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Eucharistic congress ‘a moment of unity’ for the U.S. Church, Bishop Cozzens says

Bishop Andrew Cozzens, who spearheaded the U.S. bishops’ National Eucharistic Revival, prays in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in Lucas Oil Stadium during the opening ceremony for the National Eucharistic Congress on July 17, 2024. / Photo by Casey Johnson, in partnership with the National Eucharistic Congress.

Indianapolis, Ind., Jul 20, 2024 / 14:20 pm (CNA).

Amid divisions in the United States and within the Catholic Church, the National Eucharistic Congress is “a moment of unity” for American Catholics, Bishop Andrew Cozzens told CNA.

In an interview at the congress in Indianapolis on July 19, the bishop of Crookston, Minnesota, who spearheaded the U.S. bishops’ National Eucharistic Revival, observed that a fruit of the congress has been “a real experience of unity.”

“Our society is wrought with division and especially American society with the individualism that breeds division,” Cozzens said.

“Unity in the Church is really essential for us today because that attitude of division in our society affects our Church, and it affects it dramatically,” he added.

More than 50,000 Catholics from all 50 states who speak more than 40 languages are present at the congress, which features keynote speeches and Eucharistic adoration in the Indianapolis Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium.

Bishop Andrew Cozzens of Crookston, Minnesota, who spearheaded the U.S. bishops’ initiative of Eucharistic Revival, adores Christ in the Eucharist with tens of thousands of people in Lucas Oil Stadium. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
Bishop Andrew Cozzens of Crookston, Minnesota, who spearheaded the U.S. bishops’ initiative of Eucharistic Revival, adores Christ in the Eucharist with tens of thousands of people in Lucas Oil Stadium. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

“What’s beautiful is we are united here with our bishops. It was the bishops who called us together. We are here because we are Catholic and we share the same faith,” the bishop said.

On Saturday morning, throngs of the faithful packed together in the NFL stadium for a Syro-Malabar liturgy. The Syro-Malabar Church is an Eastern Catholic rite primarily celebrated in India in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

Tim del Castillo from California described the experience of attending the Syro-Malabar liturgy as “a very powerful spiritual moment.”

At the end of the nearly two-hour liturgy, the hundreds of concelebrating priests and bishops processed out the corner of the stadium where the football players usually run onto the field at the beginning of the game, he said, and the people spontaneously started clapping and even cheering for the bishops.

“You could feel the support of the laypeople and everybody in the Catholic Church for our bishops who are our leaders — even though we don’t always agree with them necessarily on everything, they are our leaders, they are our fathers,” Castillo said.

“These are the ministers of our sacraments that are going out into the world for us laypeople and giving us the body and blood of Jesus Christ.”

For Castillo, the National Eucharistic Congress has “absolutely” been an experience of Church unity, especially with the opportunities each day for Catholics to pray together at different liturgies, including the Ruthenian-Byzantine rite, the Traditional Latin Mass, and youth Masses with praise and worship.

“You have all these Catholics who are all here to worship the Lord, and it’s okay that we’re doing it in different ways,” he said.

“And the center of it all is the adoration chapel across the street. Jesus in the Eucharist is where all these graces are flowing from,” he added.

Each day of the National Eucharistic Congress, the perpetual Eucharistic adoration chapel has been full of people of all ages kneeling and praying in silence. 

In the opening ceremony of the congress, Cozzens held up the Blessed Sacrament in a 4-foot monstrance in the center field of the football stadium and led tens of thousands of people in prayer in adoration of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Reflecting on the moment, the bishop said: “It was mainly an experience of gratitude to the Lord. I’m just so grateful to the Lord for his faithfulness and his provision and his love for each of us and for love for all these people.”

Under patronage of St. Joseph, parish priest restarts schooling for students in Gaza

Some young people from Gaza during study aid activities in a gazebo inside the compound of the Latin Parish of the Holy Family. Beginning June 10, 2024, about 150 children and teenagers ages 4 to 17 who are sheltering in the Latin parish and in the Orthodox parish have taken up their books and notebooks again to reconnect with their studies. Three gazebos in the garden host study groups. They were open-sided, but they have been closed to help the youth avoid distractions, as there are always people around. / Credit: Photo courtesy of Father Gabriel Romanelli

Jerusalem, Jul 20, 2024 / 10:00 am (CNA).

About 150 children and teenagers ages 4 to 17 who are sheltering in the Latin Parish of the Holy Family in Gaza took up their books and notebooks again in June for the first time since the start of the Israel-Hamas war last October thanks to an effort spearheaded by their parish priest, Father Gabriel Romanelli.

The program had to be suspended for two weeks earlier this month due to Israeli military action but resumed once again on July 19.

Returning to Gaza in mid-May after being stuck in Jerusalem for the first seven months of the Israel-Hamas war, Romanelli wasted no time. Within a few weeks, he launched the St. Joseph Project to help children reconnect with their studies after missing an entire year of school due to the ongoing conflict.

“I had been thinking about it since the war broke out, and when I returned, I saw that there was a great need for it,” he recounted. “It is good for children and teenagers to use their time well. Leaving them without study, without structure, leaves them at the mercy of what happens around them.”

Some children and teenagers from Gaza during a lesson on the veranda of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word house inside the compound of the Latin parish. “Engaging in studies helps to avoid thinking and talking only about the war, to not focus solely on the conflict. It is a small seed of hope,” Father Gabriel Romanelli explained to CNA. Credit: Photo courtesy of Father Gabriel Romanelli
Some children and teenagers from Gaza during a lesson on the veranda of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word house inside the compound of the Latin parish. “Engaging in studies helps to avoid thinking and talking only about the war, to not focus solely on the conflict. It is a small seed of hope,” Father Gabriel Romanelli explained to CNA. Credit: Photo courtesy of Father Gabriel Romanelli

It is not a typical school, and there are no formal curricula to follow. The idea is rather to help the young people channel their physical and mental energy into something constructive and to be ready for when school resumes.

