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Pope Francis meets Nobel Peace Prize winner Denis Mukwege ahead of Congo trip

Denis Mukwege and Pope Francis at the general audience, May 22, 2019. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Dec 9, 2022 / 04:18 am (CNA).

Pope Francis met Friday with Nobel Peace Prize winner Denis Mukwege, a Congolese physician known for his work treating victims of sexual violence.

The private audience at the Vatican on Dec. 9 comes as Pope Francis is preparing to travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) next month.

Mukwege has said that he hopes the pope’s January visit will “shed light on what is happening in the Congo.”

“The international community is making the same mistake as it did in Rwanda when it allowed the genocide of the Tutsis. Today Rwandan-backed guerrillas are massacring the Congolese: these are crimes against humanity, war crimes that can also be crimes of genocide. And the international community has closed its eyes as it closed them in 1994,” he told Vatican News on Dec. 5.

The M23 armed rebel group in the DRC executed 131 people last week “as part of a campaign of murders, rapes, kidnappings and looting against two villages,” the UN reported on Dec. 8.

“The humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo is unprecedented: six million people are now displaced, homeless and without food,” Mukwege said.

Another rebel group aligned with the Islamic State, the Allied Democratic Forces, attacked a Catholic mission hospital in the country’s northeast province of North Kivu in October and killed six patients and Catholic Sister Marie-Sylvie Kavuke Vakatsuraki.

Mukwege responded to the news of the attack in North Kivu “with horror” and called on all Congolese doctors to demonstrate peacefully on the day of the funeral of the Catholic nun.

“The time has come to consolidate the rule of law and prevent the recurrence of the mass atrocities that have bereaved every Congolese family for more than a quarter of a century,” he said.

Amid the violence perpetrated by armed rebel groups in DRC’s eastern region, Mukwege founded a hospital in 2008 in his hometown of Bukavu, where he and his staff have treated the injuries of thousands of women and girls who were victims of rape and sexual violence.

As a gynecologist, Mukwege is recognized as “one of the world’s leading experts on the treatment of internal injuries suffered by women subjected to gang rape,” according to the Nobel organization.

Mukwege was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 along with Nadia Murad. Both were recognized for their “efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of armed conflict.”

The pope previously met with Murad, a survivor of ISIS enslavement and an advocate for persecuted Iraqi minorities, at the Vatican in 2018 and 2021 following his trip to Iraq.

Pope Francis is scheduled to travel to the Congolese capital of Kinshasa on Jan. 31 before he heads to South Sudan on Feb. 3. The pope’s trip to the African countries was originally to take place at the beginning of July but was postponed by the Vatican due to problems with Pope Francis’ knee.

With the media attention that comes with a papal visit to the Congo, Mukwege said that he wants to see “the international authorities finally take the necessary measures to stop these atrocities, which are a shame for our humanity.”

Arrested pro-life activist Mark Houck victim of religious discrimination, lawyers say

Mark Houck with his children / Credit: Thomas More Society

Boston, Mass., Dec 8, 2022 / 15:45 pm (CNA).

Attorneys for Mark Houck, the pro-life father of seven arrested by the FBI in the early morning hours outside his Pennsylvania home in September, have filed a motion in court to dismiss the federal charges brought against him under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act.

The motion says that the U.S. Department of Justice’s prosecution of Houck is unconstitutional, citing the Biden administration’s “viewpoint discrimination” and “selective prosecution” against Houck and other Americans with pro-life views.

The more than 30-page motion alleges that the government violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment in its prosecution of Houck.

As part of the motion, lawyers from the Thomas More Society — the religious freedom law firm representing Houck — say that the FACE Act, which has been used several times in the past year by the Biden administration against other pro-life advocates, is unconstitutional.

“We really wanted to start with viewpoint discrimination and religious discrimination because it’s clear that the Biden administration is targeting pro-life people and people of faith, and is doing nothing in hundreds of incidents of violence against pregnancy centers and churches,” Thomas More Society Vice President and Senior Counsel Peter Breen told CNA Thursday.

“Instead, you’ve got the U.S. government coming after Mark Houck, even though he went through the local court system, and the case was dismissed against him,” Breen said.

Houck was arrested in September by agents outside his home in Kintnersville in Bucks County while his wife and children looked on. He was charged under the FACE Act the same day, after a federal indictment alleged that he assaulted a Planned Parenthood clinic escort in October 2021. A local case against him was dismissed because the plaintiff never showed up at court, a former spokesman for Houck told CNA.

Breen contends that Houck was just defending his son, who was being harassed by a clinic escort. Breen told CNA that witness testimony and video evidence supports his claim. Neither as of yet is available to the public, he said.

If convicted under the FACE Act, Houck could face up to 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $350,000. 

The FACE Act “prohibits violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services,” according to the Department of Justice (DOJ). 

Violating the FACE Act is a federal crime and protects “all patients, providers, and facilities that provide reproductive health services, including pro-life pregnancy counseling services and any other pregnancy support facility providing reproductive health care,” according to the DOJ.

“We note that the pro-life viewpoint is a religiously based viewpoint on the part of Mark Houck. So it’s an infringement on his religious rights to target him in this way,” Breen said. 

Breen said that the government’s response to the motion is due Dec. 16. 

“What we are really doing here — in a way that no one else has been able to do — is to put the Biden administration on trial,” Breen said. 

The motion says that “the indisputable evidence shows that the government, under the Biden administration, has engaged in an overt pattern of aggressive enforcement of FACE against pro-life individuals while turning a blind eye to blatant violations by pro-abortion individuals.” The full motion can be read here.

“When the DOJ sent 25 agents to Mark Houck’s door, sidewalk counselors across the country heard the message. There was a message of intimidation. There was a message intended to strike fear in the hearts of sidewalk counselors across the country,” Breen told CNA.

“Why is it that they have sat silent and just been impotent in dealing with the incredible violence and vandalism that’s occurred at pro-life pregnancy centers and churches?”

“We know full well that if over 150 abortion clinics had been vandalized or damaged in that way, you would have scores of people under arrest right now,” he said.

Dozens of pro-abortion attacks on churches and pro-life pregnancy centers have occurred in the anticipation and aftermath of the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June. The 1973 landmark case federally legalized abortion across the nation.

Breen said that the motion is “the first significant legal attack” on the FACE Act since Roe was overturned in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case.

Houck’s trial is set for Jan. 24, 2023, at 9:30 a.m. in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Baltimore abuse survivors file request to make abuse report public

chodyra Mike 1/Shutterstock

St. Louis, Mo., Dec 8, 2022 / 14:45 pm (CNA).

A group of clerical sexual abuse survivors has filed a request with the Baltimore Circuit Court in an attempt to make public a recently sealed attorney general’s report that claims to chronicle hundreds of instances of clerical abuse.

At issue is a 456-page report compiled by the office of Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, which consists of information given by the Archdiocese of Baltimore along with information gathered from interviews, and which claims to identify more than 600 victims of clerical abuse in the archdiocese dating back eight decades. It is currently unclear whether the report will lead to any new criminal charges.

A judge in Baltimore last week ordered all proceedings, filings, and communications related to the release of the report on clerical sexual abuse to be made confidential. Going forward, the legal processes of releasing the full report will not be disclosed to the public because of the confidentiality order. Should the full report be released, pending Judge Anthony Vittoria’s decision, it will likely be redacted.

In a legal motion dated Nov. 17, Frosh had asked a judge to release the documents provided by the archdiocese, which were given in response to a January 2019 subpoena from a grand jury. By state law, a judge has to approve the documents’ release since they were obtained by subpoena.

At a joint press conference Dec. 7, a group of abuse survivors and their attorneys announced they had filed a motion in support of the Maryland Office of Attorney General’s recent motion to publicly disclose the report to the public.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore, which is paying the legal fees for an anonymous group of people named in the report but who were not accused of abuse, said it “does not and will not oppose the report’s release.”

Among the abuse survivors present at the Dec. 7 press conference were two women who are former students of Baltimore’s Archbishop Keough High School — where allegations of abuse by a former chaplain came to light in the 1990s — and who are featured in the Netflix documentary “The Keepers” about the murder of a nun who ministered at the school. The women say they provided information for Frosh’s report but have not yet been allowed to see the finished product.

Frosh says the report names 115 priests who were prosecuted for sexual abuse and/or identified publicly by the archdiocese as having been “credibly accused” of sexual abuse. It also includes an additional 43 priests — 30 of whom are deceased, and the identities of the rest redacted — accused of sexual abuse “but not identified publicly by the archdiocese,” for a total of 158 names.

