A Little Light Reading to Enliven Your Lent

I have been smiling my way through Monsignor Richard Soseman’s book, Reflections from Rome: Practical Thoughts on Faith and Family.

I‘m just sorry–so sorry!–that I didn’t tell you about it earlier, before Lent began; but you know, it’s not too late to add it to your repertoire during this season of reflection and renewal!

I first met Monsignor Soseman (“Mons” is his on-line handle) in May 2011, when I was in Rome attending the Vatican Blogfest.  Mons, a priest from the Diocese of Peoria serving as an official with the Holy See’s Congregation for Clergy, came to a party on our hotel rooftop; then, he was kind enough to invite some of us American bloggers to join him for Mass early one morning in the crypt level at St. Peter’s Basilica.

I‘ve learned more about him since then through social media, and have come to appreciate his photography and his unique “insider” insights into events at the Vatican.  ”I’m celebrating Mass at St. Peter’s,” he writes to his friends.  ”How can I pray for you?”

Monsignor Richard Soseman

He’s shared a few of his wonderful photos from the Eternal City, which have brightened the pages of my blog from time to time.

More recently, he has talked with me at length about his work with the Fulton Sheen Foundation and the lengthy research process that goes into preparing the Positio, the collection of evidence obtained by a diocesan inquiry into Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s heroic virtues in a form suitable for presentation to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.  (Watch this spot later this week for my reports of our conversation regarding that process and the alleged miracle which has just been approved by a board of seven medical experts.)

But in Reflections from Rome, I’ve gotten to see his heart.

The book is a collection of brief reflections, two- or three-page stories, like a modern-day Aesop’s Fables (or a brief yet poignant weekday homily).  Each vignette can help the reader to discover something, to appreciate something, to understand something, to become something that will help to improve his disposition and strengthen his faith.

I chuckled over some essays:  ”French Fried Bird Beaks” and “Toothpaste, Orange Juice and the Morning Offering”  and “Is Sleep Justified?”  I reflected on the last paragraph in each essay, showing how the simple things in everyday life–like football and radiators and Velveeta Cheese–teach us about God.

And if my recommendation hasn’t convinced you that you need to read this book, let me mention the noted clergy who have enthusiastically endorsed it:   Cardinal Raymond Burke, Bishop Joseph N. Perry (Chicago), and Bishop Robert F. Vasa (Santa Rosa).

Cardinal Burke said of Monsignor Soseman,

“Like Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, for whose Cause of Beatification and Canonization he has labored, Monsignor Richard Soseman has sought to use modern means of communication in the service of the new evangelization.  In these reflections, originally written as web logs, he draws on his experiences as a priest both in rural Illinois and in Rome to convey the truths of the Catholic faith in an accessible and appealing manner.  May those who read the present collection of reflections be inspired and encouraged in the daily living of the Catholic faith.”

On Anniversary of Tsunami, the Vatican Remembers with Mozart

Three years after the earthquake and tsunami which afflicted Japan in 2011, Rome remembers with music.

Organized with the support of the Japanese embassy to the Holy See, “Mozart’s Requiem for Japan from the Vatican” will be held today in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls.  The Gioacchino Rossini Symphony Orchestra of Pesaro and the San Carlo choir, also from Pesaro, will perform Mozart’s Requiem under maestro Daniele Agiman.

The tsunami which flooded Japan’s eastern coastal regions cost the lives of over seventeen thousand people, caused fifty thousand casualties and left four thousand missing.  Hundreds of thousands were left with nothing.

The cooling system at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant failed, causing nuclear leaks and necessitating the evacuation of the area around the plant.

Bishop Isao Kikuchi, SVD, President of Caritas Japan, asked again today for support and prayers because, he says, there are still people “in the disaster hit area who are not able to regain their hope for the future and who are living in the darkness of despair and loss.”

Following, courtesy of Vatican Radio, is Bishop Kikuchi’s message for the third anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami.

Dear friends,

Three years have passed since the massive earthquake and tsunami hit Tohoku area of Japan which destroyed and changed lives of so many people in Japan. More than seventeen thousand lives were taken away.

After the disaster, in the chaotic aftermath of such a massive destruction of daily lives, we became optimistic of recovery. We thought, considering the economic strength and technological advancement of Japan, three years would be quite enough for the disaster hit area to return to normal life.

It is not so. More than 270,000 people are not able to return to their homes. Almost as many are still living in temporary shelters. As for the nuclear power plants in Fukushima, no one actually knows what are really going on inside the damaged plants though the prime minister already made a statement during international gatherings that everything is under control.

The disaster hit area is under the Catholic Diocese of Sendai and Caritas Japan has been supporting the relief efforts of the diocese. Entire Catholic Church communities in Japan have worked together to support Sendai diocese. Recently in February, we Catholic Bishops of Japan renewed our resolution to continue the effort to mobilize entire Catholic communities in Japan for another 3 years. The Catholic Church in our country is committed to accompanying people in the disaster hit area as long as they need us. So we still need your support and prayers.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you, our friends in the Caritas family, for your generous support and prayers for Japan. We are so grateful for your gestures of solidarity. As I mentioned above, while thanking all of you from bottom of my heart, I am obliged to renew our appeal for help to be with all these people in the disaster hit area who are not able to regain their hope for the future and who are living in the darkness of despair and loss.

Thank you so much for your generosity and may God bless you all.

Bishop Isao Kikuchi, SVD
President, Caritas Japan

Pope Francis Opens the Vatican Gardens at Castel Gandolfo to the Public

Yesterday in Rome, it was announced that Pope Francis had opened his gardens at Castel Gandolfo to the public.

Tourists will now be able to tour the gardens of the Pontifical Villas  where, according to the director of the Vatican Museums, “the splendor of art and the glory of nature co-exist in admirable equilibrium.”

A 90-minute guided tour, either in Italian or in English, will be offered each Monday-Saturday; tickets can be obtained through the Vatican Museums via an on-line booking system.

The gardens at Castel Gandolfo differ from the sprawling garden behind St. Peter’s Basilica, in that Castel Gandolfo’s garden is more linear.

The Barberini Gardens, on the site of  an ancient Roman villa built by Emperor Domitian, still offer a peek into life during the Flavian dynasty.   Tourists can wander through the ruins of the imperial theatre and the crypto-portico–the covered passageway where the emperor and his guests strolled while escaping from the summer heat.  There’s a magnolia garden, a path of roses and a path lined with aromatic herbs, as well as a square of holly oaks and the breathtaking Belvedere garden.

Since the 17th century, popes have vacationed at Castel Gandolfo, where the air is cooler than in the city, and where the Barberini Gardens offer breathtaking views over Lake Albano and beyond, to the coastline of the Mediterranean sea.   Pius XI added a model farm which still produces milk, eggs, oil, vegetables and honey which can be purchased in the Vatican supermarket.   Pope Pius XII sheltered Jewish war refugees there.   Pope John Paul II added a swimming pool.  At least two popes, Pius XII and Paul VI, died there at Castel Gandolfo.

For details regarding ticket prices and to book your tour on-line, visit the Vatican Museums website.


Pope John Paul II shows President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush the gardens during a 2001 visit