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.

Bishop Rolando Álvarez sentenced to 26 years and 4 months in prison by Nicaragua a day after the regime deports 222 political prisoners to U.S.

By David Agren

MEXICO CITY (OSV News) – Nicaragua has released more than 200 political prisoners, including Catholic priests, students, and opponents of the regime, who were taken from detention in deplorable conditions and sent to the United States. Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa was among the political prisoners included on the list for release and exile, but he refused to abandon the country. He was sentenced to 26 years and 4 months in prison on Feb. 10, according to media reports.

Media in the Central American countries reported 222 political prisoners boarded a flight Feb. 9 to the United States, where they would be granted refuge.

Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, a frequent critic of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, prays at a Catholic church in Managua May 20, 2022. A Nicaraguan court sentenced Bishop Álvarez to more than 26 years in prison Feb. 10, 2023 for conspiracy and spreading false information. (OSV News photo/Maynor Valenzuela, Reuters)

The New York Times reported the regime of President Daniel Ortega asked for nothing in exchange for the release of political prisoners but cited a Biden administration official saying Nicaragua hoped to improve relations between the two countries.

“The release of these individuals, one of whom is a U.S. citizen, by the Government of Nicaragua marks a constructive step toward addressing human rights abuses in the country and opens the door to further dialogue between the United States and Nicaragua regarding issues of concern,” U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a Feb. 9 statement.

“Today’s development is the product of concerted American diplomacy, and we will continue to support the Nicaraguan people.”

The plane with released prisoners landed in Washington at noon Eastern time.

In a video statement issued early Feb. 9, Nicaraguan judge Octavio Rothschuh ordered the political prisoners “deported” from Nicaragua.

“The deportees were declared traitors to the homeland, perpetually disqualified from exercising public office in the name of Nicaragua and perpetually disqualified from (holding) any elected position. They are in the United States, and, in this manner, we conclude the deportation sentence,” Rothschuh said.

The National Assembly promptly stripped the exiled political prisoners of their Nicaraguan citizenship.
The names of the prisoners were not immediately released, but Nicaraguan media and priests in exile said the list included churchmen convicted in sham trials of conspiracy and spreading false information. The list also included opposition candidates disqualified by Ortega prior to elections in 2021 – the results of which U.S. and European officials refused to recognize.

Independent Nicaraguan news organization Confidencial reported that six churchmen and a diocesan communicator, sentenced to 10 years in prison on conspiracy charges by a Nicaraguan court Feb. 6, were on the flight to the United States.

The list includes Fathers Ramiro Tijerino, José Luis Díaz and Sadiel Eugarrios; Deacon Raúl Antonio Vega; seminarians Darvin Leiva and Melkin Centeno; and cameraman Sergio Cárdenas – all from the Diocese of Matagalpa. Another priest, Father Óscar Danilo Benavidez, pastor in the community of Mulukuku, who was arrested Aug. 14 and was sentenced Feb. 5 on similar charges of conspiracy and spreading false information, also was reported to be on the flight.

During a Feb. 9 televised message to the Nicaraguan nation, Ortega said Bishop Álvarez “demanded to speak with bishops, a reunion with the bishops” while in line to board the flight. The bishop turned back after his request was denied. Bishop Álvarez, an unrelenting critic of the regime, was transferred from house arrest, where he has been held since August 2022, to the notorious Modelo prison.

Ortega belittled the bishop, calling him “deranged” and telling a national audience: “He has shown the arrogant behavior of someone who considers himself leader of the church in Nicaragua, the church in Latin America.

“I don’t know what this gentleman thinks,” Ortega said. “In the face of a decision from the Nicaraguan state, he says that he does not abide by it, a resolution from a state power that orders him to leave the country.”

The bishop has previously refused to flee the country, in spite of increasing persecution. It was reported that a court decision could come as soon as Feb. 15 in his trial on charges of conspiracy and spreading false information. However, on Feb. 10, a Nicaraguan judge sentenced Bishop Álvarez to 26 years and 4 months in prison, and stripped him of his citizenship under the charges of treason and “undermining national integrity.”

The release of the political prisoners offered a rare moment of relief for Catholics in Nicaragua, but some consternation as those being expelled were stripped of their citizenship.

Auxiliary Bishop Silvio José Baez tweeted Feb. 9: “It gives me deep joy that Nicaragua’s political prisoners are out of prison. I have thanks to God for them! They never should have been prisoners. By banishing them, Nicaragua’s dictatorship committed another crime, showing that it’s them (the regime) who do not deserve to be Nicaraguans.”

Bishop Baez serves the Archdiocese of Managua in Nicaragua but now lives in exile in Miami. He fled the country in 2019 after facing down death threats for criticizing the country’s totalitarian government.

The Nicaraguan Catholic Church has drawn the ire of the Ortega regime for its providing shelter to protesters after demonstrations erupted in 2018 and subsequently accompanying the families of political prisoners.

Juan Sebastian Chamorro, one of the more than 200 freed political prisoners from Nicaragua, speaks to reporters after arriving in the United States at Dulles International Airport in Virginia Feb. 9, 2023. (OSV News photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

“The church is important because it is still one of the institutions with the greatest trust among the population,” Tiziano Breda, researcher at the Italian Institute of International Affairs, told OSV News.
“(Bishop) Álvarez was one of the voices that was outspoken and … had a capacity to convene people. (His imprisonment) disincentivizes any other voices in the Catholic Church from expressing views or rally people and criticize the government,” he said.

The persecution of Nicaraguan Catholics has caused international consternation and expressions of solidarity from bishops’ conferences from around the world.

“We follow with sadness and concern the situation in Nicaragua, and the persecution to which our church is being subjected,” Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), said in a Feb. 6 letter to Bishop Carlos Enrique Herrera Gutiérrez of Jinotega, president of the Nicaraguan bishops’ conference.

“As bishops of COMECE, we are committed to promote freedom, democracy and justice in Nicaragua through our regular dialogue with the representatives of EU institutions,” Cardinal Hollerich added.

Pope Francis has spoken somewhat tepidly on Nicaragua, where the regime expelled the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, in March 2022.

The pope has publicly expressed concern for the situation in Nicaragua and called for dialogue. He told reporters in September, “There is dialogue. That doesn’t mean we approve of everything the government is doing or disapprove of it.”

Breda said the objectives of dialogues involving Nicaraguan officials had diminished from trying to find a solution to the political crisis – including free elections, allowing Ortega to peacefully leave power – “to trying to persuade the government to give the most minimal, humane conditions for political prisoners.”
The Catholic Church has previously promoted dialogue in Nicaragua to find a peaceful solution to the protests but broke off talks after the regime showed bad faith. Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, have subsequently branded church leaders “coup mongers” and “terrorists.”

(David Agren writes for OSV News from Mexico City.)

New earthquake hits Turkey and Syria, killing 6; death toll from earlier quake rises to 47,000

By Dale Gavlak

AMMAN, Jordan (OSV News) – A new earthquake struck the border area between Turkey and Syria the night of Feb. 20, sparking fear and anxiety for people already bereft and for those helping them since the Feb. 6 temblor. Six people were reported killed in the new quake.

With a magnitude of 6.4 and centered in the southern Turkish city of Antakya, the new earthquake shook the ground two weeks after a massive quake killed more than 47,000 people and destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes.

Catholic aid workers were rushing badly needed humanitarian help to the victims of Turkey and Syria’s deadly earthquakes, but with this latest earthquake to strike, they expressed concern over the lasting impact of loss for those deeply traumatized.

A woman is carried out by rescuers from the site of a collapsed building in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, Feb.7, 2023. A powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked areas of Turkey and Syria early Feb. 6, toppling hundreds of buildings and killing thousands. (OSV News photo/Dilara Senkaya, Reuters)

Andrea Avveduto, a psychologist on the ground in northwest Syria and director of communications for Pro Terra Sancta, told OSV News that “everyone is so afraid.”

“It’s a very dramatic situation, especially for children,” Avveduto said of his organization’s work in Aleppo in northwest Syria. “We are sending a group of psychologists specialized in post-traumatic stress to Syria because children are experiencing much trauma.”

“Children don’t want to sleep or go to the bathroom alone and insist that their parents stay close by. They become very afraid when they hear any loud noise and they want to cling to their parents,” Avveduto told OSV News.

He told the story of a 6-year-old Ibrahim, a blind boy, who was very terrified by the impact of the first earthquake. Everything crumbled around him. Sand was in his mouth and dust filled his nose. Ibrahim also tasted blood and then, as he reported, there was silence, followed by the sound of rain.

And yet, Ibrahim “immediately ran to our center, seeking shelter, food and some comfort,” Avveduto said of the boy who managed to escape the devastation.

Besides the more than 47,000 people killed in the Feb. 6 quake, thousands more have been injured. Many say they are terrified at night, unable to sleep and fearful.

Pro Terra Sancta, based in Jerusalem, Rome and Milan, supports the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land. Since the start of the war in 2011, it has aided Franciscan fathers in Syria by opening four emergency centers in Damascus, Latakia, Aleppo, Knayeh and Yacoubieh, the latter places are found in northwest Syria.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have any information from the Franciscan friars in the villages of Knayeh and Yacoubieh. The communication lines are very bad, and we’ve had great difficulty trying to contact them,” Avveduto explained. Adding to the woes of these predominantly Christian villages has been the presence of Islamist militants who are in control there.

Avveduto also expressed concern for villagers in Tulul and some other areas in the northwest facing a double disaster, as some villages have been deluged with water by the collapse of local levees due to the aftershocks.

“We know there is also a huge problem due to flooding. We think there are people under the destroyed buildings that have drowned,” Avveduto said.

“Meanwhile, we are looking for people still trapped underneath the collapsed buildings in Aleppo. Our emergency center provides food, blankets and medicines, and the needs are growing. We have more than 4,000 people daily coming for hot meals in Aleppo and … Latakia,” he said of those displaced.

Some 2,500 are sheltering in the Terra Sancta College in Aleppo. First aid kits, blankets and clothes are being distributed.

Italian Cardinal Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio in Syria, warned that “the worst thing that could happen to Syria … is to be forgotten.”

Cardinal Zenari underscored the dire circumstances Syrians face saying that already “there are more than 13 million Syrians who have been affected by the war and require humanitarian assistance.” The cardinal shared his remarks with AVSI, an international humanitarian organization.

Cardinal Zenari has supported AVSI’s Open Hospitals, an initiative to address Syria’s health crisis by providing medical care for those living in poverty and aiding three nonprofit hospitals in Syria. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic Health Association and private individuals provide financial support.

An earthquake survivor holding a child sits by a collapsed building in Hatay, Turkey, Feb. 10, 2023. The powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked areas of Turkey and Syria early Feb. 6, toppling hundreds of buildings and killing thousands. (OSV News photo/Umit Bektas, Reuters)

AVSI has treated the injured, and provided warm meals and clothing, shoes and blankets to families in shelters and camps set up after the earthquake.

These organizations along with the U.S.-based Salesian Missions have set up disaster relief funds to aid quake survivors and are requesting financial support.

“Some families took refuge in our house in Aleppo. They arrived with only the clothes they had on. Their homes are not in good condition because of the war, and they feel safer with us,” explained Father Alejandro León, superior of the Salesian Province of the Middle East, from Kafroun, near Homs and the Lebanese border.

The Salesians said in a statement that they are aiding the displaced as much as possible despite severe shortages of electricity and fuel affecting Syria. “The population is really having a difficult time,” said Salesian Father Pier Jabloyan, provincial delegate for social communication.

Internally displaced Syrians who had escaped to the rebel-held areas of northwest Syria during the 12-year conflict have criticized the slow international response to bringing rescue equipment as well as medical and other relief aid to the region. Medical facilities are reported to be close to collapse there.
Now, more than 140 trucks loaded with supplies from six United Nations agencies have crossed into northwest Syria, mainly through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey, but also through two other crossing points, which were previously closed.

Miracle rescues have taken place mainly in Turkey, where the enormous death toll has made it the worst disaster in modern Turkish history. Many people in both Syria and Turkey remain unaccounted for.

Meanwhile, several thousand Syrian refugees sheltering in Turkey have returned home to Syria’s conflict zone to check on relatives after the earthquakes. Turkish authorities are allowing them to spend up to six months in the rebel-held northwest without losing the opportunity to return to Turkey.

Aid groups say that survivors will need months of humanitarian aid, medical and psychological support to help rebuild their lives.


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.

Where in the world is Catholic Mass attendance highest?

By John Burger
WASHINGTON (OSV News) – The nation with the best Catholic Mass attendance in the world could be Nigeria according to a new study published by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA).

When asked the question “Apart from weddings, funerals and christenings, about how often do you attend religious services these days?” 94% of self-identified Nigerian Catholics surveyed said they attend weekly or daily Mass.

A woman prays during morning Mass at St. Charles Church in Kinshasa, Congo, Jan. 22, 2023. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) gathers results of a poll conducted by the World Values Survey and reports findings on Mass attendance worldwide, noting that pre-and-post-pandemic factors and economic correlations affect those numbers. (OSV News photo/Justin Makangara, Reuters)

The poll was conducted by the World Values Survey, which began tracking the data in the 1980s and has statistics for 36 countries with large Catholic populations. CARA, which gathered the results, said it’s not known exactly which country has the highest Mass attendance rate, “because surveys have not been conducted on the topic in every country in the world.”

But among those surveyed by WVS, aside from Nigeria, weekly or more frequent Mass attendance is highest among adult self-identified Catholics in Kenya (73%) and Lebanon (69%).

– Latin America, and Europe –
“The next segment of countries, where half or more Catholics attend every week, includes the Philippines (56%), Colombia (54%), Poland (52%), and Ecuador (50%),” CARA, which is based at Georgetown University, said. “Fewer than half, but a third or more attend every week in Bosnia and Herzegovina (48%), Mexico (47%), Nicaragua (45%), Bolivia (42%), Slovakia (40%), Italy (34%), and Peru (33%).”

It added that between three in 10 and a quarter of Catholics attend Mass every week in Venezuela (30%), Albania (29%), Spain (27%), Croatia (27%), New Zealand (25%), and the United Kingdom (25%).

– Pre-and-post-pandemic –
Catholics in the United States come in next, with about 24% attending Mass every week or more often prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In our most recent poll in late summer 2022, 17% of adult Catholics reported attending Mass this frequently with 5% watching Mass online or television from home instead,” CARA said.

Other countries with similar Catholic Mass attendance to the United States are Hungary (24%), Slovenia (24%), Uruguay (23%), Australia (21%), Argentina (21%), Portugal (20%), the Czech Republic (20%), and Austria (17%), the center said.

The lowest levels of weekly attendance are observed in Lithuania (16%), Germany (14%), Canada (14%), Latvia (11%), Switzerland (11%), Brazil (8%), France (8%) and the Netherlands (7%).

– Not necessarily “religious” – 
In a breakdown of the report for John Burger notes that, surprisingly, it’s not necessarily the case that Catholics who consider themselves to be very religious are more likely to be frequent Mass attenders.

Lebanon, for example, has high Mass attendance but the share of Catholics there considering themselves to be religious is substantially lower in comparison to other countries. And 97% of Catholics in Uruguay consider themselves to be religious, yet only 23% of Catholics there attend Mass weekly or more often.

Other than Uruguay, the countries where Catholics are most likely to consider themselves to be religious are Nigeria (95%), Albania (94%), Slovakia (93%), the Czech Republic (92%), Italy (92%), Lithuania (92%), Kenya (92%), Colombia (92%), Bolivia (91%) and Poland (90%).

– Correlation with wealth –
CARA also noticed some correlation between economic factors and Mass attendance and concluded that Catholicism is strongest in what is often called the developing world, where GDP per capita is lower.

“It appears to be contracting in wealthier ‘developed’ countries,” the center said. “The precise mechanisms associated with economic development and wealth that are impacting Catholics’ participation in the faith and identification as religious are unclear. Whatever they are, they matter significantly.”

(John Burger writes at, where this piece first appeared.)

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.

