Behind-the-scenes during the announcement “of great importance for the life of the church…”

VATICAN CITY — One year ago today was not like any other workday for the Catholic News Service Rome bureau.

Pope Benedict XVI attends meeting at Vatican announcing his resignation

Pope Benedict XVI at a Feb. 11, 2013 meeting with cardinals at the Vatican announcing he would resign at the end of the month. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Today we’d like to look back on that historic day in several ways.

First, be sure not to miss this exclusive behind-the-scenes’ look right here at how the CNS staff in Rome was among the first in the world to hear the pope was planning to retire. It runs as a slide show, so just click on the gray arrow to scroll through.

Another fascinating story from that day was it was the very first day our intern from Villanova University started work at the Rome bureau.

Watch Lauren Colegrove’s story unfold here as she is interviewed by Matt Lauer from NBC’s Today show:


Cardinal Francis Arinze also gave us his engaging first-person account of hearing the pope’s announcement in the Consistory Hall.


And finally, here is the dubbed Vatican television footage of the pope announcing his decision to resign.

Where were you when you heard the news and what thoughts went through your mind?

“Your brother’s blood cries out from the ground!”

Maman Dedeou, in his hometown of Timbuktu in Mali June, 2013. His right hand was amputated by militants in 2012. (CNS/Paul Jeffrey)

VATICAN CITY — “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Pope Francis often holds up Cain’s cynical words and attitude of indifference as a rallying cry against the apathy and outright complicity shown in today’s world to the crime and horror of human trafficking.

At least 21 million people have been forced into modern-day slavery and many of those were caught in the snares of traffickers. Some experts believe human trafficking will soon overtake drug and arms trafficking as the most lucrative criminal activity in the world.


A young woman rests at the entrance of her house in Iquitos, Peru, 2006. (CNS/Walter Hupiu)

The U.S. bishops and Catholics in some parts of the world dedicate a day of prayer and fasting for victims and survivors of trafficking on Feb. 8 — the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, who was kidnapped as a child, sold into slavery and dedicated her life to comforting others after she was freed.


A child receives help in Iquitos, Peru, at a center in that supports children, especially those who have been sexually exploited. (CNS/Walter Hupiu)

Pope Francis has repeatedly called human trafficking “a crime against humanity” and condemned the lack of outrage and action to stop this affront to human dignity:

We must unite our efforts to free the victims and stop this increasingly aggressive crime which threatens not only individuals but the basic values of society and of international security and justice, to say nothing of the economy, and the fabric of the family and our coexistence.

Speech to new ambassadors to the Vatican Dec. 12, 2013

It is horrifying just to think that there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day; children being used as soldiers, abused and killed in armed conflicts; children turned into merchandise in that terrible form of modern slavery called human trafficking, which is a crime against humanity.

Speech to Vatican diplomatic corps Jan. 13, 2014

Congolese family displaced by violence rests in open at camp in Uganda

A Congolese family, displaced by fighting in the Congo, rests at transit camp in Bundibugyo, Uganda, July 2013. (CNS/James Akena, Reuters)

As Church we should remember that in tending the wounds of refugees, evacuees and the victims of trafficking, we are putting into practice the commandment of love that Jesus bequeathed to us when he identified with the foreigner, with those who are suffering, with all the innocent victims of violence and exploitation. We should reread more often chapter 25 of the Gospel according to Matthew in which he speaks of the Last Judgement (verses 31-46).

Speech to Vatican council for migrants May 24, 2013


Three women walk home in Iquitos, Peru, April 10, 2006. Poverty and apathy have contributed to the growing problem of child prostitution in this Peruvian jungle city. (CNS/Walter Hupiu)

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was just as outspoken — especially in his homilies during his annual Mass for victims of trafficking:

Sinning city, suffering city, city that doesn’t know how to weep. Buenos Aires needs to cry, to cry for the enslavement of her children, of so many sons and daughters who have passed through its dump trucks and are left in the garbage. We have set up a throwaway culture in Buenos Aires…

How can this be? … There’s a daily-dose of anesthesia this city knows how to use very well and it’s called bribery, and with this anesthesia, consciences are put to sleep.

