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Top Vatican communications officer resigns after 'Lettergate' fiasco

Vatican City, Mar 21, 2018 / 05:42 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Msgr. Dario Edoardo Vigano as prefect of the Secretariat for Communications in wake of what has been dubbed by many as the 'Lettergate' scandal, which has dominated Catholic media the past week.

The announcement was made in a March 21 statement from Vatican spokesman Greg Burke, who said said Msgr. Lucio Adrián Ruiz, secretary of the Vatican communications office, will take charge until a new prefect is named.

In his letter submitting his resignation, which was published March 21 alongside Francis' response, Vigano said that recent days “many controversies have arisen regarding my work which, beyond intentions, destabilizes the complex and great task of reform which you entrusted to me.”

He thanked the Pope for his accompaniment and generosity, and for the sake of avoiding the “delay” of the reform and for “love of the Church,” he tenured his resignation.  

In his letter of response, Francis said that after speaking with Vigano and after a “long and attentive reflection,” he accepted the prefect's resignation. He thanked Vigano for his service, and offered his blessing.

The fiasco began last week after the Monday, March 12, launch of the 11-book series “The Theology of Pope Francis,” published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana, the Vatican publishing house overseen by the Vatican's Secretariat for Communications.

A letter from Benedict XVI praising Francis' theological and philosophical formation was read aloud at the event, however, the Vatican's Secretariat for Communications later admitted to tampering with an image of the letter that was sent to media, blurring out lines in which Benedict said that he had not read the full series, and so could not give an in-depth analysis.

Days later another twist was added to the scandal when it was revealed that further paragraphs had been left out in which Benedict questioned the inclusion in the series of a theologian known for his “anti-papal initiatives.”

After receiving pressure from the media, the Secretariat for Communications published the full letter March 17, which they said was confidential and never intended to be published in its entirety.

Msgr. Vigano was tapped to head the secretariat for communications in 2015 with a mandate to reform and streamline the Vatican's various communications entities. The recent scandal surrounding the letter has been likened by reporters to the first “Vatileaks” scandal in 2012, when Benedict XVI's personal butler leaked some of his private letters to the press.

Holy Communion unites us to Christ, Francis says

Vatican City, Mar 21, 2018 / 04:58 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At Wednesday's general audience, Pope Francis said our participation in the Holy Eucharist at Mass is not a merely spiritual communion, but a sacramental one, uniting us to Christ and his Church.

“The celebration of the Mass… is ordered to sacramental Communion. It is not a spiritual communion. No, [it is] a sacramental communion,” he said March 21.

“While it unites us to Christ, tearing us from our selfishness, Communion opens and unites us to all those who are one in Him. Here is the wonder of Communion: we become what we receive!”

Pope Francis continued his catechesis on the Mass by outlining and explaining the second part of the Communion Rite in light of the passage from the Gospel of John where Jesus says: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

When we receive Holy Communion, we must let ourselves be changed, he said, because as St. Augustine said, “every time we approach the Eucharist, we are transformed into Jesus.”

“As bread and wine are converted into the Body and Blood of the Lord, so those who receive them with faith are transformed into a living Eucharist,” Francis continued, explaining the parts of the Mass.

After the Sign of Peace, the priest holds up the consecrated host and says: “Blessed are the guests at the Lord's Supper: here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

These words are inspired by a passage from the Book of Revelation: “Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb,” he said.

“This invitation calls us to experience the intimate union with Christ, source of joy and holiness. It is an invitation that rejoices and at the same time leads to an examination of conscience illuminated by faith.”

“If on the one hand, in fact, we see the distance that separates us from the holiness of Christ, on the other we believe that his Blood is ‘shed for the remission of sins.’”

As an aside, Francis reminded Christians that they have already been pardoned through the grace bestowed at their baptism and are forgiven again every time they approach the Sacrament of Penance, because “Jesus forgives us always,” he said.

Repeating a favorite phrase, he emphasized that “Jesus does not tire of forgiving us, it is we who tire of asking for forgiveness.”

The Pope also quoted St. Ambrose, who, thinking of the salvific power of the blood of Christ, said: “I who always sin, must always have the remedy.”

With the same faith, Francis said, we also turn our gaze to the Lamb of God, praying to him with the words: “O Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

This is the point in the Mass where we go up to receive the Eucharist, which is “a meeting with Jesus,” he said.  

He also explained that though the entirety of Christ is present under each of the two species of the Eucharist, both Body and Blood, the Church believes that the “Eucharistic banquet is expressed with greater fullness if Holy Communion is made under the two species.”

He also noted Church teaching that the faithful may receive communion either “standing up with devotion, or kneeling,” as determined by the local bishops’ conference, and that the faithful receive “the sacrament in the mouth or, where it is allowed, on the hand, as preferred.”

