Pope Francis held a private audience with Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine, and discussed the need for direct dialogue between Palestine and Israel to achieve a two-state solution.

By Vatican News staff reporter

The Holy See Press Office announced that Pope Francis and Palestinian President Mahoud Abbas met in a private audience in the Vatican on Thursday.

According to a press release, their discussions were “cordial” and emphasized the good relations between the State of Palestine and the Holy See.

The Pope and the President spoke about the need to promote human fraternity and peaceful coexistence among various faiths, as well as the goal of a two-state solution in the Holy Land.

Two-state solution
“With regard to the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, it was stressed that it is absolutely necessary to reactivate direct dialogue in order to achieve a two-state solution, also with the help of more vigorous effort on the part of the international community,” the statement read.

Pope Francis and President Abbas also noted that, “Jerusalem must be recognized by all as a place of encounter and not of conflict, and that its status must preserve its identity and universal value as a Holy City for all three Abrahamic religions, also through a special internationally guaranteed status.”

The two leaders then spoke about the “urgency of working for peace, avoiding the use of weapons, and combating all forms of extremism and fundamentalism.”

President Abbas met separately with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States

Exchange of gifts
The pair also exchanged gifts during their 55-minute meeting.

Pope Francis gifted Mr. Abbas a bronze plaque of two hands in a friendly grip. Depicted in the background is the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square, a woman with a child, a migrant boat, and the words (in Italian) “Let us fill our hands with other hands” emblazoned on the bottom of the plaque.

The Pope also gave the president a book of papal documents and copies of his message for peace for this year, the Document on Human Fraternity, and a book on the Statio Orbis of 27 March 2020, published by the Vatican Publishing House.

President Abbas gifted the Pope with a book on the Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem, and a representation of the Grotto of the Nativity in amber. (photos by Vatican and by CNS)


I wrote on Monday that, due to so many commitments, meetings, symposiums, interviews, etc., this page might be “Joan’s Rome” lite this week. I apologize for the “empty” page yesterday but am sure that today’s column will more than make up for that, in content and photos.


My special guest on Vatican Insider this weekend is Archbishop Bernie Hebda, coadjutor of Newark, New Jersey, who was in Rome for Caritas’s 20th general assembly on the theme “One Human Family, Caring for Creation.” He has been on the Caritas board and talks to us about his work as well as the current meeting. (photo from archdiocesan website: http://www.rcan.org)


I attended Pope Francis’ Mass Tuesday evening that opened the Caritas general assembly as well as one of the sessions on Thursday. In the following story, I feature some of the photos I took at the Mass, at the Caritas conference and at the beautiful center that hosted this meeting.

As you know, in the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at www.ewtn.com) or on Sirius-XM satellite radio. If you live outside the U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:30 am (Eastern time) and re-airs Sundays at 4:30 pm (ET). Check for your time zone. Past shows are found in Vatican Insider archives:http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/file_index.asp?SeriesId=7096&pgnu=


The 20th General Assembly of Caritas Internationalis was opened on Tuesday during a Mass celebrated in St. Peter’s basilica by Pope Francis for the members of this international Vatican-based organization.  The assembly ends Sunday when members return to their respective countries and report on the meeting’s theme, “One Human Family, Caring for Creation.”

In his homily at Tuesday’s Mass, Pope Francis called for local parishes to get more involved in Caritas and its projects, from its charitable works to providing food to those in need. He said, “We must do what we can so that everyone has something to eat, but we must also remind the powerful of the Earth, that God will call them to judgement one day and there it will be revealed if they really tried to provide food for Him in every person. And also if they did what they could to preserve the environment so that it could produce this food.” Francis said, “We cannot forget our Christian brothers and sisters who have been violently deprived of food for their bodies and their souls. They have been driven from their homes and their churches, some even destroyed. I renew the appeal not to forget these people or these intolerable injustices.”

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Speakers at the Caritas General Assembly included, among others, outgoing Caritas President Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, Dana Shahin of Caritas Jordan, Vatican officials Cardinal Peter Turkson and Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, a message from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and Caritas Secretary general Michel Roy.

Speeches may be read online and downloaded: http://www.caritas.org/ga2015/#speakers

My guest on an upcoming “Vatican Insider” will be Dana Shahin from Jordan. I spent six days in Jordan after Pope Francis’ trip to the Holy Land last year and spent part of one day at the Amman Caritas office – an experience that touched my heart and endeared me enormously to Caritas workers – wherever they are – and to Jordanians. You can read Dana’s address and her appeal by clicking on the above link – and you will be as moved as I was!

I was at the Caritas General Assembly on Thursday morning and it was only hours later that Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila, the Philippines, was elected as the new president of Caritas Internationalis.

