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Art as a leap of faith: Kansas artist quits job to paint murals to revitalize parish

A digital commission from 2023 by Mattie Karr. The digital painting is based on Zechariah 2:5, "For I will be unto her a wall of fire round about and will be the glory in the midst of her." The image symbolizes that anyone who is baptized is anointed priest, prophet, and king, with a robe symbolizing priest, sandals for prophet, and a ring and crown for king. The pose recalls someone taking a "blind step of faith." / Courtesy: Mattie Karr

CNA Staff, Feb 22, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

An artist in Kansas is revitalizing her parish by painting two 15-foot-tall triptychs of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the presentation of Jesus with parishioners as the subjects. 

Mattie Karr’s three-paneled recently-completed murals will be installed at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Kansas City, Kansas.

Karr studied illustration at the University of Kansas but left behind her dreams of filmmaking to move into a more secure corporate role after school. But when Father Anthony Oulette, pastor of Holy Name, discovered Karr was an artist, he told her about his idea for the parish.

“He took me to the church and was like well, I have this idea; I have tons of ideas to renovate the church,” Karr recalled. “And he told me on the left side there would be Pentecost and St. Michael at the top and Mary in the middle, and then on the right side would be St. Joseph presenting Jesus at the Temple with Gabriel at the top. He wanted them to mimic the beautiful stained-glass windows that we have.”

Karr accepted the mural commission in 2020, and in September 2022, she left her full-time job and launched her career in sacred art, beginning with the Holy Name commission. Oulette organized fundraising and built the panels for the art in his garage.

The two triptychs of Pentecost and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple by Mattie Karr at Holy Name Parish in Kansas City, Kansas. Credit: Photo courtesy of Mattie Karr
The two triptychs of Pentecost and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple by Mattie Karr at Holy Name Parish in Kansas City, Kansas. Credit: Photo courtesy of Mattie Karr

“I remember leading up to it, this voice in my head, like ‘what if God’s not even real.’ It was crazy,” she said. “I love Jesus so much and I know that he is real, but there was really this temptation of like, you’re gonna base your entire life and your entire career and your safety, security, money off of this person who you think is alive and is real — like what if God’s not even real?” 

But the leap of faith slowly began to prove itself. 

When Karr needed visual references for the figures in the art, she and Oulette decided to ask parishioners to volunteer. They both had the same parishioner in mind for Mary: Leticia DeCaigny.

When Karr was taking photos of the parishioners in costume for reference, she found out there was a deeper connection for DeCaigny.

DeCaigny and her husband lost their 8-year-old son after his five-year battle with cancer. 

“She was like, ‘We lost our son to cancer about 10 years ago, so I know what it’s like to walk with the suffering son. I feel very close to Mary and this is a confirmation that she sees me and that she’s with me,’” Karr recalled DeCaigny saying. “She came with her husband; her husband’s in it too as a disciple … and he was just in tears, and it was very moving.”

This affected Karr’s view of the project. 

“This project really is not mine: that’ what I felt like in my heart,” she recalled. “I’m participating in this, I’m painting it, and gathering models, but this is so much bigger than me. Because there’s no way I could have known that, I just chose her because I liked her hair. I didn’t know that her story was really linked to Mary. And so that was a huge gift I think for her, but also for me.”

“It’s not just a piece of art,” she continued, “but it’s really something to impact the people who are going to be involved in it and the people who are going to see it, for hopefully many many years.”

A digital commission from 2023 by Mattie Karr. The digital painting is based on Zechariah 2:5, "For I will be unto her a wall of fire round about and will be the glory in the midst of her." The image symbolizes that anyone who is baptized is anointed priest prophet and king, with a robe symbolizing priest, sandals for prophet, and a ring and crown for king. The pose recalls someone taking a "blind step of faith." Credit: Courtesy of Mattie Karr
A digital commission from 2023 by Mattie Karr. The digital painting is based on Zechariah 2:5, "For I will be unto her a wall of fire round about and will be the glory in the midst of her." The image symbolizes that anyone who is baptized is anointed priest prophet and king, with a robe symbolizing priest, sandals for prophet, and a ring and crown for king. The pose recalls someone taking a "blind step of faith." Credit: Courtesy of Mattie Karr

The scenes Oulette chose mean something special to the parish, Karr explained. 

“The Lord has such unique things to say to all of us,” she said. “My parish, for instance, is very Holy Spirit-driven. I don’t know if I’d call it a charismatic parish per se, but we love the Holy Spirit, and so having a scene of Pentecost is really important for our parish. And then our name is Holy Name of Jesus, and so the other [triptych] is the scene of Jesus the day of his circumcision, which is when he would receive his holy name.”

Karr’s depiction of the presentation of Jesus features Joseph holding Jesus before a priest, when he was presented with his holy name, with Joseph’s ancestors gathered in the background, holding candles. The archangel Gabriel looks upon the scene from above, holding a lantern over the blue, candlelit scene.

“And so these paintings, they could be replicated in another parish, but I don’t know if they would have the same effect,” she said. “The Holy Spirit has something so unique for each community, for each person, because he knows us so well.”

The Pentecost and Holy Name triptychs are scheduled to be installed at Holy Name by Easter or Pentecost, Karr said, noting that much of the work is volunteer-based. 

When asked about the importance of art, Karr shared about the intimate effect beauty can have. 

“[Art] really helps draw people out of despair and depression,” Karr said. “I’ll be the first one to tell you that beauty has drawn me out of my own depression.”

Karr recalls a moment when she was painting the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. 

“Even with this triptych, I was painting little baby Jesus at a time that I was not doing very well, and just looking in his eyes and looking at his face, it was like he was communicating with me, like I was having this conversation with him,” she said. “And it just broke through in a way that I can’t really explain.” 

Catholic mural artist Mattie Karr at work. The Kansas-based artist quit her job to revitalize her parish by painting two 15-foot-tall triptychs of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the presentation of Jesus with parishioners as the subjects. Credit: Courtesy of Mattie Karr
Catholic mural artist Mattie Karr at work. The Kansas-based artist quit her job to revitalize her parish by painting two 15-foot-tall triptychs of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the presentation of Jesus with parishioners as the subjects. Credit: Courtesy of Mattie Karr

When asked about her own faith journey, Karr shared the role of beauty and art in it. 

“I always wanted to go on an adventure for God,” Karr said. “This was something that was really a desire of mine from a young age. I remember reading ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ as a family, and my dad explaining how Aslan was like God and Jesus, and how there are all these analogies. I think deep down I just knew that if I said yes to God I’d be on a wonderful adventure just like Narnia.”

"Defenses Down" commission by Mattie Karr, oil on canvas, 2023. Credit: Mattie Karr
"Defenses Down" commission by Mattie Karr, oil on canvas, 2023. Credit: Mattie Karr

“And obviously life is difficult,” she continued. “It wasn’t always this adventure and I got into some pretty dark moments … in college, [I] had some pretty dark depression. But God, he rescued me in real, personal, and deep ways through those moments of depression.” 

After an experience of someone praying over her, Karr said that her work in healing ministries and art helped strengthen her faith. 

“I call it my tomb year. There was a summer, in 2018, that I was just dead; I just felt depressed and I hated God and I didn’t understand — and he seemed far from me,” she said. “I wasn’t living this adventure that I thought I would, I just felt embarrassed all the time and insecure and I didn’t think that anyone really loved me even though they said they did — just depression, really. And he came through in a really powerful way through somebody praying over me.”

Through that experience, Karr became more involved in healing ministries and says that since then she “really [has known] that Jesus is really good, and he loves me, and he wants to be in every part of my life.”

“But I think that has really played a role in my art, too, because I think that art can have a really important role in healing; because our wounds are so dark and ugly and we often times think that we are dark and ugly, and so we mask up and try to create these false identities and these false selves to make us feel better,” she said. “But beauty has this way of just shining a light through that and being vulnerable and getting to the heart of the issue.”

Our Lady Undoer of Knots commission. Painting by Mattie Karr. Credit: Mattie Karr
Our Lady Undoer of Knots commission. Painting by Mattie Karr. Credit: Mattie Karr

Karr says it’s important that churches are different from other buildings. 

