The Vatican’s Nativity Scene was inaugurated on December 10 and the adjacent Christmas tree was illuminated as well, albeit under a pouring rain. The actually inauguration ceremony took place in the Paul VI Hall.

I visited the square yesterday, the second full day of sunshine we’ve had in weeks! It was a joy to be in the square, to take the photos you will see below and to hear people’s joyful and positive comments, especially given the generally negative reception given last year’s nativity scene (remember how some of the characters looked like astronauts and others defied description!). The word heard most often yesterday was “bellissima!” – “very beautiful!”

The text below comes from several vaticannews articles.


This year’s Nativity Scene in St. Peter Square’s is a gift from Peru and comes from the Chopcca Nation, comprised of several communities located in the Huancavelica region in the highlands of the Andes mountains. The scene comprises more than 30 life-sized figurines in typical Andean costumes, made of ceramic, maguey wood and fibreglass, and features alpacas, vicunas and the Andean condor, Peru’s national symbol.

The figurines were created by 5 different artists belonging to the Chopcca Nation. Their name refers to a character that represents a “common ancestor”, and oral sources and accounts date the First Nation to times prior to the arrival of the Incas.

Pope Francis had announced the Andean origin of the 2021 Nativity Scene in October after praying the Angelus when he greeted a group of Peruvian pilgrims who were celebrating the feast of Señor de Los Milagros.

A universal call to Salvation

With its representation of a cross-section of the life of the peoples of the Andes, a Holy See Press Office communiqué explained that the Nativity Scene also celebrates 200 years from the independence of Peru, and symbolizes the universal call to Salvation.

The life-sized figurines representing the Child Jesus, the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the Three Kings and the shepherds are made of ceramic, maguey wood and fiberglass, and will be wearing traditional Chopcca costumes.

Baby Jesus has the appearance of a “Hilipuska” child, so-called because he is wrapped in a typical Huancavelica blanket tied with a “chumpi” or woven belt. The Three Kings are carrying traditional foods such as potatoes, quinoa, and other indigenous cereals, and they are accompanied by llamas with the Peruvian flag on their backs. The birth of the Savior is announced by an angel playing the Wajrapuco, the traditional Andean wind instrument. Indigenous animals such as alpacas, vicunas, and the Andean condor, Peru’s national symbol, are also featured.

The realization of the Andean Nativity Scene was born from the collaboration between the Episcopal Conference of Peru, the Diocese of Huancavelica, the Regional Government, the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Embassy of Peru to the Holy See.



I’ll be in transit on my way back to Rome tomorrow so I will probably not have time to post on this page. Next post most likely will be Friday. See you then – but check out my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/joan.lewis.10420

Say an extra prayer today for the De La Salle Christian Brother Paul McCauley and all his confreres (story below).


As is customary for a general audience after a papal trip, the Holy Father focused his catechesis on the meaning of his just-concluded visit to Morocco.

He began by explaining that, “last Saturday and Sunday I completed an apostolic journey to Morocco, and I thank His Majesty King Mohammed VI and the other authorities, for their warm welcome. Above all I thank the Lord for allowing me to take yet another step along the road of dialogue and encounter with our Muslim brothers and sisters, as a ‘Servant of hope’ in today’s world.”

Francis said that, “to serve hope in our day is to build bridges between cultures, and it was a joy and honor for me to be able to do this in the noble Kingdom of Morocco, meeting both its people and its political leaders. King Mohammed and I reiterated the essential role religions have in defending human dignity, promoting peace and justice, and in caring for creation, our common home.

The Pope noted that, “the question of migration was of particular importance and I was able to thank the Church in Morocco for its commitment towards migrants, and to encourage those who give generous service in realizing the words of Christ: ‘When I was a stranger you welcomed me’.”

Referring to his second day in Morocco, Pope Francis said, “after greeting priests, religious, consecrated men and women and the Ecumenical Council of Churches, thousands gathered for the Sunday Mass, where the parable of the prodigal son spoke to us of the beauty of God’s plan of forgiveness and reconciliation. Indeed, knowing our need of God’s mercy is vital, for only those who have been reborn and live in the Father’s embrace, can be servants of hope for our world.”

According to Vatican media, the Pope, in off the cuff remarks, said that some may wonder “why I go to see Muslims and not just Catholics? Why are there so many religions?” He answered these questions saying, “with Muslims, we are descendants of the same father, Abraham.”

Pope Francis explained that God permits many religions because of His permissive will; He wanted to allow this reality: “there are so many religions, some born from culture, but they always look towards the sky, look to God,” he said.

At the end of the general audience, Pope Francis pointed out that April 3 marks the VI United Nations World Day of Sport for Peace and Development. He said, “sport is a universal language that embraces all peoples and helps to overcome conflicts and unite people. … Sport is also a source of joy and great emotion and is a school where virtues are forged for the human and social growth of individuals and communities. I wish you all the best in both life and sport.”


A member of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, Brother Paul McAuley, was found dead on Tuesday in Peru, on the grounds of an international youth hostel he had founded.
By Vatican News

De La Salle Brother Paul McAuley was found Tuesday morning by his students at the La Salle Intercultural Student Community in the city of Iquitos in the Peruvian Amazon. Local authorities have announced an investigation into the circumstances of his death.

Brother Paul McAuley was a well-known defender of the environment, and an advocate for the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon region. Originally from England, Paul McAuley moved to Peru in 1995 as a missionary. He worked among the poor in the capital Lima, and later in Moyobamba and San José de Amazonas.

Since 2000, Brother Paul McAuley had lived in Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon. He dedicated himself to various development and educational projects, especially among the indigenous populations.

In a statement released by the Episcopal Conference, the Bishops of Peru said they “mourned” the death of Brother Paul McAuley, and expressed their condolences to the Brother Visitor, Jorge Aguilar, the Superior of the Congregation in Peru; and to all the De La Salle Brothers.

In their statement, the Bishops called on the authorities “to clarify the facts and find those responsible” for Brother Paul’s death.



Pope Francis celebrated Mass yesterday in St. Peter’s Basilica for the 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, urging the faithful to “overcome fear and to welcome the other’.” The papal liturgy seemed even more international than usual given the music from the young, multilingual voices of the Latin American choirs, the colorful flags and multicultural costumes of the 49 countries represented at the papal Mass, and the presence of ambassadors from 70 countries. In addition, some 460 priests from all over the world concelebrated with the Holy Father. Francis said he wanted to celebrate the World Day of Migrants and Refugees with a Mass of invitation and welcome.

Later, at the Angelus, the Holy Father again spoke of this World Day and quoted from his Message: “Every stranger who knocks on our door is an opportunity to meet Jesus Christ, who identifies himself with the foreigner who has been accepted or rejected in every age.” He also announced that, “for pastoral reasons,” this World Day will henceforth be commemorated on the second Sunday in September.

Francis asked the faithful in St. Peter’s Square to pray for his trip to Chile and Peru and, later Sunday, visited St Mary Major basilica to pray before the beloved icon of Mary, entrusting his trip to her maternal heart.

In fact, Pope Francis departed Rome at 8:55 this morning, Monday, for the 16-hour flight to Santiago, schedule to arrive about 8 pm local time. Rome is 4 hours ahead of Chile.

This may well be one of the Pope’s most difficult trips. There have been attacks on Churches in Chile, including some fire bombs, and in Peru, the country’s replica of the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro was set on fire days ago. In one case, the perpetrators of a church firebombed in Santiago, left a note that read: “Pope Francis, the next bomb will be in your robe.”

Needless to say, security will be uppermost in the minds of Vatican officials, gendarmes and Swiss Guards as well as the police and security officials of both Chile and Peru.

(Vatican News – Devin Watkins) Churches attacked in Chile ahead of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Visit – Four churches are vandalized on Friday in Chile’s capital, just ahead of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Visit to the country, and the Apostolic Nunciature is briefly occupied to protest against money spent on welcoming the Holy Father.(http://www.vaticannews.va/en/church/news/2018-01/chile-journey-churches-attacked-before-popes-arrival.html)

There is also anger over sexual abuse cases and the fact that Pope Francis, against advice, appointed a bishop who has been accused of turning a blind eye to abuse cases. Some fear these cases might overshadow the Pope’s desire to focus on the light of indigenous peoples.

In fact, the Holy Father intends to place the situation of indigenous peoples on the front pages of the world’s newspaper and he will focus on them in both Chile and Peru. A sample case of the problems faced by the indigenous is that of large pieces of land that were originally theirs but had been taken forcefully over the centuries, without any compensation. Others own land that criminal gangs are trying to take over – or have succeeded – in an attempt to grow lucrative palm oil or drug-related products.

In a story reported from Peru by the Guardian, for example, tribal leaders, who hail from four Amazon river basins, accuse the government of refusing to carry out a consultation process even though it is negotiating a new 30-year contract for oil block 192 with Frontera Energy, a Canadian firm, whose current contract expires in early 2019.

The so-called prior consultation law, passed in 2011 in Peru, requires the government to seek free, prior and informed consent from indigenous people before approving any development plans that might affect them.

