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Cardinal Wyszynski, Poland’s ‘Primate of the Millennium,’ to be beatified in September

Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński with Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, the future St. John Paul II. Photo courtesy of Adam Bujak/Biały Kruk.

CNA Staff, Apr 23, 2021 / 06:13 am (CNA).

The beatification of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, the former Primate of Poland who heroically resisted communism, will take place on Sunday, Sept. 12.

Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz announced April 23 that the beatification ceremony would be held in the Polish capital, Warsaw, at noon local time.

Nycz, the archbishop of Warsaw, said that Wyszyński would be beatified alongside Sr. Róża Maria Czacka, a Polish nun who died in 1961 after a lifetime of service to blind people.

“During the September ceremony, Pope Francis will be represented by Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, who will promulgate the decree of beatification,” he said in a statement.

Nycz announced last April that Wyszyński’s beatification, originally scheduled for June 7, 2020, in Warsaw’s Piłsudski Square, had been postponed indefinitely because of the coronavirus crisis.

“A pandemic threatening the health and life of people makes it impossible to prepare and carry out this ceremony,” he said at the time. “The first priority must be concern for human safety.”

Wyszyński is credited with helping to preserve and strengthen Christianity in Poland despite the communist regime’s persecution from 1945 onwards.

He is known as the “Primate of the Millennium” because as Primate of Poland he oversaw a nine-year program of preparation culminating in a nationwide celebration of the millennium of Poland’s baptism in 1966.

In 1953, Wyszyński was placed under house arrest by Communist authorities for three years for refusing to punish priests active in the Polish resistance against the Communist regime.

He also helped to secure the approval of Karol Wojtyła as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, which ultimately led to Wojtyła’s election as Pope John Paul II in 1978.

Wyszyński died on May 28, 1981, 15 days after Pope John Paul II was shot in an assassination attempt. Unable to attend the cardinal’s funeral, John Paul II wrote in a letter to the people of Poland: “Meditate particularly on the figure of the unforgettable primate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński of venerated memory, his person, his teaching, his role in such a difficult period of our history.”

The Vatican announced the approval of a miracle attributed to Wyszyński’s intercession last October.

The miracle involved the healing of a 19-year-old woman from thyroid cancer in 1989. After the young woman received the incurable diagnosis, a group of Polish nuns began praying for her healing through the intercession of Wyszyński, who died of abdominal cancer.

The Polish parliament declared 2021 the Year of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, in anticipation of his beatification.

In his statement on Friday, Nycz said: “The organizing committee is resuming its work and will soon provide further details regarding the organization of the beatification ceremony.”

“I express my gratitude to the Holy Father, Francis, for setting the date of the beatification. I ask all the faithful to pray for the blessed fruits of the beatification of the Servants of God, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński and Sr. Róża Maria Czacka.”

Pope Francis celebrates name day with poor as the Vatican’s free vaccinations continue

Pope Francis marks name day with Rome’s poor receiving COVID-19 vaccine. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Apr 23, 2021 / 05:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Friday celebrated the feast of St. George, his namesake, with 600 of Rome’s poor and needy, as they waited to receive the second dose of the coronavirus vaccination at the Vatican.

Pope Francis’ baptismal name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Jorge is the Spanish version of George, and April 23, St. George’s feast day, is a holiday in the Vatican.

On April 23, the Vatican continued its program of free vaccinations for those in need in Rome, administering the second dose to around 600 of a total 1,400 people to eventually receive the second shot.

Pope Francis walked around the atrium of the Paul VI Audience Hall to greet everyone present, including volunteers and sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, who are helping with the vaccination program.

At the end of his visit, the pope offered everyone a piece of a giant, hollow chocolate egg, an Easter tradition in Italy.

The 30-minute visit had a “festive and affectionate atmosphere,” a Vatican press release said, and a song wishing the pope well on his name day was sung before he left.

Francis encouraged the medical volunteers to “continue their commitment” to helping the poor, and the papal almoner, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, expressed the pope’s gratitude to all those who had assisted with the vaccine project, which also included a donation of vaccines to poor countries.

/ Vatican Media
/ Vatican Media

Italian President Sergio Mattarella sent a message to Pope Francis to mark his name day, called “onomastico” in Italian.

“On the occasion of the feast of St. George, I have the pleasure of sending you the affectionate and cordial congratulations of the Italian people, together with my most fervent wishes for well-being for your person,” Mattarella said.

The president thanked Pope Francis for his “beautiful reflections” on Dante Alighieri, written in the March 25 apostolic letter Candor lucis aeternae, published to mark the 700th anniversary of the death of the Florentine poet.

“I wish to join in the hope that the figure of Dante Alighieri, ‘paradigm of the human condition,’ may illuminate with hope the journey of each person -- especially in this difficult period still marked by the pandemic -- helping everyone ‘to advance with serenity and courage on the pilgrimage of life,’” Mattarella said.

The Italian president said: “It is in this spirit that, on the happy anniversary of your name day, I renew the expressions of the closeness of all Italians and of my utmost consideration for the high apostolic mission of Your Holiness.”

/ Vatican Media
/ Vatican Media

Pope Francis has always celebrated his name day in some way, often with an act of charity.

Last year, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Pope Francis made a donation of ventilators to hospitals in Romania, Spain, and Italy, to assist patients with severe cases of the coronavirus.

In 2019, the pope gave away 6,000 rosaries to young people from Milan and asked them to pray for him through Mary’s intercession.

To mark St. George’s feast day in 2018, 3,000 homeless people in Rome received a gelato -- Italian ice cream -- from Pope Francis.

Three kidnapped Catholics released in Haiti

An aerial view of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Sept. 16, 2008. / Public domain

Rome Newsroom, Apr 23, 2021 / 04:35 am (CNA).

More than 10 days after five priests, two nuns, and three lay people were abducted in Haiti and held for ransom, there are reports that three of the kidnapped Catholics have been released.

Fr. Loudger Mazile, a spokesman for the Haitian bishops’ conference, told AFP on April 22 that the two kidnapped French citizens -- one missionary priest and a religious sister -- were still being held by the kidnappers, along with five others.

Mazile added that the three lay people, who are family members of a Haitian priest, were not among those who were released.

The group of Catholics was abducted on April 11 at Croix-des-Bouquets, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, while on the way to attend the installation of a parish priest.

According to Haitian media, the 400 Mawozo gang admitted that it is behind the kidnapping and is demanding a $1 million ransom.

The Haitian bishops’ conference organized a strike on April 21-23, calling on all Catholic schools and institutions -- except hospitals and clinics -- to close in protest and for people to dedicate the days to prayer, according to an April 20 statement.

The Catholic bishops have asked people to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet after each daily Mass to “implore God for the release of the abducted people, the conversion of the kidnappers, the salvation of Haiti.”

On April 23, bells are scheduled to ring at noon in Catholic churches across Haiti, which have also been asked to expose the Blessed Sacrament and to pray that “that the Power of the Resurrection of Christ triumphs over all the forces of darkness and death which prevent us from living as children of God.”

Archbishop Max Mésidor of Port-au-Prince said that Catholics in Haiti were demanding “security and peace for all missionaries and all people.”

The Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince said in a statement that gang violence had reached “unprecedented” levels in the country.

“For some time now, we have been witnessing the descent into hell of Haitian society,” the archdiocese said, according to AFP.

“The public authorities who are doing nothing to resolve this crisis are not immune from suspicion,” the statement continued, condemning “complacency and complicity.”

The number of kidnappings for ransom has recently increased in Haiti and protesters have denounced the surge of violence plaguing the country.

‘It would make a big difference’: Human rights activist urges Vatican to change tack on China

British human rights campaigner Benedict Rogers / Courtesy photo

CNA Staff, Apr 23, 2021 / 03:00 am (CNA).

A British human rights activist has said that it would make a “big difference” if the Vatican publicly expressed its concerns about the actions of the Chinese Communist Party.

Benedict Rogers told CNA April 21 that even a small gesture would be meaningful for those suffering as a result of Beijing’s actions both in mainland China and Hong Kong.

“I would say, you don’t have to speak out in a directly political way. For example, I think it would go a long way if the pope were simply to pray for the Uyghurs, and Christians in China, and the people of Hong Kong, as he does for so many other parts of the world, perhaps during the Sunday Angelus or on some other occasion,” he said.

“So I think if he could find the right moment and the right context to express his concern, and he can do it in a prayerful way, he doesn’t have to make a political comment. He doesn’t have to say that it’s a genocide or any sort of potentially loaded terms.”

“But just praying for the people of China and, particularly the Uyghurs, Christians, and Hong Kong, I think that would make a big difference.”

Rogers is the founder of Hong Kong Watch, a U.K.-based organization monitoring human rights, freedoms, and rule of law in the city on China’s southern coast. The charity, founded in 2017, occupies much of his time, but he also works as a senior analyst on East Asia for the human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

He described the Holy See’s current stance on China as “puzzling,” given its longstanding commitment to defending human rights.

“The current pope is particularly outspoken on issues of persecution, injustice, and conflict around the world. Almost every Sunday when he prays the Angelus he prays for one particular area of the world or another,” he said, speaking to CNA the day before U.K. MPs unanimously declared that the Chinese government is committing genocide against the Uyghurs.

“He’s been very good on Myanmar [Burma], for example, and so it’s really puzzling why there’s this almost complete silence on everything to do with China, whether it’s the Uyghurs or Hong Kong or Christians or Tibet.”

Rogers, who converted to Catholicism in 2013, suggested that the Vatican’s present position was rooted in history.

“From what I understand, the pope personally has a real desire -- a very good desire -- to strengthen the Church in China,” he said.

“I think he has a personal, maybe somewhat romantic, love of [16th-century Jesuit missionary] Matteo Ricci and the history of the Jesuits in influencing the imperial court in China in Ricci’s time.”

“And perhaps there’s a certain idea that by trying to build a relationship with the Chinese regime and not speaking out publicly, they can, in the long run, be a positive influence.”

Rogers said that this “well-intentioned” approach was unlikely to succeed given the nature of the Chinese Communist Party.

“But I suppose having got into this approach, they’re finding it hard to extract themselves from it,” he commented.

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, meets with Wang Yi, China's foreign minister, in Munich, Feb. 14, 2020.  /  Vatican Media.
Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, meets with Wang Yi, China's foreign minister, in Munich, Feb. 14, 2020. / Vatican Media.

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, often described as the Vatican’s “foreign minister,” recently told Hong Kong’s The Standard newspaper that “grandstanding” statements would be counter-productive.

“I think you will find it true that the Holy See does not have a policy, a diplomatic policy, of denunciation almost anywhere in the world, and there are human rights abuses in many, many countries,” he said.

Gallagher said that the Holy See preferred to work with the local Church, citing a split among Hong Kong Catholics between “Beijing loyalists” and “people who would like greater freedom and greater exceptions for Hong Kong.”

He concluded: “I think you have to ask what effect [a statement] is going to have. Is it going to produce a positive change, or does it make the situation more complicated for the local Church and for relations with the Holy See? At the moment, we feel that’s the right approach.”

Rogers said that Gallagher was right about the sharp differences between Catholics in the city. He noted that Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong who backed the contentious National Security Law passed in June 2020, is a Catholic. But so too is Jimmy Lai, the media tycoon imprisoned April 16 for taking part in pro-democracy protests.

Jimmy Lai Chee Ying arrving at the West Kowloon Magistrates' Court, Hong Kong, Oct. 15, 2020.  /  Yung Chi Wai Derek/Shutterstock
Jimmy Lai Chee Ying arrving at the West Kowloon Magistrates' Court, Hong Kong, Oct. 15, 2020. / Yung Chi Wai Derek/Shutterstock

He said that the Chinese Communist Party’s intention was clear in Hong Kong, which Britain handed over to China in 1997, with the understanding that the territory would continue to have a separate political and economic system to the mainland.

“It seems to me that Beijing is absolutely determined and will stop at nothing to silence dissent in Hong Kong, as it has done, or has sought to do, in mainland China,” he observed.

“The Chinese Communist Party of course has always been repressive but there was before Xi Jinping, under some of his most immediate predecessors, a certain amount of space allowed within limits.”

“Xi Jinping appears to have completely closed that space throughout China. So it’s just totally intolerant of any form of opposition. And I think that’s what this is about in Hong Kong.”

The crackdown is taking place while Catholics in Hong Kong await a new leader. The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong has remained vacant since Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung died suddenly in January 2019.

Rogers wrote an article for UCA News this week urging the Vatican to appoint Hong Kong auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing to the post.

He told CNA that the vacancy presented a headache for the Vatican.

“The problem the Vatican has is that if it appoints the candidate who is the most obvious choice and also would be the most popular with the laity, it would be Bishop Ha. But that’s problematic for Beijing,” he explained.

“If they appoint Beijing’s preferred choice -- my understanding is that it’s the vicar general [Fr. Peter Choy Wai-man] -- that would be very unpopular with many people.”

Another option might be for the Vatican to do nothing: leaving Hong Kong diocese in the care of its apostolic administrator, Cardinal John Tong Hon.

The cardinal served as bishop of Hong Kong from 2009 to 2017, when he retired for age reasons. He stepped back into a leadership position following the death of his successor, Bishop Yeung.

Cardinal John Tong Hon of Hong Kong.  /  Rock Li/wikimedia. CC BY SA 3.0
Cardinal John Tong Hon of Hong Kong. / Rock Li/wikimedia. CC BY SA 3.0

“At the moment [Tong] seems pretty able, physically and mentally, but he’s trod a line that is pretty compromising with Beijing,” Rogers argued, comparing him unfavorably with the outspoken Cardinal Joseph Zen, who served as bishop of Hong Kong from 2002 to 2009.

For example, he said, Tong wrote to priests following the passage of the National Security Law warning them of the need to “watch our language” in homilies.

“I guess as long as he’s healthy then I suppose there isn’t anything to stop the Vatican just keeping him there,” he reflected. “But on the other hand, he’s 81, so presumably that’s not a solution that can last for very long.”

Rogers said that if he was given a few minutes to talk to the pope and his senior advisers, he would try to convince them of the need for a new approach to China.

“I would say that I deeply respect and understand the motivations behind the path that they’ve been pursuing, but that the reality on the ground is that, in terms of religious persecution and freedom as a whole, things have deteriorated,” he said.

He would argue that the Chinese Communist Party cannot be trusted to keep its side of the provisional agreement renewed by the Vatican in October.

“I would also say that quite a lot of Catholics in China feel very confused and let down,” he added.

“We’ve seen underground Catholic clergy and lay people, but particularly clergy, who’ve been loyal to Rome for decades at huge risk to themselves being asked by Rome to step aside in favor of Beijing appointees. And I think that’s causing him quite a lot of hurt and confusion among Catholics in China.”

In October 2017, Rogers was denied entry to Hong Kong and believes he is probably banned from the city for life.

He may be banned permanently from China too as an organization he co-founded, the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, was among the U.K. entities recently hit by Chinese sanctions.

“So I think for both reasons -- the fact that I was denied entry in 2017, and my role with the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission -- makes it pretty safe to assume that I can’t go to Hong Kong or China,” he said.

Theoretically, he could also fall under the far-reaching Hong Kong national security law.

“One of the things about the National Security Law is that it has an extra-territorial clause,” he explained. “It says that basically anyone anywhere in the world who is regarded as in breach of the National Security Law can be charged.”

“Obviously they can’t in practice really do that with me in London, but presumably, in theory at least, if I set foot in Hong Kong they could.”

Several US states consider bills regulating abortion

Pregnancy Test. / Flickr/Ernesto Andrade.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 22, 2021 / 20:01 pm (CNA).

Numerous states of the US have been considering bills regulating abortion in recent weeks.  

In Idaho, a bill which would ban abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat passed the Senate on April 21 and is awaiting the governor’s signature. 

The day before, the bill advanced through the Senate State Affairs Committee, and was voted through the Senate by a vote of 25-7. The bill contains exceptions in cases of rape, incest, or medical emergency. 

“This is good legislation that gives a preborn child the same rights as a mother,” said Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, a Republican who sponsored the bill. 

It is unknown if Gov. Brad Little (R) will sign the bill.

Unlike other “heartbeat” bills, Idaho’s legislation will not go into effect until similar legislation in another state has been cleared by a federal court. Presently, all attempts at passing “heartbeat” abortion bans have been blocked by federal courts. 

Two bills are currently sitting on the desk of Oklahoma Gov. Ken Stitt (R). One bans abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat; the other would suspend a doctor’s license for a maximum of one year if they perform an abortion. 

If the bills are not signed by the end of the week, they will go into effect in November. 

In Tennessee, lawmakers passed a bill requiring women to bury or cremate fetal remains after a surgical abortion at an abortion clinic. The bill is now on the governor’s desk, awaiting his signature.

Abortion clinics would be required to pay for the cost of burying or cremating the remains of the infant, unless a woman chooses to dispose of the remains at a different location. In that case, the woman who procured the abortion would have to pay for the burial or cremation. 

Typically, fetal remains after abortions are treated as medical waste and disposed. 

The bills’ sponsor, Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro), said that “charities (are) out there that are set up to help with the burial expenses” of an aborted child. 


Additionally, under the bill, a woman who undergoes an abortion would have to fill out a form for the Tennessee Department of Health describing how and where the fetal remains will be disposed. 

In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) signed a bill April 21 requiring women who were sexually assaulted and seeking an abortion after the 20th week of a pregnancy to report their assault to the authorities. 

In Arkansas, abortion is available until the 20th week of a pregnancy, with limited exceptions. Last month, Hutchinson signed a bill that effectively banned abortion altogether in the state; however, it has not gone into effect. 

When Hutchinson signed the bill, SB6, he noted that it is contrary to established precedent set by the Supreme Court, but that he hopes the bill will be used to overturn these precedents. 

“SB6 is in contradiction of binding precedents of the U.S. Supreme Court, but it is the intent of the legislation to set the stage for the Supreme Court overturning current case law,” Hutchinson said at the time.

In Ohio, lawmakers are once again considering a version of the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which requires that doctors provide lifesaving care to infants who are born alive after an attempted abortion. 

Under Senate Bill 157, a doctor who is found in violation of the law will be charged with “abortion manslaughter,” a felony. 

“The heart of the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act is quite simple: no helpless newborn child should be left alone to die,” Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, said in a published statement.  

“It is our sincere hope that shared human decency will compel legislators at the Ohio Statehouse to come together to protect innocent, born babies desperate for a chance to live.”

A similar bill was previously considered in 2019. While that bill passed the Ohio Senate, it was not voted on in the Ohio House of Representatives.

Construction of Marian tower on Sagrada Familia begins

Sagrada Familia. / Stuart Pinfold via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Barcelona, Spain, Apr 22, 2021 / 19:00 pm (CNA).

Work began Tuesday on the completion of the spire atop the Virgin Mary’s tower of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and is scheduled to be completed in December.

The spire will consist of a crown at the base, and a shaft topped with a star. The crown will be made of stone, almost 20 feet in height, with tips rising in an ascending sequence surmounted with 12 smaller stars.

Construction began April 20 with the placement of the wooden formwork, which will be followed by the assembly of a large part of the shaft.

When completed, the total height of the Virgin’s tower and spire will be over 450 feet, the second tallest of several towers.

The almost 60 foot shaft will have a geometric hyperboloid decoration with three arms supporting the star that tops the spire and will be made of concrete colored white and blue.

The spire will terminate with a 12-point star 24 feet in diameter made of textured glass and  illuminated from within, symbolizing the morning star, “the sign of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, the faithful protector who guides us to Jesus by day and by night,"  the Sagrada Familia construction project stated.

The cornerstone of the basilica was laid March 19, 1882. The basilica is the masterpiece of Antonio Gaudi, who devoted 43 years of his career to the project. Construction has been interrupted over the years for various reasons, but is nearing completion.

Though unfinished, Sagrada Familia was consecrated in 2010 by Benedict XVI.

A date for the project’s completion has been set for 2026, 100 years after Gaudí died in a car accident. Since his death, the progress has been based off the artist's plaster models and copies of his drawings, which had been partially destroyed in a fire set during the Spanish Civil War, and which were later reconstructed.

The architect was a devout Catholic and has numerous modernist architectural pieces throughout Barcelona. His cause for canonization was opened in Rome in 2003.

Names of accused Rochester priests will not be blocked

Priest collar /

Rochester, N.Y., Apr 22, 2021 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

A federal judge has said the names of priests accused of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Rochester cannot be kept confidential during the diocese’s bankruptcy proceedings.

 

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Paul Warren on Thursday sided with Gannett Co., Inc., the parent company of the local Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

 

Gannett had filed a motion to intervene in the diocese’s bankruptcy proceedings after the diocese asked in an earlier motion to have the identity of abused priests kept confidential.

 

The motions involve the diocese’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, which were begun in September 2019 following a flood of lawsuits accusing priests in the diocese of sexual abuse.

 

Gannett argued that keeping the identities of accusers secret would “perpetuate the very secrecy that has allowed the scandal to continue for generations.”

 

However, the Diocese of Rochester said in court documents that it was not trying to conceal information but rather “reduce the risk of vigilantism or other breaches of the peace.”

 

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Rochester told CNA that the purpose of their motion was to protect survivors who had come forward and exposed sex abuse.

 

“The primary purpose of our recent court motion was to protect from public disclosure in required ‘Certificate of Service’ documents – which notify all interested parties of case filings – the identities of those persons who have come forward in this case as survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and who wish to remain anonymous,” the spokesperson said.

 

“It should be noted that the Committee of Creditors in our Chapter 11 case, which represent survivors, supported our motion,” the spokesperson said.

 

The spokesperson said the diocese wanted to “preserve public safety and avoid potential breaches of the peace that might possibly ensue with the publication of the names and addresses of those accused, as well as preserve the due process rights of individuals against whom allegations may not at this time be substantiated.”

 

The diocese maintains that Gannett’s objection did not force them to withdraw their previous motion.

 

Rather, the spokesperson said, they had determined that they did not have an immediate need to file Certificates of Service containing perpetrator information, so they withdrew their motion from the court prior to the court hearing and the judge’s decision.

 

The diocese said it will still be permitted “to protect the privacy of survivors and…to request redaction at a future time of those who are accused but whose cases have not as yet been proven or acknowledged.”

 

The harrowing story of an LA priest who survived a shooting in Nigeria

Father Aloysius Ezoenyeka / John McCoy/Angelus

Los Angeles, Calif., Apr 22, 2021 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Father Aloysius Ezoenyeka didn’t know how long he had been unconscious. A gentle slapping on his face stirred him, and his eyelids flicked open to an African hospital room filled with people clapping and cheering.

“Father, Happy New Year. Welcome to 2021.” Joy flooded the faces of the weary doctors, nurses, friends, and family who surrounded his bed.

The news of the new year wasn’t the only surprise awaiting his waking moments. The medical staff recounted everything that had happened to him over the past 24 hours, relaying the harrowing tale of the father-and-son rescue team that brought him to the hospital, the struggle to find a clinic that could perform life-saving surgeries, and more—a flurry of events that followed Father Al’s being shot by armed assailants while alone on Southwest Nigerian roads, just one night before.

The events of the previous night began with Father Al praying the rosary while he drove, contemplating what post-prayer music to put on for the rest of his long drive. Suddenly, he heard a sharp noise. Perhaps it was just a pebble propelled loudly from under his tire.

In the next split second, the origin of that sound was unmistakable. His windshield shattered as bullets passed by his side, fired by two men hiding in roadside bushes directly in front of him.

“I didn't know what to do, but I didn't have any time to be afraid,” he told CNA. He had traveled this road many times as a Benedictine of Ewu Monastery, and he had heard it was a dangerous stretch of land because of bandits. But he never expected that he would be on the receiving end of violent gunfire.

“I didn't think there would be any problem at all for me. I knew that there could be robbers, but I never really thought seriously it would happen to me.”

Although unscathed after the first volley of bullets, he knew that the assailants’ intention was to kill him. “You might as well at least try a little bit to give them a run for their money,” thought Father Al.

In that desperate moment, he found himself faced with three options: he could take the lane further from the shooters, but that would allow more time for them to shoot at him. Or he could take the lane closer to the bush in which they hid, but that would just make his car a closer shot.

The third option was to drive towards his attackers. “That would scare them. Or, they would get me right away, and that would be the end of it.” Making a life-or-death decision, he pressed himself under the steering column, taking meager cover under the dashboard as he slammed on the gas pedal.

The assailants ran into the bush behind them to avoid his car and unleashed another barrage. Rounds lodged in the front tire and around the engine—and painfully into Father Al’s stomach.

“There's no way you can have that amount of bullets without being hit. I'm just surprised I was only hit once. I didn't stop... I held the wound as much as I could to keep the blood from flowing, but it was practically impossible to do that. I did that the best I could.”

As he later recounted the story, Father Al nonchalantly noted the irony of his situation, laughing: “Drive-bys are usually people inside the vehicle shooting at people or houses, but this drive-by was me driving by.”

He decided to stop for help once he was out of range and out of danger. As soon as he was clear, almost like clockwork, the engine died and he coasted off the road near a lonely truck stop with broken vehicles. He stepped out of his own mangled car, and then collapsed. 

An 11-year-old boy named God-is-Great watched Father Al’s wounded body fall to the ground, unmoving. The boy ran to get his father, SonyMopo. Others came to help, too, but no one had medical training, there were no supplies, and not even a 9-1-1 number to call. While SonyMopo went to get his own vehicle, nothing could be done for Father Al.

“There's no emergency line. They were confused. What's truly sad is that you couldn't do anything for another human being that is in need. Just thinking about it is really strange. I could feel that they wanted to help, but didn't know what to do,” the priest said.

He lay bleeding on the ground for over an hour. Eventually, SonyMopo came speeding along, coming to a rolling stop next to the crowd surrounding Father Al’s wounded form. They loaded him into the back of the vehicle to take him to the local clinic.

The only path they could take was blocked by the same shooters. Unknown to Father Al, SonyMopo had grabbed a gun. He told his son to drive the car while he shot out of the lowered passenger-side window to scare off the assailants so they could pass safely. 

“At that point, I was in pain, just trying to pray,” Father Al said.

A young man named Chidiebere sat in the back with Father Al and prayed Hail Marys in their familiar, shared language. They were both from the same tribe, just one village over from each other. Interspersed in these prayers were appeals for Father Al to pray out loud and to not close his eyes.

“Any time I would try to give up, he would say, 'No, no, no, Father, you'll make it.'”

Together, they arrived at the first clinic, Okada Teaching Hospital, at 6 p.m. and stayed there for about two hours. But they had no supplies at the clinic.

The hospital staff murmured at Father Al’s volatile condition. “Don't worry about that man—he's not going to make it. He's going to die anyways, so just look at other ones,” he remembered hearing.

Chidiebere, SonyMopo, and God-is-Great continued to encourage him to stay awake as they sped for more than 90 minutes to their next option for care: the emergency room at Benin, to which they arrived at around 10 p.m. Multiple times, they were delayed by policemen who pulled them over for speeding.

“A lot of things go through your mind. You say a lot of prayers,” Father Al said. “Apart from saying those prayers, you have to make peace with the fact that this is the end. And I did. The beginning hours were praying for God to help me and all that, but by the time we got to the hospital in Benin, I had already made my peace. I could not believe that I was going to make it, and I was okay with that. I prayed to God.”

When the medical team found that he was a priest, they called everyone they could think of and worked to get a team of doctors to leave their families to prepare for surgery on New Year’s Eve.

At this point, Father Al assumed he was going to die. He had lost a lot of blood, and the doctors had said it was too late for him.

The priest’s brother Titus drove the three hours from their village to the hospital and collected Father Al’s things from SonyMopo.

“Listen. I love you, take care of everyone else. I will see you again,” Father Al told Titus before being ushered into surgery right around midnight, New Year’s Day.

A violent attack from gunmen and a five-hour surgery were certainly not part of Father Al’s plans. As a priest serving in California, he was in Nigeria just on a visit to family. 

Father Augustine Ebido called Father Al’s American physician, Kevin White. Dr. White attempted to get through to Father Al’s regional bishop, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles, to inform him of the priest’s condition.

But through all the chaos and a literal game of telephone, incorrect information was shared throughout the staff and diocese. “Some people were thinking I was going to die, that I didn't make it, that people died in the car with me... it was just a lot of mixed up messages,” Fr. Al said.

Bishop Barron traveled to Father Al’s parish, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, to give the unfortunate news of his shooting.

“We heard that he had been shot many times and was left on the side of the road,” Bishop Barron told the Angelus. “When I first got the news, it was that he was dying. We had very little hope.”

Unsure of his condition, Father Al’s parishioners started a 3-day Novena, and the parking lot filled with cars to pray. They sent donations and more than 400 pounds of gifts for him and the people in Nigeria.

A few days later, Father Al was able to call Bishop Barron directly and give him the news of the successful surgery. 

“He was very weak. I could barely understand him. But he was conscious, and he knew who I was,” Bishop Barron told the Angelus.

Bishop Barron called often to check on his recovery and to offer help, encouraging Father Al to return to America to receive medical attention.

Father Al insisted he did not want to go anywhere until he had healed, so the bishop told him, “Whatever you need, let us know and we'll provide it for you.” 

Although appreciative of the many offers he received to be transported to America, Fr. Al said he chose to remain in Nigeria with his family to help show people in the United States that despite the troubles Nigeria faces, it is filled with good people.

The priest said he is saddened by the media portrayal of Nigeria, which tends to focus on negative events but not positive aspects of the country. Father Al said he is proud of his country and grateful for the care he received, feeling God worked through the doctors and nurses there.

“There's no way you can survive six, seven hours without medication with losing so much blood,” he said. “That was almost an impossibility. They said at that clinic there was no way else I was going to survive. The doctors at the hospital said it was not going to work. I think it was purely providential.”

Father Al eventually healed and did return to the United States, where 600 people attended a “Miracle In Nigeria Thanksgiving Mass & Celebration” that Bishop Barron concelebrated with Fr. Al on Palm Sunday this year at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

Today, Fr. Al has almost entirely recovered.

“I don't have much pain anymore. I ran four miles this morning. I guess if I can run four miles, I've recovered,” he laughed.

Fr. Al remains grateful for the experience, saying it has brought him closer to God and changed his views on life. 

“This is the way I read my own life: God prevented my death because he believed I was not ready,” he said. “I was not ready for eternity. I was not ready for Heaven. I needed more work for sanctification. I needed to be alive for him to sanctify me and purify me and help me to be ready.”

Abortion survivor hopes her story spurs support for mothers in need

Claire Culwell / EWTN Pro-Life Weekly

Washington D.C., Apr 22, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

An abortion survivor hopes that her story of life will help people be “the hands and feet of Jesus” to women in need.

Claire Culwell, who survived an abortion attempt, authored the forthcoming book telling her life story, “Survivor: An abortion survivor’s surprising story of choosing forgiveness and finding redemption.”

“My hope is that as people read this book, they will know what abortion is, they will know what it does, and they will act on being the hands and feet of Jesus, being that support system for women,” Culwell said on EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, in an interview that will air on Thursday night.

Culwell, who regularly speaks on abortion at public events, was adopted and did not know her birth story until she was in college. She met with her biological mother for only the second time when she received news that would change her life.

Culwell had presented her mother with a ring, a necklace, and a card thanking her for “choosing life.”

“And she said ‘Claire, there’s something I need to tell you,’” Culwell recounted to EWTN Pro-Life Weekly. “She said, ‘Your life is a miracle. Because I had an abortion when I was pregnant with you at 13 years old.”

Culwell’s mother was pregnant with twins and had undergone a dilation and evacuation “D&E” abortion, a common second-trimester abortion that results in the dismemberment of the child. After several weeks, her mother returned to the doctor complaining that she did not feel normal.

She was told that she had twins, and that only one of the twins had been aborted.

When Culwell received the news from her mother, “it felt like the room was spinning out of control, I couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of her mouth,” she told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly.

“But I saw her tears,” she added, noting that she forgave her mother for the abortion attempt.

“I can grapple all day with the fact that my life was spared and my twin’s wasn’t, and what am I missing, and I’ll never understand,” she told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly. “The only person that understands is the God that wrote this story for me, and He wrote it perfectly, and I can trust in that.”

Culwell has chronicled her story in her book “Survivor,” which will be released on April 27.

Now she speaks out about abortion, including testifying before members of the Kentucky state legislature on a proposed “heartbeat” abortion ban in 2019, and testifying before members of the Texas state legislature on a bill requiring care for abortion survivors.

“After finding out I’d survived an abortion, I developed an interest in pro-life issues. And in time that interest grew and grew,” she told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly.

“Soon, I began telling my story to small groups at schools and churches near me – a major accomplishment for one of the world’s quietest introverts. And eventually, telling my life story would become my calling,” she said.

She said that her story has touched the hearts of many people.

“People come up to me all the time and they’re like ‘Claire, because of you, because of the way that you have been able to forgive, because of the way that you shared that God has forgiven you and has forgiven your birth mother, I believe now that my child forgives me, that my God forgives me,” she said.

Care for nature, pope tells world leaders at climate summit

Pope Francis delivers a message for Earth Day, April 22, 2021. Credit: Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Apr 22, 2021 / 15:01 pm (CNA).

In a video message sent to a climate summit on Thursday, Pope Francis urged care for nature and the preservation of the environment.

 “I greet you who are gathered in this initiative, which seems to me a happy one,” the pope said April 22 to participants in a climate summit of 40 international leaders that was organized by US president Joe Biden.

Francis said the summit encourages humanity “to take charge of the care of nature, of this gift that we have received and that we have to heal, guard, and carry forward. This is increasingly significant because it is a challenge we face in the post-pandemic era. We need to keep moving forward and we know that one doesn’t come out of a crisis the same way one entered. We come out either better or worse.”

“Our concern is to see that the environment is cleaner, purer, and preserved. We must take care of nature so that it takes care of us.”

During the summit, held on Earth Day, Biden pledged that the US would cut its carbon emissions to about half of 2005 levels by 2030.

In an earlier message marking Earth Day, Pope Francis had urged world leaders to “act with courage, operate with justice, and always tell the truth to people” with regard to the environment.

Francis said that for some time people have been more aware of the need to protect nature, and that interactions with the biodiversity given to us by God must take place “with the utmost attention and respect.”