“Because this war will end one day, and we will be ready to start again,” Romanelli said with conviction. 

“Engaging in studies helps to avoid thinking and talking only about the war, to not focus solely on the conflict. It is a small seed of hope,” he explained to CNA.

“The project,” Romanelli explained, “is dedicated to St. Joseph because it is thanks to him that the Holy Family found salvation in Egypt, passing through here, and later returned to Nazareth. We ask him to protect our children and help them grow.”

Attacks had intensified in the area very close to the parish. The priest recounted that “bombs and missiles fell within a few dozen or hundreds of meters, and shrapnel from bombs and missiles continued to rain down in the compound,” making it “very dangerous to stay outdoors.”

Some Christians from the Latin parish were slightly injured last week following an explosion in a nearby market. The Sacred Family School of the Latin Patriarchate, located about three miles away from the Latin parish, was hit on July 8, but that incident did not influence the decision to suspend activities.

A math review for the young people from Gaza in the chapel of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word, inside the compound of the Latin parish. Organizing the project hasn’t been easy. There isn’t a free space in the Catholic compound. But the parish priest, Father Gabriel Romanelli, doesn’t lack initiative. The chapel, the kitchen, the living room, and the balcony of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word’s house have all become “classrooms”; three gazebos in the garden host study groups. Even the parish church hosts a group. Credit: Photo courtesy of Father Gabriel Romanelli
A math review for the young people from Gaza in the chapel of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word, inside the compound of the Latin parish. Organizing the project hasn’t been easy. There isn’t a free space in the Catholic compound. But the parish priest, Father Gabriel Romanelli, doesn’t lack initiative. The chapel, the kitchen, the living room, and the balcony of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word’s house have all become “classrooms”; three gazebos in the garden host study groups. Even the parish church hosts a group. Credit: Photo courtesy of Father Gabriel Romanelli

Organizing the project hasn’t been simple. There isn’t a free space in the Catholic compound. But Romanelli doesn’t lack initiative.

The chapel, the kitchen, the living room, and the balcony of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word’s house have all become “classrooms”; three gazebos in the garden host study groups.

“They were open-sided, but we closed them to help the children avoid distractions, as there are always people around,” Romanelli said. Even the parish church hosts a group.

The school supplies the students are using were accumulated over time by Romanelli.

“For years, I have always tried to anticipate the worst-case scenario and have always stocked up on stationery for various school and oratory activities,” he told CNA. ”Also at the beginning of the war, I had as much of this type of material bought as possible.”

Young refugees from the nearby Orthodox parish of St. Porphyrius also participate in the school activities. The students are grouped by age. The younger ones gather for study on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, while the older ones meet on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

Every day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., small review lessons are held on key subjects: mathematics, Arabic, science, and English. Religious education and catechism are dedicated to the afternoon time and oratory activities.

“The [students] are happy, they have a desire to learn,” Romanelli said. “Of course, there are no homework assignments, because they don’t even have a home. There has been a positive impact on families as well. Parents encourage their children to read, review, and be punctual for classes.”

A group of teenagers from Gaza engages in school review activities. Every day, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., small review lessons are held on key subjects: mathematics, Arabic, science, and English. It is not a typical school, and there are no formal curricula to follow. The idea is rather to help the young people channel their physical and mental energy into something constructive and to be ready for when school resumes. “Because this war will end one day, and we will be ready to start again,” said Father Gabriel Romanelli, the parish priest, with conviction. Credit: Photo courtesy of Father Gabriel Romanelli
A group of teenagers from Gaza engages in school review activities. Every day, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., small review lessons are held on key subjects: mathematics, Arabic, science, and English. It is not a typical school, and there are no formal curricula to follow. The idea is rather to help the young people channel their physical and mental energy into something constructive and to be ready for when school resumes. “Because this war will end one day, and we will be ready to start again,” said Father Gabriel Romanelli, the parish priest, with conviction. Credit: Photo courtesy of Father Gabriel Romanelli

About 40 teachers have volunteered to help the children. “For them, too, preparing and engaging with the youth is very important,” Romanelli said. 

Before the war, the teachers taught in the five Christian schools — the Latin Patriarchate school, the Rosary Sisters’ school, the Protestant school, the Greek Orthodox school, and the Holy Family school — as well as some government schools. Today, they are all refugees in the Catholic and Orthodox compounds.

While it may seem peculiar to talk about education and studying when missiles and bombs continue to rain down around, Romanelli argued that there is nothing more right to do.

“Education is nourishment for the soul; it is essential,” he said. “First and foremost, from a spiritual perspective. If life is not lived in union with God, without the life of grace, people are like walking dead. Without this, humans will never find inner peace. But alongside this, it is important to nourish the intellectual aspect, the thought.”

Romanelli continued: “After eight months without lessons, without reading, what can we talk about? If one does not care for the formative, intellectual aspect, if one does not nourish oneself with good, interesting things that speak of the future, if one does not read and study, the soul withers, and thus life withers.”

A group of teenagers listens during a training session in the Latin Church of the Holy Family in Gaza. Religious education and catechism are dedicated to the afternoon time and oratory activities. Credit: Photo courtesy of Father Gabriel Romanelli
A group of teenagers listens during a training session in the Latin Church of the Holy Family in Gaza. Religious education and catechism are dedicated to the afternoon time and oratory activities. Credit: Photo courtesy of Father Gabriel Romanelli

With the St. Joseph Project, Romanelli has sought to “offer young people the opportunity to nourish their souls, both intellectually and spiritually. To keep them engaged in constructive activities, even though the noise of war serves as the backdrop to their days.”

