Join me this weekend on Vatican Insider for Part II of my conversation with my special guest and friend, Msgr. Philip Whitmore, rector of the Venerable English College, the English seminary in Rome. It is truly a venerable institution with a history of over 600 years!

Msgr. Whitmore, rector since June 2013, is from the Archdiocese of Westminster, and before 2013 served in the Roman Curia, working first at the Congregation for Bishops and then at the Secretariat of State. He tells fascinating stories about the college, its amazing and very long history, the young men studying here, the historical Archives project, the summer residence of Pallazola and much more. Some very surprising facts as well.

This photo is from an audience in 2018 with Pope Francis – Msgr. Whitmore is to the Pope’s right as we look at the photo:

In case you missed them last week, here are photos of the seminary’s stunning chapel!


“Free from fear”: that is the theme of a 3-day meeting organized by the Migrantes Foundation, Italian Caritas, and the Jesuit-run Astalli Center for Refugees, to discuss reception structures for migrants.

The meeting is being held at the Fraterna Domus, a Welcome and Retreat Center near the town of Sacrofano, about 20 kilometers outside Rome. Consistent with his commitment to welcoming migrants, Pope Francis chose to open the meeting on Friday afternoon by celebrating Mass at the Fraterna Domus Center.

Do not be afraid
In his homily, the Pope focused on the readings chosen for the celebration, which he summed up in a single sentence: “Do not be afraid”.

Pope Francis used the image of the Israelites at the Red Sea, in the Book of Exodus, to illustrate how we are “called to look beyond the adversities of the moment, to overcome fear and to place full trust in the saving and mysterious action of the Lord”.

Free from fear
Turning to the Gospel of St Matthew, the Pope described the disciples crying out in fear at the sight of Jesus walking on the waters, and His response to them: “Courage, it is I, do not be afraid”. Reminding his listeners that “Free from fear” is the theme chosen for this meeting, Pope Francis said it is “through these biblical episodes that the Lord speaks to us today and asks us to let Him free us from our fears”.

Fear of others
“Faced with the wickedness and ugliness of our time”, said Pope Francis, we too, “are tempted to abandon our dream of freedom”. We are tempted to “shut ourselves off within ourselves”, he said, “in our fragile human security…in our reassuring routine”.
The Pope called this retreat into oneself, “a sign of defeat”, one that increases our fear of “others”, foreigners, outcasts and strangers. “This is particularly evident today”, he continued, with the arrival of migrants and refugees “who knock on our door in search of protection, security and a better future”.

Fear is legitimate
While recognizing that fear is legitimate, Pope Francis said it can lead us to “give up encountering others and to raise barriers to defend ourselves”. Instead, he continued, we are called to overcome our fear, knowing “the Lord does not abandon His people”. The encounter with the other”, said the Pope, “is also an encounter with Christ…even if our eyes have difficulty recognizing Him”. He is the one, said Pope Francis, “with ragged clothes, dirty feet, agonized faces, sore bodies, unable to speak our language”.

Overcoming fear
The Pope concluded his homily by suggesting we should “begin to thank those who give us the opportunity of this meeting, that is, the ‘others’ who knock at our door, and offer us the possibility of overcoming our fears, meeting, welcoming and assisting Jesus”.
And those “who have had the strength to let themselves be freed from fear”, he said, “need to help others do the same”, so they too can prepare themselves for their own encounter with Christ.


Responding to the questions of journalists, interim director of the Holy See Press Office, Alessandro Gisotti, said: “The Holy See has learned in the press that an investigation has been initiated by the French authorities towards Monsignor Luigi Ventura, Apostolic Nuncio in Paris. The Holy See is awaiting the outcome of the investigations “.

CNA/EWTN news reports that Bishop Luigi Ventura, apostolic nuncio to France since 2009 and a long-time Vatican diplomat, is under investigation for alleged sexual assault.
The French newspaper Le Monde reported Friday that Ventura, 74, is being investigated by Paris authorities after he was accused late last month of having inappropriately touched a young male staffer of Paris City Hall.

