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Nebraska bishop shares mental illness story, offers message of hope 

Bishop James Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln credits the support of friends, family, medical professionals, and his golden retriever, Stella, with his recovery from mental illness. / Courtesy: Dennis Kellog

CNA Staff, May 17, 2024 / 17:14 pm (CNA).

After seven years of heading the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, Bishop James Conley found himself “buckling” under all of his duties and experiencing severe anxiety, insomnia, and depression. 

Several years later, after addressing his mental health needs, the bishop shared his reflections on mental health and Christ in a May 16 pastoral letter in which he emphasized the importance of support from his friends, family, medical professionals — and his golden retriever, Stella. 

“I was overwhelmed by my responsibilities as bishop and relying too much on my own strength,” Conley wrote in a May 17 introduction to his pastoral letter in the Southern Nebraska Register. “As I received good professional care, I learned that weakness is part of the human condition, but the more we rely exclusively on ourselves, the more those weaknesses are exacerbated.”

Mental health is a growing concern in the United States. The percentage of U.S. adults diagnosed with depression has risen almost 10% since 2015, reaching 29% according to a 2023 Gallup poll, and data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that almost half of U.S. teens report experiencing persistent sadness and hopelessness.

The Catholic Church is taking steps to prioritize support and resources for those struggling with mental illness and challenges. From Phoenix to Washington, D.C., dioceses are offering Masses and retreats for people struggling with mental illness, while the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers (CMHM) is establishing mental health resources in parishes worldwide

A bishop’s healing 

In his pastoral letter, Conley shared about how stress, overwork, and self-reliance led to the deterioration of his mental, physical, and spiritual health. The road to wellness would be a long one, but when Conley shared why he was taking leave of absence, he received overwhelming support from the people of his diocese.

“About seven years after becoming bishop of Lincoln I started buckling under my episcopal duties,” Conley wrote in the May 16 letter. “The people of this diocese have a beautiful faith, and I wanted to be the strong, invincible leader I thought they deserved. Day in and day out, I tried to fix the problems brought to me instead of surrendering them to the Lord.”

Overwhelmed by the work, Conley noted that overtime, he “slackened in taking care of my own physical and mental well-being.” 

“The first thing to go was my sleep because my brain would run nonstop,” Conley wrote. “All night I would lie in bed rehashing the day’s events, wrongly believing everything depended on me, that I was responsible for all the outcomes in the diocese. Although the wear and tear of this lifestyle was taking its toll, I kept trying to muscle through.”

An experienced runner, Conley eventually had to stop running his biannual half-marathons “due to a lack of energy.” He was hardly sleeping and ate “irregularly or not at all.”

“My physical deterioration led to emotional and psychological decline and, before I knew it, I was barely holding onto the last thread of my spiritual health,” he recalled. 

Eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, anxiety, and tinnitus, which can be amplified by stress, Conley “was forced to confront my denial.” But unsure if he could take time off for mental health issues, Conley said he “minimized my problems.”  

“Thankfully, my sister, friends, and medical professionals helped me recognize that it wasn’t selfish to take care of myself,” Conley noted.

At the end of 2019, Pope Francis granted Conley permission to take a leave of absence to recover from his mental health issues. Though it was “extremely hard to step away,” Conley said he received an “outpouring of support and prayer” from his diocese. 

“I would need all that grace since the hardest part of my journey was still ahead,” he said. 

While Conley was recovering, COVID-19 hit, causing the bishop’s “three anchors” of Mass, the rosary, and the Liturgy of the Hours to have “little solace” for him as he often had to offer Mass alone. Thrown into spiritual darkness, Conley “grappled” with the question “Where was God?”

Through meditating on his reliance on Christ, Conley began to recover from “unhealthy self-reliance” while developing his trust in God.

“I started to experience the freedom of surrender as I gradually allowed Jesus to shoulder burdens I had been carrying on my own,” he wrote.

“The last gift of this difficult healing season was my dog, Stella,” he continued. “My good friend Bishop James Wall of Gallup was in the process of getting a puppy and he convinced me to do likewise. We took a seven-and-a-half-hour road trip to El Paso to pick up four 8-week-old golden retrievers, two for us and two for other friends.”

“Looking back it’s funny to think that a 10-pound puppy was crucial in beginning to bring joy back into my life,” he continued. “Stella goes nearly everywhere with me now and is loved by all. Since I live alone, she provides needed companionship and ensures I get outside every day for walks.”

Conley ultimately returned from his leave of absence in November 2020, recovering with the help of several qualified Catholic doctors including a psychologist and psychiatrist. He shared his story with CNA in a 2020 interview.

Catholicism and mental health

Preserving faith through depression can be a challenge, but according to a 2012 study, being religiously involved can help people recover faster from depression. Resources for Catholics struggling with mental health vary; some parishes offer retreats or group ministries, while others provide referrals to therapy or other resources.

Conley noted that in times of spiritual despair, we “must protect” the “treasure” of hope that comes from God.

“When hope wanes, let us remember the countless ways God has blessed us, the particular instances in our lives where he has ‘come through,’ and the dark times when he felt absent but, in hindsight, we could discern his presence,” he wrote.

“A Catholic view of mental health is necessary because it defines well-being according to reason and revelation,” Conley wrote.

“One might rightly ask, if we don’t speak of a Catholic physics or a Catholic biology, why do we need a Catholic understanding of mental health?” he continued. “The answer is because any notion of mental health is laden with beliefs about the human person, about true human anthropology … But notions of human flourishing depend on one’s beliefs about the human person’s origins, purpose, and destiny.” 

Allison Ricciardi, a psychotherapist and counselor who launched the website in 2001, helps connect Catholics with therapists who are dedicated to the Catholic faith and its teachings. 

“The teachings of the Church are really solidly grounded in an understanding of the human person,” she told CNA in a phone call. “Between Scripture and teachings of the Church, [they] really do help us to understand human nature and how grace perfects that nature.”

Many saints have struggled with mental illness, Conley observed, and their lives are a reminder “that God is active in every life at all times in history.”

“How comforting to know many saints struggled like us — St. Ignatius of Loyola contemplated suicide, St. Jane Frances de Chantal suffered from depression for over 40 years, St. John of God had a mental breakdown that resulted in hospitalization, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton struggled with anxiety and depression,” he wrote. “They all grew closer to God through their struggles and so can we.” 

“Both body and soul must be attended to, for we reflect and glorify God through both,” he continued. “In this understanding of the human person, we can see how issues in body or soul potentially harm mental health.”

Maryland Republican Senate candidate Larry Hogan backs codifying Roe

Larry Hogan, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Maryland, greets supporters before casting his ballot in the state primary election at Davidsonville Elementary School on May 14, 2024, in Davidsonville, Maryland. / Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 17, 2024 / 16:04 pm (CNA).

The Republican nominee for Senate in Maryland — former Gov. Larry Hogan — announced he would vote to codify the abortion standards set in Roe v. Wade if elected, which would legalize abortion nationwide. 

Hogan, who is hoping to be the first Republican to represent Maryland in the Senate in nearly four decades, endorsed the plan to codify Roe in an interview with the New York Times, which was published on Thursday, May 16. Before this interview, the former governor had a mixed record on life issues. 

“As governor, I protected the rights of Maryland women to make their own reproductive health decisions,” Hogan said in a May 16 post on X, linking to the New York Times interview. “I will do the same in the Senate by restoring Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. No one should come between a woman and her doctor.”

Hogan, who is Catholic, called himself “pro-choice” in the interview and said he would “continue to protect the rights of women to make their own reproductive choices just like I did as governor for eight years.” 

“I think Marylanders know and trust that when I give them my word, I’m going to keep it, and I’ve protected these rights before,” the former governor added. “And I’ll do it again in the Senate by supporting a bipartisan compromise to restore Roe as the law of the land.”

Hogan served as governor of Maryland for two terms from 2015 until 2023, winning his first race by less than a four-point margin and winning reelection by nearly a 12-point margin. Maryland has a heavily Democratic electorate, and it was expected to be an easy Senate win for Democrats until Hogan announced his candidacy.

As governor, Hogan vetoed legislation to allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to perform abortions instead of reserving the procedure to only physicians. Democrats overrode his veto. Hogan, however, consistently said he did not support new restrictions on abortion in Maryland when campaigning for governor.

The plan to codify Roe, which is supported by Democratic leaders in Congress and President Joe Biden, would override state laws that protect life. The law would set a national standard to legalize abortion in every state until at least the point of viability. Although viability normally occurs around 24 weeks of pregnancy, the proposal endorsed by Democratic lawmakers does not set a strict week-based limit but rather allows viability to be determined by the woman’s treating physician, who is often the abortionist.

Hogan’s Democratic opponent — former Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks — who also supports codifying Roe, responded to the former governor’s announcement by calling into question his sincerity. 

“Larry Hogan won’t protect abortion rights,” Alsobrooks said in a post on X on May 16. “Senate Republicans won’t protect abortion rights. I will protect abortion rights. We will keep Maryland and the Senate blue.”

The pro-abortion group Reproductive Freedom for All — formerly called National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) — went further, calling Hogan’s statement “a lie.” The group had previously listed Hogan’s record when he was governor as “mixed” on abortion. 

“There is only one candidate in this race who will fight tooth and nail to lock the federal right to abortion into law — and that’s Angela Alsobrooks,” Reproductive Freedom for All President and CEO Mini Timmaraju said in a May 16 statement

The Senate election is on Nov. 5 to replace Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin, who is retiring. The Democratic Party currently holds a slim 51-49 majority in the chamber.

Voters in Maryland will also vote on a statewide referendum that would enshrine a right to abortion in the state constitution. 

California governor: Pope Francis told me he was ‘proud’ of state’s death penalty moratorium

California Gov. Gavin Newsom attends an event with fellow governors in the East Room of the White House on Feb. 23, 2024, in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

CNA Staff, May 17, 2024 / 15:34 pm (CNA).

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said that following a conference at the Vatican this week Pope Francis personally conveyed his endorsement of California’s efforts to end the use of the death penalty. 

In a recent interview with Catholic News Service, Newsom said the pope expressed “how proud he was of the work we’re doing in California.” 

California is one of more than two dozen states that still have the death penalty, with the largest death row in the United States. However, no one has been executed in California since 2006, due in part to a moratorium beginning in 2019 that Newsom oversaw via executive order. 

Newsom told CNS after his meeting with Pope Francis that he was “struck” by the pope’s sudden comments to him on the death penalty.

“I wasn’t anticipating that, especially in the context of this convening,” he told the news outlet. 

Pope Francis throughout his pontificate has promoted the end of the death penalty worldwide, changing the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 2018 on the permissibility of the death penalty. The Church had long taught that the death penalty could be legitimate in limited cases, while the updated language teaches that capital punishment is “inadmissible,” and its elimination should be sought.

The change reflects a development of Catholic doctrine in recent years. St. John Paul II, calling the death penalty “cruel and unnecessary,” encouraged Christians to be “unconditionally pro-life” and said that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.

The Vatican’s top doctrinal office’s April declaration on the theme of human dignity, Dignitas Infinita, reiterated that the death penalty “violates the inalienable dignity of every person, regardless of the circumstances.”

California’s Catholic bishops have expressed support for the state’s moratorium on the death penalty. 

“This is a good day for California and a good day for our country,” said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles in a 2019 statement. Gomez said that the death penalty does not deter crime, nor does it provide “true justice” to those who were victims of crime.

Gomez, along with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has long called for an end to capital punishment throughout the United States.

Newsom, a Democrat who has held the governor’s office since 2019, has faced serious criticism for actions he has taken as governor related to the expansion of abortion as well as the expansion of protection for “gender-affirming care” for minors. 

Newsom was one of several U.S. leaders who spoke at the Vatican Climate Summit, held at the Vatican from May 15–17 at the Casina Pio IV, the seat of the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences, which sits in the Vatican Gardens. According to Newsom’s office, he highlighted in his speech California’s climate leadership and called for “greater global partnership,” urging world leaders to “protect democracy against the rise of extremism and in the face of climate deniers.”

Movie on Blessed Carlo Acutis and his love for the Eucharist opens this weekend

School children read about the life of Blessed Carlo Acutis at the celebration of his new shrine at St. Dominic Parish in Brick, New Jersey. Oct, 1, 2023. / Credit: Thomas P. Costello II

ACI Prensa Staff, May 17, 2024 / 14:46 pm (CNA).

The film “Eucharistic Miracles: The Heartbeat of Heaven” about Blessed Carlo Acutis and the Eucharistic miracles he studied with such devotion is showing in theaters across multiple U.S. states and the nation’s capital this weekend. 

Specifically, the feature film is showing in theaters in California; Nevada; Arizona; Utah; Idaho; Texas; Washington; Oregon; Indiana; New Jersey; Colorado; New York; Tennessee; Michigan; Georgia; Illinois; Florida; Kansas; Washington, D.C.; Virginia; Pennsylvania; and Mississippi.

Gaby Jácoba, director of the International Catholic Film Festival, which is bringing the film about Acutis to movie theaters in the United States, emphasized the importance of “attending the first weekend” to see the film, in order for theaters to decide to extend the length of time they show it: “If the cinemas see that there are many people attending, they will keep it longer so more people can have this experience.”

In a statement to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, Jácoba highlighted the importance of this premiere in conjunction with the National Eucharistic Revival promoted by the Catholic Church in the United States.

The film about Acutis, who had a deep love for the Eucharist that was reflected in the extensive research he did on Eucharistic miracles around the world, can be a valuable “instrument” and “tool” to inspire Eucharistic revival in the U.S.

Jácoba said the film comes to America “after a long wait” and that the International Catholic Film Festival team “is very excited” that the moment has arrived.

She also noted that months ago the mother of Blessed Carlo Acutis, Antonia, visited the United States, presenting the trailer and the film in various cities.

This film “is going to be a tool to know and fall more in love with the Holy Eucharist,” said Jácoba, who invited “all groups, communities, parishes, apostolates, and movements to attend this first weekend” and see “Eucharistic Miracles: The Heartbeat of Heaven.”

The director of the International Catholic Film Festival said: “It’s a film that had a great impact on me, that profoundly renewed my love for the holy Eucharist.”

The film explores Eucharistic miracles “not only through faith but also through reason, through science, through the impressive studies that have been carried out,” she noted.

The movie is also suitable for children from “8 or 9 years old” and can be especially important for those “who are preparing to make their first Communion,” she said.

“We all left with hearts transformed and inflamed with love for the holy Eucharist and we know that, after watching this film, your experience with the holy Eucharist will be completely different, you will leave renewed,” Jácoba concluded.

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

National Eucharistic Pilgrimage: When is it passing through your town?

The National Eucharistic Revival recleased a detailed map of the upcoming pilgrimage routes ahead of the National Eucharistic Congress. / Credit: National Eucharistic Revival

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 17, 2024 / 12:03 pm (CNA).

The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage kicks off this weekend as Catholics observe the solemnity of Pentecost on Sunday, May 19. All are welcome to participate in Eucharistic processions and other prayer-filled events taking place across the country over the next two months.

To take part in an event near you, here’s a guide to finding all the stops along the four pilgrimage routes crossing the country and converging at the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis on July 16.

The stops include shrines, cathedrals, parishes, cultural sites, and parks. At the stops, the faithful in the area will have the chance to join in the national event by participating in Mass, adoration, devotions, praise and worship, and fellowship as well as have opportunities to accompany the Eucharist on the streets as part of the pilgrimage.

Tim Glemkowski, CEO of the National Eucharistic Congress, Inc., said that “a cross-country pilgrimage of this scale has never been attempted before.”

“It will be a tremendously powerful action of witness and intercession as it interacts with local parish communities at stops all along the way,” Glemkowski said. “Following Jesus and praying through cities and rural towns is going to be life-changing for the Church across America.”

He also stressed that Catholics in communities across the country are “invited to be part of the historic movement to set hearts ablaze.”

What is the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage? 

The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage is being organized in conjunction with a three-year-long Eucharistic revival campaign by the U.S. Catholic bishops.

The national pilgrimage consists of four different routes beginning on opposite sides of the country and meeting in Indianapolis for the National Eucharistic Congress July 17–21.

Collectively the four National Eucharistic Pilgrimage routes will traverse 6,500 miles, 27 states, and 65 dioceses while carrying Christ in the Eucharist. 

The organizers are calling it “our national Emmaus moment” after the biblical passage in which Jesus walked with two of his disciples along the road to Emmaus. Through this campaign, the bishops plan to rededicate the country to Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

Where can I meet up with it? 

The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage’s four routes are the Marian Route from the north, the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Route from the east, the St. Juan Diego Route from the south, and the St. Junipero Serra Route from the west. 

To see when the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage is making a stop near you, click here

The Northern “Marian Route” will begin with a Pentecost Mass and Eucharistic procession at a historic site in the Lake Itasca region of Minnesota.

The Eastern “Seton Route” begins with Mass at the birthplace of the Knights of Columbus, St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Connecticut, on May 18. 

The Southern “Juan Diego Route” will begin with a Pentecost Mass on May 19 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Brownsville, Texas, just a few minutes’ walk from the U.S. border with Mexico. 

The Western “Junipero Serra Route” will begin on May 18 with solemn vespers and adoration at the historic Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco, at which Serra once celebrated Mass. 

Who will be leading the pilgrimages? 

Each route will be led by a team of eight “Perpetual Pilgrims” who will accompany our Eucharistic Lord for the entire length of the journey. 

A “rotating cadre” of 30 Franciscan Friars of the Renewal will provide “ecclesial support” for the pilgrims. 

How can I participate? 

Participating in the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage is simple and costs nothing. Exact details on individual events at pilgrimage stops, including registration information, are available on the route pages

You can also participate by walking portions of the pilgrimage with the Perpetual Pilgrims. To do so, organizers ask that you register, which you can do by clicking here.

This article was originally published on Feb. 23, 2024, and was updated on May 17, 2024.

Catholic pilgrimages in the United States: a new renaissance?

Catholic pilgrims on the Katy Trail Pilgrimage begin the route from Augusta on Oct. 9, 2023. / Jonah McKeown/CNA

CNA Staff, May 17, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

This weekend, the longest Catholic pilgrimages ever organized in the United States — possibly the world — will commence on the edges of the country. 

The National Eucharistic Pilgrimages, organized as part of the multiyear National Eucharistic Revival, will see a group of young men and women collectively walk over 6,500 miles, carrying the Eucharist across four different routes and meeting in Indianapolis for the National Eucharistic Congress July 17–21. It’s not known yet just how many people will end up participating in the four pilgrimages, but organizers are hoping to attract tens of thousands. 

Arguably, in the past decade or so, Catholic pilgrimages in the United States have — if you’ll pardon the pun — hit their stride. The organizers of a number of prominent Catholic pilgrimages told CNA that they’ve seen interest among Catholics grow and promoted the idea of pilgrimage as a powerful means of spiritual revival. 

Catholic pilgrims on the Katy Trail Pilgrimage walk the route on Oct. 9, 2023. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Catholic pilgrims on the Katy Trail Pilgrimage walk the route on Oct. 9, 2023. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

‘So overwhelming and so beautiful’

A pilgrimage is broadly defined as a journey to a holy place and is traditionally associated with walking. The concept of pilgrimage in the Catholic tradition is far from new, of course — the most famous pilgrimage in the world is arguably the 1,000-year-old Camino de Santiago through Spain, Portugal, and part of southern France. Last year, nearly half a million people from around the world did the Camino, a new record. Thirty-two thousand of those people were from the U.S., the largest foreign group represented.

Though the many world-famous European pilgrimages with centuries of pedigree are indeed attractive, Americans aren’t only flooding those trails. Many are blazing their own here at home and have seen their efforts rewarded with growing numbers of participants. 

In just over a decade and a half, the “Kansas Camino,” also known as the Father Emil Kapaun Pilgrimage, has grown from just five participants the first year to more than 100 a few years later. Scott Carter, coordinator of the Father Kapaun Guild in Wichita, told CNA that this year over 400 people from at least 26 states signed up to walk the 60-mile route over Kansas backroads beginning May 30. 

Pilgrims walk the Kansas Camino, which goes from Wichita to Father Emil Kapaun’s home parish in rural Pilsen, Kansas. Credit: Diocese of Wichita
Pilgrims walk the Kansas Camino, which goes from Wichita to Father Emil Kapaun’s home parish in rural Pilsen, Kansas. Credit: Diocese of Wichita

Kapaun was a Catholic priest and military chaplain who ministered to his fellow soldiers during the Korean War. Likely buoyed by recent developments in Kapaun’s sainthood cause as well as the providential rediscovery of his body and return to Kansas in 2021, the Kapaun Pilgrimage has exploded in popularity. 

Carter said the founder of the pilgrimage, Father Eric Walden, was in the military too and wanted a way to enter more deeply into the life of Father Kapaun. The route of the pilgrimage takes participants from Wichita to Kapaun’s home parish in rural Pilsen, Kansas. 

Father Emil Kapaun celebrates Mass using the hood of a Jeep as his altar on Oct. 7, 1950. Public Domain
Father Emil Kapaun celebrates Mass using the hood of a Jeep as his altar on Oct. 7, 1950. Public Domain

Carter described the concept of pilgrimage as “sacramental in its nature, putting both our body and soul to work in response to God’s call.”

“On pilgrimage we contribute physically, mentally, spiritually to our prayers, and it often gives us comfort that we’re doing everything we can to leave our petition in God’s hands,” he said. 

On the Kapaun Pilgrimage, as on any pilgrimage, people walk for different reasons — some for a specific purpose or prayer intention, some seeking spiritual rejuvenation, others for the purpose of venerating the holy site at the end.

“I feel like everybody has their own story. Everybody has something that strikes them. But I do think there’s a unique way where the physical nature of the pilgrimage, the removal from our ordinary lives; it just invites us into something different and to experience something in a unique way,” he said. 

Pilgrims celebrate Mass on the hood of a Jeep during the Kansas Camino, emulating a famous photo of Father Emil Kapaun. Credit: Diocese of Wichita
Pilgrims celebrate Mass on the hood of a Jeep during the Kansas Camino, emulating a famous photo of Father Emil Kapaun. Credit: Diocese of Wichita

Carter said the joy that awaits pilgrims at the end of their journey is reminiscent of the joy we hope for as Catholics at the end of our life journey. 

“When you reach your destination, it was just so overwhelming and so beautiful, people cheering us on and everything. And so it’s a little hint, hopefully, of what heaven is like … the welcome that we’re going to receive when we’re finally walking through the pearly gates,” Carter said.

‘American Catholics are reengaging’

Gabe Jones, a father and a financial adviser with the Knights of Columbus, founded the Joseph Challenge Pilgrimage in 2015 in St. Louis. The roughly 24-mile annual walk aimed at Catholic men has grown from just a handful of friends in its first year to “just under 60 guys” in one of the post-pandemic iterations. Jones said they’ve had 30 or so participants on average in each of the nine years, with minimal promotion of the event apart from word of mouth. 

Even if their ranks aren’t quite as large as, say, the Kapaun Pilgrimage, Jones said he has seen the Lord working during the pilgrimage even if the number of walkers is small. One early year, he said, several fellow participants dropped out, leaving the number of pilgrims at just two. Jones walked with that one other man, who was at that point discerning his vocation. That man is today a monk at Silver Stream Priory in Ireland, Jones said. 

“You can never judge the fruit of [a pilgrimage] by the numbers,” he commented.

Founder Gabe Jones, left, speaks to participants at the commencement of the Joseph Challenge Pilgrimage in May 2019. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Founder Gabe Jones, left, speaks to participants at the commencement of the Joseph Challenge Pilgrimage in May 2019. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Jones told CNA that most people he encounters find the idea of pilgrimage very appealing, in part because it is an experience that grounds you in reality in an age dominated by the virtual. 

“The world now, because we’re so digital and you can experience so many things that aren’t real on a screen — a pilgrimage reconnects you with reality. It reconnects you literally with the earth, because you’re walking for miles and miles and the pain that comes with that. You know, the discomfort in your feet and your joints from walking and walking and walking,” he said. 

“You encounter people. You’re walking through street corners, and people come up and say, ‘What are you doing?’ So I think there’s that desire in the human heart for an experience, for action. And I think American Catholics are reengaging with that.”

Men walk through St. Louis during the Joseph Challenge Pilgrimage in 2019 carrying a wooden cross and a Vatican flag. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Men walk through St. Louis during the Joseph Challenge Pilgrimage in 2019 carrying a wooden cross and a Vatican flag. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Large pilgrimage groups remain a relatively rare sight on U.S. streets, and Jones said often he gets asked by passersby what they’re “protesting” — which he finds ironic.

“Public witness doesn’t have to be in protest of something. You can do something publicly like this as a witness and as a testimony because of the things you love,” he noted. 

“I think it’s a beautiful thing to be able to offer to Our Lord is to say, hey, this beautiful place here is worth a little bit of pain and discomfort to offer up and unite my sufferings with yours.”

Participants kneel in front of the Shrine of St. Joseph at the conclusion of the Joseph Challenge Pilgrimage in 2019. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Participants kneel in front of the Shrine of St. Joseph at the conclusion of the Joseph Challenge Pilgrimage in 2019. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Father Timothy Foy, associate pastor at St. Clare of Assisi Parish in the St. Louis area, is the founder of the Katy Trail Pilgrimage, a roughly 50-mile walk to a handful of Marian churches along a trail that spans almost the entire width of Missouri. Last year’s pilgrimage in October 2023 attracted, at least for portions, approximately 80 people, the largest group they’ve had. 

Foy went on a pilgrimage in Poland in 2014, walking with a large group from Kraków to Częstochowa, the site of a famous Marian shrine. The roughly 70-mile, six-day trek inspired him to do a pilgrimage stateside. 

So a few years later, he and two other priests walked the Katy Trail, essentially the exact route they still use today. The next year, he invited others to join them and continued to put out the invitation annually, even through the pandemic years. 

Father Timothy Foy, left, leads pilgrims on the Katy Trail Pilgrimage on Oct. 9, 2023. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Father Timothy Foy, left, leads pilgrims on the Katy Trail Pilgrimage on Oct. 9, 2023. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Foy told CNA this week that for many people, the Katy Trail experience is their first exposure to pilgrimage. He said many participants tell him they find the experience rejuvenating. 

“It’s a movement of the spirit. It’s kind of like when you go on retreat, you know, we’re recharging … We’re going to find that solitude with God and letting him help fill up our souls with his presence and kind of recharge and a pilgrimage,” the priest said. 

Foy said he is glad to hear that pilgrimages are growing in popularity and that he is “happy to ride in that wave.”

“With a pilgrimage, you kind of go on the offense. You’re kind of sallying forth into the world,” he said. 

“You have a mission, so you’re never bored. You’re always making progress as long as you’re walking.”

Catholic pilgrims on the Katy Trail Pilgrimage walk the route on Oct. 9, 2023. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Catholic pilgrims on the Katy Trail Pilgrimage walk the route on Oct. 9, 2023. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

‘Know where you’re going’

Will Peterson, founder and president of Modern Catholic Pilgrim (MCP), a U.S. nonprofit that is coordinating the National Eucharistic Pilgrimages, called pilgrimage “one of the oldest forms of prayer in our Church tradition.”

“It speaks to who we are as Catholics … it’s accessible. You don’t need to have an advanced degree or a deep spiritual life to be a pilgrim. You just need to know where you’re going and what intentions you’re bringing to that space,” he said. 

Will Peterson (far right), founder of Modern Catholic Pilgrim, poses with a group of pilgrims. Courtesy of Will Peterson
Will Peterson (far right), founder of Modern Catholic Pilgrim, poses with a group of pilgrims. Courtesy of Will Peterson

MCP is a small operation and the National Eucharistic Pilgrimages will be by far the largest events they have coordinated. Peterson opined that pilgrimages are growing in popularity, in part, because many people are struggling to find purpose in life — especially young people.

In the face of this, “pilgrimages are all about purpose: My purpose is to get to this place, to give these intentions to God,” he noted. 

Jonathan Liedl of the National Catholic Register contributed to this story.

Harrison Butker supported by Kansas City bishop, prominent Catholics amid speech backlash

Kansas City Chiefs’ placekicker Harrison Butker speaks to college graduates in his commencement address at Benedictine College on Saturday, May 11, 2024. / Credit: Benedictine College

CNA Staff, May 16, 2024 / 18:37 pm (CNA).

Prominent Catholics are voicing their support for Kansas City Chiefs’ kicker Harrison Butker after he delivered a commencement address to graduating students at Benedictine College on May 11 that touched on hot-button issues, causing outrage among the left-leaning media and commentators.

Butker, 28, who has been outspoken about his Catholic faith during his career, received backlash for sharing his views on gender, abortion, euthanasia, and IVF.

He also took aim at several high-profile Catholics such as President Joe Biden and the former head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci. He chided certain unnamed bishops who were “motivated by fear” during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

In the speech at the Atchison, Kansas-based Catholic liberal arts college, he denounced “people pushing dangerous gender ideologies onto the youth of America” while calling on graduates to live out their vocation to “ensure that God’s Church continues and the world is enlightened by your example.”

“Our own nation is led by a man who publicly and proudly proclaims his Catholic faith, but at the same time is delusional enough to make the sign of the cross during a pro-abortion rally. He has been so vocal in his support for the murder of innocent babies that I’m sure to many people it appears that you can be both Catholic and pro-choice,” Butker said. 

Butker’s local ordinary, Bishop James Johnston of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, told CNA Thursday in a statement that “Harrison Butker’s passion for his Catholic faith and his family are beautiful and well known. And like most people, he also has strong opinions on where we are as a Church and as a nation.”

“The Catholic Church believes that God calls everyone to pursue holiness no matter what path they take. As St. Paul notes, that diversity of callings and vocations is essential to the life and mission of the Church. I support Mr. Butker’s right to share his faith and express his opinions — including those that are critical of bishops,” he said.

Johnston wasn’t the only one who spoke out in support of Butker. 

In a statement to CNA Thursday, another high-profile Catholic, Marian priest and author of “Consecration to St. Joseph” Father Donald Calloway, MIC, said: “I loved the speech!”

“His speech was inspiring and what the woke culture needs to hear. He exhibited real, authentic Catholic manhood. Good for him. I have no problem with anything he said. I wish more said it, especially clergy. God bless him. I look forward to meeting him. I loved it so much I went out and bought his jersey!"

Bishop Joseph Strickland thanked Butker for “speaking truth” in a post he shared Thursday on X. 

Strickland said that “it is no surprise that some are reacting with extreme negativity, too many today hate the truth and merely want ‘their’ truth, which is not truth at all. You are in my prayers.”

President of the Catholic League Bill Donohue wrote in a statement on Thursday that Butker “nailed it” during comments in his speech. 

“His courage and his commitment to Catholicism is laudatory,” Donohue wrote. “A heralded Catholic football player defends traditional moral values at a Catholic college — how novel — and within no time he’s being bashed all over the place. Had he endorsed transgenderism, or Hamas, he would now be praised to high heaven.”

Kristan Hawkins, a Catholic and president of the pro-life group Students for Life of America, wrote of the speech online: “If you watch one video today, this should be it.”

Hawkins shared a clip of Butker’s criticism of Biden, quoting Butker: “This is an important reminder that ‘being Catholic’ alone doesn’t cut it.”

CNA reached out to Benedictine College for comment but did not receive a response. 

Former Notre Dame football coach and Hall of Famer Lou Holtz publicly thanked Butker on Twitter Thursday for his speech.

“Thank you @buttkicker7 for standing strong in your faith values. Your commencement speech at Benedictine College showed courage and conviction and I admire that. Don’t give in,” he wrote.

In Holtz’s post on X, he linked to a petition in support of Butker, calling him “a true man of God.”

A separate petition by critics of Butker’s speech has made waves in the media calling for his Super Bowl-winning team, the Kansas City Chiefs, to fire him. The petition has already amassed over 100,000 signatures.

Additionally, Butker has been targeted by the city of Kansas City, Missouri, which shared a now-deleted post on X announcing what city Butker lives in, a form of harassment known as “doxxing.”

Kansas City’s X account later said: “We apologies [sic] for our previous tweet. It was shared in error.”

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas shared a follow-up post that said: “A message appeared earlier this evening from a city public account. The message was clearly inappropriate for a public account. The city has correctly apologized for the error, will review account access, and ensure nothing like it is shared in the future from public channels.”

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey said on X Thursday that his office would be taking legal action to protect the free speech of Butker and Missourians.

“BREAKING: My office is demanding accountability after @KansasCity doxxed @buttkicker7 last night for daring to express his religious beliefs. I will enforce the Missouri Human Rights Act to ensure Missourians are not targeted for their free exercise of religion. Stay tuned,” he wrote.

Much of the criticism of Butker’s speech focused on Butker’s comments addressed to the women among the graduates. 

Butker congratulated the female graduates but added: “I think it is you, the women, who have had the most diabolical lies told to you.”

“How many of you are sitting here now about to cross this stage and are thinking about all the promotions and titles you are going to get in your career? Some of you may go on to lead successful careers in the world, but I would venture to guess that the majority of you are most excited about your marriage and the children you will bring into this world,” Butker said.

“I can tell you that my beautiful wife, Isabelle, would be the first to say that her life truly started when she began living her vocation as a wife and as a mother,” he said.

“I’m on the stage today and able to be the man I am because I have a wife who leans into her vocation. I’m beyond blessed with the many talents God has given me, but it cannot be overstated that all of my success is made possible because a girl I met in band class back in middle school would convert to the faith, become my wife, and embrace one of the most important titles of all: homemaker,” he said.

His comments were followed by an almost 20-second applause from the audience.

In a statement shared with the media, the NFL condemned Butker’s comments, saying that he “gave a speech in his personal capacity.”

“His views are not those of the NFL as an organization. The NFL is steadfast in our commitment to inclusion, which only makes our league stronger,” said Jonathan Beane, the NFL’s senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer.

The Catholic advocacy organization CatholicVote penned a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell criticizing Beane’s statement, saying that it “calls into question your commitment to genuine diversity and inclusion.”

