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After Rome intervenes in German Catholic reform project, cardinal warns of possible schism

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna warned of schism as German bishops want to keep to their reform course despite the latest letter from Rome, which halted the vote on the statutes of a Synodal Committee.

Russian Catholics stage 'quiet commemorations' for deceased dissident Navalny

A senior Russian Catholic has urged church leaders abroad to commemorate the opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, as armed police dispersed citizens mourning his death at age 47 in a remote prison camp.

Oregon Catholic bishop declines to implement pope's decree allowing same-sex blessings

The Vatican's document permitting blessings for those in "irregular situations," including same-sex relationships, has continued to spark controversy and varied responses from bishops around the world.

2024 International Congress of Families to be held in Mexico

Guadalajara Cathedral (Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady), Mexico. / Credit: Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 21, 2024 / 09:00 am (CNA).

With the theme “All Families Can Be Better,” the city of Guadalajara in Jalisco state, Mexico, will host the International Congress of Families (CIFAM) from March 1–3.

CIFAM 2024, an opportunity for meeting, learning, and intersectoral and interreligious collaboration, seeks to unite and equip leaders, organizations, and families to affirm, celebrate, and strengthen the family institution as the natural foundation of society.

The purpose of the event is to give continuity to the experience lived at the XIV World Congress of Families held in Mexico City in 2022.

The president of the congress in Mexico, Fernando Milanés, announced at a Jan. 31 press conference that the event will provide a time for “learning and collaboration to strengthen” the family.

Milanés recognized that families face innumerable challenges and thus CIFAM aims to “equip them so that they can be a source of security and comprehensive health, identity and belonging, planning, and purpose.”

Lupita Venegas, owner of Valora Radio and a spokesperson for the congress, highlighted the importance of addressing the various ailments that affect families, such as infidelity, depression, and domestic violence. She emphasized that CIFAM 2024 represents an opportunity to strengthen families and “change the world one family at a time.”

Karen Ahued, another spokesperson for CIFAM, focused on women and said that the congress will provide an opportunity to “improve our relationships with our children” and to seek “personal reconciliation and heal many wounds that are hard to bear and difficult to accept.”

The event will have four programs: general, youth, adolescents, and children. Among the prominent specialists will be Dr. Catherine L’Ecuyer, a world leader on the impact of technology on education, and the psychologist Isabel Rojas Estapé. International popularizers and specialists in family and education will also be presented, such as Dr. María Calvo and Dr. Rafael Guerrero.

CIFAM 2024 will have renowned speakers from Mexico, including Dr. José Medina Mora, national president of COPARMEX (Employer Confederation of the Mexican Republic); Dr. Julia Borbolla, a specialist in children and adolescents; and Dr. José Antonio Lozano, president of the governing boards of the Pan American University and its business school. The youth program will also include recognized talents and influencers such as Minesweeper and Rorro Echávez.

In addition, the event will feature the Family Expo, a space with more than 120 booths where various institutions will offer programs, activities, products, and services for families. 

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

Over 100 relics of Christ, Holy Family, saints to be displayed at New Jersey parish

The Titulus Crucis, the title panel of the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified. Written in Latin and Greek, it says "Jesus the Nazarene King of the Jews." / Daniel Ibanez

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 21, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

An exhibit that includes more than 100 relics of Jesus Christ, the Holy Family, and numerous saints will be exhibited at a parish in northern New Jersey on Saturday, Feb. 24, from noon to 7 p.m.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Oratory in Montclair, New Jersey, will host the exhibit at its Capozzelli Hall on 94 Pine Street. The parish is located in the Archdiocese of Newark, about 20 miles west of New York City.

“I think it’s going to be an experience for people — especially for an exhibit this large,” Joe Santoro, the regional delegate to the United States for the International Crusade for Holy Relics (ICHR), told CNA.

Santoro is supplying the relics for the exhibit, which he obtained personally through his work to preserve these holy objects. He said his preservation of the relics is “saving them from places where they’re not going to be honored in the appropriate way.”

The exhibit includes a handful of relics from the passion of Jesus Christ: a small splinter of the cross, a piece of the crown of thorns, a piece of Christ’s tomb, and a piece of the column on which Christ was whipped before his crucifixion. It also includes relics from the Nativity, such as a piece of the Blessed Mother’s veil, a piece of Christ’s crib, and parts of the bones of the three Wise Men.

Other relics include a piece of skin and blood from St. Padre Pio’s stigmata, a piece of St. John Paul II’s hair, and the scarf of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (the first American saint). The exhibit will also include relics from the evangelists, the apostles, and other saints and martyrs.

The relics will be displayed in three sections: one for relics related to the Passion, one for the Nativity, and one for all of the other relics.

“It is a privilege and a joy to host a relics exhibit of this magnitude,” Father Giandomenico Flora, the rector at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Oratory, told CNA. 

“Some of them date back to biblical times and others are relics of saints of our time,” Flora said. “To have such an exhibition of relics is a blessing for the church [and for] people who will attend the event because it gives the opportunity to pray and to ask for particular graces.” 

Santoro said the relics can help the faithful become closer to God and help them meditate on the Passion of Christ near the beginning of Lent. “People are drawn to them,” he said.

“A relic doesn’t contain any magical power or anything like that,” Santoro added. “The people have to bring their faith and God performs these miracles through these great men and women.” 

The Catholic Church has three classifications for relics. A first-class relic is any part of a saint’s body, such as hair, blood, or bones, or objects directly associated with Christ, such as a piece of the cross, a piece of the tomb, or a piece of his crib. A second-class relic is any item that was used by a saint during his or her life. A third-class relic is an item that touches a first-class relic.

Although this exhibition is a one-off event, Santoro told CNA that he hopes there can be a tour in the near future. He said this weekend is “the kickoff to see how it goes.”

Pro-life advocates fight against euthanasia expansions across Canada, Australia

null / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Feb 21, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Pro-life advocates around the world are working to counteract continued efforts by euthanasia activists to pass and expand laws allowing doctors to help kill their patients. 

Euthanasia made global headlines this month when former Dutch Prime Minister Dries van Agt and his wife, Eugenie, chose to have themselves euthanized, both at the age of 93. The couple, who had been married for over 60 years, “died hand in hand,” the Dutch Rights Forum said. 

The Netherlands has among the most permissive euthanasia laws in the world, allowing boys and girls as young as 12 to end their own lives if certain conditions are met. Several other European countries — including Portugal, Spain, and Belgium — have also instituted liberal euthanasia regimes. 

In Canada, meanwhile, euthanasia and assisted suicide have been legal for nearly a decade after the government began permitting it in 2016. The Trudeau administration this month postponed until 2027 plans to expand the assisted suicide program to include those suffering from mental illness after a parliamentary report said the country’s health system is “not ready.”

Jack Fonseca, the director of political operations for the Campaign Life Coalition, told CNA that his group is planning a “major protest” at the Canadian Parliament for later this month, one that will “send the message to the prime minister and all elected lawmakers that a three-year delay in expanding euthanasia is not good enough.” 

“We want the government to completely and permanently abandon its plans to allow doctors to kill mentally ill patients and those who are depressed,” Fonseca said.

Fonseca said that Pierre Poilievre, a member of Parliament and the leader of Canada’s Conservative Party, has vowed to repeal the country’s Bill C-7 if he is elected prime minister next year. That law when enacted in 2021 permitted the pending assisted suicide expansion.

“I think every pro-life group in the country will now turn to holding Mr. Poilievre to his promise,” Fonseca said. “This is especially true since Trudeau’s Liberal regime is tanking in the polls, and it seems inevitable that Conservatives will take power in 2025.”

“Poilievre’s Conservative Party is expected to win the next election with a massive majority,” he said. “So, the pro-life movement is going to use every avenue we can to continually remind Poilievre, and his Conservative caucus, that he must immediately repeal Bill C-7 during his first term, within the first 100 days of his administration.”

In Australia, all six of the country’s states currently allow assisted suicide, or “voluntary assisted dying” (VAD). The Victoria state government is currently undergoing a five-year review of its own assisted suicide program, which it first implemented in 2019. 

That review is merely operational and is not recommending any expansions of the program as it currently stands. But Jasmine Yuen, the Victorian state director of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), told CNA that she wouldn’t “rule out future legislative changes.” 

“I believe VAD advocates will make good use of this review to push through some agendas,” she said, “and the government will use the feedbacks to justify future changes or expansion that could include telehealth services and removing the gag clause to allow doctors to recommend VAD to patients.”

“All pro-life groups, including ACL in Victoria and all states and territories, will be working against any expansion [including] the inclusion of children and other illnesses into the scheme,” Yuen said. 

Other states in Australia permit doctors to initiate conversations about assisted suicide, Yuen noted, though the country’s federal euthanasia law imposes some barriers to the practice.

“It’s a matter of years that we’ll go further down the slippery slope,” she said, “but the pro-life groups will push back as much as we can for the sanctity of life.”

Paul Osborne, a spokesman for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, noted that “one of the most pressing issues at the moment in Australia is the push to allow doctors to undertake euthanasia-related consultations online and over the phone.”

“The Church says this is abhorrent,” Osborne said, “and the Australian government at this stage agrees that it is a bridge too far.”

Osborne pointed to a document released by the bishops’ conference there last year on the topic of euthanasia. “To Witness and to Accompany with Christian Hope” is meant as “a service to those who are called to attend to the spiritual and pastoral needs of patients who access or seek to access services that are designed to terminate a person’s life,” the manual says.

The letter instructed that priests administering sacraments to potentially suicidal individuals must endeavor to steer them away from that choice by explaining how the practice is “not consistent with respect for God’s gift of life.”

“If a patient is resolved upon a course of action, such as euthanasia, which is so clearly and gravely in conflict with the teaching and life of the Church, then — even if the patient believes they are choosing rightly — the patient should nonetheless recognize, or be helped to recognize, that it would not be right for him or her to receive the sacraments,” the bishops wrote in the manual. 

Dr. Moira McQueen, the executive director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, told CNA this month that the country’s euthanasia law “would have to be revoked” to halt the mental illness expansion there, an outcome she called “highly unlikely.”

Daniel Zekveld, a policy analyst for the Canadian Association for Reformed Political Action, said in a statement to CNA that the group has been opposed to the country’s suicide program expansion since 2021 via its Care Not Kill campaign.

“Like many Canadians, medical professionals, and other organizations, Care Not Kill has emphasized the importance of suicide prevention instead of suicide assistance,” he said. “Expanding euthanasia to those with mental illness encourages a culture of neglect and devalues the lives of those who are suffering.”

Care Not Kill has conducted extensive outreach to that end, Zekveld said, including a campaign that distributed 200,000 flyers. The group has also encouraged political engagement and has submitted briefs to the government commission studying the expansion. 

“These efforts will continue until the government puts a stop to the expansion of euthanasia for those with mental illness,” he said. “With another delay scheduled, we now have three additional years to advocate for caring for, not killing, those with mental illness.”

Fonseca, meanwhile, said the Campaign Life Coalition recently helped pass a policy resolution at the National Convention of the Conservative Party of Canada, one meant to further strengthen the party’s stance against euthanasia there. 

“We oppose MAID [medical assistance in dying] for people living with disabilities or mental illness seeking to die based on poverty, homelessness, or inability to receive medical treatment,” the policy said. “Euthanasia must not be an abandonment of people living with genuine needs.”

‘We are not going anywhere’: Knights of Columbus vow to keep up aid to Ukraine

Supreme Knight Patrick E. Kelly, center, and Ukraine State Deputy Youriy Maletskiy give out Easter care packages to Ukrainian refugees in Rava-Ruska, Poland, in April 2022. / Photo credit: Photo by Andrii Gorb, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 21, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Two years since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, the Knights of Columbus are vowing to continue their efforts to deliver material and spiritual aid to suffering and displaced Ukrainians.

So far, the Knights have raised a record $22 million and delivered 7.7 million pounds of supplies to victims of the ongoing war.

Szymon Czyszek, one of the Knights of Columbus’ head relief organizers in Eastern Europe, spoke with CNA to give an update on the Knights’ relief efforts as the Russia-Ukraine war hits its two-year mark. He said that though many across the world have started to become desensitized to the war, innocent Ukrainian civilians continue to suffer under constant bombardment and lack of basic resources.

The Knights of Columbus first announced their plans to help Ukraine just days after the invasion began. With thousands of members of the Knights of Columbus and their families directly in harm’s way, Czyszek said that the Knights felt they had no choice but to help. Now, he said, the need is as great as ever. With many Ukrainian men being killed in the conflict — casualty estimates range from the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands — Czyszek said the country’s many widows and orphans are the most vulnerable.

“The founding mission of the Knights of Columbus was to care for the vulnerable,” Czyszek explained. “Especially to care for the widows and orphans.”

Supreme Knight Patrick E. Kelly gives gifts to children in Lviv, Ukraine, in December 2022. Photo credit: Photo by Andrii Gorb, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus
Supreme Knight Patrick E. Kelly gives gifts to children in Lviv, Ukraine, in December 2022. Photo credit: Photo by Andrii Gorb, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus

“So, we may be far away from New Haven [Connecticut], but we are very close to Father [Michael] McGivney in the work that we are doing,” he continued. “With every care package that we bring, every piece of clothing or medicine, we really want to show people suffering, people of Ukraine, that God has not abandoned them, that God is still present, and that we can be like hands of mercy of Our Lord.”

A Ukrainian woman carries away a Knights of Columbus care package during a charity distribution event in Lviv, Ukraine, in December 2022. Photo credit: Photo by Tamino Petelinšek, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus
A Ukrainian woman carries away a Knights of Columbus care package during a charity distribution event in Lviv, Ukraine, in December 2022. Photo credit: Photo by Tamino Petelinšek, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus

Waking up to air raid alarms, missiles

Czyszek said Ukrainian men, women, and children in all parts of the country wake up each morning to the “constant” threat of bombings and the reality that “today could be the last day of their life.”

The sound of air raid alarms is also a regular occurrence, Czyszek said.

According to Czyszek, at this point of the war, 70% of all Ukrainians have experienced the loss or serious injury of a family member or close friend.  

“There’s this sense that people are surrounded by this fear and the sense of death,” he explained.

Not even pregnant and new mothers are safe from the violence, he noted, pointing to a bombing of a Ukrainian maternity hospital in Dnipro in December 2023 that killed six.

“While we try to promote pro-life and defense of life, we see hospitals where women want to take care of and welcome their children, these hospitals are being bombed. That’s the reality that you are facing,” he said.

Helping ‘the suffering body of Christ’

So far, Czyszek said that the Knights of Columbus have been able to help 1.6 million war victims throughout the country with food, medicine, help with shelter, and other necessities.

Their primary focus has been to help women and children as well as disabled and elderly people. To the Knights of Columbus, Czyszek said, war victims are the “suffering body of Christ.”

Father John Kalisch, director of chaplains and spiritual development at the Knights of Columbus, blesses a charity convoy in Lancut, Poland, in April 2022. Looking on is Supreme Knight Patrick E. Kelly, center. Photo credit: Photo by Tamino Petelinšek, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus
Father John Kalisch, director of chaplains and spiritual development at the Knights of Columbus, blesses a charity convoy in Lancut, Poland, in April 2022. Looking on is Supreme Knight Patrick E. Kelly, center. Photo credit: Photo by Tamino Petelinšek, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus

In the face of continued attacks, Czyszek said that the most vulnerable, such as the disabled, are often abandoned and forgotten. He described one situation in Ukraine’s northeastern city of Kharkiv in which many disabled civilians had been left in an apartment building without electricity. Unable to escape because of the lack of working elevators, the people had to wait until Knights of Columbus volunteers found them and helped them out of the building.

“Many of them, unfortunately, were just abandoned. Nobody was taking care of them. But our people were there to help them, bring them wheelchairs, mobility, and really just a sense of hope and a reminder that every person has dignity,” he said.

Although material aid is important, Czyszek said that the Knights, with the help of health care professionals, priests, and religious, are also helping Ukrainian soldiers and war victims with “deep spiritual wounds” get psychological and spiritual aid.

Prayer is central to the Knights’ relief efforts in Ukraine. In addition to their many other programs, the Knights of Columbus are building and equipping chapels for wounded victims and refugees and regularly organizing Masses and rosary events in Ukraine.

According to Czyszek, Ukrainian churches have also been a target of Russian attacks in efforts to erase the country’s cultural and religious heritage. These attacks, Czyszek said, are particularly concerning to the Knights of Columbus.

Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Vitaliy Kryvytskyi of Kyiv–Zhytomyr shares these concerns. He told CNA in October 2023 that the Church in Ukraine is facing extermination

“We don’t have to guess what’s at stake, we’ve all lived [through] the times of the Soviet Union,” Kryvytskyi said. “What will happen, if the Russian Federation enters our territories and continues entering our territories, is going to be practically the same thing that was before, during the Soviet Union.”

Czyszek said that “over 100 churches have already been destroyed in Ukraine.” 

He explained that in Ukraine “churches are not just like pieces of art, but these are the places where people’s identity is formed, and that’s the place that also creates this center of community.”

In response to these attacks, Czyszek said, the Knights of Columbus are partnering with other groups to take scans of Ukrainian churches in harm’s way to preserve and rebuild them after the war.

‘We are not going anywhere’

Despite the risks involved in going into an active war zone, Czyszek said that Knights of Columbus volunteers are resolved to help for as long as the suffering continues. The driving force behind their action, he explained, is that they “see in every person in need, Christ.”

“We pray that one day soon a peace, a just peace, will be restored to Ukraine,” he said. “But until that day, we’ll remain united with our brothers in Ukraine, united in prayer, in charity, and determination.”

“As Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly said,” he continued, “‘The Knights of Columbus are there, and we are not going anywhere.’”

Atlanta Catholics honor memory of Msgr. Henry Gracz, pastor known for welcoming all

Atlanta's progressive Catholic community has been celebrating the life of Msgr. Henry Gracz, who died Feb. 5. Gracz championed the inclusion of Catholics of all stripes at downtown Atlanta's Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

How to vault Catholic social teaching from 'best kept secret' category

At a time when our politics is so polarized, the need to present Catholic social teaching as pre-political has never been greater, writes NCR columnist Michael Sean Winters. 

New book 'The Modern Saints' captures diversity of church

In 'The Modern Saints: Portraits and Reflections on the Saints,' artist Gracie Morbitzer shares images of "these role models who have come before us, who have shown us that there's not only one way to be a Christian."