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1 million attend joyful Mass with Pope Francis in Democratic Republic of Congo

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

Rome Newsroom, Feb 1, 2023 / 04:30 am (CNA).

More than 1 million people attended Pope Francis’ Mass in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday morning, according to local authorities.

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.

Catholics attended a prayer vigil with confessions and music the night of Jan. 31; some people who traveled from far away stayed at the airport all night until the morning Mass on Feb. 1.

People gathered in the field hours before the start of Mass at 9:30 a.m. local time. Catholics danced and sang songs, including a joyful chant of “Maman Maria,” which means “Mama Mary” in French, as they awaited Pope Francis’ arrival.

According to statistics from the Vatican, there are more than 52 million Catholics in the DRC, almost half of the total population of more than 105 million people.

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.

The Zaire Use of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite is an inculturated Mass formally approved in 1988 for the dioceses of what was then known as the Republic of Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Pilgrims used umbrellas, hats, and even sheets of paper to shade themselves from the sun as temperatures soared into the low 90s Fahrenheit.

A scene from Pope Francis' Mass in Kinshasa, DRC, on Feb. 1, 2023, attended by an estimated more than 1 million people. Elias Turk/CNA
A scene from Pope Francis' Mass in Kinshasa, DRC, on Feb. 1, 2023, attended by an estimated more than 1 million people. Elias Turk/CNA

“Brothers and sisters, with Jesus, evil never wins, evil never has the last word,” Pope Francis said at Mass.

“‘For he is our peace,’" he added, “and his peace is triumphant. Consequently, we who belong to Jesus must never yield to sorrow; we must not permit resignation and fatalism to take hold of us. Even though that atmosphere reigns all around us, it must not be so for us.”

A scene from Pope Francis' Mass in Kinshasa, DRC, on Feb. 1, 2023, attended by an estimated more than 1 million people. Elias Turk/CNA
A scene from Pope Francis' Mass in Kinshasa, DRC, on Feb. 1, 2023, attended by an estimated more than 1 million people. Elias Turk/CNA

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.

On Feb. 1, Pope Francis will meet with victims of violence from eastern DRC and with volunteers from local charities.

“In a world disheartened by violence and war, Christians must be like Jesus,” Francis said in his homily. “As if to insist on the point, Jesus told the disciples once more: Peace be with you! We are called to make our own this inspired and prophetic message of peace and proclaim it before the world.”

A scene from Pope Francis' Mass in Kinshasa, DRC, on Feb. 1, 2023, attended by an estimated more than 1 million people. Elias Turk/CNA
A scene from Pope Francis' Mass in Kinshasa, DRC, on Feb. 1, 2023, attended by an estimated more than 1 million people. Elias Turk/CNA

The pope said there are three “wellsprings of peace” — forgiveness, community, and mission. He also encouraged the people of DRC to unite their suffering to the suffering of Christ.

“When guilt and sadness overwhelm us, when things do not go well, we know where to look: to the wounds of Jesus, who is ever ready to forgive us with his infinite, wounded love,” he said.

Jesus, Francis added, “knows your wounds; he knows the wounds of your country, he knows the wounds of your people, your land! They are wounds that ache, continually infected by hatred and violence, while the medicine of justice and the balm of hope never seem to arrive.”

“My brother, my sister, Jesus suffers with you. He sees the wounds you carry within, and he desires to console and heal you; he offers you his wounded heart. To your heart, God repeats the words he spoke today through the prophet Isaiah: ‘I will heal them; I will lead them and repay them with comfort,’” he said.

Pope Francis encouraged Catholics in DRC to take the crucifix from their wall or hanging on a chain around their neck and to hold it in their hands, close to their hearts, “in order to share your wounds with the wounds of Jesus.”

“Give Christ the chance to heal your heart, hand your past over to him, along with all your fears and troubles. What a beautiful thing it is to open the doors of your heart and your home to his peace!” he said.

A number of cardinals and bishops from Africa concelebrated the papal Mass Feb. 1.

Cardinal Antoine Kambanda of Rwanda, Cardinal Dieudonne Nzapalainga of Central African Republic, Archbishop Edmond Djitangar of Chad, and Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Nigeria were among those who traveled from other African countries for the Mass.

The pope will fly to the city of Juba in South Sudan on Feb. 3 for the second leg of the trip. The visit to South Sudan will be a “pilgrimage of peace” and take place together with the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the moderator of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields.

Rubio bill would block Biden from declaring public health emergency to expand abortion

Sen. Marco Rubio Credit: Christopher Halloran/Shutterstock / null

Washington D.C., Jan 31, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio introduced a bill that would prohibit the executive branch from expanding abortion access through a public health emergency, just one day after a Biden administration official floated the idea.

The legislation, which Rubio introduced on Tuesday, would prevent any emergency declaration that was intended to promote, support, or expand access to abortion or punish states that have restricted abortion. It would expressly prohibit the president from declaring a national emergency or an emergency declaration under the Stafford Act and prohibit the secretary of Health and Human Services from declaring a public health emergency for this purpose. 

More than 80 Democratic lawmakers have encouraged President Joe Biden and his administration to issue an emergency declaration to expand abortion access. Although the administration has not committed to this approach, Axios reported on Tuesday morning that the Department of Health and Human Services is examining the possibility of declaring a public health emergency for this purpose. 

Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said there has not yet been a full assessment but that there is an ongoing evaluation into this possible approach, Axios reported.

“There are certain criteria that you look for to be able to declare a public health emergency,” Becerra reportedly told Axios. “That’s typically done by scientists and those that are professionals in those fields who will tell us whether we are in a state of emergency and based on that, I have the ability to make a declaration.” 

A public health emergency declaration is normally issued to address severe weather, disease outbreaks, or other imminent health emergencies. Some pro-life lawmakers and organizations warned that using this authority to expand abortion access would be an abuse of power. 

“The fact that the Biden administration wants to declare a public emergency to promote the wanton abortion of unborn children, a grotesque abuse of power, but won’t hardly spend a dime on tackling true emergencies like the one at our southern border, proves just how painfully out of touch President Biden is,” Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Mississippi, the chair of the Senate Pro-Life caucus, told CNA in a statement.

National Right to Life Committee President Carol Tobias told CNA that using a public health emergency to expand abortion access would be overstepping the executive branch’s authority and would likely face legal challenges.

“In the end, the ability not to kill preborn babies does not make for a public health emergency,” Tobias said. “There are times where I think this is absolutely their No. 1 priority.”

Tobias cautioned that “this could be a way that the administration is trying to undermine the Hyde Amendment” and “use our tax dollars … to fund abortion.” The Hyde Amendment prohibits the federal government from funding abortion, with the exception of rape, incest, and the life of the mother. 

Alternatively, Tobias said Biden should support “programs to help moms and babies” such as allowing mothers to deduct an unborn child as a dependent for tax purposes or supporting pro-life pregnancy centers. 

Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of SBA Pro-Life America, referred to the possibility of a public health emergency declaration as pro-abortion extremism. 

“They think allowing more Americans to be born is a crisis, and the only solution is ending those lives through abortion for any reason up until birth,” Dannenfelser said in a statement

“Their latest scheme would result in taxpayer-funded abortion on demand across the country with no protections whatsoever for unborn children or their mothers — including dangerous mail-order abortion drugs that put women at risk of serious complications. If Democrats were truly concerned about women facing difficult circumstances, they would support the pregnancy centers that serve them and outnumber Planned Parenthood 14 to 1 nationwide,” Dannenfelser said.

Rubio introduced a similar bill last June, but the Democrat-controlled Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions failed to move it forward. 

Democrats still maintain narrow control of the Senate, which also gives them control over the committees. 

Spanish bishop: Reference to UN’s Agenda 2030 on World Youth Day website was ‘a mistake’

Logos of WYD Lisbon 2023 and the 2030 Agenda. / Credit; WYD and U.N.

CNA Newsroom, Jan 31, 2023 / 15:11 pm (CNA).

The bishop of Orihuela-Alicante in Spain, José Ignacio Munilla, called the reference to the United Nations’ Agenda 2030 on the World Youth Day (WYD) website “unnecessary.” However, once the reference was later qualified to read “following the guidelines of the Holy See,” he said he considered not going to WYD in Lisbon — as some have said they would — to be a mistake, because it would cause a “wound in communion.”

In the Jan. 30 edition of the “Sixth Continent” program on Radio María Spain, Munilla responded to the “very many” questions that have been addressed to him regarding the inclusion of references to Agenda 2030 on the website for World Youth Day in Lisbon.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is “the most comprehensive blueprint to date for eliminating extreme poverty, reducing inequality, and protecting the planet,” according to the United Nations website.

There is a section on sustainability on the WYD website that includes a commitment letter, which says: “Our mission is to build WYD Lisbon 2023 taking into account the sustainability goals embraced throughout the world, the Laudato Si' goals presented by the Vatican and the United Nations’ Agenda 2030.”

Underneath the letter could be seen the logos of the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals proposed by the U.N.

Munilla explained that “since there were many complaints, the reference was later qualified. The logos have been removed and the qualification was made that we adhere to Agenda 2030 ‘as it is interpreted according to the Catholic Church.’”

What this qualification literally means is “following the guidelines of the Holy See,” an expression associated with a note signed in 2016 by Archbishop Bernardito Auza, at the time the apostolic nuncio and permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations.

Auza’s note makes precisions and clarifications that go further into the value and meaning that the Holy See attaches to Agenda 2030, both regarding its objectives and in the clarification of essential concepts and the methods of application of the proposed goals.

These concepts are mainly those referring to man, his nature and dignity, sexuality, the right to life, the family, and the importance of the foundations of international law in the interpretation and implementation of Agenda 2030 in such relevant issues such as gender, the idea of empowerment, and the so-called right to sexual and reproductive health.

A ‘fair complaint’ in the face of a ‘mistake’

The Spanish prelate acknowledged that the reference to Agenda 2030, a document not signed by the Holy See because it has a voice but not a vote in the United Nations, “has created controversy.”

“What is the WYD page doing making that reference? What need was there to have to make that reference?" asked Munilla, who said that the complaint “is fair” because citing Agenda 2030 “is a mistake.”

“The fact that it has gone away little by little — now I remove the logos, now I say that ‘according to the Catholic Church’ — it’s a kind of rectification without completely rectifying, which makes it clear that a mistake has been made,” the prelate pointed out.

A wound in the communion of the Church

The bishop of Orihuela-Alicante also responded to the question about whether, in view of the confusion that has been caused, it is opportune to go to the youth event with the pope in Lisbon next summer in Europe.

For Munilla “it’s a mistake that there are Catholic movements and schools that have decided not to attend WYD in Lisbon for the mere fact that this inclusion has been made.”

The bishop believes that “they are depriving themselves of a very great good” and, furthermore, “non-attendance creates a wound in the communion of the Church, of youth ministry.”

The prelate considers that the qualification that WYD’s support of Agenda 2030 is “following the guidelines of the Holy See” that has been added onto the controversial letter of commitment “substantially saves some face, although they don’t finish explaining why it’s not eliminated, period.”

“It’s an error to have put that mention on the webpage but it’s also an error to announce that it’s not going away. It’s too bad that this happens and that such a thing is cause for perplexity,” he said.

A qualified but unnecessary statement

At the end of his commentary, Munilla made reference to the conference given by the apostolic nuncio in Spain, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, last Friday at Abat Oliba CEU University in Barcelona in which he explained the position of the Holy See regarding Agenda 2030 from its genesis to its application.

Munilla stressed what Auza said regarding the policy on donations for Agenda 2030, noting that “the most sensitive thing is that when it comes to implementing it, the one who donates determines what program it goes to.”

Thus “a direct link is established between the approval of aid and the adoption of ideologies.” So for example, for some donor nations in order to receive aid for the relief of hunger, the implementation of contraceptive policies is required.

For the prelate, it’s a “poisoned model” that implies “a risk of paternalism that ultimately ends up being an ideological instrument.”

Munilla also emphasized the risk of “declarationist nominalism” expressed by Pope Francis in the U.N. General Assembly, which means that in Agenda 2030 “there are super beautiful words that are utopian.”

To sum up the controversial reference to Agenda 2030 on the website of the World Youth Day in Lisbon, the bishop of Orihuela-Alicante said that “a statement has been rectified that, in its literal meaning by introducing this qualification, it can no longer be said to be wrong. But, obviously, it’s unnecessary.”

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

Mexico priest recounts ‘amazing’ confession of accident victim he stopped to help

One car was damaged after an accident on a road in Mexico, witnessed by Father Salvador Nuño, who stopped to ask if the man in the car needed help. The man made a surprising request: “I want to confess.” / Credit: Father Salvador Nuño/Facebook

CNA Newsroom, Jan 31, 2023 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

After getting into a bad car accident on a highway in Mexico, a young man was approached by a Catholic priest at the scene and made a surprising request: “I want to confess.”

Father Salvador Nuño, a Legionary of Christ priest who serves in Monterrey, Mexico, shared the story on Facebook Jan. 27.

“Today I was going down the road with my parents and my brother Alex and at one point, a car began to pass us. Suddenly the driver lost control and began to spin through the air. It almost came down on top of us,” the Mexican priest recounted.

“We stopped to assist him to see if he needed any help. We called 911 and the young man got out [of the car] extremely terrified, pale,” the priest related.

Nuño continued: “I told him: ‘I’m a priest and he’s a doctor. You need something?’ ‘I want to confess,’ he replies. An amazing confession.”

“The Lord granted him to be born again,” Nuño wrote. “He received the blessing and also a free appointment with the traumatologist. Nothing worse happened.”

“I hope we never forget to commend ourselves to God and the Virgin before any trip,” the priest encouraged.

“Let’s pray for the priests, the doctors, and all those who provide their services as good Samaritans,” Nuño concluded his story.

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

The little-known story of when the Masons tried to kill Don Bosco

St. John Bosco. / Credit: Public Domain

CNA Newsroom, Jan 31, 2023 / 14:25 pm (CNA).

History notes how much the Freemasons hated St. John Bosco, the founder of the Salesians — whose feast the Church celebrates on Jan. 31 — but less known are their attempts to kill him.

The two assassination attempts ordered by Freemasons against Don Bosco were recounted in the June 1, 1980, issue of the Salesian Bulletin, the official publication of the Salesian Family.

The title of the article was “Purpose: To get rid of our Don Bosco,” published close to 100 years after those attempts by the Freemasons to kill the saint.

The story can also be found in “The Biographical Memoirs of Don Bosco.”

According to the account, a former student of Don Bosco named Alessandro Dasso showed up at the gatehouse in late June 1880 asking to speak to the priest.

“His eyes were full of anguish,” the bulletin related. “Don Bosco received him with his usual kindness,” but faced with the “growing agitation” of the young man, the founder of the Salesian Family asked him: “What do you want from me? Speak! You know that Don Bosco loves you.”

At these words, Dasso “fell to his knees, burst into tears and sobs,” and revealed the truth.

“The young man himself belonged to Freemasonry; the sect had sentenced Don Bosco to death; 12 men had been drawn; 12 individuals had to succeed with that order, to carry out the sentence,” the Salesian Bulletin recounted.

Dasso told Don Bosco that “it was up to me to be the first, just me! And this is why I came! I will never do it. I will draw down upon myself the revenge of the others; revealing the secret is my death, I know I’m done for. But killing Don Bosco, never!”

After confessing what his mission was, the young man threw the weapon he was hiding on the floor.

Despite Don Bosco’s attempts to console him, the young man quickly left the house. On June 23, Dasso tried to commit suicide by throwing himself into the Po River but was rescued in time by policemen.

Some time later, Don Bosco helped him escape from Italy and he lived in hiding “until the end of his days,” the Salesian publication stated.

Months later, in December 1880, another “young man of about 25 years of age visited Don Bosco.”

The “sinister” gleam in the young man’s eyes caused the holy priest to have “very little trust.”

The young man, the Salesian Bulletin related, expressed himself as “a high and mighty man.” As he spoke, “a small six-shooter slipped out of his pocket onto the sofa.”

“Don Bosco, without him noticing, deftly placed his hand on it and slowly put it in his pocket.”

The young man tried to find the gun in his own pocket to no avail and looked astonished.

Don Bosco, very calm, asked him: “What are you looking for, sir?” The confused young man replied: “I had something here in my pocket ... who knows how... But where did it go?”

“Don Bosco, moving quickly toward the door and putting his left hand on the handle in order to get ready to open it, pointed the gun at him and, without getting angry, said: ‘This is the tool you were looking for, isn’t it?  At the sight of this, the scoundrel was stunned.” And he “tried to grab his revolver. But Don Bosco told him forcefully: ‘Go on, get out of here right away! And may God have mercy on you!’

“Then he opened the door and asked some of those who were in the anteroom to accompany the man to the gatehouse. The assassin hesitated, but Don Bosco told him: ‘Get out and don’t come back!’” And the young man who wanted to end the priest’s life had to leave along with other companions who were waiting for him outside in a carriage.

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

Utah bans transgender surgery for minors, places hold on hormone drugs

null / Image credit: ADragan/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 31, 2023 / 11:50 am (CNA).

Transgender surgery for minors is now prohibited in Utah and the prescription of transgender medicine for minors has temporarily been placed on hold under new legislation signed into law by Gov. Spencer Cox.

