Wall History

border fence rainwater damage
border fence rainwater damage

Tuesday evening President Trump addressed us regarding the “border crisis.” He accomplished a significant rhetorical success.

His previous spoken references to “The Wall” came in the context of his emotionally heated appeal to a sense of national identity (“Make America Great Again! …Who’s gonna pay for the beautiful wall? Mexico!“)

But on Tuesday night, he successfully changed the frame of reference. He situated his insistence on a wall in the context of: This is a perfectly reasonable, and morally necessary, national-security matter.

Now, don’t get me wrong. He still employed his usual trick: Handpicking certain crimes from among the many that sadly occur in our large nation every day. Solely to tarnish the reputation of an entire class of people, the overwhelming majority of whom have never committed a crime, and never will. Genuinely despicable.

But, in addition to using that maneuver, the President also claimed to have a proposal on the table, one that comes from experts. Experts in border-security strategy.

In their answer to the President, the leading Democrats in Congress did not have the necessary knowledge or skill to confront the President’s rhetorical stratagem. They did not give his speech the kind of answer that they should have.

President Trump signed an executive order about “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” almost two years ago. It ordered the Secretary of Homeland Security to produce a comprehensive report on, among other things, “all geophysical and topographical aspects of the southern border.”

The world still awaits that report. If we ever get it, it will certainly indicate:

Despite all of our modern surveying tools and careful planning, the earth will still surprise you. This part that you thought was boring and simple and easy to predict is actually totally complicated. Look at any major excavation for a subway system, any major bridge construction, any large tower complex; all of them had intense surveys beforehand, extensive design phases, and still had to modify while building. Earth doesn’t forgive sloppy. Ignore geology at your peril.

(The words of a geologist interviewed about The Wall.)


Over the years, border walls and fences have exacerbated flooding in both the US and Mexico. Environmental advocates and local activists in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas now fear their communities will also face increased risk of flooding.

(from a Texas newspaper in August, 2018)

In 2006, Congress mandated that Homeland Security build 700 miles of border fencing. That had to be revised the following year, because the agency could not manage to build 700 miles.

Engineering difficulties because of mountains and riverbeds, Mexico treaty obligations, rainwater management issues, lack of co-operation from landowners with property abutting the border–all these problems got in the way. Even after all the environmental-protection and eminent-domain rules were suppressed.

If the President actually had a “serious proposal,” produced by experts, it would necessarily take all this into account. It would involve something immeasurably more complicated than the absurd sophistry of Tuesday night’s speech. The idea that we can “lock the house.”

That analogy simply does not work. We cannot secure the US-Mexico border like you lock your house at night. It’s not a matter of whether or not doing so would be immoral. It’s simply impossible. Mother Nature herself forbids it.



Beautify the Basilica Instead of Building the Wall

guadalupe face

Four hundred eighty-seven years ago today, the mother of God appeared on our continent, to assure us of her love for us.

That was before the United States of America existed, or the United States of Mexico. At that time, the Rio Grande did not mark a “national borderline.” Nor did any kind of border run through the Sonora desert. And baja California and alta California were both parts of one place. [Click for Part I and Part II of my extended commentary on this.]

Our Lady appeared to St. Juan Diego in Mexico City. She left her image on his cloak, which still hangs in the basilica there.

Twenty years ago, Pope St. John Paul II visited the same spot. He had gathered the bishops of the entire American continent. The pope made December 12 a feastday in all these lands. He recognized Guadalupe as the spiritual center of the western hemisphere.

By the grace of God, I have laid eyes on the tilma twice, in ’95 and ’97. Maybe you, dear reader, have seen it, also. Hopefully someday all of us Catholics of America will make a holy pilgrimage, to see the indescribably lovely image and receive the unique graces of our Lady’s presence here with us on our continent.

When the pope visited Guadalupe, he made no comment regarding the architecture of the current basilica. They built it in the mid-1970’s, to accommodate up to 10,000 people. Anyone ever seen it? Or a picture of it? It looks like a wrecked spaceship, in the shape of a melted Hershey’s kiss.

Basilica Guadalupe

I don’t think we want a wall between us and the place where Our Lady visited us. A wall would only get in the way of a pilgrimage there.

