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Christmas 2022: Small Catholic businesses offer meaningful gifts for all

Ideal for babies, toddlers, and young children, Little Saints Stories tell the story of a saint through simple writings and illustrations. / Francesca Pollio Fenton / CNA

Denver, Colo., Nov 26, 2022 / 10:00 am (CNA).

As we approach Christmas, it’s time to pull out the list of all those for whom you need to buy gifts. To help you check off your list, we’ve put together a list of Catholic businesses that offer meaningful gifts for your loved ones.

Litany NYC

Started by two friends with a passion for fashion, Litany strives to design their clothing as a way to draw one’s soul to God. This women’s clothing line caters to the “intentional and unique state of each woman as she blossoms into who she was created to be.” Each item is hand-sewn by a small team in New York, is made-to-measure, and is entirely supplied within the United States. You can find beautiful scarfs, blouses, dresses, purses, and more. One of their newer pieces is the Cana scarf, which was inspired by the Wedding Feast at Cana. The design aims to restore the significance of the vocation of marriage and remind women about the beauty of her vocation in any stage of life.

Telos Art Shop

From clothing to jewelry, Telos Art is a family-owned Catholic company that sells necklaces, rings, and earrings with the intention of pointing the wearer toward a “higher end.” This shop offers the perfect gifts for ladies who love to display their faith through jewelry. Items that can be purchased include stunning crucifix necklaces, Marian medals, saint medals, and more. They also have men’s jewelry!

Little Saint Stories

If you have littles ones on your list, then a book from Little Saint Stories would be the perfect gift. Ideal for babies, toddlers, and young children, these books tell the story of a saint through simple writings and illustrations. They serve as a great way to teach children about the inspiring lives and virtues of the saints from a young age. There are books on St. John Paul II, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Francis of Assisi, and more. In addition to the book, you can also get the accompanying prayer pal. These prayer pals are plush toys of the same saint your book is written about!

Abundantly Yours

With a mission to equip women to “grow deeper with Christ,” Abundantly Yours has the perfect gifts for that young woman in your life who loves her faith. The Remain in Me Journal, inspired by John 15:4, is a great option for anyone who enjoys prayer journaling or writing notes during the homily at Mass. The shop also sells handmade rosaries, plus stickers and magnets with inspiring messages that could serve as stocking stuffers!

The Catholic Woodworker

And for that special man on your list, The Catholic Woodworker is your place to go. This business strives to inspire men to live out their vocations as husbands and fathers through the rosary. You can find wooden rosaries and other devotional items such as crucifixes, home altars, and prayer cards. These handcrafted and masculine pieces are sure to inspire any man to grow in his faith.

Christmas is the perfect time to remind people of the true meaning of Christmas through the gifts we give. By gifting faith-based items to our loved ones, we can remind others that Jesus is the reason for the season.

‘Everyone’s vulnerable to an accusation’: Bishops respond to priests’ fear of false abuse claims

Left to right: Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Worth-South Bend, Indiana, and Auxiliary Bishop Robert P. Reed of the Archdiocese of Boston. / CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 25, 2022 / 11:00 am (CNA).

A recent survey of priests found growing distrust of bishops and major fears that they would not get their support if faced with false abuse accusations.

Eighty-two percent of priests responding to a survey conducted by The Catholic Project, a research group at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., said they live in constant fear of being falsely accused of sexual abuse.

And only 51% of diocesan priests believe their bishop would support them during an abuse investigation, according to the survey, which was released in October. Meanwhile, only 36% are confident their diocese would provide the resources necessary to defend themselves during a legal investigation.

CNA discussed those survey results with bishops attending the fall general assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore earlier this month. During the annual gathering, the U.S. bishops marked the 20th anniversary of the Dallas Charter protocols the conference adopted in 2002 for responding to abuse allegations against clergy.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco called the survey’s findings “very troubling,” adding that bishops must “support the priests that are having difficulties and troubles” and “be compassionate and patient with them.”

Cordileone said the possibility of career-ending accusations is even greater in some parts of the country than in others.

“Priests are under a lot of pressure, and we need to appreciate that, especially in the climate in some states, like our own (California), that once again has lifted the statute of limitations. Now everyone’s vulnerable to an accusation,” Cordileone said.

Auxiliary Bishop Robert Reed of the Archdiocese of Boston voiced his sympathy with priests’ concerns, saying that priests live with the knowledge that they are “just one accusation away from retirement” and that in many cases, “if you are accused of something, that’s pretty much the end.”

Priests’ lack of trust in their bishop contributes directly to burnout. Young priests seem particularly vulnerable, with 60% of diocesan priests under the age of 45 voicing at least some level of burnout, according to the Catholic Project survey.

Connecting with and helping individual priests feel supported is a “challenge for bishops,” Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, told CNA.

“I think it is important,” Rhoades said, adding that he’s had to ask his staff for additional support “so that I can have time with the priests.”

Yet, when it comes to sexual abuse investigations, those challenges are further magnified. “You’re trying to be sensitive to the victim, alleged victim, and be there for them. Then there’s the priest,” Rhoades stated. “So it’s a really, really difficult thing to deal with, but we have to.” 

To Reed, the solution to priests’ distrust of bishops is “less administration, more personal contact.” In Reed’s opinion, there “has to be a missionary aspect” of a bishop’s work. “A cup of coffee, you know, with a priest, celebrate the morning Mass, go out to dinner, maybe stay over the rectory, that kind of thing.”

Though a bishop can work hard to improve the trust with his priests, there is “nothing you really can do” about the one-and-done nature of abuse accusations, Reed conceded.

For Cordileone, it depends on the priest in question and his track record. Cordileone said that if “it’s clear that he’s innocent, and he’s been a respected pastor his whole life … (the priest’s bishop) has to protect his reputation … even despite the vitriol he’s going to receive. I think that that’s one thing that can help to rebuild trust with the priests.”

Shannon Mullen and Zelda Caldwell contributed to this story.

Not just for students: Here’s what adults can expect at SEEK23 in St. Louis

Ryan and Sara Huelsing, parishoners at St. Joseph parish in Cottleville, Missouri, at a preview event put on by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students in St. Louis on Oct. 1, 2022. Ryan leads a men's group at his parish and both hope to get involved with FOCUS' Making Missionary Disciples track. / Jonah McKeown/CNA

St. Louis, Mo., Nov 25, 2022 / 09:00 am (CNA).

The upcoming Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) national conference is expected to draw 20,000 people to St. Louis for talks, workshops, entertainment, prayer, and worship, with the goal of encouraging and equipping Catholics to live and share their faith. The Jan. 2–6, 2023, gathering, SEEK23, will be the first in-person national conference for FOCUS since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eileen Piper, FOCUS’ vice president of lifelong mission, told CNA recently that a new conference track called Making Missionary Disciples aims to help adult attendees become equipped to better share their faith.

While most of FOCUS’ programming is geared toward students, the Making Missionary Disciples track is designed for priests, bishops, diocesan and parish staff, FOCUS alumni, parishioners, and benefactors who “long to see their parish, diocese, family, or community experience deep transformation in Jesus Christ and who desire to be a part of the solution,” the organization says.

“This really is a unique opportunity, and you’re going to get hands-on experience,” Piper told CNA.

“This is practical training. It’s made for you to take into your state of life — so if you are a leader in a parish, you are going to be equipped to be able to step into your work in the parish in a brand-new way.”

Eileen Piper, FOCUS' vice president of lifelong mission. FOCUS
Eileen Piper, FOCUS' vice president of lifelong mission. FOCUS

Piper said she, like many Catholics, has friends and family members in her life who are no longer practicing their faith. The Making Missionary Disciples track is designed for those who want to do a better job of sharing their faith, she said, not on “street corners” but primarily with people they already know and love.

“It starts to practically equip you so that you’re feeling more confident and more comfortable entering into faith conversations with those that you are already in relationship with,” she explained.

The track will feature speeches and workshops put on by nationally recognized Catholic speakers such as Father Josh Johnson, Sister Bethany Madonna, and sEdward Sri. Conference attendees will also be given time for prayer and fellowship, daily Mass, and networking opportunities, FOCUS says.

Through the workshops, “you’ll be working on your personal testimony, so you can just in a very comfortable way share your own story of how you like what Jesus means to you, and why it matters.”

Piper said as part of the conference they also hope to create opportunities for parish priests to connect “brother to brother” and discuss with one another what is working well in their parishes. She also said FOCUS will be offering a Lenten Bible study in 2023 for anyone who wants to participate, and they will be especially suggesting that SEEK23 attendees join in on it and invite others to join as well.

Since its founding in the 1990s, FOCUS has sent missionaries to college campuses across the United States and abroad to share the Catholic faith primarily through Bible studies and small groups, practicing what it calls “The Little Way of Evangelization” — winning small numbers of people to the Catholic faith at a time through authentic friendships and forming others to go out and do the same.

FOCUS has since 2015 been in the process of expanding beyond college campuses by creating a track designed to bring their relationship-based evangelization model to parishes. Almost two dozen parishes across the country, including one in the St. Louis Archdiocese, have FOCUS missionaries living and working there.

SEEK23 will be FOCUS’ first in-person conference since Indianapolis in 2019 and a smaller student leadership summit in Phoenix in the earliest days of 2020. Conferences for 2021 and 2022 were held online due to the pandemic.

Brian Miller, director of evangelization and discipleship for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, told CNA that St. Louis was chosen for SEEK in part because it is centrally located and convention-friendly, but also because the city is ripe for the kind of renewal that FOCUS aims to provide.

Beyond the young people and students who will attend SEEK, Miller said they hope to use FOCUS’ Making Missionary Disciples track as a launch pad for getting more mature Catholics excited about sharing their faith as well. He also said his office plans to host follow-up events for St. Louis Catholics to build upon what people will learn at SEEK about evangelization as well as provide them with resources to help them start Bible studies and small discipleship groups.

He said he hopes that as parishes in St. Louis “come together in their new parish realities” after an ongoing major merging and closing process, that “they have some common footing, some common training, and they have a common mission.”

SEEK23 registration is now open and costs $399 total for the full five days, regardless of whether you are a college or high school student or an adult. General passes for St. Louis residents cost $350. All registration options can be found here.

Christmas shopping? Check out these gifts handmade by monks and nuns

Dominican nuns at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, New Jersey, make soap and candles which they sell at their Cloister Shoppe. / Jeffrey Bruno

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 25, 2022 / 07:00 am (CNA).

If you’re looking for unique handmade gifts for those on your list this Christmas, you’re going to love these delicious treats and original crafts created by Catholic monks and nuns. There’s something for everyone, and you’ll have the added satisfaction of knowing that you helped support these religious brothers and sisters in their lives of faith and service.

Fruitcake

You know the old joke about how there’s only been one fruitcake ever made — it’s just been passed around and around and never eaten? Well, the monks of New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California, don’t make that kind of fruitcake. Soaked in brandy and aged for three months, this cake “has converted many a fruitcake ‘atheist,’” according to its creators. Order a one-pound fruitcake for $24.95.

Brandy-dipped fruitcake by the monks of New Camaldoli Hermitage.
Brandy-dipped fruitcake by the monks of New Camaldoli Hermitage.

Fudge

The monks of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, make their famous fudge with premium chocolate and real butter. Try a 12-ounce gift box for $12.95.

Or try some fudge made with Kentucky bourbon from the Trappist monks of the Abbey of Gethsemani. A 12-ounce box sells for $16.45.

Chocolates by Monastery Candy.
Chocolates by Monastery Candy.

Cookies

The Capuchin Poor Clare nuns make their famous butter cookies from their monastery in Denver. The “Clarisas” come in a beautiful gift box featuring an image of St. Clare and sell for $24 for a 1.5-pound box.

Clarisas' Cookies.
Clarisas' Cookies.

Caramels

The contemplative nuns of Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa, are known for their delicious caramels, which they make by hand in order to support their way of life. A 9-ounce box sells for $13.75.

Coffee

The Wyoming Carmelites of Mystic Monk Coffee hand-roast their beans in small batches to support their community. The website CoffeeReview.com ranks their coffee among the highest of the coffees they review. A 12-ounce bag of their most popular flavor, Jingle Bell Java, sells for $13.95.

Hot sauce

The monks at Subiaco Abbey in Arkansas make a tangy hot sauce from the habanero peppers grown in the monastery’s gardens. Benedictine Father Richard Walz began making his “Monk Sauce” while he was stationed in Belize, Central America. In 2003, he brought back some seeds from the peppers he grew there and created a tangy sauce made from the chilies along with onions, garlic, carrots, vinegar, salt, and “a few prayers thrown in for good measure.” How spicy is it? According to the abbey’s website, their Monk Sauce has a 250,000 Scoville Unit rating, while Tabasco’s habanero sauce earned a mere 7,000 Scoville Unit rating. Available in green, red, and smoked, the 5-ounce bottles sell for $11 each.

Soap

The nuns from the Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, New Jersey, live a life of prayer through eucharistic adoration and dedication to the rosary. To support this way of life they create handmade candles and skin-care products, which they sell at their Cloister Shoppe. Create your own Christmas gift bag of two bars of soap, a hand cream, a jar candle, a face moisturizer, and a handmade rosary made from olive wood beads from the Holy Land for $50. The sisters also make hand-poured beeswax taper candles in small batches at the monastery, which they sell for $10 a pair.

Hand-painted china

The contemplative Sisters of the Monastery of Bethlehem in Livingston Manor, New York, support themselves by hand-painting chinaware. The exquisite, intricately-designed pieces make lovely Christmas gifts, and the china is dishwasher- and microwave-safe. Check out these gorgeous designs: a hand-painted serving bowl for $119 or this cookie jar for $89.  “All chinaware is done in solitude and in prayer, anonymously, and with love,” reads the sisters’ website.

Cookie jars from the Monastery of Bethlehem.
Cookie jars from the Monastery of Bethlehem.

What can the Maronite rite offer the Eucharistic Revival? Here’s what two Maronite bishops say

Adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist. / Thoom/Shutterstock

Boston, Mass., Nov 24, 2022 / 11:00 am (CNA).

What can the Maronite Catholic Church offer to aid the U.S. bishops’ Eucharistic Revival that is currently underway in the United States?

The two Maronite bishops in the United States say the answer is the Maronite liturgy, with its deep reverence and focus on Jesus Christ, truly present in the Eucharist.

The U.S. bishops’ National Eucharistic Revival, a three-year initiative by the U.S. bishops to inspire Eucharist belief, follows a 2019 Pew Research study that suggested that only about one-third of U.S. Catholics believe the Church’s teaching that the Eucharist is truly the body and blood of Christ. 

"I think what we have to offer, of course, is the liturgy, which is the focus of our eucharistic reverence and amazement,” Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Maronite Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn told CNA at the U.S. bishops’ conference in Baltimore Nov. 16.

Mansour said that his parishes offer eucharistic adoration and added that when on retreats the priests will adore the Blessed Sacrament for one hour each night. 

He added that he thinks the Maronite way of receiving Communion by intinction — when the priest dips the Lord's body into his precious blood and places it on the communicant’s tongue — is a “very healthy way” to receive.

“It's almost a way of receiving Communion that you have the best of all the worlds. You have it receiving on the tongue; you have it receiving the body and blood; and you have it where you have a moment just to receive Our Lord and reflect on him,” he said. 

“So I like that practice, and I notice some in the Latin Church have copied it, although I don’t think it’s the norm,” he said.

Bishop Gregory Mansour, of the Maronite Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn shared with CNA what the Maronite Church can offer the U.S. bishops three year Eucharistic Revival. Joe Bukuras
Bishop Gregory Mansour, of the Maronite Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn shared with CNA what the Maronite Church can offer the U.S. bishops three year Eucharistic Revival. Joe Bukuras

Bishop Abdallah Elias Zaidan of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles said that “the Eucharist must constitute our identity,” noting that “all of us are members of that body of Christ.”

Zaidan, who was also at the bishops’ conference, said that the suffering, the needy, the brilliant, and the intelligent are all part of the body of Christ and “we have to share and put everything in common to help others.”

“From that point,” he said, “in our Maronite liturgy, we have that beautiful reverence to the Eucharist. In everything we do, we go back to the source and summit of our faith as well. Christ’s presence, forever present.”Mansour said that to aid Catholics in their faith in the Real Presence, “I feel strongly it’s good for us to see what we can do to bring people back to church.”

“So we have to have beautiful liturgy, good choir, good preaching, welcoming, youth programs, young adult programs, organization, and we can’t just assume that because the church doors are open, people are going to want to come,” he said.

Bishop Abdallah Elias Zaidan of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles spoke with CNA about the Eucharist in the life of the Maronite church. Joe Bukuras
Bishop Abdallah Elias Zaidan of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles spoke with CNA about the Eucharist in the life of the Maronite church. Joe Bukuras

Mansour said that he thinks the Maronite Church had success during the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions because his parish doors were left open while abiding by state and local ordinances.

“And I think because we did that, people came from outside and even our own people as well as non-Maronites came in and found a wonderful treasure. The Maronite Church is a treasure and they made their home there,” he said. 

“So I think the Maronite Church has to just keep doing what she’s always done over the ages. That is just to be a church, be an aesthetical, monastic, prayerful, strong witness to Christ, to the world,” he said.

Mansour said that the laity can inspire faith in others by having a devotion to Jesus, “especially in the presence of the tabernacle.”

“You can come early to Mass and stay a few minutes after to give thanks. You can participate in the liturgy. When the parish does have eucharistic adoration, you could be one of the first to be there and to really believe it. I think your witness is such that you could inspire a few people just by being a faithful man or woman,” he said of the laity.

As far as his role as a bishop, Mansour said that he can inspire eucharistic devotion by being devoted to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. 

“I've learned a few things over the years from others. One of them is an older bishop that I could see every time he’d celebrate the liturgy. He’d go kneel after liturgy, in front of the tabernacle, just to give thanks,” he said.

He added that he didn’t cultivate a strong devotion to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament when in seminary, but he eventually did, and said that “it became such a powerful force in my life.”

“I want to be close to Christ’s presence in the Eucharist everywhere I go. So that’s why I’ve asked all of our priests to put the tabernacle back in the center of the churches. A very clear sign of Christ’s presence,” he said.

Mansour said that one of his predecessors, Archbishop Francis Mansour Zayek, “used to say the life of the priest is like a vigil candle in front of the sacrament. His life is consumed in drawing attention to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. That’s the role of a priest.”

Mansour said that the Blessed Virgin Mary can be an inspiration for all to be “a tabernacle for God’s presence” just as she was when Jesus was in her womb. He said he encourages praying the rosary as well.

Zaidan holds the same sentiments about the Mother of God, noting that “there is always a special mention of her in our prayers” in the Maronite Church.

He said that Marian devotions such as the rosary and the Miraculous Medal can aid eucharistic devotion as well. Zaidan said that all of the Maronite patriarchal sees are always placed under the patronage of the Blessed Mother.

“And if you go to every hometown in Lebanon, if the Blessed Mother is not the patroness of that town, you’d see special shine [to her] or something,” he said.

“She senses our needs in so many ways and she knows in her heart to intercede on our behalf as well,” Zaidan said.

Remembering the hundreds of thousands of Christians martyred in Vietnam 

This work of art was displayed at St. Peter's on the occasion of the Vatican's celebration of the canonization of 117 Vietnamese martyrs on July 19, 1988. / Fair use.

Denver, Colo., Nov 24, 2022 / 10:00 am (CNA).

Christianity arrived in Vietnam in 1533, and many Vietnamese Christians became saints and martyrs in different waves of persecution. The known and unknown who died for Jesus Christ are honored Nov. 24, the feast of the Vietnamese Martyrs.

From 1630 to 1886, somewhere between 130,000 and 300,000 Christians faced martyrdom in the country, often after being held captive and brutally tortured. Others were forced to flee to the mountains and the forests or be exiled to other countries.

The persecutions often came amid political changes and social tensions, especially under emperors who would adopt anti-Christian policies out of fear of foreign influence.

The feast of the Vietnamese Martyrs honors these many unnamed martyrs, represented by 117 known martyrs who died for the Catholic faith in Vietnam during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Their number includes 96 Vietnamese,11 Spaniards, and 10 French. Eight of the group were bishops, 50 were priests, and 59 were lay Catholics. The lay Catholic saints include a 9-year-old child and Agnese Le Thi Thành, a mother of six.

Some of the priests were Dominicans, others were diocesan priests who belonged to the Paris Mission Society.

The martyrs are also grouped as “St. Andrew Dung-Lac and companions.” St. Andrew Dung-Lac was born to poor non-Christian parents who entrusted him to a guardian who was a Catholic catechist. He was baptized and later ordained a priest in 1823. He served as a parish priest and missionary across Vietnam. He was imprisoned more than once and ransomed by the Catholic faithful.

He was martyred by beheading in Hanoi on Dec. 21, 1839.

Groups of Vietnamese martyrs were beatified by various popes. Pope John Paul II canonized the 117 martyrs together on June 19, 1988, praising their witness.

“How to remember them all? Even if we limited ourselves to those canonized today, we could not dwell on each of them,” the pope reflected in his homily for the canonization Mass. He compared the persecutions in Vietnam to that faced by the apostles and early Christians.

“Once again we can say that the blood of the martyrs is for you, Christians of Vietnam, a source of grace to progress in the faith,” he continued. “In you the faith of our fathers continues to be transmitted to the new generations. This faith remains the foundation of the perseverance of all those who, feeling authentically Vietnamese, faithful to their land, at the same time want to continue to be true disciples of Christ.” 

He added: “From the long line of martyrs, their sufferings, their tears comes the ‘harvest of the Lord.’ It is they, our teachers, who give me the great opportunity to present to the whole Church the vitality and greatness of the Vietnamese Church, its vigor, its patience, its ability to face difficulties of all kinds and to proclaim Christ. We give thanks to the Lord for what the Spirit generates abundantly among us!”

“All Christians know that the Gospel asks us to be submissive to men’s institutions out of love for the Lord, to do good, to behave like free men, to respect everyone, to love our brothers, to fear God, to honor the authorities and public institutions,” the pope said.

John Paul II said the Vietnamese martyrs began “a profound and liberating dialogue” with the Vietnamese people and culture. They proclaimed “the truth and universality of faith in God” and proposed “a hierarchy of values and of duties particularly suited to the religious culture of the whole oriental world.”

“Under the guidance of the first Vietnamese catechism, they bore witness to the fact that it is necessary to adore only one God, as the one God who created heaven and earth,” Pope John Paul II continued. “Faced with the coercive dispositions of the authorities regarding the practice of the faith, they affirmed their freedom of belief, arguing with humble courage that the Christian religion was the only thing they could not abandon, since they could not disobey the supreme sovereign: the Lord.” 

“Furthermore, they forcefully proclaimed their will to be loyal to the authorities of the country, without contravening all that was just and honest; they taught to respect and venerate their ancestors, according to the customs of their land, in the light of the mystery of the resurrection,” the pope said. 

“The Vietnamese Church, with her martyrs and through her own testimony, was able to proclaim her commitment and she will not to reject the country’s cultural tradition and legal institutions; on the contrary, she has declared and demonstrated that she wants to be incarnated in this country, faithfully contributing to the true growth of the homeland,” Pope John Paul II said.

The pontiff invoked the old Christian saying “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” He also noted those who face persecution in the present day. 

“In addition to the thousands of faithful who, in past centuries, walked in Christ’s footsteps, there are still today those who work, sometimes in anguish and self-denial, with the sole ambition of being able to persevere in the Lord’s vineyard as faithful who understand the goods of the kingdom of God.”

The duty to work and pray for the coming of the kingdom of God, the pope said, is a “constant and rigorous interior activity” that “requires the patience and trusting expectation of those who know that God’s providence is working with them to make their efforts and also their suffering effective.”

The little-known connection between hoops and holiness

null / Gearstd/Shutterstock

Denver, Colo., Nov 24, 2022 / 09:00 am (CNA).

The start of basketball season always coincides with the American holiday of Thanksgiving, lending a proper season to be grateful for the American-born sport. But precisely how grateful should Catholics be for basketball (or any other sport, for that matter)?

In a homily on Oct. 29, 2000, St. John Paul II celebrated the world of sport and all it does to prepare Christians to become “athletes of the spirit” who are able to win the imperishable crown of everlasting life.

“Sports contribute to the love of life, [teach] sacrifice, respect, and responsibility, leading to the full development of every human person,” John Paul II remarked.

From creativity to solidarity, from old-fashioned fun to heartbreaking sacrifice, these four viral videos exemplify something of the little-known connection between hoops and holiness and why Catholics can be grateful for the sport of basketball.

An exercise of body, intellect and will

Six years ago, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal debuted their viral basketball video “Renewal in Motion.” After two million views on Facebook, their remix of basketball dunks, music, and trick shots continues to delight fans of the game and illustrate just how creatively sport can engage body, intellect, and will — a combo that must be engaged in proper proportion in the pursuit of holiness.

The ability to form habits — the repetition of acts needed as the basis for strengthening virtues — requires creativity, dynamism, and dedicated practice.

Solidarity in action

By telling the epic story of a parish gym that became a neighborhood phenomenon, Detroit Catholic captured the social essence of the ability of sports to solidify human relationships in a video that garnered 2,300 views on YouTube in 2021.

The parish gym would come to be known as Ceciliaville after it opened its doors beyond parishioners of St. Cecilia Catholic Church to persons of all faiths, races, and backgrounds.

Ceciliaville was a marquee of the best of Detroit’s NBA players and hopefuls in the late ‘60s and ‘70s and contributed to the rebuilding of tensions after race riots in 1967, according to two-time NBA champion and Detroit native Earl “The Twirl” Cureton, making this video a unique chronicle of building the virtue of solidarity through sport.

Old-fashioned fun

An entire genre of punny humor and sport collides to provide 35 seconds of pure, old-fashioned entertainment in the viral video produced by the nuns who served at a local Catholic high school to cheer on Miami Heat star Kendrick Nunn during the 2019-2020 NBA season.

Some 5,000 viewers enjoyed this video made by principal Margaret Anne and her Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, proving the old basketball pun “you don’t want nun of this” to be false and proving true that cheering others is an assist in the spiritual life.

Heartbreaking sacrifice

In 2019 ESPN produced this heart-wrenching video that garnered 72,000 views about the life of Shelly Pennefather, the leading all-time scorer for both men’s and women’s basketball at Villanova University who traded her professional basketball career for the cloistered Poor Clare convent. A poignant story of sacrifice and love, it shows the ability of sport to open the soul to transcendence and gives a glimpse into the discipline required to lay down the ball and move on to a higher calling.

Pennefather sank a baseline jumper in her final professional game in Japan after a prayer and a promise. The prayer: to make the shot that would win the game and $10,000 bonuses for each player. The promise: to volunteer at a convent if she made it. Twenty-five years after becoming Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of the Angels, the video brings home what it means to become an athlete for Christ and, like St. Paul, to “have accepted the loss of all things and … consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).

Was Squanto Catholic? What we know about this hero of the first Thanksgiving

Image from page 155 of "Young Folks' History of the United States" (1903). / Public Domain

St. Louis, Mo., Nov 24, 2022 / 08:00 am (CNA).

In 1621, lacking both the skills and the resources necessary to survive in the harsh territory of New England, European pilgrims encountered a miracle: a Native American who not only spoke English but who also used his skills and knowledge to help the Pilgrims adapt to their environment and survive the brutal winter. 

This was Squanto, a man who occupies a special place in the hearts of many people who celebrate Thanksgiving because of his willingness and ability to help the newcomers to his land. 

Squanto’s full name was Tisquantum, and he was a member of the Patuxet tribe, which lived in and around modern-day Plymouth, Massachusetts. He was probably born around 1585 in the area that is now Boston. 

Little is known about Tisquantum’s early life, but what is known is that he was abducted from his homeland as a slave by an Englishman, Thomas Hunt, in 1614. He ended up in Malaga, Spain, where a group of Franciscans bought him in order to free him. It is apparently thanks to these Franciscans that he received baptism and became Catholic, though it is not clear to what extent he was catechized and practiced his new faith. 

Damien Costello, a Catholic historian and theologian, told CNA that the historical record portrays “a very skillful agent” in Tisquantum who was able to change his situation and engage with European culture. He was able to find employment as a translator in England and later convinced a wealthy financier to fund an expedition back to his homeland. 

When Tisquantum finally made it back to where his tribe lived in present-day Massachusetts, his life took a tragic turn. He found that his entire tribe, while he was in Europe, had been wiped out by disease — he was the sole survivor.  

The Pilgrims arrived in New England in 1620 and were far from the first Europeans to set foot on those shores — this was many years after Jesuit missionaries had started missionary activity in the area but hadn’t settled. When the Pilgrims arrived in what had once been Patuxet territory, the empty land made a good place to settle. Tisquantum, no doubt mourning the loss of his people, was nevertheless able to deftly reinvent himself as an intermediary between the Pilgrims and Native leaders. 

In March 1621, the chief of the Wampanoag confederation, Massasoit, went to meet with the Pilgrims and brought Tisquantum along to translate. After negotiations fell apart, Tisquantum stayed with the Pilgrims and helped to facilitate what we now know as the first Thanksgiving — a meal between the Pilgrims and the Natives of the area. Tisquantum died the next year, in 1622.

So, was Tisquantum a Catholic? Costello says it is likely he was baptized and thus, theologically, he was indeed a Catholic. Native American culture was very spiritual, and Costello said he doesn’t think it unlikely that Tisquantum saw his baptism as a positive spiritual experience. 

“Catholicism was a crucial ingredient in Squanto’s resiliency, the regenerative principle that gave spiritual power to sustain the disjunction of being a global citizen in a world forever turned upside down,” Costello later wrote in an article for U.S. Catholic

As to whether Tisquantum continued to practice his Catholic faith for the rest of his life, there’s little evidence to say for sure. In a very real sense, God only knows. 


his article was adapted from an episode of Catholic News Agency’s award-winning storytelling podcast, CNA Newsroom. You can listen to that episode here.

Federal same-sex marriage bill still needs religious freedom fixes, bishops say

U.S. Capitol, Senate side, public domain. / null

Denver, Colo., Nov 23, 2022 / 17:47 pm (CNA).

A federal bill to recognize same-sex unions as marriages lacks sufficient religious freedom protections and will undermine the truth about marriage, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said Wednesday.

“The Respect for Marriage Act’s rejection of timeless truths about marriage is evident on its face and in its purpose. It would also betray our country’s commitment to the fundamental right of religious liberty,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Bishop Robert Barron of Winona-Rochester said in a Nov. 23 letter to members of Congress.

Dolan heads the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, while Barron heads the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth.

“This bill is needless and harmful and must be voted down,” the bishops’ letter said. “At the same time, Congress, and our nation as a whole, must resolve to foster a culture where every individual, as a child of God, is treated with respect and compassion.”

The Respect for Marriage Act advanced last week in a key U.S. Senate vote of 62-37, with some Republican support. If the bill becomes law, it would federally recognize same-sex marriage and require states to recognize any marriage contracted in other states. It would also provide legal protections for interracial marriages.

The act would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton that defined marriage federally as the union of a man and a woman and permitted states not to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other states. That law is not in effect under the 2013 and 2015 Supreme Court decisions United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges, which required states to recognize same-sex unions as marriages.

Backers of a bipartisan religious freedom amendment to the bill say their amendment ensures that nonprofit religious organizations would not be required to provide services, facilities, or goods for the celebration of a same-sex marriage, and protects religious liberty and conscience protections available under the Constitution and federal law, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The amendment, backers say, would ensure that churches, universities, and other nonprofit religious organizations would not lose tax-exempt status or other benefits for refusing to recognize same-sex marriages and would not be required to provide services for the celebration of any marriage.

However, the U.S. bishops questioned these claims.

“Unfortunately, a number of religious groups and senators are asserting that the amended text of (the Respect for Marriage Act) sufficiently protects religious freedom,” Dolan and Barron continued. “From the perspective of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, whose bishops’ ministries comprise the largest non-governmental provider of social services in the United States, the provisions of the act that relate to religious liberty are insufficient. If passed, the amended act will put the ministries of the Catholic Church, people of faith, and other Americans who uphold a traditional meaning of marriage at greater risk of government discrimination.”

In an analysis accompanying the bishops’ letter, the U.S. bishops’ conference said the bill “will be used to argue that the government has a compelling interest in forcing religious organizations and individuals to treat same-sex civil marriages as valid.” This will allow lawsuits to revisit current precedent based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and other relevant law.

“(R)eligious objectors are likelier to be denied exemptions,” the analysis said. If the Respect for Marriage Act becomes law, it could affect employment decisions, employee spousal benefits, eligibility for grants or contracts, accreditation, and tax exemptions.

Faith-based foster care and adoption agencies, housing providers, and social services agencies that serve immigrants could all be affected. Faith-based groups that help provide foster care to unaccompanied refugee children could be shut out of working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Religious organizations could be forced to hire and retain staff who publicly repudiate the organizations’ beliefs about marriage,” the analysis said.

Wedding vendors could be forced to participate in same-sex weddings. The IRS could revoke the tax exemptions of religious organizations with traditional beliefs about marriage. Government agencies could exclude religious schools from eligibility for public benefits and programs, including scholarships and school vouchers. Further, government agencies could exclude religious organizations from access to or use of public facilities.

According to the analysis, only the stronger religious freedom amendment proposed by Utah Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Lee has “comprehensive, affirmative and enforceable protections,” but this amendment has not been added to the bill. Lee’s amendment would prohibit the federal government from discriminating against anyone who holds a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is a union between one man and one woman or is a union between two individuals.

The U.S. bishops noted that the bill is being considered in the wake of a deadly mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, a gay nightclub, where five were killed.

Opposition to the act, Dolan and Barron said, “by no means condones any hostility toward anyone who experiences same-sex attraction.”

“Catholic teaching on marriage is inseparable from Catholic teaching on the inherent dignity and worth of every human being,” they said. “To attack one is to attack the other. Congress must have the courage to defend both.”

Emails raise questions about Philadelphia children’s hospital transgender surgeries on minors

Exterior of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. / Shutterstock

Boston, Mass., Nov 23, 2022 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

In a 2017 email, a doctor at the transgender clinic at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia said she was not aware of any medical studies at the time that supported the irreversible surgeries the clinic had been performing on minors, public records show.

The statement is contained in internal emails, obtained by a private citizen through a public documents request, between Dr. Nadia Dowshen — co-director of the Gender and Sexuality Development Clinic at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia — and Dr. Rachel Levine. At the time Levine, a biological male who identifies as a transgender female, was Pennsylvania’s physician general. Today Levine serves as assistant secretary for health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Critics of so-called “gender-affirming” surgeries and treatments for young people with gender dysphoria were outraged by the disclosure, which one leading pediatrician says suggests that these procedures amount to “a giant experiment on children” that lack a clear understanding on the part of health care professionals and their young patients of the risks and long-term consequences involved.

But in a statement to CNA, Levine said there was “nothing unusual” about the email exchange and maintained that the “medical validity” of these procedures has been “affirmed.”

In one of the emails, Levine asked Dowshen and another co-director of the Gender & Sexuality Development Clinic, Dr. Linda Hawkins, about what Levine called “gender confirmation surgery” for “young people under 18 years of age,” which Levine said could include “top surgery for trans young men and top and bottom surgery for trans young women.”

“Top” and “bottom” surgery are the common parlance among transgender supporters for major, irreversible surgical changes to make a person appear to be a different sex. These include the removal of women’s breasts and the removal and reconstruction of male sexual organs.

Rachel Levine, then a nominee for assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 25, 2021. Caroline Brehman/AFP via Getty Images
Rachel Levine, then a nominee for assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 25, 2021. Caroline Brehman/AFP via Getty Images

“Is there any literature to support this protocol?” Levine asked in the May 4, 2017, email. “Please let me know if you have any references.”

The same day, Dowshen responded and wrote: “Hi Rachel, I’m not aware of existing literature but it is certainly happening. I think we’ve had more than 10 patients who have had chest surgery under 18 (as young as 15) and 1 bottom surgery (17).”

Dowshen said she was currently working with colleagues to “get some pre-post data for top surgeries for youth under 18” and suggested that a research assistant could do a literature search to make sure they were “not missing anything,” to which Levine agreed.

“A lot of our youth are being denied coverage for top surgery if under 18,” Dowshen said.

In a statement to CNA Wednesday, Levine downplayed the significance of the email exchange.

“As physician general of the state of Pennsylvania, I worked to remain aware of the latest science in a number of health areas. This allowed me to offer policy recommendations to the governor, to offer strong managerial oversight on behalf of the people of Pennsylvania, and to coordinate effectively with my peers,” Levine said.

“My question about the existing literature on surgeries for minors was asked in the same spirit as many of the other questions I asked in that role — that of making sure I was aware of the latest and most relevant data on an issue of public interest,” Levine said.

“There was nothing unusual about that exchange, and in the years since it occurred, the medical validity of gender affirming care has only been reaffirmed and strengthened,” Levine said. “It is important to note the standards of care for patients include psychological and medical evaluations and, if necessary, treatment and support for the young person and their family. Children who have not yet started puberty do not receive medical treatment — at that age, care focuses on counseling and being mindful of the needs of the young person, their family, and their school.”

CNA also contacted Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for comment but did not receive a response.

‘A giant experiment on children’

Dr. Quentin Van Meter, president of the American College of Pediatricians — an organization of pediatricians that advocates for children’s health and well-being — criticized the email exchange. He told CNA that it is wrong for any doctor to be doing experimental surgeries when there are no long-term studies to support them.

Van Meter said the result of the doctors doing experimental sex-change surgeries on minors is that “the lives of what will be tens of thousands of children are ruined.”

He said that there are no long-term studies in existence to support sex-change surgeries, whether that be for minors or adults.

“This is a giant experiment on children,” he said. “Medicine cannot be practiced that way.”

Van Meter also took issue with Levine’s response to CNA. 

Van Meter said Levine is wrong about transgender surgeries being “affirmed” by science, saying that “it’s actually been torn to shreds by science.”

“It’s the most embarrassing, non-scientific facade in a very scientific environment,” he said.

The original publicizer of the emails, Twitter user Megan Brock, told CNA she gained access to the emails through a Pennsylvania Right to Know Law public document request.

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) is the latest hospital to come under fire after media exposés have shown that gender transition surgeries on minors have been taking place at medical institutions across the nation.

In August, Boston Children’s Hospital took heavy criticism when news broke that it was offering gender transition treatments and surgeries for kids. The hospital has since updated its website and says that only 18-year-olds qualify for “phalloplasty or metoidioplasty and for vaginoplasty surgeries.”

The website still says that the hospital will perform “chest surgery” on 15-year-olds.

In October, Vanderbilt University Medical Hospital paused gender transition surgeries on children after an investigation into the hospital was called for by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee. Vanderbilt’s surgeries on minors — and the lucrative nature of its transgender surgeries in general — were originally exposed by Matt Walsh, an internet host for The Daily Wire.