Under the measure, referred to as Senate Bill 16, doctors in Utah cannot perform surgeries that remove male reproductive organs on boys or female reproductive organs on girls unless the patients are at least 18 years old. They cannot perform surgery to change those organs to make them resemble the organs of the opposite sex. The legislation also prohibits other surgeries, such as the removal of the breasts on girls or chest surgery on boys to make them resemble girls. Facial surgery that is intended to make one’s face appear more similar to the opposite sex will also be prohibited for minors.

The legislation puts a temporary halt on prescribing gender transition drugs to minors, but the moratorium does not outright ban them for good. Instead, it directs the state Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a review of these medicines and provide recommendations to the Legislature. At that point, lawmakers will decide whether they want to make the prohibition permanent or lift it. These drugs include puberty blockers as well as estrogen used to feminize a boy or testosterone used to masculinize a girl.

The bill includes exemptions for individuals who are born intersex, such as those whose sex is ambiguous at birth or those born with both male and female body parts. It also includes an exception for surgery or drugs when they are medically necessary and are not done as an attempt to change the child’s gender. 

In a statement after signing the bill, Cox said the legislation was a “nuanced and thoughtful approach to this terribly divisive issue” and any bill “that impacts our most vulnerable youth requires careful consideration and deliberation.”

“We will continue to push the Legislature for additional resources to organizations that work to help this important Utah community,” Cox continued. “While we understand our words will be of little comfort to those who disagree with us, we sincerely hope that we can treat our transgender families with more love and respect as we work to better understand the science and consequences behind these procedures.” 

State Rep. Katy Hall, who sponsored the bill in the House, told CNA that the final bill was the result of several months of conversations with stakeholders on how to best protect the health of children. Sen. Michael Kennedy, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, could not be reached for comment. 

“I am thankful to Sen. Kennedy and many other colleagues in the Utah House of Representatives who stood with me to push back on a radical agenda to perform novel and irreversible transgender surgeries on minors,” Hall said. “We can’t allow social policy to outpace science, especially when the scientific evidence is still emerging and lacking in consensus. I hope we can continue working together to provide our struggling children with the kindness, love, and care they need to grow and thrive.”

Jay Richards, who serves as the director of the DeVos Center for Life, Religion, and Family at The Heritage Foundation, told CNA that the legislation provides “some protection against these ghoulish practices,” but he felt that the bill could have been better. 

“Utah is to be commended for putting the focus where it should be: on the evidence,” Richards said. “The bill is unduly modest, however. After all, there are already good systematic reviews. We know there’s no reliable evidence for the benefits of these treatments, let alone that the long-term benefits outweigh the harms. Therefore, if the Utah health board is honest with the evidence, the state Legislature will have to follow up with a prohibition on these procedures for minors.”

The legislation passed the Senate 21-7 and the House 58-14. Both chambers have a strong Republican majority and the bill was passed nearly along party lines, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposing it. 

Four states restricted transgender health care for minors last year, but judges in two of the states — Alabama and Arkansas — blocked those bills from going into effect. Nearly a dozen other states are considering similar legislation this year. Most states do not have any similar restrictions on the books. 

Spanish bishops lament low participation in Synod on Synodality, especially by young people

Materials from the Synodal Final Assembly in Spain. / Credit: Spanish Episcopal Conference

CNA Newsroom, Jan 31, 2023 / 11:30 am (CNA).

The Spanish bishops consider “synodality to be advancing in our Church” although they report low participation, especially among young people, to whom the Church must learn to listen and modulate the way of communicating the Gospel, they say.

The Spanish Bishops’ Conference has presented the Synthesis for the European Continental Stage of the Synod on Synodality, which will be used in preparing the final document to be taken to the Continental Assembly.

The text notes that the diocesan work at this stage “has been short and  participation less” than the previous phase. This is especially true of young people, both “in the synodal process” and “in the life of the Church.”

Despite this and the fact that attitudes of “skepticism, fear, and even rejection” are identified, the bishops’ conference affirms that “synodality is advancing in our Church that is on pilgrimage in Spain.”

The document is divided into three sections, compiling the so-called “intuitions,” the “tensions and divergences,” and the “priorities” for future analysis within the synod.

Regarding “intuitions,” the bishops identify “the positive evaluation of the experience of the journey undertaken up to now” although they admit that there are contrary or at least disinterested attitudes.

The bishops also stress that the synodal process is not “the solution to the problems that the Church has” but “a gift of the Holy Spirit” that requires “continuous personal conversion.”

According to the prelates, the ecclesial consultation “is helping to raise awareness of the common dignity of all the baptized” and to reinforce the idea of a “Church that reaches out in the context of secularization.”

In addition, there is a greater agreement “on the importance of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue,” the appreciation of popular religiosity, and “the fundamental role that family ministry should have.”

Tensions and divergences

The bishops note that “the same existing polarizations in society are found within the Church”: diversity-unity, tradition, and renewal or pyramidal or synodal organization.

Among the impediments to communion, participation, and co-responsibility, identified are “the resistance of the clergy and the passivity of the laity” as well as a strong “tension of clericalism that leads to confusing service with power.”

In addition, the “divergences” about the synod are expressed in the form of mistrust, skepticism, fear, disinterest, confusion, and obstruction.

The synthesis identifies “the difficulty and sometimes the rejection in encountering the diverse, the different.” Specifically mentioned are the poor, marginalized, and people with disabilities or with “various family or affective situations.” 

“The scandal of sexual abuse also produces tension,” and the prelates noted the repeated mention of “the scarce participation of young people in the synodal process and in the life of the Church.”

Faced with this issue, the bishops feel challenged “to learn to listen to them” and to change the way of communicating the Gospel, “which must be creative, understandable, inclusive, and generate intergenerational dialogue.”

The summary document also includes the call for greater liturgical formation and the call to “show the relationship between the liturgy and life” through “a renewal of forms and language.”

Synodal priorities

Finally, the synthesis prepared by the Spanish bishops raises several “specific priorities that must be the object of further discernment in the Synodal Assembly.”

The first is “promoting welcoming in our communities, particularly of those who feel excluded due to their origin, their affective situation, sexual orientation, or other reasons.”

Second is the call to “promote the real and effective co-responsibility of the people of God, overcoming clericalism, which impoverishes our being and mission.”

Recognizing definitively “the role of women in the Church and promoting their full participation and in conditions of equality, at all levels of ecclesial life” constitutes the third priority.

In addition, the bishops point to the integration and participation of young people, making formation more dynamic, promoting “dialogue with the world and culture, with other religious denominations and with nonbelievers.”

Finally, they point out the need to “attend to the liturgy through formation and a greater comprehensibility of its rites and contents.”

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

‘Hands off Africa!’ Pope Francis says in Democratic Republic of Congo

Pope Francis is greeted at the N’Dolo Airport in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Jan. 31, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Jan 31, 2023 / 11:11 am (CNA).

In his first speech in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday, Pope Francis urged the international community to give the central African country its autonomy while not turning a blind eye to exploitation and violence.

“This country and this continent deserve to be respected and listened to; they deserve to find space and receive attention,” the pope said Jan. 31 in the garden of the Palais de la Nation in Kinshasa.

“Hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo!” he continued, as spectators cheered and applauded. “Hands off Africa! Stop choking Africa: Africa is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered.”

Pope Francis speaks at an audience with the Democratic Republic of Congo's authorities, diplomats, and representatives of civil society in the  on Jan. 31, 2023, on the first leg of a six-day trip that will also include South Sudan. At right is President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis speaks at an audience with the Democratic Republic of Congo's authorities, diplomats, and representatives of civil society in the on Jan. 31, 2023, on the first leg of a six-day trip that will also include South Sudan. At right is President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: Vatican Media

Pope Francis landed in Kinshasa, the capital city of the DRC, in the afternoon on Jan. 31; the visit is the first leg of a six-day trip that will also include South Sudan.

The streets of the pope’s five-mile drive from the N’Dolo Airport to the presidential residence were lined with thousands of locals who cheered and waved flags.

Francis met privately with President Felix Tshisekedi before an audience with the country’s authorities, diplomats, and representatives of civil society.

Pope Francis meets with President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo on Jan. 31, 2023, on the first leg of a six-day trip that will also include South Sudan. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis meets with President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo on Jan. 31, 2023, on the first leg of a six-day trip that will also include South Sudan. Credit: Vatican Media

“May Africa be the protagonist of its own destiny!” the pope said. “May the world acknowledge the catastrophic things that were done over the centuries to the detriment of the local peoples, and not forget this country and this continent.”

The pope continued, “We cannot grow accustomed to the bloodshed that has marked this country for decades, causing millions of deaths that remain mostly unknown elsewhere.”

Pope Francis’ speech noted the DRC’s endurance of political exploitation, what he called “economic colonialism,” child labor, and violence.

“This country, so immense and full of life, this diaphragm of Africa, struck by violence like a blow to the stomach, has seemed for some time to be gasping for breath,” he said.

“As you, the Congolese people, fight to preserve your dignity and your territorial integrity against deplorable attempts to fragment the country, I come to you, in the name of Jesus, as a pilgrim of reconciliation and of peace,” the pope said.

“I have greatly desired to be here and now at last I have come to bring you the closeness, the affection, and the consolation of the entire Catholic Church.”

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.

Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with victims of violence from the eastern part of the country on Feb. 1 in Kinshasa following a Mass that is expected to draw 2 million people. Roughly half of the 90 million people in the DRC are Catholic.

Pope Francis arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Jan. 31, 2023. The streets of the pope’s five-mile drive from the N’Dolo Airport to the presidential residence were lined with thousands of locals who cheered and waved flags. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Jan. 31, 2023. The streets of the pope’s five-mile drive from the N’Dolo Airport to the presidential residence were lined with thousands of locals who cheered and waved flags. Credit: Vatican Media

“I am here to embrace you and to remind you that you yourselves are of inestimable worth, that the Church and the pope have confidence in you, and that they believe in your future, the future that is in your hands, your hands,” Francis emphasized, “and for which you deserve to devote all your gifts of intelligence, wisdom, and industry.”

The pope added: “The heavenly Father wants us to accept one another as brothers and sisters of a single family and to work for a future together with others, and not against others.”

God, he said, “is always on the side of those who hunger and thirst for justice. One must never tire of promoting law and equity everywhere, combating impunity and the manipulation of laws and information.”

Minnesota Senate sends far-reaching abortion bill to governor’s desk

The Cathedral of Saint Paul in Saint Paul, Minnesota. / Sam Wagner/Shutterstock.

St. Louis, Mo., Jan 31, 2023 / 09:40 am (CNA).

The state Senate of Minnesota on Saturday morning narrowly passed a bill that would allow abortions in the state throughout pregnancy and for any reason. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, who has said that he will sign it into law.

Catholic leaders had strongly denounced the bill, proposing instead a slate of pro-family measures that they say will reduce demand for abortions in the midwestern state.

Known as the Protect Reproductive Options (PRO) Act, H.F. 1/S.F. 1 would codify into law a constitutional right to “reproductive freedom,” ensuring the right to abortion in Minnesota up to birth for any reason. Separate bills under consideration in Minnesota would remove parental notification requirements for minors procuring abortions as well as remove state protections for babies born alive after an abortion.

The bill had cleared the Minnesota House on Jan. 19, also by a narrow margin, 69-65. The party-line vote in the state Senate took place following 15 hours of contentious debate, MPR News reported. The controversy among Minnesota lawmakers is reminiscent of the fight over a similar bill in Colorado last year; that bill, which passed in Colorado, spawned two marathon debates, one lasting 23 hours — the longest such hearing in at least 25 years of Colorado history.

Abortion already is available in Minnesota throughout pregnancy for most reasons because of a 1995 state Supreme Court ruling, Doe v. Gomez, which found that certain abortion restrictions infringed on a “fundamental right of privacy” found in the state constitution.

The state’s Catholic leaders lamented the haste with which the bill is advancing and implored lawmakers to “pause” and consider the broader implications.

“When contemplating policy on any issue, we must consider all those who will be affected. In this case, that includes the mother, father, and most especially, the unborn child whose life is being taken,” Minnesota’s bishops said in a Jan. 26 statement.

“In a post-Dobbs world in which states that allow abortion have the responsibility to both regulate the practice and protect nascent human life, we should be working to find common ground on the challenges before us in Minnesota. We stand firm that every child should be welcomed in life and protected by law.”

The bishops’ concerns about H.F. 1/S.F. 1 go beyond abortion, however. They warned that an enshrining of “reproductive freedom” in the state could open the door to additional unintended consequences, including the ability of minor children to undergo sex-transition therapies and sterilization without parental consent. Also of concern is the potential infringement on the conscience and religious liberty rights of individual and institutional medical providers who do not wish to provide these treatments, the bishops said.

The Catholic leaders offered suggestions for legislative priorities that they said would help to offer support to mothers in need, reducing the demand for abortion. They noted that the Minnesota Catholic Conference has compiled a set of pro-family policy proposals at a dedicated website under the banner of a project called Families First.

Summarizing their proposals, “this support means, among other things, policies that fund: nutritional aid for expectant mothers; health care coverage during and after pregnancy for both mother and child; child care assistance; and adequate housing. Enacting reasonable paid family and caregiver leave laws would help people retain work and care for their newborns. Reconsidering whether our adoption policies are unreasonably burdened by excessive costs or barriers to participation is also an imperative,” the bishops said.

“We also contend that there is a social duty to remove unnecessary barriers to contracting marriage, having children, and being able to raise them well. By raising the family to the top of our state’s policy priorities, we can help restore the family to its proper position as the foundational building block of society where children best flourish.”

Minnesota is the latest U.S. state to make moves in its Legislature to enshrine a right to abortion following the overturning of Roe v. Wade last year. In addition to the impending codification of abortion as a right, Minnesota’s governor is poised to end state funding for crisis pregnancy centers amid activist pressure. According to MPR News, pro-life pregnancy centers outnumber abortion clinics in the state by 11 to 1.

Since 2005, Minnesota has given over $3 million in taxpayer money every grant cycle to 27 pro-life pregnancy centers as part of an abortion alternatives grant program, MPR News reported. Walz has proposed ending that funding in his latest budget proposal, contending that pregnancy centers do not provide “necessary comprehensive, unbiased, and accurate medical information in a manner consistent with national standards of care.” This follows a Minnesota attorney general report in 2021 that concluded that pregnancy centers “seek to prevent people from accessing abortion care as well as contraceptives.”

Pope Francis meets Order of Malta as it turns ‘a very important page of history’

Pope Francis meets with the Order of Malta on Jan. 30, 2023, as the sovereign state and religious order turned a new page in its history. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Jan 31, 2023 / 09:15 am (CNA).

Pope Francis met with the Order of Malta on Monday as the sovereign state and religious order turned a new page in its history.

On Jan. 25-29, 111 members of the Order of Malta assembled to elect new leadership in an extraordinary chapter general convened by Pope Francis last year.

“You have written a very important page of history for the Order of Malta; thank you, you can be proud of it,” the pope told the capitulars in a Jan. 30 audience at the Vatican.

The Order of Malta held elections to choose nine councilors of the Sovereign Council as well as the four High Offices: grand commander, grand chancellor, grand hospitaller, and receiver of the common treasure.

The leader of the Order of Malta remains Lt. Grand Master Fra’ John Dunlap, who was appointed by Pope Francis after the sudden death of his predecessor, Fra’ Marco Luzzago.

This month’s chapter general was overseen by Fra’ Dunlap, the pope’s special delegate Cardinal Silvano Tomasi, and the interim Sovereign Council appointed by Pope Francis last year.

Francis had also approved the order’s new constitutional charter and regulations last year.

With the Sovereign Council elections completed, the Order of Malta can now hold The Council Complete of State to elect the 81st grand master.

The position of grand master of the Order of Malta has been vacant since the death in 2020 of Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto.

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is both a lay religious order of the Catholic Church and a sovereign state subject to international law. In 2017, Pope Francis ordered reforms of both the order’s religious life and its constitution.

Concerns have been raised throughout the reform process that some of Pope Francis’ actions threaten the Order of Malta’s sovereignty.

Pope Francis addressed the topic of the order’s sovereignty in the Jan. 30 meeting, noting that it “is an entirely singular sovereignty, assumed over the centuries and confirmed by the will of the popes.”

“It enables you to make generous and demanding gestures of solidarity, putting yourselves close to those most in need, under international diplomatic legal protection,” he added.

Francis also commented on the forthcoming election of the grand master, in whom, he said, “you will find a sure guide, a guarantor of the unity of the whole order in fidelity to the successor of Peter and the Church.”

Pope Francis also sent a written message to the Order of Malta on Jan. 25 at the opening of the extraordinary chapter general in which he referred to the group’s challenges during the last few years’ reform process.

The reform was a necessary, if at times “arduous,” journey, the pope said.

“Forgive the offenses!” he urged. “I heartily ask you to come to sincere mutual forgiveness, reconciliation, after the moments of tension and difficulties you have experienced in the recent past.”

He also encouraged the Order of Malta to strengthen its unity in order not to compromise the fulfillment of the group’s charitable mission.

“The Evil One” encourages division, he said. “Let us be careful not to compromise with the tempter, even unintentionally. He often deceives under the guise of good, and what may appear to be for the glory of God may turn out to be our own vainglory.”

“Conflicts and opposition harm your mission. Lust for power and other worldly attachments turn you away from Christ; they are temptations to be rejected,” Pope Francis said. “Let us remember the ‘rich young man’ in the Gospel, who, though moved by good intentions, failed to follow Jesus because he was attached to his own things and interests.”

The Order of Malta’s sovereignty must also be at the service of works of mercy, he said.

“It is necessary to be vigilant that it may not be distorted by a worldly mentality.”