Do you have evangelizing passion?  Apostolic zeal? What are you passionate about and how do you transmit that passion and enthusiasm?


The Holy Father began today’s general audience catechesis by noting the theme, “The passion of evangelizing, apostolic zeal.” Evangelizing is not saying, ‘Look, blah, blah, blah’ and nothing more. There is a passion that involves everything: the mind, the heart, the hands, going out… everything, the whole person is involved with this proclamation of the Gospel, and for this reason we talk about the passion for evangelizing.

Today, he went on, “we now consider the calling of the twelve apostles, whom Jesus chose “to be with him and to be sent out to proclaim the Good News.” Both aspects of that call are essential, for only by closeness to Jesus do we learn to proclaim him and not ourselves, his word and not our own.”

Jesus tells the apostles “to share the gift that they themselves received, the unmerited gift of God’s redeeming love. Their message must be his own: that the kingdom of God is at hand and requires only that we receive it with open hearts.”

Francis explained that He also “addresses a discourse to them, known as the ‘missionary discourse’—this is what it is called in the Gospel. It is found in chapter 10 of Matthew’s Gospel and is like the ‘constitution’ of the proclamation. From that discourse, which I recommend you read today—it is only one page in the Gospel—I draw out three aspects:  why proclaim, what to proclaim and how to proclaim!

“Jesus also tells the apostles that they are sent forth like sheep among wolves, to propose the Gospel above all by their witness of meekness, innocence and personal conviction, proclaiming Christ more by their actions than by their words.”

Citing St John Chrysostom’s Homily 33 on the Gospel of Matthew, Francis said this Church Father wrote: “As long as we are lambs, we will conquer, and even if we are surrounded by many wolves, we will overcome them. But if we become wolves—‘Ah, how clever, look, I feel good about myself’—we will be defeated, because we will be deprived of the shepherd’s help. He does not shepherd wolves, but lambs’ If I want to be the Lord’s, I have to allow Him to be my shepherd; and He is not the shepherd of wolves, He is the shepherd of lambs, meek, humble, kind as the Lord is.”

The Church, as “apostolic”, is entirely missionary; each of us, in Baptism, is called by Jesus to live in closeness to him and to be sent forth, in union with all our brothers and sisters, to bear witness to his Gospel before the world.


Following the catastrophe caused by the earthquakes that struck Syria and Turkey on 6 February, Pope Francis appealed for closeness and concrete support to alleviate the pain of those who are suffering from the disaster. Nine days after the powerful earthquakes, the rising death toll has topped 41,000. Millions of people have been left without a home and a livelihood.

While the Pope issued his appeal during Sunday’s Angelus, he too put words into action through the Dicastery for the Service of Charity.

Crates of aid departed from the Port of Naples on Wednesday morning aboard the MSC Aurelia Cargo ship that is scheduled to dock in Iskenderum, Turkey in two days’ time.

As well as aid from the Italian government and other NGOs, the ship carries 10,000 thermal jumpers delivered personally by Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the Papal Almoner. The thermal garments are destined for the Kilis refugee camp in Turkey, 50 km from Gaziantep and 60 km from the Syrian city of Aleppo.

The distribution of aid will be entrusted to operators of the Rava Foundation, which has been present in the area for some time and provides food and shelter to thousands of homeless people.

Following the outbreak of war in Syria, the camp has expanded to accommodate some 60,000 refugees, but it is also home to many others who live in makeshift tents. As expected, the earthquake has aggravated the situation and hundreds of people are joining the refugee families. (Vaticannews)


You will remember that yesterday, in my report on quake-devastated Syria and Turkey, I said that the first organization to always jump in to help victims of natural and other disasters, was Caritas Internationalis. Scores of countries around the world have national Caritas offices, including both Syria and Turkey.

As you can see from the following communiqué, the Caritas offices in those countries were destroyed by the earthquake.   This report, issued today in Rome by Caritas Internationalis, speaks to the damage to local offices, what they are doing in Syria and Turkey and how to help financially.


A 7.8-magnitude earthquake that has struck northwest Syria and Turkey has left thousands of people without shelter, food and fuel. Caritas Turkey and Caritas Syria were providing assistance from the very beginning and the Caritas Confederation is supporting and coordinating their efforts to assess the needs and deliver assistance to those affected by this tragedy. The earthquake-hit areas were already in a difficult humanitarian situation. The harsh winter temperatures and the destruction or severe damage to structures – including several hospitals – and roads further complicates humanitarian operations.

Riad Sargi, Director of Caritas Syria, explains that, “in Syria, the earthquake heavily impacted northwest Syria, an area where 4.1 million people depend on humanitarian assistance”. Around 5,000 displaced people, mostly women and children, have found shelter in schools and halls. The recorded deaths and injuries continue to rise as the search for missing persons among the rubble of destroyed buildings and homes continues. Hospitals in some of hardest-hit areas were overwhelmed as they worked to treat those injured by the earthquake.

Caritas Syria is working to provide relief items and opening shelters to accommodate those most in need in Aleppo, Hama and Lattakia. “It is very cold and continues to rain and snow. Many have lost their homes and even those who still have a home are not returning to it for fear of further shocks,” adds Sargi. In Aleppo, relief items and shelters for people whose houses were collapsed are needed. The office of Caritas Aleppo was destroyed, as were many houses belonging to staff.

In Turkey, the south-east provinces of the country including Kahramanmaraş, Hatay, Osmaniye, Adıyaman, Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa, Diyarbakır, Malatya and Adana were affected by the earthquake and 42 aftershocks, the largest of which was 6.6 magnitude.

The Diocese of Anatolia region has been strongly affected by the earthquake and the Cathedral of Iskenderun totally collapsed. The offices of Caritas Anatolia were severely damaged. “Thank God the staff is fine, but we lost volunteers, beneficiaries and even relatives,” says Giulia Longo, Programme Manager of Caritas Turkey, who was in Italy at the time of the earthquake together with the organisation’s president, Monsignor Paolo Bizzeti, and is now returning to Turkey. “The president and I are alive by a miracle. If we had been in Iskenderun we probably would not have been saved,” Longo said.

Unscathed statue of Mary in Iskenderun cathedral –

Caritas Turkey immediately opened a Listening Center hotline to provide support and assistance to those affected by the disaster, and is currently working alongside local authorities to gather information and organise a humanitarian response. In addition, Caritas teams have been gathering displaced people in safe and open spaces and trying to distribute some hot meals and clothes.

The Caritas Confederation are combining their efforts and working together to provide humanitarian assistance to those most in need and ask for the continued support and prayers of the international community in alleviating the sufferings of the people in Syria and Turkey at this time.

Anyone wishing to support the work of these two Caritas organizations can do so through the Caritas Internationalis website: https://www.caritas.org/earthquake-syria-turkey/

FROM ASIA NEWS: The apostolic vicar of Anatolia (Turkey), Bishop Paolo Bizzeti spoke with AsiaNews. He is in Italy this week for a series of meetings, but he has been in contact – as much as possible given the broken communictaion lines – with the faithful and collaborators in the area.

“The cathedral of the vicariate in Iskenderun [the Church of the Annunciation, a 19th century building] has collapsed,” he adds, “all the buildings are uninhabitable” but so far  “there are no victims” reported among the local Christian community.

Asia News – Annunciation Cathedral in Iskenderun –

The prelate is also president of Caritas Turkey and is already announcing ‘the opening of a subscription’ to help the local population. “The earthquake struck in the middle of the night, it was just after 4 a.m.” and this took most of the people who were sleeping in their homes  by “surprise”. “A disastrous event,” he adds, and even now “the fear is great” for further, possible strong aftershocks that often follow the main quake. TURKEY Earthquake in Turkey, Bishop Bizzeti: in Iskenderun cathedral collapsed, ‘total disaster’ (asianews.it)



The pictures coming in from earthquake-struck Syria and Turkey are beyond devastating, beyond horrifying! The number of lives lost increases almost by the minute (6,200 at 7pm Rome time). No age is spared. People are trapped and perhaps dying as I write. No building is spared – homes, stores, places of worship, school, hospitals (12 at last count!). And the bone-shaking, bitter cold spares no one either.

I cannot even conceive of having to live through such destruction, the terror and horror of buildings collapsing around me, of ash and soot and dirt and pieces of cement and bricks flying through the air. Causing further deaths and destruction!

I cannot imagine wondering what it is like to need a bed, food, running water, sanitary services, medical care, heat.

I know that personally I’d need not just a helping hand but a hug!

Among the agencies jumping in immediately to help the quake victims is Caritas Internationalis. The Red Cross and other aid agencies are already en route to the stricken areas as well and, because the Catholic Church is always on the front line in such moments, I can imagine parishes around the world asking for financial donations as well as clothes, etc. to send on to Syria and Turkey.

Following is one story from Turkey, from the apostolic vicar of Anatolia. I’ve been to Turkey a number of times and always enjoyed some of the world’s most stunning scenery in Anatolia, Cappadocia and southern Turkey where we find, of course, Ephesus and Mary’s House among other historical and religious sites.Let’s help where and how we can, above all with prayers. Never underestimate the power of prayer!


Bishop Paolo Bizzetti, apostolic vicar of Anatolia, describes the reality on the ground following the two devastating earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria, saying people have united in faith amid the tragedy.

By Francesca Merlo (vaticannews)

The situation in Turkey and Syria following Monday’s two devastating earthquakes is getting worse and worse.

Bishop Paolo Bizzatti, the Vicar Apostolic of Anatolia in Turkey, offered that confirmation of the situation on the ground in his role as the President of Caritas in the area.

Bishop Bizzetti also confirmed reports of people sleeping on the streets, in sub-zero temperatures, explaining that even those with shelter have neither electricity nor water.

Despite the difficulty, he added, “people are uniting in solidarity”.

Poorest pay the highest price

Bishop Bizzetti went into detail about some of the thousands of people who have been affected by the distaster. “Of course, the poorest are the ones who pay the highest price,” he said.

The affected area is home to many refugees: Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. “Southern Turkey is full of refugees from various countries who have fled terrible situations,” he noted.

For refugees, Bishop Bizzetti said, “it’s a tragedy within a tragedy”, while for those who are not refugees, this disaster marks “a huge turning point in their lives.”

As always in these circumstances there is a sense of bewilderment, confusion, and loss, while the little hope people had now suddenly seems lost.

However, said Bishop Bizzetti, solidarity has been pouring in with Caritas Turkey seeking to provide life-saving aid.

“It is difficult to receive the aid necessary given the state of the roads,” he said, adding that Caritas needs to make sure it organises the aid properly in order to avoid the common experience where “a lot arrives on the first two days, after which you are in a situation of hardship.”

“Our priority is to raise funds in such a way that we can then methodically space the aid,” he said

We are in God’s hands

We thank God, concluded the Bishop, that “the people are people of faith, and there is a strong sense of being in God’s hands.

Even on Monday, after the earthquakes, local communities “celebrated the Eucharist; people are praying, and their faith is a great help.”

ALSO THIS: As Pope Francis continues to express his concern for Turkey and Syria following two massive earthquakes, the Pontifical Mission Societies launches a fund to offer concrete assistance to people suffering their effects. Pontifical Mission Societies launches fund for quake victims in Turkey, Syria – Vatican News



On my first trip to Iraq, I visited all 6 dioceses in the northern region of Kurdistan. I spent an afternoon at a parish and the Mar Aoraha Chaldean shrine in the diocese and region of Zakho, the northwestern-most part of Kurdistan. In this photo, the pastor is indicating the shrine and telling me that, beyond the sign we are looking at, is the precise geographical point where Iraq, Turkey and Syria meet. Turkey and Syria, of course, are the two countries most affected by today’s earthquake.

Syria on the far left, Turkey on the right

Some photos of the shrine and adjacent area –

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Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin sent two separate telegrams today in Pope Francis’ name to Abp. Marek Solczyński, apostolic nuncio in Turkey and to Cardinal Mario Zenari apostolic nuncio in Syria, for the devastating earthquakes that have caused great loss of life and untold damage to structures.

The telegram to Abp. Solczyński said the Pope “was deeply saddened to learn of the huge loss of life caused by the earthquake in the area of south-eastern Türkiye, and he sends the assurance of his spiritual closeness to all those affected. Entrusting those who have died to the loving mercy of the Almighty, he sends heartfelt condolences to those who mourn their loss. His Holiness likewise prays that the emergency personnel will be sustained in their care of the injured and in the ongoing relief efforts by the divine gifts of fortitude and perseverance.”

In the separate telegram to Cardinal Zenari in Syria, the Holy Father expressed his sadness at “the significant loss of life caused by the earthquake in the area of north-western Syria,” and offered “heartfelt prayers for the souls of the deceased and for all who mourn them. Entrusting those affected by this disaster to the providence of the Almighty,” he offered prayers “in particular for the emergency personnel involved in the ongoing relief efforts” and he invoked “upon the long-suffering Syrian people the divine blessings of strength and peace.”


Sunday afternoon, February 5, on the flight from South Sudan back to Rome, Pope Francis was joined by Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and Rev. Iain Greenshields, Moderator of the Church of Scotland for the traditional in-flight press conference with the 70 plus journalists on the papal plane.

The Pope answered questions on the criminalization of homosexual people, the late Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, an agreement signed in 2016 between the Holy See and the DRC on education and health, the United Nations and models of intervention (is a new one needed?), the war in Ukraine (would the Pope meet with Putin?), papal health, his energy, future trips in an era of “globalization of indifference.”

Vatican News carried a lengthy summary of the press conference: Pope: ‘Entire world is at war and in self-destruction’ – Vatican News



July 21 is always a day I celebrate with joy as it was the date I was baptized! I could not know at the age of three weeks that a whole new life was starting for me but, as I grew and learned about the faith and received my First Communion and so much more, I realized it was the greatest treasure of my life.


A report in the Greek City Times, citing the Anadolou Agency, says that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has invited Pope Francis to visit Hagia Sophia. The article was entitled “Turkey Invites Pope Francis to Hagia Sophia.”

“Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan invited the head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State, Pope Francis to visit Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom),” the report started. “According to Ibrahim Kalin, spokesperson for the Turkish presidency, Turkey has invited everyone to the mosque, including Pope Francis.” https://greekcitytimes.com/2020/07/21/turkey-invites-pope-francis-to-hagia-sophia/

If you recall, on July 12, the second Sunday in July that traditionally marks the International Day of the Sea, at the Angelus Pope Francis mentioned this after the Marian prayer, extending “an affectionate greeting to all those who work at sea, especially those who are far from their loved ones and their country.”

Then, speaking somewhat hesitatingly in obviously pained extemporaneous remarks, he said: “And the sea carries me a little farther away in my thoughts: to Istanbul. I think of Saint Sophia, and I am very saddened.” He did not mention Turkey’s president by name or use the word ‘mosque’ but it was President Erdogan who, on July10 announced the decision to turn the museum commonly known as Hagia Sophia back into a mosque.

Hagia Sophia was built 1500 years ago – in 537 – as a basilica by the Byzantine Christian Emperor Justinian and dedicated to Divine Wisdom – thus the name Hagia Sophia. After the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the basilica was converted into a mosque and the city was renamed Istanbul. In 1934, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of the Republic of Turkey, turned Hagia Sophia into a museum, which later became a UNESCO world heritage site.

Reactions around the world to the July 10 decision ranged from disappointment to condemnation, and people immediately looked to the Vatican for a statement. Negative reaction poured in from Orthodox leaders, the European Union and the World Council of Churches, to name a few.

The WCC told Turkey’s president in a letter of “the grief and dismay of the World Council of Churches and of its 350 member churches in more than 110 countries, representing more than half a billion Christians around the world at the step you have just taken. By deciding to convert the Hagia Sophia back to a mosque you have reversed that positive sign of Turkey’s openness and changed it to a sign of exclusion and division.”

And then Sunday, July 12, we heard Pope Francis say with sadness, “And the sea carries me a little farther away in my thoughts: to Istanbul. I think of Saint Sophia, and I am very saddened.”


I now know what new place I will visit the next time I’m in Venice!   What a great story this is about St. Francis and a beautiful Venetian island! To whet your appetite….

 “When Francis returned to Venice, after a months-long sea journey aboard a cargo ship, he was at the height of his fame as a preacher. Thousands were inspired by his invitation to give up worldly possessions and live a life of penance, brotherly love, and peace.  (photo Aleteia)

Upon his arrival in Venice, hundreds of believers were gathered to meet him. But Francis realized he first needed a moment of quiet, reflection and prayer before returning to his worldly mission. Thanks to a small rowboat, he made his way to a tiny island inside Venice’s Lagoon, located between the islands of Burano and Sant’Eramo, now known as “St. Francis of the Desert.”

To read more and be inspired: https://aleteia.org/2020/04/23/the-island-where-saint-francis-took-refuge-to-reflect/?utm_campaign=NL_en&utm_source=daily_newsletter&utm_medium=mail&utm_content=NL_en





Yesterday, the second Sunday in July, the International Day of the Sea is traditionally observed, and Pope Francis mentioned this after the Marian prayer, extending “an affectionate greeting to all those who work at sea, especially those who are far from their loved ones and their country.”

Then, speaking somewhat hesitatingly in obviously pained extemporaneous remarks, he said: “And the sea carries me a little farther away in my thoughts: to Istanbul. I think of Saint Sophia, and I am very saddened.”

Ten little words: “I think of Saint Sophia, and I am very saddened.”

The Pope did not mention Turkey’s president by name or use the word ‘mosque’ but he was referring to President Erdogan’s announcement on July10 that the museum commonly known as Hagia Sophia would turn back into a mosque, following a ruling from the Council of State.

Hagia Sophia was built 1500 years ago – in 537 – as a basilica by the Byzantine Christian Emperor Justinian and dedicated to Divine Wisdom – thus Hagia Sophia, its name in Greek. It is Aya Sofia to Turks.

After the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the basilica was turned into a mosque and Constantinople became Istanbul. In 1934, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of the Republic of Turkey, turned Hagia Sophia into a museum, which later became a UNESCO world heritage site.

Hagia Sophia is set to re-open to Muslims for prayer on July 24.

I have visited this magnificent church – I can’t help but call it a church! – on several occasions, the first being in 1996 as a member of the Holy See delegation to a UN conference on Housing in Istanbul.   We also visited the celebrated Blue Mosque, revered by Turks, most of whom are Muslim. (See my piece below about Pope Benedict’s visit to Istanbul and to Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque in 2006)

Reactions around the world to Friday’s decision ranged from disappointment to condemnation, and people immediately looked to the Vatican for a statement. So far all that has been heard from the Vatican were Pope Francis’ heartfelt ten words at the Angelus.

Negative reaction poured in from Orthodox leaders, the European Union and the World Council of Churches, to name a few.   According to Peter Anderson who specializes in news about the Orthodox Church, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople lamented the decision, saying Hagia Sophia belongs not only to those who own it at the moment but to all humanity. “The Turkish people have the great responsibility and honour to make the universality of this wonderful monument shine. … (as a museum it serves as a) “symbolic place of encounter, dialogue, solidarity and mutual understanding between Christianity and Islam.”

Anderson noted that Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians, further warned conversation would “push millions of Christians around the world against Islam.”

For its part, UNESCO said that the building is inscribed on its world heritage list as a museum, which binds the Turkish state to ensure that “no modification is made to the outstanding universal value of the property.”

In Athens, reports Anderson in a summary of worldwide reaction to Erdogan’s decision, the Greek Prime Minister said the conversion would be an affront to its ecumenical character. “Furthermore, it is a decision that offends all those who recognize Hagia Sophia as an indispensable part of world cultural heritage. …This decision clearly affects not only Turkey’s relations with Greece, but also its relations with the European Union, UNESCO, and the world community as a whole. It is a truly regretful development that the Turkish leadership, after working for the Alliance of Civilizations in 2005, has now taken the decision to reverse course.”

The WCC told Turkey’s president in a letter of “the grief and dismay of the World Council of Churches and of its 350 member churches in more than 110 countries, representing more than half a billion Christians around the world at the step you have just taken. By deciding to convert the Hagia Sophia back to a mosque you have reversed that positive sign of Turkey’s openness and changed it to a sign of exclusion and division.”


In 2006, I spent six days in Turkey to cover Pope Benedict’s brief visit November 28 to December 1.
Benedict spoke of his trip, that included stops in Ankara, Izmir, Ephesus and Istanbul at the Angelus the Sunday before his Wednesday departure, saying, “It is with great emotion that I await my meeting with the small Catholic community, always present in my heart, and to fraternally join the Orthodox Church on the occasion of the feast of the Apostle St. Andrew.”

He said he was “walking in the footsteps of my venerated predecessors Pope Paul VI and John Paul II,” who visited Turkey in 1967 and 1979 respectively. He invoked the “heavenly protection of Blessed John XXIII, who for 10 years was apostolic delegate in Turkey and felt great esteem and affection for that nation.”

“I ask you all,” Benedict told the faithful, “to accompany me in prayer so that this pilgrimage bears the fruit that God wishes.”

Thursday, November 30, the feast of St. Andrew, patron of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, was the busiest day on the Pope’s schedule for his visit to Turkey. It included a liturgy with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the signing of a Joint Declaration by Pope and Patriarch, a visit to Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia) Museum, a history-making visit to the famed Blue Mosque, and meetings with other Christian leaders and the chief rabbi of Turkey.

I spent some time today re-reading my posts of that papal visit. I was actually riveted by those memories, and one of the funniest columns I’ve ever written was probably the one about the driver I hired to take me from the Izmir airport to Ephesus for the papal Mass at Mary’s House!

I took these photos at Mary’s House in Ephesus during Benedict’s Mass:

On a serious side, here is what I wrote about Pope Benedict’s visit to the Blue Mosque:

In what was considered one of the most sensitive parts of his trip, Pope Benedict Thursday afternoon (Nov 30) visited both the Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque, so called for the blue tiles that decorate its domed ceiling.

Though it never came to pass, many Muslims feared the Pope would make some kind of religious gesture inside Aya Sofya Museum, also known as Hagia Sophia or “Holy Wisdom,” once an Orthodox church that was converted into a mosque in 1453 by the Turks, and into a museum in 1934. Universally acknowledged as one of the greatest buildings of the world, its conquest by the Ottomans at the fall of Constantinople is considered one of the great tragedies of Christianity by the Greek Orthodox faithful. For Muslims it is still a sacred site.

Then, in one of the most awaited moments of his trip, and in the holiest site for Turkish Muslims, the Pope visited the Blue Mosque for a half hour, a time he obviously enjoyed, asking questions and making comments as he did at Aya Sofya.

He removed his shoes as is customary in a mosque and was guided throughout by the Grand Mufti and imam who at one point asked Benedict to join in a moment of meditation. Both remained in solemn silence for a brief period, with the Pope meditating for a full two minutes. The Pope told the imam “this visit will help us together to find the ways, the paths to peace for the good of mankind.”

I took these pictures from the TV at the media center – only a handful of journalists were allowed in the mosque:

At one point the imam showed the Pope a Muslim prayer book and noted that all prayers begin with the word Allah, the name for God. The Pope then put his hand on the book and said “let us pray for brotherhood and all mankind.” There was an exchange of gifts at the end and when the imam handed the Pope a framed ceramic tile depicting a dove, the Pope said, “this picture is a message of fraternity as a remembrance of a visit I will surely never forget.”

PS. For Turks, this was the highest moment, the most important and memorable of Benedict’s four-day visit to their country.


There has been a massive police and security presence all day in and around the Vatican and the center of Rome as Turkey’s president met with Pope Francis and visited a few Vatican sites before proceeding to meetings with Italian officials, including the president. Helicopters have flown overhead for hours, circling Vatican City and neighboring areas.

I’ve heard helicopters over my home for many hours: the last one near the Vatican was about 4 pm. I could see the helicopters from my office balcony and also saw some when I went to Pius XII Square at 3 pm to film my segment for At Home with Jim and Joy. They were circling the Vatican and Castel Sant’Angelo where there had been a small demonstration by some Kurds.

Perhaps only those who live in Washington (or another world capital) can understand what it means to have traffic snarled when a foreign leader visits or the president leaves the White House for some appointment. It was snarled in a lot of areas in Rome today – so I was told by friends with cars and motorbikes!

This was the first time in 59 years since a Turkish leader and the Pope have met in the Vatican. The previous Pope to receive a Turkish leader in Vatican City was St. John XXII. It would have been a natural gesture as he was for several years the apostolic nuncio to Turkey, though he lived in Istanbul. I visited that residence when I was a member of the Holy See delegation to the U.N. Conference on Human Settlements that took place over a period of several weeks in June 1996. Pope John was much loved during the time he spent in Turkey – no surprise at all if you have ever studied this Pope or read his biography!

A heads/up for VATICAN INSIDER this weekend: I usually tell you about my guest in the interview segment of Vatican Insider on my Friday blog but I’m giving you advance notice a few days early as I want to be absolutely sure you tune in this weekend to my conversation with Fr. Bernardo Cervellera, editor of AsiaNews as we talk about the very troubling situation in mainland China and the issues between China and the Vatican.

Fr. Bernardo and I have known each other for over 20 years, and we first met when I was working at the Vatican and was a member of the Holy See delegation to the September 1995 United Nations Conference on Women hosted by Beijing. China. The focus, of course, was on women’s issues and the U.N. conference but I learned a great deal about China in that time, especially on matters of religious freedom.

I learned even more six years later when I spent 12 days in Taiwan, with each and every day devoted to visiting churches and schools, attending meetings with priests and nuns and the late Cardinal Paul Shan whom I visited in Kaoshiung. I shared copious meals with religious from many dozens of Orders, missionary and not, from many countries. They were all studying the Chinese language, culture and history and to a person were waiting for the day when there would be true religious freedom in mainland China and they could go there to live, teach, preach, run schools and hospitals and kindergartens and nursing homes.

Twelve days in Taiwan – that could have been the title of a documentary! What I learned from those priests and nuns about their time in Taiwan delighted me. What I learned about the lack of religious freedom in China, the story of the Patriotic Church and the “underground” Church, deeply saddened me.

I remain sad, as you have undoubtedly guessed from what I’ve posted in recent days about China, in particular the Vatican’s plans that, we hear, may be announced in weeks or perhaps months.

I have followed events in China ever since those heady days on the mainland (3 weeks) and my time in Taiwan.

Today I post two more fascinating reports on China, and soon will post another with reaction from Chinese Catholics to reports of an agreement of some kind between the Vatican and the Chinese government.


In a private audience on Monday, Pope Francis meets with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, discussing the country’s Catholic community, its hosting of refugees, and the situation in the Middle East.

Pope Francis met with the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his entourage on Monday at a private audience in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace. It was the first time in 59 years that a Turkish president has visited the Vatican.

A statement from the Holy See Press Office said their discussions were “cordial” and that the two men spoke about the two states’ bilateral relations. The Holy Father and President Erdogan spoke about “the situation of the country, the condition of the Catholic community, efforts in the reception of the many refugees, and the challenges linked to this.”

They also discussed the situation in the Middle East, giving special attention “to the status of Jerusalem”. Pope Francis and Turkey’s president, it said, highlighted “the need to promote peace and stability in the region through dialogue and negotiation, with respect for human rights and international law.”

At the time of the exchange of gifts, Francis gave Erdogan a medallion representing an angel and explained: “This is an angel of peace that strangles the demon of war. It is a symbol of a world based on peace and justice.” The Pope also offered Erdogan an etching with the design of St. Peter’s Basilica as it was in 1600, a copy of the encyclical Laudato sì and the message for the World Day of Peace this year.

Erdogan gifted the Pope a large ceramic picture with the panorama of Istanbul and a box set of books by the Muslim theologian Mevlana Rumi.

The meeting with the Pope lasted about 50 minutes, only the interpreters were present. “I thank you for your interest,” Erdogan said to Francis, according to the journalists present. The Pope in turn thanked him for the visit. It is rare that the Pope and a leader speak for more than 30 minutes.

Erdogan was accompanied by a delegation – a procession of about thirty cars and minivans – comprising twenty people. Among them also the president’s wife and daughter and five ministers. There were six women in all (of whom four wore the veil).

President Erdogan afterwards met with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States. (Vatican News and AsiaNews)


by Fr. Peter

A priest of the official Church, recalls the 88 year-old bishop that the Vatican wants to replace with an illegitimate bishop, to please the regime. Msgr. Zhuang Jianjian became an underground bishop at the behest of the Vatican in 2006. Cardinal. Zen and Msgr. Zhuang, image of the faithful Church, “which provokes an immense sadness and a sense of impotence”. The hopes of Cardinal Parolin to console “the past and present sufferings of Chinese Catholics”.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – The Vatican’s decision to replace Msgr. Pietro Zhuang Jianjian with another bishop (currently excommunicated), to please the Chinese government, is provoking pain and confusion in China. In this reflection, an official Church priest, Fr. Peter, expresses sorrow at the way this underground Church bishop is being treated, who went underground by Vatican order in 2006. Fr. Peter also recalls the attempts Card. Joseph Zen to communicate with Pope Francis to avoid another “Mindszenty case”. Unlike certain images released by some media, the attempt by Card. Zen and the tears of Msgr. Zhuang are viewed as “impotent” and “sad.” Greater suffering for priests and more problems of conscience for the faithful in China.

CLICK HERE to read the rest of this column, that is, Fr. Peter’s letter: http://www.asianews.it/news-en/The-tears-of-Chinese-bishops.-A-portrait-of-Msgr.-Zhuang,-bishop-of-Shantou-42999.html


(America Magazine – Gerald O’Connell)

(I’ve known Gerry for years and have always trusted his writing, his experience and his sources. I find this to be an excellent piece. I give the first three paragraphs, then the last three and finally a link to the entire article.

The last three paragraphs explain my sadness and why I personally have so many questions about what seems to be a fait accompli between China and the Vatican.

My questions:
Will China free those whom they are detaining on religious grounds?
Will China rebuild the churches that have been destroyed?
Will the Vatican be allowed TOTAL freedom on naming bishops, administering parishes and schools and other entities?
Will the Catholic Church be allowed to build new churches where they are needed?
Will Christians be allowed religious freedom throughout the country?

One thing I can’t imagine happening – surely not in the near future – is the Vatican paying tribute to those martyred for their faith in China.

Here’s Gerry’s column:

An accord between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China “is almost made” and could be signed in the coming months, thereby opening a new phase in the relations between them, according to a senior Vatican source informed on the secret negotiations between the two sides.

The source, who requested anonymity, told America that the negotiations have reached this crucial stage following the visit by a Holy See delegation to Beijing last December when, for the first time since the Chinese communist government expelled the papal nuncio from China in 1951, Vatican officials were able to meet and speak with two bishops from the underground church community.

The Holy See’s five-person delegation, led by Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, who has been involved in Sino-Vatican relations since 1983, traveled to Beijing just before Christmas for another meeting of the Joint Working Group that was established in 2014. The J.W.G. was set up after the two sides signed a framework document of intent regarding the nomination of bishops. It was tasked with resolving the various problematic elements in that text. Since then, it has met around 12 times, alternately in Beijing and the Vatican. In previous sessions, it reached agreement on most of the key issues in the framework text, including the most important one for the Holy See: that the pope shall have the final say in the nomination of bishops.

Final paragraphs:

No one in the Vatican believes the accord will resolve all the problems of the Catholic Church in China or in Sino-Vatican relations. But it is considered a necessary start for the building of mutual trust and understanding.

It should be noted, however, that the accord will not abolish the state structures that control the Church in China today or the democratic election of candidates to be bishops; they all remain in place. Moreover, myriad important questions will still need to be resolved. These include: the situation of almost 30 underground bishops and their communities, the release of the two bishops that disappeared several years ago, the recognition of the bishops’ conference and agreement on the number of dioceses, the situation of Bishop Ma in Shanghai, the possibility for Chinese bishops to visit the Vatican and for the Holy See’s officials to visit Catholic communities in China, and for the Holy See to open an office in Beijing for relations with the government and the church in the mainland.

It is important to mention, too, that the question of diplomatic relations and the question of Taiwan have not been addressed so far in the negotiations between China and the Holy See. They are not yet on the agenda, nor is a visit of Pope Francis to China on the horizon.



It’s the first day of spring and most of us are happy – although New Yorkers and others on the East Coast might be less so because of snowfall! Flowering trees are sprouting their beautiful pink and white buds here and winter coats are generally giving way to spring jackets (except for early morning and late night). The crowds in Rome for Holy Week are immense and, as a result, everything takes longer – longer lines to get in churches, museums, etc., longer waits in coffee bars and restaurants, more time in traffic as hundreds of tourists busses crowd the major thoroughfares. But that’s all OK. It is that time of year: We know it and await it and now it is here. As the Italians say, pazienza – patience!

And I am using the first day of spring to toot a horn, my own – as you will read!

Stay tuned for another post – breaking news about a friend of mine!


(Vatican Radio) So, you’ve packed your bags and you’ve booked your flight and hotel: you are coming to Rome on pilgrimage for the Jubilee Year of Mercy!  If you haven’t done so yet, you might want to consider bringing along a companion who knows Rome and the Vatican like the back of her hand: Joan Lewis.

A 3 decade-long Rome resident and veteran Vatican watcher, she’s the Joan in ‘Joan Knows,’ Vatican Radio’s weekly program looking at the Pope’s activities and Vatican events.  Joan is also the Rome bureau chief for  EWTN, the prominent, U.S.-based Catholic Radio and Television.

Her new book, “A Holy Year in Rome: the Complete Pilgrim’s Guide for the Jubilee of Mercy” (Sophia Institute Press) promises a lot, and it delivers.

Click here for the rest of the story! http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2016/03/21/joan%E2%80%99s_vatican_and_rome_for_jubilee_year_of_mercy/1216928



FRANCIS EXPRESSES SADNESS AT STUDENT DEATHS IN SPAIN.  Pope Francis has expressed his sadness for the tragic deaths of 13 international university students in a bus accident in northeastern Spain this past weekend and has assured the families of his “heartfelt” prayers. All of the victims were young women students on the Erasmus university exchange program.  They included seven from Italy, two Germans, an Austrian, a French woman, a Romanian and an Uzbekistani and ranged between 19 and 25 years old. The bus carrying 57 university students crashed Sunday near Freginals, halfway between the eastern coastal cities of Barcelona and Valencia. They were returning from a firework festival in Valencia. In a telegram to Bishop Benavent Enrique Vidal of Tortosa on behalf of the Holy Father, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said the Pope hopes that the injured will recover swiftly. Pope Francis, the message reads, wishes to express his closeness to the families who have suffered “irreparable loss” and invokes the Lord’s blessing for their spiritual serenity and Christian hope in this time of grief. (photo news.va)


PAPAL TELEGRAM FOR VICTIMS OF ATTACK IN ISTANBUL. Pope Francis has expressed his “prayerful solidarity” with victims of Saturday’s bomb attack in Istanbul. In a telegram addressed to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said Pope Francis “[grieved] to learn of the casualties caused by the bombing in Istanbul yesterday morning, and he expresses his prayerful solidarity with all touched by this tragedy.  His Holiness asks you to convey his spiritual closeness to them, as well as to the personnel assisting the injured.  Commending the souls of those who have died to the mercy of the Almighty, Pope Francis invokes divine strength and peace upon those who mourn, and upon the entire nation.”



The Italian actor, comedian, screenwriter and director Roberto Benigni, who figures prominently in the story I feature today, came to my attention in the amazing film, “Life is Beautiful.” I’ve seen him a number of times on television in Italy and well remember his performace at the 1998 Academy Awards when he won for Best Actor in that 1997 film, jumping from seat to seat, over the heads and shoulders of his fellow actors, to reach the stage.

I also remember him from a very brief sentence on a desk calendar I had a few years ago: “Did you know that the Bible is the only book whose Author also created its readers?!”


Did you hear the one about how a Venetian cardinal, a Tuscan comedian and a prisoner from China explain mercy?

It sounds like a line from a comedy routine, right? And it was, in part!

Roberto Benigni, Italian comic and actor par excellence was in Rome Tuesday for the presentation of the book, “The Name of God is Mercy,” a conversation between Pope Francis and a friend of many years, vaticanista Andrea Tornielli (on right in photo).


He was the final guest to talk about the book, following talks by Fr. Federico Lombardi, head of the Holy See Press Office, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, secretary of State, Fr. Giuseppe Costa, head of the Vatican publishing house and Zhang Agostino Jianqing, a Chinese prisoner in a Padua jail.

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Fr. Lombardi spoke about the book in very endearing terms and heartfelt comments, and was the moderator of this morning’s event as well.


I found the entire morning to be fascinating, and discovered, at the end of the presentations, that I had been at the Augustinian conference center for well over two hours and had never once looked at my watch. That has never happened in a press conference I have attended!

The star of the day – and the most awaited guest, judging by the applause when he arrived with Cardinal Parolin and the avalanche of photographers and TV cameras – was Roberto Benigni (you will surely remember him for “Life is Beautiful”). And he did not disappoint with his presentation!


For me, however, the most compelling account this morning was that of the Chinese prisoner who told his personal story, highlighting his encounter with “God’s mercy” – including his conversion from Buddhism to Christianity. He is in prison in Padua but has been in Rome for two days, and yesterday was one of the guests who met the Holy Father at the official presentation of Tornielli’s book. Agostino never directly explained why he had been given 20 years in prison but at one point, in the account of his life, did use the word “victim.”


He said “I am from a Buddhist family. In 1997, at the age of 12, I arrived in Italy with my father. I was studying but I got bored at school. I kept running away, my behavior got worse, I fought with my parents who never gave me money to have fun. I became violent and superficial. I was concentrating only on having a good time, money and girls.”

Without going into detail, he told how he was condemned to 20 years in prison and it was in prison he converted to Christianity, thanks to help given by his Buddhist mother.

Fr. Lombardi, who had previously noted Pope Francis’ love for prisoners and his frequent visits to prisons, added: “Yesterday, when Agostino met the Pope, he gave him a photo of him with his friends and brothers in prison with their signatures and their words to the Pope and Pope Francis himself wrote a beautiful dedication, saying he was close to them, prayed for them and asked them to pray for him.”

When it was Benigni’s turn to speak, he said, “Pope Francis is a marvelous revolutionary.” The Tuscan comic said he was very emotional when he realized he was “in the smallest state of the world with the greatest man in the world.”


“Pope Francis walks and walks and never ever stops. He is taking the entire Church towards a place that we don’t think about anymore, towards Christianity, towards Jesus Christ, towards the Gospel. And how does he do this? He does it through mercy, which is not a mushy thing but a severe virtue. Francis is always moving, he goes from the least to the least.” Benigni highlighted the Pope’s visit to Lampedusa and the opening of the Holy Door in Bangui.

And Benigni himself never stopped. His rapid fire talk, continuous smile and nonstop hand movements and gesticulating are his hallmarks – and they were in full force today, especially when he mentioned the Pope’s name, or the words ‘mercy’ and ‘joy’ and ‘love’.


Lombardi noted the reciprocal esteem that Pope Francis feels for Benigni when, in his last homily of 2014, he spoke of the actor – though not by name – calling him “a great Italian artist,” who was then involved in a “Ten Commandments” special for television.

Benigni said, “only Pope Francis could think of presenting this book with a Venetian cardinal, a Chinese prisoner and a Tuscan comic.”

Continuing his exuberant presentation, he said, “you cannot speak in moderation about this Pope.”

The comic said, “when I was little, I wanted to be a priest. In school I was asked, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ I answered, “the Pope.” Well, everyone began to laugh and then I understood I had to be a comedian!”

And the hundreds of guests in the Augustinian, including Fr. Lombardi and Cardinal Parolin, laughed with him.


The Tuscan actor and comedian then spoke of the telephone call received from the Vatican about possibly talking at today’s presentation. “As soon as I heard the words ‘His Holiness would like…’, I didn’t even want to hear the rest of the sentence and I immediately said ‘yes’. I’m ready to be a Swiss guard, the Pope’s driver, whatever Francis needs.”

As to the book, Benigni said, “it is so beautiful” and “so full of mercy, you could sell it by the pound.” “It is also aimed at nonbelievers. Life is an eternal struggle between those who believe and those who don’t believe, between love and no love and loving meaning depending on someone who could be taken away from us. What is this divine risk?20160112_110355

He added: “The text raises our hearts without watering down our brain. Mercy is not a firm virtue seated on a chair: it is active, it never stops for a second. Mercy goes to sinners and to the poor. It is filled with joy, joy in pain. These two are the weight- bearing columns of Christianity. We must challenge the unhappy, we must love happy people who are humble and joyful and close to God.”

Noting the first miracle of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, which he said was his favorite Gospel, Benigni spoke of the healing of St. Peter’s mother-in-law, saying, “you know he healed her because afterwards his mother-in-law would cook for all of them. Jesus so enjoyed the joys of life.”

(Vatican Radio reported that Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, on Tuesday expressed his sorrow for the terrorist attack which took place in Istanbul, Turkey. “What is happening [in Turkey] pains us. What is happening there, what continues to repeat itself, confirms that the best medicine in the face of these evils is always mercy.”

At least 10 people were killed in a suicide bomb attack Tuesday morning in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, near the city’s famous Blue Mosque.

His words came in response to a sideline question at the presentation of “The Name of God is Mercy.” In the book, the Holy Father answers 40 questions posed by Andrea Tornielli, and is divided into nine chapters.)


If ever I wanted to follow a papal trip, Pope Francis’ three days in Turkey was it! Obviously, any papal trip is an exciting, challenging, historic event, and just the idea of following a Pope, covering his words and deeds and being present at a time and place in history, is a unique personal and professional satisfaction. And, I must admit that traveling some day on the papal plane is at the top of my bucket list!

I have been to Turkey three times – in June 1996 as a member of the Holy See delegation to the U.N. Conference on Human Settlements, in February 2009 with a pilgrimage from Santa Susanna parish “in the footsteps of St. Paul” (it was the Year of St. Paul) and again in November 2006 for Pope Benedict’s amazing pilgrimage. I remember every event, every place, every moment of that trip as if it had indeed happened just this past weekend.

I have to say, however, that one of my favorite moments eight years ago was Benedict’s visit to Ephesus, to Mary’s House where he said a beautiful intimate Mass, just a few hundred people, including the media. Unforgettable hours! I am sorry that Pope Francis did not have – or make – an opportunity to visit unique Ephesus!

For reasons beyond my understanding right now, I cannot access the photos I took in 2006 in Turkey, especially Ephesus. They are on my external hard drive and I am having a problem accessing the photos and documents that I have copied there. I did find all the stories I wrote eight years ago from Ephesus and Istanbul – in fact, exactly eight years ago today I was winging my way back to Rome from Turkey.

The pictures you see here today are from news.va


I could probably write a 20,000 word column if I recounted all the important events of the last three days, highlighted by Pope Francis’ three-day trip to Turkey where he issued a heartfelt appeal for peace and an end to violence done in the name of religion, prayed in the Blue Mosque with Muslim imams, attended a liturgy at the Ecumenical Patriuarchate in Istanbul and prayed for Christian Unity, signed a Joint Declaration with Patriarch Bartholomew and met with a group of young refugees from Africa and the Middle East before returning to Rome Sunday evening.

Sunday, of course, marked the first Sunday of Advent and the opening in Rome, in St. Peter’s Basilica, of the Year of Consecrated Life, The Pope wrote a Letter for this year, though it will actually be 15 months long as it will end with a papal Mass on the Feast of the Presentation on February 2, 2016, the day traditionally dedicated to the consecrated life. Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, presided at the Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.

It was announced Friday that the Pope has issued a plenary indulgence for this special Year: (VIS) – The Holy Father, on the occasion of the Year of Consecrated Life, will concede plenary indulgences, with the customary conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer in keeping with the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff) to all members of the institutes of consecrated life and other truly repentant faithful moved by a spirit of charity, starting from the first Sunday of Advent this year until 2 February 2016, the day of the closure of the Year of Consecrated Life. The indulgence may also be offered for departed souls in Purgatory.

Click here for Pope Francis’ Letter: http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-issues-letter-for-year-of-consecrated-life

As I said above, it is not my intention to relive the papal trip to Turkey on this column today. I am sure many of you saw all or part of that very important visit on EWTN or read snippets of news stories or saw my postings on Facebook (facebook.com/joan.lewis.10420) during a period that you most likely spent with family and friends, celebrating Thanksgiving, shopping, watching football games and travelling.

What I want to offer today is a look at Catholic-Orthodox relations as both sides struggle for full Christian unity. How did that disunity come about? On what points is there agreement? Disagreement?

Oceans of ink have been used over the centuries to write about Catholic-Orthodox relations since the East-West (Constantinople-Rome) schism of 1054, so it is not my intention to give a full, historical review here. I do hope, however, to help you understand some of the issues involved in this split.

In two parts, I will offer Pope Francis’ words during his trip this weekend, Pope Benedict’s words during his 2006 trip to Istanbul, some background research I did for Benedict’s visit and excerpts from a lengthy interview I had in 2006 in Istanbul (Phanar) with Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, spiritual leader of some 1.5 million Greek Orthodox Christians, and exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

The interview with Archbishop Demetrios will appear here tomorrow (ecumenism in doses!).


Pope Francis travelled to Istanbul this past weekend principally to participate in celebrations marking the feast of St. Andrew, patron of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Holy See and the Patriarchate exchange regular annual visits and send delegations for the feast days of their respective patrons. The Vatican celebrates the June 29 feast of Sts.Peter and Paul, Apostles and the Orthodox patriarchate marks the November 30 feast of St. Andrew. Roman Catholics believe St. Peter was given the mandate by Christ to lead the church and was thus the first Pope. The Orthodox believe that mandate was given to Peter’s brother, Andrew.

St. George Church, where Patriarch Bartholomew I on Sunday celebrated a Divine Liturgy in the presence of Pope Francis to mark the patronal feast day, is located in the Fanar neighborhood (also spelled Phanar, the more traditional spelling) of Istanbul. The name is the Turkish transliteration of the original Greek word meaning a lighting lantern, a streetlight, a lightpost with a lantern. The name is also linked to the classical phanárion and the modern fanári meaning “lantern.”

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The Phanar neighborhood became home to many Greeks as well as to the Patriarchate of Constantinople after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, 400 years after the Great Schism. Today a complex known as Phanar houses the offices of the patriarchate and the residence of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. Just as the term Vatican – Vatican City State – is used the describe the heart of the Catholic Church, the Holy See, Phanar is often shorthand for the Ecumenical Pariarchate.

Pope Francis, speaking Sunday, November 30 at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox Church of St. George in Istanbul, said, “the one thing that the Catholic Church desires and that I seek as Bishop of Rome…is communion with the Orthodox Churches.”

“By happy coincidence,” he said, “my visit falls a few days after the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of Unitatis Redintegratio, the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Christian Unity.  This is a fundamental document which opened new avenues for encounter between Catholics and their brothers and sisters of other Churches and ecclesial communities.

“In particular,” explained the Holy Father, “in that Decree the Catholic Church acknowledges that the Orthodox Churches “possess true sacraments, above all – by apostolic succession – the priesthood and the Eucharist, whereby they are still joined to us in closest intimacy” (15).  The Decree goes on to state that in order to guard faithfully the fullness of the Christian tradition and to bring to fulfilment the reconciliation of Eastern and Western Christians, it is of the greatest importance  to preserve and support the rich patrimony of the Eastern Churches.  This regards not only their liturgical and spiritual traditions, but also their canonical disciplines, sanctioned as they are by the Fathers and by Councils, which regulate the lives of these Churches (cf. 15-16).

Pope Francis said he believes “that it is important to reaffirm respect for this principle as an essential condition, accepted by both, for the restoration of full communion, which does not signify the submission of one to the other, or assimilation.   Rather, it means welcoming all the gifts that God has given to each, thus demonstrating to the entire world the great mystery of salvation accomplished by Christ the Lord through the Holy Spirit.  I want to assure each one of you here that, to reach the desired goal of full unity, the Catholic Church does not intend to impose any conditions except that of the shared profession of faith.  Further, I would add that we are ready to seek together, in light of Scriptural teaching and the experience of the first millennium, the ways in which we can guarantee the needed unity of the Church in the present circumstances.  The one thing that the Catholic Church desires, and that I seek as Bishop of Rome, “the Church which presides in charity”, is communion with the Orthodox Churches.  Such communion will always be the fruit of that love which “has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (cf. Rom 5:5), a fraternal love which expresses the spiritual and transcendent bond which unites us as disciples of the Lord.”

Eight years earlier, Benedict XVI and Bartholomew I celebrated a Byzantine liturgy in the church of St George in Istanbul on the November 30 feast of St. Andrew. In his talk that day, Pope Benedict said, “the divisions that exist among Christians are a scandal to the world and an obstacle to the proclamation of the Gospel.”

One of the principal reasons for the thousand-year old split between Catholics and Orthodox is the Petrine ministry – Petrine referring to St. Peter – and the Petrine ministry being the office of the Pope.

Benedict made reference to that as well in his talk. He said that Christ gave Peter and Andrew the task of being “fishers of men,” but entrusted that task to each in different ways. Peter, said the Pope, was called “the rock upon which the Church was to be built and entrusted him with the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.” Peter traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch to Rome “so that in that city he might exercise a universal responsibility.”

“The issue of the universal service of Peter and his Successors,” said Benedict XVI, “has unfortunately given rise to our differences of opinion, which we hope to overcome.”

During that trip Pope Benedict showed concern for not only Christian unity but for the legal and juridical status of all minority religions in Turkey, including the Orthodox. He reiterated that concern two months later when, on January 19, 2007 he welcomed Turkey’s new ambassador to the Holy See, Muammer Dogan Akdurm. The Pope called on Turkey to give the Catholic Church legal status as a recognized religious institution: “While enjoying the religious freedom guaranteed to all believers by the Turkish Constitution,” he said, “the Catholic Church wishes to benefit from a recognized juridical statute, and to see the start of official dialogue between the episcopal conference and the State authorities in order to resolve any problems that may arise and to maintain good relations between both sides. I do not doubt that the government will do everything in its power to progress in this direction.”

Some historical background on the East-West split:

What has come to be known as the East-West Schism occurred in 1054 when Patriarch Michael Cerularius of Constantinople, leader of the Eastern Christian Churches, and Pope Leo IX, leader of the Western Church, excommunicated each other. The mutual excommunications were lifted only in 1965 when Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, following an historic encounter in Jerusalem a year earlier, presided over simultaneous ceremonies that revoked the excommunication decrees.

Differences between the two Churches had been growing for years on issues such as papal primacy, liturgical matters and conflicting claims of jurisdiction. The split almost a millennium ago occurred along doctrinal, theological, linguistic, political, and geographic lines and the two Churches have been seeking unity ever since.

The Petrine ministry – the primacy of the Pope – was specifically mentioned vis-a-vis the Orthodox Church in the document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith entitled “Responses to Some Questions on Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church,” dated June 29, 2007. Pope Francis quoted this document – specifically the fourth question – in his talk during the Divine Liturgy. (This 1,200-word document, excluding footnotes, with five questions and five answers is eminently readable: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070629_responsa-quaestiones_en.html)

Part II – Interview with Abp. Demetrios will appear tomorrow in Joan’s Rome