The Pope’s Council of Cardinals, intended to have nine members, has not been at that number recently but the Holy Father today new members and confirmed several previous ones.

There was some interesting news from the Vatican Museums today. Vatican officials, meeting with Greek officials in the museums, returned to Greece three fragments of sculptures that have been in the Vatican for several centuries. Museums in a number of countries, in fact, have works of art from Greece, Egypt, Italy and elsewhere and these museums have been asking, for years in some cases, that the art works to be returned to the original owners.   Let’s see if this act stimulates others to follow in Vatican footsteps.


(CNA – Courtney Mares) – Pope Francis appointed five new members to his council of cardinals advisers on Tuesday, including Synod organizer Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich and Canadian Cardinal Gérald C. Lacroix.

The Vatican announced on March 7 the nine members of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals tasked with assisting the pope “in the governance of the universal Church.”

The pope has nominated Brazilian Cardinal Sérgio da Rocha, Spanish Cardinal Juan José Omella Omella, and Cardinal Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, the president of the Governorate of Vatican City State, to be new members of the council, along with Hollerich and Lacroix.

With the new appointments, Honduran Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, 80, and Germany’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx, 69, are no longer members of the Council of Cardinals. Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, the 80-year-old retired president of the Governorate of Vatican City State, has been replaced by his successor.

TO CONTINUE: Pope Francis adds Hollerich and four other cardinals to his council of advisers | Catholic News Agency


A Holy See communiqué today announced that a deed of donation was signed in the Vatican Museums this morning that gives three fragments from the Parthenon back to Greece. This was desired by Pope Francis “as a concrete sign of the sincere desire to continue on the ecumenical path of bearing witness to the Truth.”

The ceremony in the Gregorian Profane Museum was attended by Cardinal Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, president of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State and the Governorate of Vatican City State, Papamikroulis Emmanouil, who represented His Beatitude Ieronymos II, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece; Styliani-Lina Mendoni, Minister of Culture and Sport of the Hellenic Republic, and Barbara Jatta, director of the Vatican Museums. (Vatican media)

On March 24, a representative of the Dicastery for Christian Unity will attend the ceremony in Athens occassioned by the arrival of the fragments.





Happy St. Nicholas feast day! Happy onomastico or name day to all those named Nicholas or a derivative thereof! This saint is a patron of Bakers, Brides and Grooms, Children, Greece, Pawnbrokers and Travelers!

Welcome back to Rome, Pope Francis! What an amazing – and surely exhausting – trip to Cyprus and Greece! For papal inflight interview on plane from Athens to Rome: Pope: “The EU document on Christmas is anachronistic” – Vatican News

At the end of the Vatican news report there is a video interview in English with a young Greek, Filippo Parusis : Pope concludes Greece & Cyprus journey with visit to St. Mary Major – Vatican News


Pope Francis returns to Rome at the end of his Apostolic Journey to Cyprus and Greece, praying at the feet of Our Lady for the many people he met during his visit.

By Francesca Merlo

Pope Francis’s 35th Apostolic Visit abroad has come to an end. He concluded his 6-day trip to Cyprus and Greece with a meeting with Greece’s young people, before he was sent off with an official departure ceremony from Athens airport.

The journey from Athens to Rome’s Ciampino airport takes just over two hours, during which time the usual in-flight press conference takes place with journalists on board the papal plane.

On the car ride back to the Vatican, the Pope stopped off at the Basilica of St. Mary Major to pray briefly at the feet of the ancient Roman icon of Mary Salus Populi Romani.

According to the Holy See Press Office, Pope Francis entrusted the many “encounters, faces, and painful stories of the past days” to Our Lady.

Opportunity for unity

Pope Francis’ trip has been a significant one for Greeks, who saw the Pope’s visit as a message for Christian unity for a country with a Catholic minority and an Orthodox majority.

The Pope, in fact, met with a delegation from the Greek Orthodox Church, in which he recalled the metaphor of the age-old olive trees present in Greece, comparing their deep and sustaining roots to the shared, apostolic roots of Christianity which have endured over the centuries.

He also met privately with the Orthodox Primate, Ieronymos II, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, who paid him a courtesy visit at the Apostolic Nunciature on the eve of his departure back to Rome.


Another important aspect of the Pope’s journey was his visit to the Greek island of Lesbos, which he had previously been to in 2016.

The Pope often appeals for humanity for the migrants attempting to cross borders and seas in search for a better life, and the island of Lesbos has seen throusands of migrants and refugees as they reach the island in an attempt to travel to Europe.

During a meeting with some of those currently living in camps on the island, Pope Francis asked every man and woman, “to overcome the paralysis of fear, the indifference that kills, the cynical disregard that nonchalantly condemns to death those on the fringes.”

Young people

The meeting with young people at the Saint Dionysius School of the Ursuline Sisters in Athens closed a journey that aimed to give impetus to the new generations grappling with a future marked by uncertainties and fears.

One young man, Filippo Parusis, described the Pope’s visit as important “even for those who do not believe”.

He told Vatican News’ Massimiliano Menichetti in Athens that because the Pope is someone who cares about “all of the different communities of this world”, having him visit and share his messages is a wonderful opportunity, especially for “a young man who is interested in the social problems of the world.”




POPE RECEIVES CROATIAN PRESIDENT ZORAN MILANOVIĆ: Pope Francis on Monday received Zoran Milanović, president of the Republic of Croatia, who also met Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States. A Vatican statement said, “ During the cordial discussions, the parties expressed their appreciation for the good existing bilateral relations, and the intention to further develop collaboration. They also discussed several international and regional issues, including the situation of the Croatian people in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” (source: vaticannews)

POPE CALLS SECULAR FRANCISCANS TO CLOSENESS, COMPASSION, TENDERNESS: Pope Francis addressed the Secular Franciscan Order in Rome for their General Chapter, expressing his hope that they might fight for justice, work for an integral ecology, collaborate in missionary projects, and become artisans of peace and witnesses of the Beatitudes. He also “recalled some elements proper to your vocation and mission” such as “the universal call to holiness.” Francis noted that secular Franciscans are “men and women committed to living in the world according to the Franciscan charism,” and expressed his hope that “your secularity be full of closeness, compassion, and tenderness,” and they be “men and women of hope,” committed to “living” their secularity, but also ”organising it, translating it into the concrete situations of every day, into human relationships, into social and political commitment; nourishing hope in tomorrow by alleviating the pain of today.”

ITINERARY RELEASED FOR PAPAL TRIP TO CYPRUS, GREECE: Pope Francis will be travelling to Cyprus and Greece from December 2 to 6, embarking on his next international apostolic journey to the two nations. The Holy See Press Office released his planned schedule over the five days that includes a busy schedule of meetings with local authorities, Church leaders, liturgical celebrations and ecumenical encounters. The Pope will also return to Greece’s Lesbos island to visit with migrants. For full vaticannews story: Itinerary released for Pope’s journey to Cyprus and Greece – Vatican News

POPE TO VISIT FLORENCE TO MEET BISHOPS AND MAYORS OF THE MEDITERRANEAN: The Vatican announced today that Pope Francis will travel to Florence, Italy on February 27, 2022, for a meeting dedicated to issues and dynamics that are particularly relevant and of impact for cities, towns, and communities bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The meeting will include mayors, the highest-ranking officials of Mediterranean cities. Francis will also meet with families of refugees and migrants. Francis previous to Florence was in 2015 when he participated in the V National Convention of the Italian Bishops’ Conference. Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, expressed “deep gratitude” to the Pope for “this gesture of attention towards the initiative that involves the ecclesial and civil communities of the Mediterranean.” (source:vaticannews)


In case you are in or going to Greece before June 15:

I have always had a great fondness and admiration for St. Helena and featured her in my book “A Holy Year in Rome,” when describing the basilica of Holy Cross in Jerusalem that was built over her home (starts on page 112). At the venerable age of 80 (when most people did not live that long!) she went to the Holy Land with her son, Emperor Constantine, and brought back to Rome some relics of the passion, now in that basilica.

The relics of Empress St. Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, and relics of the True Cross left Italy for Greece on a pilgrimage that lasts until June 15, the first time they have left their home since the Crusades. St. Helena was responsible for her son promulgating the great Edict of Milan that granted freedom of worship to all citizens of the empire, and ended, for the time, the bloody persecution of Christians.  She is revered in both the Latin and Eastern Church.

An email from the chancellor of the Constantinian Order in the United States provided some of the details about this pilgrimage. St. Helena’s remains were escorted by military detachments from Rome to Athens.  She was welcomed in Greece with full military honors due a Head of State. The president of Greece and the archbishop of Athens were there to greet the relics.  Tens of thousands of Greeks lined the streets and waited for hours to pass by her relics to venerate them.


My guest this weekend in the interview segment of “Vatican Insider” is Dina Gorni, an archeologist with the Israeli Antiquities Authority with some fascinating stories and a wonderful discovery. Dina was in Rome for the opening several days ago of an exhibit at Rome’s Jewish Museum and the Vatican’s Charlemagne Wing called “The Menorah: Worship, History and Myth.”

Dina tells us about the exhibit, how it began and what it features, including one of the rarest works in archeology – that she discovered! – the celebrated Magdala Stone. The stone has been loaned to this exhibit on an exceptional basis by Israel.

I wrote about this on last Monday after I interviewed Dina, noting that the exhibit was a kind of world premiere as the Vatican, Rome’s Jewish community and the Israeli Antiquities Authority teamed up for the first-ever joint exhibit by their respective museums. The focus, as the title says, is the menorah, the seven-armed candelabrum described in the Jewish Torah and also depicted in both Jewish and Christian art over many centuries.

Dina relates how the Legionaries of Christ wanted to build a hotel for pilgrims on land in Magdala on the shores of Lake Tiberias but the IAA said that, since this was historic land, they’d want to do some excavations – and, as they say, the rest is history. The Magdala stone, in fact, depicts the oldest carved image of the Second Temple’s seven-branched menorah ever found. So tune in for sure!

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=



I rarely write a “Joan’s Rome” column over the weekend and this weekend was no exception. However, the news from Lesbos about the papal visit to a refugee camp on that Greek island, including the papal in-flight interview with media, was so important that I did take some time to post stories on Facebook (facebook.com(joan.lewis.10420).

The in-flight conversation was important enough that I am including it in today’s column. There was other news yesterday, including the Regina Coeli (see below) and a beautiful papal Mass yesterday in St. Peter’s Basilica during which the Pope ordained 11 new priests, including twin brothers from Italy.


Sunday, after reciting the Regina Coeli with the faithful in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis spoke movingly of his lightning quick trip the day before to the Greek island of Lesbos to visit a refugee center. He said, “I brought the solidarity of the Church to the refugees and to the Greek people,” He noted that, “Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Hieronymous of Athens and of All Greece were with me to signify the unity in charity of all the disciples of the Lord.”

The Holy Father thanked all who accompanied him and who had helped arrange this trip in a very quick fashion, and especially thanked everyone who had prayed for the visit. He explained that the three religious leaders visited with more than 300 refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, North Africa and other parts of the world. “So many of them were children!” the Pope exclaimed. He noted, with great emotion, how some of the children had witnessed the deaths of parents or companions. “I saw so much sorrow!” (photo news.va)


After a slight pause, Francis said he had a special story to tell the faithful. He then recounted the case of a young Muslim man with two young children whose Christian fiancée was killed by terrorists because she would not deny Christ and renounce her faith. “She is a martyr!” the Pope stated.

(Saturday, after his five-hour visit, Pope Francis invited three Muslim refugee families to accompany him on the plane to Rome. He later told the media on the plane that no Christian families were selected as none had their documents in order, speaking of the papers needed to legally exit Greece and legally enter Italy.

(Sunday evening, ANSA news agency reported that the refugees who were at risk of deportation from the Greek island of Lesbos that Pope Francis brought back to Italy had their first Italian class on April 17. The first day of the three Syrian families hosted by Sant’Egidio Community was spent trying to adjust to the new environment. On Sunday evening a celebratory dinner was held in the Trastevere neighborhood for the six adults, four children and two adolescents. Sant’Egidio staff said all have warmly thanked Pope Francis who brought them back to Rome from Lesbos Saturday on the papal plane.)


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis gave a 30-minute press conference on the flight back from Lesbos to Rome on Saturday, sharing thoughts on a wide range of subjects including his opinion regarding the deal between the EU and Turkey, his meeting with Bernie Sanders, the closure of European borders and his recent apostolic exhortation.

The Pope began his traditional conversation with journalists aboard the papal plane reflecting on the fact that the visit to Lesbos had had a very strong emotional impact on him. Asked what he thinks about the recent deal between Brussels and Ankara, the Pope highlighted the fact that his visit to Lesbos was undertaken in a purely humanitarian spirit.


Regarding the fact that he has brought three refugee families back to Rome with him, he said the decision was the fruit of a ‘last-minute’ inspiration one of his collaborators had a week ago.

“Everything was arranged according to the rules. They have their documents. The Holy See, the Greek government and the Italian government have checked everything. They have been welcomed by the Vatican and with the collaboration of the Saint Egidio community they will be searching for work” he said.

Asked about a reported meeting on Saturday morning in the Vatican with the American presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Pope Francis acknowledged it had taken place but specified that it had been a purely ‘polite’ encounter.

“This morning when I was leaving Senator Sanders was there. He had come to participate in the ‘Centesimus Annus’ Conference and greeted me politely together with his wife (…) It is called ‘manners’ and has nothing to do with politics” he said.

Another journalist asked why the three families of refugees chosen to be brought back to the Vatican are all Muslim. The Pope said the choice was not between Christians and Muslims and that those who were selected all had their papers in order.

One journalist asked the Pope whether he thinks that the closing of European borders marks the end of a European dream. Francis said that while he understands there are some governments and peoples who are afraid, he said he believes we have the responsibility of welcome.

“I have always said that building walls is not a solution. We saw walls during the last century and they did not resolve anything. We must build bridges. Bridges are built with intelligence, with dialogue, with integration” he said.

The Pope expressed his belief that Europe must urgently implement policies that welcome people, integrate them with work, create policies that foresee growth and a push forward a reform of the economy.

“All these things – he said – are bridges”, and he highlighted the suffering and pain witnessed during his visit to the camp in Lesbos.

The children there, he said, had given him drawings (which he showed those present) in which they asked for peace and expressed their pain and fear after having seen terrible things like other children drowning.

Asked whether Europe can open its arms to all the misery in the world the Pope reflected on the many faces of human suffering. He mentioned war and hunger, both of these – he said – an effect of the exploitation of the planet. He spoke of deforestation and of trafficking and of how fighting factions in Syria have been armed by others.

“I would invite the producers of arms to spend a day in the camp (in Lesbos): I believe that would be good” he said.

Turning to the Pope’s recently released Apostolic Exhortation on the family, one journalist asked for clarification saying there are discussions going on between those who maintain that nothing has changed when it comes to the question of access to the sacraments for the divorced and remarried while others argue that much has changed on this front.

In his reply, Pope Francis said a lot has changed but he urged the journalists to read the presentation made by Cardinal Schonborn, describing him as a great theologian who was also secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and whom, he said, has a thorough knowledge of the faith.

“The answer to your question, he declared, is contained in that presentation.”

Pope Francis confessed that he was somewhat annoyed and saddened by the media’s fixation during and after the Synod  on the single issue of whether the divorced and remarried would be allowed to take communion.

He said the media didn’t realize that this was not the important question and they fail to notice that the family unit, the cornerstone of our society throughout the world, is in a state of crisis.

“They don’t realize, he went on, that young people don’t want to marry, that the falling birthrate in Europe should make us weep, that there is a lack of jobs, there are fathers and mothers taking on two jobs and children are growing up on their own without having their parents around”.


TODAY’S PAPAL TWEET: In the darkest hours of a family’s life, union with Jesus can help avoid a breakup.

There’s a lot of material today, so just take it easy, have some more coffee and a doughnut (or, if you read this later, enjoy a Chardonnay), and read at your leisure.


Here’s a heads up on my guest this weekend on “Vatican Insider,” Fr. Jeff Kirby. He was born in Texas and briefly lived in what was then West Germany as his Dad was in the military, He attended the Pontifical North American College and Roman pontifical universities in Rome, and was ordained in South Carolina where he began his priestly ministry. While still in Rome, Kirby was appointed Vicar of Vocations for the Diocese of Charleston.


Fr. Jeff has also led a number of parish missions and retreats, and authored a number of books, including two on St. Peter’s Basilica. One is called “101 Surprising Facts About St. Peter’s and The Vatican.” In 2011 he became the founding director of the Drexel House, a Catholic residence for men in downtown Charleston, SC. He is back in Rome to complete his Doctoral Degree in Moral Theology. We talk about all of this – and a lot more – in our conversation.


As you know, in the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at www.ewtn.com) or on Sirius-XM satellite radio. If you live 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 9:30 am (Eastern time) and re-airs Sundays at 4:30 pm (ET). Check for your time zone. Past shows are found in Vatican Insider archives: http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/file_index.asp?SeriesId=7096&pgnu=


(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis made his customary visit to the papal basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome on Thursday evening, ahead of his Apostolic journey to the Greek island of Lesbos tomorrow, April 16. During the course of his 30-minute visit before Salus populi Romani, the Holy Father presented a bouquet of white and blue roses – the colors of the Greek flag – to the ancient Marian icon before pausing for a moment of silent prayer. The Vatican released the official program of the Holy Father’s visit to Lesbos on Thursday.


Caritas Internationalis and Caritas Hellas released a report prior to the visit Saturday by Pope Francis to the Greek island of Lesbosl, where he will meet with refugees and migrants who have made the trip by sea from Turkey.

Over a million people crossed into Greece last year and 150,000 so far in 2016. Nearly half of those refugees came to Lesbos, with most fleeing war and poverty. Over 55 percent were women and children, says the report.

The papal visit comes at a difficult moment for refugees because, under a contested plan, the European Union began returning newcomers to neighboring Turkey this month.

The main camp for the refugees and migrants is now a “closed center,” which means that refugees and migrants are not permitted to leave. Caritas has been providing emergency aid on the island through Caritas Hellas (Caritas Greece) and in other hotspots in Greece since the start of the crisis last year.

“The refugees and migrants are very excited about the visit of Pope Francis. They’re making bouquets of flowers and they want to meet him,” said Tonia Patrikiadou, Caritas Hellas Field Manager for a Caritas-run hotel on Lesbos.

“The Pope’s visit is a symbol of hope and solidarity for the refugees. It’s a sign that the world has not forgotten them and help is a possibility,” she said.

Caritas Hellas – supported by sister Caritas – opened the hotel in Lesbos for refugees and migrants with 220 beds and 88 rooms. The hotel is for very vulnerable cases, such as pregnant women. It works with a local hospital, so there are doctors on call 24 hours a day. All the refugees and migrants in the hotel are part of relocation programs, family reunification programs or are asylum cases. They’re waiting to be transferred to Athens.

Working in Greece on the islands, Athens and the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Caritas has provided food to 80,000 people, basic aid to 78,000 people, hygiene to 40,000 people, information to 2,200 and counselling to 1000.

Pope Francis will travel together with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, and the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Greece, Archbishop Hieronimus II.

Caritas Hellas agreed this month on closer cooperation with Apostoli, the charitable arm of the Orthodox Church in Athens. “Together we will be able to help the refugees and migrants more,” said Maristella Tsamatropoulou, communications officer of Caritas Hellas, “while strengthening relations between the two churches.”


(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis’s journey Saturday 16 April to the Greek island of Lesbos is a show of solidarity for migrants “who are people; they have a history, they have dreams, they have names,” according to Fr. Leon Kiskinis, the only Catholic parish priest on the island.

He told Vatican Radio’s Francesca Sabatinelli that migrants need “to be treated with dignity, as human beings.”

The International Migration Organization estimates that since the beginning of this year, more than 170,000 migrants and refugees have made the treacherous journey by sea to Greece and Italy.

Since Pope Francis was elected to the papacy, says Fr. Kiskinis, he has always shown his closeness to “those on the margins, those deprived of their dignity.”  He recalls that the Pope’s first journey at the start of his pontificate was to the Italian island of Lampedusa in solidarity with the tens of thousands of refugees arriving on its shores.

Saturday, Pope Francis will be visiting the Greek island of Lesbos at a time when many European countries are closing their borders to refugees.  It also comes amid growing criticism of the March 18 EU-Turkey deal, which stipulates anyone arriving clandestinely on Greek islands on or after March 20 will be returned to Turkey unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece.

Lesbos community did not “close doors or raise barriers”

Fr. Kiskinis says he thinks the Pope’s choice to visit Lesbos was not by chance.

“Lesbos is an island of call for these people who come from the Turkish coast; I do not think that this decision is random. Because, despite the presence of the authorities, institutions, non-governmental organizations, the local people, simple people, have shown a brotherhood, a humanity never seen before in these parts.”

The citizens of Lesbos “did not close the door, did not close their hearts, did not create borders or barriers,” he continues.  Rather, they “welcomed these people in the hope that they can receive warmth and welcome in Europe, this Europe that it is the home of human rights.”

He expresses his conviction that migrants making the risky journey to Lesbos from Turkey are looking for a better future for themselves and their families and should “experience this European hospitality of human rights.”

Ecumenical dimension: unity of Churches to respond to migrant crisisFr. Kiskinis explains that besides the humanitarian dimension of the papal visit, there is also the ecumenical aspect,  “I believe that to solve this…migration crisis we should not work alone – we must collaborate; we must work together.”  And that means not just European governments “but also the churches: the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Orthodox Church of Greece” should “collaborate and give witness to unity in the migration crisis.”

“We are here as Christians, without distinction of race, culture, language, religion, to give a little relief to these people, and also to raise awareness in the European community, among governments, that they need to work together…not separately, each on his own,” says Fr. Kiskinis

“It’s not by constructing borders and barriers that one can stop these people escaping from war; they have no alternative but to get to Europe hoping for a better future. In this sense, the Pope’s visit has a great Christian ecumenical dimension.”

Small Catholic community sees Jesus in the faces of migrants

When he learned that the Pope was planning to visit the island, Fr. Kiskinis says he “was really surprised; I really didn’t believe it because I’m a parish priest, and I was not ready for a possible visit by the Pope. It’s true that the local Catholic Church is a small community, and perhaps that’s also why I am the only pastor on the island.  There is only one Catholic church on this island, but it’s a community of very committed believers in welcoming these people, because our faith is not abstract, it’s real. We think we see Jesus, who was hungry, naked, a stranger, in the faces of these people. Regardless of where they come from, we try to see Christ, giving them a glass of water or a shirt to cover themselves.  We want to believe that we are doing it for Jesus himself.”

Small community “on outskirts of Church” feels “pampered” by papal visit

For this reason too, the priest stresses, the Pope’s visit brings no small satisfation to “this small community that is just on the outskirts of the Church.”   Pope Francis, he adds, “is very sensitive to this condition. We are in Europe, we are also close to Italy, but in these islands where the Catholic community is just a small minority, we feel ‘pampered,’ if I may say so, by the presence of the Pope. It means showing us his affection, his appreciation for this small community that strives not only to stay alive, but also to be useful, speaking as a Christian, to these people who come from the Turkish coast.”

He notes that up until “three or four years ago” there was no permanent presence of a Catholic priest on the island but “these faithful were able to get along virtually alone, without a continuous ministry.”  Four years ago, he notes, the bishop decided to place a permanent parish priest on the island “and then after four years comes the Pope! So we really feel pampered!”

People feel less involved since EU-Turkey accord

He says the islanders’ “fraternal welcoming” of the migrants has not faltered since the EU-Turkey accord. But there is some perceptible change …. A few months ago, he explains, people went out to help migrants who were arriving in small boats.  Now, he notes, ships from the EU’s border management agency, Frontex and the Turkish coast guard go out to meet the boats so “people feel less involved …in providing assistance.  It’s not that they don’t help, but they help less. But the relationship between the Islanders and migrants has not changed; the solidarity is still there though it’s less evident compared to some months ago.”


Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders arrived in Rome this morning to attend a Vatican conference co-sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies. The conference invited about three dozen economists, academics, church leaders and politicians to reflect on St. John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical on social and economic justice, “Centesimus Annus.”

Sanders’ arrival – along with his wife and 10 members of their family, according to media at the airport – was greeted in Rome and just outside the Vatican by great fanfare, perhaps even more so than two South American heads of State, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and Bolivian President Evo Morales. Morales was received this morning by Pope Francis. He sat next to Sanders at the conference.

Sanders and his wife arrived in Vatican City by the Perugino entrance, a broad gate on the south wall of Vatican City that leads cars past the papal residence, the Santa Marta, on the right, and is only about 100 yards from the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica known as the diplomatic entrance.



The road leading to the pontifical academy winds around the west end of the basilica and through the Vatican gardens to the architectural jewel, the Casina Pio IV, that houses the academy.




The academy has been criticized by some for inviting a presidential candidate in the midst of an election period. Critics say the invitation had clear political overtones, although Sanders told a left leaning Italian daily, La Repubblica, when asked if the invitation to speak was an endorsement of his politics, “the Vatican isn’t involved in that. The conference isn’t a political event.”

The possibility of a Sanders meeting with Pope Francis upset many but the Holy Father penned a note to conference attendees. saying he had foreseen coming to the conference at 7pm, but realized that his attendance would be “very complicated” because of his trip to Lesbos set for tomorrow morning, Saturday.

Sanders’ talk was titled “The Urgency of a Moral Economy: Reflections on the 25th Anniversary of ‘Centesimus Annus’.”

He did praise the Catholic Church, saying, “there are few places in modern thought that rival the depth and insight of the Church’s moral teachings on the market economy.”



PAPAL TWEET: April 14: Love is the only light which can constantly illuminate a world grown dim.


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis will spend six hours on the Greek island of Lesbos on Saturday, April 16, where – together with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, Ieronymus II – he will spend time with refugees. (photo news.va – Syrian refugees arrive Lesbos)


“Lesbos … is very close to the Turkish coast, just a few kilometers,” explained Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, at a press briefing on Thursday. “This is the reason so many migrants go to the island of Lesbos.”

Father Lombardi said the visit will have a humanitarian and ecumenical perspective.

“It does not directly touch on political positions, or other such things, but their focus is fundamentally humanitarian, experienced in an ecumenical key,” Father Lombardi said.

After arriving by plane on the island, Pope Francis meet briefly with the Prime Minister of Greece, and then travel to the Mòria refugee camp, which is home to about 2,500 people.

The three religious leaders will have a special meeting with minors at the camp, as well as 250 selected asylum-seekers.

“The presence of minors, children, orphans – even those on their own – is very typical in these situations,” – Father Lombardi said – “Therefore, it is right to give them particular attention.”

While at the camp, a joint declaration will be signed, and Pope Francis and the other religious leaders will have lunch with some of the refugees.

Pope Francis will also have a meeting with the small local Catholic community. There are about 100 Catholics on Lesbos, and other Catholics in Greece will travel to the island to attend the encounter.

“Keep in mind that there is also a presence of the Catholic Church in Greece. Although very small in quantitative terms, it is still present,” Father Lombardi said.

At the end of the visit, the three religious leaders will hold a memorial for all the victims of the migration crisis, and observe a moment of silence for those who have died.

Returning to the airport, Pope Francis will meet privately with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymus and have a second private meeting with the prime minister before leaving for Rome. (Pope and Patriarch in Vatican)

Francis and Bartholomew


07:00  Departure from Rome-Fiumicino International airport for Mytilene (capital of Lesbos)

10:20 Arrival at the international airport of Mytilene


The Holy Father is received by the Prime Minister; and is then welcomed by His Holiness Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, His Beatitude Hieronymos, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, and after this, by  Bishop Franghískos Papamanólis, O.F.M. Cap., Chairman of the Greek Episcopal Conference.


10:55  Transfer by minibus with His Holiness Bartholomew and his Beatitude Hieronymos to Mòria refugee camp (16 Km).

11:15 Arrival at Mòria refugee camp(home to around 2.500 asylum-seekers)


Along the barricades will be gathered about 150 minors who are guests of the center. The religious leaders will go across the courtyard dedicated to the registration of refugees and will arrive at the big tent to individually greet about 250 asylum seekers.

12.25:  Speech by Archbishop Hieronymos; by Patriarch Bartholemew;  and by Pope Francis at the podium of the courtyard for refugee registration.

12.40:  Signing of the joint declaration.

12.45:  Lunch with the three religious leaders with the some of the refugees in the space behind the podium.

13.30  transfer by minibus to the port (8 Km)

13.45  arrival at the headquarters of the Coast Guard.




At the end, the three religious leaders will each recite a brief prayer for the victims of migration.

After a minute of silence is called for, the three leaders will receive from three children laurel wreaths, which will be thrown into the sea.

14:15  transfer by minibus to the airport (3 Km).

14:30 In the airport:





15:15  Departure by plane from the international airport of Mytilene for Rome.

16:30 Arrival at Rome’s Ciampino airport.

(Flight time is 2 hour, 20 minutes – Greece is one hour ahead of Rome)


PAPAL TWEET – April 13, 2016: The Lord’s presence dwells in families, with all their daily troubles and struggles, joys and hopes.

As you know, Pope Francis will travel to the Greek island of Lesbos this Saturday to assess the situation of the huge numbers of migrants and refugees who have arrived there and are taxing not only the local economy but the reserves of hospitality of the people. I will bring you more in coming days about that trip, including input from Caritas, which is present on the ground.


Pope Francis told the tens of thousands of faithful at today’s general audience that, “in our catechesis for this Holy Year of Mercy, we now consider the Gospel account of the calling of Saint Matthew.  Jesus not only invites a tax-collector, a public sinner, to be his disciple, but also sits at table with him, thus scandalizing the Pharisees.  The Lord then explains that he has come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

The Pope went on to say that, “the calling of Matthew reminds us that when Christ makes us his disciples, he does not look to our past but to the future.”

The Holy Father then interrupted his own catechesis by quoting what he said was “a wonderful saying I heard long ago: ‘There is no saint without a past and no sinner without a future!’” In fact, he repeated these words several times, to great applause from the faithful.

“We need but respond to (Jesus’) call with a humble and sincere heart,” explained Francis. “Jesus invites us to sit with him at the table of the Eucharist, in which he purifies us by the power of his word and by the sacrament unites us ever more deeply to himself.  Citing the prophet Hosea, he tells us that what God desires is ‘mercy, not sacrifice’, true conversion of heart and not merely formal acts of religion.

“May all of us,” urged the Pope, “in acknowledging our sins, respond more generously to the Lord’s invitation to sit at table with him, and with one another, with immense gratitude for his infinite mercy and saving love.”

At the end of the catechesis, Pope Francis remarked that he was united with the Church in Poland in marking the 1050th anniversary of the “baptism of the nation” an he asked God to bless the Polish people both at home and abroad.

“Together with the pastors and faithful, I give thanks to God for this historic event, which over the centuries has formed the faith, the spirituality, and the culture of your country, in the community of peoples  whom Christ has invited to participate in the mystery of His death and resurrection,” he told Polish pilgrims, many of whom wore traditional dress.

“Give thanks to the Lord – according to the words of Saint John Paul II – for the gift of having been – over 1000 years ago – baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; to be baptized in the water which, through grace, perfect in us the image of the living God; the water which is a wave of eternity: a spring of water welling up to eternal life. I ask God that the present generation and future generations of Poles remain faithful to the grace of baptism, giving witness to the love of Christ and the Church.,”

According to a note by Vatican Radio, a joint session of both chambers of the Polish Parliament will meet in Poznań on Friday to mark the acceptance by Polish ruler Mieszko I of Christianity in 966, which is considered the foundational event of the nation.


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday issued an appeal for prayers for his upcoming trip to the Greek island of Lesbos, where he will meet with some of the tens of thousands of refugees who have passed through the island. (photo news.va)


“Next Saturday I will go to the island of Lesbos, where many refugees have passed in recent months,” the Pope said, speaking during his 13 April general audience at the Vatican. “I will go, together with my brothers, Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and of all Greece, to express my closeness and solidarity to the refugees and citizens of Lesbos, and all the Greek people – who are very generous in their welcoming.”

“I ask you to please accompany me with prayer, invoking the light and strength of the Holy Spirit and the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary.”

Pope Francis will travel to Lesbos Saturday, 16 April at the invitations of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, and of Greek President, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, the Vatican announced 7 April.

One million refugees have made their way to Greece over the past year. Lesbos is a major entry point for refugees, which has received tens of thousands of people, many of them fleeing the war in Syria.


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ appeal to pray for his upcoming journey to Lesbos on Saturday shines a spotlight on the plight of hundreds of thousands of desperate migrants fleeing conflict and poverty.

Internationally acclaimed photojournalist Aris Messinis, the chief photographer for Agence France Presse in Athens, is currently on assignment in Lesbos. Messinis recently gained attention in the media not for a photo he captured, but rather for an image taken of him in which he set his camera aside to help a refugee child struggling to get out of the water. (photo: news.va)


Messinis has been on assignment in Lesbos for over a year now. Vatican Radio’s Antonella Palermo speaks with him about the situation there and his thoughts on the upcoming papal visit.

“Lesbos is only one part of a difficult journey,” Messinis explains. There are many risks involved with travelling by ocean. Many refugees do not know how to swim. The dinghies they are using are designed for lakes and made to hold a maximum of 18 people, though they try to fit up to 80 in one. Because they are so overcrowded, the risk for drowning or going missing is much higher.

As a photojournalist, Messinis feels it is his job to show people the reason why there is a migrant crisis. “We need to understand that it is not the migrants’ fault,” he says. “Someone else created this war, and it is just a survival instinct for them to escape the danger.”

When asked about the now iconic photo of himself, he said it was a “natural instinct” to help the refugee. “When you see someone in danger asking for help, what will you do – take their picture? No way.”

Messinis is thrilled to be present for Pope Francis’ visit, calling it a “big step.” He hopes it will inspire people to take action in aiding the thousands of suffering migrants risking their lives for the pursuit of a better future.



A communiqué from the Vatican Press Office has confirmed next week’s papal visit which aims to show support and solidarity for refugees in the front line of Europe’s migrant crisis. Press Office director, Fr. Federico Lombardi says the visit also has a strong ecumenical dimension. (photo news.va)


The press release says the Pope has accepted the invitations of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, His Holiness Bartholomew, and of the Greek president.

It says Pope Francis will meet with the refugees on the island together with the Ecumenical Patriarch and with His Holiness Jerome II, Archbishop of Athens and all Greece.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees, many fleeing the war in Syria, have poured onto the Aegean island over the past year.

This is a particularly delicate moment for them as, under a contested plan, the European Union started returning newcomers to neighboring Turkey this month.

Pope Francis has repeatedly appealed for support for migrants and refugees.

His first journey, after his election as Pope in 2013, was to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, which, like Lesbos, has received hundreds of thousands of migrants.




A Vatican statement today said the Orthodox Church of Greece on Tuesday said it would welcome a visit of Pope Francis to the island of Lesbos to meet with migrants and refugees arriving across the Mediterranean sea. A statement from the Holy Synod, or ruling body of the Orthodox Church in Athens, said the Pope had expressed a desire to visit one of the islands in order to draw attention to the humanitarian problems of the migrants, as well as the need for “an immediate cessation of hostilities in the wider Mediterranean region”.

The head of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, said there have been discussions about a possible papal visit, but he could not confirm any dates or details. The statement from the Orthodox Church proposed a visit to the island of Lesbos, where hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees have arrived in recent months. Many of them are fleeing from conflicts or persecution in the Middle East and Africa, while many so-called economic migrants are seeking better living conditions in Europe or other Western countries.

A communique from the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople on Tuesday confirmed he would also be visiting the island of Lesbos to highlight the plight of the refugees and migrants throughout the region.


Discussions are underway about a possible trip by Pope Francis to Greece as early as next week as the country begins deporting migrants back to Turkey.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Tuesday that no decision had been made but in an email to The Associated Press he said “I don’t deny that there are contacts about a possible trip.”

A Greek ecclesiastic website, Dogma, reported Tuesday that Francis was planning to visit refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos on April 15 along with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop of Athens Ieronymos. The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, the decision-making body of the Greek church, said Francis had asked to come and the request had been accepted as it was a humanitarian visit of just a few hours.

A controversial European Union plan to stem the flow of refugees began Monday with more than 200 people deported from Lesbos and Chios back to Turkey. Human rights organizations have denounced the deportations as the undoing of Europe’s obligations to protect refugees.

Francis, the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, has been outspoken about the need for Europe and other countries to open their doors and hearts to people fleeing persecution and poverty.

In his first trip outside Rome, he visited the Italian island of Lampedusa, which has seen thousands of migrants arriving on smugglers’ boats from Libya. And recently he celebrated a Mass at the U.S.-Mexico border to pray for Central and South American migrants who died trying to reach the United States.

The Church of Greece said Tuesday that Francis had proposed visiting Greece to raise awareness about the plight of refugees “searching for a better future in the European continent.”

It said it had extended an invitation to Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, to visit at the same time. It said the visit of the leaders of the Catholic and Orthodox churches would send a “very strong signal” about the need to help refugees and protect Christians “who are cruelly suffering” in the Middle East.