Children dressed as the Three Kings carry offertory gifts as Pope Francis celebrates Mass on the feast of Mary, Mother of God, in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Jan. 1, 2023. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will allow retail pharmacies to offer abortion pills in the United States for the first time, the agency announced Jan. 3, prompting criticism from Catholic and pro-life groups. The Biden administration’s rule change comes in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that struck down its previous ruling in Roe v. Wade, prompting many states to either attempt to restrict or expand access to abortion. The regulatory change will permit the retail sale of mifepristone, the first of two drugs used in a medication or chemical abortion. The drug could previously only be dispensed only by some mail-order pharmacies, doctors, or clinics. The new FDA rules will still require a prescription, but will permit a wider range of pharmacies to sell the drugs. Dr. Marie Hilliard, co-chair of the Catholic Medical Association’s ethics committee, and Dr. Lester Ruppersberger, former CMA president, told OSV News in a statement the new rule will “put the health of women, and their true informed consent, at risk.”

WASHINGTON (OSV News) – After a report dubbed 2022 “the year of the botched execution,” Catholic activists renewed their calls for an end to the practice. Despite declining public support for the practice, and a campaign promise from President Joe Biden, a Catholic Democrat, to repeal the federal death penalty, a bill to do so gained little traction last Congress, when Democrats still controlled both chambers. The Catholic church opposes the death penalty as morally “inadmissible” in the modern era – a teaching Pope Francis changed the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 2018 and expounded on the change in the 2020 encyclical “Fratelli tutti.” The Catholic church is committed to death penalty abolition worldwide.

EL PASO, Texas (OSV News) – In this first trip to the border since he took office, Biden, who is Catholic, sought to “assess border enforcement operations” and talk to those helping to manage “the historic number of migrants fleeing political oppression and gang violence in Venezuela, Haiti, Nicaragua and Cuba,” according to the White House. Biden’s visit – which lasted a few hours – came amid criticism over how he is handling the humanitarian crisis at the southern border. During his nearly four-hour visit to El Paso, Biden did not meet with migrants or deliver public remarks. Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso shared his concerns, as did other migrant advocates, with the president and his aides. At a news briefing, Sister Norma Pimentel of the Missionaries of Jesus, who heads Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, said the president’s presence at the border was significant. The sister stressed the need to come together as a community – including the city government, Border Patrol and faith-based communities – to safeguard people’s dignity while creating policies to face the issue of migration. After the short visit, Biden traveled to Mexico City, where he and the presidents of Mexico and Canada gathered for a Jan. 9-10 North American leaders’ summit.

ROME (OSV News) – In what looks like a continuation of pontifical legacy, Pope Benedict XVI was buried in the crypt where his Polish predecessor, St. John Paul II, was first buried. St. John XXIII also was buried there prior to his beatification. The place of burial is unique for many that knew the fond relationship of St. John Paul and Cardinal Ratzinger. The two popes had a unique intellectual friendship throughout John Paul’s papacy. And even if their characters seemed a world away, Cardinal Ratzinger was similar to St. John Paul II in many aspects as pontiff. The Holy See Press Office predicted the crypt where Pope Benedict was laid to rest will be ready for the faithful to visit after Jan. 8.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The disappearance 40 years ago of Emanuela Orlandi has haunted her family, fueled conspiracy theories and provided grist for a recent Netflix series. Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office, said Jan. 9 that Alessandro Diddi, Vatican City’s chief prosecutor, was opening a new file on the case, although he provided no details about the direction the investigation was expected to take. The Italian news agency ANSA said Diddi’s decision was in response to requests by Pietro Orlandi, Emanuela’s brother. Vatican investigators will begin by “analyzing the acts and documents related to prior investigations,” of which there have been many, ANSA said. Pietro Orlandi told the television RaiNews24 that he had received copies of WhatsApp messages exchanged in 2014 by “two persons very close to Pope Francis that talk about documents” related to the case that never have been published. He said he was certain someone in the Vatican knew more about what happened to his sister. Pietro and Emanuela are the children of a Vatican employee and grew up in an apartment inside the Vatican. Emanuela disappeared in Rome June 22, 1983, when she was 15.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The way individual Catholics and their parishes care for the sick offers a precise measure of just how much they either are part of or are fighting the “throwaway culture” that ignores or discards anyone seen as flawed or weak, Pope Francis said in his message for the World Day of the Sick. The care of those who are ill shows “whether we are truly companions on the journey or merely individuals on the same path, looking after our own interests and leaving others to ‘make do,’” the pope said in the message, which was released by the Vatican Jan. 10. The Catholic Church celebrates the world day Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. “Experiences of bewilderment, sickness and weakness are part of the human journey,” the 86-year-old pope wrote. But, he said, the Bible makes clear that “far from excluding us from God’s people,” those situations of vulnerability “bring us to the center of the Lord’s attention, for he is our Father and does not want to lose even one of his children along the way.” Those who profess belief in God, he said, should do likewise, placing the sick at the center of their attention.

SÃO PAULO (OSV News) – The National Conference of Brazilian Bishops is said to be “perplexed by the serious and violent occurrences” that erupted Jan. 8 in Brasilia, the nation’s capital. Thousands of protesters invaded the country’s Congress, Supreme Court building and the presidential palace, enraged about newly sworn-in president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The protesters are supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro, who was defeated by Lula, as the new president is popularly known. They demand the removal of the new president, stating that the October elections were illegitimate and are asking Brazil’s military to take over. Bishops’ conference officials called for the immediate cessation of “criminal attacks on the democratic rule of law.” “These attacks must be immediately contained and their organizers and participants held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. Citizens and democracy must be protected,” said the message in the conference’s social media accounts. Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer of São Paulo also condemned the events stating that what happened in Brasília “was unacceptable.”

WASHINGTON (OSV News) – Catholic immigration advocates are hailing the extension of Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, to war-torn Yemen, where more than 23 million face what the United Nations has called “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” The decision, announced Jan. 3 and set to begin March 4, will safeguard protections for TPS program participants through Sept. 3, 2024. With Yemen deemed by the United Nations as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the extension “will provide real relief for many,” said Anna Gallagher, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., or CLINIC. “This decision duly recognizes the needs of Yemenis in the U.S. who cannot return home.”

TIONKUY, Burkino Faso (OSV News) – Father Jacques Yaro Zerbo, 67, Malian-born Catholic priest, was laid to rest Jan. 5 at the Cemetery of Pastoral Agents in Tionkuy, 150 miles west of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. The priest was killed Jan. 2 by unidentified armed men in what his bishop, Bishop Prosper Bonaventure Ky, who heads the Diocese of Dédougou, called “cold-blood murder.” Father Zerbo was on his way to Tona to accomplish a mission for his bishop when he was intercepted by unidentified armed men in the village of Soro in Gassan township found in the northwestern region of Boucle du Mouhon – one of Burkina Faso’s 13 administrative regions and a flashpoint of jihadist extremism. After killing the priest, the killers escaped with his car, leaving his lifeless body by the roadside. Bishop Ky expressed “profound sorrow” at the killing of the priest and hoped he would find peace in the Lord. The killing added to a long list of persecution of Christians and other civilians and underscored the continued spread of terrorism in Burkina Faso and across the Sahel region.