I recently aired a Special report on the Vatican Observatory in the interview segment of my weekend radio show, Vatican Insider. I keep up with news about the Vatican specola because of my many visits there, including full days spent at the observatory in the Apostolic Palace of Castelgandolfo covering the summer schools offered for students of astronomy. The specola offices, classrooms and museum are no longer in the palace but on the ground of of the apostolic territory. I was thus interested when I saw this story today on Vatican News.


Vatican Observatory Foundation announced that astronomers from the Leibniz-Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP) and the Vatican Observatory (VO) teamed up to spectroscopically survey more than 1000 bright stars which are suspected to host their own exoplanets.

According to a Vatican Observatory statement, the team – which includes VO astronomers Fr. Paul Gabor, S.J., Fr. David Brown, S.J., and Fr. Chris Corbally, S.J., and VO engineer Michael Franz – now presents precise values of 54 spectroscopic parameters per star in the first of a series of papers in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics and releases all its data to the scientific community.

This unprecedented large number of parameters will be essential to interpreting the stellar light and finding connections between the properties of stars and their possible planets.

Pope Paul VI watching moon landing

Stars, the statement explained, tell stories about themselves, and sometimes about their undiscovered planets. Their language is light. Starlight reveals many physical properties of a star, such as its temperature, pressure, motion, chemical composition, and more. Researchers analyze the light with a method called quantitative absorption spectroscopy. Searching for new worlds using Vatican telescope – Vatican News


The Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development announces the theme of this year’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees focused on the right to choose migration as an option for livelihood and personal development.Pope Francis has chosen “Free to choose whether to migrate or to stay” as the theme for the 109th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, to be celebrated on 24 September.

The Day is observed every year on the last Sunday of September as an occasion to express support and concern for people who are forced to flee their homes, to encourage Catholics worldwide to remember and pray for those displaced by conflict and persecution, and increase awareness about the opportunities that migration offers. It was first celebrated in 1914. World Day of Migrants and Refugees to focus on right to stay – Vatican News


Addressing the 52nd session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu, Secretary of the Dicastery for Evangelisation, stressed the desire of the Holy See to bring to the attention of this Council “the plight of many individuals and communities who endure persecution because of their religious beliefs.”

The Archbishop, in reiterating Pope Francis’ words, noted that peace also calls for the universal recognition of religious freedom. It is troubling that people are being persecuted simply because they publicly profess their faith, he said, noting that in many countries religious freedom is limited. “About a third of the world’s population lives under these conditions.” Holy See draws attention to people facing religious persecution – Vatican News




Because of recent, exciting news from the Jesuit-run Vatican Observatory, in the interview segment of “Vatican Insider” this weekend, I bring you on a visit to the Vatican’s specola or Observatory.

What was the news? Well, in February, the Observatory announced that the Working Group for Small Bodies Nomenclature of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) published their latest batch of named asteroids that includes 3 Jesuit astronomers and a Pope. The Vatican is a prestigious member of the IAU.

Two Vatican telescopes are on the apostolic palace at Castelgandolfo but the Vatican’s latest generation of telescopes –   VATT (Vatican Advanced Telescope Technology – are on Mount Graham near Tucson. The Special I’ve prepared will tell you why they are in Arizona.

VATT Mount Graham

Telescopes at Castelgandolfo

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The Pope was Ugo Boncompagni (1502-1585), Pope Gregory XIII, who directed the reform of the calendar   – the Gregorian calendar used worldwide today – and began the tradition of papal astronomers and observatories. The observatory statement notes that, “the four asteroids, or “minor planets”, all have connections to the Society of Jesus — the “Jesuits”. Over thirty asteroids now bear the names of Jesuits.

IN THE UNITED STATES, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (stations listed at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio, or on 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.” VI airs at 5am and 9pm ET on Saturdays and 6am ET on Sundays. On the GB-IE feed (which is on SKY in the UK and Ireland), VI airs at 5:30am, 12 noon and 10pm CET on Sundays. Both of these feeds are also available on the EWTN app and on ALWAYS CHECK YOUR OWN TIME ZONE! For VI archives: go to and write the name of the guest for whom you are searching in the SEARCH box. Below that, will appear “Vatican Insider” – click on that and the link to that particular episode will appear.



What a fun and interesting story this is! I’ve been interested in the Vatican Observatory for years, as you will see, especially when you get to the part entitled “A Serendipitous Encounter.”

It’s been a quiet week for papal and curial news – no general audience today – because the Holy Father and ranking members of the Roman Curia are on retreat until late Friday morning but that doesn’t mean there’s not a great news story out there!


The Vatican Observatory announced that three astronomers at the Vatican’s astronomical observatory and a Pope with connections to the observatory, now have asteroids named after them.

On February 7, 2023 the Working Group for Small Bodies Nomenclature of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) published their latest batch of named asteroids that includes:

562971 Johannhagen — honoring Fr. Johann Hagen (1847-1930) of the Society of Jesus (S.J.) and Director of the Vatican Observatory from 1906-1930.

551878 Stoeger — honoring Fr. Bill Stoeger, S.J. (1943- 2014), a cosmologist and theologian at the Vatican Observatory.

565184 Janusz — honoring Fr. Robert Janusz, S.J. (b. 1964), currently on the staff of the observatory.

560974 Ugoboncompagni — honoring Ugo Boncompagni (1502-1585), Pope Gregory XIII, who directed the reform of the calendar and began the tradition of papal astronomers and observatories. He commissioned the astronomer Fr. Christopher Clavius, S.J. (who also has an asteroid named for him — 20237 Clavius) to work on the calendar project, who then wrote the book on the operation of what is now called the “Gregorian” calendar, used worldwide today.

The observatory statement notes that, “the four asteroids, or “minor planets”, all have connections to the Society of Jesus — the “Jesuits”. Over thirty asteroids now bear the names of Jesuits. Some are Jesuits from the centuries ago, such as Clavius, or Fr. Giovanni Battista Riccioli (1598–1671), who developed the system of lunar nomenclature that is still used today. For example, when the Apollo 11 mission landed in the lunar “Sea of Tranquility,” that name “Tranquility” came from Riccioli. Some, such as Janusz, are Jesuits still working today.

Photos from a media visit several years ago to Castelgandolfo and the two sites of the Vatican Observatory – the Apostolic Palace and a second observatory site on the papal premises.

I have put these into two slide shows where you will see the Apostolic Palace, the views on Lake Albano, the observatory offices, a bit of the town of Castelgandolfo, Fr. Paul Mueller, SJ, observatory vice director who was our guide and teacher, telling us about the Tucson observatory, Popes who have visited the observatory, and other images.

The entire observatory in Castelgandolfo used to be housed on the top floors of the papal palace where the telescopes are. The new headquarters are on the papal premises in a building that use to house an order of nuns.

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The new asteroids join those already named for Vatican Observatory astronomers, including 302849 Richardboyle, 119248 Corbally, 14429 Coyne, 4597 Consolmagno, 23443 Kikwaya, and 11266 Macke. Br. Guy Consolmagno is the current director of the Vatican observatory or specola and has been my guest several times on “Vatican Insider”

I also interviewed another Jesuit astronomer in a truly serendipitous moment.

In August 2017 I was in Honolulu on vacation. Because of an exceptional meeting on my flight from Los Angeles where I was seated next to David Ciardi, an astronomer from Caltech University, I learned that the International Astronomical Union was holding its 29th General assembly in Honolulu, a two-week long meeting that brings together over 2500 astronomers from an estimated 75 countries around the world including Vatican City state.  The Vatican has been famous for centuries for its telescopes and is well-known for VATT, the Vatican Advanced Telescope Technology.

The Vatican sent three of the Vatican Observatory Jesuits to Honolulu for this conference and I was privileged to interview Fr. Chris Corbally, for whom an asteroid has been named, as you just read! A wonderful meeting at Honolulu’s Convention Center which I appreciate even more because of my visits to the specola and interviews with observatory staffers, as well as being a “part time student” in a summer course!

Here is a link to the specola homepage: Vatican Observatory – Home

And if you are an aspiring astronomer and a college student or doing post-graduate work in astronomy, you might be interested in coming to Rome for VOSS – Vatican Observatory Summer School. I attended these on several occasions as a journalist. It was just for the day but was a fascinating, enlightening experience. Vatican Observatory – VOSS 2023




“The Webb space telescope takes snapshots of the sublime” (FT headline)

Indeed, God’s creation, the very definition of sublime!

The excitement and joy over the recent discoveries, as expressed by Bro. Guy Consolmagno is contagious! You don’t have to be an astronomer to be awed and excited by these photos!


From Bro. Guy Consolmagno, SJ, Director, Specola Vaticana:

We’re really excited by the new images from the Webb telescope!

The images are gorgeous, as anyone can see for themselves. It’s a tantalizing glimpse of what we’ll be able to learn about the universe with this telescope in the future. Such images are a necessary food for the human spirit— we do not live by bread alone — especially in these times.

(Other images can be seen here:

There’s also a personal side to how delighted I am with this success. Astronomy is a small field, we astronomers all tend to know one another. Many of the scientists who built the instruments and planned the observations are personal friends of mine. I know how long and how hard they and their colleagues have worked to make this incredible machine work. It is a tribute to the power of the human spirit, what we can do when we work together.

The science behind this telescope is our attempt to use our God-given intelligence to understand the logic of the universe. The universe wouldn’t work if it weren’t logical. But as these images show, the universe is not only logical, it is also beautiful. This is God’s creation being revealed to us, and in it we can see both His astonishing power and his love of beauty.

And at the same time I am amazed and grateful that God has given us humans, His creation, the ability to see and understand what He has done. “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8)

I was especially delighted to see Webb’s first spectrum of water vapor in the atmosphere of an exo-planet. It was about 150 years ago when Father Angelo Secchi SJ put a prism in front of his telescope lens on the roof of the St. Ignatius Church in Rome, and made the first spectral measurements of the atmospheres of the planets in our own solar system. I can only imagine how delighted he would be to see the science he pioneered applied to planets unknown to him orbiting distant stars. —

Br Guy Consolmagno, SJ

Director, Specola Vaticana

NASA’s Webb Telescope Is Now Fully Ready for Science – James Webb Space Telescope


In my August 12 column about the diaconate ordination that afternoon at Chicago’s Mundelien seminary, I posted my story about one of those seminarians, now Deacon Ryan Brady, to whom I had given a chalice that had been in our family. That blog was titled A CHALICE GOES HOME.  I neglected to say that WordPress – where I post my blog – leaves photos available only for a short period, no more than a few weeks, I believe. So the photos of that chalice did not appear in the re-posted story and I am so sorry!  By the by, if you counted 14  deacons, not 13 as I wrote, I learned this morning that a 14th seminarian was included at the last moment.

P.S: I hope you enjoy all the photos I’ve posted below of the Vatican Observatory at Castelgandolfo and those of the Kolbe Hotel in Rome named for the Polish saint whose we feast we celebrate today.


When Popes spent the summer period at the Apostolic Palace at Castelgandolfo, one of the many hill towns or “castelli romani” southeast of Rome, they enjoyed cooler air, a slower pace of life and a view of lovely and placid Lake Albano that fills an old volcanic crater, and the beautiful sprawling hills which surround it.

The palace at Castelgandolfo also offers Popes another, more spectacular view, should they so wish – a view of the universe through the telescopes of the twin observatory towers atop the pontifical residence.

And this weekend, I’ve prepared a Special for “Vatican Insider” on the very special Vatican Observatory.

The Specola, as the Vatican Observatory is also called, is not only one of the most highly respected observatories in the world but is actually one of the oldest astronomical institutes, dating back to 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII formed a committee to look at the scientific data and ramifications involved in a reform of the calendar. One of the committee members, Fr. Christoph Clavius, a Jesuit mathematician from the Roman College, wrote books favoring this reform and, with some of his brother Jesuits interested in astronomy, confirmed studies done by Galileo.

I took these photos at the observatory at Castelgandolfo when the Jesuits – the order that has run the Observatory for over 100 years – invited journalists for a visit:

IN THE UNITED STATES, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (stations listed at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio, or on 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.” VI airs at 5am and 9pm ET on Saturdays and 6am ET on Sundays. On the GB-IE feed (which is on SKY in the UK and Ireland), VI airs at 5:30am, 12 noon and 10pm CET on Sundays. Both of these feeds are also available on the EWTN app and on ALWAYS CHECK YOUR OWN TIME ZONE! For VI archives: (write Vatican Insider where it says Search Shows and Episodes)


In January 2018, I spent an evening in the presence of two choirs that sang at the papal Mass on the Epiphany, principally the young people’s amazing choir of Christ Cathedral in Orange County, California, along with members of St. Anne’s choir from Laguna Niguel. I was invited to join them for dinner at a hotel I had heard of but never visited, the Kolbe Hotel.

The hotel was named for St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Conventual Franciscan Friar who died in the Auschwitz concentration during World War II. The Nazi prison guards chose 10 people to be put to death and prisoner 16670 Kolbe offered to take the place of a stranger. We commemorated his birthday on Monday, January 8.

The hotel premises are part of a structure built in 1625 that became a Franciscan monastery in 2012. Renovations started on the premises in 2007 and the result is what we see today, the Kolbe Hotel, part of which is still a Franciscan monastery.

Today is the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe and I’d like to pay tribute to this martyr for the faith by sharing some of the photos I took at the Hotel Kolbe that evening – the room he lived in and chapel where he prayed when he was at what was then the International College of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual , and a small museum dedicated to this Polish saint.

