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Behind Vatican Walls: Syrian Refugees

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While Pope Francis has been personally helping Syrian refugees relocate to Europe, a joint Catholic – Russian Orthodox delegation visited Lebanon and Syria. The delegation identified ways the two churches can work together to help Syrians.

Officials from the Catholic aid agency Aid to the Church in Need and officials from the Moscow patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church visited Beirut, Damascus and Lebanon’s Bekka Valley. The group found two ways they can help Syrian Christians: compiling information about churches and shrines that have been destroyed, and providing aid to children.

Peter Humenik, the Russian expert for Aid to the Church in Need, was quoted in a press release from the organization as saying that Christians identified rebuilding of churches as one of the most pressing needs for their communities. According to Humenik they identified rebuilding churches as more urgent than rebuilding homes, because the life of the local Christian communities happened in those churches, shrines and parish buildings.

Christians in the communities visited told the joint delegation that recording testimonies about the martyrdom of Syrian Christians is also highly important to them.

The Moscow-based news agency Interfax quoted Humenik as saying that the joint delegation decided to hold “an action” at the end of the year ‘in favour of children of Syria in the city of Homs.”

***

This week – Friday April 22 –  the Jewish faithful celebrate Passover.

Pope Francis sent this telegram to the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni :

“In remembering with renewed gratitude our meeting on 17 January, when I was cordially welcomed by you and by the Jewish Community of the city in the Great Synagogue, I wish to express my most heartfelt wishes for the feast of Passover. It points out that the Almighty has released His beloved people from slavery and brought them to the Promised Land. May God also accompany you today with the abundance of His Blessings, protect your community and, in His mercy, bestow peace upon everyone. I ask you to pray for me, as I assure you of my prayers for you: may the Almighty allow us to be able to grow more and more in friendship”

We here at Salt + Light would like to wish a Happy Passover to all of our Jewish friends and supporters!

Watch this week’s episode of Vatican Connections below:


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Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

Behind Vatican Walls – Amoris Laetitia…What is it?

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Pope Francis’ long awaited post-synodal exhortation on the family was made public today. As he has made clear over the past two years, there was no doctrinal change announced in this document. The document covers a wide range of topics, from the thorny to the common sense. As is his way, Pope Francis includes some frank comments on various issues and directs very clear words to different groups of faithful.

Here are some links to intelligent articles explaining what this exhortation is and is not:

Of course there are many other articles out there offering a balanced look at The Joy of Love. These are just a few to start with. Expect more commentary early next week after the bishops of the world have had time to read the nearly 300 page text.

Watch this week’s Vatican Connections below:


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Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

Behind Vatican Walls: You Cannot Dialogue With The Devil!

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Among the phrases that captured people’s attention during the Pope’s visit to Mexico was a phrase ad-libbed during his homily in Ecatepec. Lifting his gaze from the text in front of him, lifting his right hand to his forehead, Pope Francis exclaimed “let’s get this in our heads, you cannot dialogue with the devil.”  

We know Pope Francis has a tendency to speak about the devil and the traps he sets for us. But this time the Holy Father was highlighting two “devils”: the supernatural fallen angel, and specific forces at work in the world and in a special way in Mexico.

“What are these forces? What is this devil?”  The pope lays it out clearly:

There are three temptations of Christ… three temptations for the Christian, which seek to destroy what we have been called to be; three temptations which try to corrode us and tear us down.

First, wealth: seizing hold of goods destined for all, and using them only for “my own people”. That is, taking “bread” based on the toil of others, or even at the expense of their very lives. That wealth which tastes of pain, bitterness and suffering. That is the bread that a corrupt family or society gives its own children.

The second temptation, vanity: the pursuit of prestige based on continuous, relentless exclusion of those who “are not like me”. The futile chasing of those five minutes of fame which do not forgive the “reputation” of others.

“Making firewood from a felled tree” gradually gives way to the third temptation, the worst. It is that of pride, or rather, putting oneself on a higher level than one truly is on, feeling that one does not share the life of “mere mortals”, and yet being one who prays every day: “I thank you Lord that you have not made me like those others…”.”

What does this have to do Mexico? What does this have to do with us?

The Pope was speaking to a country with a Gross Domestic Product of 1.283 trillion dollars, but a per capita GDP of $14,000. Almost half of the country’s population lives below the poverty line even though more than half of the country has a paying job. Many of those who find themselves unable to afford basic needs are employed. The Mexican organization Accion Ciudadana Frente a la Pobreza (Citizen Action Against Poverty) told the Wall Street Journal the price of foods that are considered part of Mexican’s “basic basket” grew more than the rate of inflation.

Money is being made, somewhere, but huge chunks of the population are not seeing it.

Faced with this reality people turn to other ways to make ends meet. Enter Ecatepec’s high crime rate and the nation’s drug cartels.

While this is an extremely simple overview of the situation, the pope certainly know to whom he was speaking and what situation they find themselves in. Most importantly, he grasped the very basic, very powerful temptations that can worm their way into people’s minds and hearts when faced with a system that simply does not seem to reward the honest, hardworking, well intentioned citizen.

Pope Francis also provides tools with which to combat these temptations, to avoid dialogue with devil:

“It is worth asking ourselves:

To what degree are we aware of these temptations in our lives, in our very selves?

How much have we become accustomed to a lifestyle where we think that our source and life force lies only in wealth?

To what point do we feel that caring about others, our concern and work for bread, for the good name and dignity of others, are wellsprings of happiness and hope?”

This examination of conscience before the three great temptations listed above, is also a wonderful examination for everyone who calls themselves a Jesus-follower.

I find it an especially poignant examination for those of us who are aware that we live comfortably today because someone before us had to make difficult decisions in order escape a cycle of corruption, oppression, and poverty.  

***

This week there has been a lot of talk about walls and the nature and quantity of the walls surrounding the Vatican.  Here is a great description of Vatican City’s walls from Michael O’Loughlin at Crux.

Having lived and worked in Rome for several years to cover the Vatican, I can personally vouch for the fact that the Vatican’s walls aren’t as much of an obstacle as some would like to make them seem. As a lowly student intern I was able to make my way into Vatican City to visit the pharmacy by showing my press badge and having a quick chat with a Swiss Guard.  

Watch this week’s episode of Vatican Connections below:

CNS Photo


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Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

Behind Vatican Walls: Historic Meeting of East and West

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For the first time ever, the pope will meet with the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. The announcement was made in a joint press release issued by the Holy See and the Patriarchate of Moscow. Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill will meet in Cuba on February 12. At the end of their two hour meeting, they will sign a joint declaration.

Although the announcement seemed to come out of the blue, it reportedly took two years of quiet dialogue and negotiation. Russian Orthodox officials say this does not mean past tensions have been resolved, it just means there is a bigger problem that requires the Catholic and Orthodox churches to work together. Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion, who is responsible for the church’s foreign relations, said the problem between the two churches is the Ukrainian Catholic Church – which he referred to as “uniates.” He said “regrettably, the problem of Unia is still there, with Unia, remaining a never-healing blooding wound that prevents the full normalization of relations between the two Churches.”

However, Metropolitan Hilarion said the issue of Christians being persecuted in the Middle East and North Africa is bigger than the historic tensions between the two churches and requires them to work together. It is estimated that out of the 1.5 million Christians who used to live in Iraq, there are only 200,000 left in the country.

One of the requirements that had to be satisfied in order for the meeting to happen was finding the right location. According to Russian Orthodox Church’s department for foreign relation, Patriarch Kirill wanted the meeting to happen outside of Europe. The patriarch will visit Cuba, Paraguay and Brazil from February 11 to 22, while Pope Francis is scheduled to be in Mexico from February 12 to 18. The fact that both men would be in Latin America at the same time provided a chance to meet in fairly neutral territory.

The pope’s Mexican itinerary will not change. Instead he will leave Rome earlier than scheduled to allow for a stop over in Cuba. He is expected to touch down in Havana around 2pm local time and be on route to Mexico by 5:30 pm local time. The meeting will take place at Jose Marti International Airport. Some observers say Patriarch Kirill could possibly face backlash from within the Russian Orthodox Church for going ahead with the meeting.

This is not the first time a pope and Russian patriarch have tried to meet. Russian Orthodox official revealed today that from 1996 to 97 negotiations took place for a meeting between St. Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Alexy II. That meeting was supposed to be held in Austria but negotiations stopped after both sides got stuck on two points: actions of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and the activity of Catholic clergy within the geographic area of the patriarchate of Moscow which Moscow considered proselytism.

Vatican officials said Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has been informed of the meeting and is pleased.

The meeting comes just as Orthodox patriarchs have agreed on the details of the Pan – Orthodox Synod, to be held in Crete starting June 19.

CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters

Watch this week’s episode of Vatican Connections below:


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Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

Behind Vatican Walls: Vatican Diplomacy

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The Holy See maintains diplomatic relations with 180 states. Among those are countries that do not have diplomatic relations with each other. Iran is one of those cases. Both Canada and the US do not currently have formal diplomatic relations with Iran. The Holy See, however, has maintained diplomatic relations with all three of these nations, even receiving president Hassan Rouhani in audience this week.  

President Rouhani’s visit to the Vatican was the first time since 1999 that an Iranian president met with a pontiff. The Holy See has had formal diplomatic relations with Iran since 1957, through thick and thin. However, in 2010 then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad  visited Rome for a UN meeting on the effect soaring food prices. In a break with protocol he did not visit the Vatican during his time in Rome. Reports at the time stated that the Vatican had canceled all meetings with heads of state in order to avoid giving the hard line Iranian president the publicity he was after. The relationship between the two nations survived that moment and the rest of Ahmadinejad’s presidency.

The president received at the Vatican this week is different type of leader, facing unique challenges. Rouhani’s visit was the first official Iranian visit to Europe in almost 20 years. His goal was quite simple: try to rebuild economic ties with potential EU trade partners. The stop at the Vatican was a protocol visit, but also an overdue visit to an old friend. Crux, the Catholic news site of the Boston Globe, reports that in 2007 when it seemed that tensions over Iran’s nuclear program might lead to armed conflict with the U.S., Tehran turned to the Holy See as a potential mediator. While their motivation may be different, both parties want peace and stability in the middle east. Yet for all his goodwill, Rouhani faces challenges at home.

Despite his moderate leanings, some ruling bodies in Iran, including – according to some reports- security and intelligence forces, are still control by hard line groups who disagree with Rouhani. These groups override Rouhani’s attempts at reform, cancelling cultural performances at the last second and banning books. At the same time Human Rights Watch reports that executions have increased in recent years and growing numbers of journalists, bloggers and social media activists are being arrested.

Watch this week’s episode of Vatican Connections below:


 

Alicia

Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

Behind Vatican Walls: Mercy, Disagreement and Unity

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With the Christmas season officially over, this week the Vatican got back to business. Pope Francis had a full slate of meetings this week with a wide variety of guests: the priests from the Argentine College, the nuncios to Zimbabwe, Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the papal delegate to Palestine and Jerusalem and a group of bishops from Peru. He also met with the Chairman of of Alphabet, the company that owns Google, and paid an unscheduled visit to a retirement home in Rome.

The meeting that church watchers were keeping on this week, however, was not a Vatican-meeting. The leaders of the Anglican Communion were gathered in England to discuss the issues that have caused division among the 38 provinces of that church. Specifically the provinces do not see eye to eye on issues around sexuality and the ordination of women bishops. The U.S. province, known as the Episcopal Church has elected women bishops, and opened ordained ministry to gay and lesbian members of the church. Both moves caused a strain in relations with the other Anglican provinces and led some Episcopal parishes to become part of other provinces.

As a result of the week long meeting the Anglican primates decided to sanction the Episcopal church. For the next three years Episcopal clergy will not be able to represent the Anglican Communion on ecumenical and interfaith panels nor will they have decision making roles within the Anglican Communion. This could have significant impact on the Anglican – Roman Catholic Theological Consultation in the U.S. The announcement has also sparked anger among some Anglicans in various provinces of the communion.

That same meeting also brought positive signs for Christian unity worldwide. At a press conference Archbishop Welby told journalists the Anglican primates agreed to join in on trying to unify the dates for Easter.  He said he discussed the idea with Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II in Cairo last year. Pope Tawadros has been discussing the idea with Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. The Coptic leader has proposed fixing the date for Easter at the second or third Sunday in April.

* * * *

Next week is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, marked by Christian churches around the world. Watch for ecumenical prayer services and other events taking place this week in your city. Pope Francis will celebrate a vespers service on January 25 to close the week.

The International Eucharistic Congress takes place January 24 to 31 in Cebu, Philippines. Prelates from around the world will be in Cebu giving talks and catechesis. Pope Francis is not attending the congress. Watch here for information about the event as it happens.

Watch this week’s episode of Vatican Connections below:

CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano, handout


Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

Behind Vatican Walls: New Year, New Hope

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History

On November 16, 1989 on the campus of the Central American University in San Salvador, six Jesuit priests were pulled from their beds in the middle of the night and executed. The military officers who carried out the killing went unpunished for decades. Five of six Jesuits were Spanish citizens.

In 2008 the Spanish Association for Human Rights and the Centre for Justice and Accountability lodged a criminal complaint in Spanish courts against the Salvadoran military officials involved in the killing of the six Jesuits. A judge in Madrid issued an order for the arrest and extradition of the Salvadoran officers named in the case. Interpol also issued a world wide warrant and extradition order. Authorities in El Salvador did not comply with the order. The officers accused were located and transferred to an ex-national guard military base.

Plot Twists

On January 4, Spanish judge Eloy Velasco issued a new arrest and extradition order for the 17 soldiers and officers accused of killing the six Jesuits. Salvadoran presidential spokesperson Eugenio Chicas told reporters “The only path for our security forces to take is to proceed with the arrests, that is, there’s nothing to do but follow the law.” He also said once legal requirements had been met, the order would be followed. However, it is up to El Salvador’s supreme court whether or not to extradite the accused.  

The statement from the Salvadoran government gave room to cautious optimism that perhaps justice would finally prevail. January 8 reports surfaced that the military defence counsel has presented a request for Judge Velasco to recuse himself from the case. The request claims that the judge is biased because he teaches at a Jesuit university and the case involves events that took place at a Jesuit university.

Happy Endings?

It remains to be seen just how much this case will move forward. Will El Salvador’s supreme court allow the 17 accused soldiers to be extradited? Will Velasco stay on as judge for this case? Will justice prevail? 2016 should bring plenty of things to watch.  

Watch this week’s episode of Vatican Connections below:


Alicia

Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

 

Behind Vatican Walls: Let the Mercy Flow

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The Jubilee for Mercy is officially open and with it, so too are holy doors around the world. The Vatican inaugurated the holy year with the ceremony for the opening of the holy door. Adding to the festivities was a three hour light show called Fides Lux: Illuminating Our Common Home. Inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, the light and sound show used the facade of St. Peter’s as a screen on which images of the natural world were projected.

While the Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI were opening the Holy Door at St. Peter’s, marriage tribunals around the world were rolling out the new nullity norms decreed by Pope Francis earlier this year. The new norms simplify the annulment process, eliminating the need for a second court to confirm a nullity ruling. If you missed our segment on the new norms and want details, you might want to watch this segment from our September 15 program. 

One question posed by diocesan marriage tribunals was “what about the Roman Rota?” the Holy See court that also rules on nullity cases. The Roman Rota followed a slightly different procedure. Pope Francis took care of that too, issuing new norms for the Roman Rota on December 11.  

The Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews released a new document outlining the milestones in relations between the two faiths, and the theological issues that have arisen during the dialogue process. The document also looks at the meaning of the Word of God in both faiths, the relationship between the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, and the relationship between God’s covenant with Israel and the New Covenant. The document has been published on the Vatican website and can be read here.

The story getting the most headlines, however, is the so-called “Vatileaks” trial. Five people are being tried in a Vatican court for leaking private documents, including a monsignor and a laywoman who served on the Vatican’s commission to study the financial and administrative functions of the Holy See. The trial has already taken several interesting twists. This week lawyers for all parties made various requests, including a request to have email, text messages and Whatsapp message retrieved from defendant’s personal devices. To allow the technical specialists adequate time to retrieve the material, and lawyers sufficient time to review the material, the trial has been put on hold for two months. Hopefully that means for the next two months there won’t be any more plot twists. Though it is not farfetched to expect the trial to take soap opera-like turns once everyone is back in court.

Watch this week’s episode of Vatican Connections below:


Alicia

Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

Behind Vatican Walls: The Making of a Jubilee

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The event Pope Francis has been waiting for since his pontificate started will finally kick off December 8. The Jubilee Year of Mercy officially begins on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception with the opening of the Holy Door at the St. Peter’s Basilica, though the jubilee is already in full swing in Bangui, Central African Republic. Make no mistake, this will not be a year of lovely photo ops. Pope Francis is serious about acquainting people around the world with God’s mercy and he has an action plan in place.

The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization is overseeing the Holy See’s activities for the Jubilee. Expect to see more Jubilee initiatives rolled out than ever before. At the same time expect participation to be more formalized. Unlike the last Jubilee Year pilgrims will need to register to walk through the Holy Door. However, pilgrims will receive a certificate, called a “testimonium” from the Jubilee pilgrims office.

To help pilgrim takes part in the various jubilee events that will happen at the Vatican the Council for the New Evangelization opened an office this week on Via Della Conciliazione, the avenue leading up to the Vatican, to welcome Jubilee pilgrims. There pilgrims can register to go through the Holy Door, sign up for tickets to special Masses and prayer services, get the typical Vatican-visitor information, and find a series of books of different themes related to the Jubilee Year. Note: tickets for all Papal Masses and liturgies are always free.

Here are some things you can expect to see as the Jubilee for Mercy begins:

December 8

  • Pope Francis will open the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica in a simple ceremony followed by a Mass
  • In the evening a light and sound show called Fiat Lux, inspired by the encyclical “Laudato Si” will be projected onto the facade of the basilica

December 13

  • Doors of Mercy will be opened in cathedrals around the world
  • Pope Francis will open the Holy Door at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of Rome

December 18

  • Pope Francis will open a Holy Door at the Don Luigi di Liegro Hostel at Rome’s Termini train station. This is the first of a series of outreach activities Pope Francis will do every Friday during the Jubilee Year.

Ongoing

  • Throughout the year the rosary will be recited every evening at St. Peter’s Square. Local parishes dedicated to Our Lady will take turns leading the rosary. Faithful who want to pray the rosary can meet at the statue of St. Peter in the square.
  • Once a month Pope Francis will hold an extra General Audience on a Saturday
  • 800 priests will commissioned and sent out to different parts of the world as Missionaries of Mercy. Their role is specifically to help hear confessions. They will be given authority to absolve sins normally reserved for the Holy See.

Of course dioceses around the world are rolling out their own initiatives for the Jubilee Year. If you cannot travel to Rome this year, check with your diocese for upcoming special events and resources.

CNS photo/Paul Haring

This week’s episode of Vatican Connections will be available here shortly.


Alicia

Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.

 

A “Homeless” Papal Interview

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We have all learned by now that Pope Francis will release interviews to whomever he choses, whenever he feels the moment is right. The key is asking with simplicity and sincerity. So it should come as no surprise that he released yet another interview. This time the journalist was a former homeless person and the newspaper in question is a Dutch newspaper sold by homeless people on the streets of Utrecht.

The interview will be translated and printed in several street newspapers that are part of the International Network of Street Papers, including three published in English.

Here are some details about the interview itself.

And here is an excerpt from the interview, translated by Zenit.

CNS photo/Nicole Pellicano

Watch this week’s Vatican Connections below:


Alicia

Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person. Season 4 of Vatican Connections airs every Friday at 8:00 pm ET.