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In France, the great Jubilee of the Sacred Heart at Paray-le-Monial draws crowds

Roman Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paray-le-Monial and cloister. View from the Bourbince River, 2023. / Credit: Sanctuaire du Sacré-Cœur/www.sacrecoeur-paray.org

Paris, France, Jul 18, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

For 18 months — beginning Dec. 27, 2023, through June 27, 2025 — the small town of Paray-le-Monial in the Bourgogne region of France will be celebrating a jubilee for the 350th anniversary of the apparitions of the Sacred Heart to St. Marguerite-Marie Alacoque, a Visitation nun. 

Alacoque claims in her autobiography that she witnessed some 30 apparitions of the Sacred Heart. In his dialogue with the contemplative nun, Christ asked for a feast in honor of his Sacred Heart in the whole Church. This was the starting point for a devotion that would travel the globe.

The dates of the year-and-a-half-long jubilee were chosen to correspond with the three main dates of Alacoque’s revelations of Christ: the first on Dec. 27, 1673; the second the first Friday of one of the months of 1674 (Alacoque’s memoirs do not specify which month); and the third during the octave of Corpus Christi (June 13–20) in 1675.

As Father Étienne Kern, rector of the sanctuary, explained to CNA, the aim of this jubilee is to remind us that “Paray-le-Monial is not only an important milestone in the history of spirituality but also a place of living experience today.”

Opening the jubilee for the 350th anniversary of the Sacred Heart apparitions to St. Marguerite-Marie Alacoque, a Visitation nun, apostolic nuncio to France Archbishop Celestino Migliore presides at the Shrine of the Apparitions, Paray-le-Monial, on Dec.27, 2023. Credit: Sanctuaire du Sacré-Cœur
Opening the jubilee for the 350th anniversary of the Sacred Heart apparitions to St. Marguerite-Marie Alacoque, a Visitation nun, apostolic nuncio to France Archbishop Celestino Migliore presides at the Shrine of the Apparitions, Paray-le-Monial, on Dec.27, 2023. Credit: Sanctuaire du Sacré-Cœur

Dusting off false images of the Sacred Heart

The event is also an opportunity to reappropriate the true message of the Sacred Heart and to rectify the false representations with which it has been saddled, according to Kern. 

The French priest noted that devotion to the Sacred Heart “has enjoyed a very wide expansion, but sometimes to the detriment of the depth of the message,” creating “a spiritual and theological impoverishment.”

In the 19th century in particular, the Sacred Heart was a victim of its own popularity: The emergence of imaging techniques helped to spread the devotion, and the Sacred Heart met with great success but was associated with “something a bit marked by blood, which today may seem outdated.”

Yet, insisted Kern, “the apparitions to Margaret Mary are fire: It’s not the heart of Jesus that bleeds, it’s the heart of Jesus that burns.”

Other abuses throughout history have included a morbid focus on the theme of suffering when it comes to the message of Paray-le-Monial and the co-opting of the symbol of the Sacred Heart by some for political gain.

The three dimensions of the message

The original message of the Sacred Heart given to Alacoque contains three dimensions. 

Jesus begins with a declaration of love: “This is the heart that so loved the world.” The idea is to “experience God’s love” — the antithesis of a vision of a “pitiless god who demands perfection if he is not to end up in hell,” Kern explained.

The second dimension is a kind of complaint by the Lord in which he says his love receives “only ingratitude and indifference.”

“He loves and is not loved,” Kern said. 

The third dimension of the message is a request for reparation, “the invitation to console Jesus, to accompany him spiritually in his agony in the Mount of Olives.”

A chaplain offers a teaching at the Shrine of la Colombière Paray-le-Monial in 2023. Credit: Sanctuaire du Sacré-Cœur/www.sacrecoeur-paray.org
A chaplain offers a teaching at the Shrine of la Colombière Paray-le-Monial in 2023. Credit: Sanctuaire du Sacré-Cœur/www.sacrecoeur-paray.org

Kern urged Catholics not to reduce the Sacred Heart to its “penitential and victimization dimension” nor to “a kind of banner for Christianity,” lest we “completely miss the point” of this devotion.

The apparitions to Alacoque underline “the gentleness and humility of Jesus’ heart,” Kern said. They are an invitation to “allow ourselves to be enflamed with love by the heart of Jesus, to return love for love, and to have a heart of compassion for the world.”

The jubilee

Since the beginning of the jubilee, the shrine at Paray-le-Monial has seen a sharp increase in the number of visitors. 

“In 2023, we have identified 45,000 people [visiting]. These figures can be multiplied by 2.5, which means over 100,000 people in total. At present, we’ve seen a 30% increase on these figures,” Kern explained.

According to Kern, a large number of people of all spiritualities “have had a personal experience of transformation and encounter with the Lord at Paray-le-Monial.” Devotion to the Sacred Heart has “a power and originality” that many movements (Jesuits, traditionalists, etc.) recognize.

The official jubilee itinerary is comprised of four pilgrimage stops: the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the Chapel of St. John, the Chapel of the Apparitions — where the jubilee door is located — and the Chapel of La Colombière. Pilgrims receive a plenary indulgence on completing this jubilee journey.

The program also includes a “singles’ jubilee” and a “farmers’ jubilee.” In the Church in France, these two very different groups sometimes feel “unloved,” experience “suffering,” and “need to be encouraged,” Kern pointed out.

Candlelight vigil at the dome in the Parc des Chapelains, Paray-le-Monial, in 2023. Credit: Sanctuaire du Sacré-Cœur/www.sacrecoeur-paray.org
Candlelight vigil at the dome in the Parc des Chapelains, Paray-le-Monial, in 2023. Credit: Sanctuaire du Sacré-Cœur/www.sacrecoeur-paray.org

A worldwide consecration campaign

To prepare individuals and communities for the closing of the jubilee on June 27, 2025 — the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, instituted on the third Friday after Pentecost — the shrine of Paray-le-Monial is organizing a major campaign of consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through a 12-step journey in written, audio, and video format. Kern is hoping for “a worldwide mobilization,” which will be the high point of the jubilee.

To mark the jubilee, a symposium was held in Rome at the beginning of May on the theme of spiritual reparation in the context of the sexual abuse crisis. At Paray-le-Monial, Jesus denounced the sacrileges committed by priests against the Eucharist. 

“The violated body of the Eucharist refers back to the violated body of children,” said the rector, who affirmed that “to repair the abomination, we need not only judicial and financial procedures and prevention but also the integration of a spiritual dimension.”

In June, Pope Francis announced he was preparing a document on worship of the Sacred Heart, due to be made public in September. For Kern, this text would be “a major document of [Francis’] pontificate.”

“For the past 11 years, all Pope Francis has talked about is the heart of Jesus,” he said. “When he speaks of the style of God — made up of closeness, tenderness, compassion — it’s the heart of Jesus.”

American Catholic bishops award $10.5 million in grants from special collection money

null / Credit: Lamppost Collective/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 17, 2024 / 18:05 pm (CNA).

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on National Collections announced that it has awarded $10.5 million in grants from the money that Mass-goers provided during special collections. 

Bishops serving on subcommittees that oversee national collections awarded 453 grants with the money generated by American Catholics. The grants support pastoral care, evangelization efforts, and social ministry in the United States and globally.

The grants were supported by five national special collections: The Bishops’ Emergency Disaster Fund, The Catholic Home Missions Appeal, The Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa, The Collection for the Church in Latin America, and The Collection for the Church in Central and Eastern Europe.

“These collections are a powerful way of following Jesus’ commands to seek the lost sheep and to care for ‘the least of these,’” Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup, New Mexico, the chairman of the USCCB Committee on National Collections, said in a statement.

“They are one way in which Catholics in dioceses across the United States can show solidarity and act together to provide tangible love and assistance to our neighbors in need, in this nation and around the world,” Wall said.

The Bishops’ Emergency Disaster Fund supports disaster relief efforts both domestically and internationally, according to the USCCB. The money supports those affected by disasters, such as tornadoes and hurricanes, through Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA. It also supports the repair of Church properties damaged in disasters.

According to the USCCB, The Catholic Home Missions Appeal supports domestic and international dioceses and eparchies that do not have the funds to provide ministry without outside help. This included a special $146,000 grant to help dioceses and Eastern Catholic eparchies host stops for the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage in the United States.

The other three collections supported purely international missions. 

Grants provided to the Church in Africa included $1.4 million to bishops’ conferences, which supports the conferences’ pastoral activities and other pastoral work on the continent. The funding also provided $21,100 to the Daughters of Mary Immaculate to support a re-evangelization campaign.

The collections for the Church in Latin America supported 163 grants, the bulk of which financed pastoral projects, such as evangelization. They also supported disaster relief to two dioceses in Latin America and support for a Catholic radio station in the Dominican Republic.

In Eastern and Central Europe, a portion of the grants supported children and teenagers impacted by the ongoing war in Ukraine. This includes funding to support a Catholic day camp and weeklong summer camp in the Diocese of Lutsk in Western Ukraine.

“The value of all of these grants is far more than financial,” Wall said. “Each of them represents the love that followers of Jesus have for one another — especially those who are poor or marginalized. Lives and hearts are transformed forever as the Holy Spirit works through the ministry that these grants provide.”

GOP vice presidential pick J.D. Vance on why he became Catholic

Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, speaks during a fundraising event at Discovery World on July 17, 2024, in Milwaukee. / Credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 17, 2024 / 17:35 pm (CNA).

At 39 years old, Ohio Sen. James David “J.D.” Vance, Donald Trump’s newly announced running mate in the 2024 election, has a chance to become the United States’ second Catholic vice president.

Vance is the second-youngest member of the U.S. Senate. He took office in 2023.

He was baptized and confirmed in the Catholic Church at the age of 35 at St. Gertrude’s, a Dominican priory in Cincinnati.

In a 2020 article in The Lamp titled “On Mamaw and Becoming Catholic,” Vance reflected on his conversion as a process that occurred “slowly and unevenly” over several years.

