On Easter, pope asks Christ to ‘roll away’ the stones of war worldwide

By Justin McLellan

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Just as Jesus removed the stone that sealed his tomb on the morning of the Resurrection, on Easter Christ alone “has the power to roll away the stones that block the path to life” and which trap humanity in war and injustice, Pope Francis said.

Through his resurrection, Jesus opens “those doors that continually we shut with the wars spreading throughout the world,” he said after celebrating Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square March 31. “Only the risen Christ, by granting us the forgiveness of our sins, opens the way for a renewed world.”

Seated on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope asked the risen Christ to bring peace in Israel, Palestine and Ukraine and a host of other conflict-ridden regions in the world.

“In calling for respect for the principles of international law, I express my hope for a general exchange of all prisoners between Russia and Ukraine,” he said. “All for the sake of all!”

Pope Francis observes the crowd in St. Peter’s Square before he imparts his Easter blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica March 31, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Pope Francis then appealed to the international community to ensure access of humanitarian aid to Gaza and called for the “prompt release” of hostages taken during Hamas’ attack on Israel Oct. 7 as well as “an immediate cease-fire in the strip.”

“War is always an absurdity, war is always a defeat,” he said, asking that the “strengthening winds of war” do not reach Europe and the Mediterranean. “Let us not yield to the logic of weapons and rearming. Peace is never made with arms, but with outstretched hands and open hearts.”

Easter Mass in the flower-laden square began with the singing of the “alleluia,” traditionally absent from liturgical celebrations during Lent, as part of the rite of “Resurrexit” in which an icon of Jesus is presented to the pope to recall St. Peter’s witness to Christ’s resurrection.

More than 21,000 flower bulbs donated by Dutch flower growers decorated the square and popped with color against the overcast sky.

As is traditional, the pope did not give a homily during the morning Mass but bowed his head and observed several minutes of silent reflection after the chanting of the Gospel in both Latin and Greek.

Although the Vatican said Pope Francis stayed home from a Way of the Cross service at Rome’s Colosseum March 29 “to conserve his health” for the Easter vigil and Mass, the pope appeared in high spirits while greeting cardinals and bishops after the Mass. He spent considerable time riding the popemobile among the faithful, smiling and waving to the throngs of visitors in St. Peter’s Square and lining the long avenue approaching the Vatican.

The Vatican said some 30,000 people attended the pope’s morning Mass and, by noon, there were approximately 60,000 people inside and around St. Peter’s Square for his Easter message and blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world).

U.S. Cardinal James M. Harvey, archpriest of Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, stood alongside Pope Francis for the blessing and announced a plenary indulgence available to those present and to everyone following through radio, television and other channels of communication.

Stopping only occasionally to clear his throat, Pope Francis read the entirety of his Easter message and prayed for peace in several conflict hotspots around the world, including Syria, Lebanon, Haiti, Myanmar, Sudan, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

He also prayed for the Rohingya — a persecuted, predominantly Muslim, ethnic group residing largely in Myanmar — who he said are “beset by a grave humanitarian crisis.”

The pope praised the Western Balkan region’s steps toward European integration, urging the region to embrace its ethnic, cultural and confessional differences, as well as the peace negotiations taking place between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

“May the risen Christ open a path of hope to all those who in other parts of the world are suffering from violence, conflict, food insecurity and the effects of climate change. May he grant consolation to the victims of terrorism in all its forms,” he prayed, asking visitors to “pray for all those who have lost their lives and implore the repentance and conversion of the perpetrators of those crimes.”

On Easter, which Pope Francis said celebrates the life given to humanity through the resurrection of God’s son, he lamented “how much the precious gift of life is despised” today.

“How many children cannot even be born?” he asked. “How many die of hunger and are deprived of essential care or are victims of abuse and violence? How many lives are made objects of trafficking for the increasing commerce in human beings?”

“On the day when Christ has set us free from the slavery of death, I appeal to all who have political responsibilities to spare no efforts in combatting the scourge of human trafficking, by working tirelessly to dismantle the networks of exploitation and to bring freedom to those who are their victims,” he said.

Pope Francis also asked that the light of the risen Christ “shine upon migrants and on all those who are passing through a period of economic difficulty” as a source of consolation and hope.

“May Christ guide all persons of goodwill to unite themselves in solidarity, in order to address together the many challenges which loom over the poorest families in their search for a better life and happiness,” he said, praying that the light of the Resurrection “illumine our minds and convert our hearts, and make us aware of the value of every human life, which must be welcomed, protected and loved.”

Tears flow as pope washes feet of women inmates at Rome prison

By Cindy Wooden
ROME (CNS) – As Pope Francis poured water over their feet, dried them with a towel and kissed their feet, 12 women inmates at Rome’s Rebibbia prison wept.

The pope celebrated the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper March 28 at the women’s prison under a tent set up outside.

The 12 women whose feet were washed by Pope Francis during the liturgy sat on stools on a raised platform so the pope, who has difficulty walking, could wash their feet while seated in his wheelchair.
Many of the women were wearing warmup suits and were fidgeting as they awaited the pope. They included women from Italy, Bulgaria, Nigeria, Ukraine, Peru, Venezuela and Bosnia-Herzegovina. All are housed in the medium-security section, Vatican News reported.

Since it was Pope Francis’ first Holy Thursday visit to a prison with only women present, it was the first time as pope that he washed the feet only of women.

Pope Francis washes the feet of an inmate at the Rebibbia women’s prison on the outskirts of Rome as he celebrates the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper March 28, 2024. The pontiff washed the feet of 12 inmates at the prison. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

After Mass, he gave a large chocolate Easter egg to a little boy, the only toddler currently living with his mother in the prison, according to the prison director. Italian prisons have special units for mothers with children and the law allows women who are detained to keep their children with them until they are 3 years old.

Pope Francis has made a tradition of celebrating the Holy Thursday Mass at a prison or juvenile detention facility, often washing the feet of both men and women, whether Catholic or not.

And, keeping with his practice at the facilities, he gave only a brief homily, speaking without notes.
By washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus humbles himself, the pope said. “With this gesture, he makes us understand what he had said, ‘I came not to be served but to serve.’ He teaches us the path of service.”

The evening Gospel reading also included the line, “The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.”

Pope Francis told the women that Judas was incapable of love, and so “money, selfishness lead him to this horrible thing” of betraying Jesus.

But, the pope said, “Jesus forgives everything. Jesus always forgives. He only asks that we ask pardon.”
Quoting a “wise, old woman,” Pope Francis said, “Jesus never tires of forgiving, but we tire of asking forgiveness.”

“Today, let’s ask the Lord for the grace not to tire,” he said. “All of us have small failures, big failures – everyone has their own story – but the Lord awaits us always with open arms and never tires of forgiving.”
Before he washed the women’s feet, he encouraged the women to pray that “the Lord will make all of us grow in the vocation of service.”

The Vatican press office said about 200 people were present, including many seated outside the tent on the lawn. The prison director said 360 women are currently housed at the facility.

Archbishop Diego Giovanni Ravelli, the papal master of liturgical ceremonies, was the main celebrant at the altar.

Father Andrea Carosella, the main chaplain at the Rebibbia prison complex, told Vatican News that the women themselves invited the pope. “For them, the pope’s visit is a sign of his great attention to the prison reality and is a great encouragement.”

Pope Francis washing the women’s feet, he said, “is a sign of the mercy and love of God who goes out to meet the suffering and pain of humanity.”

Sister Maria Pia Iammarino, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor, told Vatican News that Pope Francis’ ministry to the women is a model.

In her ministry at the prison, she said, “I do not need to tell them that God loves them, but to be a witness of God’s love for them, to look at them with benevolence and acceptance without judgment. Then, when you have gained the trust of the inmates, you can add words.”

Dutch donors create Easter garden in St. Peter’s Square

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN (CNS) – Three semitrucks full of flowers and plants – doused with holy water by a bishop before beginning their journey from the Netherlands – arrived in St. Peter’s Square March 30.

Since 1985 Dutch flower growers have created the garden of blooms, bud-laden bushes and flowering trees that frame the popes’ celebrations of Easter in St. Peter’s Square.

After Easter the flowers, shrubs and trees are planted in the Vatican Gardens and in the gardens at the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.

Working with the gardening team from the Vatican City State governors’ office, Dutch florists and two dozen volunteers – including Dutch citizens living in Rome – gather in the square in the early morning quiet of Holy Saturday to empty the trucks and arrange the flowers.

In a press release March 26, the Dutch florists said the 2024 Easter array would feature more than 21,000 bulbs: 16,320 tulips and daffodils and 5,180 hyacinths. They will be complemented with 3,500 gerberas and 600 bouvardias.

The altar and the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica were decorated with 1,250 Avalanche roses, 700 delphiniums, 600 chrysanthemums, 350 anthuriums, 100 budding forsythia branches and hundreds of Matthiola StoX antique roses in white, yellow, cream and purple.


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 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.

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.


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)

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 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.

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.

Vatican publishes full papal schedule for Holy Week, Easter

By Justin McLellan
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis’ calendar for Holy Week and Easter is just as full as in previous years despite a mild illness which has caused him to cancel meetings in the days leading up to the release of his liturgical calendar for March.

The pope canceled meetings Feb. 24 and Feb. 26 due to “flu-like symptoms,” the Vatican said. Although he held his general audience Feb. 28, an aide read Pope Francis’ prepared remarks, and the Vatican said he briefly visited a Rome hospital after the audience for medical tests.

The pope is scheduled preside over all the major liturgical celebrations of Holy Week.

As is customary when first publishing the pope’s calendar for Holy Week, the Vatican did not provide the time or place for his celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, March 28.

Pope Francis has made it a tradition to celebrate the Mass and foot-washing ritual at a prison or detention center, refugee center or rehabilitation facility; last year he did so at a prison for minors in Rome.

Here is the schedule of papal liturgical ceremonies and events for March released by the Vatican Feb. 29:

– March 24, Palm Sunday, morning Mass in St. Peter’s Square.

– March 28, Holy Thursday, morning chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.

– March 29, Good Friday, afternoon liturgy of the Lord’s passion in St. Peter’s Basilica.

– March 29, Way of the Cross at night at Rome’s Colosseum.

– March 30, Easter vigil Mass in the evening in St. Peter’s Basilica.

– March 31, Easter morning Mass in St. Peter’s Square, followed at noon by the pope’s blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world).

Pope praises those assisting victims, clearing anti-personnel minefields

By Carol Glatz , Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Anti-personnel mines are “devious” weapons that continue to kill innocent civilians and children long after a conflict has ended, Pope Francis said.

“I thank all those who offer their help to assist victims and clean up contaminated areas,” he said at the end of his weekly general audience in the Paul VI Audience Hall Feb. 28.

“Their work is a concrete response to the universal call to be peacemakers, taking care of our brothers and sisters,” he said.

A graphic, entitled “The Persistent Scourge of Landmines,” shows the global number of mine/explosive remnants of war casualties per year. Copyrighted work created by Statista available under Creative Commons attribution only license CC by 4.0 (CNS photo/Statista, CC by 4.0)

The pope, who was still dealing with a cold, read aloud his remarks about landmines after having aides read his lengthier catechesis and greetings during the audience.

March 1 marks the 25th anniversary of the entry into force of the Ottawa Convention, which prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines and mandates assisting victims, clearing minefields and destroying stockpiles.

Anti-personnel mines, the pope said, “continue to target innocent civilians, particularly children, even many years after the end of hostilities.”

“I express my closeness to the many victims of these devious devices, which remind us of the dramatic cruelty of war and the price civilian populations are forced to pay,” he said.

At least 4,710 casualties of mines and explosive remnants of war were recorded in 2022, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines said in its 2023 report. Civilians made up 85% of all recorded casualties in places where the military or civilian status was known, and children accounted for half of all civilian casualties, where ages were recorded.