He was canonized in 1992 by a fellow Pole, Pope John Paul II.



Given the enormous interest – we can safely say ‘mania’ – for today’s rare total solar eclipse in parts of the United States, I thought you might be interested to know that, among the millions who will be watching the 2017 eclipse will be a good number of Vatican astronomers – the Jesuits who staff and run the Vatican Observatory, also known as the Specola. They will be watching from Castelgandolfo, from Tucson, Arizona and probably any place that has a good telescope (or ultra safe eyewear).

American Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, director of the Vatican Observatory since 2015, will be watching events from Hopkinsville, Kentucky, where he is a guest of Sts. Peter and Paul parish.

I’ve been to the Specola at Castelgandolfo a number of times and, just for fun and a news story, I’ve attended a few of the VOSS (Vatican Observatory Summer School) summer courses there. I only spent one day on those occasions, listening to talks, sharing picnic lunches with students on the terraces of the papal palace at Castelgandolfo and, one day I even did well in a pop quiz!

I’ve known Brother Guy for a number of years and have interviewed him on several occasions for Vatican Insider. We are trying to coordinate our schedules so that I can visit the fairly new location of the Specola offices, classrooms and museum. The Vatican telescopes, however, remain at the original papal palace.

And two years ago I had a serendipitous encounter with Vatican astronomers in Hawaii!

At the start of my 2015 vacation, on my flight to Honolulu from Los Angeles, I was seated next to David Ciardi, an astronomer from Caltech University. He told me that the IAU – International Astronomical Union – was holding its 29th General Assembly in Honolulu. This was a two-week long meeting that brought together over 2,500 astronomers from 75 countries around the world – including Vatican City State! Bro. Guy was kind enough to send me the names of the Jesuit astronomers who were at this meeting and I was able to interview Fr. Christ Corbally for Vatican Insider.

Sources for the story below include visits to the Specola, conversations with Brother Guy and others and the observatory website. The photos are from my visits to the papal palace and observatory, except for two pictures from the observatory website that I identify as such.

I love the title of one article on the observatory website: “For Heavens Sake: Papal Astronomers Promote Harmony of Science, Faith.”


When Popes spent the summer period at the Apostolic Palace at Castelgandolfo, one of the many hill towns or “castelli romani” southeast of Rome, they enjoyed cooler air, a slower ace of life and a view of lovely and placid Lake Albano, which fills an old volcanic crater, and the beautiful sprawling hills which surround it.

The palace at Castelgandolfo also offers Popes another, more spectacular view, should they so wish – a view of the universe through the telescopes of the twin observatory towers atop the pontifical residence.

The Specola, as the Vatican Observatory is also called, is not only one of the most highly respected observatories in the world but is actually one of the oldest astronomical institutes, dating back to 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII formed a committee to look at the scientific data and ramifications involved in a reform of the calendar. One of the committee members, Fr. Christoph Clavius, a Jesuit mathematician from the Roman College, wrote books favoring this reform and, with some of his brother Jesuits interested in astronomy, confirmed studies done by Galileo. In fact, his name is used in the Vatican Observatory website:

Astronomy for centuries was considered “the queen of sciences.” As Fr. Clavius wrote in 1570: “Astronomy uses geometrical and arithmetic demonstrations which, in agreement with the opinion of all philosophers, arrives at the first degree of certitude.”

Astronomy thus became a subject of great interest to the papacy and, in ensuing centuries, Roman Pontiffs founded three observatories: that of the Roman College, the observatory of Capitoline Hill and the Specola Vaticana in the Tower of the Winds in the Vatican. Telescopes in the Vatican occupied different locations over the years. In 1935 the Specola was moved to Castelgandolfo because the light emanating from the city of Rome was too strong to allow for accurate observation and research from within the city.

For the same reasons a new telescope was built in Arizona, in the United States in 1993. The Vatican’s state of the art VATT – Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope – is located on Emerald Peak at an altitude of 3,200 meters in the Mt. Graham mountain chain, northeast of Tucson, Arizona. The telescope became operative in 1993 when the Vatican, in collaboration with Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona in Tucson, used new technology in making the telescopic mirror, thus entering the era of the advanced technology telescopes. The telescope was made by using a rotating furnace, which shortened the construction time and offered a mirror that was lighter in weight than its predecessors. This method of making mirrors has been used with great success ever since.

Pope Pius XI, in a speech on September 29, 1935 at the new observatory at Castelgandolfo gave it a motto – Deum Creatorum Venite Adoremus (Come let us adore God the Creator) – and said he rejoiced in being present at “the inauguration of this new, and might we say, improved ‘Specola Vaticana’ in this our residence at Castelgandolfo.” He also said: “It is quite well known that the Supreme Roman Pontiffs have for many centuries needed astronomy and have called on it to help in the placement of holy temples and especially in the calculation of the date of Easter.”

Pope Leo XIII is actually credited with “re-founding” the Vatican Specola over four decades earlier. In July 1890 he approved the Directives for the Specola Vaticana and, on March 14, 1891, promulgated the Motu proprio Ut mysticam (As a mystery), writing that he wished to refute those who charged the Church with being “obscurantist and closed to scientific progress.” Leo XIII said he intended to reinstitute the Specola so that “everyone might see clearly that the Church and her pastors are not opposed to true and solid science, whether divine or human, but that they embrace it, encourage it, and promote it with the fullest possible dedication. …  And we desire that the Specola be considered at the same level as the other Pontifical Institutes founded to promote the sciences.”

Successive Roman Pontiffs have always supported the Vatican Observatory and its directors, who have always been priests-scientists and, for over 100 years, Jesuits. In fact, given the importance of their work, 35 lunar craters bear the names of Jesuits astronomers. The current director is American Brother Guy Consolmagno, a native of Detroit who spends part of each year at the Castelgandolfo headquarters, part of the year teaching astrophysics and doing research in Tucson and some time each year traveling and lecturing. He was named to this post by Pope Francis in 2015.

Popes, and in a special way John Paul II, have not only supported the Specola but have written and spoken extensively, on the science-faith dialogue.

In an October 31, 1992 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope John Paul called the case of Galileo Galilei, condemned in the 17th century for his heliocentric theory, a “case of tragic mutual incomprehension which now belongs to the past.” The Pope was addressing the academy on a report given by Cardinal Paul Poupard on the results of 11 years of work by a special commission established by John Paul in July 1981 to study and definitively resolve the Galileo case. The year 1992 marked the 350th anniversary of Galileo’s death.

Saying the Galileo case was “shelved,” John Paul II added: “The underlying problems of this case concern both the nature of science and the message of faith.” In Galileo’s time, he declared, “the majority of theologians did not recognize the distinction between Sacred Scripture and its interpretation and this led them to transpose into the realm of the doctrine of the faith a question which in fact pertained to scientific investigation.”

Though the main body of astronomical observations and research is done today in Arizona, the Apostolic Palace at Castelgandolfo remains the headquarters of the Vatican Observatory.

Before it moved to a new site in the papal gardens in 2009, the observatory staff worked out of the top floors of the Apostolic Palace – right above the private rooms of the papal residence. In 2003, the final days of the 2003 astronomy summer school sessions in the Apostolic Palace coincided with the first days of Pope John Paul’s vacation at Castelgandolfo.  Never had such a group been at the papal residence while the Holy Father was also there, and the 26 students in attendance expressed “awe” at the thought of “studying in the Pope’s home.” Fr. George Coyne, the then director of the Specola, called this a “first.”

In 2009 the Specola moved from the summer papal palace to new headquarters in the papal Gardens at Castelgandfolo. A former convent, the building was specifically remodeled with the needs of the Specola in mind, and space is divided into three areas: 1. The ground floor is public area and workspace: offices, libraries, labs and a small museum of historic scientific equipment and a valuable meteorite collection, 2. Area used primarily by the Vatican Observatory Summer Schools, and 3. Upstairs is the living area for the Jesuit astronomers, including the community chapel.

Among precious objects in the museum is a valuable mineral collection that includes pieces going back 4.5 billion years, a piece of moon rock brought back to Earth in 1972 by the Apollo XVII mission, and fragments of meteorites from Mars.

Though the interior is completely new, the building itself dates back to 1631, the same year that Princess Caterina Savelli of Albano built a convent for the Clarisse Sisters (also known as the “Poor Clares”) on this site. During the Napoleonic wars (sometime between 1791 and 1810) this building was sacked by French troops. With the unification of Italy in 1870, the convent was closed and the sisters moved into the palace in Castelgandolfo, along with a community of Basilian nuns who had been exiled from the part of Poland then controlled by Russia.

In 1929, with the signing of the Lateran Treaty, the two groups of sisters were able to move back into their old quarters, now incorporated within the gardens. The building again was subject to the ravages of warfare in 1944. Following the invasion of Anzio by the Allies and their slow march up the coast to Rome, the building was hit twice, on February 1 and February 10, 1944. After the war, Pope Pius XII approved the reconstruction of the convent.

The building was also damaged during an earthquake in 1989; repairs and restructuring of the building were completed in 1998. In 2007, work began to completely restructure the end of the building that belonged to the Basilica sisters, who had left the premises, to match the needs of the astronomers. After two years of extensive work, the new Specola headquarters was dedicated by Pope Benedict XVI on September 16, 2009. The Clarisse sisters continue their prayer and work in the northwestern end of the building. (photo:

The observatory holds summer school sessions every two years, Known as VOSS (Vatican Observatory Summer School), the next scheduled session in June 4 –29, 2018. As the website says: “The VOSS 2018 will train the next generation of researchers on the marvels of big data, time domain astrophysics, and variability surveys.” Among the main themes: Theory of stellar pulsation and evolution: pulsation and evolutionary properties of radial variables, Stellar kinematics: radial velocities and proper motions.

Pope Francis, on Friday, May 12, 2017 greeted participants in a conference organized by the Vatican Observatory entitled “Black Holes, Gravitational Waves and Space-Time Singularities. The conference took place at the Observatory at Castelgandolfo in the Roman Hills.

“I am deeply appreciative of your work,” said Francis, “and I encourage you to persevere in your search for truth.  For we ought never to fear truth, nor become trapped in our own preconceived ideas, but welcome new scientific discoveries with an attitude of humility.  As we journey towards the frontiers of human knowledge, it is indeed possible to have an authentic experience of the Lord, one which is capable of filling our hearts.”


Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ is Director of the the Vatican Observatory and President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. A native of Detroit, Michigan, he earned undergraduate and masters’ degrees from MIT, and a Ph. D. in Planetary Science from the University of Arizona; he was a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard and MIT, served in the US Peace Corps (Kenya), and taught university physics at Lafayette College before entering the Jesuits in 1989. (Photo:

At the Vatican Observatory since 1993, his research explores connections between meteorites, asteroids, and the evolution of small solar system bodies, observing Kuiper Belt comets with the Vatican’s 1.8 meter telescope in Arizona, and applying his measure of meteorite physical properties to understanding asteroid origins and structure. Along with more than 200 scientific publications, he is the author of a number of popular books including Turn Left at Orion (with Dan Davis), and most recently Would You Baptize an Extraterrestial? (with Father Paul Mueller, SJ).  He also has hosted science programs for BBC Radio 4, been interviewed in numerous documentary films, appeared on The Colbert Report, and for more than ten years he has written a monthly science column for the British Catholic magazine, The Tablet.

Dr. Consolmagno’s work has taken him to every continent on Earth; for example, in 1996 he spent six weeks collecting meteorites with a NASA team on the blue ice regions of East Antarctica. He has served on the governing boards of the Meteoritical Society; the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences (of which he was chair in 2006-2007); and IAU Commission 16 (Planets and Satellites). In 2000, the small bodies nomenclature committee of the IAU named an asteroid, 4597 Consolmagno, in recognition of his work. In 2014 he received the Carl Sagan Medal from the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences for excellence in public communication in planetary sciences.



It was a big weekend here at the Vatican as 40 new Swiss Guards were sworn in during a colorful and historical ceremony Saturday afternoon in the Vatican’s San Damaso courtyard. The Pontifical Swiss Guards were created by Pope Julius II in 1506 as a stable corps, directly dependent on the Holy See, whose main duties were to guard the person of the Roman Pontiff and the Apostolic Palaces. The traditional swearing-in date of May 6 commemorates that date in 1527 when 147 members of the then 189-member Swiss Guards lost their lives during the Sack of Rome when they fell in battle, protecting Pope Clement VII and the Church from the onslaught of the troops of Emperor Charles V.

Sunday, Pope Francis ordained 10 priests in St. Peter’s Basilica, delivering a homily on what was Good Shepherd Sunday according to the Gospel of the day. Sunday was also the Day of Prayer for Vocations. As Vatican Radio noted, “the Holy Father delivered the standard, prepared “template” homily found in the Roman Ritual for priestly ordinations, with three significant extemporaneous deviations from the text.” To read the VR summary:

Also this FYI: “Worldwide Masses Offered on Archbishop Sheen’s Birthday –

Grassroots effort hopes the prayers will move his canonization cause along.”

Let’s indeed pray that the dispute be ended and that Abp. Sheen’s cause for canonization be resumed! To think that this amazing man of God, a beloved Archbishop appeared on commercial TV for so long, with millions thronging to his show. You’d have the PC police all over him today if he attempted to speak about God and faith today on commercial TV!  How vastly our country has changed – and how greatly we need a man like Archbishop Sheen on commercial television!


Pope Francis this morning welcomed the faculty, staff and students of the Pontifical Portuguese College in Rome, just days before his trip to Fatima to mark the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady to three shepherd children, two of whom, siblings Jacinta and Francisco Marto, he will canonize.

