X

Browsing News Entries

Pope Francis on World Day for Consecrated Life: Religious have ‘special role’ in the Church

Pope Francis greets the crowd at his Sunday Angelus address on Jan. 29, 2023. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Feb 2, 2023 / 12:23 pm (CNA).

On the 27th World Day for Consecrated Life, Pope Francis recalled the special role religious brothers and sisters have in the Catholic Church.

“In the People of God, sent to bring the Gospel to all people, you consecrated men and women have a special role,” the pope said in a written message for Feb. 2.

This special role, he continued, stems “from the special gift you have received: a gift that gives your witness a special character and value, by the very fact that you are wholly dedicated to God and his kingdom, in poverty, virginity, and obedience.”

Pope Francis’ message was read at the beginning of a Mass for consecrated men and women in Rome’s St. Mary Major Basilica on Feb. 2.

Pope Francis usually celebrates a special Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the World Day for Consecrated Life but was unable to do so this year because the day fell in the middle of his Jan. 31–Feb. 5 trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

The Feb. 2 Mass in St. Mary Major was celebrated by the prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Consecrated Life, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, who read the pope’s message to those present.

“When you hear this message from me, I will be on mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and I know that I will be accompanied by your prayers,” the pope said. “In turn, I want to assure you of mine for the mission of each of you and your communities.”

“All of us together are members of the Church,” he continued, “and the Church is in mission from the first day, sent by the Risen Lord, and will be so until the last, by the power of his Spirit.”

The theme of the 2023 World Day for Consecrated Life is “Brothers and Sisters in Mission.”

The Catholic Church celebrates the World Day for Consecrated Life every year on Feb. 2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also known as Candlemas or the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The day of prayer was established by Pope John Paul II in 1997.

In his message, Pope Francis said the mission of consecrated men and women is enriched by the unique charisms of their communities, in addition to the fundamental gift they have each received.

“In their stupendous variety, [charisms] are all given for the edification of the Church and for its mission,” he said. “All charisms are for mission, and they are precisely so with the incalculable richness of their variety; so that the Church can witness and proclaim the Gospel to all and in every situation.”

He prayed that the Virgin Mary would obtain for consecrated men and women the grace to bring the light of Christ’s love to all people. He also entrusted them to Mary “Salus Populi Romani,” the title of a Byzantine Marian icon housed in the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

In his homily at the Mass, Archbishop Carballo, who is a religious in the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor, said “we want, especially on this day, to say our thanks to the Lord and, using the words of Mary, the consecrated woman par excellence, sing our Magnificat to him who is the Good, the All Good, the Supreme Good.”

God, he said, “has made us sharers in a beautiful inheritance and a mission no less beautiful: that of representing in us the historical form of the obedient, poor, and chaste Jesus.”

“Let a song of thanksgiving rise from our lips and from our hearts, today and always, because Jesus has bent over our littleness and has given us the grace to follow him in the various forms of consecrated life, despite our littleness,” he said.

Religious freedom ‘under assault’ across the world, leaders testify at summit

Former assistant secretary of state Robert Destro discusses the need for religious freedom. Pictured from left, Imam Talib Shareef of the Nation’s Mosque; Destro; and Cole Durham of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University Law School. Peter Pinedo/CNA / Peter Pinedo/CNA

Washington D.C., Feb 2, 2023 / 10:50 am (CNA).

“Tragically, religious freedom for many is increasingly under assault around the world,” Rep. Michael McCaul said to kick off the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit, which took place in Washington, D.C., this week. 

Faith leaders from across the world — including Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and others — gathered at the summit to address the ongoing persecution against people of faith, which has been increasing in many nations and has resulted in the deaths of millions.

McCaul, a Republican congressman from Texas and a Catholic, invoked the teachings of both Pope Francis and St. John Paul II in upholding religious freedom as the “cornerstone” of human rights. 

Some leaders at the summit, including Naomi Kikoler of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, cautioned that the persecution of people of faith in some countries already amounts to genocide and could lead to genocide in others if immediate action is not taken.

“We know from studying the Holocaust that genocide and related crimes against humanity, persecution, is never spontaneous,” Kikoler said. “There’s a wide range of early warning signs, and if detected and their causes are addressed, it could be possible to prevent catastrophic loss of life.” 

Where is persecution occurring? 

“The right to practice one’s religion of choice is so frequently violated by governments all over the world,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, a Catholic Democrat from Massachusetts, while speaking at the summit. “The Uyghurs and Tibetans by China, Muslims and Sikhs in India, Coptic Christians in Egypt … Shia Muslims in Sunni-governed countries, Catholics in Nicaragua, Jews in France, I could go on and on and on, the list is way too long.” 

“As a practicing Catholic myself I know how important and personal the right to freedom of religion is,” McGovern added.

