Welcome to a new edition of Vatican Insider featuring news stories from the Vatican and an always-interesting interview segment.

My guest in the interview segment is Fr. Brad Easterbrooks, but he was a Deacon studying in Rome when I interviewed him for Vatican Insider. This week we look at his pre-seminary years – work at a consulting firm and on political campaigns, law school, then the Navy and assignment as a lawyer for JAG (remember the TV show “JAG” – Judge Advocate General!).

He has such an amazing story – one that continues following his ordination in June 2022 – that I offer an encore this weekend.

I do so as I am still mostly homebound due to issues with my back and have not been able to do a new interview. Thanks for understanding!

IN THE UNITED STATES, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (stations listed at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio, or on OUTSIDE THE U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” VI airs at 5am and 9pm ET on Saturdays and 6am ET on Sundays. On the GB-IE feed (which is on SKY in the UK and Ireland), VI airs at 5:30am, 12 noon and 10pm CET on Sundays. Both of these feeds are also available on the EWTN app and on ALWAYS CHECK YOUR OWN TIME ZONE! For VI archives: go to and write the name of the guest for whom you are searching in the SEARCH box. Below that, will appear “Vatican Insider” – click on that and the link to that particular episode will appear.


Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, the Preacher to the Papal Household, delivers his first sermon for Lent 2023, focusing on “renewing the newness” that comes from the Holy Spirit.

By Christopher Wells

In his first sermon for Lent 2023, the Preacher of the Papal Household, Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap., focused on “the newness of the Spirit” and the need for constant renewal and conversion, both individually and in the Church as a whole.

The problem, he said, is not novelty per se, but how we deal with it. “Every novelty and every change is a crossroads; it can take two opposite paths: either that of the world or that of God; either the path of death or the path of life.”

Cardinal Cantalamessa went on to say that in the Church, “we have an infallible means to take the path of life and light every time: the Holy Spirit.” He explained that this year’s series of sermons for Lent are aimed at “encouraging us to put the Holy Spirit at the heart of the whole life of the Church,” and especially in the work of the ongoing Synod.

For his first sermon, the cardinal looked to the lessons taught by the early Christian community. In its earliest days, he said, the Church was led by the Spirit, guided by Him in matters large and small.

This method of turning to the Spirit to make ecclesial decisions – as the Church did with regard to the question of admitting gentiles to the Church – can also be seen in the efforts of the Second Vatican Council to renew the Church’s teaching about Herself, and especially the role of lay people.

It also helps us to see that questions in the Church are not resolved solely by synods or decrees, but by the reception of those teachings, which can sometimes require compromises between a desire for continuity and a desire for novelty.

Cardinal Cantalamessa then recalled the role of St. Peter in mediating between competing concerns in the early Church, a role that is continued today by the Popes as Peter’s successors.

Concluding his sermon, the preacher of the Papal Household emphasized the importance of kindness, of being good to others, while being strict with oneself. As a remedy to polarization and division in the Church, he proposed trying to look at issues from other people’s points of view.

Instead of judging others with condemnation, Cardinal Cantalamessa said, “it is not a matter of eliminating judgment from our heart, but rather of removing the poison from our judgment.”

“The strength of Christian love,” he said, “lies in the fact that it is capable of changing judgment from an act of non-love, turning it into an act love,” thanks to the gift of the Spirit.

Cardinal Cantalamessa concluded his sermon with the prayer “Make me an instrument of your peace,” sometimes attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.




Don’t miss Vatican Insider this weekend because Bishop Adam Parker, auxiliary of Baltimore, who is in Rome with U.S. bishops from Regions 4 and 5 of the USCCB for their long overdue ad limina visit, is mt guest this week. Normally these mandatory visits occur every five years but the last time U.S. bishops were here was late 2011 and 2012.

Bishop Parker will explain what the term “ad limina” means, how bishops prepare for their visit, what actually takes place when they are in Rome and what it is like to sit in the presence of the Pope for several hours for a no-holds-barred (Francis’ words) give and take of tough questions, comments, etc.

With Bishop Lori (in back) of Baltimore

IN THE UNITED STATES, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (stations listed at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio, or on OUTSIDE THE U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” VI airs at 5am and 9pm ET on Saturdays and 6am ET on Sundays. On the GB-IE feed (which is on SKY in the UK and Ireland), VI airs at 5:30am, 12 noon and 10pm CET on Sundays. Both of these feeds are also available on the EWTN app and on ALWAYS CHECK YOUR OWN TIME ZONE! For VI archives: (write Vatican Insider where it says Search Shows and Episodes)


The Preacher of the Papal Household, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, gave his first Advent reflection this morning in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Apostolic Palace. His sermon highlighted Mary in the Annunciation, “Blessed is She Who Believed.”

