‘Blessing is meant to be shared,’ Franciscan priest tells Black men

By Mike Krokos
INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) – It was a time of Scripture, prayer, music and fellowship.

It also was a night to honor the late co-founder of the National Black Catholic Men’s Conference.
But for those teenagers and adults from across the United States in attendance, Franciscan Father Agustino Torres’ message Oct. 13 was simple, yet powerful: “The Lord has sent me to bless you.”

Father Agustino, who ministers for his order in the New York borough of the Bronx and is founder of the Hispanic youth ministry Corazon Puro, was the keynote speaker on the first night of the four-day conference at St. Rita Church in Indianapolis.

The gathering drew about 300 people. It was the first in-person gathering since 2019 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Father Agustino shared how on his drive to the Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey for his flight to Indianapolis earlier that day, his usual route led him into gridlock. Instead of fretting about the unforeseen challenge, the priest said he traveled a different way to the airport, trusting that God had a plan for him.

Franciscan Father Agustino Torres, who ministers for his order in Brooklyn, N.Y., and is founder of the Hispanic youth ministry Corazon Puro, prays before delivering a keynote address at the National Black Catholic Men’s Conference at St. Rita Church in Indianapolis Oct. 13, 2022. (CNS photo/Mike Krokos, The Criterion)

While on the unplanned route, Father Agustino took the time to roll down his window and bless the people he encountered.

“I blessed them all. I blessed them all,” Father Agustino said. “When you share the Lord’s blessings, the Lord blesses you tenfold in return.”

The result? Father Agustino said that when he arrived at the airport, he was notified his ticket was upgraded, which led to laughter and applause from the congregation.

The priest said he ministers to people in the inner city, and the heart of his mission is trying to bring them hope. With that hope he also delivers his blessing, much like the blessing he offered to the attendees.

“This blessing is meant to be shared, this blessing is meant to be given, this blessing brings joy,” he said. “This blessing brings life, this blessing heals. … And I love sharing the blessing because someone has shared the blessing with me.”

Father Agustino reflected on a biblical verse from the prophet Jeremiah: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.” (Jer 29:11).

Despite the fact God has a plan for each of person, the priest continued, some have not shared his blessings. He encouraged people of faith to seek God’s gifts.

He encouraged the conference attendees to pray: “Lord forgive me for the times I knew not what to do with the blessing you gave me. Father, may I receive these blessings now.”

Like many of the prophets, each person is called to be faithful to God and trust in the Lord’s plans, the priest said.

“You are here because someone spoke life into your soul. You are here because someone woke you up when you were lost and brought you back to life when you were dead,” he said. “We give thanks to God for those people. What would we be without those people?”

Father Agustino offered a blessing over the audience: “The Lord wants us to be anointed men to bring peace in our streets, in our homes, and in our hearts” to share God’s message of hope.

As he brings Jesus to the streets of his neighborhood, he, at times, must offer peace and prayers when he encounters evil, the priest said. “Sometimes, it takes courage to stand up to evil, but the man who is blessed, the man who has been anointed, is equipped to face evil.”

Encountering a recent domestic dispute between a man and woman in his neighborhood, Father Agustino intervened despite the man’s insistence that he should not. “This is my business!” the priest said to the man with his voice raised. “This neighborhood belongs to God!”

When reflecting on his reaction, Father Agustino said, “Anger is the power given to us by God to confront evil. The Lord wants us to be angry to confront the evil that is there. … My brothers, a man who is blessed, a man who is anointed, puts his anger” into his response to those situations.

As the man approached the priest, Father Agustino said, “I’m gonna pray for you!”

As we face life’s challenges, we must remember, a man who is blessed and anointed “does the right thing because it is the right thing,” Father Agustino added.

In living their vocation, a person at times will face evil within, he explained. But in failing, a person must remember “the Lord promises, we do have the strength, we do have the intelligence, we do have the fortitude, we do have the commitment, and these are the truths that need to inform those lies that they no more have a place within us,” he said.

Receiving God’s blessing in an anointing, a person will be filled with joy, and “your life will never be the same,” Father Agustino continued.

“And you will not know for what you are living, unless you know that you are living for God.”

During the conference, organizers announced the event would be renamed in honor of its co-founder, Divine Word Father Chester Smith. He died in April 2020.

The conference was launched in Indianapolis in 2004, with Father Smith playing an integral role in developing the yearly gathering, which helps carry out the mission of the city’s Bowman-Francis Ministry.

The ministry is named for two Society of the Divine Word priests and Sister Thea Bowman, a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration. Sister Bowman is a candidate for sainthood and has the title “Servant of God.”

The ministry’s mission is to “minister to the total Black Catholic: spiritually, physically and intellectually (and) … to offer many gainful avenues to meet the needs of Black people everywhere,” according to its website.

Going forward, the event will be known as the Father Chester P. Smith, S.V.D., National Black Catholic Men’s Conference.

(Krokos is editor of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.)

NCEA reports quicker academic recovery from pandemic for Catholic schools

By Mark Pattison
WASHINGTON (CNS) – The National Catholic Educational Association says Catholic schools have recovered more quickly from the pandemic than its public school counterparts.

The successes, according to the NCEA, go across the board when looking separately at Black students, Hispanic students, students from low-income households, and students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals.

The scores were first reported in October by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, colloquially known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” The numbers tracked the progress, or lack thereof, in math and reading by both fourth graders and eighth graders.

While Catholic schools’ scores are generally better than those of their public school counterparts – Annie Smith, NCEA vice president of data and research, said eighth graders pre-COVID-19 were about 5% better in math and 6% better in reading – the new numbers, based on testing conducted in 2021, showed a wider separation between the two.

COLUMBUS – Eighth graders, James Cancellare and Tristan Fulton, work on math problems together in October 2022. (Photo by Logan Waggoner)

Catholic schools’ scores have pretty much bounced back to the levels they had achieved prior to the coronavirus pandemic’s onset in March 2020. The only area that is still not up to snuff is eighth-grade math, which is still five points behind pre-pandemic levels.

Even so, said NCEA president Lincoln Snyder, those numbers are 15 points ahead of the comparable figures reported by public schools.

“It wasn’t a surprise to me at all,” Snyder told Catholic News Service in an Oct. 28 phone interview. “We’ve been monitoring testing data, really, throughout COVID.”

