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Pope Francis tells new Lebanese PM: Lebanon is worth fighting to save

Pope Francis met Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Nov. 25. / Vatican Media/CNA

Vatican City, Nov 25, 2021 / 06:05 am (CNA).

Pope Francis told Lebanon’s new prime minister on Thursday that the crisis-hit country is worth fighting to save.

The pope met privately with Prime Minister Najib Mikati for a 20-minute discussion at the Vatican on Nov. 25.

“Lebanon is a country, a message, and also a promise to fight for,” Pope Francis said after the two exchanged gifts in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, according to the Vatican.

Mikati presented the pope with a brick from the Melkite Catholic Church of the Savior, which was badly damaged by the Beirut port explosion in August 2020.

Pope Francis assured Mikati of his prayers for the efforts to help Lebanon get back on its feet. He recalled the Gospel passage, in which Jesus takes Jairus’ daughter by the hand and says to her: “Arise.”

Holy See Press Office
Holy See Press Office

“Lord God, take Lebanon by the hand and say, ‘Arise!’” the pope said.

The pope gave the prime minister a bronze casting depicting workers in a vineyard with the inscription, “May the fruit of the vine and the work of man become for us a cup of salvation.”

Holy See Press Office
Holy See Press Office

At the end of the meeting, Pope Francis asked the prime minister and his delegation to join him in a moment of silent prayer.

Mikati also met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.

“The meeting was an opportunity to reiterate how important it is to promote not only the notion of full citizenship for all Lebanese, but also peaceful coexistence, so that Lebanon continues to be a message of peace and brotherhood that rises from the Middle East,” a Vatican statement said.

The formation of a government in Lebanon after 13 months of political stalemate paves the way for a potential papal visit to the country.

Pope Francis previously said that he wanted to visit Lebanon once its leaders formed a government.

“His Holiness the pope will visit Lebanon but after a government is formed. And this is a message to the Lebanese, that we must form a government so that everyone can gather... to revive Lebanon with our friends,” Lebanese politician Saad Hariri said after a private meeting with the pope in April.

A Vatican official confirmed in June that the pope intended to visit Lebanon once it successfully formed a government, adding that the trip could take place next year.

Lebanon’s new prime minister faces the challenge of coming into power at a time when three-quarters of the population live in poverty and there are widespread shortages of medicine, fuel, and food.

The World Bank has described Lebanon’s financial situation as among the “most severe crisis episodes globally since the mid-19th century.”

It estimates that country’s real GDP contracted by more than 20% in 2020, with surging inflation and high unemployment.

Lebanon’s currency has plummeted in 2021. By June, the Lebanese pound had lost 90% of its value since October 2019.

In recent months, the state has only been able to provide electricity for less than two hours a day.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, the leader of Lebanon’s Maronite Catholics, welcomed the formation of the new government when it was announced on Sept. 10.

He wished the government success in carrying out reforms and improving the living conditions for all Lebanese people.

The Lebanese cardinal had been calling on the country’s political leaders for months to overcome partisan interests and form a government to help the country amid its economic crisis.

Other Maronite and Melkite bishops also recently issued a call to both religious and civil leaders convene a Conference of National Reconciliation and Forgiveness under the auspices of the United Nations and the Arab League.

Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay, eparch of the Maronites in Australia, New Zealand, and Oceania, and Bishop Robert Rabbat, eparch of the Melkites in Australia, New Zealand, and Oceania, issued a joint statement on Nov. 25 that said that they were seeking the full support of the Vatican for the conference initiative.

“Without reconciliation, there is no resurrection for the nation, and without forgiveness, there is no life and hope for a modern pluralistic society,” it said.

. Vatican Media.
. Vatican Media.

Speaking at a Vatican day of prayer for Lebanon this year, Pope Francis said: “In these woeful times, we want to affirm with all our strength that Lebanon is, and must remain, a project of peace. Its vocation is to be a land of tolerance and pluralism, an oasis of fraternity where different religions and confessions meet, where different communities live together, putting the common good before their individual interests.”

The pope hosted the day of prayer with Catholic and Orthodox leaders from the country on July 1.

“Here I would reiterate how essential it is that those in power choose finally and decisively to work for true peace and not for their own interests. Let there be an end to the few profiting from the sufferings of many. No more letting half-truths continue to frustrate people’s aspirations,” the pope said.

Pope Francis recognizes miracle attributed to WWII martyr Bl. Titus Brandsma’s intercession

Blessed Titus Brandsma, O.Carm. / public domain

Vatican City, Nov 25, 2021 / 04:32 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has recognized a miracle attributed to the intercession of Titus Brandsma, an outspoken opponent of Nazism martyred at Dachau concentration camp in 1942.

The pope authorized Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, to issue a decree on Nov. 25 approving the miracle.

The decision paves the way for the Dutch Carmelite friar’s canonization.

Titus Brandsma, a priest, professor, and journalist, was born Anno Sjoerd Brandsma in Oegeklooster, in the province of Friesland, on Feb. 23, 1881. He entered the Carmelite novitiate in 1898, taking the religious name Titus. He was ordained a priest in 1905.

Following Germany’s invasion of the Netherlands in 1940, Brandsma defended the freedom of Catholic education and the Catholic press against Nazi pressures.

After he firmly opposed mandatory Nazi propaganda in Catholic newspapers, he was arrested in January 1942.

He was transferred to Dachau, once described as “the largest priest cemetery in the world,” on June 19 that year. He died on July 26, following a lethal injection.

He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on Nov. 3, 1985, as a martyr for the faith.

In his homily, the Polish pope praised Brandsma’s “constant vein of optimism.”

“It accompanied him even in the hell of the Nazi camp. Until the end, he remained a source of support and hope for the other prisoners: he had a smile for everyone, a word of understanding, a gesture of kindness,” he said.

“The same ‘nurse,’ who on July 26, 1942, injected him with deadly poison, later testified that she always kept vivid in her memory the face of that priest who ‘had compassion on me.’”

A Catholic priest in Florida told CNA in 2018 that he attributed his miraculous healing from cancer to Brandsma’s intercession.

Fr. Michael Driscoll, O. Carm, was diagnosed with advanced melanoma in 2004. Shortly afterward, someone gave him a small piece of Brandsma’s black suit, which the American priest applied to his head each day.

He underwent major surgery, with doctors removing 84 lymph nodes and a salivary gland. He then went through 35 days of radiation treatment.

Doctors said that his subsequent recovery from Stage 4 cancer was scientifically inexplicable.

Driscoll recalled that his doctor told him: “No need to come back, don’t waste your money on airfare in coming back here. You’re cured. I don't find any more cancer in you.”

A congress of theologians recognized the healing as a miracle on May 25 this year. A group of cardinals approved the canonization cause on Nov. 9, submitting their decision to Pope Francis.

Pope Francis advanced several other causes on Thursday.

He recognized a miracle attributed to the intercession of Bl. Carolina Santocanale (1852-1923), known as Maria of Jesus, the Italian founder of the Capuchin Sisters of Immaculate Mary of Lourdes. She was beatified in 2016 and will now be canonized.

The pope also acknowledged the martyrdom of Enrico Planchart, Ladislao Radigue, and three companions, priests killed in hatred of the faith on May 26, 1871, at the time of the Paris Commune, a revolutionary government in the French capital.

The pope also recognized the heroic virtues of the Italian Bishop Antonio Bello (1935-1993), who he recently described as “a prophet in the land of Puglia,” the region at the southeastern tip of the Italian Peninsula.

In addition, he approved the heroic virtues of:

— Juan de San Pedro y Ustarroz (1564-1615), known as John of Jesus Mary, a Spanish Discalced Carmelite.

Giorgio Guzzetta (1682-1756), an Italian Oratorian priest known as the Apostle of the Albanians of Sicily.

Natalina Bonardi (1864-1945), founder of the Suore di Santa Maria di Loreto, a religious congregation based in Vercelli, Italy.

Maria Dositea Bottani (1896-1970), superior general of the Institute of the Ursuline Sisters of the Immaculate Virgin Mary of Gandino, Italy.

Odette Vidal Cardoso (1931-1939), a Brazilian girl who died in Rio de Janeiro at the age of nine.

Meet the young Catholics restoring wayside crucifixes across France

Members of SOS Calvaires, a group restoring wayside crucifixes across France. / SOS Calvaires.

Rome Newsroom, Nov 25, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

The missionary spirit of young people in France is being rekindled by the surprising success of an association that is restoring wayside crucifixes across the country — and attracting considerable media attention in the process.

SOS Calvaires was founded in 1987 in the Maine-et-Loire department in western France. It sought to bring together people dedicated to preserving the calvaries, oratories, and chapels that dot the French landscape.

SOS Calvaires.
SOS Calvaires.

The association gained momentum in 2015 when a group of young Catholics, who openly declared themselves “proud of their religion and heritage,” took up the mission under the leadership of Paul Ramé, who runs a carpentry business.

Julien Lepage, Ramé’s brother-in-law, joined the adventure in 2018 as a treasurer. He gradually rose to a leadership position, bringing with him great ambitions.

“I got to know about the association’s activities when my brother-in-law invited me to the laying of a calvary in our region, and it touched me very deeply,” Lepage told CNA.

“Indeed, to restore a calvary is very simple. But the impact is huge in terms of testimony, and I immediately saw the evangelizing dimension of it,” he said.

SOS Calvaires.
SOS Calvaires.

Lepage added that he soon challenged his team — whose members are all under 35 years of age — to restore one calvary a month in their region, instead of one or two per year.

