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National Eucharistic Pilgrims serve the poor during ‘Boxes of Mercy’ day of service

Perpetual Pilgrim Patrick Fayad lifts a heavy "Box of Mercy" filled with donations for refugee families. / Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

St. Louis, Mo., Jul 10, 2024 / 17:25 pm (CNA).

As cars sped past a humble St. Louis apartment complex and children played nearby, a gaggle of mostly Latino residents gathered around a group of Catholic sisters, eagerly waiting to hear their name called. 

When each family’s cardboard box was located, a Perpetual Pilgrim — young men and women committed to walking thousands of miles across the U.S. with the Eucharist this summer — stepped forward to carry the heavy box up to each family’s apartment. 

An initiative of the Archdiocese of St. Louis as part of the ongoing National Eucharistic Revival, the “Boxes of Mercy” were loaded over the past few months with donated necessities such as food, clothes, and personal care items. Catholics from at least 61 parishes in the archdiocese contributed donations to the boxes, according to the St. Louis Review.

The St. Junípero Serra Route, the longest of the four National Eucharistic Pilgrimage routes, began in San Francisco in May and arrived in the St. Louis area July 5 to enthusiastic crowds. Throughout the pilgrimage experience, on Saturdays, the Perpetual Pilgrims have been given opportunities to serve the poor in the communities they are passing through. 

Given the summer heat and the substantial weight of the boxes, the July 6 project turned out to be one of the more physically strenuous service opportunities that the pilgrims have engaged in, Perpetual Pilgrim Patrick Fayad told CNA. 

Of all the projects the Serra Route pilgrims have done, “this is the most intense,” he said.

“Which is really good,” he added. 

Before the sisters brought the boxes to the apartment complex, Auxiliary Bishop Mark Rivituso of St. Louis blessed the boxes with holy water, calling the boxes “an overwhelming response of generosity on behalf of so many, who see the need and want to help and be Christ’s compassion for others.”

After Eucharistic adoration with the Missionaries of Charity, Rivituso then processed the Eucharist from the Missionaries of Charity to St. Josephine Bakhita Parish, where adoration continued while the pilgrims prepared to head to where the boxes were to be distributed. 

Bishop Mark Rivituso, auxiliary of St. Louis, blesses the "Boxes of Mercy" filled with donations for refugee families. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Bishop Mark Rivituso, auxiliary of St. Louis, blesses the "Boxes of Mercy" filled with donations for refugee families. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Carpooling in vans, the pilgrims arrived at the north St. Louis City apartment complex that houses a large number of refugee families from Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and several African countries. As the assembled refugees smiled with joy and gratitude, the pilgrims carried the heavy boxes up to each apartment while the Missionaries of Charity issued directions. Sister Drita Maris, MC, said the sisters come to this complex frequently to offer assistance and faith instruction to the children who live there.

“Really, we appreciate it. My family appreciates it always,” said Olga Rivas, one of the recipients, who came to the U.S. with her family from Colombia. She said the Missionaries of Charity always make themselves available for the material and spiritual needs of the refugees. 

“I’m blessed, because they always try to help … They help me with my apartment and come and pray in my apartment … If you have a problem, just talk with them,” Rivas said. 

Cecelia Lopez, a former resident of the apartment complex who returns frequently to help the refugee families, acted as translator and led the group in prayer, in Spanish, before the boxes were distributed. She said the sisters have been a huge help to the refugee families, saying the families know they can call the sisters “with any need.”

Ceclia Lopez, center, leads the group in prayer, in Spanish, before the "Boxes of Mercy" were distributed. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Ceclia Lopez, center, leads the group in prayer, in Spanish, before the "Boxes of Mercy" were distributed. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Jane Guenther, director of the Catholic Renewal Center for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, told CNA that the service project aimed to be a preparation for the next phase of the Eucharistic Revival, the Year of Mission. As part of that next phase, Catholics are invited to “commit to the daily gift of yourself, in concrete acts of service to others, which is at the heart of missionary discipleship.”

The St. Louis service project was “a really important thing, to give them that experience to be a part of that Eucharistic missionary aspect,” Guenther said. 

Radio María in Nicaragua shut down by country’s dictatorship 

Daniel Ortega. / Credit: Flickr de la OEA (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

ACI Prensa Staff, Jul 10, 2024 / 16:55 pm (CNA).

