This page will be dark for a few days as EWTN employees have Thanksgiving Thursday and Friday off to be able to properly celebrate this beautiful and historic American feast. Should there be any big, breaking news, I’ll keep you informed.

Have a Happy 400th Thanksgiving Day! May it be a blessed, happy, safe and healthy day with your loved ones!


As you know, VI each week features a news summary, a Q&A when there is time and an interview segment. This week, in what is normally the interview segment. I present a special on St- Peter’s Basilica. You will remember that November 18th we celebrated the liturgical feast of the dedication of the basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul’s Outside the Walls. Both churches were built in the 4th century by Emperor Constantine.

Last week I took an in-depth look at St. Paul’s and this week I explore the equally historical and stunning St. Peter’s Basilica. Last week I pointed out an interesting fact: at one point a colonnade linked the two basilicas notwithstanding the fact they are separated by just under 3 miles!

Before I take you on that tour, in a departure from that usual format, I start this edition of “Vatican Insider” with something I wrote a few years ago for Thanksgiving Day.

Here are some of the photos I’ve taken during visits to this very special church!

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


It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! The Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square was raised yesterday, all 92 feet of it, a red fir from an area of the Dolomite mountains on the Italian border with Austria. A press office communiqué noted that the tree is from a Sustainable Forestry Management project and that the Trentino Delegation also provided the wooden decorations. As always, the Vatican Governorate will take care of sustainable lighting with low energy consumption.

This is the 40th tree to grace St. Peter’s Square, following a tradition established in 1982 by Pope St. John Paul.

The traditional inauguration of the nativity scene and the lighting of the Christmas tree are scheduled for Friday, December 10. The tree is placed next to the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square. In front of the obelisk, as is tradition, will sit the nativity scene offered by Peru.


After having been forced to close for a while dictated by the coronavirus pandemic, the Vatican Apostolic Library and Archive will reopen to sccholars as of June 1st. Admission will be made only by booking online and with specific regulations and health safety rules.

REMEMBER: Tomorrow, Saturday, May 30 at 5:30 pm ROME TIME, Pope Francis will preside over the prayer of the Holy Rosary from the Grotto of Lourdes in the Vatican Gardens. This will be done “united in prayer to invoke the help and assistance of Our Lady in the pandemic, and to entrust the whole of humanity to the Lord.” It will be televised worldwide, language translations will be available and Rome will be linked to some of the major Marian shrines in the world.


Just a brief word about the Special I have prepared for what is normally the interview segment of Vatican Insider. As soon as I can return to personally interviewing people here in Rome and inside the Vatican, I’ll bring you some great conversations. In the meantime, this weekend I offer Part II of my special on St. Peter’s Basilica, the last of the four papal basilicas that we visit. We’ve already been to St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major.

Until you can return to this magnificent country and remarkable Eternal City, and visit these churches in person, you’ll have these Vatican Insider podcasts to accompany you! And they will be one of your best friends when you do come to Rome!

So this week, be a tourist for a few minutes! Come to Rome! You know that’s where you want to be!

And this is my view when I enter Vatican City at the Perugino Gate –

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


The Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, in a communiqué announced that the Vatican is making available a free eBook with the proceedings of the 2019 international conference “Yes to Life! Take care of the precious gift of life in its fragility.” The book comes one year after the event at the Patristic InstituteAugustinianum in Rome that brought together about 400 people from 70 countries, involving doctors, perinatal care experts and family psychologists. It is available on the website of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life and the Vatican Publishing House: (

The communique notes that dicastery secretary, Father Alexandre Awi Mello, wrote in the presentation of the ebook that the intent was to offer “an intense moment of formation and scientific and pastoral information for the accompaniment of couples and families who live the experience of the birth of a child with congenital diseases, presenting clear concrete alternatives to abortion.”

The eBook opens with the speech that Pope Francis addressed to the participants in the conference whom he had received in audience, This is followed by the introduction of the prefect of the dicastery, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, and all the speeches and testimonies in the language in which they were pronounced.

The dicastery has also prepared a video (, according to the communique. Dicastery under-secretary Gabriella Gambino explains that the video allows one to relive the salient parts of the initiative that “continues to have resonance in different parts of the world through similar training but also through the activation of new perinatal comfort care centers.”



The main story below from the Pontifical Council for Culture is a very important piece of news. Be sure to share this with you pastor, for starters, and I can only hope that every bishop around the world, especially if his diocese has precious and valuable art, will have seen these critical guidelines.

For your reading pleasure this weekend, here is a link to the English edition of L’Osservatore Romano:.


Welcome to a new edition of Vatican Insider. A update about the interview segment – or what is normally an interview. With some covid19 restrictions still in place, I have not been able yet to get out and about and visit people for interviews but hope to resume that soon. In the meantime, I continue with my SPECIAL presentations and this week offer Part I of a visit to the ever- glorious St. Peter’s Square and Basilica. Obviously as a podcast it will be very useful when you finally travel back to Italy and Rome!

So this week, be a tourist for a few minutes! Come to Rome! You know that’s where you want to be!

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


From the website of the Pontifical Council for Culture:

There have been reports that, in this period of health emergency, the necessary disinfection of areas, vestments and sacred vessels for worship has been carried out in some cases using detergents that are not suitable for objects of art and cultural heritage.

We publish below a document drawn up not by the Pontifical Council for Culture, but shared by it. It offers simple indications to avoid causing irreversible damage to the most precious and delicate objects present in our churches.

Above all, it is recommended that priests or those in charge of the churches make contact with the cultural heritage specialists in their diocese or competent civil authorities, especially in the most delicate cases.

Recommendations in view of COVID 19 regarding the handling, cleaning and disinfection of cultural property:

SUMMARY TABLE: A graph with recommendations – the Dos and Donts – for handling, cleaning and disinfecting cultural heritage:


Rome, May 21 – Italy saw 47,000 more deaths in March and April this year than last, social security and pensions agency INPS said Thursday. In January and February, it said, there were 10,000 fewer than expected. The INPS study, Analysis of Mortality in the COVID-19 Epidemic, stressed that the number of deaths from the coronavirus were 28,000 in March and April. “With due caution,” the report said, “we can attribute a great part of the higher deaths that happened in the last two months, with respect to the baseline, to the ongoing epidemic.”

Florence, May 21 – Florence’s famed Uffizi gallery will reopen on Wednesday June 3, director Eike Schmidt as the Boboli gardens reopened on Thursday. Palazzo Pitti, the Renaissance palazzo across the Arno from the Uffizi and next to the Boboli gardens, will reopen on Thursday May 28, Schmidt said.




The five photos below, courtesy of Vatican Media, show in part the cleaning process that is taking place in St. Peter’s Basilica. Similar cleanings and sanitizings will take place at St. Mary Major, St. John Lateran and St. Paul’s Outside the Walls as the four papal basilicas prepare to reopen to the faithful on Monday, May 18, with restrictions (numbers of people allowed in, masks mandatory, social distancing, etc and temperatures will be measured before allowing visitors in).

It is my understanding at the moment that larger churches like the papal basilicas can allow a maximum of 200 people in at a time and when liturgies once again take place outside, a maximum of 1000 people will be allowed….at least for the time being.

Monday, May 18 at 7am, as I have previously posted, Pope Francis will say Mass at the altar of the tomb of Saint John Paul (see photo) on what would have been the late Holy Father’s 100th birthday. That will be his last televised and online morning Mass following the months of Masses televised from the chapel at the Santa Marta residence.

(To be honest I have been in the basilica for early morning Mass and have seen cleaning going on – sans hazmat suits, etc – including a kind of Zamboni floor polisher). The Vatican also provided a video with Italian commentary.

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Tune in tonight to EWTN’s “At Home with Jim and Joy” when I talk of the papal condolences for the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and the just-concluded synod of bishops.


Pope Francis remembers the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood of Pittsburgh.
By Christopher Wells (Vaticannews)

At the Angelus on Sunday, Pope Francis expressed his closeness to the city of Pittsburgh, USA, and especially to the Jewish community there.

Eleven people were killed, and several others were wounded, on in a shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the neighbourhood of Squirrel Hill. A suspect was taken into custody after the attack.

In his remarks at the Angelus, Pope Francis prayed that, “the Most High might welcome into His peace those who have died; comfort their families; and sustain those who were wounded. In reality we are all wounded by this inhuman act of violence.”

Pope Francis prayed that the Lord might “help us to extinguish the hotbeds of hatred that are developing in our societies, strengthening the sense of humanity, respect for life, moral and civil values, and the holy fear of God, who is Love and the Father of all.”


(Informative note by the Fabbrica di San Pietro in Vaticano) – Cardinal Angelo Comastri, President of the Fabbrica di San Pietro, explains: “The new lighting, also taken care of from a scientific point of view, allows us to admire and better understand the universal value of Michelangelo’s work. The ‘Pietà’ in fact is the faith of Michelangelo carved on marble. The Artist wanted to highlight in the young face of Mary an ever present message: avoiding sin is the only true cure of beauty and perennial youth. Now the work can be enjoyed even more.”

Pietro Zander, director of the Office of conservation and restoration of the Fabbrica di San Pietro, underlines: “The light factor is very important. Michelangelo had thought it out carefully, with very low values of illumination, carefully smoothing the marble surfaces so that even a few candles could make the marble group shine. It is the first time that the Fabbrica di San Pietro lights it up with such great attention.”

In addition to replacing the previous fixtures with others using the latest generation of LED sources, the new lighting project uses compact solutions with minimum visual encumbrance of warm white tones (equal to 3000 K) with very high color rendering. The iGuzzini Illuminazione company has made available a system of lighting units, divided into groups that power on and off in luminous intensity to allow for the different lighting scenarios.

North scenario – sculptural scenario:
Light focuses on the sculpture, while the floor, ceiling and background are illuminated to a minimum. No prevailing directionality is perceived; on the other hand, there is a balance of chiaroscuro that restores the plasticity of the work and allows one to dwell on both the single detail and the harmony of the whole.

East scenario – A beam of light:
A beam of light illuminates the La Pietà. The direction of incidence is evident, the marked shadows. The peaceful lighting of the vaults and the background frame the entire marble group. Luminous beams of the headlamps, with different degrees of dimming; times and almost obscured floor.


South scenario – full light:
All the devices are switched on. The sculpture is absolutely dazzling and becomes itself a source of light. The vaults and the floor have a slightly lower illumination because everything is concentrated in the band in which there is the sculpture. The light of the central vault, of the arches and of the side vaults is more sustained.

West scenario – daily light
Designed for the pilgrim or visitor to the Basilica who enjoys the work through the protective window. For this reason, the lighting is frontal: the beams of light intersect with symmetrical angles to give the viewer the plasticity of the work. The central vault is evenly lit, while the arches and the side vault vaults receive a lower intensity light.

This video was produced by the Vatican in Italian only. It opens with Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of the basilica of St. Peter , as he explains this magnificent piece of art, unique in the world, that Michelangelo sculpted at the age of 23!

The lighting company explains the four basic scenarios of the new lamps (see above), noting that each light is directional and each has its own task.

By Robin Gomes (Vatiannews)

Pope Francis has expressed his sadness for the victims of a low-cost Indonesian aircraft that crashed into the sea on Monday with 189 people on board soon after taking off from the capital, Jakarta.

“Having learned with sadness of the recent plane crash in Jakarta, His Holiness Pope Francis conveys his condolences to all those affected by this tragedy,” read a condolence telegram signed on the Pope’s behalf by Vatican Secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

“He offers the assurance of his prayers for all who have died and for those who mourn their loss. Upon the nation and all involved in the rescue and recovery efforts His Holiness invokes the strength and peace of Almighty God,” the cardinal wrote in the message to Archbishop Piero Pioppo, Apostolic Nuncio to Indonesia.

No survivors
Lion Air flight JT610 heading to Pangkal Pinang, in Bangka Island off Sumatra coast, lost contact with ground officials shortly after its pilot had asked to turn back to base about 13 minutes after takeoff, and crashed into the sea, officials said.



I had another beautiful and memorable morning in St. Peter’s Basilica when Fr. Kevin Lixey, a friend of longstanding who heads the office of the Patrons of the Vatican Museums, celebrated Mass at 8 am in one of the many extraordinary chapels of the basilica. My friends Jack and Linda Del Rio were in town to visit their daughter Aubrey who interned for and now works for the Patrons office, and Father offered to say Mass for us in the basilica’s Grotto area today.

I had been to Mass only once before in the Chapel of the Madonna Bocciata but had failed to bring a camera. Today I want to tell you, in words and pictures, the wonderful story of this chapel and the image for which it is named – the “Rejected Madonna.”

The following description comes from a terrific website that everyone who has ever been to the basilica or plans on visiting Vatican City should become familiar with:

I interviewed Alan Howard, the man who put this together several years ago, for Vatican Insider during one of his visits to Rome. He told me at the time that he had offered the page to the Vatican – totally free of charge – and they were not interested! Nothing even remotely like this page – the in-depth detail, the myriad descriptions, the exhaustive research, was on the Vatican’s webpage at the time so this would have been a brilliant move.

Today I happily give him and his website credit for this story that follows (photos by JFL):

In this chapel is a fresco by the 14th century Roman painter Pietro Cavallini. It is called the “Madonna della Bocciata” because of Mary’s swollen face. According to an old legend, her face bled because a drunken soldier had thrown a bowl into the holy image after he lost a game of bowls.

This is the oldest chapel in the area around the sepulchre of Peter. It originates from a very small oratory commissioned by Gregory XIII in 1580. It was created when the new basilica was under construction, under the pavement of the southern transept (Altar of St Joseph), where the sainted Popes Leo I, II, III and IV had been buried.

In about 1592, Pope Clement VIII had the room prolonged and joined to the new peribolos of the grottoes. In ancient Greek and Roman architecture, ‘peribolos’ was a court enclosed by a wall, especially one surrounding a sacred area such as a temple, shrine, or altar.

In 1607, when Pope Paul V moved the relics of the sainted popes to the basilica, the oratory was dedicated to St. Sebastian. Later that year, a mosaic representing the Apostle Paul was found during the demolition of the apse of the old basilica. It was brought to the chapel and placed on the new altar; the chapel was re-dedicated to St Paul.

On 21 February, when Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644) had the present Marian image put in the altar, the chapel was given the new name Bocciata. The painting is a fragment of a medieval fresco framed in Cosmatesque marble elements. It was once believed to be the work of Simone Martini, but now it is generally attributed to Pietro Cavallini (1273-1321) or his workshop.


The majestic and solemn Madonna (once probably enthroned) directs her intense gaze onto the spectator as she turns slightly to the Child on her lap, who she holds with her left hand and presents with the right one. The Child imparts His blessing as He looks down at the figure of the commissioner of the work, now missing, whose one extended arm can still be seen.

The image was originally located in the portico of the old basilica, between the Ravenna Door and the Door of the Dead (to the south). It became famous after a miraculous event in 1440, according to the testimony collected by Nikolaus Muffel from the court of Emperor Frederic II in 1453. A drunken soldier, in a bout of anger for the florins he lost in a game, in a sacrilegious gesture hurled a stone or ball at the Virgin’s face. The lesion is still visible on her left cheek. Drops of blood appeared on the image and fell down onto the stone paving (those stones are behind metal grates to the right and left of the altar – see photos below).

During the restoration of the portico in 1574, Pope Gregory XIII had the image removed and taken to the secretarium of the Basilica. In 1608, when the ancient building was demolished, the image was placed in the peribolos of the grottoes. It was the object of great veneration and became even more so in its present location dating from 1636.

As recorded in the inscription to the right from the altar, attached to the wall and protected by iron grates, to the sides from the image of the Madonna there are two stones from the ancient paving of the portico, where, according to tradition, the miraculous blood fell. Their surface has been worn away by the touches of the faithful.

Numerous ancient monuments used to be preserved in this chapel but during the restoration described above, it was simplified and the walls were whitewashed. During the thorough restoration of 2002, the paintings on the vault and on the walls below were given their original splendor. They were painted between 1618 and September 18, 1619, by Giovan Battista Ricci da Novara.

To the right, on the upper level of the wall, is a series of images commissioned by Paul V. They preserve the memory of the monuments of the old basilica that had been demolished some 12 years earlier. The series continues in the next chapel of the Madonna of Partorienti (Our Lady of Pregnant Women). Today, several centuries later, the paintings are of enormous interest and paramount historical importance.

Close to the entrance is The View of the Buildings in front of the Old Basilica. The represented buildings are recorded in the Latin inscriptions engraved on small marble plates below the painting. Starting from the right is: the facade of the Apostolic Palace of Paul II; the bell tower of Leo IV and Loggia for the Blessings of Alexander VI; the mosaic of the Savior on the facade; the Oratory of St Mary in Turri of Paul I; the palace of the Archpriest of Leo III.

In the next span is The View of the Oratory of John VII. In a style typical of the 17th Century, the fresco represents two walls of the ancient oratory that survived until 1608. It was decorated with 25 mosaic panels from 705-707 and it protected the medieval ciborium with the relic of the Holy Veil. The inscription says:

The oratory of the Holy Veil of Veronica
and of the Virgin Mother of God
built by John VII

This is an exact copy of the original by Ricci, made in 1949, when the deteriorating fresco was transferred onto canvas and placed on the opposite wall. The inscription below, dated 1609, comes from a different place and refers to another fresco of the oratory that no longer exists.

In the center of the vault are two episodes from the “Stories of the Confession.” Ricci inserted the frescoes in an older decoration and superimposed layers of paint are visible in some areas. The panel close to the altar represents St. Servatius, the Bishop of Tongres. In the middle of the 4th century, Servatius came on a pilgrimage to Rome. As the inscription indicates, he was praying at the tomb and received a prophetic message from Peter concerning the future of his Church.

In the other panel is St Amand, the Bishop of Maastricht, who according to tradition, received the order from St Peter to go and preach the Gospel in Gaul (the 7th century).


On the left wall, in a lunette close to the altar, was the now lost painting of the ancient altar of St Anthony the Abbot. Still to be seen, instead, is the redone ancient mosaic of St Paul, originally from the apsidal decoration of Innocent III. To the right, still in its original location, is Ricci’s fresco transferred onto canvas of the View of the Old Basilica.

At the entrance to the chapel (was) the simple sarcophagus of Cardinal Joseph Beran who died in exile in Rome in 1969. It was the wish of Paul VI that the Cardinal be buried here.

(JFL: CARDINAL BERAN TO BE RE-BURIED IN CZECH REPUBLIC (Prague Radio – English edition – January 4, 2018) – Pope Francis has given his consent to the transport of the remains of Cardinal Josef Beran to the Czech Republic, the ambassador to the Holy See Pavel Vošalík told the Czech News Agency on Wednesday. Cardinal Beran was persecuted by the Communist regime and was eventually exiled to Rome, where he died in 1969. He was buried in the Vatican because the Czechoslovak communist authorities didn’t approve the return of his body to his homeland. He is the only Czech buried in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica.

Cardinal Beran, who died May 17, 1969, served as the archbishop of Prague from 1946 until his death and was elevated into the cardinalate in 1965. His cause of canonization commenced in 1997 and this bestowed upon him the title of Servant of God.

The remains of Cardinal Josef Beran were welcomed in Prague on April 20, 2018 and a day later transferred to the cathedral during a solemn Mass in commemoration of St. Adalbert.)

For more than 3 centuries, from 1616 to 1949, the marble statue of St Peter enthroned was on display in this chapel, together with other precious monuments. Still visible, is the fake baldacchino and an inscription on the vault.

On the right wall, in the vicinity of the altar, is a fragment of a Latin inscription from 732 with a relative explanatory plaque. It quotes one part of the decree of the synod of the Roman clergy held in front of the Confession of St Peter. Pope Gregory III had the text engraved on marble slabs. It established the cult of All Saints and of their numerous relics preserved in the Vatican basilica, to be held in the oratory founded by the pope himself. The text starts with the words (PE)TRO THEOPHANIO and lists the names of all the church dignitaries present at the synod, including the Deacon Zachary who succeeded Gregory III as Pope (741).

To the right from the entrance is a marble fragment from the old basilica: the facade of the tabernacle made by Cardinal Lorenzo Cybo, the nephew of Innocent VIII, to hold the relic of the Holy Lance (1495). The work is attributed to the workshop of Andrea Bregno.

The bas-relief represents two praying angels, dressed in flowing garments and spreading their wings. They are standing at the sides of a slightly open door on which is represented the spear and the sponge of the Passion of Christ. In the lunette above, under the starry paneled vault, is the image of Christ Victima, rising from the sepulchre while two heads of cherubs crown the upper corners.




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

This morning was no exception.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

What we saw awaiting the papal car to pass  —IMG_0532



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

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


…or should I say propane?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I also mentioned I was a journalist.

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

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

Sounds VERY long to me!

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

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

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



My guests this weekend in the interview segment of Vatican Insider are Nadine Bargnes and Dawn Iacono of St. Gregory the Great Parish in Amherst, New York where, over 15 years ago they founded MOMS, the Ministry of Mothers Sharing. Nadine and Dawn, former volunteers in Rome for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, returned to the Eternal City with 24 Catholic MOMS from the diocese. Msgr. Robert E. Zapfel, who studied and lived in Rome and is pastor of St. Leo the Great Parish in Amherst, was the spiritual guide for the group. They have a fascinating story to tell – and wait till you hear what they did the last full day of their pilgrimage in Rome. (Nadine L, Dawn R)

The entire pilgrimage was formed around MOMS and moms (lower case) – not only daily Mass and the practice each day of a virtue associated with motherhood (faith and joy, sacrifice and suffering, chastity and purity, courage, justice, fortitude and charity) but visits to churches and shrines dedicated to saints who were also mothers.

You will learn all about MOMS as a ministry, and Dawn and Nadine are only too happy to have you contact them if you wish MOMS in your parish. St. Gregory the Great is not the only parish to have this ministry but it began there. Please write me for their email addresses.

And look at this magnificent shawl! Blue, of course, for Mary, the Blessed Mother! Catherine Wadhams, one of the MOMS on pilgrimage, made one for every member of the pilgrimage and threw in two extras – one for Joan Lewis and a white one for Pope Francis. They talk about that in our conversation!

In the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio. 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 9:00am (ET). On the SKY satellite feed to the UK and parts of Europe, VI airs on audio channel 0147 at 11:30 am CET on Saturdays, and 5:30am and 10pm CET on Sundays. It’s also available on demand on the EWTN app and on the website. CHECK YOUR TIME ZONE. Here’s a link to download VI to your iTunes library: For VI archives:


Our wonderful Msgr. Anthony Figueiredo, whose commentary your hear ever Wednesday for the weekly papal audience on EWTN, says Mass Friday mornings at 8:45 in St. Peter’s Basilica for our Rome staff Mass is traditionally celebrated at the altar of the tomb of St. John XXIII but we’ve been elsewhere in these days his remains have been on pilgrimage in and around his native Bergamo, Italy. I understand St. John will be back this Sunday!

Today, the feast of the Sacred Heart, Msgr. Anthony celebrated Mass at the Sacred Heart of Jesus altar. Only two of us were present and, as you can see in one photo, I did a reading and the Responsorial Psalm. At the start of Mass, Msgr. lists all those for whom we were asked to pray and during Mass gives a wonderful homily, both times mentioning that prayers on this feast day are also always for the sanctification of priests.

Today he explained the beautiful mosaic you see in these photos (yes, mosaic! FYI, I have been told that there is only one painting in St. Peter’s Basilica – what you think are paintings are mosaics!) that depicts Jesus and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque who lived from 1647 to 1690. She was French, a Visitation nun and a mystic and passionately promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart.

I remember especially Msgr. Anthony’s words about Jesus’ Sacred Heart being so big that it has room for every single last one of us, His love is unsurpassable and forever, and His mercy is greater than any sin. My paraphrasing will not do justice to his words.

After Mass, as we walked back to the sacristy, I said, “the best part of the day had just ended!”


Once again, a very beautiful Friday morning, a day that now ends the work week and starts the weekend on a special note for EWTN personnel for whom Msgr. Anthony Figueiredo celebrates weekly Mass at the altar of Pope St. John XXIII in St. Peter’s Basilica.

EWTN’s German bureau chief, Martin Rothweiler is in Rome and he did the reading today from the Book of Wisdom. Here are a few photos:

After Mass, Msgr. Anthony and I met up with Ben Crockett (who is helping us with some very special projects) in the atrium of the basilica. As soon as I saw these workmen preparing the tapestry for Monday’s Episcopal ordinations by the Holy Father in the basilica, I knew I had to take some “behind the scenes” photos and do a Facebook Live.

I hope the start of your Friday and end of your workweek was as beautiful as ours!

By the way, Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all the Irish – and Irish wannabees! Special wishes and prayers to all the faithful of the new church for American and English-speaking Catholics in Rome – St. Patrick’s! Come see us Sunday on Via Boncompagni 31 and wear green!


My guest again this week on Vatican Insider is Chris Altieri, a former colleague at Vatican Radio. As I noted earlier, you are probably familiar with his name because you surely read Chris’ many stories on the webpages of (what was once) English Vatican Radio and heard his voice as he did wonderful commentaries for papal Masses and other events.

This weekend, in the second of two parts, we look at the reform of Vatican communications – what has happened so far, the low morale in the Vatican, what reform means for Vatican personnel in the communications area and what it means for people around the world who listen to a greatly changed Vatican radio – except we are not supposed to use that name anymore!

Don’t leave town just yet because at the end of next week you will hear the stunning conclusion to the odyssey of the reform of Vatican communications!

In the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio. 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 9:00am (ET). On the SKY satellite feed to the UK and parts of Europe, VI airs on audio channel 0147 at 11:30 am CET on Saturdays, and 5:30am and 10pm CET on Sundays. It’s also available on demand on the EWTN app and on the website. CHECK YOUR TIME ZONE. Here’s a link to download VI to your iTunes library: For VI archives:


An email I received today from the Sant’Egidio Community that Pope Francis visited last Sunday to mark its 50th anniversary, had a delightful surprise: It seems that on Tuesday, March 13, Pope Francis welcomed to the Santa Marta residence a group of refugees coming from the Horn of Africa and from Syria, arriving Italy through the Sant’Egidio Humanitarian Corridors. There were also some ill people who are being hosted by the community as well as community president, Marco Impagliazzo.

Pope Francis listened carefully to the different and sorrowful experiences refugees had to face before arriving safe in Italy, according to the email. Francis asked extensively about the operation mode of the Humanitarian Corridors. He remembered his personal intervention in aid of the refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos, and re-stated the urgency to develop this kind of corridor which has welcomed and integrated more than 1,000 in Italy and Europe.

During his recent visit to Santa Maria in Trastevere, Pope Francis said: “Today, more than ever, carry on audaciously on this path … Carry on opening new humanitarian corridors for the refugees of war and hunger. The poor are your treasure!”