The history of Catholics in America is itself marked by the fight for religious freedom, said Robert Destro, a senior fellow with the Religious Freedom Institute. A former assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Destro is now a professor of law at the Catholic University of America.

“People forget, American Catholics were among our own nation’s leaders in fighting for religious freedom,” Destro told CNA.

Destro pointed out that even Catholics in the U.S. have had to contend with religious persecution in the past.

One example: the anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia in the 1840s. “They blew open the wall of the church with a cannon and they set it on fire,” Destro said. “Thank God we’re not seeing that today [in America], but we are seeing attacks on churches. So, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” 

“If you are open about your faith,” Destro said, very often “they kill you.” 

Though Catholics in America don’t face widespread violent persecution, Catholics are being killed, persecuted, and arrested by the thousands in other countries such as Nicaragua, China, and Nigeria.

According to religious freedom watchdog Open Doors International, 5,014 Christians were killed in 2022 in Nigeria alone. 

Just earlier this month a Nigerian Catholic priest, Father Isaac Achi, was burned to death in his rectory by armed bandits. 

“Ours is a huge task, freedom for the soul and respect for each other,” said Ambassador Sam Brownback at the summit. “We are gathered and fighting here for the abused and beaten, even killed religious minorities that even now are huddled in secret places yearning with all their heart to worship God as they believe they should. And is that too much to ask? It is not.”

Pope Francis to priests in Congo: Bring people Jesus, who ‘heals the wounds of every heart’

Speaking in Our Lady of Congo Cathedral in Kinshasa on Feb. 2, 2023, the pope encouraged priests and religious to continue to bring the Congolese people Jesus, who “heals the wounds of every human heart.” / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Feb 2, 2023 / 10:30 am (CNA).

On the World Day of Consecrated Life, Pope Francis thanked the more than 18,000 priests and religious in the Democratic Republic of Congo for serving others amid the country’s “difficult and often dangerous conditions.”

Speaking in Our Lady of Congo Cathedral in Kinshasa on Feb. 2, the pope encouraged priests and religious to continue to bring the Congolese people Jesus, who “heals the wounds of every human heart.”

The Democratic Republic of Congo is home to more than 52 million Catholics, including more than 6,000 priests, 4,000 seminarians, and 10,000 religious sisters, according to the latest Vatican statistics.

On his third day in the central African country, Pope Francis spent the afternoon praying with representatives of the Congo’s vibrant Church community in the Kinshasa Cathedral.

“Dear brothers and sisters, as I look at you, I give thanks to God, because you are signs of the presence of Jesus, who walks in the streets of this country, who touches people’s lives and binds their wounds,” the pope said.

“I thank you from my heart for who you are and what you do, for your witness to the Church and to the world. Do not be discouraged, because we need you! You are precious and important. I say this in the name of the whole Church,” he said.

Speaking in Our Lady of Congo Cathedral in Kinshasa on Feb. 2, 2023, Pope Francis encouraged priests and religious to continue to bring the Congolese people Jesus, who “heals the wounds of every human heart.” Credit: Elias Turk/EWTN
Speaking in Our Lady of Congo Cathedral in Kinshasa on Feb. 2, 2023, Pope Francis encouraged priests and religious to continue to bring the Congolese people Jesus, who “heals the wounds of every human heart.” Credit: Elias Turk/EWTN

Francis underlined that a vocation in the Church is different from a profession or social position: “Rather, it is a mission to act as signs of Christ’s presence, his unconditional love, his reconciliation and forgiveness, and his compassionate concern for the needs of the poor.”

“Dear priests and deacons, consecrated men and women, seminarians: through you, the Lord also  wants to anoint his people today with the balm of consolation and hope.”

The pope was welcomed to the Kinshasa Cathedral with great enthusiasm. People lined the streets surrounding the cathedral to greet the pope as he passed by. The congregation inside the cathedral prayed decades of the rosary in Lingala, Kikongo, Swahili, Tshiluba, and French.

Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, the archbishop of Kinshasa, met the pope, who arrived in a wheelchair. Together the two made their way to a side chapel where the pope paused to pray before the graves of past Congolese bishops.

Pope Francis arrives at Our Lady of Congo Cathedral in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Feb. 2, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis arrives at Our Lady of Congo Cathedral in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Feb. 2, 2023. Vatican Media

The cardinal told the pope that living priestly and religious vocations in the Congo today “involves enormous challenges.”

“However, I remain convinced that unfailing attachment to the Lord, fidelity to Gospel values, and the joy of serving and accompanying the people of God in their quest for greater dignity are the guarantees of an authentic and true priestly and religious life that is joyful and fulfilling,” Besungu said.

“For this I bless the Lord for the flourishing of priestly and religious vocations in our country.”

In the cathedral, the pope listened to testimonies from a diocesan priest, a religious sister, and a seminarian.

Sister Alice Sala asked Pope Francis to help tell the world about what is happening in the DRC, where more than 120 armed groups are fighting for control of the country’s eastern region, an area rich with natural resources.

Violence in eastern DRC has created a severe humanitarian crisis with more than 5.5 million people displaced from their homes, the third-highest number of internally displaced people in the world.

“Since Congo is a land of martyrs, murders, and wars entertained and financed from outside, we ask Your Holiness to be our spokesperson in the world so that the good of the people may take precedence over interest in our natural resources,” Sala said.

“Most Blessed Father, despite this picture of multiple injustices, the Congo remains a land blessed by God, a generous, prayer-loving people, filled with vitality and hope, as Your Holiness has surely observed. That is why we are not discouraged, because we believe in the risen Christ.”

About 1,200 people were present inside of the cathedral, according to local authorities, with thousands more gathered outside.

Pope Francis encouraged priests and religious to continue to bring the Congolese people Jesus, who “heals the wounds of every human heart” at Our Lady of Congo Cathedral in Kinshasa on Feb. 2, 2023. Credit: Elias Turk/EWTN
Pope Francis encouraged priests and religious to continue to bring the Congolese people Jesus, who “heals the wounds of every human heart” at Our Lady of Congo Cathedral in Kinshasa on Feb. 2, 2023. Credit: Elias Turk/EWTN

The Catholic Church celebrates the World Day for Consecrated Life each year on Feb. 2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also known as Candlemas. Established by St. John Paul II, the day recognizes the beauty and impact of a life dedicated to poverty, chastity, and obedience.

In the pope’s speech to the priests, seminarians, and consecrated men and women, he offered advice for how to overcome spiritual mediocrity and a worldly mentality.

“Never forget that the secret of everything is prayer … since the ministry and the apostolate are not primarily our own work and do not depend solely on human means,” Pope Francis said.

“First of all, let us remain faithful to certain liturgical rhythms of prayer that mark the day, from the Mass to the breviary. The daily celebration of the Eucharist is the beating heart of priestly and religious life. The Liturgy of the Hours allows us to pray with the Church and with regularity: May we never neglect it! Then, too, let us not neglect confession. We always need to be forgiven, so as then to bestow mercy upon others.”

Pope Francis added that it is important to “set aside a time of intense prayer each day, to remain ‘heart-to-heart’ with Our Lord. … a time of closeness to the One whom we love above all else.”

“If we remain docile in God’s hands, he shapes us to become a people of reconciliation, capable of openness and dialogue, acceptance and forgiveness, who make rivers of peace flow through the arid plains of violence,” he said.

“May you always be channels of the Lord’s consoling presence, joyous witnesses of the Gospel, prophets of peace amid the storms of violence, disciples of love, ever ready to care for the wounds of the poor and suffering. Thank you, brothers and sisters, I thank you again for your service and for your pastoral zeal. I bless you and carry you in my heart. And I ask you, please, always pray for me!”

The pope kissed his feet. Who is the cowboy-hat-wearing president of South Sudan?

Pope Francis greets South Sudanese president Salva Kiir at the Vatican, April 11, 2019. / Vatican Media

St. Louis, Mo., Feb 2, 2023 / 09:23 am (CNA).

Pope Francis, as part of his visit to Africa this week, is meeting with the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, this Friday. He will meet the leader for a photograph before retreating to a private setting for a talk. 

The 71-year-old Kiir, a Catholic who has served as South Sudan’s first and only president since the country gained independence in 2011, oversees a country that is slightly smaller than Texas, 60% Christian, and severely underdeveloped and racked by ethnic tensions. 

Pope Francis and Kiir met in 2019 in a meeting that was extremely memorable because of Pope Francis’ decision to kneel and kiss Kiir’s feet — and those of his rival, former vice president Riek Machar — while begging the leaders to make peace. Kiir and Machar were at the Vatican for a retreat, which Francis hosted specifically for the leaders who have been at war with each other for years. In 2013, a conflict developed between militias led by Machar and troops loyal to Kiir, who are of different tribal ethnicities. 

Both sides have been accused of serious atrocities over the course of the conflict, including the raping of women, the killing of civilians, and the recruitment of child soldiers. In addition to Kiir and Machar, Francis kissed the feet of at least two other South Sudanese leaders during the meeting. 

Kiir told EWTN News at the time that Pope Francis’ kissing of his feet, which garnered headlines around the world, left him “almost trembling.” He said the moment when the pope displayed such humility was inspiring to him as a Catholic and as the leader of a country.

“I felt humbled at the humility of the Holy Father, to bend down on the ground and kiss my feet,” Kiir told EWTN News in an interview May 7, 2019.

“I was almost trembling because that thing has not happened before, except at the time when Jesus knelt down to wash the feet of his disciples. And it should have been the opposite; his disciples should have been the ones to wash his feet ... this is what came into my mind when the pope knelt down.”

Pope Francis at that retreat encouraged the South Sudanese leaders to “seek what unites you, beginning with the fact that you belong to one and the same people, and to overcome all that divides you” and told them he was praying for them to become peacemakers, who “build peace through dialogue, negotiation, and forgiveness.”

Kiir said his 2019 meeting with Pope Francis was especially meaningful for him, as he grew up in an area of South Sudan that was evangelized primarily by Catholic missionaries, from whom he has learned much. Christianity experienced extraordinary growth in South Sudan between 1901 and 1964 thanks to missionary activity undertaken by the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus and the Missionary Sisters Pie Madri della Nigrizia.

“Jesus came to the world to teach people to forgive and to live in peace with whoever is near you. And we as Catholics, especially in South Sudan, we have learned a lot from God’s teaching,” he reflected.  

Kiir is rarely seen without his distinctive Texas cowboy hat. His attachment to the headgear may have been kindled when Texan George W. Bush presented Kiir with a similar hat in 2006. 

Born in 1951, a young Kiir joined a separatist movement in the 1960s, fighting against the Sudanese government in the First Sudanese Civil War. He eventually became the leader of the military wing of the separatist movement, The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). He participated in negotiations with the northern government, which ultimately led to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005, officially ending the war. Kiir became president of Southern Sudan, which was then an autonomous region. 

In 2011, the predominantly Christian South Sudan gained independence from Sudan, which has a Muslim majority and has been governed mostly by Islamic law since the 1980s. Kiir was overwhelmingly reelected to continue leading the new nation.

As president, he has led his country through another civil war, which has killed more than 400,000 people and displaced at least 2.2 million more. Along the way, Kiir’s leadership has garnered criticism — in part because of widespread corruption in his government but also because of alleged mistreatment of journalists.

Kiir and Machar signed a tenuous peace agreement in September 2018, which the country’s Catholic bishops have called “fatally flawed” because it does not address the complex root causes of the conflict. Several other peace agreements and cease-fires since then — including several mediated by the Catholic lay group Sant’Egidio — have not led to substantial peace progress, and millions of South Sudanese people live in poverty partly thanks to the country’s underdeveloped infrastructure and economy, despite the rich agricultural potential of the region.

Kiir announced late last year that he is running again for the presidency in 2024. Rumors have reportedly circulated recently on social media that the septuagenarian Kiir is unwell, though the government has denied this. 

Smithsonian staff kick out Catholic students for wearing pro-life hats

Twelve students from Our Lady of the Rosary School in Greenville, South Carolina, and their chaperones wore blue pro-life stocking caps that said “Rosary Pro-Life” to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum after they attended the March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20, 2023. / Credit: WYFF4 News screen shot

Denver, Colo., Feb 2, 2023 / 07:51 am (CNA).

A group of Catholic students was wrongly kicked out of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum because museum staff reacted with hostility to their matching blue pro-life hats, their supporters say.

Twelve students from Our Lady of the Rosary School in Greenville, South Carolina, and their chaperones had attended the March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. They wore blue pro-life stocking caps that said “Rosary Pro-Life.”

After the rally, they visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, famous for its exhibits of the original 1903 Wright Flyer and the Apollo 11 Command Module.

Though other visitors wore various kinds of hats, according to attorney Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, the students were treated differently. Sekulow said the students “were accosted several times and told they would be forced to leave unless they removed their pro-life hats.”

“The museum staff mocked the students, called them expletives, and made comments that the museum was a ‘neutral zone’ where they could not express such statements,” Sekulow said in a Jan. 27 statement. “The employee who ultimately forced the students to leave the museum was rubbing his hands together in glee as they exited the building.”

He characterized the treatment of the students as “blatant discrimination” and noted that the Smithsonian is a federal entity.

At least two students are being represented by the American Center for Law and Justice.

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum said it has already made changes after the incident.

“Asking visitors to remove hats and clothing is not in keeping with our policy or protocols,” Alison Wood, the museum’s deputy director of communications, told Fox News. “We provided immediate training to prevent a re-occurrence of this kind of incident, and have determined steps to ensure this does not happen again.”

CNA sought comment from the museum but did not receive a response by publication.

Sekulow said legal action could be on the horizon.

“We are preparing to bring legal action to defend the constitutional rights of these children,” he said. “No one, especially kids, should have to fear being kicked out of a national museum by government officials simply for wearing a Christian pro-life hat.”

“This was a clear-cut First Amendment violation, not only of their freedom of speech but of religion as well,” Sekulow continued. “The federal government simply cannot ban speech with which it or its employees disagree.”

The Catholic Diocese of Charleston responded to the incident in a statement to the Greenville NBC affiliate KYFF4 News.

“Thousands of Catholic students attend the March for Life every year and we support their right to stand for life,” the diocese said.

Pope Francis to Congolese youth: Prayer is your secret weapon for peace

Pope Francis interacted with an energetic crowd of 65,000 young adults and catechists at Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Feb. 2, 2023. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Feb 2, 2023 / 05:45 am (CNA).

To bring about peace, “prayer is the most powerful weapon there is,” Pope Francis told thousands of young adults and catechism teachers in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday.

The meeting in Martyrs’ Stadium in Kinshasa, the capital city of the DRC, took place on Feb. 2, the third day of the pope’s visit to the central African country. On Feb. 3, Francis will fly to Juba, South Sudan, for the second leg of his peace pilgrimage.

Pope Francis on Thursday interacted with an enthusiastic crowd of about 65,000 young people and adults, some of whom traveled days to be present for the papal visit.

Pope Francis interacted with an energetic crowd of 65,000 young adults and catechists at Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Feb. 2, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis interacted with an energetic crowd of 65,000 young adults and catechists at Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Feb. 2, 2023. Vatican Media

“Yes, prayer conquers fear and enables us to take our future into our hands. Do you believe this?” the pope said. “Do you want to make prayer your secret, as refreshing water for the soul, as the one weapon you carry, as a traveling companion on each day’s journey?”

During the second half of his speech, the pope was repeatedly drowned out by the energetic audience, which broke out in cheering, singing, and dancing despite the hot weather.

Pope Francis interacted with an energetic crowd of 65,000 young adults and catechists at Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Feb. 2, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis interacted with an energetic crowd of 65,000 young adults and catechists at Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Feb. 2, 2023. Vatican Media

In his talk, Francis used the imagery of the hand to speak about the future of the DRC.

“God has placed the gift of life, the future of society and the future of this great country in those hands of yours,” he said.

“Dear brother, dear sister, do your hands not seem small and frail, empty and unsuited to so great a task? It’s true,” he said. “Let me tell you something: your hands all look alike, they all look alike, but none of them is exactly the same. No one has hands just like yours, and that is a sign that you are a unique treasure, an unrepeatable and incomparable treasure.”

He invited those present in the stadium to open and close their hands while meditating on whether they wanted to choose peace or violence.

Pope Francis interacted with an energetic crowd of 65,000 young adults and catechists at Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Feb. 2, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis interacted with an energetic crowd of 65,000 young adults and catechists at Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Feb. 2, 2023. Vatican Media

“Notice how you can squeeze your hand, closing it to make a fist. Or you can open it, to offer it to God and to others,” he said.

“You who dream of a different future: from your hands, tomorrow can be born, tomorrow can be born from your hands, from your hands peace so lacking in this country can at last come about.”

Bishop Donatien Bafuidinsoni Maloko-Mana from the Diocese of Inongo, in western DRC, was at the meeting.

He told EWTN News that people from his diocese traveled in boats on the Congo River for two to four days to arrive in Kinshasa.

Bafuidinsoni said the Congolese people were disappointed last year when the pope’s visit was canceled, but “now that the pope is here it’s a big joy for us all.”

Even those who are following the trip from home “are really happy,” he added. “It’s a message of joy, of peace, and of hope for all.”

Sister Asterie Neema, 29, is from Rutshuru in eastern DRC, where her brother was brutally killed last year. Elias Turk/CNA
Sister Asterie Neema, 29, is from Rutshuru in eastern DRC, where her brother was brutally killed last year. Elias Turk/CNA

Sister Asterie Neema, 29, is from Rutshuru in eastern Congo, where, she told EWTN News, they are under the control of an armed group called M23.

Neema said her older brother was killed in 2022 by unidentified rebels in front of his 12- and 7-year-old children.

In her 29 years of life, she said, her region of the DRC has never seen peace. Neema added that she has forgiven her brother’s killers, but she hopes for peace in her country.

Not everyone in the audience was Catholic. Two young Muslim men also attended the youth gathering with Pope Francis.

Yassine Mumbere, from Butembo in eastern DRC, told EWTN News that he came to the event because all young people were invited. He also studied at a Catholic school.

Muslim Yassine Mumbere, 35, from Butembo in eastern Congo, (R) with his friend (L) at the youth gathering with Pope Francis in Kinshasa, DRC on Feb. 2, 2023. Elias Turk/CNA
Muslim Yassine Mumbere, 35, from Butembo in eastern Congo, (R) with his friend (L) at the youth gathering with Pope Francis in Kinshasa, DRC on Feb. 2, 2023. Elias Turk/CNA

The 35-year-old Muslim Scout leader said he hopes the pope’s trip will help bring peace to the DRC’s eastern region.

In his speech, Pope Francis encouraged those present to be careful of the temptation to point fingers at people, or to exclude others because of “regionalism, tribalism, or anything that makes you feel secure in your own group, but at the same time is unconcerned with the life of the community.”

“You know what happens: first, you believe in prejudices about others, then you justify hatred, then violence, and in the end, you find yourself in the middle of a war,” he said.

To create a concrete sign of community, Francis invited the crowd to hold hands with those beside them and to sing a song together: “Imagine yourselves as one Church, a single people, holding hands.”

Pope Francis interacted with an energetic crowd of 65,000 young adults and catechists at Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Feb. 2, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis interacted with an energetic crowd of 65,000 young adults and catechists at Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Feb. 2, 2023. Vatican Media

“Yes, brother and sister, you are indispensable and you are responsible for your Church and for your country,” he said after the song. “You are part of a greater history, one that calls you to take an active role as a builder of communion, a champion of fraternity, an indomitable dreamer of a more united world.”

After Pope Francis spoke against corruption — inviting everyone to shout together, “Go away, corruption!” — the stadium broke out in loud singing and cheering.

The event’s emcee had to invite the crowd to quiet down before the pope could continue speaking.

Francis also drew attention to two Congolese martyrs and their examples of faith: Blessed Isidore Bakanja and Blessed Marie-Clémentine Anuarite.

Statues of Blessed Isidore Bakanja and Blessed Marie-Clémentine Anuarite, young Congolese martyrs beatified by Pope John Paul II, in Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, DRC, on Feb. 2, 2023. Elias Turk/CNA
Statues of Blessed Isidore Bakanja and Blessed Marie-Clémentine Anuarite, young Congolese martyrs beatified by Pope John Paul II, in Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, DRC, on Feb. 2, 2023. Elias Turk/CNA

Blessed Marie-Clémentine Anuarite, a member of the Sisters of the Holy Family, was killed during the civil war in 1964 at the age of 24. Anuarite was beatified by Pope John Paul II during his visit to the DRC, then known as the Republic of Zaire, in 1985.

Blessed Isidore Bakanja was a Catholic convert at the age of 18. He became a catechist and was devoted to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. He died in 1909, around the age of 21 or 22, after succumbing to an infection caused by a beating and other torture he received at the hands of a European manager for refusing to remove his brown scapular at work. Bakanja was beatified in 1994 by Pope John Paul II.

Statues of the two blesseds were present at the youth meeting, where people in the crowd shouted and held signs asking the pope to make them “santi subito!”

The pope pointed to another example of virtue from the DRC, Floribert Bwana Chui, who was killed in 2007 in Goma.

The 26-year-old man, who worked as a customs manager, was killed for refusing to cooperate with corruption; specifically, he did not allow the passage of expired food products.

A spectator at Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, DRC, on Feb. 2, 2023, holds a sign with the phrase "santi subito" in reference to two Congolese blesseds. Elias Turk/CNA
A spectator at Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, DRC, on Feb. 2, 2023, holds a sign with the phrase "santi subito" in reference to two Congolese blesseds. Elias Turk/CNA

“He could easily have turned a blind eye; nobody would have found out, and he might even have gotten ahead as a result,” Francis said. “But, since he was a Christian, he prayed. He thought of others and he chose to be honest, saying no to the filth of corruption.”

“Now I want to tell you something important,” he added. “Listen closely: If someone offers you a bribe, or promises you favors and lots of money, do not fall into the trap. Do not be deceived; do not be sucked into the swamp of evil. Do not be overcome by evil!”

Head of U.S. bishops’ conference contradicts Biden’s claims about taxpayer-funded abortions

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio leads the Archdiocese for the Military Services. / EWTN News In Depth

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 1, 2023 / 18:40 pm (CNA).

President Joe Biden is wrong on taxpayer funding of abortion and wrong on Pope Francis’ view of it, the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference said Wednesday.

The president suggested Tuesday that neither the pope nor all Catholic bishops oppose public funding for abortion in the United States.

Biden, a Catholic who supports legal and publicly funded abortion, made that assertion in a brief exchange with EWTN’s White House correspondent, Owen Jensen, on the White House lawn. CNA is a news outlet of EWTN News.

You can watch the exchange in the video at the end of this story.

“Catholic bishops are demanding that federal tax dollars not fund abortion,” Jensen shouted over the sound of the rotor blades of the president’s helicopter.

“No, they are not all doing that,” was the president’s retort. “Nor is the pope doing that.”

On Wednesday, Archbishop Timothy Broglio, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), released a statement contradicting Biden’s comments.

“As we are taught by Jesus, human life is sacred. God calls us to defend and nurture life from the moment a new human being is conceived. The Catholic Church has been clear and consistent in this teaching,” Broglio said. “The Catholic bishops of the United States are united in our commitment to life and will continue to work as one body in Christ to make abortion unthinkable.”

Broglio, who is archbishop of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, also said public funding of abortion undermines the religious freedom of Catholics.

“Taxpayer funding of abortion would force people of good conscience to participate in this grave evil against their will,” he said.

“It would contradict our right to live in accord with the tenets of our faith. Our nation is better than that,” he continued. “I pray that we will protect every child no matter his or her age, and open our hearts to respond to mothers in need with love and support rather than the violence of abortion.”

Broglio noted that Pope Francis has repeatedly condemned abortion, at one point using a graphic image to do it. In October 2018, during a Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square, the pope likened using an abortion provider to hiring a hitman.

The president’s remarks came five days after the chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities endorsed a bill in Congress that seeks to permanently ban federal funding of abortion.

“The government should never fund the destruction of innocent preborn children. Rather, Congress can better serve the common good by prioritizing policies that comprehensively assist women, children, and families in need in ways that will not only encourage childbirth but make it easier to welcome and raise a new child,” wrote Bishop Michael Burbidge, pro-life committee chairman and bishop of the Diocese of Arlington in northern Virginia, in a letter dated Jan. 27.

Costa Rican priest shares his journey from intelligence agent to the Catholic priesthood

Father Luis Enrique Guillén. / Credit: Archdiocese of San José

CNA Newsroom, Feb 1, 2023 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

Father Luis Enrique Guillén left a police career in the National Intelligence and Security Directorate of Costa Rica to give his life to the Lord in the Catholic priesthood.

“The experience of the priesthood is very beautiful. It has been a bit of everything, but I can openly say that nothing I gained before compares to what God has given me in this ministry,” Guillén, a priest now for more than 20 years, said in a recent interview with the Costa Rican channel Teletica.

The priest recounted that, before becoming a priest, he had several jobs and even had a girlfriend.

“After leaving school, my first job was as a school teacher. Later, I took a position at the Juan Santamaría Airport in flight operations, and then I spent seven years working in the Intelligence and Security Directorate (DIS),” he commented.

The DIS is a police agency under the Ministry of the Presidency of Costa Rica. According to its regulations, its functions include “intelligence and investigations” to “ensure the security of the State.”

Guillén said that “in the DIS I worked for seven years and so I still maintain a connection, but [now] as a chaplain. After working for that time, [I] began the whole vocational discernment process.”

Guillén, 52, said that he responded to God’s call when he was 24.

“At 24 years of age, I think that maturity and the passing of the years made me question what I wanted, where to go. That made me wonder: ‘And why not what I had once thought about ?’” he recalled.

“Back then I even had a girlfriend, I talked to my parents and told them that I wanted to give myself a chance at the seminary, whether it was three weeks, three months, or three years. And here I am, I am already on my way to 21 years of priesthood and 10 years of being a chaplain for the Costa Rican Public (police) Force,” he added.

Guillen also noted that the priesthood means learning to renounce material goods and trusting fully in God’s providence.

“It’s giving up credit cards, a monthly salary, and starting to depend a lot on divine providence, which is manifested through the charitable action of people or depending again, a little, on the family,” he said.

Finally, he stressed that “God never fails, he is always faithful,” because he “always gives us what we need.”

Guillén was recently installed as pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in the city of Curridabat in San José province. He was ordained on March 19, 2002.

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

Cardinal Dolan criticizes Biden administration for trying to force employers to cover contraception

Cardinal Timothy Dolan attends Columbus Day parade in New York City. / lev radin / Shutterstock

CNA Newsroom, Feb 1, 2023 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

The Biden administration’s proposal to force employers to offer contraception in their health insurance plans even if they have moral objections to it is “disheartening,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan said Wednesday.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a proposed rule that would leave in place the current exemption for religious employers but take away the exemption based purely on moral grounds.

Dolan, reacting two days later, said the Trump-era rule issued in 2018 “provided appropriately clear and robust protections for the exercise of religious beliefs and moral convictions, free from government punishment,” but that the Biden administration’s new proposal wrongly removes at least some of those protections.

“While we are pleased that the proposed regulations appear, at this early stage of review, to retain the bulk of the existing religious exemption, their elimination of protections for moral convictions is disheartening,” said Dolan, the archbishop of New York and chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, in a written statement.

“It is past time for HHS to leave well enough alone in this regard,” Dolan said.

A spokesman for Health and Human Services could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

The dispute is over regulations connected to the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, commonly known as Obamacare.

When the law came into effect, the Obama administration sought to force employers to cover the full cost of contraception for their employees through their health insurance plans. Various religious organizations and companies filed suit, leading to a patchwork of court decisions exempting some from the requirement and not exempting others.

The Trump administration’s 2018 rule included carve-outs for religious employers and employers with moral objections to contraception.

Biden officials say women need free contraception.

“Access to contraception is an essential component of women’s health care in part because contraception is effective at reducing unintended pregnancy. Without health insurance or other health coverage for or access to contraception at no cost, contraception can be prohibitively expensive, and the cost may deter individuals from obtaining needed care,” says a written statement from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an agency within the federal Department of Health and Human Services, on Monday.