After receiving the Eucharist, to help acknowledge the gift, the Pope recommended spending time in silent prayer, or the singing of a psalm or hymn of praise.

The Eucharistic Liturgy concludes with the prayer after communion, where the priest “turns to God to thank him for making us his guests and to ask that what has been received transforms our life.”

He noted the significance of the final prayer for the Mass of the day, Wednesday of the fifth week of Lent: “We ask the Lord that ‘participation in his sacrament should be for us the medicine of salvation, heal us from evil and confirm us in his friendship.’”

Pope Francis will travel to Dublin Aug. 25-26 for family gathering

Vatican City, Mar 21, 2018 / 04:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During his Wednesday general audience Pope Francis was presented with the official icon for the World Meeting of Families, announcing afterward that he will travel to Dublin from Aug. 25-26.

In his greeting to English-speaking pilgrims, Pope Francis made special mention of a group of Irish pilgrims in attendance for the presentation of the official World Meeting of Families icon, telling them “I intend to travel to Dublin from August 25-26.”

He then thanked authorities and all those working to prepare for the trip. The official program for the papal visit has yet to be released, however, Francis did not mention any other cities in his announcement and is expected to stay in Dublin for a short visit primarily focused on events related to the family gathering.

The theme for this year's World Meeting of Families (WMOF), which will take place Aug. 21-26, is “The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World.” The topic was chosen by Pope Francis and is based on his 2016 apostolic exhortation on love in the family, Amoris Laetitia.

During the March 21 general audience, two families of Irish heritage – the Tobin family and the Bushell family – presented the Pope with the WMOF icon, titled the “Icon of the Holy Family.”

The Tobin family is from Co Derry and consists of mom and dad Brenda and Bryan, as well as their grandmother Maureen and their two children, 20-year-old daughter Emma, and 13-year-old daughter Cathel.

The Bushell family, who currently live in Rome, is originally from Ireland and is comprised of mom and dad Mary and Michael, and their two young daughters, Olivia, 7, and Molly, 5.

According to a news release on the event, the icon is intended to serve as an invitation to prayer. It is shaped like a cabinet with two doors that open to reveal the image inside, and is made of traditional seasoned wood.

Specialist icon company the Joinery Group crafted the wooden cabinet, which was then covered in several layers of a gesso primer before being painted with the ancient 'tempera' technique, in which the colored pigments are bound together with egg yolk and water.

Commissioned especially for the 2018 WMOF, the icon was written by Romanian iconographer Mihai Cucu and depicts three scenes: the Holy Family eating together at a table, the Gospel episode of the wedding feast at Cana and Jesus raising Jarious' daughter from the dead, which is recounted in the Gospel of Mark.

The icon was anointed by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin at an Aug. 21, 2017, Mass marking the one-year countdown to the WMOF.

The WMOF began as the result of a request by St. John Paul II in 1994 for an international event of prayer, catechesis, and celebration for families. The first took place in Rome in 1994. It is held every three years.

It was most recently hosted in Philadelphia by Archbishop Charles Chaput. The 2015 event had approximately 20,000 attendees from 100 different countries, including Pope Francis.

As far as this year's celebrations, a “national opening” will take place in each of the 26 dioceses in Ireland Aug. 21, which will be followed by an Aug. 22-24 “pastoral congress” in Dublin that will include workshops, talks and discussion dedicated to the official theme. There will also be activities geared toward young people and children.

On Sat. Aug. 25, a “festival of families” will take place, consisting of a concert and personal testimonies given by families representing each of the five continents. The event will close with an Aug. 26 Mass, which all participants are invited to attend.

In feeding the hungry of Chile, beloved friar's legacy lives on

Santiago, Chile, Mar 21, 2018 / 03:12 am (ACI Prensa).- Although he died in 1853, the legacy of Friar Andrés Garcia Acosta is as alive as ever in Santiago, Chile, through a soup kitchen bearing his name that feeds 150 people per day.

This outreach is part of the “Spoon Trail,” a Franciscan ministry where those in need can stop at different locations to receive breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Following the friar's example, dozens of volunteers at “Friar Andresito's Soup Kitchen” help feed the poor and homeless, including those facing addictions and prostitution.

For volunteers, the work is more than just an act of charity.

“This has meant everything to me,” volunteer Magdalena Urquhart told the postulator of the friar’s cause.

She said working with the poor has changed the way she viewed them. “Although in the beginning one has a certain amount of fear because there are a lot of alcoholics, a lot of drug addictions, they're people who need a lot of love, for someone to listen to them.”

Rogelio Caroca, who has volunteered for seven years, considers Friar Andresito to be his friend and admires him because of his witness as “a simple man who generously practiced charity across the board.”

Andrés Garcia Acosta, known as Friar Andresito, was born in the Canary Islands on Jan. 10, 1800. He became acquainted with the Franciscan Order during his childhood and youth.

In 1832, he embarked for the Americas, in one of the great waves of migration from the island caused by famines, lack of employment, and droughts.

He arrived in Montevideo, Uruguay, and in 1834, he entered the Franciscan Order. In 1838 the government expelled the Franciscans from the country, and he traveled to Chile when he learned that the Franciscans of the Strict Observance had been reestablished there.

Friar Andresito was assigned to the Franciscan Church of the Strict Observance from 1839 to 1853. He served as almoner and helped out in the kitchen. As almoner he got to know the physical and spiritual needs of both the wealthy and the poor.

Friar Andresito was beloved and renowned by the people of his time. Besides being almoner, he visited jails and hospitals, attended to the sick and gave spiritual advice. He was known for his humility, dedication and joy.

On Sundays, he would distribute fruit and bread to the poor, an activity that today inspires “Friar Andresito's Soup Kitchen.”

On Jan. 9, 1853, Friar Andresito came down with pneumonia. He died Jan. 14 and hundreds of people came to pay their respects.

On July 10, 1855, the friar’s remains were exhumed, and his body was found incorrupt.

In 1927, the “Friar Andrés Brotherhood” was founded and spread throughout Chile. In 1977, the “Friends of Friar Andresito” society was established, with devotees in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and the United States.

Pope Francis recognized Friar Andresito's heroic virtues June 8, 2016 and he was declared venerable.

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

In Scotland, pro-lifers say at-home abortion pill could pressure women

Glasgow, Scotland, Mar 21, 2018 / 12:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Scottish authorities’ move to allow at-home administration of abortion drugs violates the law and will allow more pressure on women to have abortions, critics said.

“Many vulnerable women who may be desperate about the situation they are in will be pushed towards what is seen as the easy option of being handed some drugs and sent home to stop being a problem for society,” said John Deighan, CEO of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children Scotland.

The Scottish Parliament in 2016 secured the legal right to govern abortion issues.

In October, Scotland’s chief medical officer told Scottish health boards that the drug Misoprostal could be taken outside a clinical setting. The drug is the second of a two-drug combination used in early abortions.

Women who have suffered an early miscarriage can take the drug at home to induce labor, while women seeking abortions have been required to take both drug doses in a hospital or clinic.

Pro-abortion rights groups backed the change, including Abortion Rights, the Family Planning Association and the Scottish Humanist Society.

Jillian Merchant, vice-chair of the group Abortion Rights, said that the change would make Scottish practice reflect current practice in the U.S., France and Sweden.

“Patients are not required to take pills in front of the prescribing clinician for any other condition. Abortion should be treated no differently,” said Merchant, according to The Herald.

However, Deighan argued that “the abortion pill has been greatly pushed by the government as if it were some sanitized and easy way of ending a pregnancy. It is far from that.”

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children Scotland will argue in court that the relevant legislation, the 1967 Abortion Act, did not intend to allow abortions at home. The legislation requires the presence of doctors, nurses or medical staff.

“The move to trivialize abortion is one that harms women and creates an environment where some women are even urged to have an abortion because it does not suit others,” Deighan continued, saying the government plan amounts to approving “backstreet abortions.”

In November, when plans to permit at-home abortion pill administration were first announced, the Scottish bishops objected that “making abortion easier ignores the disturbing reality that an innocent human life is ended,” the U.K. newspaper The Catholic Herald reports.

What Mary Eberstadt told Notre Dame about 'Humanae Vitae'

South Bend, Ind., Mar 20, 2018 / 04:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Author Mary Eberstadt told students at the University of Notre Dame Tuesday that a 50-year-old document on contraception is critical to understanding the state of contemporary culture.

Eberstadt, a senior researcher at the Faith and Reason Institute, spoke at Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture, explaining that the prophetic message of Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae has become a reality.

“Contraceptive technology, as Paul VI foresaw, opens a Pandora’s box of mischief in which the stronger have the advantage,” Eberstadt told Notre Dame students March 20.

“For some while now, it’s been apparent that the sexual revolution that began in the 1960s bids fair to become one of the most formative disruptions in human history,” Eberstadt argued. “It’s having massive repercussions across the world – microcosmic, macrocosmic, moral, religious, political, and otherwise.”

Eberstadt mentioned an article she wrote a decade ago, published in the journal First Things, at the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae. “It’s the same conclusion that was visible ten years ago, and that will remain visible ten, or one hundred, or two hundred years from now,” said Eberstadt. “It’s simply this: The most globally reviled and widely misunderstood document of the last half century is also the most prophetic and explanatory of our time.”

