Just a brief note to start this column today to thank so many of you who, through Facebook messages and emails, have said you are looking forward to my participation in the coverage of the papal visit to the U.S. and who have wished me safe travels. I’ve even received invitations to speak post-papal trip about what it is like to cover the visit of a Pope. However, I will not be on this trip. I know my colleagues will be doing very able jobs and that the coverage will be special.

Maybe I’ll try to be at the airport next Monday – or the Santa Marta residence – when Pope Francis returns and I can officially welcome him back to Rome!

I am sure you all have been following Pope Francis’s first days and events in Cuba and that you’ll be even more riveted to the television – or perhaps the radio or some form of social media – when the Holy Father arrives Washington, D.C. tomorrow.

There are countless ways, with EWTN alone, to follow the Pope’s every move, every word, every embrace of a little child or disabled person, every homily or important speech as, in coming days, he addresses a joint session of the U.S. Congress and speaks at the U.N. in New York. Thus, I’ll not be doing a summary every day of the papal visit as you will have already seen and heard all he important news stories, but I do have a few interesting items today for this column.

I’ve spent part of this afternoon, and will spend this evening, watching the coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to Holquin and Santiago de Cuba. I have been asked by TV2000, the network of the Italian bishops’ conference, to appear for two hours tomorrow on their morning show that will look at the Pope’s day in Cuba today and his prospects for the U.S. TV2000 wants to learn more about EWTN and our worldwide coverage, and to hear about my years at the Vatican, especially the period regarding St. John Paul’s 1998 trip to Cuba, the first ever by a Pope. I have some interesting background material for that!

Now, here’s today’s stories from


(Vatican Radio) Perhaps the event that created most media interest during Pope Francis’s first full day in Cuba was his meeting with revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.

During a private encounter at the 89-year-old retired President’s home, the Pope and Castro discussed religion and world affairs.

The meeting took place just hours after the Pope at Mass urged Cubans to serve one another and not ideology. His message reaches out as their Communist-ruled country enters a new era of closer ties with the United States.

During the afternoon Pope Francis also went to the Palace of the Revolution, where he held private talks for about an hour with President Raul Castro, Fidel’s 84-year-old younger brother.

At the conclusion of the busy day packed with events of both pastoral and a political nature, Vatican Radio’s Sean Patrick Lovett spoke to Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Head of the Vatican Press Office about the meetings between the Pope and the Castro brothers.

Sean Patrick Lovett recalls the fact that in 1988, when Mario Bergoglio was not yet even Archbishop of Buenos Aires “he wrote a little book called ‘Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro’. One of his conclusions in that book, after comparing the discourses of the two men, was that they had failed to listen to one another: there was not sufficient dialogue in their encounters” he says.

And pointing to the fact that 17 years have passed since then, Sean Lovett asks Fr Lombardi whether he thinks there is a “new kind of listening happening between the Pope and Cuba?”

Lombardi says he thinks that Cuba understands very well that the Catholic Church and the Popes are the world’s moral authorities today, and that they take Cuba, its history and its people very seriously. He says Cubans know that “they need a dialogue with the Popes”. Lombardi points out that the presence of 3 Popes in 17 years on the island and the help they have proffered in finding the way towards more openness is something really exceptional.

He says that history also shows how aware the Church has been regarding the importance of this land for the American continent. “I think that the experience of important diplomats like that of Cardinal Parolin who knows very well the region – he was nuncio in Venezuela – allows the Church to understand well the significance of Cuba for the Latin American continent.”

Lombardi also points out that if Cuba finds the way to become more open, it could become a bridge between continents and peoples. This, he says, will also help reconciliation between other peoples and encourage reconciliation in nations like Venezuela, Colombia and so on. “This is really important for this part of the world” he says.

He says the United States also understands very well the importance of a relationship with Cuba and points out that the process that is going on is a clear sign of this.

“Cuba is a very important point of encounter, as the Pope said yesterday, between North and South, between East and West. … I think the Castro brothers have understood very well that the Popes are great moral and religious authorities, that they are pastors that can give a contribution to the nation of invaluable importance” he says.


(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis on Monday traveled from the Cuban capital, Havana, to visit Holguin and Santiago de Cuba on the eastern tip of the Caribbean island nation.

Both cities are closely linked to the famous statue of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, formally declared patroness of the Cuban people by Pope Benedict XV a century ago.

Philippa Hitchen reports on this second stage of the Pope’s pastoral visit to Cuba:

The city of Holguin is famed as the birthplace of Cuba’s revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and his brother Raul, who between them have ruled the country since 1959. It’s also known for its five-metre high cross on the hillside that looks out over the city –and offers a unique view of he entire island of Cuba – where, at 3:34 pm local time, Pope Francis will stop to pray. He has already celebrated Mass in Holquin’s main square.

