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'Come to our rescue': Nigerian priest to international community after month of captivity

Fr. Bako Francis Awesuh, who was held captive for more than a month by Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria's Kaduna state earlier this year. / Aid to the Church in Need.

Kaduna, Nigeria, Dec 2, 2021 / 13:05 pm (CNA).

A Nigerian priest who spent more than a month in captivity following his abduction earlier this year has called on the international community to come to the aid of the people of God in Nigeria’s Kaduna State amid heightened insecurity.

Fr. Bako Francis Awesuh, 37, told Aid to the Church in Need Nov. 25 attacks from the predominantly Muslim Fulani herders “have become very common in Kaduna state.”

“I am therefore calling on the international community to please come to our rescue,” Fr. Awesuh told the pontifical charity organization.

In a September 2021 report, the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) ranked Kaduna as one of Nigeria’s least secure states.

Intersociety members said in the report that at least 608 people in Kaduna state have lost their lives in what has been described as “Christian butcheries” perpetrated by Fulani bandits in the first nine months of the year. 

The report also indicated that 4,400 Christians in Nigeria have been killed, while at least 20 priests and pastors have been murdered or abducted in the West African nation.

Fr. Awesuh told Aid to the Church in Need that Fulani herdsmen stormed his residence in Kachia Local Government Area at 11 pm May 16. 

“I heard gunshots and I quickly turned off the television set. Turning off the light, I saw shadows and heard footsteps. I carefully opened the curtain to see what was going on. I saw five bulky Fulani herdsmen who were well-armed. I recognized them by their dress and by the way they spoke. I stood there confused, not knowing what to do, as I felt completely lost,” the priest recounted.

He added that his body became stiff and started sweating profusely after the attackers knocked at his door.

“They kept on knocking, but, afraid, I refused to open the door. They broke down the door and forced themselves inside. One of the men pushed me to the floor, tied me up and flogged me mercilessly, saying ka ki ka bude mana kofa da tsori (‘you are getting tortured because you kept us standing outside for so long and refused to open the door when we were knocking’). They stripped me naked down to my shorts.”

Abducted along with ten of his parishioners, the priest said that for the next three days they trekked in the bushes feeding only on mangos.

“We were hungry, tired, and weak and our legs hurt a lot and our feet were swollen as we trekked barefoot. There was rain on the second and third days, but we had to keep moving. On the third day, we arrived at a camp deep in the forest,” Fr. Awesuh said.

They remained in the forest for nearly five weeks, where they were fed with rice, oil, and salt. The food was prepared by the women who had been kidnapped, he added.

“We were not allowed to bathe throughout our captivity. We had to urinate and defecate in the hut. We were smelling like dead bodies and the hut smelled like a mortuary. We were tortured and threatened with death if a ransom of 50 million naira ($120,000) was not paid,” Fr. Awesuh said. 

He related that “Our families pleaded and negotiated with our kidnappers, until they finally accepted the sum of 7 million naira ($17,000).”

The priest recalled that three parishioners tracked down the abductees, meaning to rescue them, but they lost their lives in the process.

“Oh, what sorrow to have watched three of my parishioners shot dead in cold blood, right before my eyes—and I couldn’t do anything. It was very painful! At this point, I felt helpless, hopeless, useless, and restless! I urgently craved for death to take me, as the scene of the killings kept playing in my head.”

“Whenever I opened my mouth to pray, words failed me. All I could say was ‘Lord have mercy,’” Fr. Awesuh recounted.

He thanked God for his freedom saying, “To the greater glory of God’s name, we were released and came out alive. I narrowly escaped death. I know of so many priests kidnapped before and after me who were killed even after a ransom was paid.”

Fr. Awesuh, whose current location remains undisclosed for security reasons, said he has undergone counselling.

“The love I received and experienced from my family, friends and especially the Church, was enormous,” he concluded.

Pope Francis tells Cypriot authorities he is praying for ‘the peace of the entire island’

Pope Francis addresses the authorities, civil society, and diplomatic corps at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec 2, 2021 / 10:20 am (CNA).

Pope Francis told Cypriot authorities on Thursday that he is praying for “the peace of the entire island.”

The pope addressed political leaders, representatives of civil society, and members of the diplomatic corps at the Presidential Palace in the capital, Nicosia, on Dec. 2, hours after he arrived on the island divided by a U.N. buffer zone.

Pope Francis with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. Andrea Gagliarducci/CNA.
Pope Francis with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. Andrea Gagliarducci/CNA.

He described the de facto partition of the island as “the greatest wound suffered by this land.”

“I pray for your peace, for the peace of the entire island, and I make it my fervent hope,” he said.

“The way of peace, which reconciles conflicts and regenerates the beauty of fraternity, has a single word as its signpost. That word is dialogue.”

Pope Francis is the second pope to visit Cyprus after Benedict XVI made a three-day trip to the Mediterranean island in 2010. He is embarking on a five-day visit that will also take him to Greece, another predominantly Orthodox Christian country.

Pope Francis meets Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. Vatican Media.
Pope Francis meets Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. Vatican Media.

In his live-streamed address, the pope described Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea with a population of 1.2 million people, as “a country geographically small, but historically great.”

He said that the nation has served as “the eastern gate of Europe and the western gate of the Middle East,” offering “an open door, a harbor that unites.”

“Cyprus, as a crossroads of civilizations, has an innate vocation to encounter, favored by the welcoming character of the Cypriot people,” he said.

The island of Cyprus also contains Northern Cyprus, a predominantly Sunni Muslim territory located on the northeastern portion of the island.

Northern Cyprus is recognized only by neighboring Turkey, which invaded Cyprus in 1974, and is considered part of the Republic of Cyprus by all other states.

Pope Francis left Rome at 11 a.m. local time on Thursday. After touching down at Larnaca International Airport, he traveled to the divided capital city, where he addressed members of the country’s Catholic minority at the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace in Nicosia.

He was then driven to the Presidential Palace, where he paid a courtesy visit to Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, who later gave a speech praising the pope’s outreach to the poor and defense of the environment.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Anastasiades said that Cyprus receives an outsized share of migrants compared to other European Union member states and thanked the pope for his role in transferring 50 migrants from Cyprus to Italy.

“Your symbolic initiative is, first of all, a strong message about the need for a much-needed review of EU immigration policy, so that, on the one hand, there is a fairer division of the management of problems and, on the other, and a more humane life for those who emigrate to the member states,” he said.

Flanked by Anastasiades, the pope visited a statue of Makarios III, the first president of Cyprus, in the Presidential Palace gardens. Considered the “Father of the Nation,” Makarios was also the Orthodox archbishop of Cyprus. He survived four attempts on his life and a coup during his three presidential terms.

Pope Francis with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades before a statue of Makarios III at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. Vatican Media.
Pope Francis with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades before a statue of Makarios III at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. Vatican Media.

Pope Francis paid tribute to Makarios in his address to the country’s leaders, pointing out that his name means “blessed” in Greek, which, he said, evoked the Beatitudes presented by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount.

The pope noted that Cyprus played an important role in early Christian history.

“Precisely from this place, where Europe and the East meet, there began the first great inculturation of the Gospel on this continent,” he said.

“I am deeply moved to be able to retrace the steps of the great missionaries of the early Church, particularly Saints Paul, Barnabas, and Mark.”

The pope compared the island, with its natural beauty and man-made treasures, to “a pearl of great price in the heart of the Mediterranean,” alluding to Jesus’ Parable of the Pearl, recounted in the Gospel of Matthew.

He said: “A pearl in fact becomes what it is because it takes shape over time. It takes years for its various layers to become compact and give it luster.”

“So too, the beauty of this land comes from the cultures which over the centuries have met and blended here. Today too, the light of Cyprus is richly variegated.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

He went on: “Many peoples and nations have contributed different shades and tints to this people. I think too of the presence of many immigrants: percentagewise, more than any other country of the European Union.”

“To preserve the multicolored and multifaceted beauty of the whole is no easy thing. As in the formation of a pearl, it takes time and patience; it demands a broad vision capable of embracing a variety of cultures and looking to the future with foresight.”

“I think in this regard of the importance of protecting and supporting all the members of society, especially those who are statistically a minority.”

The pope observed that a pearl is created when an oyster faces “an unexpected threat to its safety,” such as a grain of sand.

The Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. Andrea Gagliarducci/CNA.
The Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. Andrea Gagliarducci/CNA.

“To protect itself, it reacts by assimilating the thing that wounded it: it encloses the foreign body that endangers it and makes it into something beautiful: a pearl,” he said.

“The pearl of Cyprus has been darkened by the pandemic, which has prevented many visitors from visiting it and seeing its beauty; here, as in other places, this has aggravated the effects of the financial and economic crisis.”

“In this period of recovery, however, it will not be anxious efforts to recover what was lost that will ensure and consolidate growth, but the commitment to promote the recovery of society, especially through a decisive fight against corruption and everything that violates the dignity of the person; here I think, for example, of the scourge of human trafficking.”

The statue of Archbishop Makarios in the grounds of the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. Andrea Gagliarducci/CNA.
The statue of Archbishop Makarios in the grounds of the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. Andrea Gagliarducci/CNA.

Pope Francis urged the Cypriot authorities to make bold gestures to try to achieve reconciliation between the island’s divided peoples.

“Not gestures of power, threats of reprisal and shows of force, but gestures of détente and concrete steps towards dialogue,” he suggested.

“I think, for example, of openness to sincere discussion that would give priority to people’s needs, ever more effective involvement on the part of the international community, the need to protect the religious and cultural heritage, and the restitution of all that people hold most precious in that regard, such as places or at least sacred furnishings.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope praised a peacebuilding initiative called the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Project, which brings together the island’s religious leaders under the auspices of the Swedish embassy.

“Times that seem least favorable, when dialogue languishes, can be the very times that prepare for peace,” he said.

“The pearl also reminds us of this, for it takes shape in the patient, hidden process of weaving new substances together with the agent that caused the wound.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope urged dispirited leaders to think of younger generations that long for a “world of peace,” rather than “one marred by perennial rivalries and poisoned by unresolved disputes.”

“Cyprus, as a geographic, historical, cultural, and religious crossroads, is in a position to be a peacemaker. May it be a workshop of peace in the Mediterranean,” he said.

“Peace is not often achieved by great personalities, but by the daily determination of ordinary men and women. The European continent needs reconciliation and unity; it needs courage and enthusiasm, if it is to move forward.”

“For it will not be the walls of fear and the vetoes dictated by nationalist interests that ensure its progress, nor will economic recovery alone serve to guarantee its security and stability.”

He concluded: “May we look to the history of Cyprus to see how encounter and welcome have brought forth good fruits that endure. Not only in the history of Christianity, for which Cyprus was ‘the springboard’ on this continent, but also for the building of a society which found its richness in integration.”

“This spirit of enlargement, this ability to look beyond one’s own borders, brings rejuvenation and makes possible the rediscovery of a brilliance that was lost.”

Pope Francis invites Catholics in Cyprus to be agents of fraternity

Pope Francis visits the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace in Nicosia, Cyprus, Dec. 2, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Rome Newsroom, Dec 2, 2021 / 08:47 am (CNA).

On his first day in Cyprus, Pope Francis invited the Catholic community to promote a spirit of fraternity in the island country, which is divided by a U.N. buffer zone.

“We need a fraternal Church, one that is an agent of fraternity in our world,” the pope said Dec. 2, shortly after arriving in Nicosia, the divided capital city.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

In his live-streamed speech at the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace, Francis said that “in Cyprus, there are many spiritual and ecclesial sensibilities, different backgrounds and histories, different rites and traditions. Yet we should not experience diversity as a threat to identity; no, we should not be jealous or defensive.”

“If we fall into this temptation, then fear grows, and fear gives rise to distrust, distrust leads to suspicion and then, sooner or later, to conflict,” he continued. “We are brothers and sisters, loved by a single Father.”

Pope Francis landed Thursday afternoon in Cyprus at the start of a five-day trip that will also take him to Athens, Greece, and the island of Lesbos. The visit is expected to highlight the plight of migrants, since both countries have been major stopping points for migrants and refugees seeking to enter Europe, mainly from the Middle East and Africa.

Pope Francis boards the plane to Cyprus at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, Dec. 2, 2021. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Pope Francis boards the plane to Cyprus at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, Dec. 2, 2021. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

The pope touched down at Larnaca International Airport, then traveled the 31 miles to Nicosia by car.