At the moment, it’s not possible to imagine if or how a new school year might begin, but, Romanelli said, “the experience of these lessons shows us that there is the will and moral strength, there is the desire to start again, to find solutions.”

“God will help us,” Romanelli said. “The time of divine providence is perfect. On our part, we continue to sow desire for peace, justice, reconciliation, and to do good to all those we can, starting with those close to us.”

An invitation to find healing in Jesus: Day 3 of the National Eucharistic Congress

Father Boniface Hicks, O.S.B., a sought-after spiritual director and retreat master, processes the massive golden monstrance containing the Eucharist into the midst of the assembled crowd in Lucas Oil Stadium. / Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Indianapolis, Ind., Jul 20, 2024 / 09:27 am (CNA).

Attendees at the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis were urged Friday night to approach Jesus just as people approached him in the Gospels: with their sins and brokenness, seeking healing. 

Father Boniface Hicks, OSB, a sought-after spiritual director and retreat master, carried the massive golden monstrance containing the Eucharist into the midst of the assembled crowd in Lucas Oil Stadium. Kneeling before the Eucharist, Hicks reminded the crowd of Jesus’ great and freeing love for every person. 

“He loves you. He made you. He desired you. He chose you. He knit you together with love, with his own hands in your mother’s womb. You are a masterpiece of his loving creativity. He sees you. He gazes on you now with love. He delights in you. I want to invite you on a new journey of healing,” Hicks prayed before the silent, kneeling crowd of 50,000. 

“He sees, in your whole life, a golden thread of goodness. He made you in his own image, and you’ve never lost that. That golden thread of goodness has continued even through the deepest sorrows, the darkest moments … Even in times of weakness, in times of sins and failures, times that you were hurt, and times that you hurt others, he wants to bring healing. Healing for your hurts, healing for your failures. And so I invite you to open your heart to his healing love.”

Hicks invited the crowd to pray a litany — a series of petitions to God — focused on healing. The first response was “Jesus, heal my heart with your love.” The second was “Jesus, come close to me.” The third was “Please forgive me, Jesus.” And the fourth was “Jesus, help me to believe.”

“Let us pray for courage as we hold the hurting places in our hearts before Jesus’ loving gaze,” the priest said before solemnly processing the Eucharist around the stadium.  

Hicks had previously told the National Catholic Register that his purpose in offering the healing prayers is to “help people open their hearts to how they can invite Jesus not only physically closer but also closer to those places where they carry insecurities and fears, tears and wounds from the past, as well as places where we have failed through our own sin.”

“I think there’s a temptation to reduce these things to an intellectual exercise, and I think the design of the organizers, and certainly my desire, is to let it be a real personal encounter that reaches the heart,” Hicks said ahead of the service. 

Father Boniface Hicks, OSB, a sought-after spiritual director and retreat master, processes the massive golden monstrance containing the Eucharist into the midst of the assembled crowd in Lucas Oil Stadium. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Father Boniface Hicks, OSB, a sought-after spiritual director and retreat master, processes the massive golden monstrance containing the Eucharist into the midst of the assembled crowd in Lucas Oil Stadium. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Before the adoration session, Sister Josephine Garrett of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth spoke of the importance of repenting of sin, quoting her community’s foundress, who said that God is pleased with “a soul who is susceptible to many falls, but who, knowing her weakness, turns to God in humility.”

“Tonight, I am begging you on behalf of Jesus Christ … tonight is a night of healing, but the healing begins with repentance,” the popular podcasting sister, who is also a licensed mental health counselor, said.

“No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine, and what I think, say, do, and achieve in my life spills over into that of others, for better or for worse. And this is good news. The healing that you and I long to see in the body of Christ — it begins with my repentance, with your repentance.”

The congress, the first such event to be held in the United States since World War II, is the fruit of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ multiyear project of Eucharistic Revival. The initiative aims to galvanize Catholics in their faith and love for the Eucharist as preparation for a special nationwide year of mission. Catholics young and old, from all across the country, are in attendance. The energy was high ahead of the keynotes last night, with an impromptu mosh pit forming in front of the stage during a high-energy worship song. 

Before the keynotes, the crowd heard from Paula Umaña, a former top-ranked tennis player from Costa Rica who lost the use of her legs due to a neurological condition. Today, she credits her family’s prayers and Mary’s intercession with helping her restore her ability to walk with the help of special leg devices. She appeared before the crowd with her son, Charles, who told the crowd: “When it seems impossible, run to Jesus.”

Paula Umaña, a former top-ranked tennis player from Costa Rica who lost the use of her legs due to a neurological condition, appears with her son Charles at the National Eucharistic Congress. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Paula Umaña, a former top-ranked tennis player from Costa Rica who lost the use of her legs due to a neurological condition, appears with her son Charles at the National Eucharistic Congress. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Today, Saturday, will have as a highlight a massive Eucharistic procession through downtown Indianapolis, beginning at the convention center and ending at the Indiana War Memorial. 

At tonight’s Revival Session, attendees will hear from Bishop Robert Barron, Gloria Purvis, Tim Glemkowski, and Jonathan Roumie, and will have praise and worship led by acclaimed musician Matt Maher. 

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The faith of Venezuela’s presidential candidates: A crucial decision for Catholic voters

Venezuelan opposition presidential candidate for the Plataforma Unitaria Democratica party, Edmundo Gonzalez Urrutia (left) and current Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro appear to have the lead in that country’s upcoming elections, which will take place July 28, 2024. / Credit: UAN BARRETO/AFP via Getty Images; AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images

ACI Prensa Staff, Jul 20, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Next Sunday, July 28, presidential elections will be held in Venezuela. Various candidates are vying for victory, but according to the Voice of America, several pollsters point out that two in particular seem to have the lead: current president Nicolás Maduro and Edmundo González Urrutia.

