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Pope Francis: Prayer is ‘the most important means of communication’

Pope Francis meets members of the Pauline Family in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall, Nov. 25, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Nov 25, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis urged members of the Pauline Family on Thursday to remember that prayer is “the most important means of communication.”

The papal audience in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall marked the 50th anniversary of the death of the group’s founder, Bl. James Alberione, who sought to spread the Gospel through modern media.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Fifty years after his birth into heaven, the celebrations for your founder offer you the opportunity to recognize even better the prophetic value of his witness,” the pope said.

“Following his example and through his intercession, you too choose the media as your ‘pulpit,’ so that, as he himself said, you may make Jesus Christ known to the people of our time by the means of our time.”

“I thank you for your commitment and, above all, pray. Do not forget prayer. It is the most important means of communication: communicate there,” the pope said, pointing heavenwards.

He added: “If I communicate with the whole world and not with the Lord, it does not work. Work and prayer, so that God’s holy people may feed more and more on the Word of God.”

Pope Francis recalled his predecessor Paul VI’s description of Alberione when he conferred an award on him in 1969.

The Italian pope said: “There he is: humble, silent, tireless, always vigilant, recollected in his thoughts, which run from prayer to action; always intent on scrutinizing the ‘signs of the times,’ that is, the most creative ways to reach souls.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Paul VI visited Alberione shortly before the priest’s death on Nov. 26, 1971, kneeling by his bedside, praying and offering his blessing.

The 50th anniversary of Alberione’s death is being marked by events throughout November in Rome.

The Pauline Family is composed of five religious congregations, four secular institutes, and a lay association.

Pope Francis praised the organization’s many apostolates. But he also encouraged its members to keep in face-to-face contact with people.

“Technological development has indeed led the entire ecclesial community to take on the modern tools of communication as elements of ordinary pastoral care,” he said.

“Nevertheless, your presence is still necessary today — indeed, I would say increasingly so — animated by your own charism and enriched by the experience of working ‘in the field.’ This is decisive.”

Here’s what Italy’s Cardinal Zuppi said at the launch of a book on the papacy’s future

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, Archbishop of Bologna, Italy, in St. Peter's Basilica on Oct. 5, 2019. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

Rome, Italy, Nov 25, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).

No, it does not seem as if Pope Francis is going to resign. Indeed, his dynamism and desire to do things, working to bring the Church closer to the people, should be appreciated.

That is how Cardinal Matteo Zuppi responded when asked if the Pope Francis era was about to come to an end.

The questions, however, were legitimate because they were asked at the launch of a book explicitly addressing the papacy’s future.

Zuppi was on a panel for the Nov. 18 presentation of the book “Cosa Resta del Papato? Il futuro della Chiesa dopo Bergoglio” (“What Remains of the Papacy? The future of the Church after Bergoglio”), by the Italian Vaticanist Francesco Antonio Grana.

The book examines what the institution of the papacy is and what it can become after the resignation of Benedict XVI and the pontificate of Pope Francis.

It reconstructs the last part of Benedict XVI’s pontificate, revealing that among the few people aware of the forthcoming resignation was Italy’s then president, Giorgio Napolitano. The book also offers a glimpse of what the next conclave might look like.

Returning from Slovakia in September, Pope Francis had complained about the prelates who were allegedly already seeking to identify his successor. For this reason, the presence of a cardinal at the launch of a book that also looks at the papal succession risked being viewed as part of a “hidden electoral campaign.”

This is especially the case as Zuppi, the archbishop of Bologna, northern Italy, is seen by many as one of the possible papabili in a future conclave.

A leading figure in the Community of Sant'Egidio, and known internationally also for his role as a peace mediator in Mozambique, Zuppi has nevertheless always maintained a low-key and ascetic profile. This approach made him a beloved parish priest, first at the Rome church of Santa Maria in Trastevere and then in a parish on the city’s outskirts.

His hierarchical ascent began with his appointment as an auxiliary bishop of Rome in 2012. He was then called by Pope Francis to be archbishop of Bologna, a major Italian see, in 2015, receiving the cardinal’s red hat in 2019.

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi receives the red hat on Oct. 5, 2019. Daniel Ibanez/CNA.
Cardinal Matteo Zuppi receives the red hat on Oct. 5, 2019. Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Zuppi’s presence at the book launch was all the more striking because he is a cardinal loved by Pope Francis, who gives little indication of wanting to detach himself from the legacy of the reigning pope and always defends his pastoral activities. (The one exception might be his decision not to clamp down severely on the Traditional Latin Mass in his archdiocese following the motu proprio Traditionis custodes.)

The 66-year-old cardinal’s words at the book launch were cautious. He began by reflecting on the book’s title. He then focused on the Statio Orbis of March 27, 2020: the solitary prayer in St. Peter’s Square in which Pope Francis asked for an end to the pandemic. Zuppi said that on that occasion, “for the first time, Ecclesialese — the language spoken among us priests — became the common language.”

Speaking of the crisis in the Church, Zuppi said that “we can spend a lifetime arguing among ourselves, fueling an internal conflict. But the point is that it is a crisis, generative of something new.”

