Historic Catholic school enrollment rise holds steady as U.S. enters fourth year with COVID-19

By Gina Christian
(OSV News) – Enrollment numbers at Catholic schools across the U.S. continue to hold steady following a bump at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. After data released last summer by the National Catholic Educational Association showed a 3.8% nationwide increase in enrollment for Catholic elementary and secondary schools during the 2021-2022 school year, numbers going into the 2022-2023 year continued to look strong.

“This year we had stable enrollment, and to me that means schools already did a great job of retaining students and families,” Annie Smith, NCEA vice president of research and data, told OSV News.

Countering a 6.4% enrollment decline from the previous school year, the 2021-2022 enrollment spike in Catholic schools was the first in two decades, and the largest ever recorded by the Leesburg, Virginia-based NCEA, which represents some 140,000 educators serving 1.6 million students.
Smith also said the rate of U.S. Catholic school closures had declined.

“We used to have about 100 per year,” she said, noting 209 schools closed or merged prior to the 2020-2021 academic year. “This year we had under 50.”

NATCHEZ – Teacher, Justin Johnson goes over an assignment with student, Ella Moak at Cathedral School in Natchez. The U.S. average of Catholic school enrollment is holding steady as country enters fourth year with COVID-19. (Photo by Cara Moody)

In the Archdiocese of Chicago, Greg Richmond, superintendent of schools, said that their numbers had stayed steady for the first half of the 2022-2023 school year – a feat made even more impressive by the fact that “the annual number of births in our archdiocese has been plummeting,” he said.

According to Richmond, annual births within the Chicago archdiocese declined from 90,000 to 65,000 over the last 15 years. “So there are a lot fewer kids than there used to be, but our numbers went up and stayed level,” he said.

In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Catholic schools marked a 4.2% uptick in enrollment last year, jumping from almost 64,700 to just under 67,500, according to senior director and superintendent Paul Escala.

Escala told OSV News the gain – their first in 27 years – was realized while complying with California’s stringent COVID prevention protocols.

“We advocated and worked closely with public health partners to allow for reopening in person, with masking, distancing, desk shields and no visitors,” he said. “It was a tremendous challenge.”

Those efforts have paid off by attracting new families to Catholic education, said Escala.

Smith attributed the growth and subsequent steadiness to “a combination of things,” including Catholic schools’ ability to “pivot in meeting the needs of students” throughout the various phases of COVID restrictions.

In the pandemic’s initial days, she said, classrooms “may have closed on a Friday, but our Catholic schools had their instruction back up by Monday or Tuesday.”

Whether organizing remote or hybrid learning plans to comply with public health guidelines, the nation’s Catholic schools benefited from “a flexibility and agility you often don’t see in the public system,” Richmond told OSV News.

He said the Archdiocese of Chicago’s schools functioned remotely during the spring of 2020 term as educators “pushed (themselves) to the limit” in order to reopen in the fall of 2021. When they did, enrollment had risen by 3,000 students (4.5%) to a total of approximately 66,000.

“We were free from the extremes of politics that you often see in many public systems,” Richmond said, while diocesan educational leaders “learned from each other through lots of conversations” with their peers across the country.

Concerned about “lack of instruction during lockdowns” in other schools, parents “saw Catholic schools as an opportunity for academics and social, faith-filled advancement during a very difficult time,” he said.

Richmond agreed the push to resume in-person learning “created an invitation for people to check us out and learn about Catholic schools. It shone a light on us.”

But getting kids back to the classroom was not the only driver for the enrollment bump, he said.
“People liked what they saw in terms of academics, values and reliability,” even if they were not Catholic or practicing any faith, said Richmond.

The nation’s Catholic schools have “really focused on the whole child, not only academic learning,” addressing “social skills and mental health” while supporting families, said Smith. “They went above and beyond during COVID, asking, ‘Do you need food, a tuition break, someone to talk to?'”

Escala said he is working closely with philanthropic partners to ensure that assistance continues.
“Our mission orientation is to serve the poor, and our preference will always be for those who have less,” he said. “That’s been a hallmark of Catholic education from the beginning, and it remains so.”

Smith said that Catholic schools used to be a “best-kept secret,” but that phrase no longer applies.
“Now, they’re not a secret,” she said. “People have experienced their local Catholic schools, and they’re staying.”

(Gina Christian is a National Reporter for OSV News.)

Catholics ‘must act’ for racial justice to honor MLK, says USCCB president

By OSV News
WASHINGTON – Catholics “must act” for racial justice, starting with personal conversion, to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle and eliminate racial injustices in society, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops stated.

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese of the Military Services in his statement immediately referred to the call to action from Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman, one of six Black Catholic women and men proposed for sainthood.

“People keep saying, ‘Where’s the next Martin Luther King?’ We’re all called, I think. We’re called by our citizenship, by our membership in the human race. We’re all called to free ourselves and to free one another,” Sister Bowman said.

Sister Thea Bowman, a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, is shown during a talk she gave at St. Augustine Church in Washington in 1986. Sister Bowman, who died in 1990, is one of six African American Catholics whose causes for canonization are being considered by the Catholic Church. Her sainthood cause was opened in 2018 and she has the title “Servant of God.” (OSV News photo/CNS file, Michael Hoyt, Catholic Standard)

Archbishop Broglio noted that while society has made progress toward “a just society that leaves no one on the margins” in the 60 years since Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, nevertheless “much work remains.”

