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Two San Francisco Bay Catholic schools to close over security and other concerns

The chapel of St. Anthony Catholic School in Oakland, California. / Credit: Facebook of St. Anthony Catholic School

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 27, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

The Diocese of Oakland in California has announced that at the end of the school year it will close two private Catholic schools in the east San Francisco Bay area amid concerns about security and the presence of human trafficking activity in the vicinity.

According to an investigative report by ABC 7 News, parents at St. Anthony Catholic School, part of Lumen Christi Academies, were informed of the decision two weeks ago by email.

In addition to security issues, the Diocese of Oakland’s email stated that the reasons for the closing of the schools also include financial problems as well as outside factors such as homelessness, unemployment, a shortage of affordable housing, and the presence of human trafficking activity near the school.

More than a year ago, the ABC7 News investigative team reported the existence of human trafficking activity in the area in a video showing apparent sex workers and pimps loitering near the school, which led the FBI to install surveillance cameras and traffic barriers in streets near the school.

In November 2023, Operation Phoenix, a large-scale operation conducted by various law enforcement agencies, dismantled an alleged human trafficking ring spanning several cities in the San Francisco Bay area.

Months earlier, in Operation Cross Country, local police rescued 200 trafficking victims and located 59 minors who were also victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation.

According to the most recent report from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, during 2021 more than 5,200 alerts of possible cases were recorded in California, which topped the list with approximately 10% of the total.

In addition to St. Anthony Catholic School, the Diocese of Oakland confirmed that Our Lady of Guadalupe School in the bay city of Fremont will close its doors on June 6.

In an official statement, the diocese explained that the school run by the Dominican Sisters of Mission San José will close due to a “drastic decrease in enrollment” and a “reduction in reserve funds,” factors that made the continued operation of the school unsustainable.

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

Lisieux House: Convent turned young adult community celebrates 10 years 

Lisieux House ladies holding up a picture of St. Therese of Lisieux from a feast day celebration they had in her honor. / Credit: Photo courtesy of Angela Maccarrone

CNA Staff, Feb 27, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

The sad reality of dwindling vocations to religious life in the U.S. leaves the Catholic Church with an odd phenomenon — empty convents. But the Lisieux House, a small community of young adult women in Seattle, has brought life back into an old convent for nearly a decade.   

Founded in 2014, the convent-turned-residence first opened its doors to young women on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. Almost 10 years later, it’s a vibrant community currently housing nine young women. And in a fitting twist, one member of the house has been accepted into candidacy as a religious sister with the Carmelites.

Lisieux House women in March 2023 at a spring retreat at Holy Theophany Monastery in Olympia, Washington. Pictured from left to right: Kendra Baker, Anne-Marie Droege, Hannah Gillespie (now alumna), Mikaela Rink, Sophia Basil, Theresa Ambat, Kelci Young (now alumna), Angela Maccarrone, and Maggie May. Courtesy of Maggie May
Lisieux House women in March 2023 at a spring retreat at Holy Theophany Monastery in Olympia, Washington. Pictured from left to right: Kendra Baker, Anne-Marie Droege, Hannah Gillespie (now alumna), Mikaela Rink, Sophia Basil, Theresa Ambat, Kelci Young (now alumna), Angela Maccarrone, and Maggie May. Courtesy of Maggie May

The founder of the Lisieux House, Molly Gallagher, was the director of religious education at a local parish when “God put [the house] in my path,” she said. 

Eucharistic at heart

By writing a “house constitution” that the young women still abide by today, Gallagher shaped the house for years to come. 

She began by visiting other young adult Catholic homes throughout the U.S., many of which have since disbanded. 

“What I found in the houses around the country is that they’re Eucharistic-centered,” she said. “And without the Eucharist, they tend to fail.” 

Basing their practice on the house constitution, the young women pray night prayer together Monday through Thursday, host weekly house dinners followed by the rosary, and have at least one monthly Mass in the house chapel. 

The women also have two retreats a year and encourage newcomers to read “Story of a Soul,” St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s autobiography. 

Throughout the day, residents can visit the chapel, which houses the Eucharist in a tabernacle. 

Maggie May, a 26-year-old engineer who is the current “house leader” at Lisieux, said that “living with the Blessed Sacrament” makes the house different from “anywhere else that I’ve lived.”

“The Eucharist is really the heart” of the house, Gallagher noted. 

Most of "the original group" pictured with Father Jacques Philippe, who visited the house on Feb. 14, 2016. Philippe, a member of the Community of the Beatitudes in France, is known for his spiritual writings, including "Searching for and Maintaining Peace." From left to right: Stéphanie Baghoumina, Molly Gallagher, Alane Howard, Father Jacque Philippe, Michael Shelby Suberlak, Renee Corcoran, Francine Gregorios, and Molly McCloskey. Credit: Photo courtesy of Lisieux House
Most of "the original group" pictured with Father Jacques Philippe, who visited the house on Feb. 14, 2016. Philippe, a member of the Community of the Beatitudes in France, is known for his spiritual writings, including "Searching for and Maintaining Peace." From left to right: Stéphanie Baghoumina, Molly Gallagher, Alane Howard, Father Jacque Philippe, Michael Shelby Suberlak, Renee Corcoran, Francine Gregorios, and Molly McCloskey. Credit: Photo courtesy of Lisieux House

Making an ‘ugly’ building welcoming

Gallagher said she suspects that the strength of the House comes from its difficult beginning, which was marked by a “spirit of poverty.” 

“In the beginning, it wasn’t running as smoothly as it is now,” Gallagher said. “And so we all helped; everyone really helped to build the place.”

Moving into a convent that lacked insulation and furniture helped with “bonding us together,” she explained.  

“Stuff broke all the time,” she recalled. “It looked pretty ugly.”

But the spirit of poverty shone in the young women who lived there, whom Gallagher described as “humble” and “authentic.”

“That spirit of poverty helps communicate to other people that they don’t have to be impressive, that they’re just loved as they are,” Gallagher said.

“I didn’t really found it,” she said of the house. “God and all of these girls founded it.”

Faith and a broken pipe

Angela Maccarrone, a young woman pursuing her doctoral degree in clinical psychology, “immediately fell in love” with the Lisieux House after hearing about it in a local Catholic magazine

But Maccarrone has a rare form of muscular dystrophy that causes muscle weakness affecting her spine, neck, and respiratory muscles. She struggles with respiratory issues and uses a motorized scooter to move. 

Angela Maccarrone pictured with other Lisieux girls at a local parish in Seattle. Credit: Photo courtesy of Maggie May.
Angela Maccarrone pictured with other Lisieux girls at a local parish in Seattle. Credit: Photo courtesy of Maggie May.

When she reached out to the Lisieux House, Maccarrone said the young women helped brainstorm how to make the house accessible and “never shied away from the idea” of her moving in. But the parish couldn’t afford the cost of renovation. 

Then, a pipe burst in one of the bedrooms — the room that was potentially suitable for the accessibility renovation. 

The room had to be completely gutted, and because insurance covered it, the church was able to make the room accessible for Maccarrone’s needs.

“And at the time, the girls were praying a novena to St. Thérèse,” she said. “And so we like to joke that St. Thérèse likes to play jokes, and that she works with broken pipes.”

The building still isn’t fully accessible; Maccarrone has to go outside and around the house to access the chapel and the upstairs area because there’s no elevator or chair lift. 

“The house is an old convent,” Maccarrone noted. “You can tell it’s aged, and there’s lots of renovations and things that we need, but yet, at the same time, we make it home, and we try to foster that sense of hospitality and rest here at the house.”

This community helps form friendships that are “ultimately rooted in Christ,” Maccarrone said.

“I think the love and the community that Lisieux House has provided — it’s really not just a house with a bunch of roommates living together; it’s so much more than that,” she said. 

The secrets of Lisieux House

Gallagher, who moved into the house a couple of years after it was established and lived there for four years, said the house has “a few secrets.”

“You think you’re going to just move into a community and you’re just going to have a place to live,” she said. “But really, the way we set up the prayer life of the house, I think God really takes you and works on you in a deeper way.”

The women who stay at Lisieux are often in a transitional phase in their careers, May and Gallagher both noted.

“Something about Lisieux House really has a vocational element to it,” Gallagher said. “Because you’re in this safe, protected place, and anytime you’re in a place like that, God does deeper spiritual work because he sort of has you cloistered a little bit, so he can do deeper stuff.”

In fact, one Lisieux resident, Kendra Baker, will leave the house to begin her candidacy with the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles.

While many of the women at Lisieux have had “career pivots,” May noted, they are all “trying to live out their vocation in different stages of life.” 

Some of the women are teachers; one works at Seattle Children’s and another at a life-affirming clinic; another is a chef for local Dominican friars. 

“It’s not a cookie-cutter type thing,” May said. “And I think that’s really a testament to the universality of the Church and how everyone has their own individual calling.”

A community dinner at Lisieux House. Credit: Photo courtesy of Angela Maccarrone
A community dinner at Lisieux House. Credit: Photo courtesy of Angela Maccarrone

The need for Lisieux House 

When asked whether this could — or should — be repeated in other places, Gallagher said that while the Lisieux House model may not be for everybody, there is a need for community everywhere.  

“I think we’re in this period of time where people are more and more isolated, and they feel like they don’t have purpose,” she reflected.

Not only does the Lisieux House provide community for the young women living there, but they extend that community out by inviting others to house dinners and events. 

“We really wanted a deep charism of hospitality because there’s a lot of displaced people, a lot of isolation, especially in our modern era,” Gallagher said. 

She said that people have forgotten that “we’re supposed to be filled with the fire of the Spirit.” 

“I heard somebody say once [that] we need people to stand on the hill holding the torch to remind people of where to go and remind people of who they are because it’s lost information,” she continued. 

But founding a house is “a very hard thing to do,” and Gallagher credited “the grace of God” for it all.

“It’s sort of a miracle that Lisieux House has happened and is still running,” she said. 

But the effects of the house are powerful, even 10 years later.

“When you haven’t been aware of a type of love and then you suddenly are in it, you can’t go back,” Gallagher said. “It changes you.”

More information about the Lisieux House can be found here.

Cardinal Sarah cautions against disunity among Christians, says it’s counter-witnessing

Cardinal Robert Sarah. / Credit: ACI Africa

ACI Africa, Feb 26, 2024 / 18:30 pm (CNA).

Disunity among followers of Christ is counterproductive to the mission of witnessing the Gospel message and evangelization, Cardinal Robert Sarah said recently at a symposium in Kenya. 

Sarah, who served as prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments from 2014–2021, in delivering the keynote address at the 2024 Theological Symposium organized by the School of Theology of Kenya-based Tangaza University College (TUC), warned that divisions among Christians expose them to “exploitation.”

“If we are not one, if we are divided, then our witness to Christ is divided and the world will not believe in the Gospel,” Sarah said Feb. 22, the first day of the two-day event.

Sarah urged followers of Jesus Christ in Africa to prioritize their adherence to the Gospel message, allowing the principles of the Christian faith to trump all other identities, including tribe, nationality, and race, among other affiliations.

“Seek unity first in Christian faith, and then with our fellow countrymen and fellow Africans,” he said in his address titled “Make Disciples of all Nations: The Missionary Mandate of Christ.”

To emphasize the need for unity among followers of Jesus Christ, the 78-year-old Guinean-born cardinal warned that divisions leave Christians “vulnerable to exploitation.”

“If we do not strive for unity in Christ then we are even worse off. The divisions among us — religious, ethnic, and political — are vulnerable to exploitation; they may be exploited by corrupt politicians or even foreign powers,” he said. 

Sarah has previously expressed his opposition to Fiducia Supplicans, the Vatican Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) declaration that has elicited mixed reactions and deep divisions among the people of God in general and Catholic bishops around the world in particular since its release on Dec. 18, 2023.

In a Jan. 6 reflection that he shared with Settimo Cielo, an Italian blog, Sarah maintained his previous stance of not opposing the Holy Father.

“We do not oppose Pope Francis, but we firmly and radically oppose a heresy that seriously undermines the Church, the body of Christ,” Sarah said, clarifying his opposition to the recommendations of Fiducia Supplicans, permitting members of the clergy to bless “same-sex couples” and couples in other “irregular situations.”

Persons practicing homosexuality are “in the prison” of sin and in need of the truth of “the word of God” to liberate them, he said, adding: “The truth is the first of the mercies that Jesus offers to the sinner.”

“The freedom we must offer to people living in homosexual unions lies in the truth of the word of God,” he said. “How could we dare to make them believe that it would be good and desired by God for them to remain in the prison of their sin?” 

The DDF declaration’s lack of clarity “has only amplified the confusion that reigns in hearts, and some even seized it to support their attempt at manipulation,” Sarah wrote in his Jan. 6 reflection, referring to divisions caused by Fiducia Supplicans’ recommendations.

In his Feb. 22 address in Kenya, Sarah linked unity of the disciples of Jesus Christ with progress. “Only together can we prosper,” he said.

According to Sarah, challenges hindering the mission of witnessing the Gospel message and the evangelization ministry can be addressed “by turning to God in prayer and fasting.”

“By turning to the Lord in prayer and fasting, by this means, God lifts us up. He frees us from selfishness and narrowness and reveals himself to us in one way or another. He disciplines us, so we do not allow mild differences to prevent us from working together in every permissible way,” he said. 

The cardinal went on to emphasize the need to combine prayer and fasting, two of the three pillars of the Lenten season, alongside charity through almsgiving. 

“Evangelization must involve prayer and fasting together, even with those of other religious traditions in response to evils that we recognize together. By praying and fasting, the obstacles to evangelization will be overcome,” Sarah said.

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

Ukraine war: ‘We’re praying for the conversion of Vladimir Putin,’ priest says

Father Oleksandr Zelinskyi, the director general of EWTN Ukraine. / Credit: Screenshot of Facebook post

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 26, 2024 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Feb. 24 marked the second anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. After two years of war and no end in sight, Ukrainian Father Oleksandr Zelinskyi of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate shared with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, how, despite the suffering, Ukrainians are keeping hope alive with the certainty that “God is capable of doing miracles.” 

The priest, who has been the director of EWTN Ukraine since 2017, said people in the country “are very tired of this war” and although Ukrainians are making an effort to live life normally, “they will never get used to it, since war is not a normal condition of life.”

“It’s not normal when we have air raid sirens every day, deaths, destroyed buildings, and we don’t know where the missiles might fall,” he said.

A ‘forgotten’ war?

Zelinskyi, who did his seminary studies in Poland and has ministered in different parishes and communities in Ukraine, noted that the outbreak of new conflicts, such as the one in the Holy Land, “has in a way caused many to ‘forget’ the war in Ukraine.”

He also pointed out that “maybe it’s also because people are tired of thinking about it all the time and tired of helping.”

“We are very grateful that the pope draws attention to us almost every week and asks people to pray for us, and we are also grateful for the support of our Catholic media,” Zelinksyi added.

