Rome sweet home! I got back to the Eternal City yesterday after a fun-filled time in the States (Illinois and California) and a variety of experiences – Christmas celebrations and meals and holiday parties with family and friends, lots of football games (if you’ve never been with me in a stadium during a football game, there’s a Joan Lewis you do not know!), and many hours spent reading and filling out forms for the real estate agents and escrow people handling the sale of my parent’s home in California. All the more interesting because four of us are owners and three of us live outside California, so emails and phone calls to different times zones complicated things on occasion.

I left San Diego Friday in 70 degree weather, spent a night in Chicago and awoke to snow and arrived Rome yesterday to brilliant sun and cold temps, The temps got colder overnight in Rome but, thank the Lord, the sun matched its brilliance yesterday, a needed ingredient for the festivities marking today’s feast of the Epiphany, as you will read below.


The January 6 feast of the Epiphany is a major holiday in both the Vatican and Italy and is celebrated throughout the country in an extraordinarily festive way, from small hamlets and ancient villages to the great metropolises of this land.

On this day, what takes place in the Vatican, starting with the papal Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and ending with joyful, fun-filled festivities in St. Peter’s Square, fairly well mirrors what happens around Italy on this day, although perhaps to a larger extent. Though I did not make it there this morning, on January 6 St. Peter’s is usually filled with many thoudands of faithful as well as troubadors, ancient Roman soldiers, flag throwers and hundreds of costumed citizens representing civil and religious organizations, regions and towns of Italy.

Costumed horesemen and women usually strut their finery and often make their horses dance to the delight of the crowd. More color is added by groups bearing statues and religious images and crosses and banners as they march through the square and down Via della Conciliazione at the end of the Angelus. Bands play and spectators applaud.

A typical Epiphany celebration in St. Peter’s Square:

I remember one year when there were several very old cars, beautifully maintained and interesting to see but they seemed out of place among all the period costumes that graced the piazza.

Another year I remember taking photos of three two-humped camels. I was not sure if it was a dromendary or camel that had two humps so I looked it up and discovered the: The Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus) is a large, even-toed ungulate native to the steppes of Central Asia. Of the two species of camels, it is by far the rarer. The Bactrian camel has two humps on its back, in contrast to the single-humped dromedary camel (I also learned that dromedary and camel are interchangeable).

Piazza Navona has forever been a favorite destination all year round for visitors as well as for Italians. At no time is it as festive as it is at Christmas and today, the Epiphany.

Before Christmas, it is tradition that every year each family or child will pick out one new figurine for the family nativity scene that is built at home, and Navona in December has always been a great place to find these terracotta figurines.

A popular Christmas figure you will find here and in many stores is the Befana – a witch-like figure who rides a broomstick and brings coal to bad children and candy to good children. Befana is a breakdown of the word “epiphany” and many, in fact, call her the epiphany witch because she arrives in the night of the epiphany to fill children’s stockings with her gifts.

Yet another Italian tradition is to buy a small, ornament size broom with Christmas ribbons on it – a scacciaguai – that symbolizes the sweeping away of one’s troubles.

Epiphany is, of course, the 12th day of Christmas when the three Magi arrived and gave Baby Jesus their gifts. In some families Epiphany is a bigger celebration that Christmas. Epiphany, in any case, for many signals the end of the Christmas season.

Until a few years ago, the official end of the Christmas season at the Vatican was the February 2 feast of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the temple. The tree and nativity scene always remained in the square until that day. Pope Francis changed the date to the second Sunday of January that celebrates the Baptism of Jesus,


Pope Francis has released a video message announcing his prayer intention for January 2020: “Promotion of World Peace.”

In this intention, the Holy Father asks people to pray that Christians, followers of other religions, and all people of goodwill may promote together peace and justice in the world.

Following is the text of that January 2020 message:

“In a divided and fragmented world, I want to invite all believers, and also all people of good will, to reconciliation and fraternity. Our faith leads us to spread the values of peace and mutual understanding, of the common good.We pray that Christians, followers of other religions, and all people of goodwill may promote together peace and justice in the world. Thank you.”


As is usual on Sundays and religious holy days, the Pope appears at his study window at noon to recite the Angelus with the faithful gathered below in St. Peter’s Square. Pope Francis recited the Angelus on Sunday, January 5, noting that there is a “terrible air of tension” in many parts of the world, obviously referring to the escalating crisis between the United States and Iran.

He recited the Marian prayer again today, Monday, January 6, feast of the Epiphany, after presiding at Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.


Amid an escalating crisis between the United States and Iran, Pope Francis urges nations to exercise self-control and dialogue.
By Devin Watkins (vaticannews)

“War brings only death and destruction.”

Pope Francis spoke those words of warning on Sunday, following the Angelus prayer.

Without referring to any specific countries, the Pope said there is a “terrible air of tension” in many parts of the world. “I call upon all parties to fan the flame of dialogue and self-control, and to banish the shadow of enmity,” he said.
The Pope then invited everyone to pray in silence for a moment for this intention.

US – Iran tensions
Pope Francis’ appeal comes on the heels of heightened tensions between the United States and Iran, after a US airstrike killed a top Iranian general in Iraq. General Qassem Soleimani was the commander of the Quds Force, the wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for military activities outside Iran. His death on Friday in Baghdad raised the threat of direct confrontation between the US and Iran.

Iraqi concern
The Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako, on Saturday expressed the Iraqi people’s shock at the event. “It is deplorable that our country should be transformed into a place where scores are settled, rather than being a sovereign nation, capable of protecting its own land, its own wealth, its own citizens.” He also called on all nations to exercise moderation, act reasonably, and sit down to seek understanding.


Pope Francis during the January 6 Angelus spoke of the Magi whose lives were changed after encountering the baby Jesus. He also greeted the Eastern Churches, Catholic and Orthodox, many of whom celebrate the Lord’s Christmas on the 7th January.

By Vatican News
Following Mass for the Solemnity of the Epiphany, Pope Francis during his Angelus, addressed a special thought “to the brethren of the Eastern Churches, Catholic and Orthodox, many of whom celebrate the Lord’s Christmas tomorrow. We wish them and their communities, he said, “the light and peace of Christ the Saviour.”

During his Angelus address, the Pope drew from the Gospel of the day that spoke of the three wise men.

The Magi on seeing Jesus
The Pontiff described how after encountering the baby Jesus, their lives were changed. “They saw a different king, a king “who is not of this world”, meek and humble, yet indicated in agreement by the stars and the Holy Scriptures.”

The Pope went on to explain that “the encounter with Jesus does not hold back the Magi, on the contrary, it gives them a new impetus to return to their country, to tell what they saw and the joy they felt.”

The experience of knowing God, remarked Pope Francis, “does not block us, but frees us; it does not imprison us, but it puts us back on the road…”

The Gospel passage, he emphasized, “contains a detail which prompts our reflection. At the end of the story, it is said that the Magi were “warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and by another route they returned to their country.”

Every experience of meeting Jesus, noted the Pope, “leads us to take different paths, because from Him comes a good force that heals the heart and detaches us from evil.”

“This is the difference between the true God and traitorous idols, such as money, power, success…; between God and those who promise to give you these idols, such as magicians, fortune tellers, sorcerers,” he said.

The true God does not hold us back
“The true God does not hold us back, nor does He let Himself be held back by us: He opens to us ways of novelty and freedom.”

Following the recitation of the Marian prayer, Pope Francis had a special greeting for those involved in the historical-folkloristic procession on Via della Conciliazione that is inspired by the traditions of the Epiphany. The Pope also extended his greeting to the procession of the Magi in numerous cities and villages in Poland.



Today, the feast of the Epiphany, is both a holy day and holiday in the Vatican and in Italy. As is traditional, it is marked by the Holy Father presiding at Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and praying the Angelus afterwards from his study window in the Apostolic Palace overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

Epiphany is celebrated throughout the country in an extraordinarily festive way, from small hamlets and ancient villages to the great metropolises of this land. What takes place in the Vatican, starting with the papal Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and ending with the joyous festivities in St. Peter’s Square, fairly well mirrors what happens around Italy on this day, although perhaps to a larger extent.

In addition to tens of thousands of faithful and tourists, the square is traditionally filled with scores of costumed citizens representing civil and religious organizations, regions and towns of Italy, troubadors, ancient Roman soldiers and flag throwers. Costumed horse riders – including the Three Magi, of course! – strut their finery and groups bearing statues and religious images and crosses and banners march through the square and down Via della Conciliazione at the end of the Angelus. Bands play and spectators applaud.

Although today’s festivities took place under a delft-blue sky, temperatures were rigid and the winds challenged those of the so-called Windy City of Chicago. As I’m still fighting a cold, I thought it wise to remain at home and thus missed one of my favorite celebrations of the year – but isn’t that why we have television to bring us events we cannot attend in person.

The word epiphany, by the way, refers not only to today’s religious feast but comes from the late Greek word meaning an appearance or manifestation, especially of a divine being, and/or a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essence or essential nature or meaning of something.

In his homily at Mass, Pope Francis began by quoting Matthew’s Gospel: “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?  For we have observed his star in the East, and have come to worship him.” (photo: news.va)


“With these words,” he continued, “the Magi, come from afar, tell us the reason for their long journey: they came to worship the newborn King. To see and to worship. These two actions stand out in the Gospel account. We saw a star and we want to worship.

Francis explained that “these men saw a star that made them set out. The discovery of something unusual in the heavens sparked a whole series of events.  The star did not shine just for them, nor did they have special DNA to be able to see it.  As one of the Church Fathers rightly noted, the Magi did not set out because they had seen the star, but they saw the star because they had already set out (cf. Saint John Chrysostom).  Their hearts were open to the horizon, … They were open to something new. Thus, the Magi personify all those who believe, those who long for God, who yearn for their home, their heavenly homeland.  They reflect the image of all those who in their lives have not let their hearts become anesthetized.”

“A holy longing for God,” stated Francis, “wells up in the heart of believers because they know that the Gospel is not an event of the past but of the present.  A holy longing for God helps us keep alert in the face of every attempt to reduce and impoverish our life.  A holy longing for God is the memory of faith, which rebels before all prophets of doom.  That longing keeps hope alive in the community of believers, which from week to week continues to plead: “Come, Lord Jesus”.

The Holy Father noted that “longing for God draws us out of our iron-clad isolation, which makes us think that nothing can change.  Longing for God shatters our dreary routines and impels us to make the changes we want and need.   Longing for God has its roots in the past yet does not remain there: it reaches out to the future.  Believers who feel this longing are led by faith to seek God, as the Magi did, in the most distant corners of history, for they know that there the Lord awaits them.  They go to the peripheries, to the frontiers, to places not yet evangelized, to encounter their Lord.  Nor do they do this out of a sense of superiority, but rather as beggars who cannot ignore the eyes of those who for whom the Good News is still uncharted territory.”

Referring then to Herod, whose place was a short distance from Bethlehem, the Pope said, “he slept, anesthetized by a cauterized conscience.  He was bewildered, afraid.  It is the bewilderment which, when faced with the newness that revolutionizes history, closes in on itself and its own achievements, its knowledge, its successes.  The bewilderment of one who sits atop his wealth yet cannot see beyond it.  The bewilderment lodged in the hearts of those who want to control everything and everyone.  The bewilderment of those immersed in the culture of winning at any cost, in that culture where there is only room for ‘winners’, whatever the price.  A bewilderment born of fear and foreboding before anything that challenges us, calls into question our certainties and our truths, our ways of clinging to the world and this life.  Herod was afraid, and that fear led him to seek security in crime.

“Herod is unable to worship,” continued Pope Francis, “because he could not or would not change his own way of looking at things. He did not want to stop worshiping himself, believing that everything revolved around him.  He was unable to worship, because his aim was to make others worship him. Nor could the priests worship, because although they had great knowledge, and knew the prophecies, they were not ready to make the journey or to change their ways.

The Magi experienced longing; they were tired of the usual fare. They were all too familiar with, and weary of, the Herods of their own day. But there, in Bethlehem, was a promise of newness, of gratuitousness. There something new was taking place. The Magi were able to worship, because they had the courage to set out. And as they fell to their knees before the small, poor and vulnerable Infant, the unexpected and unknown Child of Bethlehem, they discovered the glory of God.”


At today’s Angelus, in a sunny but bitter cold St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis again highlighted the meaning of the feast of the Epiphany, saying, “like the Magi, let us set out, clothe ourselves in the light following the star of Jesus, and love the Lord with all our might.”

He told the multitude of faithful in the square, “As the Magi chose to be guided by the star of Jesus, even in our life there are several stars. It’s up to us to choose which to follow. There are flashing lights that come and go, like the small pleasures of life: although good, they are not enough.”

Francis said, “the Magi invite us to follow the true light that is Lord, a light that does not dazzle, but accompanies and gives a unique joy. Follow today, among the many shooting stars in the world, the bright star of Jesus! Following it, we will have the joy, like  that of the Magi. ”

As he concluded his Angelus reflections, the Holy Father announced that he had a gift for those in square, and he held up a small booklet called “Icons of Mercy.”

“The Magi offered their gifts to Jesus, And speaking of gifts, I thought I’d give you a little gift: The “Icons of Mercy” booklet. The gift of God is Jesus, the Father’s mercy; and so, to remember this gift of God, I will give this gift that will be distributed by the poor, the homeless and refugees along with many volunteers and religious whom I cordially greet and thank you wholeheartedly.”

He especially pointed out that “the booklet is pocket size, so you can always have it with you”

Three hundred poor and homeless passed the booklets out and were later treated to lunch, another gift from Pope Francis.


Notwithstanding the fact that a huge snow storm has blanketed the EWTN Irondale campus and large areas of Alabama, creating hazardous travel conditions, and notwithstanding an employee alert that the Irondale offices will be closed today, a number of employees in engineering, operations, production, safety and security and radio are present to assure that “the show will go on” (in most cases).

My stalwart colleague Jeff Burson put together the elements of “Vatican Insider,” thus assuring that you will hear a new show this first weekend of the New Year.

The interview segment will feature my conversation with San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia Siller as we talk about the V Encuentro and other topics during a visit he made to Rome.


The V Encuentro, as its website explains, is a four-year process of ecclesial reflection and action that invites all Catholics in the United States to intense missionary activity, consultation, leadership development, and identification of best ministerial practices in

the spirit of the New Evangelization. The process has been proposed as a priority activity of the USCCB’s Strategic Plan for 2017-2020.

The V Encuentro (Encounter) starts this very month of January 2017 at the grass roots level and calls for the development of resources and initiatives to better serve the fast growing Hispanic population in dioceses, parishes, ecclesial movements, and other Catholic organizations and institutions in light of its theme Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of God’s Love.

The main goal of the V Encuentro is to discern ways in which the Church in the United States can better respond to the Hispanic/Latino presence, and to strengthen the ways in which Hispanics/Latinos respond to the call to the New Evangelization as missionary disciples serving the entire Church.

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 www.ewtn.com) 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: http://www.ewtn.com/se/pg/DatService.svc/feed/~LE.xml   For VI archives: http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/file_index.asp?SeriesId=7096&pgnu=



The January 6 feast of the Epiphany is a holiday in both the Vatican and Italy and is celebrated throughout the country in an extraordinarily festive way, from small hamlets and ancient villages to the great metropolises of this land.

What takes place in the Vatican, starting with the papal Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and ending with the joyful, spirited festivities in St. Peter’s Square, fairly well mirrors what happens around Italy on this day, although perhaps to a larger extent. The square this morning, as it is every January 6, was filled with hundreds of costumed citizens representing civil and religious organizations, regions and towns of Italy, troubadors, ancient Roman soldiers and flag throwers.



Costumed riders from Tivoli, just outside Rome, strutted their finery and a few made their horses dance right in front of us. Groups bearing statues and religious images and crosses and banners marched through the square and down Via della Conciliazione at the end of the Angelus. Bands played and spectators applauded. There were several very old cars, beautifully maintained and interesting to see but they seemed out of place among all the period costumes that graced the piazza.



And there were three two-humped camels. I was not sure if it was a dromendary or camel that had two humps so I looked it up and here is what I found about the animals we saw today in St. Peter’s Square: The Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus) is a large, even-toed ungulate native to the steppes of Central Asia. Of the two species of camels, it is by far the rarer. The Bactrian camel has two humps on its back, in contrast to the single-humped dromedary camel (I also learned that dromedary and camel are interchangeable).


It was a fun morning in a packed and ultra secure St. Peter’s Square. I left my home as it started to rain and five minutes later was in the square in a bright sun! The sun only lasted about an hour – enough time for all the folklore groups, bands, etc. to perform in this world famous venue.


There were two levels of security and massive numbers of agents. Just to enter Pius XII Square (the smaller square before St. Peter’s), handbags, backpacks, etc. were inspected and people wanded by agents. You then proceeded to a very rigorous airport-like security. Coats etc. had to be removed and put through the scanners as were purses, umbrellas and anything you carried. I was even asked to take off a necklace as the police said it might set the security alarm off.


While I saw a ton of uniforms, I am sure there were also great numbers of plainclothes men and women in and around the square, Via della Conciliazione, etc.


Pope Francis’ homily this morning was a marvel of beauty. I offer it here in its entirety, interspersed by more photos from St. Peter’s Square (I have put in italics some of the phrases I consider to be truly noteworthy):



The words of the Prophet Isaiah – addressed to the Holy City of Jerusalem – are also meant for us. They call us to rise and go forth, to leave behind all that keeps us self-enclosed, to go out from ourselves and to recognize the splendor of the light which illumines our lives: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (60:1). That “light” is the glory of the Lord. The Church cannot illude herself into thinking that she shines with her own light. Saint Ambrose expresses this nicely by presenting the moon as a metaphor for the Church: “The moon is in fact the Church… [she] shines not with her own light, but with the light of Christ. She draws her brightness from the Sun of Justice, and so she can say: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’” ( Hexaemeron , IV, 8, 32). Christ is the true light shining in the darkness. To the extent that the Church remains anchored in him, to the extent that she lets herself be illumined by him, she is able to bring light into the lives of individuals and peoples. For this reason the Fathers of the Church saw in her the ‘mysterium lunae’.


We need this light from on high if we are to respond in a way worthy of the vocation we have received. To proclaim the Gospel of Christ is not simply one option among many, nor is it a profession. For the Church, to be missionary does not mean to proselytize: for the Church to be missionary means to give expression to her very nature, which is to receive God’s light and then to reflect it. This is her service. There is no other way. Mission is her vocation; to shine Christ’s light is her service. How many people look to us for this missionary commitment, because they need Christ. They need to know the face of the Father.



The Magi mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew are a living witness to the fact that the seeds of truth are present everywhere, for they are the gift of the Creator, who calls all people to acknowledge him as good and faithful Father. The Magi represent the men and woman throughout the world who are welcomed into the house of God. Before Jesus, all divisions of race, language and culture disappear: in that Child, all humanity discovers its unity. The Church has the task of seeing and showing ever more clearly the desire for God which is present in the heart of every man and woman.


This is the service of the Church, with the light that she reflects: to draw out the desire for God present in every heart. Like the Magi, countless people, in our own day, have a “restless heart” which continues to seek without finding sure answers – it is the restlessness of the Holy Spirit that stirs in hearts. They too are looking for a star to show them the path to Bethlehem. How many stars there are in the sky! And yet the Magi followed a new and different star, which for them shone all the more brightly. They had long peered into the great book of the heavens, seeking an answer to their questions – they had restless hearts –, and at long last the light appeared. That star changed them. It made them leave their daily concerns behind and set out immediately on a journey. They listened to a voice deep within, which led them to follow that light. It was the voice of the Holy Spirit, who works in all people. The star guided them, until they found the King of the Jews in a humble dwelling in Bethlehem.


All this has something to say to us today. We do well to repeat the question asked by the Magi: “Where is the child who has been born the King of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage” ( Mt 2:2). We are impelled, especially in an age like our own, to seek the signs which God offers us, realizing that great effort is needed to interpret them and thus to understand his will. We are challenged to go to Bethlehem, to find the Child and his Mother. Let us follow the light which God offers us – that tiny light.

The hymn in the breviary poetically tells us that the Magi ‘lumen requirunt lumine’ – that tiny light. The light which streams from the face of Christ, full of mercy and fidelity. And once we have found him, let us worship him with all our heart, and present him with our gifts: our freedom, our understanding and our love. True wisdom lies concealed in the face of this Child.

It is here, in the simplicity of Bethlehem, that the life of the Church is summed up. For here is the wellspring of that light which draws to itself every individual in the world and guides the journey of the peoples along the path of peace.



January 6, feast of the Epiphany, a big day for the Church throughout the world and especially so at the Vatican with Pope Francis’ Mass and homily, followed by remarks at the Angelus for the huge crowd overflowing St. Peter’s Square, a festive mood pervading every moment this morning. January 6 is an important day for families, especially the children as they receive a visit from the Befana (epiphany), an old lady who rides a broomstick and carries a bag on her back who gives the kids coal (black candy) if they were bad during the year and candy or another gift if they were good – and they also get real presents such as toys.

And today was a festive occasion at the North America College where Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin dedicated a new 10-story building, the newest on the seminary campus. The Janiculum Hill location was inaugurated in 1953 after the seminary was moved from its first home on Via dell’Umilta, a 400-year old former convent just yards from Trevi Fountain, whose doors opened to seminarians on December 8, 1859.

I though I’d take some vacation time at Christmas and never did (Christmas Eve and Day, of course), and then I thought I’d take the day off today but can’t resist the temptation to share some of the moments and some of my photos from such an important day in the life of NAC, the U.S. national seminary in Rome, which also hosts seminarians from Canada and Australia.

The dedication of the new tower ran from 10 to 11:15, Mass began at 11:30 and concluded just before a great lunch in the college dining room.  Like many, I lingered after lunch for coffee and a digestivo and visits with friends, including all of the cardinals present – George Pell, Donald Wuerl, Edwin O’Brien, James Harvey and Agostino Cacciavillan, several bishops, fellow journalists, NAC benefactors and friends, the seminarians and the honored guests who made the new building possible, James and Miriam Mulva of Austin, Texas.

Details to follow tomorrow about the new building, the Mass and Cardinal Parolin’s homily.

Below are photos taken from the new building with some amazing views of Rome – the best views in the city, in my opinion

And here are just a handful of the scores of photos I took of the official dedication which included ritual prayers for a dedication and song. The blessing of the new tower began, in fact, on this floor and we all went down, floor by floor, as Cardinal Parolin blessed classrooms, chapels, practice chapels (where the future priests “practice” saying Mass, giving homilies, etc,) meeting rooms, a lounge area and several small rooms for private meetings.

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Tomorrow is the feast of the Epiphany, the day on which we mark the arrival in Bethlehem of the Three Magi, the Three Kings, the Three Wise Men from the East who followed a star, to see the newborn “King of the Jews.” January 6 is an important holiday for the Vatican, as you might imagine, and also for Italy, and Italians will mark the last day of their Christmas vacation, a prolonged period for many who made their holidays last from Christmas Eve through tomorrow.  In many countries, however, Epiphany is moved to the Sunday preceding January 6.

For the first time in years I will not be covering events in the Vatican – the papal Mass at 10 am in St. Peter’s Basilica (here’s a link to the Mass booklet: http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/libretti/2015/20150106-libretto-epifania.pdf) and the arrival afterwards in St. Peter’s Square of the Three Kings on Horseback and many costumed groups from throughout Italy – choirs, flag throwers from Tuscany, theater groups and so on. I have been invited to the North American College for the dedication of its new building to provide much-needed classroom, office, and study space for the NAC seminarians. I was at the ground-breaking ceremony 14 months ago in the presence of the Mulva Family who made this project possible and they will be there tomorrow for the ceremony, Mass and a tour of the new facilities. Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin will preside at the events tomorrow.

In addition, the seminary’s new website will be unveiled tomorrow (I always thought the “old” one was terrific!) – same address – www.pnac.org – new look!

No news today at the Vatican, but I guess everyone, especially the media, was resting a bit after the big news day yesterday – 20 new cardinals, 15 of whom will be electors in a future conclave.  Pope Francis is probably working on his homily for tomorrow as well as his speeches and other addresses for his trip next week to Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

However, if you read on, I have some background information on the feast of the Epiphany, as well as some photos I took in the cathedral of Cologne, Germany, of the relics of the Three Kings!

In case you missed the news about the new cardinals that I posted yesterday, those stories follow the one about the Epiphany.


The story of the “Adoration of the Wise Men” is one of the best known in the life of the Lord. However, the episode recounted by the Evangelist Matthew is not primarily an exact historical chronicle. Rather, the focus of interest is the content, which concerns the history of salvation in the message passed on by this witness of faith.

This is why the story of the Three Kings has become a favorite subject in the theological expressions of art. The star that guided the Magi has become an example of the Gospel proclamation to all.

The brief account in Matthew’s Gospel (2:1-12), which says that Wise Men from the East, guided by a star, arrived in Bethlehem to worship the newborn Child, was well-known from the Church’s beginnings.

The Evangelist Luke tells of the simple local shepherds of Bethlehem who found Jesus lying in a manger.

Matthew, on the other hand, tells the story of Wise Men, people of high rank who arrive from the East, from afar, following a star. They have also been called “astrologers” (“μαγοι” in Greek), Magi kings and the “Three Kings”.

Their coming from the “East” (Mt 2:1) makes one think of Persia, where the Parsee priests of Zoroaster encouraged the interpretation and deification of stars.

