I had a fascinating dinner last night in a restaurant I had never been to, Isola della Pizza, on Via degli Scipioni, not far from Vatican City. A dear friend of mine, Clarence Gilyard, had just arrived in Rome to help the Vincentian Fathers with a special project for their 400th anniversary, and he invited me to join him and four other friends for what turned out to be a truly special evening.

If the name Clarence Gilyard rings a bell, you might remember him as a regular in TV shows such as Matlock and Walker Texas Ranger (he was Jimmy, Chuck Norris’ partner and friend ), to name a few of the many roles he has played. Clarence and I met at the 2011 World Youth Day in Madrid and have corresponded ever since. He was in Rome a few years ago at Christmas with his family and I even had them all to my house one night for dinner.

Clarence has not missed a WYD since then and we both reminisced about Krakow – his time at WYD last July and my recent visit for research for my book on St. John Paul. He and his family live in Las Vegas where he teaches drama, film and theater at UNLV. He’s also been a consultant on the Communications Committee of the USCCB.

At the last World Youth Day, Clarence met Fr. Tomaž Mavrič, Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission, also known as Vincentian Fathers and Brothers or Lazarists. With his background in theater and film, Clarence was asked by Father Tomaz if he would help on a video they are producting for the October celebrations. Thus the weeklong visit to Rome.

You’ll be hearing more about this congregation founded by St. Vincent de Paul in coming months, especially from all the parishes, centers and universities that bear the name Vincent de Paul. There is probably a parish near you by that name!

As the congregation’s website notes, Vincent de Paul was born in the village of Pouy in 1581. As a boy he lived among the poor and experienced the conditions under which they lived. In 1600 he became a priest. For a time he sought to escape from the poverty of his origins, but with the help of spiritual directors he felt himself called to deeper holiness and, through the events of his life, was finally led by divine providence to a firm determination to dedicate himself to the salvation of the poor. While he was exercising his ministry in Gannes, it was on January 25, 1617, in Folleville, he saw that the evangelization of the poor was an urgent need. He himself held that this was the origin of his vocation, and of the Congregation of the Mission.

Also joining Clarence and Father Tomaz for dinner were two Swiss Guard friends of ours and Fr. Joseph Agostino of the Vincentian Family Office in Philadelphia, in Rome for a brief visit to help plan the anniversary celebrations. Father Tomaz has asked me for some advice concerning media relations and I said I’d help in anyway I could.


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met on Monday afternoon with a group of young patients, doctors and nurses from Rome’s ‘Bambino Gesù’ children’s hospital. The children, aged between 5 and 18, are taking part in a documentary programme on Italian television exploring the experiences of young patients and their families at the Catholic hospital.

The ‘Bambino Gesù’ (Child Jesus) hospital, just a stone’s throw away from the Vatican, is the largest pediatric research facility in Europe. It treats over a million and a half young patients each year, with children travelling from all over the world to make use of its specialized services and equipment.

This was the second time the youngsters had come for a papal audience, which was being filmed for the TV series showing every Sunday evening on the RAI 3 channel.

In his greetings to the children and staff, including the hospital director, Dr Mariella Enoc, Pope Francis spoke of the importance of providing a welcoming family environment. Each patient, he said, has a name and an individual story, which is more important that the sickness that he or she has come to cure.  The hospital, he said, must always be first and foremost a family which takes care of the needs of each of its members.

Going into the hospital, Pope Francis said, can be quite frightening and he noted that some of the younger children cried at the audience because they confused a pope, dressed in white, with a doctor, who is coming to give them an injection. But a loving caress, he said, calms those fears and doctors are called to treat patients with their hearts and their love, as well as with their medical skills.

Finally Pope Francis thanked all the staff for providing “a witness of humanity” in the way they treat the children in their care. “You are a family,” he said, “and nothing is more important than that!”