Welcome to our inaugural issue of Communiqué, the newsletter of Urbi et Orbi Communications. Many of you have been subscribers to Inside the Vatican magazine, which I began 23 years ago. So, the first thing on my mind as I write this letter is simply gratitude. Thankfulness. I feel humbled by the trust all of you have placed in us at Inside the Vatican, taking out subscriptions, supporting us in the early years and continuing to the present. So my first desire in this letter is to convey my “thanks.”
In recent years, as many know, we have developed our work in two main ways: (1) we have begun leading small group pilgrimages to Italy, and into Vatican City, sometimes even to meet with the Pope, and (2) we have tried to lay the groundwork for a multi-generational task: the reunion of the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity, the Greeks and the Latins, the Orthodox and the Catholics, through our Urbi et Orbi Foundation. We decided to work for the unity of the Church because it seemed that it was one urgent, important thing we could do to defend the presence of the faith in the world, in the midst of many challenges. To this end, we have met with Orthodox and Catholic leaders, and ordinary faithful, in Moscow, in Istanbul, in Washington, and also in Rome, the city to which all roads lead. We hope, as we continue, to be able to promote small initiatives to deepen understanding and “build bridges” between our Churches.
There have been many unforgettable moments on this journey. One was in 2001, when I was able to stand before the icon of the Virgin Mary of Kazan. This icon, found in 1569 and known as the “Protection of Russia,” was lost to its people in 1918 when it was sold by the Bolsheviks. By many strange pathways, the icon had ended up in the apartment of Pope John Paul II. At a meeting with the Pope’s secretary, Monsignor (now Cardinal) Stanislaw Dziwisz, he invited me to go with him up the elevator to the Pope’s private library. There was the icon. It seemed to me, as I stood there, that space and time lost their quality of impersonal inexorability, to become personalized, filled with hope, with faith, with love, with the Holy Spirit.
So many moments on this journey have touched me. This is just one…
This newsletter contains “insider information” about our work not found anywhere else. We hope you will enjoy reading it, and will share it with your friends. Please share it! Especially those of you who are older, please consider inviting children or grandchildren to read this newsletter, or our magazine, or to work with us for Church unity.
Editor, Inside the Vatican magazine
Founder and President, Urbi et Orbi Foundation
Beginnings of a New Foundation
An Unexpected Encounter
Photo website available
The Beginnings of a new Foundation
St. John Paul II said in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint that “the Church must breathe with her two lungs!” He was speaking of Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism, separated for a millennium in contradiction to the will of Christ, who explicitly prayed that all His followers may be “as one.”
Launched during the Twelve Days of Christmas, 2012, with more than 50 founding members, the Urbi et Orbi Foundation is a project of Urbi et Orbi Communications whose goal is to “build bridges” between the Eastern and Western Christian Churches, with an eye toward their eventual reunification
During its first year, the Foundation supported charitable efforts for handicapped children in Ukraine, a Catholic-Orthodox theological conference in Belarus, and a “Concert for Peace” in Rome, in partnership with the St. Gregory the Theologian Foundation of Moscow (founded by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill and Metropolitan Hilarion). We worked closely with the Vatican’s Pontifical Councils for Christian Unity and for Culture, and their heads, Cardinals Koch and Ravasi.
The following year, 2014, we made a significant grant for the fourth Orthodox-Catholic Forum in Minsk, Belarus, in which Catholic and Orthodox bishops from around the world discussed increasing secularism.
The Foundation Pilgrimage
In July of 2014, the Urbi et Orbi Foundation led its first “Foundation pilgrimage” to Moscow, Istanbul, Vienna and Rome to seek counsel on our next steps in the effort to build Christian unity. Ten Foundation members joined us on this fascinating, and for us, historic, journey. Some of the highlights:
In Russia, we experienced liturgies in both Russian Orthodox and Catholic churches; one church served us a homemade Russian meal afterwards. We met with both Catholic and Orthodox churchmen, including officials at the Orthodox Church’s Moscow Patriarchate, roughly comparable to the Vatican.
From there, we flew to Istanbul, where we were granted a private audience with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the Orthodox Church of Constantinople, the spokesman for the entire Orthodox communion to the rest of the world.
In Vienna, Cardinal Peter Erdo, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and Primate of Hungary, hosted us at the Hungarian seminary which had housed Cardinal Mindzenty in his final days. After he celebrated Mass for us and treated us to a six-course Hungarian meal, Cardinal Erdo, a book expert, gave us a fascinating tour of Cardinal Mindzenty’s library.
Foundation Dinner and Retreat
We brought 2014 to a close with another landmark event for the Foundation: our first annual Urbi et Orbi Foundation Dinner and Retreat, in Washington, DC, on Dec. 10 & 11. The two-day event began with a morning Mass and breakfast at Washington’s St. Matthew the Apostle Cathedral, where Foundation members and guests heard a spiritual reflection by Fr. Cassian Folsom, OSB, American re-founder of the Benedictine monastery in St. Benedict’s home town of Norcia, Italy.
That evening, a Greek and Russian-themed dinner for 100 was graciously hosted by Papal Nuncio to the US, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, at his residence, the beautiful Papal Nunciature. Foundation members and distinguished guests lent their presence—and gave of their treasure—in support of the Foundation’s commitment to solidarity in the face of rising secularism.
Taking part in the event were Roman Catholic officials, including the Nuncio, Archbishop Vigano; Msgr. Duarte de Cunha, General Secretary of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences; Bishop Brian Farrell of the Vatican’s Council for Christian Unity; his brother Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, Texas, and Fr. Ronald Roberson of the USCCB’s Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
Many of the Byzantine tradition were in attendance, both Eastern-rite Catholics and Orthodox, including representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church from Moscow, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from Kiev, and, from the U.S., representatives of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
Other guests represented a new generation of young intellectuals in the East, among them Igor Novokov of Belarus, Leonid Sevastianov of Russia, and Alex Sigov of Ukraine, who are each working to bring Christ, and His message of spiritual freedom and hope, into the cultural milieus of their countries, still struggling to rebuild the Faith after decades of Communist persecution.
Fr. Cassian again graced the gathering with an after-dinner reflection on “Experiences of Division and Unity” between the Orthodox and Catholic churches — and how “unity within diversity” may be sought.
The evening was capped by a communal rendition of “Silent Night” in Greek, Russian, Ukrainian and Italian —good-naturedly enjoyed by all despite the pronunciation difficulties!
The following morning, five of our guests from Europe and the East were joined by Greek and Russian Orthodox clergyman from the U.S. for a round-table discussion moderated by Dr. Moynihan, at the historic National Press Club. The topic was current events — and the influence of Christians — in Russia and Ukraine.
An unexpected encounter:
Within minutes of our arrival, I found myself saying, calmly, “Sister, you’re on fire.”
by Deborah Tomlinson, COO, Inside the Vatican
For more than five years, our Inside the Vatican pilgrimages have included a stay in Norcia, Italy, where Fr. Cassian Folsom, OSB, has brought monasticism back to the birthplace of St. Benedict himself — and an abandoned Benedictine monastery there — after a 188-year absence.
Norcia is a quiet place tucked into the Sybillini Mountains outside of Rome, a place of ancient wisdom and prayer. Monks have been living in this area for more than a millennium.
Many of them were, and still are, hermits. I’ve always had a desire to meet one of these solitary souls living deep within the Sybillini National Park, and on January 1 of this year, I did. She is an American, Sr. Maria Susanna. Her tiny hermitage is about an hour’s drive from Norcia, and Robert Moynihan and I had secured an invitation to visit her.
We arrived in the midst of copious winter snows which blanketed the national park, and introduced ourselves. Within minutes of our arrival, I found myself saying, calmly, “Sister, you’re on fire.” She turned towards me and I realized it was her veil that had caught the flame of a nearby candle. I instinctively reached out to extinguish it with my hands, and the veil’s melted polyester fabric clung to my skin.
Sister smiled, “Baptism by fire! Now, put your hand under the water…” We spent the next three hours talking to sister, learning her story, imbibing the spirituality of solitude and prayer in which her daily life was immersed.
Later, her spiritual director in Norcia expressed regret that more people did not come to seek direction from her. I said, “I think I can help you with that,” and so it came about that our Easter 2015 pilgrimage included a trip into the Sybillini National Forest. We spent the afternoon with Sister, sipping tea and listening to her life’s journey as a solitary nun in a tiny hermitage. We were touched by her words and her love for our Lord.
Our New Website for Photos…
Inside the Vatican Pilgrimage photos are now available on our new website:
Photos of our pilgrimages and special events
Former pilgrims should call our U.S. office, +1-202-536-4555 or email: [email protected] to obtain your access code to download the photos at no charge.
There is also the option to purchase the photos in different sizes for a minimum cost.
Beautiful photos from the issues of our magazine
The photographer behind the many photo essays through our 23-year history is Grzegorz Galazka, a native of Poland. Grzegorz has worked in Rome since 1984 and was with us in the very beginning. He continues to awe our readers with his breathtaking images of the Pope. His most recent noted work is the photo that was chosen as the official photo of John Paul II for his beatification and canonization. We have had many requests for his stunning photos and now they can be purchased on our new website www.InsideTheVaticanPhotos.com. One of his images printed on canvas will become a family treasure!
Our most valuable asset
Meet Theresa Norris
Theresa’s official title is Manager, U.S.Office, which means assisting with a myriad of duties including, but not limited to, donor relations, ITV pilgrimages, and managing the magazine’s advertising. And, though she says she used to think of herself as a tech-neophyte, she now manages, updates and posts on the InsideTheVatican.com website with alacrity.
If you call our U.S. office, Theresa will likely be the one to answer the phone and be ready and willing to help—and always with a cheerful smile. If you visit, you might hear Theresa’s delightful singing voice wafting through her office door.
“I enjoy the people I work with,” says Theresa. “They are real, down-to-earth, humble people. We are an international organization and speaking with people from around the world is great experience. With all that we do, there is never a dull moment!”
Theresa was instrumental in the success of our first Annual Christmas Dinner for Christian Unity and other events in Washington DC last year. “Theresa was invaluable in keeping track of all the details and contacting guests from all over the world,” said Deborah Tomlinson, COO of Inside the Vatican, Inc. “We are blessed to have her with us!”
More information, please:
Outside US: 1-270-325-3190
Contact our U.S. office for information on donor relations, pilgrimages, and Urbi et Orbi Foundation:
U.S. office contact information:
14 West Main Street Front Royal, VA 22630
Our most valuable asset
Meet Sharlene Lim
Sharlene Lim has been a friend of Inside the Vatican magazine since 2011, when she traveled from the Philippines to join our Easter pilgrimage in Rome with her mother Helen, her brother Ivan and his wife, Cherry.
Later that year, she joined us for another Rome pilgrimage that included the Beatification of John Paul II. And she also spent time with the Inside The Vatican staff during the historic days of the most recent Papal Conclave, in 2013.
On every trip, Sharlene has been accompanied by her friend (and now ours) Morgan, her service dog — a gentle and faithful golden retriever.
Sharlene and Morgan have visited us in the U.S. too, at our offices in Virginia, and attending our Urbi et Orbi Foundation Annual Dinner and Retreat in Washington, where Sharlene didn’t hesitate to roll up her sleeves and lend a hand. Morgan was a joy, too.
But we aren’t the only attraction the U.S. holds for Sharlene — she’s also a loyal Green Bay Packers fan who attends two games every year.
“Sharlene,” says Robert Moynihan, “has a profound theological vision that is yet rooted in common sense.” “Her heritage in China and the Philippines gives her a wider perspective,” he says, “and her sensitivity to human suffering recalls us to compassion. It’s always a joy to have Sharlene and Morgan with us.”
Inside the Vatican Pilgrimages:
We bring people into the “Heart of the Church”
Since we began Inside the Vatican pilgrimages in 2008, we have hosted more than 20 pilgrimages. Our pilgrimages are unique, due to the personal encounters our pilgrims experience, and the special friendships they form while journeying to Rome and some of the most important shrines of the Christian world. These total-immersion experiences, in small groups to keep them special, are informative and transformative. The focus is not solely on the stones of the Basilicas, but also on the living stones which are the souls of the people we encounter, and even ourselves, the pilgrims.
November 2 – 10, 2015 – Closing of the Synod Recap Pilgrimage 2015 A “Vatican insider” working pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome: accompany Dr. Moynihan into the Vatican for private meetings with Church Leaders to discuss the closing of the Synod.
Christmas – December 20 – 28, 2015- Pilgrimage to Assisi, Norcia, and Rome. Spend Christmas with Pope Francis.
Easter – March 21 – 31, 2016 – Pilgrimage to Assisi, Norcia, and Rome. Spend Easter with Pope Francis.
June 17 – 25, 2016 – Thomas More’s England. A man for this season: How the witness of Thomas More provides a model for our times. Visit with leading Catholics including legislators and historians
August 19 – 27, 2016 – Catholic Ireland. A visit to Ireland to discuss the state of the Church. Visit key sites in Irish Catholic history and meet with leading Irish Catholics.
Foundation Private Pilgrimages
July 10 – 22, 2015 – Second Annual Urbi et Orbi Foundation Private Pilgrimage to Moscow, Istanbul, and Rome to meet with Catholic and Orthodox Leaders.
December 15 – 18, 2015 – Urbi et Orbi Foundation Pilgrimage to Vatican City for 4 nights
Let our 30-plus years experience working with the Vatican help you
Inside the Vatican will be hosting many pilgrimages during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, December 8, 2015 – November 20, 2016, and we make the pilgrim experience spiritual, meaningful and prayerful. Let us take the worry out of your pilgrimage by making all the arrangements for you. We offer all types of pilgrimages “tailored to fit” your time, budget and desires.
“Life itself is a pilgrimage, and the human being is a viator, a pilgrim travelling along the road, making his way to the desired destination. Similarly, to reach the Holy Door in Rome or in any other place in the world, everyone, each according to his or her ability, will have to make a pilgrimage. This will be a sign that mercy is also a goal to reach and requires dedication and sacrifice. May pilgrimage be an impetus to conversion: by crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us,” wrote Pope Francis in announcing the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
In Pope Francis’ announcement he encourages each one of us to make a pilgrimage, to reach a Holy Door in Rome, or in any place in the world… according to one’s ability.
Jubilee Year of Mercy Pilgrimages
December 4 – 11, 2015 Opening of the Holy Door for the Jubilee Year of Mercy – Rome, 7 nights; optional add-on to Norcia and Assisi
April 19 – 28, 2016 – Family Pilgrimage to visit Rome during the Holy Year. This pilgrimage is for anyone on a limited budget.
May 20 – 28, 2016 – Family Pilgrimage to visit Rome during the Holy Year. This pilgrimage is for anyone on a limited budget.
November Jubilee 2016 – Join us in Rome for the Closing of the Jubilee Doors and the end of the Year of Mercy.
Additional Monthly Group Pilgrimages will be offered during the Holy Year — call us to be placed on the list!
Prefer to travel on your own? We can assist in planning your 4-night or 7-night visit to Rome during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.