The NAEP numbers, Snyder said, bear out what a private firm found in 2021 when it conducted a lateral study of 3 million U.S. students to assess learning loss.

Given the upheaval wrought by the pandemic within society in general, and education in particular, Snyder said, “you would expect all students to have some learning loss.” But it was the ability to bounce back that characterized much of Catholic education, he added.

“It’s a testament to our educators to meet in person as soon as possible,” Snyder said. “It greatly did improve our Catholic school outcomes.”

The NAEP numbers dovetail with the NCEA’s own census showing that, for the first time in 20 years, enrollment in Catholic schools across the United States increased by 62,000. The number of Catholic schools also stayed steady, as 50 new schools were created to offset the closing of 50 other schools.
“We did have a big uptick in enrollment. We had an initial drop. In March of ‘20, when we went to distance learning, people were fearful for losing their jobs. Or they did lose their jobs, but they quickly recovered. “

“Our retention of those new families was very high,” Snyder told CNS, citing a rate of 90% percent and “some dioceses were really as high as 98%.”

“They fell in love with the school, but they also stayed because of the community. This is a real opportunity for us to shine,” he said.

Only about one-third of dioceses had reported enrollment numbers for the current school year to the NCEA. A final tally is not expected until the spring.

Smith told CNS in a Nov. 1 phone interview that for Catholic schools to get back to their 2019 achievement levels, “our teachers are doing what they need to do already. They’re in the classroom, they’re working with students, they’re creating individualized learning plans.”

She confessed to being “a little disappointed with the drop in the eighth-grade math” scores, but “they’re going to graduate into our high schools, so we’re going to make sure this doesn’t have a long-term impact.”

Snyder said the NCEA has to “do a good job of telling our story.”

“I think we have a very compelling story to tell,” he explained. “We educate the whole children. We teach them to be servant leaders in Christ. Our teachers really model that servant leadership. I think they were committed to an adult that was committed to them. They can see that commitment and they responded to it.”


BALTIMORE (CNS) – The U.S bishops were encouraged to send participants to the African National Eucharistic Congress, slated for July 21-23 in Washington, and to come themselves. Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo of Seattle, in a Nov. 16 address to the bishops, told them the congress, known as ANEC, would be “more engaging” beyond the workshops that are part and parcel of the multiday gathering. He said there would be Masses, a eucharistic procession, a rosary procession and cultural celebrations on the congress schedule. “The ANEC is the right ground for the new evangelization, an opportunity for all of us to engage – dioceses, parishes, religious congregations, associations and others – to address the pastoral needs of African Catholics in the United States,” he said. “Your presence will be a tremendous inspiration for those who will attend, and make the ANEC a success.” Next year’s African National Eucharistic Congress will be the fourth such gathering. It will be held on the grounds of The Catholic University of America in Washington. The congress is held every five years.

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Latinos may be changing American politics more than politics is changing Latinos. To hear speakers at a Nov. 16 Georgetown online forum, politics is trying harder to bring Latinos into the fold. Jens Manuel Krogstad of the Pew Research Center, in his work studying Latino demographics and politics, noted that Latinos do not identify as strongly with either the Democratic or Republican parties as do other Americans. “Latinos support for the two parties has ebbed and flowed over the decades,” Krogstad said during a forum sponsored by Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life on: “How Are Latinos Changing Politics and How Are Politics Changing Latinos?”

Democratic support peaked at 70% during the presidencies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, while GOP support got as high as 40% for George W. Bush and 38% for Donald Trump. “Latinos are not a monolith,” declared Olivia Perez-Cubas of the Winning for Women Action Fund, which recruits and gives financial backing to Republican women candidates. “The GOP depends on its ability to build a tent to diversify the party – which we’re not very good at but I think we’re working on – to speak to a diverse group of voters, and Latinos are very much a big part of that equation.” The upshot of the Nov. 8 midterm elections for Latinos is that “ the community is consequential – it is very consequential – in which party will control Congress, in which party will prevail in presidential elections,” said Julián Castro, a former U.S. secretary of housing and urban development.

Pope Francis poses for a group photo with his cousins and their families after Mass and a luncheon in Asti, Italy, Nov. 20, 2022. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

ASTI, Italy (CNS) – With several of his cousins and their children and grandchildren present, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in the Asti cathedral, giving a nod to his family roots and drawing people’s attention to the root of Christian faith: the cross of Jesus. The Mass Nov. 20, the feast of Christ the King and World Youth Day, was the only public event during the pope’s weekend visit to the region from which his grandparents, Giovanni Angelo Bergoglio and Rosa Vassallo, and his father Mario immigrated to Argentina in 1929. The visit was timed to coincide with the 90th birthday of Carla Rabezzana, the pope’s second cousin. And, after landing in Portacomaro near Asti Nov. 19 and stopping for a prayer in a village church, Pope Francis headed straight to Rabezzana’s house for lunch. After lunch, the pope visited a nearby home for the aged and then headed to the little village of Tigliole to visit another second cousin, Delia Gai. The cousins and their families joined an estimated 4,000 people for Mass with the pope the next day in the Asti cathedral. In his homily, sprinkled with words in the Piedmont dialect his grandmother taught him, Pope Francis focused on how the kingship of Christ is different from any idea people usually have of a king. “He is not comfortably enthroned but hanging on a gibbet,” the pope said. “The God who ‘casts down the mighty from their thrones’ appears as a slave executed by those in power.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The Vatican is willing to do whatever it takes to broker a cease-fire and bring an end to the war on Ukraine, Pope Francis said. “We are continually watching as the situation evolves” concerning ways the Vatican’s diplomatic efforts could help, he said in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa. Vatican News published the interview Nov. 18. The Vatican Secretariat of State is working diligently every day, looking at every possibility and “giving weight to every opening that could lead to a real cease-fire and real negotiations,” he said. “The Holy See is willing to do everything possible to mediate and end the conflict in Ukraine. We are trying to develop a network of relationships that will foster a rapprochement between the parties, to find solutions. Also, the Holy See does what it must to help the prisoners,” he said, as well as provide humanitarian support “for the people of tormented Ukraine, whom I carry in my heart along with their suffering.” Asked about the prospects for reconciliation between Russia and Ukraine, the pope said, “I have hope. Let’s not resign ourselves, peace is possible. But we must all strive to demilitarize hearts, starting with our own, and then defuse, disarm violence. We must all be pacifists,” he said.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The centuries’ old silver fir tree that had been destined to become the centerpiece Christmas decoration in St. Peter’s Square will now live, perhaps to see another century. Forest service rangers arrived at the scene – a mountain grove in central Italy’s Monte Castel Barone – Nov. 14 to alert workers to halt preparations for felling the tree. When it emerged back in 2019 that the small village of Rosello in Italy’s central Abruzzo region was donating the tree to the Vatican for 2022, local activists started flagging problems, such as the lack of transparency concerning the donation and the failure to carry out an environmental impact study. Dario Rapino, a lawyer and nature photographer, even wrote to Pope Francis in 2020, pointing to his encyclical “Laudato Si’ on Care for Our Common Home” and the importance of avoiding any unnecessary human impact on the environment, according to local media reports. Even the World Wildlife Fund had put out a statement Nov. 7 saying, “cutting a tree of this size in the midst of a climate crisis is a debatable decision,” which required “greater transparency.” However, it wasn’t until Rapino recently tracked down the 98-foot-tree, that he discovered it was not located in Rosello, much less in the region of Abruzzo, but was, in fact, in a protected area in the nearby region of Molise in the township of Agnone, according to a report Nov. 12 by ChietiToday. The tree’s size, he said, also put it at around 200 years old.