It was not far from the city of Holguin that Christopher Columbus first landed in Cuba in 1492 and it was in the bay there that three local fishermen first saw Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, floating on the water in 1612. The small wooden statue of Our Lady, wearing a gold mantle and holding the Infant Jesus in her left arm, is now housed in the shrine dedicated to her in the nearby city of Santiago de Cuba where the Pope will conclude his journey to the island nation.

Over the centuries many miracles have been attributed to Our Lady who’s seen as a powerful symbol of liberation during the struggle for independence from the Spanish and for the slaves, brought in to work the copper mines in the early 16th century. Descendants of those African slaves make up over 30 percent of Cuba’s population, yet they remain amongst the poorest inhabitants of the country.

Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI came to pray at the shrine during their trips to Cuba and another famous visitor, author Ernest Hemingway, left his Nobel medal for Literature there as a sign of gratitude for the warm welcome he received from the people of Cuba.

Pope Francis will join the crowds of other pilgrims down the centuries who’ve come to pray before the statue of La Mambisa, as she’s popularly known. He’ll celebrate Mass there on Tuesday and rededicate the nation to her, before travelling on to Washington D.C. with the hopes of encouraging the ongoing ‘miracle’ of reconciliation between Cuba and the United States.


(Vatican Radio) A communiqué released today by the United Nations says the Holy See flag will fly at the UN building in New York when Pope Francis arrives there on Friday.


It says that after consultations with the Holy See, the United Nations will raise the flag of the Holy See for the first time on the morning of September 25, so that it will be flying when Pope Francis arrives at the UN Headquarters.

The Holy See and the United Nations Secretariat have agreed that the flag will be raised with no ceremony. UN personnel will raise it at the same time they will raise the other flags that day.

The flag of the Holy See has two vertical bands, one gold and one white. The white side features an image of two traversed keys, one gold and one silver, bound together by a red cord, and topped by a triple-crown or tiara crowned by a cross. The keys (Mt 16:19) and tiara are both traditional symbols of the papacy. It has been the official flag of the Holy See since 1929.



Pope Francis’ December 15 Tweet: “Today is my anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. Please pray for me and all priests.”

And in two days, December 17, the Holy Father will celebrate his 78th birthday! So, remember to offer another “Ave” for His Holiness.

The Pope seems to have celebrated a delightful Gaudete Sunday yesterday, as you will see by the two stories below – one about the Angelus and the second about his parish visit. There are also two news stories from today (in addition to private audiences the Holy Father had) – the Pope’s audience to TV 2000, the Catholic TV station of the Italian bishops, and the meeting of two secretaries of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin for the Holy see and John Kerry for the U.S.

Re: the blessing of the bambinelli: wouldn’t it be lovely to have this tradition become part of every parish in every diocese?

For the third night in a row (at least as far as I have observed) the dome of St. Peter’s basilica is dark – and I don’t know why. Sent an email to someone today to find out but no answer as of now.


Sunday at the Angelus, Pope Francis noted that this, the third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for joy. He said, “The heart of every person desires joy… All of us desire joy, every family, every people aspires to happiness.” The Christian, he said, is called to live and to witness to the joy that comes from the nearness of God, from God’s presence in our life. Christian joy is not simply the fullness of joy that we will experience in heaven, the Pope said. Rather, it begins even in this life, it is experienced even now, “because Jesus is our joy, our home with Jesus is our joy.” He asked the crowd to say with him “With Jesus, joy is part of the home.”

After praying the Angelus prayer with the sizeable crowd of faithful in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis greeted all those present – families, parish groups, associations and, in particular, faithful from Poland where today the Christmas candle is lit and commitment to solidarity is reaffirmed, especially in the current Polish “Year of Caritas.”

The third Sunday of Advent is also the day that children of all ages and from all over Rome – and sometimes other towns and cities in Italy – bring their bambinelli, statues of the Baby Jesus, to be blessed by the Pope at the end of the Angelus. These statues will be placed in the cribs of nativity scenes – known as ‘crèches’ in French and ‘presepio’ in Italian, in homes and schools. Many a child holds up two or even three statues for the papal blessing as they bring a bambinello for a friend who could not make it to the Angelus. (Photo from


The Pope thanked the children for the joy they brought to the square where, among the many signs held up, one read, “With Jesus, there is joy in our home.” Francis wished them a happy Christmas and asked them to pray for him in front of their Nativity display at home, as he does for them.

“Prayer is the breath of the soul,” he said. “It is important to find moments during the day to open our heart to God, even with the simple and short prayers of the Christian people. Therefore, I thought of giving a gift to all of you here in the square – a surprise, a gift: I will give you a little pocket-sized book that gathers together a few prayers, for various moments in the day and different situations in life. Some volunteers will distribute to them to you. Take one each and keep it with you always, as a help to live the whole day with God, and so we do not forget that beautiful message you have brought here on your banner: ‘With Jesus, there is joy in our home’. Once again: ‘With Jesus, there is joy in our home’.” He asked the faithful to repeat this five times

The book, in 50,000 copies, contains Psalms, the Magnificat, invocations of Mary, the Gloria, the prayer to the Angel of the Guard, prayers to recite during the day and blessings for the table, in confession and for specific intentions. It was published in Italian by the Vatican Publishing House.