The archdiocese’s online list of credibly accused clergy includes 152 names, including many priests from other dioceses or religious orders and 17 religious brothers who served in or had a connection to the archdiocese, the Catholic Review reported. The list was last updated in June.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore apologized to victims of abuse in a November letter and reiterated the archdiocese’s current zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse.

Addressing the apparent discrepancy between the number of priests named in the attorney general’s report and the number of credibly accused priests listed by the archdiocese, Lori said that the archdiocesan list does not include the names of priests or brothers who died before a single accusation of child abuse was received, unless the allegation could be corroborated by a third party or unless a second allegation was made against the same deceased cleric.

Explore the Immaculate Conception through art in video series on faith and beauty

A detail from Francisco de Zurbarán’s painting “The Immaculate Conception” (1628–1630) / Benedictine College YouTube channel

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 8, 2022 / 13:45 pm (CNA).

Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, is kicking off a new video series today on art and faith with a video celebrating today’s solemnity, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

The video series, titled “Sacred Image,” is produced by the college’s Center for Beauty & Culture and explores the ways God communicates with us through great works of art.

The first video of the series features Denis McNamara, executive director of the Center for Beauty & Culture and a professor at Benedictine College. In the video, McNamara, who spent two decades at Mundelein Seminary, where he taught at the Liturgical Institute, explains how we can come to a greater understanding of the solemnity through an examination of Francisco de Zurbarán’s painting “The Immaculate Conception” (1628–1630).

Francisco de Zurbarán’s painting “The Immaculate Conception” (1628–1630). Public Domain
Francisco de Zurbarán’s painting “The Immaculate Conception” (1628–1630). Public Domain

The painting is featured in the new book “Solemnities: Celebrating a Tapestry of Divine Beauty,” published by Ascension and co-authored by McNamara and two other experts from the Liturgical Institute, Christopher Carstens and Alexis Kutarna.

The book delves into the theology, history, and cultural significance of each of the Catholic Church’s 17 solemnities through the lens of a great work of sacred art. The next video in the series, to be released Dec. 19, will focus on the solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord through an exploration of the painting featured in the “Solemnities” book, “The Mystic Nativity,” by Sandro Botticelli (1500).

"Mystic Nativity" by Sandro Botticelli (1500). Public Domain
"Mystic Nativity" by Sandro Botticelli (1500). Public Domain

Watch the video on the the Immaculate Conception below and visit the Center for Beauty & Culture’s YouTube channel to subscribe for more:

Jesuit expert in the fight against abuse: Vatican dicastery must respond regarding Father Rupnik

Father Hans Zollner / Rebecski CC 4.0

Rome Newsroom, Dec 8, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Father Hans Zollner, a Jesuit priest and an expert in the fight against abuse, said the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith “must respond” to questions surrounding the case of Father Marko Rupnik, a member of the Society of Jesus accused of abuse.

Zollner is one of the leading experts in the field of safeguarding from sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. He is a member of the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors since its creation in 2014 and is the director of the Institute of Anthropology: Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care (IADC) at the Gregorian University in Rome.

In a statement to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister news agency, Zollner said that he believes that “it’s obvious that the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith has to respond.”

Zollner’s statement marks another development in the widening controversy surrounding Rupnik, a well-known Jesuit priest and artist who has been accused of abuse that he allegedly committed against at least nine women.

According to the official statement of the Society of Jesus, the Department for the Doctrine of the Faith received a complaint against the Slovenian priest and requested that a preliminary investigation be initiated.

The investigation was carried out by a Dominican religious who heard the testimony of several people.

During the preliminary investigation, precautionary measures were taken against Rupnik, such as the prohibition to “exercise the sacrament of confession, spiritual direction, and giving the Spiritual Exercises.”

The provincial of the Jesuits in Slovenia said that the result of this investigation was handed over to the Dicastery of the Holy See, which concluded that “the facts (of the case) in question should be considered to have exceeded the statute of limitations” and closed the case in October.

Despite this, the precautionary measures imposed during the previous investigation remain in force, but now as “administrative measures.”

Zollner said that as for the Society of Jesus, to which he belongs, “they have said what they could say and, from what I see, the explanations about what they arrived at with the ruling must be given by the dicastery.”

“They are the ones who have determined that the facts (of the case) have exceeded the statute of limitations. The Society of Jesus can’t do that, it’s the competency of the dicastery,” he explained.

“That is in my opinion, since I am not an expert, but the dicastery must respond,” Zollner concluded.

