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Irish bishops decry assisted suicide proposal as ‘a failure of hope’

Christ Church Cathedral (Holy Trinity) in Dublin, Ireland. / Credit: Bas van den Heuvel/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jun 24, 2024 / 14:40 pm (CNA).

The Catholic bishops of Ireland on Monday issued a statement laying out the Church’s teaching on end-of-life issues and advocating for palliative care amid a push by Irish politicians to introduce legislation to legalize assisted suicide. 

“We believe that every person who is seriously ill, together with all those who are concerned with his or her care, however difficult the circumstances, is held in the unconditional love of God,” the bishops noted.

“By legislating for assisted suicide or euthanasia, the State would contribute to undermining the confidence of people who are terminally ill, who want to be cared for and want to live life as fully as possible until death naturally comes.”

The Catholic Church has long supported, in the face of terminal illness, palliative care, which involves the holistic management of a person’s suffering. Assisted suicide and euthanasia — which both involve the intentional taking of life — are never permissible under Catholic teaching, though the withholding “extraordinary means” of medical treatment and allowing death to occur naturally can be morally permissible.

Noting that patient “autonomy” is often cited as a reason to pass assisted suicide legislation, the Irish bishops said taking a patient’s life also takes away their autonomy and “cuts off any prospect of growth or healing and represents a failure of hope.” Instead of assisted suicide, palliative care services need to be made more widely available in hospitals and hospices and in the community, the bishops recommended.

A March 2024 report produced by a committee of the Oireachtas, or Irish Parliament, recommended that the government introduce legislation to legalize assisted suicide “in certain restricted circumstances” and with safeguards in place to avoid coercion. Under the recommendations, adults suffering with an “incurable and irreversible” condition with between six and 12 months to live could request assisted suicide, which would be done in the presence of a medical professional. 

In response to the report, the country’s bishops reiterated that “whatever the circumstances, the deliberate taking of human life, especially by those whose vocation is to care for it, undermines a fundamental principle of civilized society, namely that no person can lawfully take the life of another.” 

In addition, the intellectually disabled would be particularly vulnerable under such a law, the bishops warned, pointing to countries such as Canada where serious efforts are being made to expand the provision of assisted suicide to those who are mentally ill. 

Asking medical professionals to oversee assisted suicides would “radically undermine the ethos of health care.”

“Whenever we place health care professionals under pressure to participate, either directly or by referral, in an act that they themselves believe to be fundamentally immoral, we treat them as mindless functionaries. This does untold damage to the integrity of health care in Ireland and removes the human person as its primary focus,” the bishops concluded. 

“In our culture, we rightly hold doctors and nurses in high esteem because they are presumed always to be at the service of life, for as long as their patient lives. We call on Catholics to stand firmly in support of nurses and doctors who stand for life. One day it may be your life.”

Pope Francis has said that “authentic palliative care is radically different from euthanasia, which is never a source of hope or genuine concern for the sick and dying.”

Assisted suicide and euthanasia have been legalized in recent decades countries such as Canada, Australia, Spain, Belgium, and in multiple U.S. states, permitting patients to take their own lives or allowing doctors to kill them outright. In some of those countries, patients can request assisted suicide even if they are not suffering from a fatal affliction.

Ireland’s bishops have spoken out against assisted suicide proposals before. In 2021, they described a proposal to legalize assisted suicide, the Dying with Dignity Bill, as being “at odds with the common good” and “fundamentally flawed.”

The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland — the largest doctor’s group in the country — in 2023 also came out against assisted suicide, with a group representative saying the practice was “contrary to best medical practice” and that “the potential harms outweigh the arguments that can be made in favor” of it.

In the nearby U.K., proposals to legalize assisted suicide in recent years have been consistently rejected by lawmakers. The practice is illegal in England and Wales, and doctors who assist a suicide can be jailed up to 14 years under the Suicide Act 1961.

In October 2022 a bill to legalize assisted suicide in England and Wales was ultimately not taken to a vote after seven hours of debate and impassioned opposition in the House of Lords.

U.S. bishops applaud Supreme Court ruling on domestic violence gun law

Christian Defense Coalition Director Rev. Patrick Mahoney holds a sign that reads "Abusers Should NOT Own Guns!" outside the Supreme Court on June 21, 2024, in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Andrew Harnik/Getty Images

CNA Staff, Jun 24, 2024 / 12:38 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has praised a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gun regulation, saying it will help protect victims of domestic violence by forbidding suspected abusers from owning guns.

The court last week ruled in United States v. Rahimi that “when an individual has been found by a court to pose a credible threat to the physical safety of another, that individual may be temporarily disarmed” without violating the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which allows for broad firearm ownership.

In a statement on Saturday, Archbishop Borys Gudziak — the chairman of the bishops’ Committee for Domestic Justice and Human Development — said “the common good demands that society protect vulnerable women and children from domestic violence.”

“[R]easonable restrictions on gun possession to ensure their safety do not violate the Constitution,” Gudziak, the metropolitan archbishop of Philadelphia of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, said in the statement. 