Maybe, instead of spending $1 zillion on a pointless, counter-productive border wall, we could spend the money building a new, nicer Guadalupe basilica instead?

Travel Unwise (in SW VA)

If you can walk to St. Francis of Assisi in Rocky Mount, I will see you there at 8:00am  for Mass.

Otherwise, dear ones of Franklin and Henry Counties, and the City of Martinsville: Stay home, do the readings if you can, say the Confiteor, Creed, and Our Father, and maybe the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.

Quedense en casa, queridos, y disfrutan la nieve.

More Re: VA Attorney General

To Kill a Mockingbird Jem Scout Dill

In my previous post I published an e-mail I wrote to our Bishop’s Office, asking about a directive we priests had received.

The dear Special Assistant and Advisor to the Bishop wrote me back. She noted that the directives in the original e-mail had come from “our attorneys, who are working closely with the [Virginia] Attorney General’s office and potentially the U.S. Department of Justice, to highlight this developing investigation process. They wanted to highlight the focus on our diocese’s cooperation with civil authorities.”

You, dear reader, may find it odd that our Bishop gives unsigned directives to his priests that come from him–no, not actually from him; actually from “our attorneys.”

Ms. Anne Edwards went on to tell me “there’s no reason why [you] could not can add that number in your bulletin.” That is, the actual phone number for sex-abuse victims to call the diocese–an important piece of information which was not included in the announcement the diocese ordered us to publish.

We also received an attachment explaining many legal terms and the types of documents that the diocese must retain. You can click HERE to read it, if you want to. It is legalese–highly illuminating legalese.

First of all, we priests received this document with no explanation of the context. It is cryptically labeled as “Enclosure to Letter of October 9, 2018.”

To whom was this letter of October 9 addressed? And from whom did it come? Can’t say. But the stipulations in the enclosure suggest that the document originated in the office of the US Attorney for the District of Columbia. I say this because the investigation includes the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

What practical good can it do to distribute all this legalese to us parish priests? Can’t see any practical good there. But, of course: it’s all an exercise stipulated by our attorneys.

What I do see is this:

We are in for it.

We Catholics in Virginia–and in all the 49 states, other than Pennsylvania–will spend the next couple of years dealing with the publication of all the secret documents held in all diocesan files (just like the Pennsylvania Catholics did in August.)

These documents will provide evidence of cover-ups. Cover-ups of shameful abuses of minors and other vulnerable people by Catholic clergymen.

The sitting bishops will rely on this defense: We didn’t know what we were doing before 2002, but now we do. The public will not buy this defense. (This already happened in Washington, DC: Card. Wuerl offered this defense; the public reasonably rejected it.)

In other words, the Catholic Church in the USA will limp along like a grievously wounded animal for the foreseeable future. Eventually, someone in law enforcement will realize that the diocesan archives tell only part of the story. The rest lies in files at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.

A representative of the USA will demand those documents. The Vatican will refuse. The Vatican will become an international pariah. Italy will likely revoke the provisions of the Concordat that guarantees the sovereignty of the Holy See. Italian police officers will raid Vatican offices. The contents of those files will be published, and it will deeply scandalize the entire world.

…We do not have shepherds that can deal with any of this well. If we had good shepherds, we would not find ourselves in this predicament in the first place.

The entire Scandal of 2018 involves old cases. If we had sensible shepherds, shepherds who cared about us, who cared about protecting our faith; shepherds who cared about justice for abuse victims–including victims of abuses that occurred before 2002; if we simply had non-mafiosi running our institution–that is, honest stewards of Christs’ gifts–they would have owned this problem long ago. They would have dealt with the scandalous contents of their own files before the Attorneys General came knocking at their doors.

But it never occurred to them to do that, when they had the chance. So now we face this imminent meltdown of epic proportions.

But we should not despair.

The cause of truth and openness is the cause of Christ. The end of secrecy about sexual abuse means the chance for justice. Jesus Himself will liberate many hearts through this ordeal.

When it is over, He will still be with us. We will still be His Church.


The Scandal Continues in the Little Things that Say it All


Dearest Reader, Many long, hard days await us. The entire American Church will undergo what the dioceses of Pennsylvania have undergone. Deep pain and shame.

