I got some wonderful news this morning from half way around the world   – an email from my friend, Cardinal Soane Patita Mafi, bishop of Tonga! The instant I knew of the underground volcano explosion that cut the islands off from the rest of the world in January, I wrote him to say I was stunned by the news but wanted him to know that I and countless others were praying for Tonga and its people. I told him I knew he would probably not see my message for a while!

The cardinal assured me that prayers were appreciated by all, and that Tongans have been recovering well, assisted by people and organizations within and outside the country. Many lessons of God’s grace can be learned when such help comes forth in tragic times, wrote Cardinal Mafi. His message was positive and uplifting and his thoughtful and kind words really made my day!

By the way, when I first met the cardinal in Rome, I was fascinated by his name. When I said it aloud (I love languages and etymology), I thought I knew what it meant. I asked him and indeed his name means John the Baptist.

This photo from the Catholic Herald was taken when we both attended a Saints Damien and Marianne Conference in Honolulu in October 2018, The cardinal presided at the opening Mass and we both gave talks during the conference. I interviewed him as well for Vatican Insider.


The first word I saw today on how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could impact Italy was the immediate increase here in the prices of gas, oil and wheat, with sticker shock hitting those who had to fill their gas tank at a local station.

I’ve seen a lot of TV today, including news from U.S., French, German and British sources. I’ll be riveted to TV and radio reports in coming days and will try to keep you posted on how our lives may be affected by Russia’s action.

I do not have a car but the Vatican building in which I live uses oil for heating (6 months a year but we pay that over 12 months, along with our rent and other expenses), and I have a gas stove and oven. Other appliances are electric and, for the moment, my contract with the gas and electric company precludes price hikes. Let’s wait and see….

I subscribe to, a wonderful online source of information for expats living in Italy. Here is a link to a report they published today: EXPLAINED: How Italy could be impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (


Today is the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. In a short while, as I write, Pope Francis will be at the basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls for the traditional Second Vespers that mark the end of the annual week of Prayer for Christian Unity. EWTN will carry that event (5:30 pm Rome time).

As you will see in two stories below, we need prayers not only for Christian unity but also for Ukraine (Pope Francis has declared tomorrow, Wednesday, January 26, as a Day of Prayer for Ukraine) and for Tonga ravaged by an underwater volcano explosion and resulting tsunami that was tens of times stronger than the Atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, as scientists are now telling us.


Pope Francis has proposed Wednesday, January 26 as a day of prayer for peace for Ukraine, and has expressed his concern over the increasing tensions that threaten peace and security in Ukraine and the rest of Europe. In an interview with Vatican News, Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, the Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine, spoke of the crisis in the country, over which there is a spectre of conflict.

Svitlana Duckhovych – Vaticannews

These are the hours of diplomacy that seek to defuse conflict between Ukraine and Russia through negotiation. The West and Russia are trying to mediate a crisis that has now lasted for years for the Ukrainian population, from the “low-intensity” conflict, as analysts define it, to the current winds of war. (photo: talks between US and Russia)

The apostolic nuncio to the country, Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, speaking to Vatican News, says people are comforted by the closeness shown once again by Pope Francis last Sunday at the Angelus.

How has the Pope’s appeal been received in Ukraine?

Here in Ukraine, Pope Francis is one of the religious personalities most respected by the local population, so this appeal by the Pope after last Sunday’s Angelus prayer was immediately received as very important news, which lifts the heart, expresses closeness and solidarity, and during times of difficulty like these in Ukraine, knowing that you are not alone and forgotten is already a great help.

 How is the current situation being perceived among the population?

In this period of my mission as nuncio, there is the war that has been going on for eight years in the eastern regions of the country, and it has certainly created many problems. There are those who have lost their loved ones, and I have also personally met several people who have been hard hit – there are those who have lost their health, their homes, their jobs – but all this has made Ukrainians stronger in the face of difficulties.

The risk of a possible worsening of the conflict is experienced with more courage. There is concern, but at the same time, I have noticed a lot of love for the homeland and also a great decision to do one’s part if there are difficulties. As many people know, there are native Ukrainians here, and there are regions with a predominance of Russians, or others where there is a significant presence of Polish, but this month I have been able to appreciate the love on everyone’s part. I am not saying that there are no difficulties, but in general the conflict seems to have increased cohesion throughout the country.

