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Pope Francis says that he tried to help Ukraine, Russia prisoner swap

Pope Francis meeting with Jesuits in Kazakhstan, Sept. 15, 2022 / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Sep 29, 2022 / 09:23 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has said that he was involved in a prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine.

Speaking to Jesuits during his trip to Kazakhstan earlier this month, the pope said a Ukrainian military chief and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s religious adviser came to him with a request for help.

“This time they brought me a list of more than 300 prisoners. They asked me to do something to make an exchange,” Pope Francis said, according to a transcript published by the Jesuit periodical La Civiltà Cattolica on Sept. 29.

“I immediately called the Russian ambassador to see if something could be done, if an exchange of prisoners could be speeded up.”

The pope did not specify when these conversations about a prisoner swap occurred. He spoke about the exchange in a private conversation with 19 Jesuits in Nur Sultan on Sept. 15 — six days before Zelenskyy announced that Ukraine and Russia had conducted a prisoner swap involving nearly 300 people.

Zelenskyy said that the exchange had been under preparation for a long time. The U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres specifically thanked Turkey and Saudi Arabia for their roles in facilitating the prisoner swap, which involved the return of 215 Ukrainians and 55 Russians and pro-Moscow Ukrainians. It was the largest prisoner exchange since the war began.

In his meeting with the Jesuits, Pope Francis also recalled how he attempted to call Russian President Vladimir Putin after the invasion of Ukraine.

He said: “I recall that the day after the start of the war I went to the Russian Embassy. It was an unusual gesture; the pope never goes to an embassy. He receives the ambassadors personally only when they present their credentials, and then at the end of their mission on a farewell visit. I told the ambassador that I would like to speak with President Putin, provided he left me a small window for dialogue.”

The pope underlined, “from the first day of the war until yesterday, I spoke constantly about this conflict, referring to the suffering of Ukraine.” He later added that in his public statements, he has called “the invasion of Ukraine an unacceptable, repugnant, senseless, barbaric, sacrilegious aggression.”

Pope Francis also said that he believes “international factors … contributed to provoking the war.”

“I have already mentioned that a head of state, in December last year, came to tell me that he was very concerned because NATO had gone barking at the gates of Russia without understanding that the Russians are imperial and fear border insecurity. He expressed fear that this would provoke a war, and this broke out two months later,” the pope said.

Among the Jesuits who met with Pope Francis in Kazakhstan were priests who served as missionaries in Russia, Belarus, and Kyrgyzstan. 

Father Bogusław Steczek, the superior of the Russian Region of the Society of Jesus, told the pope of the Jesuits’ pastoral work in Moscow, Kirov, St. Petersburg, Tomsk, and Siberia. 

“We are working on geographical, cultural, and religious frontiers,” Steczek said. “Now, in order to go forward with courage, we ask your apostolic blessing.”

Catholics in Poland and around the world pray Divine Mercy Chaplet to end war

Catholics in Poland pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, Sept. 28, 2022 / Monika Bilska

Warsaw, Poland, Sep 29, 2022 / 06:42 am (CNA).

On Wednesday, Catholics recited the Divine Mercy Chaplet in the streets of 173 cities in Poland and 44 localities worldwide, according to organizers of the prayer event. 

At 3 p.m. local time, street intersections and public squares in towns and villages throughout Poland turned into places of prayer for peace and for those affected by war. 

With rosaries in hand, the faithful asked God for mercy for all humanity. 

“We believe that 10 minutes of supplication to God can change our families, cities, and the whole world,” the organizers said.

Participants in the prayer of the Divine Mercy Chaplet in Poland, Sept. 28, 2022. Monika Bilska
Participants in the prayer of the Divine Mercy Chaplet in Poland, Sept. 28, 2022. Monika Bilska

The event was held under the auspices of the Polish community Spark of Divine Mercy Team.

The Chaplet of Divine Mercy was recited on six continents for families, priests, and those holding any power in the world.

The faithful prayed for peace, especially in Ukraine. They prayed for refugees fleeing war, that they may return to their countries — and that people may be found to help them rebuild their war-damaged homes. 

On official count, 173 towns and cities in Poland joined in praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet. 

People prayed in the Presidential Palace in Warsaw and the largest Polish cities: Gdańsk, Poznań, Katowice, and Lublin. Organizers said that prayer events were also held on the streets of Papua New Guinea, Croatia, Argentina, Mexico, the United States, and the Ivory Coast.

A young man praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy in Poland, Sept. 28, 2022. Monika Bilska
A young man praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy in Poland, Sept. 28, 2022. Monika Bilska

The chaplet event, including the prayer on the streets of several cities, was held for the first time on Sept. 28, 2008, in Łódź. 

Since then, the initiative has continued to take place every year on the anniversary of the beatification of Blessed Father Michael Sopoćko, confessor of St. Faustina Kowalska (1905–1938). 

The consecration and entrustment of the world to the Divine Mercy represented the fulfillment of a mission for the poor, young Polish nun. 

She experienced visions of Jesus in which he asked her to make his message of infinite love and mercy known to the world.

To learn more about the Divine Mercy devotion, visit the website for the Divine Mercy shrine in Poland or the National Divine Mercy Shrine in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Supporters of statue of St. Michael the Archangel in small French town vow to fight removal order

St. Michael the Archangel / Credit: Pixabay

CNA Newsroom, Sep 29, 2022 / 01:30 am (CNA).

After a French court confirmed the removal of a statue of St. Michael from a seaside town, supporters have vowed to continue their fight to keep it standing.

On Friday, Sep. 16, the Court of Appeal in Nantes ruled in favor of removing a statue of St. Michael in the town of Les Sables-d’Olonne in the Vendée.

The court decision was made against the wishes of more than 90% of participants in a consultation held by the town’s mayor, Yannick Moreau, last March. 

On Sept. 29, the feast day of the archangel, one supporter posted an image of the statue on social media, writing “A thought for the statue of Saint-Michel in Les Sables D’Olonne in Vendée which, according to the court of Nantes, must be removed in the name of ‘secularism’ while the people of Sablais in a popular referendum have voted to maintain.”

According to a report in Le Figaro, the municipality will now take the legal fight to the Conseil d'État. The Council of State is the supreme court for administrative justice in France.

The statue was installed in 2018 opposite the church of St. Michael. It was initially at a school of the same name from 1935 until 2017.

In 2021, a complaint was filed by the “Libre Pensée de Vendée,” a group that advocates secularism and “free thought” and initially opposed the statue’s installation.

The concept of secularism — laïcité — has been a fixture of French law since 1905. At that time, the Third Republic officially established state secularism, causing a subsequent wave of anti-Catholicism, which included the end of government funding for religious schools, mandatory civil marriage, and the removal of chaplains from the army.

The group cited a 1905 law on the separation of church and state. Article 28 prohibits the display of religious images in public spaces, except for places of worship, cemeteries, monuments, or museums. 

On Dec. 16, 2021, a hearing at the Court Appeal in Nantes decided that the statue must be unbolted within six months. 

According to the ruling, although the statue is in the forecourt of a church, “the square on which the statue was installed is not a building used for worship,” and the statue must therefore be removed in accordance with 1905 laws.

Demonstrations have been held to protest the removal of the statue, according to local media reports.

Denial of clemency to death row inmate disappoints Oklahoma archbishop

null / California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0).

Denver Newsroom, Sep 28, 2022 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

One day after a parole board denied clemency to death row inmate Benjamin Cole, the archbishop of Oklahoma City registered his disappointment in the decision.

“The denial of clemency by the Pardon and Parole Board is disappointing, as there is hardly any justice to be seen in taking the life of a man who is hardly able to speak and lacks the basic understanding of why the state is seeking his execution,” Archbishop Paul Coakley said Sept. 28.

“While it is too late to provide Benjamin Cole with any care or treatment that might have prevented his crime almost 20 years ago, we still have an obligation to recognize the dignity bestowed upon him by God and the effects of his debilitating mental illness.”

Cole, the archbishop said, “should be allowed to live out what remains of his life in the hope that he receives the mental health care he should have received decades ago. Pray for the victims of violence and their families, that God brings them comfort and peace. Pray for the soul of the condemned and those who will be involved with his execution.”

The Pardon and Parole Board voted 4–1 to deny clemency to Cole, 57, on Sept. 27.

In 2002 Cole killed his 9-month-old daughter, Brianna.

His attorneys maintained that Cole is “severely mentally ill and that he has a growing lesion on his brain,” the AP reported. The lawyers told the board that he has refused medical care and has little or no communication with others.

Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor welcomed the panel’s decision, saying, “Although his attorneys claim Cole is mentally ill to the point of catatonia, the fact is that Cole fully cooperated with a mental evaluation in July of this year. The evaluator, who was not hired by Cole or the state, found Cole to be competent to be executed and that ‘Mr. Cole does not currently evidence any substantial, overt signs of mental illness, intellectual impairment, and/or neurocognitive impairment.’”

Cole had been incarcerated previously for the abuse of another of his infant children, and prosecutors, according to the AP, “noted that [Brianna] had numerous injuries consistent with a history of abuse.”

Relatives of Brianna’s mother asked that the board deny clemency.

A county judge is due to decide whether a trial will be held to determine whether Cole is competent to be executed. 

The parole board having denied clemency, the Oklahoma governor is unable to commute Cole’s sentence. Cole is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection Oct. 20.

While the Church teaches that capital punishment is not intrinsically evil, both Pope Francis and his immediate predecessors have condemned the practice in the West.

Regarding the execution of criminals, the Catechism of the Council of Trent taught that by its “legal and judicious exercise” civil authorities “punish the guilty and protect the innocent.”

St. John Paul II called on Christians to be “unconditionally pro-life” and said that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.” He also spoke of his desire for a consensus to end the death penalty, which he called “cruel and unnecessary.”

And Pope Benedict XVI exhorted world leaders to make “every effort to eliminate the death penalty” and told Catholics that ending capital punishment was an essential part of “conforming penal law both to the human dignity of prisoners and the effective maintenance of public order.”

In August 2018, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a new draft of the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s paragraph regarding capital punishment.

Quoting Pope Francis’ words in a speech on Oct. 11, 2017, the new paragraph states, in part, that “the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

Reasons for changing the teaching, the paragraph says, include: the increasing effectiveness of detention systems, growing understanding of the unchanging dignity of the person, and leaving open the possibility of conversion.

Dominican Father Thomas Petri, a moral theologian at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., told CNA at the time that he thinks this change “further absolutizes the pastoral conclusion made by John Paul II.”

“Nothing in the new wording of paragraph 2267 suggests the death penalty is intrinsically evil. Indeed, nothing could suggest that because it would contradict the firm teaching of the Church,” Petri said.

Supreme Court Justice Alito: faith ‘should affect the way you treat people’ as a judge

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito / Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 28, 2022 / 16:45 pm (CNA).

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito — author of the deciding opinion that overturned Roe v. Wade — stressed the importance of his Catholic faith to serving on the highest court in the country Tuesday in a lecture to law students at the Catholic University of America (CUA).

“A person’s faith shapes what kind of person [he or she] is,” Alito said, adding “it also should affect the way you treat [people] when you’re serving as a judge.”

Alito’s inaugural lecture was given at the opening of CUA’s new Project on Constitutional Originalism and the Catholic Intellectual Tradition (CIT), a program started for students at the university’s Columbus School of Law.

CIT explores the relationship of Catholicism to American Constitutionalism, focusing on doctors of the church such as Sts. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and secular thinkers such as Aristotle and Cicero.

Professor J. Joel Alicea, who co-directs the program, said in the lecture’s opening statement that the school believes the Catholic intellectual tradition “can help us better think through the challenges of our day.”

Alicea, who clerked for Justice Alito in 2016, introduced the justice as the honorary chair of the project’s advisory board to the reception of thundering applause.

The justice then gave remarks outlining how CUA’s project will consider how the Catholic faith relates to law but did not address the overturning of Roe or other controversial opinions from the summer.

When asked by a student how his personal faith affected his professional life, Alito pointed to how formative Catholicism is in shaping how a person treats other human beings.

“Among other things, [faith] shapes how a person regards other people and treats other people,” Alito responded.

“Judges affect people — indirectly, but sometimes very powerfully, through their decisions,” he continued. “It’s important to keep in mind that these decisions are not just abstract discussions. They have a real impact in the world and you have to keep that in mind.”

Alito authored the historic Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade in June.

“Roe was … egregiously wrong and on a collision course with the Constitution from the day it was decided,” Alito wrote in the decision’s opinion.

The decision denounced the claim that there is a “constitutional right to abortion” and returned the question of it to the states.

“Abortion presents a profound moral question,” the opinion concluded.

The son of Italian immigrants, Alito was born to a Catholic family in Trenton, New Jersey. He was a graduate of Princeton University and Yale Law School. After serving in positions for the Justice Department and as the U.S. attorney general for the district of New Jersey, he was nominated to the Supreme Court by President George W. Bush — a position he’s held since 2006.

Following this summer’s landmark decision overturning Roe, Alito and the other justices have faced virulent criticism both nationally and abroad, increased violence, and even death threats.

Alito dismissed some of these attacks in a speech at a Notre Dame conference in July.

“I had the honor this term of writing, I think, the only Supreme Court decision in the history of that institution that has been lambasted by a whole string of foreign leaders who felt perfectly fine commenting on American law,” Alito said.

Afghan refugees reunited with baby thanks to pro-life pregnancy center

null / Vulnerable People Project

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 28, 2022 / 15:51 pm (CNA).

On Tuesday night Benafsha and her husband, Mustafa, anxiously waited at Dulles International Airport for their son, 22-month-old Jasoor, to arrive from Afghanistan.

Benafsha tugged at her long brown hair nervously, and Mustafa held his wife close to him as they watched for their son to walk through the airport security exit and into their arms.

The last time they saw Jasoor was over a year ago — they had been separated from him for more than half his life.

An unexpected, tragic parting

On Aug. 26, 2021, the family was supposed to begin a new life together. 

Benafsha had served as a translator for coalition forces in Afghanistan, and when the U.S. withdrew its last troops from the country after more than 20 years, she was among the lucky ones granted Special Immigrant Visas to evacuate to the United States. 

While the family was waiting to board a flight to the U.S. at Kabul’s airport, a suicide bomber detonated explosives, killing more than 170 people. Jasoor was in the arms of his grandmother, and in the chaos that ensued, as soldiers exchanged gunfire with militants of the Islamic State – Korasan Province, the pair were separated from the baby’s parents. 

Benafsha and Mustafa, distraught but powerless in the face of a military operation reacting to a wartime situation, were forced to leave Kabul without Jasoor. The hope that they would soon be reunited and that by leaving they would best ensure their son’s safety sustained them as they departed without him.

A crisis pregnancy center says 'yes'

By December, however, that hope appeared to be fading. It had been almost four months since they had seen their son, and things were not going well. Jasoor and his grandmother were barely surviving on their own in Kabul — as the dead of winter approached, they were running out of coal and had little food. 

Things were no better for Benafsha and Mustafa, who were about to be evicted from the temporary housing they had found with a relative in Texas. Adding to the stressful situation, Benafsha was pregnant and in need of medical care.

Desperate for help, she contacted the Pflugerville Pregnancy Resource Center outside of Austin. Little did she know that this pro-life crisis pregnancy center would not only help her with her immediate needs, but it would be the means to seeing her son again.

Brittany Green, executive director of the pregnancy center, told CNA that when Benafsha came to them, they saw there were two critical issues facing the couple: medical care and housing. 

The clinic helped her get health insurance and made an appointment with the center’s medical director for OB-GYN care. 

Next came finding a place for the couple to live. While the pro-life pregnancy center offers counseling and health care to women in crisis pregnancies, there’s a lot more to the services they offer. 

“Our perception here is we come from a place of ‘yes.’ If it is something that we can do, we’re going to do it. If it’s something we can’t do, we’re going to find the people who can help us do it,” Green said. 

“The people that we serve often hear ‘no.’ And we don’t want them to come to us and hear another ‘no.’ So we will do everything in our power to make sure that their future and success is set up,” she explained.

With the help of Loveline Outreach Ministry and a local church, the Pflugerville pro-life clinic found Benafsha and Mustafa a hotel room for a month, and they helped Mustafa find a job. Then, through Texas Alliance for Life, she learned about Jason Jones’ work evacuating refugees in Afghanistan through the nonprofit he founded, the Vulnerable People Project (VPP). 

Green got in touch with Jones, who happened to be in Texas at the time, and arranged to have coffee with Jones, Benafsha, and Mustafa.  

Jones asked for Jasoor and his grandmother’s address, and within 24 hours a care package of coal and food was delivered to them in Kabul. He also helped make funds available for Benafsha and Mustafa to secure more permanent housing in Texas. VPP works with organizations in Afghanistan to provide much-needed services including food, health care, and education to those still in the country. 

‘Only God could make this happen’

In addition to providing aid in Afghanistan, the VPP has helped thousands of Afghan citizens obtain visas to leave their country and find a safe haven elsewhere. Jones set the wheels in motion to get Jasoor a visa to the U.S. 

Marilis Pineiro, the nonprofit’s legislative and diplomatic relations liaison, successfully lobbied the State Department to approve Jasoor’s visa after months of paperwork and negotiations. 

Since Jasoor is considered an infant, it was particularly difficult to get him a visa to travel without his parents, Pineiro told CNA. The State Department finally allowed his 24-year-old aunt a visa to accompany him.

Vulnerable People Project
Vulnerable People Project

While Pineiro has helped shepherd hundreds of Afghanis to safety, she said that reuniting Jasoor with his parents was an especially emotional experience for her.

“I’m still in shock because it was such a seemingly impossible task,” Pineiro told CNA. “I ask myself ‘How?’ and the answer is that only God could make that happen.”

Jones told CNA that getting the family back together again showed the important role pro-life pregnancy centers play in serving mothers and their families.

“I’m so grateful for the thousands of pregnancy centers across America that help women meet their needs. If not for this pro-life clinic reaching out to us, we never would have met Benafsha and Mustafa and been able to help them reunite with Jasoor,” he said.

When a curly-haired Jasoor, now a toddler, finally entered the international arrivals waiting area at Dulles Airport, his mother and father hugged him and kissed him as they thought they might never get a chance to see him again.

The last time they saw each was at another airport, and the circumstances could not have been more different. 

“This is the happiest day of my life,” Benafsha said, holding baby Helen in her arms, and Jasoor by his hand, as they set off to their new home in Virginia, a dream come true after so much sorrow and uncertainty. 

The family of four is together for the first time. Vulnerable People Project
The family of four is together for the first time. Vulnerable People Project

Vulnerable People Project
Vulnerable People Project

Salvadoran Education Ministry dismisses official who endorsed kids’ TV show with gender ideology

null / itakdalee/Shutterstock

San Salvador, El Salvador, Sep 28, 2022 / 14:38 pm (CNA).

El Salvador’s Ministry of Education has dismissed the official responsible for allowing a children’s program with gender ideology to be broadcast on national public television, following an uproar from parents.

The Ministry of Education (MINED) dismissed Sept. 26 the director of the National Teacher Training Institute (INFOD), Carlos Rodríguez Rivas, in wake of the controversy caused by a segment of the educational program “Let’s Learn at Home,” which introduced minors to the topics of homosexual, lesbian, and bisexual sexual orientation.

“The MINED has decided to carry out an in-depth restructuring of INFOD to promote changes that allow an education adhering to our reality and with the vision of this government ... We also inform you that the current director of INFOD has been removed from his position,” a Sept. 27 statement from the government explained.

“We are clear that we must always be vigilant for children, protect their mental health and promote family values that are the basis of Salvadoran society,” the MINED continued.

The ministry “also takes on the commitment to review all programs that come from abroad, so as to not allow materials that violate our principles or are contrary to the vision of the country we want to build.”

Hours before the announcement, El Salvador’s public television Channel 10 decided to terminate the agreement with INFOD “due to non-compliance with educational standards,” including the inclusion of “unauthorized sexual content.”

The Parents’ Alliance, a civil society movement in defense of the family in El Salvador, welcomed the removal of the director of INFOD.

“This was thanks to the complaints from all the committed families and parents in El Salvador. This precedent makes it clear to us that the Parental PIN must be a reality, we must protect our children from ideologies contrary to human dignity,” the parents group said on its social media.

The concept of a Parental PIN is that parents of schoolchildren must be informed in advance by the school of any workshop, talk, subject, or activity dealing with topics of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, feminism, or diversity, and can then give or withhold their consent.

Sara Larín, founder of the VIDA SV Foundation in El Salvador, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister news agency, on Sept. 27 that the dismissal of the director of INFOD “is good news for all good Salvadorans who have denounced the perverse Social Studies material, not only in the Channel 10 program, but in the textbooks given to children.”

Larín charged that the content in children’s textbooks still “talks about terms such as sexual orientation, sexual identity, sexual pleasure, eroticism, and masturbation from a gender ideology perspective.”

According to the pro-life leader, teaching this type of material “puts students at risk of sexual and emotional abuse when a public school teacher dares to address these issues with minors without the consent of their parents.”

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

40 Days for Life in Spain announces guidelines amid government harassment of pro-lifers

null / Image credit: 40 days for life

Denver Newsroom, Sep 28, 2022 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

The first 40 Days for Life campaign in Spain since the government criminalized what is deemed harassment at abortion businesses by pro-lifers begins today and ends Nov. 6. 

In response to the new legislation, which amended the Penal Code and went into effect in April, the campaign of prayer and fasting announced on its website a series of guidelines to avoid being arrested.

The amended code establishes “a prison sentence of three months to one year or community service from 31 to 80 days” for whoever undermines the freedom of women at an abortion center.

The law penalizes anyone who “in order to hinder the exercise of the right to voluntary interruption of pregnancy harasses a woman through annoying, offensive, intimidating, or coercive acts that undermine her freedom.”

40 Days for Life reminded its volunteers that “prayer saves lives” and that their mission is to “pray peacefully, so that at no time can there be an act of harassment.”

The prayer movement advises participants to exclusively use a sign reading “You are not alone, we can help you,” and if possible to identify themselves with the 40 Days for Life official wear.

Participants are cautioned about the presence of people not part of 40 Days for Life: “Make sure your fellow time slot members have signed up for the vigil. If you don’t know someone in your time slot, try to focus on prayer and limit your conversation.”

The organization stressed that “now more than ever” it is necessary to maintain “exemplary behavior” in such a way that in case of verbal aggression to not respond and to continue praying.

If the situation persists, the participant should notify the “captain” responsible for the time slot and call the police. If possible, a video of the situation should be taken with a mobile phone “but not forwarded.”

In case of physical aggression, the police should be called.

It’s not uncommon for abortion center owners to notify the police of the presence of pro-lifers near their businesses, so in this case, it is recommended that everyone interact with the police in such a way that “there is no leading voice.”

If the police ask for identification, it’s recommended to ask the reason in a polite way and to show the National Identity Document.

40 Days for Life also foresees that a police officer may state that either someone can’t be at that place praying or that “praying is a crime.” In that case, participants are urged to be polite but to question such a statement and ask why he or she can’t be there, for example: “What am I doing wrong?” or “How should I act?”

In the event that the police insist that the volunteer must leave the place, 40 Days for Life is blunt: “Obey, never confront the police,” and “remember, they’re only doing their job.”

All these guidelines have been given despite the fact that 40 Days for Life considers that the change to the Penal Code criminalizing the actions of pro-lifers “doesn’t affect us” because “this law does not apply to us.”

“40 Days for Life is limited to praying at a fixed spot in a peaceful and silent way. Don’t engage anyone; don’t go over to speak with women who want to abort or with health care workers. Therefore, it’s IMPOSSIBLE for there to be harassment,” they stressed.

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

Florida Catholic schools prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Ian with action and prayer

A vehicle drives through the winds and rain from Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28, 2022, in Sarasota, Florida. Ian is hitting the area as a likely Category 4 hurricane. / Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

St. Louis, Mo., Sep 28, 2022 / 12:15 pm (CNA).

Catholic schools of all levels are taking measures to keep their students safe amid the imminent arrival of Hurricane Ian, which strengthened into a Category 4 storm overnight and is expected to hit Florida’s Gulf Coast starting on Wednesday.

Ave Maria University, a Catholic college located about an hour northeast of Naples, Florida, has canceled classes through Sept. 30. Though the school is not in the direct path of the hurricane, heavy rainfall and wind are expected. 

As of midday on Sept. 28, Hurricane Ian had reached Category 4 strength with winds of 155 mph, barely shy of a Category 5 rating. Naples, Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and Port Charlotte are expected to be hit with major storm surges.

Matthew Dionisi, a freshman business major at Ave Maria, told CNA that most of his friends are remaining in their dorms, but they haven’t yet received a mandate from the school to do so. As of Wednesday, all classes at the university have been moved online, and the school says it will ask students to shelter in place if they receive a tornado warning.

In addition to switching to online learning, Ave Maria has canceled virtually all extracurricular activities. The school is running shuttles from the dorms to the dining hall to allow students to eat.

“For the rest of the day today, please do not ride your bikes, scooters, or skateboards around campus. If you would like to go to the Dining Hall, please take one of the three van shuttles from the residence halls to the Dining Hall that are running continuously today,” reads a Sept. 28 noon announcement from the school.

“It is likely that we will continue to experience heavy rainfall and wind throughout the day. Avoid nonessential travel. Updates will continue throughout the day.”

Dionisi said the mood is generally good among most fellow students he’s encountered, mainly because they know that the buildings on campus are designed to withstand a hurricane. The school, in its Sept. 28 message, noted that the campus was built to withstand a direct hit of a Category 4 hurricane — 130–155 mph sustained winds.

Dionisi said he also is confident that if an evacuation becomes necessary, the school will be able to provide that. He said despite being disappointed that he is no longer able to sing in the choir at an upcoming Mass — which had been scheduled for Wednesday evening — most of the people he has encountered are in good spirits and relaxed.

The Tampa Bay area, two and a half hours north of Naples, is expected to suffer hurricane-force winds and heavy rain likely to cause flash flooding and power outages, the Tampa Bay Times reported. Though the hurricane will likely hit just south of the bay area, mandatory evacuations have been ordered for coastal and low-lying areas, and Tampa officials warned residents on Tuesday to take the hurricane seriously, as first responders are not sent out if winds are higher than 40 mph.

Jesuit High School in Tampa, an all-boys school, has canceled all classes and extracurricular activities through Sept. 30.

Jimmy Mitchell, director of campus ministry, told CNA that the school itself is not at particular risk of storm surge and that it has storm-proof windows and other safety features. Still, he said, many of the school’s families have evacuated north, but others have decided to ride out the hurricane.

“I know the Jesuits are staying in their residence and offering Mass and many prayers for our greater school community each day,” Mitchell told CNA by text.

“Lots of students [are] connecting in small groups to pray rosaries over Zoom and things like that as well,” he said.

St. Leo University, a Benedictine college located 40 minutes northeast of Tampa, also issued a weather advisory on Tuesday canceling classes. While the university is closed for normal business operations, only essential personnel and students who are being sheltered may be on campus, the school says.

In the nearby Diocese of St. Petersburg, Bishop Gregory Parkes on Tuesday asked for prayers for “protection during the storm.”

“Loving God, maker of heaven and earth, protect us in your love and mercy. Send the spirit of Jesus to be with us to still our fears and to give us confidence in the stormy waters. Jesus reassured his disciples by his presence, calmed the storm, and strengthened their faith,” Parkes prayed in a message emailed to each parish in his diocese and posted on the diocese’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

“Guard us from harm during the storm and renew our faith to serve you faithfully. Give us the courage to face all difficulties and the wisdom to see the ways your Spirit binds us together in mutual assistance,” Parkes prayed. “With confidence, we make our prayer through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

Pope Francis to visit Kingdom of Bahrain in November

Pope Francis boards his flight to Geneva June 21, 2018. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Rome Newsroom, Sep 28, 2022 / 04:57 am (CNA).

The Vatican confirmed Wednesday that Pope Francis will travel to the Kingdom of Bahrain, a Muslim island nation in the Persian Gulf, from Nov. 3–6.

The possibility of a papal trip to the Islamic monarchy was mentioned on the pope’s return flight from Kazakhstan on Sept. 15.

The director of the Holy See Press Office, Matteo Bruni, confirmed on Sept. 28 that Pope Francis will visit Awali and the capital city of Manama for the “Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence.”

Further details and the full trip schedule will be published at a later date.

Bahrain, located to the east of Saudi Arabia and west of Qatar, has a population of 1.7 million people. The population is nearly 70% Muslim, with the majority belonging to the Shiite branch of Islam, the country’s state religion.

Christians, at approximately 210,000 people, make up 14% of the overall population, followed by Hindus at 10%. 

There are an estimated 80,000 Catholics in Bahrain, many of whom are migrants from Asia, particularly the Philippines and India. 

Awali, a small municipality about 12 miles south of Manama, is the location of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia, which was consecrated on Dec. 10, 2021.

The ark-shaped Catholic cathedral seats 2,300 people and was built as part of a 95,000-square-foot complex. The church was the idea of Bishop Camillo Ballin, the vicar apostolic of Northern Arabia, who died in 2020, shortly before he could see his project completed.

The title of Our Lady of Arabia was approved in 1948. A small chapel in Ahmadi, Kuwait, was dedicated in her honor on Dec. 8 that year.

In 1957, Pius XII issued a decree proclaiming Our Lady of Arabia the main patron saint of the territory and of the Apostolic Vicariate of Kuwait.

In 2011, the Vatican officially proclaimed Our Lady of Arabia the patron saint of the vicariates of Kuwait and Arabia.

Later that year, the Holy See reorganized the Vicariate of Kuwait, giving it the new name of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia, and including the territories of Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia.