I am so happy to hear the news about the John Paul I Vatican Foundation. I was in Rome when he was elected and for the Mass starting his far too brief pontificate. I was in Cairo, Egypt when he died and for the election of his successor, John Paul II.   I’ve previously told that story on these pages – days and week that were unforgettable in a thousand ways!

If you want to read something totally delightful, get Albino Luciani’s “Illustrissimi,” a collection of 40 letters written over several years to people, historic and fictional, including Pinocchio, Jesus Christ, Charles Dickens, Maria Theresa of Austria, Mark Twain, G.K. Chesteron and King David

Cardinal Pietro Parolin has written a piece about John Paul I and I include that in today’s news. I especially imagine it will be relevant for those of you who may not have known John Paul I, his character and personality and his pontificate.

By the way, at his morning Mass today, Pope Francis prayed that people will prudently adhere to measures put in place for the easing of the quarantine so that the Covid-19 pandemic does not return.

I write about Italy’s Phase Two plan in a separate post.


Statement by Holy See Press Office Director, Matteo Bruni: In recent days, another employee was found to be positive with Covid-19. The person had presented symptoms in March and remained in solitary confinement, continuing to work remotely. Having no symptoms, the employee is now in quarantine and the necessary health measures for the workplace have been taken as a precaution and checks have been carried out among colleagues, with negative results.


The Vatican today published a rescript by Pope Francis, made following a February 10 audience with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, that established the institution of the John Paul I Vatican Foundation. It will have a juridic personality in both civil and canon law and an office within the Secretariat of State. The Foundation was officially established on February 17.

Born Albino Luciani in northern Italy, John Paul I was the archbishop of Venice when elected to the papacy on August 26, 1978, following the death of his predecessor, Pope Paul VI. Known as the “smiling pope,” Luciani was the first Pope in history to have a double name, selecting the names of his two predecessors John XXIII and Paul VI. He died on September 28 after a pontificate of only 33 days.

During his pontificate he was known as Pope John Paul. He became John Paul I when a second John Paul was elected on October 16, 1978.

According to a Holy See communiqué, “The purpose of the Foundation is to enhance and spread the knowledge of the thought, works and example of Pope John Paul I.” It will “protect and preserve the cultural and religious heritage left by Pope John Paul I; promote initiatives such as conferences, meetings, seminars, and study sessions; establish awards and scholarships; take care of the publishing activity by publishing both the results of its own studies and research, and works by third parties; propose itself as a reference point, in Italy and abroad, for those operating in the same area and with the same purposes (Articles of Association, art. 2).” Cardinal Parolin was named president of the John Paul I Vatican Foundation. Members include Dr. Lina Petri, a retired Holy See Press Office employee and niece of John Paul I.


Pope Francis establishes a John Paul I Vatican Foundation presided over by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State.

By Cardinal Pietro Parolin

The Holy Father established the Vatican John Paul I Foundation on 17 February. This was done in response to the proposal made to create a body destined to deepen the person, thoughts and teachings of John Paul I (26 August 1978 – 28 September 1978) .

Pope John Paul I was, and remains, a point of reference in the history of the universal Church. His importance, as Saint John Paul II had pointed out, is inversely proportional to the length of his very short pontificate: “magis ostentus quam datus.

The story of Albino Luciani is one of a pastor who is close to his people, centered on the essentials of faith and with an extraordinary social sensitivity. His magisterium is contemporary: proximity, humility, simplicity, insistence on God’s mercy, love of one’s neighbour and solidarity are the salient features.

He was a bishop who lived and applied the experience of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. In his brief pontificate, he led the Church along the magisterial paths indicated by this Council: going back to the sources of the Gospel and a renewed missionary spirit, episcopal collegiality, service in ecclesial poverty, the search for Christian unity, interreligious dialogue, dialogue with the modern world and international dialogue, all conducted with perseverance and determination, in favour of justice and peace.

I think, for example, of his general audiences and his persistence on ecclesial poverty, universal brotherhood and active love for the poor. Along with the traditional precepts of the Church, he wanted to include a precept on works of solidarity, which he had proposed to the Italian bishops.

I am thinking also of the appeal he made during his Angelus of 10 September 1978 in which he asked for peace in the Middle East and addressed his prayer invitation to Presidents of different faiths. He had already made this appeal in his speech to the Diplomatic Corps on 31 August, during which he freed himself from presumptions of geopolitical protagonism and defined the nature and peculiarity of the diplomatic action of the Holy See from a viewpoint of faith.

Receiving then the more than one hundred representatives of the international missions present at the inauguration of his pontificate, he stressed how “our heart is open to all peoples, all cultures and all races.” He then affirmed: “We certainly do not have miraculous solutions to the world’s great problems, but we can nevertheless give something very precious: a spirit that helps to solve these problems and places them in the essential dimension, that of openness to the values of universal charity… so that the Church, humble messenger of the Gospel to all the peoples of the earth, can contribute to creating a climate of justice, brotherhood, solidarity and hope without which the world cannot live”.

And so, following in the footsteps of the Council’s Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, and in so many messages of Saint Paul VI, he acted in the wake of the great diplomacy that has given so many fruits to the Church, by nourishing Her with charity.

