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Call to evangelize highlighted at virtual Guadalupe pilgrimage

Mexico City, Mexico, Sep 23, 2020 / 08:01 pm (CNA).- Organizers of the first international virtual pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe said the social media livestream of the event reached more than 3 million people, including 106 groups.

“Spiritually and virtually, we joined together at the feet of the Virgin of Tepeyac to ask for her intercession to face the onslaught of the COVID pandemic. Once again, the Empress of America has united her people, today suffering from misfortune,” the organizers said in a statement.

The international pilgrimage took place Sept. 19 and included a rosary and livestreamed Mass, offered by Bishop Víctor Aguilar Ledesma, president of the Committee on Laity at the Mexican Bishops’ Conference.

Participants made a commitment to respect human dignity and to go out to the marginalized and needy.

In his homily, Aguilar, the auxiliary bishop of Morelia, noted that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic does not change the Church’s essential mission.

“We wanted to continue to fulfill the mission entrusted to us to keep on evangelizing. The methods and ways will change, but not the mission, which will be the same: to announce the Gospel,” he said.

“The Church was born to evangelize. By nature, she announces the Gospel, which we cherish,” he added. “The Church evangelizes or ceases to be the Church, no matter the circumstances.”

While the challenges surrounding the coronavirus pandemic are difficult, they are not the worst circumstances the Church has ever seen, nor will they be the last challenges Christians will be called to face.

“We must not forget that we are all called to be witnesses of Christ in the world, to be salt and light on earth,” he said.

Christ wants his followers to bear fruit, even in times of difficulty, Aguilar said. This requires a complete attachment to him.

“Detached from Christ, we, the branches, die,” the bishop warned. But when we remain firmly attached to Christ, who is our strength, he will help us weather any storm.

“We can lose our jobs, our health, a loved one, our money. But we can’t lose the faith that unites us, that joins us to Christ our Lord. Let's not lose the faith. Ever,” he said.


Louisville archbishop pleads for justice and peace after Breonna Taylor decision

CNA Staff, Sep 23, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- After a controversial grand jury decision regarding the death of Breonna Taylor, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville called for unity to work for racial justice and to combat racism, while many in the city of Louisville braced for protests. 

The archbishop made his plea on Wednesday, September 23, shortly after the announcement of the grand jury’s decision to indict one of the police officers involved in Taylor’s death. 

“I again join with citizens throughout our community and the nation in mourning the tragic death of Breonna Taylor,” said Kurtz in the statement, which was distributed to clergy and leaders within the Archdiocese of Louisville and provided to CNA. 

Taylor, 26, was killed March 13 in Louisville during a police raid of her apartment. Taylor, a Black woman, was shot five times by the police after her boyfriend initially fired at the officers who breached Taylor’s apartment’s door to execute a warrant. The officers involved were white. An issue of contention is whether, and how loudly, the officers announced themselves when entering the apartment.  

Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, acknowledged firing the first shots, and claimed that he thought the police were intruders. Walker has said he did not hear officers announce themselves as police. 

On Wednesday, a grand jury indicted one of the officers who served the warrant, Brett Hankison, with three counts of “wanton endangerment” for firing three shots into and near Taylor’s apartment. Hankinson was fired from the Louisville Police in June. The other two officers were not indicted. None of the shots fired by Hankinson were those which struck Taylor. 

“Whatever our reaction to the decision by the Grand Jury and the Attorney General’s Office, we must now come together to work for racial justice,” Kurtz said Wednesday.

“There is no question that our nation’s original sin of racism continues to destroy the lives of persons of color and that racism extends through so many systems of our society... educational, economic, religious, housing, criminal justice, voting, and employment,” said the archbishop.  

The Church, said Kurtz, “stands ready to work with civic, community, educational, business, and non-profit partners to address these issues.”

No officer was directly charged with Taylor’s death. The charges of “wanton endangerment” carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison each. 

Taylor’s mother received a $12 million wrongful death settlement from the City of Louisville. 

The city declared a state of emergency before the grand jury’s decision was announced. The phrase “Justice for Breonna Taylor” has become one of the most prominent rallying cries of the Black Lives Matter movement, and her portrait has been frequently featured on posters and banners at protests. 

