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Television station rediscovers lost interview with priest who developed Big Bang theory

Father Georges Lemaitre. / Credit: VRT/YouTube

CNA Newsroom, Feb 1, 2023 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

A Belgian television station has rediscovered a 20-minute video in which Father Georges Lemaitre, considered the father of the Big Bang theory, explains what the origin of the universe may have been like.

Lemaitre was a Belgian astrophysicist known for being the first academic to propose the theory of the expansion of the universe from a massive explosion of what he called a “primordial atom” or “cosmic egg.”

Until now, only photographs of Lemaitre were preserved, the most popular being the one where he appears alongside Albert Einstein.

However, the VRT television station recently found a video in which the father of the Big Bang explains his theory.

Kathleen Bertrem of VRT’s archives mentioned in late December 2022 that finding this historic material was like “looking for a needle in a haystack” due to the company misclassifying its extensive files.

Nevertheless, the television channel found among its archives the tape of an interview in French that producer Jerome Verhaeghe conducted with Lemaitre on Feb. 14, 1964, and broadcast then.

Lemaitre explains the origin of the universe

Lemaitre points out in the interview that the expansion of the universe was not accepted at first because it made the idea of a creation necessary.

In the video, the astrophysicist explains that “before the theory of the expansion of the universe, some 40 years ago [in the 1920s], we expected the universe to be static, because nothing changes.”

“It was an idea that, a priori, basically applied to the entire universe,” the priest notes.

However, discovering expansion made the idea of a static universe “out of the question.”

The priest and astrophysicist also says that this led him to propose the Big Bang theory, describing it as the “primordial atom.”

“There is a very different beginning to the state of today’s universe, a beginning of multiplicity that can be described, as far as we can describe it, in the form of the disintegration of all matter in the form of atoms,” he states.

This expansion leads us to have “a universe, an expanding space full of plasma, with very energetic rays that go in all directions.”

Lemaitre called these rays “primeval fireworks,” which have been preserved in space “giving us a testimony of the first ages of the world.”

The Belgian priest emphasized that he tries to present his theory in scientific terms and that he has no interest in having his position thought to be a profession of his religious convictions.

The full video in French of the interview with Lemaitre can be seen on the VRT YouTube channel.

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

Acquitted pro-life activist Mark Houck reveals details of ‘reckless’ FBI raid; will press charges

After being acquitted of federal charges by a jury in Philadelphia on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, Mark Houck embraces and kisses his wife, Ryan-Marie Houck. Also with Houck are his son Mark Houck Jr., 14, and his daughter, Ava Houck, 12. / Joe Bukuras/CNA

Boston, Mass., Feb 1, 2023 / 13:31 pm (CNA).

Mark Houck, the pro-life father of seven who was acquitted Monday in federal court of charges of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, said he is planning to sue the FBI and other authorities following his ordeal.

On a Jan. 31 episode of the podcast “War Room,” the host, Steve Bannon, asked Houck: “Do you intend to press charges for prosecutorial abuse? And are you going to press charges against the FBI agents and the state troopers?”

“We most definitely will and we will be seeking counsel on that,” Houck responded.

Houck was arrested Sept. 23, 2022, following a federal indictment alleging two violations of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, commonly referred to as the FACE Act.

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.”

At the time of the arrest, Houck’s wife, Ryan-Marie Houck, told CNA that “a SWAT team of about 25 came to my house with about 15 vehicles and started pounding on our door.” She added: “They said they were going to break in if he didn’t open it. And then they had about five guns pointed at my husband, myself, and basically at my kids.”

The allegations in the case were related to two incidents that took place on Oct. 13, 2021, at a Philadelphia abortion clinic, where Houck has been a longtime pro-life sidewalk counselor. The federal indictment alleged that Houck twice shoved an abortion clinic escort, Bruce Love, once when Love was attempting to escort clients and again during a verbal altercation with Love in front of the clinic.

The prosecution argued that Houck pushed Love because he was trying to interfere with his provision of reproductive health services. Houck said he pushed Love because he was just trying to protect his 12-year-old son who was being harassed by Love. A 12-person jury unanimously found Houck not guilty of both counts of violating the FACE Act on Monday.

After news of his acquittal broke, several supporters of Houck called for legal action against the Justice Department.

Until Monday, Houck himself had not made any public statements on the nature of his arrest, but he went into more detail on the podcast. 

‘I have seven babies in here’

Houck said that a local criminal complaint against him in Philadelphia Municipal Court “went nowhere” and added that he was soon notified that he was the target of a grand jury investigation.

He said his lawyers at the time said that they would peacefully bring Houck in for questioning from authorities if needed.

