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Arson at Colorado pregnancy center still unsolved; FBI offers major reward for leads

Spray-painted graffiti outside Life Choices, a pro-life pregnancy center in Longmont, Colorado. / Courtesy of Longmont Public Safety

Denver, Colo., Dec 1, 2022 / 14:40 pm (CNA).

The FBI is offering a $17,500 reward for credible leads in the arson of a a pro-life pregnancy center in northern Colorado that is still under investigation after five months.

Longmont Police Chief Jeff Satur told a Wednesday press conference that investigators have few leads, the Denver Gazette reported. Investigators are again asking for aid from anyone with local video from the time of the crime, this time from a wider area. They are also analyzing the handwriting of the vandals’ graffiti messages. One message was in cursive while the other was not.

“I believe there were probably two people there,” Satur said, noting that handwriting can be recognizable. “At some point we’re going to get the right lead.”

The fire took place early Saturday morning on June 25 and drew a response from Longmont Public Safety at 3:17 a.m.

The Life Choices pregnancy center in Longmont sustained fire and heavy smoke damage. The front of the building also was defaced with pro-abortion slogans, including “Bans Off Our Bodies.” The threatening phrase “If abortions aren’t safe neither are you,” was written in cursive with black spray paint.

The suspected arson took place in the wake of the June 24 U.S. Supreme Court decision Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned the pro-abortion cases Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey and returned the question of legal abortion to the states.

Northern Colorado Crime Stoppers has offered a reward of $2,500 for information related to the case. The FBI’s offered reward is an additional $17,500. The FBI will take tips through its website or its tip line 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324).

Life Choices on its website describes itself as “a Christ-centered ministry providing education, support, healing, and limited medical services for sexual life choices.” Its offerings include free pregnancy tests, clothes, and baby supplies.

Since the arson attack, the organization appears to be doing well.

Holly Hooten, director of client services at Life Choices, told the Denver Gazette “it’s only been great since the vandalism occurred.”

“In the end it was like God brought everyone out of the woodwork to pray for us and support the work here,” she said.

Satur said the FBI has done “heavy lifting” on the investigation through search warrants, subpoenas, and court orders.

Catholic churches, crisis pregnancy centers, and other pro-life groups have been on heightened alert about possible attacks by militant pro-abortion activists angered by the Supreme Court’s abortion decision.

Backlash began soon after the court’s draft decision was leaked in early May.

As of Sept. 22, CNA had recorded attacks on 33 churches, 55 pregnancy centers, three political organizations, and one maternity home since early May where the public evidence points to a pro-abortion motive. The crimes include vulgar graffiti, property damage, threats, theft, and even arson.

Some of the reported vandalism incidents appear to be copycat attacks. Several of the graffiti incidents featured the threatening phrase “If abortions aren’t safe, neither are you,” which reports indicate first appeared on a pro-life pregnancy center in Wisconsin in early May.

FBI Director Christopher Wray, in remarks to a Nov. 15 hearing of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee, reaffirmed the bureau’s commitment to investigating crimes against pro-life groups and churches. Wray reported that since the Dobbs decision, pro-life organizations have faced about 70% of abortion-related threats. About 20 FBI field offices and joint terrorism task forces are investigating these crimes.

“My view — plainly expressed to all of our people, including in the context of abortion-related violence — is that I don’t care what side of the issue you’re on, you don’t get to engage in violence, and we are equal-opportunity when it comes to that,” Wray said.

‘Gravely disappointed’: U.S. bishops respond to passage of the same-sex marriage act

null / Ivan Galashchuk via www.shutterstock.com.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 1, 2022 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

Today the U.S. bishops responded to the U.S. Senate’s passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, saying society “has lost sight of the purpose of marriage.”

Bishop Robert Barron, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, strongly condemned the bill’s passage.

“We are gravely disappointed that the misnamed Respect for Marriage Act passed the Senate and continue to call for its rejection,” Barron wrote.

