I hope each and every one of you, my faithful readers cum friends (whcther you have been with me since 2006 or have just joined the Joan’s Rome family!), had a beautiful, blessed, serene and faith-filled Christmas with family and friends! Mine was special in ways I could not have imagined and, while I missed family, especially the little ones, the Lord filled my days with beautiful people and happy moments and a very memorable Christmas Eve Mass with the Santa Susanna community.

This past weekend I visited Sutri, a lovely, small historic town about a 40-minute drive fron Rome, where some longtime American friends had retired to a terrific new apartment. Angela and Victor used to live just a block away from my home but moved to Sutri a few years back and I had never seen their place – our very busy lives and travels never seemed to intersect at the same time.

It was a wonderful visit and we talked up a storm, sharing memories of the decades and decades we have lived in Rome, although both Angela and Victor have deep roots in Italy with their parents having been born here.

What I found so amazing about the weekend out of Rome (Saturday afternoon to Sunday evening) was how long such a short time period can seem when you are away from your own home – a mini-mini vacation, yet a short period that reinvigorates and makes you feel as if you have been away longer. Try it some time when you need a break and you will see that even a very short break can change your outlook!


According to the Prefecture of the Papal Household, just under 6 million people – 5,916,800 to be exact – attended events presided over by Pope Francis at the Vatican in 2014.

Here are the numbers provided by the Prefecture, the Vatican office that arranges all papal events and audiences, from pilgrims at the Angelus and general audiences, to presidents and heads of State and government encounters: 1,199,000 people attended the weekly general audiences, 567,100 were at special audiences and events, 1,110,700 attended liturgical celebrations, and 3,040,000 were counted in St. Peter’s Square for the Sunday Angelus.

These numbers do not include the faithful who saw Pope Francis or attended papal events outside of Vatican City.


Sunday, before reciting the Angelus, Pope Francis had quite an amazing visit in the Paul VI Hall with 7,000 members of Italy’s National Association of Large Families, including hundreds of little ones, children of all ages, as the association marked its 10th anniversary!

Sunday was special because it was the feast of the Holy Family and what better setting could there have been to celebrate the family, to celebrate large, loving families than to do so in the Vatican and with the Holy Father!

POPE FRANCIS - Large Families

Giuseppe and Raffaella Butturini, an Italian couple with 10 children, organized this remarkable encounter. They had written the Pope previously and asked him to celebrate their anniversary at the Vatican and he immediately said ‘yes.’

The couple said in an interview that the National Association of Large Families was born “when two fathers, who were shopping, met at a supermarket back in August 2004. They were looking at the same fish and thinking the same thing: ‘Oh, it would be great to have this for lunch, if we could only afford it…’. It was too expensive for someone who had to provide for four or six children.” Heads were put together and the rest, as they say, is history.

The gathering included some families from outside of Italy.

“You have come here with the most beautiful fruits of your love. Maternity and paternity are gifts from God, your task is to receive this gift, to be amazed by its beauty and to let it shine in society. Each one of your children is a unique creation that will never be repeated in the history of humanity. When we understand this, that each person is willed by God, we are astonished by the great miracle that is a child.”

“And you, boys and girls,” he said to the children who were all sitting together, “are precisely this: each one of you is the unique fruit of love, you come from love and grow in love. You are unique, but you are not alone. And the fact of having brothers and sisters is good for you: the sons and daughters of large families are more inclined to fraternal communion from early childhood. In a world that is frequently marked by selfishness, the large family is a school of solidarity and sharing; and these attitudes are of benefit to all society.”

“You, children and young people, are the fruit of the tree that is the family: you are good fruit when the tree has good roots – grandparents – and a good trunk – the parents. … The presence of large families is a hope for society.” He then had very special words for grandparents: “This is why the presence of grandparents is very important: a valuable presence both in terms of practical assistance, but above all for their contribution to education. Grandparents preserve the values of a people, of a family, and they help parents transmit them to their children. Throughout the last century, in many countries in Europe, it was the grandparents who transmitted faith.”

“Dear parents,” exclained Francis, “thank you for your example of love for life that you protect from conception to its natural end, in spite of all the difficulties and burdens of life, that unfortunately public institutions do not always help you to bear. … Every family is a cell of society, but the large family is a richer, more vital cell, and the state has much to gain by investing in it.”

In closing, the Pope prayed for “those families who are most affected by the economic crisis, those in which the mother or father have lost their jobs and in which the young are unable to find work, and those families in which the closest relationships are marked by suffering and who are tempted to give in to loneliness and separation.” (source VIS)


At the Angelus Sunday, Pope Francis spoke of separate accidents in the Mediterranean, one of which involved two merchant ships and another with a ferry boat that caught on fire en route from Greece to Italy, and said “I am close with my affection and prayer to the families and loved ones who are undergoing these difficult situations with apprehension and suffering” and also to those involved in the rescue operations. He said his thoughts were also with those on board the missing AirAsia plane that disappeared during a flight between Indonesia and Singapore.”

The missing plane with 162 people aboard, has not yet been found. A total of eight people have died in the ferry boat fire, while most passengers were rescued (as I write) by other ships or saved by helicopters. The ferry, the Norman Atlantic, did not sink but smoke was still billowing after the fire was contained.

Sunday was the feast of the Holy Family and the Pope noted that the Holy Family – the infant Jesus, his mother Mary and St. Joseph – are a shining example of mercy and salvation for the entire world.  “This light which comes from the Holy Family encourages us to offer human warmth in those family situation in which, for various reasons, there is a lack of peace and harmony and forgiveness. Our concrete solidarity is just as present, especially when it comes to families who are undergoing difficult situations because of illness, lack of work, discrimination and the need to emigrate.”

At is often his wont, Francise departed from his prepared text and asked the faithful to pray with him in silence for families facing these difficulties and who lack understanding and unity. He asked them to remember that Jesus is “the source of that love which unites family and people, overcoming every mistrust, isolation and distance.”

He then spoke of the role of grandparents, as he did in his earlier meeting with large families, noting “how important” their presence is within the family and society as a whole. “A good relationship between young and old people is a key element in the functioning of the civil and ecclesial community. … When we look at the elderly couple in the Bible, Simeon and Anna, let’s “give a round of applause to all the grandparents in the world.”


(Vatican Radio) Father Federico Lombardi S.J., highlights some of the events that have made 2014 an extremely busy and significant year for Pope Francis.

In a long interview with Vatican Radio, the Director of the Vatican Press Office lists an impressive number of events, speeches, journeys and appeals pronounced by Pope Francis in the year gone by, and says that perhaps the most powerful images to linger in our minds are those of the Pope amongst the people: his reaching out to the faithful in every circumstance, the warmth of his embrace in particular towards children,  people with disabilities or ill health.

Listing the five international apostolic journeys undertaken by Pope Francis this year, Lombardi says that each of them carried within a particular message that places the Church at the center of all the current issues of our times. During 2014 the Pope travelled to the Holy Land, to Korea, to Albania, to Strasbourg and to Turkey, and Lombardi has words for each of these visits.

He is happy, he says, that the Pope travelled to the Holy Land because it is like a journey to the roots of our faith, to the roots of Christianity, to the very places of the history of Salvation, and this he says “has a strong symbolic and spiritual power”. And pointing out the ecumenical aspect of his Holy Land visit, Lombardi speaks in particular of the strong personal relationship Pope Francis has interwoven with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and of  how this is so important for the achievement of full Christian Unity.

And speaking of the Pope’s journey to Korea, Lombardi points out that in a couple of weeks Pope Francis will again return to the Asian continent when he journeys to Sri Lanka and to the Philippines. These visits – Lombardi points out – signal a renewed attention of the Church towards a “predominant portion of today’s and tomorrow’s humanity, both from a demographic point of view” and because of its incredible diversity: “a borderless land for evangelization in social, cultural and political situations of all kinds”.

Regarding Europe, Lombardi says that the Pope’s short journey to Albania was meaningful also for his desire to start from the periphery before going to the heart of the Continent – represented by his trip to Strasbourg when he addressed the  European Parliament and the Council of Europe; a particularly powerful and wide-ranging speech with the added weight of his own non-European  provenance and  viewpoint.

And finally Turkey, where the significance of ecumenism was again highlighted together with interfaith dialogue and his forceful “reaching out” to the Christians (and other minorities) in the Middle East who are pouring across borders to flee persecution and death.

Another important feature of 2014 mentioned by Father Lombardi pertained to the canonizations of Saint John XXIII, Saint John Paul II and the beatification of the Blessed Paul VI. He points out that the common denominator of these great events is the message of the Second Vatican Council which was at the heart of the ministry of these three Popes, a message of an “open Church” that deeply marks the ministry of Francis himself.

The Synod for the Family, Lombardi says,  provides another important theme for the year as does the Pope’s unwavering attention for justice and peace, for the poor, for those who are exploited, for human trafficking, for those persecuted for their faith.

Father Lombardi recalls the innumerable appeals Pope Francis made this year to not turn away from the dramatic situation in Syria and in Iraq, for the need to protect and support migrants and refugees, for attention towards the terrible reality of new forms of slavery including human trafficking. The Pope – Lombardi says – has mobilized the Church and all men and women of goodwill on each of these pressing issues.

Not to be forgotten is Pope Francis’s clear wish to bring reform to the Church itself and to the Curia, which Lombardi says, is part of a wide ranging project that he formulated in his Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”.

Concluding, Father Lombardi says there is a concept we could use to sum up and characterize Pope Francis’ 2014 and that is: his “culture of encounter”. The Pope’s attitude, the way he relates to people, the way he always offers his personality, his personal experience, his friendship as well as this thoughts and ideas really does bring about “the encounter between people,” just as both the American and Cuban Presidents pointed out when they thanked him for providing them with a new dimension in which to start building a bridge between their peoples.