WASHINGTON (OSV News) – Surgical, chemical or other interventions that aim “to exchange” a person’s “sex characteristics” for those of the opposite sex “are not morally justified,” said the U.S. bishops’ doctrine committee in a statement released March 20. “What is of great concern, is the range of technological interventions advocated by many in our society as treatments for what is termed ‘gender dysphoria’ or ‘gender incongruence,’” it said. The statement urged “particular care” be taken “to protect children and adolescents, who are still maturing and who are not capable of providing informed consent” for surgical procedures or treatments such as chemical puberty blockers, which arrest the natural course of puberty and prevent the development of some sex characteristics in the first place.” Technological advances that enable the cure of “many human maladies” today and “promise to cure many more” have “been a great boon to humanity,” but there are “moral limits to technological manipulation of the human body,” it said. “The human person, body and soul, man or woman, has a fundamental order and finality whose integrity must be respected.” The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Administrative Committee March 15 approved release of the 14-page statement by the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine, chaired by Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (OSV News) – In a legislative development that has drawn concern from both Catholic and labor leaders, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, R-Ark., signed into law March 8 the Youth Hiring Act of 2023 which eliminates state age verification for children younger than 16 seeking a job. Arkansas law previously stipulated the Arkansas Department of Labor issue an official employment certificate for minors under 16 seeking to work, which included parental or guardian permission, a job description and schedule – measures considered a deterrent to potential child labor law violators. Dennis Lee, diocesan chancellor for administrative affairs, told OSV News the Little Rock Diocese “is concerned about the exploitation of children and youth under the age of 16 to perform dangerous jobs.” He said removing the “reasonable, non-burdensome law” means they will have to rely on enforcement of remaining state and federal laws to protect children. Benjamin Smith, senior child labor specialist at the International Labor Organization, said the law’s removal “only heightens the risk that children will become involved in child labor.” The law’s revision also increases risks to migrant children as parental permissions on file with the state are no longer required. The U.S. Labor Department reports it has 600 ongoing child labor investigations, while witnessing a 69% increase in children illegally employed since 2018. The department called for Congress to take action, noting Feb. 27 “the challenge of child labor exploitation – particularly of migrant children – increases nationwide.”

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (OSV News) – Wyoming became the first state in the nation to specifically ban the use or prescription of abortion pills on March 17. Gov. Mark Gordon, R-Wyo., signed the law with a ruling by a federal judge in Texas still outstanding that could potentially implement a nationwide ban on the drug mifepristone amid a legal challenge brought by pro-life groups. The state’s legislature passed two pieces of legislation in March that would restrict abortion in the state, but the governor allowed the other bill to become law without his signature.

VATICAN CITY (OSV News) – Reflecting on people’s right to remain in their country of origin, share in the common good and live in dignity will be the focus of Pope Francis’ next message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. The pope chose “Free to choose whether to migrate or to stay” as the theme for the 2023 world day, which will be celebrated Sept. 24. The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development released the theme of the message March 21. The pope chose this theme to foster “renewed reflection on a right that has not yet been codified at the international level: the right not to have to migrate or, in other words, the right to be able to remain in one’s own land,” the dicastery said in a communique. “The right to remain is older, more deeply rooted and broader than the right to migrate,” the dicastery said. “It includes the possibility of sharing in the common good, the right to live in dignity and to have access to sustainable development.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The faithful must set aside their egos and sense of superiority over others to make room for God and his tender mercy, Pope Francis said at a Lenten penance service. “Only those who are poor in spirit and who are conscious of their need of salvation and forgiveness come into the presence of God,” he said March 17. And those whose hearts are filled with haughty, self-righteous comparisons and judgment, “you will go to hell,” he said in his homily. The pope led the penance service in a Rome parish, rather than St. Peter’s Basilica, to mark the start of the worldwide celebration of “24 Hours for the Lord.” In his homily, the pope talked about the danger of being proud of one’s “religious accomplishments” and believing oneself better than others. “Brothers, sisters, let us remember this: The Lord comes to us when we step back from our presumptuous ego,” the pope said.

UNITED NATIONS (OSV News) – It was his first speaking engagement at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York, and Gabriel Cobb, who has Down syndrome, was admittedly “a little nervous.” But it was obviously nothing the 22-year-old Catholic from St. Louis couldn’t handle. “I am Gabriel, God’s messenger,” he told OSV News in a March 17 interview, moments before he was set to address a U.N. gathering of advocates for those with Down syndrome and autism who were discussing the challenges faced by families raising children with different developmental expectations and milestones. Gabriel’s speech highlighted the role his family played in his life. “I have two loving parents who have always kept the ball high,” Gabriel told the U.N. conference hall. Gabriel explained he was a triathlon athlete, which meant he swam, ran and biked all in one race – and not just once, but 10 times. “I have done it, I am a triathlete,” he exclaimed, to loud applause. Gabriel vowed “to continue to … compete” and he thanked the “coaches, family and friends, who have encouraged me to press boundaries.” He said, “I pray that I have given them joy and inspiration. Because, with their help, I have Down syndrome and I have no limitations.”

WARSAW, Poland (OSV News) – Polish church leaders have welcomed renewed calls for the beatification of a popular priest, Father Franciszek Blachnicki (1921-1987), following official confirmation that he was killed by communist secret police agents. “Most Poles still feel a sense of unfulfilled justice, and the murder of priests forms part of this – particularly when attempts to uncover the truth still face impediments,” said Father Piotr Mazurkiewicz, former secretary-general of COMECE, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union. “If Father Blachnicki is beatified, it will be a sign that the church in Poland remains dynamic and vivacious, even though Western secularizing processes are at work here. For people of faith, it will also show that saints and witnesses are still living among us.” A historian working on the case, Andrzej Grajewski, told Poland’s Catholic Information Agency (KAI) March 17 a married couple, Jolanta and Andrzej Gontarczyk, had “crept skillfully” into Father Blachnicki’s trusted inner circle while working as Interior Ministry agents codenamed “Yon” and “Panna,” and had been named by the Poland’s National Remembrance Institute as prime suspects in his murder.

LONDON (OSV News) – England’s Catholic cardinal has pledged his church’s allegiance to King Charles III ahead of his May 6 coronation, as the new monarch praised the work of faith communities in national life. “For so many years, we have observed your desire and unstinting efforts to explore and enhance the well-being of the entire human family, through your commitment to religious faith, protection of the environment and relief of poverty,” said Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster. “The Catholic community is profoundly supportive of these fundamental concerns, as we strive to offer our society, your kingdom, an education for young people that is rooted in faith and its consequent commitment to human dignity.” The cardinal spoke while heading a 12-member Catholic delegation to a March. 9 ceremony in London’s Buckingham Palace, during which similar pledges were made by the representatives of the Protestant Church of England and Church of Scotland and 27 other Christian denominations, as well as of Jewish communities, royal academies, city guilds and historic universities. Meanwhile, the king paid tribute to the contribution of churches and other associations to the United Kingdom’s “national fabric,” and to advancing mutual knowledge and understanding.


FORT WORTH, Texas (OSV News) – Jonathan Roumie, who plays Jesus in the hit streaming series “The Chosen,” spoke to OSV News about his latest role in “Jesus Revolution,” why he plans to do some “heavy fasting” this Lent, and how he hopes to “bring people together under the banner of Christ.” Playing a charismatic but troubled evangelist in his new film marks a shift for Roumie, who admits some fans “may be a little thrown” by the contrast with his former role. Yet Roumie relies on his Catholic faith to guide him both on and off screen, and cites Mass, confession, adoration and the Liturgy of the Hours among his daily devotions. The actor said over the years he has also become more comfortable in speaking about his faith. “I had committed to surrendering to God,” said Roumie. “This is what I’m feeling called to do, and I’m going to do it. God will have my back.” Most of the episodes of “The Chosen,” an international hit series, have been filmed on a sound stage created for the show outside of Fort Worth.

NEW ORLEANS (OSV News) – During the New Orleans archdiocesan celebration of the World Day for Consecrated Life, Marianite Sister Suellen Tennyson, 84, made her first public comments Feb. 4 about her five months of captivity in Burkina Faso in West Africa last year. She was supervising her missionary congregation’s medical clinic in Yalgo, when she was taken in April 2022 by one band of kidnappers who later turned her over to a rival Muslim group. For some still unknown reason on Aug. 29, 2022, Sister Suellen’s captors handed her over to U.S. authorities. The first thing she wanted to know was if the wife of her great-nephew had had her baby. Her great-nephew had shared a sonogram of the unborn child with her before she was kidnapped. Iris Patricia Downing was born July 27 – nearly one month to the day before Sister Suellen’s release. The religious sister has since had several chances to hold the now-7-month-old girl in her arms. Sister Suellen is getting stronger, looking forward “to being just me again” and reveling in the blessedness of the normal.

BALTIMORE (OSV News) – Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Robert Taylor Jr. ruled Feb. 24 that a redacted version of the Maryland Attorney General Office’s report on child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore must be released publicly. The judge ordered the attorney general’s office to redact more than 200 names from the report and submit it to the court by mid-March. Christian Kendzierski, archdiocesan spokesman, said in a written statement issued in response to Taylor’s ruling, “As we said publicly last year, we respect the court’s decisions in this matter and will continue to cooperate with the court and the Maryland attorney general’s office. The archdiocese continues to pray this report brings some measure of healing of the deep wounds caused by the scourge of child sexual abuse in the life of the church.” In a letter sent to Catholics in the archdiocese Nov. 17, Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori acknowledged information in the report would be a source of renewed pain for many, “most especially those harmed by representatives of the church.” The report investigates 80 years of allegations of sexual abuse and the response by the archdiocese to those allegations.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – It is not enough to ask people who have suffered abuse for their forgiveness, Pope Francis said. They also must be offered “concrete actions to repair the horrors they have suffered and to prevent them from happening again” as well as the truth, transparency, safe spaces, psychological support and protection, the pope said in a video message released by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network March 2. In his video message, the pope said, “In response to cases of abuse, especially to those committed by members of the church, it’s not enough to ask for forgiveness.” “Their pain and their psychological wounds can begin to heal if they find answers – if there are concrete actions to repair the horrors they have suffered and to prevent them from happening again,” Pope Francis said. “The church cannot try to hide the tragedy of abuse of any kind. Nor when the abuse takes place in families, in clubs, or in other types of institutions,” he said. In fact, the church must be a model to help shine light on and remedy the problem.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis will travel to Hungary April 28-30 where he will meet with government officials, refugees, academic scholars and young people in Budapest, the Vatican announced Feb. 27. The pope will arrive in Budapest April 28 and will meet with Katalin Novák, president of Hungary, and the country’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, as well as local bishops, priests and other members of Hungary’s Catholic community. Novák, who is Hungary’s first female head of state, invited Pope Francis to visit Hungary during her visit to the Vatican Aug. 26, 2022. The pope will only spend one full day in the country April 29, during which he will meet privately with children from a local school, speak with refugees and people in need, address young people in Hungary and meet with the local Jesuit community. Before returning to Rome late afternoon April 30, he will celebrate Mass before the Hungarian Parliament building and meet with scholars from Budapest’s Pázmány Péter Catholic University.

SAULT SAINTE MARIE, Ontario (OSV News) – As he marks the tenth year of his papacy, Pope Francis has made progress in healing long-damaged relations between the Catholic Church and Indigenous peoples, sources told OSV News. Highlights of his outreach have included pastoral visits such as his 2022 journey to Canada, during which he apologized to Indigenous nations on their land for the church’s role in the government’s residential schools and the horrifying abuses committed; the Amazon Synod; and his writings on the deep relationship between care of creation and the Indigenous peoples. “When Pope Francis visited Puerto Maldonado in Peru (in 2018), he came not to give a talk, he came to listen,” said Peru-based Maryknoll Sister Patricia Ryan, a longtime advocate for Indigenous rights. “And listen he did, to testimonies given by two spokespersons – a woman and a man – of the Indigenous Amazonian population of Peru, who gave witness to the sufferings and indignities, wisdom, commitment and just demands of their peoples and of Mother Earth,” said Sister Ryan. “Pope Francis knows the importance of listening.”

IRPIN, Ukraine (OSV News) – “We lost everything”: It’s a sentiment shared by millions of Ukrainians uprooted and displaced during a year of a war condemned by much of the world that has transformed the face of Europe, increased international tensions and caused ripples in the global economy. “We’re living a new life now. It can’t be the same as it was before the war. Life will never be the same again,” said Sister Yanuariya Isyk, a member of the Sisters of the Order of St. Basil the Great whose ministry is based in Kyiv. The new reality is one of displacement and confusion, loss and death. Hospitals, schools and neighborhoods have been targeted in brutal acts that have outraged the world. The United Nations says more than 7,000 civilians, including more than 400 children, have died because of the war, and more than 11,700 have been injured. “It will take many years to rebuild and heal this society,” Sister Isyk said. Yet Ukrainians also speak of renewed unity, solidarity and hope. In a country that has become one big conflict zone, the war has galvanized religious communities to open their doors to those who have been displaced and to lead various humanitarian missions that include providing assistance to mothers and children with various needs. “They are providing so much help,” said Habovska who, along with her infant son, fled the then-occupied city of Kherson.

MOSUL, Iraq (OSV News) – From the devastating war in 2003 to the three-year occupation of Mosul by Islamic State militants, Iraq is often portrayed as a land caught in a spiral of violence and perennially doomed to remain in a state of instability. However, for Dominican Father Olivier Poquillon, Iraq is steadily rising from the ashes of war and taking its rightful place among the community of nations. While Iraq also has faced the global challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of economic inflation, the Dominican priest said the country is on the path toward rebuilding a lasting foundation for the new generation. Father Poquillon is representing the Dominicans to UNESCO’s flagship program “Revive the Spirit of Mosul,” an initiative that intends to rebuild the ancient city and its historical and religious landmarks that were destroyed or heavily damaged during the devastating occupation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, commonly known as ISIL. Among the sites being rebuilt, the UNESCO program is also working toward rebuilding the Al-Tahera Syriac Catholic Church, which Pope Francis visited during his historic pilgrimage to Iraq in March 2021.

10 years as pope: Pushing the church to bring the Gospel to the world

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – For a decade, even when discussing the internal workings of the Vatican, Pope Francis has insisted the church is not the church of Christ if it does not reach out, sharing the “joy of the Gospel” and placing the poor at the center of its attention.

Signals that his papacy would be different started the moment he stepped out on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica the evening of March 13, 2013: He was not wearing a red, ermine-trimmed cape, and he bowed as he asked the crowd to pray that God would bless him.

His decision not to live in the Apostolic Palace, his invitations to Vatican trash collectors and gardeners and other employees to join him for his daily morning Mass, his insistence on going to the Italian island of Lampedusa to celebrate Mass and pray for migrants who had drowned in the Mediterranean captivated the attention of the media.

Pope Francis was elected March 13, 2013. In the past 10 years, he has made 40 trips abroad, visiting 60 countries; in eight consistories he created 95 cardinals under the age of 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave and paid tribute to 26 churchmen over the age of 80; and he has presided over the canonizations of 911 new saints, including a group of more than 800 martyrs, but also Sts. John Paul II, John XXIII and Paul VI. (CNS graphic/Frida Larios)

But not everyone was pleased with the seeming ease with which he set aside pomp and protocol. And tensions within the Catholic community grew as he expressed openness to LGBTQ Catholics and to those living in what the church considers irregular marriage situations and when he said in an interview in 2013 that the church cannot talk only about abortion, gay marriage and contraception.

One kind of summary of his first 10 years as pope can be found in numbers: He has made 40 trips abroad, visiting 60 countries; in eight consistories he created 95 cardinals under the age of 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave and paid tribute to 26 churchmen over the age of 80; and he has presided over the canonizations of 911 new saints, including a group of more than 800 martyrs, but also Sts. John Paul II, John XXIII and Paul VI.

In his first major document, the apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” he laid out a program for his papacy, looking inside the church and outside at the world to see what needed to be done to “encourage and guide the whole church in a new phase of evangelization, one marked by enthusiasm and vitality.”

The document included a discussion of the need to reform church institutions to highlight their missionary role; to encourage pastoral workers to listen to and stand with the people they were ministering to – his famous line about having “the smell of the sheep”; to deepen an understanding of the church as “the entire people of God” and not as an institution or, worse, a club of the elect; to integrate the poor into the church and society, rather than simply see them as objects of assistance; and to promote peace and dialogue.

For Canadian Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the agenda of Pope Francis is the original agenda of the Second Vatican Council.
Unlike St. John Paul II and the late Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis did not attend any of the council sessions. And, in fact, because he was ordained to the priesthood Dec. 13, 1969, he is the first pope to be ordained a priest after Vatican II.

“After Scripture and tradition, the council is the significant foundation, and I would say, characteristic orientation of this papacy,” the cardinal told Catholic News Service. “He has taken the council not from a collection of decrees, but from the lived experience of the council as implemented, as lived, as tested, as developed, you might say, in the church of Latin America.”

St. John XXIII launched the council with a pastoral focus on what it means to be the church in the modern world, he said. The papacies of St. John Paul and Pope Benedict, he said, “reverted to a more doctrinal understanding of the council” with “some very good results and with some massive, unfinished business.”

While the work of Pope Francis’ predecessors was important, he said, “I don’t think it picked up the primary agenda (of the council), which was implementing a new understanding of church in the modern world, a new way of evangelizing because the world is so different from how it was, let’s say, at the end of World War II.”

Emilce Cuda, an Argentine theologian and secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, agreed that a key to understanding Pope Francis’ pontificate is knowing how Vatican II was lived in Latin America with respect for popular piety and culture, and trust in the “sensus fidei,” the notion that the baptized together have a “sense of faith” and an ability “to understand what God says to us, to his people, in every moment.”

“There in the popular culture, in the peripheries, and in all the people of God, we can hear what God wants from us, or what God tells us to do in response to social problems and in the church in each moment,” she said. “We are in history and history is a movement, and the situation is not the same (as) in the 20th century or in the 21st century.”

As for disagreements with or even controversies about the papacy of Pope Francis, Cardinal Czerny warned against confusing “loud with representative or loud with majority. Loud doesn’t mean any of those things; it means loud.”

But, he said, “the patience of Pope Francis” leads him and encourages others to recognize that the pope’s critics “are not 100% off beam,” or off track; there usually is a grain of truth in what they say or an important value they hold dear that is being overlooked.

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, told CNS he believes the first 10 years of Pope Francis’ pontificate have been preparation for “what’s happening right now, and that’s the synodal conversation.”
The Second Vatican Council called Catholics to read the “signs of the times” and respond. And, the cardinal said, “this notion that we don’t have automatically prepared prescriptions for every challenge that faces us leads us to a fundamental tenet of our belief,” which is belief “in the Holy Spirit, the lord and giver of life.”
The synod process, which began with listening to people around the globe and will move toward two assemblies mainly of bishops, is about listening to the Holy Spirit.

While the synod involves meetings, Cardinal Tobin said, “synodality is a way of being church. It’s an ancient way of being church that is being recovered and lived in the circumstances in which we face ourselves today. And so, to my mind, that’s sort of the capstone of what Pope Francis has been working for over the last decade.”

“I’ve called synodality his long game,” the cardinal said. “He’s convinced that the changed circumstances of our world and our world going forward demand a new appreciation for the role of the Holy Spirit and a way to access that gift that is given to all of us by virtue of our baptism.”

Pope Francis has been laying the foundation for the new synod process since the beginning of his pontificate, said Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago. “There’s an organic whole to all of this.”

“I just wonder if, from the very beginning, he had in his mind that this would be the trajectory of his pontificate, and the synod on synodality I think is, in some way, the opportunity for him to pull everything together,” he said. “There are people who want him to go faster, but he wants things to be held together and the church to be held together.”

Asked what he thought was the most significant aspect of Pope Francis’ pontificate, the cardinal cited his predecessor, the late Cardinal Francis E. George, who participated in the 2013 conclave, and said the best description of Pope Francis was “He’s free.”

“He’s free in the sense of wanting to listen to different voices in the life of the church,” Cardinal Cupich said. “He’s free in being imaginative, but also he has the kind of freedom that really allows him to be joyful in this ministry.”

“John Paul II told us what we should do. Benedict told us why we should do it. And Francis is saying, ‘Do it,’” the cardinal said. Pope Francis is leading by example in how he cares for the poor, sees God at work in people’s real lives and reaches out to people often overlooked by the church.

“I think history will look back on this pontificate as historic, as pivotal in the life of the church,” Cardinal Cupich said.


GROSSE POINTE FARMS, Mich. (OSV NEWS) – Tears were shed, words of consolation were shared, and memories were cherished the evening of Feb. 14 during two emotional prayer vigils to honor the memory of three Michigan State University students whose lives were cut short during a shooting on the East Lansing campus one night earlier. Two of the students, Brian Fraser and Alexandria Verner, belonged to Catholic parishes in Metro Detroit, while the third, Arielle Anderson, was a much-loved graduate of Grosse Pointe North High School. Father Jim Bilot led hundreds of mourners at St. Paul on the Lake Parish in Grosse Pointe Farms in a prayer vigil that featured a picture of Fraser, 20, a Michigan State sophomore and 2017 graduate of the parish school, surrounded by candles in the sanctuary. “We come to pray, and that is the most important and most powerful thing that we could do at this time,” Father Bilot said. Deacon Christopher Stark led a livestreamed rosary from the parish, while a candlelight vigil took place at Clawson City Park, attended by community members, teachers, students and staff from Clawson High School, where Verner graduated in 2020.

PHILADELPHIA (OSV News) – An unexploded pipe bomb found Feb. 19 near railroad tracks behind St. Dominic Catholic Church in Philadelphia was likely not meant to target the parish, pastor Father Edward T. Kearns told OSV News. “I don’t think it was in connection to us,” said Father Edward T. Kearns, pastor of St. Dominic parish in. “It was behind us, not on our property, (but) on the other side of the railroad tracks … 100 yards from my church.” The pipe bomb posed a potential threat to the Philadelphia freight line at a time when the U.S. is still grappling with the catastrophic impact of a Feb. 3 freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. At the same time, Father Kearns said he plans to meet with staff about increasing security at the church. “I don’t think (anyone) is out to get us,” Father Kearns told OSV News. “But you never know these days. There’s so much anger in the world.”

WASHINGTON (OSV News) – During Black History Month in February, Catholics are being invited to register to attend this summer’s National Black Catholic Congress, which over the years has made history of its own. The National Black Catholic Congress XIII will be held July 20-23 at the Gaylord National Resort in National Harbor, Maryland, just outside the District of Columbia. It marks the third time the Washington area has hosted the gathering, and each of those times, key participants included noted figures in U.S. Catholic history. Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory – the archbishop of Washington who was elevated to the College of Cardinals by Pope Francis in 2020, becoming the first African American cardinal in history – will give the opening keynote speech and celebrate the opening Mass. Early registration for the National Black Catholic Congress XIII ends Feb. 28 and regular registration ends July 15,. For more information, including a schedule of events, and to register, go online to

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Tradition is a source of inspiration for seeking out new paths to take with Jesus and for avoiding the traps of stagnation or impromptu experimentation, Pope Francis said. “Jesus is himself the way, and therefore, both in the liturgical journey (of Lent) and in the journey of the synod, the church does nothing other than enter ever more deeply and fully into the mystery of Christ the savior,” the pope said in his message for Lent, which begins Feb. 22 for Latin-rite Catholics. Released by the Vatican Feb. 17, the text of the pope’s message focused on seeing Lenten penance and the synodal experience both as arduous journeys that lead to the wondrous experience of Christ’s divine light and splendor. “To deepen our knowledge of the Master, to fully understand and embrace the mystery of his salvation, accomplished in total self-giving inspired by love, we must allow ourselves to be taken aside by him and to detach ourselves from mediocrity and vanity,” the pope said. “We need to set out on the journey, an uphill path that, like a mountain trek, requires effort, sacrifice and concentration,” he said. “These requisites are also important for the synodal journey which, as a church, we are committed to making.” “During any strenuous mountain trek, we must keep our eyes firmly fixed on the path; yet the panorama that opens up at the end amazes us and rewards us by its grandeur,” Pope Francis wrote. The text of the pope’s message in English is online at

DAVID, Panama (OSV News) – Pope Francis has expressed sorrow for the victims of a bus crash in Panama, which claimed the lives of 39 migrants transiting the Central American country. In a Feb. 16 telegram to Cardinal José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuán of David, Panama – whose diocese includes the site of the crash – Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said: “The Holy Father has received with deep sadness the news of the bus accident … in which several migrants have lost their lives and others were injured.” The tragedy occurred in the early morning hours of Feb. 15 in the western Panama province of Chiriquí. Panama’s immigration director Samira Gozaine told reporters the bus had entered a camp for migrants and the driver was turning the vehicle around when it slid down an embankment. The driver was among the victims, Gozaine said. The deaths were a tragic reminder of the perils faced by migrants traveling through Central America and Mexico on their journey toward the U.S. border.

Pope, in Congo, calls for an ‘amnesty of the heart’ to build peace

By Cindy Wooden
KINSHASA, Congo (CNS) – In a country where most people are Christian and all are suffering from decades of violence and atrocities, Pope Francis told the Congolese to lay down their weapons and their rancor.

“That is what Christ wants. He wants to anoint us with his forgiveness, to give us peace and the courage to forgive others in turn – the courage to grant others a great amnesty of the heart,” the pope said in his homily Feb. 1 during a Mass on the vast field of Ndolo airport in Kinshasa.

