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Italian bishop suspends selecting godparents for baptism and sponsors for confirmation

null / Credit: HollyGirl18/Pixabay

ACI Prensa Staff, Dec 8, 2023 / 19:00 pm (CNA).

In order to study the most appropriate ways to restore the actual purpose of the role of godparents and sponsors, the bishop of Massa Carrara-Pontremoli in Italy, Mario Vaccari, has decided to suspend their selection for the sacraments of baptism and confirmation for three years.

The Vatican instruction on choosing confirmation sponsors states in Chapter IV that the preferred choice is the baptismal godparents, but it does not specify that it has to be them.

In a decree published Dec. 3, the prelate explained that he made his decision because the changing social context has led families to prioritize “emotional ties or good social relationships” over pastoral ones when choosing the godfather or godmother.

This, he pointed out, causes the educational and accompaniment role of the godparents in the Christian life of the baptized or confirmed to be reduced “to a simple liturgical presence.”

This can even lead to an “open contradiction” between the requirements of the Church for the selection of the godfather or godmother in order for them to fulfill their functions “and the demands of the families.”

Consequently, Vaccari explained, the decision has been made that from Jan. 7, 2024 — the date on which the decree comes into force — the office of godfather or godmother in the baptism of children, the confirmation of adolescents and adults, as well as in the Christian initiation of adults, will be suspended ‘ad experimentum’ (‘as an experiment’).”

The bishop added that during this period the diocesan Liturgy and Catechesis Commissions, together with the Catechumenal Service and in constant liaison with the Presbyteral Council, will verify compliance with the decree and study “possible new forms of accompaniment that bring back and recover the true ecclesial meaning” of godfather and godmother.

Vaccari is not the first Italian bishop to make a decision of this type. In March, Bishop Giacomo Cirulli suspended the appointment of godparents for the Dioceses of Teano-Calvi, Alife-Caiazzo, and Sessa Aurunca for three years.

The prelate also stated that this was an ad experimentum measure in order to recover the “identity and mission” of this role.

The archbishop of Catania, Salvatore Gristina, took the same measure in October 2021.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

House announces new probe of Harvard, MIT, and UPenn

Rep. Virginia Foxx speaking on EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, May 30, 2019. / Credit: EWTN Pro-Life Weekly

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 8, 2023 / 18:30 pm (CNA).

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce announced the launch of a formal investigation into the learning environments at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the University of Pennsylvania after the universities’ presidents refused to categorically condemn antisemitic calls for genocide at a congressional hearing earlier this week.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-North Carolina, who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, told CNA that the investigation was being launched because of committee members’ “deep concerns” about the schools’ leadership and “their failure to take steps to provide Jewish students the safe learning environment they are due under law.” 

“The testimony we received earlier this week from Presidents [Claudine] Gay, [Liz] Magill, and [Sally] Kornbluth about the responses of Harvard, UPenn, and MIT to the rampant antisemitism displayed on their campuses by students and faculty was absolutely unacceptable,” said Foxx, who is Catholic.

Though the presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania have since published statements walking back their congressional testimony, Foxx said that their statements in the House, and those of MIT president Kornbluth, evidence a dangerous learning environment for Jewish students. 

Despite their reversals, there are growing calls for the ouster of each university president, according to reporting by The Hill. Per Reuters, more than 70 U.S. lawmakers are currently demanding the three universities immediately remove their presidents.

“Given those institutional and personal failures, the committee is opening a formal investigation into the learning environments at Harvard, UPenn, and MIT and their policies and disciplinary procedures,” Foxx told CNA. 

The veteran congresswoman explained that the committee’s investigation will include “substantial document requests,” and she said that the committee will “not hesitate to utilize compulsory measures including subpoenas if a full response is not immediately forthcoming.”

Foxx also said that Harvard, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania will not be the only universities that will be investigated. 

‘Other universities should expect investigations as well’

“The disgusting targeting and harassment of Jewish students is not limited to these institutions, and other universities should expect investigations as well, as their litany of similar failures has not gone unnoticed,” she emphasized. 

The probe comes after a dramatic rise in antisemitic hate speech and rallies in the U.S. in the wake of Israel’s war with the terrorist group Hamas. Universities in particular have recently become hotbeds for antisemitic and anti-Israel sentiment that have included chants for the destruction of Israel and the removal of the Jewish people from the Holy Land. 

