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5 ways Saint Pope John Paul II changed the Catholic Church forever

Pope John Paul II circa 1991.

Vatican City, Oct 22, 2021 / 16:10 pm (CNA).

You probably know that St. Pope John Paul II was the second longest-serving pope in modern history with 27 years of pontificate, and he was the first non-Italian pontiff since the Dutch Pope Adrian VI in 1523. But did you know that he changed the Catholic Church forever during those 27 years?  Here are five reasons why:

1. He helped bring about the 1989 fall of communism in Eastern Europe.

The pope’s official biographer, George Weigel, who for decades chronicled the pope’s engagement with civic leaders, noted that the way Pope John Paul II influenced the political landscape was enormous. His political influence is seen best in the way his engagement with world leaders assisted the downfall of the U.S.S.R.

Just days before President Ronald Reagan called on Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down” the Berlin Wall, he met with the pope. According to historian and author Paul Kengor, Reagan went so far as to call Pope John Paul II his “best friend,” opining that no one knew his soul better than the Polish pontiff who had also suffered an assasination attempt and carried the burden of world leadership.

In the course of 38 official visits and 738 audiences and meetings held with heads of state, John Paul II influenced civic leaders around the world in this epic battle with a regime that would ultimately be responsible for the deaths of more than 30 million people. 

“He thought of himself as the universal pastor of the Catholic Church, dealing with sovereign political actors who were as subject to the universal moral law as anybody else,” Weigel said. 

“He was willing to be a risk-taker, but he also appreciated that prudence is the greatest of political virtues. And I think he was quite respected by world political leaders because of his transparent integrity. His essential attitude toward these men and women was: How can I help you? What can I do to help?”

More than anything, John Paul II understood his role primarily as a spiritual leader.

According to Weigel, the pope’s primary impact on the world of affairs was his central role in creating the revolution of conscience that began in Poland and swept across Eastern Europe. This revolution of conscience inspired the nonviolent revolution of 1989 and the collapse of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe, an astounding political achievement. 

2. He beatified and canonized more saints than any predecessor, making holiness more accessible to ordinary people.

One of John Paul II’s most enduring legacies is the huge number of saints he recognized. He celebrated 147 beatification ceremonies during which he proclaimed 1,338 blesseds, as well as celebrating 51 canonizations for a total of 482 saints. That is more than the combined tally of his predecessors over the five centuries before.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta is perhaps the most well-known contemporary of John Paul II who is now officially a saint, but the first saint of the new millennium and one especially dear to John Paul II was St. Faustina Kowalska, the fellow Polish native who received the message of Divine Mercy. 

“Sr. Faustina's canonization has a particular eloquence: by this act I intend today to pass this message on to the new millennium,” he said in the homily of her canonization. “I pass it on to all people, so that they will learn to know ever better the true face of God and the true face of their brethren.” 

Pier Giorgio Frassati, whom Pope John Paul II beatified in 1990 and nicknamed the “man of the beatitudes,” is another popular saint elevated by the Polish Pope who loved to recognize the holiness of simple persons living the call to holiness with extraordinary fidelity. At the time of his death, the 24 year-old Italian was simply a student with no extraordinary accomplishments. But his love for Christ in the Eucharist and in the poor was elevated by John Paul II as heroic and worthy of imitation. 

It bears noting that Pope Francis would later surpass John Paul II when he proclaimed 800 Italian martyrs saints in a single day. 

3. He transformed the papal travel schedule.

John Paul II visited some 129 counties during his pontificate — more countries than any other pope had visited up to that point.

He also created World Youth Days in 1985, and presided over 19 of them as pope.

Weigel says John Paul II understood that the pope must be present to the people of the Church, wherever they are.

“He chose to do it by these extensive travels, which he insisted were not travels, they were pilgrimages,” Wegel said.

“This was the successor of Peter, on pilgrimage to various parts of the world, of the Church. And that's why these pilgrimages were always built around liturgical events, prayer, adoration of the Holy Eucharist, ecumenical and interreligious gatherings — all of this was part of a pilgrimage experience.”

In the latter half of the 20th century — a time of enormous social change and upheaval— John Paul II’s extensive travels and proclamation of the Gospel to the ends of the earth were just what the world needed, Weigel said.

4. He transformed the teachings of the Church.

John Paul II was a scholar who promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992, reformed the Eastern and Western Codes of Canon Law during his pontificate, and authored 14 encyclicals, 15 apostolic exhortations, 11 apostolic constitutions, and 45 apostolic letters.

This is why Weigel says the Church has really only begun to unpack what he calls the “magisterium” of John Paul II, in the form of his writings and his intellectual influence.

For example, John Paul’s Theology of the Body remains enormously influential in the United States and throughout the world, though Weigel says even this has yet to be unpacked.