Congolese authorities said more than 1 million people attended the Mass. They arrived as the sun began to rise, dressed up and carrying baskets of food. They sang and danced and prayed as they waited for the pope.

Pope Francis greets the crowd before celebrating Mass at Ndolo airport in Kinshasa, Congo, Feb. 1, 2023. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Many in the crowd, especially the women, wore cotton dresses with fabric printed specifically for the papal visit. One version featured the face of the pope wearing a miter. The other, with a more abstract design, had the logo of the papal trip and the theme – “All reconciled in Jesus Christ” – written in French, Kituba, Lingala and Swahili.

In his homily, Pope Francis spoke to the pain and suffering of the Congolese people, but most of the people in the crowd – like Father Slyvain, who was rushing to take his place among the concelebrants – said the joy of the pope visiting their country was all they cared about that morning.

The liturgy itself lent to the sense of joy. For the most part, it followed what commonly is called the Zairean Rite, using the “Roman Missal for the Dioceses of Zaire,” the former name of Congo.

The missal incorporates Congolese music and rhythmic dance, gives an important space to the litany of saints and of faith-filled ancestors, and the penitential rite and the exchange of peace take place together after the homily and before the offertory.

The Gospel at the Mass was St. John’s account of Jesus appearing to the disciples after the resurrection and telling them, “Peace be with you.”

Pope Francis pointed out how when the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples, he did not pretend that nothing traumatic had happened. In fact, “Jesus showed them his wounds.”

“Forgiveness is born from wounds,” the pope told them “It is born when our wounds do not leave scars of hatred but become the means by which we make room for others and accept their weaknesses.”

Jesus “knows your wounds; he knows the wounds of your country, your people, your land,” the pope said. “They are wounds that ache, continually infected by hatred and violence, while the medicine of justice and the balm of hope never seem to arrive.”

The first step toward healing, he said, must be asking God for forgiveness and for the strength to forgive others. It’s the only way to lighten the burden of pain and tame the desire for revenge.

To every Congolese Christian who has engaged in violence, “the Lord is telling you: ‘Lay down your weapons, embrace mercy,’” the pope said. “And to all the wounded and oppressed of this people, he is saying: ‘Do not be afraid to bury your wounds in mine.’”

Pope Francis asked people at the Mass to take the crucifixes from their necklaces or from their pockets, “take it between your hands and hold it close to your heart, in order to share your wounds with the wounds of Jesus.”

“Then,” he said, “when you return home, take the crucifix from the wall and embrace it. Give Christ the chance to heal your heart, hand your past over to him, along with all your fears and troubles.”

Another thing, he said, “Why not write those words of his on your walls, wear them on your clothing, and put them as a sign on your houses: ‘Peace be with you!’ Displaying these words will be a prophetic statement to your country, and a blessing of the Lord upon all whom you meet.”

Christians are called to be “missionaries of peace,” Pope Francis said. They are called to be witnesses of God’s love for all people, “not concerned with their own rights, but with those of the Gospel, which are fraternity, love and forgiveness.”


WASHINGTON (OSV News) – “Wonder,” a five-part documentary series from Word on Fire set for release Feb.13-17, shows that “the war between faith and science is untrue,” said Word on Fire founder Bishop Robert E. Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota. Narrated by actor Jonathan Roumie, the episodes explore the nature of light, Trinitarian traces in the cosmos, human and animal language, St. Augustine and evolution, and even theology of salvation suggested by the geometry of Chartres Cathedral’s North Rose Window in Chartres, France. Director Manny Marquez, who said his own faith was deepened by the project, told OSV News the films are “an opportunity to make a difference in the conversation” between faith and science.

WASHINGTON (OSV News) – Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington urged “ordinary people of color” to “vastly improve our world with an understanding of the strength of character that resides within the souls of our people.” In his homily during a Feb. 5 Mass in honor of Black History Month, the cardinal said, “We are chosen by none other than the Lord, the light of the world himself; we have no choice but to be an example to the world.” In the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew (5:13-16), Jesus refers to his disciples as the salt of the earth and the light of the world. “Many have suffered martyrdom as the price of their witness and those who do become salt and light may become the subject of ridicule,” Cardinal Gregory said. “But we need ordinary faith-filled people like yourselves to allow your lights to shine – however small … to illuminate the darkness of this world.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis expressed his “spiritual closeness” and “solidarity” with those affected by a pair of powerful earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria Feb. 6. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake as measured by the U.S. Geological Survey hit southern Turkey before dawn Feb. 6 wreaking havoc in large areas of neighboring Syria. It was followed by what the geological survey said was a separate 7.5 magnitude earthquake, less than 12 hours later some 60 miles away. The day after, ABC News was reporting that more than 7,000 people were killed while hundreds remained trapped under the rubble of toppled buildings. The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in need said a Catholic priest was among the dead in Syria. Father Imad Daher died in the collapse of the residence of retired Melkite Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo, who was injured and hospitalized, the charity said. Pope Francis was “deeply saddened” to learn of the “huge loss of life” caused by the disaster and offered his “heartfelt condolences” to those mourning losses, wrote Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, in telegrams to the Vatican’s ambassadors in Turkey and Syria. The pope also prayed that emergency personnel would “be sustained in their care of the injured and in the ongoing relief efforts by the divine gifts of fortitude and perseverance.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The principal task of the continental assemblies and the assemblies of the Synod of Bishops in 2023 and 2024 is to learn and strengthen a process of listening as a church to the Holy Spirit and not to address all the issues being debated in the church, top officers of the synod said. The theme that Pope Francis has chosen for the general assembly “is clear: ‘For a synodal church: communion, participation, mission.’ This is therefore the sole theme that we are called to explore in each of the stages within the process,” their letter to bishops said. “Those who claim to impose any one theme on the synod forget the logic that governs the synod process: we are called to chart a ‘common course’ beginning with the contribution of all,” said the letter, published Jan. 29, and signed by Cardinals Mario Grech, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, and Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, relator general of the synod. Addressed to the world’s bishops, the letter focused on the current “continental” stage of the synodal process, and the role of the bishop in the synodal process. The bishops, “in your particular churches, are the principle and foundation of unity of the holy people of God,” they said, and “there is no exercise of ecclesial synodality without exercise of episcopal collegiality.”

This is the logo for World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, which takes place Aug. 1-6, 2023. One issue surrounding every WYD perpetually makes headlines months before the event: that of costs. (OSV News photo/CNS file, Holy See Press Office)

LISBON, Portugal (OSV News) – One issue involving World Youth Day perpetually makes headlines months before the event: that of costs. The event taking place Aug. 1-6, 2023, in Lisbon, Portugal. As reported by Reuters, Lisbon’s mayor, Carlos Moedas, was sharply criticized on Portuguese social media after it was revealed his office would spend over over $5.4 million (5 million euros) to build a 54,000-square foot altar for the final Mass of the August event. The expensive altar is not the only aspect that created controversy. In October, the Portuguese government announced that public institutions would spend around $190 million in WYD. On Jan. 31, after the uproar about the altar, the government led by socialist prime minister António Costa announced a reduction of the initial figure. But these costs may not be as astronomical as they seem? WYD is a major international event of the Catholic Church – one that brings together millions of young people from around the world to pray, learn and meet with the current pope for a handful of days every few years – and major events necessarily come with a significant price tag.

Papal calendar: 2023 holds important events for Pope Francis

By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis will soon pack his bags for his first foreign trip of 2023, a year that promises to be as busy as ever.

The pope, who celebrated his 86th birthday Dec. 17, can move quickly – in a wheelchair – and keeps saying in interviews that a functioning head and heart – not a well-functioning knee – are essential to the exercise of the papacy.

And, so, his appointment book for 2023 is starting to fill up, although he usually agrees to appointments with the caveat of “God willing.”

Several events are already inked in:
– A pastoral visit to violence-torn Congo Jan. 31-Feb. 3, followed by an ecumenical pilgrimage for peace to South Sudan Feb. 3-5 with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and the Rev. Iain Greenshields, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
– Pope Francis celebrates his 10th anniversary as pope March 13.
– He is scheduled to join perhaps 1 million young people from around the globe for World Youth Day Aug. 1-6 in Lisbon, Portugal.
– And the first session of the world Synod of Bishops meeting on “synodality” is scheduled for Oct. 4-29 at the Vatican.

His constant pleas for peace in Ukraine will not end until the war does.

Pope Francis gives a thumbs up as he rides in a wheelchair during his general audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican Dec. 7, 2022. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

And while Pope Francis indicated Dec. 21 that he had reached, or at least was reaching, the end of a series of general audience lessons about spiritual discernment – what it is, how it is done and how the results are judged – his emphasis on teaching Catholics how to listen to the Holy Spirit when making decisions individually or communally will continue as the synod process does.

In October, saying he did not want to rush the process of discerning how the Holy Spirit is calling the church to grow in “synodality,” the pope announced that the assembly of the Synod of Bishops would take place in two sessions. The gathering scheduled for 2023 is only the first session.
Having published his constitution reforming the Roman Curia in June, Pope Francis is expected to make some changes in the top positions of Curia offices in the coming year.

The normal retirement age for cardinals and bishops working in the Curia is 75, but the pope has often kept cardinals who are prefects of dicasteries in place beyond their 75th birthdays.

The two cardinals likely to retire in 2023 are: Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, who will be 79 in April and has been in office since 2017; and Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican tribunal, who turned 78 in September and has led the office since 2013.

Four other cardinals continue to serve past the age of 75. Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, celebrated his 76th birthday in July. Cardinal Joao Bráz de Aviz will turn 76 in April. Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, turned 75 in September. Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, celebrated his 75th birthday Dec. 22.

In 2023 Pope Francis also will hear continuing calls to address the clerical sexual abuse scandal and, especially, to ensure greater consistency in dealing with abusers and greater transparency in how the Vatican has handled the cases.

The case of Jesuit Father Marko Rupnik, the Slovenian artist, will continue to make headlines; in late December the Jesuits asked victims to come forward and published a timeline that showed the Vatican’s doctrinal office in May 2020 confirmed the priest had incurred automatic excommunication for granting sacramental absolution to a woman with whom he had had a sexual relationship. After he formally recognized his abuse and expressed repentance, the excommunication was lifted the same month.

