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Posted on 09/25/2023 20:40 PM (CNA Daily News - US)
CNA Staff, Sep 25, 2023 / 17:40 pm (CNA).
North Carolina last week became the 10th U.S. state to enact “universal” school choice by removing barriers to a state program that provides tuition assistance for students attending private schools.
North Carolina’s General Assembly gave final approval Sept. 22 to a new state budget that aims to triple funding for the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program and end income restrictions for getting a private school voucher, the Charlotte News & Observer reported. Every North Carolina family will be able to apply for tuition assistance to attend a K-12 private school beginning in 2024-2025.
Since 2013, the state has offered the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Program, an initiative that previously provided funding of up to $5,928 per year for eligible children who choose to attend a participating nonpublic school, a figure that rose to $6,492 for the 2023-2024 school year.
That program provided assistance to nearly 25,600 students during the 2022-2023 school year, according to the program’s self-reported data. Of the 544 nonpublic schools participating in the program, the top 71 grantees by dollars given were all religious, according to the data.
Under the previous program guidelines — among other requirements — families of four making less than $111,000 would have met the eligibility criteria for the voucher. The new budget eliminates the income requirement and also eliminates a requirement related to prior enrollment in a public school. The budget also gives the state education superintendent authority to recommend a nationally-recognized standardized test for voucher recipients.
To pay for the program, the North Carolina budget calls for the Opportunity Scholarship program’s funding to nearly triple in the coming decade to more than half a billion dollars in the 2032-2033 fiscal year.
The individual voucher amount will vary by the family’s income level, the News & Observer reported. The state’s wealthiest families would get 45% of the amount the state spends per public school student, while the lowest-income families would get the full $6,492.
Jennifer Feldhaus, principal of Infant of Prague Catholic School in Jacksonville, North Carolina, told CNA late last year her school has benefited greatly from the Opportunity Scholarship program and estimated that approximately 42% of the school’s students were making use of the scholarship at that time.
“It’s been a tremendous program for Catholic schools because what was considered before unreachable, whether on income or location, is now an option for families,” she told CNA at the time.
Early 2023 data from the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) showed that nationwide, 10.5% of Catholic school students use a parental choice program and 27.6% of Catholic schools enrolled students using parental choice programs. In some states, such as Arizona and Indiana, nearly all of the state’s Catholic schools take part in school choice programs.
The NCEA works with the U.S. bishops and other groups to support school choice, the group’s president and CEO Lincoln Snyder told CNA last spring.
“The Church believes very strongly that parents should have the ability to select the best education for their child as their primary educators. Obviously, choice programs are starting to make a huge difference for Catholic schools in enrollment,” Snyder said.
“[W]ithout these programs, it would be a far greater challenge for our communities to make Catholic education affordable. So we strongly advocate for seeing a growth in choice programs as a Church, no doubt, but it’s not our only strategy. We still also look to communities and philanthropists to help make schools affordable for families as well.”
Seven states “went universal” with their school choice programs during 2023 alone, according to the advocacy group EdChoice. Nearly 1 in 5 students now lives in a state with universal or near-universal school choice, the group says.
Sister Dale McDonald, PBVM, NCEA’s vice president of public policy, told CNA on Monday that she hopes North Carolina schools will encourage parents to apply for the voucher. Public dollars are generated by everyone, including parents and teachers at private schools, and private school students are “entitled a share,” she said.
“It’s fair, it’s justice, to give our kids a share of the money that their parents’ taxes generate,” she said, noting that in North Carolina, the state has only about 18,000 Catholic school students, a relatively small portion of the overall student population.
Universal school choice has, for the most part, only gained traction in Republican-led states. In North Carolina, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper allowed the budget to become law without his signature, despite decrying it as “a bad budget that seriously shortchanges our [public] schools.”
McDonald said making school choice a “bipartisan issue” is “the big challenge right now.”
“Supporting kids should not be political,” she commented, saying school choice programs are about “respecting the needs of kids, not systems.”
What should Catholics think about school choice?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that parents have “the first responsibility for the education of their children” (No. 2223). Mothers and fathers, the Catechism says, retain the right to both teach their children the morals imparted by the Church and “to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions” (No. 2229).
Polling by CNA’s parent organization, EWTN, released late last year found that U.S. Catholic parents broadly back initiatives to support school choice, with two-thirds saying they support a policy that allows students to make use of public education funds for the schools or services that best fit their needs.
Posted on 09/25/2023 20:15 PM (CNA Daily News - US)
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 25, 2023 / 17:15 pm (CNA).
Thousands of Armenian Christians have fled their ancestral homeland in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh over the weekend and more are expected, the government of Armenia confirmed Monday.
“The mass exodus has begun,” Siobhan Nash-Marshall, a U.S.-based human rights advocate who has been speaking to witnesses on the ground, told CNA.
Nash-Marshall founded the Christians in Need Foundation (CINF) in 2011 to help Armenian Christians in the region, and in 2020 she started a school for children and adults in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Now, Nash-Marshall has received word from her school in Nagorno-Karabakh that “all is over” and that “people from all regions, all villages, are homeless” and without shelter, food, and water.
Hundreds of ethnic Armenians are sleeping in the streets and cannot even drink water because they claim it has been “poisoned by Azeris,” according to Nash-Marshall’s contacts.
Nash-Marshall was told that there are lines of “2,000 in front of the only bakery” near her school and that “all are hungry, frightened, and hopeless.”
According to the government of Armenia, 6,650 “forcibly displaced persons” entered Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh since last week.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Sunday that he expects most of the 120,000 ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh to flee the region due to “the danger of ethnic cleansing,” Middle Eastern news source Al Jazeera reported.
Why is this happening?
Both former soviet territories, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh for decades. With the backing of Turkey, Azerbaijan asserted its military dominance over Armenia in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, which ended in November 2020.
Though Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, the region is almost entirely made up of ethnic Armenian Christians.
Until last week, Armenians in the region claimed self-sovereignty under the auspices of the “Republic of Artsakh.”
On Sept. 19, Azerbaijan launched a short but intense military offensive that included rocket and mortar fire. The offensive, labeled “antiterror measures” by the Azeri government, resulted in the deaths of more than 200 ethnic Armenians and over 10,000 displaced civilians, according to the Artsakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
On Sept. 20, the ethnic Armenians agreed to a cease-fire that resulted in the dismantling of their military and self-governance.
Following the breakaway region’s defeat by Azerbaijan, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said that Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh would be integrated and that representatives from the enclave were “invited to dialogue” with the Azeri government.
Despite these promises, widespread fears of religious and cultural persecution have led large swathes of the population to flee to Armenia proper.
Mass exodus begins
Eric Hacopian, a human rights advocate who has been on the ground in Nagorno-Karabakh, told CNA that Armenians in the region are facing “horrendous” conditions in which they have “little food” and “no medicine or security.”
Hacopian called the Azeri actions in Nagorno-Karabakh “genocide” and said that by tomorrow he expects the number of refugees to rise to 15,000 to 20,000.
Ultimately he believes “95% to 99%” of the Armenian population in the region will flee because of the “risk of being murdered and tortured.”
Photos posted on social media showed the highways leading out of the region’s largest city, Stepanakert, filled with massive lines of cars filled with refugees.
Stepanakert now. There is an almost 100km line of cars from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia as the entire population flees. 120,000 people are leaving their homes. pic.twitter.com/p6rNDz37tl— Neil Hauer (@NeilPHauer) September 25, 2023
Many of the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh have called the region home for centuries. Now, all of that appears to be rapidly changing.
“Armenians cannot survive under Turkish or Azeri rule,” Nash-Marshall told CNA Monday, adding that the Azeri government “thrives on Armenophobia.”
She said that deeply rooted anti-Armenian sentiment in Azeri culture is exhibited by the military’s executions of Armenian prisoners of war in 2022 as well as recently erected memorials in the Azeri capital city, Baku, that depict “grossly exaggerated life-sized figures of dead and dying Armenian soldiers and chained captives.”
“Anyone who knows the history of the Armenian Genocide will recognize the pattern of Azerbaijan’s actions with respect to Eastern Armenians and the Artsakhtsi,” Nash-Marshall said.
According to Gegham Stepanyan, an Artsakh human rights defender, “thousands” more displaced ethnic Armenians “are now waiting for their evacuation to Armenia.”
“Many of them,” Stepanyan said, “simply have nowhere to stay, so they have to wait for their turn in the streets.”
Armenia in danger
Some experts believe that Armenia itself is in danger of invasion.
Both Azerbaijan President Aliyev and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have proposed constructing a highway in the far southern portion of the Armenian province of Syunik, which is bordered by Azerbaijan both to the east and the west.
The road would connect the main portion of Azerbaijan to both its western enclave, known as Nakhchivan, as well as to Turkey.
If built, experts fear Azerbaijan could soon move to wrest control of all of Syunik.
“Let us be realistic,” Nash-Marshall said. “Azerbaijan already has grabbed a part of the region … They are also firing on border villages and have been for a year. What, then, is the threat to Armenia? Invasion.”
Aliyev and Erdogan met in Nakhchivan on Monday, further increasing fears that the pair could be eyeing a Syunik takeover.
In a Monday press conference, Aliyev lamented that “the land link between the main part of Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan” was “cut off” when Soviet authorities assigned Syunik to Armenia instead of Azerbaijan, according to reporting by Reuters.
Hacopian also said that he believes an invasion of Armenia is “quite likely” to create a highway in what is currently southern Armenia.
Samantha Power, chief administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and Assistant Secretary of State Yuri Kim landed in Armenia Monday.
In a Monday X post, Power said: “I’m here to reiterate the U.S.’s strong support & partnership with Armenia and to speak directly with those impacted by the humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh.”
Many still feel that the U.S. is not doing enough to address the situation unfolding in Nagorno-Karabakh.
New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith introduced a bill Friday to require the U.S. State Department to take concrete actions to guarantee the human rights of the Armenian Christians in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Titled the “Preventing Ethnic Cleansing and Atrocities in Nagorno-Karabakh Act of 2023,” the bill is co-sponsored by California Democrat Rep. Brad Sherman and Arkansas Republican Rep. French Hill.
If passed, the bill would require the U.S. government to take several actions in support of the impacted Armenians including terminating military aid to Azerbaijan and establishing military financing for Armenia, authorizing humanitarian assistance to Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and dispatching diplomats to the region to monitor the situation and immediately report any further human rights abuses.
“The people of Nagorno-Karabakh are in grave danger,” Smith said in a Monday press release. “Tragically, they have been forced to disarm and surrender their independence to a ruthless dictator whose government has repeatedly committed horrific abuses against them over many years, expressed its will to ethnically cleanse them, and even initiated a genocide by starvation with the blockade of the Lachin Corridor.”
Smith went on to say that “we must work with them to ensure that the transition is not marked by continued human atrocities.”
Posted on 09/25/2023 19:54 PM (CNA Daily News - US)
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 25, 2023 / 16:54 pm (CNA).
In a break with his party’s legislators, California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have penalized a parent’s custodial claims if he or she does not affirm a child’s self-professed transgender identity.
The Democratic governor vetoed the legislation on Sept. 22 despite the bill passing the state’s lower legislative chamber 61-16 and upper chamber 30-9. It had overwhelming support from Democratic lawmakers but was opposed by Republican legislators.
Per the proposed legislation, courts would have been required to consider “a parent’s affirmation of the child’s gender identity or gender expression” when determining the “health, safety, and welfare of the child.” The court would need to determine this affirmation through “a range of actions,” which would be “unique for each child” but must “promote the child’s overall health and well-being.”
A parent’s rejection of a child’s self-asserted transgender identity would not disqualify a parent from maintaining custody on its own, under the proposal. However, it would be considered in conjunction with other criteria measuring the child’s “health, safety, and welfare.”
In his veto of the legislation, Newsom said courts are already required to consider a child’s health, safety, and welfare, which he claimed includes “the parent’s affirmation of the child’s gender identity.” The governor urged caution “when the executive and legislative branches of state government attempt to dictate — in prescriptive terms that single out one characteristic — legal standards for the judicial branch to apply.”
Newsom said “other-minded elected officials … could very well use this strategy to diminish the civil rights of vulnerable communities.” Despite his veto, the governor added that he appreciates “the passion and values that led the author to introduce this bill” and said he shared “a deep commitment to advancing the rights of transgender Californians, an effort that has guided my decisions through many decades in public office.”
Sophia Lorey, the outreach coordinator for the California Family Council, encouraged people to “celebrate this victory!” in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. However, she noted that a veto override is still on the table.
“The legislators can override this veto,” Lorey said. “All they [need] is [two-thirds] of each house to do so.”
More than two-thirds of lawmakers in both chambers voted for the legislation. Lawmakers reconvene on Jan. 3, 2024, and have 60 days to override the veto.
About 1,000 Californians rallied at the state capitol in August to protest the legislation and other bills that they feared would take away parental rights.
One of those bills would allow a minor aged 12 or older to receive transgender medical services without parental consent if a mental health professional “determines that the [parental] involvement would be inappropriate” after consulting with the child. It would also allow a mental health professional to place a minor in a residential shelter if he or she determines the minor is “mature enough to participate intelligently in the outpatient services or residential shelter services.”
This legislation passed both chambers of the California Legislature and was sent to Newsom, but the governor has not yet taken action on the bill.
Posted on 09/25/2023 16:48 PM (CNA Daily News - US)
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 25, 2023 / 13:48 pm (CNA).
California’s pro-abortion attorney general, Rob Bonta, sued five pro-life pregnancy centers Sept. 21 over their promotion of a drug that is meant to reverse chemical abortions.
In his lawsuit against Heartbeat International and affiliated pregnancy center chain RealOptions, Bonta accused the pregnancy centers of using fraudulent and misleading claims when advertising the abortion pill reversal drug.
The state’s lawsuit claims that there is no scientific evidence supporting the safety or efficacy of the abortion pill reversal drug despite the pregnancy centers describing them as an effective and safe way to reverse chemical abortions. It argues that pregnant women must have access to accurate information when deciding whether to use the drug.
“Those who are struggling with the complex decision to get an abortion deserve support and trustworthy guidance — not lies and misinformation,” Bonta said in a statement.
“HBI and RealOptions took advantage of pregnant patients at a deeply vulnerable time in their lives, using false and misleading claims to lure them in and mislead them about a potentially risky procedure,” Bonta alleged. “We are launching today’s lawsuit to put a stop to their predatory and unlawful behavior.”
The lawsuit accuses the pregnancy centers of violating California’s False Advertising Law and Unfair Competition Law. It asks the court to order the pregnancy centers to stop advertising the drug as safe and effective.
In response to the attorney general’s lawsuit, Heartbeat International issued a statement rejecting the claim that their advertisements of the drug are false or misleading.
“All major studies show that using progesterone to counteract a chemical abortion (Abortion Pill Reversal) can be effective since it’s the very same hormone a woman’s body produces to sustain her pregnancy,” the statement read.
“One study even shows an effective rate of 80%,” the statement continued. “Progesterone has been safely used with pregnant women and their babies since the 1950s. To date, statistics show more than 4,500 women have had successful abortion pill reversals and that number grows higher each day.”
According to Heartbeat International, the organization receives calls through its hotline from women who want to reverse their chemical abortions.
“Through our Abortion Pill Rescue Network hotline, we know that some women almost immediately regret their chemical abortion choice,” the statement read. “These women deserve the right to try and save their pregnancies. No woman should ever be forced to complete an abortion she no longer wants.”
This is not the first time California has tried to impose pro-abortion talking points on pro-life pregnancy centers. In 2018, the United States Supreme Court struck down a state law that forced the centers to display written notices with state-sanctioned language about abortion.
Other states have also gone after pro-life pregnancy centers this year. In Illinois and Vermont, legislation went into effect that is meant to regulate what pregnancy centers can advertise and say. In both cases, pregnancy centers filed lawsuits against the states because of the laws, which are still being litigated.
Posted on 09/25/2023 16:00 PM (CNA Daily News - US)
CNA Staff, Sep 25, 2023 / 13:00 pm (CNA).
Most Americans don’t place a high priority on marriage and children compared with their careers and friends, a new Pew Research Center survey says, and a large minority of Americans are pessimistic about the future of marriage and family.
Patrick T. Brown, a family policy expert and fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told CNA that the increasing number of people uninterested in having children or getting married “should help us recognize that we are entering a new era.”
“The Pew survey shows what I think a lot of [people] already feel: that the family, as an institution, is under threat, not least from a shifting cultural attitude that treats family and marriage as incidental to long-term well-being,” Brown said.
“The family used to be the core unit of society. Increasingly, it’s now a lifestyle choice. And troublingly, the Americans who could benefit most from the stability of marriage and family life — working-class individuals and those without a college degree — are the least likely to participate in its benefits,” he said.
The Pew Research Center survey of 5,073 U.S. adults took place from April 10–16. Respondents were part of the Pew Center’s American Trends Panel.
“There’s baseline support for a variety of family arrangements, but the public still favors some types of families over others,” the Pew Research Center said Sept. 14. “Families that include a married husband and wife raising children are seen as the most acceptable. At the same time, relatively few Americans say marriage and parenthood are central to living a fulfilling life.”
The Pew survey showed near-unanimous consensus on one point, with 90% saying that a husband and wife raising children together is “completely acceptable.” At the same time, 40% of Americans are pessimistic about the future of the institution of marriage and the family, compared with 26% who say they are optimistic and 29% who say they are neither.
White adults, older adults, and Republicans tend to be more pessimistic.
Only 26% of respondents said that having children is extremely or very important to “living a fulfilling life,” and only 23% said the same about being married. By comparison, 24% said having money was extremely or very important for fulfillment, 61% said this of having close friends, and 71% said this of having a job or career they enjoy.
Men were somewhat more likely than women to prioritize marriage and children, as were married people and parents.
Brown told CNA the survey responses show “the influence of a creeping materialism” and “the tendency to find meaning in career rather than family, community, or faith.”
“Obviously we should all be making the most of our talents, but any trend towards placing career over family life should be something that concerns people of faith,” Brown said.
Pew asked whether various family trends would have a positive or negative impact on the country’s future. Respondents generally preferred to say a trend would have neither a positive nor a negative impact.
About 49% of respondents said it is a negative trend to have fewer children raised by two married parents, while only 11% found this a positive trend. Another 36% said it’s a negative trend that fewer people are getting married, while 9% said this is positive. About 29% said it is a negative trend that more couples are living together without marrying, while 15% said this is positive.
As for the trend that people are having fewer children, 27% of Pew respondents thought this to be negative while 25% thought this to be positive. Respondents said this trend would have a good effect on the environment as well as women’s careers and job opportunities, but a negative effect on social security and the overall economy.
“Overall, there’s a lot here that should worry anyone who believes in the necessity and the vitality of the family,” Brown commented. The survey shows there is limited appeal to proposals to make it easier to have kids or to get married. For Brown, this “should underscore why the world needs the Church to spell out an attractive vision of family life, one that doesn’t rest on tired cliches from the 1950s or gets lost in the morass of today’s individualism.”
Respondents to the Pew Survey said their experience growing up with their own family was most formative for their views about what makes a good family arrangement: 69% said their experience had a fair amount or a great deal of influence over their views.
Only about 44% of respondents said their religious views had a fair amount or a great deal of influence over their family ideals. About 47% of Catholics said their religion has at least a fair amount of influence on their views, compared with 83% of white evangelicals, 62% of Black Protestants, and 48% of non-evangelical White Protestants.
“As Catholics, we will need to continue to explain the fundamental logic of the family as the key social institution geared towards the creation and formation of new human life,” Brown said. “That’s not a message many in our culture want to hear right now. But there’s also widespread discontent with what the sexual revolution has done to family life. You see it in discussions about online dating, porn, even things like commercial surrogacy.”
Regarding acceptable family types, the survey reported the greatest acceptance for a husband and wife raising kids together. Another 81% found it acceptable or completely acceptable for a husband and wife to choose not to have kids, and this situation was somewhat more acceptable than a single parent raising a child alone. A married same-sex couple not having children was accepted by 73% of Americans, about the same response to a cohabiting couple raising their children together, who in turn were more acceptable than a same-sex couple raising kids.
Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say many family types are acceptable, and women are more likely than men.
Brown said the survey responses suggest a desire to “live and let live,” and many may see the questions as judgmental. He countered: “It’s not being judgmental to say kids have better outcomes when they are raised by two parents.”
Pew’s survey indicated a small majority of Americans think unhappy couples stay married for too long, while under half say such couples get divorced too quickly. Though a majority of Pew respondents rejected open marriages, there was significant support for open marriages among those who self-identify as LGBT, cohabiting, and people under age 30.
“It’s always hard to tell how honest people are in these kind of emotionally-charged surveys,” Brown said. “But if it’s true that one-third of Americans find the idea of an open marriage morally acceptable, it just underscores how thin our understanding of marriage is in contemporary society.”
He suggested the subgroups most likely to view open marriages favorably may be the ones “least likely to have that traditional view of marriage in the first place.”
Posted on 09/25/2023 15:30 PM (CNA Daily News - US)
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 25, 2023 / 12:30 pm (CNA).
The Diocese of Rome on Monday said it is anticipating thousands of pilgrims in attendance at an ecumenical prayer vigil at the Vatican later this week, with the event scheduled ahead of the start of the historic synod taking place in Rome in October.
The Roman vicariate said in a press release that “approximately 3,000 people” are expected to attend the event “Together — Gathering of the People of God” being hosted in that city over Friday and Saturday.
The event is advertised on its website as “an ecumenical prayer vigil” that will “take place in Rome in the presence of Pope Francis and representatives of different Churches, to unite us in praise and silence, in listening to the Word.”
The prayer service is occurring just days before the launch of the 16th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will take place in Rome over the course of October. The vigil “will be an opportunity to entrust the work of the [synod] to the Holy Spirit,” the diocese said.
The Vatican said earlier this month that the event would “emphasize the centrality of prayer in the synodal process” and “underline the articulation between the synodal path and the ecumenical path.”
Hundreds of visitors are expected from numerous countries including France, Hungary, Vietnam, and the United States. Nearly 500 are projected to come from Poland alone.
The event is taking place under the auspices of the Vatican, with the Diocese of Rome having also organized several welcoming events for participants. The diocese said that on Friday “prayer vigils in the local communities and moments of fellowship and fraternity” have been planned, as well as on Saturday “a walk from the Basilica of St. John Lateran to the tomb of the apostle Peter.”
Organizers have also planned several workshops for participants, including one focused on “build[ing] relationships with believers of Islam,” learning about “the real-life experience of refugees,” and a session on “feeding the hungry” that will include a service opportunity in a canteen of Caritas Roma.
The overall synod itself — dubbed the “synod on synodality” due to its focus on synodality, or collaboration and participation among the Catholic faithful in the furtherance of the Church’s mission — is occurring over the course of several years, with Pope Francis having announced the start of the process in 2021. It is expected to conclude in 2024.
Next month’s gathering of bishops is the first of two major assemblies of the prelates, with the second projected for October of next year.
The bishops next month are expected to begin addressing numerous questions raised by synodal guidance documents, including how the Church can “be more fully a sign and instrument of union with God and of the unity of all humanity,” as well as how it can “better share gifts and tasks in the service of the Gospel.”
In January, announcing this month’s ecumenical vigil, Pope Francis invited “brothers and sisters of all Christian denominations” to participate.
“The path to Christian unity and the path of synodal conversion of the Church are linked,” the Holy Father said at the time.
Posted on 09/24/2023 12:00 PM (CNA Daily News - US)
Boston, Mass., Sep 24, 2023 / 09:00 am (CNA).
An exhibition of powerful images documenting the lives of Catholics in rural China is now on view at Boston College, presented by the college’s Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History.
“On the Road: The Catholic Faith in China” — which has been extended through Dec. 22 — comprises 60 images taken between 1992 and 1996, when world-renowned photographer Lü Nan traveled on the road through 10 Chinese provinces to document the lives of Catholic villagers. Fifty images are on view at the School of Theology and Ministry (STM) Library Atrium; 10 are displayed at the O’Neill Library Gallery.
One of the most respected photographers in China today, Lü is considered unrivaled in his capacity to capture and reveal human dignity and the poignancy of the human condition, according to exhibition organizers.
“Lü Nan’s corpus of work is very striking,” said Ricci Institute Director M. Antoni J. Ucerler, SJ, a provost’s fellow and associate professor of history. “His focus, with this project and others, is to explore minorities and communities on the margins of Chinese society. Christians in general and Catholics in particular in remote rural areas, from Yunnan to Tibet, are the focus of this collection of photographs.”
Given that the exhibition subject is Christians in China, the Ricci Institute partnered with STM as its primary venue, Ucerler explained, and three STM students co-curated “On the Road.”
Amid the economic and social complexities of the time, “Lü witnessed nothing short of a miracle,” the curators note in an exhibition description: “people of deep faith, despite constant strife in everyday life, on the road to heaven.” This collection — arranged in five categories that depict different aspects of the life and faith of the people he encountered — is his “attempt to convey to the world the miracle he witnessed.”
The Ricci Institute, an internationally recognized research center for the study of Chinese-Western cultural exchange, collaborated on the Boston College display with Michael Agliardo, SJ, director of the U.S.-China Catholic Association in Berkeley, California, and Jamason Chen at Loyola University Chicago. Chen, who often represents and speaks on behalf of his friend Lü, will appear on campus this fall, at a date to be announced, to discuss the exhibition.
“The visual exploration of the profoundly human experiences of these Christian communities in rural China is very specific in terms of time and place. And yet these stark photographs speak eloquently of a common human condition and of the reality of a lived faith across cultures and borders,” Ucerler said.
He described each photograph as “a mini-meditation that invites the viewer to become attentive to and respectful of the message that it is conveying. Each image reveals the complex reality of the Christian faith well beyond the familiar confines of the Western world, while at the same time appealing to universal themes that are part of a shared humanity.”
Following a five-year affiliation with China Pictorial, Lü worked as an independent photographer and produced a trilogy of acclaimed works that made his international reputation. The second comprises the works in this exhibition; many of them have been displayed around the world and have been published in the book “On the Road” (Ignatius Press, 2021). Agliardo assisted Lü in its publication and wrote an afterword to the volume.
“During the period when Lü Nan shot ‘On the Road,’ he visited over 100 church buildings. However, the emphasis of his photographic journey is on how love and faith are practiced in the everyday life of the believers,” according to a description of the book. “His aim is to show that inner divinity is imbued in the everyday life of these believers, and that their time on earth is but a tempering trajectory: Through enduring the trials of life’s fortunes and mishaps, they are able to find true values in divine grace.”
At a campus opening event held last month, Ucerler said a theme that stands out for him is “transcendent hope through a deep faith in the midst of vulnerability.” The co-curators echoed that observation and shared their personal experiences of interacting with the work of the artist. Their reflections and thoughts on the exhibition all underscored the deep faith and hope of those portrayed by the photographer.
“The images depicted might be considered austere, showing poverty and suffering,” said co-curator Wen Jie Gerald Lee, MATM/MBA ’23, of Singapore. “But they communicate profound joy, contentment, peace, and purpose in spite of harsh living conditions.”
Ricci Institute intern and co-curator Zhangzhen Liang MTS ‘23 — who was a young girl when Lü visited her Chinese village for this series — hopes “the perseverance and faith expressed in these photos will empower all of us to move forward together, to live a rich and thriving life, and encourage us to become the light of the world.”
Doctoral student and co-curator Shinjae Lee ‘27, whose family moved from China to South Korea, concluded with a quote from Lü: “I hope that by looking into real life I find something fundamentally and enduringly human.”
The curators, who wrote the accompanying wall text, encourage exhibition visitors to record their reactions to these evocative images, by scanning a QR code available as part of the installation. These responses will be shared with other patrons.
“We sincerely hope that those who view this exhibit will experience a common bond with those who are depicted,” Ucerler said, “and allow themselves to be transported to these faraway communities so that they can learn something from their visual witness.”
According to organizers, in addition to Chen’s appearance, other events will be held in conjunction with the exhibition, and the “On the Road” volume is available at a discounted price.
“On the Road: The Catholic Faith in China” is co-sponsored by the Ricci Institute and Boston College Libraries, with funding from the EDS-Stewart Endowment for the Study of Chinese-Western Cultural History at the Ricci Institute.
This article originally appeared on Boston College’s website and is reprinted here with permission.
Posted on 09/24/2023 10:00 AM (CNA Daily News - US)
CNA Staff, Sep 24, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).
Before leaving on a pilgrimage to Poland earlier this month, Father Michael Niemczak wanted to solicit prayer intentions to bring with him. The U.S. priest with Polish roots was heading overseas to attend the Sept. 10 beatification of the Ulma family, the first time an entire family has been advanced toward sainthood together.
So Niemczak created a simple Google form where anyone, anywhere, could submit a prayer intention to bring with him to Poland. He ended up getting more than he bargained for.
Thanks in part to the publicity provided by a CNA story about Niemczak ahead of his trip, the priest found himself with 1,137 intentions to pray, sent in by Catholics from around the world.
Niemczak, a priest of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and coordinator of propaedeutic formation at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon, is a relative of the Ulma family; his great-grandfather, Jan Niemczak, was a cousin to Wiktoria Ulma, the matriarch.
The Nazis brutally executed the devoutly Catholic family of Wiktoria; her husband, Józef; and their seven children in 1944 for hiding eight Jews in their home outside the village of Markowa in southeast Poland. The family’s beatification Mass was attended by some 30,000 people in the family’s village of Markowa in southeastern Poland. Beatification in the Catholic Church is one step before canonization, when a person recognized for special holiness is officially declared to be a saint.
The priest said it was clear to see that all of Poland was excited. Even before he arrived in Markowa, Niemczak saw large signs advertising the beatification in big cities like Krakow.
An entire country seemed to be celebrating, he said, “all because one family chose to live out their Christian life, in what I’m sure for them felt like an ordinary way.”
Niemczak said he was worried that he wouldn’t have time to pray each intention he received individually. But God provided a solution.
Early on the morning of the beatification Mass — about 5 a.m. — Niemczak took a bus ride with fellow pilgrims to the Mass site. His choice to take the early bus resulted in the priest gaining several hours to himself to “offer up every single intention before the altar.”
Many of the prayer intentions, he said, pertained to Catholics asking that loved ones return to a practice of the faith. Niemczak said he also prayed fervently for the seminarians he teaches back home.
Among the nine Ulma family members killed was Józef and Wiktoria’s seventh child, who was not given a name before the Nazi killings. The Vatican has confirmed that Wiktoria went into premature labor when she was killed and the baby was born at the time of her death. The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Causes of Saints clarified Sept. 5 that the child was a newborn, adding that it received a “baptism of blood” and was therefore included among the martyrs.
Niemczak said it was moving to him that the feast day chosen for the family, July 7, is the day of Józef and Wiktoria’s wedding anniversary, the “birthday of the family.” The Ulmas’ beatification is a “great witness to the unity of a family … that a family is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Niemczak previously told CNA that while discerning the priesthood as a young man, the stories he heard about the Ulmas “set the tone” for the kind of faith he wanted to live, and he found himself desiring to live out his priestly vocation “as heroically as they lived out” their vocation as parents.
“It’s easy to read these stories and think of the figures in them as very distant in time and space … To think, oh man, they must have been like some superhuman people. I couldn’t possibly do that. But then when you hear that it’s your family members, there’s something striking in that,” Niemczak said.
“To realize every family has saints in it, every family has sinners in it, every heart is capable of great holiness and great wickedness. And so it just was a very arresting thought to think, oh wow, within just a couple of generations, there were these saintly figures so close to my family tree.”
Niemczak’s trip included stops at holy sites in Krakow, Our Lady of Częstochowa Shrine, the Divine Mercy Shrine, and several days spent staying with family in addition to the beatification Mass. He also visited the grave of Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko, a Polish priest martyred by communists in 1984. He said it was powerful for him to celebrate these figures — Popiełuszko and the Ulmas — who “stood up to oppressive regimes, strengthened by the Catholic faith and their love for others.”
“Greater inspiration to live out my vocation,” he said.
Posted on 09/23/2023 10:00 AM (CNA Daily News - US)
CNA Staff, Sep 23, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).
Broadly speaking, it would be an understatement to say that the young men at Jesuit High School in Tampa, Florida, are good at sports. Buoyed by numerous state championships in recent years, the school was recently voted the top sports school in the entire Sunshine State.
That competitive and excellence-seeking nature lends itself to a different kind of zeal, however — a zeal to bring souls to Jesus Christ.
Jimmy Mitchell, director of campus ministry at Jesuit and author of the new book “Let Beauty Speak,” told CNA that the “competitive nature of school” not only lends itself to great sports — and great academics — “but in a really cool way they can also, maybe not get competitive, but certainly ambitious when it comes to souls.”
Because of the school’s emphasis on peer-to-peer Catholic ministry, the young men at the school are encouraged to turn their talents and efforts toward the sharing of the faith with their classmates — and similar to their sports teams, the men of Jesuit have found success.
Coming off the disruptions wrought by COVID-19, Jesuit High School had 22 students convert during the 2020-2021 school year through its RCIA program — an unprecedented number that both continued and elevated a trend.
Since 2010, a total of 104 students have been baptized and received into the Church at Jesuit, Mitchell reported. Fifty-seven of those were during the last three school years alone, and 33 of those converts are current students on campus, he said.
Mitchell said as a campus minister, his goal is “a kind of personal care and personal approach to every student, like they’re the only person on planet Earth.”
“If we can catch them young and love them better than anybody else, it’s going to have a massive impact,” Mitchell said.
‘A brotherhood with eternal consequences’
Father Richard Hermes, SJ, now president of the school for over a decade and a half, told CNA that there’s “nothing more important” to him and to the school than promoting the faith and leading the young men to God.
“The boys are working hard in school and teachers are doing a great job, and the kids are having a lot of success on the field. But there’s also, in the middle of it, this great thing happening in terms of spiritual renewal,” Hermes told CNA.
Retreats, whether abroad or closer to home, are a big part of the school’s ministry to the students. In 2021 the school brought a group of over 100 young men on a pilgrimage to Europe that coincided with the 500th anniversary of St. Ignatius’ conversion and the 400th of his canonization. (The school provides scholarship assistance to allow students of all financial backgrounds to go on the retreats.) This year a large group of students went to Lourdes.
“I think all of that really solidifies a lot of guys in their faith [and] helps guys open up to the faith. It produces converts, too,” Hermes said.
Mitchell previously told CNA that a key factor in the campus’ “dynamic, orthodox, authentically Catholic culture” is the availability of the sacraments. Mass is offered daily, along with regular Eucharistic adoration and opportunities for confession.
The school itself seeks to emphasize beauty, Mitchell said, with the crown jewel being the multimillion-dollar Holy Cross Chapel, a Romanesque edifice dedicated in 2018. Hermes said the school prizes “beautiful, noble, dignified liturgies … trying to create an atmosphere of prayer and make the Masses and the other liturgical services as dignified and solemn as you can.”
But beauty can only do so much on its own. It’s the face-to-face, brotherly support that makes the difference when it comes to producing converts, Mitchell said.
“This is a brotherhood with eternal consequences. With eternal significance,” he said.
‘Wherever I looked, I could see witnesses to the faith’
Diego Mejia, a Jesuit senior and president of peer ministry, told CNA before arriving at the school, despite being introduced to the faith by his parents at a young age, he did not consider himself Catholic and had “no understanding” of the Catholic faith.
That said, Mejia said he had always been inspired by people who gave themselves entirely to their causes, whether it be a doctor fighting to cure diseases, or an environmentalist fighting for what he or she believed in. He says he found many such people at Jesuit, giving themselves wholly over to their belief in Christ.
“Jesuit did everything for me with bringing me back to the faith, which my parents had introduced me to when I was in elementary school, but which I had strayed away from when I was in middle school,” Mejia said.
“I saw people just wholeheartedly giving themselves over to this faith that they had found and to the life that the faith proposes for them.”
At Jesuit, groups of eight to 10 students convene regularly during lunch periods to discuss their faith, engaging in vulnerable conversations about their struggles and sharing wisdom and counsel with each other.
Mejia said the school’s peer ministry groups were a key factor in his eventual intellectual embrace of the faith — complimenting what he was learning in theology class — as well as the fostering of an environment where he felt supported in his faith by his peers.
“Discipleship created this environment for me where I’d come in during lunch with my friends and we just have conversations. And simply by reflecting on where we stood in our own faiths and hearing testimonies from one another, and then also in discussing different topics and different things related to the faith, I was able to really grow in my own faith,” he explained.
“And I was able to take what I learned in my theology class and bring it then into my heart … Wherever I looked, I could see witnesses to the faith. And these witnesses inspired me.”
Jake Killian, a fellow senior and student body president, told CNA that despite being raised Catholic, his faith was more of a “Sunday thing” than an integral part of his life. But arriving at Jesuit changed his outlook.
“Once I got to Jesuit, it turned from a once a week thing on Sunday to a true, actual relationship,” he said.
“I learned so many different ways to pray, and one of my favorite ones was probably Liturgy of the Hours … so many opportunities on campus to be formed.”
Killian said one of the reasons for this was simply the emphasis that the school puts on faith formation. He, too, spoke about how the yearly retreats have impacted him, mentioning the seriousness with which the retreats are treated, as a special and privileged time to build friendships and deepen faith.
“It’s pretty hard to ‘miss’ the faith. Our chapel is literally right in the middle of campus, and it’s an incredible environment … [but] it’s not forced on kids. I feel like you’ve got to buy into it, but with the culture on campus, it’s kind of hard not to,” he said.
The 17-year-old Killian said at this time in his life, he wants to go to college, possibly to play soccer. He said he has come to understand the importance of finding and joining a Catholic community in college, in order to not lose what he has cultivated at Jesuit.
“The thing I hear a lot is that if you’re able to make it to Mass the first week [of college], that’s a huge first step, because usually when kids don’t make it to Mass their first week in college, they don’t really find a time to go, ever,” he said.
Mejia said he is still discerning his next steps, mulling over religious vocations as well as various options for college. He says he’s seen firsthand at Jesuit how important brotherly accountability is to maintaining the faith and plans to continue seeking out that accountability while in college and beyond.
“I myself and many of my friends have learned that if we’re going to continue our faith in college and thereafter, we’ll have to find other like-minded people with whom we can pursue our faith … [and] I’ll have to continue growing my intellect, and my understanding of the faith and reasoning at every step of the way so that I can continue on believing and adhering to the doctrine which our faith lays out.”
Mitchell commented that forming the young men to be strong in their faith after they leave Jesuit and enter the wider community is a major focus.
“Even young people are coming from rock-solid Catholic homes, devout parents, great parishes — if at a certain point they don’t start to see the faith lived out in really cool and attractive ways, especially by their friends, it’s really challenging for them to stay committed to that faith in college and beyond,” he noted.
Hermes further confirmed that teaching the students how to live as solid Catholic men in a collegiate atmosphere is an “important part of our mission.” Amid what Hermes sees as a scourge among young people comprising “a general collapse of faith, the affliction of pornography, mental anxiety, mental depression, mental health issues,” Hermes said the school takes care to attend to the students’ mental health along with their spiritual health. And the results have been positive.
“We’re seeing more and more of these guys becoming leaders in the Church, whether in college, during their college years, or beyond. They’re making a real impact on the Church,” Hermes said.
“They’re leaving here with a mentality of being at the service of the Church, and [their faith’s] not just dying here after they get the diploma.”
‘Unapologetic and uncompromising’
Perhaps surprisingly, although there will always be a few students who don’t ultimately embrace the faith, most of the young men who come into the school as non-Catholics “don’t really come fighting the faith too much,” Hermes said.
“Most of our students come here either without any knowledge of the faith or without any experience of it, and relatively little practice of it,” he explained.
“So just introducing them to God and to the Catholic Church, to the Lord Jesus, to the sacraments, to Sunday Mass, confession, Eucharistic adoration, that’s obviously a challenge both in the theology classroom and then in retreats and campus ministry.”
The school features a “rock-solid theology department” that aims to provide truth combined with “unapologetic and uncompromising” love, Mitchell said. Teachers at the school can and do set an example of true devotion, Mitchell said, spending time on their knees at the adoration chapel, modeling prayer and faith for the young men.
“The deeper [the teachers’] interior lives run … the more the pursuit of holiness is sort of normalized … the more accessible it seems to everybody, you know?” he said.
Mitchell said he has heard about other schools starting RCIA programs and hiring full-time campus ministers, seeking to replicate Jesuit’s success. But Mitchell said it is vital to recognize that conversions and deepening of faith are really the Lord’s work — it’s always at his initiative that a person comes to believe.
The students at Jesuit appear to have bought into the idea of cooperating with God’s plan to bring more people into the Church.
“There’s a desire, I think, among many of our student leaders in this particular senior class to use their platform, if you want to call it that, to use their influence, to use their leadership ultimately for God’s glory and for the salvation of souls,” Mitchell said.
Posted on 09/23/2023 07:00 AM (CNA Daily News - US)
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 23, 2023 / 04:00 am (CNA).
As one of the most well-known modern saints in the world, the intercession of St. Pio of Pietrelcina — more commonly known as Padre Pio — has been the source of many alleged miracles over the years.
Last year, “EWTN News In Depth” correspondent Mark Irons had the opportunity to meet with various people who were impacted by the legacy of Padre Pio, including a woman who received an extraordinary healing that would later result in the creation of The National Centre for Padre Pio in Barto, Pennsylvania.
Born in the Southern Italian town of Pietrelcina under the name Francesco Forgione before taking the name Padre Pio in the Franciscan order, he was known for having a variety of supernatural gifts. One of these gifts was the stigmata — the spontaneous appearance in the body of wounds resembling those of Christ crucified. He also could read people’s hearts, heal the sick, and bilocate.
Despite word of his gifts spreading, Padre Pio was not well known by many U.S. Catholics during the mid-20th century. However, this began to change after the healing of Vera Marie Calandra, a 2-year-old girl who had suffered congenital urinary tract problems that left her with a dire prognosis.
For medical providers, her imminent death seemed all but sealed — even in the eyes of Dr. C. Everett Koop, a surgeon involved in her care who would later become the U.S. Surgeon General under the Reagan administration.
While Koop helped remove Calandra’s bladder to provide her comfort, he likewise advised her parents to make preparations for her funeral. However, that day did not come to pass — as told by Calandra herself when recounting the story to “EWTN News In Depth.”
“[Koop] said, ‘You need … to come to terms with this now, you can’t hang on to this dying child,” Calandra recounted. “And my mother went home, and she didn’t accept it.”
Calandra described how her mother, a devout Catholic, picked up a book someone had given to her about Padre Pio and heard an inner voice as she read the book that told her to bring her daughter to Italy without delay.
Quickly arranging for the trip, Calandra’s mother was able to bring her daughter to Italy, waiting in a packed corridor with others for the priest. It was then, Calandra described, that Padre Pio approached.
“And their eyes locked,” Calandra said. “That’s when she made her promise: make a miracle so that all will believe. He took his wounded hand, covered in his half-glove … pushed it up in front of her face, and she was able to kiss his hand.”
After Padre Pio touched each of them individually on their heads and blessed them, Calandra and her mother went back home to the U.S.
Afterward, during a follow-up X-ray with Koop, an extraordinary discovery was made: They found a bladder in the exact location where her previous one was removed.
“He could not explain that himself,” Calandra said. “And he just said ‘there’s a ‘rudimentary … bladder,’ [later saying] ‘whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.’”
While Padre Pio passed away soon after Calandra’s healing, her mother dedicated the rest of her life in thanksgiving to the friar and to making his name known, ultimately building The National Centre for Padre Pio near their home in Pennsylvania — with the focus of leading souls to Christ.
Nick Gibboni, the executive director of The National Centre for Padre Pio, gave insight into how the center’s mission was lived throughout Padre Pio’s life on earth.
“People who would come to see Padre Pio and they would … almost throw themselves on Padre Pio,” Gibboni said. “[They would say], ‘I love you, I love you,’ and one of his more famous quotes was [to say], ‘No, you do not love Padre Pio because of Padre Pio, you love Padre Pio because I lead you to Jesus.’”
Ultimately, Gibboni emphasized that, to Padre Pio, it was all about leading souls to Christ through the Catholic Church — a legacy that continues to live on through the work of the center.
Watch the full “EWTN News In Depth” interview below.
This article was originally published by CNA on Oct. 9, 2022.