Dr. King, whose birthday is Jan. 15 but is celebrated on the following Monday as a federal holiday, led the civil rights movement until his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, April 4, 1968. He was just 39 years old and would have turned 94 this year.

“Beyond remembering and quoting Dr. King today, we must act to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system, access to affordable housing and health care, and economic opportunities,” the USCCB president stated.

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, poses for a photo Nov. 16, 2022, after being elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at a Nov. 15 session of the fall general assembly of the bishops in Baltimore. (OSV News photo/CNS file, Bob Roller)

He noted the USCCB “continues to support policy changes in these areas of society,” and encouraged people to read about the USCCB’s policy work and efforts to overcome racism, as well as “ministry resources in working with and for Catholics of African descent.”

Archbishop Broglio pointed out Rev. King’s faith drove his civil rights work, and Catholics today must undergo conversion and look to the saints to undo unjust structures of racism in society.

“Remembering that Dr. King was guided first by his faith also challenges us to personal conversion. Unjust structures exist because personal sin persists,” he said. “As the late Pope Benedict XVI expressed, ‘To renew the church in every age, God raises up saints, who themselves have been renewed by God and are in constant contact with God.’ For models of lives transformed, we can always turn to the saints.”

Archbishop Broglio highlighted the USCCB’s efforts to advance the sainthood causes of “six inspirational African American men and women: Venerable Pierre Toussaint, Servant of God Mother Mary Lange, Venerable Henriette Delille, Venerable Augustus Tolton, Servant of God Julia Greeley, and Sister Thea Bowman.”

He said, “May their holy examples convert our hearts and our society, that we may achieve Dr. King’s dream of building a society where every person is recognized as a beloved son or daughter of God and treated with the justice and dignity that they deserve.”

Editor’s Note: To read about the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, which works on the bishops’ domestic policy priorities, please visit: https://www.usccb.org/committees/domestic-justice-and-human-development/who-we-are.

For more information on African Americans and Catholic ministry, please visit: https://www.usccb.org/committees/african-american-affairs/timely-resources-ministry-catholics-african-descent.

For additional information on the USCCB’s efforts to overcome racism, please visit: https://www.usccb.org/committees/ad-hoc-committee-against-racism.

Further information on the lives of Black Catholic men and women up for sainthood can be found in the OSV book “Black Catholics on the Road to Sainthood”: https://www.osvcatholicbookstore.com/product/black-catholics-on-the-road-to-sainthood.

‘We are not yet done’: March for Life holds first national event after overturn of Roe v. Wade

By Kate Scanlon
WASHINGTON (OSV) – Tens of thousands of pro-life advocates descended upon the nation’s capital for the 50th March for Life Jan. 20 – the first national march since the overturn of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that initially prompted the annual demonstration.

Standing on the event stage at the National Mall, with the U.S. Capitol visible in the background, Jeanne Mancini, March for Life president, told attendees at a rally prior to the march that “the country and world changed” when Roe was reversed in June 2022. But she said the annual March for Life would continue in Washington until abortion is “unthinkable.”

“While the March began as a response to Roe, we don’t end as a response to Roe being overturned,” Mancini said. “Why? Because we are not yet done.”

The march took place on a sunny and unseasonably warm day in Washington. A headcount of attendees was not immediately available, as the National Park Service does not release crowd size estimates.

The national March for Life first took place in Washington in 1974 in response to the Roe decision legalizing abortion nationwide the previous year. The protest has taken place in Washington each year since, with a smaller-in-scale event during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021.

The 2023 event was the first national March for Life since the high court’s June 2022 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned Roe and returned the matter of regulating or restricting abortion to state legislatures.

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch speaks during the 50th annual March for Life in Washington Jan. 20, 2023. (OSV News photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

At the pre-march rally, the Christian band “We Are Messengers” performed, followed by a number of speakers, including Jonathan Roumie, known for his role as “Jesus” in the television series “The Chosen,” former Indianapolis Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy, Democratic Connecticut State Rep. Trenee McGee, and Gianna Emanuela Molla, the daughter of St. Gianna Beretta Molla. Canonized in 2004, St. Gianna gave her life for Giana Emanuela, choosing to move forward with her fourth pregnancy even after doctors discovered a tumor in her uterus.

Molla told the rallygoers that she thanks her “saint mom” for the gift of life. “I would not be here now with all of you if I had not been loved so much,” she said.

Roumie took a picture of the crowd behind him from the stage, telling marchers to tag themselves on social media, and quipping he is the “TV Jesus,” not the real one.

“God is real and he is completely in love with you,” he said, adding that each person is individually loved by God.

The rally also featured some lawmakers from the U.S. House of Representatives. Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, a Catholic Republican and co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, said at the rally, “Future generations will someday look back on us and wonder how and why a society that bragged about its commitment to human rights could have legally sanctioned” abortion.

“The injustice of abortion need not be forever, and with your continued work and prayers, it will not be,” Smith said.

Prior to speaking to the sea of pro-life marchers on the National Mall, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, who argued the Dobbs case before the Supreme Court, told OSV News that “empowering women and promoting life” were the next steps post-Roe.

