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Tornado tears roof from Pennsylvania church

CNA Staff, Apr 8, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A Catholic church in the Diocese of Greensburg was among the buildings heavily damaged by a tornado in western Pennsylvania early Wednesday morning. 

Much of the roof of St. Mary of Czestochowa church was blown off during strong winds and heavy rains as a tornado touched down in New Kensington at 1:19 in the morning, according to the National Weather Service. About 15 minutes before the tornado, at 1:06 a.m., the Pittsburgh International Airport recorded winds at 75mph, which is the highest-ever recorded thunderstorm wind gust at that location. 

Fr. Michael Begolly, the pastor of St. Mary’s and its partner parish St. Joseph, said he was “devastated” upon seeing the damaged roof on Wednesday morning. 

Begolly told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he thought the winds “really sounded like a train” and that he was praying for the safety of everyone in New Kensington. 

“And then when I came down here seeing the devastation, it’s just heart-breaking,” he said. 

New Kensington is located about 18 miles northeast of the city of Pittsburgh, in the Diocese of Greensburg. 

An aerial photographs show that nearly half of the church’s roof had been destroyed by the winds. Only the framework of the roof survived. 

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr"><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BREAKING?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BREAKING</a>: St Mary of Częstochowa Catholic Church in New Kensington heavily damaged by storms overnight. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NewsChopper2?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NewsChopper2</a> over the scene showing major roof and steeple damage. Other nearby buildings also damaged from storm. <a href="https://twitter.com/KDKA?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@KDKA</a> <a href="https://t.co/ZUn6UWnuoC">pic.twitter.com/ZUn6UWnuoC</a></p>&mdash; Ian Smith (@ismithKDKA) <a href="https://twitter.com/ismithKDKA/status/1247861380537110528?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 8, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

“Please pray for parishioners of this New Kensington parish, who suffered devastating news during Holy Week,” tweeted Catholic Accent, a publication of the Diocese of Greensburg, on Wednesday afternoon. “A severe storm early Wednesday morning caused major damage to the roof at St. Mary of Czestochowa Church in New Kensington.”

The full extent of the damage is currently unclear. 

St. Mary of Czestochowa was founded in 1892 by a group of Polish immigrants who sought to attend Mass in Polish. With the assistance of a Polish priest in Pittsburgh, who advocated for them to the bishop of Pittsburgh, they founded the Society of Our Lady of Czestochowa that same year. 

Construction on the first church building began in 1893, and the parish received their first pastor in residence that year. The existing building was completed in 1912, and underwent several renovations in the 1970s and 1990s, including the expansion of the parish’s organ. St. Mary of Czestochowa was partnered with St. Joseph Parish in 2008 as part of a restructuring of the Diocese of Greensburg. 

In addition to the damage at St. Mary’s, the storm also damaged an airplane hangar and uprooted numerous trees.

US bishops cancel Spring Assembly due to coronavirus

Washington D.C., Apr 8, 2020 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has canceled its Spring General Assembly due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The assembly, one of the two annual gatherings of the bishops of the United States, was scheduled to be held June 10-12 in Detroit, Michigan. The meeting would have been the first to be led by newly-elected USCCB President Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles. 

In a statement released by the USCCB, Gomez said that the decision to cancel the event happened after a vote by the Administrative Committee. 

 “The Administrative Committee made this very difficult decision with consideration of multiple factors, but most importantly the health, well-being and safety of the hundreds of bishops, staff, observers, guests, affiliates, volunteers, contractors and media involved with the general meetings,” said Gomez.  

“Additionally, even if the numerous temporary restrictions on public gatherings resulting from conditions associated with COVID-19 are lessened by June, the priority for the physical and pastoral presence of the bishop in his See will be acute to tend to the faithful,” he added.

At least three members of the USCCB--Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, and Bishop Emeritus Paul Loverde of Arlington--would still be under a “stay-at-home” order during all or part of the scheduled assembly. The Commonwealth of Virginia has banned all but essential travel until at least June 10. 

This is the first time in the history of the USCCB that a scheduled plenary assembly has been canceled. The USCCB’s fall meeting, which is held each year in Baltimore, Maryland, is still scheduled to go ahead. The USCCB’s bylaws state that there must be at least one plenary assembly per year.

A conference or council of American Catholic bishops has existed in some form since 1917, but  the present-day USCCB was established in 2001.

Knights of Columbus announce donations for food banks amid coronavirus

CNA Staff, Apr 8, 2020 / 12:11 pm (CNA).- The Knights of Columbus announced this week that the organization will donate over $1 million to food pantries throughout the United States in an effort to feed those in need during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Catholic fraternal group announced April 7 that it would provide funding of $100,000 each to food banks in New York, Connecticut, and Los Angeles, as well as $50,000 donations each to food banks in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Miami, Newark, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson noted that since the group’s founding in 1882, the Knights have provided support throughout, during the 1918 flu pandemic, during two world wars, and after natural disasters.

In addition to the food bank donations, the Knights plan to fund the satellite transmission of several global broadcasts from the Vatican for Holy Week, including Good Friday Stations of the Cross April 10 led by Pope Francis, as well as the pope’s Easter Sunday Mass and Urbi et Orbi blessing April 12.

“With so many in Italy and around the world currently homebound, our support of Vatican broadcasts will allow our Holy Father to join in prayer with Catholics from every corner of the globe during this critical time,” Anderson said April 8.

Anderson said the group will also be donating $100,000 to the Vatican’s Bambino Gesù pediatric hospital in Rome, in order to allow the hospital to convert its neonatology department into a high-intensity treatment room for infants and newborns with COVID-19 infections.

Though the coronavirus outbreak in Italy has affected older adults most significantly, infants also are vulnerable. The treatment center will feature ventilators and other specialized equipment.

The Knights have announced several grassroots initiatives to respond to the needs of the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization has asked members to help provide food and other essentials to those in need. It has also urged members to take part in blood drives.

With public Masses suspended across the entire United States, many parishes are facing a cash flow shortfall due to a lack of in-person collections. Starting March 30, the Knights began offering a $1 million line of credit to Catholic dioceses to help dioceses and parishes suffering from the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Knights of Columbus is a Catholic fraternal organization with nearly 2 million members in more than 15,000 local councils worldwide. Its members worked 76 million service hours in 2019 and helped donate more than $185 million in charitable causes.

Circuit court upholds Texas ban on elective abortions during coronavirus

CNA Staff, Apr 8, 2020 / 09:30 am (CNA).- A Texas state restriction of abortions during the coronavirus pandemic was upheld by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday. 

A three-judge panel for the Fifth Circuit Court ruled in a 2-1 decision that Texas has the authority to halt elective abortions as non-essential medical procedures during a public health emergency. 

Citing precedent, the court said that “the pressure of great dangers” constitutional law “allows the state to restrict, for example, one’s right to peaceably assemble, to publicly worship, to travel, and even to leave one’s home. The right to abortion is no exception.”

On March 31, the court had ruled in the state’s favor, putting a temporary stay on a lower court’s decision that halted Texas’ order from going into effect, and considering the matter further. 

On Tuesday, the Fifth Circuit officially granted the state’s request for a writ of mandamus, stating that the lower court was “erroneous” in providing a “blanket exemption” for elective abortions during a public health emergency.  

Texas Governor Greg Abbott on March 22 issued an executive order stopping non-essential surgeries and medical procedures in the state during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Attorney General Ken Paxton included elective abortions, except in cases where the mother’s life or health was deemed to be at stake, as part of the non-essential medical procedures that would be halted by the order. 

Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers filed an emergency motion in court to stop the state’s act, and a Texas district court on March 30 ruled in their favor and put a temporary restraining order on the state’s act. 

On Tuesday, judges Stuart Kyle Duncan and Jennifer Walker Elrod said that the district court “usurped the state’s authority to craft emergency health measures.” 

Judge James L. Dennis, in his dissent, wrote that abortion is “time-sensitive reproductive healthcare” and “a right supported by almost 50 years of Supreme Court precedent.” The conclusion of the panel majority, he said, “is a recurring phenomenon in this Circuit in which a result follows not because of the law or facts, but because of the subject matter of this case.”

Other states, including Ohio, Alabama, and Oklahoma, have made similar attempts to restrict elective abortions during the pandemic but have not had the same success in court. 

An Oklahoma district court judge on Monday ruled that some elective abortions, including medication abortions, in the state can continue during the pandemic. The Sixth Circuit Court ruled that some abortions can proceed in Ohio, and an Alabama district court judge ruled against the state’s limit of elective abortions.

In its decision, the Fifth Circuit panel majority also noted the gravity of the new coronavirus crisis, writing that “the current global pandemic has caused a serious, widespread, rapidly-escalating public health crisis in Texas,” and that the state’s “interest in protecting public health during such a time is at its zenith.”

Tuesday’s decision might not be the end of the matter, the court said, as the district court will hold a preliminary injunction hearing on April 13 where the state and abortion clinics could discuss the state’s order applying “in specific circumstances.” 

The Fifth Circuit emphasized that the district court has the opportunity to “make targeted findings, based on competent evidence.”

Pray-At-Home: How two women were confirmed hours before NYC shut down

New York City, N.Y., Apr 8, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Charlotte Price and Ellen Rogers thought they would be getting confirmed together on April 11, the Easter Vigil, at St. Vincent Ferrer in Manhattan. They thought they would have a crowd of their friends with them, and they thought they would be able to celebrate immediately with their loved ones.

None of that happened.

Thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak in New York City, the Archdiocese of New York suspended the public celebration of Mass on March 14, meaning that the chances of an Easter Vigil liturgy a month later looked pretty slim. So the Dominicans who taught Price and Rogers’ RCIA classes did what they did best: improvised.

And that is how, over the course of one year of discernment, prayer, and RCIA, Price went from having never been to Mass to being confirmed at a private one; and from never knowing a religious sister to having an audience of 12 of them at her confirmation Mass.

Raised a Congregationalist in Massachusetts, Price, 34, found herself outside of any sort of religion for about two decades. Her journey to the faith took many twists and turns, but she eventually found herself at St. Vincent Ferrer, and emailing Fr. Joseph Martin Hagan, O.P., the newly-ordained priest who was in charge of RCIA.

Rogers’ journey to the Catholic faith was nearly the opposite of Price’s--she had always been religious, and had even attended Catholic Mass for years.

Raised an Anglican in Texas, Rogers attended the University of Dallas, where she began to feel the call to enter into full communion with the Church around the age of 19. About four years later, after moving to New York City last June, she began that journey in earnest, and signed up for RCIA at St. Vincent Ferrer.

Neither sought out St. Vincent Ferrer due to its connection with the Dominican Order--the church is the location of the headquarters of the Eastern Province--but both grew to appreciate the Dominican friars at the parish.

Rogers was told by a friend that St. Vincent Ferrer was “the most beautiful church in the city,” which prompted her to take a visit.

“I just fell in love with the liturgy and saw they had a big sign outside like ‘email for RCIA,’ and I said, ‘okay.’”

Price told CNA that before attending St. Vincent Ferrer, she did not know what a Dominican friar was, and thought the name  was a reference to the Dominican Republic.

“I was like, ‘is it gonna be in Spanish?’” she said, laughing. After learning that Mass was, in fact, celebrated in English at St. Vincent Ferrer, she began attending regularly.

The two both told CNA that their RCIA journeys went relatively smoothly--until the first cases of COVID-19 were found in the city and churches around the world began shutting their doors and suspending public Masses.

“I probably started thinking ‘this might not happen’ very early,” Price said. “I think I remember the first time I thought, ‘oh, this probably isn't going to happen’ was Ash Wednesday. And at that point, everyone said I was being ridiculous.”

She said that she took the news of the likely cancelation of Easter Vigil very hard, particularly because she feared the possibility of dying without being confirmed, receiving the Eucharist, or going to confession.

“I was very upset,” Price told CNA. “I mean, I didn’t blame the Church or anything, but especially since I had a much longer period away from any church--like I spent 20 years probably not going to any church at all--so for me, I was like, ‘Oh, I finally figured it out,’ I finally said ‘yes’ to Christ, and now I’m not going to be able to even to join the Church.”

She said because she had read news reports about healthy people her age that were dying of COVID-19, she was particularly concerned about getting her spiritual affairs in order in case she contracted the virus.

“All of a sudden, my mortality is right there,” she said.

“Before, I was like, ‘I’m fine waiting,’” she said. “Whatever God has in mind. But then I was like, if I die, and I haven’t been confirmed, I haven’t gotten to confess my sins, I just absolutely do not want that to happen.”

Price quickly sprung into action, and arranged her first confession. Rogers soon followed suit.

When it became clear that New York was going to implement some sort of shelter-in-place directive, St. Vincent Ferrer moved quickly to accommodate as many people from their RCIA class as possible, but within the city’s guidelines regarding social distancing and canon law. Price responded to the email first, and was confirmed in a private Mass.

The audience was just six friends--the number she was told she could invite--and 12 members of the Sisters of Life, who “sang beautifully,” said Price.

Music, she explained, was one of the things that drew her to the Church, so the experience of getting a private choir at her confirmation Mass was “amazing.”

Fr. Hagan, who celebrated the Mass, preached a homily that was entirely about Price’s journey to the faith. Price took Mary, the Mother of God, as her confirmation saint.

Rogers, who was confirmed at a separate Mass with several others, took St. Catherine of Bologna as her confirmation saint.
Rogers told CNA that her first time receiving the Eucharist was “amazing,” even though it was extremely unusual. Due to archdiocesan regulations aimed at preventing the spread of disease, the candidates had to receive the Eucharist by intinction, which means that the Host was dipped in the Precious Blood before it was given to the communicant.

“All of us were kneeling in the first pew, and Father just came to each of us and brought the sacrament to us,” Rogers said.

“So we were still kneeling, and I will never forget the Precious Body being dunked in the Blood and then looking up and seeing it, and for the first time ever seeing the flesh and blood together and it had never been so real,” she said. “That is the literal flesh and blood of my Savior, and He had just never been so personal, and so real.”

As someone who was raised Anglican, and whose family is very involved in the Anglican communion—her brother is an Anglican seminarian--Rogers said coming to terms with the differences between the communion and rituals she participated in as a child and those in the Catholic Church was one of the hardest parts of her journey into the faith.

“I just decided, it is not for me to worry about anymore,” she said, but she continues to pray that her family will join her across the Tiber.

Both women told CNA that they cried at different parts of their confirmations. For Price, it was when she received the Eucharist. For Rogers, it was when she was reciting the Profession of Faith.

“There's like a single sentence in the (Profession of Faith), ‘I confess and believe everything that the Holy Roman Catholic Church teaches,’ and it was just that, that one sentence that I could feel my voice trembling and just the single, like, soap opera tear down my cheek,” she said 

“And I was like, hold it together. Hold it together.”

One of the six people Rogers invited to her confirmation was Price, who called the experience “such a gift.”

At that Mass, “I could actually receive Communion for the first time like a normal Catholic,” said Price.

She does not yet know when she will be able to do that again.

The continued suspension of public Masses has not been easy for neither Price nor Rogers, but both said that they have taken immense comfort in their last-minute reception of the sacraments.

As someone who regularly attended Catholic Masses before she was received into the Church, Rogers said that she had been “surprised” by how it felt to watch live-streamed Masses as a freshly confirmed Catholic.

“There's almost less distance now than there has been,” she said.

“Just the grace of having received the sacraments, and there's of course longing and sorrow for not being physically present, but knowing that ‘I have received the sacraments. I am in a state of grace. I can recite the act of spiritual communion.’ There is this sense of ‘I am part of the universal Church,’ and that can never be taken from me.”

Price said knowing that she was “really part of a community now” has helped ease her feelings of isolation and loneliness.

“I mean, I'm an only child, but now I have brothers and sisters in Christ everywhere,” she said.

Bishops can do more to provide sacraments despite coronavirus fears, open letter claims

Denver, Colo., Apr 7, 2020 / 05:46 pm (CNA).- In the wake of the coronavirus epidemic, the nationwide shutdown of Catholic churches has halted regular Mass attendance and impeded access to other sacraments for the Catholic faithful. Now, some Catholics have endorsed an open letter asking the Catholic bishops to do everything possible to make the sacraments more available.

“We don’t absolutely need to have the Eucharist, but we want to be in the presence of the Eucharist, we want to have Mass said. We want adoration, we want processions, we want all these things,” she told CNA April 2, describing the goals of the open letter and its supporters.

“We're putting our emphasis on the last rites, the Anointing of the Sick, and Mass and Adoration,” said Smith, a retired professor of moral theology at Detroit's Sacred Heart Major Seminary. For her, the greatest concern is what she says is “the failure to work extremely hard to make certain that those who are sick and dying can receive the anointing of the sick.”

“Most concerning is the refusal by at least one bishop to permit his priests to give the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick,” Smith told CNA. “I am impressed with one order who offered to make it more available even to those who are not terribly sick. The sacrament does have the power to heal and strengthen.”

Amid the pandemic, some American dioceses have allowed pastors to administer some sacraments and devotions in conformity with government rules banning large assemblies of people. Some priests have implemented “drive-through” confessionals or “drive-in” Eucharistic adoration and benediction.

Some bishops have regularly livestreamed messages and Masses, or adore the Eucharist in public view on cathedral steps.

Other bishops have had a more cautious reaction. Some have locked all church buildings in their diocese, and have attempted to bar the administration of all sacraments except in danger of death, even if not required by law or public health recommendation to do so.

“The precipitous closing of the churches is very concerning.  In Rome within 24 hours after they were closed, they were reopened. In those places where the law has decreed that people must stay home, we should abide, but if churches can be open, they should be. Surely we can ensure that for private prayer and adoration, people can remain 6 ft apart,” Smith said.

“The one size fits all policy seems very wrong headed. In small rural communities with no outbreak of the disease, more freedom to gather should be permitted than in urban communities that are being devastated by the disease,” she added.

For backers of the open letter, more needs to be done for the laity.

“Bishops, we, your faithful flock, implore you to do everything you can to make the sacraments more available to us during this crisis. Something is terribly wrong with a culture that allows abortion clinics and liquor stores to remain open but shuts down places of worship,” the open letter says.

“While safety and cooperation with civil authorities is necessary, we must do everything we can to have access to what is essential for our spiritual lives. We should certainly not voluntarily deprive ourselves of the sacraments.”

Smith said the bishops’ response to the coronavirus pandemic has been about about “trying to protect human life,” and the letter endorsers “share completely” that goal.

“We don't want anything to be done that isn’t following the guidelines,” she said.

The open letter encourages bishops to do everything possible t o provide some form of a public Mass, especially for the Easter liturgy, including offering it themselves.

It is unclear whether some gatherings, like “drive-in” Masses offered in parking lots while attendees sit in their cars, would comply with government bans on large public gatherings, a local bishop's ban on public Masses, or public health experts’ recommendations on social distancing.

The open letter asks bishops to “demand that civil authorities permit events such as offering and attending a Mass in a parking lot, if they are currently prohibited.”

Smith said if a state or local government ban on large public gatherings includes people going to a parking lot in their car to hear Mass, “that has to be fought.”

“We want the bishop calling up the governor and the mayor and calling up the legislators and calling up whoever, and saying 'No no no, this is freedom of religion that we have to be allowed to do',” she said.

“We are not asking for anything that would put our neighbors in danger. All due precautions would be observed. How can a parking lot Mass where everyone drives there in their cars and stays in their cars and where there is no distribution of the Eucharist put anyone at danger? That is one of our chief requests to be put under consideration.”

“There is absolutely no way that this relates to the spread of the virus,” Smith told CNA.

Asked if letter organizers had consulted with public health experts on their proposals, Smith said:

“We didn’t consult any, although we have heard from many who have provided more good ideas on what can be done. We are not proposing anything specific but are asking the bishops to do everything they can to provide the sacraments within the parameters determined necessary by experts.”

Smith herself raised and then answered the question of whether organizers should have gone directly to the bishops. She said “it's not possible.”

“They're busy with meetings, and it's hard to get through,” she said. “But if you do a petition that we hope thousands will sign, then I hope we get their attention.”

The open letter advocates that civil authorities recognize religious services as “essential services,” a move which some states have done amid stay-at-home orders.

Referring to emergency declarations' distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” employees and businesses, Smith said she is concerned “the Catholic world does not seem to understand that it is simply wrong to concede that religious services are 'non-essential'.”

“Yes, we can dispense with them as virtually everything can be dispensed with in certain conditions,” she said. “But the conditions we are in right now do not, at least as far as the experts tell us, require all that our bishops have done and have allowed to be done.”

In Smith's view, “the bishops are missing in action in clearly responding to the spiritual needs of their people.” She acknowledged that almost all bishops are streaming Masses on Sunday, saying this is “a good thing” but “not the most important thing.”

While she has seen many priests doing “very innovative things” to make available the sacraments and ensure the spiritual needs of their people are being met, she others are not visibly doing enough. Some, she said, were “almost denying sacraments before they needed to.”

“We need bishops who are trying as hard as priests are to attend to the spiritual needs of people,” she said. “They are making decisions that impact our spiritual lives and we need explanations of them. We need them to tell us how we can keep our spiritual lives alive.”

The “We are an Easter People” open letter said that if the government prohibits priests ministering to the sick in the hospital or their homes, bishops should “make a personal and formal request of civic leaders to permit such ministry with assurances that all due precautions will be taken.” They should find ways for priests to provide the anointing of the sick, “especially to those at risk of dying.”

While priests who minister to the sick are encouraged to take precautions like wearing personal protective equipment, such equipment has been the subject of a nationwide shortage. Smith acknowledged the shortage and said health care professionals should have priority for their use. In many places, she added, there is not a shortage. She added that an increase in manufacturing could eliminate a shortage before long.

The open letter lists more than 20 project endorsers, including Catholic commentators, video bloggers and others. More than 24,000 internet users had signed the letter as of Tuesday afternoon.

Project endorsers include Thomas Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute; former abortion clinic manager Abby Johnson; Phillip F. Lawler, editor of Catholic World News; and Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, founder and president of the Ruth Institute; Catholic speaker Mary Beth Bonnaci, a Catholic speaker; podcaster Matt Fradd; author and movie producer Steve Ray; and Daily Wire columnist Matt Walsh.

In mid-March 2020, after the coronavirus had begun to devastate Italy, Farr told CNA that bans on religious gatherings due to high rates of deadly infection can be justified, but may not target a particular religion or religion in general. They should be based on “overwhelming evidence,” with clear time limits.

“Speaking as a Catholic for whom the sacraments are not optional, and are necessary to health and welfare, however, I would hope that the Italian Church, or the Church in any jurisdiction would do everything it could reasonably do to make the sacraments available in ways that would be consistent with just authority,” Farr said.

“We invited people who have large followings in the Catholic community who would have an interest in having the sacraments and having their bishops explain their choices,” Smith told CNA.

One open letter endorser, Peter Kwasniewski, is an independent scholar who signed a 2019 letter accusing Pope Francis of heresy. Another endorser, YouTube video caster Patrick Coffin has expressed skepticism regarding of media reporting and the government response to the coronavirus.

In a March 28 YouTube video titled “The Truth About the Commie Virus,” Coffin discusses “media-fueled hysteria” and “hyperbole” about coronavirus models. They are “misleading, because they are incomplete,” he said in the video and its description. After presenting his interpretation of a medical journal article co-authored by Dr. Anthony Fauci, Coffin declared "We are burning the house down to kill a termite."

A March 24 video from Coffin is entitled “Did Pope Francis Help Cause the Covid-19 Pestilence?”

Project endorsers have “a wide variety of views,” Smith told CNA. “They are endorsing us; we are not endorsing all their positions.”

Both expert opinion and public opinion about the coronavirus response have changed in recent months. Two separate surveys from a Public Agenda-USA Today-IPSOS and ABC News-IPSOS suggest a vast majority of respondents now support canceling large-scale events. Most Americans now say they are avoiding large gatherings or crowds, and a significant minority now say they avoid religious services.

The letter’s request, Smith told CNA “is one that helps us grow in the virtues that enable us to do all the good things we should be doing now. We should speak of our love for Jesus and our need for Jesus. Our belief that He is truly there in the sacrament and just being close to him is a powerful experience of intimacy with the divine.”

 

 

 

 

 

‘A Time of Great Uncertainty’

Toward the end of March I suggested to Pope Francis that this might be a good moment to address the English-speaking world: the pandemic that had so affected Italy and Spain was now reaching the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia. Without promising anything, he asked me to send some questions. I picked six themes, each one with a series of questions he could answer or not as he saw fit. A week later, I received a communication that he had recorded some reflections in response to the questions. The interview was conducted in Spanish; the translation is my own.

—Austen Ivereigh

 

The first question was about how Pope Francis was experiencing the pandemic and lockdown, both in the Santa Marta residence and the Vatican administration (“the curia”) more widely, both practically and spiritually.

Pope Francis: The Curia is trying to carry on its work, and to live normally, organizing in shifts so that not everyone is present at the same time. It’s been well thought out. We are sticking to the measures ordered by the health authorities. Here in the Santa Marta residence we now have two shifts for meals, which helps a lot to alleviate the impact. Everyone works in his office or from his room, using technology. Everyone is working; there are no idlers here.

How am I living this spiritually? I’m praying more, because I feel I should. And I think of people. That’s what concerns me: people. Thinking of people anoints me, it does me good, it takes me out of my self-preoccupation. Of course I have my areas of selfishness. On Tuesdays, my confessor comes, and I take care of things there.

I’m thinking of my responsibilities now, and what will come afterwards. What will be my service as Bishop of Rome, as head of the church, in the aftermath? That aftermath has already begun to be revealed as tragic and painful, which is why we must be thinking about it now. The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development has been working on this, and meeting with me.

My major concern—at least what comes through my prayer—is how to accompany and be closer to the people of God. Hence the livestreaming of the 7 a.m. Mass [I celebrate each morning] which many people follow and appreciate, as well as the addresses I’ve given, and the March 27 event in St. Peter’s Square. Hence, too, the step-up in activities of the office of papal charities, attending to the sick and hungry.

I’m living this as a time of great uncertainty. It’s a time for inventing, for creativity.

 

In my second question, I referred to a nineteenth-century novel very dear to Pope Francis which he has mentioned recently: Alessandro Manzoni’s I promessi sposi (The Betrothed). The novel’s drama centers on the Milan plague of 1630. There are various priestly characters: the cowardly curé Don Abbondio, the holy cardinal archbishop Borromeo, and the Capuchin friars who serve the lazzaretto, a kind of field hospital where the infected are rigorously separated from the healthy. In the light of the novel, how did Pope Francis see the mission of the church in the context of COVID-19?

Pope Francis: Cardinal Federigo [Borromeo] really is a hero of the Milan plague. Yet in one of the chapters he goes to greet a village but with the window of his carriage closed to protect himself. This did not go down well with the people. The people of God need their pastor to be close to them, not to overprotect himself. The people of God need their pastors to be self-sacrificing, like the Capuchins, who stayed close.

The creativity of the Christian needs to show forth in opening up new horizons, opening windows, opening transcendence toward God and toward people, and in creating new ways of being at home. It’s not easy to be confined to your house. What comes to my mind is a verse from the Aeneid in the midst of defeat: the counsel is not to give up, but save yourself for better times, for in those times remembering what has happened will help us. Take care of yourselves for a future that will come. And remembering in that future what has happened will do you good.

Take care of the now, for the sake of tomorrow. Always creatively, with a simple creativity, capable of inventing something new each day. Inside the home that’s not hard to discover, but don’t run away, don’t take refuge in escapism, which in this time is of no use to you.

 

My third question was about government policies in response to the crisis. While the quarantining of the population is a sign that some governments are willing to sacrifice economic wellbeing for the sake of vulnerable people, I suggested it was also exposing levels of exclusion that have been considered normal and acceptable before now.

Pope Francis: It’s true, a number of governments have taken exemplary measures to defend the population on the basis of clear priorities. But we’re realizing that all our thinking, like it or not, has been shaped around the economy. In the world of finance it has seemed normal to sacrifice [people], to practice a politics of the throwaway culture, from the beginning to the end of life. I’m thinking, for example, of prenatal selection. It’s very unusual these days to meet Down’s Syndrome people on the street; when the tomograph [scan] detects them, they are binned. It’s a culture of euthanasia, either legal or covert, in which the elderly are given medication but only up to a point.

What comes to mind is Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae vitae. The great controversy at the time was over the [contraceptive] pill, but what people didn’t realize was the prophetic force of the encyclical, which foresaw the neo-Malthusianism which was then just getting underway across the world. Paul VI sounded the alarm over that wave of neo-Malthusianism. We see it in the way people are selected according to their utility or productivity: the throwaway culture.

Right now, the homeless continue to be homeless. A photo appeared the other day of a parking lot in Las Vegas where they had been put in quarantine. And the hotels were empty. But the homeless cannot go to a hotel. That is the throwaway culture in practice.

 

I was curious to know if the pope saw the crisis and the economic devastation it is wreaking as a chance for an ecological conversion, for reassessing priorities and lifestyles. I asked him concretely whether it was possible that we might see in the future an economy that—to use his words—was more “human” and less “liquid.”

Go down into the underground, and pass from the hyper-virtual, fleshless world to the suffering flesh of the poor. This is the conversion we have to undergo. And if we don’t start there, there will be no conversion.

Pope Francis: There is an expression in Spanish: “God always forgives, we forgive sometimes, but nature never forgives.” We did not respond to the partial catastrophes. Who now speaks of the fires in Australia, or remembers that eighteen months ago a boat could cross the North Pole because the glaciers had all melted? Who speaks now of the floods? I don’t know if these are the revenge of nature, but they are certainly nature’s responses.

We have a selective memory. I want to dwell on this point. I was amazed at the seventieth-anniversary commemoration of the Normandy landings, which was attended by people at the highest levels of culture and politics. It was one big celebration. It’s true that it marked the beginning of the end of dictatorship, but no one seemed to recall the 10,000 boys who remained on that beach.

When I went to Redipuglia for the centenary of the First World War, I saw a lovely monument and names on a stone, but that was it. I cried, thinking of Benedict XV’s phrase inutile strage (“senseless massacre”), and the same happened to me at Anzio on All Souls’ Day, thinking of all the North American soldiers buried there, each of whom had a family, and how any of them might have been me.

At this time in Europe when we are beginning to hear populist speeches and witness political decisions of this selective kind it’s all too easy to remember Hitler’s speeches in 1933, which were not so different from some of the speeches of a few European politicians now.

What comes to mind is another verse of Virgil’s: [forsan et haec olim] meminisse iuvabit [“Perhaps one day it will be good to remember these things too.”] We need to recover our memory because memory will come to our aid. This is not humanity’s first plague; the others have become mere anecdotes. We need to remember our roots, our tradition which is packed full of memories. In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, the First Week, as well as the “Contemplation to Attain Love” in the Fourth Week, are completely taken up with remembering. It’s a conversion through remembrance.

This crisis is affecting us all, rich and poor alike, and putting a spotlight on hypocrisy. I am worried by the hypocrisy of certain political personalities who speak of facing up to the crisis, of the problem of hunger in the world, but who in the meantime manufacture weapons. This is a time to be converted from this kind of functional hypocrisy. It’s a time for integrity. Either we are coherent with our beliefs or we lose everything.

You ask me about conversion. Every crisis contains both danger and opportunity: the opportunity to move out from the danger. Today I believe we have to slow down our rate of production and consumption (Laudato si’, 191) and to learn to understand and contemplate the natural world. We need to reconnect with our real surroundings. This is the opportunity for conversion.

Yes, I see early signs of an economy that is less liquid, more human. But let us not lose our memory once all this is past, let us not file it away and go back to where we were. This is the time to take the decisive step, to move from using and misusing nature to contemplating it. We have lost the contemplative dimension; we have to get it back at this time.

And speaking of contemplation, I’d like to dwell on one point. This is the moment to see the poor. Jesus says we will have the poor with us always, and it’s true. They are a reality we cannot deny. But the poor are hidden, because poverty is bashful. In Rome recently, in the midst of the quarantine, a policeman said to a man: “You can’t be on the street, go home.” The response was: “I have no home. I live in the street.” To discover such a large number of people who are on the margins…. And we don’t see them, because poverty is bashful. They are there but we don’t see them: they have become part of the landscape; they are things.

St. Teresa of Calcutta saw them, and had the courage to embark on a journey of conversion. To “see” the poor means to restore their humanity. They are not things, not garbage; they are people. We can’t settle for a welfare policy such as we have for rescued animals. We often treat the poor like rescued animals. We can’t settle for a partial welfare policy.

I’m going to dare to offer some advice. This is the time to go to the underground. I’m thinking of Dostoyevsky’s short novel, Notes from the Underground. The employees of that prison hospital had become so inured they treated their poor prisoners like things. And seeing the way they treated one who had just died, the one on the bed alongside tells them: “Enough! He too had a mother!” We need to tell ourselves this often: that poor person had a mother who raised him lovingly. Later in life we don’t know what happened. But it helps to think of that love he once received through his mother’s hope.

We disempower the poor. We don’t give them the right to dream of their mothers. They don’t know what affection is; many live on drugs. And to see them can help us to discover the piety, the pietas, which points toward God and toward our neighbor.

Go down into the underground, and pass from the hyper-virtual, fleshless world to the suffering flesh of the poor. This is the conversion we have to undergo. And if we don’t start there, there will be no conversion.

I’m thinking at this time of the saints who live next door. They are heroes: doctors, volunteers, religious sisters, priests, shop workers—all performing their duty so that society can continue functioning. How many doctors and nurses have died! How many religious sisters have died! All serving…. What comes to my mind is something said by the tailor, in my view one of the characters with greatest integrity in The Betrothed. He says: “The Lord does not leave his miracles half-finished.” If we become aware of this miracle of the next-door saints, if we can follow their tracks, the miracle will end well, for the good of all. God doesn’t leave things halfway. We are the ones who do that.

What we are living now is a place of metanoia (conversion), and we have the chance to begin. So let’s not let it slip from us, and let’s move ahead.

 

My fifth question centered on the effects on the church of the crisis, and the need to rethink our ways of operating. Does he see emerging from this a church that is more missionary, more creative, less attached to institutions? Are we seeing a new kind of “home church”?

Pope Francis: Less attached to institutions? I’d say less attached to certain ways of thinking. Because the church is institution. The temptation is to dream of a deinstitutionalized church, a gnostic church without institutions, or one that is subject to fixed institutions, which would be a Pelagian church. The one who makes the church is the Holy Spirit, who is neither gnostic nor Pelagian. It is the Holy Spirit who institutionalizes the church, in an alternative, complementary way, because the Holy Spirit provokes disorder through the charisms, but then out of that disorder creates harmony.

A church that is free is not an anarchic church, because freedom is God’s gift. An institutional church means a church institutionalized by the Holy Spirit.

A tension between disorder and harmony: this is the church that must come out of the crisis. We have to learn to live in a church that exists in the tension between harmony and disorder provoked by the Holy Spirit. If you ask me which book of theology can best help you understand this, it would be the Acts of the Apostles. There you will see how the Holy Spirit deinstitutionalizes what is no longer of use, and institutionalizes the future of the church. That is the church that needs to come out of the crisis.

About a week ago an Italian bishop, somewhat flustered, called me. He had been going round the hospitals wanting to give absolution to those inside the wards from the hallway of the hospital. But he had spoken to canon lawyers who had told him he couldn’t, that absolution could only be given in direct contact. “What do you think, Father?” he had asked me. I told him: “Bishop, fulfill your priestly duty.” And the bishop said, “Grazie, ho capito” (“Thank you, I understand”). I found out later that he was giving absolution all around the place.

This is the freedom of the Spirit in the midst of a crisis, not a church closed off in institutions. That doesn’t mean that canon law is not important: it is, it helps, and please let’s make good use of it, it is for our good. But the final canon says that the whole of canon law is for the salvation of souls, and that’s what opens the door for us to go out in times of difficulty to bring the consolation of God.

You ask me about a “home church.” We have to respond to our confinement with all our creativity. We can either get depressed and alienated—through media that can take us out of our reality—or we can get creative. At home we need an apostolic creativity, a creativity shorn of so many useless things, but with a yearning to express our faith in community, as the people of God. So: to be in lockdown, but yearning, with that memory that yearns and begets hope—this is what will help us escape our confinement.

 

Finally, I asked Pope Francis how we are being called to live this extraordinary Lent and Eastertide. I asked him if he had a particular message for the elderly who were self-isolating, for confined young people, and for those facing poverty as result of the crisis.

Pope Francis: You speak of the isolated elderly: solitude and distance. How many elderly there are whose children do not go and visit them in normal times! I remember in Buenos Aires when I visited old people’s homes, I would ask them: And how’s your family? Fine, fine! Do they come? Yes, always! Then the nurse would take me aside and say the children hadn’t been to see them in six months. Solitude and abandonment…distance.

Yet the elderly continue to be our roots. And they must speak to the young. This tension between young and old must always be resolved in the encounter with each other. Because the young person is bud and foliage, but without roots they cannot bear fruit. The elderly are the roots. I would say to them, today: I know you feel death is close, and you are afraid, but look elsewhere, remember your children, and do not stop dreaming. This is what God asks of you: to dream (Joel 3:1).

What would I say to the young people? Have the courage to look ahead, and to be prophetic. May the dreams of the old correspond to your prophecies—also Joel 3:1.

Those who have been impoverished by the crisis are today’s deprived, who are added to the numbers of deprived of all times, men and women whose status is “deprived.” They have lost everything, or they are going to lose everything. What meaning does deprivation have for me, in the light of the Gospel? It means to enter into the world of the deprived, to understand that he who had, no longer has. What I ask of people is that they take the elderly and the young under their wing, that they take history under the wing, take the deprived under their wing.

What comes now to mind is another verse of Virgil’s, at the end of Book 2 of the Aeneid, when Aeneas, following defeat in Troy, has lost everything. Two paths lie before him: to remain there to weep and end his life, or to follow what was in his heart, to go up to the mountain and leave the war behind. It’s a beautiful verse. Cessi, et sublato montem genitore petivi (“I gave way to fate and, bearing my father on my shoulders, made for the mountain”).

This is what we all have to do now, today: to take with us the roots of our traditions, and make for the mountain.

Supreme Court takes pass on Washington archdiocese bus case

Washington D.C., Apr 7, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear the Archdiocese of Washington’s appeal to place religious ads on public transit in Washington, D.C.

The denial leaves in place the D.C. Circuit Court’s 2018 ruling against the archdiocese, which had sought a mandatory preliminary injunction to place ads on Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) trains and buses.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who heard arguments in the case at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in March of 2018 but did not join in authoring the opinion of the court in July, also did not partake in the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday.

WMATA first issued guidelines for advertisements on its buses and trains in November of 2015, in which it prohibited ads promoting religion or religious practices and beliefs.

In December of 2017, WMATA rejected an ad proposal by the Archdiocese of Washington during Advent that would have directed people to the archdiocese’s “Find the Perfect Gift” campaign website.

The website contained Mass times, Christmas and Advent traditions, and links to make charitable contributions to various Catholic groups. The archdiocese then went to court to have its ads featured in the WMATA transit system.

The D.C. Circuit Court ruled against the archdiocese in July of 2018, saying that the archdiocese failed to prove viewpoint discrimination in the case, or that WMATA had unconstitutionally violated the First Amendment by rejecting religious ads but allowing for secular ones.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, while respecting the Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the appeal, credited it to the inability of the full Court to consider the case.

“Because the full Court is unable to hear this case, it makes a poor candidate for our review,” the justices stated on Monday.

However, they added, in their opinion WMATA engaged in “viewpoint discrimination” and violated the First Amendment by seeking out Christmas-themed advertisements but rejecting religious ones.

“No one disputes that, if Macy’s had sought to place the same advertisement with its own website address, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) would have accepted the business gladly,” the justices wrote.

“So the government may designate a forum for art or music, but it cannot then forbid discussion of Michelangelo’s David or Handel’s Messiah,” they continued. “The First Amendment requires governments to protect religious viewpoints, not single them out for silencing.”

Arlington diocese offers virtual pilgrimage for Holy Thursday

Washington D.C., Apr 7, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- It is a pious Catholic tradition to visit seven altars of repose following Mass on Holy Thursday. With churches closed and strict social distancing in force in many places, one diocese has created a virtual pilgrimage to help Catholics offer their spiritual devotion during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Diocese of Arlington will stream a live “pilgrimage” on Thursday evening through its Young Adult Ministry Facebook page. In what the diocese believes to be the first event of its kind, those watching the stream will “visit” seven different churches in the diocese, where a priest will offer a brief reflection and the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament will be broadcast. 

Coordinator of Young Adult Ministry Niru De Silva told CNA that the idea for the virtual pilgrimage came after a young adult ministry coordinator asked his pastor if it would be possible to recreate the church walk online. The pastor then went to De Silva with the idea.

The virtual pilrimage will include the churches of St. Anthony's Mission, All Saints, St. Anne, the Nativity, St. John the Apostle, Sacred heart of Jesus, and St. Andrew.

De Silva said the concept reminded him of the recent Urbi et Orbi blessing given by Pope Francis, which was broadcast around the world. He said watching that blessing was a “special grace,” and that he was particularly touched to know that he was praying alongside not only Pope Francis, but everyone around the world who was watching the broadcast. 

After giving the idea of a virtual pilgrimage some thought and prayer, he realized that “there’s a special grace in this too.” 

“We can, while being socially distant, have our different priests just put on a video, give a little reflection, and show Jesus to the people.”

Now, more than normal, people need to see the example of Jesus’ suffering, said De Silva. 

“This is a time when a lot of us are feeling alone; there’s just lots of grief, sometimes agony and confusion. This is where Jesus in the scripture, relates to us in that. He was alone. He felt agony. And I think that can be really powerful for people.”

Unlike a traditional church walk, which requires that the churches be within close distance, the virtual pilgrimage will take “pilgrims” all over the diocese, De Silva told CNA. 

“Each parish is from a different deanery--all seven deaneries of our diocese,” De Silva explained. “In a way, where it would have been really difficult to do a truly dioesean pilgrimage going to all the different parishes, in a way, we’re kind of recreating that by ‘going’ to all of the regions of our diocese.”

He said that this aspect makes it “really special.”  The parishes were selected in part as they are already live streaming services and are already familiar with the technology to stream a video. De Silva hopes that this means the pilgrimage will be an “easy event to pull off virtually.” 

On the day of the pilgrimage, the stream will spend 15 minutes at each of the seven parishes, before switching to the next. The pastor at each parish will provide a reflection for about five minutes, and there will be 10 minutes of silent prayer. A prayer guide, printed in both English and Spanish, will be made available for download so that pilgrims can follow along with the evening. 

Most of all, De Silva hopes the virtual pilgrimage can serve as a way for people to feel connected during a unique and disrupted Lent. 

“I hope that it provides a sense of normalcy,” said De Silva. “I know that this is a tradition of the Church, and to not be able to go to Jesus at this time, I think there will be a sense of loss and grief.” 

By providing the virtual pilgrimage, the Arlington diocese hopes to offer a connection to usual Easter practices in unusual circumstances: “This thing that you used to do; it’s going to be different, but we’re still going to provide it to you,” said De Silva. 

De Silva also said that he hopes the pilgrimage can also be a way back to the faith who would otherwise never enter a church building and would never consider making a devotional pilgrimage.

“This is something that can almost be a passive experience, that they can just click into, and encounter something for the first time--which will hopefully then draw them in deeper into the life of the Church,” he said.

“That’s a huge hope of mine.”  

Christian leaders united in support of Oklahoma abortion order

CNA Staff, Apr 7, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Catholic dioceses in Oklahoma joined other Christian leaders on Monday to ask a federal court to let stand a state order halting elective abortions during the pandemic.

“Abortion is not an absolute right,” said a friend-of-the-court brief filed April 6 by Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, the Diocese of Tulsa, the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, leaders of the state’s Baptist churches, as well as an ecumenical group of faith leaders.

“States also have a duty to protect the health and safety of women who undergo this life altering procedure. That is why courts have upheld laws requiring waiting periods, ultrasounds, parental rights notifications for minors, and prohibitions against partial-birth abortions—even before viability,” the brief argued.

Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma issued an executive order halting non-essential surgeries and minor medical procedures in the state during the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV2) pandemic.

He clarified on March 27 that the order prohibited elective abortions, except in cases where the mother’s life or health was deemed to be at risk, among the non-essential surgeries that were to be halted. The order also stopped “routine dermatological, ophthalmological, and dental procedures, as well as most scheduled healthcare procedures such as orthopedic surgeries.”

On April 1, Gov. Stitt extended the order’s prohibitions until April 30. On March 30, Abortion providers in the state challenged the halt to elective abortions in court. On Monday, Judge Charles Goodwin of Oklahoma’s Western District Court put a temporary stay on Gov. Stitt’s order, allowing some abortions, including medication abortions, to continue.

The court’s restraining order is in effect until April 20, after which the court can let it expire or address the situation again. The brief, which was submitted on behalf of the faith leaders by Alliance Defending Freedom, argues that the state’s order should be allowed to go back into effect at that time.

For cases of women currently seeking an abortion who would not be able to “lawfully obtain an abortion” in the state by April 30, Judge Goodwin prevented the state from enforcing the governor’s order.

“Getting an abortion has never been an absolute right. The coronavirus didn’t suddenly turn it into one,” ADF Legal Counsel Elissa Graves stated. “Abortionists who seek to put their profit ahead of the well-being of women and staff who could be affected by COVID-19 shouldn’t be allowed to get away with their irresponsible demands.”

Goodwin acknowledged that the state could “impose some of the cited measures delaying abortion procedures,” during the public health emergency, but that it “acted in an ‘unreasonable,’ ‘arbitrary,’ and ‘oppressive’ way—and imposed an ‘undue burden’ on abortion access—in imposing requirements that effectively deny a right of access to abortion.”

Abortion providers, the Catholic and Christian leaders argued, should not be able to bring a case on behalf of women in the state because they are acting in their own self-interest.

Furthermore, they said, states are acting legitimately to curtail certain gatherings during the pandemic, and religious groups and churches are complying.

“As church communities voluntarily comply with prudential judgment of civil authorities, such governmental policies touch upon the constitutional and God given right to assemble for worship,” the brief stated.

“Everyone’s priority during this national crisis should be to protect vulnerable lives. Others seeking elective medical procedures are making that immense sacrifice. So are people of faith. So are public protestors. The abortion industry is demanding special treatment not to save lives, but to end them,” the brief stated.