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Spanish PM meets with head of country's bishops' conference

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez meets with Cardinal Juan José Omella Jan. 24, 2022. / CEE

Madrid, Spain, Jan 25, 2022 / 17:11 pm (CNA).

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez visited the president of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Juan José Omella, on Monday to discuss a series of issues including the registered assets of the Catholic Church.

In the one hour meeting, Sánchez’ first visit to the conference’s headquarters, "we expressed the desire for collaboration between the two institutions, the State and the Church, for the common good, for the good of Spanish society,” explained Cardinal Omella.

"There are issues that affect us very directly, such as social issues, poverty, the suffering of many people because of this historical moment that we are living through, also because of the pandemic," the Archbishop of Barcelona added.

The cardinal said that other issues they touched on that came up during the Jan. 24 conversation were medicine, life, abortion, euthanasia, freedom of conscience, housing, immigrants, and humanitarian corridors. 

Regarding migrants, the cardinal explained that Caritas and the parishes are already working to help them “for the good of society.”

"Then there are the other issues where we can diverge on a little more, not agree completely, which are the most moral issues, which affect morality the most, such as the issue of abortion and euthanasia," he noted.

“We also touched on the issue of education. I believe that it is very important how the new generations are formed, with the whole issue of the difficulties encountered in the application of the Church-State accords on the subject of education, of religion,”  Cardinal Omella said.

“It was a very beautiful moment of rapprochement between the government's presidency and the president of the Episcopal Conference,” he concluded.

At the meeting Cardinal Omella handed Sánchez the book containing the study carried out by the Church on the list of registered assets covering the years 1998 to 2015 that the Government delivered to the Congress of Deputies.

A statement on the bishops’ website explains that “Recently, the capacity of the Church to possess material assets and to register them in the Registry of Property has been questioned. It has been said that the Church should not have so many assets and that its inclusion in the Registry of Property has been carried out fraudulently.” 

The statement further explains that in past centuries there was no question of what the Church owned. However, a controversy has arisen as to whether certain properties claimed by the Church are actually public property or vice versa.

Another statement notes that "out of the meeting held last August between the Minister of the Presidency, Relations with the Cortes (Spanish Parliament) and Democratic Memory Law and the President of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, the work of the 'ad hoc' Committee set up between both parties has intensified within the dialogue between the Church and the Spanish State, on the matter relating to assets registered by the Catholic Church.”

The Church in Spain "in the context of dialogue with the Government, has made an exhaustive study of it through timely consultations with the dioceses."

"This study has consisted in cataloging the assets, their division by diocese and verification of the registration processes in each of the aforementioned assets" from which it follows that approximately one thousand assets "the Church considers belonging to a third party, or there is no record of ownership of it.”

It is then expected that “the Government will inform local entities and registries of this information and the processes of regularization can thus be initiated wherever appropriate.”

"To this end, the Church expresses its commitment to collaboration in order to facilitate such processes," the statement concludes.

Bishop Luis Argüello, general secretary of the bishops’ conference, said that the report delivered to the government will be made public through the conference website.

Bishop Argüello also stressed that, in general terms, "the Church offers the radical affirmation of human dignity and works for the common good."

He said Monday's meeting was "satisfactory for both parties."

State drops charges against Father James Jackson, but he's still being prosecuted. Here's why:

Father James Jackson, FSSP, appearing at a Nov. 15 arraignment before the Rhode Island District Court. / Joe Bukuras/CNA

Providence, R.I., Jan 25, 2022 / 16:56 pm (CNA).

State charges accusing Providence priest Father James Jackson of possession of child pornography, transfer of child pornography, and child erotica prohibited have been dropped, according to the state court website

But the ex-pastor, a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), still must face federal charges of distributing child pornography and possessing and accessing with intent to view child pornography, his lawyer John Calcagni III told CNA. He declined further comment.

The state’s move to drop charges was an expected procedural development that allows the federal case against Jackson to move forward.

Jackson, formerly pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Providence, was arrested on Oct. 30 by the Rhode Island State Police after an investigation by a Rhode Island computer crimes task force.

The state police had executed a search warrant that day at the parish and arrested Jackson after determining that he was the owner of large amounts of child sex abuse material found on an external hard drive in an office area near his bedroom, an affidavit states. 

The investigation revealed that an internet subscriber geolocated to St. Mary’s rectory shared child sexual abuse material via the peer-to-peer network on four occasions between Sept. 4 and Oct. 17, 2021, the affidavit states. 

His state charges could have amounted to a maximum penalty of up to 21 years in prison. 

The federal charges of distributing child pornography is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison, with a minimum mandatory term of incarceration of five years. Possessing and accessing with intent to view child pornography, his other federal charge, is punishable by up to 20 years of incarceration.

Prior to becoming pastor at St. Mary’s on Aug. 1, Jackson spent 15 years at the FSSP apostolate at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Littleton, Colorado.

Under the terms of his release from federal court in early November, Jackson is free on an unsecured bond with electronic monitoring. He was allowed to return to his home state of Kansas to live with a relative while waiting for the charges to be adjudicated.

Fresno parish church vandalized

Damage at St. Alphonsus parish church in Fresno, Calif., where the building was accessed late on Jan. 14, 2022. / Chandler Marquez/Diocese of Fresno.

Fresno, Calif., Jan 25, 2022 / 16:52 pm (CNA).

St. Alphonsus parish in Fresno was broken into overnight earlier this month. Both the tabernacle and a Marian shrine were vandalized.

Father Carlos Serrano, the pastor of St. Alphonsus, first discovered damage to the tabernacle the morning of Jan. 15. 

“When going through the church, he saw the other damage,” Chandler Marquez, communications director for the Diocese of Fresno, told CNA.

The parish has a Marian statue behind glass, where people often come to pray. Beside the statue is a box with monetary donations for the parish made in thanksgiving. Marquez said the vandal took the box with the donations.

The Fresno police investigated the incident, and were able to recover surveillance images of the vandal. Police assessed the monetary damage to the church at $35,000.

Marquez told KMPH that “The community is devastated. To begin it's a direct attack on the most sacred part of the church but also to have the Shrine of our Blessed Mother attacked. Culturally that means so much to this community.”

Marquez added that the tabernacle's doors were damaged enough that it is being examined to determine whether it can be restored.

St. Alphonsus parish was established in 1908, and it serves 700 families. Masses at the parish are said in English and Spanish.

In a message marking Religious Freedom Day earlier this month, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York stated that “For nearly two years, the U.S. bishops have noticed a disturbing trend of Catholic churches being vandalized and statues being smashed.”

“We are not alone. Our friends from other faith groups experience these outbursts too, and for some communities, they occur far more frequently,” he said.

Study will investigate impact, evolving role of maternity homes in US

_Nezemnaya_ (CC BY-ND 2.0).

Denver Newsroom, Jan 25, 2022 / 15:49 pm (CNA).

An upcoming study will consider the impact and evolving role of maternity homes in the United States, in the hope of better serving women with crisis pregnancies. 

The study is projected to launch this spring and continue for three to five years. It is a collaboration between the Catholic organization Heartbeat International and the University of Notre Dame’s Lab for Economic Opportunity. 

It will center on five maternity homes in the South and Midwest. 

The study aims to assess the impact of maternity homes today, standardize care across maternity homes, and better serve women experiencing crisis pregnancies across the nation.

Organizers also hope to secure funding for maternity homes with an “all-comprehensive approach to support for the entire family.”

“The heartbeat of this housing movement is to approach her more about the value of her own life, and help her with some long-term help,” said Valerie Humes, a housing specialist for Heartbeat International and director of the National Maternity Housing Coalition. 

“Now the mom can live in the home, or if she chooses, to live out of the home,” Humes said. “The mom still receives care and support through the process in the community through these maternity homes.” 

This shifting role of maternity homes reflects the reality of many women facing crisis pregnancies today, Humes suggested in an interview with Pregnancy Help News, which is managed by Heartbeat International. 

When maternity homes first began in the 1980s and ’90s, society was less forgiving of crisis pregnancies, she said. There were few school programs and state or federal subsidies to support women. But women would frequently return to their families after seeking the support of a maternity home. 

Today, maternity homes are reporting a rising correlation between crisis pregnancies and broken families, trafficking, or substance and domestic abuse, Humes said. 

“Now we are seeing that (reuniting with family) is not the case, because now these women are totally alone, abused and trafficked,” she said. “Now we see fourth-generation displaced family units, 50% to 70% in maternity homes experienced…foster care or have aged out of foster care.”

The maternity homes included in the study are Maggie’s Place in Phoenix, Ariz.; Our Lady’s Inn in Saint Louis, Mo.; Bethlehem House in Omaha, Neb.; In My Shoes in Dallas, Texas; and Aid for Women in Chicago, Ill.

Lawmakers: FDA should regulate prenatal tests in wake of bombshell report

Prenatal blood tests for genetic conditions have become an enormous unregulated industry generating billions of dollars in revenue each year. / Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Jan 25, 2022 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

Over 90 members of Congress are requesting that the Food and Drug Administration oversee non-invasive prenatal testing after a bombshell New York Times investigation showing that these tests are wrong far more often than they are correct.  

"We write to you today because it is our understanding that many of these tests have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and we seek further clarification from the agency on this important matter," said the Jan. 21 letter to FDA Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock. 

The letter was led by Reps. Chip Roy (R-TX), Michelle Fischbach (R-MN), and Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT). 

While these types of tests have been on the market since 2011, and about one and three pregnant women take non-invasive prenatal testing during their pregnancies, the tests have “largely escaped FDA regulatory review,” said the letter. 

“Companies that market and sell these products continue to see their profits grow and more products enter the market. According to a Pew Trust report from January of 2021, more than 40 non-invasive prenatal tests are now available on the market,” the members of Congress said.  

“Unfortunately, many of the test manufacturers do not publish data on the accuracy of their tests, and others point to less than satisfactory studies to support their products.”

On Jan. 1, the New York Times published the results of their investigations into the tests. 

The Times interviewed researchers and combined studies “to produce the best estimates available of how well the five most common microdeletion tests perform”: DiGeorge syndrome, 1p36 deletion, Cri-du-chat syndrome, Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, and Prader-Willi and Angelman syndromes.

The tests’ positive results are wrong around 85% of the time, the Times found. Many women are pressured or moved to consider abortion after a test comes back positive.  

“While these tests can help parents prepare for the arrival of their child, we are concerned that they could be a predatory financial windfall for manufacturers and directly result in the termination of innocent human life,” said the letter. 

Prenatal testing for conditions such as Down syndrome has been commonplace for decades, but these non-invasive tests for rare diseases are newer. In some countries, upwards of 95% of babies who are diagnosed with Down syndrome in utero are aborted. 

The letter asked Woodcock to release information regarding the efficacy of the tests, what the FDA knew about the tests, and if there was anything the FDA could do to evaluate the efficacy of these tests, as well as any potential FDA approval steps for certain non-invasive prenatal tests.

A spokesman from Roy’s office emphasized the need to ensure that these kinds of tests are accurate. 

“The results of these tests have literal life or death consequences for unborn fellow Americans, yet it turns out some of them are wrong about 85% of the time,” the spokesman told CNA. 

“Some parents might use this information to help prepare for the arrival of a child, but we know that others are pressured by the medical system and our pro-abortion culture to abort a human life based on dubious information.”

“Eugenic abortion is evil enough to begin with; basing it on unreliable test results is even worse. The American people deserve answers about these tests,” the spokesman said.

Funeral Mass homily: Catholic intellectual Alice von Hildebrand 'defended all that is worth defending'

'Memoirs of a Happy Failure' cover design by Marylouise McGraw. / null

New York City, N.Y., Jan 25, 2022 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

Editor's note: Catholic intellectual Alice von Hildebrand, whose husband was the late Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand, died Jan. 14 at the age of 98. Revered as a "tigress" in defense of objective Truth and the Catholic Church, von Hildebrand appeared more than 80 times on EWTN and contributed many outstanding essays over the years to Catholic News Agency. Some of those CNA essays are referenced in the homily below, given by Father Gerald E. Murray at von Hildebrand's funeral Mass on Jan. 22 at her parish, Holy Family Church in New Rochelle, New York.

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” — Letter of St. Paul the Apostle to the Romans 5:1-2

As we join together in prayer at this Requiem Mass for the repose of the soul of our beloved friend and mentor Alice von Hildebrand, known as Lily to her friends, we pray that she who had such deep faith in the truth who is our Lord Jesus Christ, that she who radiated the peace that God bestows on those who love Him, may now see the fulfillment of her hope, sharing in the glory that God bestows on His good and faithful servants who have received the supreme gift of the beatific vision, seeing God face to face.