This history of the Church, dedicated to serving the world, was not interrupted with his sudden death. The perspective marked by his brief pontificate was not a side note. Although John Paul I’s governance of the Church could not unfold in time, he helped – explevit tempora multa – to strengthen the design of a Church that is close to the pain of the people and their thirst for charity.

Through John Paul I’s cause for canonisation, numerous sources have been accumulated today, beginning an important work of research and elaboration from a historical and historiographical perspective. It is now possible, therefore, to bequeath the memory of Pope Luciani, so that its historical value can be fully restored within the historical period. It can now be examined with the analytical rigor that is due to him and may open up new perspectives of study on his work.

In this regard, the establishment of a new ad hoc Foundation can rightfully fulfil the task not only of protecting the entire patrimony of the writings and works of John Paul I, but also of encouraging the systematic study and diffusion of his thought and spirituality – all the more motivated by the consideration of how his person and his message are extraordinarily relevant.



A communiqué from the Holy See Press Office this afternoon, Feb 18:

“This morning, as part of a search ordered by the Promotor of Justice, Gian Piero Milano, and Deputy Alessandro Diddi, a seizure of documents and computer equipment was carried out at both the office and home of Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, former head of Administrative Office of the First Section of the Secretariat of State. The measure, taken as part of the investigation into financial investments and in the real estate sector of the Secretariat of State, and respecting the principle of the presumption of innocence, is to be connected to what emerged from the first interrogations of the officials (who were) investigated and suspended from service at the time. The Promoter’s Office and the Gendarmerie Corps continue administrative and accounting investigations and cooperative activities with foreign investigative authorities.”

(JFL: On July 26, 2019, Pope Francis appointed as substitute Promotor of Justice at the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, previously employed in the General Affairs Section of the Secretariat of State.

Perlasca’s biography, made public that day, says: Born in Como on July 21, 1960, Msgr. Perlasca was ordained a priest for the diocese of Como on June 13, 1992. He graduated in law at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart and in canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University. In 2006 he was made a monsignor (chaplain to His Holiness). In October 2003 he was hired at the Legal Office of the General Affairs Section of the Secretariat of State and incorporated into the Diplomatic Service of the Holy See.

From April 2006 until May 2008 he worked in the apostolic nunciature in Argentina. He then returned to the Secretariat of State at the Administrative Office, heading that since July 2009. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the (Vatican’s) Pension Fund and Health Care Fund (FAS) and of the Bambino Gesù Pediatric Hospital. He is also a member of the Board of Auditors of the Joseph Ratzinger – Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation.

He has held various positions, including consultor to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Msgr. Perlasca has remained active in the canonical sphere, participating, among other things, in various academic activities. In addition to Italian, he knows English, French and Spanish.)


A fascinating development in one of the Vatican’s most interesting institutions, the Pontifical Ecclesial Academy that trains future diplomats – a year of missionary service as part of the training and studies of future Holy See diplomats.

My very first thought as I read the whole letter this morning was: Will the Amazon be the first and/or main recipient of these diplomatic trainees?


Pope Francis has sent a letter to the president of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, announcing that whoever enters the Vatican’s diplomatic service will be asked to carry out a 12-month missionary experience in a diocese.
By Vatican News

Pope Francis has introduced a year of missionary experience into the curriculum of those preparing to enter service in the Holy See’s diplomatic corps.

The Pope had foreseen this change in his final speech at the Synod on the Amazon, and now it has become a reality.

In a letter to Archbishop Joseph Marino, the new President of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy – which trains nuncios for the Vatican’s diplomatic staff – Pope Francis requests an addition to the curriculum: one year spent on mission within a local Church. The letter is dated 11 February 2020.

The Holy Father expresses his “desire that priests preparing for the diplomatic service of the Holy See devote a year of their training to missionary service in a diocese.”

“I am convinced,” he adds, “that such an experience will be useful for all the young men preparing for or beginning priestly service, but especially for those who will someday be called to work with the Pontifical Representatives and, afterwards, will in turn become Envoys of the Holy See to nations and particular Churches.”

Pope Francis quotes a speech he gave to the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in June 2015: “The mission to which you will be called one day to carry out will take you to all parts of the world. Europe is in need of an awakening; Africa is thirsty for reconciliation; Latin America is hungry for nourishment and interiority; North America is intent on rediscovering the roots of an identity that is not defined by exclusion; Asia and Oceania are challenged by the capacity to ferment in diaspora and to dialogue with the vastness of ancestral cultures.”

In his letter, the Pope adds that “to take on in a positive manner these growing challenges for the Church and the world, future diplomats of the Holy See need to acquire – in addition to a solid priestly and pastoral formation” and that offered by the Academy – “a personal experience of mission outside their own diocese of origin, sharing a portion of their journey with the missionary Churches and their communities, participating in the daily activity of evangelization.”

In this vein, Pope Francis asks Archbishop Marino to “put into practice my desire to enrich the Academy’s formation curriculum with a year dedicated entirely to missionary service in the particular Churches spread throughout the world. This new experience will come into force starting with the students who begin their formation in the next academic year 2020/2021.”

Effecting this change, writes the Pope, will require “first of all close collaboration with the Secretariat of State and, more precisely, with the Section for the Diplomatic Staff of the Holy See (the so-called Third Section), as well as with Pontifical Representatives, who will certainly not fail to provide valuable assistance in identifying the local Churches that are ready to welcome the students and closely follow their experience.”

“I am certain,” concludes Pope Francis, “that – once the initial concerns that may arise in the face of this new style of formation for future diplomats of the Holy See have been overcome – the missionary experience offered will be useful not only to young academics but also to the individual Churches with which they will work. And I hope it will encourage with other priests of the universal Church the desire to make themselves available to carry out a period of missionary service outside their own diocese.”


Pope Francis decides to include a year of mission in the training curriculum of the diplomatic staff of the Holy See.
By Andrea Tornielli

Pope Francis’ decision to include a year spent in mission territory in the training curriculum of diplomatic Nunciature personnel, comes just a few months after the announcement made by the Pope himself in the concluding speech of the Synod for the Amazon. This announcement now becomes reality for new students of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in the academic year 2020/2021.

First, it is interesting to note the context in which this project was first announced: the need for, and difficulty in finding, priests for the missions. The Pope had quoted the negative response one sometimes receives: “No, I am not suitable for this”. “Well,” commented the Pope, “this must be reformed. Young religious have a great vocation and it is necessary to train them in apostolic zeal to go to the peripheries”. Immediately afterwards, Pope Francis spoke of future diplomats, hinting at a “suggestion” he had received: “In the curriculum of the diplomatic service of the Holy See, young priests should spend at least a year in missionary territory. Not doing an internship in the Nunciature as they do now, which is very useful, but simply in the service of a bishop in a place of mission”.

Now this proposal becomes concrete. In his letter to the president of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the Pope writes: “I am convinced that such an experience will be useful for all the young men preparing for or beginning priestly service, but especially for those who will someday be called to work with the Pontifical Representatives and, afterwards, will in turn become Envoys of the Holy See to nations and particular Churches”. The commitment of future Apostolic Nuncios will serve as an example, so that other priests will accept the invitation to spend time in mission.

There is no doubt that the decision, now formalized by the Successor of Peter, represents a truly significant change in the course of studies for those who will serve in the Nunciatures and who will, in many cases, be made bishops at a relatively young age. A fundamental piece of the curriculum now becomes the year dedicated to missionary service in the field, far from home, getting one’s hands dirty in pastoral work, in the frontier Churches. A year of change, of fatigue, of new experiences, which will allow a better and deeper understanding of the reality of the Church, of her problems and difficulties, but also of her hopes and the comforting beauty of her daily life. A year that will allow the students of the Ecclesiastical Academy themselves, their superiors and the bishops of their dioceses of origin, to better discern individual vocations. A year that could also dissuade someone from undertaking this service. It will certainly be an experience destined to change the outlook and perspective for those who will one day be called to represent the Pope in various countries, thus underlining the importance for the local Churches of helping the Pope by sending good and capable priests in his service.

Once again, Pope Francis reminds us that the whole Church – diplomatic service included – is either missionary or she is not. She either evangelizes or she is not Church. “If the Church is not on the move, she decays, she becomes something else”, as the Pope stated in the important book interview with Gianni Valente, “Without Him We Can Do Nothing”. In this recent publication that deserves to be taken to heart, Pope Francis says: “Mission is not a tried and tested company plan. Neither is it a public spectacle organized to flaunt how many people are associated with it thanks to our marketing. The Holy Spirit works as He wills, when He wills and where He wills”. “Mission’s mysterious fruitfulness does not consist in our intentions, in our methods, in our impulses and in our initiatives, but rests precisely in this ‘vertigo’: the ‘vertigo’ we perceive when we hear Jesus’ words: ‘Without me you can do nothing’”.


I received an email today from the Pauline multimedia store in Rome: “We would like to inform you that the new book written by Cardinal Sarah with the contribution of Pope Benedict XVI, ‘From the Depths of Our Hearts,’ is available for pre-order now.”

I presume that refers to the English-language edition of the book. This seems to answer in part the question of who authored the book, although Benedict XVI is not referred to as “Pope emeritus.”

I also received great news about a friend in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State!


(Vatican News) – Pope Francis has appointed Dr. Francesca Di Giovanni, currently an official of the Secretariat of State, as under-secretary for the Section for Relations with States. She will be responsible for the multilateral sector.

Born in Palermo in 1953, Dr. Di Giovanni has worked in the Secretariat for 27 years and holds a law degree. After completing practicum as a notary, she worked in the juridical-administrative area at the International Centre of the Work of Mary (Focolare Movement). On 15 September 1993 she began work as an official in the Section for Relations with States of the Secretariat of State. Di Giovanni has served in the multilateral sector, especially in the areas of migrants and refugees, international humanitarian law, communications, private international law, the status of women, intellectual property, and tourism.

With the appointment of Dr. Di Giovanni, the Section for Relations with States has two under-secretaries: Di Giovanni will work alongside Monsignor Mirosław Wachowski, who will continue to work primarily in the area of bilateral diplomacy.

Vatican News and L’Osservatore Romano interviewed Dr Di Giovanni:

Were you surprised by the appointment as under-secretary?
Yes, absolutely! For several years now we have been thinking about the need for an under-secretary for the multilateral sector: a delicate and demanding sector that needs special attention, because it has its own procedures, in some ways different from those of the bilateral sphere. But I sincerely never would have thought the Holy Father would have entrusted this role to me.

It is a new role and I will try to do my best to live up to the Holy Father’s trust, but I hope not to do it alone: I would like to count on the harmony that has characterized our working group so far.

What exactly is the “multilateral sector”?
Simply speaking, you can say that it deals with relations between inter-governmental organisations at the international level and includes the network of multilateral treaties, which are important because they embody the political will of States with regard to the various issues concerning the international common good: this includes development, the environment, the protection of victims of conflicts, the situation of women, and so on.

What does your work consist of?
I will continue to deal with what I have been following up to now in the Section for Relations with States, although in this new role, I shall be responsible for coordinating the work in this area.

You are the first woman to hold a position at this level in the Secretariat of State…
Yes, actually, it’s the first time a woman has had a managerial position in the Secretariat of State. The Holy Father has made an unprecedented decision, certainly, which, beyond myself personally, represents an indication of an attention towards women. But the responsibility is connected to the job, rather than to the fact of being a woman.

In your opinion, what can the specific contribution be of a woman in this field?
I cannot fail to recall the words of the Holy Father in his homily on 1 January, in which he presented — we could say — a “tribute” to the role of women, saying that, “women are givers and mediators of peace and should be fully included in decision-making processes. Because when women can share their gifts, the world finds itself more united, more peaceful”.

I would like to be able to contribute to the realization of the Holy Father’s vision, with my other colleagues who work in this area of the Secretariat of State, but also with other women — and there are many of them — who are working to build fraternity in this international dimension too. It is important to emphasize the Pope’s attention to the multilateral sector, questioned today by some, but which has a fundamental function in the international community.

A woman may have certain aptitudes for finding commonalities, healing relationships with unity at heart. I hope that my being a woman might reflect itself positively in this task, even if they are gifts that I certainly find in my male colleagues as well.

In his recent address to the Diplomatic Corps, the Pope spoke about the multilateral system, calling for its reform…
In the international community, the Holy See also has the mission of ensuring that the interdependence between people and nations be developed in a moral and ethical dimension, as well as in the other dimensions and various aspects that relations are acquiring in today’s world. One must never tire of encouraging dialogue at all levels, always seeking diplomatic solutions.

For example, in his recent speech to the Diplomatic Corps, the Pope recalled, among other things, the many positive results of the United Nations, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. We want to continue seeing the UN as a necessary means for achieving the common good, even if this does not exempt us from asking for changes or reforms where deemed necessary.


Today’s general audience began about 9:15 in the Paul VI Hall as an enthusiastic crowd of pilgrims greeted the Holy Father. After shaking hands and waving to people, Francis settled into the papal chair and began his audience catechesis by announcing he was concluding his months-long series on the Acts of the Apostles

“Dear Brothers and Sisters,” he began. “Today we conclude our catechesis on the Acts of the Apostles with Paul’s arrival in Rome, in chains, to appeal his case to Caesar. As we have seen, Saint Luke’s account of the spread of the Gospel largely coincides with Paul’s missionary journeys.”

He noted that, “In Rome, Paul is welcomed by the Christian community and permitted to remain under house arrest. Luke ends the Book of Acts not with Paul’s martyrdom but by describing his tireless proclamation of the Gospel, showing the power of God’s word that can never be chained. Paul’s missionary journeys, culminating in this city, reveal the power of God’s grace to open hearts to the Gospel and its saving message.”

“Having in these past months followed the spread of the Good News throughout the world,” concluded Francis, “let us ask the Holy Spirit to renew in each one of us the call to be courageous and joyful missionary disciples of Christ. In this way, we – in the footsteps of Paul – will fill our world with the Gospel and make our communities places of fraternity where all can encounter the risen Lord.

The Pope then greeted the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s audience,”especially the groups from Finland and the United States of America. Upon you and your families, I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. May God bless you!”

Later, he spoke to a group after the catechesis was summarized in Arabic: “I cordially welcome the Arabic-speaking pilgrims, especially those from the Middle East! Dear brothers and sisters, the joy of the Gospel comes from the encounter with Jesus. It is when we meet the Lord that we are flooded with that love of which he alone is capable, and therein lies the source of evangelizing action. So let us not be afraid of making mistakes and fear of taking new paths, because our poverty is not an obstacle, but a precious tool, because the grace of God loves to manifest himself in weakness. The Lord bless you!”


Yesterday, vaticanista Sandro Magister reported in his blog that Pope Francis has created a new section for the Vatican’s Secretariat of State in the ongoing reform of the Roman Curia, adding a Third Section to the First and Second Sections. He also cited some of what he called “the executive part” of the new papal instructions, noting that, “the resolution with which Pope Francis endows the Vatican secretariat of state with a third section on an equal level with the two already existing is in a letter that he wrote in mid-October to cardinal secretary of state Pietro Parolin.”

The Holy See Press Office statement on this new section was published today:


(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis on Tuesday set up a new Section within the Vatican’s Secretariat of State to manifest his “the attention and closeness” of the Holy See’s diplomatic personnel.

This Third Section of the Vatican’s State office is to be called the Section for Diplomatic Staff of the Holy See and will reinforce the current office of the Delegate for Pontifical Representations.

A communique from the Holy See Press Office says the Section will be chaired by the Delegate for Pontifical Representations, currently Archbishop Jan Romeo Pawlowski.

“The Third Section will deal exclusively with matters relating to the staff who work in the diplomatic service of the Holy See or who prepare to do so – such as, for example, selection, initial and continuing formation, conditions of life and service, promotions, permits, etc.,” the statement reads.

The Third Section has been granted “the just autonomy”, it says, and “seek to establish close collaboration with the Section for General Affairs (which will continue to handle general matters of the Pontifical Representations), and with the Section for Relations with States (which will continue to deal with the political aspects of the work of the Pontifical Representations).”

In spelling out the Section’s tasks, the statement says the Delegate for the Pontifical Representations “will participate, along with His Excellency the Substitute for General Affairs and His Excellency the Secretary for Relations with States, in weekly coordination meetings chaired by the Secretary of State. Furthermore, he will convene and chair ad hoc meetings for the preparation of the appointments of Pontifical Representatives. Finally, he will be responsible, along with the President of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, for the selection and formation of candidates.”


Vatican City, Nov 20, 2017 – CNA/EWTN News.- Pope Francis has established a third section, or department, of the Secretariat of State of the Holy See, which reportedly began its operations Nov. 9. The new section is named “Section for the Diplomatic Staff,” and is tasked with overseeing the Holy See’s diplomatic corps, stationed around the world.

Archbishop Jan Romeo Pawlowski has been appointed to helm the third section. Previously the apostolic nuncio to Gabon, in 2015 Archbishop Pawlowski was appointed head of the Office for Pontifical Representations, a sort of “human resources office” within the Secretariat of State.

That office has been now elevated into an independent department, alongside the two sections that already constitute the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.

The First Section of the Secretariat of State oversees the general affairs of the Roman Curia, and is led by the Secretariat’s “substitute,” currently Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu.

The second section, the “Section for the Relations with States”, is entrusted with the diplomatic activity of the Holy See. At the helm of the office is the Secretary for Relations with States, often described as the Vatican “foreign minister.” Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher of Great Britain holds the post.

The Pope established the third section via a letter sent in October to Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, and delivered to the Apostolic Nunciatures, the embassies of the Holy See, around over the world.

In his letter, the Pope expressed that he had “great care for those who assist the ministry of Rome,” both “those who work in the Holy See, and in the Vatican City State, and in the Apostolic See” and its related institutions.

The Pope recalled his address to the Roman Curia for the 2013 Christmas greeting, and said that “since the beginning” he proposed the criteria of “professionalism, service, and holiness of life” in order to be a good Vatican official.

Pope Francis also underscored that he expressed “vivid appreciation” for the work of “pontifical representatives,” an “important work that undergoes peculiar difficulties.”

He then explained that his decision was motivated by the need to provide “more human, priestly, spiritual and professional accompaniment” to those who are “in the diplomatic service of the Holy See,” whether they are head of mission or even students at the Ecclesiastical Academy, where young priests are trained for diplomatic service.

The letter says that “the Office of the Delegate for the Pontifical Representation is strengthened into a Third Section, with the name of Section for the Diplomatic Staff of the Holy See”; the office “will depend from the Secretary of State,” will be given “a proper number of officials” and will demonstrate “the Pope’s attention to the diplomatic staff.”

The Pope’s letter also says that the delegate “will be able to regularly visit pontifical representatives” and will oversee the “permanent selection” of staff as well of “career advancement” for diplomatic personnel.

According to a source within the Secretariat of State, this reform is just one step toward a general reorganization of the Secretariat of State.

The Council of Cardinals has discussed several times the importance of clarifying and supporting the role of nuncios and diplomatic staff.


Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Chair of Peter and, on this occasion, I want to send best wishes and many prayers to my friends of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Peter, based in Houston, Texas. Special wishes to my friend and a former colleague in the Vatican, Bishop Steven Lopes, ordained just over a year ago as the first bishop of the Ordinariate.

On today’s special feast, Pope Francis tweeted: Jesus entrusted to Peter the keys to open the entrance to the kingdom of heaven, and not to close it.


February 22 is the feast of the Chair of Peter and great honor is paid to the first Pope in St. Peter’s Basilica on this day every year.


The special feast of the “cathedra” or Chair of St. Peter dates to the fourth century and honors and celebrates the primacy and authority of St. Peter. The word “cathedra” means seat or throne and is the root of the word cathedral, the church where a bishop has his seat from which he preaches and teaches.


A mixture of tradition, legend and belief held for many years that this was actually a double chair, parts of which dated back to the early days of Christianity and to St. Peter himself. This chair or cathedra has been studied over the centuries and the last time it was removed from its niche in the Bernini altar was a six-year period from 1968 to 1974 where studies pointed to a single chair whose oldest parts date to the sixth century. What appeared to be an outer or second chair was a covering that served both to protect the throne and to carry it in procession.


The Chair of St. Peter is actually a throne that Charles the Bald, the grandson of the Emperor Charlemagne, gave to Pope John VIII at the former’s coronation as emperor on Christmas Day 875. For many years the chair was used at liturgical events by Pope John and his successors: it was ensconced in Bernini’s Altar of the Chair in 1666.


Bernini’s masterful Altar of the Cathedra was executed between 1658 and 1666. A bronze throne, which encases the Chair of Peter, dominates the apse, above the marble altar. It is supported by four statues of bishops: two Fathers of the Latin Church, Sts. Ambrose and Augustine, and two from the Greek Church, Sts. Athanasius and John Chrysostom.



Above them, in the midst of gilt clouds, flights of angels and rays of sun is the Holy Spirit, illuminated by a stained glass window.


Notwithstanding its appearance of lightness and harmony, records show that more than 120 tons of bronze were used for this breathtaking monument. This altar is today still used for numerous liturgical celebrations.


What is so special about this feast day is that the Altar of the Chair is aglow for this one day a year with scores and scores of candles.


In addition, this is one of two days every year when the statue of a seated St. Peter, on the right side of the main aisle, is robed in ecclesiastical finery, including papal vestments, the triple tiara and a papal ring.



The other day you may see St. Peter robed in this manner is June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles, patrons of Rome.


(Vatican Radio) The Secretariat of State of the Holy See issued a press release on Wednesday, detailing the steps being taken to protect the image of the Holy Father. Following is that communiqué:

The Secretariat of State, among its tasks, has also that of protecting the image of the Holy Father, so that his message can reach the faithful intact and that his person not be exploited.

It is in view of these same purposes, that the Secretary of State protects the symbols and coats of arms of the Holy See, through appropriate regulatory instruments provided for on an international level.

In order to make its protective action more effective with respect to stated purposes, and to halt situations of illegality that arise, the Secretariat of State will effect systematic surveillance activities apt to monitor the ways in which the image of the Holy Father and the coats of arms of the Holy See are used, [and] if necessary intervene with appropriate action.


Pope Frances tweeted today: How much I desire that the years to come will be full of mercy, so that every person can experience the goodness and tenderness of God!


The Vatican, through the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, today announced the themes for the next three World Youth Days as chosen by Pope Francis. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the focus of all three celebrations, the first two in 2017 and 2018 at the diocesan level and the third at the international in 2019 in Panama. Pope Francis presided at the last international WYD in July of this year in Krakow, Poland.


The three themes are taken from the Gospel of Saint Luke:

32nd World Youth Day, 2017: “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His Name” (Lk 1:49)

33rd World Youth Day, 2018: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God” (Lk 1:30)

34th World Youth Day, 2019: “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38)

Noting that the themes are a continuation of the reflections begun by Pope Francis for the last three World Youth Days on the Beatitudes, the dicastery communique recalled Pope Francis’ remarks at World Youth Day in Krakow, when he invited young people to have “memory of the past, courage for the present and to have/be hope for the future.” The themes “are intended to give a clear Marian tone to the spiritual journey of the next three WYDs” and at the same time “give a picture of young people on a journey between the past (2017), present (2018), and future (2019), inspired by the three theological virtues of faith, charity, and hope.”

The Dicastery note says the “path that is being proposed to young people can also be seen to be in harmony with the reflection that Pope Francis has entrusted to the next Synod of Bishops: Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment.”


The annual collection taken up around the world for the Pope’s charities, known in the United States and many other countries as Peter’s Pence and in Italy as the “obolo di San Pietro” now has its own page on the Vatican website – www.peterspence.va

The announcement was made this morning by the Secretariat of State as it unveiled  the new website. It went online on yesterday, November 21 and is currently available in English, Italian, and Spanish, though it will soon be translated into other languages.


This annual collection usually occurs on or around the June 29th Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. Funds are given to the Holy Father who then chooses the recipients whom he feels are most in need.

The dicastery communique notes that faithful throughout the world will now have the opportunity to “reflect on the significance of their acts and offer, also online, their concrete support for the works of mercy, Christian charity, peace, and aid to the Holy See.” It adds that, “created by desire of the Holy See, the site is the fruit of an important synergy between the Governorate of the Vatican City State, the Secretariat for Communications, and the Institute for the Works of Religion” (i.e. the Vatican Bank).

The site presents papal messages, the history of Peter’s Pence, lists various works of mercy and, of course, offers the chance to donate online.



Mr. Murphy of Murphy’s Law has paid another visit! My building had some work done two days ago on one of the main water pipes, and an announcement to this effect said there would be no water from 9 am to about 1 pm. However, it was not mentioned that the water would be drained from the pipes of all households linked to that side of the building, and that it would be wise to turn off washing machines, hot water heaters, or any other appliance that used water. Unaware of this, I had my water heater on, as I always do, and by the end of the afternoon, emptied of water to heat, it had burned out! This comes on the heels of three items – almost simultaneously – headed to the appliance cemetery: my wash machine, the fridge and my satellite decoder box (not, strictly speaking, an appliance). New items have been bought and installed (I did the decoder box myself).

Thank the Lord, I have a trusted plumber and he and an assistant spent several hours draining and removing the old heater, which is in the main bathroom, buying and installing a new one, in addition to which they fixed two problems in a second small bathroom and the kitchen.

After they left, I had a quick lunch at 4:15 and have had to put off appointments I had for this afternoon as well as the cleaning of all three rooms where Domenico had worked, to write this column, given the historic moment for the Vatican, Pope Francis, Cuba and the U.S.

I’ll start with a fascinating personal story today about Cuba that was directly linked to my work at the Vatican Information Service (VIS) in its early years, in the early- and mid-90s.

First, some background, to understand the story:

Sometime around 1989, Pope John Paul II asked Joaquin Navarro-Valls, then the head of the Holy See Press Office, if there was an efficient and timely way to get Vatican news to the nuncios – the papal ambassadors – throughout the world. The world’s bishops, nuncios and episcopal conferences had to rely on domestic newspapers, TV and radio for their news of the Pope and Vatican, although there was, of course, Vatican Radio and other Catholic news agencies. The Vatican paper, L’Osservatore Romano, which reprinted papal speeches and documents in their entirety and gave all the news not covered by secular or other media (nominations, daily papal audiences, etc) often took weeks or even months to travel to Church offices around the globe.

Thus, as a result of John Paul II’s request that Navarro-Valls explore the possibility of a way of daily communicating with nuncios and bishops, VIS was born. Nuncios and bishops had to pay for an annual subscription in the early, pre-Internet years, as each daily bulletin – first in Spanish and English, and later in Italian and French – was sent via fax. The subscription cost was not inconsequential. However, the money that came from the archdioceses and dioceses that could afford the full annual payment was shared with dioceses who wanted to received the VIS fax but could not afford to, thus efectively subsidizing them. We made sure that no nuncio, no bishop would go without VIS simply because they did not have the subscription money – or the equipment, a fax machine.

In time, VIS became known throughout the Church and individuals, schools, universities, parishes, and many other like groups subscribed to VIS. Its first transmitted news service via fax was December 21, 1990. The second was after the Christmas holidays, on December 28 and our regular, five-days a week transmissions began on January 1, 1991.

And, in time, the Internet became the vehicle for communicating. I must say here that VIS had a page on the brand new WWW (World Wide Web) even before the Holy See had its page, http://www.vatican.va!

Once the idea was explained to Pope St. John Paul and he gave the go-ahead, Navarro Valls found office space in the building housing the press office and the proxess of interviewing staff began. VIS was transmitted in the early years in English and Spanish (these were the two languages most used by nuncios and bishops as either their first or second language) and there were five of us on staff. I was the English language writer and editor, in the early days Fernando Monge and then Alfonso Bailly Baillere wrote the Spanish version of VIS and Carmen Sanchez Asiain translated from English into her native Spanish, and back again! Carmen’s English was impeccable as she had spent considerable time in both Ireland and India where she always spoke English. She died tragically of a heart attack at age 56 on September 30, 1996.

And now my Cuba story, brief as it is:

Early in the 1990s, it became known to Pedro Brunori the Italo-Argentinian head of VIS from 1990 to 1998, that Church officials in Cuba wanted to receive the daily VIS bulletin but did not have a fax machine and they were not allowed by the State to have one. In addition the telephone line they had was under surveillance. The Vatican solved the problem by sending Pedro to Cuba on a diplomatic passport with a small suitcase that contained a satellite phone. That phone line served to received the daily VIS bulletin.

There were many similarly wonderful stories about VIS’ first years that I will tell someday in a book.

As I said on my Facebook page today, posting one of the Vatican stories about its role and that of Pope Francis in the just-announced rapprochement between the United States and Cuba, “St. John Paul II opened doors on his visit to Cuba in late January 1998 and now Pope Francis, the first Pope from Latin America, has opened the doors even further as it has become known of the Vatican’s role in the new U.S.-Cuba relations.

Before John Paul II would even consider travelling to Cuba, the Vatican set out a number of conditions that had to be met (another story for a day when I have more time). Months and months of behind the scenes talks and meetings took place to solve the issues and make possible the papal trip. Following the announcement yesterday of new U.S.-Cuba ties, many are asking now: Did the U.S. lay out any conditions concerning issues such as freedom, human rights, access to means of communication, etc. and say they had to be met first? We do not know now. We do know, in reports from Cuba, that the Catholic Church is the most trusted institution in the country by the people.

Here are some of the stories from the Vatican today: the Pope’s reaction, remarks by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, the communique from the Vatican Secretariat of State, and a Vatican Radio summary of yesterday’s events. All stories are by Vatican Radio at news.va


(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis on Wednesday offered his congratulations to the governments of the United States and Cuba, as they announced the two countries will start talks on resuming diplomatic relations. A statement from the Vatican Secretariat of State said that in recent months the Pope had written to both Cuban President Raul Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama, inviting them to “resolve humanitarian questions of common interest.” The Holy See also met with delegations from both countries in the Vatican last October, providing what the statement calls “its good offices to facilitate a constructive dialogue.” The communiqué says the Holy See will continue to offer support for initiatives on the part of both countries to strengthen bilateral relations and promote the well-being of their respective citizens.

Here is that communique from the Secretariat of State:

“The Holy Father wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history. In recent months, Pope Francis wrote letters to the President of the Republic of Cuba, His Excellency Mr Raúl Castro, and the President of the United States, The Honorable Barack H. Obama, and invited them to resolve humanitarian questions of common interest, including the situation of certain prisoners, in order to initiate a new phase in relations between the two Parties The Holy See received Delegations of the two countries in the Vatican last October and provided its good offices to facilitate a constructive dialogue on delicate matters, resulting in solutions acceptable to both Parties. The Holy See will continue to assure its support for initiatives which both nations will undertake to strengthen their bilateral relations and promote the wellbeing of their respective citizens.”

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis spoke on Thursday at his joy over the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba, two nations who have been estranged for many years, saying this was a result of diplomacy. His remarks came in a brief off-the-cuff address to new non-resident ambassadors to the Holy See as they presented their Letters of Credence: Bahamas, Bangladesh, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Finland, Malaysia, Mali, Mongolia, New Zealand, Rwanda, Tanzania and Togo. He said the work of an ambassador is to take small steps aimed at building peace, bringing the hearts of people closer together and sowing brotherhood between peoples and nations.

“I give you a warm welcome and I hope that every time you come here you feel as though at home. Our welcome and our respect (are) for you and also for your people and the heads of your Governments.  I greet you all and hope your work will be fruitful. The work of an ambassador is a job of taking small steps, doing small things but whose aim always is to build peace, to bring the hearts of people closer together and sow brotherhood between peoples.  This is your work, but done with small things, very small things. And today we are all happy because yesterday we saw two nations, who were estranged for so many years, take a step to bring them closer together. This was achieved by ambassadors, by diplomacy. Yours is a noble, very noble work. I hope it will be fruitful and may God bless you. Thank you.”

(Vatican Radio)  Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the (Vatican) Secretary of State, said on Thursday that Pope Francis played a very significant role in facilitating the rapprochement between the U.S. and Cuba. Speaking in an exclusive interview with Vatican Radio, Cardinal Parolin spoke of the Holy See’s satisfaction over the agreement between the U.S. and Cuba to restore diplomatic ties and praised the leaders of the two nations for their courageous decision.

Q: What was the specific role of Pope Francis – the first Pope to come from the South American continent?

A. I would like to repeat the satisfaction of the Holy See for this important step in the relations between the United States and Cuba.  And also to stress that the role of the Holy Father was very significant in this conclusion.  Of course, in the sense that since the beginning of his pontificate, he has stressed the importance for the person and the groups and people to meet together. What we have called the culture of encounter. I think that this is the proper word. But his teaching then, his teaching which also pointed out this importance and this necessity. At the same time, the help to the two parties, the United States and Cuba, writing to the two presidents and stressing the importance of finding a solution to their historical differences.

Q. What was the Holy See’s diplomatic role in these negotiations?

A. In this case, the Holy See has tried to facilitate the dialogue between the two parties according to the, let’s say, the objective that the Holy Father Pope Francis has given to the diplomacy of the Holy See. Which is of course traditional in its history, but now he (it) has (a) new  accent (emphasis)(sic) because of the situation, the particular situation of our world – which is to build bridges between persons and groups and nations.  And then it was, let’s say, a service of facilitating and of promoting the dialogue between the two parties.

Q. The roles of President Obama and the Cuban President were also important in these negotiations…

A. Of course, of course.  I would like to, just to highlight the courage they had in this decision.  It is a decision, I think…very important and of course, not everybody agrees with that but I think that it was important from the side of the two presidents to have the courage and the strength to make such a decision.  And I think that we have really, finally, at the end, to thank God who inspired such good sentiments and intentions (of) the two leaders.  Hoping that this example could be taken by many other leaders in the region and in the world and to try, really, to overcome differences and conflict through negotiation and through dialogue.

(Vatican Radio) After more than a half-century of hostility, the United States and Cuba are to work toward the establishment of full diplomatic relations – and U.S. President Barack Obama says that Pope Francis played an instrumental role in creating the conditions for the development.

The Secretariat of State of the Holy See issued a statement offering Pope Francis’ expressions of  “warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history.”

The announcement of efforts to normalize relations came in the context of the release of U.S. aid worker Alan Gross and an exchange of intelligence officers being detained on the island and in the U.S.

U.S. President Barack Obama said that Pope Francis played a role in bringing him and Cuban leader Raul Castro together.  “His Holiness Pope Francis issued a personal appeal to me, and to Cuba’s President Raul Castro, urging us to resolve Alan’s case, and to address Cuba’s interest in the release of three Cuban agents who have been jailed in the United States for over 15 years,” Obama said.

Raul Castro also welcomed the exchange and the move to normalize relations. “[President] Obama’s decision,” said Castro, “deserves the respect and acknowledgment of our people.”

Relations between Cuba and the U.S. deteriorated rapidly and eventually disintegrated entirely in the wake of the takeover of the island by Communist revolutionaries led by current Cuban president Raul Castro’s brother, Fidel, in 1959.