and sisters notes Fr. Tolentino. Jesus teaches us how not to allow ourselves to become slaves to anyone nor to make anyone else a slave, but to worship God alone and to serve others as pastors.


The story of the prodigal son is not a parable but a mirror. This was the theme of Fr. José Tolentino Mendoça’s meditation for the spiritual exercises of the Roman Curia on Thursday morning.
By Sr. Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp

We have all heard the Parable of the Prodigal Son many times. We know the story well – a man has two sons and the younger asks his father for his part of the inheritance. The parable of the prodigal son is our story.

This parable is about each one of us, Fr. Tolentino says. “Within us are feelings that are suffocated, things that need to be clarified, pathologies, countless threads that need to be connected.” In other words, there are many aspects of our lives that need reconciliation. The gift that Jesus wants to give us is his word. In that word, conflicts and fear are transformed. “Only mercy, that excessive love that God teaches us, is able to redeem us.”

Mercy is not deserved

The behavior of the older son helps us understand God’s mercy even more. Mercy has nothing to do with giving to someone what they deserve. Rather, Fr. Tolentino explains, “Mercy is offering to another precisely what they do not deserve.” It is difficult to define mercy precisely because “mercy does not encase itself in one definition.” Mercy can be understood only if we allow it to “incarnate itself”” within us “so that we might touch it.”

Mercy is excessive love

Concluding his reflections, Fr. Tolentino expresses the fact that mercy is always excessive. The moderate person, the person who wants to play it safe, will never understand the Gospel of Mercy. This is because, “The Gospel of Mercy requires that our love be excessive” like the Father’s in the parable who understands everything without saying much. The Father shows us that mercy is gratuitous, it is the art of healing and rebuilding, the experience of forgiveness, the completely unexpected expression of tenderness. In the end, it is an excessive gift.



Fr. José Tolentino Mendonça continues exploring the theme of thirst with Pope Francis and members of the Roman Curia during their Spiritual Exercises.
By Sr. Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp (vaticannnews)

“Jesus’ thirst,” and “Tears tell thirst’s story!” are the titles of the reflections given by Fr. Tolentino on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning.

Jesus Thirsts

On Tuesday afternoon, Fr. Tolentino took inspiration for his meditation using a verse from John’s Gospel: “After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I thirst’ “ (John 19:28). There are other occurrences in John’s Gospel that help us understand Jesus’ words: 1) When Jesus is thirsty and asks the Samaritan woman for a drink (John 4:13-15); 2) The declaration “whoever believes in me will never thirst” (John 6:35); and 3) The words of Jesus spoken in the temple during the Feast of Booths: “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink” (John 7:37). Fr. Tolentino observes that Jesus’ “I thirst” spoken from the cross in the present tense makes it “intense, current and uninterrupted. Jesus still says today ‘I thirst’. This helps us understand how Jesus fulfills his destiny.” His mission being fulfilled, he says, “I thirst.”

Mother Teresa experienced Jesus’ thirst

Mother Teresa, he says, experienced Jesus’ thirst in a mystical experience. “In an almost physical way she felt Jesus’ thirst calling her to give her life in service to the thirst of the poor and rejected, to the poorest of the poor.” The gift given to us to satiate our thirst is the Holy Spirit, Father Tolentino reminds us. “We are called to live even suffering, persecution, illness, and joyfully. We are called to live every situation with lively hope. Why? Because the Holy Spirit, God’s strength, wind, breeze, breath, is in us.”

Women open the Gospels to us

The protagonists for Fr. Tolentino’s Wednesday morning meditation are the many women who populate Luke’s Gospel. “The women in the Gospel prefer to express themselves with gestures. Their faith seeks comfort through touch—tangible, emotional, disarming–rather than through abstraction,” he explains. Commenting on Luke’s description of those following Jesus, Fr. Tolentino points out that the way women accompanied the Lord was different than their male counterparts. “The women ‘were with’ Jesus exactly in the same way as the Twelve. They made his destiny their own destiny. But the text adds one thing regarding only them: “they were serving Jesus.” The women’s reaction is profoundly evangelical. They never ask Jesus the questions that the disciples ask him such as “Lord, will only a few people be saved” (Luke 13:23)? Or “Lord, what must I do to inherit eternal life (Luke 10:25)? Their declarations are concrete such as, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed” (Luke 11:27).

Women’s faith

With women, there is a “ripple of reality that intervenes in order to shape faith. In this way it does not remain a prisoner—as often happens to our faith—rationalistic, lived mechanically according to doctrine or ritual.” It is because they are in touch with daily life that they give “perfume to the faith.” The women in Luke’s Gospel—the widow of Naim, the “sinner,” the women of Jerusalem—also cry, notes Fr. Tolentino. St, Gregory Nanzianzen describes these tears as a baptism—which many other saints have experienced. Fr Tolentino then concludes his meditation with the image of the woman washing Jesus’ feet with her tears. What this woman gave thus “serves Jesus as the litmus text” for what the Pharisee “refused to give.” “It is this unheard of hospitality which Jesus wants to praise—that thirst, expressed in tears—which is our turn to learn.”


Story by Agnès Pinard Legry and Daniel Esparza | Feb 21, 2018 for Aleteia (This article originally appeared in the French edition of Aleteia and is translated and adapted here for an English-speaking audience.

Faith moves mountains … in more than one way.

“Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord and stand in the holy place? The one with pure heart and innocent hands” (Psalm 23). One might dare to say that Haylesilassie Kahsay, an Ethiopian Coptic priest, is one of them.

