I arrived back in Rome yesterday from a wonderful, happy, fulfilling and memorable three weeks in the U.S., weeks spent with family and friends and my consoeurs and confreres in the Order of the Holy Sepulchre as we celebrated the 2022 investiture of new Knights and Dames in Chicago. I posted just a few highlights (including the arrival on September 29th of my newest – and 27th – great niece Evelyn Anne) on my Facebook page but none on Joan’s Rome as I simply ran out of time!

I spent three weeks in three states visiting with people over long luncheons and dinners or just taking long walks. I’m a huge football fan so rejoiced in being able to watch Notre Dame as well as several pro teams play. If you’ve never been with me at a game in a stadium, there’s a cheerleader side of Joan that you’ve not seen!

I went to Grandparents Day at St. Margarita Catholic High School in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, with my sister Gail, grandmother to Sydney and Brooke who attend this school of 4,000 students on an awesome, very large campus in a beautiful California setting. After the opening Mass and welcome by the school president, three prizes were given out: one for most grandchildren (31), another for the oldest grandparent present (92) and a third for the grandparent or Special Guest who came the farthest – yours truly!

Back in the Midwest, I got to see a lot of the area around Milwaukee as I attended basketball, volleyball and soccer games with several great-nieces and –nephews and a tennis match with my niece Christie. Driving from one town to another allowed me time to chat and catch up on family news and also to enjoy the brilliant spectacle of autumn colors in this part of the world. Christie was to drive me to Illinois to visit Evelyn Anne (Evie) but I woke up that morning with a cold so we had to call that visit off, to my great dismay!

Final weekend in Chicago with some good friends and a chance to interview a friend of many years for Vatican Insider.

I arrived Rome yesterday morning, fully aware of the big anniversary the Church was celebrating – the start, on October 11, 1962, of Vatican Council II. I did watch the 60th anniversary Mass with Pope Francis during which I reminisced about John XXIII, the Pope who opened the council and who was the first Pope I ever encountered.

Interestingly enough, the Italian news agency ANSA wrote: The body of Saint Pope John XXIII was exhumed Tuesday at a Mass marking the 60th anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962.” The word “exhumed” refers to something, usually a body, that has been removed from the ground where it was buried. Obviously, St. John XXIII’s body was not exhumed yesterday, although it was moved from its normal altar spot in the basilica. It is incorrupt and anyone who visits St. Peter’s Basilica may pray before his tomb, as you can see from this photo I took two years ago.

Following is a story I posted a year ago about my first ever encounter with a Roman Pontiff….


My junior year in college was spent studying French in Fribourg, Switzerland during which time we had a six-week spring break, the first three weeks of which were spent in Italy. While in Rome, a papal audience took place. They were not weekly events at the time and there was no audience hall as we know it today. Rather, such group gatherings were held in the magnificent Hall of Blessings, the large room above the atrium of St. Peter’s Basilica – the room with the central loggia or balcony where newly-elected Popes first appear. (Vatican photo)

Pope John XXIII was carried into the room on an elevated chair known as the sedia gestatoria. The chair bearers were called sediari. Only Paul VI and John Paul I used the chair after Pope John.  (JFL photo)

It was an amazing, wonderful, unforgettable, first-ever, “Oh my word, I am in the presence of the Pope, the Holy Father, the one and only head of the Catholic Church” moment – an experience that I’ve truly never forgotten. We did not speak Italian so someone had to summarize the papal talk for us but we heard a lot of laughter from Italians present and I later learned that John XXIII was known for his wit.

How very much I wanted to speak to the Pope, just to be near this man who struck me as someone who could be your favorite uncle, even your grandfather. There was almost a desire to hug him, as strange as that may sound! What he inspired me to do was to learn more about the Church, the papacy in general, but about him, Pope John XXIII, in particular.

I did learn how John XXIII was puzzled why his visits to orphanages, hospitals and prisons in Rome caused a stir in the press. Shouldn’t the bishop reach out to the neediest? He was his same simple self when talking with orphans and prisoners or presidents and diplomats.

When crowned Pope, he said it was his intention to be a pastoral Pope since “all other human gifts and accomplishments – learning, practical experience, diplomatic finesse – can broaden and enrich pastoral work but cannot replace it.”

By the way, John XXIII (he took the name John to honor his father Giovanni, John) and Paul VI were the last two Popes to be crowned. Pope John Paul I did away with then papal triple crown and from then on (September 1978), the ceremony was called an inauguration, not an incoronation.

What most stayed with me that March day in 1961 was a sense of the Pope’s great simplicity, that of a man who is true to his roots. After all, he was the first-born son of a 13 children born to a farmer and his wife. He came from a simple background and maintained that simplicity, I was told over the years, from his first breath to his last.

To be honest, in many ways he struck me more as a father, a simple priest but a holy father, someone who was easily relatable to the average Catholic in the pew.

In the ensuing years I tried to learn more about John XXIII, in particular, in preparation for a half hour television special I was to do on this Pope just before his 2014 canonization. I read many books and was struck by what he accomplished in a mere 5 years of papacy! One book in particular really struck me because it described not only his down-to-earthness but his great humor.

Here are just a few of the many stories that remained with me over the years! Enjoy!

One day John XXIII accompanied a visitor for a stroll in the Vatican gardens, explaining where they were in the gardens, some facts about the Apostolic Palace and anything else the guest wanted to know. At one point, he was asked: “Your Holiness, how many people work in the Vatican?” The Holy Father responded, “Well, about half!”

Another of my favorite stories involves the day that Pope John wanted to go visit Santo Spirito hospital, Holy Spirit hospital, which is about five blocks from Saint Peter Square. He had a predilection for sick people and certainly wanted to visit this nearby hospital. The papal car arrived at the appointed time, and John got out as the nun who ran the whole show greeted him with these words: “Welcome Holy Father! I’m Mother Superior of Holy Spirit” to which John replied: “Lucky you, I’m just the Vicar of Christ!”

Another anecdote comes from his time as apostolic nuncio to France (he had also been nuncio or papal ambassador to Bulgaria and Turkey). Archbishop Roncalli (the future Pope John) was presented one day with the chief rabbi of Paris and the two had a warm conversation. When they were ready to move into a nearby sitting room where other guests awaited them, the rabbi points to the door and courteously invited the archbishop to go first. Archbishop Roncalli responded, “Please, the Old Testament first…”

And lastly: As Vatican officials were discussing John’s surprising plans to call an ecumenical council, a colossal meeting that would entail great planning and organization, one official told the Pope it would be “absolutely impossible to open the Second Vatican Council by 1963. “Fine,” replied John, “we’ll open it in 1962!”

And he did!



Fifty-five years ago today, on October 11, 1962, Pope St. John XXIII opened Vatican Council II in St. Peter’s Basilica. Following are two black and white photos from that day:

A cousin of mine from Palm Beach, Florida, attended many sessions of the Council with an American delegation of bishops, including a Florida bishop.  After Phil’s death I inherited a copy of a color photo he was given after the opening session. This is a poor photo of that picture (the WordPress device to enlarge photos has never worked for me), which is a bit of family history. I have a bigger, better photo but I needed to rotate it counter clockwise and that did not work either!


Pope Francis, continuing his weekly audience catechesis on the Christian virtue of hope, said Wednesday, “Today I wish to speak about that dimension of hope which we can call attentive waiting.  Jesus tells his disciples to be like those who await the return of their master, with lamps alight.  As Christians, therefore, we are always attentive, awaiting the Lord’s return, when God will be all in all.”

“Every day,” continued Francis, “is a new opportunity to be attentive to God, to welcome the day as his gift, and to live that day by offering our good works to him.  Such attentiveness requires patience, however, if we are not to lose sight of God’s grace when our days are monotonous, or our difficulties many.  For no night is so long, as to make us forget the joy that comes with dawn.”

Importantly, Francis stated that, “resignation is not a Christian virtue.”

The Holy Father explained that, “as Christians, we know that Christ will return; that no matter what we may suffer, life has its purpose and deeper meaning, and that the merciful Lord will greet us at its end.  Thus we can look upon history and our own lives with confidence and hope, knowing that the future is not guided solely by the work of our hands but by God’s providence.”

The Pope concluded, “May we repeat everyday the words of the first disciples: ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’ And in our most difficult moments, may we hear the consoling response of Jesus: ‘Behold, I am coming soon’.”

In his various greetings at the audience, Pope Francis had special words for Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, as its members meet in plenary assembly. He entrusted their work to St. John XXIII whose liturgical memory it was Wednesday, October 11.

The congregation marks its centenary this year, as does the Pontifical Oriental Institute. Pope Francis will visit the institute tomorrow morning, after which he will celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving for both institutions in St. Mary Major Basilica.

After the catechesis on hope, Francis greeted Arab-speaking pilgrims, “in particular those from Lebanon, the Holy Land and the Middle East. Our hope is based on the certainty of Christ’s return and on being ready to receive Him. For this reason let’s not abandon ourselves to the flow of events with pessimism , as if history was a train that lost control. Resignation is not a Christian virtue. May the Lord bless you and protect you from evil!

He also greeted “the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s audience, especially those from England, Scotland, Demark, Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Canada and the United States of America.  In particular I greet those who will be celebrating World Sight Day tomorrow, and I assure all who are blind and visually impaired of my closeness and prayers.  Upon you and your families, I invoke the grace of the Lord Jesus, that you may be steadfast in hope and trust in God’s providence in your lives.  May God bless you!”


At the end of the audience catechesis, the Holy Father noted that “Friday, October 13, marks the end of the centenary of the last Marian apparitions in Fatima. With our eyes turned to the Mother of the Savior and Queen of Missions, I invite everyone, especially in this month of October, to pray the holy rosary for the intention of peace in the world. May prayer move the most unruly souls so that they banish violence from their hearts, from their words and from their gestures, and build non-violent communities that care for the common home. Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer. We can all be artisans of peace.”


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ Twitter account – @pontifex – has reached a milestone: 40 million followers in 9 languages. The figure is significant not only in itself, but in what it represents for the Holy Father, himself, who, like his predecessor, desires to be a Christian witness among many on the “Digital Continent”, especially through social media.

Alessandro Gisotti spoke to Msgr. Eduardo Viganò, prefect of the Secretariat for Communications. He is entrusted with the co-ordination of the papal accounts on Twitter and Instagram.

“40 million followers means 40 million people, 40 million hearts, minds, and passions,” said Msgr. Viganò. “It is a world, a relationship, a community: this figure emphasizes that so many people continue to follow, day after day, even by way of 140 characters, the Pope’s Magisterium, which reaches people in very different ways: from official speeches, to unscripted encounters, to Twitter characters,” Msgr. Viganò said.

Asked about the Holy Father’s social media presence more specifically, especially on Twitter and Instagram (where Francis shares photos and videos under his @franciscus handle), Msgr. Viganò said, “The Pope takes great care of his social profiles, to such an extent that he closely and carefully checks all the tweets, which are then published.” He went on to say, “This concern speaks to the [Pope’s] care for relationships. So, the Pope who calls himself a ‘grandfather,’ who claims to  be far from new technologies, nevertheless intuits that there is a world – the social media world – that is made up of people.”

Msgr. Viganò also said, “The Church is born when the Holy Spirit overwhelms the disciples and opens the doors of the Upper Room and they take to the streets of the world. Today, among these streets are the so-called social communities. That is why the Pope is very attentive to this reality: because any relationship needs care, which is to say cor urat, that is, ‘to warm the heart’ even through a few letters.”

Gisotti asked whether Pope Francis can be taken as an example of how to use social media, so that the Internet is, “a network not of wires but of people,” as he himself wrote in his first Message for the World Day of Social Communications?

“Yes,” responded Msgr. Viganò. “This also collects the inheritance of Pope emeritus Benedict [XVI], who has made some very interesting speeches on the Net. I believe that the further step, the one we might summarize as ‘from the click to the heart’, is to imagine a community of believers, who leave traces of the allure of the Gospel of Mercy even on the Net.”


Papal tweet August 24: Humanity needs hope in order to live and needs the Holy Spirit in order to hope.

A lot to ponder in this talk today by Pope Francis. I can’t wait to talk to some officials and experts in liturgy about the content, in particular because the Holy Father did not go into specific detail about change, what stays, what was perhaps on the way out and should go – or might stay – etc.


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis gave an important address on the liturgical reform on Thursday, speaking to participants of the 68th Italian National Liturgical Week.

The liturgical reform, he said, did not “flourish suddenly,” but was the result of a long preparation. It was brought to maturity by the Second Vatican Council with the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, “whose lines of general reform respond to real needs and to the concrete hope of a renewal; it desired a living liturgy for a Church completely vivified by the mysteries celebrated.”

The direction marked out by the Council, the Pope continued, found expression in the revised liturgical books promulgated by Blessed Paul VI. But “it is not enough to reform the liturgical books; the mentality of the people must be reformed as well.” The reformation of the liturgical books was the first step in a process, he said, “that requires time, faithful reception, practical obedience, wise implementation” on the part first of the ordained ministers, but also of the other ministers, and indeed, of all who take part in the liturgy.

Today, Pope Francis said, “there is still work to do in this direction, in particular rediscovering the reasons for the decisions made with the liturgical reform, overcoming unfounded and superficial readings, partial receptions, and practices that disfigure it.” He said that this is not a question “of rethinking the reform by reviewing its choices, but of knowing better the underlying reasons [for it]… [and] of internalizing its inspirational principles and of observing the discipline that governs it.”

The Supreme Pontiff insisted, “After this magisterial, and after this long journey, we can assert with certainty and magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible.”

Reflecting on the theme of this year’s Liturgy Week – “A living Liturgy for a living Church” – Pope Francis dwelt on three points:

1)The liturgy is “living” in virtue of the living presence of Christ; Christ is at the heart of the liturgical action.

2)The liturgy is life through the whole people of God. By its nature, the liturgy is “popular” rather than clerical; it is an action for the people, but also by the people.

3) The liturgy is life, and not an idea to be understood. It brings us to live an initiatory experience, a transformative experience that changes how we think and act; it is not simply a means of enriching our own set of ideas about God.

The Church, Pope Francis said, “is truly living if, forming one single living being with Christ, it is a bearer of life, it is maternal, it is missionary, going out to encounter the neighbour, careful to serve without pursuing worldly powers that render it sterile.”

The Holy Father concluded his reflection by noting that the Church in prayer, insofar as it is catholic, “goes beyond the Roman Rite” which, although it is the largest, is by no means the only Rite within the Church. “The harmony of the ritual traditions, of the East and of the West,” by means of the same Spirit, gives voice to the one only Church  praying through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ, to the glory of the Father, and for the salvation of the world.”


It certainly sounds like the today’s papal tweet applies to the people of Amatrice and nearby towns!

Today marks the first anniversary of the tremendous 6.2 quake that killed 299 people last year in central Italy, in particular the charming town of Amatrice which was basically razed to the ground. The entire rebuilding process will be very, very long, as you see in the photos below and the accompanying article. Posted August 23 on www.thelocal.it

One year after an earthquake struck the Amatrice region – and less than 24 hours after another struck the island of Ischia in the Gulf of Naples – Italy on Thursday will remember the 299 victims killed in the August 23rd, 2016, disaster that still haunts the country.

Survivors will hold a candle-lit procession in the early hours, even as Ischia island to the south, recovers from Italy’s latest quake — and critics again criticize the government for failing to shore-up the nation’s poorly constructed buildings. (photo afp April 2017)

It was well before dawn on August 24, 2016 when a 6.0-magnitude quake razed much of Amatrice and the surrounding region, killing families in their beds or trapping them in dust-filled cavities in the rubble.

Children in their pajamas were pulled lifeless from the debris, one youngster having used up the last of the oxygen tunnelling in the wrong direction in a futile bid to reach safety.

There was more to come. Shell-shocked locals suffered three more violent quakes, on October 26 and 30 and January 18 — the last one sparking an avalanche that would wipe out a hotel and kill 29 people. (photo afp: April 2017)

Damage to homes, schools, hospitals and churches in the region are estimated at 23.55 billion euros ($27.7 billion).

Hours before dawn on Thursday, relatives of the 239 victims who died in Amatrice on the 24th will meet at 1:30 am to remember their loved ones with candles and prayers.

At 3:36am the moment the earthquake struck, a bell will toll 239 times, before a memorial mass is held.

Other commemorations are planned for Wednesday or Thursday in devastated hamlets nearby, from Accumoli to Pescara del Tronto, whose mayor recalled this week “we didn’t know where to put all the dead”.

Continue reading here: https://www.thelocal.it/20170823/italy-prepares-to-remember-2016-amatrice-earthquake-victims



POPE FRANCIS’ TWEET FOR PARENTS: Parents, can you “waste time” with your children? It is one of the most important things that you can do each day.


The faithful received a special treat today at the weekly general audience as the gathering was dedicated to marking the 50th anniversary of a celebrated Vatican document, “Nostra Aetate,” on the relations between the Catholic Church and non-Christian religions. Representatives of various religions, as well as the participants in an international congress that commemorated this document, were at the papal audience and later spoke at the Holy See Press Office.

My photo of a photo of a Vatican Council II session given to a cousin of mine who attended the Council, and who gave it to me:


The congress was organized by several Vatican offices, including the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, the Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Pontifical Gregorian University. “Nostra Aetate” is Latin for “In Our Time.”

Pope Francis explained today’s anniversary to the pilgrims in the rain-soaked St. Peter’s Square, first noting that he had greeted the sick and elderly who, due to the weather conditions, were participating in the audience via giant screens in the Paul VI Hall.

Cardinals Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, began the celebrations with brief remarks, after which a short excerpt from “Nostra Aetete” was read in the languages traditionally used at the weekly papal audience.

In his greetings to the pilgrims, the Pope had special words of appreciation for those from other religions who were present at today’s audience, and he noted that this is the case every Wednesday. Summaries of today’s catechesis in Italian were later given in French, English, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, German and Polish.

“Vatican Council II was an extraordinary moment of reflection, dialogue and prayer to renew the gaze of the Catholic Church upon herself and the world,” began Pope Framcis. The Council was “a reading of the signs of the times in order to bring her up to date, guided by a dual fidelity: fidelity to the ecclesial tradition and fidelity to the history of the men and women of our time.”

He stressed that the message of the Declaration “Nostra Aetate” remains valid today, and then listed its key points: the growing interdependence of peoples; the human search for meaning in life, suffering and death, questions that always accompany our journey; the common origin and common destiny of humanity; the unity of the human family; religions as the search for God or the Absolute, within the various ethnic groups and cultures; the Church’s benevolent and careful view of all religions, which does not reject anything good or true in them; the Church’s esteem for all believers of all religions, appreciating their spiritual and moral commitment; and finally, the Church’s openness to dialogue with all, while remaining at the same time faithful to the truth in which she believes, starting from the salvation offered to all that has its origin in Jesus, the sole saviour, and that is worked by the Holy Spirit, as the source of peace and love.”

Noting the many initiatives and examples of institutional or personal relations with non-Christian religions since the publication on October 28, 1965. of “Nostra Aetate,” the Pope said, “the most significant among them include the meeting in Assisi on October 27, 1986, promoted by St. John Paul II.” He also praised the great transformation over 50 years in the relationship between Christians and Jews. “Indifference and opposition have turned into cooperation and benevolence, From enemies and strangers, we have become friends and brothers!”

This was a point that Francis stressed today: men and women of faith, of different faiths, even of no faith, are all brothers and sisters.

He explained that, “mutual knowledge, respect and esteem constitute the way that, valid for relations with Jews, is similarly relevant to relations with other religions. I think in particular of Muslims who, as the Council states, ‘adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself, merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of Heaven and earth, Who has spoken to men’. They refer to the paternity of Abraham, they venerate Jesus as a prophet, they honour His virgin Mother Mary, they await the day of judgement, and practise prayer, charity and fasting.”

“Open and respectful dialogue, respecting the rights of others to life, physical integrity and fundamental freedoms: that is, freedom of conscience, thought, expression and religion,” said the Pope, must mark our relationships.

“The world looks to us as believers,” underscored the Holy Father, and it “exhorts us to collaborate among ourselves and with men and women of good will who do not profess any religion, and asks us for effective answers on several issues: peace, hunger, the poverty that afflicts millions of people, the environmental crisis, violence, especially that committed in the name of religion, corruption, moral degradation, the crisis of the family, the economy and finance, and above all, hope.

“We believers do not have solutions for these problems, but we have a great resource: prayer. We must pray. Prayer is our treasury, which we draw from according to our respective traditions, to ask for the gifts humanity yearns for.”

The Pope conceded that violence and terrorism have given rise to “an attitude of suspicion and indeed condemnation with regard to religions. In reality, since no religion is immune to the risk of fundamentalist or extremist deviations by individuals or groups, it is necessary to look instead to the positive values they embody and promote, and which are a wellspring of hope.”

Francis stated that the upcoming extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy will offer an opportunity for collaboration in charitable works. “In this field, where compassion is most important, we can join with many people who do not consider themselves to be believers or who are in search of God and truth, people who place the face of others at the centee especially their brothers and sisters in need.”

Let us all pray for the future of interreligious dialogue, concluded Francis, “And pray for each other, as we are brothers! Without the Lord, nothing is possible; with Him, everything is possible.”


With a chirograph dated today and made public this morning, Pope Francis instituted the Gravissimum Educationis Foundation, marking yet another Vatican document anniversary. He expressed his gratitude to the Congregation for Catholic Education for its initiatives to mark the 50th anniversary of the Declaration “Gravissimum educationis” on Christian education, promulgated by Vatican Council II on October 28, 1965.

A chirograph is a hand-signed papal document, usually limited to members of or some aspect of the Roman Curia. Interestingly enough, chirograph has its roots in medieval law where it referred to a kind of document written in duplicate (or more) on a single piece of parchment and then cut across a single word, so that each bearer of a portion could prove it matched the others.

“I am likewise pleased,” says Francis in the chirograph, “to learn that the same dicastery wishes to constitute on this occasion a Foundation entitled Gravissimum Educationis, with the aim of pursuing “scientific and cultural ends, intended to promote Catholic education in the world. The Church recognizes the ‘extreme importance of education in the life of man and how its influence ever grows in the social progress of this age’, (and how they) are profoundly linked to the fulfilment of ‘the mandate she has received from her divine founder of proclaiming the mystery of salvation to all men and of restoring all things in Christ’.”

The Holy Father also instituted the new foundation, with prenises in Vatican City, as public canonical and civil juridical persons, saying it will be subject to current canon law and current civil law in Vatican City.