Happy Flag Day to my fellow Americans! Wear a button on a lapel, have one on your car or hang one from a flagpole but be sure to honor the Stars and Stripes today.

And what a perfect day for our U.S. ambassador to the Holy See to return a piece of history – history for both the United States and Spain – to the rightful owner, the Vatican Apostolic Library! Read on!


U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Callista Gingrich, in a ceremony this morning in the Vatican Library, returned a recovered copy of a letter written by Christopher Columbus to its rightful home in the Vatican Library. She presented the letter to the Vatican’s Archivist and Librarian, Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès, O.P. and the Library’s Prefect, Bishop Cesare Pasini, in the presence of representatives of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) for their role in recovering the letter.

The Columbus Letter, as it is known, is an account of the explorer’s discovery of America written in 1493 to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. The text was translated into Latin and several copies were distributed around Europe. The Vatican Library received one of these copies in 1921 as part of the “De Rossi Collection” of rare books and manuscripts.

Archbishop Bruguès said, “this is an historic day for the library because a document returns home, a document that tells a story that belongs to both America and Spain.”

He also praised Mary Parsons, the widow of the late Robert Parsons who bought the document for $875,000 in what he assumed was a legitimate sale. Parsons had no knowledge that the document had been stolen from the Vatican.

Once the truth was known. his widow decided to give the document back to the Vatican, saying she knows that is what her late husband would have wanted, notwithstanding the huge financial loss.

It was revealed today that Mary Parsons wrote a letter to Pope Francis and it was brought days ago to the Vatican from the United States.

Ambassador Gingrich said, “A precious piece of history has returned home. I am very honored to return it to its rightful owner.”

Her full speech is here:

The archbishop said, “we do not know exactly when the substitution took place. However the forgery was reproduced with both visual and tactile aspects. We may never know who forged this.”

No one knows exactly when or how the letter was removed from the Vatican Library. It could have been purloined during a re-binding of the volume with Columbus letters as the Vatican does not do its own binding, but rather outsources it.

It seems something similar could not happen today because, about a dozen years ago, books in the library – books, documents, parchments, etc, – had microchips installed in them. Researchers who have gained permission to study in the library have their own ID card with a microchip inside and the library personnel knows at every moment where they are and what document they are looking at.

Click here to see photos of the encounter in the Vatican Library:

The following information sheet is compliments of the U.S Embassy to the Holy See.

The embassy also sent photos of both the authentic and forged letters but they were in pdf format and I have no program in my computer that will convert them to jpg to post here. I have spent the better part of an hour trying to convert them. Hopefully I can eventually get those to you. I am trying to download a program that will convert the photos: if that works, I’ll get the pictures to you.

Columbus Letter Fact Sheet

In September 2011, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) received information from an expert of rare books and manuscripts pertaining to alleged forgeries of several 15th-century original, manually printed Latin editions of what are commonly known as the “Columbus Letter (1493)”.

The expert reported that in November 2010 in the Vatican Library’s De Rossi Collection he observed a “Plannck II – Columbus Letter,” printed in Rome in 1493 by Stephan Plannck. After examining the “Plannck II”, the expert believed it to not be original. He based his opinion on his observation that the chain lines of the pages did not match other authentic versions that the he had previously examined. The non-authentic “Columbus Letter” now in the volume was not part the original stitching; it was separately and loosely stitched into the binding. It was also clear from the dimensions of the white bulking leaves that the original and authentic De Rossi copy of the Columbus Letter was short, with a leaf height of approximately 18.5 cm.

In December 2013, the late American collector David Parsons sent his “Plannck II – Columbus Letter,” which he had purchased in 2004, to the same expert for authentication. The expert found it to be authentic and noted that its leaf height was the same as that of the suspected Vatican De Rossi copy. Although it was now in a modern binding, sewing holes in the inner fold of its leaves showed that in an earlier binding it had been sewn on five bands, just like the Vatican De Rossi copy. Moreover, in the suspect copy of the “Columbus Letter,” the leaves were numbered in pencil in the upper right corner: 1, 2, 3, 4. In the Parsons copy, the expert noticed that the leaves had been penciled in the same way, although erased. Thus, it was considered plausible that when the fake “Columbus Letter” was inserted into the volume “Ross. 674” held by the Vatican, pencil markings were added to match that of the stolen, authentic copy, making it harder to notice that there had been a replacement.

In June 2016, a separate expert in the rare book trade confirmed to HSI that the Parsons owned “Columbus Letter” was sold to a New York book dealer by Marino Massimo De Caro, a notorious Italian book thief. De Caro is currently serving a seven-year sentence in Italy for the theft of approximately 4,000 ancient books and manuscripts from public and private libraries in Italy, including the Girolamini Library in Naples, Italy.

