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Pope Francis to young addicts: Do not be afraid of your suffering

null / Screenshot from Vatican News YouTube channel.

Rome, Italy, Dec 8, 2021 / 18:19 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis has encouraged young people suffering from addiction to take an honest look at their suffering, and courageously to invite Christ into their lives.

"Do not be afraid of reality— of the truth— of our miseries,” the pope said during a Dec. 8 visit to the Rome headquarters of the Cenacolo Community. 

“Don't be afraid, because Jesus likes reality as it is, not made up; the Lord doesn't like people who make up their souls, who make up their hearts."

The Cenacolo Community was founded in Italy in 1983 to support young people experiencing addiction or marginalization. The community has since expanded to include houses in nearly two dozen countries, including the United States. 

The pope spent about two hours at the headquarters. He met with several families and young people involved in the community, and 25 brothers and sisters of the local Good Samaritan fraternity.

He watched a film on the life of St. Joseph that was produced by members of two fraternities in Medjugorje. He also blessed a chapel at the headquarters that was entirely constructed by recycled materials, to symbolize the renewal of life of each person in the Cenacle Community. 

The pope listened to the stories of the young people present, and encouraged them to continue sharing their stories, in order to help others who may find themselves in similar situations. 

"Have the courage to say: 'I think that there is a better way',” the pope said.

NY archdiocese waiting to respond to city's private school worker vaccine mandate

null / Ball Lunla/Shutterstock

New York City, N.Y., Dec 8, 2021 / 17:05 pm (CNA).

The Archdiocese of New York is awaiting formal notification of the city’s mandate that private school teachers be vaccinated against COVID-19 before determining its response to the directive.

“We are aware of Mayor de Blasio’s announcement regarding vaccine mandates for all teachers and school staffs in New York City, including those in religious, private, and other non-governmental schools,” the Office of the Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of New York said in a Dec. 8 statement to CNA. 

“Once we receive formal notification from the City, we will review the mandate to determine this order’s relevance and applicability to our Catholic schools, and any potential response.”

The archdiocese’s schools office added that “An increasing majority of our teachers and school staffs have already been vaccinated, and we continue to urge others to do so; those that are not vaccinated are tested weekly.”

“Our students, families, teachers, and administrators should be assured that our schools in New York City and beyond will remain open for safe, in-person instruction, as we have done for the past year, with a rate of nearly zero COVID transmission in our buildings,” the statement concluded.

Mayor Bill De Blasio’s Dec. 6 announcement of the mandate was anticipated, as the mayor had said Dec. 2 that private school employees were going to need to be vaccinated in the near future, the AP reported.

Mitch Schwartz, First Deputy Press Secretary to Mayor Bill de Blasio, said that staff at private businesses and private schools need one dose of the vaccine by Dec. 27. 

The New York Times reported that Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York spoke to de Blasio on the phone before the mayor’s announcement of the mandate. CNA inquired about the contents of the call; however, details of the exchange were not revealed in the archdiocese’s statement.

The mandate also applies to schools in the Diocese of Brooklyn.

On Dec. 2, Dr. Thomas Chadzutko, Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Brooklyn, said that while they have “placed great emphasis on getting the COVID-19 vaccine,” they respect each individual's right to make their own decision, adding that “we have and continue to remain opposed to any such mandate.”

Chadzutko wrote that on Dec. 2, Catholic schools and academies in Brooklyn and Queens joined a “coalition of religious and independent schools throughout New York City asking the Mayor and Health Commissioner to reconsider plans to implement a vaccine mandate.”

That coalition, the New York State Coalition for Independent and Religious Schools, sent a letter to de Blasio and to Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi asking them to reconsider the mandate.

The letter, authored by Rabbi David Zwiebel, chairman of the Committee of NYC Religious and Independent School Officials, says that the schools generally encourage vaccination, but do not “insist upon vaccination as a condition of  employment.”

Vaccination is a choice “most appropriately” left to the individual, the letter said, adding that vaccination “is an area where government should be using its bully pulpit to persuade, not its regulatory arm to coerce.”

The letter, which states that “most of our schools’ employees” are vaccinated, said that imposing a mandate could be “devastating” to schools and children. Only a small percentage of staff at these schools, for individual circumstances or personal values, have chosen to forgo vaccination, the letter said. 

Many of those who have chosen to forgo vaccination will be sure to resist vaccination, even if a mandate comes, which will cause them to be terminated from their jobs, the letter said.

