Just after 8 pm last night, a car arrived at the Sant’Anna entrance to the Vatican whose driver, denied entry for not having the proper documents or authorization, exited the Vatican, turned the car around and then re-entered at high speed, driving past the first check point of the Swiss Gaurds, then speeding past the Vatican gendarme check point.

A Holy See Press Office statement further explained that, in an attempt to stop the car, the gendarme inspector guarding the gate, fired a pistol shot in the direction of the front tires of the vehicle. Despite having hit the vehicle on the left front fender, the car continued on at high speed.

An alarm code was immediately broadcast by guards and gendarmes to close the Gate of the Mint, thus blocking access to the rear of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican gardens and Piazza Santa Marta.

In the meantime, the car reached the San Damaso courtyard, the driver exited the car and was blocked and arrested by the gendarmes.

The man, about 40 years old, was immediately examined by doctors of Vatican City’s medical center and found to be a serious state of psychophysical alteration.

Currently the person is in a detention cell in the new premises of the gendarme barracks, awaiting a meeting with judicial authorities.



The Swiss Guard swearing-in ceremony for new guards that traditionally takes place on May 6 to commemorate the 147 Swiss Guards who died during the May 6, 1527 Sack of Rome as they were defending Pope Clement VII, has been moved to October 4, 2020 because of the covid pandemic.

However, tomorrow, May 6, there will be Mass in the church of Santa Maria in Campo Santo in the Vatican’s Teutonic cemetery and a brief ceremony to commemorate the 1527 event. Normally family members and friends who are in Rome for the swearing-in ceremony also attend these events but tomorrow’s commemoration will have a restricted number of people present, respecting the rules of hygiene and safety that apply in the Vatican City State.

Following Mass, the guards present will be decorated with honors for their long and faithful service to the Holy See, according to a Swiss Guard press release.

Mass will start at 5 pm Rome time, followed by the commemorative ceremony at 6 pm in the Piazzale dei Protomartiri Romani of the Swiss Guard barracks.

Everything will be broadcast via live stream on the guards’ website



As you may know, Pope Francis is on the second day of his Apostolic trip to Bulgaria and North Macedonia, having departed Rome yesterday morning for Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. I have posted news stories about the trip, including some lovely photos, from the Vatican news website and will continue to do so until he returns to the Vatican.


Just a short while ago, in the Vatican’s beautiful San Damaso courtyard, 23 young men were sworn in as new Pontifical Swiss Guards in a solemn, yet very colorful ceremony that spans centuries.

The weather has been on and off threatening throughout the day but sun prevailed and the ceremony was held in the San Damaso courtyard. In inclement weather the ceremony is usually moved to the Paul VI Hall.

Relatives and friends have been in Rome for days, filling neighboring restaurants at mealtimes and attending many of the pre-swearing in events, including an audience with Pope Francis on Saturday, a concert, vespers, a gala dinner Saturday evening offered by the Swiss Canon of Ticino, and this morning, Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St Peter’s Basilica celebrated by Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of the basilica.

May 6 is the traditional date of the swearing-in ceremony as it marks the day in 1527, during the Sack of Rome that 147 Swiss Guards lost their life defending Pope Clement VII. The Guards had been founded only 21 years earlier, on January 22, 1506 by Pope Julius II. A ceremony on Saturday commemorated the 147 who died with the laying of a wreath in the courtyard of the Roman Proto-Martyrs. (photos in this slideshow by my EWTN/ACI colleague Daniel Ibanez)

This past January, to commemorate the 513th anniversary of the founding of the corps, new black helmets, manufactured in synthetic ASA with a 3D printer, were worn! An amazing novelty for what has been called “the world’s smallest army.”

To enroll as a Swiss Guard, by the way, one must be a Swiss, Catholic male under the age of 30 and in good health. The 110-member Swiss Guards serve as a ceremonial unit but principally as protectors of the person and residence of the Pope. They are expertly trained in all forms of weapon use and self-defense.

At today’s ceremony, each new Guard will take his oath on the flag of the Swiss Guards, pronouncing it in one of the four official Swiss languages – French, German, Italian and a romance language spoken in Switzerland called Romanisch. (photo from Swiss Guard website:

With their left hand on the flag, they hold their right hand up, showing three fingers that represent the Trinity and repeat this oath:

«I swear I will faithfully, loyally and honourably serve the Supreme Pontiff and his legitimate successors and I dedicate myself to them with all my strength. I assume this same commitment with regard to the Sacred College of Cardinals whenever the Apostolic See is vacant. Furthermore, I promise to the Commanding Captain and my other superiors respect, fidelity and obedience. I swear to observe all that the honour of position demands of me.»


No, Michelangelo did not design the current Swiss Guard uniform, but here’s a bit of history (from their website) about the attire of today’s Swiss Guards (and the next time you see a Swiss Guard, you’ll know what uniform he is wearing):

Gala Uniform
Probably the most famous uniform in the entire world, the so-called «Gala Uniform», owes it popularity largely to the design of commander Jules Repond (1910-1921). The famous colours of blue, red and yellow are the traditional colours of the Medici family. The blue and yellow cloth stripes interrupt in a flowing movement the red vest and pants. At the beginning of the 20th century, after much research and in accordance with the frescoes of Raphael, the hats were replaced with the Basque cap still worn today, on which the rank insignia can be seen. Furthermore, the white collar was introduced to replace the folded collar.

