A wedding behind prison walls

VATICAN CITY — Even a jailed inmate can have a fairytale, Catholic wedding.

The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, ran a lovely story of one couple’s journey of preparation for the sacrament of marriage.

It’s not your typical scenario: the couple had been together for 27 years, had children and grandchildren, and now, the groom was serving time in a prison in Catania, in southern Italy.

The story is told by the prison chaplain, Father Francesco Ventorino, who, while not identifying the couple, talks about the groom’s spiritual awakening.


A deacon distributing communion to a death-row inmate at Indiana State Prison in Michigan City in 2007. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Northwest Indiana Catholic)

The man wanted a Catholic wedding, even if it meant holding the ceremony in jail, because he wanted to “give spousal dignity” to his wife, give their children “the sense of belonging to a true family” and to abide by “his Christian conscience,” the priest said.

“Rarely have I found myself in front of people with so much curiosity and desire to understand the mystery that they were going to celebrate in the faith and what this added to the love they had already lived, faithfully and fruitfully,” Father Ventorino said.

The priest said the inmates were doubtful the church would even allow the couple to have a Catholic wedding, and the townsfolk believed the only people who got married in the church were families who could afford a lavish ceremony.

Both communities — inside and outside the prison walls — were about to see things could be different.

Father Ventorino hit the streets, calling friends and finding ways people could pitch in to help; the groom had no money, the priest said, “not even to buy a tie.”

Engaged couple holds hands before special Mass honoring St. Valentine in Terni, Italy

An engaged couple holding hands at a Mass at the Basilica of St. Valentine in Terni, Italy, 2013. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A goldsmith in town donated the wedding rings, the notary gave the groom one of his best suits and others contributed money, baked desserts, made party favors and got the flowers to decorate a makeshift altar set up in a room in the prison where the ceremony would take place.

The whole saga of getting everything ready “was followed closely by his cellmates and the inmates in his ward — like a shared adventure.”

The couple were married in the detention facility in the presence of their family, prison staff and police, and “an improvised choir made up of volunteers.”

When it was time to exchange their vows, the chaplain said, the couple was so choked up, they could barely get the words out. Such a moving, emotional moment is “something that rarely happens today, even with young people,” he said.


The Sacred Heart of Jesus depicted in a stained-glass window at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Church in Southampton, N.Y., in 2005. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

“The two newlyweds had understood that with the sacrament, their love entered into Christ’s love for his church, and required, from then on, the same kind of fidelity and selflessness, an absolute giving up until death.”

Getting married in the church made the things the couple believed and expressed about God “more credible,” the priest said.

After the wedding, the priest said everyone told him the ceremony had “rendered, even more glorious, the face of Christ” inside the prison — that face of mercy and forgiveness that Pope Francis says makes life in any situation more human.

And if that weren’t enough of a happy ending: Father Ventorino said the number of detainees asking to get married in the church “have multiplied!”

A “who’s who” look at papal advisers in Rome this week


VATICAN CITY — This is a big week with new and old cardinals coming to town for 10 days of meetings and ceremonies.

Pope Francis is meeting, for the third time, with his “group of eight” Council of Cardinals yesterday, today and tomorrow to help him in his overhaul of the Roman Curia.

The “Scarlet-G8” also is meeting with the two new commissions the pope created last year to study the Vatican bank as well as help improve the accounting and administrative procedures of all Vatican offices.

So these new commissions won’t get confusing — who they are and what they do — we created an interactive slideshow to walk you through each one. You can zoom in on any names or details with your scroll-wheel. Move the slides forward with the arrow on the gray bar.

Here’s another screen-grab to give you an idea of what’s inside:

first slide

Just to add to the complexity, other groups of cardinals will be meeting this week and next:

  • All cardinals will meet Thursday and Friday to talk about the pastoral care of the family in preparation for the upcoming synod in October.
  • Council preparing the synod of bishops will meet next Monday and Tuesday to talk about the synod on the family.

Cardinal Kasper to address College of Cardinals on family

VATICAN CITY — Ever since last July, when Pope Francis told reporters that the church’s practices on marriage exemplify a need for mercy in the church today, speculation has been widespread that he might make it easier for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion even without an annulment of their first marriage.

On Feb. 17, the Vatican made an announcement bound to make such speculation even more common.

Cardinal Kasper (CNS/Paul Haring)

Cardinal Kasper (CNS/Paul Haring)

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told reporters that Cardinal Walter Kasper would deliver the opening talk at a two-day meeting of the College of Cardinals, Feb. 20-21. The spokesman did not specify the subject of the talk, but said it would deal with church teaching on the family.

The cardinals’ meeting will focus on preparation for October’s extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the “pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization,” which Pope Francis has said will take up the question of giving Communion to the divorced and remarried.

That question is one on which Cardinal Kasper has strong and well-known views. In 1993, when the cardinal was a diocesan bishop in Germany, he and two other bishops issued pastoral instructions telling priests they could give Communion to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics convinced their first marriages were invalid, even if they had not received annulments.

That practice was later ruled out by the Vatican, but last year, the Archdiocese of Freiburg, Germany, made a similar proposal. Even criticism from Cardinal-designate Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has not stopped prominent voices — including Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, Germany, and Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras — from suggesting Freiburg might be allowed to carry out the proposal.

Cardinals Marx and Rodriguez Maradiaga are especially influential these days because they both sit on the eight-member Council of Cardinals the pope named last April to advise him on reform of the Vatican bureaucracy and governance of the universal church.


Meeting with that council Feb. 17, Pope Francis kicked off what Father Lombardi called a “rather full” week and half at the Vatican.

The council is scheduled to meet Feb. 17-19, for its third round of meetings since October.

On Monday morning, the council received a three-member delegation from the Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See, which the pope established in July to investigate accounting practices in Vatican offices and devise strategies for greater fiscal responsibility and transparency.

Father Lombardi said the commission delivered a report on its work, but he declined to provide any details on the content.

On Tuesday Feb. 18, the council is scheduled to receive a five-person commission Pope Francis established in June to review the activities and mission of the Vatican bank. The commission includes two American members: Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon and Msgr. Peter B. Wells, a top official in the Vatican Secretariat of State.

On Wednesday, the pope and his council will meet with the Council of Cardinals for the Study of the Organizational and Economic Problems of the Holy See, a 15-member body that oversees budget making for the Holy See and Vatican City State. (The body will also meet on its own Feb. 24-25.)

On Saturday Feb. 22, the pope will create 19 new cardinals. He will concelebrate Mass with the newly expanded college the following day.

Finally, the secretariat of the Synod of Bishops will meet Feb. 24-25.

A rather full schedule, indeed; so watch this space for full coverage.

Pope to engaged couples: After ‘I do,’ comes ‘May I, Thank you & I’m sorry’

St. Valentine pictured in stained-glass window at basilica in Terni, Italy

St. Valentine in a stained-glass window at the Basilica of St. Valentine in Terni, Italy. CNS/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis had a special date today in St. Peter’s Square with Catholic couples who are preparing to be married this year.

Check out the story with our “Storified” tweets below and the full video of the festive event covered by Vatican television.












This blog is guaranteed to make you hungry!

By Dennis Sadowski

MANILA, Philippines — When in Manila, there’s one place to do as the Romans do.

Where? Try the Ristorante delle Mitre (Restaurant of the Miter) in Manila’s Intramuros, the old city.

Ristorante delle Mitre in Manila’s old city is modeled after a Roman cafe and offers meals named for prelates connected with the Philippines and the Vatican. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

Ristorante delle Mitre in Manila’s old city is modeled after a Roman cafe and offers meals named for prelates connected with the Philippines and the Vatican. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

Among regulars, it’s known as Le Mitre, the Miter. It is located adjacent to the offices of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, across the street from San Augustin Church.

It’s modeled on a Roman cafe near the Vatican that is popular among priests and bishops visiting Rome on vacation or on official business. It certainly has a European feel, right down to the display cases of desserts that greet visitors as they enter.

Most of the restaurant’s dishes are named for Filipino church leaders with a few named for nuncios, priests and other prelates connected with the Vatican.

For instance, there’s the Palo Archbishop John Du Special Lugaw, a Philippine beef tapa served with dried pusit, which is squid. A dish named for Bishop Sofronio Bancud of Cabanatuan features crispy tilapia with coconut milk sauce.

Manila Cardinal Luis Tagle’s sweet tooth is highlighted in his favorite: silvana, a frozen cookie with a layer of buttercream sandwiched between two cashew-meringue wafers coated with cookie crumbs.

Everything is made on premises using locally grown and produced ingredients. Organic is preferred when possible. The menu includes vegetarian dishes. Seafood is a popular offering as well.

Sister Evangeline Paras, a member of the Missionary Catechists of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, supervises the culinary staff. Her background includes cooking for clergy in parish settings.

Costs are deliberately kept low so people of all walks of life can afford a meal. There’s also a special 39-peso meal — that’s less than $1 — for anyone, but especially those who work as a driver for a bishop or who are poor.

Employees have a say in the operation of the restaurant. And there’s a special program through which deaf people are hired in an arrangement with a local social services agency.

On Tuesday I enjoyed a beef pochero, consisting of short ribs cooked in a slightly sweet orange-mango sauce with traditional vegetables named for Bishop Prudencio Andaya of Tabuk. I topped off lunch with a not-too-sweet cinnamon apple cheesecake.

For the historically minded, display cases house artifacts from Philippine bishops. The miters of Archbishop Teofilo Camomot, Bishop Alfredo Maria Obviar  and Bishop Alfredo Verzosa, all proposed for beatification, also are displayed.

Owner Elivra Go opened the restaurant in July 2010. She told me that the effort really was the work of the Holy Spirit.

The idea first for the restaurant arose in 2008. She said now-retired Cardinal Ricardo Vidal of Cebu asked her to consider opening a place for bishops to enjoy a good meal at a reasonable cost. “It took me two years to say ‘yes,’” said the long-term lay church leader. “Who was I to say ‘no’ to the bishops?

“It just fell into place once I said ‘yes.’ It was the Holy Spirit at work.”

Go called the business a labor of love, saying it did not matter if it turned a profit or not.

She formerly helped run the candy-making business her father started in Manila in 1937. Her brother now heads the operation while Go, who is single, promotes church events. She also hosts a daily 15-minute radio show and a weekly television program that often features Catholic guests discussing church teaching.

“We want the people to feel that God is taking care of them with a good comfortable place,” Go said, “where the customer will go out smiling.”

Education and the meme generation

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis, who spent many years teaching high school students and seminarians, had a lot of great stuff to say today about the importance of education.

I thought it’d be fun to create a couple of memes to help spread, in new ways, what he had to say .

Feel free to share!

education reach out

education meme

“Listen to your grandparents!” and other papal words of wisdom for kids

VATICAN CITY — The success of a kids’ comic book about Pope Francis has prompted its Italian publisher to turn it into an app for the English-speaking world.


Screenshot of a new app released Feb. 9 by Master New Media using comics to make Pope Francis’ words more accessible to children.

Called “Pope Francis Comics,” the app offers a kid-friendly mini-bio of the Argentine pontiff and 13 catchy phrases based on tweets or speeches by the pope. Kids can test how well they remember the messages with a fill-in-the-blank and coloring game.

comic book

Screenshot of a new app released Feb. 9 by Master New Media using comics to make Pope Francis’ words more accessible to children.

There is also a full-color, eight-page comic book meant for older adolescents.

While the story is a bit far-fetched (the pope plots an unrealized late-night escape to help the poor with his assistant, Corrado, and encourages Corrado to reprimand any cardinals he sees giving too little money to people on the street), it gets the point across that charity and prayer are important in a world with so much suffering.

It’s a cute and easy-to-use app, but probably a bit over-priced ($2.99) for the small amount of content and limited features. However, the publishing house tells me the app will have automatic updates and will provide new features. Right now, it feels much like the newsstand magazine it’s based on, but without the cool mazes and fun stickers.

In any case, it’s a nice attempt and a good model for new ways to reach young children with the teachings of a pope whose speaking style is already well-suited for kids.

What faith-based apps do your kids use and love? Share some of their favorites with us here!