A Vatican statement Feb. 15 said that it was made aware of the French authorities’ investigation of the envoy through the press and is “awaiting the outcome of the investigations.”
The alleged assault is said to have taken place in Paris’ City Hall Jan. 17, during a reception for the annual New Year address of Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo. The address is usually given to diplomats, religious leaders, and civil society members, with a role by the apostolic nuncio.
The claim against Ventura was brought to French authorities by Paris City Hall six days after it allegedly took place. The alleged victim has not been identified. (To continue: https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vatican-ambassador-under-investigation-for-sexual-assault-71198)


Below you will find Pope Francis’ talk this morning to the Galileo Foundation, remarks that focussed on human trafficking. Human trafficking is an issue that is of great concern to President Trump and to the United States Embassy to the Holy See, as you will note when you visit the website (https://va.usembassy.gov/).


Join me this weekend on Vatican insider for my conversation with my special guest and friend, Msgr. Philip Whitmore, rector of the Venerable English College, the English seminary in Rome. You will learn that the VEC is one of the oldest and most venerable institutions in the Eternal City. Msgr. Whitmore, rector since June 2013, is from the Archdiocese of Westminster, and before 2013 served in the Roman Curia, working first at the Congregation for Bishops and then at the Secretariat of State. He tells fascinating stories about the college, its amazing and very long history, the young men studying here, the historical Archives project, and much more. Some very surprising facts as well.

How historic are the ties between the English and Rome? As we learn from the website – http://www.vecrome.org: The links between England and Rome go back to 597 when Pope Gregory the Great sent St. Augustine to convert the English. In the centuries that followed English pilgrims travelled to Rome in ever-greater numbers, staying in hostels known as Hospices. In 1362 a Guild of English residents bought a house owned by John and Alice Shepherd, rosary bead sellers, in via di Monserrato and turned it into a pilgrim Hospice dedicated to the Trinity and St Thomas of Canterbury. Up to 100 pilgrims could lodge there, usually for 3-8 days, or if they fell ill until they recovered or succumbed to illness.

Here’s Msgr. Whitmore in the stunning St. Thomas of Canterbury Chapel at the college that today, as centuries ago, is on Via Monserrato!

More photos of the chapel including one picture of a large reliquary below the altar with relics of English martyrs. The panels you see on some of the side walls commemorate previous rectors, the founder of the College and other notable figures in its history. The statue of Our Lady came to the College in Rome in 2015 from the English seminary in Portugal which was closed a number of years ago.

Behind the altar is the Martyrs’ Picture, painted in 1583 by Durante Alberti. Msgr. Whitmore will tell you the story of the English martyrs. Every year on December 1 students celebrate the traditional singing of the Te Deum beneath the painting (my photo did not turn out that well, sorry to say):

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Pope Francis on Friday received in audience members of the Galileo Foundation, telling them on the feast day of Saint Josephine Bakhita, the patron of victims of human trafficking, that Christians can follow her great example.
By Lydia O’Kane (vaticannews)

The aim of the Galileo Foundation is “to strive for a society where no one is left behind or deprived through poverty.” It also places particular emphasis on the elimination of modern slavery and human trafficking in all its forms.

Human trafficking and Christian duty to raise awareness
In his prepared remarks to members of the foundation, Pope Francis told them that they had “an essential part to play in making known the saving message of the Gospel to the people of our time, and especially to the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.” He then encouraged the group “to keep on generously offering such important witness”, before adding, that it was an essential duty for Christians today to highlight the plight of those who suffer from exploitation, and “the deadly crime of human trafficking.”

Saint Josephine Bakhita
The 8th of February marks the World Day of Prayer and Reflection against Human Trafficking and is also the feast day of Saint Josephine Bakhita, the patron of victims of human trafficking. Reflecting on this 21st century Saint, the Pope said, “she knew from painful experience the reality of slavery and its humiliating and violent consequences. Yet, by God’s grace, she also came to know true freedom and joy.”

