On the light side: Quarantine can bring many unwanted and/or unpleasant surprises, one of which may be for some people novinophobia. This is, of course, the fear of running out of wine or having no wine. (Yes, I know it’s Lent but….)


This weekend on Vatican Insider, I tell my story of dealing with the coronavirus, even though I am only one of millions in beautiful Italy to be quarantined. We have just started week two of mandatory quarantine. How are we doing? What can we do and what can we not do? What are the rules and regulations for daily survival? What are some of the great stories and happy moment to emerge from a nationwide lockdown? What have I learned after a week of being homebound?

This, of course, is a BIG part of our lives –

Tune in for some amazing facts and astonishing stories!

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The Vatican continues to offer shower facilities, sleeping quarters, and food assistance to the poor and homeless who often sleep rough around St. Peter’s Square.
By Devin Watkins (vaticannews)

“Don’t ignore the poor Lazarus who knocks at your door.”

Cardinal Konrad Krajewski launched this appeal to those who encounter a homeless person.

The Almoner of the Office of Papal Charities said the Vatican continues to heed the cry of the poor despite the coronavirus outbreak.

“Though we maintain a safe physical distance, put on gloves, and avoid assemblies, we can still help those who are right beside us,” he said.

Critical moment of need
Cardinal Krajewski said this is a critical moment to help the poor.

In more normal times, homeless people can use the restrooms of cafes and restaurants, but now most are closed. “So we need to keep our shower facilities and restrooms open.”

The same goes for food assistance, he said. With restaurants closed, a charitable person is unable to offer someone a croissant or a cappuccino so they need somewhere to find food.

Helping those near the Vatican
The Papal Almoner said his office is continuing to offer the same services as before.

“Our volunteers keep the same schedules, we are still distributing food at Rome’s train stations, and the shower facilities under the Colonnade around St. Peter’s Square are open. We even give out sandwiches and water there.”

Cardinal Krajewski said the Missionaries of Charity at the Gift of Mary House are handing out around 120 sack dinners every evening.

He added that the newly-opened “Palace for the Poor” still offers a warm bed and breakfast for those who come calling.

Knock fearlessly on church doors
The Cardinal had one more word of advice for the poor in Rome and throughout the world who find themselves in need and without a place to go in these difficult times of social isolation.

“I invite the poor to knock fearlessly on the door of parishes and churches,” Cardinal Krajewski said, “because the Christian spirit teaches us that we must open to those who knock.”


Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone! I’ve always loved how we celebrate this day in the U.S. where everyone is Irish for at least a day – with the wearin’ of the green, drinking green beer, eating green mashed potatoes, singing the song of Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish football team – whatever it took to feel the Gaelic spirit on the 17th! And that included dyeing the Chicago River green this one day a year. I hope Chicago does it this year because we need green, the color of hope.

I am sorry for the people or Ireland where, because of Covid, pubs had to close a day before St. Patrick’s feast day! No more cryin’ in your beer, I guess!

In any case, folks, celebrate! Celebrate life and family and friends and faith! Celebrate wonderful past memories and make new, even more wonderful, memories! Celebrate love and caring and living and laughing and sharing – even if we have to do that at safer distances now!

Internet and social media, thank the Lord, have made caring and sharing so much easier! With the coronavirus and quarantine and the many restrictions imposed on us, we still reach across the miles with Twitter and Facebook and emails. Miles are crossed in an instant and those messages across miles create countless smiles and much joy!

I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your messages in these days! My email Inbox is never empty. Facebook messages, public and private, pour in non-stop! I will be eternally grateful for this caring and sharing, for putting a smile on my face in the morning and keeping it there all day!

On this special day (I am a quarter Irish – Galway and County Mayo), I say: “go raibh maith agat!” Gaelic for “Thank you!”


In my column yesterday, I wrote about life under quarantine in a somewhat general sense of what we are all asked or mandated to do in Italy where coronavirus has struck so viciously. At the end of that column, I told everyone to tune in today to discover how I’m personally doing under quarantine, how I accept limitations, what I have learned about myself and the land I live in. Tomorrow I will give you a look at some of the stories you may not have heard from Italy.

I am a people person as everyone who has ever met me knows! I live alone and have for many years – and that has helped a bit in the current situation – but my life, each day, is filled with people and activity. There is work and interviewing people and taping TV shows and seeing my EWTN and journalist colleagues at the Vatican press office.

As you could well imagine, I attend luncheons and dine ever so frequently with local friends and out-of-town visitors. There are all kinds of receptions and press conferences and symposiums and international events. Life is filled with people. At times I yearned for a quiet evening at home.

And now I have those evenings!

And mornings and afternoons!

But, as the saying goes, when life gives you a lemon, you make limoncello!

I love my home and cherish every minute in this beautiful place – even if imposed. I have a thousand things I can do and write and clean and organize. My dining table is always set for four people and I change the settings often. Right now it is beautifully set for 6 people (my last dinner party was 6) and I can’t wait to start planning a menu and go shopping again for a new party!

