Color Label rgb pos cropped

Catholic News Agency

ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
CNA
  1. Vatican City, Jan 20, 2021 / 11:11 am (CNA).- In a message to Joe Biden on inauguration day, Pope Francis said he is praying the new United States president will make decisions which respect the rights and dignity of every person, especially the poor and most vulnerable.

    “At a time when the grave crises facing our human family call for farsighted and united responses, I pray that your decisions will be guided by a concern for building a society marked by authentic justice and freedom, together with unfailing respect for the rights and dignity of every person, especially the poor, the vulnerable and those who have no voice,” the pope said Jan. 20.

    Biden, a Catholic, was sworn into office as the 46th president of the United States outside the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Jan. 20.

    For the occasion, Pope Francis sent Biden his good wishes and “the assurance of my prayers that Almighty God will grant you wisdom and strength in the exercise of your high office.”

    The pope wished that under Biden’s leadership the American people would draw strength from the “lofty political, ethical and religious values that have inspired the nation since its founding.”

    Francis added that he is asking God, “the source of all wisdom and truth, to guide your efforts to foster understanding, reconciliation and peace within the United States and among the nations of the world in order to advance the universal common good.”

    The pope closed his message by invoking blessings upon Biden, his family, and the American people.

    Shortly prior, the U.S. bishops’ conference released the full text of a prepared statement on Biden’s inauguration as president, after initially withholding it from publication.

    Although it was expected to be released at 9 a.m. Eastern time Wednesday, the statement was not published by the bishops’ conference at that time. According to The Pillar, Vatican Secretariat of State officials stepped in to prevent its publication.

    The conference published the full statement shortly after noon.

    The U.S. bishops’ prepared statement said they planned to engage the new administration on issues including abortion, religious freedom, racism, and poverty.

    According to sources at the conference, figures within the conference pushed back on language in the prepared statement that had highlighted areas of concern with the incoming Biden administration on abortion, gender, and religious freedom.

    In particular, sources at the conference told CNA that Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago opposed the inclusion of language noting abortion as a problem with the incoming Biden administration. Biden has pledged to support taxpayer-funded abortion, among other pro-abortion policies.

    In January 2017, Pope Francis sent a message to then-U.S. President Donald Trump on the occasion of his inauguration.

  2. San Francisco, Calif., Jan 20, 2021 / 10:47 am (CNA).- The Archbishop of San Francisco on Wednesday stated his support for the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) president, who had noted areas of collaboration and concern with incoming President Joe Biden.

     

    In a prepared statement that was not released on Wednesday morning as scheduled--but published later in the day after the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States--USCCB president Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles prayed for Biden. He noted areas of both agreement and disagreement between the bishops and Biden, who is Catholic.

     

    According to sources at the conference, figures within the conference pushed back on language in the prepared statement that had highlighted areas of concern with the incoming Biden administration on abortion, gender, and religious freedom.

     

     In particular, sources at the conference told CNA that Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago opposed the inclusion of language noting abortion as a problem with the incoming Biden administration. Biden has pledged to support taxpayer-funded abortion, among other pro-abortion policies.

     

    On Wednesday, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco welcomed Archbishop Gomez’s “timely call for healing as a country as the new administration assumes office.”

     

    “In particular, I am grateful to him for stating clearly once again that opposing the injustice of abortion remains our ‘preeminent priority,’ while acknowledging that ‘preeminent’ does not mean ‘only’,” Cordileone stated.

     

    Gomez on Wednesday had praised Biden’s witness of relying upon his faith in difficult times, and his commitment to the poor.  

     

    At the same time, Gomez said, “our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender.”

     

    “For the nation’s bishops, the continued injustice of abortion remains the ‘preeminent priority’,” he said, adding that “preeminent does not mean ‘only’,” and there are a wide variety of challenges and threats to human dignity facing the country today.

     

    He added that religious freedom is “[o]f deep concern” to the bishops.

     

    Cordileone on Wednesday also said he was praying for new President Biden.

     

    “Catholics must and do speak out on many issues affecting the equal dignity of us all, but if life at its most vulnerable beginnings is not protected, then none of us is safe,” he said. “Affirming this equal human dignity at every stage and in every condition is the path to healing and unity.”