The university presidents’ statements that ultimately led to the investigation were given during a Tuesday hearing by the Education and Workforce Committee in which New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, also a Catholic, asked the school officials if they would unequivocally condemn calls for the genocide of Jews on their campuses.

In one exchange, University of Pennsylvania president Magill was asked if statements calling for the genocide of Jews constitute harassment on her campus, to which she replied that “it is a context-dependent decision” and “if the speech becomes conduct it can be harassment, yes.”

Magill also said that calls for the genocide of Jews “can be harassment” and “if it is directed and severe and pervasive it is harassment.” 

Magill’s comments caused significant outrage in response, with one major donor threatening to pull a $100 million donation from the school unless there is “a change in leadership and values at Penn in the very near future,” according to reporting by CBS News

Comments by Harvard president Gay and MIT president Kornbluth also caused outrage. 

Responding to whether calls for “global intifada,” which implies the elimination of the Jewish people worldwide, is allowed at Harvard, Gay said that though she finds that type of speech “personally abhorrent,” the school “embrace[s] a commitment to free expression, even of views that are objectionable, offensive, hateful. It’s when that speech crosses into conduct that violates our policies against bullying, harassment, and intimidation.”

Kornbluth for her part said that calls for the genocide of Jews only constitute harassment at MIT “if targeted at individuals” but “not if making public statements.” 

Kornbluth also said that calls for intifada “can be antisemitic depending on the context when calling for the elimination of the Jewish people.” 

Kimberly Allen, a representative for MIT, responded to the investigation by telling CNA in a Friday statement that “MIT rejects antisemitism in all its forms.” 

“Antisemitism is real and rising in the world. We cannot let it poison our community. That is why MIT has stood up a campuswide initiative ‘Standing Against Hate’ to ensure that antisemitism has no place in our community,” Allen said.  

Regarding the congressional investigation being launched against MIT, Allen said that “as we continue to undertake this critical effort [to combat antisemitism], MIT will work with the committee to address its questions.”

Allen also shared a statement made by MIT’s governing board that said that Kornbluth “has done excellent work in leading our community, including in addressing antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate, which we reject utterly at MIT,” and that she “has our full and unreserved support.”

Washington archbishop addresses decision to limit Traditional Latin Mass

Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. / Credit: Courtney Mares

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 8, 2023 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., explained his reasoning for limiting the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass in his archdiocese, saying that allowing the old form of the Mass is an “exception” and that the post-Vatican II Mass should be “the dominant rite.”

Gregory’s comments on the Traditional Latin Mass, also known as the Tridentine Mass, were given in response to a student’s question at The Catholic University of America’s Presidential Speaker Series on Thursday night. The Catholic student had asked how he could respond to his peers in “a loving and opening way” as to why the Traditional Latin Mass could not be offered on campus.

Gregory answered by saying that the Traditional Latin Mass is “not forbidden, but it’s limited.”

“When Pope Paul VI instituted the new ritual tradition, he made an exception for older priests … who, it would have been just too much for them, they had celebrated the Tridentine Mass for 60 years, he made an exception for them. But it was his desire, his intent, to say that when that generation goes that everyone will be in the new Mass.”

Though the celebration of the newer form of the Mass, which follows the 1970 Roman Missal, is the norm throughout the world; the Traditional Latin Mass, which follows the 1962 Roman Missal, is still celebrated by many members of the faithful. 

In July 2021, Pope Francis published the apostolic letter Traditionis Custodes, which established new guidelines for how the older form of the Mass could be celebrated. The Holy See then published additional guidelines in February that clarified that any dioceses wanting to grant parishes special dispensations to celebrate the old Mass needed the express approval of the Vatican to do so. The result of these instructions was a restriction on the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass throughout the world.

In line with Traditionis Custodes, Gregory published his own liturgical guidelines in July 2022 in which he reduced the number of parishes that could celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass to three. The three churches Gregory said are allowed to celebrate the old form of the Mass are St. John the Evangelist in Forest Glen, Maryland; the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington, D.C.; and St. Dominic in Aquasco, Maryland.

Gregory pointed out that he allowed the Traditional Latin Mass to be celebrated without restriction in his former Diocese of Belleville, Illinois, and Archdiocese of Atlanta. His decision to restrict the Latin Mass did not come until the pope’s new guidance in Traditionis Custodes

Variances among dioceses

Bishops have taken differing approaches to implementing Traditionis Custodes in their various dioceses. Bishop Jeffrey Monforton, formerly of the Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio, made headlines when he stopped the Traditional Latin Mass from being celebrated on the campus of Franciscan University, keeping the old Mass available only at a parish in downtown Steubenville. Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, worked to preserve the celebration of the old form of the Mass in his diocese and vocally defended faithful who prefer to attend that Mass. 

Many dioceses continue to offer the Traditional Latin Mass or allow groups such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter to celebrate the old Mass. The Traditional Latin Mass remains available to the faithful in most parts of the country, though with limited Mass times. 

Gregory, who has been the head of the Archdiocese of Washington since 2019, said he believes that by restricting the Traditional Latin Mass, “the Holy Father is trying to complete what Paul VI began,” that is, establish “the new rite as the dominant rite, but with exceptions, modest exceptions.”

“Tradition dies a slow death, sometimes a bloody death,” Gregory added, pointing out that “two hundred years after Trent, there were still places that were celebrating the pre-Trenten Mass, so it took that long.”

As to why the new form of the Mass should be the dominant rite, Gregory said that it’s “because that’s the Church’s liturgy.” “If you want to belong to another ritual family, you can be Ruthenian, you can be Maronite, you can be Melkite, but the Roman rite has one dominant rite.”

Gregory also said the Church’s goal is to unite people around the new Mass over time by also restricting the number of priests who are allowed to celebrate the old Mass.

“Any priest that wishes to celebrate that has to write to the bishop and say I accept the liturgical reform, I’m not fighting the reform, but I’d like to be able to make myself available to celebrate under these conditions; that’s for priests who are already priests,” Gregory explained, adding that “anyone who is not yet ordained but would like to learn to celebrate [the old Mass] has to write to Rome.”

Gregory added that he believes the pope is “right to say ‘deal with the priests’” promoting the Traditional Latin Mass. 

“In many of the places where it grew, the Tridentine rite, it grew because priests promoted it,” Gregory said.

“In other words, if you had a guy that came into the parish and said, ‘Well I like this rite, I’m going to do it,’ and he gathered people together, and now all of a sudden he created the need in places where there wasn’t a need there.”

Monsignor Charles Pope, who serves as coordinator for the celebration of the Latin Mass in the Archdiocese of Washington, further clarified to CNA that any faithful wishing to worship through the older form of the Mass can still do so in the archdiocese.

“Here in the Archdiocese of Washington we remain committed to meeting the needs of Catholics attached to the old rite in the three locations,” Pope said, adding “that commitment remains something that we’ve abided by.”

He further emphasized that “these Masses will continue to be celebrated at these locations” to “meet the needs of the faithful.”

Climate activists vandalize St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy

The facade of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy. / Credit: Marco Rubino/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Dec 8, 2023 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Climate activists on Thursday vandalized the facade of the nearly 1,000-year-old St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy, reportedly defacing it with mud and chocolate milk as part of an environmental demonstration. 

Demonstrators with the group Last Generation poured “mud and Nesquik” onto the front of the cathedral, according to the Associated Press. There was “no immediate word” of permanent damage to the structure, the news wire said. 

Several media outlets reported that the activists said they were “sound[ing] the alarm” because Venice “is a city that is sinking because our governments have not acted against the climate crisis.” 

“Today those of you who are here to take pictures and see this church have a privilege,” the demonstrators reportedly declared. “You are the last to be able to see this church above sea level.”

Footage circulating on social media depicted the activists during the vandalization, with one member of the group defacing the church with what appeared to be a pressurized can of liquid.

Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said in a Facebook post on Thursday that the incident was a “serious and shameful act that we firmly condemn.”

“Climate activists recently smeared the outside of the Basilica of San Marco in Venice, apparently with liquid mixed with mud,” Brugnaro said, expressing hope that the structure was “without permanent damage.”

“Enough is enough,” he wrote. “It is legitimate to express your dissent, but always respecting the law and our cultural and religious heritage.”