“Indeed, the NFL proudly boasts that it ‘honors and celebrates the broad ranges of human difference among us, while also embracing the commonalities we share, and to provide each individual with the opportunity to achieve their full potential.’ Does this inclusion include Catholics, pro-life Americans, mothers, and those who hold to traditional moral beliefs?” the May 16 letter said.

California teacher fired for religious beliefs gets six-figure payout in court

Jessica Tapia displays a sign outside the Garden Grove Unified School District board meeting on behalf of the Teachers Don’t Lie program. / Credit: Photo courtesy of Advocates for Faith and Freedom and Jessica Tapia

CNA Staff, May 16, 2024 / 18:04 pm (CNA).

A Christian teacher settled in court for $360,000 earlier this week after suing a California school district board for firing her after she refused to comply with gender ideology rules that went against her religious beliefs.

After refusing to comply with a preferred pronoun rule, Jessica Tapia was fired by the Jurupa Unified School District from her job as a physical education teacher.

“It ultimately really does come down to my faith and how I believe that it’s always worth it to stand for righteousness and fight for truth,” Tapia told CNA in a phone call. “And ultimately, I believe the word of God is that truth and is the instructions we’ve been given to live our life upon. There’s really nothing else or no one else that I lean on for that.”

After students reported Tapia’s private social media account to the school district, an account where she shared her views, the school district placed her on administrative leave and investigated her in 2022.  

“When I came to this position in my workplace and as a teacher where I was now being asked to do things that would go directly against what is the truth and what I am confident is best for children that I’m educating — and best for parents and best for myself — I knew it was time to speak up and not just bow down and go along with it like so many are feeling pressured and compelled to do,” she continued. 

The district asked Tapia to comply with a new rule that would require that she use students’ preferred pronouns, not tell parents if students were identifying as a gender different than their biological sex, and allow students to use their preferred bathroom regardless of their biological sex. She sought religious accommodations, but the board refused, firing her rather than accommodating her religious beliefs. 

Tapia said it was “scary” to be in that position, but she believed it would go against biblical teaching to “cave to the fear.”

“It really stretched me, and I had to really, really lean on the Lord like never before and look at what his word says and what the best thing for me to do in this situation — even if it was going to be the sacrificial thing, even if it was going to turn my life upside down,” she said.

Tapia said it wasn’t easy to take the risk, but the “timing” worked out, and now she gets to home-school her young children — ages 6, 4, and 2 — while heading the “Teachers Don’t Lie” program, encouraging teachers “not be compelled to lie in any way.” 

“We shouldn’t be lying to students about who God made them to be, male or female; we shouldn’t lie to their parents or withhold that information from their parents. If their own child is beginning to experience some confusion around their identity, that’s never something to be kept from their own parents — but that’s what school districts are asking teachers to do,” she explained. “Then thirdly, we shouldn’t have to be pressured to lie to ourselves about our own morals and beliefs and convictions — and that’s what I was being asked to do by my school district.”

Bethany Onishenko, legal counsel for Advocates for Freedom and Faith, the nonprofit law firm that defended Tapia, said they’ve seen “a huge influx” of cases of this nature over the last few years. 

“I don’t think we’re done yet. I think that this is only getting worse in our public school system right now,” Onishenko said. “But as we have more teachers like Jessica and more school districts stand up to these ideologies, well, I hope we start to see these cases lessen. But for now, they are raging on.”

When asked what she would say to concerned parents, Tapia said that while she personally doesn’t “typically advise people to put their kids in public school,” she’s “here for” those who do.

“I stand with them,” she said, adding: “I’m there for the parents who are choosing public school. I still think if there [are] children there, I believe Christians need to be there, too: people of morals, people of values, need to be wherever children are, protecting them.” 

Onishenko noted that parents don’t lose their rights when they place their children in public school.

Onishenko noted that “regardless of where you decide to send your child,” parents are still the primary caregivers for their children and have the right to be involved in the welfare and education of their children. 

“Parents absolutely have a constitutionally protected right to direct the care of upbringing and control of their children, and they don’t shed those rights if they do choose to send their children to public schools,” Onishenko noted.

Tapia said she has received a “truly overwhelming” amount of support from people, locally and worldwide.

But in a statement shared with CNA, a spokesperson for the school district said the settlement “is not a win for Ms. Tapia but is in compromise of a disputed claim.” 

“The district continues to deny any illegal action or discrimination against Ms. Tapia,” the statement continued. “As is clear from the settlement agreement, the district has not admitted any fault or wrongdoing against Ms. Tapia.”

Onishenko called it “a huge legal victory” in spite of this. 

“The district did not claim liability when they entered into the settlement, but we still see this as a big legal victory,” Onishenko told CNA in a phone call. “It serves as a reminder to everybody that religious freedom is protected no matter what career you’re in or what job you’re in.” 

“The settlement is just confirmation and a reminder that when teachers stand up for their rights or when anybody of faith stands up for their constitutional God-protected rights, they will be victorious when they stand up in faith … for the things that they believe in and stand up for the word of God,” she said.

Pope Francis says conservative critics have a ‘suicidal attitude’

In an interview with 60 Minutes' Norah O'Donnell, airing this Sunday, Pope Francis took aim at his “conservative critics” in the United States. / Credit: CBS News/Adam Verdugo

CNA Staff, May 16, 2024 / 16:58 pm (CNA).

In an interview with “60 Minutes” airing this Sunday, Pope Francis takes aim at his “conservative critics” in the United States, reportedly saying a conservative is someone who “clings to something and does not want to see beyond that.”

“It is a suicidal attitude,” the pope said as reported by “60 Minutes,” which released a brief clip of the upcoming interview conducted by CBS’ Nora O’Donnell. 

“Because one thing is to take tradition into account, to consider situations from the past, but quite another is to be closed up inside a dogmatic box.”

Francis has occasionally addressed criticism leveled against him during his more than 10 years as pontiff, saying in August 2023 that the U.S. Catholic Church is characterized by “a very strong reactionary attitude.” He has taken actions recently to limit the influence of some of his most prominent clerical critics in the U.S., reportedly taking some Vatican privileges from Cardinal Raymond Burke and removing Bishop Joseph Strickland, a frequent online critic of the pope, from his post as bishop of Tyler, Texas. 

According to CBS, the pope in the recent interview “spoke candidly with O’Donnell about the wars in Israel and Gaza, Ukraine, and the migration crises around the world and on the U.S. southern border.” 

“The wide-ranging conversation also touches upon the Church’s handling of its own sexual abuse scandals; Francis’ deep commitment to inclusiveness within the Church; the backlash against his papacy from certain corners of U.S. Catholicism; and an exploration of his thinking on surrogate parenthood,” the network says, adding that the interview marks “the first time a pope has given an in-depth, one-on-one interview to a U.S. broadcast network.”

The full interview, conducted April 24, will air as part of “60 Minutes” on May 19 from 7-8 p.m. ET on CBS and will be available on Paramount+. More of the interview will air in an hourlong prime-time special on Monday, May 20, at 10 p.m. ET on CBS and Paramount+.

The interview comes ahead of the first-ever World Children’s Day, May 25–26, a new initiative by Pope Francis sponsored by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Culture and Education in collaboration with the Catholic community of Sant’Egidio, the Auxilium Cooperative, and the Italian Football Federation. The Vatican is expecting children from more than 100 countries to travel to Rome for the weekend event with the pope.

Thomas Aquinas College goes off the grid with green power plan

Mark Kretschmer, vice president for operations at Thomas Aquinas College (TAC), pictured with Thomas Kaiser, a biologist and researcher, and Lawerence Youngblood, an electrical engineer and director of Brompton Energy. / Credit: Thomas Aquinas College

CNA Staff, May 16, 2024 / 15:24 pm (CNA).

A sequestered Catholic college in the foothills of California launched an energy program that has nearly eliminated the college’s carbon footprint while saving $600,000 a year, giving the school more reliable energy than the state power grid. 

Thomas Aquinas College (TAC), a campus of more than 500 students, sits northwest of Los Angeles but offers something very different than the bustle and traffic of city life. Sitting on 845 acres, TAC’s discussion-based model of education is designed for a small, tight-knit community of students and “tutors,” who gather for class around round tables rather than desks.

“We are in the business of analytical thinking, of asking questions, of learning from and working with nature,” President Paul O’Reilly said of TAC in a May 7 press release. “And as a Catholic institution, we are very much in the business of shepherding our resources responsibly, partnering with our neighbors, and being good stewards of creation. Our new energy independence program reflects all these qualities.”

Thomas Aquinas College (TAC), a campus of more than 500 students, sits northwest of Los Angeles, but offers something very different than the bustle and traffic of city life. Credit: Thomas Aquinas College
Thomas Aquinas College (TAC), a campus of more than 500 students, sits northwest of Los Angeles, but offers something very different than the bustle and traffic of city life. Credit: Thomas Aquinas College

After a wildfire encircled the California campus in 2017, TAC’s energy was forever altered. High winds had sparked a fire from a high-voltage power line, turning a spark into one of the worst fires in California state history.  

Since the disaster, the state took precautions by cutting power whenever there were high winds, resulting in routine campus blackouts, while utility costs only increased.

Determined to avoid two acres of solar fields on campus, Senior Tutor Thomas Kaiser, a biologist and researcher, knew that solar panels would “despoil the campus,” but he thought he could work with the campus’ neighbor — an oil and gas field company. 

Working with electrical engineer and Brompton Energy Director Lawerence Youngblood, the two determined that a contract for free natural gas would be “a very economical decision.” 

The neighboring company, Carbon California, agreed to the proposal. 

“We knew that providing the natural gas to TAC, free of charge, was the only way for the system to be economically feasible,” said Jane Farkas, Carbon California’s vice president of land and regulatory affairs. “And we wanted to be a good neighbor.”  

Together, they found a way to reduce Carbon California’s flaring and generate efficient and green energy for the campus. 

“We have a gas stream that comes out of the wells near the campus, and we’ve allowed the college to tap into that line,” Scott Price, president of Carbon California, said in the press release.

The college installed the Capstone turbine on the lower campus and adjusted the electrical infrastructure of the upper campus during last summer and the beginning of the fall. 

“We had never done anything like this before,” Mark Kretschmer, TAC vice president for operations, said in the press release. “There’s no way we could have completed this project, let alone so quickly, were it not for the countless hours of technical support and manpower that Carbon California provided throughout the installation, and which it continues to provide as we work through all the engineering and technical challenges.” 

A sequestered Catholic college in the foothills of California launched an energy program that has nearly eliminated the college’s carbon footprint while saving $600,000 a year, giving the school more reliable energy than the state power grid. Credit: Thomas Aquinas College
A sequestered Catholic college in the foothills of California launched an energy program that has nearly eliminated the college’s carbon footprint while saving $600,000 a year, giving the school more reliable energy than the state power grid. Credit: Thomas Aquinas College

While the high-capacity Tesla battery used in the project was obtained for free through a state government program, the turbine installation cost $4.5 million. But according to the college, the project will pay for itself within six years due to tax incentives and energy savings.  

“According to the Air Quality Management District, the Capstone turbine uses the most recent, best available control technology on the market,” Youngblood said. “Rather than flaring at high emissions, we can burn gas using that turbine’s efficient combustion technology at much lower emissions.” 

“This energy-management plan and technology portfolio will put the college on such a high level that it will lead other universities throughout the United States,” Youngblood added. 

Youngblood hopes to develop a similar system at TAC’s recently established New England campus

“Why can’t TAC — which leads the way in Catholic liberal education — not also be the leader in implementing green technology as good stewards of God’s creation?” he noted.  

“While the college is not in the business of technological innovation, this sort of innovation flows naturally from what we do,” O’Reilly added.