“Violence in any form is sinful, and the bishops have stated as clearly and strongly as we can that violence against women, inside or outside the home, is never justified,” the prelate said. 

“We welcome today’s opinion in upholding safeguards for women and children against gun violence. Properly understood, the Constitution does not require that a victim of domestic violence should fear for her life.”

The Supreme Court “has affirmed the government’s ability to protect victims of abuse,” the archbishop said. 

The USCCB had filed an amicus brief in the case in support of the government. In their August 2023 filing the bishops had argued that “the right to bear arms is not an unqualified license that must leave vulnerable family members to live in fear.”

“Abused victims are precisely the people whom a just government is tasked with protecting,” the bishops said. “The Second Amendment does not stand as a barrier to their safety.”

The court’s ruling was near unanimous; Justice Clarence Thomas was the only dissenter from the court’s ruling. The conservative judge argued that the court and the government could not “point to a single historical law revoking a citizen’s Second Amendment right based on possible interpersonal violence.”

“[I]n the interest of ensuring the government can regulate one subset of society, today’s decision puts at risk the Second Amendment rights of many more,” the justice said.

This is not the only gun-related decision from the high court this year. 

Last month the Supreme Court struck down a Trump-era federal rule that banned “bump stocks,” with the court arguing that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives had overstepped its authority in banning the rapid-fire gun accessories. 

Pope Francis appoints Gänswein to diplomatic role in Baltic states

Archbishop Georg Gänswein was the personal secretary of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. / Credit: Bohumil Petrík

Vatican City, Jun 24, 2024 / 07:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has appointed Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the former private secretary to the late Pope Benedict XVI, to a diplomatic role in the Baltic states.

The Vatican announced Monday that Gänswein will serve as the apostolic nuncio, or papal ambassador, to Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia.

The appointment comes after months of speculation and rumor across Rome and the Church in Germany as to Gänswein’s future after the death of Benedict XVI.

The relationship between Gänswein and the current pope has been notably strained. In a recent Spanish-language interview book, “El Sucesor,” Pope Francis went so far as to say Benedict was “being used” by Gänswein in the context of the publication of a “tell-all” book.

Last year, Pope Francis instructed Gänswein to return to Germany, leaving him without any official role in the Church. The 67-year-old has resided in his home region of the Archdiocese of Freiburg in southern Germany since July 2023, where he is an honorary canon in the Freiburg cathedral.

Before his departure from the Eternal City, Gänswein spent many years in Rome. He served as Benedict XVI’s personal secretary from 2003 until the Bavarian pope’s death on Dec. 31, 2022. Benedict also appointed him to serve as the prefect of the papal household in 2012, a role he carried into the pontificate of Pope Francis and concluded in February 2023.

Hailing from the Black Forest region of Germany, the son of a blacksmith was ordained a priest in 1984 by Archbishop Oskar Saier in Freiburg and holds a doctorate in canon law from Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich.

As apostolic nuncio to the Baltic states, Gänswein will serve as the permanent diplomatic representation of the Holy See and will perform similar duties to an ambassador.

The Baltic countries have a substantial Christian population. According to the Pew Research Center, 93% of Lithuanians are Christian with 75% of adults identifying as Catholic. Latvia and Estonia both have considerable Orthodox and Lutheran populations with Catholics only making up 1% of Estonia’s population.

Mass attendance is low across the Baltic states with only 7% of Catholics in Latvia and 10% in Lithuania saying they attend Mass weekly.

Gänswein succeeds Archbishop Pedro López Quintana, who served as the nuncio to the Baltic states until Pope Francis reassigned him as apostolic nuncio to Austria in 2019.

On two-year anniversary of Dobbs, pro-life activists remember the historic day

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, celebrates outside of the Supreme Court after the overturn of Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022. / Credit: Students for Life of America/Kevin Feliciano

CNA Staff, Jun 24, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

It was slightly past 10 a.m. on June 24, 2022, a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. Hundreds were gathered outside the Supreme Court of the United States waiting for what the justices would decide in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, which would overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. 

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, delivered the decision to the crowd from the steps of the Supreme Court: “The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion.”

Immediately following her words, tears of joy were shed by one side of the crowd while the other was filled with disappointment. 

Savanna Deretich, federal government affairs coordinator for Students for Life of America, was at the Supreme Court on that historic day and told CNA she experienced the “purest joy” and for the first time knew “what it meant to actually just weep because you were so happy.”

Savanna Deretich, federal government affairs coordinator for Students for Life of America, celebrates the overturn on Roe v. Wade outside of the Supreme Court on June 24, 2022. Credit: Students for Life of America/Kevin Feliciano
Savanna Deretich, federal government affairs coordinator for Students for Life of America, celebrates the overturn on Roe v. Wade outside of the Supreme Court on June 24, 2022. Credit: Students for Life of America/Kevin Feliciano

Deretich, who at the time of the overturning was the state government affairs coordinator for Students for Life, was already in D.C. with other staff and roughly 200 of the group’s top student leaders for their annual National Leadership Collective. On the day the decision was made, knowing it would most likely happen then, the entire group spent part of their day at the Supreme Court before going back to their training.

“When the decision happened it was one of the best experiences of our lives because we had about 200 students flood the court with their ‘I’m the pro-life generation’ signs [and] ‘I’m part of the post-Roe generation,’” she said. “So, it was an honor to be with Students for Life as well as all of our top student leaders to be there for that moment.”

Despite the extreme heat and being “drenched in our own sweat,” Deretich said that “we were so happy I don’t think any of us really cared or realized how hot it was.”

The 25-year-old grew up in a Christian, home-schooling household where she was taught from a young age about the sanctity of life. When she was in high school she did an internship with her local pro-life organization, but it wasn’t until infanticide was legalized in New York in 2018 while she was in college that her passion for the life cause was truly ignited. 

“I remember looking at my phone and seeing the recording of New York legislators cheering in joy that they passed an infanticide bill and immediately — I’ve never felt this feeling before — but this burning fire ignited in my heart and I knew … in that moment I had to protect life in law. That was going to be my life’s mission,” she recalled. 

Savannah Dudzik (center) outside of the Supreme Court with two other pro-lifers on the day Roe v. Wade was overturned on June 24, 2022. Credit: Photo courtesy of Savannah Dudzik
Savannah Dudzik (center) outside of the Supreme Court with two other pro-lifers on the day Roe v. Wade was overturned on June 24, 2022. Credit: Photo courtesy of Savannah Dudzik

Another pro-lifer who jumped on the first plane to D.C. when she heard the news was Savannah Dudzik, an events representative with Live Action. At the time she was working for a few pro-life organizations and heard the news while on a Zoom call and immediately started “to cry with joy,” she told CNA in an interview. 

“I got off the Zoom call, and the first person I called was my dad. My dad has been involved in the pro-life movement his whole life as well,” Dudzik recalled. “I told him that I really just wanted to be there, at the Supreme Court, for this historic day. His advice was to book the first flight out of Tampa, so that’s what I did!”

She arrived at the Supreme Court in the afternoon and stayed until dark — celebrating with other pro-lifers.

“There was an overwhelming joy on the pro-life side: Our prayers had been answered! People who had been fighting for this their whole lives were there with tears in their eyes, and all the young people had a renewed vigor,” she said.

Dudzik returned to the Supreme Court the following day for the celebration rally where she said the atmosphere had “an air of sobriety.”

“The ecstatic feeling had worn off a bit and we realized that now this would be a tough issue fought at the federal level and state by state. The fight had only just begun.”

After the overturn of Roe, Dudzik began working with the pro-life organization Live Action, where she attends events across the country spreading the pro-life message and educating people on the truth about abortion. She also became a wife and mother to a baby girl, whom, she said, has given her more motivation to do pro-life work.

“From the second I saw the positive pregnancy test, working in the pro-life movement has become even more personal and close to my heart,” the 22-year-old shared. “Standing in front of the Supreme Court this year after the National March for Life and realizing that in D.C. I could easily kill my 23-week-old baby legally, it brought me to tears.”

She added: “Then, when my little baby girl was born, my vigor for spreading the message of a culture of life grew even more. Children are the greatest blessing — now I know this firsthand. My baby isn’t inhibiting me at all, squashing my dreams, or making my life miserable: She’s actually propelling me to do more to raise awareness and spread a culture of life.”

Savannah Dudzik sits in the airport holding a newspaper sharing the news that Roe v. Wade had been overturned on June 24, 2022. Credit: Photo courtesy of Savannah Dudzik
Savannah Dudzik sits in the airport holding a newspaper sharing the news that Roe v. Wade had been overturned on June 24, 2022. Credit: Photo courtesy of Savannah Dudzik

As for Deretich, soon after the overturn of Roe she took on a new role with Students for Life of America, becoming the government affairs coordinator at the federal level. 

Her main focus now consists of “making sure that even the very pro-life senators and Congress members know that the fight is not over because a lot of them wash their hands like, ‘We’re done now. Roe is overturned,’” she explained, adding: “We still have to talk about it. We still have to take actions on it and the fight is not over. It’s not just a state issue.”

Both Deretich and Dudzik agree there have been many wins since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, including 14 states enacting laws that ban abortion and offer full protection of human life. However, they said there is still much work to be done, in particular this November when several states — including Florida, Colorado, and South Dakota — will be voting on ballot initiatives regarding abortion.

You can find more information regarding state laws on abortion and ballot initiatives here

U.S. bishops commemorate 2nd anniversary of Dobbs ruling

The scene outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., after the court released its decision in the Dobbs abortion case on June 24, 2022. Pro-abortion demonstrators gradually made up a decided majority of the crowd as the day wore on. / Credit: Katie Yoder/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 24, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

The chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ pro-life committee has released a statement commemorating the second anniversary of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, as chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, reflected on the challenges faced by the pro-life movement since the historic decision.

“On June 24, 2024, we celebrate the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, ending the tragic reign of Roe v. Wade,” he said.

“It is a day for thanksgiving to God for answering our prayers and blessing the many years of hard work. This anniversary calls us to reflect on where we have been and where we are going,” Burbidge said.

He then noted recent defeats and upcoming challenges in the fight to protect life in the womb.

“Kansas, Michigan, and Ohio drastically expanded access to abortion,” he said. 

“This fall, as many as 10 additional states will have abortion referenda on their ballots, allowing voters to enshrine ‘abortion rights’ and override existing pro-life safeguards,” Burbidge noted.

Burbidge urged Catholics “to engage their elected officials on all issues endangering life.”

Burbidge then went on to reflect on the power of the Eucharist to transform the current culture, stating that he “cannot help but think the Holy Spirit has inspired our National Eucharistic Revival for such a time as this. Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist has the power to transform our own hearts and the heart of our culture.”

Amid these reflections, Burbidge acknowledged the ongoing commitment of various advocacy groups that assist women facing unexpected and difficult pregnancies. Initiatives such as Walking with Moms in Need exemplify the Church’s dedication to providing comprehensive “material, emotional, and spiritual support,” he said.

Furthermore, Burbidge recognized efforts such as Project Rachel and Respect Life Prayer and Action, which offer assistance to individuals affected by abortion and encourage proactive engagement in legislative processes.

“Jesus tells us: I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly’ (Jn 10:10),” Burbidge said. “I pray we will be united in our efforts to protect God’s gift of life, in every stage and circumstance.”

This year, a unique convergence of historical milestones not only brings attention to the second anniversary of the Dobbs ruling but also the first National Eucharistic Congress of its kind in more than 80 years.

In recognizing this, Burbidge concluded his statement by inspiring all to “draw strength from our communion in the body and blood of Christ our savior” during this significant time.

‘Summer Christmas’: Why does the Church celebrate the birthday of St. John the Baptist?

Statue of St. John the Baptist with golden cross, Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic. / Credit: Oldrich Barak/Shutterstock

Rome Newsroom, Jun 24, 2024 / 04:00 am (CNA).

St. John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, is one of only three people in history — after Jesus and Mary — whose birthday is celebrated in the Church’s liturgy.

In fact, the Nativity of St. John the Baptist on June 24 is a solemnity, meaning it is the highest form of Catholic feast day. And because it falls exactly six months before the solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord, it is sometimes known as “summer Christmas.”

“The Church observes the birth of John as in some way sacred; and you will not find any other of the great men of old whose birth we celebrate officially. We celebrate John’s, as we celebrate Christ’s,” St. Augustine of Hippo said in his sermon 293

In the Mass for the solemnity, the priest prays to God in the preface, that in Christ’s precursor, “St. John the Baptist, we praise your great glory, for you consecrated him for a singular honor among those born of women.”

“His birth brought great rejoicing; even in the womb he leapt for joy at the coming of human salvation. He alone of all the prophets pointed out the Lamb of redemption,” the prayer continues. “And to make holy the flowing waters, he baptized the very author of baptism and was privileged to bear him supreme witness by the shedding of his blood.”

St. Augustine explained that “John, it seems, has been inserted as a kind of boundary between the two Testaments, the Old and the New. That he is somehow or other a boundary is something that the Lord himself indicates when he says, ‘The Law and the prophets were until John.’ So he represents the old and heralds the new. Because he represents the old, he is born of an elderly couple; because he represents the new, he is revealed as a prophet in his mother’s womb.”

John’s connection to Christ

Father Mauro Gagliardi, a theologian and liturgist who teaches in Rome, wrote in a 2009 article on Zenit that it is important to emphasize John the Baptist’s role as “Indicator.” John is “a prophet who refers back to Christ.”

The liturgy, Gagliardi said, does the same thing, and thus the June 24 solemnity “reminds us of this: The Christian liturgy is a powerful Indicator of Christ to the peoples, like [John] the Baptist.”

John the Baptist’s feast day also has cosmic connections, the theologian pointed out. The fact that June 24 is close to the summer solstice demonstrates the fulfillment of the prophecy in John 3:30 that “he must increase; I must decrease,” since after John’s birthday the days get shorter, or “decrease,” while after Jesus’ birthday on Dec. 25, the days get longer, or “increase.”

“This interweaving between a figure from the history of salvation — John — and the cosmic rhythms (both guided by the same God) has found a fruitful development in the devotion and liturgy of the Church,” Gagliardi said.

Popular customs of ‘summer Christmas’

The Church’s liturgical commemoration of St. John the Baptist dates back to the fourth century.

Acknowledgement of the saint’s importance can also be noted in his shared patronage, together with St. John the Apostle, of Rome’s Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, which is also the seat of the bishop of Rome, that is, the pope.

The night of June 23 is known in some countries, including Italy, as “St. John’s Eve.” Due to the solemnity’s timing, shortly after the summer solstice, some of the practices connected to the feast have a pagan character, including that some refer to it as “the Night of the Witches.”

Modern-day secular festivities may include concerts and theatrical performances, while Catholics usually celebrate Mass and hold religious processions.

One of the most typical customs related to St. John’s Eve, both secular and religious, is the bonfire, called in some countries “St. John’s Fires,” which are lit in honor of the saint who “was not the light, but came to testify to the light (Jn 1:8).” Fireworks or candle-lit processions can also take the place of bonfires.

In an Angelus message on June 25, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI said the feast of St. John the Baptist “reminds us that our life is entirely and always ‘relative’ to Christ and is fulfilled by accepting him, the Word, the Light and the Bridegroom, whose voices, lamps, and friends we are.”

“‘He must increase, but I must decrease’ (Jn 3:30): The Baptist’s words are a program for every Christian,” Benedict said.

Pope Francis: Jesus in the Eucharist strengthens us in times of trial

Pope Francis delivers a message to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Sunday Angelus on June 23, 2024, at the Vatican. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Jun 23, 2024 / 10:26 am (CNA).

Jesus does not spare us from difficulties but strengthens us with the Eucharist to have the courage to face them, Pope Francis said in his reflection on Sunday’s Gospel.

Speaking from the window of the Apostolic Palace on June 23, Pope Francis asked the crowd gathered below in St. Peter’s Square to reflect on how they usually deal with times of trial.

“When a storm arrives, do I let myself be overwhelmed by the turmoil or do I cling to him … to find calm and peace, in prayer, silence, listening to the Word, adoration, and fraternal sharing of faith?” the pope asked.

Pope Francis urged people to remember that Jesus is always with us to come to our aid, particularly in the Eucharist.

“In the Eucharist, he gathers us around him, he gives us his word, he nourishes with his body and his blood, and then he invites us to set sail, to transmit everything we have heard and to share what we have received with everyone, in everyday life, even when it is difficult,” the pope said.

“Jesus does not spare us contrarieties but, without ever abandoning us, he helps us face them,” Francis added. 

“So we too, overcoming them with his help, learn more and more to hold onto him, to trust in  his power, which goes far beyond our capacities, to overcome uncertainties and hesitations, closures and preconceptions, and to do this with courage and greatness of heart, to tell everyone that the kingdom of heaven is present, it is here, and that with Jesus at our side we can make it grow together, beyond all barriers.”

Pilgrims gather in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ Sunday Angelus on June 23, 2024, at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media
Pilgrims gather in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ Sunday Angelus on June 23, 2024, at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media

Pointing to the Gospel of Mark’s account of Jesus and his disciples being caught in a storm on Lake Tiberias, the pope noted that it was Jesus himself who told the disciples to get on the boat and cross the lake.

“Why does he do this?” Pope Francis asked. “To strengthen the faith of the disciples and to make them more courageous.”

“Indeed, the disciples come out of this experience more aware of the power of Jesus and his presence in their midst, and therefore stronger and readier to face other obstacles and difficulties, including the fear of venturing out to proclaim the Gospel,” he said.

“Having overcome this trial with him, they will know how to face many others, even to the cross and martyrdom, to bring the Gospel to all peoples.”

Pope Francis invoked the intercession of the Virgin Mary, who welcomed God’s will with humility and courage, to provide us with the serenity to surrender to God in difficult moments.

After praying the Angelus prayer in Latin with the crowd, Pope Francis greeted the participants in Italy’s March for Life, which drew thousands of people to Rome on Saturday. 

Pilgrims gather in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ Sunday Angelus on June 23, 2024, at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media
Pilgrims gather in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ Sunday Angelus on June 23, 2024, at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media

As the pope offered greetings to the visiting pilgrim groups, Francis pointed out the group in St. Peter’s Square that was holding up an Israeli flag next to a Vatican flag.

Pope Francis said that the Israeli flag was a reminder to pray for peace in Gaza and other parts of the world that are experiencing war and violence. He repeatedly asked people to pray for peace in Palestine and Israel as well as in Ukraine and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The pope also remembered a Franciscan priest in Rome who had served as his confessor, Father Manuel Blanco Rodríguez, who died a few days ago.

“Remembering him,” he said, “I would like to remember the many Franciscan brothers, confessors, and preachers who have honored and continue to honor the Church of Rome.”

How principals and Partnership Schools are keeping historic inner-city Catholic schools alive 

Archbishop Lyke students in the school library in 2022. / Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools

CNA Staff, Jun 23, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

When historic Catholic schools started closing across the nation, an organization that manages Catholic schools in low-income communities stepped in.

With four schools in Cleveland and seven in New York City, Partnership Schools is helping to manage, support, and fund schools in need while providing scholarships for students to be able to attend their local Catholic schools. 

Initially launched as a fundraising organization, Partnership Schools shifted to a management and operations organization in 2013 to better amplify its impact, making it academically, operationally, and financially responsible for each school it partners with while the schools remain owned by their local dioceses. The group provides curricula, offers professional development for teachers, fundraises, and manages things such as payroll.  

The Partnership Schools model enables dioceses to retain ownership of the schools while the organization takes full responsibility for them.

St. Thomas Aquinas students on the playground in Cleveland in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools
St. Thomas Aquinas students on the playground in Cleveland in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools

St. Thomas Aquinas: a 125-year legacy 

When a Catholic school that had been in operation more than 100 years needed help staying open, it decided to work with Partnership Schools. But first, it had to get the pope’s permission. 

St. Thomas Aquinas School in Cleveland started by serving Irish and German immigrants in 1899. Scheduled to close in 2020, the school was able to stay open by working with Partnership Schools. Now, nearly 125 years since its founding, St. Thomas is thriving and serves students in the local community. 

“For about the last 60 years or so, we have been serving a predominantly Black community, and that still is the case now,” principal Rachael Dengler told CNA in a Zoom interview. “We have 250 students currently enrolled. One hundred percent of them are Black. Actually, zero percent of them are Catholic, but many come from a strong Christian faith and live in the neighborhood, so this is a community school to them.”

Though no Catholic students attend St. Thomas Aquinas, the school fosters community, teaches the faith, and finds commonalities with its largely Protestant students and families.

“When our beliefs and our values are so aligned, it’s not difficult to find a common ground in Christ,” Dengler explained.

“We are surrounded by Cleveland public schools, and so [parents] certainly have their options that aren’t Catholic,” she said. “But I think when parents see an education that’s driven in values and driven in beliefs that are aligned with how they were raised themselves or how they want their children to be raised, I think it really does become a pretty simple decision.”

Unlike most parochial Catholic schools, St. Thomas is no longer affiliated with a local parish and is now under the local bishop. Because he was reassigned before he could officially approve of St. Thomas joining Partnership Schools, then-Bishop Nelson Perez (now archbishop of Philadelphia) needed Pope Francis’ permission to get the program running.

“The pope ended up approving of this collaboration, which was a really different turn,” Dengler recalled. “Then, two weeks later, every school in the nation shut down for COVID, and that was in the midst of becoming a Partnership school. That was also the same year I was hired to be the principal.”

Despite the added challenges, the school’s enrollment increased by about 40% in the last four years since St. Thomas first partnered with Partnership Schools in 2020. 

“We wouldn’t be celebrating our 125th year if it weren’t for being a part of the network,” she explained. 

Dengler said she’s worked with students whose grandparents and parents have attended the school. 

“It’s a beautiful thing to feel like you’re a part of a family in a community that’s been there far longer than you have and will certainly outlast any individual’s time there,” she said. 

Rachael Denglar at St. Thomas Aquinas in Cleveland in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools
Rachael Denglar at St. Thomas Aquinas in Cleveland in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools

Though the school has changed over the generations, it has maintained its Catholic identity, especially by keeping its chapel accessible, Dengler explained.

“Because there is no parish, because there are challenges to the creation of community in the neighborhood, it is the school that is intentionally emotionally creating a sense of community,” she said.

“[Families] may not be Catholic, but they love being a part of a Catholic school, and they love and are proud of sharing where they go to school,” Dengler said. “And I think it’s because of the values that we uphold and the love that we have for them, regardless of whatever faith that they practice.”

St. Athanasius students at a play area at St. Athanasius in the South Bronx, New York City, in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools
St. Athanasius students at a play area at St. Athanasius in the South Bronx, New York City, in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools

111 years in the Bronx

After 11 years of managing the seven New York Catholic schools in the Partnership Schools organization, the Archdiocese of New York will resume management of them, a spokeswoman for Partnership Schools told CNA on Tuesday.   

Beth Blaufuss, Partnership School vice president for strategic initiatives, said that though they are sad to say goodbye to the schools, they were only ever “stewards.”

St. Athanasius School in the South Bronx is one of the schools that Partnership Schools has helped preserve for the past 11 years. It opened in 1913 and has centered the local community for 111 years, including when it was suffering from rampant arson by landlords in the 1970s.

Jessica Aybar, current principal of St. Athanasius in the South Bronx, said community has been a key part of the school both now and in the troubled past.

“At that time, the school was obviously still standing but serving a population that was really traumatized,” she explained. “It was a very normal occurrence for kids to come to school in their pajamas because their apartment building burned down the night before.”

“At the height of the Bronx’s burning era, the school went from having 16 classrooms to having nine,” she continued. “So in terms of enrollment, it was pretty much demolished.”

Jessica Aybar, principal of St. Athanasius in the South Bronx, New York City, in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools
Jessica Aybar, principal of St. Athanasius in the South Bronx, New York City, in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools

Decades later, the school reached 280 students in 2012. Then, while under Partnership Schools, St. Athanasius nearly doubled, reaching 440 students. 

“There is a ton of growth in terms of enrollment. I would say a rebirth, a renaissance, of Catholic schools in our neighborhood due to the Partnership support,” Aybar explained.

“A lot of times, families in our neighborhood think they can’t afford a quality Catholic school to attend,” she continued. “Partnership Schools has done so much to change the narrative and to make Catholic education accessible to as many students as possible.”

St. Athanasius is a happy place, and that can be seen in its 100% teacher retention rate this year, Aybar noted. She said there’s a variety of veteran, beginners, and in-the-middle teachers who are “a huge source of stability and community within the school.”

“All of those teachers, together, combined make a really diverse staff that has different strengths, different areas of growth,” she said. “That’s one of the things that I’m really proud of. I think there’s a reason that people stick around, and part of it is because of how much they love the community and how respected that they feel within the community.”

Most people find the school through word of mouth, not through the internet or other sources — a testament, Aybar said, to how special the community is.

A St. Athanasius elementary school student works on a craft in class in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools
A St. Athanasius elementary school student works on a craft in class in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools

Moving forward: NY management returns to the archdiocese 

After an 11-year contract with the New York Archdiocese, Partnership Schools announced on June 18 that the archdiocese will resume management of those Catholic schools.

In a statement to CNA, Partnership Schools said it is celebrating successes of the past decade including a record of $7.7 million in scholarships earned by this year’s New York Partnership graduates alone and a 28% increase in New York schools enrollment since the COVID pandemic began in 2020, as well as doubling achievement scores. 

“When we took on the six original schools that we began to serve, academic performance was unacceptably low,” Blaufuss explained. “For example, 17% of the students met the proficiency standards for the state of New York in math.”

“Flash forward 11 years, we’ve not only increased the number of students who are achieving proficiency — in fact, last year … the percent of partnership eighth graders and graduates scoring proficient on the state test in math was higher than the average for the city as a whole.”

For the future, the network plans to expand its work in Cleveland and beyond. 

An elementary student raises his hand in class at St. Francis School in Cleveland in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools
An elementary student raises his hand in class at St. Francis School in Cleveland in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools

“Impact has grown in this diocese, and we look forward to continuing our partnership to benefit the increasing number of students and families served by our Catholic schools in the heart of the city,” Frank O’Linn, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Cleveland and a Partnership Schools trustee, said this week in a press release shared with CNA. 

Partnership Schools’ current agreement with the diocese will run through 2028 while it investigates options in other dioceses, particularly those with school choice funding already in place, according to the release.

Elementary students in class at Metro Catholic School, another Partnership School in Cleveland, in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools
Elementary students in class at Metro Catholic School, another Partnership School in Cleveland, in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools

“Catholic schools enable students in low-income communities to become excellent students and caring citizens,” the chair of Partnership Schools’ board of trustees, Russ Carson, said in the release. 

Canadian man offered euthanasia ‘multiple times’: ‘I don’t want to give up my life’

Roger Foley enjoys taste-testing three different kinds of hummus, his favourite food, on the day of a video shoot with Amanda Achtman of the Dying to Meet You project in Canada. The two spoke about Foley's difficulty accessing quality care for his needs and being offered Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) "several times." / Courtesy of Amanda Achtman

CNA Staff, Jun 23, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Amid ongoing efforts to expand euthanasia in Canada under the name of “medical aid in dying” (MAID), one Ottawa man says he has been offered euthanasia “multiple times” as he struggles with lifelong disabilities and chronic pain from a disease called cerebellar ataxia

Roger Foley, 49, shared some of his story in a recent video interview with Amanda Achtman of the Dying to Meet You project, which was created to “humanize our conversation on suffering, death, meaning, and hope.” The project seeks to “[restore] our cultural health when it comes to our experiences of death and dying” through speaking engagements and video campaigns. 

In the video, the fourth of a series, Foley said he has struggled with subpar medical help in his own home, where he is supposed to be getting quality care. Canada has a nationalized health care system but Foley said that individuals with illnesses are “worked at … not worked with.” He spoke out against being devalued as he fights for the support he needs to live.

In one case, he said, a home worker helped him into his bathtub and then fell asleep in the other room; Foley was left to crawl out of the bathroom on his own. “I reported to the agency, and then he confessed, and the agency, they really didn’t care,” he said.

Asked by Achtman if he has ever been offered euthanasia, Foley said: “Yeah, multiple times.”

“One time, [a doctor] asked me, ‘Do you have any thoughts of self-harm?’ I’m honest with them and tell them I do think about ending my life because of what I’m going through, being prevented from the resources that I need to live safely back at home.” 

“From out of nowhere, he just pulls out, ‘Well, if you don’t get self-directing funding, you can always apply for an assisted.’”

Foley said the offers from doctors to help end his life have “completely traumatized me.”

“Now it’s this overlying option where in my situation, when I say I’m suicidal, I’m met with, ‘Well, the hospital has a program to help you with that if you want to end your life.’”

“That didn’t exist before [MAID] was legalized, but now it’s there,” he said. “There is not going to be a second within the rest of my life that I’m not going to have flashbacks to [being offered suicide]. The devaluing of me and all that I am.”

Noting that he’s “not religious,” Foley said: “Saying that it’s just religious persons who oppose euthanasia in society is completely wrong.”

“These people who usually say it, they have an ableist mindset,” he said. “And they look at persons with disabilities and see us as just better off dead and a waste of resources.”

Achtman told CNA there is a need for euthanasia-free health care spaces, not only for protecting the integrity of Catholic institutions but also because many patients — including nonreligious patients like Foley — want to be treated in facilities that do not raise euthanasia with patients. 

“Having euthanasia suggested, in a sense, already kills the person. It deflates a person’s sense of confidence that doctors and nurses are going to truly fight for them,” Achtman told CNA. “When euthanasia is suggested ostensibly as one ‘treatment’ option among others, there are all-too-frequently no other real options provided.

She continued: “This is why I always say that a request for euthanasia is not so much an expression of a desire to die as it is an expression of disappointment. Responding to such disappointment with real interventions that are adequate to the person is demanding, but that’s what people deserve. It is wrong to concede or capitulate to a person’s suicidal ideation — instead, every person deserves suicide prevention rather than suicide assistance.”

Roger Foley enjoys taste-testing three different kinds of hummus, his favorite food, on the day of a video shoot with Amanda Achtman of the Dying to Meet You project. The two spoke about Foley's difficulty accessing quality care for his needs and being offered Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) "several times.". Courtesy of Amanda Achtman
Roger Foley enjoys taste-testing three different kinds of hummus, his favorite food, on the day of a video shoot with Amanda Achtman of the Dying to Meet You project. The two spoke about Foley's difficulty accessing quality care for his needs and being offered Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) "several times.". Courtesy of Amanda Achtman

Canada has become one of the most permissive countries in the world when it comes to euthanasia. The country first began allowing doctors to help kill terminally ill patients nearing death in 2016; the law was then expanded in 2021 to include patients whose death is not imminent.

In February the country paused a proposal to allow mentally ill individuals access to MAID, with the proposal set to be reconsidered in 2027. Earlier this year, Canadian health researchers alleged that MAID will “save” the Canadian health care system between $34.7 and $136.8 million per year.

A couple in British Columbia is currently suing the provincial government, as well as a Catholic health care provider, after their daughter was denied euthanasia while suffering from a terminal illness. The suit demands that the government remove the religious exemption from the Catholic hospital that protects them from having to offer MAID.

A judge in March, meanwhile, ruled that a woman with autism could be granted her request to die by MAID, overruling efforts by the woman’s father to halt the deadly procedure.

Asked what gives him hope, Foley told Achtman that he aspires one day to “be able to break through [the health care system] and get access to the resources that I need and to live at home with workers who want to work with me and I want to work with them and that we can work as a team.” 

“I have a passion to live,” he said. “I don’t want to give up my life.”

Zoe Romanowsky contributed to this story.

PHOTOS: Thousands take part in Italy’s pro-life march

Thousands of people from across Italy braved the summer heat to join the national Demonstration for Life in Rome on the afternoon of June 22, 2024. / Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

Rome, Italy, Jun 22, 2024 / 16:35 pm (CNA).

Thousands of people from across Italy braved the summer heat to join the national Demonstration for Life in Rome on the afternoon of June 22.

“Let’s Choose Life” was the motto of the annual procession, which began at 2 p.m. in Rome’s Piazza della Repubblica, close to the city’s main Termini train station.

"Life begins at conception" reads a sign at Rome's pro-life march June 22, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA
"Life begins at conception" reads a sign at Rome's pro-life march June 22, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

The slow march continued almost one mile down the Via Nazionale before reaching the area of the ancient Imperial Forum, where a rally with speeches and musical performances was held.

“There is no compromise on human life!” Pope Francis said in a message sent to organizers ahead of the march.

He thanked participants for their “commitment and public witness in defense of human life from conception to natural death” and urged them to “go forward with courage despite every adversity.”

“The stakes, namely the absolute dignity of human life, the gift of God the Creator, are too high to be the object of compromise or mediation,” Francis wrote.

The march for life makes its way through Rome's city streets. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA
The march for life makes its way through Rome's city streets. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

The pope also invited families to bear witness to “the beauty of life and of the family that welcomes it” in order to build “a society that rejects the culture of waste at every stage of existence: from the most fragile unborn child to the suffering elderly, passing through the victims of trafficking, slavery, and every war.”

Rome's pro-life march drew people from all across Italy. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA
Rome's pro-life march drew people from all across Italy. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

Massimo Gandolfini, one of the spokespersons for the annual protest against abortion, said earlier this year that the organization is calling on Italy’s political leaders to create “structural public reforms to encourage the marriage of young couples, incentivize the birth rate and support parenting by mothers and fathers by reshaping taxation and social services to be family-friendly.”

Priests and religious were among the marchers. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA
Priests and religious were among the marchers. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA
The march arrives at the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and of the Martyrs in Rome. Credit: The Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and of the Martyrs
The march arrives at the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and of the Martyrs in Rome. Credit: The Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and of the Martyrs
Many young families joined the march for life in Rome. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA
Many young families joined the march for life in Rome. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA