In the event that you missed EWTN’s airing earlier today of the prayer service before the relics of the Crown of Thorns from Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, you can watch it here. It was one of the most extraordinary, profound, moving, unique religious moments I have ever witnessed. Breathless in its simple beauty and powerful in its readings! I cannot remember the last time I had tears in my eyes for such an event. It will be part of every Good Friday from now on! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7OIwsyM9zE

And tomorrow, Holy Saturday, at 5 pm Rome time, stay with EWTN for the live prayer service before the Holy Shroud of Turin, a unique exposition of the shroud in this extraordinary Holy Week marked by empty churches due to the coronavirus pandemic. Watch on TV or online (www.ewtn.com – then go to WATCH LIVE).


The Via Crucis, or Way of the Cross meditations for Good Friday this year have been prepared by prisoners, volunteers, family members and others, associated with a corrections facility in Northern Italy.
By Francesca Merlo (vaticannews)

Each meditation represents a life and a story. Each one is associated with the fourteen stations of this year’s Via Crucis or Way of the Cross. The meditations have been written by people whose lives are in some way connected to the “Due Palazzi” correctional facility in Padua, northern Italy. They were collected by the prison chaplain, Fr. Marco Pozza, and journalist, Tatiana Mario.

Lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Italy began on 8 March. Prison riots around the country followed when prisoners were told they could no longer receive visitors. Two days after the riots, Pope Francis offered Mass for prisoners: “I would like to pray for those who are in prison”, he said. “They are suffering, and we must be near to them in prayer, asking that the Lord might help them and console them in this difficult moment”.

First Station: Jesus is condemned to death
The author of the first meditation is serving a life sentence. “My crucifixion began as a child”, he says, explaining that his stutter made him an outcast. He says he feels more like Barabbas than Jesus. Sometimes he weeps. “After 29 years in prison I have not yet lost the ability to cry, to feel ashamed of my past, and the evil I have done”. In the “non-life” he lived previously, he “always sought something that was life”, he says.
Today, strange as it may seem, “prison has become my salvation”, he adds.
If, for some, I am still Barabbas, that does not make me angry: I know in my heart that the Innocent One, condemned like me, came to find me in prison to teach me about life.

Second Station: Jesus takes up his Cross
The parents of a girl who was brutally murdered recount how theirs “was a life of sacrifices based on work and family”. They used to ask themselves: “Why has this evil overwhelmed us?”. They could find no peace. “At the moment when despair seems to take over, the Lord comes to meet us in different ways”, they say. “He gives us the grace to love each other like newlyweds, supporting each other, even with difficulty”.

Today, they continue to open their doors to all those in need.
The commandment to perform acts of charity to us is a kind of salvation: we do not want to surrender to evil. God’s love is truly capable of renewing life because, before us, his Son Jesus underwent human suffering so as to experience true compassion.

Third Station: Jesus falls for the first time
“It was the first time I fell. But for me that fall was death”. The third meditation is written by a prisoner. He did not know about the evil growing inside him, he says. After a difficult life, one evening “like an avalanche…. anger killed my kindness… I took someone’s life”. After considering committing suicide in prison, he found people who gave him back the faith he had lost, he says.
My first fall was failing to realize that goodness exists in this world. My second, the murder, was really its consequence, for I was already dead inside.

Fourth Station: Jesus meets his Mother
The author of the fourth meditation is a mother whose son is in prison. She says she was not tempted “even for a second” to abandon her son in the face of his sentence. That day, she says, “the whole family went to prison with him”. She describes people “pointing fingers” like knives, and wounds that “grow with every passing day”. She has entrusted her only son to Mary and says she feels her closeness. “I confide my fears to Mary alone, because she herself felt them on her way to Calvary”.
In her heart she knew that her Son would not escape human evil, yet she did not abandon Him. She stood there sharing in His suffering, keeping Him company by her presence. I think of Jesus looking up, seeing those eyes so full of love, and not feeling alone. I would like to do the same.

Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross
The author of the fifth meditation is a prisoner. He says he hopes to bring joy to someone someday. “Everyone knows a Simon of Cyrene”, he explains. It is the nickname of those who help others carry their cross up their own Mount Calvary. He describes his cellmate as another Simon of Cyrene: someone who lived on a bench, without a home or possessions.
His only wealth was a box of candies. He has a sweet tooth, but he insisted that I bring it to my wife the first time she visited me: she burst into tears at that unexpected and thoughtful gesture.

Sixth Station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
The catechist and author of the sixth meditation wipes away many tears, just like Veronica. “They flood uncontrollably from hearts that are broken”, he says. In the dark reality of prison, he describes meeting desperate souls, trying to understand why evil exists. Finding an answer is hard, he says. He asks how Jesus would wipe away their tears if He were in that position. How would Jesus ease the anguish of these men, he asks. So, he tries to do what he believes Jesus would do.
In the same way that Christ looks at our own weaknesses and limitations with eyes full of love. Everyone, including those in prison, has an opportunity each day to become a new person, thanks to Christ’s look which does not judge, but gives life and hope.

Seventh Station: Jesus falls for the second time
The prisoner responsible for the seventh meditation says he often walked past prisons, thinking to himself he would never “end up in there”. Then he was convicted of drug dealing, and found himself in what he calls the “cemetery of the living dead”. Now, he says, he did not know what he was doing.
I am trying to rebuild my life with the help of God. I owe it to my parents… I owe it above all to myself: the idea that evil can continue to guide my life is intolerable. This is what has become my way of the cross.

Eighth Station: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
The author of the eighth meditation describes how her whole life was shattered when her father was sentenced to life in prison. She has been travelling around Italy for twenty-eight years, following her father as he is moved from prison to prison. Deprived of her father’s love, and his presence on her wedding day, she has had to cope with her mother’s depression as well.
It’s true: there are parents who, out of love, learn to wait for their children to grow up. In my own case, for love, I wait for my Dad’s return. For people like us, hope is a duty.

Ninth Station: Jesus falls for the third time
The author of the ninth meditation recognizes the many times he has fallen. And the many times he has risen. Like Peter, he has sought and found a thousand excuses to justify his mistakes, he says.
It is true that my life was shattered into a thousand pieces, but the wonderful thing is that those pieces can still be put together. It is not easy, but it is the only thing that still makes sense here.

Tenth Station: Jesus is stripped of his garments
The author of the tenth meditation is a teacher. Just as Jesus was stripped of His garments, so he has seen many of his students “stripped of all dignity… and respect for themselves and others” in prison. They are helpless, frustrated by their weakness, often unable to understand the wrong they have done. Yet, at times they are like newborn babies who can still be taught, he says.
Even though I love this job, I sometimes struggle to find the strength to carry on. In so sensitive a service, we need to feel that we are not abandoned, in order to be able to support the many lives entrusted to us, lives that each day run the risk of ruin.

Eleventh Station: Jesus is nailed to the Cross
The author of the eleventh meditation is a priest who was falsely accused, and later acquitted. His own “Way of the Cross” lasted ten years, he says, during which he had to face suspicion, accusations and insults. Fortunately, he also encountered his own versions of Simon of Cyrene who helped him carry the weight of his cross. “Together with me, many of them prayed for the young man who accused me”, he says.
The day on which I was fully acquitted, I found myself happier than I had been ten years before: I experienced first-hand God working in my life. Hanging on the cross, I discovered the meaning of my priesthood.

Twelfth Station: Jesus dies on the Cross
The author of the twelfth meditation is a judge. No magistrate, he says, can “crucify a man… to the sentence he is serving”. True justice is only possible through mercy, he adds. Mercy helps you find the goodness that is never completely extinguished, despite all the wrongs committed. To do this, one must learn how to “recognize the person hidden behind the crime committed”, he says.
In this process, it sometimes becomes possible to glimpse a horizon that can instill hope in that person and once his sentence has been served, to return to society and hope that people will welcome him back after having rejected him. For all of us, even those convicted of a crime, are children of the same human family.

Thirteenth Station: Jesus is taken down from the Cross
“Prisoners have always been my teachers”, writes the religious Brother, author of the thirteenth meditation. He has volunteered in prisons for sixty years. “We Christians often delude ourselves that we are better than others”, he says. In His life, Christ willingly chose to stand on the side of the least. “Passing by one cell after another, I see the death that lives within”, he says. But Christ tells him to keep going, to take them in His arms again. So he stops, and listens.
This is the only way I know to accept that person, and avert my gaze from the mistake he made. Only in this way will he be able to trust and regain the strength to surrender to God’s goodness, and see himself differently.

Fourteenth Station: Jesus is laid in the tomb
A corrections officer has written the concluding meditation for this year’s Way of the Cross. Every day he witnesses first-hand the suffering of those who live in prison. “A good person can become cruel, and a bad person can become better”, he says. It depends on that person. But prison changes you, he adds. Personally, he is committed to giving another chance to those who have chosen what is wrong. I work hard to keep hope alive in people left to themselves, frightened at the thought of one day leaving and possibly being rejected yet again by society. In prison, I remind them that, with God, no sin will ever have the last word.

LINK TO BOOKLET FOR VIA CRUCIS 2020: http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/libretti/2020/20200410-libretto-via-crucis.pdf



Guess what! The virus must have hit Facebook! I got 6 messages from Facebook today regarding two of my recent posts: “Your post goes against our Community Standards so only you can see it. See options.”

One post regarded the online daily Mass of Pope Francis with commentary in English by Sr. Bernadette Reis and the second involved my re-post of a story in Aleteia news entitled, “Yes, there is a Saint Corona!” I got that notice but the two pieces FB seemed to be against did indeed post!

So Facebook’s “community standards” do not include the Pope and saints! I guess we have some new people to pray for!

Here are some photos I took today at the end of the Angelus, the rosary on the Glorious Mysteries and the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary recited by Cardinal Angelo Comastri and a small group of faithful (who keep the prescribed social distance!) in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Altar of the Chair. I obviously took these while watching on TV.

There will be a very special moment tonight in Italy when everyone in the entire nation (we sure hope it will be everyone!) has been asked to stop what they are doing and tune in to television or online sites (Vatican, EWTN) at 9 pm for the recitation of the rosary for an end to the coronavirus. Join us if you can or recite a rosary – even a decade (!) – at 9 pm local time wherever you live!

Now, for the laugh of the day: I re-tweeted this today after about a minute of laughing! I dedicate this to teachers everywhere!

shonda rhimes @shondarhimes -· Mar 16
Been homeschooling a 6-year old and 8-year old for one hour and 11 minutes. Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a year. Or a week.


1. PAPAL INTERVIEW: Pope Francis on facing challenges of the coronavirus pandemic: In an interview with the Italian daily newspaper, “La Repubblica”, Pope Francis says he is praying for an end to the coronavirus pandemic, and asks everyone to be close to those who have lost loved ones. “I asked the Lord to stop the epidemic: ‘Lord, stop it with your hand’. That is what I prayed for”. Pope Francis revealed the content of his prayer in an interview with Italian journalist, Paolo Rodari, published in Wednesday’s edition of “La Repubblica” newspaper. (Vatican news): https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2020-03/pope-coronavirus-interview-repubblica-pandemic-covid-coronavirus.html

2. GENERAL AUDIENCE: Pope at Audience: Make mercy the air you breathe – During his general audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis re-calls “Mercy” as the first theme he chose to discuss as Pope, adding that as the new Bishop of Rome, he felt its message had to be transmitted. The fifth Beatitude, began Pope Francis, is different than the others: it is the only one “in which the cause and effect of happiness coincide”. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”, he read. Those who exercise mercy, explained the Pope, “will be shown mercy”. (Vaticannews): https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2020-03/pope-francis-general-audience-make-mercy-air-you-breathe-5th.html

At the end of the audience, Francis said: “Tomorrow we will celebrate the Solemnity of Saint Joseph. In life, work, family, joy and sorrow he always sought and loved the Lord, meriting the praise of Scripture as a just and wise man. Always invoke him with confidence, especially in difficult times, and entrust your lives to this great Saint.

“I join in the appeal of the Italian bishops who in this health emergency have promoted a moment of prayer for the whole country. Every family, every faithful, every religious community: all united spiritually tomorrow at 9 p.m. in the recitation of the Rosary, with the Mysteries of Light. I will accompany you from here.

“We are led to the luminous and transfigured face of Jesus Christ and His Heart by Mary, Mother of God, health of the sick, to whom we turn with the prayer of the Rosary, under the loving gaze of Saint Joseph, Guardian of the Holy Family and of our families. And we ask him to take special care of our family, our families, especially the sick and the people who are taking care of them: doctors, nurses, and volunteers, who risk their lives in this service.”
Check your time zone to be united with Italy (Italy now ahead of East Coast by 5 hours).


Once again, I am in touch with the outside world via media, especially social media, but I guess most of us are in touch this way nowadays! I did actually go outside today to empty the garbage and get a few things at the mini market outside my front door. They really know how to take advantage of a crisis with their high prices!

Speaking of being in touch: I am very moved and deeply grateful for so many messages from around the world, from family, close friends, friends I’ve not seen in a while, friends and fans from different continents! You bring such sunshine into my life! Not just because of your messages but because of the memories they bring to mind! Countless memories of family events, times shared with friends in their homes or here in the Eternal City during a visit. How blessed I was that it was last summer that two nieces and their families decided to visit Rome! Wow, Beth and Christie, just think if you had planned on 2020! This is one of those many moments we say “Thank you, God!”

I so enjoyed being live (‘live’ being the key word these days!) today with Teresa Tomeo on our weekly “Catholic Connection” radio program (Ave Maria radio and carried by EWTN). Just hearing another voice, interacting with another person, is special. I am sure you are all learning that as well. I’m reading about closures and lockdowns in the U.S, and I see things are developing quickly.

Paradoxically, it seems that “keeping safe distances” is actually bringing people together. Families now watch movies together, play games, read books to their children, invent stories or games – and actually sit around a dinner table and eat together.

I realize the immense difficulties that families with small children, especially 3 or 4 youngsters, have. Children are out of school for heaven only knows how long and they are not supposed to go with Mom and Dad for a walk around the block (not seen as a necessity by the police) or go to a local park to play. I guess that I why the tweet I posted made me laugh!

What I want to bring you today in bullet points are thoughts I have on the crisis, notes I’ve made in recent days and things I’ve heard, seen or read about what’s happening in Italy:

– from Day 1 of lockdown, I’ve wondered what happens if someone has an emergency plumbing or electrical problem or (heaven forbid) WiFi goes out – I mean, a serious problem.. Are plumbers, etc. working? Can they come to your house? Surely we’d still have to stay 3 or more feet apart. I presume everyone would have masks and gloves, including the homeowner,
– I am guessing crime has gone down but so far have not seen any articles about that.
– I have also been wondering about barbers and beauty salons closing down: are we going to see a lot of long hair in coming weeks? Will I be braiding my hair in a month? I know that sounds frivolous but that’s OK!
– I do know that smog and pollution are way down (especially in China!) as I’ve seen some aerial photos of areas known for industry and factories where sir is a lot cleaner. Interestingly enough, I’ve also seen photos from Venice where the boat traffic is almost at a standstill. People posted photos of the empty canals where the water was so clean you could see the fish swimming around!
– Bars (when we say ‘bar’ in Italy we are referring to coffee bars) and restaurants are closed and another category of food has disappeared – street vendors, the kind usually found at or near major monuments.
– Supermarkets are open, as you know and they have strict rules for entering, shopping and keeping “the social distance.” Many announced that they would home deliver but they were so overwhelmed with requests that some are now posting notices that you have to be in a special category such as seniors living alone, to qualify for delivery. Seems fair to me.
– A new hospital catering to ICU units will go up as fast and as soon as possible in Milan. The local fairgrounds have offered a sizeable parcel of land to the region for this purpose.
– I have read that 10,000 doctors under the age of 30 (including recent grads) have been and will be called into service! By the by, pray hard, very hard for all the medical personnel. I’ve seen images on TV that would make you weep. I saw faces of doctor and nurses I thought had been in a fight, eyes red and puffy and faces almost lacerated by the constant wearing of face masks for hours and hours, even 24 hours at a time.
– TV stations here (at least Italian TV as I do not yet have my satellite up and working) have constant public service announcements about washing your hands, keeping safe distances, staying at home unless there is urgency, etc.
– It could be just me but I’ve seen a plethora of ads for cleaning products – especially anti-bacterial products – anything that will clean the surfaces of your home.

Each of us is living this experience in our own way –singles, couples, families, larger communities such as religious houses, etc. The real fun will come when eventually life gets back to a kind of normalcy and we can sit around the dinner table – at home or in a restaurant – and share our stories of coping. What have we learned? What was the hardest part? What was new and perhaps wonderful? What did each of us discover about ourselves?

I sense a lot of good interviews for my radio show, Vatican Insider!

Buona serata! Have a lovely evening!



So many conferences and meetings and congresses:

JUST ENDED:   The World Union of Catholic Teachers: http://www.laityfamilylife.va/content/laityfamilylife/en/sezione-laici/repertorio/unione-mondiale-degli-insegnanti-cattolici-.html

JUST STARTED:   World Congress on Global Catholic Education at the Rome Notre Dame Center, organized by ND and by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences – https://international.nd.edu/events/2018/04/27/interactive-forum-on-international-education/

ABOUT TO START:   Fourth International Vatican Conference Vatican City – April 26-28, 2018 – “How Science, Technology and 21st Century Medicine Will Impact Culture and Society” http://vaticanconference2018.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Fourth-International-Vatican-Conference-Agenda.pdf



I have paid several visits to the 2017 nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square but only today did I bring my camera. I’ll let those photos tell the story of the 2017 Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square.

I have been in Rome a lot of years and believe I have photographed every tree and nativity scene since my arrival, and I have to say this is my least favorite ever. It is also probably the smallest, though it may seem large in the photos.

The best ever, in my opinion, were those produced for several decades by the Vatican’s own Technical Services staff – they were brilliant creations, painstakingly and artfully executed. By the way, remember that it was Saint John Paul who brought the idea of a nativity scene and Christmas tree to St. Peter’s Square in 1982.

The tree has been universally praised, but the nativity scene has not received universally favorable coverage. In fact, a close up photo (which I will show you below) of the depiction of the act of mercy of “clothing the naked” on one Facebook page actually caused that page to be banned by FB.

The concept is lovely – speaking of the corporal acts of mercy – but that aspect seems to have faded into the background, at least from what I heard people saying as they viewed the nativity scene (and children, as always, had the best comments!). Remarks are more focussed on the “head” in the jail cell, the unclothed man (clothe the naked), a body on a table (bury the dead), on the fact there are no animals, not a single lamb or ox, on the fact that the Holy Family, the Baby Jesus, seem to get lost in clutter. Yet Jesus, Mary and Joseph – Jesus! – ARE the focus of any Christmas celebration or depiction.

You are standing next to a five-year old who turns to his parents and exclaims (in Italian), “But our presepe (nativity scene) at home is much nicer!”

And today, another youngster asked, “what is that head in a jail or some place?”

The Vatican website (and, as of yesterday, there is a brand new news portal – http://www.vaticannews.va – that’s a whole other news story, not without its critics!) noted before Christmas that, “The crib scene for Christmas 2017 will be donated by the ancient Abbey of Montevergine in the Campania region of southern Italy. The scenery and crib figures, in 18th century Neapolitan costumes, will be produced by artisans in a local workshop. The two-metre high figures, inspired by the theme of the Works of Mercy, will be made of coloured terracotta with garments in traditional fabrics.”

The same note explained that the Christmas tree is a giant, 28-meter high red fir, given, by the archdiocese of Elk in north-eastern Poland. It was transported over two thousand kilometres across central Europe and Italy, before arriving here in the Vatican.

The tree was decorated with stars and baubles designed by young cancer patients from several Italian hospitals. The decorations have been made out of clay by children and their parents during therapeutic workshop sessions and reproduced in hard-wearing synthetic materials that can stand up to the winter weather conditions in St Peter’s Square. A number of children from earthquake-hit areas of central Italy also took part in this design project.

There is an interactive element to this year’s nativity scene and that is actually nice.

I accessed the file, per their instructions, saw a 4-minute video and copied the English text for you exactly as it appeared on my cell phone – here it is:

The nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square is a gift from the sanctuary of Montevergine in the province of Avellino. In the Cernobo, founded by Saint William from Vercelli in the first half of the 12th century, the imposing icon of our Lady of Montevergine is worshipped.

The work was carried out by the Cantone and Costabile workshop in Naples which into 2013 brought to this square the first large Neapolitan crib. The theme is “mercy” all around the scene of the nativity in Neapolitan style of the 18th century. There are several characters who act (out) the seven works of bodily mercy transmitted by the Gospels. These are two or three-inch high-rise figures following the tradition with head, hands and feet of terracotta, eyes of glass and fabric padded-stuffed bodies.

At the center of the composition stands the Holy Family housed in the ruins of an ancient, once-balled temple, a direct setting pointing to how Christianity defeated paganism. The scene is completed by an angel with wings spread, a piper and the Kings, who come to the sight of Jesus led by the starry comment.


As for the other scenes: on the left there is the representation of the work “visiting the prisoners”: the setting is a fictitious cell formed by a grate with a single bar, a metaphor of the human being prisoner of his sins, that refers to an inner inertia that can only cease with repentance and with the reception of God in one’s life.

To be mentioned is also the interpretation of the work “housing pilgrims” represented by a woman who hosts a stranger, to symbolize the welcome in the broad sense, with particular reference to the present and the invitation to except the brother come from a far distance often repeated by Pope Francis.(this photo also has the image of Our Lady of Montevergine)

It is precisely on the representation of this work that there is a branch of the Madonna of Montevergine that remembers the donation of the nativity by the Abbey and emphasizes that the same mother of God constantly welcome so many pilgrims, even in her Irpinian sanctuary.

In the representation of the scene “treating the sick,” master Canton has focused on the dualism between body and spirit; very often, in fact, we focus on the external aspect at the expense of the spiritual one.

“Feed the hungry” and “quench the thirsty” are depicted in a single scene: the character was made with his mouth open and wide eyes, a sign of wonder and amazement in the face of goodness of mind and altruism; instead of being pleased with the gift received, man is astonished by the kindness of action, since in contemporary society Christian values seem to have sunken; the generosity of the neighbor creates wonder and is manifested in the character’s gaze.

In the scene “burying the dead”, is depicted only a falling arm, a reference to the deposition of Caravaggio in the Vatican museums.

For “dressing the naked,” an Academy was created, that is, a character entirely carved; the scene presents two men almost peers, a noble who gives a cloak to a needy lying down and half naked; it is the triumph of charity, and the purpose of donating in the imitation of Christ, who gave his life for the salvation of man.



Over the years, among the many special things my Dad kept in a big black, loose-leaf binder on his desk, were pieces of paper on which he had copied items he had read and especially liked – sayings, poems, little seeds of wisdom from a newspaper or a calendar, even special phrases from greetings cards or letters he had received. When he died, I was going through his various files and, among the countless pages that made me smile, laugh out loud or cry, were these thoughts on saints. It seemed right to share these with you the day after the beatification of Pope Paul Paul VI:(The Internet was brand new when Dad died so I never searched the author at the time. I did so today and have found various attributions, from names to unknown):

“Why were the saints, saints? Because they were cheerful when it was difficult to be cheerful, patient when it was difficult to be patient; and because they pushed on when they wanted to stand still, and kept silent when they wanted to talk, and were agreeable when they wanted to be disagreeable. That was all. It was quite simple and always will be.”

Yesterday and today, I posted photos on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/joansrome) that I took at the beatification celebration. I also published the English text of Pope Francis’ amazing words Saturday evening at the end of the synod and after the vote on the final relatio, and the Message (NOT to be confused with final report) from the Synod Fathers. I hope and believe you will be edified by the Pope’s words and by the Message, especially the papal remarks if you want a “read” on Francis’ appraisal of the synod.

How well were Francis’ words received in the synod hall? He received a five-minute standing ovation!


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis convened a Consistory of Cardinals on Monday morning in the Vatican. Originally scheduled in order to proceed with the causes of candidates for beatification, the Holy Father expanded the agenda of the meeting to include discussion of the ongoing crisis in the Middle East. In remarks to the gathered Cardinals at the morning session of the gathering, the Holy Father focused on the need for constant prayer and effective advocacy in favor of peace, and for specific attention to the plight of Christians there.

Describing the notion of a Mideast region devoid of Christians as literally unthinkable, Pope Francis went on to mention Iraq and Syria as two countries in which Christians – who have made their homes there since Apostolic times – are facing unprecedented threats. “We cannot resign ourselves to thinking about the Middle East without Christians, who for two thousand years have confessed the name of Jesus [there].”

“Recent events,” the Pope continued, “especially in Iraq and Syria, are very worrying. We are witnessing a phenomenon of terrorism of previously unimaginable dimensions. Many of our brothers and sisters are being persecuted and have [been constrained] leave their homes in a brutal way.” Saying that the situation appears to be one in which people no longer appreciate the value of human life, Pope Francis decried the spirit of indifference that seems to dominate, making the sacrifice of the human person to other interests a matter of course. “This unfair situation,” he said, “requires an adequate response by the international community, as well as and in addition to our constant prayer.”

Pope Francis concluded, saying, “I am sure that, with the help of the Lord, genuinely worthwhile reflection and suggestions will emerge, in order to help our brothers and sisters who are suffering, and also to face the drama of the reduction of the Christian presence in the land where He was born and from which Christianity spread.”

Later in the morning, there was a briefing by press office director Fr. Federico Lombardi who reported on the talk by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, secretary of State. The cardinal, said Vatican Radio, presented a summary view of the meeting of Apostolic Nuncios to the countries of the region that took place at the beginning of October. Articulated in six points, the speech stressed that the present situation – broadly speaking and in particular as it regards the Christian communities present in the region – is unacceptable. “Fundamental principles, such as the value of [human] life, human dignity, religious liberty, and peaceful coexistence among peoples and individuals are at stake.”

To read Cardinal Parolin’s well-received talk, click here: http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2014/10/20/card_parolin_on_me_rights_threatened,_risk_of_genocide_/1109019


Sunday in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis celebrated the closing Mass for the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, during which he beatified his predecessor, Pope Paul VI, calling him a “great Pope,” a “courageous Christian” and a “tireless apostle.”


“We have just heard one of the most famous phrases in the entire Gospel,” began Francis, “’Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Some of the 70,000 present.20141019_114554

He noted that Jesus was “goaded by the Pharisees who wanted, as it were, to give him an exam in religion and catch him in error, Jesus gives this ironic and brilliant reply. It is a striking phrase which the Lord has bequeathed to all those who experience qualms of conscience, particularly when their comfort, their wealth, their prestige, their power and their reputation are in question. This happens all the time; it always has.

The altar and some of the many hundreds of priests. 20141019_114649

But, said the Pope, Jesus stresses the second part of the phrase: “[render] to God the things that are God’s’. This calls for acknowledging and professing – in the face of any sort of power – that God alone is the Lord of mankind, that there is no other. This is the perennial newness to be discovered each day, and it requires mastering the fear that we often feel at God’s surprises.”

Close-up of the altar: 20141019_114820

The Holy Father explained to the 70,000 faithful present that, “’rendering to God the things that are God’s’ means being docile to his will, devoting our lives to him and working for his kingdom of mercy, love and peace.” And, he added, “Here is where our true strength is found; here is the leaven that makes it grow and the salt that gives flavor to all our efforts to combat the prevalent pessimism which the world proposes to us. Here too is where our hope is found, for when we put our hope in God we are neither fleeing from reality nor seeking an alibi: instead, we are striving to render to God what is God’s.”

Priests descending to give communion. 20141019_115305 20141019_115844

Pope Francis then spoke of the synod on the family that ended with Sunday’s Mass, saying, “ It has been a great experience, in which we lived synodality and collegiality, and felt the power of the Holy Spirit who constantly guides and renews the Church. For the Church is called to waste no time in seeking to bind up open wounds and to rekindle hope in so many people who have lost hope.”

“May the Holy Spirit, who during these busy days has enabled us to work generously, in true freedom and humble creativity, continue to guide the journey that, in the churches throughout the world, is bringing us to the Ordinary Synod of Bishops in October 2015.”

Altar 20141019_115514

Then, Pope Francis spoke beautifully and movingly about his predecessor, especially for a new generation that would not have known this Pope who reigned from 1963 to 1978:

“On this day of the beatification of Pope Paul VI, I think of the words with which he established the Synod of Bishops: ‘by carefully surveying the signs of the times, we are making every effort to adapt ways and methods… to the growing needs of our time and the changing conditions of society’.

Pope Francis 20141019_120625_2

”When we look to this great Pope, this courageous Christian, this tireless apostle, we cannot but say in the sight of God a word as simple as it is heartfelt and important: thanks! Thank you, our dear and beloved Pope Paul VI! Thank you for your humble and prophetic witness of love for Christ and his Church!

Archbishop Rino Fisichella gives interview after Mass. 20141019_123213

”In his personal journal,” concluded Pope Francis, “the great helmsman of the Council wrote, at the conclusion of its final session: ‘Perhaps the Lord has called me and preserved me for this service not because I am particularly fit for it, or so that I can govern and rescue the Church from her present difficulties, but so that I can suffer something for the Church, and in that way it will be clear that He, and no other, is her guide and savior’. In this humility the grandeur of Blessed Paul VI shines forth: before the advent of a secularized and hostile society, he could hold fast, with farsightedness and wisdom – and at times alone – to the helm of the barque of Peter, while never losing his joy and his trust in the Lord.”

Greeting the faithful in St. Peter’s Square 20141019_123732


Pope Francis began his remarks to the synod participants on Saturday, at the end of two weeks of work, with words of thanks to the organizers, the Synod of Bishops, to participants and to all who guided the two-week long assembly on the family.

“It has been ‘a journey’,” said the Pope in the heart of his message, “and like every journey there were moments of running fast, as if wanting to conquer time and reach the goal as soon as possible; other moments of fatigue, as if wanting to say ‘enough’; other moments of enthusiasm and ardor. There were moments of profound consolation listening to the testimony of true pastors, who wisely carry in their hearts the joys and the tears of their faithful people. Moments of consolation and grace and comfort hearing the testimonies of the families who have participated in the synod and have shared with us the beauty and the joy of their married life. A journey where the stronger feel compelled to help the less strong, where the more experienced are led to serve others, even through confrontations. And since it is a journey of human beings, with the consolations there were also moments of desolation, of tensions and temptations, of which a few possibilities could be mentioned:

– One, a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.

– The temptation to a destructive tendency to be do-gooders [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called ‘progressives and liberals’.

– The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (cf Jn 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Lk 11:46).

– The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.

– The temptation to neglect the ‘depositum fide’” [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing! They call them ‘byzantinisms’, I think, these things…”

The Holy Father said, ”Personally I would be very worried and saddened if it were not for these temptations and these animated discussions; this movement of the spirits, as St Ignatius called it (Spiritual Exercises, 6), if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace. Instead, I have seen and I have heard – with joy and appreciation – speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage: and of parresia. And I have felt that what was set before our eyes was the good of the Church, of families, and the “supreme law,” the “good of souls” (cf. Can. 1752). And this always – we have said it here, in the Hall – without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life (cf. Cann. 1055, 1056; and Gaudium et spes, 48).”

“And this is the Church, the vineyard of the Lord, the fertile Mother and the caring Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on people’s wound; who doesn’t see humanity as a house of glass to judge or categorize people. This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy. This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, who seeks to be faithful to her spouse and to her doctrine. It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and publicans. The Church that has the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect! The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and pretends not to see him, but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again and accompany him toward a definitive encounter with her Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.

“The is the Church, our Mother! And when the Church, in the variety of her charisms, expresses herself in communion, she cannot err:…”

He reminded those “commentators” who would see “a disputatious Church where one part is against the other,” that the Holy Spirit who throughout history has always guided the barque, through her Ministers, even when the sea was rough and choppy, and the ministers unfaithful and sinners.

“We will speak a little bit about the Pope, now, in relation to the Bishops [laughing]. So, the duty of the Pope is that of guaranteeing the unity of the Church; it is that of reminding the faithful of their duty to faithfully follow the Gospel of Christ; it is that of reminding the pastors that their first duty is to nourish the flock – to nourish the flock – that the Lord has entrusted to them, and to seek to welcome – with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears – the lost sheep. I made a mistake here. I said welcome: [rather] to go out and find them.”

Quoting a lengthy passage by Benedict XVI on service, he said, in part: “The Church is called and commits herself to exercise this kind of authority that is service and exercises it not in her own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ… through the Pastors of the Church, in fact: it is He who guides, protects and corrects them, because he loves them deeply.”

Francis said, “The Pope, in this context, is not the supreme lord but rather the supreme servant – the ‘servant of the servants of God’; the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church, putting aside every personal whim, despite being – by the will of Christ Himself – the ‘supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the faithful’and despite enjoying ‘supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church’.”

“Dear brothers and sisters,” said the Pope in closing, “now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families.”

After the Te Deum was sung and the papal blessing imparted, Francis said, “Thank you, and rest well, eh?”


Judging from the headlines that have described the just-completed work of the synod of bishops, one could easily be pardoned for thinking that the Vatican had dedicated the last two weeks to a lengthy discussion on homosexuals, same sex unions, and communion for the divorced and remarried.

The theme of the 2014 extraordinary general assembly of the Synod of Bishops was “‎Pastoral challenges to the family in the context of ‎evangelization.” And the several hundred synod fathers, delegates and invited guests did talk for two weeks – first in the larger assembly and then in smaller language groups – about those issues but also about the myriad challenges that married couples and families face today. They spoke of families that fully respond to their Christian vocation, families that are faithful to the teaching of Christ on marriage, and of those families that are “wounded.” single parent homes, divorced and separated couples, homes where there is abuse of some sort, where families have been abanadoned by one parent or there are otherwise fragile relations, families hit by economic hard times and unemployment.

The synod looked at the “lights and shadows” of family life, but did not overlook any of the tough issues or what have been called “hot button” issues such as same sex unions. Participants emphasized the duty of pastors and shepherds to listen to their flock and to accompany them, to be there in times of joy and times of trial and need.

Emphasis was put on marriage preparation and accompaniment in the first years of marriage. It was placed on the pastoral care for those who cohabit and those in civil marriages. Emphasis was placed on pastoral caring for the “wounded” families – the separated, divorced but not remarried, divorced and remarried, single family homes. The final report spoke of pastoral attention for “those persons with homosexual orientation.”

The document re-affirmed marriage as a sacramental union between a man and a woman, emphasizing fidelity, unity and, above all, indissolubility. In no way, said the document can a same sex union be equated with or likened to marriage as taught by the Church although persons with homosexual tendencies “must be welcomed with respect and sensitivity.”

On Saturday afternoon, when the “Relatio synodi” was released and voted upon, Pope Francis authorized the immediate publication of the full text, This document (only in Italian for now) will provide the focus for reflection by episcopal conferences throughout the world this year in preparation for the 2015 synod on the family. The Pope also authorized the publication of the number of votes for each point. The paragraphs on gays and the divorced and remarried did not receive two-thirds of the vote by the 183 bishops in attendance, but rather a simply majority.

In the end, the final document, an 8,300-word treatise (so far only in Italian) of 62 paragraphs reiterated Catholic teachings on marriage and the family.

I will take a closer look at some parts of this lengthy document in coming days.

One interesting takeaway for me: Late Saturday night, hours after the “Relatio synodi” was released, I read a number of early media reports and was struck by one thing immediately: the relative absence of the word “family” in articles describing the conclusion of a synod on the family.

I looked at 8 media stories totalling 6,185 words: 4 were wire services, 3 were newspaper stories and one was a CRUX article by well known vaticanista, John Allen. I did a computer count and an eye count of the words “family” and “families”: they were used 14 times!


What a day! Following a quick trip to the market to buy coffee and orange juice, an interview for AP television, reading emails and answering a few in the press office, attending the press briefing that began at 1 pm and ended at 2:20, I had time to eat a croissant for lunch and get over to the North American College for an interview with Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the USCCB.

Got home at 4:20 and the second part of my work day began: study the notes from the press conference and write a column, upload photos from the briefing for my blog, upload the audio interview of Abp. Kurtz, prepare my weekend show for Vatican Radio which we tape tomorrow and edit my interview of Cardinal Dolan for my EWTN radio show, “Vatican Insider.” Hopefully it will not be another two-slices-of-pizza-for-dinner evening.

I am fairly sure my schedule mirrors that of many journalists covering the synod. My interview with AP television was interesting. They saw my video on Youtube of the tap dancing seminarians at last April’s Rector’s Dinner at the North American College and decided to do a feature story given that the video, as of today, has garnered 242,020 views!! They have also interviewed, as you would imagine, the two dancing NACers – David Rider is now Fr. David Rider and John Gibson is soon to follow! Bless them!

If October 16 rings some kind of a bell for you, it was 36 years ago today – almost at the exact same time that I am writing these words! – that Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, Poland was elected to the papacy, taking the name of John Paul II. Thank you for your years at the helm of the barque of Peter, St. John Paul!


The press briefing on the synod today featured Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, the multi-lingual Dominican archbishop of Vienna and an Italian couple present at the synod, Prof. Francesco Miano and his wife Pia de Simone (women keep their maiden names in Italy).

Before each of the three guests made opening remarks, Father Lombardi made a few business announcements. He said journalists would receive the texts of what was said in the 10 language groups that have been meeting this week, with the explicit approval of the members of all groups. He was clear that these texts are, as was the relatio published Monday, only working texts, not definitive ones. Suggestions, proposals and amendments to the relatio or report that were made in the language groups – seems there many hundreds! – will be studied and eventually incorporated into a final document that will probably be ready sometime after Saturday evening.

He announced that Pope Francis, when it was brought to his attention that not all continents were represented on the small group that will write the final report, named Cardinal Napier of Durban, South Africa and Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, Australia as members.

Father Lombardi also announced that Cardinal Mueller, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, told him that what has been reported that he said about the relatio – that it was “shameful” – is not at all true, “not at all my style.”

The relatio – and what was “lost in translation” (or perhaps “transformed in translation”) when it was translated into different languages from the official Italian – was the main takeaway at today’s briefing.

A re-translated English text of the relatio (re-translated from the English text we were given Monday) was provided today to journalists. Several key paragraphs, especially those in the section related to homosexuality, had been notably changed (I want to be careful here to insist on the fact that we were always told it was a draft, a working text, not a definitive one).

In the first instance, the original English we received called this section of the relatio or report, “Welcoming homosexuals.” Today’s translation says, “Providing for homosexual persons.” The same section, Para 50, said in the original, “Are we capable of welcoming these people…” Today it says: “Are we capable of providing for these people?”

When asked about the changes – and which translation journalists should use – Fr. Lombardi said, “we have always said that the Italian is the original text of the relatio and that is the text you must use when writing.”

This is obviously fine if you speak Italian.

By the by, it might be helpful to remember that Monday, during the press briefing to present the relatio, Cardinal Peter Erdo, relator general of the synod, in answer to a question about the report, pointed to his right, to Archbishop Bruno Forte and said, “ask him, he wrote it.” So the author is apparently an Italian archbishop.

The original English – not today’s document – corresponded precisely to the Italian: Title: “Accogliere le persone omosessuali” (“Welcoming homosexuals”) – siamo in grado di accogliere queste persone… ( “Are we capable of welcoming these people…”)

Another word I noted (and this was reported in CNA) that was truly “transformed in translation” was the Italian word “valutando.” This was translated in both the original English and today’s English as “valuing” when in reality the accurate translation is “evaluating.”

Official Italian, Para 50: Le nostre comunità sono in grado di esserlo accettando e valutando il loro orientamento sessuale, senza compromettere la dottrina cattolica su famiglia e matrimonio?

English: Are our communities capable of this (this meaning offering a welcoming home), of accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony.

It does change considerably if you substitute evaluating for valuing.

What changes will we see in the final relatio? We will have to read the Italian to know.

Cardinal Schonborn, in introductory remarks at the briefing, said the current synod is not his first but he has been greatly impressed by the amount of interest shown for the ongoing synod. He said he felt it was “because the themes touch each one of us, we are all from families, we have families, we have the immediate family and the broader one of aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents.” He said that, “when there are problems in life, the first recourse is always family.”

The cardinal then told an interesting story to make a point – the story of the Donner Pass pioneers. The Donner Pass is a mountain pass in the northern Sierra Nevada mountains where, in November 1846 a group of 91 pioneers heading to California – the Donner party – became blocked by snow and bad weather and was forced to spend the winter on the east side of the mountains. Conditions were so terrible that only 41 survived the winter hardships and, said the cardinal, it was those who had family ties who survived and eventually reached California.

He stressed “how important it is now for us, for the synod to show this reality of family ties, of survivors. We need to remember how such ties are linked to survival. Too often we see only the immediate family but we need to see the broader family. We need to look at the fundamental role of family in society. The Pope wants us to mainly look at what is positive about the family, its beauty and the need for family. Not only but the beauty but also the challenges.”

Above all, Cardinal Schonborn underscored how this discussion on the family is a “camino,” a walk on a path. The discussion on the family began last February with the consistory, it continues now with this synod and will end next October at the ordinary synod on the family… And in between there will be discussions, etc. at diocesan and parish levels throughout the world. The cardinal said a key word throughout the synod has been “to accompany.”

The married couple said their synod experience was a “great experience and great responsibility. It is a decisive moment for the Church in the spirit of Vatican Council II and also of the Church’s love for every person.” Pia de Simone spoke of the great seriousness of this synod, saying it is also “very realistic.” The synod is looking at the “effective reality, the beauty of family relations and, as Cardinal Schonborn said, the search for new pastoral ways to help and support families.”

Cardinal Schornborn was asked how he planned to talk to Catholics back in Austria who, on the basis of what they have read and heard about the synod, might have doubts and fears.

He began his answer by saying, “I too have doubts and fears.” He said the main challenge not only of the synod but of bishops and priests everywhere is how to live with the “tension” that comes from obeying and living doctrine and also acting like Jesus who lived and preached mercy. “Joining the two is the perennial challenge for us. We must find equilibrium. We cannot forget doctrine and yet Pope Francis speaks of ‘field hospitals’ in caring for the suffering.”

(In fact, in an interview with Antonio Spadaro, director of the Italian Jesuit magazine Civiltà Cattolica, Pope Francis said: “I can clearly see that what the Church needs today is the ability to heal wounds and warm the hearts of faithful, it needs to be by their side. I see the Church as a field hospital after a battle. It’s pointless to ask a seriously injured patient whether his cholesterol or blood sugar levels are high! It’s his wounds that need to be healed. The rest we can talk about later. Now we must think about treating those wounds. And we need to start from the bottom.”)

He spoke of doctrine but the archbishop of Vienna also noted that in the teaching of Pope John Paul there was a notable development of theology, of Christian doctrine, as sen for example, in his theology of the body. Traditional theology did not have this idea.” He asked, “Will Pope Francis contribute to a doctrinal development? We’ll see. He invites us to pastoral conversion, to looking at situations, to become missionaries.”

On questions regarding homosexuality, Cardinal Schonborn said, “for the Church, the principle is to first look at the person, not the orientation. This is a basic, human, Christian behavior. While the Church teaches respect for every human person and their innate dignity, this does not mean respect for all human behavior. Same sex orientation is not the fundamental orientation the Creator has given for men and women.” He also noted “we should not look first in the bedroom but in the living room.”

He also said he knew a same sex couple and they are “wonderful human beings.” He said that when one partner became very sick, the other was “almost saintly” in caring for them.


I received the following email today from the Vatican Library and want to share it with you: “The Vatican Library now has an official Twitter account, in Italian (@bibliovaticana) and in English (@vaticanlibrary). All communications about our activities will be entrusted to tweets that, from time to time, will be also displayed on our homepage. If you wish to receive our tweets and be constantly kept up-to-date, follow us on Twitter or keep an eye on the tweets on the web.”

A few news items follow, including Pope Francis’ weekly general audience. I’ve also posted a summary of today’s synod press briefing and, if time allows, will try to add more.


Late yesterday after the following statement was released by the director of the Holy See Press Office on behalf of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops:

”The General Secretariat of the Synod, in response to reactions and discussions following the publication of the Relatio post disceptationem, and the fact that often a value has been attributed to the document that does not correspond to its nature, reiterates that it is a working document, which summarizes the interventions and debate of the first week, and is now being offered for discussion by the members of the Synod gathered in the Small Groups, in accordance with the Regulations of the Synod.”


Pope Francis catechesis today at the general audience focused on the final destination of the People of God, with a strong accent on the virtue of hope. He began by quoting St. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians who, anxious to know what would become of them: replied: “We will be with the Lord forever.” Francis said this was one of the most beautiful phrases of Sacred Scripture, and inviting the faithful to repeat it three times with him.

The Holy Father noted how John, in the Book of Revelations returns to the intuition of the Prophets and describes the final and definitive dimension in terms of “a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband,” This, said the Pope, is who the Church is: She is the people of God who follow the Lord Jesus and who prepares herself, day by day, for the encounter with Him, like a bride with her groom. And it is not simply a turn of phrase: it will be a true wedding. Yes, because Christ, who made Himself man like us, and making us one with Him, by His death and resurrection, truly took us as His spouse.”

I stopped by the general audience today after an interview with Cardinal Donald Wuerl at the synod hall – here are a few images of the Pope, the crowd and a group of flag throwers from Puglia, Italy.

Francis explains another element that consoles us and opens our heart: The Church, the “new Jerusalem,” is “called to become a city, the quintessential symbol of co-existence and human relations. How beautiful it is to already be able to contemplate, according to another evocative image from Revelation, all the peoples and populations gathered together in this city, as if they were all under the same roof, in God’s home. And in this glorious setting there will be no more isolation, abuse or distinctions of any type – social, ethnic or religious – but we will all be one in Christ.”

“In the presence of this unprecedented and wonderful scene,” said Pope Francis, “hope can only be strongly confirmed in our heart. … Christian hope, then, is our joyful expectation of the Lord’s coming and the fulfilment of his saving plan for the human family. In every generation the Church holds high the lamp of this hope before the world. Today let us ask whether our own lamps are alight with the oil of faith, and to what extent we live as credible and joy-filled witnesses to our hope in God’s promises.”


Pope Francis has sent a message to Bishop Jesus Garcia Burillo of Avila, Spain on the occasion of the fifth centenary of the birth of St. Teresa of Avila, whose feast is celebrated today. In his letter, he mentions the joy the saint often spoke of “in encountering the suffering of work and pain,” and how she affirmed that “the Gospel is not a bag of lead that trails heavily behind us, but rather a source of joy that leads the heart to God and urges us to serve our brethren” He remarked how St. Teresa emphasized the importance of cheerful perseverance and prayer. For her, contemplative prayer was “a close sharing between friends; … taking time frequently to be alone with Him whom we know loves us.”


Cardinal Martinez Sistach of Barcelona, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the USCCB and Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, spoke to journalists today at the daily press briefing about the work being done in their language groups.

Cardinal Sistach said an “atmosphere of communion, fraternity, and pastorality” dominated the Spanish-speaking group he is in. The group noted how similar problems are on all continents such as difficult matrimonial situations, canonical problems, etc.. He reiterated that the relatio that the groups are studying is a working document, not a final one, but a document to which his group and the others will contribute suggestions and amendments.

Abp. Kurtz said his group experienced basically the same cordial atmosphere of “communiuo” and, with a broad smile, said he was smiling because his group had finished its work. He said his group has suggested amendments and, in the next document, people “will notice we were intent on making sure that message is one of hope that instills confidence. We want to be pastoral, to reach out and accompany people, to go where they are, to bring people closer to Christ. We worked hard to craft amendments and improve the report and we hope our work contributes to a deepened and improved pastoral Document.”

Abp. Fisichella said jokingly he was not smiling because he is the “relatore” and his work has just begun as he is now responsible for putting the amendments together, with several other prelates, for the next document. He said the language groups were “very cordial, very free. There were no time limits and there was a great variety in each group. It is in the language groups that we see the universality of the Church, the different ways of expressing or living problems on different continents.”

In the Q&A, one journalist spoke of the presence of “lobbies” in the press briefings, both conservative and liberal, and asked if the document is an answer to these groups?

Cardinal Sistach said the synod fathers spoke with great freedom, not answering to groups or interests, and this was reiterated by Abps. Kurtz and Fisichella. Abp.Kurtz said it was the synod fathers and all the delegates that influenced him, not media reports or interest groups.

The journalists’ questions principally revolved around the debate that has arisen since Monday’s publication of the relatio, a working document that was taken by many in the media to be a definitive statement of the Church’s teaching on a number of hot button issues in particular.

One journalist asked if, within the “cordial atmosphere of communio” in the language groups, there was also “disputatio.” Abp. Fisichella replied, “it would really have been a problem if there had been no debate, no differences of opinion, no ‘disputatio’. Fortunately there was and this is a way to grow. Otherwise there would be a boring uniformity.”

Abp.Kurtz said, “the very amendment process is a form of disputatio, with people helping and being attentive to each other and to other ideas.” He said that, “differences can refine contributions,” adding that, “it will take some very careful work to be true to Church teaching and also to reach out.”

“There was ‘disputatio’,” said Barcelona’s archbishop. “There are different opinions, we saw different tendencies and trends, different sensibilities, different contributions.”

Abp. Fisichella, answering a question about the new evangelization, stressed that the family in the context of the new evangelization was precisely the work of the synod. The synod fathers are trying to verify in what way can the problems of families and the ideal of the Christian family become an object of evangelization. He said the crisis of faith is at the origin of today’s crisis in the family. Many synod fathers quoted Pope Francis “Evangelii gaudium” and St. John Paul’s “Familiaris consortio” in the hall, suggesting these be the basis for the family pastoral. He said, “where faith is strong, so is family.”

Cardinal Sistach said that, “the synod has recognized the great need for pastoral care of the family. The Church can do a lot for couples in crisis, as well as for stable families. We must help those who struggle, and we can and must do more in this area.”

Abp. Kurtz echoed the cardinal’s description and said the synod must help all couples, especially “those who do everything to make things work and those who strive to witness to their faith in the family.”

Asked what the principal modifications would be to Monday’s relatio, all three prelates said that all chapters would in some way be modified and the focus will be on the pastoral. Abp. Kurtz said amendments should help focus on and highlight the importance of loving families today. They should also make sure that the document’s words and expressions are “welcoming and from the heart.”

Abp. Fisichella said of the amendment process: “We know amendments can be made regarding even one word and we have to make sure we use clear, precise language. We also have to make sure that when we report that “’many synod fathers said thus and such’ that it really was ‘many’ and not just a few. We have to make sure that what we say truly reflects reality.” He added that, “interestingly enough, some suggestions were made in the language groups that did not come out in hall, for example: regarding the streamlining of the annulment process, it was suggested that annulments be free. The process should be the same for everyone and cost no one.” He also said that other suggestions concerned adoptions – these must be highlighted more, especially in Catholic families.

The three guests all spoke of the great contribution given by the laity in the synod. Abp. Kurtzx said, “we would have been shortchanged without the presence of the laity and couples.” He said he has been promoting restored confidence in marriage and said of a bishop’s task, “ours is a call to work outward, not inward…..we should also give witness to those who struggle but are faithful.”


Fides news agency, an office of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, reports that the government in Baghdad has announced the launch of a project for the construction of at least 2,000 prefabricated housing units for refugees – mostly Christians – who have found shelter in the suburb of Ankawa, on the outskirts of Erbil, the capital of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The announcement – according to reports from local sources consulted by Fides – was released on Sunday, October 12 by the office of Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, in charge of rescue operations in favor of refugees. The project will be implemented in collaboration with authorities and government bodies in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. The houses should be ready within 45 days, before the cold season enters its most acute phase. Twenty-three thousand prefabricated housing units have also been destined to the area of Dohuk, where around 50 % of the displaced who have fled from the cities of Mosul and Nineveh Plain are concentrated.


The theme and dates for the 2015 Synod on the Family were announced this morning in the synod hall. The theme for the second part of the Synod on the Family will be “The vocation and the mission of the family within the Church and in the contemporary world.” The synod will take place from October 4-25, 2015. The issues dealt with during the first part of the Synod, which concludes this week, will be further discussed in this second part.


The synod today released what it has called its Midterm report, the “Relatio post disceptationem” or report that follows the discussion period that took place this week in the synod hall. The 5,800-word report, read in the hall today by Cardinal Peter Erdo of Hungary, the relator general of the synod, was the focus of the remarks made in a press briefing by Cardinals Erdo, Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila and Ricardo Ezzati Andrello of Santiago, Chile and Archbishop Bruno Forte of of Chieti-Vasto. They also answered questions posed by journalists.

The 58-paragraph “Relatio” is in four languages – Italian, English, Spanish and French: It may be accessed here in English: http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2014/10/13/0751/03037.html

A 1,500-word summary of the principal points may be found in 4 languages at the Vatican Information Service (VIS). I offer several pertinent paragraphs at the end of this report. For English, click here: http://www.visnews-en.blogspot.it/2014/10/relatio-post-disceptationem-listen-to.html

I posted a Vatican Radio summary as well as the entire Relatio in English on http://www.facebook.com/joan.lewis.10420

What is noteworthy about this relatio, compared to many previous synodal and Vatican documents is its tone. It uses language that reflects the language of Francis since his election. The Pope speaks of mercy, understanding, dialogue, reconciliation, listening, welcoming. And the synod fathers spoke in those terms as well, especially when it came to very difficult pastoral issues like communion for the divorced and remarried, cohabitation, same sex unions, etc.

Though the report has in general toned down harsher language for one that is more conciliatory, and does not use phrases such as “living in sin” (cohabitation, for example) or “intrinsically disordered” (a reference to gay people) or “contraceptive mentality,” it does reaffirm Church teaching on the indissolubity of marriage, and the impossibility of celebrating or even blessing same sex unions. The relatio highlights mercy, “spiritual discernment,” “missionary conversion” as well as “a conversion of language.” It refers, for example, to “caring for wounded families” instead of those “living in sin.”

To a journalist who asked if communion for the divored and remarried or same sex unions seemed got the most attention, Cardinal Tagle said the themes that were among the most discussed topics were poverty, conflict, wars, the forced separation of families, forced migration, the situation of refugees, We asked how we as pastors provide pastoral care in these situations, or even other, such as inter-religious marriages.

Cardinal Ezzati said he listened very attentively. He said there is globalization, not only in economic spheres, but in the Church as well. There is a cultural change that is changing all of us, changing the Church. He said he saw a great capacity for listening n the synod, a great capacity for mercy and understanding. He said “the Universal Church was present in the synod hall with a heart of mercy, with the heart of pastors.”

Asked by one journalist if the “conservative voice” had been silenced in the synod hall, Cardinal Tagle, one of the three presidents delegate of the synod, was quick to state that there was ample space for all people and all voices in the synod. He cautioned, however, that we should be careful not to label people, not to use conservative or liberal because “labelling never totally captures a person.”

The cardinals said the document attempts to see and emphasize the positive of the synod and that it was an exercise in intellectual honesty as well as charity.

Cardinal Tagle said that the report “is a synthesis of our work, it is a mirror, like looking at ourselves and our work of this past week in a mirror.” He called the writers of the relatio “heroes” for bringing together the many topics raised in the synod, the many different cultural and linguistic expressions of a single issue, for example.

The report was followed this morning by two hours of very frank, very open, very free debate in the synod hall. Synod participants this afternoon began their smaller language group meetings, which will continue to the end of the synod. There will be another document after the language groups.

One point the cardinals underscored, in answer to a question, was how the participants said they felt “the spirit of Vatican Council II” in the hall. Cardinal Tagle said there were interventions that evoked the spirit of VCII in that the Council 50 years ago reflected on the Church and its mission in the contemporary world. It was not a Church closed in on itself and that was the spirit of this synod – a church looking at its mission in the contemporary world.

Other points made this morning:

– The synod must speak more of children, especially in same sex households. The child has a right to education. The importance of a mother (female) and a father (male) for the child. Parents have the right and must be the first educators of their children.
– The issues discussed in the synod are far more about the faithful than they are about bishops and bishops must be faithful to the discussion in the synod.
– Critical comments were made after the Relatio was given but then criticism was part of the discussions each day. Neither this document nor the final document will be binding but they will be used as part of and/or the basis for the 2015 synod.
– The participation of the laity in this synod has been extremely important and valuable and it is to be hoped the laity will participate in a great way in dioceses and parishes in the preparatory work for the 2015 synod. Abp. Forte stressed that “the laity are the protagonists.”
– On the laity: Cardinal Tagle said the mission received from Jesus involves the laity. The laity must be heard more often. Families must be missionary. “A faithful, loving married couple is an encouragement to pastors to be faithful in their ministry.”
– Abp. Forte: if we had to design a placard that defines the synod, it would be “Work in Progress.” He said there was a very effective use of synodality, of listening as well as talking, of walking together, of growing together, and also of the need for humility on the part of pastors. This was in the spirit of Vatican Council II, in the spirit of “Gaudium et spes” (Joy and Hope), a Church that looks with benevolence at the world.
– “Graduality” or “gradualness” was a new term often used in the synod, an important aspect. There are degrees of learning, of understanding, a spirit of accompanying, growing, maturing.


“The Report sets out three main guidelines: listening to the socio-cultural context in which families live today; discussing the pastoral perspectives to be taken, and above all, looking to Christ and to His Gospel of the family.”

“Turning our gaze to Christ ‘reaffirms the indissoluble union between a man and a woman’, but also allows us to ‘interpret the nuptial covenant in terms of continuity and novelty’. The principle, explains Cardinal Erdo, must be that of ‘gradualness’ for couples in failed marriages, with an ‘inclusive perspective’ for the ‘imperfect form of nuptial reality: ‘Realizing the need, therefore, for spiritual discernment with regard to cohabitation, civil marriages and divorced and remarried persons, it is the task of the Church to recognise those seeds of the Word that have spread beyond its visible and sacramental boundaries. … The Church turns respectfully to those who participate in her life in an incomplete and imperfect way, appreciating the positive values they contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings’.

“There is a need, therefore, for a ‘new dimension of family pastoral’ able to nurture seeds in the process of maturation, such as civil marriages characterized by stability, deep affection, and responsibility in relation to offspring, and which may lead to a sacramental bond. Frequently cohabitation or de facto unions are not dictated by a rejection of Christian values, but rather by practical needs, such as waiting for a stable job. The Church, a true ‘House of the Father’, a ‘torch carried among the people’, continued the Cardinal, must accompany ‘her most fragile sons and daughters, marked by wounded and lost love, with attention and care’, restoring trust and hope to them.

“In the third part, the post-discussion Report goes on to face the ‘most urgent pastoral issues, the implementation of which is entrusted to the individual local Churches, always in communion with the Pope. First, the ‘proclamation of the Gospel of the family’ is ‘not to condemn, but to cure human fragility’. This proclamation also involves the faithful: “Evangelising is the shared responsibility of all God’s people, each according to his or her own ministry and charism. Without the joyous testimony of spouses and families, the announcement, even if correct, risks being misunderstood or submerged by the ocean of words that is a characteristic of our society. Catholic families are themselves called upon to be the active subjects of all the pastoral of the family’.

“The Gospel of the family is ‘joy’, underlined Cardinal Erdo, and therefore requires ‘a missionary conversion’ so as not to stop at a proclamation that is ‘merely theoretical and has nothing to do with people’s real problems’. At the same time, it is also necessary to act in relation to language: ‘Conversion has, above all, to be that of language so that this might prove to be effectively meaningful’. … “

“Moving on to the issue of separated couples, divorced persons, including those subsequently remarried, Cardinal Erdo underlined that “it is not wise to think of single solutions or those inspired by a logic of ‘all or nothing’”; dialogue must therefore continue in the local Churches, “with respect and love” for every wounded family, thinking of those who have unjustly suffered abandonment by their spouse, avoiding discriminatory attitudes and protecting children: “It is indispensable to assume in a faithful and constructive way the consequences of separation or divorce on the children; they must not become an ‘object’ to be fought over and the most suitable means need to be sought so that they can get over the trauma of family break-up and grow up in the most serene way possible’.

“With regard to the streamlining of procedures for the recognition of matrimonial nullity, the General Rapporteur of the Synod reported the proposals made by the Assembly: to abandon the need for the double conforming sentence, to establish an administrative channel at diocesan level, and the introduction of a summary process in the case of clear nullity, and the possibility of “giving weight to the faith of those about to be married in terms of the validity of the sacrament of marriage”. The Cardinal emphasised that this all requires suitably prepared clergy and laypersons and a greater responsibility on the part of local bishops.

“With regard to access to the sacrament of the Eucharist for divorced and remarried persons, the Report lists the main suggestions that emerged from the Synod: maintaining the current discipline; allowing greater openness in particular cases, that may not be resolved without further injustice or suffering; or rather, opting for a “penitential” approach: partaking of the sacraments might occur were it preceded by a penitential path – under the responsibility of the diocesan bishop –, and with a clear undertaking in favour of the children. This would not be a general possibility, but the fruit of a discernment applied on a case-by-case basis, according to a law of gradualness, that takes into consideration the distinction between state of sin, state of grace and the attenuating circumstances.”


The Bishops Conference of England and Wales issued the following Joint Statement today: Right of Palestinians to belong to an independent state “long overdue.” The statement was signed by The Lord Bishop of Coventry, Rt Revd Dr Christopher Cocksworth, Church of England’s Lead Bishop for Foreign Affairs, and by Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, Chair of the Bishops’ Conference Department of International Affairs:

“At a time of great uncertainty in the Middle East and North Africa, w hold that it is the reasonable aspiration of all peoples to belong to a state and enjoy the merits of full and active citizenship on their own lands. We equally believe that the right of Palestinians for such statehood has been long overdue.

“Given the benchmarks established by international law and universal legitimacy, and in light of the support offered by the Christian Church in the Holy Land, we believe Palestinians should also have a state that they can at long last call home. Such a principled recognition by our Parliament and Government will facilitate rather than hamper the negotiations that would inevitably follow between Israelis and Palestinians to agree upon the details of this new and sovereign state created next to a secure Israel.

“Peace needs a bold vision.”