During public order, the guards wear white gloves, at honourable services during the papal ceremony they wear the black helmet, at state receptions for representation purposes additionally the time-honoured and at that time the weapon of the Swiss mercenaries, the halberd.

At Easter, Christmas and at the swearing-in ceremonies an additional 17th century armour complements the Gala uniform. This includes the striking white collar, the white gloves and a silver helmet with a red feather for the halberdiers, a dark purple feather for the officers and a white feather for the commander and the sergeant. On both sides of the silver helmet a relief of the founder’s Pope Julius II «della Rovere» family oak is depicted.

Exercise uniform
The so-called «Exercise uniform», the uniform worn for training and during night duties, is entirely blue. At the entrance to St. Anne’s the same uniform is also worn during the week for practical reasons. The main roads are also located there, and the colourful Gala uniform would cause too much distraction for the motorists. These uniforms are worn with a white collar and white cuffs.

Representation uniform
When officers get invited to a gala occasion the red, velvet and very delicate gala-uniform is not appropriate to represent the corps officially. Instead they wear the black Representation uniform; this was modelled after the earlier officers Ordnance uniform.

The drummers wear a yellow-black uniform with a black helmet and yellow-black feathers during their performances.

In winter and when it rains, a mantle is worn to protect the uniform from the elements.

Training uniform
To participate in the growing offers in education in the section of Security an especially for the modern operations, a training uniform has been developed and implemented.


If you planned your Italian trip for May, expecting warm, spring temperatures, plenty of sunshine and the chance to eat outdoors, you will be disappointed this year! It feels and looks more like November, tha May, especially mornings and evenings, and warm clothing is a must.

Municipal law in Italy establishes when heat in buildings may be turned on and must be turned off: OFF usually within the first 10 days of November and OFF, in the first 10 days or so of April. If it cold before November or after the April turn-off, that’s just too bad! Those who own their apartments almost always have an independent heating system and are not subject to municipal deadlines.

Heat in my building has been off for a bit over 3 weeks but we sure could use it now. I have several layers of wool on as I write and just turned my AC unit on to heat.

For weather here in recent days, read on:

ROME: Two people died and another person went missing on Sunday (May 5) as high winds and heavy rain pummelled Italy and neighbouring France.

In Sicily, an unexpected gust of wind killed a 65-year-old German kitesurfer on the Islands of the Stagnone nature reserve, smashing him against a parked car as he tried to go into the sea, Italian media reported. He was not wearing a buoyancy device or helmet despite the authorities recently making them mandatory for kitesurfers.

Read more at–one-missing-as-freak-weather-hits-italy–france-11506280


The Pontifical Swiss Guards today inaugurated a new website in four languages. Here’s the English:

And here is the Guards’ Facebook page:

Enjoy both! By the way, if you are a Swiss male who has done his military service, you may apply to be a Pontifical Swiss Guard on the website.


Some years ago, when I was working for the Holy See at the Vatican Information Service, I wrote a piece on the history of papal retreats. Because there was generally little if any news during such a retreat, given that the Pope does not hold audiences in this period and the heads of Roman Curia offices are also involved in the retreat, we had to find something for our readers so I researched the history of papal retreats.

Annual retreats for the Pope and Roman Curia trace their origins to Pope Pius XI who, on December 20, 1929 marked the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination by publishing the Encyclical “’Mens nostra’,” On The Promotion of Spiritual Exercises” which was addressed to “Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops and Other Local Ordinaries in Peace and Communion with the Apostolic See.”

In that encyclical, the Pope informed the faithful that he had arranged to hold spiritual exercises every year in the Vatican, a custom still practiced by the Holy Father and ranking members of the Roman Curia. In the early years this retreat was held during the first week in Advent but now takes place in the first full week of Lent.

Cardinal Achille Ratti, archbishop of Milan, was elected to the papacy on February 6, 1922, and took the name of Pius XI. He died on February 10, 1939.

On January 6, 1929 feast of the Epiphany, Pius XI declared a Jubilee Year to mark the upcoming 50th anniversary of his ordination and asked the faithful to “share in the joy of their common father and to join with us in rendering thanks to the Supreme Giver of all good.” At the end of that year, in the Encyclical “Mens nostra,” he looked back at the “many and rich fruits” of the Jubilee and wrote that, as a way to “express our heartfelt gratitude, … we have deemed it fitting … to establish something most excellent which will, we trust, prove a source of many advantages to the Christian people. We are speaking of the practice of Spiritual Exercises, which we earnestly desire to see daily extended more widely, not only among the clergy, both secular and regular, but also among the multitudes of the Catholic laity.”

Pius XI then wrote at length on the history of “Sacred Retreats,” citing the words on this subject of his predecessors, of Doctors of the Church and founders of religious orders such as Don Bosco of the Salesians and, most especially of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, “whom we are pleased to call the chief and peculiar Master of Spiritual Exercises.”

The Pope in fact, on July 22, 1922 had “declared and constituted St. Ignatius of Loyola the heavenly Patron of all Spiritual Exercises and, therefore, of institutes, sodalities and bodies of every kind assisting those who are making the Spiritual Exercises.”