Fifty years ago, Eberstadt said, supporters of contraception argued that abortions and births to unmarried parents would diminish as a result of reliable birth control. Rather, she said, they have increased.

“Far from preventing abortion and unplanned pregnancies, contraception’s effects after the invention of the pill ran quite the other way: Rates of contraception usage, abortion, and out-of-wedlock births all exploded simultaneously.”

Eberstadt argued that abortion rates have increased as a result of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and contraception in particular. She offered a series of proofs to support her claim.

First, she said abortions have increased because the responsibility of pregnancy has been increasingly placed on woman alone. While women may appear freer, she said, contraception has diminished men’s sense of responsibility for pregnancy, and therefore eroded their sense of responsibility toward pregnant women.

“By making the birth of the child the physical choice of the mother, the sexual revolution has made marriage and child support a social choice of the father,” she said, citing analysis by George Akerlof, Janet Yellen, and Michael Katz.

She next argued that contraception promotes abortion-on-demand because it encourages career plans that depend on delaying children until later in life. If an unexpected pregnancy interrupts such plans, she said, abortion is more likely to be considered.

Eberstadt also argued that the legalization of contraception and abortion are tied to another. She said movements towards the legalization of abortion always begin as birth control devices become more popular and available.

“Legal reasoning justifying freedom to contracept has been used to justify freedom to abort. You can’t have one without the other.”

Eberstadt mentioned that support for contraception is not universal.
She said many African nations have “resisted the attempts of reformers to bring them into line with the secular Western sexual program.”

She quoted an open letter written by Nigerian-born author Obainuju Ekaocha in response to a contraceptive initiative by billionaire Melinda Gates: “I see this $4.6 billion buying us misery. I see it buying us unfaithful husbands. I see it buying us streets devoid of innocent chatter of children…. I see it buying us a retirement without the tender loving care of our children.”

In contrast to Africa’s resistance to contraception, Eberstadt noted the demographic decline of Japan, where, she said, loneliness is pervasive, especially among the elderly, who often die alone.

As the destructive results of the sexual revolution become more obvious, Eberstadt said that many Protestant Christians have reconsidered prior positions on contraception.

“More and more people outside the Church are concluding from that same wreckage that Catholic moral teaching has called many things right, not only as of Humanae Vitae, but for the preceding millennia of consistent teaching.”

In conclusion, Eberstadt said that while people in the world will continue to oppose to the Church’s stance on contraception, the truth of Humanae Vitae will not stop pointing towards the destruction of the sexual revolution.

“To discern the record of the last half-century is to see that the Catholic Church was right to stand as a sign of contradiction to the devastation the sexual revolution would wreak; that accommodating top the revolution has been an epic fail for the churches that have tried it; and that the truths of Humanae Vitae and related documents burn all the more brightly against the shadowy toll of the destruction out there.”

“Be proud in the right way of your Church for getting one of the most important calls in history right,” Eberstadt encouraged. “And never let anyone put a kick-me sign on you for being an unapologetic Catholic.”


'We are the Church of hope' - Vatican youth delegates speak up

Vatican City, Mar 20, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Young people from around the world have begun a meeting at the Vatican by voicing their hopes and expectations from the Church regarding the challenges they face and the questions life poses.

Specifically, they have said they want to know they are taken seriously, and they want the Church to talk to them about difficult issues, among them same-sex marriage, euthanasia and the role of women in the Church.

The young people are delegates to a special pre-synod meeting of youth, which is taking place March 19-24 and has drawn some 300 representatives from around the world to talk about key themes ahead October’s Synod of Bishops on “Young People, Faith and the Discernment of Vocation.”

CNA spoke with several young participants at the pre-synod meeting, hailing from Japan, Australia, Mexico, Iraq and the United States.

They spoke about issues important in their countries of origin, including persecution, the refugee crisis, suicide and drugs.  


For 22-year-old Angelas Markas, a Chaldean Catholic living in Australia, youth need to “move forward, we need to be brave in addressing topics like same-sex marriage, euthanasia, sexuality – what does it mean to embrace our sexuality as Catholics, and the role of women – how important are we, how empowered are we?”

Markas was one of five young people to give testimonies in front of Pope Francis during the March 19 opening session.

In her speech, she highlighted, among other things, her life as part of the Iraqi Chaldean diaspora, her work with indigenous communities in Australia, and her hope that the Church would engage with young people on important issues, especially the role of women, who she said “need to feel our sense of empowerment.”

In comments to CNA, Markas said these are all the topics she wants to discuss during the event, and voiced hope that the stories and experiences she shares “will be embraced.”

On the role of  women, Markas said she believes they are already “embraced and empowered” in the Church, but thinks this sense of empowerment should be “more obvious.”

