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New data shows more people traveling for abortions post-Dobbs

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to pro-life supporters before signing a law restricting abortion in Florida. / Credit: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 17, 2024 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

Although birth rate and fertility data have shown that pro-life laws throughout the country have saved thousands of preborn children’s lives, new data from the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute found that more women are also traveling out of their states to obtain abortions.

The data, which tracks month-to-month abortion numbers in the United States, found that more than 171,000 Americans traveled out of state to obtain abortions in 2023 — nearly twice as many as the number of people who did the same in 2019, according to the New York Times. Out-of-state abortion procedures accounted for about one-fifth of total abortions in 2023. These numbers include both surgical abortions and chemical abortions.

Although most people who traveled to obtain abortions went to a neighboring state, thousands crossed multiple state lines for abortions. Longer travel to get an abortion was more common for people who live in states with strong pro-life laws that are also surrounded by other states that have similar pro-life protections.

For example, 3,500 people from Louisiana traveled through multiple states to procure abortions in states like Florida, Illinois, and Georgia because both Louisiana and its neighbors prohibit most abortions.

Some states with more permissive abortion policies that border pro-life states have seen a large influx of people traveling from another state to receive abortions. For example, about 71% of the abortions performed in New Mexico in 2023 were on women who traveled from a state with strong pro-life laws, such as Texas. In 2020, only about 38% of New Mexico’s abortions were performed on women traveling from another state.

Other states with a large increase in out-of-state people seeking abortions included Illinois, Kansas, South Carolina, and North Carolina.

Michael New, a senior associate scholar at the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, told CNA that he believes the Guttmacher analysis is intended “to downplay the impact of protective pro-life laws and make pro-life policies appear ineffective.”

“It is true that some women circumvent pro-life laws by obtaining abortions in states where the laws are more permissive,” New said. “However, it is also true that a substantial body of birth data from Texas and other states that have recently enacted protective pro-life laws shows that recently enacted pro-life laws have saved thousands of lives.”

study last year by The Journal of the American Medical Association found that the state’s law that prohibits abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected led to nearly 9,800 more births over a nine-month period after it went into effect. Data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this year found that states with pro-life laws had slower declines in fertility rates than states that have permissive abortion laws.

“All of this is strong evidence that recently enforced pro-life laws have saved tens of thousands of lives,” New added.

Isaac Maddow-Zimet, a data scientist at the Guttmacher Institute and project lead for the Monthly Abortion Provision Study project, said in a statement that the “striking” findings from the new data are “how often people are traveling across multiple state lines to access abortion care.”

“Traveling for abortion care requires individuals to overcome huge financial and logistical barriers, and our findings show just how far people will travel to obtain the care they want and deserve,” Maddow-Zimet said. “Despite the amazing resiliency of abortion patients and providers, we can’t lose sight of the fact that this is neither normal nor acceptable: A person should not have to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to receive basic health care.”

Florida was another state to witness an increase in women traveling across state lines to obtain abortions. However, Guttmacher Vice President for Public Policy Kelly Baden noted in a statement that Florida’s law that outlaws abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected — which occurs at about six weeks of pregnancy — went into effect this May, which will mean Florida will no longer be a common destination for women traveling out of state to obtain abortions. 

“We see that a state’s abortion policies affect thousands of people beyond that state’s borders,” Baden said.

The Guttmacher Institute’s data estimates nearly 1.04 million clinician-provided abortions took place in the United States in 2023 in states that do not prohibit most abortions.

Tessa Cox, a senior research associate, and Mia Steupert, a research associate, both at the Lozier Institute, told CNA in a joint statement that “a handful of pro-abortion states have driven up abortion rates by enacting increasingly extreme policies, including shipments of unregulated mail-order abortion drugs and abortionist shield laws.”

“There is a tendency to oversimplify abortion travel and conclude that the increase is solely attributable to Dobbs, but we know this is a complicated issue with many factors in play — just look at pro-abortion New York, where the largest group of out-of-state residents is women from New Jersey, accounting for nearly 3,000 abortions in 2023, according to Guttmacher,” they said.

‘The Mass is something sacred’: Argentina archbishop responds to political chants at Mass

“The Mass is to unite, the Mass is to make us brothers,” said Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Ignacio García Cuerva during Mass on Saturday, June 15, 2024. / Credit: Archdiocese of Buenos Aires

ACI Prensa Staff, Jun 17, 2024 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

In response to the controversy sparked by people chanting a political slogan during a Mass in the Argentine capital, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Ignacio García Cuerva, was clear: “The Mass is something sacred.”

“The Eucharist is something sacred; that’s why the Mass is something sacred, because it is the very core of the faith of our people,” the prelate said while celebrating Mass on June 15 at the St. Ildephonsus Parish in Buenos Aires.

“Here we come to be nourished by unity, brotherhood, peace. That’s why it is not good to use the Mass to divide, to fragment, to be partisan,” he added.

Videos circulated recently showing Mass being interrupted by people chanting political slogans such as “the country is not for sale,” expressing opposition to the government of President Javier Milei.

The first occasion occurred on Sunday, June 9, when Passionist Father Carlos Saracini interrupted the Eucharistic celebration at Holy Cross Parish — apparently during the concluding doxology — by beginning the chant “the country is not for sale.” Many parishioners joined in, clapping to the rhythm of the chant.

A few days later, on June 14, near the end of the Mass presided by Gustavo Carrara, auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires, the participants and at least one of the priests in the church began to chant “the country is not for sale.” The bishop, who interrupted the chanting to go on with the prayer, posted that same day an apology “to anyone who might feel offended.”

The archbishop of Buenos Aires pointed out that “it’s not good to use the Mass so that we end up separated as brothers. And it’s not good to count on the good faith of those who participate in the Eucharist or of the priests who are invited to preside over it so that what has happened in recent days happens, as happened yesterday to Bishop Gustavo Carrara. That’s why the Mass is something sacred.”

“The Mass is to unite us; the Mass is to make us brothers; the Mass is to nourish us and to be witnesses of the kingdom in the streets,” the Argentine archbishop said.

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

Catholic fathers talk fatherhood, family values, and threats to the African family

Alfred Magero, Matthew Njogu, and Edward Chaleh Nkamanyi are three Catholic fathers from Africa who recently shared insights about being a present dad, protecting their families amid threats to the African family, and being a model of family values for their children with ACI Africa, CNA's news partner in Africa. / Credit: Photos courtesy of ACI Africa

ACI Africa, Jun 17, 2024 / 12:37 pm (CNA).

On the occasion of Father’s Day 2024, a day focused on the celebration of fatherhood, four Catholic men from different African countries recently shared their experiences of impacting the lives of their children.

The Catholic fathers — who hail from Cameroon, Kenya, and Nigeria — talk about the importance of “being present,” of protecting their families amid threats to the African family, and of being a model of family values for their children, who they believe someday will become parents as well.

Tony Nnachetta, 68: Fatherhood is a full-time enterprise

Tony Nnachetta shares a moment with Pope Francis. The married father of four is a parishioner in the Catholic Archdiocese of Onitsha. Credit: Photo courtesy of ACI Africa
Tony Nnachetta shares a moment with Pope Francis. The married father of four is a parishioner in the Catholic Archdiocese of Onitsha. Credit: Photo courtesy of ACI Africa

Tony Nnachetta is a married father of four who attends the Church of the Assumption Parish in Nigeria’s Archdiocese of Lagos. Nnachetta has been a parishioner there for 40 years, and he was wed there 38 years ago. A member of the Grand Knights of St. Mulumba, he originally hails from the Archdiocese of Onitsha.

I got married to my friend after we dated for four years. I was looking forward to fatherhood and I was mentally prepared for it. Here are the lessons I have learned along my fatherhood journey.

First, being a father means you watch your children grow and become independent. You watch them get to a point in their lives where they can engage in a debate with you and even disagree with you.

Fatherhood is a long process. You would be fortunate to go through the entire process and maybe see your children’s children. I have seen mine achieve excellence in school and even leave home and go across the world as they sought to become independent.

Wherever your children go, what is important for them is what they take away from home — what they take from mommy and daddy. I have always told mine to “remember the child of who you are.” This means that they are not allowed to break the Christian values in our family. 

I taught them to always stand for the truth and never to flow with the tide. We have encouraged them to always say what they mean. These days, they have jokingly turned around the statement and they tell me, “Remember the dad of who you are,” and we laugh about it.

You can’t always be there to take the bullet for them, but you can support them through prayers. Our family relies a lot on the intercession of the saints. We call ourselves a family of Jesuits because the school my children went to is under the patronage of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

My own patron saint is St. Anthony of Padua and my wife’s is St. Rita of Cascia. All the years, these saints have kept us well protected.

Fatherhood is a full-time engagement. It is not like you can be a father in the morning and take a break in the evening. You worry about your children even when they are grown and have left your home. They preoccupy you everywhere. You wonder whether they are warm and if they have had their meal. But all this brings a father immense joy.

Young fathers in Africa are overburdened by poverty. Because of poverty they don’t have a way to help their families. Others are scared to enter the marriage institution. Poverty has made young men weak and helpless. Some are leaving their young families and going to faraway places outside the continent to make a living. 

Poverty is eroding family values because some fathers do what they do, including stealing, for their children to survive. In doing so, they are setting a bad example for their children …

It is important for our leaders to confront this situation. They must accept that they have let us down.

Matthew Njogu, 75: Tips on being a present dad

Matthew Njogu is the moderator of the Catholic Men Association at St. Austin's Msongari Parish of Kenya’s Archdiocese of Nairobi. His children are now adults. Credit: Photo courtesy of ACI Africa
Matthew Njogu is the moderator of the Catholic Men Association at St. Austin's Msongari Parish of Kenya’s Archdiocese of Nairobi. His children are now adults. Credit: Photo courtesy of ACI Africa

Njogu is the moderator of the Catholic Men Association at St. Austin's Msongari Parish in Kenya’s Archdiocese of Nairobi. His children are now grown up and he offers the following insights on being a present father.

Fathers need to be present in the lives of their children. For a long time, it was assumed that it was the mother’s responsibility to take care of the young children; fathers kept off. But being absent in the lives of your children hurts your relationship with them. They end up growing up without you having any impact on their lives.

Unfortunately, some fathers assume that fatherhood ends at providing material things... They don’t pay attention to their children’s growth milestones. And when they eventually try to establish a connection, they find that the children are already all grown without knowing anything about their fathers.

Simple things like dropping your children off at school help you connect with them. While stuck in traffic on the way to school, you can talk about things that will help you understand your child and for him to know you.

Always try as much as possible to have dinner with your children and help them with schoolwork. And always try to make up for the time you don’t spend with them.

Edward Chaleh Nkamanyi, 53: Raising a Christ-like family

Edward Chaleh Nkamanyia runs a medical college in Doula, Cameroon. He is a father of two, though he tells ACI Africa that he is “a father of many” as he takes care of several orphans and other vulnerable children. Credit: Photo courtesy of ACI Africa
Edward Chaleh Nkamanyia runs a medical college in Doula, Cameroon. He is a father of two, though he tells ACI Africa that he is “a father of many” as he takes care of several orphans and other vulnerable children. Credit: Photo courtesy of ACI Africa

Nkamanyi runs a medical college in Doula, Cameroon. He is a father of two children ages 16 and 20. He tells ACI Africa that he is “a father of many,” as he takes care of several orphans and other vulnerable children. Here are his insights into nurturing a Christ-like family.

It is the joy of every responsible young man to be called “daddy” or “papa.” Having a Christ-like family is the greatest gift for a father; a family like that of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.

My appeal for Catholic fathers is to hold their families firmly, to provide for them, and to protect them from all dangers in the contemporary society, where values are being eroded.

I don’t believe that being a father is a challenging task. God already gave us the innate potential to be fathers. I believe that God can’t give you a role that you can’t perform.

It is unfortunate that many young men are choosing to be absentee fathers. From what I have seen, many children raised by a single parent end up adopting wayward behaviors.

Alfred Magero, 48: Being a present dad in a low-income setting

Alfred Magero belongs to the Catholic Men's Association group of St. Joseph the Worker Kangemi Catholic Parish of in the Nairobi Archdiocese. The father of three has been married for 29 years. Credit: Photo courtesy of ACI Africa
Alfred Magero belongs to the Catholic Men's Association group of St. Joseph the Worker Kangemi Catholic Parish of in the Nairobi Archdiocese. The father of three has been married for 29 years. Credit: Photo courtesy of ACI Africa

Magero belongs to the Catholic Men’s Association group of St. Joseph the Worker Kangemi Parish of the Archdiocese of Nairobi. The father of three has been married for 29 years and shares his experience and that of other Catholic dads raising their children in a low-income neighborhood.

I am raising my children to become God-fearing adults. This is not an easy task in the community in which we live, where there is a lot of poverty, drunkenness, and other characteristics typical of a low-income [neighborhood].

Many fathers rarely interact with their children since their main focus is to provide for their families. They leave for work before their children wake up and come back at night when the children have already gone to bed.

The young men and boys we are raising are experiencing a different environment from ours when we were growing up. With the whole world brought to them on the palm of their hand by a simple tap on the phone, this generation is dangerously exposed. They need us, their fathers, to constantly give them direction. They need us to be their role models. 

They need us to constantly remind them that they are in Africa and that they should not adopt alien cultures, especially those bound to destroy the family.

As fathers, we must remind our young ones to uphold African values that kept the family unit and the society glued together. Africans knew the importance of loving and caring for each other. Unfortunately, this value is being eroded, and in its place, now we have individualism. Older men in families would educate young men to be responsible adults. Unfortunately, we no longer have this kind of education.

This article was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s Africa news partner in Africa, and has been adapted by CNA. 

Vatican library to award NFTs to donors in ‘experimental project’

A view of the Vatican Apostolic Library in 2021. / Credit: Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Rome Newsroom, Jun 17, 2024 / 11:00 am (CNA).

The Vatican library announced Monday that it will expand its use of Web3 technologies by awarding nontransferable NFTs (nonfungible tokens) to supporters of the manuscript collections.

For the time being, the project, considered “experimental,” only applies to Italian donors to the Vatican Apostolic Library. A trial was first launched in Japan in February 2023.

According to the library, which preserves roughly 180,000 manuscripts and more than 1.5 million printed books, Italians who share about the NFT project on their social media accounts through July 16 will receive a “Silver NFT” through which they can access a special collection of high-resolution images of 15 manuscripts of the library. 

Financial supporters of the project, instead, will receive a “Gold NFT” giving them access to high-resolution images of all 21 manuscripts in the special collection.

The Vatican has partnered with the Japanese multinational company NTT DATA to expand “the Vatican Library’s online community by connecting the cultural institution with its supporters through Web3 technology,” according to a June 17 press release from the Vatican Library.

The future of the project, the Vatican said, may include the ability to visit the library through immersive extended reality (XR) experiences, like augmented or virtual reality.

“I believe that our heritage requires special attention and dedication geared toward preservation and promotion,” Salesian Father Mauro Mantovani, prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library, said this week.

“NTT DATA,” he continued, “has played an important role in supporting the Vatican Library’s mission to make its unique collections accessible to the public, regardless of origin, culture, religion, politics, or ideology, while nurturing scientific research and development.”

The papal library, in its current form, dates to the 14th century, though there is evidence the Catholic Church has had a library and archive from as early as the 300s.

The Web3 project continues the papal library’s efforts to make ancient documents more accessible to the public.

The Vatican launched a new website for the library in 2020 with improved search functions and easier access to digital reproductions of digitized manuscripts, inventories, archival materials, coins, medals, and incunabula, which are books printed in Europe before the 16th century.

According to its website, the Vatican Library “preserves over 180,000 manuscripts (including archival units), 1,600,000 printed books, about 9,000 incunabula, over 300,000 coins and medals, more than 150,000 prints, thousands of drawings and engravings, and over 200,000 photographs.”

The Apostolic Library is located in Vatican City in a building dating to the late 16th century.

Will Harvard return an alleged third-century relic of St. Sebastian to the Church?

Harvard University. / Credit: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

Boston, Mass., Jun 17, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

As Harvard University undergoes the process of returning some of the thousands of Indigenous human remains in its possession to those with cultural, ancestral, or religious ties to them, one Catholic group is calling on the university to return a sacred first-class relic of St. Sebastian to the Catholic Church.

“The appropriate location for a relic of St. Sebastian is a Catholic church, chapel, or shrine, not the library of a secular university,” C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, told the College Fix in May. 

“Harvard should do the right thing and donate it to a local Catholic church,” he said.

In a statement to CNA, Harvard Library spokeswoman Kerry Conley said the relic was acquired by the school through a purchase from an antiquarian bookseller in 2021. 

The bone relic, in a medallion reliquary, is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity by the Catholic Church with two illegible signatures, according to its description on Harvard Library’s website.

The coat of arms of Bishop Nicola Angelo Maria Landini, titular bishop of Porphyreon — which is present-day Jieh, Lebanon — and vicar general of the Vatican Curia are on the certificate, which is dated Oct. 12, 1774. 

A cartouche on the reliquary says “S. Simonii Ap,” indicating that “it might have previously held a relic of St. Simon the Zealot,” the description says.

The relic is located in Houghton Library in its special collection stacks, an area only available to staff and researchers by request.

Conley said that, although the university listed the relic in a 2022 report detailing human remains located in Harvard museum collections, the object “has not been tested and we do not know whether it is indeed human, nor can we say whether it dates from the third century.”

“It was included in the university’s report because the documentation it accompanied purported the bone to be human; however, there is no genetic testing or carbon dating to affirm that claim,” she said.

Who is St. Sebastian?

In Pope Francis’ March 2019 postsynodal apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit, the Holy Father spoke of St. Sebastian as a role model for young people.

“In the third century, St. Sebastian was a young captain of the Praetorian Guard. It is said that he spoke constantly of Christ and tried to convert his companions, to the point that he was ordered to renounce his faith,” the Holy Father wrote.

“Since he refused, he was shot with arrows, yet he survived and continued to proclaim Christ fearlessly. In the end, Sebastian was flogged to death,” the pope wrote.

The early Church martyr is the patron saint of archers and athletes.

Is the relic real?

There are many purported relics that are actually not real relics at all, according to Sean Pilcher, an expert on relics and director of Sacra, an organization that promotes the veneration of relics while repairing and authenticating them.

“The question is less about whether it is actual human remains because there’s basically no doubt that it’s human remains. The question is: ‘Is it the relic that it purports to be? Are the bones in the reliquary the bones of that saint or is it a forgery?’” Pilcher told CNA in a phone call.

Pilcher, who has worked with thousands of relics, said he wouldn’t be able to authenticate the purported St. Sebastian relic at Harvard from afar. 

“I’d have to examine and compare the sources, find out where it came from, look at the seal and the document and some other tangibles about the relic,” he said.

Should Harvard return the relic?

If the relic is authentic, does Harvard have an obligation to transfer it to the Catholic Church?

In an email to CNA, Father Carlos Martins, another relic expert and director of Treasures of the Church, said “yes.”

“Yes, as would any organization that comes into possession of something held deeply sacred by a church or by another organization, such as a nation,” he wrote.

“Imagine if an individual somehow came into legal ownership of the original copy of the Declaration of Independence,” Martins wrote. “While it might be tempting for him to keep it — or even sell it for the great sum it would fetch — the noble, honorable, and moral thing to do is to return it to the people of the United States.”

“Great sensitivity and self-transcendence must be exercised whenever something is held to be sacred by others,” the priest said. 

“What is sacred is not just important. It is part of the very identity of the people who hold it to be such. It is a grave injustice for the object to be profaned or even just alienated from those people.”

Will Harvard give the relic to the Church?

A policy set by Harvard in 2022 put in place a process for the return of human remains and other sacred objects possessed by the university but notes that returns would be on a “case-by-case basis.”

Claimants must approach the university and provide evidence of “standing” for their request of the object or remains, the policy says. 

“Claims should demonstrate the significance of the object to the claimant, a category that could include sacred, cultural, religious, national, communal, or historical importance. How does the absence of the item affect the claimant community? Does the significance or other attribute of the item make it unsuitable for display and/or continued research? Are there other claimants?” the policy says.

As of June 7, no one has reached out to Harvard requesting the St. Sebastian relic, according to Conley. 

The Archdiocese of Boston did not respond to a request for comment about the alleged relic at Harvard. 

Harvard’s policy for the return of human remains is an extension of the school’s commitment to fulfill its legal obligation as outlined in federal law via the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA). That law provides for the return of Native American human remains and cultural objects to the Native peoples.

Holly Jensen, a Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokeswoman, told Harvard’s student university newspaper in February that the school’s Peabody Museum has repatriated over 40% of its more than 10,000 held Indigenous “ancestors” under NAGPRA.

The Peabody Museum wrote on its website that “to address return of cultural items beyond NAGPRA, Harvard University published guidelines on the Consideration of Claims for the Return of Items in Harvard University Collections (2022),” which is the name of the policy.

Relics in other museums

According to Pilcher, the problem of relics in secular places is wider than just Harvard: “Any art museum of reasonable size in a large American city possesses sacred relics.”

In the Art Institute of Chicago, there is a relic of St. Christina. The museum also has relics of St. Anne, Sts. Bernward and Godehard of Hildesheim, St. Anianus, and St. Lawrence.

In the Cleveland Museum of Art, there is another bone relic of St. Sebastian. And in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, there is a copper reliquary from Italy that is purported to hold the tooth of St. Mary Magdalene.

Some reliquaries in American museums appear to still be holding objects inside them, such as this one from the Detroit Institute of Arts. However, its online exhibit does not specify whether the relic is still held within.