Officials from the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See met with Vatican Library officials to present the facts of the case. Vatican Library officials agreed to send the letter in their possession (the fake letter) to the United States for comparative analysis. Subsequently in April 2017, HSI met with the expert at Princeton University to conduct a comparative analysis of the Vatican – De Rossi copy and the Parsons owned Columbus Letter. During the examination, the expert determined the Parsons Columbus Letter had been removed from the Vatican Library sometime before 2004.

In August 2017, HSI took possession of the Parsons/Vatican Columbus Letter from Mr. Parsons’ widow, who voluntarily surrendered the letter after being notified of the conclusions of the expert’s examinations. Mrs. Parsons agreed to voluntarily return the Columbus Letter as long as it is rightfully returned to the custody of the Vatican.

To date, HSI has recovered and formally returned three “Columbus Letters” as part of their ongoing investigations related to a network of dealers and brokers involved in the illicit sale of stolen books and manuscripts. In addition to the Vatican Columbus Letter, HSI has confiscated and returned Columbus Letters that belong to the Riccardiana Library, Florence, Italy and the Library of Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.



U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Callista L. Gingrich, will return a recovered copy of a letter written by Christopher Columbus to its rightful home at the Vatican Library on Thursday, June 14, at 11:00 a.m., according to a news release from the U.S Embassy to the Holy See.

Ambassador Gingrich, along with representatives of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) will present the letter to the Vatican’s Archivist and Librarian, Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès, O.P. and the Library’s Prefect, Bishop Cesare Pasini for the event.

The Columbus Letter, as it is known, is an account of the explorer’s discovery of America written in 1493 to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. The text was translated into Latin and several copies were distributed around Europe. The Vatican Library received one of these copies in 1921 as part of the “De Rossi Collection” of rare books and manuscripts.

In 2011, HSI was contacted by a rare book and manuscript expert who believed the Columbus Letter in the Vatican’s collection to be a forgery. After notifying Vatican authorities of the possible theft, DHS officials coordinated the examination of the letter by subject matter experts, including specialists from Princeton University.

It is unknown when precisely the document was stolen, but U.S. agents were able to trace the original letter to Mr. Robert Parsons, an actuary from Atlanta, who purchased it from a rare book dealer in New York City in 2004, unaware that it had been taken from the Vatican.

After being presented with evidence of the theft and forgery of the Columbus Letter, Mr. Parsons’ widow, Mary Parsons, agreed to voluntarily relinquish and abandon all rights, title, and interest in the letter so that it could be returned to the Vatican.

HSI has recovered and returned three Columbus Letters as part of their ongoing investigations into the illicit sale of stolen books and manuscripts. In addition to the Vatican Columbus Letter, HSI has confiscated and returned Columbus Letters that belong to the Riccardiana Library in Florence, Italy, and the Library of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain.

(JFL: The story about the recovered artefact first appeared last August and the Wall Street Journal was the first to print it. In its account the WSJ said that the letter describes lands with “large flowing rivers” and “trees of endless varieties,” and of timid natives who “are so unsuspicious and so generous with what they possess, that no one who had not seen it would believe it.” Hopefully the ceremony tomorrow will reveal more of the content of what is now known as The Christopher Columbus Letter)


I hope you were able to follow Pope Francis’ advice yesterday at the general audience when he asked the faithful, in the square and around the world to dedicate one minute to “Prayer for Peace” today, June 8, at 1 pm. If you didn’t make it at 1 pm local time, I’m sure the Lord will hear your prayer now!

I posted the second story on my Facebook page today. For those who do not have FB, this article by Bishop Barron is just brilliant and perfectly defines today’s society vis-à-vis Kathy Griffin. This truly is a must read.


I received the following email today from the Vatican Apostolic Library and want to share this exciting news with you. I have visited the Library only a few times over the years and have always been awed by its beauty, history, and amazing collections. It is not on the average Vatican tour and that is both good news and bad news. However, now there are several ways to go online and that will be a great help.

Dear Friends, With this brief message I would like to deliver you the link to OWL, Online Window into the Library, our newsletter, with which we would like to share facts, anecdotes, curiosities, insights on our historical Institution, so that it could be better known with its rich collections, its activities and initiatives, and people who made the Library great. I wish to invite you to follow us, to participate to the life of our and your Library, and to remain in contact with us, also through OWL.

Msgr. Cesare Pasini



By Bishop Robert Barron (auxiliary, Los Angeles Archdiocese)

By now the whole world has heard about comedian Kathy Griffin’s appalling staged-photo of herself holding a mock-up of the bloody, severed head of Donald Trump. Despite her rather pathetic apology, a firestorm of protest has broken out pretty much everywhere. To say that this stunt was in poor taste or, in the parlance of our times, “offensive,” would be the understatement of the decade. At a time when the most barbarous people on the planet are, in point of fact, decapitating their enemies and holding up the heads as trophies, it simply beggars belief that Griffin would have imagined this escapade as an acceptable form of social protest.

But I would like to situate what Griffin did in a wider context, for it is but a particularly brutal example of what is taking place throughout our society, especially on university campuses. Speakers of a more conservative stripe, ranging from serious academics such as Charles Murray and Heather McDonald to provocateurs such as Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos, have been shouted down, obstructed, insulted, and in extreme cases physically assaulted on the grounds of institutes of higher learning throughout the United States. Very recently, at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, a tenured professor was compelled to hold his biology class in a public park. His crime? He had publicly criticized a planned “Day of Absence” during which white students, staff, and faculty were coerced into leaving the campus, since people of color claimed they felt “unsafe” at the college. For calling this blatantly racist move by its proper name, the professor was, of course, himself labeled a racist and mobs of angry students shut down his classes, forcing him to lecture in the park.

Click here to continue:


“The beatification of Paul VI – Under the Roman sun” is the title of a piece in the Vatican paper, L’Osservatore Romano, at about Sunday’s beatification and our new Blessed, Pope Paul VI. We know the celebration, which was also the closing Mass for the synod on the family, took place in the presence of Pope emeritus Benedict XV who was, as Joseph Ratzinger, in 1977 the last cardinal to be created by Paul VI.

What I did not know on Sunday was that Pope Francis wore the chasuble that Paul VI received for his 80th birthday and also used the staff of his predecessor, celebrating the Mass with one of his two chalices. The tapestry that hung from the central loggia with Paul VI’s image was from a photo taken by Pepi Merisio, one of Italy’ìs foremost photographers. We see the new Blessed as he walks with his arms outstretched with a large smile on his face. His liturgical feast will be celebrated on September 26, the day he was born in Concesio, northern Italy.

Except for the announcement of the papal trip to Turkey in November, today was – Dco gratias! – a light news day at the Vatican. Two weeks and then some of 12-hour days filled with writing, listening, reading and analyzing documents, preparing and doing interviews, preparing reports for television and then several more reports for radio – the adrenalin-fueled days almost went by in a blur. Now there will be more time to reflect and perhaps form a clearer picture from that blur. Events like a synod can cause a kind of factual indigestion from consuming too much material too fast and care always has to be exercised when writing – or speaking – to separate the wheat from the chaff.

It will also be great to have a little extra time to spend to tackle a pile of emails and catch up on life and people and events outside of Rome. In the meantime, some tidbits for today…


The Holy See Press Office today confirmed that Pope Francis has accepted the invitations issued by civil authorities, by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and by the bishops of Turkey, and will make an apostolic trip to Turkey from November 28 to 30 2014, during which he will visit Ankara and Istanbul.

He will depart Friday morning, November 28 from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, arriving at Ankara’s Esenboga Airport at approximately 1 pm. His first visit will be to the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey and its first president. Francis will then go to the presidential palace where he will be received by the president of the republic and government authorities, later meeting with the prime minister, He will subsequently visit the president of Religious Affairs in the Diyanet.

Saturday, November 29, the Holy Father will fly from Ankara to Istanbul where he will visit the Hagia Sophia Museum, the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque, and the Catholic cathedral of the Holy Spirit, where he will celebrate Mass. Later, in the patriarchal Church of St. George in Fanar, there will be an ecumenical prayer and a private meeting with His Holiness Bartholomew I.

On Sunday, November 30 Pope Francis will celebrate Mass privately with the apostolic delegation. In the patriarchal Church of St. George a divine liturgy will take place, followed by an ecumenical blessing and the signing of a Joint Declaration. In the afternoon Pope Francis departs Istanbul for Rome, where he is expected to arrive at Fiumicino Airport at 6.40 p.m.


If you have been following the Twitter feed of the Vatican Apostolic Library (BAV), you learned that you can now see 1084 digitized manuscripts by going to:

Once you are there, you will see “Digitized manuscripts: 1084, select to access the digitized copy” and be told to click on the mini book with open pages. It is a truly fascinating experience and gives amazing possibilities to millions of people who could never otherwise the library

Here is what the library says about its digitization projects:

BAV Digitisation projects are underway for the following manuscripts, which in the future will be available for on-line consultation, including access through the catalogue:

–    142 manuscripts originating from the old library of the monastery of Lorsch, in the context of a project to virtually reconstruct this famous library (Bibliotheca Laureshamensis

– digital: Virtuelle Klosterbibliothek Lorsch), with the support of the University of Heidelberg;

–    the over 2,000 manuscripts of the Palatini latini collection, in collaboration with the University of Heidelberg;

–    several thousand Greek and Hebrew manuscripts and incunabula, in collaboration with the Bodleian Library;

–    around 30 of the most significant Slavic manuscripts, in collaboration with the University of Sofia “Saint Clement Ohridski”;

–    several dozen Syriac manuscripts, in collaboration with the “Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts” of Brigham Young University (U.S.A.), with which the Library had already produced an earlier series of digitisations in the context of the project Syriac Manuscripts from the Vatican Library;

–    over 600 Chinese manuscripts and over 100 Chinese printed books regarding the history of China from the seventeenth to the beginning of the twentieth century, in collaboration with the “Chinese National Committe for the compilation of Qing History.”.