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Why did Pope Francis visit a record store in Rome?

Pope Francis is seen leaving a record store in Rome, Jan. 11, 2022. / Javier Martinez-Brocal/Rome Reports TV News Agency

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 11, 2022 / 14:28 pm (CNA).

A photo showing Pope Francis exiting a record store gained traction on social media Tuesday as people asked the question: What did the pontiff purchase?

Javier Martínez-Brocal, director of international news agency Rome Reports, tweeted the black-and-white photo reminiscent of an album cover along with a caption in Spanish that translates to read, “The Pope, in a record store in Rome.”

The photo shows the masked pontiff leaving a store with a sign reading “Stereosound” above the door. Another nearby sign reads “dischi” or “discs.” Inside the store window, the photo reveals a Christmas tree decorated with records as ornaments.

According to La Stampa, Pope Francis visited the newly-renovated store to bless it. During his 12 minutes inside the shop near the Pantheon, he received a disc of classical music from the shopkeepers. The paper reported that the owner, named Letizia, together with her daughter and son-in-law, are old friends with the pontiff, who was a customer long before he became pope. He promised to return one day and visit them as pope, according to the report. On Tuesday, he appeared to do just that.

Famiglia Cristiana reported the owner as saying: “He already came when he was a cardinal. It was very emotional. We gave him a classical music record as a gift.”

According to CNN's Delia Gallagher, a Vatican spokesperson confirmed that Pope Francis blessed the shop.

In addition to the photo, Martínez-Brocal also shared a 24-second video of Pope Francis’ departure, as he exits the store and climbs into a white Fiat 500L.

In 2016, Aleteia reported that the pope enjoys classical music including from composers Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven.

Is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith undergoing a general overhaul?

null / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Jan 11, 2022 / 13:01 pm (CNA).

On Jan. 10, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, who had served as secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 2017, as bishop of the diocese of Reggio Emilia-Guastalla.

The move has given rise to various speculations about why the pope made this decision. However, more than an ideological choice, Pope Francis' decision should be framed in the context of a generational change in the Congregation, in view of the eventual finalization of the reform of the Curia.

According to various speculations, Morandi’s transfer was due to his stance against the restrictive application of the motu proprio Traditionis custodes, which effectively nullifies the liberalization granted to the celebration of Mass according to the ancient rite. Other speculations underline that Morandi was the author of the document, approved by the pope, which stressed that priests could not bless homosexual unions. The paper was a responsum, a response from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, made public because many questions on the subject had reached the Congregation.

However, sources within the Congregation deny that Morandi has ever shown himself in any way opposing the line of Pope Francis. On the contrary, one of his collaborators called him “humble, silent, and doctrinally well-grounded.”

According to a person who worked at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “in the choice to move Archbishop Morandi, some gossip about his conservative positions may have weighed, too. I doubt it, however. Morandi has never been confrontational, and he has always kept a low profile. And he has never been disloyal to the pope.”

This observation suggests there are other reasons for the transfer.

The first reason: Morandi had finished his five-year term as secretary of the Congregation, which he had entered seven years ago as undersecretary. He, therefore, went beyond the five-year mandate, and Pope Francis decided not to keep him in the post to give the Congregation a new profile. One of the reforms advocated by the pope is to have no high-profile Vatican officials in office for more than two five-year terms. The Pope has been applying this unwritten norm for some time now. The norm should formally appear in the upcoming Curia reform.

The second reason lies in the very nature of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Congregation was called “the Supreme” and considered the most important of the Congregations. Established in 1542 as the “Sacred Universal Congregation of the Holy Inquisition,” it was reorganized in 1908 as the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office by Pius X. Paul VI, in 1965, changed its name to the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. Until 1968, the prefect of the Congregation was the pope. From that date on, the prefect is the cardinal placed at the head of the Congregation.

There is a reasonably widespread rumor in the Vatican that Pope Francis would like to formally resume the leadership of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and that this decision to return to the past will be contained in the draft reform of the Curia now under discussion.

