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Biden DOJ sued for allegedly hiding info on attacks of churches, pro-life groups

null / Christopher E Zimmer/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Mar 22, 2023 / 14:47 pm (CNA).

A coalition of conservative organizations is taking legal action to obtain documents from the Department of Justice related to the surge in pro-abortion attacks on churches and pro-life pregnancy centers and a lack of prosecution from the agency.

Based on data compiled by CNA, there have been more than 100 attacks on churches and pro-life pregnancy centers since the May 2022 leak of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, which overturned the abortion protections guaranteed in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The DOJ has failed to prosecute the perpetrators in nearly all of the attacks. 

lawsuit led by the Heritage Foundation and Advancing American Freedom accuses the DOJ of failing to provide them with documents requested through the Freedom of Information Act. The documents requested include all records and internal DOJ communication related to crimes against pro-life pregnancy centers and churches. The requests also include all communications between the DOJ and the Domestic Policy Council or the Executive Office of the President related to investigations of these crimes.

The lawsuit accuses the DOJ of failing to “promptly review agency records for the purpose of locating and collecting those records” and failing “to conduct searches for responsive records” required by FOIA and DOJ regulations. The lawsuit further claims that the coalition has “exhausted their administrative remedies” in attempting to obtain the documents. It further accuses the DOJ of wrongfully denying their request for a waiver of the FOIA request fees.

“[Attorney General] Merrick Garland and his top officials at DOJ clearly hold us in contempt,” Mike Howell, the director of the Oversight Project, said in a statement provided to CNA. Howell is one of the people suing the DOJ for these documents.

“They refuse to prosecute those who violently attack pro-life organizations simply for existing and who attempt to coerce and intimidate Supreme Court justices into ruling the way the mob desires,” Howell continued. “Meanwhile, they send SWAT teams to the homes of pro-life Americans to arrest and prosecute them on trumped-up, phony charges.”

The lawsuit states that the groups have faced “irreparable harm” because “they are being denied information to which they are statutorily entitled.” The lawsuit asks the court to order the DOJ to conduct searches and provide the documents within 20 days or whatever date the court deems appropriate. It also asks the court to order the DOJ to provide the documents free of charge. 

“It is clear that President Biden’s politicized Department of Justice is fearful of igniting the wrath of the far left and abortion extremists,” J. Marc Wheat, who serves as general counsel for Advancing American Freedom, said in a statement provided to CNA. The organization is part of the coalition suing the DOJ. 

“The American people have a right to know why those who burned and vandalized pregnancy centers have not been held accountable for their violence against traditional conservatives and pro-life groups,” Wheat added.

Despite the allegations in the lawsuit, the DOJ has claimed it has lived up to its legal obligations in how it has handled the FOIA requests. As mentioned in the lawsuit, the Federal Bureau of Investigation responded to the request but closed it because it did not “contain enough descriptive information to permit a search of our records.”

The DOJ has also stated that its Office of Information Policy informed the coalition that the searches could take longer than 30 days and provided contact information for a FOIA public liaison to assist with the request. The DOJ has further noted that the DOJ provided them with contact information for the Office of Government Information Services, which it has argued is consistent with the legal requirements for an agency if it cannot produce the documents within 30 days. 

In January of this year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution that condemned the attacks on churches and pro-life pregnancy centers. However, the condemnation was mostly partisan: All 219 House Republicans voted in favor of the resolution, but only three Democrats voted for it.

Some Republican lawmakers have accused Garland and the DOJ of selective enforcement of the law, claiming that they aggressively enforce laws that protect abortion facilities but neglect to enforce laws that protect pro-life pregnancy centers. In October, Rep. Jim Jordan, who now chairs the House Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, launched an investigation into allegations that the DOJ has harshly enforced laws against pro-life activists but has failed to enforce them against pro-abortion activists who have attacked churches and pro-life pregnancy centers. 

Discovering Pier Giorgio Frassati: Film sheds light on humanity, holiness of Italian blessed

Poster for “To the Top,” a film about Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, at the Italian premiere in Rome on March 18, 2023. / Credit: Adi Zace/CNA

Rome, Italy, Mar 22, 2023 / 09:00 am (CNA).

That Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati liked to go mountain climbing is not a surprise to those who know even a little about the 20th-century Italian youth’s story.

