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Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself: Gates Edition

Go here to read the story.  Sounds like Melinda Gates is a none too happy camper as she exits stage left and this entire article is probably a reminder to Bill that she knows enough to take him down several… Continue Reading

Legislators urge Biden to address global religious persecution


Washington D.C., May 6, 2021 / 19:00 pm (CNA).

A bipartisan group of members of Congress asked President Biden this week to prioritize responding to global religious persecution.

“Religious freedom, one of the most basic human rights for all people, has historically been an area of sincere bipartisan support and agreement in American foreign policy,” stated a May 4 letter by members of both the House and Senate to President Biden.

The May 4 letter was led by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.). The members were joined by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), James Hill (R-Alaska), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), as well as Reps. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas).

“The United States is a beacon of hope and freedom, and we must continue to be a leader in calling attention and responding to religious persecution wherever it occurs,” they stated.

Citing the Pew Research Center’s annual study of global religious restrictions and persecution, the legislators called the current state of international religious persecution a “crisis.” 

They noted persecution of “the Rohingya in Burma, mass imprisonment and exploitation of Uyghurs and other faith groups by the Chinese government, and the ISIS genocide against Yazidis and Christians in Syria and Iraq” to emphasize the urgency of promoting religious freedom abroad.

The members called on Biden to fill vacant positions in his administration that are charged with promoting international religious freedom. 

In particular, they urged Biden to appoint an “experienced, well-qualified Ambassador-at-Large leading the International Religious Freedom office within the State Department.” 

Such an appointment, they said, “is vital” to the agency’s “success” in promoting international religious freedom, countering religious persecution, and engaging with governments, religious leaders, NGOs, and civil society.

The coalition of legislators also asked Biden to appoint a Director of International Religious Freedom within the National Security Council. 

“Having a designated point person to coordinate among all components of the U.S. Government that work to advance religious freedom abroad is vital to the success of these initiatives,” they stated. 

In addition to filling the new positions, the legislators recommended the Biden administration pursue initiatives and actions to work with global allies on issues on religious freedom.

The members urged the administration to lead coalitions of actors in government, civil society, and foreign nations to create initiatives that protect religious freedom. 

The letter said that because of China’s hostility towards religious groups in particular, the U.S. has an obligation to respond. 

“China’s hostility toward religion and people of faith extends to Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners and Christians, some of whom are unjustly imprisoned for their faith, such as Pastor John Cao,” the letter said.

The members argued that U.S. engagement was integral to the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was imprisoned in Turkey for more than two years. The legislators added that because of the prioritization of religious freedom, the U.S. has been able to “defend Coptic Christians in Egypt, denounce anti-conversion laws in India, and draw attention to the alarming rise in anti-Semitism in Europe.”

The coalition of legislators said they hope the administration “will work on a bipartisan basis with Congress to advance these policy items and prioritize the right of all people to have a faith, live their faith, change their faith or have no faith at all.”

Nigerian priest thought missing resurfaces after followers storm episcopal residence

Fr. Ejike Mbaka

Enugu, Nigeria, May 6, 2021 / 18:01 pm (CNA).

A priest of the Diocese of Enugu who founded Adoration Ministry resurfaced Wednesday, hours after his followers stormed the episcopal residence demanding to know the priest’s whereabouts.

The followers of Fr. Ejike Mbaka caused destruction of property at the local bishop’s residence May 5.

Fr. Benjamin Achi, communications director of the Enugu diocese, described the alleged disappearance of Fr. Mbaka as “misinformation” in an interview with ACI Africa.

“He has resurfaced at 2:40 p.m. after a mob attacked the bishop's house this morning destroying lots and lots of things,” Fr. Achi said in reference to Fr. Mbaka.

The protesters claimed that Bishop Callistus Onaga of Enugu had invited Fr. Mbaka for a meeting on May 2 and since then, Fr. Mbaka had not been seen. 

Last week, Fr. Mbaka had reportedly called on Nigeria’s Members of Parliament to impeach President Muhammadu Buhari should he fail to resign over increasing insecurity in Nigeria. 

