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Oklahoma board approves first Catholic charter school in the country

null / Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Jun 5, 2023 / 16:50 pm (CNA).

The state of Oklahoma approved the country’s first-ever religious charter school on Monday. The move will allow public funds to pay the tuition of children attending an online Catholic school run by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa.

The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted 3-2 to approve St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School in a three-hour-long meeting. The “yes” votes included a new member who was appointed by Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt on Friday.

In a statement, the governor applauded the decision.

“This is a win for religious liberty and education freedom in our great state, and I am encouraged by these efforts to give parents more options when it comes to their child’s education,” Stitt said.

“Oklahomans support religious liberty for all and support an increasingly innovative educational system that expands choice,” the governor added. “Today, with the nation watching, our state showed that we will not stand for religious discrimination.”

Because charter schools are public schools funded by taxpayers, the decision to fund a religiously affiliated charter school is already coming under legal scrutiny. Republican Attorney General Gentner Drummond rebuked the board’s vote and said the action was unconstitutional.

“The approval of any publicly funded religious school is contrary to Oklahoma law and not in the best interest of taxpayers,” Drummond said. “It’s extremely disappointing that board members violated their oath in order to fund religious schools with our tax dollars. In doing so, these members have exposed themselves and the state to potential legal action that could be costly.”

State Superintendent Ryan Walters disagreed with the attorney general, stating that the move expands school choice.

“This decision reflects months of hard work and, more importantly, the will of the people of Oklahoma,” Walters said. “I encouraged the board to approve this monumental decision, and now the U.S.’s first religious charter school will be welcomed by my administration. I have fought for school choice in all forms and this further empowers parents. We will make sure every Oklahoma parent has the opportunity to decide what is best for their child.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states cannot discriminate against religiously affiliated schools in its school voucher programs. However, the constitutionality of charter schools run by religious institutions has not yet come up.

Report: Twitter fails to block some child pornography  

Photo illustration. / Shutterstock

Denver, Colo., Jun 5, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The social media website Twitter has apparently failed to block images of child sexual abuse, with researchers detecting several dozen known images of illegal pornographic material on the platform from March through May.

Though Twitter appeared to correct the problem, it imposed new fees for the use of an application to monitor the social media platform’s ability to block child pornography, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The Wall Street Journal’s report was based on research conducted by the Stanford Internet Observatory, which conducted a study of child protection issues across multiple social media platforms. It used a computer program to analyze a data set of about 100,000 Tweets from March 12 to May 20. The researchers found more than 40 images on Twitter flagged as CSAM (child sexual abuse material) in databases that companies use to screen content.

“This is one of the most basic things you can do to prevent CSAM online, and it did not seem to be working,” David Thiel, chief technologist at the Stanford Internet Observatory and report co-author, told the Wall Street Journal.

Thiel said it was “a surprise” to get any hits on “a small Twitter dataset.” Researchers used a digital signature analysis called PhotoDNA and their own software program to scan for the images and did not view the images themselves.

Twitter has previously said it uses PhotoDNA and other tools to detect CSAM, but it did not comment to the Wall Street Journal about whether it still uses PhotoDNA. The Stanford researchers said Twitter told them it has detected some false positives in CSAM databases that the platform’s operators manually filter out. Twitter said researchers might see false positives going forward.

The platform has touted its efforts to combat child sexual exploitation. It reported that it suspended about 404,000 accounts in the month of January for creating or engaging with material involving CSAM.

Research on Twitter involves access through an application programming interface (API). Twitter is now charging for this access, which could make analysis of Twitter unaffordable for researchers, the Wall Street Journal reported. The Stanford Internet Observatory has stopped using the enterprise-level API for Twitter because of the new costs.

The observatory, based at Stanford University, aims to study abuse of the internet in real time. Elon Musk, the owner of Twitter, in March accused the observatory of being a “propaganda machine” for its work on content moderation during the 2020 U.S. election.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), which advocates against sexual abuse and the public harms of pornography, placed Twitter on its 2023 “Dirty Dozen” list. The list aims to spotlight major mainstream entities that facilitate, enable, or profit from sexual abuse and exploitation. The NCOSE Law Center is representing two plaintiffs whose abuser groomed the then-teenage boys into sending sexually explicit videos of themselves. Compilations of the illegal material were then posted and shared on Twitter.

Citing the technology news blog site TechDirt, the NCOSE said: “Most experts agree that Musk’s actions since purchasing Twitter have so far served to make the crime of child sexual exploitation worse.”

Carmelite nuns file new theft and defamation charges against Fort Worth Bishop Olson

Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, Texas. / Credit: CBS News Texas/YouTube

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 5, 2023 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

Carmelite nuns of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, Texas, filed new theft and defamation charges Friday against Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth.

The nuns’ new charges were filed in a district court for Tarrant County, Texas, the day after Olson dismissed the monastery’s prioress, Reverend Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach, from religious life on the grounds that she had a sexual affair with an unnamed priest.

In a Thursday decree, Olson announced he had found Gerlach, prioress of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, “guilty of having violated the sixth commandment of the Decalogue and her vow of chastity with a priest from outside the Diocese of Fort Worth.”

The new charges levied by the monastery are in addition to a lawsuit filed on May 3 that seeks $1 million in civil damages and asks the court to block the bishop’s and the diocese’s access to any records obtained by confiscating the reverend mother’s property.

“Bishop Olson forced the Reverend Mother to turn over her computer, iPad, and cellular phone to him personally,” the charge states. 

Though the physical property has since been returned, the nuns allege that the diocese made digital copies of the information containing “private correspondence, private documents, extensive medical records,” and financial information, “including but not limited to donor lists.” 

“This is the private property of the Plaintiffs, none of which is relevant or related to the canonical investigation, which according to the Defendants has now been concluded,” the suit says. 

Additionally, the nuns claim that Olson and the diocese defamed Gerlach by voluntarily publishing “patently false and defamatory” statements about the prioress on the diocesan website. 

In turn, the diocese is arguing that the dispute is an ecclesiastical matter and should not be heard in a civil court.

The civil hearing on the case is set for June 23.

Although Olson has concluded his ecclesiastical investigation and the diocese alleges that Gerlach admitted to the misconduct, the monastery’s attorney Matthew Bobo emphatically denies that claim. 

According to Bobo, Gerlach, 43, was under the influence of pain medication related to a surgery when she is alleged to have admitted to the affair and “has not admitted to any grave misconduct that would warrant his extreme and emotionally damaging measures.”

Per Olson’s decree, Gerlach has 30 days to appeal her dismissal to the Vatican’s Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of the Apostolic Life.