The dictatorship of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, canceled the legal status of Radio María Nicaragua along with that of several evangelical churches.

The decision was detailed in ministerial agreement No. 34-2024-OSFL, signed by Minister of the Interior María Amelia Coronel Kinlock and published July 9 in the official government newspaper La Gaceta.

In addition to Radio María, also named in the notice were the Prince of Peace Christian Church House of Prayer Association, the Association of Evangelical Churches of Nicaragua Jacob’s Well, the Apostolic Ministry Pentecost Prophetic Fire Association, and eight other institutions.

The ministerial agreement states that these organizations have not reported “for periods of between 2 and 26 years their financial statements” with “detailed breakdowns of income and expenses,” which hinders “regulation and oversight” by the Ministry of the Interior’s General Directorate of Registration and Regulation of Nonprofit Organizations.

Sources consulted by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, pointed out that this is the same dictatorship, through the Ministry of the Interior, that decides not to receive these financial statements when the organizations want to file them and then argues failure to file as a reason for the cancellation of the legal status of targeted organizations.

The notice in La Gaceta also specified that the title to the properties of all the listed organizations will pass over to the government of Nicaragua, the measure usually taken by the dictatorship when it decides to revoke the legal status of a nonprofit institution.

On April 11, Radio María Nicaragua had previously reported that its bank accounts in the Banco de la Producción, where donations are received in dollars and córdobas, the national currency, were frozen.

‘More attacks against the Church’ in Nicaragua

In an X post, Nicaragua’s former ambassador to the Organization of American States, Arturo McFields Yescas, denounced the regime’s “latest attack against the Church.” 

“Radio María’s accounts were frozen, their programming was altered, they were monitored, harassed, and finally today they canceled their legal status. The satanic dictatorship of Nicaragua hates the Church to death,” McFields Yescas declared.

For its part, the Nicaragua University Alliance charged on X that “the Ortega-Murillo regime continues to demonstrate its fear of truth and faith, canceling Radio María Nicaragua. They will not silence us. We condemn this new attack against freedom of the press and religion.”

Meanwhile, exiled researcher and lawyer Martha Patricia Molina, author of the report “Nicaragua: A Persecuted Church?”, told ACI Prensa the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship continues to persecute Christians in Nicaragua “despite the silence that has been imposed on bishops and priests so they won’t continue denouncing the arbitrary actions committed daily.”

“First, Radio María was forced to cut staff and broadcasting hours due to high operating costs that are attributed to the increase in charges for basic services such as electricity, which is a way employed by the dictatorship to financially suffocate the Church,” she explained.

“Then the vice dictator Rosario Murillo forced the radio directors to include in their programming the daily speeches that she broadcasts in the pro-government media,” Molina charged in a statement to ACI Prensa.

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

Biden administration shifts again, appears to back sex-change surgeries for minors

null / Credit: itakdalee/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 10, 2024 / 16:25 pm (CNA).

President Joe Biden’s administration has shifted its position on sex-change surgeries for minors for the second time this month, now appearing to support surgical gender transitions for people under the age of 18.

Neera Tanden, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, sent an email to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) — an LGBT advocacy group — confirming that the White House supports transgender medical interventions on minors and opposes state-level efforts to restrict them. The news was first reported by an LGBT magazine, The Advocate, which obtained the email from HRC.

In her email, Tanden said that sex-change surgeries “are typically reserved for adults, and we believe they should be.” However, she added, “above all, families should have the freedom to make the medical decisions that they and their doctors determine are best for them — which is why we oppose attempts to limit health care for transgender individuals in the courts or through legislation.”

“We will continue to vigorously fight categorical bans on gender-affirming care in the courts, including the Supreme Court, and we will fight back hard against partisan laws being pushed by extreme Republican elected officials that target Americans just for who they are,” the statement read.

The statement provided to HRC is a departure from a comment made by a spokesperson for the White House just last week, which said that sex-change surgeries “should be limited to adults.” In a rhetorical shift, the new statement instead says that sex-change surgeries are “typically reserved for adults” but that the administration opposes legal restrictions.

For girls, sex-change surgeries can include the removal of healthy breasts and ovaries along with genital surgery to add prosthetic genitalia that appear male. For boys, sex-change surgeries can include the addition of prosthetic breasts along with castration and genital surgery that makes the boy appear female. Some surgeries, such as castration and the removal of ovaries, render the person infertile.