May the ordeal have this beautiful effect: Namely, that victims of sexual abuse in the state of Virginia, and throughout the US, will find the courage to seek justice. And may someone with authority have enough love and courage to try to see justice done.

For your information, I publish here an exchange of e-mails. I will follow up with further thoughts when I have timeLove, Fr. Mark


Dear Anne,

Thank you for sending the bishop’s message and enclosures. I have two questions about the announcement for the parish bulletin and website.

  1. Shouldn’t we include the telephone number for the diocesan Victims Assistance Coordinator? Is 1-877-887-9603 still the correct number? Or is there a particular reason for us not to include that number? Seems a little counter-productive to ask a victim to “reach out,” and then not provide the necessary contact information.
  1. Our hotline promises confidentiality. Do we know if the Attorney General’s hotline ensures it? Someone might want to call and talk through the process before going “on the record,” so to speak. Do we know if the Attorney General’s hotline will capture the caller ID?

Yours, Fr. Mark White


On Wed, Oct 24, 2018 at 3:56 PM Anne Edwards <aedwards@richmonddiocese.org> wrote:

Dear Father,


As you may have heard, the Virginia Attorney General’s Office has announced their ongoing investigation into whether criminal sexual abuse of children may have occurred in Virginia’s Catholic dioceses, and whether leadership in the dioceses may have covered up or abetted such crimes.  We have also received word of a pending federal investigation. We have been cooperating with the state’s investigation and intend to cooperate with any federal investigation.  In light of these investigations, I issue the following directives:

1. In order to protect any potential evidence, you must not destroy, discard, dispose of, delete, or alter any documents or electronically stored information which have anything to do with sexual conduct and/or allegations involving a minor and certain information regarding the organizational structure of the Diocese and related entities.  Please review the attachment entitled “Enclosure to Letter of October 9, 2018” for an exhaustive list all documents which fall under this directive; [NB. Dear Reader, I will include this attachment in a subsequent post, since I have a great deal to say about it.]

(2)   Do not discuss or comment on any aspect of any investigation with any media outlet or person.  If you receive any media contact, please notify Deborah Cox at the Diocese at (804) 971-7412.

3. If you receive any legal paperwork or any contact from law enforcement or investigative entities related to child sexual abuse, notify Fr. Michael Boehling at the  Diocese immediately at (804) 622-5124.  Please politely refrain from discussing these matters with any investigators until you have received direction from the Diocese;

4. Please publish the following announcement in your church bulletin and post it on your parish website:

Bishop Knestout encourages anyone aware of misconduct or abuse on the part of clergy or staff of our diocese to notify civil authorities, call the Attorney General’s Clergy Abuse Hotline at 1(833) 454-9064, and reach out to the diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator.  

Also attached is a joint statement from Bishop Knestout and Bishop Burbidge in response to the Attorney General Investigation.

[NB. Click HERE to read the statement.]

Anne C. Edwards

Special Assistant & Advisor

Office of the Bishop

7800 Carousel Lane

Richmond, Virginia 23294

Names, Mary

Seems a shame to name a hurricane after such a lovely place, where they have Michelangelo’s David, Fra Angelico’s Annunciation, the Medici Palace, the Duomo…

king davidToday the Blessed Mother received the ancient name of the woman who sang the canticle of Hebrew freedom, after they crossed the Red Sea dry shod.

A lot of our loved ones have the same name. We rejoice today especially for the gift that all our beloved Marys are for us.

Let’s also remember: Every Christian name is sacred. When someone receives a name at the baptismal font, it’s forever—a name for eternity, a name written in God’s book.

Mary lived Jesus’ beatitudes. She had no earthly authority or wealth. She suffered and wept for justice, for the truth, for love of God incarnate. She hoped in nothing other than God.

Now she reigns in eternal splendor. She reads the eternal book with all our Christian names written in it. Can we not imagine that she runs her lovely finger along the lines of that book, passing her fingertip across each of our names, her heart filled with tender love and encouragement for the one she has in mind at that moment? Let’s imagine her, and let it dispel all our fears about anything.

Wuerl. Fail. “Bleed, bleed, poor Washington!”


In Act iv, scene 3, of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Macduff weeps. He has exiled himself in England. But his heart turns to his native Scotland, which suffers under Macbeth’s rule. “O Scotland, Scotland… Bleed, bleed poor country!”

Down here in beautiful southwest Virginia, we live a relatively carefree life. But: “O Washington, my poor native local church!”

Let me begin with the questions we have. When I say “we,” I mean all of us who prayed daily, at the altar, for “Theodore, our bishop” (then-Cardinal McCarrick). In other words: “we” means all practicing Washingtonian Catholics older than twelve years of age. He was our Archbishop, so we have a personal interest in his case.

Our questions;

  1. Where is he?
  2. When will his trial begin?
  3. With what, exactly, will he be charged? Who will testify against him?
  4. Who will judge the case?
  5. When will all this information be given to us? Who will give it to us?

Honest questions, I think. Straightforward and perfectly reasonable. You would imagine that the sitting Archbishop of Washington would provide the answers.

But no. Evidently, these questions do not enter his mind. He has other concerns.

Cardinal Wuerl’s diocesan chancellor gave an interview today. She made it pretty clear that the Washington Pastoral Center no longer takes an active interest in the details of the McCarrick Affair.

Because now we have the Wuerl Affair. Cardinal Wuerl wrote to the priests of Washington yesterday. Did he offer clear answers to the questions above? No. Did he offer fatherly comfort and encouragement? Far, far from it.

Rather, he inflicted on a group of men, minding their own business, a self-interested pre-buttal to the attacks that fell upon him in Pennsylvania today. A grand jury had studied six Pennsylvania dioceses, including Cardinal Wuerl’s home, Pittsburgh. And they issued a report.

No one accuses Cardinal Wuerl of abusing anyone himself. But he, by his own admission, operated according to “evolving” standards of how to deal with child sexual abuse. (Translation: I did not necessarily always do… what any normal father would have instantly known was the right thing to do.)

So, now the question is:

What did the Catholics of the Archdiocese of Washington do to deserve this? In 2001, here comes a ticking time bomb of an Archbishop, from New Jersey. Then, in 2006, a new Archbishop from Pennsylvania, also with a exploding skeleton in his valise. Both bombs set to go off in the summer of 2018.

My heart aches for the Catholics of Pennsylvania who have to deal with a mountain of painful reading. But I can’t say much about that, since I don’t know much about it.

One thing I can say:

The church in Washington desperately needs a father who can help her recover from the wounding shock of McCarrick’s dishonesty and apparently profound perversity. But she does not seem to have such a leader.

Cardinal Wuerl insists that the Pennsylvania grand-jury report criticizes him unfairly. But his very self-centeredness at this moment, when all his thoughts should bend to his wounded local church; his defensiveness and incapacity to express any real sorrow and pain–he’s tone-deaf now. He was probably tone-deaf then, too.

…Our Lady watches over us from heaven. We believe in her, and her Son, and in the Father. We will survive. Dangerous and inept prelates come and go; they do not touch our faith.

Someday, may it please the Lord, we American Catholics will have leaders who focus on the people who hurt. Leaders who care about justice. And respect our intelligence. Who think and talk like honest men, not like nervous bureaucrats.

Someday. Please, Lord.

St. Alphonsus, Pray for Newark and Washington

Cardinal Tobin at the Basilica of St Alphonsus in Pagani Italy
Joseph Cardinal Tobin praying in Pagani, Italy, in January 2017

The pearl of great price: divine mercy. Reconciliation with God, with the truth, with justice and peace. Friendship with Jesus Christ, living in His beating Heart.

St. Alphonsus Liguori died 231 years ago today, outside Naples. The Italian province of Liguori lies in northern Italy. But St. Alphonsus’ name is like the name of a fellow I knew in Washington named Brian Boston. As far as I know, homeboy had never even been to Boston. St. Alphonsus Liguori was no Liguorian; he was a Neopolitan, a southern Italian. His relics lie in a basilica near the foot of Mount Vesuvius.

Guess who was there last month–at the tomb of the founder of the Redemptorists, the patron saint of priest-confessors?