I spent such a lovely and most unexpected morning in St. Peter’s Basilica and want to share some of the photos I took. I did not bring a camera so thank the Lord for phones!

My main intention was to attend the 10 am daily Mass at the St. Joseph Altar and to have my throat blessed afterwards as this is, as you know, the tradition on the February 3 feast of St. Blaise. There was no indication that the priest was going to bless throats following Mass and so I started to follow him on his way to the sacristy, asking in a soft voice where I could get the blessing. He smiled broadly and sent the young man accompanying him to the altar to get the double candles,

We chatted briefly in the meantime, and Father told me he did not start the blessing as he had the impression no one at Mass spoke Italian and thus would not understand his announcement about the blessing.

The young man returned and Father blessed me, reciting the prayer that is always said in this circumstance. I was quite happy and told him I did not even remember the last time I missed having my throat blessed on St. Blaise’s feast day.

Given that I was in the basilica, a place in which I always experience great peace, I decided to stroll around and eventually pray a bit at the chapel where St. John Paul is buried, and this was my second blessing!

I was delighted to see that the papal altar and confessio were still bedecked with the flowers from last night’s Mass for the World Day of Consecrated Life:

I then noticed some of the floor plaques on which I have reported a number of times…

The next time you walk down the main aisle of St. Peter’s Basilica – unless you are being escorted to your seat during a liturgy! – look down at the stunning marble floor and try to find some of the several dozen bronze inserts. With all the beauty and the gigantic size of the basilica, it is amazing that people even notice these plaques but they are important. To give the visitor some idea of the size of St. Peter’s Basilica relative to other major churches in the world – Catholic and non-Catholic alike – there are inscriptions in bronze that indicate the size of the world’s largest churches relative to St. Peter’s, the largest of all.

These bronze inscriptions are about a yard wide and 6 or more inches high. The name of each church and where it is located are in Latin – most are easy to understand – and the length of that church is inscribed beneath the name. The measurements are given in meters. A meter is 39 inches. St. Peter’s Basilica is 186 meters in length – or 611 feet!

St. Paul’s in London holds SECOND place at 158 meters or 518 feet long. THIRD place goes to Florence’s Duomo at 149 or 489 feet. FOURTH place: Sacred Heart of Jesus, Brussels, Belgium: 140.94 – FIFTH place: Washington’s Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at 456 feet.

Three of the final four out of the over 30 descriptions belong to U.S. churches;
Holy Cross Cathedral in Boston at 103 meters, Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles at 101.2 and St Patrick’s in New York at 101.1 meters.

As you can see, Santa Sophia in Istanbul is just a bit longer that Holy Cross in Boston.

This is for the Basilica of the Virgin Mary, Gdansk, Poland

St. Patrick’s,  New York City

This is not one of those plaques but simply one of the many marble floor designs in the basilica

As I entered the chapel where St. John Paul is buried, I noticed a sizeable group of people, all of whom were wearing mustard color scarves. I asked a man standing next to me who they were and he said they came from all parts of Italy and were members of a national antiusury group and they were touring the basilica before their noon audience with Pope Francis!

I stayed in the chapel for quite some time to pray before the tomb of my hero and, in so many ways, spiritual mentor. I often get requests from people to pray for their special intentions before St. John Paul and I did so today.

As I made my way out of the basilica, I noted the nativity scene was still up so I took some pictures and also posted a Facebook live video, whispering just a few words about where I was. For me, St. Peter’s is and always will be, first and foremost, a church.

In this scene, when day turns to night, those who are ‘working’ via animation stop working when the sky and stars appear. When it is morning, they resume their work.

I exited the basilica and walked along the south wall where there is a bookstore, post office, etc, before you actually reach the colonnade.

I don’t know how many of you know there are Stations of the Cross in St. Peter’s Square! The first seven are on this south wall and the final seven are on the opposite side of the square – the side you will be on after having gone through security to enter the basilica.

It was an unexpectedly wonderful morning for me – as I hope it is now for you as you read this column!