     

    In a letter accompanying their 2020 document on voting, “Faithful Citizenship,” the U.S. bishops’ conference stated that “[t]he threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.”

     

    “At the same time, we cannot dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty,” the letter stated.

  3. CNA Staff, Jan 20, 2021 / 09:30 am (CNA).- At least two people are believed to have died after an explosion on Wednesday devastated a building belonging to a Catholic parish in the Spanish capital, Madrid. 

    The explosion took place near the Puerta de Toledo in central Madrid after 3 p.m. local time on Jan. 20. 

    The archdiocese of Madrid said that the explosion may have been caused by a gas leak in the building owned by the Parish of the Virgen de la Paloma and San Pedro el Real.

    It said that priests lived on two floors of the building, which also contained space used by the parish and Caritas. 

    “Two of the priests are OK and one has been transferred to the hospital. An attempt is being made to locate a layman who was with them at the time of the explosion,” the archdiocese said.

    The archdiocese added that Cardinal Carlos Osoro Sierra, the archbishop of Madrid, had traveled to the scene of the explosion to offer support to members of the parish.  

    “I pray for the Christian community in these difficult times and I pray for the victims,” he wrote on his Twitter account.

     

    Pedimos que recéis por que no haya víctimas. Son los salones y la vivienda de los sacerdotes de la parroquia. Los sacerdotes están atendidos por samur y fuera de peligro. Hay una persona laica que estaba allí que no se la localiza. https://t.co/sXpAnrlZyC

    — Virgen de la Paloma ⛪️ (@ParroquiaPaloma) January 20, 2021  

    ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, reported that Madrid’s mayor, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, had confirmed that at least two people had died as a result of the explosion.

    The mayor added that the building was still burning, but firefighters had not yet extinguished the flames due to the risk of further explosions.

    ACI Prensa said that local residents, including members of a nursing home, had sought refuge in neighborhood cafes. 

    The explosion damaged nearby buildings, shattering glass and showering the street with debris.

  4. CNA Staff, Jan 20, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).- The Vatican began on Wednesday vaccinating homeless people in its care against COVID-19.

    The Holy See press office said on Jan. 20 that an initial group of around 25 homeless people had received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine in the atrium of the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican.

    It said that those receiving the vaccine were permanently housed in the care and residence facilities of the Office of Papal Charities, the Vatican department that offers charitable assistance to the poor on behalf of the pope.



    The department is overseen by papal almoner Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, 57, who was himself hospitalized with COVID-19 for 10 days last month but has now recovered.

    He was pictured assisting the homeless as they waited to receive the vaccine in a video released by the Vatican.

    Vatican News reported that one man who received the vaccine, identified as Mario, said that he felt he now had “extra security.”

    “We thank the pope for this gift,” he said.

    Vatican News said that the vaccine recipients were residents of the Palazzo Migliori, a 19th-century palace converted into a homeless shelter, and two houses near the Vatican run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. It added that the men and women, from Italy, Georgia, and Romania, were aged 60 and over.

    The Holy See press office said that further groups of homeless people would receive the vaccine in the coming days.



    Pope Francis, 84, and Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, 93, received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine last week.

    The Vatican began administering vaccinations against COVID-19 on Jan. 13. 

    Vatican residents and employees and their families are receiving doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine. 

    Vatican City State, the world’s smallest independent nation-state, has a population of around 800 people. But together with the Holy See, the sovereign entity that predates it, it employs more than 4,000 people.

    Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, a total of 27 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Vatican City State. Among them were at least 11 members of the Swiss Guard. 

    Dr. Andrea Arcangeli, head of the Vatican health service, said on Jan. 2 that the Vatican had purchased a low-temperature refrigerator to store the vaccine.

    “Priority will be given to health and public safety personnel, to the elderly and to personnel most frequently in contact with the public,” he said.

    At his traditional Christmas “Urbi et Orbi” blessing, the pope called for COVID-19 vaccines to be made available to the world’s neediest people.

    He said: “I ask everyone -- government leaders, businesses, international organizations -- to foster cooperation and not competition, and to seek a solution for everyone: vaccines for all, especially for the most vulnerable and needy of all regions of the planet. Before all others: the most vulnerable and needy!”

