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A year after earthquake, Aleppo’s St. George Church rises again

Over a year after the earthquake that hit Syria and Turkey in February 2023, restoration of Aleppo's Church of St. George has been completed. / Credit: Abdul Kareem Daniel

Aleppo, Syria, Apr 23, 2024 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

This year’s feast of St. George was a particularly joyful one in the Syrian city of Aleppo, especially for the Melkite Greek Catholic community.

The church is reopening its doors after undergoing restoration due to damage from a February 2023 earthquake. Additionally, Archbishop George Masri of the Melkite Archdiocese of Aleppo and its environs will celebrate his golden jubilee.

The celebrations took place during the visit of Patriarch Joseph Absi, the current patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, who presided over the Divine Liturgy in the restored church on the evening of April 23. The evening before, there was a procession along Holy Bible Street followed by vespers.

Restoration of the Church of St. George in Aleppo after the February 2023 earthquake. Credit: Father Fadi Najjar
Restoration of the Church of St. George in Aleppo after the February 2023 earthquake. Credit: Father Fadi Najjar

In an exclusive interview with ACI Mena, CNA’s Arabic-language news partner, Father Fadi Najjar, principal of Providence Private School, which is adjacent to and belongs to the church, explained that last year’s earthquake caused cracks in the church walls on both the right and left sides, allowing rainwater to leak inside. The exterior facade was also shattered, with falling stones damaging the stairs.

“The first step was removing the loose stones from above to protect people, especially since the church hall had sheltered the displaced for over a month, providing meals,” Najjar explained. “The restoration then began, taking about a year under Archbishop Masri’s direct supervision. The cracks were sealed, the exterior facade restored, the interior repainted, the stone polished, and new stairs built.”

Regarding Providence School, Najjar said that classroom walls had also cracked while sanitation systems were damaged. “We didn’t just restore the school. Rather, we began a complete renovation, taking advantage of the summer vacation. In five months, the building rose beautifully from the ashes,” he explained.

“New classrooms are being opened, the language lab revived, bathrooms added, as well as a TV/cinema hall, playroom, and aerobics studio. About 150 seats will be restored, walls repainted, floors polished, and stonework whitened — all thanks to funding from the Salla charity. Aid to the Church in Need covered the church’s restoration costs,” he added.

The Church of St. George in Aleppo before and after the restoration work. Credit: Joseph Nono
The Church of St. George in Aleppo before and after the restoration work. Credit: Joseph Nono

Najjar revealed that Masri strongly supported the school’s renovation, expressing deep appreciation for the contractor, engineer Joseph Nono, who was entrusted with both the church and school projects.

Notably, Absi’s Aleppo visit included stops at the Dar Al-Nahda Music Institute under artist Shady Najjar’s direction and a dinner for men and women named after St. George born between 1960 and 1980. He has also planned a tour of Aleppo’s Old Square.

This article was originally published in ACI Mena, CNA's Arabic-language news partner, and has been translated and adapted by CNA.

‘An unprecedented opportunity’: Augustine Institute announces move to St. Louis 

The Augustine Institute's new facilities in Florissant, Missouri. / Credit: Boeing Company and Augustine Institute

CNA Staff, Apr 23, 2024 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

The Augustine Institute, a Catholic educational and evangelization apostolate based in Denver for nearly two decades, announced on Tuesday that it will be moving its operations to a new campus in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. 

The institute, founded in 2005 as a Catholic graduate theology school, currently has an enrollment of 550 students. It says on its website that it exists to serve “the formation of Catholics for the new evangelization” by “equip[ping] Catholics intellectually, spiritually, and pastorally to renew the Church and transform the world for Christ.”

The organization announced on Tuesday that it had purchased the former Boeing Leadership Center in Florissant, Missouri, just outside of downtown St. Louis. The school will “begin transitioning its operations over the next few years,” it said in a press release. 

The nearly 300-acre property “offers an unprecedented opportunity to expand our Graduate School of Theology and further our mission to help Catholics understand, live, and share their faith,” institute President Tim Gray said in a Tuesday press release. 

The Boeing facility, a former retreat center that went on sale in March, offers “state-of-the-art facilities” for the group’s Catholic mission, Gray said. 

The president told CNA this week that the Augustine Institute “wasn’t even in a search mode” when they learned of the facility.

“Some of the leadership at the Archdiocese of St. Louis told us about this property when it became available,” he said. 

The property was on the market for nearly a year before the institute began exploring it. “A couple of different buyers tied it up, but those deals fell through,” he said. “We found out about it toward the end of November, and it wasn’t until December that we started looking into it.”

Gray himself visited the campus in January; within several weeks the institute had purchased the property. 

“My head’s still spinning,” he said. “Just a few months ago this was not even on our radar.”

‘We have a big vision for this property’

Archbishop of Denver Samuel Aquila said in the institute’s press release this week that the discovery of the property was “providential” for the organization. 

“It will allow the institute the opportunity to remain faithful to its mission while continuing to grow,” the prelate said, calling the purchase “the realization of a long-standing hope for a campus environment for students, faculty, and expanded theology programs.”

In addition to its graduate school, the Augustine Institute offers sacramental preparation resources, a Bible study app, an apologetics course for high school seniors, and other instructional and catechetical materials. 

Much of that material is in digital format. Gray said this week that the new property will allow the Augustine Institute to expand from digital into “a national center for Catholic conferences, retreats, evangelization, and fellowship.”

The institute had largely outgrown its facilities in Denver, he told CNA. 