Attend the poor with gentleness and compassion
He underlined that her holiness of life was “a summons not only to fight with greater determination against modern forms of slavery which are an open wound on the body of society, a scourge upon the body of Christ and a crime against humanity, but also to learn from her great example.” “She teaches us”, he added, “how to attend to the poor with tenderness, gentleness and compassion.”

Concluding his address the Pope prayed that the members of the Galileo Foundation would be sustained “by an ever deeper rootedness in prayer, by the intercession of Saint Josephine Bakhita and by the strength, the Holy Spirit alone can give.”


Responding to journalists’ questions regarding the ongoing crisis in Venezuela, and the possibility of a mediation on the part of the Holy See, the interim Director of the Vatican Press Office, Alessandro Gisotti, said: “The Holy Father reserves the right to verify the will of both parties by ascertaining whether the conditions exist for following this path”.

Mediation if requested by all parties
On the flight back from Abu Dhabi to the Vatican, Pope Francis spoke to journalists on board, in similar terms: “We will see what can be done”, said the Pope. “But for a mediation to happen, you need the will of both sides: both sides need to request it. This is a condition must make them think first, before asking for help or for the presence of an observer, or for mediation. Both sides, always”.

Thinking of Venezuela while in Panama
The crisis in Venezuela reached a turning point on January 23rd when the Leader of the National Assembly, Juan Gerardo Guaidó Márquez, declared himself interim President of the country. It was the same day of the Pope arrived in Panama to celebrate World Youth Day. He addressed the people of Venezuela during the Angelus on January 27th: “Here in Panama I have thought a lot about the Venezuelan people, to whom I feel particularly united these days”, said the Pope. “In the face of the current serious situation, I ask the Lord that a just and peaceful solution be sought and reached to overcome the crisis, with respect for human rights and seeking exclusively the good of all the inhabitants of the country. I invite you to pray, placing this intercession under the protection of Our Lady of Coromoto, Patroness of Venezuela”.

The Pope’s appeals
This is not the first appeal Pope Francis has made on behalf of Venezuela. When the crisis began in 2014, he sent a message encouraging dialogue, speaking of “the heroism of forgiveness and mercy”: elements we need, said the Pope, to free ourselves “from resentment and hatred” and to take “a truly new path”, one that requires patience and courage”, but “the only one that can lead to peace and justice”, he said.

More recently, in May 2017, Pope Francis wrote to the Venezuelan Bishops, urging them to build bridges. He expressed his “deep sorrow for the clashes and violence” that, according to recent estimates of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, have cost the lives of 43 people and about 850 arrests, in the last few days alone.

A country on its knees
The humanitarian situation in Venezuela is the greatest cause of concern of the Bishops of the country, which has been on its knees for years, despite its massive oil reserves. The latest figures tell the story: according to the FAO, 12% of the population is undernourished, and the rate of malnutrition is at its highest in 25 years. The UN estimates that about 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled the country since 2015.

The voice of the Venezuelan Bishops
Bishop José Trinidad Fernández is auxiliary bishop of Caracas and secretary general of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference. “We don’t want bloodshed, for any reason in the world”, he says. “We know the people of Venezuela are peaceful”, so “a negotiated and peaceful solution is needed, one that respects everyone. The commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is particularly valid at this moment and this must be a process of peace, not of war”, he says. Bishop José Trinidad Fernández continues, by saying: “Ours is a request for dialogue that we have reiterated many times in our pronouncements. A dialogue that must lead to that peaceful transition and that political change the people are asking for. A political change, to go to clear and transparent elections”.

The humanitarian situation
The Church in Venezuela is also deeply concerned about the dramatic situation of the population, the lack of food and medicine: “We must open the country to humanitarian aid”, they say, emphasizing the “dramatic and unprecedented situation” in which the country finds itself. Speaking on behalf of the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference, the Secretary General says: “We bishops are inspired by the recent Message of the Pope for the world Day of Peace, in which he speaks of the need for a good policy in the service of peace”. This is what we are trying to do at this moment, he continues, because “we no longer want to see people being arbitrarily detained, or children looking for food in the garbage”. (vaticannews)