It was a quiet day for Pope Francis – no public appearances – as he prepares for tomorrow’s general audience and also gets ready for the three-day Jubilee of Priests that starts tomorrow! The main event at the Vatican is taking place as I write (see story below) – the procession and rosary in the Vatican Gardens for the feast of the Visitation.

Following that I’ve posted an interesting story about the Vatican’s Cricket team! Enjoy!

A PAPAL TWEET FOR MAY 31: I join spiritually all those taking part in special devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary on this last day of the month of May.


The Holy Father’s universal prayer intention for June is: “That the aged, marginalized, and those who have no one may find, even within the huge cities of the world, opportunities for encounter and solidarity.”

His intention for evangelization is: “That seminarians and men and women entering religious life may have mentors who live the joy of the Gospel and prepare them wisely for their mission.”


It is a time-honored tradition in the Vatican to hold an evening candlelit procession, with the recitation of the rosary, in the Vatican Gardens on the May 31 feast of the Visitation. In past years the lay faithful were invited to join cardinals, including the Pope’s vicar for Vatican City, bishops, priests and men and women religious in the procession which started at the Church of St. Stephen of the Abyssinians (named for St. Stephen Protomartyr, which means “first martyr”), located just behind the apse of St. Peter’s Basilica, and ended at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.

In past years, about 9 p.m., the Pope joined everyone at the Grotto and made a brief address. I have posted several columns in the years that I joined in the procession.

During his pontificate, Pope Saint John Paul II participated in the procession every year until 2002, when his poor health made it impossible.

In 2005, just six weeks after his election, Benedict XVI participated in this celebration for the first time as Pope. In remarks at the grotto at that time, he called attention to the Year of the Eucharist, pointing out that “Mary helps us to discover the mystery of Communion.” Noting that the procession always occurs on the feast of the Visitation, he said that Mary’s trip to see her cousin Elizabeth was, in a sense, “the first Eucharistic procession in history,” adding that the faithful have the same role as the Church “unceasingly welcomes Jesus in the holy Eucharist and carries Him to the world.”

Photos from Ein Karem, site of the Visitation, home of St. Elizabeth, John the Baptist:




In 2008, that ceremony took place in St. Peter’s Square. It was believed the change was made by the then new papal master of liturgical ceremonies, Msgr. Guido Marini, to allow more faithful to participate. Candles, with durable plastic shields against the wind and a small prayer and song booklet prepared by the Vicariate of Vatican City were placed on each chair for the thousands of religious and lay people, including entire families, who participated in this evocative ceremony.

Cardinal Angelo Comastri, vicar for Vatican City, led the procession of cardinals, as he will again this year, 2016.

Pope Francis marked the feast of the Visitation in 2013, just months after his election, in St. Peter’s Square. In 2014 he participated in the procession in the Vatican gardens. I could find no record of his participation last year and he will not be present for tonight’s ceremony in the Vatican Gardens, once again led by Cardinal Comastri.

A note from a Vatican Radio news site states that “participation is reserved to Vatican staff and members of their family.” I do not remember seeing such a note in the past but that may simply be that there was a note and I overlooked it. However, in my experience, lay faithful from Rome did participate in the past, but the world has changed and so have security measures in many parts of the world, including the Vatican.


(Vatican Radio) St Peter’s Cricket Club, popularly known as the ‘Vatican XI’ is preparing for a second British tour with both ecumenical and interfaith objectives high on the agenda.

The team, comprised of Catholic priests and seminarians from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the UK, was founded in 2013 and challenged a Church of England cricket team in Canterbury the following year. Since then, the sporting friendships and spiritual experiences have grown, with the Anglican side coming to Rome for a return match in 2015.


From September 11th to 20th the Vatican team sets off on a second ‘Light of Faith’ tour, playing against Anglicans, a Muslim team from Yorkshire and an interfaith match against cricketers from Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Buddhist communities in the south east of England.

The Vatican XI, which enjoys the patronage of the Pontifical Council for Culture, will play in venues which have been offered free of charge, including the famous Edgbaston ground in Birmingham and the revered Headingley site which has been used for international test cricket since 1899.

The goals of St Peter’s team members include sharing their faith with others, building bridges across religious and cultural divides and furthering what Pope Francis calls ‘the culture of encounter. To find out more, Philippa Hitchen spoke with team manager,Fr Eamonn O’Higgins, spiritual director of the Maria Mater Ecclesiae seminary where many of the players are in training for the priesthood.

Fr Eamonn says that the tours are called ‘Light of Faith’ because “deep down, that is what we try to transmit. He notes that while the 2014 tour focused on establishing relations with the Church of England, this second event has a much broader interreligious dimension with Muslims and others who’ve become interested in the opportunities that such encounters can offer.

While cricket is the context in which the players meet, Fr Eamonn says the tour is also about going “to pray and to commune” with people in different ways. He notes that he’s been invited to speak at a mosque on the Friday that the team will be in Batley, Yorkshire with the local community. “It’s a pilgrimage”, he says, adding “that means not only praying ourselves, but understanding and praying with other faiths as well”.

Asked about the effect of these ecumenical and interreligious encounters on the seminarians training at the Mater Ecclesiae seminary, Fr Eamonn says that for “all of us, not just the lads”, it has “an extremely broadening effect”. While we sometimes have our own stereotypes, often influenced by the media’s depiction of other religious communities, he says “the fact of meeting members of other faiths, understanding their contexts, listening to their prayer, being with their families”, enables the team to understand other people and their traditions in a new way.