The Respect for Marriage Act passed the Senate Tuesday, redefining marriage to include unions between homosexual couples and mandating that all states must recognize homosexual marriages. The bill passed with bipartisan support, with 12 Republicans voting in favor. As passed by the Senate, the bill enshrines into law and expands the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized homosexual marriage across the nation.

Barron wrote that “decades of social and legal developments have torn sexuality, childbearing, and marriage from each other in the public consciousness.” In his statement, Barron called to mind Pope Francis’ 2016 address in which he said, “We can hardly stop advocating marriage simply to avoid countering contemporary sensibilities … We would be depriving the world of values that we can and must offer.”

Barron stated that Christians must share the truth of marriage as “a lifelong and exclusive union, a complete and mutual gift of the husband and wife to each other for their good and for the procreation and education of children, [and] is essential to the common good.”

In addition to contributing to the “diminishment of the sacredness and integrity of marriage in our society,” the act’s passage threatens religious freedom in the U.S., the statement said.

“This bill fails to include clear, comprehensive, and affirmative conscience protections for religious organizations and individuals who uphold the sanctity of traditional marriage,” Barron wrote.

Having passed the Senate, the Respect for Marriage Act will return to the U.S. House of Representatives for a vote on the amendments added by the Senate.

The U.S. bishops stated in a November letter to Congress that the bill’s amendments do not sufficiently protect those with religious objections.

“The amended Act will put the ministries of the Catholic Church, people of faith, and other Americans who uphold a traditional meaning of marriage at greater risk of government discrimination,” the letter stated.

The November letter, penned jointly by Barron and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York, posited that “the bill will be used to argue that the government has a compelling interest in forcing religious organizations and individuals to treat same-sex civil marriages as valid.”

While stating that “we affirm our respect for the dignity of all engaged in this debate,” Barron reaffirmed the U.S. bishops’ continued opposition to the Respect for Marriage Act.

This is Pope Francis’ prayer intention for December

Pope Francis speaking at the general audience on St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Nov. 30, 2022 / Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Denver, Colo., Dec 1, 2022 / 12:10 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis’ prayer intention for the month of December is for volunteer not-for-profit organizations.

“The world needs volunteers and organizations committed to seeking the common good,” the Holy Father said in a video appeal released Dec. 1. 

“This is a word that many today would like to erase: ‘commitment.’ And the world needs volunteers who commit to the common good,” he said. 

The pontiff called volunteers who work with not-for-profit organizations “artisans for mercy.”

“Being a volunteer who helps others is a choice that makes us free; it opens us to other people’s needs — to the demands of justice, to the defense of the poor, to the care of creation. It means being artisans of mercy: with our hands, with our eyes, with our attentive ears, with our closeness.”

He added: “The work of volunteer not-for-profit organizations is much more effective when they collaborate with each other and with governments.”

“By working together, however few resources they have, they do their best and make the miracle of the multiplication of hope a reality. We have a great need to multiply hope,” Pope Francis continued. 

The Holy Father concluded the video message with a prayer: “Let us pray that volunteer not-for-profit and human development organizations may find people willing to commit themselves to the common good and ceaselessly seek out new paths of international cooperation.”

Pope Francis’ prayer video is promoted by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, which raises awareness of monthly papal prayer intentions.

England and Wales no longer Christian ‘by default,’ census shows

The Cathedral Church of St. Barnabas in Nottingham, England, U.K. / Kevin George/Shutterstock

Denver, Colo., Dec 1, 2022 / 11:00 am (CNA).

Christianity is no longer the “default religion” in England and Wales. The latest census shows Christians there are now a minority, while the number of people who have no religious affiliation continues to grow.

Only 46.2% of residents, or 27.5 million people, described themselves as “Christian,” according to a Nov. 29 bulletin from the Office for National Statistics. This is down from 2011, when 59.3%, or 33.3 million, said they were Christian. In 2001, 71.7% described themselves as Christian.

The figures come from the 2021 census, which seeks to give the most accurate estimates of individuals and households. The census did not seek further details about respondents’ particular religious denomination.

About 37.2% of people in England and Wales, numbering 22.2 million, told the census they had “no religion.” This is an increase from 25.2% of the population in 2011 and from 14.8% in 2001.

“These figures don’t come as any real surprise,” Stephen Bullivant, a professor of theology and sociology of religion at St. Mary's University, Twickenham, told CNA Dec. 1. “In fact, the census figures put the number of Christians significantly higher than do many other, high-quality social surveys done in Britain.”

Bullivant has studied religious affiliation and disaffiliation in the U.K. and the U.S. He is the author of the 2022 book “Non-Verts: The Making of Ex-Christian America,” from Oxford University Press.

One key driver of change, he said, is that older generations more likely to identify as Christian have died, and young adults more likely to identify with no religion have taken their place.

“As ever, a lot of complex factors contribute to these big, headline figures,” Bullivant continued. “But probably the biggest factor is the gradual, generational evaporation of Christianity over a period of decades. It used to be the case that Anglicanism was the default setting for English and Welsh people, unless you had a particular reason to be something else. But we've long ago now — certainly for anyone born in the last few decades — shifted to a position where having ‘no religion’ is now the default, unless you have a particular reason to be something else.”

This change from a broad culture of “default Christianity” also changes the culture within Christian communities.

“Of course, in the long run, it means that the only Christians left are those who have to ‘own’ it,” Bullivant said. “And that’s certainly something we’re starting to see with, say, Catholic or Evangelical young adults. If they’re at Church in their late teens or early 20s, they’re there for a reason — and of course, the other young adults they meet there are, too. Ultimately, they’re the kinds of countercultural groups — ‘creative minorities’ as Pope Benedict likes to call them — where you might hope to see some kind of counter-trends starting to appear.”

Among other religious adherents in England and Wales, Muslims are the most populous. They now make up 6.5% of the population. Muslims now number 3.9 million, an increase of 1.2 million from a decade ago. Hindus now number about one million, 1.7% of the population. Sikhs number 524,000, just under 1%, while Buddhists number 273,000, about 0.5% of the population. The collective Jewish population numbers 271,000, smaller than the collective Buddhist population.

About 40% of the London population is Christian, while 15% are Muslim and 5% are Hindu. Among Londoners overall, 25% profess a non-Christian religion.

The Church of England is the established religion of England, with the British monarch as its supreme head. It broke from the Catholic Church in the 16th century.

Anglican Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell responded to the survey Tuesday, saying “the Christian church exists to share the good news of Jesus Christ, serve our neighbor, and bring hope to a troubled world.”

“It’s not a great surprise that the census shows fewer people in this country identifying as Christian than in the past, but it still throws down a challenge to us not only to trust that God will build his kingdom on Earth but also to play our part in making Christ known,” Cottrell said. “We have left behind the era when many people almost automatically identified as Christian but other surveys consistently show how the same people still seek spiritual truth and wisdom and a set of values to live by.”

Cottrell said that many people this winter still will turn to their local church for both spiritual and practical help.

“We will be there for them, in many cases, providing food and warmth. And at Christmas millions of people will still come to our services,” he said.

Previous studies have shown a decline in Christian adherence across the U.K.

The 2019 edition of the British Social Attitudes Survey, which includes Scotland and Northern Ireland, includes figures on religious adherence in 2018. In that year, 52% of British residents professed no religion while only 38% professed Christianity. Church of England or Anglican adherents made up 12% of respondents, while Catholics made up 7%.

The Social Attitudes Survey is based on a representative sample of about 3,000 respondents. It is conducted by the National Centre for Social Research, an independent social research center.

This Catholic priest fought narcos in Colombia, now he is to lead the peace process

Father Silverio Ernesto Suárez, Major General of the National Police of Colombia / Father Silverio Suárez

Rome Newsroom, Dec 1, 2022 / 08:40 am (CNA).

A Catholic priest has been named the second in command of the National Police of Colombia.

In his three-decade-long career in the police force, Major General Silverio Ernesto Suárez has often found himself in perilous situations on the front lines of Colombia’s battle against illegal drug trafficking.

Once he was in a police helicopter that was nearly shot down by guerillas. In another instance, in the 1990s, a car bomb blew up the seven-story police building where he was posted.

But unlike his colleagues in the police force, Suárez can hear confessions and offer last rites because he is a Catholic priest.

Suárez told CNA that he sees his dual roles of priest and police general as a vocation to “save souls and save lives.”

Father Silverio Suárez. Courtney Mares / CNA
Father Silverio Suárez. Courtney Mares / CNA

He did not feel the call to become a Catholic priest until an experience he had after entering the police force at the age of 32. After an older police officer was covered in gasoline, set on fire, and died from his burns, Suárez spent a lot of time reflecting on “how ephemeral life can be.”

In conversations with the general chaplain of the police, he rethought what he wanted his life’s mission to be.

“What struck me the most was the police motto, which was ‘God and country.’ I wanted to give my life to serve God and serve my country. This was what I was looking for in my life,” Suárez said.

He had already received a solid Catholic formation from his family and as a layman at an Opus Dei center that had cultivated in him a love for the Eucharist and the sacraments.

Yet Suárez faced some hurdles in his newfound desire to become a priest. The minister of defense rejected his request to enter the seminary for the Military Ordinariate of Colombia.

“I gave our Lord a blank check,” Suárez said. “If it is my decision and it is not from God, it will not happen. I abandoned myself in the hands of God … and from one moment to the next, the doors miraculously began to open.”

Twenty days after Suárez’s original application had been rejected, the minister of defense fell into a major scandal and was replaced. Suárez’s appeal to enter the seminary was accepted.

Suárez was ordained a priest at the age of 39 after completing training not only in philosophy and theology but also to be a police captain.

“I only slept three hours at night,” he recalled. “I did my second year of theology at the same time as my police promotion course.”

After his ordination, Suárez understood his mission was to help transform “the hearts of policemen.”

He volunteered for police patrol shifts from midnight to 6 a.m. While on patrol, he had long conversations with the men he was posted with; sometimes, he would hear their confessions or invite them to pray the rosary together.

Father Silverio Ernesto Suárez, Major General of the National Police of Colombia, with fellow members in uniform. Father Silverio Suárez
Father Silverio Ernesto Suárez, Major General of the National Police of Colombia, with fellow members in uniform. Father Silverio Suárez

One particular conversation with a colleague stands out in his mind: “Two days later, he was killed in a terrorist attack and we buried him.”

“I have seen so many comrades become victims of violence, who have been kidnapped and … were kept in the worst living conditions,” he added.

As a priest, Suárez also comforts and ministers to the families of his colleagues who have been kidnapped or killed.

In Colombia and other South American countries including Chile and Venezuela, it is not unusual for priests to be full members of the police force, Suárez said. He insists that “being a policeman and a priest is absolutely compatible.”

“What is the mission of the priest? Above all, serve God and serve your fellow men. What is the mission of the police? … To save lives, to defend life,” he said.

When asked about the use of violence, Suárez said that when his life has been in danger, he has had to defend himself, but fortunately, he has not had to kill anyone.

He has also devoted much of his time to serving prisoners and perpetrators detained by the police.

“In the detention rooms, there is barbaric overcrowding. In places where there were 150 inmates … they had to sleep squatting or sitting down because there was no place to lie down,” he said. “I bring them [clean] clothes. Many of them are very poor.”

He also offers Masses for the detainees and hears confessions. In some cases, Suárez has paid the bail, something that frustrated his police colleagues.

Suárez said that corruption within the police force is a serious issue, which is why he believes that good police training and formation are so important.

Father Silverio Ernesto Suárez, Major General of the National Police of Colombia, with Pope Francis. Father Silverio Suárez
Father Silverio Ernesto Suárez, Major General of the National Police of Colombia, with Pope Francis. Father Silverio Suárez

For the past year, Suárez, now 61 years old, was assigned to Rome, where he has been working to strengthen relations between the Colombian police force and the Italian police through a joint training program. The posting also gave him the opportunity to meet Pope Francis.

Drug trafficking continues to be the biggest problem facing Colombia, Suárez said, and the death toll inflicted by the cartels has been enormous.

In his new role as a major general and the second in command of the national police, Suárez will focus much of his work on Colombia’s difficult peace process.

“For the sake of finding peace and reconciliation, the effort is worth it,” he said.

Almudena Martínez-Bordiú contributed to this report.

Jihadists seeking to build ‘transcontinental caliphate,’ says report

null / Oleg Zabielin via www.shutterstock.com.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 1, 2022 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Islamist terrorist groups are unleashing a new wave of violence and persecution to build a “transnational caliphate” stretching from west Africa to the Pacific, according to a new report on religious persecution. 

The report, released earlier this month by the international Catholic pastoral aid organization Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), found that as a result of increased jihadist activity, persecution of Christians along the equator has skyrocketed in recent years.

ACN’s report, “Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians Oppressed for their Faith, 2020-2022,” found that the equatorial regions of Africa and the Pacific have been particularly affected. Christians and other minority religions in these regions face violent persecution and in many cases the choice to “convert or die” at the hands of radical Islamist groups, some of which are affiliated with ISIS and Al-Qaeda. 

According to ACN, hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost and millions displaced as 14 African nations have been subjected to jihadist campaigns, with the situation in 12 of these nations being particularly dire. “With the growing Islamist radicalization, Christians tend increasingly to become a specific target for the terrorists,” ACN states.

The African region has been prone to sporadic and disorganized violence in the past, yet this new rise in jihadism is different, according to ACN. The radical Islamist groups not only are extending a jihad across the continent but are increasingly organizing and coordinating their efforts. ACN has found that “the threat from militant Islamist groups in Africa is not monolithic but comprises a constantly shifting mix of roughly two dozen groups actively operating — and increasingly cooperating — in 14 countries.”

Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, and Mozambique have all been subjected to radical Islamist terror campaigns intent on forcing their extreme version of Islam on the local populations.

With millions fleeing the impacted regions, grievous human rights violations abound. In many cases, men and boys are kidnapped and forced to join the extremists’ ranks or face beheadings. Meanwhile, women and children fleeing the violence have themselves been subjected to rape and forced servitude.

ACN’s report posits that the international community’s response to this crisis in Africa has been thus far insufficient to render proper aid to the suffering population. In some nations, such as Burkina Faso, hundreds of thousands have been displaced yet “more than 60 percent of the territory was not accessible to humanitarian aid workers” as of the end of 2020, according to ACN. 

ACN’s report states that “the multinational military missions deployed in West Africa have not been successful.” This is further evidenced in that the “Islamic State has declared six so-called ‘provinces of the caliphate’ in Africa.” 

In the Pacific, governments have either failed to quell or been complicit in the rise of jihadist movements within their nations, according to ACN. In its 2021 report on religious freedom in the world, ACN states that the threat to Christians and non-Muslims from groups identifying as part of the transcontinental caliphate, though on a smaller scale than in Africa, is very real and deadly.

The report also details incidents in which local authorities in Indonesia have cooperated with jihadist forces to close down Christian churches and places of worship for other minority religions. In 2017, an Indonesian radical Islamic group known as the Front for the Defense of Islam spearheaded a movement to oust the Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, and even imprison him for two years on “blasphemy” charges.

The Maldives, a small nation south of India, is “in the grip of both state-imposed Islamic orthodoxy and non-state Islamist extremism,” according to ACN. Violent jihadism has been on the rise in the Maldives to which the government has in many ways cooperated, banning the expression of any other religion than Sunni Islam.

Even in the majority Catholic nation of the Philippines, ACN reports that jihadist groups including Abu Sayyaf (the so-called East Asia Province of the Islamic State) have unleashed a new wave of religiously motivated violence on non-Muslims. Since its founding, Abu Sayyaf has been responsible for bombings, kidnappings, and executions. Abu Sayyaf’s violence appears to have increased in recent years with new attacks on a hospital, a Catholic church, and a Filipino military camp. In 2019, the group claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Catholic church during Sunday mass that killed 21 of the faithful and injured many more.

ACN releases a biennial report, based on firsthand testimony from local sources, on the state of religious freedom across the globe. Visit the organization's website to download the complete report.

Pope Francis praises ‘fruitful’ theology of Benedict XVI

Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI greet each other at the 65th priestly ordination of Pope Emeritus XVI at the Clementine Hall. / © L’Osservatore Romano

CNA Newsroom, Dec 1, 2022 / 05:06 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Thursday praised the role of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and his theology for the Church.

Speaking at the 2022 Ratzinger Prize award ceremony at the Vatican, Pope Francis said: “We all feel his spiritual presence and his accompaniment in prayer for the whole Church.”

”But this occasion is important to reaffirm that the contribution of his theological work and, more generally, of his thought continues to be fruitful and effective.”

The Ratzinger Prize was launched in 2011 to recognize scholars whose work demonstrates a meaningful contribution to theology in the spirit of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Bavarian theologian who became Pope Benedict XVI.

This year, the prestigious award was given to Jesuit Father Michel Fédou and Professor Joseph H.H. Weiler.

Father Michel Fédou, SJ, (left) and Professor Joseph H.H. Weiler, recipients of the Ratzinger Prize 2022 with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Dec. 1, 2022. Vatican Media
Father Michel Fédou, SJ, (left) and Professor Joseph H.H. Weiler, recipients of the Ratzinger Prize 2022 with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Dec. 1, 2022. Vatican Media

Pope Francis said: “As we know, Benedict XVI personally participated in [Vatican II] as an expert and played an important role in the genesis of some documents; and then he was called to lead the ecclesial community in its implementation, both alongside St. John Paul II and as pastor of the universal Church.”

Benedict “helped us to read the conciliar documents in depth, proposing a ‘hermeneutic of reform and continuity,’‘’ he said.

His predecessor from Bavaria, the pontiff added, had provided “a solid theological basis for the Church’s journey: a ‘living’ Church, which he taught us to see and live as communion, and which is on the move in ’synod’ — guided by the Spirit of the Lord, always open to the mission of proclaiming the Gospel and serving the world in which it lives.”

Pope Francis speaking at the Ratzinger Prize award ceremony at the Vatican, Dec. 1, 2022. Vatican Media
Pope Francis speaking at the Ratzinger Prize award ceremony at the Vatican, Dec. 1, 2022. Vatican Media

The Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Foundation announced Oct. 7 that Fédou and Weiler would receive the prize from Pope Francis.

Fédou has been teaching dogmatic theology and patristics at Centre Sèvres, a Jesuit institution in Paris, since 1987. He is a member of several theological organizations and commissions regarding ecumenical dialogue with Lutherans and Orthodox Christians, according to a Vatican communiqué.

The 69-year-old native of Lyon, France, is the author of several works, mainly about patristics and Christology.

In him, Pope Francis said, ”we recognize and pay tribute to a valiant heir and continuer of the great tradition of French theology, which has given the Church masters of the stature of Father Henri De Lubac and solid and courageous cultural enterprises such as the Sources Chrétiennes, whose publication began 80 years ago.”

Famous for his role in defense of the display of crucifixes in public schools before the European Court of Human Rights, Weiler is a legal scholar at many universities in the U.S. and the U.K., including at Harvard and New York University, as well as in other places.

The 71-year-old native of Johannesburg, South Africa, was the president of the European University Institute of Florence and is the author of many works about constitutional and international law as well as human rights.

In his book “A Christian Europe: An Exploratory Essay,” the scholar coined the term Christophobia, a phenomenon papal biographer George Weigel has written about extensively.

Noting that Weiler is the first adherent of the Jewish faith to be awarded the prestigious Ratzinger prize, Pope Francis noted an objective of Benedict‘s ”personal theological work had been from the beginning the sharing and promotion of all the steps of reconciliation between Christians and Jews taken since the Council.”

Father Michel Fédou SJ (left) and Professor Joseph H. H. Weiler. Fondazioneratzinger.va
Father Michel Fédou SJ (left) and Professor Joseph H. H. Weiler. Fondazioneratzinger.va

Last year’s winners of the Ratzinger Prize were Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz and Ludger Schwienhorst-Schönberger.

Candidates for the prize are chosen by the scientific committee of the Ratzinger Foundation and presented to the pope, who approves the winners.

The Ratzinger Prize has been awarded yearly since 2011 to two or three scholars. The scientific committee members are appointed by the pope.

Members until recently have been Cardinals Angelo Amato, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints; Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture; and Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany. President of Pope Benedict XVI Institute Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella stood in for Cardinal Amato.

Charles de Foucauld, Catholic ‘revert’ turned saint

Charles de Foucauld / Public domain

Vatican City, Dec 1, 2022 / 05:00 am (CNA).

Today is the feast day of St. Charles de Foucauld, who was canonized by Pope Francis on May 15.

Who was Charles de Foucauld?

De Foucauld, also known as Brother Charles of Jesus, was a soldier, explorer, Catholic revert, priest, hermit, and religious brother who served among the Tuareg people in the Sahara desert in Algeria.

He was assassinated by a band of men at his hermitage in the Sahara on Dec. 1, 1916.

De Foucauld was born in Strasbourg in 1858. He was raised by his wealthy and aristocratic grandfather after being orphaned at age 6.

He joined the French military, following in the footsteps of his grandfather. Having already lost his faith, as a young man he lived a life of indulgence and was known to have an immature sense of humor.

De Foucauld resigned from the military at age 23 and set off on a dangerous exploration of Morocco. Contact with strong Muslim believers there challenged him, and he began to repeat to himself: “My God, if you exist, let me come to know you.”

He returned to France and, with the guidance of a priest, came back to his Catholic faith in 1886 at age 28.

The following saying is attributed to him: “As soon as I believed in God, I understood that I could not do otherwise than to live for him alone.”

De Foucauld realized a vocation to “follow Jesus in his life at Nazareth” during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He was a Trappist monk in France and Syria for seven years. He also lived as a hermit for a period near a convent of Poor Clares in Nazareth.

He was ordained a priest in 1901 at age 43 and left for northern Africa to serve among the Tuareg people, a nomadic ethnic group, saying he wanted to live among “the furthest removed, the most abandoned.”

In the Sahara he welcomed anyone who passed by, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or pagan. 

He was deeply respectful of the faiths and cultures he lived among. During his 13 years in the Saraha he learned about Tuareg culture and language, compiling a Tuareg-French dictionary and being a “brother” to the people.

The priest said he wanted to “shout the Gospel with his life” and to conduct his life so that people would ask: “If such is the servant, what must the Master be like?”

De Foucauld was the inspiration for the founding of several lay associations, religious communities, and secular institutes of laity and priests, known collectively as “the spiritual family of Charles de Foucauld.”

At his beatification in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI said as a priest, de Foucauld “put the Eucharist and the Gospel at the center of his life.”

“He discovered that Jesus — who came to unite himself to us in our humanity — invites us to that universal brotherhood which he later experienced in the Sahara, and to that love of which Christ set us the example,” he said.

After meeting with Cardinal Angelo Becciu, prefect of the congregation for saints’ causes, the pope approved a second miracle attributed to de Foucauld’s intercession, paving the way for his canonization on May 15.

This story was originally published on May 27, 2020.

Pope Francis’ trip to Africa rescheduled for February 2023

Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square, Sept. 28, 2022 / Pablo Esparza / CNA

Rome Newsroom, Dec 1, 2022 / 04:41 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has rescheduled his trip to the African countries of the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan for Jan. 31–Feb. 5, 2023, the Vatican announced on Thursday.

The visit was originally to take place in the beginning of July but was postponed by the Vatican due to problems with Pope Francis’ knee. The 85-year-old pope apologized in June for having to put off the trip, and vowed to reschedule it “as soon as possible.”

Francis will spend the first leg of the trip, Jan. 31–Feb. 3, in the Congolese city of Kinshasa before visiting the South Sudanese capital, Juba, Feb. 3–5.

An updated schedule released by the Vatican Dec. 1 showed that the pope no longer plans to visit the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo, part of the original trip schedule.

The logo and motto for the trip were announced in March.

Francis’ visit to South Sudan will be a “pilgrimage of peace” and take place together with the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the moderator of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields.

Pope Francis will be the first pope to visit South Sudan, which became the world’s newest country when it declared independence from the Republic of the Sudan on July 9, 2011. The nation in east-central Africa has a population of 11 million people, around 37% of whom are Catholic.

In 2019, Pope Francis brought South Sudanese leaders together at the Vatican for a “spiritual retreat” aimed at resolving their differences.

He also celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for Congolese immigrants in 2019, marking the 25th anniversary of the foundation of the Congolese Catholic Chaplaincy of Rome.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is a Central African country of approximately 90 million people, roughly half of whom are Catholic. Pope John Paul II visited the country, then known as Zaire, in 1980.

After reluctantly bowing out of his own scheduled trip to Africa in July, Pope Francis sent the Vatican’s second-highest-ranking official in his place, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

The pope also celebrated a Mass for Rome’s Congolese community in St. Peter’s Basilica on July 3, the day he was due to offer Mass in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Pro-life Colombian lawmakers oppose euthanasia for children

null / Credit: Lisa Runnels (Pixabay)

CNA Newsroom, Nov 30, 2022 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

The Pro-Life Caucus of Colombia’s Congress expressed its opposition to a bill that would extend euthanasia to children 6 and older, calling it “a new attack against the Colombian family.”

Debate began Nov. 29 on a new euthanasia bill introduced in the House of Representatives by Liberal Party congressman Juan Carlos Losada.

The bill proposes that a minor who has “a serious and incurable illness or bodily injury that causes intense physical or mental suffering” can receive “medically assisted death.”

The text adds that “it’s not necessary nor will it be required to prove the existence of a terminal illness or a medical prognosis of imminent death.”

In a statement posted Nov. 29 on Twitter, the 60-plus lawmakers of the Pro-Life Caucus expressed their “total disagreement with the aim of legalizing euthanasia for children in our country, even more so, without the consent of their parents and in cases in which the disease is not in a terminal phase.”

The pro-life legislators pointed out that there are “provisions that ignore the State’s responsibility to provide, as a priority and in a timely manner, the care required by minors.”

“We reject the law’s assumption that a 6-year-old child can have the necessary maturity to decide on his death” and that “the only requirement is that he suffer from a serious and incurable illness such as depression, diabetes, blindness, or the loss of an extremity,” said the Pro-life Caucus, whose members belong to different political parties.

The caucus expressed its support for the legislators who have taken to the floor to speak against this bill, “which will be accompanied by the vote of all the congressmen who defend life in Colombia.”

“Colombia is pro-life and this caucus will defend life and the family in the face of this new attack,” they said.

In reference to the electoral platform of leftist President Gustavo Petro, who took office in August, the pro-life lawmakers pointed out that “it’s inconsistent that in the government that seeks to make Colombia a ‘World Power for Life,’ there are congressmen who find it cheaper to end the lives of patients than to take away their pain.”

“The Government of Change cannot mean the change towards the culture of death,” the caucus stressed.

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