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Pope Francis: Restoration of Christian unity is ‘an urgent priority in today’s world’

Pope Francis meets with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I at the Vatican, Oct. 4, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Rome Newsroom, Nov 30, 2022 / 07:55 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said Wednesday that the full restoration of communion among all Christians is “an urgent priority in today’s world.”

In a letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the pope expressed gratitude that Catholic and Orthodox Christians are seeking “to achieve full communion that will enable us one day, in God’s time, to gather together at the same eucharistic table.”

“The full restoration of communion among all the believers in Jesus Christ is an irrevocable commitment for every Christian, for the ‘unity of all’ (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom) is not only God’s will but an urgent priority in today’s world,” Pope Francis said on Nov. 30.

The pope’s letter marked the feast of St. Andrew. Pope Francis sends a message each year on the feast to the Ecumenical Patriarch, who is regarded as the successor of St. Andrew the Apostle and “first among equals” in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

In this year’s letter, Pope Francis wrote that Christians are called to work toward the restoration of unity “not merely through signed agreements but through fidelity to the Father’s will and discernment of the promptings of the Spirit.”

“Much attention has rightly been placed on the historical and theological reasons at the origin of our divisions. This shared study must continue and develop in a spirit that is neither polemical nor apologetic but marked instead by authentic dialogue and mutual openness,” Pope Francis said.

“We must likewise acknowledge that divisions are the result of sinful actions and attitudes which impede the work of the Holy Spirit, who guides the faithful into unity in legitimate diversity. It follows that only growth in holiness of life can lead to genuine and lasting unity.”

Patriarch Bartholomew expressed support earlier this month for finding a common date for Easter, a move that would lead to Catholics and Orthodox celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ at the same time.

The patriarch said that conversations are underway between Church representatives to come to an agreement. According to an earlier report by Vatican News, the patriarch supports such a common date to be set for the year 2025, which will mark the 1,700th anniversary of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea.

The Holy See press office reported on Nov. 30 that a Vatican delegation traveled to Istanbul for a customary visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate for the feast of St. Andrew.

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect emeritus of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches, led the delegation, which included the undersecretary for the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, Msgr. Andrea Palmieri. They were joined by Archbishop Marek Solczynski, the apostolic nuncio to Turkey.

The delegation took part in a solemn Divine Liturgy presided over by Patriarch Bartholomew in St. George’s Cathedral in Istanbul, where Sandri read the pope’s letter aloud.

“Invoking upon you Almighty God’s gifts of serenity and joy, I renew my expression of good wishes for the feast of St. Andrew, and exchange with Your All Holiness a fraternal embrace of peace in the Lord,” Pope Francis said.

Norwegian bishop: Catholic life leads ‘to persecution to some degree in this fallen world’

Bishop Erik Varden of the Roman Catholic Territorial Prelature of Trondheim presides at vespers at Santa Maria dell'Anima in Rome, Nov. 28, 2022 / Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

CNA Newsroom, Nov 30, 2022 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Marking 500 years of his country’s history, a convert to Catholicism, Trappist monk, and Scandinavian bishop spoke about persecution in Rome this week.

Bishop Erik Varden, OCSO, said a “life in Christ will lead to persecution to some degree in this fallen world at all times. That’s just the way it is.”

The prelate of Trondheim — Norway’s former Viking capital — spoke during a special requiem that marked half a millennium of Catholic history in his country, as CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported.

Bishop Erik Varden of the Roman Catholic Territorial Prelature of Trondheim presides at vespers at Santa Maria dell'Anima in Rome, Nov. 28, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
Bishop Erik Varden of the Roman Catholic Territorial Prelature of Trondheim presides at vespers at Santa Maria dell'Anima in Rome, Nov. 28, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

The occasion — streamed by EWTN Norge — was a special commemoration of Archbishop Erik Valkendorf, who died in Rome 500 years ago on Nov. 28, 1522.

Valkendorf was the penultimate archbishop of Nidaros — now Trondheim — in Norway before the Protestant Reformation all but wiped out Catholic life in the country.

Bishop Varden, who had also celebrated vespers at Rome’s Santa Maria dell’Anima Church the previous evening, described the conflict between King Christian II and Valkendorf. The two, he said, had been “good comrades at first.” But then Christian prevailed upon Valkendorf to become archbishop of Nidaros in 1510 — and thus “metropolitan of all Norway, plus Greenland, Iceland, the Orkney Islands, and the Isle of Man.”

“Valkendorf took a promise from the king that the latter would not touch the rights of the Church, but Christian probably counted on some room for interpretation between old friends,” Varden explained.

“He was mistaken. Valkendorf became a sincere bishop who loved his diocese. He governed wisely and in turn was a popular shepherd.”

Varden noted that Norway owed Valkendorf “the first printed books in the country,” namely “a breviary and missal of the rite of Nidaros, published in 1519.”

“It aroused the archbishop’s displeasure that Christian constantly harassed him with financial problems and lacked respect for the rights of the Church,” Varden said, noting the tensions between the king and the archbishop.

“The king, in turn, wanted the former friend out of the way: He was no longer of any use to him.”

Vespers at Santa Maria dell'Anima, Nov. 28, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
Vespers at Santa Maria dell'Anima, Nov. 28, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Valkendorf finally decided to “take the matter to the pope. At Candlemas 1522, he reached Rome. [The Bavarian theologian] Jakob Ziegler described him as a ‘venerable old man whose honest soul found expression in a pure countenance.’ Valkendorf was just 57 years old, but hardship and strife left their mark. Norway he never saw again. He died in the city on Nov. 28 of that year.”

Pope Hadrian VI praised him “for his commitment, reminiscent of Thomas Becket, ‘to the preservation of the freedom of the Church.’” Unlike Becket, however, Valkendorf was “not a martyr in the strict sense.”

“But his fidelity cost him everything: health, fortune, and reputation.”

Varden said: “The courage he displayed is more than mere natural fortitude. In freedom, he allowed the cross of the Christ to seal his life. A distinctive feature of the Rite of Nidaros is that after the consecration, the priest holds his arms ‘in the shape of a cross, pointing upward.’ One cannot stand in this posture day after day, year after year, without it leaving traces in the soul: We sense in Valkendorf a conformity to Christ.”

Bishop Erik Varden, OCSO, blesses Bishop Valkendorf's tombstone, Nov. 28, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
Bishop Erik Varden, OCSO, blesses Bishop Valkendorf's tombstone, Nov. 28, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

The 48-year-old Varden is the first Norwegian-born bishop of Trondheim in modern times. His five predecessors were German.

Pope Francis names new economy prefect as Father Guerrero resigns ‘for personal reasons’

Father Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves / Office of Communication Society of Jesus

Rome Newsroom, Nov 30, 2022 / 04:46 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has appointed a Spanish layman to lead the Secretariat for the Economy following the resignation of Father Juan Antonio Guerrero, SJ, “for personal reasons.”

Guerrero is undergoing medical treatment after having surgery in 2022, Vatican News reported Nov. 30.

Maximino Caballero Ledo, 62, has been secretary general, the second-ranking position, in the economy office since August 2020.

Before coming to the Vatican, Caballero was vice president of international finance at Baxter Healthcare, Inc., a medical products company. From Merida, Spain, he lived and worked in the United States from 2007–2020.

Guerrero is also from Merida, Spain, and a childhood friend of Caballero. The 63-year-old Jesuit priest began his term as prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy in January 2020.

The Vatican said Nov. 30 that Pope Francis had accepted Guerrero’s resignation “for personal reasons.” The resignation takes effect Dec. 1.

According to Vatican News, Guerrero wrote a letter to employees of the Secretariat for the Economy, which said after an operation in 2022, “I am undergoing medical treatment that has side effects that make it particularly difficult for me to carry out a task as demanding as the one I am entrusted with, and that requires a greater physical efficiency and mental concentration than what I have at this time.”

Guerrero’s letter also looked back at the accomplishments of the economy office over his three years as prefect and what might be coming next.

