Peres Tells Pope Middle East is ‘Disintegrating’


Israeli President Shimon Peres warned Pope Francis Tuesday that the Middle East is “disintegrating” and that the pontiff “has an important role” to play in bringing peace to the region and the world.

KBG_511-1During their half-hour conversation, Peres said the Middle East is in “real existential danger” and cited the severe lack of employment, of food and water. He warned that if these problems are not resolved, “violence and terror will gain a central place, as dangerous weapons fall into the hands of extremists.”

An Israeli government statement said Peres spoke of the danger of Iran’s nuclear-weapons program and Syria’s “huge quantities of chemical weapons.” He told the Pope that Iran “must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons and that Syrian chemical weapons must not fall into irresponsible hands.”

Peres welcomed the recent meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and Arab League foreign ministers in Washington. He expressed hope for talks between Israel and the Palestinians under the leadership of Abu Mazen who, he said, is a “genuine partner for peace.”

In its statement, the Vatican said Pope Francis and Peres expressed hopes for a speedy resumption of peace talks and an agreement that draws on “courageous decisions” and the support of the international community. A resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would contribute to peace and stability throughout the region, the Vatican said.

The Israeli statement said Pope Francis suggested creating “a global meeting of hope with the heads of all the world’s faiths and to come out against violence and terror.” The Pope also condemned anti-Semitism, saying it goes against the beliefs of Christianity and that it “must be opposed in every country in the world and every corner of the globe,” the Israeli statement continued.

Peres praised Pope Francis for his example, noting his humility and pursuit of peace.

“You have an important role in progressing peace and the belief in it,” Peres said. “I turn to you and ask that within your sermons in front of millions of believers in the world you include the hope for peace in the Middle East and the whole world.”

He said the Pope’s leadership “creates a new spirit of hope for peace, of dialogue between nations and of the promotion of a solution to global poverty and illiteracy.”

“Sadly, there are many religious leaders in the Middle East and across the world who advocate terror and bloodshed and do so in the name of the Lord,” he said. “We all have an obligation to stand up and say, in a loud and clear voice, that the Lord did not give anyone the authority to murder and carry out bloodshed. Your voice has a great impact in this matter.”

Peres took the opportunity to officially invite Pope Francis to visit Israel.

“I am expecting you in Jerusalem and not just me, but all the people of Israel,” he told the Pope. “The sooner you visit the better, as in these days a new opportunity is being created for peace, and your arrival could contribute significantly to increasing the trust and belief in peace.”

Speaking to reporters after the audience, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the Pope “would be happy to go to the Holy Land” but that no concrete plans have been made. Last week, Lombardi said Francis’ only trip abroad this year would be in July to Rio de Janeiro and to his homeland of Argentina.

Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI made visits to the Holy Land, each viewing the destination as crucial. Not only does the Holy Land hold obvious historical significance to the Church, but all sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict recognize the Church’s pivotal role in peace building.

The Catholic Church also is keen to offer encouragement to Christians who have been fleeing the region in large numbers. Over the past 13 years, the Christian population in the Holy Land has halved, with most leaving because of insecurity, hardship and poor prospects.

Since his election, Pope Francis has made a point of appealing for peace in the region, most notably in his Easter address. He also chose the papal name of Francis after St. Francis of Assisi, who was known for his peacemaking efforts and his famous dialogue with the sultan of Egypt, Malik-al-Kamil. The Franciscans have been the official custodians of the Catholic Church’s Holy Sites in the region ever since.

Peres’ invitation comes just weeks after Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople personally invited Pope Francis to visit Israel.

The patriarch suggested that he and the Pope meet in Jerusalem in 2014 to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic breakthrough in Catholic-Orthodox relations, when Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras met there in 1964.


This article appeared in Newsmax, 30 April 2013

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‘Sacra Liturgia 2013’ Inspired by Benedict XVI’s Writings on the Mass


Key cardinals, bishops and other noted experts in the liturgy from around the world will gather in Rome June 25-28 to discuss the sacred liturgy and its correct celebration in the life and mission of the Church.

Called Sacra Liturgia 2013 and inspired by the liturgical teaching of Benedict XVI, the conference is the idea of Bishop Dominique Rey of the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, France.

On a visit to Rome April 23, the bisIMG_6140hop discussed with the Register the conference’s main aims and how it could help heal post-conciliar liturgical disputes, as well as the liturgical significance of Pope Francis’ early morning Masses.

What are the main aims of this conference? What would you most like it to achieve?

The goal of this conference is to show the link between the New Evangelization and the liturgy — how the liturgy can help the Church to enter more into the New Evangelization — because the central thing in the New Evangelization is to meet Jesus Christ, and the central place where we meet Jesus Christ is in the liturgy. The [Church’s] Tradition says that the liturgy is the source and purpose of the mission of the Church.

Is this conference aimed at helping to heal the so-called liturgy wars, divisions between those who want more modern liturgies and those who favor traditional forms of worship?

Yes, communion inside the Church could be given by the acceptance of a true form of rites — the extraordinary and ordinary form. The principal teaching of Pope Benedict was to say that true expression is possible through the celebration of the extraordinary rite and the ordinary form of the rite. This congress will help be an expression of this source of mission and communion.

How did the idea for this conference come about?

We live in a secularized society, and we need the expression of the centrality of God. The expression of the centrality of God is given by the liturgy. We live in a superficial world, so, through the liturgy, we discover the presence of God in the Eucharist; it enters in our body and soul. A sense of intimacy, interiority, is given by the liturgy. And in the liturgy we celebrate the fact that the bread becomes the body of Christ; there is a transformation, and so, when I receive the Eucharist, it can transform me, too.

The transformation of the Word begins in the liturgy, in the celebration of the Eucharist, because it’s an expression of the beginning of the transformation of the Word. For all these reasons, we have to restore a real and perfect sense of the liturgy given by the traditional magisterium of the Church given by Vatican II.

Some argue that Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, brought problematic changes to worship. Others, however, believe it began before that time. What is your view, and does this have some impact on conference?

We received Sacrosanctum Concilium as a fruit of the Council, and it belongs to the Tradition of the Church, her teaching about the sense of liturgy, the sacramentality of the Church. But the way this document was received was problematic in some places. We have seen some transformations and adaptations, instrumentalization and subjectivization of this document. This was a source of many difficulties, and so we have to restore the exact interpretation of this document and to advance the mission.

This is one of the aims of the conference?

Yes, to clarify the teaching and go again to the source of the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist and the liturgy.

What do you see as the Pope’s approach to the ordinary form and extraordinary form of the Mass?

I think the Pope, in his ministry as Successor of Peter, wants to follow the teaching of his predecessors. I don’t think any change is meant. Each day, he celebrates an early morning Mass for Vatican workers and, by doing so, is emphatically showing that the liturgy is the source of his day; that the liturgy is the first service we can give to people, to the world, and it’s the charity of the Church that is expressed by the liturgy. The celebrating of Mass is a teaching; it is a message. There’s an insistence there; it is the same message, but his insistence to celebrate Mass for many people in this way is a teaching.

You have an impressive lineup of speakers for the conference. Do you expect to see some new initiatives to help attract people to the liturgy?

For the different speakers, what is important for me is that they help us discover new lights, to shed new light, so we can discover things we have forgotten. There won’t be anything new, as such. The liturgy is a world, a continent, but parts of this continent have been forgotten or placed in some shadows, so we have to rediscover these.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

This article appeared in the National Catholic Register, April 30, 2013

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SSPX: We Didn’t Criticize Pope Francis; We Agree With Him

A  spokesman for the Society of St. Pius X has denied its leader, Bishop Bernard Fellay, was criticizing Pope Francis for his concern for the poor in a recent letter to supporters.

“It is an analysis of the current situation facing the Church, not a criticism of Pope Francis’ concern for the poor,” said Father Alain Lorans, spokesman for the traditionalist group, which holds no canonical status in the Church.

Reuters reported in an April 19 article that Bishop Fellay, superior general of the SSPX, had “begun criticizing … Pope Francis for the popular approach he has taken since his election last month.”

It suggested Bishop Fellay had “publicly taken issue with Pope Francis’ approach to the poor, which he believes comes at the expense of leading souls to salvation and denouncing sins against faith and morals.”

Reuters based its report on an extrapolation of an April 14 letter to friends and benefactors of the fraternity. In the letter, Bishop Fellay stressed that the Church has always had a “true concern” for the “poor, the needy, the infirm and the sick.” But he added that if it becomes “merely man-centered philanthropy, then the Church is no longer carrying out her mission; she is no longer leading souls to God, which can really be done only by supernatural means: faith, hope, charity and grace.”

He implored Pope Francis “not to allow souls to perish because they no longer learn sound doctrine.”

“What good is it to devote oneself to serving people if one hides from them what is essential, the purpose and the meaning of their life, and the seriousness of sin that turns them away from it?” he asked.

Bishop Fellay pleaded that sin and errors against faith and morality be denounced to prevent damnation. “The Church’s reason for being is to save them [sinners] and to help them avoid the misfortune of their eternal perdition,” he said. Such an approach “could not possibly please the world,” he argued, and said that history has shown that it “will turn against the Church, often violently.”

But in comments to the Register April 22, Father Lorans disagreed with Reuters’ report and instead contended the SSPX leader’s remarks were in concert with the Church. However, the comments further illustrate that the organization still has ground to make up in order to achieve communion with the Church.

“[They] could even be compared to a passage from the Pope’s first homily (to cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, March 14),” he said, and refers to Pope Francis’ words: “We can walk as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO [non-governmental organization], but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord.”

Father Lorans then quoted Bishop Fellay’s words from the letter to show their similarity: “Works of charity done for the poor, the needy, the infirm and the sick have always been a true concern for the Church, and we must not excuse ourselves from it, but if it becomes merely man-centered philanthropy, then the Church is no longer carrying out her mission; she is no longer leading souls to God, which can really be done only by supernatural means: faith, hope, charity and grace.”

In his letter, Bishop Fellay noted other concerns that began before the pontificate of Pope Francis. He highlighted how those who adhere to Church Tradition are penalized, while “those who profess doctrines which are heterodox or who commit veritable sacrileges are in no way troubled.” He said it is “the logic of an abuse of authority.”

However, as illustrated by the Holy Father’s affirmation of the “Doctrinal Assessment” of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Bishop Fellay’s comment would appear to be incorrect.

He said he believes only the Successor of Peter can save the Church, and he advised the Holy Father to “surround himself with vigorous defenders of the faith.”

“Let him appoint them in the important dioceses,” he said. “Let him deign, by important documents, to proclaim truth, pursue error without fear of contradictions, without fear of schisms, without fear of questioning the pastoral guidelines of the [Second Vatican] Council.”

The latter comment regarding Vatican II would seem to indicate that the SSPX has set its course.

In a June 27, 2012 interview, Archbishop J. Augustine DiNoia, secretary of the Pontifical Council Ecclesia Dei, discussed the SSPX’s evaluation of the Second Vatican Council:

“To say [the documents of Vatican II] are not binding is sophistry. The Council contains swathes of the ordinary magisterium, which is de fide divina [of divine faith].

“[T]here’s nothing in the Council that is contrary to Tradition and … every text, or every part of it that is controversial, should be read in context of the Council — and read it in light of the Tradition. It seems to me, despite their difficulties, they should be able to do that.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

This article appeared in the National Catholic Register, April 29, 2013

New Book Reveals Pope Francis’ Thoughts on Abortion, Poverty, Satan



A new book on a variety of hot topics containing the thoughts of Pope Francis when he was a cardinal appears in English language bookstores on Friday.

The book, called “On Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on Faith, Family, and the Church in the Twenty-First Century,” was originally published in Spanish in 2010. It is the text of a conversation between the Pope – then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio and archbishop of Buenos Aires – and Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka.

It is divided into 29 chapters according to topic, and includes frank discussions on same-sex marriage, globalization, euthanasia, fundamentalism, and many other subjects in the news.

An early theme concerns the devil — a subject Pope Francis has frequently raised since his election March 13.