5. He gave new life to the Catholic Church in Africa.

John Paul II’s legendary evangelical fervor took fire in Africa. 

He had a particular friendship with Beninese Cardinal Bernadin Gantin, and visited Africa many times. His visits would inspire a generation of JPII Catholics in Africa as well other parts of the globe.

“John Paul II was fascinated by Africa; he saw African Christianity as living, a kind of New Testament experience of the freshness of the Gospel, and he was very eager to support that, and lift it up,” Cardinal Gantin said.

“It was very interesting that during the two synods on marriage and the family in 2014 and 2015, some of the strongest defenses of the Church's classic understanding of marriage and family came from African bishops. Some of whom are first, second generation Christians, deeply formed in the image of John Paul II, whom they regard as a model bishop,” Gantin said.

“I think wherever you look around the world Church, the living parts of the Church are those that have accepted the Magisterium of John Paul II and Benedict XVI as the authentic interpretation of Vatican II. And the dying parts of the Church, the moribund parts of the Church are those parts that have ignored that Magisterium.”

John Paul II’s influence in Africa and around the globe transformed the world. It also forever transformed the Church.

Christians pray, fast for release of missionaries kidnapped in Haiti

Rebuilding project in Haiti / Christian Aid Ministries

Washington D.C., Oct 22, 2021 / 16:01 pm (CNA).

The ringleader behind the kidnappings of 17 missionaries in Haiti has threatened to kill the hostages unless he received his demands, in a video posted online on Thursday. Meanwhile, the group that organized the mission trip has called for prayer and fasting for the missionaries’ safe release.

The group of missionaries and family members with the Ohio-based group Christian Aid Ministries were kidnapped by the gang 400 Mazowo on Saturday, Oct. 16, when they were working at an orphanage in Haiti. 

Christian Aid Ministries on Thursday requested that people pray not only for the hostages, but for their families, the government, and for the kidnappers themselves. The group encouraged people to pray and fast for the safe return of the hostages. 

“Pray for the kidnappers—that they would experience the love of Jesus and turn to Him. We see that as their ultimate need,” the group said in a statement posted on its website. 

Those kidnapped “are from Amish, Mennonite, and other Anabaptist communities in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Ontario, Canada,” and are continuing “to support each other with prayers and encouragement during this difficult time,” the group said.

The hostages range in age from 8 months to 48 years. Of the 17 hostages, all but one are American citizens; the other is Canadian. 

“Pray for government leaders and authorities—as they relate to the case and work toward the release of the hostages,” Christian Aid Ministries said. “We appreciate the ongoing work and assistance of those knowledgeable and experienced in dealing with kidnapping cases.”

On Thursday, the leader of the 400 Mawozo gang released a video saying that he would kill the hostages if his demands were not met. The gang is requesting a $1 million ransom for each hostage. 

"I swear by thunder that if I don't get what I'm asking for, I will put a bullet in the heads of these Americans," said Wilson Joseph in a video published on social media. According to Reuters, a senior U.S. State Department official said the video appeared to be legitimate. 

Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement that it would not comment on the video “until those directly involved in obtaining the release of the hostages have determined that comments will not jeopardize the safety and well-being of our staff and family members.” 

The 400 Mawozo gang responsible for the most recent kidnapping is the same criminal gang behind the April 2021 kidnapping of Catholic priests and religious in Haiti. All of those kidnapped in April were released within several weeks; ransom was paid for just two of the kidnapped priests, according to a Haitian official.

In a statement on Friday, Christian Aid Ministries said that six days after the kidnapping, the families of the victims “face uncertainty. They long for the return of their loved ones.”

The group also explained why the missionaries chose to serve in Haiti. Kidnappings and acts of violence have become common in the country, with the country’s president Jovenel Moïse assassinated at his home in July.

“You may wonder why our workers chose to live in a difficult and dangerous context, despite the apparent risks. Before leaving for Haiti, our workers who are now being held hostage expressed a desire to faithfully serve God in Haiti,” the statement read. 

The website of Christian Aid Ministries states that it serves as a “channel for Amish, Mennonite, and other conservative Anabaptist groups and individuals” to provide aid to those in need around the world. 

It supports aid and anti-poverty efforts in countries such as Haiti and Kazakhstan, but also promotes billboard evangelism in the United States and advertises assistance for any conscientious objectors in the event of a U.S military draft.

English assisted suicide bill not put to vote in House of Lords

Credit: Photographee.eu / Shutterstock.

London, England, Oct 22, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

After seven hours of debate and notable opposition in the House of Lords on Friday, the sponsor of a bill that would legalize assisted suicide in England and Wales chose not to take the bill to a vote.

“It is a great outcome that this Bill was not taken to a vote today. The Bill is unlikely to be given time in Parliament to be debated in the House of Commons and become law, given that it is not supported by the Government,” Catherine Robinson, spokesperson for Right To Life UK, commented Oct. 22 shortly after the Second Reading of the Assisted Dying Bill tabled by Baroness Meacher. 

The bill would permit assisted suicide for terminally ill adults with fewer than six months to live, subject to the approval of two doctors and a high court judge.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, officer of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Dying Well, commented that “Peers have today demonstrated a powerful opposition to this bill. Many vulnerable people are unaware of the dangers in going down this road, as this bill has hidden dangers, unsafe qualifying criteria, and potentially opens the door to even wider legislation.”

“Instead, the focus should be on pressing the Government to do more to ensure good palliative and end-of-life care for everyone, everywhere in this country,” Baroness Finlay, a professor palliative medicine, added.

More than 60 peers spoke against the bill during the debate.

Justin Welby, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, said that “No amount of regulation can make a relative kinder or a doctor infallible; No amount of reassurance can make a vulnerable or disabled person feel equally safe, equally valued if the law is changed in this way”.

“It does not serve compassion if, by granting the wishes of one closest to me, I expose others to danger; It does not serve dignity if, by granting the wishes of one closest to me, I devalue the status and safety of others,” Welby continued.

Lord Alton noted that “Notwithstanding the good intentions of those who produce these recurring bills, the same unanswered questions about the risks to vulnerable people… and the lack of safeguards remain and they remain unanswered”.

He added, “In truth, what are described as safeguards are simply a wish list for what its sponsors hope would happen in an ideal world”.

“It would be profoundly irresponsible to enact legislation without knowing how many putative safeguards might work. Asking us to do otherwise is like asking Parliament to sign a blank cheque,” he said.

Lord Winston called ‘assisted dying’ an inappropriate euphemism, and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath noted his concern “about the unintended consequences of people feeling pressurised into ending their own lives, either because of fear that they might be a burden or because relatives might seek to gain through the accelerated death of a relative”.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle said that “I fear that this country will become a society that terminates the lives of its old people, its sick and disabled people, because they fear they are being a burden to their loved ones and because of the time and the cost of their care.”

Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, founder of Not Dead Yet UK, commented that the bill “would alter society’s view of those in vulnerable circumstances by signalling that assisted suicide is something that they might or ought to consider”.

“Disabled people with terminal conditions or progressive conditions like mine are alarmed by the misleading narrative of autonomy and choice,” she said, and “We must not abandon those who can benefit from high-quality health and social care to the desperate temptation of assisted suicide in the guise of a compassionate choice.”

She has also said that were the bill passed, it “would run counter to our duty to protect those in the most vulnerable situations, and would exacerbate their fears, through insidious pressure, of being regarded as an expendable burden. As has happened elsewhere, the Bill would doubtless be extended.”

“No major disability rights group in the UK supports legalising assisted suicide. What they support is immediate and sustained improvement in their care. Now is not the time to abandon them to the desperate temptation of an assisted suicide under the guise of compassion.”

Multiple prominent, public demonstrations of opposition to the bill occurred this week ahead of its second reading.

A group of some 1,700 British doctors wrote to the UK Health Secretary saying they would not participate in assisted suicide were it legalized.

“The shift from preserving life to taking life is enormous and should not be minimised...Some patients may never consider assisted suicide unless it was suggested to them. The cruel irony of this path is that legislation introduced with the good intention of enhancing patient choice will diminish the choices of the most vulnerable,” the letter read.

And Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, along with Justin Welby, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, and Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, recently wrote a joint letter to peers “to express our profound disquiet at the provisions of the ‘Assisted Dying’ Bill currently in the House of Lords.”

Assisted suicide is illegal in England and Wales, and doctors who assist a suicide can be jailed up to 14 years under the Suicide Act 1961. In 2015 the British parliament rejected a bill that would have legalized assisted suicide for patients with a terminal diagnosis, by a vote of 330 to 118. Parliament has consistently rejected efforts to change the law.

In September 2020 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirmed the Church’s perennial teaching on the sinfulness of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The trade union for doctors in the United Kingdom, as of September, is no longer officially opposed to the legalization of assisted suicide. The British Medical Association has adopted a “neutral” stance on the issue, following a narrow vote at its annual representative meeting. The body had been opposed to assisted suicide since 2006.

College football coach, Ignatian scholar team up for video project

Mike Gutelius (center), head football coach of The Catholic University of America, watches the action on the sidelines. / The Catholic University of America

Washington D.C., Oct 22, 2021 / 14:35 pm (CNA).

If you visit The Catholic University of America’s campus in Washington D.C., you will be sure to notice members of the school’s football team walking around with a “chip” on their shoulders. 

That chip is figurative and literal, as head coach Mike “Gut” Gutelius has commissioned team shirts that say “All Gas, No Breaks” on the front, and the word “chip” located on the back right shoulder.

Football players at The Catholic University of America wear this T-shirt, featuring a "chip" on the shoulder, designed by Head Coach Mike "Gut" Gutelius, who has been trying to change the culture of the program since his hiring in December 2016. The Catholic University of America
Football players at The Catholic University of America wear this T-shirt, featuring a "chip" on the shoulder, designed by Head Coach Mike "Gut" Gutelius, who has been trying to change the culture of the program since his hiring in December 2016. The Catholic University of America

The symbolism appears to be having the desired effect, as Gutelius’s team is 5-2 and undefeated in its conference heading into its Oct. 23 game against the Merchant Marine Academy.

The Cardinals’ success this season is a product of Gutelius’ efforts to change the culture of the football program, a slow but steady process that began with his hiring after the 2016 season. His approach encompasses a special emphasis on faith: Team Bible studies, pre-game rosaries, and discussions about the Cardinal Virtues all figure into his plan for developing young men with character.

Although Gutelius describes himself as “just a coach,” his success and faith life on and off the field drew the attention of Ablaze Family Ministries (AFM) and world-renowned Ignatian spirituality speaker, Fr. Timothy Gallagher, O.M.V. 

AFM, a nonprofit organization based in Ellicott City, Maryland, with a mission to strengthen Catholic families, has teamed up with Gallagher to find a way to make St. Ignatius of Loyola’s 14 Rules for Discerning the Will of God more accessible and relatable to a younger audience. 

“St. Ignatius of Loyola has crafted an invaluable set of 14 practical guidelines (rules) to understand and respond to this daily ebb and flow in the spiritual life,” Gallagher told CNA. “As I know from almost 40 years of experience, people love the concrete wisdom of these rules that help them know what is of God and what is not, and how to accept the one and reject the other.”

Gallagher, a frequent speaker on EWTN, has an extensive international ministry providing retreats, spiritual direction, and teaching about the spiritual life. He currently holds the St. Ignatius Chair for Spiritual Formation at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver.  

Because of his platform as a college football coach and his authenticity as a faithful Catholic, Gutelius was a clear choice for AFM and Gallagher to help bridge the gap between the academic nature of Ignatian spirituality and a younger audience that could greatly benefit from Ignatius’ rules for discernment. 

Gallagher told CNA that Gutelius “brings a wealth of experience to help make this bridge between St. Ignatius’s words and our daily experience.”

The project, produced by AFM, is called the “Playbook for the Spiritual Life,” and features 10 videos explaining how to apply St. Ignatius’s rules for discernment. 

The 10-minute videos feature Gutelius, filmed in the locker room or on the field, giving a unique game situation and explaining how to act during that time of adversity. After the coach's brief introduction of the football concepts, Gallagher then explains how the football analogy is similar to a particular Ignatian rule.

"In football you have to be aware of what's going on, you have to understand the game, and you have to execute. It's the same in your spiritual life,” Gutelius told CNA. 

“You have to be aware of the traps that can be set for you. You have to be aware of your own limitations. You have to be aware of your own physical desires. And then you have to understand them in relation to God's plan. And then the real trick is, can you execute?"

In one video the two men discuss St. Ignatius' fourth rule, which states, “When your heart is discouraged, you have little energy for spiritual things, and God feels far away, you are experiencing spiritual desolation. Resist and reject this tactic of the enemy!” 

Gutelius first explains the necessity of lifting weights in order to succeed in the game. However, sometimes, he says, players are physically drained and are unmotivated to work out. The coach says the decision to either take a day off or push through the temptation makes the difference between winning and losing come gametime. 

Gallagher then likens the challenge of lifting weights during a time of unmotivation to a young man who “has no energy for prayer” and is tempted to scroll through his phone, rather than read scripture as he planned. Gallagher says that the choice to scroll through the phone will leave the young man feeling empty, while if he chooses to read scripture as planned, he will feel more fulfilled.

“Football is an analogy for life in general and in that sense you can find a lot of connections between football done well and spirituality done well,” Gutelius told CNA. “Both require practice, commitment, and a desire to get better, and you’re going to have bumps and bruises in both football and your spiritual life.”

Executive Director of Operations at AFM, Deacon Steve Sarnecki said the combination of all these elements make the videos effective.

“Father Gallagher’s theological excellence when it comes to Ignatian spirituality, Ablaze’s unique ability to create family friendly, approachable, accessible content, and Coach Gut’s ever-present witness and understanding of strategy and the spiritual life came together in a beautiful weave for this project,” he said.

Gutelius said he was enthusiastic to be included in the project. "I hope that if I have any small part in maybe reducing a barrier for young people, then I am fired up to do it,” he said.

“I feel like I have a little bit of a pulpit as the head football coach at the Catholic University of America, and if I don't use it to help people understand the truth, to help people understand that God has a plan for them that they have to figure out, if I don't use that, then I might wind up at the pearly gates and not get the reception I'm looking for."

Mike "Gut" Gutelius (back to the camera), the head football coach at The Catholic University of America, leads his football team in prayer. The Catholic University of America
Mike "Gut" Gutelius (back to the camera), the head football coach at The Catholic University of America, leads his football team in prayer. The Catholic University of America

Gabe Aparicio, the team’s senior captain, told CNA that Gutelius has been a spiritual and fatherly role model for the whole team. 

“Gutelius’ office door is always open for us and I’ve had multiple conversations with him about life and faith, and honestly, he’s the type of person, the type of Catholic I aim to be someday,” Aparicio said. 

Gutelius graduated from The Catholic University of America in 1992 with a major in politics and a minor in philosophy. When he is not on the field or in the game-film room, he can often be found attending a campus Mass or showing prospective players around campus. He currently resides in Maryland with his wife Kimberly, and children Michael, 21, Sam, 19, and Mary, 16.

“I firmly believe St. Ignatius will be pleased with how this series presents his rules for discernment,” Gutelius said.

“Maybe even pleased enough that he might intercede a little bit to help the Cardinals get a big win this weekend?” he added. “We can always use a little heavenly help in worldly matters but especially this weekend vs the Merchant Marine academy!"

That time a priest was reprimanded by a saint

St. John Paul II, circa 1992. / L'Osservatore Romano.

Vatican City, Oct 22, 2021 / 14:28 pm (CNA).

When white smoke poured out of the chimney of the Sistine Chapel on October 16, 1978, Fr. Eamon Kelly, a seminarian studying in Rome at the time, couldn’t have known that he was witnessing the election of a future saint.

Nor did he know that more than a dozen years after that election, he would be reprimanded by that same future saint, John Paul II, during one of his Wednesday general audiences.

It was Holy Week of 1992, and Fr. Kelly, a priest with the Congregation of the Legion of Christ, was on his annual pilgrimage to Rome.

But this year was different.

His youth group had brought along eight Russian young people, the tension of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War just barely in the rearview mirror of history.

Fr. Kelly had done some strategizing to make sure the Russian youth got a good seat.

“We had our tickets and we went in early, and we did get positions up against the barrier of the corridor,” Fr. Kelly said. “So that was fantastic, we were going to see Pope John Paul II.”

His German students gave up all of the seats closest to the aisle, so that the Russian young people would get to shake the Pope’s hand as he walked through the Paul VI audience hall.

“I had the kids observe how he did it – he’d shake hands but by that he’d already moved on to talking to the next person, greeting them,” Fr. Kelly recalled.

“So I told them this pope knows Russian, and you need to greet him politely when he’s two or three people away; say some nice greeting in Russian.”

They did, and it worked: sure enough, the Pope’s ears perked up when he heard the Russian greetings. As soon as he got to the group, he stopped walking.

“He started talking to them in Russian, and there was a tremendous chemistry going on, and everybody was super excited. Our six rows of kids had assimilated into about two,” Fr. Kelly said.

Eventually the Pope asked, in Russian, how the group was able to make it to Rome. All the Russian students turned and pointed at Fr. Kelly.

He was a head taller than most of the students, so Fr. Kelly suddenly found himself in straight eye contact with John Paul II.

“There was so much joy and appreciation and gratitude in his eyes that these kids were there,” Fr. Kelly said.

“But then, his look turned like a storm with a critical question – ‘Why didn’t you tell me before they came?’” the Pope demanded of the priest.

“You know, like I could call up the Pope and tell him we’re coming,” Fr. Kelly recalled with a laugh.

“I tried to give an excuse, I said it was hanging by a thread that it was going to happen, I just fumbled my way through it. What are you going to do when the Pope is asking you for accountability?” Fr. Kelly said.

In hindsight, Fr. Kelly said he maybe could have called an office in the Vatican to alert them of the Russian students, but he didn’t realize that this visit would be so important for the Pope.

But Russia was dear to St. John Paul II’s heart, as he had played a critical role in the peaceful fall of communism and the Soviet Union. Just a few years prior, he had met for over an hour with President Mikhail Gorbachev, who later said the peaceful dissolution of the USSR would have been impossible without the Roman Pontiff.

Perhaps their meeting in 1989 had also softened Gorbachev’s heart prior to World Youth Day 1991, when the leader allowed some 20,000 Russian youth to attend the event in Poland for the first time ever. The conciliatory move was the whole reason the Russian students were now meeting John Paul II in Rome.

“He said to me, 'This is the first group of Russians I’ve ever greeted in the audience hall',” Fr. Kelly said.

It’s possible that it may have been the first youth group from Moscow to visit Rome ever, Fr. Kelly said.

“I don’t want to claim that title, because there may have been others, but it’s unlikely that anyone would have been able to come before the start of communism,” he said.

He said the Pope was visibly moved by the Russian students.

“He was happy, he was happy. He said if he would have known that they were there, he would have greeted them formally from the stage.”

And the Russian students?

“They were elated.”

This article was originally published on CNA Oct. 22, 2016.

Adults from Afghanistan, Iran, prepare to be baptized as Catholics in Vienna

A baptismal font in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Austria. / Bwag via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Vienna, Austria, Oct 22, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Eleven people from Afghanistan are among the 27 adults who will soon be baptized as Catholics in Austria’s Vienna archdiocese.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna formally welcomed the candidates for adult baptism at a ceremony on Oct. 20 at a Carmelite church in the city’s Döbling district, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

In addition to the 11 Afghans, there are six Iranians and four Austrians, with the remainder from five other countries.

More than two-thirds of the catechumens are male and between the ages of 20 and 40.

The 76-year-old cardinal told the candidates: “Being a Christian imparts a hope that is greater than the problems and crises of this world and also greater than the personal blows of fate that some of you have already experienced.”

Afghanistan is the world’s second-worst country in which to be a Christian after North Korea, according to the advocacy group Open Doors, which ranks Iran in eighth place.

Daniel Vychytil, who oversees the adult catechumenate in Vienna and at a national level, told the Austrian Catholic news agency Kathpress that some of those seeking adult baptism had gained asylum.

Following the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan in August, Afghans in Austria are likely to receive residence permits.

But baptized Afghans are often anxious about family members who remain in their homeland.

“Even if they have been granted asylum themselves, relatives must first manage to flee to Pakistan and apply there to the Austrian embassy for family reunification,” Vychytil said.

He added that most of the Afghan baptismal candidates first encountered Christianity on their journey out of Afghanistan or in Austria itself.

He noted that some had had “very deep religious experiences.”

“Some came to believe in Jesus Christ through conversations with compatriots who have already converted and are active in missionary work, others through visits to church spaces, where they felt a profound peace and quiet and encountered God,” he said.

He added that he knew Afghans who in previous years had been deported from Austria after being baptized.

Kathpress said that in Austria the number of adult baptisms — involving people aged 14 and over — has risen since the turn of the millennium, peaking in 2017.

In common with other Austrian dioceses, the Vienna archdiocese admits baptismal candidates each year in the spring, but has another ceremony in the fall for adult candidates who began their preparation later.

The baptisms take place in local parishes around the Feast of Christ the King, which falls this year on November 21.

Vychytil estimated that there would be around 200 adult baptisms in Austria this year, 80 of them in the Vienna archdiocese.

There are around 45,000 infant baptisms annually in Austria, a central European country of nine million people, around 57% of whom are baptized Catholics.

While there is an established trend of people leaving the Church in Austria, the Vienna archdiocese reported a rise in the number of men training for the priesthood last year.

Vatican steps in to help failing Catholic hospital in Rome

The historic Fatebenefratelli Hospital, on Rome’s Tiber Island. / Dguendel via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0).

Vatican City, Oct 22, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

The Vatican has stepped in to help a nearly bankrupt Catholic hospital in Rome run by the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God.

The historic Fatebenefratelli Hospital, which sits on Rome’s Tiber Island, has been in dire financial straits since 2013, with hundreds of millions of euros in debt pushing it to the brink of bankruptcy.

In June, the hospital was all but sold to the San Donato Group, one of the largest private hospital groups in Italy, which had signed an agreement with the hospital’s creditors.

Now, in a statement on Oct. 21, the Vatican thanked the leadership of the San Donato Group, while saying that Church authorities had started a “recovery plan” to keep the hospital under management by the Catholic religious order.

“A recovery plan has been launched that, in compliance with the regulations in force and in dialogue with the parties involved in various ways, will allow [the hospital] to continue to play the role that has characterized it so far in the field of Catholic healthcare,” the statement from the Holy See press office said.

It added that Church authorities would collaborate with other non-profit institutions “to resolve the economic and management crisis” at the hospital, officially known as the Ospedale San Giovanni Calibita Fatebenefratelli.

The Vatican statement pointed to Pope Francis’ comments on July 11, when he gave his Angelus address from Gemelli Hospital, where he had undergone surgery a week prior.

“In the Church too it happens that at times some healthcare institution, due to poor management, does not do well economically, and the first thought that comes to mind is to sell it,” Pope Francis said.

He added: “But the vocation, in the Church, is not to have money; it is to offer service, and service is always freely given. Do not forget this: saving free institutions.”

In the Oct. 21 press release, the Vatican thanked the vice presidents and CEO of the San Donato Group for the agreed-upon intervention, “aimed at preventing a further worsening of the current crisis and finding a definitive solution.”

The Vatican did not elaborate on what the “intervention” consists of.

Earlier this month, Pope Francis created a new foundation offering financial support to Catholic hospitals.

The more than 400-year-old hospital in Rome is well known for its obstetrics ward, where an average of 3,200 births take place each year. This year, during one weekend in July, the hospital made headlines for having had a record 36 births in 30 hours.

The hospital on Tiber Island is one of a number of religious-run healthcare centers facing financial crisis in recent years.

One of the hospitals is the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata (IDI) in Rome, which has been plagued by problems for more than decade.

After years of systematic theft and fraud by hospital administrators, the structure was left with 800 million euros (around $930 million) in debt and declared bankrupt in 2012 by Italy.

In 2013, Benedict XVI appointed a Vatican commissioner to look into the hospital’s finances. In 2015, the Vatican’s Secretariat of State stepped in, arranging to purchase the hospital out of state-administered bankruptcy through a for-profit partnership with the religious order that owned and managed the hospital — an arrangement that also ended in financial scandal.

In March this year, the Vatican appointed the former commander general of Italy’s financial police force as president of the foundation overseeing the IDI.

Saverio Capolupo, 70, was named president of the board of directors of the Luigi Maria Monti Foundation.

Capolupo succeeded Fr. Giuseppe Pusceddu, superior of the Italian province of the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception, who had been appointed interim president of the foundation in 2020.

Pope Francis says he wants to travel to Oceania and Africa

Pope Francis pictured on April 17, 2013. / Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk.

Vatican City, Oct 22, 2021 / 11:45 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said in an interview published Friday that he has several international trips in mind for 2022, as he picks up pace following a slower schedule during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking to Télam, Argentina’s national news agency, Pope Francis said that he would like to visit “the Congo and Hungary” next year, though he admitted the ideas have not yet reached the planning stages.

Pope Francis made a stop of less than a day in Hungary’s capital city, Budapest, on Sept. 12, for the final Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress, before making a longer visit to Slovakia.

In March, he went to Iraq, his first international trip since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

In the Oct. 22 interview, the pope said that in 2022 he would like to make trips to Papua New Guinea and East Timor, which had been planned for late 2020 before they were canceled because of the pandemic.

For the rest of 2021, Pope Francis confirmed that a trip to Cyprus, which a local official said would take place Dec. 2-3, is still on his program.

“The first weekend in December I am going to go to Greece and Cyprus,” the pope confirmed to Télam, noting that the final agenda of the trip was still being worked out.

The Vatican has not officially announced the trip. But in an interview broadcast on Sept. 1, the pope said he hoped to visit the eastern Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus, which has a population of around 875,000 people, including approximately 10,000 Catholics.

It is rumored that the trip could also include a stop on the Greek island of Lesbos, which Pope Francis visited in April 2016, bringing back 12 refugees to Rome with him.

Close to the coast of Turkey, Lesbos is affected by the European migrant crisis, and has several large refugee camps. In 2020, fires broke out at the overcrowded Moria camp, causing many migrants to flee.

Francis had also indicated in the Sept. 1 interview with Spain’s COPE radio station that he hoped to travel to Glasgow, Scotland, for the 2021 U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26) in early November.

But the Vatican, which had never officially confirmed the visit, indicated earlier this month that the pope will not attend.

Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See press office, said on Oct. 8 that the Vatican’s delegation to COP26 will be led by Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

Pope Francis, who will turn 85 on Dec. 17 and underwent colon surgery in July, has visited 54 countries during the eight and a half years of his pontificate.

He visited 11 countries in 2019 before his travels were halted in 2020 due to the pandemic. His four-day trip to Iraq in March 2021 was his first international trip after a pause of 15 months.

Supreme Court to hear challenges to Texas heartbeat law

Texas state capitol building / f11photo/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Oct 22, 2021 / 11:40 am (CNA).

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to consider two legal challenges to Texas’ pro-life heartbeat law, just weeks before it hears oral arguments in another major abortion case.

Both the Biden administration and abortion providers had challenged the Texas Heartbeat Act, a law which went into effect Sept. 1 and which restricts most abortions after detection of a fetal heartbeat. The law is enforced through private civil lawsuits.

On Friday, Oct. 22, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider both challenges to the law and expedited the cases, with oral arguments scheduled for Nov. 1. The court will consider whether the federal government can sue to block implementation of the law by the state, state courts, and private citizens; it will also consider whether lawsuits under the law can move forward, according to the website SCOTUSBlog.

In the meantime, the court is leaving the law in place as it considers both cases.

In her opinion accompanying the court order on Friday, Justice Sonia Sotomayor criticized the court’s refusal to temporarily block the law while considering challenges to it.

“The promise of future adjudication offers cold comfort, however, for Texas women seeking abortion care, who are entitled to relief now,” Sotomayor wrote. “These women will suffer personal harm from delaying their medical care, and as their pregnancies progress, they may even be unable to obtain abortion care altogether.”

The law is unique in that it is enforced through private civil lawsuits against those performing or, in some cases, those assisting in illegal abortions. Successful lawsuits can net at least $10,000 in damages.

Certain parties are barred from filing lawsuits, such as men who impregnate women who then have abortions; women who have illegal abortions also cannot be sued under the law.

The Justice Department challenged the law in court, and on Oct. 6 a federal district judge barred the state from enforcing judgments or awarding damages in successful lawsuits against illegal abortions. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit temporarily reversed that decision on Oct. 8, and on Oct. 14 allowed the law to remain in effect.

The Justice Department then appealed its case against the law to the Supreme Court on Oct. 18.

In the second case that the court is taking up, Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, a coalition of abortion providers, staff, and patients had sued to prevent lawsuits over illegal abortions from going forward in Texas.

The high court is considering the cases ahead of another major abortion case in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Oral arguments in that case, which involves Mississippi’s law restricting most abortions after 15 weeks, are scheduled for Dec. 1.

Shortly after the law went into effect in September, the Supreme Court declined to block the law in a 5-4 decision.

In its Oct. 21 brief before the Supreme Court, Texas argued that the court should reconsider landmark abortion cases if it took up the Biden administration’s appeal.

“The Court erred in recognizing the right to abortion in Roe and in continuing to preserve it in Casey,” the brief read. “The heartbeat provisions in SB 8 reasonably further Texas’s interest in protecting unborn life, which exists from the outset of pregnancy.”

“If it reaches the merits, the Court should overturn Roe and Casey and hold that SB 8 does not therefore violate the Fourteenth Amendment,” the state argued. 

Texas had accused the Biden Administration of overreach after the Justice Department challenged the law. The brief called the Justice Department’s challenge “extraordinary in its breadth and consequence” and asked the Supreme Court to decline its request. 

This article was updated on Oct. 22.

Vatican issues decree clarifying responsibilities for translation of Latin liturgical texts

Archbishop Arthur Roche at the Vatican press office on Feb. 10, 2015. / Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

Vatican City, Oct 22, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

The Vatican issued a decree on Friday guiding bishops’ conferences on the proper protocol for the translation of liturgical texts from Latin into vernacular languages.

Published on Oct. 22, the feast of St. John Paul II, the decree, called Postquam Summus Pontifex, clarifies changes already made by Pope Francis to the process of translating liturgical texts.

The decree from the Congregation for Divine Worship builds on a motu proprio Pope Francis issued in September 2017 shifting responsibility for the revision of liturgical texts toward bishops’ conferences.

The motu proprio, Magnum Principium, modified Canon 838 of the Code of Canon Law, which addresses the authority of the Vatican and national bishops’ conferences in preparing liturgical texts in vernacular languages.

The decree implementing this change to canon law comes four years after Pope Francis’ motu proprio was first published and a few months after the appointment of Archbishop Arthur Roche as the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, succeeding Cardinal Robert Sarah.

“Fundamentally the aim is to make collaboration between the Holy See and the bishops’ conferences easier and more fruitful,” the 71-year-old English archbishop said in an interview with Vatican News.

“The great task of translation, especially translating into their own languages what we find in the liturgical books of the Roman Rite, falls to the bishops.”

Roche, who also published a commentary on the new decree, underlined that the translation of liturgical texts is “a great responsibility” because “the revealed word can be proclaimed and the prayer of the Church can be expressed in a language which the people of God can understand.”

With the 2017 motu proprio, the text of Canon 838 changed to read: “It is for the Apostolic See to order the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, publish liturgical books, recognize adaptations approved by the episcopal conference according to the norm of law, and exercise vigilance that liturgical regulations are observed faithfully everywhere.”

The text of the following paragraph added that it was the responsibility of bishops’ conferences “to approve and publish the liturgical books for the regions for which they are responsible after the confirmation of the Apostolic See.”

The new decree from the Congregation for Divine Worship presents the norms and procedures to be taken into account when publishing liturgical books.

It says that the Holy See remains responsible for reviewing the adaptations approved by bishops’ conferences and confirming the translations that are made.

“This reform of Pope Francis aims to underline the responsibility and competence of the bishops’ conferences, both in assessing and approving liturgical adaptations for the territory for which they are responsible, and in preparing and approving translations of liturgical texts,” Roche said.

“The bishops, as moderators, promoters, and custodians of liturgical life in their particular church, have a great sensitivity, due to their theological and cultural formation, which enables them to translate the texts of Revelation and the Liturgy into a language that responds to the nature of the People of God entrusted to them,” he said.