He stressed that John XXIII was considered “a simpleton, who seemed to impoverish the greatness of the Church,” and that Benedict XVI “defined himself as a humble worker in the Lord’s vineyard.”

In short, Francis is not, according to Zuppi, a pope who is diminishing the institution’s importance. Rather, he is giving it a new impetus. So much so, that there is “anything but an air of resignation,” Zuppi said. “In the many decisions he has made, and in the processes he has initiated, there is a great awareness and sense of the future.”

He added: “Pope Francis tells us that there is so much to do now, and he helps us not to have a renunciatory attitude, as a retreating minority. His significant reform is pastoral and missionary conversion.”

“He allows us to place ourselves in an evangelical, straightforward way, close to the people, and shows us some priorities for a Church that speaks to the heart. He helps us to be more Church, in a world that makes identity fade.”

There was also talk of the Zan bill, a proposed anti-homophobia law discussed in the Italian Senate. The Holy See presented a formal diplomatic note to the Italian state, highlighting that the bill violated the Concordat between the Holy See and Italy as part of the freedom of education.

It was not an opinion of the Holy See, but rather a diplomatic initiative to avoid the violation of a treaty. One of the panelists, Peter Gomez, director of IlFattoquotidiano.it, suggested erroneously that the Holy See expresses an opinion and the secular state is free to make its own decisions. But this was not the focus of the discussion.

Zuppi has repeatedly refused to address the controversy publicly. Many have interpreted this as a tactical move. The general assembly of the Italian bishops’ conference is currently discussing who should be its next president. Zuppi is one of the leading candidates to succeed Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia-Città della Pieve.

Then there is the question of the next conclave that continues to hang over Zuppi. It was the author of the book himself, Francesco Grana, who sought to damp down any speculation. He explained that, despite its arresting title, the book was not presenting a manifesto.

He referred to a book recently published by Andrea Riccardi, founder of the community with which Zuppi is closely associated.

“Andrea Riccardi, the founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, wrote the book ‘The Church burns.’ And if the Church burns, how can we not ask ourselves about the papacy of the future?” he asked.

Pope Francis to disabled people: The Church needs you

Pope Francis embraces a man in a wheelchair at the Wednesday general audience in St. Peter's Square on June 10, 2015. / L'Osservatore Romano.

Vatican City, Nov 25, 2021 / 10:00 am (CNA).

In his message for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Pope Francis said that the Catholic Church needs the participation of everyone, and the disabled must not be excluded from the sacraments.

“As we celebrate your International Day, I would like to speak directly to all of you who live with any condition of disability, to tell you that the Church loves you and needs each of you for the fulfillment of her mission at the service of the Gospel,” the pope said on Nov. 25.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities will be celebrated on Dec. 3. Pope Francis’ message marking the day was released in print, as well as in video form with translations in American Sign Language and Italian Sign Language.

Quoting his 2013 exhortation Evangelii gaudium, he said: “The worst form of discrimination ... is the lack of spiritual care.”

“Sometimes, as certain of you have unfortunately experienced, this has taken the form of denying access to the sacraments,” he said in his message.

“The Church’s magisterium is very clear in this area, and recently the Directory for Catechesis stated explicitly that ‘no one can deny the sacraments to persons with disabilities.’”

The theme of Pope Francis’ message for the day is friendship with Jesus, which he said is “an undeserved gift” that all have received and that can help those experiencing discrimination.

Friendship with Christ “redeems us and enables us to perceive differences as a treasure. For Jesus does not call us servants, women and men of lesser dignity, but friends: confidants worthy of knowing all that he has received from the Father,” he said.

Antonietta Pantone, 31, a Rome resident who uses a wheelchair, told journalists it was clear to her from the pope’s message that he considers it important that people with disabilities be part of the Church and not leave the Church.

She shared her personal journey of faith, which included finding a community in the Christian disability group Fede e Luce.

Pope Francis meets with Foi et Lumière members on Oct. 2, 2021. Vatican Media/CNA
Pope Francis meets with Foi et Lumière members on Oct. 2, 2021. Vatican Media/CNA

Fede e Luce is the Italian branch of the French association Foi et Lumière (known as Faith and Light in the English-speaking world), which began 50 years ago with a pilgrimage for people with disabilities to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France. The movement has now expanded to five continents.

“I always say: In the eyes of God, we are all equal,” Pantone said, noting that in her journey of faith, friendship has been fundamental.

Friendship with others “demonstrates the closeness of God,” she said.

Pantone also explained how losing physical contact with friends because of the COVID-19 pandemic has been very hard for her and other disabled people, especially her friends who live in residences and not with family.

In his message, Pope Francis addressed the difficulty of the coronavirus outbreak for the disabled.

“I think, for example, of your being forced to stay at home for long periods of time; the difficulty experienced by many students with disabilities in accessing aids to distance learning; the lengthy interruption of social care services in a good number of countries; and many other hardships that you have had to face,” he wrote.

He mentioned in particular those who live in residential facilities, separated from loved ones. “In those places, the virus hit hard and, despite the dedication of caretakers, it has taken all too many lives,” he said.

