Rome’s winter wonderland of this morning is no longer – the sun came out and melted what it could! However, the memories of this beautiful interlude will linger for a long time!  One of my first thoughts this morning was of the children who were possibly seeing snow for the first time  – the last snowfall here was in February 2012!


Pope Francis made some new appointments on Monday, elevating to the rank of archbishop two prelates who have served in the Vatican for many years, Msgrs. Alfred Xuereb and Jose Bettencourt.

Portuguese Msgr. José Avelino Bettencourt, currently the chief of protocol at the Secretariat of State, has been named titular Archbishop of Cittanova and raised to the office of apostolic nuncio. He was ordained a priest in 1993 and entered the Holy See’s diplomatic service in 1999, serving in the nunciature of the Democratic Republic of Congo before coming to work in the Secretariat of State in 2012. Msgr. Bettencourt speaks English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.

Pope Francis also raised Maltese Msgr. Alfred Xuereb to the rank of archbishop and named him as apostolic nuncio to Korea and Mongolia. Born on the island of Gozo in 1958, Mgr. Xuereb was ordained in 1984 and began working in the secretariat of the Pontifical Lateran University in 1991. He started his service in the Vatican Secretariat of State in 1995, before transferring to the Pontifical Household in November 2000.

He returned to the Secretariat of State, serving as secretary to Pope Benedict XVI from 2007 and then to Pope Francis from his election in March 2013. In November that year, he was named as delegate on the Pontifical Commissions for both the Vatican bank (Institute for Works of Religion) and the re-organization of the economic structures of the Holy See and in March 2014 he was appointed as Secretary General of the Secretariat for the Economy.


JERUSALEM (CNS) — Protesting several recent actions they described as a “systematic campaign … against the churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land,” the heads of Christian churches announced Feb. 25 they were closing of the doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for an undisclosed period of time.

(CNS photo/Baz Ratner, Reuters)Bewildered pilgrims milled around the square in front of the church as Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III — flanked by Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, and Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian — read a short statement to the press. At the same time, the only two people allowed to close the doors — the Muslim custodian of the key, AdeebJawad JoudehAl Husseini, and Muslim door keeper Wajeeh Nuseibeh — closed and locked the doors.

“This systematic and unprecedented attack against Christians in the Holy Land severely violates the most basic … and sovereign rights, trampling on the delicate fabric of relations between the Christian community and the authorities for decades,” the heads of churches said in their statement.

The church leaders were protesting the Jerusalem municipality’s intention to impose property taxes on church property, such as hotels and convention centers, not used for worship purposes. The proposal to levy taxes on some properties would run contrary to the unofficial historical tax-exempt status the churches have enjoyed for centuries.

In addition, the church leaders said they oppose a bill in the Israeli parliament that would limit the ability to sell church-owned land to private owners. The bill, whose vote was postponed following the church protest, would be specifically detrimental to the Greek Orthodox Church, which owns large tracts of land in central Jerusalem upon which many private homes are built; many of those 99-year-old building rental contracts will soon expire. The church already has sold some of the land to private owners, and homeowners whose apartments are on the land worry about losing their homes.

Rachel Azaria, the member of Parliament who sponsored the bill, said it is not meant to affect what the church can do with its property, but what happens when the land rights are sold to a third party.

As media gathered to hear the church leaders, pilgrims wandered around the church square, some kneeling in front of the massive wooden doors — the closest they would come to entering the church.

“We had one shot,” said Flavia Falcone, 25, an Italian Catholic living in Poland, who had come to Israel for four days. “This was a bad decision. Faith and politics are two different things. I came here all this way to see the church and I find it closed. It is not very pleasant.”

It is only the second time the doors to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher have been closed in the middle of the day, other than for traditional religious ceremonies. The other time was 20 years ago, when a visitor to the church began taking down crosses and candles, said Nuseibeh.

The church leaders said taxing commercial properties decreases revenues for the church’s good works and breaches “existing agreements and international obligations which guarantee the rights and the privileges of the churches, in what seems as attempt to weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem.”

“The greatest victims in this are those impoverished families who will go without food and housing, as well as the children who will be unable to attend school,” they said.

In early February, the Jerusalem municipality announced it would begin collecting $186.4 million in property taxes from some 887 church-owned properties that were not houses of prayer.

Patriarch Theophilos has traveled to meet world leaders, including Pope Francis, on the legislative issue.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat went on social media in response to the Feb. 25 protest, clarifying that there was no intention to tax places of worship, but rather church businesses such as hotels and conference halls.

“Commercial buildings are not exempt from municipal taxes regardless of their ownership,” he said. He noted that, by not taxing commercial properties owned by churches, Jerusalem residents were missing out on revenue.

“We will no longer require Jerusalem’s residents to bear or subsidize this huge debt,” he said in a tweet, assuring that — like all churches, synagogues and mosques — the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was exempt from municipal taxes.


A statement from the Catholic Center for Studies and Media in Amman, Jordan: http://en.abouna.org/en/content/jordan-ccsm-advisory-council-calls-revoking-decision-impose-taxes-jerusalem-churches

The Advisory Council of the Catholic Center for Studies and Media (CCSM) in Jordan has followed with great concern the statement of the Israeli Municipality of Jerusalem, in which it announced the imposition of property taxes (known as arnona) on churches as well as the seizure of church properties and bank accounts on the pretext of non-payment of tax on land property.

