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Prisoners meet Pope Francis before visiting Vatican Museums

Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Jun 21, 2021 / 05:05 am (CNA).

Inmates of a Rome prison met with Pope Francis Monday morning at the Vatican, before making a visit to the Vatican Museums.

The group of around 20 prisoners met Pope Francis shortly before 9 a.m. on June 21, at his Casa Santa Marta residence, the Vatican said.

/ Vatican Media
/ Vatican Media

They were accompanied by the prison director, chaplain, and officials. Afterward, they went to the Vatican Museums, which reopened to visitors on May 3.

The men who met Pope Francis are inmates of a low-security prison, part of the Rebibbia complex located in Rome’s east suburb. The prison caters to those with addictive disorders and includes a treatment center and program for inmates with substance dependence.

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

The prison, which can hold 163, currently has 70 inmates.

In March last year, at the start of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy, the Italian government prohibited visits to inmates.

Some inmates at the Rebibbia prison complex rioted in protest of the decision, and the prison’s chaplain said that fear about the virus contributed to the tense situation.

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

In other places in Italy, prisoners began setting fires, taking hostages, and raiding prison medical clinics. At least 12 inmates died in Italy in three days as a result of the riots.

According to the Ministry of Justice website, family visits are still suspended under Italy’s COVID-19 regulations.

Pope Francis offered his televised morning Mass on March 11, 2020, for prisoners following the riots.

“Today, in a special way, I would like to pray for those who are in prison, for our brothers and sisters … they suffer, and we must be near to them in prayer, asking that the Lord might help them and console them in this difficult moment,” he said.

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

Pope Francis has often shown his concern for prisoners.

In 2020, he chose a prison chaplain to write the meditations for the papal Stations of the Cross on Good Friday.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, it was also Francis’ tradition to celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a Rome prison or detention center. During Mass, the pope washed the feet of the prisoners.

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

In 2016, during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis held a Mass for prisoners and their families in St. Peter’s Basilica.

He encouraged the guests to have hope, and said that God’s mercy “invites us to keep looking ahead and to overcome our attachment to evil and sin through faith and abandonment in him.”

Around 1,000 prisoners and ex-prisoners from around the world were in attendance at the Mass, along with around 3,000 family members, prison employees, and chaplains.

Inmates of all types were included among the participants, including minors, people on house arrest, and those with varying sentences.

The pandemic has hit Catholic parishes hard. It’s also taken a toll on priests

Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.

London, England, Jun 21, 2021 / 03:25 am (CNA).

Today was supposed to be England’s “Freedom Day.” Back in February, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a weary populace that, all being well, the country could look forward to the end of a nationwide lockdown on June 21.

But all wasn’t well. With a third wave of COVID-19 spreading across the country, Johnson announced that the easing of restrictions in England would be delayed to July 19.

But with “Freedom Day” tantalizingly in sight, CNA spoke with pastors across England about the pandemic’s long-term impact on their parishes.

The conversations revealed that the coronavirus had not only hit parishes hard, but also exacted a deep toll on priests.

/ Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.
/ Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.

Parishioners lost

All of the pastors acknowledged that a significant number of parishioners had vanished during the crisis -- and were unlikely to return.

Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith, pastor of St. Peter’s, Hove, a seaside town in East Sussex, said that numbers were now about 60% of what they were before the pandemic, though giving was at around 70%.

He said: “The money situation is not as catastrophic as we thought it was because the people who disappeared tend to be those who were least committed and giving least money. They also tend to be the young.”

He explained that some young families were wary of bringing their boisterous children to Mass at a time of tight sanitary regulations.

“It’s not just in this parish, but in many parishes, this is the case,” he said. “This is going to have a knock-on effect also on the Catholic schools. Many of the Catholic schools are Catholic in name only. They’ve got declining numbers of Catholics in them. And I think that will carry on.”

“What’s going to happen in five, 10, 20 years’ time is that a lot of churches are going to close, simply because the money is not there to maintain these very expensive buildings.”

Conscious of the need to reconnect with parishioners, Lucie-Smith has visited local Catholic schools every week to talk to students and parents. His parish is also hosting a number of social events over the summer, including concerts and an initiative modeled on the Courtyard of the Gentiles.

Fr. Alexander Sherbrooke, pastor of St. Patrick’s, Soho, said the pandemic’s impact was so profound that it was possible to speak of “a pre-COVID and a post-COVID Church.”

Throughout the crisis, his parish in London’s West End has engaged in a remarkable outreach to the local homeless population, offering not only food, but also adoration, access to sacraments, and the rosary.