“I don’t want my church to look just like another retreat hall or a school or something. I want it to look different because church is different; because Mass is different; Mass is supernatural,” she continued. “We’re communing with God; we’re receiving God into our bodies, so it should look different.”

“The Catholic Church used to be the leader in the arts and I don’t think we’re the leader in the arts anymore,” she said. “People are creating beautiful art in Hollywood and in video games. And our churches … we’re just lacking so much, is what I can see. And so if we’re going to be Catholic artists we need to be excellent. We need to strive for excellence.”

“If you want your space to be beautiful, you need to invest in it,” Karr said. 

“We need art in our churches to draw people up higher and to recognize when you come into church, it’s different than any other place that you’re going to be,” she said. 

Art is now Karr’s full-time job. She takes commissions for churches and individuals, sells prints on her website, and does live wedding paintings. Karr shares project updates for the Holy Name triptychs on her social media.

Catholic mural artist Mattie Karr at work. The Kansas-based artist quit her job to revitalize her parish by painting two 15-foot-tall triptychs of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the presentation of Jesus with parishioners as the subjects. Courtesy of Mattie Karr
Catholic mural artist Mattie Karr at work. The Kansas-based artist quit her job to revitalize her parish by painting two 15-foot-tall triptychs of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the presentation of Jesus with parishioners as the subjects. Courtesy of Mattie Karr

New Opus Dei program ‘Youth’ hopes to answer young people’s questions

null / Credit: muratart/Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 22, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Young people around the world can now find answers to the most common questions about Catholic doctrine in the “Youth” program, a new initiative from Opus Dei.

“The project consists of material for young people, from video testimonies on social initiatives and podcasts with prayer material to infographics explaining Catholic doctrine, case studies on friendship and family life, and articles exploring the writings and teachings of St. Josemaría,” the prelature explained on its website.

Through a live broadcast on YouTube, representatives of various Opus Dei information offices in different parts of the world delved into the meaning of “Youth” and the impact they hope it will have on young Catholics.

“We try to work on content that answers the needs, questions, and dreams that young people have. Trying to explain in accessible language what Opus Dei is,” said Almudena about the information office in Spain.

She also noted that the program is inspired by the charism of “The Work” — a common way Opus Dei refers to its mission — and how young people have always been an integral part of its mission in the Church and in the world.

Opus Dei’s “Youth” program is inspired by the charisma of “the Work” and how youth has always been an integral part of the mission of the personal prelature in the Church and in the world. Credit: Opus Dei
Opus Dei’s “Youth” program is inspired by the charisma of “the Work” and how youth has always been an integral part of the mission of the personal prelature in the Church and in the world. Credit: Opus Dei

St. Josemaría Escrivá was just 26 years old when he founded Opus Dei. The presenters pointed out that at that time and “by the will of God, something big began with a handful of young people. God counts on young people today to do great things.”

The “Youth” initiative is the result of the combined efforts of people from many countries around the world, including the United States, Colombia, Canada, Venezuela, Argentina, Chile, and Spain.

Although the program is designed to help bring young people closer to the specific charism of the prelature, in the live broadcast members of the various information offices noted that the program can be useful “for anyone who is looking into the faith.”

The kickoff event included testimonies from some members of the content production team and young people who are part of the project and who shared their testimonies in videos.

The project was initially launched in English and Spanish. You can find “Youth” material on Instagram, Spotify, and YouTube.

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

Texas attorney general targets Catholic nonprofit, alleges it facilitates illegal immigration

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at a news conference in Washington, D.C., on May 12, 2021. / Credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 21, 2024 / 21:15 pm (CNA).

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is trying to shut down a Catholic nonprofit organization in El Paso based on allegations that the group may be facilitating illegal immigration, harboring immigrants who entered the country illegally, and engaging in human smuggling. 

Paxton filed a lawsuit against the nonprofit Annunciation House, which has operated in the state for nearly 50 years. The lawsuit asks the District Court of El Paso County to revoke the organization’s nonprofit registration, which would prohibit it from continuing to operate in Texas.