‘A tsunami of injustice’

Father Gianfranco Matarazzo, former provincial of the Euro-Mediterranean Province of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), said that “today with the ’Rupnik case’ we’re clinging to the ’statute of limitations’ and to hope that everything can end there. Is the Lord calling us to this approach?”

Matarazzo, who is also a delegate for the social apostolate and abuse prevention for the dioceses of Sicily, criticized that the “Rupnik case” is “a tsunami of injustice, lack of transparency, questionable management, dysfunctional activity, personalized work, apostolic community sacrificed to the leader, and unequal treatment.”

For Matarazzo, the official statement from the Society of Jesus is “an exemplary case of justice denied” and “deadly damage to the Jesuit Order, but even more so to Holy Mother Church.”

Who is Marko Rupnik?

Rupnik, in addition to being a priest, is the founder of the Aletti Spiritual Art Workshop, responsible for numerous religious works around the world.

During his youth, Rupnik studied at the School of Fine Arts in Rome and at the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he earned a doctorate with a thesis on the theological meaning of modern art in the light of Russian theology.

In 1996, Pope John Paul II entrusted him with the renovation of the mosaic in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.

Three years later, Pope John Paul II presided over the dedication rite of this chapel where Rupnik and his team restored the Wall of the Incarnation, the Wall of Ascension and Pentecost, and the Wall of the Parousia.

In February 2011, the Aletti Center, directed by Rupnik, renovated the main chapel inside the Spanish Bishops’ Conference building in Madrid.

Also in Madrid, the Slovenian priest decorated the main sacristy, the chapter house, and the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in the Cathedral of Santa María la Real de Almudena.

During the presentation of this work, Rupnik was praised, mentioning that his “motto is to evangelize through beauty.”

Rupnik’s studio is also responsible for the wall of the main altar of the Shrine of the Holy Trinity in Fátima, Portugal, located opposite the site of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary.

In Italy, Rupnik designed the ramp and crypt of the lower Church of St. Pio of Pietrelcina in San Giovanni Rotondo, where thousands of faithful Catholics come to venerate the saint who bore the stigmata.

Some other notable works by Rupnik and his studio around the world are the Chapel of the Pontifical Roman Major Seminary in Italy; the Shrine of the Cave in Manresa, Spain, where the artist painted 90 faces of biblical figures; the Church of the Virgin of the Southern Cross in Australia; and the Chapel of the Holy Family of the Knights of Columbus at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C.

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

Spanish bishops lament there are families who oppose religious vocations of their children

null / Credit: P. Cristian Gutiérrez, LC / Cathopic

CNA Newsroom, Dec 8, 2022 / 10:45 am (CNA).

The Spanish Bishops’ Conference recently lamented that there are families that identify as Christian but put obstacles in the way of the possible religious vocations of their children.

The Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Family and the Defense of Life published its annual message in anticipation of Holy Family Day under the theme “The family, cradle of the vocation to love.”

Holy Family Day will be celebrated this year in Spain on Dec. 30.

In their message, the bishops noted that “we are going through a vocational winter, not only in reference to the priesthood and consecrated life, but even to Christian marriage.” This crisis is attributed to a “loss of a culture of vocation.”

To avoid getting stuck in “sterile complaining that passively contemplates this decline in vocations,” the prelates called on families to raise their children in the culture of vocation.

“No institution can replace the work of the family in bringing up their children, especially in what refers to the formation of conscience,” they explained.

In accordance with Pope Francis’ exhortation Christus vivit, the bishops offered some guidelines for educating the family in the process of vocational discernment.

Families are encouraged to make their children aware of the different vocations in the Christian life through simple gestures such as inviting a priest to the home or visiting a community of consecrated persons, which “will make it easier for it to naturally appear on the horizon of children’s lives to consider whether the Lord may be calling them to a special consecration.” 

The prelates called for making a great effort “to establish a culture of vocations that permeates Christian families.”

The bishops lamented that it is notable that “families calling themselves Christian oppose the vocation of their children to the priesthood or to the consecrated life.” Or there are those that “ask them to prioritize their professional future, postponing the call of the Lord.”

Jesus, ‘the most important member of the family’

The bishops of Spain also reaffirmed that “the family is the privileged environment to listen to the call of the Lord.” For this to happen, they said, “an essential aspect is educating the children in the faith,” presenting Jesus to them “as the most important member of the family.”

The prelates encouraged family prayer and taking care to form children in the virtues. In particular, children “should be forged in the virtue of fortitude to be able to go against the current” in a society “that invites you to enjoy the present moment without thinking about others.”