“We’ve been growing here and we’ve filled up our building,” he said. “We love Denver, it’s been great for us. But we didn’t have student housing. Housing is very expensive in Denver and it’s hard to recruit people to move out here. Those were challenges we were facing.”

The organization had to work quickly to raise enough funds to realize the sale, he said. 

“We had to raise a lot of money in just a few months so we could purchase this campus in cash,” he said. “We also had to raise enough money to have a reserve fund for the operations of such a large campus.” The institute amassed $50 million over the course of several months, he said.

The Augustine Institute is expecting to hold its 2024-2025 graduate school year at the new property starting in September. 

The Augustine Institute's new facilities in Florissant, MO. Boeing Company and Augustine Institute
The Augustine Institute's new facilities in Florissant, MO. Boeing Company and Augustine Institute

Mitchell Rozanski, the archbishop of St. Louis, said in the press release that the facility could become “the premier center for the new evangelization in the United States.”

The institute “can foster a new era of collaboration with Catholic organizations nationwide,” the archbishop said, “and invite more people to encounter Jesus Christ and his Church.”

PHOTOS From the subway to the sacred: Brooklyn’s breathtaking Eucharistic Revival

Brooklyn Bishop Robert Brennan leads a Eucharistic procession inside a packed Louis Armstrong Stadium in Brooklyn, New York, on April 20, 2024. / Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

New York City, N.Y., Apr 23, 2024 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

I’d never ridden the subway with a bishop before.

But then again, how many of us have? 

Bishop Robert Brennan from the Diocese of Brooklyn is not your typical bishop — and I mean that with the utmost respect for the men who hold the office. Each is unique, endowed with their own personalities, charisms, and abilities. So perhaps don’t go telling your bishop he needs to start riding mass transit just yet.

He’s striking in the way he carries himself: You can sense a deep spirituality and humility within him. He’s genuinely kind and attentive — a true pastor.

If there were a contest for “Most Likely to Ride the Subway With His Flock,” I believe Brennan would win hands down.

Bishop Robert Brennan takes a ride on the subway alongside other faithful heading to the Diocese of Brooklyn’s Eucharistic Revival on April 20, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
Bishop Robert Brennan takes a ride on the subway alongside other faithful heading to the Diocese of Brooklyn’s Eucharistic Revival on April 20, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

I first met him in 2021, upon his eventful reassignment to Brooklyn. He had barely settled into the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, in 2019 — where the paint in his office was probably still drying — only to be moved, much to the sorrow of the Columbus flock.

On the bright side, he’s a Mets fan. Though their recent performance hasn’t been much of a consolation, maybe his prayers will give them a boost.

Bishop Robert Brennan is greeted by one of New York’s finest as he arrives at the Court Street Station on April 20, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
Bishop Robert Brennan is greeted by one of New York’s finest as he arrives at the Court Street Station on April 20, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

So, early on Saturday morning, in anticipation of the Eucharistic Revival at Louis Armstrong Stadium in Flushing Meadows, he boarded the 7 train with members of his flock in tow. With each stop, more of the faithful joined, filling the carriages.

And they did exactly what you would expect a group of Catholics on a subway to do: They sang, they chanted, “Viva Cristo Rey!” and they laughed with a joy so palpable it electrified the air.

By the time we rolled into Mets-Willets Point Station, it felt like a rolling celebration.

Brooklyn Bishop Robert Brennan carries the Blessed Sacrament and monstrance during a Eucharistic procession at Louis Armstrong Stadium on April 20, 2024. Credit:: Jeffrey Bruno
Brooklyn Bishop Robert Brennan carries the Blessed Sacrament and monstrance during a Eucharistic procession at Louis Armstrong Stadium on April 20, 2024. Credit:: Jeffrey Bruno

That would have been enough to fill our hearts, but it was just the warmup.

The day unfolded with thousands traversing the borough to join a daylong celebration of the diocese’s Eucharistic Revival.

I could speak volumes about the day, but there was one moment — a moment that shook me to the core.

It was during the Eucharistic procession, a winding path around the stadium’s exterior, mostly out of sight — until the point of entrance.

Bishop Robert Brennan carries the Blessed Sacrament during a Eucharistic procession at Louis Armstrong Stadium on April 20, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
Bishop Robert Brennan carries the Blessed Sacrament during a Eucharistic procession at Louis Armstrong Stadium on April 20, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

As Brennan, carrying Christ, became visible to the gathered crowd, applause erupted — not just any applause, but one of overwhelming joy.

It was the kind of spontaneous outpouring that occurs when words fall short and emotions soar.

Crowds adore the Blessed Sacrament as the monstrance makes its way to the altar at the Diocese of Brooklyn Eucharistic Revival on April 20, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
Crowds adore the Blessed Sacrament as the monstrance makes its way to the altar at the Diocese of Brooklyn Eucharistic Revival on April 20, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

They were applauding for Christ.

The sound wrapped around the stadium, penetrating hearts and souls, as evidenced by the smiling, tear-streaked faces turning toward him.

I’ll leave it at this: Something breathtaking happened in Queens that Saturday.

Brooklyn Bishop Robert Brennan carries the thurible around the altar inside Louis Armstrong Stadium on April 20, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
Brooklyn Bishop Robert Brennan carries the thurible around the altar inside Louis Armstrong Stadium on April 20, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

And in mid-July, that same breathtaking event will unfold at the heart of the United States.

Priests who concelebrated Mass with Bishop Robert Brennan at Louis Armstrong Stadium on April 20, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
Priests who concelebrated Mass with Bishop Robert Brennan at Louis Armstrong Stadium on April 20, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

In three weeks, the Catholic faithful will kick off four historic and unprecedented pilgrimages, each originating from one of the four compass points of our great land.

Brooklyn Bishop Robert Brennan celebrates Mass for thousands gathered at Louis Armstrong Stadium on April 20, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
Brooklyn Bishop Robert Brennan celebrates Mass for thousands gathered at Louis Armstrong Stadium on April 20, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

Together, they will travel more than 6,500 miles with more than 100,000 participants converging on the 10th Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis from July 17-21 — the first congress in 83 years.

A woman prays during Mass during the Diocese of Brooklyn’s Eucharistic Revival at Louis Armstrong Stadium on April 20, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
A woman prays during Mass during the Diocese of Brooklyn’s Eucharistic Revival at Louis Armstrong Stadium on April 20, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

Proclaiming Christ the King, the giver of all gifts, fully present in the Blessed Sacrament to the entire world.

What a beautiful time to be alive.

What an incredible gift to have faith.

What a breathtaking reality to know and love Jesus Christ.

But all of that pales in comparison to the truth that we are known and loved by him.

Praise God.

Brooklyn Bishop Robert Brennan celebrates Mass inside Louis Armstrong Stadium on April 20, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
Brooklyn Bishop Robert Brennan celebrates Mass inside Louis Armstrong Stadium on April 20, 2024. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

This story was first published by the National Catholic Register, CNA’s sister news partner, and is reprinted here on CNA with permission.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. urges ‘massive subsidized day care’ plan to reduce abortion

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. / Credit: Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 23, 2024 / 11:45 am (CNA).

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is embracing a “massive subsidized day care initiative” to reduce abortions in the United States without restricting legal access to the procedure.

In a new webpage recently added to Kennedy campaign’s website, the candidate unveiled a policy platform the campaign is calling “More Choices, More Life.” 

The candidate’s plan is to redirect money that is currently used to support military aid to Ukraine and put it toward federal funding for day care to help families in poverty. Last week the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to provide $61 billion to Ukraine, with the government having already provided more than $110 billion in aid since Russia invaded the country. 

The campaign promises that a Kennedy presidency would “safeguard women’s reproductive rights.”

Kennedy, who is the son of former Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy, first launched his presidential bid in the Democratic primary in April 2023. In October he switched his party registration and declared he would run as an independent.

“This policy will dramatically reduce abortion in this country, and it will do so by offering more choices for women and families, not less,” the webpage states.

“A lot of women, when they get pregnant, feel they can’t afford to have a baby,” the campaign says. “There isn’t a lot of support to raise a child in this society. You can’t call yourself pro-life if you are concerned only with life before birth. What about after birth? We have to make our society as welcoming as possible to children and to motherhood.”

Per the proposal, the federal government would fund 100% of day care costs for children who are under the age of 5 years old and living below the poverty line. For families living above the poverty line, their day care costs would be capped at 10% of the family’s income. 

Only single-location small businesses that provide day care services — or parents who stay home with their children — would be eligible for subsidies. The plan would not provide subsidies to corporate day care chains or hedge funds that own day care chains.

The campaign added that Kennedy supports strengthening adoption infrastructure and increasing the child tax credit. The website also noted that the candidate would fund organizations that support women in pregnancy and the months after birth. 

“There is a lot we can do to reduce abortions — by choice, not by force,” the campaign says. “As president, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will make it easier for women to choose life. He will give them more choices than they have today, we will see a lot fewer abortions and a lot more flourishing families.”

Kennedy has not made abortion a major part of his campaign. When asked about a proposal to prohibit abortion at the federal level in August of last year, the candidate initially said he would back a three-month restriction. However, his campaign later claimed that he misunderstood the question and “does not support legislation banning abortion.”

Kennedy later voiced support for in vitro fertilization (IVF), which often discards human embryos, destroying human lives in the process. His running mate, Nicole Shanahan, has said she does not support “anyone having control over my body” but that she “would not feel right terminating a viable life living inside of me.”

The Washington Post reported this week that the Kennedy campaign said the candidate opposes former President Donald Trump’s plan to leave abortion policy to the states and that Kennedy further opposed an Arizona Supreme Court ruling that allowed a near-total abortion ban from the 1860s to go into effect in the state. 

Kennedy “makes his position plain but does not dwell on the subject,” the campaign said, according to the Post.

The Post said that Kennedy’s new day care plan was posted shortly after the paper’s reporters contacted the staff about the candidate’s abortion policies. 

Although Kennedy has generally supported legal access to abortion, a pro-abortion group called Reproductive Freedom for All recently launched a television advertisement in Michigan and Wisconsin that accuses the independent candidate of not supporting abortion strongly enough. 

“Kennedy Jr. and Shanahan mean we’d be less safe from dangerous abortion bans and get more attacks on IVF,” the 30-second advertisement claims. “Kennedy Jr. and Shanahan would put your reproductive freedom at risk.”

Although Kennedy is polling in a distant third place behind Biden and Trump, he is polling better than any third-party candidate since Reform Party candidate Ross Perot in the 1990s. According to poll averages between Jan. 22 and April 2 from RealClearPolling, Kennedy is averaging just under 12% in a three-way race.

Redeemed from sexual libertinism, prostitution, and occult, Fran Orvich tells his story

Orvich said he wanted to share his experience with same sex attraction “so that the Lord might touch hearts and that people repent and try returning to a chaste life." / Credit: Fran Orvich

ACI Prensa Staff, Apr 23, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

For the last five years Fran Orvich, 30, has been living chastely following a conversion process that began after a traumatic childhood and years of sexual libertinism.

The young man shared his conversion process in a telephone interview with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, “for the glory of God and the salvation of souls and to give light, hope, and salvation to these poor brothers of ours who are in the Church and are very confused.”

Specifically, Orvich said he wanted to share his experience with same-sex attraction “so that the Lord might touch hearts and that people repent and try returning to a chaste life.”

A difficult childhood

While only five years have passed since his conversion, to explain what he has experienced Orvich referred back to his childhood. “I had to grow up with a father who beat my mother, an alcoholic, a womanizer always using foul language. It was a hostile, terrible environment.”

The young man related that he was “wounded within his mother’s womb” because his father mistreated his mother during her pregnancy. “He never said ‘I love you’ to me,” he related, so his father became an absent figure to him: “My father was there, but I have never had him as a father.”

Orvich described his mother as “a woman of unwavering faith, of prayer” who, due to the family situation, adopted a “protective” role. In addition, as he was the youngest of three brothers, he said, “they bullied me a little.”

As a child, he began looking at pornography — a habit that continued to increase — so that “when I was 8 or 9 years old, I was already doing things with three boys my age. Not deep into it, but it was already totally perverted,” he explained.

Orvich’s school years were difficult. A shy and quiet boy, his classmates ostracized him. He still recalls the day a teacher put him in front of the blackboard to do a simple addition problem. He didn’t know how to do it and the teacher encouraged his classmates to laugh at him. That left a deep wound that would only be healed years later during his conversion process.

‘I opened doors to evil’ through the occult

When he turned 12, he fell into daily masturbation. During high school he continued viewing pornography and entered the world of the occult. “I opened the door to evil,” he acknowledged, through various esoteric practices.

The high-school Orvich wasn’t like the grade-school Orvich: “I was the rebel, the bully, the class clown, the good-looking dude.” At that time he had five girlfriends and the homosexual acts of his childhood were just a memory of misdirected curiosity. 

At one point, however, he began to become interested in a boy at the school. “I started to notice a boy in the classroom next door. He started to get my attention and something awakened in me. I started fooling around and I kind of liked that fooling around,” but it didn’t reach the sexual level.

Some time after that, at age 16, Orvich said, “I was with the first boy.” He hid this relationship from his family and carried on the liaison in secret until, at the age of 18, there was a big fight at home between his parents. “My father wanted to hit my mother and at 18 I wasn’t going to allow it,” he recounted.

His father called him a “faggot” — “he was always using that word” — and Orvich responded: “Yeah, what’s up!” His father’s reaction was very aggressive: “He wanted to kill me with a sickle, he threw a chair at me and I dodged it,” he said, describing the incident.

Abandoned by his family, he fell into prostitution

“Having just turned 18, my soul was at rock bottom,” he said, and he was terribly lonely. “I didn’t have a Christian friend, a good friend to tell me: ‘Don’t worry, come to my house.’” He said he had faith, because his mother had instilled it in him, but “I didn’t go to Mass, I didn’t do anything, I didn’t pray.”

Given the difficult situation at home, the boy with whom he had a relationship at the time took him in: “He is the only one who didn’t fail me, because my whole family failed me, they left me stranded.” However, that relationship ended badly and Orvich was forced to look for a room to rent.

He was just a kid who had barely left his parents’ home. “What do I do with my life now?” he thought. He tried a door-to-door sales job that didn’t go well until he made a dramatic decision: “I prostituted myself.”

“It was something very painful, very humiliating and terrible. I don’t wish anyone to go through that situation. Now I can talk about it, because the Lord is healing me, but before I couldn’t,” Orvich told ACI Prensa.

Fortunately, that only lasted a week, because a cousin of his called and offered him a place to live with his aunt and uncle. In the family it was already known as “official” that Orvich was homosexual.

Out of rage toward his father — “I hated him and wanted him dead” — he participated in a television program. “I made the biggest fool of myself in history and the devil deceived me in such a powerful way,” he said of the program, where he acknowledged his homosexuality in front of the cameras.

Orvich regrets the episode, especially because of the scandal it caused, particularly for his parents. “I ignored the commandment to honor your father and mother,” he said.

‘I knew this wasn’t normal’

At the time, through social media, Orvich was “totally involved in the gay world.” However, in retrospect, he emphasized that he was always uncomfortable with the lifestyle.

“I was not pro-LGBTQ. I wasn’t, because I knew this wasn’t normal. I said to myself: This is what happened to me, because it is what it is. But I wasn’t okay with it.”

Despite this, the young man frequented Chueca (a gay haunt in Madrid, Spain) because “when you are so full of demons, of lust, well in the end the body demands from you for what it demands from you.”

He had a series of toxic relationships and was emotionally dependent. “In the end, in men I was looking for the figure of my father, but I sexualized it,” he recalled.

Baptized at age 22 

Despite his mother’s faith, various family circumstances led to Orvich not being baptized during his early years. At age 22, however, he sought the sacrament: “Despite being ‘stuck in a bad situation,’ I told my mother that I wanted to be baptized.”

Finally, without much formal preparation due to his parents’ business activities, he was baptized.

Despite this, Orvich continued with his esoteric practices: “They dealt me cards and I loved the whole subject of spirits.” Deep down, he recognized “it was a God tailored to me, because I believed, but I did whatever I felt like.”

Three years went by in which Orvich spent a lot of time cultivating his outward image and going to the gym, which led him to work as a model making good money.

