Papal reformers in Rome this week


Screengrab of a CNS graphic.

VATICAN CITY — Three papally-appointed groups working on overhauls of the Roman Curia and specific issues of concern are meeting here this week.

The Council of Cardinals (the so-called C-8, although Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, is pretty much its ninth stable member) was meeting all day Monday to Wednesday, and Pope Francis taking part in the meetings when he could.

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told us the council is gathering the findings from a variety of study groups charged with looking for ways to improve the organizational, administrative and financial workings of the Vatican.

The council currently is looking at the pontifical councils as part of its broader mandate to help Pope Francis revamp and/or streamline the various offices of the Roman Curia. The changes are expected to be radical and overarching, not cosmetic touch-ups, as the pope seeks to underline the curia’s role of being in service to the universal church and the local churches. Because such broad and specific reforms are in the works, Father Lombardi said no definite outcomes should be expected until next year.

The C-8’s fifth meeting is planned for July.

The pope will also meet with members of his new commission for protecting minors from sexual abuse; the commission will meet for the very first time May 1-3. The members will begin drafting the commission’s aims and statutes as well as discussing ways to include additional representatives and input from other parts of the world, Father Lombardi told us today.

If you’d like a refresher “who’s who” look at the C-8 panel and the three papal commissions, be sure to check out our slideshow here.

The pope also will meet with the new Council for the Economy when it gathers for the first time May 2. The group will discuss its statutes and how it will proceed with its work. The pope formed the council — made up of eight cardinals and seven lay experts — to devise appropriate economic policies and best practices for the Holy See.


For collectors: Treasury of stamps, coins mark newest saints

Malta's two-stamp souvenir sheet honoring the two new saints.

Malta’s two-stamp souvenir sheet honoring the two new saints.

It’s not just Vatican City commemorating the canonizations of Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II through postage stamps and coins.

Post offices and treasuries around the world have taken steps to honor the Catholic Church’s newest saints.

At least 11 countries have joined the Vatican in creating philatelic delights for collectors. Among them are Poland (a joint issue with the Vatican), Benin, Chad, Republic of Congo, Croatia, Djibouti, Liechtenstein, Madagascar, Malawi, Malta and the Philippines.

The new issues come in both single-stamp and souvenir-sheet formats. In some cases the souvenir sheets include multiple colorful high-denomination, large-format stamps. While technically valid for postage, they are primarily issued in an attempt to attract collector money. Still, they are fun to collect.

One of two souvenir sheets from Philippines Post depicts St. John XXIII.

One of two souvenir sheets from Philippines Post depicts St. John XXIII.

Among the most interesting issues are the two 3-D, embossed gold foil stamps from Philippines Post each with a face value of 200 pesos, about $4.50. Printing quantities were 10,000 for the sheet featuring St. John Paul II and 5,000 of the St. John XIII sheet.

A new stamp from Croatia marks the canonization of St. John Paul II. Another of similar design depicts St. John XXIII.

A new stamp from Croatia marks the canonization of St. John Paul II. Another of similar design depicts St. John XXIII.

Croatia issued single stamps for both men and Liechtenstein’s single-stamp souvenir sheet commemorates only St. John Paul, who visited the small Alpine nation in 1985.

The Vatican and other nations have joined the commemoration parade by minting coins depicting the new stains. The Vatican’s issues include 50-euro gold and 15-euro silver coins.

The treasury of the government of Niue minted a rectangular triptych honoring St. John Paul.

The treasury of the government of Niue minted a rectangular triptych coin honoring St. John Paul.

Elsewhere, the Royal Canadian Mint has issued $25 gold and $10 silver coins honoring St. John Paul while Poland has minted a series of four coins depicting its Polish son. Perhaps the most unusual release comes from the treasury of the island nation of Niue with its colorful rectangular triptych coin. It has a face value of $20 New Zealand, about US$17.

If you’re so inclined, most of the stamps and coins can be ordered online direct from the appropriate post office or mint.




Arkansas parish prepares to receive people left homeless by storms

A man tosses aside bricks while searching in the rubble of a destroyed house April 28 after a tornado hit the town of Vilonia, Ark., the previous day. A series of tornadoes ripped through Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas. killing at least 18 people and injuring more than 100. (CNS/ Reuters)

A man tosses aside bricks while searching in the rubble of a destroyed house April 28 after a tornado hit the town of Vilonia, Ark., the previous day. A series of tornadoes ripped through Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas. killing at least 18 people and injuring more than 100. (CNS/ Reuters)

The Arkansas Catholic reports that St. Joseph Parish in Conway, Ark., this afternoon was preparing to receive victims from Sunday evening’s tornadoes that claimed at least 18 lives and left hundreds homeless across the central part of the state.

As a Red Cross shelter, the parish can accommodate about 200 people. If and when people start arriving, it will be the first time the parish has hosted people displaced by severe weather.

“We’re learning as we go along,” Matt Mallett, parish business manager, told the diocesan newspaper.

The Red Cross staff will be on hand to help victims, but parishioners and parish organizations are prepared to help in any way they can, Mallett said.

Severe storms in central Arkansas also injured at least 100 people. In Vilonia, about 14 miles east of Conway, more than 60 homes were destroyed, authorities reported.

The town of Mayflower, about 11 miles south of Conway also sustained severe damage.

Weather observers said the same massive storm affected both communities. Vehicles on I-40 north of Little Rock were tossed around like toys by the swirling winds, but no deaths were reported as the funnel cloud passed.

Meanwhile, Catholic Charities of the Little Rock Diocese was supporting St. Joseph as a relief site with financial assistance and other services as needed.

Wish you were here? Come follow me…

VATICAN CITY — Don’t miss out on today’s canonizations.

Stay tuned to the Vatican’s live feed and download the liturgical booklet.  Then of course follow us live tweeting @CatholicNewsSvc and check back every now and then on the blog.

9:45 a.m. UPDATE: Here’s the latest batch of photos from our very own Paul Haring, who has a birds-eye view from the colonnade:

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Here’s a slideshow of some of last night’s vigil (excuse the dark iPad images):



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Here are some shots from early this morning:

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Now for the high quality shots from our CNS’ senior photographer, Paul Haring, who’s on top of the colonnade:

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Witnesses to unsung miracles bringing prayers, thanks to new pope-saints

VATICAN CITY — Two witnesses to some unsung miracles will be in Rome tomorrow for the canonizations of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II.


Frances Mercado shows a rosary with an image of Blessed John Paul II. She saw the pope when he visited Denver in 1993 and Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1987. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

Pamela Pechanec from Topeka, Kansas, and Frances Mercado from Oceanside, California, have come to St. Peter’s Square to offer their thanks for the miracles they’ve experienced, they said, through the intercession of the two new (almost) saints.

I spoke to Pamela by phone as her bus from Rome’s airport was bringing a group of 88 people from Pittsburgh into Rome.

Her son, Jeremy, and his best friend, Jory Aebly, were shot in the head execution-style during a presumed robbery on the streets of Cleveland, Ohio, in 2009.

Jeremy didn’t make it and the doctors said Jory had no chance of survival as the bullet “had ricocheted three times inside his skull,” said Pamela.

As doctors put their medical skill and technology to work, the hospital chaplain administered potent spiritual power. Father Arthur Snedeker, a Cleveland diocesan priest, had been given a dozen rosaries blessed by Pope John Paul II before his death.

According to Pamela, the pope had told the priest that the rosaries were to be given to patients who were in terminal condition from gunshot wounds since he, too, had been shot and survived.

The priest gave Jory the last rosary he had of the 12 and prayed to John Paul. Jory not only survived, Pamela said he was able to walk and talk just weeks after the attack.

“I believe in divine intervention. I saw both boys in the hospital and I’m a nurse. I don’t know how Jory survived,” she told me.

Pamela said she had to come to Rome. “I met John Paul at World Youth Day in Denver at Cherry Creek” state park in 1993.

“I got close enough that he said, ‘Hello,'” she said. There was something about the way he looked at her “that I’ll never forget. He had that aura, you could see it.”

“You could feel something so strong when he spoke, that frail man and then that voice that came out,” she recalled.