He underscored the “joy and consolation” he found in Spiritual Exercises and he announced: “And in order that we may secure this joy and consolation, both for ourselves and for others who are near us, We have already made arrangements for holding the Spiritual Exercises every year in the Vatican.” While highlighting the value of retreats, he admonished: “Nor should the priests of the Clergy, secular and regular, think that the time spent on the Spiritual Exercises tends to the detriment of the apostolic ministry.”

In 2014, the spiritual exercises for Pope Francis and members of the Curia marked the first time that they were held outside Vatican City, specifically in Ariccia, not far from Rome, in a religious house.


What a fun story today from the Swiss Guards! I have contacted them for some photos of the new black helmets and the day’s events. Am waiting to see what they might send me but in the meantime, here is their anniversary story along with some photos I took of a Swiss Guard swearing-in ceremony. I was at their 500th anniversary celebrations in May of 2006 and have attended swearing-in ceremonies in both the Vatican’s San Damaso courtyard (the traditional venue) and inside the Paul VI Hall when weather is inclement.


The Pontifical Swiss Guards, founded in 1506 by Pope Julius II, issued a communiqué today noting that, on the occasion of the 513th anniversary of the foundation of the Swiss Guard Corps on January 22, 2019, the new helmets, manufactured in synthetic ASA with a 3D printer, will be worn.

In addition, the first clip of the video series “1506 – the Pontifical Swiss Guard story is told” will air online with the theme “Service of Honor.”

As is tradition, January 22nd was celebrated with the Eucharistic celebration in the church of Santa Maria della Pietà in Campo Santo Teutonico. The religious of the Fatebenefratelli order, who serve at the Vatican Pharmacy as well as at the Vatican’s Department of Health and Hygiene Services, were invited as guests of honor.

At the end of Mass, the Swiss Guards marched towards the guard headquarters, exiting the Arch of the Bells and crossing St. Peter’s Square. This was to commemorate the arrival at St. Peter’s Square of Swiss mercenaries on January 22, 1506, the year the Corps was founded. After return to their headquarters there was a military event during which, for the first time, the guards wore the new black ASM synthetic helmets produced with a 3D printer in Switzerland.

On the same day, the first clip of the series “1506 – the Swiss Guard story is told” aired on the guards’ social media channels with the theme “Service of Honor.” After the Christmas clip that attracted much interest, the Swiss Guard will transmit further information on the life of the Corps.

This first clip shows the Swiss Guards during the preparation of a reception of a head of state, in this case the arrival of the President of the Helvetic Confederation, Mr. Alain Berset:

During the year, the Swiss Guard will air clips on a specific topic on the 20th of each month.

JFL: The Swiss Guard website is available in three of the languages of Switzerland (German, French and Italian) and also in English:

Following is a slideshow of some photos I took at a May 6 Swiss Guard Swearing-in ceremony




“How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion.” – Pope Francis

In 2018, the first-ever hackathon at the Vatican, known as VHacks, will take place from March 8th to the 11th. Combining the words “hacking” and “marathon”, a hackathon is a sprint-like event in which multi-disciplinary teams (including computer programmers, graphic designers, project managers, etc.) collaborate to create solutions under a time constraint.

For the first time in history, VHacks brings the concept of a hackathon to the Vatican. Organized by OPTIC, a global think-tank dedicated to ethical issues of disruptive technologies and the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communication, this global event will bring together innovators of all faiths and ethnicities.

The Pontifical Council for Culture and Migrants & Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development are co-organizing the event.

Combined with the support of student volunteers from Harvard and MIT, VHacks is committed to bridging technology with human-centered values.

VHacks will target important global issues, including social inclusion, interfaith dialogue, and the migrant & refugee crisis.

Specifically, the mission of VHacks is to:
1. Leverage technology to address current global problems centered on hackathon themes. The 2018 Hackathon themes center on 3 key issues: a. Social Inclusion: Encourage solidarity by restoring human-centric thinking and values in our increasingly digital world. b. Interfaith Dialogue: Support open communication between individuals and organizations representing differing faiths to create mutual understanding and constructive cooperation. c. Migrants & Refugees: Strengthen, support, and mobilize resources for migrants and refugees to assist them with relocation and integration.
2. Promote collaboration among youth leaders across diverse academic, ethnic, and religious backgrounds.
3.Encourage value-based institutions to embrace technology to further their missions.

The event will be a true celebration of all cultures and beliefs, bringing together the world’s brightest students with diverse academic, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. Participants will be selected through a combination of top-tier partner universities providing teams and an open, online application process where any student enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program is eligible to apply. 120 participants are chosen based on academic accomplishments, innovative thinking, and alignment with our mission statement.

The capstone to the event will include panels exploring the implications of technological advancement on human development and a post-hackathon virtual expo. Speakers will hail from leading tech firms and Vatican institutions. Selected hackathon participants, corporate partners, and institutions will showcase their innovations in the virtual VHacks Expo.

More information about the event can be found on our:
● Website:
● Facebook page:
● Instagram account:
● Twitter account:


Among the entries at the Lisbon festival this year is the documentary “L’esercito più piccolo del mondo”, (The World’s Smallest Army), by Italian director Gianfranco Pannone.