According to the News Agency of Nigeria, Fr. Mbaka arrived at the residence of the Bishop of Enugu May 5 “in a motorcade amidst jubilation from his Adoration faithful.”

“He, however, stopped in front of the Bishop’s court and addressed his supporters urging them to remain calm and return to the Adoration ground for further information,” NAN reported.

In the May 5 interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Achi said that Fr. Mbaka was “not missing.”

“It's a misinformation by the members of his Adoration Ministry,” Fr. Achi said, adding that while it cannot be confirmed that Bishop Onaga had actually invited Fr. Mbaka for a meeting, “if the Bishop invited him, it must (have been) something private and was not supposed to be made public.”

Fr. Mbaka has since sought to defend his ministry, saying he is an instrument of God engaged in charity.

"I have no problem with the Church, I don't have any problem with the Catholic Church nor with any Church. Am just a servant of God. Am just an instrument of God. Nobody will stop me from doing the charity am doing," Fr. Mbaka said in a video recording published on Facebook May 5.

Last year, the priest was faulted for engaging in partisan politics after he was found expressing explicit support for one candidate in the gubernatorial elections of Imo State.

Anthony Fauci, Deepak Chopra speak at first day of Vatican health conference

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a White House press briefing, conducted by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, at the White House Jan. 21. / Alex Wong / Getty Images

CNA Staff, May 6, 2021 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

At the first day of an online Vatican conference on “exploring the mind, body, and soul,” Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke about the evolution of the scientific community’s response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, and the difference between acting based on instinct and acting from data.

Fauci, an immunologist and chief medical adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden, responded to questions from CNN journalist Sanjay Gupta, who asked him how much doctors “have to rely on faith, not just religious faith, but your own system of belief,” when confronting something new, like COVID-19.

“I think you have to rely on it when you’re starting with nothing,” Fauci said. But he added that “as more solid scientific information becomes available, you pull away a bit from the kind of experience, instinct and get more into the reality of the evidence you have.”

He said there are some people “who don’t appreciate the evolution of understanding and the evolution of knowledge, that you’re going to change some of your viewpoints because the data itself will not necessarily change, but additional data changes the status of your knowledge.”

“Your knowledge may be minimal and you’re acting on quote ‘faith,’ as it were, versus the true, substantive evidence in data, which really gives you a much better foundation,” he said. “So that’s the way I look at it.”

Fauci spoke near the beginning of a three-day international conference on “Exploring the Mind, Body & Soul: How Innovation and Novel Delivery Systems Improve Human Health,” taking place virtually May 6-8.

It is the fifth conference of its kind organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Cura Foundation, which describes itself as “a nonsectarian, nonpartisan, public 501(c)(3) organization with a mission to improve human health globally.”

Cura Foundation president Robin Smith and Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi gave the opening remarks.

Ravasi said that “the body is a fundamental reality of human existence and of communication,” and pointed to Christianity’s central mystery, the Incarnation.

He said the conference would be organized around three themes, which he described as three stars that light up the sky: the body, the soul, and the mind.

The cardinal added that the conference would involve dialogue with different experts and people on these themes, and that people’s visions on the issues would differ.

Deepak Chopra, a leading figure in the New Age movement, was part of a discussion with Dr. Rudolf Tanzi about inflammation and the brain, moderated by surgeon and television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz.

Chopra and Tanzi are co-authors of the book “The Healing Self” about “how a positive attitude can trigger health,” according to Oz.

In the context of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and Parkinson’s disease, Chopra gave his lifestyle advice for decreasing stress-based inflammation, including good sleep, mind-body coordination, exercise, emotional resilience, food, mindfulness, and yoga.

Oz asked Chopra about “the mind’s role in healing the body.”

Chopra said: “One of the fundamental questions in science is called ‘the hard problem of consciousness’: How do we experience thoughts, feelings, emotions, insight, intuition, inspiration, creativity, vision, even reverence for God?”

The question, he continued, is “how does the brain do that? Is the mind doing the brain or the brain doing the mind? And right now, the conversation seems to be neither is doing each other.”

“Consciousness is more fundamental. We experience it subjectively as the mind and we experience it objectively as the body and the brain, but the brain is part of the body,” he said.

This “consciousness,” he suggested, is “what spiritual traditions call the soul and cognitive scientists call the conscious agent.”

Oz asked Chopra “what gives you this essence, that soul? Where does that come from in your cosmology?”

Chopra said that “right now cognitive scientists, those who believe in this framework, say that that soul, or that conscious agent, is an aspect of a universal consciousness which religions might call God.”

“It doesn’t matter what you call it... there’s an underlying field of awareness, of consciousness, which modulates itself and differentiates itself into conscious agents which we call souls.”

The Vatican health conference also features the CEOs of large pharmaceutical companies, including Moderna and Pfizer, along with celebrities active in medical philanthropy, global health advocates, policymakers, physicians, and religious leaders.

The conference’s website lists more than 100 speakers, including Kerry Kennedy, Cindy Crawford, John Sculley, Brandon Marshall, Joe Perry of the rock band Aerosmith, and Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, prefect emeritus of the Vatican Secretariat for Communications.

Catholic University receives $20 million donation for nursing school 

Credit: Mehdi Kasumov/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 6, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The Catholic University of America has received a $20 million donation to assist 160 nursing students at its nursing school over the next five years. 

According to the university, the $20 million donation was made by Bill and Joanne Conway, the two largest benefactors to the university in its history. The Conways had previously donated $60 million to the Conway School of Nursing, named after them in 2019 in recognition of their generosity. 

“Our Conway School of Nursing has long been a source of great pride to the University. We are so grateful to Bill and Joanne for all they have done to contribute to its success,” said Catholic University of America President John Garvey. “I am confident that the Conway School will become the gold standard for nursing education in this country.”

The Conways’ previous gifts of $20 million in 2019 and in 2020 were the largest single gifts in the school’s history. 

Currently, there are 48 “Conway Scholars” on campus who are receiving tuition assistance thanks to their previous gifts. The first group of Conway Scholars enrolled at the Catholic University of America in fall 2013, and are now working as nurses in 16 hospitals in a variety of specialties.

Patricia McMullen, dean of the Conway School said that the Conways have enabled students to achieve their dreams of entering the nursing field. 

“This imprimatur distinguishes them amongst their peers,” she said. “It motivates and guides them. Each will serve tens of thousands of patients throughout their careers, providing the superlative, compassionate care that is the hallmark of a Conway School graduate.”

“Thanks to the Conways and their Bedford Falls Fund, 82 student nurses have already received full or partial tuition scholarships,” the university stated in a press release. 

The Conway Scholarship provides more than just tuition assistance to aspiring nurses, the university said.  

“The generosity of the Conways has allowed Catholic to provide these students with housing and stipends to complete internships, as well as preparation and review courses for the National Council Licensure Examination, known as the NCLEX-RN, which graduates must pass to be certified as registered nurses,” said the press release. 

“To date, every Conway Scholar has passed the exam during their first sitting; the national average for the same data set is 80%.” 

The Conways have been supporting nursing programs in the D.C. area since 2008, and seek to address the coming nursing shortage in the United States. 

“The quality of the nursing students at Catholic University is outstanding,” said Bill Conway. “With the increasing need for nurses nationwide, we are thrilled with the impact graduates are having in health settings here in Washington, D.C., and all over the country.”

Bill, who is a trustee of the Catholic University of America, along with Joanne, were each awarded honorary degrees from the school in 2017. 

Charleston diocese dismayed at South Carolina legislature’s attempt to resume executions

Fer Gregory/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 6, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, expressed its dismay Thursday after the state House passed a bill effectively allowing the state to resume executions.

The legislation, passed by the state House of Representatives on Wednesday, permits the state to execute death row inmates by electrocution if the drugs used for lethal injection are not available. The bill also allows inmates to choose death by firing squad as a method of execution. 

Previously, lethal injection was the default method of execution in South Carolina. The state has not executed anyone since 2011, when its supply of drugs used for lethal injection expired. Countries that produce the drugs used in executions have refused to sell them to states for executions.

The state was unable to move forward with executions where death row inmates had chosen to die by lethal injection, according to CNN. The bill passed on Wednesday only allows for death by lethal injection when the state is able to procure the necessary drugs.

“We are extremely disappointed that a bill reinstating access to the death penalty passed the S.C. House of Representatives today and will advance to the governor's desk for signature,” said Maria Aselage, a spokeswoman for the diocese, in a statement on May 5. 

"Every person is created in the likeness of God; their lives should be protected from the time of conception until natural death,” she said. “It is time for our state to abolish the death penalty, not to find new ways to execute our brothers and sisters, including by firing squad."

Under the proposed bill, lethal injection remains an option for execution, but only if the state were able to procure the drugs needed.

An earlier version of the bill passed in the Senate back in March. The South Carolina House of Representatives voted 66-43 to pass the legislation, sending it to Gov. Henry McMaster (R) who has said he will sign it. 

There are currently 37 people on death row awaiting execution in the state, including three inmates who have exhausted all appeals. 

Three other states - Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Utah - also permit the use of the firing squad in executions. 

The last person in the United States to be executed by firing squad was convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner, in 2010.vGardner, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, said that the firing squad was consistent with his “Mormon heritage” under the religion’s controversial doctrine of “blood atonement.”  

Utah is the only state to have executed individuals with the firing squad since the death penalty was re-established in 1977. 

Jesuits in Chile to compensate four victims of sexual abuse by former priest


Santiago, Chile, May 6, 2021 / 14:01 pm (CNA).

Four victims sexually abused by former priest Jaime Guzmán Astaburuaga will be compensated with 15 million pesos each (about $21,000).

The agreement signed in the presence of a notary April 27 came following a lawsuit for compensation for damages filed Aug. 10, 2020 by four former students of Saint Ignatius School, located in the El Bosque area of metro Santiago, against the Society of Jesus and the Saint Ignatius Foundation.

The plaintiffs had requested 120 million pesos ($171,000) for each victim. However, the Chilean newspaper La Tercera reported the victims apparently withdrew that demand in a letter.

The victims, Sebastian Milos Montes, 44, a businessman; Daniel Palacios Muñoz, 44, a sociologist; Allan Pineda García-Reyes, 45, a commercial engineer; and Juan Pablo Barros Castelblanco, 45, a journalist, detailed in the lawsuit the sexual harassment they suffered from Guzmán Astaburuaga, who was then a priest and teacher from 1986 to 1992, when the victims were in grade school.

The victims were represented by Juan Pablo Hermosilla, who was also the lawyer for the three victims of Fernando Karadima, a priest convicted and dismissed from the clerical state by the Vatican in January 2011. Hermosilla was also the attorney for Marcela Aranda, a theologian and the principal accuser of the late priest and former chaplain of Hogar de Cristo, Renato Poblete Barth.

Milos stated that although the victims are satisfied that Guzmán's responsibility in the incidents has been recognized and the form of reparation has been determined, there has been a “lack of transparency and information” regarding the investigation, which he said is "a fundamental part of the closing of this stage” of the process of reparations and so “we were willing for the financial compensation to be significantly less than that contemplated in the lawsuit." 

“In the next few days we should have everything well defined and when that happens a press conference will be held by the Society of Jesus, which we hope will be an act of historical recognition, which will serve as a form of reparation to all those harmed for years,” Milos explained.

Guzmán Astaburuaga was expelled from the priesthood and the Society of Jesus after the completion of the penal administrative process for the abuse of minors carried out by the Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr. Arturo Sosa, at the behest of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The congregation said the process began Nov. 7 and there were 81 complainants against Guzmán.

German Catholic bishops’ leader: We are not ‘schismatics’

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg. / Bistum Limburg.

CNA Staff, May 6, 2021 / 13:50 pm (CNA).

The chairman of the German Catholic bishops’ conference has insisted that the country’s Catholics are not “schismatics” seeking to “detach ourselves as the German national Church from Rome.”

Bishop Georg Bätzing told ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language news partner, that the Church in Germany remains close to Rome, despite tensions over same-sex blessings, Communion for Protestants, and the country’s “Synodal Way.”

He said: “It is absolutely clear that there are matters that we can only discuss at the level of the Universal Church. We will contribute from Germany with our reflections.”

“However, I would like to reject the accusation repeatedly used of us being schismatics or of wanting to detach ourselves as the German national Church from Rome. Our bond with Rome and the Holy Father is very tight.”

In the interview published May 6, the 60-year-old bishop of Limburg explained that the German hierarchy launched the “Synodal Way” in response to the clerical abuse crisis.

The multi-year process brings together bishops and lay people to discuss four main topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women.

The German bishops initially said that the process would end with a series of “binding” votes -- raising concerns at the Vatican that the resolutions might challenge the Church’s teaching and discipline.

Bätzing pointed out that, in terms of church law, the “Synodal Way” is not technically a synod but rather “a sui generis format.”

He said: “The central question is: how can we talk about God today and come to a deeper faith? Faith can grow and deepen if we free ourselves from fears and mental closures, if we ask the questions and look for ways in which the Church today can be present for people.”

He suggested that Pope Francis encouraged German Catholics to address this question in his 2019 letter to the local Church.

In the letter, the pope warned German Catholics not to succumb to a particular “temptation.”

He said: “At the basis of this temptation, there is the belief that the best response to the many problems and shortcomings that exist is to reorganize things, change them and ‘put them back together’ to bring order and make ecclesial life easier by adapting it to the current logic or that of a particular group.”

In the interview, Bätzing explained that there is a “synodal forum” for each of the four major discussion topics.

“The work of the forums is still in progress, so I cannot predict today what suggestions and results they will lead to,” he said, adding that the forums are the setting for theological debates that will lead to resolutions to be voted on by the full Synodal Assembly, consisting of the bishops and members of the lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK).

The bishop was speaking ahead of a day of protest on May 10 against the Vatican’s recent “no” to blessings for same-sex couples.

The event, organized by Catholic pastoral workers, is known as “Segnungsgottesdiensten für Liebende,” or “blessing services for lovers.” Organizers hope that same-sex couples across Germany will take part in the event.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) published a “Responsum ad dubium” March 15 replying to the question, “does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” The CDF answered, “Negative,” outlining its reasoning in an explanatory note and accompanying commentary.

Bätzing said last week that the day of protest was not a “helpful sign.”

The bishop told ACI Stampa that the issue of blessing same-sex couples was one of many topics to be addressed by the Synodal Way’s forum on sexual morality.

He said: “Homosexual couples, and couples who cannot and do not want to marry in the church, but who nevertheless desire the blessing of the Church, are part of our society and the Church.”

“In Germany and in other parts of the Universal Church there has long been a discussion about how to further develop the Magisterium with sound arguments -- on the basis of the fundamental truths of faith and morals, the progress of theological reflection, and in a spirit of openness to the latest results of the human sciences and the life situations of people today.”

He continued: “There are no easy answers to such questions. For this reason, the Synodal Way is striving, particularly with respect to the topic of effective relationships, to discuss in a broad context that also considers the need, possibility, and limits of developing the Church’s magisterium. The perspectives presented by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will find space in these debates.”

Asked whether he believed that the time was ripe for women deacons or priests, Bätzing said that the “Synodal Way” would address women’s role in the Church.

He expressed satisfaction at the growing number of women in leadership positions within German dioceses.

He said: “It is important to me to honestly mention the Church’s arguments as to why only men can enter sacramental ministry. I also realize that these arguments are becoming less and less convincing and that arguments have been developed in theology in favor of opening the sacramental ministry to women as well. This is why I often mention the female diaconate, because I see possibilities there.”

“Regarding the priestly ministry, popes from John Paul II onwards have said in unison that this question has already been answered.”

The bishop also commented on the debate in Germany over whether Protestants should be invited to receive Holy Communion in Catholic churches.

The CDF wrote to Bätzing in September 2020 criticizing an appeal by German theologians for intercommunion between Catholics and Protestants.

The Limburg bishop said that the current debate was not about a general invitation to Protestants to receive Communion, but rather about the Church’s approach to individual non-Catholic Christians who wish to receive the Eucharist.

He said: “I personally respect such a decision and do not deny Communion when someone presents themselves who believes what we Catholics believe and desires to receive the Lord.”

“It is not a question of generically extending the invitation to Communion to all non-Catholic Christians.”

He noted that canon law permits non-Catholics to receive Communion on certain occasions, as long as they fulfill a number of conditions.

“We must undoubtedly continue the theological dialogue on the importance of the Eucharist and Holy Communion. And fortunately, there are already clear convergences in recent years,” he said.

Asked what kind of decisions the Synodal Way would be able to make, the bishop said that all participants were responsible for its conclusions.

He commented: “The binding implementation will, depending on the topic, be up to the Holy See and/or the local bishop. I repeat again: the Church in Germany is an integral part of the universal Church. This is beyond dispute and is evident in a great many areas. And so it will continue to be.”

“That is why we will proceed on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity by evaluating, within the framework of the Synodal Way, which steps we as a local Church can freely regulate and decide. And we will make a distinction between these steps and what is possible only in unity with the Universal Church.”

He expressed confidence that the Synodal Way would not result in failure but “lead to decisions that will help ensure that faith can once again be an option for people, and the Good News of the Gospel acquire meaning and strength in people’s lives.”

He added: “We must not stop looking for credible ways to proclaim the Gospel today. I remain confident.”

Chad Pecknold, associate professor of systematic theology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., told CNA that in his latest comments Bätzing was “proposing the impossible.”

“He holds an erroneous view of what ‘doctrinal development’ means, arguing that the Church must be brought ‘up to date’ with progressive social norms,” he said.

“The Church cannot bless sin, and it cannot change eternal truths which Christ delivered once for all. What Bishop Bätzing is hoping to ‘develop’ amounts to nothing less than a different ecclesiology. It is not a Catholic ecclesiology, and it is not a new ecclesiology he proposes, but one which resembles Liberal Protestantism.”

He continued: “That he stands in such open defiance of Pope Francis, and the Faith Itself, should be evidence enough that Bätzing’s ‘Synodal Way’ is really not a ‘way forward’ but a way out of communion with Rome.”

Asked in the interview if the Synodal Way could serve as a model for Catholics in other countries, Bätzing referred to Pope Francis’ “historic” 2015 speech, in which he said that God expects the Church of the third millennium to take the “path of synodality.”

Bätzing said: “Well before the Church in Germany, Australia took this path, followed by other bishops’ conferences, I'm thinking of Ireland, the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM) and even us. The Italian bishops’ conference is considering how to follow a similar path.”

“You see, this is not a ‘German’ phenomenon but an interesting and valuable development of the local Churches -- each with its own particular traits -- within the community of the Universal Church.”

“Whether the Synodal Way is only a phase or whether it can become a permanent form for the life of the Church, this will be indicated to us by the Spirit of God, to whom we have entrusted ourselves by taking this path.”

Pope Francis to hold general audience with the public on May 12

Pope Francis arrives for his general audience in the San Damaso courtyard at the Vatican, Sept. 16, 2020. / Vatican Media. Other photos: Daniel Ibañez/CNA.

CNA Staff, May 6, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Members of the public will be able to attend Pope Francis’ general audience next week after a six-month absence due to the coronavirus crisis.

The Prefecture of the Papal Household announced May 6 that the pope’s general audience next Wednesday will take place in the San Damaso Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace.

It said that people wishing to attend the May 12 audience will be able to access the interior courtyard via the Bronze Doors, located under the right-hand colonnade in St. Peter’s Square.

Pilgrims will be required to observe safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The courtyard has a capacity of around 500 or so socially distanced and masked participants.

The Prefecture of the Papal Household said that pilgrims will not need entrance tickets to attend the audience.

General audiences are usually held in either St. Peter’s Square or the Paul VI Audience Hall. But when the pandemic first struck Italy in March 2020, the pope transferred his general audiences to the library of the Apostolic Palace, where they took place without public access.

The first live-streamed general audience from the library occurred on March 11, 2020.

The Vatican experimented with holding the audiences in the San Damaso Courtyard in September last year. The first audience at the venue with members of the public took place on Sept. 2.

In the following weeks, Pope Francis sometimes sat close to attendees, many of whom he would spend a long time greeting individually before and after the event.

In October, the audiences were transferred to the Vatican’s larger Pope Paul VI Audience Hall and Pope Francis kept his distance from pilgrims.

The Vatican decided to move the audiences behind closed doors again when a person at the pope’s Oct. 21 audience was found to have been positive for COVID-19.

Pope Francis held his last Wednesday audience with the public on Oct. 28. He told participants that he would be staying up on the stage and not greeting each of them as he liked to do.

“I would very much like to come down and greet each one of you, but we must keep our distance, because if I come down, then a crowd immediately forms to greet me, and this is contrary to the measures and the precautions we must take in order to face this ‘lady’ that is called COVID and harms us so much,” he said.

Starting Nov. 4, the pope gave his general audience catechesis and greetings via live video from his study in the Apostolic Palace.

At the end of December and through January, Pope Francis also delivered his Sunday Angelus address via live stream.

But in February, he began once again to give the address from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, where groups of masked pilgrims typically stand some distance apart from each other to prevent the transmission of the virus.

At the end of his address on Feb. 7, he said: “I am happy to see you again gathered in the Square, even those habitué [regulars], the Spanish nuns here, who are always good; come rain or shine they are there! And also the young people of the Immaculate... All of you. I am pleased.”

‘We are ready to give up our lives’: 34 new Swiss Guards take oath to protect the pope

Swiss Guards at the ceremony in Vatican City's San Damaso Courtyard on May 6, 2021. / © EWTN News/Daniel Ibáñez/Vatican Pool

Vatican City, May 6, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Thirty-four new Swiss Guards were sworn in Thursday in an elaborate ceremony in Vatican City in which the guards promised to protect the pope, even “sacrificing if necessary also my own life.”

Gian Andrea Bossi, a 20-year-old from Davos, Switzerland, was among the new Swiss Guards to take the oath on May 6.

“It is a great honor for me, for all of us. … We’ve prepared for weeks, for months for this day,” Bossi told EWTN News.

“I’ve always wanted to serve God in a way, and I wanted to serve the Catholic Church,” he said.

Gian Andrea Bossi, a 20-year-old Swiss Guard who was sworn-in on May 6, 2021. / Colm Flynn/EWTN News.
Gian Andrea Bossi, a 20-year-old Swiss Guard who was sworn-in on May 6, 2021. / Colm Flynn/EWTN News.

The swearing-in ceremony for one of the world’s oldest standing armies took place on the 494th anniversary of the Sack of Rome, the battle on May 6, 1527, in which 147 Swiss Guards lost their lives defending Pope Clement VII from mutinous troops of the Holy Roman Empire.

The ceremony began with three Swiss Guards blowing trumpets from the loggia, and then the guards marched to the sound of drums in a solemn procession.

/ © EWTN News/Daniel Ibáñez/Vatican Pool
/ © EWTN News/Daniel Ibáñez/Vatican Pool

Due to coronavirus restrictions, only the families of the guards and the press were allowed to attend the ceremony held in Vatican City’s San Damaso Courtyard. In 2020, at least 13 Swiss Guards tested positive for COVID-19.

As part of the schedule this year, the family members of the new guards prayed Vespers on the evening of May 5 in the church of Santa Maria della Pietà in the Vatican’s Teutonic College. Later, the “deposition of the crown” ceremony took place in commemoration of the guards who died during the Sack of Rome.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin also offered Mass with the Swiss Guards in St. Peter’s Basilica in the morning ahead of the swearing-in ceremony.

Swiss Guards attend Mass at St. Peter's Basilica on May 6, 2021. / Colm Flynn/EWTN News
Swiss Guards attend Mass at St. Peter's Basilica on May 6, 2021. / Colm Flynn/EWTN News

Gérald Crettaz, the father of one of the new Swiss Guards, 23-year-old Baptiste Crettaz, said that he was very proud of his son for taking the oath.

“In our current world, where everyone is quite selfish and self-centered, my son is committed to something bigger, something wider that doesn’t belong to him, but to everyone. I think it is fantastic and it is so generous,” Crettaz said.

During the ceremony itself, each new recruit approached the flag of the Swiss Guard as his name was called out. Firmly grasping the banner with his left hand, the new guard raised his right hand and opened three fingers as a sign of his faith in the Holy Trinity.

A new Swiss Guard makes his oath on May 6, 2021. / © EWTN News/Daniel Ibáñez/Vatican Pool
A new Swiss Guard makes his oath on May 6, 2021. / © EWTN News/Daniel Ibáñez/Vatican Pool

While holding up his fingers, the guard said aloud: “I, (name), swear diligently and faithfully to abide by all that has just been read out to me, so grant me God and so help me his saints.”

In English, the full oath reads: “I swear I will faithfully, loyally and honorably serve the Supreme Pontiff Francis and his legitimate successors, and also dedicate myself to them with all my strength, sacrificing if necessary also my life to defend them. I assume this same commitment with regard to the Sacred College of Cardinals whenever the see is vacant. Furthermore, I promise to the Commanding Captain and my other superiors respect, fidelity, and obedience. This I swear! May God and our Holy Patrons assist me!”

Swiss Guards march into San Damaso Courtyard May 6, 2021. / Courtney Mares/CNA
Swiss Guards march into San Damaso Courtyard May 6, 2021. / Courtney Mares/CNA

Swiss Guards -- known for their colorful striped Renaissance-era uniforms -- are responsible for Vatican security together with the Vatican gendarmes. The Vatican military was established by Pope Julius II in 1506.

Candidates for the Pontifical Swiss Guard are required to meet strict requirements. Each recruit must be a Catholic unmarried male at least 5 feet, 8 inches tall and between the ages of 19 and 30. Swiss citizenship is required, as is a letter of good standing from the candidate’s parish priest.

“It is something that only we, Swiss people, can do, and it is important to show that there still are young people ready to be committed to promote some values,” new Swiss Guard Baptiste Crettaz said.

“The fact that we are ready to give up our life for the Holy Father represents a strong meaning,” he said.

The “deposition of the crown” Swiss Guard ceremony on May 5, 2021. / © EWTN News/Daniel Ibáñez/Vatican Pool
The “deposition of the crown” Swiss Guard ceremony on May 5, 2021. / © EWTN News/Daniel Ibáñez/Vatican Pool

The Vatican approved an expansion of the size of the Pontifical Swiss Guards three years ago from 110 to 135 men. Despite the new recruits, it remains the smallest army in the world.

“I am excited to see the Vatican, to get to know the pope … also to be closer to the Church, to the faith, to grow in the faith,” Bossi said.

“In the end it is to serve God, to serve the Church, to protect the faith and defend the pope,” he said.

Pope Francis received the new Swiss Guards in the Vatican Apostolic Palace ahead of the ceremony. The pope recalled that some former guards had discerned the priesthood after their service, while others went on to form their own families.

“I pray that those who begin their service now may also respond fully to Christ’s call, following him with faithful generosity,” he said.

“May these years that you will spend here be an occasion for a deepening of your faith and an even stronger love for the Church. I accompany you with my prayers and I thank you for choosing to make a few years of your life available to the Successor of Peter.”