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Relics of Carlo Acutis and 6 saints coming to National Eucharistic Congress

A reliquary containing Blessed Carlo Acutis’ relic at a Mass at St. Dominic Parish in Brick, New Jersey, Oct. 1, 2023. / Credit: Thomas P. Costello II

Rome Newsroom, Jul 13, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Relics of Blessed Carlo Acutis, St. Juan Diego, and five other saints will be available for veneration each day of the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis next week. 

Catholics attending the congress will have the rare opportunity to pray with the relics of Sts. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Manuel González García, Paschal Baylon, Junípero Serra, Juan Diego, and Blessed Carlo Acutis, as well as part of a relic from Chartres, France, known as “the Veil of Our Lady.”

Organizers announced that the relics will be displayed at a specially designated reliquary chapel within the Indiana Convention Center July 15–20 from noon to 6:30 p.m. each day, allowing the faithful to offer prayers of intercession and reflect on the lives of the saints who exemplified profound devotion to the Eucharist.

“From our Blessed Mother through Blessed Carlo Acutis, the Eucharist has been at the center of the lives of all saints, and these particular patrons can inspire us to share in their closeness to Our Lord, present in the holy Eucharist,” Father Eric Augenstein, the reliquary chapel coordinator for the congress, told CNA.

Relics are physical objects that have a direct association with the saints or with Our Lord. First-class relics are the body or fragments of the body of a saint, such as pieces of bone, and second-class relics are something that a saint personally owned, such as a shirt or book (or fragments of those items).

Catholics venerate relics for the sake of worshipping God, as St. Jerome described in “Ad Riparium” in 404 A.D.: “We venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore him whose martyrs they are.” 

The Church has documented medical miracles that have occurred when people have prayed with relics, including the miracles that led to the approval of Acutis’ upcoming canonization.

Here are the Eucharistic saints whom people can encounter at the National Eucharistic Congress:

St. Manuel González García

Known as the “Bishop of the Abandoned Tabernacle,” St. Manuel González García (1877–1940) was a bishop amid the Spanish Civil War known for his profound devotion to the Eucharist. After his episcopal ordination in Seville, he said: “I desire that in my life as a bishop, as before in my life as a priest, my soul should not grieve except for one sorrow which is the greatest of all, the abandonment of the tabernacle, and that it should rejoice for one joy, the tabernacle, which does not lack company.”

On his tomb in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of Palencia Cathedral, it is written: “I ask to be buried next to a tabernacle, so that my bones after my death, like my tongue and my pen in life, may always be repeating to those who pass by, ‘Jesus is here! Jesus is here! Do not leave him abandoned!’”

First-class relics of St. Manuel González García’s bone, blood, and hair are being brought to Indianapolis from Spain by several sisters who are members of the Eucharistic Missionaries of Nazareth, a community he founded.

Blessed Carlo Acutis

A relic of Blessed Carlo Acutis’ heart (pericardium) from Assisi, Italy, will be on display in the congress reliquary. The Italian teenager who died in 2006 is known for his devotion to the Eucharist and his passion for technology. He called the Eucharist “my highway to heaven” and used his computer skills to catalog Eucharistic miracles from around the world. Diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 15, Carlo offered his suffering for the Church and the pope. Pope Francis has put forward Acutis as an example for young people and recently approved his canonization as the first millennial saint, expected during the Catholic Church’s 2025 Jubilee Year.

Acutis’ Eucharistic Miracles Exhibit will also be on display in the Indiana Convention Center each day of the congress. 

St. Paschal Baylon

St. Paschal Baylon was born on the feast of Pentecost in 1540 in Torrehermosa, Spain. A humble shepherd who joined the Franciscan order as a lay brother, he was known for his deep piety and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Despite his lack of formal education, he was revered for his wisdom and spirituality. He was canonized in 1690 by Pope Alexander VIII and declared the patron saint of all Eucharistic congresses and associations by Pope Leo XIII.

A relic of Baylón’s mummified finger is provided to the Eucharistic congress from the Shrine of All Saints in Chicago.

St. Junípero Serra

St. Junípero Serra was a Franciscan missionary who played a pivotal role in the establishment of the California mission system. The missionary saint from Mallorca, Spain, arrived in Mexico in 1749 and later moved north to found the first nine of 21 missions in California, starting with San Diego de Alcalá in 1769. His efforts significantly influenced the spread of Christianity in the American West. Pope Francis declared Serra a saint in the first canonization on U.S. soil in 2015. 

St. Juan Diego

St. Juan Diego is best known for his encounters with the Virgin Mary, who appeared to him as Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1531. The Virgin Mary instructed Diego to build a church in her honor, leaving her image miraculously imprinted on his tilma as proof. The Mexico City basilica that now houses the tilma has become one of the world’s most-visited Catholic shrines. Pope John Paul II beatified St. Juan Diego in 1990 and canonized him in 2002.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

A pioneer in American Catholic education, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was the first native-born American to be canonized as a saint. Seton was born into an Episcopalian family in New York City in 1774. After her husband's death, she converted to Catholicism and founded the Sisters of Charity, the first American religious community for women. She established schools and orphanages, laying the foundation for the Catholic parochial school system in the United States. 

The Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis provided Seton’s relic for the congress.

The Veil of Mary

A piece of a relic of the Veil of Our Lady from the Chartres Cathedral in France will be displayed for veneration at the National Eucharistic Congress. The veil, also known as the Sancta Camisa, has been preserved and venerated in the Chartres Cathedral since the 10th century. This piece of the veil belongs to Holy Rosary Church in Indianapolis and is on loan for the congress. 

The Shroud of Turin

Visitors to the National Eucharistic Congress will also have the chance to see a replica of the Shroud of Turin, which is part of an educational exhibit on display in the Wabash Ballroom Three of the Indiana Conversion Center each day of the congress. 

Eucharistic adoration

Eucharistic adoration will be available 24 hours a day throughout the congress at St. John the Evangelist Church next to the Indiana Convention Center starting at 9 a.m. on July 15 and concluding at 9 a.m on July 21.

“The Eucharist we receive and adore today is the same Jesus who was received and adored by these great saints, and so many others before us. We are united to the Communion of Saints most intimately through the Holy Eucharist,” Augenstein said.

More than 100 years after Fátima, New Jersey Knights of Columbus promotes similar message

A handful of LOFRON resolution members stand outside of the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in Trenton, New Jersey. It was here where they recited the Prayer of Consecration of America to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on July 4, 2022. / Credit: LOFRON

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 13, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

During the apparitions that took place between May and October of 1917 in Fátima, Portugal, Our Lady revealed to three shepherd children the importance of penance, praying the rosary, and devotion to her Immaculate Heart, among other things.

Now, more than 100 years later, a local Knights of Columbus group from New Jersey hopes to spread a similar message across the United States.

The Living Our Faith to Restore Our Nation (LOFRON) resolution was officially approved this past March by the Knights of Columbus Order of the Fourth Degree. Now, the group is looking to expand outside of New Jersey and across the nation.

LOFRON first began in 2020, when members of the Knights of Columbus St. Elizabeth Council No. 2393 in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, held Zoom sessions to discuss the state of the country.

“We were terribly frustrated with what was going on in the country and a growing secular culture,” said Matt Porraro, a Knight and founding member of the resolution.

Citing the inclusion of God throughout the Declaration of Independence and several of the Founding Fathers’ practice of Christianity, Porraro shared the group’s desire to combat secularism by putting “God back into everyday society, everyday language, and everyday messaging. He has been put off to the side in today’s society, and we have to bring him back.”

Calling themselves a nonpolitical “spiritual militia,” members of this resolution aim to “bring our nation closer to God and his holy mother Mary” by pushing for a yearly rosary procession and consecration of the United States to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

In hopes of gaining more momentum beyond a state level, the LOFRON movement — which currently consists of about a dozen members — has partnered with the National Blue Army Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Asbury, New Jersey.

Founded in 1947 and decreed as the World Apostolate of Fátima in 2005, this shrine’s mission is to “help people learn, live, and spread the message of Our Lady of Fátima in communion with the Church and in concert with the new evangelization.”

The National  Blue Army Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, located in Asbury, New Jersey, hosts “Mary-thon” events on the 13th of the months of May through October each year to commemorate the Fatima apparitions. Credit: Megan Pritchard/The National Blue Army Shrine of our Lady of Fatima
The National Blue Army Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, located in Asbury, New Jersey, hosts “Mary-thon” events on the 13th of the months of May through October each year to commemorate the Fatima apparitions. Credit: Megan Pritchard/The National Blue Army Shrine of our Lady of Fatima

To recognize the anniversaries of each Fátima apparition, the Blue Army Shrine hosts annual “Mary-thon” events on the 13th of the month from May through October. For its July 13 event, the shrine will host Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke and Father Joshua Caswell for a rosary, Mass, and Eucharistic procession, among other things — and LOFRON will play a significant role.

Following the noon rosary procession with a pilgrim Virgin statue of Our Lady of Fátima, Burke will bless the LOFRON resolution as group members place a crucifix, American flag, and U.S. Hopkinson flag into stands around the shrine’s pavilion.

Burke will then recite the Prayer of Consecration of America to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which dates back to Archbishop John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop in the United States and archbishop of Baltimore.

Carroll, whose cousin was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, was also known for his regular correspondence with President George Washington and efforts to further advance the Catholic Church throughout the United States.

“We’re just so tremendously honored to have [Burke] read this prayer,” said David Carollo, a member of the LOFRON resolution and executive director of the World Apostolate of Fátima.

Carollo expressed the significance of this prayer and movement today, telling CNA that “we’re at a point in this country and beyond even in the world, and in our Church, where we’re afraid to live out our faith.”

“Secularism has become more prominent, similar to Our Lady’s warning of the errors of communist Russia,” he said. “The essence of communism is atheism, or taking God out of the equation. So that’s what we’re dealing with today, having put aside a Catholic basis and accepting a secular vision for the country and world.”

Cardinal Raymond Burke says a “Mary-thon” Mass at the Blue Army Shrine in a previous year. He will bless the LOFRON resolution and recite the Prayer of Consecration of America to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on July 13, 2024. Credit: Megan Pritchard/The National Blue Army Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima
Cardinal Raymond Burke says a “Mary-thon” Mass at the Blue Army Shrine in a previous year. He will bless the LOFRON resolution and recite the Prayer of Consecration of America to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on July 13, 2024. Credit: Megan Pritchard/The National Blue Army Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima

Carollo continued: “St. John Paul II said in the 1980s that Fátima ‘is more important now than in 1917.’ Well, I contend that the Fátima message is even more relevant today than it was when he said that 40 years ago.”

“Our resolution and initiative with the Knights of Columbus matches our apostolate. We are here to spread the message of Fátima, which is to live in accord with the Gospel,” Carollo continued. “[The Knights] serve as Our Lady’s Blue Army, as the Church’s soldiers who help to save souls. That’s what the whole Fátima message is. Are you willing to offer your lives, Our Lady told the shepherd children, in prayer and reparation for the conversion of sinners?”

Echoing this sentiment was Sgt. Robert Bartlett, whose family’s military service dates back to the Battle of Valley Forge and who began practicing his Catholic faith following a near-death experience in Iraq in 2005.

As a member of the LOFRON movement, he cited the resolution as being a means to “restore the nation back to the reverence of God.”

“We need to push politics aside. Our message is clear in bringing attention to praying the rosary and consecrating ourselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary,” Bartlett told CNA. “This can’t be a one-off instance. [LOFRON] would like to see an annual consecration bring about true conversion, with people in this country turning their lives back to Christ. That’s all that matters.”

Crediting their efforts to “God and the Holy Spirit,” members of the LOFRON resolution also expressed hope in turning their New Jersey initiative into a nationwide one.

“We want to make separate chapters and committees in different states,” said Tim Bradshaw, one of the resolution’s founding members. “We’d like to see the Knights, under the Order of the Fourth Degree, go to their states’ organizations and do what we’ve done here in New Jersey.”

Carollo mirrored this desire ahead of the Blue Army Shrine’s “Mary-thon” event: “This needs to be a national movement, something that needs to reach everybody. [LOFRON] wants to save this country by bringing it back to God — we have an obligation to do so.”

Those who wish to view the “Mary-thon” events can either access the Blue Army Shrine’s livestream or tune into EWTN’s television coverage of the Mass on July 13 at 6:30 p.m. ET. 

House Democrats ask accountability office to investigate pregnancy center funding

null / Tatiana Vdb via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 12, 2024 / 17:55 pm (CNA).

Two House Democrats who serve on the Oversight and Accountability Committee are asking the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the funding of pro-life pregnancy resource centers.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, the committee’s ranking member, and Rep. Maxwell Frost sent a letter to the GAO requesting the government watchdog conduct a study showing how much federal funding pregnancy resource centers receive. The duo sent the letter on Thursday, July 11.

Pro-life pregnancy centers offer a variety of material goods and life-affirming services to women who are pregnant and struggling mothers who have young children. This includes diapers, baby formula, ultrasounds, health care services, and education classes. According to a report from the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, 2,750 pro-life pregnancy centers provided nearly $368 million worth of goods and services in 2022.

The two Democrats wrote to the GAO that they are “concerned” about the pregnancy centers, which they claimed operate with an “ultimate motive, often achieved through deception, misinformation, and intimidation, … to prevent people from accessing abortion care.” The pair accused the centers of providing “biased, limited, and scientifically inaccurate information” to patients.

The letter argues that the pregnancy centers, who do not perform abortions and do not refer women to abortionists, “have been found to delay access to medically legitimate prenatal and abortion care.” 

Pro-life pregnancy centers have been eligible for federal funding since 1996. The Democrats asked the GAO to determine how much federal funding pregnancy centers have received in that time frame and how much funding has changed from year to year.

The lawmakers also requested that the GAO investigate which programs pregnancy resource centers have received funding from. They also asked the GAO to look into how the centers track their spending of federal money and how the funding is audited.

Pro-life pregnancy centers have become the target of pro-abortion politicians in recent years, particularly since the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which allowed states to restrict or prohibit abortion.

In May of this year, New York Attorney General Letitia James sued pro-life pregnancy centers based on allegations that the organizations misled patients about the abortion pill reversal drug. Lawmakers in some states, including Illinois and Vermont, passed laws that sought to restrict the speech and advertisements of pro-life pregnancy centers. The Illinois law was blocked by a judge and the Vermont law is currently being challenged in court.

Pro-life pregnancy centers and other pro-life organizations have also faced attacks from pro-abortion activists since the Supreme Court decision. This includes vandalism, such as arson, smashed windows, and graffiti. Law enforcement has failed to locate and charge most of the perpetrators.

At Conservatism Conference, panel challenges philosophy of church-state separation

Speakers at the panel discussion "Separation of Church and State Has Failed" at the National Conservatism Conference in Washington, D.C., July 9, 2024. / Credit: Tyler Arnold/CNA

Washington D.C., Jul 12, 2024 / 17:25 pm (CNA).

A panel at the annual National Conservatism Conference challenged the efficacy of a strong separation of church and state in the United States — calling into question the conventional wisdom of many thinkers on both the political left and the political right.

“A good society educates the young to look above … and not just below,” R.R. Reno, the editor of the Christian ecumenical journal First Things, said during the July 9 panel at the conference, held in Washington, D.C.

Reno, the only Catholic on the panel, argued the case that Catholics should not fear efforts to dismantle the separation of church and state but should rather “rejoice over … [the] demise of extreme secularism.”

The other panelists were Timon Cline, who is Presbyterian and the editor of the American Reformer; Josh Hammer, who is Jewish and an editor at Newsweek; and Josh Mitchell, who is Protestant and a professor of political theory at Georgetown University.

Panelists, who were speaking at a breakout session titled “Separation of Church and State Has Failed,” discussed some efforts in Republican-led states to peel away at the hard barrier that separates church and state in the country. 

Those efforts include Bible literacy bills proposed in some state legislatures, a new Louisiana law that requires public schools to display the Ten Commandments, and a new Florida law that allows public schools to hire religious chaplains for counseling students.

All of these bills have faced legal challenges from advocacy groups that claim the legislation violates the First Amendment’s establishment clause. That clause reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” 

The U.S. Supreme Court in the 1940s ruled on several cases related to the establishment clause. The high court took a hard-line interpretation of the provision as creating a strong barrier between church and state, citing a letter from Thomas Jefferson that called for a “wall of separation” between the two.

Reno argued that Catholics should oppose this interpretation and that it should be revisited by the Supreme Court. “Justice [John] Roberts, tear down that wall,” Reno said in a reference to Ronald Reagan’s famous order to Mikhail Gorbachev regarding the Berlin Wall.

Under the strict interpretation of separation, Reno warned that “even the slightest hint of public support for religion would be a violation.” This, he argued, impedes a state’s duty to promote the general welfare of its population, which includes a duty “to promote religion.” 

According to Reno, “a free society” requires “moral citizenry,” and embracing the ideology of secularism at the federal level “undermines the American tradition of well-ordered liberty.”

“Our duty to honor and serve God is not [simply] a revealed truth,” Reno said, noting that all societies have historically recognized the importance of serving a conception of God or gods.

“It’s a truth of natural law,” Reno explained, arguing that the “true nature of that God is revealed in Scripture.”

Reno, along with Mitchell, made that case that federally imposed secularism is not true neutrality in matters of religion. Rather, Mitchell argued, society has embraced “incomplete religion,” which seeks to take the place of Christianity.

The incomplete religion adopted in the United States, Mitchell posited, is “identity politics,” in which there is an “oppressor” class and an “oppressed” class, where the oppressed is “never guilty of anything, no matter how many laws they break” and there is “an unpayable debt of the transgressor [that] must be reckoned with.”

Mitchell contrasted identity politics with Christianity, in which humanity’s sin breaks them from God and Christ’s death on the cross and Resurrection from the dead restores human nature and provides an opportunity for forgiveness and redemption. In the secular religion, he warned, “there is no forgiveness.” 

“We already have an established church,” Mitchell said. “... Politics and religion have become one.”

Mitchell noted that every society that has abandoned Christianity has embraced an “incomplete religion,” such as the Atheistic Cult of Reason following the French revolution, which oversaw widespread atrocities against Christians, and the Soviet Union’s imposition of atheistic communism and its persecution of Christians following the Russian revolution.

“After Christendom does not come secularism,” Mitchell said.

Hammer, meanwhile, argued that the solution is not to get rid of the ruling class but “rather we are trying to replace the ruling class with our people.” He said those efforts include building up competing institutions but also trying to make inroads in established institutions.

According to Hammer, secularism can be fought with good statescrafting. 

Similarly, Cline noted that good laws can affect culture, just like bad laws have. As an example of a bad law affecting culture, he noted the U.S. Supreme Court’s imposition of legalized homosexual civil marriages on every state, noting that now “marriage is a moot point” and “no one talks about it.”

The National Conservatism Conference, which is a project of the Edmund Burke Foundation, was held in Washington, D.C., from July 8 through July 10.

Catholic Relief Services mobilizes supplies after hurricane ‘rips through’ Caribbean

An empty street as Hurricane Beryl hit Kingston, Jamaica, on July 3, 2024. Beryl caused widespread damage in several island nations as it crossed the Caribbean and then hit the city of Houston. / Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

CNA Staff, Jul 12, 2024 / 16:55 pm (CNA).

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) said this week it is mobilizing humanitarian supplies after the extremely powerful Hurricane Beryl blew through the Caribbean, killing numerous people and destroying or damaging thousands of buildings. 

Beryl, which struck in late June, was the earliest-forming Category 5 hurricane on record in the Atlantic Ocean. Its wind speeds peaked at about 165 miles per hour and affected areas ranging from Barbados to Canada before dissipating this week. 

A Catholic Charities group in Texas said this week that it was coordinating aid in that state after the hurricane made landfall near Houston. 

CRS, meanwhile, said in a press release that it was partnering with aid workers in the Caribbean to respond to the devastation left in the hurricane’s wake. 

The monster storm “swept a destructive path” through Barbados, St. Vincent and The Grenadines, Grenada, and Jamaica, CRS noted, leaving at least 10 dead there and thousands seeking refuge. 

Cristopher Lopez, a technical adviser on CRS’ Humanitarian Response Department, said in the release that homes in the region suffered widespread devastation. 

“The rains and winds have ripped off roofs, cars are under water and many communities have lost power because of all the fallen trees,” he said.

Low-lying areas were swept by flooding and swells, CRS noted, while mountainous areas were hit by high winds. 

Lopez noted that the devastation “has been no impediment for the youth volunteers” in the region “who have been trained in first aid and search and rescue” and who are assisting partners in the area. 

CRS said it was working with Caritas Grenada to address the crisis there; around 1,600 people are in shelters, the organization said, with that number “expected to double” due to widespread building damage. Caritas Antilles is also working at distributing emergency aid. 

The emergency response crews will determine overall emergency needs before coordinating distribution of “shelter supplies; food and cash assistance; hygiene kits and sanitation supplies; and long-term support for home repairs and rebuilding and infrastructure restoration,” CRS said.

U.S. military disavows presentation that described National Right to Life as ‘terrorist group’ 

null / Credit: Bumble Dee/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jul 12, 2024 / 12:55 pm (CNA).

A U.S. military base has disavowed a presentation in which the major pro-life group National Right to Life was implied to be a “terrorist” organization. 

A photo circulating on social media this week purported to show a PowerPoint slide as part of a presentation delivered at Fort Liberty in North Carolina. Fort Liberty, formally known as Fort Bragg, is one of the largest military installations in the world with over 50,000 military personnel.

The slide purported to list “terrorist groups”; among the listed organizations was National Right to Life (NRLC), a nearly 60-year-old anti-abortion group that helped launch the modern U.S. pro-life movement.

The presentation drew sharp criticism for its equation of a major pro-life group with “terrorism.” 

In a statement Thursday, NRLC President Carol Tobias described the slide as “deeply offensive to pro-life Americans across the nation.”

“In our over 50-year history, National Right to Life has always, consistently, and unequivocally, condemned violence against anyone,” Tobias said. 

In a Facebook post on Thursday afternoon, Fort Liberty said it had “[come] to our attention that an anti-terrorism slide was posted on social media.”

“After conducting a commander’s inquiry, we determined that the slides presented on social media were not vetted by the appropriate approval authorities and do not reflect the views of the XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Liberty, the U.S. Army, or the Department of Defense,” the post said. 

“The slides were developed by a local garrison employee to train soldiers manning access control points at Fort Liberty,” the statement continued.

“These slides will no longer be used, and all future training products will be reviewed to ensure they align with the current DoD anti-terrorism guidance.”

The presentation also drew criticism from Congress, where Indiana Rep. Jim Banks told media that the slide was “a national outrage.”

“Even if this slide deck was unapproved, it still exposes the Biden Pentagon for creating a politicized environment where far-left wack jobs feel they can get away with teaching our troops that conservative Americans are their adversary and legitimate military targets,” Banks said. “We are in dangerous territory.”

The military under the Biden administration has over the course of several years moved to liberalize abortion regulations in the U.S. Armed Forces. 

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in March said it was making permanent a policy to provide abortions in certain circumstances to service members even in states where abortion is illegal. 

In 2022, meanwhile, the Department of Defense moved to create an allowance to pay for service members to travel to obtain abortions

The department said at the time that the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade earlier in the year were “[interfering] with our ability to recruit, retain, and maintain the readiness of a highly qualified force.”

Analysis: NATO summit highlights divergent views on European defense, future

Heads of state pose for a group photo during the NATO 75th anniversary celebratory event at the Andrew Mellon Auditorium on July 9, 2024, in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

CNA Newsroom, Jul 12, 2024 / 12:10 pm (CNA).

As the heads of leading nations gathered in Washington, D.C., this week to mark the 75th anniversary of the world’s most powerful military alliance, the unfolding scenes and commentaries — from concern over the U.S. presidential election to the war in Ukraine to claims that “Europe’s oldest band,” the Catholic Habsburg Empire, was making a comeback — were unexpected.

The NATO summit, held July 10–11, was meant to be a secular celebration of the alliance’s enduring strength — and answer, as Owen Jensen reported for EWTN News, U.S. President Joe Biden’s question: “What is next?”

While concerned with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the summit brought into sharp relief the tension that lies at the heart of this question between strategic military considerations and ethical concerns — as well as the need for political leadership that can shoulder these tensions across party-political and ideological divides.

Pope Francis has repeatedly called for such leadership. In 2021, he declared venerable the French statesman Robert Schuman, known as a key “founding father” of the European Union. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, never tired of reminding Catholics that Christianity created the European identity.

However, Catholic perspectives diverge on Europe’s ability to defend itself — a key question for NATO members meeting in D.C. this week.

Pope Francis has appointed a special emissary to assist with peace efforts. He also has consistently spoken out against nuclear weapons, stating in a June 2022 message that “the use of nuclear weapons, as well as their mere possession, is immoral.”

This stance contrasts with the views of some European politicians, such as former German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. The Catholic aristocrat recently advocated for a comprehensive European protective shield, including nuclear deterrence.

In an interview with Herder Korrespondenz, Guttenberg said: “We need European and German armed forces that are capable — embedded in NATO — of effectively defending against attacks from outside or deterring them in the first place. If necessary, even without the USA.” 

He added: “Any concept must include, in addition to conventional equipment for air, sea, and land, first-class cyber capabilities, state-of-the-art missile defense shields, space presence, and — unfortunately — also sufficient nuclear deterrence potential.”

While the alliance made concrete commitments in the case of Ukraine, including a pledge of 40 billion euros (about $43.6 billion) in security assistance over the next year, the specter of political instability haunted the gathering.

Questions about Biden’s capacity to lead following recent public gaffes and the possibility of Donald Trump’s return to the White House in 2025 created one undercurrent of uncertainty.

As EWTN News reported, Biden’s performance at the summit was closely scrutinized.

The recent European Parliament elections, held just weeks before the NATO summit, saw significant gains for parties across the continent. These results have potential implications for NATO, as some of these parties — both on the left and the right — advocate for more isolationist policies and question the value of multilateral institutions.

Politico magazine reported on Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s efforts to form a new group in the European Parliament called “Patriots for Europe.”

The article drew parallels between this nascent alliance and the historical Habsburg Empire, noting the inclusion of parties from several former Habsburg territories.

Eduard Habsburg-Lothringen, Hungary’s ambassador to the Holy See, humorously dismissed the polemical comparison. The staunchly Catholic diplomat, a descendant of the actual Habsburg dynasty, jokingly said on X that the “Habsburg/Hungary master plan” had been “foiled again!”

While more provocative than substantive, the magazine’s descriptions are telling: They point to the complex interplay of history, nationalism, and geopolitics shaping Europe’s future as much as pointing to the existential questions challenging a Western alliance.

Irrespective of who the next U.S. president will be, the potential emergence of new political blocs within Europe, not to mention new governments in the U.K. and France, could challenge the consensus-driven approach that has long characterized NATO decision-making.

As the Washington summit concluded, these questions remained largely unresolved. However, a pragmatic answer came in the commentary on threats to the alliance, according to NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg’s official summit statement: “We face a more dangerous world, with Moscow and Beijing drawing closer, and autocracy on the rise. In these uncertain times, our alliance is more important than ever.”

Pro-life roundup: Arkansas abortion amendment disqualified

Abortion supporters celebrate as petitions for the abortion amendment arrive at the Arkansas Capitol Building on July 5, 2024. On Wednesday, July 10, Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston rejected a pro-abortion group’s request to add a far-reaching abortion amendment proposal to the November 2024 ballot. / Credit: Courtesy of Family Council in Arkansas

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 11, 2024 / 17:25 pm (CNA).

Here’s a roundup of abortion-related developments that took place in the U.S. this week. 

Arkansas disqualifies abortion amendment

Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston rejected a pro-abortion group’s request to add a far-reaching abortion amendment proposal to the November ballot because the group did not follow the proper procedure when submitting signatures.

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders commented that the development showed that “the far-left pro-abortion crowd in Arkansas” are “both immoral and incompetent.”

Thurston notified Arkansans for Limited Government, the group behind the proposal, in a letter sent on Wednesday.

The group claimed to have gathered over 100,000 signatures — well over the 90,700 required to add an amendment proposal to the ballot. Thurston, however, said the group failed to identify its paid canvassers or to indicate that the canvassers had followed state law regarding gathering signatures.

Additionally, Thurston said that after subtracting the signatures invalidly obtained by paid canvassers the group only had 87,382 signatures, more than 3,000 short of the minimum required signatures.

“The first part of our review is to ensure that the sponsor has complied with all statutory requirements for submitting a petition. Because you failed at this first step, it is my duty to reject your submission,” Thurston wrote.

Arkansans for Limited Government has denied that it failed to meet the requirements and said it “will fight this ridiculous disqualification attempt with everything we have.” 

Currently, Arkansas protects unborn life beginning at conception, only allowing abortion in cases in which the mother’s life is in danger.

If successfully passed by Arkansas voters, the abortion amendment would mandate that the state not “prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict” abortion before 18 weeks of pregnancy. The amendment would further prohibit the state from restricting abortion at all stages in cases of rape, incest, fetal anomaly, or health of the mother.

Republicans block effort to enshrine Roe v. Wade

Senate Republicans blocked a bill titled the Reproductive Freedom for Women Act that would have expressed support for enshrining Roe v. Wade into federal law.

The record vote on Wednesday was 49 in favor and 44 against, meaning the measure fell well short of the 67-vote supermajority required for passage. All but two Republicans — Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Maine Sen. Susan Collins — voted against it.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who brought the measure to a vote, was vocal about the vote, claiming: “Senate Republicans told every woman in America: ‘Your body. Our choice’” and that “once again stood with the MAGA extremist anti-freedom agenda.”

Trump calls North Dakota pro-life law ‘an issue’

As speculation swirls about Donald Trump’s new vice president pick, the former president criticized North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum for signing a “heartbeat” law that protects unborn life past six weeks of pregnancy.

Speaking on Fox News Radio on Wednesday, Trump emphasized his belief that abortion is a “states issue” but went on to say that Burgum signing a six-week abortion ban is “a little bit of an issue.”

“It’s a pretty strong ban; I think Doug is great,” Trump said, “but he has taken a very strong stance, or the state has, I don’t know if it’s Doug, but the state has, so it’s an issue.”

Arizona abortion supporters sue state for using term ‘unborn human’

Arizona for Abortion Access, the group behind the effort to add a broad abortion amendment proposal to the November ballot, is suing the state for its use of the term “unborn human being” in a pamphlet to be distributed to voters at the polls.

In its suit, filed in the Arizona Superior Court on Wednesday, the group says that the use of the term “unborn human being” demonstrates impartiality because it is “tinged with partisan coloring,” “frequently used by anti-abortion activists,” and is “rooted in anti-abortion advocacy.”

Instead, Arizona for Abortion Access argued that the word “fetus” would be a “neutral, objective, and medically accurate term” to use in voter materials.  

The Arizona secretary of state’s office is currently verifying the signatures submitted by Arizona for Abortion Access to add the amendment proposal to the ballot. If successful, the amendment would invalidate the state’s law protecting unborn life at 15 weeks as well as most of the state’s pro-life laws.

20,000 attend Mass marking 50th anniversary of the Neocatechumenal Way in U.S.

The Mass was celebrated at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. / Credit: Gregory A. Shemitz, courtesy DeSales Media Group

ACI Prensa Staff, Jul 11, 2024 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

More than 20,000 people participated in a Sunday, July 7, Mass marking the 50th anniversary of the Neocatechumenal Way in the United States. The Eucharist was celebrated by the apostolic nuncio to the U.S., Cardinal Christophe Pierre, and held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

A news brief from the Neocatechumenal Way sent to ACI Prensa, CNA’S Spanish-language news partner, said that the Mass was in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1974 visit to New York by the initiators of this apostolate, Kiko Argüello and Carmen Hernández.

Participating in the Mass were thousands of young people from different parts of the United States who arrived in Brooklyn after having made several days of pilgrimage to shrines and holy places in the country.

“At the end of the liturgy, about 1,000 young men rose up to show they are entering a seminary to begin their preparation for the priesthood; another 1,500 young women stood up to express their desire to give their lives to Christ by entering a convent or as missionaries,” the news brief highlighted.

Although Argüello did not attend the Mass in person, he joined the celebration with a video call from Madrid, Spain.

He recalled how in 1974 he visited several parish priests in New York from a list given to him by the then-archbishop, Cardinal Terence Cooke, and how only the last of the priests he met agreed to start a community of the Neocatechumenal Way.

Pierre’s homily

“On this significant anniversary of the Neocatechumenal Way in the United States, I greet you on behalf of Pope Francis and reaffirm his support and appreciation for the work that the Way does in the service of evangelization,” the prelate said at the beginning of his homily.

Next, the cardinal recalled what the Holy Father told the members of the apostolate in 2018 in Italy: “Your charism is a great gift from God for the Church of our time. Let us thank the Lord for these 50 years.”

After recalling the importance of going out to find “the lost sheep,” the nuncio recalled that “Pope Francis often speaks of opening the doors to people who live in all the situations of moral poverty, to those who have strayed from God, and accompany them back. It is necessary for the Church to open a way back. Is there a way back from addiction, from violence, from despair? God can make a way where it seems impossible.”

“There is a thirst for God that secularization cannot satisfy … This is the mission of the Church: to open the door for sinners to return,” he stressed.

The French cardinal also said that “our failures prepare us for the mission, so that we won’t judge the sins of others: Only those who have experienced the power of grace can show sinners the way back to God.”

Accompanying Pierre at Mass were Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, with Auxiliary Bishops Michael Saporito and Elias Lorenzo; Bishop Robert Brennan of Brooklyn with Auxiliary Bishop James Massa and Bishop Emeritus Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn; and other American bishops, in addition to about 300 priests.

In the United States there are 1,100 communities, in addition to hundreds of families on mission.

There are also nine Redemptoris Mater diocesan seminaries, where 300 seminarians are now preparing for the priesthood and a total of 270 priests have already completed their formation. The seminaries are in Newark, New Jersey; Washington, D.C.; Boston; Denver; Dallas; Brooklyn, New York; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Miami; and Philadelphia.

What is the Neocatechumenal Way?

The Neocatechumenal Way, a July 3 statement notes, was “officially approved by the Holy See in 2008, not as an association or movement, but as a post-baptismal catechumenate, as an instrument to help parishes and dioceses in the work of evangelization.”

The Neocatechumenal Way is present in 135 countries with some 25,000 communities, making a total of more than 1 million members.

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

Diocese of Toledo to pay $1 million to three priest sex abuse victims

Rosary Cathedral in Toledo, Ohio. / Credit: Susan Montgomery/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jul 11, 2024 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Toledo will pay out a seven-figure sum to three victims of priest sexual abuse after agreeing to a settlement.

The payout will go to victims of disgraced priest Michael Zacharias, who was convicted on five counts of sex trafficking by a federal jury in Ohio last May. His crimes, committed between 1999 and 2020, involved three victims, two of whom were minors when Zacharias began abusing them.

Konrad Kircher, a Cincinnati-area attorney who represented the victims, told CNA on Thursday that he was pleased with the results, which he called “a success” for his clients.

“My clients were the three victims who testified in Zacharias’ case,” he said via phone. “When the criminal trial was over, I contacted the Diocese of Toledo and asked them to consider compensating my clients for what they had been through, otherwise I would proceed with a lawsuit.”

The diocese responded by establishing an “Independent Healing and Reconciliation Program” for the three victims, Kircher said. “Those have been done around the country for large pools of clients,” he noted.

The compensation amount was ultimately decided following recommendations from two judges were were appointed as independent administrators of the process.

“The two judges were compassionate, thorough, and analytical,” he said. “They interviewed my clients about the abuse; it was a very cathartic experience [for the victims].”

Kircher declined to comment on the payout amount, though the Toledo Blade this week reported that the amount was “just over $1 million” for the three victims.

Toledo diocesan spokeswoman Kelly Donaghy, meanwhile, declined to comment on the matter. 

“The Diocese of Toledo will not comment on any outreach work or activities related to any abuse victims as their privacy and healing is of the utmost priority to us,” she told CNA via email on Thursday. 

Zacharias was sentenced to life in prison in November. He had faced a minimum of 15 years behind bars.

The convicted sex offender was subsequently laicized by Pope Francis in March of this year after a request from the Toledo Diocese. The dismissal from the clerical state removed the priest’s ability to licitly execute the functions of the priesthood, except in the extreme situation of encountering someone who is in immediate danger of death.

Zacharias reportedly began grooming some of his underage victims while still a seminarian at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Toledo, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said last year. 

The ex-priest “used his affiliation and position of authority to groom the boys and grow close with their families,” the DOJ last year, “before ultimately coercing the victims into engaging in commercial sex acts and manipulating the opioid addictions they developed.”

Asked if the Toledo Diocese was planning to extend the reconciliation program to any other priest abuse victims, Kircher said he was “hopeful.”

“I don’t know what their intentions are,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, it was a success. I hope they extend that success to other victims.”