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Religious sisters urge passage of aid bill to ‘break link’ between trafficking, migration

Photo illustration. / Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Feb 13, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Ahead of a house vote on a human trafficking prevention bill, two organizations hosted an online panel on Feb. 12 highlighting how the legislation could “break the link” between human trafficking and forced migration. 

Alliance to End Human Trafficking (AEHT) and The National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd (NAC) — both founded by religious sisters — are urging Congress to pass a bill that could combat human trafficking by providing grants to organizations in areas with high rates of trafficking.

The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act (H.R. 5856) is on the docket for the House of Representatives this week. If approved, the act would allocate $241 million per year to provide grants for organizations in nations with high rates of trafficking. The bill would also fund aid for survivors and for detecting trafficking in school-age children. The bill, promulgated by 10 Republicans and nine Democrats, would reauthorize the foundational law of 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which expired in 2021

Kwami Adoboe-Herrera, a member of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking and a child victim of human labor trafficking, shared his testimony in the online panel “Breaking the Link Between Human Trafficking and Forced Migration: Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.”

Adoboe-Herrera left Togo, a small country on the west coast of Africa, at the age of 7 in 2006. He came to the U.S. under the presumption that he would be able to get an education and ultimately help support his family. 

But the family friend who brought him to the U.S. smuggled him here illegally and made his life a “living hell” from 2006 to 2013 through physical and emotional abuse. He was put into the school system where a teacher recognized something was wrong and built a rapport with him. He said he is here today “by the grace of God alone.”

Adoboe-Herrera is not alone in his testimony. According to the Human Trafficking Institute, 72% of those trafficked in the U.S. are immigrants. Migration is a large factor because many, like Adoboe-Herrera and his family, are desperate enough to leave their homes in the hope of something better — and are often taken advantage of. 

Sister Maria Orlandini, OSF, from the Franciscan Action Network, spent time in Honduras and El Salvador. She explained that poor conditions often compel people to make the dangerous trip, which leads to being trafficked. In Honduras, 1 in 5 Hondurans live on less than $2 a day while violent crime runs rampant. 

“I saw poverty, people living in shacks. The only brick houses either finished or half-built were the ones of those who had relatives in the United States [to] send money home,” Orlandini said. “People live to find a job in the U.S. hoping to send enough money to the house and to support their family left behind.”

“... Desperate people become vulnerable to human traffickers” said Sister Ann Scholz, SSND, Ph.D., who moderated the panel. 

Marilyn Zigmund Luke, director of advocacy for the Alliance to End Human Trafficking, said the bill could help “expand prevention efforts” and mitigate this migration out of desperation, or “forced migration.” 

“This is really a three-pronged approach at getting at not only trafficking within the United States, but really getting at what’s happening within the home countries of people so that they will not migrate,” she explained. “If this bill is put into effect and the money flows and it’s successful, then people would have less cause and less reason to leave their home country.”

“I mean, no one wants to abandon their home,” she continued. “No one wants to give up their culture and their way of living simply to come with a hope of potentially getting a job or potentially getting a new life, which is a very treacherous journey.”

Fran Eskin-Royer, executive director of NAC, noted that the bill has bipartisan support.

“What also draws NAC to the legislation is that it’s supported by representatives on both sides of the aisle,” she noted. 

Katie Boller Gosewisch, executive director of AEHT, said the alliance is “exceptionally dedicated to addressing root causes of human trafficking,” noting that “forced migration often leads to human trafficking.”

“This first [bill] is exceptionally timely in that one is going to go to the floor in the house this week, but it is also on Feb. 20, the anniversary of the death of Frederick Douglass,” she added. “So in honor of Frederick Douglass, for whom this legislation is named, we’re exceptionally hopeful that this passes the house, moves on to the Senate, and really gets that overwhelming bipartisan support.”

After Super Bowl ad, Catholic prayer app Hallow sees biggest spike in its history

A still from Hallow's Super Bowl commercial that aired Feb. 11, 2024. / Credit: Hallow

CNA Staff, Feb 12, 2024 / 17:45 pm (CNA).

The Catholic prayer app Hallow aired its first-ever commercial during Super Bowl LVIII, which saw the Kansas City Chiefs win their second consecutive championship on Feb. 11. Immediately following the airing of the ad, Hallow saw the biggest spike in downloads in its history, according to Alex Jones, CEO of Hallow. 

“It was the most downloads in a single minute we’d ever seen,” Jones told CNA. “We’re already ranking ahead of Netflix on the App Store charts and Lent hasn’t even started yet. Glory to God.” 

The 30-second ad was shown in 15 markets across the country.

The commercial began with Catholic actor Mark Wahlberg, who recently starred in “Father Stu,” blessing himself with holy water as he enters a church. 

“We take this moment to give you thanks. We thank you for this time to come together as a family, as friends, and as a country. Help us Lord, especially this Lent, to grow closer to you. Amen,” Wahlberg’s voice said as images of a family at the dinner table, friends at a football game, a group of soldiers, and Catholic actor Jonathan Roumie receiving ashes on his forehead were shown. 

The commercial ended with Wahlberg encouraging viewers to join Hallow in prayer this Lenten season.

“It was a phenomenal night. A dream come true. For the first time ever during the Super Bowl, we all got to take 30 seconds to give thanks to God,” Jones, who is also co-founder of Hallow, told CNA in an interview.

“We’ve been blown away by the responses to the spot,” he said. “We’ve heard from many who were inspired to join us and give prayer a try for the first time in a long time this Lent.”

Jones shared that they were “humbled” to see the response from people, receiving thousands of emails, tweets, and text messages from people sharing their thoughts. 

“It was a huge bet for us,” he said. “When we were producing the spot we decided really to just focus on making it all about Jesus — just on spending time in prayer with God. It was amazing to see how the spot resonated with so many. It was an honor to get to pray together and we’re thrilled to continue to pray together with everyone this Lent.”

Another faith-based ad aired during the Super Bowl was created by a nondenominational group with the intention of sharing Jesus’ love to all audiences. “He Gets Us” also aired two commercials during last year’s Super Bowl, which were met with mixed reactions.

This year, the minute-long commercial was titled “Foot Washing” and showed several still images of individuals having their feet washed, including a woman outside of a family planning clinic. 

The ad ends with the words “Jesus didn’t teach hate. He washed feet.”

According to the group’s website, this year’s theme was chosen to “focus on the thematic inverse of last year’s commercial — one built on the premise of love and unity. And with an upcoming election year that will be filled with division and derision, we decided to focus on one of the most important directives given by Jesus — love your neighbor.”

Cremation of DC’s five late-term aborted babies halted, law firm says

PAAU activists hold a rally outside Washington Surgi-Clinic in Washington, D.C., May 4, 2022. / Credit: Katie Yoder/CNA

CNA Staff, Feb 12, 2024 / 16:45 pm (CNA).

The remains of five late-term aborted babies in Washington, D.C., will not immediately be discarded, possibly allowing an autopsy to be done to determine whether federal law was violated by the abortionist responsible for their deaths.

The halt on the cremation of the babies came just before the D.C. medical examiner’s office — which has been in possession of the remains since 2022 — was set to discard them on Friday in defiance of calls by dozens of pro-life groups and federal lawmakers for an autopsy and investigation.

The religious freedom law firm American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) announced on its website Friday the office’s intent to preserve the remains in response to demands sent to the office.

“We have just received assurances that the D.C. government is standing down from today’s cremation,” the announcement said.

“The D.C. government also indicated to us that they will respond to Congress’ demands. We continue to hope that D.C. will in fact conduct a formal investigation into these babies’ deaths,” the group said.

The medical examiner’s confirmation to the ACLJ is in response to a Feb. 6 letter to the medical examiner’s office demanding that a Presbyterian minister, Patrick Mahoney, and his wife, Katie Mahoney, be given the legal rights as “next of kin” for the five babies. 

The minister, a human rights activist, and his wife wish to give the babies a dignified funeral, as no next of kin has stepped forward to do so. The law firm is arguing that under D.C. law, the Mahoneys should be given the right to bury the children.

“As no next of kin has come forward to claim these babies, despite the publicity surrounding their deaths, our clients, Rev. and Mrs. Mahoney, under the D.C. Code, should be given ‘the right to control the disposition of the remains of a deceased person, the location and conditions of internment, and arrangements for funeral goods and services’ as volunteers per D.C. Code § 3-413(a)(5),” the letter said. 

CNA reached out to the medical examiner’s office for comment Monday but did not receive a response.

The secular pro-life group Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU) originally obtained the remains of the aborted babies in March 2022. The pro-life group said it acquired them from the Washington Surgi-Clinic run by Dr. Cesare Santangelo, an OB-GYN and well-known abortionist in the city.

PAAU, along with several federal lawmakers and pro-life activists, has called for an investigation and autopsy to determine if the babies were killed in violation of federal law, specifically the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 and the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which both protect children from abortion after birth. 

On Feb. 5, PAAU announced that the D.C. medical examiner’s office told the group’s legal counsel of the medical examiner’s intent to “destroy” the remains of the babies — known among pro-life activists as the “D.C. Five” — at the behest of the Department of Justice.

“The D.C. medical examiner has informed our attorneys that the DOJ has instructed them to destroy the remains of the [D.C. Five],” the group said.

A lawyer representing the group, Martin Cannon, confirmed to the Daily Signal last week that the Department of Justice reportedly advised the medical examiner that there was “no reason to keep those babies anymore.”

“And the medical examiner’s office accordingly tells me that if we don’t have an order to the contrary, by the end of this week, a court order, they will dispose of the babies,” he said.

Reached for comment last week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia referred CNA to the D.C. medical examiner’s office. The medical examiner’s office did not respond to any of CNA’s inquiries last week. 

Given the fast-approaching deadline for the babies’ cremation last week, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz demanded that the remains not be discarded before an autopsy is done.

“To be clear, the remains of these five children are critical evidence in the congressional oversight that the Subcommittee on the Constitution will conduct in the imminent future,” Cruz said in his Feb. 8 letter, addressed to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Francisco Diaz, and D.C. Police Chief Pamela A. Smith.

“Should the D.C. medical examiner’s office decide not to conduct timely autopsies, or preserve the bodies of these babies for outside examination, the Senate Judiciary Committee will have no choice but to expand this issue into a full hearing featuring the Department of Justice and the Office of the D.C. Medical Examiner as witnesses before the American public,” he wrote in the letter.

Tennessee priest indicted on multiple sexual abuse charges

The associated pastor of St. Philip Catholic Church in Franklin, Tennessee, has been removed from his duties after being indicted on charges of sexual abuse. / Credit: Nheyob|/Wikimedia|, CC BY-SA 3.0

CNA Staff, Feb 12, 2024 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

A Tennessee priest has been indicted by a grand jury on multiple child sexual abuse charges, Church officials have announced. 

Father Juan Carlos Garcia has been indicted by a grand jury in Williamson County, Tennessee, “on one count of continuous sexual abuse of a child, one count of aggravated sexual battery, four counts of sexual battery by an authority figure, and two counts of sexual battery,” the Diocese of Nashville said in a statement.

The diocese had taken the allegations to local police after being made aware of them in November. The priest was removed from his associate pastorship and from public ministry while the investigation was carried out, the diocese said. 

The priest was associate pastor at St. Philip Catholic Church in Franklin at the time the allegations were made against him. The diocese said a teenager in the parish “had made a report of improper touching” regarding the priest. 

A former FBI agent was brought in as an outside investigator to review the claims, the diocese said. The diocesan review board evaluated the results of that investigation and provided law enforcement with the findings of the inquiry.

Garcia was “expected to turn himself in to the Williamson County Jail for booking,” the diocese said last week. Law enforcement in Williamson County confirmed to CNA on Monday morning that the priest was in county custody. 

Garcia was ordained in 2020 and served at several parishes in the Nashville Diocese before his indictment. 

The case “will be sent to the Williamson County district attorney for review,” the diocese said in an earlier statement.

University of Dallas president: Mission of higher ed is open debate in pursuit of truth

University of Dallas President Dr. Jonathan Sanford speaks at the Heritage Foundation on Feb. 8, 2024. / Credit: Tyler Arnold/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 12, 2024 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

In a speech delivered at the Heritage Foundation, widely considered the most influential conservative think tank in the United States, University of Dallas President Jonathan J. Sanford expressed concerns about the level of politicization that reigns in American universities and emphasized that the pursuit of truth requires open debate.

In a Feb. 8 speech titled “Universities, Patriotism, and Citizenship: A Catholic Liberal Arts Approach to the Election Year,” Sanford said there are only “very rare moments” when taking a political stance is appropriate for institutions of higher education. He said universities should instead foster open debate so that “the pursuit of truth can proceed in an unfettered way.”

Sanford, a professor of philosophy, has served as president of the University of Dallas, a private Catholic university located in Irving, Texas, since 2022. 

Sanford cited the example of several university presidents who made statements after the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade that implied that “there’s something wicked to holding the pro-life position.” Such statements, he said, “silence those who like to argue about that position” and can create an “alienation of Christians on campus.”

“Arguing about abortion ought to be possible,” Sanford noted.

Politicization, Sanford warned, also jeopardizes the public’s trust in the objectivity of institutions and their academic research.

“There’s a growing perception that universities aren’t worth it anymore,” he said. “There seems to be a whole lot of politics going on. Does that mean there’s not much learning going on?”

During his remarks Sanford also gave voice to “deep concerns about cancel culture,” noting that the university setting needs to be one “where genuine debate can occur.”

He recalled that free and open debate helps foster patriotism as well. He pointed out that the Federalist Papers, which were the framework for the U.S. Constitution, were “arrived at through a lot of debate,” adding that one must learn, test, and then come to embrace the founding principles, at which point “your admiration and love for them ensues.”

However, Sanford noted that patriotism, from a Catholic perspective, does not always mean supporting the actions of one’s country. He cited St. Thomas More as the perfect example of a patriot. More was an adviser to King Henry VIII who was executed for refusing to support the king’s defiance of the Church in the establishment of the Anglican Church.

“Genuine patriotism is grounded in love of God and his Church,” Sanford said.

Former South Carolina priest sentenced to 21 years in prison over child sex abuse

null / Credit: Chodyra Mike 1/Shutterstock.

CNA Staff, Feb 12, 2024 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

A former South Carolina priest will serve more than two decades behind bars after pleading guilty to child sex crimes, the federal government has announced. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina said in a press release that 69-year-old Jamie Adolfo Gonzalez-Farias “was sentenced to more than 21 years in federal prison” following his conviction for “transportation of a minor with intent to engage in illegal sexual acts.”

The clergyman was arrested in January of last year on the charges and entered a guilty plea in response to them. He had been visiting the Diocese of Charleston in South Carolina from the Diocese of San José de Melipilla in Chile. 

The U.S. attorney’s office said in the Friday announcement that Gonzalez-Farias “met the minor victim, an 11-year-old boy, and his family through his position as a priest.” He “began giving high levels of attention to the child,” including the gift of a cellphone, which the priest used to communicate with the victim.

In 2020 the clergyman took the victim to Florida under the pretenses of a beach vacation, where he subsequently sexually abused the young boy and attempted to sexually assault him. The priest also sent the victim messages that were “inappropriate, crossed appropriate boundaries, and were consistent with the minor victim’s disclosure of abuse,” the attorney’s office said. 

The priest was arrested in November 2022 at Miami International Airport.

U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis “sentenced Gonzalez-Farias to 262 months imprisonment, followed by a lifetime of supervised release,” the attorney’s office said in its announcement. Gonzalez-Farias is also required to register as a sex offender and pay the victim restitution.

The Diocese of Charleston said in a statement earlier last year that it “was made aware of [the allegation] in December 2020,” after the priest “had left the country for his home in Chile.”

Church officials reported the matter to the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office, which eventually informed the FBI of the crimes. 

The priest had been subject to multiple background checks prior to the allegations, the diocese said last year, with no indication of any criminal activity in his record.

Black Catholic history is for everyone, Catholic educator says

Father Augustus Tolton. / Credit: Public Domain/Wikipedia

CNA Staff, Feb 12, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

A Catholic educator from Texas says teaching students about Black Catholic saints and other holy men and women of color “gives not only representation, but new role models for all of our students.”

“Being Catholic is an overarching, cross-racial identity. There is no outgroup in the Catholic Church,” said Kaye Crawford, who founded the site BlackCatholicHistory.com in 2013. 

February is Black History Month, and the Church also celebrates Black Catholic History month every November. 

Crawford, who has a master’s degree in theology from the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University in Louisiana, hosted a webinar for fellow Catholic educators Feb. 1 titled “What Our Students Don’t Know About Black Catholic History.” She told CNA that in her remarks she emphasized the importance of presenting to students a diverse range of Catholic role models, such as the African Pope Victor I, who is believed to have been the first pope to celebrate the liturgy and write Church documents in Latin rather than Greek.

“The history and the wisdom of Black Catholic theologians is too beautiful to miss,” Crawford said, adding that the faithful examples of Black Catholics can draw people into the Catholic faith, including those of other faiths. 

She pointed to the example of Sister Thea Bowman, who was raised Protestant and later converted, leading her parents to embrace the Catholic faith also. Crawford encouraged parents and educators to seek out resources about Black Catholics, suggesting as a resource Father Cyprian Davis’ historical tome “Black Catholics in America.”

“If the lessons in the classroom are overwhelmingly Eurocentric, what does that say to the child of color? And then what does that say to the Anglo child about what Catholic identity looks like?” she asked, adding that Catholics can also assess the sacred art in their homes to consider whether some additional representation would be appropriate.  

“It is important for every single student, regardless of complexion or ethnicity, to know this fuller history of our Church … Black Catholics know this history, [but] if their children go to Catholic school and it doesn’t get taught, it’s sort of like my ‘side’ of this universal family isn’t going to get spoken about,” she said.

About 6% of the Black population in the U.S. — approximately 3 million total people — is Catholic, compared with some 66% who are Protestant. Black Catholic communities in the U.S. include not only African-Americans but also African and Caribbean immigrants. They make up about 4% of all Catholic adults. African-American Catholic populations can be found in cities including Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; Philadelphia; Chicago; and numerous cities throughout the South.

While there are already numerous Black canonized saints in the Catholic Church — such as St. Martin de Porres, St. Josephine Bakhita, and St. Augustine — none have yet been African-American, despite communities of Black Catholics existing in the U.S. for centuries. 

There are currently a half-dozen African-American candidates for sainthood, however, with perhaps the best-known being Father Augustus Tolton, who was born a slave in Missouri and was the first African-American priest. Others include Venerable Pierre Toussaint, Servant of God Mary Lange, Venerable Henriette DeLille, and Servant of God Julia Greeley. 

Another notable Black Catholic who gained worldwide attention recently is Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, the foundress of a Missouri-based religious congregation who died in 2019 and was allegedly found to be incorrupt after being exhumed last summer, though her congregation has said it has no current plans to open her cause for sainthood. 

Chemical abortion pill: U.S. bishops issue guide laying out dangers and concerns  

null / Credit: Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 12, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) published a document to explain its concerns about the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval and deregulation of a chemical abortion pill, which is the subject of an ongoing U.S. Supreme Court case.

A lawsuit filed by the pro-life Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine accuses the FDA of failing to properly study the adverse effects of the drug when approving its use and when eliminating certain safeguards, such as approving delivery via the mail and ending the requirement for an in-person doctor’s visit before getting the prescription. 

“Potentially harmful drugs [will] be mailed directly to girls and women who did not see a medical professional in person and may be injured or killed without public knowledge of the cause” if the current FDA policies are allowed to remain in place, the bishops warned in a “Question and Answer” document published by the USCCB’s Secretariat on Pro-Life Activities.

How the abortion drug works

The FDA approved the chemical abortion drug in question, called mifepristone, in 2000 and subsequently deregulated the drug. The rules allow a pregnant woman to take the drug up to 10 weeks into her pregnancy, at which point her preborn child will have a fetal heartbeat, early brain activity, and partially developed eyes, ears, lips, and nostrils.

Mifepristone kills the baby by blocking the hormone progesterone, which cuts off the child’s supply of oxygen and nutrients. A second pill, misoprostol, is taken between 24 to 48 hours after mifepristone to induce contractions meant to expel the child’s body from the mother, essentially inducing labor.

“Proponents call it ‘medication abortion,’ but that is misleading,” the bishops said. “‘Medication’ indicates something to manage a patient’s illness. The first drug, mifepristone, … was not developed as a treatment or cure, but to end a child’s life. Thus ‘chemical abortion’ is the more accurate term.”

Dr. Ingrid Skop, an obstetrician-gynecologist and director of medical affairs at the pro-life Lozier Institute, told CNA that there is a “common confusion” that these drugs are like contraception. 

Unlike contraception, which Skop said “hopes to prevent a new human life from occurring,” the abortion drugs “are used when a pregnancy is known to exist and the intent of these drugs is to end that unborn human life.”

Concerns about safety 

The bishops’ document cited a number of safety concerns, which included blood loss, infections, and even death, noting that the rate of adverse effects from chemical abortions is more than 5%, which is four times higher than first-trimester surgical abortions. 

“The FDA’s record of ‘adverse events’ cites 28 women’s deaths between September 2000 and June 2022,” the document noted, citing a 2022 FDA document. “Although the FDA stopped requiring reports of non-fatal adverse events in 2016, it reports a total of 4,213 adverse events, including 1,048 hospitalizations (excluding deaths), 604 cases of blood loss requiring transfusions, 97 ectopic pregnancies, and 414 infections (71 of them ‘severe’).”

However, the bishops argued that the number of women who have adverse effects is likely higher, citing a 2015 peer-reviewed study that found more than one-third of women wound up in an emergency room within 30 days after having a chemical abortion. 

“Complications are likely underreported in the U.S., as many are treated in hospital emergency rooms where physicians may not know about the abortion or not code it as such in medical records,” the document reads. 

Skop agreed with that characterization, telling CNA that adverse effects from chemical abortions are more common than adverse effects from surgical abortions, but that the number is likely higher than reported: It’s “very difficult … to know how many complications” there are,” she said.

“Most abortions are paid for privately, women are often ashamed or embarrassed and don’t want to talk about their abortion,” Skop added.

FDA deregulation creates more concerns

The bishops further warned about the lack of safeguards through deregulation. The document expresses concern that the FDA regulations do not require in-person doctor visits, allow the drug to be delivered through the mail, and permit access to minors. They caution that the potential adverse effects of this deregulation were never properly studied. 

“The FDA also set no age restrictions, despite the absence of a study establishing the drugs’ safety for minor girls — and it failed to incorporate safeguards used in the clinical trial submitted to justify FDA approval, such as the requirement for an ultrasound exam to confirm gestational age and detect a dangerous ectopic pregnancy,” the document noted. 

Dr. Robin Pierucci, a neonatologist and co-chair of the pro-life committee at the American College of Pediatricians, told CNA that the lack of safeguards has left “women with unplanned pregnancies … medically and legally abandoned.”

“Because the FDA removed both the mechanism for reporting side effects as well as an in-person medical examination prior to taking mifepristone, women’s health has been compromised,” Pierucci said. “Without supervision and an ultrasound, there is no way to diagnose ectopic pregnancies (mifepristone and an ectopic pregnancy have similar symptoms), the pregnancy may be more advanced than thought (increasing the risk of complications), and sexually transmitted infections will be missed. Without supervision, severe bleeding can be life-threatening or become serious due to prolonged bleeding for weeks. Afterward, an infection with or without issues from an incomplete abortion can be lethal.”

Skop said the deregulation proves that the pro-abortion movement will “prioritize the death of the unborn child over the health and safety of the mother” and that “if the women are injured, they’re collateral damage” to them.

“We’re seeing some very evil ideology in our country and in our world today,” Skop said. 

The current status

The United States Supreme Court agreed to hear the lawsuit challenging the approval of the abortion drug and the subsequent deregulations. The bishops noted that the outcome could have a major effect on abortion throughout the country, noting that about half of all abortions performed in the United States are chemical abortions. 

“Many states have responded by enacting laws against abortion, which could be explicitly overturned or rendered ineffectual by a federal mandate to allow delivery of abortion drugs through the U.S. postal service,” the document notes. “This case will help determine whether abortion is promoted throughout the country as a routine form of ‘medication.’”

How to honor Valentine’s Day on Ash Wednesday 

null / Credit: MarjanCermelj / Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Feb 11, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

If you’re giving up sweets for Lent, you may not be happy to learn that this year Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day. But while the day typically marked by heart-shaped candies, Hallmark cards, and giant teddy bears may seem antithetical to the beginning of Lent, a closer look at St. Valentine reveals a much deeper love story.

Tradition has it that the third-century martyr St. Valentine would marry couples in secret because of an edict by Emperor Claudius banning marriage. Valentine, who wanted to support marriage during an age of promiscuity, was ultimately imprisoned, tortured, and beheaded by Emperor Claudius for refusing to deny his faith.

There are two accounts of St. Valentine, and it’s unclear whether they refer to the same person. One identifies him as a priest in Rome, but the other describes him as the bishop of Terni. Though the Church still recognizes him as a saint, St. Valentine was removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1969, and Sts. Cyril and Methodius are now celebrated on Feb. 14. 

Though little can be confirmed about his life, in death St. Valentine remains the patron saint of lovers as well as beekeepers and epileptics. His skull can be found today in the minor basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome, reminding visitors of the sacrificial nature of love. 

The skull of St Valentine is kept in the Greek-Catholic Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome. Credit: nomadFra/Shutterstock
The skull of St Valentine is kept in the Greek-Catholic Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome. Credit: nomadFra/Shutterstock

“I think the convergence of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day can really show us how we’re supposed to do penance — not only as individuals, but in communion with others, and how our penance is always ordered toward our neighbor,” said Father Dustin Dought, executive director of the Secretariat of Divine Worship for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

The USCCB has confirmed that the day of fasting and abstinence takes priority over candy and extravagant Valentine’s Day dinners. 

“The obligation to abstain from meat and to fast remains even though it’s Valentine’s Day, unless the diocesan bishop has dispensed from that,” Dought said.

But the two holidays do not have to be in opposition. While this year there is penance involved, couples can still “celebrate the love that they share,” Dought pointed out.

“We always abstain or we always fast for some purpose,” he explained, “and so to think that, ‘Okay, well, in a special way, today I am going to abstain and to fast out of love for my spouse, or out of love for the person that I’m dating,’ that … can serve the purpose of Valentine’s Day.”

And a simple Valentine’s dinner date is still possible.

“We say we can have one normal-sized meal,” Dought said. “So if a couple, say, were to have that meal in the evening, I think there’s something beautiful about, ‘Oh, I’m having a small breakfast or a small lunch; I’m eating in very small portions throughout my day out of love for God, but also because my beloved and I will enjoy our normal-sized meal together.’”

“Because penance is a sign of love of God but also love of neighbor,” he added.

The Church sets aside two fasting days every year: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Catholics 18–59 years old are required to fast these days. Catholics over the age of 14 are also required to abstain from meat on those days, and on Lenten Fridays.

According to the USCCB: “When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal.”

This year, couples may want to consider celebrating Valentine’s Day on Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday — the day before Ash Wednesday, the last hurrah before Lent begins. 

Ash Wednesday involves not only fasting and abstaining from meat but also almsgiving.

“When we fast from food, we save money,” Dought pointed out, adding: “And so the almsgiving of Lent is connected to the fasting of Lent. I think it could be another beautiful thing [for] a couple to make a charitable donation together.”

“We frequently can think of penance as an individual thing, but we see Ash Wednesday and all throughout Lent, really, it’s the Church doing penance as a body,” he explained. “And so I think that would be true also for a couple or for a family.” 

When days of abstinence land on holidays, dioceses will sometimes make exceptions. For instance, on St. Patrick’s Day last year, 72.6% of dioceses gave some form of dispensation from the Lenten Friday fast of no meat, allowing many American Catholics to celebrate the holiday with traditional meals such as corned beef and shepherd’s pie. 

But this is not usually the case for Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day, where meat and a large meal are not essential parts of the day. 

“Lent is a time that we place things aside,” Dought explained. “And I think there is something helpful because we’re placing certain things aside, we can discover the meaning of the day more fully: the person of St. Valentine’s, the story of his life, because these other things that aren’t essential to the celebration of this day have been pushed away.”

10 ways to renew your life in Christ this Lent

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ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 11, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Lent is a time of conversion and penance that the Catholic Church offers to believers to prepare for and live the Easter triduum — the mystery of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

During the 40 days (this year Feb. 14–March 28), Catholics can set goals to grow in holiness and help others do the same. Here are 10 ways to evangelize and renew your life in Christ this Lent:

1. Receive Communion frequently.

Throughout Lent, attending Mass and receiving Communion is the most effective missionary and evangelizing act in which the faithful can participate.

St. John Paul II noted that the Eucharist contains within itself the “world’s principle and eternal source of salvation.” Therefore, Catholics should take advantage of its benefits as often as possible.

2. Pray more deeply.

Many Catholics ignore the importance of prayer in their lives. This season of Lent can be an excellent occasion to deepen our relationship with God through prayer. St. John of the Cross wrote: “Whoever flees prayer, flees all that is good.”

St. Ephrem offers a more practical perspective. For him, prayer forms virtues in our hearts — it protects us from anger, pride, and envy. Praying helps us die to ourselves to configure ourselves to Jesus, which is especially needed during Lent.

3. Commit to reading the Bible.

Pope Benedict XVI always asked Christians to commit to becoming familiar with the holy Scriptures. Incorporate the Bible into your daily prayer. It is, as the Catechism says, the primary source of our knowledge of God.

4. Go to confession!

Do not be afraid. Just go.

5. Help those in need.

The season of Lent invites the faithful to give our lives for others, especially for those most in need as did Christ, “who became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” There are thousands of Catholic charities around the world that need our help.

Jesus told us: “You will always have the poor with you” (Mt 26:11). This was an admonition to always take care of those less fortunate than ourselves. The poor are the treasure of the Church.

6. Cultivate your devotion to the Virgin Mary.

Mary serves as a perfect model for all Catholics: men, women, children, teenagers, mothers, busy professionals, students — anyone seeking to develop a more Christ-centered life during Lent.

7. Be a peacemaker.

Make peace with someone who you believe does not deserve respect, forgiveness, or a moment of consideration. If not, what exactly did Christ mean when he said we should forgive our enemies?

8. Meditate on the Stations of the Cross.

Most parishes offer the opportunity to pray the Stations of the Cross on Fridays during Lent. Accept this opportunity that God offers you to learn more about faith and about what’s missing in your spiritual life.

9. Stand up for Jesus Christ.

During Lent, make an extra effort to defend Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. When we are faced with intolerant, closed-minded, and anti-Christian opinions, it is incumbent upon us to teach and inform with love those we meet in our daily lives.

The world is becoming increasingly hostile toward Christians and Christianity. The love of Christ is the answer to ignorance, hatred, and intolerance. If not, what exactly do we believe as a community of faith?

10. Evangelize the people you meet along the way.

The advantages of evangelizing far outweigh the discomfort we might feel in sharing the Gospel with others. We have the opportunity to explain our beliefs to others who might not understand them, and with the Holy Spirit’s assistance, we may even convince others of the wisdom and reality of our beliefs. Trust in Christ and allow him to speak through you.

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