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Nigerian Christian villagers claim military helicopter fired on them, not bandits

Photo illustration of Nigerian military uniform. / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 4, 2022 / 11:41 am (CNA).

Residents of predominantly Christian villages in north-central Nigeria that came under attack from Fulani bandits on motorcycles June 5 maintain that a government helicopter fired on the villages’ defenders, but authorities have denied the charge, saying the crew targeted the assailants.

The fighting, which lasted for several hours, took place in a group of villages about 30 miles south of Kaduna City, the capital of Kaduna. The raid left 32 villagers dead and 29 others, chiefly women, kidnapped, according to media reports and security authorities.

In its aftermath, authorities have sought to reassure residents that the government is on their side in the bloody conflict with Fulani bandits.

“An air force helicopter (under operation whirl punch) dispatched to the area, intercepted the bandits at the last location (Ungwan Maikori) and engaged them as they retreated, before the arrival of ground troops to the general area,” Samuel Aruwan, the state commissioner for internal security, said in a June 7 statement posted on Facebook.

But eyewitnesses and others who spoke to CNA say perhaps hundreds of villagers saw the helicopter fired on armed locals who were trying to ward off more than 200 invaders.

“The whole village saw the helicopter firing at the residents,” said Jonathan Asake, the head of the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU) who coordinated a meeting of villagers two days after the attack. 

In addition, Rev. Denis Sani, head of the local Evangelical Church Winning All as well as an elder advisor to volunteer neighborhood watchmen, told the conflict reporter Masara Kim that no ground troops arrived to rescue residents in Makori, one of the villages that came under attack.

Sani told CNA that the helicopter fired with a submachine gun toward him and his fellow civilian guards, forcing him and his assistant, Jonah Greece, to withdraw toward the forest to gain cover. 

“We pulled back to avoid getting killed, allowing the terrorists to enter the village,” Greece told CNA.

Defending their homes

“The attack started as we were ending our church services on Sunday around noon,” said Greece, a community medical practitioner in Maikori. 

Since the village had suffered a massacre by terrorists in March 2019 and an attack earlier this year, the able-bodied men formed a defensive perimeter around the approaches to Maikori.

“There were no military or police in the village, but about 40 to 50 men gathered up their hunting rifles,” Greece explained.

Sani called for the men of the village of Maikori to position themselves behind trees and tall grass. The attackers were mounted on 70 motorbikes, three fighters on each bike.

Greece said the attackers first swarmed through the neighboring village of Dogon Noma, burning houses and firing at villagers fleeing into the forest. Then they mounted their bikes and headed into Maikori where Sani and the defenders ambushed them with their homemade hunting rifles and pump shotguns, Greece said.

At approximately 1 p.m. the villagers noticed a helicopter variously described as white or “silver” hovering over Maikori and firing vertically down at the defenders, Greece said.

Claims denied

Nigerian media have reported that the claim that the helicopter fired on village defenders has been debunked. Villagers, however, are standing by their account.

To clear the air on disputed versions of the incident seven heads of state police agencies met with village leaders on June 20 in Kufana. 

“Aruwan said while the Government had not totally succeeded in its primary assignment, it was however doing its best to ensure that they had come also to clarify some lingering ‘misrepresentations’ being championed by some enemies of progress and of the government,” Stingo Usman, a Christian community leader in Maraban Kajuru who attended the meeting, told CNA.

The service chiefs at the meeting asserted that “it was impossible that the army helicopter had fired on the residents,” Usman said. None of the service chiefs who spoke were present during the attack, he added.

According to Stingo Usman, Ibrahim Usman, the village head of Dogon Noma, contradicted Aruwan’s account. The village head told the authorities at the meeting that “a helicopter arrived and the locals thought relief had come to them until they realized that they were being attacked by both the helicopter and the bandits,” Stingo Usman related to CNA in a text message.

“The youth then had to run for their lives and from that point, the armed Fulani bandits got access to the village and burned the whole village down, and also killed two people there,” Stingo Usman wrote, recounting Ibrahim Usman’s statements at the meeting.

The representative of Kajuru County in the Nigerian House of Representatives, Yakubu Umar Barde, has called for an investigation of possible complicity between the Nigerian military and the terrorists.  

In addition, calls for an internationally led forensic investigation of complicity between Muslim terrorists and rogue military units have come from Baroness Caroline Cox, a member of the United Kingdom’s House of Lords, and Gregory Stanton, a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer and the founder of Genocide Watch.

Security officials drew criticism for failing to stop the blasphemy murder of college student Deborah Emmanuel on the campus of Shehu Shegari teachers’ college in Sokoto on May 12.

There have been additional complaints lodged against the lax response by the military and police to other attacks blamed on radicalized Fulani Islamists, including a massacre Jan. 11 in Te’Egbe, in Plateau State, and on March 20 in Kagoro in southern Kaduna.

The inactivity and in some cases complicity of the military in terrorist attacks in the past has been noted by the human rights watchdog, Amnesty International.

"Amnesty International found evidence showing that security forces received information about impending attacks and in some cases, came in contact with attackers but did nothing to stop or prevent the attacks,” the organization said in a 2018 report

“Many attacks lasted for hours, in some cases days, even in communities where security forces were not far away,” the report said.

Brazilian Cardinal Cláudio Hummes dies at 87

Cardinal Cláudio Hummes arrives for the afternoon session of the Amazon Synod, October 8, 2019. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

Sao Paulo, Brazil, Jul 4, 2022 / 09:24 am (CNA).

Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, archbishop emeritus of São Paulo, Brazil, died on Monday after a long illness.

The cardinal, who had a significant role in the 2019 Amazon Synod, was just over a month away from his 88th birthday. He died of lung cancer, according to Brazilian journalist Mirticeli Medeiros.

His death was announced July 4 by Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, current archbishop of São Paulo, who said Hummes’ body will be present for mourning and prayers in the Metropolitan Cathedral of São Paulo.

Hummes, a member of the Order of Friars Minor, was president of the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM) and the newly created Ecclesial Conference of Amazonia (CEAMA).

Pope Francis appointed Hummes relator general of the Synod on the Pan-Amazonian Region and a member of the pre-synodal council. As relator general, Hummes was responsible for writing the synod’s final report.

Hummes was also prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy from 2006-2010, after being made a cardinal in 2001.

He was known for his social activism, including in the areas of climate change, poverty, and protection of indigenous peoples.

A close friend of Pope Francis, after his election, Hummes reportedly embraced him and said, “don’t forget the poor.”

The cardinal was born in Montenegro, Brazil, on Aug. 8, 1934, to a German-Brazilian father and German mother.

He took the name Cláudio when he joined the Franciscans, and was ordained a priest in 1958.

Before becoming a bishop, he taught philosophy in seminaries and a Catholic university. He was provincial superior of the Franciscans of Rio Grande do Sul from 1972-1975 and president of the Union of Latin American Conferences of Franciscans.

Hummes studied at the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey in Geneva, Switzerland, and later became an advisor for ecumenical affairs to the bishops’ conference of Brazil.

In March 1975, he was appointed coadjutor bishop of Santo André, and the following December succeeded Jorge de Oliveira as bishop.

He became archbishop of Fortaleza in 1996 and archbishop of São Paulo in 1998.

A personal way to govern: Why Pope Francis uses Apostolic Letters the way he does

Pope Francis / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, Jul 4, 2022 / 09:06 am (CNA).

It is no coincidence that Pope Francis chose the form of an apostolic letter to write about liturgy. Nor that he chose to write it one year after the publication of the Traditionis custodes, the motu proprio with which he abolished the liberalization of the Traditional Latin Mass by Benedict XVI.

Published on June 29 and entitled Desiderio desideravi, the document not only drives home his concerns with the liturgy. It also shines a light on the thought — and the modus operandi — of Pope Francis. 

In the 15-page apostolic letter, the pope said he wanted “to invite the whole Church to rediscover, to safeguard, and to live the truth and power of the Christian celebration.”

Pope Francis also said, after writing a letter to bishops to accompany Traditionis custodes, he wished to address all Catholics with some reflections on liturgical formation, the theological importance of the Mass, and acceptance of the liturgical documents of the Second Vatican Council.

Notably, this is the 83rd time that Pope Francis has used the form of the apostolic letter to convey an authoritative opinion. 

When it comes to expressing the pope’s teaching authority, his magisterium, an apostolic letter ranks fourth in the hierarchy of pontifical documents. The most important would be an apostolic constitution, followed by a papal encyclical, and then an apostolic exhortation.

Pope Francis, however, has always favored "light" legislative instruments, which require less effort in drafting – and do not undergo a longer approval process.

An apostolic constitution, for example, must be consistent with canon law and other prescriptions of the Church. For this reason, Praedicate evangelium, which regulates the functions and offices of the Curia, has had a long gestation period and still awaits full implementation.

The same is true of a papal encyclical, which is concerned with expressing the magisterium – and cannot be linked only to contingent moments. 

The third most important kind of document, an apostolic exhortation, is a more particular and personal instrument of the pope. In the case of a post-synodal exhortation, it will draw on the fruits of a Synod of Bishops.

It is worth noting that Pope Francis' governmental program takes the form of an apostolic exhortation: Evangelii gaudium replaced the post-synodal apostolic exhortation expected after the Synod on the Word of God in 2012.

Of that synod — the last of the pontificate of Benedict XVI — no trace remains.

When Pope Francis had to legislate, he mainly used the form of a motu proprio (the Vatican website lists 49 of them) and rescripts. These are officially called rescripta ex audientia sanctissimi, i. e. orders of the Pope, written following a personal audience.

Neither of these types of decisions require approval by the Roman Curia.

The use of the apostolic letter, like an executive order, also demonstrates a development of this pontificate: Pope Francis did not initially use these as a form of government. Ultimately, however, that is how he most of all expressed his thoughts and decisions.

Beyond apostolic letters in the form of a motu proprio, which have a legal purpose and effect, the letters of Pope Francis are also instruments for addressing the people of God. 

The document Desiderio desideravi serves a variety of purposes:

  1. It is a personal letter with which Pope Francis addresses a specific theme – the liturgy.

  2. It is a letter that carries legal clout because Pope Francis reaffirms what was decided in Traditionis Custodes – and denies any possibility of liberalization of the Traditional Latin Mass.

  3. It is a letter that never mentions his predecessor Benedict XVI, whose decision he subverts, establishing a clear rupture between the before and after.

In other words, Pope Francis is using this apostolic letter in a very particular way to reinforce a personal decision.

The government of Pope Francis is deeply personal, so much so that his own point of view is expressed as magisterium.  Pope Francis thus shows himself to be a particular kind of centralizer: Faced with the various expressions of the Church, Pope Francis does not fail to enforce unity, making choices that exclude, in fact, a plurality of forms. Whoever celebrates the Traditional Latin Mass, for Pope Francis, uses a different rite, and is outside the tradition of continuity of the Church.

We might say that whenever the Pope finds resistance, he gets around it using whatever instrument is available to him. Hence, even the use of "lighter" documents ultimately constitute a form of legislation. In the end, they are the quickest means available to the Pope to govern effectively without consulting too much.

St. Elizabeth of Portugal

St. Elizabeth of Portugal

Feast date: Jul 04

On July 4, the Catholic Church celebrates St. Elizabeth of Portugal, a queen who served the poor and helped her country avoid war during the 13th and 14th centuries.