  5. Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 20, 2021 / 07:55 am (CNA).- A federal court struck down the transgender mandate on Tuesday, the eve of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

    The mandate that doctors perform gender-transition surgeries upon the referral of a mental health professional—despite objections that the doctor may have to the procedure—dates back to the Obama administration.

     

    On Tuesday evening, Judge Peter Welte of the Eastern District of North Dakota granted Catholic groups that challenged the mandate permanent injunctive relief from having to provide or cover gender-transition procedures.

     

    Luke Goodrich, VP and senior counsel at Becket, which represented the plaintiffs, called the decision a “Major victory for #ReligiousFreedom.”

     

    A coalition of Catholic organizations representing hospitals, doctors, and clinics, joined in part by the state of North Dakota, had challenged the mandate in court. The Catholic groups alleged that the mandate required them to perform and provide insurance coverage for gender-transition surgeries and abortions, against their conscientious objections.

     

    Four Catholic groups under the Religious Sisters of Mercy, along with the Catholic Benefits Association and the state of North Dakota, brought the lawsuit.

     

    Members of the Catholic groups “joyfully serve ALL patients regardless of sex or gender identity. They routinely provide top-notch care to transgender patients for everything from cancer to the common cold,” Goodrich tweeted. “They also provide millions of dollars in free and low-cost care to the elderly, poor, and underserved rural areas.”

     

    While he granted the Catholic groups an injunction on the mandate’s requirement of gender-transition surgery and coverage, Judge Welte dismissed their abortion-related claims.

     

    “The Court DECLARES that HHS’s interpretation of Section 1557 that requires the Catholic Plaintiffs to perform and provide insurance coverage for gender-transition procedures violates their sincerely held religious beliefs without satisfying strict scrutiny under the RFRA,” Welte wrote.

     

    The court is the second federal court to rule against the mandate. In Oct., 2019, Judge Reed O’Connor of the North District of Texas struck down the mandate after doctors had sued, alleging violations of conscience.

     

    “Today’s ruling protects patients, aligns with current medical research, and ensures doctors aren’t forced to violate their religious beliefs and medical judgment,” Goodrich stated. “This is a victory for common-sense, conscience, and sound medical judgment.”

     

    The mandate, issued in 2016, stemmed from the Obama administration’s interpretation of Sec. 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination in health care in a number of areas.

     

    The administration interpreted it to include protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and issued its requirement of doctors not to refuse gender-transition surgery referrals.

  6. Washington D.C., Jan 20, 2021 / 07:04 am (CNA).- Updated: The U.S. bishops' conference did not release the prepared statement on Joe Biden's inauguration, which had been expected to be released at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

    As Joe Biden is inaugurated Wednesday as president of the United States, the U.S. bishops had prepared a statement saying they planned to engage the new administration on issues including abortion, religious freedom, racism, and poverty.

    Although it was expected to be released at 9 a.m. Wednesday, the statement was not published by the bishops' conference. According to The Pillar, Vatican Secretariat of State officials stepped in to prevent its publication.

    “Our commitments on issues of human sexuality and the family, as with our commitments in every other area — such as abolishing the death penalty or seeking a health care system and economy that truly serves the human person — are guided by Christ’s great commandment to love and to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable,” Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, had said in the prepared statement.

    In the prepared Jan. 20 statement, Gomez said he is praying that God may grant the incoming president wisdom and courage in pursuing unity, healing, liberty, and equality.

    Gomez stressed that the role of the Catholic bishops is not to endorse parties or candidates, but to offer principles that can guide consciences.

    “Catholic bishops are not partisan players in our nation’s politics,” he said. “We are pastors responsible for the souls of millions of Americans and we are advocates for the needs of all our neighbors.”

    The bishops’ conference, he said, has worked for years to address a wide variety of issues, including abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, peace and economic development, racism, immigration, poverty, the environment, and criminal justice reform.

    “On these and other issues, our duty to love and our moral principles lead us to prudential judgments and positions that do not align neatly with the political categories of left or right or the platforms of our two major political parties,” he said.

    “On some issues we find ourselves more on the side of Democrats, while on others we find ourselves standing with Republicans. Our priorities are never partisan. We are Catholics first, seeking only to follow Jesus Christ faithfully and to advance his vision for human fraternity and community.”