I have an enviable library of fiction and non-fiction and books written and signed by friends and travel books and a plethora of volumes about Popes and the Vatican and the Church and Saints. Right now, I can’t say I have no time for reading!

The frosting on the cake is that I look at St. Peter’s Dome from my living room and dining room!

As you may have sensed, I am an optimist, a Pollyanna if you will, an innately happy person. I can make of life what the cards have dealt me – and even make limoncello! In fact, I just might have to include lemons when I finally go to the grocery store!

Thus, I am dealing with things. I have to say that I am most affected by the silence of city life now – few cars, fewer busses, the rare motorbike or police siren, the lack of people walking and talking on the streets. After all, a city with the noise of traffic and horns and sirens and even people who shout at each other is a city alive!

To defeat that all-enveloping silence, I have music and that is both uplifting and consoling. I’m listening to magnificent Andre Rieu as I write. I’ve found some interesting channels on Italian TV but do miss my satellite connections with US channels, especially news.

And we often have music here at 6 pm when people gather at the windows of their homes and on their balconies, terraces and even the rooftops of their buildings to sing, shout out greetings, play an instrument or dance a bit to music from their cell phone.

Italians are very gregarious, generous, fun-loving, family-loving people who cherish any moment to be together so they’ve made the best of the life-altering situation created by the coronavirus. And, if anything has been contagious, their love for life and their songfests have been!

I think every living soul has discovered in the current crisis what they probably knew before but never verbalized: we are all people persons. We need each other, we need families, we need all generations, the newborn and the grandparents, we need to know that people care, that, put together, we are community.

Perhaps, as never before, we need to feel and see that solidarity, that sense of community, even a strong sense of faith. Our faith in practice has been put to the test but, boy, has it come alive in these days as people seek to find a church open for personal prayer, an online Mass (and there are many of these, Deo gratias!), or perhaps an online rosary recited by a priest or bishop or family member.

We cannot have the Eucharist or go to confession but, if all our prayers and novenas and rosaries make even a small dent in the Lord’s heart, we will soon be back together with our faith communities.

Two important moments in my days here (and I probably should have started with this!) are when I go online for daily Mass with Fr. Greg Apparcel, rector of the American faith community of St. Patrick’s, and when I participate in the noon Angelus, rosary and litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary recited by Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, and several faithful at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s. That is also streamed by Vatican media.

What do we have if not faith!

Faith in God above all, faith in mankind, faith that science will come up with a vaccine or cure for this devastating virus, faith that families who were not close will come together, faith that close families will inspire others, faith that communities will come out of this crisis stronger than ever, with an ever greater sense of moral courage, of solidarity, of caring and sharing.

Thanks for sharing your time with me now!

God bless you! God bless me! God bless all of us!

May God sit on your shoulder today!

PS – Am just about to hit PUBLISH and, incredibly enough, Andre Rieu’s orchestra is playing “Happy Days are Here Again!”



Just one week ago I was packing my suitcase for what I hoped would be a very fruitful but brief stay in the U.S. I knew it would be a happy one because I’d be in NY and have a ton of friends there but also because my main thrust was being with friends at the Holy See Mission to the United Nations, starting with Archbishop Gabriel Caccia, nuncio and permanent observer to the U.N.

I wrote three columns from NY after my March 10 arrival – one on March 10 and a second on the 11th – so you’d know of my comings and goings, of Vatican news, etc.

On the 12th I wrote a third and very brief entry on my Twitter and Facebook: “Thanks to the confluence of 3 Facebook friends, today I am on last United flight to Rome, arriving tomorrow am. Fiumicino airport to close Monday! More tomorrow!”

When I awoke Wednesday the 11th, I learned that Italy was in what everyone was calling a “lockdown.” I had a full day planned and went through with those plans and also wrote a blog but I kept my eye on all things Italian as emails and tweets and FB messages and news reports began deluging inboxes.

Upon rising on Thursday the 12th, I did something I never do first thing in the morning. I looked at my cell phone and saw messages, include from each of the three people who formed that “confluence of friends.”

For days, I had been messaging Kathy, one of the three, a very good friend in Chicago and newly retired United employee, for updates on United flights (would they or would they not be flying to and from Italy, etc.), especially as she had a good friend in the Newark airport, Gloria. And Gloria’s sister Mary was a good Facebook friend as well!

Kathy had contacted Gloria and given her my flight reservation number. Gloria discovered that the last United flight to Italy from Newark was March 12th. My original return reservation was the 15th but Gloria had the wonderful good sense to put me on the Thursday flight! Her message – and one from Mary – was basically that Gloria awaited my confirmation.

I phoned her so fast to say, “yes, book me!” that the lines had to be burning! Before you know it, I was packing, ran one last errand, contacted my NY friends and then went to the Holy See Mission for lunch. A driver took me to Newark Airport where I finally met Gloria!

I received VIP treatment, checked in and decided to upgrade to Polaris Business class with FF miles and a few dollars! I enjoyed the Polaris lounge and then a wonderful flight back to Rome where one of the attendants, Giselle, had also been on my Tuesday flight to Newark! You knew things were different in the world when the captain, Jeff, came out and had a lovely conversation with each of us (8) in Polaris! Total passengers, including economy, 40!

I saw the captain and crew as we waited for our luggage in Rome. Smiling faces – smiles that were genuine but also had to be forced a bit.

After all, though we hope the situation is only temporary, we all had just been on the last flight out!


As noted, I arrived in Italy on Friday, March 13 from the US on United airline’s last flight to Rome for about a month! The extraordinary – many say extreme – anti-coronavirus measures here have turned Rome, major cities and small towns – all of Italy, in fact! – into ghost cities.

It is eerie beyond telling to see every store, restaurant, café and coffee bar shuttered up. It was eerie for me Friday morning to stand at my living room window for several minutes, looking out on one of the busiest streets in Rome, 3 blocks from St Peter’s Square, and see not one living human being in that time. As I write in my office in the back of my apartment, the silence is unbelievable, surreal!

This is what strikes me most every day – the silence. The absence of car horns and the noise of motorbikes, the near absence (this is phenomenal and wonderful at the same time) of ambulance and police car sirens, the strange void of daily chatter of the people who shop and eat and work in the neighorhood or are just passing by on their way to the Vatican. I can always hear voices, though muted, whether I am in my living room that overlooks Via di Porta Cavalleggeri or in my office at the back of the house that overlooks a small street that is basically for parking, not through traffic.

If you do see someone on the street these days, they better have a good reason to be out according to the Interior Ministry. In fact, I just downloaded a form from the ministry that we must carry with us at all times if we move from our residence. I was alerted to this by a very talkative taxi driver (wearing a mask and using gloves) who accompanied me home from the airport. He was filled with information and I was so appreciative!
If I want to go to the grocery store or the pharmacy, I may do so but 1. it must be in my neighborhood (I cannot go to the center of Rome), and 2. I must have this form filled out with my name, where I was born, where I live (complete street address) and where I am going (complete address). I must also carry personal ID. You are basically not allowed to deviate, that is, if say you are going from your home to the grocery store, that’s it – no additions. No frivolous visits to Rome parks, for example.

On this ministerial form I must say that my trip (in case you must go somewhere by car or bus or even train), or my movement within the neighborhood are determined by one of the four reasons the form gives:
1. a proven work-related need,
2. a situation of necessity (food, medicine and, I believe, the bank),
3. health reasons (a doctor’s visit),
4. you are returning to your own home or habitation (if, for example, you were in Rome when the government issued its decree and you had to return home to Florence).

As of now the businesses that may open include markets (though not outdoor markets, I am told), pharmacies, mini-markets, newsstands, banks and ATMs (clean the surface or wear gloves!), and tobacco stores. The latter actually service a lot of needs. In addition to selling cigarettes, lottery tickets, candy and gum, souvenirs and a host of small items, you can buy bus tickets, have your monthly bus pass updated, purchase phone cards or add money to your phone if you have a pay as you go as I do.

Thank the Lord the tobacco store adjacent to the entrance to our building was open as I had to refill my cell phone by March 14 or it would have turned off. I had tried to do the automatic refill online but the phone company’s site was down! And this just hours after I got home! My phone refills occur the 14th of every month. The tobacco shop owner Vittorio allowed only one person in at a time (we have to keep the government-mandated distance of three feet or one meter) and he too was wearing a mask and gloves.

I am happy to have the phone but not at all happy that my satellite is out! Friday was a very quiet day as I unpacked and worked on ”Vatican Insider” and wrote a blog. I so wanted to turn the TV on and have news but limited myself to searching online.

My only time out so far has been Saturday morning when I refilled my phone and then went 50 feet to a mini-market for some purchases. The fellow there had gloves but no mask. My contact with people has been totally limited since Friday, when I exited the taxi, to those 6 or 7 minutes on Saturday.

I may need groceries toward the weekend. Our doorman Carlo, through his mask, told me that market hours were the usual ones but that they allow people in one at a time and clients must always keep a meter distance from the person in front of them. Waiting in line also requires the one-meter distance between people. I will wear gloves and will have a mask in my purse.

I asked Carlo about the satellite as this is centralized in our building. He said it was down and the Vatican had sent someone to fix it. It is now 7 pm Monday and I still have no satellite. Frankly, that is a bit difficult for me!

I did discover Saturday morning that I could change the source on my TV remote from satellite to TV and thus I have access to Italian television and Italy’s equivalent of FoxNews, etc. I also discovered to my great surprise that I could watch one of my favorite channels – HGTV – even though it is in Italian. Has been fun!

How am I doing? How is quarantine affecting me? Is there growth, change, introspection? Are there challenges and new perspectives in quarantine?

Come back tomorrow! I’ve taken enough of your precious time today.

God sit on your shoulder! And mine!