I had the most beautiful, serendipitous discovery a few days ago and want to share it with those of you who live in Rome and those intending to visit the Eternal City.

I had a late afternoon appointment not far from Rome’s central Largo Argentina, after which I had to run an errand at a hardware store in nearby Via di Torre Argentina. As I turned a corner that brought me to Via di Torre Argentina, I started walking down the street and noted an open door I had not seen before (premise: I am not on this street very often). It was obviously a church or chapel so I walked in and was amazed at what I saw.

A sign over the entrance read, “Divis Benedicto et Scholasticae Patronis nursinus ordo et populus” (“To the honored patrons Benedict and Scholastica, the council and people of Norcia”).

I went in and prayed for a minute or two and when I got up, the sacristan Leonardo came over and shook my hand. I asked him about the church and he said it has been there since medieval times, eventually languished and actually became a storage room and had various other secular uses until the start of the 17th century when it returned to being a church dedicated to the saintly twin siblings Benedict and Scholastica.

A priest came in (there is a small, separate sacristy) and I learned there was daily Mass at 6 pm (and Sundays at 11). I had minutes to actually run my errand and I returned in time for the 6 pm Mass in the presence of a handful of faithful. I went back last night for Mass and to have my throat blessed on the feast of St. Blaise before I had to go to a parish council meeting. I’ll have to return on the February 10 feast of St. Scholastica!

I took a few photos on my first visit and came home to research the history of this little jewel. By little, I mean little: I think the church is maybe 15 feet wide and 30 to 35 feet long! I explored a number of Italian language websites, including The following, however, is, in part, from wikipedia. Enjoy! Stop in when you have a chance to say an Ave Maria some day.

This tiny church is one of the smallest in Rome and is the regional church for natives of the city and region of Norcia living in Rome. An archconfraternity to care for the welfare of Nursian expatriates was set up in Rome in 1615, and it was bequeathed a property on the Via di Torre Argentina.

The already existing house chapel was converted into a church with a separate entrance in 1625. It was dedicated to St, Benedict who started his monastic career at Norcia before moving to Montecassino, and to St, Scholastica, his sister and by tradition the first Benedictine nun. After 1808, during the French occupation of Rome, the church was looted of its artworks and desecrated. It suffered the same fate under the Roman Republic in 1849. At present it is cherished by its small congregation.

The church is part of a larger building and thus has no separate architectural identity. The small interior was entirely restored in the 19th century. There is a painting of the patrons over the altar and over that a lunette containing stained glass showing the Madonna and Child being venerated by saints. The baroque altar has polychrome marble inlay.

The confraternity celebrates the following feast days:
· Feast of St. Scholastica (and the Sunday following her liturgical feast) February 10)
· Feast of St. Benedict: July 11
· Feast of the church and the archconfraternity: second Sunday of November



Today, April 23 is the feast of St. George the Martyr and the name day of Pope Francis who was baptized Jorge (George) Mario Bergoglio. It is a longstanding tradition in Italy for people to celebrate their onomastico or name day – the day of the saint for whom they were named at baptism. Many Italians celebrate their onomastio in a bigger fashion than their actual birthday.

To mark his name day, today Pope Francis donated 6,000 rosaries to youth from the archdiocese of Milan. This was done through the auspices of the Office of Papal Charities (the papal Almoner or Almsgiver) with rosaries that had been made for the 2019 World Youth Day held in Panama in January.

A Vatican note explained that the rosaries were made of olive wood from the Holy Land. Caritas Jerusalem organized the production of the rosaries, which gave work to the poor, to refugees, and to families of prisoners.

Tomorrow morning, the young people from Milan will attend the weekly general audience with the Holy Father.

In a note, the interim Director of the Holy See Press Office, Alessandro Gisotti said that, “accompanying [the Pope’s] gesture, the Holy Father asked the young people to remember him in a special way in their prayer, particularly by entrusting him to the Virgin Mary just a few days before the month of May” which is dedicated to the Mother of God.

In 2018 on his name day, Pope Francis offered 3,000 servings of Italy’s celebrated gelato to the homeless and needy and he actually marked this day by spending time with the needy and homeless of Rome, according to a brief note from the Office of Papal Charities.


Here is the latest missive from the Benedictine Monks of Norcia as they continue to rebuild their monastery and the basilica of St. Benedict after the October 2016 earthquake. They have been men of faith with a very positive outlook since day one of the catastrophic event that flattened the celebrated basilica. In this Easter letter, they also offer a link to their recent digital newsletter – definitely worth your while, lots of news and some great photos.

“We wish you and all of your loved ones a holy Easter week.

”The Easter Solemnity this year brings us face to face with the mystery of death, new life and Christ’s sacrificial act which brings those two together. First with news of the fire at Notre Dame in Paris and then the stories of the hundreds of dead and wounded Christians in Sri Lanka, we try to unite our prayers at the foot of the Cross, with all those suffering from these tragedies, and we pray that the light of the Resurrection will come through the darkness of sin and death.

“Our most recent print newsletter has just been sent to press, and in it, we have included some photos of the Easter Triduum at the monastery, details about our new canine guardians, and our progress in learning monastic sign language to maintain silence within the clausura. But because we want to share these many good things with you during this time of holy celebration, we’ve included a digital copy of the newsletter in this e-mail. You can view it by clicking here.

“To close on a lighter note: Those of you who have been regularly following developments “in Monte” will recognize the name Tertullian; not the early Christian Latin author but the monastery’s tortoise who freely roams our cloister. Dug into the ground hibernating, as is his custom during the winter months, we had started to worry that we had lost him because he had been “away” for an unusually long period this year. However, recently, he emerged from his hole and is now trotting about (at a turtle’s pace) again, much to the delight of the monks.

“May God bless you and reward you for your prayers and help as we, renewed with light from the Paschal mystery, continue to work to bring new life to Norcia through the rebuilding of our monastery. Prior Benedict Nivakoff, O.S.B.”

The monks ask people to keep their homemade beer in mind as its sales help in the rebuilding of the monastery after the devastating earthquake of October 2016 that destroyed their monastery and razed the basilica of St. Benedict to the ground. When the monks announced the damage in a series of tweets, they also announced that the monks were all safe. They have been rebuilding every since.



Here is a terrific update from the Benedictine Monks of Norcia about the progress in re- building since last fall’s devastating earthquake. I could not get the Facebook icon in their email to work so this is the next best thing:


(Vatican Radio) At an audience for a delegation from the Nigerian diocese of Ahiara, Pope Francis said he had been “deeply saddened” by the refusal of the diocese to accept the Bishop appointed for them. (photo:

During the audience, the Pope requested explicitly that the diocese receive Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke, who was appointed to Ahiara by Pope Benedict in 2012. In his address to the delegation, the Holy Father, while asking pardon for the harsh language, said the Church in Ahiara “is like a widow for having prevented the Bishop from coming to the diocese.” He called to mind the parable, from the Gospel of Matthew, of the murderous tenants who wanted to steal the inheritance. “In this current situation, the Diocese of Ahiara is without the bridegroom, has lost her fertility, and cannot bear fruit. Whoever is opposed to Bishop Okpaleke taking possession of the diocese wants to destroy the Church.”

In such a situation, Pope Francis continued, where the Church is suffering, “the Pope cannot remain indifferent.”

In response to that situation, which he described as “an attempted taking over of the vineyard of the Lord,” Pope Francis asked “every priest or ecclesiastic incardinated in the Diocese of Ahiara, whether he resides there or works elsewhere, even abroad, write a letter addressed to me in which he asks for forgiveness; all must write individually and personally. We all must share this common sorrow.”

Whoever fails to do so within thirty days, the Pope said, “will be ipso facto [by that very fact] suspended a divinis [‘from divine things,’  such as the celebration of the sacraments] and will lose his current office.”

This course of action was necessary, he continued, “Because the people of God are scandalized. Jesus reminds us that whoever causes scandal must suffer the consequences. Maybe someone has been manipulated without having full awareness of the wound inflicted upon the ecclesial communion.”

Following the Pope’s address, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja and Apostolic Administrator of Ahiara, thanked the Holy Father. Following his remarks, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, asked the Holy Father that the Diocese of Ahiara, with its Bishop, might make a pilgrimage to Rome to meet with him when the situation was resolved; a request the Pope accepted.

The audience concluded with a prayer to Mary and the blessing of the Holy Father.

Complete text of Papal letter here:


When Okpaleke was appointed to the diocese, the announcement was met by protests and petitions calling for the appointment of a bishop from among the local clergy.

Nevertheless, he was ordained a bishop in May 2013, although the ordination took place not in the Ahiara diocese, but at a seminary in the Archdiocese of Owerri.

Ahiara is in Mbaise, a predominantly Catholic region of Imo State in southern Nigeria.

Okpaleke is from Anambra State, which borders Imo to the north.

A petition to Pope Benedict launched by the “Coalition of Igbo Catholics” said, “That no priest of Mbaise origin is a bishop today … is mind boggling. Mbaise has embraced, enhanced the growth of and sacrificed for the Catholic Church, has more priests per capita than any other diocese in Nigeria and certainly more than enough pool of priests qualified to become the next bishop of the episcopal see of Ahiara Diocese, Mbaise.”

According to the Vatican, the diocese has close to 423,000 Catholics and 110 diocesan priests.

Trying to calm the situation, in July 2013 Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Onaiyekan to serve as apostolic administrator of the diocese, and the following December he sent Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, then-president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, to Ahiara to listen to the concerns of the diocesan priests and local laity.

Onaiyekan joined Okpaleke on the “ad limina” visit to Rome, as did Kaigama and Archbishop Anthony Obinna of Owerri. Three priests, a religious sister and a traditional elder also made the trip.





The Vatican today released a video message from Pope Francis for the XXXII World Youth Day to be held in the dioceses of the world on Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017. The Pope’s written message was also released (see below). Following is the text in English of the video message:

Dear young people,

With the memory vividly in our minds of our meeting together at World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, we have set out towards the next goal that will be, God willing, Panama in 2019. These moments of encounter and conversation with you are very important to me. I want this journey to proceed in line with preparations for the next Synod of Bishops because it is dedicated to you young people.

We are accompanied on this journey by Our Mother the Virgin Mary. She encourages us with her faith, the same faith that she expressed in her song of praise. Mary said, “The Mighty One has done great things for me” (Lk 1:49). She knew how to give thanks to God who looked upon her littleness, and she recognised the great things that God was accomplishing in her life. So she set off to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was old and needed her to be close by. Mary did not stay at home because she was not a young couch potato who looks for comfort and safety where nobody can bother them. She was moved by faith because faith is at the heart of Our Mother’s entire life story.

Dear young people, God is also watching over you and calling you, and when God does so, he is looking at all the love you are able to offer. Like the young woman of Nazareth, you can improve the world and leave an imprint that makes a mark on history ‒ your history and that of many others. The Church and society need you. With your plans and with your courage, with your dreams and ideals, walls of stagnation fall and roads open up that lead us to a better, fairer, less cruel and more humane world.

As you follow this path, I encourage you to cultivate a relationship of familiarity and friendship with Our Lady. She is our Mother. Speak to her as you would to a Mother. Together with her, give thanks for the precious gift of faith that you have received from your elders, and entrust your whole life to her. She is a good Mother who listens to you and embraces you, who loves you and walks together with you. I assure you that if you do that, you will not regret it.

Have a good pilgrimage to World Youth Day 2019. May God bless you all.

For the video: Go to: and scroll down until you see VIDEO CHANNEL – click here to see Pope Francis who speaks in Spanish

Here is the link to Pope Francis’ written message for the 2017 diocesan level celebration of the XXXII World Youth Day, which takes place on Palm Sunday on the Marian theme: “The Mighty One has done great things for me,” taken from the Magnifcat. The Holy Father tells young people that the world “needs your courage, dreams and ideals.”


Following is a letter and some photos sent by Father Benedict Nivakoff, OSB, Prior with an update as they mark the transitus of St. Benedict:

Dear Friends, On this Feast, for several centuries, monks, clergy and citizens of Norcia have celebrated St. Benedict’s Transitus – his earthly death and birth into Heaven — in a packed basilica with local townspeople in medieval costume. In the crypt of that basilica, the saint (and his saintly sister) was born to life, while in the upper church his birth into heaven was remembered. Eight months after the great earthquake of 2016, the celebrations have a different character.

The Archbishop of Spoleto-Norcia offered the Mass at a portable altar in front of the statue of our great patron in the piazza with the ruins of the basilica and its still-standing facade covered in scaffolding in the background. Beloved traditions do not die easily and today’s solemnity is a timely reminder that “deep roots are not touched by the frost.”

The Feast comes in Lent and along with St. Joseph and the Annunciation, this week brings a sort of intermission to the monk’s Lenten routine. Many ask me about it. Here is a brief sketch. Our day still begins at the same time, 03:15 AM. Private Lectio, devotions, low Masses and classes punctuate the morning between vigils, lauds, prime and terce. The sung Conventual Mass is at 10:00 as usual then we go outside to work. The main difference to our schedule is that the one meal of the day is moved to 17:30. St. Benedict was keen that the monks not eat until after vespers, or near sunset. Afterward, there is a short meeting called collation, then compline and bed time. Each monk suggests to the Prior a little extra fasting, a little extra prayer and some almsgiving (within the house) and these are added to his daily schedule.