(VIS) – Sunday afternoon Pope Francis visited the Roman parish of San Giuseppe all’Aurelio, in the Primavalle neighborhood of the capital where, before celebrating Mass, he met with various groups, including children, Rom gypsies,, the ill and newly baptized infants.

He first met with some children preparing for their First Communion, and spoke about his own on October 8, 1944. “I remember it as if it were today. I prepared for a year with a very kind nun and two catechists. … In those times, its was not possible to drink a little water before Mass, nothing – not even a drop of water. It was Pope Pius XII who saved us from this dictatorship! … And we all arrived in the Church with our hands together, singing. … And later, in the afternoon, we returned to the Church for our Confirmation: the same day. And you, who will take your first Communion, will remember that day forever, all your life: the first day Jesus came to you. He comes, He makes Himself one with us, he nourishes us to give us strength. … Do not forget the date, and every year, on that day, confess and take communion, will you?”

The Holy Father then spoke to the Rom families in the parish, wishing them peace within their families. Afterwards he met with the sick, thanking them for their witness of patience, of love for God and of hope in the Lord. “This does great good to the Church”, he affirmed. “You continually nurture the Church with your life, with your suffering, with your patience. Thank you, truly. The Church, without the sick, would not carry on. You are the strength of the Church, her true strength,”

Francis’ final encounter was with newly baptized children with their parents. “Our hopes reside in our children,” he said. “We hand them the torch of faith and life, and they will pass it on to their children, our grandchildren. This is life. And in Baptism, you have given them faith, and thus faith from Jesus’ time up to the present day is like a chain, transmitted by parents. And this is a real responsibility! Never forget the day of your Baptism.”

The Pope then revealed that he was baptized on December 25, just eight days after his birth, as was the custom at the time, Francis asked all those present to pray for him, and added, “babies and children cry, they make noise, they run about … and it bothers me greatly when a child cries in church and people expect him or her to leave. No! It is the best sermon. The cry of a child is the voice of God. Never, ever send them out of the church!”

Following his meetings with the parishioners, Pope Francis heard several confessions and then celebrated Mass. In his homily, he explained that, “the Church this Sunday anticipates the joy of the Nativity, and it is therefore called ‘Gaudete Sunday’, joyful Sunday”. The joy of the Nativity, he said, is a special joy the the Christian experiences not only on that day, but throughout all his or her life. “It is a serene, calm joy, a joy that always accompanies a Christian. Even in difficult moments, this joy is transformed into peace. The true Christian never loses this peace, even during suffering. This peace is a gift from the Lord.”

The Pope also spoke about all those people who do not know how to thank God and who are always looking for something to complain about. “A Christian cannot live like this, always complaining. … No saint has ever had a sad face. The saints always had joyful faces. Or at least, in moments of suffering, their faces showed peace.”


Catholic communication as courageous truth-telling that opens channels of dialogue and speaks to the whole person was part of Pope Francis’ message Monday morning to the management, journalists and technical staff of TV 2000 – the television broadcaster of the Italian Bishops’ Conference – as part of a special audience for them in Paul VI Hall.

He said he wished to share “three thoughts on the role of the communicator,” recalling that “the Catholic media have a very difficult mission in relation to social communication: seeking to preserve it from all that distorts and twists it for other purposes. Often communication is subject to propaganda, ideologies, political ends, or for the control of the economy or technology. He said that courageous frankness and freedom are the characteristics of the authentic communicator. and Catholic communications in particular.

The Holy Father also spoke of the duty all communicators have to do justice to the complexities of real life, without losing sight of the truth that is the object of authentic dialogue. “To open, and not to close,” channels of dialogue, said Pope Francis, “is the second task of the communicator.”

Finally, the Pope focused on the need to avoid both sensationalism and platitudes in reporting stories, and the need to cultivate an integral approach to interpersonal communication. “It is necessary to speak to people in their entirety,” he said, “to their mind and to their heart, so that they might be able to see beyond the immediate, beyond a present that is at risk of being amnesiac and fearful of the future.”  (Sources: VIS, Vatican Radio)


(Vatican Radio) – A meeting was held in the Vatican Monday between the Holy See’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.  A note from Vatican Press Office spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, specified that the American delegation included the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Kenneth Hackett and two members of the State Department staff.  The Holy See was represented by three Curia officials responsible for the topics covered.

According to Fr. Lombardi, the main topics discussed were the situation in the Middle East, and the commitment of the U.S. to avoid the escalation of tensions and the explosion of violence; also the commitment to promote a resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The United States’ commitment to the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison was also illustrated and the desire expressed for the Holy See’s assistance in seeking adequate humanitarian solutions for current inmates .

The short time available for Monday’s discussions prevented both sides from examining other issues in depth, though some were mentioned – in particular, the situation in Ukraine and its prospects and the emergency surrounding the Ebola outbreak.