The reform should also contain a reform of the competencies of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Already in Evangelii Gaudium, considered by the pope to be his programmatic manifesto, Pope Francis made reference to the chaos of transferring some competencies of the Congregation to the Episcopal Conferences.

Pope Francis will change all the names at the top of the dicastery to carry out the reform. Therefore, the appointment of Morandi as bishop of Reggio Emilia is only the first in a series of moves. Cardinal Luis Ladaria, the prefect of the Congregation, has already passed 75, the age at which a bishop submits his resignation, and will turn 78 in April. However, he could remain at the helm of the Congregation until next June, when the planned mergers of the Vatican dicasteries will be finalized. His departure will coincide with the new structure of the Congregation.

Morandi's exit leaves the game open on his succession as No. 2 in the Congregation. Until now, the pope has been conducting internal promotions. Ladaria himself was first the secretary of the Congregation, and Morandi rose in level when he became a prefect.

Currently, the Congregation has an adjunct secretary, Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna, who continues to be archbishop of Malta. There also are two undersecretaries: Monsignor Armando Matteo, highly esteemed by Pope Francis, who spoke of him in flattering terms at the end of his greeting speech to the Curia last Dec. 23; and Father Matteo Visioli. The first entered as undersecretary in 2021, while Visioli replaced Morandi as undersecretary in 2017.

If the pope takes over as the formal head of the Congregation, then it is very likely that Scicluna will be appointed secretary and called to a full-time job in Rome. But there is also the possibility that Scicluna will become president of the Congregation. In that case, either Matteo and Visioli would become the new secretary. A Vatican source, in this regard, underlines that Matteo has made it known that he does not favor any promotion.

In any case, the exit of Morandi from the Roman Curia is the prelude to a general shake-up of the Curia, which does not only concern the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The conflicting rumors and different narratives on the pope’s decision somehow testify to the general confusion experienced while awaiting the finalization of the reform of the Curia. Each year, the date of its eventual publication is speculated, but this is constantly postponed. 

At the same time, Pope Francis has already initiated, in practice, several reforms contained in the draft Constitution. These include the merging of the dicasteries and the expiring appointments in the Curia, to be held for no more than two five-year terms to send the bishops back to the diocese. In the end, Morandi was among those who had finished their mandate, and therefore eligible to be sent to pastoral work.

Outspoken Nigerian bishop says he is 'fine', amid reports he was called in for questioning by state police

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto addresses a dinner of ADF International, "The Crisis of Religious Freedom in Nigeria," at the 2021 International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C. / International Religious Freedom Summit 2021

Denver Newsroom, Jan 11, 2022 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Following Nigerian media reports over the weekend that a Catholic bishop had been summoned for questioning by a state security agency, the bishop in question says he is "fine" and that "the matter [has] actually passed."

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah told CNA in a Jan. 11 email that “For now, [I] am very fine and have been in my village for a week now.”

Kukah, who leads the Sokoto diocese in Nigeria’s northwestern corner, criticized Nigeria’s government for complicity in the face of kidnappings and other persecution of the country’s Christians in a 2021 Christmas message. 

Reports surfaced in Nigerian media last weekend that the State Security Service, a federal secret police force, reportedly took notice of Kukah’s remarks and ordered him to present himself for questioning, according to an unnamed source cited by the People’s Gazette. 

Kukah’s email to CNA comes amid a number of Nigerian media reports from Monday, which reported that Kukah has yet to receive any communication from the SSS, citing a Sokoto diocesan spokesperson. CNA asked Kukah for clarification on this point and is awaiting a response.

Kukah said in his original email that "The matter had actually passed but now we are handling the matter through other channels," but did not elaborate. 

In his Christmas message, Kukah said the Nigerian government, led by president Muhammadu Buhari, seems to have left the fate of Nigerians in the hands of “evil men.”

Kukah decried the fact that over 100 girls abducted by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram have yet to be found, as well as “hundreds of other children whose captures were less dramatic,” ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner, reported Dec. 28. 

