Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Pope Francis' first general audience

Dear Family and Friends,

I decided to go to Pope Francis’ first general audience today, and what a good choice that was!
First sighting of Pope Francis
A general audience is when the Pope goes to Saint Peter’s Square to greet all the pilgrims who’ve come to see him and he gives them a little spiritual talk.

Everybody was going crazy as usual
Francis arrived in the Popemobile – like Benedict he doesn’t use the plexiglass top – and drove around the square so everybody could see him. He mainly just waved and smiled, but if he saw a baby he would stop to bless or kiss it. The guards kind of caught on that he likes to do this, so sometimes they tried to hand him a baby to kiss, but I saw that several times today Francis emphatically told them “no, not that one” if he saw that the baby was crying. Seems like the guards just want to score one with the boss, while Francis actually cares about the baby!

This lady held out a big “I love Pope Francis” Heart
And Francis graciously accepted it!
Benedict used to speak in all kinds of languages, but Francis only spoke in Italian and had his aides do the other languages. There were a lot of Spanish speakers there today, and they were very disappointed at this. Personally, I don’t see why he can’t speak the languages he knows. Seems that either he doesn’t want to appear to be playing favorites, or maybe somebody in the Vatican advised him that it’s “all or nothing”. I don’t know.

Pope Francis up on stage
He talked about Holy Week and how it’s a time to step outside of our ordinary grunge and serve others selflessly:“Holy Week is a time of grace which the Lord gifts us to open the doors of our hearts, … and to "step outside" towards others, to draw close to them so we can bring the light and joy of our faith. Always step outside yourself! And with the love and tenderness of God, with respect and patience, knowing that we put our hands, our feet, our hearts, but then it is God who guides them and makes all our actions fruitful.”
At the end Francis kept his popemobile waiting while he walked around greeting everybody
For me the beautiful thing is that Pope Francis is really living this – tomorrow he’ll spend a good part of his Holy Thursday with the inmates of Rome’s juvenile prison, no media allowed. This last week he’s been celebrating mass for all the different employees of Vatican City and having his meals with normal people. Before the conclave there was a lot of hype about the need to reform Church administration – The Roman Curia – and I see Francis right now getting to know first-hand what’s really going on before he makes any moves.

Beautiful Day, quite a crowd!!!!
Seems he’s always got a surprise up his sleeve, so let’s stay tuned!