Before the body of a deceased Catholic is brought to the parish church for the Requiem Mass, the Church offers this prayer at the wake: “O Lord, we commend to you the soul of your servant Alice, that having departed from this world, she may live with you. And by the grace of your merciful love, wash away the sins that in human frailty she has committed in the conduct of her life.” Lily asked for Masses to be offered for her soul. She was very conscious of the need that sinners have to seek God’s pardon. In December of 2016 she told a friend: “You know, I have lived a long life. I will tell you a secret. I am ready for it to be over. I think I have done what God wanted me to do. If I died tomorrow, I think I would be grateful. Also, I am a coward: I am afraid of what is coming. I pray for the younger generation. I think we are coming back around in history when people will be killed for their faith. If you are there when I am on my deathbed remind me to say, forgive me my sins, thank you to God and I love you. Have you ever thought about the words you will say on your death bed? Of course, not; you are too young but for me it is very close.” She was only off by five years in predicting her departure from this vale of tears. Those five years, indeed all her 98 years on earth were a gift from God both to Lily and to all those who loved her. Her gratitude to God for all He did for her in this life never wavered, but rather grew stronger. She marveled at her long life as she marveled at everything that God did for her. 

In August of 2017 Lily told a friend: “I love the story of Abraham, how Isaac asked him on the way to the mount where God had told him to sacrifice his son, ‘but where is the sacrifice?’ and Abraham responded, ‘God will provide.’ That is how I feel about my death — God will provide the right people and the right circumstances.” The Lord did indeed provide for her as Holy Mass was celebrated in her apartment, and she received the Anointing of the Sick and the Apostolic Pardon, on January 13th. She went to the Lord that very night, shortly after midnight.

Her death brings to an earthly close a truly amazing life. Born in 1923, her journey through this world into the world to come took her in 1940 from her native Belgium to New York, in flight from the Nazi invaders. Her first home here was at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel with her aunt and uncle. Little did she know then that she would spend 38 years at a nearby secular school, Hunter College, teaching philosophy. It was her love of books and learning that led her to Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart and then to Fordham University, where she studied philosophy under the guidance of the brilliant and courageous Dietrich von Hildebrand, who had fled Munich for Vienna when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party took power in Germany. His writings against the Nazis put him at the top of the Gestapo list of people to be arrested when the German army marched into Austria. He escaped on the last train out of Vienna and made his way to New York, where he resumed his work as a philosopher and as a Catholic writer and speaker who inspired his students and friends with a deep love of Christ, of the Church and, in particular, of the Church’s sacred liturgy.

Lily soon became his secretary, and after von Hildebrand’s wife Margarete died in 1957, he asked her to marry him in 1959. They eventually moved to New Rochelle and were members of this parish of the Holy Family. My family were also parishioners here. I remember as a grammar schoolboy wondering who this couple was as they sat a few pews ahead of our family at Sunday Mass. I was to find out, to my great benefit, a few years later, when I decided to enter the seminary to study for the priesthood. I discovered the greatness of these two philosophers who defended all that is worth defending so that man may live at peace with himself, with others and with God.

One of the most central themes in the lives of Dietrich and Alice von Hildebrand was the crucial importance of reverence if man is to order his life properly and fruitfully in this world.

Lily wrote extensively about matters of faith in various Catholic publications in the years that followed her retirement in 1984 from teaching at Hunter College. Reverence was a central topic. Let me cite three passages from her articles.

  1. “The curse of modern men is that so many of them have lost their sense for wonder and gratitude. Boredom is a punishment for irreverence. Alas, our mind-boggling technological progress has brought with it the curse of taking things for granted and assuming with blind stupidity that there is nothing we cannot know — nothing that he cannot master. Having a small gadget in his hand, one feels that he is the master of the universe. He can click on a button and have the world at his fingertips. Regretfully, we never hear homilists say a word about the sin of being ‘blasé.’ It is a sin because it is a consequence of ingratitude — because it is a fruit of pride and metaphysical arrogance. Every sin brings with it its own punishment.” (“Reverence: The Mother of All Virtue,” Catholic News Agency, April 26, 2016.)

  1. “What is ‘reverence?’ It is an uplifting and joyful feeling of awe, a response that man is called upon to give to God’s creation which clearly points to the Creator; it is an ever renewed and grateful discovery of the mysteries of being; it is an overcoming of one’s moral blindness preventing us from perceiving the glories of the universe that we live in. It is a joy to perceive how marvelous it is ‘to be,’ and consequently, should make us respond with horror at abortion, willingly and brutally denying existence to others (for I doubt that abortionists would have chosen to be aborted themselves had they had a chance of doing it.) They deny life to others, not to themselves. We all should tremble with respect at perceiving a little creature making its dramatic entrance into our world.” (Ibid.)

  1. “Irreverence is spreading through modem society like a cancer. It is metastasizing and has infected virtually ev­ery facet of our everyday life. The authentic meaning of ‘culture’ refers to a refinement, an elevation, a spiritualiza­tion of everyday life —that is, it aims to put the seal of the Spirit on our daily activities. Today, however, the word ‘culture’ refers to whatever has been most recently produced. We have forgotten that true culture elevates; it does not drag down. I dare say that much of what we see today is an anti-culture. It certainly cannot be read as a sursum corda (Lift up your hearts) — a call to look upward, triggering gratitude in our souls. It was typical of Plato's genius that he would warn us that one of the main aims of education is to train a child to ‘love what is lovable, and hate what is mean and ugly.’ This is the antidote to the disease of irreverence that is ravaging our society and sickening our culture. When will we avail ourselves of it?” (“The Disease of Irreverence,” New Oxford Review, June 2011.)

Lily’s love for the truth was a fruit of her love for Christ, who is the Truth. She did not speak about Catholicism in the classroom at Hunter, a secular school. She taught philosophy not theology. But her students who heard about the existence of objective truth in her classes were free to ask themselves questions about the origin of truth. And that led a good number of them to seek answers beyond philosophy. Lily recounted one incident that occurred shortly before she retired:

“Not long ago, in my ‘Introduction to Philosophy’ course, I was discussing truth. I gave my students the classical argument against subjectivism and relativism, namely, that whenever one tries to deny objective truth one must simultaneously claim that one’s own statement is itself true, really and objectively. Suddenly, a male student raised his hand, rose (a most unusual occurrence), and said in a strong, clear voice: ‘I object, Professor, to your spreading Roman Catholicism in this classroom.’ There followed a moment of great tension and my thoughts rushed to God for help. Then I said quietly: ‘I’m afraid that you are guilty of an anachronism.’ Since the student in question did not know what it meant, I explained: ‘The argument I have been using is taken from Plato who lived some four centuries before the birth of Christ. He can hardly be called a Roman Catholic. This should answer your objection.’ I then proceeded with my teaching. Some 16 months later I received a phone call just as I was about to leave for the university, where I was scheduled to proctor exams for the evening. The person who was calling, a former student, said she urgently wanted to see me. I told her that this was not possible since I was to be on duty the whole evening and, furthermore, it was my last day at the university until the fall term. She started to cry over the phone and insisted that she had to see me immediately. Surmising that her problem was truly serious, I contacted a friend of mine who agreed to proctor in my stead.

I then rushed to the university. I hardly had time to take off my coat when the girl who had phoned me came in. I immediately recognized her even though she had never spoken to me personally when she was my student. She had a fine, sensitive face and I had been impressed by her attentiveness and eagerness to listen. To my utter amazement, she told me abruptly that she wanted to become a Roman Catholic. I was so surprised that I was speechless, but I then decided to test her. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘Your courses convinced me.’ ‘But,’ I responded, ‘I didn’t say a word about religion in my classes; my topic is philosophy.’

‘l know,’ she answered, ‘but do you recall an incident about 16 months ago when a student got up and objected to your refutation of subjectivism and relativism on the ground that you were spreading Roman Catholicism in the classroom? I had been brought up with strong anti-Catholic prejudices. But just when the student spoke out, the grace of God struck me. I suddenly understood that the Roman Catholic Church does stand for the objectivity of truth and that I had been blinded by prejudices.