In light of these fateful developments, the Advisory Council of the Catholic Center for Studies and Media in Jordan declares its categorical rejection of the relevant Israeli steps, since they are incompatible with the historical position of the Churches in the Holy City and with their relations with the civil authorities. The Churches have been exempted from paying taxes over centuries. The civil authorities have always respected the great role played by Christian churches which serves local communities through their hundreds of millions of dollars worth of projects and initiatives that are spent on building schools, hospitals, homes and charities. Many of the projects are dedicated to serve the elderly, the people with special needs, as well as the needy and poor families.

The Advisory Council affirms that such decisions will undermine the sacred character of Jerusalem and its inclusive identity, debilitate the Churches’ endeavors to fulfill their role and mission in the Holy Land, jeopardize their role, and put more pressure on Christians in Jerusalem and the Holy Land which ultimately threatens their historic and deep-rooted presence.

NOTE FROM JOAN: King Abdullah of Jordan, considered “Guardian and Custodian of the Christian and Muslim Holy Sites in Jerusalem,” provided a great part of the monies for the recent restoration of the church of the Holy Sepulchre out of his personal money. Restoration was finished in 2017. The holy places were, until the Six-Day war of 1967, under Jordanian sovereignty. If you are a history buff, you will want to read this piece: http://orthochristian.com/92374.html


What a fascinating story by John Burger and posted in Aleteia!  You will wonder if you saw this and did not know what it was if you’ve been to the basilica or perhaps you are in the Holy Land now and hope to see this…..


Stone long used for tourist graffiti now thought to be Crusader artifact.
Greek workers and Israeli researchers may have discovered an ancient altar in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. And it has been “hiding in plain sight” for centuries.

“Leaning against a wall in a shadowy corner of Jerusalem’s [Church of the] Holy Sepulchre, the big blank rock the size of a dining-room table invited scribbling by passing pilgrims and tourists,” said Smithsonian magazine, noting that the piece was known to tourists as the “graffiti stone.”

The altar may have continued to go unnoticed were it know for work in recent years in shoring up the Edicule, also spelled Aedicule, the church-within-a-church protecting the site of Jesus Christ’s burial.

A Greek team of engineers and architects recently restored the Aedicule, which had long been in danger of collapse. In the course of the effort, the construction crew used a crane to lift a two-ton block, referred to as the “graffiti stone” after visitors’ penchant for leaving their mark on it, into a steel cradle, turning it around in the process but relegating it to another dark corner.

Amit Re’em of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, who was monitoring the renovation, noticed intricate circles carved into the limestone “with traces of marble and the rich red stone called porphyry. This was no tourist graffiti. Re’em, who specializes in medieval archaeology, dashed of to a Jerusalem library to look for evidence of other stones with similar decorations.

Along with historian Ilya Berkovich at Munich’s Ludwig Maximillian University, Re’em “tracked the geometric pattern on the stone’s design to a style popular in Rome in the 12th century,” the magazine reported. “The use of four circles surrounding a central circle, all richly inlaid, was the trademark design of the Cosmati family, Roman artisans who worked for the pope.”

The stone’s design “symbolized the power, both temporal and spiritual, that the Papacy achieved during the 12th century,” writes art historian and New York architect Paloma Pajares-Ayuela in the definitive book on the style. That suggested the stone was carved and inlaid when the Crusaders rebuilt the church.

“I think that this exquisite piece of art could be evidence for the papal artistic patronage in the church,” Re’em says. “It is proof that Crusader art was highly developed” and reflects the direct influence of Rome on the distant Jerusalem shrine. Papal craftsmen may have been directly involved in the work, he suggested.

Re’em believes the altar was used for Mass until a fire in the church in 1808. Then it was buried under a new floor. Greek archaeologists in 1969 began excavating in the nave and under the main altar east of the Edicule. Results of that work were never made public, but a Catholic priest realized that the Greek team found Crusader-era remains at that time. “Some were covered up, but others, including the rectangular panel examined by Re’em, were removed so that the researchers could access material from the earlier Byzantine era,” the magazine said.

If the stone does turn out to be something that was set up by the Crusaders, it will remind the various communities that call the church home of the sometimes sad history of division that has marked Christianity’s holiest site.

The Crusaders were trying to reclaim lands that had been taken over by Muslim invaders, but they also regarded the local Greek clergy as heretics (the Great Schism had occurred only decades early), and ejected the Orthodox priests from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Smithsonian reminded readers that Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Armenians, Copts, and Syrians “jealously guard their respective territories within the Holy Sepulchre,” in an 1853 decree issued under the then-Ottoman rulers, known as the Status Quo, “with Ethopians relegated to the roof.”

“Scuffles among clergy of the different sects is not uncommon, and occasional bloodshed is recorded,” the magazine noted. Ironically, perhaps, two Muslim families “hold the keys to the great Crusader doors to ensure everyone access.”

This year, however, now that the Edicule has been formally reopened, it is hoped that the restoration project, undertaken by Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and others, may help the Churches go beyond the status quo of the past millennium.

Ancient altar in Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre found hiding in plain sight




TO: President Donald J. Trump
President of the United States of America

Jerusalem, December 6, 2017

Dear Mr. President,

We are fully aware and appreciative of how you are dedicating special attention to the status of Jerusalem in these days. We are following with attentiveness and we see that it is our duty to address this letter to Your Excellency.