A study published in August 2023 estimated that patients aged 12 through 18 accounted for nearly 8% of transgender surgeries between 2016 and 2020 in the United States — about 3,678 surgeries in total. This included more than 3,200 chest surgeries and more than 400 genital surgeries to facilitate a sex change.

Jay Richards, the director of the DeVos Center for Life, Religion, and Family at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told CNA there’s been a “massive increase” in transgender medical interventions on minors in recent years and disputed the administration’s claim that sex-change surgeries are “typically reserved for adults” under current practice. 

“We know that … a few thousand American kids have undergone these procedures already,” he said.

The Biden administration issued its statement following a weeklong campaign by HRC and other advocacy groups that requested the administration openly support the legality of sex-change surgeries for minors. HRC President Kelley Robinson welcomed the clarification on the White House’s support for those surgeries.

“We appreciate that the administration has clarified that its position on health care for the transgender community has not changed — that it opposes any and all bans on access to care and will continue to fight these bans both in the courts and at the legislative level,” Robinson said in a statement.

Mary Rice Hasson, the director of the Person and Identity Project at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told CNA the White House’s email to HRC shows that “LGBTQ activists — not scientific evidence — dictate the Biden administration’s support for disfiguring, fertility-destroying hormones and surgeries for identity-distressed youth.”

“After initially appearing to oppose irreversible ‘transition’ surgery for minors, the White House faced huge pressure from powerful LGBTQ lobby groups to correct the record,” Hasson said. “Sure enough, the White House has reiterated its enthusiasm for sterilizing confused, troubled minors — under the deceptive label of ‘affirming care.’”

Similarly, Dr. Michael Artigues, the president of the American College of Pediatricians — which opposes gender transitions for minors — told CNA that the organization was “initially hopeful that the current administration had started to move in the right direction by opposing surgical intervention on minors, but this is apparently not the case.”

“We will continue to work with others in the medical community who understand what evidence-based medicine is and who truly want what is best for children,” he said.

Richards said he believes that the administration’s earlier hesitation on minors receiving sex-change surgeries was simply so “they can get headlines” because “the public overwhelmingly opposes these procedures.” He called the previous comments “half-hearted” and argued that the supposed shift on policy “wasn’t because [the administration] actually changed its mind.”

“Absolutely everything the Biden administration has done since it began has been in favor of the most radical transgender medical interventions [for minors],” Richards added.

Doctors can legally perform sex-change operations on children in slightly more than half of the states in the country. Over the past few years, about two dozen states banned doctors from performing sex-change surgeries on minors, an effort that was mostly led by Republicans.

Bishops’ committee faces backlash over call for Cuba to be removed from terrorism sponsor list

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops headquarters in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Farragutful, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 10, 2024 / 15:55 pm (CNA).

A U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) committee chairman’s call for the U.S. government to remove Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism has sparked a swift backlash from various quarters.

On Tuesday, the USCCB released a letter by Bishop A. Elias Zaidan, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace, in which he urged U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to “remove Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.” 

In his letter, Zaidan cited the position of his predecessor, Bishop David Malloy, who in the same capacity opposed the designation made by the Trump administration in January 2021. 

Cuba is currently on the U.S. government’s list of State Sponsors of Terror along with North Korea, Iran, and Syria. Countries are added to the list if they have “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.”

Zaidan echoed Malloy’s 2021 statement that “for decades, in conjunction with the Holy See and the majority of the international community, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has urged collaboration and mutually beneficial relations between the United States and Cuba, as well as the full lifting of the economic embargo against the island nation.”

Zaidan’s letter was welcomed by Cuba’s embassy in the U.S., which denounced the “harmful consequences” of Cuba’s inclusion on the list. More than 250 progressive organizations worldwide also recently ramped up the campaign to get Cuba removed from the list, asserting that Cuba is not a state sponsor of terrorism but rather “a state sponsor” of “health,” “peace,” and “liberation.”

However, Zaidan’s letter also sparked a swift negative reaction from dissident and pro-democracy leaders opposed to the Cuban regime.

In an interview with CNA, Yuri Pérez, an exiled Cuban dissident and director of Latin American Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, argued that the USCCB committee was “advocating for the regime.”

“There are two different issues,” Pérez said. “One is the embargo and sanctions, which are tools the U.S. government uses to pressure the Cuban government to change,” he explained. “The terrorist list is more factual,” he said. “It’s based on regime behavior.”

Pérez said there is “a lot of pressure for the Biden administration to take Cuba off the list,” but “to make that decision, the regime has to change its behavior. And it hasn’t changed its behavior.”

One factor in Cuba’s inclusion on the list, Pérez said, is that it harbors terrorists on the island. 

“An easy step for the regime to get off the list would be to expel those people and surrender them to the countries seeking them,” he argued.

Jason Poblete, an attorney, Catholic, and president of the Global Liberty Alliance (GLA), said in an interview with CNA that the USCCB committee’s letter was “disconnected from reality.” 

Poblete said GLA has specifically worked with the Catholic Church in Cuba on human rights and religious freedom issues. The U.S. bishops, Poblete argued, “should respectfully stick with matters of faith and not issues related to national security.” 

Poblete noted the reasons for classifying a country as a state sponsor of terrorism are largely classified by the State Department. 

“Most Cuban priests I deal with are supportive of the designation,” he said, even though they do not know the specific reasons for it.

Jason Poblete of the Global Liberty Alliance. Credit: EWTN News Nightly / Screenshot
Jason Poblete of the Global Liberty Alliance. Credit: EWTN News Nightly / Screenshot

Poblete dismissed the notion that the U.S. embargo of the island is contributing to its ongoing crises. The embargo allows for vital products such as food and medicine, he said. 

“The problems in Cuba are nothing to do with the embargo,” he said. “It’s a totalitarian police state. I wish the bishops would take that into account before they write things like this.”

Along with allegations of terrorism support, Cuba’s communist government has long been criticized for its chronic human rights violations. The group Human Rights Watch, for example, says the Cuban government “continues to repress and punish virtually all forms of dissent and public criticism” and employs “arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate critics.”

Pérez, meanwhile, said lobbying efforts to remove Cuba from the list are likely to intensify in the coming months, especially if President Joe Biden loses the presidency. Advocates, he argued, would work to push the Biden administration to strike Cuba from the list before the Democrat leaves the White House. 

“Expect a flurry of activity if Biden loses before he transitions,” he said.  

The USCCB did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Colorado parishes to appeal ruling in dispute over universal preschool program

St. Mary’s Catholic Preschool in Littleton, Colorado. / Credit: St. Mary Catholic School

CNA Staff, Jul 10, 2024 / 14:27 pm (CNA).

Two Catholic parishes in Colorado are appealing a June federal court ruling that granted them access to a state preschool program, arguing that though the court ruled in their favor in the matter, it did not extend them sufficient protections of religious liberty. 

The U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado ruled on June 4 that the preschools at St. Mary Catholic Parish in Littleton and St. Bernadette Catholic Parish in Lakewood can be included in the state’s universal preschool (UPK) program even though they prioritize the admission of Catholic families.

The court found that the state had discriminated against the Catholic parishes by “creat[ing] an unworkable scheme that breaches the appropriate limits on state power,” according to the judge’s opinion.

Though part of the ruling was in their favor, the preschools are still unable to participate in the program and uphold their religious beliefs, according to a statement from Becket, the nonprofit religious liberty law firm that is arguing on behalf of the parishes. 

Ryan Colby, a spokesman for Becket, told CNA on Wednesday that “the court ruled that Catholic preschools in the Archdiocese of Denver can consider religious affiliation in their student admission and operations decisions.” 

“However, the judge upheld the part of the UPK requirements that say the preschools can’t abide by and uphold their beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity,” he said.

Nick Reaves, counsel for the case with Becket, explained that they are appealing the decision because the schools still cannot participate in the program while following their religious convictions. 

“While the district court correctly recognized that the state has no right to prevent Catholic schools from considering religious affiliation in their enrollment decisions, the court still did not permit them to participate in the UPK program while operating consistently with their Catholic mission,” Reaves said in the statement. 

In archdiocesan guidance, for instance, schools are directed “not to enroll” students if there is, in part, “a conflict between what the school teaches and what same-sex parents are teaching their child regarding human sexuality.”