How is the local Church experiencing this situation?

I am answering mainly with reference to the Catholics in Ukraine, but there are also the Orthodox Churches and other Churches. As we know, in the Greek Catholic Churches and also in the Latin Rite Catholic Churches since 2014, the year the conflict began, during all the Eucharistic celebrations and also in other moments of prayer, there is always a moment of prayer for peace. In these last few weeks, the prayer for peace is even more present, stronger, and it will be especially so on Wednesday, January 26, at the invitation of Pope Francis and in union with him and all men of goodwill.

What is the importance of prayer for the Ukrainian people at this time?

I have asked myself this question many times and my conclusion is that we must consider above all our vocation as believers in Christ and our vocation as human beings. As we have seen, even Pope Francis in last Sunday’s appeal stressed that we are not worthy to call ourselves men and women if we do not consider others as our brothers and sisters.

The prophet Isaiah said: God will not hear your prayer unless you are converted, unless you live justice, unless you live mercy. Therefore, this prayer that we live, we live it for peace; but the meaning of this prayer is above all that we convert ourselves, to live fidelity to God and to live brotherhood and mercy towards all, with humility, with courage, with creativity, to say to the Lord: I now entrust everything into your hands.


Monday evening, January 24, Cardinal Michael Czerny S.J., ad interim prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, presided over a special prayer service for the people of Tonga, devasted by the destructive volcano eruption and tsunami of January 15. Although only three people died, the natural disaster has caused massive and longterm damage in the island nation that now depends on international aid for reconstruction. The prayer service was held in the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. At the end of the prayer service, the cardinal addressed those present.

He noted the relief work led by Caritas with the help of the New Zealand navy, and called for prayers asking God to relieve the brothers and sisters in Tonga from “discouragement and despair” and “to make the violence of nature cease” so that Tongans may rebuild what has been destroyed. He invited people to implore God “to touch the hearts of men and women, so that they devote the resources of science to relieving peoples from natural disasters, climate change, disease, poverty, and exclusion.” Cardinal Czerny calls for prayers and solidarity for Tonga – Vatican News



IRENAEUS NAMED DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH – Pope Francis on Thursday received in audience Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and authorized him, in accordance with the opinion of the plenary session of the cardinals and bishops who are members of the same dicastery, to confer the title of Doctor of the Universal Church on Saint Irenaeus. The Pope preciously announced this intention during an audience with members of the St. Irenaeus Orthodox-Catholic Joint Working Group in the Vatican last October. On that occasion, he described Saint Irenaeus, (who, though born in Smyrna, in what is now Turkey, served as Bishop of Lyons between 130 and 140 AD) as “a great spiritual and theological bridge between Eastern and Western Christians.” He died in 202. (Source: vaticannews)

COVID FORCES CHANGES IN ROMAN CURIA RETREAT – Due to the continuing epidemiological emergency caused by Covid-19, once again this year it will not be possible to hold the spiritual exercises of the Roman Curia at Casa Divin Maestro in Ariccia. A statement released Thursday by the Holy See Press Office said: “The Holy Father has therefore invited the cardinals residing in Rome, the heads of dicasteries and the superiors of the Roman Curia to make their own personal arrangements, withdrawing in prayer, from the afternoon of Sunday, March 6, to Friday, March 11.” During that week, all the Holy Father’s engagements will be suspended, including the general audience of Wednesday, March 9. (source: vaticannews)

FIRST EMERGENCY AID ARRIVES IN TONGA – The first aid flights since the disaster in Tonga caused by the undersea volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami have arrived. Wednesday evening flights from Australia and New Zealand, loaded with humanitarian aid and aid to deal with the emergency, landed at the international airport after the runway was cleared of the ash and debris that had covered it. Emergency aid is being distributed without contact to avoid the risks associated with the coronavirus pandemic. Caritas counts on a team of volunteers in the area and is also trying to respond to the needs of the affected population. The most urgent need is drinking water contaminated by the ash from the eruption. The local government has declared a state of emergency and organized a distribution of water to the Ha’apai islands (the closest to the volcano). While the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade stated that “aid was distributed that, thanks to Caritas Tonga and Caritas New Zealand, had already been stored in some areas. These emergency supplies include water purification equipment, canisters, hygiene kits, buckets and faucets. (source L’Osservatore Romano)



Continuing his catechetical series on Saint Joseph, Pope Francis looks at his role as a loving father and a reflection of God’s tenderness, which allows us to feel loved and welcomed in all our weaknesses.