He also emphasized the importance of confronting these challenges by finding consolation in prayer and friendship with Jesus.

“I would like to speak personally to each of you, and I ask that, if necessary, your family members or those closest to you read my words to you, or convey my appeal,” he said. “I ask you to pray. The Lord listens attentively to the prayers of those who trust in him.”

“Prayer is a mission, a mission accessible to everyone, and I would like to entrust that mission in a particular way to you. There is no one so frail that he or she cannot pray, worship the Lord, give glory to his holy Name, and intercede for the salvation of the world. In the sight of the Almighty, we come to realize that we are all equal,” he stressed.

Pope Francis also noted the continued presence of discrimination, ignorance, and prejudice at all levels of society, assuring people with disabilities that through baptism they are “a full-fledged member of the Church community, so that all of us, without exclusion or discrimination, can say: “I am Church!’”

“The Church is truly your home!” he said.

At a Nov. 25 press conference, Fr. Alexandre Awi Mello said that the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life is trying to do more to improve pastoral care for those with disabilities.

“This message, in recognizing that people with disabilities have their place in the holy faithful People of God, is a great invitation, for us in the dicastery, but above all for parish, diocesan and associative realities to take new paths with pastoral creativity,” Awi Mello said.

Fr. Alexandre Awi Mello, secretary of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, speaks at a Vatican press conference, May 18, 2021. Gianluca Teseo/CNA.
Fr. Alexandre Awi Mello, secretary of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, speaks at a Vatican press conference, May 18, 2021. Gianluca Teseo/CNA.

“It is a door that opens to think of pastoral care no longer for, but with…”

On Dec. 6, the dicastery will launch a video campaign with the hashtag #IamChurch. In five videos, Catholics with disabilities from different parts of the world will share about their experiences in the Church.

Pantone, who participated in one of the Vatican’s videos, told CNA that she would like to see the Catholic Church do more to develop courses that allow people with all kinds of disabilities to participate in parish life, such as formation courses to become a catechism teacher.

“I still had some ways to study [to become a catechist],” she said, “but it depends on the type of disability, so if another disabled person wants to be a catechist, the Church should give him all the appropriate tools.”

Pantone said that the Church can do a lot for the disabled, but the recently begun Synodal Journey “is already a step forward which the world of disability sees positively.”

Pope Francis said in his message that “having Jesus as a friend is an immense consolation. It can turn each of us into a grateful and joyful disciple, one capable of showing that our frailties are no obstacle to living and proclaiming the Gospel.”

“In fact, a trusting and personal friendship with Jesus can serve as the spiritual key to accepting the limitations that all of us have, and thus to be at peace with them,” he said.

Parents who lost daughter in accident find joy in adoption ‘God has always been there’

Lisa, Katharine, and Bruce Alexander. / Screenshot EWTN Pro-Life Weekly

Denver Newsroom, Nov 25, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Biological parents to two daughters and two sons, Bruce and Lisa Alexander first considered adoption after their youngest was born. However, it was not until the 2012 March for Life that the Catholic couple decided to proceed. 

At the time, Lisa was thinking about adoption and decided to ask her husband about it. He was thinking the same thing. 

“From then on, the Holy Spirit was with us,” she said in a 2018 interview with EWTN Pro-Life Weekly that CNA is highlighting for National Adoption Month. 

Bruce recalled, “The fact that things lined up as quickly as they did, and what were typical … delays where the process normally drags on or gets held up — we didn’t experience that.” 

Realizing that they were older in age than most adoptive parents, the Alexanders decided to adopt an older child by making a switch from the infancy program to the early child program. On Jan. 14, 2014, they made their decision but, that same day, they received a call from the adoption agency. 

“She told me … ‘I know you’re interested in maybe switching but I’d like to tell you that we have a baby girl,’” Lisa explained. “Neither one of us needed to take any time. We knew that God had just placed this girl, even at that point, we thought that this was the child that was for our family.”

The little girl’s name was Katharine.

Holding back tears, Bruce added, “Even at the call, it was intuitively obvious we were being called.”

Throughout the adoption process, the Alexanders had been set on adopting a little boy. When they found out it was a little girl, they considered it to be a sign from above.

That sign came in the wake of tremendous heartache. In 2009, the Alexanders’ oldest daughter, Codi, was riding her bike home when she was hit by a car. Five days later, Codi died at the age of 16. 

“Our older daughter, who is with Jesus in Heaven, is who I prayed to and the Blessed Mother,” Lisa explained. “And I had a feeling that Codi had something to do with bringing this little girl to our family.”

This little girl, though, was born facing an increasingly common problem. Her birth mother was addicted to oxycodone. The adoption agency assured the Alexanders that she was weaned off, but did suggest contacting their pediatrician. 

“Their response was that there simply just isn’t enough research,” said Lisa. “We just thought that we would be provided for if Katharine needed something that later on in life that was tied with this addiction.”

Fast forward ahead and nothing is stopping little Katharine, or as she prefers being called, “Peanut.” 

Big brothers Chase and Brandon Alexander have embraced their new roles from playing baseball to tackling the playground with Katharine and welcomed the new energy that has filled their home. 