“To the Top,” a new docudrama produced in cooperation with EWTN, uses this aspect of the blessed’s life as a focal point to better understand both Frassati’s humanity and his holiness.

“Pier Giorgio Frassati was one of these strong and powerful figures that we could really present to the audience of EWTN,” the film’s writer and director, Daniela Gurrieri, told EWTN News during production in August 2022.

“The audience will discover many aspects that are normal aspects of a youth of his time,” she said. “He loved to go with his friends in the mountains, to play jokes among them, to laugh, to have a good time together. But at the center of everything was faith, was prayer, was love for God.”

Writer and director Daniela Gurrieri (right) at the Italian premiere of “To the Top” at Farnese Cinema on March 18, 2023. Credit: Adi Zace/CNA
Writer and director Daniela Gurrieri (right) at the Italian premiere of “To the Top” at Farnese Cinema on March 18, 2023. Credit: Adi Zace/CNA

Gurrieri, together with members of the all-Italian cast and a niece and nephew of Frassati, were present at the Italian premiere of the film at Farnese Cinema in Rome on March 18.

The English-language drama is 52 minutes long, followed by approximately 30 minutes of interviews explaining more about Frassati’s life.

The name “To the Top” was taken from a phrase written on a photo of Frassati mountain climbing, dated a few weeks before his sudden death from polio at the age of 24.

On the photo, Frassati wrote “Sunday, June 7, 1925,” and in Italian, “Verso l’alto,” which is sometimes also translated in English as “to the heights.”

Farnese Cinema before the Italian premiere of “To the Top,” a film about Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, on March 18, 2023. Credit: Adi Zace/CNA
Farnese Cinema before the Italian premiere of “To the Top,” a film about Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, on March 18, 2023. Credit: Adi Zace/CNA

The docudrama centers on a day Frassati spent mountain climbing with some of his friends. Scenes of an early morning Mass followed by taking a train to the mountains and the hike itself are interspersed with flashbacks to Frassati’s life as a student and the son of a prominent journalist and Italian diplomat.

Scenes show Frassati’s dedication to prayer and the Mass, his generosity to the poor, his opposition to fascism, his lack of concern for his own comfort — and how he always maintained a strong enthusiasm for life and joy in his Catholic faith.

Frassati, who died on July 4, 1925, was beatified by Pope John Paul II on May 20, 1990.

“To discover Pier Georgio Frassati’s life and spirituality helped me be more prayerful, for example,” director Gurrieri said, “to trust more in God, to be more attentive also to the needs of the people, and also to be more kind. Pier Giorgio was very kind.”

Francesco Buttironi (right) with some of the cast members of “To the Top” at the premiere on March 18, 2023. Credit: Adi Zace/CNA
Francesco Buttironi (right) with some of the cast members of “To the Top” at the premiere on March 18, 2023. Credit: Adi Zace/CNA

Francesco Buttironi, a 27-year-old Italian actor, played Frassati.

He told EWTN News during production of the film in 2022 that it was challenging to play a Blessed. 

“I think the tendency is to go to just abstract stuff,” he said. “Actually, we’re always talking about a human being ... so we have a life, we have a body, we have a family, and so I try to stay with that human part.”

“And from the human part … I have been traveling into his soul, into his spiritual behavior and spiritual life,” Buttironi added.

The actor said one particularly touching moment for him during the making of the docudrama was when they were filming a scene of Frassati and his friends praying the rosary in the mountains.

A member of the crew told Buttironi a personal story of something he had experienced once while reciting the rosary.

“And in that moment, in that specific moment while being in the mountains, in these wonderful places [where] we’ve been shooting in Abruzzo,” he said, “thinking about his experience touched me in some way.”

“It was really, really strong, and what was just another scene to shoot at some point became something really powerful, really strong that touched me even personally, I have to say.”

“To the Top” will premiere on EWTN on June 28 at 10 p.m. ET and re-air on July 1 at 8 p.m. ET.

Gänswein to Costa Rica? Report of Benedict’s secretary becoming nuncio is ‘speculation,’ Vatican sources say

null / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

CNA Newsroom, Mar 22, 2023 / 08:36 am (CNA).

Following a report that Pope Francis will appoint Archbishop Georg Gänswein as the Vatican’s next ambassador to Costa Rica, sources inside the Vatican have told CNA Deutsch that the news was “speculation at best.”

The Spanish news site Religión Digital reported Tuesday that Benedict XVI’s longtime private secretary is set to serve as the next apostolic nuncio to the Central American nation. 

According to “ecclesiastical sources,” the Holy See contacted the country’s state authorities last week to make the appointment, the online portal said — adding that the current apostolic nuncio, Monsignor Bruno Musaro, is about to turn 75 and is headed for retirement.

Several media outlets picked up news of Gänswein’s transfer to Costa Rica. The Vatican has so far not commented. However, sources told CNA’s German-language partner agency CNA Deutsch that the information was little more than speculation.

Gänswein’s future role has been the subject of rumor and gossip across Rome and the Church in Germany for many days. The eloquent prelate is fluent in several languages, including German and Italian.

Hailing from the Black Forest region of Germany, the son of a blacksmith was ordained a priest in 1984 by Archbishop Oskar Saier in Freiburg and holds a doctorate in canon law from Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich.

A longtime secretary to Benedict, Gänswein also served as prefect of the Papal Household to both Benedict and his successor, Pope Francis, until February 2020.

Pope Francis received Gänswein in an audience in January. 

Currently, the 66-year-old is serving as executor of Benedict XVI’s will and has been tracking down relatives of the retired pontiff, who died on Dec. 31, 2022. 

Notre Dame ‘abortion doula’ talk was unworthy of Catholic university, local bishop laments

A Notre Dame series titled “Reproductive Justice: Scholarship for Solidarity and Social Change” held an event titled “Trans Care + Abortion Care: Intersections and Questions” on Zoom on March 20, 2023, and drew an audience of about 105 viewers. / Credit: Zoom screen shot

CNA Newsroom, Mar 22, 2023 / 08:06 am (CNA).

The University of Notre Dame’s local bishop has strongly criticized the Catholic university for hosting a “reproductive justice” talk featuring abortion doula Ash Williams, who described abortion as “a type of birth.”

According to a National Public Radio profile, Williams’ role as an abortion doula is to provide “physical, emotional, or financial help to people seeking to end a pregnancy.” In remarks during the event on March 20, Williams, who identifies as a trans man, explicitly rejected the idea that the number of abortions should be reduced.

“Not surprisingly, inviting an abortion doula to provide an unrebutted case for abortion has prompted a great deal of concern and criticism around the country and in our diocese,” Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend said in his March 21 column for the diocesan newspaper Today’s Catholic. “I share these concerns and consider the decision to feature such a speaker on campus to be both intellectually unserious and unworthy of a great Catholic research university.”

Rhoades objected that the event sponsors provided an abortion facilitator “a platform for unanswered pro-abortion activism.” The lecture series, he said, “appears to be an explicit act of dissent from Notre Dame’s admirable institutional commitment to promoting a culture of life that embraces and affirms the intrinsic equal dignity of the unborn, pregnant mothers, and families.”

The series, titled “Reproductive Justice: Scholarship for Solidarity and Social Change,” is sponsored by the University of Notre Dame’s gender studies program and the university’s Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values. Several other bodies within the university and several external groups also provide support.

The series’ most recent event, “Trans Care + Abortion Care: Intersections and Questions,” was held on Zoom on March 20 and drew an audience of about 105 viewers. According to the website of the university’s Gender Studies Program, the event aimed to address “the intersections between trans care and abortion care.”

During the event, Jules Gill-Peterson, a history professor at Johns Hopkins University and self-identified trans woman, offered reflections and asked questions of Williams, described as “a Black trans abortion doula, public intellectual, and abolitionist community organizer.” Williams is based in North Carolina but is a decriminalizing abortion resident at Project Nia, a Chicago-based advocacy group that favors “restorative and transformative justice” instead of criminal incarceration.

“For the last five years, Ash has been vigorously fighting to expand abortion access by funding abortions and by training other people to become abortion doulas,” Pam Butler, associate director of Notre Dame’s gender studies department, said in the introduction to the event.

Williams’ remarks depicted abortion and birth as a false binary, as some gender activists view male and female as a false binary. 