Thanking his guests for the visit, the Holy Father said, “For my part, I wish peace and hope in the Lord for each of you and your families and nations of origin. In Portugal, God willing, I’ll bring this wish in person, on my now imminent pilgrimage to the Shrine of Fatima, where a hundred years ago the Madonna appeared to the three little shepherds.”

Francis said, “the encounter with Our Lady was for them an experience of grace that inspired their love for Jesus. As tender and good teacher, Mary introduced the little seers to the intimate knowledge of Trinitarian love and led them to savor God as the most beautiful reality of human existence. I cannot but wish the same to all of you, dear friends.”

He told the priests present at the audience, “Whatever your academic specialization, your first concern always remains that of growing on the path of priestly consecration, through the loving experience of God: a close and faithful God, as Blessed Francisco and Jacinta and the Servant of God Lucia felt Him to be. Today, contemplating their humble yet glorious lives, we feel drawn to entrust ourselves, too, to the care of the same Teacher. And this is not a novelty. We always pray for this in to the most ancient Latin antiphon to Our Lady: “sub tuum praesidium confugimus, Sancta Dei Genitrix ”. It invites us to seek shelter under the mantle of a mother who takes us by the hand and teaches us to grow in the love of Christ and in fraternal communion.”

The Pope noted the rector’s words about how, “since 1929, in the college chapel, the gaze of the Mother of God has accompanied the supplications of those who approach the altar. Look to her and let her look upon you, because she is your Mother and loves you greatly; let her look upon you, to learn how to be more humble and also more courageous in following the Word of God; to welcome the embrace of her Son Jesus and, strengthened by this friendship, to love every person following the example and the measure of the Heart of Christ, to which the College is consecrated, finding love, hope and peace in Him.”

“The relationship with Our Lady,” explained Francis, “helps us to have a good relationship with the Church: both of them are Mothers. You know, in this respect, the comment of St. Isaac, the abbot of Stella; what can be said about Mary can be said about the Church, and also about our soul. All three are female, all three are Mothers, and all three give life. We must therefore cultivate the filial relationship with Our Lady because, if this is missing, there is something of the orphan in the heart.

“A priest who forgets the Mother, he continued, “and especially in moments of difficulty, is lacking something. It is as if he were an orphan, while in reality he is not! He has forgotten his mother. But in moments of difficulty a child always goes to his mother. And the Word of God teaches us to be like children, weaned in the arms of the mother.”

“I pray to Our Lady of Fátima,” concluded the Pope, “that she may teach you to believe, worship, hope and love like Blessed Francisco and Jacinta, and the Servant of God Lucia. And please, do not forget to pray for me.”


At 11.00 this morning, in the Holy See Press Office, Via della Conciliazione 54, a press conference was held to present the scientific congress “Black Holes, Gravitational Waves and Space-Time Singularities,” that will take place from May 9 – 12 at the Vatican Observatory at Castelgandolfo. Participants included Bro. Guy Consolmagno, S.J., planetologist and director of the Vatican Observatory; Fr. Gabriele Gionti, S.J., cosmologist, Vatican Observatory; Dr. Alfio Bonanno, cosmologist, INAF, Catania Astrophysical Observatory; and Dr. Fabio Scardigli, cosmologist, Polytechnic University of Milan.

Following is the Vatican Observatory press release:   What happens if you fall into a Black Hole? What happened in the early Big Bang? What is the ultimate destiny of the cosmos? These and other questions will be at the center of discussions at a scientific workshop on “Black Holes, Gravitational Waves and Space-Time Singularities” which will be held from May 9-12 at the Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo.

Among the 35 invited participants, are renowned scientists such as the 1999 Nobel Laureate in Physics, Gerald ‘t Hooft; 1988 Wolf Prize co-winner Roger Penrose; and cosmologists George Ellis, Renata Kallosh and Andrei Linde and Joe Silk.

Telescopes in apostolic palace of Castelgandolfo  (the actual Vatican Observatory is elsewhere on the property in a former convent)(photo: JFL)

One of the aims of this conference will be to encourage a fruitful interaction among participants from both theoretical and observational cosmology, and to create a suitable environment for the emergence of new ideas and research directions in contemporary cosmology. In fact, the recent detection of gravitational waves has opened up a new way of seeing the universe and has also stimulated new speculations about the true nature of the singularities of Space-Time (Black Holes are examples of Space-Time singularities). Topics that the conference intends to explore are the limits of modern cosmology and the scientific challenges of the near future.

The conference celebrates the scientific legacy of Mons. George Lemaître, fifty years after his death. Lemaître was professor of physics at the Catholic University of Leuven and from 1960 to 1966 (the year of his death) he served as president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. A dedicated priest, he belonged to the Priestly Fraternity of Friends of Jesus, founded by Cardinal Mercier Bishop of Malines, who ordained him as a priest and promoted a renewal of priestly spirituality.

Lemaître was an outstanding cosmologist, nowadays considered one of the fathers of modern Big Bang theory. By the 1920s, astronomical observations of distant galaxies had revealed a mysterious recession motion whose origin was unknown; in 1927, Lemaître was the first to explain that this motion as the result of the expansion of the Universe, and not merely a peculiar motion of the observed objects. He obtained this result by solving the complicated equations of Einstein’s General Relativity Theory, at that time a very new idea which connects the mass-energy distribution of the Universe with the bending of the geometry of the Space-Time.

He became famous for his theory of the “primeval Atom,” known today as the Big Bang Theory. Through the cosmological solution he had worked out in 1927, he understood that, looking backwards in time, the Universe should have been originally in a state of high energy density, compressed into a point like an original atom from which everything started.

This Vatican Observatory workshop is a modern legacy of Lemaître’s scientific intuitions. The conference has also been organized with the support of INAF (Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica) and INFN (Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare).

More information about the workshop is available at:


Tuesday I wrote that, starting January 6, the traditional monthly prayer intentions of Pope Francis will be available on video, thanks to a new initiative launched by the worldwide Apostleship of Prayer. Click here to see that first monthly message on Youtube:

The Holy Father speaks in Spanish but there are subtitles in other languages. This video has English subtitles. The app is called Click to Pray. The Pope’s prayer intention for January is that “sincere dialogue between men and women of different religions may yield fruits of peace and justice.”

Today was a quiet day for the Holy Father who had no public commitments or audiences. Vatican employees returned to work today after the one-day holiday yesterday for the Epiphany.

And now a bit of news about the area around St. Peter’s:

I was in Pius XII Square today, the small square immediately before you enter St. Peter’s Square and observed some interesting things. There was some traffic on Via della Conciliazione today, although on my previous recent walks to and in the area, that broad avenue had been closed to cars. I have no idea if there is a schedule for when Via della Conciliazione is open to traffic or not.

In addition, as the film crew and I went from my home (where we taped an interview for “Vaticano” about my investiture into the Order of the Holy Sepulchre) to Pius XII Square, we walked just outside the left hand colonnade of St. Peter’s Square and saw workers erecting permanent, waist-high metal barriers on the street adjacent to the colonnade on Via Paolo VI. The barriers are about six feet or so from the colonnade, and follow its natural curve. Only time will tell the purpose of this metal fence but common sense says it has to do with the flow of pilgrims to and from St. Peter’s Square (and basilica?) and will be, in some way, an extra security measure. I’ll update you on that as I learn more.


(Vatican Radio)  The Custody of the Holy Land announced late Monday that Fr. Dhiya Aziz, OFM has been liberated, and the Custos, Franciscan Fr. PierBattista Pizzaballa confirmed the announcement in brief remarks to Vatican Radio.

“The situation remains very grave and dramatic in Syria, though we are doubtless happy and relieved that Fr. Dhiya [Aziz] has been released,” he said. The Custody had had no news of the Fr. Dihya since Saturday, July 4, in the late afternoon. Fr. Dhiya was allegedly treated well during his kidnapping.


A statement from the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land thanked those around the world who prayed for a successful outcome to this trial that Fr. Dhiya endured, as well as the faithful of Yacoubieh, of which he is the pastor, his religious family and his family in Iraq. It goes on to say, “The Custody does not forget that other religious are still missing in Syria and it invites everyone to continue praying for peace in [that] country.”

(For a lot more about the Franciscan Custody, visit You can read their story with the photo of a very happy Fr. Aziz as well as a wonderful piece of news about the opening of Holy Doors in the Holy Land by clicking on:  A holy door to celebrate the Holy Family).


A fascinating piece in the online L’Osservatore Romano by Bro. Guy Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory, that I hope you will enjoy:

The feast of Epiphany is special to us astronomers. Of all the visitors who came to see the newborn Savior, only shepherds and astronomers are specifically mentioned by St. Matthew. Of course, this fame comes with a cost. Epiphany is also the season when we astronomers are besieged with requests to “explain” the Star of Bethlehem.

Johannes Kepler famously attempted to identify the Star as a “nova” caused by the conjunction of planets. On October 9, 1604, Kepler had been timing a conjunction of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn; the following night, a bright star suddenly appeared in that part of the sky, between Jupiter and Saturn. Kepler leapt to the obvious, but false, conclusion that the conjunction of planets somehow caused the new star. (We now recognize the new star as a supernova, the last such one seen in our own galaxy. Among other things, this supernova inspired a series of lectures on astronomy by Galileo… which would lead, ultimately, to his first use of a telescope to study the stars in 1609 — the same year Kepler published the first of his famous laws of planetary motion.)

Kepler was prompted to use this supernova to explain the Star of Bethlehem after coming across a book by Laurence Suslyga of Poland that dated the birth of Jesus at around 4 B.C. By assuming that great conjunctions like the one he had just observed would lead to bright “new stars,” he decided to look for such a conjunction at the predicted time of Jesus’ birth. Not surprisingly, he found one.

Nor was he the last. Since then, thousands of amateur scholars have searched tables of conjunctions — and nowadays, computer planetarium programs — to come up with possible explanations. The fact is, there are any number of possible planetary arrangements, or comets, or exploding stars to match any of the (equally numerous) calculations for the true birthdate of Jesus. A recent search for “star of Bethlehem” on comes up with 4,396 books and videos available for sale on the topic. And just about every one of them is convinced their argument is the correct one. Without at doubt, most of these explanations — perhaps all of them — are mere coincidences, just as the chance arrangement of planets and supernova in 1604 fooled Kepler.

One book which pointedly does not attempt to give an astronomical explanation is by a fellow Jesuit at the Vatican Observatory, Fr. Paul Mueller, and myself. Instead of arguing over which conjunction works best, we ask a different question: Why does it matter?

We don’t mean that in an impertinent way. It is curious to contemplate what exactly it is about this story that so many generations of astronomers and amateurs have found so fascinating. Part of it may be the hope that science can “prove” the Bible to be true; a false hope, since speaking as a scientist myself I know how tenuous such proofs can be. (Nor would I trust any religion simply because science had “proved” it.) But part of it must be the link between the glory of the stars at night and the glory of the Savior among us. That, I am confident, is the connection that Matthew was trying to make.

Indeed, my experience as a scientist makes me approach the Magi story with a completely different set of unanswerable questions. What made the Magi travel so far from the comforts of home? What were they looking for, really? Seeing the motivations behind many of my fellow scientists, I can easily believe that the Magi could have been moved by a mixture of motives, both profound and profane. Maybe they were trying to test the accuracy of their astrological predictions. Maybe they were looking to get away from an irritating boss, or an unhappy home life. Maybe they were looking for a king worthy of their worship.

Another mystery to me is, how did they finally recognize Jesus when they found him? Then, as now, folks immersed in scholarship can stereotypically be less tuned into the realities of ordinary life… at least in my case, one baby looks much like another. And yet they knew to leave their gifts with a poor child in a manger.

And perhaps the most important part of the Magi story has nothing to do with the star itself. After having left their homes, for whatever reasons, and after encountering the one whom they recognized as a king, they did a most unexpected thing: they returned home. Back to that irritating boss, or that unhappy home life. Back to those tedious astronomical calculations. Back from their search for a king, even after they had found him. But, as Matthew tells us, they went back by a different route. The encounter changed them. But it did not change their life or work, or the way they discovered the truth.

The “wise men” were scholars, just like the scholars who work today at the Vatican Observatory. But scholarship is not the only route to the truth. Shepherds also discovered the infant in the manger. They were inspired by the songs of the angels. (Oddly, no one asks shepherds today for an “explanation” of those songs!)

Fr. James Kurzynski, a priest of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, recently wrote about this contrast on the Vatican Observatory’s blogsite, He is himself both an amateur astronomer — a wise man — and a pastor, a shepherd of souls. And at the end of his reflection he asks his readers, “How do you come to truth? Are you one of the “Magi,” gravitating toward natural reason? Are you a “Shepherd” who is compelled by Divine Revelation? Or are you a little bit of both?”

The story of the Magi inspires us to look at our own journey. What are we looking for? Why do we look? How do we know it when we find it? And are we brave enough to return home with it, once we have found it?

Guy Consolmagno. Director of the Vatican Observatory


Pope Francis tweeted today, Friday, September 18: I ask you to join me in praying for my trip to Cuba and the United States. I need your prayers.

A plethora of interesting stories about and from the Vatican today. One great story concerned the Holy Father’s nomination of someone I’ve know for quite a number of years, Jesuit astonomer Bro. Guy Consolmagno, as director of the Vatican Observatory. Bro. Guy, an enormously respected astronomer and highly requested as a speaker, is a native of Detroit.

As I said on my Facebook page this morning: When I discovered that Vatican astronomers were in Hawaii for the IAU general assembly at the same time I was vacationing there, I did not know how to reach them so I wrote Bro. Guy, whom I have known for years and have interviewed, and he contacted the four Vatican representatives in Honolulu. The result was my interview with Fr. Christopher Corbally that aired the last two weekends on my radio show, “Vatican Insider.” Congratulations, Bro Guy!

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An even greater story was that the Vatican has accepted a refugee family from Syria an will house the four members in a Vatican apartment near St. Peter’s (that story below – really fascinating reading!)


As you know, Pope Francis leaves tomorrow morning for Cuba where he will visit Havana, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba. He is the third Pope to visit this Caribbean island but the first whose native tongue is Spanish. He’ll depart Cuba at 12:30 pm on Tuesday, September 22 for the U.S., arriving in Washington D.C. at 4 that afternoon at Andrews Air Force base where he will be officially welcomed by President Obama. Francis will be received at the White House and, while in Washington, he will canonize Fr. Junipero Serra and address a joint session of Congress. His second U.S. stop is New York where he will speak at the United Nations as it marks the 70th anniversary of its founding. The Holy Father will then spend tine in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, the principal focus of his 10th foreign trip and his longest one to date. Interestingly enough, this is Francis’ first time ever in the United States and Cuba. although he said recently in an interview that he was on once at the Havana airport between flights.

This weekend, in place of an interview on Vatican Insider, I look at the behind the scenes preparations for a papal trip, at what goes into the making of a papal trip. So stay tuned for that special report that I prepared in July for his trip to Latin America.

As you know, in the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at 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:


Pope Francis, in a videomessage to Cubans just hours before departing for this Caribbbean nation, said he was visiting their country to share their faith and their hope. He expressed the joy he felt when thinking about their fidelity to the Lord, and the strength it gave him thinking about the courage with which they face the difficulties of everyday and the love with which they help and support each other along the path of life. (photo


Vatican Radio said in a report that the Pope thanked the Cuban people for their prayers in advance of his visit, saying he wanted to be with them as a missionary of mercy, adding “let me also encourage you to be missionaries of the infinite love of God.”


Pope Francis today named Jesuit Bro. Guy Consolmagno, an American and native of Detroit, as the new head of the Vatican Obseratory. Bro. Consolmagno is the current President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation, as well as curator of the Vatican meteorite collection in Castel Gandolfo, one of the largest in the world. His research explores the connections between meteorites and asteroids, and the origin and evolution of small bodies in the solar system.

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis Friday addressed participants at a symposium organized by the Vatican Observatory, saying their scientific research on the universe can help promote interreligious dialogue which is more urgent than ever nowadays. He also encouraged an ever deeper dialogue between science and religion.

He began his address by recalling the history of the Vatican Observatory in Castelgandolfo which was formally inaugurated by Pope Pius XI back in 1935 with the words “Deum Creatorem venite adoremus” carved into the wall. The Observatory’s management was entrusted to the Society of Jesus.

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Quoting from his encyclical Laudato Si, the Pope said: “Rather than a (scientific) problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with joy and praise. … The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us.”

Pope Francis noted that the participants at the symposium were discussing themes related to the dialogue between science and religion and recalled the words of St. John Paul who, in a letter to a previous director of the Vatican Observatory, stressed the need for an ever deepening dialogue between the two. He said such a dialogue, while protecting the integrity both of religion and science, should, at the same time, promote progress for both.

The Holy Father said when it comes to interreligious dialogue, which nowadays is more and more urgent, scientific research on the universe can offer a unique perspective, shared by believers and non-believers, which helps us to reach a better religious understanding of creation. It’s for this reason, he said, that the Astrophysics (Summer) Schools that the Observatory has organized during the past 30 years are a precious opportunity for young astronomers from across the world to dialogue and collaborate in the search of truth.

The Pope noted that the symposium was also discussing the importance of communicating the message that the Church and its pastors are embracing, encouraging and promoting authentic science. He concluded his address by telling the participants that it was very important for them to share the gift of their scientific knowledge of the universe with other people, freely giving what they received for free. “I encourage you to continue along this journey of exploring our universe.”


(Vatican Radio) Cardinal Pietro Parolin says migration will be one of the most important themes raised by Pope Francis during his visit to Cuba and the U.S. from the 19th to the 28th of September. Speaking in a wide-ranging interview with the Vatican Television Center, Cardinal Parolin also confirmed that the Pope would definitely relaunch his message during his speeches to the U.S. Congress and the United Nations about the need to care for creation that was at the heart of his recent encyclical Laudato Si. The cardinal also spoke about how he hoped the canonization of Blessed Junipero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan missionary, would encourage integration within the U.S. Church of an increasingly relevant and important Hispanic component in the nation.

Asked first about the journey to Cuba and the rapprochement between Havana and Washington, Cardinal Parolin reiterated the Holy See’s view that the (U.S.) economic embargo against Cuba should be lifted.  At the same time, he said the bishops hoped that this step could be accompanied “by a greater opening (in Cuba) when it comes to freedom and human rights.”

Touching next on the Pope’s visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre in Cuba, Cardinal Parolin said it was a “normal” thing to do, because of “the strong Marian devotion of the Latin American and Cuban people” and by going there the Pope would encounter the heart of the Caribbean island and its people.

Asked next whether migration would be one of the main themes of the papal visit to the U.S., Cardinal Parolin said he was sure this would be the case because this is an issue very keenly felt by the Pope to which he often refers.  The Cardinal said it was his earnest hope that this encounter between the Pope who is carrying this problem within his heart and a nation that has experienced many waves of migrants landing on its shores “can offer some guidelines” for resolving this ongoing migration crisis.

During his visit to the U.S. Pope Francis is due to canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan missionary, whom he has described as the founding father of the United States.  When asked whether this event is a call for the U.S. to rediscover its Spanish and Catholic history, Cardinal Parolin agreed.  He said the main message offered by this canonization is to encourage integration within the U.S. Church of an “increasingly important and relevant Hispanic component” in the nation.

Turning next to two keenly awaited speeches by Pope Francis, one to the U.S. Congress and another to the United Nations, Cardinal Parolin was asked whether the Pope is likely to relaunch the message contained within his Laudato Si encyclical.  He replied saying “yes, definitely” but added that he believed the Pope’s remarks would extend beyond the issue of climate change and encompass a “more integral ecology” that takes into consideration the transcendental nature of the human person possessing fundamental rights, “especially the right to life and religious freedom.”

Asked about the criticism that has been raised by some in the U.S. who consider the papal encyclical an excessively strong attack on the capitalist system, Cardinal Parolin responded by saying he believed the Pope would invite everybody to reflect on those issues, adding that it was realistic to realize that “things are not going in the right direction” and therefore there’s also a need to find ways of solving this. “We need a change,” he said.

The final question put to Cardinal Parolin concerned the Pope’s meeting with families from around the world in the U.S. city of Philadelphia and whether that would be the final chance to listen to families on the road leading to next month’s Synod of Bishops on the Family taking place in the Vatican. The Cardinal said he agreed with that and said what will emerge from this meeting is the beauty of the family and the help that the Gospel can offer to families.  He said this would be the positive side, without forgetting the great challenges on this issue.  Concluding, the cardinal said the meeting in Philadelphia would give the whole Church “a new enthusiasm” and a desire to proclaim the gospel of the family, whilst at the same time, “helping families who find themselves in whatever type of difficulties in living the Gospel in its fullness which is a source of joy, peace and happiness for all.”


(VIS) – According to a press release issued today by the Apostolic Almoner, the parish community of St. Anna in the Vatican has received a family of refugees, consisting of a father, mother and two children. They are Syrian Christians of Catholic Greek-Melkite rite, and fled from their war-torn home city of Damascus, arriving in the Vatican on Sunday, September 6, at the moment when, during the Angelus, the Pope launched an appeal to each parish, religious community, monastery and shrine in Europe to offer shelter to a family.

The four members of the family will stay in an apartment in the Vatican near St. Peter’s. The procedures for requesting international protection were initiated immediately. According to the law, for the first six months after presenting the request for asylum, applicants may not accept paid work. In this period they will be assisted and accompanied by the St. Anna parish community. Until the decision is made in Italy as to whether or not their status of refugee will be granted, further information regarding this family cannot be given. Furthermore, to protect them during this phase it would be appropriate for the mass media to respect their wish not to be sought or interviewed.

With regard to the accommodation of a second family in the Vatican parish of St. Peter, the Almoner is not currently able to provide further information.

In this context of Christian charity towards those who flee war and famine, it is worth highlighting that for many years the Popes, through the Apostolic Almoner, have contributed to the payment of taxes for the issue of stay permits for refugees through the Centro Astalli, directed by the Jesuits (since 2014, 50,000 euros have been disbursed for this purpose). In addition, the Almoner, again on behalf of the Pope, helps many individuals and families of refugees on a daily basis, as well as meeting needs, including healthcare, for many reception centres located in Rome.

Furthermore, a modern mobile clinic, donated to the Pope a few years ago and so far reserved solely for events at which he presides, has been made available several times a week to assist refugees in reception centers, including irregular ones, situated in the outskirts of Rome. The volunteers, who are doctors, nurses and Swiss Guards, are employees of Vatican City State institutions, the University of Rome at Tor Vergata, and members of the Association of the “Medicina Solidale Onlus” Institute.



A FRIDAY PAPAL TWEET: War is the mother of all poverty, a vast predator of lives and souls.


The Holy Father’s universal prayer intention for September is: “That opportunities for education and employment may increase for all young people.”

His intention for mission work and evangelization is: “That catechists may give witness by living in a way consistent with the faith they proclaim.”


There is a direct link between my vacation and my guest this week on the interview segment of Vatican Insider. Because of a very serendipitous meeting with an astronomer seated next to me on my flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu, I discovered that the IAU – International Astronomical Union –was holding its general assembly in Honolulu and I imagined that the Vatican, a very respected authority in this field, would be present.



That was indeed the case and I met up with Jesuit Father Christopher Corbally in the Hawaii Convention Center in week two of the IAU meeting. Fr. Corbally is an astronomer with the Vatican Observatory Research Group in Tucson, home to the famous VATT, Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope. Among other things, he is a member of the Royal Astronomical Society, the American Astronomical Society, and a member of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science.

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I had to do a crash course about the IAU before we met at the convention center, and hopefully made sense with my questions and his answers. So join us this weekend as we talk planets and stars and galaxies!

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As you know, in the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at 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:


Here’s another riveting Francis moment!

Vatican Radio reported on Pope Francis’ visit Thursday afternoon to a Roman optician when he surprised a crowd of both locals and tourists as he stepped out of his Ford Focus on Rome’s tony Via del Babuino, not far from the ultra fashionable Spanihs Steps in the heart of Rome. The Pope was at the store to get his lenses for his glasses.

“I don’t want to change the frames,” he told the owner of the shop. “Just new lenses.”

Alessandro Spiezia, the owner of the optical shop, told The Associated Press he was supposed to go the Vatican on Wednesday, but the Pope’s secretary informed him Pope Francis wanted to instead go to his shop. Spiezia made the original pair of glasses for the Holy Father last year.

Pope Francis was in the shop for about 40 minutes, accoring to Vatican Radio, because Spiezia also gave him an eye exam.  While this was going on, a large crowd started gathering outside the shop to look at the Pope.

At the end of the encounter, Pope Francis made sure to settle his bill, saying “Please, Alessandro, let me pay what is owed.” He then got into his car, accompanied by a driver, and returned to the Vatican.


I got the following email today from the Becket Fund For Religious Liberty. It was entitled “Federal Judges Criticize Ruling Against Little Sisters of the Poor“Predict that “clearly and gravely wrong” decision “will not long survive” 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In an almost unprecedented move, five federal judges issued an opinion sharply criticizing their court’s refusal to correct its recent decision that would force the Little Sisters of the Poor to assist the federal government with its contraception distribution scheme.

The opinion calls the decision against the Little Sisters “clearly and gravely wrong—on an issue that has little to do with contraception and a great deal to do with religious liberty.” The five judges criticized the decision of their colleagues for refusing to accept the Little Sisters’ sincere beliefs, warning that, “it is not the job of the judiciary to tell people what their religious beliefs are.”

“Yesterday’s opinion offers important support to the Little Sisters’ request that the Supreme Court hear their case,” said Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead counsel for the Little Sisters of the Poor. “These judges understand that courts and bureaucrats should not be telling nuns what the Catholic faith requires.”

After a divided three-judge panel ruled against them, the Little Sisters promptly petitioned the Supreme Court to hear their case. Although the Little Sisters had not asked the entire Tenth Circuit to reconsider the panel’s opinion, the Tenth Circuit conducted a vote on its own initiative to determine whether the entire court should re-hear the case. When the court declined, the five judges issued their opinion explaining why the Little Sisters deserve protection (See video).

The opinion further criticizes the decision against the Little Sisters as reflecting a “dangerous approach to religious liberty.” The opinion noted that the reasoning of the court could be used to second-guess the religious beliefs of any faith, including religious minorities like Jews requesting a kosher diet.

But knowing that the Little Sisters and other religious ministries have already asked the Supreme Court to intervene, the five judges explained: “Fortunately, the doctrine of the panel majority will not long survive. It is contrary to all precedent concerning the free exercise of religion.”

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and a legal team including former Solicitor General and leading Supreme Court advocate Paul Clement filed the cert petition on behalf of the Little Sisters, their health benefits provider Christian Brothers, and the Baptist ministries GuideStone, Reaching Souls, and Truett-McConnell College.