The Itinerant Portuguese-Language Film Festival (FESTin) is being hosted in Lisbon this year from 27 February to March 6. Among the entries at the film festival is the documentary, “L’esercito più piccolo del mondo” (The World’s Smallest Army) by renowned Italian film and television director Gianfranco Pannone.

(photos by JFL)

The film is on the famed Pontifical Swiss Guard, a centuries-old military unit comprised of young Swiss soldiers who are stationed at the Vatican and tasked with guarding the Pope.

In his 80-minute long documentary, Pannone follows Leo and René with great sensitivity, as they bid farewell to their families in Switzerland and embark on the first months of their assignment in the Vatican.

Click here to see film trailer:



Recently, 450 former Swiss Guards and their family members participated in their 27th general assembly in Soleur, Switzerland. During the gathering, the current Swiss Guard commandant gave a talk in which he said, it is perhaps “only a matter of time” before Rome is hit by a Barcelona-style attack but “the Guards are well prepared to face any threats, notably terrorism.” (photo:

His words were a clear reference to the latest videos produced by ISIS showing the terrorists destroying churches in the Philipines and ripping up photos of Popes Francis, and Benedict, saying “we are coming to Rome.”

Graf, commandant at the Vatican since 2015, noted that Swiss Guards are not just subjects to be photographed by tourists with their colorful uniforms, swords and halberds. They form a real protective detail that is trained with the most modern techniques because it is always necessary to be ready and able to face attacks such as that in Barcelona.

Swiss Guards are constantly adapting to current challenges. So much so that now the intitial training period for recruits in Switzerland has gone from two to four months and is organized in collaboration with the police of the Canton of Tessin. Subjects such as weapons training and shooting practice, body guard training, fire protection, first aid and juridical questions are part of the program.

In an increadsingly secularized society, the religious and spiritual formation of the guards takes on growing importance, according to the commandant. One could even speak of the “Francis effect,” he said. He expressed his happiness at the priestly and religious vocations that have developed during service in the Swiss Guards. A number of young men who join the guards are seeking an orientation in their lives and do not have only an interest for the military or security aspect. (source:

Security around the Vatican has been fairly tight for years, going back to the Great Jubilee of 2000. Measures tightened at the start of the Holy Year of Mercy in Dcember 2015 and never relented when it ended last November. In fact, secutiry around Vatican City became noticably stepped up after a series of attacks with vehicles that killed people in Nice, Berlin, London, Stockholm and recently Barcelona.

At the Vatican, there are 110 very well trained Swiss Guards defending the Pope and Vatican City and about the same number of superbly trained gendarmes.

Security measures throughout Italy and at the Vatican include police cars and vans, Italian Army jeeps with soldiers carrying heavy weapons, and untold numbers of plainclothesmen. All of these protect important monuments, churches and embassies, and gathering spots such as Rome’s famed Piazza Navona and Piazza del Popolo.

Cement barriers have been strategically place on such broad avenues like Via della Conciliazione, the street that leads to St. Peter’s Square and Vatican City, an historic street now closed to traffic.

People entering St. Peter’s Square last Sunday for the Angelus had their bags checked, via airport-style security or checks by individual officers. This is also done for the weekly general audiences and for those wishing to enter St. Peter’s Basilica. Visitors to the Vatican Museums go through airport-style security.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, secretary of State, said the ISIS video was worrisome but pointed to the high level of readiness at the Vatican.  “Obviously, one cannot help but worry, above all for the senseless hatred that it is.” But he said the Vatican has not added more measures to its notable security forces and preventive measures.



It was a big weekend here at the Vatican as 40 new Swiss Guards were sworn in during a colorful and historical ceremony Saturday afternoon in the Vatican’s San Damaso courtyard. The Pontifical Swiss Guards were created by Pope Julius II in 1506 as a stable corps, directly dependent on the Holy See, whose main duties were to guard the person of the Roman Pontiff and the Apostolic Palaces. The traditional swearing-in date of May 6 commemorates that date in 1527 when 147 members of the then 189-member Swiss Guards lost their lives during the Sack of Rome when they fell in battle, protecting Pope Clement VII and the Church from the onslaught of the troops of Emperor Charles V.

Sunday, Pope Francis ordained 10 priests in St. Peter’s Basilica, delivering a homily on what was Good Shepherd Sunday according to the Gospel of the day. Sunday was also the Day of Prayer for Vocations. As Vatican Radio noted, “the Holy Father delivered the standard, prepared “template” homily found in the Roman Ritual for priestly ordinations, with three significant extemporaneous deviations from the text.” To read the VR summary:

Also this FYI: “Worldwide Masses Offered on Archbishop Sheen’s Birthday –

Grassroots effort hopes the prayers will move his canonization cause along.”

Let’s indeed pray that the dispute be ended and that Abp. Sheen’s cause for canonization be resumed! To think that this amazing man of God, a beloved Archbishop appeared on commercial TV for so long, with millions thronging to his show. You’d have the PC police all over him today if he attempted to speak about God and faith today on commercial TV!  How vastly our country has changed – and how greatly we need a man like Archbishop Sheen on commercial television!