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Caritas sent out a brief statement on his election, noting that Cardinal Tagle, speaking on the phone from the United States, told delegates from over 130 member organizations from all over the world: “Buona sera a tutti! Thank you for your trust. I’m limited in my capacities but with all of you, with the love that Jesus has poured into our hearts and in the name of all of the poor people in the world, I accept this election. Let us together strengthen the church of the poor so our witness can help guide us to a world of understanding, justice, true freedom and peace.”

Where you’ll find Caritas:





Niger-Mali border:










The Philippines after Typhoon Yolanda:


Cardinal Tagle is the first Caritas Internationalis President to be elected from Asia. He succeeds Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, who is stepping down after serving two terms. Cardinal Maradiaga, who is also a member of the C9, the Council of Cardinals who advise the Pope, offered his congratulations and warm support.

The meeting was held Domus Mariae, Villa Carpegna, also called the Church Palace:20150514_120351 20150514_120422 20150514_120432

And yes, when in Rome…..



Today at 1:00 in the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Rifat Bader, Director of the Catholic Center for Studies and Media in Amman, Jordan held a briefing to present two of the Blesseds who will be canonized by Pope Francis on Sunday, May 17 in St. Peter’s Square: Marie-Alphonsine, founder of Palestine’s first congregation, the Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary of Jerusalem, and Mary of Jesus Crucified Baouardy, the founder of the Carmelite Convent in Bethlehem and India.

Following is Fr. Bader’s presentation in English (he later answered questions in English and Italian):

“Pope Francis will announce next Sunday the canonization of four nuns. Two of them are Palestinians, namely Marie-Alphonsine, founder of Palestine’s first congregation, the Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary of Jerusalem, and Mary of Jesus Crucified Baouardy, the founder of the Carmelite Convent in Bethlehem and India. One French and one Italian nun are also being canonized. (photo from site of Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem: lpj.org)


“The pontifical Mass will be celebrated at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican by His Holiness Pope Francis in the presence of cardinals and archbishops from the Vatican and around the world. In attendance will be Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints; Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches; Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

“The participants in the Mass include a delegation from the Holy Land – Jordan, Palestine and Israel – consisting of 2,124 people led by His Beatitude, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal in his capacity as president of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land. Also present will be the Archbishop of Acre for the Melkites Georges Bacouni, the Maronite Archbishop of Haifa and the Holy Land Moussa el-Hage, and bishops from Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Cyprus. They will be joined in fellowship by priests, men and women religious and faithful from various churches.

“During Mass, the superior general of the Rosary Sisters Congregation, Mother Anyes Al- Ya’qoub will carry the relics of the new saint Alphonsine, accompanied by Sister Braxid Sweidan and relatives of the Jerusalemite saint Nawal Daniel Mzayyid and Patrick Daniel. The relics of St. Baouardy will be carried by Carmelite sisters Anna Diplomas, Ferial Qarra’ and Jocelyn Ferro, together with the saint’s relative, Mr. Rizeq Baouardy. Furthermore, Emile Munir Elias and his mother will be at the Mass, as he had been healed through the intercession of St. Alphonsine. An Italian family will also hold the relics of St. Baouardy as their son was healed through her intercession. Rosary Sister Mariam Ba’bish will also say a prayer in Arabic for peace and justice.

“Upon departure for the Vatican, Patriarch Twal said: ‘The declaration of sainthood of the two nuns from Palestine is a spiritual event of prime importance for the citizens of the Holy Land, amid the difficulties we are experiencing, as the two saints enlighten our path. As the Holy Land, wrecked by violence and dissent, has for sometimes had a tarnished image, our two saints emerge to restore its sanctity, reminding us that sanctity is possible even in the most difficult circumstances’.

“The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem said, ‘the canonization of the two girls from the East during these dark times is an invitation from His Holiness Pope Francis to pray, knowing that only prayer can miraculously help save our faith in the midst of these times of trial’. He added, ‘Now, we have two new saints who represent a model of perfection for Christians, as well as for Muslims and Jews alike. They are both named Mary, and this name is widespread and commonly used among all three traditions. It is a sign of our modern time which suggests that we can talk about the three religions without any discrimination’.’

“Having received the joyful news last February, the Holy Land gives thanks to Almighty God for the blessing of canonization, especially for the community of believers in the land the Lord Jesus blessed through His presence. The Churches of the Holy Land convey heartfelt gratitude and thanks to His Holiness Pope Francis, who always states that, “the Middle East without Christians, is not the Middle East.” (Apostolic Exhortation).

“We view this grand event, which takes place for the first time since the days of the apostles, as a message of solidarity and encouragement to the Christians of the Holy Land, especially to the Christians and parishioners in all other Middle East countries, and to (those) who have been forcibly displaced and deported from their home countries, to all those who suffer from persecution, and whose persecutors sometimes think that by “killing they are offering a sacrifice to God,” as Jesus himself warned.

“The new saint, Mary of Jesus Crucified, was during her life subjected to acts of extremism and an attempt on her life in an attempt to force her to change her religion. She now intercedes for those who are being killed because of their religion and of their religious affiliation. Her life and intercession are a cry urging respect for religious and ethnic differences as well as acknowledging human beings as creatures who are made in the image and likeness of God.

“The new saint Marie-Alphonsine succeeded in gaining the support of the religious authorities to set up the first local Arab religious congregation, and placing the Arab world on the map in the fields of education and religious teaching. Furthermore, the rosary schools affiliated with this Arab religious congregation have a prominent and influential presence in Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, the Gulf States and Rome. We realize that during the late 19th and early 20th century this religious congregation contributed to giving increasing the role of Arab in culture, social awareness, spiritual guidance, and education of generations of both men and women. Illiteracy has been eliminated in many parts of the Middle East as a direct result of the active contributions of nuns and Church congregations to literacy education.

“The two saintly nuns, whose canonization coincides with the Church celebrations of the year of consecrated life and the blessed Marian Month of May, pray that the Lord would bring peace and calmness to our hearts and minds, and that we will return to worshipping the Almighty God – Who alone is worthy of our worship and thankfulness. We view the consecration of the founder of the Rosary Sisters as an invitation to intensify the daily Rosary prayers in churches, houses, and parish groups to bring peace, love and mutual respect among all the people of the Middle East.

“The vigil of the canonization will be a prayer vigil at 5:30 pm in the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome. On Monday, May 18h, His Beatitude Patriarch Twal will preside over the Mass of Thanksgiving at St Mary Major Basilica, The Mass and songs will be in Arabic for the members of the delegation coming from the Holy Land.”

(To learn more about the future Palestinian saints, the miracles credited to them and other details, click here to see a letter about the two nuns from Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal: http://en.lpj.org/2015/03/23/patriarchs-letter-for-the-canonization-of-the-two-palestinian-nuns/)


Some newsworthy stories today from and about the Vatican but the first is really the big news – the Holy See recognizing the State of Palestine.

It made me think of what happened last year during Pope Francis’ three day trip to the Holy Land to re-create a trip taken by Pope Paul VI 50 years earlier, reproducing the exact same itinerary. Pope Francis plane landed in Amman, Jordan on Saturday, May 24 where he also spent the night.

The next morning, Sunday the 25th, a helicopter took the Pope from Amman to Bethlehem (45 miles) in (as the official program noted) the State of Palestine – and later Sunday, he arrived in Jerusalem – 5 miles from Bethlehem! – by a very convoluted itinerary.

As the official itinerary said: “Pope Francis bid farewell from the State of Palestine at the helicopter port of Bethlehem: 16:00 Departure by helicopter from the helicopter port of Bethlehem for Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. 16:30 arrival ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Discourse of the Holy Father. 17:15 Transfer by helicopter to Jerusalem (31 miles).

Israel had wanted the Pope to arrive in Tel Aviv directly from Amman, Jordan. Israel does not recognize the State of Palestine, thus, the papal helicopter should have flown from the Kingdom of Jordan to the State of Israel, not through land that they do not recognize as a State. They would have wanted the Pope to go to Bethlehem as the final stop. However, that is not what Paul VI did 50 years earlier.

I remember Israelis asking me last year why the Pope did not spend more time in Israel after going to Amman and Bethlehem. I told them his three-day trip was the exact re-creation of a trip made 50 years earlier by Pope Paul VI to greet the then Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, emphasziing that it was not a state visit. The Israelis I spoke to told me that aspect had not been in the news reports in their country.


The Vatican today released the following statement, and the big news is in the very first sentence where it mentions the State of Palestine:

On 13 May 2015, the Bilateral Commission of the Holy See and the State of Palestine which is working on a Comprehensive Agreement following on the Basic Agreement, signed on 15 February 2000, held a Plenary Session in the Vatican to acknowledge the work done at an informal level by the joint technical group following the last official meeting held in Ramallah at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the State of Palestine on 6 February 2014.

The talks were chaired by Magr. Antoine Camilleri, Under-Secretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States, and by Ambassador Rawan Sulaiman, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for Multilateral Affairs of the State of Palestine.

The discussions took place in a cordial and constructive atmosphere. Taking up the issues already examined at an informal level, the Commission noted with great satisfaction the progress achieved in formulating the text of the Agreement, which deals with essential aspects of the life and activity of the Catholic Church in Palestine.