“A lot of the new creativity comes from her,” said Chase. 

While Katharine, now 7, brings a new energy into their home, there is also a sense of familiarity.

“It was the wittiness, I thought, that both Katharine and my older sister Codi had that they share,” explained Chase. “Not so much cracking a joke but more of like the comment at the right time that you wouldn’t expect from a four year old but just kind of fits in.”

“It’s not coincidence,” expressed Bruce. 

Lisa added, “I have always believed that Katharine was heavenly sent. … If you knew Codi, she definitely had her way with deciding who was going to come to our family.”

“There have been some tough times in our family, but God has always been there,” she concluded. 

Cardinal calls for action after 27 migrants drown in English Channel

Cardinal Nichols at Westminster Cathedral on April 18, 2019. / Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk.

London, England, Nov 25, 2021 / 08:05 am (CNA).

A cardinal said on Thursday that the death of 27 migrants attempting to cross the English Channel is “a tragic summons to action.”

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, appealed on Nov. 25 for “focused international cooperation” to prevent further deaths in the waters between France and the U.K.

“The terrible loss of so many lives in the Channel is a tragic summons to action. This event illustrates graphically both the ruthless evil of the traffickers and the desperation of those trying to escape poverty, conflict, or persecution in search of a better life,” the archbishop of Westminster said.

“Every one is a child of God, with an innate dignity and worth. Focused international cooperation, safe routes to sanctuary and joint efforts to tackle poverty are all needed in the face of a global flood of desperate humanity.”

The BBC reported that 17 men, seven women, and three children died on Nov. 24 when their boat sank near the French port of Calais. It was the deadliest incident in the Channel since the International Organization for Migration began collecting data in 2014.

French police have arrested five people in connection with the deaths amid an ongoing dispute between the British and French governments over a surge in migrants attempting to make the treacherous crossing.

Responding to the deaths, French President Emmanuel Macron, who is due to meet Pope Francis on Friday, said: “France will not let the Channel become a graveyard.”

The port in Dover, southeast England. Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.
The port in Dover, southeast England. Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.

More than 25,000 people have crossed the Channel in small boats this year — three times last year’s number.

Catholic leaders in the U.K. and France have repeatedly called for greater efforts to stem the crisis.

Four bishops of northern French dioceses issued a joint statement expressing indignation at the migrants’ deaths.

“Once again children, women, and men who have left everything behind in search of a better world have been crushed by the sea,” they said on Nov. 25.

“How can we not mourn them? How can we not be heartbroken? How can we not revolt against the ignominy of those who take advantage of their fragility and their hope for a better life for their families and themselves, to rob them before sending them in fragile boats to certain death?”

“How can we believe that closing borders and reinforcing security can provide a lasting solution to this migratory crisis?”

Archbishop Laurent Ulrich of Lille, Archbishop Vincent Dollmann of Cambrai, Bishop Olivier Leborge of Arras, and Lille auxiliary Bishop Antoine Herouard said that emotions were “running high” in the Catholic community and among groups assisting migrants.

A memorial plaque for migrants who have died in the English Channel in Dover, Kent. Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.
A memorial plaque for migrants who have died in the English Channel in Dover, Kent. Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.

“The challenges of contemporary migration are certainly complex, and we Catholics are also very small in the face of this,” the bishops said.

Citing the pope’s words at a 2018 Mass for migrants, they said that “with Pope Francis, we believe in the response ‘of solidarity and mercy’; ‘a response less concerned with calculations, than with the need for an equitable distribution of responsibilities, an honest and sincere assessment of the alternatives and a prudent management.’”

Cardinal Robert Sarah, the former prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship, told the French radio station Europe 1 on Nov. 25 that migrants’ deaths represented a “triple betrayal.”

“Young people from Africa are being taken away from their country, their understandings, their lifeblood,” the Guinean cardinal said.

“Then, these young people are presented with Europe as an Eldorado. They are told that they will have everything, when this is not true.”

“And finally, we do not react against the smugglers who take advantage of their naivete and make them die in the middle of the sea. We should fight this evil at its roots and present Europe as it is, with its difficulties too.”

Pope Francis tells new Lebanese PM: Lebanon is worth fighting to save

Pope Francis met Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Nov. 25. / Vatican Media/CNA

Vatican City, Nov 25, 2021 / 06:05 am (CNA).

Pope Francis told Lebanon’s new prime minister on Thursday that the crisis-hit country is worth fighting to save.

The pope met privately with Prime Minister Najib Mikati for a 20-minute discussion at the Vatican on Nov. 25.

“Lebanon is a country, a message, and also a promise to fight for,” Pope Francis said after the two exchanged gifts in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, according to the Vatican.

Mikati presented the pope with a brick from the Melkite Catholic Church of the Savior, which was badly damaged by the Beirut port explosion in August 2020.

Pope Francis assured Mikati of his prayers for the efforts to help Lebanon get back on its feet. He recalled the Gospel passage, in which Jesus takes Jairus’ daughter by the hand and says to her: “Arise.”

Holy See Press Office
Holy See Press Office

“Lord God, take Lebanon by the hand and say, ‘Arise!’” the pope said.

The pope gave the prime minister a bronze casting depicting workers in a vineyard with the inscription, “May the fruit of the vine and the work of man become for us a cup of salvation.”

Holy See Press Office
Holy See Press Office

At the end of the meeting, Pope Francis asked the prime minister and his delegation to join him in a moment of silent prayer.

Mikati also met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.

“The meeting was an opportunity to reiterate how important it is to promote not only the notion of full citizenship for all Lebanese, but also peaceful coexistence, so that Lebanon continues to be a message of peace and brotherhood that rises from the Middle East,” a Vatican statement said.

The formation of a government in Lebanon after 13 months of political stalemate paves the way for a potential papal visit to the country.

Pope Francis previously said that he wanted to visit Lebanon once its leaders formed a government.

“His Holiness the pope will visit Lebanon but after a government is formed. And this is a message to the Lebanese, that we must form a government so that everyone can gather... to revive Lebanon with our friends,” Lebanese politician Saad Hariri said after a private meeting with the pope in April.

A Vatican official confirmed in June that the pope intended to visit Lebanon once it successfully formed a government, adding that the trip could take place next year.

Lebanon’s new prime minister faces the challenge of coming into power at a time when three-quarters of the population live in poverty and there are widespread shortages of medicine, fuel, and food.

The World Bank has described Lebanon’s financial situation as among the “most severe crisis episodes globally since the mid-19th century.”

It estimates that country’s real GDP contracted by more than 20% in 2020, with surging inflation and high unemployment.

Lebanon’s currency has plummeted in 2021. By June, the Lebanese pound had lost 90% of its value since October 2019.

In recent months, the state has only been able to provide electricity for less than two hours a day.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, the leader of Lebanon’s Maronite Catholics, welcomed the formation of the new government when it was announced on Sept. 10.

He wished the government success in carrying out reforms and improving the living conditions for all Lebanese people.

The Lebanese cardinal had been calling on the country’s political leaders for months to overcome partisan interests and form a government to help the country amid its economic crisis.

Other Maronite and Melkite bishops also recently issued a call to both religious and civil leaders convene a Conference of National Reconciliation and Forgiveness under the auspices of the United Nations and the Arab League.

Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay, eparch of the Maronites in Australia, New Zealand, and Oceania, and Bishop Robert Rabbat, eparch of the Melkites in Australia, New Zealand, and Oceania, issued a joint statement on Nov. 25 that said that they were seeking the full support of the Vatican for the conference initiative.

“Without reconciliation, there is no resurrection for the nation, and without forgiveness, there is no life and hope for a modern pluralistic society,” it said.

. Vatican Media.
. Vatican Media.

Speaking at a Vatican day of prayer for Lebanon this year, Pope Francis said: “In these woeful times, we want to affirm with all our strength that Lebanon is, and must remain, a project of peace. Its vocation is to be a land of tolerance and pluralism, an oasis of fraternity where different religions and confessions meet, where different communities live together, putting the common good before their individual interests.”

The pope hosted the day of prayer with Catholic and Orthodox leaders from the country on July 1.

“Here I would reiterate how essential it is that those in power choose finally and decisively to work for true peace and not for their own interests. Let there be an end to the few profiting from the sufferings of many. No more letting half-truths continue to frustrate people’s aspirations,” the pope said.

Pope Francis recognizes miracle attributed to WWII martyr Bl. Titus Brandsma’s intercession

Blessed Titus Brandsma, O.Carm. / public domain

Vatican City, Nov 25, 2021 / 04:32 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has recognized a miracle attributed to the intercession of Titus Brandsma, an outspoken opponent of Nazism martyred at Dachau concentration camp in 1942.

The pope authorized Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, to issue a decree on Nov. 25 approving the miracle.

The decision paves the way for the Dutch Carmelite friar’s canonization.

Titus Brandsma, a priest, professor, and journalist, was born Anno Sjoerd Brandsma in Oegeklooster, in the province of Friesland, on Feb. 23, 1881. He entered the Carmelite novitiate in 1898, taking the religious name Titus. He was ordained a priest in 1905.

Following Germany’s invasion of the Netherlands in 1940, Brandsma defended the freedom of Catholic education and the Catholic press against Nazi pressures.

After he firmly opposed mandatory Nazi propaganda in Catholic newspapers, he was arrested in January 1942.

He was transferred to Dachau, once described as “the largest priest cemetery in the world,” on June 19 that year. He died on July 26, following a lethal injection.

He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on Nov. 3, 1985, as a martyr for the faith.

In his homily, the Polish pope praised Brandsma’s “constant vein of optimism.”

“It accompanied him even in the hell of the Nazi camp. Until the end, he remained a source of support and hope for the other prisoners: he had a smile for everyone, a word of understanding, a gesture of kindness,” he said.

“The same ‘nurse,’ who on July 26, 1942, injected him with deadly poison, later testified that she always kept vivid in her memory the face of that priest who ‘had compassion on me.’”

A Catholic priest in Florida told CNA in 2018 that he attributed his miraculous healing from cancer to Brandsma’s intercession.