On July 17, 2000, we addressed a similar letter to the leaders who met in Camp David to decide the status of Jerusalem. They kindly took our letter into consideration. Today, Mr. President, we are confident that you too will take our viewpoint into consideration on the very important status of Jerusalem. Our land is called to be a land of peace. Jerusalem, the city of God, is a city of peace for us and for the world. Unfortunately, though, our holy land with Jerusalem the Holy city, is today a land of conflict. Those who love Jerusalem have every will to work and make it a land and a city of peace, life and dignity for all its inhabitants. The prayers of all believers in it—the three religions and two peoples who belong to this city—rise to God and ask for peace, as the Psalmist says: “Return to us, God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see!” (80.14). Inspire our leaders, and fill their minds and hearts with justice and peace.

Mr. President, we have been following, with concern, the reports about the possibility of changing how the United States understands and deals with the status of Jerusalem. We are certain that such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division.

We ask from you, Mr. President to help us all walk towards more love and a definitive peace, which cannot be reached without Jerusalem being for all. Our solemn advice and plea is for the United States to continue recognizing the present international status of Jerusalem. Any sudden changes would cause irreparable harm. We are confident that, with strong support from our friends, Israelis and Palestinians can work towards negotiating a sustainable and just peace, benefiting all who long for the Holy City of Jerusalem to fulfil its destiny. The Holy City can be shared and fully enjoyed once a political process helps liberate the hearts of all people, that live within it, from the conditions of conflict and destructiveness that they are experiencing. Christmas is upon us soon. It is a feast of peace. The Angels have sung in our sky: Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to the people of good will. In this coming Christmas, we plea for Jerusalem not to be deprived from peace, we ask you Mr. President to help us listen to the song of the angels. As the Christian leaders of Jerusalem, we invite you to walk with us in hope as we build a just, inclusive peace for all the peoples of this unique and Holy City. With our best regards, and best wishes for a Merry Christmas.

Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem
+Patriarch Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
+Patriarch Nourhan Manougian, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate

+Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator, Latin Patriarchate

+Fr. Francesco Patton, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land
+Archbishop Anba Antonious, Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem

+Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate
+Archbishop Aba Embakob, Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate
+Archbishop Joseph-Jules Zerey, Greek-Melkite-Catholic Patriarchate

+Archbishop Mosa El-Hage, Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate
+Archbishop Suheil Dawani, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East

+Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land
+Bishop Pierre Malki, Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
+Msgr. Georges Dankaye’, Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate



Today’s stories all concern the Holy Land and, in a special way, Jerusalem, given the indications by the Trump administration that the U.S. will declare Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel and announce plans to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, thus making it the only nation in the world with ties to Israel that has its embassy in Jerusalem.

I published the first story on my blog and Facebook page the instant it happened.

The second story is a summary of the Pope’s remarks to a group of Palestinians following their meeting yesterday in the Vatican with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

The third story is the communiqué from the pontifical council about yesterday’s meeting, The breaking news in that communiqué was the announcement that the two sides decided to establish a Joint Working Group for Dialogue, through the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding. The Pope was told about the joint group this morning at the general audience and, said the communiqué, he “expressed his joy for the establishment of the Joint Working Group, wishing it success in its mission.”


Pope Francis said these words at the end of the general audience this morning in the Paul VI Hall. It certainly is a speedy Vatican response to news coming from the Trump administration about the status of Jerusalem.

Following is my translation of his appeal made in Italian:

“My thoughts now turn to Jerusalem. In this regard, I cannot be silent about my very deep concern for the situation that has been created in recent days, and at the same time I make a heartfelt appeal that it becomes everyone’s commitment to respect the status quo of the city in conformity with the pertinent United Nations resolutions.

“Jerusalem is a unique city sacred for Jews, Christians and Muslims and in it they venerate the Holy Places of their respective religions, and it has a special vocation to peace.

“I pray the Lord that this identity will be preserved and strengthened for the benefit of the Holy Land, the Middle East and of the entire world, and that wisdom and prudence will prevail to avoid adding new elements of tension to a world panorama already convulsed and marked by so many cruel conflicts.”


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis, before his general audience on Wednesday, greeted a Palestinian delegation hosted by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

He told them that it was his hope “that your consultations may help to open a space of sincere dialogue for the benefit of all the members of Palestinian society, and the Christian community in particular, given its small numbers and the challenges it faces, especially with regard to emigration.”

The Holy Father emphasized that, “for the Catholic Church, it is always a joy to build bridges of dialogue with communities, individuals and organizations,  adding that it was a particular joy to do so with Palestinian religious and intellectual leaders.” Dialogue, said the Pope, “takes place at every level: with ourselves through reflection and prayer, in our families, in our religious communities, between different religious communities, and also in civil society.”

He noted that the primary condition of that dialogue was “reciprocal respect and a commitment to strengthening that respect for the sake of recognizing the rights of all people, wherever they happen to be.”

The Pope remarked that the Holy Land was for Christians “the land par excellence of dialogue between God and mankind.”  He also highlighted the fact that the culmination of this dialogue took place in Nazareth between the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary.

The Holy Father went on to say, “that dialogue continues in a unique way between Jesus and his people, in representation of humanity as a whole.”

Concluding his greeting, Pope Francis recalled the “kindness that the Authorities of the State of Palestine have shown to the Christian community, acknowledging its place and its role in Palestinian society.”


On Tuesday, December 5 2017, a meeting took place in Rome between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Palestinian Commission for Interreligious Dialogue.

The delegation of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue was headed by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president. The Palestinian Commission for Interreligious Dialogue was headed by Shaykh Mahmoud Al-Habbash, Supreme Judge of the State of Palestine and President of the same Commission.