They also stressed the importance of including formation in “affectivity and sexuality in the broader scope of true love.”

Gift and discernment

The members of the bishops’ subcommittee encouraged parents to foster “the experience of encountering the living Christ” so that a “true friendship” can develop and so that “his voice can be recognized through discernment.”

In order for this “to be adequate, it must be open to the possibility of consecrating oneself to God,” they emphasized.

The prelates noted that parents must recognize that they don’t own the gift of their children but are the stewards of that gift in accordance with Pope Francis’ postsynodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Thus they should accompany their children in their discernment “but not make decisions for them.”

Life as an offering

In looking at the family as a school for vocations, the bishops encouraged helping young people to discover life as an offering, to convey to them a passion for life and to cultivate the charitable dimension.

Lastly, the message prepared for Holy Family Day invited Catholics to participate in “the mission” of accompanying families and helping them grow, in particular those who experience marginalization and poverty, keeping migrants in mind and without leaving aside “families who have suffered separation and divorce.”

“Let us ask the Holy Family of Nazareth for the missionary impulse to show the beauty of the vocation of love to which each and every one of us has been called,” the bishops concluded.

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

House passes same-sex marriage bill in final vote, sending it to Biden’s desk

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, following the final vote on the Respect for Marriage Act in Washington, D.C., Dec. 8, 2022. / Credit: PBS NewsHour screenshot via YouTube

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 8, 2022 / 09:45 am (CNA).

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 258-169 to pass the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA) on Thursday, sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.

A total of 219 Democrats, along with 39 Republicans, voted “yea” to the bill. One hundred sixty-nine Republicans voted against it. One Republican voted “present” — neither yes or no — and four Republicans were recorded as not voting.

The bill, which would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and recognize same-sex marriages on a federal level, has drawn criticism from Catholic leaders for not providing strong enough protections for those who believe marriage is between one man and one woman — a belief in line with Church teaching.

Minutes before the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic, called the act a “historic step forward in Democrats’ fight to defend the dignity and equality of every American.”

“Today we stand up for the values the vast majority of Americans hold dear, a belief in the dignity, beauty, and divinity — divinity, a spark of divinity in every person — and abiding respect for love so powerful that it binds two people together,” the Democrat from California said.

The final vote comes after the U.S. Senate, with the support of 12 Republicans, voted to pass the RFMA on Nov. 29. If it passes now, Biden, also a Catholic, has pledged to sign it into law.

While it would not require any state to allow same-sex couples to marry, the RFMA would require states to recognize any and all marriages — regardless of “sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin” — performed in other states.

The U.S. bishops stated in a November letter to Congress that the bill’s amendments do not sufficiently protect those with religious objections.

“The amended act will put the ministries of the Catholic Church, people of faith, and other Americans who uphold a traditional meaning of marriage at greater risk of government discrimination,” the letter stated.

“Our opposition to RMA by no means condones any hostility toward anyone who experiences same-sex attraction,” the bishops emphasized. “Catholic teaching on marriage is inseparable from Catholic teaching on the inherent dignity and worth of every human being. To attack one is to attack the other. Congress must have the courage to defend both.”

A United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ explanation appended to the letter read: “Given all this — that the bill establishes an affirmative, enforceable, comprehensive right to federal and interstate recognition of same-sex marriages but sets out religious liberty protections that are far from comprehensive, and are neither affirmative nor enforceable outside of the limited protections in Section 6(b) — it is fair to say that the amendment treats religious liberty as a second-class right.”

Democrats blocked an amendment Monday offered by Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas that would have included explicit protections for Americans who believe marriage is between one man and one woman. The same amendment, which has the support of the bishops, was previously introduced in the Senate by Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.

The RFMA represents one of the first legislative responses to the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June. While the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization said that “this decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right,” Democrats have pointed to Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion suggesting the court should reconsider all “substantive due process” cases, including the 2015 Obergefell decision on same-sex marriage.

DOMA, which the bill would repeal, is a 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton that defined marriage federally as the union of a man and a woman, reserved federal benefits to heterosexual couples, and permitted states not to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other states. DOMA was already effectively nullified by the 2013 and 2015 Supreme Court decisions United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

Pope Francis calls on Catholics to entrust themselves to Our Lady, prays for peace in Ukraine

Pope Francis visits the statue dedicated to the Immaculate Conception near Rome’s Piazza di Spagna Dec. 8, 2022. / Credit: Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

CNA Newsroom, Dec 8, 2022 / 08:42 am (CNA).

On Thursday, Pope Francis publicly visited the statue dedicated to the Immaculate Conception near Rome’s Piazza di Spagna for the first time in two years. 

Marking the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Francis addressed Mary in prayer: “After two years in which I came to pay homage to you alone on the dawning of the day, today I return to you together with the people of this Church and this city. And I bring you the thanks and supplications of all your children, near and far.“

In 2020 and 2021, the pontiff privately visited early in the morning due to the COVID-19 pandemic and health restrictions.

Pope Francis visits the statue dedicated to the Immaculate Conception near Rome’s Piazza di Spagna Dec. 8, 2022. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez / CNA 
Pope Francis visits the statue dedicated to the Immaculate Conception near Rome’s Piazza di Spagna Dec. 8, 2022. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez / CNA 

“You, from heaven where God has received you, see the things of earth far better than we do; but as Mother you listen to our invocations to present them to your Son, to his heart full of mercy,“ Pope Francis prayed Dec. 8.

“Immaculate Virgin, I would have liked today to bring you the thanksgiving of the Ukrainian people for the peace we have long been asking the Lord for. Instead, I have yet to present to you the supplication of the children, of the elderly, of the fathers and mothers, of the young people of that tormented land. But in reality, we all know that you are with them and with all the suffering, just as you were beside the cross of your Son.“

Pope Francis visits the statue dedicated to the Immaculate Conception near Rome’s Piazza di Spagna Dec. 8, 2022. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez / CNA 
Pope Francis visits the statue dedicated to the Immaculate Conception near Rome’s Piazza di Spagna Dec. 8, 2022. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez / CNA 

The statue of the Immaculate Conception sits atop a nearly 40-foot-high column.

It was dedicated Dec. 8, 1857, three years after Pope Pius IX promulgated a decree defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

Since 1953, it has been customary for popes to venerate the statue for the feast day. Pope Pius XII was the first to do so, walking nearly two miles on foot from the Vatican.

Rome’s firefighters are usually in attendance at the prayer, in honor of their role at the 1857 inauguration of the statue. The mayor of Rome and other officials also attend.

The statue is often adorned with homages of flowers hung in the form of wreaths around Mary’s outstretched arms and laid at the statue’s base.

The statue dedicated to the Immaculate Conception near Rome’s Piazza di Spagna. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez / CNA 
The statue dedicated to the Immaculate Conception near Rome’s Piazza di Spagna. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez / CNA 

Before venerating the statue of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis on Thursday prayed the Angelus at midday at St. Peter’s Square. He then visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major, where he prayed before the famous icon known as the Salus Populi Romani — Mary, Protection of the Roman People.

In his midday address, Pope Francis spoke about the Gospel reading for the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

Pilgrims gathered for the Angelus prayer at St. Peter's Square, Dec. 8, 2022. Vatican News
Pilgrims gathered for the Angelus prayer at St. Peter's Square, Dec. 8, 2022. Vatican News

In it, Luke the Evangelist recounts the Annunciation. The visit of the archangel Gabriel, Pope Francis said Dec. 8, reminded Catholics, “We sinners too have received an initial gift that has filled our life, a good greater than anything, an original grace, of which often, however, we are unaware.”

The pontiff invited the faithful to entrust themselves to Our Lady. He reminded Catholics that “Mary, the only human creature without sin in history, is with us in the battle, she is our sister and above all Mother.”

Like a row of dominoes: an analysis of the latest Vatican appointments

Pope Francis at his general audience in Paul VI Hall on Dec. 7, 2022. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Dec 8, 2022 / 07:40 am (CNA).

As with a row of dominoes — where the fall of the first triggers a chain of consequences — the latest appointment at the Vatican kicks off several changes for the Church, both in Rome and around the world.

Father Emilio Nappa’s nomination to assistant secretary of the dicastery for the Evangelization of Peoples is the first of a series of new appointments at the Vatican. They involve the most important dicasteries of the Roman Curia — and will also have a global impact.

Nappa is called to take the place of Archbishop Giampietro Dal Toso, both as assistant secretary of the dicastery and president of the Pontifical Mission Societies. Dal Toso left his office after five years and after just over 25 years in the service of the Roman Curia, which he had entered in 1996 as an official of the then Pontifical Council Cor Unum.

Following the principles of Praedicate evangelium, Pope Francis did not renew his appointment after the five-year mandate.

Instead, the pope chose a priest already in the service of the Roman Curia, where he served first as an official of the General Affairs section of the Secretariat of State. In September, Nappa was briefly made an official of the Secretariat for the Economy.

Nappa is, in other words, an internal choice: a young priest with good diplomatic-administrative experience and a stint in the field of economics who is now expected to help manage the Pontifical Mission Societies.

For Dal Toso, there is talk of a future as a nuncio, a “papal ambassador” — even though he is not a trained diplomat.

Dal Toso’s missionary experience could be helpful, and the Vatican needs nuncios: There are several vacant nunciatures, and in several places the nuncio is advanced in age. For example, Cardinal Mario Zenari in Syria is almost 77 years old. The vacant nunciatures of Venezuela, Jordan, or the Central African Republic need a missionary charism.

Archbishop Protase Rugambwa, secretary of the Dicastery for the Evangelization of Peoples, is also awaiting a new assignment: He has completed his five years in that position.

Previously, the Tanzanian — who entered the service of the dicastery in 2002 — served five years as the assistant secretary and president of the Pontifical Mission Societies.

Rugambwa is likely the next nuncio to the United Kingdom, a position left vacant by another archbishop without a prior background in diplomacy: Claudio Gugerotti, who, after several years as “ambassador of the pope,” was recalled to Rome as prefect of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches.

The changeover should take place in mid-January.

These “dominoes” constitute a reshuffle of the Dicastery for Evangelization — the Vatican department formally presided over by the pope himself.

The dicastery’s two pro-prefects have not yet been named. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle and Archbishop Rino Fisichella currently perform their functions. However, both prelates are officially referred to by their titular seat, not the official title — a clear indication that a nomination is needed.

While Fisichella is expected to stay, Tagle, recently removed from the leadership of Caritas Internationalis, is said to be awaiting a new assignment in the Curia. The cardinal is considered a likely contender for the position of prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops or even the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

It is the overall uncertainty of the situation of the reforms in Rome, as well as the sometimes sudden decisions by Pope Francis, that fuel speculation and rumors about the future role of Tagle and others.

Many observers expect Pope Francis to announce appointments by the end of the year. For now, the signs of a change are all there. The pontiff appears committed to limiting appointments to five years and implementing a broad generational change.

However, only history will tell how effective these “rows of dominoes“ will be.

Former Jesuit provincial on the Rupnik case: It is a ‘tsunami’ of lack of transparency

Jesuit Father Marko Ivan Rupnik with the official image of the 10th World Meeting of Families in Rome. / Screenshot from Diocesi di Roma YouTube channel.

Denver Newsroom, Dec 7, 2022 / 22:30 pm (CNA).

In an unusual Twitter thread, Father Gianfranco Matarazzo, SJ, former superior for the Euro-Mediterranean Province of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) demanded full transparency from his community in dealing with the current situation of noted Jesuit Father Marko Ivan Rupnik, accused of having abused several women religious from a Slovenian congregation almost 30 years ago.

“The ‘Rupnik case’ is a tsunami ... of injustice, lack of transparency, questionable management, dysfunctional activity, personalized work, apostolic community sacrificed to the leader and unequal treatment,” tweeted Matarazzo, who is currently the delegate for social ministry and abuse prevention for the dioceses of Sicily, Italy’s southern island. 

The former superior said that the statement released by the Jesuits on Dec. 2 barely describing the current situation of Rupnik “relaunches this tsunami.”

“A deadly damage to the Jesuit order, but even more so to Holy Mother Church. Another case study, as if it were not enough that has happened so far.” 

In the Twitter thread, Matarazzo asks “What is to be done?” and provides a list of actions to be taken by the Jesuits:

1. Accept full responsibility and consequences.

2. Offer a detailed reconstruction of everything that happened.

3. Convene a press conference and answer all questions in a transparent manner, without having to make run-up additions because forced to. 

4. Open wide the archives.

5. Father Hans Zollner SJ, who is credited as an authoritative voice on the subject of abuse and is always demanding of the bishops with respect to the handling of this tragedy, take a stand on his order (sic.).

Zollner is one of the leading experts in the field of safeguarding from sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. He is a member of the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors since its creation in 2014 and is the director of the Institute of Anthropology: Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care (IADC) at the Gregorian University in Rome.