This is an important weekend in Rome. Pope Francis Friday welcomed U.S. Vice President Mike Pence to the Vatican. The vice president also met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, secretary of State. As I prepare this column, the Vatican has not yet issued a statement on that audience. Another event for Pope Francis: he will celebrate vespers tomorrow, Saturday, January 25, feast of St. Paul, in St. Paul’s Outside the Walls basilica as is traditional at the end of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that starts on January 18.

Below you will find Pope Francis’ Message for this year’s World Day of Social Communications. I know you will enjoy reading it and am sure that, on many points, you will be nodding your head in agreement or giving a thumbs up at certain observations he makes.

When asked what I do, I have often told people that I am a storyteller (he speaks of this throughout) and can relate to so many points he makes. I hope you enjoy the Message.


I am excited to tell you about my guest in the interview segment of Vatican Insider, a conversation you absolutely will not want to miss! And here’s why: As you know today, Friday, January 24 is the 47th March for Life in Washington DC and for the first time ever a sitting U.S. president, Donald Trump, addresses participants! He is a president who, in many ways, has done much to protect life, especially the unborn, and to protect religious freedom.

And my guest this weekend has done a great deal for the protection of the unborn – Abp. Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas who heads the USCCB’s ProLife committee. He tells us about his 3-hour visit last week, with other US bishops, with Pope Francis and the discussion they had on prolife issues and, in particular, what the Pope called “the pre-eminent issue” for the faithful, that is, protecting the unborn!

Photos taken last week during Mass at St. Paul’s Outside the Walls.

This is especially important on this weekend when we mark the March for Life! So tune in for sure!

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Pope Francis released his annual message for the World Day of Social Communication, a reflection on the Biblical text Exodus 10:2: “That you may tell your children and grandchildren.” This Message is traditionally published on the January 24 feast day of the patron saint of journalists, Francis de Sales.
“That you may tell your children and grandchildren” (Ex 10:2)

Life becomes history
I would like to devote this year’s Message to the theme of storytelling, because I believe that, so as not to lose our bearings, we need to make our own the truth contained in good stories. Stories that build up, not tear down; stories that help us rediscover our roots and the strength needed to move forward together. Amid the cacophony of voices and messages that surround us, we need a human story that can speak of ourselves and of the beauty all around us. A narrative that can regard our world and its happenings with a tender gaze. A narrative that can tell us that we are part of a living and interconnected tapestry. A narrative that can reveal the interweaving of the threads which connect us to one another.

1. Weaving stories
Human beings are storytellers. From childhood we hunger for stories just as we hunger for food. Stories influence our lives, whether in the form of fairy tales, novels, films, songs, news, even if we do not always realize it. Often we decide what is right or wrong based on characters and stories we have made our own. Stories leave their mark on us; they shape our convictions and our behaviour. They can help us understand and communicate who we are.

We are not just the only beings who need clothing to cover our vulnerability (cf. Gen 3: 21); we are also the only ones who need to be “clothed” with stories to protect our lives. We weave not only clothing, but also stories: indeed, the human capacity to “weave” (Latin texere) gives us not only the word textile but also text. The stories of different ages all have a common “loom”: the thread of their narrative involves “heroes”, including everyday heroes, who in following a dream confront difficult situations and combat evil, driven by a force that makes them courageous, the force of love. By immersing ourselves in stories, we can find reasons to heroically face the challenges of life.

Human beings are storytellers because we are engaged in a process of constant growth, discovering ourselves and becoming enriched in the tapestry of the days of our life. Yet since the very beginning, our story has been threatened: evil snakes its way through history.

2. Not all stories are good stories
“When you eat of it … you will be like God” (cf. Gen 3:4): the temptation of the serpent introduces into the fabric of history a knot difficult to undo. “If you possess, you will become, you will achieve…” This is the message whispered by those who even today use storytelling for purposes of exploitation. How many stories serve to lull us, convincing us that to be happy we continually need to gain, possess and consume. We may not even realize how greedy we have become for chatter and gossip, or how much violence and falsehood we are consuming. Often on communication platforms, instead of constructive stories which serve to strengthen social ties and the cultural fabric, we find destructive and provocative stories that wear down and break the fragile threads binding us together as a society. By patching together bits of unverified information, repeating banal and deceptively persuasive arguments, sending strident and hateful messages, we do not help to weave human history, but instead strip others of their dignity.

But whereas the stories employed for exploitation and power have a short lifespan, a good story can transcend the confines of space and time. Centuries later, it remains timely, for it nourishes life.

In an age when falsification is increasingly sophisticated, reaching exponential levels (as in deepfake), we need wisdom to be able to welcome and create beautiful, true and good stories. We need courage to reject false and evil stories. We need patience and discernment to rediscover stories that help us not to lose the thread amid today’s many troubles. We need stories that reveal who we truly are, also in the untold heroism of everyday life.




I had a long and wonderful conversation this morning with Cardinal Dominik Duka, the archbishop of Prague and, as soon as humanly possible, I’ll be listening to that tape and writing about that amazing interview.

I’ll only mention one thing I learned from the cardinal and am doing so because today is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Humanae vitae, On Human Life. I did learn there is a very good pro-life movement here. After Easter this year, for example, over 10,000 people in Prague alone marched from the St. Vitus cathedral in the Prague Castle complex downhill to Wenceslas Square (where I am staying) quite an undertaking as I’ve discovered. The cardinal told me that other dioceses in the country have their own pro-life celebrations and marches.

Cardinal Duka is standing before the throne where Popes John Paul and Benedict XVI sat during their visits to Prague:


What better way to celebrate today’s 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae than to visit ! This HV50 site has everything you to know about the document, the pro-life movement, how we can participate, Humanae vitae videos and resources, etc.

Celebrating 50 years of anything is a wonderful milestone, 50 years of life, 50 years at a job, 50 years of marriage. Fifty years for a still very controversial document, born in a controversial context, is a miracle.

As we all know, either from experience or because we’ve read about it, the cultural and sexual revolution underway in the United States and elsewhere in the 60s was defined by a spirit of rebellion against tradition and authority, and if life was too difficult, you could do drugs to take the edge off. Drugs, doing your own thing, and divorcing yourself from law and order became the new and socially accepted way to escape reality. Self-indulgence was a key ingredient of those years and when did self-indulgence ever produce wonderful results?!

As I mentioned the other night on At Home with Jim and Joy in a segment about Humanae vitae and the context in which it was born, I lived through those years and I’m reasonably sure I came through unscathed because of my great family, the values they instilled, my strong Catholic upbringing. In all honesty, I was simply turned off by what I saw as it was antithetical to what I had been taught.

Pope Paul VI’s bombshell encyclical of July 1968, Humanae vitae, upholding the traditional Catholic ban on artificial birth control was born in this context, along with a widespread fear about overpopulation following World War II. Society in the 60s began to openly promote and support abortion rights and especially sterilizations in an attempt to curb population growth.

In rebellion typical of the decade, the use of contraceptives skyrocketed, also among Catholics. Dissent was massive, especially with Paul VI’s warnings of the harm that widespread use of contraception would cause in society – lowering of moral standards, marital infidelity, less respect for women.

For over a year now, in writings and symposiums dedicated to this week’s 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, many have praised the prophetic message of the document, saying it still “stands as a profound and affirmative” defense of traditional values and family life, and was prophetic in its warnings of the breakdown of the family and the depersonalization of sexual acts such as we see today.

Those who disagree, the naysayers, would only have to look at society today to see the breakdown, the lowering of moral standards, the legalization of abortion and huge numbers of abortions performed every year, marital infidelity, less respect for women – and a lot more.

I wonder how many of you know of Pope John Paul’s contribution to the commission that drafted this encyclical. At the time, he was archbishop of Krakow, Poland and he strove then – as he did as a priest and bishop and would do later as Cardinal and Pope – to emphasize the Church’s teachings on life and marriage and the family by always putting the person at the center.

Always the Number One fan of Humanae vitae, as Pope John Paul, his magnificent writings on marriage and the family, especially Familiaris consortio and his theology of the body catecheses, were actually a rampart against dissenters, and eventually became the Church’s formal teaching on life, family and marriage.

A number of dissenters of the teachings of Paul VI and John Paul II are alive and well today and, it seems, attempting a re-reading of Humanae vitae and other teachings. We saw some of this at the two synods on the family in 2014 and 2015 when the papal teachings of the past were basically ignored in favor of what is being called a “paradigm shift” towards a pastoral approach, rather than a strictly doctrinal one. Witness Amoris laetitia and its suggestion in a footnote that communion for those Catholics who divorced and civilly remarried – but technically still adultery – might be possible.

In 2017 a four-member commission was established by the Vatican with the Pope’s approval, to study Humanae vitae. Never formally announced, the Vatican only confirmed its existence after an Italian website was able to verify the rumors with a Vatican document signed by the then deputy secretary of State.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life (an academy, by the way, founded by St. John Paul but totally restructured by Pope Francis), told Catholic News Agency that the initiative was aimed at “studying and deepening” the encyclical, it was not a “commission” whose purpose was to “reread or reinterpret” Humanae vitae. Paglia is known to want a “softer” approach to the teaching of Humanae Vitae.

I did not see anything from the Pope or Vatican today on this anniversary. …. Let’s see what is on the horizon.


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My special guest this week on “Vatican Insider” is Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Kurdistan, northern Iraq. We spoke in Rome during the synod of Chaldean bishops. We have known each other for a number of years, starting with my first visit to Iraq when I spent 8 days in Erbil and was a guest at the Chaldean seminary whose construction in Erbil was overseen by then Fr. Warda.  In fact, he had been a professor at the Chaldean seminary in Baghdad where the terrorism situation had become so dangerous that staff and seminarians were not even going to the seminary. Fr. Warda knew that the Chaldean Church had vocations so he said, “we can’t close the seminary – we have to build one elsewhere.”  And the rest is history.

This week, Abp. Warda talks about the dramatic refugee situation in Erbil and the plight of Christians in Iraq.


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: ttp://


Pope Francis Friday welcomed over 500 participants in the congress of the Movement for Life currently underway in Sacrofano, Italy, and encouraged them to “continue your important work in favor of life from conception to its natural end, also taking into account the conditions of suffering that many brothers and sisters have to face and at times endure.”

“We need to nurture,” he strssed, “a personal and social sensitivity towards both the welcoming of a new life and also those situations of poverty and exploitation that affect the weakest and most disadvantaged. On the one hand,” he asked, “’how can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo? On the other hand, ‘human life itself is a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement,” he said, quoting his encyclical Laudato si‘.

“For Christ’s disciples,” explained the Holy Father, “helping wounded human life meant going towards people in need, putting themselves by their sides, and taking on board their frailty and suffering so as to relieve them. How many families are vulnerable due to poverty, illness, unemployment and homelessness? How many elderly people suffer the burden of suffering and loneliness? How many young people are lost, threatened by addiction and other forms of slavery, waiting to rediscover trust in life? These people, wounded in body and spirit, are icons of that man of the Gospel who, travelling the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, ran into some brigands who robbed and beat him. He experienced first the indifference of some, and then the closeness of the good Samaritan.”

In our times, said Francis, “there are still many wounded people, caused by today’s brigands, who despoil them not only of their belongings but also of their dignity. Faced with the suffering and need of our defenseless brothers, some turn away or move on, whereas others stop and respond with generous dedication to their cry for help. You, members of the Movement for Life, have sought to imitate the good Samaritan during the forty years of your activity.”

The Pope urged the members to continue “to protect the most vulnerable people, who have the right to be born into life, as well as those who ask for a healthier and more dignified existence.”


The Dutch newspaper “Straatnieuws” (Streetnews) today published an interview granted by Pope Francis to one of their own on October 27. Straatnieuws is published by the homeless of the city of Utrecht and is sold directly by them, thus providing them with some small income. The article also appeared in the 112 other daily papers associated with the International Network of Street Papers (INSP).

The Pope is questioned on many topics, both personal and Church-related. He is asked about his childhood (turns out he actually wanted to be a butcher when he grew up – or so he told his mother and grandmother at age 4!), his life as Pope, his great concern for the poor (“I would like a world without the poor”) and the wealth of the Church.

The interview began with the Pope’s memories of his childhood home in Buenos Aires, “the street in which he grew up.” He recalled playing soccer as a child, and spoke about how everything in his neighbourhood was within walking distance. He said it was his memories of neighbours in Buenos Aires that were the source of his personal commitment to the poor.

The Vatican Information Service has provided extensive translated extracts from the interview, especially on the theme of poverty.

Interviewer: What is the Church’s message for the homeless? What does Christian solidarity mean for them in practice?

Pope Francis: “Two things come to mind. Jesus came to the world homeless, and made Himself poor. Then, the Church wishes to embrace all and to say that it is a right to have a roof over your head. In popular movements they work according to the three Spanish ‘t’s: trabajo (work), techo (casa) and tierra (earth). The Church teaches that every person has a right to all three”.

Interviewer: You often ask for attention to the poor and refugees. Do you not fear that in this way a sort of weariness in relation to this theme may be generated in the mass media or in society in general?

Pope Francis: “When we return to a theme that is not pleasant, because it is disagreeable to talk about it, we are all tempted to say. ‘That’s enough, I am tired of this’. I feel that this weariness exists, but I am not afraid of it. I must continue to speak the truth and say how these things are”.

Interviewer: Are you not afraid that your defence of solidarity and assistance for the homeless and other poor people may be exploited politically? How should the Church speak in order to be influential and at the same time remain external to political affiliations?

Pope Francis: “There are roads that lead to errors in this regard. I would like to underline two temptations. The Church must speak truthfully and also by her witness: the witness of poverty. If a believer speaks about poverty or the homeless and lives like a pharaoh, this is not good. This is the first temptation.

“The second temptation is to make agreements with governments. Agreements can be made but they must be clear and transparent. For example, we manage this building, but the accounts are all audited, in order to avoid corruption, as there is always the temptation to corruption in public life, both political and religious. … Once I asked a question to a minister in Argentina, an honest man – one who left his post because he could not reconcile himself with various obscure aspects. I asked him: when you give assistance in the form of meals, clothing or money to the poor and needy, what percentage of what you send arrives? And he answered, 35 per cent. That means that 65 per cent is lost. It is corruption: a cut for me, another cut for you”.

Interviewer: Your namesake St. Francis chose radical poverty and even sold his evangeliarium. As the Pope, and bishop of Rome, do you ever feel under pressure to sell the Church’s treasures?

Pope Francis: “This is an easy question. They are not the treasures of the Church, they are treasures of humanity. For example, if tomorrow I decide to put Michelangelo’s Pieta up for auction, I cannot do this, since it is not the property of the Church. It is kept in a church but it belongs to humanity. This is true of all the treasures of the Church. But we have started to sell gifts and other things that are given to me, and the proceeds from sales go to Msgr. (Konrad) Krajewski, who is my almoner. Then there is the lottery. There were cars that have all been sold or given away with a lottery and the proceeds are used for the poor. There are things that can be sold, and we sell these”.

Interviewer: Are you aware that the wealth of the Church can give rise to this type of expectation?

Pope Francis: “Yes, if we make a catalogue of the assets of the Church, it seems that the Church is very rich. But when the Concordat was made with Italy in 1929 on the Roman Question, the Italian government at the time offered to the Church a large park in Rome. And the then Pope Pius XI said no, I would like just half a square kilometre to guarantee the Church’s independence. This principle still stands.

“Yes, the real estate of the Church is considerable, but we use it to maintain the structures of the Church and to maintain many works that are carried out in countries in need: hospitals and schools. Yesterday, for example, I asked for 50,000 euros to be sent to Congo to build three schools in poor villages, as education is important for children. They went to the competent administration, I made the request, and the money was sent”.

Interviewer: Holy Father, is it possible to imagine a world without the poor?

Pope Francis: “I would like a world without the poor. We must fight for this. But I am a believer and I know that sin is always within us. And there is always human greed, the lack of solidarity, the selfishness that creates poverty. Therefore, it would seem difficult to me to imagine a world without the poor. If you think about children exploited for slave labour, or sexually abused children. And another form of exploitation: children killed for the trafficking of organs. Killing children to remove their organs is greed. Therefore, I do not know if we will be able to make a world without poverty, because sin is always there and leads to selfishness. But we must always fight, always …”.


Following 17 months of work the newly unveiled Trevi Fountain is, according to all who attended the unveiling, “a sight to behold,” “beyond description in its brilliance and beauty.” The scaffolding is down, the workers are gone and Trevi Fountain once again belongs to Romans and visitors, to the world. (photo from Buzz in Rome online)


Italian Fashion icon Fendi footed the $2.5 million bill for the celebrated fountain. Legend says that when you throw a coin in Trevi Fountain – with your back to the fountain and right hand throws the coin over your left shoulder – this guarantees your return to the Eternal City. A second legend from the movie, “Three Coins in a Fountain” says the first coin guarantees your return to Rome, the second will bring new romance, and the third will lead to marriage. (photo from Buzz in Rome online)

Another Rome monument – the most famous of all, the Colosseum – is being renovated and Diego della Valle of Tod’s shoes and luxury bags is footing the entire bill – the colossal amount of €25 million. Renovation is expected to last three years.


(Re: tossing a coin in the fountain. Years ago, just before leaving Rome after a vacation, I went to throw my coin in the fountain and, for some strange reason, the only coin I had was an America nickel. I threw it in and, believe it or not, a good Italian friend came to the U.S. for a visit. Reverse procedure!)


Just a heads up to let you know that these pages might be Joan’s Rome-lite this week!  The agenda for coming days includes a number of press conferences and Vatican events hosted by several pontifical councils as well as by Caritas Internationalis as it meets in general assembly this week, starting with the opening Mass late tomorrow afternoon in St. Peter’s Basilica with Pope Francis.

I have a number of friends who are in town or about to arrive for these events. I’ve been invited to the papal Mass tomorrow and to other sessions of the Caritas general assembly  during which time I hope to interview some people for Vatican Insider. Some events are near or inside Vatican City while others are up the road a bit, as they say.

There was a lot of news over the weekend and today as well. Pope Francis had a number of meetings on his agenda but for now I want to focus on his historic meeting Sunday with Raul Castro, president of Cuba and brother of the ageing Fidel Castro. Pope Francis will travel to Cuba in September before he visits the U.S. where he will address the United Nations in New York, the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C. and preside at the World meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

I’ll also bring you some of Francis’ greetings at Sunday’s Regina Coeli. By the way, I did post several other meaningful news stories on Facebook.

In a different vein: Don’t let anyone tell you computers don’t have a mind of their own!  I have no idea why (an expression I often use vis-a-vis computers) but I can only write in WORD today if I have closed my email accounts.


Sunday’s meeting between Pope Francis and President Raul Castro of Cuba was historic in quite a number of ways. Historic for the Pope as he rarely, if ever, receives people in audience on a Sunday. Historic in the time Francis dedicated to Castro – almost one hour (and almost unheard of). And even, as the press office statement said, “meaningful in the gifts exchanged.”

The president’s small motorcade arrived at the back entrance to the Paul VI Hall known as the “fungo,” or mushroom, where a central pillar supports a rounded roof area. This is just meters away from the Santa Marta residence where the Holy Father lives. Pope Francis asked that a small contingent of Swiss Guards be present, as it normally would be in the San Damaso courtyard where most heads of State are received when the Pope welcomes them to the Apostolic Palace. (photos:


The Holy See Press Office director, Fr. Federico Lombardi, gave some specifics about the meeting:

“This morning the Holy Father received in private audience the president of the Republic of Cuba, Raul Castro Ruz. The meeting took place in the Pope’s study adjacent to Paul VI Hall.

“Upon arrival, at 9.30 a.m., the president was received by the prefect of the Papal Household, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, accompanied by his substitute, Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu and the secretary for Relations with States, Bishop Paul Richard Gallagher. A personal meeting with the Pope then took place in the study, which lasted more than 50 minutes and was very cordial.


“The president, as he declared before leaving the Vatican, thanked the Holy Father for his active role in improving relations between Cuba and the United States. He also expressed the sentiments of the Cuban people as they await and prepare for his upcoming visit to the island in September.

“The Pope and the president then proceeded to the adjacent room for the presentation of the delegation accompanying Raul Castro, composed of around a dozen figures including the deputy prime minister, the minister for foreign affairs and the ambassador to the Holy See.

“The exchange of gifts was very meaningful. The president offered the Pope a valuable commemorative medal of the Cathedral of Havana and a contemporary painting, depicting a large cross made up of wrecked boats, with a migrant in prayer in the foreground. The artist, the Cuban Kcho, was present and explained to the Pope that it was inspired by his great efforts to raise awareness in the world of the problems faced by migrants and refugees, beginning with his famous trip to Lampedusa.

“The Pope gave the president a copy of his Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” and a large medallion depicting St. Martin covering the poor man with his cape. The Holy Father observed that he was particularly keen to give this gift, as it recalled the commitment not only to protecting the poor but also to promoting dignity.

President Raul Castro and his delegation left the Vatican shortly after 10.30 a.m.”

Castro, 83, had asked the Vatican if he could meet with the Pope on Sunday on his way back to Cuba from Moscow. He told the Vatican he wanted to personally thank the Pope for mediating between Cuba and the U.S., a mediation that led to a thaw in the “cold war” between the two over the past 50 years and the resumption of diplomatic ties.

Castro later met with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and, after that meeting, told reporters at a televised press conferenvce, he was “really impressed by (Pope Francis’) wisdom and his modesty.” The Cuban president also said:  e also told reporters“I promise to go to all his Masses, and with satisfaction. “I read all the speeches of the pope, his commentaries, and if the pope continues this way, I will go back to praying and go back to the church. I’m not joking.”

Both of the Castro brothers were baptized as Catholics and educated by Jesuits before the 1959 revolution. Francis’ predecessors, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, both visited Cuba where they met the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul.


Following his reflections on Sunday’s Gospel and the recitation of the Marian prayer in the presence of a jam-packed St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis had greetings for mothers, noting that, “today, many countries celebrate Mother’s Day.” He put aside his prepared remarks and, looking down on the vast crowd with a broad smile, asked, “Are there any mothers here?” The crowd’s reaction was immediate, they too smiled and said “yes” in many languages.


The Holy Father asked for a show of hands of the mothers present, and it looked like the wave was being done in St. Peter’s Square!  He then asked for applause for all mothers present in the square: “That applause embraces all mothers, all our dear mothers: those who live with us physically, but also those who live with us spiritually. May the Lord bless them all, and may the Mother of God, to whom this month is dedicated, watch over them all.”

(Vatican Radio) Also Sunday, during his Regina Coeli address, Pope Francis greeted participants in Italy’s fifth annual March for Life. “I greet all those participating in the initiative for life taking place this morning in Rome,” the Pope said. “It is important to work together to defend and promote life.”

Several thousand people from all parts of Italy and from around the world took part in the March through the heart of Rome’s historic centre. Among those taking part in the March was Cardinal Raymond Burke, the patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

Speaking with Vatican Radio, Cardinal Burke said, “St. John Paul II urged us, in his wonderful encyclical letter on the Gospel of Life, to make public manifestations to demonstrate the incomparable beauty, the inviolability of innocent, defenceless human life.” He said the March is “very important in Italy as a sign of the Italian peoples dedication to the apostolate for the restoration of the respect for all human life, from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.”

Cardinal Burke also mentioned the international aspect of the March for Life. “It’s wonderful to see the international participation” in the March, he said. “So many come from various countries because they want to join the Italian people in their testimony to the dignity of human life, created in God’s own image and redeemed by our Lord Jesus Christ.”