As you know, I just returned from 5 days in Warsaw, Poland where I attended the amazing symposium dedicated to Pope St. John Paul’s Natural Law and International Human Rights Legacy.

I was blessed and truly honored to be the keynote speaker at the opening dinner on May 17! I’d been asked to focus on my years at the Vatican and to talk about John Paul the man, his humanity, his humor, our encounters. My talk was entitled “I Made Cookies for a Saint.” Everyone was naturally intrigued by that idea and, to judge by response, they greatly enjoyed the presentation!

Far more challenging topics were the focus of the keynote speakers on May 18 and 19. Adrian Vermeule, Ralph S. Tyler, Jr. Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard spoke on “Common Good Constitutionalism” on Wednesday. On Thursday, J.H.H. Weiler, Professor at NYU Law School, addressed us “On the Limits of Natural Law and the Virtues of Revealed Law.”

The conference, co-sponsored by Ave Maria Law School and Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University of Warsaw, counted quite a number of eminent guests including two Eminences – Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz, Archbishop of Warsaw, and Cardinal Willem Ejik, archbishop of Utrecht, Holland, who spoke on Human Rights in a Secularized Society.

Archbishop Zbignevs Stankevics of Riga, Latvia was also a riveting speaker! Among others things, he noted that in 2005 the Latvia constitution clearly and firmly stated that marriage was between a man and a woman,. That constitution now uses the word “family” to describe ‘unions’, including LBGT. However, he noted that he and other Church leaders worked hard to make abortion, if not outlawed, at least less available, and he said the number of abortions has indeed gone down in recent years.

Travelling on the bus to the various venues – the university and restaurants in the evening – and simply sharing two meals a day with the cardinals and archbishop and a judge of Poland’s Supreme Court, as well as the other contributors at this fascinating conference was a real bonus!

Our final dinner –

As I listened to the talks, I saw a huge, vibrant tapestry being created where, of course, the common thread was always St. John Paul and his teaching on natural law, human rights, the right to life, protecting life and human dignity. Given the SCOTUS leak of a possible overturning of Roe v Wade at the federal level, many of the talks were so timely!

Topics included constitutional law, religious freedom and secularity, natural law in contemporary understanding of international human rights, and much more.

A common thread to most talks was human dignity.

One speaker noted how, over time, what was not allowed in law because of human dignity (ie, abortion, euthanasia) eventually became allowed, and even enshrined in law, in the name of human dignity! That just boggles the mind! Has the idea of human dignity changed that much? It seems so!

Another speaker said: The world needs active protagonists of the cult of life and human dignity as human dignity of all and for all is the founding principle of human life. Yet another stressed the need for a positive change in the human rights climate towards freedom of speech, of practice, of religion.

Some guests noted how constitutions have changed over the years, going from protecting absolute rights to watering them down or introducing new rights. Yet other speakers noted how many international laws and constitutions that had rights and duties clearly laid out, with red lines so to speak, but now those lines have become pink or are close to disappearing.

My mind still reels from the depth of each talk – the brilliance, the thoroughness with which each topic was treated and the challenging nature of the talks!

I mentioned on my Friday blog that my Warsaw trip ended with a half-day spent outside the city with Franciscan sisters who, at their marvelous school and home for blind children, had welcomed several blind Ukrainian children.

I’d hoped to bring that story to you today in both words and photos but it just took me 90 minutes to download the pictures, not because they were that numerous but because my laptop simply closed the program every time I started the download. I’ll start working on that tomorrow, so stay tuned.

It is a wonderful, inspiring, heart-warming story of the deep love of these religious for their young charges as well as the story of the Polish people – the generous and warm welcome given to their Ukrainian brothers and sisters at the very worst time of their lives!



I had one of the most wonderful, heart-warming, inspiring days of my life today when a colleague from the Ave Maria conference and I went to Laski, about a half hour outside of Warsaw, to visit a center run by the Franciscan Sisters, Servants of the Cross, whose charism is working with blind children.

The center is hosting some blind children from Ukraine and I’ll tell their story on Monday. Sister Fabiana will tell us of her life in Ukraine, a total of 15 years at two different times.

I’ll also tell you about this beautiful center, its founding and its foundress, and offer many photos of the school, the sisters, the children at play and the wonderful, serene setting in part of the massive Kampinos forest.

The sisters’ foundress, Mother Elzbieta Roza Czacka, from a Catholic, aristocratic and patriotic family, became blind at 22 and, after various vicissitudes, discovered her true mission in life.

So tune in to that on Monday!


Because I have spent most of the week in Poland at the conference organized by the Ave Maria Law School and Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University of Warsaw that was dedicated to Pope St. John Paul’s Natural Law and International Human Rights Legacy, I’ve not had time to prepare my usual VI program of a news segment, Q&A and an interview. My colleagues at EWTN are thus offering a “Best of” Vatican Insider this weekend! Thanks for understanding!

The days were wonderful beyond telling but also very long and I literally had no time to write a blog or prepare VI during the conference. However, I’ll be back to writing on Monday and will have a new Vatican Insider for you next weekend. Back to Rome tomorrow!

In the meantime, wherever you are, at home or on vacation, enjoy yourself and those you love!




The Ave Maria School of Law and Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University of Warsaw have organized a two-day conference on May 18 and 19 in Warsaw dedicated to Pope St. John Paul’s Natural Law and International Human Rights Legacy.

The program notes that, “If we want a century of violent coercion to be succeeded by a century of persuasion, we must find a way to discuss the human future intelligibly. The universal moral law written on the human heart is precisely that kind of ‘grammar’ which is needed if the world is to engage this discussion of its future.” (John Paul II, Address to the Fiftieth General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, 5 October 1995)

All these years later, we still see a time of “violent coercion” and pray daily that this will soon be followed a time “of persuasion!”

The conference actually opens tomorrow night in Warsaw with a gala dinner at Delicja Polska. I went online and can’t wait till we dine there: Delicja Polska is a restaurant in the Warsaw Old Town »

Opening remarks will be delivered by Ron Rychlak, Vice-Chair of the Board of Governors of Ave Maria School of Law.

I was honored beyond telling when I was invited to give the first of three keynote addresses of the conference! My name appears on the program: Keynote Address: Joan Lewis, EWTN Rome Bureau Chief (emerita), “I Made Cookies for a Saint.”

While the great majority of speakers will address the topics of or related to John Paul’s natural law legacy and international human rights, I was asked, given my years working at the Vatican during his pontificate, to give a more personal look at this saintly Pope, John Paul the Great! I was asked to tell my personal stories – to look at John Paul the man, his humanity, his humor, his mysticism and yet his down-to-earthness. (from WYD in Denver)

And to tell the story of how “I Made Cookies for a Saint!”

Hopefully, my talk will come at dessert time!

On Wednesday, May 18, the first full conference day, Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw delivers the opening prayer and remarks. Afterwards, the deans of the two universities co-sponsoring the conference will address attendees: John Czarnetzky, Ave Maria School of Law, and Michał Gierycz, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University Dean.

I am guessing we might sing “Happy Birthday” at some time on this day as St. John Paul was born on May 18, 1920!

The keynote address for May 18 will be delivered by Adrian Vermuele, Ralph S. Tyler, Jr. Professor of Constitutional Law, Harvard Law School, “Common good constitutionalism.”

 Morning Session I with various speakers will be moderated by Alejandro Bermudez, Executive Director, Catholic News Agency. The program notes that, “In light of the lived experience of St. John Paul II, this panel will examine the various historical, juridical and anthropological factors of the 20th century leading to the lack of intelligible discourse in human rights experienced today and the consequences thereof.”

Appearing virtually in that session are George Weigel, John Paul biographer and Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies, and Michael Breidenbach, Associate Professor and Chair of History, Ave Maria University.

The afternoon Session II, entitled “The ‘grammar’ of St. John Paul II and coherent human rights discourse,” will be moderated by Solène Tadié, Europe Correspondent, National Catholic Register.

This panel will examine the various historical, juridical and anthropological factors in the response of St. John Paul II to the elements identified in Session I. Appearing virtually will be Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, speaking on “Faith and Reason: Amity or Enmity?”

The late afternoon Session III on May 18 should be another riveting period as it features panels presenting St. John Paul II’s teaching and international human rights issues. PANEL A looks at St. John Paul II on human life and the natural family, and Panel B focuses on St. John Paul II on the common good and collective rights.

And this is only the first full day of the conference! And I only touched the tip of the iceberg as far as the names of the eminent speakers and panellists go! My head will be spinning with names and ideas and speech content by the time the conference ends Thursday evening. I hope there will be time for quality personal encounters and good conversations!

By the way, the third keynote address will be delivered on May 19, by J.H.H. Weiler, Professor, N.Y.U. Law School, “On the limits of Natural Law and the Virtues of Revealed Law.”

Cardinal Willem Jacobus Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht, will offer the opening prayer and remarks on “Human rights in a secularized society.”

(PS. I’m not sure what kind of time I will have for writing, but will do my best to post even a blurb. The days are literally 12 hours long)