”Every year,” he began, “the liturgy leads us to Christmas with three guides: Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary, the prophet, the precursor, the mother. The first announced the Messiah from afar, the second showed him present in the world, the third bore him in her womb. This Advent I have thought to entrust ourselves entirely to the Mother of Jesus. No one, better than she can prepare us to celebrate the birth of our Redeemer.

“She didn’t celebrate Advent, she lived it in her flesh. Like every mother bearing a child she knows what it means be waiting for somebody and can help us in approaching Christmas with an expectant faith. We shall contemplate the Mother of God in the three moments in which Scripture presents her at the center of the events: the Annunciation, the Visitation and Christmas.”

To read the rest of Father Cantalamessa’s beautiful reflection, click here:


I was just about to post this column when I got a news alert that Harper Lee, the author of the beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning book “To Kill a Mockingbird,” has died at age 89, according to officials in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. I got the chills because a few years ago, through a mutual priest friend, I met a family from Alabama as they visited Rome, and invited them to my home. Their gift to me: an autographed copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Spread the word: Here again is the link to the entire press conference that Pope Francis held aboard the papal flight en route back to Rome after his 6-day trip to Mexico:


A technical problem in both my computer and my recorder caused the deletion of a number of programs (including backup), including the interview I had scheduled for this weekend with Cris Gangemi and her work with the Kairos Foundation and the Pontifical Council for Culture.

As a result, I am going to re-air an earlier conversation I had with Juliana Biondo, creator of the app “PATRUM” for the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican. A native of Baltimore, Juliana is a young, enthusiastic, dedicated member of the Patrons team with a great love for art and also for modern technology. A great conversation you don’t want to miss!

It is such fun to be around young people today! The ones I know – and now I add Juliana to that list! – are ultra-talented, intelligent, exuberant youths, far-sighted young people with a passion for life and all the newness it brings every day – and technology is certainly a part of that!  And you will see this when Juliana explains PATRUM and how the idea for this app came about and what she anticipates bringing to it on a daily basis.

As you know, in the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at or on Sirius-XM satellite radio. If you live outside the U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:30 am (Eastern time) and re-airs Sundays at 4:30 pm (ET). Check for your time zone. Past shows are found in Vatican Insider archives:


This morning in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel, in the rpesence of Pope Francis, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, offered the first Sermon for Lent 2016. (photo


Father Cantalamessa’s sermon continued his reflections on the Second Vatican Council, speaking on the theme, “The Second Vatican Council, 50 years later: A revisitation from a spiritual point of view.” After focusing during Advent on the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium (on the Church), Fr Cantalamessa turned his thoughts to the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.

The next Lenten sermons will take place on Friday, February 26 and on these Fridays in March 4, 11 and 18.


Last Friday, in this column, in anticipation of Pope Francis’ historic meeting with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill that afternoon in Cuba, I posted Part One of what I called a two-part look at Catholic-Orthodox relations as both sides struggle for full Christian unity. I hoped to answer some questions: How did that disunity come about?  On what points is there agreement? Disagreement?

I noted that oceans of ink have been used over the centuries to write about Catholic-Orthodox relations since the East-West (Constantinople-Rome) schism of 1054, and explained that, while it was not my intention to give a full, historical review, it was my hope to help you understand some of the issues involved in this split.

In Part One, I offered Pope Francis’ words during his trip to Istanbul in late November 2014, Pope Benedict’s words during his 2006 visit to Istanbul, and some background research I did for Benedict’s visit.

I said that Part Two would be dedicated to excerpts from a lengthy interview I had in 2006 in Istanbul (Phanar) with Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, spiritual leader of some 1.5 million Greek Orthodox Christians, and exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, stating that that interview would be posted Saturday, February 13.

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In the midst of some unexpected events in my life last Saturday, I forgot to post that and do so today, hoping to further your understanding of the historic East-West split and the differences that today separate Orthodox and Catholics.

To briefly recap some history: What has come to be known as the East-West Schism occurred in 1054 when Patriarch Michael Cerularius of Constantinople, leader of the Eastern Christian Churches, and Pope Leo IX, leader of the Western Church excommunicated each other in that year. The excommunications were only lifted in 1965 when Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, following an historic encounter in Jerusalem a year earlier, presided over simultaneous ceremonies that revoked the excommunication decrees. Differences between the two Churches had been growing for years on issues such as papal primacy, liturgical matters and conflicting claims of jurisdiction. The split occurred along doctrinal, theological, linguistic, political and geographic lines and the two Churches have been seeking unity ever since.

Here is the interview:

EWTN: Let’s talk about relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Patriarchate: For you, the Orthodox, what is the bottom line to effect unity?

DEMETRIOS: The main thing is a very important, indelible one thousand years of history. That’s there. You can’t eradicate history, you can’t change history. It is the memory that is very strong – 1,000 years. The early church, the synods, the ecumenical synods accepted by both churches, a beautiful kind of common tradition developing parallel between East and West. So this is the basic thing that is there. Then you have 1,000 years of separation. Separation itself is something very traumatic, very dramatic and it causes results that might last. And during the centuries, changes happen, changes in dogmatic issues, items of faith, some more important, some less, and the question of primacy of the pope. And there are sometimes practical issues, for example, the existence of the Uniate Churches, something that stopped dialogue for several years. Dialogue resumed in September in Belgrade, though I must say we never stopped talking in America. But dialogue did stop in Europe. Basically there is this Uniate issue. Remember, you cannot talk just theological generalities when there is an historical matter that is a thorn in the flesh of the Church So we have the common experience (of 1,000 years) on the one hand, the very clear good will, the quality of the leaders of the Church, especially in the persons of Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Benedict XVI, as his predecessor, John Paul II. You have people who are sensitive to human needs, they know how to handle different situations and they are well committed to advancing the cause of unity, in non-stop, constant reminders. So there is something there that we must do – and this is the strongest element helping us.

EWTN: What do the Orthodox perceive as the bottom line for Catholics to effect unity?

DEMETRIOS. If I have to be direct, there is an expectation of some steps that will show in practice, in action, the willingness. Let me give you an example. I was at a meeting in Rome in the Vatican, in 1982, I think, organized by the seven universities of Rome on the occasion of the 1,600 years, I think it was, of the second ecumenical council that established the dogma and articles on the Holy Spirit. Cardinal Ratzinger was there and Pope John Paul gave a lecture there. There were a number of prominent theologians and one of them, Father Yves Congar, said let’s be specific and really show how willing we are. In the liturgical books that will be printed from now on, next to the page that has the creed with the filioque, let’s have a page with the creed without the filioque and allow the priest to chose what he wants. Now that’s a step. There are other things but that is one specific thing

EWTN. Yesterday in his speech, Pope Benedict spoke of the petrine ministry. He noted that Our Lord chose Peter and Andrew as fishers of men and yet he gave each a specifically different task (See ADDENDUM below). Do you see a complementarity of ministries in those remarks?

DEMETRIOS: Absolutely. And if I may expand your phrase of complementarity and differentiation – which is an enriching, not a diminishing or dividing, factor. St. Paul was clear – we have a variety of charisms, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, in order to have the full program of the church in helping the edification of the church as a whole body. It would be boring, allow me to say, if all was the same. With differentiation you have this beauty of variety – imagine a world where everything was white or black – we need shades. So the distinction between the petrine (Peter) and the Andrean (Andrew) kind of ministry is a very nice sign of the variety and richness of the gifts of God.

EWTN: In Istanbul, the Pope said precisely that, “The issue of the universal service of Peter and his Successors has unfortunately given rise to our differences of opinion, which we hope to overcome.” He quoted Pope John Paul’s “invitation to enter into a fraternal dialogue aimed at identifying ways in which the petrine ministry might be exercised today, while respecting its nature and essence,” and said, “It is my desire today to recall and renew this invitation.” If the Pope today were to exercise the petrine ministry as he did during the first millennium, could this bring the Church closer to unity?

DEMETRIOS: That’s a very good way you put it. In essence, when we deal with the petrine ministry we are dealing with primacy, with a universal kind of authority. If we go backwards we can see this kind of thing developing to what it is today. That was not the case in the first centuries. Nor was it when Constantine transferred the capital from Rome to the new Rome, Constantinople. At that time you had the five patriarchates – Alexandria, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Rome – and Rome was clearly recognized as “presiding in love.” It was the Pope of Rome, the bishop of Rome who was primus inter pares, first among equals.

The more you go back, the more you find a level of common acceptance. There was no problem. The problems developed in the way there was an increase in the authority – or, to use a contemporary expression – at the expense of the others. Therefore, a study to have a proper understanding should go as far back as possible. The suggestion you mention will be very fruitful. I dare not interpret Pope Benedict XVI but knowing him as a scholar, because I am an academic person myself, I can see him as an academic saying, “let’s go back and check.” It is he who insists there is no real dialogue without real data. And the data regards not only this moment but going back in history.

EWTN: Having studied the history and relations between Orthodox and Catholics, it is my impression that the Orthodox want more collegiality.

DEMETRIOS: Absolutely. I don’t like simplified statements because they can often do injustice, but if we had to make a simplified statement you might say the central issue is collegiality versus the absolute authority of one person. This is reducing the whole thing in a very simple way.

EWTN: Before closing, may I ask your impression of the Muslim reaction to Pope Benedict, given the anger on their part and the fears for the Pope’s safety before he undertook this trip (because of his speech last September in Regensburg, Germany)?

DEMETRIOS: It is a complex issue here but the first impression is that the spiritual condition of the people vis-a-vis the Pope is not the same today as it was five days ago. The visit gave a different picture of someone who was not what the media projected. He is a gentle man who spoke clearly and with respect for Islam and Muslims. My first estimate: it was very positive in terms of changing things.




Join me on “Vatican Insider” this weekend for my conversation with Chantal Goetz, executive director of the Fidel Goetz Foundation and founder of the Voices of Faith, an event that took place in the Vatican on March 8, International Women’s Day. Voices of Faith brought together talented, inspiring Catholic women of faith – lay and religious –from around the world – as well as a Jesuit priest from Nigeria – to talk about their experiences in reaching out to the world’s poor and marginalized, to the un-schooled, to those living in countries where they are threatened by terror groups, to women especially who are victims of human trafficking in so many places in the world. (JFL photos)

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The Pontifical Academy of Sciences:


As you know, in the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at or on Sirius-XM satellite radio. If you live outside the U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:30 am (Eastern time) and re-airs Sundays at 4:30 pm (ET). Check for your time zone. Past shows are found in Vatican Insider archives:


This morning in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Vatican, Franciscan Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, delivered his fourth Lenten sermon, continuing his reflections entitled ‘East and West Before the Mystery of Salvation’. Sermons are held in this chapel on Fridays during Lent and Advent for the Holy Father and senior members of the Roman Curia. ( photo)


Click here for full text of Fr. Cantalamessa’s talk:


A statement released today by the Holy See Press Office, speaking of the Pope’s concern for the plight of Christian families in Iraq, notes that Francis is sending a curial cardinal to Iraq to express the Pope’s solidarity with these people. Cardinal Filoni, before becoming prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, had been named apostolic nuncio to Iraq and Jordan by Pope John Paul in 2001. He received episcopal ordination from John Paul shortly afterwards. He served in Iraq and Jordan until February 25, 2006.

The communique says, “Pope Francis has a constant concern for the situation of Christian families and other groups of victims who have been expelled from their homes and villages, particularly in the city of Mosul and the Nineveh plains, many of whom have taken refuge in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. The Pope prays for them and hopes they can return and resume their lives in the lands and places where they have lived and built good relationships for hundreds of years.

“In this coming Holy Week, these families are sharing together with Christ the unjust violence of which they have been made victims, participating in the suffering of Christ himself. In a desire to be close to these families, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, is returning to Iraq as a sign of nearness, affection, and unity in prayer with them.

“The families of the Diocese of Rome, united with their bishop in the feeling of nearness and solidarity with these families, through a special collection in the parishes, are sending the traditional Easter cakes in the shape of a dove (the celebrated “colomba”) to share the joy of Easter and as a herald of good based on the faith in the Resurrection of Christ.

“The Holy Father, moreover, makes himself present in a concrete way with a tangible sign of solidarity. Not wanting to forget the suffering of the families in northern Nigeria either, he has also sent a similar sign of solidarity through the local Bishops’ Conference.”


The Vatican Friday confirmed two events on Pope Francis’ agenda in coming months. On April 18, he will receive Italian President Sergio Mattarella for the first time in an official visit to the Vatican. President Mattarella was elected on February 3.

The Holy See Press Office also confirmed the pastoral visits that the Holy Father will make to the Italian cities of Prato and Florence on November 10 on the occasion of the 5th National Ecclesial Congress of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) that will be held from November 9 to 13 on the theme, “A New Humanism through Jesus Christ.