Today I offer an early St. Patrick’s Day gift – some special dance steps by two American seminarians, now ordained priests. You may have seen this story yesterday in the Culture column of Aleteia news. Viral dancing seminarian duel merges Tap vs. Irish step (aleteia.org)

I took this video at the North American College’s 2014 Rector’s Dinner, using my iPad and standing against the dining room wall that is opposite the entertainment area. There is entertainment every year at this annual spring fund-raising dinner, and I knew 2014 would be special – but not this special! – because I knew that David Rider from New York, who had danced at the previous Rector’s Dinner – was about to do an encore and he had told me “there will be a big surprise this year!

And that surprise was fellow seminarian John Gibson from Milwaukee. While David had been on Broadway as a dancer before entering the seminary, John’s interest in the Irish dancing, so-called River Dance, came from watching his sister who excelled at Irish dancing – and John took it up as it looked like great fun!

Both are now ordained priests and doing the Lord’s work in a different way, but I’m sure they’ve not lost their ability to dance up a storm, using their God-given talents!

When the video hit 1 million views, David, John, three of the musicians and I celebrated with a champagne dinner at my home!

It has over 3 million views – let’s make that 4 million today!  Spread the joy and the fun! If this doesn’t make you smile and feel good, nothing will!

While the video was not credited to me yesterday, I saw my image today on the Aleteia website in the upper left corner of my original Youtube video.




I had some issues downloading my photos on Thanksgiving Day that kept me from posting a column that very evening but, as the saying goes, better late than never!

A decades-old tradition in Rome, Thanksgiving Day began with 10:30 Mass at St. Patrick’s church for Americans and other English-speaking Catholics in the Eternal City. The American ambassador to the Holy See, Joseph Donnelly – as again is an annual tradition – attended Mass and read the Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation.

Later in the afternoon, the Pontifical North American College had its traditional Thanksgiving Day Mass, followed by an always-delicious multi-course turkey dinner. We are in Italy, after all, so there had to be an antipasto and some pasta before turkey was served! Again, Ambassador Donnelly read the president’s proclamation.

Priests, seminarians and guests are seated at “state” tables, that is, states with seminarians attending the college decorate their tables so that, at once glance, you are to know which state is celebrating Thanksgiving. You’ll see a few familiar flags, banners, license plates, sports emblems and other items on the tables. And yes, there is an Australia table as several seminarians from down under are studying at NAC.

I was with friends from the Illinois-Ohio table. The youngest guest of the evening, Briella, daughter of the college’s music director, was also at our table. Thursday was her first birthday and the college acknowledged her with a cake and candle and several hundred people singing an enthusiastic Happy Birthday!

Here are some of the photos I took. (And yes, that is a plate of buckeyes!)

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On one wall of the dining room are oil portraits of the Popes, starting with Pius XII, who reigned since the College opened on Janiculum Hill in 1953. I realized that, starting with Pius XII (1939 to 1958), all the pontiffs shown are the Popes of my entire lifetime! John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I (albeit Pope for only 33 days), John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis!

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How many of you remembered to have your throat blessed on yesterday’s feast day of St. Blaise, patron saint of throat illnesses? I’ve done this for most of my life and have even experienced some special blessings while travelling abroad. Last night I went to vespers and Mass at San Giovanni dei Fiorentini and, at the end of Mass, the priest blessed the candles he used to bless our throats and then said a prayer over a basket of bread. After he blessed our throats individually, he distributed the bread among us. A very special evening!

PS. San Giovanni’s nativity scene was still up in a side chapel. In fact, many churches (and families) in Rome follow the tradition of the Christmas season ending on the February 2 feast of the Presentation (as I do in my home – that’s when decorations come down).


My special guest this week and next in the interview segment of “Vatican Insider” is Deacon Brad Easterbrooks. Currently studying at the North American College in Rome, he is looking at a special way to live his future priesthood – the life of a military chaplain! Brad, from San Diego, has a wonderful story to tell about his vocation but you really have to hear about his remarkable pre-seminary years – work at a consulting firm and on political campaigns, law school, then the Navy, work for JAG (remember the TV show “JAG” – Judge Advocate General) and then….. Well, to hear that story, tune in after the News segment!

In his Navy uniform

IN THE UNITED STATES, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (stations listed at www.ewtn.com) or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio, or on http://www.ewtn.com. 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.” VI airs at 5am and 9pm ET on Saturdays and 6am ET on Sundays. On the GB-IE feed (which is on SKY in the UK and Ireland), VI airs at 5:30am, 12 noon and 10pm CET on Sundays. Both of these feeds are also available on the EWTN app and on www.ewtnradio.net ALWAYS CHECK YOUR OWN TIME ZONE! For VI archives: go to https://www.ewtn.com/radio/audio-archive and write the name of the guest for whom you are searching in the SEARCH box. Below that, will appear “Vatican Insider” – click on that and the link to that particular episode will appear.




As you hopefully know by now, two events in the Vatican with Pope Francis are scheduled for coming days: tomorrow, March 25, feast of the Annunciation (12 noon Rome time), and Friday, March 27 from 6 to 7 pm Rome time (announced by Francis at Sunday Angelus: https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2020-03/pope-calls-for-christians-to-unite-in-prayer-for-end-to-pandemic.html)

I have been asked by many people if the prayer the Pope has asked all Christians to recite, the Our Father, when he does so at noon tomorrow will be said around the world by Christians in sync with Rome or at their local time zone noon hour.

According to the following reports (and others I’ve read), the prayer will be in sync with Rome:

(CNS) – Pope Francis has invited Christians around the world to respond to the coronavirus pandemic by joining him at the same time in praying the Lord’s Prayer at 7 a.m. Eastern time (noon in Rome) on Wednesday, March 25, the solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.

(www.vaticannews.va) – “The Philippine Catholic Church is joining two worldwide prayer initiatives of Pope Francis this week as a response to the coronavirus, or COVID-19, pandemic. It is also reaching out to the homeless in the capital. “Heeding the Pope’s invitation, we recommend that we will pray together the Lord’s Prayer at 7:00 pm on March 25,” wrote Fr. Marvin Mejia, Secretary-General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in a circular on Monday. Speaking during Sunday’s Angelus prayer, Pope Francis called on Christians to respond to the pandemic with the “universality of prayer, of compassion, of tenderness. … In these trying days, while humanity trembles due to the threat of the pandemic, I would like to propose to all Christians that together we lift our voices towards Heaven,” he said. He particularly invited Christian communities and leaders of Christian Churches to join in reciting the Our Father at noon on Wednesday, March 25, Rome time, or at 7:00 pm in the Philippines. (By Robin Gomes – vaticannews)


PAPAL MESSAGE FOR WORLD DAY OF PRAYER FOR VOCATIONS – Pope Francis sends a message to mark the 57th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, to be celebrated on May 3. Pope Francis begins his message by recalling a letter he wrote last year in which he chose four key words – pain, gratitude, encouragement, and praise – as a way of “thanking priests and supporting their ministry.” Today, he says, those same words can “be addressed to the whole people of God,” alongside a passage from Matthew’s Gospel that recounts the “remarkable experience of Jesus and Peter during a stormy night on the Sea of Galilee” (cf. Mt 14:22-33). Pope Francis says, “After the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus told his disciples to get into the boat and precede Him to the other shore, while He took leave of the people.” He explains: “The image of the disciples crossing the lake can evoke our own life’s journey.”  FULL STORY: https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2020-03/pope-francis-sends-message-for-world-day-of-prayer-for-vocations.html

U.S. SEMINARY STUDENTS SENT HOME: (CNA).- Amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the Pontifical North American College seminary has sent students to return to their homes and dioceses in the U.S. NAC rector Fr. Peter Harman told CNA by email March 23 that the decision to send students home had been made “in consultation with” the seminary’s board of governors. He added that about 20 or so students would stay at the seminary with the faculty as they are unable to get home or would not have a place to self-quarantine. Harman said seminarians will undergo a 14-day quarantine after returning home and their studies will continue through the means established by the Roman universities at which they take classes. “We made this decision for their safety, thinking that being in smaller groups at home would be safer than one large campus, not being able to assure direct health care here for the indefinite future,” he said. “We still have everyone healthy, and would rather undergo this convenience than jeopardize their health.”

VATICAN NEWSPAPER SUSPENDS PRINT PUBLICATION: L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican daily newspaper, announced today in its print and online editions that, as of March 26, it will have to temporarily suspend the printed editions of the paper in its daily, weekly and monthly editions until the coronavirus situation ends, and working conditions can return to normal. Distribution to newsstands in the city and printed copies to be mailed will halt. In fact, the newspaper will continue to be edited and can be viewed in digital format on the web page: www. Osservatoreromano.va in its new guise, simpler and more integrated with the Vatican News site, which will be inaugurated tomorrow, Wednesday 25 March, solemnity of the Annunciation. For those wishing to receive the paper in digital form, send your email address to: helpdesk@spc.va (JFL: daily, weekly and monthly editions are in Italian. I am not sure if the digital paper includes the weekly editions in other languages – am checking on that. I believe this is the first time in the paper’s history – founded July 1, 1861 –  that it has suspended printing. I have heard that some copies may be printed for Pope Francis, for the pope emeritus and for the Secretary of State. Click here for the March 13 and March 20 editions in English: https://www.vaticannews.va/en/vatican-city/news/2020-03/osservatore-romano-pdf-english-weekly-edition.html

CORONAVIRUS IN THE VATICAN (HOLY SEE PRESS OFFICE): Answering questions from journalists, Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni, said: “At present there are four cases of coronavirus positivity found (in Vatican staff): in addition to the first case previously reported, one case is an employee of the Merchandise Office and two are employees of the Vatican Museums. The four people had been placed in solitary confinement before they tested positive and their isolation has lasted for over 14 days; currently they are being treated in Italian hospitals or at home.”



It was a wonderful morning for the North American College and the Church in the United States and Australia as 40 young men – 39 from the U.S, and one from the diocese of Melbourne in Australia – were ordained to the diaconate at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston-Galveston and president of the USCCB, presided at the liturgy in the presence of scores of priests and bishops and three cardinals, James Harvey, Raymond Burke and James Stafford, and hundreds of joy-filled family members, and seminary staff.

He congratulated the 40 new deacons but also mentioned that 17 others were ordained in their home dioceses.

I have attended these ordinations for years and years and always rejoice with the young men, many of whom I have met in their previous three years at NAC. I rejoice with their families, as well, in particular their parents. When I can, I meet the Moms and Dads and congratulate them and thank them for raising such a wonderful young man, so ready to give his life in service to others and to the Lord.

The Mass and ordination ceremony was long, three hours, but ever so beautiful with the various rites – the Election of the Candidates, the Promise of the Elect, the Litany of Supplication, the Laying on of Hands and Prayer of Ordination, the Vesting of new deacons and Handing on of Book of Gospels.

Once vested in the stole and dalmatic, the new deacons process to a table at the bottom of the steps to the papal altar where chalices and ciboria have been placed. They then bring them to the altar for the preparation of the gifts.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist then starts.

I took a number of photos during the Mass, including many of the apse where the stunning and historic Altar of the Chair is located.

How many times during Mass did I look at the Chair, at the statues of the four Doctors of the Church, two from the East and two from the West, and pray for the new deacons and for the priests and bishops on the altar and for our Church. I asked the Lord to please, please come to our aid in this dreadful time for the Church when so many priests have broken their vows.

I asked the Lord to stay with and to look after the new deacons till their last breath. I asked Him to please “sit on their shoulder.”

I prayed that we all, as St. Francis was asked to do by the Lord, can rebuild His Church.

A reception at NAC followed Mass – hundreds of friends and family members in the main courtyard of the seminary enjoyed lights snacks and libations.

Note the crown of thorns at the base of the water spray in the center of the garden pool….

Celebratory dinners continue around Rome through the evening, I am sure!




Dear Lord, how have you blessed me? Let me count the ways…..

My wonderful family, my beautiful faith, my ocean of friends, the friends throughout your great universe whom you have brought into my life.

Does a day pass that you do not bring some unique, new person into my life?

Does a day pass that I am not enriched ad blessed by some amazing event which you placed in my path as a learning moment, a time of prayer, a period of silent Thanksgiving?

You blessed me at my baptism when you brought me into your beautiful Catholic Church and a faith to which I have always tried to be faithful.

You have blessed me by enriching that faith over the years, allowing me to work for you every day, to bring your Word and your teachings and your Truth to so many.

My words, by comparison, are very insignificant but truly heartfelt. I am filled with both thanksgiving and joy as I write these words, as my mind’s eye overflows with images of each family member, of friends here in Rome and around the globe, of the magnificent events that daily fill my life.

I sign most emails and letters with “God bless,” and then on another line “Joan” – but I read it silently as “God bless Joan.”

And You HAVE blessed me! Heartfelt THANKS!

For the beauty of the earth,

For the beauty of the skies,

For the love which from our birth

Over and around us lies,

Lord of all, to thee we raise This our grateful hymn of praise.

For the beauty of each hour

Of the day and of the night,

Hill and vale, and tree and flower,

Sun and moon and stars of light,

Lord of all, to thee we raise This our grateful hymn of praise.

For the joy of human love,

Brother, sister, parent, child,

Friends on earth, and friends above,

Pleasures pure and undefiled,

Lord of all, to thee we raise This our grateful hymn of praise.


My friendship with the priests, seminarians, faculty and staff of the Pontifical North American College is another of my great blessings. Thanksgiving is one of the more special days at the College and it always begins, as Thanksgiving should, with Mass. The guest celebrant and homilist today was Bishop Jorge Carlos Patron Wong, secretary for seminaries of the Congregation for Clergy.

A full turkey lunch with Italian additions of antipasto and divine ravioli was on the menu, as you will see. Seminarians, priests and their guests gather at state tables, as you will also see in the following photos. I was at the Illinois table this morning, which was also the head table as NAC’s rector, Rev. Peter Harman is from Illinois. I sat next to and across from two priests and two seminarians from the diocese of Rockford.

Fifth year students (ordained priests who have returned to Rome for a fifth year of studies) served the meal. Before we ate, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Ken Hackett read the U.S. Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation.

Without further ado, here are some of the tables:

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You see the Australia table – there are seminarians from both Canada and Australia at NAC.

The Illinois table featured both the Sears Tower and the John Hancock building – and Abe Lincoln, of course!

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Ambassador Hackett –


Our table






Many days in my life are so filled with events, celebrations, meetings, people, preparing and doing TV spots and radio programs, and even unexpected events that, on occasion, no time is left for my daily column. Yesterday and today have been two such days.

Yesterday, in particular, was the annual diaconate ordination at the North American College, and a report and photos follow below. Today Pope Francis departed on his three-day pilgrimage – the 16th foreign trip of his pontificate – to Georgia and Azerbaijan.  I’ll let you follow that on EWTN television and on our website.

This weekend I am going to do something I very rarely do in this great, historic and extremely beautiful country, namely, take a two-day weekend and travel to Florence with cousins visiting from Chicago, one of whom has never been to Italy so we are all thrilled to have this occasion.

I hope your weekend will be as special as ours will surely be and I’ll get back to you on Monday, as usual.


My guest this weekend on Vatican Insider is Archbishop Gustavo Garcia Siller of San Antonio. We spoke at the papal residence of Santa Marta during the days that he and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles were in Rome to present to various Vatican offices a program about, by and for Hispanic Americans in the Church called V Encuentro –the V Encounter. Abp. Gustavo is a dear friend – the oldest of 15 children, by the way! – and our conversation covered V Encuentro, migration, the US elections and much, much more including a few surprises.

I forgot to take photos that day but if you refer to my September 24 Facebook post, you will see the photos that Marthamaria Morales, in Rome with the two archbishops and their delegation, posted on her page that were later shared on mine.

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 channel 130 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 9:00 am (Eastern time). 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 FOR YOUR TIME ZONE. Past shows are in VI archives: http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/file_index.asp?SeriesId=7096&pgnu=


Yesterday, September 29, was a very special day for 29 young men from the United States and 1 from Australia, from the archdiocese of Melbourne, as they were ordained deacons at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston. These 30 future priests all study at the Pontifical North American College and represent 27 U.S. dioceses in addition to the one in Australia. In some cases the bishops of these dioceses were present.




After the diaconate ordination, NAC offers a reception for the young men and their family and friends who are in Rome for the occasion. It was a very big affair this year and, to be honest, I don’t recall such a large number of family and friends present for this beautiful day. And a beautiful day it was – very warm temperatures and clear, blue skies.



This has always been a special day for me personally as I have been a big fan and supporter of the North American College for years and know many faculty members and a number of the seminarians.


What is so lovely about this day is how prominent families are in this celebration, the families of the new deacons and the NAC family.




Strong, faith-filled families are almost always behind a vocation – families for whom the faith is important, including frequent, often daily, Mass, prayers at mealtimes, learning and passing on the faith and, most importantly on the role of parents who both accept and encourage a vocation to the priesthood.



Of the young men I have spoken to over the years, all indicated that their family life was behind their choice for the priesthood – prayer life, family rosary, Mass attendance, their parents as role models and the family support for the call to the priesthood.

With their time in Rome, the seminarians and deacons now have an extended family – the wonderful and supportive seminary family at the North American College and, in many ways, the family of the Universal Church in Rome.

At the reception with Auxiliary Bishop Rassas of Chicago and one of the very special families that Diane and I met that afternoon.


In addition to the 30 men ordained yesterday, a number of NAC seminarians were ordained in the U.S. in their home dioceses. All will be ordained to the priesthood at the end of their last year at NAC, returning to their home dioceses for priestly ordination.

Yesterday was a beautiful day here in Rome for the new deacons, for their families and for all of us because, after all, these young men our future pastors!


I have two gifts for you today. One is the announcement that a U.S. diocese has a new bishop, a friend to countless numbers of people in the United States and Italy (and surely in many countries around the globe), Bishop-elect James Checchio, just retired rector of the North American College!

The second gift is for you ladies! Today is International Women’s Day, a day celebrated in a big way throughout Europe. I think the most beautiful gift women ever received from a Pope was John Paul’s Letter to Women, penned just before the start of the U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing in September 1995. I was a member of the Holy See delegation to that conference and my copy of this letter was almost dog-eared after three weeks in Beijing.

The Holy Father met with our delegation the day before we flew to Beijing. I learned of the audience at work about a half hour before we left for the audience hall! Had I known before coming to work, I’d not have worn a light pink dress but rather a more somber outfit. I actually have a video, a close up, of just the two of us talking!




I was going to present just excerpts of this 4,200-word document and then a link to the entire Letter but it must be read in its context. Have a morning coffee or afternoon tea and enjoy! By the by, all words in italics are that way in the original Letter.

Did I ever thank you, St. John Paul?!


Pope Francis today named Msgr. James Checchio, longtime rector of the Pontifical North American College as bishop of Metuchen in New Jersey! Msgr. Checchio’s successor, Msgr. Peter Harman was formally installed as the new rector only ten days ago, on February 28.

At the ground breaking ceremony for the new building that was dedicated January 6, 2015


In his NAC office for an interview for Vatican Insider

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What splendid news for so many thousands of people – Msgr. Checchio’s predecessors, Cardinals Timothy Dolan and Edwin O’Brien, the hundreds of seminarians and priests who have spent the last 12 years at NAC, seminarians who were ordained priests and priests who pursued their graduate work in Rome at the Casa Santa Maria, the faculty an staff of NAC, the scores of ambassadors and Roman Curia employees and friends at American universities here in Rome – all of us, friends and supporters of the North American College! We rejoice today in your appointment, dear friend!

Rest assured of our prayers and continued support!

Bishop-elect Checchio was born in 1966 in Camden, New Jersey and was ordained a priest in 1992. He holds a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas in Rome, and has served in a number of pastoral roles, including parish vicar, defender of the bond in the tribunal of Camden, director of the diocesan Public Relations and Communications Office, parish administrator and moderator of the Curia. He was rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome from 2005 to last month, February 2016. He succeeds Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski, whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same diocese upon reaching the age limit was accepted by the Holy Father.


I greet you all most cordially, women throughout the world.

1. I am writing this letter to each one of you as a sign of solidarity and gratitude on the eve of the Fourth World Conference on Women, to be held in Beijing this coming September.

Before all else, I wish to express my deep appreciation to the United Nations Organization for having sponsored this very significant event. The Church desires for her part to contribute to upholding the dignity, role and rights of women, not only by the specific work of the Holy See’s official Delegation to the Conference in Beijing, but also by speaking directly to the heart and mind of every woman. Recently, when Mrs Gertrude Mongella, the Secretary General of the Conference, visited me in connection with the Peking meeting, I gave her a written Message which stated some basic points of the Church’s teaching with regard to women’s issues. That message, apart from the specific circumstances of its origin, was concerned with a broader vision of the situation and problems of women in general, in an attempt to promote the cause of women in the Church and in today’s world. For this reason, I arranged to have it forwarded to every Conference of Bishops, so that it could be circulated as widely as possible.

Taking up the themes I addressed in that document, I would now like to speak directly to every woman, to reflect with her on the problems and the prospects of what it means to be a woman in our time. In particular I wish to consider the essential issue of the dignity and rights of women, as seen in the light of the word of God.

This “dialogue” really needs to begin with a word of thanks. As I wrote in my Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, the Church “desires to give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for the ‘mystery of woman’ and for every woman-for all that constitutes the eternal measure of her feminine dignity, for the ‘great works of God’, which throughout human history have been accomplished in and through her” (No. 31).

2.  This word of thanks to the Lord for his mysterious plan regarding the vocation and mission of women in the world is at the same time a concrete and direct word of thanks to women, to every woman, for all that they represent in the life of humanity.

Thank you, women who are mothers! You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail. This experience makes you become God’s own smile upon the newborn child, the one who guides your child’s first steps, who helps it to grow, and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey of life.

Thank you, women who are wives! You irrevocably join your future to that of your husbands, in a relationship of mutual giving, at the service of love and life.

Thank you, women who are daughters and women who are sisters! Into the heart of the family, and then of all society, you bring the richness of your sensitivity, your intuitiveness, your generosity and fidelity.

Thank you, women who work! You are present and active in every area of life-social, economic, cultural, artistic and political. In this way you make an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling, to a model of life ever open to the sense of “mystery”, to the establishment of economic and political structures ever more worthy of humanity.

Thank you, consecrated women! Following the example of the greatest of women, the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, you open yourselves with obedience and fidelity to the gift of God’s love. You help the Church and all mankind to experience a “spousal” relationship to God, one which magnificently expresses the fellowship which God wishes to establish with his creatures.

Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.

3.  I know of course that simply saying thank you is not enough. Unfortunately, we are heirs to a history which has conditioned us to a remarkable extent. In every time and place, this conditioning has been an obstacle to the progress of women. Women’s dignity has often been unacknowledged and their prerogatives misrepresented; they have often been relegated to the margins of society and even reduced to servitude. This has prevented women from truly being themselves and it has resulted in a spiritual impoverishment of humanity. Certainly it is no easy task to assign the blame for this, considering the many kinds of cultural conditioning which down the centuries have shaped ways of thinking and acting. And if objective blame, especially in particular historical contexts, has belonged to not just a few members of the Church, for this I am truly sorry. May this regret be transformed, on the part of the whole Church, into a renewed commitment of fidelity to the Gospel vision. When it comes to setting women free from every kind of exploitation and domination, the Gospel contains an ever-relevant message which goes back to the attitude of Jesus Christ himself. Transcending the established norms of his own culture, Jesus treated women with openness, respect, acceptance and tenderness. In this way he honoured the dignity which women have always possessed according to God’s plan and in his love. As we look to Christ at the end of this Second Millennium, it is natural to ask ourselves: how much of his message has been heard and acted upon?

Yes, it is time to examine the past with courage, to assign responsibility where it is due in a review of the long history of humanity. Women have contributed to that history as much as men and, more often than not, they did so in much more difficult conditions. I think particularly of those women who loved culture and art, and devoted their lives to them in spite of the fact that they were frequently at a disadvantage from the start, excluded from equal educational opportunities, underestimated, ignored and not given credit for their intellectual contributions. Sadly, very little of women’s achievements in history can be registered by the science of history. But even though time may have buried the documentary evidence of those achievements, their beneficent influence can be felt as a force which has shaped the lives of successive generations, right up to our own. To this great, immense feminine “tradition” humanity owes a debt which can never be repaid. Yet how many women have been and continue to be valued more for their physical appearance than for their skill, their professionalism, their intellectual abilities, their deep sensitivity; in a word, the very dignity of their being!

4.  And what shall we say of the obstacles which in so many parts of the world still keep women from being fully integrated into social, political and economic life? We need only think of how the gift of motherhood is often penalized rather than rewarded, even though humanity owes its very survival to this gift. Certainly, much remains to be done to prevent discrimination against those who have chosen to be wives and mothers. As far as personal rights are concerned, there is an urgent need to achieve real equality in every area: equal pay for equal work, protection for working mothers, fairness in career advancements, equality of spouses with regard to family rights and the recognition of everything that is part of the rights and duties of citizens in a democratic State.

This is a matter of justice but also of necessity. Women will increasingly play a part in the solution of the serious problems of the future: leisure time, the quality of life, migration, social services, euthanasia, drugs, health care, the ecology, etc. In all these areas a greater presence of women in society will prove most valuable, for it will help to manifest the contradictions present when society is organized solely according to the criteria of efficiency and productivity, and it will force systems to be redesigned in a way which favours the processes of humanization which mark the “civilization of love”

5.  Then too, when we look at one of the most sensitive aspects of the situation of women in the world, how can we not mention the long and degrading history, albeit often an “underground” history, of violence against women in the area of sexuality? At the threshold of the Third Millennium we cannot remain indifferent and resigned before this phenomenon. The time has come to condemn vigorously the types of sexual violence which frequently have women for their object and to pass laws which effectively defend them from such violence. Nor can we fail, in the name of the respect due to the human person, to condemn the widespread hedonistic and commercial culture which encourages the systematic exploitation of sexuality and corrupts even very young girls into letting their bodies be used for profit.

In contrast to these sorts of perversion, what great appreciation must be shown to those women who, with a heroic love for the child they have conceived, proceed with a pregnancy resulting from the injustice of rape. Here we are thinking of atrocities perpetrated not only in situations of war, still so common in the world, but also in societies which are blessed by prosperity and peace and yet are often corrupted by a culture of hedonistic permissiveness which aggravates tendencies to aggressive male behaviour. In these cases the choice to have an abortion always remains a grave sin. But before being something to blame on the woman, it is a crime for which guilt needs to be attributed to men and to the complicity of the general social environment.

6.  My word of thanks to women thus becomes a heartfelt appeal that everyone, and in a special way States and international institutions, should make every effort to ensure that women regain full respect for their dignity and role. Here I cannot fail to express my admiration for those women of good will who have devoted their lives to defending the dignity of womanhood by fighting for their basic social, economic and political rights, demonstrating courageous initiative at a time when this was considered extremely inappropriate, the sign of a lack of femininity, a manifestation of exhibitionism, and even a sin!

In this year’s World Day of Peace Message, I noted that when one looks at the great process of women’s liberation, “the journey has been a difficult and complicated one and, at times, not without its share of mistakes. But it has been substantially a positive one, even if it is still unfinished, due to the many obstacles which, in various parts of the world, still prevent women from being acknowledged, respected, and appreciated in their own special dignity” (No. 4).

This journey must go on! But I am convinced that the secret of making speedy progress in achieving full respect for women and their identity involves more than simply the condemnation of discrimination and injustices, necessary though this may be. Such respect must first and foremost be won through an effective and intelligent campaign for the promotion of women, concentrating on all areas of women’s life and beginning with a universal recognition of the dignity of women. Our ability to recognize this dignity, in spite of historical conditioning, comes from the use of reason itself, which is able to understand the law of God written in the heart of every human being. More than anything else, the word of God enables us to grasp clearly the ultimate anthropological basis of the dignity of women, making it evident as a part of God’s plan for humanity.

7. Dear sisters, together let us reflect anew on the magnificent passage in Scripture which describes the creation of the human race and which has so much to say about your dignity and mission in the world.

The Book of Genesis speaks of creation in summary fashion, in language which is poetic and symbolic, yet profoundly true: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). The creative act of God takes place according to a precise plan. First of all, we are told that the human being is created “in the image and likeness of God” (cf. Gen 1:26). This expression immediately makes clear what is distinct about the human being with regard to the rest of creation.

We are then told that, from the very beginning, man has been created “male and female” (Gen 1:27). Scripture itself provides the interpretation of this fact: even though man is surrounded by the innumerable creatures of the created world, he realizes that he is alone (cf. Gen 2:20). God intervenes in order to help him escape from this situation of solitude: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:18). The creation of woman is thus marked from the outset by the principle of help: a help which is not one-sided but mutual. Woman complements man, just as man complements woman: men and women are complementary. Womanhood expresses the “human” as much as manhood does, but in a different and complementary way.

When the Book of Genesis speaks of “help”, it is not referring merely to acting, but also to being. Womanhood and manhood are complementary not only from the physical and psychological points of view, but also from the ontological. It is only through the duality of the “masculine” and the “feminine” that the “human” finds full realization.

8.  After creating man male and female, God says to both: “Fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28). Not only does he give them the power to procreate as a means of perpetuating the human species throughout time, he also gives them the earth, charging them with the responsible use of its resources. As a rational and free being, man is called to transform the face of the earth. In this task, which is essentially that of culture, man and woman alike share equal responsibility from the start. In their fruitful relationship as husband and wife, in their common task of exercising dominion over the earth, woman and man are marked neither by a static and undifferentiated equality nor by an irreconcilable and inexorably conflictual difference. Their most natural relationship, which corresponds to the plan of God, is the “unity of the two”, a relational “uni-duality”, which enables each to experience their interpersonal and reciprocal relationship as a gift which enriches and which confers responsibility.

To this “unity of the two” God has entrusted not only the work of procreation and family life, but the creation of history itself. While the 1994 International Year of the Family focused attention on women as mothers, the Beijing Conference, which has as its theme “Action for Equality, Development and Peace”, provides an auspicious occasion for heightening awareness of the many contributions made by women to the life of whole societies and nations. This contribution is primarily spiritual and cultural in nature, but socio-political and economic as well. The various sectors of society, nations and states, and the progress of all humanity, are certainly deeply indebted to the contribution of women!

9.  Progress usually tends to be measured according to the criteria of science and technology. Nor from this point of view has the contribution of women been negligible. Even so, this is not the only measure of progress, nor in fact is it the principal one. Much more important is the social and ethical dimension, which deals with human relations and spiritual values. In this area, which often develops in an inconspicuous way beginning with the daily relationships between people, especially within the family, society certainly owes much to the “genius of women”.

Here I would like to express particular appreciation to those women who are involved in the various areas of education extending well beyond the family: nurseries, schools, universities, social service agencies, parishes, associations and movements. Wherever the work of education is called for, we can note that women are ever ready and willing to give themselves generously to others, especially in serving the weakest and most defenceless. In this work they exhibit a kind of affective, cultural and spiritual motherhood which has inestimable value for the development of individuals and the future of society. At this point how can I fail to mention the witness of so many Catholic women and Religious Congregations of women from every continent who have made education, particularly the education of boys and girls, their principal apostolate? How can I not think with gratitude of all the women who have worked and continue to work in the area of health care, not only in highly organized institutions, but also in very precarious circumstances, in the poorest countries of the world, thus demonstrating a spirit of service which not infrequently borders on martyrdom?

10.  It is thus my hope, dear sisters, that you will reflect carefully on what it means to speak of the “genius of women”, not only in order to be able to see in this phrase a specific part of God’s plan which needs to be accepted and appreciated, but also in order to let this genius be more fully expressed in the life of society as a whole, as well as in the life of the Church. This subject came up frequently during the Marian Year and I myself dwelt on it at length in my Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem (1988). In addition, this year in the Letter which I customarily send to priests for Holy Thursday, I invited them to reread Mulieris Dignitatem and reflect on the important roles which women have played in their lives as mothers, sisters and co-workers in the apostolate.

This is another aspect – different from the conjugal aspect, but also important – of that “help” which women, according to the Book of Genesis, are called to give to men.

The Church sees in Mary the highest expression of the “feminine genius” and she finds in her a source of constant inspiration. Mary called herself the “handmaid of the Lord” (Lk 1:38). Through obedience to the Word of God she accepted her lofty yet not easy vocation as wife and mother in the family of Nazareth. Putting herself at God’s service, she also put herself at the service of others: a service of love. Precisely through this service Mary was able to experience in her life a mysterious, but authentic “reign”. It is not by chance that she is invoked as “Queen of heaven and earth”. The entire community of believers thus invokes her; many nations and peoples call upon her as their “Queen”. For her, “to reign” is to serve! Her service is “to reign”!

This is the way in which authority needs to be understood, both in the family and in society and the Church. Each person’s fundamental vocation is revealed in this “reigning”, for each person has been created in the “image” of the One who is Lord of heaven and earth and called to be his adopted son or daughter in Christ. Man is the only creature on earth “which God willed for its own sake”, as the Second Vatican Council teaches; it significantly adds that man “cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self” (Gaudium et Spes, 24).

The maternal “reign” of Mary consists in this. She who was, in all her being, a gift for her Son, has also become a gift for the sons and daughters of the whole human race, awakening profound trust in those who seek her guidance along the difficult paths of life on the way to their definitive and transcendent destiny. Each one reaches this final goal by fidelity to his or her own vocation; this goal provides meaning and direction for the earthly labours of men and women alike.

11. In this perspective of “service”-which, when it is carried out with freedom, reciprocity and love, expresses the truly “royal” nature of mankind-one can also appreciate that the presence of a certain diversity of roles is in no way prejudicial to women, provided that this diversity is not the result of an arbitrary imposition, but is rather an expression of what is specific to being male and female. This issue also has a particular application within the Church. If Christ-by his free and sovereign choice, clearly attested to by the Gospel and by the Church’s constant Tradition-entrusted only to men the task of being an “icon” of his countenance as “shepherd” and “bridegroom” of the Church through the exercise of the ministerial priesthood, this in no way detracts from the role of women, or for that matter from the role of the other members of the Church who are not ordained to the sacred ministry, since all share equally in the dignity proper to the “common priesthood” based on Baptism. These role distinctions should not be viewed in accordance with the criteria of functionality typical in human societies. Rather they must be understood according to the particular criteria of the sacramental economy, i.e. the economy of “signs” which God freely chooses in order to become present in the midst of humanity.

Furthermore, precisely in line with this economy of signs, even if apart from the sacramental sphere, there is great significance to that “womanhood” which was lived in such a sublime way by Mary. In fact, there is present in the “womanhood” of a woman who believes, and especially in a woman who is “consecrated”, a kind of inherent “prophecy” (cf. Mulieris Dignitatem, 29), a powerfully evocative symbolism, a highly significant “iconic character”, which finds its full realization in Mary and which also aptly expresses the very essence of the Church as a community consecrated with the integrity of a “virgin” heart to become the “bride” of Christ and “mother” of believers. When we consider the “iconic” complementarity of male and female roles, two of the Church’s essential dimensions are seen in a clearer light: the “Marian” principle and the Apostolic-Petrine principle (cf. ibid., 27).

On the other hand – as I wrote to priests in this year’s Holy Thursday Letter – the ministerial priesthood, according to Christ’s plan, “is an expression not of domination but of service” (No. 7). The Church urgently needs, in her daily self-renewal in the light of the Word of God, to emphasize this fact ever more clearly, both by developing the spirit of communion and by carefully fostering all those means of participation which are properly hers, and also by showing respect for and promoting the diverse personal and communal charisms which the Spirit of God bestows for the building up of the Christian community and the service of humanity.

In this vast domain of service, the Church’s two-thousand-year history, for all its historical conditioning, has truly experienced the “genius of woman”; from the heart of the Church there have emerged women of the highest calibre who have left an impressive and beneficial mark in history. I think of the great line of woman martyrs, saints and famous mystics. In a particular way I think of Saint Catherine of Siena and of Saint Teresa of Avila, whom Pope Paul VI of happy memory granted the title of Doctors of the Church. And how can we overlook the many women, inspired by faith, who were responsible for initiatives of extraordinary social importance, especially in serving the poorest of the poor? The life of the Church in the Third Millennium will certainly not be lacking in new and surprising manifestations of “the feminine genius”.

12. You can see then, dear sisters, that the Church has many reasons for hoping that the forthcoming United Nations Conference in Beijing will bring out the full truth about women. Necessary emphasis should be placed on the “genius of women”, not only by considering great and famous women of the past or present, but also those ordinary women who reveal the gift of their womanhood by placing themselves at the service of others in their everyday lives. For in giving themselves to others each day, women fulfil their deepest vocation. Perhaps more than men, women acknowledge the person, because they see persons with their hearts. They see them independently of various ideological or political systems. They see others in their greatness and limitations; they try to go out to them and help them. In this way the basic plan of the Creator takes flesh in the history of humanity and there is constantly revealed, in the variety of vocations, that beauty – not merely physical, but above all spiritual – which God bestowed from the very beginning on all, and in a particular way on women.

While I commend to the Lord in prayer the success of the important meeting in Beijing, I invite Ecclesial Communities to make this year an occasion of heartfelt thanksgiving to the Creator and Redeemer of the world for the gift of this great treasure which is womanhood. In all its expressions, womanhood is part of the essential heritage of mankind and of the Church herself.

May Mary, Queen of Love, watch over women and their mission in service of humanity, of peace, of the spread of God’s Kingdom!

With my Blessing.

From the Vatican, 29 June 1995, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul.


Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana





The Holy Father tweeted today, October 1, 2015: Our life is not a pointless wandering. We have a sure goal: the house of the Father.

Pope Francis’ prayer intentions for October:

Universal intention: “That human trafficking, the modern form of slavery, may be eradicated”.

Evangelization intention: “That with a missionary spirit the Christian communities of Asia may announce the Gospel to those who are still awaiting it”.


From Vatican City – The liturgical feast of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus which is celebrated today, October 1st, marks the beginning of October, month of the missions, which will culminate in the celebration of World Mission Day, on the third Sunday of the month, this year on October 18. In some countries Mission Day is moved to another Sunday, according to local pastoral needs. In the Chapel of Propaganda Fide, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, presided Mass this morning which was attended by priests, religious men and women and laity of the Congregation and the International Secretariats of the Pontifical Missionary Societies.

All over the world the Catholic Church celebrates the Month of the Missions in October, recalling the duty of every baptized person to collaborate, with prayer and with support, the universal mission of the Church. October was chosen as mission month in memory of the discovery of America, which opened a new page in the history of evangelization.

On Mission Day, which this year falls during the celebration of the XIV General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, from October 4 to 25, which will deal with the theme “Vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in contemporary world”, Pope Francis will canonize the couple Ludovico Martin and Maria Azelia Guérin, St. Therese’s parents, proclaimed Patroness of the Missions in 1927 with Saint Francis Xavier. Their relics, together with those of their daughter, will be exposed for the veneration of the faithful during the Synod, in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. An Italian priest, Fr. Vincenzo Grossi, and Spanish nun Sister Mary of the Immaculate Conception will also be canonized.


I attended one of my absolute favorite liturgical events of the year this morning, the annual October ordination of deacons from the North American College. It is always a joy to see these young men who are both the present and the future of our vibrant Church. If I had a great feeling last week about the Church in the U.S.during Pope Francis’ visit, that feeling was doubled today when I saw the 300 plus priests, the young men, their families and friends.

The procession to the Altar of the Chair


Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York ordained the 39 men from the North American College as deacons in St. Peter’s Basilica. An additional 19 men had been ordained to the diaconate in their respective dioceses. Several hundred priests were in attendance, including scores who flew in from the United States to be with the young men from their dioceses and parishes. Joining them were a dozen bishops and archbishops and Cardinals Edwin O’Brien and James Harvey, who concelebrated with Cardinal Dolan.

