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.”

Pope Francis - Fanar  2 Pope FRancis - Fanar 1 Pope Francis - Fanar 3

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



(Colossians 2:7)

As I prepare this column on Thanksgiving eve, surely one of the most beautiful days that our nation marks, my heart overflows with the number of things for which I am grateful. I have so many reasons to be thankful that I don’t know where to start so let’s go to the top of a long list – my faith, my family, my friends, my countless friends all over the world who are, in many ways, my second family!!

I thank God countless times during each day for things big and small. I thank Him for my ministry (for that is how I see my work), for filling my life with faith and truth and for giving me the opportunity to share it with so many. I thank the Lord for my radio listeners, TV viewers and all of you who read this column.

I thank God for bringing truly amazing, unique, wonderful, spiritually tall people into my life – that list is SO long it brings tears to my eyes – as well as smiles of remembrance and joy!

As I look over the year since last Thanksgiving, I am especially grateful for a successful eye operation last December and for being well on the road now to recovery from phlebitis. I am again up and about – my first day out in two weeks was Mass on Sunday and the last two days I have been able to run some errands in the neighborhood. Deo gratias!

And now, on the vigil of this beautiful time of the year, I wish you and yours safe travels, a wonderful family gathering, great meals, many hours of laughter and an equal number of hours of story telling, of “do-you-remember-when” moments.

I will be celebrating tomorrow by attending Mass with the American community of the Santa Susanna parish at 10 and then a second Mass at NAC, the North American College, after which there will be an abundant Thanksgiving turkey dinner.

Thanksgiving and Friday are EWTN holidays. If I can post something (probably photos!), I will – if not, you’ll understand! And for that I am thankful!

Psalm 95:2 – Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

As I said, I am finally out and about and enjoying being able to run errands and grocery shop for myself, but have been enormously thankful these past two weeks for the help offered by friends, and especially by my neighbors Francesco and Federica.

Today I was coming home from a short errand and had taken a bus that drops me off across the street from my home. At the bus stop is a pizzeria that I’ve gone to a number of times at the end of a long day when I feel like a slice or two of fresh pizza. The gal who works there knocked on the window when she saw me and, as I peeked in the door to say hello, I saw a large group of people. She said they were Americans from Louisiana and wanted me to meet them!

It was just before noon and they had just come from Pope Francis’ weekly audience. As I stepped inside, one of the ladies recognized me, yet another recognized my voice and several started to exclaim, “It’s Joan of Rome!” and then, all of a sudden, I was surrounded by fans!

It was a group from the diocese of Alexandria in Louisiana and we had a great time chatting for about 15 minutes. All knew me from EWTN, several knew me from Catholic Connection with Teresa Tomeo, and several more had heard me on Catholic radio in Baton Rouge with Dan Borné. I met a priest (and only wish I had written down his name) and a deacon and 23 people from several parishes. Some of the pilgrims had been confirmed in recent months whereas several others were preparing for confirmation.  They took a ton of photos and I asked them to send them to me.


Join me on “Vatican Insider” this Thanksgiving weekend – if you are not travelling or out shopping for Christmas – for a wonderful pilgrimage to one of the premier Marian shrines in the world, to Loreto, on Italy’s Adriatic coast, for a visit to the shrine of the Holy House of Loreto. This Holy House, the house where the Bessed Virgin grew up, where the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the Mother of God, where Mary and St. Joseph and Jesus lived and laughed and prayed and shared meals and stories and life’s daily adventures.

The photos are from the shrine’s website: http://www.santuarioloreto.it/default_eng.htm

Join me on this pilgrimage by listening to Vatican Insider: As you know, in the United States, you can listen on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at www.ewtn.com) or on Sirius-XM satellite radio. If you live 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 9:30 am (Eastern time) and re-airs Sundays at 4:30 pm (ET). Check for your time zone. Past shows are found in Vatican Insider archives:



On a gray, drizzly morning, Pope Francis greeted the faithful at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square, by noting that, “the weather s not so great, but you are courageous, let us pray together today in presenting the Church to the people of our time. He underscored the theme of his catechesis, namely, “the fundamental truth that we must never forget: the Church is not a static reality, an end in itself, but that she is continually journeying through history to the kingdom of heaven, of which the Church on earth is the seed and beginning.

Looking to the horizon of heaven, of life after death, the Pope said: “Some questions arise spontaneously in us: when will this final passage take place? What will the new dimension of the Church be like? What then will happen to humanity? And to the Creation that surrounds us? These questions are nothing new, the disciples at the time of Christ asked the same questions.  They are ancient, human questions.”

He further explained that, “We do not know the time for the consummation of the earth and of mankind, nor do we know how all things will be transformed. As deformed by sin, the shape of this world will pass away, but we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth where justice will abide, and whose blessedness will answer and surpass all the longings for peace which spring up in the human heart.”

Francis said, “This is the goal toward which the Church projects itself: it  is the ‘new Jerusalem’, ‘Paradise.’ More than a place, it is a ‘state of being’ in which our deepest expectations will be fulfilled in abundance and our being as creatures and as children of God, will reach full maturity. We will finally be covered with the joy, peace and love of God in a complete way, without any limitations, and we will be face to face with Him! It’s lovely to think of this, to think we will all find ourselves up there! All of us in heaven.  It’s good, it gives strength to our soul.”

“In this perspective,” concluded the Pope, “it is nice to hear that there is a continuity and a communion between the Church in heaven and the Church still journeying on earth. Those who already live in the sight of God can indeed support us and intercede for us, pray for us from heaven. On the other hand, we are always invited to offer good deeds, prayer and the Eucharist itself to alleviate the suffering of souls who are still waiting for the bliss without end.”


At the end of the weekly catechesis, as is customary the Holy Father has greetings in several languages for the pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square. He speaks in Italian and Spanish whereas monsignori from the Secretariat of State address the faithful in French, German, Portuguese, English, Polish and Arabic. Today Pope Francis had special words for the Arab-speaking faithful, in particular those from Iraq and the Middle East: “The violence, suffering and the seriousness of the sins committed must lead us to leave all to the justice of God, who will judge each one according to his works. Be strong and cling to the Church and to your faith, so as to purify the world with your confidence; transform with your hope and heal with your forgiveness, with the love and patience of your witness. May the Lord protect and support you.”

Speaking Italian, the Pope noted that he will leave Friday on his three-day apostolic trip to Turkey and, in a reference to his meeting in Istanbul with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, he invited those present to pray that “Peter’s visit to his brother Andrew may bring fruits of peace, sincere dialogue between religions and harmony in the Turkish nation.” November 30 marks the feast of St. Andrew, patron of the Orthodox Church.


(VIS) – During his return journey Tuesday from Strasbourg, France, where he addressed both the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, Pope Francis answered questions posed by the journalists who accompanied him on the flight. The questions and the Holy Father’s answers are published below. Each journalist asking a question represented a language group (a French journalist for the French media, etc.) although the last journalist represented several European languages.

Q: “Your Holiness addressed the European Parliament with pastoral words that may also be regarded as political words, and which may be linked, in my opinion, to a social-democratic stance – for example, when you say that we must ensure that the true expressive force of populations is not removed by multinational powers. Could we say that you are a social-democrat Pope?”

Pope Francis: “This would be reductive. It makes me feel as if I am part of a collection of insects: ‘This is a social-democratic insect …’. No, I would say not. I don’t know if I am a social-democrat Pope or not. I would not dare to define myself as belonging to one side or another. I dare say that this comes from the Gospel: this is the message of the Gospel, taken up by the social doctrine of the Church. In reality, in this and in other things – social and political – that I have said, I have not detached myself from the social doctrine of the Church. The social doctrine of the Church comes from the Gospel and from Christian tradition. What I said – the identity of the people – is a Gospel value, is it not? In this sense, I say it. But you have made me laugh, thank you!”