The spiritual turnaround in his life came at age 25, when a newborn nephew was on the verge of death. It came as a powerful jolt to his soul that led him to pray fervently for the child’s life. “The Lord told me in my interior: ‘This is the last chance.’ He said it to me like that,” Orvich related.

“I understood what I was doing wrong, the condition of my soul. I realized all of it and said: It’s over, I renounce this.” 

Asked for his take on Fiducia Supplicans, Orvich commented that "what is being said a lot is 'God loves you' and, in fact, God loves us a lot. But what is being omitted is that you have to convert." Credit: Fran Orvich
Asked for his take on Fiducia Supplicans, Orvich commented that "what is being said a lot is 'God loves you' and, in fact, God loves us a lot. But what is being omitted is that you have to convert." Credit: Fran Orvich

‘I no longer want other loves’

So Orvich decided to go to confession “to a good priest.” He describes what it was like receiving the sacrament of forgiveness.

“I have always wanted to find love and peace. I didn’t find it in men, nor in money, nor in fame, because I was always empty. I made my confession and told all my sins, because I had incredible enlightenment from the Holy Spirit,” he recounted.

“When the priest gave me absolution, I felt so much love!” he continued. “I felt God’s forgiveness, his mercy. That was something incredible for me. I was on cloud nine, with a weight lifted off my shoulders.”

“I couldn’t stop crying and asking the Lord for forgiveness. I felt so loved, so loved! And when I knew this love of God, I said: I no longer want other loves, because I have been unhappy, nothing more, I have suffered a lot. I want to be with this love, I want to be with Jesus.”

Thus began a process of faith formation, including devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and divine mercy. Orvich had “an incredible thirst for God, to love him, to worship him, to serve him, to make amends, to do penance.”

And, following that path of conversion, he participated in an Ephphatha (“Be opened,” cf Mk 7:34) Retreat where, in front of the Blessed Sacrament, “face to face with the Lord, I cried a lot and asked for forgiveness for what I did,” he said.

Forgiving his mother

He also felt the need to ask forgiveness from his mother. She had been praying for seven years and told him: “Son, the Lord finally heard my prayers. He has already taken out the dagger that I had in my heart for you. Blessed be the Lord.”

For Orvich, it’s important to explain how his mother related to him. “She didn’t agree with my sin, but she loved me. She didn’t tell me ‘bring your boyfriend whenever you want and introduce him to me,’ no. She told me twice ‘I don’t agree with this, with your life,’ but always with a lot of love and a lot of mercy.”

Some time later, after a process, he was able to ask his father for forgiveness. “He also asked for my forgiveness and I experienced a very powerful release, a weight was taken off my shoulders.”

‘The Holy Virgin is key’

Orvich has been living chastely for five years. “I don’t want to be with anyone, I want to be with Jesus Christ, I want to be in his Church. The things of God are what make me truly happy and give me peace.”

Despite his determination, he recognizes that he has temptations, “attacks from the devil,” which he understands are “part of the purification” he must undergo. To combat them he tries to go to daily Mass and receive Communion, pray the rosary, and do penances.

He has also consecrated himself to the Virgin Mary in accord  with the 33-day process advocated by St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort.

“The Holy Virgin is key in my fight against the demon that will always try to set me back. I have to be in a constant struggle. The Lord gives you perseverance.”

As part of this spiritual battle, in addition to his work, Orvich is a “missionary on social media,” through his Facebook and TikTok profiles, where he tries to “witness to young and old, giving the Word of God, a breath of peace and joy.”

Spiritual and psychological help

In order to live this new life, Orvich needed significant spiritual and psychological help, beginning with closing the doors he had opened through the occult.

“If St. Mary Magdalene had seven demons, imagine me,” said Orvich, who has undergone “deliverance” prayer. In fact, he assumes he is “still in the process.”

In other areas, he is aware that “the psychological part and the spiritual part go together,” which is why he looked for “a good psychologist priest, who will not lead me to evil but who will lead me to God” and has found him. “The Lord has given me an excellent psychologist priest who addresses all these issues of same-sex attraction.”

Fiducia Supplicans

Near the end of the extensive conversation with ACI Prensa, Orvich did not hesitate when asked about his impressions of the Vatican document Fiducia Supplicans, which approves of blessings for same-sex couples.

“It caused me a lot of pain and sadness,” he said, because the document “is very confusing, very ambiguous, it doesn’t give light. It can confuse many souls.”

“What is being said a lot is ‘God loves you’ and, in fact, God loves us a lot. But what is being omitted is that you have to convert,” Orvich emphasized, recalling the words of Jesus: “Whoever wants to follow me, let him deny himself.”

Along these lines, he added: “If we want to be in communion with the Lord, we have to try to do things right. We’re sinners and we fall, but you have to be on the road to conversion, every day. The Holy Curé of Ars already said there is no greater charity than saving a soul from hell by telling the truth.”

Message to parents of children with same-sex attraction

Finally, ACI Prensa asked Orvich to freely say anything he would like to share about his experience and that he considers essential. He had a twofold message for parents of children who experience same-sex attraction.

On the one hand, he advised parents to “love their children, but do not accept their sin. Because if you accept it, it will be useless for you to pray.” Driving that point home, he emphasized: “By confirming them in sin we are not helping them, we are condemning them.”

The second essential idea he wants to convey to parents is to “never tire of praying for your children, because prayer has a lot of intercessory power.”

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

Could Florida become the first state to defeat an abortion amendment?

People join together during a “Rally to Stop the Six-Week Abortion Ban” held at Lake Eola Park on April 13, 2024, in Orlando, Florida. / Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 23, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

The Florida Supreme Court recently made national headlines when it issued two significant abortion rulings on the same day

One ruling cleared the way for a law to take effect that protects unborn life at six weeks and beyond. The other allowed a far-reaching abortion proposal, titled the Limiting Government Interference with Abortion Amendment, to be placed on the November ballot.

If passed, the amendment would change the Florida Constitution to include a provision reading: “No law shall prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s health care provider.”

With the abortion amendment now officially on the ballot in Florida, many will be looking to the state this November to see if it will break a long string of pro-life referendum defeats or simply mark another abortion victory.

Although several other states are expected to have similar abortion amendments on their ballots, Florida holds special importance both because it is the third-most populous state in the country and because of its perceived role as a leader among conservative states.

“It’s critically important that we win Florida,” Kelsey Pritchard, director of state public affairs for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told CNA.

“If we win Florida,” she explained, “I think it can really turn the tide on these ballot measure fights.”

Is abortion a winning issue for Democrats? 

So far, the pro-life movement has suffered one crushing defeat after another when it comes to abortion referendums. Every abortion-related amendment that has come to a general vote since the overturn of Roe v. Wade has resulted in an abortion victory.

The votes have not been close either. Despite a major pro-life push to defeat it, an amendment adding abortion to the Ohio Constitution passed in a 56% to 44% vote last October. Another pro-abortion measure in Michigan passed 56% to 43% in November 2022. In Kansas, which is considered a reliably Republican and conservative state, voters declined 59% to 41% to add an amendment that would have protected unborn life from abortion.

Several leading Republicans, including former president Donald Trump and Florida Sen. Rick Scott, have since embraced less protective pro-life positions. 

Despite floating the idea of supporting a national abortion ban earlier in his campaign, Trump announced on April 8 that he would not support any federal abortion policy and that the issue is “up to the states.” 

For his part, Scott said that he would support replacing Florida’s six-week law with a more permissive 15-week abortion limit. 

President Joe Biden, meanwhile, criticized the Florida six-week law as “extreme” and has signaled his belief that support for abortion will propel him to victory in the 2024 general election. 

“Trump is scrambling,” Biden said. “He’s worried that since he’s the one responsible for overturning Roe, the voters will hold him accountable in 2024. Well, I have news for Donald: They will.” 

Biden is set to make a campaign stop in Tampa on Tuesday, where he is expected to speak on abortion and the six-week pro-life law.

Can Florida buck the trend? 

With all this at play, John White, a professor of politics at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., told CNA that from a purely political perspective, “there is very little that can be done to defeat the initiative.” 

“The six-week abortion ban in Florida is very likely to be overturned by the ballot initiative,” he said. “In every state in which a ballot initiative has appeared, the pro-life forces have lost. I don’t think Florida will be any different.” 

“We have already seen the national significance of this issue and its ability to galvanize majorities of voters. Florida will only add to this,” he added.

Yet, Seana Sugrue, a politics professor at Ave Maria University in southwest Florida, said that this abortion showdown is “different from the other states both procedurally and substantively.”

She pointed out that while the abortion amendments in Ohio and Michigan only required a simple majority to pass, the Florida amendment must clear a 60% threshold to be added to the state’s constitution. This will make a major difference, she said, predicting that the pro-abortion camp will find it very difficult to rally that much support in the state.

According to an Emerson College poll published April 11, 57% of Florida voters believe the six-week pro-life law is too strict. According to the Pew Research Center, 56% of Florida adults believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. 

Sugrue said the Florida amendment is “much more radical” than the other abortion proposals such as the one in Ohio and is “actually very, very broad.”

The amendment bans restrictions on abortion before viability, but late-term abortions would still be allowed if determined necessary by a health provider. According to Sugrue’s analysis of the amendment, it would allow abortion until birth in Florida because it doesn’t define what it means by necessary for one’s health and does not specify what type of health care providers are allowed to make that determination.

What the pro-life movement needs to win in Florida

Sugrue said the pro-life movement needs to prioritize communicating the truth about the radical nature of the amendment to the public.

“Messaging is going to be very important,” she said, adding that the “constant, faithful, and clear support” from the Catholic Church in Florida will be needed.

So far, the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops (FCCB) and Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Catholic, have both criticized the amendment.

In a statement shared with CNA on April 1, Michael Sheedy, FCCB executive director, said that the Florida bishops “will work hard to oppose this cruel and dangerous amendment and urge all Floridians to vote no.”

DeSantis, meanwhile, has called the amendment “very, very extreme” and said that voters will reject it once they figure out how radical it is. 

According to Pritchard, there is already a coalition of pro-life groups formed to defeat the amendment. She said that “what’s going to be key to our success is the willingness of Gov. DeSantis to get in this fight.”

“We would hope that he would be vocal, continue to be vocal early and often, because that awareness of what this measure actually does is very important starting now rather than waiting until the last couple of weeks before the election,” she said.

But just as important as being vocally supportive, according to Pritchard, is for the governor to help with fundraising. In Ohio, the campaign in favor of the abortion amendment outraised the pro-life campaign by a large margin. 

“We know the other side is going to easily pour millions upon millions into this, from George Soros to the abortion lobby and abortion industry,” Pritchard said. “So, the dollars will be as crucial as him [DeSantis] being willing to be a vocal advocate.”

With the help of the governor, Pritchard believes the pro-life movement can break its losing slump.

“Florida is the state where the red wave materialized in 2022. We were all hoping and expecting and praying for a red wave throughout the entire nation in those midterms, but that didn’t happen, except for in Florida, where Ron DeSantis won by double digits and took both houses of the Legislature,” she said. “We have reasons to be hopeful in that respect. At the same time, we have a lot of work to do.”

Did St. George really slay a dragon?

Edward Burne-Jones, “St. George Kills the Dragon,” 1866 / Credit: Public Domain

Washington D.C., Apr 23, 2024 / 04:00 am (CNA).

St. George may be among Christianity’s most famous and beloved saints, immortalized through the famous legend of St. George and the Dragon — a tale thoroughly medieval in character in which a brave and chivalrous knight charges in and saves a fair princess from being devoured by a dragon. 

In England, a country long devoted to George and one of several nations to claim his patronage, the saint’s name adorns the signs of churches and pubs in nearly equal measure. His feast day is celebrated with festivals, many of which involve reenactments of the saint’s daring feats against the ferocious dragon.

Alas for these revelers, the real St. George was not a knight, and to history’s knowledge he did not save any princesses from a fiery death. George was a Roman soldier, condemned to torture and martyrdom during the Diocletian persecution at the beginning of the fourth century.

Tradition holds that he withstood several rounds of torture and was ultimately beheaded rather than renounce his Christian faith. He was immediately venerated throughout the Christian world as a martyr, but we know almost nothing else about him. Pope Gelasius I, who canonized him nearly two centuries later in 494, stated on the occasion that George was among those saints “whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose actions are known only to God.”

The famed tales of George defeating a dragon did not arise until more than 500 years after his death, and no one is quite sure how a Roman soldier of near-complete anonymity metamorphosed into a dashing hero celebrated the world over for his courage. Likely it began as a fable to demonstrate the warring forces of good and evil, and soon the story obscured the true history of St. George.

We cannot say that facts do not matter, but in the case of St. George, perhaps we can argue that the particulars of his life, fantastical or otherwise, do not alter the truth for which he died. G.K. Chesterton wrote:

“Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.”

The legend of George and the Dragon is not real, but the truth that it reveals most certainly is.

There is evil in the world, true evil that seeks to devour all that is good and innocent. In stories it breathes fire and flies. In history it can take the shape of despots like the man who ordered St. George’s death. The bloodlust of the dragon was real, even if its scales were not, and it has not died but continued on to plague our world in all its insidious forms and iterations. But just as the dragon’s brutality was no fable, neither was the bravery of the man who fought it. This courageous faith in the face of evil has echoed through the centuries, to be emulated by knights, soldiers, kings, and even the children brandishing their wooden swords on St. George’s Day.

St. George surely never fought a dragon. But he did defy an emperor and stare without flinching into the eyes of his torturers and executioner, unyielding in his faith. No fair maiden awaited him at the end of his trial in life, but upon his death, no doubt, the gentle arms of Christ’s mother clasped him, bringing him to the throne room of her Son.

This story was first published by the National Catholic Register, CNA’s sister news partner, and has been adapted by CNA.

For first time, incurably ill patient undergoes euthanasia in Peru

Ana Estrada, 47, suffered from polymyositis, an incurable disease that left her confined to a wheelchair. Since 2019, she had been been petitioning Peruvian courts to recognize a right to euthanasia. / Credit: Jessica Alva Piedra CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

ACI Prensa Staff, Apr 22, 2024 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

On Sunday, April 21, Peruvian activist Ana Estrada underwent a euthanasia process and died. The terminology employed did not indicate whether it was by direct euthanasia or medically assisted suicide.

Euthanasia is not legal in Peru, but the nation’s Supreme Court nevertheless ruled in favor of her appeal.

According to a statement released by various Peruvian media, the activist “died on her own terms, in accordance with her idea of dignity and in full control of her autonomy until the end.”

“The medical procedure was carried out in accordance with the ‘Plan and Protocol for Death with Dignity’ applicable to Ana, approved by EsSalud, in the context of the historic ruling in her favor, issued on Feb. 23, 2021, and upheld by the Supreme Court on July 14 and 27, 2022,” the press release stated. 

EsSalud is a government agency providing social health insurance in Peru.

Who is Ana Estrada?

Ana Estrada was a 47-year-old Peruvian activist who suffered from polymyositis — an incurable disease that left her confined to a wheelchair. Since 2019, she has been petitioning Peruvian courts to recognize a right to euthanasia.

Euthanasia is not legal in Peru. However, in 2022 the judiciary ruled in favor of Estrada so that in her case Article 112 of the current Penal Code “would be unenforced.” The code punishes anyone who “out of pity, kills an incurably ill person” with a prison sentence of no more than three years.”

Last February, the Superior Court of Justice of Lima ordered Social Health Insurance (EsSalud) and the Ministry of Health (Minsa) to respect Estrada’s decision.

Recently, EsSalud also stated that it was unnecessary for Estrada to undergo an additional psychological evaluation from the one carried out last October and decided that she could designate a trusted person to authorize her consent with their signature.

What does the Catholic Church say about euthanasia?

No. 2277 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.”

“Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator,” the catechism explains.

“The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded,” the text clarifies.

In early April, the Vatican published the declaration Dignitatis Infinita, which warns of 13 grave violations of human dignity, one of which is euthanasia. 

The document notes that “there is a widespread notion that euthanasia or assisted suicide is somehow consistent with respect for the dignity of the human person.”

“However, in response to this,” the declaration explains, “it must be strongly reiterated that suffering does not cause the sick to lose their dignity, which is intrinsically and inalienably their own. Instead, suffering can become an opportunity to strengthen the bonds of mutual belonging and gain greater awareness of the precious value of each person to the whole human family.”

