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Hallow app defends partnership with Liam Neeson, a supporter of abortion 

Liam Neeson will be joining Jonathan Roumie of “The Chosen” and Sister Miriam James Heidland, SOLT, in leading prayer and reflections for the Hallow App’s Advent Pray25 series. / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Nov 22, 2023 / 17:13 pm (CNA).

The creators of the Catholic meditation and prayer app Hallow on Wednesday defended their decision to partner with actor Liam Neeson, who has engaged in pro-abortion activism in his native country of Ireland.

Neeson will be joining Jonathan Roumie of “The Chosen” and Sister Miriam James Heidland, SOLT, in leading prayer and reflections for the app’s Advent Pray25 series. The three will be doing voice-over content and readings from the works of C.S. Lewis.

In a statement to CNA, Hallow CEO Alex Jones defended the move saying that the company is “proudly” pro-life and that the choice to partner with Neeson was based on the actor’s ability to “bring to life” the writings of C.S. Lewis “in a new way.”

Jones said that Hallow’s goal is to reach out to “folks who have fallen away, in the same way that I once had, and to invite them into a relationship with Christ.”

“This often means partnering with nontraditional partners and people from different backgrounds,” he said.

Additionally, Jones said, “we prayed deeply through this decision and consulted heavily with our advisers.” He added that he “strongly” believes that “this is what God is calling us to do.”

Advisers listed on Hallow’s website include Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop Kevin Rhoades; Father Mike Schmitz from Ascension; Father Stephen Grunow, CEO of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries; Notre Dame theology professor Dr. John Cavadini; Andrew Abela, dean of Catholic University’s Busch School of Business; Sister Jaime Mitchell with the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago; Father Kevin Grove, CSC; author Lisa Hendey; former chief investment officer for the University of Notre Dame Scott Malpass; and author and speaker Laura Fanucci.

Neeson, a dual U.S. and Irish citizen, was an outspoken advocate in 2018 for overturning Ireland’s Eighth Amendment, which asserted the right to life of the unborn. 

The amendment was successfully overturned in May of that year, legalizing abortion in the European nation.

Neeson’s abortion activism

Leading up to Ireland’s referendum on the Eighth Amendment, Neeson wrote in a May 2018 op-ed in the Irish Independent that “men must stand with women” and added that it’s time to respect “women’s right” to abortion.

“There are times when we must stand for what is right. When the obvious injustice of a situation demands that we do so. For me, the upcoming referendum on the Eighth Amendment is one of those times. A time to stand up and be counted. A moment when men must stand with women,” he wrote.

“In Ireland, men have complete control over their bodies. Women do not. Even if a woman has been raped, or her health could be damaged by a pregnancy, she has no control over what happens next,” Neeson wrote.

Neeson has been at the center of controversy before for his public opposition to the Eighth Amendment, stepping down in 2016 as the head of his childhood hometown boxing club in Ballymena, Ireland, which is associated with the local Catholic church, after a disagreement over his views on the topic, according to the Belfast Telegraph

Additionally, in 2015, Neeson lent his voice to a video advertisement calling for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, which critics called “anti-Catholic.”

The ad features what appears to be the outer structure of an old abandoned church and scenes showing different crosses.

“A ghost haunts Ireland, a cruel ghost of the last century,” Neeson says in the ad with the church in the background.

“It blindly brings suffering,” he says, while an image of a cross is shown on the video.

Hallow’s response

In Jones’ response to CNA, he said: “We’ve received a lot of feedback over the last few days on the Advent challenge, with many folks really excited and many, understandably, upset, hurt, or confused.”

Jones said that Hallow does not “stand behind or claim to endorse any of the personal views, past actions, or political opinions of any of the narrators on the app” while adding that other actors on the app have “differing personal views on many topics, some who are practicing Catholics, but several of whom come from different faith backgrounds.”

“Several have done things in the past or may hold personal views that we would disagree with. The one thing we do strongly stand behind is every word they read within the app itself,” he said.

He said that Hallow “stands proudly and unequivocally in support of all Catholic Church teaching, especially the pro-life stance of the Church and the USCCB’s affirmation of abortion as the preeminent priority.”

He called abortion a “heartbreakingly important issue” and explained that the app has several pro-life prayers and meditations. 

“We would never allow any content on the app that goes against the pro-life teaching of the Church. We consistently send our team to the March for Life each year. We will do everything in our power as long as we are around to assist in the fight for life and to work to let God change hearts and minds,” he said.

Jones said that Hallow is “thrilled” to partner with Neeson as a voice actor “because of his powerful portrayal of Aslan [who is C.S. Lewis’ representation of Christ] in the C.S. Lewis films.”

Jones said that Hallow believes many will find the voice-over scripts by all three Advent voice-over actors “life-changingly powerful and that the challenge will help them grow deeper in their relationship with God.”

Jones said that Hallow has “two different philosophies for approaching partners.”

For partners who will share their reflections or sermons, “[t]he bar is very high,” he said. But for actors or other partners, the app discerns if it will partner with them judging “the extent to which it will help people grow closer to God while also seriously evaluating any risk that any content or partnership might lead people away from God.”

“These partners are each reading from a script ​​— usually Scripture passages or quotes from theological writings ​​— written by our theology team,” he said.