For one of our monks, Fr. Basil, this Lent has an added gift of service. He is spending the month of March with the Sisters of Charity in Calcutta, India. Last year, Br. Anthony was able to help the sisters there for a month and it proved an invaluable source of inspiration for his monastic vocation and for our community at home. While it is true that there are many ways we try to help people near us in the earthquake zone, the stark poverty that affects that region of India brings an added urgency and we are glad our monks can lend a hand.

One way we help locally is through our beer, and we are grateful to God to be able to announce that after moving some equipment and making minor repairs we will finally be reopening a part of the brewery next week for production. Most of the brewery is still badly damaged but a small part remains intact. Re-opening that part (with some modifications) will allow us to get Birra Nursia out — albeit in limited quantities — to more local shops trying to open again. I’ll have more information about that next week. May Nursia help to gladden hearts in Norcia and abroad and may God bless each of you for your continued support of lour many needs!



Dear Friends,

Although aftershocks continue, we are doing our best to return to our normal monastic life. As we try, we are still responding to the ever-new and evolving challenges of life in a heavily earthquake-damaged region. The difficulty of this task was epitomized this past week as we returned to one of our community’s “wilder” customs.   Every week, we take a three-hour hike in the mountains near the monastery. Four times a year, though, we extend that to an all-day or even overnight excursion. Last week we retraced an old favorite route of the path from Norcia to the monastery of Sant’Eutizio in Preci. St. Eutizio was a hermit and, along with St. Fiorenzio and St. Spes, educated the child St. Benedict. The walk we took was the walk our patron would have taken 15 centuries ago to build up his foundations in virtue and learning.

Except for the sighting of a family of 12 wild boars – which we chased for 200 yards before we lost them in the thick woods — this normally gentle and welcoming path looks nothing like it did six months ago. Much of the attention after the earthquakes has understandably been paid to the bigger disasters of the towns of Amatrice and Norcia, but what isn’t so often reported are the saddening blocks of tiny ruined country villages. We saw church after church lowered to the ground and house after house destroyed beyond repair in hill towns that news cameras didn’t reach. As we hiked, they seemed to all blend together into one long tragic chain. Even though lives were spared by the grace of God, the men and women of these places have no home to return to and many have no jobs to sustain them. They also must confront the question of whether to stay and wait for the rebuilding of a brand new town, or settle with friends and family in better conditions.

Uniting our prayers to those suffering, we began earlier this month a new tradition of a community rosary procession with a statue of Our Lady, which we pulled from the rubble of our monastery in town. Painstakingly repaired by one of the novices with glue and plaster, we wandered with her through the hillside and up and down the mountain paths asking her to intercede so that new life will spring up in these millennia-old towns and villages. Quia non est impossibile apud Deum.

With the assurance of our prayers and gratitude for your support,

Fr. Benedict Nivakoff, O.S.B. Prior



From the Benedictine Monks of Norcia –

Dear friends,

How can I even begin to describe the scene we witnessed yesterday in Norcia?

It was like those photographs of bombed-out churches from the Second World War. It reminded me of all those ruined monasteries one sees passing through the English countryside. It was an image of devastation. All the churches in Norcia are on the ground. Every single one. The roofs caved in on all of them; they are no more. What remains of them are a few corners, a facade, a window with the sun coming through from the wrong side. Inside are “bare ruin’d choirs” as Shakespeare wrote of the destroyed monasteries in his time.

The Church of the Madonna Addolorata in Norcia, crumbled to the ground. Notice the still-standing inscription above the door, which bears the words from the Book of Lamentations: Missit ignem in ossibus meis. (He hath sent fire into my bones.)



The wonder, the miracle, is that there were no casualties. All the fear and anxiety following the first few earthquakes now seem a providential part of God’s mysterious plan to clear the city of all inhabitants. He spent two months preparing us for the complete destruction of our patron’s church so that when it finally happened we would watch it, in horror but in safety, from atop the town.

The Basilica of San Benedict, Norcia.


Is it over yet? We do not know. These are mysteries which will take years — not days or months — to understand. We watch and pray all together on the mountainside for Norcia and for the world. The priests go into town to visit the sick and the homeless. We are grateful for your prayers, as ever.

In Christ,

Fr. Benedict




Here is the latest letter from Fr. Benedict, subprior of the Monks of Norcia, a town struck once again by Wednesday’s earthquake in central Italy:

Dear friends, I am hesitant to implore you all again for prayers and support. In the midst of so much suffering, one cannot help but feel a kind of embarrassment to invite your attention to our situation so soon after the first series of earthquakes in August. Since then, we monks have been trying to determine God’s will for our lives and community. Perhaps, at least for us, this second quake is God yelling even louder His will for our lives. We pray for understanding.   Over the past 24 hours, a powerful series of earthquakes passed through Norcia, once again graciously sparing the lives of the monks and inhabitants to Norcia. Unfortunately, however, it has brought many of the townspeople to the brink of despair and more damage than any of us can yet assess. As before, we are busy at work trying to respond to the crisis on multiple levels. Therefore, my time is short to update all of you, even though you each have found so much time to support us through your prayers and donations.

The Basilica fared the worst. Entire walls of decorative plaster crashed to the floor and the dome has begun to cave in. The roof collapsed in two places, leaving the ancient Basilica exposed to all the elements. Most dramatically, perhaps, the Celtic Cross which adorned the 13th century facade came crashing down.


The 50% of the monastery which had been considered “habitable” after the August quakes has now been damaged far beyond what one might call safe livable conditions. At 10:30 PM last night, 5 of the town monks escaped to San Benedetto in Monte to join the 8 of us already here, where, after a common sip of Birra Nursia Extra, we camped out for a night of turbulence. After a few scant moments of sleep, we rose at 3:30 AM for Matins and started to accept once more that our life is not our own and God had altered our path once again, solidifying it here on the mountain top. Sadly, for the foreseeable future, this means it will no longer be possible for us to offer Mass in the crypt of the Basilica for the public. But, if God wills it, we will soon offer Mass here on the mountain.

In closing, and on a note of hope, I want to tell you about a special visitor we had this morning. In an act of both ecclesiastical solidarity and paternal support, and as the ground beneath us continued to tremble, Archbishop Alexander K. Sample of Portland, Oregon, became the first Bishop to offer Mass in the private chapel of our modest dwellings. The Bishop was in Norcia to participate in the fifth annual Populus Summorum Pontificum pilgrimage. (photo from Summorum Pontificum)


Following the earthquake, the pilgrimage’s Norcia events were cancelled, and so the Bishop spent time with our community. He was able to join us for coffee and offered soothing words of support, which we in turn repeat and offer to all of those in the region affected by natural disaster: “God will bring good to you out of this suffering and this earthquake will become the cornerstone on which generations of monks will build their monastic life.”


From an email from Fr. Benedict, subprior of the Benedictine Monks of Norcia. He is one of two who stayed in town.


Day 2 in Norcia has brought new challenges and a better sense of the damage, both physical and spiritual. The community departed Wednesday afternoon, 12 hours after the earthquake hit, for a temporary stay (Deo Volente, just 3 or 4 days) at St. Anselmo. While we hope they aren’t away for long and that it is safe enough for them to return soon, they are in fact in solidarity with most of the town of Norcia. Many townspeople have decided to sleep in their cars, in tents outside the city or with relatives elsewhere. The physical damage does not resemble in anyway the tragic images coming out of Amatrice, just 30 miles away. Here in Norcia, nearly all the buildings appear from the outside to be intact and stable. But the reality is many have suffered structural damage that makes them uninhabitable. In addition, secondary shocks have been coming every 15-20 minutes. Some today have been as high as 4.2

We monks who remained, staying in tents, have returned to the days of our youth, and are camping out in the garden area of the our monastery outside the walls. The tents were positioned far from any buildings so the we were not in danger, but tremors throughout the night made sleeping difficult — as did the occasional sound of wild boar in the woods! Restorations to our property outside the city walls (Fuori Le Mura) had only recently started. That restoration work on the Church was made with the latest anti-earthquake materials and, thanks be to God, it has mostly withstood the tremors.

Today, we monks made rounds in town and visited locals at their businesses and found many sad faces. Norcia thrives on tourism and citizens often earn enough in August to keep them going all year round. Not this year. The main hotel in town, that of the Bianconi family, went from 500 guests the night of the quake, to 20 the day after. Norcia is like a ghost town, except for journalists, aid workers and architects who wander around the town each trying in their own way to bring relief of some sort.

We have no specifics to share yet regarding damages we’ve faced, though we know they are extensive. Because of the frequent aftershocks, inspections were suspended earlier in the day. The bells are not ringing for prayer as we don’t know yet if the tower is safe, and the monks are praying for Norcia from Rome, where St. Benedict himself was once sent to study. We checked on the Poor Claire Nuns and Benedictine Nuns today and found the former without any damage to their convent, but the latter, the daughters of St. Scholastica, are sleeping in the laundry room while they assess damages.

We’ve begun drawing up plans for a campaign to help not just the monks but the other religious and lay faithful in town and we’ll pass those along in due course. For now, we continue to rely on your prayers and support.

Pax, Father Benedict