Pope Francis this morning welcomed the faculty, staff and students of the Pontifical Portuguese College in Rome, just days before his trip to Fatima to mark the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady to three shepherd children, two of whom, siblings Jacinta and Francisco Marto, he will canonize.

Thanking his guests for the visit, the Holy Father said, “For my part, I wish peace and hope in the Lord for each of you and your families and nations of origin. In Portugal, God willing, I’ll bring this wish in person, on my now imminent pilgrimage to the Shrine of Fatima, where a hundred years ago the Madonna appeared to the three little shepherds.”

Francis said, “the encounter with Our Lady was for them an experience of grace that inspired their love for Jesus. As tender and good teacher, Mary introduced the little seers to the intimate knowledge of Trinitarian love and led them to savor God as the most beautiful reality of human existence. I cannot but wish the same to all of you, dear friends.”

He told the priests present at the audience, “Whatever your academic specialization, your first concern always remains that of growing on the path of priestly consecration, through the loving experience of God: a close and faithful God, as Blessed Francisco and Jacinta and the Servant of God Lucia felt Him to be. Today, contemplating their humble yet glorious lives, we feel drawn to entrust ourselves, too, to the care of the same Teacher. And this is not a novelty. We always pray for this in to the most ancient Latin antiphon to Our Lady: “sub tuum praesidium confugimus, Sancta Dei Genitrix ”. It invites us to seek shelter under the mantle of a mother who takes us by the hand and teaches us to grow in the love of Christ and in fraternal communion.”

The Pope noted the rector’s words about how, “since 1929, in the college chapel, the gaze of the Mother of God has accompanied the supplications of those who approach the altar. Look to her and let her look upon you, because she is your Mother and loves you greatly; let her look upon you, to learn how to be more humble and also more courageous in following the Word of God; to welcome the embrace of her Son Jesus and, strengthened by this friendship, to love every person following the example and the measure of the Heart of Christ, to which the College is consecrated, finding love, hope and peace in Him.”

“The relationship with Our Lady,” explained Francis, “helps us to have a good relationship with the Church: both of them are Mothers. You know, in this respect, the comment of St. Isaac, the abbot of Stella; what can be said about Mary can be said about the Church, and also about our soul. All three are female, all three are Mothers, and all three give life. We must therefore cultivate the filial relationship with Our Lady because, if this is missing, there is something of the orphan in the heart.

“A priest who forgets the Mother, he continued, “and especially in moments of difficulty, is lacking something. It is as if he were an orphan, while in reality he is not! He has forgotten his mother. But in moments of difficulty a child always goes to his mother. And the Word of God teaches us to be like children, weaned in the arms of the mother.”

“I pray to Our Lady of Fátima,” concluded the Pope, “that she may teach you to believe, worship, hope and love like Blessed Francisco and Jacinta, and the Servant of God Lucia. And please, do not forget to pray for me.”


At 11.00 this morning, in the Holy See Press Office, Via della Conciliazione 54, a press conference was held to present the scientific congress “Black Holes, Gravitational Waves and Space-Time Singularities,” that will take place from May 9 – 12 at the Vatican Observatory at Castelgandolfo. Participants included Bro. Guy Consolmagno, S.J., planetologist and director of the Vatican Observatory; Fr. Gabriele Gionti, S.J., cosmologist, Vatican Observatory; Dr. Alfio Bonanno, cosmologist, INAF, Catania Astrophysical Observatory; and Dr. Fabio Scardigli, cosmologist, Polytechnic University of Milan.

Following is the Vatican Observatory press release:   What happens if you fall into a Black Hole? What happened in the early Big Bang? What is the ultimate destiny of the cosmos? These and other questions will be at the center of discussions at a scientific workshop on “Black Holes, Gravitational Waves and Space-Time Singularities” which will be held from May 9-12 at the Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo.

Among the 35 invited participants, are renowned scientists such as the 1999 Nobel Laureate in Physics, Gerald ‘t Hooft; 1988 Wolf Prize co-winner Roger Penrose; and cosmologists George Ellis, Renata Kallosh and Andrei Linde and Joe Silk.

Telescopes in apostolic palace of Castelgandolfo  (the actual Vatican Observatory is elsewhere on the property in a former convent)(photo: JFL)

One of the aims of this conference will be to encourage a fruitful interaction among participants from both theoretical and observational cosmology, and to create a suitable environment for the emergence of new ideas and research directions in contemporary cosmology. In fact, the recent detection of gravitational waves has opened up a new way of seeing the universe and has also stimulated new speculations about the true nature of the singularities of Space-Time (Black Holes are examples of Space-Time singularities). Topics that the conference intends to explore are the limits of modern cosmology and the scientific challenges of the near future.

The conference celebrates the scientific legacy of Mons. George Lemaître, fifty years after his death. Lemaître was professor of physics at the Catholic University of Leuven and from 1960 to 1966 (the year of his death) he served as president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. A dedicated priest, he belonged to the Priestly Fraternity of Friends of Jesus, founded by Cardinal Mercier Bishop of Malines, who ordained him as a priest and promoted a renewal of priestly spirituality.

