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Pro-life leader launches ‘life-affirming, family-strengthening’ health ministry for women

Valerie Huber, the president and CEO of the Institute for Women's Health, speaks to EWTN Pro-Life Weekly on Thursday, May 23, 2024 / EWTN News

CNA Staff, May 24, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

One woman is working with world leaders to promote women’s health without also submitting to the pro-abortion ideologies that often come with international aid.

President of the Institute for Women’s Health Valerie Huber spoke with EWTN News President Montse Alvarado on “EWTN Pro-Life Weekly” Thursday about current worldwide efforts to support women’s health from conception until death.

Huber founded the institute after completing her service as the first special representative for global women’s health under former President Donald Trump.

“I had the whole world, but only one focus, and that was promoting women’s health,” she told Alvarado about her tenure in public service. “And to ensure that health was not equated with abortion, because it shouldn’t be, and it’s not.”

Since then, through the Institute, Huber has continued her outreach to various nations to encourage them and provide them with support.

For example, Huber recently worked with the first lady of Uganda to launch the Women’s Optimal Health Framework, a new initiative developed with the pro-life government of Guatemala that marks the “first life-affirming, family-strengthening framework that ministries of health can use in these countries to affirm every life.”

“It’s looking holistically at helping a woman receive optimal health,” Huber said. “That’s not just physical health. It’s emotional health. It’s intellectual health, [it’s] physical health, it’s spiritual health,” she said.

“There’s not another framework that takes these elements, empowers a government and literally empowers a woman and a girl at that community level to have opportunities that she has not had in the past.”

Huber noted that many countries are pressured to promote abortion ideology or else their aid will be taken away.

“What we want to be as the Institute for Women’s Health is that encourager that not only encourages them to stand but gives them the tools and the resources so they can stand,” she said.

This can be a challenge when many U.S. allies equate women’s health with abortion, Huber said.

“When I was special representative for global women’s health, I saw that women’s health had experienced a devolution where women’s health was being equated with abortion,” Huber said. “It’s just not true. It’s very limiting. It’s a narrative that leaves women who are dying every day behind with no assistance for anything else.”

“Our goal really was to put the focus where it should be, and that is: look at those authentically vulnerable women and girls in countries around the world to which the United States provides foreign assistance, other countries provide foreign assistance.”

When she proposed during the Trump administration that other nations work with the U.S. to address “unsolved conditions” for women worldwide, she found that no countries would “agree to leave abortion out of that equation in order to promote women’s health.”

“I saw that even though at that time, the U.S. administration was very pro-life, many of our traditional allies were not,” she said. “What did that tell me? It told me that the priority was not really helping the women who needed help. It was promoting ideology above women’s health, and actually that women were being used as a vehicle for ideology.”

“It was based on that that I started having conversations with countries that were pro-life, pro-family, that wanted to make genuine improvements to the health of their women and girls,” she continued. “But they were being held back by these conditions that were standing in the way.”

During her time as a representative, she united the U.S. with Brazil, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, and Uganda and numerous other countries by initiating the Geneva Consensus Declaration, which stipulated several pro-family principles and rejected the premise of a “human right” to abortion.

Representatives from 37 different nations have signed the declaration, including Sudan, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Paraguay, and Poland.

The declaration upheld several principles, Huber noted, including that “the family is foundational to society,” that “there is no international right to abortion; it’s not a human right,” and that “the sovereign right of countries to defend life, family, and women’s health with their own laws and not have external meddling, forcing them or pressuring them to change.”

“It created a coalition of nations that said, regardless of where we are, we commit to improve health and thriving for women and girls,” she said.

Hundreds brave extreme heat to accompany the Eucharistic Lord in south Texas

Hundreds of Catholics join the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage in the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas on May 22, 2024. / Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA

San Juan, Texas, May 24, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

There’s hot and then there’s south Texas hot. 

MacKenzie Warrens, a National Eucharistic Revival “perpetual pilgrim,” told CNA that the heat in the Texas Rio Grande Valley is unlike anything she has ever experienced. 

A doctoral student at Rice University in Houston, Warrens is no stranger to heat. But the weather in the valley, which instantly makes one feel as if he or she is swimming in a pool of heat and humidity, is something entirely different. 

Warrens is one of two dozen young Catholics who as part of the ongoing National Eucharistic Revival are accompanying Christ in the Eucharist in a series of pilgrimage processions that are currently traversing the length and breadth of the contiguous United States. 

For Warrens and seven other young pilgrims who are leading the southern “Juan Diego Route,” the journey begins just as the region’s sultry temperatures begin to soar.

Despite these challenging conditions, hundreds of Catholic faithful joined the perpetual pilgrims in an approximately six-mile procession beginning at San Martin de Porres Parish in Weslaco and ending at the National Shrine of the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle.

The atmosphere was both joyful and reverent. From the moment the procession started at 6:30 a.m. through the end, there was hardly a moment that went by without the crowds entoning popular Spanish hymns such as “Bendito sea Dios” and “El Espíritu de Dios se mueve.” 

Now and then someone in the crowd would shout “Viva Cristo Rey!” or “Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe,” to which hundreds would immediately respond: “Que viva!” 

While some of the other routes had striking beginnings, such as the western route, which began at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, and the northern route, which started at the headwaters of the Mississippi River, the southern route began in a place special in another way. Instead of a significant landmark, the aptly named Juan Diego Route began in a place where devotion to Christ and his Virgin Mother is as grand as the Golden Gate and as deep as the Mississippi. 

The Catholic faith is strong in south Texas. Located just minutes from the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, the Rio Grande Valley is over 90% Hispanic and largely Spanish-speaking. The vast majority of residents are Mexican-Americans whose parents or grandparents immigrated in years past. 

The region’s historic faith was on full display as the Eucharistic Lord was carried through the streets. In addition to the hundreds in the crowds, many locals stopped and crossed themselves when they recognized the Eucharistic monstrance leading the procession. A few even fell to their knees and bowed as the monstrance passed, while still others waved with large smiles on their faces. 

One woman, a local named Tricia, hopped on her bike and joined the back of the procession, singing and praying with the other pilgrims. A homemade sign attached to her bike read “Eucaristía el Origen de mi Fortaleza,” that is: “Eucharist the Source of my Strength.” 

Many locals stopped to genuflect or make the sign of the cross as the Eucharist passed by on May 22, 2024. One woman, Tricia, joined the procession on her bike. Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA
Many locals stopped to genuflect or make the sign of the cross as the Eucharist passed by on May 22, 2024. One woman, Tricia, joined the procession on her bike. Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA

For the last mile of the procession, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, carried the monstrance, finally climbing the grand steps leading up to the Our Lady of San Juan del Valle shrine. 

A storied pilgrimage site that regularly sees over a million annual pilgrims from the U.S. and Mexico, the shrine has long been a place of Marian and Eucharistic devotion.

Established in the 1950s, the basilica houses a 3-foot statue of Our Lady of San Juan, a replica of an image popularly associated with several miracles, including the resurrection of a little girl killed in an acrobatic act in 1623. In 1999, St. John Paul II elevated the shrine to the status of basilica.

Flores placed the monstrance atop the shrine altar as majestic organ notes swelled and pilgrims filled the pews. Suddenly the hymns and music ceased and there were a few minutes of silent adoration as all eyes focused on Christ in the monstrance.

Faithful fill the National Shrine of the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle during the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage in McAllen, Texas, on May 22, 2024. Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA
Faithful fill the National Shrine of the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle during the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage in McAllen, Texas, on May 22, 2024. Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA

To culminate the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage’s time in the Diocese of Brownsville, Flores celebrated a special Mass at the shrine. Bishop Eugenio Lira Rugarcía of Matamoros, Brownsville Auxiliary Bishop Mario Avilés, and several other priests concelebrated. 

To deliver his homily, Flores walked to the center of the church, where his large metal crozier could be heard clanging on the stone floor. Preaching in both Spanish and English, he focused on the reality of Christ, truly present in the Eucharist, saying that “another name for God is ‘for you.’”

Pointing to a massive crucifix on the wall, Flores said: “This is the God we need, the God who pours himself out, the God who gives himself up, the Lord who gives his life, for us. Those simple, precious words, ‘for you.’” 

Reflecting on the day, Joshua Velasquez, another member of the Juan Diego perpetual pilgrim team and a native of the area, told CNA that he was very glad to be able to start the pilgrimage in the valley. Currently an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame, he believes there is a special faith rooted in the people of the valley’s identity. 

Members of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage Juan Diego Team make a stop in the Rio Grande Valley on May 22, 2024. Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA
Members of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage Juan Diego Team make a stop in the Rio Grande Valley on May 22, 2024. Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA

“I hope that something about the devotion here can inspire the rest of the country to greater Eucharistic devotion as well,” Velasquez said.

“I learned love of the Eucharist from the people here,” he went on. “It was here that I started to fall in love with the Mass, where that became a rhythm pattern in my own faith. That devotion to the Mass and the Eucharist is very much rooted here, and I’ll be bringing that with me the whole way.”

Florida priest charged for biting arm of woman he says was desecrating Eucharist

null / Credit: Pixabay

CNA Staff, May 23, 2024 / 18:21 pm (CNA).

A priest in Florida bit the forearm of a woman he says was desecrating the Eucharist in a Communion line at church this past Sunday and has now been charged with one count of battery.

Father Fidel Rodriguez, 66, admitted to police that he bit the woman but said he did so only after she reached into the ciborium and tried to grab a host from it, damaging other hosts as she did so.

“The only defense that I found to defend something that for us, for all of us, is sacred, was biting her. I have recognized that I bite her. I’m not denying that,” Rodriguez told police, according to body camera video obtained by CNA.

