Monday, September 30, 2013
Today is one of those days when I ask myself: Where do I start? More often than not, Tuesdays are quiet days in the Vatican as the Pope usually prepares his catechesis for the Wednesday general audience. However, today, there were three events of rather historic import.

The front page story, of course, was the first meeting of the newly-established Council of Cardinals as Pope Francis and eight cardinals, whom he personally chose one month after his election to the papacy, gathered in his library in the Apostolic Palace to discuss Church business. In addition to the cardinals, the group has a secretary, Bishop Semeraro of Albano, Italy. The council will meet through Thursday. The Pope will be absent only Wednesday morning for the general audience in St. Peters Square.

The eight eminences are: Cardinals Giuseppe Bertello, president of the Governorate of Vatican City State; Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, archbishop emeritus of Santiago de Chile, Chile; Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay, India; Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany; Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, archbishop of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo; Sean Patrick O'Malley O.F.M. Cap., archbishop of Boston, USA; George Pell, archbishop of Sydney, Australia; Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, S.D.B., archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in the role of coordinator; and Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano, Italy, in the role of secretary. The cardinals represent the universality of the Church and lead large archdioceses on different continents.

The second story of import was an interview with Pope Francis conducted by Eugenio Scalfari, founder of the left-leaning Italian daily, La Repubblica. Scalfari went to the Santa Marta residence on August 24. Click here for that interview which seems more like a conversation between friends - in English:

Todays third major story involves IOR the Institute for Works of Religion, more commonly known as the Vatican Bank - which, for the first time in its 125 years of existence, published an first annual report That report has been published online and can be found at the banks website, which became public at the end of July:

Details on these three stories appear below (you might want to grab an extra cup of coffee or tea!). Because of difficulties in posting the photos yesterday of my weekend trip to Assisi, I am leaving that story up for another day.


Pope Francis began the day, as he does every day, with Mass in the chapel of the Santa Marta residence, concelebrating with the eight cardinals with whom he will meet for three days this week. The Pope focused on the days readings, and began by noting how Jesus rebuked the two Apostles who wanted to call down fire from heaven upon those who would not accept them. Pope Francis said that the way of the Christian is not a path of vengeance, it is the way of humility, of meekness. He said todays feast of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus is a good time for us to think about this spirit of humility, of tenderness, of bounty, a spirit the Lord wants from all of us.

The Holy Father stated that, The Church, Benedict XVI told us, does not grow through proselytism, it grows through attraction, through witness. And when the people see this witness of humility, of meekness, of mildness, they feel the need that the Prophet Zachariah spoke of: We want to come with you. The people feel that need in the face of the witness of charity, of this humble charity, without bullying, not sufficient, humble. Worship and serve!

Charity is simple, said Francis, worship God and serve others! And this witness makes the Church grow. Thats why a nun, so humble, but so trusting in God, a nun like St. Therese of the Child Jesus was named Patron of the Mission, because of her example which makes the people say we want to come with you!

Pope Francis concluded his homily with a special mention of the meeting with the Council of Cardinals: Today, here in the Vatican, begins the meeting with the Cardinal consulters, who are concelebrating the Mass. Let us ask the Lord that our work today will make us all more humble, more meek, more patient, more trusting in God, so that the Church can give a beautiful witness to the people, and seeing the People of God, seeing the Church, they might feel the desire to come with us.

The focus of Pope Francis and the eight cardinals he named will be on a myriad of topics as they study 80 documents given to them to study before their three days of meetings in the Vatican.

The word reform is the most-oft used term to describe what the council will attempt to do: reform of the Roman Curia, reform of the Vatican bank, reform of the Synod of Bishops and even, some say, reform - or at least a change in the structure - of the Secretariat of State, linking perhaps one of its section to the Governorate of Vatican City State.

Will more authority be delegated to local churches and away from Rome? Will the Synod of Bishops have a greater say and greater input from the worlds bishops - in the governance of the Universal Church?

One of the main tasks of the Council of Cardinals - a task expected to last some time, and not be finished during these three days of meetings will be the re-writing of Blessed John Paul IIs 1988 Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus (Good shepherd) on the Roman Curia. The 193 articles in this document deal with the Secretariat of State, pontifical councils and congregations, tribunals and other Curial bodies. It also speaks of ad limina visits, has a section on rules and regulations, and deals with relations with the particular churches.

Right now, Vatican and Roman Curia employees except the top tier of three officials at each council, congregation, etc. have a 36-hour work week. Will that can that change? Should work hours be extended to accommodate the Church in other parts of the world? For example, when it is evening in Rome and offices are closed, the Church is vibrant and active in many countries around the world. There is, however, always at least a skeleton staff in the Secretariat of State to handle matters when time zones are so different. Many of the regulations in place regarding work hours, etc. are tied to agreements with Italy.

No official communications, written or otherwise, are expected at the end of each of the two daily work sessions. Could there be a final communique? I am guessing that is in the hands of Pope Francis.


In his conversation with Eugenio Scalfari, Pope Francis said he wants to make the Church become once again a community of Gods people, where priests, pastors and bishops, who have the care of souls, are at the service of the people of God. He also said the Churchs objective is not to proselytize, which he said is solemn nonsense, but to listen to the needs, desires, disappointments, despair and hope of the people. The Pope stressed that the ideal of a missionary and poor Church, incarnated by Saint Francis 800 years ago, remains more than valid today, in order to restore hope to the young, to help the elderly, to be open toward the future, and to spread love.

Scalfari notes at the outset that, the meeting with Pope Francis took place last Tuesday at his home in Santa Marta, in a small bare room with a table and five or six chairs and a painting on the wall. It had been preceded by a phone call I will never forget as long as I live. It was half past two in the afternoon. My phone rang and in a somewhat shaky voice my secretary tells me: I have the Pope on the line. I'll put him through immediately.

I was still stunned when I heard the voice of His Holiness on the other end of a the line saying, Hello, this is Pope Francis. Hello Your Holiness, I said and then, I am shocked, I did not expect you to call me. Why so surprised? You wrote me a letter asking to meet me in person. I had the same wish, so I'm calling to fix an appointment. Let me look at my diary: I can't do Wednesday, nor Monday, would Tuesday suit you? I answer, that's fine. The Pope, "The time is a little awkward, three in the afternoon, is that okay? Otherwise it'll have to be another day. Your Holiness, the time is fine. "So we agree: Tuesday the 24th at 3 o'clock. At Santa Marta. You have to come into the door at the Sant'Uffizio."

I don't know how to end this call and let myself go, saying: Can I embrace you by phone? Of course, a hug from me too. Then we will do it in person, goodbye."

Following are two excerpts from this lengthy interview:

Scalfari: And you think that mystics have been important for the Church? Pope Francis: "They have been fundamental. A religion without mystics is a philosophy."

Scalfari: Do you have a mystical vocation? Pope Francis: "What do you think?"

Scalfari: I wouldn't think so. Pope Francis: "You're probably right. I love the mystics; Francis also was in many aspects of his life, but I do not think I have the vocation and then we must understand the deep meaning of that word. The mystic manages to strip himself of action, of facts, objectives and even the pastoral mission and rises until he reaches communion with the Beatitudes. Brief moments but which fill an entire life."

Scalfari: Has that ever happened to you? Pope Francis: "Rarely. For example, when the conclave elected me Pope. Before I accepted I asked if I could spend a few minutes in the room next to the one with the balcony overlooking the square. My head was completely empty and I was seized by a great anxiety. To make it go way and relax I closed my eyes and made every thought disappear, even the thought of refusing to accept the position, as the liturgical procedure allows. I closed my eyes and I no longer had any anxiety or emotion. At a certain point I was filled with a great light. It lasted a moment, but to me it seemed very long. Then the light faded, I got up suddenly and walked into the room where the cardinals were waiting and the table on which was the act of acceptance. I signed it, the Cardinal Camerlengo countersigned it and then on the balcony there was the '"Habemus Papam".

A second excerpt:

Scalfari: I think love for temporal power is still very strong within the Vatican Walls and in the institutional structure of the whole Church. I think that the institution dominates the poor, missionary Church that you would like. Pope Francis: "In fact, that is the way it is, and in this area you cannot perform miracles. Let me remind you that even Francis in his time held long negotiations with the Roman hierarchy and the Pope to have the rules of his order recognized. Eventually he got the approval but with profound changes and compromises."

Scalfari: Will you have to follow the same path? Pope Francis: "I'm not Francis of Assisi and I do not have his strength and his holiness. But I am the Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Catholic world. The first thing I decided was to appoint a group of eight cardinals to be my advisers. Not courtiers but wise people who share my own feelings. This is the beginning of a Church with an organization that is not just top-down but also horizontal. When Cardinal Martini talked about focusing on the councils and synods he knew how long and difficult it would be to go in that direction. Gently, but firmly and tenaciously."

Scalfari concludes the interview by stating: We shake hands and he stands with two fingers raised in a blessing. I wave to him from the window. This is Pope Francis. If the Church becomes like him and becomes what he wants it to be, it will be an epochal change.


The third major story of the day concerns the Holy Sees Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), or Vatican Bank as it is more commonly known, today published the first annual report of its 125-year history. The lengthy report can be found online and contains a description of the banks resources, detailed financial statements, account holders and personnel, including the members of the Board of Superintendents, the Cardinals Commission and the Directorate. It also makes reference to the changes that have taken place in recent years.

That report can be accessed here:

The report notes that, at the end of 2012, the IOR had 18,900 customers, with the vast majority of account holders being institutions. It said religious Orders comprise 50 percent of these customers, nunciatures 15%, cardinals, bishops and clergy 13% and dioceses 9% is comprised. The remainder for the most part includes personnel of the Roman Curia and Vatican City State.

Some accounts are held by embassies accredited to the Holy See but Reuters news agency has reported that the IOR is considering closing accounts held by foreign embassies because of concerns raised by large cash withdrawals by some embassies, without an adequate explanation. Reuters quotes informed but unnamed sources at the Vatican who say that the Financial Information Authority, established to oversee Vatican financial affairs, has voiced concern about large cash withdrawals by the embassies of Iran, Iraq, and Indonesia. Such transactions are generally viewed in the international banking community as suspicious and the countries making the transactions as high risks for money-laundering and financing of terrorism.

The head of Vatican Radios German program, Fr. Bernd Hagenkord spoke with Ernst von Freyberg, president of IOR, at length. Fr. Hagenkord asked von Freyberg to explain in a few words what the report contains. We present the first annual report in 125 years of history of IOR. It contains a description of our business, it contains a summary of 2012 and of the first eight months of 2013, statements from our supervisory board, from the commission of cardinals and from the prelate. And then it contains more than 60 pages of detailed financial statements with a full audit statement from KPMG (an auditing firm). Von Freyberg added, You do not have to be an accountant (to understand), if you read the introductory letter and the description of our business of 2012 and 2013 you will get a good impression about what the Istituto per le Opere di Religione is about.

The IOR president noted that, Since March this year we have embarked on a strategy on three pillars. One is to reach out to the media and engage in a direct and open dialogue, telling the facts as they are in a systematic way. This includes that we now have a spokespersons office for the IOR. The second element is to create a website that can serve as an authoritative source on facts about the Institute. The third element is to publish the annual report.

The report is at


I spent the weekend in Assisi, a town I love more and more with each visit. One of the reasons I was there was to see how the hometown of St. Francis had been preparing for the visit of Pope Francis on Friday, October 4.

The trip will be significant, even historic, for several reasons but one is outstanding: Pope Francis has never been to Assisi in his entire life! This may explain what he wants to visit every important site that he can in this beautiful and ancient Umbrian town. Well re-visit his itinerary in coming days and you will be able to follow every papal word and deed and footstep taken on EWTN on Friday.

Pope John XXIII, to be canonized with John Paul II on April 27, 2014, visited Assisi in 1962.

Assisi is only a few days away from almost closing down entirely but this past weekend there was a huge number of pilgrims, churches were filled, posters announced the papal visit, and souvenir shops filled their windows with trinkets and a few more costly items made just for the occasion.

I walked great distances both Saturday and Sunday and, serendipitously, became part of several beautiful Masses.

As I exited the basilica Saturday afternoon, bells began to toll and I did this video.

Afterwards I participated in a procession and attended Mass celebrated by Bishop Sigismondo of Foligno for a group of pilgrims from Rivotorto, a very small town of just over 1200 souls. It seemed to me that at least half of RivoTorto had joined the bishop for the four-kilometer walk to Assisi where there was a procession into the basilica, with the singing of the litany of saints. Mass was packed and standing room only in the lower basilica.

This video shows the procession that started in the lower square of St. Francis basilica it is here that the papal mass will be celebrated Friday morning. As I taped the procession (I did not notice the sounds the wind was making), I decided to join the pilgrimage!

I also attended Mass Sunday morning at noon in the upper basilica. A choir of Italian Alpini provided some of the loveliest music I have heard in church in some time. I had a video of just a few seconds at the end of Mass wish I had taped their entire final song!

The Alpini, that is, mountain troops, are an elite mountain military corps of the Italian Army. Established in 1872, the Alpini are the oldest active mountain infantry in the world.

This is the main town square in Assisi. We see city hall decorated with flags and posters announcing the Popes visit and, to the right, the former temple of Minerva, now a church, Santa Maia sopra Minerva.

This 13th century fresco by Giotto depicts those same buildings in the main square.

The diocesan website clearly outlines what events are planned for the Popes visit, has a map of the papal itinerary and the diocese offers passes to anyone who requests up to 9 a person. Passes are colored and allow the owner to go where only that pass is valid to San Ruffino, to the basilica of St. Francis, to Santa Maria deli Angeli, and so on.

A friar who is well connected.

Road blocks will be set up throughout this hilly town and will be stringently enforced everywhere, especially along the route to be taken by the Holy Father. But guess wbo will be the first to break with protocol and police guidelines!

The platform for the altar and papal Mass is under construction, as are stands, etc., at some of the venues where mega-screens will transmit images of each papal venue. At the moment only a handful of such screens are planned Santa Maria degli Angeli, San Ruffino, outside St. Francis basilica and one or two other places.

One taxi driver told me that he and many other townspeople have no idea where Assisi will put all the people expected to attend a minimum of 100,000 as I write. He said that after 911, there was a march for peace and 100,000 people came to Assisi and many tens of thousands ended up in the fields at the foothills of the town. None of the spaces we are talking about is a huge venue - the biggest being the area in front of and adjacent to Santa Maria degli Angeli. And, given the hilly nature of Assisi, one might be physically near the basilica but not be able to see the Pope, except on a giant screen.

Add to this crowd the 1500 accreited members of the media!

Pope Francis will be at Santa Maria degli Angeli twice on Friday for lunch with some of the poor helped by Caritas in Assisi and later in the afternoon for a private visit to the church and the Porziuncula. In part the Franciscans are a little disappointed that the Pope will not be dining with them at their refectory at the basilica (where I had lunch in July with Bishop Robert Baker, if you recall) but on the other hand, lunch with the poor is precisely what St. Francis himself would have done. And isnt this why the Holy Father chose the name he did!

So Assisi is getting ready. Assisians are ready for the onslaught of faithful and the presence of Pope Francis, the other Francis.

Here are some photos I took of the basilica and lower piazza at night stupendous!

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