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What would a road trip with Jesus and Mary be like? These young Catholics are finding out

Small white vans dubbed "monstrance mobiles" are being used for the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage. They are just big enough for some of the "perpetual pilgrims" and a pedestal upon which Christ in the monstrance can be placed. / Credit: Jonathan Liedl/CNA

Houston, Texas, May 24, 2024 / 16:44 pm (CNA).

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be one of the apostles and journey, eat, joke, and live out your daily life beside Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary? 

Or perhaps you may have wondered about a more modern question: What would it be like to go on a road trip with Jesus in the car?

These questions are being answered for 23 young “perpetual pilgrims” as they embark on trips that will collectively span the entire contiguous United States as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage.

After crossing the country with the Eucharistic Christ, these young Catholics will culminate their journeys in Indianapolis for the first U.S. National Eucharistic Congress in 83 years.

On their journey, the pilgrims are scheduled to meet thousands of people and cross mountains, deserts, and some of America’s greatest landmarks. But with all these grand and historic events happening, it is in small, ordinary moments in the van with the Eucharistic Jesus that the pilgrims are finding some of their greatest joy.

Already being dubbed by some as “monstrance mobiles,” the pilgrims are traveling portions of the journey in small white vans, which are just big enough for them and a pedestal upon which Christ in the monstrance can be placed.

As if traveling the country with the real presence of Jesus in the car was not incredible enough already, the seven perpetual pilgrims on the southern Juan Diego Route are getting an added bonus: his Blessed Mother.

Beside the monstrance is an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, crafted in Mexico and gifted to the pilgrimage by the Mexican Diocese of Matamoros. The image will be carried by the pilgrims right behind the Eucharist in every procession they lead from south Texas to Indiana.

Framed in gold and portraying the serene beauty of the Virgin Mary as she appeared to St. Juan Diego on Tepeyac in 1531, the image is a unique contribution to the pilgrimage.

An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, crafted in Mexico and gifted to the pilgrimage by the Mexican Diocese of Matamoros, is being carried along with the Eucharist as the Juan Diego Route processes from south Texas to Indiana. Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA
An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, crafted in Mexico and gifted to the pilgrimage by the Mexican Diocese of Matamoros, is being carried along with the Eucharist as the Juan Diego Route processes from south Texas to Indiana. Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA

Joshua Velasquez, an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame and one of the Juan Diego pilgrims, told CNA that the image represents the special friendship between the Dioceses of Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros. And with Our Lady of Guadalupe being made the patroness of the entire national pilgrimage, the image also represents the close ties of faith between the Church in Mexico and the U.S.

“It’s really a blessing that we get to carry her image with us,” he said.

According to Velasquez, the way the image of Our Lady is positioned in the van appears “as if she’s looking directly towards the tabernacle, towards her Son, reminding us to look towards him always.” 

But what is it really like to travel with Jesus in the car? 

Velasquez called it “a very modern privilege.” 

“There’s often moments where you can’t help but be drawn into prayer because of how amazing and how unique this experience is, to not only walk with God but drive with God.”

But does one feel like they must be quiet and contemplative all the time?

“Practically speaking,” Velasquez said he has found that “it’s both an invitation to prayer but also a really unique way to live out life in a similar way to how the apostles would have lived with Jesus.” 

Joshua Velasquez, an undergraduate student at the University of Notre Dame and one of 23 "perpetual pilgrims" deployed as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, asked for Catholics across the country to pray that each person who sees them processing by, whether in big cities, small towns, or the countryside, will be moved. Credit: Peter Pinedo / CNA
Joshua Velasquez, an undergraduate student at the University of Notre Dame and one of 23 "perpetual pilgrims" deployed as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, asked for Catholics across the country to pray that each person who sees them processing by, whether in big cities, small towns, or the countryside, will be moved. Credit: Peter Pinedo / CNA

“They were in the presence of our Lord and Savior, our God, but were having fellowship with him,” he explained. “Being able to sit in a van with Our Lord is very much a reminder of the fellowship that we have with him.”

Though a unique privilege, Velasquez hopes that many more throughout the country will be inspired by the pilgrimage to share in the same closeness with Christ.

He asked for Catholics across the country to pray that each person who sees them processing by, whether in big cities, small towns, or the countryside, will be moved. He hopes that like how St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was converted to the faith by a passing Eucharistic procession, people across the country will be moved by their encounter with the love of God.

“Us perpetual pilgrims get to be with Our Lord for two months. But as we go on the pilgrimage and as we pass through these places, people spend maybe a day or two, an hour, a second even,  as we’re walking by on the streets,” he said. “I just pray that the next St. Elizabeth to answer, that the next saints, will have that moment of encounter with Our Lord as we walk with him.”

Catholic bishops sue Biden administration over abortion provisions in pregnant workers law

null / Credit: sergign/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 24, 2024 / 16:08 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and other Catholic institutions filed a lawsuit against President Joe Biden’s administration over new rules that could require them to provide workplace accommodations for women who seek abortions.

The lawsuit challenges regulations issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) related to the implementation of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. The Catholic University of America (CUA) and two Catholic dioceses joined the USCCB in the lawsuit.

Although the law itself does not mention abortion, the regulations would require that employers accommodate women for workplace limitations that arise from “having or choosing not to have an abortion.”

The law requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations to women who develop workplace limitations from pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The EEOC rules consider “having or choosing not to have an abortion” as one of the related medical conditions covered under the legislation.

The law itself also includes a prohibition on interference with the accommodations or retaliation against a person who uses the accommodations.

The bishops express concern in their lawsuit that the EEOC’s inclusion of abortion could jeopardize pro-life speech from certain employers, as it could be seen as retaliation. 

Religious employers are subject to the rules, but the EEOC will consider requests for religious exemptions to certain aspects of the rules on a case-by-case basis. 

The bishops, who are represented by the legal advocacy group Becket Law, argue in the lawsuit that the EEOC’s inclusion of abortion accommodations must be declared invalid because it is “contrary to the [law’s] plain text and purpose.” 

“Intentionally ending a pregnancy is opposed to both pregnancy and childbirth, and is not a related medical condition to either,” the lawsuit states. 

It further argues that the religious exemption is insufficient because addressing those requests on a case-by-case basis would ensure “religious defendants could never know ahead of time if they would face liability for exercising their rights.”

“The end result stacks the decks against religious employers: In EEOC’s view, the agency could normally be sure that it would have a compelling interest sufficient to override religious defenses,” the lawsuit adds.

The lawsuit also states that the EEOC’s inclusion of abortion goes against legislative intent. It cites several lawmakers who supported the legislation saying that the EEOC could not interpret the law to mandate accommodations for abortions. One lawmaker cited is Sen. Bob Casey Jr., a Democrat from Pennsylvania, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill.

“Under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, the [EEOC] could not — could not — issue any regulation that requires abortion leave, nor does the act permit the EEOC to require employers to provide abortions in violation of state law,” Casey said on the Senate floor in December 2022. 

Laura Wolk Slavis, one of the lawyers representing the bishops, told CNA that the law “does not mention abortion at all.” She said it is intended to ensure employers provide accommodations “related to a woman being able to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy childbirth.” 

“This law was meant to be a very simple, uncontroversial law that all Americans can and should support,” Slavis added.

The EEOC’s regulations, she said, is an attempt to “hijack that law and turn it into something fundamentally different.”

Slavis also said the EEOC’s decision to address religious exemptions on a case-by-case basis means the bishops and all religious employers are “forced to comply right now” and do not know whether they will receive exemptions when requested. She said the EEOC “interpreted that exemption so narrowly that it means nothing.”

CUA President Peter Kilpatrick said in a statement that the university provides accommodations for pregnant workers but that the abortion accommodation requirement conflicts with the university’s mission.

“The Catholic University of America community remains steadfast in our commitments to upholding the sanctity of life and supporting women and pregnant mothers in the workplace,” Kilpatrick said.

“We firmly reject any suggestion of tension between those two core commitments. We can — and we do — support women as they grow their families, and we believe it is possible to do so wholeheartedly while also supporting the dignity of life at all stages. Our mission to cultivate a culture of love, respect, and compassion demands nothing less.”

When reached for comment, the EEOC referred CNA to the Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ did not respond to a request for comment.

German bishops praise constitution on 75th anniversary of post-Nazi era

The Reichstag in Berlin, seat of the German federal Parliament. / Credit: Gregor Samimi/Unsplash (CC0)

CNA Newsroom, May 24, 2024 / 15:34 pm (CNA).

German bishops have lauded their country’s constitution as a beacon of freedom this week as the nation commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Grundgesetz, or Basic Law.

At an ecumenical church service held in Berlin on Thursday, Bishop Michael Gerber, vice president of the German Bishops’ Conference, reflected on the Basic Law’s historical significance and enduring impact, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

“What was formulated 75 years ago considering the terrible catastrophe of National Socialism and the Second World War is today the foundation for the future of our country and — more broadly — our continent,” he said in his sermon.

The Federal Republic of Germany is commemorating the 75th anniversary of enacting its Basic Law on May 23, 1949, over several days. President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has ordered an official state ceremony, and leaders such as President Emmanuel Macron of France are visiting. Citizens are invited to “democracy festivals” in Berlin and other locations.

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, president of the German Bishops’ Conference, praised the Basic Law as “a great treasure” on the conference website, saying the constitution was “formulated as a counter-draft to a totalitarian system, which is why it rightly names the reference points of all responsibility right at the beginning: God and man. Our liberal democracy stands on the foundation of this responsibility.”

Gerber emphasized the concept of responsibility embedded in the Basic Law. “Our faith is based on trust in God and God’s view of us humans. After 1945, we were given an undeserved new beginning with the opportunity to live in peace and freedom. This new beginning is interpreted as an undeserved gift — as grace.”

The German Basic Law was crafted in the aftermath of the Nazi regime and World War II, serving as a bulwark against tyranny and totalitarianism. It was influenced significantly by Christian values and the Catholic Church, aiming to prevent the recurrence of past atrocities. The constitution’s preamble, “Conscious of their responsibility before God and man,” highlights this commitment to human dignity and ethical governance.

Bishop Heinrich Timmerevers of Dresden-Meissen also underscored the significance of the Basic Law.

“The creators of this constitution had created a firm foundation against the background of our history that unites Christianity and the Enlightenment, faith and reason,” he said, according to CNA Deutsch. “The 75th anniversary of the Basic Law makes me look back with gratitude on this common foundation of our coexistence.”

Timmerevers highlighted the ongoing relevance of the Basic Law in addressing contemporary challenges.

“It is important to think about how the Basic Law can be filled with life. For me as a Christian, this also includes maintaining an awareness of the question of how we are ultimately responsible for our actions.”

The German prelate urged voters to scrutinize party programs through the prism of human dignity and responsibility in a year that marks the constitutional anniversary and critical European elections.