In 2021 another allegation of abuse was made by several women who belonged to the Loyola Community he served as a spiritual adviser in Slovenia; the doctrinal office ruled that the statute of limitations had passed and closed the case. News of his previous excommunication came out only after the second case was dismissed, raising questions about why the statute of limitations was not waived and about whether Pope Francis knew about and was involved in lifting the previous excommunication.

Returning to Rome from Bahrain in November, Pope Francis told reporters that over the past 20 years, the Catholic Church had made huge efforts to stop hiding abuse cases and simply shuffling abusive priests to new assignments – “an ugly habit,” he said – and “we are moving forward.”

(Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden)


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.

Pope Benedict XVI in photos

Pope Francis greets retired Pope Benedict XVI at the retired pontiff’s Vatican residence Dec. 23, 2013. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)
Pope Francis prays with retired Pope Benedict XVI at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, March 23, 2013. Shortly after his election, Pope Francis traveled by helicopter from the Vatican to Castel Gandolfo for a private meeting with the former pontiff. (CNS photo/Vatican Media via Reuters)
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger greets Pope John Paul II upon the pontiff’s arrival to West Germany in 1980. Pope Benedict died Dec. 31, 2022, at the age of 95 in his residence at the Vatican.(CNS photo)
Pope Benedict XVI and U.S. President Barack Obama clasp hands as they exchange gifts in the pontiff’s private library at the Vatican July 10, 2009. The president was accompanied by his wife, first lady Michelle Obama, right. Pope Benedict died Dec. 31, 2022, at the age of 95 in his residence at the Vatican. (OSV News photo/Grzegorz Galazka, Catholic Press Photo pool)
Pope Benedict XVI, who had an impressive record as a teacher and defender of the basics of Catholic faith, is likely to go down in history books as the first pope in almost 600 years to resign. He is seen among pilgrims during a general audience at the Vatican Nov. 21, 2007. Pope Benedict died Dec. 31, 2022, at the age of 95 in his residence at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope Benedict XVI is pictured with U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House April 16, 2008. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)
Pope Benedict XVI carries a candle during the Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican April 7, 2012. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope John Paul I greets Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Munich and Freising, the future Pope Benedict XVI, during the pontiff’s inaugural Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Sept. 3, 1978. Pope Benedict died Dec. 31, 2022, at the age of 95 in his residence at the Vatican. (CNS photo/KNA)

German pope made no secret of his love for cats

By Carol Glatz

(OSV NEWS) – Like any bona fide cat lover, Pope Benedict XVI’s face would light up and his hand would reach out at the sight of a fluffy feline – even when that soft bundle of fur was a squirming, feisty lion cub brought to the Vatican by visiting circus performers.

His comments about how animals must be respected as “companions in creation” earned him high marks with animal welfare groups, including the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

As cats are known to sense approaching cat lovers, Vatican kitties would apparently swarm around him.
For example, one day after celebrating Mass at a small church near St. Peter’s Basilica, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger went to the church’s cemetery, which was full of cats, Konrad Baumgartner, an eyewitness and theologian, told Knight Ridder in 2005. “They all ran to him. They knew him and loved him.”

Pope Benedict XVI looks at a lion cub held by a performer of the Medrano Circus during his weekly general audience at the Vatican Jan. 28, 2009. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

A fellow cardinal who worked under the future pope at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith portrayed him as a kind of Dr. Doolittle.

“I tried to understand the language he used with cats, who were always enchanted when they met him. I thought maybe it was a Bavarian dialect, but I don’t know,” Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone told Vatican Radio in 2005.

While the pope never owned a cat, it was reported he fed the strays that lurked around the building he lived in as a cardinal in Rome.

Being pope, however, prevented him from such daily encounters. And yet he kept a white ceramic cat – crouched next to a silver icon of Our Lady – on his large desk in the papal apartments.

He and his brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, also collected plates with images of cats.

His love for creatures and nature, the pope said, came from growing up in the Bavarian countryside.
In the small town of Aschau am Inn, his childhood home, “I experienced the beauty of creation,” he said.
He would hike and bike the surrounding hills and mountains and play with the many animals his neighbors kept.

Pope Benedict XVI pets Pushkin the cat, held by Father Anton Guziel, at the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Birmingham, England, Sept. 19, 2010. The pope visited the oratory after beatifying Cardinal John Henry Newman. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

“I even herded cows,” which “brought me closer to nature, and it was important for me to have had this first experience with God’s creatures and to bond with animals,” he said.

When he later built a home in Pentling, near Regensburg, he became fast friends with the neighbor’s orange cat, Chico, who often wandered into his garden.

The neighbor, Rupert Hofbauer, said he also had a dog, Igor, who frequented the garden, “but the cardinal prefers Chico. There are dog and cat people in the world, and he is definitely a cat person.”

When Chico’s friend became famous as pope, the German “katz” became the ersatz narrator of a papal biography in the children’s book, “Joseph and Chico: The Life of Pope Benedict XVI as Told by a Cat.”

After the pope’s retirement, living at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican Gardens meant moving to kitty haven.

The good number of friendly, well cared for cats in the area – including Contessina, an often-photographed black-and-white female – meant finally being back among his feline friends.

(Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz)