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Pope Francis to Congolese youth: Prayer is your secret weapon for peace

Pope Francis interacted with an energetic crowd of 65,000 young adults and catechists at Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Feb. 2, 2023. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Feb 2, 2023 / 05:45 am (CNA).

To bring about peace, “prayer is the most powerful weapon there is,” Pope Francis told thousands of young adults and catechism teachers in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday.

The meeting in Martyrs’ Stadium in Kinshasa, the capital city of the DRC, took place on Feb. 2, the third day of the pope’s visit to the central African country. On Feb. 3, Francis will fly to Juba, South Sudan, for the second leg of his peace pilgrimage.

Pope Francis on Thursday interacted with an enthusiastic crowd of about 65,000 young people and adults, some of whom traveled days to be present for the papal visit.

Pope Francis interacted with an energetic crowd of 65,000 young adults and catechists at Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Feb. 2, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis interacted with an energetic crowd of 65,000 young adults and catechists at Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Feb. 2, 2023. Vatican Media

“Yes, prayer conquers fear and enables us to take our future into our hands. Do you believe this?” the pope said. “Do you want to make prayer your secret, as refreshing water for the soul, as the one weapon you carry, as a traveling companion on each day’s journey?”

During the second half of his speech, the pope was repeatedly drowned out by the energetic audience, which broke out in cheering, singing, and dancing despite the hot weather.

Pope Francis interacted with an energetic crowd of 65,000 young adults and catechists at Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Feb. 2, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis interacted with an energetic crowd of 65,000 young adults and catechists at Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Feb. 2, 2023. Vatican Media

In his talk, Francis used the imagery of the hand to speak about the future of the DRC.

“God has placed the gift of life, the future of society and the future of this great country in those hands of yours,” he said.

“Dear brother, dear sister, do your hands not seem small and frail, empty and unsuited to so great a task? It’s true,” he said. “Let me tell you something: your hands all look alike, they all look alike, but none of them is exactly the same. No one has hands just like yours, and that is a sign that you are a unique treasure, an unrepeatable and incomparable treasure.”

He invited those present in the stadium to open and close their hands while meditating on whether they wanted to choose peace or violence.

Pope Francis interacted with an energetic crowd of 65,000 young adults and catechists at Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Feb. 2, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis interacted with an energetic crowd of 65,000 young adults and catechists at Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Feb. 2, 2023. Vatican Media

“Notice how you can squeeze your hand, closing it to make a fist. Or you can open it, to offer it to God and to others,” he said.

“You who dream of a different future: from your hands, tomorrow can be born, tomorrow can be born from your hands, from your hands peace so lacking in this country can at last come about.”

Bishop Donatien Bafuidinsoni Maloko-Mana from the Diocese of Inongo, in western DRC, was at the meeting.

He told EWTN News that people from his diocese traveled in boats on the Congo River for two to four days to arrive in Kinshasa.

Bafuidinsoni said the Congolese people were disappointed last year when the pope’s visit was canceled, but “now that the pope is here it’s a big joy for us all.”

Even those who are following the trip from home “are really happy,” he added. “It’s a message of joy, of peace, and of hope for all.”

Sister Asterie Neema, 29, is from Rutshuru in eastern DRC, where her brother was brutally killed last year. Elias Turk/CNA
Sister Asterie Neema, 29, is from Rutshuru in eastern DRC, where her brother was brutally killed last year. Elias Turk/CNA

Sister Asterie Neema, 29, is from Rutshuru in eastern Congo, where, she told EWTN News, they are under the control of an armed group called M23.

Neema said her older brother was killed in 2022 by unidentified rebels in front of his 12- and 7-year-old children.

In her 29 years of life, she said, her region of the DRC has never seen peace. Neema added that she has forgiven her brother’s killers, but she hopes for peace in her country.

Not everyone in the audience was Catholic. Two young Muslim men also attended the youth gathering with Pope Francis.

Yassine Mumbere, from Butembo in eastern DRC, told EWTN News that he came to the event because all young people were invited. He also studied at a Catholic school.

Muslim Yassine Mumbere, 35, from Butembo in eastern Congo, (R) with his friend (L) at the youth gathering with Pope Francis in Kinshasa, DRC on Feb. 2, 2023. Elias Turk/CNA
Muslim Yassine Mumbere, 35, from Butembo in eastern Congo, (R) with his friend (L) at the youth gathering with Pope Francis in Kinshasa, DRC on Feb. 2, 2023. Elias Turk/CNA

The 35-year-old Muslim Scout leader said he hopes the pope’s trip will help bring peace to the DRC’s eastern region.

In his speech, Pope Francis encouraged those present to be careful of the temptation to point fingers at people, or to exclude others because of “regionalism, tribalism, or anything that makes you feel secure in your own group, but at the same time is unconcerned with the life of the community.”

“You know what happens: first, you believe in prejudices about others, then you justify hatred, then violence, and in the end, you find yourself in the middle of a war,” he said.

To create a concrete sign of community, Francis invited the crowd to hold hands with those beside them and to sing a song together: “Imagine yourselves as one Church, a single people, holding hands.”

Pope Francis interacted with an energetic crowd of 65,000 young adults and catechists at Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Feb. 2, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis interacted with an energetic crowd of 65,000 young adults and catechists at Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Feb. 2, 2023. Vatican Media

“Yes, brother and sister, you are indispensable and you are responsible for your Church and for your country,” he said after the song. “You are part of a greater history, one that calls you to take an active role as a builder of communion, a champion of fraternity, an indomitable dreamer of a more united world.”

After Pope Francis spoke against corruption — inviting everyone to shout together, “Go away, corruption!” — the stadium broke out in loud singing and cheering.

The event’s emcee had to invite the crowd to quiet down before the pope could continue speaking.

Francis also drew attention to two Congolese martyrs and their examples of faith: Blessed Isidore Bakanja and Blessed Marie-Clémentine Anuarite.

Statues of Blessed Isidore Bakanja and Blessed Marie-Clémentine Anuarite, young Congolese martyrs beatified by Pope John Paul II, in Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, DRC, on Feb. 2, 2023. Elias Turk/CNA
Statues of Blessed Isidore Bakanja and Blessed Marie-Clémentine Anuarite, young Congolese martyrs beatified by Pope John Paul II, in Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, DRC, on Feb. 2, 2023. Elias Turk/CNA

Blessed Marie-Clémentine Anuarite, a member of the Sisters of the Holy Family, was killed during the civil war in 1964 at the age of 24. Anuarite was beatified by Pope John Paul II during his visit to the DRC, then known as the Republic of Zaire, in 1985.

Blessed Isidore Bakanja was a Catholic convert at the age of 18. He became a catechist and was devoted to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. He died in 1909, around the age of 21 or 22, after succumbing to an infection caused by a beating and other torture he received at the hands of a European manager for refusing to remove his brown scapular at work. Bakanja was beatified in 1994 by Pope John Paul II.

Statues of the two blesseds were present at the youth meeting, where people in the crowd shouted and held signs asking the pope to make them “santi subito!”

The pope pointed to another example of virtue from the DRC, Floribert Bwana Chui, who was killed in 2007 in Goma.

The 26-year-old man, who worked as a customs manager, was killed for refusing to cooperate with corruption; specifically, he did not allow the passage of expired food products.

A spectator at Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, DRC, on Feb. 2, 2023, holds a sign with the phrase "santi subito" in reference to two Congolese blesseds. Elias Turk/CNA
A spectator at Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, DRC, on Feb. 2, 2023, holds a sign with the phrase "santi subito" in reference to two Congolese blesseds. Elias Turk/CNA

“He could easily have turned a blind eye; nobody would have found out, and he might even have gotten ahead as a result,” Francis said. “But, since he was a Christian, he prayed. He thought of others and he chose to be honest, saying no to the filth of corruption.”

“Now I want to tell you something important,” he added. “Listen closely: If someone offers you a bribe, or promises you favors and lots of money, do not fall into the trap. Do not be deceived; do not be sucked into the swamp of evil. Do not be overcome by evil!”

Head of U.S. bishops’ conference contradicts Biden’s claims about taxpayer-funded abortions

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio leads the Archdiocese for the Military Services. / EWTN News In Depth

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 1, 2023 / 18:40 pm (CNA).

President Joe Biden is wrong on taxpayer funding of abortion and wrong on Pope Francis’ view of it, the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference said Wednesday.

The president suggested Tuesday that neither the pope nor all Catholic bishops oppose public funding for abortion in the United States.

Biden, a Catholic who supports legal and publicly funded abortion, made that assertion in a brief exchange with EWTN’s White House correspondent, Owen Jensen, on the White House lawn. CNA is a news outlet of EWTN News.

You can watch the exchange in the video at the end of this story.

“Catholic bishops are demanding that federal tax dollars not fund abortion,” Jensen shouted over the sound of the rotor blades of the president’s helicopter.

“No, they are not all doing that,” was the president’s retort. “Nor is the pope doing that.”

On Wednesday, Archbishop Timothy Broglio, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), released a statement contradicting Biden’s comments.

“As we are taught by Jesus, human life is sacred. God calls us to defend and nurture life from the moment a new human being is conceived. The Catholic Church has been clear and consistent in this teaching,” Broglio said. “The Catholic bishops of the United States are united in our commitment to life and will continue to work as one body in Christ to make abortion unthinkable.”

Broglio, who is archbishop of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, also said public funding of abortion undermines the religious freedom of Catholics.

“Taxpayer funding of abortion would force people of good conscience to participate in this grave evil against their will,” he said.

“It would contradict our right to live in accord with the tenets of our faith. Our nation is better than that,” he continued. “I pray that we will protect every child no matter his or her age, and open our hearts to respond to mothers in need with love and support rather than the violence of abortion.”

Broglio noted that Pope Francis has repeatedly condemned abortion, at one point using a graphic image to do it. In October 2018, during a Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square, the pope likened using an abortion provider to hiring a hitman.

The president’s remarks came five days after the chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities endorsed a bill in Congress that seeks to permanently ban federal funding of abortion.

“The government should never fund the destruction of innocent preborn children. Rather, Congress can better serve the common good by prioritizing policies that comprehensively assist women, children, and families in need in ways that will not only encourage childbirth but make it easier to welcome and raise a new child,” wrote Bishop Michael Burbidge, pro-life committee chairman and bishop of the Diocese of Arlington in northern Virginia, in a letter dated Jan. 27.

Costa Rican priest shares his journey from intelligence agent to the Catholic priesthood

Father Luis Enrique Guillén. / Credit: Archdiocese of San José

CNA Newsroom, Feb 1, 2023 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

Father Luis Enrique Guillén left a police career in the National Intelligence and Security Directorate of Costa Rica to give his life to the Lord in the Catholic priesthood.

“The experience of the priesthood is very beautiful. It has been a bit of everything, but I can openly say that nothing I gained before compares to what God has given me in this ministry,” Guillén, a priest now for more than 20 years, said in a recent interview with the Costa Rican channel Teletica.

The priest recounted that, before becoming a priest, he had several jobs and even had a girlfriend.

“After leaving school, my first job was as a school teacher. Later, I took a position at the Juan Santamaría Airport in flight operations, and then I spent seven years working in the Intelligence and Security Directorate (DIS),” he commented.

The DIS is a police agency under the Ministry of the Presidency of Costa Rica. According to its regulations, its functions include “intelligence and investigations” to “ensure the security of the State.”

Guillén said that “in the DIS I worked for seven years and so I still maintain a connection, but [now] as a chaplain. After working for that time, [I] began the whole vocational discernment process.”

Guillén, 52, said that he responded to God’s call when he was 24.

“At 24 years of age, I think that maturity and the passing of the years made me question what I wanted, where to go. That made me wonder: ‘And why not what I had once thought about ?’” he recalled.

“Back then I even had a girlfriend, I talked to my parents and told them that I wanted to give myself a chance at the seminary, whether it was three weeks, three months, or three years. And here I am, I am already on my way to 21 years of priesthood and 10 years of being a chaplain for the Costa Rican Public (police) Force,” he added.

Guillen also noted that the priesthood means learning to renounce material goods and trusting fully in God’s providence.

“It’s giving up credit cards, a monthly salary, and starting to depend a lot on divine providence, which is manifested through the charitable action of people or depending again, a little, on the family,” he said.

Finally, he stressed that “God never fails, he is always faithful,” because he “always gives us what we need.”

Guillén was recently installed as pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in the city of Curridabat in San José province. He was ordained on March 19, 2002.

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

Cardinal Dolan criticizes Biden administration for trying to force employers to cover contraception

Cardinal Timothy Dolan attends Columbus Day parade in New York City. / lev radin / Shutterstock

CNA Newsroom, Feb 1, 2023 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

The Biden administration’s proposal to force employers to offer contraception in their health insurance plans even if they have moral objections to it is “disheartening,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan said Wednesday.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a proposed rule that would leave in place the current exemption for religious employers but take away the exemption based purely on moral grounds.

Dolan, reacting two days later, said the Trump-era rule issued in 2018 “provided appropriately clear and robust protections for the exercise of religious beliefs and moral convictions, free from government punishment,” but that the Biden administration’s new proposal wrongly removes at least some of those protections.

“While we are pleased that the proposed regulations appear, at this early stage of review, to retain the bulk of the existing religious exemption, their elimination of protections for moral convictions is disheartening,” said Dolan, the archbishop of New York and chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, in a written statement.

“It is past time for HHS to leave well enough alone in this regard,” Dolan said.

A spokesman for Health and Human Services could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

The dispute is over regulations connected to the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, commonly known as Obamacare.

When the law came into effect, the Obama administration sought to force employers to cover the full cost of contraception for their employees through their health insurance plans. Various religious organizations and companies filed suit, leading to a patchwork of court decisions exempting some from the requirement and not exempting others.

The Trump administration’s 2018 rule included carve-outs for religious employers and employers with moral objections to contraception.

Biden officials say women need free contraception.

“Access to contraception is an essential component of women’s health care in part because contraception is effective at reducing unintended pregnancy. Without health insurance or other health coverage for or access to contraception at no cost, contraception can be prohibitively expensive, and the cost may deter individuals from obtaining needed care,” says a written statement from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an agency within the federal Department of Health and Human Services, on Monday.

Contraception has “a heightened importance” now and making it free is “a national imperative,” say Biden administration officials, because women in some states can’t get abortions. Some states have made abortion illegal since June 2022, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that abortion is not a federal constitutional right.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that artificial contraception is immoral because it thwarts what the Church says are the main purposes of sexual intercourse: procreation and the unity of a man and woman in a lifelong commitment to each other. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls contraception “intrinsically evil.”