“There are still many things in the pipeline,” he said, “the centralization of investments, the further regulation and simplification of procurement processes in order to make them more transparent and streamlined; the implementation of a Directorate for Human Resources, which is a new challenge to improve the working conditions and atmosphere within the Holy See; and the planning of greater use of computerized procedures.”

The priest noted that reform includes both steps forward and steps backward, but “we are not now at the same point at which we started.”

“In any case,” he said, “we know that being a controlling body always involves being in an uncomfortable position for those who are controlled.”

The pope “warmly thanks Father Guerrero for the dedication shown in his service to the Holy See,” a Nov. 30 statement from the Vatican said. “Father Guerrero managed to sort out the economy for the better, it was a strong and challenging work that bore much fruit. The Holy Father assures him of his prayers.”

Guerrero and Caballero were childhood friends who grew up in the same city in Spain. Caballero told Vatican News after his appointment in August 2020 that the two were close friends through university and had remained in contact.

Caballero has degrees in economics and business administration, and has worked for businesses in Spain and the United States in positions of international finance.

He has been married for 33 years to Immaculada, and they have two adult children.

When appointed to work in the Vatican’s economy office in 2020, Caballero described it as “God’s call,” saying that for he and his wife, “there was only one response: ‘fiat.’”

Pope Francis established the Secretariat for Economy in 2014 as part of his financial reform of the Vatican. It oversees the financial aspects of both the Roman Curia and the Vatican City State administration, including a review of financial reports.

Guerrero, who has been a Jesuit since 1979, has a degree in economics from the Autonomous University of Madrid and degrees in theology, philosophy, and letters.

Before becoming prefect, the priest had been living in Rome since 2017, serving as general counselor and delegate of the superior general for the interprovincial houses and works of the Jesuits.

Guerrero had filled a position left vacant since February 2019, when the Vatican confirmed Cardinal George Pell’s five-year term as prefect to have expired.

Pell had taken a leave of absence beginning in June 2017, when he returned to his country of Australia to defend himself at trial against charges of historic sex abuse.

The cardinal was initially convicted and imprisoned, but later had his conviction overturned on appeal. He was released and moved back to Rome, where he lives in retirement.

This story was updated at 7 a.m. MST with information from Vatican News about Guerrero's letter.

Pope Francis names new economy prefect as Father Guerrero resigns ‘for personal reasons’

Father Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves / Office of Communication Society of Jesus

Rome Newsroom, Nov 30, 2022 / 04:46 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has appointed a Spanish layman to lead the Secretariat for the Economy following the resignation of Father Juan Antonio Guerrero, SJ, “for personal reasons.”

Guerrero is undergoing medical treatment after having surgery in 2022, Vatican News reported Nov. 30.

Maximino Caballero Ledo, 62, has been secretary general, the second-ranking position, in the economy office since August 2020.

Before coming to the Vatican, Caballero was vice president of international finance at Baxter Healthcare, Inc., a medical products company. From Merida, Spain, he lived and worked in the United States from 2007–2020.

Guerrero is also from Merida, Spain, and a childhood friend of Caballero. The 63-year-old Jesuit priest began his term as prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy in January 2020.

The Vatican said Nov. 30 that Pope Francis had accepted Guerrero’s resignation “for personal reasons.” The resignation takes effect Dec. 1.

According to Vatican News, Guerrero wrote a letter to employees of the Secretariat for the Economy, which said after an operation in 2022, “I am undergoing medical treatment that has side effects that make it particularly difficult for me to carry out a task as demanding as the one I am entrusted with, and that requires a greater physical efficiency and mental concentration than what I have at this time.”

Guerrero’s letter also looked back at the accomplishments of the economy office over his three years as prefect and what might be coming next.

“There are still many things in the pipeline,” he said, “the centralization of investments, the further regulation and simplification of procurement processes in order to make them more transparent and streamlined; the implementation of a Directorate for Human Resources, which is a new challenge to improve the working conditions and atmosphere within the Holy See; and the planning of greater use of computerized procedures.”

The priest noted that reform includes both steps forward and steps backward, but “we are not now at the same point at which we started.”