“The next thing I know, I had 20-plus federal agents and state troopers banging on my door at 6:45 in the morning on Sept. 23, Friday morning,” he said.

Houck said he was awake, but his wife and kids were asleep. He said the FBI “repeatedly” rang the doorbell and banged on the door saying “open up.’”

Houck said that the authorities did not identify themselves while banging on the door.

He described the FBI’s tactics as “recklessness” and an “act of terror.”

Houck asked if the authorities would identify themselves before he opened the door, which they did. 

“To which I replied, ‘Okay, I’m gonna open the door. Stay calm. I have seven babies in here,’ which were stirring at the time, but I didn’t know they were awake,” he said.

Houck said he opened the door and showed them his hands. 

“As I opened the door, I could not believe the circus scene that I saw,” he said.

There were “at least 10, 15 marked and unmarked units right in front of me. Surrounding the side of my house, I have 100 yards to the street, cars lined all the way up to the street, long guns pointed at me, heavily armored vests, ballistic helmets, ballistic shields, a battering ram,” he said.

He said his daughter “took note” of an FBI agent in the back of the house, and there were at least five federal agents on his porch “with M-16s pointed at me and now my wife as she entered the opening of the door.”

“I opened the door and I said, ‘What are you doing here?’”

“They said, ‘You know why we’re here,’” Houck said.

“And then I said, ‘Oh, I know why you’re here. You’re here because I rescue babies,’” he said.

Houck said that he looked at all of the agents and said, “You wouldn’t be here if the Trump administration was in the White House.”

He said that the agents did not respond but just looked at him. 

Ryan-Marie Houck asked if they had a warrant for his arrest, Houck said, adding that the FBI responded, “We’re taking him with or without a warrant.”

Ryan-Marie told CNA at the time of the arrest that she was handed the warrant after she asked for it.

Houck said that when he was arrested, his children were screaming, he had on flip-flops, a pair of shorts, a T-shirt, and was not wearing underwear.

Houck said that the agents did not let him put on underwear, brush his teeth, or put deodorant on. They did allow him to take his rosary, he said.

“It was reckless that day,” Houck said. “I’m so surprised that someone wasn’t shot or I wasn’t shot.”

“[If] my kids picked up one of our airsoft guns that they play around with they easily could have been shot,” he said, adding that this was “extremely reckless behavior on the part of the federal government.”

In September 2022, the FBI issued a statement disputing details in the reports of Houck’s arrest. 

“There are inaccurate claims being made regarding the arrest of Mark Houck,” the FBI’s Philadelphia office said in a statement.

“No SWAT Team or SWAT operators were involved. FBI agents knocked on Mr. Houck’s front door, identified themselves as FBI agents, and asked him to exit the residence. He did so and was taken into custody without incident pursuant to an indictment,” the statement continued.

At the time, an FBI spokesman declined to answer CNA’s questions about the number of law enforcement personnel at the scene and whether any drew their weapons and pointed them at the family.

“Extensive planning takes place prior to the service of any federal warrant. The FBI then employs the personnel and tactics deemed necessary to effect a safe arrest or search,” the statement said.

“While it’s the FBI’s standard practice not to discuss such operational specifics, we can say that the number of personnel and vehicles widely reported as being on scene Friday is an overstatement, and the tactics used by FBI personnel were professional, in line with standard practices, and intended to ensure the safety of everyone present in and outside the residence,” the statement concluded.

Close to the cross of Christ

Houck said that he was shackled at the waist and feet once he arrived at “the federal building.”

Houck said that his detainment was “the most intimate prayer experience” of his life, adding that he was “at the foot of Calvary” and was at peace. He said he felt so close to the cross of Christ that he could “take the splinters off that cross.”

Houck also said that the FBI “manipulated” him and his wife into giving them information that he didn’t want to give them.

He said that he was then in the custody of the U.S. Marshals and said that he was still chained in “a pure act of humiliation,” adding that they treated him like he was “a convicted felon” and “like no other person has ever treated” him.

Houck told Bannon that prior to the trial, the government offered him a plea deal: If he would plead guilty, he would walk away with virtually no punishment but “a slap on the wrist.”

He said his wife told him: “You’re not allowed home if you take that plea.”

“I was not going to take that plea. But I just wanted your audience to know that that’s how highly the government thought of this case,” he said. “And I knew the importance of allowing this case to set precedent for the pro-life movement, to have case law on the books.”

Pope Francis ‘left without words’ after children’s shocking stories of violence in eastern Congo

Young people from eastern Congo lay down the machetes and knives used to kill their families at the foot of Christ’s cross to symbolize their forgiveness in a moving encounter with Pope Francis during his trip to the country Feb. 1, 2023. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Feb 1, 2023 / 13:07 pm (CNA).

In a moving encounter with Pope Francis, children from eastern Congo laid down the machetes and knives used to kill their families at the foot of Christ’s cross to symbolize their forgiveness.

“I place before the cross of Christ the Victor the same knife as the one that killed all the members of my family,” Léonie Matumaini from Mbau elementary school told the pope on Feb. 1.

The child’s heartbreaking witness on the pope’s second day in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa served as a shocking reminder of the horrors taking place in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s conflict-ridden eastern region.

It was one of several wrenching testimonies the pope heard during his encounter with victims of the violence. He told them afterward their stories had left him “without words.”

Ladislas Kambale Kombi, a 16-year-old boy from Butembo-Beniu, became emotional as he shared with the pope how he witnessed men cut off his father’s head on the day that he became an orphan.

“Holy Father, it is horrible to see such a scene. It never leaves me. At night I can’t sleep. It’s hard to understand such wickedness, this almost animal brutality,” the young boy said.

“Following the spiritual and psychosocial accompaniment of our local Church, I and the other children who are here have forgiven our captors. That’s why I place before the cross of Christ the Victor the same machete as the one that killed my father.”

After sharing their stories, Matumaini, Kombi, and one other child — who had been kidnapped for nine months — knelt before the pope, who placed his hand on their heads and prayed. The machete and knife remained on the floor below a large crucifix.

Bijoux Mukumbi Kamala, a 17-year-old girl who was repeatedly raped for one year and seven months after being captured by rebels in Goma in 2020, brought the pope her twin girls, conceived in rape, for a blessing. 

She placed a mat, “a symbol of my misery as a raped woman,” under the crucifix “so that Christ will forgive me for the condemnations I have made in my heart against these men.” 

“May God forgive us all and teach us respect for human life,” she said in her testimony.

“Your Holiness, with the presence of dozens of armed groups, the killings have intensified everywhere, families have been displaced several times, children have been left without parents, they have been exploited in the mines or rather in the rebel armies; the girls and women began the ordeal of sexual assaults of all kinds and nameless torture,” Kamala wrote in a testimony read aloud by another woman in French.

“Your Holiness, in all of this the Church remains the only refuge that heals our wounds and consoles our hearts through its multiple services of support and comfort: the parishes and the services of the diocesan Caritas remain our places of recourse and help. Your presence, Your Holiness, reassures us that the whole Church takes care of us. Thank you so much for coming.”

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.

More than 120 armed groups are fighting for control of the eastern Congo, a region rich with natural resources. In recent months, the M23 rebel group has experienced a resurgence. The U.N. reported that the M23 executed 131 people in November “as part of a campaign of murders, rapes, kidnappings, and looting against two villages.”

An affiliate of the Islamic State is also present in eastern Congo, known locally as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). Two weeks before the pope’s trip, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a deadly bombing at a Protestant church service that killed 14 people.

After listening to six testimonies, Pope Francis addressed the victims of violence gathered in the apostolic nunciature in Kinshasa.

“Thank you for these testimonies. We continue to be shocked to hear of the inhumane violence that you have seen with your eyes and personally experienced. We are left without words; we can only weep in silence,” the pope said.

“To every family that grieves or is displaced by the burning of villages and other war crimes, to the survivors of sexual violence and to every injured child and adult, I say: I am with you; I want to bring you God’s caress. He gazes upon you with tenderness and compassion,” he said.

“While the violent treat you as pawns, our heavenly Father sees your dignity, and to each of you he says: ‘You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you’” (Is 43:4).

A previously scheduled visit to the city of Goma, a city in eastern Congo, was cut from the pope’s itinerary due to the ongoing violence after his trip to the DRC was postponed for six months in July.

Pope Francis said that his heart is in the eastern Congo after he listened to the stories.

The pope also strongly denounced the violent atrocities committed and urged the entire Congolese people to “demilitarize” their hearts.

“In the name of Jesus, who forgave those who pierced his hands and feet with nails, hanging him upon a cross, I ask everyone: Please disarm your heart,” he said.

The pope urged people to forgive, reminding them that “the cross was itself an instrument of torture and death, the most terrible in use at the time of Jesus, yet, transformed by his love, it has become a universal means of reconciliation, a tree of life.”

“With Jesus, hope is born and constantly reborn: for those who have endured evil, and even those who perpetrated it,” Francis said.

“May Jesus, our brother, the God of reconciliation who planted the tree of life of the cross in the heart of the darkness of sin and suffering, the God of hope who believes in you, in your country and in your future, bless you and comfort you. May he pour out his peace into your hearts, your families, and upon the entire Democratic Republic of the Congo,” he said.

At the end of the emotional meeting, those in attendance committed to forgive, praying together: “Today we place the instruments of our suffering under the cross of your Son.”

Biggest papal Masses ever: How does today’s Mass in the DRC compare?

Millions gather in Manila for Pope Francis' closing Mass on Jan. 18, 2015. / Alan Holdren/CNA.

St. Louis, Mo., Feb 1, 2023 / 12:23 pm (CNA).

More than 1 million people attended Pope Francis’ Mass celebrated on an airfield in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday morning, according to local authorities. The papal Mass, celebrated in French, was filled with joy and dancing. 

Papal Masses, especially in the last 50 years or so, have attracted crowds of millions — many of them at World Youth Days, the massive gatherings of young people that began in 1987 and take place every few years. 

Here’s an inexhaustive ranking of some of the biggest papal Masses:

Pope Francis, Manila, 2015: 6-7 million

Millions gather in Manila for Pope Francis' closing Mass on Jan. 18, 2015. .  Alan Holdren/CNA.
Millions gather in Manila for Pope Francis' closing Mass on Jan. 18, 2015. . Alan Holdren/CNA.

Residents of the historically Catholic Philippines made a tremendous showing at the final Mass of Pope Francis’ 2015 trip to the Philippines. By official estimates, between 6 and 7 million people packed into Rizal Park in Manila at the final public event during his Jan. 15–19 trip to the country. 

The Mass is thought to be the largest papal event in history. 

Pope John Paul II, Manila, 1995: 5 million

Pope John Paul II with Manila Archbishop Cardinal Jaime Sin  addressing the crowd attending the closing Mass of the 10th World Youth Day in Manila. Ryansean071|Wikipedia|CC BY-SA 4.0
Pope John Paul II with Manila Archbishop Cardinal Jaime Sin addressing the crowd attending the closing Mass of the 10th World Youth Day in Manila. Ryansean071|Wikipedia|CC BY-SA 4.0

An estimated 5 million people turned out for Mass celebrated by the future saint, who was the most traveled pope ever and possibly the most-seen person in history. The attendance numbers set a record that would take years to be broken. 

Pope Francis, Rio de Janeiro, 2013: 3 million

World Youth Day pilgims take part in a flashmob dance at the beginning of the closing Mass June 28, 2013.  Michelle Bauman/CNA
World Youth Day pilgims take part in a flashmob dance at the beginning of the closing Mass June 28, 2013. Michelle Bauman/CNA

Pope Francis’ celebration of the final Mass at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro — his first World Youth Day — set a record as the largest papal event since Manila in 1995. The mayor's office of Rio de Janeiro estimated that 3.2 million people attended the liturgy at the famous Copacabana Beach.

Pope Francis, Krakow, 2013: 1.5-3 million

World Youth Day in Krakow, July 2016.  Jeff Bruno
World Youth Day in Krakow, July 2016. Jeff Bruno

Original estimates were of “at least 1.5 million” attendees at the Mass, based on the number of people at the vigil the night before. Though Polish police did not give an estimate, ​​World Youth Day spokesperson Anna Chmura later told Agence France Presse there were between 2.5 and 3 million people.” 

Pope Francis, Kinshasa, 2023: 1 million

Pope Francis celebrated Mass with around 1 million people in Kinshasa, DRC, on Feb. 1, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis celebrated Mass with around 1 million people in Kinshasa, DRC, on Feb. 1, 2023. Vatican Media

The Mass in Kinshasa, DRC’s capital city, took place on the airfield of the N’Dolo Airport on the second day of the pope’s trip to two countries in central and east Africa.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass in French, the official language of DRC, and Lingala, the Bantu-based creole spoken in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo and by millions of speakers across Central Africa. The pope delivered his homily in Italian with French translations for the Mass, which was celebrated according to the Zaire Use of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

Biden claims the pope and some bishops are open to taxpayer funded abortion

President Joe Biden responds to a question from EWTN's Owen Jensen about the Catholic bishops' position on federal funding of abortion. / EWTN

Washington D.C., Feb 1, 2023 / 11:45 am (CNA).

Despite a clear letter from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) calling for “no taxpayer funding for abortion,” President Joe Biden this week claimed that Pope Francis and some bishops are not in agreement with this policy. 

EWTN White House Correspondent Owen Jensen had a brief exchange with Biden this week in which he began a question by informing the president that “Catholic bishops are demanding that federal tax dollars not fund abortions.” 

Biden responded, saying: “No, they are not all doing that, nor is the pope doing that.”

Despite the president’s claims, he did not cite any bishops who support taxpayer-funded abortions, nor did he expand on his invocation of Pope Francis, who has consistently condemned abortion and even equated it to “hiring a hitman.” 

The exchange occurred after the USCCB’s pro-life committee took a firm stance in support of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act. The legislation would prohibit the use of federal funds for abortion and prohibit federal funds for health care plans that cover abortions. There would be exceptions for rape, incest, and when the mother’s life is in danger.

Although Congress consistently passes annual appropriation bills that include bans on federal agencies funding abortion, there is no law that establishes a permanent ban. This means the policy could change if the language is not included in a certain appropriations bill. This bill would apply the standard to every federal agency permanently. Under the language used in current appropriation bills, federal agencies are still allowed to enroll workers in health care plans that cover abortion, but the premium cannot be subsidized by the agencies. This bill would expand the restrictions by prohibiting the agencies from enrolling workers in plans that cover abortion. 

In the letter sent by USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities’ Chair Bishop Michael Burbidge, the bishop said “abortion is an uncompassionate response to a difficult pregnancy” that “pits a mother in crisis against her preborn child.”

“Protecting taxpayers from being forced to pay for abortion in violation of their conscience is a principle that has enjoyed historically broad support among Americans, regardless of their otherwise passionately divided views on the topic,” Bishop Burbidge said. “It has also been life-saving. …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.”

In response to Biden’s claims, Bishop Joseph Strickland of the Diocese of Tyler in Texas accused the president of twisting Pope Francis’s words. 

“Mr. Biden can’t be allowed to twist the words of Pope Francis in this way,” the bishop tweeted. “I implore the Vatican press office to emphatically clarify that Pope Francis rightly calls abortion murder. It is time to denounce Biden’s fake Catholicism.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the Church has affirmed that abortion is evil since the first century and continues to do so. 

“Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception,” the catechism states. “From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person — among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.”

Archbishop Gänswein celebrates Mass for Benedict XVI one month after pope’s death

Archbishop Georg Gänswein celebrates Mass in the Vatican crypt close to the tomb of Pope Benedict XVI on Jan. 31, 2023, to mark one month since the death of the pope emeritus on Dec. 31, 2022. / Angela Ambrogetti/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Feb 1, 2023 / 11:25 am (CNA).

Archbishop Georg Gänswein celebrated Mass at the tomb of St. Peter on Tuesday to mark one month since the death of Pope Benedict XVI.

Gänswein, the pope emeritus’ longtime personal secretary, offered the Mass in the Vatican crypt close to Benedict’s tomb in the presence of a small group of people.

Benedict XVI died on Dec. 31 in the Vatican. He was buried in the crypt under St. Peter’s Basilica on Jan. 5 following the celebration of his funeral Mass in St. Peter’s Square.

In his homily, Gänswein said Benedict, “one of the greatest and most influential theologians of all time on the Chair of Peter, put himself under the protection of a saint for whom there was no theology, only adoration.”

The saint was Benedict Joseph Labre, known as the “beggar saint,” whose feast day — April 16 — was also Benedict XVI’s birthday and baptismal day.

“What a surprise, what a mystery, what a humility, but also what a lesson,” Gänswein said.

According to the German archbishop, Benedict XVI’s spirituality echoes that of St. Benedict Joseph Labre.

Labre, and Benedict XVI, believed “one must have three hearts united in one: a heart for the love of God, a heart for zeal for one’s neighbor, and a heart that gives witness for the beauty of faith,” Gänswein said.

One difference between them, however, is that “theology opened the door to adoration” for Benedict XVI.

In a 2012 homily, Benedict XVI called St. Benedict Joseph Labre “one of the most unusual saints in the Church’s history.”

The 18th-century “pious mendicant pilgrim,” Benedict said, was “a rather unusual saint who begging, wandered from one shrine to another and wanted to do nothing other than to pray and thereby bear witness to what counts in this life: God.”

“He shows us that God alone suffices; that beyond anything in this world, beyond our needs and capacities, what matters, what is essential is to know God,” Benedict said on April 16, 2012.

Pope Benedict, according to Gänswein, saw his mission to be, if necessary, admonishing theologians and bishops to keep them out of dangerous theological currents and in the unity of the universal Church and the deposit of faith.

Benedict XVI knew there was a certain aversion to his pontificate because of this, the archbishop said. Benedict also endured a lot of criticism and insults because he did not think the life of the Church should be dealt with according to political or ecclesiastical expediency.

Instead of wanting to give orders, Benedict trusted in the “mild power of truth,” Gänswein said. “Was this naïve and out-of-touch idealism or the proper behavior for a priest, a bishop, a pope?”

The German archbishop also defended Benedict XVI against accusations that he sympathized with a certain ecclesiastical anti-Semitism of the past.

Benedict XVI considered anti-Semitism a stain on the Church and an attack on its very foundation, Gänswein said.

Father Federico Lombardi, former Vatican spokesman and president of the Ratzinger Foundation, concelebrated the Mass for Benedict XVI.

Sister Birgit Wansing, a close collaborator of Benedict, and the consecrated women who ran Benedict’s household at the Vatican and during his retirement at Mater Ecclesiae Monastery were also present at the Mass.

Cardinal Zen hospitalized in Hong Kong after returning from Benedict XVI’s funeral

Cardinal Joseph Zen, former bishop of Hong Hong, attends the funeral Mass for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Jan. 5, 2023, in St. Peter's Square. / Credit: Diane Montagna

Rome Newsroom, Feb 1, 2023 / 09:02 am (CNA).

Cardinal Joseph Zen has been hospitalized in Hong Kong after his health deteriorated upon returning from Benedict XVI’s funeral in Rome.

The 91-year-old cardinal wrote on his blog on Jan. 31 that he is receiving treatment in the hospital after experiencing difficulty breathing.

Zen said that the doctors have already conducted many examinations and ruled out that he does not have a bacterial infection in his lungs as he experienced in 2016 when he was hospitalized for three weeks.

“You have not heard from me as I have been staying in the hospital. Please rest assured, Hong Kong’s most senior doctors are taking care of me,” he wrote.

The former bishop of Hong Kong revealed that he had already been experiencing some health difficulties before he received permission from a Hong Kong court to travel to Rome for the Jan. 5 funeral of Benedict XVI.

Despite having inflammation in his shoulders, an aching back, and numbness in his hands, Zen said that he felt that he “could not give up the opportunity” to be present at the funeral.

“The funeral of Pope Benedict was very important to me; and like a miracle, God allowed me to go to Rome to attend: The court approved, the police let me get back my passport; the airline just had a flight so that I could catch the funeral in time, therefore, I felt that I couldn’t give up this opportunity and decided to go,” he said.

“When I went to Rome, I felt that I represented the whole of Hong Kong and the whole of China, expressing our respect and love to Pope Benedict XVI.”

After his four-day trip to Rome, the cardinal spent 10 days resting in Hong Kong, but his health unexpectedly continued to deteriorate, worsening on the first day of Lunar New Year, Jan. 22.

Zen shared the update on his health in a blog post titled “Letter to Inmates.” The retired cardinal  has dedicated his time over the past 10 years to prison ministry in Hong Kong and has baptized several prisoners.

“Do not forget that we will never be separated in prayer,” he wrote to the inmates. “I will continue to pray for you, and please remember me in your prayers.”

Republican and Democrat leaders urge Biden to add Nigeria to list of countries violating religious freedom

Altar of St. Francis Xavier Owo Catholic Parish of Ondo Diocese, Nigeria, where dozens were slain in a massacre on June 5, 2022. / Courtesy of ACN

Washington D.C., Feb 1, 2023 / 08:29 am (CNA).

New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith and a group of Republican and Democrat leaders in Congress introduced a resolution Tuesday to urge the State Department to add Nigeria to its annual list of countries that violate religious freedom, known as the Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) list. 

The resolution also calls for the appointment of a special envoy to monitor and combat human rights violations in the region.

Co-sponsored by Arkansas Republican Rep. French Hill and Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar, the resolution will signal U.S. commitment to religious freedom across the world, especially in Nigeria.

“Last year alone, 5,014 Christians were killed in Nigeria — accounting for nearly 90% of Christian deaths worldwide as well [as] 90% of Christian kidnappings across the globe,” Smith said in a Tuesday press release. “The Biden administration must act immediately and redesignate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern to mitigate this alarming and growing threat to religious liberty.”

Despite evidence of rampant human rights violations — including massacres, murders, and kidnappings — against Christians and religious minorities in Nigeria, the U.S. State Department under the Biden administration removed Nigeria from its CPC list in 2021 and kept the country off the list again in 2022.

Sponsors of the resolution questioned why the designation was removed.

"In 2020, Nigeria was a Country of Particular Concern (CPC). Despite little having changed in Nigeria’s treatment of religious freedom since then, the Biden Administration continues to leave Nigeria off the CPC list for political gain. This resolution sends an important message to the Biden Administration and the Government of Nigeria that the U.S. Congress sees what is happening there and will continue to speak out against the ongoing violence and the government’s inadequate response," Hill told CNA.

“The Biden administration’s totally unjustified decision to retreat from the noble and necessary fight to protect victims of religious persecution puts even more people in jeopardy,” Smith said.

Sean Nelson of Alliance Defending Freedom International told CNA that the CPC list is “the most powerful tool the U.S. government has to influence the religious freedom situation in other countries.”

Robert Destro, former assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor under the Trump administration, told CNA that the resolution is “the beginning of a coalition-building exercise” to bring attention to and unify Congress in support of persecuted Nigerians.

Hill, who was recently appointed to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, announced plans to introduce the resolution Tuesday morning at a meeting of advocates for Nigerian religious freedom at the Belmont House, a center for Catholic community on Capitol Hill. Hosted by Aid to the Church in Need, the pontifical foundation supporting persecuted Christians, the meeting brought together religious freedom advocates in Washington, D.C., for the International Religious Freedom Summit.

Father Augustine Deji Dada of the Catholic Diocese of Ondo, Nigeria; Marcela Szymanski, editor of Aid to the church in Need's Religious Freedom Report; and Rep. French Hill at a meeting on Christian persecution in Nigeria held at Belmont House in Washington, D.C. Belmont House
Father Augustine Deji Dada of the Catholic Diocese of Ondo, Nigeria; Marcela Szymanski, editor of Aid to the church in Need's Religious Freedom Report; and Rep. French Hill at a meeting on Christian persecution in Nigeria held at Belmont House in Washington, D.C. Belmont House

Bishop Jude Arogundade of the Diocese of Ondo, Nigeria, participated in the Belmont House meeting via video call. According to Arogundade, the persecution of Christians in Nigeria is a “crime against humanity.”

Arogundade’s diocese suffered a terrorist attack on Pentecost Sunday 2022 in which 50 Catholics attending Mass were killed at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Nigeria’s Owo state. Among the Christians massacred were victims as young as 2 and 3 to as old as 85. 

The situation is dire, Arongundade told the group, citing recent attacks on Christians. 

Earlier this month a Catholic priest, Father Isaac Achi, was burned to death in his rectory by armed bandits. Arogundade said that he “will continue to speak out” but noted that he can only travel in his home country accompanied by armed guards.

The Nigerian bishop told the group that upcoming elections in the country offer Christians some hope. Members of the ruling All Progressives Congress party have ties to terrorists, he said.

Those who “are supposed to make things better, they are the ones involved in attacks here,” he told the group.

Nina Shea, an international human rights lawyer and fellow at the Hudson Institute, told the group that terrorists in Nigeria continue to act with “impunity” and are rarely held accountable for their crimes.

New report details abuses of L’Arche founder

Jean Vanier at a Templeton Prize press conference in London March 11, 2015. / Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Newsroom, Feb 1, 2023 / 07:35 am (CNA).

A new independent report commissioned by L’Arche International and released on its website Jan. 30 has shed light on the magnitude of psychological and sexual abuse committed by its famous founder, Jean Vanier, who died in 2019.

Founded in the French commune of Trosly-Breuil in 1964, L’Arche is an international federation gathering networks of community where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together. The initiative has inspired thousands of faithful around the world, allowing it to expand to 38 countries on five continents through 150 different communities. The shockwaves caused by the revelations about its founder were all the greater because he was often regarded as a saint.

While a previous report issued in February 2020 revealed Vanier’s sexual misconduct with six women in the context of providing spiritual direction to them, this new investigation found that between 1952 and 2019, at least 25 women — all of them adults without disabilities, single, married, or consecrated — experienced “at some point of their relationship with Vanier a situation implying a sexual act or intimate gesture.” 

The more than 900-page report, the result of a two-year investigation, also looks into the actions of Father Thomas Philippe, a Catholic priest who died in 1993 and whom Jean Vanier considered his spiritual mentor. Philippe was also the subject of a parallel investigation by the Dominican order, which will be published Wednesday.

Stephan Posner and Stacy Cates Carney, leaders of L’Arche International, wrote in a letter to the federation’s members that they were “appalled” by the report’s findings. The leaders wrote that “we once again condemn, without reservation, the actions of Jean Vanier and Thomas Philippe which are in total contradiction with the elementary rules of respect and integrity of persons, and contrary to the fundamental principles of our communities.”

Composed of six researchers from different backgrounds, the independent commission sought to understand the context and sectarian mechanisms that enabled Vanier, as a great spiritual figure, to use his power to take advantage of young women. His relationships with those women, according to a synthesis provided by L’Arche, “all fit into a continuum of confusion, control, and abuse.”

The report stated that “while some people described themselves as ‘victims’ or ‘survivors’ of an abusive relationship, a few described themselves rather as consenting partners in a transgressive relationship … justified by mystical-sexual beliefs inherited from Philippe.”

Investigators also looked into Vanier’s complicity in Philippe’s actions, covering up his spiritual and sexual abuses for decades, despite the Vatican’s canonical sanctions against the religious and his brother, Marie-Dominique Philippe, who was also a Dominican, as early as the 1950s.

Among the most shocking revelations of the report is the fact that the foundation of L’Arche had as its primary objective to serve as a “screen” against Rome’s sanctions against Philippe and to continue the work he had been developing through his spiritual center L’Eau Vive, which the commission described as a sect.

The researchers, however, concluded that “L’Arche as a project and as an organization has nothing to do with a sect, and that while the original sectarian nucleus did form a microsystem at the heart of L’Arche, in the light of the facts of abuse identified by the commission, it did not seem to have developed beyond the [French] mother house in Trosly-Breuil.”

Contacted by CNA, Father Christian Mahéas, chaplain of L’Arche in France for 16 years until 2020, expressed his deep pain and dismay at reading the new report and the details of the abuses committed by Vanier.

Mahéas, whose priestly vocation flourished through his mission at the service of L’Arche and its members with intellectual disabilities, accompanied Vanier the last five months of his earthly life and was beside him when he died.

“I find it very disturbing that a man as seemingly free as Jean Vanier could have remained under the influence of Father Thomas Philippe for so many years without standing up to him,” he told CNA. He said that Vanier had been under Philippe’s thumb since he was 20 years old and that Philippe had shaped Vanier’s entire spiritual development.

According to Mahéas, the aura of holiness that surrounded Vanier, and Philippe before him, was likely to aggravate the sectarian aberrations in which he engaged.

“This warns us against the all-too-common temptation to canonize people during their lifetime by putting them on a pedestal,” he said, also underlining the extreme prudence that spiritual guides must show toward their flock, always taking care to respect the inner freedom of each person.

“There is a path, a work of purification and conversation to live in the Church and this is all part of it. It is a matter of continuing our mission in this sense without losing sight of the innumerable fruits borne by L’Arche in its service to the least of this world, and which are to be dissociated from its founder,” Mahéas continued, expressing his appreciation for the strong support the federation continues to receive from Christians around the world.

“It would be a great shame if people who need to be welcomed by L’Arche were to suffer the double punishment of being rejected by society in principle, and now rejected a second time because of this case which concerns its founder only. What a tragedy that would be!”

In their official communique that accompanied the release of the report, the federations’ leaders also announced that a new audit will be undertaken in 2023 in all the communities of L’Arche and that from then on audits will be scheduled every three years to protect its members against all types of abuse in the future.

Pope Francis appoints auxiliary bishop from Colombia to lead Louisiana diocese

Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville in 2015. / CNA file photo

Rome Newsroom, Feb 1, 2023 / 06:58 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Washington, to lead the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux in Louisiana.

Dorsonville, 62, was born in Bogotá, Colombia. He first moved to the United States in the early 1990s to study for a doctorate in ministry from the Catholic University of America.

The Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux serves approximately 90,000 Catholics in southeastern Louisiana.

Dorsonville succeeds 59-year-old Archbishop Shelton Fabre, who was transferred to the Archdiocese of Louisville in Kentucky by Pope Francis in March 2022.

Dorsonville has been an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Washington since 2015. From 2019–2022 he served as chairman for the Migration and Refugee Services Committee of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington said in a statement Wednesday that Dorsonville will “bring his many talents in service to the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux. May the Lord abundantly bless him and his new family of faith.”

Dorsonville was ordained a priest in 1985 in Bogotá. He served in several parish assignments and taught business ethics at the National University of Colombia in Bogotá.

After moving to Washington, D.C., and earning a doctorate in ministry from the Catholic University of America in 1996, the priest returned briefly to Colombia, where he served as a chaplain and professor at the National University of Colombia and as a professor at the major seminary of the Archdiocese of Bogotá.

In 1997, he received his first parish assignment in the Archdiocese of Washington.

He was vice president of the archdiocese’s Catholic Charities and director of The Spanish Catholic Center from 2005–2015.

Before he was consecrated an auxiliary bishop in April 2015, Dorsonville was a mentor to newly ordained priests and an adjunct spiritual director at St. John Paul II Seminary in Washington.

The bishop has been vicar general for the archdiocese since 2015.

His bishop’s motto is “Sacerdos in Aeternum,” taken from Psalm 110:4, which says: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.’”