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.




This morning at 9 a.m., in the Bologna Room of the Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis met with the heads of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia. No press release has been issued as I write these lines in late afternoon but my understanding is that the meeting mostly centered on Vatican plans for the Jubilee of Mercy that will open on December 8. It is also quite plausible that the Pope and heads of dicasteries also discussed the ongoing reform of the Roman Curia, including suggestions that have been made in this regard by the C9, the council of 9 cardinal advisors.


What a beautiful day Sunday was!  Not only because it was the solemnity of the Ascension and the 49th World Day of Social Communications and the day four 19th century nuns, including two Palestinians, were added to the Communion of Saints – it was a perfectly beautiful day weather-wise!  Friday and Saturday had been windy and gray and cloud-filled days, threatening rain at just about every turn. And the forecast for Sunday was thunderstorms!  So now you understand why I say it was such a beautiful day!

The canonization was so meaningful for me because, among the four women who became saints, were two Palestinian religious: You’ve seen my posts in recent days about their lives so I won’t repeat those biographies here. What was so outstanding was that Sister Miriam of Jesus Crucified Baouardy and Sister Marie-Alphonsine Ghattas were the first saints from the Holy Land since the early days of Christianity! And so many of my friends from the Holy Land were in town for this and other canonization-related events.

A large delegation from the Middle East, especially Palestine, Jordan and Israel was in Rome for the celebration, including Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the State of Palestine and Vera Baboun, the mayor of Bethlehem. I interviewed Bethlehem’s mayor last year during Pope Francis May trip to the Holy Land and I’ve interviewed Patriarch Twal on a number of occasions in the past.

Mahmoud Abbas, who met the Pope Saturday, just three days after the Holy See recognized the State of Palestine, was not in town very long but his motorcade sped by my home yesterday morning at 9:50 am, ten minutes before the start of Mass. In fact, he and his delegation exited St. Peter’s basilica just seconds before the start of the papal procession.

The Palestinian motorcade was comprised of about 20 cars, including a number of security vehicles, both marked and unmarked. They came down Via Aurelia and made a sharp left onto Via della Stazione Vaticana and entered the Perugino gate of Vatican City, the entrance used by diplomats and visiting heads of State or government to enter Vatican City and/or attend a liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica or on the square. (I was just about to leave my home for St. Peter’s Square when I heard the sirens. I should have been quicker to get my iPad ready to film the motorcade but I missed the opportunity).

The diplomats’ entrance to the basilica is called the “Door of Prayer.”  Here is one of the four panels on those double doors, as well as the door handle – magnificent pieces of work!


During the week, when I want to go into Vatican City to Mass at St. Peter’s I enter by the Perugino Gate and the Door of Prayer, using my Vatican ID.

The two Palestinian nuns were the first saints from the Holy Land since the early days of Christianity. The Pope said of them: “Inspired by their example of mercy, charity and reconciliation, may the Christians of these lands look with hope to the future, following the path of solidarity and fraternal co-existence.”

Here is a carousel of some of my photos from Sunday, and below, interspersed with the Holy Father’s homily, are a few additional ones.

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As I said, yesterday during Mass for the seventh Sunday of Easter, Pope Francis canonized four women religious: Marie-Alphonsine and Mary of Jesus Crucified from the territory that made up historical Palestine; Jeanne Emilie de Villeneuve of France; and Maria Cristina of the Immaculate Conception from Italy. All were 19th century nuns who worked in education.

The canonization rite and Mass took place in a sun-splashed and very warm St. peter’s Square. There was notable security in and around Vatican City, especially the square, including Vatican gendarmes and agents from the Italian police and army, both uniformed officals and plainclothes agents.

(Vatican Radio) In his homily, the Holy Father focused on the first reading from Acts of the Apostles which tells how, after the Ascension, the twelve Apostles chose a man to take the place of Judas. Even today, we base our faith on the testimony of the Twelve, who were witnesses of Jesus’ Resurrection. In fact, every disciple of Jesus “is called “to become a witness to his resurrection, above all in those human settings where forgetfulness of God and human disorientation are most evident.”


Pope Francis identified several traits, exemplified by the new Saints, that are necessary for Christians to be witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. Christians, he said, must “remain in the risen Christ and in His love.” This is “the secret of the saints: abiding in Christ, joined to him like branches to the vine, in order to bear much fruit (cf. Jn 15:1-8). And this fruit is none other than love.”


The Holy Father said that “A relationship with the risen Jesus is the ‘atmosphere’ in which Christians live, and in which they find the strength to remain faithful to the Gospel, even amid obstacles and misunderstandings.” Ardent love for Christ allows His disciples to give themselves to others.


Authentic Christian witness also requires unity among the disciples. Jesus, on the eve of His Passion, prayed to God the Father that His disciples would be “one” just as the Trinity is one. This love leads us to live lives of service to one another.


“To abide in God and in his love, and thus to proclaim by our words and our lives the resurrection of Jesus, to live in unity with one another and with charity towards all. This is what the four women Saints canonized today did,” Pope Francis said. He concluded his homily with the prayer: “When we return home, let us take with us the joy of this encounter with the risen Lord.  Let us cultivate in our hearts the commitment to abide in God’s love. Let us remain united to him and among ourselves, and follow in the footsteps of these four women, models of sanctity whom the Church invites us to imitate.”

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During the traditional Easter-time Regina Coeli prayer, Pope Francis appealed for an end to the violence in Burundi and urged its people to act responsibly for the good of the nation. Burundi saw an attempted coup earlier this week and has been the scene of violent clashes between supporters and opponents of the president. The Pope’s appeal for peace in Burundi came during his address just before the recitation of the traditional Easter Marian prayer, the Regina coeli.




(Vatican Radio) Saying he was giving them a “mission,” Pope Francis has asked religious sisters from Bethlehem and the Middle East to pray for peace in the region and for the two new Palestinian saints, 19th century Sister Miriam of Jesus Crucified Baouardy and Sister Marie-Alphonsine Ghattas. They were canonized by Pope Francis in a big outdoor Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday.

Many of the Carmelite and Rosary sisters who had attended the canonization had flown into Rome from Jordan – on the same plane as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who was also present as the two Palestinian religious were made saints.   In receiving the visiting nuns in the Clementine Hall in the Apostolic Palace Monday, Pope Francis said the president had told him the flight was full of sisters!  “Poor pilot,” the Pope chuckled.

The Pope urged the nuns to pray for an end to “this interminable” conflict in the Holy Land so that “there will be peace” between Israelis and Palestinians.

He also called for prayers for “persecuted Christians, kicked out of their homes, from the land” and decried what he called “persecution with white gloves – persecution and ‘white terrorism’ – also ‘white gloved terrorism’.”  “It is veiled, but it happens!”

Before reciting the Hail Mary together with the sisters from the Middle East  each in their own language – Francis urged them to “pray a lot for peace.” He was meeting with them during an interval in his morning meeting with heads of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia.