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Families with children encouraged by National Eucharistic Congress: ‘The Church is young’

Steven and Joelle Schlotter, from Louisville, Kentucky, created special homemade T-shirts for their children in honor of the National Eucharistic Congress. / Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Indianapolis, Ind., Jul 22, 2024 / 17:52 pm (CNA).

The 10th National Eucharistic Congress concluded Sunday in Indianapolis with a clarion call for participants to share with others the love and joy of the Catholic faith that they just experienced. 

For the many parents who brought their young children to the historic July 17–21 gathering in Indianapolis, the congress was an inspiring confirmation that the Catholic Church is alive and well and that other families across the country are working hard to raise their kids in the faith. 

Brendan and Laura McKenzie and six of their eight children at the National Eucharistic Congress. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Brendan and Laura McKenzie and six of their eight children at the National Eucharistic Congress. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

The McKenzie family — Brendan and Laura and their eight children — made the trip to the congress from Evansville, Indiana, a few hours south of Indianapolis on the Kentucky border. 

Brendan said for his older kids, he hopes that seeing the large numbers of priests and religious present at the congress will be something of a “normalizing” experience, helping to expose his children to those kinds of vocations as a possibility for their lives. 

For the younger of his children, Brendan said he appreciated the efforts made by organizers to engage with the children and make it a fun and memorable experience. 

“The musicians and the emcees did a great job interacting with the kids, getting them up and dancing and singing, which was good for the little kids,” Brendan said.  

“I think the speakers help infuse the faith and make it more real and personal for the kids. I think the environment has been very conducive, too — allowing kids to participate and not feel like they’re an annoyance. Even the speakers have been very good about welcoming the noise of the children, to put parents at ease.”

The congress featured numerous opportunities for Eucharistic adoration and Mass as well as workshops and educational sessions. 

Numerous families attended a family-focused session on Saturday presented by Damon and Melanie Owens, Catholic speakers from Philadelphia and parents of eight children. The Owenses said it was difficult early on in their marriage to find other families who shared their values. 

Damon and Melanie Owens, Catholic speakers from Philadelphia and parents of eight children, present at a family session at the National Eucharistic Congress. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Damon and Melanie Owens, Catholic speakers from Philadelphia and parents of eight children, present at a family session at the National Eucharistic Congress. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Damon and Melanie spoke about the “communal dimension of marriage” and the importance of Catholic couples with children seeking out other like-minded families to “do life with.” They encouraged the families in attendance to make building a community around themselves a priority.

“Marriage is not private — our family life is not meant to be private. It’s personal, but it’s not private,” Damon Owens said. “I want to encourage and exhort you to honor that, to reverence that, and also to lean into it, to do the hard work of drawing even closer to one another.”

Paolo and Jessica Laorden from Mishawaka, Indiana, near South Bend, attended the talk with their five children. The Laordens said the Owenses’ talk about the importance of finding like-minded families resonated with them, especially since their family dynamic is different from many of their peers — Jessica is a family physician, while Paolo is a stay-at-home dad to their five children.

The talk, as well as the experience of seeing so many other families at the Congress, reminded Jessica that “there isn’t a perfect Catholic family and that we’re meant to share what we have, to support each other and find support, to depend on other people instead of turning in,” she said. 

Treating the congress as their “family vacation” for the summer, Paolo said a highlight has been the opportunity to take their kids to say “good morning” and “good night” to Jesus each day of the conference at the adoration chapel.

“They have gone above and beyond to make the conference work for families … we were really nervous about how we were going to make this work,” Jessica added. 

Paolo and Jessica Laorden, from Mishawaka, Indiana, brought their five children to the National Eucharistic Congress. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Paolo and Jessica Laorden, from Mishawaka, Indiana, brought their five children to the National Eucharistic Congress. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Paolo said he and Jessica want to be intentional about continuing the practice of bringing their children to Eucharistic adoration when they return home. Many churches in their hometown offer adoration, and “we want to do it again, on a more regular basis … even if it’s just for a couple of minutes, or an hour.”

“We want to make sure that when we go home, we bring it all home with us and be the life for the area,” he said.

Alec and Frannie Moen, from the St. Louis area, and their seven children await the start of the Eucharistic procession at the National Eucharistic Congress. Credit: Photo courtesy of Frannie Moen
Alec and Frannie Moen, from the St. Louis area, and their seven children await the start of the Eucharistic procession at the National Eucharistic Congress. Credit: Photo courtesy of Frannie Moen

Frannie and Alec Moen made the four-hour drive from Wildwood, Missouri, to attend the Congress with their seven children. Frannie said that although everyone they met was helpful and friendly, the experience was challenging — it was a workout getting the kids and stroller from one place to another, and anxiety-inducing keeping the kids from getting lost in the crowds. 

“But we trusted that God had us there for a reason, and that he’d help us keep track of them. It felt a lot like a pilgrimage,” Frannie said. 

Seeing the diversity of the Church as well as the large numbers of priests and religious “made a huge impression” on her kids, especially during Saturday’s Eucharistic procession. Frannie also mentioned a special moment when one of her daughters, who has a “unique Catholic name, and sometimes feels self-conscious about it,” met a religious sister with the same name who gave her a special handmade rosary.   

“I’d say every five minutes, someone stopped to thank us for what we are doing and for bringing our family,” Frannie said. 

“We do feel a deeper intimacy with Jesus in the Eucharist after going. We go to him every day, and we feel like he saw our loneliness and discouragement in this world and drew us to a place where we could be restored and sent back on mission to raise these children in the faith. It is hard, but we were reminded that it is worth it … The Church is young!”

Peter and Naomi Atkinson, and Naomi's mother Marlin, came to the Eucharistic Congress from Chicago with their two young children. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Peter and Naomi Atkinson, and Naomi's mother Marlin, came to the Eucharistic Congress from Chicago with their two young children. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Peter and Naomi Atkinson, who came from Chicago with their two young children, said the organizers of the congress did a good job of making the event family-friendly. Although they weren’t able to make it to any of the evening sessions because of their children’s bedtime, Naomi said that overall the accommodations to help families — and especially mothers with small children — feel comfortable at the congress were “amazing.” She said the space provided for nursing mothers was especially appreciated. 

“Seeing the other families who brought their kids here is really encouraging — the fact that there are so many families who are in the same boat we are, and trying to make the same sacrifices to bring their kids up with a deep love of the faith,” Peter said. 

“As Catholics, we don’t believe individually. We believe as a community. I think it’s really important for our families to see the strength and diversity and the unity of the faith,” he continued. 

“I think it’s really important for parents to receive that with other parents, and it’s important for children to see their parents receiving that, and to see other children being formed in those communities as well.”

New Hampshire becomes latest state to restrict sex-change surgeries for minors

“There is a reason that countries across the world — from Sweden to Norway, France, and the United Kingdom — have taken steps to pause these procedures and policies,” said New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu. / Credit: Gage Skidmore from Surprise, Arizona, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 22, 2024 / 17:22 pm (CNA).

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu signed into law a bill that restricts sex-change surgeries on minors, along with a bill that restricts access to female athletic competitions in certain grades to only biological girls. 

“As the debate over [these bills] has played out in Concord and throughout the state, charged political statements have muddled the conversation and distracted from the two primary factors that any parent must consider: safety and fairness for their children,” Sununu said in a statement

“These two factors have been my primary consideration in reviewing these bills,” the governor added.

Sununu vetoed a third bill related to transgender policies. 

The vetoed legislation would have ended the state’s anti-discrimination protections for people who identify as transgender. This would have permitted public and private entities to restrict bathroom and locker room access based on biological sex rather than self-asserted gender identity.

Banning transgender surgery on minors

House Bill 619, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2025, prohibits doctors from performing “genital gender reassignment surgery” on anyone under the age of 18.

This includes a ban on internal and external gender transition surgeries. For boys, this ban includes removal of genitals and surgical interventions to make the genitals appear similar to a female. For girls, this ban includes the removal of ovaries or other surgeries that alter the genitals and make the genitals appear similar to a male.

“This bill focuses on protecting the health and safety of New Hampshire’s children and has earned bipartisan support,” Sununu said. “There is a reason that countries across the world — from Sweden to Norway, France, and the United Kingdom — have taken steps to pause these procedures and policies.”

However, New Hampshire’s restrictions do not go as far as many other Republican states. The law still allows other transgender surgeries, such as the removal of healthy breasts in girls and the addition of prosthetic breasts in boys to facilitate a sex change. The state will also continue to allow doctors to prescribe puberty-blocking drugs and hormone therapy to facilitate a sex change in minors.

The ban on genital surgery is enforced through licensing agencies. Minors or parents will also be permitted to sue doctors who perform banned surgery on minors. 

Protecting girls’ sports

House Bill 1205 ensures that only biological girls will be allowed to participate in female sports competitions in grades 5 through 12. The legislation does not affect lower grades or college sports.

The legislation requires that sports competitions for those grades be classified as either “male,” “female,” or “coed.” Only biological males can participate in “male” competitions, only biological females can participate in “female” competitions, and both can participate in “coed” competitions.

Per the legislation, a biological male who identifies as transgender could not participate in a sports competition reserved for girls.

“[This legislation] ensures fairness and safety in women’s sports by maintaining integrity and competitive balance in athletic competitions,” Sununu said. “With this widely supported step, New Hampshire joins nearly half of all U.S. states in taking this measure.”

Any student who is deprived of an athletic opportunity based on a violation of the law or who faces retaliation for reporting a violation will be allowed to sue the school for damages.

This bill goes into effect 30 days following the governor’s signature.

First ordinations take place in Nicaraguan diocese since exile of Bishop Álvarez

One priest and seven deacons were ordained July 20 in the Matagalpa cathedral by the president of the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference. / Credit: Diócesis Media - TV Merced/Screenshot

ACI Prensa Staff, Jul 22, 2024 / 16:52 pm (CNA).

After being under various forms of house arrest since August 2022, the bishop of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, Rolando Álvarez, was sentenced to 26 years in prison on Feb. 10, 2023, charged with being a “traitor to the homeland” by the dictatorship of President Daniel Ortega. In a deal with the Vatican, Álvarez was released from prison almost a year later and exiled to Rome on Jan. 14.

Now for the first time since Alvarez was exiled and while he is still the shepherd of his flock, one priest and seven deacons were ordained in his absence by the president of the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference and bishop of Jinotega, Carlos Enrique Herrera, on July 20 in the Matagalpa cathedral.

According to Diocese Media-TV Merced, the television channel of the Diocese of Matagalpa, Herrera celebrated the Mass in St. Peter the Apostle Cathedral in Matagalpa, where he ordained Juan José Orozco Jarquín to the priesthood.

The prelate also ordained to the diaconate Aníbal Hernaldo Vallejos Vallejos, Byron Antonio Flores Mejía, Celestino Eliécer Martínez Martínez, Ervin Andrés Aguirre Corea, Juan Dionisio Jarquín Díaz, Roberto Clemente Manzanares González, and Saúl Antonio Martínez Obregón.

According to the Nicaraguan newspaper Mosaico, this is the first ordination since Álvarez was exiled to Rome.

The newspaper also confirmed that the Diocese of Matagalpa has lost 25 of the 60 priests it had in 2020, most of whom have been arrested or exiled by the dictatorship of Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.

‘Propagate the kingdom of Christ throughout the earth’

In his homily, in which he did not mention Álvarez, the bishop of Jinotega highlighted that “it is always a cause of joy for us as a Church that God continues to bless us with these brothers who have freely decided to give themselves to the Lord.”

“We cannot help but feel great sadness because we must recognize that, although there are people who want to hear good things, there is a lack of those who are dedicated to announcing the good news and bearing witness,” the prelate noted.

“The Church was born with this purpose: to spread the kingdom of Christ throughout the earth, for the glory of God the Father, and thus make all men participants in the saving redemption and through this, order the entire universe toward Christ,” he emphasized.

Just mentioning Álvarez or asking for prayers for him during his long ordeal could result in being arrested by the dictatorship, which happened in December 2023 to the bishop of Siuna, Isidoro Mora, who was also exiled to Rome in January of this year.

Who is Álvarez?

Rolando Álvarez, the bishop of Matagalpa and apostolic administrator of Estelí, is a well-known defender of human rights and critic of the Nicaraguan dictatorship, which since 2018 has intensified its persecution of the Catholic Church in the country.

The cancellation of the legal status and the expropriation of the assets of Radio María Nicaragua on July 9 was the latest attack perpetrated by the regime.

Beginning Aug. 4, 2022, the regime’s riot police prevented Álvarez from leaving his residence along with some priests, seminarians, and a layman.

Two weeks later, when they had almost run out of food, the police broke into the house and abducted him to Managua, where he was placed under house arrest.

On Feb. 9, 2023, in a deal with the U.S. State Department, 222 political prisoners including priests and seminarians were deported by the Ortega regime to the United States. Álvarez could have been on the plane bound for freedom but refused.

According to Felix Maradiaga, one of the released political prisoners, the bishop refused because “he couldn’t leave his people behind. Because he had to give an example, a sacrificial witness” to the 37 political prisoners still incarcerated. Maradiaga said that the bishop stated at that time: “I’m not going to leave until all the prisoners are free.”

After a swift sham trial, the dictatorship sentenced the bishop the next day to 26 years in jail, sending him to the La Modelo prison, where political prisoners of the dictatorship are held.

After Vatican mediation, he was finally deported to Rome in January. According to José Antonio Canales, the bishop of Danlí in Honduras, who had an opportunity to make contact with Álvarez when he was in Rome, the Nicaraguan prelate “is very animated, full of hope and optimism.”

Since arriving in Rome in January, Álvarez has made no public statements. However, according to Canales this silence has not been imposed on him but rather “is his personal decision to have time for himself, to reflect on his life, but everything is fine.” 

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

18 states back Indiana teacher’s religious liberty lawsuit in transgender pronoun dispute

null / Credit: orgarashu/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 22, 2024 / 15:15 pm (CNA).

A coalition of 18 state attorneys general is throwing its support behind a lawsuit from a former Indiana high school teacher who lost his job because he would not use pronouns for students that were inconsistent with their sex. 

The Republican coalition, co-led by Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, filed an amicus brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit on Wednesday that asks the judges to rule that the teacher’s religious liberty was violated. 

An amicus brief, also known as a “friend of the court” brief, is a document filed by parties that have an interest in the outcome of the litigation but are not parties in the lawsuit.

Former music teacher John Kluge, who taught orchestra at the Brownsburg Community School Corporation just northwest of Indianapolis, was given the option of resigning or being fired from his job over the pronoun dispute, according to his lawsuit.

In 2017, the school district adopted a policy that forces teachers to use pronouns and names that reflect a student’s self-asserted gender identity, even if they are inconsistent with the student’s sex.

Kluge requested a religious accommodation that would allow him to avoid using any pronouns in reference to students, simply calling them by their last names, so he could avoid using pronouns that are inconsistent with a student’s biological sex.

The school district initially granted Kluge — a Christian — his requested accommodation and he taught for another year, according to the lawsuit. After receiving complaints from a few students and teachers, the school district revoked his accommodation, according to the lawsuit, and then “forced Mr. Kluge to resign or be fired.”

In the amicus brief, the attorneys general wrote that the school district “squandered an opportunity to showcase to students respect for people with different religious beliefs and practices” by forcing Kluge’s resignation. 

“Discriminating against teachers with religious convictions raises serious concerns as to the values taught to students and whether students are truly free to discover, learn, and grow in their own thought processes and beliefs,” the attorneys general added. “Schools should strive to teach respect for all religions instead of uniformity of thought.”

In a statement, Rokita said that Kluge’s compromise to avoid pronoun use altogether would allow him “to treat everyone equally and respectfully while also staying faithful to his own religious convictions.” 

“Kicking this teacher to the curb sends students the wrong messages about America’s heritage of respecting religion,” Rokita added. “And, at a time when teachers are in short supply, this kind of intolerance of faith among faculty members is sure to push additional good teachers out of the classroom.”

Rory Gray, who serves as senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom — the legal group representing Kluge — told CNA that “public schools can’t force teachers to abandon their religious beliefs.” 

“Mr. Kluge went out of his way to treat all his students with respect and care,” Gray said. “Yet the Brownsburg school district violated Title VII by censoring and punishing him for his religious beliefs. The 7th Circuit should … protect the religious convictions of employees, especially for teachers in our public schools.”

A spokesperson for the school district did not respond to a request for comment from CNA.

The school district has argued that the requested accommodation provides the district with an “undue burden” that jeopardizes the enforcement of its policies. 

The district has also argued that refusing to use a student’s preferred pronoun and name could violate Title IX’s prohibition on sex discrimination — a question that is currently before several courts.

In 2021, a Virginia teacher was fired after he criticized a proposed Loudoun County Public School Board policy that would require teachers to use a student’s preferred pronoun and name. The school board ultimately adopted the policy but reached a settlement with physical education teacher Byron “Tanner” Cross that gave him his job back.

Federal court rules in favor of Colorado church blocked from running homeless shelter

The Church of the Rock in Castle Rock, Colorado, is a nondenominational Christian church that was founded in the 1980s. After a legal battle with the town over a short-term homeless shelter, the church was vindicated on July 19, 2024, and permitted to continue its ministry on church property. / Credit: Photo courtesy of First Liberty Institute

CNA Staff, Jul 22, 2024 / 14:45 pm (CNA).

A federal judge sided with a Colorado church Friday in its dispute with a Denver-area town, granting the church the right to offer temporary housing for the homeless on its property.

Beginning in 2019, The Rock Church, a nondenominational church in Castle Rock, a town south of Denver, provided a recreational vehicle (RV) and a camper on the edge of its parking lot to temporarily shelter people experiencing homelessness. The church also provides temporary shelter during emergencies through a partnership with the Red Cross. 

On several occasions, town officials blocked the ministry, saying that housing people on church grounds violated zoning laws.

The Town of Castle Rock first notified the church of a zoning violation in 2021 and charged the church in 2023. 

In the lawsuit, which was filed in May, the church alleged that Castle Rock was “apparently operating on the cynical thesis that they do not want the homeless in their area.”

The lawsuit cited Scripture highlighting that helping the poor is essential to Christianity, arguing that the restriction infringes on the church’s religious freedom. The lawsuit also noted that there had been no safety complaints and that the shelters are barely visible from local residential housing, which is about 300 feet away from the parking lot.

The court ruled against the Town of Castle Rock on July 19, preventing the town from enforcing its land-use laws against the church to block the shelter. Additionally, the judge denied the church’s second and third claims that alleged interference by the town in the church’s Red Cross partnership. 

“We are pleased with the decision of the court that allows the church to carry out its religious freedom on its property,” Jeremy Dys, senior counsel with First Liberty Institute, a Christian legal nonprofit that argued the case, said in a statement shared with CNA.

“The court reopened the door of a caring church whose mission has always been to offer a warm environment for the homeless living on the cold, hard streets,” he added. 

U.S District Judge Daniel Domenico ruled that under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a 2000 law designed to protect religious organizations from discrimination in zoning laws, the church could practice its homeless shelter ministry on its nonresidential property. 

“The church contends that it carries out these ministries because of its faith and its religious mission to provide for the needy, emphasizing the fact that ‘the Holy Bible specifically and repeatedly directs faithful Christians like the church’s members to care for the poor and needy out of compassion and mercy for those who are experiencing significant misfortune and hardship,’” the judge wrote in the 18-page order.  

When launching the ministry, The Rock Church planned to provide short-term housing for families and individuals in need as well as food, clothing, and other material necessities. The church has since housed several individuals and families, including a single mother and her 3-year-old son, as well as two people recovering from addiction. 

In its suit against the town, the church said the restrictions violated First Amendment rights and religious freedom as well as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. 

The Rock Church argued that it “has suffered and will continue to suffer irreparable harm, including the loss of its constitutional rights,” and noted in its initial May 13 complaint that the town has no other temporary-shelter alternatives. 

The judge noted that “the church takes a number of precautions to ensure that its temporary shelter is safe,” including background checks by a third party and rules for conduct for RV tenants. 

Domenico found that the town’s restriction was irreparably harmful for the church’s practice of its sincerely-held religious beliefs. 

“The fact that the church has already had to turn away homeless families in need, in violation of its sincerely held beliefs that it must serve and house them on its property, makes this harm all too clear,” he noted. 

Church leaders praise Pakistan amendment raising legal age for marriage of Christians

null / Credit: VIVEK M NARAYANAN/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jul 22, 2024 / 12:37 pm (CNA).

Pakistan’s National Assembly unanimously approved the raising of the minimum legal age for marriage to 18 earlier this month, amending a 19th-century law allowing the marriage of Christian children. 

The Christian Marriage Act of 2024 amended an 1872 British rule allowing marriage at 13 for girls and 16 for boys, raising the age to 18 for both genders. The law was approved amid incidents of child marriage, kidnapping, and forced conversion in Pakistan, where about 19 million Pakistani women are victims of child marriage, according to 2018 data. 

The act was first introduced to the Senate last year by Sen. Kamran Michael as an update to the 1872 law and was approved on July 9 of this year after Naveed Aamir Jeeva, a Christian from Punjab province, introduced it to Pakistan’s sovereign legislative body, the National Assembly. 

The act applies to Christians in the Islamabad Capital Territory, a territory in the northwestern area of the Punjab region surrounding Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan.

Local Catholic leaders including the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, Bishop Samson Shukardin, and the National Commission for Justice and Peace have since hailed the act for protecting girls from forced conversions and child marriages, which is very common in Pakistan. 

“We extend our sincere appreciation to the entire Parliament for passing this bill unanimously,” read a statement from the organizations, according to Vatican News

“This legislation will play a crucial role in protecting our young and minor girls from forced conversions and child marriages,” it continued. “We hope the government will take further steps to criminalize forced religious conversions.” 

According to a study from United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), 1 in 6 young women in Pakistan were married in childhood. Pakistan is home to nearly 19 million women married before the age of 18, 4.6 million of whom were married before 15. 

This act is not the first legislation against child marriage in Pakistan in response to rampant child marriages. A Pakistani law, the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, was approved in 2013 in Sindh, the second-largest province in terms of population.

But courts do not always enforce these laws, and Sharia law (Islamic law) permits marriage of girls when they reach “maturity,” often considered to be after their first menstruation. Islam is the state religion of Pakistan, according to the nation’s constitution.

The new amendment may help prevent the practice of abducting young girls from the minority population of Christians and the forcing of them to convert to Islam and marry an older man. Fewer than 2% of Pakistanis are Christian and Hindu, respectively. Sunni Islam is the majority religion, at about 83% of the population, while Shia Islam is about 12% of the population.

Vatican secretary of state brings Pope Francis’ message of closeness to Ukraine

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin meets with Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk at the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Kyiv on Sunday, July 21, 2024. / Credit: Secretariat of the Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church

Vatican City, Jul 22, 2024 / 10:48 am (CNA).

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin is in Ukraine this week for what is the diplomat’s first visit to the country since the start of the Russian invasion in 2022.

In the first half of his July 19–24 visit, Parolin stopped briefly in Lviv before traveling to Odesa, a southern port city, and to the northern city of Berdychiv, where he celebrated a Mass for the conclusion of a pilgrimage of Latin-rite Ukrainian Catholics.

The afternoon of July 21, the secretary of state met with Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, at the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Kyiv. 

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin talks with Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk at the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Kyiv on Sunday, July 21, 2024. Credit: Secretariat of the Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin talks with Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk at the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Kyiv on Sunday, July 21, 2024. Credit: Secretariat of the Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church

The rest of the trip will include meetings with other religious and civil authorities, including Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“The message I brought from the pope is one of closeness,” Parolin said, according to Vatican News. The cardinal recalled Pope Francis’ many references to a “martyred Ukraine.”

“From the very beginning, the pope has manifested a very great closeness, a very great participation in the pain and suffering of this people,” Parolin said, adding that he comes to the war-torn country to bring Pope Francis’ closeness “in person.” 

The pontiff, he said, “shares the pain but above all would like to be able to help open” paths for a solution to the war.

In Odesa, one of Ukraine’s worst-hit cities since the start of the war, Parolin visited the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral, where he met with lay Catholics and local clergy as well as representatives of the government and of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

According to Vatican News, the cardinal said he was bringing “the closeness, the presence, and the blessing of the Holy Father Francis,” who is “following your situation with so much attention, with so much worry and so much pain.”

“As Christians, we should not lose hope,” including the hope that “by the grace of the Lord, who is able to touch even the hardest of hearts … a way to a just peace can be found,” Parolin said.

In Odesa, the secretary of state also visited the Greek-Catholic Parish of St. Michael and the Orthodox Cathedral of the Transfiguration, which was damaged in a Russian missile attack last year.

On Sunday, July 21, Parolin celebrated Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Berdychiv. The Mass marked the conclusion of a pilgrimage by Latin-rite Catholics of the Diocese of Lviv.

The intention of the Mass was for an immediate end to the ongoing war in Ukraine, Parolin told Vatican News.

In his homily at Mass, he encouraged Ukrainian Catholics to “never lose trust and hope in God, especially today, when it seems that evil has the upper hand, when the horrors of war and the pain of the many victims and the massive destruction undermine faith in divine goodness, when our arms fall off and we no longer even have strength to pray.”

Parolin’s homily was delivered in Ukrainian by Lviv Auxiliary Bishop Edward Kawa, Vatican News reported.

The secretary of state’s homily concluded with a prayer to the Virgin Mary for a “peaceful and sure future.”

“Oh Blessed Mother, grant that children and young people may have a peaceful and sure future, that families may be places of love, that the elderly and the sick may receive comfort and relief in their suffering, that those defending their homeland may be protected from the attacks of evil, that prisoners of war may return to embrace their loved ones, and that the victims may be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven,” he prayed.

Packed adoration chapel at National Eucharistic Congress overflows with devotion to Jesus

Throughout the week, the perpetual adoration chapel at the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis has been full to overflowing. / Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

Indianapolis, Ind., Jul 22, 2024 / 09:00 am (CNA).

It was standing room only at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in downtown Indianapolis for much of the week as a steady stream of Catholics attending the 10th National Eucharistic Congress popped in and out of the church to pray before Jesus in the Eucharist.

The church suspended its regular Masses for the week to serve as the perpetual adoration chapel for the nearly 60,000 Catholics attending the Eucharistic congress July 17–21. Located across the street from the Indiana Convention Center where much of the event’s liturgies, workshops, panels, and exhibits were taking place, the historic church became home base for many attendees. 

Throughout the week, religious sisters stood under a tent outside the church handing out rosaries and slips of paper to attendees, inviting them to write down their prayer intentions for them to take to the Blessed Sacrament.

Sister Dominica, a Dominican Sister of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, an order based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, told CNA on Saturday that the sisters had received at least 2,000 prayer requests.

“We keep having to make runs to Jesus!” she said.

Sister Dominica, a Dominican Sister of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, told CNA on Saturday that they had received at least 2,000 prayer requests since the beginning of the National Eucharistic Congress. Credit: Zelda Caldwell/CNA
Sister Dominica, a Dominican Sister of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, told CNA on Saturday that they had received at least 2,000 prayer requests since the beginning of the National Eucharistic Congress. Credit: Zelda Caldwell/CNA

Sister Dominica and several members of her community were taking a shift under the tent in an effort organized by the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious and carried out by several orders of religious sisters. The Eucharistic prayer initiative has a special meaning for their order, she said.

“It’s a real outreach of our own — our own charism of Eucharistic adoration and promoting that devotion in the church. And we’re huge supporters of this Eucharistic revival,” Sister Dominica said. 

On the last full day of the conference, CNA spoke with some of those outside the church about their experience in adoration before the Eucharist and at the National Eucharistic Congress, an event planned by the U.S. bishops to help foster a deeper encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist. 

Andrew Niewald, a theology teacher from Beloit, Kansas, told CNA that he has been inspired by seeing so many other people in adoration share a faith and love for Jesus in the Eucharist.

“I believe that just seeing so many people here that believe in the Eucharist, you go into an adoration like that, where there seems to be hundreds of people just in almost complete silence, praying deeply. That moves your soul. It speaks to your soul a little bit,” Niewald said.

“You know, all of us probably get lost in our own churches where sometimes we feel like we’re battling an uphill battle, maybe because the real world meets our beliefs. And you just think that you’re the only one that stays with the Lord as they did in John 6. It’s very beautiful to be here with the masses that believe,” he said.

Andrew Niewald, a theology teacher from Beloit, Kansas, told CNA that he has been inspired by seeing so many other people in adoration share a faith and love for Jesus in the Eucharist. Credit: Zelda Caldwell/CNA
Andrew Niewald, a theology teacher from Beloit, Kansas, told CNA that he has been inspired by seeing so many other people in adoration share a faith and love for Jesus in the Eucharist. Credit: Zelda Caldwell/CNA


After spending time in the adoration chapel, Abigale LaFave, 17, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, told CNA that what she saw in the church also moved her.

“It is striking how there are so many people, and yet it is silent, and everybody’s attention is right on the Lord. I think that is what touched my heart the most, just the magnitude of people, and yet the reverence and the silence before him,” she said.

“It is a gorgeous church. Architecture should glorify the Lord, and this one definitely does it,” LaFave said of St. John’s, which was built in 1867.

“It’s a great community. Everybody is so on fire and so in love with the Lord, and just being in special adoration with those people, it is really moving,” said LaFave, who attended the congress with her family.

After spending time in the adoration chapel, Abigale LaFave, 17, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, told CNA that what she saw in the church also moved her. Credit: Zelda Caldwell/CNA
After spending time in the adoration chapel, Abigale LaFave, 17, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, told CNA that what she saw in the church also moved her. Credit: Zelda Caldwell/CNA

Victoria Smith, 20, of Maitland, Florida, upon leaving the church, told CNA that she has felt closer to Jesus after spending time in adoration while at the conference.

“I’ve never been much for adoration before, but you got to let go of all the thoughts like ‘I’m not praying right.’ Because the truth is, when you’re with someone you love, you’re not always talking to them, and not all your conversations are about something so deep. And not all of your conversations are going to change your life, but they’re all beautiful,” she said.

“Like your conversations with your mother, or if you’re just sitting with her at the breakfast table. What’s important is the love there, not always the words that [are] said.”

Victoria Smith, 20, of Maitland, Florida, upon leaving the church, told CNA that she has felt closer to Jesus after spending time in adoration while at the conference. Credit: Zelda Caldwell/CNA
Victoria Smith, 20, of Maitland, Florida, upon leaving the church, told CNA that she has felt closer to Jesus after spending time in adoration while at the conference. Credit: Zelda Caldwell/CNA

Nancy Betkoski of Beacon Falls, Connecticut, told CNA that sharing the experience of prayer with so many other Catholics has been “a touch of heaven.”

She said she had been writing in her journal during Eucharistic adoration and was reminded of her childhood desire to be a missionary.

Attending the conference with a friend, Betkoski said: ”We want to be here to be used for good. So we’re open to his mission.”

“I really hope that people will just be renewed knowing that they can have a friendship with Jesus. That’s what I really want, is people to have a friendship with Jesus. I’d say he’s my best friend,” she said.

Nancy Betkoski of Beacon Falls, Connecticut, told CNA that sharing the experience of prayer with so many other Catholics has been "a touch of heaven." Credit: Zelda Caldwell
Nancy Betkoski of Beacon Falls, Connecticut, told CNA that sharing the experience of prayer with so many other Catholics has been "a touch of heaven." Credit: Zelda Caldwell

Dominique Barksdale, 28, of Flossmoor, Illinois, told CNA that she has found her experience a challenging one.

“I was not expecting to go this way. I was expecting just to have fun and fellowship. And now I’m just like, I’m exhausted. I’ve been crying multiple times — it’s just the Spirit is moving,” she said.

Dominique Barksdale, 28, of Flossmoor, Illinois, told CNA that she has found her experience a challenging one. Credit: Zelda Caldwell/CNA
Dominique Barksdale, 28, of Flossmoor, Illinois, told CNA that she has found her experience a challenging one. Credit: Zelda Caldwell/CNA

Barksdale said that she hopes to develop a deeper awareness of Jesus after this experience.

“I carve out three hours with God every day. But am I being conscious of Jesus Christ? So I’m hoping after this, I’ll have Jesus as a priority, too. I feel like I’ve almost put him on a back burner. So it’s a hard thing to confront,” she said.

“I’m just trying to let the Holy Spirit lead me. And I saw that wonderful artwork that was in the conference room, the exhibit hall, that has Jesus in the monstrance. So that really helped me last night when the procession was happening — to imagine him walking in, not just the monstrance, but Jesus coming in,” she said.

Salvador Cerda of Joliet, Illinois, and his wife, Jenny, told CNA that in the 50 years they have been married, this is the first time they have taken a trip alone. Salvador said he felt called to attend the congress.

“The Lord made it possible. Any other time, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to come. But he made it possible this year. I don’t know why. It just all fell in place,” Salvador Cerda said.

“The Lord made it possible. Any other time, I wouldn't have been able to afford to come. But he made it possible this year. I don't know why. It just all fell in place,” Salvador Cerda told CNA. He and his wife, Jenny, said this is the first trip they have taken alone together in 50 years of marriage. Credit: Zelda Caldwell/CNA
“The Lord made it possible. Any other time, I wouldn't have been able to afford to come. But he made it possible this year. I don't know why. It just all fell in place,” Salvador Cerda told CNA. He and his wife, Jenny, said this is the first trip they have taken alone together in 50 years of marriage. Credit: Zelda Caldwell/CNA

“When I heard about the congress, something hit me. I got to go. I got to be there. I’ve been walking this journey with Our Lord, and more and more, I started attending daily Mass, and I see the Lord. I see him there, and I see him calling me for whatever, to inspire people, to move people, to to work with people. I just wanted to be here to share that love with others,” he said.

“But I’m surprised how many people are here. I just can’t believe it. That’s a feeling that I had before in the liturgies when we have the full choir and meditations,” he said with tears in his eyes.

“I miss that. We don’t have that now. It’s a historic church, but it’s very small. We don’t have that congregation that joins in with the choir and just sings their hearts. I just had to be here. I said, I got to share this with somebody. I got to be with somebody, with others that believe and love Christ. I just had to be here,” Cerda said.

St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church is located across the street from the Indiana Convention Center where the National Eucharistic Congress took place July 17-21, 2024. The sculpture in the foreground was created by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz. Credit: Zelda Caldwell/CNA
St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church is located across the street from the Indiana Convention Center where the National Eucharistic Congress took place July 17-21, 2024. The sculpture in the foreground was created by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz. Credit: Zelda Caldwell/CNA

Young adults defying secularism trend in Canadian Church

A recent Cardus study says young Catholics are twice as likely as their senior counterparts to attend religious services at least once a month. / Credit: Elijah Bautista

Vancouver, Canada, Jul 22, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

A recent Cardus study says young Catholics are twice as likely as their senior counterparts to attend religious services at least once a month.

Reports of dwindling religious practice among Catholics in Canada may be more prevalent each year, but a different trend showing increased interest from young adults is giving hope for a possible resurgence of the Church in the near future.

A 2022 research report from Cardus titled “The Shifting Landscape of Faith in Canada,” revealed religious indicators among those who identify as Roman Catholic have overall declined since 2017. Those indicators included believing in God, reading Scripture regularly, having an experience of God in one’s life, praying regularly, and attending religious services (apart from weddings and funerals) regularly.

However, the report found an exception in younger Canadian Catholics.

“We are seeing what seems to be a bit of a revival within the Church and that goes against the old secularism thesis that as a society becomes more secularized, it becomes less religious,” said Father Deacon Andrew Bennett, director of the Faith Communities Program at Cardus.

“We live in probably one of the most secularist countries in the world and we see that a lot of young men and women are far from leaving the Church; they are actually entering into it instead.”

Bennett is adamant that the more Canada swells its secular society, the more Catholicism becomes an attractive option for young adults (roughly aged 18–34) as a form of rejection rather than an escape.

Younger Christians appear to be more intentional or committed to the teachings and practices of the faith than Christians of their parents’ or grandparents’ generations, Cardus says. Credit: Elijah Bautista
Younger Christians appear to be more intentional or committed to the teachings and practices of the faith than Christians of their parents’ or grandparents’ generations, Cardus says. Credit: Elijah Bautista

“Increasingly we have seen a number of young people, whether it is in high schools, universities, or workplaces, not buying into society’s highly subjective idea of truth. They are seeking integrity, authenticity, and something with real staying power,” he continued.

“This sees them come to or return back to the Church they were raised in where they see that the Catholic faith holds an objective and universal truth, one that is not a philosophy that changes with the wind but rather the person of Jesus Christ.”

The Cardus report shows Canadians identifying as Roman Catholic under 40 years of age were nearly twice as likely as older Roman Catholics to attend religious services at least once a month. Additionally, 81% of young Roman Catholics showed a belief in life after death, with 91% of females under 35 having this belief, compared with 60% of their senior counterparts.

While analyzing specific demographics can be tricky (and in Archdiocese of Vancouver these records are the responsibility of individual parishes), the report highlights that certain belief indicators can give realistic insight into who identifies as Catholic.

Cardus conducted another survey in 2024 called “Still Christian(?)” to look at the relationship between the personal beliefs of Canadian Christians and the teachings of various church denominations.

“In the ‘Still Christian’ survey that we just did recently, the questions were essentially ‘mere Christianity,’ meaning that either you agree with these or you do not, and if you do not agree with them, you become incoherent in terms of the Christian faith if you yourself profess to be Christian or Catholic,” Bennett said.

The 2024 report also stated that “younger Christians appear to be more intentional or committed to the teachings and practices of the faith than Christians of their parents’ or grandparents’ generations.”

An increasing number of young people are rejecting society’s highly subjective view of truth, said the director of faith programs at Cardus, Father Deacon Andrew Bennett. “They are seeking integrity, authenticity, and something with real staying power,” he said. Credit: Elijah Bautista
An increasing number of young people are rejecting society’s highly subjective view of truth, said the director of faith programs at Cardus, Father Deacon Andrew Bennett. “They are seeking integrity, authenticity, and something with real staying power,” he said. Credit: Elijah Bautista

The younger generation “is beginning to desire a more traditionally Catholic life,” Bennett said. “If you look at any church where the Traditional Latin Mass is being offered, they are not only growing, they are bursting at the seams.”

One parish that is no stranger to young adults is Holy Family Parish in Vancouver, whose Latin Mass has become the source and summit for its growing community.

Father Kent Grealy, parochial vicar at Holy Family Parish, notes the increase of young people and families has amassed to roughly a new parishioner every Sunday for close to the past six months. These new members also comment on the number of other young people and families in attendance.

A multitude of reasons has been discussed, but Grealy surmises that apart from an escape from modern culture’s ideals, there is something intrinsic to discovering a higher purpose that leads people in that age range directly to the Gospel.

“Young adults are at that point of their lives where they possibly look towards marriage or to more substantial relationships. Through that they often discover the romance of faith which begins to take shape around that age,” he said.

“That draws them into discovering the Gospel, which is this story that is a great epic, and it shows them that the nihilistic and materialistic bent of modernity makes life not worth living.”

It is a theory that has also been observed by Eric Chow, associate director for ministries and outreach for the Archdiocese of Vancouver. For him, a significant cause of the increase comes down to young adults’ hunger to find their role within the Church and a place in their everyday lives.

At more traditional parishes like Holy Family in Vancouver, British Columbia, the Latin Mass has become the focus of their growing communities. Credit: Crystal Matthews
At more traditional parishes like Holy Family in Vancouver, British Columbia, the Latin Mass has become the focus of their growing communities. Credit: Crystal Matthews

“The word that comes to mind for me is identity,” he said. “The young adult stage is really about seeking identity and moving into adulthood in such a way that is true to who they are and who God has made them to be.”

For the last five years, Chow has overseen a lay formation team that supports the archdiocese’s Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, various young adult ministries, and catechetical formation of lay leaders. Even before his tenure, he had noticed a change in the demographics.

“Prior to working for the archdiocese, I worked for an evangelization movement called Catholic Christian Outreach, which is a university student movement dedicated to evangelization and works on campuses all across Canada. There, we had seen an increase in the number of young adults that have not only engaged within the life of the Church but also engaged within the life of their local parish communities.”

He also cited a thirst for leadership formation as one of the reasons younger audiences are seeking Catholicism.

Eric Chow, associate director for ministries and outreach for the Archdiocese of Vancouver, says young adults have “a desire to want to have real, authentic, and relevant expressions of Catholicism” that are relevant in their lives. Credit: Elijah Bautista
Eric Chow, associate director for ministries and outreach for the Archdiocese of Vancouver, says young adults have “a desire to want to have real, authentic, and relevant expressions of Catholicism” that are relevant in their lives. Credit: Elijah Bautista

“They are hungry for more than even just a young adult community, something that is not limited to a prayer group once a week. There has been a shift in the way in which Catholicism is being expressed within communities, and part of what I am seeing with young adults is a desire to want to have real, authentic, and relevant expressions of Catholicism that help animate their everyday lives in things like decision making.”

The real-world effects that an influx of young adult attention has on the Church reflect the beneficial synergy between young adults and religion.

“I think [increased young adult involvement] invites every parish to consider how they might provide support beyond just giving them a room and a couple of bucks to buy some pizza. It is thinking about how can [parishes] form these young adults in such a way that they can have their questions answered around their identity, vocations, their relationship with God and at the same time, offer them tangible on-the-ground leadership opportunities to serve the Church in a greater way,” Chow said.

“These people can still dream a lot about what tomorrow might bring but at the same time be old enough to do something about it and that is a really neat dynamic of being engaged at that age.”

This article was originally published by The B.C. Catholic on July 12, 2024, and has been reprinted here with permission.

Thousands expected at annual pilgrimage to Our Lady of Muxima Shrine in Angola

Thousands of pilgrims are expected to participate in the 2024 pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Muxima scheduled to begin on Aug. 30 in Angola’s Catholic Diocese of Viana, Bishop Emílio Sumbelelo has said. / Credit: Diocese of Viana

ACI Africa, Jul 22, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Thousands of pilgrims are expected to participate in the 2024 pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Muxima scheduled Aug. 30–Sept. 1 in Angola’s Diocese of Viana, the local ordinary has said.

Bishop Emílio Sumbelelo, who spoke to journalists on July 16 after an audience with the governor of Luanda Province, Manuel Homem, highlighted some of the innovations for this year’s pilgrimage event under the theme “With Mary, Let Us Live the Year of Prayer in Faith.”

“This year thousands of people are expected to take part in this religious event,” Sumbelelo told journalists. “This year, we want to introduce fireworks to show the population that the pilgrimage also has a touristic aspect that we would like to promote.”

Pilgrims are set to arrive in the village of Muxima on Aug. 29 and will be ushered into “catechesis and religious celebrations” ahead of Mass to officially open the pilgrimage on Aug. 31.

Sumbelelo also spoke about the pilgrimage logo, which he said would be processed through some of the dioceses in the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Luanda, including the Dioceses of Caxito and Viana.

“The pilgrimage logo will also follow the Cabala bridge to Muxima village, escorted by the military,” Sumbelelo said. This year’s pilgrimage to the shrine will also have Bishop Manuel da Silva Rodrigues Linda of the Diocese of Porto in Portugal as a guest of honor.

In the July 16 press conference, Sumbelelo, who is also president of the Episcopal Commission for Family and Life of the Bishops’ Conference of Angola and São Tomé and Príncipe, said that engaging the governor was part of the decision to bring local authorities on board. 

“The pilgrimage will attract many people and we need the assistance of the authorities in ensuring order during the event,” he explained.

“We tried to deal with some common issues regarding parking and we know that work is underway at the Shrine of Our Lady of Muxima and spaces are beginning to be scarce,” Sumbelelo said.

Considered by many to be the most popular place of pilgrimage and worship in Angola, the Shrine of Our Lady of Muxima is located about 130 kilometers (81 miles) from the country’s capital city, Luanda.

In the local Kimbundu language, “Muxima” means “heart” — a name given to the shrine due to its location in the middle of the province. Muxima sits on the edge of the Kwanza River.

The Portuguese occupied the village of Muxima in 1589, at which time they built a fortress and the Church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição da Muxima.

A popular place of devotion to Our Lady, the Marian pilgrimage received a boost when Angola’s Diocese of Viana was created in 2007, inaugurating a new phase in the history of the Shrine.

This article was first published by ACI Africa, CNA's news partner in Africa, and has been adapted by CNA.