“Now, we are fully in the grip of evil. Today, a feeling of vindication only saddens me as I have watched the north break into a cacophony of quarrelsome blame games over our tragic situation,” Bishop Kukah wrote. 

He continued, “A catalogue of unprecedented cruelty has been unleashed on innocent citizens across the Northern states. In their sleep, on their farmlands, in their markets, or even on the highway, innocent citizens have been mowed down and turned into burnt offerings to gods of evil.”

In Nigeria as a whole, at least 60,000 Christians have been killed in the past two decades. An estimated 3,462 Christians were killed in Nigeria in the first 200 days of 2021, or 17 per day, according to a new study.

Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation and the demographics overall are almost evenly split between Christians and Muslims. Nigeria's Christians, especially in the northern part of the country, have for the past several decades been subjected to brutal property destruction, killings, and kidnappings, often at the hands of Islamist extremist groups.

Part of the problem, Nigerian Christians have told CNA, is that the Muslim-controlled government has largely responded slowly, inadequately, or not at all to the problem of Christian persecution.

Fulani herdsmen, most of whom are Muslim, have been responsible for the most killings as of late, having murdered an estimated 1,909 Christians in the first 200 days of 2021.

“The silence of the federal government only feeds the ugly beast of complicity in the deeds of these evil people who have suspended the future of entire generations  of our children,” Kukah wrote in his Christmas message. 

“Every day, we hear of failure of intelligence, yet, those experts who provide intelligence claim that they have always done their duty diligently and efficiently. Does the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria not believe that he owes parents and citizens answers as to where our children are and when they are coming home? Does the President of Nigeria not owe us an explanation and answers as to when the abductions, kidnappings, brutality, senseless, and endless massacres of our citizens will end?”

In February 2020, Kukah celebrated Mass for the funeral of Michael Nnadi, an 18-year-old seminarian who was kidnapped, held for ransom, and killed by Muslim gunmen. According to one of his kidnappers, Nnadi was not afraid to proclaim his Catholic faith to them, and would not stop telling the kidnappers that they needed to repent of their evil ways.

During Nnadi’s funeral, Kukah decried the insecurity and violence that has taken place under Buhari, and expressed the hope that Michael’s death would become a turning point for Christian persecution in Africa’s most populous nation.

He said he hopes Michael’s example, and his martyrdom, will inspire an army of young people to follow in his footsteps. 

Kukah said at the time: “We will march on with the cross of Christ entrusted to us, not in agony or pain, because our salvation lies in your cross. We have no vengeance or bitterness in our hearts. We have no drop of sorrow inside us. We are honored that our son has been summoned to receive the crown of martyrdom at the infancy of his journey to the priesthood.”

After pro-abortion rights essay draws ire, Jesuit high school retracts student magazine issue

null / Unsplash.

Denver, Colo., Jan 11, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Leadership at a Denver-area Catholic high school retracted an entire issue of a quarterly student magazine after a student’s “deeply troubling” pro-abortion rights essay drew criticism and concern from several parents and the local archbishop.

The student essayist seemed to argue that the unborn child is not a human life and explicitly compared the fetus in the early stages of development to a “common tulip.”

In response, the Jesuit school’s leadership said the essay published without proper guidance. In addition, two faculty advisors for the newspaper no longer work at the school.

“An opinion piece that presented a stance on abortion clearly in opposition to Catholic Church teaching was included in the winter issue of the student-produced magazine that we found both deeply troubling and unacceptable,” Regis Jesuit High School president David Card said in a Jan. 10 statement to CNA.

“First, we want to be clear that as a Catholic, Jesuit institution we believe that life begins at the moment of conception. In this instance, we failed our students in providing proper guidance in how to consider matters involving our firmly held beliefs, especially those upholding the dignity of human life,” Card said. “While we believe in providing an avenue for student expression, we are taking steps now to consider the magazine’s editorial process to ensure its compatibility with and responsibility in representing the mission of Regis Jesuit.”

Card’s statement largely repeated the Dec. 17 letter he and principal Jimmy Tricco published online in place of the electronic version of the quarterly student magazine Elevate’s winter issue.

That letter retracted the issue in its entirety. In discussing the beginning of life at conception, Card and Tricco said: “We believe that protection of life at this stage represents the foundational requirement of respecting the dignity of human life at every stage. We are fully invested in disseminating and defending this and all Church teaching in all that we do.”

The student essay “The Battle for Out [sic] Bodies” contained factual errors, including the claim that Congress, not the U.S. Supreme Court, legalized abortion in the early 1970s. The essay claimed the unborn child before the sixth week of pregnancy has “the same mental capacity and cell organism complexity as a common tulip.”

“The basic human right of choice is at risk due to the lack of trust and faith towards abortion clinics and procedures,” said the author.

“Some say that having an abortion is a form of murder, but there is a difference between a baby and a fetus,” said the essay. “A baby is a living human, whereas a fetus is an organism inside of a woman’s womb that grows during pregnancy until it becomes a baby.”

To make abortion illegal would encourage “illegal and unsafe” abortions, and risk even more lives instead of saving them, the essay said.

“Even though it may be frowned upon in many communities, it is a procedure that many women go through,” the essay continued. The author advocated access to contraception, sex education, and family planning services “instead of changing the laws and creating a pseudo-religious government to rule over women.”

“Religious beliefs of other people should never interfere with a person’s choice,” the essay said.

Regis Jesuit High School, in the eastern Denver suburb of Aurora, offers single-sex instruction in both a boy’s and a girl’s divisions, with almost 1,700 students combined. About 1 in 3 students receive need-based financial aid, though tuition is over $19,000 per year.

The Archdiocese of Denver provided to CNA a Dec. 23 letter from Archbishop Samuel Aquila about the controversy.

Aquila said many families reached out to him to voice their “deep concerns” about the essay. He said he was “deeply troubled” that an essay advocating a position “in direct contradiction to the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life” was allowed to be published in a Catholic school.

He described abortion and euthanasia as “the preeminent issues for the Catholic Church today.” Aquila cited Pope Francis’ own description of abortion as “an absolute evil.” He added that it is his duty as Archbishop of Denver to ensure that Catholic institutions in the archdiocese are faithful to Church teachings.

“I am grateful that the leadership of Regis Jesuit High School promptly retracted the article and addressed this situation recognizing the failure that took place in allowing this article to be published,” he said.

Aquila welcomed the high school leadership’s commitment to defending Church teaching. He said he deeply desires to support this and has asked his staff to help them ensure there is “deeply faithful Catholic formation” for all students, faculty, and staff.

“Catholic schools exist to be sanctuaries of education where students can come to encounter Jesus, be transformed by a relationship with him, grow in wisdom and virtue, and discover their call for their lives as young men and women created in God’s image and likeness,” the archbishop said.

It is “vital” to understand this mission for Christians “in a time where moral relativism has consumed our society and culture, and where to proclaim truth is considered oppressive and bigoted.”

“Knowing truth leads to true freedom and human flourishing because it leads to Jesus, he who rescues us and gives us the fullness of abundant life,” Aquila said.

According to the archbishop, Catholic schools “must be fully pro-life institutions” and need to defend the sanctity of human life and to form students to help free them from “the culture of death that pervades our world today.”

“As such, faculty and staff of Catholic schools must be pro-life,” he said. Faithful Catholic schools need to be led by faithful educators “in love with Jesus Christ and his Church”, who witness to the truth of the Gospel.

Both faculty advisors for the Regis Jesuit publication confirmed to the Aurora-based newspaper Sentinel Colorado that they no longer work at the school.

One of the advisors, Nicole Arduini, told the Denver Post she was let go after the column was published.

“I am saddened about the situation,” she said. “I enjoyed teaching student journalism and am proud to have worked with an amazing group of young journalists.”

The school’s student editorial policies say that advisors will not act as censor or determine media content, the Denver Post reports.

“Rather, the advisers will teach journalistic skills and guide the students in making sound legal and ethical decisions,” said the policies. “School officials, administration or faculty and staff, likewise, shall not practice prior review or to censor any student media, with the exception of material deemed to be legally obscene, libelous, substantially and materially disruptive.”

The high school is a separate institution from Regis University, but both are affiliated with the Society of Jesus.

Regis University was the focus of controversy in November 2018 after the Jesuit institution hosted a drag show performed by students that purported to support transgender students. University officials had sent emails to faculty suggesting they attend the drag show, assign books by “queer, and especially transgender” authors to their students and add a preferred gender pronouns policy to their classroom syllabus.

Archbishop Aquila publicly objected that this guidance was not in conformity with the Catholic faith but rather was an example of “ideological colonization” repeatedly decried by Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope.

March for Life speakers include Father Mike Schmitz, actor Kirk Cameron

2020 March for Life, Washington, D.C., Jan. 24, 2020 / Peter Zelasko/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 11, 2022 / 11:48 am (CNA).

The March for Life Education and Defense Fund announced the speaker lineup for the upcoming 49th annual March for Life on Jan. 21.

Among the speakers at the rally proceeding the march will be actor Kirk Cameron, “Duck Dynasty” star Lisa Robertson, podcast host Father Mike Schmitz, and two members of Congress, along with other pro-life advocates. 

“We are delighted to welcome these incredible speakers to the March for Life,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life Education and Defense Fund, in a press release published Jan. 11.  

“Americans everywhere know that unborn children deserve equal rights and protection under the law,” she said.

“We expect this year's March for Life to be historic with even higher levels of enthusiasm from participants. We are hopeful that, with Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization before the Supreme Court, 2022 will bring us much closer to building the culture of life we have all marched for since Roe v. Wade was tragically imposed on our nation nearly 50 years ago.”

The pre-march rally is set to begin at noon on the National Mall. The March for Life will begin immediately after the rally concludes. 

The theme of this year’s march is “Equality Begins in the Womb,” which organizers say “highlights how true equality is only possible if we recognize that children in the womb also deserve protection.”

Leading the March for Life will be students from Christendom College, a Catholic college in Front Royal, Virginia, and students from Immanuel Lutheran High School in Alexandria, Virginia.

His Eminence, Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, Orthodox Church in the US, will be leading the opening prayer at the rally. Cissie Graham Lynch, of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, is set to deliver the rally’s closing prayer. 

Matthew West, a Christian recording artist, will be performing a pre-rally concert. 

After the coronavirus pandemic moved the 2021 March for Life online, with extremely limited in-person attendance, organizers vowed that the 2022 March for Life would “proceed as planned” despite the city’s new vaccine mandate and high case rates. 

Washington, D.C. will be implementing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on Jan. 15, six days before the march. As the March for Life is outside, proof of vaccination will not be required, although participants will be required to wear masks except for when eating or drinking. 

Everyone over the age of 12 who is going to the Rose Dinner, which occurs after the March for Life, will have to show proof of vaccination (or provide a negative test along with a religious or medical exemption from the vaccine) as the event is indoors.

More information about this march is available on the March for Life website.

Synod snafu: The USCCB tweet Catholic Twitter can't stop talking about

Synod on Synodality logo / Courtesy USCCB

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 11, 2022 / 10:43 am (CNA).

The U.S. bishops took to Twitter Monday seeking feedback on the upcoming Synod on Synodality. And hoo, boy, they got it.

The 11 a.m. tweet from the Twitter account of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops backfired in a big way, triggering hundreds of negative comments from people who took umbrage at what they saw as the USCCB's awkward embrace of corporate buzzwords.

Within hours it became "the tweet that Catholic Twitter can't stop talking about," as one commentator phrased it. By Tuesday morning, the USCCB had shut down comments from anyone it doesn't follow or mention by name.

"Here are seven attitudes we can all adopt as we continue our synodal journey together. Which one inspires you the most? Let us know in the comments below," the USCCB tweeted. The attitudes listed are: innovative outlook, inclusivity, open-mindedness, listening, accompaniment, and co-responsibility.

Most chose option 8: biting sarcasm.

"If you truly are being held captive in the HR Department, blink twice, we will send in a rescue team," wrote one of the first people to respond.

"If I wanted corporate speak I'd go to my job on Sundays," another person said.

"Sounds like something that comes out of the Calm app, not Catholicism. Thanks, I will skip," wrote another.

"Who wrote this spiritual guidance, Nabisco Corp?" someone wanted to know.

"Is this entire synod being run by human resources interns?" another wrote.

"We're not a Fortune 500 company, we are literally the body of Christ."

And on, and on, it went. You get the idea.

No one said gathering constructive input from the world's 1 billion Catholics was going to be easy. And with a name like "the Synod on Synodality," even the best minds on Madison Avenue are going to have their work cut out for them.

Still, this clearly was not the sort of dialogue the USCCB had in mind. A USCCB spokesperson did not immediately respond Tuesday morning to an email seeking comment about the tweet.

The Synod of Synodality is a global, two-year consultative process of "listening and dialogue" that began in October 2021. The opening of the process is a diocesan phase expected to last until August 2022. The Vatican has asked all dioceses to participate, hold consultations, and collect feedback on specific questions laid out in synod documents.

A synod is a meeting of bishops that aims to discuss a topic of theological or pastoral significance, in order to prepare a document of advice or counsel to the pope. At the end of the current process, a synod of bishops is scheduled to take place in Rome in October 2023 to produce a final document.

An infographic showing the timeline for the synod on synodality. Vatican Media.
An infographic showing the timeline for the synod on synodality. Vatican Media.

"Pope Francis invites the entire Church to reflect on a theme that is decisive for its life and mission: 'It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium,'" the USCCB says on its website.

"This journey, which follows in the wake of the Church’s 'renewal' proposed by the Second Vatican Council, is both a gift and a task: by journeying together and reflecting together on the journey that has been made, the Church will be able to learn through Her experience which processes can help Her to live communion, to achieve participation, to open Herself to mission."

In its early goings, however, many Catholics still haven't heard about the Synod on Synodality, or don't understand what it is, exactly. Other Catholics are suspicious about the process, or already hostile toward it, believing it will serve to amplify voices of dissent and be used in an attempt at changing Church discipline.

All of those attitudes, and more, were reflected in the avalanche of comments to the USCCB's tweet.

The Vatican published a social media toolkit in October to help bishops and others guide the consultative process. The document includes templates for social media posts, a suggested hashtag (#ListeningChurch), and a host of other recommendations. One section is titled, "How to manage eventual negative engagement."

"As you know, in the digital world, many people can make some negative comments on some posts. But as Christians, we have the perfect example (Jesus-Christ) of how to treat each other and to love one another, no matter where they are from," the guidance reads.

"Simply, don’t panic if you receive some negative comments on your social platform and take this opportunity to reflect on what God wants us to answer," it continues. "We should always ground our responses in faith."

To be sure, some of the comments to the USCCB tweet were harsh, and a few people who wanted to talk seriously about accompaniment or listening were quickly drowned out.

But there was humor, too. Several commenters likened the tweet to a parody about "corporatespeak" sung by "Weird Al" Yankovic, called "Mission Statement."

"We must all efficiently operationalize our strategies, invest in world-class technology, and leverage our core competencies, in order to holistically administrate exceptional synergy," is one of the lines.

Not everyone was in a joking mood. (Nor is the USCCB at the moment, one would imagine.) Some people said they were offended, saddened, or embarrassed by the conference's tweet.

"The world is starving for grace and truth and we’re being fed empty platitudes and sentimentality," one person wrote.

"When you replace the traditional BEATITUDES with the modernist ATTITUDES…." reads another tweet.

"I want Jesus," another person wrote.

Two of the more well-known responders tried to strike a more helpful tone.

"If you need 7," author Leah Libresco Sargeant began, before listing the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

"How about you adopt this attitude," actress Patricia Heaton offered. "'Christ shed his blood on the cross to save you, so attend with an attitude of repentance, humility, gratitude, joy and worship. Let your lips be full of praise for your savior Jesus.'"

But even she couldn't resist adding, "Or 'innovative outlook' I guess…"

Pope Francis commends university in Poland for six centuries of Catholic education

Staff of the Pontifical University of John Paul II in Krakow, Poland / Wikimedia Commons

Vatican City, Jan 11, 2022 / 10:00 am (CNA).

More than 600 years ago on January 11, 1397, Pope Boniface IX granted a request from Saint Hedwig, Queen of Poland, to create a Catholic theological faculty.

Today this Catholic educational institution, now called the Pontifical University of John Paul II in Krakow, is celebrating the 625th anniversary of its founding.

Pope Francis offered congratulations to the pontifical university in a letter published Jan. 11.

“Together with you, I thank God for this tradition of more than six centuries, with all its scientific and educational achievements, as well as its own spirituality created by its holy founders, professors and students,” the pope wrote.

“Today's times require all of us not to forget tradition, but at the same time to look with hope to the future and to create the future,” he said.

The university was renamed for Pope St. John Paul II in 2009. Its Catholic theological faculty had been part of the Jagiellonian University since the 14th century until Communist authorities expelled it from the university in 1954, however this decision did not interrupt its underground and canonical existence.

John Paul II issued a motu proprio “Beata Hedvigis” in 1981 officially reestablishing the theological faculty of the Jagiellonian University as the Pontifical Academy of Theology.

In his letter dated Jan. 6, Pope Francis encouraged the students at the university to live out its motto: “Go and make disciples.”

“Saint John Paul II stressed the need for such a ‘ministry of the mind,’ through which academic circles join the Church's mission of spreading Christ's message to the world,” Pope Francis said.

“Therefore, faithful to centuries of tradition, read the signs of the times and courageously take up new challenges in order to effectively bring the truth of the Gospel to contemporary man and the world.”

“May your university be a place of formation for new generations of Christians, not only through scientific study and the search for truth, but also through the public witness of living the faith,” Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis sends condolences for death of European Parliament president

Pope Francis meets with David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, June 25, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Rome Newsroom, Jan 11, 2022 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has sent condolences for the death of European Parliament President David Sassoli, who died Tuesday at the age of 65.

Sassoli, a former Italian television journalist who became a member of the European Parliament in 2009, died in a hospital in Aviano, Italy on the morning of Jan. 11, according to his spokesman, Roberto Cuillo.

He had been hospitalized in Italy since Dec. 26 due to “a disfunction of the immune system,” Cuillo wrote.

A Vatican message addressed to Sassoli’s wife, Alessandra Vittorini, expressed the pope’s spiritual closeness to the family, mentioning the parliamentarian’s two children, Livia and Giulio, by name.

“Pope Francis, while raising prayers of intercession, invokes from the Risen Lord eternal peace for him and consolation of heart for those who mourn his passing,” said a note signed by Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

“He remembers him as a believer animated by hope and charity, a competent journalist, and an esteemed public servant, who in a calm and respectful manner in the public responsibilities he held, did his utmost for the common good with integrity and selfless dedication,” the message said.

The papal telegram further lauded Sassoli for “promoting with clarity and passion a vision of solidarity of the European community and dedicating himself with particular care to the least ones.”

Sassoli had led the 700-plus members of the European Parliament since 2019. He was a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, the second-largest group in the parliament.

Pope Francis received Sassoli for a private audience at the Vatican last June, two days after the European Parliament voted to adopt a report describing abortion as “essential healthcare” and seeking to redefine conscientious objection as a “denial of medical care.”

The Matić Report also asserted that abortion is a “human right” and violations of “sexual and reproductive health and rights” are “a form of violence against women and girls.”

During the Vatican meeting, Sassoli and Pope Francis discussed “the need to protect the weakest and most vulnerable,” according to a press release from the European Parliament.

In an interview with Vatican Radio on Dec. 17, one week before he was hospitalized for the last time, Sassoli said, “a Europe that respects life is the Europe that we desire.”

Sassoli’s funeral will be held on Jan. 14 in the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs in Rome.

Italian bishop forbids unvaccinated priests from distributing Communion

null / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Jan 11, 2022 / 05:00 am (CNA).

An Italian bishop has prohibited unvaccinated priests and lay people from distributing Communion as Italy tightens its COVID-19 restrictions.

Bishop Giacomo Cirulli of the southern Italian diocese of Teano-Calvi and Alife-Caiazzo issued a letter on Jan. 8 with new rules to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

“I prohibit the distribution of the Eucharist by priests, deacons, religious and lay people who are not vaccinated,” the bishop wrote.

“With regard to vaccines, let me recall what Pope Francis said: ‘Getting vaccinated … is an act of love. And helping to ensure that the majority of people get vaccinated is an act of love. Love for yourself, love for family and friends, love for all peoples,’” he said.

In the letter, Cirulli also issued the suspension of all in-person pastoral, catechetical and formative activities in his diocese.

Cirulli graduated from medical school in Naples before becoming a priest. The 69-year-old bishop was hospitalized with COVID-19 in November 2020 and recovered.

He asked Catholics in his diocese to abide by the COVID-19 restrictions issued by the Italian government.

New Italian government restrictions came into force this week banning unvaccinated citizens from entering restaurants, public transportation, gyms, theaters, and sports events.

“Most of the problems we are facing today are due to the fact that there are unvaccinated people," Prime Minister Mario Draghi said at an evening press conference on Jan. 10.

Draghi’s government made it mandatory last October for all employees in Italy to show either proof of vaccination or a negative test before entering the workplace each week.

The Italian government also announced last week that it will impose mandatory vaccination for every person over the age of 50, regardless of employment, starting Feb. 15.

More than 86% of people over the age of 12 in Italy are fully vaccinated, according to health authorities.

Amid the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, there were more than 100,000 new cases of COVID-19 recorded in Italy each day for the past five days.

Catholic priest in India will face trial for alleged hate speech

An Indian Christian prays in Eluru, Andhra Pradesh. / lakshmipathilucky via Shutterstock.

Kuzhithurai, India, Jan 10, 2022 / 16:39 pm (CNA).

A Catholic priest in India will face trial for allegations of hate speech during an interreligious meeting last year. 

Father George Ponnaiah is a priest of the Diocese of Kuzhithurai, in southern India. The accusations against him stem from a meeting in July 2021 against coronavirus restrictions on worship and the construction of new churches. 

During the meeting, Ponnaiah allegedly made comments against the local government and leaders of India’s ruling, pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party. He was arrested several days later and released on bail. 

The Madras High Court ruled Ponnaiah should face trial for his comments at the meeting. 

The priest has denied the charges and has said videos of his comments at the meeting were deceptively edited. 

“My speech has been edited and circulated on social media to show that I hurt the sentiments of Hindu brothers and sisters,” Ponnaiah said, according to UCA News. “None of us on the dais said anything hurting religious sentiments. If my speech hurt anyone, I apologize wholeheartedly.”

Persecution against Christians in India is on the rise. A recent report suggested that Christians in India were the targets of 305 violent incidents in the first nine months of 2021.

Most recently, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs temporarily suspended the Missionaries of Charity’s eligibility for foreign donations.  

India, the world’s second-most populous country after China, is ranked 10th on the World Watch List for the persecution of Christians compiled by the advocacy group Open Doors.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) listed India as a “country of particular concern” for religious freedom in 2020 for the first time in more than a decade.

“The government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), promoted Hindu nationalist policies resulting in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom,” the commission’s 2021 report said.