Q: “There was almost no-one on the streets of Strasbourg this morning. The people say they are disappointed. Do you regret not visiting the cathedral of Strasbourg that celebrates its millennium this year? When will you make your first trip to France, and where? Lisieux, perhaps?”

Pope Francis: “No, it is not yet planned, but one should certainly go to Paris. Then, there is a proposal to go to Lourdes. I have asked to visit a city where no Pope has yet been, to greet the citizens. But the plan has not yet been made. As for Strasbourg, a visit to the cathedral was considered but it would have meant already making a visit to France, and this was the problem.”

Q: During your address to the Council of Europe I was struck by the concept of transversality, especially with reference to your meetings with young politicians in various countries, and indeed you spoke of the need for a sort of pact between generations, an intergenerational agreement at the margins of this transversality. Also, if I may ask, is it true that you are devoted to St. Joseph, and have a statue of him in your room?”

Pope Francis: “Yes, it is true. Whenever I have asked something of St. Joseph, he has granted it to me. The fact of ‘transversality’ is important. I have seen in dialogue with young politicians in the Vatican, from different parties and nations, that they speak with a different music, that tends towards transversality, and this is valuable. They are not afraid of coming out of their own territory, without denying it, but coming out in order to engage in dialogue. They are courageous! I believe that we must imitate this, along with intergenerational dialogue. This tendency to come out to find people of other origins and to engage in dialogue: Europe needs this today”.

Q: “In your second speech, the one to the Council of Europe, you spoke about the sins of the sons of the Church. I would like to know if you have received the news on the events in Granada, Spain [alleged sexual abuse of minors by priests in the archdiocese, Ed.], that in a certain sense you brought to light…”

Pope Francis: “I received the news – it was sent to me, I read it, I called the person and I said, ‘Tomorrow you must go to the bishop’, and I wrote to the bishop asking him to begin work, to start the investigation and go ahead. How did I receive the news? With great pain, with very great sadness. But the truth is the truth, and we cannot hide it”.

Q: “In your addresses in Strasbourg, you spoke frequently of both the threat of terrorism and the threat of slavery: these are attitudes that are also typical of the Islamic State, which threatens much of the Mediterranean, which threatens Rome and also threatens you personally. Do you think it is possible to engage in dialogue with these extremists, or do you think this is a lost cause?”

Pope Francis: “I never give something up as a lost cause: never. Perhaps dialogue is not possible, but never close the door. It is difficult, one might say almost impossible, but the door is always open. You have used the word ‘threaten’ twice: it is true, terrorism is a threat. … But slavery is a real situation embedded in the today’s social fabric, and has been for some time. Slave labour, human trafficking, the trade in children … it is a crisis! We must not close our eyes to this. Slavery, today, is a reality, the exploitation of people … And then there is the threat of these terrorists. But there is another threat, and it is State terrorism. When the situation becomes critical, and each State believes it has the right to massacre the terrorists, many who are innocent fall prey alongside the terrorists. This is a form of high-level anarchy that is very dangerous. It is necessary to fight terrorism, but I repeat what I said during my previous trip: when it is necessary to stop an unjust aggressor, it must be done with international consensus.”

Q: “In your heart, when you travel to Strasbourg, do you travel as Peter’s Successor, as the bishop of Rome, or as the archbishop of Buenos Aires?”

Pope Francis: “As all three, I think. My memory is that of the archbishop of Buenos Aires, but I am no longer in this role. Now I am the bishop of Rome and Peter’s Successor, and I think that I travel with this memory but with these realities; I travel with all these things. Europe worries me at the moment; it is good for me to go ahead in order to help, as the bishop of Rome and Peter’s Successor; in this respect I am Roman”.