“In any case,” he said, “we know that being a controlling body always involves being in an uncomfortable position for those who are controlled.”

The pope “warmly thanks Father Guerrero for the dedication shown in his service to the Holy See,” a Nov. 30 statement from the Vatican said. “Father Guerrero managed to sort out the economy for the better, it was a strong and challenging work that bore much fruit. The Holy Father assures him of his prayers.”

Guerrero and Caballero were childhood friends who grew up in the same city in Spain. Caballero told Vatican News after his appointment in August 2020 that the two were close friends through university and had remained in contact.

Caballero has degrees in economics and business administration, and has worked for businesses in Spain and the United States in positions of international finance.

He has been married for 33 years to Immaculada, and they have two adult children.

When appointed to work in the Vatican’s economy office in 2020, Caballero described it as “God’s call,” saying that for he and his wife, “there was only one response: ‘fiat.’”

Pope Francis established the Secretariat for Economy in 2014 as part of his financial reform of the Vatican. It oversees the financial aspects of both the Roman Curia and the Vatican City State administration, including a review of financial reports.

Guerrero, who has been a Jesuit since 1979, has a degree in economics from the Autonomous University of Madrid and degrees in theology, philosophy, and letters.

Before becoming prefect, the priest had been living in Rome since 2017, serving as general counselor and delegate of the superior general for the interprovincial houses and works of the Jesuits.

Guerrero had filled a position left vacant since February 2019, when the Vatican confirmed Cardinal George Pell’s five-year term as prefect to have expired.

Pell had taken a leave of absence beginning in June 2017, when he returned to his country of Australia to defend himself at trial against charges of historic sex abuse.

The cardinal was initially convicted and imprisoned, but later had his conviction overturned on appeal. He was released and moved back to Rome, where he lives in retirement.

This story was updated at 7 a.m. MST with information from Vatican News about Guerrero's letter.

Pope Francis’ spiritual life tip: A daily examination of conscience helps to avoid repeating mistakes

Pope Francis speaking at the general audience on St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Nov. 30, 2022 / Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Rome Newsroom, Nov 30, 2022 / 04:11 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has recommended a daily examination of conscience as an “indispensable” practice in spiritual life.

An examination of conscience is a prayerful reflection on one’s thoughts, words, and deeds that helps to identify moments of sin and ask for God’s mercy.

This daily examination can be “an invitation to learn from our experiences” and “not to continue to repeat the same mistakes,” the pope said.

Speaking at his general audience on Nov. 30, Pope Francis said that the devil’s temptation “starts from what is most dear to us and then, little by little, reels us in.”

He said: “This is why a daily examination of conscience is so important. Before finishing the day, stop for a while. What happened? Not in the newspapers, not in life — what happened in my heart?”

“Noticing what happens is important, it is a sign that God’s grace is working in us, helping us to grow in freedom and awareness. … Learn to read in the book of your heart what happened during the day.”

Pope Francis arriving at the general audience on St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Nov. 30, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
Pope Francis arriving at the general audience on St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Nov. 30, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Pope Francis’ advice was part of his 10th catechesis in a weekly series on spiritual discernment, which he began at the end of August.

The pope noted that prayer during the day should not be viewed as a way to avoid a job or task that needs to be done, as in “every time I have to wash the dishes or clean the house, I have a strong urge to pray!”

“Prayer is not an escape from one’s responsibilities,” he said. “On the contrary, it is an aid in realizing the good we are required to do, here and now.”

In celebration of the feast of St. Andrew, the pope announced that a delegation of the Holy See had traveled to Constantinople.

“I wish to express my special affection to my dear brother Patriarch Bartholomew I and the entire Church of Constantinople,” Francis said.

“May the intercession of the Holy Brother Apostles Peter and Andrew, grant soon to the Church the full joy of her unity and peace to the whole world, especially at this time to the dear and tormented Ukraine, always in our hearts and prayers.”

Acrobats from Kenya performing to the music of Blues Brothers at the general audience with Pope Francis, Nov. 30, 2022. Vatican Media
Acrobats from Kenya performing to the music of Blues Brothers at the general audience with Pope Francis, Nov. 30, 2022. Vatican Media

Five Kenyan acrobats performed stunts in St. Peter’s Square toward the end of the audience to the movie soundtrack of the Blues Brothers. The pope smiled and clapped as the group — called The Black Blues Brothers — put on an acrobatic show to the musical soundtrack from the beloved 1980 comedy film.

Looking out at the Vatican’s recently decorated and nearly 100-foot-tall Christmas tree, the pope wished a blessed Advent season in his greetings to visiting pilgrims from abroad. In his message to Polish-speaking pilgrims, the pope offered a reminder of the unique role of the Virgin Mary in the Advent season.

Pope Francis greeting pilgrims at St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Nov. 30, 2022. Vatican Media
Pope Francis greeting pilgrims at St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Nov. 30, 2022. Vatican Media

“May Our Lady, who accompanies us on the Advent journey, obtain for you and for all present the gift of a heart open to God and to others. I bless you from the bottom of my heart,” Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis’ spiritual life tip: A daily examination of conscience helps to avoid repeating mistakes

Pope Francis speaking at the general audience on St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Nov. 30, 2022 / Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Rome Newsroom, Nov 30, 2022 / 04:11 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has recommended a daily examination of conscience as an “indispensable” practice in spiritual life.

An examination of conscience is a prayerful reflection on one’s thoughts, words, and deeds that helps to identify moments of sin and ask for God’s mercy.

This daily examination can be “an invitation to learn from our experiences” and “not to continue to repeat the same mistakes,” the pope said.

Speaking at his general audience on Nov. 30, Pope Francis said that the devil’s temptation “starts from what is most dear to us and then, little by little, reels us in.”

He said: “This is why a daily examination of conscience is so important. Before finishing the day, stop for a while. What happened? Not in the newspapers, not in life — what happened in my heart?”

“Noticing what happens is important, it is a sign that God’s grace is working in us, helping us to grow in freedom and awareness. … Learn to read in the book of your heart what happened during the day.”

Pope Francis arriving at the general audience on St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Nov. 30, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
Pope Francis arriving at the general audience on St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Nov. 30, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Pope Francis’ advice was part of his 10th catechesis in a weekly series on spiritual discernment, which he began at the end of August.

The pope noted that prayer during the day should not be viewed as a way to avoid a job or task that needs to be done, as in “every time I have to wash the dishes or clean the house, I have a strong urge to pray!”

“Prayer is not an escape from one’s responsibilities,” he said. “On the contrary, it is an aid in realizing the good we are required to do, here and now.”

In celebration of the feast of St. Andrew, the pope announced that a delegation of the Holy See had traveled to Constantinople.

“I wish to express my special affection to my dear brother Patriarch Bartholomew I and the entire Church of Constantinople,” Francis said.

“May the intercession of the Holy Brother Apostles Peter and Andrew, grant soon to the Church the full joy of her unity and peace to the whole world, especially at this time to the dear and tormented Ukraine, always in our hearts and prayers.”

Acrobats from Kenya performing to the music of Blues Brothers at the general audience with Pope Francis, Nov. 30, 2022. Vatican Media
Acrobats from Kenya performing to the music of Blues Brothers at the general audience with Pope Francis, Nov. 30, 2022. Vatican Media

Five Kenyan acrobats performed stunts in St. Peter’s Square toward the end of the audience to the movie soundtrack of the Blues Brothers. The pope smiled and clapped as the group — called The Black Blues Brothers — put on an acrobatic show to the musical soundtrack from the beloved 1980 comedy film.

Looking out at the Vatican’s recently decorated and nearly 100-foot-tall Christmas tree, the pope wished a blessed Advent season in his greetings to visiting pilgrims from abroad. In his message to Polish-speaking pilgrims, the pope offered a reminder of the unique role of the Virgin Mary in the Advent season.

Pope Francis greeting pilgrims at St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Nov. 30, 2022. Vatican Media
Pope Francis greeting pilgrims at St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Nov. 30, 2022. Vatican Media

“May Our Lady, who accompanies us on the Advent journey, obtain for you and for all present the gift of a heart open to God and to others. I bless you from the bottom of my heart,” Pope Francis said.

Senate passes same-sex marriage bill, sending it back to the House

null / Africa Studio / Shutterstock

St. Louis, Mo., Nov 29, 2022 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday evening to pass the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA), sending the bill back to the House for a final vote before it reaches the president’s desk. 

The bill, which would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and provide for federal recognition of same-sex marriages, has drawn criticism from Catholic leaders for not providing strong enough legal protections for individuals who believe marriage to be between one man and one woman, as taught by the Catholic Church. 

The present bill would not require any state to allow same-sex couples to marry, but would require states to recognize any and all marriages — regardless of “sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin” — contracted in other states. 

The bill garnered bipartisan support, clearing the Senate Nov. 29 by a vote of 61-36, and will return now to the House. Should the House pass this amended version, the bill will proceed to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature, which he has pledged to give. Biden first signaled his support for same-sex marriage a decade ago, putting him at odds with the teaching of his Catholic faith. 

The Senate had voted 62-37 in mid-November to end debate on the bill by reaching the required 60-vote threshold. Twelve Republicans crossed the aisle to join all the Senate’s Democrats in that vote, and the same number joined in the Nov. 29 vote.

The final version of the bill includes a bipartisan amendment meant to ensure that nonprofit religious organizations will not be required to provide services, facilities, or goods for the celebration of a same-sex marriage. It also provides for individual conscience protections to the extent provided under the Constitution and federal law, and makes clear the bill does not authorize the federal government to recognize polygamous marriage. 

DOMA, which the present bill would repeal, is a 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton that defined marriage federally as the union of a man and a woman, reserved federal benefits to heterosexual couples, and permitted states not to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other states. DOMA was already effectively nullified by the 2013 and 2015 Supreme Court decisions United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. 

The Catholic bishops of the United States had urged Senators in July to oppose the Respect for Marriage Act, expressing concerns about the bill’s effect on the religious freedom of those who hold to a traditional definition of marriage. 

And in November, following the bill’s advancement in the U.S. Senate, the nation’s Catholic bishops reaffirmed the Church’s teaching on marriage. They also reiterated their concerns that “the legislation could lead to discrimination against individuals who hold to a traditional view of marriage.”

“The Catholic Church will always uphold the unique meaning of marriage as a lifelong, exclusive union of one man and one woman,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, said in a Nov. 17 statement. 

“[T]he act offers only limited protections. Those protections fail to resolve the main problem with the act: in any context in which conflicts between religious beliefs and same-sex civil marriage arise, the act will be used as evidence that religious believers must surrender to the state’s interest in recognizing same-sex civil marriages,” Dolan continued. 

Ahead of the Nov. 29 vote, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah called on the 12 Republican senators who voted to advance the RFMA to adopt explicit protections, by way of an amendment he introduced, for individuals who believe marriage is between one man and one woman. Lee had argued that the RFMA will lead to more litigation against those who hold to a traditional view of marriage, unless the bill explicitly provides protections for them and not merely the possibility of a defense in court. 

“Instead of subjecting churches, religious nonprofits, and persons of conscience to undue scrutiny or punishment by the federal government because of their views on marriage, we should make explicitly clear that this legislation does not constitute a national policy endorsing a particular view of marriage that threatens the tax-exempt status of faith-based nonprofits,” Lee wrote in a November letter to his fellow senators. 

“As we move forward, let us be sure to keep churches, religious charities, and religious universities out of litigation in the first instance.”

Lee’s amendment ultimately failed Nov. 29 by a vote of 48-49. 

The RFMA represents one of the first legislative responses to the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June. While the majority opinion in Dobbs said that “this decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right,” Democrats have pointed to Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion suggesting the court should reconsider all “substantive due process” cases, including the 2015 Obergefell decision on same-sex marriage.

Pray with the cast of ‘The Chosen’ this Advent season on Hallow

Hallow's Advent feat. The Chosen: #Pray25 Prayer Challenge / Hallow

Denver, Colo., Nov 29, 2022 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

Advent is a season of preparation, hope, and joy as we await the birth of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As in every Advent, we are called during this time to prepare our hearts for his miraculous birth. 

This Advent, Hallow, a Catholic meditation and prayer app, invites us to dive further into the journey that led to Christ’s birth by participating in the Advent #Pray25 Challenge featuring the cast of “The Chosen," the hit streaming series about Jesus and his first disciples. 

Join Jonathan Roumie, the actor who plays Jesus; Elizabeth Tabish, who plays Mary Magdalene; George Harrison Xanthis, who plays John the Evangelist; Paras Patel, who plays Matthew; Vanessa Benavente, who plays Mother Mary; David Amito, who plays John the Baptist; and Dallas Jenkins, the director and founder of “The Chosen," in daily reflections, prayers, and meditations that tell the story of salvation. 

These daily reflections will take the listener back to the beginning with Adam and Eve, continue with Noah, Abraham, Moses, Ruth, David, and the prophets in the Old Testament, and end with the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Nativity in the New Testament, showing how God has called people throughout the generations.

The 25-day prayer challenge starts “in the beginning” with a meditation on the opening of the Gospel of John, read by Xanthis, and then turns its focus back to the Old Testament with the Book of Genesis. Each session starts with prayer followed by a reading from Scripture and ends with thought-provoking questions to guide your meditative prayer. 

When asked what his favorite part of the challenge was during an Instagram livestream Monday, Roumie explained that the imaginative prayers with Benavente, who plays Mother Mary, were particularly “impactful.”

“A lot of the placing yourself in the time periods and the moments before, and the moments leading up to Christmas, I think a lot of those readings were really impactful for me personally,” he explained. “Especially having that on-screen relationship with Vanessa Benavente, who plays Mother Mary, and then just thinking about our interactions and thinking about some of the stuff coming up this season even.”

Roumie added: “I think it was a really powerful instinct to move forward to try to execute this for Advent this year. I think people are really going to come away from it changed on another level.”

“I am excited for people to pray with their favorite characters on the show,” he said.

Alex Jones, CEO of Hallow, said in a press release on Nov. 23: “We’ve been blessed at Hallow to partner with a lot of amazing content creators, but I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to announce a partnership than I am today. ‘The Chosen’ has changed my own life and brought so many millions of folks around the world closer to Christ. We’re blessed to be able to journey together with some of our favorite folks from the series this Advent season in a one-of-a-kind prayer experience.”

“The Chosen,” created and directed by Jenkins, an evangelical Christian, premiered on Christmas Eve in 2017. During its first season, the show was the largest-ever crowdfunded television series. The series has been translated into 56 languages and has more than 420 million views worldwide.

The first two episodes of Season 3 are being shown in theaters through Dec. 14. The production was among the top 10 grossing films over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, outselling “She Said,” the film about Harvey Weinstein and the “Me Too” movement.

“The Chosen” can be streamed for free through The Chosen app for iOS or Android systems and the website of its distributor, Angel Studios. From the app you can stream to your TV using another device, such as Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, Android TV, and Chromecast. Season 1 was recently released on Netflix. The seasons are also available to purchase on DVD/BluRay.

Hallow bills itself as “the No. 1 Catholic app in the world” and the “No. 1 Christian app in the United States.” Launched in 2018, it has had more than four million downloads and has been used to pray more than 100 million times across 150 countries, according to the press release. It can be downloaded on the App Store and Google Play. 

Watch the trailer for Hallow’s “Advent featuring The Chosen: #Pray25 Prayer Challenge” here: 

Major win for Catholic doctors fighting Biden’s transgender mandate after appeal deadline passes

null / Credit: Chodyra Mike 1/Shutterstock.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 29, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

President Biden’s controversial transgender mandate has been blocked after the administration failed to meet last week’s deadline to appeal a court ruling that struck down the mandate earlier this year.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the mandate Aug. 26, ruling that religious groups could not be required to perform procedures that violate their beliefs. The deadline for the Biden administration to appeal the decision passed Nov. 25.

“The final demise of this unconscionable mandate is a major victory for conscience rights and compassionate medical care in America,” Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel for Becket Law, told CNA.

“Thousands of doctors will be able to do their jobs without the government requiring them to perform harmful, irreversible procedures against their conscience and medical expertise,” Goodrich added.

Becket, a religious liberty nonprofit legal firm, served as counsel to thousands of Catholic and other religious medical professionals in a federal lawsuit — Franciscan Alliance v. Becerra — challenging the mandate in a continuation of a long legal battle stemming from a similar rule enacted by the Obama administration in 2016. 

Religious medical groups including Franciscan Alliance, Christian Medical and Dental Society, and Specialty Physicians of Illinois fought to to stop the requirement from taking effect.

Goodrich applauded the decision on Twitter Monday, adding that “the Admin has declined to appeal to #SCOTUS — meaning this win is FINAL.” 

According to Goodrich, the fight will continue in a similar case pending in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is expected to issue a decision in the coming weeks. 

Mandating ‘unconscionable’ procedures

If finalized, Biden’s rule would have empowered the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to force hospitals and doctors to perform gender-transition surgeries, in addition to expanding the Obama-era version of the rule to include abortion.  

The rule revised Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act to add “sexual orientation and gender identity” and “reproductive health care services” including “pregnancy termination” to existing “protections against discrimination on the basis of sex.” 

It also reversed Trump-era conscience protections that sought to allow medical professionals to opt out of performing procedures against their beliefs.

The proposal met with strong opposition from religious doctors, medical organizations, and the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, which condemned the move in a statement July 27.

“[The] proposed regulations threaten our ability to carry out our healing ministries and others’ to practice medicine,” the bishops wrote. “They mandate health care workers to perform life-altering surgeries to remove perfectly healthy body parts. Assurances that HHS will honor religious freedom laws offer little comfort when HHS is actively fighting court rulings that declared HHS violated religious freedom laws the last time they tried to impose such a mandate. This is a violation of religious freedom and bad medicine.”

The HHS did not respond to CNA’s request for comment.

Canadian fashion retailer runs ad promoting assisted suicide 

null / HQuality/Shutterstock.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 29, 2022 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

A new ad campaign from a Canadian fashion retailer features a terminally ill woman who ended her life by assisted suicide.

“Dying in a hospital is not what’s natural. It’s not what’s soft,” 37-year-old Jennyfer Hatch says at the start of the three-minute video. “In these kinds of moments, you need softness.”

Produced by La Maison Simons, a popular fashion chain better known as Simons, the video has received more than one million views since its release on Oct. 24 — the day after Hatch died. 

Hatch sought medical assistance in dying (MAID) after being diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a group of inherited disorders that affect connective tissues, CBC News reported.

Since Canada legalized assisted suicide in 2016 the number of MAID deaths has increased each year. In 2016 the number of people who chose assisted suicide was 1,018. In 2021 there were 10,064 MAID deaths, making up 3.3% of all deaths in Canada.

The Simons ad, titled “All is beauty,” follows Hatch as she draws in the sand, watches the waves, blows bubbles, and laughs with friends while soft music plays in the background. The words “The most beautiful exit” float across the screen.

“Last breaths are sacred,” Hatch says at one point. “Even though as I seek help to end my life, with all the pain and in these final moments, there is still so much beauty.”

In another, separate video, Peter Simons, chief merchant for the fashion chain, says he felt inspired to tell Hatch’s story after meeting her earlier this year. He insists that it is “not a commercial campaign.”

“It’s more an effort to use our freedom, our voice, and the privilege we have to speak and create every day here in a way that is more about human connection,” he says. “And I think we sincerely believe that companies have a responsibility to participate in communities and to help build the communities that we want to live in tomorrow and leave to our children.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which summarizes Church teaching, explicitly condemns euthanasia. 

“Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible,” it says. “Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.”

It also forbids “an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering,” saying that it “constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator.”

Simons did not respond to a request for comment by time of publication.