And more good news – 72 “New Men” have begun their first year at the North American College. They arrived at the seminary in mid-August for Orientation, acclimating to their new home in Rome and preparing for their studies in the year ahead.  As they were welcomed in August by the Rector, Msgr. James Checchio, so too the “new men” today were all part of the ceremony and the reception later at NAC, welcoming guests, answering questions, and so on.

The ordination Mass always takes place at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica. Not only is that a magnifient spiritual, historical evocative setting, the music – always provided by NAC – matches the setting in its beauty.


As the seminarians sang and the organ music entered your soul, as the Rite of Ordination began, in all of its wonderful meaning for both the new deacons and the Church, all I could think of was the people who just chanced into the basilica this morning on their “tour of the Vatican.” They had to be overwhelmed, even if they did not know exactly what was taking place.

Msgr. Checchio, at the ambo, addresses the congregation:


Some of the deacons-to-be:


Cardinal Dolan preaches the homily:

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Deacons-to-be are prostrate as faithful sing Litany of the Saints


Deacons are vested:

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Cardinal Dolan leads the group of priests and fellow deacons who greet the new deacons


The deacons bring chalices and patens to the altar. They will serve communion to the faithful.


The Altar of the Chair:

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It was a very busy weekend and Monday at the Vatican and also for yours truly as I attended a press conference today (see the Vatican Radio story and my photos below), had several appointments and spent time arranging for a trip to Chicago to participate in the farewell events for the archdiocese’s beloved Cardinal Francis George (and, as you know from these pages, a good friend of mine).  I leave Wednesday and will try to keep you updated, as far as time will allow.

Lots of news and interesting stories but just three highlights today….


I received an email today from Fr. Joshua Caswell – a priest in Chicago who was ordained by Cardinal George for the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius. We have not met but I have known Fr. Frank Phillips of St. John Cantius for many years.

Fr. Joshua included a wonderful link about what he said was the legacy that Cardinal George left behind—the “restoration of the Sacred.” The link was put together by the community, wrote Fr. Joshua, as a “tribute for our spiritual father.” He also quotes Fr. Phillips who says, “We are a living legacy of this shepherd of souls.” From the beginning of the Canons Regular, it was Cardinal George who envisioned that a small community of men founded at a run-down Chicago church would become a flourishing order dedicated to the “Restoration of the Sacred.” http://www.canons-regular.org/go/news/read/cardinal-francis-george-chicago.

A beautiful and worthy tribute – and marvelous photos! – to a man for whom the title “Eminence” was richly deserved!


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has appealed to the international community to take swift and decisive action to avoid more tragedies of migrants seeking a better life.

His heartfelt cry to the world came following news of the sinking of yet another boat carrying migrants in the Mediterranean Sea in which it is feared 700 people may be dead.

The Pope was speaking on Sunday morning after the Regina Coeli prayer in St. Peter’s Square, where he told tens of thousands of people “They are men and women like us, our brothers seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war. They were looking for a better life”.

Faced with such a tragedy – Pope Francis continued – I express my most heartfelt pain and promise to remember the victims and their families in prayer.

“I make a heartfelt appeal to the international community to react decisively and quickly to see to it that such tragedies are not repeated,” he said, before asking the crowd to pray “for these brothers and sisters”.

The latest disaster happened when a boat carrying migrants capsized off the Libyan coast overnight, in one of the worst disasters seen in the Mediterranean migrant crisis.

Just Saturday Pope Francis joined Italian authorities in pressing the European Union to do more to help the country cope with rapidly mounting numbers of desperate people rescued in the Mediterranean during journeys on smugglers’ boats to flee war, persecution or poverty.

While hundreds of migrants took their first steps on land in Sicilian ports, dozens more were rescued at sea. Sicilian towns were running out of places to shelter the arrivals, including more than 10,000 in the week ending Saturday.

Since the start of 2014, nearly 200,000 people have been rescued at sea by Italy.

Italy says it will continue rescuing migrants but demands that the European Union increase assistance to shelter and rescue them. Since most of the migrants want to reach family or other members of their community in northern Europe, Italian governments have pushed for those countries to do more, particularly by taking in the migrants while their requests for asylum or refugee status are examined.


(Vatican Radio) The Holy See Press Office was the scene Monday morning for the presentation of a Day of Reflection on the life and legacy of Blessed Junípero Serra – soon to be St. Junípero Serra, after his canonization in Washington, DC, scheduled for September of this year. Capping the Day, which is to focus on the theme: Fra Junípero Serra: Apostle of California, and Witness to Sanctity, is to be the visit of Pope Francis to the Pontifical North American College, host of the event, for Mass in the College chapel.


“The highlight of the day, of course, for us, will be the end of the day, when [Pope Francis] comes to celebrate Mass with our community at 12 o’clock,” said the rector of the North American College, Msgr. James Checchio, in an exclusive interview with Vatican Radio ahead of the press conference on Monday. “It’s been quite a few years – thirty-five – since the Successor of Peter has been to the College, so it’s a great moment for us.” he added.


Msgr. Checchio also told Vatican Radio about the enduring importance of Bl. Junípero  Serra’s spirit of service and sacrifice for the Gospel. “He obviously showed great heroic [valor] and sacrificed himself in the name of evangelization and Jesus Christ,” he explained. “Certainly that’s something of which we need to do more: we need to give all we have,” Msgr. Checchio said.

The Day of Reflection is organized by the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and the Pontifical North American College. Featured speakers are to include: Card. Marc Ouellet, President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America; Archbishop José H. Gómez of Los Angeles; and Vincenzo Criscuolo, OFM Cap., General Relator of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

For the complete story and calendar of events for the May 2 Day of Reflection and papal Mass at NAC, click here: http://www.news.va/en/news/pnac-to-host-day-of-reflection-on-bl-junipero-serr