Kurtz said he respects the First Amendment right to protest, but pleaded for peace “and the rejection of violence” during demonstrations. 

“Let us all join in prayers for Breonna Taylor’s family and friends and for justice, peace, and healing in our community,” said Kurtz.

Pastor urges prayer, forgiveness after Florida man tries to burn down Catholic church

CNA Staff, Sep 23, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).-  

Police are searching for a man who broke into a Catholic church in Florida on Friday and tried to burn it down. The church’s pastor in a Sept. 20 video urged prayers for the man and thanked God that the church survived the attack. 

Surveillance video shows a young man, shirtless and wearing a surgical mask and white gloves, breaking into the church and pouring a jug of clear liquid on several of the wooden pews before setting them alight. He fled as the flames erupted, apparently without stealing anything.

The incident happened around 10:36pm Sept. 18 at Incarnation Catholic Church in Town 'n’ Country, Florida, immediately northwest of Tampa.

Fire crews responded swiftly to put out the fire, but the sanctuary sustained significant damage, including the loss of the front section of pews. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office is leading a search for the suspect.

Pastor Michael Cormier said during his Sept. 20 Sunday homily that initially he considered closing down the church for the weekend to have work done to restore the pews, canceling the weekend’s Masses.

“But we thought: if we did that, evil would win,” Cormier said.

“We wouldn’t have Mass for one weekend, and evil would win...we have been struck down by this, but not destroyed. In the end, evil never wins.”

Cormier reminded the congregation of the Gospel readings at daily Mass on Sept. 10, from Luke 6:27-38: “ your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

He led the congregation in a prayer of thanks that the “act of evil” did not destroy the church, praying for the assailant “that [God] remove the malice and hatred from his heart.”

“May this terrible act cause us to unify, to love one another more than ever, and to continue to make [our parish] the bedrock of faith and strength it has always been,” Cormier prayed. 

Bishop Gregory Parks of St. Petersburg sent his regards and prayers to the parish Sept. 19.

The arson in Town 'n’ Country is the latest in a spate of attacks against Catholic churches in Florida this year, and across the country.

On the morning of July 11, a man crashed a minivan through the front door of Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala, Florida. He then set the church aflame while parishioners inside prepared for morning Mass.

Police arrested Stephen Anthony Shields, 24, of Dunnellon, Florida later that day. He has been charged with attempted murder, arson, burglary, and evading arrest.

Also in July, an as-yet unidentified assailant beheaded a statue of Christ the Good Shepherd at a parish in the Archdiocese of Miami, in Southwest Miami-Dade County.

In 2019, the co-cathedral of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee was damaged by fire, with several of the chairs in the sanctuary set ablaze using an accelerant. A 32-year-old man with a history of mental illness was later arrested in connection with the arson.

Elsewhere in the US, several Catholic statues and church buildings have been vandalized this year, including several statues in California of St. Junipero Serra that have been pulled down by mobs.

On July 10, the Diocese of Brooklyn announced that New York City police were investigating the vandalization of a statue of the Virgin Mary at Cathedral Prep School and Seminary in Queens. The next day, local police in Boston confirmed that a statue of the Blessed Virgin, located outside the church of St. Peter’s Parish, had been set on fire and suffered damage.

Also on July 11, an arson attack gutted the 249-year-old Mission San Gabriel in Los Angeles, a mission church founded by St. Serra.

In September, a man broke at least six windows, beat several metal doors, and broke numerous statues around grounds of a Louisiana parish in a late-night vandalism attack that lasted over two hours. The assailant has since been arrested and confessed to the crime.

Also in September, a vandal entered the sanctuary of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in El Paso, Texas and destroyed a nearly 90-year-old statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

While some attacks on statues, most notably in California, have been committed in public by large groups with clear political affiliations, the perpetrators of other acts, including those against the images of the Virgin Mary and Christ, have not been identified.

Vatican Cardinal Tagle recovers from coronavirus

CNA Staff, Sep 23, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the head of the Vatican’s evangelization congregation, has recovered from the coronavirus, the Philippine bishops’ news service said Wednesday. 

Tagle overcame the virus 13 days after testing positive for COVID-19, reported CBCP News, which is overseen by the media office of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Sept. 23.