‘Your course helped me very much and I decided to take another one with you,’ she continued. ‘I heard through another student that you were the wife of a famous Roman Catholic writer, Dietrich von Hildebrand. I rushed to the library and read a couple of his works. Now I am convinced. Please, help me to find a good priest so that I can take instructions in the faith.’

This is how L.C. found her way into the Church. I learned a great lesson through her experience: God is so powerful, so great, that He can use anything for the good.” (“Classroom Conversion,” National Catholic Register, March 20, 1983.)

We give thanks to God for the life of our dear departed friend Lily von Hildebrand. We owe her many debts of gratitude for all that she did for us and for countless others who learned, and will continue to learn, from her example, her writings and her public speeches and media appearances, especially on EWTN. She taught us how to live, and how to die. May she rest in God’s peace, knowing the One who made her, redeemed her, and has now called her to Himself.

Catholic adoption agency in Michigan wins settlement allowing it to operate in accord with the faith

Chad and Melissa Buck. Image via Becket Fund. / null

Lansing, Mich., Jan 25, 2022 / 14:34 pm (CNA).

A Catholic adoption agency in Michigan reached a settlement with the state on Tuesday which will allow the agency to continue to place children in homes in a manner consistent with its Catholic identity. 

A 2019 requirement imposed by Michigan that adoption agencies must match children with same-sex couples in order to receive state funding had meant the possible closure of St. Vincent Catholic Charities, one of the oldest adoption and foster care agencies in the state.

“The teaching of the Catholic Church and, hence, the adoption policy of Saint Vincent is rooted in both faith and reason: That children, on the whole, do best in life when they grow up with a mom and dad who are married to each other,” said Rich Budd, Director of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Lansing. 

“To have punished or proscribed that common-sense approach by law would have cruelly prevented Saint Vincent from being of service to couples who yearn for children and to vulnerable children who yearn for parents – hence we celebrate today’s agreement.”

Legal group Becket had in 2019 filed a lawsuit on behalf of St. Vincent Catholic Charities as well as people who have benefitted from their work: Shamber Flore, a former foster child placed with a family by St. Vincent, and Melissa and Chad Buck, a married couple who adopted five children with special needs through St. Vincent.

In a settlement submitted to U.S. District Judge Robert J. Jonker for approval Jan. 25, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services agreed not to take any action against St. Vincent, and also agreed to pay $550,000 in attorney’s fees and costs to Becket. 

The settlement comes after a major ruling from the Supreme Court last year in which the court found that the city of Philadelphia had violated a Catholic adoption agency’s First Amendment rights by refusing to work with the agency unless it agreed to place children with same-sex couples. 

The Bucks expressed elation at the state’s decision. 

“We are overjoyed that the State of Michigan has now recognized the important role religious adoption and foster care agencies like Saint Vincent Catholic Charities play in helping children find loving homes,” said Melissa Buck. 

“We are relieved to know that Saint Vincent, in partnership with the State of Michigan, can now, finally, get back to placing vulnerable children with families like ours without the threat of closure.”

In 2018 Becket said St. Vincent Catholic Charities found more new foster families than almost 90 percent of other agencies within its service district, with particular success in finding homes for hard-to-place children such as those with special needs, larger sibling groups, or older children.

“Today's settlement is good news for heroic foster families and the faith-based agencies that partner with them to serve kids,” said Will Bloomfield, General Counsel for the Diocese of Lansing, in a Tuesday statement.

“The Supreme Court's unanimous decision last year was clear: faith-based foster agencies play an important role and shouldn't be excluded from serving children and families.”

Pope Francis: ‘The Lord wants us to trust one another’

Pope Francis presides at the celebration of Second Vespers of the Solemnity of the Conversion of St. Paul at Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, Jan. 25, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Jan 25, 2022 / 13:15 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis said on Tuesday that God wants Christians to trust one another, “despite the errors of the past and our mutual wounds,” as he marked the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

The pope was preaching on Jan. 25 in Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, which contains the tomb of St. Paul the Apostle, in the presence of Orthodox and Anglican leaders.

“On our journey of fellowship, may we never fail to hear [Jesus’] words of encouragement: ‘Do not be afraid’ (Matthew 28:5.10),” he said.

“Let us not fear to put our brothers and sisters ahead of our own fears! The Lord wants us to trust one another and to journey together, despite our failings and our sins, despite the errors of the past and our mutual wounds.”

The live-streamed ceremony fell on the last day of the 55th Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, dedicated to the theme “We saw a star in the East, and we came to worship him,” inspired by Matthew 2:2.

At the start of the service, the Second Vespers of the Solemnity of the Conversion of St. Paul, the pope venerated the saint’s tomb, with Metropolitan Polykarpos, representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, and Archbishop Ian Ernest, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s personal representative to the Holy See and director of the Anglican Centre in Rome.

Pope Francis began his homily by thanking the two men for their presence. He also greeted students from the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey in Switzerland and Anglican students from Nashotah, Wisconsin.

He reflected on the example of the Magi — also known as the Three Wise Men or Three Kings — who came with gifts to worship the Child Jesus shortly after his birth.

“Dear brothers and sisters, the decisive stage of the journey towards full communion requires ever more intense prayer, it requires worship, the worship of God,” the pope said.

“The Magi, however, remind us that worship demands something else of us: first, we must fall to our knees. That is the way: bending low, setting aside our own pretenses in order to make the Lord alone the center of everything. How many times has pride proved the real obstacle to communion!”

“The Magi had the courage to leave behind their prestige and reputation in order to humble themselves in the lowly house of Bethlehem; and as a result, they found themselves “overwhelmed with joy” (Matthew 2:10).”

“To humble ourselves, to leave certain things behind, to simplify our lives: this evening, let us ask God for that courage, the courage of humility, the one way to come to worship God in the same house, around the same altar.”

At the end of Vespers, before the Apostolic Blessing, Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, addressed the pope.

He referred to Paul Couturier, a French priest who helped to establish the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Koch said: “The ecumenical movement, as Paul Couturier, the great protagonist of spiritual ecumenism, so beautifully put it, is like an invisible monastery where Christians of different Churches in many countries and continents pray together for the unity of the Church.”

“This evening we too participate in this invisible monastery, gathering together with you, Holy Father, to pray and adore the Child in Bethlehem.”

“We thank you most sincerely, Holy Father, for your constant encouragement to tread the path of unity and reconciliation.”

The Swiss cardinal thanked the pope especially for proclaiming St. Irenaeus of Lyon a Doctor of the Church with the title ‘“Doctor unitatis.”

“Your decision is also a promising sign for ecumenism,” he said.

Pope Francis honors newly beatified El Salvador martyrs for their ‘heroic example’

Four martyrs are beatified at a Mass in San Salvador, El Salvador, on Jan. 22, 2022. / Camilo Freedman/APHOTOGRAFIA/Getty Images.

Vatican City, Jan 25, 2022 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis has commended the “heroic example” of four martyrs killed in the 1970s and 1980s who were recently beatified in El Salvador.

Franciscan Father Cosme Spessotto, Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, and two lay companions were declared blessed at a beatification Mass in San Salvador on Jan. 22.

“They stood by the poor, bearing witness to the Gospel, truth, and justice even to the point of shedding their blood,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus address the following day.

“May their heroic example inspire in everyone the desire to be courageous workers of fraternity and peace.”

Blessed Cosme Spessotto was shot by a machine gun while kneeling in a pew near the tabernacle on the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on June 14, 1980.

The Franciscan priest, who had come to El Salvador as a missionary from Italy, had offered Mass earlier that evening for a university student who had been killed by the military. He remained in the empty church in prayer when two people entered the parish and killed him.

According to the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Spessotto did not support either the left-wing guerillas or the right-wing paramilitary groups that were clashing in El Salvador at that time, but sought dialogue and reconciliation between the parties and tried to help the weakest and the poor.

Despite this, Spessotto had received death threats. His superiors suggested that he leave El Salvador, but he expressed a desire to stay.

Spessotto wrote: “To die a martyr would be a grace I do not deserve. To wash away all my sins, faults, and weaknesses with the blood shed for Christ would be a free gift from the Lord for me. As of now I forgive and pray for the conversion of the authors of my death."

Born in 1923 in the northern Italian province of Treviso, Spessotto entered the minor seminary at the age of 12 and made his religious profession as a Franciscan as Europe was engulfed in World War II in 1940.

After he was ordained a priest in 1948, he expressed a desire to his superiors to be sent to China as a missionary but was sent instead to El Salvador in 1950.

He built a parish church in San Juan Nonualco, where he served as a missionary for 30 years before he was martyred at the age of 57.

The Vatican decree on his martyrdom was published on May 26, 2020.

The three other beatified martyrs were all born in El Salvador.

Father Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit priest and professor of pastoral theology educated in Europe, spoke out boldly to condemn the repressive action of the military and the ruling oligarchy against the poor and the marginalized, according to the Vatican.

He was driving back with five other people in the car on March 12, 1977, from a Mass offered as part of a novena in preparation for the feast of St. Joseph, when the vehicle was attacked by armed men.

The priest was instantly killed, along with a 16-year-old boy named Nelson Rutilio Lemus, who often assisted at Mass, and Manuel Solórzano, a 72-year-old catechist and father of 10.

St. Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador at the time, was deeply shaken by the assassination and personally presided over the funeral Mass.

“In the motivation of love, there cannot remain absent justice, there can be no true peace and true love on the basis of injustice, violence, intrigue,” Romero said, according to the Vatican’s martyrdom decree.

“True love is what brought Rutilio Grande to his death together with two farmers. This is how he loved the Church, he died with them, and with them he presented himself to the transcendence of heaven.”

About 5,000 people, 25 bishops, and 600 priests were present at the beatification Mass in San Salvador’s Plaza del Divino Salvador del Mundo, according to Suyapa Medios.

Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez, an auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, gave the homily at the Mass.

"Our martyrs can help us recover memory and hope so that we do not give up the dream of a reconciled and peaceful country, a country as our God wants it: just, fraternal, and supportive,” the cardinal said, according to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner.

Vatican finance trial: Prosecutors again charge Cardinal Becciu with subornation of perjury

President of the Vatican City State Tribunal Giuseppe Pignatone / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jan 25, 2022 / 12:45 pm (CNA).

Prosecutors in the Vatican’s ongoing financial fraud trial have requested subpoenas for four defendants who were excluded from the trial late last year, and will reintroduce a charge of subornation of perjury against Cardinal Angelo Becciu.

The Jan. 25 hearing was the latest in the Vatican’s historic trial to prosecute Vatican collaborators and officials in connection to the Secretariat of State’s investment in a London property for 350 million euros ($396 million).

The trial, which began in July 2021 with 10 defendants, had encountered procedural problems. In October, the court ruled that the office of the prosecutor — called the Promoter of Justice — needed to re-do part of the investigation into several of the defendants.

Meanwhile, the trial had proceeded with six defendants, including Becciu, the highest-ranking cleric to be tried by the tribunal of Vatican City State in recent history.

On the morning of Jan. 25, the Promoter of Justice submitted paperwork for the re-indictment of Raffaele Mincione, Fabrizio Tirabassi, Nicola Squillace, and Msgr. Mauro Carlino.

The charge of embezzlement against Tommaso Di Ruzza, the former director of the Vatican’s internal financial watchdog, has been dropped.

Becciu, who for the first time was not present in the courtroom during a hearing, will again be charged with subornation of perjury, the crime of persuading a person to commit perjury.

Becciu is also charged with embezzlement and abuse of office. He has vigorously denied all the charges.

The start of Tuesday’s hearing was delayed for over two hours due to the filing of the requests for subpoenas.

Court President Giuseppe Pignatone said at the 40-minute hearing that the next court date, scheduled for Feb. 18, would be the first with the parallel investigations reunited into one trial.

Pignatone is also expected to give his decision on Feb. 18 regarding objections presented by defense lawyers on Tuesday.

Becciu’s lawyer is still calling for the trial to be thrown out, and complained on Tuesday that out of 255 computer files seized by prosecutors, only 16 have been released for examination by defense lawyers. And of those 16, the lawyers said, none would qualify as “forensic copies.”

Defense lawyer Fabio Viglione also asked the court to nullify the charges because, he said, in questions to star witness Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, prosecutors insinuated there was an immoral relationship between Becciu and another defendant, Cecilia Marogna.

According to Viglione, the defendant has the right not to be questioned on matters of morality.

Judge Pignatone asked the promoter of justice to confer with the defense attorneys on what documents they were missing by Jan. 31.