WASHINGTON (CNS) – Ahead of President Joe Biden’s Oct. 29 meeting with Pope Francis, panelists in a webinar offered mostly praise for Biden’s sincerity and what they said is his commitment to his Catholic faith. “We believe President Biden treats his vocation as a sacred one,” said Mary J. Novak, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby organization. Biden and the pope both “lead with a very clear conviction that solidarity is essential to our faith,” she said during the Oct. 26 event. In announcing the webinar, a Network news release called the meeting of the two leaders “an important inflection point for global and U.S. politics.” The White House has indicated that discussion topics for Biden and the pope in their private meeting at the Vatican are likely to include climate change, income inequality and migration. Webinar participants highlighted these same issues as those they hoped the two leaders would discuss. Whether the issue of abortion will come up is not known; Biden as a Catholic supports legal abortion, while church teaching upholds the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. One prominent U.S. pro-life leader, Judie Brown of the American Life League, said in an Oct. 28 statement that Pope Francis “needs to hold Biden accountable” for “his pro-abortion views.”

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The theme of the 2022 March for Life in Washington is “Equality Begins in the Womb.” “We want to expand” the nation’s current “rigorous debate about inequality” to the unborn, said Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund. She made the comments Oct. 27 at the Heritage Foundation, where the theme was announced. Calling the theme a cry for “inherent human dignity because of who we are in our essence,” she added, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to injustice everywhere, including in the womb.” The March for Life is scheduled for Jan. 21. It is always held on a date near the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 rulings, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, which legalized abortion nationwide. Carrie Severino, president of Judicial Crisis Network, said 2022 is “going to be one of the most significant years for the march yet,” said Severino, referring to oral arguments to be heard Dec. 1 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. It’s an appeal by Mississippi to remove a lower court’s injunction on its law banning most abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. A ruling in the case is expected next year. If the court upholds the state’s law, many expect Roe v. Wade to be overturned.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) – When the Taliban began taking control of Afghanistan in mid-August, “in one night, everything changed,” recalled Adam. Adam, his wife and their 7-year-old son are three of the more than 150 Afghans whom Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Nashville have helped and will continue to help resettle in the next several months through the State Department’s Afghan Placement Assistance Program. At the beginning of September, the Department of Homeland Security implemented Operation Allies Welcome “to support vulnerable Afghans, including those who worked alongside us in Afghanistan for the past two decades as they safely resettle in the United States,” according to the official Department of Homeland Security website, further leading to implementation of the placement program. Since August 2018, Adam served as an Afghan interpreter for U.S. service members through the security office at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Because of his service to the U.S. troops, he requested his family’s true identity remain anonymous to protect their loved ones who are still in Kabul. Adam hopes to study anthropology and prepare for his dream career. “My hope for my future in America is to serve as I served before,” Adam said. “I want to serve for the government because the government can help Afghanistan; the government can help my people.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – With the COVID-19 pandemic still underway and with restrictions on gatherings still in place in some countries, the Vatican has again extended the period of time when people can earn a plenary indulgence for visiting a cemetery and praying for the souls of the faithful in purgatory. Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican tribunal dealing with matters of conscience, said the indulgences traditionally obtained during the first week of November can be gained throughout the entire month of November, the Vatican announced Oct. 28. The cardinal said he was acting in response to “pleas recently received from various sacred pastors of the church because of the state of the continuing pandemic.” Traditionally, the faithful could receive a full indulgence each day from Nov. 1 to Nov. 8 when they visited a cemetery to pray for the departed and fulfilled other conditions, and, in particular, when they went to a church or an oratory to pray Nov. 2, All Souls’ Day. Because of the pandemic and the popularity in many cultures of visiting cemeteries for All Souls’ Day, some local governments and dioceses closed cemeteries in the first week of November to prevent crowding. That led Cardinal Piacenza to issue a decree in 2020 extending the period for the indulgences. The decree for 2021 renewed those provisions.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square this year will have a distinctly Indigenous, Andean look with the centerpiece being a “Hilipuska” baby Jesus, that is, one wrapped in a blanket bound with a long cord known as a “chumpi.” The super-swaddled baby is typical of the Andean highlands, particularly in Peru’s Huancavelica region, which is home to the five artists who created the 30-piece Nativity scene. In a statement released Oct. 28, the Vatican City State governing office said the scene was chosen, in part, to mark the 200th anniversary of Peru’s independence. “The Three Kings will have saddlebags or sacks containing foods characteristic of Huancavelica, such as potatoes, quinoa, kiwicha and cañihua, and will be accompanied by llamas carrying a Peruvian flag on their backs,” the Vatican said. “In the crèche, there also will be statues of different animals belonging to the local fauna such as: alpacas, vicuñas, sheep, vizcachas, flamingoes and the Andean condor,” which is the national symbol of Peru. The crèche will sit under a spruce tree, which is expected to be about 90 feet tall. The tree will come from a sustainably managed forest in the Dolomite mountains of Italy’s Trentino-South Tyrol region. The round wooden ornaments also will come from Trentino, the Vatican said.

WELLINGTON (CNS) – New Zealand’s Catholic bishops have prepared guidelines for health professionals, chaplains and priests to assist them in their pastoral work with people who decide to die under the country’s End of Life Choice Act that takes effect Nov. 7. While the church opposes the deliberate taking of human life, it cannot turn away people who choose “assisted dying” under the new law, said Bishop Stephen Lowe of Hamilton, New Zealand, vice president of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The church must help people view the questions and choices they face through a Christian lens, Bishop Lowe said in a statement released by the bishops’ conference Oct. 28. “Individuals often find themselves in complex places. In these times, the church tries to offer guidance to people as best they can, but people make their own choices,” he said. “Often as a church, we find ourselves caring for people dealing with the consequences of such choices. Our pastoral practice is always called to be a reflection of our God, who does not abandon his people,” he added.

A euthanasia advocate who suffers from an incurable condition that atrophies her muscles and has left her breathing through a ventilator, lies in bed at her home in Lima, Peru, Feb. 7, 2020. New Zealand bishops have developed guidelines for health professionals, chaplains and priests to assist them in their pastoral work with people who decide to die under the country’s End of Life Choice Act that takes effect Nov. 7, 2021. (CNS photo/Sebastian Castaneda, Reuters)