Lemaître was an outstanding cosmologist, nowadays considered one of the fathers of modern Big Bang theory. By the 1920s, astronomical observations of distant galaxies had revealed a mysterious recession motion whose origin was unknown; in 1927, Lemaître was the first to explain that this motion as the result of the expansion of the Universe, and not merely a peculiar motion of the observed objects. He obtained this result by solving the complicated equations of Einstein’s General Relativity Theory, at that time a very new idea which connects the mass-energy distribution of the Universe with the bending of the geometry of the Space-Time.

He became famous for his theory of the “primeval Atom,” known today as the Big Bang Theory. Through the cosmological solution he had worked out in 1927, he understood that, looking backwards in time, the Universe should have been originally in a state of high energy density, compressed into a point like an original atom from which everything started.

This Vatican Observatory workshop is a modern legacy of Lemaître’s scientific intuitions. The conference has also been organized with the support of INAF (Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica) and INFN (Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare).

More information about the workshop is available at:


The Holy Father’s universal prayer intention for May is: “That, rejecting the culture of indifference, we may care for our neighbours who suffer, especially the sick and the poor.”

His intention for evangelization is: “That Mary’s intercession may help Christians in secularised cultures be open to proclaiming Jesus.”


If you answered ‘yes’ to one or both of these questions, then I have some good news:

There’s a terrific app to see the Shroud of Turin VERY up close and personal – Shroud 2.0 – a MUST have app, especially if you plan on going to Turin for the 2015 exposition of Shroud! It is available free at App Store/iTunes. I’ve downloaded it on my iPad but so far have not located app for Android. DOWNLOAD HERE:

We will all take part, at some time or another, in the Jubilee Year of Mercy that opens December 8, 2015 and closes on the feast of Christ the King in November 2016. The Jubilee will be celebrated in Rome, as you know, and in dioceses throughout the world. For all the news and updates about the Holy Year, go to this dedicated website (in 7 languages!) set up by the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization:


Saturday, I posted some news on Facebook of the visit that day by Pope Francis to the North American College where he presided at Mass in the seminary’s beautiful chapel and then broke bread with cardinals, bishops, priests, seminarians, faculty and staff in the college dining room. NAC rector, Msgr. James Checchio and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the USCCB were joined by four U.S. cardinals and a number of bishops, including Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, who had presided at the day of reflection that preceded the papal Mass.

The North American College, in fact, dedicated Saturday to a day of reflection on Blessed Junipero Serra, the Spanish Franciscan who created a series of missions throughout California and Baja California whom Pope Francis will canonize in Washington, D.C. during his late September trip to the U.S.

Click here to see a carousel of photos from the celebration on Saturday. This was the first visit by a Pope to the American seminary in 35 years. As you can see from the photos, “a good time was had by all”:

The Holy Father, in typical Jesuitical fashion, discussed three aspects of the life of Blessed Junipero – his missionary zeal, his Marian devotion, and his witness of holiness.

“First of all,” explained Francis in his homily, “he was a tireless missionary. What made Friar Junípero leave his home and country, his family, university chair and Franciscan community in Mallorca to go to the ends of the earth?  Certainly, it was the desire to proclaim the Gospel ad gentes, that heartfelt impulse which seeks to share with those farthest away the gift of encountering Christ: a gift that he had first received and experienced in all its truth and beauty.  Like Paul and Barnabas, like the disciples in Antioch and in all of Judea, he was filled with joy and the Holy Spirit in spreading the word of the Lord.”

“Secondly,” continued the Holy Father, “Friar Junípero entrusted his missionary activity to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  We know that before leaving for California, he wanted to consecrate his life to Our Lady of Guadalupe and to ask her for the grace to open the hearts of the colonizers and indigenous peoples, for the mission he was about to begin.”

“And thirdly, brothers and sisters,” the Pope explained, “let us contemplate the witness of holiness given by Friar Junípero.  He was one of the founding fathers of the United States, a saintly example of the Church’s universality and special patron of the Hispanic people of the country.  In this way may all Americans rediscover their own dignity, and unite themselves ever more closely to Christ and his Church.”

Pope Francis then went on to give a sort of litany of American saints and holy people, saying, “with the universal communion of saints and, in particular, with the assembly of American saints, may Friar Junípero Serra accompany us and intercede for us, along with the many other holy men and women who have distinguished themselves through their various charisms:

  • contemplatives like Rose of Lima, Mariana of Quito and Teresita de los Andes;
  • pastors who bear the scent of Christ and of his sheep, such as Toribio de Mogrovejo, Francois de Laval, and Rafael Guizar Valencia;
  • humble workers in the vineyard of the Lord, like Juan Diego and Kateri Tekakwitha;
  • servants of the suffering and the marginalized, like Peter Claver, Martín de Porres, Damian of Molokai, Alberto Hurtado and Rose Philippine Duchesne;
  • founders of communities consecrated to the service of God and of the poorest, like Frances Cabrini, Elizabeth Ann Seton and Katharine Drexel;
  • tireless missionaries, such as Friar Francisco Solano, José de Anchieta, Alonso de Barzana, Maria Antonia de Paz y Figueroa and Jose Gabriel del Rosario Brochero;
  • martyrs like Roque Gonzalez, Miguel Pro and Oscar Arnulfo Romero; and so many other saints and martyrs, whom I do not mention here, but who pray before the Lord for their brothers and sisters who are still pilgrims in those lands.”