Elizabeth of Portugal was named for her great-aunt, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, who was canonized in 1235. Their lives were similar in some important ways: both of them were married at very young ages, they sought to live the precepts of the Gospel despite their status as royalty, and finished their lives as members of the Third Order of St. Francis.

The younger Elizabeth was born in 1271, the daughter of King Pedro III of Aragon and his wife Constantia. Even in her youth, Elizabeth showed a notable devotion to God through fasting, regular prayer, and a sense of life's seriousness. While still very young, she was married to King Diniz of Portugal, a marriage that would put her faith and patience to the test.

King Diniz was faithfully devoted to his country, known as the “Worker King” because of his diligence. Unfortunately, he generally failed to live out the same faithfulness toward his wife, although he is said to have repented of his years of infidelity before his death. Diniz and Elizabeth had two children, but the king fathered an additional seven children with other women.

Many members of the king's court likewise embraced or accepted various forms of immorality, and it would have been easy for the young queen to fall into these vices herself. But Elizabeth remained intent on doing God's will with a humble and charitable attitude. Rather than using her status as queen to pursue her own satisfaction, she sought to advance Christ's reign on earth.

Like her namesake and great-aunt Elizabeth of Hungary, Elizabeth of Portugal was a devoted patroness and personal friend of the poor and sick, and she compelled the women who served her at court to care for them as well. The queen's bishop testified that she had a custom of secretly inviting in lepers, whom she would bathe and clothe, even though the law of the land barred them from approaching the castle.

Elizabeth's commitment to the Gospel also became evident when she intervened to prevent civil war in the kingdom on two occasions. Alfonso, the only son of Diniz and Elizabeth, resented the king's indulgent treatment of one of his illegitimate sons, to the point that the father and son gathered together rival armies that were on the brink of open war in 1323.

On this occasion, St. Elizabeth placed herself between the two opposing armies, insisting that Diniz and Alfonso come to terms and make peace with one another. In 1336, the last year of her life, she intervened in a similar manner to prevent her son from waging war against the King of Castile for his poor treatment of Alfonso's own daughter.

Following King Diniz's death in 1325, Elizabeth had become a Franciscan of the Third Order, and had gone to live in a convent that she had established some years before. The testimony of miracles accomplished through her intercession, after her death in 1336, contributed to her canonization by Pope Urban VIII in 1625.

St. Andrew of Crete

St. Andrew of Crete

Feast date: Jul 04

Celebrated by Eastern Catholics of the Byzantine tradition on July 4, Saint Andrew of Crete was a seventh-and eighth-century monk, bishop, and hymn-writer.

Among Eastern Christians he is best known as the author of the “Great Canon,” a lengthy prayer service traditionally offered as a penitential practice during Lent. He is also venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, where he is better known for his writings on the Blessed Virgin Mary.

He should not be confused with a different “Saint Andrew of Crete,” celebrated on Oct. 17, who suffered martyrdom while defending the veneration of icons during the eighth century.

The author of the “Great Canon” was born in the Syrian city of Damascus in the mid-seventh century. He is said to have remained mute for the first seven years of his life, gaining the power of speech at age seven after the reception of Holy Communion.

Devoted to God from that time on, Andrew went to Jerusalem and entered the Monastery of Saint Sava when he was 15 years old. He went on to serve as a cleric of the Jerusalem Patriarchate, and was sent as a representative to the Sixth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople (680-681).

The council took up the monothelite controversy, a disagreement as to whether Christ had both a divine and a human will (as the Church teaches), or only a divine will. Though the question may seem abstract to modern ears, it was an important point, bearing on the reality of Jesus' full humanity.

In 685 Andrew returned to Constantinople, where he did charitable work for orphans and the poor, and served as a deacon in the great Hagia Sophia church. Around the year 700 he became archbishop of the city of Gortyna, on the island of Crete.

In 712, during a resurgence of the monothelite heresy, Andrew was forced to attend an illegitimate gathering in which the Byzantine emperor Philippicus Bardanes tried to reverse the decisions of the Sixth Council. Andrew's coerced attendance was questioned, but forgiven, by the reigning Pope Constantine.

Little is known about the rest of the archbishop's life, which ended peacefully, probably in 740. While his participation in the historic Sixth Council is important, St. Andrew of Crete’s legacy has more to do with his outstanding sermons and liturgical hymns, reflective of a deep interior life of faith.

The Great Canon, his most ambitious known work, takes around three hours to chant. It incorporates more than 200 full-body prostrations along with its many litanies, odes, and refrains. Surveying the Old and New Testaments, it stresses the urgency of repentance and conversion.

The service begins: “Where shall I begin to lament the deeds of my wretched life? What first-fruit shall I offer, O Christ, for my present lamentation? But in Thy compassion grant me release from my falls.”

“Come, wretched soul, with your flesh, confess to the Creator of all. In future refrain from your former brutishness, and offer to God tears in repentance.”

Interspersed throughout, is the Great Canon’s defining plea: “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me!”

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Feast date: Jul 04

July 4 marks the feast day of Pier Giorgio Frassati, a well-known young blessed of modern times. Born on April 6, 1901 in Turin to a wealthy agnostic family, he early in life found himself drawn to the faith and serving Christ in the poor. He was particularly known for his prayer and his great love of the outdoors.

Pier Giorgio’s friends described him as “an explosion of joy.” His sister Luciana in her biography of her brother says that “He represented the finest in Christian youth: pure, happy, enthusiastic about everything that is good and beautiful.” He loved sharing his faith and praying with his many friends.

At a young age after starting at a Jesuit school, Pier Giorgio received permission to receive communion daily, which was rare at the time. He also joined the Marian Sodality and Apostleship of Prayer. Often, he would spend hours of the night in an adoration chapel.

He was also known as an avid sportsman and loved the outdoors, particularly mountain climbing. He cultivated a deep appreciation for theater, opera, museums, and poetry, loving to quote Dante.

Pier Giorgio was deeply devoted to Catholic social teaching and serving the poor. He joined the People’s Party, based on the principles of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum, and was known to go to serve the poor in the slums, even giving away his bus fare money and running home to be on time for meals. As his sister said, “Catholic social teaching could never remain simply a theory with [Pier Giorgio].” He would forgo vacations as the family summer home because “If everybody leaves Turin, who will take care of the poor?”

He desired to become a mining engineer, studying at the Royal Polytechnic University of Turin, because he desired to “serve Christ better among the miners.”

He was also politically active, both against the communist as well as fascist causes in early 20th-century Italy. He stood up to police harassing a Church-sponsored protest in Rome once, grabbing a fallen banner and using it to rally his fellow students.

His love for balancing contemplation and action naturally led him to a love for the Dominican order, particularly after reading the sermons of Girolamo Savonarola and writings of St. Catherine of Siena. In 1922, he joined the Lay Dominicans, taking the name Girolamo after the fierce Renaissance preacher.

Pier Giorgio contracted polio shortly before he was to receive his degree, and doctors believed this was due to his tending to the sick in the slums. But even on his last night of life, his concern remained for the poor, using his paralyzed hand to scrawl a note asking a friend to take medicine to a poor man Converso.

Thousands turned out for his funeral. Many of the poor and needy who he had served for the past seven years came, and it was through their presence that his parents learned of his service. Just as his parents were surprised at the multitude of destitute and needy, those their son had served were surprised to learn that their friend was the heir to the wealthy and famous Frassati family.

In 1981, his remains were found to be incorrupt, and his body was transferred from the family tomb to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin.

At his beatification in 1990, St. John Paul II referred to him as the “Man of the Eight Beatitudes,” and recalled fondly that “I wanted to pay homage to a young man who was able to witness to Christ with singular effectiveness in this century of ours. When I was a young man, I, too, felt the beneficial influence of his example and, as a student, I was impressed by the force of his testimony.”