The news service said that the cardinal’s recovery was announced by the Pontificio Collegio Filippino in Rome. It quoted the rector, Fr. Gregory Gaston, as saying that the news was “a great joy for the whole Church.”

“God wants him to continue serving in the Vatican’s office for the Missions, to bring God’s Good News of love, joy, peace, justice, forgiveness and reconciliation -- all of which the world needs in a special way these days,” he said.

The 63-year-old cardinal tested positive for coronavirus Sept. 10, but was asymptomatic.

The Vatican confirmed Sept. 11 that the Filipino cardinal was swabbed and tested positive for COVID-19 after flying from Rome to Manila.

Tagle “has no symptoms and will remain in isolation in the Philippines, where he is,” Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See press office, told CNA. 

Tagle is the archbishop emeritus of Manila and the current president of Caritas Internationalis, a global Catholic charity network.

CBCP News said that Tagle had been staying at the Pontificio Collegio Filippino since he arrived in Rome in February to take up his new role as prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. After his positive test, more than 30 priests and staff at the college went into quarantine as a precautionary measure. All of them tested negative for COVID-19.

Tagle was the first known Vatican department head to have tested positive for the coronavirus. He was the second Rome-based cardinal to test positive after Rome’s vicar general, Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, was hospitalized for COVID-19 in March. De Donatis has made a full recovery.

Archbishop Hebda: Minnesota priest’s coronavirus homily ‘inappropriate’

CNA Staff, Sep 23, 2020 / 01:20 pm (CNA).-  

The Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis has said that priests should not “present medical or scientific speculation” in their homilies, in response to a controversial homily on the coronavirus pandemic preached by Minnesota priest Fr. Robert Altier, which has become widely circulated on social media.

“The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis is blessed with many fine priests. We have reason to expect them to teach the truth of the Gospel, faithfully passing on the teachings of our Church. None of our priests or bishops, however, is an expert in public health, infectious disease, epidemiology or immunology. It would be a mistake to attribute any expertise in these areas to us simply on the basis of our ordination,” Archbishop Bernard Hebda wrote in a Sept 22 letter.

Altier preached September 6 a homily at St. Raphael Parish in Crystal, Minnesota, saying the COVID-19 coronavirus is a “ man-made virus, whose work had begun at a lab in North Carolina, then they shipped it to China to finish the work, then it was released so that people would get sick.”

“All this is being done on purpose.”

Altier said that he wanted to tell his congregation “the truth, because that’s what God is going to hold me responsible for.”

“We are being lied to. We have been lied to in a huge way.”

“I have an obligation to stand here and speak the truth, even when people don’t like to hear.”

The priest, who is parochial vicar at the parish, said that only 9,200 people have died of the coronavirus pandemic, which is recorded to have killed more than 200,000 in the U.S., and that the virus was launched in order for unnamed figures to create propaganda networks and disinformation campaigns.

He said the goal of those campaigns is to achieve social control, by inducing people, out of fear, to receive a vaccine that is “designed to change the RNA in your body.”

Altier said he had told his elderly parents, “do not, under any circumstances allow them to put one of these vaccines in your body. The only way that I would allow it to happen to me is if they arrest me and hold me down and force it on me. There is no way.”

“It’s time we start to recognize that we are being lied to….This is all engineered. This is all an agenda. And it’s pointing in a certain direction. So far, like the good sheeple that we are, we’ve all put on our masks and we’re all staying six feet apart, but there comes a part where we have to draw the line.”

The priest said that for himself, the “line” would be refusal to submit to a vaccine. He encouraged parishioners to do their own research on the matter.

The 20-minute homily was posted on YouTube and has been viewed more than 400,000 times.

Some claims in Altier’s homily echoed claims made in a May “appeal” circulated by Archbishop Carlo Vigano, former apostolic nuncio to the U.S.

In his letter, Hebda said that Altier “remains firm in his opinions on the pandemic situation, but he has acknowledged that his remarks were inappropriate in the context of a homily during Mass.”

Citing the General Instruction on the Roman Missal and other Church texts, Hebda said that homilies should be used to explain some aspect of Sacred Scripture or other texts of the Mass.

“The use of a homily to present medical or scientific speculation does not serve that noble purpose and could be seen as an abuse of the cleric’s position of authority to address an issue unrelated to the liturgical celebration.”

“In the context of the liturgy, no member of the assembly, even if the world’s greatest expert in this area, would have been in a position to contradict Fr. Altier or to offer alternative points of reference,” the archbishop added.

Hebda included in his letter responses to some of Altier’s points offered, at the archbishop’s request, by the Minnesota Department of Health. He said that the archdiocesan chapter of the Catholic Medical Association also “considered some of Fr. Altier’s affirmations to be ‘erroneous.’”

Hebda noted that there are legitimate concerns about ethical vaccine production, and pointed to resources regarding the ethical concerns surrounding the use of fetal stem cell lines in vaccine productions.

Altier was ordained a priest in 1989 and has served in various capacities in the Minneapolis archdiocese. A 2018 homily from the priest also went viral online, in which Altier said in his view the Theodore McCarrick crisis and similar incidents in the Church had been caused by the systemic infiltration of the priesthood by predatory “homsexual networks” and by communist agents intent on harming the Church.

Hebda concluded his letter requesting prayers “for all those who are sick with COVID-19, those who care for them, those who are working on vaccines, and all those individuals and families affected in any way by the pandemic. Our Lady, Health of the Sick, pray for us.”


Trump, Barr, Barron speak at National Catholic Prayer breakfast

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 23, 2020 / 11:50 am (CNA).- Attorney General William Barr warned of “a new orthodoxy that is actively hostile to religion” in his remarks to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on Wednesday. 

Speaking on the separation of Church and state, Barr said that “militant secularists have long seized on that slogan” to try to move religion out of the public square and out of conversations on the common good. They are replacing religion “with a new orthodoxy that is actively hostile to religion” which, he said, has resulted in “urban violence,” drug abuse, and broken families.

Barr addressed the annual event, held virtually in 2020, as he accepted its Christifideles Laici Award. 

“Separation of church and state does not mean—and never did mean—separation of religion and civics,” said Barr, as he insisted Catholics should be more involved in public life through advocating for religious freedom.

It is “never too late” to work in God’s vineyard, he said.

Barr addressed the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast (NCPB) on Wednesday through a pre-recorded video. The event is an annual gathering of Catholic leaders held in Washington, D.C., begun in 2004 to promote Pope John Paul II’s call for the New Evangelization. 

Pope Francis sent a greeting to the event through the apostolic nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Christopher Pierre.

“Knowing the difficulties the nation is facing in the midst of civil unrest, racial tension, political polarization, and the COVID-19 pandemic,” Pierre said, “it is certainly hoped that pausing for prayer and invoking the divine mercy of God will lead to healing, reconciliation, and spiritual renewal.”

The archbishop encouraged listeners to “enter deeply into prayer” and “beseech the Eternal Father for an outpouring of grace that will lead to happiness and victory” in the present challenges, “according to His will and His plan.”

President Donald Trump was the second sitting president to address the gathering on Wednesday; President George W. Bush, a Methodist, attended the prayer breakfast each year from 2005 until 2008. Vice President Mike Pence, a baptized Catholic who later identified as an “Evangelical Catholic,” also addressed the event in 2017.

Trump announced at the breakfast plans to sign a “Born-Alive” executive order to ensure that babies surviving abortions get needed medical care.

“Our nation is strong because of Catholics and all people of faith,” the president said, adding that “every child, born and unborn, is made in the holy image of God.”

Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, delivered the keynote address.

Barron pointed to two historical figures, the legacies of which are “under attack” today, Thomas Jefferson and St. Junipero Serra, and warned against the tendency to “privatize religion.”

“A privatized religion is bad for religion, it’s bad for democracy,” he said, calling on Catholics to “follow the promptings of the Second Vatican Council” and bring their faith into the public arena.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, also addressed the gathering, noting that the pandemic had affected the Christians in the Holy Land. “Our Holy Sites lie empty” and local families “now struggle to feed their families,” he said.

NCPB board member Mark Randall stated at the outset that “our only agenda is prayer.” The event was originally scheduled for March, but, because of the pandemic, was rescheduled to Wednesday, prompting media focus on the participation of political figures, including Tramp and Barr, six weeks before the 2020 presidential election.

Neither Barr’s remarks nor Trump’s made mention of the election itself.  

Board member Leonard Leo introduced both Trump and Barr on Wednesday at the non-partisan event.

Trump, he said, has “fiercely defended the culture of life” and “more than any other president in my lifetime, and he’s done so much more to embrace policies that reflect the morals, teachings, and objectives of our faith.” He cited religious freedom and pro-life protections of the administration.

Leo praised Barr’s “integrity,” “honesty,” “humility,” and “sincere and wise counsel” before Barr was honored with the Christifideles Laici Award. Named for Pope St. John Paul II’s 1988 exhortation on the lay vocation, the award honors lay Catholics who promote the New Evangelization and the Church’s mission in their life and work.

Barr, who also served as the attorney general from 1991-93 in the George H.W. Bush administration, is Catholic. He has been criticized by some Catholics - including the bishops’ conference - for resuming executions of federal death row inmates, ending a nearly two-decade moratorium on the federal use of the death penalty.

On Tuesday, the day before Barr was to be honored, the chairs of the pro-life and domestic justice committees of the U.S. bishops’ conference condemned two federal executions scheduled for later this week.

“We say to President Trump and Attorney General Barr: Enough. Stop these executions,” Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City .

Archbishop Charles Chaput, who retired as Archbishop of Philadelphia this year, was scheduled to address the prayer breakfast in March but was “unavailable” for the Sept. 23 event, communications staff for the event told CNA.

Chaput’s prepared remarks were published by the journal First Things on Monday. Chaput acknowledged in those remarks “many challenges” that face Catholics in the U.S., from within and without the Church.

“But don’t be fooled. God never loses,” he wrote. “And his Church can never lose when we, as her sons and daughters, remember our history, our Christian identity, and our mission to speak God’s truth with love.”

Regarding the honor given to Barr, Chaput’s remarks said: “Amen.”

“Throughout my life, the men and women I’ve most admired have all had the same qualities: a thinking Catholic brain, a character of substance, and a moral spine. General Barr has all three,” he said. “As an added bonus, he’s disliked by all the right people. I want to thank the various and interesting critics of General Barr for confirming me in that judgment.”

The conferral of the award on Barr was criticized by Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said Wednesday she was “expressing dismay” that Barr was being honored. Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the lobbying group Network, also criticized the recognition of Barr. Campbell, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention last month, told CNA ahead of the convention that the question of abortion’s legality was “above her pay grade.”

Activist group Faithful America said it gathered more than 22,000 signatures protesting Barr’s award.

The group has previously run petition campaigns against Christian groups it sees as “right-wing,” but has also opposed actions of bishops, schools, and churches upholding the Church’s teaching on marriage, claiming those efforts are anti-LGBT.

Mexico investigating alleged ICE detainee hysterectomies

CNA Staff, Sep 23, 2020 / 11:01 am (CNA).- Mexico is investigating reports that at least six of its nationals were among women in US immigration custody on whom hysterectomies were allegedly performed without their full consent, the country's foreign minister said Tuesday.

“We are already in contact with six of whom could potentially have been subjected to this procedure,” Marcelo Ebrard said at a Sept. 22 press conference at the National Palace in Mexico City.

He said, “It's something unacceptable”, and added that “if confirmed, it's a major issue and should not only be sactioned, but other measures taken as well.”

Last week The Intercept reported a whistleblower complaint had been filed by several advocacy groups on behalf of a nurse at a U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center for migrants in Georgia.

The nurse, Dawn Wooten, as well as several immigrant women, claimed that an apparently high rate of hysterectomies were performed on immigrant women while in ICE custody at Irwin County Detention Center, and that some of the women did not understand the procedure they were receiving.

According to the whistleblower complaint, the immigrant women were referred to one doctor in particular who was allegedly known for performing frequent hysterectomies; Wooten called the doctor “the uterus collector.” Wooten reported that some nurses could not communicate well with Spanish-speaking migrants,

One immigrant told the activist group Project South that during a two-month period, she met five other women at the prison who had received hysterectomies, and who “reacted confused when explaining why they had one done.”

Wooten agreed with accounts from detainees who said they had undergone hysterectomies without fully understanding what was happening.

“I’ve had several inmates tell me that they’ve been to see the doctor and they’ve had hysterectomies and they don’t know why they went or why they’re going,” she said.

“These immigrant women, I don’t think they really, totally, all the way understand this is what’s going to happen depending on who explains it to them.”

According to the complaint, another detainee was frightened and did not understand what medical procedure she was receiving; she was reportedly given three different answers by three different staffers.

The acting director of U.S. immigration services has ordered an expedited investigation into the allegations.

ICE health services director Dr. Ada Rivera has said that only two women have been referred for hysterectomies at Irwin County Detention Center since 2018.

The Mexican foreign ministry said last week that its consulates in Atlanta and El Paso are following up on the allegations of involuntary hysterectomies at the location in Georgia, and of allegations of sexual abuse against a Mexican citizen by ICE agents in El Paso.

“The Consulate has requested detailed information from the authorities in order to clarify the possibility of said surgeries being performed in Mexican citizens, as well as information on the procedures carried out and its corresponding justification. The Government of Mexico will promptly follow up through its various diplomatic and legal instruments to fully understand what happened,” the ministry said in a Sept. 16 statement.

Trump announces 'Born Alive' executive order for abortion survivors

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 23, 2020 / 10:40 am (CNA).- President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced an executive order that would require medical care be given to infants who are born alive after failed abortion attempts.

“Today I am announcing that I will be signing the Born-Alive Executive Order to ensure that all precious babies born alive, no matter their circumstances, receive the medical care that they deserve. This is our sacrosanct moral duty,” said Trump Sept. 23, speaking in a pre-recorded video address during the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast virtual even. 

The Born-Alive Infant Abortion Survivors Act has been introduced several times in Congress, but has failed to become law. The bill stalled in the House of Representatives in 2019-2020 because an insufficient number of members signed a discharge petition which would have triggered a vote on the bill. 

The proposed law would not have created any new limit or restriction on access to abortion, but would require that infants born alive after an attempted abortion be given appropriate medical care consistent with that given to a child of the same gestational age born under a different circumstance. Several states have passed their own version of the bill.

The full text of the executive order has yet to be released, but is expected to mirror the attempted federal legislation on the issue. 

Trump also announced that his administration would be “increasing federal funding for neonatal research, to ensure that every child has the very best chance to thrive and to grow.” September is Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Awareness month. 

The National Catholic Prayer Breakfast had been rescheduled from March 30 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and was held as an online broadcast. This was Trump’s first time speaking at the event, although administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence and former acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, have addressed the breakfast in past years. 

"I want to express my deep gratitude everyone who prays for me, for the First Lady, and for our great country," Trump said.

The president also spoke of how he grew up near a Catholic church in the New York City borough of Queens, and had seen for himself the “incredible work” the Church does for the marginalized.

"I grew up next to a Catholic church in Queens, New York and I saw how much incredible work the Catholic Church did for our community. These are amazing people. These are great, great people," the president said. 

"Catholics of all backgrounds share the love of Christ with the most vulnerable, as they care for the elderly, the homeless, and neighbors in need. Our nation is strong because of Catholics and all people of faith," he added.

Leonard Leo, co-chairman of the Federalist Society and board president of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, introduced Trump. Leo praised the Trump administration’s efforts to protect religious schools and religious liberty.

Leo also praised Trump’s commitment to life issues. The president has taken an active and vocal stance in opposition to abortion; he become the first sitting president to address the March for Life earlier this year, has prohibited domestic abortion providers from receiving some federal funds, and has announced plans to expand the Mexico City policy that prohibits federal foreign aid from being given to organizations that promote or perform abortions.

The president’s administration has garnered praise from the U.S. bishops’ conference for those efforts, while facing criticism from them for ending a moratorium on the federal death penalty, and authorizing the executions of several inmates in recent months.

The virtual event featured a keynote address from Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary of Los Angeles, and the conferral of the annual Christifideles Laici Award to Attorney General Bill Barr.

Pope Francis blesses bell that will ring out in defence of unborn

Vatican City, Sep 23, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis blessed a large bell Wednesday that Polish Catholics hope will ring out in the defence of unborn life.

“May its ring awaken the consciences of legislators and all people of good will in Poland and the whole world,” Pope Francis said Sept. 23.

The Voice of the Unborn bell, commissioned by the Yes to Life foundation, is a symbolic bell to be used at Poland’s March for Life and other pro-life events. It is decorated with a cast an ultrasound image of an unborn child and a quotation from Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko: “A child’s life begins under the mother’s heart.”

In addition, the bell features two tablets, symbolizing the Ten Commandments. On the first are the words of Jesus, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law” (Matthew 5:17), and on the second is the commandment, “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13).

Pope Francis was the first person to ring the symbolic bell after giving it his blessing in a courtyard in Vatican City after his general audience.

The pope noted that the bell would “accompany events aimed at remembering the value of human life from conception to natural death.”

The bell weighs more than 2,000 pounds and is nearly four feet in diameter. It was cast from bronze Aug. 26 at the Jan Felczyński bell foundry in the southeastern city of Przemyśl, in the presence of civil and Catholic leaders, according to Polish media.

After its return from Rome to Poland, the bell will be installed at All Saints parish in Kolbuszowa, but will soon be transported again for use in Poland’s March for Life, planned to take place in October in Warsaw. 

“This bell is meant to stir consciences. The idea of ​​casting it was born at the beginning of this year, when I read the information that 42 million children in the world are killed every year as a result of abortion,” Bogdan Romaniuk, vice president of the Polish Yes to Life foundation, told the Polish Catholic weekly Niedziela. 

In Poland, the law allows abortion only in cases of rape, incest, threat to the mother’s life, or fetal abnormality. About 700 to 1,800 legal abortions take place each year.

Dr. Bogdan Chazan, the foundation’s president, said that he hoped the sound of the bell would serve as a “call to prayer” for the protection of unborn children.

Quebec religious leaders decry heightened coronavirus restrictions on houses of worship

CNA Staff, Sep 23, 2020 / 09:01 am (CNA).- Religious leaders in the Canadian province of Quebec are speaking out against tightening COVID-19 restrictions in certain areas, which they say treat worship services more strictly than physically comparable entities like cinemas and theaters.  

Quebec’s Minister of Health and Social Services on Sept. 20 issued a health order limiting attendance at indoor worship services to 50 people in most regions of the province, and to 25 people in some regions, such as Montreal and Quebec City. The new restrictions are in response to a recent rise in COVID-19 cases in the region.

A coalition of Quebec religious leaders, the Table interreligieuse de concertation, says the government has not been open to “direct and constant contact” with religious leaders— a situation the coalition called “disappointing and unacceptable.”

In a Sept. 21 statement, Bishop Christian Rodembourg of Saint-Hyacinthe, president of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Quebec, wrote on behalf of the group that churches in the province ought to be treated like auditoriums, cinemas, and theaters, which are allowed to host up to 250 people at a time.

“In many ways, the sanitary measures put in place in places of worship exceed government requirements. With the result that to date, to our knowledge, no outbreak has taken place in a place of worship. In these difficult times, religious leaders are doing everything necessary to put in place measures that ensure the protection of the health of their faithful," Bishop Rodembourg wrote.

“In these troubled times, thousands of Quebeckers find comfort in the practice of their religion and a source of resilience that benefits the entire population. Whatever one may think of it, spirituality and the search for meaning have an essential place in human life. This service to the community seems necessary to us in order to help our faithful get through this health crisis.”

The religious leaders also took umbrage with the fact that the Health Minister’s announcement “once again places places of worship and bars in the same category,” along with casinos and food courts.

“We also ask that a frank and open channel of communication be established between us and government authorities. We are not asking for a privilege. We present ourselves as partners and simply wish to be considered fairly by the government,” the religious leaders wrote.

The Interfaith Consultation Table brings together Catholic, Anglican, Evangelical, Jewish, and Muslim representatives in the province, as well as the Canadian Center for Ecumenism.

Cardinal Gérald Lacroix of Quebec added Monday that “We are doing more than what is asked of us, because we really want to avoid any participation in this pandemic."

As of Tuesday, there are now five regions within Quebec designated by the government of Canada at the “orange level,” including Montreal, meaning some public gatherings including public worship have a lower limit.

In private homes, a maximum of six people will be allowed, with an exception that more people can be present as long as they come from no more than two families, and that each family lives together in a home, CTV News reported.

The highest designation for regions is red, but no regions have yet reached that level, Global News reported.

The province as a whole has had 68,000 coronavirus cases and 5,800 deaths, Global News reports.