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Thousands mourn Cardinal Pell at Sydney funeral: ‘Be not afraid’ was his motto 

Cardinal George Pell’s funeral Mass drew thousands of mourners to Sydney’s St. Mary’s Cathedral Feb. 2, 2023. / Credit: Giovanni Portelli/The Catholic Weekly

Denver, Colo., Feb 2, 2023 / 16:45 pm (CNA).

The late Cardinal George Pell’s funeral Mass drew thousands of mourners, filling Sydney’s St. Mary’s Cathedral to capacity. 

Civic leaders, friends, and members of Pell’s family remembered the Australian cardinal’s dedication to the Church and the Gospel and his courage in the face of many obstacles, including more than a year in prison before his exoneration.

“George Pell was my brother. He was a prince of the Church. A good and holy man, and a proud Australian,” David Pell said at the cardinal’s funeral Mass Thursday, according to The Catholic Weekly newspaper.

“’Be not afraid’ was George’s motto. These words are mentioned in the Bible 365 times,” Pell’s brother continued. “They are powerful words and need to be remembered by us as we continue the daily struggle.”

Addressing the cardinal, he added: “You have fought the good fight. Help us to accept the battle. Rest in peace.” 

The cardinal died Jan. 10 in Rome at the age of 81 from cardiac arrest following complications during hip surgery.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney celebrated the Pontifical Mass of Christian Burial at Sydney’s St. Mary’s Cathedral. The four-hour liturgy included a specially composed offertory motet by Sir James MacMillan based on the cardinal’s motto “Be Not Afraid” and the text of Wisdom 3:1–4.

Attending the funeral were 30 bishops, 220 priests, and dozens of seminarians. The congregation included women religious, theologians, Catholic school teachers, and families. Representatives of Catholic agencies and ethnic communities were at the Mass, as were the residents of David’s Place, a community for the homeless and marginalized in Sydney.

Fisher in his homily described his predecessor Pell as a “lion of the Church” who proclaimed the Gospel “shamelessly, vehemently, courageously to the end.”

“He had a big heart, too, strong enough to fight for the faith and endure persecution but soft enough to care for priests, youth, the homeless, prisoners, and imperfect Christians,” the archbishop said.

David Pell described his brother as a “passionate” player of Australian Rules football. 

“He believed in the rule of law, a fair go to all, and in Aussie Rules parlance, he ‘played the ball, and not the man,’” he said. “He may have disagreed with your opinion, but he didn’t disagree with you as a person.”

Pell was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in October 2003, while he was archbishop of Sydney. Ten years later, Pope Francis appointed Pell a member of his Council of Cardinals, and the year after, he put him in charge of Vatican finances. His work there won praise and admiration, especially his apparent discovery of $1.5 billion in assets in previously unreported Vatican accounts.

In 2017, Pell left Rome for Australia to defend his innocence of charges that he had sexually abused two 13-year-old boys after Sunday Mass in Melbourne in 1996 and 1997.

He was convicted in 2018. After 404 days in prison, the cardinal was acquitted in 2020, when Australia’s High Court unanimously overturned Pell’s conviction. 

That same year a Royal Commission report on sexual abuse made public its findings on Pell, including claims that he was aware of sexual abuse by clerics in the 1970s and 80s, and failed to act. Pell rejected the claims as “not supported by evidence.”

He returned to live in Rome later in 2020.

Fisher said the cardinal marked “404 days spent in prison for a crime he did not commit” despite “media, police, and political campaign to punish him whether guilty or no.”

Pell’s brother David said the family “knew that it was not true.”

“We had to be stoic against the relentless campaign to smear George’s life, especially with the youngest members of our family,” he said. 

At the same time, Pell’s brother noted the cardinal’s “magnificent” prison diaries that resulted from his imprisonment. He thanked Catholic and non-Catholic supporters of Pell, including those who had sent more than 4,000 letters of support. Some letters came from Pell’s former fellow prisoners.

“We sympathize with the legitimate victims and are in complete abhorrence of the criminals. Our own family has not been immune to this evil,” David Pell said. It is “simply untrue” to say he lacked sympathy for victims, said Pell’s brother, contending the cardinal was “unjustly convicted for his predecessors’ failings.”

Pell’s brother said he and his family had “no idea of the evil curse that was perpetrated upon the innocent children of unaware parents, by secretive, deviant, and manipulative criminals.” 

He also recalled his brother’s happiness to serve as archbishop of Sydney.

“He was at home here. He loved Sydney, and gauging by the outpouring of love as he laid in state and today, Sydney loved him.”

About 2,000 people arrived at the cathedral’s forecourt to secure a seat inside. Many stayed and took part in Mass even though they could not enter the cathedral.

Leading dignitaries in attendance included former Prime Ministers John Howard and Tony Abbot and Peter Dutton, leader of the opposition Liberal Party. Current Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet both sent representatives.