“The pandemic has obviously been a time of purification,” he said. “Certain people have fallen by the wayside. Others have remained faithful. But those who have remained faithful have really drilled down in their faith in certain key areas.”

“First of all, our volunteers -- there are a good 150 of them -- have developed a deep personal relationship with the poor. And so there’s a real sense of community, of mutual belonging.”

“Secondly, there’s a much deeper desire for a proper celebration of Mass, a deeper desire for adoration, more solemnity in the sacramental life. In other words, in the world of moving boundaries and lack of certainty, the liturgy, the Mass, adoration, is something which is ever more important.”

“And I think also what’s important to them is doctrinal clarity. If I’m going to be a Catholic now, post-COVID, I’ve got to be sure what I’m about, what I believe in, and how to articulate that.”

/ Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.
/ Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.

Fr. Rick McGrath, the pastor of St. Wilfrid’s, Burgess Hill, in the county of West Sussex, said that attendance was now up to “COVID capacity.”

Under current guidelines, all churches in England have a reduced capacity due to the requirement for “social distancing.” Some parishes have fewer Masses than before and require parishioners to book online.

McGrath, a 76-year-old Minnesota native, said that in addition to those who no longer attend Mass, there is a group of Catholics who watch the livestream but do not physically attend church.

He said that while he did not see this as ideal, it was “better than nothing if you’re housebound.”

In Fr. Stephen Pritchard’s parish, Our Lady of the Assumption, Gateacre, a suburb of Liverpool, a team has made hundreds of phone calls to parishioners throughout the pandemic. Despite these efforts to reach out, the parish has lost about 25% of Mass-goers.

“We’re trying to connect with a group of 100 people to see what situation they’re in, individually,” he said.

“They’ve all got different scenarios in their lives. So we have a group of people working on that now, ringing all those people up.”

/ Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.
/ Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.

“I think that for some Catholics this is the exit moment and they will have disaffiliated,” he said, stressing that it is vital for the Church to “know who people are” and not “break the thread with people.”

“The local and the personal are really significant,” he said. “But also, I think there’s an opportunity here for the whole Church in the country to look again at ‘What does the Eucharist mean?’”

“The Eucharist is indispensable, irreplaceable, and of highest worth to Catholics. So what does that really mean for us now, especially those people who maybe ‘watch Mass’ on a Sunday in their pajamas having a cup of tea. What does it mean to be a Eucharistic community?”

He referred to a message called “The Day of the Lord,” issued by the bishops of England and Wales in April. The bishops appealed for Sunday Mass to be restored “to its rightful centrality,” after Catholics were dispensed from the obligation to attend at the start of the pandemic.

“It was good that the bishops signaled the importance of the Eucharist in the lives of Catholics,” Pritchard said. “I felt encouraged by what the bishops said.”

“I think we need more of a dialogue, nationally, to talk about what is the significance of the Eucharist for us as Catholics today.”

Other priests said that they had felt disconnected from the Church’s national leadership during the crisis and wanted more guidance on how to rebuild their parishes after the pandemic.

/ Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.
/ Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.

Turning outwards

Pritchard noted a new desire among his parishioners to go out and serve the wider community.

“There’s been a real sense of a willingness to reengage with our local community in a way that we haven’t done as much before,” he said.

“There’s always been an outward focus but it’s really been made real in the last 14 months.”

While Mass numbers have dropped, the collection has increased. The parish has supported an initiative that feeds 700 local people a week. Donations to the food bank have risen fourfold.

“How the parish rallied around and contributed to that I think was amazing,” he said.

McGrath, who is responsible for several churches, said that he had noticed a similar phenomenon in his parish.

“We’ve had a fair number of elderly parishioners who aren’t on email or the internet. We’ve got people who come every Friday afternoon and pick up stacks of newsletters and deliver them -- food banks, shopping for people, all of that. It’s been terrific,” he said.

/ Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.
/ Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.

Moving online

Lucie-Smith said that livestreamed Masses and online sacramental courses were likely to continue after the pandemic. But he felt they were a poor substitute for face-to-face encounters.

Pritchard agreed that the “hybrid model” of sacramental preparation would endure, with a mixture of online and in-person meetings.

“We have been doing our baptism preparation via Zoom and that’s been quite successful. There have been good benefits. Part of it, I think, we would keep hybrid,” he said.

Sherbrooke is committed to livestreaming Sunday Mass for as long as necessary. He suggested that livestreamed Eucharistic adoration, in particular, was valuable as viewers could share their prayer requests online while it was taking place.

McGrath, a self-declared “technophobe,” praised parents in his parish who have helped to prepare children for their First Communion via the internet.

But he said he hoped that online meetings would not be the norm after the pandemic.