God bless you,
Brother Kevin

PS: hope these photos come through…

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

two weeks from Francis' election - flashback to the night of the white smoke

Dear Family and Friends,
It’s been two weeks since that night when Pope Francis stepped onto the balcony in Saint Peter’s Square with all the crowds cheering. Much has happened in the meantime, including Pope Francis’ decision today not to live in the Papal apartments, but I’d like to take you back to the night of March 13th and tell you the story from my point of view – my view from the cobblestones. Boy were they wet that Tuesday!
I wrote this as it came to mind, and it ended up quite long, so don’t feel obliged to read it. No hard feelings if you press delete! But whatever you do, please say a prayer for Pope Francis. Right now I’m sure he’s faced with many tough and important decisions, and he needs our support through and through.
If you do decide to read on, I hope you enjoy it!
Have a great Holy Week,
Brother Kevin
Habemus Papam – a view from the cobblestones
I sat at my desk, trying to make the theology stick in my head. It was no use. The Cardinals had been locked all day in the Sistine Chapel trying to elect a Pope, and I was dying to know what was happening.
I had been in Saint Peter’s Square the day before to watch the smoke the first night of the Conclave, but as expected, it was black. When I had asked Father about going the next few days, he told me I could only go once.
“Today or tomorrow…? Today or tomorrow… ? – the question surged through my head.
At lunch I asked Brother David, who’s birthday it was, if he was going. “Well, I don’t think there’ll be white smoke,” he said, “but I don’t care. I’m going to celebrate my birthday in St Peter’s Square.”
The train to St Peter’s was set to leave at 4:50pm, and it was 4:41. I thought to myself, “You want to be there when white smoke comes out, and nobody knows when that will be. But if you decide to go tomorrow (which was the more likely day of election according to most analysts) and he’s elected today, you’re going to kick yourself in the pants the rest of your life. Just go today, and that way you at least went. And there’s that birthday to celebrate.”
“Ok, I’ve made my decision.” I looked at my watch: 4:45pm. There was no way I’d make it to the train station before 4:50, unless I took the shortcut. I stuffed some Girl Scout cookies in my bag and ran down the back driveway of our house. There at the bottom is a 12-foot gate, and I climbed over it like many times before.
It was raining cats and dogs as we got out of the train at Saint Peter’s station. Even worse, the guards had decided to turn on the metal detectors for everyone entering Saint Peter’s Square. Usually the detectors don’t go off for me, but this time no matter what I took off the thing beeped. – belt, shoes, jacket – heck, I was willing to go in my swimming trunks, but finally the guard let me through.
5:10pm. If the 4th ballot had produced a Pope, it should come out white just about now. My friends and I – one from Kentucky, one from Illinois, and one from France, stationed ourselves in line of sight of the famous chimney, and relatively close to the front of the square. Umbrellas up, we formed a small cluster complete with roof.
By 6:00pm, there was no smoke, and we assumed the vote must have been a dud. Some of the other guys who had come on the train with me started heading back to the seminary – what for I didn’t know. At about 6:30, a seagull landed directly on top of the chimney, and the crowd cheered.
By now the square seemed like an interminable sea of umbrellas. It had been raining almost non-stop the last four days, and now the rain just seemed like any other part of the landscape.
I had brought the Girl Scout cookies to celebrate my friend’s birthday, but they weren’t going to be enough for the four of us. So me and the guy from France headed over to the Vatican grocery store to buy some more cookies. We had 3 euros.
Inside the grocery store, everyone was talking about the conclave. We grabbed three bags of cookies and headed to the checkout. There two Italian guys regaled us with their passionate choice for “Santo Padre” – Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston. O’Malley is a Franciscan, and in many ways Italy is a Franciscan country. These guys weren’t the first Italians who had talked to me about O’Malley, and just that morning I had read the prediction in one of the biggest Italian newspapers – O’Malley was the man anointed to be Pope. “Gosh, they really love their Franciscans,” I thought.
We made it back into the square, and lo and behold, our friend the seagull was still on his perch atop the chimney. “Seems fishy to me,” I said. “Maybe it’s a robot seagull and the Russians are listening in on the cardinals.”
We sang happy birthday to Brother David and dug into the cookies in his honor. We don’t get that many American-style cookies in Rome, so we had bought – you guessed it – chocolate chip cookies – all that 3 euros can buy. Within 10 minutes the cookies were gone, but they had left us in a pretty good mood.
The heavy rain of before slowly started letting up, and by the time the sun had gone down, there was only a light drizzle. Before long, the chimney was only a silhouette against the night sky
Now it was about 7:00pm, and the camera crews started making their way through the crowd. A French-Canadian station came around and got my French friend to promise to answer some questions right as he saw the smoke. Then a Mexican channel came and asked me what I thought of it all. In my broken Spanish I told them that “I really hope we get some white smoke because tomorrow we’ve got class and we can’t come!”
After the Mexican channel left, the French-Canadian camera guy set his camera right up in front of us. We all started practicing what we’d say when the smoke came out – “eh Voila, Voila!” “Voila” “Um, uh, Voila!!!!” “Anybody know anything else in French?!?”
We talked about who we thought would be Pope – all the names that everybody had thrown around the last few weeks – Ouellet of Canada, Sandri of Argentina, Dolan and O’Malley of the US, Scherer of Brazil, Schola of Italy, perhaps the cardinals would even force Benedict to come out of retirement! Personally, I was hoping it would be Bertello of Italy, if for no other reason than to be able to boast that once I fixed the Pope’s treadmill!
By now two more seminarian-friends had joined us – one from Mexico and one from Vietnam. Brother David had us all agree to just expect black smoke – that way we wouldn’t be disappointed no matter what happened.
Seven o’clock came, the rain stopped completely, and still there was no smoke. “The later it is, the more there’s a chance we have a Pope,” said my French friend. We watched and waited. “Watched” in the relative sense, because unless you have some impossible capability to concentrate, you can’t keep your eyes continually glued to a chimney stack 400 feet away for 2 hours.
The night before, the black smoke had started out kind of weak and grey, and then turned into a thick black sinking plume of smoke. I expected to see the same thing. As the minutes ticked past: 7:01, 7:03, 7:05, the crowd got rowdier. People started shouting for nothing, and cheering.
Then at 7:06, a little wispy something drifted out of the chimney. It looked just like the beginning of the black smoke the night before. The whole square – thousands of people – gasped. The next second, I expected the heavy black smoke to pour out just like the night before. But it didn’t. “It’s white!!!” I shouted. Sure enough, the little wispy something grew, and there was nothing black about it.
The square exploded. Literally. I include a video to let you feel a little bit what it was like. Ecstatic, elated, euphoric – they’re all understatements. People started jumping up and down and hugging eachother. At the same time, the crowd surged forward, pulling us with it. My poor French friend was stuck with the French Canadian news station, but he soon caught up with us.
“We have a Pope!” everyone was shouting in more languages than I knew. “It just feels good to know we have a Pope –even if we don’t know who he is,” said one of my friends.
Flags swung back and forth. They were from all countries. I don’t think I had seen so many American flags since I left the US to study in Italy five years ago. Standing in that square filled with all those rejoicing people really felt like being in the heart of the world – everyone was there, everyone was happy to be there. A friend of mine said it was “like a U2 concert, the inauguration of a new president, and the Super Bowl in one event!”
The crowds started chanting “Viva il Papa, Viva il Papa” on and off. He had been Pope for less than half an hour, and they didn’t know who he was, but they were already cheering him on.
“No way,” said a friend. “The Pope was elected while we were munching down on those chocolate chip cookies! It’s a sign!”
When the curtains behind the balcony finally opened and the cardinal came out to announce who the Pope was, the chanting grew even louder: “Viva il Papa, viva il Papa!”
Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum, habemus papam” Cheers.
Eminentissimum, ac reverendissimum, dominum, dominum Georgium Marium,” with the announcement of the first name of the new Pope, people started calculating in their heads who it could be. I had checked a list before and remembered that there were something like 4 Georges, but what about the “Mario”?
Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae, Bergoglio”, a few people cheered immediately, but most of us were thinking “who is Cardinal Bergoglioi?” I remembered reading an article by John Allen Jr. that had mentioned Bergoglio – a favorite in the last conclave, but now in his seventies, I had thought him too old to be elected. From Argentina, right? And a Jesuit? No way!!!  “Why would the cardinals choose someone in his late seventies?” I thought.
Qui sibi nomen imposuit, Franciscum” Now the crowd really erupted. “Franciscum – Francis!!!” “Wow!” What a name! It was the first new name for a pope in over a millennium! And I quickly understood why the Cardinals had chosen this man from Argentina to fill the shoes of the fisherman.  I just knew he chose to be called Francis after Saint Francis of Assisi, probably the greatest single Christian witness of all time, someone who loved God totally and lived the Gospel radically.
As the cardinal walked away, the whole square stopped cheering and started chatting. “Who’s Bergoglio?” “What does Franciscum mean?” “Where’s he from?” “How old is he?” I answered the same questions over and over. I found out later that BBC had prepared a half-hour video about each of the top 15 cardinals who could be pope. They had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars doing interviews all over the world. Cardinal Bergoglio was not on their list.
Five workers walked out onto the balcony and quickly hung a huge white and red tapestry over the front of the balcony. It took them all of twenty seconds or so, and by the time they disappeared, the crowd had already digested what they had just heard, and started clapping and chanting “Francesco, Francesco!” They knew the new Pope could hear them.
The crowd before me was a sea of cameras and ipads all focused on that one balcony. A lone Argentinian flag waved in the middle of them all. I was glad the other flags were down now, because it made for easier viewing. “If the new Pope is from your country, you can wave your flag all you want,” I thought.
Before long, the side balconies filled up with Cardinals in red. The people started yelling louder and louder until the moment when the red curtains on the central balcony were wrenched apart.
First came a cross, and then right behind, a man dressed in white. We had all been expecting a man dressed in red and white, but this was ok. He waved, a simple, very shy one-handed wave. The crowd screamed, and then started into their chant again: “Viva il Papa, viva il Papa!” As we chanted, the new Pope stared out at us, and honestly, it was then that I fully understood the meaning of the term “Like a deer in the headlights.” He just stared and stared, I think kind of in shock from it all. He stayed like that for about two minutes, saying nothing, not moving, as we chanted. He wasn’t even smiling much – “What have I gotten myself into?” seemed to be what he was thinking.
Eventually they brought him a microphone, and he started to speak. “Fratelli e sorelli” – “Brothers and sisters” before he could continue, the people started cheering again, but he managed to get a “Good evening,” in before they broke out screaming again.
You know that the duty of the Conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems as though my brother cardinals went to get him almost to the end of the world.” Cheers and laughter. “I thank you for your welcome. The diocesan community of Rome has a bishop. Thank you! And before anything else, I’d like to say a prayer for our Bishop Emeritus, Benedict.”  Huge cheers and clapping. [which has been the same every time anyone has mentioned Benedict’s name – people go crazy] “Let’s pray all together for him so that the Lord bless him and so that the Madonna takes care of him.” Cheers, cut short by the Holy Father leading us in the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory be. I honestly think that with all the people there in the square and all the people listening by radio and all the people watching, this must have been the moment in history where the most people ever have prayed together like that.

And now, we begin this path, Bishop and people. This path of the Church of Rome which is the one that presides in charity over the churches. A journey of brotherhood, of love, of trust among us. Let us always pray for each other. Let’s pray for the whole world, that there be a great brotherhood. I hope that this path of the Church which we begin today, and in which my Cardinal Vicar who is present here will assist me, will be fruitful for the evangelization of this very beautiful city.” Cheers. The Pope obviously recognizes that many of the people in the square who’ve come to see him are Romans, and that they too can’t be forgotten.

“ And now I would like to give my blessing. But first I’d like to ask you a favor. Before the Bishop blesses the people, I ask that you pray to the Lord that he blesses me – the prayer of the people asking blessing for their bishop.”  Clapping and cheers. This is something new – no Pope has ever asked his people to pray for him like this. From behind, someone yells out “Viva il Papa!” but the Pope continues.

“ Let’s do in silence this prayer of you over me.” And then he bowed his head low before all of us.

Utter silence. 20 seconds of it. The people all took him seriously. And I think this was a courageous but important thing to do. Of course the Pope always has people praying for him, but to ask us for special prayers in that solemn moment showed us that he knew the gravity of the task before him, and it taught us the lesson that yes, our humble prayers are essential for a great man like the Pope.

Then a cardinal comes out and explains that the blessing the Holy Father is about to give us brings with it a plenary indulgence, and this counts not only for us here in the square, but for everyone who listens to or watches him give it.

“Now I give my blessing to you and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will.”

The blessing was all in Latin, and Pope Francis read from this huge old illuminated manuscript.

May the holy Apostles Peter and Paul in whose power and authority we trust, intercede for us before the Lord. Amen. By the prayers and merits of the Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin, Saint Michael the Archangel, Saint John the Baptist, and the holy Apostles Peter and Paul and all the saints. Amen. May almighty God have mercy on you and forgive you of all your sins and may Jesus Christ lead you to eternal life. Amen. May the Almighty and merciful Lord grant you indulgence, absolution, and remission of all your sins, time for a true and fruitful penance, an always repentant heart and amendment of life, the grace and consolation of the Holy Spirit, and final perseverance in good works. Amen.”

The crowd explodes again. “Viva il Papa, viva il Papa!!! Francesco!!! Francesco!!!” the Pope just stands there watching us. The two marching bands below start to play there famous tunes. What’s that, the Italian national anthem?

The Pope turns around and asks for the microphone again.

Brothers and Sisters, I leave you. Thank you so much for your welcome. Pray for me. And we’ll see each other soon. Tomorrow I want to go pray to Our Lady so that she takes care of all of Rome. Good night and sleep well!

With that the Pope turns, and quickly disappears. The crowds shout one more time, then the bells start pealing. Before I know it I’m being swept away with the crowd out of Saint Peter’s and into the streets of Rome.
We had been standing there in the rain eating our cookies while inside the Sistine Chapel this fateful drama played out and Pope Francis was elected.
What a night!!!
And it’s just the beginning. These last two weeks we’ve been watching Pope Francis in action, and it’s a good idea for us to keep our eyes on him. I’ve been reading a book-length interview done with him three years ago called “El Jesuita” The Jesuit, and it’s been eye-opening, if not for anything else than that it has shown me that Francis is a person who deeply understands the problems and sorrows of men and women today, and who, even if he admits he doesn’t have all the answers, has a solidly Gospel-based vision for the future.
I’m happy to have him as shepherd, and excited to be in the final stretch before my ordination with him at the helm of the Church.
May God bless him, and bless you all!
Brother Kevin
Just after the smoke came out with Brothers Henri, Nicholas, and David

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Pope Francis meets Pope Emeritus Benedict

Two Popes meeting by the helicopter
Dear Family and Friends,

Today Pope Francis flew out to Castel Gandolfo to meet and have lunch with Pope Benedict. This is the first time in history a pope and former pope have met like this.

Two Pope praying in the chapel
Benedict came out to the heliport to greet Francis, and together they drove up to Castel Gandolfo. There they prayed together, had a private 45-minute meeting, and then had lunch together. When they went to pray, Benedict tried to have Francis take the special Papal kneeler, but Francis said, “no, we are brothers” and knelt down on the pew at Benedict’s side. Benedict looks much the same as before, only his cassock is a bit simpler. Pope Francis gave him an icon of Our Lady of Humility as a gift.

Pope Francis gives Pope Benedict an icon of our Lady of Humility
From the pictures, it looks like they both enjoyed the meeting and had a great time.

Pope Emeritus Benedict and Pope Francis
At one point today during our 20-mile Church-a-thon, a little after three, as we were leaving the Church of San Giorgio in Velabro (Blessed John Henry Newman’s old titular church) we think we saw Pope Francis’ helicopter flying back to the Vatican. The Church-a-thon went great, even though it was exhausting. Hopefully all of the seminarians will sleep well tonight!

Let’s say a prayer for our Pope Emeritus Benedict, and for our new Pope Francis!

God bless,
Brother Kevin

Thursday, March 21, 2013

a letter from Pope Francis

Dear Family and Friends,

A friend in France, who got it from a friend in Mexico, who got it from a friend in Argentina, sent me this. It’s a letter  that Pope Francis wrote to the seminarians of his diocese who were ordained deacons (in preparation for the priesthood) a few days ago.  I did my best at translating.

“For Monsignor Sucunza:
Joaquín, please read this during the Deaconate Ordination after the ceremony.
Thank you.
Dear Sons and Brothers:
                You don’t know how much I wanted to be among you today! Nevertheless know for sure that I am with you spiritually.
                You have just received the deaconate and you’ve manifested in public your vocation to serve… And this is not just for a time, but for your whole life. May your priestly existence be service: service to Jesus Christ, service to the Church, service to your brothers especially the poorest and most in need. Don’t be “deacons-for-rent” nor functionaries. The Church is not an NGO [non-governmental organization.] May you spend your lives in service. Give it everything you’ve got. [Literally, “put the flesh on the grill” !]
                I pray for each one of you, for your dreams and sorrows. And don’t forget that Jesus looked at you; let yourselves be looked at by Jesus. Please, pray for me. May Jesus bless you, and the Blessed Virgin take care of you.

Letter from Pope Francis to the deacons of Buenos Aires before their ordination as priests
If all goes well, I will be ordained a deacon June 29th here in Rome. I’ve been preparing for this for nineteen years, and you’d think I’d be beyond ready for it. But honestly, the things that come to mind are more like: “ Wow”, “This is serious”, “This is for life”, “You’re giving your life away”, “Are you really sure you want to do this?” “Are you crazy, thinking you can be faithful for life to a God you can’t even see?” “You know, if you’re doing this for the wrong reasons, you will be so miserable!”

Don’t be ‘deacons-for-rent’ nor functionaries,” Pope Francis says. Amen! Priests and Deacons are ministers of God, they dedicate their lives to God to serve God’s people. What a sad life if they’re in it for the wrong reasons! That’s a question I’ve asked myself a hundred times- am I in this for me or am I in this for God? Pope Benedict said a similar thing that got me thinking in his Letter to Seminarians: “The priest is not the leader of a sort of association whose membership he tries to maintain and expand. He is God’s messenger to his people. He wants to lead them to God.”

Francis is giving great advice for future priests, and I am so grateful for it. And to think that in the hustle and bustle of his first few days as Pope he cared enough to hand-write a letter to these deacons! I think that his advice is so powerful because he lived it first. “May your priestly existence be service.” Amen!

It’s been one wonderful week with our new Pope, and hopefully this is just the beginning.

God bless you,
Brother Kevin

PS – I’ll be on EWTN radio tomorrow at 7:15am Eastern Time on the “Son Rise Morning Show” with Annie Mitchell to talk a little bit about Pope Francis and a lot about the Church-a-thon ( If you’d like to listen, tune in to your local EWTN Radio affiliate or go to !

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Pope Francis' Inauguration Mass

Dear Friends and Family,

It’s a gorgeous sunny day here, the temperature is perfect, there are no mosquitoes, there’s a light breeze, and the birds are singing their hearts out. Heaven and earth turned out to celebrate with Pope Francis today!

Beautiful Sunny Day!
Vatican City was surrounded by a half-mile wide no-entry zone. There were about 30 police officers on every street corner. I arrived at 6:30am, and they funneled us to the Via della Conciliazione, the street directly in front of Saint Peter’s. The street filled up quickly. At about 6:45, they started letting us in little by little. Once in the square, I managed to find a place by the center aisle with my fellow seminarians. There were tons of people – more than I can count, though not quite as many as at the beatification of John Paul II.

Waiting in line before mass
Diagram of Inaugration Mass
Pope Francis appeared at 8:45am. They drove him all over the square in the same open-topped popemobile that Benedict used. As soon as he appeared, the crowds went crazy. Pope Benedict used to do the same thing, but in recent years it’s been harder for him and usually he just held on and waved. Francis was leaning over both sides of the Pope Mobile waving at people left and right. He went by my aisle twice. The first time - I must have been about 6 inches away from his hand – he leaned over and patted a baby next to me on the head. Everybody loved it. Later on he had them stop the popemobile and he got out to greet and kiss a parapalegic.

Pope Francis in the Popemobile
Me and Brother David Joyce before Mass
Panorama before mass
Then the mass began with Francis visiting the tomb of St Peter to entrust his ministry to him. After, he processed into the square preceded by all the Cardinals and Bishops and Patriarchs. The Orthodox Patriarch was there for the first time in over a thousand years.

Pope Francis receives the Fisherman's Ring
The Fisherman's Ring
This was a mass about the mission of Peter’s successor. It’s a mission that I think Francis understands extremely well. He sees himself above all as a shepherd. To begin with, he has kept his simple old pectoral cross with an image of the good shepherd and the sheep. Then he received the Pallium made from white wool which symbolizes his mission to carry us sheep on his shoulders. His homily wasn’t really an official statement of his “program”, it was a call to protect others with tenderness. He focused on Saint Joseph (a big favorite of Pope Francis and it’s his feastday today) and talked about how Joseph was essentially a protector, and how this is his calling as Pope: “To protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves: this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out, yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly. Let us protect with love all that God has given us!”

Pope Francis at his chair during mass
He said that each of us too has  a calling to be a protector: “It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!

The main aisle
I recommend we take Francis’ words seriously. “ ‘Protect’, oh, that’s so nice” we might want to say. But let’s go deeper! Isn’t to protect at the heart of what true manhood is? Doesn’t the genius of woman often show itself in an incredible and selfless instinct to protect? Don’t children see themselves in a totally new light when they are first entrusted with someone or something to protect? ( I for one remember so clearly that moment when I was ten and my dad sat me down and told me I had to protect my sisters at school – I felt like a knight in shining armor or some super hero!) Take Francis’ words and run with them. If we spent more time protecting others than worrying about protecting ourselves, maybe the world would be at peace!

The Swiss Guards were decked out in all their Regalia
Pope Francis had a two-hour time frame in which to finish today’s mass, what with all the visiting heads of state, and he stayed to it. During the mass itself he followed the script very closely. It will be interesting to see him in more relaxed settings like his weekly Wednesday audiences.

Chimney-less Sistine Chapel
It was great seeing Pope Francis close up. He looked me in the eyes, and I could see joy and calm in him. Don’t get me wrong – he doesn’t have the same electricity about him that John Paul did. At 76, Francis is over 20 years older than John Paul was at his election. Francis can be short of breath at times, due to his having lost half a lung when he was young.

Pope Francis blesses baby - my hand is by baby's hood
But judging from everybody’s reaction today to him today, if this was the ancient church and we still elected our popes by popular acclaim, Francis would have it in the bag!

Even the birds came to celebrate!
He’s so spontaneous, who knows where he’ll show up next. This Saturday, me and some friends will be visiting 25 churches across Rome to raise funds for our seminary ( and who knows if we might even run across our new Pope!

Special edition Pope Francis holy cards given out before mass
This first week with Francis has been great and I’m looking forward to getting to know him and listening to his message. Now is when his shepherding really begins! I don’t envy him – he has a lot on his plate and he will definitely be in need of our prayers – he asks for them whenever he speaks.

Let’s do our little part to help!

God bless you,
Brother Kevin
a view from the cobblestones!
Heads of State
Over 6,000 journalists!
Francis visiting our blessed mother at the end of mass
I even met up with Father Kevin from Ireland again!
with Brother Samuel after Mass
Panorama during mass
Rome is celebrating the New Pope!

Monday, March 18, 2013

first few days with Pope Francis

Dear Family and Friends,

Phew! I’ve spent the last few days writing some urgent theology papers, while at the same time trying to keep an eye on Pope Francis.

He is one of a kind. He’s been breaking all the Papal protocol, and the people just love him. He wears black - not red - shoes, he wears a simple metal cross, he travels on foot a lot, he still hasn’t moved into the Papal Apartments, he celebrated mass at a parish in the Vatican yesterday, and afterwards he went out into the streets to greet the crowds.

Francis is bringing all his talents and strengths and spontaneity to the Church. It’s so good to have him. A priest-friend of mine said the other day: “John Paul was a philosopher pope, Benedict was a theologian pope, Francis is a parish-priest pope.” I agree. Each Pope is so different and that’s part of God’s plan.

During his homily and his first Angelus address, he spoke about God’s mercy and how we are often much harder on each other than God is on us. He said that often people come to priests and say:

 “'Oh, Father, if you knew my life you wouldn't say that.' 'Why? What have you done?' 'Oh, I've done bad things.' 'Good! Go to Jesus; He likes you to tell him these things. He forgets. He has the special ability to forget. He forgets them, kisses you, embraces you, and tells you only: 'Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.' He only gives you this counsel. A month later we are the same … We return to the Lord. The Lord never tires of forgiving us, never! We are the ones who get tired of asking forgiveness. Let us ask for the grace to never tire of asking forgiveness, because He never tires of forgiving us. Let us ask for this grace.”

Tomorrow Francis will celebrate his Mass of Inauguration. This isn’t when Francis officially becomes Pope – that already happened the moment he accepted his election Wednesday. This is more ceremonial, and will include the Pope’s receiving his ring, his Pallium, and the official homage of the cardinals. The gates to Saint Peter’s Square open at 6:30am, and I hope to get in. It should be packed!

Francis has already broken all the rules. It will be neat to see what he does tomorrow. Will he come in on foot? Will he walk up and down greeting people like John Paul did in his earlier years as Pope?

I can’t wait till tomorrow to see. I’ll let you know what happens. God bless our new Pope!

God bless you too,
Brother Kevin
PS – In case you have time to read it, on Saturday Francis explained how he came up with his name:

“Some people wanted to know why the Bishop of Rome wished to be called Francis. Some thought of Francis Xavier, Francis De Sales, and also Francis of Assisi. I will tell you the story. During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend, a good friend! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the Pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: “Don't forget the poor!” And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor! Afterwards, people were joking with me. “But you should call yourself Hadrian, because Hadrian VI was the reformer, we need a reform…” And someone else said to me: “No, no: your name should be Clement”. “But why?” “Clement XV: thus you pay back Clement XIV who suppressed the Society of Jesus!” These were jokes.”

Thursday, March 14, 2013

day one with Pope Francis

Dear Family and Friends,

From what I’ve seen of Pope Francis in the last 24 hours, he appears to be a revolutionary – in the good sense.

After his election, he received all the cardinals standing, and not on the papal throne. After we saw him in the balcony, he headed back to where all the cardinals were staying for dinner. But instead of taking the special papal car, he got on the minibus with all the Cardinals. During dinner, he jokingly told them “May God forgive you” for what they had done by electing him.

This morning he was up early and headed over to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major’s to offer flowers to the Blessed Mother there. He drove in a simple service car – not the usual papal car again. On the way back to the Vatican, he stopped by the residence – “Paulus VI” near Piazza Navona - where he had been staying before the conclave to collect his belongings and pay his bill. Wow!

One of my friends told me that when Pope Francis was first named a Cardinal, the Italian tailor wanted to charge him €6,000 for his cassock. (mine cost about €400) Instead, he bought the cloth in Italy, and asked his sister to sew the cassock for him! Double Wow!

He chose the name “Francis” after Saint Francis of Assisi. By this he is definitely announcing to the world his intention to follow in the steps of the poor man of Assisi who won the hearts of Popes and Sultans by his humility and holiness.

In his first homily this afternoon to the Cardinals, he said: “when we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, when we profess a Christ without the Cross … we aren't disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.” Triple Wow!

Some might say, “oh, sure, and he wants to bring the Church back to the middle ages too!” To that I’d respond that for one, he is the first Pope who had his own Twitter and Facebook accounts before becoming Pope. Second, don’t judge your eggs until they’ve hatched: we need to keep our eyes on Francis in the days and months to come to try to truly understand him. What the newspapers and TV and bloggers are saying right now are just first impressions and hearsay and things from the past. Let’s try to listen to Francis himself and develop our own opinions.

In that vein, some have asked me where I get my news. I have three ways:

1)      My eyes and ears- I live in Rome and try to read or listen to what the Pope actually says

2)      I receive a daily email from the Vatican Information Service (sign up at )

3)      I receive a daily email from Zenit News Agency (

I recommend using these sources because they give you Vatican News as it really happens – what the Pope says, who he meets with, what he does. Everything’s better straight from the horse’s mouth!

I better close here. I’m including some photos. In the rush yesterday, I forgot to include photos of Pope Francis as he came out. Here they are.

May God bless you!
Brother Kevin

PS By the way, today is 9 months till my ordination, God-willing, as a priest.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pope Francis!

Dear Family and Friends,

Habemus Papam!- Pope Francis the First!

As we waited in the square for the smoke this evening, a lone seagull flew over and sat on top of the Sistine Chapel chimney. Everybody Cheered. It stayed there for about 30 minutes. I think it was the Holy Spirit. And then at a little past seven, this light wispy smoke started coming out, and after a second, we all shouted “It’s white!!!” and everyone started jumping up and down and screaming. Just knowing we had a shepherd – though we didn’t know who he was – was a huge load off our shoulders. It had been raining continually before the smoke, but just before it, the rain stopped, and it hasn’t returned since.

Saint Peter's Square before the white smoke March 13th
When they announced his name, no one said anything because no one had been expecting Cardinal Bergoglio. He’s a Jesuit, and there hasn’t been a Pope from a religious order in centuries. One of my friends says that this is a sign the Cardinals chose on the basis of the personal holiness of this man. I’ve heard that he lived a very simple life as a Cardinal – cooking for himself and taking the bus around town. It will be neat to get to know him in the coming days!

Even before he came out, the crowds started chanting “Francis, Francis”.

When Pope Francis came out, he just stood there and looked at us, smiling, for 2 minutes. Then he joked that the cardinals went to the ends of the earth to get him! He asked us to pray with him for Pope Benedict, and we all prayed an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a Glory be. I think that with the global audience participating, it’s probably the time the most people have praye the Lord’s Prayer together. That’s who the Pope is, the one who brings us together before God.

Before he gave us his blessing, he asked us to pray for him. Then he bowed his head and we all prayed for him in silence. It was beautiful.

Below is the text of his first words as Pope. Tomorrow he has mass with the Cardinals, then the next day also with the older cardinals, then on Saturday he has a meeting with journalists, then Sunday his first Angelus address, then on Tuesday, the feast of Saint Joseph, we’ll have the mass for the inauguration of his pontificate.

Tomorrow is a big feast day here at the seminary in honor of our new Pope Francis. Let’s place him and the whole Church in God’s hands!

God bless you and have a good night!
Brother Kevin

Brothers and sisters, good evening!

You know that the duty of the Conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems as though my brother cardinals went almost to the end of the world to get him. But here we are. I thank you for your welcome. The diocesan community of Rome has a bishop. Thank you! 

Before all else, I would like to say a prayer for our Bishop Emeritus Benedict XVI. Let us all pray together for him, that the Lord may bless him and that Our Lady may watch over him …

[Our Father … Hail Mary … Glory be]

And now let us begin this journey, [together] as bishop and people. This journey of the Church of Rome, which is to preside over all the Churches in charity. It is a journey of fraternity, of love, of trust between us. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the world, so that a great brotherhood may be created. I hope that this journey of the Church, which we begin today and in which my Cardinal Vicar who is present here will assist me, will be fruitful for the Evangelization of this beautiful city. 

And now I would like to give you my blessing. But before I do, I would like to ask you a favor: before the bishop blesses the people, I ask you to pray to the Lord that He bless me…. the prayer of the people for a blessing upon their bishop. Let us take a moment of silence for you to offer your prayer for me.”

[Silence … the Holy Father bows]

[Cardinal N. says … “The Holy Father, Francesco …”]

“Now I will give you my blessing and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will.”

[Pope’s blessing]

Brothers and Sisters,

I leave you now. Thank you for your welcome. Pray for me. And we’ll see one another again soon. Tomorrow I want to go and pray to Our Lady, asking her to watch over Rome. Good night and have a good rest.