ON SUNDAY HE RECITED THE REGINA COELI with the faithful in St. Peter’s Square. Before the Marian prayer he reflected on the day’s Gospel about Jesus’ parable of the vine and the branches – Jesus is the true vine, and we are the branches, dependent on Him. Through this parable, “Jesus wants us to understand the importance of remaining united to Him.” “Jesus is the vine,” Pope Francis continued, “and through Him, the very love of God passes” to us “the branches”. Following the prayer, the Holy Father had a special greeting for the Méter Association on the Day for Child Victims of Violence, thanking them for their “commitment to preventing these crimes. We must all commit ourselves so that every human person, and especially children, might always be defended and protected.”

SUNDAY AFTERNOON, THE POPE celebrated Mass at the Roman parish of Regina Pacis (Queen of Peace) in the seaside suburb of Ostia. Before Mass, the Holy Father met with members of the parish, including they elderly and the sick. He spoke about their wisdom of life, which comes from experience – an experience the has the wisdom of sorrows, and of patience. “It is a wisdom we often forget,” he said. But the elderly have an experience of life that they hand down to their children, giving them “the memory of our people, the memory of our family.” The sick, he said, are similar to Jesus in their suffering: they suffer with Him, and bear the Cross as Jesus did. In that sense, they are privileged. Pope Francis spoke, too, about the children of the parish, who will carry life forward – with the wisdom, the patience, the constancy of those who go before them. As he concluded his visit with the sick and elderly, the Pope asked for prayers for himself, noting that he too “is a little old, a little sick,” but “not too much!” he said, laughing.

MONDAY, FRANCIS RECEIVED BISHOPS from the Republic of Congo and encouraged them to continue in their efforts of cooperation with other faiths because “unity in diversity is a feature of the Church’s requirements.” The bishopd are in Rome for their Ad Limina visit. The Holy Father also expressed his joy before the “young and dynamic Christian communities seeking to take root in the love of the Lord.” He said the recent creation of three new dioceses shows the vitality of the Catholic Church in Congo, and the zeal of its pastors in their push for evangelization.

MONDAY MORNING, THE POPE RECEIVED Antje Jackelén, the head of the Church of Sweden and Archbishop of Uppsala. Originally from Germany, Archbishop Jackelén is Sweden’s first foreign-born archbishop since the 12th century and the first female head of the Church there. Lutheran-Catholic dialogue was at the heart of their conversation.

ALSO MONDAY, POPE FRANCIS sent a message to Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, on the occasion of a celebration held at the Italian Senate on Monday morning marking the 750th anniversary of the birth of the poet Dante Alighieri. In the message, the Pope said that he joined “the chorus of those who believe Dante Alighieri is an artist of the highest universal value, who still has much to say and to give, through his immortal works, to all those who are willing to walk the path of true knowledge.”

FRANCIS MET WITH SWISS GUARDS and their families on Monday, ahead of the annual May 6th swearing-in ceremony for new Guards. He said the meeting was an opportunity to “strengthen a [significant] friendship,” noting the words of Christ who said “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”


Pope Francis said a Swiss Guard is “a person who truly seeks to follow the Lord Jesus and who loves in a particular way the Church; [he] is a Christian with a genuine faith.” He underscored how prayer and an active sacramental life will help them in their service. “So when you meet the people, the pilgrims, you convey – with your kindness and competence – this ‘greater love’ that comes from friendship with Christ,” Pope Francis said. “In effect, Swiss Guards are a ‘billboard’ of the Holy See!”  (added source: Vatican Radio)



From Fr. Tom Rosica, English-language assistant to Fr. Federico Lombardi, head of the Holy See Press Office:  Prayers for Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, RSM

After a nearly 30-year career as a journalist in Washington, D.C. and Rome, working with Catholic News Service, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and most recently AMERICA Magazine, Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, who is 67, has returned to the Sisters of Mercy convent in Albany, New York, to live out her final days with metastatic breast cancer.  Kindly remember this wonderful woman and communicator in your prayers. Click here for a Sisters of Mercy profile of Mary Ann, friend to all of us accredited at the Holy See Press Office, and countless more in the U.S.:

This is a big week for “red hats” here in Rome, starting today with the eighth meeting of the Council of 9 Cardinals with the Pope at the Santa Marta residence. The meeting will  go to Wednesday, February 11, feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of the Sick. The following two days – February 12 and 13 – the College of Cardinals will hold their consistory in the Synod Hall and will discuss the reform of the Roman Curia being studied by Francis and C9 Council.

This coming weekend, new members will be joining the College of Cardinals as the Holy Father creates 20 new cardinals on Saturday, February 14 (15 of whom are under age 80 and therefore cardinal electors). That afternoon, the new cardinals will greet friends and relatives in both the Paul VI Hall and rooms of the Apostolic Palace. Sunday, the Pope and new eminences will concelebrate Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.

And now, some of the stories from this weekend, especially Pope Francis’ unscripted stop Sunday at a migrant camp on his way to say Mass in a Roman parish!