Photo: Saint Joseph via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


St. Ulric of Augsburg

St. Ulric of Augsburg

Feast date: Jul 04

St. Ulric was born in 890 at Kyburg, Zurich, Switzerland and died on July 4, 973 at Augsburg of natural causes.  He was buried in the Church of Saint Afra.

St. Ulric was born in 890 at Kyburg, Zurich, Switzerland as the son of Count Hucpald and Thetbirga. He was related to the dukes of Alamannia and the imperial family of the Ottos. He was a sickly child, but as a boy was educated at the monastic school of Saint Gall and proved to be an excellent student. He also served as chamberlain to his uncle, Blessed Adalbero, bishop of Augsburg.

He was ordained as Bishop of Augsburg on December 28, 923. During his tme as bishop, he built churches, visited from parish to parish, worked with the sick in hospitals, set a good example for his priests to follow, and brought relics from Rome. His good works paid off in the form of improved moral and social conditions for both the clergy and laity.

When the Magyars plundered Germany, they besieged Augsburg. Due to Ulric's courage, his leadership, and his ability to organize the resistance, Augsburg held firm until Emperor Otto arrived. On August 10, 955, a battle was fought in Lechfeld, and the invaders were finally defeated. Some legends say that Ulrich actually fought in the battle, but that was impossible.

After 48 years as bishop, an ill and exhausted Ulric resigned his seat, and handed the diocese over to his nephew-a move which had the blessing of the emporer, but which the Synod of Ingelheim ruled uncanonical, and they charged and tried the aging bishop for nepotism. Ulrich apologized, did penance, and was forgiven, the message of which reached him on his death bed.

A letter circulated for a while that indicated Ulric did not support priestly celibacy, seeing it as an unnecessary burden. However, this was later proven a forgery, and Ulric had certainly enforced the discipline upon himself as well as his clergy.

Ulric was the first saint to be canonized by a Pope, which led to the formal process that continues today. Legend has it that pregnant women who drank from his chalice had easy deliveries, and thus developed his patronage of pregnant women and easy births. The touch of his pastoral cross was used to heal people bitten by rabid dogs.

Ulric was canonized on February 3, 993, by Pope John XV.

'For the moment, no. Really!' – Pope Francis dismisses resignation rumors, says health is improving

Pope Francis / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Vatican City, Jul 4, 2022 / 06:12 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has said he has no plans to resign soon and that his knee injury is healing.

Reports of Francis resigning began to spread last month in light of three events to happen in late August, including the creation of new cardinals and a day trip to the Italian city of L’Aquila, which Benedict XVI visited in 2009, four years before announcing his own resignation. 

Pope Francis told Reuters in an interview published July 4 that “all of these coincidences made some think that the same ‘liturgy’ would happen. But it never entered my mind. For the moment no, for the moment, no. Really!”

The pope did say, as in the past, that he would consider resigning one day if he could no longer run the Church due to poor health, but only “God will say” when that might be.

The 90-minute interview with Reuters took place on July 2 in the Vatican’s Santa Marta guesthouse, where Pope Francis lives. He frequently holds meetings in a reception room on the building’s ground floor.

According to Reuters, the pope arrived for the interview using a cane.

He joked, “I’m still alive!” when asked how he was doing. He also explained that he had suffered “a small fracture” in his right knee after stepping wrongly with an inflamed ligament.

The fracture is healing, he said, with the help of laser and magnet therapy. “I am well, I am slowly getting better.”

Pope Francis expressed regret that, due to the knee injury, he had to cancel a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, scheduled for July 2-7, saying the decision caused him “much suffering.”

The decision came after doctors said he needs 20 more days of therapy and rest for his knee before he travels to Canada July 24-30.

The pope also brushed off rumors that he has cancer.

Some reports have claimed Francis is suffering from colon cancer after he underwent an operation to remove part of his large intestine due to diverticulitis one year ago.

“[The operation] was a great success,” he told Reuters, adding with a laugh that “they didn’t tell me anything” about the supposed cancer, which he dismissed as “court gossip.”

He added that he does not want to have surgery on his knee because of the negative side-effects of general anesthetic.

In the interview, Pope Francis also addressed the U.S Supreme Court’s recent Dobbs decision, and answered a question about pro-abortion Catholic politicians receiving Holy Communion.

He also spoke about the war in Ukraine and reiterated his desire to visit Kyiv and Moscow.

No pope has ever visited Moscow, but Francis hinted that there may now be an opening, even if Russian authorities told the Vatican several months ago it was not the right time.

“I would like to go [to Ukraine], and I wanted to go to Moscow first. We exchanged messages about this because I thought that if the Russian president gave me a small window to serve the cause of peace,” he said.

“And now it is possible,” he said, “after I come back from Canada, it is possible that I manage to go to Ukraine. The first thing is to go to Russia to try to help in some way, but I would like to go to both capitals.”

The pope said Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin has been in contact with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about a possible trip to the Russian capital.

Pope Francis condemns abortion in new comments about Roe v. Wade decision, responds to question on Communion

Pope Francis speaks to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Paul Pelosi after Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on June 29, 2022. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jul 4, 2022 / 03:43 am (CNA).

Pope Francis condemned abortion in new comments about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

When asked whether a Catholic politician who supports the right to choose abortion can receive the sacrament of Communion, he warned of bishops losing their “pastoral nature.”

Speaking to Reuters over the weekend, the pope said he respected the ruling in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, though he did not know enough to speak about the juridical aspects.

The interview, published July 4, said Francis compared abortion to “hiring a hit man.”

“I ask: Is it legitimate, is it right, to eliminate a human life to resolve a problem?” Pope Francis said.

He was also asked about the debate over whether Catholic politicians who promote legal abortion should be admitted to Holy Communion.

In May, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was barred from receiving Communion in her home diocese of San Francisco by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone because of her advocacy of abortion.

Pelosi (D-Calif.) reportedly received Holy Communion at a Mass with Pope Francis at the Vatican on June 29. It is not clear if the pope was aware that Pelosi attended, though the Vatican issued a photo showing the two greeting each other in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Pope Francis told Reuters: “When the Church loses its pastoral nature, when a bishop loses his pastoral nature, it causes a political problem. That’s all I can say.”

The 90-minute interview in Italian took place on July 2 in a reception room on the ground floor of the Vatican’s Santa Marta guesthouse, where the pope lives.

In addition to the abortion topic, the interview covered the pope’s health, resignation rumors, and the possibility of trips to Kyiv and Moscow.

This leadership expert is guiding faithful Catholics from the pew to the boardroom

Cristofer Pereyra is the CEO of Tepeyac Leadership, Inc. in Phoenix, Arizona. / Courtesy of TLI

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 3, 2022 / 11:18 am (CNA).

Many people assume “Catholic leadership” stops at the pulpit, the principal’s office, or the doors to the parish center. Cristofer Pereyra wants to broaden that mindset.

A former television reporter with Univision, Pereyra led the Hispanic Mission Office for the Diocese of Phoenix under Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted. But an experience in a civic leadership training program opened his eyes to another mission: Teaching faithful lay Catholics how to be effective leaders in society.

Pereyra discovered that these types of programs are shaping leaders in small towns and large cities across the U.S. While they provide practical guidance and excellent networking opportunities, they also tend to advance a secular agenda that’s at odds with the Catholic faith, he found.

That revelation motivated him to launch the Tepeyac Leadership Initiative, which offers a five-month-long training program designed specifically for lay Catholics. As the initiative explains on its website, the goal is to educate participants “in the core teachings of the Church and their concrete application to the career world.” 

Now Pereyra has a book out that distills the program’s key principles: Catholic Leadership for Civil Society: A Practical Guide on Authentic Lay Leadership,” co-written with Erin Monnin. Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles wrote the introduction.

CNA spoke with Pereyra recently about the book and his belief that all Catholics are called to be leaders. Here are some highlights of the discussion:

Why did you start the Tepeyac Leadership program and write the book?

What we're trying to do, what we've been trying to do for the past six years, is to show lay Catholics what it means to be a leader out in civil society. Moreover, we have been extending them an invitation to realize that this is just no longer an option. Our true vocation is to seek to become influential leaders in society so that we can influence others for Christ to bring us closer to Christ. This is particularly for professionals, people who have been blessed by God with a college education and a professional career. The leadership initiative is the flagship program for my organization, Tepeyac Leadership. In our five-month, 18-week program we are trying to change the minds of lay Catholics, and we're forming them. Then, we're sending them out with a very concrete mindset and a very concrete mission, and that is to insert themselves into the secular institutions of society.

What led you to want to make a difference in Catholic leadership?

I was working for Bishop Olmsted as the director of the Hispanic Mission Office. A representative of the diocese sent me to a local secular civic leadership development program in Phoenix, Arizona. Going through that experience opened my eyes to the world and the reality of civic leadership development in the United States. It is in every major city in the United States, as I discovered. They have been placing and catapulting people into local leadership positions in their community. So their aims and goals are for service, philanthropy, even politics. Most of our public elected officials in the United States get their feet wet through this program. I had mixed feelings going through the program because in most of the sessions and discussions, I tended to be the lone conservative or religious voice in the room. Most of these programs around the United States form leaders with values that directly counter Catholic teaching.  

I spoke to the bishop, and said, “I think this is not a bad idea. It's a noble concept. Who could be against forming leaders? It is just not being oriented right, the way they're doing it. I think we can do it better.” We borrowed a template from the secular world, and that's how Tepeyac Leadership got started. We named this project simply because we were inspired by the story of St. Juan Diego (who had an encounter with the Blessed Virgin Mary on a hill by that name.) We wanted to ask Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego to intercede for the future of the program, which they've done, tremendously. 

What is the objective, specifically?

For us, the preeminent field for leadership, for Catholic leaders and civil society, is board service (on the board of a business or other organization.) Our question is, “Where are the Catholics when big decisions are being made?” If there were any Catholics at all, they either lack the information or the courage to speak up for truth. So our objective as an organization is ultimately to form and prepare to send out and encourage committed Catholics to seek out seats at those tables where decisions are being made. Those are decisions that impact the culture. We simply want to help bring about the decisions, the right decisions, that will bring about the common good, guided by our Catholic faith. To do that, we need to be well-formed and have a seat at the table. 

Is the program restricted to top-level executives?

We have broadened the definition of “board service.” We definitely are referring to actual boards — governance boards, advisory boards, fundraising boards, nonprofits, for-profits, pay-based, non-pay based, all of it. We definitely want more Catholics on those boards. But we're expanding the definition. We are also talking about your local homeowner's association, your teacher association, boards for your local public school district, local municipality. Ultimately, we just need more people, well-formed and committed Catholics, in all those areas where decisions are being made. 

What does Jesus say about leadership?

I don't know that the word “leadership” itself is in the (Gospels). Jesus points us toward the type of leadership that we must become in many instances, like when he asks us to be perfect, like his Father is perfect. What is Jesus truly saying? We are human beings; we're not going to be perfect. What he's inviting us to do is to try to become the best versions of ourselves every single day. Strive to grow in virtue, all of the virtues that he modeled for us. If every day we enter into a lifelong commitment to shape and grow and build our character by growing in virtue, then we are striving to be perfect, like God the Father is perfect.

The Tepeyac Leadership Initiative (TLI) program, which costs $2,000 per person, consists of weekly, virtual, online sessions from February through June. Participants also attend an all-day retreat, either virtually or in person. The program has three tracks, grouped by time zone. For more information, visit TLI’s Frequently Asked Questions page.