“As a result,” the letter said, schools will be put in a difficult position of filling vacancies with high quality teachers and staff, which could be “impossible” in the middle of the school year.

Recognizing the danger of the Omicron variant, the letter acknowledged the mandate’s goal of hampering the spread of COVID-19.

“However, there are ways to try to move toward that goal short of a mandate, ways that will not interfere with the value of personal choice and will not risk the wholesale loss of teachers and other school employees,” the letter concluded. “The religious and independent school community respectfully urges you to reconsider.”

John Quaglione, the Deputy Press Secretary for the Diocese of Brooklyn, told CNA on Monday that the diocese received no official notification from the mayor prior to his announcement and had yet to be sent the Executive Order directly from the health department or the mayor's office.

“We were able to download the Executive Order from the mayor's website, otherwise, we still would not know what it says or entails,” Quaglione added.

De Blasio, speaking on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday, said that he is “confident” the mandate will withstand any legal challenges that might come its way. 

Alexandra Sullivan, a parent with children in New York archdiocesan schools, told CNA on Monday that de Blasio’s mandate is “alarming.”

“Catholic teaching holds that vaccination must be voluntary and that no one should be coerced into a decision against their informed conscience,” Sullivan said. “Teachers employed by the Catholic Church should be afforded the freedom to exercise their conscience.”

Sullivan said that the mandate causes “worry” for parents who are concerned that there will be a future mandate for children to be vaccinated to attend school.

“That would be a grave and dangerous overstepping of government authority,” she added. “It is imperative that our bishops fight against such government overreach to protect their employees and to protect the children under their care in Catholic schools.”

The AP reported that there are about 56,000 employees at 938 schools in New York City to whom the mandate applies.

Both the Vatican and the U.S. bishops' conference have said that reception of the vaccines is morally permissible when recipients have no other ethical option due to the gravity of the pandemic. Pope Francis has encouraged COVID-19 vaccination, calling it an "act of love." In December 2020, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a note stating that reception of the vaccines is morally permissible but "must be voluntary"; the note recognized "reasons of conscience" for refusing vaccines.

Supreme Court considers religious liberty in Maine education case

null / Lucky Business/Shutterstock.

Washington D.C., Dec 8, 2021 / 16:55 pm (CNA).

Attorneys representing a Maine family at the Supreme Court are feeling confident following Wednesday’s oral arguments in the case Carson v. Makin. 

The case asks whether a state – such as Maine – breaches the free exercise clause or equal protection clause of the First Amendment by barring students in a student-aid program from using their aid to attend schools offering a “sectarian” education.

The Carson family, consisting of parents Amy and David and their daughter Olivia, reside in Glenburn, Maine. Because Glenburn has no public school system, families with school-age children are eligible for a school-choice program that pays tuition at either public or non-sectarian schools. 

About 5,000 Maine students are eligible for this program, which specifically excludes private schools that are “​​associated with a particular faith or belief system and which, in addition to teaching academic subjects, promotes the faith or belief system with which it is associated and/or presents the material taught through the lens of this faith,” which Maine considers “sectarian”. 

The Carson parents are alumni of Bangor Christian Schools, a K-12 school in the nearby city of Bangor. But because Bangor Christian Schools mandates Bible class, it is ineligible for the town tuition program, meaning the Carsons have to pay for Olivia’s tuition. 

The Carsons, along with two other Maine families seeking to send their children to “sectarian” schools, filed suit in 2018. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case on July 2, 2021. 

Michael Bindas, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, told the court Dec. 8 that “Maine’s sectarian exclusion discriminates based on religion.”

“Like all discrimination based on religion, it should be subjected to strict scrutiny and held unconstitutional unless Maine can show that it is necessary to achieve a compelling government interest,” he said. 

Bindas noted that the religious schools “satisfy every secular requirement to participate in the tuition assistance program” and are only excluded from the program due to religious affiliation and religious classes. 

A majority of Supreme Court justices signaled that they agreed with Bindas’ interpretation of the law, and asked many questions concerning what exactly constitutes an equivalent public education. 

In a post-arguments Zoom call, Bindas reiterated that “parents know best what’s going to work for their child’s education,” and restated his belief that Maine’s exclusion of religious schools from tuition assistance is discriminatory. 

Should the court side with the Carsons, Bindas said it would “mean that, finally after four decades, families are empowered to choose the schools that they believe are best for their kids.” 

At one point during the oral arguments, Justice Clarence Thomas asked Maine’s Chief Deputy Attorney General Christopher Taub if it were possible for a Maine parent to decide to decline to send their child to school entirely. 

After Taub replied that there are “compulsory education laws” in the state, Thomas did not appear to be convinced by the state’s argument that religious schools do not qualify to fulfill this requirement. 

"So you require them to go to school and you, in certain areas, you don't have schools available,” said Thomas. “So if you require them to go and you don't have schools available and you make provisions for them to comply with that compulsory law, then how can you say that going to a particular school is a subsidy?"

Justice Samuel Alito asked if a parent could opt to send their child to an elite private school, such as Phillips Exeter Academy, or Miss Porter’s School, with the town tuitioning program. Taub replied that they likely could, and that education at those schools would be the “rough equivalent of a public education.” 

Alito also asked Taub if a school with a religious affiliation that taught values such as nondiscrimination and charity, but without “dogma,” would be eligible for the state’s tuition assistance program. 

Taub said this kind of religiously-affiliated school would be “very close to a public school,” and that “public schools often have a set of values that they want to instill.” 

“I think what the defining feature, or what would make the difference, is whether children are being taught that your religion demands that you do these things,” he said. 

This, Alito said, constitutes discrimination on the basis of religious belief. 

“What I described is, I think, pretty close to Unitarian Universalism, isn't it,” asked Alito. “So that religious community is okay – they can have a school that inculcates students with their beliefs because those are okay religious beliefs – but other religious beliefs, no. Is that what Maine is doing?” 

Taub did not give a definite answer. 

At one point, he provided a hypothetical to clarify his position. 

“If there were a school that was – that was – that was run by an organization that felt it was critical to have part of the program be to inculcate religious beliefs, if – if that school otherwise provided a public education, and let's say it had chapel services and a class that was intended to instill religion, if – if those classes were optional, it's likely that that state – that that school would – would be eligible for the Maine tuition program,” he said. “What the state is not going to provide public funding to is a school that is going to require students to take part in programs that are intended to instill religion.” 

Later, Malcolm Stewart, the deputy solicitor general of the U.S. Department of Justice, spoke.

“We are not trying to tell the parents what they should do with their children,” he told Justice Gorsuch. “The question is not whether you can be denied the unrelated benefit based on your faith or based on your religious practice. It's whether the government has to subsidize the religious practice itself."

Justice Brett Kavanaugh challenged Stewart’s position. 

“But, at its core, Mr. Stewart, you're suggesting that with, say, two neighbors in – in Maine, in a neighborhood, and they both – there is not a public school available, and the first neighbor says we're going to send our child, children, to secular private school, they get the benefit,” he said. “The next-door neighbor says: Well, we want to send our children to a religious private school, and they're not going to get the benefit.”

“And I don't see how your suggestion that the subsidy changes the analysis,” he continued. “That's just discrimination on the basis of religion right there at that – at the neighborhood level.”

At another point, he added, “I think it's important on this public discord or strife issue to emphasize that, as I understand it, they are seeking equal treatment, not special treatment. They're – they're saying don't treat me worse because I want to send my children to a religious school rather than a secular school. Treat me the same as the secular parent next door. I think that's what they are asking for, is equal treatment.”

Stewart responded, “Maine is willing to provide a secular education, an education that is the rough analog to what the public school would give you at state expense. It's not willing to pay for religious inculcation.”

In its June 2020 decision Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the court struck down as a violation of the free exercise clause a state scholarship program that excluded religious schools .

The Second Vatican Council's 1965 declaration on Christian education, Gravissimum educationis, said that parents "must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools."

"Consequently, the public power, which has the obligation to protect and defend the rights of citizens, must see to it, in its concern for distributive justice, that public subsidies are paid out in such a way that parents are truly free to choose according to their conscience the schools they want for their children."

Thomas Aquinas College builds helipad to assist in fighting wildfires

A Ventura County Fire Department Firehawk on the helispot recently installed on the campus of Thomas Aquinas College, outside Santa Paula, Calif. / Photo courtesy Thomas Aquinas College

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 8, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Four years after a massive wildfire threatened the school, a Catholic college in southern California has installed a helipad on its campus, with the goal of assisting local firefighters.

Thomas Aquinas College, a university located near Santa Paula, California, recently unveiled a concrete helipad designed to accommodate the needs of a Firehawk helicopter. The local fire department christened the new pad with a training exercise on the afternoon of Dec. 7. 

Ventura County owns two Firehawks, each of which has a rescue hoist, night vision capabilities, and the ability to drop 1,000 gallons of water or foam on a fire. 

If a fire starts in the nearby mountains, the Firehawks will be able to refill their water tanks at the school’s helipad, saving them a longer trip to the town of Fillmore. 

The local fire chief expressed gratitude to the school, noting that the refilling location closer to the mountains will mean “we can put more water on a fire while it’s small, giving it less time to spread.”

The 2017 Thomas Fire, named for the school, sparked in early December less than a mile from campus, and on its first day spread at a rate of one acre per second. 

It ultimately burned nearly 300,000 acres, including hundreds of residences in the town of Ventura, making it the largest wildfire in state history up to that point. 

“We have been honored to work with [the Ventura County Fire Department] ever since the college first came to Santa Paula in 1978, and we remember well the department’s heroic efforts during the Thomas Fire,” Mark Kretschmer, the college’s vice president for operations, said in a statement.  

“We are delighted that, after assisting with Ventura County’s search-and-rescue operations for all these years, we can now contribute to its firefighting efforts as well.”

Though located on the southeastern corner of the school’s property, the school says the helipad is situated in such a way that ambulances and other rescue vehicles can access it without causing disruption to the campus.

Notre Dame mandates COVID booster shots for all students

University of Notre Dame / Peter Zelasko/CNA

South Bend, Ind., Dec 8, 2021 / 15:01 pm (CNA).

The University of Notre Dame will require all its students to receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster in order to attend classes on or off campus, the school announced on Monday, Dec. 6. 

Students received an email announcing the policy change on Monday afternoon; the university tweeted the updated policy around the same time. 

“All students are required to be fully vaccinated or receive an exemption before arriving on campus for the 2021-22 academic year,” said the school on its “student vaccination requirement” webpage. 

“Additionally, as an extension of the University’s existing COVID-19 vaccination requirement, the COVID-19 booster is required of all students - undergraduate, graduate, and professional, including students studying or performing research remotely and/or virtually - who have been fully vaccinated for more than six months,” they said. 

The school already mandated that students receive a coronavirus vaccine or an exemption from the vaccination requirement prior to the start of the 2021 fall semester. Students who have been granted an exemption from the initial vaccination requirement will not be required to receive a booster shot; students who are seeking an exemption from the booster requirement will be permitted to apply for one. 

In order to facilitate booster access, the university will be hosting an on-campus booster shot clinic from Jan. 11-14. Classes begin for the spring 2022 semester on Jan. 10. Students are also permitted to receive a booster shot from an off-campus clinic. 

Students who receive booster shots from off-campus locations will have to submit proof of their vaccination to the school’s health services, the university explained to students. 

According to the email sent to students, there have been 364 positive cases of COVID-19 on Notre Dame’s campus since the start of the fall 2021 semester, and the school has seen low positivity rates for people who are tested on a regular basis. 

The University of Notre Dame has more than 12,000 students, including more than 8,000 undergraduate students. 

While many schools have required coronavirus vaccines to attend class this academic year, only a handful--including Bowdoin College, Notre Dame, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Smith College, Syracuse University, and Wesleyan University--are now requiring boosters for anyone who was vaccinated over six months ago. 

Other schools are reportedly considering whether to mandate booster shots.

University to host center for study of Polish Catholics and Jews who saved lives under Nazism and communism

The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin in eastern Poland. / KUL.

Lublin, Poland, Dec 8, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

A university in Poland will host a center for the study of Polish Catholics and Jews who saved lives under Nazism and communism.

The development was announced by Father Mirosław Kalinowski, rector of the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin in eastern Poland.

“In the coming weeks, the Center for Research on Poles Saving Jews and Jews Saving Poles during the Second World War and under communism will be set up at the Catholic University of Lublin,” he said.

The center will consist of an independent research unit within the structures of the university, known by its Polish initials, KUL.

“Publications on mutual assistance between Poles and Jews in times of totalitarianism have already been written, but there is a need for a comprehensive approach to this issue, using scientific methodology and with in-depth research,” Kalinowski said.

“These are fundamental issues in the history of both peoples in the 20th century. Our university will take up these issues, also in response to requests that we receive.”

More Poles have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, than any other national group.

