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Pope Francis: Do not sugarcoat your witness of the Gospel

Pope Francis speaks at the general audience on June 22, 2022. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Vatican City, Jun 22, 2022 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Do not sugarcoat your witness of the Gospel, but let the truth be made manifest even through your weakness, Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday.

“We can ask ourselves: are we capable of preserving the tenor of this relationship of Jesus with the disciples, according to that style of his that is so open, so frank, so direct, so humanly real?” the pope said on June 22. “How is our relationship with Jesus? Is it like that, like him with his disciples?”

“Are we not, instead, very often tempted to enclose the testimony of the Gospel in the cocoon of a ‘sugary’ revelation, to which is added our own circumstantial veneration?” he continued. “This attitude, which seems like respect, actually distances us from the real Jesus, and even becomes the occasion for a very abstract, very self-referential, very worldly walk of faith.”

Pope Francis said Jesus is present to us even in our old age and infirmity, as our dependency on others grows.

Pope Francis greets pilgrims at the general audience on June 22, 2022. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Pope Francis greets pilgrims at the general audience on June 22, 2022. Daniel Ibanez/CNA

“Jesus is the Word of God made man, and he acts as man, he speaks to us as man, God-man. With this tenderness, with this friendship, with this closeness. Jesus is not like that sugary image in those little pictures, no: Jesus is at our side, he is close to us,” he said.

Continuing a series of lessons on old age, Francis reflected during the general audience on Jesus’ “moving dialogue” with Peter at the end of the Gospel of John.

The conversation, in which Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, reflects “a relationship in truth,” he said.

He recalled Jesus’ words to St. Peter, that “when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

Pope Francis greets children from Ukraine who are studying at a school in Rome. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Pope Francis greets children from Ukraine who are studying at a school in Rome. Daniel Ibanez/CNA

The pope encouraged the elderly to embrace their weaknesses and their ill health, rather than fight against it.

“Tell me about having to go in a wheelchair, eh,” he said. Pope Francis has been using a cane and wheelchair in recent weeks due to an inflamed ligament in his knee.

“But that’s how it is, that’s how life is: with old age you get all these diseases and we have to accept them as they come, don’t we,” he remarked.

“We don’t have the strength of the young,” the pope continued. “And your witness, too, Jesus says, will go along with this weakness. You are to give witness to Jesus even in weakness, in sickness and death.”

Pope Francis recalled a quote from St. Ignatius of Loyola, who said, “Just as in life, even in death we must bear witness as disciples of Jesus.”

Even at the end of life we must continue to be disciples of Christ, he urged, noting that St. John the Evangelist, in the Gospel, explains that Jesus is alluding to the witness of martyrdom.

“But we can well understand more generally the meaning of this admonition: your pursuit [of Jesus] will have to learn to be taught and shaped by your frailty, your helplessness, your dependence on others, even in dressing, in walking,” he said.

Jesus, the pope said, continues to say, “you, ‘follow me.’”

Catholics should reflect, he said, on how to “remain faithful to the lived pursuit, to the promised love, to the justice sought in the time of our capacity for initiative, in the time of fragility, in the time of dependence, of leave-taking…”

“Following Jesus is important: always follow Jesus, on foot, running, slowly, in a wheelchair, but always follow him,” he urged.

Museum of the Bible exhibit explores architectural history of St. Peter's Basilica

An exhibit at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., focuses on the history of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. / Courtesy of Museum of the Bible

Washington D.C., Jun 21, 2022 / 18:41 pm (CNA).

Known for its grandeur, St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City has long been an architectural inspiration worldwide. Now the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., is honoring the history of the structure’s architecture with a new exhibit.

Basilica Sancti Petri: The Transformation of Saint Peter’s Basilica” opened May 27 and will remain in the museum's long-term Vatican exhibit, Treasures from the Vatican Museums and the Vatican Library, through Sept. 25.