After encouraging palliative care for the sick, Dignitatis Infinita affirms that “helping the suicidal person to take his or her own life is an objective offense against the dignity of the person asking for it, even if one would be thereby fulfilling the person’s wish.”

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

Argentine doctor completes prison sentence for preventing a chemical abortion in process

Argentine pro-life Dr. Leandro Rodríguez Lastra. / Credit: Buena Vida

ACI Prensa Staff, Apr 22, 2024 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

In 2017, a 19-year-old woman arrived in severe pain at the hospital where Argentine doctor Leandro Rodríguez Lastra was working. She was 23 weeks pregnant and had ingested misoprostol, illegally administered by the La Revuelta (“The Revolt”) organization well beyond the outer limit of 10 weeks of pregnancy for use of the drug.

Using his professional judgment, Rodríguez stabilized the woman by stopping the chemical abortion process, thus saving both mother and child. When the baby reached six and a half months’ gestation, the medical board decided to deliver the child by cesarean section and the baby was placed for adoption.

In 2019, for preventing the completion of the abortion, Rodríguez was given a one-year-and-two-months suspended sentence in prison, and his license to practice medicine was revoked for two years and four months, ending Jan. 30. 

Speaking with “EWTN Noticias,” EWTN’s Spanish-language news program, Rodríguez explained what had happened that led to the unprecedented sentence: In 2017, he was on duty “at the public hospital where I worked, in the Argentine city of Cipolletti in the Argentine Patagonia, where I received a patient in generally poor condition due to an advanced pregnancy, and I made the decision to stop the process of giving birth prematurely that was going on and improve the patient’s state of health.”

“This was interpreted by the justice system, or by the Rio Negro Judiciary, as having overridden the patient’s will to terminate the pregnancy, and so in 2019 I was convicted, and this sentence has just been completed,” he said.

This time, Rodríguez said, “has been very significant,” beyond the notoriety of his case, due to the commitment to be “a kind of example of what can happen if one does not submit to the arbitrary decisions of the powers that be.”

This experience led him to be “even more committed to caring for life, the protection of the life of the unborn child, the protection of women,” the doctor said.

Rodríguez said that in the eyes of the court, his patient was the victim in this case, “since she had been a victim of rape, she was portrayed by all the media, especially the local media, as the great victim in all this, the one who had gotten the worst of it.”

However, he pointed out, “once the trial was over, the sentence issued, this woman was abandoned and no one else cared for her; unfortunately she had to seek help” to survive.

These facts, the doctor said, make it clear “that those arguments that were put forward at the time, saying that this was for the protection of women, were absolutely false.”

“Those arguments, speaking of defending rights, were absolutely false, and the only thing they tried to do was destroy the life of a child who is now about to turn 7 years old, who is happy, with an adoptive family that is taking care of him and giving him the future that any of us deserve. They couldn’t do anything about that,” he said.

“The child is alive, the woman who was a victim of all this is fine, she’s healthy; therefore in that aspect I am satisfied because life triumphed, truth triumphed, beyond the injustices that [I] suffered," he said.

The doctor anticipates that he will continue working in the private sector, as “it’s difficult for me to go back to public hospitals,” he said. However, he reiterated that his commitment to life “is unwavering,” and if he is faced with a case similar to the one that led to his conviction, “in the same case I will act in precisely the same way.”

“When I was sentenced, and before I was sentenced, they looked for a kind of remorse in me, or another message,” he recalled. “No. The message is the same and with more and more conviction: Life must be defended; that’s not up for discussion,” he stressed, telling doctors that “this is our moment, the time to assert our convictions, our moral convictions, that are not negotiable.”

“Conscientious objection is that fundamental right that should exonerate us. We should not give it up and we have to defend it today more than ever,” he said.

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

Pope Francis to meet with thousands of grandparents and their grandchildren at the Vatican

Pope Francis greets an elderly couple at a general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. / Credit: Vatican Media

ACI Prensa Staff, Apr 22, 2024 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

“A Caress and a Smile” is the name of the event that will take place Saturday, April 27, in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall where elderly people, grandparents, and grandchildren from Italy will meet Pope Francis.

A total of 6,000 grandparents and their grandchildren will arrive this week at the Vatican for a special gathering with the Holy Father, an initiative presented by the Holy See’s Press Office today.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, noted that Italy has the second-highest number of elderly people in the world and that for the first time in history, four generations are living together, which “had never happened before.”

He also lamented that currently “we are afraid to use” the word “old” and that old age “is not only a very beautiful time, but can mean a change of direction, within the culture, society, economy, and also of religion.”

The prelate noted the special affection that Pope Francis has for older people and recalled the catechetical series that he dedicated to them, teaching “how to live the last 30 years” of life in a Christian way.

“This event will be held to give a new vision of old age. Old age is a great age, not to be wasted or a burden. Old age is not disconnected from other ages of life,” Paglia continued.

The prelate also noted the demographic winter that Italy is going through and highlighted the “particular harmony” and special ties that exist between grandparents and their grandchildren, two generations “that cannot live without each other.”

The event, organized by the Italian Old Age Foundation, will begin at 8:30 a.m. Rome time with a reflection on old age.

About 40 minutes later, Pope Francis will arrive at the Paul VI Hall to hear the testimony of two grandparents (among them a 91-year-old woman) and three grandchildren.

Also participating in this morning’s press conference was Lino Banfi, a well-known Italian actor who maintains a friendship with Pope Francis, whom he referred to as “the grandfather of the world.”

In addition, Pope Francis has also established the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, which this year will be celebrated on July 28.

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