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Boston College exhibit showcases Catholic faith in rural China

At the opening reception for the Ricci Center's "On The Road" exhibit in the School of Theology and Ministry Library was held in June 2023. / Credit: Lee Pellegrini

Boston, Mass., Sep 24, 2023 / 09:00 am (CNA).

An exhibition of powerful images documenting the lives of Catholics in rural China is now on view at Boston College, presented by the college’s Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History.

“On the Road: The Catholic Faith in China” — which has been extended through Dec. 22 — comprises 60 images taken between 1992 and 1996, when world-renowned photographer Lü Nan traveled on the road through 10 Chinese provinces to document the lives of Catholic villagers. Fifty images are on view at the School of Theology and Ministry (STM) Library Atrium; 10 are displayed at the O’Neill Library Gallery.

One of the most respected photographers in China today, Lü is considered unrivaled in his capacity to capture and reveal human dignity and the poignancy of the human condition, according to exhibition organizers.

“Lü Nan’s corpus of work is very striking,” said Ricci Institute Director M. Antoni J. Ucerler, SJ, a provost’s fellow and associate professor of history. “His focus, with this project and others, is to explore minorities and communities on the margins of Chinese society. Christians in general and Catholics in particular in remote rural areas, from Yunnan to Tibet, are the focus of this collection of photographs.”

Ricci Institute Director M. Antoni J. Ucerler, SJ. Credit: Photo courtesy of University of San Francisco
Ricci Institute Director M. Antoni J. Ucerler, SJ. Credit: Photo courtesy of University of San Francisco

Given that the exhibition subject is Christians in China, the Ricci Institute partnered with STM as its primary venue, Ucerler explained, and three STM students co-curated “On the Road.”

Amid the economic and social complexities of the time, “Lü witnessed nothing short of a miracle,” the curators note in an exhibition description: “people of deep faith, despite constant strife in everyday life, on the road to heaven.” This collection — arranged in five categories that depict different aspects of the life and faith of the people he encountered — is his “attempt to convey to the world the miracle he witnessed.”

The Ricci Institute, an internationally recognized research center for the study of Chinese-Western cultural exchange, collaborated on the Boston College display with Michael Agliardo, SJ, director of the U.S.-China Catholic Association in Berkeley, California, and Jamason Chen at Loyola University Chicago. Chen, who often represents and speaks on behalf of his friend Lü, will appear on campus this fall, at a date to be announced, to discuss the exhibition.

“The visual exploration of the profoundly human experiences of these Christian communities in rural China is very specific in terms of time and place. And yet these stark photographs speak eloquently of a common human condition and of the reality of a lived faith across cultures and borders,” Ucerler said.

He described each photograph as “a mini-meditation that invites the viewer to become attentive to and respectful of the message that it is conveying. Each image reveals the complex reality of the Christian faith well beyond the familiar confines of the Western world, while at the same time appealing to universal themes that are part of a shared humanity.”

Following a five-year affiliation with China Pictorial, Lü worked as an independent photographer and produced a trilogy of acclaimed works that made his international reputation. The second comprises the works in this exhibition; many of them have been displayed around the world and have been published in the book “On the Road” (Ignatius Press, 2021). Agliardo assisted Lü in its publication and wrote an afterword to the volume.

“During the period when Lü Nan shot ‘On the Road,’ he visited over 100 church buildings. However, the emphasis of his photographic journey is on how love and faith are practiced in the everyday life of the believers,” according to a description of the book. “His aim is to show that inner divinity is imbued in the everyday life of these believers, and that their time on earth is but a tempering trajectory: Through enduring the trials of life’s fortunes and mishaps, they are able to find true values in divine grace.”

At a campus opening event held last month, Ucerler said a theme that stands out for him is “transcendent hope through a deep faith in the midst of vulnerability.” The co-curators echoed that observation and shared their personal experiences of interacting with the work of the artist. Their reflections and thoughts on the exhibition all underscored the deep faith and hope of those portrayed by the photographer.

"On the Road: The Catholic Faith in China" exhibit runs through Dec. 22, 2023, at Boston College, presented by the University's Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History. Photo credit: Lee Pellegrini
"On the Road: The Catholic Faith in China" exhibit runs through Dec. 22, 2023, at Boston College, presented by the University's Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History. Photo credit: Lee Pellegrini

“The images depicted might be considered austere, showing poverty and suffering,” said co-curator Wen Jie Gerald Lee, MATM/MBA ’23, of Singapore. “But they communicate profound joy, contentment, peace, and purpose in spite of harsh living conditions.”

Ricci Institute intern and co-curator Zhangzhen Liang MTS ‘23 — who was a young girl when Lü visited her Chinese village for this series — hopes “the perseverance and faith expressed in these photos will empower all of us to move forward together, to live a rich and thriving life, and encourage us to become the light of the world.”

Doctoral student and co-curator Shinjae Lee ‘27, whose family moved from China to South Korea, concluded with a quote from Lü: “I hope that by looking into real life I find something fundamentally and enduringly human.”

The curators, who wrote the accompanying wall text, encourage exhibition visitors to record their reactions to these evocative images, by scanning a QR code available as part of the installation. These responses will be shared with other patrons.

“We sincerely hope that those who view this exhibit will experience a common bond with those who are depicted,” Ucerler said, “and allow themselves to be transported to these faraway communities so that they can learn something from their visual witness.”

According to organizers, in addition to Chen’s appearance, other events will be held in conjunction with the exhibition, and the “On the Road” volume is available at a discounted price. 

For more information, visit the BC Events Calendar or contact the Ricci Institute at [email protected].

“On the Road: The Catholic Faith in China” is co-sponsored by the Ricci Institute and Boston College Libraries, with funding from the EDS-Stewart Endowment for the Study of Chinese-Western Cultural History at the Ricci Institute.

This article originally appeared on Boston College’s website and is reprinted here with permission.

U.S. priest brings more than 1,000 prayer intentions to Ulma family beatification

Father Michael Niemczak at the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, right before celebrating Mass at the altar of the famous image in September 2023. / Credit: Courtesy of Father Michael Niemczak

CNA Staff, Sep 24, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Before leaving on a pilgrimage to Poland earlier this month, Father Michael Niemczak wanted to solicit prayer intentions to bring with him. The U.S. priest with Polish roots was heading overseas to attend the Sept. 10 beatification of the Ulma family, the first time an entire family has been advanced toward sainthood together. 

So Niemczak created a simple Google form where anyone, anywhere, could submit a prayer intention to bring with him to Poland. He ended up getting more than he bargained for. 

Thanks in part to the publicity provided by a CNA story about Niemczak ahead of his trip, the priest found himself with 1,137 intentions to pray, sent in by Catholics from around the world. 

Niemczak, a priest of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and coordinator of propaedeutic formation at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon, is a relative of the Ulma family; his great-grandfather, Jan Niemczak, was a cousin to Wiktoria Ulma, the matriarch.

Father Michael Niemczak in Markowa, Poland, before the Ulmas' beatification Mass on Sept. 10, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of Father Michael Niemczak
Father Michael Niemczak in Markowa, Poland, before the Ulmas' beatification Mass on Sept. 10, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of Father Michael Niemczak

The Nazis brutally executed the devoutly Catholic family of Wiktoria; her husband, Józef; and their seven children in 1944 for hiding eight Jews in their home outside the village of Markowa in southeast Poland. The family’s beatification Mass was attended by some 30,000 people in the family’s village of Markowa in southeastern Poland. Beatification in the Catholic Church is one step before canonization, when a person recognized for special holiness is officially declared to be a saint. 

The priest said it was clear to see that all of Poland was excited. Even before he arrived in Markowa, Niemczak saw large signs advertising the beatification in big cities like Krakow. 

An entire country seemed to be celebrating, he said, “all because one family chose to live out their Christian life, in what I’m sure for them felt like an ordinary way.”

Niemczak said he was worried that he wouldn’t have time to pray each intention he received individually. But God provided a solution. 

Early on the morning of the beatification Mass — about 5 a.m. — Niemczak took a bus ride with fellow pilgrims to the Mass site. His choice to take the early bus resulted in the priest gaining several hours to himself to “offer up every single intention before the altar.” 

Many of the prayer intentions, he said, pertained to Catholics asking that loved ones return to a practice of the faith. Niemczak said he also prayed fervently for the seminarians he teaches back home. 

A reliquary of the Ulma family that was brought up as part of the beatification rite, with the family's official image in the background. Credit: Courtesy of Father Michael Niemczak
A reliquary of the Ulma family that was brought up as part of the beatification rite, with the family's official image in the background. Credit: Courtesy of Father Michael Niemczak

Among the nine Ulma family members killed was Józef and Wiktoria’s seventh child, who was not given a name before the Nazi killings. The Vatican has confirmed that Wiktoria went into premature labor when she was killed and the baby was born at the time of her death. The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Causes of Saints clarified Sept. 5 that the child was a newborn, adding that it received a “baptism of blood” and was therefore included among the martyrs.

Father Michael Niemczak at the Tomb of the Ulma Family in the parish church of St. Dorothy. Credit: Courtesy of Father Michael Niemczak
Father Michael Niemczak at the Tomb of the Ulma Family in the parish church of St. Dorothy. Credit: Courtesy of Father Michael Niemczak

Niemczak said it was moving to him that the feast day chosen for the family, July 7, is the day of Józef and Wiktoria’s wedding anniversary, the “birthday of the family.” The Ulmas’ beatification is a “great witness to the unity of a family … that a family is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Niemczak previously told CNA that while discerning the priesthood as a young man, the stories he heard about the Ulmas “set the tone” for the kind of faith he wanted to live, and he found himself desiring to live out his priestly vocation “as heroically as they lived out” their vocation as parents.

“It’s easy to read these stories and think of the figures in them as very distant in time and space … To think, oh man, they must have been like some superhuman people. I couldn’t possibly do that. But then when you hear that it’s your family members, there’s something striking in that,” Niemczak said.

“To realize every family has saints in it, every family has sinners in it, every heart is capable of great holiness and great wickedness. And so it just was a very arresting thought to think, oh wow, within just a couple of generations, there were these saintly figures so close to my family tree.”

Father Michael Niemczak at the grave of Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko. Courtesy of Father Michael Niemczak
Father Michael Niemczak at the grave of Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko. Courtesy of Father Michael Niemczak

Niemczak’s trip included stops at holy sites in Krakow, Our Lady of Częstochowa Shrine, the Divine Mercy Shrine, and several days spent staying with family in addition to the beatification Mass. He also visited the grave of Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko, a Polish priest martyred by communists in 1984. He said it was powerful for him to celebrate these figures — Popiełuszko and the Ulmas — who “stood up to oppressive regimes, strengthened by the Catholic faith and their love for others.”

“Greater inspiration to live out my vocation,” he said.

Holy friendships continue to transform all-boys Catholic high school in Tampa

Jimmy Mitchell (front row, far left) leads a group of Jesuit High School students in Tampa, Florida, in a walking rosary after school. / Credit: Jesuit High School

CNA Staff, Sep 23, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Broadly speaking, it would be an understatement to say that the young men at Jesuit High School in Tampa, Florida, are good at sports. Buoyed by numerous state championships in recent years, the school was recently voted the top sports school in the entire Sunshine State.

That competitive and excellence-seeking nature lends itself to a different kind of zeal, however — a zeal to bring souls to Jesus Christ.

The Jesuit High School Tigers football team takes the field on Sept. 8, 2023. Credit: Jesuit High School
The Jesuit High School Tigers football team takes the field on Sept. 8, 2023. Credit: Jesuit High School

Jimmy Mitchell, director of campus ministry at Jesuit and author of the new book “Let Beauty Speak,” told CNA that the “competitive nature of school” not only lends itself to great sports — and great academics — “but in a really cool way they can also, maybe not get competitive, but certainly ambitious when it comes to souls.”

Because of the school’s emphasis on peer-to-peer Catholic ministry, the young men at the school are encouraged to turn their talents and efforts toward the sharing of the faith with their classmates — and similar to their sports teams, the men of Jesuit have found success.

Jesuit High School students engaged in a peer ministry retreat at the Bethany Center in Florida. Credit: Jesuit High School
Jesuit High School students engaged in a peer ministry retreat at the Bethany Center in Florida. Credit: Jesuit High School

Coming off the disruptions wrought by COVID-19, Jesuit High School had 22 students convert during the 2020-2021 school year through its RCIA program — an unprecedented number that both continued and elevated a trend. 

Since 2010, a total of 104 students have been baptized and received into the Church at Jesuit, Mitchell reported. Fifty-seven of those were during the last three school years alone, and 33 of those converts are current students on campus, he said.

Mitchell said as a campus minister, his goal is “a kind of personal care and personal approach to every student, like they’re the only person on planet Earth.”

“If we can catch them young and love them better than anybody else, it’s going to have a massive impact,” Mitchell said. 

‘A brotherhood with eternal consequences’

Father Richard Hermes, SJ, now president of the school for over a decade and a half, told CNA that there’s “nothing more important” to him and to the school than promoting the faith and leading the young men to God.

“The boys are working hard in school and teachers are doing a great job, and the kids are having a lot of success on the field. But there’s also, in the middle of it, this great thing happening in terms of spiritual renewal,” Hermes told CNA.

Jesuit High School students on a summer Wyoming Wilderness Leadership retreat. Credit: Jesuit High School
Jesuit High School students on a summer Wyoming Wilderness Leadership retreat. Credit: Jesuit High School

Retreats, whether abroad or closer to home, are a big part of the school’s ministry to the students. In 2021 the school brought a group of over 100 young men on a pilgrimage to Europe that coincided with the 500th anniversary of St. Ignatius’ conversion and the 400th of his canonization. (The school provides scholarship assistance to allow students of all financial backgrounds to go on the retreats.) This year a large group of students went to Lourdes. 

“I think all of that really solidifies a lot of guys in their faith [and] helps guys open up to the faith. It produces converts, too,” Hermes said. 

Mitchell previously told CNA that a key factor in the campus’ “dynamic, orthodox, authentically Catholic culture” is the availability of the sacraments. Mass is offered daily, along with regular Eucharistic adoration and opportunities for confession.

The school itself seeks to emphasize beauty, Mitchell said, with the crown jewel being the multimillion-dollar Holy Cross Chapel, a Romanesque edifice dedicated in 2018. Hermes said the school prizes “beautiful, noble, dignified liturgies … trying to create an atmosphere of prayer and make the Masses and the other liturgical services as dignified and solemn as you can.”

But beauty can only do so much on its own. It’s the face-to-face, brotherly support that makes the difference when it comes to producing converts, Mitchell said. 

“This is a brotherhood with eternal consequences. With eternal significance,” he said. 

Jesuit High School's chapel on Clubs Open House day, August 2023. Credit: Jesuit High School
Jesuit High School's chapel on Clubs Open House day, August 2023. Credit: Jesuit High School

‘Wherever I looked, I could see witnesses to the faith’

Diego Mejia, a Jesuit senior and president of peer ministry, told CNA before arriving at the school, despite being introduced to the faith by his parents at a young age, he did not consider himself Catholic and had “no understanding” of the Catholic faith. 

That said, Mejia said he had always been inspired by people who gave themselves entirely to their causes, whether it be a doctor fighting to cure diseases, or an environmentalist fighting for what he or she believed in. He says he found many such people at Jesuit, giving themselves wholly over to their belief in Christ. 

“Jesuit did everything for me with bringing me back to the faith, which my parents had introduced me to when I was in elementary school, but which I had strayed away from when I was in middle school,” Mejia said. 

“I saw people just wholeheartedly giving themselves over to this faith that they had found and to the life that the faith proposes for them.”

Jesuit High School students en route to Mass of the Holy Spirit on Sept. 1, 2023. Credit: Jesuit High School
Jesuit High School students en route to Mass of the Holy Spirit on Sept. 1, 2023. Credit: Jesuit High School

At Jesuit, groups of eight to 10 students convene regularly during lunch periods to discuss their faith, engaging in vulnerable conversations about their struggles and sharing wisdom and counsel with each other. 

Mejia said the school’s peer ministry groups were a key factor in his eventual intellectual embrace of the faith — complimenting what he was learning in theology class — as well as the fostering of an environment where he felt supported in his faith by his peers. 

“Discipleship created this environment for me where I’d come in during lunch with my friends and we just have conversations. And simply by reflecting on where we stood in our own faiths and hearing testimonies from one another, and then also in discussing different topics and different things related to the faith, I was able to really grow in my own faith,” he explained. 

“And I was able to take what I learned in my theology class and bring it then into my heart … Wherever I looked, I could see witnesses to the faith. And these witnesses inspired me.”

Jake Killian, a fellow senior and student body president, told CNA that despite being raised Catholic, his faith was more of a “Sunday thing” than an integral part of his life. But arriving at Jesuit changed his outlook.

“Once I got to Jesuit, it turned from a once a week thing on Sunday to a true, actual relationship,” he said.

“I learned so many different ways to pray, and one of my favorite ones was probably Liturgy of the Hours … so many opportunities on campus to be formed.”

Jesuit High School students walking in front of the new Antinori Center for the Arts on campus. Credit: Jesuit High School
Jesuit High School students walking in front of the new Antinori Center for the Arts on campus. Credit: Jesuit High School

Killian said one of the reasons for this was simply the emphasis that the school puts on faith formation. He, too, spoke about how the yearly retreats have impacted him, mentioning the seriousness with which the retreats are treated, as a special and privileged time to build friendships and deepen faith. 

“It’s pretty hard to ‘miss’ the faith. Our chapel is literally right in the middle of campus, and it’s an incredible environment … [but] it’s not forced on kids. I feel like you’ve got to buy into it, but with the culture on campus, it’s kind of hard not to,” he said. 

The 17-year-old Killian said at this time in his life, he wants to go to college, possibly to play soccer. He said he has come to understand the importance of finding and joining a Catholic community in college, in order to not lose what he has cultivated at Jesuit. 

“The thing I hear a lot is that if you’re able to make it to Mass the first week [of college], that’s a huge first step, because usually when kids don’t make it to Mass their first week in college, they don’t really find a time to go, ever,” he said. 

Mejia said he is still discerning his next steps, mulling over religious vocations as well as various options for college. He says he’s seen firsthand at Jesuit how important brotherly accountability is to maintaining the faith and plans to continue seeking out that accountability while in college and beyond. 

“I myself and many of my friends have learned that if we’re going to continue our faith in college and thereafter, we’ll have to find other like-minded people with whom we can pursue our faith … [and] I’ll have to continue growing my intellect, and my understanding of the faith and reasoning at every step of the way so that I can continue on believing and adhering to the doctrine which our faith lays out.”

Mitchell commented that forming the young men to be strong in their faith after they leave Jesuit and enter the wider community is a major focus.

“Even young people are coming from rock-solid Catholic homes, devout parents, great parishes — if at a certain point they don’t start to see the faith lived out in really cool and attractive ways, especially by their friends, it’s really challenging for them to stay committed to that faith in college and beyond,” he noted.

Jesuit High School student fans run out to the bleachers ahead of a football game. Credit: Jesuit High School
Jesuit High School student fans run out to the bleachers ahead of a football game. Credit: Jesuit High School

Hermes further confirmed that teaching the students how to live as solid Catholic men in a collegiate atmosphere is an “important part of our mission.” Amid what Hermes sees as a scourge among young people comprising “a general collapse of faith, the affliction of pornography, mental anxiety, mental depression, mental health issues,” Hermes said the school takes care to attend to the students’ mental health along with their spiritual health. And the results have been positive. 

“We’re seeing more and more of these guys becoming leaders in the Church, whether in college, during their college years, or beyond. They’re making a real impact on the Church,” Hermes said. 

“They’re leaving here with a mentality of being at the service of the Church, and [their faith’s] not just dying here after they get the diploma.”

‘Unapologetic and uncompromising’

Perhaps surprisingly, although there will always be a few students who don’t ultimately embrace the faith, most of the young men who come into the school as non-Catholics “don’t really come fighting the faith too much,” Hermes said. 

“Most of our students come here either without any knowledge of the faith or without any experience of it, and relatively little practice of it,” he explained. 

“So just introducing them to God and to the Catholic Church, to the Lord Jesus, to the sacraments, to Sunday Mass, confession, Eucharistic adoration, that’s obviously a challenge both in the theology classroom and then in retreats and campus ministry.”

Jesuit High School musicians and choir at the Mass of the Holy Spirit on Sept. 1, 2023. Credit: Jesuit High School
Jesuit High School musicians and choir at the Mass of the Holy Spirit on Sept. 1, 2023. Credit: Jesuit High School

The school features a “rock-solid theology department” that aims to provide truth combined with “unapologetic and uncompromising” love, Mitchell said. Teachers at the school can and do set an example of true devotion, Mitchell said, spending time on their knees at the adoration chapel, modeling prayer and faith for the young men. 

“The deeper [the teachers’] interior lives run … the more the pursuit of holiness is sort of normalized … the more accessible it seems to everybody, you know?” he said. 

Mitchell said he has heard about other schools starting RCIA programs and hiring full-time campus ministers, seeking to replicate Jesuit’s success. But Mitchell said it is vital to recognize that conversions and deepening of faith are really the Lord’s work — it’s always at his initiative that a person comes to believe. 

The students at Jesuit appear to have bought into the idea of cooperating with God’s plan to bring more people into the Church. 

“There’s a desire, I think, among many of our student leaders in this particular senior class to use their platform, if you want to call it that, to use their influence, to use their leadership ultimately for God’s glory and for the salvation of souls,” Mitchell said.

How an extraordinary healing led to the creation of The National Centre for Padre Pio

St. Pio of Pietrelcina, better known as Padre Pio. / Credit: EWTN News In Depth segment

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 23, 2023 / 04:00 am (CNA).

As one of the most well-known modern saints in the world, the intercession of St. Pio of Pietrelcina — more commonly known as Padre Pio — has been the source of many alleged miracles over the years.

Last year, “EWTN News In Depth” correspondent Mark Irons had the opportunity to meet with various people who were impacted by the legacy of Padre Pio, including a woman who received an extraordinary healing that would later result in the creation of The National Centre for Padre Pio in Barto, Pennsylvania.

Born in the Southern Italian town of Pietrelcina under the name Francesco Forgione before taking the name Padre Pio in the Franciscan order, he was known for having a variety of supernatural gifts. One of these gifts was the stigmata — the spontaneous appearance in the body of wounds resembling those of Christ crucified. He also could read people’s hearts, heal the sick, and bilocate.

Despite word of his gifts spreading, Padre Pio was not well known by many U.S. Catholics during the mid-20th century. However, this began to change after the healing of Vera Marie Calandra, a 2-year-old girl who had suffered congenital urinary tract problems that left her with a dire prognosis.

For medical providers, her imminent death seemed all but sealed — even in the eyes of Dr. C. Everett Koop, a surgeon involved in her care who would later become the U.S. Surgeon General under the Reagan administration.