The exhibit features numerous original prints of design ideas put forward by infamous artists of the 16th century such as Antonio da Sangallo, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Carlo Fontana, Agostino Veneziano, and Antoine Lafréry.

“We have that historical perspective, but also these unique and beautiful prints at the same time,” Jeff Kloha, chief curator of the Museum of the Bible, told CNA. “So it's a combination of a historical exhibit and an art exhibit. You get to see what [the artists] started on, an idea, and how it changed.”

St. Peter’s Basilica is designed with a combination of primarily Roman and Latin influences. Its current state depicts bits and pieces from each artist’s prints.

“Basilica Sancti Petri,” the 2014 book by Barbara Jatta, director of the Vatican Museums, inspired the Museum of the Bible exhibit. Kloha told CNA that Jatta’s collection of the prints for the book led her to offer the original copies for display in the exhibit.

St. Peter’s Basilica was originally built by Roman Emperor Constantine during the pontificate of Pope Sylvester I (314–345) and was completed in 337. It was eventually demolished and rebuilt in the 16th century. The basilica has been the primary church of the Vatican and the site of papal celebrations for centuries. Its architecture has been a blueprint for numerous churches and secular buildings, and it is the first Christian church to be built on the burial site of a martyr — its namesake, St. Peter.

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says to Simon Peter, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”

“It's an interesting way that the Bible becomes kind of concrete in that sense,” Kloha told CNA, while also noting that “in many ways it becomes a model, a pattern for what follows,” both in Catholicism and other traditions.

Basilica Sancti Petri: The Transformation of Saint Peter’s Basilica” will be included as a part of general admission tickets to the Museum of the Bible through Sept. 25. To learn more about this exhibit and others, visit the museum’s website.

Young people 'key' to building understanding, Israeli ambassador to Poland says

Israeli Ambassador to Poland Yacov Livne speaks with students and faculty at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland, on June 21, 2022. / Credit: John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin

Lublin, Poland, Jun 21, 2022 / 17:07 pm (CNA).

Dialogue between young people from Israel and Poland is key to building understanding between the nations, Israeli Ambassador to Poland Yacov Livne told students and faculty at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland, on June 21.

“Meetings of young Poles and Israelis constitute an investment in our common future,” the ambassador said. “The future of our mutual relations is in their hands.”

The ambassador’s remarks came at the announcement by Father Mirosław Kalinowski, the university’s rector, of the creation of The Abraham Joshua Heschel Center at the university. The center, which will carry out joint educational and cultural projects addressed to Jewish and Polish youth, “seeks to build bridges and develop Polish-Israeli research and cultural cooperation,” Kalinowski said. Kalinowski added that he is looking forward to the center’s cooperation with the Israeli embassy and academic centers in Israel.

“A thousand years of living together on Polish soil is the cornerstone of our present and future cooperation,” Livne said. “We should work together to solve the problems that Poland, Israel, and all of Europe are currently facing. Challenges open up new opportunities. Responding to these challenges is our task.”

“A lack of respect between parties who do not understand each other is the root of many conflicts,” the ambassador continued. “My people have experienced this very strongly. Our main task is to build bridges — bridges of mutual understanding, bridges of communication. This is the answer to the challenges we are going to face in the future.”

Israeli Ambassador to Poland Yacov Livne and Father Mirosław Kalinowski, rector of John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland, discuss building bridges between the two countries at the university on June 21, 2022. Credit: John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin
Israeli Ambassador to Poland Yacov Livne and Father Mirosław Kalinowski, rector of John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland, discuss building bridges between the two countries at the university on June 21, 2022. Credit: John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin

“It is much easier to distort history when we do not know our own past and that of our neighbors,” Livne said. “It is therefore our responsibility to conduct thorough research and to learn from history based on facts.”

The ambassador’s visit is considered a stepping stone to ongoing cooperation between the countries. Kalinowski and Livne also met on May 13 at the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw. 

Livne has served as the Israeli Ambassador to Poland since the end of February.

US bishops file brief supporting web designer who objects to gay marriage

Lorie Smith, owner and founder of 303 Creative. / Alliance Defending Freedom.

Washington D.C., Jun 21, 2022 / 15:51 pm (CNA).

The U.S. bishops are coming to the aid of a Colorado web designer, a Christian who fears prosecution under state anti-discrimination law for stating her faith-based objections to providing services that promote same-sex marriage.

Along with five other faith groups, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) filed an amici curiae brief in support of the web designer, Lorie Smith, in her Supreme Court case 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis.

“Free speech plays a critical role in protecting religious exercise because ‘freedom of conscience and worship’ have ‘close parallels in the speech provisions of the First Amendment,’” the June 2 amici brief reads.

Supreme Court justices will hear the case next term, considering “Whether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.”

Smith, the owner of the graphic arts and website designing business 303 Creative, is being represented in the case by Alliance Defending Freedom

Her work is animated by her deeply-rooted faith, she says.

“As a Christian who believes that God gave me the creative gifts that are expressed through this business, I have always strived to honor Him in how I operate it,” her website description states.

The Colorado-based web designer fears prosecution under Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act, which includes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.

Smith's attorneys say that the law would force her to live under threat of prosecution if she declines to design and publish websites that promote messages or causes that conflict with her beliefs, such as messages that promote same-sex marriage or same-sex weddings. Because of the law, Smith has not sought to expand her business to include designing websites for weddings.

Her case is not a response to government action. Rather, it is a pre-enforcement challenge intended to prevent the use of the law that Smith's attorneys say affects creative professionals who have religious or moral concerns about creating content that violates their beliefs.

Smith’s case is similar to 2018’s Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which a bakery rejected making a cake for a same-sex wedding because of its owner’s religious beliefs. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission argued that this was an instance of unjust discrimination, but the Supreme Court ruled the commission “showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating” the owner’s objection.

The Masterpiece case is the basis for many arguments in Smith’s brief, as well as amici briefs in her favor.

Alongside the USCCB, the June 2 amici brief was filed by the Colorado Catholic Conference, The General Council of the Assemblies of God, The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and Samaritan’s Purse.

The brief states, “Values of particular importance to the USCCB include the protection of the rights of religious organizations and religious believers under the First Amendment, and the proper development of this Court’s jurisprudence in that regard.”

The amici brief also states, “More broadly, our culture and our politics have become increasingly polarized, leading to regulations and policies that would force minority voices to choose between violating their conscience or being pushed from the public square."

Smith, as stated in her petitioner’s brief, does not discriminate against clients on the basis of race, creed, gender, or sexual orientation. She instead cares about the message she is asked to create.

Her brief says, “Smith will decline any request—no matter who makes it—to create content that contradicts the truths of the Bible, demeans or disparages someone, promotes atheism or gambling, endorses the taking of unborn life, incites violence, or promotes a concept of marriage that is not solely the union of one man and one woman.”

The USCCB’s involvement in the case aligns with its mission statement, which calls the bishops to “act collaboratively and consistently on vital issues confronting the Church and society.”

Nigerian Catholic parish hard hit in latest raid

Map of Nigeria. / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 21, 2022 / 14:40 pm (CNA).

An early morning raid Sunday by terrorists in north-central Nigeria hit a Roman Catholic congregation hard.

“We lost three of our parishioners, and 36 people were kidnapped, the majority of whom were Catholics,” Father Francis Agba, pastor of St. Moses Church in Rubu, told CNA via text message. 

“This is the third attack against this village in this month alone and the latest of 15 attacks in the 17 outstations of the parish this year,” he added. Agba is the head of St. Augustine’s Parish which has 17 churches, one of which is St. Moses.

The three churches were in a complex of villages called Rubu in Kajuru County, approximately 30 miles south of Kaduna City in north-central Nigeria. Other churches attacked included Maranatha Baptist and Evangelical Church Winning All. 

The abductees included 31 females and five males, according to Jonathan Asake, the head of Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU), an umbrella group for all Christian communities in the State.

Father Francis Agba, pastor of St. Moses Church in Rubu, Nigeria. Courtesy of Father Francis Agba
Father Francis Agba, pastor of St. Moses Church in Rubu, Nigeria. Courtesy of Father Francis Agba

Worshippers told reporters that they had decided to attend the 7 a.m. service in hopes of lessening the chance of becoming victims of terrorists who have struck the village many times in recent years. 

The terrorists thwarted those plans. When the shooting started the congregants ran toward the forest but three lost their lives, said Agba, the St. Moses pastor. 

Another attack the next day

The village of Gwando, 10 miles east of Rubu, was swarmed by terrorists Monday, according to Stingo Usman, a community leader in Maraban Kajuru. “No one was killed because the villagers ran into the forest, but their animals were rustled,” Usman said.

Nigerian security forces attempted to respond to the attack in Rubu an hour after it began but changed plans after hearing that the bandits had left the town with their hostages, Usman said. “The military then decided to meet the bandits at Kutura Station, but abandoned that effort due to bad roads,” Usman said. Kaduna Police spokesman Mohammad Jaliga Kumo did not respond to CNA’s request for comment.

The attacks are part of a systematic campaign by Fulani bandit gangs to force the majority-Christian farmers off of the land in southern Kaduna, Asake said. The Sunday morning raids came nine days after a June 5 bandit assault on three villages approximately 12 miles away that left 32 dead and 12 wounded, Asake said. The villagers attacked in that raid on June 5 reported that a helicopter hovered over the village and fired rounds that killed or wounded residents of the village instead of the terrorists. The Kaduna State Commissioner for Public Security disputed the claim, but the villagers have held firm in their version of events.

In that earlier raid 27 villagers, chiefly women, were abducted. The bandits have since contacted relatives using the abductees’ cell phones and demanded a ransom of the equivalent of $1,300 per person, Asake said.

“We told the bandits that most of the captured women are widows whose husbands were killed in previous attacks,” Asake said.

“Their answer was that the women could be returned in lieu of a promise that our villagers will not go to their farms carrying any weapons,” he said. “They cannot carry even a machete, making them utterly defenseless during the next attack.”

“The International Committee on Nigeria believes the Fulani militants have an attack strategy to instill fear, cause displacement, and allow occupation of Christian farms,” Kyle Abts, executive director of the International Committee on Nigeria (ICON), told CNA. The goal is to disrupt these farmers from generating a harvest and a wage. After leaving the area, these lands will be re-occupied by Fulani herders and their families,” Abts said.

The spate of attacks targeting Christian churches has been attributed to “communal violence” by analysts with the Council on Foreign Relations and the result of “clashes over land and water resources” in reports by the U.S. Department of State. 

Human rights scholars who spoke to CNA sharply disagree with those characterizations. They say the massacres in Kajuru are part of a long-term campaign by radicalized Muslims to Islamicize the whole of Nigeria.

The widespread killings by terrorist gangs along with the Islamist insurgencies of Boko Haram and Islamic State of West Africa have taken more than 350,000 lives since 2001, said Abts, of ICON. 

“The overall aim of the terrorists is economical and partly religious,” Father Agba said. “Partly religious, because many Muslims have fallen victim, too, but the frequency of the attacks is much more on the predominantly Christian parts of the state.” 

The gangs that have terrorized the state of Kaduna with mass kidnappings of college students and groups of motorists on the highways have grown wealthy and powerful since they emerged in the northwestern state of Zamfara in 2011, according to bandit expert Dr. Murtala Rufa’i, a historian at the Usmanu Dan Fodiyo University in Sokoto. Scholars estimate that between 10,000 and 30,000 bandit terrorists are operating in five of Nigeria’s northwestern states. 

Two Jesuit priests killed in a church in Mexico

Fathers Javier Campos Morales, SJ and Joaquín César Mora Salazar, SJ. / Mexican Jesuits

Denver Newsroom, Jun 21, 2022 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

The Jesuits of Mexico announced Tuesday that two of their priests were killed Monday inside a church in a mountainous region of Chihuahua state. 

Fathers Javier Campos Morales and Joaquín César Mora Salazar had served as Jesuit priests for nearly a century combined. The gunmen who carried out the June 20 attack on the church in Cerocahui, Chihuahua also took their bodies. 

“We condemn these violent acts, we demand justice and the recovery of the bodies of our brothers who were taken from the church by armed persons,” a June 21 statement released in Spanish from the Mexican Jesuits reads. 

“We trust that the testimonies of Christian life of our dear Javier and Joaquín continue to inspire men and women to give themselves in the service of the most vulnerable. Rest in peace.”

According to the Chihuahua State Attorney General's Office, both priests tried to protect a person who sought refuge in the church while being chased by at least one other man, both armed, El Sol de Mexico newspaper reported. The chaser reportedly shot and killed all three men. 

Luis Gerardo Moro Madrid SJ, Provincial of the Jesuits of Mexico, condemned the killings and said they are “working with the federal and state authorities to ensure the safety” of the parish’s two remaining priests.

The Jesuits issued a demand that “all protective measures be adopted immediately to safeguard the lives of our Jesuit brothers, sisters, lay people and the entire Cerocahui community.”

When asked about the crime by El Sol de Mexico, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador indicated that an investigation is underway. 

The region where the killings took place is populated by the Tarahumara indigenous people, who are renowned for their running skills. The area has suffered from drug-related organized crime for years, and the Jesuits noted and expressed solidarity with the pain that the people they serve are experiencing “due to the prevailing violence.”

“The Sierra Tarahumara, like many other regions of the country, faces conditions of violence and neglect that have not been reversed,” the statement from the Jesuits continues. 

“Every day men and women are arbitrarily deprived of life, as our brothers were murdered today. The Jesuits of Mexico will not remain silent in the face of the reality that lacerates all of society. We will continue to be present and working for the mission of justice, reconciliation and peace, through our pastoral, educational and social works.”

According to the Jesuits, Father Campos Morales was born in Mexico City and was ordained in 1972. After several pastoral assignments, he returned to Cerocahui in 2019 to serve as Superior of the Jesuit Mission; as Pastor and Vicar of Indigenous Pastoral of the Diocese of Tarahumara, and as Regional Advisor of Base Ecclesial Communities. 

Father Salazar was born in Monterrey and was ordained in 1971. Since 2000 he served as Parochial Vicar in Chínipas, and later as Cooperating Vicar in Cerocahui since 2007. 

The killing of priests in Mexico has escalated in recent years. Most recently, the body of Father José Guadalupe Rivas Saldaña, 57, was found with signs of violence on the outskirts of Tecate, a city located on the border with the United States in the Mexican state of Baja California.

It is estimated that the first three and a half years of the current administration of López Obrador has been the most violent period on record in the history of Mexico, with more than 120,000 homicides.

Pro-abortion vandalism targets Michigan clinic, Minnesota pro-life group

The Lennon Pregnancy Center in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, was vandalized sometime between the night of June 19 and the morning of June 20, 2022. / Courtesy of The Lennon Pregnancy Center

Mansfield, Mass., Jun 21, 2022 / 12:52 pm (CNA).

A pro-life pregnancy center in Michigan and a pro-life organization in Minnesota have both been vandalized within the past week. 

The Lennon Pregnancy Center in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, was vandalized sometime between Sunday night and Monday morning. 

Gary Hillebrand, the center’s president, told CNA Tuesday that 12 of the clinic's front windows were smashed. Four glass doors were smashed as well, he said.

He said graffiti was left that said “If abortion isn’t safe, neither are you!”

In Minneapolis, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) had four of its office building windows smashed between the night of June 14 and the early morning of June 15. 

The building was also written on with red graffiti that said "ABORTION IS LIBERATION.”

MCCL has now been vandalized twice in the past two months, Paul Stark, communications director for MCCL told CNA Tuesday. 

The first vandalism against the group’s office occurred May 9 and included red graffiti spelling out the words “Never Again.” A hanger and an anarchist symbol were also graffitied on the building in red. 

There was also a homemade sign taped to the building which said, "You are BAD people. You can't take away people's rights."

The Minneapolis Police Department was notified but no perpetrator has been caught yet. Stark said the group is not intimidated nor afraid and will continue to serve women and families. He also said the group is planning to heighten its security measures.

MCCL serves its pro-life mission through education, advancing pro-life legislation, and supporting pro-life candidates for office.

In the Michigan attack, photos posted by the clinic’s Twitter account show that the pro-abortion graffiti has been painted over and the windows have been boarded up. Hillebrand said the graffiti was painted over by police. The online post at Abolition Media shows what the graffiti originally said. 

“On the night of 6/19 a gang of criminal queers smashed the windows of two fake abortion clinics in the greater Detroit area leaving the messages ‘if abortion isn’t safe, neither are you’ and ‘fake clinic,’ the post says.

In the post, “Jane will have her revenge” claimed responsibility for the vandalism. 

Hillebrand estimates that the repairs will cost between $10,000 and $15,000. The staff at the clinic is not intimidated, he said, but they are cautious. The clinic has ordered more security cameras, he said. 

Hillebrand’s clinic provides all its services for free such as ultrasounds. The clinic also offers free classes on parenting, preparing for childbirth, relationship counseling, budgeting, nutrition, and more. The clinic offers material help as well by providing “anything from diapers to strollers, to car seats,” Hillebrand said. 

The Dearborn Heights Police have been notified about the vandalism. 

Vandalism against pro-life pregnancy centers have surged in the past two months after a leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court of a Mississippi court case showed that the justices may have intended to overturn Roe v. Wade. Roe is the 1973 court case that federally legalized abortion. 

Since the leak on May 2, not only pregnancy centers but churches as well have come under attack from pro-abortion activists. The FBI said last week that they are investigating the attacks. 

Pope Francis: Nuclear weapons are ‘immoral’

null / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 21, 2022 / 11:45 am (CNA).

Pope Francis condemned the use of nuclear weapons in favor of a “culture of life and peace” in a message released Tuesday. 

“I wish to reaffirm that the use of nuclear weapons, as well as their mere possession, is immoral,” the pontiff wrote to Ambassador Alexander Kmentt, president of the First Meeting of States Parties, regarding the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). 

“Trying to defend and ensure stability and peace through a false sense of security and a ‘balance of terror,' sustained by a mentality of fear and mistrust inevitably ends up poisoning relationships between peoples and obstructing any possible form of real dialogue,” Pope Francis wrote. “Possession leads easily to threats of their use, becoming a sort of ‘blackmail’ that should be repugnant to the consciences of humanity.” 

States parties to the TPNW are gathering in Vienna, Austria, June 21-23 to “commit to concrete actions to implement obligations under the Treaty,” which envisions a world without nuclear weapons, according to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

“The Holy See has no doubt that a world free from nuclear weapons is both necessary and possible,” Pope Francis added. “In a system of collective security, there is no place for nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.”

Pope Francis identified the treaty’s “courageous vision” as “ever more timely,” adding that “we need to remain aware of the dangers of short-sighted approaches to national and international security and the risks of proliferation.”

“As we know all too well, the price for not doing so is inevitably paid by the number of innocent lives taken and measured in terms of carnage and destruction,” he said.

He urged that disarmament treaties are not only legal obligations but also “moral commitments.” 

Peace, Pope Francis said, is “indivisible,” and to be just and lasting, it must also be “universal.” 

“It is deceptive and self-defeating reasoning to think that the security and peace of some is disconnected from the collective security and peace of others,” he said.

He emphasized the Catholic Church's role.

“For its part, the Catholic Church remains irrevocably committed to promoting peace between peoples and nations and fostering education for peace throughout its institutions,” the pope’s statement says. “This is a duty to which the Church feels bound before God and every man and woman in our world.”

