VATICAN CITY — While on board the plane taking him to Cuba and then Mexico, Pope Francis took a moment to send a special blessing to EWTN’s foundress Mother Mary Angelica, and to ask her for her prayers.
“To Mother Angelica with my blessing. And I ask you to pray for me, I need it. God bless you Mother Angelica!”
Pope Francis, speaking in English, paused to record the brief video message while greeting journalists on his Feb. 12 flight to Havana, Cuba.
His stop on the island was a last minute addition to his Feb. 12-17 visit to Mexico, so that he could meet with Russia Patriarch Kirill. Set to take place at Havana’s Josè Martì International Airport, the encounter marks the first-ever meeting between a Pope and a leader of the Russian Orthodox Church.
It is customary for the Pope to greet the journalists traveling with him after the first meal of the flight. After speaking to the whole group of them together, he typically makes his way around the plane to greet each one individually.
This time was no different. As he made his way down the line of the 76 international journalists on board — 10 of whom are from Mexico — Pope Francis paused to record the brief, 20 second video for Mother Angelica when asked by CNA/EWTN News Rome Bureau Chief Alan Holdren.
“On behalf of Mother Angelica, I thank the Holy Father for his greeting and want him to know that Mother, her Nuns and the EWTN family will be praying for him and for the success of this historic journey,” EWTN Chairman and CEO Michael Warsaw said in a statement responding to the blessing.
While Pope Francis has gained a reputation for his numerous interviews as pontiff, he was known during his time as a cardinal and archbishop for his aversion to speaking to the media.
He did, however, make a few exceptions. One of them was for EWTN’s Spanish channel, EWTN Español, leading into the 2012-2013 Year of Faith, called for by Benedict XVI before he resigned from the papacy and closed by Francis after his election.
In the interview, the then-Cardinal Bergoglio spoke about the significance of the Year of Faith, the gift of the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, and the importance of Latin America in the life of the Church.
A nun with the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, Mother Angelica founded EWTN in Irondale, Alabama in 1981. She was a leading presence at the network and hosted a call-in show called Mother Angelica Live until she suffered a disabling stroke in 2001. Now bedridden, she currently lives in Hanceville, Alabama.
In October 2009, Benedict XVI awarded the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal to Mother Angelica. The medal is the highest honor the Pope can bestow on religious and is given for service to the Church.
In June 2014, Catholic News Agency and the Eternal Word Television Network merged, bringing the entire ACI Group — Catholic News Agency, as well as the Spanish language ACI Prensa, Portuguese ACI Digital, Italian ACI Stampa and German CNA Deutsche – into the EWTN family.
In his greeting to the journalists on the plane, Pope Francis thanked them for the work they will do during the “busy and tight trip” — one that was very much desired “by my brother Kirill, by me and also by the Mexican (people).”
He said his “most intimate wish” is to pause in silence before the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, “which has been studied and studied and studied and there aren’t human explanations … this is a thing of God.”
The image, miraculously imprinted on the tilma of St. Juan Diego 470 years ago, has made such a strong impact in Mexican culture that even those who are atheists still profess their devotion to her, Francis said.
Pope Francis also announced that Vatican Chief of Protocol Alberto Gasbarri, who organizes international papal trips, will retire, and that Colombian Msgr. Maurico Rueda will take his place.
In his one-on-one greetings with journalists, Pope Francis, told journalist Nestor Ponguta of Radio Caraco that he would visit Colombia in 2017 if the government and leaders of FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, could reach a peace agreement.
Another journalist asked whether or not the Pope was planning to visit Moscow, to which Francis responded: “Russia and China, I have them here,” and pointed to his heart. He then asked that the visit to these countries be prayed for.