Mass with and for victims of forced labor and trafficking Sept. 23, 2011

Pope Francis poses with a group of workers in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2011

Then-Cardinal Bergoglio poses with workers in Buenos Aires in this 2011 photo. (CNS/La Alameda Foundation handout via Reuters)

It’s worth fighting so Buenos Aires has no more slavery … That’s what God asks of us today: “Cry out full-throated and unsparingly, lift up your voice like a trumpet blast.” And let us rub it in the face of all those who invented this infernal machine of exclusion, this infernal machine that disposes of people and let’s curse their conduct and ask God to convert their hearts.

Mass for a world without slavery Sept. 4, 2009

Go here and here for some ways to help.

After Typhoon Haiyan, nightmares continue for kids

By Dennis Sadowski

TANAUAN, Philippines — When Dem Depayso heard that kids across the Visayas in the central Philippines were having nightmares and difficulty focusing on their schoolwork because of vivid scary memories of Typhoon Haiyan, she decided to help.

A nurse who works for Catholic-run St. Louis University in Baguio City, Philippines, Depayso is spending a week of her vacation talking kids through their fears.

Children in Tanauan, Philippines, have been counseled by volunteers to help them overcome fears stemming from November’s typhoon. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

Children in Tanauan, Philippines, have been counseled by volunteers to help them overcome fears stemming from November’s typhoon. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

CNS photographer Tyler Orsburn and I ran across a group of volunteers, Depayso included, who are offering counseling services and group therapy sessions to children in order to help them overcome traumatic visions of their homes and communities being torn apart by the storm’s vicious winds and rising flood waters.

Depayso said she knew kids needed an outlet for their fears. But what she wasn’t sure of was how big the need really was.

Since Sunday, Depayso and the 20 other volunteers have seen 300 children of all ages.

“We talk with the students and let them verbalize their fear and try to see how they are coping now,” Depayso told CNS on the steps of Assumption of Mary School in Tanauan Wednesday morning. Depayso and the volunteers have set up shop while repairs are made to the severely damaged structure.

When she took leave time soon after the storm to start meeting with kids elsewhere in the typhoon zone in December, she recalled that they held deep fears and did not want to talk much about what they saw. Three months after the storm Depayso said she is seeing that kids are beginning to laugh more and are more willing to tell their stories of survival from one of the worst-recorded typhoons to make landfall.

But a lot of fear remains.

“There are students who still have nightmares,” Depayso said. “It’s more the younger children.”

She also has found that children in public schools have harbored more fears than those in church-run schools. She believes faith and the more closer relationship that teachers in church-run schools develop with their children makes a difference.

The volunteers’ work involves a variety of techniques including just plain talking, story-telling therapy and art through which the youngsters can express their experiences and reveal what still frightens them.

“From those we get their feelings, their emotions, how they cope now,” Depayso said. “We try fun things with them and explain to them you can still continue on with your dreams.”

Three months after Haiyan, Filipinos find remains of teen

By Dennis Sadowski

PALO, Philippines — The mood turned somber late this morning in the community known as Barangay San Joaquin as residents uncovered the body of 16-year-old John Steve Cobacha, who had been missing since Typhoon Haiyan tore through the central Phillippines Nov. 8.

The remains of John Steve Cobacha, 16, were discovered Feb. 7, nearly three months after Typhoon Haiyan hit Tanauan, Philippines. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

The remains of John Steve Cobacha, 16, were discovered Feb. 7, nearly three months after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

A small crowd of supporters stood alongside the main road between Palo and Tanauan to watch about 15 men carefully pick through a large mound of debris after another neighbor found human remains while clearing branches next to his home.

Cobacha’s brother, Gilbert, 23, was among the men removing tree trunks, palm branches and personal belongings washed more than a quarter-mile inland by a 15-foot storm surge and pounding winds.

John Steve was reported missing soon after the storm. The death was the fourth for the Cobacha family, neighbors said. Mother Lorenda, father Leondro and toddler son Santino, 2, also were killed. Their bodies were found soon after the water receded into the ocean once the storm passed through the region.

The volunteers moved debris knowing that more human remains could be in the decaying and water-logged rubble that had been pushed against what was left of a battered concrete block wall of a two-story building.

Barangay council member Fel Rene Bambi Maraya told Catholic News Service 40 people remained missing from the tight-knit community. More than 400 people from the area died in the ferocious storm, he said.

Two middle-age women watched their neighbors struggling to lift some of the debris, silently praying.

Virtually every home in the area of the discovery was covered in tarps donated by various worldwide relief agencies. Twisted metal, broken windows and fallen walls are now trademarks of the once-thriving, if poverty-stricken community.

The site of the discovery is across the road from the grounds of San Joaquin Parish, the site of a mass grave where 352 people were buried immediately after the storm.

Simply crafted crosses of wood and metal marked dozens of slight mounds in front of the church. Candles, photos, large banners and even dolls served as small memorials at nearly every grave.

At one grave, the resting place for 10 members of the Lacandazo family and three others, a group of school children on their way home from morning classes delicately placed a small brown basket filled with colorful plastic flowers. Each one took a turn at arranging it until it looked just right. They stood, looked at their work and slowly continued on their way home.

Visitors constantly entered the makeshift cemetery during the 45 minutes colleague Tyler Orsburn and I were there. Most were women who stopped to pray and remember the events of that horrible day.

The Philippine government’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reported Jan. 29 that 6,201 people had died because of the typhoon and another 1,785 were missing. Now John Steve Cobacha will be added to the roster of the dead.

But to the residents of the Barangay San Joaquin, John Steve was so much more: a friend, a loving brother, a young man whose life was taken much too soon by the whims of nature.

Hog wild! Pope’s Harley gear nabs record prices

Pope greets Harley-Davidson biker after Mass at Vatican

Pope Francis greeting a Harley-Davidson biker as he meets with pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square June 16, 2013. (CNS/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — A Harley-Davidson Dyna Super Glide that Pope Francis put up for auction went for a hefty $326,500 today, demolishing its pre-sale appraisal of $16,000.

The record sale was the hit of the day as hundreds of bidders and spectators attending the Paris auction “erupted into applause when the hammer came down,” according to the Bonhams auction house.

bonhams bike sold price

Bidding was fierce, Bonhams said, and lasted a full six minutes. The 2013 autographed bike went to “a private European buyer” who was bidding over the telephone.

A leather Harley jacket, also signed by the pope, sold for $77,644 to someone “overseas,” meaning, not in Europe. A pre-bid estimate had put the 110th anniversary special edition XL jacket at between $1,400 and $2,000.

bonhams jacket sold price

Seems appraisers didn’t factor in how much papal Harley gear was really worth!

Ben Walker, head of motorcycles at Bonhams, said: “It has to be a world record for a twenty-first century Harley-Davidson and certainly for a Harley-Davidson leather jacket.”

— Bonhams press release

All proceeds will go to benefit the renovation of Caritas Rome’s Fr. Luigi di Liegro shelter and soup kitchen. The money looks like it will provide the final funding needed for the project, which had been $270,000 short of its target.

Msgr. Enrico Feroci, head of Caritas Rome, told Bonhams:

“We are delighted with the results of the sale, which far exceeded any of our expectations.

“We would like to thank Bonhams for their professionalism with handling the motorcycle and for all their efforts in helping us to achieve such an amazing result.”

Hark, the heraldry: cracking the coat-of-arms code

book cover coat of arms

Cover of a new book on the heraldic signs and symbols in the church. (CNS/Carol Glatz)

VATICAN CITY — Have you ever wanted to decipher the mysterious signs and symbols on a coat of arms?

An Italian cardinal has just published a book (alas, in Italiano) on cracking the code of heraldry in the church — the unique and personal crest every bishop, cardinal and pope adopts with their episcopal ordination, elevation to the College of Cardinals or election to the papacy.

The author, Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, is an expert on heraldry and created Benedict XVI’s blazon when he was elected pope in 2005.

It gives an in-depth look at the history and “grammar” of a properly designed coat of arms.


Under a large reproduction of his coat of arms, Pope Benedict XVI giving his homily during Mass at Yankee Stadium in New York in this April 20, 2008 file photo. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Pope Benedict introduced a number of radical changes to the papal crest when he and the cardinal set about designing his papal shield.

The pope’s resignation then prompted Cardinal Cordero to think about how the now-retired pope’s coat of arms should be amended, given his change of status to “supreme pontiff emeritus.”

It was a tough question since there were no precedents to look at. Yes, there were popes who had stepped down, but it was not clear if or how their shields ever reflected that change, the cardinal said in the book.

The coat of arms of a retired pope should retain all the symbolic elements on the shield that reflect his personality and history, the cardinal said.

But, he said the external elements — like the two crossed keys, which symbolize the powers Christ gave to the Apostle Peter and his successors — should be abandoned or altered since they represent an office he no longer holds.

The cardinal includes two hypothetical designs of what he thought the new pope-emeritus shield should look like, replacing the bishop’s miter with a white “galero” with 15 tassels and returning the banner with his episcopal motto: “Cooperatores Veritatis” (“Cooperators of the truth”).


However, the retired pope passed on any changes. The cardinal said Pope Benedict thanked him for his “interesting study,” but preferred not to alter his papal shield.

Other bits of trivia are highlighted in the book such as the elements in Pope Francis’ coat of arms. It’s the first time the emblem of the Society of Jesus ever appears on a papal blazon, Cardinal Cordero said, and probably the first time the spikenard flower has ever appeared on a coat of arms.

But see if you can catch a very small, yet “inexplicable” detail in Francis’ papal coat of arms. I hadn’t noticed the mistake until the cardinal pointed it out in his book. Happy hunting!

Vatican updates coat of arms of Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ coat of arms. (CNS photo).

In Philippines, rubble disappearing, but challenges remain

By Dennis Sadowski

TACLOBAN, Philippines — The massive piles of rubble are disappearing from the streets of this city of 240,000, but plenty of evidence of destruction remains from November’s Typhoon Haiyan in every corner of town.

Devastation from November's Typhoon Haiyan still remains in Tacloban, Philippines. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

Devastation from November’s Typhoon Haiyan still remains in Tacloban, Philippines. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

On our arrival Feb. 4 people could be seen rebuilding homes in areas smashed by the storm, using what material they could scavenge from what rubble does remain. The combined force of wind and storm surge had leveled large areas of the city, and people were using just about anything that was usable to rebuild.

Children could be seen alongside adults cutting wood to size or digging through piles of rubble looking for just the right piece of material to use. Workers moved carefully on steep rooftops piecing together materials — some new and some recycled — to render a home or business more usable.

The most devastated areas were filled with tents clustered closely together. Clothing hung on lines drying in the hot sun. Women cooked dinner. Some families operated small businesses in a tiny shack, mostly offering snacks, drinks and light food.

An afternoon downpour demonstrated people’s vulnerability to the elements. Although brief, water quickly filled the streets, muddying pathways through the camps and neighborhoods. But people never flinched, knowing that rain like this is common. It’s the typhoons and tropical storms that worry them far more.

One scene was reminiscent of what I saw a half a world away in Haiti in 2010 following that country’s massive earthquake. On one corner, a work crew was shoveling debris into a wheelbarrow, then hoisting it onto a dump truck. In these dozen workers I saw another dozen or so men in Haiti clearing the concrete rubble of a bank building in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. A dump truck was parked nearby.

Residents of Tacloban, Philippines, shoot some hoops. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

Residents of Tacloban, Philippines, shoot some hoops. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

Same work, same sounds of shovels against pavement, different workers.

Rebuilding poses a challenge in the typhoon zone, explained Elizabeth Tromans, regional technical adviser for emergency preparedness and response in East and South Asia for Catholic Relief Services. Few supplies are making their way to the city, and even fewer to rural communities, she said. What does get through is too costly for most people to afford.

Even the Catholic Church can ill afford supplies. At the city’s well known Santo Nino Church, where Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, celebrated Mass after the downpour, the floors were covered in water that had leaked into the building. Tarps cover almost the entire roof of the church and cannot hold out all of the rain. Worshippers sat in areas where water was not falling and walked carefully through slippery areas to receive Communion. For the 250 or so people at Mass, faith remained more important than the elements.

The archbishop, leading a delegation of U.S. church leaders observing the recovery efforts in typhoon zone, credited the Filipinos for their perseverance and fortitude in the face of disaster. He reiterated a common message expressed during the trip: that the church working together can help people in need overcome the difficulties posed by the storm.