According to Vance, his gradual journey to the faith was inspired by the example of his grandmother, “Mamaw,” whom he describes as “a woman of deep, but completely de-institutionalized, faith.”  

After growing up in a poor Appalachian home, serving four years in the Marines, and earning a law degree from Yale, Vance says he considered himself an atheist. 

Despite defying the odds of his humble upbringing and rising through the economic and social ranks, Vance said he was not happy with his state in life, and he began developing an inclination toward Christianity and Catholicism in particular.

“I began to wonder: Were all these worldly markers of success actually making me a better person? I had traded virtue for achievement and found the latter wanting,” he wrote. “There was a voice in my head that demanded better of me.”

“I felt desperate for a worldview that understood our bad behavior as simultaneously social and individual, structural and moral; that recognized that we are products of our environment; that we have a responsibility to change that environment, but that we are still moral beings with individual duties; one that could speak against rising rates of divorce and addiction, not as sanitized conclusions about their negative social externalities, but with moral outrage.”

More than any political philosophy, Vance wrote that he soon realized that this worldview he had been looking for was one he had long known: “It was my Mamaw’s Christianity.”

“Despite my Mamaw’s unfamiliarity with the liturgy, the Roman and Italian cultural influences, and the foreign pope, I slowly began to see Catholicism as the closest expression of her kind of Christianity, a faith centered around a Christ who demands perfection of us even as he loves unconditionally and forgives easily,” he wrote.

It was “the Catholic part of my heart” that Vance said demanded he think about the things that truly matter, that he treat his son with patience, moderate his temper, value his family above his income and prestige, and forgive those who have wronged him.

“If I wanted that part of me to be nurtured and to grow, I needed to do more than read the occasional book of theology or reflect on my own shortcomings. I needed to pray more, to participate in the sacramental life of the Church, to confess and to repent publicly, no matter how awkward that might be,” he said. 

“And I needed grace. I needed, in other words, to become Catholic, not merely to think about it.”

In a November 2022 interview with “EWTN News Nightly,” Vance described the history and richness of the Catholic faith as the forces that guide his politics, saying that “one of the great takeaways of the Catholic tradition is that you both have a public policy that protects life and also respects the dignity of the American worker.”

Possible Biden effort to reform Supreme Court, add term limits draws concern from the right

U.S. Supreme Court, Washington, D.C. / Credit: Bob Korn/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 17, 2024 / 17:05 pm (CNA).

President Joe Biden intends to announce plans to reform the United States Supreme Court by adding term limits and an ethics code — a plan that has drawn concern from conservative legal scholars and support among progressives.

The president disclosed his plans for major reform during a Zoom call with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, according to sources who spoke to several media outlets, including the Associated Press and The Washington Post.

“I’m about to come out with a major initiative on limiting the court,” Biden said, according to a transcript of the call reviewed by the Washington Post. “... I’ve been working with constitutional scholars for the last three months, and I need some help.”

The impending announcement comes as Biden continues to criticize some of the Supreme Court’s decisions, including the ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade and the ruling that grants presidents immunity from criminal prosecutions in certain situations.

Biden has not announced specific details of what the reforms would look like or how they would be implemented. Major reforms such as term limits or an enforceable ethics code would require either legislation passed through Congress or possibly constitutional amendments, which would be a more difficult and lengthy process.

Thomas Jipping, a senior legal scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told CNA he believes that both term limits and an enforceable ethics code would require amendments and could not be enforced simply through legislation.

“The Supreme Court was created by the Constitution, not by Congress,” Jipping said. “... Because Congress did not create the Supreme Court, it has very little authority over regulating how the Supreme Court operates.”

Jipping noted that the Constitution sets terms for members of Congress and the president but that the only limit it puts on Supreme Court justices is that they “shall hold their offices during good behavior,” which permits impeachments if justices behave improperly. He said the lack of terms for justices is “a specific part of the constitutional design.”

“It was intentional on the founders’ part,” Jipping added.

Jipping expressed concerns about congressional encroachment jeopardizing the separation of powers among the three branches of government, which he called “the single most important structural limitation on the power of government.” He argued that progressives “want a Supreme Court that will do what it’s told” and that the campaign to criticize the court is “aimed only at the conservative members of the Supreme Court and [has an] objective of demonizing conservative justices and their decisions.” 

John Bursch, who serves as vice president of appellate advocacy for Alliance Defending Freedom — a legal group that fights for religious freedom and other issues — accused the president of politicizing the court.

“The Biden administration’s continued attempts to undermine and discredit the U.S. Supreme Court will only further divide the nation and undermine public confidence in the rule of law,” Bursch said in a statement to CNA. “The administration needs to stop politicizing one of the world’s most respected courts, which is charged with protecting our cherished constitutional freedoms.”

Alternatively, progressive organizations such as the Brennan Center for Justice are voicing support for Supreme Court reforms such as term limits. 

“Term limits would be a transformational reform,” Alicia Bannon, the director of the Brennan Center’s judiciary program, said in a post on X.

“Today’s system puts justices in an elite and unaccountable bubble for decades — and lets an individual shape the direction of the law for generations,” Bannon added. “ And ethics reform is also long overdue.”

Reforming the Supreme Court became a top priority for some Democratic lawmakers after former President Donald Trump appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett to replace former Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg upon her death. The appointment shifted the makeup on the court, which now has six justices appointed by Republican presidents and only three justices appointed by Democratic presidents.

Some rulings following Barrett’s appointment have gone in the favor of conservatives, such as the 6-3 ruling in June 2022 that overturned Roe v. Wade and allowed states to restrict abortion, as well as the 6-3 decision in June 2023 to protect the religious freedom of a Christian web designer who refused to design websites that promoted homosexual civil marriages.

However, some rulings have not gone in the conservatives’ favor, such as the unanimous decision in June of this year that rejected a doctor-led challenge to the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the abortion pill mifepristone. In another case, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in August 2023 — with Barrett and Republican-appointed Chief Justice John Roberts joining the three Democratic appointees — to allow the federal government to continue enforcing restrictions on firearm parts kits.

The Supreme Court could also hear other politically divisive issues in the upcoming terms, such as the various lawsuits that challenge Department of Education regulations that redefine Title IX’s prohibition on sex discrimination to include a ban on discriminating based on a person’s self-asserted gender identity.

The faith and witness of a young athlete who died running a half marathon

null / Credit: Real Sports Photos/Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, Jul 17, 2024 / 16:35 pm (CNA).

After learning the tragic news of the death of Mexican athlete Juan Stenner, 32, during the Mexico City half marathon on July 14, people who knew him recalled his life of faith and passion for sports.

According to World Athletics, the governing body of athletics worldwide, Stenner represented Mexico at the 2011 Guadalajara Pan American Games, competing in the 400-meter hurdles as well as in other international competitions.

In a statement posted on Facebook on the evening of July 14, the Mexico City Sports Institute reported that a man died after fainting near the Angel of Independence, where the finish line of the 21-kilometer (13-mile) race was located.

A year ago, Stenner shared in a podcast his experience at the Pan-American Preparatory School, which has ties to the Opus Dei prelature and where he began his sports career. Later on he obtained a scholarship to study chemical engineering at the University of Southern California, completing his studies at the Ibero-American University in Mexico.

Faith and sports

In 2021, when the young man was preparing for the London Olympic Games, the Opus Dei website posted an article featuring Stenner’s testimony. The athlete was a supernumerary member of the personal prelature and shared how he combined sports and faith in his daily life.

“Sports have helped me get organized: to put God in my day, in sports, in school... It has taught me virtues such as order and perseverance,” he wrote.

Stenner related how, “when you can’t do it anymore, when you’re about to give up,” the best thing to do is to ask God to “give you a hand.” 

“Help me,” he said. “I have two kilometers left and I can’t do it anymore, but help me to do them just as well, to finish well.”

“That makes you better as a person and as an athlete: It brings you closer to God and you finish things well,” he added.

Stenner shared that for him, “Opus Dei is sanctifying the things I do every day.”

“In my case it’s athletics, school, all the activities I do during the day. To sanctify doesn’t mean going to church, getting on your knees and asking God for things. No: It means offering to God what you do during the day and doing it in the best possible way, doing it well,” he explained.

He also highlighted how athletics can be a means to evangelize: “Something that occurs within athletics, and what is curious is that they don’t know God. That’s why it’s a good time to do an apostolate, to be able to talk to them.”

Stenner related that people often asked him about the keys to his success, to which he replied: “It’s because every day I offer to God the things I do, that I do for the love of God, and God gives you a hand.”

‘Passionate about God’

After his death was announced, Santiago García, rector of Pan-American University, posted a tribute on X in which he remembered Juan as “a great person, a man of faith, a good Christian.”

Alberto de la Barreda, director general of the Pan-American Preparatory School, shared on X that Stenner was “passionate about God and sports; he died doing what he liked most.” 

A Mass for the deposit of the ashes of the deceased athlete was held July 16 at St. Josemaría Escrivá Parish in the Santa Fe neighborhood of Mexico City.

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

Syro-Malabar Church in India initiates plan to resolve bitter liturgical feud 

A synodal Mass in progress at St. Dominic Church at Aluva in the Ernakulam Archdiocese of the Syro-Malabar Church on July14, 2024. / Credit: Anto Akkara

Kochi, India, Jul 17, 2024 / 14:50 pm (CNA).

The simmering liturgical feud over the implementation of the synodal Mass that came close to the issuing of excommunications in the Ernakulam Archdiocese of the Syro-Malabar Church (SMC) in India has subsided with a “compromise” on July 3, the feast of St. Thomas, patron of the SMC.

“The Holy Qurbana [Mass] should not be the reason for division in the Church,” Father Antony Vadakkekara, SMC spokesperson, told CNA on July 16.

“That is why the [SMC] synod made the compromise proposal to say at least one synodal Mass in each of the parishes.” 

Trouble started brewing in the archdiocese after the SMC synod in August 2021 mandated the synodal Mass, also known as the “uniform Mass” in which the priest turns toward the altar with his back to the congregation after the offertory prayer. The priests of the Ernakulam Archdiocese rejected this and continued to say Mass facing the people throughout the liturgy.

Synodal and papal exhortations led to protests from the clergy and laypeople, culminating in Pope Francis issuing a deadline for the synodal Mass to be implemented beginning on Dec. 7, 2023, in a video message to the archdiocese.

Heeding this papal advice, the synodal Mass was put in place on Christmas 2023, but the overwhelming majority of the 450 priests of the archdiocese objected to it. A pastoral letter was then issued by the archbishop on June 14 with threats of excommunication and a July deadline.

“Priests who do not obey our decision from July 3 will be treated as those who have left the Catholic Church fraternity. Such priests will be barred from offering holy Mass in the Catholic Church from July 3,” cautioned Major Archbishop Raphael Thattil, who heads the SMC Synod, in the pastoral letter.

The letter evoked strong protests on June 16, a Sunday. Besides being “unread” in most of the 330 parishes in the archdiocese, several parishes witnessed unprecedented protests such as the burning of the pastoral letter, dumping it into wastebaskets, and throwing it into bodies of water around the churches.

With tension mounting ahead of the July 3 deadline, Thattil and the apostolic administrator of Ernakulam, Bishop Bosco Puthur, rushed to hold meetings with priestly bodies and arrived at a plan made public July 1.

St. George Forane (Deanery) Church, in Edappally, India, July 13, 2024, during overcast monsoon season. Credit: Anto Akkara
St. George Forane (Deanery) Church, in Edappally, India, July 13, 2024, during overcast monsoon season. Credit: Anto Akkara

Calling for at least one synodal Mass to be celebrated in each of the parishes on Sundays and other obligatory days, the plan allows the continuation of the existing liturgy facing the people. The statement also says that the key presbyterial body and pastoral council will be consulted before the SMC Synod makes further decisions on the matter.

“It was a big breakthrough, and it is working,” Vadakkekara said. “July 3 compliance [for the synodal Mass] was over 50%. On July 7, Sunday, 75%. The situation should improve from here onward.” 

“We are happy that Major Archbishop Thattil brought out a very positive formula. We readily accepted it,” Father Jose Vailikodath, spokesperson for the Archdiocesan Protection Committee (APC), told CNA.

“We had no intention to disobey the Church leadership but we wanted the Church to acknowledge our opposition to the synodal Mass due to historical reasons. Now, the ice is broken. We pray the feud is behind us for good,” Vailikodath said.

“We are glad that there was not a single problem in any parish on Sunday. That is a good sign. Hope it is a new beginning,” Riju Kanjookaran of the laity movement, who led several protests, told CNA.

Despite fears of disruptions, nothing was reported from the archdiocese when one synodal Mass was held in most of the parishes.

“We decided to have the synodal Mass for the evening — the fourth Sunday Mass,” Father Joseph Karumathy, parish priest of St. Dominic Church, told CNA on July 14.

While critics say the synodal Mass is scheduled for odd times in several parishes without being included in the regular schedule, some priests say it is scheduled for a special slot as there are only a few eager to attend it.

Sts. Peter and Paul Parish with 370 families at Thaikattukara near Aluva held the new synodal Mass at 3:30 p.m. as a third Mass of the day. On July 14, there were only two dozen people for the new synodal Mass and of the attendees only one said “I am here for Synodal Mass,” while others said the new extra afternoon Mass suited them. 

But Mary Queen Parish at Thoppil, with more than 1,000 families, is one of seven parishes in the archdiocese where only the synodal Mass is offered. 

“All the three Masses here are synodal only,” Father Simon Pallupetta, vicar of Mary Queen Parish of Thoppil, told CNA. “When I was given the transfer option, I insisted on a parish where the synodal Mass is said. There have been some objections but I convinced them to follow this system.”

“I firmly stand by the decision of the synod. The whole problem has to be resolved with dialogue and action at the earliest as the division in the Church is a scandal,” Pallupetta said.

One of the parishes in the archdiocese most affected by the bitter feud is St. Mary’s Basilica-Cathedral. Though the basilica was opened in March after being locked for over a year, it looked deserted on July 14, 2024, with hardly anyone entering even on Sunday as Mass is not allowed to be held in the basilica due to court order. Credit: Anto Akkara
One of the parishes in the archdiocese most affected by the bitter feud is St. Mary’s Basilica-Cathedral. Though the basilica was opened in March after being locked for over a year, it looked deserted on July 14, 2024, with hardly anyone entering even on Sunday as Mass is not allowed to be held in the basilica due to court order. Credit: Anto Akkara

Other parishes in the dioceses have not responded in the same way. Sixty churches, such as St. George Deanery at Edappally, have had no synodal Mass yet as rival lay groups have filed court cases both for and against its implementation.

One of the parishes in the archdiocese most affected by the bitter feud is St. Mary’s Basilica-Cathedral. Though the basilica was opened in March after being locked for over a year, it looked deserted on July 14 with hardly anyone entering, even on a Sunday, as Mass is not allowed to be held in the basilica due to court order.

“I feel very sad here as I cannot say Mass in the basilica though I can preside over marriage blessings, conduct baptisms and funeral services inside,” Father Varghese Manavalan, vicar of the basilica parish, which has 1,900 registered families, told CNA.   

“I eagerly pray that parties to the case are moved by the July 3 message and ensure that the basilica is open for Mass at the earliest,” he said. “The faithful who come to me are frustrated. We cannot go on like this.” Manavalan currently says Mass at locations outside of the church. 

“The developments from July 3 give us hope. Both sides had taken an uncompromising stance leading to the scandalous situation,” Father Ignatius Payyappilly, who is in charge of the archives of the archdiocese, told CNA.

“Both sides have done more harm than good to the Church, especially by driving away the youth from the Church,” Payyappilly pointed out. “The scandal began at the peak of COVID in 2021. As the division got worse, the youth have been really disenchanted.” 

The bitter feud with the synod has left the Ernakulam Archdiocese, one of the largest in the country with over 600,000 Catholics and 330 parishes, with its pastoral leadership and concerns in disarray.

The archdiocese remains under an apostolic administrator bishop, and the ordination of eight deacons, who have completed at least 11 years of seminary formation, remains pending. The deacons were originally scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood last Christmas season.

Crusader treasure unveiled: Medieval altar found in Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulcher

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. / Credit: Jorge Lascar via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

CNA Newsroom, Jul 17, 2024 / 14:05 pm (CNA).

Researchers have unearthed a Crusader-era altar in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher in a serendipitous discovery that sounds straight out of an Indiana Jones plot.

The find, announced by the Austrian Academy of Sciences, offers a marble-clad window into medieval Christian artistry and papal power projection.

The altar, consecrated in 1149, is an impressive 3.5 meters (about 11 feet) wide, according to the academy, making it the largest known medieval altar to date.

For centuries, the altar stood as a silent sentinel to countless pilgrims before vanishing from collective memory in 1808, when a fire ravaged the church’s Romanesque section.

The front panel of the Crusader high altar as it looks today. Approximately two-thirds of the original stone slab has been preserved. Credit: Shai Halevi/Israel Antiquities Authority
The front panel of the Crusader high altar as it looks today. Approximately two-thirds of the original stone slab has been preserved. Credit: Shai Halevi/Israel Antiquities Authority

Ilya Berkovich, a historian at the ÖAW’s Institute for Habsburg and Balkan Studies, and Amit Re’em from the Israel Antiquities Authority stumbled upon this liturgical leviathan during renovation work.

The church has long been of interest to researchers and archeologists.

The newly discovered altar had been hiding in plain sight, concealed behind a graffiti-covered stone slab weighing several tons.

The back of the altar. Credit: Amit Re’em/Israel Antiquities Authority
The back of the altar. Credit: Amit Re’em/Israel Antiquities Authority

“That something so significant could lie unrecognized for so long in such a place came as a complete surprise to all involved,” Berkovich said.

The altar’s intricate cosmatesque decorations — a technique mastered exclusively by craftsmen in papal Rome — hint at a hitherto unknown connection between the Eternal City and the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem. Using marble fragments often scavenged from ancient Roman buildings, these artisans created dazzling geometric patterns and ornaments, he said.

“The pope honored the holiest church of Christendom,” Berkovich noted, suggesting that the pontiff’s dispatch of a cosmatesque master to Jerusalem was a calculated move to underscore Christian claims to the Holy City.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher holds paramount significance for Catholics as the site of Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Its importance as a pilgrimage destination has endured for nearly two millennia, drawing faithful from across the globe to its hallowed grounds.

The altar’s installation in 1149 coincided with a period of relative stability in Crusader-held Jerusalem, researchers said. Fifty years after the First Crusade captured the city, the Kingdom of Jerusalem sought to cement its presence through grand building projects and religious ceremonies. The rededication of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, with this newly discovered altar as its centerpiece, marked a high point in the Crusaders’ tenure in the Holy Land.

Preliminary digital reconstruction of the Crusader high altar, decorated with two figures, so-called quincunx. With five circles formed by a single intertwined band, the quincunx is one of the favorite motifs of cosmatesque masters. This figure is full of spiritual meaning, including the infinity of God’s creation. The circles symbolize the five wounds of Christ and allude to the Jerusalem Cross, the emblem of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. Credit: Design Roy Elbag/© Ilya Berkovich/Amit Re’em
Preliminary digital reconstruction of the Crusader high altar, decorated with two figures, so-called quincunx. With five circles formed by a single intertwined band, the quincunx is one of the favorite motifs of cosmatesque masters. This figure is full of spiritual meaning, including the infinity of God’s creation. The circles symbolize the five wounds of Christ and allude to the Jerusalem Cross, the emblem of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. Credit: Design Roy Elbag/© Ilya Berkovich/Amit Re’em

This rediscovery enriches the understanding of medieval Christian art and illuminates the complex tapestry of relationships between Rome and Jerusalem during the Crusader era.

Researchers hope further investigation in papal archives might unveil more details about the altar’s creation and perhaps even identify the skilled artisans behind this monumental work.

California parents sue governor over law banning notification of student gender identity

Sonja Shaw (center), president of the Chino Valley Unified School District in California, speaks at a press conference before the education committee hearing in the assembly on June 26, 2024. / Credit: Photo courtesy of Liberty Justice Center, California Family Council

CNA Staff, Jul 17, 2024 / 13:20 pm (CNA).

Nine California parents are taking legal action against California Gov. Gavin Newsom after he signed a bill on Monday prohibiting parental notification policies that require schools to inform parents if their child requests to be treated as a gender other than his or her biological sex. 

The new law, Assembly Bill 1955, mandates that employees of school districts “shall not be required to disclose any information related to a pupil’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression to any other person without the pupil’s consent unless otherwise required by state or federal law.”

The bill takes place amid a trend where growing numbers of minors identify as “transgender” — about 300,000 youths ages 13–17 identify this way now, according to a 2022 study by Williams Institute

Nine California parents, with the legal aid of the Texas-based nonprofit Liberty Justice Center (LJC), on Tuesday filed Chino Valley Unified School District v. Newsom in the District Court for the Eastern District of California against Newsom, state Attorney General Robert Bonta, and state school superintendent Tony Thurmond.

“School officials do not have the right to keep secrets from parents, but parents do have a constitutional right to know what their minor children are doing at school,”  said Emily Rae, senior counsel at the Liberty Justice Center. 

The California bill argues that students have a right to self-expression at school. 

“LGBTQ+ pupils have the right to express themselves freely at school without fear, punishment, or retaliation, including that teachers or administrators might ‘out’ them without their permission,” the bill stated. “Policies that require outing pupils without their consent violate pupils’ rights to privacy and self-determination.”

But Rae notes that these students are minors. 

“PK–12 minor students, most of whom are too young to drive, vote, or provide medical consent for themselves, are also too young to make life-altering decisions about their expressed gender identity without their parents’ knowledge,” she stated. “But that is precisely what AB 1955 enables — with potentially devastating consequences for children too young to fully comprehend them.” 

“Parents are the legal guardians of their children, not Gov. Newsom, Attorney General Bonta, or Superintendent Thurmond,” she added. “We will continue to defend parents’ rights and children’s well-being by challenging invasive laws like AB 1955 in court, at no cost to taxpayers.”

The complaint notes that parental notification exists for many cases, for instance, “if a student is injured, bullied, or exhibits suicidal behavior at school.” 

The bill follows a 2023 lawsuit by the attorney general against Chino Valley School District over the district’s parental notification requirement.

Sonja Shaw, president of the Chino Valley Unified School District, said in a May 24 statement following the proposal of the bill: “Parental notification policies are crucial because they foster trust between parents and schools.”

“These policies are a commitment to the community — they are a commitment that schools will not keep secrets from parents about their own children,” she continued. 

AB 1955 also puts in place protections for teachers against administration in relation to parental notification, which Shaw says is “misleading.”

“In addition, claiming teachers face retaliation is absurd. Teachers never handled parental notifications — district admins did,” she stated. “This provision is a smokescreen for a nonexistent problem. Children’s safety should never be second to unfounded fears of adults being retaliated against. This narrative is misleading and dangerous.”

Thurmond called the bill a “major step forward for the rights of students and families” in a July 15 California Department of Education press release.

“All of our students deserve to be safe at school in order to learn and thrive,” Thurmond stated. “Our LGBTQ+ youth need to be protected from bullying and harassment at school, and the families of our LGBTQ+ youth deserve privacy and dignity to handle deeply personal matters at home, without the forced intervention of school employees.”

“Our teachers can now focus on teaching the critical academic skills that our students need to succeed, not on policing the gender identities of children,” he added. 

AB 1955 is set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2025. In the complaint, LJC is asking the court to declare AB 1955 unconstitutional and to prohibit the state government from enforcing the bill.

Former Louisiana priest arrested on child pornography charges

Father Anthony Odiong, a former Louisiana priest, was arrested for possession of child pornography in Florida, law enforcement said on July 16, 2024, with the suspect also accused of multiple other instances of sexual abuse. / Credit: The Collier County Sheriff’s Office

CNA Staff, Jul 17, 2024 / 12:35 pm (CNA).

A former Louisiana priest was arrested for possession of child pornography in Florida, law enforcement said on Tuesday, with the suspect also accused of multiple other instances of sexual abuse. 

The Waco, Texas, Police Department said in a Facebook post on Tuesday that officers arrested Father Anthony Odiong in Ave Maria, Florida, with help from the U.S. Marshals service. 

Waco police said that in March it had received “credible information” regarding a sexual assault allegedly committed by Odiong in Texas in 2012. 

“During the subsequent investigation, a case of possession of child pornography was uncovered,” the police said. 

The priest was arrested in Florida by the state’s Caribbean Regional Fugitive Task Force. He will be extradited to Texas, the Waco Police Department said.

Odiong had previously served in the Archdiocese of New Orleans before being removed from his pastorship in December of last year amid controversy over homilies in which he alleged among other things that the Catholic Church was being taken over by “the gays.”

At that time the priest was also facing allegations of abusive behavior; a Louisiana woman had alleged in U.S. bankruptcy court that Odiong had committed both financial and sexual abuse against her. 

Prior to serving in the New Orleans Archdiocese, Odiong had served in at least two parishes in Texas. The Waco police on Tuesday said that during its sexual assault investigation, “the presence of other survivors was revealed.” 

“Multiple women have come forward to tell similar experiences as the sexual assault survivor who reported the initial allegation,” the police department said. 

“Survivors’ experiences ranged from sexual assault and indecent assault, more commonly recognized as groping, and financial abuse, with some survivors experiencing every element of Anthony Odiong’s manipulation.”

The police said they “believe there may be more survivors, and we wish to speak with anyone who [has] had similar encounters” with the priest. 

In a brief press release on Tuesday the Archdiocese of New Orleans noted Odiong’s arrest in Florida.

The archdiocese “encourages anyone with any information to contact law enforcement,” the release said.

5 things you shouldn’t miss at the 2024 National Eucharistic Congress

A relic of St. Junípero Serra at the Reliquary Chapel at the 2024 National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis. / Credit: Ursula Murua/EWTN News

CNA Staff, Jul 17, 2024 / 11:55 am (CNA).

The NFL’s Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis are all set to welcome more than 50,000 Catholics to the National Eucharistic Congress taking place July 17–21. The five-day congress will bring the faithful together to inspire people to encounter Jesus in the Eucharist.

The congress will have opportunities for attendees to take part in Eucharistic adoration, confession, liturgies, musical performances, and a variety of talks and keynote speeches aimed at fostering spiritual renewal and unity. 

There will also be five key exhibits that attendees can visit daily. These are the National Shroud of Turin Exhibit, the Eucharistic Miracles Exhibit, the Reliquary Chapel, a preview of “Bernadette de Lourdes, The Musical,” and the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. 

Here’s a closer look at these five activities open to all participants at the congress: 

National Shroud of Turin Exhibit 

A replica of the incredible 14-foot linen burial shroud will be on display in an interactive and immersive high-tech educational exhibit daily from noon to 6:30 p.m. at the Indiana Convention Center. 

The National Shroud of Turin Exhibit at the 2024 National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis. Credit: Ursula Murua/EWTN News
The National Shroud of Turin Exhibit at the 2024 National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis. Credit: Ursula Murua/EWTN News

There will also be three 45-minute presentations taking place each day at the exhibit. Dr. Cheryl White will give a talk titled “Jerusalem to Turin: The Shroud’s Elusive History,” Father Andrew Dalton will discuss how the shroud is a mirror of the Gospel, and Pam McCue will give a talk titled “Power of a Traveling Shroud Exhibit.” 

Eucharistic Miracles Exhibit 

This powerful exhibit will explore some of the most amazing Eucharistic miracles from around the world and will be open to attendees daily from noon to 6:30 p.m. at the Indiana Convention Center. The collection of miracles was compiled by Blessed Carlo Acutis with the hope to bolster people’s faith and prove Jesus’ very real presence in the Eucharist.

The Eucharistic Miracles Exhibit at the 2024 National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis. Credit: Ursula Murua/EWTN News
The Eucharistic Miracles Exhibit at the 2024 National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis. Credit: Ursula Murua/EWTN News

Reliquary Chapel

Catholics attending the congress will have a rare opportunity to venerate the relics of the patron saints of the National Eucharistic Revival, Congress, and Pilgrimage each day from noon to 6:30 p.m. at the Indiana Convention Center. The relics included are from Sts. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Manuel González García, Paschal Baylon, Junípero Serra, Juan Diego, and Blessed Carlo Acutis as well as part of a relic known as the “Veil of Our Lady.” 

You can read more about each of these relics here

The reliquary chapel at the 2024 National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis. Credit: Ursula Murua/ EWTN News
The reliquary chapel at the 2024 National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis. Credit: Ursula Murua/ EWTN News

‘Bernadette de Lourdes, The Musical’

Attendees will also have the opportunity to watch a 30-minute preview of “Bernadette de Lourdes, The Musical” on July 18 from 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Lucas Oil Stadium. The French musical tells the story of Bernadette Soubirous, an ordinary girl who witnessed something extraordinary and became a beloved saint of the Church. The musical will be making 30 stops in cities across the U.S. as it tours the country in 2025.

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd

For those attending the congress with little ones, the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a powerful approach to the spiritual formation of children. Using Montessori principles, children of all ages will encounter God in age-appropriate ways. There are options for infants and toddlers, ages 3–6, and children ages 6–9 and 9–12. This unique experience will be available at the Indiana Convention Center from noon to 6:30 p.m. daily.