Cardinal Dolan rejected the Biden administration’s abortion-policy argument in his statement Wednesday.

“The proper reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs is not, as the proposed regulations claim, to make it free for women to sterilize themselves, but rather to relieve the burdens that our laws and culture place both on mothers and those who may become mothers,” Dolan said.

Biden officials want to get rid of the moral exemption and also provide a way for women who work for exempt employers to get contraception free of charge.

The Biden administration’s proposed new rule would create what it calls “an individual contraceptive arrangement” that would allow employees of exempt organizations to get contraception free of charge without their employer paying for it.

The federal government charges health insurers a user fee. (In 2023, it’s 2.75% of premiums for the Federally Facilitated Marketplace and 2.25% of premiums for a State-Based Marketplace using the federal platform.)

In such cases, the proposed rule would allow providers of contraception to apply for an “adjustment” of the user fee based on the costs of providing the products and services, “which would likely be reimbursed and ultimately incurred by the federal government.”

Dolan said the bishops’ conference plans to file comments on the proposed rule with HHS.

The proposed rule is not currently in effect. A 60-day comment period on it begins with its publication in the Federal Register, which is scheduled to occur Thursday, Feb. 2. That gives members of the public until early April to comment on it.

Written comments can be submitted by U.S. mail or online at the following website: https://www.regulations.gov.

Pope Francis to Congolese charities: ‘It’s not philanthropy, but faith’

On his second day in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa, Feb. 1, 2023, Pope Francis listened to the stories of victims of violence from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s conflict-ridden eastern region. / Vatican Media

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 1, 2023 / 15:20 pm (CNA).

In a meeting with Catholic Congolese charities on Wednesday, Pope Francis praised the work being done to assist those in poverty and emphasized the importance of Christian charity as an integral part of the faith.

“What causes poverty is not so much the absence of goods and opportunities but their unequal distribution,” the pontiff said at the apostolic nunciature in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He gave his speech after hearing testimony from representatives from various charities and meeting with some of the workers and people who receive care from them.

“Those who are prosperous, especially if they are Christians, are challenged to share what they have with those who lack the bare necessities, and all the more so if they are members of the same people,” the pope continued. “This is not a matter of benevolence, but of justice. It is not philanthropy, but faith. For, as Scripture says, ‘Faith without works is dead.’”

The pope emphasized that charity, in the Christian sense, is about raising people “back up to their dignity” rather than treating those in need like statistics. He expressed gratitude that the people who do this work “are able to see Jesus in the least of his brothers and sisters.”

“You did not simply list social problems or provide me with statistics on poverty, but more importantly you spoke with affection about the poor,” the pontiff continued. “You spoke about yourselves and about people you did not know before, but who have now become familiar to you; people with names and faces.”

“I am grateful that you are able to see Jesus in the least of his brothers and sisters. The Lord is to be sought and loved in the poor and we, as Christians, must take care not to turn our backs on them,” he said, adding: “There is something wrong when a believer keeps Christ’s loved ones at a distance.”

In his speech, Pope Francis said the work done by these charitable organizations is “wonderful but by no means easy.” After referencing testimonies that he said were full of “stupendous happenings” that are “impossible to attribute merely to human strength,” he said it is certainly worth it.

“Goodness is like that, it spreads; it is not paralyzed by resignation or statistics but impels us to give others what we ourselves freely received,” the pope said. “Young people in particular need to see this: They need to see faces that overcome indifference by looking people in the eye, and hands that do not wield weapons or misuse money but reach out to those who are down on the ground and raise them back up to their dignity, the dignity of a daughter and son of God.”

The pope met with survivors of ongoing violence in eastern Congo earlier Wednesday during his six-day trip to Africa. When meeting with the charities, he highlighted that the violence may be more noticeable to people but that the important work of the charitable groups is making a difference.

“In this country, where the sound of violence is heard like the loud crash of a felled tree, you are the forest that quietly grows each day and makes the air clean and breathable,” Pope Francis said. “Naturally, a falling tree makes more noise, but God loves and blesses the generosity that silently sprouts and bears fruit, and he looks with joy upon all those who serve the needy. That is how goodness grows: in the simplicity of hands and hearts stretched out to others and in the courage of small steps that approach the poor and vulnerable in the name of Jesus.”

Television station rediscovers lost interview with priest who developed Big Bang theory

Father Georges Lemaitre. / Credit: VRT/YouTube

CNA Newsroom, Feb 1, 2023 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

A Belgian television station has rediscovered a 20-minute video in which Father Georges Lemaitre, considered the father of the Big Bang theory, explains what the origin of the universe may have been like.

Lemaitre was a Belgian astrophysicist known for being the first academic to propose the theory of the expansion of the universe from a massive explosion of what he called a “primordial atom” or “cosmic egg.”

Until now, only photographs of Lemaitre were preserved, the most popular being the one where he appears alongside Albert Einstein.

However, the VRT television station recently found a video in which the father of the Big Bang explains his theory.

Kathleen Bertrem of VRT’s archives mentioned in late December 2022 that finding this historic material was like “looking for a needle in a haystack” due to the company misclassifying its extensive files.

Nevertheless, the television channel found among its archives the tape of an interview in French that producer Jerome Verhaeghe conducted with Lemaitre on Feb. 14, 1964, and broadcast then.

Lemaitre explains the origin of the universe

Lemaitre points out in the interview that the expansion of the universe was not accepted at first because it made the idea of a creation necessary.

In the video, the astrophysicist explains that “before the theory of the expansion of the universe, some 40 years ago [in the 1920s], we expected the universe to be static, because nothing changes.”

“It was an idea that, a priori, basically applied to the entire universe,” the priest notes.

However, discovering expansion made the idea of a static universe “out of the question.”

The priest and astrophysicist also says that this led him to propose the Big Bang theory, describing it as the “primordial atom.”

“There is a very different beginning to the state of today’s universe, a beginning of multiplicity that can be described, as far as we can describe it, in the form of the disintegration of all matter in the form of atoms,” he states.

This expansion leads us to have “a universe, an expanding space full of plasma, with very energetic rays that go in all directions.”

Lemaitre called these rays “primeval fireworks,” which have been preserved in space “giving us a testimony of the first ages of the world.”

The Belgian priest emphasized that he tries to present his theory in scientific terms and that he has no interest in having his position thought to be a profession of his religious convictions.

The full video in French of the interview with Lemaitre can be seen on the VRT YouTube channel.

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

Acquitted pro-life activist Mark Houck reveals details of ‘reckless’ FBI raid; will press charges

After being acquitted of federal charges by a jury in Philadelphia on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, Mark Houck embraces and kisses his wife, Ryan-Marie Houck. Also with Houck are his son Mark Houck Jr., 14, and his daughter, Ava Houck, 12. / Joe Bukuras/CNA

Boston, Mass., Feb 1, 2023 / 13:31 pm (CNA).

Mark Houck, the pro-life father of seven who was acquitted Monday in federal court of charges of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, said he is planning to sue the FBI and other authorities following his ordeal.

On a Jan. 31 episode of the podcast “War Room,” the host, Steve Bannon, asked Houck: “Do you intend to press charges for prosecutorial abuse? And are you going to press charges against the FBI agents and the state troopers?”

“We most definitely will and we will be seeking counsel on that,” Houck responded.

Houck was arrested Sept. 23, 2022, following a federal indictment alleging two violations of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, commonly referred to as the FACE Act.

The FACE Act prohibits “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services.”

At the time of the arrest, Houck’s wife, Ryan-Marie Houck, told CNA that “a SWAT team of about 25 came to my house with about 15 vehicles and started pounding on our door.” She added: “They said they were going to break in if he didn’t open it. And then they had about five guns pointed at my husband, myself, and basically at my kids.”

The allegations in the case were related to two incidents that took place on Oct. 13, 2021, at a Philadelphia abortion clinic, where Houck has been a longtime pro-life sidewalk counselor. The federal indictment alleged that Houck twice shoved an abortion clinic escort, Bruce Love, once when Love was attempting to escort clients and again during a verbal altercation with Love in front of the clinic.

The prosecution argued that Houck pushed Love because he was trying to interfere with his provision of reproductive health services. Houck said he pushed Love because he was just trying to protect his 12-year-old son who was being harassed by Love. A 12-person jury unanimously found Houck not guilty of both counts of violating the FACE Act on Monday.

After news of his acquittal broke, several supporters of Houck called for legal action against the Justice Department.

Until Monday, Houck himself had not made any public statements on the nature of his arrest, but he went into more detail on the podcast. 

‘I have seven babies in here’

Houck said that a local criminal complaint against him in Philadelphia Municipal Court “went nowhere” and added that he was soon notified that he was the target of a grand jury investigation.

He said his lawyers at the time said that they would peacefully bring Houck in for questioning from authorities if needed.

“The next thing I know, I had 20-plus federal agents and state troopers banging on my door at 6:45 in the morning on Sept. 23, Friday morning,” he said.

Houck said he was awake, but his wife and kids were asleep. He said the FBI “repeatedly” rang the doorbell and banged on the door saying “open up.’”

Houck said that the authorities did not identify themselves while banging on the door.

He described the FBI’s tactics as “recklessness” and an “act of terror.”

Houck asked if the authorities would identify themselves before he opened the door, which they did. 

“To which I replied, ‘Okay, I’m gonna open the door. Stay calm. I have seven babies in here,’ which were stirring at the time, but I didn’t know they were awake,” he said.

Houck said he opened the door and showed them his hands. 

“As I opened the door, I could not believe the circus scene that I saw,” he said.

There were “at least 10, 15 marked and unmarked units right in front of me. Surrounding the side of my house, I have 100 yards to the street, cars lined all the way up to the street, long guns pointed at me, heavily armored vests, ballistic helmets, ballistic shields, a battering ram,” he said.