Silvia Gomez-Palacio from Our Lady of Loreto parish in Los Angeles; Frances Mercado from Oceanside; and Leslie Berenger from St. Charles Borromeo church in Valley Village. They were part of a pilgrimage of 52 people from the Los Angeles area. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

Frances Mercado had many stories to tell me about the miracles she witnessed with the people in her life. She attributes the survival of her premature great-grandson to the medals and prayer cards of Blessed John XXIII they kept in the baby’s incubator.

At just 21 weeks gestation, little Christopher weighed less than a pound, was 9 inches long and had a hole in his heart. Doctors said if he survived, he’d be blind. Not only is he a healthy 14 pounds at 11 months, he’s not blind and the hole in his heart “didn’t get bigger,” Frances said.

Another miracle she attributes to “the Good Pope” is in 1969 when her husband’s employer feel into a coma and was dying. The employer didn’t believe in God, but she had climbed the stairs to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil just six months before and bought a rosary for Frances because she knew how much Frances was devoted to her faith.

As the woman lay dying, Frances placed the rosary on her chest and prayed to Pope John “to just let her wake up long enough to say goodbye” to her husband and the woman’s sons at her bedside.

Almost immediately she sat up and asked for her children and Frances’ husband, who was like a member of the family, Frances said. The woman lived for four more days.

Sadly, Frances’ daughter unexpectedly died just a few weeks ago on Palm Sunday. Despite her grief, Frances said she still came to Rome “because my daughter would have wanted me to come. The trip was a present from all of my five children.”

When her daughter was dying, two siblings told the mother they could feel their deceased father in the hospital room. “I was praying, but I couldn’t feel it. The kids felt it.”

Then a priest came in the room to administer the last rites — a Father Arthur — the same first name as Frances’ late husband and the kids’ father. It was another sign, she said: “It was as if their daddy was there to pick up his daughter” and take her with him to heaven.

“So I’m here in Rome to thank both popes, for keeping Christopher alive and healthy for us.”

“I know my daughter’s at peace. She was so excited about this trip. I couldn’t let her down. Now I’m at peace, too.”

Footloose: Getting to Rome the old-fashioned way


Francesco Locatelli walked to Rome from Sotto Il Monte — his hometown and the birthplace of Blessed John XXIII. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

VATICAN CITY — Sporting blisters and a pair of split sneakers, Francesco Locatelli finally made it to Rome on foot from his northern Italian hometown of Sotto Il Monte — the birthplace of Blessed John XXIII.


Locatelli’s backpack says “Sotto Il Monte (Bergamo) Rome by foot.” He left home March 29 and arrived after 27 days of walking. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

The journey took him 27 days and he says it was worth every painful step to make it to tomorrow’s canonizations of Blessed John and John Paul II.

“Such an important event… I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” he told me this afternoon in St. Peter’s Square.


Locatelli went through two pairs of shoes on his pilgrimage from northern Italy. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

“I went through two pairs of shoes, my legs are dying, I’ve got blisters from going up and down the mountains,” he said leaning on his walking stick. But “dedicating one month of my life is nothing compared to what these two popes have done.”

Doing a pilgrimage is also a life-changing event, he said. “I feel different. It breaks you out of your usual routine and changes you — when you make such a huge effort and see others exerting themselves, too.”

Locatelli said Pope John always felt like part of the family. “He comes from the same place I come from. I’m a farmer, too, (like the pope’s father was) and we grew up on top of the same land.”

He braved the wet and cold Italian springtime as he made his way from his home and along the famous pilgrim path, the Francigena Way. He carried an official “pilgrim’s passport” that he got stamped along the route.

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Staying at parish shelters and hostels, he met several other pilgrims coming to Rome as well, including two women and a man who spent three months walking from Poland. “We met in Viterbo and came to Rome together; now I lost track of them,” he said, looking over the huge crowds streaming into the square.

I asked if he planned on walking back home. “No, no! Taking the train. My wife hasn’t seen me in a month!”



Of pilgrims and roses

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VATICAN CITY — CNS’s senior Vatican photographer Paul Haring is hanging out in St. Peter’s Square.

He came upon Polish-American pilgrims from Chicago, and workers from Italy’s Puglia region who are helping arrange the flowers for tomorrow’s Mass. But the flowers aren’t from Italy. All 30,000 roses were shipped from Ecuador where the Ministry of Foreign Commerce rallied 20 farms and flower companies to make a splash of color in celebration of the canonizations of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II.