“Some of the things that we’re talking about in Mississippi and promoting legislation on are workplace flexibility options, particularly for mothers,” she said. “We lose young mothers because they don’t have any options. They don’t have that flexibility. We’ve got to have childcare. It’s got to be affordable, accessible and quality.”

Fitch said she wants to see the pro-life movement do “some heavy lifts” to push laws enhancing child support enforcement and reforming the adoption or foster care systems.

“(These systems) are failing our children; they’re broken,” Fitch said. “We’ve got to make those (changes) happen and put those children in these loving families.”

Speaking with OSV News at the march, Kristan Hawkins, president of the pro-life group Students for Life of America, said the next front of her organization’s activism will focus on fighting the spread of medication abortion. Hawkins said the pro-life movement should also focus on broadening the social safety net and its remaining goals at the federal level, such as stripping Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest single abortion provider, of taxpayer funds.

“There is a lot for us to do as a nation, especially raising awareness among its citizens,” Isalyn Aviles Rodríguez, who came to the march from Miami, told OSV News. Rodríguez said she was motivated to march because “the nation needs to know that children are part of God’s plan from conception until natural death.”

As in prior years, the March drew teenage advocates for life as well. Angeline Moro, 14, from Trenton, New Jersey, attended the event to learn how to raise her voice in defense of the most vulnerable.
“We all need to have a chance to live,” Moro said.

At various events leading up to the march, pro-life advocates joined together in prayer and solidarity.
At the Jan. 19 opening Mass for the annual National Prayer Vigil for Life, the night before the march, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, said in his homily that the pro-life movement has “much to celebrate” because Roe v. Wade “is no more.”

But, he added, a “new important phase” for the cause of life “begins now.”

“Our efforts to defend life must be as tireless as ever” not only to change laws but also hearts “with steadfast faith in the grace and power of God to do so,” said Bishop Burbidge, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

The event, held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, drew between 6,000 and 6,500 people, with most of the congregation filling the Great Upper Church. Dozens also viewed the Mass via screens in the lower level of the basilica.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., read a message from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, issued on behalf of Pope Francis, who imparted his blessing on all those participating in the March for Life.

“His Holiness trusts that Almighty God will strengthen the commitment of all, especially the young, to persevere in their efforts aimed at protecting human life in all its stages, especially through adequate legal measures enacted at every level of society,” the message said.

The Mass was followed by a “Holy Hour for Life” at the basilica, which launched a series of Holy Hours of Eucharistic devotion throughout the night in dioceses across the country. Auxiliary Bishop Joseph L. Coffey of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services celebrated Mass at 8 a.m. Jan. 20 to close the vigil.

Meanwhile, hundreds of teens and young adults from the Archdiocese of Washington gathered at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle for the Youth Mass of Celebration and Thanksgiving for Life, where homilist Father Robert Kilner of Solomons, Maryland, urged them to be “witnesses to life, witnesses to the truth that every life matters.”

“Pray and be confident that God can and will do great things,” he said. “Witness by the way you love your family, and especially the smallest, most helpless around you. Witness by your words in defense of the unborn, witness to God’s mercy, inviting everyone back to the joy of confession.”

Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington, the principal celebrant of the Mass, said it was “a special joy for me to be able to celebrate this Eucharist with you, our young, youthful, joyful, happy church.”
The thousands of attendees at these events then streamed into the National Mall, where they assembled at the noon rally and prepared to begin marching an hour later.

With the overturn of Roe, organizers had planned for a reworked march route, resulting in a new final destination: the East Front of the U.S. Capitol, symbolizing the movement’s new goals. However, restrictions on the use of sticks for signage put in place by the U.S. Capitol Police after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol resulted in the route instead passing by the West Front. For the 50th time, the national march ended in the same spot: before the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.

(Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Julie Asher, Gina Christian, Marietha Góngora and Kurt Jensen contributed to this report.)


WASHINGTON (OSV News) – A songwriting competition aims to inspire new Catholic music as a part of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ National Eucharistic Revival initiative. The Eucharistic Revival Musical Competition, sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Evangelization and Catechesis, seeks entries from Catholic composers, poets and songwriters for Catholic music, with a particular emphasis on the church’s teachings on the real presence of the Eucharist and the church’s unity as the body of Christ. Marilyn Santos, associate director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Evangelization and Catechesis, said music is a beautiful way of “expressing our faith” and that she hoped the contest would “discover these new evangelists who use music as their medium of conveying the message.” Submissions are due April 21 with winners announced June 9.

DEDHAM, Mass. (OSV News) – Lawyers for Theodore McCarrick want the criminal sex abuse case against the disgraced cleric dismissed, claiming the 92-year-old former cardinal is incompetent to stand trial. In a motion filed in the Dedham District Court Jan. 13, lawyers for McCarrick claimed an independent evaluation shows the laicized cleric in steep mental and physical decline. Prosecutors are expected to seek their own evaluation, and a Massachusetts judge will ultimately decide if McCarrick can stand trial. He is charged with three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over the age of 14. The outcome of the competency hearing will not stop the many civil cases now pending against McCarrick, who was removed from ministry in 2018 following a credible allegation of abuse of a minor, as well as wide-spread reports that he abused young men, going back decades. He was laicized in 2019.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis asked Cubans “to make present in their hearts” the actions and words of St. John Paul II during his visit to their nation 25 years ago to “give a new push to building the country’s future with hope and determination.” In a letter to the Cuban people, released at the Vatican Jan. 14, the pope marked the anniversary of St. John Paul becoming the first pope to visit the island nation. The visit began with Cuban President Fidel Castro welcoming the pope Jan. 21, 1998, to begin a five-day visit. Upon landing in Havana, St. John Paul called for Cuba to “open itself up to the world” and for the world to “open itself up to Cuba.” Pope Francis reminded Cubans that St. John Paul had asked them to return to their “Cuban and Christian roots” to face the country’s challenges while remembering that each person “is primarily defined by their obligation to others and to history.” Twenty-five years later, the pope said those roots of the Cuban people have grown and flourished through “work and sacrifice each day, not only for your families, but also for your neighbors and friends, for the whole people, and in a special way for those most in need.” Pope Francis told them, “Thank you for this example of collaboration and of mutual assistance that unites you and reveals the spirit that characterizes you: open, welcoming and supportive.”