But according to Scripture (cf. Dt 2:2-10), the land they came from might well have been Babylon, Arabia or Syria. “Wise”, therefore, is also a definition of the “foreigners” who had come from afar to worship the newborn Jesus.

Drawing inspiration from Psalm 72[71]: “The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts; the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute” (v. 10); and from Isaiah (60:6): “All from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord”, popular tradition has transformed the three experts in astronomy into three kings of different ages and provenance.

There is no doubt that they were astrologers, because they followed a specific star. This star, like a “Pole star”, a means of orientation, was transformed in subsequent interpretations to the point that it was even shown with Christ’s monogramme, becoming the goal and the symbol of Christ himself.


Tradition claims that the remains of the Magi were found in Jerusalem in the fourth century by the Empress Helena, who took them with her to Constantinople.

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When St. Ambrose, after the year 375, became Bishop of Milan, the Empress presented to him these venerable relics. It is to Ambrose, who possessed an excellent theological formation, that we owe the fact that in theological circles the Epiphany has always met with the recognition it deserves:

“The Wise Men make a gift of their treasures. Do you want to know what an excellent honor they received? The star was visible only to them; where Herod lived it was invisible; where Jesus lay it once again became visible and pointed out the way. So it is that this star is also the way, Christ’s way; for Christ, in the mystery of the Incarnation, is the star, because “a star shall come forth from Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel” (Nm 24:17). Therefore, wherever Christ is, the star is too, for he is ‘the bright morning star’ (Rv 22:16). With his light, then, he points to himself” (cf. St. Ambrose, Comment on Luke II, 45).


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An ancient manual for painters, kept at Mount Athos, also describes the “Adoration of the Magi”: “a house, and the Most Holy One [Mary, Mother of God], seated, holds Jesus, in the act of blessing, as a newborn child. Before her are the three Magi and they are carrying their gifts in small golden caskets. One of them is an elderly, bare-headed man, kneeling, with a long beard. His eyes are fixed on Christ. He holds his gift in one hand and in the other, his crown; the second of the Magi has a short beard, and the third is clean-shaven. They are looking at one another and pointing to Christ. And Joseph stands behind the Most Holy One, wrapped in wonder. Outside the house, a young man holds the bridles of their three horses. And the three Magi appear once again on a hill. They are seated on their mounts, homeward bound. An angel, before them, is showing them the way”.

Popular piety has preferred the legendary account of the “Adoration of the Magi,” the scene so widely depicted in figurative art.

The new Martyrologium Romanum, however, is somewhat more precise. It says that the transferral of the remains of the Three Magi (trium magorum) took place on 13 July to Cologne.

(The above includes selected paragraphs from: http://www.ewtn.com/library/CHISTORY/Epiphmagi.htm)


Pope Francis, known for being fairly unpredictable in many matters, was true to that Sunday as he skirted the usual period of one month between the announcement of new cardinals and the consistory in which they are created by naming 20 new cardinals Sunday to be created in a consistory on February 14. He also went slightly over the ceiling of a maximum of 120 cardinal electors (those under 80), a ceiling created by Pope Paul VI in 1973, producing a few unexpected names and not naming some whose diocese has been traditionally a cardinalatial see.

The announcement of the consistory, but not the names of the new cardinals, was made on December 11.

At the first consistory of his papacy on February 22, 2014, Francis created 19 new cardinals (16 electors, 3 non-electors).

A very large crowd gathered Sunday in St. Peter’s Square to pray the Angelus with Pope Francis, under sunny, blue skies and temperatures considerably warmer than previous days. Many of the pilgrims in the square were still on vacation over a long weekend as they prepare for Tuesday’s holiday, the feast of the Epiphany, and they heard the Pope make this announcement:

“As was already announced, on February 14 next I will have the joy of holding a Concistory, during which I will name 15 new Cardinals who, coming from 14 countries from every continent, manifest the indissoluble links between the Church of Rome and the particular Churches present in the world.

“On Sunday February 15 I will preside at a solemn concelebration with the new Cardinals, while on February 12 and 13 I will hold a Consistory with all the Cardinals to reflect on the orientations and proposals for the reform of the Roman Curia.

“The new Cardinals are:

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura

Archbishiop Manuel José Macario do Nascimento Clemente, Patriarch of Lisbon (Portugal)

Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, C.M., of Addis Abeba (Ethiopia)

Archbishop John Atcherley Dew of Wellington (New Zealand)

Archbishop Edoardo Menichelli of Ancona-Osimo (Italy)

Archbishop Pierre Nguyên Văn Nhon of Hà Nôi (Viêt Nam)

Archbishop Alberto Suàrez Inda of Morelia (Mexico)

Archbishop Charles Maung Bo, S.D.B., of Yangon (Myanmar)

Archbishop Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij of Bangkok (Thailand)

Archbishop Francesco Montenegro of Agrigento (Italy)

Archbishop Daniel Fernando Sturla Berhouet, S.D.B., of Montevideo (Uruguay)

Archbishop Ricardo Blázquez Pérez of Vallodolid (Spain)

Bishop José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuán, O.A.R., of David (Panamá)

Bishop Arlindo Gomes Furtado, of Santiago de Cabo Verde (Archipelago of Cape Verde)

Bishop Soane Patita Paini Mafi of Tonga (Island of Tonga)

“Additionally, I will join to the members of the College of Cardinals five archbishops and bishops emeriti who are distinguished for their pastoral charity in the service of the Holy See and of the Church. They represent so many bishops who, with the same pastoral solicitude, have given witness of love for Christ and for the people of God in particular Churches, in the Rome Curia, and in the diplomatic service of the Holy See.

“They are:

José de Jesús Pimiento Rodriguez, Archbishop Emeritus of Manizales

Archbishop Luigi De Magistris, Major Pro-Penitentiary Emeritus

Archbishop Karl-Joseph Rauber, Apostolic Nuncio

Luis Héctor Villaba, Archbishop Emeritus of Tucumán

Júlio Duarte Langa, Bishop Emeritus of Xai-Xai

“Let us pray for the new Cardinals, that, renewed in their love for Christ, they might be witnesses of His Gospel in the City of Rome and in the world, and with their pastoral experience they might support me more intensely in my apostolic service.”

For some fascinating statistics on the College of Cardinals (as of Saturday, January 3, 2015), click here: http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/documentation/cardinali—statistiche.html


Father Federico Lombardi, Holy See Press Office director, published  some explanatory notes Sunday with information about the College of Cardinals and the cardinals-elect who were announced earlier in the morning during the Angelus by Pope Francis.

“With respect to the number of 120 electors, there were 12 places “open” in the College today or in the coming months. The Pope has slightly exceeded this number, but remained very close to it, such that it is substantially respected.

“The most evident criteria is evidently that of universality. Fourteen different countries are represented, including some that do not currently have a cardinal, and some that have never had one. If the retired archbishops and bishops are counted, eighteen countries are represented. There are no new cardinals from North America (the USA or Canada) because they already have a significant number, and that number has remained stable during the past year. (There is a new Mexican cardinal).

“The presence of countries that have never had a cardinal (Capo Verde, Tonga, Myanmar) is noteworthy. These countries have ecclesial communities that are small or that represent a minority within their country. (The bishop of Tonga is the president of the Episcopal Conference of the Pacific; the Diocese of Santiago de Cabo Verde is one of the most ancient African dioceses; the Diocese of Morelia in Mexico is in a region troubled by violence.)

“The fact that only one of the new cardinals is from the Roman Curia is also notable, while “Roman” cardinals remain about a quarter of the electors. It is evident that the Pope intends to consider the posts of prefects of the congregations and of some other very important institutions within the Curia – as, in this case, the Tribunal of the Signatura – as cardinalatial posts.

“The new nominations confirm that the Pope is not bound to the traditions of the “cardinalatial Sees” – which were motivated by historical reasons in different countries – in which the cardinalate was considered almost “automatically” connected to such sees. Instead, we have several nominations of archbishops and bishops of sees that in the past have not had a cardinal. This applies, for example, to Italy, Spain, Mexico, Panama.

“With regard to the retired nominees, the words of the Pope in his brief introduction should be noted: They represent so many Bishops who, with the same pastoral solicitude” have served as pastors of Dioceses, but also in the Curia and in the diplomatic service. The cardinalatial nominations are intended, then, as a recognition given symbolically to some, but recognizing the merits of all.

“The youngest of the new cardinals is Archbishop Tafi of Tonga (b. 1961), who will become the youngest member of the College of Cardinals.

“The oldest is Archbishop Pimiento Rodriguez, Archbishop emeritus of Manizales (b. 1919).”