By Vatican News staff writer

Speaking to pilgrims in the Paul VI Audience Hall, Pope Francis explored the role of Saint Joseph as a “father in tenderness.”

Recognizing that the Gospels do not offer details on how he exercized his paternity, the Pope said we can be sure that Joseph being a “just” man translated into the education he gave to Jesus, and the loving care he showed Him.

God as Father

The Pope recalled how the Gospels attest that Jesus always used the word “Father” to speak of God and His love.

As an example, he said the parable of the prodigal son not only recounts the experience of sin and forgiveness, but the way the merciful father forgives his son, not through punishment but a loving embrace.

“Tenderness is something greater than the logic of the world. It is an unexpected way of doing justice. That is why we must never forget that God is not frightened by our sins, our mistakes, our falls, but he is frightened by the closure of our hearts, by our lack of faith in his love.”

The tenderness of God’s love

Recalling excerpts from his Apostolic Letter Patris corde, the Pope went on to say that “there is great tenderness in the experience of God’s love,” and it is “beautiful to think that the first person to transmit this reality to Jesus was Joseph himself.”

It would help us to reflect on our own experiences of this tenderness, and to ask ourselves if we have become witnesses to it.

The Pope encouraged us to mirror Joseph’s paternity, and allow ourselves to be transformed by God’s tender love for us.

“For tenderness is not primarily an emotional or sentimental matter: it is the experience of feeling loved and welcomed precisely in our poverty and misery, and thus transformed by God’s love.”

Redeemed weakness

God relies on our talents, but also our own fragilities to experience His grace and grow in love, the Pope said.

He also recalled the experience of Saint Paul when he wrote to the community of Corinth, when the Lord told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Pope Francis added that this experience of God’s tenderness through our weaknesses requires that we be “converted from the gaze of the Evil One who ‘makes us see and condemn our frailty,’ while the Holy Spirit ‘brings it to light with tender love.'”

“That is why it is so important to encounter God’s mercy, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where we experience his truth and tenderness…We know that God’s truth does not condemn, but instead welcomes, embraces, sustains and forgives us.”

We need a “revolution of tenderness,” the Pope added, calling for a justice system that does not confuse redemption with punishment.

For this reason, he called to mind those in prison, recalling that it is right they should pay for their crimes, “but it is even more right that those who have done wrong should be able to redeem themselves from their mistake.”

In conclusion, the Pope offered this prayer:

St Joseph, father in tenderness,
teach us to accept that we are loved precisely in that which is weakest in us.
Grant that we may place no obstacle
between our poverty and the greatness of God’s love.
Stir in us the desire to approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation,
that we may be forgiven and also made capable of loving tenderly
our brothers and sisters in their poverty.
Be close to those who have done wrong and are paying the price for it;
Help them to find not only justice but also tenderness so that they can start again.
And teach them that the first way to begin again
is to sincerely ask for forgiveness.

At the end of the audience, Pope Francis met the parents of Lorena and Antonella, their two daughters who died in a terrible accident on a road near Rome on December 20. (photo by EWTN/CNA Daniel Ibanez)


During the general audience on Wednesday, after his catechesis on St. Joseph, Pope Francis turned his thoughts to the inhabitants of the Tonga Islands, who have been hit by a devastating tsunami set off by the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano.

Prayers and closeness

The Holy Father expressed his closeness to the people of the Pacific nation pleading with God to relieve their suffering. He then called on everyone to join in prayer for these brothers and sisters.

“My thoughts go out to the peoples of the Tonga Islands who in recent days were affected by the eruption of an underwater vulcano, which caused considerable material damage. I am spiritually close to all those who are sorely-tried, and I implore from God relief in their suffering. I invite everyone to join me in prayer for these our brothers and sisters.”





Among the many news stories I have been following with great interest is the news from Tonga, in particular because I know Cardinal Soane Patita Mafi, archbishop of Tonga. We’ve corresponded and met several times since he was named a cardinal in 2015, including in Honolulu in the fall of 2017 for a Catholic conference at Hawaiì’s convention center at which we were both speakers. (Hawaii Catholic photo)

I wrote Cardinal Mafi yesterday but have no real hope of hearing from him or even thinking he got my email. I assured him of prayers, for one thing, and the prayers will re-double for all the inhabitants of Tonga until we get some updated news.

Tonga now has widespread areas covered in ash from the after effects of an underwater volcanic eruption and is cut off from the world because of the rupture in an undersea fiber-optic communications system. I read that the repair of Tonga’s critical 514-mile fibre-optic link to Fiji depends on the arrival of a specialized ship that is currently in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea.

There are so many tragedies in the world, both man-made and natural, that it is hard to know where to start praying. Today, put Tonga and its people on your list!


The Vatican press office this morning announced that Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin has Covid with “very light symptoms” and Abp. Peña Parra, his deputy or substitute, has Covid but is asymptomatic. Both are in quarantine.

Just recently stricter rules came into force in the Vatican to try and prevent the spread of Covid and the Omicron variant: Employees must be vaccinated to enter their offices and have documents – the famous Green Pass – proving vaccination or that they had Covid and recovered. They must also wear the FFP2 mask, now obligatory to enter most venues, travel on busses, trains and planes, etc. in Italy as well.

Un-vaccinated employees will be considered absent from work and will forfeit their salary until the meet Vatican requirements. Visitors to the Vatican must also show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid and must wear the FFP2 mask.

According to Edward Pentin, in an email to the National Catholic Register about exemptions from vaccination, “Cardinal Parolin said Vatican employees seeking to be exempt from the Vatican’s new vaccine mandate because they oppose the vaccine’s link to abortion ‘seems not to be justified’ as it was only tested rather than produced using the cell lines of aborted fetuses.”

He added that, “In Jan. 9 written comments to the Register, the Vatican Secretary of State said that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine administered at the Vatican does not use such ‘cell cultures’ in its composition or production but ‘only in the preliminary stages of vaccine testing in the laboratory. On the other hand, other vaccines (Astra Zeneca, Johnson & Johnson) are actually produced from cell cultures that were donated about 40 years ago for scientific purposes.”


Pope Francis has sent €100,000 to the Philippines for the devastation wrought on vast parts of the island nation by typhoon Rai, according to a communiqué from the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, responsible for disbursing the funds. United Nations sources say 8 million people in 11 regions have suffered extraordinary consequences.

Monies will be sent to the Apostolic Nunciature in the Philippines, which has also received aid and financial support from many organizations such as Caritas, other Catholic charities and organizations and Episcopal conferences worldwide.

According to the dicastery communiqué, Pope Francis is also sending a contribution of €100,000 “in favor of groups of migrants stranded between Poland and Belarus and in aid of Caritas Polska to deal with the migratory emergency on the border of the two countries, due to the situation of conflict that has been going in for over 10 years.”


I am really excited to tell you about my guest in the interview segment this weekend – Cardinal Soane Patita Mafi of Tonga. He was the guest of honor at the recent Damien and Marianne Catholic Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii which I also attended. Cardinal Mafi is the fourth Roman Catholic bishop of Tonga. His first names, by the way, Soane Patita, mean John the Baptist. He was named a cardinal by Pope Francis on February 14, 2015.

Listen as he tells us how he learned he’d been named a cardinal, life in Tonga, the Catholic Church in Tonga, his ministry as a bishop and now a cardinal – all that and much more. At times his words about the Church are like a beautiful homily – you won’t want to miss a minute!

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


“The threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned”

Friday was the first day of a two-day Vatican high-level international symposium on a nuclear-weapons-free world entitled “Prospects for a World Free from Nuclear Weapons and for Integral Disarmament,”‎ It was organized by the Vatican’’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

In a press release from the Vatican Secretariat of State announcing the symposium, Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the dicastery, explained that, “this event responds to the priorities of Pope Francis to take action for world peace, to use the resources of creation for a sustainable development and to improve the quality of life for all, individuals and countries, without discrimination.”

Among those present to explore the possibilities for achieving disarmament in the 21st century were 11 Nobel Peace laureates, top United Nations and NATO officials, ‎heads of  major foundations and civil society organizations, as well representatives of bishops conferences, Christian denominations and other faiths.

The Nobel laureates:

S.S. Francesco -Sala Clementina: Simposio Internazionale sul Disarmo 10-11-2017

Friday, Pope Francis received the participants, and addressed them in English, expressing his “deep gratitude for your presence here and your work in the service of the common good. I thank Cardinal Turkson for his greeting and introduction.”

He began by noting that the symposium is addressing “issues that are critical both in themselves and in the light of the complex political challenges of the current international scene, marked as it is by a climate of instability and conflict. A certain pessimism might make us think that ‘prospects for a world free from nuclear arms and for integral disarmament’, the theme of your meeting, appear increasingly remote.”

“Indeed,” said Francis, “the escalation of the arms race continues unabated and the price of modernizing and developing weaponry, not only nuclear weapons, represents a considerable expense for nations. As a result, the real priorities facing our human family, such as the fight against poverty, the promotion of peace, the undertaking of educational, ecological and healthcare projects, and the development of human rights, are relegated to second place.”

The Holy Father highlighted “the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental effects of any employment of nuclear devices. If we also take into account the risk of an accidental detonation as a result of error of any kind, the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned. For they exist in the service of a mentality of fear that affects not only the parties in conflict but the entire human race. International relations cannot be held captive to military force, mutual intimidation, and the parading of stockpiles of arms. Weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security. They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family, which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity.”

Francis said, “Essential in this regard is the witness given by the Hibakusha, the survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, together with other victims of nuclear arms testing. May their prophetic voice serve as a warning, above all for coming generations!”

“Furthermore,” emphasized the Pope, “weapons that result in the destruction of the human race are senseless even from a tactical standpoint. For that matter, while true science is always at the service of humanity, in our time we are increasingly troubled by the misuse of certain projects originally conceived for a good cause. Suffice it to note that nuclear technologies are now spreading, also through digital communications, and that the instruments of international law have not prevented new states from joining those already in possession of nuclear weapons. The resulting scenarios are deeply disturbing if we consider the challenges of contemporary geopolitics, like terrorism or asymmetric warfare.”

Yet, said Francis, on a more optimistic note, “At the same time, a healthy realism continues to shine a light of hope on our unruly world. Recently, for example, in a historic vote at the United Nations, the majority of the members of the international community determined that nuclear weapons are not only immoral, but must also be considered an illegal means of warfare. This decision filled a significant juridical lacuna, inasmuch as chemical weapons, biological weapons, anti-human mines and cluster bombs are all expressly prohibited by international conventions.”

Highlighting the “’humanitarian initiative’ sponsored by a significant alliance between civil society, states, international organizations, churches, academies and groups of experts,” Pope Francis addressed the Nobel laureates: “The document that you, distinguished recipients of the Nobel Prize, have consigned to me is a part of this, and I express my gratitude and appreciation for it.”

He also underscored that, “this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio of Pope Paul VI. That Encyclical, in developing the Christian concept of the person, set forth the notion of integral human development and proposed it as ‘the new name of peace’. In this memorable and still timely document, the Pope stated succinctly that ‘development cannot be restricted to economic growth alone. To be authentic, it must be integral; it must foster the development of each man and of the whole man’.

“We need, then, to reject the culture of waste and to care for individuals and peoples labouring under painful disparities through patient efforts to favour processes of solidarity over selfish and contingent interests. …. Lastly, there is a need to promote human beings in the indissoluble unity of soul and body, of contemplation and action.

“In this way,” concluded Pope Francis, “progress that is both effective and inclusive can achieve the utopia of a world free of deadly instruments of aggression, contrary to the criticism of those who consider idealistic any process of dismantling arsenals.” He quoted St. John XXIII: “Unless this process of disarmament be thoroughgoing and complete, and reach men’s very souls, it is impossible to stop the arms race, or to reduce armaments, or – and this is the main thing – ultimately to abolish them entirely.

“The Church does not tire of offering the world this wisdom and the actions it inspires, conscious that integral development is the beneficial path that the human family is called to travel.I encourage you to carry forward this activity with patience and constancy, in the trust that the Lord is ever at our side. May he bless each of you and your efforts in the service of justice and peace.”