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5 things to know and share about St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas, by Jaroslav Čermák (1831-1878). / Galerie Art Praha via Wikimedia (Public Domain).

Rome Newsroom, Dec 6, 2022 / 06:00 am (CNA).

St. Nicholas, whose feast day is celebrated on Dec. 6, is well known as possibly the real-life inspiration for the beloved Christmas character of Santa Claus.

Not a lot is known about the historical Nicholas, who was bishop of Myra, a Greek city in modern-day Turkey, during the fourth century A.D.

But there are many stories and legends that explain his reputation as a just and upright man, charitable gift-giver, and miracle worker.

Here are five things to know and share about St. Nicholas:

1. Why St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children

Many people know that St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children, but they may not know why he has that title.

There is a grisly legend that says that during a famine in Myra, three young boys were lured into a butcher’s shop, where they were killed and then brined in a wooden barrel with the intention of being sold as “ham.”

The good bishop worked a miracle, bringing the pickled children back to life and saving them from a gruesome fate.

Painting by Gentile da Fabriano, who lived in Italy from c. 1370 to 1427. Public Domain.
Painting by Gentile da Fabriano, who lived in Italy from c. 1370 to 1427. Public Domain.

This story became the subject of many portrayals of Nicholas in art, especially during the Middle Ages. Some people believe depictions of Bishop Nicholas with the three boys led to his reputation as a protector of children.

The legend of the brining may explain how he also became, oddly, the patron saint of coopers and brewers.

2. St. Nicholas is one of the foremost saints in the Russian Orthodox Church.

St. Nicholas is a unifying figure among Catholics and Orthodox Christians, since both groups venerate the saint.

But he is incredibly important in the Russian Orthodox Church, where he is known as St. Nicholas the Wonderworker for the many miracles attributed to him both during and after life.

To the Orthodox, Nicholas is principally honored for his qualities as a holy bishop and good shepherd of his people.

In their weekly liturgical cycle, which dedicates different days of the week to Jesus Christ and other saints, only three are specifically named: Mary, the Mother of God; John the Forerunner (known to Catholics as John the Baptist); and St. Nicholas.

Nicholas did not leave behind any theological writings, but when he was made a bishop, he is credited with saying that “this dignity and this office demand different usage, in order that one should live no longer for oneself but for others.”

3. Jolly old St. Nicholas?

Because of his popularity among Orthodox Christians, St. Nicholas is a favorite subject in iconography.

But do not be surprised if, among the hundreds of icons depicting him, you don’t see any merry dimples or a “round little belly.” He does have a white beard, though.

An icon of St. Nicholas painted in 1294 for a Russian Orthodox church on Lipno Island in northwestern Russia. Public Domain
An icon of St. Nicholas painted in 1294 for a Russian Orthodox church on Lipno Island in northwestern Russia. Public Domain

4. Nicholas is also the patron saint of unmarried people, fishermen, pawnbrokers, and the falsely accused.

One of the most popular legends about Nicholas is that the saint, who is said to have come from a wealthy family, secretly helped a poor man with three daughters.

The father could not provide proper dowries for the girls to marry, and without husbands to support them, they might have been forced to turn to prostitution.

Learning about the situation, Nicholas secretly slipped a bag of gold coins through the family’s window while they were sleeping. He later left a second bag of coins, and likewise, for the third daughter, at which point, the legend says, the father, who had waited up all night, “caught” Nicholas red-handed in his gift-giving. But Nicholas made him promise to keep the secret.

The story is likely the explanation for why the modern Christmas character of Santa Claus brings his gifts for children under the cover of night.

In St. Nicholas artworks referencing this legend, the three bags of coins are often depicted as three golden balls. Images of gold balls used to also mark the shops of pawnbrokers, which is probably how Nicholas came to be their patron saint, too.

A painting of St. Nicholas and Mary Magdalene by Antonello da Messina, created between 1475 and 1476. Public Domain
A painting of St. Nicholas and Mary Magdalene by Antonello da Messina, created between 1475 and 1476. Public Domain

One of many miracles attributed to St. Nicholas happened at sea as he traveled aboard a boat to the Holy Land. Nicholas is a patron saint of sailors and travelers because he calmed the stormy waters that threatened their lives.

His patronage of the falsely accused can be attributed to an early story about his rescue of three innocent men moments before their execution. It is said that St. Nicholas, then bishop of Myra, boldly pushed away the executioner’s sword, released the men from their chains, and angrily reprimanded a juror who had taken a bribe in order to find them guilty.

5. St. Nicholas has two feast days.

Most people know that Nicholas’ feast day is celebrated on Dec. 6, the day he died in the year 343, but for East Slavs, as well as the people of Bari, Italy, May 9 is also an important day of celebration.

That date is the anniversary of the day that St. Nicholas’ relics were moved from Myra, in present-day Turkey, to Bari, not long after the Great Schism of Catholics and Orthodox in 1054 AD.

Accounts differ over whether the translation of the relics was theft or an attempt by Christian sailors to preserve the saint’s remains from destruction by the Turks. But whatever the real reason, the relics can still be venerated today in the Basilica of St. Nicholas in Bari.

Pope Francis visited Bari, in Italy’s southern region of Puglia, two times during his papacy. During both the 2018 and 2020 visits, he stopped in the basilica’s crypt to venerate St. Nicholas’ relics.

Perrant via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0
Perrant via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0

The pontifical basilica is an important place of ecumenism, since the Catholic Church welcomes many Eastern Catholics and Orthodox Christians to the pilgrimage site. In the crypt, where St. Nicholas is buried, there is also an altar for the celebration of Orthodox and Eastern Catholic liturgies.

For Christians who follow the Julian calendar, as the Eastern Orthodox do, St. Nicholas’ principal feast day falls on Dec. 19. An Orthodox Divine Liturgy will be celebrated at the Basilica of St. Nicholas that morning.

On Dec. 6, Catholics in Bari will celebrate the beloved saint with Mass, concerts, and a procession of the saint’s statue through the city’s streets.

Vatican holds thermal shirt drive for Ukraine

Winter in Kyiv, Ukraine (2018) / Viktor Bystrov / Unsplah (CC0)

Rome Newsroom, Dec 6, 2022 / 03:24 am (CNA).

The Vatican’s charity office is holding a drive to collect thermal shirts for people in Ukraine as they face an energy emergency amid the war.

Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the pope’s almoner, said Dec. 5 that the charity office of the Vatican is “already stocking up” on thermal shirts for men, women, and children.

Others are encouraged to join the initiative by bringing or shipping shirts to the Dicastery for the Service of Charity by the beginning of January, when the shipment of shirts will be brought to Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city, by truck.

“The Ukrainian people are experiencing an emergency related not only to the war but also to the lack of electricity, gas, and the very cold winter weather,” Krajewski said.

“We can help them this Christmas,” he added, “with the gift of thermal shirts, suitable for maintaining body temperature, for men, women or children.”

Systematic bombing by Russia has damaged Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, and the country’s government has warned that the networks will not withstand winter’s increased demands.

Papal envoy Cardinal Konrad Krajewski prays at a mass grave in Ukraine on Good Friday, April 15, 2022. Vatican Media.
Papal envoy Cardinal Konrad Krajewski prays at a mass grave in Ukraine on Good Friday, April 15, 2022. Vatican Media.

People in Ukraine are facing freezing weather without electricity, heat, or water, as January, the country’s coldest month of the year, approaches.

Temperatures in Kyiv are already below freezing, with a mixture of rain and snow in the near forecast.

Thermal shirts help retain heat and maintain body temperature in cold weather and are usually worn as a base layer under other clothing.

Cardinal Krajewski has traveled to Ukraine by truck several times since Russia’s invasion in February, bringing food and supplies to be distributed to those in need.

Republicans seek to end military’s COVID vaccine mandate by holding up defense bill

null / U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa|Flickr|CC BY 2.0

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 5, 2022 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Republicans in Congress, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have vowed to hold up the vote on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to force an end to the U.S. military’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement. 

“We will secure lifting that vaccine mandate on our military,” McCarthy said in an interview on Sunday. 

All military personnel are currently required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine according to an August 2021 policy set forth by United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. Though the policy does include an avenue for service members to request medical and religious accommodations, some Republicans in the House and Senate blame the military’s low recruitment on the COVID vaccine mandate.

Now, a number of Republicans are threatening to hold up the NDAA’s passage until Congress requires the DoD to reverse its COVID vaccine policy. The NDAA is a must-pass bill due for a vote this week. 

“Our recruiting goals are way short. The conflict in the world is getting worse, not better. We need more people in the military, not less,” Sen. Lindsay Graham of North Carolina stated on Nov. 30. 

In a Wednesday news conference, seven Senate Republicans, including Graham, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, promised to fight the military’s COVID vaccine requirement. 

“(We) will not vote to get on the NDAA — the defense authorization bill — unless we have a vote on ending this military vaccine mandate,” Paul stated during the conference. 

On the House side, McCarthy hopes to make ending the military’s vaccine requirement “the first victory of having a Republican majority.” 

“I’ve been very clear with the president … And we’ve got something that Republicans have been working very hard, and a number of Democrats, too, trying to find success … And now we’re going to have success,” McCarthy said Sunday. 

When asked to clarify if he meant that the military vaccine requirement would be lifted, McCarthy replied: “Yes, it will. Otherwise, the bill will not move.”

Some key Democrats have signaled they are open to the idea of lifting the military’s COVID vaccine mandate. 

Democratic Chair of the House Armed Services Committee Adam Smith stated on Saturday: “I was a very strong supporter of the vaccine mandate when we did it … But at this point in time, does it make sense to have that policy from August 2021? That is a discussion that I am open to and that we’re having.”

Speaking for President Joe Biden, Security Council spokesman John Kirby signaled the White House’s opposition to lifting the military’s COVID vaccine requirement. Kirby said Monday that “Secretary Austin’s been very clear that he opposes the repeal of the vaccine mandate and the president actually concurs with the secretary of defense.”

Supreme Court hears free speech case of artist who objects to same-sex weddings

Lorie Smith, owner and founder of 303 Creative, at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Alliance Defending Freedom

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 5, 2022 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority on Monday appeared to side with a Colorado graphic artist and website designer who refuses to provide creative services that she says conflict with her Christian faith, including ones that celebrate same-sex weddings.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Lorie Smith’s case303 Creative LLC v. Elenis — for nearly two and a half hours. The case centers on the question of “whether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.”

Public-accomodation laws apply to businesses that sell or provide services to the general public. Among other things, Colorado law considers it discriminatory and unlawful for a person “directly or indirectly, to refuse, withhold from, or deny to an individual or a group, because of disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, or ancestry.”  

Represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Smith says that her case concerns the freedom of speech for all artists. The 38-year-old from the Denver metro area is challenging her state’s anti-discrimination law that she says would compel her to use her artistic talents, or speech, to create messages celebrating same-sex weddings. 

At the same time, Colorado argues that the case is one about discrimination: If someone sells a product in the public sphere, he or she has to sell it to all people. 

“What I get is that you’re making a tiny sliver of an argument,” Justice Samuel A. Alito told Eric R. Olson, Colorado’s solicitor general, after Olson agreed that a designer could place anything he or she wants on a standardized website even if it includes a denunciation of same-sex marriage.

Smith previously stressed to CNA that she serves everyone, including clients who identify as LGBT, even though she cannot support every message.

“It’s not who, but it is a what,” Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said, bringing up a hypothetical where a freelance writer might be asked to write a press release with religious views he or she disagrees with. He also asked about the difference between selling a product that has already been created — and one that will be custom-made. 

Her case challenges Colorado officials, including Aubrey Elenis, the director of the Colorado Civil Rights Division. 

While weighing the case, justices on both sides explored the lines or boundaries of the arguments on both sides — asking one question after another and, at times, speaking over one another. They ran well over the 70 minutes allotted for arguments.

Nearly every justice raised hypothetical situations.

Liberal justices, such as Justice Sonia Sotomayor, challenged the arguments made by Kristen Waggoner, general counsel and head of ADF, on behalf of Smith. Sotomayor raised the question of discrimination against interracial couples or those with disabilities, asking “where’s the line?” 

A wedding website, Sotomayor added, expressed a couple’s message, rather than the designer’s message.

“I go to a wedding website,” Sotomayor proposed to Waggoner. “It’s something that I send, meaning you, your client, I send it to my family and friends or Lilly and Luke send it to their family and friends. You don’t send it. They go to this website. You’re not inviting them to the wedding. Lilly and Mary are. So how does it become your message?”

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson raised the hypothetical of a photography business in the mall that wants to shoot particular Santa scenes with only white children to create an “authentic” theme for the “It’s a Wonderful Life” film.

Justice Elena Kagan raised the hypothetical of selling the same exact website to a heterosexual couple and a same-sex couple — and a gay couple walking in and asking for a “God blesses this union” placed on their website.

Arguing for Colorado, Olson warned against siding with 303 Creative.

“The free-speech clause exemption the company [303 Creative] seeks here is sweeping because it would apply not just to sincerely-held religious beliefs, like those of the company and its owner, but also to all sorts of racist, sexist, and bigoted views,” he said.

In agreement, Brian H. Fletcher, the deputy solicitor general for the Department of Justice, said of Waggoner’s argument: “It means that any provider of expressive services is entitled to put up a sign saying we do not serve people with particular characteristics whenever they believe that serving those people would change their message.”

In her rebuttal, Waggoner emphasized the root of her argument.

“One need not agree with a particular belief to affirm that law-abiding people have a right to speak their conscience, including on a controversial subject like marriage,” she concluded. “And that noble principle is rooted in love of neighbor, extending the same rights to others that we want for ourselves.”

She added: “This right to be free from government coercion of speech is also foundational to our self-government and to the free and fearless pursuit of truth.”

Smith’s case is similar to 2018’s Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which a bakery rejected making a cake for a same-sex wedding because of its owner’s religious beliefs. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission argued that this was an instance of unjust discrimination, but the Supreme Court ruled the commission “showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating” the owner’s objection.

Only pro-life judge on Inter-American Court of Human Rights dies

Chilean judge Eduardo Vio Grossi, the only pro-life judge serving at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), died Dec. 3, 2022, at the age of 78. / Credit: Flickr de la OEA (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

CNA Newsroom, Dec 5, 2022 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

Chilean judge Eduardo Vio Grossi, the only pro-life judge serving at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), died Dec. 3 at the age of 78.

In a Dec. 3 statement posted on Twitter, the IACHR expressed its “deep sorrow for the unfortunate death” and conveyed its “most heartfelt condolences to family and friends for such a painful and irreparable loss.”

The IACHR is an international court based in Costa Rica that was created by the American Convention on Human Rights, a treaty ratified by the Organization of American States.

Doctors for Life of Costa Rica expressed its condolences on Twitter and recalled that Vio Grossi “accurately and masterfully defended human life from its conception.”

“A regrettable loss for the world and for the defense of the human being,” the pro-life organization said.

Bioethics expert Nicolás Lafferriere urged people to pray for this judge “who testified to the truth in the midst of growing relativism.”

“May God receive him in glory,” Lafferriere tweeted.

Vio Grossi’s wake was held Dec. 3 at the church of Sacred Hearts School in metro Santiago and the funeral Mass was offered there the next day.

Vio Grossi served as a judge at the Inter-American Court since 2010 and was the court’s vice president from 2018 to 2019.

In 2021, when the Inter-American Court ruled against El Salvador in the “Manuela” case, Vio Grossi stressed that “there is no inter-American or international legal standard (...) that recognizes abortion as a right.”

“Manuela” (not her real name) was a woman who claimed to have had a miscarriage but was convicted on forensic evidence of aggravated homicide in the death of her newborn. The case was manipulated by abortion rights groups in an effort to legalize abortion in El Salvador.

In 2012, in the ruling that upheld in vitro fertilization in Costa Rica, the judge brilliantly explained his dissenting vote respecting the created order in the conception of new life.

On that occasion, he recalled that the American Convention on Human Rights defends life from conception, which must be understood “beyond any other consideration as the fertilization of the ovum by the sperm.”

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

Human rights commission ‘outraged’ as State Department excludes Nigeria from watchlist

State officials walk past injured victims on hospital beds being treated for wounds following an attack by gunmen at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, southwest Nigeria, on June 5, 2022. / AFP via Getty Images

St. Louis, Mo., Dec 5, 2022 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

For the second year in a row Nigeria has been left off of the U.S. State Department’s list of countries that engage in or tolerate the world’s worst religious freedom violations, despite regular reports of kidnappings and killings of Christians, sparking outcry from members of a bipartisan government watchdog group. 

For more than two decades, the U.S. president has been required to annually review the status of religious freedom in every country in the world and designate those governments and entities that perpetrate or tolerate “severe” religious freedom violations as Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs). U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced this year’s designations on Dec. 2, and although several Islamic terrorist groups active in Nigeria were listed, Nigeria itself was not. 

In Nigeria as a whole, at least 60,000 Christians have been killed, many by their Muslim countrymen, over the past two decades. An estimated 3,462 Christians were killed in Nigeria in the first 200 days of 2021, or 17 per day, according to a study.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in a statement that its leaders were “outraged” by Nigeria’s exclusion from the list as well as the exclusion of India, where reports of Hindu nationalism and violence against Christians have emerged in recent years. 

“There is no justification for the State Department’s failure to recognize Nigeria or India as egregious violators of religious freedom, as they each clearly meet the legal standards for designation as CPCs. USCIRF is tremendously disappointed that the Secretary of State did not implement our recommendations and recognize the severity of the religious freedom violations that both USCIRF and the State Department have documented in those countries,” said USCIRF chair Nury Turkel

“The State Department’s own reporting includes numerous examples of particularly severe religious freedom violations in Nigeria and India.”

Nigeria was included in the State Department’s list of CPCs in 2020 but not in the 2021 or 2022 lists, despite Christians reporting little to no improvement in their situations. USCIRF has been recommending the designation of Nigeria as a CPC since 2009. 

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and the demographics overall are almost evenly split between Christians and Muslims. Nigeria’s Christians, especially in the northern part of the country, have for the past several decades been subjected to brutal property destruction, killings, and kidnappings, often at the hands of Islamic extremist groups. Some U.S. and Nigerian officials have characterized the attacks as climate-change-spurred clashes over resources and land, a claim that Christian leaders have denounced as “incorrect and far-fetched.”

Nigerian Christians have told CNA that the Muslim-controlled government has largely responded slowly, inadequately, or not at all to the problem of Christian persecution. President Muhammadu Buhari’s government, in power since 2015, has been accused by Amnesty International and other human rights groups of ineptitude, indifference, and even complicity in the surge of raids, killings, kidnappings, and rapes targeting Catholics and other Christians.

Bishop Jude Arogundade, bishop of the Diocese of Ondo in southwestern Nigeria, observed to CNA that “whenever the [U.S.] Democrats are in power they look away from the killings of Christians in Nigeria. It was very visible during Obama’s administration. We will keep up the pressure to get the world’s attention. Those who have died will not die in vain.”

Arogundade knows firsthand about the persecution that Christians are facing in Nigeria — in June, a group of armed men attacked a parish in his diocese, St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, killing at least 41 people. That community is “still waiting for justice,” Arogundade told CNA. 

Other Nigerian Catholic leaders such as Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah have criticized the government harshly for their “silence” despite numerous attacks on Christians. 

Last summer, five Republican U.S. senators signed a letter to Blinken calling on the secretary of state to redesignate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern.

India is also a country whose government has been accused of inaction in the face of Christian persecution. In recent years, Christians in India have decried an apparent rise in anti-Christian violence and Hindu extremism whereby Hindu mobs — often fueled by false accusations of forced conversions or reports of the eating of beef — have attacked Christians and Muslims, destroyed churches, and disrupted religious worship services.

Among the State Department’s CPC designees for this year were Burma/Myanmar, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. 

The State Department also proclaimed several groups to be Entities of Particular Concern: al-Shabab, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, the Taliban, and the Wagner Group. 

Douglas Burton contributed to this story.

Canadian veteran offered assisted suicide after asking for wheelchair help

Christine Gauthier spoke before she competed in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Para canoe. / YouTube Screenshot 2016 video

Boston, Mass., Dec 5, 2022 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

A former Paralympian who served in the Canadian military contacted Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) in 2019 to ask for a home wheelchair lift to help her maneuver her home more easily. 

Christine Gauthier testified before Canada’s House of Commons veterans committee last week that she was shocked when the VAC employee offered her assisted suicide as a solution to her suffering.

Gauthier told the MPs that she has fought for wheelchair accommodation for five years, according to cbc.ca

“I have a letter saying that if you’re so desperate, madam, we can offer you MAID, medical assistance in dying,” Gauthier said, according to the outlet. She agreed to provide a copy of the letter to the MPs, the outlet reported.

“I was like, ‘I can’t believe that you will … give me an injection to help me die, but you will not give me the tools I need to help me live,’” Gauthier said in a Dec. 2 interview with Global News.

“It was really shocking to hear that kind of comment.”

Gauthier served in the heavy artillery section of the Canadian Army and was severely injured in a training accident in 1995, according to canoeicf.com. Her back, knees, and hips took heavy damage after a jump into a trench, and she underwent a series of surgeries, but to no avail. She has competed in several paralympic sports including para ice hockey, para nordic skiing, and para canoe sprinting. 

A portion of Gauthier’s interview can be seen below.

Gauthier said that she wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with concerns about the unnamed employee’s offer of assisted suicide. 

The July 9, 2021, letter from the retired corporal said that “if you do not want to allow me to live with autonomy and dignity, put an end to my suffering and my days but unfortunately, you will need to do it, as my convictions and my faith prevent me from doing so,” according to Global News.

Trudeau told reporters on Friday that the VAC employee’s comments were “absolutely unacceptable,” according to Global News.

“I have said repeatedly that this is absolutely unacceptable, and as soon as we heard about this we took action,” he said.

“We are following up with investigations and we are changing protocols to ensure what should seem obvious to all of us: that it is not the place of Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), who are there to support those people who stepped up to serve their country, to offer them medical assistance in dying,” Trudeau added.

Lawrence MacAulay, minister of VAC, said before the same committee last week that four or five instances of veterans being offered assisted suicide as an option have occurred, cbc.ca reported. A VAC agent has been suspended in connection with those reports, cbc.ca reported. 

It’s unclear whether the suspended agent was the same agent that Gauthier dealt with. MacAulay called on veterans who have experienced similar treatment to report it, the outlet reported.

Assisted suicide in Canada was federally legalized in 2016, according to the government’s annual report on the program. In 2021, 10,064 people died as a result, which accounted for more than 3% of deaths in the North American country. 

Each year since its legalization, every Canadian province has seen a rise in assisted suicide, which is euphemistically coined “Medical Assistance in Dying.”

Since its legalization, almost 32,000 deaths have occurred through assisted suicide.

For those receiving assistance in suicide in 2021, 65.6% cited cancer as an underlying medical condition. Almost 19% cited cardiovascular conditions, with 12.4% citing chronic respiratory conditions. Over 12% cited neurological conditions. According to the report, 75% of the recipients cited one main underlying medical condition. The rest cited two or more. 

In a Saturday column for the New York Times, Ross Douthat criticized Canada’s assisted suicide policy.

“It is not barbaric for the law to acknowledge hard choices in end-of-life care, about when to withdraw life support or how aggressively to manage agonizing pain,” he wrote.

“It is barbaric, however, to establish a bureaucratic system that offers death as a reliable treatment for suffering and enlists the healing profession in delivering this ‘cure.’ And while there may be worse evils ahead, this isn’t a slippery slope argument: When 10,000 people are availing themselves of your euthanasia system every year, you have already entered the dystopia,” he wrote.

Who’s behind those ‘He Gets Us’ ads about Jesus?

A He Gets Us ad in Washington, D.C. / Credit: He Gets Us

Denver, Colo., Dec 5, 2022 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

Television, internet, and billboard ads encouraging people to take a deeper look at Jesus have been running across the U.S. since March, thanks to the nondenominational Christian campaign He Gets Us.

With a $100 million price tag and planned Super Bowl spots, He Gets Us is an initiative of the Servant Foundation. The foundation is managed by the Kansas-based foundation and donor-advised fund The Signatry.

“Funding for He Gets Us comes from a diverse group of individuals and entities with a common goal of sharing Jesus’ story authentically,” Jason Vanderground, spokesperson for He Gets Us, told CNA Dec. 2.

The specific donors are tough to discover. In March, Christianity Today reported that the funds came from “a small group of wealthy anonymous families.”

The Signatry was founded in the year 2000 by Bill High, a Kansas lawyer turned philanthropic adviser. The fund has received more than $4 billion in contributions and has helped make more than $3 billion in charitable grants, its website says. 

According to its website, The Signatry funds “discipleship and outreach efforts, Bible translations, cultural care, church plants, anti-human-trafficking missions, student ministries, poverty alleviation, clean water initiatives, and so much more.”

A He Gets Us ad in New York City. Credit: He Gets Us
A He Gets Us ad in New York City. Credit: He Gets Us

The He Gets Us website describes its campaign as “a movement to reintroduce people to the Jesus of the Bible and his confounding love and forgiveness. We believe his words, example, and life have relevance in our lives today and offer hope for a better future.”

The organization says it is not a political organization of any kind and has no church or denominational affiliation.

“We simply want everyone to understand the authentic Jesus as he’s depicted in the Bible — the Jesus of radical forgiveness, compassion, and love,” its website says.

He Gets Us partners include the National Association of Evangelicals and Christianity Today Magazine, Religion News Service reported.

A He Gets Us ad. Credit: He Gets Us
A He Gets Us ad. Credit: He Gets Us

In a series of Instagram posts, the campaign asks: “Have you ever been bullied? Have you ever felt betrayed? Have you ever been unfairly judged? So was Jesus.”

One video ad depicts Jesus as a rebel and his disciples as a gang that drew opposition from community and religious leaders for spreading love, not hate.

Another ad describes a controversial figure who drew opposition, challenges, and insults. He refused to retaliate “because he believed he could change the world… by turning the other cheek.” It closes with the phrase “Jesus gets us.”

Since the campaign launched in March, it has reached more than 120 million people in the U.S., according to Vanderground. It has aired ads during prime-time national television and major live sports broadcasts. Its short videos, in English and Spanish, have received 374 million views on YouTube.

The campaign aims to provoke interest from non-Christians.

Visitors to the He Gets Us website will find articles that describe Jesus as someone who “invited everyone to sit at his table.” They describe how Jesus was “fed up with politics, too” and how he faced criticism. “How would Jesus be judged today?” another article asks.

To the question of what Jesus would think of teen moms, it notes that Jesus was born to a teenage Mary.

A He Gets Us ad at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas. Credit: He Gets Us
A He Gets Us ad at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas. Credit: He Gets Us

The He Gets Us website offers reading plans about Jesus, drawing on Bible passages. The campaign offers a text-message system for users to receive messages of prayer or positivity. The website can connect those interested with someone local to learn about Jesus or with groups where they can ask questions about life and faith.

“Our hope is that you see how Jesus experienced challenges and emotions just like we have. We want to provide a safe place to ask questions, including the tough ones,” the website explains. “We are also about sharing Jesus’ openness to people that others might have excluded. His message went out to all. And though you may see religious people as often hypocritical or judgmental, know that Jesus saw that, too — and didn’t like it either. Instead, Jesus taught and offered radical compassion and stood up for the marginalized.”

The website offers T-shirts, hats, and stickers with the phrases “Jesus was wrongly judged” or “Jesus was an immigrant.” They are available free of charge, provided the person placing the order has shown love to a stranger, forgiven someone, or paid someone a compliment.

Vanderground said that although He Gets Us is not associated with any particular denomination or church, many Catholics are involved in the development of the campaign and it has received positive feedback from Catholic media.

“As we work to call up Christians to reflect Jesus and prepare them for new conversations with spiritual explorers, it is vital that we engage Catholics who represent 70 million people in the U.S.,” he said.

The He Gets Us campaign plans to make a special impact at a time when many Americans are watching their televisions early next year.

“We are excited about the opportunity to have two ads during the upcoming Super Bowl on Feb. 12, 2023,” Vanderground said. “He Gets Us is just eight months into a long-term, sustained effort to create a new movement to increase the respect and relevance for Jesus in our culture and call up Christians to reflect him in their interactions with others.”

European Parliament displays Nativity scene for first time in its history

Installation of the first Nativity scene in the European Parliament / Credit: European People's Party

CNA Newsroom, Dec 5, 2022 / 12:25 pm (CNA).

Christmas this year marks the first time in its history that the European Parliament has allowed a Nativity scene to be set up at its headquarters in Brussels. Until now, officials of the European institution had considered it “potentially offensive.”

The efforts of Isabel Benjumea, a member in the EU’s House of Representatives from Spain, were key to finally having a Nativity scene on display at the institution.

When she was elected in 2019, Benjumea tried her first year in office to prepare the groundwork for a gift of a Nativity scene to the parliament that would be exhibited during the Christmas season. However, she ran into European bureaucracy and deadlines.

The following year she began to take the necessary steps. The response could not have been more disheartening.

A Nativity scene could not be installed, she was informed by the office of the President of Parliament, because it was “potentially offensive” to nonbelievers.

“This had become a kind of crusade because it seemed unacceptable to me to ignore the Christian roots of Europe,” the parliamentarian told Spanish newspaper ABC.

Finally, this year the effort had the support of the Maltese president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, although the Nativity scene has only been “authorized as a special exhibition,” which may or may not be renewed in the future.

The Nativity scene on display in the European Parliament is from Murcia, a region in southeastern Spain with a great tradition of Nativity scenes and imagery.

Artisans from the workshop of Jesús Griñán created the Nativity scene.

In his Aug. 24, 2003, Angelus address, St. John Paul II noted that he was prayerfully following the drafting of the Constitutional Treaty of the European Union.

The pontiff said that “the Catholic Church is convinced that the Gospel of Christ, which has been a unifying element of the European peoples for many centuries, should be and continue to be today too an inexhaustible source of spirituality and fraternity. Taking note of this is for the benefit of all, and an explicit recognition of the Christian roots of Europe in the treaty represents the principle guarantee for the continent’s future.”

However, the pope’s efforts were ignored.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI strongly criticized the EU for excluding any mention of God or the continent’s Christian roots in the institution’s declarations on the 50th anniversary of its founding.

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

Jesuit artist Father Rupnik’s ministry restricted following reports of abuse allegations

Father Marko Rupnik, SJ, in an interview with EWTN in 2020. / EWTN

Rome Newsroom, Dec 5, 2022 / 05:45 am (CNA).

A prominent Jesuit priest and artist had his ministry restricted, reportedly after an investigation by his religious order into allegations of abuse against religious sisters in Slovenia.

The Jesuits said in a statement dated Dec. 2 that the order has barred 68-year-old Father Marko Ivan Rupnik, SJ, from hearing confessions or conducting spiritual direction since the Vatican received a complaint against him in 2021.

The Vatican declined in October to carry out a canonical process due to the statute of limitations, the order said. The complaint did not include minors.

The Jesuit order said the restrictions on Rupnik’s ministry were still in effect and included a ban on leading the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. The priest is also prohibited from engaging in public activities without the permission of his superior.

Rupnik, the director of the Centro Aletti in Rome, was the creator of the official image of the 2022 World Meeting of Families, and for over 30 years has designed mosaic artworks for chapels, churches, and shrines around the world.

The Jesuit is best known for overseeing the renovation of the Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, which reopened in 1999 after three years of work. 

Rupnik also designed the Redemptor Hominis Church at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C., as well as other projects in the U.S.

Despite the restrictions on his public ministry, on Nov. 30, Rupnik received an honorary doctorate from the Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná in Brazil.

The Centro Aletti has also continued to publish a video on YouTube every Sunday of Rupnik commenting on the Sunday Gospel. The Diocese of Rome posted a video of Rupnik speaking about eucharistic adoration in February.

According to the Jesuits, the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) asked the order to conduct a preliminary investigation into the Slovenian priest, who has been incardinated in the Diocese of Rome since the early 1990s.

A final report was submitted to the DDF, and in early October, the Vatican “found that the facts in question” fell outside the statute of limitations, the Jesuits said.

A source in the Diocese of Rome confirmed Dec. 5 to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish partner agency, that the provincial of the Jesuits had informed the diocese of the precautionary measures against Rupnik and suggested that his pastoral activities in the diocese be limited.

The Diocese of Rome did not perform its own investigation into the allegations against Rupnik, the source said, since the accusations concerned alleged abuse in Slovenia, not in Rome.

The source also confirmed that Rome auxiliary Bishop Daniele Libanori had conducted a separate inquiry, unrelated to Rupnik, into the Loyola Community, which was founded in Slovenia.

During the canonical visitation, which is still ongoing, Libanori received accusations from at least nine women against Rupnik, the source said. Rupnik was reportedly the community’s confessor and spiritual director for a number of years.

Run by law and religion scholars, the Italian website “Silere non possum,” Latin for “I cannot keep quiet,” published a story with reports that Rupnik had abused consecrated women in the Loyola Community.