Sister André, a French Daughter of Charity who was the world’s oldest known person, is pictured in an undated photo. Sister André died Jan. 17, 2023, at age 118 in a nursing home in Toulon, France. (OSV News photo/courtesy EHPAD Sainte Catherine Labouré)

TOULON, France (OSV News) – Sister Andre, a Daughter of Charity and the world’s oldest known person, died at age 118, a spokesman of the nursing home where she died told AFP agency on Tuesday. “There is great sadness but … it was her desire to join her beloved brother. For her, it’s a liberation,” David Tavella, speaking for the Sainte-Catherine-Laboure nursing home, told AFP. Sister Andre, a Catholic convert raised in a Protestant family, was born Lucile Randon Feb. 11, 1904. It was 10 years before World War I, Theodore Roosevelt was president of the United States, New York opened its first subway line and U.S. Army engineers began work on the Panama Canal. She also lived through the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and through 10 pontificates. Sister Andre died Jan. 17 in her sleep at her nursing home in Toulon, on France’s Mediterranean coast, Tavella said. An avid listener of Vatican Radio, the French nun sent well wishes to the radio operation on the occasion of its 90th anniversary in 2021. Sister Andre, who was blind, was a “dedicated listener of the radio that offers her a window of the world” and supports her prayer life, Vatican News reported Feb. 11, 2021.

Catholic high school prays for critically injured Bills safety and alumnus

By Gina Christian

(OSV NEWS) – The Central Catholic High School community in Pittsburgh is joining in prayer for NFL player Damar Hamlin, a 2016 school graduate, who was critically injured during a Jan. 2 game between the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals.

Hamlin, a safety for the Bills, collapsed after tackling Bengals receiver Tee Higgins during a routine play. According to a statement by the Buffalo Bills, the 24-year-old safety suffered a cardiac arrest following the hit.

Medics worked for nearly 10 minutes to restore his heartbeat as Bills team and staff members knelt in a tight prayer circle around Hamlin. Hamlin was then transferred to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he remains in critical condition. Players, staff and commentators were visibly shaken by the incident, and the game – the last Monday Night Football match of the regular season – was suspended.

The NFL has posted an image of Hamlin’s team number with the words “Pray for Damar” across its social media accounts.

Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin warms up before a game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Nov. 24, 2022. Hamlin, an alum of Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, was hospitalized in critical condition after suffering cardiac arrest following a collision in a game between the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 2. He remained in critical condition with signs of improvement on Jan. 4. (OSV NEWS photo/Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

The Hamlin family released a statement online Jan. 3 asking supporters to “please keep Damar in your prayers,” noting they were “deeply moved by the prayers, kind words and donations from fans around the country.”

In a Jan. 3 statement sent to OSV News, Central Catholic called Hamlin a “highly respected young man” who “has been an integral part of our Catholic Lasallian Community and regularly returns to Central to speak with participants of our football campus.”

A photo provided by the school to OSV News showed Hamlin in his high school football uniform holding a poster that read, “Recruited by Jesus.”

Central Catholic president Christian Brother Mike Andrejko asked in the statement that “the Lord be with (Hamlin) and hold him in the palm of his hand.”

The school’s recently retired head football coach Terry Totten described Hamlin in the statement as “a great athlete and a great Christian gentleman who is a man for others,” one who is “an essential part of the community at Central Catholic.”

Totten also pointed to Hamlin’s “unparalleled” work in the Pittsburgh community through the athlete’s charitable foundation, The Chasing M’s Foundation Community Toy Drive, which he started just before his selection in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL draft.

On its Facebook page, Central Catholic posted a message stating its community “is praying for the well-being and swift recovery” of Hamlin, adding: “May the Lord be with him and his family during this most difficult time.”

As ‘Catechism in a Year’ podcast launches, listeners seek clarity amid chaos

By Maria Wierin

(OSV News) – “Oh ya baby!” read Jane Hernandez’s Facebook post, adorned with a heart-eyed, smiley face emoji. The Nov. 22 message was paired with an image from a package tracker, showing an item as being just four days away.

The anticipated purchase: a new copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church – and just in time for “The Catechism in a Year (with Fr. Mike Schmitz)” podcast’s 2023 debut.

Hernandez, a lifelong Catholic who lives in central Nebraska’s Sandhills, is among more than 112,000 members of an official Facebook group for “The Catechism in a Year (with Fr. Mike Schmitz).”

“I’m hoping that it shows me the way to be a better Catholic, to be a better person, better able to follow God’s word,” Hernandez, 60, said of the podcast.

Father Mike Schmitz, a priest of the Diocese of Duluth, Minn., and a popular speaker and author, is seen in this 2022 promotion for Ascension’s “The Catechism in a Year” podcast, launching Jan. 1, 2023. The priest will host the podcast, reading the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church over the course of 365 daily podcast episodes. (CNS file/OSV News photo, courtesy Ascension)

The Jan. 1 launch of “The Catechism in a Year” podcast has generated notable excitement – especially among listeners of “The Bible in a Year (with Fr. Mike Schmitz)” podcast, which jumped to the No. 1 spot on Apple podcasts overall within 48 hours of its 2021 New Year’s Day launch.

“The Catechism in a Year” followed suit, topping Apple podcasts’ all categories chart Jan. 1.

Even before its launch, “The Catechism in a Year” hit No. 1 on Apple’s “Religion and Spirituality” chart, with “The Bible in a Year” at No. 2, as of Dec. 27. Both are products of Ascension, a Catholic publisher based in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Part of the appeal of both podcasts is the host, Father Mike Schmitz, a priest of the Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota, who had a robust social media presence prior to the podcast, and the podcast’s occasional commentary from Jeff Cavins, a Scripture scholar and former host of EWTN’s “Life on the Rock,” now living in a Minneapolis suburb.

Father Schmitz told OSV News he initially pitched the idea of a podcast exploring the Bible and the catechism simultaneously, but Ascension leaders “wisely” advised him to focus on one at a time.

“After reading through the whole Bible, I think people want to connect the dots,” he said. “They now understand the story of salvation in Scripture, they’re seeing the world through the ‘lens of Scripture.’ But how does that connect to the seven sacraments, to Catholic traditions, to the 2,000 years of history in our Catholic Church? I think people are curious and spiritually hungry and want to see how we got from the Acts of the Apostles to where the church is today.”

Cavins suspects there’s something more to the widespread interest in “The Catechism in a Year” beyond the success of “The Bible in a Year.” He credits the Holy Spirit, but he also thinks anticipation is sparked, in part, by the national and international turmoil of recent years, from U.S. politics to the pandemic, and people’s hunger for real truth.

“People are confused. They are hungry, they are scared, and we are offering them a sure foundation,” said Cavins, who developed the popular “The Great Adventure Bible Timeline,” the organizational basis for “The Bible in a Year” podcast.

– Searching for answers –
Other Catholic catechetical leaders agree that cultural confusion and division are driving Catholics’ desire to better understand the faith.

“I think people have seen a lot of chaos and a lot of things that just aren’t right, and that they have this desire to know the truth, and to understand why we do what we do,” said Kelly Wahlquist, executive director of the Archbishop Flynn Catechetical Institute, which Cavins helped to found in 2008 at The St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.

This year, the Catechetical Institute’s two-year foundational course “Pillars” is at its highest enrollment yet: 697 students between its first-year and second-year classes.

Polarization not only within broader society but also in the church has prompted people to wonder what the church actually teaches, said Donna Grimes, assistant director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church. In recent years, Catholic thought leaders have shared conflicting information about the church’s stance on controversial issues, including same-sex attraction, the liturgy and women’s role in the church – some of the same issues that received attention on diocesan and national levels in preparation for the worldwide Synod on Synodality.

“We have a duty and an obligation to really share the faith, to accompany people as they are exploring and growing in the faith and to continue to encourage that growth. And it just can’t be done without a focus on adult faith formation,” said Grimes, a longtime catechist and author of “All God’s People: Effective Catechesis in a Diverse Church” published in 2017 by Loyola Press in Chicago.

Grimes said anticipation for “The Catechism in a Year” podcast is not the only indicator that many Catholics want to better understand their faith, including Catholics from diverse ethnic communities, who may come from parishes without resources for paid faith formation staff, she said. She pointed to the success of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans and the Sankofa Institute for African American Pastoral Leadership in San Antonio, Texas.

Other initiatives underway include the OSV project Real+True, which includes videos and other content “to unlock the beauty and wisdom of the Catechism” and help people discover Jesus.

“The Catechism is not a textbook, a collection of ideas, or a set of rules. It is the faithful echo of a God who wishes to reveal himself to us and desires us to respond,” its website states.

– Catechism’s history –
Religious instruction in the Catholic Church has long included “catechisms,” or written summaries of core Catholic beliefs.

According to the USCCB’s website, a catechism is a book that “contains the fundamental Christian truths formulated in a way that facilitates their understanding,” and can be either “major” or “minor.”

“A major catechism is a resource or a point of reference for the development of minor catechisms,” it states, pointing to the Catechism of the Catholic Church as an example of a major catechism, and the U.S. bishops’ 1885 Baltimore Catechism as an example of a minor catechism.

In 1992, Pope St. John Paul II issued the Catechism of the Catholic Church for universal use, with an English edition published in the United States in 1994. The project was overseen by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and later became Pope Benedict XVI. The effort has been among his celebrated contributions in the wake of his Dec. 31 death.
It was updated in 1997, and then revised in 2018 by Pope Francis. 

In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI issued the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a synthesis of the catechism in Q&A format. 

– Catechism and Bible connections –
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is organized in four parts based on the Apostles’ Creed, the sacraments, the Ten Commandments, and Christian prayer.

Jane Hernandez, author of the Facebook post celebrating her enroute catechism, became interested in “The Catechism in a Year” podcast after following “The Bible in a Year” in 2021. As with the Bible, she had tried several times to read the catechism – and even tried to listen to it on Audible – but it didn’t “stick,” she said.

“After ‘Bible in a Year,’ I was able to really hear God’s Word, and I want to follow him the best way that I can,” said Hernandez, who works as a project manager for a medical software development company. “I think the catechism is part of that. It’s giving you … the structure to follow him – what should you do in order to be a good Catholic? That’s what I’m looking for.”

Like Cavins and others, Hernandez thinks people are eager to sift through confusion about church teaching and how they should live. “People are just thirsty. They’re hungry for this information, so that’s what I think is driving a lot of (interest),” she said.

Cavins acknowledged that “The Catechism in a Year” may not attract as many listeners as “The Bible in a Year,” which again topped Apple podcast’s charts at the beginning of 2022 and hovered at No. 25 in the United States at the end of the year. However, “CIY” listeners familiar with Scripture – including “BIY” devotees – will be rewarded by the connections they see between the Bible and the catechism, he said.

The Bible tells the story of salvation history, and the catechism shows a person how to join that story, he said. Cavins said approaching the catechism through that lens elevates it beyond the reference-book status it currently enjoys in many Catholics’ homes.

“You can present the message of the catechism two ways: One, it’s information and data about Catholicism. … It’s not going to be successful, and no one’s going to be that interested in it. And unfortunately, that’s sort of where it’s stuck right now,” he said. “The second is, it accompanies the (salvation history) story, and you’re in the story. And this is what’s going to help you live that story in a practical way.”

– Faith must be shared –
Petroc Willey and William Keimig, leaders of the Catechetical Institute at Franciscan University of Steubenville, which partners with 111 dioceses and has 1,000 new people a month connecting to their offerings, said that initiatives like “The Catechism in a Year” tap into “immense amounts of hidden strength in the church” and people’s “zeal … to be fed,” but that for faith formation to truly take root, it must be shared with others.

Even the best content can not replace the role of relationships in conveying the faith, said Keimig, the institute’s assistant director.

“However good the topics are … a desire to access it does not become consistent or sustained in an adult’s life unless it is accompanied by some structure or relationship,” he added.

Willey, the institute’s director and a professor of catechetics, suggested that the podcast’s listeners “make a decision to share one thing that struck them, either because of its truth, its beauty, its ‘hitting home,’ and share that with one other person every week.” That could be done with a friend or in a small group, he said.

In recent decades, Cavins has observed a rise in popularity for apologetics and Scripture study, and he thinks the church may be ripe for the catechism to have its own moment. Diocesan and parish faith formation leaders can leverage that, but the key, he said, is approaching the catechism as “an activated disciple who’s on mission with Christ” and who needs a guide, rooted in Scripture, to how to live as a Christian.

“I think we’re going to see an era where people are going to understand their faith better than they ever have in any other generation in American history,” Cavins said. “They’re going to understand their faith and … the proof will be in the pudding when people start sharing Christ with others.”

(Maria Wiering is senior writer for OSV News.)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘O Holy Night’ tops all hymns used in churches in December, according to poll

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The Christmas carol “O Holy Night” ranked first in a list of hymns most played in December at Christian churches in the United States.

“O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Silent Night” ranked second and third, respectively.
The list was compiled by Pushpay, which offers electronic giving options for churches and their congregants.

It asked its 15,000 subscribing churches last December what hymns they used that month, and released the results this Dec. 1. A Pushpay spokeswoman, Katie Griffin, could not supply a breakdown of Catholic parishes among those churches.

The top-10 list is filled with carols familiar to Catholics. Following the top three choices are, in order, “The First Noel,” “Joy To The World” and “Angels We Have Heard On High.”

Patti Labelle performs with Howard University Gospel Choir during the National Tree Lighting Ceremony at the Ellipse near the White House in Washington Dec. 2, 2021. (CNS photo/Leah Millis, Reuters)

Following those are two songs featured more in the repertoire of non-Catholic churches.

“Glorious Day,” which ranked seventh overall, was recorded by the contemporary Christian group Passion, featuring Kristian Stanfill on vocals. It is more of a salvation narrative without any lyrics taking note of the birth or infancy of Jesus. Still, the song’s official music and lyrics video has received 6.6 million views on YouTube.

There are several versions of the eighth-ranked song, “Goodness of God.” One video of the song has climbed up to 7 million YouTube views. The song is another in the Christian contemporary genre which focuses more on a first-person-singular, personal relationship with Jesus than a first-person plural voice found more often in Catholic hymnody.

Ninth is the gospel melody “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” which has found a home in many Catholic hymnals and parishes.

And, to prove that the list took into account all of December and not just the week beginning Dec. 25, winding up in the 10th spot was “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” an Advent song based on a chant melody familiar to Catholics not only in the United States but throughout the world.

Griffin told Catholic News Service it’s conducting the poll again this December. The top five songs from the 2020 poll were, in order, “Joy To The World,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Silent Night,” “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and “O Holy Night.”

Oregon commutations, Oklahoma scheduling pace key death penalty report

By Mark Pattison
WASHINGTON (CNS) – The commutation Dec. 13 of all condemned prisoners on Oregon’s death row was one key in the Death Penalty Information Center’s 2022 report on capital punishment in the United States.

Counterbalancing Oregon’s move was Oklahoma’s effort to execute 25 death-row inmates in a 29-month span.

Even though 2022 was another year with fewer than 30 executions, more than half of those were in just two states, Oklahoma and Texas.

By contrast, according to Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, there are 37 states that either do not issue death sentences or have not executed a prisoner in at least 10 years.

In its annual year-end report released Dec. 16, 2022, the Death Penalty Information Center says the use of capital punishment continued its long-term decline in the U.S. in 2022. (CNS screen grab/Death Penalty Information Center)

“That’s three-quarters of the country,” he told Catholic News Service in a Dec. 15 phone interview.
Fewer than 50 new death sentences were issued, but getting from a death sentence to an execution has proven more challenging for governments trying to impose the ultimate sentence, as botched executions and protocol errors led to halts in Alabama and Tennessee, while Kentucky became the second state to pass an exemption for serious mental illness.

Further, two more people were exonerated outright last year, bringing the total of exonerees since 1973 to 190. Concerns about innocence attracted unlikely spokespeople to the abolitionist cause, including Republican state legislators and self-described supporters of capital punishment, according to the report.

The Death Penalty Information Center’s prosecutorial accountability project has identified more than 550 trials in which capital convictions or death sentences were overturned or wrongfully convicted death-row prisoners were exonerated as a result of prosecutorial misconduct.

Half of those executed had spent 20 years or more on death row, according to the report, in violation of international human rights norms. Executions took place despite objections from county prosecutors and the relatives of victims. And 83% of prisoners executed in 2022 had evidence of a significant impairment.

“At least 13 of the people executed in 2022 had one or more of the following impairments: serious mental illness (eight); brain injury, developmental brain damage, or an IQ in the intellectually disabled range (five); chronic serious childhood trauma, neglect, and/or abuse (12),” the report explained.
“Three prisoners were executed for crimes committed in their teens,” it added. “At least four of the people executed this year were military veterans.”

The Supreme Court continued to withdraw the federal courts from regulation of death penalty cases, limiting access to federal habeas corpus review for death-row prisoners, vacating lower court rulings that had halted executions, and declining to review death-penalty cases that presented serious constitutional issues.

Public support for the death penalty is near its all-time low in the past 50 years. In a Gallup poll, support ticked up 1%, and opposition went down 1%, despite respondents’ concerns over a rise in violent crime.

Dunham said outgoing Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s mass commutation in Oregon was a big deal. The 17 whose sentences were commuted to life in prison without parole make up the second largest group in the past 50 years to receive a blanket pardon, next to Illinois Gov. George Ryan’s commutation of 160 death sentences in 2003.

“It is an irreversible punishment that does not allow for correction; is wasteful of taxpayer dollars; does not make communities safer; and cannot be and never has been administered fairly and equitably,” Brown said announcing the commutations.

The Death Penalty Information Center’s report said capital punishment continues to be applied discriminatorily. “Eight of the 18 prisoners executed were people of color: five were Black, one was Asian, one Native American and one Latino,” the report said.

One relatively unexamined result of November’s midterm elections was that prosecutors who support criminal legal reform were elected, and in some cases they succeeded death penalty advocates in the process.

In Shelby County, Tennessee, which includes Memphis, Attorney General Amy Weirich, a Republican, who had been investigated for prosecutorial misconduct, lost her reelection bid to Democrat Steve Mulroy, a law professor at the University of Memphis who had formerly been a civil rights prosecutor in the federal Department of Justice.

In Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, the incumbent prosecutor, a death penalty advocate, retired.
“Oklahoma County carried out more executions than any state except the state of Texas,” Dunham said. The county, which includes Oklahoma City, “has had more wrongful death penalty convictions overturned than three other counties in the United States,” he added. “So who do they elect? The former director of the Innocence Project.”

Editor’s Note: The Death Penalty Information Center’s full report can be found online at https://bit.ly/3G20ssK.


MENDOTA, Minn. (CNS) – A small article in a Christian magazine caught Bob O’Connell’s eye in 1982. It described a national program that provides Christmas presents to children who have a parent in prison. O’Connell was looking for a way to apply the Gospel message by serving the poor and suffering. “I had been in the charismatic movement … for seven, eight years,” said O’Connell, 78, a member of the Church of St. Peter in Mendota. “I was restless. I was itchy for doing something. I was just kind of bored. ‘OK, I’ve got a full-time job, but when it comes to doing some ministry, something for the Lord, I’m not doing anything.’ So, I thought, ‘What can I do?’” The article described a ministry called Project Angel Tree. It was started by a woman who had been incarcerated herself: Mary Kay Beard of Alabama. She had been hired by an organization called Prison Fellowship and was asked to come up with a Christmas project. She decided to erect Christmas trees at two local shopping malls and attach paper angels with the names of boys and girls who had a parent in prison. On the angels were gift ideas, and Beard coordinated a team of people to deliver gifts to these children of inmates. O’Connell started doing this in the Twin Cities that same year. He has done it every year since, coordinating the program from his Burnsville home. It has expanded to include northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and North and South Dakota. This year, Missouri was added to the list.

LANSING, Mich. (CNS) – A Catholic parish in the Diocese of Lansing has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court to protect its right to hire parish employees and staff for its grade school who uphold the tenets of the Catholic faith. The filing follows a July 28 ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court that reinterpreted a state civil rights statute’s definition of sex to include gender identity and sexual orientation without any exemption for religious organizations. Filed Dec. 5 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan-Southern Division, the suit names state Attorney General Dana Nessel, the Department of Civil Rights and the Civil Rights Commission. Becket, a Washington-based religious liberty law firm, is representing the plaintiff, St. Joseph Catholic Church in St. Johns, Michigan. Founded in 1857, it is the only Catholic parish in town. Its elementary school opened in 1924. The state Supreme Court’s “new understanding” of the civil rights statute “would make it illegal for St. Joseph to operate in accordance with the 2,000-year-old teachings of the Catholic Church on marriage and sexuality,” Becket said in a statement. “This threatens the school’s right to hire staff who will faithfully pass on the tenets of the faith to the next generation,” it said.

Bishop Jacinto Vera of Montevideo, Uruguay, who lived in the 1800s, will be beatified, Pope Francis announced in a series of decrees for sainthood causes released Dec. 17, 2022. (CNS photo/Archdiocese of Montevideo)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Decrying what he described as “hostile times” when antisemitism and violence against Christians are on the rise, Pope Francis said a renewed commitment to Catholic-Jewish dialogue is needed. “The path we have traveled together is considerable,” but the work clearly is not done, the pope told members of the Amitié Judéo-Chrétienne de France, a dialogue and education group founded in 1948 by Jules Isaac, a French historian who worked to improve Christian-Jewish relations after World War II and met with Popes Pius XII and John XXIII. “We must give thanks to God” for the progress, the pope said, especially “given the weight of mutual prejudices and the sometimes-painful history that must be acknowledged. The task is not finished, and I encourage you to persevere on the path of dialogue, fraternity and joint initiatives. This beautiful work, which consists in creating bonds, is fragile, always to be resumed and consolidated, especially in these hostile times in which attitudes of closure and rejection of the other are becoming more numerous, including with the worrying reappearance of antisemitism, particularly in Europe, and of violence against Christians.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Celebrating Christmas is important and beautiful, Pope Francis said, but he asked people to spend less on their celebrations this year and donate the savings to help the people of Ukraine. As he has done at his general audiences since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the pope asked pilgrims and visitors Dec. 14 to express their “closeness to the martyred Ukrainian people, persevering in fervent prayer for these brothers and sisters of ours who are suffering so much. Brothers and sisters, I tell you, they are suffering so very, very much in Ukraine,” the pope said. “I want to draw your attention to Christmas, which is coming, and to the festivities,” he said. “It’s beautiful to celebrate Christmas and have parties, but let’s reduce the level of Christmas spending a bit; let’s have a simpler Christmas with more modest gifts.” And, the pope said, “let’s send what we save to the people of Ukraine, who are suffering so much.” People in the country are hungry and cold, he said.

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (CNS) – Uruguay, South America’s most secular country, is poised to get its first homegrown saint. Bishop Jacinto Vera, the first bishop of Montevideo, was declared venerable in 2015 and on Dec. 17 the Vatican announced that he would be beatified, after Pope Francis formally signed off on a miracle attributed to the future saint. Bishop Vera’s path to sainthood not only reflects the country’s history, but also the new path for the church in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay under the stewardship of Pope Francis, an Argentine. “The image of a saint like Jacinto Vera, someone with such important meaning for our country and our history, is of great benefit for Catholics. He walked our country. There is not a place you go where he has not been,” said Father Gabriel González, a professor at the Catholic University of Uruguay who has written extensively about the life and work of Bishop Vera. Jacinto Vera was born at sea in 1813 to parents who set sail from Spain’s Canary Islands with the goal of reaching farmland in Uruguay, which was still a Spanish colony. He gravitated to the church early in life and studied with the Jesuits in neighboring Argentina until his ordination in 1841 as a diocesan priest. As bishop of Montevideo, he invited the Jesuits to return to Uruguay and brought in several congregations of women religious to reestablish order to a church on the fringes of the continent. González said the local church was in disarray, but that changed with Bishop Vera.

YANGON, Myanmar (CNS) – A Christmas of darkness, silence and fear awaits thousands of Christians in camps for internally displaced persons in Myanmar, where carols, decorations and illuminations are banned because of ongoing conflicts. The sounds of gunfire, fighter jets and artillery shelling have replaced those of carols and celebrations in predominantly Christian Kachin, Kayah, Karen and Chin states, reported ucanews.com. Thousands of Christians have been forced to take refuge in churches, makeshift camps and in forests following military attacks against civilians. Ucanews.com talked to some people in the camps, but, at their request, changed their names to protect their identities. Ucanews.com reported that Josephine Pho Mu, 42, said this is the second time since 1988 she has had to flee her home in Kayah state. “I thought we would be temporarily displaced and go back home. But we have been away from home and sheltering at this camp for 19 months,” said Pho Mu, who has taken refuge at a church-run camp in Loikaw, capital of Kayah state, after leaving her village in Demodo township in May 2021. The mother of three said this will be her second Christmas in the camp. “It is a mix of joy and sorrow when Christmas approaches. We are joyful about welcoming Jesus Christ’s birthday, but we are sorrowful as we are in the camp due to the conflict and don’t know when we will be able to return home.”