She also spoke of the tragedy of clerical abuse -- which has plagued Australia for years and tarnished public perception of the Church -- saying that while it is a problem, she trusts the Church “is going to find her path in this.”

“We are a Church of hope, if we aren't a Church of hope, how are we really going to grow from this?” she said. “We are the witnesses of the Resurrection, so we have to have hope that this will all heal and we have to work toward it.”

Markas also voiced appreciation for Pope Francis' appeals on behalf of migrants and refugees, which hold special significance for her because of her own heritage. The Pope, she said, “is so great in that he always addresses the littleness, the smallness of the youth from wherever we come from.”

“He's doing such a brilliant job,” she said.  Recalling a brief handshake with Francis after giving her speech, Markas said she was still in disbelief: “I can't believe I shook his hand and kissed his cheeks, I'm not going to wash my face! It was brilliant.”

Francis has a dynamic way of engaging the youth, she said, noting that many young people still crave connection with the Church, especially those who lack hope or who have experienced suffering or loss.

She challenged the Church to listen and engage more with young people, calling for a “transformation” of approach. This isn't something that will happen immediately, she said, “but we are meeting this culture that desires to be connected and we need to address it in a more universal and listening way.”

The pre-synod gathering, she said, “is the perfect example” of how this connection and listening can take place. “It's a real change, it's not something that is delusional or a fantasy. Young people want to feel a sense of value and purpose, they want to hear and understand and be able to understand.”


Shaker Youhanan Zaytouna, a 24-year-old seminarian from Iraq, told journalists March 20 that one of the biggest challenges the local Church faces is that many young people are leaving the country, opting to move abroad due to the threat of extremist violence and the country's ongoing political instability.

This presents a unique challenge for the future of the country, he said, explaining that “it's very hard to tell the Church to not allow youth to leave Iraq.” Security is a big problem, he said, because one can ask the youth to stay, but there’s no guarantee that they won’t be killed later.

A Chaldean Catholic studying in Rome, Zaytouna said the Church has a big role to play in encouraging youth to stay in Iraq and helping provide the conditions for them to stay. However, “the problem is that the government needs to initiate this step.”

Iraqi youth are being welcomed into other countries, but many want to return, he said. “[And] if the government isn't helping the heart, if they aren't providing that security, how can these youth return?” he said, adding that finding work is also a problem for many young families.

The seminarian also voiced concern over the fact that many young people, from various religions, are becoming either atheist or agnostic, calling it “a [big] a problem” for the future that will have to be addressed.

He also touched on the topic of vocations, saying the Church “must commit herself more to listening...and not only, but to learn to accompany.”

Noting that he is still a young seminarian himself, Zaytouna said better accompaniment is needed, because “if the bishop doesn't accompany us, if the priests don't accompany us, or someone else, how can I stay on this path?”

At times parents try to prevent children from pursuing consecrated vocations, he said, noting there are cultural pressures that make it difficult to accept or follow such callings. However, he said there have also been times when formators pressure someone discerning, telling them they are not cut out for religious life.

Those discerning need to be encouraged and accompanied, Zaytouna said, explaining that “listening comes first; learn to listen, accompaniment comes and then the discernment.”


Also participating in the pre-synod meeting is Yoshikazu Tsumuraya, a Japanese Buddhist from Fukushima who currently lives in Rome and works with the Japanese Buddhist Lay Movement. Before coming to Rome, he taught in a Buddhist seminary.

In comments to CNA, Tsumuraya said his organization has strong ties with the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and was invited to participate in the meeting as a representative of the Buddhist community.

“When I received this invitation, I was really happy, because having a knowledge of Christianity, it pushed me to get to know Christian youth,” Tsumuraya said, explaining that he has worked with a lot of Christians and is very committed to interreligious dialogue.

Tsumuraya said he came primarily to listen and understand the different realities of youth from around the world.

In the case of Japan, he said the major challenges for youth are a widespread competitive and consumerist mentality, as well as the immense cultural pressure to be successful. And if youth don't give into this way of thinking, they might feel estranged from their peers or that they don't fit in, Tsumuraya said.

In cases when this happens, young people react in a variety of ways, he said, explaining that one big problem is that youth who feel that they don't quite fit in “are no longer able to go to school,” due to the stigma they face, “so they stay home closed in their rooms.”

Other major problems for Japanese youth are premature death due to “excessive work,” he said, as well as suicide, which is a common phenomenon among teenagers in the country.

Tsumuraya voiced appreciation for Pope Francis' frequent references to the problem of teen and young adult suicide, which “is not just a Japanese problem, but it's a global problem.”

“So thinking about this phenomena which affects the whole world, we must face it, above all in knowing the reality, then to think about how to accompany youth to avoid this terrible [phenomena],” he said.

The Americas

Nicholas Lopez, a 27-year-old campus minister from Dallas, Texas, is also participating in the meeting as one of three representatives from the United States.

Lopez gave his testimony during the opening session, pointing to various challenges young people have faced during his experience working with youth on campus.

In comments to CNA, Lopez said the major topics he wants to bring to the table during the pre-synod meeting are “the concerns of the Hispanic Americans in the United States, and the solidarity between us and them.”

The topic is particularly timely in the U.S. as concerns continue to mount over President Donald Trump’s strict immigration policies. Many, including a high number of college students whose parents are immigrants, have voiced fear about deportation.

In addition to issues affecting the Hispanic community, Lopez said he also plans to discuss mental health issues, the higher education system in the United States and “the way young people are impacted on college campuses.”

Also participating in the meeting is 25-year-old Corina Fiore Mortola Rodriguez of Mexico. She came with a large group of other youth from Latin America, which is one of the youngest and most Catholic continents in the world.

In comments to CNA, Mortola Rodriguez said the message she wants the Church to hear this week is that young people like herself are “valid interlocutors,” and they need to be listened to and helped to go deeper in finding solutions to the problems they face, such as drugs, violence, poverty and unemployment.

Pointing to Pope Francis' visit to Mexico in 2016, she said his encouragement to youth and his appeals to avoid hopelessness and the allure of gangs was “a call not of tension, but to action.”

Her reflection echoed the Pope's March 19 opening speech, in which he told youth they need to approach problems with a “head, heart, hands” mentality. The call to “think, feel and act,” Mortola Rodriguez said, is also a call to be “unified” and to make concrete resolutions in confronting the problems they face.

As an example, Mortola Rodriguez said she helps lead a theater workshop for incarcerated youth in Mexico, which has helped them to “heal the wounds that have caused through the crime they committed.”

“[Through us] they can heal this pain that they have in order to be able to return to society and find a new form of work,” because healing is essential for a person's reintegration into society, she said.

Speaking of the contribution of the Latin American Church, Mortola Rodriguez said one thing she hopes her continent can offer the universal Church is “joy,” because Latin Americans are “ known for our joy.”

“I think youth should be more joyful,” she said, and noted how there are many young people who reflect what Pope Francis says when he talks about youth who seem old because they have lost their joy and happiness.

Another topic Mortola Rodriguez said she wants to discuss is vocation, because many people think of their vocations as only the choice of a state of life.

“But no. The vocation is a call, a call today, to the present, to be active, to be happy and to do concrete actions that benefit my society,” she said, and voiced her desire to fight against social evils such as human trafficking, and to fight to “stop the things that harm us.”



Catholics decry Swedish political party's plan to close all religious schools

Stockholm, Sweden, Mar 20, 2018 / 03:48 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic educators in Sweden have denounced a political party’s promise to ban all religious schools as a political maneuver capitalizing on people’s fears in order to obtain votes.

The Social Democratic Party in Sweden has proposed banning all religious schools (known as “confessional schools”) in the country, in what the party says is an attempt at better integration of students.

The party has formed a coalition government with the Green Party, and a general election is to be held in September.

The Social Democrats have expressed concern that confessional schools contribute to the segregation of students, by religion and gender, and that they don’t teach children democratic values.

"In our schools, teachers and principals should make the decisions, not priests or imams," Minister for Upper Secondary School and Adult Education and Training Anna Ekstrom said at a press conference.

The Social Democrats said last week that the proposed policy would be a priority were they re-elected in September.

But Catholic educators in the country are concerned that the proposal would constitute a wide-ranging infringement on religious freedom and on already-restricted religious education in the country. Religious schools cannot charge tuition, and receive government funding.

“...there is a very negative public debate with a lot of pre-judgements against us and religion in general. We are very worried of course as the proposal is an aggressive assault against our Catholic community,” Paddy Maguire, principal of Notre Dame Catholic School in Gothenburg (located fewer than 300 miles southwest of Stockholm), and Daniel Szirányi, a board member of the same school, said in a joint statement.

Religious education in the country is already under strict restrictions. Current law in Sweden does not allow for catechesis or prayer to take place during regular school hours - it must take place either before or after school, on a voluntary basis.

However, Maguire told CNA that most people in Sweden are unaware of this law, that religious schools also follow the state-issued curriculum, or how religious schools are run in general.

“We have to (abide by) Swedish law, they don’t understand that. They just think we’re run by priests and imams, as they put it,” Maguire said.

Maguire added that the issues that the Social Democrats want to solve are problems that are occurring in Muslim schools, “but they are too cowardly to say so.”

Sweden, which has a historically open-door policy for asylum seekers, saw a dramatic increase in Muslim refugees from countries such as Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan in the past few years, with numbers more than doubling between 2014 and 2015 alone.

This dramatic increase in the number of Muslims in Sweden, and practices of some of their schools – such as sex segregation – is the primary motivation behind the religious school ban, Maguire said.

Rather than fixing individual problems, however, “they want to throw the baby out with the bath water,” she said.

Kristina Hellner, communications officer for the Diocese of Stockholm, told CNA, “It’s presented as a quick and simple solution to a problem that is quite limited.”

“The absolute majority of the religious schools in Sweden show excellent results but a small number of them (and these are Islamic schools) have had different kinds of problems. Instead of doing something about these specific schools, certain politicians would like to solve it by closing all religious schools,” she said.

There are 71 religious schools in the country, of which 59 are Christian, 11 are Muslim, and one is Jewish.

Hellner added that Cardinal Anders Arborelius of Stockholm will be working closely with other Christian groups in Sweden to oppose this proposal “with one voice through the Christian Council.”

If the ban were to be enacted, the Socialist Democrats have said that they would make the religious schools into secular schools. However, Maguire noted that most Christian schools would be forced to close, as they are tied to trust funds, through which the schools promised to provide a Christian education.

This would leave approximately 10,000 students without a school, a number the public school system is not adequately prepared to absorb, she said.

“It’s a badly sorted out policy, it’s just a play for populism as we see it,” Maguire said.

Thus far, the proposal is supported by the Social Democrats, the Left Party, and some of the Liberals. The Moderate Party and the Christian Democrats support confessional schools. Some among the Liberals support a policy that would maintain existing religious schools, but would prevent new ones from being founded.

The Green Party and the Centre Party have remained neutral on the issue.

Maguire said she didn’t believe the policy would ultimately pass, because the Social Democrats are losing political power, while right wing parties are gaining power. The Social Democratic Party has lost support in recent polls to the Moderate Party, the largest group in the opposition.

However, she added that educators and Catholic leaders in the country are prepared to fight the proposal all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, and to fight for the rights of parents, designated by the United Nations, to send their children to schools with distinct religious or philosophical leanings.

Pro-life pregnancy centers hopeful after arguing before Supreme Court

Washington D.C., Mar 20, 2018 / 02:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Attorneys for a pro-life pregnancy center resource group are optimistic following Tuesday’s oral arguments in front of the Supreme Court, in the case National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra.

In the pouring rain, the attorneys spoke to a crowd of supporters outside of the court, and said that they were pleased with the day’s events and remained hopeful that a California law requiring pro-life pregnancy centers to provide information about free or low-cost abortions would be struck down.

“We hit a home run today in the court,” said NIFLA President Thomas Glessner. “In fact, [Alliance Defending Freedom CEO] Michael Farris hit a grand slam home run.”

Glessner added that he was “very optimistic” that the court would rule against California.

According to Farris, the Supreme Court justices were especially concerned about the provision in the law that mandated unlicensed, non-medical pregnancy centers to post a lengthy disclaimer in 13 languages on its advertisements.

“If you have just an ad that says ‘life counts’ with the name of your facility and a phone number, then you have to – in the same size as the ad itself, the main words – put a 29-word disclaimer in multiple languages. That crowds out the message,” said Farris.

“They’re not trying to inform anyone about anything, they’re trying to delude a message so that nobody ever comes to one of these facilities.”

According to Farris, multiple justices – including members of the court’s more liberal wing – were concerned that that this law was too far-reaching.

Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president of ADF, agreed with Farris, and added that the government’s “last resort” should be to compel speech. Waggoner said she was hopeful that the court would agree that no one should be forced to promote something that violates their beliefs.

“We are hopeful, based on the comments of the court today, that they recognize that important principle. And we are hopeful that they will rule on the behalf of life.”

The attorneys told the crowd that they presented their argument to the court as one primarily based on free speech, not necessarily about abortion.

The First Amendment applies to all, NIFLA Vice President of Legal Affairs Anne O’Connor said, and the specific targeting of pro-life pregnancy centers by the Reproductive FACT Act should be troubling for everyone, regardless of political beliefs or feelings about abortion.

“Whether you’re pro-life or pro-choice or whatever on the line, we should all be concerned about when a government can compel anybody to say something that violates what they believe,” said O’Connor.

Her sentiment was echoed by Josh McClure, the executive director of a California pregnancy clinic.

“No American should be forced to preach a message or speak a message that they don’t agree with. That’s the basis of why we’re here,” said McClure.

O’Connor also said that while the justices posed “challenging” questions, she believed that at least eight would rule in favor of NIFLA.

“But 9-0 is what we’re praying for.”

Pro-life advocates braved the freezing temperatures and rain to show their support for pregnancy centers.

Kelly Picardi, a non-denominational Christian, told CNA that she and her husband are in the process of adopting a child conceived in rape, due to be born next month.

“The conception of our daughter’s life came about through a difficult and unfortunate situation, but the decision of the birth mom not only choose life but to choose adoption is the most respectable thing I can think of,” Picardi says.

“That kind of decision is our inspiration, and an example to [my family] of what love looks like. Even though she’s had a really hard life, [the birth mother] is still making the kind of decision that will benefit someone else. That example of love is what we’ll live by every day.”

Picardi says she hopes that her family’s decision to adopt can serve as an example for others, ultimately helping to normalize the practice of adoption in society. “As hard as the adoption journey is, it’s really been affirmed by the people in our community,” she said. “Good can always come from broken situations.”

Rosemary Geraghty, a new media coordinator for Rehumanize International, said her beliefs as a self-identified feminist put her at odds with the pro-choice side of the argument.

“It’s hard for me to understand why someone who would call themselves pro-choice would be against the groups that give women more options than just abortion,” she told CNA. “To attack these pregnancy centers that are giving direct aid and resources to low-income women and pregnant’s just anti-’pro-life people.’ It’s viewpoint discrimination.”  

Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, stressed the important work that pregnancy care centers offer to serve women in need.  

“The bottom line is that abortion hurts women; it doesn’t do a service for women, and these centers can provide women what they need in a very stressful moment,” she said. “Things like diapers, but also more complex things like housing, education...these things are critically important.”


Jonah McKeown contributed to this report.


Supreme Court examines freedom of speech at crisis pregnancy centers

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In oral arguments before the Supreme Court March 20, justices seemed skeptical about a California law that requires pro-life pregnancy centers in the state to visibly display information about abortions to their clients that the centers say violates their right to free speech.

A few of the justices asked about the state's motivation to put the law in place, wondering if it was more about educating women about state-provided services or if it was meant to specifically target centers offering pregnancy-related services that clients might assume are medical facilities.

Justice Elena Kagan said it would be a problem and a First Amendment issue if the law was "gerrymandered" to only apply to certain types of service providers.

The law's requirement that licensed and unlicensed centers disclose their status in advertisements in large type and in many languages was seen as an "undue burden" by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who asked if this would apply -- and was told it would -- to an unlicensed facility that wanted to have a "choose life" or "pro-life" billboard. Justice Sonia Sotomayor agreed that aspect of the law, in some cases, was "burdensome and wrong."

The case is the first abortion-related one to be heard by the court with President Donald Trump's appointee, Neil Gorsuch, on the bench. The oral arguments drew people from both sides outside the court in the freezing rain on the first day of spring. Some signs, held aloft in between umbrellas, said "Patients want care not coercion" and "Give free speech life."

After the hourlong argument, Thomas Glessner, president of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, the group representing the pregnancy centers, told the crowd outside that he felt "very optimistic" about the outcome of this case.

California's attorney general, Xavier Becerra, tweeted right after the arguments: "Information is power and all women should know the full range of their #healthcare options! A great morning with my team at #SCOTUS."

In a March 20 statement, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York said he prayed the court would "do the right thing and uphold our fundamental right to free speech when it decides this case."

"Pro-life pregnancy care centers embody everything that is right and good in our nation: generosity, compassion and love that is offered to support both mother and child," said Cardinal Dolan, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

He noted that some government officials, instead of "applauding and encouraging the selfless and life-affirming work of these centers" want to "force them to provide free advertising for the violent act of abortion in direct violation of their pro-life convictions and the First Amendment."

The case, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra, is about the constitutionality of the Reproductive FACT Act, a state law which says pregnancy centers must post notices in their facilities about available low-cost abortion services and also must disclose if they have medical personnel on staff. The Christian-base centers provide counseling and often offer supplies of diapers, formula, clothes and baby items. Centers that failed to comply with the law have been subject to fines of $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for subsequent offenses.

Three pregnancy centers challenged the law in court saying it infringed on their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion.

The law was upheld last October by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that said the state could regulate professional speech because of its interest in safeguarding public health and to ensure that "citizens have access to and adequate information about constitutionally protected medical services like abortion."

Last October, a California Superior Court judge granted a permanent injunction against the state attorney general preventing him from enforcing the FACT law.

Justice Stephen Breyer said during the oral arguments that if abortion providers must tell pregnant women about other options, then pregnancy centers should similarly tell their clients about outside services. "In law, as you well know, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander," which he explained as coming down to this: "If a pro-life state can tell a doctor you have to tell people about adoption, why can't a pro-choice state tell a doctor, a facility, whatever it is, you have to tell people about abortion?"

The USCCB and several other groups including the California Catholic Conference, the Catholic Health Association of the United States, in friend-of-the-court briefs with the Supreme Court supporting the pro-life pregnancy centers, stressed that the government can't force people to say things they don't believe.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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