Anti-personnel landmines were used by Ukraine, Myanmar and Russia during 2022 and the first half of 2023, the report by the global coalition of non-governmental organizations said.

“Russia has used anti-personnel mines extensively in Ukraine since invading the country in February 2022, resulting in an unprecedented situation in which a country that is not party to the Mine Ban Treaty is using the weapon on the territory of a state party,” it wrote.

Non-state armed groups used anti-personnel mines in at least five countries in 2022: Colombia, India, Myanmar, Thailand and Tunisia and countries in or bordering the Sahel region of Africa, it added.

At least 60 countries and other areas are contaminated by anti-personnel mines.

Eighty percent of the world’s nations have joined the mine ban treaty, and while 33 states remain outside of the treaty, most of them do not use or produce antipersonnel mines, it said.

A small number of countries are actively producing anti-personnel landmines and they are likely to include India, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan and Russia, The biggest stockpiles are held by Russia, Pakistan, India, China and the United States.

A graphic, entitled “Where are the Landmines?”, shows global landmine contamination statuses as of 2022. Copyrighted work created by Statista available under Creative Commons attribution only license CC by 4.0 (CNS photo/Statista, CC by 4.0)


MONTGOMERY, Ala. (OSV News) – Alabama lawmakers in both the state’s House and Senate Feb. 29 passed similar bills to implement legal protections to in vitro fertilization clinics following a ruling by that state’s Supreme Court that frozen embryos qualify as children under the state law’s wrongful death law. IVF is a form of fertility treatment opposed by the Catholic Church on the grounds that it often involves the destruction of human embryos, among other concerns. Both chambers passed similar bills, but they must reconcile their pieces of legislation before sending one to the governor’s desk. Republican Gov. Kay Ivey has signaled her support for protecting IVF in law. The ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court found that embryos are children under the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act, a statute that allows parents of a deceased child to recover punitive damages for their child’s death. That ruling came in response to appeals brought by couples whose embryos were destroyed in 2020, when a hospital patient improperly removed frozen embryos from storage equipment, which they argued constituted a wrongful death. The judges found that under the law, parents’ ability to sue over the wrongful death of a minor child applies to unborn children, without an exception for “extrauterine children.” Though limited in scope, the ruling has created complex legal questions about what it entailed for IVF treatments in the state.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (OSV News) – A candidate for sainthood is inspiring Catholic Scouts in Illinois to earn a new patch while deepening their relationship with Christ in the Eucharist. The Catholic Committee on Scouting in the Diocese of Springfield has announced the creation of the Venerable Father Augustine Tolton Activity Patch, which honors the first recognized Black priest in the U.S. Requirements for the patch include learning about Tolton’s life, visiting a seminary or religious community to better understand vocational discernment, modeling Father Tolton’s patient disposition and engaging in prayer. Kyle Holtgrave, the diocese’s director for catechesis, said the inspiration for the Tolton patch came from the upcoming National Eucharistic Congress, set to take place in Indianapolis July 17-21 as the culmination of the three-year National Eucharistic Revival, a grassroots effort by the U.S. bishops to rekindle devotion to the Real Presence. Father Tolton, who persisted in his faith despite systemic racism and rejection, exemplified a love for the Eucharist – one that speaks to a new generation, said Holtgrave.

WASHINGTON (OSV News) – The ability of Catholic and other faith-based groups to “meet migrants’ basic human needs” at the U.S.-Mexico border is a religious liberty issue and must be defended, U.S. bishops said in recent statements. In a Feb. 26 statement issued in response to a lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in an attempt to shut down Annunciation House, a Catholic nonprofit in El Paso serving migrants, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, expressed solidarity with faith-driven ministries to migrants. He noted the “strong tradition of religious liberty” in the U.S. “allows us to live out our faith in full,” and said that as “the tragic situation along our border with Mexico increasingly poses challenges for American communities and vulnerable persons alike, we must especially preserve the freedom of Catholics and other people of faith to assist their communities and meet migrants’ basic human needs.” Paxton’s suit targeting El Paso’s Annunciation House comes as some Republicans have grown increasingly hostile toward nongovernmental organizations, particularly Catholic ones, that provide resources such as food and shelter to migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Bishop Rhoades’ statement followed the Texas bishops’ Feb. 23 statement, which he praised for “expressing solidarity with those seeking simply to fulfill the fundamental biblical call: ‘whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

An image taken with the near-infrared camera from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope shows the Ring Nebula Aug. 21, 2023. (CNS photo/courtesy ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, M. Barlow, N. Cox, R. Wesson)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Orbiting the sun nearly 1 million miles from Earth, the James Webb Space Telescope is reshaping the way scientists understand the universe and its origins, a number of astronomers said at a Vatican-sponsored meeting. “The telescope is able to see things that prior telescopes just could not see,” Jonathan Lunine, a professor of astronomy and department chair at Cornell University, told Catholic News Service Feb. 28. It has such unprecedented power in terms of its sensitivity, wavelength range and image sharpness that it is “doing revolutionary things” and leading to exciting new discoveries in multiple fields, he said. Lunine, who is a planetary scientist and physicist, was one of nearly 50 experts in the field of astronomy attending a Feb. 27-29 workshop organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to discuss the newest results from the Webb telescope. Launched Dec. 25, 2021, NASA’s latest space science observatory is the largest and most powerful space telescope ever built. It began sending full-color images and data back to Earth after it became fully operational in July 2022. NASA said on its Webb.nasa.gov page, “Telescopes show us how things were – not how they are right now,” which helps humanity “understand the origins of the universe.” “Webb is so sensitive it could theoretically detect the heat signature of a bumblebee at the distance of the Moon,” it said.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Crying out to God and demanding answers when one’s child dies is anything but a sign of a lack of faith, Pope Francis told a group of grieving Italian parents. “There is nothing worse than silencing pain, putting a silencer on suffering, removing traumas without facing them, as our world often encourages in its rush and numbness,” the pope said in a speech written for members of the “Talità Kum” Association from Vicenza, Italy. While the pope had an aide read his speech March 2 because he was suffering from bronchitis, he personally greeted each member of the group. In the text, the pope said he wanted to “offer a caress to your heart, broken and pierced like that of Jesus on the cross: a heart that is bleeding, a heart bathed in tears and torn apart by a heavy sense of emptiness.” The loss of a child is “an experience that defies theoretical descriptions and rejects the triviality of religious or sentimental words” or “sterile encouragements,” the text said. Recognizing that too often the pious phrases Christians offer to grieving parents do nothing to help and may just add to the pain, the pope said that the best response is “to imitate the emotion and compassion of Jesus in the face of pain,” not trying to minimize it, but to share it.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (OSV News) – As the wave of violence torments gang-decimated Haiti, six male religious, a lay teacher and a priest were kidnapped in two separate incidents Feb. 23 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital. The six members of the Congregation of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart were abducted on their way to the John XXIII School, which is run by the order. A teacher who was with them was also taken, the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need confirmed. “In view of this painful event, the John XXIII institution is closing its doors until further notice. The other institutions of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart throughout the country will continue the work of raising awareness among the new generation of the values of living together in harmony, with a view to the emergence of a new society that is more humane, more caring, and more united,” said the congregation in a statement sent to ACN. Only a few hours later, a priest was also kidnapped in Port-au-Prince. He was taken from his parish church, alongside some of the faithful, soon after celebrating morning Mass. Despite the tireless work of the church, clergy and religious have not been spared the violence of armed gangs.

DORI, Burkina Faso (OSV News) – At least 15 people were killed in an attack by gunmen on Catholics gathered for Sunday Mass in a Burkina Faso village Feb. 25, according to multiple news reports. Twelve Catholics were dead at the scene in the village of Essakane, with another three dying while being treated at a health center, and two others wounded, according to a statement from Bishop Laurent Birfuoré Dabiré of the Diocese of Dori in Northern Burkina Faso, which includes Essakane. “In these painful circumstances, we invite you to pray for the eternal rest of those who have died in the faith, for the healing of the wounded and for the consolation of sorrowful hearts,” the bishop said in the statement. “We also pray for the conversion of those who continue to sow death and desolation in our country. May our efforts of penance and prayer during this period of Lent bring peace and security to our country, Burkina Faso,” the bishop said. According to AP, no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but jihadis who have perpetuated similar violence are suspected of carrying it out. Christians in Burkina Faso have been increasingly targeted in recent years by terrorist groups amid political and social upheaval.

Pope: During Lent, leave appearances aside and listen to God

By Justin McLellan
ROME (CNS) – In an age when even one’s most intimate thoughts and feelings can become fodder for social media, Lent is a time to cast aside appearances and to find God at work in the depths of the heart, Pope Francis said.

Without realizing it, Christians have become immersed “in a world in which everything, including our emotions and deepest feelings, has to become ‘social,’” the pope said while celebrating Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome to mark the beginning of Lent Feb. 14.

Today, “even the most tragic and painful experiences risk not having a quiet place where they can be kept,” he said. “Everything has to be exposed, shown off, fed to the gossip mill of the moment.”

Dressed in purple vestments to mark the Lenten season, Pope Francis said Lent is a chance for Christians to ensure their relationship with God “is not reduced to mere outward show.”

Lent “immerses us in a bath of purification,” he said. “It means looking within ourselves and acknowledging our real identity, removing the masks we so often wear, slowing the frantic pace of our lives and embracing the truth of who we are.”

Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, sprinkles ashes on Pope Francis’ head during Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome Feb. 14, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The Lenten practices of “almsgiving, prayer and fasting are not mere external practices; they are paths that lead to the heart, to the core of the Christian life,” he added, encouraging Christians to “love the brothers and sisters all around us, to be considerate to others, to feel compassion, to show mercy, to share all that we are and all that we have with those in need.”

The liturgy began with a prayer at the nearby Church of St. Anselm, which is part of a Benedictine monastery on Rome’s Aventine Hill. Chanting the litany of saints, cardinals, joined by Benedictine and Dominican religious, then processed to the Basilica of Santa Sabina – considered the mother church of the Dominican order – for Mass.

Pope Francis, who has regularly used a wheelchair since May 2022, did not participate in the procession. In the basilica the pope blessed the ashes with holy water, praying that “we recognize that we are dust and to dust we will return.”

The pope received ashes from Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, who also was the Mass’s main celebrant at the altar.

In his homily, Pope Francis said “the ashes placed on our head invite us to rediscover the secret of life.”
“We are ashes on which God has breathed his breath of life,” he said. “And if, in the ashes that we are, the fire of the love of God burns, then we will discover that we have indeed been shaped by that love and called to love others in turn.”

Pope Francis also recalled the day’s Gospel reading from St. Matthew, in which Jesus tells his disciples not to make a public show of their prayer but to rather “go to your inner room” to pray.

Jesus’ message “is a salutary invitation for us, who so often live on the surface of things, who are so concerned to be noticed, who constantly need to be admired and appreciated,” he said.

The pope urged Christians to “return to the center of yourself,” where “so many fears, feelings of guilt and sin are lurking.”

“Precisely there the Lord has descended in order to heal and cleanse you,” he said. “Let us enter into our inner chamber: There the Lord dwells, there our frailty is accepted and we are loved unconditionally.”

Pope Francis suggested that during Lent Christians make space to incorporate silent adoration into their lives, as practiced by Moses, Elijah, Mary and Jesus.

“Have we realized that we’ve lost the meaning of adoration? Let us return to adoration,” he said.

Like St. Francis of Assisi, Christians should “strip ourselves of worldly trappings and return to the heart, to what is essential,” the pope said. “Let us acknowledge what we are: dust loved by God.”


Bishop Peter M. Muhich of Rapid City, S.D., revealed Feb. 14, 2024, that he is entering hospice due to cancer. He is pictured in an undated photo. (OSV News photo/courtesy Diocese of Rapid City)

RAPID CITY, S.D. (OSV News) – The Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota, announced “with sorrow” that its shepherd, Bishop Peter M. Muhich, died Feb. 17. “Bishop Peter, 62, was in hospice care after suffering from esophageal cancer. Please continue to pray for the soul of our shepherd,” the diocese said in a statement. “Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may your perpetual light shine upon him.” Funeral arrangements are pending. Two days earlier a message from the Diocese of Rapid City called for a novena for their bishop Feb. 15-22, the feast of the chair of St. Peter. “In our prayers for Bishop Peter leading up to this feast, we are also giving thanks for his leadership and imploring the Lord that we may enjoy this leadership for more years to come,” it said. On Feb. 14, Bishop Muhich had announced he was moving into hospice treatment, and planned to offer his suffering from cancer to increase devotion to the Eucharist. “I have reached another step along my journey with cancer. Despite the best efforts of my health care team, all treatment options have been exhausted and there is no more that can be done without causing greater harm to my system,” Bishop Muhich said in an announcement released by the diocese. On Feb. 15, a message from the Diocese of Rapid City called for a novena for their bishop Feb. 15-22, the feast of the chair of St. Peter.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (OSV News) – The Nashville Diocese announced Feb. 9 that Father Juan Carlos Garcia, a former associate pastor at St. Philip Catholic Church in Franklin, who was ordained nearly four years ago, has been indicted by a grand jury on multiple sex abuse charges. A Williamson County grand jury indicted the priest on one count of continuous sexual abuse of a child, one count of aggravated sexual battery, four counts of sexual battery by an authority figure and two counts of sexual battery. The Nashville Diocese removed Father Garcia from his parish post and from public ministry in January while the Franklin Police Department investigated reports of sexual misconduct. The police began their investigation of Father Garcia after representatives of the Nashville Diocese contacted the police department to provide information it had received regarding alleged misconduct. He was booked into the Williamson County Jail Feb. 9 and as of midday Feb. 13, he remained in custody. Father Garcia, ordained to the priesthood in 2020, was assigned to St. Philip in July 2022. In early November, St. Philip officials reported to the Diocese of Nashville Safe Environment Office that a teen in the parish had made a report of improper touching involving Father Garcia. Per diocesan protocols, a report was immediately made by the diocese and St. Philip representatives to the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The second assembly of the Synod of Bishops on synodality will meet Oct. 2-27 and will be preceded by several formal studies coordinated by the synod general secretariat working with various offices of the Roman Curia. The Vatican announced the dates for the assembly Feb. 17, indicating that the desire of some synod members to spend less time in Rome was not accepted. The fall assembly will be preceded by a retreat for members Sept. 30-Oct. 1, the Vatican said. And in response to a formal call by members of the first assembly of the synod, Pope Francis has agreed to the establishment of “study groups that will initiate, with a synodal method, the in-depth study of some of the themes that emerged.” In a chirograph, or brief papal document, released Feb. 17, the pope said that “these study groups are to be established by mutual agreement between the competent dicasteries of the Roman Curia and the General Secretariat of the Synod, which is entrusted with coordination.” However, the papal note did not list the topics to be studied nor the members of the groups. The synod office said it hoped the approved groups and their members could be announced by mid-March.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – One day, Jesuit Father Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis, wanted to make sure a group of visitors did not go home hungry, so he whipped up a huge omelet loaded with onions and potatoes. One of those guests, Claudio Perusini, who still remembers that meal fondly, was in Rome for the canonization of Argentina’s first female saint Feb. 11. It was his inexplicable recovery from a devastating stroke in 2017 that became the second miracle needed for the canonization of Blessed María Antonia de Paz Figueroa, known as Mama Antula. Perusini met the pope when he was 17 on a trip with five others for an ordination. After the ordination, then-Father Bergoglio, who was provincial superior of the Jesuits, invited the group “to the residence of the Catholic university, where he cooked us an enormous omelet with 30 eggs,” onions and potatoes, he told the Punto Medio program on Radio2 in Argentina.

“He divided it into six and served each of us, and since then I have been friends with him,” he told the radio in late October after the Vatican announced Pope Francis had approved the miracle attributed to the intercession of Mama Antula. The last time Perusini saw the pope was in 2014 when he and his wife, María Laura Baranda, had an audience at the Vatican. “I brought him ‘dulce de leche,’ ‘alfajores’ (cookies) from Santa Fe, drawings from my children and craft beer that I make,” he told the radio. The pope gave away the food, but not the beer, he said.

LVIV, Ukraine (OSV News) – As Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine reaches the two-year mark, the Knights of Columbus are calling for nine days of prayer to end the bloodshed. The national chaplains of the Knights in Ukraine, Metropolitan Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Lviv and Ukrainian Greek Catholic Bishop Mykhailo Bubniy of the Archiepiscopal Exarchate of Odesa, recently announced a “Novena for Peace and Healing in Ukraine.” In their joint appeal, the bishops invited “the brotherhood of the Knights and people of good will around the world” to begin the novena on Feb. 15, nine days ahead of the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty on Feb. 24, 2022. The war has been declared a genocide in two collaborative reports by the New Lines Institute and the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights. Szymon Czyszek, director of international growth in Europe for the Knights of Columbus, previously told OSV News that his organization’s members are “doing heroic work, and they are willing to risk their lives to bring aid to people in places like Avdiivka and … other villages that (are) close to the front line.” To date, the Knights have provided close to $22.4 million in aid to Ukraine, even as their organization, along with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, was outlawed by a Russian occupation official in the Zaporizhzhia region.

MAKURDI, Nigeria (OSV News) – Nigeria is one of the countries in the world with the best Mass attendance. As many as 94% of self-identified Nigerian Catholics surveyed said they attend weekly or daily Mass, according to a study published in early 2023 by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. The World Values Survey, which conducted the poll, doesn’t survey all countries in the world, but among those asked, Nigerian Catholics had the highest Mass attendance, followed by Kenya (73%) and Lebanon (69%). At the same time, both Christian Concern and Open Doors, organizations that track Christian persecution in the word rank Nigeria as one of the worst countries for Christians to live in after North Korea, and followed by India, Iran, China, Pakistan and Eritrea as top countries for Christian persecution. Father Moses Iorapuu, director of social communications for the Diocese of Makurdi, said that Christianity should continue to grow in an environment as hostile as Nigeria, because “this is the mystery of our faith: The blood of the martyrs remains the seed of Christianity.” Nigeria’s Intersociety advocacy group said over 100,000 unarmed and defenseless citizens have died directly or indirectly outside the law in the hands of security forces in the past eight years, between August 2014 and December 2023. Emeka Umeagbalasi, director of Intersociety, said the killings are part of a government agenda to “Islamize Nigeria.”

VALPARAISO, Chile (OSV News) – Since wildfires devastated areas in the province of Valparaíso and other regions of Chile early February, authorities and international agencies have multiplied their efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the communities. OSV News spoke with Lorenzo Figueroa, director of Caritas Chile, about what he called a tremendous catastrophe, saying that in addition to at least 131 lives lost, the number of those missing and the extent of the damage has yet to be determined. “There is talk of up to 20,000 houses affected,” said Figueroa, for whom psychological damage is also a determining factor during and after these emergencies. Figueroa highlighted the community’s participation in the recovery and assistance efforts amid this natural and human tragedy. “Their knowledge, their experience. They know their territory and are active protagonists,” he explained. And after the emergency aid organizations leave “the community is no longer the same because they remain organized” to face emergencies, he added. For Figueroa, the support of other organizations is fundamental, not only financially but also in terms of experience, training and human resources, which add up when it comes to providing the necessary support to the victims. “The action of Caritas all over the world is an expression of humanitarian action in which we express ourselves as a family and the help of CRS and USAID allows us to take care of our common home, our people and those most in need,” Figueroa said.