Before the Nazi German invasion in 1939, Poland had the largest Jewish community in Europe, numbering about 3.3 million. Only around 10% survived the Nazi occupation.

Yad Vashem estimates that “about 30,000 to 35,000 Jews, around 1% of all of Polish Jewry, were saved with the help of Poles and thanks to the devotion of Righteous Among the Nations.”

Wiktoria Ulma with six of her children. The Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II.
Wiktoria Ulma with six of her children. The Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II.

The Nazis executed hundreds of Poles suspected of helping Jews. Among those killed were Józef and Wiktoria Ulma, along with their six children, after they were found to have helped eight Jewish people in Markowa, southeast Poland, in 1944.

Since 2018, Poland has held a National Day of Remembrance for Poles Saving Jews Under German Occupation on March 24, the day that the Ulma family was massacred.

After the Second World War, Poland was governed by an oppressive communist regime until 1989.

Kalinowski said that the Center for Research on Poles Saving Jews and Jews Saving Poles would work with other organizations in Poland and abroad, translating its publications into English and Hebrew.

“We want the results of the center’s research work to reach young people as well, hence new communication technologies will be used, so that the way of conveying information is in line with contemporary trends,” said the university rector.

“One of the first projects will be a multimedia Encyclopedia of Poles Saving Jews and Jews Saving Poles, published in traditional and online versions.”

He noted that the initiative is backed by Bishop Rafał Markowski, chairman of the Polish bishops’ committee for dialogue with Judaism.

Members of the Jewish community will be invited to sit on the center’s scientific and program boards.

The Catholic University of Lublin was founded by the Polish bishops in 1918. It was shut down during the Nazi occupation and many of its professors and students were executed.

In 1954, Karol Wojtyła, the future John Paul II, began to lecture on ethics at the university. He was appointed to the Chair of Ethics in the university’s Department of Christian Philosophy, forming a link to the institution that lasted until he was elected pope in 1978.

He visited KUL in June 1987, giving a speech in which he said that academic institutions were called to “build up a community of people free in the truth.”

Months after the pope’s death in 2005, KUL adopted its present name: the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin.

Switzerland’s Catholic Church approves independent abuse study

The flag of Switzerland. / Eberhard Grossgasteiger.

Zurich, Dec 8, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

The Catholic Church in Switzerland has announced that it is commissioning an independent study of abuse.

A research team of historians from the University of Zurich will investigate sexual violence, abuse, and cover-ups in the Swiss Church since the mid-20th century, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

The decision was taken jointly by the Swiss Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the country’s conference of religious orders (KOVOS), and the Central Roman Catholic Conference of Switzerland (RKZ), an association of regional Church groups.

Switzerland, officially known as the Swiss Confederation, is a landlocked central European nation of around 8.5 million people, 37% of whom are Catholic.

By approving an independent study, Swiss Catholic leaders are following the Church in France, which commissioned a landmark report concluding that 330,000 children were abused over a 70-year period.

The Swiss probe will begin in March 2022, with researchers guaranteed independence, the bishops’ conference said on Dec. 6.

The final report is expected to be published by summer 2023 at the latest in German, French, and Italian, three of the country’s official languages.

Two Zurich professors, Monika Dommann and Marietta Maier, will oversee the investigation, which will be carried out by three postdoctoral students and two assistants, according to the project’s website.

“The year-long pilot project lays the foundation for future research on the history of sexualized violence that Catholic clerics, Church employees, and members of religious orders have practiced in Switzerland since the middle of the 20th century,” the website says.

“The focus is on the structures that enabled the sexual abuse of minors and adults, and made it difficult to detect and punish it. All language regions are taken into account.”

Meier, an affiliated professor of modern history, has a background in researching “the history of knowledge and science, the history of psychiatry, and the history of emotions, as well as methods and theories of historical studies.”

She has focused on “structurally applied violence,” as well as the role of “order” and “force” in modern psychiatry.

The research interests of Dommann, a modern history professor, include “media history, economic history, legal history, and the history of knowledge and science.”

Dommann told the Swiss German-language daily Der Bund on Dec. 6 that the investigation would show whether Church authorities were truly committed to granting free access to archives.

She said: “We are not naive. As historians, we have a great deal of experience with the fact that when it comes to sensitive issues, there is often little willingness to face the past. We almost expect files to disappear or the archives not to be opened everywhere.”

“But working with gaps and problematizing them is part of our everyday life. In addition, the possible destruction of files is also an important subject of investigation.”

Bishop Joseph Bonnemain, who is responsible for the Swiss bishops’ conference department focusing on abuse in the Church, said in a Dec. 6 interview that the study would focus on historical abuse because “everything indicates that there are not only individual but also systemic causes for the attacks in the Church context.”

“It is not just individual acts that are of interest, but the big picture. The pilot project will begin with basic historical research to clarify and create the prerequisites for further research work,” the bishop of Chur, eastern Switzerland, said.

“The comprehensive study is another important step with which we follow up our confession of guilt with concrete measures. The deeper examination of the past will, I hope, encourage further victims to address and, if necessary, report any attacks they have suffered.”

“And it provides the basis for us as an institution to take on our responsibility even more resolutely and to adapt structures in such a way that they make sexual exploitation as impossible as possible.”

Pope Francis: Sagrada Familia’s new star shines for Barcelona’s poor, ill, elderly, and young people

The 12-pointed star of the Sagrada Família Basilica’s Tower of the Virgin Mary is lit up for the first time. / Screenshot from Basílica de la Sagrada Família live stream.

Barcelona, Spain, Dec 8, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis said that a star lit up for the first time on Wednesday atop Sagrada Família Basilica shines for the poor, ill, elderly, and young people of Barcelona.

The 12-pointed star at the peak of the basilica’s soaring Tower of the Virgin Mary was lit up at 7:50 p.m. local time on Dec. 8.

Screenshot from Basílica de la Sagrada Família live stream.
Screenshot from Basílica de la Sagrada Família live stream.

In a video message, Pope Francis said: “Peace and all good! And with this cordial Franciscan greeting, I join you all from Rome at this moment when the star on the Tower of the Virgin Mary in the Sagrada Família Basilica is being lit.”

“I would also like to extend my greetings in a special way to the poorest people of this great city, to the sick, to those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, to the elderly, to the young people whose future is being jeopardized by various situations, to those who are experiencing moments of trial. Dear friends, today the star of the Tower of Mary shines for all of you.”

Screenshot from Basílica de la Sagrada Família live stream.
Screenshot from Basílica de la Sagrada Família live stream.

The star’s illumination transforms the skyline of Barcelona, the capital of the autonomous community of Catalonia, in northeastern Spain, with a population of 1.6 million people.

The glass and steel star is around 20 feet in diameter. The star will shine by day in the sunlight and be illuminated from within at night. Its structure has been tested to resist lightning and shocks up to 100 kilograms (around 220 pounds).

Screenshot from Basílica de la Sagrada Família live stream.
Screenshot from Basílica de la Sagrada Família live stream.

The unfinished basilica, dedicated to the Holy Family, is expected to be completed in 2026, the centenary of the visionary Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí’s death.

In his video message, the pope referred to the portals of faith, hope, and charity on the Nativity facade of the Sagrada Família, one of the earliest parts of the basilica to be finished.

He said: “Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary Immaculate. She is indeed a masterpiece! In perfect harmony with God’s plan for her, the Virgin Mary became the most holy, humble, docile, and transparent before God.”

“Gaudí wanted this mystery to crown the portal of faith — the first one he built — so that, as we unfold the prayer to the Holy Trinity, which he rewrites throughout the basilica, we would learn to be, like Mary, a temple of this mystery, and to worship God in spirit and in truth.”

Screenshot from Basílica de la Sagrada Família live stream.
Screenshot from Basílica de la Sagrada Família live stream.

“The Gospel of Luke refers to her as ‘full of grace’ (Luke 1:28). We too address her in this way in every Hail Mary we pray, always feeling her maternal and dear presence. She is filled with the presence of God, who has become flesh in her womb.”

“This is why Gaudí also places her at the center of the portal of charity, offering us the Divine Child under the watchful eye of St. Joseph, so that we may enter his church inflamed with love for God and for mankind.”

He went on: “I encourage you too to follow the example of the Virgin Mary with daily gestures of love and service. The immaculate beauty of our Mother is inimitable. And, at the same time, it attracts us.”

“May this star that shines from today enlighten you so that, as you unravel the beads of the rosary, you may say ‘yes’ once and for all to the grace of the Lord and give a resounding ‘no’ to sin.”

The 12-pointed star of the Sagrada Família Basilica’s Tower of the Virgin Mary. Sagrada Família Basilica.
The 12-pointed star of the Sagrada Família Basilica’s Tower of the Virgin Mary. Sagrada Família Basilica.

The Sagrada Família was consecrated and proclaimed a minor basilica by Benedict XVI on Nov. 7, 2010.

The church was forced to close to tourists from March to July 2020 due to the coronavirus crisis.

Xavier Martinez, the basilica’s general director, said that this October the church received only 40% of the number of visitors in October 2019, before the outbreak of the pandemic.

The Tower of the Virgin Mary stands next to the central Tower of Jesus Christ, which is surrounded by four smaller Towers of the Evangelists.

At 450 feet, the Marian tower will be the basilica’s second-highest after the Tower of Jesus Christ, which will rise to around 570 feet. The Tower of Mary is the first of the six central towers to be completed.

Sagrada Família Basilica.
Sagrada Família Basilica.

Twelve wrought-iron stars that surround the tower’s crown were set in place on Nov. 9.

The lighting of the 800 windows that form the tower and the star took place in three stages. On Dec. 4, the lower part was lit up, followed by the upper part on Dec. 6, and finally the whole tower and star on Dec. 8.

The full illumination was preceded by a live-streamed Mass celebrated by Cardinal Juan José Omella of Barcelona. The pope’s video message was played inside the church. The cardinal then exited the basilica, where he greeted a crowd gathered to witness the illumination and gave a blessing.

The inauguration featured the premiere of a forceful new work, “Magnificat,” by composer Marc Timón, performed by Orfeó Català. The music resounded as the star was lit up for the first time.

Antoni Gaudí, a devout and ascetic figure, began working on the project in 1883. In 1914 he stopped all other works to focus exclusively on the basilica, to which he dedicated himself until his unexpected death.

He was struck by a tram in 1926, at the age of 73, while walking to Barcelona’s St. Philip Neri church for confession. Passersby did not recognize the famed architect because of his worn-out clothes and lack of identity papers.

He died three days after the accident and was buried in the crypt of his unfinished basilica. His cause for canonization was opened in Rome in 2003.

Sagrada Família Basilica in Barcelona. Credit: Jacques van Niekerk via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0). Other pics: YouTube screengrabs.
Sagrada Família Basilica in Barcelona. Credit: Jacques van Niekerk via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0). Other pics: YouTube screengrabs.

The basilica finally received an official building permit in 2019, 137 years after its construction began.

Progress was initially slow as the works depended on private donations. Building work was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War, during which combatants set fire to the crypt and destroyed some of the architect’s designs and plaster models.

Gaudí created numerous celebrated works in Barcelona using his distinctive style inspired by natural forms and eschewing the sharp angles associated with modernist architecture.

He summed up his approach by saying, “The straight line belongs to men, the curved one to God.”

When questioned about how long it would take to build the basilica, he reputedly said, “My client is not in a hurry” — referring to God.

Man attacks DC basilica's Our Lady of Fatima statue by cutting off hands, hammering face

Security personnel reported damage to the Our Lady of Fatima statue located outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., Dec. 6, 2021. / Courtesy of Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Washington D.C., Dec 8, 2021 / 11:21 am (CNA).

Security-camera footage shows a man attacking a statue of Our Lady of Fatima by cutting off her hands and hammering at her face, according to a statement by the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

“We have contacted authorities and, though we are deeply pained by this incident, we pray for the perpetrator through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of Our Lady of Fatima,” Monsignor Walter Rossi, the rector of the basilica, said of the Dec. 5 incident.

The statue, formed out of Carrara marble, is located in the basilica’s Rosary Walk and Garden. Security personnel discovered the damage when opening up the basilica on Monday morning, Dec. 6.

“Subsequent to reviewing security camera footage, a male was found to have entered the locked garden by scaling its fence Sunday night,” Rossi said. “He then proceeded to cut off the hands of the Blessed Mother and attack her face with a hammer. As he left, he took her hands.”

According to EWTN correspondent Mark Irons, this person also cut off the cross from the top of Mary’s crown and wore a mask. The basilica is not releasing the surveillance video at this time.

In October, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) found 100 incidents of vandalism reported at Catholic sites in the U.S. since May 2020.

At the time, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairmen of the USCCB’s religious liberty and domestic justice committees, condemned the “acts of hate,” but stressed the importance of reaching out to the perpetrators with prayer and forgiveness.

“There remains much we do not know about this phenomenon, but at a minimum, they underscore that our society is in sore need of God’s grace,” they said.

5 facts to know about the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at night in Washington, DC. / Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Dec 8, 2021 / 10:37 am (CNA).

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the largest Roman Catholic Church in the United States. Located in Washington D.C., the Minor basilica is one of the ten largest churches in the world. Here are 5 facts you should know about this incredible Catholic landmark.

Over 100 years in the making

The basilica, which began construction in 1920, was not actually completed according to its original architectural and iconographic plans until 2017. 

The construction, which began with a ceremonial blessing of the land in May 1920 and concluded with the dedication of the Trinity Dome four years ago, had to be halted in the 1930s due to the Great Depression, the years and events surrounding World War II, and the death of Bishop Thomas Shahan, who was overseeing the process.

It took over 20 years to begin construction again, which resumed with the building of the Upper Church and superstructure of the shrine in 1953 and 1954. Those two structures were finished in 1959, while the Knights of Columbus financed the 329-foot bell tower, “The Knights Tower,” which was completed in 1963. 

Finally in 2017, a huge mosaic in one of the basilica’s domes, rendered the “Trinity Dome,” was dedicated, featuring the Most Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of the Immaculate Conception, a procession of saints, and the four evangelists, encircled by the Nicene Creed.

Saints and the Shrine

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta and St. Pope John Paul II both visited the shrine on more than one occasion. In addition, the construction plans for the church were approved by another Saint, then Pope Pius X.

In 1913 Saint Pope Pius X approved the plans for building the shrine in honor of the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. He also made a donation to help the project get off the ground.

St. Pope John Paul II was the first Pope to ever visit the shrine and he did so the first time in 1979. In his first two visits, he was still archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. In 1979, as Pope John Paul II, he was welcomed to the shrine by cheers and crowds of people.

During his final visit to the shrine, the saint said that the shrine “speaks to us with the voice of all America, with the voice of all the sons and daughters of America, who have come here from various countries of the Old World.”

“When they came, they brought with them in their hearts the same love of the Mother of God that was characteristic of their ancestors and of themselves in their native lands,” he said. “These people speaking different languages, coming from different backgrounds of history and traditions in their own countries, came together around the heart of a mother they all had in common.”

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta made her first visit to the shrine in 1972, the first of many visits she would make before her death in 1997. There is a large statue of the saint in the Hall of American saints in the Crypt level of the church. She is also one of the saints depicted in the new Trinity Dome in the Upper Church. Saint Mother Teresa has spoken at the pulpit at the shrine and many of the saints’ Missionaries of Charity have made their vows at the shrine.

Over 80 Marian chapels and oratories

The shrine houses more than 80 Marian chapels and oratories which represent different cultures and peoples all over the world. 

Some of the nationalities and ethnicities represented in the shrine include: African, Austrian, Chinese, Cuban, Czech, Filipino, French, German, Guamanian, Hungarian, Indian, Irish, Italian, Korean, Latin American, Lebanese, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Slovak, Slovenian, and Vietnamese.

Many religious communities are also represented including: Augustinians, Carmelites, Claretians, Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, Montfort Missionaries, Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Redemptorists, Salesians, Sisters of Charity, Sisters of Providence, and Vincentians.

Five Landmarks that could fit in the basilica

With an interior length of 399 feet, the basilica is longer than many well known landmarks. Here are five that the basilica surpasses in length.

Sheen: Shrine a force against Communism

Venerable Fulton Sheen studied at the Catholic University of America, the home of the Shrine, and then became a professor teaching theology and philosophy. A dynamic speaker, Sheen’s words were often captured in the university’s student newspaper, the Tower.

An article from The Tower in 1953 recorded then Bishop Sheen as campaigning for the refunding of the Shrine in his capacity as a Bishop, after the more than 20 year halt. 

To a television audience who would view later and a live audience of over 1,400 people in the basilica’s Crypt church, Sheen asked the people “to manifest love for God through honoring His mother by completing the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception,” The Tower reported.

Sheen pleaded with the audience to donate because “this National Shrine belongs to all Americans and everyone is interested in preserving the spiritual and moral foundation of the country,” The student paper reported.

In order to preserve the foundation, Sheen said, “one must go to God through His mother, to whom the United States is dedicated under the title of the ‘Immaculate Conception,”’ The Tower wrote.

Sheen said another reason to fundraise for the Shrine was to gain strength in order to “resist the forces of communism which can be overcome even as the serpent's head was crushed by Mary Immaculate,” The Tower reported.