Nicaragua deporta a 222 presos políticos a EE.UU.; incluidos sacerdotes católicos, estudiantes, opositores al régimen

Por David Agren

Nicaragua ha liberado a más de 200 presos políticos, entre ellos sacerdotes católicos, estudiantes y opositores al régimen, quienes fueron sacados de prisiones que estaban en condiciones deplorables y enviados a Estados Unidos.

Los medios de los países centroamericanos informaron que 222 presos políticos abordaron un vuelo el 9 de febrero a Estados Unidos, donde se les otorgaría refugio.

The New York Times informó que el régimen del presidente Daniel Ortega no pidió nada a cambio de la liberación de los presos políticos, pero citó a un funcionario de la administración de Biden que dijo que Nicaragua esperaba mejorar las relaciones entre los dos países.

Juan Sebastián Chamorro, uno de los más de 200 presos políticos liberados de Nicaragua, habla con los periodistas después de llegar a los Estados Unidos en el Aeropuerto Internacional Dulles en Virginia el 9 de febrero de 2023. (Foto OSV News/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

“La liberación de estos individuos, uno de los cuales es ciudadano estadounidense, por parte del Gobierno de Nicaragua marca un paso constructivo para abordar los abusos contra los derechos humanos en el país y abre la puerta a un mayor diálogo entre los Estados Unidos y Nicaragua sobre ciertos temas”, dijo el secretario de Estado de EE.UU., Anthony Blinken, en un comunicado del 9 de febrero.

“El desarrollo de hoy es producto de la diplomacia estadounidense concertada, y continuaremos apoyando al pueblo nicaragüense”.

El avión con los prisioneros liberados aterrizó en Washington al mediodía, hora del Este.

En una declaración en video emitida a principios del 9 de febrero, el juez nicaragüense Octavio Rothschuh ordenó la “deportación” de los presos políticos de Nicaragua.

“Los deportados fueron declarados traidores a la patria y sancionados por diferentes delitos graves e inhabilitados de forma perpetua para ejercer la función pública en nombre del servicio del estado de Nicaragua, así como ejercer cargos de elección popular, quedando suspensos sus derechos ciudadanos de forma perpetua, a esta hora los deportados ya están en Estados Unidos de América, damos por concluida la sentencia de deportación”, dijo Rothschuh.

La Asamblea Nacional despojó rápidamente a los presos políticos exiliados de su ciudadanía nicaragüense.

Los nombres de los prisioneros no fueron revelados de inmediato, pero medios nicaragüenses y sacerdotes en el exilio dijeron que la lista incluía a eclesiásticos condenados en juicios falsos por conspiración y difusión de información falsa. La lista también incluía candidatos de la oposición descalificados por Ortega antes de las elecciones de 2021, cuyos resultados los funcionarios estadounidenses y europeos se negaron a reconocer.

Juan Lorenzo Holmann, uno de los más de 200 presos políticos liberados de Nicaragua, habla por teléfono celular afuera de un hotel después de llegar a los Estados Unidos en el Aeropuerto Internacional Dulles en Virginia el 9 de febrero de 2023. (Foto OSV News/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters )

La organización independiente de noticias nicaragüense Confidencial informó que seis eclesiásticos y un comunicador diocesano, condenados a 10 años de prisión por cargos de conspiración por un tribunal nicaragüense el 6 de febrero, viajaban en el vuelo a Estados Unidos.

La lista incluye a los padres Ramiro Tijerino, José Luis Díaz y Sadiel Eugarrios; el diácono Raúl Antonio Vega; los seminaristas Darvin Leiva y Melkin Centeno; y el camarógrafo Sergio Cárdenas, todos de la Diócesis de Matagalpa. Otro sacerdote, el padre Óscar Danilo Benavidez, párroco de la comunidad de Mulukuku, quien fue arrestado el 14 de agosto y sentenciado el 5 de febrero por cargos similares de conspiración y difusión de información falsa, también se encontraba en el vuelo.

Se desconoce el estado del Obispo Rolando Álvarez de Matagalpa. El obispo, un crítico implacable del régimen de Ortega, ha estado bajo arresto domiciliario desde agosto de 2021. El obispo se negó con anterioridad a huir del país, a pesar de la creciente persecución.

Una fuente nicaragüense le dijo a Inés San Martín, vicepresidenta de comunicaciones de las Obras Misionales Pontificias de EE.UU., que el Obispo Álvarez no firmó su orden de deportación. Otra fuente en Nicaragua le dijo a OSV News lo mismo.

La liberación de los presos políticos ofreció un raro momento de alivio para los católicos en Nicaragua, pero cierta consternación ya que los expulsados fueron despojados de su ciudadanía.

El Obispo Auxiliar Silvio José Báez tuiteó el 9 de febrero: “Me alegro profundamente de que los presos políticos de Nicaragua estén fuera de la cárcel. ¡Doy gracias a Dios por ellos! Nunca debieron ser apresados. Desterrándolos, la dictadura de Nicaragua comete otro crimen, mostrando que son ellos (el gobierno) quienes no merecen ser nicaragüenses”.

El Obispo Báez sirve en la Arquidiócesis de Managua en Nicaragua pero ahora vive en el exilio en Miami. Huyó del país en 2019 después de enfrentar amenazas de muerte por criticar al gobierno totalitario del país.

La Iglesia Católica de Nicaragua ha provocado la ira del régimen de Ortega por brindar refugio a los manifestantes después de que estallaron las manifestaciones en 2018 y, posteriormente, acompañar a las familias de los presos políticos.

“La iglesia es importante porque sigue siendo una de las instituciones con mayor confianza entre la población”, dijo a OSV News Tiziano Breda, investigador del Instituto Italiano de Asuntos Internacionales.

“(El Obispo) Álvarez fue una de las voces que se expresó abiertamente y… tenía capacidad para convocar a la gente. (Su encarcelamiento) desincentiva a cualquier otra voz en la Iglesia Católica a expresar puntos de vista o reunir a la gente y criticar al gobierno”, dijo.

La persecución de los católicos nicaragüenses ha causado consternación internacional y expresiones de solidaridad de conferencias episcopales de todo el mundo.

“Seguimos con tristeza y preocupación la situación en Nicaragua, y la persecución a la que está siendo sometida nuestra iglesia”, dijo el Cardenal Jean-Claude Hollerich de Luxemburgo, presidente de la Comisión de las Conferencias Episcopales de la Unión Europea (conocida como COMECE) en una carta del 6 de febrero al Obispo Carlos Enrique Herrera Gutiérrez de Jinotega, presidente de la conferencia episcopal de Nicaragua.

“Como obispos de COMECE, estamos comprometidos a promover la libertad, la democracia y la justicia en Nicaragua a través de nuestro diálogo regular con los representantes de las instituciones de la UE”, agregó el Cardenal Hollerich.

“No duden que como COMECE haremos todo lo que esté a nuestro alcance con las instituciones europeas para (la liberación del obispo) y para promover la libertad, el estado de derecho, la justicia y la democracia en su amado país”, dijo.

El Papa Francisco ha hablado relativamente poco sobre Nicaragua, donde el régimen expulsó al nuncio apostólico, el Arzobispo Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, en marzo de 2022.

El papa ha expresado públicamente su preocupación por la situación en Nicaragua y ha llamado al diálogo. Dijo a los periodistas en septiembre: “Hay diálogo. Eso no significa que aprobemos o desaprobemos todo lo que hace el gobierno”.

Breda dijo que los objetivos de los diálogos que involucran a funcionarios nicaragüenses se han reducido de tratar de encontrar una solución a la crisis política, incluidas elecciones libres, que permitan a Ortega dejar el poder pacíficamente, “a tratar de persuadir al gobierno para que brinde las condiciones más mínimas y humanas para los prisioneros políticos”.

La Iglesia Católica ha promovido anteriormente el diálogo en Nicaragua para encontrar una solución pacífica a las protestas, pero interrumpió las conversaciones luego de que el régimen mostrara mala fe. Ortega y su esposa, la vicepresidenta Rosario Murillo, posteriormente clasificaron a los líderes de la Iglesia como “golpistas” y “terroristas”..


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.