Martins said that relics “possess an innate sacredness” and are forbidden to be sold under canon laws.

“They are not sacramentals (e.g., rosaries, water, scapulars, crucifixes) that are blessed and become holy through the blessing (i.e., water that is blessed is called holy water),” he said. 

“Relics are holy in and of themselves simply by being what they are — an object associated with a saint, who is a ‘temple of the Holy Spirit,’” he said.

Civil war in Sudan: What’s happening and why?

Sisters from the Salesian Sisters in Sudan serve the poor and needy in the midst of a brutal war in Sudan. The sisters commiunity, Dar Mariam, has been a refuge for hundreds, though has damaged by gunfire and bombs. May 2024. / Credit: Father Jacob Thelekkadan

CNA Staff, Jun 17, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

For over a year, the people of Sudan — one of the largest countries in Africa — have suffered under a brutal civil war that has reduced the capital, Khartoum, to a war zone.

Amid the chaos and a complex set of competing political interests, children and the poor have been hit hardest.

Just last week, the United Nations confirmed that 35 children were among those killed in one of the war’s deadliest attacks to date. All told, at least 15,550 people have reportedly been killed in the fighting and some 10 million people have been displaced, many internally.

An overwhelmingly Muslim country, Catholics made up roughly 5% of the population of Sudan before the most recent war and played an important role in schools and education. But now, many missionaries and religious communities have had to flee the country, and parishes, hospitals, and schools have ceased their activities. In Sudan’s neighboring country, South Sudan, the Church maintains a large presence and remains very active in relief efforts.

The papal charity Aid to the Church in Need, which supports persecuted Christians throughout the world, remains active in Sudan. Kinga Schierstaedt, head of ACN’s projects in Sudan, told CNA last week that they know of 10 Catholic priests remaining in the Khartoum area, plus five Salesian sisters. Schierstaedt said Catholics in the country have had to be resourceful and adaptable amid an ever-changing situation.

“For example, the Comboni Missionaries, who had been running a university in Khartoum, moved all teaching online and were thus able to continue teaching their students. In April of this year, the first set of students, who had all fled Khartoum and live currently either within the country or in neighboring countries, were able to complete their exams,” Schierstaedt said.

Schierstaedt said ACN has documented several lootings of churches, convents, and presbyteries amid the violence and destruction.

“At the beginning of the war, many project partners told us that this mainly happened because the attackers assumed that there was gold to be found in the churches and presbyteries. They were therefore mainly after the material possessions. Secondly, churches were also often attacked because the attackers knew that refugees were staying there,” she explained.

“However, we are now increasingly hearing that these acts of destruction are also more and more directed against the Christian faith. Many of the remaining priests, for example, no longer use their own vehicles for fear that they could be taken away from them,” she continued.

What brought Sudan to this point?

Sudan’s current civil war began in April 2023, with warring factions the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by two rival generals. But before this point, the country had been racked with turmoil for decades with multiple conflicts.

Because of its large size and geographical position, Sudan has long served as a crossroads between the Arab and African worlds. Historically, the country is extremely diverse, with Muslims and people of animist faiths primarily in the north and Christianity prevalent in the south. Religious and cultural differences as well as battles for the country’s vast natural resources, including oil and gold, have long fueled conflicts.

Beginning even before Sudan gained its independence from the British in 1956, the country’s 1955–1972 first civil war ended with the creation of the Southern Sudan Autonomous Region (which would later secede and become South Sudan).

Sudan’s next major conflict, a 22-year second civil war beginning in 1983, was to be even more devastating — it was one of the deadliest conflicts since World War II, with more than 2 million people killed. Instances of famine recorded in the Darfur region in particular shocked the world.

In the midst of that conflict, Omar al Bashir, a hardline Islamist, overthrew the democratically elected government in 1989. He imposed a harsh interpretation of Sharia law on the country and persecuted religious minorities, including Christians. In 2003, he cracked down on rebels in the Darfur region, killing an estimated 300,000 people; fighters also committed numerous atrocities including sexual violence.

Fearing he would be deposed in a coup as he himself had seized power, al Bashir tried to coup-proof himself by creating two militaries, the paramilitary RSF and the “official” SAF, whom he hoped would never collaborate with each other to overthrow him.

Finally, in 2005, a peace agreement was signed with the SPLA, a significant rebel group in South Sudan. The most important part of this agreement, Schierstaedt said, was a referendum on the independence of the south, which passed overwhelmingly and led to the separation of the two states in 2011. South Sudan, despite taking 75% of Sudan’s oil wealth, remains one of the world’s poorest countries, having suffered under its own civil war since 2013.

In 2019, amid popular uprisings against al Bashir, the president was, as he had feared, deposed in a military coup after 30 years in office. The RSF and SAF collaborated to achieve the coup. 

Al Bashir was succeeded by a military council, and in October 2021, a new charter was signed with the aim of creating a constitution, which Sudan has lacked since 2005. 

However, there was another coup and a nationwide state of emergency was declared, though the prime minister ousted in the coup was quickly but briefly reinstated. Fighting then broke out between the SAF and RSF on April 15, 2023, for control of the country. In the absence of any kind of functional civilian government, Sudanese Gen. Abdel Fattah al Burhan of the SAF has de facto ruled the country ever since.

The RSF has captured almost every city in the Darfur region and has been accused of war crimes and ethnic cleansing.

The ordinary citizens of Sudan have suffered years of bombing amid the war, as a recent story from ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, explains. Nearly 18 million people across the country are currently experiencing “acute” food insecurity.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both major investors in the Sudanese economy, are seen as players in a proxy war as both countries are sponsoring fighters that serve their interests in the country. The Russian paramilitary mercenary organization The Wagner Group has also been active in the conflict.

“Many international players ask about how many millions of USD are needed to help Sudan in this humanitarian crisis. But they do not ask about how to stop those who ‘sponsor’ the war,” Schierstaedt noted.

Pope Francis has renewed his appeal for peace in Sudan, calling on the country’s warring parties to lay down their weapons and stop the fighting. The SAF recently rejected a U.S. call to return to peace talks with the RSF.

Colombian bishop warns that deterioration of society is rooted in weakening of the family

null / Credit: PeopleImages.com - Yuri A/Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, Jun 16, 2024 / 09:30 am (CNA).

The deterioration experienced in society is due to ideologies weakening the family, the institution to which God has entrusted the protection of life, says the bishop of Cúcuta in Colombia, José Libardo Garcés.

In the latest editorial of the diocesan newspaper La Verdad (The Truth), the prelate invited Christians to reflect on the family and life “to become aware of God’s call to each home to defend, protect, and safeguard human life as an essential foundation for forming a person and a society based on the virtues of the Gospel, which at the same time has its basis in the sacrament of marriage.”

“We are experiencing how society is deteriorating in many aspects,” he noted, “and this has its roots in the deterioration of family life, which is arising from different ideologies and ways of conceiving marriage and the family that have turned their backs on God.”

The bishop of Cúcuta, a diocese bordering Venezuela, noted that God’s constant call “is to build home life on the firm rock of Jesus Christ” and to receive from him the strength to face the challenges and tasks of the mission received from God to protect human life in all its stages.

Libardo said the Catholic Church’s defense of life “goes against the ideologies that present abortion, euthanasia, and other attacks against the life and dignity of the human person as the behavioral norm.”

“In the face of this we have to strengthen the family that protects life as a free gift from God,” he said.

“The Christian family becomes a solid rock on which society is built,” the prelate explained, “because in it we learn the healthy relationship between father, mother, spouses, children, and siblings, to go out into society to create healthy interpersonal relationships” based on Gospel values.

Regarding the pain and anguish that can be experienced within the home, the bishop explained that “the cross is part of human life and also of family life,” which is why he invited the faithful to learn from the Virgin Mary, “to be alongside the cross of the Lord, sometimes in pain, but standing there and with hope in Jesus, who does not disappoint.”

The bishop noted that in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis teaches that when families follow Jesus, breakup can be avoided.

“Gradually, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, [the spouses] grow in holiness through married life, also by sharing in the mystery of Christ’s cross, which transforms difficulties and sufferings into an offering of love,” the pope’s exhortation says.

Libardo said that “this teaching of Pope Francis is very consoling, because many marriages and families break off their relationships at the first difficulty or crisis they experience, forgetting that with the grace of God received in the sacrament of marriage and renewed day by day in the Eucharist, they can persevere in the mission that they have received until the end.”

The prelate highlighted those Christian married couples who have persevered in their faithful love, “with the certainty that the Lord is always present every day until the end of their lives.”

The bishop called on families “to find a few minutes each day to join together before the Lord” and to place “personal and family life under the protection and aegis of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the glorious patriarch St. Joseph, so that together at home they can make a profession of faith proclaiming, ‘You are the Christ.’”

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

Pope Francis: The seeds of the Gospel take time to bloom

Pope Francis waves to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Angelus address on Sunday, June 16, 2024. / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jun 16, 2024 / 08:23 am (CNA).

In Pope Francis’ reflection on Sunday’s Gospel, the pope encouraged people to trust that God the Father often works in hidden ways under the surface before bringing the seeds of the Gospel to full bloom.

Reflecting on Jesus’ parable comparing the kingdom of God to a mustard seed in the Gospel of Mark, the pope said Christians should have an attitude of “confident expectation” in the Lord.

“In sowing, no matter how good or abundant the seed the farmer scatters or how well he prepares the land, the plants do not sprout immediately: It takes time,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus address on June 16.

Pilgrims gather in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ Angelus address on Sunday, June 16, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media
Pilgrims gather in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ Angelus address on Sunday, June 16, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

“Underground the miracle is already in progress,” he added. “There is enormous development, but it is invisible, it takes patience, and in the meantime it is necessary to to keep tending the turf, watering it and keeping it clean, despite the fact that on the surface nothing seems to be happening.”

Pope Francis explained that the kingdom of God likewise requires patience, to “wait confidently” as it takes time to grow.

“The Lord places in us the seeds of his word and his grace, good and abundant seeds, and then, without ever ceasing to accompany us, he waits patiently. He continues to take care of us, with the confidence of a Father, but he gives us time, so that the seeds open, grow, and develop to the point of bearing the fruits of good works,” he said.

Pilgrims gather in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ Angelus address on Sunday, June 16, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media
Pilgrims gather in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ Angelus address on Sunday, June 16, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

The pope added that the Lord teaches us by his example “to sow the Gospel  confidently wherever we are and then to wait for the seed that has been sown to grow and bear fruit in us and in others.”

Speaking from the window of the Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis encouraged the Catholic pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square below to not become discouraged if they do not see immediate results from their efforts.

“In fact, often even among us, beyond appearances, the miracle is already underway, and in due course it will bear abundant fruit,” he said.

Pope Francis addresses pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Angelus address from the window of the Apostolic Palace on Sunday, June 16, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis addresses pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Angelus address from the window of the Apostolic Palace on Sunday, June 16, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

“May the Virgin Mary, who welcomed and made the seed of the Word grow within her, help us to be generous and confident sowers of the Gospel.”

After praying the Angelus in Latin with the crowd, the pope urged people not to stop praying for peace in Ukraine, the Holy Land, Sudan, Myanmar, and wherever people are suffering from war.

Pope Francis said he was pained to hear of the “massacres carried out in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo” and appealed to the government and international authorities to “do everything possible to stop the violence and to safeguard the lives of civilians.”

“Among the victims, many are Christians killed in hatred of the faith. They are martyrs. Their sacrifice is a seed that germinates and bears fruit, and teaches us to witness to the Gospel with courage and consistency,” he said.

Pilgrims gather in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ Angelus address on Sunday, June 16, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media
Pilgrims gather in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ Angelus address on Sunday, June 16, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

Pope Francis greeted pilgrims visiting the Vatican from Lebanon, Egypt, and Spain, England, Poland, Hungary, and many parts of Italy.

The pope also expressed great joy at the news of the beatification of Blessed Michael Rapacz, a Catholic priest who was killed by communist authorities in Poland in 1946.

Pope Francis praised Rapacz as a “pastor after the heart of Christ” who witnessed to the Gospel amid both Nazi and Soviet persecution “and responded with the gift of his life.”

Approximately 1,800 people attended the Polish priest’s beatification Mass on June 15 in Krakow’s Divine Mercy Shrine.

New study suggests more than two-thirds of Catholics believe the Eucharist is truly Jesus

Archbishop Samuel Aquila carries the Eucharist out of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver on June 9, 2024. / Credit: Kate Quiñones/CNA

CNA Staff, Jun 16, 2024 / 07:30 am (CNA).

A new study has found that 69% of Mass-going Catholics believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist — a result that calls into question the accuracy of a bombshell 2019 study from Pew Research Center, which found that only a third of Catholics believe in this core tenet of the faith. 

Vinea Research, a Catholic firm that conducted the new survey in late 2022, says the survey language it used, which was different from Pew’s, produced a figure that “more accurately represents how Catholics understand the Eucharist.”

“[U]sing language more commonly understood by Catholics, Vinea’s research indicates that many more Catholics than originally thought have an authentic understanding of the core Catholic teaching of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist,” the group said in a press release. 

The 2019 Pew study was widely cited as a catalyst for the ongoing National Eucharistic Revival, an initiative of the U.S. bishops beginning in 2022 to spread and deepen devotion to Christ in the Eucharist. The revival will culminate with the National Eucharistic Congress, a major gathering in Indianapolis from July 17–21. 

As part of the 2022 survey, Vinea sampled 2,200 people, giving half of the respondents the original Pew wording and the other half questions the group revised to better reflect Catholic language. (The Vinea study was done independently, said Hans Plate, founder of Vinea Research, with no involvement or sponsorship by the U.S. bishops or the Eucharistic Revival.) 

The Pew study asked respondents what they think the Church teaches about the Eucharist and also what they personally believe, using the same question for both: 

“During Catholic Mass, the bread and wine… 

a. Actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ 

b. Are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ”

Vinea’s revised questions, taking into account the fact that the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes Jesus as “truly present” in the Eucharist, read as follows:

  1. Which of the following best describes Catholic teaching about the bread and wine used for Communion? 

    a. Jesus Christ is truly present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist 

    b. Bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not truly present 

    c. Not sure 

  2. Regardless of the official teaching of the Catholic Church, what do you personally believe about the bread and wine used for Communion? 

    a. Jesus Christ is truly present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist 

    b. Bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not truly present

Plate told CNA that among their respondents who got the original Pew questions, 41% expressed belief in the Real Presence — slightly higher, but not dissimilar, to Pew’s result. However, among those who got the revised questions, 69% overall expressed belief. 

“I don’t want to compare my study to Pew’s study, but I am comparing Pew’s language to more Catholic-accurate language … wording matters significantly,” he said. 

Plate also noted that the level of belief in the Real Presence varied considerably by self-reported Mass attendance.

Among those Catholics who say they “seldom” attend Mass, only 51% expressed belief in the Real Presence. By contrast, 81% of Catholics who attend weekly and 92% who attend more than weekly said they believe. Even among Catholics who only attend a few times a year, nearly two-thirds said they believe in the Real Presence.

This study is not the first to attempt to revise the questions posed by Pew to get more a more accurate sense of Eucharistic belief; in 2023, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University conducted a study tweaking the wording of the questions and found that 64% of those surveyed “provided responses that indicate they believe in the Real Presence.” That study also found that 95% of weekly Mass attendees and 80% who attend at least once a month believe in the Real Presence.

Plate was quick to point out that Vinea’s study does not in any way refute the need for a national “Eucharistic revival.” In addition to the still-sizable portion of Catholics who don’t believe in the Real Presence, he noted that their study uncovered a Catholic population that rarely attends Mass yet believes Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. 

“That’s something that, I think, can be nurtured with a lot of the things that the Eucharistic Congress and Revival are doing,” he said. 

“That’s where the revival and further catechesis on the Eucharist is really important, to get them to want to know and love the Eucharist, and want it for themselves.”

In addition, Plate said a large majority of Catholics in the survey — 88% — who were aware of the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist also said that is what they themselves believe. 

“What this tells me is that for the ‘symbol only’ people, it’s less about rejecting Church teaching and more about being misinformed,” he explained. 

“I’m drawing a conclusion on the basis of just two questions, but that seems to me to be a reasonable hypothesis that could be explored in future Eucharistic-centered research.”

Tim Glemkowski, CEO of the National Eucharistic Congress, told CNA that they are “grateful to Vinea for this research, which shows the reality of Catholics in the pews with greater precision.”

“Catholics do love and believe in the Real Presence and are coming out in droves to encounter Our Lord in the Eucharist as he passes through the country along the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage routes,” he said in an email to CNA. 

“Though a larger number believe in the Real Presence than previously thought, the Church is still far from 100% of Mass-going Catholics holding that core belief,” Glemkowski noted. 

“In response to this, the National Eucharistic Congress has been preparing for the last two years to prepare disciples to go out and share the good news of our Eucharistic Christ with the world. This will continue to be the core mission of the National Eucharistic Congress organization as we complete the revival and go forward from there.”

Men’s group at Ave Maria University aims to form selfless husbands and loving fathers

Young men at Ave Maria University take part in an event hosted by the St. Joseph's Men's Group, which strives to form selfless husbands, loving fathers, and emulate the group's namesake. / Credit: Ave Maria University

CNA Staff, Jun 16, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

A men’s group on the campus of Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Florida, is equipping young men with the tools necessary to become selfless husbands and loving fathers. The St. Joseph’s Men’s Group is made up of roughly 190 men striving to emulate the group’s namesake.

Through fellowship, presentations, and small-group discussions, these young men help one another grow and support one another in their vocations. The group is made up of two kinds of members — regular members who actively participate in the group’s community life and “fraternity” members who lead smaller, more intentional gatherings on specific topics. There are currently 12 fraternity members.

Young men at Ave Maria University take part in an event hosted by the St. Joseph's Men's Group, which strives to form selfless husbands, loving fathers, and emulate the group's namesake. Credit: Ave Maria University
Young men at Ave Maria University take part in an event hosted by the St. Joseph's Men's Group, which strives to form selfless husbands, loving fathers, and emulate the group's namesake. Credit: Ave Maria University

Joseph Cox, a recent Ave Maria graduate, founded the group in 2022. He spoke with CNA about his inspiration for creating the group and how it helped him find his own vocation — the priesthood. 

Cox shared that he knew he wanted to create a group on campus the summer before his sophomore year; however, he initially wanted the group to help young men struggling with pornography. After thinking more about it, he decided to make the group more broad so that even those who may not be Catholic could join.

“I thought of the idea of just simply starting a men’s group on campus — the St. Joseph’s Men’s Group — really with the idea of creating an environment where guys can come together with no sort of commitment but could come together and just grow in fraternity, grow in masculinity, a greater set of holiness,” Cox said.

He added: “The idea was also to bring together, to create a common ground, those at Ave that are bought into the mission and bought into the spiritual life, and those that are not bought into the mission and those that may not be Catholic or who may not practice the faith anymore.”

The 21-year-old explained that the group’s events begin with food and socializing, followed by a speaker who talks about a topic tailored to men. The attendees then break out into small groups for the last part of the event, which are led by the 12 fraternity members. Cox pointed out that most of the fraternity members are actually athletes on campus.

“These athletes are guys that are very respected by their teammates because they’re athletically gifted — they may be a captain on a team for whatever sport they play — but as well as them being athletically gifted, they also have a relationship with Christ,” he shared.

In addition to hosting events on the campus of Ave Maria, Cox partnered with the University of Miami’s men’s group that is a part of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) to have combined events a couple of times each semester on their campus. 

This past Lent, the members of the St. Joseph Men’s Group took part in the “Consecration to St. Joseph” by Father Donald Calloway, MIC, which is a 33-day consecration to the beloved saint. 

“We had a little over 200 guys that went through with the consecration,” Cox recalled. “So in addition to all the guys doing the 33-day consecration on their own, we would have a weekly meeting [with] smaller groups … and then on the 33rd day, when they would actually make their consecration to St. Joseph, we had a big event. It was a big Mass, with adoration and confession, and all the guys who had done the consecration consecrated themselves collectively as a group of guys together.”

He encourages both men and women alike to “look to the virtues of St. Joseph — his purity, his silence, his obedience.”

Young men at Ave Maria University take part in an event hosted by the St. Joseph's Men's Group, which strives to form selfless husbands, loving fathers, and emulate the group's namesake. Credit: Ave Maria University
Young men at Ave Maria University take part in an event hosted by the St. Joseph's Men's Group, which strives to form selfless husbands, loving fathers, and emulate the group's namesake. Credit: Ave Maria University

Now Cox will be heading to the seminary in three weeks and credits, in part, his involvement with the men’s group in finding his vocation. 

“I would say that what inspired me more for the priesthood was seeing guys with options,” he shared. “Meaning that guys that could be the best fathers, the best husbands, in the best jobs, and they were willing to sacrifice all of that for something that they believe is greater.”

He added that being a part of the group has given him the “desire to live out mission especially on the college campus.”

Cox explained that he originally wanted to become a FOCUS missionary after college, but when he came across the Legionaries of Christ he noticed that they were now focusing more on serving as campus chaplains for different colleges around the country. 

“So when I came to kind of this crossroad it was really could I see myself doing college ministry as an occupation with something like FOCUS or potentially as a vocation for the rest of my life with the priesthood,” Cox explained. “If anything, this group, what it’s done is given me that desire to continue the college route.”

“At the end of the day, I’ve always said if the Lord calls me out of the seminary and I don’t become a priest I go right in FOCUS. College ministry is where I want to spend my life — whether that’s with FOCUS or the priesthood, the Lord will make it known but it will be through that mission.”