“For me, abortion is a type of birth,” Williams said. “Abortion and birth could be binary, but I believe that it is a binary worth busting just like man and woman.” This contrasted with how others might see gender transition, abortion, and birth as “processes.”

“Not every person who has an abortion experiences grief or loss, but for the people who do, sometimes, societally, we say, ‘Well, that’s what they deserve,’” Williams said, contending that this is rooted in the “disenfranchisement of the choice to have an abortion.”

The first mention of Catholicism at the Notre Dame event came more than an hour into the discussion when Williams recommended the pro-abortion counseling group Faith Aloud.

“It’s actually a resource that I use for Catholic people, for Baptists, for Buddhists, for all types of people who are religious [and] who want to have an abortion. They can talk to a priest, a bishop, a reverend, a minister, a shaman, they can talk to whoever they need to talk to to get a pro-choice answer from them,” said Williams, who added: “A lot of my job looks like connecting people to resources.”

CNA sought comment from Faith Aloud and its parent organization All Options to confirm the involvement of Catholic clergy but did not receive a response by publication. The faith-based counseling program offers “compassionate and nonjudgmental support from trained clergy and religious counselors,” according to the All Options website. Faith Aloud’s trained counselors include “clergy and religious counselors from a variety of faiths: Roman Catholic, Jewish, Unitarian-Universalist, Protestant Christian, and Buddhist.”

The Faith Aloud website recommends resources such as the website of Catholics for Choice, a pro-abortion front organization whose claim to be Catholic has been repeatedly rejected by the Catholic bishops. It also links to a purported Catholic priest’s blessing for someone about to have an abortion. The authorship of the blessing is credited to Rev. Chris Tessone of the “Independent Catholic Movement,” not in communion with Rome. The blessing is hosted on the website of the Reproductive Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

One audience question at the Notre Dame event came from a student, a self-described pro-life Catholic and prison/police abolitionist who thinks abortions can be reduced through comprehensive sex education, accessible contraception, and through “real financial and community support for pregnant women and parents.”

“How can I explain to my pro-life friends and family that abortion bans and criminalization make everyone less safe?” the student asked.

Williams called this a “great question,” but added: “The first thing that I want to say is that this idea about reducing the amount of abortions, I just want to push back on that a little. Abortion is, for some, a form of contraception. That shouldn’t be limited, because we would never say ‘Oh, we should limit that birth control. We should limit people’s access to condoms.’ It may be that abortion isn’t something that should be limited for the same reasons that condoms and other forms of contraception shouldn’t be limited.”

“Before abortion was criminalized, pregnancy is criminalized, right?” Williams added, contending that abortion bans “target mostly brown people and Black people.” People who “really need access” to abortion are “bearing the brunt of the criminalization aspect.”

Gill-Peterson suggested Williams took a position distinct from the “mainstream feminist position” of leaders and groups such as Betty Friedan and the National Organization of Women, classifying them as disproportionately middle-class and white. Gill-Peterson suggested it can be hard to see that the fates of “trans care and abortion care” are “entwined.”

Williams suggested that “transphobia” was to blame for this, adding: “I often come up against these fissures, these ruptures, as if I’m not allowed to talk about trans care and abortion care at the same time, and my Black trans abortion.” Instead, Williams advocated a trans-centered reproductive justice movement that, for example, would not need to rewrite its PowerPoint presentations to be gender-inclusive. This movement is Black, “anti-state,” decolonial, and abolitionist toward the police and prison systems.

The speaker also referred by name to a Georgia group that funds abortions.

“I want to end this by saying fund abortion, support people,” Williams said at the close of the event. “You don’t have to be an abortion doula to help someone to affirm someone’s decision to give them good information about an abortion, and then to emotionally be there for them.”

Criticism of ‘activist propaganda’ 

Bishop Rhoades’ reflection cited reports that Williams has a left forearm tattoo of a tool used for manual vacuum aspiration — a type of abortion procedure.

He criticized the event as “simply a conduit for activist propaganda that is not merely wrong, but squarely contrary to principles of basic human equality, justice, dignity, and nonviolence that the Catholic Church, Notre Dame, and many others (including non-Catholics) have affirmed for millennia.”

The bishop said the gender studies department and the Reilly Center’s sponsorship was “a grave mistake in judgment that creates scandal.”

“It is particularly troubling that Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns — whose mission involves ‘justice education’ — would support an event promoting the injustice of abortion and a series antithetical to the social doctrine of the Church,” he said.

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, was tabbed as the next chair of the Committee for Religious Liberty on Nov. 16, 2022, in Baltimore. Shannon Mullen/CNA
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, was tabbed as the next chair of the Committee for Religious Liberty on Nov. 16, 2022, in Baltimore. Shannon Mullen/CNA

Butler, in her introduction to the event, said the series “invites the Notre Dame community to zoom out from the issue of abortion and from intractable pro-choice versus pro-life debates to the wider frame of reproductive justice.” For Butler, this includes topics like “Black and Latina maternal mortality, adoption and tribal sovereignty, criminalization of pregnancy, miscarriage and abortion care work, and the value of human interdependence.”

She cited the Atlanta-based activist group SisterSong’s definition of reproductive justice as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.”

“University of Notre Dame policy calls for balance when sensitive but important topics such as abortion are discussed on campus,” Butler noted. She said organizers would provide “a list of a few of the many events held on campus that reflect the university’s position on questions related to abortion” as well as resources or citations from the discussion.

An email sent to registrants more than 24 hours after the event included two documents. The first provided links to SisterSong, FaithAloud, a 43-page “Reproductive Justice Briefing Book,” the Guttmacher Institute’s tracker on abortion legislation, and a website tracking transgender-related legislation. The second document listed various pro-life events at the University of Notre Dame, including events from last fall, as well as links to Notre Dame Right to Life, the Notre Dame Office of Life and Human Dignity, the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture, the Women and Children First Initiative, and O. Carter Snead’s book “What It Means to Be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics.”

Pope Francis invites Catholics to renew consecration to Immaculate Heart of Mary on March 25

Pope Francis prays at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal on May 12, 2017. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Mar 22, 2023 / 06:40 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has invited Catholics to annually renew an act of consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on March 25.

The solemnity of the Annunciation on Saturday marks one year since Pope Francis consecrated Russia and Ukraine to the Blessed Virgin Mary in St. Peter’s Basilica with a prayer asking for peace in the world.

At the end of his general audience on March 22, the pope recalled his historic act of consecration and called on parish communities and prayer groups to annually renew the Marian consecration.

“Saturday will mark the solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, and our thoughts turn to March 25 last year when, in union with all the bishops of the world, we consecrated the Church and humanity, especially Russia and Ukraine, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary,” Pope Francis said.

“Let us not tire of entrusting the cause of peace to the Queen of Peace,” he said. “Therefore, I would like to invite each believer and community, especially prayer groups, to renew every March 25 the act of consecration to Our Lady, so that she, who is Mother, may guard us all in unity and peace.”

Pope Francis also urged people not to forget to pray for “martyred Ukraine, which is suffering so much.”

Last year, Pope Francis asked all the bishops of the world to join him in consecrating Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, one month after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

From the tip of Florida to Seattle, every U.S. diocese participated in the consecration in one form or another. The bishop of Fairbanks prayed the consecration on the shores of the Bering Sea, facing Russia, his diocese’s neighbor just a few hundred miles to the west.

The act of consecration was also read simultaneously by Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal.

In Moscow, Catholics tuned in and prayed along with a live broadcast of the pope’s consecration from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

The Virgin Mary specifically asked that Russia be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart in the 1917 apparitions at Fatima.

The Vatican’s Dicastery for Divine Worship defines consecration to Mary as an overt recognition of the “singular role of Mary in the mystery of Christ and of the Church, of the universal and exemplary importance of her witness to the Gospel, of trust in her intercession, and of the efficacy of her patronage.”

In the past, several popes have consecrated the Church and world to Mary. Pope Pius XII consecrated the entire world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on Oct. 31, 1942.

St. John Paul II — who consecrated the entire Church and world to Mary three times during his pontificate — taught that by consecrating oneself to Mary, we accept her help in offering ourselves fully to Christ.

Before praying the consecration last year, Pope Francis explained that it is “an act of complete trust on the part of children who, amid the tribulation of this cruel and senseless war that threatens our world, turn to their Mother, reposing all their fears and pain in her heart and abandoning themselves to her.”