SÃO PAULO (CNS) – The Vatican has advanced the sainthood cause of the late Archbishop Hélder Câmara of Olinda and Recife, who may soon be called “venerable.” Archbishop Fernando Saburido of Olinda and Recife made the announcement during the closing ceremony of the 18th National Eucharistic Congress. Archbishop Camara, one of the founders of the Brazilian bishops’ conference, was named to Olinda and Recife in 1964, three weeks before the beginning of the military coup that started the 20-year dictatorship in Brazil. Days after the coup, the archbishop released a manifesto supporting the Catholic workers’ action in Recife. The new military government accused him of being a demagogue and a communist, and he was forbidden to speak publicly. “If I give bread to the poor, everyone calls me a saint. If I show why the poor have no bread, they call me a communist and a subversive,” the archbishop is said to have said during that time. Dom Hélder, as he was known, remained a strong critic of the regime, denouncing human rights violations committed by police authorities.

OXFORD, England (CNS) – European church leaders have urged awareness of human rights issues during the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, amid continued criticism that the Gulf state was allowed to host the tournament. “Women continue to be held back in Qatar, while non-Islamic religions, including Christianity, are only granted limited freedom, and sexual minorities subjected to criminal prosecution. All of this expresses, not just from a Western viewpoint, a repressive state and social order,” said Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau, who heads Germany’s Catholic DJK Sportjugend sports association. He said questions were still asked about the 2010 decision by FIFA, the international soccer governing body, to award the tournament to Qatar, which has no soccer tradition. The bishop issued the statement Nov. 17 as final preparations were made for the 2022 World Cup, Nov. 20-Dec. 18. “Like other states on the Arabian peninsula, the Emirate of Qatar has been catapulted into a new era thanks to oil and gas wealth – today, a conservative-traditional Islamic society and economic hypermodern society coexist with each other,” Bishop Oster said. “Although it would be unfair to ignore this special situation when criticizing questionable conditions, it would also be inappropriate to keep silent about human rights restrictions.” The bishop said Qatar’s mostly foreign population was subject to “strict regulations,” while female domestic workers were often isolated and had trouble “upholding their rights against employers.” The situation had worsened, Bishop Oster said, during construction of stadiums and other sites for the World Cup. He said health and safety standards had been “catastrophic,” with “countless accidents and far too many deaths” among low-wage laborers.

‘Fraternal dialogue,’ more prayer have place on
bishops’ assembly agenda

By Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE – Gathered in Baltimore for their fall general assembly Nov. 14-17, the bishops elected new leadership, heard about the crisis in Ukraine and what’s facing migrants at the U.S. southern border.
They also approved several liturgical items and OK’d the advancement of the sainthood causes of three Catholic women.

The prelates also discussed whether they should update “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” their document on the political responsibility of Catholics that they issue every four years for the presidential election.

By an overwhelming majority, the bishops voted to reissue the teaching document without revisions but to add supplemental materials and begin a process of reexamining the teaching document following the 2024 election.

Speaking from the floor, several bishops said it must include what Pope Francis has said on critical issues of the day in his nearly 10 years as the successor to Peter.

But beyond the business agenda the bishops must attend to every year, there was a greater emphasis on prayer throughout their four days together and changes in seating arrangements to promote “fraternal dialogue.”

Bishops attend a Nov. 15, 2022, session of the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

In the ballroom of the hotel where the assembly takes place, round tables replaced long rows of tables and chairs focused on the stage where USCCB leaders led proceedings.

Each day of the meeting ended with vespers and throughout the plenary, there also was 24-hour eucharistic adoration, which was instituted at their 2021 assembly. There were also less formal bishop-media encounters.

Their first public session took place the afternoon of Nov. 15 and opened with an address by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the papal nuncio, followed by Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, the outgoing president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The nuncio told the bishops that “as we live through a time of accelerated change,” spreading the Gospel message is particularly important.

One way to determine if the church is following its missionary role is to look at how local churches are functioning as evangelizing communities, something he said is especially evident in the current eucharistic revival in the United States.

In his final presidential address, Archbishop Gomez described images of conflict, changes and challenges he saw during his three-year term.

He spoke of the pandemic, “a long season of unrest in our cities,” a contentious presidential election as well as “deepening political, economic and cultural divisions,” war in Europe, a refugee crisis and “the overturning of Roe v. Wade.”

He raised alarm over what he saw as a U.S. society moving “hard and fast toward an uncompromising secularism,” adding that “traditional norms and values are being tested like never before.”

In their elections, the bishops chose Archbishop Gomez’s successor – Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services. He was elected from a slate of 10 nominees, winning with 138 votes.

In subsequent voting, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore was elected USCCB vice president. He won the post on the third ballot by 143-96 in a runoff with Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana.

The outgoing USCCB officers completed their three-year terms at the conclusion of the assembly, and their successors began their three-year terms.

Archbishop Broglio told reporters a few hours after he was elected that he is willing to meet with public officials, including President Joe Biden, to discuss public policy issues of concern to the church.

“I don’t see my role as political, but if there is any way to insert the Gospel into all aspects of life in our country, I certainly will not miss any occasion to do that,” he said, adding that Archbishop Gomez had desired to meet with Biden, but that such an opportunity did not present itself since Biden’s election two years ago.

The afternoon public session ended with an acknowledgement of the 20th anniversary of the drafting and passage of the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” with prayer and reflection led by Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey.

The prelates also heard poignant remarks from Mark Williams, a survivor of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest. He told the bishops he was “grateful and encouraged by the work you are doing to rid abuse from our beloved church.”

Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, outgoing chairman of the Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People, said the past 20 years have been a time of growth, awareness, examination and conversion as the church has worked to provide a safe environment and restore justice.

During their public sessions Nov. 15 and 16, the bishops heard several reports, including on:

– Preparations for the next October’s world Synod of Bishops on synodality:
Work is proceeding – and quickly, according to Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, chairman of the bishops’ doctrine committee. Diocesan listening sessions concluded this fall. He said dioceses “managed to host over 30,000 listening sessions and other means of coming together.” Now comes “the continental stage” of consultations.

– The ongoing war in Ukraine:
Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia asked his fellow U.S. bishops Nov. 16 to pray for Ukraine, and, if possible, to go to Ukraine and pray there for its people. What Ukrainians are facing amounts to genocide, he said. He thanked the bishops and their leadership for spearheading U.S. Catholic support for a nation under attack by Russia since February.

– The three-year National Eucharistic Revival, which is now under way at the diocesan level and will culminate in the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in 2024:
Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens of Crookston, Minnesota, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, which is spearheading the revival, said the revival has “incredible momentum.” The ultimate goal, he said, is that this “this encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist” will move Catholics who have been part of this experience to be missionary disciples who would in turn lead others to the faith.

– The pro-life landscape after the Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade:
Archbishop Lori, speaking as outgoing chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said that in a year when abortion has been front and center in U.S. politics – from the Supreme Court decision to recent state referendums – the Catholic Church faces a challenge of promoting its pro-life message to its own members and society at large.

“We have more work to do,” he said, but stressed church leaders must must remain united in their efforts to “proclaim the Gospel of life and defend human life at every stage.”

Among liturgical action items before them, the bishops approved English and Spanish versions of “Lay Ministry to the Sick,” a collection of texts taken from other liturgical books. They also approved new Mass texts for the feasts of Our Lady of Loreto (Dec. 10) and the recently canonized St. Paul VI (May 29).

The approved texts now advance to the Vatican’s Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Sacraments for a “recognitio” before they can be used in the United States.

The bishops also gave their assent in voice votes to the advancement of three sainthood causes:
– Mother Margaret Mary Healy Murphy, founder of the Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate, the first order of women religious in the state of Texas.
– Cora Louise Evans, a California laywoman who was a wife, a mother and possible mystic.
– North Dakota laywoman Michelle Duppong.

(Contributing to this report were Carol Zimmermann, Rhina Guidos, Dennis Sadowski and Mark Pattison.)

Annual National Prayer Vigil for Life will take place in Washington Jan. 19-20

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The National Prayer Vigil for Life held each January will continue even with the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade because there is “still a great need for prayer and advocacy”‘ to end abortion and protect the unborn and their mothers, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Nov. 11.

The vigil is hosted in Washington by the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-life Activities, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and The Catholic University of America’s Office of Campus Ministry.

A person prays with a rosary during the opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life Jan. 20, 2022, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Scheduled for Jan. 19-20 at the national shrine, the vigil has always coincided with the eve of the March for Life, which marks the date of 1973 decision of the court’s Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. The 2023 March for Life is Jan. 20.

“The National Prayer Vigil is a time to praise God for the great gift of the recent Supreme Court Dobbs decision, overturning the tragic Roe v. Wade decision made almost a half-century ago,” said Kat Talalas, assistant director of pro-life communications at the USCCB.

“State and federal legislators are now free to embrace policies that protect preborn children and their mothers,” she said in a statement. “Yet, there is still a great need for prayer and advocacy from the faithful, as there will be intensified efforts to codify Roe in legislation and policies at the state and federal levels.”

She added that “many prayers and sacrifices are needed to transform our culture so that all may cherish the gift of human life and offer life-giving support to vulnerable women, children, and families.”

The opening Mass for the vigil will take place at 5 p.m. (EST) Jan. 19 with Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, as the principal celebrant and homilist.

The Mass will be immediately followed by a Holy Hour for life. This will start off a series of nationwide holy hours throughout the night from dioceses across the country, which will be broadcast on the USCCB’s website, www.usccb.org. 

The nationwide vigil concludes at 8 a.m. (EST) Jan. 20 with a closing Mass to be celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Joseph L. Coffey of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services.

A live television broadcast of the vigil will be provided by the Eternal Word Television Network and will be available via livestream on the national shrine’s website, https://www.nationalshrine.org/mass.

The USCCB pro-life secretariat also is encouraging Catholics across the country to observe a nationwide prayer vigil from Jan. 14 to Jan. 20 to pray for an end to abortion and “a greater respect for all human life.”

(Editor’s Note: More details on the National Prayer Vigil for Life in Washington can be found at https://www.usccb.org/prolife/annual-pro-life-events.)


INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) – It was a time of Scripture, prayer, music and fellowship. It also was a night to honor the late co-founder of the National Black Catholic Men’s Conference. But for those teenagers and adults from across the United States in attendance, Franciscan Father Agustino Torres’ message Oct. 13 was simple, yet powerful: “The Lord has sent me to bless you.” Father Agustino, who ministers for his order in the New York borough of the Bronx and is founder of the Hispanic youth ministry Corazon Puro, was the keynote speaker on the first night of the four-day conference at St. Rita Church in Indianapolis. The gathering drew about 300 people. It was the first in-person gathering since 2019 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The priest said he ministers to people in the inner city, and the heart of his mission is trying to bring them hope. With that hope he also delivers his blessing, much like the blessing he offered to the attendees. “This blessing is meant to be shared, this blessing is meant to be given, this blessing brings joy,” he said. “This blessing brings life, this blessing heals. … And I love sharing the blessing because someone has shared the blessing with me.”

WASHINGTON (CNS) – For the world-renowned emblems of the Catholic faith, such as St. Teresa of Kolkata, elevation to sainthood comes fairly quickly following their deaths. For many others, the sainthood cause is a slow process that sometimes lurches to a stop. One example is Venerable Nelson Baker, the Buffalo, New York, priest who died in 1936 and is the only Civil War veteran with a sainthood cause. Father Baker, who served at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Buffalo after his ordination in 1876, was beloved in his lifetime for his charitable efforts for the poor, including serving thousands of meals during the depths of the Great Depression. Dubbed by local newspapers as “the padre of the poor,” he built the Basilica of Our Lady of Victory in Lackawanna, New York, an orphanage, a maternity hospital, a trade school and a home for infant care. The charitable work he began exists today as OLV Charities. Our Lady of Victory institutions include Homes of Charity, Baker Victory Services and Our Lady of Victory Elementary School. Born in 1842, Father Baker entered the priesthood after operating a successful feed and grain business with a partner. Before that, he served in the 74th Infantry of the New York State Militia, a unit that organized in the summer of 1863 and was stationed in Central Pennsylvania, although it didn’t see combat.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – During the month of November, Pope Francis is asking people to pray for children who are suffering because of poverty, war and exploitation. “Let us pray for children who are suffering, especially for those who are homeless, orphans and victims of war. May they be guaranteed access to education, and may they have the opportunity to experience family affection,” the pope said in a video released Oct. 31. In the video message released by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, the pope explained his November prayer intention: “For children who suffer.” “An abandoned child is our fault,” the pope said in the message. “Each marginalized child, abandoned by his or her family, without schooling, without health care, is a cry! A cry that rises up to God and shames the system that we adults have built,” he insisted. Pope Francis noted that there are millions of boys and girls around the world living “in conditions very similar to slavery.”

Catholics and members of a Peruvian community living in Chile attend the procession of El Señor de los Milagros (The Lord of the Miracles), Peru’s most revered Catholic religious icon, in Santiago, Chile, Oct. 30, 2022. (CNS photo/Ivan Alvarado, Reuters)

LIMA, Peru (CNS) – The church in Latin America and the Caribbean is called to be a missionary church that heeds the cry of the poor and excluded; a synodal church where women, young people and laypeople have greater roles; and a church that is evangelized even as it evangelizes, according to the final document of the church’s First Ecclesial Assembly held a year ago in Mexico. The document of reflections and pastoral challenges resulting from the assembly was released by leaders of the Latin American bishops’ council, CELAM, Oct. 31 during a news conference at the Vatican. The conference was livestreamed on various platforms. The publication reflects a desire for a church that “goes out to the periphery … a Samaritan church … a church that builds fraternity, which is grounded in love, in the encounter with those who suffer most,” Archbishop José Luis Azuaje of Maracaibo, Venezuela, president of Caritas in Latin America and the Caribbean, said in a video message at the presentation. The document is the fruit of a monthslong process that included a “listening” period from April to August 2021, during which some 70,000 people throughout the region provided input, followed by the weeklong assembly Nov. 21-28. That process, which echoed the methodology used for the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon in October 2019, made the ecclesial assembly “a practical laboratory” for the Synod of Bishops on synodality, which began with listening sessions this year, to be followed by meetings in Rome in 2023 and 2024, said Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos of Trujillo, Peru, CELAM president.

BANGKOK, Thailand (CNS) – Catholic bishops in Asia have committed themselves to engage with governments, nongovernmental agencies and civil organizations to respond to issues affecting the church and society in their work for a better Asia. “We believe that peace and reconciliation is the only way forward. We have envisaged new pathways for our ministry based on mutual listening and genuine discernment,” the bishops said in a statement issued Oct. 30, at the end of a two-week general conference. Ucanews.com reported the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences organized its first general conference as a part of its golden jubilee celebrations that brought together 20 cardinals, 120 bishops, 37 priests, eight nuns, and 41 laypeople. The conference, with the theme “Journeying Together as Peoples of Asia,” sought to reaffirm the federation’s work of the past 50 years aiming to “revitalize the church and envision new pathways of service.” One of the paths they identified was “bridge-building” among religions and traditions and also “principled engagement with governments” and nongovernmental agencies on issues of human rights, eradication of poverty, human trafficking, care of the earth, and other common concerns. “The escalating violence and conflicts” in Asia call “for dialogue and reconciliation,” the bishops said without naming any issue or any nation.

Four recognized for their work in the pro-life movement

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON – Four new awardees were named this year as recipients of People of Life Awards, chosen by the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities for lifetime contributions to the pro-life cause.
Honored at a July dinner for diocesan pro-life leaders and their guests, Mary Huber, Barbara Lyons, Greg Schleppenbach, and the late Laura Jean Ebert joined 37 other recipients since the secretariat established the award in 2007.

The award recognizes Catholics who have answered the call outlined by St. John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical “The Gospel of Life” by dedicating themselves to pro-life activities and promoting respect for the dignity of the human person. It is bestowed in honor of their significant and longtime contributions to the culture of life.

Huber spent her 24-year career in pro-life ministry at the Diocese of San Bernardino, California, beginning as a part-time bookkeeper and ultimately becoming the director of Respect Life and Pastoral Care for the diocese’s Department of Life, Dignity and Justice.

Huber worked closely with the California Catholic Conference of Bishops advocating for life-saving protections for unborn children, women, and teen girls at risk for abortion and the elderly at risk for assisted suicide.

She launched the first diocesan Project Rachel program, coordinating training for priests and volunteers and providing bilingual phone counseling as well as abortion healing retreats in English and Spanish.
Huber also facilitated mental health programming in parish ministries, particularly for those wounded by abortion, or struggling with end-of-life care. She ultimately developed comprehensive programs to provide educational resources for accompanying the dying during their final journey.

Lyons began pro-life work in 1974 as volunteer president of the Milwaukee County chapter of Wisconsin Right to Life. She joined the staff of Wisconsin Right to Life in 1977 where she served as legislative director for 10 years, becoming executive director in 1987.

She also led educational outreach through the Veritas Society media campaign and teen and college training programs.

She “retired” from Wisconsin Right to Life in 2014 after 40 years of work in the pro-life movement, yet in her 70s, she was asked to serve as coalitions director for the Patient’s Rights Action Fund. She has worked tirelessly into her 80s to prevent vulnerable persons from being targeted by assisted suicide.

Schleppenbach has dedicated his career to pro-life advocacy. He directed the pro-life office at the Nebraska Catholic Conference from 1991 to 2014 and served as Nebraska Catholic Conference’s executive director for two years.

From 2016 to 2022, Schleppenbach was associate director for the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. He is currently the executive director for the Culture Project, a missionary organization providing education and mentorship for teens on the issues of human dignity and sexual integrity.

Ebert, who passed away in 2021, spent her life in dedicated service to the Catholic Church and the pro-life movement. She helped establish pro-life pregnancy centers in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Canada. She also served as a housemother at a maternity home in Arkansas.

She was also passionate about Catholic education and worked for many years as a teacher in Illinois. She continued her leadership in compassionate service to women and children at pregnancy care centers near her home of Menominee, Michigan, until her death at age 73.

With Roe overturned, march will focus on Congress, laws to end abortion

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade “is, without question, an answer to prayer,” but in a post-Roe world, “Catholics must now work together for another, even deeper paradigm shift,” said the U.S. bishops’ pro-life chairman.

“We must move beyond a paradigm shift in the law in order to help the people of our nation better see who we can be as a nation by truly understanding what we owe to one another as members of the same human family,” said Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-life Activities.

“To build a world in which all are welcome,” he said, Catholics “must heed” the words of St. Teresa of Kolkata “and remember ‘that we belong to one another.'”

“We must shift the paradigm to what St. John Paul II described as ‘radical solidarity,’ making the good of others our own good, including especially mothers, babies – born and preborn – and families throughout the entire human lifespan,” Archbishop Lori said.

Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, concludes the annual March for Life rally in Washington alongside other supporters Jan. 21, 2022. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

He made the remarks in a Sept. 21 statement for the U.S. Catholic Church’s observance of Respect Life Month, which is October. The theme of the observance is “Called to Serve Moms in Need.”

The first Sunday of October is designated as Respect Life Sunday, which is Oct. 2 this year.

In their June 24 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a majority of the justices ended the court’s nearly 50-year nationwide “regime of abortion on demand,” the archbishop said.

This “regime” was “based on the indefensible view that the U.S. Constitution implicitly forbids government from protecting the preborn child in the womb from the violence of abortion,” he said.

The court “concluded that there is nothing in the Constitution’s text, history, American legal tradition or the court’s precedents that justified the extreme holding of Roe,” he said.

Dobbs was a challenge to a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks. The court affirmed the law 6-3 and also voted 5-4 to overturn the 1973 Roe ruling, which legalized abortion nationwide, and 1992’s Casey v. Planned Parenthood ruling, which affirmed Roe.

The ruling returned the issue of abortion to the states.

With Dobbs, the high court “cleared the way for a paradigm shift in American law, allowing it to enlarge its boundaries to again welcome a segment of the human family that had been outside of its protections for close to half a century,” he added.

He called Dobbs “a victory for justice, the rule of law and self-governance.”

“But for those of us who have prayed for this moment to arrive, it is the time for a renewal and rededication of our efforts to build a culture of life and civilization of love,” he said. “Justice is, of course, essential to this end. But it is not sufficient.

“To build a world in which all are welcome requires not only justice, but compassion, healing, and above all, unconditional love.”

“Abortion is a gruesome sign of how we have forgotten our mutual belonging,” Archbishop Lori continued. “The logic of Roe v. Wade has framed our national discourse on the issue of abortion as a zero-sum conflict among individual strangers.”

But “mother and child are not strangers; they are already bound together by flesh and kinship,” he said. “The new life that is developing under the heart of the mother is already situated in a network of relations, including family, neighbors and fellow citizens.”

Roe’s logic “offers the woman only the right to see lethal force used against her child, but it otherwise abandons her,” he explained.

But “the logic of the culture of life recognizes that the pregnant woman and her child are not alone – they are fellow members of our larger human family whose interwoven vulnerability is a summons to all of us, but especially Catholics because of the teaching of Jesus and his proclamation of the Gospel of life,” the archbishop said.

To practice “radical solidarity and unconditional love in a post-Roe world,” he said, means speaking and living the truth” with compassion – the truth that abortion not only “unjustly kills a preborn child, but also gravely wounds women, men, families and the nation as a whole.”

Through law, policy, politics and culture, society must do whatever it can to provide mothers, children and families in need “with the care and support necessary for their flourishing throughout the entire arc of life’s journey,” he said.

“Building a world in which women are esteemed, children are loved and protected, and men are called to their responsibilities as fathers, requires us to understand and address the complex and tragic tangle of affliction and strife that culminates in the violence of abortion,” Archbishop Lori said. “This is a massive and daunting undertaking.”

“Catholics already have a strong foundation in the church’s centuries-long encouragement of parental and societal duties,” he said. “Millions of individual Catholics from all walks of life are already personally endeavoring to build the bonds of solidarity and compassion throughout our society.”

Many also are engaged in parish and community initiatives such as pregnancy resource centers, post-abortion counseling, he said, as well as Walking with Moms in Need, an initiative of the U.S. bishops to connect pregnant women and their families with parishes and to a growing network of resources.

(Editor’s Note: The full text of Archbishop Lori’s statement and Respect Life Month materials from the USCCB’s Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities can be found online at https://www.respectlife.org/respect-life-month.)

‘Can’t not do it,’ says Sister Prejean of her fight to end death penalty

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Sister Helen Prejean, a Sister of St. Joseph, shows no signs of slowing down in her long-standing fight to end the death penalty. 

At 83, she is writing her fourth book while directing her advocacy organization, Ministry Against the Death Penalty, in New Orleans.

She spends a fair amount of time on the road as she continues to give talks, especially on college campuses, about the injustices she sees with capital punishment. She also continues to minister to both death-row inmates and murder victims’ families.

She has accompanied six men to their executions.

Sister Helen Prejean, a Sister of St. Joseph, is seen at the Vatican in this 2016 file photo. She has worked in prison ministry and against the death penalty for decades. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

When asked by Catholic News Service in a Sept. 30 interview where she gets her energy, her responses all revolved around the work she does.

For starters, she said she is energized by those she ministers to on death row – currently a Louisiana inmate in his 60s, Manuel Ortiz. The Salvadoran has been on death row for close to 30 years and continues to claim innocence for the sentence he received for hiring someone to murder his wife. Sister Helen said Ortiz is a prayerful man with a great devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“How does he get up every morning in that cell 30 years now? How does anybody do that?” Sister Helen asked. She said she comes away more enlivened from every visit with him and is also overwhelmed by what he goes through – “knowing you’re innocent, knowing the lies they told about you in trial.”

His case, along with the 690 people currently on death row in this country, remind her “we’ve got our work cut out for us,” she said in her understated way. Her Louisiana drawl almost belies the urgency of the work she sees ahead.

Her passion for both the innocent and the guilty on death row – who all have God-given dignity, she points out – has been her driving force ever since she witnessed her first execution in 1984: the electrocution of Patrick Sonnier, a 34-year-man found guilty of killing two teenagers.

Sister Helen first came to know Sonnier as a pen pal, when she volunteered to write to someone on death row. From that correspondence she later became Sonnier’s spiritual adviser.

She has often referred to her decision to write to someone on death row as a move of “Sneaky Jesus,” saying Jesus sneaks up and draws you into doing something that seems small but in the end becomes life changing.

Because Sonnier wanted Sister Helen to be with him and to pray for him at his execution, Sister Helen agreed. But really, nothing could have prepared her for what she witnessed.

“What I saw set my soul on fire, a fire that burns in me still,” she wrote in her memoir, “River of Fire.”
After leaving the prison, in the middle of the night, she said she threw up in the parking lot. But from that day forward, she knew that she had to do something about what she had seen.

As she put it: “Our faith awakens and we speak.”

“I knew very few people were going to get this opportunity ever to be in (the execution chamber). I’m the witness,” she said, adding that she began to speak with whoever would listen.

At first, she encountered a lot of criticism with people shouting things at her like: “What do you know? What’s your authority? The Catholic Church upholds a right of the state to take life!”

She didn’t back down though.

“You just stay in there because you know what your eyes have seen, you know what your heart has felt you know what the Gospel of Jesus says about loving your enemy and forgiving.”

So she has stayed in there, and continues to do so, for nearly four decades. Starting with parish talks and then moving on to writing “Dead Man Walking” and speaking to St. John Paul II and Pope Francis about death penalty wrongs.

“Have to do it. Can’t not do it,” she said of her personal crusade.

The woman religious who grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, entered the convent at 18 and spent years teaching in Catholic schools, has not held back in recounting details of what she has seen in state prisons in prisoners’ final moments.

Sister Helen Prejean, a Sister of St. Joseph, who is a longtime opponent of capital punishment, speaks to an audience the Vatican Embassy in Washington Oct. 10, 2019. The embassy hosted the 10th anniversary celebration of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, a group that works to end the death penalty. (CNS photo/Jim Stipe, Catholic Mobilizing Network)

In 1997, she told St. John Paul that she has walked behind a man on his way to be executed, with legs shackled, hands cuffed to a belt and surrounded by guards who whispered to her: “Please pray as I make this walk that God holds up my legs.”

“Where is the dignity in taking a human being and rendering them completely defenseless and killing them?” she said she asked the pope. “How do we respect the inviolable dignity even of the guilty? Can you help our church? Can you help us?”

And he did help, she said, in a 1999 visit to St. Louis where he described the death penalty as both cruel and unnecessary and said: “Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform.”
His 1995 encyclical, “Evangelium Vitae” (The Gospel of Life”), the pope spoke against the death penalty but he included the caveat that it could be used if absolutely necessary to defend society. Sister Helen said that phrase made her heart drop because she knew those words would be used by anyone who wanted to sentence someone to death.

She likened St. John Paul’s discussion of the death penalty to taking the issue to the net, then Pope Francis pushed it over the net in 2018. That was when he announced the revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to include a description of the death penalty as “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” and saying it was inadmissible in all cases.

There’s no doubt Sister Helen was pretty happy that day. But by no means did she just take a break afterward.

She knows there is still plenty of support in the U.S. for capital punishment, even as some states are abolishing it, and that Catholics are not much different from the general public in their death penalty views.

A 2021 poll by Pew Research shows that 60% of U.S. adults favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder, including 27% who strongly favor it. It also showed Catholics falling into that same bracket with 58% of them generally supportive of capital punishment, with 27% strongly favoring it.

When asked how to reach people in the pews, Sister Helen said they need to learn about the death penalty in Catholic schools and parish adult education program.

She says she is hardly alone in her advocacy but part of a broader movement. She likens it to “a pot that begins to boil and these little bubbles start at the bottom and they start rising up. Well, I was one of those little bubbles.”

And even now, the work doesn’t get old for her.

“There’s a great life when you feel you’re fulfilling your purpose,” she said, adding that she is glad to be awake to today’s social injustices even though she said it took 40 years to happen.

“It’s a great grace to be awake and then to be engaged in soul-sized stuff,” she said. “Bring it on.”

(Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim)


WASHINGTON (CNS) – Pope Francis has appointed Father John-Nhan Tran, a priest in the Archdiocese of New Orleans and pastor of Mary Queen of Peace in Mandeville, Louisiana, as auxiliary bishop of Atlanta. Bishop-designate Tran, 56, was born in Vietnam and escaped with his family to the United States after the Vietnam War as a refugee when he was 9. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1992. His appointment was announced Oct. 25 in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican nuncio to the United States. The bishop-designate attended Don Bosco College in Newton, New Jersey, and St. Joseph Seminary College in St. Benedict, Louisiana. He earned a master of divinity in theology from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. He has served at eight parishes in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Father Michael Pfleger, a popular Chicago priest and outspoken advocate against gun violence, gangs, poverty and racism, has stepped aside from his ministry after the Chicago Archdiocese said it received an allegation that the priest had sexually abused a minor more than 30 years ago. Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich announced the decision in an Oct. 15 letter to Father Pfleger’s parishioners at the Faith Community of St. Sabina in Chicago. The 73-year-old priest has led the historically African American parish since 1981 and is currently its senior pastor. The priest strongly denied the accusation, which comes on the heels of a similar accusation against him in January 2021 where he also temporarily stepped aside from his ministry until an archdiocesan review found “insufficient reason” to suspect the priest was guilty of abuse allegations said to have taken place 40 years ago. Father Pfleger was reinstated at his parish in June of that year. In a current letter to parishioners, posted on the parish website, Father Pfleger said: “The process of the archdiocese today is that a priest is presumed guilty until proven innocent. Priests are vulnerable targets to anyone at any time. So once again, I have been removed from all public ministry while they investigate again.”

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (CNS) – The world still has not learned “the essential lesson” of the Cuban Missile Crisis that “the only way to eliminate the nuclear danger is through careful, universal, verifiable steps to eliminate nuclear weapons,” said Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico. “It is the very nature of these weapons that the possession of any nuclear weapons is an existential danger to all,” he said. “And Pope Francis has been explicitly clear that ‘the possessing of nuclear weapons is immoral.’” He renewed his call “for dialogue on the existential issue of eliminating nuclear weapons” and said New Mexico’s congressional delegation should help lead this dialogue,” given that the federal government spends billions in the state on weapons production while New Mexico “remains mired at the bottom of numerous socioeconomic indicators.” Archbishop Wester made the comments in an Oct. 14 reflection on the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, “regarded as the closest that humanity has ever come to global nuclear annihilation,” he said. A month earlier, he took his summons to begin meaningful conversations to achieve full nuclear disarmament to the annual United Nations prayer service in New York. In August, he apologized for the atomic bombings of Japan in 1945 and to Indigenous New Mexicans, uranium miners and scientists suffering from ill health related to the nuclear weapons industry in the state.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Completing a project to repatriate human remains held in the Vatican Museums’ ethnological collection, the Vatican and the government of Peru signed an agreement Oct. 17 to return to Peru three mummies sent to the Vatican in 1925. Cardinal Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, president of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State, and César Landa Arroyo, foreign minister of Peru, signed an agreement Oct. 17 in the Vatican Museums for the return of the mummies. The three human remains are thought to be several centuries old, but their exact age will not be known until after thorough studies are conducted in Peru. They were found at an altitude of more than 9,800 feet in the Peruvian Andes along the Ucayali River. The mummies are assumed to be Incan. The mummies were part of the Vatican Museums’ Anima Mundi ethnological collection, which features thousands of pieces of Indigenous art and artifacts from around the world. The mummies, like many of the pieces of art and cultural artifacts from the peoples of Australia and Oceania, the Americas, Africa and Asia, were sent to the Vatican for the 1925 Holy Year opened by Pope Pius XI. The celebration included a major exposition on Catholic missionary activity around the world. With a conviction that human remains are not works of art or collectibles, in 2010 the Vatican Museums began a project to return human remains in its collection to their countries of origin. The first remains, a mummy from Ecuador, were returned in 2014. Three years later, the museums returned to Ecuador a tsantsa, a specially treated head used in ceremonies.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Reviewing one’s life is an essential step in discerning God’s call because it helps one see places where God was at work, even in small things, and also helps one recognize “toxic” thoughts of self-doubt, Pope Francis said. A daily review of one’s actions and feelings is not mainly about acknowledging one’s sins – “we sin a lot, don’t we,” the pope said. Instead, regularly reviewing the day educates one’s perspective and helps one recognize “the small miracles that the good God works for us every day.” At his weekly general audience Oct. 19 in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis continued his series of audience talks explaining the key steps in spiritual discernment, focusing on how a daily practice of review and introspection trains a person how to look at the bigger picture of his or her life in order to discern God’s call. Learning to see that God was at work even in small things, “we notice other possible directions” that can be taken and that “strengthen our inner enthusiasm, peace and creativity,” the pope said. “Above all, it makes us freer from toxic stereotypes,” such as thinking, “I am worthless” or “I will never achieve anything worthwhile.”

KOCHI, India (CNS) – Laypeople in an archdiocese of India’s Syro-Malabar Catholic Church have begun a round-the-clock vigil to stop the Vatican-appointed administrator from gaining entry into the archbishop’s house. Lay leaders in the Kochi-based Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese say Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, the apostolic administrator, unilaterally revoked the dispensation that had allowed priests to celebrate Mass facing the people, reported ucanews.com. The protesting groups want to continue with the traditional Mass in which the priest faces the congregation throughout, despite a rule that took effect in 2021. Under that rule, devised as a compromise, the Syro-Malabar synod ruled that the priest “will face the congregation until the eucharistic prayer, and then again from Communion to the end of the Mass. From eucharistic prayers until Communion, the priest will face the altar.” The vigil at the Kochi residence was launched Oct. 16, and teams of laypeople from different parishes were assigned to ensure a 24-hour watch, ucanews.com reported. “We no longer want the apostolic administrator to get inside our archbishop’s house,” Riju Kanjookaran, spokesman for the Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency, told ucanews.com Oct. 17.

LVIV, UKRAINE (CNS) – After Ukrainian women were released in a prisoner swap with Russia, the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church said their stories “simply break the heart, make the blood run cold in your veins. This war will go down in history as one in which Russia uses sexual violence as a weapon against Ukraine,” said Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych. On Oct. 17, more than 100 Ukrainian women were released from Russian captivity. Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian Presidential Office, said it was the first female-only exchange, and he called it “especially emotional and truly special. Mothers and daughters, whose relatives were waiting for them, were held captive,” Yermak said. On Oct. 18, Archbishop Shevchuk thanked God that the women were able to return to their families. “Let us wrap these women together today with our attention, love and prayer, and warm them up with our national warmth,” he said.

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) – Eritrean authorities are continuing to detain Catholic Bishop Fikremariam Hagos Tsalim of Segheneity, who was arrested at the Asmara International Airport Oct. 15. After the Catholic Church queried about the situation and his whereabouts, government authorities confirmed the bishop, who turns 52 Oct. 23, is in their custody. Bishop Tsalim was picked up soon after returning from a trip to Europe, but as of Oct. 18, government authorities had not given any reasons for his detention. Fides, news agency of the Pontifical Mission Societies, said Bishop Tsalim and two other priests were being held at Adi Abeto prison. “We have received this ominous news (of the arrest) with immense pain and bewilderment at what is happening in our country,” Father Mussie Zerai, a Catholic priest of Eritrean origin who works with migrants, told Catholic News Service. “Our hope (is) that all priests and the bishop currently in custody will be released as soon as possible.” On Oct. 11, security agents arrested Father Mihratab Stefanos, the priest in charge of St. Michael’s Catholic Church in the diocese. Another Catholic priest, identified as Capuchin Abbot Abraham, was detained in the western town of Teseney.