Fifty-nine years ago today, Pope John opened Vatican Council II! Just a year and a half earlier I had been in his presence, the first Pope I ever saw! See my story and photo from that day below!


(franciscanmedia.org) – Although few people had as great an impact on the 20th century as Pope John XXIII, he avoided the limelight as much as possible. Indeed, one writer has noted that his “ordinariness” seems one of his most remarkable qualities.

The firstborn son of a farming family in Sotto il Monte, near Bergamo in northern Italy, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was always proud of his down-to-earth roots. In Bergamo’s diocesan seminary, he joined the Secular Franciscan Order.

After his ordination in 1904, Fr. Roncalli returned to Rome for canon law studies. He soon worked as his bishop’s secretary, Church history teacher in the seminary, and as publisher of the diocesan paper.

His service as a stretcher-bearer for the Italian army during World War I gave him a firsthand knowledge of war. In 1921, Fr. Roncalli was made national director in Italy of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. He also found time to teach patristics at a seminary in the Eternal City.

In 1925, he became a papal diplomat, serving first in Bulgaria, then in Turkey, and finally in France. During World War II, he became well acquainted with Orthodox Church leaders. With the help of Germany’s ambassador to Turkey, Archbishop Roncalli helped save an estimated 24,000 Jewish people.

Named a cardinal and appointed patriarch of Venice in 1953, he was finally a residential bishop. A month short of entering his 78th year, Cardinal Roncalli was elected pope, taking the name John after his father and the two patrons of Rome’s cathedral, St. John Lateran. Pope John took his work very seriously but not himself. His wit soon became proverbial, and he began meeting with political and religious leaders from around the world. In 1962, he was deeply involved in efforts to resolve the Cuban missile crisis.

His most famous encyclicals were Mother and Teacher (1961) and Peace on Earth (1963). Pope John XXIII enlarged the membership in the College of Cardinals and made it more international. At his address at the opening of the Second Vatican Council, he criticized the “prophets of doom” who “in these modern times see nothing but prevarication and ruin.” Pope John XXIII set a tone for the Council when he said, “The Church has always opposed… errors. Nowadays, however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity.”

On his deathbed, Pope John said: “It is not that the Gospel has changed; it is that we have begun to understand it better. Those who have lived as long as I have…were enabled to compare different cultures and traditions, and know that the moment has come to discern the signs of the times, to seize the opportunity and to look far ahead.”

“Good Pope John” died on June 3, 1963. St. John Paul II beatified him in 2000, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014.


Throughout his life, Angelo Roncalli cooperated with God’s grace, believing that the job at hand was worthy of his best efforts. His sense of God’s providence made him the ideal person to promote a new dialogue with Protestant and Orthodox Christians, as well as with Jews and Muslims. In the sometimes noisy crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica, many people become silent on seeing the simple tomb of Pope John XXIII, grateful for the gift of his life and holiness. After his beatification, his tomb was moved into the basilica itself.


My junior year in college was spent studying French in Fribourg, Switzerland during which time we had a six-week spring break, the first three weeks of which were spent in Italy. While in Rome, a papal audience took place. They were not weekly events at the time and there was no audience hall as we know it today. Rather, such group gatherings were held in the magnificent Hall of Blessings, the large room above the atrium of St. Peter’s Basilica – the room with the central loggia or balcony where newly-elected Popes first appear. (Vatican photo)

Pope John was carried into the room on an elevated chair known as the sedia gestatoria. The chair bearers were called sediari. Only Paul VI and John Paul I used the chair after Pope John.  (JFL photo)

It was an amazing, wonderful, unforgettable, first-ever, “Oh my word, I am in the presence of the Pope, the Holy Father, the one and only head of the Catholic Church” moment – an experience that I’ve truly never forgotten. We did not speak Italian so someone had to summarize the papal talk for us but we heard a lot of laughter from Italians present and I later learned that John XXIII was known for his wit.

How very much I wanted to speak to the Pope, just to be near this man who struck me as someone who could be your favorite uncle, even your grandfather. There was almost a desire to hug him, as strange as that may sound! What he inspired me to do was to learn more about the Church, the papacy in general, but about him, Pope John XXIII, in particular.

I did learn how John XXIII was puzzled why his visits to orphanages, hospitals and prisons in Rome caused a stir in the press. Shouldn’t the bishop reach out to the neediest? He was his same simple self when talking with orphans and prisoners or presidents and diplomats.

When crowned Pope, he said it was his intention to be a pastoral Pope since “all other human gifts and accomplishments – learning, practical experience, diplomatic finesse – can broaden and enrich pastoral work but cannot replace it.”

By the way, John XXIII (he took the name John to honor his father Giovanni, John) and Paul VI were the last two Popes to be crowned. Pope John Paul I did away with then papal triple crown and from then on (September 1978), the ceremony was called an inauguration, not an incoronation.

What most stayed with me that March day in 1961 was a sense of the Pope’s great simplicity, that of a man who is true to his roots. After all, he was the first-born son of a 13 children born to a farmer and his wife. He came from a simple background and maintained that simplicity, I was told over the years, from his first breath to his last.

To be honest, in many ways he struck me more as a father, a simple priest but a holy father, someone who was easily relatable to the average Catholic in the pew.

In the ensuing years I tried to learn more about John XXIII, in particular, in preparation for a half hour television special I was to do on this Pope just before his 2014 canonization. I read many books and was struck by what he accomplished in a mere 5 years of papacy! One book in particular really struck me because it described not only his down-to-earthness but his great humor.

Here are just a few of the many stories that remained with me over the years! Enjoy!

One day John XXIII accompanied a visitor for a stroll in the Vatican gardens, explaining where they were in the gardens, some facts about the Apostolic Palace and anything else the guest wanted to know. At one point, he was asked: “Your Holiness, how many people work in the Vatican?” The Holy Father responded, “Well, about half!”

Another of my favorite stories involves the day that Pope John wanted to go visit Santo Spirito hospital, Holy Spirit hospital, which is about five blocks from Saint Peter Square. He had a predilection for sick people and certainly wanted to visit this nearby hospital. The papal car arrived at the appointed time, and John got out as the nun who ran the whole show greeted him with these words: “Welcome Holy Father! I’m Mother Superior of Holy Spirit” to which John replied: “Lucky you, I’m just the Pope!”

Another anecdote comes from his time as apostolic nuncio to France (he had also been nuncio or papal ambassador to Bulgaria and Turkey). Archbishop Roncalli (the future Pope John) was presented one day with the chief rabbi of Paris and the two had a warm conversation. When they were ready to move into a nearby sitting room where other guests awaited them, the rabbi points to the door and courteously invited the archbishop to go first. Archbishop Roncalli responded, “Please, the Old Testament first…”

And lastly: As Vatican officials were discussing John’s surprising plans to call an ecumenical council, a colossial meeting that would entail great planning and organization, one official told the Pope it would be “absolutely impossible to open the Second Vatican Council by 1963. “Fine,” replied John, “we’ll open it in 1962!” And he did!

He did that 59 years ago today!

For so many reasons, Pope St. John XXIII was nicknamed “the Good Pope.”




Fridays have turned out to be the most special day of the workweek for me as the day starts in St. Peter’s basilica with Mass for EWTN employees with Msgr. Anthony Figueiredo, As I told him last Friday, feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus when Mass was celebrated at the altar of the Sacred Heart, “the best part of my day has just ended.”

This morning was no exception.

Because I have a Vatican ID as a retired employee, I have the privilege of entering Vatican City through the Perugino Gate, one of a number of official entrances to the Vatican but less known than the Petrine Gate that leads, for example, to the Paul VI Hall, or the Santa Anna Gate on the east side of Vatican City State. At that gate, used by the majority of employees of Vatican City State and the Roman Curia who have offices inside the mini-state, you are greeted first by Swiss Guards and then by gendarmes who ask to see your ID or some official document that will gain you entrance.

At the Perugino Gate, no Swiss Guards but there is a gendarme post. When the police see the proper credentials, they greet and salute the visitor or employee and, for me at least, what comes next is both wonderful and magical at the same time.

As I walk down hill from the guard post, this is pretty much the first view I get of St. Peter’s Basilica!

The Santa Marta residence is immediately on my right, and it often awes me to think I am literally yards away from where the Pope lives and works!

I usually use the Perugino entrance because I am going to Mass in the basilica, I have business in the Governorato, the administration that runs Vatican City State or I’ll do some shopping at the Vatican’s department store.

I always enter the basilica through what is known as the Prayer Door, It is also known as the diplomat’s door, as this is the entrance that ambassadors use when attending a papal or other celebration in the basilica.

Msgr. Anthony always says Mass for us at the altar of Pope St. John XXIIII. That had not been possible in recent weeks as the body of St. John had, with exceptional permission, been taken for veneration to his native diocese of Bergamo for 18 days.

This morning, however, I noted that there were temporary, rather high barriers created by thick velvet drapes and I became excited because I knew what that meant! It meant that St. John XXIII was about to return to his final resting place!

I went directly to the sacristy this morning and met Msgr. Anthony with several of his friends as they were walking out. Mass today would be at another altar I love, the St. Joseph altar under which, in a large sarcophagus, are the remains of the Apostles Simon and Jude!

Even though there are many pews for this altar, Msgr. asked that chairs be placed right in front of the communion railing and that is where we sat – as you can see…..

We all accompanied Msgr. Anthony back to the sacristy where, after a brief visit, we went our separate ways. Both of us were curious about the St. John altar so we took a long way around the barriers and went right to the altar, surrounded by workmen waiting at an empty niche below the altar for the return of our saintly Pope, I asked if I could take a photo and they said they did not have authority to say yes. I should have taken one and asked for pardon, not permission, as the expression goes!

Here is what one normally sees at the St. John XXIII altar and how things will be once again as you read this column.


The workers told us where the body was and that became our next destination – the sacristy of Cardinal Comastri, the archpriest of the Vatican basilica. We both know the cardinal. He was not available – no surprise on such an important day! – but we had a lovely chat with his secretary and then chanced to meet Bishop Vittorio Lanzani, delegate or secretary of the Fabbrica di San Pietro, the office responsible for physical care of the papal basilica.

Msgr. Anthony asked Bishop Lanzani if we could see the body before it was returned to its resting place but he said that was not possible. He said they were still putting things in place, such as the seal that will cover the glass casket and the ventilation system that preserves the body.

However, he was carrying relics of St. John and asked if we would like to touch them and kiss them!!

If I had been less struck by the uniqueness of this request, I’d have thought of taking a picture!

Msgr. Anthony had to deliver an envelope to the Santa Marta, just meters away from where we were standing at the sacristy, but we had to wait outside the building until the Holy Father left the Santa Marta! We had seen the papal car at the front door of the residence, guarded by gendarmes and the Swiss Guards, and did not know when Francis would leave. We decided to wait – it was about 20 minutes before the Pope actually got in and was driven away. I tried but it was a bit too fast for a still photo.

What we saw awaiting the papal car to pass  —IMG_0532



(I have no idea why these photos are so much larger – will have to look into that!)

Mass, relics of a saintly Pope returning home, a glimpse of the Holy Father, all in such a brief period of time.   Part of A Day in the Life ….!


…or should I say propane?!

If the Italians had a version of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not,” my tale would be an entry. Only those who have live in Italy or currently live here can possibly understand how amazing my story is.

Italy is a land of such enormous bureaucracy that entire volumes have been written about it – and new ones appear all the time. Remember my recent story about being the only person in the post office one day and yet I was told I had to wait until my number was called!!

When there is a problem or some bureaucratic issue facing them, Italians will do one of two things: shrug their shoulders and say ”pazienza” and try to solve the problem, no matter how long that might take, or they’ll sit in a local café and discuss the matter and complain, as if mere conversation over coffee will solve the issue.

If you have been following Joan’s Rome, you know I’ve been without gas in my apartment – yesterday was Day 16.

I decided to, as the expression goes, take the bull by the horns and find out exactly what was being done to remedy this critical situation by writing to APSA, the Vatican administration that rents apartments, handles technical issues, etc. and to Italgas.

I went online, got the names of the CEO and the president of Italgas, got an email address and proceeded to write to both men, also addressing a copy of my letter to the press office of Italgas.

I laid out the situation, gave the building address, specifically which part of the building had no gas and laid out the issues that have been facing us for 16 days. No anger, just the facts, the disappointment that nothing had been done in 16 days, etc..

I did mention that it had been suggested we find a lawyer, saying I did not want to take that route.

I also mentioned I was a journalist.

Four hours later – an absolute miracle for life in Italy! – I got an answer from the press office on behalf of the CEO and president!

The basics are this: the previous ‘colonna montante’ – a pillar that runs through the building from the street gas supply to each apartment – has degraded to such an extent that it was partially the cause of the gas leak over 2 weeks ago. Not only is this seriously outdated and dangerous, an entire new column, running from the gas pipes below the sidewalk to the roof of our building will have to be mounted outside the building, not within the walls. This pipe will run alongside the glass enclosed, very small balconies right off of our kitchens – this is where the gas meters are. Workers will have to break through the walls of each balcony, connect the new colonna montante to each of our gas readers and, so they say, that will be that and we can cook once again, etc.

Sounds VERY long to me!

Italgas has been in touch with the Vatican all along but last night’s letter gave me more information than anyone else had. I printed a copy of the email and gave it to Carlo, our doorman, who was delighted to know what would be happening!

In any case, the man from the Italgas press office gave me his phone number and asked me to be in touch and update him on the work – which he’d be following from Milan.

The other part of A Day in the Life….!



At first light this morning, in the silence of St. Peter’s Basilica, the voyage to Bergamo began for the remains of Pope St. John XXIII – Bergamo, the diocese in which Angelo Roncalli served for 40 years, and Sotto il Monte where he was born November 25, 1881.

The theme of the trip is a phrase from this Saint who returns to his land and people for the 60th anniversary of his election to the papacy: “We begin from the land where I was born and we continue right up to heaven.”

This will be an 18-day pilgrimage, an exceptional gift from Pope Francis. There was a precedent that took place in the spring of 1959 when Pope John XXIII (Italians often called him, as they do all Popes, by his last name, Papa Roncalli) authorized the departure of the remains of St. Pius X for his native Venice.

This morning, in the basilica, it was the archpriest of St. Peter’s, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, who presided at the ceremony of the departure of the intact remains of John XXII. His remains were transferred from the Vatican Grottoes to the main part of the basilica in 2001, the year of his beatification, when he was placed in the glass coffin that all persons visiting the basilica can view.

JFL photo:

Cardinal Comastri recalled John XXIII’s love for his native land where “he breathed the faith in the beautiful example of his parents. Today, John XXIII fulfils the pilgrimage of gratitude and blessings towards the land where he was born, where he became Christian and where his priestly vocation matured.”

Reciting a prayer for those present, the cardinal spoke of “God’s profume” in John XXIII, his always having sowed seeds of hope, helping people to be “instruments of peace at home and in the public square.”

There will be a number of stops on his pilgrimage for St. John XXIII, whose remains arrived in the heart of Bergamo this afternoon at 3:30. The first stop was the prison in Via Gleno in remembrance of Pope John’s visit to detainees in Rome’s Regina Coeli prison. His remains will travel to the seminary and, at 9 pm, will be solemnly welcomed in the cathedral for a prayer vigil.

For a video of the morning ceremony that accompanied this story by Vatican Media, click here: https://www.vaticannews.va/it/chiesa/news/2018-05/pellegrinaggio-spoglie-papa-roncalli-bergamo.html#play



Fifty-five years ago today, on October 11, 1962, Pope St. John XXIII opened Vatican Council II in St. Peter’s Basilica. Following are two black and white photos from that day:

A cousin of mine from Palm Beach, Florida, attended many sessions of the Council with an American delegation of bishops, including a Florida bishop.  After Phil’s death I inherited a copy of a color photo he was given after the opening session. This is a poor photo of that picture (the WordPress device to enlarge photos has never worked for me), which is a bit of family history. I have a bigger, better photo but I needed to rotate it counter clockwise and that did not work either!


Pope Francis, continuing his weekly audience catechesis on the Christian virtue of hope, said Wednesday, “Today I wish to speak about that dimension of hope which we can call attentive waiting.  Jesus tells his disciples to be like those who await the return of their master, with lamps alight.  As Christians, therefore, we are always attentive, awaiting the Lord’s return, when God will be all in all.”

“Every day,” continued Francis, “is a new opportunity to be attentive to God, to welcome the day as his gift, and to live that day by offering our good works to him.  Such attentiveness requires patience, however, if we are not to lose sight of God’s grace when our days are monotonous, or our difficulties many.  For no night is so long, as to make us forget the joy that comes with dawn.”

Importantly, Francis stated that, “resignation is not a Christian virtue.”

The Holy Father explained that, “as Christians, we know that Christ will return; that no matter what we may suffer, life has its purpose and deeper meaning, and that the merciful Lord will greet us at its end.  Thus we can look upon history and our own lives with confidence and hope, knowing that the future is not guided solely by the work of our hands but by God’s providence.”

The Pope concluded, “May we repeat everyday the words of the first disciples: ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’ And in our most difficult moments, may we hear the consoling response of Jesus: ‘Behold, I am coming soon’.”

In his various greetings at the audience, Pope Francis had special words for Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, as its members meet in plenary assembly. He entrusted their work to St. John XXIII whose liturgical memory it was Wednesday, October 11.

The congregation marks its centenary this year, as does the Pontifical Oriental Institute. Pope Francis will visit the institute tomorrow morning, after which he will celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving for both institutions in St. Mary Major Basilica.

After the catechesis on hope, Francis greeted Arab-speaking pilgrims, “in particular those from Lebanon, the Holy Land and the Middle East. Our hope is based on the certainty of Christ’s return and on being ready to receive Him. For this reason let’s not abandon ourselves to the flow of events with pessimism , as if history was a train that lost control. Resignation is not a Christian virtue. May the Lord bless you and protect you from evil!

He also greeted “the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s audience, especially those from England, Scotland, Demark, Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Canada and the United States of America.  In particular I greet those who will be celebrating World Sight Day tomorrow, and I assure all who are blind and visually impaired of my closeness and prayers.  Upon you and your families, I invoke the grace of the Lord Jesus, that you may be steadfast in hope and trust in God’s providence in your lives.  May God bless you!”


At the end of the audience catechesis, the Holy Father noted that “Friday, October 13, marks the end of the centenary of the last Marian apparitions in Fatima. With our eyes turned to the Mother of the Savior and Queen of Missions, I invite everyone, especially in this month of October, to pray the holy rosary for the intention of peace in the world. May prayer move the most unruly souls so that they banish violence from their hearts, from their words and from their gestures, and build non-violent communities that care for the common home. Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer. We can all be artisans of peace.”


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ Twitter account – @pontifex – has reached a milestone: 40 million followers in 9 languages. The figure is significant not only in itself, but in what it represents for the Holy Father, himself, who, like his predecessor, desires to be a Christian witness among many on the “Digital Continent”, especially through social media.

Alessandro Gisotti spoke to Msgr. Eduardo Viganò, prefect of the Secretariat for Communications. He is entrusted with the co-ordination of the papal accounts on Twitter and Instagram.

“40 million followers means 40 million people, 40 million hearts, minds, and passions,” said Msgr. Viganò. “It is a world, a relationship, a community: this figure emphasizes that so many people continue to follow, day after day, even by way of 140 characters, the Pope’s Magisterium, which reaches people in very different ways: from official speeches, to unscripted encounters, to Twitter characters,” Msgr. Viganò said.

Asked about the Holy Father’s social media presence more specifically, especially on Twitter and Instagram (where Francis shares photos and videos under his @franciscus handle), Msgr. Viganò said, “The Pope takes great care of his social profiles, to such an extent that he closely and carefully checks all the tweets, which are then published.” He went on to say, “This concern speaks to the [Pope’s] care for relationships. So, the Pope who calls himself a ‘grandfather,’ who claims to  be far from new technologies, nevertheless intuits that there is a world – the social media world – that is made up of people.”

Msgr. Viganò also said, “The Church is born when the Holy Spirit overwhelms the disciples and opens the doors of the Upper Room and they take to the streets of the world. Today, among these streets are the so-called social communities. That is why the Pope is very attentive to this reality: because any relationship needs care, which is to say cor urat, that is, ‘to warm the heart’ even through a few letters.”

Gisotti asked whether Pope Francis can be taken as an example of how to use social media, so that the Internet is, “a network not of wires but of people,” as he himself wrote in his first Message for the World Day of Social Communications?

“Yes,” responded Msgr. Viganò. “This also collects the inheritance of Pope emeritus Benedict [XVI], who has made some very interesting speeches on the Net. I believe that the further step, the one we might summarize as ‘from the click to the heart’, is to imagine a community of believers, who leave traces of the allure of the Gospel of Mercy even on the Net.”

I have an imminent appointment and am trying to post this column before that – photos and all, although I intend to post a lot more pictures tomorrow as time is my enemy right now. If some of the video links do not work, I will try to rectify that later.



Cardinal Loris Capovilla, secretary to Pope Saint John XXIII died today at the age of 100. He turned 100 October 14 of last year. Here is what I posted that day:


Today marks the 100th birthday of Cardinal Loris Capovilla, former secretary to Cardinal Angelo Roncalli when he was archbishop of Venice and later, in 1958, elected to the See of Peter, talking the name John XXIII. He is now, of course, St. John XXIII.

I visited Cardinal Capovilla (and wrote about it on my blog) on March 19 last year, 18 days after he received the red hat in Sotto il Monte, not far from Bergamo in northern Italy, where he lives. This was just weeks before his former “boss” would be canonized, together with John Paul II!

At one point, I asked Cardinal Capovilla if I could record two special questions I had for him on my iPad. First, I asked him to imagine what John XXIII would say about the much-changed world we live in today. I then noted how “Good” Pope John loved children, asking what he might say if there were 20 children in the room, instead of the three of us. We spoke only in Italian, so I’m afraid that might limit the audience for this video but it is just sheer fun to watch his amazing energy at 98 and a half!

And here is what I wrote Friday, March 21, 2014, just two days after my visit to Sotto il Monte.


I returned late last night from very beautiful and very historical Bergamo in northern Italy, about an hour from Milan by train. I made this brief trip because I wanted to see all the places in Bergamo associated with the future Saint John XXIII, and to visit Sotto il Monte, a 20-minute drive from Bergamo, where he was born and raised.

I was on the go from morning to very late at night on Tuesday and Wednesday, and even yesterday I never stopped exploring right up to my 5 pm train departure for Milan, then Rome. I had a very small window of time on Wednesday between talking to Teresa Tomeo in our weekly slot on “Catholic Connection,” and being picked up at 4 pm by my new friend, Mimma Forlani, author of a book about John XXIII. I hoped to use that time wisely and so I wrote a column about my visit up to that point, 24 hours filled with amazing new friends and places and events.

I only had my iPad with me and I wrote a long column, hit POST – and everything disappeared because my “session” had timed out!

I won’t try to re-write that column here. However, I have posted 3 videos from my time in Sotto il Monte so perhaps you can enjoy those for now (I record and post the videos you see on my Youtube page with my iPad). Here are links to two of those:

<a href=”http://youtu.be/xsUoS89SDAE”>http://youtu.be/xsUoS89SDAE</a>

<a href=”http://youtu.be/m0I8foBNkwE”>http://youtu.be/m0I8foBNkwE</a&gt;

And now, to the big story of my Sotto il Monte visit!


I had a totally unexpected and very wonderful visit in Sotto il Monte with Cardinal Loris Capovilla who for many years was Blessed John XXIII’s secretary, and was made a cardinal only a month ago in the February 22 consistory. I had not contacted the cardinal before I left Rome and only got his direct line the night I arrived. I phoned Wednesday morning at 9, the cardinal himself answered and we had a delightful conversation. I told him I was in Bergamo and that a friend would be accompanying me to John XXIII’s birthplace that morning.


I told him I had worked for many years at the Vatican and that we shared the experience of being secretary to a cardinal. He asked me for whom I had been a secretary, and I told Cardinal John Wright, prefect for 10 years (1969 to 1979) of the Congregation for the Clergy. I was his secretary from 1975 to his death in 1979. His priest secretary at the Vatican at that time was one Fr. Donald Wuerl!

After other brief words, Cardinal Capovilla asked when I would be in Sotto il Monte, I replied about 10:15 and he said to come to Ca Maitino where he lives as soon as we arrived.

Sr. Anna welcomed us and, after showing us around while another person was with the cardinal, ushered us into his large, sunny office. Cardinal Capovilla was seated at a broad table – a mere desk would never have been big enough to accommodate the books, agendasand letters and the stack of his newly minted stationary and envelopes with his cardinalatial crest.

I introduced Mimma who told the cardinal how delighted she was to meet him, having written a book about his “boss,” Pope John XXIII.


I told the cardinal what a delight it was to meet the man who had so faithfully served the first Pope I’d ever met – John XXIII. And I gave him copies of the photos I took at my first ever audience with a Pope – with John XXIII – on March 22, 1961. Cardinal Capovilla was absolutely delighted, and said they were great photos, and rare ones in that there are relatively few pictures of Pope John in color.

I also told Cardinal Capovilla – an amazing, energetic 98 and a half, with a memory as long as his years and a mind like a trap! – that I had visited the nunciature in Istanbul where Bishop Angelo Roncalli was nuncio from 1935 to 1944. I explained that I was a member of the Holy See delegation to the UN conference on Human Settlements that took place in Istanbul for several weeks in June 1996. The then nuncio offered a beautiful dinner for the delegation in the residence where John XXIII lived all those years.


One of the most astonishing aspects about the building was that nothing had been changed or replaced or moved since Angelo Roncall left in 1944! The damask-covered walls, the heavy drapes in the dining room and reception roms, even every single furnishing in the chapel – everything was the same!  We could sit in the bishop’s chair and kneel on his kneeler in the chapel but were asked not to move the chair or prie-dieu as that is how they were in December 1944 when the future Pope left Turkey. I promised the cardinal I would send him copies of the photos I took that evening.

Our conversation was so stimulating. The cardinal spoke of the past, the present and the future, and says he does not truly feel old or consider himself to be old. Here are a few photos from that March 19 morning with Cardinal Capovilla, a wonderful, uplifting, surprising one-hour visit! I have audio and video we well, but I must first translate some of the latter before I share that with you.

Cardinal Capovilla dedicates a copy of his book to me, “Preach the Gospel to all People” – in Latin – “with joy and hope!”



On this day in 1963, Pope St. John XXIII died of stomach cancer, four and a half years after his election. His tomb in St. Peter’s Basilica:



At today’s general audience, Pope Francis said that, in continuing the series of catecheses on the family that he started many months ago, he intended to focus, starting today, on the vulnerabilities that families face in today’s world.

He began by explaining that, “today we consider one of the conditions that afflict too many families, namely, poverty. And yet, in the worst of circumstances, even in wartorn areas, how often these families persevere with dignity, entrusting themselves to the goodness of God. It is a miracle that even in extreme situations families continue to be formed and sustained.”

“Sadly,” said the Holy Father, “our modern economies often promote individual well-being at the expense of the family. As Christians, however, we must always look for ways to strengthen and support families, especially poorer ones.  The Church, as a mother, can never be blind to the sufferings of her children.  For each of us, this means choosing simplicity both individually and in our institutions, so as to break down walls of division and overcome all difficulties, especially poverty.”

As he has said on previous ocasions, including at the very start of his pontificate in March 2013,  Francis said, “a poorer Church will bear fruit for so many of her needy children.  Let us pray for the grace of conversion so that Christian families everywhere will be truly committed to helping their poorer brothers and sisters.”


At the end of the weekly general audience, held today under a hot sun in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis expressed his closeness to the Chinese people following the capsizing Monday of a cruise ship on the Yangtze River. He spoke of the victims, their families and the rescue workers involved with the search for survivors from “The Eastern Star,” whose 456 passengers were mostly elderly people. At least 18 people are now confirmed to have died and 14 have been rescued.

“In a particular way I wish to express my closeness to the Chinese people in these difficult moments after the ferry disaster in the Yangtze River.  pray for the victims, their families and for all involved in the rescue efforts” he said.

In his greetings to the many pilgrims groups and associations following the audience catechesis, Pope Francis explained that June is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and that tomorrow, Thursday, is the Feast of Corpus Christi. “We learn from the Lord, who made Himself into sustenance so as to be more available to others, serving all those in need, especially the poorest families.”

To commemorate the feast of Corpus Christi, the Holy Father will say Mass at St. John Lateran, his cathedral church as bishop of Rome, ater which he will process on Via Merulana with the Blessed Sacrament from St. John to St. Mary Major where he will impart a Eucharistic blessing.


Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin spoke this morning in Paris at the conference “Educating Today and Tomorrow,” organized by the Holy See Permanent Observer Mission at UNESCO and the Congregation for Catholic Education. The conference is celebrating 70 years since the founding of this United Nations body, the 50th anniversary of the conciliar declaration “Gravissimum educationis,” a key text for Catholic education, and 25 years since the Apostolic Constitution “Ex corde Ecclesiae,” a document of reference for Catholic universities.

His text focused on the four main educational challenges and perspectives in today’s “fragmentary and multi-ethnic” world, namely, putting humanity back at the center; comprehensive and quality education; education as shared responsibility; and education in dialogue and fraternity.

Cardinal Parolin stated that, “the Catholic Church has never viewed education and culture as mere instruments of evangelization, but rather as human dimensions with high intrinsic value.” Indeed, investing in the education of young generations is a precondition for the “development of peoples,” as Paul VI stated in “Populorum progressio.” This is why the Catholic Church “has put education at the centre of her mission and continues to view it as a priority.”

He also underlined the importance attributed to this theme by Vatican Council II, in which a full and complete education is proposed, aimed at laying the foundations for an inclusive and peaceful society open to dialogue.Tye cardinal then mentioned some current educational challenges and perspectives, such as the extreme fragmentation of knowledge and the worrying lack of communication between different disciplines.

Importantly, the Secretary of State underscored the need to counteract the concept of the human being as a machine for production, proposing instead a vision of the person, and reiterated the need for formation in dialogue and the construction of fraternity. (sources: VIS, SIR)


Il Mattino di Padova, in its online news edition, reports that Pope Francis has decided to bring the bodies of two beloved Capuchin confessors, Saints Padre Pio and Leopoldo Mandic, to Rome during the Jubilee of Mercy to highlight the importance of the ministry of a confessor.


The paper says that the exposition of their bodies will probably be one of themost anticipated events and biggest highlights of the entire Holy Year.

Il Mattino says that, while each of the two Franciscan confessors had long, nonstop lines of penitents before their confessionals, those lines will probably pale in comparison to the lines that will form to enter St. Peter’s Basilica on February 10, 2016, Ash Wednesday, the day the exposition begins. The paper quotes Pope Francis who, last year as he blessed a wood statue of Padre Pio, brought to Rome by the friars of San Giovanni Rotondo, said: “Padre Pio, we are now closer. I am blessing you but you, protect me.”


St. Leopoldo Mandic was a famous Capuchin confessor who died in 1942 in Padua. After his death, he performed numerous and well-documented apparitions that strengthened his fame as a saint and the conviction that, through his intercession, one could obtain graces and miracles.



At the Capuchin church in Padua, as happens at San Giovanni Rotondo, there is an uninterrupted flow of pilgrims who ask for graces and conversion. Over the years, there have been thousands of votive offerings – “PGR – for graces received”  – relative to prodigious and inexplicable healings. Pope Paul VI beatified Leopoldo on May 2, 1976 and St. John Paul canonized him on October 16, 1983.