“I recognize that I bite her, as a defense, and as defending myself and defending the sacrament,” he said in English with a Spanish accent.

The woman told police the priest denied her Communion after she refused to answer his questions about whether she had been to confession recently.

“I just wanted a cookie. That’s all,” the woman told police, according to body camera video.

Firefighters treated the arm of the woman at the police station. She refused to go to a hospital, according to police video.

Police in St. Cloud, Florida, have charged Rodriguez with one count of battery stemming from the incident, which occurred during the noon Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Church.

St. Cloud is a city of about 65,000 located about 21 miles south of Orlando.

First Communion leads to scenes

The woman told police she went to the 10 a.m. Mass on Sunday, May 19, with her same-sex partner because it was the woman’s niece’s first Communion.

The parish’s video of the 10 a.m. Mass shows an interaction between the priest and the woman, who neither presents her hands to receive the host nor opens her mouth to receive on her tongue. The priest and the woman speak for about 45 seconds, holding up the Communion line, though their conversation can’t be heard over the music and singing.

The woman later told police she suspected the priest wouldn’t give her Communion because of the way she was dressed and because of her sexual orientation.

“I believe that his excuse was that I wasn’t super-holy, in his eyes,” the woman, who was wearing a white shirt and pants, told police.

But the priest told police sexual orientation had nothing to do with it.

When the woman didn’t hold her hands out one on top of the other or open her mouth and didn’t say “Amen” after he said “body of Christ,” he said, he knew she didn’t know what she was doing.

He said he asked her when the last time she received Communion was, and that she said it was many years ago. He said he asked her if she had gone to confession, and she replied, “I don’t need to explain you that.”

He said he told her that he has the authority to ask her that question and that he could not give her Communion, but he could give her a blessing instead, which he said he did.

Second Mass

The woman and her partner then went to the noon Mass in Spanish, which Rodriguez celebrated, and the woman again went to him to receive Communion.

He told police he asked her if she had gone to confession in between Masses.

According to him, she replied: “No, I don’t need to explain to you, I don’t need to give an explanation, you don’t have authority, you don’t need to judge me.”

To which he says he said: “I’m not judging you, I’m asking you only, did you confess after the other Mass [to] received the Communion now? Because if you did not confess, I can’t give you the Communion.”

“And she grabbed all the hosts in the hands, because she wants to receive for herself. She is not permitted. And she break all the hosts, spreading them,” the priest said.

The priest said he was worried that she would spill the hosts on the floor.

The Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharist is the actual body and blood of Jesus, whom Catholics worship as God. The Church also teaches that to receive Communion a person must be a Catholic in a state of grace, meaning not being mindful of having committed a serious sin without getting absolution from a priest in confession.

The woman told police that during the second Mass the priest “forced it in my mouth,” which she didn’t want.

“He wouldn’t give me a cookie. I don’t know if it was how I’m dressed. You know, what it is that I like,” the woman said. “He said basically I needed to do confession and do all of this, I need to go to Mass every Sunday or whatever. And I said, ‘That doesn’t matter. I’ve done everything I needed to do as a kid. I’m just here to accept the bread.’ And he wouldn’t give it to me.”

“And I’m not gonna front. I tried to just grab another cookie, and that when he grabbed my hand and he just bit me,” the woman said.

Video of the incident published by WFTV Channel 9 in Orlando shows the woman’s hand in the ciborium, which is the bowl that holds Communion wafers, while the priest holds onto it with both hands. It also shows the priest moving his head down toward the woman’s right arm but does not show the actual bite.

The Diocese of Orlando released a statement Thursday supporting the priest’s efforts to defend the Eucharist while not endorsing the bite.

The statement notes that during the noon Mass the priest offered the woman Communion on the tongue.

“At that point, the woman forcefully placed her hand in the vessel and grabbed some sacred Communion hosts, crushing them. Having only one hand free, Father Rodriguez struggled to restrain the woman as she refused to let go of the hosts. When the woman pushed him and reacting to a perceived act of aggression, Father Rodriguez bit her hand so she would let go of the hosts she grabbed. The woman was immediately asked to leave,” the diocese said in a written statement.

“It should be noted Father Rodriguez had no prior knowledge of the woman’s background. Further, while the Diocese of Orlando does not condone physical altercations such as this, in good faith, Father Rodriguez was simply attempting to prevent an act of desecration of the holy Communion, which, as a priest, Father Rodriguez is bound by duty to protect,” the diocese said.

The statement continues: 

“The full video and the police report show the woman initiated physical contact and acted inappropriately. The priest was trying to protect the holy Communion from this sacrilegious act.

“In the Catholic tradition, the Eucharist is considered ‘the source and summit’ of worship and faith. The act of participation in holy Communion therefore calls for a proper understanding, reverence, and devotion. It is not something a person can arbitrarily demand and is certainly not a mere ‘cookie’ as the complainant called it.”

A police spokesman told CNA on Thursday that the state attorney’s office will determine the next steps in the case.

Rodriguez did not respond to a request from CNA for comment.

Cardinal Fernández meets with Coptic Church leader over same-sex blessing rift

Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Coptic Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria. / Credit: Vatican Media; ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 23, 2024 / 18:01 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, who heads the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), met with the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church to discuss a rift caused by the recent Vatican declaration that permits nonliturgical blessings for same-sex couples.

In March — less than three months after the DDF published the declaration Fiducia Supplicans — the Coptic Orthodox Church suspended dialogue with the Catholic Church amid concerns about the blessings. In a meeting with Coptic Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria on Wednesday, May 22, Fernández sought to ease some of those tensions.

Fernández told Tawadros during the meeting that the Catholic Church remains opposed to marriage blessings for same-sex couples and emphasized that nonliturgical blessings for same-sex couples cannot be performed in a way that would confuse the blessing with a marriage, according to the Holy See’s official news organization Vatican News

The cardinal further affirmed that the Holy See agrees with the Coptic Orthodox Church’s March 7 statement, which affirmed the “firm position of rejecting all forms of homosexual relationships, because they violate the holy Bible and the law by which God created man as male and female” and added that “the [Coptic] Church considers any blessing of such relations, whatever its type, to be a blessing for sin, and this is unacceptable.”

According to Vatican News, Fernández pointed to a clarification issued by the DDF in early January, which emphasized that the declaration did not change Church teaching on marriage or sexuality. He also told Tawadros that the blessings are not provided to the union itself and that they must be spontaneous and brief, without any rite or liturgical vestments.

The cardinal added that these nonliturgical pastoral blessings are available to every person, regardless of the person’s condition, and does not impart “sanctifying grace” but does provide “actual graces” that push sinners toward conversion and maturation, according to the article.

According to a news release issued by the Coptic Church, Tawadros told Fernández there is a path of love between the two churches and an importance of dialogue. 

Pope Francis met with Tawadros in May 2023 to mark the 50-year anniversary of restored relations between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church. However, since March, formal ecumenical dialogue remains suspended.

In May 2023, Francis also added 21 Coptic martyrs who were killed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria into the liturgical book of saints.

The Coptic Church is Oriental Orthodox. The division between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches occurred in the mid-400s after the Council of Chalcedon amid Christological disputes about the natures of Christ.

The Vatican declaration on nonliturgical blessings for same-sex couples has elicited controversy from within the Catholic Church as well. Although some bishops approved of the declaration, numerous bishops voiced concerns with the document, particularly bishops in Africa.

Pope Francis lambasts the scourge of human trafficking 

Pope Francis speaks from the window of the Apostolic Palace on a rainy Sunday in Rome on Feb. 11, 2024. / Credit: Vatican Media

ACI Prensa Staff, May 23, 2024 / 17:41 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis today urged the abolition of human trafficking, “one of the most terrible scourges of our time” that disrespects and disregards human dignity and delivers “large profits to people without moral scruples.”

The Holy Father denounced the practice in his message addressed to the participants of the general assembly of Talitha Kum, the organization formed by survivors actively engaged in the fight against human trafficking.

For Pope Francis, trafficking is a “systemic” evil and as such “we can and must eliminate it through a systematic, multilevel approach.”

“Trafficking is reinforced by wars and conflicts,” the pontiff said, “benefits from the effects of climate change and socioeconomic disparities, and takes advantage of the vulnerability of people forced to migrate or the conditions of inequality in which they find themselves, especially women and girls.”

The Holy Father pointed out that trafficking is “a ‘business’ that disrespects and disregards human dignity, delivering large profits to people without moral scruples.”

“Trafficking is constantly evolving and always finding new ways to develop, as it did during the pandemic,” he noted.

However, the pope urged participants “to not be discouraged” because “with the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ and the dedication of so many, we can succeed in eliminating it.”

To accomplish this, Pope Francis stressed the importance of following the steps taken by Talitha Kum: “Stand by the victims, listen to them, help them get back on their feet and together take action against trafficking.”

“To be truly effective against this odious criminal phenomenon, we need to be a community,” he said.

The pope also pointed out this is not an easy task, but it can be done, and thanked the organization for its work that has become “a reference point for victims, their families, those at risk, and the most vulnerable communities.”

Finally, Pope Francis encouraged Talitha Kum members to “continue on this path, furthering prevention and care, and weaving together many valuable relationships that are indispensable in order to combat and defeat trafficking.”

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

Joy in Syria: Pope Francis gives ‘green light’ for canonization of ‘Martyrs of Damascus’ 

A moment of prayer during the procession through the narrow streets of the Christian quarter of Bab-Touma (St. Paul) in the Old City of Damascus on July 9, 2023, in celebration of the liturgical feast of the Martyrs of Damascus. / Credit: Courtesy of HS/Custody of the Holy Land

Jerusalem, May 23, 2024 / 17:11 pm (CNA).

In Damascus, Syria, today, news that the 11 “Martyrs of Damascus” will be canonized was received with “emotion and hope,” according to Father Firas Lufti, guardian of the Franciscan convent of Bab-Touma in Damascus where the martyrdom occurred and where many relics of the martyrs are preserved. 

During an audience with Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, “the Supreme Pontiff approved the votes in favor cast during the ordinary session of the cardinal and bishop fathers for the canonization” of the martyrs, said the bulletin released by the Holy See Press Office on May 23. 

The “Martyrs of Damascus” were murdered “out of hatred for the faith” in Damascus, Syria, some time during the night of July 9-10, 1860. The event took place during the persecution of Christians by Shia Druze, which spread from Lebanon to Syria and resulted in thousands of victims.

A Druze commando entered the Franciscan convent, located in the Christian quarter of Bab-Touma (St. Paul) in the Old City of Damascus, and massacred the friars: Manuel Ruiz, Carmelo Bolta, Nicanor Ascanio, Nicolás M. Alberca y Torres, Pedro Soler, Engelbert Kolland, Francisco Pinazo Peñalver, Juan S. Fernández, along with three laymen who were biological brothers — Francis, Abdel Mohti, and Raphaël Massabki.

Upon refusing to renounce their Christian faith and convert to Islam, the 11 were brutally killed, some beheaded with sabers and axes, others stabbed or clubbed to death.

The altar dedicated to the eight Franciscan friars martyred in Damascus in 1860 is located inside the Catholic church in the Christian quarter of Bab-Touma (St. Paul) in the Old City of Damascus. The church is adjacent to the Franciscan convent where the martyrdom of the friars and three Maronite laypeople, the Massabki brothers, took place. Beneath the altar is the urn containing the bones of the martyrs. Credit: Courtesy of HS/Custody of the Holy Land
The altar dedicated to the eight Franciscan friars martyred in Damascus in 1860 is located inside the Catholic church in the Christian quarter of Bab-Touma (St. Paul) in the Old City of Damascus. The church is adjacent to the Franciscan convent where the martyrdom of the friars and three Maronite laypeople, the Massabki brothers, took place. Beneath the altar is the urn containing the bones of the martyrs. Credit: Courtesy of HS/Custody of the Holy Land

The news of the impending canonizations comes almost 100 years after the beatification of the 11 martyrs, which took place in 1926.

“All of us have longed to hear this news,” said Lufti, who is also a friar of the Custody of the Holy Land. “With the canonization, the process initiated over 160 years ago with their martyrdom, with the self-giving in service to God, the Church, and suffering brothers, is completed. Holiness is the life project of every baptized person and the culmination of a life spent for others.”

“This news,” Lufti added, “comes at a time when the entire Middle East, including Syria, is experiencing moments of drama and conflict. Holiness is the hope for a new world. Despite the horrors of sin that mankind is capable of writing, history is written by God, who is the Lord of history, alongside his saints.”

The hope is that the canonization of the Martyrs of Damascus is also “a message of dialogue, peace, and unity” in the Middle Eastern context, the friar said. 

The chapel dedicated to the three Maronite laymen, brothers Francis, Abdel Mohti, and Raphaël Massabki, inside the Maronite church in the Old City of Damascus. The three are part of the group of 11 Martyrs of Damascus, whose canonization was approved by Pope Francis on May 23, 2024. Credit: Courtesy of HS/Custody of the Holy Land
The chapel dedicated to the three Maronite laymen, brothers Francis, Abdel Mohti, and Raphaël Massabki, inside the Maronite church in the Old City of Damascus. The three are part of the group of 11 Martyrs of Damascus, whose canonization was approved by Pope Francis on May 23, 2024. Credit: Courtesy of HS/Custody of the Holy Land

Every year on July 10, the liturgical calendar of the Custody of the Holy Land commemorates these martyrs. In the Syrian capital, the Latin and Maronite communities often celebrate this day together.

“This year’s celebration will have a very special flavor because it will be a taste of holiness,” Lufti explained. “The canonization of the Martyrs of Damascus will give a new impetus to the life of the Christian community, which awaited this announcement with great anticipation.”

Lufti referred to the Damascus martyrs as “witnesses, models, and examples” to follow “in order to persevere in the faith.” The canonization of these men who “put into practice the golden rule of Christian life: to love God and neighbor to the point of giving their lives … gives us hope [and] shows us where to set our feet on the path toward holiness, which is the goal of every Christian.”

The cause for canonization of the martyrs has been revived in recent years due to their growing reputation for holiness and the number of miracles attributed to their intercession.

The chapel dedicated to the three Maronite laymen, brothers Francis, Abdel Mohti, and Raphaël Massabki, inside the Maronite church in the Old City of Damascus. The three are part of the group of 11 Martyrs of Damascus, whose canonization was approved by Pope Francis on May 23, 2024. Credit: Courtesy of HS/Custody of the Holy Land
The chapel dedicated to the three Maronite laymen, brothers Francis, Abdel Mohti, and Raphaël Massabki, inside the Maronite church in the Old City of Damascus. The three are part of the group of 11 Martyrs of Damascus, whose canonization was approved by Pope Francis on May 23, 2024. Credit: Courtesy of HS/Custody of the Holy Land

In 2022, the Holy Synod of Maronite Bishops presented a petition to Pope Francis for the canonization of the Blessed Massabki Martyrs — the three brothers from the same family who were killed along with the friars the same night in Damascus. This request was joined by the Order of Friars Minor, who sought the canonization of the entire group of martyrs.

On March 23, 2023, the pope authorized a special procedure for the drafting and study of the “Positio super Canonizatione,” a set of documents used in the process by which a person is declared a saint, often simply referred to as the “Positio.” On May 23, the pontiff approved the favorable votes of the ordinary session of cardinals and bishops for the martyrs’ canonization.

Although there is no date scheduled yet for the canonization, Lufti said the Church in Syria hopes it can be celebrated during the upcoming Jubilee Year recently announced by Pope Francis.

10 things you should know about Blessed Carlo Acutis

Blessed Carlo Acutis. / Credit: Diocese of Assisi

CNA Staff, May 23, 2024 / 15:21 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis has recognized a second miracle attributed to the intercession of Carlo Acutis, an Italian teenager who died in 2006, paving the way for him to be canonized by the Catholic Church. A gamer and computer programmer who loved the Eucharist, he will be the Church’s first millennial saint.

So who is Blessed Carlo? Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Carlo Acutis was born May 3, 1991, in London, where his father was  working. Just a few months later, he moved with his parents, Andrea Acutis and Antonia Salzano, to Milan, Italy.

  2. Carlo was diagnosed with leukemia as a teenager. Before his death in 2006, he offered his sufferings for Pope Benedict XVI and for the Church, saying: “I offer all of my suffering to the Lord for the pope and for the Church in order not to go to purgatory but to go straight to heaven.”

  3. From a young age, Carlo had a special love for God, even though his parents weren’t especially devout. Antonia Salzano, his mom, said that before Carlo, she went to Mass only for her first Communion, her confirmation, and her wedding. But as a young child, Carlo loved to pray the rosary. After he made his first Communion, he went to Mass as often as possible at the parish across from his elementary school. Carlo’s love for the Eucharist also inspired a deep conversion for his mother. According to the postulator promoting his cause for sainthood, he “managed to drag his relatives, his parents to Mass every day. It was not the other way around; it was not his parents bringing the little boy to Mass, but it was he who managed to get himself to Mass and to convince others to receive Communion daily.” Salzano spoke to “EWTN News Nightly” in October 2023 about her son’s devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. She said: “He used to say, ‘There are queues in front of a concert, in front of a football match, but I don’t see these queues in front of the Blessed Sacrament’ ... So, for him the Eucharist was the center of his life.”

  4. Carlo’s witness of faith as a child led adults to convert and be baptized. Rajesh Mohur, who worked for the Acutis family as an au pair when Carlo was young, converted from Hinduism to Catholicism because of Carlo’s witness. Carlo taught Mohur how to pray the rosary and told him about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Mohur said that one of the things that most impressed him as a non-Christian was the witness of Carlo’s love and concern for the poor — how he interacted with the homeless man who would sit at the entrance of the church and would bring tupperware dishes filled with food out to people living on the streets.

  5. Carlo wasn’t afraid to defend Church teaching, even in situations when his classmates disagreed with him. Many of Carlo’s high school classmates remember Carlo giving a passionate defense for the protection of life from the moment of conception when there was a classroom discussion about abortion. 

  6. Carlo was a faithful friend. He was known for standing up for kids at school who got bullied, especially kids with disabilities. When a friend’s parents were getting a divorce, Carlo made a special effort to include his friend in the Acutis’ family life. With his friends, he spoke about the importance of going to Mass and confession, human dignity, and chastity.

  7. Carlo was fascinated with computer coding and taught himself some of the basic coding languages, including C and C++. He used his computer skills and internet savvy to help his family put together an exhibition on Eucharistic miracles that has gone on to be displayed at thousands of parishes on five continents. His spiritual director has attested that Carlo was personally convinced that the scientific evidence from Eucharistic miracles would help people to realize that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist and come back to Mass.

  8. Carlo loved playing video games. His mother recalls that he liked Nintendo Game Boy and GameCube as well as PlayStation and Xbox. He had conversations with his gaming buddies about the importance of going to Mass and confession and limited his video game playing to no more than two hours per week. Carlo also liked Spider-Man and Pokémon.

  9. Carlo died on Oct. 12, 2006, and was buried in Assisi. Initially, there were reports that Carlo’s body was found to be incorrupt, but the bishop of Assisi clarified before his beatification that his body was not incorrupt. His body lies in repose in a glass tomb in Assisi where he can be seen in jeans and a pair of Nike sneakers. Thousands came to pray at his tomb at the time of his beatification in October 2020.

  10. Pope Francis recognized a second miracle attributed to Carlo’s intercession in a decree on May 23, 2024. The miracle involved the healing of a 21-year-old girl from Costa Rica named Valeria Valverde, who was near death after seriously injuring her head in a bicycle accident while studying in Florence in 2022. The first miracle that led to his beatification involved the healing of a 3-year-old boy in Brazil in 2013 who had been diagnosed with a malformation of his pancreas since birth.

The Vatican has yet to announce a date for Carlo Acutis’ canonization. The ceremony could take place as soon as this October or during the 2025 Jubilee Year, which includes a special jubilee for youth and a jubilee for teenagers.

This article was originally published Oct. 20, 2020, and was updated May 23, 2024.

Federal government backs down, allows Virginia Knights to hold annual Memorial Day Mass 

A Virginia council of the Knights of Columbus will be permitted to hold its annual Memorial Day Mass on Monday, May 27, 2024, in a federal cemetery after the National Park Service (NPS) backed down and allowed the group to hold the observance. / Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CNA Staff, May 23, 2024 / 14:38 pm (CNA).

A Virginia council of the Knights of Columbus will be permitted to hold its annual Memorial Day Mass in a federal cemetery after the National Park Service (NPS) backed down and allowed the group to hold the observance.

Knights of Columbus Petersburg Council 694 had filed a temporary restraining order against NPS after the park service forbade the council from holding its annual Memorial Day Mass at Poplar Grove National Cemetery.

First Liberty Institute, which represented the Knights in the dispute, said in a press release this week that the fraternal organization has “held the service at the park every year since at least the 1960s.”

The filing, made in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, said NPS decided in 2023 that the annual Mass, held at the cemetery within Petersburg National Battlefield, “would henceforth be categorized as a prohibited ‘demonstration’ under NPS regulations because it is a ‘religious service.’”

Yet on Thursday afternoon, First Liberty Institute said in a press release that the Knights would be permitted to hold the Mass on Monday as planned.

NPS “has granted a permit … allowing the Knights’ annual Memorial Day Mass service” on Monday, the organization said.

“We are grateful to the NPS for allowing the Knights to hold their service this Memorial Day,” John Moran, a partner with the law firm McGuireWoods, said in the statement. 

Roger Byron, a senior counsel at First Liberty, said that the Knights “are thrilled that they will be able to exercise their religious beliefs and keep this honorable tradition alive.”  

“We appreciate the tremendous support of Gov. [Glenn] Youngkin and Attorney General [Jason] Miyares in this case,” Byron said. 

Park service officials had earlier said the Knights could hold the Mass “outside the cemetery on a patch of grass near the parking lot,” which the Knights’ filing said was “unreasonable, unnecessary, and unconstitutional.”

The Knights said the park service was “misapplying its own regulations” and “unlawfully infringing on the Knights’ First Amendment rights.” The filing said the federal government was also violating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a 1993-era law that places strict rules on how the government may infringe on a person’s religious liberty. 

Officials with the National Park Service also did not respond to a query on the suit on Thursday. 

Byron had said earlier this week that the park service was “way out of line.”  

“This is the kind of unlawful discrimination and censorship RFRA and the First Amendment were enacted to prevent,” Byron said.

Number of Catholic parishes in Baltimore’s core will be halved, archdiocese says 

St. Vincent de Paul Church, the oldest Catholic parish church in continuous use in Baltimore, which was dedicated in 1841, is among the churches slated for closure. / Credit: Smash the Iron Cage|Wikimedia|CC BY-SA 4.0

CNA Staff, May 23, 2024 / 14:08 pm (CNA).

The Archdiocese of Baltimore announced this week that more than half of the parishes in Baltimore’s historic city core will close or merge as part of a major pastoral planning process.

The final plans, announced May 22, will see 61 parishes at 59 worship sites in Baltimore City and some nearby areas of Baltimore County reduced to 23 parishes at 30 worship sites.

“These decisions, while difficult, are made with an eye toward a future goal of hope," Archbishop William Lori said in a video message, saying the plan was put together, “guided by the Holy Spirit,” with an eye to helping the parishes prioritize announcing the Gospel and helping neighbors in need.

The many Catholic churches in Baltimore City were built to serve “a surging population that’s now lost hundreds of thousands of people,” the archdiocese says on the website for the initiative. From a high of 1 million people in the 1950s, the population in the city stands at fewer than 570,000 people.

According to the archdiocesan publication Catholic Review, the 61 current parishes serve approximately 5,000 Catholics — about 1% of the Catholics in the archdiocese, served by 44% of the archdiocese’ current parishes.

Lori said the mergers will enable the remaining parishes to “focus on mission and ministry, as opposed to leaking roofs, crumbling walls, and failing electrical and plumbing systems.”

After first announcing the intentions for the plan in 2022, this past April the archdiocese revealed the details of the consolidation plan, saying the initiative had “entered its public comment phase.” Several public fora held by the archdiocese on the plan drew “more than 6,000 voices in prayerful listening,” and Lori said their feedback helped to shape the final plans.  

“We have known for a long time that we could not continue to ignore the decline in Mass attendance and increased resources required to keep up with building and property maintenance,” the archdiocese said.

“To achieve the Church we envision, one where parishioners are welcomed, engaged, and constantly growing in faith, and one strengthened by our varied ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds, we must realign and consolidate our efforts and resources. Our failure to do so would be shortsighted and render us to be poor stewards of the time, talent, and material gifts with which God has blessed us.”

According to the Catholic Review, the new configurations and mergers will be complete for most parishes by the first Sunday of Advent 2024, Dec. 1. For others, it could be the first Sunday of Lent 2025, and for some even later. 

Numerous other large dioceses including Chicago, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Cincinnati, and smaller ones such as Peoria, Illinois, have in recent years announced reorganization plans to greatly reduce their number of parishes. 

Baltimore was the first Catholic diocese in the United States, having been established as such in 1789 and elevated to an archdiocese in 1808. The territory of the Diocese of Baltimore originally included the entire fledgling U.S., and it remained the only archdiocese in the country until 1846.

Last fall, Lori announced that the Archdiocese of Baltimore would declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a result of hundreds of abuse claims against it in recent decades. Lori insisted in his recent video message that the mergers are not related to the bankruptcy and that proceeds from any building sales will remain in the parish, as supported by canon and civil law.

Michigan attorney general releases third report on alleged diocesan abuse

The Cathedral of St. Augustine in Kalamazoo, Michigan. / Credit: rossograph via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

CNA Staff, May 23, 2024 / 13:38 pm (CNA).

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has released the third of seven reports on alleged sexual abuse in dioceses throughout the state. 

The report details “allegations of abuse that took place in the Diocese of Kalamazoo,” one of seven in the state of Michigan. Previous reports focused on the Dioceses of Gaylord and Marquette.

As with the prior reports, the Kalamazoo investigation details abuse allegations that stretch back decades. The review includes allegations of misconduct “by priests who are current or former clergy for the Diocese of Kalamazoo that occurred in the diocese from Jan. 1, 1950, to the present.”

The Diocese of Kalamazoo was previously part of the Diocese of Grand Rapids; it did not become its own named diocese until 1971.

The diocese “agreed to provide reports of abuse to the Department of Attorney General,” Nessel’s office said, describing diocesan participation in the investigation as “instrumental.”

Though the report contains “detailed descriptions of allegations of sexual abuse and other sexual misconduct,” Nessel’s office noted that “criminal prosecution of many of these allegations is barred by the statute of limitations or because the accused priest is deceased.” 

“For too long, sexual assault and abuse have been surrounded by silence,” the attorney general said in the release.

“This investigation aims to shatter that silence, empowering survivors to speak their truth. My department is committed to ensuring that every case of sexual abuse and assault is thoroughly reviewed and investigated in an effort to pursue justice for victims.”

Some of the allegations contained in the report date to the 1970s and 1980s, though others occurred as recently as 2017. The allegations include alleged abuse perpetrated against minors as well as inappropriate behavior and conduct toward adults. 

The attorney general’s office said its wide-reaching report of the seven Michigan dioceses has included to date a review of “more than 1.5 million [paper] documents” and more than 3.5 million digital documents; the office has also “issued criminal charges in 11 cases throughout the entire state and secured convictions in nine cases.”

Two of those 11 cases originated from allegations in the Kalamazoo Diocese, Nessel’s office noted, including the prosecution and imprisonment of Father Brian Stanley, who pleaded guilty to “immobilizing a teenage boy by wrapping him tightly in plastic wrap and using masking tape as additional binding to cover the child’s eyes and mouth” as part of a school punishment. 

Stanley was sentenced to 60 days in prison and five years of probation. 

In a statement on Wednesday following the release of the report, Kalamazoo Bishop Edward Lohse said past abuse in the diocese is “an historical reality.” 

“It is tragic, appalling, and inexcusable. No one knows this better than you who are the victim- survivors of that abuse,” the bishop said. 

“You were entrusted to our care, and we failed to protect you,” the bishop said. “There is no other way to put it. For that failure, I am deeply sorry.”

The prelate said the diocese “continue[s] to strengthen our efforts to protect children and youth and to educate people to recognize signs of behavior that put youth at risk.”

Lohse said the diocese would unveil updated youth protection policies later this summer.