“The chaos at the southern border has created an environment where [nongovernmental organizations] funded with taxpayer money from the Biden administration facilitate astonishing horrors including human smuggling,” Paxton said in a statement. “While the federal government perpetuates the lawlessness destroying this country, my office works day-in and day-out to hold these organizations responsible for worsening illegal immigration.”

In response to the lawsuit, Annunciation House issued a statement that called Paxton’s actions “illegal, immoral, and anti-faith” and his allegations “unfounded.” According to the statement, the organization has “provided hospitality to hundreds of thousands of refugees for over [46] years” and that if its activities are illegal, “so too is the work of our local hospitals, schools, and food banks.”

“Annunciation House has kept hundreds of thousands of refugees coming through our city off the streets and [has] given them food,” the statement read. “The work helps serve our local businesses, our city, and immigration officials to keep people off the streets and give them a shelter while they come through our community.”

The attorney general’s office first approached Annunciation House on Feb. 7 of this year with concerns that it may be facilitating illegal immigration. Paxton’s office ordered the nonprofit to immediately turn over various documents and records to examine whether it is engaged in illegal activities. 

Annunciation House’s lawyers requested 30 days to respond, but the attorney general’s office refused. Rather, Paxton’s office informed the organization that if it did not provide the requested documents by Feb. 8, which was the following day, that it would “be in noncompliance.”

Annunciation House quickly filed a lawsuit against the attorney general’s office on Feb. 8, which argues that the demand violates the nonprofit’s right to due process. In its public statement, Annunciation House stated that it wants the court to decide which documents the attorney general’s office is legally entitled to receive. 

“There is nothing illegal about asking a court to decide a person’s rights,” the statement read. “The [attorney general’s office] has now made explicit that its real goal is not records but to shut down the organization. It has stated that it considers it a crime for a Catholic organization to provide shelter to refugees.”

A spokesperson for Annunciation House declined to speak about the lawsuit when reached by CNA but said the organization will hold a news conference on Friday, Feb. 23.

When contacted by CNA about Annunciation House’s response to the legal action, the attorney general’s office referred back to Paxton’s original statement.

Cardinal Dolan on St. Patrick’s funeral: ‘We don’t do FBI checks on people who want to be buried’

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. / Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

CNA Staff, Feb 21, 2024 / 18:05 pm (CNA).

Priests at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City were surprised by the “irreverence and disrespect” that occurred during a funeral for a transgender activist last week, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said in his first public comments on it. 

“We didn’t know the background. We don’t do FBI checks on people who want to be buried,” Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said during his podcast Tuesday. 

He said cathedral staff try to be welcoming when someone requests a funeral.

“All they know is somebody called and said, ‘Our dear friend died. We’d love to have the funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It would be a great source of consolation. She’s a Catholic. It would be a great source of consolation for us, her family and friends.’ And of course, the priest at the cathedral said, ‘Come on in. You’re more than welcome,’” Dolan said. 

The priests at St. Patrick’s made a decision at the beginning of the service not to celebrate a funeral Mass but to conduct a funeral service with no Mass instead. 

It was the right thing to do given the situation, the cardinal said. 

“I applaud our priests who made a quick decision that, ‘Uh-oh, with behavior like this, we can’t do a Mass. We’ll do the Liturgy of the Word, which is the readings, and the sermon, and the prayers of petition, and the Our Father, and then we’ll stop it. The Mass is not going to go on,’” Dolan said. “Bravo for our cathedral people, who knew nothing about this that was coming up.” 

Meanwhile, though, supporters of the deceased are demanding an apology from the Archdiocese of New York for what they described as “cutting short” the Feb. 15 funeral service of Cecilia Gentili, 52, a male who identified as a woman who died Feb. 6. Supporters of Gentili also want an apology for what they called “the painfully dismissive and exclusionary language” used in a statement released by the pastor of the cathedral after the funeral. 

