I’m down in Birmingham, Ala.  Last weekend I attended EWTN’s Family Celebration. So on Friday I was in the EWTN radio studio for my Register Radio show. Although I am deeply grateful for technology and what it makes possible at long distances, it’s always a delight to see my co-host and guests face-to-face.

This week Thom Price and I were face-to-face with longtime EWTN Vatican journalist Joan Lewis, who blogs at Joan’s Rome.  August brings to Rome ghastly high temperatures and most Romans get out of the city. When in Rome, you do as the Romans do, so Joan is taking a much needed vacation and her first stop in the U.S. is Birmingham to visit the EWTN family, then she’s off to see her own family in California.  But Joan seemed most excited about the last leg of her vacation: She’s heading to Hawaii!

She won’t be in Hawaii for the beautiful beaches; she’s going to the island of Molokai, where on past trips she’s done research on St. Marianne Cope and St. Damien.  This time she’s researching another holy man who was their colleague in service to the lepers, Brother Joseph Dutton. Keep watch on Joan’s blog for more information that is sure to come about Brother Joseph.

On Register Radio, our conversation went from Joan’s vacation to life at the Vatican—where the last six months have been the busiest time of the veteran journalist’s life, covering Pope Benedict’s announcement that he was stepping down, the conclave to elect a new pope, and from afar the recent pastoral trip of Pope Francis to WYD in Rio de Janeiro.

Joan says every day is a surprise with Pope Francis, whose papacy she’s dubbed “the papacy of surprises.”  Even Pope Francis’ August vacation hasn’t slowed him down—he’s made surprise visits to Vatican workers and hopeful pilgrims.

According to Joan, even in what appears to be mundane papal activities, “Francis has his own imprint.”  She spoke of his “immense charisma.” 

“He is a magnet,” she said, describing “his ability to draw people to him believers and none believers and his ability to make people listen.”

Although some people are anxious for Pope Francis to move quicker and make bigger changes at the Vatican, Joan explained he’s doing some important administrative work.  Recently Vatican Bank has made headlines and Francis released a motu proprio on Vatican finances and he also set up a financial security commission. Earlier in the year he set up an advisory body of eight cardinals, with whom he consults regularly and who will gather back in Rome Oct. 2-3.  It’s expected that Francis will choose a secretary of state soon and that he’ll streamline some of the Vatican offices.

According to Joan, Pope Francis is a “careful listener” and “if he’s going slower [making changes], that’s good for all of us.”  Listen to the interview to hear more.


Also from Across the Pond—Joanna Bogle

My second guest on the August 16 Register Radio show was Joanna Bogle.  She’s a journalist from London, who has written for the Register for years but my first experience reading her work was last week—and I was impressed.  She wrote “The Queens Good Servants—But God’s First.”  It is an excellent piece that sums up the troubles with same-sex “marriage” which was legalized in July after receiving Queen Elizabeth II’s approval.

Joanna said, “Prime Minister David Cameron and others have sought to claim that there is no danger to religious liberty because churches will not be forced to conduct same-sex ceremonies.”

Yet she explains what she fears is not that churches will be forced to “marry” same-sex couples, but rather that fears freedom of speech of ordinary folks like you and me will be threatened.

“Although the problem really is for marriages in church, because no one can force the church to marry two men any more than they can force us to use apples and meringues for the Holy Eucharist, of course not, but it’s more to do with what schools are allowed to teach and indeed what you or I are allowed to teach and say in public, and I am very worried about that,” said Joanna.

She wonders where the redefinition of marriage will stop. “I’m not sure it will stop at two men, if you think two men can get married then what about a man and his parrot, or what about five people,” Joanna quipped during the interview.

But the interview with Joanna was not full of despair. She spoke of the life of the Catholic Church in England, of her recent pilgrimage to Our Lady of Walsingham.

“Our hope is in God and in the Church,” Joanna said and then she talked of the leadership of Pope John Paul and of Pope Benedict who, when he visited, “melted the hearts of the British people.” “We have been greatly blessed, greatly blessed, by the successors of Peter we have had in recent years.”

“John Paul II told us ‘Do not be afraid,’” she recounted,  “and he also gave us an example of how you cope in a situation where you have lost your freedom.”

Said Joanna, “It is culture that changes history over the long haul. People in Poland were not free…but they lived and celebrated their faith and God rewarded them with a great Polish pope. I don’t believe God will let us down we mustn’t be afraid.”

Listen to the interview to hear this lively interview with Joanna Bogle.