The Vatican announced that Pope Francis has appointed Lieutenant Colonel Christoph Graf as the new commander of the Pontifical Swiss Guard. Graf, who joined the guards in 1987, succeeds Colonel Daniel Anrig, who retired last month and had been commander since 2008. The Swiss Guards were formed in 1506 by Pope Julius II to protect the person of the Pope and the security of the Apostolic Palace.

Cardinal Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila, the Philippines, is in Rome for the events this week with the College of Cardinals. He presided at Mass Sunday morning for the new commander and fellow guards in the Swiss Guard Chapel. Click on the Swiss Guards Facebook page to see some photos:


Late afternoon Sunday, on his way to the Roman parish San Michele Arcangelo in the Roman Pietralata neighborhood to say Mass, Pope Francis – no surprise! – made an impromptu visit to a migrant shantytown. The papal car stopped and the Pope got out, accompanied by the papal photographer and head of security and just walke through a gate, unannounced. The camp is called Campo Arcobaleno or Camp Rainbow and is only about 300 yards from the parish.


According to a report by Vatican Radio, “he got out of the car and people were shocked when they saw him in front of their shacks,” said Father Aristide Sana, the pastor of the parish who quickly traveled to the camp when he got word of the visit. Pope Francis received a boisterous welcome.

“Viva il Papa!” the crowd shouted, engulfing the Pope, chanting and shaking his hand.  Pope Francis asked how many spoke Spanish, and the crowd shouted out “All of us!” Actually, though many of the residents are from Peru and Ecuador, many others were from Eritrea, Ukraine, Russia, and other parts of the world. However. In what ever language, they joined the Pope in his request to pray the Our Father together in Spanish.

It was only a ten-minute visit, one the migrants will never forget, and Pope Francis seemed totally delighted at the occasion.

To enjoy that encounter with the Pope, here is a video I also posted on my Facebook page:


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Sunday evening visited the parish of San Michele Arcangelo in the eastern Roman district of Pietralata, on the periphery of Rome and home to 8,000 families. After arriving at the parish hall, Pope Francis’ first stop was to meet with a group of homeless people who are cared for by the Sant’Egidio Community.

“The fact that people do not know your name, and call you ‘homeless’ and you carry this: It is your cross, and your patience,” said Pope Francis. “But there is something in the heart of all of you – of this, please be assured – there is the Holy Spirit.”

He then held a meeting with parents whose children had been baptized in the previous year, and he asked them to teach the Faith well, lamenting that there are “Christian children who cannot make the sign of the cross.”

In his meeting with older children, many of whom were part of the Scouting movement, Pope Francis pointed out that wars are not only those – and he asked them to make a list – that kill children in Iraq, Ukraine, and Africa. Wars are come about much earlier in people who do not possess God.

“Who is the father of war?” Pope Francis asked. “The devil!” the children answered.

Pope Francis said the devil is the “father of hate,” “the father of lies,” who seeks disunity.

“But God wants unity,” Pope Francis said. “If in your heart you feel jealousy, this is the beginning of war. Jealousies are not of God.”

And this is the theme Pope Francis continued during his homily at Mass.

“It is sad when in a family, brothers do not speak because of something stupid,” Pope Francis said.

“Because the devil takes stupidity and makes a world,” he continued. “Then these enmities continue and multiply for years.  It destroys the family: Parents suffer because their children do not speak to each other, or with the wife of a son…And so this jealousy and envy, it is sowed by the devil. And the only one who can drive out demons is Jesus.  The only one who can heal these things is Jesus. So to each of you: Have yourself healed by Jesus.”

As he often does during parish visits, he urged the congregation to listen to Jesus in the Gospel, to read a passage and ask themselves, what does it say to me?

“Have this daily contact with the Gospel,” Pope Francis said.  “Pray with the Gospel.”


(Vatican Radio) Work has now been completed on the building of three showers and a barber’s booth for the homeless under the colonnades of St Peter’s Square. The shower unit was commissioned by Pope Francis after learning from his Almoner that homeless people in Rome lacked places where to wash themselves or have their hair cut. (AP/L’Osservatore Romano pool photos)

HOMELESS SHOWERS - AP Photo(L'Osservatore Romano pool

The 3 showers and the barber’s booth have been installed in an existing lavatory block used by pilgrims and tourists visiting the Vatican area that was completely refurbished for this purpose. The showers will be available every day, except on Wednesday during the Pope’s general audience and when celebrations take place, either in St Peter’s Basilica or in the Square.


The barber service will be available on Monday between 9am and 3pm.  A number of barbers in Rome have volunteered to offer their services as well as final-year students from a hairdressing school in Rome.  Sisters from Mother’s Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity Order will be among those helping to welcome the homeless who come to use the showers.

Each of the homeless people using the shower units will receive two free kits, a complete change of underwear and a kit containing towel, soap, toothpaste and brush, deodorant plus razor and shaving cream for the men. Many of the articles have been offered free of charge by various firms and private individuals who have wanted to show their solidarity with this project. The Pope’s Almoner will be responsible for purchasing, as needed, future supplies using money raised from the selling of parchments with a Papal Blessing.

The Vatican has called for ten nearby parishes to install showers as well. The bill will be paid with money from the Pope’s charity fund.