The other participants from the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue were H.E. Bishop Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, Secretary, and Monsignor Khaled Akasheh, Bureau Chief for Islam.

The other members of the Palestinian Delegation were Mr Ziad Al-Bandak, Minister and Counsellor to the President for Church Affairs, Mr Adnan Al-Husseini, Governor of Jerusalem and Member of the Higher Islamic Council, Mr Issa Kassissieh, Ambassador of the State of Palestine to the Holy See, and Mr Ammar Al-Nisnas, Counsellor of the Embassy.

The two sides decided to establish a Joint Working Group for Dialogue, through the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding.

The two delegations were pleased to meet with His Holiness Pope Francis, on Wednesday December 6, who expressed his joy for the establishment of the Joint Working Group, wishing it success in its mission.



Pope Francis said these words at the end of the general audience this morning in the Paul VI Hall. It certainly is a speedy Vatican response to news coming from the Trump administration about the status of Jerusalem.

Following is my translation of his appeal made in Italian:

My thoughts now turn to Jerusalem. In this regard, I cannot be silent about my very deep concern for the situation that has been created in recent days, and at the same time I make a heartfelt appeal that it becomes everyone’s commitment to respect the status quo of the city in conformity with the pertinent United Nations resolutions.

Jerusalem is a unique city sacred for Jews Christians and Muslims and in it they venerate the Holy Places of their respective religions, and it has a special vocation to peace.

I pray the Lord that this identity will be preserved and strengthened for the benefit of the Holy Land, the Middle East and of the entire world, and that wisdom and prudence will prevail to avoid adding new elements of tension to a world panorama already convulsed and marked by so many cruel conflicts.


It is 6:30 pm, has been a long work day so and I’ve still quite a bit of my work ahead of me so today’s column will be dedicated to short takes of some of the day’s important and interesting news stories.

Pope Francis tweeted today: May the certainty of faith be the engine of our lives.

As I write, heads of State or government and the presidents of European Union institutions are gathering in Rome to mark the 60th anniversary of the signature of the Treaties of Rome that laid the foundations for what today we call the European Union. Pope Francis will address the gathering Friday and his words will be carefully watched.

Today, the EU faces huge challenges including Brexit – Britain’s exit from the Union – high levels of unemployment in several countries, debt crises, the growth of populist movements and a backlash against welcoming immigrants and refugees. Rome is gearing up for the leaders but also for protesters and, in recent days, I have already seen some subtle – and not so subtle – security preparations, and I’m guessing these are being ramped up, given the terror attacks yesterday in London. By the way, Pope Francis did sent a message of prayerful solidarity after the attacks. You’ll see this in the short takes that follow.

Say a prayer that the next few days in Rome will feature peaceful gatherings. Pray also that the routines of those of us who live in areas where the heads of State and government will be gathering (i.e., Vatican City) won’t be dramatically affected by the security measures, changes in bus routes, closures of some streets or squares, etc.


POPE FRANCIS SENT A TELEGRAM OF CONDOLENCES to Cardinal Vincent Nichols (in photo), archbishop of Westminster, expressing his sorrow for the victims of the terror attack at the House of Parliament in London on Wednesday. Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin sent the telegram in the Pope’s name:  “Deeply saddened to learn of the loss of life and of the injuries caused by the attack in central London, His Holiness Pope Francis expresses his prayerful solidarity with all those affected by this tragedy.  Commending those who have died to the loving mercy of Almighty God, His Holiness invokes divine strength and peace upon their grieving families, and he assures the nation of his prayers at this time.”

THE HOLY FATHER RECOGNIZED A MIRACLE attributed to the intercession of two Fatima children – Blesseds Francisco and Jacinta Marto – during an audience on Thursday with Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints,. He also approved the canonizations of 30 Brazilian and 3 Mexican martyrs. Francis will visit Fatima on May 12-13 on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the apparition of Mary to the three children in Fatima.

POPE FRANCIS WILL MEET WITH AND ADDRESS 27 European Union heads of State and government at a private audience in the Sala Regia Friday evening, the eve of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome that led to the formation of the European Common Market, the precursor of the EU, European Union. Also in attendance will be the presidents and other representatives of EU institutions.

NEWLY RESTORED CHAPEL AT JESUS’ TOMB UNVEILED IN JERUSALEM – An ecumenical re-dedication service took place in Jerusalem’s Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre on Wednesday as restoration work on the chapel containing Jesus burial place was unveiled. Representatives of all the local Christian Churches gathered alongside special guests including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the Orthodox world.  Pope Francis was represented by the Vatican’s representative to Israel and Palestine, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto.

To read Vatican Radio’s onsite report: http://www.news.va/en/news/newly-restored-chapel-at-jesus-tomb-unveiled-in-je


I read some wonderful good news, big news, today for many people in and around Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, Palestine, – the decision by the Israeli Supreme Court, after nine years of deliberations, not to allow the famous Separation Wall to be build in the Cremisan Valley. That story, as it appeared in the website of the Latin Patriarchte of Jerusalem, is below.

By way of background about the importance of this decision, I want to tell you about my first encounter with the name Cremisan.

At Christmas 2008 I spent 10 marvelous, extraordinarily special days in Bethlehem, visiting old friends, making new ones, participating in every religious liturgy that I could, and re-visiting many of Bethlehem’s historic sites that I seen in February when I was on my first pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  But Christmas time in Bethlehem is extra special and all the people I knew there went out of their way to make those 10 days extremely memorable. I’ve told many people that Christmas in Bethlehem should be the 11th commandment for Christians!

I was included, for example, in the Patriarch’s Christmas Eve motorcade from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, through the Separation Wall, with entrance to Bethlehem through the gate of Rachel’s Tomb – the only day of the year that gate is opened. That pilgrimage is made the afternoon of December 24, and the patriarch is joyfully and exuberantly welcomed to Bethlehem (Fouad Twal had only been patriarch a few months so this was his first Christmas celebration).

Bethlehem-Christmas 2008 117 Bethlehem-Christmas 2008 126 Bethlehem-Christmas 2008 140

At day’s end, of course, he celebrated Midnight Mass in the Church of St. Catherine.

Bethlehem-Christmas 2008 199 Bethlehem-Christmas 2008 192

On my first full day in Bethlehem, December 22, I went to Nativity Square and visited the Bethlehem Peace Center and had a long and wonderful conversation with the then director, Jihan Anasta. Earlier, when we first met to make the appointment, she invited me to a reception and buffet lunch for a group of visiting Italians who were working on a Master Building Plan for Bethlehem with its then mayor, Victor Batarseh, who was also present and whom I interviewed the next day for “Vatican Insider.”

Bethlehem-Christmas 2008 143

Each home I visited in those ten days was filled with warmth and love and a genuinely happy welcome, with lots of great conversation (everyone I met on that trip spoke English and often some French in addition to their native Arabic), and with an untold variety of sweets, fruits, nuts, local specialities such as dates, wine and liqueurs. One of the most popular wines here is called “Cremisan” and is made by the Salesians who have vineyards in Beit Jala, near Beit Sahour and Bethlehem. Arab hospitality is indescribable and anyone who has visited the Middle East or the Holy Land knows this well.

Bethlehem-Christmas 2008 039

It was Jihan Anasta who first told me of Cremisan wine, noting that just up the street from the Peace Center was a church asnd other buildings owned by the Salesians. Part of their property included a number of acres of land on which they raised fruits and vegetables, for both consumption and to sell in order to support the craft school they ran for teens. They also had a vineyard whose grapes served to make Cremisan wine which was sold locally and also exported as wine for Mass.  I had a glass of Cremisan wine with probably every meal I ate in Bethlehem.

She told me at the time that there were threats to extend the famous Separation Wall, part of which would have cut the Salesian buildings off from their agriculture source. Jihan said every crop would have withered and died as the Palestinians would not have been allowed to go on that expropriated side of the Separation Wall to farm and Israelis would not have been allowed there either.

In fact, in February 2014, when the mayors of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour met with Pope Francis in Rome just months before his May trip to the Holy Land, they told him of the plans “to build the separation Wall in the Cremisan Valley and then expropriate the lands that belong to Palestinian Christians. If that happens, the whole area will be suppressed from the grip of the wall, and the first to go will be Christians”  That same morning, at a meeting with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the mayors showed the secretary of State maps of the beautiful and fertile valley and planned wall expansion,

On Sunday, May 25, when he was in Bethlehem and lunched with five Palestinian families, Pope Francis got another first hand account about the Cremisan Valley, the Separation Wall, and the Cremisan winery. The individuals and families present at the papal lunch were chosen because each one represented one of the issues faced by Christians living in Israel: residency permits, Separation Wall, land confiscation, the Gaza blockade, and Palestinians in Israeli prisons.

I interviewed one of those at the papal lunch for “Vatican Insider.” Joseph works at the Pontifical Mission for Palestine. He is from Bethlehem and his wife Rima is from Jerusalem and they, with their children, are one of the many cases of families who cannot be reunited. He was seated across from the Pope as he speaks several languages, including Italian, and was ready to act as an interpreter.

And Joseph asked Pope Francis, on behalf of those present, including a family from Cremisan, Beit Jala, who risked losing their land, situated beyond the dividing wall, if this latter was extended as originally planned, to be their spokesperson in front of the whole world.

I know that’s a fair amount of background for the story that follows but it is essential to understand some of the particulars in order to understand the impact of the Israeli court decision.

By the way, on that December 2008 trip I made a point of going to the Holy Family maternity hospital to meet the first little baby boy born in Bethlehem on Christmas Day!

Here is Remy and his mother:Bethlehem-Christmas 2008 284Bethlehem-Christmas 2008 285

All of a sudden I have the desire to go back and see how they are!


Here’s a heartwarming story about Pope Francis from ANSA news service:

Pope Francis provoked tears of joy when he telephoned Argentina’s Marambio Base in Antarctica to convey his Easter greetings to the military personnel and their families, the Argentine air force website said Tuesday. “I am unable to convey the emotion,” non-commissioned officer Gabriel Almada who was on duty on Saturday and took the call.

Initially, Almada said he thought it was a joke, but then he was unable to “hold back tears of joy” when he realized it really was the Argentine pope on the end of the line. “It is an experience that will stick in my memory forever,” he said.

Pope Francis has become known for making surprise telephone calls in these first two years of his pontificate. The calls are part of a bid to bring the Church closer to the people and are characteristic of Francis’ informal human touch. (source: http://popefrancisnewsapp.com/)


Good news for the Salesians and for 58 families in the Cremisan Valley, a valley found on the border or seam line between the West Bank, Palestine and Jerusalem.

A communiqué from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem announced that, on Thursday, April 2, 2015, after nine years of a legal battle, the Israeli Supreme Court finally issued its final verdict on the Cremisan Valley threatened since 2006 by the Separation Wall construction project. The Latin Patriarchate welcomes this verdict that falls in favor of Christians in the region.

According to the April 3 communique, posted on the webpage of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Israeli Supreme Court finally accepted the petition against the construction of the Wall and therefore the Israeli army will give up such a project. The Court found “harmful to the local population and the valley monasteries,” noting that “the planned route as suggested by the Israeli Ministry of Defense is not the only alternative which could ensure security and cause the least harm possible as requested by Israeli administrative law.”

In fact, a decision in favor of such a project would have resulted in the expropriation of land belonging to 58 Christian families in Beit Jala, and the separation of two Salesian convents.

The Cremisan monastery is within Jerusalem municipal limits, while the storeroom on the other side of the parking lot is in the West Bank. The road to the monastery passes one of the coordinating offices between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The final decision of the Court means that the wall will not be built as foreseen by the Israeli Army. A victory and consolation for all those engaged since 2006 in a legal battle more complex.

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, visited Cremisan this afternoon (April 2) for a press conference in the presence of the three area mayors – Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour – and several religious and political figures.

His Beatitude wished to thank all those who, locally and internationally, over the years committed to the Christian community in the Holy Land, including the parish of Beit Jala, the St. Yves Society, the Secretariat of State, the Bishops’ Conferences of the United States and Europe, the Consuls of Jerusalem, the Salesian Fathers, the lawyers involved and the three mayors of the region who visited the Holy Father a month ago to plead this cause.

With the huge number of those who are committed to this cause, the voice of Cremisan families could be heard on the international stage. On the Israeli side, this case has also received significant support, including from lawyers and even former soldiers and rabbis. His Beatitude welcomed “a victory for Israeli justice itself since it had the courage to take such a decision.”

He also recalled “the efficacy of prayer” and how the former pastor of Beit Jala persevered for years to celebrate, on site, the Mass every Friday in the presence of dozens of parishioners and people of all religion.

The Patriarch, on Holy Thursday, the first day of the Easter Triduum, concluded by noting that the news is “a joyful sign of the Resurrection” for the Christians of the Holy Land.


Here’s an interesting piece on surveys about religion that will make you think. For example, the next time you are asked online or in person at a shopping mall or over the phone to answer a survey, ask yourself: How is the question phrased?: http://www.cruxnow.com/life/2014/11/18/religion-survey-babble-confuses-103-of-readers-heres-why/?s_campaign=crux:email:daily

On another matter – totally:

The thrills of living overseas; I read the instruction booklet for my new washer (see yesterday’s blog) and guess what. The shortest program for a cold water, small load of not very dirty items, is 55 minutes! The average programs run from 2 to 3 hours!! And these are the energy savers! This is typical for Europe – and it is worse for dryers, which explains why so few homes have them and why you see clothes hanging from lines in Italy! So, if you live in the US and Canada, the next time you wash and dry a load of towels, thank your lucky stars for real energy savers!

You will love today’s general audience! And you will be comforted by Pope Francis’ words on how to be a saint and who is eligibile – we all are!!


Pope Francis, in his catechesis today at the general audience, focused on the universal call to holiness of all baptized, and stressed that, “every state of life leads to holiness, always” but we must be open to God’s gift of grace.”

Basically, said Pope Francis, becoming a saint, is up to us – IF we accept the Lord’s call to the vocation of holiness and IF we accept his grace to get there!

Photo from news.va

Nov 19 General Audience

A look at some of the world’s most well-known saints – Francis, Dominic, Padre Pio, John Paul II, John XXIII, Clare, Therese, Teresa, Catherine – tells us that most were men and women Religious and/or founders of religious orders, Popes, etc. This could easily discourage even the most faithful of Christians – most of whom are not consecrated Religious but, said Pope Francis, we must not be discouraged: “The call to holiness is not just for bishops, priests or religious … No. We are all called to become saints! So often, we are tempted to think that holiness is granted only to those who have the opportunity to break away from the ordinary tasks, to devote themselves to prayer. But it is not so!

“Some people,” he went on, “think that holiness is closing your eyes and putting on a pious face… No! That is not holiness! Holiness is something greater, more profound that God gifts us. Indeed, it is by living with love and offering Christian witness in our daily tasks that we are called to become saints. And everyone in the particular condition and state of life in which they find themselves.”

The Holy Father urged the faithful to examine their consciences, asking how they could respond to the Lord’s call to sanctity, and suggesting ways to respons as he mentioned various states of life. He explained that when the Lord calls us to be holy, he does not ask us to do something weighty or difficult or im possible or even sad, but rather offers us an invitation to share in his joy.

The Pope then asked questions about various states of life: Are you consecrated? Be holy living your gift and your ministry with joy. Are you married? Be holy and loving and take care of your husband or your wife, as Christ did with the Church. Are you a baptized person who is not married? Be holy by performing your work with honesty and competence and giving time to the service of others. “But, father, I work in a factory … I work as an accountant, always with the numbers, I cannot be a saint there…” “Yes, you can! There, where you work you can become a saint. God gives you the grace to become a saint. God communicates with you.” Always and everywhere you can become a saint, that is, by being receptive to the grace that is working in us and leads us to holiness.

“Are you a parent or grandparent?” asked the Pope. “Be holy by passionately teaching your children or grandchildren to know and follow Jesus. And this takes a lot of patience, to be a good parent, a good grandfather, a good mother, a good grandmother, it takes a lot of patience and this patience is the holiness exercising patience. Are you a catechist, educator or volunteer? Be holy by becoming a visible sign of God’s love and His presence beside us.