Bobo has said that Gerlach intends to appeal the decision.

Who flew migrants to California and dropped them off at Diocese of Sacramento offices?

Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento, California. / Credit: Randy Miramontez/Shutterstock

Boston, Mass., Jun 5, 2023 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

California’s governor and attorney general are accusing the state of Florida of “kidnapping” a group of 16 South American migrants in Texas, flying them to Sacramento, and dropping them off in front of the Diocese of Sacramento’s headquarters.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta said the migrants were brought by private plane and had “no prior arrangement in place.”

The news comes amid a heated national debate over border security and immigration as hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, many of whom are unaccompanied children, have crossed America’s southern border in the past year alone.

It’s unclear if the migrants, who are reportedly from Colombia and Venezuela, are asylum seekers. CNA asked California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office on Monday but did not immediately receive a response.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office has not responded to CNA’s inquiry about the accusation.

Bonta said in a Saturday statement that the 16 migrants “were in possession of documentation purporting to be from the government of the state of Florida.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, the migrants’ documentation says that the Florida Division of Emergency Management arranged the flight, Bonta told the outlet. The documents also say that the flight was a part of a Florida program to relocate migrants in Texas to other states, Bonta added.

Catholics and organizations partnered with the Diocese of Sacramento to offer services and resources to the migrants, according to Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto.

“Within each of the 16 migrants transported to Sacramento on Friday we recognize the humble presence of Jesus, and we hear his call to stand by them,” Soto said.

DeSantis made headlines last year for a similar political maneuver in which his state sent two planes carrying migrant asylum seekers in Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, in what a spokesperson for the governor told Fox News Digital was “part of the state’s relocation program to transport illegal immigrants to sanctuary destinations.”

Massachusetts is not a sanctuary state — a term typically referring to a local government’s refusal to work with federal immigration enforcement officials to deport illegal immigrants — but it does have several municipalities branding themselves as sanctuaries for migrants, although Martha’s Vineyard is not one of them, according to the Boston Herald.

The Florida governor, who is now running for president of the United States, received both heated criticism and support from public figures and legislators at the time.

An activist organization called Lawyers for Civil Rights is leading a lawsuit on behalf of the Venezuelan migrants against the Republican governor for the Martha’s Vineyard move.

DeSantis is being sued in Massachusetts federal court for allegedly violating the migrants’ Fourth Amendment rights, 14th Amendment rights, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to The Hill

A spokeswoman for DeSantis said at the time that the migrants were homeless and voluntarily accepted the flight to Martha’s Vineyard through a consent form, according to The Hill.

The case is still pending. 

Although Massachusetts is not a sanctuary state, California is. 

In a tweet on Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom called DeSantis a “small, pathetic man” adding “Kidnapping charges? Read the following.” Attached to the tweet is a photo of a California statute that includes a definition of kidnapping.

Newsom said in a statement on Saturday that he and Bonta met with the migrants in Sacramento and added that they were “transported from Texas to New Mexico before being flown by private chartered jet to Sacramento and dumped on the doorstep of a local church without any advance warning.”

The California governor said that he was working with local authorities to take care of the migrants and ensure that they “get to their intended destination as they pursue their immigration cases.”

Newsom said that he and the state’s Department of Justice are investigating who orchestrated the trip and whether the organizers broke any laws, “including kidnapping.”

Bonta said in a statement of his own that “state-sanctioned kidnapping is not a public policy choice, it is immoral and disgusting.”

Bishop Soto said that after the migrants were dropped off at the diocese, “The urgency to respond was heard by Catholics and people of goodwill.”

“We are thankful to our partner organizations who took up the holy work of hospitality, dedicating their time and resources to ensure that every migrant did not feel alone and abandoned,” he said.

Texas becomes 18th state to ban sex changes for kids

Gov. Abbott of Texas signed a law banning transgender procedures for children. / Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Jun 5, 2023 / 14:20 pm (CNA).

Texas became the 18th state in the country to prohibit doctors from performing sex changes on children after Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation banning such procedures on Friday, June 2.

Under the new law, which will go into effect Sept. 1, neither physicians nor health care providers can perform surgeries on a minor’s genitals or breasts to facilitate a gender transition. The law also prohibits the prescription of puberty blockers, testosterone, or estrogen when used for the purpose of a gender transition.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and other groups have vowed to fight the legislation in court. 

“Abbott can’t stop trans youth from thriving in Texas — and we’ll take him to court to make sure of it,” the ACLU of Texas said in a statement on Twitter. “We are doing everything in our power to preserve access to this life-saving, evidence-based health care.”

Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, the primary sponsor of the bill and a medical doctor, said the bill was written to withstand legal challenges.

“Children in Texas are officially protected from harmful, experimental medical and surgical treatments for gender dysphoria,” Oliverson said on Twitter. “Thank you for signing SB14 [Gov. Greg Abbott]. We knew there would be court challenges. SB14 was written with that in mind and will prevail.”

The surgeries on minors prohibited under the new law include castration, vasectomies, the removal of the uterus, the removal of ovaries, the removal of the penis, or any other procedure that would sterilize the child. The new law will also prohibit the removal of healthy female breasts or any otherwise healthy and non-diseased body part or tissue. 

Per the legislation, doctors cannot prescribe puberty blockers or any drug that is intended to stop or delay the normal process of puberty. It also prohibits prescriptions of testosterone or estrogen at levels higher than what would normally be present in the child at his or her age.

The ban only applies when the surgery or the drugs are intended to facilitate a gender transition and includes exceptions for medically necessary procedures. The law also includes exceptions for children who are born with a genetic sex development disorder and children who do not have a normal sex chromosome structure for the male or female sex.

If a child is already receiving gender transition drugs, the doctor is not required to immediately halt the prescription if it could endanger the child’s health. Rather, the doctor will be allowed to wean the child off of the drugs in a safe and medically appropriate manner. 

Medical practitioners who violate the law will have their medical licenses revoked. The law also gives the attorney general’s office the authority to step in and prevent violations if they are occurring. 

The law further prohibits any public money from being used directly or indirectly to pay for these procedures or provide these drugs to minors. It also prohibits Medicaid reimbursements for such procedures and drugs for children.

Several states that have imposed similar restrictions have been taken to court over their rules, and some are still fighting lawsuits in court. 

At the same time, a handful of other states, including Minnesota, Maryland, and California, have passed bills to ensure a legal right for minors to access these medical procedures.

Hong Kong police arrest dozens at memorials for victims of Tiananmen Square massacre

People light candles at a Tiananmen vigil at Victoria Park in Hong Kong, June 4, 2020. / Yan Zhao/AFP via Getty Images

Washington D.C., Jun 5, 2023 / 13:50 pm (CNA).

Hong Kong police apprehended almost two dozen citizens for “seditious” activity on the 34th anniversary of the Chinese communist government’s massacre of citizens at Tiananmen Square, according to the Hong Kong Free Press.

The Hong Kong Free Press reported that 11 men and 12 women, ages 20 to 74, were detained in an apparent crackdown on Tiananmen Square memorials over the weekend in Hong Kong.

According to a statement released Saturday by the Hong Kong Police Force, four individuals were arrested and four detained for “displaying protest items loaded with seditious wordings, chanting, and committing unlawful acts.”

The arrests were made near Hong Kong’s Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, where highly attended Tiananmen Square memorials have been held in years past.

The memorials recall how on June 4, 1989, the Chinese government quashed a weekslong protest of Chinese citizens by opening fire and sending tanks into Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China’s capital city. There is no official count, but death toll estimates of the massacre range from 200 to 10,000.

Tiananmen Square memorials have long been illegal in mainland China, but the crackdown in Hong Kong is a more recent development.

As a special administrative region of the Chinese government, Hong Kong formerly enjoyed relative autonomy until the Chinese Communist Party began ramping up its control of the region in recent years.

A 2019 Tiananmen Square candlelight memorial in Victoria Park, Hong Kong, drew more than 100,000 participants, according to the Guardian.

In 2020, Hong Kong passed a national security law that has been used to arrest hundreds of protestors and activists and to crack down on the press, according to the BBC.  

The following year a famous statue depicting the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre known as the “Pillar of Shame” was removed from the University of Hong Kong by officials.

This year, a section of the park where the memorial commemoration has been held was used as a festival ground while the rest of the park was closed off for “maintenance.” According to the Hong Kong Free Press, the festival is being organized by “pro-Beijing groups.”

Video footage taken Sunday shows an elderly woman holding up flowers and a man holding a copy of a play about the Tiananmen Square massacre being escorted away by police.

The woman has been identified by the Hong Kong Free Press as Alexandra Wong, 67, a Hong Kong pro-democracy activist also known as “Grandmother Wong.”

Others detained include prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders Tsui Hong-kwong, Leo Tan, and Chan Po-ying.

Also among those apprehended was Lau Ka-yee, a Hong Kong citizen who formerly attended college and graduate school in Taiwan.

The National Taiwan University Graduate Students Association condemned Ka-yee’s detention, saying she had been “arbitrarily” denied her right to peacefully protest.

In response, the Hong Kong Security Bureau strongly denied the Taiwanese association’s claims, accusing it of “disregarding the facts,” “confusing right and wrong,” and “smearing the lawful actions of the police.”

In a June 5 statement, the bureau said it “strongly opposes the unfounded and false accusations made by the National Taiwan University Graduate Students Association against the police’s law enforcement actions on June 4.”

“Hong Kong residents enjoy the rights and freedoms under the Basic Law, the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance, and other relevant laws,” the bureau added. “However, members of the public must abide by the law, not affect social order, and maintain national security when exercising these freedoms.”

The U.S. and European Union consulates in Hong Kong marked the anniversary by placing candles in their windows.

The U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong issued a statement June 3, saying: “Tomorrow, we observe the 34th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. On June 4, 1989, the Government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) sent tanks into Tiananmen Square to brutally repress peaceful Chinese pro-democracy protesters and bystanders alike.”

“The victims’ bravery will not be forgotten and continues to inspire advocates for these principles around the world,” the statement continued. “The United States will continue advocating for people’s human rights and fundamental freedoms in China and around the world.”

‘National Celebrate Life Day’ rally in Washington, DC, announced for anniversary of Roe reversal

The scene outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., after the court released its decision in the Dobbs abortion case on June 24, 2022. / Katie Yoder/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 5, 2023 / 13:20 pm (CNA).

Leading pro-life organizations will hold a “National Celebrate Life Day” rally and gala in Washington, D.C., on June 24, the first anniversary of the reversal of Roe v. Wade.  

Students for Life of America (SFLA) announced the event in an April press release.

The rally will be held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall from 10:30 a.m. to noon and will be co-hosted by SFLA, 40 Days for Life, Live Action, and Pro-Life Partners Foundation.

SFLA President Kristan Hawkins said in the release that the first anniversary of the Dobbs v. Jackson Supreme Court decision marks “both the celebration of a battle won and a moment to rally the troops for our new opportunities.” 

“We are no longer hampered by the 1973 Roe decision in light of the 2022 Dobbs ruling,” Hawkins said. “With Roe gone, we can reaffirm the obvious: Our nation was built on the hope of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all of us, including those not yet born.” 

Tina Whittington, SFLA’s executive vice president, told CNA that the rally will be “laying out a vision of where to go next in the pro-life movement: achieving national protection for preborn Americans under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.”

“We are fighting for protections for life in law at the state and federal level,” Whittington said, adding that “as long as Planned Parenthood is funded through our federal government and pro-abortionists fight for life-ending bills in Congress, there’s a fight to be had in Washington.” 

Whittington pointed out that although the 14th Amendment guarantees that no state can deprive any person of life, liberty, or equal protection under the law, abortion denies those rights to unborn children across America.

According to Whittington, thousands are planning to attend the event, which is expected to have a joyful, celebratory atmosphere marking the first full year since the decision that ended Roe v. Wade. 

“Our celebration is a reflection of a momentous day in history,” Whittington said. “We celebrate the fact that half of all states prevent abortions after 12 weeks one year after Roe’s reversal, but we’re just getting started and far more can be done at the federal level to protect innocent lives from the violence of abortion.”

Shawn Carney, president of 40 Days for Life, told CNA that because the 2022 Dobbs decision occurred on the feast of the Sacred Heart, the event will hold a special significance for Catholics.

“This event is the epitome of how Catholics in America can make history if we trust God, go to work at the grassroots, and unapologetically share the Church’s beautiful teachings on the dignity of the human person,” Carney said.

Carney added that many Catholics have been especially motivated “to charter buses to D.C. to celebrate this ruling in the midst of so much current bigotry toward Catholics we have seen from the media, corporations, and even our DOJ.”

According to Carney the rally “is not a reflection on the past” but rather “a future resolve to end abortion in our nation now that Roe has fallen.”

“Pro-life Americans don’t want to see this historic day pass without celebrating what many thought they would never live to see,” Carney said. “This event is a positive celebration of the Dobbs decision and a firm resolution to end abortion across America.” 

The rally will feature some of the country’s leading Catholic pro-life voices as speakers, including Live Action President Lila Rose, Daily Wire podcaster Michael Knowles, SFLA president Hawkins, and others. 

