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Cardinal Zuppi arrives in Ukraine to begin work as Vatican peace envoy

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna, Italy. / Francesco Pierantoni from Bologna, Italy - Premio Colombe d’oro per la pace via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0).

Rome Newsroom, Jun 5, 2023 / 07:55 am (CNA).

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi arrived in Kyiv on Monday to carry out the peace mission entrusted to him by Pope Francis.

The Vatican announced June 5 that Zuppi will spend two days in the Ukraine capital “to listen in depth to the Ukrainian authorities about possible ways to achieve a just peace and support humanitarian gestures that may help ease tensions.”

During the June 5–6 visit, Zuppi is expected to meet with Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kulebas, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, and possibly President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, although the Vatican did not release any details about the cardinal’s schedule.

Pope Francis asked the Italian cardinal last month to serve as a papal envoy to “initiate paths of peace” between Russia and Ukraine.

Zuppi, the archbishop of Bologna and president of the Italian bishops’ conference, has strong ties to the influential peace-building community Sant’Egidio.

Sant’Egidio is a Catholic lay association that has been involved in peace negotiations in many countries, including Mozambique, South Sudan, Congo, Burundi, and the Central African Republic.

The Vatican announced Zuppi’s role as papal peace envoy one week after Pope Francis met with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the Vatican.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin has since clarified that Zuppi’s mission does not have mediation as its immediate goal.

“Kyiv would not be prepared at present for mediation in the strict sense of the term,” Parolin told journalists. “However, this mission is not for the immediate purpose of mediation but rather to create this climate and help move toward a peaceful solution.”

‘A unifying moment’: Sister Wilhelmina’s nuns share their story in exclusive TV interview

Sister Scholastica Radel (left) and Mother Abbess Cecilia Snell of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, discuss the recent exhumation of the order's foundress, Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, in an interview with EWTN News In Depth on May 30, 2023, at their abbey in Gower, Missouri. / EWTN News

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 4, 2023 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Her flashlight was dim, so when Mother Abbess Cecilia Snell first peered inside the cracked coffin lid and saw a human foot inside a black sock where one would expect to find only bone and dust, she didn’t say anything.

Instead, she took a step back, collected herself, and leaned in for another look, just to be sure. Then she screamed for joy.

“I will never forget that scream for as long as I live,” recalled Sister Scholastica Radel, the prioress, who was among the members of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, who were present to exhume the remains of their foundress, Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster.

“It was a very different scream than any other scream,” the abbess agreed. “Nothing like seeing a mouse or something. It was just pure joy. ‘I see her foot!’”

What the sisters discovered that day would cause a worldwide sensation: Roughly four years after her burial in a simple wooden coffin, Sister Wilhelmina’s unembalmed body appeared very much intact.

In an exclusive TV interview with EWTN News In Depth, the two sisters shared details of their remarkable discovery — revealing, among other things, that Sister Wilhelmina’s body doesn’t exhibit the muscular stiffness of rigor mortis — and reflected on the deeper significance of the drama still unfolding at their Abbey of Our Lady of Ephesus in rural Gower, Missouri.

They also clarified that Sister Wilhelmina’s coffin was exhumed on April 28, nearly three weeks earlier than CNA had understood. The sisters explained that it took about two weeks to remove dirt, mold, and mildew before they moved her body to the church. You can hear excerpts from the interview and other commentaries in the video at the end of this story.

Pilgrims visit the body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, the foundress of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, in Gower, Missouri. EWTN News
Pilgrims visit the body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, the foundress of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, in Gower, Missouri. EWTN News

Of particular significance to the members of the contemplative order, known for their popular recordings of Gregorian chants and devotion to the Traditional Latin Mass, is that the traditional habit of their African American foundress also is surprisingly well-preserved.

“It’s in better condition than most of our habits,” Mother Cecilia told EWTN’s Catherine Hadro.

“This is not possible. Four years in a wet coffin, broken in with all the dirt, all the bacteria, all the mildew, all the mold — completely intact, every thread.”

For the sisters, the symbolism is profound. A St. Louis native, Sister Wilhelmina spent 50 years in another religious order but left after it dispensed with the requirement of wearing its conventional habit and altered other long-established practices. She founded the Benedictines of Mary in 1995 when she was 70 years old.