“I believe the Devil exists,” Bergoglio says. “Maybe his greatest achievement in this times has been to make us believe that he does not exist, and that all can be fixed on a purely human level.”

On the subject of pedophilia, Bergoglio is forthright, strongly opposing moving guilty priests from one parish to another (he describes it as “stupid”) and admiring Benedict XVI’s “courage and straightforwardness” in enforcing zero tolerance for such a crime.

He frequently stresses the importance of free will in the book, and opposes clericalism, proselytism, and fundamentalism.

A priest should never impose the faith but simply present and defend Church teaching with clarity, he says.

Fundamentalism, he adds, is an “opiate” because it takes people away from the living God and reduces the Divine “to a being you can manage with prescriptions.” It is a form of “buying comfort, well-being, fortune and happiness,” he says, “but it leaves behind the living God, He that accompanies you along the way.”

On euthanasia, the future Pope says he believes a kind of “covert euthanasia” is taking place: “Our social security pays up until a certain amount of treatment and then says ‘may God help you.’ The elderly are not taken care of as they should be, but rather they are treated as discarded material.”

Turning to abortion, Bergoglio sets religion aside in order to stress that, simply from a scientific view, the genetic code of a person is present at the moment of conception, already making him a human being. “Abortion is killing someone that cannot defend himself,” he says.

He goes on to discuss with Rabbi Skorka the issue of same-sex marriage, which he describes as an “anti-value” and “anthropologic regression.”

It is a weakening of the institution of marriage that has existed for thousands of years and “forged according to nature and anthropology.” There have always been homosexuals, he says, “but never put on the same level” as heterosexuals and given the same status of marriage.

But again, the cardinal stresses the importance of free will – including the freedom to sin. A priest “does not have the right to force anything on anyone’s private life,” Bergoglio says.

“If God, in creation, ran the risk of making us free, who am I to get involved?” He says “one has to speak very clearly about values, limits, commandments, but spiritual and pastoral harassment is not allowed.”

He goes on to say that priests should propose values “without interfering” in “partisan politics” and avoiding preaching “against so and so.”

“We do not preach against anyone,” he says. “We refer to the value that is in danger and that must be safeguarded.” And he criticizes the press for reducing what he says to “whatever is opportune.”

“Today, from two or three facts, the media spins something different: they misinform,” the new Pope says. The media is “sometimes infected with hepatitis,” he continues, because of “their yellow colour” and tendency to “jump out and say: “Harsh rebuke to so and so.”

Bergoglio is characteristically strident when it comes to discussing capitalism and communism.

Capitalism, he says, “has its own spiritual perversion” by taming religion, so that it doesn’t bother capitalism too much, thereby giving it a “certain transcendence, but only a little bit.”

Communism’s spiritual perversion is to reject the transcendent because it believes it “paralyzes man” and does not allow him to progress. Both perversions, he says, are manifestations of worldliness.

Regarding care for the poor, the Pope differentiates between genuine works of charity and “social-conscience calming activities” carried out so that a person feels “good about oneself.” But love, he says, “requires a person to go out from himself, to truly give oneself to others.”

What a poor person needs most is a job to give him dignity, and he must not be looked upon with disgust. “He must be looked at in the eyes,” he says, adding that the great danger when aiding the poor is falling into an attitude of “protective paternalism” that doesn’t allow them to grow.

He argues that globalization should preserve the diversity and harmonious unity of humanity rather than become like “a uniform billiard ball” in which the “richness of each culture is lost.”

Turning to the Arab-Israeli conflict, he says the way to resolve animosities is to emulate the Egyptian monks of early Christianity, who accused themselves so they could find a solution. “They put themselves in the defendant’s seat to see what things were not working well inside of themselves,” he said. “This gives me the freedom to, later, be able to forgive the fault of the other person.”

There is plenty more in this book, including discussions about science, women, divorce, education, and the Holocaust. The conversations on each subject are mostly short, merely giving a taste of the Pope’s thoughts, but with so little known about the new pontiff, even the shortest passages are enlightening.

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18th April 2013

Wise Words From Pope Francis


VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ daily morning Mass homilies in the Domus Sancthae Marthae residence, where he is currently living, have become increasingly popular, acclaimed for their wisdom, simplicity and forthrightness.

So notable have these short sermons become that the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, has summarized almost all of them, and with increasing detail.

At each Mass, groups of Vatican staff, visiting bishops, priests and religious are invited. Afterwards, the Pope sits at the back of the chapel to pray with them. He then joins some of the congregation for breakfast in the residence refectory.

His teaching has been wide-ranging, but with an emphasis on recurring themes of compassion, patience and mercy.

On March 23, he unsurprisingly chose a topic close to his heart: concern for the poorest and weakest. He warned that having a heart of stone leads one to “pick up real stones and stone Jesus Christ in the person of our brothers and sisters, especially the weakest of them.”

On March 26, Pope Francis dwelled on the mildness and patience of Jesus, saying God’s patience is a “mystery” that can be seen in Jesus’ attitude to Judas. God is patient, he said, like the Prodigal Son’s father, who waits every day for his son’s homecoming. Recognition of this patience, he added, leads to only one word leaving the heart: thanks.


‘Sweetness of Christ’s Forgiveness’

The following morning, on Spy Wednesday, the Holy Father reflected on Judas’ betrayal and Peter denying Christ three times. These happened at night, he noted, but added that everyone knows that beyond darkness lies hope. He underlined that, in the night of the sinner, the “sweetness of Christ’s forgiveness” can be found by turning to him. But he stressed that hearts must be opened to taste that forgiveness.

In the early morning of Holy Thursday, Pope Francis said speaking poorly of someone else is equivalent to selling them “like a commodity,” not unlike Judas, who sold out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

“There is some arcane pleasure in scandal mongering,” he said, adding that it is important to pray and ask for God’s grace “for the good of the other.” It’s important to realize, he said, that the person defamed is no different than Jesus, our friend, and that should lead to repentance and forgiveness.


Playing the Complain Game

On April 4, the Holy Father warned that complaining about others and circumstances damages the heart and takes away hope. Never enter “into this game of living on complaints,” he said. Reflecting on the disciples on the road to Emmaus and their overwhelming dismay at the death of Jesus, he noted that they didn’t stop complaining. Their conversations made them withdraw into themselves and stew in their dismay. But, at that very moment, the Pope said, the Lord is “close to us, but we do not recognize him.” Jesus was “patient with them,” he said, first listening, then explaining, and in the end letting them see him. Jesus, he added, “does this with us,” even in our darkest moments.

The following morning, the Pope stressed that peace cannot be bought or sold, but is a gift from God — and we must beg him for it. It is like “the final step” of spiritual consolation, “which begins with a joyful wonder” in encountering Christ. But he warned that we should not “trick ourselves with our or others’ fantasies, which lead us to believe that these fantasies are reality.”

In truth, he said, it is more Christian “to believe that reality may not be so pretty.”



At Mass the next morning, April 5, the Pope warned against tarot readers and fortune tellers, stressing that salvation can only come through Jesus Christ. He recalled the story of a humble father of eight whom he knew in the Curia of Buenos Aires. Before going out each morning, he would say, “Jesus!” Pope Francis asked him why he did this. “When I say ‘Jesus’ I feel strong; I feel I can work, and I know that he is with me, that he keeps me safe,” the man replied.

The man never studied theology, the Pope noted: “He only has the grace of baptism and the power of the Spirit. And this testimony did me a lot of good, too, because it reminds us that in this world that offers us so many saviors it is only the name of Jesus that saves.”



In his homily on the feast of the Annunciation, the Pope underlined the importance humility. “Making progress,” he said, means “lowering oneself” on the road of humility in order allow God’s love to emerge and be clearly seen. The way of Christian humility raises us up to God, as those who bear witness to it “stoop low” to make room for charity, he said, adding that it was the road taken by Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. This is the “golden rule” for Christians, he said, but it doesn’t mean traveling the road with “downcast eyes.” Humility, he said, is “the way by which charity surely passes,” for, “if there is no humility, love remains blocked, it cannot go [forward].”

The following morning, Pope Francis again warned about the temptation to gossip and speak ill of others. Complaining behind each other’s backs is a temptation that comes “from the evil one, who does not want the Spirit to dwell among us and give peace,” he said. He added that meekness is crucial to harmony, but it has been “a bit forgotten.”

Meekness, he said, has “many enemies,” and the first is gossip. “When one prefers gossiping, gossiping about another, it’s like clobbering another. This is normal; it happens to everyone, including me — it is a temptation of the evil one. … If, with the grace of the spirit, we were able to stop gossiping, it would be a huge step forward,” Francis said, and “it would do everyone good.”

Later that week, Pope Francis preached that Christ through his resurrection restored man’s dignity that he had lost, which has given him hope. “This is the road of salvation, and it is beautiful,” he said. “Only love makes it. We are of worth; we are men and women of hope.” He therefore warned against trying to save oneself, basing one’s dignity and hope on riches or vanity and pride, and called on those present to open their hearts so that God’s “love may enter, fill us and spur us to love others.”

The following morning, he stressed that God is non-negotiable and that the faith leaves no room for categories like “lukewarm” or “bad or good.” It does not seek a “double life” in order to negotiate a state of living with the world, he said. And he stressed that obedience to God isn’t a kind of slavery, but means having an open heart to listen to him and follow him, which sets one free.

He invited those present to ask for the grace of courage to follow Jesus’ path. “And when we do not,” he said, “let us ask for forgiveness: The Lord forgives us because he is so good.”

It now appears the Holy Father will stay in the Vatican guest house for the foreseeable future and continue preaching morning homilies. He is reported to prefer the residence to the Apostolic Palace because he can be among the people and finds it “less isolating.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

This article appeared in the National Catholic Register – 15 April 2013:

Vatican Denies Benedict XVI Has Serious Illness


The Vatican reiterated Wednesday that Benedict XVI does not have any specific illness apart from the problems associated with old age after a Spanish author claimed the Pope Emeritus must have a grave illness after suffering a “dramatic” deterioration in his health.

pope-francis-and-pope-benedict-ace219166d70e7daPaloma Gomez Borrero, a correspondent at the Vatican, said Benedict XVI’s health had “dramatically diminished over the past 15 days,“ adding that one can only conclude “he must have something very serious.”

“We won’t have him with us for very much longer,” she said in a report in the Spanish newspaper ABC. “It is unlikely that the Pope Emeritus will appear again in public,” she said. Gomez made the comments on Tuesday, at the launch of her new book on the conclave called “From Benedict to Francis”.

The journalist added the Pope’s decision to resign was a “very bitter chalice” for him and that he showed “great humility” in doing so.

But speaking to the Register Wednesday, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said that Benedict “has no illness” and that “the problems are those connected with age.” His comments are consistent Vatican statements on this issue since Benedict announced his resignation on February 11.

Many had noticed how much more frail the former Pope looked when he met Pope Francis last month, and that he had appeared to have aged considerably in the three weeks he had been out of office.

Vatican doctors had noted with concern how he had become much thinner back in January, before he resigned. He had also begun to tire quickly and his personal physician, Dr. Patrizio Polisca, said his blood pressure was having strong fluctuations. He advised the Pope to avoid air travel.

The Vatican revealed in February that Pope Benedict had a pacemaker fitted a number of years ago and his biographer, Peter Seewald, confirmed he was unable to see out of his left eye, creating problems when walking, especially up and down steps.

Benedict XVI has used a walking stick for the past couple of years because of pain in his right hip and ankle.

In response to the speculation, the Vatican has regularly insisted that Benedict, who turns 86 next week, is not suffering from anything other than the physical trials of old age. So far, his plans to move into a converted convent in the Vatican at the beginning of May remain unchanged.


This article appeared in the National Catholic Register, 10 April 2013:

John Paul II, Reagan and Thatcher


My 2011 Register interview with former adviser to Margaret Thatcher, John O’Sullivan, on the legacy of Thatcher, John Paul II and Reagan.


How instrumental were Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and John Paul II in ending Soviet-led communism, and what lessons do they teach the world today in dealing with secularism and Islamist terrorism? To find out, we asked John O’Sullivan, author of The President, The Pope, and The Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World.

BF1F0E7F-1BFD-495A-B366-87042AA3E5C3_mw800_sIn Rome in December for the launch of the Italian version of his book, O’Sullivan, a former Downing Street adviser to Thatcher and currently executive editor of Radio Free Europe, explained how these three leaders accelerated the end of the Cold War, how Reagan was instrumental in bringing John Paul II and Thatcher together, and whether leaders of similar caliber exist in the world today.


You mention in your book that John Paul II, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher had interesting aspects in common: They changed the course of history, yet they were three “middle managers” no one imagined could reach the top. How much did your research reveal the role of Providence in what they achieved?

I try to explain in the book the great difficulties of discussing the role of Providence in history, because, of course, Providence works through natural and human agencies. So, in a sense, probably the best way to do it is to describe what happened as best we know how and let the reader draw the inferences from extraordinary coincidences and so on.

In fact, I quote John Paul II at one point: that in the workings of Providence there are no coincidences. It did strike me as fascinating that these three people emerged at a time of great peril for Western civilization, Christianity and other things. All of them had a struggle to get there; they had to struggle to make an impact; almost immediately they entered their high positions, and all of them became the victims of attempted assassinations. Those assassinations came very close to success — with the Pope, the bullet passed just a short distance from his heart; the same was true of Reagan and maybe Thatcher — had she remained in the bathroom for another five or six minutes, she would have been killed.


How much did those failed assassination attempts give them impetus to continue their goals?

In the case of both Reagan and the Pope, it strengthened their conviction that they’d been placed on the earth for a great purpose. We know that because they said so. It didn’t have that effect on Lady Thatcher for an interesting reason. I said to her that the Pope and Ronald Reagan both felt the failure of the assassinations persuaded them they’d been saved for some great purpose. “Do you think you were saved for some great purpose?” I asked. And she said, “No.” When she said this, which I had been expecting, I thought I knew why, and so I said to her: “That’s interesting. Why?” And she said: “Well, five people died that night. Why would I be singled out? They were friends of mine” and so forth. I think that’s a nice human response actually, and then she went on to say it would be very inglorious of her to think that God was stepping in to do her a favor. But that, of course, is the wrong way of thinking about it — she might have been being saved for some great trial.


It’s very much a sort of Methodist approach.

Yes, exactly. In fact, I drew that conclusion. So, as I say, it did have the impetus in the two cases, but not in her case. On the other hand, all three had already embarked upon their destiny, so to speak, and so it sharpened that sense of destiny, but it didn’t really change things. It accelerated them, but didn’t change things.


You believe they all had a clear destiny mapped out.

Well, you know, we say God has a plan for everybody, but we also know we’re perfectly capable of frustrating God’s plan — by going to hell, for example!


Some critics of your book argue that the economic situation of the Soviet Union was such that the U.S.S.R. was always going to collapse and that these three leaders were inconsequential to that happening. Do you agree with any of this argument?

No, and history is on my side here. The economy of the Soviet Union had been about to collapse really since 1917. There had never been a successful period of economics, and that’s because the system itself had been incapable of producing the goods. It was incapable of motivating people and incapable of giving them a decent standard of living, of encouraging their human qualities and so on. So I think it was always doomed.

How had it, therefore, survived and, apparently, in some cases, prospered? Well, the West came to its assistance time and time again, and it was doing so in the ’70s. So, although the Soviet Union was always potentially on the verge of collapse, it needed something external, and that something was provided by these three leaders. In different ways, they undermined the Soviet Union, and, of course, in the case of Reagan, he straightforwardly set out to bankrupt them.

For example, he kept a careful watch on the price of gold because he knew that was a useful source for them. His military buildup was designed to say to them: “If you do what you want, you can’t match what we can do.” And they reached that conclusion themselves.

Gorbachev complains to the Politburo soon after he becomes a major figure that Singapore exports more in value every year than the entire Soviet Union. Everyone knew the system was being pushed to the breaking point by Reagan in that way, by the Pope spiritually, and by Mrs. Thatcher in a very interesting way: She demonstrated the recuperative powers of a free society and a free economy. She took over an economy in very desperate circumstances, and, in a sense, by offering it the benefits of liberty, and I think a sensible monetary policy, she saw the British economy get up off its deathbed. By the time she left office, it was the fourth-largest economy in the world.

So, all these ways undermined the system. To sum up: It was a system that had lots of internal weaknesses, but it required the application of strong external pressures to exploit those external weaknesses to bring it down and to bring it down peacefully rather than violently.


But some argue that the arms race was a very dangerous way to bring Soviet communism down. What is your view on that?

Well, first of all, the arms race was instituted by the other side. They planted SS-20s all over Europe, and if they didn’t want an arms race, they could have avoided one.

Reagan is interesting in this regard, and this was something the Pope realized about him. Whenever he saw he was going to have a quarrel with another person or power, he would go to them and say: “Look, we should be friends. There’s no need for us to have a fight. We don’t want one, but if you insist on having one, we will have one, and we’ll win it.” He wrote a handwritten letter to [Leonid] Brezhnev [leader of the Soviet Union 1964-1982] not long after he became president, in which he said “there is no reason for us to quarrel.”

[The idea was] the Russians and Americans may respect each other, get on well together personally, so let’s just work together for our peoples. The Soviets rejected this out of hand. Reagan had to mount quite a fierce battle with the State Department and others, Al Haig, to get it through, but he sent it, and he received a perfunctory reply of a kind of ideological agitprop kind. So Reagan thought at that point: Well, they want a fight. By the way, he did exactly the same thing with the Cubans, before helping to start the Contras. He sent an envoy to tell the Cubans to tell the Nicaraguans that, provided they gave democratic freedoms to their people, he wouldn’t try to get rid of the regime. They contemptuously rejected it because, at the time, they thought they were on the winning side.

So Reagan thought he was justified in establishing the Contra army to put pressure on them. By the way, one of the things that emerges in the internal discussions of the State Department is that he is very keen to avoid bloodshed and damage to civilians.


Baroness Thatcher is the only one of the three leaders still alive. How does she view all this, looking back? Does she regard herself as being part of the three?

Well, she liked my book, and she came to my book launch. In fact, it was the only book launch anyone there had attended in which the subject of the book signs the book as well as the author! So the answer is: Yes, she does.


I ask because a few years ago, when she took a tour of John Paul II’s tomb, she enthusiastically said that if it weren’t for this man, Soviet communism would still be around.

Well, as you said yourself, although now an Anglican, she’s very Methodist in her attitudes. Methodists are very much against getting above yourself and so on. She does recognize she’s a great prime minister, that people have come to regard her as a great prime minister, and she’s proud of that in an acceptable and legitimate way.


What can we learn from all three of them today?

I think of them as messengers of hope in their different ways. Michael Foot [leader of Britain’s Labour Party during the Thatcher government] once said that one of the best things about Margaret Thatcher was her strong sense of optimism. And she was, in a sense, optimistic. But I prefer the word “hope,” because optimism is a disposition and very often a silly and foolish one. But Mrs. Thatcher was somebody who recognized that an element in hope is effort. You don’t just hope something’s going to happen; you embark on projects in a hopeful way.

Of course, you rely on the grace of God, but anyway, you have to do something, and I think all three of them were in that frame of mind. You could accomplish great things, with the help of God, but also you have to put your back into it.


Is this characteristic lacking among leaders today, do you think?

The situation leaders face today is something different, but I do think during the period until the financial crash [of 2008], leaders themselves didn’t know quite why they were succeeding. There was a period of great creativity and prosperity launched by the end of the Cold War.

You have the disappearance of barriers, the abandonment of foolish economic ideas of a socialist kind that held people back. You have the arrival in the world of about 2 billion new workers. There was all this good coming out, this tremendous burst of prosperity, and I think if you were leader at the time, you’d be less than human if you didn’t take some credit for it.

But I think Tony Blair has almost admitted that he’s not quite sure why it all went so well in his time. I think it’s because of what Reagan and Thatcher did — they laid the foundations, and the Pope, too. When you had this crash, which was the result of foolish policies in general, they suddenly woke up to the fact that they didn’t really know what they were doing. They were standing by while the tremendously successful revolution was going on.


Who are the equivalents of Reagan and Thatcher today?

Well, there aren’t any real equivalents, and there never will be, because everyone’s different and they face different challenges.

Among the leaders in politics whom I think of highly: in the non-Christian world, Lee Kuan Yew [prime minister of Singapore 1965-1990], often criticized for being an authoritarian but someone who has enormous achievements to his credit in creating Singapore. There are things I disagree with him about, but he is obviously a great man, and his impact in the world has been very beneficial, even if you may disagree with some of his attitudes. I would say in Western politics: Well, in Australia, there’s Tony Abbott, the Australian leader of the Liberal Party, a tremendous figure, and I greatly admire him. He has a very good chance of becoming prime minister. I think highly of several Hungarians, like Viktor Orban [current prime minister].


And in the United States?

There are good people there, but one of the things we have to remember is: We don’t know until they’re in positions of great authority how good they’re going to be.

I was very critical of Mrs. Thatcher early on, and I did think Reagan was potentially a great man, but as great as he turned out to be, no, I didn’t think so. The Pope was impressive from the word Go, but did I think in 1978-1979 that he was going to have the impact on the world that he had? No, I didn’t. I was impressed by what happened in Poland, but I thought it would be confined to Poland. Until people get the opportunity to exercise their talents to the full, you really don’t know what they’re going to be like.

Historians say his trip to Poland in 1979 was crucial to ending the Cold War, beginning a chain of events that would bring down communism in Russia and the Eastern Bloc. Do you agree with that view?

There’s no doubt about that: It changed the world. It was the beginning of the end of the communist world. They sensed its importance beforehand, and to be fair to them, they felt very early on that the Pope was a threat.


Can you tell us a little more about how you describe John Paul II’s relationship with Reagan in the book?

He [Reagan] is the pivotal figure in the book, not in history, but in the book, because he brings the Pope and Thatcher together. The Pope and Thatcher meet each other several times. She respects the Pope, and he seems to respect her, but there’s not a close relationship.

There’s a very close relationship between Reagan and Thatcher and between Reagan and the Pope, and so he is the figure who brings these two together, and I think all of that goes back to the meeting they had in the Vatican, in 1982, when Reagan falls asleep at the public event, but then subsequently they go off on their own for an hour. We still don’t know the full truth of what happened in these private meetings. He had several with the Pope, seven I think, and it’s been kept under wraps, but we’ll know more.

At the end of the first one, the Pope came out and met two cardinals, the secretary of state and [Cardinal] Silvestrini, and he tells them that Reagan is a good man and really believes in disarmament, that he’s really against nuclear weapons, and so forth. Now, we all know that now, but at the time, the picture of him was of a trigger-happy cowboy. This represents the moment in which the Pope, in a sense, decides that Reagan is a man whose moral intentions in foreign policy are good Christian moral intentions. He may make mistakes, and he may not always do what we would do, but his motivation will always be the same.

So it becomes possible to the Pope, in good conscience, not to join the campaign against Star Wars, not to take a much more critical view of the Sandinistas than he might otherwise have done. … So the Vatican policy in those years is much friendlier to American policy than people were expecting, and that goes back to Reagan and the Pope.

Edward Pentin writes from Rome.


Pope Warns Vatican Staff Against Gossip


For the second time in two weeks, Pope Francis has warned against the temptation to gossip and speak ill of others. He has also made another reference to someone who has escaped mention in Church homilies in recent years: the Devil.

Preaching to Vatican staff Tuesday at an early morning Mass in the chapel of the Vatican’s guesthouse where he is staying, the Pope said that complaining behind each other’s backs is a temptation that comes “from the evil one who does not want the spirit to dwell among us and give peace.”

544418_593957397282535_1200529791_nHe urged those present to model their relationships on those of the earliest Christians, whose new life in baptism was expressed in “unity, unanimity, that harmony of feelings in mutual love.”

He also said meekness — one of the virtues the new Pope loves most, according to previous interviews — is crucial to harmony, but it has been “a bit forgotten.” Meekness, he added, has “many enemies” and the first is gossip. “When one prefers gossiping, gossiping about another, it’s like clobbering another. This is normal, it happens to everyone, including me — it is a temptation of the evil one.”

The struggle against such harmful chatter, he said, is something that continually sows tensions in parishes, families, neighborhoods, and among friends. Although he did not explicitly refer to it, such gossip has also been the cause of dissension within the Vatican, as the recent Vatileaks scandal revealed.

Christians, he said, “must not judge anyone” because the Lord is the only judge. They should “keep quiet,” but if they must say something they must speak only to the person who could remedy the situation, “not the whole neighborhood.”

“If, with the grace of the spirit, we were able to stop gossiping, it would be a huge step forward,” Francis said, and “it would do everyone good.”

In another morning homily, on March 28, Pope Francis said speaking poorly of someone else is equivalent to selling them “like a commodity,” not unlike Judas who sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. “There is some arcane pleasure in scandalmongering,” he said, adding that it is important to pray and ask for God’s grace “for the good of the other.”

Since his election last month, the Pope has made frequent references to the devil. In one of his first tweets, he warned followers not to “believe the evil one” when he suggests there is “nothing that can be done in the face of violence, injustice and sin.” He warned cardinals not to “cede to the bitterness and pessimism that the devil offers us every day.” In another homily, he preached that when one does not profess Jesus Christ, “one professes the worldliness of the devil.”

As a cardinal in 2010, Pope Francis was also unafraid to single out the devil’s works, saying same-sex marriage was a move by the “father of lies.”

Observers have noted this emphasis with interest, especially as explicit mentions of the devil largely fell into disuse in the years following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. With his disappearance from Church texts, exorcists complained that the rite of exorcism had become useless against demons.

Pope Francis’s frequent allusions to the evil one may well be part of an effort —one that Benedict XVI had already begun — to bring back healing and harmony to the Church, and parts of the Vatican in particular.

This article appeared in, 9 April 2013

Remembering Margaret Thatcher


Former British Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher, who died today, was not a Catholic, and, according to those closest to her, never had any wish to cross the Tiber.

VATICAN-POPE-AUDIENCEBut she was well known for having friendly relations with Blessed John Paul II, whom she greatly admired. She laid flowers at his tomb on a vist to the Vatican in 2009 and was overheard remarking that if weren’t for the great Polish Pope, Soviet Communism wouldn’t have fallen.

Moreover, Baroness Thatcher’s political principles were largely formed by her Christian faith, and in particular her Methodist upbringing.

In an interview with the Register a couple of years ago, John O’Sullivan, a close Catholic friend and former advisor to the late prime minister, explained what her faith meant to her. One of her best characteristics, he said, was her sense of hope:

“She was, in a sense, optimistic. But I prefer the word ‘hope,’ because optimism is a disposition and very often a silly and foolish one. But Mrs. Thatcher was somebody who recognized that an element in hope is effort. You don’t just hope something’s going to happen; you embark on projects in a hopeful way. Of course, you rely on the grace of God, but, anyway, you have to do something, and I think all three of them [Reagan, John Paul II and Thatcher] were in that frame of mind. You could accomplish great things, with the help of God, but also you have to put your back into it.”

The full interview can be read here.

In his tribute to Baroness Thatcher today, pro-life campaigner Lord David Alton of Liverpool recalled how he once arranged a private meeting between the former prime minister and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was visiting London.

“Mother Teresa told me afterwards that when she had challenged the Prime Minister about the number of people sleeping rough on the streets and the number of unborn children aborted each day in the U.K., in response, Margaret Thatcher gave her a short speech on Britain’s welfare provisions and social security. Mother Teresa simply responded by asking, “But do you have love?”

“Notwithstanding this, the two women clearly liked and understood one another very well,” Lord Alton added.

He said he and Margaret Thatcher disagreed about the need to reform the abortion laws (Thatcher was, like most of Britain’s politicians, pro-abortion). But he said he was “particularly pleased”  when she opposed the further destruction of human embryos and the creation of animal-human hybrid embryos. “She told me she saw no scientific reasons for such experiments,” he recalled.

Margaret Thatcher, he said, had some “remarkable achievements” and “always described herself as a conviction politician.”

“No one was ever in any doubt about what she believed and why,” he noted. “It is worth contrasting this with the political ambiguities and political posturing which seems to characterise so much of today’s politics, too often seeking the main chance and the appeasement of special-interest groups. May she rest in peace.”


The Vatican this evening released the following statement on the death of Baroness Thatcher:

The Right Honourable David Cameron, MP
The Prime Minister

His Holiness Pope Francis was saddened to learn of the death of Baroness Margaret Thatcher.  He recalls with appreciation the Christian values which underpinned her commitment to public service and to the promotion of freedom among the family of nations. Entrusting her soul to the mercy of God, and assuring her family and the British people of a remembrance in his prayers, the Holy Father invokes upon all whose lives she touched God’s abundant blessings.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone
Secretary of State


In a speech to the Church of Scotland, Margaret Thatcher spoke eloquently about Christianity and politics, offering insights and reflections every bit as relevant to today’s politics as they were then. Here are some excerpts:

“I think back to many discussions in my early life when we all agreed that if you try to take the fruits of Christianity without its roots, the fruits will wither. And they will not come again unless you nurture the roots.”

“We must not profess the Christian faith and go to church simply because we want social reforms and benefits or a better standard of behavior, but because we accept the sanctity of life, the responsibility that comes with freedom and the supreme sacrifice of Christ.”

“Any set of social and economic arrangements which is not founded on the acceptance of individual responsibility will do nothing but harm.”

“The basic ties of the family [are] at the heart of our society and are the very nursery of civic virtue. And it is on the family that we in government build our own policies for welfare, education and care.”

“Intervention by the state must never become so great that it effectively removes personal responsibility. The same applies to taxation; for while you and I would work extremely hard, whatever the circumstances, there are undoubtedly some who would not unless the incentive was there. And we need their efforts, too.”

“There is little hope for democracy if the hearts of men and women in democratic societies cannot be touched by a call to something greater than themselves. Political structures, state institutions, collective ideals — these are not enough. We Parliamentarians can legislate for the rule of law. You, the Church, can teach the life of faith.”

Of course, she had no time for socialism, which she saw, among other things, as taking away individual personal responsibility given by God.

In her last speech in the House of Commons in 1990, she memorably took the ideology to task.


This article appeared in the National Catholic Register, April 8, 2013

Easter at the Vatican 2013


VATICAN CITY — In the simple pastoral style of a parish priest, Pope Francis led the Vatican’s Easter celebrations, offering clear and accessible teachings in both word and action that principally instructed the faithful on how to draw near to the Risen Christ.

He began the Easter Triduum by taking the unprecedented step of celebrating the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at a young offenders’ detention center just outside Rome on Holy Thursday instead of the basilica of St. John Lateran where it is usually held.

Pope Francis celebrated the Mass for 50 young men and women, as well as  staff, volunteers and officials  at the Casa del Marmo Institute. He stressed the importance of service by washing the feet of 12 of the prisoners. As cardinal, the Pope had washed the feet on Holy Thursday in prisons and hospices.

The washing of the feet ceremony, which the Pope explained follows Jesus’ example of washing the feet of his apostles, is a sign that means “I am at your service” and teaches us that “we have to help each other.” Similarly, he said in his homily, it should prompt each person to think: “Am I really willing to help others? Just think of that. Think that this sign is Christ’s caress, because Jesus came just for this, to serve us, to help us.”

The Vatican said the prisoners whose feet the Pope washed were of different nationalities and religious confessions, among them two girls, one of whom was a Muslim from Serbia. This is a departure from canon law that says only men should have their feet washed. Some have argued the Pope should have issued a decree instead of simply disregarding the rule, one that many priests have tried hard to maintain.

But Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi dismissed the criticism, saying the Pope’s gesture “should call our minds and hearts to the simple and spontaneous gesture of love, affection, forgiveness and mercy of the Bishop of Rome, more than to legalistic, liturgical or canonical discussions.”

Despite the controversy, the Holy Father’s unusual act was broadly well received, most notably by a youth detention center in Los Angeles, where young offenders wrote brief letters commending the Pope.

“Society has given up on us; thank you that you have not given up on us,” said one, according to a Vatican Radio report. Another wrote, “I know one day, with people like you, us kids won’t be given sentences that will keep us in prison for the rest of our lives.”


Good Friday

At the celebration of the Passion of the Lord in St. Peter’s Basilica on Good Friday, the papal preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, recalled the current Year of Faith and stressed how Christ’s death and resurrection gives urgency to evangelization. He argued that, for evangelization to be effective, the Church must rid itself of impediments — “excess of bureaucracy, the residue of past ceremonials, laws and disputes” — so the message “may come out of it as free and joyous as when the messenger began his run.”

In the evening, Pope Francis presided over the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum. He explained that God is not silent in the face of evil but has spoken through the cross of Christ. Man condemns himself, he said, if he refuses to embrace God’s love, but God “never condemns, he only loves and saves.”

The meditations on the 14 stations of the cross were written by Lebanese youth and recalled violence in the Middle East, abuse of women and children, Christian division and the promotion of abortion.

“Let us walk together along the Way of the Cross and let us do so carrying in our hearts this word of love and forgiveness,” the Pope said, and thanked his Lebanese “brothers and sisters” for their witness and for writing the “beautiful” reflections that were read during the prayer. He recalled Benedict XVI’s visit to Lebanon last year and the hope the country gave for peaceful coexistence between Christians, Muslims and others.


Holy Saturday

Before the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, the Pope sent a video message to viewers on the occasion of the first televised showing of the Holy Shroud of Turin — what Benedict XVI once described as the “icon of Holy Saturday.” Pope Francis noted the “great peace” and the meaning the image conveys. “A restrained but powerful energy” shines through, he said, “as if to say: Have faith, do not lose hope; the power of the love of God, the power of the Risen One overcomes all things.”

In his homily at the Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter’s, the Pope counseled the faithful not to be afraid of the newness God asks of us, saying God always surprises his children.

“Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence,” he said. “Let us never give up; there are no situations which God cannot change, there is no sin which he cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to him.”

Jesus lives not in the past but in the present, the Pope added.

“Let the risen Jesus enter your life,” he said. “Welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk; you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do.”

The Holy Father also ministered to the faithful how to overcome fear, as the women overcame their fear at the empty tomb, by remembering their encounter with Jesus.

“To remember what God has done and continues to do for me, for us, to remember the road we have traveled; this is what opens our hearts to hope for the future,” the Pope said. “May we learn to remember everything that God has done in our lives.”


Urbi et Orbi Message

In his first message urbi et orbi (to the city of Rome and the World) on Easter Sunday, Pope Francis said Christ’s resurrection allows us to be renewed by God’s mercy and to be transformed. We become agents of his mercy, he said, and “channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.”

He called in particular for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, in Iraq and for “dear Syria.” He also highlighted other conflict areas in Mali, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and on the Korean peninsula.

Pope Francis called for peace in the whole world “divided by greed looking for easy gain,” and singled out human trafficking and “iniquitous exploitation” of natural resources.

“May the Risen Lord, who defeated sin and death, sustain us all especially the weakest and those most in need,” he said in unscripted remarks at the end. “May the Risen Christ guide all of you and all of humanity on the paths of justice, love, and peace!”


Easter Monday Address

In his “Regina Coeli” address on Easter Monday, the Pope reminded the faithful it is up to each person to embrace Christ’s victory. Baptism, he said, “must be reflected in attitudes, behaviors, actions and choices,” and stressed that the sacraments at Easter are “an enormous source of strength for renewal in personal and family life, as well as for social relations.”

But he added that “everything passes through the human heart” and it is important to let God’s grace “change for the better whatever is not good in me,” thereby allowing the victory of Christ “to affirm itself in my life, to broaden its beneficial action.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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