In the mountains of Gheralta, in northern Ethiopia, Father Kahsay walks for two hours every day and then climbs a cliff to reach the Abuna Yemata Guh, a church carved into the side of the cliff, adorned with colorful frescoes and two full domes.

It is customary to make the ascent into the church barefoot and with no ropes. The local Christian tradition claims the “Nine Saints” (the original group of missionaries from the 5th century who fostered the growth of Christianity in what is now Ethiopia) protect those who climb these cliffs.

The Abuna Yemata Guh church was carved in the cliff by St. Abuna Yemata, one of the Nine Saints himself, in the 6th century, when he arrived in the region from Syria. Some historians, though, claim some of the Nine Saints might have arrived in the region from either Constantinople or Rome. (CLICK ON Abuna Yemata Guh for spectacular photos. Abuna means Father).

Father Haylesilassie Kahsay’s daily life is all about work and prayer. He gets up at dawn and works at his house until 6 o’clock in the morning. After eating, he starts his two-hour walk to get to the church.

That’s when the climbing begins. It includes a 10-meter fully vertical section. “I do not get afraid when I climb to the church because I climb every day. It is very difficult, but I find it manageable,” said Fr. Kahsay to the BBC.

Once he gets to the church, he spends his time in prayer and study. He devotes most of his time to the study of old books. “I am happy reading my book for the whole day. Because it is very quiet here, there really isn’t anyone to talk to. You communicate with God and share your secrets with him. And then your mind becomes free and happy.”

For centuries, the priests who came here to care for this church have also been buried in it. But none of them has ever died, tripped, or had an accident during the ascent. “The nine saints who live in these mountains have kept them safe,” smiles Father Kahsay.

Click here for video:


As you know, the Holy Father and some ranking members of the Roman Curia have been on retreat in Ariccia, just south of Rome, since late Sunday afternoon. Below is a video offered by vaticannews. Following that are some brief summaries of the meditations offered by this year’s retreat master, Portuguese Father Jose Tolentino de Mendonça, vice-rector of the Portuguese Catholic University in Lisbon and a consultant of the Pontifical Council for Culture since 2011.


“Let the one who thirsts come” framed the reflection of Fr. José Tolentino Mendonça for the spiritual exercises of the Roman Curia on Monday.

By Sr. Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp

Pope Francis and members of the Vatican Curia travelled on Sunday afternoon to the “Casa del Divin Maestro,” a retreat center in Ariccia, located in the Alban hills just outside Rome. They are taking part in the weeklong curial spiritual exercises. For his meditation on Monday, Portuguese Fr. José Tolentino Mendonça chose the phrase that the Apostle John puts on the lips of Jesus in the final chapter of the Book of Revelation.

Jesus offers unconditional love

Fr. Tolentino says Jesus comes to us in his own incompleteness, in his own emptiness. He stands before us and repeats the phrase, “Let the one who thirsts come!” Jesus offers the water of life, that is, unconditional love, even though he knows that we are still “incomplete and under construction.” Fr. Tolentino then suggests that since this is Jesus’ final invitation, we need to recognize that we are the ones who are thirsty, and more importantly, “just how much we thirst.”

Thirst is a teacher

As any dehydrated person can attest, water is the cure, Fr. Tolentino continued. Quoting American poet Emily Dickinson’s, “water is taught by thirst,” Fr. Tolentino asks the question, “do we allow our thirst to be a school of authentic awareness—ours and God’s?” Our thirst goes undetected because it “is painful and is discovered little by little.” Fr. Tolentino concluded, saying that in the end, Jesus invites us to dialogue with him about “the most profound dimensions of existence, so that we can meet that thirst present in every human person: thirst for relationship, acceptance and love.”


Fr. José Tolentino Mendonça continues exploring the theme of thirst with Pope Francis and members of the Roman Curia during their Spiritual Exercises.

By Sr. Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp

“I became aware that I was thirsty,” and “Thirst does not make me ill” are the titles of the reflections given by Fr. Tolentino on Monday evening and Tuesday morning.

Recognize how we thirst

On Monday afternoon, Fr. Tolentino focused on becoming aware of the thirst within.

“Connecting with one’s own thirst is not easy work, but if we do not do it, the spiritual life loses its grip on reality,” Fr. Tolentino says. Recognizing our thirst is how we anchor our spiritual lives in the concrete reality of who we are. After this introduction, Fr. Tolentino then explored how it is possible to evaluate the “state of our thirst,” and how “to interpret that thirst,” before turning to the theme of “the thirst for God” through a reflection on Psalm 42: “As a deer longs for running waters.” Yearning for water happens when water is absent. We yearn for God precisely because we feel his absence. Fr. Tolentino explains that, “the absence of God becomes a kind of temple because it sets in motion desire, nostalgia, sighing, seeking. And thirst then becomes a type of uninterrupted prayer.”

Thirst versus apathy

The theme he picked up on Tuesday morning is that the thirst discovered within is not a manifestation of illness. “The opposite of thirst which appears at times in our lives is apathy. It is this thirst for nothing which more or less assails us imperceptibly that makes us ill,” Fr. Tolentino explains. He then turned his attention to the topic of burnout and suggests that the prophet Jonah can teach us “the treatment” for our desires. By fleeing from God, Jonah manifests “the contradiction of our desire,” he says. Sadness is another symptom of apathy that Fr. Tolentino says can be cured by learning from Jesus. “Come to me, all of you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me” (Mt 11:28-29).