This page may be quiet in coming days as EWTN employees have some time off on Holy Thursday and Good Friday to participate in or attend Triduum liturgies. Urgent or breaking news will always be reported, in any case – here or on facebook.com/joan.lewis.10420.

I want to wish all of you – my listeners, readers and TV viewers – a meaningful Holy Week and a blessed Easter of the Resurrection. I will remember you in prayer during the rest of Holy Week.

And now, a heads up for VATICAN INSIDER, my weekend radio program. In particular, after the news segment, stay tuned for Part II of my conversation with a longtime friend and a colleague when we both worked at Vatican Radio for many years – Tracey McClure. Tracey and a few others made some history not long ago by founding D.Va – Donne in Vaticano – Women in the Vatican – the first ever women’s association approved by the Vatican! I am a member of D.VA (pronounced diva) and have participated in many activities but I wanted Tracey to give you the behind the scenes input. So stay tuned to learn more about Women in the Vatican!

IN THE UNITED STATES, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (stations listed at http://www.ewtn.com) or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio, or on http://www.ewtn.com. OUTSIDE THE U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” VI airs at 5am and 9pm ET on Saturdays and 6am ET on Sundays.

On another note altogether – a note about a truly remarkable woman – I hope everyone has a chance to follow the Way of the Cross, the Via Crucis that will take place Good Friday evening at the Colosseum with Pope Francis, This year’s meditations were written by Consolata Sister Eugenia Bonetti – chosen by Pope Francis – who has dedicated a great part of her 80 years to ridding the world of trafficking in persons, especially trafficking in women.

She spoke passionately about her life and her work at a briefing today in the Holy See Press Office, explaining her work with 12 sisters from 12 different religious Orders and 12 different countries, as “women for women.”

Sister Eugenia said that she hoped the “Colosseum would again become the place that represents the many kinds of suffering today as it was in the past. It will represent the Passion of today, of Christ who dies in our streets.”

“We still have the crucified today,” she noted, highlighting cases where girls who do not submit to prostitution are burned alive.

She added that, “there are, however, many Veronicas out there today, those who still help to dry tears.”


Pope Francis says his thoughts remain close to Parisians and the people of France, as donations for the reconstruction of Notre Dame Cathedral pour in from around the world.

By Devin Watkins (vaticannews)

Speaking to French pilgrims present at the Wednesday general audience, Pope Francis thanked the many people who risked their lives to salvage Notre Dame as fire tore through the Paris Cathedral. “The gratitude of the whole Church goes to those who did everything they could, even risking their lives, to save the Basilica,” he said.

The Holy Father said he felt a great sense of sorrow for the damage caused by the devastating blaze.

Extensive damage
Fire broke out on Monday evening in Notre Dame’s rafters, where workmen had been carrying out renovations. The spire of the 12th-century cathedral collapsed, along with the entire roof. Courageous firefighters saved the Blessed Sacrament and several relics, including the Crown of Thorns and the tunic of St. Louis. Much of the artwork was also rescued.

Authorities consider the fire an accident.

Phone call with Macron
Pope Francis spoke by phone with President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday, personally expressing his solidarity with the people of France.
He repeated the feeling again on Wednesday, telling the nation: “I feel very close to all of you. May the Virgin Mary bless you and support the work of reconstruction. May it be a harmonious work of praise and glory to God.”

Support pours in
Donations are pouring in to rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral. Nearly $1 billion has already been raised. The French government, which owns the Cathedral, is setting up an office to gather donations. France’s cultural heritage envoy, Stephane Bern, said contributions came from both ordinary Catholic faithful and wealthy donors.

Barbara Jatta, the head of the Vatican Museums, told Reuters that her staff of art historians and restorers “are willing to do anything we can to help.”

Daring the odds, President Macron has pledged to restore Notre Dame Cathedral to her former glory in 5 years, just in time for the 2024 Paris Olympics.


Before Jesus celebrated the Passover, a “spy” went out to betray him.
As the days of Holy Week move forward, various events occur that directly lead to what will take place on Good Friday. Among these events was the fateful betrayal of Jesus by one of his own disciples:

Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. (Matthew 26:14-16)

This action by Judas earned him the title of “spy” by medieval Christians, in accord with the traditional definition of the English word, “one who keeps secret watch on a person or thing to obtain information.”

From Wednesday onward, Judas secretly watched for a chance to turn Jesus over to the chief priests, and so many Christians labeled this day as “Spy Wednesday.”

In the same vein various cultures reflected the somber mood of this day by calling it “Black Wednesday” or “Wednesday of Shadows,” which also corresponds to the liturgical rite of Tenebrae that is celebrated on this day.

It is also called “Silent Wednesday,” as the Gospels do not record any activities in the life of Jesus. The only event is the secret meeting of Judas with the chief priests.

Wednesday’s events usher in the final days of Jesus’ life on earth and directly lead to the sacrifice of Jesus on Good Friday. (https://aleteia.org/2018/03/28/what-is-spy-wednesday/)



When I woke up this morning I felt a strange sensation, like something was not right, a kind of melancholy, and then I remembered the images I had seen last night of the devastating fire in Paris at the beloved cathedral of Notre Dame. I had been to dinner with Ella Sullivan, a niece working at EWTN as an intern, when a friend walked in the restaurant and asked if we had heard about Paris. I said I’d seen a cryptic FB message from a friend – “So sad about the Notre Dame fire” – but had not pursued it.

I then got out my phone and images and reports were everywhere we turned. We had no words! No words can do justice to an image that shocks your entire system, mind, body and soul. As I later wrote my sister Gail, it seemed as if we were watching the trailer for a film – this could not be real life!

I have followed events throughout the day on television. The absolute best, most complete coverage is, as you might imagine, on France 24, the English language satellite French news channel.

Last night the images were devastating and we all asked: Will Notre Dame be standing in the morning? The very ferocity of the flames left little room for doubt. You saw and heard the doubt and fear of those standing not far from the cathedral and watching this beloved icon go up in flames.

This morning, the blackened walls of the cathedral, the iconic twin bell towers, the main facade, the basic stone structure – inside and out – were still indeed standing, miraculously standing, as was the scaffolding erected for much-needed restoration of this grande dame of churches.

As the sun rose and the day went on, you could see hope and relief in faces and hear it in people’s voices as they spoke to various media outlets.

One woman told French TV: “I have hope because the lady is still standing.”

As the expression goes, “Hope is the last to die!”

I first saw Notre Dame many decades ago, as a student in college as our group travelled through Europe to reach Fribourg, Switzerland where we would study French for a year. We went back during the academic year and, in the summer following classes in Fribourg, two cousins and I spent 3 weeks in Paris as we wanted to perfect our language skills.

For many years I returned to France, to Paris, as a French teacher and group leader bringing students overseas on study abroad programs. The majesty, the history, the breathtakingly stunning stained glass windows, the beauty of the myriad works of art, the sculptures, both inside and out, the works by gold and silver smiths, the awesome organ – everything about Notre Dame penetrates your being. Bigger than life. A long and beautiful story told in stones and colored glass.

Notre Dame – a cathedral symbolizing almost a millennia of Catholic faith.

Notre Dame – a glorious tribute by hundreds of the world’s best artists to the glory of God.

Notre Dame – a masterpiece whose very name pays tribute to the Mother of God, Mary, Our Lady, Notre Dame.

With Our Lady watching over it, we know that Notre Dame will rise again.

As her Son rose after His passion and death – Easter Sunday, the Resurrection!


The interim director of the Holy See Press Office, Alessandro Gisotti, issued a brief statement in reaction to the devastating fire that engulfed the Cathedral of Notre Dame on Monday evening.

“The Holy See has heard with shock and sadness the news of the terrible fire that devastated the Cathedral of Notre Dame, symbol of Christianity in France and in the world. We express our closeness to French Catholics and the people of Paris. We assure our prayers for the firemen and all those who are doing everything possible to deal with this dramatic situation.”


The following telegram was sent by Pope Francis to Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris:

“Following the fire that devastated much of the Notre-Dame cathedral, I associate myself with your sadness, as well as that of the faithful of your diocese, the inhabitants of Paris and all the French. In these Holy Days where we remember Jesus’ passion, his death and his resurrection, I assure you of my spiritual closeness and my prayer.

“This disaster seriously damaged a historic building. But I realize that it has also affected a national symbol dear to the hearts of Parisians and French in the diversity of their beliefs. For Notre-Dame is the architectural jewel of a collective memory, the gathering place for many major events, the witness of the faith and prayer of Catholics in the city.

“While saluting the courage and the work of the fire-fighters who intervened to circumscribe the fire, I express the wish that the Notre-Dame cathedral can become again, thanks to the works of reconstruction and the mobilization of all, this beautiful treasure chest in the heart of the city, sign of the faith of those who built it, mother church of your diocese, architectural and spiritual heritage of Paris, France and humanity.

“With this hope, I cordially grant you the apostolic blessing, as well as the Bishops of France and the faithful of your diocese, and I call the blessing of God on the inhabitants of Paris and all the French.” FRANCISCUS PP.


Pope Francis is praying for the Catholics of France, as well as for the people of Paris and all those striving to cope with the fire that ravaged the Cathedral of Notre Dame on Monday evening.

By Devin Watkins (vaticannews)

In a tweet on Tuesday morning, Alessandro Gisotti, the interim Director of the Vatican Press Office, expressed Pope Francis’ closeness to the people of France.

The Pope, he said, is praying for “all those who are striving to cope with this tragic situation.”

Soon after the blaze started on Monday evening, Gisotti tweeted the Holy See’s “shock and sadness”, calling the Cathedral of Notre Dame “a symbol of Christianity in France and in the world”.

What happened?
Fire broke out in Paris’ 860-year-old Cathedral on Monday evening, tearing through its timbered roofing and causing its storied spire to collapse.

The inferno raged for more than 12 hours before hundreds of firefighters were able to bring it under control. One firefighter was injured as he battled the flames.

The blaze started in the area around the spire, where workmen had been carrying out extensive renovations to the roof and the spire’s wooden frame.

The Paris prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation into the cause of the fire. Police sources told Reuters that they were working under the assumption that the fire was accidental.

What was saved?
Only the Gothic masterpiece’s outer walls, façade, and twin bell towers remain standing. Its famous pipe organ, dating back to the 1730s, also survived intact.

Firefighters reportedly saved many of the treasures housed inside.

Notre Dame’s Rector, Msgr. Patrick Chauvet, said the Crown of Thorns – which tradition holds was worn by Jesus during his Passion – and the tunic believed to have been worn by St. Louis, the 13th century king of France, were rescued from the flames.

‘United in sorrow’
Messages of solidarity and sorrow are pouring in from around the world.

The Bishops of France said Notre Dame’s influence “extends beyond the capital” and that it would remain “a major symbol of the Catholic faith”. They also invited Catholics around the world to “be living stones of the Church,” especially as the faithful journey through Holy Week and look to the hope of Christ’s Resurrection.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, said New Yorkers are united in sorrow with Parisians. “This Holy Week teaches us that, like Jesus, death brings life. Today’s dying, we trust, will bring rising,” he said on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan.

The spiritual leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, said the fire was “a huge loss for all humanity,” calling the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris “one of the most important monuments in the world.”


Pope Francis expresses his sorrow to the Archbishop of Paris, and the people of France, for the fire that devastated Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral, as the Vatican offers technical assistance for the historic sanctuary’s reconstruction.

By Devin Watkins (vaticannews)

“Following the fire that ravaged a large part of Notre Dame Cathedral, I join you in your sorrow, as well as that of the faithful of your diocese, the inhabitants of Paris, and all the French people.”

Pope Francis sent those words of solidarity to Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris on Tuesday.

He assured all the people of France of his spiritual closeness and prayers during Holy Week, as the Church recalls Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection.

National symbol damaged
“This disaster,” he wrote, “caused serious damage to a historic building.”

“But,” the Pope went on, “I recognize that it has also affected a national symbol dear to the hearts of Parisians and French people, in the diversity of their convictions.”

He called Notre Dame “an architectural jewel of a collective memory,” and said it was “the location of many great events and a testimony to the faith and prayer of the city’s Catholics.

Hope for the future
Pope Francis expressed his appreciation for the courage of the firemen who intervened to contain the blaze and his hope that it returns to its former glory.

“May Notre Dame Cathedral once again become – thanks to reconstruction efforts and the mobilization of all – a sign of the faith of those who built it”.

He said the 860-year-old sanctuary represents “the architectural and spiritual heritage of Paris, of France, and of all humanity.”

Vatican offers expertise
Also on Tuesday, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi offered the Vatican’s technical know-how to help rebuild Notre Dame.

The President of the Pontifical Council for Culture told reporters that the Holy See could take part in some specific area of the reconstruction, making reference to the technical expertise of the Vatican Museums.

We have the type of know-how that the whole world recognizes as being of a high quality,” said Cardinal Ravasi. “So I think an eventual future offer by the Holy See will be significant.”



For those who may have missed it last year either in this column or on my weekend radio show, “Vatican Insider,” I’d like to share a Palm Sunday story with you – one I tell all my friends who visit Rome when we are in St. Peter’s Square. It’s the marvelous story of how a sailor from Liguria saved an obelisk from falling and extracted a papal promise for an honor for his native city.

In 1586, Pope Sixtus V, to complete the design of St. Peter’s Square, ordered architect Domenico Fontana to place in the center of the square a giant Egyptian obelisk which had been brought to Rome in 39 A.D. by Emperor Caligula. For centuries it has been in the emperor’s circus, in what today is Vatican City, and moving the obelisk from that point to the center of St. Peter’s Square would be a herculean task.

On September 10, the day the 85-foot high, 350-ton obelisk was transported by 900 workers, 140 horses and 44 winches, Benedetto Bresca, a ship’s captain from the Italian Riviera area of San Remo-Bordighera, was in the square.

The head engineer had told Pope Sixtus that total silence was needed to raise the obelisk, once it was in the square. Thus, the Pope announced to the huge crowd that had assembled to watch the maneuver that anyone who spoke during the delicate and risky operation would face the death penalty.

As work was underway, the ropes used to raise the obelisk gave signs of fraying and weakening and the obelisk itself began to sway. However, the now famous sailor Benedetto – whose name means Benedict – knew what the problem was and how to solve it and so, notwithstanding the pontiff’s ultimatum, he shouted, “aiga ae corde – “water on the ropes, water on the ropes.” The head engineer realized the sailor was right, the ropes were watered, they became taut and strong and the obelisk was raised, without further danger to anyone.

Instead of punishing the audacious sailor, Pope Sixtus rewarded him by giving Benedetto and his descendants the privilege of providing the Vatican with the famous Ligurian palms used for Holy Week ceremonies in the Vatican. And so it has been for over four centuries, with only a few brief interruptions. (photos from sanremofiorita)

Known as “parmureli”, the leaves from date palm trees in San Remo and Bordighera are woven and braided into intricate sculptures, some only inches high, others several meters high. Every Palm Sunday, the cities provide the Vatican with over 200 parmureli, including one parmurelo for the Pope that is customarily six feet high and about 80 five-foot high palms for cardinals and bishops.

Many years ago, when the parmureli arrived by sea, the ship that carried them placed one of the palm leaf sculptures on the mast that usually displayed a flag. The palm “flag” thus gave that vessel from San Remo-Bordighera precedence into the port over all other vessels.

By the way, the obelisk is also a sundial as its shadows mark noon over the signs of the zodiac in the white marble disks placed among the cobblestones of the square.



Pope Francis during Mass on Palm Sunday told the faithful, “there is no negotiating with the cross: one either embraces it or rejects it. By his self-abasement, Jesus wanted to open up to us the path of faith and to precede us on that path.”

By Lydia O’Kane (vaticannews)

Thousands of pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square for the celebration of Palm Sunday that marks the beginning of Holy Week. Palm Sunday also marks diocesan World Youth Day and young people could be seen waving palms and olive branches as the sun beamed down.

As the “Hosanna” rang out a solemn procession saw cardinals, priests and ordinary men and women making their way around the square. Following the Gospel, which was read by three deacons and recounts Christ’s Passion, Pope Francis in his homily recalled how Jesus in his entry into Jerusalem shows us the way with his humility in the face of triumphalism. (photos by Daniel Ibáñez of EWTN/ACI)

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Abandonment and obedience
With this entrance into Holy Week, the Pope explained, “Jesus shows us how to face moments of difficulty and the most insidious of temptations by preserving in our hearts a peace that is neither detachment nor superhuman impassivity, but confident abandonment to the Father and to his saving will, which bestows life and mercy.”

“He shows us this kind of abandonment,” Pope Francis said, “by spurning, at every point in his earthly ministry, the temptation to do things his way and not in complete obedience to the Father.”

Humility over triumphalism
Today, too, remarked the Pontiff, “by his entrance into Jerusalem, he shows us the way. For in that event, the evil one, the prince of this world, had a card up his sleeve: the card of triumphalism. Yet, the Lord responded by holding fast to his own way, the way of humility.”

The Pope emphasized that “triumphalism tries to make it to the goal by shortcuts and false compromises… It lives off gestures and words that are not forged in the crucible of the cross; Jesus destroyed triumphalism by his Passion.” “One subtle form of triumphalism is spiritual worldliness, which represents the greatest danger, the most treacherous temptation threatening the Church”, he said, quoting from French Cardinal and Theologian Henri De Lubac.

The power of silence
Pope Francis remarked, that Jesus “knows that true triumph involves making room for God and that the only way to do that is by stripping oneself, by self-emptying. “There is no negotiating with the cross: one either embraces it or rejects it,” said the Pope. By his self-abasement, Jesus wanted to open up to us the path of faith and to precede us on that path.”

Addressing the young people present for this diocesan World Youth Day, the Pontiff told them not to be ashamed to show their enthusiasm for Jesus, to shout out that he is alive and that he is in their lives.

During his homily, Pope Francis also noted the “profoundly impressive” silence of Jesus throughout his Passion.

The Pope added that, “he also overcomes the temptation to answer back, to act like a “superstar.” Francis said that, “in moments of darkness and great tribulation, we need to keep silent, to find the courage not to speak, as long as our silence is meek and not full of anger.” The Pope stressed that, “at the hour that God comes forth to fight, we have to let him take over. Our place of safety will be beneath the mantle of the holy Mother of God.”


The crowds are getting bigger here each and every day as we approach Palm Sunday and the Easter season – schools closing, families traveling, huge numbers of visitors invading the Eternal City and Vatican City. Today I’m dedicating some space to the questions that people usually ask me about visiting Rome and the Vatican, and I hope the answers and links below help in a significant way.

I also want to give you a heads up on something that I’ll be part of on Easter Sunday.

Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House and husband of Callista Gingrich, U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, recently started a podcast called “Newt’s World.” I’ve known the Gingriches for 10 years as our friendship dates back to some assistance I gave them a decade ago when they were filming their documentary on Pope John Paul in Rome and the Vatican.