A ticketed National Celebrate Life Day gala will also be held in conjunction with the rally on the evening of June 24 at the Renaissance Washington, D.C. 

For more information on both the rally and gala, click here

‘A unifying moment’: Sister Wilhelmina’s nuns share their story in exclusive TV interview

Sister Scholastica Radel (left) and Mother Abbess Cecilia Snell of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, discuss the recent exhumation of the order's foundress, Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, in an interview with EWTN News In Depth on May 30, 2023, at their abbey in Gower, Missouri. / EWTN News

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 4, 2023 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Her flashlight was dim, so when Mother Abbess Cecilia Snell first peered inside the cracked coffin lid and saw a human foot inside a black sock where one would expect to find only bone and dust, she didn’t say anything.

Instead, she took a step back, collected herself, and leaned in for another look, just to be sure. Then she screamed for joy.

“I will never forget that scream for as long as I live,” recalled Sister Scholastica Radel, the prioress, who was among the members of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, who were present to exhume the remains of their foundress, Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster.

“It was a very different scream than any other scream,” the abbess agreed. “Nothing like seeing a mouse or something. It was just pure joy. ‘I see her foot!’”

What the sisters discovered that day would cause a worldwide sensation: Roughly four years after her burial in a simple wooden coffin, Sister Wilhelmina’s unembalmed body appeared very much intact.

In an exclusive TV interview with EWTN News In Depth, the two sisters shared details of their remarkable discovery — revealing, among other things, that Sister Wilhelmina’s body doesn’t exhibit the muscular stiffness of rigor mortis — and reflected on the deeper significance of the drama still unfolding at their Abbey of Our Lady of Ephesus in rural Gower, Missouri.

They also clarified that Sister Wilhelmina’s coffin was exhumed on April 28, nearly three weeks earlier than CNA had understood. The sisters explained that it took about two weeks to remove dirt, mold, and mildew before they moved her body to the church. You can hear excerpts from the interview and other commentaries in the video at the end of this story.

Pilgrims visit the body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, the foundress of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, in Gower, Missouri. EWTN News
Pilgrims visit the body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, the foundress of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, in Gower, Missouri. EWTN News

Of particular significance to the members of the contemplative order, known for their popular recordings of Gregorian chants and devotion to the Traditional Latin Mass, is that the traditional habit of their African American foundress also is surprisingly well-preserved.

“It’s in better condition than most of our habits,” Mother Cecilia told EWTN’s Catherine Hadro.

“This is not possible. Four years in a wet coffin, broken in with all the dirt, all the bacteria, all the mildew, all the mold — completely intact, every thread.”

For the sisters, the symbolism is profound. A St. Louis native, Sister Wilhelmina spent 50 years in another religious order but left after it dispensed with the requirement of wearing its conventional habit and altered other long-established practices. She founded the Benedictines of Mary in 1995 when she was 70 years old.

“It’s so appropriate, because that’s what Sister Wilhelmina fought for her whole religious life,” Mother Cecilia said of the habit.

“And now,” Sister Scholastica said, “that’s what’s standing out. That’s what she took on to show the world that she belonged to Christ, and that is what she still shows the world. Even in her state, even after death, four years after the death, she’s still showing the world that this is who she is. She’s a bride of Christ, and nothing else matters.”

‘I did a double take’

The Benedictine community exhumed Sister Wilhelmina after deciding to move her remains to a new St. Joseph’s Shrine inside the abbey’s church, a common custom to honor the founders of religious orders, the sisters said.

Members of the community did the digging themselves, “a little bit each day,” Mother Cecilia said. The process began on April 26 and culminated with a half-dozen or so sisters using straps to haul the coffin out of the ground on April 28.

The abbess revealed that there was a feeling of anticipation among the sisters to see what was inside the coffin.

“There was a sense that maybe God would do something special because she was so special and so pure of heart,” Mother Cecilia said.

It was the abbess who looked through the cracked lid first, shining her flashlight into the dark coffin.

“So I looked and I kind of did a double take and I kind of stepped back. ‘Did I just see what I think I saw? Because I think I just saw a completely full foot with a black sock still on it,’” she recalled saying to herself.

Members of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, lead a procession with the body of their foundress, Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, at their abbey in Gower, Missouri, on May 29, 2023. Joe Bukuras/CNA
Members of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, lead a procession with the body of their foundress, Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, at their abbey in Gower, Missouri, on May 29, 2023. Joe Bukuras/CNA

Sister Wilhelmina’s features were clearly recognizable; even her eyebrows and eyelashes were still there, the sisters discovered. Not only that, but her Hanes-brand socks, her brown scapular, Miraculous Medal, rosary beads, profession candle, and the ribbon around the candle — none of it had deteriorated.

The crown of flowers placed on her head for her burial had survived, too, dried in place but still visible. Yet the coffin’s fabric lining, the sisters noted, had disintegrated. So had a strap of new linen the sisters said they used to keep Sister Wilhelmina’s mouth closed.

“So I think everything that was left to us was a sign of her life,” Sister Scholastica reflected, “whereas everything pertaining to her death was gone.”

Another revelation from the interview: Contrary to what one would expect in the case of a four-year-old corpse, Sister Wilhelmina’s body is “really flexible,” according to Sister Scholastica.

“I mean, you can take her leg and lift it,” Mother Cecilia observed.

EWTN News In Depth also spoke with Shannen Dee Williams, an author and scholar who is an expert on the history of Black Catholicism. Sister Wilhelmina’s story, she said, is an important reminder of “the great diversity and beauty of the Black Catholic experience across the spectrum.”

‘A unifying moment’

There has been no formal declaration by Church authorities that Sister Wilhelmina’s body is incorrupt, nor has an independent analysis been conducted of her remains, the condition of which has puzzled even some experienced morticians. Neither is there any official process yet underway to put the African American nun on a possible path to sainthood.

But that hasn’t stopped thousands of pilgrims from making the trek to northwest Missouri to see Sister Wilhelmina’s body, which was moved to a glass display case in the abbey church on May 29. And within the abbey’s walls, there is a pervasive sense of joy, gratitude, and wonder.

Pilgrims visit the body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, foundress of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, in Gower, Missouri. EWTN News
Pilgrims visit the body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, foundress of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, in Gower, Missouri. EWTN News

In the interview, Mother Cecilia called what’s happening at the abbey “a unifying moment for everybody” in a time of discord.

“There’s so much division, and it’s crazy,” she said. “We’re children of God the Father, every single one of us. And so you see, Sister Wilhelmina is bringing everyone together ... I mean, this is God’s love pouring forth through people of every race, color,” she said.

“They come and they’re blown away, and it makes them think,” the abbess said. “It makes them think about God, about, ‘OK, why are we here? Is there more than just my phone, and my job, and my next vacation?’”

As for what comes next, no one can say. “We love God so much, his sense of humor, the irony, this humble little black nun hidden away in a monastery is a catalyst for this. It’s like a spark to send fire to the world,” Mother Cecilia said.

“It’s just remarkable,” she said. “But this is the kind of thing that God does when we need a wake-up call.”

Trinity Sunday 2023: 10 illuminating quotes from the saints about the Holy Trinity

Holy Trinity, detail of Iconostasis in Greek Catholic Co-cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Zagreb, Croatia. / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 4, 2023 / 02:00 am (CNA).

The solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, also known as Trinity Sunday, is observed on the Sunday following Pentecost. This year’s feast falls on June 4 and draws our attention to the mystery of the Trinity — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Saints over time have commented on the importance of the Holy Trinity, speaking on its greatness, simplicity, and power to transform the souls of believers.

To pay tribute to the Holy Trinity, here are 10 illuminating quotes from the mouths, minds, and hearts of 10 different saints:

  1. St. Augustine: “For to have the fruition of God the Trinity, after whose image we are made, is indeed the fullness of our joy, than which there is no greater.”

  2. St. Teresa of Ávila: “The three Persons are distinct from one another; a sublime knowledge is infused into the soul, imbuing it with a certainty of the truth that the Three are of one substance, power, and knowledge and are one God.”

  3. St. Seraphim of Sarov: “In spite of our sinfulness, in spite of the darkness surrounding our souls, the grace of the Holy Spirit, conferred by baptism in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, still shines in our hearts with the inextinguishable light of Christ ... and when the sinner turns to the way of repentance the light smooths away every trace of the sins committed, clothing the former sinner in the garments of incorruption, spun of the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is this acquisition of the Holy Spirit about which I have been speaking.”

  4. St. Patrick (from “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” prayer): “Today I put on a terrible strength invoking the Trinity, confessing the Three with faith in the One as I face my Maker.”

  5. St. Catherine of Siena: “O Trinity, eternal Trinity! Fire, abyss of love ... Was it necessary that you should give even the Holy Trinity as food for souls? You gave us not only your Word through the Redemption and in the Eucharist, but you also gave yourself in the fullness of love for your creature.

A statue of the Holy Trinity in Budapest, Hungary. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
A statue of the Holy Trinity in Budapest, Hungary. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
  1. St. Thomas Aquinas: “The Father loves not only the Son but also himself and us, by the Holy Ghost.”

  2. St. Ambrose: “Rise, you who were lying fast asleep … Rise and hurry to the Church: Here is the Father, here is the Son, here is the Holy Spirit.”

  3. St. John Paul II: “A great mystery, a mystery of love, an ineffable mystery, before which words must give way to the silence of wonder and worship. A divine mystery that challenges and involves us, because a share in the Trinitarian life was given to us through grace, through the redemptive Incarnation of the Word and the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

  4. St. Faustina: “When One of the Three Persons communicates with a soul, by the power of that one will, it finds itself united with the Three Persons and is inundated in the happiness flowing from the Most Holy Trinity, the same happiness that nourishes the saints. This same happiness that streams from the Most Holy Trinity makes all creation happy; from it springs that life which vivifies and bestows all life which takes its beginning from him.”

  5. St. Francis de Sales (from a consecration prayer to the Trinity): “I vow and consecrate to God all that is in me: My memory and my actions to God the Father; My understanding and my words to God the Son; My will and my thoughts to God the Holy Spirit.”

This article was originally published June 11, 2022, and was updated June 2, 2023.

Pope Francis’s Vision for the Church

On the evening of October 11, 1962, the night preceding the opening of the Second Vatican Council, a crowd of mostly young people gathered in Saint Peter’s Square, filled with energy, enthusiasm, and expectation for what was about to unfold. John XXIII came to the window from which popes customarily address the crowds at the Sunday Angelus and gave an impromptu fervorino, referred to simply as the “moonlight speech.” It is probably his best remembered speech and provides an apt characterization of the man known to the world as Good Pope John. Rejoicing at the sight of the crowd and the glow of their candles, Pope John mused that even the moon came out for the event. After a few more words of encouragement, he said:

When you go home, give your children a hug and tell them it is from the pope. And when you find them with tears to dry, give them a good word. Give anyone who suffers a word of comfort. Tell them, “The pope is with us especially in our times of sadness.”

John XXIII called for aggiornamento so that the worldwide Church could be refreshed and renewed for its mission in the world. His fifth successor, Pope Francis, is convinced that it was the Holy Spirit’s actions that made the council bear fruit, and he is making it clear that the Second Vatican Council has charted the course for the Church that he intends to follow. Like his smiling predecessor, Francis is attuned to the realities of the suffering of the innocent and is painfully aware of how inequality of access to the world’s goods and the phenomenal disproportionality in the consumption of those goods contributes to violence, instability, and the threatened future of humanity. It doesn’t have to be so, he reminds us again and again, and the remedy is to simply live as sisters and brothers as God’s plan has designed. The aggiornamento needed for the present moment is to get back on course with the “pilgrim people of God” ecclesiology of the council and to forge even stronger bonds of fraternity—not only with other Christians, but with all of the world’s religions, and even those of no faith who would be characterized as people of good will.

In the past few months, there have been many assessments of the Bergoglio papacy—some lauding its fruitfulness, others bemoaning the lack thereof. If one’s primary concern about the Church today is access to the pre-conciliar liturgy, or pre-conciliar attitudes about ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, or a rigid interpretation of the Church’s moral tradition when it comes to sexual ethics but not to social ethics; if one fears a Church in dialogue with the world or fears a hierarchy that listens to its own flock; if one wants to be certain that the sacraments be exclusively offered to the saintly or fears any greater inclusion of laity, especially women, in co-responsible roles in the Church—then the Francis pontificate has been an outright disaster. That is supposedly how a cardinal, once a close collaborator of Francis, described this decade in a posthumously released commentary.

If, however, one has been inspired by the fact that the cardinals selected a Bishop of Rome from the “ends of the world,” a pope who chose the name of Francis in remembrance of the saint of the poor, of creation, and of peace; if one is grateful for relief from the imposition of Tridentine rubrics and pre-conciliar liturgical fashion by young clerics; if one is enthusiastic about the reintroduction and reimagination of synodality in the West; if one prefers a pope who washes the feet of women, Muslims, prisoners, and who brings refugees on board papal flights and invites them to live in the Vatican; if one nods in agreement with the idea that the Church is supposed to form consciences and not replace them; and if one rejoices to see accompaniment and discernment as the proper approach to those who lives are not fully reflective of the Church’s teachings—then it is hard to consider these ten years as anything but a successful beginning.


My hope and prayer is that “synodality” becomes the lasting Franciscan contribution to our Catholic vocabulary.

No pope should be remembered for only one thing, but it seems that recent popes have each introduced a memorable word or phrase into the Catholic lexicon. For John XXIII it was “aggiornamento,” for Paul VI it was “evangelization.” For John Paul II, the word “solidarity” probably takes first place; for Benedict XVI, the “rejection of relativism.” For a good while I was convinced that the Francis word would be “periphery.” Was anybody talking about the peripheries before 2013? It shouldn’t been surprising, coming from the first Latin American pope, who brought with him the legacy of CELAM, the Latin American Bishops’ Conference and its aim to create missionary disciples, the same conference that declared a preferential option for the poor and aligned itself with the impoverished masses of the continent after centuries of being part of the privileged elite. The peripheries to which Father Jorge once sent his Jesuit novices have now become a worldwide directive from the center of the Church. 

The word “joy” was also a real contender. When had we ever heard so much about the joy of the Gospel? The joy of love, especially married and family love? The joy of the call to holiness? Certainly more far-reaching than any of his encyclicals is the joy that Francis expresses in every encounter with refugees, migrants, the imprisoned, those who dwell in ghettos, the hospitalized, and those in nursing homes. Recently, after seeing so many pictures of the pope in discomfort and awkwardly moving around, I wondered if we would see that smile again. But sure enough, on Holy Thursday at the Marmo Juvenile Detention Center where he washed the feet of inmates, I saw the beaming smile, returned to him by those who experienced that close connection. The “Joy of the Gospel” was the title of his first apostolic exhortation, and it really did serve as a programmatic essay about the way his papacy would unfold and the direction in which he would lead the Church.

But now my hope and prayer is that “synodality” becomes the lasting Franciscan contribution to our Catholic vocabulary. This pope—a man of deep prayer who is schooled in the Ignatian spiritual tradition of discernment and who bears witness to the freedom of the Holy Spirit—is content to convene the bishops and the whole People of God to learn again to “walk together,” which he reminds us is the foundational meaning of “synod.” It is also a phrase used by John XXIII in that moonlight speech: “tutti insieme in fraternità,” everyone together in fraternity towards peace. Pope Francis is also reformulating the use of synods so that they are not only periodic events for convening bishops in affective collegiality, but also the new way of being the Church at every level. If this attempt is successful, its impact will be comparable to that of the Second Vatican Council, opened by another pope who was seen to be nearing the end of his days.

Francis builds on the legacy of the Second Vatican Council’s restoration of the Synod of Bishops as a permanent reality in the Church. Lumen gentium provided a renewed look at the traditional ministry of the bishop; the council restored the office of diocesan bishop as being much more than a “branch officer” for the corporate offices in Rome. The council also discussed the collegiality necessary among all bishops who share responsibility for the universal Church with and under Peter. Still, there was no intermediary structure between the local bishop and pope, except for the national and regional conferences of bishops, which are more about fraternal collegiality than effective governance. The Synod of Bishops would be convened by the pope, discuss pertinent issues at the pope’s request, and provide a global perspective to the pope.

Pope Francis himself, as a bishop, did not appreciate synods that seemed to merely rubber-stamp decisions and directives made elsewhere, mainly by the Roman Curia. He lamented his own experience of bishops who shared opinions and critiques outside the synod hall, but who had been much more reserved about doing so in the Holy Father’s presence. At his first synod as Bishop of Rome, the extraordinary Synod on the Family, Francis instructed the participating bishops to speak boldly and listen charitably. It seems that some were better at implementing the first half of the directive. Another of the frequently repeated words in the Francis lexicon is parrhesia, or boldness, which he insists is necessary in the synodal process if real discernment, listening, and dialogue are to take place. The Acts of the Apostles describes such parrhesia. But in the synodal setting, time for silence, prayer, processing, and discernment is just as important. 

The recent diocesan phase of the universal Synod on Synodality was meant to be an exercise in teaching this method to the whole Church. Indeed it was a start, but there is a long way to go. Francis has clarified that synods are not to function in parliamentary fashion: there are no parties and it is not simply a matter of winning the majority to one’s side of an argument. Real synodality should not have winners and losers; if people are not open to a change of heart through dialogue, they have yet to learn the synodal method. Francis is not at all afraid of learning from failures and trying repeatedly to get it right. Many across the ideological spectrum would consider the Amazon Synod to have been a failure—some because it did not result in the ordination of married deacons to the priesthood or women to the diaconate, others because of their horror that such issues even came to the floor. In his discernment, Pope Francis said that it was not the moment to act on such proposals, because all the participants came with their preconceived views on the topics and no one was open to change.

In considering the implementation of the Synod on Synodality in the United States up until now, we can see both an initial grasp of the concept of synodality along with an enthusiasm for the process of listening and consultation—but also a well-founded wariness about whether anything will come of it. (I am referring here to the laity primarily.) There are also critiques of the process, suspicions of its agenda, and attempts to discredit it. Reception by the bishops in the United States can be characterized as lukewarm at best. There are places in the country where the synod has been embraced and eagerly implemented, and places where there has been little to no engagement with the process.

My perspective is shaped by having been the bishop from my region (the ecclesiastical provinces of Louisville, Mobile, and New Orleans) who coordinated our regional synthesis and was part of the USCCB team that coordinated the national synthesis. I also participated in the drafting of the continental synthesis. While every diocese in my region did something, some were content to merely offer an online survey. An online survey can be a helpful tool, especially when there was a desire to include the disaffected and alienated who would probably not be inclined to come to a church gathering for the purpose. But an online tool alone can hardly be an expression of the “walking together” that the synod is supposed to be about.

The dominant cultural pragmatism in North America was evident in the desire to know “where this is going.” Bishops frequently stated that they do not know how to lead a process when the desired outcome of that process is unclear. I think the pope’s response to that complaint would be that the bishops are not meant to lead the process, but to facilitate the Holy Spirit’s guidance. It is easy to see why the national “Eucharistic Revival” has received far more energy, attention, and resources in the U.S. Church: there is a plan, there is marketing, there is a beginning and end point, there is substantial funding, and there is a problem to be addressed, namely the concern that Catholics do not believe sufficiently in the Real Presence. Instead of ensuring a eucharistic centrality to the synodal process, allowing for an organic discernment about our eucharistic understanding, plans for a mega-event featuring plenty of pre-conciliar piety and theology have replaced the focus on the Synod for a Synodal Church in the USCCB. It does not strike me as coincidental that much of the Eucharistic Revival focuses on eucharistic adoration, passive in nature, and so offers an easy alternative to the active engagement of walking together synodally.

Several places in the United States could not resist creating a local action plan for their synod, even though this is clearly not the stage of the synod for that. Sometimes that push for a plan was about making sure that the insights gleaned from the People of God in dialogue would not be lost; I think that concern is valid, but also comes from thinking that the synod is an event rather than the way of being Church. 

My own experience of sensing a palpable love for the Church, even when members have been frustrated, hurt, and are worried about its future, was echoed throughout the country and around the globe.

The first phase of the Synod, from October 2021 until April 2022, was to be the phase for listening and discernment in local churches, dioceses, and bishops’ conferences. The National Synthesis of the People of God in the United States of America for the diocesan phase of the synod emphasizes the joy with which participants were engaged and the positive feelings that came from the listening sessions. The structure and facilitation of such sessions varied greatly. This was not seen as problematic by the Office of the Synod in Rome because the Church is diverse, and this phase was not meant to be a one-time opportunity to get it right, but rather a part of an evolving process. The number of people who expressed gratitude for being listened to and being able to express themselves was impressive, even if some of those who wish to discount the process prefer to emphasize the miniscule percentage of all Catholics who actually participated in a formal session. My own experience of sensing a palpable love for the Church, even when members have been frustrated, hurt, and are worried about its future, was echoed throughout the country and around the globe. The enduring wounds of the sexual-abuse and mismanagement crises were prominent in discussions; related issues, like the concentration of power among clerics, the loss of respect and trust in the hierarchy, and the fear about the faith not being received by the next generation, also came up frequently—as did concerns about the roles of women and LGBTQ people in the Church. There was a great desire expressed to become a more welcoming Church and to offer accompaniment to people at every stage of faith development.

It seems that those who were engaged in synodal processes throughout the country have come to appreciate the language and spirit of Pope Francis and really are learning the art of discernment. It should be noted that many groups conducted synodal listening sessions outside of diocesan or parish structures and sent their syntheses directly to the Synod Office in Rome or to the USCCB, sometimes expressing dissatisfaction with the local process. Even so, the concerns that came up frequently throughout the United States also surfaced in many other parts of the world. If Pope Francis was hopeful that the Spirit would provide the issues to be discerned, the Spirit is speaking.

When all these national syntheses were received in Rome, a working document was created. The title given by the Office of the Synod in Rome to the working document for the Continental Stage includes these words from Isaiah 54:2: “Enlarge the space of your tent.” This reflects a desire for a less self-enclosed and more welcoming Church. The continental document describes a kind of wrestling with the concept of synodality and a real desire for a more missionary Church, even if we are unsure about how to get there.

The working document for the continental phase was then sent back to the dioceses for further discussion, careful reading, reflection, and discernment in dialogue. All were asked to describe what in the document resonated with their experience and what would be most impactful in their local church. These discussions were to be in preparation for a continental synodal assembly, which happened on every continent—except North America. For the purposes of this phase of the synod, Mexico was included with Latin America (South and Central) because of linguistic, cultural, and historical ties. North America—that is, the United States and Canada—conducted several sessions by Zoom with the bishops and two delegates selected by each diocesan bishop. There were sessions available in English, Spanish, and French. Asia, Europe, and Africa, with their vast geographies and cultural diversity, were able to conduct continental assemblies. Even the Middle East created such an assembly. North America did not, citing economic and practical difficulties in coming together.

With a narrower selection of delegates in this phase, there were some notable differences from the broad content of the diocesan listening sessions. Concerns about the direction of the synod were more pronounced. Many raised questions about whether the synod was trying to change doctrine and voiced opposition to that possibility. Calls for greater precision in what inclusivity might mean and who it might involve were more common, and discussions of liturgical tensions, the loss of the Latin Mass, and confusion over the process were more vocal at this stage. The USCCB synod staff noted the low participation of priests in the synod process and asked each bishop to nominate one older and one more recently ordained priest to a special clerical session, also conducted by Zoom. The concerns I just mentioned dominated that session even more, but it was deemed unofficial and similar to a special session created for ecumenical leaders (which I personally found very illuminating). It did not factor into the continental synthesis that was submitted to Rome and awaits publication.

Another aspect of synodality that I do not believe gets sufficient attention is the ecumenical incentive, especially concerning relations with the East. In 2008, well before the election of Pope Francis, his good friend, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the first Patriarch of Constantinople to attend a papal installation, spoke to the Synod of Bishops precisely on the issue of synodality. His speech was, in his own words, in response to St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint, in which he basically asks the larger Christian community for ways to reimagine the Petrine ministry in a Church healed of schism. Bartholomew suggested that for the Eastern and Western Churches to heal their millennium of division, it would be essential that the Petrine ministry be balanced by a rediscovery of synodality in the West:

It is well known that the Orthodox Church attaches to the synodical system fundamental ecclesiological importance. Together with primacy, synodality constitutes the backbone of the Church’s government and organization…. This interdependence between synodality and primacy runs through all levels of the Church’s life: local, regional and universal. (Synodus Episcoporum Bolletino, 30)

Apparently, Pope Francis is interested in the Patriarch’s suggestion. In a 2015 address marking the fiftieth anniversary of the re-establishment of the Synod, Pope Francis reminded us that the only authority in the Church is the authority of service. The pope, he said, is not above the Church, he is a member of the Church, a baptized person among the baptized and a bishop among the bishops; as successor of Peter he presides in love over the whole Church. He also made clear that the “Synod is with Peter and under Peter, not to dictate but to guarantee unity.” This sounds like balancing synodality and primacy.


Striving to make the Church walk together on a path of renewal is a big enough challenge for anyone. Francis has certainly worked to fulfill the mandate of the cardinals who elected him to reform the Roman Curia. In keeping with principles he enunciated from the beginning of his papacy, he has created the structure for a Curia in service of the local churches and focused on mission over maintenance. The document reforming the Curia is called Praedicate evangelium (Preach the Gospel) and the Dicastery for Evangelization has the highest ranking in the new organization. Laypeople, including women, can hold positions of leadership. But like his predecessor John XXIII, who sixty years ago addressed an encyclical, Pacem in terris, to the whole world, inviting everyone to work together for peace, Francis sees the Church’s mission as much more external than internal. He wants the Church to lead the whole world in recognizing that we are all part of God’s family and have to live as sisters and brothers with all people and with all creation.

This first Jesuit pope has shown the world that his selection of the name Francis was more than symbolic. While he most certainly brings his Ignatian spirituality and charism for discernment to his exercise of the Petrine Office, he also embodies the spirit of the poor man of Assisi for the twenty-first century. Mission, for St. Francis and for Pope Francis, begins with an encounter with the all-merciful God, which sparks an overflowing joy that one is compelled to share. That is mission. When Pope Francis challenged the Church early in his pontificate to stop looking like Lent without Easter and to stop finger wagging and condemning as a way to spread the Gospel, he was drawing from his namesake. Like his patron saint, the pope has preached and worked for peace throughout his pontificate and has acknowledged the ongoing violence that many fail to see. He speaks about the Third World War being fought piecemeal and he has not shied away from war zones in order to personally bring a message of peace.

While he most certainly brings his Ignatian spirituality and charism for discernment to his exercise of the Petrine Office, Francis also embodies the spirit of the poor man of Assisi for the twenty-first century.

Francis is in line with all of his recent predecessors as a force for peace among nations and eager to serve in mediation. Yet even here, there is a particular style, an imitation of Jesus and a vicinanza, a nearness, like the words of Pope John in that moonlight speech. Francis traveled to war-torn Iraq, the first pope to do so. He met with Indigenous leaders in Canada who had been harmed by the Church’s ministers and traveled to Congo and to South Sudan as a messenger of peace and to demonstrate his solidarity with those who have suffered the ravages of war. We have witnessed his tireless preoccupation with the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Trying to walk the diplomatic tightrope so that he might be able to serve as a negotiator for peace did not win him much support. But he did not deny that Russia is the aggressor and even jeopardized advances in ecumenism with the Russian Orthodox with his harsh words about Patriarch Kirill’s support of Putin’s war. Every Sunday he reminds the pilgrims in Saint Peter’s Square to pray for “martyred Ukraine.” He also prays for Russians, many of whom have a distorted view of the war through no fault of their own and many who favor peaceful coexistence with Ukraine. Both sides are necessary to bring about peace.

It was on the Vigil of the Feast of Saint Francis in 2021 that Pope Francis signed his encyclical Fratelli tutti (Brothers and Sisters All) at the tomb of the famous peacemaker whose writings gave rise to the name of the document. With this encyclical and the earlier Laudato si’ (2015), the pope has given the global Church a healthy dose of Franciscan spirituality: he highlights the interrelatedness of all creation and the need to live as brothers and sisters, in fraternity with all humanity and indeed all of creation. In Fratelli tutti, written in the midst of the global pandemic, he laments how humanity failed to come together to address this common threat, and he urges humanity to start building the friendships and relationships that will be necessary to avoid resorting to war and violence and to work together to address the accelerating climate catastrophe. Just as the human family and all creation are interrelated, so are all the issues that threaten human existence, human dignity, and human life today. Climate change disproportionately affects the poorer countries of the world that consume less of the fossil fuels that have caused the warming. The loss of islands, the destruction of land and biodiversity, and the unusual and brutal weather patterns all lead to greater migration, even as the wealthier nations close their doors to the suffering migrants trying to preserve their lives. All of this is a form of violence.

Why should the pope be the only one who sees the unsustainability of the present situation? Are we so unaccustomed to having prophets arise from within the Church’s hierarchy? Are human beings today so suspicious of any kind of organization that the common good becomes unthinkable? What will it take for all the leaders of the Church and of other world religions to speak as forcefully about the need for structural change and allow human values to supersede economic values for the common good and common survival of all?

To consider the common good, without rooting the common good in one’s own personal needs or advantage, requires the chief theological virtue of charity. We rarely consider charity as a political solution; rather, what the government is unable or unwilling to do for the disadvantaged is often left to private or institutional “charity.” In Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis invokes the classical meaning of disinterested love and suggests that charity unites the abstract and the institutional; it moves from the theoretical good to the desire to help that results from a direct encounter with a person in need. But as even the case of the Good Samaritan reveals, there is always a need for a structure or institution, like the inn, to provide the help an individual is unable to offer. The pope reminds us of the ancient yet ever-present reality of concupiscence, a proclivity to selfishness and narrow interests, that always has to be confronted and overcome through fraternity. Any perfect world order in theory will need to recognize the reality of human weakness; systems cannot just be put in place, nor can we think our way through every problem with a technological or market-based solution.

Following a creative exegesis of the Good Samaritan parable, Pope Francis offers a reflection on a more open world in contrast to the closed world described in the encyclical’s beginning. The more open world is based on human relationships that, like the Good Samaritan, transcend national and ethnic boundaries. He decries the results of the breakdown of such transcendent relationships: racism, which never goes away but periodically retreats; anti-immigrant sentiment; and lack of attention to the “hidden exiles” in our midst, like the disabled or abandoned elderly. The common good requires a recognition of the great worth of each person. Solidarity is born of conversion and is more than sporadic generosity. Francis re-introduces the concept of gratuitousness (not being useful to the market), a concept that removes relationships and even politics from the realm of the utilitarian to one more responsive to the God who allows the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the good and the bad alike. Not everything has to be limited to political favors and even exchanges; in fact, the common good requires a certain gratuitousness, which is quite different from the “pay to play” system at work in our country that excludes so many.

“Dialogue and friendship” are introduced as a part of the path to a more fraternal world. Pope Francis describes dialogue as “approaching, speaking, looking at, listening, coming to know, understanding, and finding common ground” (FT 198). Dialogue is not the exchange of opinions, but rather a desire to come together. Selfish indifference or violent protest can undermine or end dialogue. Dialogue requires clear thinking, rational argument, a variety of perspectives, and the contribution of different fields of knowledge and points of view. It does not result in relativism but is rather a search for truth. Respect for the dignity of the other and the recognition that persons are more valuable than material things or ideas are necessary for a dialogue that contributes to the common good.

Pope Francis, in the spirit of St. John XXIII, has been opening the windows of the Church to allow a fresh breeze in. And as with John XXIII, there has been considerable resistance to what he is imagining, with the opposition to it far more blatant than it was for his predecessor. Francis, like the council that forms his ecclesiology, is interested in a Church in service to the world, filling that world with the Gospel in deed as much as in word. The recent announcement that lay delegates, including women, will be voting members of the synod, demonstrates the pope’s willingness to make the synod more representative and responsive to the whole Church. The embrace of synodality has the potential to revive and enliven the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This Church will strive to lead humanity to greater fraternity and unity—for our survival, and hopefully for our flourishing.