Yesterday afternoon some members of D.VA – Donne in Vaticano (Women in the Vatican) – met for Mass in the Church of Our Sorrowful Lady that is part of the Vatican’s Teutonic Cemetery. Our spiritual advisor, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, former head of Vatican Radio, Vatican Television and the Holy See Press Office, celebrated Mass.

Earlier in the morning, Pope Francis had named Fr. Lombardi as the moderator for the February 21-24 meeting in the Vatican of the heads of the world’s Episcopal conferences to discuss the clerical abuse scandal.

The pictorial sides of the main altar by Macrino d’Alba show the theme of the Pietà at the centre and sides – from left to right Saint Paul with Saint John the Baptist, Saint Anne with Mary, Jesus and the apostles Peter and James. The stone slab at the front part of the main altar is a typical example of a late archaic medieval style and most likely was originally part of an altar barrier.

Our Sorrowful Lady –

I have been to this church a number of times, occasionally just as part of a visit to this beautiful and historic cemetery, a few times for Mass and two years ago when I attended an ecumenical Christmas concert here in support of Christian refugees from Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. The guest of honor was Eliyo, the professional name of Sarah Ego, a Syrian Orthodox singer who was born in Augsburg, Germany. Sarah sang traditional German Christian chorals as well as several songs in Aramaic, the language of Jesus and the Apostles, Schubert’s Ave Maria in Latin and several Christmas carols in English.

Photos from that night in the Teutonic cemetery

The Teutonic Cemetery is found in the Vatican between St. Peter’s Basilica and the Paul VI Audience Hall. It is the oldest German establishment in Rome. The entire area is surrounded by a high wall and does not immediately draw one’s attention. However, even a rushed visitor will quickly be drawn by the charm of this plot of land so rich in history. In ancient Roman times Nero’s circus was found here and it was the site where many Christians were martyred. In 799 a Schola Francorum was spoken of for the first time. For this reason, on the wall of the building there is a ceramic depiction of Charlemagne as the founder. A clearer idea of its history came only in the mid-15th century when the Holy Year 1450 brought many pilgrims to Rome.

The cemetery and the church were in bad shape at that time, but both were soon rebuilt. In 1454 the German members of the Curia gathered together as a special as a confraternity that still exists today in a different form and is owner of the foundation.

In the last quarter of the 15th century the current structure of the church was built according to a style widely used in Germany at the time. In 1597 the confraternity was promoted to the “Archconfraternity of Our Lady” at the German Cemetery next to St. Peter’s. In 1876 a residence was built for priests studying Christian archaeology, church history and other similar fields. In 1888 the Roman Institute of the Goerres Society took up residence there with a library of around 35,000 books.

I try when possible to accompany friends to this beautiful final resting place.

Access to the church is by way of the cemetery and was completely renovated in restoration work from 1972-1975. The entryway was designed by Elmar Hillebrand (Cologne, Germany) and donated in 1957 by the President of the Republic of Germany Theodor Heuss. On the left door is a Madonna and Child underneath the Archconfraternity’s coat of arms, a mix of a two-headed eagle with the Pietà. The Resurrection is depicted on the right side.

The Swiss Chapel served as a burial place for the fallen guards after the Sack of Rome. The frescoed walls were painted by Polidor Caldara, a disciple of Raffaello, and are of very high quality. This is curtently being renovated

Given its special location, the Teutonic Cemetery has always received many requests for burial. According to the statutes, those who have a right to be buried here include members of the Archconfraternity, members of many religious houses of German origin and members of the two German colleges in Rome (the Anima and the Germanico). Prayer is open to all although visitors most often come to find the graves of famous people of ecclesiastical, artistic, political or diplomatic backgrounds:

Josef Anton Koch, landscape painter (+ 1839)
Ludwig Curtius, archaeologist (+ 1954)
Johann Baptist Anzer, first missionary bishop of the Divine Word Missionaries (+ 1903)
Joseph Spithöver, key promoter of German culture in Rome during the 19th century (+ 1870)
Stefan Andrei, writer (+ 1970)
Johann Martin von Wagner, archaeologist and artist (+ 1858)
Anton de Waal, first rector of the College (+ 1917)
Engelbert Kirschbaum, S.J., Archaeologist, key colleague in the discovery of Peter’s tomb (+ 1970)
Card. Gustavo von Hohenlohe (+ 1896)
Augustin Theiner, Prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives (+ 1874).



Today’s station church is San Lorenzo in Panisperna, located at Number 90 of the street of the same name. One website tells us that, according to tradition panisperna is a reference to panis (bread) and perna (ham) which were distributed by the Poor Clare nuns on August 10, St. Lawrence’s Day, but there are many other possible explanations. Lorenzo is Italian for Lawrence.

The first church was built in the fourth century. However, this church is also known as San Lorenzo in Formoso and this is probably a reference to Pope Formosus who built the ninth century church here, (wikimedia photo) that was rebuilt in the13th century and again in the 16th century.


Interesting enough, the birth name of Pope Formosus is not known. Even the official Annuario Pontificio has no birth name for this Pope: he is just listed as the bishop of Pontus (before his election). His birth date, however, seems to be sometime in 816. He was Pope from October 6, 891 to his death in April 896.

St. Lawrence’s story is told in Brian Lenz’s blog account of the 2014 Lenten pilgrimage undertaken by seminarians at NAC:

Another great site to visit today’s station church:


Willy’s is a sad and also strangely beautiful and extremely touching story – the story of so many people, so often nameless people, in our big cities. And yet, what a beautiful ending to this homeless man’s earthly existence! He was homeless, as we will read, but not friendless. He did not have a roof over his head but he surely had God in his heart.