While Koop helped remove Calandra’s bladder to provide her comfort, he likewise advised her parents to make preparations for her funeral. However, that day did not come to pass — as told by Calandra herself when recounting the story to “EWTN News In Depth.”

“[Koop] said, ‘You need … to come to terms with this now, you can’t hang on to this dying child,” Calandra recounted. “And my mother went home, and she didn’t accept it.”

Calandra described how her mother, a devout Catholic, picked up a book someone had given to her about Padre Pio and heard an inner voice as she read the book that told her to bring her daughter to Italy without delay.

Quickly arranging for the trip, Calandra’s mother was able to bring her daughter to Italy, waiting in a packed corridor with others for the priest. It was then, Calandra described, that Padre Pio approached.

“And their eyes locked,” Calandra said. “That’s when she made her promise: make a miracle so that all will believe. He took his wounded hand, covered in his half-glove … pushed it up in front of her face, and she was able to kiss his hand.”

After Padre Pio touched each of them individually on their heads and blessed them, Calandra and her mother went back home to the U.S.

Afterward, during a follow-up X-ray with Koop, an extraordinary discovery was made: They found a bladder in the exact location where her previous one was removed.

“He could not explain that himself,” Calandra said. “And he just said ‘there’s a ‘rudimentary … bladder,’ [later saying] ‘whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.’”

While Padre Pio passed away soon after Calandra’s healing, her mother dedicated the rest of her life in thanksgiving to the friar and to making his name known, ultimately building The National Centre for Padre Pio near their home in Pennsylvania — with the focus of leading souls to Christ.

Nick Gibboni, the executive director of The National Centre for Padre Pio, gave insight into how the center’s mission was lived throughout Padre Pio’s life on earth.

“People who would come to see Padre Pio and they would … almost throw themselves on Padre Pio,” Gibboni said. “[They would say], ‘I love you, I love you,’ and one of his more famous quotes was [to say], ‘No, you do not love Padre Pio because of Padre Pio, you love Padre Pio because I lead you to Jesus.’”

Ultimately, Gibboni emphasized that, to Padre Pio, it was all about leading souls to Christ through the Catholic Church — a legacy that continues to live on through the work of the center.

Watch the full “EWTN News In Depth” interview below.

This article was originally published by CNA on Oct. 9, 2022.

Canadian bishops to meet Monday to discuss euthanasia, protection of minors

Priests celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving for two new Canadian Saints in St. Peter's Basilica on Oct. 12, 2014. / Lauren Cater/CNA.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 22, 2023 / 16:45 pm (CNA).

Catholic bishops in Canada will gather next week, the final week of September, to discuss a series of issues including the growth of euthanasia, the Church’s work in overseas development, and the protection of minors.

The 2023 Plenary Assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), which is held annually, will begin on Monday, Sept. 25, and conclude on Thursday, Sept. 28. The meeting will take place in King City, Ontario, just outside of Toronto, and 79 Latin and Eastern-rite bishops are expected to participate.

One of the main topics to be discussed is the growth of euthanasia throughout Canada, which is known legally as Medical Assistance in Dying, or MAiD. Although voluntary euthanasia has been legal in Canada since 2016, a revision of that law going into effect in March 2024 will vastly expand eligibility.

More than 30,000 Canadians died from euthanasia between 2016 and 2021, and it has seen a growth in use annually. The revision, which will go into effect in less than six months, will make mental illness an eligible condition to receive approval for MAiD, opening the procedure up to significantly more people.

The Standing Committee for Family and Life, chaired by Archbishop Christian Lépine, will hold a panel discussion on this topic, which is meant to help the Church “engage with the urgency of promoting palliative care” rather than euthanasia.

Another aspect of the meeting will focus on Development and Peace — Caritas Canada, known as DPCC. This project encompasses charity and development work overseas. Clergy on the DPCC National Council will update the bishops on the activities since last year and will be joined by DPCC President Brenda Arakaza and Executive Director Carl Hétu.

The bishops will also discuss “safeguarding persons in vulnerable situations,” which includes minors. The Standing Committee for Responsible Ministry has been studying this issue over the past year and intends to discuss how to define vulnerability, how to reduce risks, and what behaviors to encourage on the part of the ministry.

Part of the meeting will also focus on the upcoming Synod on Synodality. According to the CCCB, there will be four Canadian bishops taking part in the synod and four non-bishop Catholics chosen by the Vatican. 

“In order to help prepare the episcopal delegates, bishops present at the Plenary Assembly meeting will reflect on one of the three dimensions of synodality (communion, participation, and mission), guided by the questions in the Instrumentum Laboris and the results of the ‘national’ and ‘continental’ stages of the synod process,” a statement from the CCCB read.

The bishops will also review various reports from subcommittees, which will include topics such as liturgy, catechesis, and evangelization. Cardinal Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle from the Philippines will address the bishops virtually and the apostolic nuncio to Canada, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, will also give an address.

“A meeting of the Plenary Assembly is a solemn and momentous event in the life of the Church in Canada because it gathers together all the members of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), who total 79 bishops of the Latin and Eastern Churches across Canada,” a statement from the CCCB read. “Decisions taken by the Plenary Assembly are the highest instance of authority within the CCCB and represent the unity of action of all the bishops on a national level.”

Bishop Strickland: ‘no communication from Rome’ following apostolic visitation

Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas. / null

CNA Staff, Sep 22, 2023 / 12:25 pm (CNA).

Following a report that Pope Francis and Vatican officials held a meeting earlier this month to discuss requesting the resignation of Tyler, Texas, Bishop Joseph Strickland, the prelate said on Wednesday he has not been contacted by the Vatican about such matters.

In addition, Strickland said if Pope Francis were to remove him from office he would respect the Holy Father’s authority but would not resign if asked. 