“As with every major decision at Hallow, we prayed deeply through this decision and consulted heavily with our advisers. It is a very difficult decision. Ultimately for us, it comes down to our discernment in prayer. I do not always get clear answers in prayer, but in this particular case, I do strongly believe this is what God is calling us to do. I understand if you disagree,” he said.

The full statement from Hallow can be read here.

Liam Neeson’s faith

Neeson, 71, is a Catholic, but it’s not clear whether he practices the faith. 

He grew up in a predominantly Protestant town in Ireland during a time in which there was an ongoing violent conflict between Catholic and Protestant groups known as the Troubles. 

The actor has said in several interviews that he served as an altar boy at his local church and that he even considered the priesthood when he was a teenager. 

In an undated interview with on his faith, he said: “There’s always a little light that goes off in my head when I read a script that’s faith-based in some way. I was brought up quite a staunch Catholic. I was an altar boy for quite a few years as a kid. The Church has always appealed to me in some way, especially when I became an actor, and I’m certainly questing after God and the nature of God. So, I am drawn to it, I must admit.”

In recent years, Neeson has seemed to question his faith. 

Neeson told The Times Magazine in 2016 that his faith was “waning,” the Belfast Telegraph reported.

Neeson told Al Arabiya News in 2015 that he was not going to convert to Islam after rumors spread following comments he made to a news outlet in 2012 that he considered it after filming the movie “Taken 2” in Istanbul, Turkey. 

In a 2017 interview with Patheos on the movie “Silence,” Neeson said: “If God were a stern master, I would have given up the faith long ago. God is love, love is God. I have had personal experiences of God’s love, beautiful and calming, all the things the Psalms talk about. If he was a stern master, well, I don’t know.”

In a video posted in August, the actor told talk show host Conan O’Brien on “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” that the last time he had been to confession was when he was 15 years old in Ireland when he said a missionary priest treated him sternly.

In an interview with “The Chosen” actor Jonathan Roumie, Neeson said that Hallow’s Advent series is something he is “really excited to share with people.”

He called the Hallow App a “great prayer, meditation app” and said its content is “pretty incredible.”

“I’ve partnered together with Hallow for this project to help guide folks through some beautiful meditations, and it’ll be an honor to journey through them with the community on the app,” he said.

YouTube removes popular Catholic channel, accuses it of being a scam

Sister Clare Crockett of the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother. Taken from Facebook via EWTN. / null

CNA Staff, Nov 22, 2023 / 16:27 pm (CNA).

A popular Catholic YouTube channel run by a religious community known as the “Home of the Mother” was removed by YouTube on Nov. 3 for allegedly violating the platform’s policies on spam, deceptive practices, and scams.

The channel titled “HM Television (English)” was best known for its hugely popular documentary “All or Nothing.”

The film tells the story of Sister Clare Crockett, a young Irish nun who gave up an acting career to enter religious life and was killed in an earthquake while serving in Ecuador in 2016. The documentary had millions of views before being removed along with the rest of the channel’s hundreds of videos.

Sister Kristen Gardner, a member of the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother and author of a book about the life of Sister Clare Crockett, told CNA on Wednesday that the sisters were especially saddened by the documentary being removed. Despite the religious community appealing the decision, Gardner said that the channel “remains deleted.” 

“The Sister Clare documentary was doing much good,” Gardner said, adding that it was “helping to bring many people back to the Catholic faith and also to pull people out of mediocrity in their living out the faith.”

The channel was run by the Home of the Mother community’s “EUK Mamie Foundation,” a multimedia Catholic apostolate centered in Spain, which also produced the documentary. According to Gardner, the apostolate is primarily directed toward young people, families, and children and arose from a desire “to contribute to the new rvangelization.”

Gardner said that YouTube, which is owned by Google, didn’t give any notice or warnings of the channel violating its policies before removing it.

“On Nov. 3, we noticed that many of our embedded videos, including the film about Sister Clare Crockett, were displaying an error message,” she explained. “We tried to log into the YouTube channel where these videos were located … and surprisingly the channel was no longer to be found.” 

She said they did not find the email notification from YouTube until after the channel had already been removed. The email was found in the sisters’ spam folder.

EUK Mamie immediately appealed the removal and got a quick response from YouTube.

According to a Nov. 10 EUK Mamie statement, YouTube said: “After carefully reviewing your channel, we have confirmed that it violates our policy on spam, deceptive practices, and scams.”

“We understand that this is not the best of news, but we must ensure that YouTube is a safe place for all users,” YouTube went on, adding, “We will not restore your YouTube channel.” 

Home of the Mother denied that the channel’s content violated any YouTube policies.

The community said its channel “has not used its videos to deceive or defraud anyone” and that it is “not even monetized, because HM Television-EUK Mamie never had the intention of obtaining economic benefit but rather to evangelize, entrusting the future of the channel to God’s providence.” 

The community has since created a new English-language YouTube channel titled “HM Television (International).” The new channel currently has only 286 subscribers. The community also reposted the documentary on its “Home of the Mother” channel. The video currently has 7,000 views. 

Home of the Mother said it was “saddest” to lose the previously posted documentary “because of the many comments of people sharing their testimonies and stories.”  

“Daily people sent testimonies, both written and oral, of the great spiritual good received through this documentary,” Home of the Mother said. “Conversions, young people who discover or accept their vocation to the consecrated life or to the priesthood, vocations ‘saved’ in a moment of crisis, graces received, and many lives changed by Sister Clare’s witness of conversion and dedication to God.” 

“This video radiated too much light and the lord of darkness could not bear it,” the statement went on. “But perhaps we can get it back if we fight together in defense of religious freedom and freedom of conscience. Remember that apt saying of Edmund Burke: ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’ 

“We ask for your help to spread this message and to publicize this denunciation in all the ways and means at your disposal. We also ask for the help of your prayers, so that the Lord may allow us to recover this tool at the service of evangelization.”

YouTube has not yet responded to CNA’s request for comment. 

4 key facts about Victoria Villarruel, the Catholic vice president-elect of Argentina

Victoria Villarruel, vice president-elect of Argentina. / Credit: Flickr de Vox España|Wikipedia

ACI Prensa Staff, Nov 22, 2023 / 14:48 pm (CNA).

Last Sunday, Nov. 19, the presidential runoff election in Argentina was won by libertarian economist Javier Milei and his running mate, lawyer Victoria Villarruel. They will take office Dec. 10 as president and vice president of the nation.

The vice president-elect of the La Libertad Avanza (Freedom Advances) political coalition and currently a congresswoman in the national Legislature has a long history as a political activist and writer, but she is also known for expressing her Catholic faith in public and for criticizing policies contrary to her principles, such as abortion. 

Here are some key facts about the Argentine leader:

1. She’s a practicing Catholic.

Villarruel, 48, is from Buenos Aires and was born April 13, 1975. Although she does not usually comment on her personal life, she does openly share her faith. She is a self-professed practicing Catholic.

For example, in April the lawmaker wished her followers a happy Easter with a message on Instagram, and a few months later she commemorated the feast day of the Our Lady of Lujan, the patroness of Argentina, with a post on X. In 2019 she also posted a photograph from her pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Luján, commenting that the 65-kilometer (40-mile) trek was “really an enormous effort but walking with others, united in the faith, seeing the humble homes, towns, and pilgrims puts everything in perspective.”

In a Nov. 21 interview with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, Argentine priest Javier Olivera Ravasi, director of the Catholic apologetics project “Que no te la cuenten” (“Don’t believe everything you hear”), shared that he met Villarruel in his chapel a year and a half ago.

“She was godmother at a baptism. She has a very strong, determined personality; she comes from a military family. Her father was a classmate of mine in military school when they were young. She is Catholic, Roman apostolic, practicing,” the priest said.

The Argentine media Letra P stated that Villarruel participates in the Traditional Latin Mass that is celebrated in the chapel of Our Lady, Mediatrix of All Graces of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X (FSSPX) located in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Monserrat, a few blocks from Congress.

According to Olivera, she attends the SSPX chapel because it’s the only place in that area where the Latin Mass is held, since in the area near her residence there are no traditional Masses. The vice president-elect is not part of the SSPX and she also attends Novus Ordo Masses elsewhere in the city, the priest explained.

2. She’s against abortion.

In a recent interview with the Spanish newspaper El País, Villarruel said she advocates for “the right to life, because life begins at conception,” and pointed out that protecting the lives of the unborn is not a “matter of religion” but of “pure biology.”

During the campaign, the vice president-elect expressed her support for the repeal of the abortion law passed in 2020, known as the Law of Access to Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy.

In a Nov. 14 interview with the TN television channel, the congresswoman confirmed that, together with Milei, she wants to reopen the discussion on the abortion law, focusing the debate on “a scientific basis and serious arguments” and not on ideological positions.

However, she later explained that this issue is not a priority considering the exorbitant prices Argentinians are facing due to the country’s very high rate of inflation and that the abortion law will be addressed at another time.

In another interview with Infobae on May 16, she described the law as “disastrous” and assured that if she could, she would repeal it. “There was a lobby here that was also promoted from abroad; abortion is big business and there is a lobby that promoted this issue,” she said.

On July 8, 2018, Villarruel participated in a Mass for Life at the Basilica of Our Lady of Luján when the country was debating the legalization of abortion in Congress.

Olivera noted that repealing the abortion law will be “difficult because it has to go through Congress and their coalition [Freedom Advances] doesn’t have a majority now. But at least they will surely try to start little by little to work towards achieving this goal.”

3. She opposed same-sex “marriage” during the campaign.

During an interview in early May, Villarruel said she was against the “Marriage Equality Law,” the legislation on the so-called “marriage” between people of the same sex passed in Argentina in 2010.

When the host of television channel LN+ (The Nation+), Luis Novaresio, asked her what she thought about gay “marriage,” she said: “For me, it was guaranteed with civil unions. Legally, those rights were guaranteed. Was it necessary to expand them? Yes, but calling it ‘marriage,’ which is an institution that has more to do with religion… For me, we all have rights before the law."

In response to the congresswoman’s statements, the host pointed out that marriage is not related to religion but is “a matter of civil law.” After this, Villarruel responded: “Yes, of course. But its origin dates back to the previous establishment of the institution of marriage, which had a religious character.”

Martín Zeballos, a lawyer and former Freedom Advances candidate for “comunero” (similar to an alderman) in Comuna 1 (similar to a ward) of the City of Buenos Aires, told ACI Prensa Nov. 21 that Villarruel contributed “a very solid discourse” that resonated with “a huge number of Argentines who love their country and want to put the Argentine family at the center of public policies.”

The family “is something that Argentine public policies have forgotten in recent decades and I think it’s important that this new government can bring it back,” he said.

4. She is the daughter of a soldier and fights for the victims of terrorism.

Villarruel is the daughter of Eduardo Villarruel, a veteran of the Falklands (Malvinas Islands) War with Britain. He was also assigned in northern Argentina to the counterterrorism Operation Independence. The operation began during the period of democratic rule and continued during the dictatorship to confront guerrillas from the People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP), a guerrilla organization in Argentina that was active in the 1970s.

“Victoria Villarruel will be the first vice president of Argentina who is the daughter of a veteran of the Falklands War, an unwavering cause for our country. So much so that it is specifically mentioned in the national constitution,” Zeballos said.

Since 2006, Villarruel has been president of the Center for Legal Studies Civil Association on Terrorism and Its Victims, an organization that took on the task of raising awareness of the victims of crimes attributed to armed organizations during the 1970s in Argentina.

In a May interview with Infobae, the Buenos Aires politician said that “what happened in the ’70s hurt all Argentines,” and that only a few have had the “right” to tell what they experienced. “I have always been interested in justice, truth, and reparation for these victims,” she stressed.

In 2014, she co-authored the book “Los otros muertos” (“The Other Dead,” which tells the stories of victims of terrorism in Argentina.

On Sept. 25 of this year, Villarruel shared on Instagram her attendance at the Mass in memory of the former leader of the General Confederation of Labor of Argentina, José Ignacio Rucci, who was murdered 50 years ago by the Montoneros, another leftist guerrilla group in Argentina. The Mass was held in the Buenos Aires cathedral.

Likewise, in June, the vice president-elect shared on Instagram that she attended a Mass commemorating the birth of Argentino del Valle Larrabure, a Servant of God who was a victim of kidnapping, torture, and murder at the hands of the ERP during the 1970s.

Walter Sánchez Silva contributed to this story.

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

Connecticut archbishop calls for female deacons, moving Vatican out of Rome

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, VT. Courtesy photograph. / null

CNA Staff, Nov 22, 2023 / 12:58 pm (CNA).

A recently appointed coadjutor archbishop in Connecticut said he would, if asked, advise Pope Francis to “get [the Church] out of Rome” and move its headquarters elsewhere, and consider allowing women to serve as deacons.

Pope Francis appointed Bishop Christopher Coyne as coadjutor archbishop of Hartford in June of this year. As coadjutor, Coyne will assist Archbishop Leonard Blair in the administration of the Hartford Archdiocese and should succeed him as archbishop upon the latter’s retirement, expected once Blair turns 75 next year.

In an interview with local news station WTNH News8 this week, Coyne told network anchor Dennis House that, if asked by Pope Francis for advice on how to improve the Catholic Church, he would tell the Holy Father: “Get it out of Italy. Get it out of Rome.” 

“We need to put it someplace [else]. It’s too Roman,” Coyne said. 

“I just think because it’s Roman, it’s inbred in terms of the culture of Rome, it’s inbred in terms of the culture of the community there,” he said. “[Francis] tried and tried and tried to change the Roman ways, but you hit the Roman ways that have been part of the tradition of the Church for years.” 

“That would be the first thing I’d say,” he continued. “Is there any way we can move out of Rome and just kind of start over with a different bureaucracy?”

The prelate in the interview discussed his childhood growing up in the Catholic faith in a “very large Irish Catholic family,” where he was the middle child of seven.

“[O]ur church had a great community and priests were always in and out of our house,” he said. “We were all altar servers. My mother and father would volunteer. I was very familiar with a lot of the priests and deacons.”

The archbishop said his goal for the archdiocese is “to evangelize.”

“[H]ere in the United States, especially in the Northeast, we’re no longer a Church of the culture, we’re no longer a Church of the community in the sense [that] we have an automatic entree into different walks of life,” Coyne said. 

“We’re a missionary Church now,” he said. “People don’t come to our Church, they just don’t walk through the doors. In fact, most people are walking out of the doors.”

The prelate pointed out that many Catholics who leave the Church say that they end up at “megachurches.” 

“And when you ask them why did you join a megachurch, they say, ‘Because I felt welcome,’” the archbishop said. 

Coyne said that he sees more church closings in the future for the archdiocese. 

“The problem is not that the Church has abandoned, that the priests have abandoned, or that the archdiocese has abandoned [the churches],” he said. “The people who used to be in the church have left the Church.” 

“Now, part of it is that we were complacent and weren’t kind of concerned about that until, obviously, it became a problem,” he said. “But I think in many instances, when a church is closed it’s because nobody’s there. So who walked away?” 

He pointed out that he didn’t “want to make it look like I’m blaming the laity,” but “if the numbers aren’t there you can’t sustain it.”

Coyne further said he hopes at some point to have the chance to ordain women deacons. 

“Women’s ordination, at this point, in terms of the diaconate, is kind of being discussed,” he said. “In terms of the priesthood, it’s not open for discussion. We’ve been told it’s ‘case closed.’ But hopefully, there will be some opportunity down the road [to] ordain or name some deaconesses.” 

Pope Francis said in a recent book interview that “holy orders is reserved for men,” though the Synod on Synodality’s final document last month included a request for continued theological study of the possibility of women deacons.

Before coming to Hartford this year, Coyne led the Diocese of Burlington, Vermont, since 2015. The 65-year-old bishop served as the auxiliary bishop of Indianapolis from 2011 to 2015.

Asked during the interview what he would say to Catholics who have left the Church and are thinking of coming back, Coyne said he would tell them: “We have a place for you. You’re always welcome.” 

“When you come here, it’s a nonjudgmental zone,” the prelate said. “Yes, sometimes our message is hard to hear because it’s challenging. But we’re all on the way to salvation, and we want to accompany each other on that way, growing in a life of holiness.” 

“We don’t want you to stay where you are,” he continued. “I don’t want to stay where I am. I want to grow more towards God. But I want to walk with you. And all are welcome.” 

Pope Francis meets with families of Israeli hostages being held in Gaza

Pope Francis meets with families of the hostages taken by Hamas on Nov. 22, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Nov 22, 2023 / 12:21 pm (CNA).

It’s been 47 days since Moshe Leimberg’s wife and 17-year-old daughter were taken hostage by Hamas.

“We haven’t seen or heard anything since. It’s been 47 days. And I’m alone. Every day I wake up … and I wait a minute or two for the familiar sounds that I’m used to hearing and there’s nothing,” Leimberg said at a press conference in Rome on Nov. 22.

“My family has been taken and my life is not what it was and it never will be again.” 

Leimberg was one of 12 family members of hostages being held in Gaza who met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday morning.

In a separate meeting on the same day, the pope also met with 10 Palestinians, some of whom had family members die in airstrikes on Gaza.

Pope Francis’ meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian delegations occurred as news emerged that a four-day cease-fire agreement had been reached in which Hamas agreed to free at least 50 of the roughly 240 hostages taken in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

“I know that my son is not part of this exchange,” Evgeniia Kozlova told journalists after meeting the pope, noting that she does not know how long she will have to wait to hear if her child will ever return home.

Rachel Goldberg, whose only son was kidnapped at the Nova Music Festival on Oct. 7, said that she hopes that the meeting with the pope will help bring more attention to hostages who are still waiting to be freed. 

“I think that the Holy Father has a lot of influence in the entire world. Aside from the 1.3 billion Catholics that certainly revere and respect him, I think he’s very respected in the Muslim world, in the Jewish world, really, irrespective of religious background. And so I think when he speaks, the world really listens,” Goldberg told EWTN News.

“The hostages come from almost 30 different countries. They span in age from 9 months to 87 years old … and so this issue of the hostages is really a global humanitarian catastrophe and needs to be treated as such.”

Goldberg’s son, Hersh, was celebrating his 23rd birthday at the music festival when Hamas fighters attacked and threw a grenade at the roadside bomb shelter where he had taken cover. Video footage shows that his arm was blown off during the attack.

“We have since seen a video … of him and these two other boys being marched out of the bomb shelter and put onto a Hamas pickup truck, which then headed toward Gaza,” she said. “My heart has been buried in Gaza.”

Goldberg said that she felt “embraced” by the pope and believes that “he will do everything he can to help us.”

Other Israelis said that they felt hurt that the pope did not spend more than 20 minutes with the group and did not have time to listen to the stories of each of the 12 family members, hearing only from about seven or eight people in the delegation.

Yehuda Cohen, whose daughter was part of the delegation that met the pope, called the meeting with Pope Francis “disappointing.”

“The meeting should have been long enough for people to speak,” he said. “We came all the way from Israel here to meet him.”

Pope Francis’ meeting with the Palestinian delegation was also only about 20 minutes.

The pope spoke about his experience meeting the two groups during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

“This morning I received two delegations, one of Israelis who have relatives as hostages in Gaza and another of Palestinians who have relatives suffering in Gaza. They suffer so much and I heard how they both suffer. Wars do this, but here we have gone beyond wars, this is not warfare, this is terrorism,” Pope Francis said.

“Please, let’s move forward for peace. Pray for peace. Pray hard for peace,” he said. “We pray for the Palestinian people, we pray for the Israeli people, that peace will come.”

Church Militant’s Michael Voris steps down after ‘morality clause’ violation

St. Michael's Media founder and CEO Michael Voris during an interview for local television news before the "Bishops Enough Is Enough" rally at the MECU Pavilion Nov. 16, 2021, in Baltimore. / Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

CNA Staff, Nov 22, 2023 / 11:45 am (CNA).

Michael Voris, the founder of St. Michael’s Media, which operates the controversial Catholic media outlet Church Militant, resigned this week over an undisclosed “morality” violation, the company said on Tuesday. 

Church Militant posted on its website on Tuesday that Voris had “been asked to resign for breaching the Church Militant morality clause.” 

“The board has accepted his resignation,” the notice said. 

“We understand this is a shock to you all, but our founder and former CEO is stepping aside and focusing on his personal health,” the notice said. “The Board of Directors has chosen not to disclose Michael’s private matters to the public.” 

“The apostolate will be praying for him, and we kindly ask you to do the same,” the notice said. 

The enterprise has generated controversy over the years for its often severe criticism of what it sees as lax or insufficiently devout Catholicism. 

The outlet has claimed that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) “isn’t Catholic,” alleging that the bishops “only pretend to represent the Church.” Church Militant has at times held protests outside USCCB gatherings.

The outlet has likewise at times been highly critical of Pope Francis’ papacy. In 2020 it alleged that Francis’ remarks on homosexual unions were made “in stark and unprecedented defiance of Catholic teaching,” while last year a headline at the site declared that Francis “falsifies biblical teaching on taxes.”

Church Militant did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday morning regarding the decision. 

In a video posted to his Twitter page on Tuesday, Voris addressed the controversy, alluding to “some very, very ugly truths from my past … that I, for essentially 62 years, have avoided facing.”

“There are things I have to go away and address and work on,” Voris said. “They are, again, horrible ugly things. [I’m] not going to share them. Nobody else’s business but mine.”

“In one sense I’m kind of relieved that I … have reached this point,” he said in the video. “I’ve been looking at the ugliness surfacing inside. [I] have not liked it. [A] number of times in my head I have written my resignation letter already, a handful of times this year.” 

“I need to conquer these demons,” he said. “... The underlying cause of it has been too ugly for me to look at.”

“It involves an awful lot of, in one sense for me, like, spiritual terror,” he said, choking up, “and I’ve not wanted to go near it.” 

Voris urged viewers to “[not let] all of my stuff move over onto the apostolate.” 

“I am out of the apostolate specifically so there will be a very clear separation there,” he said. “That work, and the staff there … deserve your continued support.”

Voris founded St. Michael’s Media in 2006. The company launched Church Militant — originally titled Real Catholic TV — in 2008. 

In 2011, when the outlet was still known as Real Catholic TV, the Archdiocese of Detroit said in a statement that it had informed the company that “it does not regard them as being authorized to use the word ‘Catholic’ to identify or promote their public activities.” Voris changed the outlet to its present name shortly thereafter.

Pope Francis: The Gospel is universal

Pope Francis addresses pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square for his Wednesday general audience on Nov. 15, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Nov 22, 2023 / 10:06 am (CNA).

During his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, Pope Francis highlighted the universal nature of the Church’s mission to proclaim the Gospel, arguing that it is a call for everyone and that no one is excluded. 

The Holy Father’s Nov. 22 catechesis was a continuation of last week’s lesson where he focused on the joy in proclaiming the Gospel, noting that without joy there is no credible witness to the Gospel message. 

The pope on Wednesday quoted his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), stressing that Christians “have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone.” 

“Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet,” the pope said, quoting the exhortation.

“It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction,’” he quoted further.

“Brothers, sisters, let us feel that we are at the service of the universal destination of the Gospel, and let us distinguish ourselves for our capacity to come out of ourselves, to overcome every limit,” the pope said.

“Christians meet on the parvis more than in the sacristy, and go ‘to the streets and lanes of the city,’” the pope said. “They must be open and expansive, ‘extrovert,’ and this character of theirs comes from Jesus, who makes his presence in the world a continuous journey, aimed at reaching out to everyone, even learning from some of his encounters.”

The pope also spoke about the role discernment plays in this process, noting that “the Bible shows us that when God calls a person and makes a pact with some of them, the criterion is always this: Elect someone to reach many others.”

But Francis warned against the temptation to conflate the notion of being the elected with having a sense of superiority. 

“Perhaps the greatest temptation is to consider the call received as a privilege. Please no, the call is not a privilege, ever. We cannot say that we are privileged compared to others, no. The call is for a service. And God chooses one to love everyone, to reach everyone,” the pope instructed. 

In speaking about the universality of the mission of the Church, the pope went on to warn that the Church is universal both in its mission and in its very structure. He argued that we must “prevent the temptation to identify Christianity with a culture, with an ethnicity, with a system.” 

“Thus, however, it loses its truly Catholic nature, that is, for all, universal: It is not a small group of first-class elect. Let us not forget: God chooses someone to love everyone. This horizon of universality. The Gospel is not just for me, it is for everyone, let’s not forget that.” 

At the end of the general audience, during his personal address to Italian pilgrims, the pope repeated his request for prayers for those who are suffering as a result of the ongoing wars in Ukraine and Palestine.

“Let us not forget to persevere in prayer for those who suffer from wars in many parts of the world, especially for the dear people of Ukraine, the tormented Ukraine, and of Israel and Palestine.”

The pope also announced that prior to the morning’s general audience, he had received two delegations from the Holy Land. One was a delegation from Palestine, composed of family members of Palestinian prisoners being held in Israel; the other was made up of the relatives of the Israeli hostages taken by Hamas at the onset of the Israel-Hamas war in early October.

“They suffer a lot and I heard how they both suffer: Wars do this, but here we have gone beyond wars, this is not waging war, this is terrorism,” the pope said.

“Please, let’s move forward for peace, pray for peace, pray a lot for peace. May the Lord put his hand there, may the Lord help us to solve the problems and not move forward with the passions that ultimately kill everyone. We pray for the Palestinian people, we pray for the Israeli people, for peace to come.”

On assassination anniversary, Catholics reflect on JFK’s faith and life

President John F. Kennedy, Mrs. Kennedy, daughter Caroline and son John John arriving for mass at St. Stephen the Martyr Catholic Church in Middleburg, Virginia, on Nov. 10, 1963. / Credit: Diocese of Arlington

CNA Staff, Nov 22, 2023 / 05:00 am (CNA).

Nov. 22, 1963, was a day of mourning for the United States as President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Now, 60 years later, Catholics continue to look back at his life and legacy and the role his faith played in his presidency.

On that fateful day, Barbara Perry, currently a professor of presidential studies at the University of Virginia, was in second grade at St. Albert Catholic School in Louisville, Kentucky. She recalled working on an art project when her teacher shared the news.

“All of a sudden, I looked up, the teacher had turned toward us and said, ‘The president’s been shot. Please line up, we’re going to church to pray for him,’” Perry said in an interview with “EWTN News In Depth.”

Born in 1917, Kennedy grew up during an era when anti-Catholic prejudice was pervasive in the United States. It was in 1928 that the country’s first major party Catholic presidential nominee, four-term New York Gov. Al Smith, ran for president.

Perry explained: “He was vanquished in a landslide by Herbert Hoover because he was Catholic. They [people] were afraid of having a Catholic president because they said the pope would run the country.”

As a youngster, Kennedy served as an altar boy at St. Aidan’s in Brookline, Massachusetts, where his mother, Rose, attended daily Mass. The family matriarch had a great impact on the young boy’s faith, leading her children in prayer before every meal and quizzing them on Gospel readings. 

A young John F. Kennedy. JFK Library Foundation
A young John F. Kennedy. JFK Library Foundation

It was Kennedy’s father, Joseph, who would stoke his political ambitions. 

After serving in combat in the U.S. Navy during World War II, starting in the late 1940s Kennedy was elected to the United States Congress, first as a representative and then as a senator.

Cognizant of deep anti-Catholic fears leading up to the 1960 election, two months before Election Day Kennedy delivered a critical speech before a group of Protestant pastors in Houston. There Kennedy declared his belief “in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” He added that his Catholic faith would not influence his presidency.

“I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic,” Kennedy said. “I do not speak for my Church on public matters and the Church does not speak for me.”

On Jan. 20, 1961, following Mass at Holy Trinity Church near his home in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., Kennedy delivered his famous inaugural address as president. For the first time, a Catholic moved into the White House.

A mixed blessing for the Catholic Church

Dr. Matthew Wilson, a Catholic, political science professor, and director of the Center for Faith and Learning at Southern Methodist University, called the JFK presidency a mixed blessing for the Catholic Church in America. 

“It came with a price because it showed that a Catholic could be accepted if he was willing to leave a significant part of his faith at the door,” he said in an interview with “EWTN News In Depth.”

“Separation of church and state does not mean the marginalization or the sidelining of our deepest values that are derived from our religious faith,” Wilson explained.

Wilson pointed out that since Kennedy, a pattern has emerged where both Democrat and Republican politicians in the U.S. often misuse or sacrifice their faith convictions for political purposes. “Time and time again, they choose party over church. They choose party values over religious values.” 

However, for Kennedy the separation of his personal and public life evidently went deeper than just politics.

“He was an incorrigible womanizer and cheated many times on his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy,” Perry said. “So yes, he led a promiscuous life in his personal life.”

Despite this, Perry pointed out that Kennedy continued to keep an unmistakably Catholic spiritual routine.

Nightly prayers and sacrament of reconciliation

“President Kennedy, throughout his presidency and throughout his life, went to Mass religiously, every Sunday,” she explained. “Yes, he probably had some questions about his faith, but she [Jacqueline] said every night he was down on his knees saying his prayers.” Mrs. Kennedy also said her husband went to confession sometimes.

For weekend getaways, the Kennedys would spend time in the countryside, near Middleburg, Virginia. In the early 1960s, St. Stephen Martyr Catholic Church in Middleburg was completed with the president in mind. On Nov. 10, 1963, JFK attended his last Mass at St. Stephen’s.

The next Sunday, Nov. 17, Kennedy attended Mass at St. Ann Catholic Church in West Palm Beach, Florida. Kennedy’s Requiem Mass was held on Nov. 25 at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington. An engraving on the floor of the cathedral marks the spot where the casket rested, prior to the president’s remains being removed to Arlington National Cemetery “in expectation of a heavenly resurrection.”

Monsignor John Enzler is a Catholic priest in Washington. Screenshot from EWTN News In Depth
Monsignor John Enzler is a Catholic priest in Washington. Screenshot from EWTN News In Depth

Monsignor John Enzler, a Catholic priest in Washington, was in high school when Kennedy was assassinated. As he reflects on the life of Kennedy now, he sees it as a cautionary tale for all politicians, on both sides of the aisle, who proclaim the Christian faith yet reject it in aspects of either their personal or public life.

“Sin is like a cancer. When you fall into a sin, it begins to eat away at your very being,” he told “EWTN News In Depth” in an interview. Enzler added the true tragedy would be to not accept God’s forgiveness and reform our lives.

He shared: “The tragedy would be to lose your soul. To say ‘I’m not being able to enter God’s kingdom because of my actions, because of my decisions, because of my rejection of what in conscience I know is right.”

How a Cincinnati parish became home to the first church dedicated to ‘Christ the King’

Our Lord Christ the King parish in Cincinnati, Ohio, was the first in the world to have a church with that name. An earlier church building gained that distinction in 1926. This is a photo of the current church, built in the 1950s. / Courtesy of Amber Dawson

Denver Newsroom, Nov 22, 2023 / 04:00 am (CNA).

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, celebrated this year on Nov. 25, is also referred to as the feast of Christ the King, Christ the King Sunday, and Reign of Christ Sunday.

Although the concept of Jesus Christ as King is as old as the Gospels, the feast is fairly recent in the Roman Catholic calendar. It was introduced in the Western liturgical calendar in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, via the encyclical Quas Primas.

Surprisingly, the first parish in the world to be consecrated in honor of Our Lord Christ the King was established by Pope Pius XI not in Europe but in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1926. 

“The 225 worshippers who attended Our Lord Christ the King’s first Mass on December 5, 1926, embodied the essence of what it means to be ‘church.’ With neither bricks nor mortar to call their own, this gathering of believers placed their faith in Providence and celebrated early liturgies in humble surroundings,” reads an account posted on the parish’s website. “There was no electricity for the first Eucharist, so the room was illuminated by headlights beamed from parked cars. Pastor Father Edward J. Quinn, a former World War I chaplain, used his Army Mass kit.”

The current church, built in the 1950s, was designed by famed church architect Edward J. Schulte in what is known as a Brutalist style.

Our Lord Christ the King Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1926, an earlier church building became the first church in the world to bear the name Our Lord Christ the King. Photo courtesy of P.J. Daley
Our Lord Christ the King Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1926, an earlier church building became the first church in the world to bear the name Our Lord Christ the King. Photo courtesy of P.J. Daley

Despite the fact that the first parish ever to be dedicated to Christ the King was in the United States, some American clergy originally had difficulty explaining the new solemnity in the context of American Protestant patriotism, which frowned upon kings and kingdoms as opposed to democracy as the most perfect form of government.

A key passage from Quas Primas provided Catholic preachers with a helpful synopsis. “This kingdom (of Christ) is spiritual and is concerned with spiritual things ….The gospels present this kingdom as one which men prepare to enter by penance and cannot actually enter except by faith and by baptism, which, though an external rite, signifies and produces an interior regeneration. This kingdom is opposed to none other than to that of Satan and to the power of darkness. It demands of its subjects a spirit of detachment from riches and earthly things, and a spirit of gentleness. They must hunger and thirst after justice, and more than this, they must deny themselves and carry the cross.”

Pope Pius XI established the feast to be celebrated on the last Sunday of October, so that it would always take place before the celebration of the solemnity of All Saints. But in the new liturgical calendar of 1970, its Roman rite observance was moved to the last Sunday of Ordinary Time. Therefore, the earliest date on which it can occur is Nov. 20 and the latest is Nov. 26.

This article was originally published on Nov 20, 2022.

Catholics call for opening of canonization cause for sacristan slain by jihadist in Spain

Image of the campaign for the canonization of the Spanish sacristan Diego Valencia. / Credit: Enraizados

ACI Prensa Staff, Nov 21, 2023 / 19:00 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Cádiz and Ceuta in southern Spain has begun to receive requests from Catholics asking the diocese to promote the canonization process of Diego Valencia, the sacristan who was murdered by a Muslim extremist last January.

Valencia was fatally wounded on Jan. 25 after being struck with a machete wielded by Yassinne Kanjaa, a Moroccan national. The jihadist entered the Church of Our Lady of La Palma in Algeciras and proceeded to strike statues, candles, and other objects with the machete. 

Valencia, 65, who had been serving as a chaplain for 16 years, confronted the assailant, who was wearing a black djellaba (typical Moroccan dress).  After being struck by Kanjaa with what one witness called “a large blue machete” and others described as a “knife” or “a kind of katana,” a curved Japanese sword, the sacristan fled outside the church, where the jihadist caught up with him, finishing him off with his long blade.

According to the association Enraizados en Cristo y la Sociedad (Rooted in Christ and Society), which has launched the effort to start the canonization process, the pastor of the church, Father Juan José Marina, has already asked the bishop of Cádiz and Ceuta, Rafael Zornoza, to begin the process to open the diocesan phase of the canonization process.

The deceased sacristan was “much loved in the parish and in the city for his dedication and affability with everyone,” the diocese related.

The Enraizados association emphasized in a statement on its website that “His murderer ended his life. We will not allow time to end his memory and his extraordinary act of courage, undoubtedly impelled by the Holy Spirit.” 

According to the judicial investigation, on the afternoon of Jan. 25, Kanjaa attacked two churches in Algeciras motivated by religious hatred. He first went to the Church of the Savior, where he wounded Salesian Father Antonio Rodríguez, who survived the attack, although he died months later due to an illness that was diagnosed after the attack.

Next, he went to Our Lady of La Palma Parish, where he murdered Valencia. The church’s pastor providentially was not present because he was doing other pastoral work at that time. When the attack occurred, the bishop of Cádiz-Ceuta, Rafael Zornoza, was in town on a pastoral visit close by and although he was not in danger, he was able to quickly arrive at the scene afterward.

Both Lucena and Valencia have been posthumously recognized with the “Pro Ecclesia Gadicense et Septense” (For the Church of Cadiz and Ceuta) medal awarded by the diocese.

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