“The current narrative from St. Patrick’s Cathedral leadership that they were manipulated by funeral organizers of the identity of Ms. Gentili is simply not true,” an organization called Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society said in a written statement. “Funeral organizers advised cathedral staff to look up Cecilia Gentili, her work, and the community she served. To now place responsibility on the funeral organizers to have affirmatively disclosed the gender identity of their loved one is imposing a burden upon the mourners that would not be expected of a non-transgender person.”

However, the New York Times reported that the funeral’s organizer did not disclose to the cathedral that Gentili, who died Feb. 6 at age 52, was a biological man who identified as a woman.

“I kept it under wraps,” Ceyeye Doroshow, the service’s organizer, told the outlet.

The organization also suggested that cathedral staff violated the Catholic Church’s law. 

“Still reeling from the pain of Cecilia’s loss, community members are asking for an explanation for this decision which seemingly violated Catholic Canon Law governing the denial of funeral [M]asses,” the organization said. “… Ms. Gentili’s service ended an hour earlier than had been scheduled, thus denying her the full funeral Mass that was agreed upon.” 

Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, contacted by CNA on Wednesday said the archdiocese had no immediate comment on the Gentili supporters’ statement. 

Asked by email who decided to replace the funeral Mass with the shorter funeral service, Zwilling said the decision “was made by the priests at the cathedral after witnessing what was taking place.” 

A video of the service posted online last week shows that shortly after the procession down the aisle, the presider, Father Edward Dougherty, looking out into the crowd, said with a laugh: “Well, welcome to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Except on Easter Sunday, we don’t really have a crowd that is this well turned out, you know?” 

After a short delay, the crowd responded with more than 40 seconds of clapping, standing, and cheering, with occasional chants of “Cecilia.” 

During the ovation, the video shows, a priest dressed in black approached Dougherty and told him, “No Eucharist,” eventually followed with the words “a funeral service, no Mass.” 

Outburst at funeral

As CNA reported last week, the prayers of the faithful during the service included a call for “Cecilia’s community” to “have access to life-affirming health care” — an apparent reference to gender transitioning — to raucous applause. 

Two of the three eulogies were critical of Catholic teaching on human sexuality. The organizer of the funeral, Doroshow, a male who identifies as a woman, who wore a purple dress, said Gentili “worked so hard to make sure girls like me, boys like you are safe, are grounded, got health care, that sex workers are free.” A standing ovation followed the “sex workers” reference. 

A man who delivered a third eulogy used a Spanish word for “whore” several times. Another man lauded the deceased as “This whore, this great whore, St. Cecilia, mother of all whores.” Raucous applause and a standing ovation followed. 

On Tuesday, Cardinal Dolan addressed the Gentili funeral about five minutes into his podcast after discussing a few other topics, including the recent shooting at the Super Bowl parade in Kansas City. Dolan mentioned that he had received “a note of solidarity” from Harrison Butker, the Kansas Chiefs kicker, about what Dolan described as “the irreverence and disrespect” of the crowd at the funeral, and the “very irreverent and disrespectful” eulogies. 

The cardinal asked the cathedral staff to celebrate a Mass of reparation after the funeral service, which the pastor, Father Enrique Salvo, said last week was done. 

“In a way, it’s redundant,” Dolan said Tuesday. “Because every Mass, every Mass is the renewal of the infinitely powerful act of reparation that Jesus did on the cross, correct? He’s the one that made reparation. We can’t do much. All we can do is unite with him on his cross in his sacred act of reparation. There is a bit of an arrow in the quiver of the Church’s treasury of prayer that if a particularly sacrilegious or scandalous act has occurred in a church, it would be good to offer a Mass in particular reparation for that act of irreverence. So we did that.” 

Salvo released a written statement Feb. 17, two days after the funeral, acknowledging what he called “outrage over the scandalous behavior” during Gentili’s funeral. 

“The cathedral only knew that family and friends were requesting a funeral Mass for a Catholic, and had no idea our welcome and prayer would be degraded in such a sacrilegious and deceptive way,” Salvo said in the statement. 

Some mainstream media news stories last week hailed the funeral as a shift in the Catholic Church’s approach to gender identity. Dolan expressed frustration Tuesday with criticism by some Catholics of the cathedral staff and his archdiocese. 

“We have a lot of misunderstanding. Why in the world our people out there still believe what the secular press reports is beyond me,” Dolan said. 

Later, he added: “Our policy at the cathedral is to be as open and welcoming of anybody who wants to be buried from here. And we had absolutely no idea about this. But why people still think the cathedral purposely did that? Well, a lot of people always want to believe the worst. And they don’t like us any more than the protesters did, in the cathedral. But who knows.” 

Two of Father Rupnik’s alleged victims speak publicly for the first time

Lawyer Laura Sgro, left, sits with Gloria Branciani, center, and Marjiam Kovač, during a press conference in Rome on Feb. 21, 2024. Branciani and Kovač allege that they were subjected to spiritual, psychological and sexual abuse by famous mosaic artist Father Marko Rupnik. / Credit: Matthew Santucci/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Feb 21, 2024 / 17:43 pm (CNA).

Two alleged abuse victims of mosaic artist Father Marko Rupnik spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday, detailing the tactics the former Jesuit allegedly used to manipulate them.

Italian Gloria Branciani and Slovenian-born Marjiam Kovač, former sisters of the now-dissolved Loyola Community in Slovenia, shared their stories at a crowded press conference in the Rome offices of the trade union for Italian journalists.

They were joined by their high-profile lawyer, Laura Sgrò, who has represented clients in the VatiLeaks scandal as well as the family of Emanuela Orlandi, an Italian girl who disappeared under mysterious circumstances decades ago.

Branciani, 59, reflected on how her introduction into the community was propelled by a desire to grow her spiritual life but wound up being subjected to spiritual, psychological, and physical abuse, which amounted to “the total loss of my identity.” 

Detailing the dynamics of Rupnik’s alleged manipulation, Branciani recounted how this multifaceted abuse reflected a deeper and more intimate “abuse of conscience” and was a total violation of the deep intimacy of her spiritual life.

She alleged that Rupnik used her interest in art and culture “to put pressure on my personality,” which allowed him to affect a change in her “ideas, the way of thinking, the way of behaving, the way of dressing.”

“So with an imposition of his spiritual, theological, and artistic vision, he had an ever greater power over me, an exclusive power,” Branciani said.

In one example, she claimed that while in his art studio, which was also the place where their spiritual direction sessions were held, Rupnik, while painting, was “staring at parts of my body” and afterward performed a sexually suggestive gesture on Branciani, which Rupnik allegedly likened to an act of biblical divine revelation that expressed “the wisdom of the father.”

Father Marko Rupnik. Credit: Screen shot/ACI Prensa
Father Marko Rupnik. Credit: Screen shot/ACI Prensa

Rupnik has been at the center of a nearly six-year-long scandal centered on his alleged abuse of over 20 religious sisters spanning across three decades. After initially deciding in October 2022 not to pursue sanctions against Rupnik because the statute of limitation had expired, the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) reopened the case after Pope Francis lifted the statute of limitations in October 2023. That decision came on the heels of public outcry over the news that Rupnik had been incardinated in a diocese in Slovenia where he could continue his priestly ministry.

On Wednesday, Vatican News reported that the DDF’s investigation was underway and that “it will now be necessary to study the acquired documentation in order to identify which procedures can and should be implemented.”

Rupnik has not commented publicly about the allegations but his collaborator at the Aletti Center — an art and theology school founded by Rupnik in Rome — has said the allegations are unproven.

Marjiam Kovač spoke for only 10 minutes, describing how the ideals of religious life, along with the sisters’ “training and obedience and trust in the people who guided us,” were “exploited for abuses of various kinds, of conscience, of power, spiritual, psychic, physical, and often even sexual.”

According to Kovač, 20 sisters were abused out of a community of 40 women.

For Kovač, the press conference was an opportunity to break the “silence” that victims have faced, which she characterized as “a rubber wall, which bounces off every attempt to cure the unhealthy situation.”

“We are sorry because the institutions, instead of taking inspiration from our experience to review their way of acting, continue to close themselves in silence,” she said.