Pope Francis called on people to be responsible for maintaining peace, both on a public level and a personal level. It is a legal discussion as well as an ethical discussion, he said. He added that this treaty recognizes that education for peace can play an important role in teaching current and future generations.

The statement also paid homage to the survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as to all victims of nuclear-arms testing.

Pope Francis closed by encouraging representatives, international organizations, and all of civil society to continue to promote “a culture of life and peace based upon the dignity of the human person and the awareness that we are all brothers and sisters.”

Pope Francis has expressed concern about nuclear weapons in the past. More recently, in the context of Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the pope said that the image of Noah’s flood is “gaining ground in our subconscious” as the world considers the possibility of a nuclear war “that will extinguish us.”

US Supreme Court rules against Maine's ban on tuition aid to religious schools

null / Wuttichai jantarak/Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Jun 21, 2022 / 10:55 am (CNA).

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled 6-3 that Maine’s policy barring students in a student-aid program from using their aid to attend “sectarian” schools violates the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.

“Regardless of how the benefit and restriction are described, the program operates to identify and exclude otherwise eligible schools on the basis of their religious exercise,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the June 21 decision in Carson v. Makin.

He added that “a neutral benefit program in which public funds flow to religious organizations through the independent choices of private benefit recipients does not offend the Establishment Clause.”

“Maine’s decision to continue excluding religious schools from its tuition assistance program … thus promotes stricter separation of church and state than the Federal Constitution requires.”

Roberts noted that Maine “pays tuition for certain students at private schools— so long as the schools are not religious. That is discrimination against religion. A State’s antiestablishment interest does not justify enactments that exclude some members of the community from an otherwise generally available public benefit because of their religious exercise.”

Having chosen to fund private schools through its aid program, Roberts said, Maine cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.

The case was brought by the Carson family, consisting of parents Amy and David and their daughter Olivia, who reside in Glenburn, Maine. Because Glenburn has no public school system, families with school-age children are eligible for a school-choice program that pays tuition at either public or non-sectarian schools.

About 5,000 Maine students are eligible for this program, which excludes private schools that are “​​associated with a particular faith or belief system and which, in addition to teaching academic subjects, promotes the faith or belief system with which it is associated and/or presents the material taught through the lens of this faith,” which Maine considers “sectarian”.

The Carson parents are alumni of Bangor Christian Schools, a K-12 school in the nearby city of Bangor. But because Bangor Christian Schools mandates Bible class, it is ineligible for the town tuition program, meaning the Carsons have to pay for Olivia’s tuition. 

The Carsons, along with two other Maine families seeking to send their children to “sectarian” schools, filed suit in 2018.

The Carson v. Makin decision referred to other recent rulings on free exercise and and equal protection.

In its June 2020 decision Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the court struck down as a violation of the free exercise clause a state scholarship program that excluded religious schools. And in 2017, the court found in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer that a church-owned playground can be eligible for a public benefit program.

Dissenting from the decision on Tuesday were Justices Stephen Breyer, who was joined by Elena Kagan, and in part, by Sonia Sotomayor, who also filed a dissenting opinion.

Breyer argued that the interpretation of the First Amendment advanced by the majority opinion will work against its “general purpose,” which he said is “to allow for an American society with practitioners of over 100 different religions, and those who do not practice religion at all, to live together without serious risk of religion-based social divisions.”

He also argued that Maine “excludes schools from its tuition program not because of the schools’ religious character but because the schools will use the funds to teach and promote religious ideals.”

“State funding of religious activity risks the very social conflict based upon religion that the Religion Clauses were designed to prevent. And, unlike the circumstances present in Trinity Lutheran and Espinoza, it is religious activity, not religious labels, that lies at the heart of this case,” Breyer maintained.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, chairmen of the US bishops's committees for religious liberty and Catholic education, respectively, commented that "The Supreme Court has rightly ruled that the Constitution protects not just the right to be religious but also to act religious. This common-sense result reflects the essence of Catholic education ... In our pluralistic society, it is vital that all people of faith be able to participate in publicly available programs and so to contribute to the common good."

"It is fitting that this decision concerns a program in Maine, the state that James G. Blaine served as Senator in 1875 when he worked for the passage of the Blaine Amendment – a cynically anti-Catholic measure to amend the U.S. Constitution to ensure that no public aid be provided to ‘sectarian’ schools. While his effort was narrowly defeated, Blaine Amendments were ultimately adopted in some form by 37 states. These laws have nothing to do with government neutrality towards religion. Rather, they are expressions of hostility toward Catholics. We are grateful that the Supreme Court continues to rebuke this harmful legacy," the bishops concluded.

Ashley McGuire, senior fellow with The Catholic Association, called the majority opinion “another blow to bigoted and arcane anti-Catholic laws. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that parents want and deserve better school choices for their kids. Religious families, and even families that aren’t religious but see the value in faith-based schools, should not be cut out from programs that help parents make the best educational choice for their kids. Maine’s law and others like it especially hurt low-income children who suffer the most in failed schools. Today’s win helps to end anti-religious discrimination and expands sorely-needed school choice for low-income families.”

Kelly Shackelford, president of First Liberty Institute, a law firm focused on religious freedom, commented: “We are thrilled that the Court affirmed once again that religious discrimination will not be tolerated in this country.  Parents in Maine, and all over the country, can now choose the best education for their kids without fearing retribution from the government.”

The Second Vatican Council's 1965 declaration on Christian education, Gravissimum educationis, said that parents "must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools."

"Consequently, the public power, which has the obligation to protect and defend the rights of citizens, must see to it, in its concern for distributive justice, that public subsidies are paid out in such a way that parents are truly free to choose according to their conscience the schools they want for their children."

Firebombed NY pregnancy center facing investigation — for not offering abortion services

CompassCare, a pro-life pregnancy center near Buffalo, New York, was heavily damaged by fire and spray-painted with pro-abortion graffiti on June 7, 2022. / CompassCare

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 20, 2022 / 17:08 pm (CNA).

While Jim Harden waits for those responsible for firebombing the pro-life CompassCare pregnancy center he runs in upstate New York to be brought to justice, he's facing another, unexpected investigation — of the clinic itself.

One of several pro-abortion measures New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed into law on June 13 authorizes the state’s commissioner of health, currently Dr. Mary T. Bassett, to conduct an in-depth study of pro-life pregnancy centers like CompassCare that don't provide abortion services. 

The probe will assess the impact that so-called "limited service pregnancy centers" have on women's access to "accurate, non-coercive health care information" and "a comprehensive range of reproductive and sexual health care services," the legislation states. A final report is due in December 2023.

Harden, CompassCare's CEO, told CNA that the state wants him to turn over information on CompassCare's donors, patients, service processes, affiliates, and more. Meanwhile, no arrests have been made in the June 7 firebombing and vandalism of the clinic, located in the Buffalo suburb of Amherst, New York.

“They want to know anything and everything. They want an open book," said Harden, who does not intend to comply. “It's absolutely ironic and crazy."

CompassCare is one of a growing number of pro-life pregnancy centers that have been vandalized in the past two months in response to the leak of a draft decision in a Mississippi abortion case that calls for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide. The FBI confirmed Friday that it is investigating the attacks.

On EWTN’s "The World Over" with Raymond Arroyo on June 16, Harden took issue with the New York law calling pro-life pregnancy centers “limited.” He said abortion clinics are actually the ones with limited service because they only provide one service: abortion. 

“The only intent here is to draft more legislation to regulate us,” he told Arroyo. You can watch the full interview in the video above.

CompassCare provides women with free, baseline OB-GYN care, diagnostic pregnancy services, sexually transmitted disease (STD) treatment, and abortion pill reversal care. More information is available on the center's website.