He said his daughter “took note” of an FBI agent in the back of the house, and there were at least five federal agents on his porch “with M-16s pointed at me and now my wife as she entered the opening of the door.”

“I opened the door and I said, ‘What are you doing here?’”

“They said, ‘You know why we’re here,’” Houck said.

“And then I said, ‘Oh, I know why you’re here. You’re here because I rescue babies,’” he said.

Houck said that he looked at all of the agents and said, “You wouldn’t be here if the Trump administration was in the White House.”

He said that the agents did not respond but just looked at him. 

Ryan-Marie Houck asked if they had a warrant for his arrest, Houck said, adding that the FBI responded, “We’re taking him with or without a warrant.”

Ryan-Marie told CNA at the time of the arrest that she was handed the warrant after she asked for it.

Houck said that when he was arrested, his children were screaming, he had on flip-flops, a pair of shorts, a T-shirt, and was not wearing underwear.

Houck said that the agents did not let him put on underwear, brush his teeth, or put deodorant on. They did allow him to take his rosary, he said.

“It was reckless that day,” Houck said. “I’m so surprised that someone wasn’t shot or I wasn’t shot.”

“[If] my kids picked up one of our airsoft guns that they play around with they easily could have been shot,” he said, adding that this was “extremely reckless behavior on the part of the federal government.”

In September 2022, the FBI issued a statement disputing details in the reports of Houck’s arrest. 

“There are inaccurate claims being made regarding the arrest of Mark Houck,” the FBI’s Philadelphia office said in a statement.

“No SWAT Team or SWAT operators were involved. FBI agents knocked on Mr. Houck’s front door, identified themselves as FBI agents, and asked him to exit the residence. He did so and was taken into custody without incident pursuant to an indictment,” the statement continued.

At the time, an FBI spokesman declined to answer CNA’s questions about the number of law enforcement personnel at the scene and whether any drew their weapons and pointed them at the family.

“Extensive planning takes place prior to the service of any federal warrant. The FBI then employs the personnel and tactics deemed necessary to effect a safe arrest or search,” the statement said.

“While it’s the FBI’s standard practice not to discuss such operational specifics, we can say that the number of personnel and vehicles widely reported as being on scene Friday is an overstatement, and the tactics used by FBI personnel were professional, in line with standard practices, and intended to ensure the safety of everyone present in and outside the residence,” the statement concluded.

Close to the cross of Christ

Houck said that he was shackled at the waist and feet once he arrived at “the federal building.”

Houck said that his detainment was “the most intimate prayer experience” of his life, adding that he was “at the foot of Calvary” and was at peace. He said he felt so close to the cross of Christ that he could “take the splinters off that cross.”

Houck also said that the FBI “manipulated” him and his wife into giving them information that he didn’t want to give them.

He said that he was then in the custody of the U.S. Marshals and said that he was still chained in “a pure act of humiliation,” adding that they treated him like he was “a convicted felon” and “like no other person has ever treated” him.

Houck told Bannon that prior to the trial, the government offered him a plea deal: If he would plead guilty, he would walk away with virtually no punishment but “a slap on the wrist.”

He said his wife told him: “You’re not allowed home if you take that plea.”

“I was not going to take that plea. But I just wanted your audience to know that that’s how highly the government thought of this case,” he said. “And I knew the importance of allowing this case to set precedent for the pro-life movement, to have case law on the books.”

Pope Francis ‘left without words’ after children’s shocking stories of violence in eastern Congo

Young people from eastern Congo lay down the machetes and knives used to kill their families at the foot of Christ’s cross to symbolize their forgiveness in a moving encounter with Pope Francis during his trip to the country Feb. 1, 2023. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Feb 1, 2023 / 13:07 pm (CNA).

In a moving encounter with Pope Francis, children from eastern Congo laid down the machetes and knives used to kill their families at the foot of Christ’s cross to symbolize their forgiveness.

“I place before the cross of Christ the Victor the same knife as the one that killed all the members of my family,” Léonie Matumaini from Mbau elementary school told the pope on Feb. 1.

The child’s heartbreaking witness on the pope’s second day in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa served as a shocking reminder of the horrors taking place in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s conflict-ridden eastern region.

It was one of several wrenching testimonies the pope heard during his encounter with victims of the violence. He told them afterward their stories had left him “without words.”

Ladislas Kambale Kombi, a 16-year-old boy from Butembo-Beniu, became emotional as he shared with the pope how he witnessed men cut off his father’s head on the day that he became an orphan.

“Holy Father, it is horrible to see such a scene. It never leaves me. At night I can’t sleep. It’s hard to understand such wickedness, this almost animal brutality,” the young boy said.

“Following the spiritual and psychosocial accompaniment of our local Church, I and the other children who are here have forgiven our captors. That’s why I place before the cross of Christ the Victor the same machete as the one that killed my father.”

After sharing their stories, Matumaini, Kombi, and one other child — who had been kidnapped for nine months — knelt before the pope, who placed his hand on their heads and prayed. The machete and knife remained on the floor below a large crucifix.

Bijoux Mukumbi Kamala, a 17-year-old girl who was repeatedly raped for one year and seven months after being captured by rebels in Goma in 2020, brought the pope her twin girls, conceived in rape, for a blessing. 

She placed a mat, “a symbol of my misery as a raped woman,” under the crucifix “so that Christ will forgive me for the condemnations I have made in my heart against these men.” 

“May God forgive us all and teach us respect for human life,” she said in her testimony.

“Your Holiness, with the presence of dozens of armed groups, the killings have intensified everywhere, families have been displaced several times, children have been left without parents, they have been exploited in the mines or rather in the rebel armies; the girls and women began the ordeal of sexual assaults of all kinds and nameless torture,” Kamala wrote in a testimony read aloud by another woman in French.

“Your Holiness, in all of this the Church remains the only refuge that heals our wounds and consoles our hearts through its multiple services of support and comfort: the parishes and the services of the diocesan Caritas remain our places of recourse and help. Your presence, Your Holiness, reassures us that the whole Church takes care of us. Thank you so much for coming.”

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.

More than 120 armed groups are fighting for control of the eastern Congo, a region rich with natural resources. In recent months, the M23 rebel group has experienced a resurgence. The U.N. reported that the M23 executed 131 people in November “as part of a campaign of murders, rapes, kidnappings, and looting against two villages.”

An affiliate of the Islamic State is also present in eastern Congo, known locally as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). Two weeks before the pope’s trip, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a deadly bombing at a Protestant church service that killed 14 people.

After listening to six testimonies, Pope Francis addressed the victims of violence gathered in the apostolic nunciature in Kinshasa.

“Thank you for these testimonies. We continue to be shocked to hear of the inhumane violence that you have seen with your eyes and personally experienced. We are left without words; we can only weep in silence,” the pope said.

“To every family that grieves or is displaced by the burning of villages and other war crimes, to the survivors of sexual violence and to every injured child and adult, I say: I am with you; I want to bring you God’s caress. He gazes upon you with tenderness and compassion,” he said.

“While the violent treat you as pawns, our heavenly Father sees your dignity, and to each of you he says: ‘You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you’” (Is 43:4).

A previously scheduled visit to the city of Goma, a city in eastern Congo, was cut from the pope’s itinerary due to the ongoing violence after his trip to the DRC was postponed for six months in July.

Pope Francis said that his heart is in the eastern Congo after he listened to the stories.

The pope also strongly denounced the violent atrocities committed and urged the entire Congolese people to “demilitarize” their hearts.

“In the name of Jesus, who forgave those who pierced his hands and feet with nails, hanging him upon a cross, I ask everyone: Please disarm your heart,” he said.

The pope urged people to forgive, reminding them that “the cross was itself an instrument of torture and death, the most terrible in use at the time of Jesus, yet, transformed by his love, it has become a universal means of reconciliation, a tree of life.”

“With Jesus, hope is born and constantly reborn: for those who have endured evil, and even those who perpetrated it,” Francis said.

“May Jesus, our brother, the God of reconciliation who planted the tree of life of the cross in the heart of the darkness of sin and suffering, the God of hope who believes in you, in your country and in your future, bless you and comfort you. May he pour out his peace into your hearts, your families, and upon the entire Democratic Republic of the Congo,” he said.

At the end of the emotional meeting, those in attendance committed to forgive, praying together: “Today we place the instruments of our suffering under the cross of your Son.”

Biggest papal Masses ever: How does today’s Mass in the DRC compare?

Millions gather in Manila for Pope Francis' closing Mass on Jan. 18, 2015. / Alan Holdren/CNA.

St. Louis, Mo., Feb 1, 2023 / 12:23 pm (CNA).

More than 1 million people attended Pope Francis’ Mass celebrated on an airfield in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday morning, according to local authorities. The papal Mass, celebrated in French, was filled with joy and dancing. 

Papal Masses, especially in the last 50 years or so, have attracted crowds of millions — many of them at World Youth Days, the massive gatherings of young people that began in 1987 and take place every few years. 

Here’s an inexhaustive ranking of some of the biggest papal Masses:

Pope Francis, Manila, 2015: 6-7 million

Millions gather in Manila for Pope Francis' closing Mass on Jan. 18, 2015. .  Alan Holdren/CNA.
Millions gather in Manila for Pope Francis' closing Mass on Jan. 18, 2015. . Alan Holdren/CNA.

Residents of the historically Catholic Philippines made a tremendous showing at the final Mass of Pope Francis’ 2015 trip to the Philippines. By official estimates, between 6 and 7 million people packed into Rizal Park in Manila at the final public event during his Jan. 15–19 trip to the country. 

The Mass is thought to be the largest papal event in history. 

Pope John Paul II, Manila, 1995: 5 million

Pope John Paul II with Manila Archbishop Cardinal Jaime Sin  addressing the crowd attending the closing Mass of the 10th World Youth Day in Manila. Ryansean071|Wikipedia|CC BY-SA 4.0
Pope John Paul II with Manila Archbishop Cardinal Jaime Sin addressing the crowd attending the closing Mass of the 10th World Youth Day in Manila. Ryansean071|Wikipedia|CC BY-SA 4.0

An estimated 5 million people turned out for Mass celebrated by the future saint, who was the most traveled pope ever and possibly the most-seen person in history. The attendance numbers set a record that would take years to be broken. 

Pope Francis, Rio de Janeiro, 2013: 3 million

World Youth Day pilgims take part in a flashmob dance at the beginning of the closing Mass June 28, 2013.  Michelle Bauman/CNA
World Youth Day pilgims take part in a flashmob dance at the beginning of the closing Mass June 28, 2013. Michelle Bauman/CNA

Pope Francis’ celebration of the final Mass at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro — his first World Youth Day — set a record as the largest papal event since Manila in 1995. The mayor's office of Rio de Janeiro estimated that 3.2 million people attended the liturgy at the famous Copacabana Beach.

Pope Francis, Krakow, 2013: 1.5-3 million

World Youth Day in Krakow, July 2016.  Jeff Bruno
World Youth Day in Krakow, July 2016. Jeff Bruno

Original estimates were of “at least 1.5 million” attendees at the Mass, based on the number of people at the vigil the night before. Though Polish police did not give an estimate, ​​World Youth Day spokesperson Anna Chmura later told Agence France Presse there were between 2.5 and 3 million people.” 

Pope Francis, Kinshasa, 2023: 1 million

Pope Francis celebrated Mass with around 1 million people in Kinshasa, DRC, on Feb. 1, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis celebrated Mass with around 1 million people in Kinshasa, DRC, on Feb. 1, 2023. Vatican Media

The Mass in Kinshasa, DRC’s capital city, took place on the airfield of the N’Dolo Airport on the second day of the pope’s trip to two countries in central and east Africa.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass in French, the official language of DRC, and Lingala, the Bantu-based creole spoken in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo and by millions of speakers across Central Africa. The pope delivered his homily in Italian with French translations for the Mass, which was celebrated according to the Zaire Use of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

Biden claims the pope and some bishops are open to taxpayer funded abortion

President Joe Biden responds to a question from EWTN's Owen Jensen about the Catholic bishops' position on federal funding of abortion. / EWTN

Washington D.C., Feb 1, 2023 / 11:45 am (CNA).

Despite a clear letter from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) calling for “no taxpayer funding for abortion,” President Joe Biden this week claimed that Pope Francis and some bishops are not in agreement with this policy. 

EWTN White House Correspondent Owen Jensen had a brief exchange with Biden this week in which he began a question by informing the president that “Catholic bishops are demanding that federal tax dollars not fund abortions.” 

Biden responded, saying: “No, they are not all doing that, nor is the pope doing that.”

Despite the president’s claims, he did not cite any bishops who support taxpayer-funded abortions, nor did he expand on his invocation of Pope Francis, who has consistently condemned abortion and even equated it to “hiring a hitman.” 

The exchange occurred after the USCCB’s pro-life committee took a firm stance in support of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act. The legislation would prohibit the use of federal funds for abortion and prohibit federal funds for health care plans that cover abortions. There would be exceptions for rape, incest, and when the mother’s life is in danger.

Although Congress consistently passes annual appropriation bills that include bans on federal agencies funding abortion, there is no law that establishes a permanent ban. This means the policy could change if the language is not included in a certain appropriations bill. This bill would apply the standard to every federal agency permanently. Under the language used in current appropriation bills, federal agencies are still allowed to enroll workers in health care plans that cover abortion, but the premium cannot be subsidized by the agencies. This bill would expand the restrictions by prohibiting the agencies from enrolling workers in plans that cover abortion. 

In the letter sent by USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities’ Chair Bishop Michael Burbidge, the bishop said “abortion is an uncompassionate response to a difficult pregnancy” that “pits a mother in crisis against her preborn child.”

“Protecting taxpayers from being forced to pay for abortion in violation of their conscience is a principle that has enjoyed historically broad support among Americans, regardless of their otherwise passionately divided views on the topic,” Bishop Burbidge said. “It has also been life-saving. …Congress can better serve the common good by prioritizing policies that comprehensively assist women, children, and families in need in ways that will not only encourage childbirth but make it easier to welcome and raise a new child.”

In response to Biden’s claims, Bishop Joseph Strickland of the Diocese of Tyler in Texas accused the president of twisting Pope Francis’s words. 

“Mr. Biden can’t be allowed to twist the words of Pope Francis in this way,” the bishop tweeted. “I implore the Vatican press office to emphatically clarify that Pope Francis rightly calls abortion murder. It is time to denounce Biden’s fake Catholicism.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the Church has affirmed that abortion is evil since the first century and continues to do so. 

“Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception,” the catechism states. “From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person — among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.”