Photo from


As I learned of this story (read below), I began to wonder if we might have prayed together at Sant’Anna’s church in the Vatican, although I am more likely to go to the 8 am Mass than the 7 am one that he attended. Did I ever pass him in Borgo Pio in one of the hundreds of times I’ve walked down that street? If I did pass him, I did not know his name. May he now rest in peace – finally!

(Vatican Radio) The Holy See  Press Office has confirmed the news of the burial of a homeless man in the Teutonic College cemetery within Vatican City State. Willy was a homeless man of Flemish origin.  His exact age was unknown but he was believed to have been around 80 years of age. He died on December 12 last year and was buried in the Teutonic Cemetery on January 9 this year.  (JFL photos)

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Willy was a familiar face to many in the area of the Vatican. He attended daily Mass in Sant’Anna parish in the Vatican and spent his days and nights on the streets around St. Peter’s Square, Borgo Pio and Via di Porta Angelica.

The pastor of Sant’Anna in the Vatican, Father Bruno Silvestrini, had dedicated the Nativity Scene at Christmas to Willy, adding a homeless man among the shepherds. He loved to pray, he had a good heart, attended the morning Mass at St. Anna every day and always sat in the same place.

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“For over 25 years he attended the 7:00 Mass,” Fr. Silvestrini told Vatican Radio, explaining why he wanted a homeless among the shepherds in the Nativity Scene. “He was very, very open and had made many friends. He spoke a lot with young people, he spoke to them of the Lord, he spoke of the Pope, he would invite them to the celebration of the Eucharist. He was a rich person, of great faith,” said the pastor of St. Anne’s, adding, “there were prelates who brought him food on certain days. Then, we no longer saw him, and subsequently we heard about his death. I’ve never seen so many people knocking on my door to ask when the funeral was, how they could help to keep his memory alive … He never asked for anything, rather he was the one who would strike up a conversation and through his questions of faith, suggest a spiritual path to those with whom he spoke.”

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Willy died in Holy Spirit hospital, where he had been brought by ambulance on a cold December evening. The cold had caused him to collapse and some passers-called for the emergency services. He died on December 12, but his body remained at the hospital morgue because no one could identify him.

When those used to seeing him on the streets noticed his absence and began to search for him he was finally traced to the hospital in Lungotevere in Sassia on the banks of the Tiber.

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The costs of his funeral were covered by a German-speaking family, the funeral was held in the chapel of the Teutonic Cemetery, and Willy was buried in the old Germanic cemetery, in Vatican City State.


FOUNDATION AWARDS FRENCH ECONOMIST – French economist and author Pierre de Lauzun is the winner of this year’s “Economy and Society Award” of the Centesimus Annus – Pro Pontefice Foundation. He was selected in particular for his 2013 book dedicated to a Christian perspective of finance from medieval banking to contemporary financial models: “Finance. Un regard chrétien. De la banque médiéval à la mondalisation financière.”  The prestigious international award was announced today at a press conference in the Vatican.

CARDINAL STAFFORD’S LENTEN REFLECTIONS – Pope Francis, in his Message for Lent this year, called on the faithful everywhere to make this privileged time of prayer and penance a time in which –  as we pray in the litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus – we all ask the Lord to Make our hearts like His.  “In this way,” writes Pope Francis, “we will receive a heart which is firm and merciful, attentive and generous, a heart which is not closed, indifferent or prey to the globalization of indifference.” These were all themes that the Major Penitentiary-emeritus of the Church, Cardinal James Francis Stafford, took up in a reflection on Lent and the Pope’s Lenten Message. Vatican Radio is offering – in two parts – Cardinal Stafford’s reflections. He starts by placing the Message in the context of Pope Francis’ broader pastoral writings, specifically the Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii gaudium, and the examination of conscience that the Holy Father offered to the Roman Curia at Christmas 2014. Click here to listen to Part One of Cardinal Stafford’s reflections:

SCOTTISH CATHOLICS URGED TO HELP FLOOD VICTIMS IN MALAWI – Catholics in Scotland are being urged to give generously this Lent to support families in Malawi who’ve been made homeless by the worst flooding in half a century. Dozens of people died and up to 200,000 were displaced by January’s torrential rains that swept away houses, crops and entire village communities in the south-east African nation. As part of its Lent appeal this year, the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund, or SCIAF, is raising money for those affected by the floods, as well as supporting small scale projects to help women farmers improve their maize crop and provide a stable income for their families. For every pound raised through the ‘Wee Box’ appeal, as it’s known, the British government will double that donation. Archbishop Leo Cushley of Edinburgh has just returned from a week-long visit to Malawi to see first-hand where the money from SCIAF’s Lent appeal will go.

PONTIFICAL ACADEMY FOR LIFE TO MEET – The Pontifical Academy pro Vita will dedicate its upcoming general assembly to end of life assistance to the elderly. The assembly, which will take place in the New Synod Hall from March 5 to 7, is the 21st to be held by this institution. The official theme is “Assisting the Elderly and Palliative Care.” On March 6, there will be a workshop open to the public, especially scholars, healthcare and pastoral workers, and students who are interested in acquiring a deeper knowledge of the theme from a number of viewpoints: theological-philosophical, ethical and medical, cultural and social.

(sources:, Vatican Radio, VIS)