“It’s so appropriate, because that’s what Sister Wilhelmina fought for her whole religious life,” Mother Cecilia said of the habit.

“And now,” Sister Scholastica said, “that’s what’s standing out. That’s what she took on to show the world that she belonged to Christ, and that is what she still shows the world. Even in her state, even after death, four years after the death, she’s still showing the world that this is who she is. She’s a bride of Christ, and nothing else matters.”

‘I did a double take’

The Benedictine community exhumed Sister Wilhelmina after deciding to move her remains to a new St. Joseph’s Shrine inside the abbey’s church, a common custom to honor the founders of religious orders, the sisters said.

Members of the community did the digging themselves, “a little bit each day,” Mother Cecilia said. The process began on April 26 and culminated with a half-dozen or so sisters using straps to haul the coffin out of the ground on April 28.

The abbess revealed that there was a feeling of anticipation among the sisters to see what was inside the coffin.

“There was a sense that maybe God would do something special because she was so special and so pure of heart,” Mother Cecilia said.

It was the abbess who looked through the cracked lid first, shining her flashlight into the dark coffin.

“So I looked and I kind of did a double take and I kind of stepped back. ‘Did I just see what I think I saw? Because I think I just saw a completely full foot with a black sock still on it,’” she recalled saying to herself.

Members of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, lead a procession with the body of their foundress, Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, at their abbey in Gower, Missouri, on May 29, 2023. Joe Bukuras/CNA
Members of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, lead a procession with the body of their foundress, Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, at their abbey in Gower, Missouri, on May 29, 2023. Joe Bukuras/CNA

Sister Wilhelmina’s features were clearly recognizable; even her eyebrows and eyelashes were still there, the sisters discovered. Not only that, but her Hanes-brand socks, her brown scapular, Miraculous Medal, rosary beads, profession candle, and the ribbon around the candle — none of it had deteriorated.

The crown of flowers placed on her head for her burial had survived, too, dried in place but still visible. Yet the coffin’s fabric lining, the sisters noted, had disintegrated. So had a strap of new linen the sisters said they used to keep Sister Wilhelmina’s mouth closed.

“So I think everything that was left to us was a sign of her life,” Sister Scholastica reflected, “whereas everything pertaining to her death was gone.”

Another revelation from the interview: Contrary to what one would expect in the case of a four-year-old corpse, Sister Wilhelmina’s body is “really flexible,” according to Sister Scholastica.

“I mean, you can take her leg and lift it,” Mother Cecilia observed.

EWTN News In Depth also spoke with Shannen Dee Williams, an author and scholar who is an expert on the history of Black Catholicism. Sister Wilhelmina’s story, she said, is an important reminder of “the great diversity and beauty of the Black Catholic experience across the spectrum.”

‘A unifying moment’

There has been no formal declaration by Church authorities that Sister Wilhelmina’s body is incorrupt, nor has an independent analysis been conducted of her remains, the condition of which has puzzled even some experienced morticians. Neither is there any official process yet underway to put the African American nun on a possible path to sainthood.

But that hasn’t stopped thousands of pilgrims from making the trek to northwest Missouri to see Sister Wilhelmina’s body, which was moved to a glass display case in the abbey church on May 29. And within the abbey’s walls, there is a pervasive sense of joy, gratitude, and wonder.

Pilgrims visit the body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, foundress of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, in Gower, Missouri. EWTN News
Pilgrims visit the body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, foundress of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, in Gower, Missouri. EWTN News

In the interview, Mother Cecilia called what’s happening at the abbey “a unifying moment for everybody” in a time of discord.

“There’s so much division, and it’s crazy,” she said. “We’re children of God the Father, every single one of us. And so you see, Sister Wilhelmina is bringing everyone together ... I mean, this is God’s love pouring forth through people of every race, color,” she said.

“They come and they’re blown away, and it makes them think,” the abbess said. “It makes them think about God, about, ‘OK, why are we here? Is there more than just my phone, and my job, and my next vacation?’”

As for what comes next, no one can say. “We love God so much, his sense of humor, the irony, this humble little black nun hidden away in a monastery is a catalyst for this. It’s like a spark to send fire to the world,” Mother Cecilia said.

“It’s just remarkable,” she said. “But this is the kind of thing that God does when we need a wake-up call.”

Pope Francis prays for victims of train crash in India that killed 275 people

Pope Francis prays at his Wednesday audience in St. Peter’s Square on April 12, 2023. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

Vatican City, Jun 4, 2023 / 06:45 am (CNA).

Pope Francis prayed Sunday for the victims of a train crash in India that killed at least 275 people.

“I am close to the injured and their families. May our heavenly Father welcome the souls of the deceased into his kingdom,” he said in his Angelus address on June 4.

Hundreds of people were injured in the crash in the Balasore district of Odisha state, India’s worst rail crash in over two decades, according to Reuters.

The crash was caused by an error in a passenger train’s electronic signaling system, which led it to change tracks and hit another train, which derailed. The two trains were carrying 2,296 people in total when they collided.

The pope also sent a condolence telegram to India’s apostolic nuncio Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli the day after the accident.

The telegram sent on the pope’s behalf by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said: “His Holiness Pope Francis was deeply saddened to learn of the immense loss of life caused by the train crash in Odisha State, and he assures all affected by this tragedy of his spiritual closeness.”

“Entrusting the souls of the deceased to the loving mercy of the Almighty, he sends heartfelt condolences to those who mourn their loss. His Holiness likewise offers prayers for the many injured and for the efforts of the emergency service personnel, and he invokes upon them the divine gifts of courage and consolation.”

Pope Francis explains why Catholics make the sign of the cross

Pope Francis delivers his Angelus address on June 4, 2023. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jun 4, 2023 / 06:05 am (CNA).

Each time that a Catholic makes the sign of the cross, it is a reminder that God is a communion of love, Pope Francis said Sunday.

Speaking on the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, the pope highlighted how the simple gesture that Catholics are taught as children is a sign of the central mystery of Christian faith.

“By tracing the cross on our body, we remind ourselves how much God loved us, to the point of giving his life for us; and we repeat to ourselves that his love envelops us completely, from top to bottom, from left to right, like an embrace that never abandons us,” Pope Francis said June 4.

“Yes, brothers and sisters, our God is a communion of love: This is how Jesus revealed him to us,” he added.

Pope Francis invited the crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square to make the sign of the cross together.

“God is love. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he gave his life for us, so we make the sign of the cross,” he said.

The pope spoke on Trinity Sunday, a solemnity celebrated on the Sunday following Pentecost that dates to before the 10th century.

The tradition of making the sign of the cross dates back much further. St. Basil (329–379) wrote that the Apostles “taught us to mark with the sign of the cross those who put their hope in the Lord.”

In his Angelus address, the pope reflected on a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus recorded in the Gospel of John 3:16–18. Pope Francis noted how Jesus “revealed the heart of the mystery to him, saying that God loved humanity so much that he sent his Son into the world.”

Pope Francis pointed out that one way to picture the Holy Trinity is to think of “the image of a family gathered around the table, where life is shared.”

“But it is not only an image; it is reality,” he said. “It is reality because the Holy Spirit, the Spirit that the Father poured into our hearts through Jesus (cf. Gal 4:6), makes us savor God’s presence: a presence that is close, compassionate, and tender. The Holy Spirit does with us what Jesus does with Nicodemus: He introduces us to the mystery of new birth — the birth of faith, of the Christian life — he reveals the heart of the Father to us, and he makes us sharers in the very life of God.”

“The invitation he extends to us, we might say, is to sit at the table with God to share in his love. This is what happens at every Mass, at the altar of the eucharistic table, where Jesus offers himself to the Father and offers himself for us.”

At the end of the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis prayed for the victims of a train crash in India that killed more than 280 people.

“I am close to the wounded and their families. May our heavenly Father welcome the souls of the deceased into his kingdom,” he said.

Trinity Sunday 2023: 10 illuminating quotes from the saints about the Holy Trinity

Holy Trinity, detail of Iconostasis in Greek Catholic Co-cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Zagreb, Croatia. / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 4, 2023 / 02:00 am (CNA).

The solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, also known as Trinity Sunday, is observed on the Sunday following Pentecost. This year’s feast falls on June 4 and draws our attention to the mystery of the Trinity — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Saints over time have commented on the importance of the Holy Trinity, speaking on its greatness, simplicity, and power to transform the souls of believers.

To pay tribute to the Holy Trinity, here are 10 illuminating quotes from the mouths, minds, and hearts of 10 different saints:

  1. St. Augustine: “For to have the fruition of God the Trinity, after whose image we are made, is indeed the fullness of our joy, than which there is no greater.”

  2. St. Teresa of Ávila: “The three Persons are distinct from one another; a sublime knowledge is infused into the soul, imbuing it with a certainty of the truth that the Three are of one substance, power, and knowledge and are one God.”

  3. St. Seraphim of Sarov: “In spite of our sinfulness, in spite of the darkness surrounding our souls, the grace of the Holy Spirit, conferred by baptism in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, still shines in our hearts with the inextinguishable light of Christ ... and when the sinner turns to the way of repentance the light smooths away every trace of the sins committed, clothing the former sinner in the garments of incorruption, spun of the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is this acquisition of the Holy Spirit about which I have been speaking.”

  4. St. Patrick (from “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” prayer): “Today I put on a terrible strength invoking the Trinity, confessing the Three with faith in the One as I face my Maker.”

  5. St. Catherine of Siena: “O Trinity, eternal Trinity! Fire, abyss of love ... Was it necessary that you should give even the Holy Trinity as food for souls? You gave us not only your Word through the Redemption and in the Eucharist, but you also gave yourself in the fullness of love for your creature.

A statue of the Holy Trinity in Budapest, Hungary. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
A statue of the Holy Trinity in Budapest, Hungary. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
  1. St. Thomas Aquinas: “The Father loves not only the Son but also himself and us, by the Holy Ghost.”

  2. St. Ambrose: “Rise, you who were lying fast asleep … Rise and hurry to the Church: Here is the Father, here is the Son, here is the Holy Spirit.”

  3. St. John Paul II: “A great mystery, a mystery of love, an ineffable mystery, before which words must give way to the silence of wonder and worship. A divine mystery that challenges and involves us, because a share in the Trinitarian life was given to us through grace, through the redemptive Incarnation of the Word and the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

  4. St. Faustina: “When One of the Three Persons communicates with a soul, by the power of that one will, it finds itself united with the Three Persons and is inundated in the happiness flowing from the Most Holy Trinity, the same happiness that nourishes the saints. This same happiness that streams from the Most Holy Trinity makes all creation happy; from it springs that life which vivifies and bestows all life which takes its beginning from him.”

  5. St. Francis de Sales (from a consecration prayer to the Trinity): “I vow and consecrate to God all that is in me: My memory and my actions to God the Father; My understanding and my words to God the Son; My will and my thoughts to God the Holy Spirit.”

This article was originally published June 11, 2022, and was updated June 2, 2023.

Penitential rite held after naked man stands on St. Peter’s Basilica’s main altar

Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, presides over a penitential rite on June 3, 2023, two days after a Polish man stripped naked and stood on the basilica’s high altar. / Vatican Media

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 3, 2023 / 08:04 am (CNA).

Two days after a naked man stood on the high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in a shocking security breach, the basilica’s archpriest on Saturday held a penitential rite as required by canon law in cases where sacred places are desecrated.

Vatican News reported that the unidentified man was a Polish national who approached the high altar on June 1 as the basilica was about to close. He quickly undressed and climbed onto the altar. Photos posted online showed the words “Save children of Ukraine” written in marker on his back.

“As officers of the Vatican Gendarmerie approached, the man did not resist but cooperated as they led him to the police station inside the Vatican,” the Vatican News report said. “After ascertaining his identity, the man was handed over to the Italian police, according to the Italy-Holy See Treaty, and was issued an expulsion order and instructed to leave Italian territory.”

The basilica’s main altar, where the pope celebrates Mass, is called the Altar of the Confession. Reached by climbing seven steps, the marble altar is located directly above St. Peter’s Tomb and is crowned by Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s large Baroque sculpted bronze canopy.

Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, the basilica’s archpriest, led the penitential rite, held at noon Rome time Saturday. Canons of the Chapter of the Papal Basilica of St. Peter’s and several members of the faithful also participated, Vatican News reported.

According to a report by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, during the act of reparation, the cardinal pointed out that “it is the structure of sin that conditions the hearts and minds of people.”

“This structure of sin is the one that feeds the wars, the one that inhabits our society,” he added.

Referring to the desecration carried out on June 1, the cardinal pointed out that it is this “structure of sin” that pushed the man “to make an inappropriate and deplorable gesture,” ACI Prensa reported.

“We are here to tell the Lord that we recognize that this structure of sin conditions the actions of God’s people. Lord, we ask your forgiveness, purify us,” Gambetti said.

Next, after praying the Creed, the cardinal blessed the water and later spread it on the altar as a sign of purification. Later, two nuns dressed the altar with a tablecloth, candles, flowers, and a crucifix.

The Code of Canon Law and the Ceremonial of Bishops provide guidance for situations where altars or other sacred spaces are violated.

Canon No. 1211 states: “Sacred places are violated by gravely injurious actions done in them with scandal to the faithful, actions which, in the judgment of the local ordinary, are so grave and contrary to the holiness of the place that it is not permitted to carry on worship in them until the damage is repaired by a penitential rite according to the norm of the liturgical books.”

The Ceremonial of Bishops, Nos. 1070–1092, specifies that crimes that can desecrate a church are those that “do grave dishonor to sacred mysteries, especially to the eucharistic species, and are committed to show contempt for the Church, or are crimes that are serious offenses against the dignity of the person and society.”

A penitential rite, either a Mass or a Liturgy of the Word, should be carried out as soon as possible after such a desecration, the norms state.

Religious persecution takes its toll on Catholic faith in Mexico

Flag of Mexico. / Credit: David Ramos/ACI Prensa

ACI Prensa Staff, Jun 3, 2023 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Recent episodes of violence against the Catholic Church, including the murder of a priest and the attempted murder of an archbishop, once again bring to the fore the persecution of the faith in Mexico and the power of organized crime.

On May 22, Augustinian priest Javier García Villafañe was found shot to death in his car on the Cuitzeo-Huandacareo highway. The Michoacán state attorney general’s office stated that he “was killed by several gunshots.”

Days before, an 80-year-old assailant tried to stab to death the archbishop of Durango, Faustino Armendáriz, in the cathedral sacristy after Mass was finished. Fortunately, the prelate was barely injured in the failed attempt.

In addition, in recent weeks there have been various cases of desecration and sacrilege in different churches in the country.

Is Mexico still a Catholic country?

In a May 25 interview with CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, ACI Prensa, Marcela Szymanski of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) pointed out that a little less than 100 years ago Mexico suffered intense religious persecution against Catholics at the hands of the Mexican government.

“There were deaths, violence for years,” said Szymanski, who holds a doctorate in international politics and is editor-in-chief of the Report on Religious Freedom.

The period of religious persecution suffered by the Catholic Church in Mexico at the beginning of the 20th century is known as “Cristiada.” In 1926 the attacks against the faith triggered the Cristero War, the armed confrontation between Catholics and the Mexican Army that ended in 1929, although numerous civilians and Cristeros were killed in government reprisals after the official end of the conflict.

The “Cristiada,” she noted, “is still not taught in schools, in free textbooks. Nothing about this religious persecution.”

“People continue to think and continue to feel that Mexico is a Catholic country,” she continued, but asked: “Where does this notion come from? This notion stems not only from the fact that they don’t know that there was persecution but also from the fact that during the last 40 years Mexico has still been a Catholic country despite the prohibitions on practicing or living their religion in public and in private.”

Szymanski lamented that for “about 30 years Mexican marriages have been falling apart,” while families no longer maintain a solid Catholic formation and have abandoned attendance at Sunday Mass.

According to the National Institute of Statistics (INEGI) for the year 2011 in Mexico there were 16 divorces for every 100 marriages. By 2019, there were already double that number with 32 divorces for every 100 marriages.

In 2021, there were 33 divorces for every 100 marriages in Mexico.

“Mexico has been carried away by the anti-Christian trend that comes from the West. The vandalism attacks on the churches, the buildings, the attacks on the religious, are always against the Catholics, not against the 22 mosques that exist in the country,” she pointed out.

“Mexico has been losing traditional family religiosity for decades,” she added.

For the year 2000, according to INEGI, Catholics represented 89.7% of the population. Twenty years later the percentage decreased to 77.7%, while an increase in Protestant Christians and people “without religion” was noted.

For Szymanski, in Mexico, “we have a significant mixture of ignorance with a lack of social cohesion that makes it seem natural or normal to attack the institutions, the Catholic Church, and everything that it represents.”

“The notion that it’s an actual crime is lost,” she said. However, such acts are prohibited under Mexican law.

Drug trafficking and murdered priests

Father Omar Sotelo, director of the Multimedia Catholic Center (CCM), also interviewed by ACI Prensa May 25, noted that “for more than 10 years, Mexico has been the most dangerous country to exercise the priesthood in all of Latin America, and it is one of the primary places in the entire world.”

According to a CCM report, between 1990 and 2022, 63 priests were murdered in Mexico, including the archbishop of Guadalajara, Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo. Just in the last four years, during the current administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, nine priests have been killed.

According to the report “Missionaries murdered in the year 2022” by the Vatican Fides foundation, Mexico recorded three homicides of priests last year. Only Nigeria recorded a higher number: Four priests were killed there.

“In theory,” he stated, “it’s not a country that has the problems of war or something like that. However, it’s one of the primary countries where exercising the priesthood is dangerous.”

“In Mexico, we have counted at least 25 or 26 churches that have been desecrated, attacked, robbed, looted, violated in a week,” he explained.

For Sotelo, “it’s a clear sign that organized crime has practically overrun the authorities.”

He also noted that there are places in the country where “there are no police” because drug traffickers are the ones who govern those areas.

“Drug trafficking has practically positioned itself strategically throughout the national territory and they have put many of the authorities in check,” he lamented.

In this crisis situation, he explained, a priest “works 24 hours a day, seven days a week” as a “social stabilizer,” giving “aid, defense, protection to all and to the migrant” as well as “health services.”

“The priests compete against organized crime. When they eliminate [a priest], they send two very strong messages: One, if I am able to kill a priest, I can kill whomever they want. Second, by eliminating a priest they are not killing just one person, they are attacking this entire community and this stability,” Sotelo explained.

“Then a narco-culture, a narco-politics, a narco-economy is created,” he warned.

The permanent persecution of the Church

In a statement to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, Hércules Medina Garfias, the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Morelia who offered the funeral Mass for the recently murdered priest Villafañe, pointed out that the Catholic Church “from the beginning has been persecuted.”

“Our Lord … was persecuted by Herod, who had the Holy Innocents murdered and the Holy Family had to flee to Egypt,” he said.

In the Bible, he pointed out, “there are many passages about persecution of the first Christian community. The Apostles were persecuted.”

Being persecuted, he stressed, “is a good sign that we are doing things right, and it’s part of our history.”

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

Abortions in Scotland highest on record as government considers abortion on demand

null / Credit: Ivon19 / Wikipedia (public domain) (CC-BY-SA-4.0)

London, England, Jun 3, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).

The Catholic Church in Scotland, pro-life organizations, and disability rights campaigners have expressed dismay after statistics released by Public Health Scotland on June 1 revealed that the number of abortions recorded in Scotland in 2022 was the highest number ever on record.

The national statistics on abortion revealed an increase of 2,659 abortions — equal to 19.08% — in one year, with the number of abortions increasing from 13,937 in 2021 to 16,596 in 2022.

The statistics also revealed that there has been an 84% increase in the number of abortions where a baby has Down syndrome, from 32 in 2021 to 59 in 2022.

These latest statistics come following a commitment from Scotland’s new first minister, Humza Yousaf, to decriminalize abortion in Scotland, which campaigners warn will mean the availability of abortion on demand.

Anthony Horan, director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office, said that the Scottish government should focus on promoting human dignity.

“Every abortion is a tragedy,“ he said. “Each statistic presented in this report represents a unique, unrepeatable life extinguished.“

“Instead of creating ways to increase the number of abortions in Scotland, the Scottish government should be promoting and defending human dignity through its laws, including the right of the child to develop in his or her mother’s womb from the moment of conception,” he added.

Meanwhile, disability rights campaigners are calling for a public inquiry following the highly controversial revelations, because the rise in abortions for babies with Down syndrome follows the introduction of new NIPT (Non-Invasive Pre-Natal) tests by National Health Service Scotland. 

Lynn Murray, spokesperson for the Don’t Screen Us Out campaign and mother of Rachel, who has Down syndrome, said: “As a mother of a 23-year-old daughter who has Down syndrome, I see every day the unique value she brings to our family and the positive impact she has on others around her.”

Murray said it was “deeply upsetting” to see such a high increase in the number of abortions of babies with Down syndrome.

“Already so many babies with Down syndrome are screened out by termination each year in Scotland and now the situation appears to be getting worse,” she said. “The rollout of new Non-Invasive Pre-Natal tests on the NHS in Scotland appears to be having an impact on the number of terminations.”

Murray called on the government to urgently review the impact of NIPT tests on the number of babies screened out for termination due to Down syndrome.

“They then need to urgently introduce medical reforms to our screening program to ensure that this deeply disturbing increase in the number of abortions for Down syndrome is reversed,” she said.

“We are calling on the Scottish government to urgently update Scottish abortion legislation to ensure that babies with Down syndrome cannot be aborted right up to birth, as is permitted under current legislation,” she added.

Catherine Robinson, spokesperson for Right To Life UK, called the record number of abortions last year “a great tragedy.”

“Every one of these abortions represents a failure of our society to protect the lives of babies in the womb and a failure to offer full support to women with unplanned pregnancies,” she said.

Robinson pointed to First Minister Yousaf’s commitment to decriminalize abortion, which she said would introduce abortion on demand up to birth in Scotland as well as legalize sex-selective abortion.

“This would likely lead to further increases in abortion numbers,” she said. A similar change in law was introduced in New Zealand in 2020, she noted, which resulted in a 43% increase in late-term abortions in 2020.

“We are calling on the Scottish government to scrap plans to introduce abortion up to birth and instead bring forward sensible new restrictions along with increased support for women with unplanned pregnancies,” Robinson said.

“Polling shows these changes are backed by the public in Scotland and this would ensure we were working together as a society to reduce the tragic number of lives that are lost to abortion each year.”

Pope Francis to travel to Mongolia on Aug. 31

Pope Francis greets pilgrims at the Wednesday general audience in St. Peter's Square on March 22, 2023. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Jun 3, 2023 / 05:30 am (CNA).

The Vatican announced Saturday that Pope Francis will visit Mongolia, the world’s most sparsely populated sovereign country.

The pope is set to travel to Mongolia from Aug. 31 to Sept. 4. The trip will make Pope Francis the first pope to visit the Asian country that shares a 2,880-mile border with China, its most significant economic partner.

Mongolia has a population of about 1,300 Catholics in a country of more than 3 million people.

The first modern mission to Mongolia was in 1922 and was entrusted to the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. But under a communist government, religious expression was soon thereafter suppressed, until 1992. Mongolia’s first native priest was ordained in 2016.

Last year, Pope Francis named an Italian who had served as a missionary in Mongolia for nearly 20 years as the world’s youngest cardinal. Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, 48, is the apostolic prefect of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, which serves the entire country.

Roughly the size of Alaska, Mongolia has five people per square mile. About 30% of its population is nomadic or semi-nomadic. Bordering Russia to the north and China to the south, Mongolia is also the second-largest landlocked country in the world with the vast Gobi Desert covering one-third of its territory.

Pope Francis will also travel to Lisbon, Portugal, for World Youth Day this August with a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.

The pope is also expected to travel to Marseille to preside over a Mass on Sept. 23 as part of a meeting of Mediterranean bishops in the port city in southern France.

PHOTOS: American seminarians having a ‘ball’ in Rome college’s restored 1960s bowling alley

Seminarians and priests enjoyed a friendly bowling match in the St. John XXIII Pontifical Lanes during some downtime on an afternoon in May 2023. / Credit: Daniel Ibañez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Jun 3, 2023 / 05:00 am (CNA).

The “mythical bowling alley” — that’s how it was thought of by seminarians at the Pontifical North American College in Rome in recent years.

The narrow room in the basement of the seminary’s main building, with its two 1960s-era wooden lanes and above-ground ball return, had become a glorified closet for at least nine years.

A photo of the bowling alley in the basement of the Pontifical North American College before its restoration in 2023. Credit: Pontifical North American College
A photo of the bowling alley in the basement of the Pontifical North American College before its restoration in 2023. Credit: Pontifical North American College

“For years — for decades really — this bowling alley was breaking down,” NAC rector Monsignor Thomas Powers told CNA. “It was hard to find parts for the old pieces, and it was getting more and more expensive [to maintain]. So for the last few years it became more or less a storage room.”

But then the idea by some students to restore the alley scored a strike.

The original bowling alley had been a gift from St. John XXIII to the American seminary, Powers explained. The gift was announced in 1958 and the construction completed in the early 1960s.

Monsignor Thomas Powers, rector of the Pontifical North American College, talks to CNA in the St. John XXIII Pontifical Lanes in May 2023. The blue benches were salvaged from the original bowling alley, which was a gift of St. Pope John XXIII to the college in the early 1960s. Credit: Daniel Ibañez/CNA
Monsignor Thomas Powers, rector of the Pontifical North American College, talks to CNA in the St. John XXIII Pontifical Lanes in May 2023. The blue benches were salvaged from the original bowling alley, which was a gift of St. Pope John XXIII to the college in the early 1960s. Credit: Daniel Ibañez/CNA

“Because [the alley] was possible because of a saint — and because it’s a great way for guys to have fraternity, to spend time together, to take exam breaks, study breaks, build teamwork — we thought it really should be back to what it was intended to be by the pope,” he said.

Washington, D.C., seminarian Benjamin Bralove had also heard of this “mythical bowling alley that once existed.”

He told CNA he talked to the Student Activities Committee at the seminary, which he chairs, and found that the other seminarians were also interested in “trying to bring this bowling alley back to life.”

Washington, D.C., seminarian Benjamin Bralove (left) and the Pontifical North American College's CFO Michele Marconi (right) prepare to bowl the first balls on the seminary's newly renovated bowling alley after a blessing on May 17, 2023. Credit: Pontifical North American College
Washington, D.C., seminarian Benjamin Bralove (left) and the Pontifical North American College's CFO Michele Marconi (right) prepare to bowl the first balls on the seminary's newly renovated bowling alley after a blessing on May 17, 2023. Credit: Pontifical North American College

A generous donation from Norman and Darlene Ferenz last summer meant the students’ dream could finally be realized, and the college got to work restoring the St. John XXIII Lanes to their former glory.

Powers blessed the newly refurbished bowling alley on May 17, and since that day, he said, the sound of bowling balls striking pins has reverberated throughout the college.

Bralove, who led the restoration plan, said the hardest part of the process for him was the patience he had to exercise waiting for the monthslong project to be completed.

Monsignor Thomas Powers, rector of the Pontifical North American College, blesses the newly refurbished bowling lanes in the basement of the seminary on May 17, 2023. Credit: Pontifical North American College
Monsignor Thomas Powers, rector of the Pontifical North American College, blesses the newly refurbished bowling lanes in the basement of the seminary on May 17, 2023. Credit: Pontifical North American College

But Michele Marconi, the college’s chief financial officer and another leader on the refurbishment, said there were other challenges, too — namely, getting the proper pieces and finding someone with the know-how to restore the original 1960s Brunswick lanes.

The first obstacle, he said, was that there was no longer a Brunswick representative in Italy, so they ended up using a Netherlands-based company for help getting the parts.

Marconi noted that “the gutters at the end were all broken” and that it probably would have been easier to install something new than to fix the old. But, he said, they were committed to keeping the 1960s charm and were able to find a carpenter to do the repair work.

New technology was brought in to replace broken equipment in the St. John XXIII Pontifical Lanes, which were restored in the beginning of 2023. Credit: Pontifical North American College
New technology was brought in to replace broken equipment in the St. John XXIII Pontifical Lanes, which were restored in the beginning of 2023. Credit: Pontifical North American College

“We had three different companies working on it ... not only delivering the parts, but actually assembling the pieces,” he said, including a Brunswick expert who travels all around Europe.

The financial officer also pointed out the now-rare feature of the lanes with above-ground ball returns rather than underground, something he said is “really typical of the ’60s, ’50s.”

Rector Powers said “part of formation is to teach the men to study hard, to work hard, to be a complete self-gift to God and his Church, but also to have a healthy leisure in his life, and this is a great way to have some leisure with their brother seminarians.”

“And finally it’s something that faculty can actually compete in with these guys,” he added with a chuckle.