“I admit I’m speaking from an old age and I’m not very good on technology, but I just don’t see how the Church can exist without that sense of community -- real, living community,” he commented.

/ Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.
/ Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.

Burning out

Lucie-Smith, a seemingly eternally youthful priest, said that the pandemic had drained him of energy.

“There was a headline in the paper I saw that said that people who worked throughout the pandemic are now burnt out. I think that applies to a lot of clergy,” he said.

“I really do feel that I am completely burnt out.”

Sherbrooke suggested that priests have been affected by the pervasive sense of loneliness associated with lockdown.

“I think that because the priest by definition needs people around him, when those people have been taken away, there’s a real sense of loss. I think that’s been terrible for priests and some will have fallen by the wayside,” he said.

Pritchard observed that priests have had to cope with constant change throughout the pandemic. They have had to master complex, ever-evolving regulations to prevent the spread of the virus, while overcoming new obstacles to serve their parishioners.

/ Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.
/ Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.

“I think that priests have been incredibly resourceful, have dug deep to lead in new ways. Many have had to upskill in innumerable ways. Having to adapt to constant changes has been wearisome,” he said.

“The first lockdown for me was not only looking after funerals in my own churches but two other churches where the priest was shielding. So much death and only relating to people remotely was very challenging. We need to care for priests as many are not too good at sharing their needs with others.”

Another pastor mentioned that he had heard of two priests committing suicide in the past 12 months. He did not know if the cases were related to COVID-19, but speculated that the pandemic might have been a factor.

In contrast, McGrath noted that some priests were thriving amid the pandemic.

“Like the general population, it is my impression that some priests have suffered some anxiety during all this, but those in my area, or that I am in contact with, seem to have done very well: following the rules and guidelines, but not slavishly, and reintroducing Masses and baptisms as soon as possible,” he said.

“One friend of mine, still working despite long-term cancer, has actually blossomed in all this. Because of his health, he had reduced his weekday Masses, but he reinstated daily Mass and still does three weekend ones, and rising to the challenge also of livestreaming, spends a great deal of time preparing superb homilies every day.”

“I can’t speak for everyone, and I do know of at least one priest (fairly newly ordained) who is off with depression. But overall it seems to me that most have done their best and that has been pretty good.”

Currently, it’s not possible to quantify the number of priests in England suffering from pandemic burnout. The priests CNA spoke with may be unrepresentative. But their comments suggest that, as “Freedom Day” approaches, the deeper impact of the coronavirus crisis on the Church may only just be coming to light.

Statement by UN ‘experts’ seeks to discredit the Holy See

The meeting room of the United Nations Human Rights Council, in the Palace of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. / Ludovic Courtès via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Rome Newsroom, Jun 20, 2021 / 14:35 pm (CNA).

A group of U.N. “experts” is expected to issue a statement aimed at forcing the Holy See and the Catholic Church to surrender to abortion and gender ideology, under the guise of demanding that the Vatican takes all necessary steps to prevent abuse.

With the Human Rights Council’s latest session due to begin on June 21, experts from the U.N., including several special rapporteurs, are poised to publish a statement urging the Holy See to introduce all necessary measures to prevent sex abuse.

The statement, which goes beyond the capacities of the U.N. experts, has the hallmarks of an attempt to undermine Catholic doctrine by using the sex abuse scandals.

In February 2014, a report by the Committee of the U.N. Convention for the Rights of the Child waded into the Church’s teaching on human sexuality and canon law. In May 2014, a report from the Committee of the U.N. Convention against Torture tried to consider the abuse of children as torture to push the Holy See to introduce new measures.

In December 2019, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, the then U.N. Special Rapporteur on sale and sexual exploitation of children, praised Pope Francis’ decision that the pontifical secret would no longer apply in cases of accusations and trials involving abuse of minors or vulnerable persons.

But the Dutch jurist also urged the Vatican to “enforce mandatory reporting for all clergy and staff who have knowledge of these heinous acts.”

In the end, the final scope of these statements is to force the Holy See to change canon law to adapt it to a “human rights protocol” that subtly backs or mentions “gender perspective” and “sexual and reproductive rights” (that is, a push for the “right” to abortion).

In the statement, which CNA has seen in advance of publication, the experts refer to a letter addressed to the Holy See in April 2021, where they expressed “utmost concern about the numerous allegations around the world of sexual abuse and violence committed by members of the Catholic Church against children, and about the measures adopted by the Catholic Church to protect alleged abusers, cover up crimes, obstruct accountability of alleged abusers and evade reparations due to victims.”

The experts complained that the Holy See’s concordats and agreements with states “limit the ability of the civil authority to question, compel the production of documents, or prosecute people associated with the Catholic Church.”