    Gomez noted that the bishops’ conference works with every president and Congress, but added that working with Biden will be unique, since “he is our first president in 60 years to profess the Catholic faith.”

    The archbishop said he finds hope and inspiration in Biden’s personal witness of relying on faith in difficult times and commitment to the poor. 

    At the same time, he said, “our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender. Of deep concern is the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences.”

    Stressing that the bishops must preach the truth of the Gospel even when doing so is unpopular, Gomez said that the issue of abortion merits special attention as a grave evil in society. 

    “For the nation’s bishops, the continued injustice of abortion remains the ‘preeminent priority’,” he said, adding that “preeminent does not mean ‘only’,” and there are a wide variety of challenges and threats to human dignity facing the country today.”

    “Abortion is a direct attack on life that also wounds the woman and undermines the family,” he said. “It is not only a private matter, it raises troubling and fundamental questions of fraternity, solidarity, and inclusion in the human community. It is also a matter of social justice. We cannot ignore the reality that abortion rates are much higher among the poor and minorities, and that the procedure is regularly used to eliminate children who would be born with disabilities.”

    The U.S. bishops will engage with the president in the hopes of beginning “a dialogue to address the complicated cultural and economic factors that are driving abortion and discouraging families,” Gomez said.

    He voiced hope that Biden will be willing to work with the Church and avoid expanding abortion and contraception.

    “My hope, too, is that we can work together to finally put in place a coherent family policy in this country, one that acknowledges the crucial importance of strong marriages and parenting to the well-being of children and the stability of communities,” the archbishop said. “If the President, with full respect for the Church’s religious freedom, were to engage in this conversation, it would go a long way toward restoring the civil balance and healing our country’s needs.”

    Gomez praised Biden’s call for healing and unity in America, saying that such healing is “urgently needed as we confront the trauma in our country caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the social isolation that has only worsened the intense and long-simmering divisions among our fellow citizens.”

    True healing can only come from God, the archbishop said, and requires forgiveness and dialogue.

    “Christian love calls us to love our enemies and bless those who oppose us, and to treat others with the same compassion that we want for ourselves,” he added.

    The president of the bishops’ conference concluded by entrusting the country’s transition to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

    “May she guide us in the ways of peace and obtain for us wisdom and the grace of a true patriotism and love of country,” he said.

    The full text of the unpublished USCCB statement is below:

    Statement on the Inauguration of Joseph R. Biden, Jr., as 46th President of the United States of America
    Most Reverend José H. Gomez
    Archbishop of Los Angeles, President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
    January 20, 2021

    My prayers are with our new President and his family today.

    I am praying that God grant him wisdom and courage to lead this great nation and that God help him to meet the tests of these times, to heal the wounds caused by this pandemic, to ease our intense political and cultural divisions, and to bring people together with renewed dedication to America’s founding purposes, to be one nation under God committed to liberty and equality for all.

    Catholic bishops are not partisan players in our nation’s politics. We are pastors responsible for the souls of millions of Americans and we are advocates for the needs of all our neighbors. In every community across the country, Catholic parishes, schools, hospitals, and ministries form an essential culture of compassion and care, serving women, children, and the elderly, the poor and sick, the imprisoned, the migrant, and the marginalized, no matter what their race or religion.

    When we speak on issues in American public life, we try to guide consciences, and we offer principles. These principles are rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the social teachings of his Church. Jesus Christ revealed God’s plan of love for creation and revealed the truth about the human person, who is created in God’s image, endowed with God-given dignity, rights and responsibilities, and called to a transcendent destiny.

    Based on these truths, which are reflected in the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, the bishops and Catholic faithful carry out Christ’s commandment to love God and love our neighbors by working for an America that protects human dignity, expands equality and opportunities for every person, and is open-hearted towards the suffering and weak.

    For many years now, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has tried to help Catholics and others of good will in their reflections on political issues through a publication we call Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. The most recent edition addresses a wide range of concerns. Among them: abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, immigration, racism, poverty, care for the environment, criminal justice reform, economic development, and international peace.

    On these and other issues, our duty to love and our moral principles lead us to prudential judgments and positions that do not align neatly with the political categories of left or right or the platforms of our two major political parties. We work with every President and every Congress.

    On some issues we find ourselves more on the side of Democrats, while on others we find ourselves standing with Republicans. Our priorities are never partisan. We are Catholics first, seeking only to follow Jesus Christ faithfully and to advance his vision for human fraternity and community.

    I look forward to working with President Biden and his administration, and the new Congress. As with every administration, there will be areas where we agree and work closely together and areas where we will have principled disagreement and strong opposition.

    Working with President Biden will be unique, however, as he is our first president in 60 years to profess the Catholic faith. In a time of growing and aggressive secularism in American culture, when religious believers face many challenges, it will be refreshing to engage with a President who clearly understands, in a deep and personal way, the importance of religious faith and institutions. Mr. Biden’s piety and personal story, his moving witness to how his faith has brought him solace in times of darkness and tragedy, his longstanding commitment to the Gospel’s priority for the poor — all of this I find hopeful and inspiring.

    At the same time, as pastors, the nation’s bishops are given the duty of proclaiming the Gospel in all its truth and power, in season and out of season, even when that teaching is inconvenient or when the Gospel’s truths run contrary to the directions of the wider society and culture. So, I must point out that our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender. Of deep concern is the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences.

    Our commitments on issues of human sexuality and the family, as with our commitments in every other area — such as abolishing the death penalty or seeking a health care system and economy that truly serves the human person — are guided by Christ’s great commandment to love and to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable. For the nation’s bishops, the continued injustice of abortion remains the “preeminent priority.” Preeminent does not mean “only.” We have deep concerns about many threats to human life and dignity in our society. But as Pope Francis teaches, we cannot stay silent when nearly a million unborn lives are being cast aside in our country year after year through abortion.

    Abortion is a direct attack on life that also wounds the woman and undermines the family. It is not only a private matter, it raises troubling and fundamental questions of fraternity, solidarity, and inclusion in the human community. It is also a matter of social justice. We cannot ignore the reality that abortion rates are much higher among the poor and minorities, and that the procedure is regularly used to eliminate children who would be born with disabilities.

    Rather than impose further expansions of abortion and contraception, as he has promised, I am hopeful that the new President and his administration will work with the Church and others of good will. My hope is that we can begin a dialogue to address the complicated cultural and economic factors that are driving abortion and discouraging families. My hope, too, is that we can work together to finally put in place a coherent family policy in this country, one that acknowledges the crucial importance of strong marriages and parenting to the well-being of children and the stability of communities. If the President, with full respect for the Church’s religious freedom, were to engage in this conversation, it would go a long way toward restoring the civil balance and healing our country’s needs.

    President Biden’s call for national healing and unity is welcome on all levels. It is urgently needed as we confront the trauma in our country caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the social isolation that has only worsened the intense and long-simmering divisions among our fellow citizens.

    As believers, we understand that healing is a gift that we can only receive from the hand of God.

    We know, too, that real reconciliation requires patient listening to those who disagree with us and a willingness to forgive and move beyond desires for reprisal. Christian love calls us to love our enemies and bless those who oppose us, and to treat others with the same compassion that we want for ourselves.

    We are all under the watchful eye of God, who alone knows and can judge the intentions of our hearts. I pray that God will give our new President, and all of us, the grace to seek the common good with all sincerity.

    I entrust all our hopes and anxieties in this new moment to the tender heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ and the patroness of this exceptional nation. May she guide us in the ways of peace and obtain for us wisdom and the grace of a true patriotism and love of country.

  7. Vatican City, Jan 20, 2021 / 06:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has asked members of the Roman Curia to make their own arrangements for a private retreat at the beginning of Lent this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

    The pope typically spends five days on retreat together with members of the Roman Curia participating in Lenten spiritual exercises. For the past seven years, the retreat has taken place in a retreat house in the town of Ariccia in the Alban Hills southeast of Rome, although the pope was unable to participate in 2020 due to a cold.

    A statement from the Holy See Press Office on Jan. 20 said that the retreat would not take place in Ariccia this year due to “the current health emergency.”

    In its place, the pope has invited all cardinals residing in Rome to spend time in prayer from Sunday, Feb. 21, to Friday, Feb. 26. All papal events will be canceled between the two dates, including the general audience on Wednesday, Feb. 24.

    Last year, Pope Francis participated in the Lenten retreat “from home,” following along with the spiritual exercises and reflections from his Vatican residence, the Casa Santa Marta.

    The practice of the pope going on retreat with the heads of Vatican dicasteries in Lent began around 90 years ago under Pope Pius XI. The spiritual exercises were held in the Vatican, but beginning in Lent 2014, Pope Francis chose to hold the retreat outside of Rome.

    According to the Pauline priest who runs the Casa Divin Maestro retreat center, where the papal retreat has taken place since 2014, a typical day during the retreat begins with Mass. After breakfast, the bishops and cardinals listen to the first meditation in the chapel. 

    The second meditation is heard after lunch, Fr. Olinto Crespi told CNA in 2017. Other time is devoted to prayer. The retreat house also offers internet access, so dicastery heads who need to answer emails or do some work during the week may do so.

  8. Vatican City, Jan 20, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis urged Christians to pray for “the gift of unity” on Wednesday, saying that the devil always seeks to sow division and discord.

    “During this time of serious hardship, this prayer is even more necessary so that unity might prevail over conflicts. It is urgent that we set aside preferences to promote the common good, and so our good example is fundamental: it is essential that Christians pursue the path toward full visible unity,” Pope Francis said in his general audience address on Jan. 20.

    “The world will not believe because we will have convinced it with good arguments, but because we will have borne witness to that love that unites us and draws us near to everyone,” the pope said.

    The Church dedicates one week each January to prayer for unity among all Christians. Pope Francis said that this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, held on Jan. 18-25, is “dedicated specifically to this: to ask God for the gift of unity to overcome the scandal of division between believers in Jesus.”

    The pope stressed that prayer for unity involves a spiritual battle both with the divisions within oneself and with the temptation of the devil.

    “To pray means to fight for unity. Yes, fight, because our enemy, the devil, is the one who divides, as the word itself says. He is the divider. Jesus asks for unity through the Holy Spirit, to create unity. The devil always divides … He fosters division everywhere and in any way, while the Holy Spirit always joins in unity,” Pope Francis said.

    “In general, the devil does not tempt us with high theology, but with the weaknesses of our brothers and sisters. He is cunning: he magnifies others’ mistakes and defects, sows discord, provokes criticism and creates factions.”

    “God has another way: He takes us as we are, he loves us so much … he takes us as different, as sinners, and always nudges us towards unity.”

    In his virtual Wednesday audience, broadcast live from the library of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, the pope encouraged people to “evaluate ourselves and ask ourselves if, in the places in which we live, we nurture conflict or fight for an increase of unity with the tools that God has given us: prayer and love.”

    Pope Francis insisted that “unity can only be achieved as a fruit of prayer,” saying that “we are not able to obtain unity with our own strength.”

    "In fact, we know that we are not capable of preserving unity even within ourselves. Even the Apostle Paul felt a painful conflict within himself: wanting the good but inclined toward evil (see Romans 7:19). He had thus grasped the root of so many divisions that surround us -- between people, in families, in society, between nations and even between believers -- and inside us,” he said.

    “The Second Vatican Council stated, ‘the imbalances under which the world labors are linked with that more basic imbalance which is rooted in the heart of man. For in man himself many elements wrestle with one another. […] Hence he suffers from internal divisions, and from these flow so many and such great discords in society’ (Gaudium et spes, 10).”

    “Therefore, the solution to these divisions is not to oppose someone, because discord generates more discord. The true remedy begins by asking God for peace, reconciliation, unity.”

    The theme of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is “abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit.”

    “The root of communion and love is Christ who makes us overcome our prejudices to see in others a brother or sister to be loved always,” Pope Francis said.

  9. CNA Staff, Jan 20, 2021 / 04:30 am (CNA).- The trial of three activists who distributed posters depicting Poland’s Black Madonna icon with a rainbow halo will resume next month following a tumultuous opening hearing. 

    Three women -- Elżbieta Podleśna, Anna Prus, and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar -- went on trial on Jan. 13 accused of offending religious feelings, a crime punishable in Poland by up to two years in prison.