“It means placing in that pure and undefiled heart, where God is mirrored, the inestimable goods of fraternity and peace, all that we have and are, so that she, the Mother whom the Lord has given us, may protect us and watch over us.”

Pope Francis: Christian witness requires consistency between how one lives and what one proclaims

Pope Francis greets pilgrims at the Wednesday general audience in St. Peter's Square on March 22, 2023. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Vatican City, Mar 22, 2023 / 05:20 am (CNA).

To effectively witness to the Gospel, Christians need to be consistent in what they believe, how they live, and what they preach, Pope Francis said Wednesday.

“The witness of an authentically Christian life involves a journey to holiness,” Pope Francis said on March 22.

Speaking at his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square, the pope underlined that Christian witness must include “professed faith” of what the Church teaches that transforms both one’s relationships and “the values that determine our choices.”

“Witness, therefore, cannot be separated from consistency between what one believes, what one proclaims, and how one lives,” he said.

“A person is credible if there is harmony between what he believes and how he lives. Many Christians only say they believe, but live something else … and this is hypocrisy.”

The pope asked the crowd to reflect on three questions first posed by Paul VI in his apostolic exhortation on evangelization in the modern world, Evangelii Nuntiandi: “Do you believe what you are proclaiming? Do you live what you believe? Do you preach what you live?”

Pope Francis arrives at the general audience March 22, 2023, in the popemobile to a Florentine flag corps performance by a group that seeks to preserve Tuscany’s medieval and Renaissance traditions. Vatican Media
Pope Francis arrives at the general audience March 22, 2023, in the popemobile to a Florentine flag corps performance by a group that seeks to preserve Tuscany’s medieval and Renaissance traditions. Vatican Media

Pope Francis emphasized that holiness is “not reserved for a few” but is “a gift from God that demands to be received and made to bear fruit for ourselves and for others.”

“Paul VI teaches that the zeal for evangelization springs from holiness, springs from a heart that is full of God,” he said.

“Nourished by prayer and above all by love for the Eucharist, evangelization, in turn, increases holiness in those who carry it out.”

A reading from the New Testament was proclaimed in different languages at the Wednesday general audience in St. Peter's Square on March 22, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
A reading from the New Testament was proclaimed in different languages at the Wednesday general audience in St. Peter's Square on March 22, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Because of the importance of bearing witness to the Gospel, Pope Francis said that it is necessary for the Church to constantly be “evangelizing herself.”

“Indeed, ‘she needs to listen unceasingly to what she must believe, to her reasons for hoping, to the new commandment of love. She is the people of God immersed in the world, and often tempted by idols … and she always needs to hear the proclamation of the mighty works of God … this means that she has a constant need of being evangelized if she wishes to retain freshness, vigor, and strength in order to proclaim the Gospel,’” he said, quoting Evangelii Nuntiandi.

“A Church that evangelizes herself in order to evangelize is a Church that, guided by the Holy Spirit, is required to walk a demanding path of continuous conversion and renewal,” he added.

A traditional Florentine flag corps performs for the pope at the general audience on March 22, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
A traditional Florentine flag corps performs for the pope at the general audience on March 22, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Pope Francis arrived at the general audience in the popemobile to a Florentine flag corps performance by a colorfully-clothed group that preserves the music and traditions from Tuscany’s medieval and Renaissance history.

At the end of the audience, the pope blessed a large bell engraved with the words “Voice of the Unborn,” which will be installed in Lusaka, Zambia.

The giant bell was forged in the workshop of Jan Felczyński in Przemyśl, Poland, as part of an initiative by the Polish Yes to Life foundation. Pope Francis has previously blessed “Voice of the Unborn” bells for Poland, Ecuador, and Ukraine.

Francis called the bell a “sign of the need to protect human life from conception to natural death.”

Pope Francis blesses a large bell engraved with the words “Voice of the Unborn,” which will be installed in Lusaka, Zambia, after his general audience March 22, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis blesses a large bell engraved with the words “Voice of the Unborn,” which will be installed in Lusaka, Zambia, after his general audience March 22, 2023. Vatican Media

“Let its sound carry the message that every life is sacred and inviolable. I bless you from my heart,” he said.

Pope Francis also recalled the upcoming anniversary of his consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Virgin Mary on March 25, the solemnity of the Annunciation.

“Let us not tire of entrusting the cause of peace to the Queen of Peace,” the pope said.

“Therefore, I would like to invite each believer and community, especially prayer groups, to renew every March 25 the act of consecration to Our Lady, so that she, who is Mother, may guard us all in unity and peace.”

Argentine archdiocese repudiates destruction of blasphemous art exhibition

Destruction in the art show at the Rector’s Office of the National University of Cuy in Argentina on March 20, 2023. / Credit: Radio U Staff - UNCUYO

CNA Newsroom, Mar 21, 2023 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

The Archdiocese of Mendoza, Argentina, repudiated the acts of violence that took place Monday afternoon against an art exhibition offensive to the Christian faith.

The exhibition, titled “#8M Visual Manifestos,” is being exhibited during the month of March at the Rector’s offfice of the National University of Cuyo for Women’s Month. “8M” stands for March 8, International Women’s Day.

Some of the exhibited works had drawn criticism among those who profess the Catholic faith and among Christians in general for their explicit blasphemous content.

One of them alludes to the crucifixion of Jesus represented by the body of a naked woman; another symbolizes a vulva that simulates the silhouette of the Virgin Mary.

When the Social Ministry of the Archdiocese of Mendoza learned of the exhibition, the ministry repudiated it for carrying out “symbolic violence against Christian religious signs” and added that it “seriously offends” religious convictions.

Members of the educational community also spoke out and collected signatures for the exhibition to be removed from the university facilities.

On the afternoon of March 20, a group of people gathered to pray in the room where the exhibit was displayed and ended up trashing it.

In response to the vandalism, the Social Ministry of the Archdiocese of Mendoza issued a new statement, this time repudiating “this act of physical violence towards the works exhibited there.”

The ministry also expressed its solidarity “with the artists who saw the fruit of their work and effort damaged.”

“We call again for harmony and peace that is lost in extremes,” the ministry said.

At the same time, the archdiocesan ministry recalled that “behind a work or a religious symbol there are people who have beliefs or ideologies that should not be violated, ridiculed, or offended.”

Finally, the ministry lamented the actions of those who “live their religiosity as in dark times, which have been so painful for humanity.”

The statement concluded by invoking “the protection of God, source of all reason and justice,” citing the Argentine Constitution.

The university’s rector, Esther Sánchez; vice rector, Gabriel Fidel; and other officials condemned “all kinds of violence” and urged dialogue.

“The National University of Cuyo with its plurality of ideas, visions, and thoughts offers its space for reflection. It calls for listening and accepting differences in peace,” they said.

“The mission of producing knowledge and forming people can only be carried out in a peaceful environment and of sincere debate where the recognition of the other person and their ideas allows innovating and contributing solutions that unite and don’t alienate,” they said.

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

New Wyoming law restricts girls’ sports to biological girls

null / Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Mar 21, 2023 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

Beginning on July 1, only biological girls will be allowed to participate in seventh- through 12th-grade girls’ athletic competitions in Wyoming, per a new law adopted in the state.

The legislation requires schools that participate in interscholastic sports competitions to clearly designate programs as male, female, or coed. Those designations will be based on a student’s biological sex, even if the student identifies as a different gender. The law defines sex as “the biological, physical condition of being male or female, determined by an individual’s genetics and anatomy at birth.”

When the legislation goes into effect, biological male students who identify as girls will not be allowed to participate in female-designated athletic competitions. Biological males will only be allowed to participate in male-designated or coed athletics. Biological girls will not have the same restrictions put on them and will be able to participate in any athletic competition.

“A student of the male sex shall not compete, and a public school shall not allow a student of the male sex to compete, in an athletic activity or team designated for students of the female sex,” the legislation reads.

The bill overwhelmingly passed both chambers of the Legislature, which are heavily controlled by Republicans. The bill passed the House 51-10 and the Senate 27-3. All five House Democrats and five House Republicans opposed the bill. Both Senate Democrats and one Senate Republican also opposed the bill.

Although Republican Gov. Mark Gordon allowed the legislation to become law, he did so without signing the bill. Despite objecting to the bill, the Legislature would have likely had the votes to override a veto if the governor had decided to go against it.

In a letter to Secretary of State Chuck Gray, the governor said he believed the bill was “well-meaning as a way to protect the integrity and fairness of women’s sports,” but thought it would have been better handled on a case-by-case basis because of how seldom this affects athletics in the state.

“With only four known transgender students competing in school athletics out of 91,000 students total, this seems to call for individualized considerations, where families, students, teams, and others can thoughtfully address specific circumstances rather than such a punitive, ostracizing broad-brush approach,” Gordon said in the letter.

Wyoming will be the 19th state to restrict female athletics competitions to only biologically female athletes.

Benedict’s personal secretary searches for five cousins who are heirs of the late pontiff

Archbishop Georg Gänswein was the personal secretary of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. / Credit: ACI Press

Rome, Italy, Mar 21, 2023 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

Five German cousins of the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI are the direct heirs to his personal property, the pope’s personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, told Italian media after a Mass celebrated in Rome on Sunday at Santa Maria Consolatrice parish, Cardinal Ratzinger’s titular church.

Benedict XVI died Dec. 31, 2022.

The archbishop explained that he thought there were two direct heirs. However, he was surprised to learn that there are three more, hitherto unknown. “This has been very interesting for me. I thought he had two relatives, two cousins, but there are five cousins in total,” he said.

“By law I have to write to the cousins who are the closest relatives, and also by law I have to ask them: ‘Do you accept the inheritance or do you not accept it?’” he told various Italian national media.

In addition, in a statement to the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero, Gänswein noted that “other personal items, from watches to pens, from paintings to liturgical items, were included in a list meticulously drawn up by Benedict XVI before he died.”

He recounted that part of these personal items have been delivered to people close to him: “He hasn’t forgotten anyone; collaborators, secretaries, seminarians, students, drivers, parish priests, friends.”

Gänswein also explained that the rights to his books will remain with the Vatican and a portion of them will go to the Joseph Ratzinger Vatican Foundation.

Personal documents destroyed

As for the most personal documents of the pope emeritus, such as letters and notes, his former secretary confirmed that according to the will of Benedict XVI, they have been destroyed.

Gänswein clarified that there are no longer any unpublished writings of the pope emeritus and that Benedict XVI’s last book is “What Is Christianity?” published posthumously in January.

“A shame? Yes, I told him that, too, but he gave me this instruction, there is no going back. There are no unpublished writings left,” Gänswein affirmed.

Finally, he spoke about his future and noted that “the Catholic Church is vast geographically, but also culturally.”

“Pope Francis has not yet given me any responsibilities. He must reflect and then he will tell me. I am available for the Church, and I am loyal and faithful,” he concluded.

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

Beautiful new film on Camino de Santiago pilgrimage is a ‘perfect Lenten meditation’

"Santiago: The Camino Within" is being released for one day only on March 28, 2023. / YouTube/Fathom Events

Boston, Mass., Mar 21, 2023 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

A new film that takes moviegoers along on a pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in Spain is being released in theaters for one day only on March 28.

The Camino de Santiago, also known as “The Way of St. James,” is a 1,000-year-old pilgrimage 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.

Today thousands of pilgrims continue to make the pilgrimage, sometimes traversing hundreds of miles on their way to Santiago. 

Produced by Ahava Productions, “Santiago: The Camino Within” is narrated by Bishop Donald Hying of Madison, Wisconsin, who leads pilgrims on the physically arduous journey. Distributed by Fathom Events, the film is meant to inspire the viewer to embark on their own journey with God.

“Of course, this narration is ultimately about God and the human quest for him but lavishly shows how delightfully varied that universal search actually is,” Hying said in a February press release. 

Additionally, the pilgrims in the film share with the viewer their spiritual journeys while on the trail. The beauty of the scenery is captured in the film and can be seen in the trailer below. 

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, who has traveled the route three times, said that the movie is “the best film on the Camino I have seen to date.”

“It is a perfect Lenten meditation,” Conley said. 

“The film is beautifully done. The music, the cinematography, the spirituality, and the Catholicity is second to none,” Conley said in a follow-up video. 

“It will inspire you to know more about this ancient pilgrimage and even to make it yourself if you feel up to it,” he added. “It’s very well done, and I encourage everyone to go see it,” he said.

The film is being shown in both English and Spanish in 763 theaters across the country. 

For locations and showtimes, visit Fathom Events’ website