“Last week an article was published on a website called ‘The Pillar,’ and the article alleged that a meeting was held with Pope Francis where some of the members of the Congregation for Bishops recommended that I be encouraged to resign as bishop of Tyler,” Strickland said in a Sept. 20 letter to his diocese.

“Let me be clear that I have received no communication from Rome regarding this. At this point it is simply an article discussing supposed leaked information from the Vatican,” he added.

“I have said publicly that I cannot resign as bishop of Tyler because that would be me abandoning the flock that I was given charge of by Pope Benedict XVI,” he said. 

“I have also said that I will respect the authority of Pope Francis if he removes me from office as bishop of Tyler,” he added.

The reported meeting follows a Vatican-directed investigation into Strickland in June called an apostolic visitation, which, according to a source, addressed the firebrand bishop’s social media use but also questions related to diocesan management.

Strickland, 64, who has served as bishop of the Diocese of Tyler since 2012, has been outspoken on certain Catholic social issues such as abortion and gender ideology. 

He has also been critical of Pope Francis, saying in a May Tweet that he rejects “his program of undermining the Deposit of Faith.”

Strickland’s statement on Wednesday marks his first public response following a Sept. 11 article by The Pillar, which, citing anonymous sources, reported that Pope Francis was to be presented with the findings of the apostolic visitation and would be encouraged to request the Tyler bishop’s resignation.

Strickland said he has not been contacted by any Church official since the apostolic visitation. He added that he wasn’t given a reason for why the visitation occurred and hasn’t received a report from the investigation. 

Strickland said he is grateful for the support and prayers that many have expressed.

“I continue to love serving as your shepherd and thankfully during all of this I have been able to visit many of your parishes and celebrate our Catholic faith with you,” he said. 

Strickland said he is “blessed” in his prayer life and feels “very close” to Christ, and supported by the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints.

“I am at peace with whatever the Lord’s call for me is; let us continue to pray for Pope Francis, the Church, and the Diocese of Tyler that we call home,” he said. 

In a July podcast, Strickland said that the apostolic visitation was “not fun” and added that the Vatican’s delegates were “looking at everything.”

The bishop compared it to “being called to the principal’s office.”

“It’s not something that I would volunteer for, to go through an apostolic visitation,” he said. “It kind of puts a shadow over the diocese.”

“There have been some administrative issues, and I’m sure people are concerned,” he said. “I’m sure there are people saying that there must be something really bad, and something’s really gone wrong for this apostolic visitation [to happen].”

“I’ve got nothing to hide,” he said in an excerpt of the podcast posted to YouTube.

Crediting God and the Catholic faithful, Strickland said the diocese is in good financial condition.

He said he thinks he was subject to the visitation “because I’ve been bold enough and loved the Lord enough and his Church, simply preaching the truth.”

UN adopts resolution to protect ‘reproductive rights’ during next pandemic

The United Nations General Assembly in New York. / Credit: Drop of Light/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 22, 2023 / 10:30 am (CNA).

Global leaders adopted a United Nations resolution this week that urged member states to take certain actions when preparing for and responding to a pandemic — one of those actions appears to ask governments to secure access to abortion. 

The resolution’s language states that the focus is “pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response” and asks states to commit to actions that are “driven by equity and the respect for human rights.” The section focused on equality includes a commitment by states to protecting “reproductive rights.”

“[We] call upon member states to take all measures necessary to ensure the right of women and girls to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health, including sexual and reproductive health, and reproductive rights,” operative paragraph 10 of the global “call to action” reads in part.

United Nations General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding and member states have wide discretion in how they interpret the text. However, some pro-life lawmakers are concerned about the language. 

“I think we are in a moment where people have to draw a line in the sand of what they will and will not tolerate,” Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Florida, told EWTN News Nightly.”

“And, for the pro-life community, they are now seeing that the work isn’t just here at home, it’s not just in our state capitols, it’s not just here on Capitol Hill,” Cammack said. “It’s a global fight that we have to undertake as well.”

The reproductive rights language was supported and endorsed by President Joe Biden’s administration earlier this year. In February, United States U.N. Ambassador Pamela K. Hamamoto specifically requested that the language be included. 

“Our work must be inclusive and applicable for the improved health and well-being of all people,” Hamamoto said in her statement to the U.N. regarding the pandemic resolution. 

“A commitment to ‘equity’ must address inequities not only between countries but also within them,” Hamamoto continued. “Not just protecting populations from pandemics — but also from illness, death, and disrupted access to essential health care services during pandemics, including sexual and reproductive health services.”

Stefano Gennarini, the vice president for legal studies at the Center for Family and Human Rights, told “EWTN News Nightly” that pressure from the Biden administration indicates that this section of the resolution is about global abortion access. 

“We know, given the Biden administration’s support for abortion, we know this to mean an attempt essentially to create an international right to abortion,” Gennarini said.

World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus issued a statement praising the resolution. His statement referenced the WHO’s support for equity in health care but did not reference the statement on reproductive rights. 

“I welcome this commitment by world leaders to provide the political support and direction needed so that WHO, governments, and all involved can protect people’s health and take concrete steps towards investing in local capacities, ensuring equity and supporting the global emergency health architecture that the world needs,” Ghebreyesus said.

The WHO is working with U.N. member states to amend international health regulations that focus on issues that arose during the pandemic.

Senate confirms military appointments, bypassing pro-life blockade by Tuberville

U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, speaks during a hearing to examine the nomination of USAF General David Allvin for reappointment to the grade of general and to be Chief of Staff of the Air Force on Sept. 12, 2023 at Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 21, 2023 / 16:20 pm (CNA).

The United States Senate began confirming military appointments one by one on Wednesday to bypass a pro-life blockade led by Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville, which has been holding up the usually routine process since February.

Military promotions and appointments to fill vacancies are normally approved in large blocks through the unanimous consent of the Senate, but one senator refusing to consent forces the chamber to take the votes up individually. Tuberville has blocked unanimous consent for seven months in protest of the Department of Defense’s pro-abortion policies. 

A new policy adopted last year provides paid leave and reimbursement of travel expenses for service members to obtain abortions, which was meant to increase access to abortion for anyone living in or stationed in states that impose restrictions on the procedure. It also covers travel costs for spouses or dependents to obtain abortions.

On Wednesday, the Senate voted 83-11 to confirm its first individual military appointment since Tuberville’s blockade began: Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Senate confirmed two more appointments individually on Thursday — Gen. Randy George as Army chief of staff and Gen. Eric Smith as commandant of the Marine Corps — but it’s unclear whether other nominees will get individual votes anytime soon. 

The blockade has caused a backlog of more than 300 appointments. 

Before Wednesday’s vote, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the blockade forced leadership “to confront his obstruction head on” by holding a vote but added that “this cannot continue.” He said the appointment would be confirmed, the DOD policy would remain in place, and Tuberville “will have accomplished nothing.” 

“What Sen. Tuberville is doing will set the military and the Senate down a path to vote on every single military promotion,” Schumer said. “It will make every single military officer’s promotion subject to the political whims of the Senate and even of one senator. It will change the nature of our nonpolitical military. It will hamstring the Senate and further bog down this body and make it harder for us to legislate.”

Tuberville responded to Schumer’s comments when speaking on the Senate floor later that day, saying that the Senate “could have confirmed these nominees a long, long time ago” but that Democrats have instead “spent months complaining about having to vote.” He said he will continue his blockade but blamed the backlog on Schumer for not holding any individual votes on the appointments. 

“My hold is still in place,” Tuberville said. “The hold will remain in place as long as the Pentagon’s illegal abortion policy remains in place. If the Pentagon lifts the policy, then I will lift my hold. It’s as easy as that.”

After the confirmation, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin thanked Schumer for holding the vote and criticized Tuberville for continuing his blockade.

“Sen. Tuberville’s continued hold on hundreds of our nation’s military leaders endangers our national security and military readiness,” Austin said in a statement. “It is well past time to confirm the over 300 other military nominees.”

Austin said Brown “will be a tremendous leader of our joint force and I look forward to working with him in his new capacity” and that the nominees are “well-qualified” and “apolitical.”

Federal law prohibits DOD funds from being “used to perform abortions except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term or in a case in which the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.” Although the statute does not expressly prohibit funding for travel to obtain an abortion, some Republicans have argued that such funds violate the statute. President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice told the DOD that such funding is permissible under the law.

Republicans have introduced legislation that would expressly prohibit agencies from funding ancillary expenses related to obtaining an abortion, but those efforts have failed in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Seton Shrine’s new additions offer interactive encounter with first American-born saint

The National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland, is opening a new $4 million state-of-the-art Seton Shrine Museum and Visitor Center on Sept. 22, 2023. / Credit: Seton Shrine

Charlotte, N.C., Sep 21, 2023 / 15:46 pm (CNA).

The National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland, is opening a new $4 million state-of-the-art Seton Shrine Museum and Visitor Center on Sept. 22, offering visitors an interactive encounter with the first American-born canonized saint.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774–1821), a widowed mother, opened one of the first free Catholic schools for girls in the United States and established the first order of women religious in the country — the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph — on the very grounds where her shrine and the new museum and visitor center are located. She was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1975.

 A view of the interior of the Seeker gallery at the new Seton Shrine Museum. Credit: Seton Shrine
A view of the interior of the Seeker gallery at the new Seton Shrine Museum. Credit: Seton Shrine

The shrine includes St. Elizabeth Ann’s original “Stone House” and “White House” as well as the basilica. With the addition of the museum and visitors center, pilgrims to the shrine now have the opportunity to immerse themselves in her life by walking in her footsteps where she lived and served, and through interactive displays and exhibits in the museum that are rich in American history and the history of the Catholic Church in America.

What was formerly the provincial entrance near the basilica has been transformed into a modern and welcoming visitor center, seamlessly connecting visitors to the gift shop and museum galleries. Inside, the galleries paint an intimate portrait of Mother Seton through dozens of artifacts, visual storytelling displays, and digital interactive exhibits.

The museum houses three core galleries: the SEEKER exhibit, which delves into Mother Seton’s troubled childhood, fairytale marriage, bankruptcy, widowhood, and conversion to Catholicism; the SERVANT exhibit, which explores how Mother Seton founded a new community of consecrated religious and pioneered a way for women in America to serve God; and the SAINT exhibit, which provides insights into the dedicated efforts of thousands of Americans across four generations for Mother Seton to be declared a saint.

A commonplace book, one of several artifacts in the new Seton Shrine Museum. Credit: Seton Shrine
A commonplace book, one of several artifacts in the new Seton Shrine Museum. Credit: Seton Shrine

“One of my favorite exhibits is an exhibit which consists of a digital touch screen, showcasing the 14 Sisters of Charity communities,” said Rob Judge, executive director of the shrine. “The impact exhibit allows visitors to look all around the world at all the past and present missions that the hundreds of sisters have worked in over the years, showcasing the huge impact they’ve had in serving the poor. And it all came from a woman who decided to start a school after she was widowed and invited other women to join her.”

Judge notes that Elizabeth Ann Seton never set out to build a huge network. “That’s the beauty of it. If we are faithful one step at a time, that is available to all of us. The impact exhibit helps make that clear. Her life and work developed into so much more than founding a school. By a simple yes, so much good has been done,” he told CNA.

In addition to the permanent exhibits, the museum also features two special exhibits that will be on display for a limited time.

The first is “Fancywork: Early American Needlework from St. Joseph’s Academy and Free School,” an exhibit with more than 20 pieces of needlework dating from the early 1800s to the 1870s and the stories of the students behind the works.

The "Fancywork" exhibit at the Seton Shrine highlights needlework done by students in the late 1800s at St. Joseph’s School. Credit: Seton Shrine
The "Fancywork" exhibit at the Seton Shrine highlights needlework done by students in the late 1800s at St. Joseph’s School. Credit: Seton Shrine

The second is “Getting in the Habit: Iconic Clothing of the Daughters of Charity,” which displays dozens of historic artifacts that explore the ranging apparel of the Daughters of Charity throughout the years, exhibited by the Daughter of Charity Province of St. Louise, Provincial Archives. 

“This story from 200 years ago is worth telling today through this state-of-the-art facility,” said Tony Dilulio, director of programs for the shrine and a wealth of knowledge when it comes to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Dilulio coordinated the experts involved in the lighting, exhibits, and design — many of whom also created landmarks such as presidential libraries.

One of the interactive exhibits features the legacy of the Daughters of Charity, highlighting missions from around the globe. Sept. 20, 2023. Credit: Seton Shrine
One of the interactive exhibits features the legacy of the Daughters of Charity, highlighting missions from around the globe. Sept. 20, 2023. Credit: Seton Shrine

“I would love to challenge every visitor to be a ‘servant saint seeker.’ To seek God as St. Elizabeth Ann Seton did. To work as diligently as she did her whole life, and to be a saint!” Dilulio added.

With the addition of the new museum and visitors center, the shrine anticipates a significant increase in pilgrims, which averages 60,000 visitors annually.

“We need models and intercessors, and she’s par excellence,” Judge said. “We’re hoping that through these exhibits people get to know her a bit. She’s a very relatable saint. In order to relate to someone you have to know something about them. We hope this museum allows people to relate to her and get to know her better and seek her intercession in their lives.”

The Mass, blessing, and dedication Sept. 22 will be presided over by Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore. More information on the Seton Shrine Museum can be found on the shrine’s website.

Pro-life students harassed by ‘mob’ after VP Kamala Harris talk in North Carolina

Lydia Taylor (blue shirt), and other student pro-life protesters from across the state of North Carolina traveled to North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro on Sept. 15, 2023, to demonstrate outside of Vice President Kamala Harris's speech calling for the expansion of abortion access. / Credit: Students for Life of America

CNA Staff, Sep 21, 2023 / 14:53 pm (CNA).

A group of pro-life students who participated in a demonstration at a North Carolina college last week during a visit to campus by Vice President Kamala Harris say they were escorted off campus by police for their own safety after being harassed by a large crowd.

Harris’ speech at North Carolina A&T University on Sept. 15 was part of her “Fight for Our Freedoms College Tour,” an effort to mobilize college students to vote and support the Democratic agenda on a variety of issues, including the expansion of abortion. 

Before the event, a number of students holding signs with pro-life messages such as “abortion hurts women” and “fight for our freedoms” gathered on the Greensboro, North Carolina, campus.

According to members of the group, they engaged in positive dialogue with students on campus. When the vice president’s speech was over, however, things got ugly.

A video shared on X shows a crowd of young people stealing signs from the pro-life activists who were brought together by the group Students for Life of America.

One young man can be seen taking the Students for Life group’s marker and sign and writing “BLM,” otherwise known as Black Lives Matter, on it. The crowd cheered as he raised the sign and danced around. 

Two others can be seen on video holding up signs that say “F*** dem kids,” while the crowd is heard chanting the same. 

Other profanities could be heard being shouted at the pro-life group. Photos from the protest show the pro-life group being taunted with obscene hand gestures. The group also claims they were “twerked on” (a type of suggestive dancing), which several photos confirm.

One of the Students for Life of America student leaders, Lydia Taylor, told CNA Wednesday that as the “mob” closed in on her and was waving signs in her face, the police intervened. 

“They immediately came in and said, ‘We have to go now’ and pulled us out of the mob. We were forced to leave a lot of our stuff behind,” the 20-year old said. 

The group ended up retrieving a bull horn, microphone, and some speakers but lost some of their signs and materials that are used at other pro-life demonstrations.

“It was so chaotic,” she said.

Taylor, who organized the group of about 10 pro-life students from across the state, is a student at Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina, about an hour and 20-minute drive away from where the protest took place.

When she heard about the vice president’s plan to talk about expanding abortion access at college campuses in states across the country, including her own, she felt called to spring into action. 

“We need to go and stand up against her pro-abortion extremism, especially since she supports abortion with no restrictions up until the moment of birth,” she said.

During her speech at the university, Harris called for greater access to abortion in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

“One does not have to abandon their faith, or deeply held beliefs, to agree that the government should not be telling [a woman] what to do with her body,” Harris said, taking issue with what she called “extremist so-called leaders” passing state pro-life laws. 

The vice president criticized those laws, especially those being passed without rape and incest exceptions, calling them “immoral.”

“What the [Supreme] Court took away, Congress can put back in place. Congress can pass a law that puts back in place the protections of a case called Roe v. Wade, which gives you the right to make decisions for yourself,” she told the crowd, urging them to vote for lawmakers who will do so. 

Taylor told CNA that before the crowd of students harassed them, her group had many positive conversations with students attending the vice president’s event on campus.

“We changed at least 10 minds and have connected with students there that are interested in starting a pro-life group, which was incredible,” she said.

Other university students approached Taylor expressing support for the pro-life cause, she said.

It was after the talk that things went south.

“I think it’s interesting that it went peacefully before the Kamala Harris event, but after hearing her speak, immediately, the first thing they did was come and harass us and vandalize our signs,” she said.

After someone wrote “Black Lives Matter” on the pro-life group’s sign, Taylor said: “Hey, we actually agree that Black lives do matter, and the abortion industry is targeting Black lives, and we’d love to have a peaceful conversation with you.”

But the crowd, which she said numbered in the hundreds, just became more aggressive.

CNA reached out to the university for a comment but did not receive a response.