    A crowd of mainly young people gathered outside the courtroom, chanting slogans such as “A secular, not Catholic Poland” and “The rainbow does not offend.” 

    Local media reported that at one point the chanting was so loud that it was difficult for the hearing to proceed. Following testimonies from the first witnesses, the trial was adjourned until Feb. 17.

    The case is being heard in the city of Płock in central Poland, where in April 2019 the women placed posters of Our Lady of Częstochowa, a venerated icon of the Virgin Mary, with rainbow halos on Mary and the Child Jesus.

    Karolina Pawłowska, director of the Ordo Iuris International Law Center in Warsaw, said she was confident that the trial had a sound basis in Polish law. 

    “The image that is the subject of this case -- which depicts the Mother of God and Baby Jesus with the halos replaced with colors that are commonly associated with LGBT movements -- I think it’s one of the cases that fulfills all premises of profanation, which is defined in the Polish criminal code in Article 196,” she told CNA on Jan. 18.

    Article 196 of the country’s penal code says that “Whoever offends the religious feelings of other persons by publicly insulting an object of religious worship, or a place designated for public religious ceremonies, is liable to pay a fine, have his or her liberty limited, or be deprived of his or her liberty for a period of up to two years.”

    Pawłowska said: “It is clear, especially when you take into consideration the Polish cultural circle, which is very much focused on and built upon Catholic ethics and values which are very important to Polish people.”

    “So from the side of people who are Catholics, who are defending Christian values, defending religious freedom, it should be obvious that such provocations should not take place in public debate, because it is not an element of public debate and should not be accepted as an element of public debate but should be considered as an offense to many, many people.”

    The three activists say that they attached the posters to walls around St. Dominic’s Church in Płock in response to a display inside the church which listed “LGBT” and “gender” -- the Polish term for gender ideology -- as sins. 

    But according to the Associated Press, they deny allegations that they put stickers featuring the image on garbage bins and mobile toilets.

    Pawłowska said that Polish Catholics were concerned not only by the image itself but also by the way that activists have used it. 

    “It is also important to say that we are talking not only about the image, which was offensive and provocative of course, but also about the way it was promoted. It was very widespread on social media,” she said.

    “It was also placed on the walls of the Sanctuary of St. Faustina and at the convent of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Warsaw. So in places that are very important to Catholics, places that are the object of cult [religious practice]. It was also very offensive to people that believe in God, believe in Jesus.”

    “This is why there should be no doubt that this particular act of ‘artistic expression,’ as the authors would like to describe it, is something that should not take place.” 

    Elżbieta Podleśna, a psychotherapist and activist, told the court on Jan. 13 that she regarded the display in St. Dominic’s Church as “homophobic” and believed it could encourage the stigmatization of “people of non-heteronormative sexual orientation and gender identity.”

    She was arrested in May 2019 at her home in Warsaw and taken to Płock for questioning. A court later determined that her detention was unjustified and awarded her damages of around $2,000.

    Amnesty International, the human rights organization founded by the British Catholic lawyer Peter Benenson, has urged Poland’s prosecutor general to drop the charges against the three women. 

    Pawłowska said that Amnesty’s stance lacked merit in Polish law. 

    “It mostly consists of political postulates, but not arguments that have grounds in existing legal provisions in Poland,” she said.

    “The Polish constitution and international law defend the right to religious freedom and defend people from examples of such offenses like that. This is why the stance of Amnesty International not only has no grounds in the Polish legal system but also in international human rights provisions.”

    The Catholic Church in Poland is not currently commenting on the court case, which comes as the Church appears to be losing ground in Polish society. 

    More than 90% of Poles are baptized Catholics and the country has the highest weekly church attendance in Europe. But statisticians announced last month that Sunday Mass-going declined by 1.3% in 2019 -- before the coronavirus pandemic struck the country.

    In November, a survey found that only 9% of respondents aged 18 to 29 had a positive view of the Church, while 47% had a negative view and 44% were neutral.

    Pawłowska said that the Ordo Iuris International Law Center had no formal connection to the Catholic Church in Poland.

    “In fact, we are a non-governmental legal organization that consists not only of Catholics but also people of different beliefs,” she said. 

    “We of course defend people’s rights to religious freedom and that their religious convictions be respected, but we are not referring to religious arguments. We are referring to legal arguments, which are all on our side because the Polish constitution and international legal human rights treaties are in favor of such rights.”

    In October, protesters disrupted Sunday Masses after the country’s constitutional court ruled that a law permitting abortion for fetal abnormalities was unconstitutional. Amid nationwide demonstrations, protesters left graffiti on church property and vandalized statues of St. John Paul II, the Polish pope who led the Church from 1978 to 2005. 

    Pawłowska pointed out that the “Rainbow Madonna” image was displayed during the protests.

    “Right now in Poland, we can see that this image is quite popular, especially among, for example, protesters that were using it during protests against the judgment of the Polish constitutional tribunal which banned eugenic abortion,” she said.

    “And I think this image is very, very offensive to many, many people. And this is why it should not be promoted.” 

    She said that while the court in Płock could not ban the image, it could send a “very important message.”

    “It can send the message that it is something that is offensive and ask the authors of the image to not propagate it anymore. For example, to take it off from their social media and so on,” she said. 

    “Of course, in the modern age of the internet, it is hard to completely erase such an image from social media, from the internet, because I think it’s almost impossible. But it would be a very, very important message.” 

    “And it would be a very important message for Catholics that could feel defended by our state from certain offensive, provocative images that are created by radicals.”

  10. Denver Newsroom, Jan 20, 2021 / 12:23 am (CNA).- A federal court of appeals has sided with a Catholic high school student who challenged a State of Vermont policy that excludes students at private religious secondary schools from a no-cost college credit program.

    “Today’s decision levels the playing field by ensuring that Vermont parents and students who have chosen a faith-based education can enjoy the same publicly available opportunities as their neighbors,” Jake Warner, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said Jan. 19.

    Amy Hester, a senior at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington, is a plaintiff in the case with her parents and the Catholic Diocese of Burlington, which runs the school.

    As a student at a private religious high school, Hester was excluded from the Vermont Education Agency’s Dual Enrollment Program. The program allows high school students to take college courses with tuition paid by the state. Students from public schools are eligible, as are students from secular private schools and homeschooled students.

    The State of Vermont pays tuition for dual enrollment credit directly to the post-secondary institution, and makes no payments to high schools at all. Religiously affiliated colleges that offer religious coursework can take part in the dual enrollment program and so receive state funding.

    While a lower court rejected a request for a preliminary injunction against the policy, Hester has “a clear or substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their First Amendment claim,” Judge John M. Walker Jr. of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals said Jan. 17, as reported by the Vermont newspaper the Battleboro Reformer.

    Judge Steven Menashi, in a concurring decision, said Hester had a clear likelihood of successfully arguing that her exclusion from the dual enrollment program “violates her First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.”

    The court ordered the Vermont Secretary of Education to allow Hester to participate in the program. It granted a preliminary injunction pending the final resolution of the case.

    Plaintiffs’ attorneys, including those from the Alliance Defending Freedom religious freedom legal group, welcomed the decision.

    “Vermont officials can’t treat people of faith as second-class citizens by excluding them from generally available public benefits,” Warner said. “When the government allows same-district students from public schools, secular private schools, and homeschools to participate in its dual enrollment program but excludes only students from religious private schools, it discriminates against religious students.”

    Thomas E. McCormick, another attorney for the plaintiffs, told the Battleboro Reformer that the ruling would impact students who live in a town without a public high school and instead attend an approved independent high school.

    The civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice had filed a brief supporting the student’s claim that the rule violates the free exercise clause of the U.S. Constitution. The dual enrollment program is open to “similarly situated schools and students attending such schools.”

    “(R)eligious entities and their adherents cannot be excluded from or disadvantaged under public programs and benefits based on their religious character,” the brief said.

    The appellate court had granted a preliminary injunction for the plaintiffs on Aug. 5, citing a recent Supreme Court decision that could further change the legal thinking about funding for religious private schools.

    In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the Montana state constitution’s ban on public funding of religious institutions violated the First Amendment and constituted “discrimination against religious schools and the families whose children attend them.” The case concerned a 2015 state scholarship program funded by tax credits that state officials had said could not be used by students at religious schools.