“You cannot understand another culture or another religion without getting into it from the inside, from somebody else’s point of view, the Vatican team manager insists, “and this is the privilege we’ve been able to experience”.



I spent the entire morning out, returned home late and now have just enough time before my next appointment to post a story about a very special Mass I attended last night, as well as Vatican Radio’s summary of much of today’s general audience that Pope Francis dedicated to last weekend’s pilgrimage to Turkey. An important event, an historical first, in fact, took place yesterday in the Vatican, the signing of a Declaration Against Slavery by leaders of the world’s religions. I did not feature that event in this column but I did post stories on my Facebook page.


Phillip Hughes, a much loved and well-known Australian cricket player who died in Sydney last Thursday was commemorated Tuesday evening in a Mass in Rome by members of the Vatican Cricket team and by Australian Ambassador to the Holy See, John McCarthy, who knew Hughes and organized the Mass. Hughes, 25, was hit behind the left ear by a short-pitch delivery during a match in Sydney last week and died two days later.

I attended the Mass last night at the Venerable English College in the presence of Ambassador McCarthy and five members of St. Peter’s Cricket Club, including team captain, Fr. Anthony Currer, who presided at Mass and gave the homily. Four of the players on the Vatican team, dressed in the team’s yellow blazer over their Roman collars, read the Prayers of the Faithful and after Mass, Ambassador McCarthy, who has a son the same age as Hughes, gave a eulogy. The ambassador is also a huge fan of cricket and helped develop St. Peter’s Cricket Club.

It was a small and very intimate event in the seminary’s magnificent chapel, and was well covered by media from countries known for their cricket teams. Hughes’ funeral took place today in Australia.

I met four of the St. Peter’s Cricket team players who are seminarians at Rome pontifical universities and seminarians, including Pratheesh K. Thomas who heads the Media and Communications Office of St. Peter’s Cricket Club. The club is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/vaticancricketclub

Here is what the UK’s Catholic Herald wrote about Phillip Hughes:

“St. Peter’s Cricket Club, the Vatican’s cricket team, has paid tribute to Philip Hughes the Australian batsman who died last week. The players joined the #PullOutyourBats Twitter tribute which has become a global phenomenon with Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council For Culture tweeting a picture of a row of bats and St. Peter’s cricket club caps. The Cardinal’s message also included the news that a Mass will be held later today for Mr. Hughes who was killed after being struck by a ball while playing for South Australia in a match against New South Wales at Sydney cricket ground and for ‘all in sports who’s deaths seem to us untimely’. (Photo from Catholic Herald)

Cricket - Phillip Huges tribvute

“The Mass, which will be attended by St. Peter’s players, was organized by Australia’s ambassador to the Holy See, John McCarthy, and will take place at the English College in Rome. The 25-year old Mr. Hughes played 26 tests for Australia and he became the youngest player ever to score 2 centuries in a match. His funeral will be held on Wednesday. In September St. Peters Cricket Club toured England playing a match against a Church of England XI.


(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis had words of praise and thanks for Turkey and the Salesian fathers of Istanbul, for all the good and “hidden” work they do for countless refugees from the Iraqi and Syrian wars.

Retracing the steps of his recent pilgrimage to Turkey during his general audience Wednesday, the Pope also highlighted the constant need for prayer on the journey towards full communion with the Orthodox Church and reiterated the importance of Christians and Muslims working together in solidarity for peace.

Rain pounded umbrellas in St. Peter’s Square Wednesday, forcing the audience to be split in two – as the Pope himself noted greeting the ‘brave’ pilgrims before him.  Before heading out among the thousands in the square the Pope had first greeted the sick and disabled who were gathered in the Paul VI audience hall, urging them to pray to Jesus this Advent season for the strength to carry on and blessing them before he left.

After touring the square – despite the driving rain – the Pope also invited pilgrims to greet  the sick and disabled who were following the catechesis through giant screens with applause. Then he began to speak of his three day trip to Turkey over the weekend, highlighting the ecumenical and interfaith elements of his visit.

“Dear brothers and sisters,” he began. “Good morning. It’s not a great day is it? The weather is quite bad…but you are brave and face it anyway!  On we go! This audience is taking place in two different places, as we do when it rains: here in the square and then there are the sick in the Paul VI Hall. I met with them already, I greeted them, and they are following the audience on giant screens, because they are sick and cannot be out in the rain. Let’s greet them there with a round of applause, everyone!”

Following is the English-language summary of the Holy Father’s longer catechesis in Italian:

“Dear Brothers and Sisters: I thank God for the blessing of my recent pilgrimage to Turkey, and I pray that it will contribute to an ever more fruitful dialogue and relationship with our Orthodox and Muslim brothers and sisters. Turkey is a land dear to us for its rich Christian history. Religious belief has an important place in the life of this predominantly Muslim nation. In my visit to Ankara, I wished to stress the importance of ensuring its free exercise by all, and the need for Christians and Muslims to work together in promoting solidarity, peace and justice.

“In Istanbul, at Mass with the Catholic faithful and the leaders of Turkey’s various Christian communities, we implored the Holy Spirit’s continued guidance and help for our efforts to grow in unity and fidelity. On Sunday, at the solemn liturgy for the feast of Saint Andrew, I joined Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in signing a Joint Declaration reaffirming our commitment to the restoration of full communion. I ask you to join me in praying for these intentions and for the Church’s zeal in proclaiming, in respectful and fraternal dialogue, Christ’s message of truth, peace and love.”