“This is it: every state of life leads to holiness, always! At home, on the streets, at work, at church, in the moment and with the state of life that you have, a door is opened on the road to sainthood. Do not be discouraged to travel this road. God gives you the grace to do so. And this is all that the Lord asks, that we be in communion with Him and serve others. Life lived in communion with the Lord and in the service of others.”

Francis noted that, “we do not walk the path of sanctity alone, each for himself, but rather together, in that single body that is the Church, loved and sanctified by the Lord Jesus Christ.”


At the end of the general audience today, Pope Francis made a heartfelt plea for peace in Jerusalem and throughout the Holy Land, in the wake of yesterday’s killing in a Jewish synagogue of four rabbis, including three Americans and one British. A fifth person, a policeman, was killed and many others wounded in the attempt

“I am following with concern,” said the Pope, “the alarming increase in tension in Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land, with unacceptable episodes of violence that do not spare even the places of worship.  I assure a special prayer for all the victims of this dramatic situation and for those who suffer most as a result. From the bottom of my heart, I make an appeal to the parties involved to put an end to the spiral of hatred and violence and to make courageous decisions for reconciliation and peace. Building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a torment!”


A pilgrimage group in the Holy Land for the November 20th annual International Walk for Peace, given the attack Monday in Jerusalem that killed five people, has modified its original schedule and now calls itself the pilgrimage of “A Heartfelt Prayer for Peace,” This annual event was organized by ORP, Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi.

Building on Pope Francis’ strong appeal for peace in Jerusalem and the Holy Land at the Wednesday general audience, tomorrow morning the pilgrims will meet at 7:45 at St. Catherine’s Church in Bethlehem where they will be given olive tree branches and pause for prayer with the Palestinian community. Afterwards, they will board busses for the 5-mile ride to Jerusalem. Instead of the walk from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, pilgrims will walk the Way of the Cross – the Via Dolorosa – from the convent of the scourging or flagellation to the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre.

Msgr. Liberio Andreatta, vice president of ORP who is in the Holy Land with the group, said in an ORP communique, “we wanted the walk to be transformed into the Way of the Cross, which is the heart of the Christian faith, the cross carried with love to overcome evil.” He is in Jerusalem to mark a diocesan and national pilgrimage that is celebrating the 80th anniversary of the founding of ORP, an office that is part of the vicariate of Rome.

Msgr. Andreatta said, “As we walk through Christ’s passion, we will experience the atrocious human suffering that these populations have gone through in these last hours, we will pray with them and for them so that hatred will not – cannot – have the final word. As Christians we are called to witness to Christ crucified, Who died and rose from the dead. This is the spirit that will animate our steps.”

After the Via Crucis, or Way of the Cross, pilgrims will gather at the Notre Dame Center to participate in the prayer for peace initiative, together with the Israeli community.


At a time when I am house bound, Mr. Murphy Law has paid a visit. You’ve heard of Murphy’s law – if something can go wrong, it will! My wash machine finally died and the fridge is on its way! I won’t even mention the smaller “bad  breaks.”

Normally, to purchase a new big ticket item, I would visit several stores that carry such items, price check, ask questions, do some research online and then make a purchase. I did go online, checking on reliable name brands, comnparing prices etc. It is amazing what machines offer today. The washers I saw seemed to do everything but dry and iron the wash load! I just need a few of the basics.

I had received an email a while back from the Vatican announcing that it had added the big ticket items such as refrigerators, washers, etc. to its stock. I called my neighbor Francesco last night (he works at the press office) whom I have known for years, along with his wife, and he said he’d look at some of the items today and call me from the store. He did just that, I listened to his advice and chose a great name brand washer and gave him the money as he came by on his way back to work and voilà, in about an hour, the washer will be delivered and installed!

I cannot remember a moment in my years in Italy whan anything so major has been achieved with such little fuss. Of course I did nothing except study items online – Francesco did the leg work. But it all means so much to me given that I have not been able to go out. I am sure that each of you, my readers, has also been blessed with good neighbors- there are so many ways of being Samaritans!

Now, in the near future, I must get a new fridge (that might be something I’d have to see in person)!

Before a look at a few news items, I want to share the account by ANSA (an Italian news agency) on Pope Francis’ homily at Mass this morning:

Vatican City, November 18 – Anyone can be touched by God and converted – even today’s corrupt and careless leaders, Pope Francis said Tuesday. During Mass at the Vatican’s St. Martha’s guesthouse, where he lives, the Pope described different calls to conversion in the Bible, including the story of Zacchaeus, a corrupt and despised tax collector who served the rich and dominant forces of the day.

“He was just like many leaders we know: corrupt,” Francis said. “Those who, instead of serving the people, exploit the people to serve themselves. There are some like this, in the world,” he added. “That changed after Zacchaeus became intensely curious about Jesus and wanted so much to see him that Zacchaeus made a fool of himself by climbing a tree in an effort to see Christ as He passed by,” said the Pope.

“The Holy Spirit is clever, eh! He sowed the seed of curiosity, and so in order to see him…(Zacchaeus) had to climb a tree to watch a procession. “Just think of it. How ridiculous!” said Francis. And from that moment, Zacchaeus converted to Christianity and was changed, the pope concluded. (http://popefrancisnewsapp.com/)


VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is raffling off dozens of gifts he’s been given during his short papacy, including a new Fiat 4×4, some bikes and a fancy coffee maker, with the proceeds going to charity.

The Vatican City State administration this week put up posters around the Vatican advertising the 10 euro ($13) per ticket raffle. Tickets are on sale at the Vatican post office, pharmacy and other venues open to the public. Winners will be announced Jan. 8.

Francis, known for his simplicity, has overhauled the Vatican’s finances to make them more efficient and to devote more money to charity. The raffle is part of that effort, making sure gifts for which Francis has no use don’t just gather dust in storage but are used to help the needy.


The three-day colloquium in Vatican City, organized by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Councils for the Family, for Inter-religious Dialogue, and for Promoting Christian Unity, on the subject of the Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage continues.  This global, inter-religious meeting featuring representatives from 14 religious traditions and 23 countries, was opened yesterday by Pope Francis.  Participants have been exchanging and sharing experiences from cultural, religious and societal points of view.OComplentarity conference

Chief Rabbi of the UK and the Commonwealth, Jonathan Sachs spoke Monday and said later in a radio interview that the result of the decline in stable, two parent families causes a rise among young people in eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, suicide attempts and other stress-related symptoms. Three million children are living in an affluent society in this new form of poverty of the single parent family and it’s women who are bearing the brunt because they are the heads of 92% of those families.

He said that one million children will grow up never knowing or meeting their fathers, Rabbi Sachs says, and this is leading to an unprecedented divide between these disadvantaged kids and those growing up in stable, two parent families who will be advantaged in every way. This is a scandal, he says, and it needs someone to stand up for those children who are the victims of this widespread desertion of marriage.

Another speaker Monday was Sister Prudence Allen, a member of the chaplaincy team at Lancaster University in England and a newly appointed member of the International Theological Commission. She addressed the principles of complementarity and the rise of sex and gender ideologies that challenge the traditional vision of marriage and the family.

Summarizing her remarks with Vatican Radio she said that gender ideology was founded by John Money who thought the person was a collection of unconnected parts that from birth to the age of about two could be put together, almost like a Lego set, into different kinds of combinations. But Sister Prudence says this destroyed what we would call the centre of integration where we become an organised, integrated man or woman…..it is important to distinguish between the development of these ideologies, she says, and the reality of sex and gender identity.

Today, speakers included Johann Christoph Arnold, senior pastor of the Bruderhof, an international communal movement dedicated to a life of simplicity, service, sharing, and nonviolence. In thirty years as a family counselor, Arnold has advised thousands of couples and individuals, including the terminally ill, veterans, prison inmates, and teenagers. He topic was titled, ‘We Need to Become More Courageous Like the Early Church’ and he focussed on “Living Witness for Marriage: What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”

Helen Alvaré, communications liaison for the conference told Catholic News Agency that the colloquium hopes to offer “a greater understanding” of the relationship between man and woman within marriage. It also aims to provide support for those “who hope for marriage, but sometimes despair, and for people who are struggling with it if they have it.”

All videos shown and speeches delivered at the colloquium can be found here: http://humanum.it/en/videos/


Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal told Fides news agency in a statement, “I extend my condolences to the relatives of the victims of the assault against the Synagogue of Jerusalem and all the violence that bloody the Holy Land. In our churches, convents and monasteries, we will pray more than ever that the Lord helps us and helps political leaders to take the right steps so that there is peace and security for all, all, all.”

Worshippers in the Jerusalem synagogue included the four rabbis who were killed, three of whom were Americans, according to news reports. Many others were injured.

Patriarch Twal, having just returned from abroad, told of a Jerusalem marked by a strengthening of security measures and roadblocks. He said, “this is a sign that the situation is anything but normal, and control measures cannot solve the seriousness of the problems. It is necessary to go to the roots, remove the causes of despair that breeds violence, stop the endless spiral of revenge. Otherwise we will always live in fear, without freedom or dignity. These are the thoughts that we have in our hearts, as we approach Christmas.”


(VIS) – This morning a press conference was held in the Holy See Press Office to present the 29th International Conference organised by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, on the theme “The Person with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Animating Hope.”The three-day conference starts November 20.

Presenters included Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers (for Health Pastoral Care); Msgr. Jean-Marie Mate Musivi Mupendawatu and Fr. Augusto Chendi, M.I., respectively secretary and under-secretary of the same dicastery; and Stefano Vicari, head of the Department of Child Neuropsychiatry at the Bambino Gesu Paediatric Hospital, Rome.

Archbishop Zimowski explained that the term “autism” was first used by the Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler in 1911 to describe the introversion of schizophrenic patients. Subsequently, in 1943, his colleague Leo Kanner described the disorder for the first time, affirming that autistic children were born with a congenital incapacity to establish normal contact with other people. It is currently defined as a “neuro-behavioural disturbance (also known as Kanner’s Syndrome) of a pervasive type”, of multifactorial origin. In general, autism spectrum disorders manifest themselves before the age of three, and are life-long. The most recent statistics confirm that around 1% of children worldwide are affected.

“The many difficulties, including those of an ethical, moral and spiritual nature, faced by those with autism spectrum disorders and their carers have led us to choose such an important, difficult and delicate theme for this conference”, the prelate explained. “It will be a special occasion for observing the advances that have been made in research and treatment, as well as legal and political-administrative aspects; three valuable days for listening and exchanging experiences, and learning from the world’s most qualified specialists.”

The Conference will be attended by more than 650 people from 57 different countries, and will include an encounter with the Holy Father during the Wednesday general audience, as well as an exhibition of paintings by the Taiwanese autistic artist Leland Lee, a moment of prayer and testimonies from people affected by autism spectrum disorders, their families, and associations. Various famous Italian singers will offer a musical contribution.