‘Caitlin Clark has the world by her fingertips’: Iowa Hawkeyes basketball superstar supported by Catholic faith, family

By John Knebels

(OSV News) – Wearing scrubs en route to the hospital to begin her day, a health care specialist was asked how much she knew about Caitlin Clark, the University of Iowa basketball superstar who has led her Hawkeye teammates — and by extension, all of “Hawkeye Nation” — to almost unprecedented acclaim in women’s basketball.

Not akin to assessing athletes and their acumen, she quickly and succinctly summarized Clark’s entrenchment in women’s basketball.

“That basketball that she dribbles and shoots and passes serves as a great metaphor for Caitlin Clark,” said the nurse. “The basketball is round, just like the world. And right now, Caitlin Clark has the world by her fingertips.”

Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark (22) controls the ball against Connecticut Huskies guard Nika Muhl (10) in the Final Four of the women’s 2024 NCAA Tournament at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland April 5, 2024. The Hawkeyes beat the Huskies to advance to the women’s NCAA tournament national championship game April 6 against undefeated South Carolina. Clark graduated in 2020 from Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines, Iowa. (OSV News photo/Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

That Clark has managed to permeate both the zealous and casual sports fan provides a testament to the level of her national impact at the young age of 22.

At this point, it’s an arduous task to cover new ground when it comes to Clark, a lifelong and reportedly devoted Catholic who attended St. Francis of Assisi parochial school in West Des Moines, Iowa, from kindergarten through eighth grade, and then spent four years at nearby Dowling Catholic High School.

Local reporters from Clark’s hometown have been sharing her exploits since the end of grade school. Clark wasn’t even a high school junior before national publications began pegging her as a can’t-miss collegiate standout. By the time she was a senior, the words “Caitlin Clark” had soared through the internet like an out-of-control locomotive with no definitive destination.

Those who have known Clark, however, said they never noticed any apparent change in her affable, comfortable, confident personality when early daily publicity — and subsequent almost-ridiculous national coverage last year and, in particular, the past few months — threatened to scrutinize every move Clark made both on and off the basketball court.

“She’s handled it as well as any 21- or 22-year-old could,” said Kristin Meyer, her high school basketball coach at Dowling, who somehow manages to cheerfully return countless phone calls from those researching Clark’s star-studded scholastic career.

“Her support system starts with her family. She doesn’t get caught up in fame or the business aspect,” Meyer said. “She was like that in high school. She didn’t look to seek attention. She didn’t spend much time on social media. She’s grounded. Humble.”

When Clark played in grade school, Meyer immediately noticed a “different type” of player. Clark’s improvement quickly skyrocketed, rising to uncommon heights.

To communally celebrate their 2020 alumna, the Dowling Catholic student council rented out a local theater April 1 to watch Clark in the Elite Eight that night. They weren’t disappointed after she scored 41 points and threaded 12 assists in a 94-87 win over Louisiana State University that earned a trip to the Final Four.

“It’s incredible,” said Meyer. “It’s still surreal … the level of notoriety to women’s basketball. It’s not all about Caitlin Clark, of course, but she is a part of it. As terrific a player as she was in high school, I can’t say I expected this level of success.

“Her court vision. Her understanding. I haven’t seen a higher IQ,” Meyer continued. “She’s fun to watch. She’s so consistent. Scores 30 or 40 against great teams. It’s an art. She can make it look effortless.”

Like Meyer, one of Clark’s grade-school mentors at St. Francis — sixth-grade math and science teacher Jill Westholm — recalls Clark’s kind, easygoing disposition as a youngster and has witnessed her former pupil’s ability to remain stable despite unlimited attention from fans, media and even curious bystanders who can’t quite make sense of Caitlin-mania.

“It’s so crazy to me to see her in this superstar world,” Westholm told OSV News. “The same Caitlin you see today is the same Caitlin who walked the halls as a 10-, 12- and 14-year-old. She’s the Caitlin Clark who is very smart. Intelligent. Very driven. The Caitlin Clark who never gave less than her best. The Caitlin Clark who was and is very loyal to her friends. The Caitlin Clark who, even in middle school, had their backs.”

A few months ago, Westholm and a few friends decided to purchase tickets to the NCAA women’s Final Four April 5-6 in Cleveland.

Figuring — correctly, as it turned out — that ticket prices could become unreasonable as the event approached, Westholm and her buds figured they were in win-win mode. The “worst” possibility would be sitting back and watching four great programs vie for the right to compete in the NCAA final.

The best scenario, however, was obvious.

“We gambled on Caitlin being there,” said Westholm. “We crossed our fingers and said some prayers.”

The prayers were answered. On April 5, Iowa met the University of Connecticut on the court in the Final Four, and Clark led the Hawkeyes’ rally for a 71-69 win over the Huskies. Iowa headed to the NCAA championship April 7 against undefeated South Carolina. The Gamecocks beat Iowa 87-75 for the national championship and completed a perfect season.

In an interview days before the final, Westholm predicted that regardless of Iowa’s fate, Clark would either either emerge eternally grateful for becoming a national champion, or quickly bounce back from any disappointment and recognize that she had been blessed to even be on the precipice of something so unique.

“She will rely on her faith,” said Westholm. “Her faith has always been important to her, and that’s real. Her whole family lives out their faith. Caitlin doesn’t reach her stardom without her family background.”

Westholm was referring to Clark’s parents, Anne and Brent, and her two brothers, Blake and Colin. Along with her siblings, Anne graduated from Dowling Catholic and her father, Bob Nizzi, coached football there.

Before graduating from Dowling in 2019, Blake became and remains involved with a club called Ut Fidem, Latin for “keep the faith.” Having experienced a Kairos retreat as a junior, Caitlin joined Ut Fidem as a senior.

The group’s focus, according to Dowling’s website, “strives to develop high school students into intentional disciples who will keep the faith for the rest of their lives, and especially through college” and supports students via weekly small groups of five or six led by adult faith mentors.

Students learn how to “defend their Catholic faith, and develop deep, personal relationships with Jesus Christ . . . grow their devotion to personal prayer, the sacramental life, understanding of church teachings, and enter into the lifestyle of an on-fire Catholic” and better understand how to discern the question, “Why am I Catholic?”

Using some of the tools she learned in grade school and high school and benefiting from a close, faith-sharing family, Clark recently started the nonprofit Caitlin Clark Foundation — described as a mission to “uplift and improve the lives of youth and their communities through education, nutrition and sport.”

Last November, Caitlin partnered with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Iowa and, with help from Nike, personally donated close to 100 hoodies, winter gloves and hats to help keep youngsters warm this past winter. Along with a sizable personal monetary donation, she also donated 57 basketballs, 15 footballs, 12 soccer balls and 15 jump ropes to the Boys & Girls Club.

“She uses her gifts to give back,” said Meyer. “She’s not bigger than the game of basketball, but she knows she has the capacity to help other people and is enthusiastic about doing as much as she can.”

Although it’s been argued that it’s actually her eye-popping passing ability that has separated her from former and current greats, Clark’s ascent from a consistently great scorer to tallying the most points in the history of college basketball didn’t happen out of nowhere.

From the time Clark decided to attend Iowa, the nation’s top coaches held their breath and readied themselves for a steady dose of nightly wonderment and more-than-occasional ESPN highlights.

No coach watched Clark more intently than Muffet McGraw.

The legendary Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer at the University of Notre Dame who retired in 2020 after an incredible career that included 936 total victories, a .762 winning percentage, nine trips to the Final Four, seven finals and two NCAA championships came within a whisker of coaching Clark.

After a painstaking decision process, however, Clark changed her mind at the last minute and chose Iowa black and gold over Irish blue and gold. Clark has gone on record as describing the phone call to McGraw as excruciating and lauds the coach for how she handled the disappointment with gentleness, compassion and understanding.

Not a person who dishes out unwarranted praise, McGraw, Notre Dame’s women’s basketball coach for 33 years, effusively commended Clark for helping elevate women’s basketball to its highest popularity ever among both the young and old, as indicated by the more than 12 million viewers who tuned in to watch the Iowa-LSU classic.

“I’ve never seen anyone like her,” McGraw told OSV News. “She is a phenomenal offensive player. She has confidence that never wavers. She’s fearless, relentless, competitive, driven … all the things that you want in a basketball player.

“And she’s also unselfish. Yes, she takes a lot of shots, but she also led the nation in assists last year, and I’m sure she’s in the top five this year. So she’s somebody that really knows how to get her team involved. She gets them to play at a higher level. She just has that charisma and that leadership that allows the people around her to thrive.”

Superstars sometimes can’t help but alienate teammates when all of the attention surrounds one person. But that hasn’t happened at Iowa.

“There could be jealousy and there could be problems in a situation like that when you have a player like that on your team,” said McGraw. “She makes them rise above everything and focus on just wanting to win. That’s, I think, the thing that sets her apart. It’s not all about her.”

McGraw particularly appreciates Clark’s vision that surpasses well beyond points, assists, rebounds, and championships.

“She wants to do something for the women’s game,” said McGraw. “She is certainly the center of attention, yet she always takes time for others. You see her signing autographs for lines and lines of people. She just does a great job in the community and continues to do whatever she can for the fans. She says the right things in public.

“I think she is definitely somebody that is a role model in our sport, and she’s changed the game,” McGraw continued. “I mean, nobody has done what she’s done in terms of the sellouts. The Big Ten sold out every single place. It’s unbelievable … unbelievable.

“The Big Ten tournament sold out for the first time,” she said. “Tickets for the last game were going for, I don’t know, $500 or something. It’s been amazing. I mean, 12 million people watched the Iowa-LSU game. That’s even more than a lot of NBA Finals. So it’s just phenomenal what she’s done for the game.”

Wherever Clark plays as a professional, McGraw will be watching.

“She’s one in a million,” said McGraw. “I think she’s going to do great things for the WNBA next year.”

(John Knebels writes for OSV News from suburban Philadelphia.)

Families of workers who perished in bridge collapse feel‘inexplicable sadness,’ pastor says

By Marietha Góngora V.
BALTIMORE (OSV News) – Ever since the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore collapsed in the early hours of March 26, Redemptorist Father Ako Walker has been acting as a spiritual support to the families of six Hispanic construction workers believed to have perished in the tragedy.

The pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus/Sagrado Corazón de Jesús in the city’s Highlandtown neighborhood serves a largely Spanish-speaking parish and is active in supporting new immigrants in the Baltimore area.

“I am here with them as a spiritual presence during this difficult time,” Father Walker told the Catholic Review, Baltimore’s archdiocesan news outlet. “They all have questions and can’t find the right answers to this situation, so I am here as a presence if anyone needs prayer or anything like that, I am available to help them.”

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter hovers over the Dali cargo vessel March 26, 2024, after it crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge causing it to collapse in Baltimore. Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore and that city’s officials have called for prayers as rescue efforts continue, following the early morning collapse of the bridge. (OSV News photo/Julia Nikhinson, Reuters)

Officials from the U.S. Coast Guard and the Maryland State Police announced late March 26 that due to the length of time and the cold temperature of the Patapsco River waters, the six workers were presumed dead. On March 27, the bodies of two of the six missing workers were recovered. They were identified as Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes, 35, of Baltimore and Dorlian Ronial Castillo Cabrera, 26, of Dundalk.

Two other workers who had been on the bridge at the time of its collapse were rescued, with one of them sent to the hospital.

“There is a very, very strong reaction, a sadness that the only word I can use is inexplicable, a sadness that is affecting them,” Father Walker said about the families of the workers, known to be from Mexico and Central America. “And I can imagine the emotional scars they are suffering, the pain, the tears, the questions. It’s hard to explain.”

Father Walker said the families are receiving official information from different agencies such as the police, the fire department and the Maryland Department of Transportation. They’re trying to assimilate the news and cope with the tragedy in the best way possible, he added.

“I am feeling the faith in everything because there are people suffering deeply and some seem to be accepting the reality of the situation that after so many hours, they may not find their relatives alive. So, it is a mixture of emotions,” he said.

Father Walker said he hoped to be able to hold a service or a Mass in the next few days so the community can honor the workers and show solidarity with the families through prayer. He hopes they can find comfort in the midst of their grief and can be surrounded by the support and affection of their community.

Father Walker called on the community to accompany the families with prayers during Holy Week.
“During this very special and sacred time of the church, we can offer blessings and prayers for God to accompany them,” he said.

For its part, CASA of Maryland, through its director, Gustavo Torres, confirmed in a noon press conference March 27 that two of the still-missing workers were members of his organization: Miguel Luna, a 49-year-old Salvadoran, and Maynor Suazo Sandoval, a 37-year-old Honduran, who had lived in the United States for 19 and 17 years, respectively, Torres said.

“In these times of attack and hatred of the immigrant community, we want to look at those quiet but extraordinary leaderships of Maynor and Miguel, who made a contribution to society for us to live well and comfortably,” said Torres, who added that 39% of construction workers in the Baltimore metropolitan area are of Hispanic origin.

“We know they were hard workers who loved soccer, who loved their families and their communities,” he said. “We know that they were both extraordinary human beings who came from Central America to this country, almost at the same time, to live the American dream, to contribute to this nation, to ensure that their families had an opportunity here.”

The bridge collapsed after a cargo ship collided with one of the columns of the structure. Local, national and international media quickly rushed to the area to report what, for Baltimore residents, is a tragedy that affects not only the Hispanic community but everyone in general.

Archbishop William E. Lori celebrated a March 26 Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in support of all those affected by the tragedy, while some parishes in the area and beyond also celebrated special Masses.

(Marietha Góngora V. writes for the Catholic Review, the news outlet of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.)