Fr. Michael Driscoll, O. Carm, was diagnosed with advanced melanoma in 2004. Shortly afterward, someone gave him a small piece of Brandsma’s black suit, which the American priest applied to his head each day.

He underwent major surgery, with doctors removing 84 lymph nodes and a salivary gland. He then went through 35 days of radiation treatment.

Doctors said that his subsequent recovery from Stage 4 cancer was scientifically inexplicable.

Driscoll recalled that his doctor told him: “No need to come back, don’t waste your money on airfare in coming back here. You’re cured. I don't find any more cancer in you.”

A congress of theologians recognized the healing as a miracle on May 25 this year. A group of cardinals approved the canonization cause on Nov. 9, submitting their decision to Pope Francis.

Pope Francis advanced several other causes on Thursday.

He recognized a miracle attributed to the intercession of Bl. Carolina Santocanale (1852-1923), known as Maria of Jesus, the Italian founder of the Capuchin Sisters of Immaculate Mary of Lourdes. She was beatified in 2016 and will now be canonized.

The pope also acknowledged the martyrdom of Enrico Planchart, Ladislao Radigue, and three companions, priests killed in hatred of the faith on May 26, 1871, at the time of the Paris Commune, a revolutionary government in the French capital.

The pope also recognized the heroic virtues of the Italian Bishop Antonio Bello (1935-1993), who he recently described as “a prophet in the land of Puglia,” the region at the southeastern tip of the Italian Peninsula.

In addition, he approved the heroic virtues of:

— Juan de San Pedro y Ustarroz (1564-1615), known as John of Jesus Mary, a Spanish Discalced Carmelite.

Giorgio Guzzetta (1682-1756), an Italian Oratorian priest known as the Apostle of the Albanians of Sicily.

Natalina Bonardi (1864-1945), founder of the Suore di Santa Maria di Loreto, a religious congregation based in Vercelli, Italy.

Maria Dositea Bottani (1896-1970), superior general of the Institute of the Ursuline Sisters of the Immaculate Virgin Mary of Gandino, Italy.

Odette Vidal Cardoso (1931-1939), a Brazilian girl who died in Rio de Janeiro at the age of nine.

Meet the young Catholics restoring wayside crucifixes across France

Members of SOS Calvaires, a group restoring wayside crucifixes across France. / SOS Calvaires.

Rome Newsroom, Nov 25, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

The missionary spirit of young people in France is being rekindled by the surprising success of an association that is restoring wayside crucifixes across the country — and attracting considerable media attention in the process.

SOS Calvaires was founded in 1987 in the Maine-et-Loire department in western France. It sought to bring together people dedicated to preserving the calvaries, oratories, and chapels that dot the French landscape.

SOS Calvaires.
SOS Calvaires.

The association gained momentum in 2015 when a group of young Catholics, who openly declared themselves “proud of their religion and heritage,” took up the mission under the leadership of Paul Ramé, who runs a carpentry business.

Julien Lepage, Ramé’s brother-in-law, joined the adventure in 2018 as a treasurer. He gradually rose to a leadership position, bringing with him great ambitions.

“I got to know about the association’s activities when my brother-in-law invited me to the laying of a calvary in our region, and it touched me very deeply,” Lepage told CNA.

“Indeed, to restore a calvary is very simple. But the impact is huge in terms of testimony, and I immediately saw the evangelizing dimension of it,” he said.

SOS Calvaires.
SOS Calvaires.

Lepage added that he soon challenged his team — whose members are all under 35 years of age — to restore one calvary a month in their region, instead of one or two per year.

Thanks to a growing social media presence, the association started to attract more and more young people willing to serve Christ in this way. They also drew the attention of Catholic and local media — until a well-known French YouTuber noticed them and things changed radically.

Baptiste Marchais was struck by the beauty and sincerity of the association’s mission. He is the French record holder in the bench press discipline. His YouTube channel, Bench and Cigars, has 230,000 subscribers.

Baptiste Marchais lifts a wayside crucifix into place. Screenshot from Bench&Cigars YouTube channel.
Baptiste Marchais lifts a wayside crucifix into place. Screenshot from Bench&Cigars YouTube channel.

In February, he joined members of SOS Calvaires in laying a 13-foot-high calvary. The video that he posted a month later quickly gained more than 200,000 views.

“This video has been an incredible game changer for us,” Lepage said. “We received thousands of donations overnight and people from across France asked us to restore calvaries in their respective regions.”

SOS Calvaires.
SOS Calvaires.

“We understood that there was something to be done, and we decided to embark on a national adventure, with new offices in different parts of the country,” he explained.

Lepage noted that the association had invested a lot of money to remain autonomous and be able to produce its own crosses.

Within six months, SOS Calvaires established 25 branch offices in France. To date, it has around 4,000 donors. It also has 800 members — up from 15 in February.

The organization is now restoring 10 calvaries a month across France.

The association occasionally provides calvaries to local pastors for their communities. It also sells some to private citizens who wish to plant a cross on their property.

SOS Calvaires.
SOS Calvaires.

“It is a way of letting people know that they are entering a Christian land, and we encourage these initiatives,” Lepage commented.

He said that the association’s growing visibility had great evangelizing power, especially among young people. He recounted that after Baptiste Marchais posted his video, priests received calls from young people wanting to go back to church.

The initiative not only offers young people the chance to meet together. The ceremonies at the laying of calvaries are also always accompanied by prayer, songs, and convivial meals.

“Nowadays, countless young people feel lost, and they seek action,” Lepage said. “Restoring and setting calvaries in place falls within their competence and gives them a sense of belonging. They can identify with a cause, and it gives them a brighter image of the Catholic world.”

SOS Calvaires.
SOS Calvaires.

“Many of them see France declining, collapsing, and they want to preserve the Christian roots of their country, whether they are practicing Catholics or not.”

The present situation in France, marked by waves of vandalism and desecration of Catholic monuments, has not dampened the enthusiasm of the association’s young volunteers.

SOS Calvaires.
SOS Calvaires.

“Some time ago, one of our calvaries was tagged [with graffiti], and we responded by publicly warning vandals that for each calvary destroyed, we would build two calvaries, and it never happened again,” Lepage said.

Following its rapid expansion, the association hopes to restore 250 calvaries in 2022, and 1,000 per year by 2024.

This ambitious goal will be supported by an app designed to allow members to geolocate and list all the endangered or dilapidated calvaries that they come across. A partnership with the Association of the Guides and Scouts of Europe is also helping members to map and reference the country’s calvaries.

SOS Calvaires.
SOS Calvaires.

But the association’s grand designs do not stop there. It is also moving into education, offering instruction in schools. It sees this as a way to prepare new generations to keep alive the flame of faith and Catholic tradition in France.

Wife of Catholic radio host among those killed in Christmas Parade attack

Jackson Sparks, 8, was among those killed in the Christmas parade attack Nov. 21 in Waukesha, Wisc. / Screenshot of Twitter post

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 25, 2021 / 00:00 am (CNA).

Tributes have continued to pour in in the wake of the SUV attack at a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisc., as the death toll continues to rise, with the wife of a Catholic radio host among the victims.

On Tuesday, 8-year-old Jackson Sparks succumbed to his injuries and became the youngest fatality of the attack. The death toll now stands at six, with at least 50 injured. He was marching in the parade with his baseball team, the Waukesha Blazers.

Sparks was remembered by his baseball organization’s president Jeff Rogers as someone who was “a sweet, talented boy who was a joy to coach." 

“He was an awesome utility player and played on the Blazers Wolfpack team. Jackson was sweet and tender-hearted with a contagious smile. He was the little guy on the team that everyone supported. You couldn’t help but love him," Rogers said in a Facebook post.

The attack on Nov. 21 involved a red SUV that barreled through barricades and into a crowd marching down the main street of Waukesha just before 4:40 p.m. on Nov. 21. The driver, Darrell Brooks Jr., was arrested. 

Videos posted on social media showed the vehicle racing down the parade route, with police in pursuit, past horrified onlookers moments before marchers were struck.

A priest injured in the attack was released from the hospital on Monday, according to the Catholic Community of Waukesha. 

Father Patrick Heppe, a parish priest of the Catholic Community of Waukesha, a cluster of the four Catholic churches in the Milwaukee suburb, is recovering well.

“At the prayer service last night, Fr. Matthew informed everyone that Fr. Pat is at home and recovering from a concussion after spending Sunday night in the hospital,” said a Nov. 23 statement from Monica Cardenas, the parish’s director of stewardship and communication.

“At this time, he is resting, maintaining his sense of humor and his prognosis is good. He appreciates your prayers and is thinking of and praying for our community,” she said. 

message sent to Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee said that the pope was “asking the Lord to bestow upon everyone the spiritual strength which triumphs over violence and overcomes evil with good.”

“The Holy Father asks you kindly to convey the assurance of his spiritual closeness to all affected by the tragic incident that recently took place in Waukesha,” said the telegram, released on Nov. 23 and sent on the pope’s behalf by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

“He commends the souls of those who died to Almighty God’s loving mercy and implores the divine gifts of healing and consolation upon the injured and bereaved.”

Four of the dead were affiliated with a popular local dancing troupe, the “Milwaukee Dancing Grannies.” The “Dancing Grannies'' perform at parades throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota. Two dancers, their choreographer, and the husband of a dancer were killed, and others were injured. 

Tamara Durand, 52, was making her debut performance as a “Dancing Granny.” Durand’s husband, Dave, is a Catholic author and the host of “The Dave Durand Show” on Relevant Radio. According to local media reports, Tamara was actively involved in her parish and hoped to one day travel to the Vatican. 

“Please pray for the repose of the soul of Tamara Durand, wife of Dave Durand, part of our Relevant Radio family,” Cale Clark, host of “The Cale Clark Show” on Relevant Radio, tweeted on Wednesday. “She lost her life in the tragedy that occurred at the Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on Sunday.”

Another “Granny,” Virginia “Ginny” Sorenson, 79, was the “heart and soul” of the team. In an August 2021 profile of the team by CBS 58, Sorenson explained that although she was sidelined from performing due to surgery, she stayed in the group as their choreographer. 

Glencastle Irish Dancers, Inc., where Sorenson's daughters and granddaughters take dance lessons, spoke of her friendly personality. 

“She always had a smile on her face and a kind word to share,” the dance organization said in a Facebook post on Nov. 22. “Our hearts are heavy today for the family and all who knew and loved Ginny. Please keep this family and all families affected by this tragedy in your thoughts and prayers.” 

Leanna Owen, 71, was the shortest and smallest “Granny.” A Catholic, she was described by the Washington Post as “a Packers fan and an animal lover” who owned an English bulldog. She managed apartment buildings and “didn’t have a mean bone in her body.” 

Colombian court lifts ban of video by influencer Kika affirming traditional marriage

Colombian influencer Erika "Kika" Nieto / Screenshot from ADF International tweet

Mexico City Newsroom, Nov 25, 2021 / 00:00 am (CNA).

The Constitutional Court of Colombia has overturned a lower court’s decision that forced Colombian influencer Erika “Kika” Nieto to take down a video in which she expressed her Christian belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.

“No one should be censored or fear criminal penalties for expressing their beliefs,” said Santiago Guevara, a lawyer for Nueva Democracia, an NGO that with the support of the Christian legal defense organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International, represented Nieto.

“Together with Kika, we are delighted that the Court has reversed this censorship decision. Kika stood firm during this ordeal to defend everyone's freedom to share their beliefs," Guevara said. 

Kika Nieto, who is a Christian, has faced legal proceedings since April 2020, initiated by José Francisco Montufar Rodríguez, a lawyer and LGBTIQ+ activist.

Montufar Rodríguez demanded that the Colombian courts censor a video in which Nieto said: “It is my opinion that God made us all, and created man and created woman so that man is with woman and woman is with man and that's it.”

“What we have done after that, as man with man and woman with woman, I don't think is right. However, note this: I tolerate it,” Nieto added.

In the recording, posted in 2018 under the title “My most sincere video,” Nieto answered questions from her followers.

After Montufar Rodríguez filed a complaint about the views of the Colombian influencer, a court ordered the young woman to remove the video and denied her the right to free speech. Then, on Nov. 23, the Constitutional Court overturned that decision and dismissed the lawsuit.

In an interview with ACI Prensa, Guevara said that although his client is once again free to share her convictions, the defense is disappointed by some details of the Constitutional Court ruling.

"Although the lower court’s ruling that violated Kika's rights has been  overturned, [the Court] did not rule on the content of those rights," Guevara lamented.

"This criticism is based on the fact that, regardless of whether the (plaintiff’s) petition for judicial protection was declared admissible or not, the truth is that the Court was expected to reaffirm the precedent set in SU-355 of 2019 and point out that what was expressed by Kika in her video was protected by her fundamental rights to free speech and religious freedom,” he said.

“In this regard, the Court left out an analysis of absolute relevance," he Nieto's lawyer explained.

SU-355 involved a journalist claiming in a YouTube video that “Kika Nieto hates gays even if she says otherwise.” The case distinguished between the subjective opinions of free speech and the requirement of news reporting to be based on objective verifiable facts.

Guevara said that although the ruling is “final” for this specific case, “regarding the rights that we sought to protect, both those of the plaintiff and Kika’s, there is no position of the Court on the underlying issues that closes the debate definitively.”

“Therefore, if a similar case is presented, this judgment does not set a precedent for how to resolve it, except in procedural matters … it would have been appropriate to have a precedent that would give clear and bolstered protection to free speech when court rulings are issued based on religious beliefs,” he said.

Guevara explained that the court “resolved the case by focusing on  procedural matters. It considered that the requirements of immediacy and subsidiarity of the legal action weren’t met, since the plaintiff didn’t first resort to (other avenues) and filed long after the events took place.” 

He continued: “Therefore, it was decided to declare the petition for protection inadmissible, which has a positive effect, since the lower court ruling that violated Kika's rights was overturned, but the court made no pronouncement on the content of those rights.”

In that regard, the lawyer for Nueva Democracia stated that this shouldn’t be considered a victory for free speech and freedom of religion.

“Although Kika can repost her video because the ruling that unjustifiably censored her was overturned, the truth is that this is due to procedural reasons. There is no decision here that allows us to affirm that the Court ruled in favor of freedom of religion and free speech,” he reiterated.

Guevara criticized the Constitutional Court for not giving Nieto’s case "the importance it deserved.”

"We were dealing with a case that obviously violated free speech, religious freedom and there was a Court precedent (SU-355 of 2019) and none of that was taken into account," he added.

Tomás Henríquez, ADF International Area Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, declared that "if we value a free society, protecting the right to speak freely is paramount."

“We welcome with satisfaction the Court's decision to overturn the ruling censoring Kika Nieto. However, we regret that the underlying issue of censorship wasn’t addressed and affirm the right of everyone to speak freely. We must always choose debate over censorship,” he said. 

“Ultimately, people and democracy suffer when voices are silenced,” he added.

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