Contraception has “a heightened importance” now and making it free is “a national imperative,” say Biden administration officials, because women in some states can’t get abortions. Some states have made abortion illegal since June 2022, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that abortion is not a federal constitutional right.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that artificial contraception is immoral because it thwarts what the Church says are the main purposes of sexual intercourse: procreation and the unity of a man and woman in a lifelong commitment to each other. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls contraception “intrinsically evil.”

Cardinal Dolan rejected the Biden administration’s abortion-policy argument in his statement Wednesday.

“The proper reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs is not, as the proposed regulations claim, to make it free for women to sterilize themselves, but rather to relieve the burdens that our laws and culture place both on mothers and those who may become mothers,” Dolan said.

Biden officials want to get rid of the moral exemption and also provide a way for women who work for exempt employers to get contraception free of charge.

The Biden administration’s proposed new rule would create what it calls “an individual contraceptive arrangement” that would allow employees of exempt organizations to get contraception free of charge without their employer paying for it.

The federal government charges health insurers a user fee. (In 2023, it’s 2.75% of premiums for the Federally Facilitated Marketplace and 2.25% of premiums for a State-Based Marketplace using the federal platform.)

In such cases, the proposed rule would allow providers of contraception to apply for an “adjustment” of the user fee based on the costs of providing the products and services, “which would likely be reimbursed and ultimately incurred by the federal government.”

Dolan said the bishops’ conference plans to file comments on the proposed rule with HHS.

The proposed rule is not currently in effect. A 60-day comment period on it begins with its publication in the Federal Register, which is scheduled to occur Thursday, Feb. 2. That gives members of the public until early April to comment on it.

Written comments can be submitted by U.S. mail or online at the following website: https://www.regulations.gov.

Pope Francis to Congolese charities: ‘It’s not philanthropy, but faith’

On his second day in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa, Feb. 1, 2023, Pope Francis listened to the stories of victims of violence from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s conflict-ridden eastern region. / Vatican Media

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 1, 2023 / 15:20 pm (CNA).

In a meeting with Catholic Congolese charities on Wednesday, Pope Francis praised the work being done to assist those in poverty and emphasized the importance of Christian charity as an integral part of the faith.

“What causes poverty is not so much the absence of goods and opportunities but their unequal distribution,” the pontiff said at the apostolic nunciature in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He gave his speech after hearing testimony from representatives from various charities and meeting with some of the workers and people who receive care from them.

“Those who are prosperous, especially if they are Christians, are challenged to share what they have with those who lack the bare necessities, and all the more so if they are members of the same people,” the pope continued. “This is not a matter of benevolence, but of justice. It is not philanthropy, but faith. For, as Scripture says, ‘Faith without works is dead.’”

The pope emphasized that charity, in the Christian sense, is about raising people “back up to their dignity” rather than treating those in need like statistics. He expressed gratitude that the people who do this work “are able to see Jesus in the least of his brothers and sisters.”

“You did not simply list social problems or provide me with statistics on poverty, but more importantly you spoke with affection about the poor,” the pontiff continued. “You spoke about yourselves and about people you did not know before, but who have now become familiar to you; people with names and faces.”

“I am grateful that you are able to see Jesus in the least of his brothers and sisters. The Lord is to be sought and loved in the poor and we, as Christians, must take care not to turn our backs on them,” he said, adding: “There is something wrong when a believer keeps Christ’s loved ones at a distance.”

In his speech, Pope Francis said the work done by these charitable organizations is “wonderful but by no means easy.” After referencing testimonies that he said were full of “stupendous happenings” that are “impossible to attribute merely to human strength,” he said it is certainly worth it.

“Goodness is like that, it spreads; it is not paralyzed by resignation or statistics but impels us to give others what we ourselves freely received,” the pope said. “Young people in particular need to see this: They need to see faces that overcome indifference by looking people in the eye, and hands that do not wield weapons or misuse money but reach out to those who are down on the ground and raise them back up to their dignity, the dignity of a daughter and son of God.”

The pope met with survivors of ongoing violence in eastern Congo earlier Wednesday during his six-day trip to Africa. When meeting with the charities, he highlighted that the violence may be more noticeable to people but that the important work of the charitable groups is making a difference.

“In this country, where the sound of violence is heard like the loud crash of a felled tree, you are the forest that quietly grows each day and makes the air clean and breathable,” Pope Francis said. “Naturally, a falling tree makes more noise, but God loves and blesses the generosity that silently sprouts and bears fruit, and he looks with joy upon all those who serve the needy. That is how goodness grows: in the simplicity of hands and hearts stretched out to others and in the courage of small steps that approach the poor and vulnerable in the name of Jesus.”