They also asked the authorities of the Holy See “to refrain from obstructive practices and to cooperate fully with the civil, judicial, and law enforcement authorities of the countries concerned.”

The statement also targets two Catholic principles. The first is the seal of confession, which prevents priests from reporting the contents of confessions to civil authorities.

On July 1, 2019, the Apostolic Penitentiary issued a note reiterating that the seal of confession is inviolable. The note responded to the increasing attacks on the seal of confession in many countries, such as Australia and Chile.

The second principle is that of the Holy See’s sovereignty. The experts specifically want to see an end to the distinction between the Holy See and the Vatican City State, which ensures the protection of religious freedom, so that states can have full jurisdiction over the Catholic Church.

The letter follows up the statement of Maud de Boer-Buquicchio and will be signed by four other special rapporteurs. Special rapporteurs are part of the U.N. system. They work on a voluntary basis and are independent of any government or organization.

The April letter sent to the Holy See lists several cases: a German bishops’ conference 2018 report on abuse; a commission on abuse set up by the French bishops’ conference; the issue of residential schools in Canada, which the pope recently addressed at the end of his June 13 Angelus; a Chilean report on abuse, which lists 344 allegations; 12 allegations of abuse disclosed by the archbishop of Bogotà, Colombia, in 2019; the case of the Provolo Institute in Argentina; and also abuse cases within the Legionaries of Christ.

The letter also refers to the Holy See’s participation in the 1990 Convention for the Child’s Rights and the Convention against Torture.

The request of the experts goes, however, beyond their capacity, knowledge, or authority. The experts cannot urge a state to adopt procedures or to change its law. Nor can they question how a state is putting into action their proposals.

Figures consulted by CNA suggest that the U.N. experts are bent on using their position to “give the Holy See a pie in the face,” pushing for doctrinal changes in the Catholic Church and, at the same time, weakening the Holy See as a state and an actor in the international arena.

Pope Francis: How often do we fixate on our problems rather than bringing them to God?

Pope Francis delivers his Angelus address on June 13, 2021. / Vatican Media/CNA

Vatican City, Jun 20, 2021 / 06:05 am (CNA).

In his Angelus message this Sunday, Pope Francis offered a reminder that the Lord wants us to seek his presence in the trials and storms of life.

“How often do we remain fixated on problems rather than going to the Lord and casting our concerns upon him?” the pope asked the pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square on June 20.

“Today, let us ask for the grace of a faith that never tires of seeking the Lord, of knocking at the door of his Heart,” he said.

Speaking from the window of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, the pope reflected on the Gospel account of the disciples caught in a storm at sea as Jesus slept on their boat. Filled with fear, the disciples cried out to the Lord, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?”

Pope Francis said: “Quite often, we too, beaten by the trials of life, have cried out to the Lord: ‘Why do you remain silent and do nothing for me?'”

“Especially when it seems we are sinking, because of love or the project in which we have laid great hopes disappears; or when we are at the mercy of the unrelenting waves of anxiety; or when we feel we are drowning in problems or lost in the middle of the sea of life, with no course and no harbor.”

The pope urged that it is important to remember that even though Jesus was sleeping on the boat during the storm with his disciples, the Lord was there.

“The Lord is there, present. In fact, he expects -- so to speak -- that we will engage him, to invoke him, to put him at the center of what we are experiencing. His slumber causes us to wake up. Because to be disciples of Jesus it is not enough to believe God is there, that he exists, but we must put ourselves out there with him; we must also raise our voice with him, cry out to him,” he said.

“Today we can ask ourselves: what are the winds that beat against my life? What are the waves that prevent my navigation and endanger my spiritual life, my family life, and my mental health as well? Let us tell all this to Jesus; let us tell him everything,” the pope said. “He wants this; he wants us to grab hold of him to find shelter from the unexpected waves of life.”

After praying the Angelus in Latin, the pope appealed for people in Burma, who are suffering hunger and displacement in the wake of the government’s violent crackdown on people protesting the Feb. 1 coup.

“I join my voice to that of the bishops of Myanmar, who last week launched an appeal calling to the attention of the whole world the harrowing experience of thousands of people in that country who are displaced and are dying of hunger,” the pope said.

The country’s Catholic bishops issued a statement June 11 appealing for peace, a humanitarian corridor in the conflict zones, and respect for the sanctity of places of worship.

The bishops also asked the Catholic dioceses of Burma “to launch into a period of intense prayer, seeking compassion in the hearts of all and peace to this nation” with daily Mass, adoration, and the rosary.

"May the Heart of Christ touch the hearts of all bringing peace to Myanmar,” Pope Francis said.

The pope also marked World Refugee Day, and said that the day is a reminder to “open our hearts to refugees” and to “make their sadness and joys our own.”

“May we learn from their courageous resilience. And so, all together, we will make a more human community grow as one big family,” he said.

Pope Francis commented that this Sunday’s Gospel of the disciples caught in the storm at sea reminded him of the many refugees who travel in boats and cry out to God in their need.

“This is the beginning of our faith: to recognize that alone we are unable to stay afloat; that we need Jesus like sailors need the stars to find their course. Faith begins from believing that we are not enough for ourselves, from feeling in need of God,” he said.

“When we overcome the temptation to close ourselves off, when we overcome the false religiosity that does not want to disturb God, when we cry out to him, he can work wonders in us. It is the gentle and extraordinary power of prayer, which works miracles.”

Leah Darrow: ‘Babies Do Not Kill Dreams’

Leah Darrow on EWTN Pro-Life Weekly / EWTN

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 19, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Leah Darrow is calling on society to recognize the beauty of children and to challenge the notion that abortion is necessary for women’s sucess.

Darrow rose to fame as a contestant on America’s Next Top Model. But at the height of her modeling career, she saw a vision from God that forever changed her life. She exited the industry and returned to her Catholic faith. Today, she juggles her time between caring for her six children and serving as a Catholic speaker and advocate for the unborn.

As a mother, she said, she embraces the pro-life position on a personal level.

“I can understand there being a fear of going into motherhood and all the concerns we have because it is such a grand vocation – it's a beautiful vocation,” she told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly June 10. “But my babies have not kept me from my hopes and my dreams or aspirations.”

While some celebrities and, more recently, Texas high school valedictorian Paxton Smith, claim that abortion is necessary for women to succceed, Leah stressed that her children make her – and the world – better.

“They've helped me dig a new path that's offered more clarity of what God has called me to be,” she explained. “My babies are a part of my dreams, they're a part of my hopes and my aspirations. And the world is truly better for it, because of my children and also for who I am because of my children in the world.”

Even if the world doesn’t appreciate it, motherhood is a gift.

“Our culture has slowly and systematically convinced us that motherhood is the enemy. And motherhood is not a dream and it's not an aspiration and it's not a hope that young women should have,” she said. “That is a lie.” 

According to Darrow, motherhood “is not a killer of dreams.” She pointed to Mary as an example.

“We know that Our Blessed Mother is a mother of every hope and every dream and every aspiration that should be at the foundation of our heart,” she said of Christ’s Mother. “The role of motherhood really needs to be redeemed in our world.”

Darrow’s comments came in response to Smith, whose valedictorian speech when viral earlier this month after she went off-script to speak about abortion and her state’s recent heartbeat legislation.

Smith told her class, “I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail, I am terrified that if I am raped, then my hopes and aspirations and dreams and efforts for my future will no longer matter.”

But Leah stressed hope in the midst of Smith's fear. 

“Now more than ever, mothers have more support and resources around them if and when they are ever faced with an unplanned pregnancy,” Leah said. Those resources include pregnancy centers, which offer pregnant women and new moms free help in the form of health care, clothing, educational classes, and housing.

Pro-lifers must also challenge the lie that abortion is necessary for women, Darrow said. 

“That's what we have to be at root at and to root out,” she emphasized, “because babies do not kill dreams, only abortion does that.”

Pope Francis: The humble service of a deacon tells of the greatness of God

Pope Francis meets with deacons and their families at the Vatican on June 19, 2021. / Vatican Media/CNA

Vatican City, Jun 19, 2021 / 07:05 am (CNA).

Pope Francis met with deacons and their families Saturday at the Vatican and encouraged them to help their parishes to recognize Jesus in the poor.

“Deacons remind the Church that what Saint Thérèse discovered is true: the Church has a heart inflamed by love. Yes, a humble heart beating with service,” the pope said June 19.

“The generosity of a deacon, who gives of himself without seeking the front ranks, has about him the perfume of the Gospel. He tells of the greatness of God's humility in taking the first step … to meet even those who have turned their backs on him,” he said.

The pope welcomed deacons from the diocese of Rome to the Vatican’s Hall of Blessings, where he expressed to each of them the importance of their distinct ministry in the life of the Church.

“The decrease in the number of priests has led to a prevailing engagement of deacons to substitute them in tasks which, however important, do not constitute the specific nature of the diaconate. They are substitute tasks,” he said.

Pope Francis cited the dogmatic constitution, Lumen Gentium, which describes the diaconate a ministry in which “hands are imposed not unto the priesthood, but unto a ministry of service.”

He said: “The Council, after speaking of service to the People of God ‘in the diaconate of the liturgy, of the word and of charity”, emphasises that deacons are above all - above all - “dedicated to duties of charity and of administration (Lumen Gentium, 29).’”

“The phrase recalls the early centuries, when deacons looked after the needs of the faithful, especially the poor and the sick, in the name and on behalf of the bishop. We can also draw on the roots of the Church of Rome.”

The pope encouraged the deacons to follow Christ by embracing his “logic” of lowering oneself.

“We are all called to lower ourselves, because Jesus stooped to us, He made himself the servant of all. If there is one great person in the Church, it is the one who made him- or herself the smallest, and servant of all,” Pope Francis said.

“I expect you to be humble. It is sad to see a bishop and a priest showing off, but it is even sadder to see a deacon wanting to put himself at the centre of the world, or at the centre of the liturgy, or at the centre of the Church. Be humble. Let all the good you do be a secret between you and God. And so it will bear fruit,” he said.

Deacons can also serve the community through their witness as good spouses, fathers, and grandfathers.

“This will give hope and consolation to couples who are going through difficult times and who will find in your genuine simplicity an outstretched hand,” he said.

The pope added: “Doing everything with joy, without complaining; this is a testimony that is worth more than many sermons.”

Deacons can act as “sentinels” for their parish, he said, by helping “to help the Christian community to recognize Jesus in the poor and the distant, as He knocks on our doors through them.”

“Whatever the need, see the Lord. So you, too, recognize the Lord when, in so many of his little brothers and sisters, He asks to be fed, to be welcomed and loved. I would like this to be the profile of the deacons of Rome and of the whole world,” Pope Francis said.

Baja California legislature inserts same-sex marriage into state constitution

Sara Valenti/Shutterstock

Mexicali, Mexico, Jun 19, 2021 / 06:00 am (CNA).

The Baja California legislature amended the state constitution Wednesday to include same-sex marriage, which pro-life activists have called a "grave attack against Baja California families."

The Baja California legislature approved gay marriage by a vote of 18 to 4, with 1 abstention, on June 16.

El Universal reported that lawmakers amended Article 7 of the state constitution to recognize marriage as the union of two people, and no longer as the union of one man and one woman.

The National Front for the Family said that "marriage between a man and a woman is the institution that provides the conditions for the integral and full development of children."

The organization pointed out that with Baja California’s approval of gay marriage, "the term marriage is emptied of its content and it eliminates support in the law for the family."

The NFF charged that by voting for gay marriage, legislators belonging to the Morena party (National Regeneration Movement) of Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the "PT (Labor Party) and Movimiento Ciudadano (Citizens’ Movement) party seriously attacked Baja California families.”

The lawmakers "didn't listen to the voice of an entire society that made them see the real needs of the state" and "decided to vote in favor of the decomposition of the family and against the well-being of thousands of children."

The coordinator of the NFF in Baja California, Marcela Vaquera, charged that “the legislators who didn’t listen to the voice of the citizens of our state and who voted to amend our Constitution dealt a severe blow to the stability of the family.”

“As parents, we seek redress from the legislators because with the legalization of same-sex marriage, the door is opened to actions that we consider unjust to our children such as transgender bathrooms in schools, activist education on sexual diversity, transgender surgeries, without parents being able to intervene,” Vaquera said.

Rodrigo Iván Cortés, president of the NFF, said that it’s “lamentable that the Baja California legislators aren’t prioritizing the family and its needs regarding healthcare, the economy and security, and this proves to us that the legislators are obeying and kowtowing to ideologies that severely harm society and even more so our children."

"Nevertheless, the NFF will continue on the national level to promote the strengthening of the family and safeguarding the innocence of our children," Cortés said.

Sinaloa also legalized same-sex marriage, on June 15.

EU founding father Robert Schuman declared 'venerable' by Pope Francis

Robert Schuman in August 1949. Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-19000-2453 (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Vatican City, Jun 19, 2021 / 05:45 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has declared venerable the French statesman Robert Schuman, known as a key “founding father" of the European Union.

After a June 19 meeting with Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the pope advanced the sainthood causes of Schuman and six others.

“Schuman dedicated his life to serving the common good, seeking peace and reconciliation with Germany to create a community of European states,” Fr. Bernard Ardura, an official in charge of proposed French canonizations, told AFP.

Schuman’s efforts were “the work of a Christian, which serves as an example,” said Fr. Ardura, even if the statesman “remained very discreet about his personal life and his faith.”

Robert Schuman was born in Luxembourg in 1886. He had family roots in Lorraine, contested territory lost by France to Germany in the Franco-Prussian War. After Lorraine returned to France, Schuman served as one of the region’s Members of Parliament, in the Christian Democrat political tradition.

At one point during the Second World War, he was arrested by the Gestapo and secretly imprisoned, according to his biography on the website of the Robert Schuman European Centre.

He was France’s Minister of Foreign Relations when he announced the forming of the European Steel and Coal Community on May 9, 1950. The move is considered a first step towards the creation of the European Union.

Schuman was also a key negotiator for the North Atlantic Treaty and the European Coal and Steel Community. He served as the first President of the European Parliament which named him “Father of Europe” when he left office.

Schuman died in the Diocese of Matz in 1963. His cause for sainthood began there over 30 years ago.

With the new decree, Pope Francis also recognized a miracle attributed to Venerable Johann Philipp Jeningen, a 17th century Jesuit priest from Bavaria, Germany, paving the way for his beatification.

Fr. Jeningen was known for his holiness, asceticism, and missionary efforts. He dreamed of being sent as a missionary to India in the footsteps of his hero St. Francis Xavier, but instead was called to create a Marian shrine in neighboring Ellwangen, Our Lady of Schönenberg, which drew many pilgrims.

Ten religious sisters martyred during the Soviet occupation in Poland will also be beatified with the papal authorization of the decree.

Sister M. Paschalis Jahn and nine companions of the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Elizabeth were killed by Red Army soldiers in 1945 as they served the sick and vulnerable. One of the martyred sisters, Sister Rosaria (Elfrieda) Schilling, was raped by about 30 Red Army soldiers before she was shot.

The sainthood causes of three other religious sisters also advanced with the decree. The pope recognized the heroic virtue of Aniela Róża Godecka (1861-1937), who founded the Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Poland; Italian nun Orsola Donati (1849-1935) of the Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Mother of Sorrows; and Sister Maria Stella of Jesus (1899-1982) of the Congregation of the Religious of Mary Immaculate in Spain.

Servant of God Fr. Severino Fabriani (1792-1857), the founder of the Congregation of the Daughters of Providence for the deaf in Italy, was also declared venerable.

Pope Francis spoke highly of Robert Schuman in a letter signed on Oct. 22, encouraging Europeans to “rediscover the path of fraternity that inspired and guided the founders of modern Europe, beginning precisely with Robert Schuman.”

St. John Paul II also praised Schuman in 2003 for spending his political life “in the service of the fundamental values of freedom and solidarity, understood fully in the light of the Gospel.”

Marian statue untouched by car bombing at army base in Colombia

A statue of the Virgin Mary was unharmed by an attack carried out against the 30th Brigade of Colombia’s National Army. / Eduardo Enrique Zapateiro Altamiranda

Cucuta, Colombia, Jun 19, 2021 / 05:19 am (CNA).

A statue of the Virgin Mary was unharmed by an attack carried out against the 30th Brigade of Colombia’s National Army on Wednesday.

A car bomb exploded June 16 at the military base in Cúcuta, injuring 36 people.

The Diocese for the Military of Colombia said on social media that he intact image serves to "maintain the faith among the soldiers,"  and that there’s a feeling of "a miracle, of life and faith." 

The military diocese pointed out that the "Virgin of Protection", which remained intact after the explosions, "was handmade by the soldiers who are stationed with the Land Operations Battalion No. 9, right where the truck with explosives was.”

"The history of this Virgin dates back to December 2020, when it was determined that it would be located in that place, which was declared holy ground," the diocese explained.

The wife of Brigadier General Oliverio Pérez Mahecha, Patricia Pérez, proposed the design for the image of the Virgin, which was made of recyclable material.

The commander of the Colombian National Army, General Eduardo Zapateiro Altamiranda, said on Twitter that "violence will never overcome divine protection."

"Close to the explosion generated by the terrorist action in the 30th Brigade, solidly in place and unsullied, the Virgin Mother of the country's soldiers protected us and will protect us," he added.

The commander of the Army's 2nd Division, General Marco Evangelista Pinto, confirmed to the Colombian news outlet Noticias Caracol that the explosions occurred inside the garrison, very close to the entrance, mainly affecting the barracks and offices.

In a statement to the press, Defense Minister Diego Molano "vehemently condemned this vile act that intended to inflict bodily harm on our soldiers." Molana said the initial hypothesis is that the National Liberation Army, a left-wing guerrilla group, “is behind this insane and vile act.”

"The involvement of dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is also a subject of the investigation," he added.

The Colombian bishops’ conference deplored the attack and expressed its "deep sorrow for the people who have been injured and for the damage caused."

“Nothing justifies these insane and blind acts, which deeply wound human dignity and constitute a very serious offense against the whole of humanity, as they are one of the most brutal forms of violence," the conference said.

The Colombian bishops assured their prayers for the "victims of this cruel attack" and their closeness and solidarity to the families and loved ones of those injured.

"We invite the Catholic community to continue praying so that all violence between us is ended and that the united Colombian people can overcome evil through the power of good," they said.

Bishop José Libardo Garcés Monsalve of Malaga-Soata, who is also serving as apostolic administrator of Cúcuta, said that the Cúcuta diocese "resolutely rejects all acts of violence" and that the attack causes "terror, pain, uncertainty and mistrust in the Colombian people."

"We convey our deepest and sincere feelings of solidarity and closeness to the families and victims of the attack, and we have already entrusted their care and speedy recovery to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the patriarch Saint Joseph," he added.

Bishop Garcés made "an urgent call to the perpetrators of these events" to not get carried away by the whirlwind of violence that "is stirred up with hatred and revenge, and rather with the participation of all, we may find a way out through dialogue, forgiveness and reconciliation.”

May Cúcuta “continue to be the place where fraternity and charity, love and respect for life are our greatest bastions in the achievement of peace. and the progress of the communities present in this border region,” he prayed.

The bishop also invited all people of good will "to pray ever more earnestly and with perseverance," asking God to keep Colombia "in the heart of his Son, a place where you learn to love and forgive."

Car bombings were once not uncommon in the Colombian conflict, which has been ongoing among the government, right-wing paramilitaries, and left-wing guerrillas since 1964.

The conflict has abated since a 2016 peace deal between the government and the largest guerrilla group, the FARC.

In January 2019 a car bomb attack at a police academy in Bogota killed 21. A vehicle carrying 175 pounds of pentolite, a military-grade explosive, accelerated into the General Santander police academy after being stopped at a checkpoint. The pentolite detonated when the SUV struck a wall. The academy was holding a promotion ceremony for cadets.

The Colombian president has not taken up peace talks with the ELN.

Religious sisters in Illinois recovering after car crash

Chaikom/Shutterstock.

Springfield, Ill., Jun 18, 2021 / 21:01 pm (CNA).

Three Catholic sisters are on the mend following a multi-car crash in Springfield, Illinois that prompted an outpouring of prayers and support from the local community. 

The sisters of the order of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George - Sr. M. Magdalene, FSGM, Sister M. Clementia, FSGM, and Sister M. Michael, FSGM - were in a car that was struck from behind June 9 by another driver. The sisters’ car was propelled into another car and “became an accordion,” said Sr. Clementia.

As of June 15, Sr. Clementia and Sr. Magdalene had both been released from the hospital to recover at their motherhouse. Sr. Michael underwent hip reconstruction surgery at St. Louis University Hospital and is still hospitalized. 

“In God’s mercy and with all our prayers, our Sisters are now on the recovery path,” said Mother M. Mediatrix, FSGM, provincial superior of the community, to The Catholic Post. 

“We continue to pray for their full and complete healing and for anyone else that may have suffered injury in this multi-car accident,” said Mother Mediatrix, FSGM.  “We give God our gratitude and love.” 

Sr. Clementia suffered a broken left leg, ribs, and vertebrae, and will have to wear a back brace for the next 12 weeks. She told The Catholic Post, the newspaper of the Diocese of Peoria, that she was lucky she wasn’t killed in the crash. 


“We shouldn’t be here,” she said to The Catholic Post. “So many miraculous things happened.”

Sr. Clementia said that she escaped more serious injury when her legs somehow were pushed to the top of the car’s dashboard. 

“Had they not, I would have been crushed under the car,” she explained. 

In an unusual coincidence, some of the first responders to the crash scene were a bishop, a priest, and a seminarian. They were a few cars behind the sisters when the crash occurred, and immediately ran to the sisters. 

Sr. Clementia could not recall the name of the bishop, but thinks he was from Texas. 

“I looked at the bishop and at first I’m thinking, ‘Is that a bishop?’” she said to The Catholic Post. The mystery bishop “went right to work on anointing us and praying over us. It was incredible.”

In response to the crash, the diocese responded with an outpouring of prayers, including two prayer vigils, to support the sisters in their recovery. 

“That’s gotten us all through it,” said Sr. Clementia. “It amazes me. It’s so beautiful.”

Sr. Clementia said that the prayers are strengthening her to “fight for my recovery, and it shows me there really is beauty in suffering, joy in suffering.”

“I never understood that until now,” she said.