“Our city takes concrete actions to protect the environment,” he added. “Vandalism is certainly not the correct method to find solutions.”

The Patriarchate of Venice did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday morning. Last Generation’s Italian chapter also did not respond to a request for comment. 

On its X feed, the group shared images of the incident, including one of a protester waving what appeared to be a flare of some kind.

“They may arrest us all, but it won’t change the fact that their lies will soon take their toll,” the group wrote in the post.

On its website, the group says it is “asking the Italian government for a permanent and preventive fund of 20 billion [euros] to repair the damage of the climatic catastrophes that are destroying our lives.”

“We want this money to be always present and ready for use,” the group says on its website. “If five billion come out, five come back, within a month.”

Quebec Archdiocese celebrates 350th anniversary with jubilee year of celebration

The Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Quebec in Quebec City. / Credit: Sylvainbrousseau via Wikimedia (CC BY SA 3.0)

CNA Staff, Dec 8, 2023 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

The Archdiocese of Quebec is celebrating its 350th anniversary with a jubilee year of celebrations beginning Dec. 8, 2023, to Dec. 8, 2024, starting with an opening Mass at the country’s historic Notre-Dame-de-Québec Cathedral Basilica.

The archdiocese, the first Catholic diocese in Canada with a founding that dates back to 1674, has designated the year a jubilee, which is a holy year of recollection, repentance, indulgence, conversion, and grace. 

The global Church will be entering a jubilee year in 2025. 

On Dec. 8, a festival with music and different activities will take place after Mass and, at 7 p.m. local time, the Holy Door in the cathedral’s Chapel of the Sacred Heart will be opened for pilgrims to pass through during the whole year.

A Holy Door, which is a real door typically opened during jubilees, is for pilgrims to pass through as a symbol of the path to conversion and blessings for the individual.

In its September press release, the archdiocese also announced that a “Compostelle-style pilgrimage” will take place to the Holy Door from July to October 2024.

Compostelle is a reference to the Camino de Santiago, also known as “The Way of St. James.” The Spanish pilgrimage trek is a 1,000-year-old route through Spain that leads to the Cathedral of Santiago located in the Archdiocese of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. The cathedral is traditionally held to be the burial place of St. James the Apostle.

The Quebec Archdiocese said the route for its pilgrimage will be from La Malbaie, a municipality in Southeastern Quebec, to the Holy Door, passing through the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré shrine. The route is about 86 miles on foot along the St. Lawrence River.

Pilgrims will also be offered an opportunity to visit historic landmarks in Old Quebec, a historic neighborhood of Quebec City surrounded by a defensive fortress built centuries ago and is included on the United Nations’ World Heritage List.

Some of those landmarks include the cathedral, the François-de-Laval Animation Centre, the Marie-de-l’Incarnation Centre, the Jesuits’ Chapel, and the Catherine-de-Saint-Augustin Centre.

Next summer, pilgrims will be offered a guided tour of “rarely accessible sites” including the crypt of the cathedral, the historic Séminaire de Québec, and the archbishop’s palace.

Also coming in summer 2024 will be a “must see” special exhibition hosted by the Musée de la Civilisation, which is located right next to the cathedral, the archdiocese said. The museum has a special focus on preservation of the culture of Quebec.

An event for families at the cathedral will be offered in September 2024, which includes a “lively artistic itinerary” and will take place Sept. 20–22.

During the event, families will have the opportunity to visit religious landmarks and attend festivities at the Place D’Youville, a historic outdoor venue for different celebrations. During the festivities the French faith-based music group Glorious will be performing at the concert hall Le Capitole.

Several other concerts, conferences, and events will be hosted around the archdiocese throughout the year, and “historical publications are also in the pipeline,” the archdiocese said. 

After pro-life loss in Ohio, Columbus bishop announces several initiatives to promote life

Columbus Bishop Earl Fernandes at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops plenary meeting in Baltimore in November 2023. / Credit: Joe Bukuras/CNA

CNA Staff, Dec 8, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Following last month’s referendum in Ohio that enshrined a right to abortion in its constitution, Columbus Bishop Earl Fernandes announced several pro-life and spiritual initiatives that the prelate hopes will make abortion “unthinkable.”

The amendment to the constitution, for which a majority of Ohioans voted on Nov. 7, guarantees that “every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions,” including, but not limited to, abortion.

“Outside the realm of politics, the true victory will come by winning hearts through our unconditional and relentless love for women and their children,” Fernandes said in a Dec. 7 letter to the faithful published in the diocesan newspaper. 

Fernandes encouraged Catholics to “a deeper life of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.”

In the letter, he encouraged clergy to “make a serious commitment” to offering an hour of Eucharistic adoration in parishes either on the first Friday of each month or the day before in reparation for “sins against human life and dignity.” The bishop urged adorers to pray “for the building of a civilization of love.”

Additionally, he encouraged the faithful to “resume the traditional practice” of abstinence from meat on Fridays, noting that there is already an obligation for Catholics to abstain from meat or replace it with some other penance every Friday of the year.

Fernandes said that abstinence from meat is a “form of Christian asceticism.”

“We can be intentional in our abstinence and penitential practices, mindful of unborn children, their mothers and fathers, and the men and women in the trenches working to support them,” he added.

Fernandes said that “what is demanded is not the external rule but a conversion of our mindset and our culture with the hope that we will be more mindful of the child in the womb.”

He noted that the bishops of England and Wales resumed the practice of abstinence from meat on Fridays in 2011 and it proved beneficial to both individuals’ health and the environment.

“If we abstained from meat on Fridays, we could also raise awareness of our need to care for our ‘common home,’” he said, a likely reference to Pope Francis’ letter on the environment, Laudato Si’, in which the Holy Father expressed a desire to “dialogue with all people about our common home.”

Fernandes added that almsgiving “could be tied” to abstinence from meat.

He said the need to support pro-life pregnancy centers “has never been greater” and that support for these institutions “demonstrates our commitment to the good of human life and the care of the least of our brothers and sisters.”

Another initiative Fernandes announced is the establishment of a new “Respect Life Office,” which will be dedicated to building a culture of life “in a sustainable and lasting way” and will include offering conferences for pro-life leaders and those working in health care. 

The diocese already has a Respect Life program that sponsors pro-life spiritual initiatives and holds an annual Diocesan Respect Life Conference. However, that program falls under the diocese’s Office for Social Concerns.

Fernandes also announced a summit of “Respect Life leaders” next year who will come together in collaboration and to determine present needs for diocesan response.

“The Church must also listen to women, particularly those who have experienced the pain of abortion and who need healing,” he said. “Beginning an apostolate like Project Rachel for healing and reconciliation can help remind people of the pope’s call for us to be a Church of mercy.”

Project Rachel is a Catholic ministry that ministers to women after abortion. The ministry provides sacramental and pastoral support, referrals to mental health professionals, and support groups, among other resources. 

He also said the diocese’s evangelization office “will seek out means to proclaim boldly the entirety of the Gospel message,” which includes “the Gospel of life.”

The Office of Catholic Schools, too, will continue its role in building a culture of life by promoting the integration of “the truths of our faith into all content areas,” he said.

“For example, in science classes, our students will come to a greater appreciation for the gift of human life at conception and the development of life as a gift in the image and likeness of God,” he said.

Finally, Fernandes said the diocese will organize a pilgrimage to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., in January that will engage young people with pro-life events and “form them as missionaries.”

He said students from “all” of the Catholic high schools in the diocese will participate. 

“God has called us to be a people of life,” Fernandes said, adding that building a culture of life will take “time and patience.”

“It will encounter resistance; nevertheless, we cannot abandon unborn children and their mothers. Law may refuse to recognize the dignity and right to life of the child in the womb, but we cannot be indifferent to the reality,” he said.

“When Mary visited Elizabeth, the child in her womb recognized the presence of the Savior and leaped for joy,” he said. “The Church wishes to acknowledge and defend the rights of the unborn child while accompanying mothers in their time of need and during what should be a joyful time of their lives. May we rise to meet our responsibility, grateful for the gift of life we have received.”

The story behind the Immaculate Conception banner at every Vatican Angelus

The House of Mary community poses for a photo on Dec. 8, 1994, in St. Peter's Square, the first time they brought their blue banner with the words "The Immaculate Conception will Triumph" to the Angelus with Pope John Paul II. The group has continued to bring the banner to every Sunday Angelus for 29 years. / Credit: Comunita Casa di Maria

Vatican City, Dec 8, 2023 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

“The Immaculate Conception will triumph”: These are the words displayed, in Italian, on a blue banner held every week in St. Peter’s Square during the Angelus — a prayer honoring Mary — for 29 years.

The banner’s declaration recalls the Marian spirituality of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who had a special devotion to the Immaculate Conception.

Father Giacomo Martinelli, founder of the House of Mary community, waves at Pope Francis during a recent Angelus in St. Peter's Square. Credit: Comunita Casa di Maria.
Father Giacomo Martinelli, founder of the House of Mary community, waves at Pope Francis during a recent Angelus in St. Peter's Square. Credit: Comunita Casa di Maria.

Since the feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, 1994, members of the Casa di Maria (“House of Mary”) community have held the sign “L’Immacolata Vincerà” at the pope’s Angelus on Sundays and Marian feast days.

“Every time we hold the banner in the square we affirm that life is a struggle and the Christian’s joy is a victory … the joy not of those who pretend that all is well but the exultation of those who believe that evil does not have the last word because God is greater,” Father Michele Reschini told CNA via email.

The priest, who oversees the community’s youth formation, said the House of Mary is inspired to be present at the Angelus every Sunday as a sign of its filial affection for the pope and support for his magisterium and apostolate. 

“Moreover, this banner is meant to be a small sign of a great hope,” he explained. “In such an ecclesial place and moment as the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square we want to express that Our Lady is present in the heart of the Church.”

There are frequently tens of thousands of people in attendance at the Sunday Angelus with Pope Francis.

The custom of popes publicly praying the Angelus at midday on Sundays goes back to 1954, when Pope Pius XII was convinced to do so by his friend, Italian Catholic doctor and lay leader Luigi Gedda.

The House of Mary community, founded in 1990, was supported in its early days by Cardinal Andrzej Maria Deskur, a Polish cardinal working in the Vatican and a friend of St. John Paul II from his seminary days.

Members of the Casa di Maria ("House of Mary") community hold a banner that says in Italian, "The Immaculate Conception will Triumph," during Pope Francis' Angelus in St. Peter's Square on March 19, 2023. Vatican Media
Members of the Casa di Maria ("House of Mary") community hold a banner that says in Italian, "The Immaculate Conception will Triumph," during Pope Francis' Angelus in St. Peter's Square on March 19, 2023. Vatican Media

Originally a Marian prayer group, the community is made up of priests, consecrated women, families, and young adults.

Deskur had written about St. Maximilian Kolbe and his Marian spirituality in a meditation for a novena to the Immaculate Conception in 1987.

“The Mariology of St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe could be summarized in the phrase frequently repeated by the saint in the face of the difficulties he encountered: ‘The Immaculate Conception will triumph,’” the cardinal wrote. 

Deskur invoked the phrase again in a March 25, 1994, audience with John Paul II, to whom he presented the House of Mary community and its founder, Father Giacomo Martinelli.

“The Immaculate Conception will triumph” became the unofficial motto of the House of Mary, and almost nine months later, on Dec. 8, 1994, the group brought their blue banner, for the first time, to the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square.

At an Angelus the following month, Pope John Paul II pointed to the sign and said, “I, too, am convinced that the Immaculate Conception will triumph!”

Over the years, the group has also brought its banner on some of the pope’s apostolic trips within Italy, estimating that it has traveled more than 96,000 miles to over 38 cities.

Pope Francis has also been supportive of the group and its presence at his Sunday Angelus.

“The House of Mary is a community that wants to live the Gospel in faith and to witness to the Gospel through fraternal life in a world that increasingly loses the gift of belief and the gift of fraternity,” Reschini said.

“Our Lady has always been present in the life of Jesus, from the manger to Calvary. So she is always present in the life of the Church, from its beginning to its end,” he continued. “This faithfulness of hers gives us hope, this presence of hers is a guarantee of victory. It impels us to believe that his faithfulness is stronger than our infidelities, and in this faithfulness the Church can always find herself faithful to Jesus Christ.”

“Inside the storms of modern times; in the midst of the icy winds of secularism, modernism, and relativism; under the threats of apostasy and idolatry, the Church remaining with Mary will triumph, will triumph because like Mary and with Mary, it is faithful to Christ to the end.”

Notre Dame Cathedral expected to reopen one year from today

French President Emmanuel Macron, flanked by president of the public establishment "Rebuilding Notre-Dame de Paris" Philippe Jost (right) and and Archbishop of Paris Laurent Ulrich (left), visits the nave of the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral during its reconstruction on Dec. 8, 2023. / Credit: SARAH MEYSSONNIER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Staff, Dec 8, 2023 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

One year from today, France’s Notre Dame Cathedral is expected to reopen after a fire in 2019 nearly destroyed the famous landmark. 

French President Emmanuel Macron, accompanied by Paris’ Archbishop Laurent Ulrich, visited the newly built spire on Friday, Dec. 8, and pledged that the reconstruction would be completed on schedule.

“Deadlines will be met. It is a formidable image of hope and of a France that has rebuilt itself,” Macron said. “This is an important and emotional moment.”

Speaking to restoration workers, he added: “We have seen this seemingly impossible project move forward.”

The historic spire, which stood 315 feet tall, crashed through the centuries-old roof in the devastating fire that broke out on April 15, 2019. After several years, the spire once again made its reappearance in the skyline last month.

The spire was not part of the original design of the cathedral. It was added during a restoration in the 19th century by architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc. Since the fire, the spire has been rebuilt identical to the original and its cross was mounted on Wednesday, Dec. 6. A new rooster will follow soon.

Nearly 500 workers are on site daily working to complete the reconstruction. Beginning in early 2024, they will start waterproofing the oak with lead. The cathedral’s furnishings, statues, and artwork, as well as the organ, which was taken out for a complete restoration, will be brought back in throughout the year. 

Macron also announced a contest for artists to design six new stained-glass windows for the nave’s south side chapels.

While renovation work on the exterior will continue for several more years, it is expected that Notre Dame will be able to welcome religious services and visitors on Dec. 8, 2024.

Spanish lawyer, mom of 4, challenges country’s rosary ban

Polonia Castellanos, founder of the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers. / Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Ann Arbor, Michigan, Dec 8, 2023 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

Growing numbers of Catholics continue to defy Spain’s socialist government by publicly praying the rosary for the country as it faces spiritual, political, and economic turbulence that a pro-life lawyer says stems from a crisis in values and clear persecution against the Catholic Church.

CNA recently interviewed Polonia Castellanos, a prominent attorney who has recently defended Catholics arrested for praying the rosary outside a Madrid church. Christian Lawyers of Spain (, founded by Castellanos, has filed a complaint against Madrid’s municipal government alleging that it had abused its authority by sending police to stop public prayer outside Immaculate Heart of Mary Church.

The nonprofit legal team asserted that the city government “has no authority to limit a fundamental right, which is the right to religious liberty.” Castellanos told CNA: “This government has begun an authentic persecution of Christians. They will not deter us. This government sends peaceful people to prison for simply praying while annulling all kinds of criminal convictions for its partners.”

Rosary rallies in the country have coincided with large-scale protests against an amnesty law that the government offered to socialists and communists for the failed 2017 bid by Catalonia to secede from the rest of Spain. 

At the initiative of José Andrés Calderón, a young Spanish law student, hundreds of Catholics have been gathering daily at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church. Crowds assembled outside the church throughout November and continue to grow in tandem with the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and Advent season. In at least 50 other Spanish cities on Dec. 8, Catholics also assembled to pray the rosary. 

On Nov. 28, Calderón was arrested by police and fined. He remarked that Spain’s government has made it illegal to pray both near the church and the DATOR abortuary, also located in Madrid. Calderón told ACIPrensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, that Catholics should “not be afraid to worship God and venerate his most pure Mother.”

Calderón said that since Christian Lawyers was founded in 2008, matters have worsened.

“Abortion is more radical, euthanasia is more radical; Catholics are constantly attacked,” he said. Bombs were thrown at a church; priests and nuns have been assaulted … when we were insulted or offended, or when our crosses were wrecked, we said nothing. It’s because we didn’t say anything that we’re now in this situation,” he emphasized.

Castellanos said her firm has presented at least 100 cases before courts to defend religious liberty and Catholic monuments. She fears for the future of her four daughters, including a 10-month-old, and that Spain may soon resemble Cuba or Venezuela.