“Who stands up for human dignity and the right to life, and in what way?” he asked. “Is this only granted exclusively to some, or does human dignity apply to everyone?”

International conference on youth ministry wrapping up in Rome

Pilgrims from South Korea wave a flag at the closing Mass of World Youth Day Lisbon with Pope Francis on Aug. 6, 2023. / Credit: Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

ACI Prensa Staff, May 24, 2024 / 14:56 pm (CNA).

Nearly 300 delegates hailing from bishops’ conferences in 110 countries are meeting in Rome to participate in the International Youth Ministry Conference. The conference, which began Thursday, concludes on Saturday.

With the theme “For a Synodal Youth Ministry: New Leadership Styles and Strategies” the event is being held in preparation for the 2027 World Youth Day (WYD), scheduled to take place in Seoul, South Korea.

Organized by the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family, and Life, the conference is also being held in the context of the fifth anniversary of the publication of the postsynodal apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit.

The dicastery is dedicating 2024 to the promotion and dissemination of the exhortation, published after the Synod on Youth in 2018.

Activities include a campaign on the official WYD social media accounts as well as the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the first meeting of young people with the pope (St. John Paul II) in St. Peter’s Square in 1984.

The dicastery said in a statement that these initiatives, together with numerous diocesan events in various parts of the world, “aim to revitalize youth ministry and inspire spiritual reflection among young people based on the guidelines offered by Christus Vivit.”

The International Youth Ministry Conference includes three days of study and reflection on a series of topics such as youth leadership, synodality, formation, and spiritual accompaniment. 

Each topic is discussed based on an introduction by an expert in the field of pastoral care and further explored in exchange groups, following a methodology of spiritual discernment.

Speakers at the event include Gustavo Fabián Cavagnari from Argentina, professor of youth ministry at the Salesian Pontifical University; Father Christopher Ryan, MGL, director of the Areté Center for Missionary Leadership in Australia; and Brenda Noriega, member of the first International Youth Advisory Body with extensive experience in youth faith formation processes. 

The session “From WYD Lisbon 2023 to WYD Seoul 2027” began on the first day of the congress after the introductory greeting by Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family, and Life. The purpose of the session was to reflect and evaluate the significant events of World Youth Day Lisbon 2023.

This event also served as a bridge to the upcoming WYD celebration in Seoul. Cardinal Américo Alves Aguiar, bishop of Setúbal, Portugal, and Archbishop Peter Soon-Taick Chung of Seoul shared their experiences and offered a preview of the expectations and innovations for the next great global youth encounter. 

Another important event that will be presented during the conference will be the Youth Jubilee 2025, scheduled for July 28 to Aug. 3, 2025. On this special occasion, the Holy Father will invite young people from all over the world to Rome, exhorting them to be “pilgrims of hope.”

To discuss the details of this event, Monsignor Rino Fisichella, pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization, was slated to speak and present the initiatives and activities planned for the Youth Jubilee.

The International Conference on Youth Ministry will conclude on May 25 with an audience with the Holy Father in the morning and with an open dialogue with the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, in particular with the undersecretary, Sister Nathalie Becquart.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Australian Mass attendance dropped during pandemic restrictions, but young adults show up

City skyline in Sydney, Australia. / Irina Sokolovskaya/Shutterstock

CNA Newsroom, May 24, 2024 / 13:32 pm (CNA).

A new report by the Catholic Church in Australia shows a drop in Mass attendance in 2021, a year heavily affected by pandemic restrictions. However, the report also highlights an unexpected increase in young adult participation, despite an overall decline by 33% from 2016 to 2021.

Australia’s National Centre for Pastoral Research (NCPR) conducted the 2021 National Count of Attendance, revealing that an average of 417,300 people attended Mass each weekend, down from 623,300 in 2016. 

In 2021, the average number of Catholics at Mass represented just 8.2% of the Catholic population in Australia amid varying COVID-19 restrictions across states.

The report’s authors note that “many parishes are experiencing a new normal due to the irreversible consequences of the global pandemic.”

Rising Mass attendance among youth

Despite the downturn in attendance, the report noted a significant rise in numbers among young adults aged 18–29. This cohort, which had been declining between 2006 and 2016, showed a numerical increase of 4,000 churchgoers between 2016 and 2021, the Catholic Leader noted. 

“The report states that the proportion of attenders aged 18–29 increased from 6.7% in 2016 to 11.8% in 2021,” reflecting a potential shift in engagement among younger Catholics.

“This increase in young adult participation is encouraging and suggests a renewed interest in religious practices among younger generations.”

The demographic breakdown also showed that women made up 56% of Mass attendees in 2021, down slightly from 62% in 2016. Older age groups continued to have a strong presence, with those aged 70 and above accounting for just over a quarter of the attendees.

Regional differences were notable, with the Archdiocese of Sydney and the Diocese of Darwin recording the highest attendance rates at 10.4%, while the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle — just 100 miles to the west of Sydney — had the lowest at 3.7%.

Migrant communities significantly impacted these figures. For instance, the Syro-Malabar Eparchy saw a 90% increase in attendance, indicative of the vibrant and growing immigrant Catholic population in Australia.

“The strong representation of Catholics from non-English-speaking countries has helped stem the overall decline in attendance,” the report highlights.

Australia’s Catholic population, according to the 2021 census, stood at approximately 5.1 million, making up 20% of the total population. 

The Australian report also examined the role of online and broadcast Masses during the pandemic. More than 30,100 households watched the “Mass for You at Home” program on a typical weekend in May 2021. 

Researchers are now hoping to account in future studies for factors outside of a pandemic: “Changes in the demographics of the Catholic population, the presence or absence of immigrants, the attendance patterns of different age groups ... and other issues affecting the overall Catholic population in Australia also play a role.” 

During World Youth Day 2000, Pope Benedict XVI called on Catholics in the great “southern land of the Holy Spirit” to witness the faith: “Our hearts and minds are yearning for a vision of life where love endures, where gifts are shared, where unity is built, where freedom finds meaning in truth, and where identity is found in respectful communion,” the pope said. 

“This is the work of the Holy Spirit! This is the hope held out by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is to bear witness to this reality that you were created anew at baptism and strengthened through the gifts of the Spirit at confirmation. Let this be the message that you bring from Sydney to the world!”

Bishop Conley asks Pope Francis to provide ‘encouragement, clarity, support’ to U.S. bishops

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska. / Credit: Diocese of Lincoln

CNA Staff, May 24, 2024 / 13:02 pm (CNA).

Bishop James Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, on Friday encouraged Pope Francis to “familiarize himself” with the American episcopate before a prospective return to the United States, which Conley said “could be an opportunity for the Holy Father to see the Catholic Church here in a different light.”

In a column first published May 15 and posted to the diocesan website May 24, Conley described his brother bishops as “unquestionably loyal to Pope Francis, which makes his ambiguities and seeming criticisms difficult to understand.”

“In my case, life as a bishop has been a blessing, because my brother U.S. bishops have been overwhelmingly good, committed men. They have very different skills and personalities. All have strengths and weaknesses. None of them is close to perfect. But they’re faithful to the Church and devoted to their people,” Conley wrote.

Pope Francis has in the past said that the Church in the United States is marked by “a climate of closure” and “a very strong reactionary attitude,” which “is organized and shapes the way people belong, even emotionally.”

More recently, when asked about “conservative bishops in the United States,” the pope said a conservative is someone who “clings to something and does not want to see beyond that.”

“It is a suicidal attitude,” the pope said, as reported by “60 Minutes.” “Because one thing is to take tradition into account, to consider situations from the past, but quite another is to be closed up inside a dogmatic box.”

Noting that Pope Francis remains very popular among American Catholics, Conley said Pope Francis’ statements about the Church in the U.S. have “caused resentment among some faithful Catholics” and that his criticisms of the bishops specifically have “perplexed American bishops who, as a body, have a long record of loyalty and generosity to the Holy See.”

It was reported in April by a French newspaper that Pope Francis is reportedly considering returning to the United States in September — which would be his first visit to the U.S. since 2015 — to speak before the United Nations General Assembly. The Vatican has not confirmed the visit. 

Conley wrote: “Before the Holy Father makes his next visit to the United States, I’d ask him to spend a little time familiarizing himself with the real terrain of American Catholic life, because so much of it is hopeful and good despite the many challenges we face.”

Conley noted that before becoming a bishop, he served at the Vatican’s Dicastery for Bishops, the office tasked with evaluating and recommending men for the episcopate, a process he said remains “objective in essence, with plenty of checks and balances along the way.” 

“I’ve been away from Rome now for nearly two decades. I’ve experienced the selection process from its other end. I’ve served as a bishop in the United States for the past 16 years, both as an auxiliary and now as an ordinary, the bishop in charge of a diocese. No matter what a man knows in advance, the ministry of a local bishop is a surprise and a challenge,” Conley continued. 

“Whatever social prestige Catholic bishops once enjoyed is long gone. The clergy abuse crisis buried it. Today the reality can be quite the opposite. But this is not finally a loss, because true Christian leadership is a ‘privilege’ only insofar as it involves service to others in a spirit of humility.”

The men serving as bishops today, Conley said, are “men who know full well that they will suffer” and who are “ready to carry the cross of Christian leadership and have prepared themselves through deep prayer, faithful theological formation, and pastoral experience in the trenches.”

“They need — and they deserve — encouragement, clarity, and support from the man who holds the office of Peter. Pope Francis can provide all three. We should hope and pray that he will do exactly that,” Conley concluded.

Survey: Pro-abortion laws ascendant globally

Pro-abortion activists include the Marea Verde, or Green Wave Movement, a grassroots coalition of protesters who wear green bandanas at events. / Credit: EWTN Pro-Life Weekly/Screenshot

CNA Staff, May 24, 2024 / 12:27 pm (CNA).

The Vatican recently released a staunchly pro-life document, Dignitas Infinita (“Infinite Dignity”), that identifies various threats to human dignity such as abortion, euthanasia, and surrogacy.  

Nonetheless, various nations continue moving in the opposite direction on core life issues. This week, “EWTN Pro-Life Weekly” surveyed the state of abortion policy and related family life issues across several continents. 

Europe elevates support for abortion 

In March, France became the first nation in the world to specifically enshrine abortion as part of the country’s constitution with an abortion amendment passing by a 780-72 vote conducted in the Palace of Versailles.

In April, the European Union (EU) Parliament passed a nonbinding resolution to add abortion and include abortion in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The resolution criticized the doctor’s rights of conscience and specifically called out Poland and Malta for their pro-life laws.

The EU is not the only international body that supports and pushes abortion on a global scale.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee called on the U.S. government to bring its laws in line with the World Health Organization’s 2022 Abortion Care Guidelines, calling the laws human rights violations. These guidelines call for abortion to be available on request with no limits on gestation, without any waiting periods, and without recommendations or parental consent.

The U.N. and World Health Organization, among other organizations, recently launched the Human Reproductive Program, part of which features videos promoting abortion and guiding health care workers around the world to walk clients through the abortion process.

Asia and the Middle East

Abortion is broadly legal in the two of the most populous countries in the world: China and India. Legalized in 1953, China has one of the highest rates of abortion in the world, at 49 abortions for every 1,000 reproductive-aged women, according to the Guttmacher Institute, supported by the nation’s family planning program.

But India has another issue impacting abortion: sex-selective abortion, or aborting a child because she is a girl. According to a 2022 Pew survey, 40% of Indians say sex-selective abortion is acceptable. 

In the interview with EWTN News President and COO Montse Alvarado on “EWTN Pro-Life Weekly,” Rebecca Shah, co-director of the University of Dallas’ program for Indo-American Friendship and Understanding, explained the broad legality of the practice and the alarmingly accepted custom of sex-selective abortion.

In spite of India’s large population — 1.4 billion people — population decline is a “serious issue,” Shah noted. 

“For the first time in India, the total fertility rate has dipped below replacement level of 2.1. We are now at 2,” she noted. “India’s population is slowly declining.”

India enacted the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act in 1971 and has many criteria allowing women to obtain abortions. 

Though many nations have increasingly permissive abortion laws, such as Japan, where abortion was decriminalized in 1948, some countries, such as Singapore, are starting to promote family. Singapore officially decriminalized abortion in 1974 and widely accepts abortion, but currently has a strong pro-family government. 

EWTN News Vice President and Editorial Director Matthew Bunson recently interviewed Cardinal William Goh, the archbishop of Singapore, to talk about ongoing work in the country to encourage family life.

“We are trying to protect the family. We have 11 organizations that deal with family life, so we have to work hard at it,” Goh said. “I won’t say that we are doing extremely well, but because we belong to this Asian culture, that family dimension is always important.”

Goh noted that factors such as affluence, or both parents working, can impact family size, while younger people “are not interested” in having families as it affects their commitments, career, and social time.

While Singapore is below the replacement rate for population growth, the government is stepping in to promote family life.

“The beautiful part is this, the government is working with us all. We have a ministry, we call it a Ministry of Social and Family. This ministry, they try to promote family life,” Goh continued. “The programs that they have are very good programs, so we complement each other. We are grateful that the government also sees the importance of growing the family, strengthening our family, and healing people who are divorced and those from dysfunctioning families.”

In contrast, abortion remains fully illegal in Laos and the Philippines as well as in Iran. Numerous East Asian and Middle Eastern nations have strong limitations on abortion. In Afghanistan, Pakistan, Myanmar, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, South Korea, and Bhutan, abortion is permitted in cases to save a woman’s life. Some of those countries have exceptions for rape, incest, or the physical and mental health of the mother.

Expansion of abortion in Latin America 

Currently, 12 of Mexico’s 32 states allow abortion, while Argentina made headlines in 2020 after its Congress legalized abortion up to 12 weeks, making it the largest country in Latin America to allow the procedure. 

In 2021, Mexico’s Supreme Court struck down a pro-life law in Coahuila that criminalized abortion. Just two years later, the high court threw out all federal criminal penalties by ruling that national laws prohibiting the procedure were unconstitutional. The ruling requires federal health institutions to offer abortions, but access to the procedure remains restricted through most of Mexico. 

The Marea Verde, or Green Wave Movement, a grassroots coalition of pro-abortion protesters who wear green bandanas, have pushed for more access to abortion. Their bandanas have become a badge for pro-abortion movements across Latin America as well as in the United States. 

However, pro-life Argentinians see a glimmer of hope in their new president, Javier Milei. Since taking the helm of Argentina in December 2023, the controversial leader has expressed a desire to roll back Argentina’s law and even called abortion “aggravated murder.” 

Why the feast of Mary, Help of Christians is a special day for Catholics in China

National Shrine and Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Sheshan, also known as Basilica of Mary, Help of Christians, in Shanghai, China. / lobia, Wikimedia.

CNA Staff, May 24, 2024 / 11:12 am (CNA).

Seventeen years ago today, Pope Benedict XVI asked that all Catholics in the world observe May 24, traditionally observed as the liturgical memorial of Our Lady, Help of Christians, as a special day of prayer for Christians in China. 

The late pope wrote a letter to Catholics in China in 2007, laying out “some guidelines concerning the life of the Church and the task of evangelization in China.” The letter was not merely a set of prescriptions, however. In the May 27, 2007, letter, Pope Benedict praised Catholics in China for their joyful resilience in the face of many years of persecution under an atheist state. 

“You know well how much you are present in my heart and in my daily prayer and how deep is the relationship of communion that unites us spiritually,” the pope wrote to China’s Catholics, whose ranks according to one study peaked at 12 million in 2005. 

Benedict, who led the Church from 2005–2013, expressed his hope that “a great harvest of faith will be reaped in the vast and vibrant Asian continent.”

“Beloved Catholic Church in China, you are a small flock present and active within the vastness of an immense people journeying through history,” he wrote. 

In his letter, Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed May 24, the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, to also be a World Day of Prayer for the Church in China, venerating the Blessed Virgin Mary under that title as the country’s patroness. Pope Francis has promoted the May 24 day of prayer during his pontificate. 

“I encourage you to celebrate it by renewing your communion of faith in Jesus Our Lord and of faithfulness to the pope, and by praying that the unity among you may become ever deeper and more visible,” Pope Benedict wrote. 

“On that same day, the Catholics of the whole world — in particular those who are of Chinese origin — will demonstrate their fraternal solidarity and solicitude for you, asking the Lord of history for the gift of perseverance in witness, in the certainty that your sufferings past and present for the Holy Name of Jesus and your intrepid loyalty to his vicar on earth will be rewarded, even if at times everything can seem a failure.”

Pope Benedict’s “Prayer for the Church in China,” to be prayed today, May 24, can be found here. 

‘Her mission is to proclaim Christ’

In his 2007 letter, Pope Benedict noted a growing interest in Christianity in China amid a culture with a “tendency towards materialism and hedonism.” 

He also strongly denounced the Chinese state’s attempts to “place themselves above the bishops and to guide the life of the ecclesial community,” saying such an arrangement “does not correspond to Catholic doctrine” and that the Catholic clergy “cannot be subject to any external interference.” The pope has authority over the religious sphere but is not a political authority in China, he said. 

“It is therefore indispensable, for the unity of the Church in individual nations, that every bishop should be in communion with the other bishops and that all should be in visible and concrete communion with the pope,” the pope said.

However, he continued, “the requisite and courageous safeguarding of the deposit of faith and of sacramental and hierarchical communion is not of itself opposed to dialogue with the authorities concerning those aspects of the life of the ecclesial community that fall within the civil sphere.”

Benedict expressed a hope that the Vatican and China may someday establish diplomatic relations, stressing that “the Holy See always remains open to negotiations, so necessary if the difficulties of the present time are to be overcome.”

The Church is not tied to a political system, he noted: “Therefore, the Catholic Church which is in China does not have a mission to change the structure or administration of the state; rather, her mission is to proclaim Christ to men and women, as the Savior of the world, basing herself — in carrying out her proper apostolate — on the power of God.”

“The civil authorities are well aware that the Church in her teaching invites the faithful to be good citizens, respectful and active contributors to the common good in their country, but it is likewise clear that she asks the state to guarantee to those same Catholic citizens the full exercise of their faith, with respect for authentic religious freedom,” Benedict wrote. 

Christians in China

China has long been a difficult place to be a Christian. The Chinese government technically recognizes Catholicism as one of five “official” religions in the country, but there also exists an underground Catholic Church, which is persecuted and loyal to the pope. 

Government-approved Catholic churches, on the other hand, have comparatively more freedom of worship but face other challenges, including pressure from the government to censor parts of Catholic teaching, while including Chinese nationalism and love for the party in preaching. 

Religious believers of all stripes are surveilled in China, and China has also cracked down on religious freedom in other areas, such as its special administrative region of Hong Kong. (Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong, speaking to EWTN in 2017, suggested that Pope Benedict’s 2007 letter, which Zen helped to draft, may have been mistranslated into Chinese in a way that limited its effectiveness.)

Since coming to power in 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping has mandated the “sinicization” of all religions in China, a move the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom called “a far-reaching strategy to control, govern, and manipulate all aspects of faith into a socialist mold infused with ‘Chinese characteristics.’”

Presently in China, Catholic priests are only allowed to minister in recognized places of worship in which minors under the age of 18 are not allowed to enter. Religious groups in China have been barred from conducting any religious activities online without first applying and receiving approval from the provincial Department of Religious Affairs.

The Holy See first entered into a provisional two-year agreement with Beijing on the appointment of bishops in 2018, which has since been renewed twice and is again up for renewal this fall. China has repeatedly violated the agreement by installing its own bishops without the Vatican’s approval, but Vatican officials have said that the Holy See is “determined” to continue dialogue with China.

Spring 2024 marks the 100th anniversary of a Church council that took place in Shanghai in 1924 — the first, and so far only, Council of the Chinese Catholic Church. The council, which took place 25 years before the Chinese Communist Revolution, brought together 105 Catholic missionaries, bishops, and Chinese Catholics to establish a framework for a native Chinese hierarchy.

Prominent Jesuit: The Society of Jesus is in ‘profound decline’

As Father Julio Fernández Techera sees it, the Society of Jesus’ leadership prefers “to maintain the fiction that things are going well rather than risk recognizing the religious and apostolic decline of the society.” / Credit: Catholic University of Uruguay

ACI Prensa Staff, May 24, 2024 / 10:31 am (CNA).

Father Julio Fernández Techera, a Jesuit priest and rector of the Catholic University of Uruguay, has written a widely circulated, critical essay about the Society of Jesus warning that the order, founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola in 1534, is in “deep decline.”

The essay by the 57-year-old priest is titled “Ad Usum Nostrorum III” (“For Our Use III”) addressed to his Jesuit brothers. The document, which originally circulated within the Society of Jesus, was recently published by the Spanish journalist Francisco José Fernández de la Cigoña on his blog on Infovaticana.

This is the third document in a series that Fernández began in 2022 when he wrote his initial essay (“Ad Usum Nostrorum”), noting that for a long time he has felt dissatisfied with the situation in the Society of Jesus while making it clear that he is not going through a vocational crisis nor is he thinking about leaving.

He published the second essay a year later, in April 2023. In that text he expressed his appreciation for the many responses he received, also from young Jesuits, and even from some who didn’t agree with him but thanked him for the opportunity to debate and propose a revision of the order.

The third essay by Fernández is dated April 22. The new text has the subtitle “Some Considerations about the ‘De Statu Societatis 2023’ (‘On the State of the Society 2023’),” in reference to the general report produced by the superior general of the Society of Jesus, in this case the Venezuelan priest Arturo Sosa, in collaboration with the procurators (who assess the state of the order), who met in May of last year in Loyola, Spain.

Recent sex abuse scandals 

“The society is experiencing very worrying situations that seem not to have been addressed in the Congregation of Procurators and that do not appear clearly and are not taken up in the ‘De Statu’ report. To give some examples, in December of 2022 we learned about what an Italian Jesuit called the ‘Rupnik Tsunami,’” Fernández noted in his essay.

Marko Rupnik is a priest who was expelled from the Society of Jesus in 2023 — accused since 2018 of having committed serious sexual, spiritual, and psychological abuse against at least 20 women in the Loyola Community that he co-founded in Slovenia — and who continues to appear as a Jesuit and Vatican consultant in the 2024 Pontifical Yearbook.

Fernández then referred to the “scandal” of sexual abuse against minors “committed by some Jesuits in Bolivia, and the alleged cover-up by several provincials who were accused by the prosecutor’s office of that country. We have had to find out about everything through the press and we have not received a single statement or letter from the General Curia explaining what happened or to ask for prayers for the province of Bolivia.”

The main Jesuit accused in this case is the late Alfonso Pedrajas, known as “Padre Pica,” who kept a diary about the sexual abuse he committed against more than 80 minors in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador.

A shrinking society

Fernández pointed out in his most recent essay that “other urgent issues that were not dealt with clearly and forcefully are: the drop in the number of admissions to the society, which in the West worsens year by year, as well as the high number of members leaving the order.”

“Recently a friend told me that 72 novices entered his province in the last 10 years. In the same period, the number of Jesuits who left the society in his province were 71,” he said, adding that “in 2023, 314 novices entered the entire society, and 319 died.”

The priest also noted that there are currently 13,995 Jesuits and lamented that “in a few years the society will have disappeared from several European countries and will become insignificant in others in Europe, America, and Oceania.” The only growth is in Africa. In 2013, there were more than 17,200 Jesuits, which means that in just over 10 years, the Society of Jesus has decreased by more than 3,000 members.

For the Uruguayan priest, “the problem is not only that many die and few enter, but also that we do not know how to retain many of those who enter.”

“The reason why we do not have vocations is not because of the secularized society, the changing times, and a thousand other excuses. The reason is that these conditions of our time have cowed us, they overwhelm us, and we do not know how to respond to today’s challenges with the drive and creativity of yesterday,” he pointed out.

Jesuits currently more akin to a ‘progressive NGO’

According to Fernández, the vision of the general report on the Society of Jesus “could perfectly be the view of the world of a secular think tank, with ties to a left-wing political party or a progressive NGO [nongovernmental organization].”

“One does not find in that [evaluation] any of the supernatural or transcendent outlook that would be expected from a religious, apostolic, and priestly order,” he lamented.

“There are many signs in the current life of Jesuit ministries, in the documents that are published and the guidelines that are given, that give the impression that we are in an NGO and not in a religious order,” Fernandez pointed out.

In ‘deep decline’ 

As Fernández sees it, the Society of Jesus “is in deep decline. It doesn’t know it, or it doesn’t want to know it, which is the same thing. It wants to believe that this is the situation of all the other realities of the Church that surround it and that therefore it is what it should be.”

In his opinion, the society’s leadership “fears that if it speaks clearly to the entire order, its members will suffer and become discouraged. The leaders “prefer to maintain the fiction that things are going well rather than risk recognizing the religious and apostolic decline of the society.”

Regarding the Jesuits’ 2023 general report, Fernández pointed out that “in this entire long document of more than 24,000 words, the word ‘priest’ never appears and only twice ‘priesthood,’ although only to make a reference distinguishing between priesthood in the society and the diocesan priesthood.”

“I think our attitude is suicidal: We want vocations for the priesthood in the society, but we don’t want to talk about being priests,” he pointed out.

Toward the end of the essay, Fernández recalls that the Jesuits “have a wonderful and necessary charism for the Church, a religious, apostolic, and priestly charism. We have to recover it and live it with passion, boldness, and generosity.”

“To achieve this it is necessary to speak more freely, express clearly what we experience and think and stop being politically correct.”

In conclusion, Fernández expresses his prayer that God “would grant us in this time a living hope to believe that if we put ourselves in his hands and are faithful, we can still rise again and once again be a great service to his Church.”

ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, contacted the General Curia of the Jesuits in Rome to request its impressions of Fernandez’s essay. As of publication of this article, no response has been received. 

History of apostolic visits

In a piece published in March 2022, the late Cardinal George Pell, under the pseudonym Demos, suggested conducting an apostolic visit or investigation into the Society of Jesus. 

The early 1980s was the last time the Jesuits were investigated. At that time, Pope John Paul II personally intervened in the governance of the society, removing Father Pedro Arrupe from his position as superior general.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Pope Francis paves the way for the canonization of new saints with zeal for mission work

Elena Guerra, Marie-Léonie Paradis, and Giuseppe Allamano are among the Blesseds whom Pope Francis paved the way for canonization in a decree on May 23, 2024.  / Credit: Oblates of the Holy Spirit; centremarie-leonieparadis.com; and Unknown photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Rome Newsroom, May 24, 2024 / 09:41 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has authorized the promulgation of a decree recognizing miracles attributed to several blesseds, paving the way for their canonization, the Vatican said on Thursday.

The Holy See said in a press release that Pope Francis met with Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, on Thursday and “has decided to convene a consistory, which will also concern the canonization” of four Blesseds: Carlo Actuis (the first millennial to be beatified by the Catholic Church), Giuseppe Allamano (an Italian priest and founder of the Consolata Missionaries), Marie-Léonie Paradis (a Canadian Catholic nun who established the Little Sisters of the Holy Family in 1880), and Elena Guerra (the founder of the Oblates of the Holy Spirit). 

Blessed Giuseppe Allamano, born Jan. 21, 1851, in Castelnuovo Don Bosco, formerly Castelnuovo d’Asti, in the region of Piedmont, founded two religious congregations: the Consolata Missionaries (for men) and the Consolata Missionary Sisters (for women).

Allamano was deeply influenced by the spirituality of the Salesians and St. John Bosco, commonly known as “Don Bosco,” and as well as his uncle, St. Joseph Cafasso, a noted priest and spiritual director who was known as one of Turin’s “social saints.” 

After his ordination to the priesthood in 1873, Allamano dedicated himself to pastoral work and was appointed rector, at the age of 29, of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Consolation in Turin, a position he held for 46 years. 

In 1901, Allamano founded the Consolata Missionaries, focusing on evangelization and serving the poor in mission territories. In 1910, at the request of Pope Pius X, he also established a female branch, the Consolata Missionary Sisters. 

Both congregations continue his mission, working in various countries around the world, with a large presence in South America and Africa. Allamano died in Turin on Feb. 16, 1926.

Allamano was beatified by Pope John Paul II on Oct. 7, 1990, and on Sept. 13, 2023, the Vatican deemed one of his attributed miracles to be “a true miracle.”

In the Thursday announcement, Pope Francis also approved a second miracle attributed to Elodia Virginia Paradis, a French-Canadian nun and founder of the Little Sisters of the Holy Family. 

Born on May 12, 1840, in Acadia in the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec, she was aided in her discernment to religious life by Father Camillo Lefebvre, who encouraged her to enter the nascent congregation of the Marianites of Holy Cross, a branch of the Holy Cross Congregation. 

Paradis entered as a postulant among these nuns in 1854 and on Feb. 19, 1855, at the age of 17, she became a novice taking the name of Sister Marie-Léonie. She made her religious profession on Aug. 22, 1857.  

Recognized for her “excellent teaching skills,” Paradis served in various houses in Canada. She was sent to the United States in 1862, where she was made governess of the St. Vincent’s Orphanage in New York. 

After her return to Canada in 1874, Paradis, at the behest of the archbishop of Montreal, founded on May 31, 1880, the Little Sisters of the Holy Family, a congregation of religious sisters aimed at carrying out work in religious communities, colleges, and seminaries. She was diagnosed with malignant cancer and died on May 3, 1912. 

Paradis was declared a Servant of God by Pope Paul VI on June 13, 1966, and was beatified by Pope John Paul II on Sept. 11, 1984, in Montreal during his apostolic trip to Canada. 

The Holy See press release on Thursday also noted that the pope “approved the favorable votes of the ordinary session of the cardinal fathers and bishops” for the canonization of Blessed Manuel Ruiz and seven companions of the Order of Friars Minor. 

The session also voted in favor of the canonization of three brothers: Francis, Abdel Mohti, and Raphaël Massabki.

Part of the group of the “Martyrs of Damascus,” the Massabki brothers were three lay Maronites who were killed “in hatred of the faith” along with eight friars minor in Damascus, Syria, between July 9-10, 1860, during a flurry of sectarian violence. 

Among the other future saints is Blessed Elena Guerra. Born in Lucca, Italy, on June 23, 1835, to a devout family, her life was dedicated to charitable works and in promoting education for young women. 

In 1872, she founded the Oblate Sisters of the Holy Spirit, a congregation devoted to education, pastoral work, and the promotion of devotion to the Holy Spirit, where Guerra formed hundreds of young people, including St. Gemma Galgani. 

A prolific writer, Guerra penned numerous works on social problems facing women as well as on the importance of education within the framework of Christian culture.

At the heart of her mission was a special devotion to the Holy Spirit. She was a strong advocate for a renewed focus on the Spirit’s role in the life of the Church. In 1865 she wrote “Pious Union of Prayers to the Holy Spirit,“ and in 1889 she had a novena titled “New Cenacle“ printed to help the faithful in developing a devotion to the Holy Spirit. 

Pope Leo XIII issued a brief on May 5, 1895, urging “the bishops of the world to make this novena for the return of dissidents to the true Church.” The pope, in his 1897 encyclical Divinum Illud Munus inspired by her works, “explicitly recommended devotion to the Holy Spirit to the faithful.“

Guerra died on April 11, 1914, and was beatified by Pope John XXIII on April 26, 1959. 

The Dicastery for the Causes of Saints also issued decrees recognizing a miracle attributed to Venerable Servant of God Giovanni Merlini, an Italian priest and missionary and a member of the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. 

Thursday’s press release also announced the recognition of the martyrdoms of Servants of God Maria Maddalena Bódi, a laywoman killed in Hungary in 1945, and Stanislao Kostka Streich, a Polish diocesan who was murdered while celebrating Mass in 1938. 

Pope Francis has also recognized “heroic virtues” of Servant of God Guglielmo Gattiani, Ismaele Molinero Novillo, and Enrico Medi, an Italian politician and physicist.