With a little over a week until the elections, Venezuelan Catholics must take a much closer look into which option best represents their moral and religious convictions.

Various activists and organizations inside and outside the country, such as the International Crisis Group, have charged that in Venezuela the elections will not be completely free or fair, since in recent months, Maduro’s forces have been arresting opposition leaders and closing businesses and establishments that have provided any type of logistical support to González.

In addition, there are serious complaints against the Venezuelan electoral system. In 2017, the company Smartmatic, in charge of providing the software and machines used in the elections, accused the regime of manipulating participation figures, the BBC reported, and questioned the result of that year’s elections in which the opposition decided not to participate.

Nicolás Maduro

Maduro is once again seeking reelection, aspiring for a third term that would keep him in office until 2031.

Maduro was serving as vice president under President Hugo Chávez when the latter died in office and Maduro assumed the presidency. He was subsequently elected president in a 2013 special election.Throughout his years as president, Maduro has been harshly criticized by leaders around the world and has been accused, along with his family and friends, in different cases of corruption.

Since 2020, the United States Department of State has offered a reward for information that leads to the capture of Maduro and other Chavista (pro-Maduro) leaders for crimes related to drug trafficking and terrorism. Under his government, millions of Venezuelans have left the country and hundreds of dissidents have been murdered, according to the nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch.

Furthermore, due to the country’s economic collapse, millions of people are mired in extreme poverty, suffering from hunger and all kinds of deprivation. Maduro has blamed this on an alleged “economic war” against Venezuela, orchestrated mainly from the United States.

In religious matters, Maduro claims to have been raised Catholic and that his paternal family ancestry is of Sephardic Jewish origin, the Jerusalem Post reported. However, in 2005 he visited India — along with his wife and prominent Chavista figure, Cilia Flores — to meet the questionable guru Sai Baba and advance the establishment of a branch in Caracas to follow his teachings, according to the Indian Express.

In addition, over the last few years, Maduro has strengthened his ties with the evangelical church, announcing plans of financial support and appearing on national television alongside pastors in the midst of prayer sessions, while harshly criticizing the efforts at dialogue promoted by the Vatican in Venezuela and while it has persecuted and attacked the country’s bishops on numerous occasions.

In 2020, Reuters reported that Maduro expressed his support for same-sex unions and asked the country’s legislature, the National Assembly, to consider legalizing such unions in Venezuela, falsely claiming the alleged support of Pope Francis in this regard. On the issue of abortion, Chávez’s successor has not expressed himself openly.

Edmundo González Urrutia and María Corina Machado

Edmundo González Urrutia became relevant on the Venezuelan political scene in recent months when he was chosen as a stand-in candidate for María Corina Machado, who this year was disqualified by the Chavista justice system from running for any public office. González, 74, held various and important diplomatic positions during the 20th century.

Despite González’s experience, it is Machado who has assumed leadership of the campaign, touring the country with massive rallies and voicing strong opposition to Chavismo (the socialist policies of Chávez and his successor Maduro). Machado, the coordinator of the Vente Venezuela party, with a center-liberal tendency, has stood out as a political leader since 2002.

During the events of the last decade in Venezuela, Machado never managed to establish herself as the leader of the opposition coalition until, in 2023, she was elected by an overwhelming majority in the opposition’s primary elections to find a unity candidate to face Maduro in the presidential election.

The national coordinator of Vente Venezuela has affirmed her Catholic faith on numerous occasions. However, at the same time she has spoken out in favor of euthanasia, in a 2023 interview with Politiks, “only” in certain cases.

On the issue of abortion, Machado affirms that “a national, rational debate must take place” and that despite being clear about her religious convictions, she would “never impose” her religious vision on society. “That would be absolutely contrary to what a liberal society deserves and demands,” she said.

Likewise, she has been clear about her position in relation to homosexual unions: “I am in favor,” she stated in the same interview. Regarding allowing adoption for homosexual couples, Machado responded that she is in favor of “the well-being of children” and added that she knows firsthand “the drama of abandoned children.”

The bishops’ call

In recent days, the Venezuelan episcopate has highlighted the “majority will” of Venezuelans who wish to participate in the elections on July 28 to achieve a change that allows all citizens to “live in peace and justice.”

On behalf of the bishops, Archbishop Jesús González de Zárate, president of the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference (CEV), stated that as pastors they must accompany this desire and actively contribute so that it can be realized.

“Like Elijah’s, the road is long and difficult. There is still a long way to go to achieve a better Venezuela, but we must not give up on this endeavor,” González de Zárate said in his homily at a Mass renewing Venezuela’s consecration to the Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

On July 11, the CEV published a new pastoral exhortation in which it encouraged Venezuelans to participate in the elections in order to overcome the very serious situation in which basic services, education, the economy, freedom, and justice in the country find themselves.

In addition, they called for a careful evaluation of the ability of each of the candidates to solve Venezuela’s problems. 

“The vote thus assumes a vital importance in the current reality we live in: Only by overcoming abstentionism and political apathy will we be able to make progress in the reconstruction of the country,” the bishops said.

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

National Conference for Single Catholics promises to deepen faith, foster relationships

Participants at NCSC 2023 in Plymouth, Michigan. / Credit: Photo courtesy of NCSC

Ann Arbor, Michigan, Jul 20, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

The upcoming 2024 National Conference for Single Catholics promises to embolden the faith of participants who, as single people, seek to discover through fellowship a deepened relationship with Christ the bridegroom — and perhaps even a like-minded spouse.

Anastasia Northrop, who started the annual event more than 20 years ago, told CNA that it provides practical aids for growing in faith and forming lasting relationships.

This year, the conference will be held Aug. 16–18 in Las Vegas and feature opportunities for worship, prayer, and sacraments but also dancing, socials, and exhibits.

“There was a template for dating in my grandparents’ time, but now there isn’t because of the hookup culture and everything. So good Catholics ask, ‘How do I date? How do I have a relationship?’ They want a practical instruction manual about how to go about it,” Northrop said. 

Featured speakers for the conference this year are Christin Jezak, Matt Ingold, and Marilyn Sherman.

Jezak is an actress, producer, and playwright featured in “Confessions of a Catholic Single” — a recorded comedy podcast — and produced the “For the Sake of the Gospel” TV program for EWTN.

Ingold graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served two overseas tours with the Marine Corps. He co-hosts Catholic Coaching Podcasts and co-founded Metanoia Catholic to lead Catholics in team building and a greater purpose and meaning with God.

Sherman is the author of motivational books such as “Why Settle for the Balcony: How to Get a Front-Row Seat in Life” and a frequent keynote speaker.

Previous speakers have included Preacher of the Papal Household Father Raniero Cantalamessa, co-founder of the Theology of the Body Institute Dr. Christopher West, author/motivational speaker Matthew Kelly, and Father Thomas Loya, a priest of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, Ohio, and proponent of the theology of the body propagated by St. John Paul II. Eminent churchmen including Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap, archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia; Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez; and Archbishop William Skurla of the Byzantine Catholic (Ruthenian) Metropolitan Church are supporters of the conference.

Pete Burak, speaks at NCSC 2023 in, Plymouth, Michigan. Credit: Photo courtesy of NCSC
Pete Burak, speaks at NCSC 2023 in, Plymouth, Michigan. Credit: Photo courtesy of NCSC

Northrop said that through her parents’ Catholicasts apostolate, she was exposed to John Paul II’s theology in 1999 and started working with West and other speakers.

“We started a study group because I wanted to see what the pope actually said. I really got into it and really loved the message and how it got to the root of who we are as human beings,” she said.

Five years later, after recognizing that there was little attention given to single Catholics beyond their 20s, the first conference kicked off in Colorado and attracted more than 400 participants.

Since then, conference participants have come from all 50 states of the U.S. as well as Canada, Mexico, and from as far away as the Philippines and Europe. 

Participants at NCSC 2022 in Chantilly, Virginia. Credit: Photo courtesy of NCSC
Participants at NCSC 2022 in Chantilly, Virginia. Credit: Photo courtesy of NCSC

While the conference may bolster parishes’ outreach to singles seeking to marry, Northrop said, “this conference isn’t really about matchmaking. It’s a big retreat for single Catholics and the whole person to help us be who we are created to be and live fruitfully in the present moment and then hopefully prepare for vocation, whether to marriage or religious life or stay single. It does take some pressure off the participants. The outcome might not be marriage or to meet your future spouse, but if you’re single and you’re Catholic and want a Catholic spouse, it’s a very logical place to go.”

Northrop said that at the coming conference, participants will find their faith strengthened and will “meet other people that are also seeking to live their faith, and so it’s a very encouraging atmosphere. Even if you go alone, you can start talking to a few people and feel like you have new friends right away. It’s good to know that you’re not alone.”

The Church’s focus on marriage is “super-important,” Northrop said. “In a sense, we are in the midst of a culture war. The fallout is lack of people to marry who are serious about their faith, well-formed for marriage and family life. So as a single person, there is a fine line where God has us at the moment and being prepared as we can be for marriage or a religious vocation.”

She also added: “Sometimes singles can feel a little bit left out and that their needs aren’t being addressed. They might feel invisible, even though they may be serving as a parish secretary, teaching catechism, or volunteering in pro-life ministry. I’m not sure why that is, but I think sometimes it takes a while for people in the Church to realize this.”

Adoration with Deacon Ralph Poyo during NCSC 2018 in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, June 8-10, 2018. Credit: AFL Photography
Adoration with Deacon Ralph Poyo during NCSC 2018 in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, June 8-10, 2018. Credit: AFL Photography

Paraphrasing St. John Paul II, she said: “Man is the only creature on earth willed for itself and he cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself. That’s what the theme of the conference is. We’re called to make a gift of ourselves at every stage and state of life and so even while we’re single and not living that gift of self in marriage or that total gift of self in the religious life or consecrated vocation, we can still make a gift of ourselves in our daily lives.”

She said that while numerous people have met their spouses at the conference and are now happily married, “I think it’s better to go with the expectation that you learn more about [the] faith and learn about relationships.” 

“The single life itself is not a vocation. We all have a baptismal vocation, a consecration, which in the terms of St. John Paul II is a vocation to love,” she said. “Consistent charity is the definition of holiness: union with God through charity. God has a particular calling for each of us. Being single is the default state; we are born single. In marriage we make a total gift of self throughout the rest of our lives; in a celibate vocation we make a total gift of self to God and the Church. As a single person, I don’t think it’s comforting to be told that being single is a vocation, too. I might think that I am stuck in a state that I haven’t chosen.”

“To focus instead on my baptismal vocation to love is much more fruitful because we can do that in our daily lives and make a difference in the Church through volunteer work, supporting our families,” she continued. “If you have nieces and nephews, you can babysit and give their parents a date night. By fostering those relationships, in community, we can find fulfillment.”

Pre-conference excursion before NCSC 2022 in Chantilly, Virginia. Credit: Photo courtesy of NCSC
Pre-conference excursion before NCSC 2022 in Chantilly, Virginia. Credit: Photo courtesy of NCSC

As for the coming conference, Northrop concluded that if participants go to learn more about relationships and their Catholic faith, “they will also meet hundreds of other wonderful people that are also seeking to live their faith. If you go with that expectation, your expectations will be fulfilled.”

Texas attorney general appeals decision in case against Catholic nonprofit

A migrant woman prays in front of an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe at a migrant shelter in McAllen, Texas, run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. / Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 19, 2024 / 18:16 pm (CNA).

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is appealing a district judge’s dismissal of a state investigation into an El Paso Catholic nonprofit accused of facilitating illegal immigration.

Paxton’s office is also going forward with investigations into other border nonprofits he suspects of illegal activity including Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.

According to Paxton, his investigation into Annunciation House, the El Paso migrant shelter at the center of the controversy, determined that the nonprofit is “in a category of its own among these NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], openly operating in violation of the law without any pretense of trying to comply with the law.”

“For too long,” Paxton said, “Annunciation House has flouted the law and contributed to the worsening illegal immigration crisis at Texas’ border with Mexico. I am appealing this case and will continue to vigorously enforce the law against any NGO engaging in criminal conduct.”

Located just a few minutes from the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Annunciation House is a lay-run Catholic organization that offers migrants temporary shelter, food, and clothing and advocates on their behalf. 

On Feb. 7 Paxton’s office ordered the nonprofit to immediately turn over various documents and records to examine whether it is engaged in unlawful activities. Annunciation House refused to comply with the order and denied any illegal activity.

In early July, El Paso District Court Judge Francisco Dominguez dismissed Paxton’s suit, partially because he said it violates the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Dominguez wrote that the state’s suit “violates the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act by substantially burdening Annunciation House’s free exercise of religion and failing to use the ‘least restrictive means’ of securing compliance with the law.”

In response, Paxton’s office said that Dominguez “falsely accused” Paxton of investigating Annunciation House because of the organization’s Catholic ties, saying that “the judge’s assertion is not supported by any evidence, and the judge tellingly failed to identify any.”

Meanwhile, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, which operates a migrant shelter and is a part of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, is also contesting Paxton’s investigation in court.

Volunteers and staff with Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley assist Latin American and Haitian migrants at a migrant shelter in McAllen, Texas. Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA
Volunteers and staff with Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley assist Latin American and Haitian migrants at a migrant shelter in McAllen, Texas. Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA

State District Judge J.R. Flores said in a Wednesday hearing that he would rule as early as next week whether the state could depose one of the leaders of Rio Grande Catholic Charities, according to reporting by local news outlet KBTX3.

According to KBTX3, Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of the Brownsville Diocese Catholic Charities, responded to the hearing by saying she was “glad we had a chance to present our case in court today” and that “the small staff at Catholic Charities works tirelessly around the clock to serve needy people throughout our communities.”  

Scott Hahn urges priests at National Eucharistic Congress to ‘rekindle Eucharistic amazement’ 

Priests respond to a talk at the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis on July 18, 2024. / Credit: Photo by Josh Applegate, in partnership with the National Eucharistic Congress

Indianapolis, Ind., Jul 19, 2024 / 17:55 pm (CNA).

Nearly 1,000 priests and bishops packed in together at the National Eucharistic Congress to listen to the theologian and apologist Scott Hahn, who urged the clerics to rekindle their “Eucharistic amazement.”

Amid the busy schedule and big crowds in Indianapolis for the Eucharistic congress, priests have had the opportunity to break away from the chaos and gather together for a dedicated time of ongoing formation, renewal, and personal prayer during the daily “Abide” impact sessions.

During the first session on Wednesday, Hahn offered priests a retreat meditation on the biblical account of the road to Emmaus.

The meditation by the Catholic convert and founder of the St. Paul Center of Spiritual Theology began with a quote by Pope John Paul II.

“In the paschal event and the Eucharist which makes it present throughout the centuries, there is a truly enormous ‘capacity’ which embraces all of history as the recipient of the grace of the redemption. This amazement should always fill the Church assembled for the celebration of the Eucharist,” John Paul II wrote in his encyclical on the Eucharist, Ecclesia de Eucharistia.

“But in a special way it should fill the minister of the Eucharist … I would like to rekindle this Eucharistic ‘amazement.’”

Hahn also asked the priests in the room to examine and reflect on how they prioritize the importance of sacred Scripture in their lives and ministry, underlining the resurrected Jesus made it a priority to “open the Scriptures” to his disciples on the road to Emmaus.

“It’s his first day back from the dead. Just imagine, if you will, what would you do if you were Jesus? What would your to-do list look like on your first day back from the dead? I don’t know about yours, but I would suspect that mine is something similar, and that is, I’d like to drop in to pay a visit to Pontius Pilate … [and say] you should have listened to your wife … And then just go down the street and drop in on King Herod … and just say, ‘I’m back! And you have a lot to rethink,’” Hahn joked.

Amid the busy schedule and big crowds in Indianapolis for the National Eucharistic Congress, priests have had the opportunity to break away from the chaos and gather together for a dedicated time of ongoing formation, renewal, and personal prayer during the daily “Abide” impact sessions. Credit: Courtney Mares/CNA
Amid the busy schedule and big crowds in Indianapolis for the National Eucharistic Congress, priests have had the opportunity to break away from the chaos and gather together for a dedicated time of ongoing formation, renewal, and personal prayer during the daily “Abide” impact sessions. Credit: Courtney Mares/CNA

“The one thing that Jesus apparently had at the top of his list,” he added, “was to lead a Bible study, going through all of salvation history beginning with Moses and the law and all the prophets for hours and hours, mile after mile, setting their hearts of fire.”

“Jesus did not consider it to be a waste of time to spend his first day back from the dead taking — not only the clergy, the hierarchy, Peter, and the others … even Cleopas and his companion — through the Scriptures in order to set fire to their hearts and then bring them to the dynamics where he is made known to them in the breaking of the Eucharist’s bread,” he said.

According to the event organizers, the special programming for the priests at the National Eucharistic Congress is meant to offer a unique experience of reflection, encounter, and prayer, inviting ministers “to greater intimacy with Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest.”

Bishop Robert Barron, Bishop Andrew Cozzens, Dan Cellucci, Monsignor James Shea, and Jonathan Reyes gave special talks for the priests attending the congress.

Father Cassidy Stinson, a 32-year-old priest from the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, told CNA that he “appreciated starting the conference with Dr. Hahn’s reminder that we should prioritize Scripture in order to be effective in our proclamation of the Gospel.”

The young priest said he was also grateful for the other opportunities the congress provided for prayer and fellowship.

“I was really inspired to have the opportunity this afternoon to join my brother priests in adoration and to be encouraged in my ministry by our bishops,” Stinson said.

“As a priest, it’s inspiring to hear our own shepherds urge us to be bold, creative, and prayerful in how we evangelize.”

Famous French priest Abbé Pierre accused of sexual assault and harassment

Abbé Pierre died at the age of 94 in 2007. He is now accused of sexually assaulting and harassing numerous women. / Credit: Wim van Rossem for Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 19, 2024 / 17:23 pm (CNA).

Emmaus Movement founder Abbé Pierre, a formerly beloved French priest who died in 2007, has been accused of sexual abuse and misconduct by at least seven victims — including one who was a minor at the time of her alleged assault.

A July 17 report released by the Emmaus Movement, an international solidarity movement that seeks to combat poverty and homelessness, details that these victims largely consisted of Emmaus employees and volunteers, and young women in Pierre’s social circle. According to these victims, incidents of unsolicited kissing and touching, as well as inappropriate sexual propositions and comments, took place between the end of the 1970s and 2005.

These allegations were first reported in 2023, when Emmaus France received a report from a woman accusing Pierre of sexual assault. An internal investigation led by Caroline De Haas of the Egaé group followed, in which the seven victims’ testimonies were gathered. Egaé, a firm that specializes in violence prevention, shared its beliefs that Pierre’s actions affected other victims dating back to the 1950s and 1960s, but the time elapse has made it difficult to obtain further accounts and testimonies.

In a recent statement, Emmaus commended the “courage of the people who have testified and made it possible, through their words, to bring these realities to light. We believe them, we know that these intolerable acts have left their mark, and we stand by them.”

The group then goes on to denounce the “unacceptable acts committed” by Pierre, who “played a major role in its history.”

“We owe it to the victims. We also owe it to all those who, for over 70 years, have carried out the movement’s actions on a daily basis,” the statement continued. “We share their grief and anger, but also their determination to continue working, every day, to build a fairer, more united world.”

The Emmaus Movement was founded in Paris in 1949 by Pierre. Prior to these recent allegations and findings, the Catholic priest and Capuchin friar was one of the Church of France’s most beloved and iconic figures.

After being part of the French Resistance in World War II, the priest took on the name “Abbé Pierre” as a cover for his work in manufacturing fake identity papers and helping Jews cross the French border into Switzerland.

Pierre was particularly applauded for his efforts to assist the homeless population in France, often raising money and persuading the French Parliament to pass laws acting on behalf of the homeless, including a 1950s law forbidding landlords from evicting tenants during the winter. This “Trêve Hivernale,” or “Winter Truce” law, still exists in France today.

Despite his popularity, Pierre faced other controversies before the most recent one of alleged sexual assault. The priest faced public scrutiny in 1996 after defending a friend’s book, “Founding Myths of Israeli Politics,” which questioned the number of Jewish people killed by the Nazis in World War II.

In a 2005 book of interviews by Frederic Lenoir titled “My God… Why?” Pierre suggested he had broken his vow of celibacy by having sex as a younger man. Among other comments made in this book, Pierre expressed his support for married clergy and the ordination of women.

In light of these allegations, the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF) shared a press release acknowledging Pierre’s past contributions in renewing “our society’s view of the poorest,” while also condemning his sexual assault against women.

“While awaiting the published report, the CEF wishes to assure the victims of its deep compassion and shame that such acts could be committed by a priest,” the release continued, “and reiterates its determination to mobilize to make the Church a safe house.”

Pro-life photojournalist Mark Story remembered as ‘true man of God’ after sudden death

Mark Story. / Credit: Photo courtesy of Live Action

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 19, 2024 / 16:52 pm (CNA).

Mark Story, a pro-life activist and photojournalist best known for his poignant pictures of the “D.C. five,” died on Wednesday evening. He was 52.

In tributes to him on social media, Story was remembered as a skilled photographer, joyful pro-life warrior, and beloved friend.

A Christian, Story had just completed his nightly prayer walk in his neighborhood when he was struck by an apparent heart attack. His death was announced by his father, Roger Story, in a Facebook post early Thursday morning.

“Our nationally famed pro-life photographer son, Mark David Story, suddenly went to be with the Lord he loved and served last evening with an apparent massive heart attack as he was returning from his daily evening prayer walk,” Story’s father wrote. “Mark was a true man of God and left an incredible legacy.”

Based in Washington, D.C., Story was a mainstay of pro-life events in the area, using his skills as a professional photographer to document the pro-life fight.

In 2022, Story took several photographs of five late-term-aborted babies who were found by the group Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU) outside the Washington Surgi Center run by abortionist Dr. Cesare Santangelo. The photos evidenced significant scarring and wounds to the babies’ bodies that suggested that some of the babies were killed via partial-birth abortion, which is illegal under federal law.

The discovery of the deceased babies, who came to be known as the “D.C. five,” caused national outrage and sparked calls from lawmakers for investigations on whether their killing violated federal law.

Speaking at a PAAU rally after the discovery, Story said he was thankful to be able to help give the D.C. five a voice. He described the moment the babies were found as both a “very morbid” but also joyful moment.

“I felt like God was telling me: ‘This is a celebration,’” he said of the babies’ discovery. “These children have been found and now are being heard, their stories are being told all over the world.”

Along with many other pro-life leaders, PAAU mourned Story’s passing, calling him a “brilliant photographer,” a “fierce fighter for life,” and an “unwavering friend.”

“We are honored to have worked alongside him in the pro-life movement,” PAAU said in a statement posted to social media.

Story was also mourned by the photography community. A tribute to him in the Daily Pulse Report called him a “visionary artist, a compassionate mentor, and a cherished friend.”

“In his memory, let us continue to appreciate the power of photography to connect us, to illuminate our world, and to tell stories that transcend time,” the Daily Pulse said.

Pro-life photojournalist Mark Story (far right) attends an event with Live Action founder and president Lila Rose (second from left). In a statement mourning his July 17, 2024, passing, Rose said that Story “passionately served the pro-life movement for the last five years, exposing millions to the truth about abortion through his creative photography.” According to Rose, “his incredible talent and gentle spirit of joy and service touched everyone who was blessed to work with him. He will be sorely missed.” Credit: Photo courtesy of Live Action
Pro-life photojournalist Mark Story (far right) attends an event with Live Action founder and president Lila Rose (second from left). In a statement mourning his July 17, 2024, passing, Rose said that Story “passionately served the pro-life movement for the last five years, exposing millions to the truth about abortion through his creative photography.” According to Rose, “his incredible talent and gentle spirit of joy and service touched everyone who was blessed to work with him. He will be sorely missed.” Credit: Photo courtesy of Live Action

Michael New, a pro-life professor of social research at The Catholic University of America who knew Story, told CNA that he was “saddened” to learn of his passing.

“Mark was the best photojournalist in the pro-life movement,” New said. “His professional photos of the five abortion victims obtained outside the abortion facility of Cesar Santangelo exposed the injustice of late-term abortion and revealed potential criminal misconduct on the part of Santangelo.”

“Mark was a great ally in our efforts to build a culture of life,” New added. “He will be missed. 

Friends of Story are inviting those interested to donate to a GoFundMe campaign he and his sister started for their father, who is suffering from cancer.

Pro-life sidewalk counselors appeal to Supreme Court for stronger free speech protections

U.S. Supreme Court building. / Credit: Steven Frame/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 19, 2024 / 16:21 pm (CNA).

Pro-life sidewalk counselors — who work to deter women from getting abortions and connect them with life-affirming pregnancy care — are appealing to the United States Supreme Court for stronger free speech protections outside of abortion clinics.

The sidewalk counseling organization Coalition Life petitioned the Supreme Court this week to consider its lawsuit against the City of Carbondale, Illinois, which has a so-called “bubble zone” ordinance that prevents sidewalk counselors from approaching anyone or demonstrating within 100 feet of an abortion clinic.

According to the ordinance, it is illegal to knowingly get within eight feet of a person for the purpose of providing a flier, displaying a sign, or engaging in “oral protest, education, or counseling” unless given express consent by the person — if that person is within 100 feet of an abortion clinic, medical clinic, hospital, or health care facility. The ordinance considers a violation to be disorderly conduct. 

Although the Supreme Court ruled in June 2000 that “bubble zones” are not a violation of the First Amendment, Coalition Life is asking the Supreme Court to reconsider the subject. In 2023, the Supreme Court declined to hear a similar case, which challenged a “bubble zone” ordinance in Westchester County, New York.

“The ‘bubble zone’ ordinance has been nothing more than the continued and relentless persecution of our team on the sidewalk,” Brian Westbrook, the executive director of Coalition Life, said in a statement.

“This fight won’t be over until [the precedent] is overturned and thousands of municipalities across the nation, like Carbondale, understand you cannot trample on our rights,” Westbrook added.

The 2000 ruling in Hill v. Colorado allowed Colorado to enforce a “bubble zone” around abortion clinics. The state law similarly set a 100-foot perimeter around abortion clinics and health care facilities, in which people could not get within eight feet of another person to provide fliers or engage in counseling.

In the 2000 ruling, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that the law does not “place any restriction on the content of any message that anyone may wish to communicate to anyone else” but that it does “make it more difficult to give unwanted advice.” Ultimately, he found that the law was “reasonable and narrowly tailored.” 

“Persons who are attempting to enter health care facilities for any purpose are often in particularly vulnerable physical and emotional conditions,” Stevens wrote. “The State of Colorado has responded to its substantial and legitimate interest in protecting these persons from unwanted encounters, confrontations, and even assaults by enacting an exceedingly modest restriction on the speakers’ ability to approach.”

Paul Clement, the lead attorney representing Coalition Life, wrote in the petition to the Supreme Court that Hill v. Colorado perpetuates a “denial of constitutional rights,” which is “more pressing now than ever.” 

“For nearly a quarter of a century, sidewalk counselors like those who work with Coalition Life have been forced to live with ‘an entirely separate, abridged edition of the First Amendment’ when it comes to the kind of peaceful, conversational speech outside an abortion facility in which they wish to engage,” Clement said.

Peter Breen, the executive vice president and head of litigation for the Thomas More Society, which is helping represent Coalition Life, said in a statement that “Hill v. Colorado was egregiously wrong on the day it was decided, and it remains a black mark in our law to this day.”

“‘Bubble zones,’ like the one in Carbondale, are an unconstitutional and overzealous attempt to show favor to abortion businesses, at the expense of the free speech rights of folks who seek to offer information, alternatives, and resources to pregnant women in need,” Breen added. “It’s time to end, once and for all, the political gamesmanship places like Carbondale play with our free speech rights.”

Three states have so-called “bubble zone” laws on the books: Colorado, Massachusetts, and Montana. However, numerous local governments throughout the country have adopted similar ordinances, preventing sidewalk counselors from approaching women who are considering an abortion.