Briefs

NATION
WASHINGTON (OSV News) – Multiple states will have measures to expand access to abortion on their ballots in November, a key challenge for pro-life groups in the fall after their losses on similar contests in post-Dobbs elections. The Florida Supreme Court on April 1 simultaneously ruled that the state’s Constitution does not protect abortion access and allowed a proposed amendment seeking to do so to qualify for the state’s November ballot. Kelsey Pritchard, state public affairs director for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, said that while her group celebrates that the Florida Supreme Court upheld abortion restrictions in that state, “at the same time, we recognize that Florida is in real jeopardy of losing those protections through the ballot measure that they also upheld and said would be on the ballot in November.” Maryland and New York also will have efforts to enshrine abortion protections in their state constitutions on the ballot, while efforts for similar amendments to qualify for the ballot are still underway in several states including Arizona and Montana, where closely-watched races for the U.S. Senate will also take place. Ballot measures on abortion proved elusive for the pro-life movement in 2022 and 2023, despite achieving their long-held goal of reversing Roe v. Wade when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision.

CHICAGO (OSV News) – A new video series featuring several U.S. Catholic bishops will offer what organizers call a “deep dive into the sacred mysteries of the Mass.” “Beautiful Light: A Paschal Mystagogy,” produced by the National Eucharistic Revival, will be livestreamed on seven consecutive Thursdays from April 4–May 16 at 8 p.m. ET on the revival’s Facebook, YouTube and Instagram channels. Launched in June 2022, the revival is a three-year grassroots initiative sponsored by the nation’s Catholic bishops to enkindle devotion to the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. The various events and programs of the revival will be capped by the National Eucharistic Congress, which will take place July 17-21 in Indianapolis. The upcoming video series will be hosted by Sister Alicia Torres, a member of the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago and part of the revival’s executive team; and National Eucharistic Revival missionary Tanner Kalina. The episodes, led by various bishops, will survey the central aspects of the Mass as part of what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1075) calls “liturgical catechesis,” or “mystagogy.”

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (OSV News) – A group of Catholic bishops recently traveled to Montgomery and Selma, Alabama in what trip organizers called a “powerful encounter” amid the nation’s long-running reckoning with racism. Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre of Louisville, former chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, and current committee chair Retired Auxiliary Bishop Joseph N. Perry of Chicago hosted a March 18-20 “Bishops’ Lenten Experience” in the two cities, which were the endpoints of a five-day, 54-mile nonviolent march led by civil rights leader and pastor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in support of voting rights for Black Americans. The bishops’ visit to the sites had been coordinated by the committee on racism and the Washington-based Catholic Mobilizing Network, which works closely with the U.S. bishops to end the death penalty, promote restorative justice and advance racial equity. Touring the numerous historical sites commemorating the nation’s legacy of slavery, racism and mass incarceration was a profoundly moving experience, participants told OSV News. “I don’t think anyone can journey through the exhibits without registering great emotion in the face of the human devastation involved in our American history,” said Bishop Perry. In a Facebook post, Archbishop Borys A. Gudziak of the Archeparchy of Philadelphia said that “slavery, racism and the marginalization of Native North American peoples and African Americans represent the original sin of our nation.”

VATICAN
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The protection and preservation of human dignity must extend into the digital realm, the Vatican said in a new document on human dignity. While the advancement of digital technologies “may offer many possibilities for promoting human dignity, it also increasingly tends toward the creation of a world in which exploitation, exclusion, and violence grow, extending even to the point of harming the dignity of the human person,” read a declaration approved by Pope Francis and published by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith April 8. “If technology is to serve human dignity and not harm it, and if it is to promote peace rather than violence, then the human community must be proactive in addressing these trends,” it read. The document, a declaration on human dignity titled “Dignitas Infinita” (“Infinite Dignity”), reflects on Catholic teaching about human dignity and addresses “some grave violations of human dignity” today, among them “digital violence.” In his introduction to the declaration, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, prefect of the doctrinal dicastery, wrote that “although not comprehensive,” the contemporary issues touched upon in the document were selected to “illuminate different facets of human dignity that might be obscured in many people’s consciousness.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – While giving each person his or her due is fundamental for justice, the virtue of justice is not concentrated on the individual in isolation but on ensuring the common good of all, Pope Francis said. Justice “is represented allegorically by scales, because it aims to ‘even the score’ between people, especially when they risk being distorted by some imbalance,” the pope said April 3 at his weekly general audience. In St. Peter’s Square, still decorated with thousands of flowers from Easter, Pope Francis continued his series of audience talks about virtues and vices. Justice is related to law, which should seek “to regulate relations between people equitably” and to ensure the dignity of each person is respected, he said.

WORLD
BARCELONA, Spain (OSV News) – After more than a century, construction of Spain’s Basilica of the Holy Family in Barcelona, known as Sagrada Familía for its Spanish name, will be completed in 2026, the foundation overseeing the project announced. During a March 20 press conference announcing the publication of the Sagrada Familía Foundation’s 2023 annual report, Esteve Camps, the foundation’s executive chairman, said construction of the basilica’s Chapel of the Assumption will be completed in 2025, while the tower of Jesus Christ is set to be finished in 2026. The completion of the basilica in 2026 will coincide with the 100th anniversary of the death of its designer, Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. Construction of the sacred edifice began in 1882, and it is considered the masterpiece of Gaudí, a Catholic whose cause for sainthood is underway. After construction was halted in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, work on the basilica resumed two years later. At the press conference, Camps said that the basilica welcomed more than 4.7 million pilgrims in 2023. The majority of the pilgrims who visited came from the United States, accounting for 19% of the total number, he noted. While the main building will be finally completed in 2026, work will continue until 2034 on statues and other areas of the basilica.

CUERNAVACA, Mexico (OSV News) – Catholics turned out in large numbers to celebrate Holy Week in Nicaragua. But the ruling Sandinista regime prohibited public exhibitions of faith – such as processions and reenactments of the passion of Christ – as it continued exercising control over religious activities in what’s becoming an increasingly totalitarian country. Processions occurred within church atriums and sanctuaries as police and paramilitaries monitored activities outside and even were captured filming events, according to social media accounts. Some 30 police officers corralled attendees at the Managua cathedral on Good Friday, March 29, independent news outlet Confidencial reported, ensuring that nothing occurred outside of church property. Martha Patricia Molina, a Nicaraguan lawyer in exile who documents church repression, calculated some 4,000 police were deployed during Holy Week and an estimated 4,800 processions were canceled. She posted a video on X of three students being arrested for simply carrying the image of a saint. “Palm Sunday with police and paramilitaries inside and outside of parishes. They’re filming and photographing laity. A Sunday under extreme siege,” she posted March 24. Holy Week marked the second consecutive year the regime has prohibited processions and limited activities to church premises. A source in Nicaragua told OSV News that priests watch their words during Mass and report being spied upon by police and paramilitaries.
PARIS (OSV News) – For some, the Notre Dame fire was a sign of devastation of faith and Christian values. But for many more in France, it meant awakening of faith on an unprecedented scale. “The fire gave us all a boost,” Father Henry de Villefranche told OSV News, speaking of a “renewed vitality” encouraged by the Notre Dame worksite. “The church was asleep. Some people were behaving badly. In that respect, the fire was providential. It pushed us all to move forward and give our best.” Few know it better than the chaplains of the iconic cathedral and Father de Villefranche is one of them, but the only one remaining from before the fire. A few yards from Notre Dame, on Ile de la Cité, he works on ensuring continuity of Notre Dame’s heritage with the new team, responsible for the liturgical life of the renovated cathedral, in which “culture and worship should not be separated, but rather linked,” he said. “We hope that visitors who enter as tourists leave as pilgrims.” Father de Villefranche told OSV News that he is “not very interested in the official ceremonies” to reopen the cathedral. He said he is “signing up to celebrate the first ordinary Mass of the week that follows.

‘We have hope’ say advocates at El Paso march and vigil for migrants’ dignity

By Marietha Góngora V.
(OSV News) – On the evening of March 21, hundreds of people joined the peaceful demonstration “Be Not Afraid: March and Vigil for Human Dignity” organized by the Diocese of El Paso, Texas, along with migrant-supporting organizations such as Hope Border Institute, and religious and community leaders from areas along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Organizers called the event “a watershed moment of community resistance and prayer” in response to the Texas Legislature’s passage of Senate Bill 4, controversial legislation passed in November that makes it a state crime for migrants to cross the border into the state of Texas without authorization.

Because the federal government is responsible for border protection, lawsuits have questioned the state law’s constitutionality, and a series of federal judges temporarily blocked its implementation as those challenges play out in court. SB 4 was briefly in effect after a divided U.S. Supreme Court March 19 lifted the temporary pause on the law and sent the matter back to the lower court due to a procedural error there. But in response, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled late March 19 to continue to temporarily block the implementation of SB 4 as it prepares for a related hearing.

The bill’s controversy coincides with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawsuit seeking to shut down Annunciation House, a Catholic non-profit organization that serves immigrants, as well as the first anniversary of the fire that killed 40 people and injured about two dozen more in a migration detention center across the border from El Paso in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Cientos de personas se unieron a la marcha del 21 de marzo “No Tengan Miedo: Marcha y Vigilia por la Dignidad Humana”, organizada por la Diócesis de El Paso, Texas, junto con organizaciones que apoyan a los migrantes como Hope Border Institute y líderes religiosos y comunitarios de las zonas fronterizas. (Captura de pantalla OSV News/Transmisión en vivo vía Facebook)

The community responded massively. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered March 21 at El Paso’s San Jacinto Plaza, where they heard speeches from Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso; Auxiliary Bishop Anthony C. Celino, as well as Bishop Michael Hunn of the Episcopal Diocese of Rio Grande.

“Divine Master, let us not forget that we are a pilgrim people exposed to persecution, but a people who walk in peace because we carry the strength of love,” said Bishop Seitz, leading those gathered in prayer.
“We are here tonight calling for policies that respect the dignity of every human being,” Bishop Hunn said. “We will stand together and we will not tolerate having our religious freedoms restricted by asking us to find out if they have papers before we treat people as a neighbor. We will love our neighbor.”

The voices of religious leaders were joined by community leaders and representatives of immigrant advocacy groups, such as Annunciation House and Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center that serve the immigrant community in the border area between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso.

“Let us remember that we are gathered tonight because a year ago, for lack of hospitality, people were rounded up off the streets of Juarez, crowded into an immigration detention facility that was set on fire and 40 lives were lost,” said Ruben Garcia, Annunciation House director. “At the heart of that, is the call to hospitality; let us all be hospitable every day, day after day.”

Throughout the event, there were many expressions of support for Garcia and his organization, which has provided humanitarian assistance on the southern border for more than four decades. On March 11, a state judge temporarily blocked the Texas attorney general’s demands for Annunciation House records, stating that Paxton’s effort appeared to be politically motivated with a “predetermined” outcome in mind, and must go through the appropriate due process in the state court system.

Paxton’s lawsuit against Annunciation House, as well as the passage in Texas of SB 4, came in a context in which some Republican leaders in Texas have become increasingly hostile to non-governmental organizations, including Catholic ones, that provide resources such as food and shelter to migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border.

At the March 21 event, Bishop Celino told the marchers that the time has come to act. “Faith and hope demand action that bears fruit in justice. Tonight, we recommit ourselves to remain faithful to the struggle for justice,” he said. “We are not afraid and we will not keep our voices quiet when so many brothers and sisters, parents, children, grandparents are fleeing danger, from hunger, poverty and oppression.”

The auxiliary bishop stressed that human dignity is a God-given right, which was why “we lift up our voices tonight and say, ‘We have hope,’” said the bishop, repeating the phrase in Spanish. He added that the community stands in solidarity with “the tremendous work of Annunciation House, its workers, its residents, the humanitarian workers in the migrant shelters and, especially, its devoted director, Ruben Garcia.”

After the speeches, the demonstrators left San Jacinto Plaza and processed down Oregon Street while chanting in unison, “We have hope.”

They marched to Sacred Heart Catholic Parish, where the vigil began with the faithful of different parishes processing in with banners of their ministries and apostolates, traditional folkloric dancers and a group of priests, as well as representatives of other religious traditions.

In addition to demanding respect for the human dignity of migrants throughout the march and vigil, the demonstrators remembered 40 migrants from Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Venezuela who died in the fire March 27, 2023. The names and nationalities were spoken while a candle was lit in their memory.

During the vigil, representatives of organizations defending the rights of migrants and civic leaders were also present.

“Do not be afraid, we can face it, we are not alone, we are together,” said Bishop Seitz, while asking the attendees to walk together as they advocate for the human dignity of migrants with the faith and hospitality that makes them brothers in Christ.

A moving moment in the evening was when Garcia introduced Wilson Alexander Juarez Hernandez, a survivor of the fire from Guatemala, who was 21 years old at the time. Garcia explained how his health has been improving after coming close to death. Currently, Hernandez is receiving medical treatment in the United under a humanitarian visa.

Toward the end of the vigil, prayers were offered for religious leaders, immigration reform, and the hearts of legislators; for the workers and volunteers who provide humanitarian assistance; and for immigrants who have died and continue to die in the search for a better life for themselves and their loved ones.

At the closing of this meeting, Bishop Seitz thanked the religious representatives who came to the vigil, including Bishop Jose Guadalupe Torres Campos of Ciudad Juarez; Auxiliary Bishop of Greg Kelly of Dallas; and Anthony Granado, secretary general for social policy at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Bishop Seitz also prayed in Spanish, saying, “Merciful God and Father of All, awaken us from the sleep of indifference, open our eyes to their suffering and deliver us from the insensitivity born of comfort and self-centeredness.”

“Inspire us to see that those who arrive at our borders are our brothers and sisters, may we share with them the blessings we have received from your hand and recognize that together we are one human family,” he prayed. “We are all migrants who walk with hope towards you, our true home, where we will be at peace and safe in your embrace.”

(Marietha Góngora V. writes for OSV News from Washington. Kate Scanlon, national reporter for OSV News, contributed to this article.)

Why the ‘Passion’? What’s Tenebrae? And why does Easter’s date change?

By Lorene Hanley Duquin
(OSV News) – Sometimes the words we use in Holy Week and Easter feel so familiar we don’t consider their origins. Same for the date of Easter, which changes from year to year. The following is a quick FAQ guide to Catholics’ Holy Week vocabulary and key history.

Q. Why do we use the word “Passion” to describe the suffering of Jesus?
A. The word “Passion” comes from the Latin word for suffering. When referring to the events leading up to the death of Jesus, we often capitalize the word “Passion” to differentiate from the modern meaning of the word with its romantic overtones.

Q. Why do some parishes cover the cross and statues during Holy Week?
A. Before 1970 it was customary to cover crosses and statues during the last two weeks of Lent. After 1970, the practice was left up to the discretion of each diocese. In 1995, the U.S. bishops’ liturgy committee gave individual parishes permission to reinstate the practice on their own.

Mary and St. John stand at the foot of cross in this depiction of Christ’s crucifixion at Holy Family Church in Ramallah, West Bank. (OSV News photo/Debbie Hill)

Q. What is Tenebrae?
A. The word “tenebrae” comes from the Latin word meaning “shadows” or “darkness.” It was originally the name given to somber parts of the Liturgy of the Hours that are chanted in monasteries on the last three days of Holy Week. The tone of the prayers is filled with sorrow and desolation. At various points during a Tenebrae service, candles are extinguished and there is a cacophony of noise, which evokes feelings of betrayal, abandonment, pain, sadness, and darkness associated with the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Parishes sometimes offer Tenebrae services during Holy Week.

Q. Why do we call it “Good Friday”?
A. In the English language the term “Good Friday” probably evolved from “God’s Friday” in the same way that “goodbye” evolved from “God be with you.”

Q. What is Pascha?
A. The word “Pascha,” or “Pasch,” comes from the Greek word for the Passover. The early Christians used the word to describe the resurrection of Jesus as the Christian Passover. Today, we sometimes refer to the death and resurrection of Jesus as the Paschal Mystery, which is derived from the word Pasch. Orthodox Christians still use the word Pascha when referring to Easter.

Q. Who decides the date of Easter?
A. In 325, the Council of Nicaea decreed that Easter would be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. It can occur as early as March 22 or as late as April 25.

(Lorene Hanley Duquin is a Catholic author and lecturer who has worked in parishes and on a diocesan level.)

24 ‘perpetual pilgrims’ eager to lead ‘biggest Eucharistic procession in world history’

By Maria Wiering
(OSV News) – A profound experience with the Eucharist during Mass in his freshman year at Texas A&M University compelled Charlie McCullough to make Jesus the center of his life.

“Every decision that I’ve made after that has been a small step in that relationship and a small response to that invitation,” said McCullough, a 22-year-old north Texas native. “And now the invitation is him saying, ‘Come and follow me,’ as we go on pilgrimage across the United States.”

McCullough is one of 24 young adults who will be journeying with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament along four National Eucharistic Pilgrimage routes leading to the National Eucharistic Congress. The “perpetual pilgrims” will begin their treks May 17-19 – the weekend of Pentecost – from San Francisco; New Haven, Connecticut; Brownsville, Texas; and the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota.

Their routes – a combined 6,500 miles – will converge eight weeks later in Indianapolis for the July 17 opening of the five-day congress in Lucas Oil Stadium. Along the way, the pilgrims will go through small towns, large cities and rural countryside, mostly on foot, with the Eucharist carried in a monstrance designed particularly for this unprecedented event.

“This will be the biggest Eucharistic procession in world history,” said Kai Weiss, a perpetual pilgrim studying theology at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington. “I think Jesus will sanctify this land in an unimaginable way, even invisibly and in an unseen way. But obviously, we will be visible and we will be easily noticed, and I just look forward to what Christ in the Eucharist can bring to other people.”

Weiss, 27, grew up in Regensburg, Germany, where elaborate Corpus Christi processions are commonplace, and people are familiar with Europe’s long history of walking pilgrimages, he said. Last year, he participated in a two-day walking pilgrimage to the Marian shrine of Our Lady of Altötting with about 4,000 people, where pilgrims sang hymns and prayed the rosary along the way.
“That really communal aspect is so beautiful about professions and pilgrimages – that they bring us together as a church, and that since they’re also public, they can also bring in other people,” Weiss said. “It’s a wonderful way of expressing our faith and our joy.”

The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage and National Eucharistic Congress are major parts of the National Eucharistic Revival, a three-year initiative launched in 2022 by the U.S. bishops to inspire a deeper love and reverence for Jesus in the Eucharist. The pilgrimage is modeled on the Gospel account of Jesus’ journey with two disciples to Emmaus after his resurrection.

In October, the National Eucharistic Congress issued a call for perpetual pilgrims and received more than 100 applications. Criteria included being a baptized and practicing Catholic between the ages of 19-29, be in good physical condition and capable of walking long distances, and be committed to upholding church teachings. Backgrounds in ministry, service, leadership and pilgrimage experience were of special interest, according to organizers.

The perpetual pilgrims were chosen after multiple rounds of interviews and follow-up screenings, organizers said in a March 11 media release announcing the pilgrims.

Most of the pilgrims are graduate or undergraduate students, and some work for mission-oriented apostolates and nonprofits. “A common thread for all was a profound encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist that they were inspired to share with others,” according to the media statement.

Organized by Modern Catholic Pilgrim, a Minnesota-based nonprofit that promotes U.S. walking pilgrimages and biblical hospitality, the pilgrimage routes include stops at sacred landmarks including saints’ shrines and diocesan cathedrals.

Charlie McCullough, a National Eucharistic perpetual pilgrim who is a freshman at Texas A&M University in College Station, is pictured in an undated photo. (OSV News photo/courtesy Bonnie Thibault)

“I am humbled by the commitment demonstrated by those selected to serve as Perpetual Pilgrims this summer,” said Will Peterson, Modern Catholic Pilgrim’s founder and president, in a media statement. “Their excitement at serving as stewards of this unprecedented National Eucharistic Pilgrimage shook the walls at our kickoff retreat. I cannot wait for the rest of the U.S. Catholic Church to walk with our Eucharistic Lord alongside these amazing individuals.”

Each day will include Mass, a small Eucharistic procession and 10-15 miles of travel. Along the way, parishes are planning to host Eucharistic devotions such as adoration, praise and worship, and lectures. Parishes, religious orders, schools, shrines and retreat centers will offer the pilgrims hospitality and offer fellowship and meals.

A support vehicle will accompany the pilgrims and transport them through legs of the journey where “safety, terrain, and/or climate may present obstacles,” according to the media statement.

The pilgrimage routes are named for key saints for North America: the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Route from the east, the St. Juan Diego Route from the south, the St. Junipero Serra Route from the west, and the Marian Route from the north, which includes a stop in Wisconsin at the Shrine of Our Lady of Champion, the only approved Marian apparition site in the United States.

Weiss is traveling the Marian Route with fellow perpetual pilgrims Sarah Cahill of Virginia; Matthew Heidenreich of Ohio; Danielle Schmitz of California; Jennifer Torres of Colorado; and Megan Zaleski of Illinois.

With McCullough on the Juan Diego route will be Camille Anigbogu of Texas; Shayla Elm of North Dakota; Issy Martin-Dye of Ohio; Joshua Velasquez of Texas; and MacKenzie Warrens of Missouri.
On the Serra route will be Chima Adiole of Texas; Chas Firestone East of Virginia; Patrick Fayad of Nebraska; Jack Krebs of Wisconsin; Madison Michel of Minnesota; and Jaella Mac Au of Georgia.
On the Seton route will be Dominic Carstens of Wyoming; Zoe Dongas of New York; Marina Frattaroli of Texas; Natalie Garza of Texas; Amayrani Higueldo of Pennsylvania; and Christopher Onyiuke of Florida.

Along the way, 30 Franciscan Friars of the Renewal will rotate time on the routes as chaplains. In addition, Father Roger Landry, a chaplain at Columbia University in New York, plans to accompany pilgrims on the Seton route.

As McCullough thinks about the people the pilgrims will meet along the way, he reflects on the way Jesus encountered people in the Gospels.


“It was always unique and different because he met them where they were at,” said McCullough, a college senior studying mechanical engineering. “I’m just so excited for the look of love from the Eucharist to be extended time and time again to whoever we encounter.”

Weiss said he thinks the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage could be a unifying balm in a polarized country.

“It’s him (Jesus) who brings us all together; he desires and yearns for all of us,” he said.

(Maria Wiering is senior writer for OSV News.)

Border pilgrimage like Stations of the Cross for sisters as they learn of migrants’ hardships

By Rhina Guidos
SAN DIEGO (OSV News) – Congress’s latest attempt at immigration reform in early February was going down in flames.

The sisters were keeping tabs on it. But their focus Feb. 5-9 was the road from San Diego via the cold desert toward Mexico, to see what the landscape, migrants and the Holy Spirit had to say to them during a five-day “border pilgrimage.”

“This wasn’t just nuns crossing the border and feeling good,” said Sister Suzanne Cooke, provincial of the U.S.-Canada province of the Society of the Sacred Heart, who was one of about two dozen sisters from various congregations who participated.

It was an opportunity to contemplate “What is God saying? What’s my responsibility?” she told Global Sisters Report Feb. 9 about the pilgrimage.

What spoke to her and others were the stories from those they met on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, including a family of 10 from Afghanistan running from the Taliban’s treatment of women; a Peruvian family of seven who left after threats from criminal elements; and a young Chechen escaping Russia.

A group of women religious, along with a priest and a Franciscan friar, stop by an abandoned camp in the desert, near Jacumba Hot Springs, south of San Diego, Feb. 7, 2024. Some prayed near the shoes, tattered tents and wet sleeping bags left behind where migrants sought shelter from the cold rain and snowstorms affecting the San Diego region this winter. (OSV News photo/Rhina Guidos, Global Sisters Report)

Though silent, landmarks that sisters visited in the desert also told of the tragedies and ignominy people on the move are increasingly facing, such as “a potter’s field with a fence,” as one sister said of a dirt plot where unidentified remains – believed to be of migrants – are buried and kept behind a chain link fence in a cemetery. Or a group of feeble tents, the only shelter that protected recent border crossers from the winter’s cold rain and snow that have pummeled the desert south of San Diego this season.

“We were talking ‘pilgrimage,’ but it seems almost like the Stations of the Cross,” Sister Suzanne Jabro, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, said of the tales of hardship along the way.

Sister Suzanne, along with Sacred Heart Sister Lisa Buscher, Mercy Sister Mary Waskowiak, and Franciscan Friar Keith Warner – all from California’s San Diego and Palm Desert area – organized the pilgrimage. It began and ended with a reflection at the Franciscan School of Theology at the University of San Diego.

The organizers billed this on the theology school’s website as an opportunity for congregations to think about “next steps in ministry to migrants, whether direct service, pastoral care, education or advocacy.” But the pilgrimage also provided the opportunity to network and discern, as religious, what is happening at the border beyond the headlines and how to respond, Sister Suzanne said.
The pilgrimage sought to go beyond a border immersion experience, Sister Lisa said, and attempted to engage sisters in looking at the situation “with the eyes of the heart.”

At times, it was an exercise that produced pain and tears.

Sister Clara Malo Castrillón, provincial of Mexico’s Society of the Sacred Heart, wept as she rested her head against a fence that separated the migrant remains buried at Terrace Park Cemetery in Holtville, California, during a Feb. 7 pilgrimage stop.

Unable to enter the area, which has a locked gate, she and other sisters threw flowers over the fence that landed near the bricks marked “John Doe” that serve as tombstones for the unknown. They prayed for those buried there, some who drowned or died of exposure. They also prayed for the families who may never know what happened to their loved ones.

Sister Phyllis Sellner, of the Sisters of St. Francis of Rochester, Minnesota, said she couldn’t help but think of the Holy Family as she looked at the cold landscape of another pilgrimage stop, an abandoned camp near Jacumba Hot Springs, an unincorporated community south of San Diego.

The spot, until recently, served as an unofficial outdoor detention site for migrants turning themselves in to border authorities. Volunteers had been taking water, food and other necessities to those at the desolate spot in the wilderness after crossing the nearby border to the U.S. side.

Some sisters in the group prayed, others looked inside the tents and at the objects left behind: wet sleeping bags, shoes, a small cooking pot with a large piece of wood that looked as if it had been used to stir food.

“It was very disheartening for me. I kept thinking about Mary and Joseph traveling over the rocks and the desert, probably meeting with people who didn’t want them there. It came flooding over in my mind,” Sister Phyllis said in a reflection at the end of the pilgrimage.

But sisters also shared smiles, candy and helped crack open Valentine’s-Day-themed piñatas with children and adults at the Cobina Posada del Migrante shelter in Mexicali, Mexico, Feb. 8. In return, the women at the shelter made pozole, a popular Mexican soup of hominy, to share with the sisters.
Still, the enormity of the humanitarian plight was never far behind. During the celebration, a Honduran woman, whose husband, a diabetic, was facing renal failure, entered the shelter with a wound on the man’s leg.

Sister Clara reflected the following day that it was hard to see the difficulties those they came into contact with found themselves in, including many fleeing “a violence that no one can stop,” such as corruption and other ailments.

“Life could be good for most of these people” if governments made an effort to solve problems, she said, and it was sad that “the only answer they (migrants) can think of is ‘Let’s go to the United States,'” because they see no solutions at home.

Sister Anne Carrabino, a member of the Sisters of Social Service, said she thought of how U.S. Cold War policy and its past interference in Latin America had much to do with creating “push factors” that have led people to leave their native countries. And yet leaving homelands in turbulence isn’t always the cure-all, given the difficulties and sometimes hostility that people on the move encounter even if they’re successful entering a more stable country – legally or otherwise.

“I was thinking, they have no idea what awaits them,” she said.

For Sister Mary Grace Ramos, the week’s visits and stops presented a “rewind” of her life, as she remembered how her mother had left the family home in the Philippines to find work in Hong Kong and later Canada. It was the only way to provide her and her siblings with an education, said the Sister of St. Joseph of Orange, California.

“It’s not just here that it’s happening,” Sister Mary Grace said, struggling to contain tears. “It happens in Asia. … All of this struggle … it’s happening all around the world.”

Sister Catherine Murray, of the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, California, said that, in the good and difficult things they encountered, “pilgrimage is a holy journey.”

“The attitude with which I come is, this is not a tour,” said Sister Catherine, chairperson for Region 14 of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Like Carrabino, she said it was important to share the pilgrimage experience with other communities and discern what steps to take going forward.

In the middle of the border journey, on Feb. 7, Republicans in the Senate rejected a rare bipartisan bill on immigration, which the sisters had been paying attention to. Regardless of what happens – or doesn’t – in Congress, the sisters seemed to be buoyed by their experience.

“We need to tell the story, we need services, we need everything,” Sister Anne said. “We’ve got ideas and energy.”

Sister Mary Waskowiak told GSR that the happenings at the border are increasingly becoming of interest to communities of women religious.

“I know a lot of women religious feel this is a new calling,” she told GSR. “Before, it was teaching. Now, it’s the border. This is the time.”

(Rhina Guidos is the Latin America regional correspondent for Global Sisters Report.)

Eucharistic Revival’s ‘Invite One Back’ initiative helps parishes reach lapsed Catholics

By Lauretta Brown
(OSV News) – What would happen if clergy and parish leaders personally reached out to Catholics who have stopped attending Mass to invite them to come back, telling them they are missed and wanted in the parish community? This is the question and challenge the U.S. bishops are posing as their National Eucharistic Revival initiative focuses on parish efforts this year.

The bishops launched resources in early March as part of the “Invite One Back” initiative, equipping clergy and parish leaders to invite those who have stopped attending Sunday Mass to fill the pews once again.

Many people simply didn’t return to the pews after the COVID-19 pandemic restricted in-person Mass attendance in 2020. One 2022 study from Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate showed a nationwide 7% decline in adult Catholics attending Sunday Mass compared with pre-COVID data.

Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens of Crookston, Minn., chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, speaks June 9, 2023, during the Catholic Media Conference in Baltimore. (OSV News photo/Bob Roller)

The revival website notes that in 2020 a “significant portion of Catholics lost connection with their local parish during the shutdowns, and just never came back. It’s time to bring them home.” The website also points to Pew data from 2014, which found that 13% of all U.S. adults are former Catholics.

“The goal of this initiative is to fill the pews again,” the website says. “To do that, we all need to invite back everyone who has left in a way that makes sure they feel seen and desired as an individual member of your parish family. Whom are you called to invite home?”

In his introductory letter to parish leaders, Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens of Crookston, Minnesota, wrote, “Our efforts in evangelization and inviting Catholics back to Mass are not just about increasing numbers or filling pews. Rather, our efforts are about guiding people to intimate encounters with Jesus Christ and leading souls to salvation, allowing them to experience God’s love, mercy, and goodness.”

“It is important to invite these people back because it is a great act of love! It is also one of the simplest and most effective ways to evangelize,” he emphasized. “Love desires to be shared once it is received. The source and summit of the Christian life is participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice, where we encounter the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament.”

The initiative stresses the unique power of invitation, saying that for those who have left parishes, “an invitation reminds them that they belong within our community and that their presence is missing.”

The website encourages clergy and parish leadership to “make a list of parishioners you haven’t seen in a while or people who used to be members of your parish” to immediately begin praying for them and start discerning “how you can best reach each member of that group, and make a plan to contact each one of them in whatever way would be most meaningful.”

When it comes to tools for reaching those who’ve stopped attending Mass, resources include letter and postcard templates as well as scripts for starting phone calls with former parishioners. Creativity and personalization are encouraged in these conversations with the goal of listening to the individual and meeting them where they are.

Prayer also is a central part of the campaign, as the initiative calls for parishes to put a prayer for the campaign in the bulletin as well as for parish groups to dedicate rosaries and Holy Hours for the effort.

“Let us pray earnestly for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and fortitude to carry out this sacred mission,” urged Bishop Cozzens, chairman of the board of the National Eucharistic Congress Inc. “Let us embrace each soul with open arms, rejoicing as they return to the embrace of the Church and our parish communities through the gift of the Eucharist.”

(Lauretta Brown is culture editor for OSV News. Follow her on X @LaurettaBrown6.)

NOTES: Resources for National Eucharistic Revival’s “Invite One Back” initiative can be found in English and Spanish at www.eucharisticrevival.org/invite-one-back.

Briefs

This image is part of the promotional material for “Follow That Bishop,” a 28-minute documentary reporting on the FBI file kept on Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. (OSV News photo/courtesy Rome Reports)

NATION
WASHINGTON (OSV News) – Nearly 75 years after he stopped teaching at The Catholic University of America in Washington, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979) can still fill a campus auditorium. The occasion was a March 7 screening of “Follow That Bishop!” a half-hour documentary made last year in support of Archbishop Sheen’s sainthood cause and produced by Rome Reports, a TV news agency that covers Pope Francis and the Vatican. Co-directed by Antonio Olivié, CEO of Rome Reports, and Sean Patrick Lovett, director of the news agency’s international department, “Follow That Bishop!” focuses on the oddities of a file the FBI kept on the prelate and a miracle attributed to his intercession that involved the sudden recovery of James Engstrom of Washington, Illinois, who was initially considered stillborn when he was delivered during a planned home birth Sept. 16, 2010. The file begins in 1943 with an anonymous complaint about a speech the then-monsignor made in which he criticized communism and the Soviet Union, then an American ally in World War II. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover concluded that not only was the bishop not prone to sedition, he was instead a powerful and respected ally in the Cold War against communism. He added him to the bureau’s mailing list, and later invited him to a swearing-in of new agents, and even to the annual agent retreat in Maryland.

BALTIMORE (OSV News) – A special “baptism-in-a-day” celebration in the Archdiocese of Baltimore earlier this year welcomed unbaptized children into the faith. Twenty children ranging in age from approximately 1 to 6 were baptized. Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori came up with the idea for the event, a first-of-its-kind liturgy inspired by a priest friend in Connecticut who has had success with similar group baptisms in the Diocese of Bridgeport. The event at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen was designed to be welcoming to families that had not had their children baptized for varying reasons. It included sacramental preparation, lunch, an invitation to become involved in parish life at the cathedral and the conferral of baptism during the 5 p.m. Mass. The cathedral made godparents available for those families that needed them. Stacy Golden, director of the Office of Family, Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the archdiocesan Institute for Evangelization, noted that the number of families receiving baptism and other sacraments has declined steadily in the archdiocese over recent decades – even prior to the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, there were more than 1.2 million infant baptisms in 1965 in the United States. That number declined to just over 996,000 in 2000 and to 437,942 in 2022 – even as the general population grew.

VATICAN
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The saints are not unreachable “exceptions of humanity” but ordinary people who worked diligently to grow in virtue, Pope Francis said. It is wrong to think of the saints as “a kind of small circle of champions who live beyond the limits of our species,” the pope wrote in the catechesis for his general audience March 13 in St. Peter’s Square. Instead, they are “those who fully become themselves, who realize the vocation of every person.” Just like at his general audience March 6, Pope Francis told visitors in the square that due to a mild cold an aide, Msgr. Pierluigi Giroli, would read his speech. Continuing his series of catechesis on virtues and vices, the pope wrote that a virtuous person is not one who allows him- or herself to become distorted but “is faithful to his or her own vocation and fully realizes his or herself.” Reflecting on the nature of virtue, which has been discussed and analyzed since ancient times, the pope said that “virtue is a ‘habitus’ (expression) of freedom.” He added, “If we are free in every act, and each time we are called to choose between good and evil, virtue is that which allows us to have a habit toward the right choice.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis has decided that some of the most controversial issues raised at the first assembly of the Synod of Bishops on synodality will be examined by study groups that will work beyond the synod’s final assembly in October. The possible revision of guidelines for the training of priests and deacons, “the role of women in the church and their participation in decision-making/taking processes and community leadership,” a possible revision of the way bishops are chosen and a revision of norms for the relationship between bishops and the religious orders working in their dioceses all will be the subject of study groups. That Pope Francis did not wait until the end of the second assembly to convoke the study groups, “shows that he has a heart that listens; he listened and is acting,” Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary-general of the synod, told reporters March 14. Pope Francis approved the 10 groups and their topics; he asked the groups, coordinated by different offices of the Roman Curia, to make a preliminary report to the synod’s second assembly in October and to give him a final report on their work by June 2025.

WORLD
KURIGA, Nigeria (OSV News) – Recent kidnappings of hundreds of people in Nigeria, including almost 300 schoolchildren March 7 in Kuriga in central part of the country, have left church leaders and parents, including Catholics, speechless in the face of another wave of senseless violence. As kidnappings become a horrific new normal in Nigeria, church leaders have strongly urged the government to act. In broad daylight gunmen raided a government primary school and kidnapped at least 287 pupils in the biggest mass abduction from a school in a decade. The incident is the second mass kidnapping in the West African nation of more than 200 million in less than a week. “This is heartbreaking to all of us, and it’s now time for the authorities to act fast to stop the killings and abductions,” lamented Emmanuel Ayeni Nwogu, catechist from the Archdiocese of Kaduna, where the March 7 abduction happened. “We continue to pray for the children who have been kidnapped, and we hope they are still alive and under the mighty hand of God.” Africa’s most populous nation has faced an array of security challenges since 2009, when Boko Haram launched its Islamic uprising to overthrow Nigeria’s secular government and create an Islamic state. The primary target of the militants are Christians, although the terror groups target government schools as well as they lack fighters and abduct boys for military purposes.

JERUSALEM (OSV News) – A bishop in Jerusalem appealed for Christians to start returning to the Holy Land on pilgrimage to visit holy places located within Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, made the comments after Israel’s tourism minister appealed to Christian leaders during a visit to the U.S. to recommence pilgrimages “to strengthen yourselves and to strengthen us.” Bishop Shomali also said he is hopeful church leaders in the Holy Land will issue an invitation for Christian pilgrims to return. Tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims had to leave the Holy Land on emergency flights following the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks. In the aftermath of the attacks, and Israel’s subsequent assault on Gaza, many airlines canceled flights to Tel Aviv. The absence of pilgrims has had a dramatic effect on the region’s tiny Christian minority in particular, given that many Christians have job working with pilgrims. Bishop Shomali said, “There are difficulties because of security, but still Jericho and Bethlehem can be visited.” Encouraging people to visit Palestinian Territories is crucial today so that those barred from entering Israel can still make money to support their families. Sources close to the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need said conditions for the small Christian community that remains in the Gaza Strip have deteriorated over the last four months.

Juez de Texas bloquea intento de Paxton de cerrar Casa Anunciación

Por Kate Scanlon
(OSV News) – Un juez estatal bloqueó temporalmente el 11 de marzo las demandas del fiscal general de Texas de obtener los registros de la Casa Anunciación (Annunciation House), citando preocupaciones de que el estado tenía un motivo “predeterminado” para cerrar la organización católica sin fines de lucro que presta servicios a inmigrantes.

El juez de distrito Francisco Domínguez en El Paso emitió una orden bloqueando la citación del fiscal general de Texas, Ken Paxton, a Casa Anunciación, indicando que el esfuerzo de Paxton parecía motivado políticamente y que debía pasar por el debido proceso en el sistema judicial estatal.

“Los esfuerzos del Fiscal General para pisotear la Casa Anunciación, sin tener en cuenta el debido proceso o el juego limpio, ponen en duda la verdadera motivación del intento del Fiscal General de impedir que la Casa Anunciación brinde los servicios humanitarios y sociales que brinda”, escribió Domínguez.

En febrero, Paxton presentó una demanda en un intento de cerrar la Casa Anunciación, acusándola de “contrabando de personas”, en una medida denunciada por defensores católicos de la inmigración, incluido el obispo de El Paso, Mark J. Seitz.

El obispo de El Paso, Texas, Mark J. Seitz, y el fiscal general de Texas, Ken Paxton, aparecen en una foto combinada. La Casa de la Anunciación (Annunciation House) organizó una conferencia de prensa el 23 de febrero de 2024 para abordar su postura en respuesta a los esfuerzos de Paxton por cerrarla y poner fin a su ministerio con los migrantes. (Foto OSV News/Tyler Orsburn/Elizabeth Frantz, Reuters)


En una declaración, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, que representa a la Casa Anunciación, dijo que el tribunal decidió “que se seguiría un proceso ordenado para decidir qué documentos se deben presentar al procurador general según la ley, y el procurador general no podría hacer cumplir su citación sin supervisión judicial”.

Jerome Wesevich, abogado principal de TRLA en el caso, dijo: “Estamos muy satisfechos con el fallo de la corte con respecto a Annunciation House”.

“La corte exige que se sigan los procedimientos civiles estándar, lo que significará un proceso justo y ordenado para determinar qué documentos la ley permite ver al fiscal general”, dijo.

“Annunciation House necesita recopilar información confidencial, incluida información de salud, sobre sus huéspedes, y es imperativo para la seguridad y el bienestar de la comunidad que la divulgación de esta información confidencial se maneje con cuidado y teniendo en cuenta la ley”.

Rubén García, director de la Casa Anunciación, dijo a los periodistas en una conferencia de prensa el 23 de febrero que la organización sin fines de lucro ha estado proporcionando recursos básicos como alimentos, refugio y agua a los migrantes y refugiados que llegan a la frontera durante casi 50 años en consulta con la Oficina de la Patrulla Fronteriza de los Estados Unidos.

“Hay individuos que han decidido que eso debe ser ilegal”, dijo.

(Kate Scanlon es reportera nacional de OSV News que cubre Washington.)