In its June ruling, in contrast, the federal court ordered that equal-opportunity law “demands that participating preschools ‘provide eligible children an equal opportunity to enroll and receive preschool services regardless of ... religious affiliation, sexual orientation, [or] gender identity ..., as such characteristics and circumstances apply to the child or the child’s family.”

Becket noted last month that “any appeal from this decision would be to the Denver-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

“We look forward to vindicating our clients’ rights on appeal,” Reaves said on Wednesday.

Bishop Zaidan condemns ‘any targeting of civilians’ at Holy Family School in Gaza

Palestinian women react as they look at the badly damaged Latin Patriarchate Holy Family School after it was reportedly hit during Israeli military bombardment in Gaza City on July 7, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. / Credit: Omar AL-QATTAA/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Staff, Jul 10, 2024 / 13:57 pm (CNA).

Bishop A. Elias Zaidan, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, offered support Wednesday for a Catholic school in Gaza after an alleged Israeli raid over the weekend and reported civilian casualties. 

“The [Holy] Family School has been a place of refuge for hundreds of civilians, and I join the Latin Patriarchate in condemning any targeting of civilians in the [Holy] Family School in Gaza,” Zaidan said in a July 10 statement. 

“I urge in strongest terms that civilians remain outside the sphere of combat, while also praying for peace and an immediate end to hostilities.”

Zaidan leads the Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon, encompassing a large portion of the western United States from California to Ohio. 

On Sunday the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem sharply condemned reports of the Israeli raid. Images circulated on social media on Sunday and Monday showing the destruction wrought at the facility. The school, attached to the only Catholic church in Gaza, is located in the Remal neighborhood of Gaza City, an area that sustained heavy damage at the outset of the Israel-Hamas war in October 2023.

The patriarchate said in a Sunday press release that it was “monitoring, with grave concern, the news of the raids, apparently launched by the Israeli army” against the Holy Family School. Gazan authorities later said four civilians were killed in the attack; Israel’s military said the school complex was used as a militant hideout and housed “a Hamas weapons manufacturing facility.” 

Hamas said that Ehab al-Ghussein, Gaza’s deputy minister of labor, was among the four people killed in the airstrike, CNN reported. 

While not commenting on whether Hamas militants were present at the school, the Latin Patriarchate said Holy Family School “has, since the beginning of the war, been a place of refuge for hundreds of civilians.”

“We continue to pray for the Lord’s mercy and hope that the parties will reach an agreement that would put an immediate end to the horrifying bloodbath and humanitarian catastrophe in the region.”

Holy Family Parish in Gaza was the site of a similar reported conflict late last year when in December it was alleged that an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) sniper shot and killed two women within the parish compound. 

IDF denied the allegations several times, while Pope Francis sharply criticized the reports after they became known, arguing that at the Catholic parish, there were “no terrorists, but families, children, sick and disabled people, nuns.”

Pope Francis tells AI leaders: No machine should ever choose to take human life

null / Credit: Blue Planet Studio/Shutterstock

Rome Newsroom, Jul 10, 2024 / 10:33 am (CNA).

Pope Francis urged artificial intelligence leaders on Wednesday to “protect human dignity in this new era of machines.”

In a message to an AI ethics conference in Hiroshima, Japan, with leaders from Microsoft, IBM, Cisco, the United Nations, and representatives from all major world religions, the pope underlined that artificial intelligence has implications for the future of war and peace in our world.

The Holy Father called for a ban on lethal autonomous weapon systems — a class of weapons that use computer algorithms to independently target and employ weapons without manual human control of the system.

“No machine should ever choose to take the life of a human being,” Francis said in the message published July 10.

The pope underscored the symbolic importance of discussing AI ethics at the atomic bombing site in Hiroshima, a place that serves as a reminder of the consequences that can arise from advancing technology without considering the full implications.

“It is crucial that, united as brothers and sisters, we remind the world that in light of the tragedy that is armed conflict, it is urgent to reconsider the development and use of devices like the so-called ‘lethal autonomous weapons’ and ultimately ban their use,” Francis said, renewing a call he made at the G7 summit in Italy in June.

“This starts from an effective and concrete commitment to introduce ever greater and proper human control.”

The two-day conference in Hiroshima brought together tech industry leaders with representatives of world religions including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Bahá’í, and other Eastern religions.

Brad Smith, the vice chair and president of Microsoft, said that Hiroshima, with its profound place in human history, has served as “a compelling backdrop to help ensure a technology created by humanity serves all of humanity and our common home.”

In one of the opening speeches for the conference, Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz said that “as individuals of faith, we carry a unique responsibility to infuse our pursuit of AI with moral clarity and ethical integrity.”

More than 150 participants from 13 countries took part in the event co-organized by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, Japan’s Religions for Peace Japan, the Abu Dhabi Forum for Peace, and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel’s Commission for Interreligious Relations.

Speakers included Amandeep Singh Gill, the U.N. secretary-general’s envoy on technology; Father Paolo Benanti, a professor of technology ethics at the Pontifical  Gregorian University in Rome; and a survivor of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.

The Vatican has been heavily involved in the conversation on artificial intelligence ethics, hosting high-level discussions with scientists and tech executives on the ethics of artificial intelligence since 2016.

The pope has hosted IBM executive John Kelly III, Microsoft’s Smith, and Chuck Robbins, the chief executive of Cisco Systems, in Rome — each of whom has signed the Vatican’s artificial intelligence ethics pledge, the Rome Call for AI Ethics.

The Rome Call, a document by the Pontifical Academy for Life, underlines the need for the ethical use of AI according to the principles of transparency, inclusion, accountability, impartiality, reliability, security, and privacy.

Pope Francis chose artificial intelligence as the theme of his 2024 peace message, which recommended that global leaders adopt an international treaty to regulate the development and use of AI.

At the G7 summit in June, the pope stressed that human dignity requires that the decisions of artificial intelligence (AI) be under the control of human beings.

“We need to ensure and safeguard a space for proper human control over the choices made by artificial intelligence programs: Human dignity itself depends on it,” Pope Francis said at the summit.

11 Vietnamese Christians missing from detention amid religious freedom concerns

The front of the Phat Diem Cathedral, Vietnam. / Credit: Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

CNA Newsroom, Jul 10, 2024 / 10:03 am (CNA).

Eleven Vietnamese Christians, including five Catholics, are reportedly missing from detention, according to a recent report from International Christian Concern (ICC), a U.S.-based advocacy group.

The ICC report, released on July 5, claims the missing individuals were sentenced between 2011 and 2016 to a combined total of 90 years and eight months in prison for their religious activities. Their current whereabouts are unknown.

According to the report, the five missing Catholics — identified by the names of Runh, A Kuin, A Tik, Run, and Dinh Kuh — were allegedly accused of “undermining national unity policy” for their participation in the Ha Mon Catholic Church, which lacks government approval.

The report also mentions six Protestant detainees among the missing, including four who were allegedly accused of involvement with Degar Protestantism, a movement not recognized by Vietnam’s government.

Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wisconsin, commented on religious persecution in Vietnam in 2022, stating: “The United States has a role as a leader to promote and defend religious liberty on the world stage, and that starts with denouncing the Vietnamese government for its track record of religious persecution.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has consistently raised concerns about religious freedom in Vietnam. In its 2024 report, USCIRF recommended that Vietnam be designated a “country of particular concern” for its violations of religious freedom.

A 2019 USCIRF report noted that Vietnam’s Law on Belief and Religion, which went into effect in 2018, has been problematic in its implementation. The law requires religious groups to register with the government and imposes procedures for religious activities that some groups have found burdensome.

The Vietnam Constitution nominally protects freedom of belief and religion, but in practice, the government maintains control over religious activities.

Warming Vatican-Vietnam relations

In December 2023, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Marek Zalewski as Vietnam’s first resident papal representative since 1975. This appointment followed a 2018 agreement between the Holy See and Vietnam on establishing a resident papal representative.

In April 2024, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s foreign minister, met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh in Hanoi. Both parties reportedly agreed on the need to advance high-level contacts, including possibly a papal visit to Vietnam.

Vietnam is home to an estimated 7 million Catholics, one of the largest Catholic populations among countries never visited by a pope — though some hope Pope Francis might change that. 

The Catholic Church in Vietnam has reported a rise in vocations, with government data indicating 8,000 priests, 41 bishops, and more than 2,800 seminarians as of 2020. This growth has led to the construction of new seminaries, including one in Hanoi completed in 2020 with capacity for 300 students.

Historically Black Catholic parish rolls out red carpet for St. Louis Eucharistic pilgrimage

The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage enters St. Josephine Bakhita Parish in St. Louis. / Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

St. Louis, Mo., Jul 10, 2024 / 09:33 am (CNA).

Pam White was raised Catholic but left the Church in 1984, in part because the homilies weren’t speaking to her. 

It was the Eucharist — and the fact that she never stopped believing that Jesus was present there — that brought her back to the Catholic Church after five years away.  

“I’ve always done Eucharistic adoration — it’s just in me,” White told CNA.

Now, White wears many hats at her historically Black Catholic parish, St. Josephine Bakhita, in St. Louis — catechetical leader, children’s ministry leader, and most recently the parish point person for the National Eucharistic Revival. White said she assumed that role after she asked Father Mitch Doyen, her pastor, who was spearheading the Eucharistic Revival events at their parish. 

“You are,” she recalled Doyen saying.

Pam White, a parishioner at St. Josephine Bakhita Parish in St. Louis. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Pam White, a parishioner at St. Josephine Bakhita Parish in St. Louis. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

St. Josephine Bakhita Parish was formed from a recent merger of three former parishes, which came into effect in October 2023. According to the archdiocese, the three former parishes originally had Irish roots in the 1800s, but over the years, the once Irish neighborhoods became primarily African-American and the profile of the parishes changed, too. 

Today, most parishioners come from outside the parish boundaries to attend Mass here. The surrounding neighborhoods are primarily poor, 82% African-American, and only 1% Catholic. 

St. Josephine Bakhita Parish was chosen as a stop on the Serra Route of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimages, a monumental effort to process the Eucharist hundreds of miles starting at the four edges of the country. The Serra Route began in San Francisco in May and, thousands of miles later, arrived in the St. Louis area July 5 to enthusiastic crowds. The pilgrimage will culminate, along with the other three routes, with an arrival in Indianapolis on July 16 in time for the National Eucharistic Congress. 

As part of the parish’s participation in the national movement, White helped to organize a July 6 lunch for the Perpetual Pilgrims — young people committed to walking the entire route with Jesus — to support them during their day of service with the Missionaries of Charity, which is located right in the parish’s “backyard,” White said. 

Patrick Fayad, one of the Perpetual Pilgrims, said the pilgrimage experience has been a reminder that following Christ is not always an experience of “constant comfort.”

“I’m with a bunch of strangers doing something really difficult, giving up my personal freedoms, and we spend a lot of time in silence around each other,” he said.

“Through it all, he’s allowed us and given us the grace, whether we sense it or not, to be present to him and also to love each other.”

He said seeing the enthusiasm of the people they have encountered, whether in big cities like St. Louis or in small towns, has offered him constant reminders of the reason they are doing the pilgrimage in the first place — Christ himself.

“The Lord has given us, at least for me, the gift of remembering why I’m here and the beauty of it. It’s given me energy, through encountering other people and seeing masses of people that are excited,” Fayad said. 

Perpetual Pilgrims Patrick Fayad, seminarian Dereck Delgado, and Jaella Mac Au in the parish hall at St. Josephine Bakhita Parish in St. Louis. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Perpetual Pilgrims Patrick Fayad, seminarian Dereck Delgado, and Jaella Mac Au in the parish hall at St. Josephine Bakhita Parish in St. Louis. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

The parish also hosted Eucharistic adoration after Auxiliary Bishop Mark Rivituso of St. Louis processed the Eucharist from the Missionaries of Charity to the magnificent church (originally St. Teresa of Avila Church) that serves as the primary worship site for St. Josephine Parish.

Bishop Mark Rivituso, auxiliary of St. Louis, processes the Eucharist from the Missionaries of Charity to St. Josephine Bakhita Parish. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Bishop Mark Rivituso, auxiliary of St. Louis, processes the Eucharist from the Missionaries of Charity to St. Josephine Bakhita Parish. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Augustus “Gus” Lewis has attended the church that is now part of St. Josephine Parish since he was 5 years old. He was present for lunch with the pilgrims and wore a shirt depicting the faces of several prominent African-American Catholics who are being considered for sainthood, including Father Augustus Tolton. 

Despite his name, Gus says he wasn’t named after Tolton — “I was named after my grandfather,” he said, laughing. He said he very much hopes that the Catholic Church will soon recognize as saints the holy men and women his shirt depicts. 

Augustus “Gus” Lewis, a longtime parishioner at St. Josephine Bakhita Parish in St. Louis. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Augustus “Gus” Lewis, a longtime parishioner at St. Josephine Bakhita Parish in St. Louis. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

White, who is planning to attend the National Eucharistic Congress with a handful of her fellow parishioners, said one of her favorite things about Eucharistic adoration is the opportunity to sit in silence with Jesus. 

“When I first started adoration, I was really filling it up with things like the rosary and reading … but you should really be listening to God. My focus when I get there is, ‘Lord, what do you want me to do? Lord, how am I doing with what it is you want me to do?’”

“I’m just really excited to bring this [adoration] to our church. There were some older Catholics here that hadn’t ever been to Eucharistic adoration,” White told CNA.

How can the Catholic Church better prepare for the next pandemic?

Pope Francis greets medical workers administering the vaccine against COVID-19 April 2, 2021. / Credit: Holy See Press Office

ACI Prensa Staff, Jul 10, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

“Everything possible must be done to keep the churches open and operational,” said Dr. José María Simón Castellví, president emeritus of the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations (FIAMC) in a recent essay for that organization titled “Preparing the Church for the Next Pandemic.”

Castellví began his article explaining that “when I say Church, I mean the Church that is still a pilgrim on this earth” and that by pandemic he means “any event transmissible by air or orally; or an attack with a radioactive component.”

“Until now the preparation of our churches for cases of health catastrophes has been poor,” lamented the veteran health care professional, although he recognized that “that Catholic doctors in some countries, such as those in the United States, develop very detailed contingency plans.”

For the Spanish physician, the Catholic hierarchy “should do more to ensure that the word of God, the sacraments, and our charity reaches the faithful and even evangelize those who do not yet know the good news.”

“The preparation for a good and holy death — the reunion with the Almighty — requires our hard work. Divine providence also counts on it,” he added.

The Catholic doctor then referred to the defunct Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers (for Health Pastoral Care) — of which he himself was a member — which was later integrated into the current Dicastery for Integral Human Development.

“Unfortunately very little has been done for health or health care in this department. The [Pontifical] Council for Health Care Workers has not even been established, as was required according to the statutes signed by Pope Francis. This void, on such an important issue, also spreads to episcopal conferences and other ecclesiastical organizations,” the doctor noted.

In a new pandemic ‘we cannot be caught off guard’

Castellví pointed out that “when another global event happens that forces us to take drastic preventive measures,” as was the case with the COVID-19 pandemic, “we cannot be caught off guard. “Everything must be done to keep the churches open and operational.”

The Catholic doctor conceded that “hesitation during the first days” is understandable “but then you must be clear about the protection measures and you must act in science and in conscience, formed, informed, and refined by grace.”

“COVID has taught us that we can keep churches open if we use good masks, ventilation, distance between people, hand hygiene, and so on. Holy Communion, the use of holy water, or the anointing of the sick can be safely distributed by taking a few steps,” he said.

The health care professional encouraged the hierarchy “to consult organized Catholic doctors and other organizations such as the Royal Academies. National and international civil authorities must be respected. However, they have their own agendas and are generally not particularly concerned with pastoral care.”

Deficiency of information during COVID-19 ‘not acceptable’

After stating that the COVID-19 pandemic “really existed and caused the death of millions of fragile people,” the renowned Catholic doctor warned that this scenario “has served states to carry out a great ‘in vivo’ experiment for social control.”

“There are still many open questions about the disease (origin, vaccine prevention, treatments) in this post-pandemic period. In many countries there has been an excess of mortality that cannot be explained only by the lack of control of certain other pathologies during pandemic confinements,” the president emeritus of FIAMC noted.

Castellví said “the limited amount of information provided to the population was not acceptable while they were vaccinated with new drugs, bought en masse with secret contracts, without the informed consent that is required for almost any action, without applying the precautionary principle in pregnant women or children (the disease affects them very slightly, unlike what happened with the Spanish Flu) and falsely implying that vaccination prevented the transmission of the disease.”

“Good medicine is what is always needed. And the Church must prepare in time for our next vital challenges,” the doctor concluded.

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