Abbot spoke at the funeral about Pell’s place in Australia, calling him “one of our greatest sons.” He suggested the late cardinal was “made a scapegoat for the Church itself,” the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reported. On Jan. 14. Pope Francis presided over the rite of Final Commendation and Farewell.

About 150 protesters critical of Cardinal Pell and Catholicism gathered outside. Some bore banners saying the cardinal should “burn in hell.” Four or five mourners objected strongly to some protesters and police intervened and arrested one man carrying a rainbow umbrella, The Catholic Weekly reported. 

David Pell said the cardinal was a friend of Pope Francis and was greeted by the pope in the Apostolic Palace after he returned to Rome from prison.

“When he arrived, he was stunned, as he was afforded the complement of a cohort of Swiss guards, something only reserved for visiting heads of state.”

Pope Francis, in a Jan. 11 condolence message, praised Pell’s “dedication to the Gospel and the Church” and noted his work on economic reform of the Holy See.

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the dean of the College of Cardinals, celebrated a Requiem Mass in Rome at St. Peter’s Basilica.

Here’s what Pope Francis said about exploitative mining in the Congo

An artisanal miner carries a sack of ore at the Shabara artisanal mine near Kolwezi in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Oct.12, 2022. / Photo by JUNIOR KANNAH/AFP via Getty Images

St. Louis, Mo., Feb 2, 2023 / 15:15 pm (CNA).

As part of his visit to Africa this week, Pope Francis met Tuesday with civil leaders of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one of the largest and poorest countries on the continent. Speaking with authorities including President Félix Tshisekedi, the pope denounced the practice of child labor in the country’s many mines, a widespread problem exacerbated by an ever-increasing global demand for cobalt, a vital component of rechargeable batteries. 

“It is a tragedy that these lands, and more generally the whole African continent, continue to endure various forms of exploitation,” Pope Francis said. 

“Situated in the heart of Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is host to one of the great green lungs of the world, which must be preserved,” he continued. “As with peace and development, also in this area there needs to be an ample and fruitful cooperation that can permit an effective intervention without imposing external models” that are more useful to those who are helping than to those who are being helped.

The rich natural resources of the DRC, including diamonds, have been exploited for centuries, particularly while the Congo was a Belgian colony from 1908 to 1960. In the past few decades, however, the resource in the spotlight has been cobalt, an element that has risen from relative obscurity to global necessity as a vital component of lithium-ion batteries, which today power devices as small as smartphones and as large as electric cars. 

Demand for cobalt has surged as countries in Europe and elsewhere make policy shifts away from fossil fuels and toward the use of electric vehicles. Some electric car makers, such as Tesla and General Motors, have in recent years announced research into the recycling of existing batteries, as well as moves away from lithium-ion batteries toward more environmentally friendly solid-state batteries. But progress has been slow, and the DRC still exports billions of dollars worth of cobalt a year, as well as vast quantities of other metals such as copper. 

Congolese civil rights attorney Hervé Diakiese Kyungu testifying on July 14, 2022, at a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C. on the use of child labor in China-backed cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Screenshot from YouTube video
Congolese civil rights attorney Hervé Diakiese Kyungu testifying on July 14, 2022, at a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C. on the use of child labor in China-backed cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Screenshot from YouTube video

Congolese civil rights attorney Hervé Diakiese Kyungu testified at a July 2022 congressional hearing that children in DRC are often trafficked and exploited because of their small size and mine the cobalt with primitive tools or more often with their bare hands. An estimated 40,000 children work in these mines in DRC. 

The DRC supplies more than 70% of the world’s demand for cobalt. Of that, 15% to 30% is extracted in artisanal mines, meaning they are small-scale operations that use dangerous, primitive methods. Almost all of the cobalt mines in DRC are owned by Chinese companies, and China, which manufactures myriad electronic goods, is the world’s largest importer of cobalt. Even in larger mines with marginally better working conditions, the salaries are small and the work is dangerous.

Father Rigobert Minani Bihuzo, a Catholic priest who has worked to expose child labor and human rights violations in the DRC’s mining sector, testified last year to the dangerous working conditions at the mines. 

“They work seven days a week and more than 12 hours a day,” he said. Using tools like hammers, chisels, and spades, their working conditions are like that of slavery, he said. Injuries are common, and for those who are hurt or become sick, the lack of medical care means “the majority will die due to various untreated illnesses,” he said.

In addition to the toll on the workers in the country’s vast mining operations — which can include illnesses and birth defects — environmental concerns, such as water pollution from the mines, also threaten the Congolese people. 

In his address to Congolese authorities, Pope Francis encouraged those present to undertake a “courageous and inclusive social renewal” to change the mining conditions in the country. 

“The most precious diamonds of these lands are the sons and daughters of this nation; they need to have access to an education that enables them to make their innate talents shine brightly. Education is fundamental: It is the path to the future, the road to take for achieving the complete freedom of this country and of the African continent ... yet many children receive no schooling,” the pope lamented. 

“How many of them, instead of receiving a good education, are exploited! All too many of them die, subjected to servile labor in the mines. No effort should be spared to denounce and finally end the scourge of child labor.”

The topic of mining and exploitation was raised again on Thursday during the pope’s meeting with priests and religious in the Kinshasa Cathedral. A Congolese religious sister, offering testimony to the pope, described her country as “a land of martyrs, murders, and wars entertained and financed from outside.”

The sister told the pope: “Most Blessed Father, despite this picture of multiple injustices, the Congo remains a land blessed by God, a generous, prayer-loving people, filled with vitality and hope, as Your Holiness has surely observed. That is why we are not discouraged, because we believe in the risen Christ.”

Responding to her testimony, Pope Francis said he was reminded “how difficult it is to carry out your mission in a land rich in natural beauty and resources but wounded by exploitation, corruption, violence, and injustice.”

20 attorneys general warn CVS, Walgreens against abortion pills in their states

null / Ken Wolter/Shutterstock and Ceri Breeze/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 2, 2023 / 14:25 pm (CNA).

As CVS and Walgreens continue to seek federal approval to sell an abortion drug, 20 attorneys general whose states restrict abortion warned the pharmacy chains against fulfilling mail orders within their states. 

Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the sale of mifepristone through pharmacies if the companies receive FDA certification. The drug can be used to abort a preborn child up to 10 weeks of gestation, according to the FDA; however, the World Health Organization has stated it can be used up to 12 weeks of gestation. Walgreens and CVS are both seeking certification to sell the drug but have not yet received approval or begun to sell it.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, several states enacted abortion laws that outright ban abortion in most cases or impose a cutoff earlier than 10 weeks. In these states, the bans often apply to surgical abortion and abortion-inducing drugs. Some states also specifically ban the sale of abortion-inducing drugs through the mail. After CVS and Walgreens expressed their intent to distribute the abortion drug through mail orders, a coalition of 20 attorneys general sent letters to the companies, warning them they cannot sell the drug in their states. 

“As attorney general, it is my responsibility to enforce the laws as written, and that includes enforcing the very laws that protect Missouri’s women and unborn children,” Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, who led the coalition, said in a statement. “My office is doing everything in its power to inform these companies of the law, with the promise that we will use every tool at our disposal to uphold the law if broken.”

The letter states that companies must “keep apprised not only of federal law but also of the laws of the various states.” It adds that these laws reflect a commitment to “protect the lives and dignity of children” and women.

Explaining their concern, the state officials cite research published in 2015 that found that abortion-inducing drugs are nearly six times more likely to cause complications for women than surgical abortions. They also note that abortions performed away from medical professionals carry an added risk. 

In the letter, the attorneys general also caution that mail orders of abortion-inducing drugs “invite the horror of an increase in coerced abortions” because there is no medical oversight and “a person can obtain an abortion pill quite easily and then coerce a woman into taking it.” The attorneys general also expressed the opinion that mailing abortion drugs violates federal law, which is contrary to a Department of Justice opinion issued earlier this year. 

A spokesman for Walgreens told CNA that the company is aware that it may be unable to provide the drug in every location. 

“We are not dispensing mifepristone at this time,” a Walgreens spokesman said. “We intend to become a certified pharmacy under the program; however, we fully understand that we may not be able to dispense mifepristone in all locations if we are certified under the program.”

CNA reached out to CVS for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication. 

Some pro-life groups praised the attorneys general for defending preborn children against the abortion drug within their respective states.

“Ohio Right to Life is thankful for Attorney General Dave Yost and the 19 other attorneys general who united to not only uphold and protect our state laws but also federal law,” Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis said in a statement. 

“This is what true pro-life leadership looks like, and we are proud to stand behind them,” Gonidakis added.

“Not only is the lackadaisical distribution of mifepristone via the mail illegal per federal law, but it is also extremely dangerous for women,” he said. “We have stated since the very beginning that this FDA approval is nothing short of anti-women and prioritizes a political agenda over medical safety. It is time for the Biden administration to prioritize the health and safety of women and children.”

The Utah-based Sutherland Institute, which promotes religious freedom and family values, also approved of the attorneys general’s actions. Bill Duncan, a religious freedom policy fellow with the institute, told CNA that the letter is an “appropriate exercise of their responsibility.” 

Duncan said Utah’s Legislature passed a bill to prohibit abortions in most circumstances, but the law is currently facing a legal challenge from Planned Parenthood, which he said is claiming “that the Utah Constitution contains an unwritten right to abortion.”

“It seems likely the court will recognize that there is nothing in the Utah Constitution that would preclude the state from enforcing its law,” he said. 

“If these companies provide drugs used to end the lives of unborn children, they would be in violation of the law,” Duncan added. “Each attorney general has responsibility to enforce the laws of the state as well as to prevent violations. This letter is a welcome example of state officials discharging that responsibility.”

In addition to the attorneys general of Missouri, Ohio, and Utah, the other states whose attorneys general signed the letter were Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and West Virginia.

American tourist desecrates statue of Christ in Catholic church in Jerusalem

On Feb. 2, 2023, a vandal desecrated an image of Jesus at the Church of the Flagellation located on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, the route that Christ walked to Mount Calvary, where he was crucified. / Youtube post by Father José de Jesús Aguilar

CNA Newsroom, Feb 2, 2023 / 13:45 pm (CNA).

On Feb. 2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple and the Virgin of Candlemas, a vandal desecrated an image of Jesus in a Catholic church in Jerusalem.

The Associated Press reported that the attack occurred at the Church of the Flagellation located on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, the route that Christ walked to Mount Calvary, where he was crucified.

The suspect in the attack is an American tourist who was detained by Israeli police officers after throwing the image of Christ to the ground. The authorities did not immediately release the man’s name.

As he was arrested, the man shouted, “You can’t have idols in Jerusalem, this is the Holy City!” According to police, he is undergoing psychological evaluation.

Father José de Jesús Aguilar, deputy director of radio and television for the Archdiocese of Mexico, posted a video showing the man’s arrest and deploring what happened.

“Unfortunately today, Brother Francisco Benito, a great friend of the custodians in Jerusalem, sent me an image in which a fanatic threw down a sculpture of Christ in one of the chapels on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem,” the priest explained.

“All the different religious communities seek peace in Jerusalem. On this day, when we remember that Christ is the light of the world, let us pray for his light to shine in Jerusalem and let’s pray for peace there,” the priest said.

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

Bishop Barron says Minnesota’s new abortion law is ‘the worst kind of barbarism’

Bishop Robert Barron spoke out against Minnesota's new abortion law after it passed Jan. 31, 2023. / Credit: Bishop Robert Barron/YouTube

Boston, Mass., Feb 2, 2023 / 12:45 pm (CNA).

Winona-Rochester Bishop Robert Barron called a newly passed Minnesota abortion bill that enshrines abortion rights into law “the worst kind of barbarism.”

“I want to share with you my anger, my frustration over this terrible law that was just signed by the governor in Minnesota — the most really extreme abortion law that’s on the books in the wake of the Roe v. Wade reversal,” Barron said in a Jan. 31 video on social media following Democratic Gov. Tim Walz’s signing of the bill on Tuesday.

The bill, titled the Protect Reproductive Options (PRO) Act, enshrines a constitutional right to “reproductive freedom,” ensuring the right to abortion in Minnesota up to birth for any reason, as well as the right to contraception and sterilization.

“Basically, it eliminates any kind of parental notifications so a 12-year-old child can get an abortion without even telling her parents about it,” Barron said. 

“But the worst thing,” he added, “is it basically permits abortion all the way through pregnancy up to the very end. And indeed, indeed if a child somehow survives a botched abortion, the law now prohibits an attempt to save that child’s life.”

Protection for abortion in the state had preexisted the new law because the state’s Supreme Court ruled in the 1995 decision Doe v. Gomez that a woman had a constitutional right to abortion. Several restrictions to abortion in the state have also been ruled unconstitutional in the courts in prior years, the AP reported. Sponsors of the bill supported it because they wanted abortion protections in law, despite the political leaning of future appointed justices, the AP reported.

Pro-life advocates fiercely opposed the bill, as it gained national attention and underwent several hours of debate in the state Senate. The pro-life advocacy organization Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America called the legislation “the most extreme bill in the country.” 

Barron said that “I don’t know why this is really debated anymore in our country, but this strikes me as just the worst kind of barbarism. And in the name of, I don’t know, subjectivity, and freedom, and choice and all this, we’re accepting this kind of brutality.”

Barron’s condemnation of the law echoes that of the Minnesota bishops who raised their voices against it before its passage. 

The states’ bishops wrote in a Jan. 26 statement: “To assert such unlimited autonomy is to usurp a prerogative that belongs to God alone. Authorizing a general license to make and take life at our whim will unleash a host of social and spiritual consequences with which we as a community will have to reckon.”

In his video, Barron added: “What strikes me is this: If a child is born and now a day old, or two days old and resting peacefully in his bassinet and someone broke into the house and with a knife killed the child and dismembered him, well, the whole country would rise up in righteous indignation.”

“But yet, that same thing can happen with complete impunity as the child is in his mother’s womb about to be born. Again, I just think this is so beyond the pale and that we’ve so lost our way on this issue,” he said.

He acknowledged that there was no possibility of blocking the now-enacted legislation, but said that “we can certainly keep raising our voices in protest.”

“We can keep praying for an end to this barbaric regime in our country,” he said.

Pope Francis on World Day for Consecrated Life: Religious have ‘special role’ in the Church

Pope Francis greets the crowd at his Sunday Angelus address on Jan. 29, 2023. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Feb 2, 2023 / 12:23 pm (CNA).

On the 27th World Day for Consecrated Life, Pope Francis recalled the special role religious brothers and sisters have in the Catholic Church.

“In the People of God, sent to bring the Gospel to all people, you consecrated men and women have a special role,” the pope said in a written message for Feb. 2.

This special role, he continued, stems “from the special gift you have received: a gift that gives your witness a special character and value, by the very fact that you are wholly dedicated to God and his kingdom, in poverty, virginity, and obedience.”

Pope Francis’ message was read at the beginning of a Mass for consecrated men and women in Rome’s St. Mary Major Basilica on Feb. 2.

Pope Francis usually celebrates a special Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the World Day for Consecrated Life but was unable to do so this year because the day fell in the middle of his Jan. 31–Feb. 5 trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

The Feb. 2 Mass in St. Mary Major was celebrated by the prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Consecrated Life, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, who read the pope’s message to those present.

“When you hear this message from me, I will be on mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and I know that I will be accompanied by your prayers,” the pope said. “In turn, I want to assure you of mine for the mission of each of you and your communities.”

“All of us together are members of the Church,” he continued, “and the Church is in mission from the first day, sent by the Risen Lord, and will be so until the last, by the power of his Spirit.”

The theme of the 2023 World Day for Consecrated Life is “Brothers and Sisters in Mission.”

The Catholic Church celebrates the World Day for Consecrated Life every year on Feb. 2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also known as Candlemas or the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The day of prayer was established by Pope John Paul II in 1997.

In his message, Pope Francis said the mission of consecrated men and women is enriched by the unique charisms of their communities, in addition to the fundamental gift they have each received.

“In their stupendous variety, [charisms] are all given for the edification of the Church and for its mission,” he said. “All charisms are for mission, and they are precisely so with the incalculable richness of their variety; so that the Church can witness and proclaim the Gospel to all and in every situation.”

He prayed that the Virgin Mary would obtain for consecrated men and women the grace to bring the light of Christ’s love to all people. He also entrusted them to Mary “Salus Populi Romani,” the title of a Byzantine Marian icon housed in the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

In his homily at the Mass, Archbishop Carballo, who is a religious in the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor, said “we want, especially on this day, to say our thanks to the Lord and, using the words of Mary, the consecrated woman par excellence, sing our Magnificat to him who is the Good, the All Good, the Supreme Good.”

God, he said, “has made us sharers in a beautiful inheritance and a mission no less beautiful: that of representing in us the historical form of the obedient, poor, and chaste Jesus.”

“Let a song of thanksgiving rise from our lips and from our hearts, today and always, because Jesus has bent over our littleness and has given us the grace to follow him in the various forms of consecrated life, despite our littleness,” he said.

Religious freedom ‘under assault’ across the world, leaders testify at summit

Former assistant secretary of state Robert Destro discusses the need for religious freedom. Pictured from left, Imam Talib Shareef of the Nation’s Mosque; Destro; and Cole Durham of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University Law School. Peter Pinedo/CNA / Peter Pinedo/CNA

Washington D.C., Feb 2, 2023 / 10:50 am (CNA).

“Tragically, religious freedom for many is increasingly under assault around the world,” Rep. Michael McCaul said to kick off the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit, which took place in Washington, D.C., this week. 

Faith leaders from across the world — including Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and others — gathered at the summit to address the ongoing persecution against people of faith, which has been increasing in many nations and has resulted in the deaths of millions.

McCaul, a Republican congressman from Texas and a Catholic, invoked the teachings of both Pope Francis and St. John Paul II in upholding religious freedom as the “cornerstone” of human rights. 

Some leaders at the summit, including Naomi Kikoler of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, cautioned that the persecution of people of faith in some countries already amounts to genocide and could lead to genocide in others if immediate action is not taken.

“We know from studying the Holocaust that genocide and related crimes against humanity, persecution, is never spontaneous,” Kikoler said. “There’s a wide range of early warning signs, and if detected and their causes are addressed, it could be possible to prevent catastrophic loss of life.” 

Where is persecution occurring? 

“The right to practice one’s religion of choice is so frequently violated by governments all over the world,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, a Catholic Democrat from Massachusetts, while speaking at the summit. “The Uyghurs and Tibetans by China, Muslims and Sikhs in India, Coptic Christians in Egypt … Shia Muslims in Sunni-governed countries, Catholics in Nicaragua, Jews in France, I could go on and on and on, the list is way too long.” 

“As a practicing Catholic myself I know how important and personal the right to freedom of religion is,” McGovern added.

The history of Catholics in America is itself marked by the fight for religious freedom, said Robert Destro, a senior fellow with the Religious Freedom Institute. A former assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Destro is now a professor of law at the Catholic University of America.

“People forget, American Catholics were among our own nation’s leaders in fighting for religious freedom,” Destro told CNA.

Destro pointed out that even Catholics in the U.S. have had to contend with religious persecution in the past.

One example: the anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia in the 1840s. “They blew open the wall of the church with a cannon and they set it on fire,” Destro said. “Thank God we’re not seeing that today [in America], but we are seeing attacks on churches. So, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” 

“If you are open about your faith,” Destro said, very often “they kill you.” 

Though Catholics in America don’t face widespread violent persecution, Catholics are being killed, persecuted, and arrested by the thousands in other countries such as Nicaragua, China, and Nigeria.

According to religious freedom watchdog Open Doors International, 5,014 Christians were killed in 2022 in Nigeria alone. 

Just earlier this month a Nigerian Catholic priest, Father Isaac Achi, was burned to death in his rectory by armed bandits. 

“Ours is a huge task, freedom for the soul and respect for each other,” said Ambassador Sam Brownback at the summit. “We are gathered and fighting here for the abused and beaten, even killed religious minorities that even now are huddled in secret places yearning with all their heart to worship God as they believe they should. And is that too much to ask? It is not.”

Pope Francis to priests in Congo: Bring people Jesus, who ‘heals the wounds of every heart’

Speaking in Our Lady of Congo Cathedral in Kinshasa on Feb. 2, 2023, the pope encouraged priests and religious to continue to bring the Congolese people Jesus, who “heals the wounds of every human heart.” / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Feb 2, 2023 / 10:30 am (CNA).

On the World Day of Consecrated Life, Pope Francis thanked the more than 18,000 priests and religious in the Democratic Republic of Congo for serving others amid the country’s “difficult and often dangerous conditions.”

Speaking in Our Lady of Congo Cathedral in Kinshasa on Feb. 2, the pope encouraged priests and religious to continue to bring the Congolese people Jesus, who “heals the wounds of every human heart.”

The Democratic Republic of Congo is home to more than 52 million Catholics, including more than 6,000 priests, 4,000 seminarians, and 10,000 religious sisters, according to the latest Vatican statistics.

On his third day in the central African country, Pope Francis spent the afternoon praying with representatives of the Congo’s vibrant Church community in the Kinshasa Cathedral.

“Dear brothers and sisters, as I look at you, I give thanks to God, because you are signs of the presence of Jesus, who walks in the streets of this country, who touches people’s lives and binds their wounds,” the pope said.

“I thank you from my heart for who you are and what you do, for your witness to the Church and to the world. Do not be discouraged, because we need you! You are precious and important. I say this in the name of the whole Church,” he said.

Speaking in Our Lady of Congo Cathedral in Kinshasa on Feb. 2, 2023, Pope Francis encouraged priests and religious to continue to bring the Congolese people Jesus, who “heals the wounds of every human heart.” Credit: Elias Turk/EWTN
Speaking in Our Lady of Congo Cathedral in Kinshasa on Feb. 2, 2023, Pope Francis encouraged priests and religious to continue to bring the Congolese people Jesus, who “heals the wounds of every human heart.” Credit: Elias Turk/EWTN

Francis underlined that a vocation in the Church is different from a profession or social position: “Rather, it is a mission to act as signs of Christ’s presence, his unconditional love, his reconciliation and forgiveness, and his compassionate concern for the needs of the poor.”

“Dear priests and deacons, consecrated men and women, seminarians: through you, the Lord also  wants to anoint his people today with the balm of consolation and hope.”

The pope was welcomed to the Kinshasa Cathedral with great enthusiasm. People lined the streets surrounding the cathedral to greet the pope as he passed by. The congregation inside the cathedral prayed decades of the rosary in Lingala, Kikongo, Swahili, Tshiluba, and French.

Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, the archbishop of Kinshasa, met the pope, who arrived in a wheelchair. Together the two made their way to a side chapel where the pope paused to pray before the graves of past Congolese bishops.

Pope Francis arrives at Our Lady of Congo Cathedral in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Feb. 2, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis arrives at Our Lady of Congo Cathedral in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Feb. 2, 2023. Vatican Media

The cardinal told the pope that living priestly and religious vocations in the Congo today “involves enormous challenges.”

“However, I remain convinced that unfailing attachment to the Lord, fidelity to Gospel values, and the joy of serving and accompanying the people of God in their quest for greater dignity are the guarantees of an authentic and true priestly and religious life that is joyful and fulfilling,” Besungu said.

“For this I bless the Lord for the flourishing of priestly and religious vocations in our country.”

In the cathedral, the pope listened to testimonies from a diocesan priest, a religious sister, and a seminarian.

Sister Alice Sala asked Pope Francis to help tell the world about what is happening in the DRC, where more than 120 armed groups are fighting for control of the country’s eastern region, an area rich with natural resources.

Violence in eastern DRC has created a severe humanitarian crisis with more than 5.5 million people displaced from their homes, the third-highest number of internally displaced people in the world.

“Since Congo is a land of martyrs, murders, and wars entertained and financed from outside, we ask Your Holiness to be our spokesperson in the world so that the good of the people may take precedence over interest in our natural resources,” Sala said.

“Most Blessed Father, despite this picture of multiple injustices, the Congo remains a land blessed by God, a generous, prayer-loving people, filled with vitality and hope, as Your Holiness has surely observed. That is why we are not discouraged, because we believe in the risen Christ.”

About 1,200 people were present inside of the cathedral, according to local authorities, with thousands more gathered outside.

Pope Francis encouraged priests and religious to continue to bring the Congolese people Jesus, who “heals the wounds of every human heart” at Our Lady of Congo Cathedral in Kinshasa on Feb. 2, 2023. Credit: Elias Turk/EWTN
Pope Francis encouraged priests and religious to continue to bring the Congolese people Jesus, who “heals the wounds of every human heart” at Our Lady of Congo Cathedral in Kinshasa on Feb. 2, 2023. Credit: Elias Turk/EWTN

The Catholic Church celebrates the World Day for Consecrated Life each year on Feb. 2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also known as Candlemas. Established by St. John Paul II, the day recognizes the beauty and impact of a life dedicated to poverty, chastity, and obedience.

In the pope’s speech to the priests, seminarians, and consecrated men and women, he offered advice for how to overcome spiritual mediocrity and a worldly mentality.

“Never forget that the secret of everything is prayer … since the ministry and the apostolate are not primarily our own work and do not depend solely on human means,” Pope Francis said.

“First of all, let us remain faithful to certain liturgical rhythms of prayer that mark the day, from the Mass to the breviary. The daily celebration of the Eucharist is the beating heart of priestly and religious life. The Liturgy of the Hours allows us to pray with the Church and with regularity: May we never neglect it! Then, too, let us not neglect confession. We always need to be forgiven, so as then to bestow mercy upon others.”

Pope Francis added that it is important to “set aside a time of intense prayer each day, to remain ‘heart-to-heart’ with Our Lord. … a time of closeness to the One whom we love above all else.”

“If we remain docile in God’s hands, he shapes us to become a people of reconciliation, capable of openness and dialogue, acceptance and forgiveness, who make rivers of peace flow through the arid plains of violence,” he said.

“May you always be channels of the Lord’s consoling presence, joyous witnesses of the Gospel, prophets of peace amid the storms of violence, disciples of love, ever ready to care for the wounds of the poor and suffering. Thank you, brothers and sisters, I thank you again for your service and for your pastoral zeal. I bless you and carry you in my heart. And I ask you, please, always pray for me!”

The pope kissed his feet. Who is the cowboy-hat-wearing president of South Sudan?

Pope Francis greets South Sudanese president Salva Kiir at the Vatican, April 11, 2019. / Vatican Media

St. Louis, Mo., Feb 2, 2023 / 09:23 am (CNA).

Pope Francis, as part of his visit to Africa this week, is meeting with the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, this Friday. He will meet the leader for a photograph before retreating to a private setting for a talk. 

The 71-year-old Kiir, a Catholic who has served as South Sudan’s first and only president since the country gained independence in 2011, oversees a country that is slightly smaller than Texas, 60% Christian, and severely underdeveloped and racked by ethnic tensions. 

Pope Francis and Kiir met in 2019 in a meeting that was extremely memorable because of Pope Francis’ decision to kneel and kiss Kiir’s feet — and those of his rival, former vice president Riek Machar — while begging the leaders to make peace. Kiir and Machar were at the Vatican for a retreat, which Francis hosted specifically for the leaders who have been at war with each other for years. In 2013, a conflict developed between militias led by Machar and troops loyal to Kiir, who are of different tribal ethnicities. 

Both sides have been accused of serious atrocities over the course of the conflict, including the raping of women, the killing of civilians, and the recruitment of child soldiers. In addition to Kiir and Machar, Francis kissed the feet of at least two other South Sudanese leaders during the meeting. 

Kiir told EWTN News at the time that Pope Francis’ kissing of his feet, which garnered headlines around the world, left him “almost trembling.” He said the moment when the pope displayed such humility was inspiring to him as a Catholic and as the leader of a country.

“I felt humbled at the humility of the Holy Father, to bend down on the ground and kiss my feet,” Kiir told EWTN News in an interview May 7, 2019.

“I was almost trembling because that thing has not happened before, except at the time when Jesus knelt down to wash the feet of his disciples. And it should have been the opposite; his disciples should have been the ones to wash his feet ... this is what came into my mind when the pope knelt down.”

Pope Francis at that retreat encouraged the South Sudanese leaders to “seek what unites you, beginning with the fact that you belong to one and the same people, and to overcome all that divides you” and told them he was praying for them to become peacemakers, who “build peace through dialogue, negotiation, and forgiveness.”

Kiir said his 2019 meeting with Pope Francis was especially meaningful for him, as he grew up in an area of South Sudan that was evangelized primarily by Catholic missionaries, from whom he has learned much. Christianity experienced extraordinary growth in South Sudan between 1901 and 1964 thanks to missionary activity undertaken by the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus and the Missionary Sisters Pie Madri della Nigrizia.

“Jesus came to the world to teach people to forgive and to live in peace with whoever is near you. And we as Catholics, especially in South Sudan, we have learned a lot from God’s teaching,” he reflected.  

Kiir is rarely seen without his distinctive Texas cowboy hat. His attachment to the headgear may have been kindled when Texan George W. Bush presented Kiir with a similar hat in 2006. 

Born in 1951, a young Kiir joined a separatist movement in the 1960s, fighting against the Sudanese government in the First Sudanese Civil War. He eventually became the leader of the military wing of the separatist movement, The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). He participated in negotiations with the northern government, which ultimately led to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005, officially ending the war. Kiir became president of Southern Sudan, which was then an autonomous region. 

In 2011, the predominantly Christian South Sudan gained independence from Sudan, which has a Muslim majority and has been governed mostly by Islamic law since the 1980s. Kiir was overwhelmingly reelected to continue leading the new nation.

As president, he has led his country through another civil war, which has killed more than 400,000 people and displaced at least 2.2 million more. Along the way, Kiir’s leadership has garnered criticism — in part because of widespread corruption in his government but also because of alleged mistreatment of journalists.

Kiir and Machar signed a tenuous peace agreement in September 2018, which the country’s Catholic bishops have called “fatally flawed” because it does not address the complex root causes of the conflict. Several other peace agreements and cease-fires since then — including several mediated by the Catholic lay group Sant’Egidio — have not led to substantial peace progress, and millions of South Sudanese people live in poverty partly thanks to the country’s underdeveloped infrastructure and economy, despite the rich agricultural potential of the region.

Kiir announced late last year that he is running again for the presidency in 2024. Rumors have reportedly circulated recently on social media that the septuagenarian Kiir is unwell, though the government has denied this. 

Smithsonian staff kick out Catholic students for wearing pro-life hats

Twelve students from Our Lady of the Rosary School in Greenville, South Carolina, and their chaperones wore blue pro-life stocking caps that said “Rosary Pro-Life” to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum after they attended the March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20, 2023. / Credit: WYFF4 News screen shot

Denver, Colo., Feb 2, 2023 / 07:51 am (CNA).

A group of Catholic students was wrongly kicked out of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum because museum staff reacted with hostility to their matching blue pro-life hats, their supporters say.

Twelve students from Our Lady of the Rosary School in Greenville, South Carolina, and their chaperones had attended the March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. They wore blue pro-life stocking caps that said “Rosary Pro-Life.”

After the rally, they visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, famous for its exhibits of the original 1903 Wright Flyer and the Apollo 11 Command Module.

Though other visitors wore various kinds of hats, according to attorney Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, the students were treated differently. Sekulow said the students “were accosted several times and told they would be forced to leave unless they removed their pro-life hats.”

“The museum staff mocked the students, called them expletives, and made comments that the museum was a ‘neutral zone’ where they could not express such statements,” Sekulow said in a Jan. 27 statement. “The employee who ultimately forced the students to leave the museum was rubbing his hands together in glee as they exited the building.”

He characterized the treatment of the students as “blatant discrimination” and noted that the Smithsonian is a federal entity.

At least two students are being represented by the American Center for Law and Justice.

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum said it has already made changes after the incident.

“Asking visitors to remove hats and clothing is not in keeping with our policy or protocols,” Alison Wood, the museum’s deputy director of communications, told Fox News. “We provided immediate training to prevent a re-occurrence of this kind of incident, and have determined steps to ensure this does not happen again.”

CNA sought comment from the museum but did not receive a response by publication.

Sekulow said legal action could be on the horizon.

“We are preparing to bring legal action to defend the constitutional rights of these children,” he said. “No one, especially kids, should have to fear being kicked out of a national museum by government officials simply for wearing a Christian pro-life hat.”

“This was a clear-cut First Amendment violation, not only of their freedom of speech but of religion as well,” Sekulow continued. “The federal government simply cannot ban speech with which it or its employees disagree.”

The Catholic Diocese of Charleston responded to the incident in a statement to the Greenville NBC affiliate KYFF4 News.

“Thousands of Catholic students attend the March for Life every year and we support their right to stand for life,” the diocese said.