An important weekend for two people: Pope Francis who visited family in Asti, in Italy’s northern region of Piedmont, and Brazilian-born Gleison De Paula Souza, a family man and high school teacher in Puglia, southern Italy, whom the Pope named as secretary of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.

I remember interviewing the late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago the day before the cardinal electors started meeting in congregations before the March 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis. He noted that the reform of the Roman Curia was high on the agenda of many cardinals, and suggested that the time had come for well-qualified lay people to head some of the offices in the Roman Curia, and to be placed in positions of importance. For example, Cardinal George specified he saw no reason why a competent, experience layman or woman should not head a pontifical council (The councils are now called dicasteries).

And Pope Francis has brought some lay people into responsible positions during the reform of the Roman Curia. Though none head a dicastery, he did name Lateran University Professor Vincenzo Buonomo to head the Disciplinary Commissionof the Roman Curia in 2021.


Bishop Marco Prastaro told Vatican News: “The Pope threw himself into our arms.”Asti’s bishop, who accompanied Francis on his two days in Piedmont, spoke of “an experience of great joy and great human warmth that made us feel part of something beautiful.” The inhabitants of Asti took “a step forward towards him, and the Pontiff embraced us all,” one by one. Of the homily, the bishop said: “He reminded us that God is present in every man’s life and takes it all into consideration.”

Before boarding the helicopter, Bishop Prastaro told Vatican News, “the Pope thanked us for the warm welcome and added ‘sorry to disturb you’. I had just said to him again: ‘Holiness, come back whenever you want, this is your home’.” Asti’s bishop thus recalled the final moments of the “long-awaited meeting” with Pope Francis, who came “to rediscover the flavor of his roots” as he confided in the Mass in the cathedral.

This photo of Pope Francis – nè Jorge Mario Bergoglio – was taken in the bishop’s residence in Asti with several generations of his relatives.


A 38-year-old husband and father of two, Gleison De Paula Souza has been appointed secretary of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. Originally hailing from Brazil, Souza teaches high school in Puglia.

By Vatican News staff reporter

Originally from the state of Minas Geiras, in south-eastern Brazil, Gelison De Paula Souza’s journey has taken him to Puglia, in the ‘heel’ of Italy, and now to the Vatican. On Thursday, Pope Francis appointed Souza as secretary of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. Thirty-eight years old, married and father of two daughters, De Paula Souza teaches religion at a secondary school, the A. Vallone Liceo Scientifico e Linguistico Statale in Galatina, Puglia.

The newly appointed secretary of the dicastery was a member of the Orionian religious family, between 2005 and 2016. In 2015, he obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Theology at the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome and in 2019 a Master’s degree in Philosophical Sciences at the University of Salento in Lecce.



This is a look at the island nation of Malta that Pope Francis will visit over the weekend, and a personal story at the very end of how one of my trips to Malta, and the Malta stamp in my passport, became the focus of an investigation.

Pope Francis will spend this coming Saturday and Sunday in Malta, the southernmost nation of Europe and an island nation that I have visited several times.

My first visit was in 1983 to attend and report on a Marian Congress being held in this island nation. I made many friends and kept in touch with several of them for decades and we had a reunion on second trip.

My second visit was in the early 90s when I was working at the Vatican. We had six days off at Easter and I decided to return to Malta to spend Holy Week there, and it was one of the more exceptional Holy Week experiences of my life. To spend – to share – especially the Triduum and Easter Sunday with people, 90 percent of whom profess to be Catholic and the majority of whom are practicing Catholics, was a delightful but eminently spiritual experience.

Some priests I knew at the Vatican had told me to contact priests and a bishop who were friends of theirs in Malta, and I ended up learning a lot about the Church in Malta as well as having many privileged viewpoints during the Holy Week liturgies.

Malta is an awesome crossroads of peoples and cultures and histories and rulers – Romans, Moors, Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta (more commonly known, of course, as the Order of Malta!), the French and British. Architecture, art and cuisine all reflect these many cultures.

Almost all Maltese are fluent in three languages, Maltese, English and Italian.

Malta is just the right size to be able to visit in four or five days, including the second largest island of Gozo where Maltese Cardinal Mario Grech, head of the Synod of Bishops, is from. You will probably find yourself so enjoying Malta, feeling so laid back and relaxed that you could easily decide to spend week.

There is a plethora of water sports, as you might imagine, to which you can add hours of exploring archaeological sites and the islands’ numerous churches. I was particularly enthralled by Mdina and Rabat. Punctuate all of the above activities with hours of enjoying both local and international cuisine.

St. Paul was shipwrecked here and there is a church that bears his name – the church of the Shipwreck of St. Paul – San Pawl Nawfragu in Maltese.

As the, tells us:

Christianity has almost 2000 years of history in Malta. According to tradition, it was brought to the Islands by none other than the Apostle Paul himself in around A.D. 60.

Paul was being taken to Rome to be tried as a political rebel, but the ship carrying him and some 274 others was caught in a violent storm only to be wrecked two weeks later on the Maltese coast. All aboard swam safely to land.

The site of the wreck is traditionally known as St. Paul’s Island, and is marked by a statue commemorating the event.

The welcome given to the survivors is described in the Acts of the Apostles (XXVIII) by St. Luke:

“And later we learned that the island was called Malta.
And the people who lived there showed us great kindness,
and they made a fire and called us all to warm ourselves… ”

As the fire was lit, Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake but he suffered no ill effects. The islanders took this as a sign that he was a special man. This scene is depicted in many religious works of art on the Islands.

According to tradition, the Apostle took refuge in a cave, now known as St. Paul’s Grotto in Rabat, Malta.

During his winter stay, he was invited to the house of Publius, the Romans’ chief man on the Islands. It was here, according to tradition, that Paul cured Publius’ father of a serious fever. Publius is then said to have converted to Christianity and was made the first Bishop of Malta. The Cathedral of Mdina is said to stand on the site of Publius’ house.

Archaeological evidence seems to support this tradition, as Malta was one of the first Roman colonies to convert.

In a more secular vein, I have to tell you what happened when I left Rome for the U.S. for Christmas after my second visit to Malta.

I was standing in line at the TWA check-in counter when a TWA staff member asked me, as they were asking all of us inline, to see my passport. He rifled through the pages and asked me if I had other ID on me. I had a California driver’s license and don’t remember what else.

He walked away with all my documents in his hand to consult with several officials and, for several minutes, I was without any documents to prove who I said I was! A really scary feeling, to be honest!

When he returned all the documents, he never explained why they were being examined – and never answered my question – but I later found out during a conversation with an embassy friend that it was most likely because I had a Malta stamp in my passport.

For those of you who may remember, a PanAm plane exploded over Lockerbee, Scotland in December 1988, killing all aboard. Wreckage of flight 103 that originated in Frankfurt and was en route to New York, was strewn for miles, and 270 people lost their lives. Lengthy investigations eventually discovered a tie with Malta.

As the LA Times reported: “newspapers said that a bomb concealed in a Toshiba radio had been placed in a Samsonite suitcase filled with clothing and put on board Air Malta Flight 180 from Valetta to Frankfurt on the morning of the explosion. The passenger who checked the suitcase for the flight, which was tagged for New York via Pan Am 103, did not board the Air Malta plane, although most airlines take steps to ensure that no baggage is put on board a plane unless it is accompanied by a passenger.”

U.S. airlines for years checked any and all people who had a Malta stamp in their passport. I was stopped and questioned every time I travelled. It ended only when I got a new passport.

But I’d return to Malta in a flash!

PS. I wish I knew where all my Malta photos were! I did not have a digital camera at the time so they must be in one of my dozens of albums!


In an interview with Vatican Radio, Maltese Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, shares his expectations for Pope Francis’ 2-3 April Apostolic Visit to Malta this weekend.


Click here for a brief video of Cardinal Mario Grech, Maltese, and head of the Synod of Bishops, followed by a written interview: Cardinal Grech: Peter’s presence on Paul’s island will confirm our faith – Vatican News



Pope Francis sent a video message to participants at the United Nations Climate Action Summit 2019, taking place in New York on September 23. Following is the complete text of that message:

Greetings to participants at the UN Climate Action Summit 2019.

I would like to thank the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr António Guterres, for convening this meeting and for drawing the attention of Heads of State and Government – and of the entire international community and world public opinion – to one of the most serious and worrying phenomena of our time: climate change.

This is one of the principal challenges we have to face. To do so, humanity is called to cultivate three great moral qualities: honesty, responsibility and courage.

With the Paris Agreement of 12 December 2015, the international community became aware of the urgency and need for a collective response to help build our common home. However, four years after that historic Agreement, we can see that the commitments made by States are still very “weak”, and are far from achieving the objectives set.

Along with so many initiatives, not only by governments but by civil society as a whole, it is necessary to ask whether there is a real political will to allocate greater human, financial and technological resources to mitigate the negative effects of climate change and to help the poorest and most vulnerable populations, who suffer the most.

While the situation is not good and the planet is suffering, the window of opportunity is still open. Despite everything. Let us not let it close. Let us open it with our determination to cultivate integral human development, to ensure a better life for future generations. “Although the post-industrial period may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history, nonetheless there is reason to hope that humanity at the dawn of the twenty-first century will be remembered for having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities.”

With honesty, responsibility and courage we have to put our intelligence “at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral”, capable of placing economy at the service of the human person, building peace and protecting the environment.

The problem of climate change is related to issues of ethics, equity and social justice. The current situation of environmental degradation is connected with the human, ethical and social degradation that we experience every day. This forces us to think about the meaning of our models of consumption and production, and the processes of education and awareness, to make them consistent with human dignity. We are facing a “challenge of civilization” in favor of the common good. This is clear, just as it is clear that we have a multiplicity of solutions that are within everyone’s reach, if we adopt on a personal and social level a lifestyle that embodies honesty, courage and responsibility.

I would like these three key words – honesty, courage and responsibility – to be at the heart of your work today and tomorrow. Thank you very much.

(The video message, shortly before being transmitted to the United Nations in New York, was reduced for reasons of time. Click here to see the 5-minute video in Spanish with English subtitles:


In a gesture underlining his admiration for its work, Pope Francis spent the morning at the “Nuovi Orizzonti” (New Horizons) Community, founded by Chiara Amirante in 1993 with the intention of assisting people in need and of taking action in areas of particular social hardship. Accompanied by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, he visited the Cittadella Cielo (Heavenly City) of the Now Horizons Community in Frosinone, about an hour from Rome.

According to notes from Vaticannews, the Holy Father arrived about 9.40 am and was welcomed into the auditorium by the participants gathered in prayer. After a brief speech by Chiara Amirante and testimonies of a young man and a young woman, Italian singer Andrea Bocelli and his son, invited to the meeting, performed the song “Follow me” and described their commitment in the community.

This was followed by some interventions and questions by young people and adults who changed their lives after meeting the Christian faith through the New Horizons Commnity. The Holy Father answered questions addressed to him, speaking for some time off the cuff. At 12:20 pm, at the end of the meeting, Pope Francis celebrated Mass for the participants which included songs by Andrea Bocelli, at communion time and the end of Mass.

In a background piece, Vaticannews noted that the work of this community include rehabilitation from substance abuse and various forms of addiction, shelter to street children and aid to young people in difficulty. The Community also assists prostituted women, and provides support for anyone who has been rejected, excluded, marginalized – sometimes by their own families.

The projects of the Community
What started out as Chiara Amirante’s own outreach mission to the poor and destitute on the streets of Rome has grown to become an international community, present in many countries around the world.

The projects of “Nuovi Orizzonti” now include over 200 training centers involving around 30,000 collaborators. Their activities include a mission of street evangelization, and a program that aims at the integral reconstruction of the human person, uniting elements of psychology and spirituality.

The Pope and the Community
Pope Francis has admired the work done by New Horizons for some time. On June 8th this year, to mark the Community’s 25th anniversary, he made a personal phone call, sent a letter of congratulations, and recorded a video message expressing his affection and encouragement to the more than 3,000 people gathered to celebrate the event.

“Never lose your memory,” said the Pope in that message. “In your memory you will meet God: the God who has accompanied you, who has made you grow.”

“Nuovi Orizzonti” is registered as a non-profit organization, and is recognized by the Vatican Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life. Its headquarters and international center is in Frosinone, about one hour’s drive south of Rome.



I had such a singular experience this morning that I felt I had to write about it.

I had an appointment in the Vatican’s medical center with an orthopedic surgeon for a reading of an MRI and for an update on the fractured vertebra I’ve been living with for two months. October was a very trying time but over the last month, the pain diminished a bit every week and Monday I felt as close to normal as I have in two months but I will still quite anxious about the MRI results. The written report accompanying the CD of the MRI was quite lengthy but in medical terms I did not understand at all.

I called a taxi, even though on foot I could reach the Vatican’s Sant’Anna entrance in probably 10 minutes or less. I’ve been very careful as walking has been tough, thus taxis have pretty much been my mode of transport.

I gave the driver the Sant’Anna address and said we could enter Vatican City as I had a Vatican ID. On the way, I jokingly said it would have been closer for me to walk but I was being careful because of a painful back issue. He asked what was wrong, I replied “a fractured vertebra” and he said “that must be so painful.” I said I was improving and would see a doctor this morning.

A few minutes later he asked if I was a believer (I’m sure it was related to the fact I was going to the Vatican), and I said, yes, I’m a practicing Catholic. He turned and smiled and said, “then you believe in the power of prayer to heal. That prayer can heal as well as – or perhaps even better than – doctors.”

I said I totally agreed and that I try to end my prayers, especially of supplication, with “God willing!”

A few minutes later, we entered Vatican City and I directed him to the medical center. When he stopped, he turned around and asked if it would be OK to pray together for my healing! He asked my name and then he prayed, asking the Lord to send the Holy Spirit on me to heal me and watch over me. He then prayed that “the doctor will be amazed at how Joan has healed.”

He said this with a bowed head and with such conviction, I was speechless! I said “God bless you today and always.” He smiled, saying “have a great day” and pulled away.

I think I stood outside for a minute, pondering this amazing encounter.

Half an hour later, after Dr. Buzzelli had studied the MRI documents and CD and made me do some movements and asked questions, he had a broad smile and said, “The fracture has clinically healed!” He said healing will continue, mentioned some limitations and then prescribed medicine to strengthen bones.

I asked if I could have a minute of his time to share an amazing story. At the end, he said he knows so many wonderful people that what this driver said did not surprise him!

If you saw it, on Thanksgiving Day I wrote: “Dear Lord, how have you blessed me? Let me count the ways…..Listing some of those ways, I wrote: “Does a day pass that You do not bring some unique, new person into my life? The newest member of my wonderful, large family? A friend from another country? Another wonderful seminarian or priest added to the many who have made my life and my faith so fulfilling? The list is so very long!

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

I can only say “Amen.”


Pope Francis on Tuesday paid a surprise visit to the Vatican Apostolic Library.
As you can see in the photographs published on the Library’s official Twitter account @VaticanLibrary, the Pope was accompanied by Archbishop José Tolentino Calaça de Mendonça, Archivist of the Vatican Secret Archives and Librarian of the Vatican Library, and by the Prefect of the Library, Monsignor Cesare Pasini.

If you want to tour the library, click here:

I learned about the visit when I stopped by to say hello to a gal I know who has a great store just outside the door to my building. As Emanuela and I were chatting, a couple stopped by to share some good news. Their daughter Federica, who lives in my building and has a top position in the Vatican Library, had told them about the papal visit and they shared that news with us and thus we heard about it before it was published.