But officials from Peru’s energy ministry refused to confirm if a new consultation process would be undertaken, stating that a 2015 process was still valid. Indigenous leaders representing more than 100 communities in the Marañon, Pastaza, Corrientes and Tigre river basins said that process had been carried out in “bad faith”.

Some say such stories are just the tip of the iceberg vis-à-vis indigenous peoples.

This is Francis’ 4th trip to Latin America but his fellow Argentinians are perplexed – and some angry – that he has not set foot in his homeland since his election in March 2013.

The itinerary for Pope Francis’ six days in Chile and Peru includes several Masses, meetings with civil and religious authorities, meetings with bishops, priests and men and women religious, a visit to a women’s prison, a private meeting with his fellow Jesuits, and encounters with indigenous peoples. A visit to Trujillo in northern Peru to visit those affected by the El Niño rains that left 100 dead and 141,000 displaced in early 2017.

The final event on the papal agenda next Sunday is Mass at Las Palmas Air Base in front of the image of the Lord of the Miracles. Francis and his entourage and the journalists covering this trip will depart for Rome that afternoon, arriving in the Eternal City about 2 p.m. on January 22.

Click here for the full itinerary: http://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2017-11/programme-of-pope-francis–apostolic-visit-to-peru-and-chile-rel.html



The Director of the Holy See Press Office, Greg Burke, held a briefing on Thursday in the Vatican to illustrate Pope Francis’ upcoming pastoral journey to Chile and Peru – BY LINDA BORDONI

Pope Francis’ upcoming upcoming apostolic visit to Chile and Peru January 15-21 will take him to regions which are not only their country’s poorest and most peripheral, but where environmental issues and demands for indigenous land rights have even led to unrest and violence.

Burke said Francis knows the two countries well, having spent one and a half years in Chile during his novitiate and having travelled to Peru on various occasions. He also said he knows all of the bishops who have recently undertaken their “ad limina” visits to Rome.

The Pope’s weeklong journey is of course a pastoral one. As Francis highlighted in his video-message of greeting just ahead of his departure, he emphasized how he is coming to share the peace and the hope of the Lord in the spirit and joy of the Gospel.

Environment and rights of Indigenous Peoples

Burke confirmed the environmental aspect of the journey and issues pertaining to the rights of indigenous peoples are clearly one of the main themes of the journey. journey

In Chile the Pope will travel to the southern Araucania region where Mapuche communities have been stripped of their land repeatedly – first by Spanish colonists, then by settlers who moved to the region to farm, and more recently by timber plantations. It is here, in the city of Temuco that the Pope will celebrate Mass together with groups of indigenous peoples and then share lunch with their representatives and with the Bishop of Temuco.

On the second leg of his journey, Francis is scheduled to meet with Amazonian indigenous people in the city of Puerto Maldonado in Peru’s southeastern Madre de Dios region. It’s a particularly symbolic venue as the city is seen as the gateway to the Peruvian Amazon that covers almost 60% of the nation’s territory and is increasingly being exploited by the extractive and timber industries that, in turn, are forcing more and more indigenous tribes from their ancestral lands and livelihoods.

It is also where gold mining has left large expanses of barren land and pit mines, an activity which has led to forced labor, trafficking of women and girls for prostitution, and one of the highest murder rates in the country.

Synod of Bishops Pan Amazon region

This event in particular is seen as a window on the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region which will take place in the Vatican in October 2019. That’s why Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops is scheduled to host the event together with members of REPAM: the Pan-Amazonian Church Network.

Intense schedule

In both countries, as per protocol, Pope Francis will engage in meetings with political authorities. He will also meet with bishops, priests, religious and lay people, he will celebrate 5 Holy Masses, dedicate time and prayer to Marian celebrations, to honoring local Saints, and to meeting with his Jesuit brothers.

He will dedicate much time, as he always does, to meeting with the people, especially the young, the poor and those in vulnerable situations like prison inmates and the urban poor living in slums as well as those affected by the El Nino in Peru who have lost lands and homes in flooding and mudslides.

To the question: “will the Pope be meeting with victims of clerical sex abuse in Chile?”, Burke answered there is nothing on the program to that regard, but, he said, “everything is possible, and what’s more: ‘unscheduled meetings are often the best!’”


In another piece by Linda Bordoni, we see that one of the highlights of Pope Francis’ upcoming apostolic visit to Peru is represented by a meeting with indigenous peoples of the Amazon rainforest in the city of Maldonado. In fact, Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the Peruvian city of Puerto Maldonado will undoubtedly give visibility and voice to the indigenous people of the Amazon.

Linda wrote that, in an interview published by the Pan-Amazonian Church Network – Repam – Fr Manuel Jesus Romero of the Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Maldonado said the Amazon’s indigenous people have an urgent need to make their rights known as they are increasingly pushed from their ancestral lands.

To learn more about that interview: http://www.vaticannews.va/en/church/news/2018-01/peru-journey-pope-amazon-indigenous-puerto-maldonado.html



Happy New Year!

I am so grateful for all of you who read this column and follow me on Facebook, on my radio program, Vatican Insider and on TV with “Joan’s Rome” videos and my participation in “At Home with Jim and Joy.” I remembered all of you in prayer, those whom I know and those who are unseen, those who asked for prayers for special intentions and those whose intentions remained in their hearts.

As I wrote to a colleague: May 2018 be so special that you will have difficulty finding words to describe it!

I got back to Rome yesterday, following an amazing and fun-filled nine-day Christmas vacation in the Chicago area, meeting up with some cousins, a sister in law, several of my nine nieces and nephews and their children, and the latest of my 23 great nieces, Maren, age 5 months. I also enjoyed spending time with a number of friends from the archdiocese, and made a new friend as well, a fellow member of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

As I rejoiced over this new life (and another one due in June!), I also mourned the loss of a cousin who died of a heart attack the morning of December 24 as he was on his way to Mass! For me the tragedy of such a sudden death took on a special meaning when I considered that Tom was on his way to Mass! I hope that might ease the pain a bit for Deborah who survives him.

The one thing that bound us all together in those days was the extreme cold! The average temperature was 0 or even a bit below for most of the time I was in Chicago. And that’s not counting the so-called wind chill factor! For the first ten minutes of my taxi ride to the airport on Tuesday, in a residential area, we did not see a single human being! No one, not s single person, walking on the sidewalks, going into or coming out of stores, gas stations, etc. It was quite astounding when you think about it.

As I catch up on work, prepare Vatican Insider for this weekend and get back in the groove with At Home with Jim and Joy, I take more time than normally needed as I continue to learn the new computer, how it has changed so many ways I work, etc. I have a lot of photos I want to post and perhaps even a video I took after sunset in St. Peter’s Square bnut it is quite late and I hear a dinner bell ringing. Or is that hunger pains?

In any case, photos will be posted tomorrow, in particular of the joyful Christmas Day I spent with other volunteers for Catholic Charities as we fed hundreds of homeless! A truly inspirational and very rewarding day!


Pope Francis sent a telegram on Thursday to the apostolic nuncio in Peru to express his condolences for the victims of a deadly bus crash in Peru and to express his closeness to their families.

A bus carrying 55 passengers, the driver and an assistant, plunged 100 feet on Tuesday along a stretch of road known as Devil’s Bend and landed on a rocky isolated stretch of beach north of Lima, with no road access. The Peruvian police said early investigations showed that a truck was also involved in the accident, and Peru’s Minister of Transport tweeted that both vehicles had been travelling at excessive speeds. Police say the truck driver survived the crash and was detained.

As of Thursday, 51 people are known to have died. The Peruvian president said Wednesday he had given orders to widen an alternative route so as to close this dangerous stretch to traffic. In the meantime, busses are banned from using the road.

The papal telegram was sent by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin in the name of Pope Francis. It reads:

“The Holy Father was deeply saddened at the tragic news of the road accident which occurred in Pasamayo, claiming many victims, and offers prayers for the eternal repose of the souls of the deceased. I ask Your Excellency to convey His Holiness’ condolences, along with expressions of consolation to the relatives who mourn such a painful loss, as well as his spirit spiritual closeness to the wounded, while asking the Lord to pour upon them all the gifts of spiritual serenity and Christian hope. As a pledge, the Holy Father imparts his heartfelt apostolic blessing.”


(Prague Radio – English edition) – Pope Francis has given his consent to the transport of the remains of Cardinal Josef Beran to the Czech Republic, the ambassador to the Holy See Pavel Vošalík told the Czech News Agency on Wednesday. Cardinal Beran was persecuted by the Communist regime and was eventually exiled to Rome, where he died in 1969. He was buried in the Vatican because the Czechoslovak communist authorities didn’t approve the return of his body to his homeland. He is the only Czech buried in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica.

Cardinal Beran, who died May 17, 1969, served as the archbishop of Prague from 1946 until his death and was elevated into the cardinalate in 1965. His cause of canonization commenced in 1997 and this bestowed upon him the title of Servant of God.