Tomorrow is the feast of the Epiphany, the day on which we mark the arrival in Bethlehem of the Three Magi, the Three Kings, the Three Wise Men from the East who followed a star, to see the newborn “King of the Jews.” January 6 is an important holiday for the Vatican, as you might imagine, and also for Italy, and Italians will mark the last day of their Christmas vacation, a prolonged period for many who made their holidays last from Christmas Eve through tomorrow.  In many countries, however, Epiphany is moved to the Sunday preceding January 6.

For the first time in years I will not be covering events in the Vatican – the papal Mass at 10 am in St. Peter’s Basilica (here’s a link to the Mass booklet: http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/libretti/2015/20150106-libretto-epifania.pdf) and the arrival afterwards in St. Peter’s Square of the Three Kings on Horseback and many costumed groups from throughout Italy – choirs, flag throwers from Tuscany, theater groups and so on. I have been invited to the North American College for the dedication of its new building to provide much-needed classroom, office, and study space for the NAC seminarians. I was at the ground-breaking ceremony 14 months ago in the presence of the Mulva Family who made this project possible and they will be there tomorrow for the ceremony, Mass and a tour of the new facilities. Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin will preside at the events tomorrow.

In addition, the seminary’s new website will be unveiled tomorrow (I always thought the “old” one was terrific!) – same address – www.pnac.org – new look!

No news today at the Vatican, but I guess everyone, especially the media, was resting a bit after the big news day yesterday – 20 new cardinals, 15 of whom will be electors in a future conclave.  Pope Francis is probably working on his homily for tomorrow as well as his speeches and other addresses for his trip next week to Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

However, if you read on, I have some background information on the feast of the Epiphany, as well as some photos I took in the cathedral of Cologne, Germany, of the relics of the Three Kings!

In case you missed the news about the new cardinals that I posted yesterday, those stories follow the one about the Epiphany.


The story of the “Adoration of the Wise Men” is one of the best known in the life of the Lord. However, the episode recounted by the Evangelist Matthew is not primarily an exact historical chronicle. Rather, the focus of interest is the content, which concerns the history of salvation in the message passed on by this witness of faith.

This is why the story of the Three Kings has become a favorite subject in the theological expressions of art. The star that guided the Magi has become an example of the Gospel proclamation to all.

The brief account in Matthew’s Gospel (2:1-12), which says that Wise Men from the East, guided by a star, arrived in Bethlehem to worship the newborn Child, was well-known from the Church’s beginnings.

The Evangelist Luke tells of the simple local shepherds of Bethlehem who found Jesus lying in a manger.

Matthew, on the other hand, tells the story of Wise Men, people of high rank who arrive from the East, from afar, following a star. They have also been called “astrologers” (“μαγοι” in Greek), Magi kings and the “Three Kings”.

Their coming from the “East” (Mt 2:1) makes one think of Persia, where the Parsee priests of Zoroaster encouraged the interpretation and deification of stars.

But according to Scripture (cf. Dt 2:2-10), the land they came from might well have been Babylon, Arabia or Syria. “Wise”, therefore, is also a definition of the “foreigners” who had come from afar to worship the newborn Jesus.

Drawing inspiration from Psalm 72[71]: “The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts; the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute” (v. 10); and from Isaiah (60:6): “All from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord”, popular tradition has transformed the three experts in astronomy into three kings of different ages and provenance.

There is no doubt that they were astrologers, because they followed a specific star. This star, like a “Pole star”, a means of orientation, was transformed in subsequent interpretations to the point that it was even shown with Christ’s monogramme, becoming the goal and the symbol of Christ himself.


Tradition claims that the remains of the Magi were found in Jerusalem in the fourth century by the Empress Helena, who took them with her to Constantinople.

P1130913 P1130916 P1130919

When St. Ambrose, after the year 375, became Bishop of Milan, the Empress presented to him these venerable relics. It is to Ambrose, who possessed an excellent theological formation, that we owe the fact that in theological circles the Epiphany has always met with the recognition it deserves:

“The Wise Men make a gift of their treasures. Do you want to know what an excellent honor they received? The star was visible only to them; where Herod lived it was invisible; where Jesus lay it once again became visible and pointed out the way. So it is that this star is also the way, Christ’s way; for Christ, in the mystery of the Incarnation, is the star, because “a star shall come forth from Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel” (Nm 24:17). Therefore, wherever Christ is, the star is too, for he is ‘the bright morning star’ (Rv 22:16). With his light, then, he points to himself” (cf. St. Ambrose, Comment on Luke II, 45).


P1130902 P1130904 P1130908 P1130909 P1130920

An ancient manual for painters, kept at Mount Athos, also describes the “Adoration of the Magi”: “a house, and the Most Holy One [Mary, Mother of God], seated, holds Jesus, in the act of blessing, as a newborn child. Before her are the three Magi and they are carrying their gifts in small golden caskets. One of them is an elderly, bare-headed man, kneeling, with a long beard. His eyes are fixed on Christ. He holds his gift in one hand and in the other, his crown; the second of the Magi has a short beard, and the third is clean-shaven. They are looking at one another and pointing to Christ. And Joseph stands behind the Most Holy One, wrapped in wonder. Outside the house, a young man holds the bridles of their three horses. And the three Magi appear once again on a hill. They are seated on their mounts, homeward bound. An angel, before them, is showing them the way”.

Popular piety has preferred the legendary account of the “Adoration of the Magi,” the scene so widely depicted in figurative art.

The new Martyrologium Romanum, however, is somewhat more precise. It says that the transferral of the remains of the Three Magi (trium magorum) took place on 13 July to Cologne.

(The above includes selected paragraphs from: http://www.ewtn.com/library/CHISTORY/Epiphmagi.htm)


Pope Francis, known for being fairly unpredictable in many matters, was true to that Sunday as he skirted the usual period of one month between the announcement of new cardinals and the consistory in which they are created by naming 20 new cardinals Sunday to be created in a consistory on February 14. He also went slightly over the ceiling of a maximum of 120 cardinal electors (those under 80), a ceiling created by Pope Paul VI in 1973, producing a few unexpected names and not naming some whose diocese has been traditionally a cardinalatial see.

The announcement of the consistory, but not the names of the new cardinals, was made on December 11.

At the first consistory of his papacy on February 22, 2014, Francis created 19 new cardinals (16 electors, 3 non-electors).

A very large crowd gathered Sunday in St. Peter’s Square to pray the Angelus with Pope Francis, under sunny, blue skies and temperatures considerably warmer than previous days. Many of the pilgrims in the square were still on vacation over a long weekend as they prepare for Tuesday’s holiday, the feast of the Epiphany, and they heard the Pope make this announcement:

“As was already announced, on February 14 next I will have the joy of holding a Concistory, during which I will name 15 new Cardinals who, coming from 14 countries from every continent, manifest the indissoluble links between the Church of Rome and the particular Churches present in the world.

“On Sunday February 15 I will preside at a solemn concelebration with the new Cardinals, while on February 12 and 13 I will hold a Consistory with all the Cardinals to reflect on the orientations and proposals for the reform of the Roman Curia.

“The new Cardinals are:

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura

Archbishiop Manuel José Macario do Nascimento Clemente, Patriarch of Lisbon (Portugal)

Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, C.M., of Addis Abeba (Ethiopia)

Archbishop John Atcherley Dew of Wellington (New Zealand)

Archbishop Edoardo Menichelli of Ancona-Osimo (Italy)

Archbishop Pierre Nguyên Văn Nhon of Hà Nôi (Viêt Nam)

Archbishop Alberto Suàrez Inda of Morelia (Mexico)

Archbishop Charles Maung Bo, S.D.B., of Yangon (Myanmar)

Archbishop Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij of Bangkok (Thailand)

Archbishop Francesco Montenegro of Agrigento (Italy)

Archbishop Daniel Fernando Sturla Berhouet, S.D.B., of Montevideo (Uruguay)

Archbishop Ricardo Blázquez Pérez of Vallodolid (Spain)

Bishop José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuán, O.A.R., of David (Panamá)

Bishop Arlindo Gomes Furtado, of Santiago de Cabo Verde (Archipelago of Cape Verde)

Bishop Soane Patita Paini Mafi of Tonga (Island of Tonga)

“Additionally, I will join to the members of the College of Cardinals five archbishops and bishops emeriti who are distinguished for their pastoral charity in the service of the Holy See and of the Church. They represent so many bishops who, with the same pastoral solicitude, have given witness of love for Christ and for the people of God in particular Churches, in the Rome Curia, and in the diplomatic service of the Holy See.

“They are:

José de Jesús Pimiento Rodriguez, Archbishop Emeritus of Manizales

Archbishop Luigi De Magistris, Major Pro-Penitentiary Emeritus

Archbishop Karl-Joseph Rauber, Apostolic Nuncio

Luis Héctor Villaba, Archbishop Emeritus of Tucumán

Júlio Duarte Langa, Bishop Emeritus of Xai-Xai

“Let us pray for the new Cardinals, that, renewed in their love for Christ, they might be witnesses of His Gospel in the City of Rome and in the world, and with their pastoral experience they might support me more intensely in my apostolic service.”

For some fascinating statistics on the College of Cardinals (as of Saturday, January 3, 2015), click here: http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/documentation/cardinali—statistiche.html


Father Federico Lombardi, Holy See Press Office director, published  some explanatory notes Sunday with information about the College of Cardinals and the cardinals-elect who were announced earlier in the morning during the Angelus by Pope Francis.

“With respect to the number of 120 electors, there were 12 places “open” in the College today or in the coming months. The Pope has slightly exceeded this number, but remained very close to it, such that it is substantially respected.

“The most evident criteria is evidently that of universality. Fourteen different countries are represented, including some that do not currently have a cardinal, and some that have never had one. If the retired archbishops and bishops are counted, eighteen countries are represented. There are no new cardinals from North America (the USA or Canada) because they already have a significant number, and that number has remained stable during the past year. (There is a new Mexican cardinal).

“The presence of countries that have never had a cardinal (Capo Verde, Tonga, Myanmar) is noteworthy. These countries have ecclesial communities that are small or that represent a minority within their country. (The bishop of Tonga is the president of the Episcopal Conference of the Pacific; the Diocese of Santiago de Cabo Verde is one of the most ancient African dioceses; the Diocese of Morelia in Mexico is in a region troubled by violence.)

“The fact that only one of the new cardinals is from the Roman Curia is also notable, while “Roman” cardinals remain about a quarter of the electors. It is evident that the Pope intends to consider the posts of prefects of the congregations and of some other very important institutions within the Curia – as, in this case, the Tribunal of the Signatura – as cardinalatial posts.

“The new nominations confirm that the Pope is not bound to the traditions of the “cardinalatial Sees” – which were motivated by historical reasons in different countries – in which the cardinalate was considered almost “automatically” connected to such sees. Instead, we have several nominations of archbishops and bishops of sees that in the past have not had a cardinal. This applies, for example, to Italy, Spain, Mexico, Panama.

“With regard to the retired nominees, the words of the Pope in his brief introduction should be noted: They represent so many Bishops who, with the same pastoral solicitude” have served as pastors of Dioceses, but also in the Curia and in the diplomatic service. The cardinalatial nominations are intended, then, as a recognition given symbolically to some, but recognizing the merits of all.

“The youngest of the new cardinals is Archbishop Tafi of Tonga (b. 1961), who will become the youngest member of the College of Cardinals.

“The oldest is Archbishop Pimiento Rodriguez, Archbishop emeritus of Manizales (b. 1919).”