He also referred to the documentary titled “Light With Us,” produced by EWTN Ukraine, which reflects on the first months of war, the efforts for peace, and the response of the Church.

Zelinksyi emphasized the need for the faithful to pray and also show signs of solidarity, noting that in the churches of Ukraine, “we pray every day for peace and we are very grateful to all those in the world who continue to pray for us.”

Praying for the conversion of Vladimir Putin

The priest lamented that “it seems that many people have almost lost hope,” mainly due to the prolongation of the conflict, which has left “thousands of people dead, injured, and different problems within the country such that we don’t see an end to the war.”

However, he said that “hope is something that helps us carry on, to work, to live, believing that God can change even the worst for the good.”

“And there are many people,” he continued, “bearing witness that faith and trust in God helps them in these difficult times.”

Zelinskyi said the solution to the conflict is for “the Russians to leave our country and allow us to live in freedom and decide about our future.”

“But as long as they won’t let us,” he said, “and they want to occupy our country, we have to defend our dignity and freedom and pray for the spirit of wisdom for all the leaders who can have an influence in changing this situation.”

“As Ukrainians we don’t want war, and we pray for the conversion of the aggressors,” he said, adding that Vladimir Putin “is one of the dictators of the world” and that they pray “for his conversion.”

The priest pointed to the act of consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary carried out by Pope Francis in March 2022, which he said “did some good, because after this consecration the Russians had to leave the Kiev region. And I believe it was possible thanks to the providence of God.”

“Thus we saw the miracle,” he said, while noting that “in the midst of the suffering and many people losing hope, we continue to believe that God is capable of performing miracles that will help stop this war.”

“Doing everything possible, we try to trust above all in providence and God’s help,” the Ukrainian priest concluded.

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

Leading bishop urges U.S. to send humanitarian aid to Ukraine, two years into war

Bishop Abdallah Elias Zaidan of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles serves as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace. / Credit: Joe Bukuras/CNA

CNA Staff, Feb 26, 2024 / 17:10 pm (CNA).

A leading Maronite Catholic bishop this week urged ongoing humanitarian support for the suffering people of Ukraine, two years after the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion. 

Bishop A. Elias Zaidan of the Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon, which encompasses a large portion of the western United States from California to Ohio, said in a Feb. 23 statement that he urges “the U.S. government to do all that it can to provide much-needed humanitarian assistance quickly.”

Zaidan, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, noted that according to a recent U.N. report, the number of civilians killed and injured since February 2022 exceeds 30,000. Separately this week, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said an estimated 31,000 troops have died in the conflict. 

“Schools, hospitals, apartments, and basic infrastructure supplying power have been hit by missiles. In the face of such destruction and death, people are repeatedly displaced, insecure as to where to find safety,” Zaidan wrote. 

“The Catholic Church, including many Catholic welfare organizations, [is] trying to meet these enormous needs both within Ukraine and in other countries impacted by this war, which has raged on for two full years. The USCCB’s national collection for the Church in Central and Eastern Europe has been critical in providing much-needed aid to the region.”

People of faith have been targeted in the conflict, Zaidan said, with reports of religious communities, particularly the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, “being attacked by Russian forces in territories they have seized,” Zaidan noted.

“Over 600 religious structures have been damaged, some occupied by Russian forces and turned into military bases. Clergy have been harassed, persecuted, kidnapped, and even killed.”

Zaidan noted that Pope Francis earlier this year said of the war in Ukraine that “one cannot allow the persistence of a conflict that continues to metastasize, to the detriment of millions of persons; it is necessary to put an end to the present tragedy through negotiations, in respect for international law.” He concluded by calling for people of goodwill to set aside Feb. 24, the anniversary of the start of the war, as a “solemn day of prayer, fasting for the end of the war, and for peace to come to this war-torn land.”

Though the U.S. bishops have continually supported humanitarian aid to Ukraine amid Russia’s war, U.S. lawmakers remain divided over the way forward in terms of military support for the embattled nation. 

President Joe Biden, a Catholic, has repeatedly appealed in recent weeks to Congress to fully pass a new aid package with $60 billion in military aid to Ukraine, which the Senate sent to the House nearly two weeks ago. Most recently, Biden is set to convene the top four congressional leaders on Tuesday to urge them to send the measure to his desk, CNN reported Monday. The measure faces opposition in the House, particularly from Speaker Mike Johnson, who has said he will not bring the bill to the House floor in its current form. 

Indian Cardinal Ferrão to head Asian bishops’ conference amid Church’s continued growth

Cardinal Filipe Neri Ferrão on Aug. 27, 2022, in Vatican City. / Credit: Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Rome Newsroom, Feb 26, 2024 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Filipe Neri Ferrão, the archbishop of Goa and Daman, was elected as the new president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) during the assembly’s meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, on Saturday, Feb. 22. 

Ferrão, 71, will replace outgoing president Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar, and his three-year term will start in January 2025. 

The Goan prelate currently serves as president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India, which is the national episcopal conference of the Latin rite in the country. This is a distinct body from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, which is a supra-national assembly of Latin-rite bishops as well as the eparchial bishops from the Synod of the Syro-Malabar Church and the Synod of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.

Despite a sharp decline in Church membership in Western Europe and North America, amid a net increase in the global number of baptized Catholics, the Church in Asia has experienced continued growth. 

According to 2021 figures released by the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae, the statistics office of the Holy See, the total number of Catholics in Asia is 149.1 million, or 3.31% of the region, which has an estimated population of 4.5 billion people. However, out of the total number of religious sisters across the globe, 175,494, or 28.9%, live in Asia, and there was a 1% growth in the number of priests from 2019 figures. 

The increase in the Catholic population in Asia and its growing importance on the global stage has also been reflected in Pope Francis’ decision to expand representation to Asian countries in the College of Cardinals. 

Currently, out of the 129 cardinal electors — cardinals under the age of 80 who are eligible to vote in a future conclave — 22 come from Asia, giving the region the second-largest representation in the sacred body. 

In the Aug. 27, 2022, consistory in which Ferrão received the red biretta, Mongolia, East Timor, Singapore, and South Korea all gained new cardinal electors. All four of the aforementioned countries are represented in the FABC. Pope Francis made history as the first pontiff to visit the landlocked country of Mongolia in 2023.  

During the last several years of Pope Francis’ pontificate, there has also been renewed diplomatic activity in the region, evidenced by the 2023 agreement between the Holy See and Vietnam that allowed for permanent resident papal representatives in the country. That increased activity has also been evidenced in the recent flurry of episcopal appointments in the People’s Republic of China, in accordance with the provisions of the Sino-Vatican Accord, which is up for renewal in October. 

However, the Church in Asia is not without its problems, ranging from concerns over deteriorating religious freedom in Hong Kong to a fierce internal divide in the Syro-Malabar Church over the proper orientation of the celebrant during the Mass, a debate that prompted a papal intervention and ultimatum in December 2023. 

In November 2023, Fides reported on Ferrão’s remarks to a gathering of 300 Indian priests, religious, and seminarians in Rome where he reflected on the multicultural context of the Church in India, which he described as a “tapestry of beautiful cultures, languages, ethnicities, and rituals” while stressing the importance of maintaining a “solid cultural and national identity among Indian priests.” 

The FABC was established during a meeting of 180 Asian bishops in Manila, Philippines, on Nov. 29, 1970. Pope Paul VI, who was in the Philippine capital during his historic seven-day apostolic trip to Asia, Oceania, and Australia, spoke to the newly created assembly, praising it as a tangible example of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and as representing a major step forward in the process of inculturation, or ecclesial localization. 

The pan-Asian conference is currently made up of 17 episcopal conferences (representing 27 countries) as well as the Synod of the Syro-Malabar Church and the Synod of the Syro-Malankara Church as full members. It also counts the Diocese of Hong Kong, the Diocese of Macau (both special administrative regions of the People’s Republic of China), and the Apostolic Vicariate of Nepal as associate members.

While the Chinese Regional Bishops’ Conference, the episcopal conference of the Republic of China (Taiwan), is an associate member, the Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church in China, the episcopal conference for bishops in the People’s Republic of China — which is not recognized by the Holy See — is not part of the body. 

Ferrão was born in the village of Aldona, located in the northern part of the state of Goa on the country’s western coast, in 1953. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1979 and, after serving in a variety of pastoral roles in his home diocese, he studied at the Pontifical Urban University, where he obtained a licentiate in biblical theology in 1988 and a licentiate in catechetics and pastoral theology from the Brussels-based Lumen Vitae International Institute in 1991. 

He was appointed auxiliary bishop of Goa and Daman by Pope John Paul II in 1993, and in 2004 he was made archbishop of the same diocese, a position that also carries the titles of primate of the East and patriarch of the East Indies, given the historic importance of the city of Goa for the Portuguese Empire and as a gateway for the entry of Catholic missions into Asia from the early 16th century onward. 

Ferrão is a polyglot and speaks Konkani (one of the 22 constitutionally recognized languages in India and the official language of the Indian state of Goa), English, Portuguese, Italian, French, and German. 

Here’s what Trump, Biden, and the Catholic Church are saying about IVF

Former president Donald Trump and President Joe Biden. / Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images; MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 26, 2024 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

Both former president Donald Trump and President Joe Biden are voicing staunch support for the type of fertility treatment known as in vitro fertilization (IVF), slamming an Alabama Supreme Court decision that established the personhood of frozen embryos.

In the wake of the ruling, some Alabama fertility clinics have put IVF treatments on hold.

As the U.S. bishops have pointed out, many Catholics may not be aware that the Catholic Church forbids the use of assisted reproductive technology — such as IVF — that replaces the marriage act to achieve pregnancy. In addition, Church teaching deems the destruction of unwanted human embryos common in the procedure “morally unacceptable.”

Trump said in a Truth Social post on Friday that he strongly supports the availability of IVF “in every state” because he wants to “make it easier for mothers and fathers to have babies, not harder.”

“The Republican Party should always be on the side of the miracle of life — and the side of mothers, fathers, and their beautiful babies. IVF is an important part of that,” Trump said, going on to call on the state’s Legislature to “act quickly to find an immediate solution to preserve the availability of IVF in Alabama.”

Biden, meanwhile, called the Alabama ruling “outrageous” and linked it to what he considers a usurpation of women’s rights across the country.

“Make no mistake: This is a direct result of the overturning of Roe v. Wade,” Biden said in a Thursday statement.

Vice President Kamala Harris went after Trump directly, saying on X that “no matter what Donald Trump says about IVF,” he is “the architect of this health care crisis.”

What was the Alabama ruling? 

The Alabama Supreme Court ruled on Feb. 20 that frozen human embryos constitute children under state statute, a decision that could have wide-reaching effects on in vitro fertilization treatments in the state.

The 8-1 ruling came following a lawsuit brought by several parents whose frozen embryos had been accidentally destroyed at a fertility clinic. The court said that the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act provisions extend to children “regardless of their location.”

“It applies to all children, born and unborn, without limitation,” the ruling said, adding this is “especially true where, as here, the people of [Alabama] have adopted a constitutional amendment directly aimed at stopping courts from excluding ‘unborn life’ from legal protection.”

What is IVF and what does the Catholic Church say about it? 

IVF is a procedure that artificially fuses sperm and egg in a lab environment to conceive a child outside the natural sexual act. According to the Mayo Clinic, IVF is typically used as a “treatment for infertility” that “also can be used to prevent passing on genetic problems to a child.” 

The Catholic Church has long opposed IVF as “morally unacceptable” because of the rejection of the natural procreative act of husband and wife, the commodification of the human child, and the destruction of embryonic human life, which is very common in the procedure. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that though “research aimed at reducing human sterility is to be encouraged,” practices such as IVF “disassociate the sexual act from the procreative act” and “entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person.”

“Such a relationship of domination,” the Catechism explains, is “contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children.”

John Grabowski, a professor of moral theology and ethics at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., told CNA that the issue is “interconnected” with abortion because “IVF typically results in the creation of ‘spare embryos,’ many of which are frozen, discarded, or destroyed through embryonic stem cell research.” 

Speaking on “EWTN News In Depth” on Feb. 23, National Catholic Bioethics Center President Dr. Joseph Meaney said the Alabama ruling clearly reflects the reality of unborn human life.

“We become new human beings at the moment of conception. The Church is very clear about this and science is very clear about this,” Meaney pointed out.

“We have to realize that if life begins at conception, then all those conceived human beings should be protected,” Meaney said. “Whether they’re in an IVF lab or in the wombs of their mothers, these are new human beings that deserve protection.”

PHOTOS: 1,000 Christian youth walk the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem for peace

On Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, approximately 1,000 children and youth from Christian schools in Jerusalem walked the Via Dolorosa in the Old City, offering prayers for peace. The crowd brought life to the streets of the Holy City for the first time since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war last October. / Credit: Marinella Bandini

Jerusalem, Feb 26, 2024 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

On Friday, Feb. 23, a large group of young people brought life to the streets of Jerusalem for the first time since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war last October. About a thousand children and youth from Christian schools walked the Via Dolorosa in the Old City offering prayers for peace, leaving a trail of hope in their wake. 

A small crowd of students and professors from Christian schools in Jerusalem took part in  the Way of the Cross organized by the Custody of the Holy Land on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. The crowd is walking in the street leading to St. Savior's Church after the eighth station of the Via Dolorosa. Credit: Marinella Bandini
A small crowd of students and professors from Christian schools in Jerusalem took part in the Way of the Cross organized by the Custody of the Holy Land on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. The crowd is walking in the street leading to St. Savior's Church after the eighth station of the Via Dolorosa. Credit: Marinella Bandini

The initiative, titled “The Way of the Cross… A Way of Peace,” was organized by the Custody of the Holy Land and involved 12 institutions, including two schools of the Anglican Church and the school of the Armenian Apostolic Church, as well as various Catholic groups. Father Francesco Patton, the custos of the Holy Land, and the apostolic delegate to Jerusalem, Father Adolfo Tito Yllana, were also present. 

The Way of the Cross began at the Church of the Flagellation and concluded at the Church of St. Savior. The first eight stations took place along the traditional route of the Via Dolorosa. At each station, after the reading of Scripture and prayer, two children released a pair of doves, a visible sign of the prayer for peace and freedom lifted up by the youngest participants.

A dove takes flight immediately after being released in front of the fourth station of the Way of the Cross, along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, during the Way of the Cross for Christian school students in Jerusalem, held on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. At each station, two children released a pair of doves, a visible sign of the prayer for peace. Credit: Marinella Bandini
A dove takes flight immediately after being released in front of the fourth station of the Way of the Cross, along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, during the Way of the Cross for Christian school students in Jerusalem, held on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. At each station, two children released a pair of doves, a visible sign of the prayer for peace. Credit: Marinella Bandini

“Every year, we organize a Via Crucis with the students from the schools,” Father Ibrahim Faltas, vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land and director of the Terra Sancta Schools, explained to CNA. Last year, the event had a particular resonance: The students wore red scarves — the color of blood — with the image of the vandalized statue of Jesus, which had been desecrated just a few weeks earlier within the premises of the Flagellation complex.

The broken and defaced statue has never been restored and has become a symbol of the suffering Jesus. This year, too, the first station of the Via Crucis was held around that statue.

A group of children around the vandalized statue of Jesus at the beginning of the Way of the Cross for Christian school children in Jerusalem organized by the Custody of the Holy Land on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. Credit: Marinella Bandini
A group of children around the vandalized statue of Jesus at the beginning of the Way of the Cross for Christian school children in Jerusalem organized by the Custody of the Holy Land on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. Credit: Marinella Bandini

“For the scarves, we chose white, the color of peace,” Faltas said. “The inscriptions ‘Da nobis pacem Domine’ and ‘Grant us peace’ form a cross on the fabric. We also printed a dove holding an olive branch in its beak, the symbol of peace.”

Faltas emphasized the importance of freedom of worship in light of recent reports suggesting that the Israeli government might consider restricting access to the Esplanade of Mosques/Temple Mount during the month of Ramadan.

“Jerusalem must be open to everyone; that is its nature. People cannot be prevented from going to pray, at any age. Everyone has the right to pray in their places of worship. If during Ramadan people cannot reach the mosques, it would be a significant problem,” he said.

Stations 9 through 14 took place in the Franciscan Church of St. Savior and at the end of the Way of the Cross, the custos of the Holy Land delivered a brief meditation on the gift of Jesus, who gave his life for all humanity — even for those who persecuted him. 

The Way of the Cross for Christian school students in Jerusalem, held on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, arrives at the Franciscan Church of St. Savior. Stations 9 through 14 took place in the church. Credit: Marinella Bandini
The Way of the Cross for Christian school students in Jerusalem, held on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, arrives at the Franciscan Church of St. Savior. Stations 9 through 14 took place in the church. Credit: Marinella Bandini

“Let’s ask him for the grace to keep our hearts free from hatred and the desire for revenge against those who harm us. Let’s ask for the grace that all walls built of enmity and hatred be demolished. Let’s ask Jesus, who stretched out his arms between heaven and earth, to help us today in building a bridge of peace through our commitment to peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land and throughout the world,” Patton said. 

After the recitation of the “Simple Prayer” attributed to St. Francis, the Apostolic Delegate to Jerusalem, Father Adolfo Tito Yllana, bestowed the final blessing with the relic of the holy cross.

Two children hold doves, which they released moments later, during the Way of the Cross for Christian school students in Jerusalem on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. The first eight stations took place along the traditional Via Dolorosa route and at each station, after the Scripture reading and prayer, two children released a pair of doves, a visible sign of the prayer for peace and freedom raised by the younger participants. Credit: Marinella Bandini
Two children hold doves, which they released moments later, during the Way of the Cross for Christian school students in Jerusalem on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. The first eight stations took place along the traditional Via Dolorosa route and at each station, after the Scripture reading and prayer, two children released a pair of doves, a visible sign of the prayer for peace and freedom raised by the younger participants. Credit: Marinella Bandini

After the event, the custos spoke to journalists who were present for the event, where he commented on the children’s participation.

“This Way of the Cross also aimed to encourage our children to remain steadfast in hope,” he said. “In moments when it seems that people are unable to come to an agreement, we must knock more insistently on God’s door with our prayers, so that those who must and can provide a solution to this war may be guided back to reason.”

Texas death row inmate to be executed in days as Catholics call for clemency

Ivan Cantu is scheduled to be executed by the state of Texas on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. / Credit: Texas Department of Criminal Justice

CNA Staff, Feb 26, 2024 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Catholics are continuing to call for clemency for a convicted murderer in Texas who is facing execution amid an ongoing dispute over his guilty verdict. 

Texas has scheduled the execution of Ivan Cantu for Wednesday, Feb. 28. Cantu was convicted for a double murder that took place in 2000. 

In November of that year, according to the state, Cantu shot and killed both his cousin and a 21-year-old woman. He also stole jewelry and a car, the state says. 

Cantu has been on the state’s death row since November 2001. He was previously scheduled to be executed in April 2023 but was granted a stay of execution based on new testimony that alleged a possible false witness in his murder trial. 

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals subsequently dismissed Cantu’s request for an evidentiary hearing. His attorneys have argued since then that he should be granted a new trial based on claims that the chief witness at his first trial was unreliable. 

Cantu has drawn support from a wide variety of Catholics as his execution has drawn nearer. The Catholic anti-death penalty group Catholics Mobilizing Network (CMN) urges readers on its website to “contact Gov. [Greg] Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles” to urge them to forgo the execution.

“Newly discovered evidence — which was not heard by the jury and has never been considered by any court — casts significant doubt on Ivan’s conviction,” the group says. 

“Some of the jurors who voted to sentence Ivan to death have since called for this evidence to be reviewed, declaring that they are disturbed by the prospect they heard false and misleading testimony during the trial,” CMN says.

Catholic religious Sister Helen Prejean, meanwhile, said on her website that she has “promised to be beside Ivan if his execution proceeds” but that “there is so much wrong with the case against him.”

Prejean, who has been a vocal opponent of the death penalty for decades, wrote on her website: “There’s no way I’m simply going to acquiesce, hold his hand, and pray him into eternity without doing every single thing I can to get the truth out so that Texas does not execute this man.”

Cantu has also drawn support from the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops. Last year after the delay in Cantu’s execution, the bishops said they were “grateful [that] a judge has shown mercy to Ivan Cantu” by scrapping the April execution date. 

The case against Cantu was “riddled with serious uncertainties including false testimony, withholding of evidence, and potential framing of Mr. Cantu,” the bishops said. 

Jennifer Allmon, the executive director of the TCCB, told CNA on Monday the conference has written the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Greg Abbott to request a stay of execution.

“We continue to advocate for a review of his case based on the new information and his claim of innocence,” Allmon said. 

“Taking another’s life who is potentially innocent of the crime for which he is being killed is not moral and should not be condoned by the state of Texas,” she argued. 

“The Church teaches it is ‘inadmissible’ for modern societies to use capital punishment, because it is ‘an attack on the inviolability and the dignity of the person.’ We expect accountability for harm, legitimate discipline and reparation, and the protection of society, all of which can be realized without executions,” she said.

Cantu faces execution by lethal injection on Wednesday, the sole method allowed in Texas. 

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Texas has executed 586 people since 1976, more than any other state. Oklahoma is second, at 123. 

Texas claims the second-most number of executions per 100,000 residents in the country at roughly 1.9; only Oklahoma claims more, at 3.0 executions per 100,000. 

This article has been updated.

More than a dozen killed in attack on Catholics at Mass in Burkina Faso

null / Credit: Peter Hermes Furian via Shutterstock

ACI Africa, Feb 26, 2024 / 12:30 pm (CNA).

At least 15 Catholics were killed in an attack during Mass on Sunday in the Burkina Faso village of Essakane in the country’s Oudalan province in the northeastern region, a jurisdiction of the Diocese of Dori.

In a statement, Father Jean-Pierre Sawadogo, the vicar general of the Dori Diocese, called the Feb. 25 incident a “terrorist attack” and appealed for prayers for the souls of those who he said “died in faith.” He also called for spiritual solidarity with those in need of healing and consolation.

“In this painful circumstance, we invite you to pray for those who died in faith, for the healing of the wounded, and for the consolation of grieving hearts,” Sawadogo said.

“May our efforts of penance and prayer during this blessed season of Lent obtain peace and security for our country, Burkina Faso,” he added.

According to Sawadogo, 12 worshippers were killed at the scene of the attack while three succumbed to their injuries while receiving treatment. Two others were being treated at a hospital.

The village of Essakane is in the “three borders” zone near the borders of Burkina Faso with Mali and Niger in the vast Sahel region. The Sahel region spans some 3,355 miles and stretches from the Atlantic Ocean eastward through northern Senegal, southern Mauritania, the great bend of the Niger River in Mali, Burkina Faso, southern Niger, northeastern Nigeria, south-central Chad, and into Sudan. 

The attack is the latest in a series of atrocities blamed on Islamist terrorist groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State reportedly active in the Sahel region, which have taken over long strips of land and contributed to the displacement of millions of people in the region.

Authorities in the Sahel region have been battling against the Islamist terrorist groups since Libya’s civil war in 2011, which was followed by an Islamist takeover of northern Mali in 2012. The jihadist insurgency reportedly spilled over into Burkina Faso and Niger in 2015.

While some attacks have targeted Christian churches, others have involved the kidnapping of members of the clergy, women and men religious, and seminarians.

In his Feb. 25 statement, Sawadogo called for peace and security in the West African nation and denounced individuals and groups that “continue to wreak death and desolation in our country” and appealed for prayers for their conversion.

Last year, Bishop Laurent Birfuoré Dabiré of the Dori Diocese expressed his solidarity with the people of God in Burkina Faso who no longer attend Mass for fear of jihadist attacks.

In an interview with the pontifical charity foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International, Birfuoré made reference to the large number of Catholics skipping public worship, saying: “We understand them and do not ask them to go beyond their courage.”

He confirmed reports that 50% of the west African country is occupied by terrorists and many Catholic parishes have been left abandoned as their members stay away for fear of attacks.

In his episcopal see, three of the six parishes had to be abandoned for security reasons, Dabiré told ACN.

Dabiré, who chairs the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Burkina Faso and Niger (CEBN) — the joint bishops’ conference of Burkina Faso and Niger — said that in his native country, terror is directed against all residents of the country “who do not profess the same Islam as the jihadists, including Muslims.”

He went on to identify the jihadist group, dubbed “Support Group for Islam and Muslims,” as the most notorious in the west African country, adding that the group’s “actual goal is to oppress today’s society, which is a multireligious society of dialogue and coexistence.”

In March 2023, a delegation of 10 west African Catholic and Muslim religious leaders from Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, and Ghana met with U.S. legislators “to discuss the deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in the Sahel region,” reported Catholic Relief Services, the humanitarian arm of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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