Newt is truly a man for all seasons as you will realize by simply looking at the subjects of his first podcasts. If, for example, you thought you knew Benjamin Franklin, think again! A riveting story that will make you stop what you are doing (unless you are listening while driving your car). Listen HERE http://www.westwoodonepodcasts.com/pods/newts-world/ and HERE: https://www.gingrich360.com/productions/podcast/

I am honored that he has chosen me as a feature of his Easter Sunday podcast! So tune in next week – I’ll be reminding you, in any case!


My very special guest this weekend on Vatican Insider’s interview segment is also a longtime friend and a colleague when we both worked at Vatican Radio for many years – Tracey McClure. Tracey and a few others made some history not long ago by founding D.Va – Donne in Vaticano – Women in the Vatican – the first ever women’s association approved by the Vatican! Full disclosure: I am a member of D.VA (pronounced diva) and have participated in many activities but I wanted Tracey to give you the behind the scenes input.

Here are a few photos from some of our activities, excursions (Castelgandolfo) and Masses with Fr. Federico Lombardi, our spiritual advisor.

The women who founded D.VA (Tracey’s under the Pope’s photo)-

Part of the group at Castelgandolfo –

Mass with Fr. Lombardi in Teutonic cemetery chapel –

IN THE UNITED STATES, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (stations listed at http://www.ewtn.com) or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio, or on http://www.ewtn.com. OUTSIDE THE U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” VI airs at 5am and 9pm ET on Saturdays and 6am ET on Sundays. On the GB-IE feed (which is on SKY in the UK and Ireland), VI airs at 5:30am, 12 noon and 10pm CET on Sundays. Both of these feeds are also available on the EWTN app and on http://www.ewtnradio.net ALWAYS CHECK YOUR OWN TIME ZONE! For VI archives: http://www.ewtn.com/multimedia/audio-library/index.asp (write Vatican Insider where it says Search Shows and Episodes)


On Friday April  26, the 2019 edition of the special night openings of the Vatican Museums will begin, offering until 25 October a unique experience in terms of atmosphere, artistic beauty and musical offerings, for visitors both Roman and otherwise.

From 7.00 p.m., for over six months for a total of 27 Fridays, the Pope’s Museums “double” their cultural offering with a new evening programme, greatly appreciated by the public, especially in the spring and summer season.

As in previous years, and again included in the price of the entry ticket, which may be booked online exclusively, an extensive concert programme will enrich the already special night opening, animating the splendid museum architecture with sound, song and dance.

Click here for all pertinent information: http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/eventi-e-novita/iniziative/Eventi/2019/aperture-notturne-2019.html


If you’re visiting Rome and want to get a papal blessing for an anniversary, wedding or First Communion will need to go to the office of Papal Blessings in Vatican City State. This is part of the office of the Papal Almoner, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski as all monies from blessings go to papal charities.

If for some reason you cannot make it to Rome, you can indeed order online; https://www.elemosineria.va/papal-blessing-parchments/


You’re planning your trip to Rome and need a ticket for a papal audience or possibly a public papal Mass (not the daily Mass in the Santa Marta residence in Vatican City). To find out what events are on Pope Francis’ calendar – and to obtain that ticket! – go here: http://www.vatican.va/various/prefettura/index_en.html


ATAC, Rome’s municipal transit authority, is a name you’ll see scores of times each day on the city’s busses. It has a great website and a fair amount of information in English: website – https://www.atac.roma.it/index.asp?lingua=ENG

All ATAC tickets are good for travel on the train, bus, and streetcars. They are also valid for commuter trains, but only when within Rome itself. Tickets can be purchased at automated vending machines or at the ticket booth in subway stations as well as at tobacco shops and newspaper stands throughout the city. Single tickets cost €1.50 and are good for 100 minutes or rides on 2 busses. You can also buy a tourist ticket for 24, 48 or 72 hours.

Those who live in Rome will have either an annual pass or a monthly pass. Whereas a single ticket must be validated upon first use in a yellow machine inside the bus, that is not the case with monthly or yearly passes. Thus, if you see someone get on the bus and not show or validate a ticket, do not presume they are travelling free. They undoubtedly have a pass and they, like you, will be asked to show that if controllers board the bus. There are fines for people without tickets so make sure you have one!

The metro (metropolitana) or subway is also a great way to travel, though it is nothing like the underground system of London, Paris, New York and other major cities. Signs indicating a metro stop are large red squares with a white M in the middle. Some of the major subway stops in the center of the city have been closed for repairs to mobile stairways so be sure to check a map. (https://www.rometoolkit.com/transport/rome_metro.htm)

There are scads of HOP ON – HOP OFF companies as you mjay have seen online but I highly recommend ORP – Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi: https://www.operaromanapellegrinaggi.org/en/roma-cristiana/open-bus


At the end of a two-day unique event in the Vatican, just minutes ago, 5 pm Rome time, Pope Francis began his address to those attending the retreat in the Santa Marta residence for leaders of South Sudan. The people of Sudan are Muslim majority but those of South Sudan are Christian majority, as are its leaders. Here is that talk (carried live at vaticannews.va)


I extend a cordial welcome to each of you here present: the President of the Republic and the Vice-Presidents of the future Presidency of the Republic, who in accordance with the terms of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan will assume their high national responsibilities on 12 May next. I also offer fraternal greetings to the members of the South Sudan Council of Churches, who spiritually accompany the flock entrusted to them in their respective communities; I thank all of you for the good will and open heart with which you accepted my invitation to take part in this retreat in the Vatican. I would likewise offer a special greeting to the Archbishop of Canterbury, His Grace Justin Welby, who conceived this initiative, and to the former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Very Reverend John Chalmers. I join all of you in giving heartfelt thanks and praise to God for enabling us to share these two days of grace in his holy presence, in order to implore and receive his peace.

“Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:19). I address you with the same encouraging and comforting words with which the risen Lord greeted his fearful and disconsolate disciples when he appeared to them in the Upper Room following his resurrection. It is extremely important for us to realize that “peace” was the very first word that the Lord spoke. Peace was his first gift to the Apostles after his sorrowful passion and his triumph over death. I offer that same greeting to you, who come from a situation of great suffering, for yourselves and your people, a people sorely tried by the consequences of conflicts. May it echo in the “upper room” of this house, like the words of the Master, and enable each of you to draw new strength to work for the desired progress of your young nation. Like the fire of Pentecost that descended on the young Christian community, may it kindle a new light of hope for all the people of South Sudan. Holding all these intentions in my heart, I renew my greeting: “Peace be with you!”

Peace is the first gift that the Lord brought us, and the first commitment that leaders of nations must pursue. Peace is the fundamental condition for ensuring the rights of each individual and the integral development of an entire people. Jesus Christ, whom God the Father sent into the world as the Prince of Peace, gave us the model to follow. Through his own sacrifice and obedience, he bestowed his peace on the world. That is why, from the moment of his birth, the choir of angels sang the heavenly hymn: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Lk 2:14). What joy it would bring, were all the South Sudanese people to raise with one voice the song that echoes that of the angels: “O God, we praise and glorify you for your grace on South Sudan, land of great abundance; uphold us in peace and harmony” (first verse of the South Sudan national anthem). How I wish that the voices of the entire human family could join that heavenly choir in singing glory to God and working for peace among all men and women!

We are all aware that this meeting is something altogether special and in some sense unique, since it is neither an ordinary bilateral or diplomatic meeting between the Pope and Heads of State, nor an ecumenical initiative involving representatives of different Christian communities. Instead, it is a spiritual retreat. The word “retreat” itself indicates a desire to step back from our usual environment or activities and to retire to a secluded place. The adjective “spiritual” suggests that this new space and experience should be marked by interior recollection, trusting prayer, deep reflection and encounters of reconciliation, so as to bear good fruits for ourselves and, as a consequence, for the communities to which we belong.

The purpose of this retreat is for us to stand together before God and to discern his will. It is to reflect on our own lives and the common mission the Lord has entrusted to us, to recognize our enormous shared responsibility for the present and future of the people of South Sudan, and to commit ourselves, reinvigorated and reconciled, to the building up of your nation. Dear brothers and sisters, let us not forget that God has entrusted to us, as political and religious leaders, the task of being guides for his people. He has entrusted much to us, and for this reason will require from us much more! He will demand an account of our service and our administration, our efforts on behalf of peace and the well-being of the members of our communities, especially the marginalized and those most in need. In other words, he will ask us to render an account not only of our own lives, but the lives of others as well (cf. Lk 12:48).

The cry of the poor who hunger and thirst for justice binds us in conscience and commits us in our ministry. They are the least in the eyes of the world, yet precious in God’s eyes. In using the expression “God’s eyes”, I think of the gaze of the Lord Jesus. Every spiritual retreat, like our daily examination of conscience, should make us feel that, with our whole being, our entire history, all our virtues and even our vices, we stand before the gaze of the Lord, who is able to see the truth in us and to lead us fully to that truth. The Word of God gives us a striking example of how the encounter with the gaze of Jesus can mark the most important moments in the life of a disciple. I am speaking of the three times that the Lord gazed upon the Apostle Peter, which I would now like to recall.

The first time that Jesus gazed upon Peter was when his brother Andrew brought him to Jesus and pointed him out as the Messiah. Jesus then fixed his gaze on Simon and said to him that henceforth he would be called Peter (cf. Jn 1:41-42). Later, the Lord would tell him that on this “rock” he would build his Church, indicating that he was counting on Peter to carry out his plan of salvation for his people. Jesus’ first gaze, then, was a gaze of “election”, choosing, which awakened enthusiasm for a special mission.

The second time Jesus gazed on Peter was late at night on Holy Thursday. Peter had denied the Lord a third time. Jesus, forcibly led away by the guards, fixed his gaze on him again, which awakened in him this time a painful but salutary repentance. The Apostle went out and “wept bitterly” (Mt 26:75) at having betrayed the Master’s call, his trust and his friendship. Jesus’ second gaze, then, touched Peter’s heart and brought about his conversion.

Finally, after the resurrection, on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, Jesus once more fixed his gaze on Peter and asked him three times to declare his love. He then entrusted him once again with the mission of shepherding his flock, and indicated that this mission was to culminate in the sacrifice of his life (cf. Jn 21:15-19).

In a real way, all of us can say that we were called to the life of faith and were chosen by God, but also by our people, to serve them faithfully. In this service, we may well have made mistakes, some rather small, others much greater. Yet the Lord Jesus always forgives the errors of those who repent. He always renews his trust, while demanding – of us especially – total dedication to the cause of his people.

Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus’ gaze rests, here and now, on each of us. It is very important to meet this gaze with our inner eye and to ask ourselves: How is Jesus gazing on me today? To what is he calling me? What does the Lord want me to forgive and what in my attitudes does he want me to change? What is my mission and the task that God entrusts to me for the good of his people? That people belongs to him, not to us; indeed, we ourselves are members of the people. It is simply that we have a responsibility and a particular mission: that of serving them.

Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus is also gazing, here and now, upon each one of us. He looks at us with love, he asks something, he forgives something and he gives us a mission. He has put great trust in us by choosing us to be his co-workers in the creation of a more just world. We can be sure that his gaze penetrates the depths of our hearts; it loves, transforms, reconciles and unites us. His kind and merciful gaze encourages us to renounce the paths that lead to sin and death, and it sustains us as we pursue the paths of peace and goodness. Here is an exercise that is beneficial, one that we can always do, even at home: consider that Jesus is gazing on us and that it will be this same gaze, full of love, which will greet us on the last day of our earthly life.

God’s gaze is especially directed to you; it is a look that offers you peace. Yet there is another gaze directed to you: is the gaze of your people, and it expresses their ardent desire for justice, reconciliation and peace. At this moment, I want to assure all your fellow citizens of my spiritual closeness, especially the refugees and the sick, who have remained in the country with great expectations and with bated breath, awaiting the outcome of this historic day. I am certain that they are accompanying this meeting with great hope and fervent prayer. Noah waited for the dove to bring him an olive branch to show the end of the flood and the beginning of a new era of peace between God and man (cf. Gen 8:11). In the same way, your people is awaiting your return to your country, the reconciliation of all its members, and a new era of peace and prosperity for all.

My thoughts turn first to all those who have lost their loved ones and their homes, to families that were separated and never reunited, to all the children and the elderly, and the women and men who have suffered terribly on account of the conflicts and violence that have spawned so much death, hunger, hurt and tears. We have clearly heard the cry of the poor and the needy; it rises up to heaven, to the very heart of God our Father, who desires to grant them justice and peace. I think constantly of these suffering souls and I pray that the fires of war will finally die down, so that they can return to their homes and live in serenity. I pray to Almighty God that peace will come to your land, and I ask all men and women of good will to work for peace among your people.

Dear brothers and sisters, peace is possible. I shall never tire of repeating this: peace is possible! Yet this great gift of God is at the same time a supreme duty on the part of those with responsibility for the people. We Christians believe and know that peace is possible, for Christ is risen. He has overcome evil with good. He has assured his disciples of the victory of peace over everything that fans the flames of war: pride, greed, the lust for power, self-interest, lies and hypocrisy (cf. Homily at the Prayer for Peace in South Sudan and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 23 November 2017).

It is my prayerful hope that all of us will take up our lofty calling to be peacemakers, striving in a spirit of fraternity and solidarity with every member of our people, a spirit that is noble, upright, strong and courageous, to build peace through dialogue, negotiation and forgiveness. I urge you, then, to seek what unites you, beginning with the fact that you belong to one and the same people, and to overcome all that divides you. People are wearied, exhausted by past conflicts: remember that with war, all is lost! Your people today are yearning for a better future, which can only come about through reconciliation and peace.

With great hope and trust, I learned last September that the highest political representatives of South Sudan had signed a peace agreement. Today, therefore, I congratulate the signatories of that document, both present and absent, without exception, beginning with the President of the Republic and the heads of political parties, for having chosen the path of dialogue, for your readiness to compromise, your determination to achieve peace, your readiness to be reconciled and your will to implement what has been agreed upon. I express my heartfelt hope that hostilities will finally cease, that the armistice will be respected, that political and ethnic divisions will be surmounted, and that there will be a lasting peace for the common good of all those citizens who dream of beginning to build the nation.

The common efforts of our fellow Christians and the various ecumenical initiatives of the South Sudan Council of Churches on behalf of reconciliation and peace, and care for the poor and the marginalized, have made a significant contribution to the progress of the entire South Sudanese people. I recall with joy and gratitude my recent meeting in the Vatican with the Bishops’ Conference of Sudan and South Sudan during their Visit ad limina Apostolorum. I was struck by their optimism grounded in a living faith and shown in tireless outreach, but also by their concern about the many political and social difficulties. Upon all the Christians of South Sudan who, in helping those in greatest need, bind up the wounds of Jesus’ body, I implore God’s abundant graces and assure them of a constant remembrance in my prayers. May they be peacemakers in the midst of the South Sudanese people, by their prayers and by their witness, and with the spiritual guidance and human help of every member of the people, including its leaders.

In conclusion, I renew my gratitude and appreciation to all of you, the civil and ecclesiastical authorities of South Sudan, for taking part in this retreat. To all the dear South Sudanese people I express my fervent good wishes of peace and prosperity. May the Merciful God touch the heart of every man and every woman in South Sudan, fill them with his grace and blessings, and bring forth rich fruits of lasting peace, even as the waters of the Nile, flowing through your country, bring life and abundant growth. Finally, I confirm my desire and hope that soon, by God’s grace, I will be able to visit your beloved nation, together with my dear brothers here present: the Archbishop of Canterbury and the former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

A final prayer 4. I would like to conclude this meditation with a prayer, following the invitation of the Saint Paul. The Apostle wrote: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim 2:1-2).

Holy Father, God of infinite goodness, you call us to be renewed in your Spirit, and you show your power above all in the grace of forgiveness. We recognize your fatherly love when, in a world torn by dissension and discord, you touch human hearts and open them to reconciliation. How often have men and women broken your covenant! Yet, instead of abandoning them, you renewed your bond with them through Jesus, your Son and our Redeemer: a bond so firm that it can never be broken.

We ask you, then, to touch with the power of the Spirit the depths of every human heart, so that enemies will be open to dialogue, adversaries will join hands and peoples will meet in harmony. By your gift, Father, may the whole-hearted search for peace resolve disputes, may love conquer hatred and may revenge be disarmed by forgiveness, so that, relying solely on your mercy, we may find our way back to you. Make us open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, so that we may live a new life in Christ, in everlasting praise of your name and in the service of our brothers and sisters (cf. Prefaces of Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation I and II). Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters, may peace be with you, and may it dwell in your hearts for ever!



Pope Francis on April 11 addressed participants in a conference organized by the Vatican’s Migrants and Refugees Section to examine the implementation of the Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking.

By Robin Gomes (vaticannews)

Pope Francis on Thursday condemned trafficking in human beings as one of the most dramatic manifestations of the “commercialization of the other,” a crime against humanity that disfigures both the victims as well as those who carry it out.

Francis said, “Those who commit this crime do not only harm others, but also themselves. …In its many forms, it constitutes a wound ‘in the body of contemporary humanity’, a profound wound in the humanity of those who suffer it and those who carry it out.”

Commercialization of persons
The Holy Father lamented the “growth of individualism and egocentricity” in our times, that tend to consider others in a merely utilitarian perspective, attributing value to them according to criteria of convenience and personal advantage. This is essentially a question of a “tendency towards the commercialization of the other,” which the Pope said he has repeatedly denounced. And “among the most dramatic manifestations of this commercialization is the trafficking in persons,” he said.

Using the words of Jesus in John’s Gospel as the yardstick of the Church’s mission of mercy – “I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:10) – Pope Francis said tha, “trafficking disfigures the humanity of the victim, offending the person’s freedom and dignity. …At the same time, it dehumanizes those who carry it out, denying them access to ‘life in abundance’.”

The Pope explained that trafficking constitutes an unjustifiable violation of the freedom and dignity of the human being willed and created by God. For this reason, he said, trafficking it is to be considered a “crime against humanity.”

Combatting trafficking
On the contrary, all actions aimed at restoring and promoting the human dignity of the survivors of trafficking are in line with the saving mission of Christ and His Church. This, said Francis, benefits our own humanity, opening the way to the fullness of life, the ultimate goal of our existence.

The Holy Father expressed admiration for those in local Churches and the many religious congregations who work, including networking with others, in order to fight the scourge

He noted that much has been done and is being done in the fight against trafficking, but that much remains to be done. He encouraged the coordination of various pastoral initiatives, both at local and international levels, and encouraged that they join forces to tackle the problem in countries of origin, transit and destination of the people being trafficked.

In order to be more effective, the Pope underscored, the Church needs also to accept the help of other political and social actors.