“That’s why I do this. It’s my duty to leave a better world to my daughters. The first thing my husband and I do is teach them to try to make the world a better place. It is our parental duty that, when we are no longer here, they live in a world that respects human life and family, with the understanding that a family is that formed by one man and one woman; where Spain’s history, Christian roots, and heritage are respected, and that we’re not persecuted simply for being Catholic,” Castellanos said.  

Castellanos told CNA that the government “doesn’t respect the law and changes it according to its whim. We filed a complaint against the government in Madrid because it issued an order without justification — simply because it is a dictatorship. We are resisting by appealing to the law because they can’t forbid us from praying peacefully on the street just because the government says so.”

“There are plenty of times when the Virgin Mary has come to Spain’s aid,” Castellanos said, “and we are certain she will help us now.”

“The socialist government wants to put some people above the law who can break the law and not suffer penalties,” she continued. “It has pardoned serious crimes of sedition, narco-trafficking, money-laundering for some people who can commit crimes. Its only demand is that they continue to vote for President [Pedro] Sánchez. This is not only illegal but also discriminates against Spaniards who haven’t committed such serious crimes but still have to pay.”

Castellanos said “Spain’s economic crisis came following a crisis in values,” saying that abortion and euthanasia have led to an aging population and economic decline that have not been addressed by political parties. Appealing for help, Castellanos asked the world to take notice of Spain’s plight.

“Keep Spain in your prayers because things are difficult,” she said. “People are being imprisoned for praying the rosary, but rapists, pederasts, and secessionists are freed. Pray for Spain and the Spanish people. We have God and Mother Mary at our side. Spain is the Virgin Mary’s land, but we are fighting a very hard fight.”

Pope Francis appoints three new auxiliary bishops for Philadelphia Archdiocese

Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishops-elect Keith Chylinski (left), Efren Esmilla, and Christopher Cooke. / Credit: Sarah Webb/Archdiocese of Philadelphia

CNA Staff, Dec 8, 2023 / 13:59 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis on Friday appointed three new auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, joining Archbishop Nelson Perez and current Auxiliary Bishop John McIntyre there.

The Vatican announced Dec. 8 that Fathers ​​Keith Chylinski, Christopher Cooke, and Efren Esmilla would be installed to serve the archdiocese’s approximately 1.5 million Catholics. The archdiocese lost two auxiliary bishops — Bishop Michael Fitzgerald to retirement and Bishop Timothy Senior to reappointment — during 2023. 

Father ​​Keith Chylinski

Father Keith Chylinski, a native of Schenectady, New York, attended Temple University and St. Charles Borromeo Seminary; he further received a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Divine Mercy University in Sterling, Virginia.

Ordained to the priesthood in the Philadelphia Archdiocese in 2007, he previously served as parochial vicar of St. Anselm’s in the city and since 2022 has served as the rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. 

The seminary’s website states that he has taught courses in pastoral psychology while there and was previously the director of counseling services. He has also served as an instructor for the Institute for Priestly Formation in Omaha, Nebraska.

Father Christopher Cooke

Born in the Philadelphia suburb of Meadowbrook, Father Christopher Cooke received degrees from the University of Delaware and St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, the latter from which he earned both a master of divinity and a master of theology degree.

He was ordained a priest in the Philadelphia Archdiocese in 2006 and joined the St. Charles Borromeo faculty in 2013, where he currently serves as the dean of men for the Theology Seminary as well as on the theology formation team.

He previously served as the administrator of St. Francis of Assisi in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and as the parochial vicar at St. Martin of Tours in Philadelphia. Prior to becoming a priest he worked in chemical manufacturing design and support.

Father Efren V. Esmilla

A native of Nagcarlan, Laguna, Philippines, in the Diocese of San Pablo, Father Efren Esmilla attended San Beda College in Manila before emigrating to the United States. He obtained a master of divinity degree from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and was ordained to the priesthood in Philadelphia in 1993. 

He previously served as parochial vicar at St. John Chrysostom in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, and at the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Philadelphia. He also held the position of assistant director of pastoral formation at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

Since 2021 he has served as pastor of St. James in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. The parish’s website says that Esmilla “has also served as chaplain to the Filipino Apostolate” as well as “spiritual director to the Legion of Mary.”