Addressing Catholic priests, consecrated, deacons, catechists, and ecclesial associations and movements of Cyprus, he said: “By your spirit of fraternity, you can remind everyone, and Europe as a whole, that we need to work together to build a future worthy of humanity, to overcome divisions, to break down walls, to dream and work for unity. We need to welcome and integrate one another, and to walk together as brothers and sisters, all of us.”

The predominantly Orthodox Christian Republic of Cyprus has a population of 1.2 million people, just 10,000 of whom are Catholic.

The island is split by a U.N. buffer zone, with the de facto state of Northern Cyprus located on the northeastern portion of the island. The predominantly Sunni Muslim territory is recognized only by neighboring Turkey, which invaded Cyprus in 1974, and is regarded by all other states as part of the Republic of Cyprus.

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Before leaving the Vatican on Dec. 2, Francis greeted around 12 migrants from Afghanistan, Somalia, Congo, and Syria, now living in Italy. Some of them were migrants who came to Rome on the plane with Pope Francis after his 2016 visit to Lesbos.

On his way to the airport, the pope stopped to meet another group of immigrants hosted by the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, a parish close to Fiumicino Airport. While there, he also prayed before an image of Our Lady of Loreto.

The night before the trip, Francis made his customary stop at the Basilica of St. Mary Major to visit the icon of Mary, Salus Populi Romani, to ask for her intercession for his travels.

Pope Francis prays before the icon Salus Populi Romani at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome on Dec. 1, 2021. Vatican Media.
Pope Francis prays before the icon Salus Populi Romani at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome on Dec. 1, 2021. Vatican Media.

Cyprus and Greece are significant in early Christian history, because the Apostles St. Paul and St. Barnabas traveled to the Mediterranean countries to bring the Gospel. The Acts of the Apostles records that St. Paul stopped in Cyprus and converted the Roman Proconsul Sergius Paulus to Christianity. The Apostle also famously preached on the streets of Athens.

Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, and Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, the head of the Maronite Church, traveled from the Holy Land and Lebanon to be present at the pope’s encounter with Maronite and Latin Catholics in Cyprus Dec. 2.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The Maronite Church is one of the 23 autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome. There are an estimated 3 million Maronite Catholics worldwide, around a million of whom live in Lebanon.

After listening to songs and testimony from Raï and two religious sisters, Pope Francis spoke about St. Barnabas, the apostle who was born on the island of Cyprus.

Barnabas “was a great man of faith and wisdom chosen by the Church in Jerusalem — the Mother Church, we could say — as the person best suited to visit a new community, that of Antioch, made up of a number of recent converts from paganism,” Francis said, praising the patience that Barnabas showed to “people coming from another whole world, another culture, another religious sensibility.”

“They were people who had just had a life-changing experience; theirs was a faith full of enthusiasm, yet still fragile,” he said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Barnabas, he added, had “the patience of discernment that is capable of perceiving the signs of God’s work in every place, the patience to ‘study’ other cultures and traditions. Above all else, Barnabas had the patience of accompaniment ... he did not overwhelm the fragile faith of the newcomers by taking a rigorous and inflexible approach, or by making excessive demands about the observance of precepts. He accompanied them, taking them by the hand and dialoguing with them.”

Pope Francis invited Catholics in Cyprus to have the same patience.

“The work you are carrying out on this island, as you welcome new brothers and sisters arriving from other shores of the world, is precious,” he said. “Like Barnabas, you too are called to foster a patient and attentive outlook, to be visible and credible signs of the patience of God, who never leaves anyone outside the home, bereft of his loving embrace.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

He pointed out that Barnabas is also a good example of fraternity, as seen in his friendship with St. Paul, which they were able to maintain even through disagreements about how to carry out their mission.

“I share with you my joy in visiting this land and journeying as a pilgrim in the footsteps of the great apostle Barnabas, a son of this people, a disciple who loved Jesus and a fearless herald of the Gospel,” Pope Francis said.

“As he visited the emerging Christian communities, [Barnabas] saw the grace of God at work; he rejoiced and urged everyone ‘to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose’ (cf. Acts 11:23). I come with the same desire: to see the grace of God at work in your Church and in your land, to rejoice with you at the wondrous things the Lord has done, and to urge you to persevere always, without growing weary or discouraged,” he said.

Dobbs Day: Here's what it was like at the rallies outside the Supreme Court

Thousands of pro-life advocates gathered outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 1, 2021, in conjunction with oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case. / Katie Yoder/CNA

Washington D.C., Dec 2, 2021 / 08:04 am (CNA).

Anna Del Duca and daughter, Frances, woke up at 5 a.m. Wednesday morning to brave the 30-degree weather outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. They arrived hours before oral arguments began in the highly-anticipated abortion case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

The case, which involves a Mississippi law restricting most abortions after 15 weeks, challenges two landmark decisions: Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld Roe in 1992. 

“We're looking forward to the end of Roe versus Wade in our country,” Anna, who drove from Pittsburgh Tuesday night, told CNA. In her hands, she held a sign reading, “I regret my abortion.”

Anna Del Duca (right) and her daughter, Frances, traveled from Pittsburgh to attend a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, in conjunction with oral arguments for the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case. Katie Yoder/CNA
Anna Del Duca (right) and her daughter, Frances, traveled from Pittsburgh to attend a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, in conjunction with oral arguments for the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case. Katie Yoder/CNA

“I would like to use my testimony to be a blessing to others,” she said, so that “others will choose life or those who have regretted abortion or had an abortion would turn to Jesus.”

Anna remembered having an abortion when she was just 19. Today, she and her daughter run a group called Restorers of Streets to Dwell In Pittsburgh that offers help to women seeking healing after abortion. 

Anna and Frances were among thousands of Americans who rallied outside the Supreme Court before, during, and after the oral arguments. To accommodate them, law enforcement closed the street in front of the court. Capitol police also placed fencing in the space in front of the building in an attempt to physically separate rallies held by abortion supporters and pro-lifers.

At 21-weeks pregnant, pro-life speaker Alison Centofante emceed the pro-life rally, called, “Empower Women Promote Life.” The event featured a slew of pro-life women of diverse backgrounds and numerous politicians.

“It’s funny, there were so many diverse speakers today that the only unifying thread was that we want to protect preborn children,” Centofante told CNA. They included Democrats, Republicans, Christians, Catholics, agnostics, atheists, women who chose life, and women who regretted their abortions, she said.

She recognized women there, including Aimee Murphy, as people who are not the typical “cookie cutter pro-lifer.”

Aimee Murphy, 32, founder of pro-life group Rehumanize International, arrived at the Supreme Court around 6:30 a.m. She drove from Pittsburgh the night before. Her sign read, “Queer Latina feminist rape survivor against abortion.”“At Rehumanize International, we oppose all forms of aggressive violence,” she told CNA. “Even as a secular and non-partisan organization, we understand that abortion is the most urgent cause that we must stand against in our modern day and age because it takes on average over 800,000 lives a year.”

She also had a personal reason for attending. 

“When I was 16 years old, I was raped and my rapist then threatened to kill me if I didn't have an abortion,” she revealed.

“It was when he threatened me that I felt finally a solidarity with unborn children and I understood then that, yeah, the science told me that a life begins at conception, but that I couldn't be like my abusive ex and pass on the violence and oppression of abortion to another human being — that all that I would be doing in having an abortion would be telling my child, ‘You are an inconvenience to me and to my future, therefore I'm going to kill you,’ which is exactly the same thing that my rapist was telling me when he threatened to kill me.”

On the other side of the police fence, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the National Abortion Access Coalition and NARAL Pro-Choice America participated in another rally. Yellow balloons printed with the words “BANS OFF OUR BODIES” escaped into the sky. Several pro-choice demonstrators declined to speak with CNA.

Voices clashed in the air as people, the majority of whom were women, spoke into their respective microphones at both rallies. Abortion supporters stressed bodily autonomy, while pro-lifers recognized the humanity of the unborn child. Chants arose from both sides at different points, from “Whose choice? My choice!” to “Hey hey, ho ho, Roe v. Wade has got to go!”

At 10 a.m., the pro-life crowd sudddenly went silent as the oral arguments began and the rally paused temporarily as live audio played through speakers.

Hundreds of students from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, traveled to Washington, D.C. for a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, in conjunction with oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case. Katie Yoder/CNA
Hundreds of students from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, traveled to Washington, D.C. for a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, in conjunction with oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case. Katie Yoder/CNA

During the oral arguments, students from Liberty University knelt in prayer. One student estimated that more than a thousand students from the school made the more than 3-hour trip from Lynchburg, Virginia.

“Talking about our faith is one thing, but actually acting upon it is another,” he said. “We have to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. So to me this is part of doing that.”

Sister Mary Karen, who has been with the Sisters of Life for 21 years, also stressed the importance of prayer. She drove from New York earlier that morning because, she said, she felt drawn to attend. She came, she said, to pray for the country and promote the dignity of a human person. 

“Our culture is post-abortive,” she explained. “So many people have suffered and the loss of human life is so detrimental, just not knowing that we have value and are precious and sacred.”

Theresa Bonopartis, of Harrison, New York, was among the pro-life demonstrators outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. She runs a nonprofit group called Entering Canaan that ministers to women and others wounded by abortion. Katie Yoder/CNA
Theresa Bonopartis, of Harrison, New York, was among the pro-life demonstrators outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. She runs a nonprofit group called Entering Canaan that ministers to women and others wounded by abortion. Katie Yoder/CNA

She stood next to Theresa Bonopartis, who traveled from Harrison, New York, and ministers to women and others wounded by abortion.

“I've been fighting abortion for 30 years at least,” she told CNA. 

Her ministry, called Entering Canaan, began with the Sisters of Life and is observing its 25th anniversary this year. It provides retreats for women, men, and even siblings of aborted babies.

Abortion is personal for Bonopartis, who said she had a coerced abortion when she was just 17. 

“I was kicked out of the house by my father and then coerced into getting an abortion,” she said. “Pretty much cut me off from everything, and that's something people don't really talk about … they make it try to seem like it's a woman's right, it's a free choice. It's all this other stuff, but many women are coerced in one way or another.”

She guessed that she was 14 or 15 weeks pregnant at the time.

“I saw my son. I had a saline abortion, so I saw him, which I always considered a blessing because it never allowed me to deny what abortion was,” she said. Afterward, she said she struggled with self-esteem issues, hating herself, guilt, shame, and more. Then, she found healing.

“I know what that pain is like, I know what that experience is like, and you know that you can get past it,” she said. “You just want to be able to give that message to other people, that they're able to heal.”

Residents of Mississippi, where the Dobbs v. Jackson case originated, also attended. 

Marion, who declined to provide her last name, drove from Mississippi to stand outside the Supreme Court. She said she was in her early 20s when Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. 

“At the time, of course, I could care less,” she said. Since then, she had a change of heart. 

“We were the generation that allowed it,” she said, “and so we are the generation who will help close that door and reverse it.”

Marion, who declined to provide her last name, was among those who attended a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, from Mississippi, where the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case originated. Katie Yoder/CNA
Marion, who declined to provide her last name, was among those who attended a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, from Mississippi, where the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case originated. Katie Yoder/CNA

The crowd at the pro-life rally included all ages, from those who had witnessed Roe to bundled-up babies, children running around, and college students holding up homemade signs. 

One group of young friends traveled across the country to stand outside the Supreme Court. They cited their faith and family as reasons for attending.

Mathilde Steenepoorte, 19, from Green Bay, Wisconsin, identified herself as “very pro-life” in large part because of her younger brother with Down syndrome. She said she was saddened by the abortion rates of unborn babies dianosed with Down syndrome.

Juanito Estevez, from Freeport, a village on Long Island, New York, at a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. Katie Yoder/CNA
Juanito Estevez, from Freeport, a village on Long Island, New York, at a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. Katie Yoder/CNA

Juanito Estevez, from Freeport, a village on Long Island, New York, arrived Tuesday. He woke up at 6 a.m. to arrive at the Supreme Court with a crucifix in hand.

“I believe that God is the giver of life and we don't have the right [to decide] whether a baby should live or die,” he said.

He also said that he believed women have been lied to about abortion. 

“We say it's their right, and there's a choice,” he said. When girls tell him “I have the right,” his response, he said, is to ask back, “You have the right for what?” 

Mallory Finch, from Charlotte, North Carolina, was among the pro-life demonstrators outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021.
Mallory Finch, from Charlotte, North Carolina, was among the pro-life demonstrators outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021.

Mallory Finch, from Charlotte, North Carolina, also woke up early but emphasized “it was worth it.” A pro-life podcast host, she called abortion a “human-rights issue.”

“I hope that it overturns Roe,” she said of the case, “but that doesn't mean that our job as pro-lifers is done. It makes this, really, just the beginning.” 

From Syria to Slovakia, buildings are lit up in support of persecuted Christians

Red Week 2021 is marked in Bosnia and Herzegovina. / Aid to the Church in Need.

Königstein, Germany, Dec 2, 2021 / 05:20 am (CNA).

Hundreds of buildings across the world were lit up in solidarity with persecuted Christians in Red Week, an annual event organized by the charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

This year’s commemoration, on Nov. 17-24, marked the first time that the eastern European countries of Ukraine and Bosnia and Herzegovina have taken part in the event, with Kyiv’s Greek Catholic Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ and Sarajevo Cathedral illuminated in red.

Another highlight was the participation of the Maronite Cathedral of St. Elijah in Aleppo, Syria. The cathedral was badly damaged in the country’s ongoing war but rebuilt with help from ACN.

Also lit up in red were Sacré-Cœur in the French capital, Paris, and the cathedrals in Sydney, Melbourne, and Hobart in Australia.

On Red Wednesday, the final day of Red Week, ACN released a report declaring the treatment of Christian minority women and girls in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia a “human rights catastrophe.”

At the start of Red Week, the pontifical foundation announced it was donating $5.6 million to help Christian communities in Lebanon and Syria.

Pope Francis accepts resignation of Catholic archbishop of Paris

Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris. / Ibex73 via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Rome Newsroom, Dec 2, 2021 / 04:23 am (CNA).

Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Archbishop Michel Aupetit on Thursday amid a controversy surrounding an alleged prior relationship with a woman before he was archbishop of Paris.

A statement from the Holy See press office on Dec. 2 said that Pope Francis accepted the resignation submitted by Aupetit and had appointed Archbishop Georges Pontier, archbishop emeritus of Marseille, as the interim apostolic administrator.

Aupetit, who was installed in the French capital in 2018, wrote to the pope after the French weekly magazine Le Point published a report portraying him as an authoritarian and divisive figure.

The report also raised concerns about Aupetit’s contacts with a woman dating back to 2012, when he was vicar general of Paris archdiocese.

The 70-year-old archbishop, who had a late vocation to the priesthood after working as a doctor, told Le Point that he was not in a relationship with the woman.

He said: “My behavior towards her may have been ambiguous, thus suggesting the existence between us of an intimate relationship and sexual relations, which I strongly refute … I decided not to see her again and I informed her.”

Aupetit told the French Catholic daily La Croix that he had spoken to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, about his situation, as well as to Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the apostolic nuncio to France.

“This is not because of what I should or should not have done in the past — otherwise I would have left a long time ago — but to avoid division, if I myself am a source of division,” he said.

In a Dec. 2 statement also released as a video message, Aupetit said: “The painful events of the past week, about which I have already spoken, had led me to place my mission in the hands of Pope Francis in order to preserve the archdiocese from the division that suspicion and loss of trust always provoke.”

“I have received this heavy burden from the archdiocese of Paris and I have tried to carry it out with fervor and dedication. I give thanks to God, who has always given me the gift of a benevolent gaze at my fellow human beings and of love for people, which led me to the practice of medicine in the first place. Caring is something deeply rooted in me and the difficulties of relationships between people do not diminish it.”

He added: “I was, of course, greatly disturbed by the attacks on me. Today, I thank God that my heart is deeply at peace. I thank the many, many people who have shown me their trust and affection over the past eight days.”

“I pray for those who may have wished me ill as Christ taught us to do, who helps us beyond our poor strength. I ask forgiveness of those whom I might have hurt and assure you all of my deep friendship and my prayer, which will always be yours.”

Concluding his message, he recalled the words of his first homily as archbishop of Paris: “Don’t look at the archbishop, contemplate Christ!”

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