Both Parties agreed that the work of the Commission on the text of the Agreement has been concluded, and that the agreement will be submitted to the respective authorities for approval ahead of setting a date in the near future for the signing.

(The statement then listed the names of the delegations for each side).

And here is an AP report on today’s statement:

The Vatican officially recognized the state of Palestine in a new treaty finalized Wednesday, immediately sparking Israeli ire and accusations that the move hurt peace prospects.

The treaty, which concerns the activities of the Catholic Church in Palestinian territory, makes clear that the Holy See has switched its diplomatic recognition from the Palestine Liberation Organization to the state of Palestine.

The Vatican had welcomed the decision by the U.N. General Assembly in 2012 to recognize a Palestinian state. But the treaty is the first legal document negotiated between the Holy See and the Palestinian state and constitutes official diplomatic recognition.

“Yes, it’s a recognition that the state exists,” said the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi.

The Israeli foreign ministry said it was “disappointed” by the development.

“This move does not promote the peace process and distances the Palestinian leadership from returning to direct and bilateral negotiations,” the ministry said in a text message. “Israel will study the agreement and will consider its steps accordingly.”

The treaty was finalized days before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visits Pope Francis at the Vatican. Abbas is heading to Rome to attend Francis’ canonization Sunday of two new saints from the Holy Land.

The Vatican has been referring unofficially to the state of Palestine for at least a year.

During Pope Francis’ 2014 visit to the Holy Land, the Vatican’s official program referred to Abbas as the president of the “state of Palestine.” In the Vatican’s latest yearbook, the Palestinian ambassador to the Holy See is listed as representing “Palestine (state of).”

The Vatican’s foreign minister, Monsignor Antoine Camilleri, acknowledged the change in status, given that the treaty was initially inked with the PLO and is now being finalized with the “state of Palestine.” But he said the shift was simply in line with the Holy See’s position.

This isn’t the first time that the Vatican under Francis has taken diplomatic moves knowing that it would ruffle feathers: Just last month, Francis referred to the slaughter of Armenians by Turkish Ottomans a century ago as a “genocide,” prompting Turkey to recall its ambassador. (AP writer Ian Deitch contributed from Jerusalem)


Today’s general audience took place in St. Peter’s Square and the tens of thousands of pilgrims suffered not only a wait to get into the square but also suffered he heat under the beating sun, with little or no breeze. Pilgrims had a longer than usual wait today to enter the square as you will se by the story at the end of the Pope’s catechesis.

At today’s audience, Pope Francis focused on what he called in Italian “three little words,” actually three little expressions that he has used before when speaking of relationships such as engaged couples and married couples. Following is the English language summary of his Italian catechesis:

“Today,” he began the catechesis, “I would like to continue our catechesis on the family by reflecting on three phrases: ‘May I?’, ‘Thank you’, and ‘Pardon me.’ These simple phrases are not so easy to say or to put into practice. But when they are ignored, their absence can cause cracks in the foundation of the family, which can lead to its collapse. If these words are part of our daily lives, not just as a formal expression of good manners, but as a sign of deep love for one another, they strengthen a happy family life.

“’May I?’ – even if we think we have the right to something, when we speak to our spouse or family member with kindness we create space for a true spirit of marital and familial common life. We renew trust and respect, revealing our love for others, and we allow them to open the door of their hearts to us.

“’Thank you’ – our society has great need for gratitude, which makes us more sensitive to the dignity of the human person and the demands of social justice. Thankfulness is also the language of God, to whom above all we must express our gratitude.

“’Pardon me” – Without these words, hurt can develop in our relationships, and weaken our life as a family. But when we ask forgiveness, we show our desire to restore what was lost – respect, honesty, love – and healing between family members is made possible. ‘May I?’, ‘Thank you’, ‘Pardon me’ – Let us ask the Lord to keep these three phrases in our hearts, our homes and our communities.”

Following is one news report that indicates why driving and getting into the papal audience was so tough today. Who knows the grade people would give the Rome police after this morning’s “test.”  I was going to an appointment and I can attest to the fact that the traffic was horrendous!

VATICAN CITY — Police have been out in force and streets around the Vatican were closed as authorities test out a new, beefed-up security plan to protect Pope Francis. Police said they decided to use Francis’ Wednesday general audience as a dry run for the new plan, given that huge crowds are expected starting in December when Francis opens a special Jubilee year.

The main boulevard leading to St. Peter’s Square was closed to traffic, as were side streets leading to it. Police were everywhere and traffic on both sides of the nearby Tiber River was at a standstill. Pilgrims who managed to get to the square had to have their bags searched. The Vatican has said it is taking prudent precautions to guard the pope but that there were no specific threats.