Thanks to a growing social media presence, the association started to attract more and more young people willing to serve Christ in this way. They also drew the attention of Catholic and local media — until a well-known French YouTuber noticed them and things changed radically.

Baptiste Marchais was struck by the beauty and sincerity of the association’s mission. He is the French record holder in the bench press discipline. His YouTube channel, Bench and Cigars, has 230,000 subscribers.

Baptiste Marchais lifts a wayside crucifix into place. Screenshot from Bench&Cigars YouTube channel.
Baptiste Marchais lifts a wayside crucifix into place. Screenshot from Bench&Cigars YouTube channel.

In February, he joined members of SOS Calvaires in laying a 13-foot-high calvary. The video that he posted a month later quickly gained more than 200,000 views.

“This video has been an incredible game changer for us,” Lepage said. “We received thousands of donations overnight and people from across France asked us to restore calvaries in their respective regions.”

SOS Calvaires.
SOS Calvaires.

“We understood that there was something to be done, and we decided to embark on a national adventure, with new offices in different parts of the country,” he explained.

Lepage noted that the association had invested a lot of money to remain autonomous and be able to produce its own crosses.

Within six months, SOS Calvaires established 25 branch offices in France. To date, it has around 4,000 donors. It also has 800 members — up from 15 in February.

The organization is now restoring 10 calvaries a month across France.

The association occasionally provides calvaries to local pastors for their communities. It also sells some to private citizens who wish to plant a cross on their property.

SOS Calvaires.
SOS Calvaires.

“It is a way of letting people know that they are entering a Christian land, and we encourage these initiatives,” Lepage commented.

He said that the association’s growing visibility had great evangelizing power, especially among young people. He recounted that after Baptiste Marchais posted his video, priests received calls from young people wanting to go back to church.

The initiative not only offers young people the chance to meet together. The ceremonies at the laying of calvaries are also always accompanied by prayer, songs, and convivial meals.

“Nowadays, countless young people feel lost, and they seek action,” Lepage said. “Restoring and setting calvaries in place falls within their competence and gives them a sense of belonging. They can identify with a cause, and it gives them a brighter image of the Catholic world.”

SOS Calvaires.
SOS Calvaires.

“Many of them see France declining, collapsing, and they want to preserve the Christian roots of their country, whether they are practicing Catholics or not.”

The present situation in France, marked by waves of vandalism and desecration of Catholic monuments, has not dampened the enthusiasm of the association’s young volunteers.

SOS Calvaires.
SOS Calvaires.

“Some time ago, one of our calvaries was tagged [with graffiti], and we responded by publicly warning vandals that for each calvary destroyed, we would build two calvaries, and it never happened again,” Lepage said.

Following its rapid expansion, the association hopes to restore 250 calvaries in 2022, and 1,000 per year by 2024.

This ambitious goal will be supported by an app designed to allow members to geolocate and list all the endangered or dilapidated calvaries that they come across. A partnership with the Association of the Guides and Scouts of Europe is also helping members to map and reference the country’s calvaries.

SOS Calvaires.
SOS Calvaires.

But the association’s grand designs do not stop there. It is also moving into education, offering instruction in schools. It sees this as a way to prepare new generations to keep alive the flame of faith and Catholic tradition in France.

Wife of Catholic radio host among those killed in Christmas Parade attack

Jackson Sparks, 8, was among those killed in the Christmas parade attack Nov. 21 in Waukesha, Wisc. / Screenshot of Twitter post

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 25, 2021 / 00:00 am (CNA).

Tributes have continued to pour in in the wake of the SUV attack at a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisc., as the death toll continues to rise, with the wife of a Catholic radio host among the victims.

On Tuesday, 8-year-old Jackson Sparks succumbed to his injuries and became the youngest fatality of the attack. The death toll now stands at six, with at least 50 injured. He was marching in the parade with his baseball team, the Waukesha Blazers.

Sparks was remembered by his baseball organization’s president Jeff Rogers as someone who was “a sweet, talented boy who was a joy to coach." 

“He was an awesome utility player and played on the Blazers Wolfpack team. Jackson was sweet and tender-hearted with a contagious smile. He was the little guy on the team that everyone supported. You couldn’t help but love him," Rogers said in a Facebook post.

The attack on Nov. 21 involved a red SUV that barreled through barricades and into a crowd marching down the main street of Waukesha just before 4:40 p.m. on Nov. 21. The driver, Darrell Brooks Jr., was arrested. 

Videos posted on social media showed the vehicle racing down the parade route, with police in pursuit, past horrified onlookers moments before marchers were struck.

A priest injured in the attack was released from the hospital on Monday, according to the Catholic Community of Waukesha. 

Father Patrick Heppe, a parish priest of the Catholic Community of Waukesha, a cluster of the four Catholic churches in the Milwaukee suburb, is recovering well.

“At the prayer service last night, Fr. Matthew informed everyone that Fr. Pat is at home and recovering from a concussion after spending Sunday night in the hospital,” said a Nov. 23 statement from Monica Cardenas, the parish’s director of stewardship and communication.

“At this time, he is resting, maintaining his sense of humor and his prognosis is good. He appreciates your prayers and is thinking of and praying for our community,” she said. 

message sent to Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee said that the pope was “asking the Lord to bestow upon everyone the spiritual strength which triumphs over violence and overcomes evil with good.”

“The Holy Father asks you kindly to convey the assurance of his spiritual closeness to all affected by the tragic incident that recently took place in Waukesha,” said the telegram, released on Nov. 23 and sent on the pope’s behalf by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

“He commends the souls of those who died to Almighty God’s loving mercy and implores the divine gifts of healing and consolation upon the injured and bereaved.”

Four of the dead were affiliated with a popular local dancing troupe, the “Milwaukee Dancing Grannies.” The “Dancing Grannies'' perform at parades throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota. Two dancers, their choreographer, and the husband of a dancer were killed, and others were injured. 

Tamara Durand, 52, was making her debut performance as a “Dancing Granny.” Durand’s husband, Dave, is a Catholic author and the host of “The Dave Durand Show” on Relevant Radio. According to local media reports, Tamara was actively involved in her parish and hoped to one day travel to the Vatican. 

“Please pray for the repose of the soul of Tamara Durand, wife of Dave Durand, part of our Relevant Radio family,” Cale Clark, host of “The Cale Clark Show” on Relevant Radio, tweeted on Wednesday. “She lost her life in the tragedy that occurred at the Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on Sunday.”

Another “Granny,” Virginia “Ginny” Sorenson, 79, was the “heart and soul” of the team. In an August 2021 profile of the team by CBS 58, Sorenson explained that although she was sidelined from performing due to surgery, she stayed in the group as their choreographer. 

Glencastle Irish Dancers, Inc., where Sorenson's daughters and granddaughters take dance lessons, spoke of her friendly personality. 

“She always had a smile on her face and a kind word to share,” the dance organization said in a Facebook post on Nov. 22. “Our hearts are heavy today for the family and all who knew and loved Ginny. Please keep this family and all families affected by this tragedy in your thoughts and prayers.” 

Leanna Owen, 71, was the shortest and smallest “Granny.” A Catholic, she was described by the Washington Post as “a Packers fan and an animal lover” who owned an English bulldog. She managed apartment buildings and “didn’t have a mean bone in her body.” 

Colombian court lifts ban of video by influencer Kika affirming traditional marriage

Colombian influencer Erika "Kika" Nieto / Screenshot from ADF International tweet

Mexico City Newsroom, Nov 25, 2021 / 00:00 am (CNA).

The Constitutional Court of Colombia has overturned a lower court’s decision that forced Colombian influencer Erika “Kika” Nieto to take down a video in which she expressed her Christian belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.

“No one should be censored or fear criminal penalties for expressing their beliefs,” said Santiago Guevara, a lawyer for Nueva Democracia, an NGO that with the support of the Christian legal defense organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International, represented Nieto.

“Together with Kika, we are delighted that the Court has reversed this censorship decision. Kika stood firm during this ordeal to defend everyone's freedom to share their beliefs," Guevara said. 

Kika Nieto, who is a Christian, has faced legal proceedings since April 2020, initiated by José Francisco Montufar Rodríguez, a lawyer and LGBTIQ+ activist.

Montufar Rodríguez demanded that the Colombian courts censor a video in which Nieto said: “It is my opinion that God made us all, and created man and created woman so that man is with woman and woman is with man and that's it.”

“What we have done after that, as man with man and woman with woman, I don't think is right. However, note this: I tolerate it,” Nieto added.

In the recording, posted in 2018 under the title “My most sincere video,” Nieto answered questions from her followers.

After Montufar Rodríguez filed a complaint about the views of the Colombian influencer, a court ordered the young woman to remove the video and denied her the right to free speech. Then, on Nov. 23, the Constitutional Court overturned that decision and dismissed the lawsuit.

In an interview with ACI Prensa, Guevara said that although his client is once again free to share her convictions, the defense is disappointed by some details of the Constitutional Court ruling.

"Although the lower court’s ruling that violated Kika's rights has been  overturned, [the Court] did not rule on the content of those rights," Guevara lamented.

"This criticism is based on the fact that, regardless of whether the (plaintiff’s) petition for judicial protection was declared admissible or not, the truth is that the Court was expected to reaffirm the precedent set in SU-355 of 2019 and point out that what was expressed by Kika in her video was protected by her fundamental rights to free speech and religious freedom,” he said.

“In this regard, the Court left out an analysis of absolute relevance," he Nieto's lawyer explained.

SU-355 involved a journalist claiming in a YouTube video that “Kika Nieto hates gays even if she says otherwise.” The case distinguished between the subjective opinions of free speech and the requirement of news reporting to be based on objective verifiable facts.

Guevara said that although the ruling is “final” for this specific case, “regarding the rights that we sought to protect, both those of the plaintiff and Kika’s, there is no position of the Court on the underlying issues that closes the debate definitively.”

“Therefore, if a similar case is presented, this judgment does not set a precedent for how to resolve it, except in procedural matters … it would have been appropriate to have a precedent that would give clear and bolstered protection to free speech when court rulings are issued based on religious beliefs,” he said.

Guevara explained that the court “resolved the case by focusing on  procedural matters. It considered that the requirements of immediacy and subsidiarity of the legal action weren’t met, since the plaintiff didn’t first resort to (other avenues) and filed long after the events took place.” 

He continued: “Therefore, it was decided to declare the petition for protection inadmissible, which has a positive effect, since the lower court ruling that violated Kika's rights was overturned, but the court made no pronouncement on the content of those rights.”

In that regard, the lawyer for Nueva Democracia stated that this shouldn’t be considered a victory for free speech and freedom of religion.

“Although Kika can repost her video because the ruling that unjustifiably censored her was overturned, the truth is that this is due to procedural reasons. There is no decision here that allows us to affirm that the Court ruled in favor of freedom of religion and free speech,” he reiterated.

Guevara criticized the Constitutional Court for not giving Nieto’s case "the importance it deserved.”

"We were dealing with a case that obviously violated free speech, religious freedom and there was a Court precedent (SU-355 of 2019) and none of that was taken into account," he added.

Tomás Henríquez, ADF International Area Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, declared that "if we value a free society, protecting the right to speak freely is paramount."

“We welcome with satisfaction the Court's decision to overturn the ruling censoring Kika Nieto. However, we regret that the underlying issue of censorship wasn’t addressed and affirm the right of everyone to speak freely. We must always choose debate over censorship,” he said. 

“Ultimately, people and democracy suffer when voices are silenced,” he added.

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

10 saintly quotes to reflect on this Thanksgiving

null / Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 25, 2021 / 00:00 am (CNA).

A thanksgiving should be made to God each and every day, according to the saints in heaven. In special celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday, here are 10 saintly quotes on the importance of gratitude.

1. St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “The best way to show my gratitude is to accept everything, even my problems, with joy.”

2. St. Gianna Beretta Molla: “The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for all that He, in His goodness, sends to us day after day.”

3. Pope St. John Paul II:Duc in altum! (Put out into the deep!) These words ring out for us today, and they invite us to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence.”

4: St. Thérèse of Lisieux: “Jesus does not demand great actions from us, but simply surrender and gratitude.”

5. St. Josemaría Escrivá: “Get used to lifting your heart to God, in acts of thanksgiving, many times a day. Because he gives you this and that. Because you have been despised. Because you haven’t what you need or because you have. Because he made his Mother so beautiful, his Mother who is also your Mother. Because he created the sun and the moon and this animal and that plant. Because he made that man eloquent and you he left tongue-tied … Thank him for everything, because everything is good.”

6. St. Teresa of Ávila: “In all created things discern the providence and wisdom of God, and in all things give Him thanks.” 

7. Blessed Solanus Casey: “Thank God ahead of time.” 

8. St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier: “Gratitude is the memory of the heart.” 

9. St. John Vianney: “Believe and adore. Believe that Jesus Christ is in this sacrament as truly as He was nine months in the womb of Mary, as really as He was nailed to the Cross. Adore in humility and gratitude.”

10: St. Francis, in his “Canticle of the Sun”: 

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,

especially through my lord Brother Sun,

who brings the day; and You give light through him.

And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!

Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;

in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful ...

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve Him with great humility.

Petition seeks to return St. Junipero Serra statue to ‘place of honor’ at Catholic university

An illustration of Saint Junipero Serra. / Public domain.

Los Angeles, Calif., Nov 24, 2021 / 18:04 pm (CNA).

A statue of Saint Junipero Serra must return to the Loyola Marymount University campus, an alumni group has said in a letter and petition to the president of the Los Angeles-area Catholic university.

St. Junipero Serra “recently completed the lengthy and rigorous examination process involved in becoming a canonized saint,” Marcos Chavira, a Loyola Marymount University 1995 graduate, said in an open letter to university president Timothy Snyder, posted at the Renew LMU website.

“Regardless of what any committee may recommend to you, we hope your decision about this statue does not further erode our Catholic identity,” Chavira said.

He cited Pope Francis’ words about Serra during a Sept. 23, 2015 canonization Mass. Serra “sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it,” the pope said.

Chavira’s letter to Snyder cited recent comments from Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco.

Serra “defended indigenous people’s humanity, decried the abuse of indigenous women, and argued against imposing the death penalty on natives who had burned down a mission and murdered one of his friends,” the archbishops wrote in a Sept. 12 essay for the Wall Street Journal. “At age 60, ill and with a chronically sore leg, Serra traveled 2,000 miles to Mexico City to demand that authorities adopt a native bill of rights he had written.”

The statue dates back to the 1990s, when it was placed outside the campus library as a gift of William H. Hannon, a Catholic philanthropist and passionate admirer of Serra. Hannon was a major benefactor of the campus, an honorary trustee, and regent emeritus. Many campus buildings are named for him at the university, which claims affiliation with both the Society of Jesus and the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary.

In a Nov. 24 statement to CNA, the university said: “In summer of 2020, the statue of Rev. Serra on LMU's Westchester campus was removed to conduct repairs. When the campus reopened from the pandemic in fall of 2021, the university convened a task force to invite feedback from the community and to develop recommendations on future plans. No final decisions have been made, and the university remains committed to a thoughtful process of open dialogue.”

Chavira said Snyder’s choice to remove the statue was “one more step you have made towards LMU losing its distinctive identity and becoming just like any secular school.”

“With all due respect to some on campus who see things differently, the statue of St. Junípero Serra should be returned to a place of honor,” Chavira said. “The saint’s statue should be accompanied by exactly the same contextualization, historical perspective, and critical evaluation that accompanies all the other statues, plaques, memorials, and quotations in stone on campus from figures including Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, Bill Gates, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and the Virgin Mary.” 

“That is to say, none,” Chavira added. “For these figures, we do not publicly document their real or alleged sins, or the sins of those associated with them, near their sites of commemoration.”

Renew LMU has objected to the new mission statement of the university’s liberal arts college, which dropped wording that expresses a “commitment to Roman Catholicism and the Judaeo-Christian tradition.” The alumni group was also critical of the university for allowing a student group to hold an on-campus fundraiser for Planned Parenthood at the campus’ Roski Dining Hall.

Chavira referred to this event in his letter.

“If a Planned Parenthood fundraiser can be held at LMU in Roski, certainly a statue of this country’s first Hispanic saint canonized by the first Hispanic pope can be in a place of honor and respect at LMU,” he said. “If you wish to have the statue placed inside, so as to lessen the likelihood of vandalism, it should be in a place of high visibility as it was before. We suggest putting it in Roski.”

Renew LMU has asked supporters of the Serra statue to add their name to Chavira’s letter at its website, RenewLMU.com. The alumni group describes itself as “an alliance of students, alumni, faculty, donors, and other LMU supporters who seek to strengthen LMU’s Catholic mission and identity.” CNA sought comment from RenewLMU but did not receive a response by deadline.

Serra, a Franciscan friar from Spain, left a prestigious university chair in Majorca for what is now the United States in 1749. He founded a system of missions to evangelize the Indigenous in modern-day California. He celebrated more than 6,000 baptisms and 5,000 confirmations, and the missions are at the historic center of many of the state’s cities.

While he was lionized through much of the 20th century, critics have since lambasted Serra as a symbol of European colonialism. They said the missions engaged in the forced labor of Native Americans, sometimes claiming Serra himself was abusive.

Serra’s defenders point to the priest’s advocacy for native people and a champion of human rights. They note that he often found himself at odds with Spanish authorities over mistreatment of native people, and the native communities themselves showed an outpouring of grief at his death. They said Serra is wrongly blamed for injustices that came after his death.

Last year, the death of Minnesota man George Floyd during his arrest by a police officer, who was later convicted of his murder, led to racial tensions, protests against police brutality, and riots. In California, protesters and vandals targeted statues of Serra on the grounds that he represented colonialism and oppression of Native Americans. Some state and local lawmakers renewed previous efforts to remove images of Serra from public parks and other official places, and many succeeded.

The Los Angeles-area San Gabriel Mission, which Serra founded in 1771, burned in a devastating fire on July 11, 2020. The alleged arsonist, 57-year-old John David Corey, faces two felony counts in connection with the fire. He was known to the mission and had quarreled with staff members in the past. He reportedly harbored anger toward the Catholic Church.

On Nov. 4, Loyola Marymount University hosted a discussion about Serra linked to the observance of Indigenous Heritage Month, the university news site LMU This Week reported. 

At the discussion Robert M. Senkewicz, emeritus history professor at Santa Clara University, cited both a letter from Serra seeking mercy for indigenous people who had attacked a mission and another letter instructing harsh punishment for indigenous people who had left a mission and were returned by force. He depicted the Catholic mission presence and the Spanish military presence as mutually reinforcing and said Catholic evangelization efforts accepted the use of force. Mexican and Californian representations of this time of history erased the indigenous peoples’ experiences, Senkewicz said.

Cecilia González-Andrieu, a Loyola Marymount professor of theological studies, said that the missions are now in mainly Latino neighborhoods, but she said there is no devotion to Serra at these places. Edgar Perez, a member of the Gabrielino-Tongva people, said the mission system planted the seeds for policies to separate indigenous people from their language and religion and lands. Serra is an integral part of that history, he said.

Than Povi Martinez, a sophomore dance major at Loyola Marymount from the Tewa Pueblo People of San Ildefonso in New Mexico, said Serra’s statue should be permanently removed. According to LMU This Week, she said the statue represents pain and racism and such representations trigger trauma.

Among the critics of Serra are the Indigenous Student Union of LMU. A petition on Change.org attributed to the group had 243 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon. The petition said Serra’s statue should “stay off of our LMU campus.”

“One of our founding goals at ISU has been the removal of the Junipero Serra statue on LMU’s campus,” the petition said. “We see this as just one step acknowledging that LMU currently resides on stolen land of the Tongva Tribe and taking action towards making our campus a safe and welcoming place for Indigenous people and others of marginalized identities and backgrounds.”

“We demand that the statue stay off campus and that the education surrounding Christian colonization be conducted through a different, more intentional manner that centers the lives of our community members of Indigenous and/or marginalized backgrounds,” the group continued. “If the university is truly committed to ongoing efforts to increase diversity and inclusion within our institution, the Junipero Serra statue would be kept off our campus.”

Dr. Reuben Mendoza, an archeologist and professor at California State University-Monterey Bay, who has studied the missions for more than 25 years, told CNA last year that Serra was motivated by a missionary zeal to bring salvation to the Native people through the Catholic faith, rather than by genocidal, racist, or opportunistic motivations.

“Serra writes excitedly about how he had finally found his life's calling, and that he would give his life to these people and their salvation,” Mendoza said.

Fr. Tom Elewaut, pastor of the Old Mission Basilica of San Buenaventura in Ventura, told CNA last year that indigenous people are not uniformly critical of Serra.

“There is substantial evidence that among the Chumash that St. Junipero Serra is revered and respected for his contributions to our country,” said Elewaut. “Their voices have not been heard or respected. Their voices should have equal weight and import.” 

Some indigenous Americans, both in Ventura and Santa Barbara, are “appalled by the character assassination of St. Junipero Serra,” the priest reported.

Few Americans blame God for suffering in the world, new survey finds

A woman prays the rosary. / siam.pukkato/Shutterstock.

Denver Newsroom, Nov 24, 2021 / 16:17 pm (CNA).

A new study by the Pew Research Center found that few Americans blame God for suffering in the world. Instead, Americans are more likely to blame suffering on random chance, the actions of others, or society at large. 

The survey included questions about both religious or spiritual belief, and the meaning of suffering. Respondents who expressed a belief in God, or a higher power, were subsequently asked if they blame God when bad things happen in the world. 

Nearly 75% of respondents who expressed a belief in God, or a higher power, said they “rarely” or “never” feel angry with God in the face of suffering. Protestants in the historically Black tradition and older Americans were more likely to say this, the survey found. 

Pew Research Center.
Pew Research Center.

Fewer than 15% of those same respondents said suffering in the world makes them doubt God’s existence, omnipotence, or kindness. The survey found that doubt as a response to suffering was somewhat more common among young adults, Democrats, and religiously unaffiliated Americans. 

Pew Research Center.
Pew Research Center.

Similarly, few of those same respondents said they believe suffering in the world is a punishment from God. Only 4% believe “all” or “most” suffering is a punishment from God, while 18% said “some,” and 22% said “only a little” is a punishment from God, the survey found. 

Pew Research Center.
Pew Research Center.

The survey found that more than 70% of all respondents believe suffering in the world is mostly a consequence of people’s own actions, while 80% of respondents who expressed a belief in God or a higher power believe suffering in the world is mostly a consequence of people’s own actions, not from God. 

Slightly more than half of those respondents believe God allows human suffering as part of a larger plan, with Evangelical Protestants most likely to hold that belief. 

The survey included questions ranging from beliefs about the purpose of suffering, to beliefs in the afterlife. This was reportedly the first time the Pew Research Center attempted to pose some of these philosophical questions to U.S. adults, the survey stated. Pew asked Americans to share their views both in their own words, and by selecting from a list of options. 

Painting at center of George Floyd controversy stolen from Catholic University

A pieta painting, "Mama," by artist Kelly Latimore, has been displayed outside the law school chapel at The Catholic University of America since February 2021. It was stolen on Nov. 23, 2021. / The Catholic University of America

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 24, 2021 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

A pieta painting displayed at The Catholic University of America’s law school that some see as depicting George Floyd in the place of Jesus was stolen Tuesday night, the school announced.

But in an email Wednesday, Nov. 24, President John Garvey said the artwork — which sparked a social media backlash and an ongoing petition drive demanding its removal  — has been replaced by a smaller version of the same painting that previously hung in the school's campus ministry office.

Titled "Mama," the painting, by artist Kelly Latimore, was installed in February outside the chapel at the university's Columbus School of Law.

Lattimore has said the painting was commissioned to “mourn” Floyd, but when asked by an interviewer if the figure in the pieta is Floyd or Jesus, he responded ambiguously, answering “yes.” 

Floyd, 46, was killed in police custody in May 2020, sparking nationwide protests. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes, was later convicted on three charges of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. He was sentenced to 22 ½ years in prison.

“Many see the male figure as George Floyd,” Garvey said in the email, “but our Law School has always seen the figure as Jesus.”

In response to media coverage of the painting earlier this week, the university has received a “substantial number of emails and phone calls,” Garvey said.

“Some critics called the image blasphemous because they saw it as deifying or canonizing George Floyd. Some comments that we received were thoughtful and reasonable. Some were offensive and racist. Much of the criticism came from people unconnected to the University,” he said.

Garvey wrote that as the controversy developed, the university issued a statement, which he included in his email.

“The icon ‘Mama’ is a pieta depicting Mary and her Son, Jesus Christ. The letters in the halo are Ὁ ὬΝ, which is shorthand in Greek for ‘I Am.’ The letters are used in icons only in connection with Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” the earlier statement said.

“There are those who would like to see George Floyd as the male figure in the icon. That is not how we read it. The image represents to our community a good-faith attempt to include religious imagery on campus that reflects the universality of the Catholic Church,” the statement said.

A group of CUA students started a petition to take down the painting because they “believe they are disrespectful, and sacrilegious.” The petition, which started on Tuesday, Nov. 23, had nearly 2,500 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon. 

Garvey said would not be ordering the school to take down the painting because of his “no cancellation” policy. 

“It has been the University’s policy, throughout my time as President, not to cancel speakers or prevent speech by members of the community,” Garvey said in the email.

"We hope to continue to build on campus a culture that engages in thoughtful dialogue and debate, not the sort of bully tactics epitomized by this theft," he added.

Ethics committee authorizes first assisted suicide in Italy

null / Gorodenkoff via Shutterstock.

Rome, Italy, Nov 24, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

The Catholic Church in Italy said that life must be “protected and defended” after local health authorities in Italy gave the green light to the country’s first legally obtained assisted suicide.

The ethics committee of the health service of the Italian city of Ancona ruled on Nov. 23 that a 43-year-old Italian man met the requirements of a 2019 law de-criminalizing assisted suicide in Italy under certain conditions.

It is now up to the Ancona court to decide whether the 43-year-old quadriplegic, identified only as Mario, can proceed with a medically assisted suicide in accord with his personal wishes.

Speaking after the decision, Fr. Massimo Angelelli, head of the Italian bishops’ health office, said: “Life is a received good, which must be protected and defended, in all its conditions.”

“Nobody can be called to be the bearer of the death of others. Human conscience prevents us from doing this,” he added.

Mario was paralyzed in a car accident 11 years ago. In 2020, he filed a lawsuit against the Ancona health service for refusing to evaluate whether he met the conditions for assisted suicide as defined in a ruling the year before.

The Italian court’s 2019 decision decriminalized euthanasia and assisted suicide for patients who have an “irreversible” condition and are experiencing “intolerable suffering.”

The ruling came after the court considered the case of Fabiano Antoniani, a DJ who died in 2017 at the age of 40 at a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland. Antoniani had quadriplegia and was left blind after a car accident in 2014. He also required assistance for eating and breathing.

Mario won his lawsuit on appeal in July, with a civil court in Ancona, central Italy, ruling that the local ethics committee had to evaluate his eligibility for assisted suicide. The committee’s decision on Mario’s case was published on Tuesday.

In its decision, the Ancona ethics committee raised concerns about whether the drug he had requested, and the quantity specified, were medically proper. It also noted that how the drug would be administered had not been specified.

A legal representative for Mario said on Tuesday that they would provide, “in collaboration with an expert, the details of the methods of self-administration of the drug suitable for Mario, based on his conditions.”

The theologian Archbishop Bruno Forte told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that he was “hoping against hope that it remains possible [for Mario] to rethink the decision for death.”

“Whoever is deciding to put an end to his life can change his opinion and accept to live if he sees himself placed in a relationship of love,” Forte said. “Experienced in that relationship, even the pain that is no longer remedied by palliative medicine can become acceptable.”

The archbishop also pointed to statements by the Pontifical Academy for Life, “which has exhorted to ‘not minimize the seriousness of what Mario has experienced,’ together signaling that in no way should he be ‘encouraged to take his own life.’”

The Ancona ethics committee’s decision comes as Italy’s parliament considers whether to hold a referendum to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide after a petition gathered more than a million signatures this year.

A commission in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house, is expected to review the referendum request on Nov. 29, after the discussion was postponed several times.