St. Alphonsus and his companions dedicated themselves to preaching about death, judgment, heaven, and hell. I believe they always carried a crucifix in their belts, to hold up during their sermons. St. Alphonsus gave his priests a principle that I myself have always tried to follow: Be a lion in the pulpit and a lamb in the confessional.

Another American priest visited St. Alphonsus’ relics not long ago. A Redemptorist, once the Superior General of the Order. Now the Archbishop of Newark, NJ. Joseph Cardinal Tobin. He prayed at the basilica in January 2017.

Now: If my home Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. has suffered a wound because of the McCarrick scandal—and it has, to be sure–then the Archdiocese of Newark… must have two collapsed lungs. Living on a ventilator.

McCarrick served as Archbishop of Washington for 5½ years, ordained about 40 priests, confirmed maybe 1,000 young people. (That last number is a guesstimate.*) He served as Archbishop of Newark for almost fifteen years. Ordained 400 priests there. Must have confirmed at least 3,000 young people.

Washington has a deep wound. Newark… must need a double lung transplant.

So let’s pray. For the Archbishops of Washington and Newark. They have a task ahead of them that I would not wish on anyone. The bishop saint who died 231 years ago today–may he intercede.

Everyone living in the huge wake of McCarrick’s broken life—and that is a lot of Catholics on the East Coast—all of us need a miracle of reconciliation and a fresh start. Pray for us, St. Alphonsus!



* As I recall, McCarrick’s globe-trotting ways got in the way of his doing a lot of Confirmations. His auxiliary bishops did the lion’s share of the confirming during his Washington years. I imagine the same was true in Newark. So I base my estimate on 200 confirmations a year (two or three Confirmation liturgies). This is of course nowhere near the total annual number of confirmations in the Archdioceses in question. And I could be way off.

Non Nisi Te Crucifix and Other Adventures with Saints in Italy

Carthusian Monastery of St. James, Isle of Capri


The hot July sun shone over the taxi lane at Leonardo da Vinci airport. I had just swallowed my first caffè lungo at the bar outside passport control. (Airplane travel had deprived me of the six hours when I usually sleep.) On my way to St. Peter’s…

A Dutch tourist next to me in line, as we waited on the St.-Peter’s-Square cobblestones in the heat, bought an eight-euro parasol from a north-African huckster. We were headed for the metal detectors tucked into the Bernini colonnade.

Once you get out of the sun, up the steps, and through the huge church doors, you discover that the Basilica has a climate of its own.

I kissed the foot of St. Peter’s statue, as countless tall pilgrims before me have done. (People of normal height reach up and touch the foot with their hands.) Then I prayed at the top of the blocked steps that lead down to the confessio, the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles.

Wow–they have installed a new, worthier altar in the apse, beneath the reliquary of St. Peter’s Chair. And the ushers in here have gotten a lot stricter: you must turn off all cellphones and iPads to enter the Blessed Sacrament chapel. (Bravo.)

But: No priests on-duty to hear confessions in the northern transept like there used to be. And they have built a wooden platform extending forward from the papal high altar that makes the bases of Bernini’s baldacchino columns look cramped. (Really?)

I wove my way through the phalanxes of tourists to the tombs of Pope Sts. Pius X, John XXIII, and John Paul II. The summer sunlight flowed through the clerestory windows and formed perfect spotlights on the basilica floor for Japanese and Filippino photo ops.


Logistical difficulties kept me away from St. Paul Outside the Walls. I had a kind driver–but I shared him with another passenger, an Italian with whom I traveled fairly widely–who also had demands.

I made it to the Pantheon, however–also full of the whole world, touring Rome. And a lot cooler inside than it was outside. The white sunlight flowed in through the large open oculus above.

Here lies Vittorio Emmanuele–not a saint of the Church’s reverence; an enemy, in fact, of another pope-saint whose footsteps I crossed by accident later in my trip. But the Father of Italy died with the sacraments. May he rest in peace.

the Pantheon in Rome


St. Thomas Aquinas returned to his beloved Naples in 1272 to teach the truth about God at a newly founded seminary. At that point in his life, he enjoyed enormous fame as the world’s pre-eminent clarifier of theological terms.

St. Thomas knelt one night in prayer before an icon of the crucifixion of Christ. The Lord spoke to Thomas from the cross. “You have written well of Me. What reward would you have for your labor?”

Thomas was then 48 years of age. He would die within the year, but no one on earth knew that.

Thomas answered Jesus, “Non nisi te, Domine. I want no reward but You.”

St Thomas Aquinas Non Nisi Te Naples

The crucifix icon hangs in a side chapel of the Church of San Domenico Maggiore–a Baroque oasis of utter silence in the pullulating, hot streets of the Naples’ University district. They keep St. Thomas’ arm in a reliquary in the sacristy next door.

Around the corner, in the ugly, dark early-Gothic revival Church of Santa Chiara, lies the sepulcher of St. Ludovico of Casoria, canonized by Pope Francis in 2015. In a suburb of Naples which I passed on the train, this 19th-century Franciscan spent himself in fighting the faithlessness of the age, by building little institutions to care for the poor.

A few crowded blocks away: The Duomo of St. Mary, Assumed into Heaven. Here the blood of Naples’ illustrious martyr-patron, St. Januarius, often liquefies miraculously on the anniversary of his death during the persecution of Diocletian. Or when the pope visits the basilica.

The confessio under the high altar here offers a quiet, cool, subterranean place to pray in peace. Above, the apse mimics St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, with a copy of the Holy-Spirit dove window. But instead of a chair, the Pietro Bracci sculpture depicts Our Lady’s Assumption into heaven.

Pietro Bracci Virgin's Assumption Naples Cathedral

Bishop relaxing in death.jpg
Bishop relaxing in death in the Naples’ Duomo

Downtown Naples smells like the ancient port city that it is. From here Spaniards ruled a vast empire. The Palazzo Reale has statues of an august kingly line, from Roger the Norman to Vittorio Emanuele.

Across the Piazza del Plebiscito, the church of St. Francis of Paola looks like the Pantheon in Rome–because Napoleon wanted it built that way, in his own honor. Across the street stands the colossal Galleria Umberto, a 19th-century shopping mall flooded with sunlight through a glass roof.


In 1750, the Savoys who ruled here decided to move the seat of government inland, to protect themselves from sea attack. They built the largest palace on earth, the Reggia Caserta. Never been to Versailles myself (the model for the Savoy palace) but this one is pretty amazing.


They dedicate one enormous room to the perpetual display of the royal Nativity set…

the front
coming from abroad
coming from the East
more camels
more camels

In 1848 an Italian nationalist assassin stabbed the Pope’s Interior Minister to death in the Apostolic Chancery in Rome. Pope St. Pius IX left Rome for some months to preserve his safety. He stayed at his home in Gaeta, and in Naples, and here. They built him this little chapel:

Pio Nono chapel Caserta

Speaking of Neopolitan suburbs: they stretch endlessly from the city to the mountains. In one of them, I ate an interesting dinner with the niece of one of Naples’ auxiliary bishops, and her family. (Everyone in this world is connected within six degrees of separation, remember?)

Anyway, her husband has a friend with a singular passion: to run an American diner. We ate hamburgers at the Firefly Diner, San Prisco, Italy, beneath a photo of Johnny Cash.


In the other direction from Naples, across the bay by ferry: the Isle of Capri. An ancient bishop named Constantius gave his life in martyrdom here. And the Carthusians built a monastery, so old it looks modern.

The monks died out long ago. A Romantic German painter, full of strange spiritual ideas, lived in the monastery and covered canvasses with his grim visions of a vegetarian God.

Capri faraglioni.jpg
View of the famed Capri faraglione from the Monastery Prior’s house


South of Naples and Mount Vesuvius, the Tyrrhenian Sea hugs the Italian peninsula in a series of blue bays. The renowned Amalfi Coast lies on the north side of the first bay, the Gulf of Salerno. In the middle of this coastline, which stretches from Sorrento to Solerno (serviced by one, winding highway through hills pitching into the water) lies Amalfi town.

These days the well-to-do come here to play (if they can’t afford Capri). But centuries ago, they brought St. Andrew here to rest.

In 1206, after the Fourth Crusade, the western army brought the sacred relics, which had resided in Constantinople, back to Italy.


Amalfi town’s piazza surrounds a statue of St. Andrew holding his X cross. The Duomo sits 62 steps above, with the tympanum mosaic shimmering in the sunlight.

The cathedral has an ancient secondary nave, and a cloister, and a colorful campanile. They have transformed the simple “basilica of the crucifix” into a museum of precious sacred objects.

From here you to descend to the crypt below. And there lies St. Peter’s brother, surrounded by marble.


To the east, the ancient city of Salerno commands the Gulf like a count presiding over his dominions. You can walk the Lungomare Trieste and gaze at the water. Plus, they have closed the Via dei Mercanti to motorized vehicles, making for a lovely, peaceful walk from the train station to the Duomo, past coffee bars and gelaterias, then up the hill through narrow, ancient streets to the basilica that houses St. Matthew’s remains.

Wild Turkey in Salerno.jpg
bar tables from home, on Via dei Mercanti in Salerno

This church is relatively quiet. What tourists there are–a Spanish family and a German one, with boys in the jerseys of their favorite World-Cup stars–are here because they have the Catholic faith.

Under the bright and hot main nave, which has two 12th-century pulpits and an ancient apse mosaic, lies the Evangelist in his marble crypt.

They oriented the crypt cross-wise, to make the tomb a double-chapel, so that two Masses could take place over the saint’s relics at the same time. Today, one side is set-up for a wedding.

This particular afternoon, it’s quiet and cool. I pray with inexpressible delight in the company of the man who wrote down the Sermon on the Mount.

Upstairs Pope St. Gregory VII rests in the east transept.

In addition to my main goals–visiting saints and talking to Italians–my trip had two little “themes.”

First: The spiritual battle in Italy against “Modernism,” “Americanism,” “Enlightenment-ism.” That is, against the alternate religion which believes in a fundamental change having occurred, since the mysteries of salvation were entrusted to the Apostles by Christ.

The adherents of this myth imagine different turning points. Like the lifetime of Isaac Newton, or Galileo, or Copernicus, or Albert Einstein or Steve Jobs. Or the year 1776, or 1789, or 1914, or 1968.

But the fundamental idea is the same: Now things are different; now we know better; now the ‘old ways’ must change, because they no longer serve the purpose.

This mythology dominates the life of Italy today, to be sure. But it encountered a few resolute Italian churchmen in the 19th and 20th centuries, sons of Italy who did not fear to fight the myth of Modernism, using the resources at their disposal. Popes Sts. Pius IX and X top that list. (Much more to come on this topic as time moves forward, dear reader.)

San Pietro Infine battle mountain.jpg

Second theme. I found myself in a cozy little mountain town, along the main peninsular railway line. To meet a man who has built a world-class museum in his own basement.

Mussolini fell from power in July 1943. The Germans occupied Italy. Americans, Brits, and Poles landed in the south and marched north. In December, they met the German “Winter Line.”

There’s a medieval castle in this town, where the locals took shelter during the battle. (I recommended to the tour-guide that she read Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth, which is available in Italian.)

The Allies managed to break the German line, at great cost. My host, Mr. Angelo Andreoli, himself a veteran of the Italian military, along with his wife Maria Christina Verdone, have collected artifacts from the battle site, and from survivors in England, America, and Poland.



Dear reader, I have run out of time to recount these adventures. I’m glad to be home, and back to work. I’m sure that additional reflections will sneak up on you in upcoming homilies. For now, Arrivaderci, Roma e Italia.



Soon I will board a plane, to go visit…


St. Peter

Pius x tomb

St. Pius X

st john paul ii

St. John Paul II


St. Paul

St. Andrew Amalfi.jpg

St. Andrew

tomb of St. Matthew Salerno.jpg

St. Matthew

Tomb of St. Januarius Naples

St. Januarius

San Costanzo Capri

St. Constanzo

(in their tombs)

Plus, St. Thomas Aquinas‘ arm

St. Thomas Aquinas arm Naples San Domenico Maggiore

and some of St. Blaise‘s bones

St. Blaise basilica maratea italy.jpg
Basilica di San Biagio

I will pray for you, dear reader, when I visit all these saints.

Please pray for me, that I will have safe travels. And plenty of good pasta and Taurasi. In Rome, Naples, Salerno, Amalfi, Maratea, and Capri.

A dopo.