Following their remarks, Sgrò, their lawyer, said she hoped the example of the two women would encourage other victims to speak out to civil as well as Church authorities.

“And they must not limit themselves from going to ask the bishop or the Mother Superior for help. They must go and report to the state courts, to the state authorities. Go to the police … go to a lawyer, go to the prosecutor’s office, because he who has done that to Gloria must go to prison,” Sgrò said. 

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the organization Bishop Accountability, a Boston-based organization that has tracked clerical abuse in the Catholic Church for the past 20 years, moderated the press conference.

She praised the women’s courage for speaking out publicly against Rupnik, whom she characterized as “a powerful cleric who’s been protected at the highest levels of the Jesuits and the Vatican.”

At one point, Doyle held up a poster with the images of Rupnik alongside Marcial Maciel and former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, declaring that like them, Rupnik is “charismatic … famous, a friend of popes and others in high places … like them, he is a serial predator.”

Two of Father Rupnik’s alleged victims speak publicly for the first time

Lawyer Laura Sgro, left, sits with Gloria Branciani, center, and Marjiam Kovač, during a press conference in Rome on Feb. 21, 2024. Branciani and Kovač allege that they were subjected to spiritual, psychological and sexual abuse by famous mosaic artist Father Marko Rupnik. / Credit: Matthew Santucci/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Feb 21, 2024 / 17:43 pm (CNA).

Two alleged abuse victims of mosaic artist Father Marko Rupnik spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday, detailing the tactics the former Jesuit allegedly used to manipulate them.

Italian Gloria Branciani and Slovenian-born Marjiam Kovač, former sisters of the now-dissolved Loyola Community in Slovenia, shared their stories at a crowded press conference in the Rome offices of the trade union for Italian journalists.

They were joined by their high-profile lawyer, Laura Sgrò, who has represented clients in the VatiLeaks scandal as well as the family of Emanuela Orlandi, an Italian girl who disappeared under mysterious circumstances decades ago.

Branciani, 59, reflected on how her introduction into the community was propelled by a desire to grow her spiritual life but wound up being subjected to spiritual, psychological, and physical abuse, which amounted to “the total loss of my identity.” 

Detailing the dynamics of Rupnik’s alleged manipulation, Branciani recounted how this multifaceted abuse reflected a deeper and more intimate “abuse of conscience” and was a total violation of the deep intimacy of her spiritual life.

She alleged that Rupnik used her interest in art and culture “to put pressure on my personality,” which allowed him to affect a change in her “ideas, the way of thinking, the way of behaving, the way of dressing.”

“So with an imposition of his spiritual, theological, and artistic vision, he had an ever greater power over me, an exclusive power,” Branciani said.

In one example, she claimed that while in his art studio, which was also the place where their spiritual direction sessions were held, Rupnik, while painting, was “staring at parts of my body” and afterward performed a sexually suggestive gesture on Branciani, which Rupnik allegedly likened to an act of biblical divine revelation that expressed “the wisdom of the father.”

Father Marko Rupnik. Credit: Screen shot/ACI Prensa
Father Marko Rupnik. Credit: Screen shot/ACI Prensa

Rupnik has been at the center of a nearly six-year-long scandal centered on his alleged abuse of over 20 religious sisters spanning across three decades. After initially deciding in October 2022 not to pursue sanctions against Rupnik because the statute of limitation had expired, the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) reopened the case after Pope Francis lifted the statute of limitations in October 2023. That decision came on the heels of public outcry over the news that Rupnik had been incardinated in a diocese in Slovenia where he could continue his priestly ministry.

On Wednesday, Vatican News reported that the DDF’s investigation was underway and that “it will now be necessary to study the acquired documentation in order to identify which procedures can and should be implemented.”

Rupnik has not commented publicly about the allegations but his collaborator at the Aletti Center — an art and theology school founded by Rupnik in Rome — has said the allegations are unproven.

Marjiam Kovač spoke for only 10 minutes, describing how the ideals of religious life, along with the sisters’ “training and obedience and trust in the people who guided us,” were “exploited for abuses of various kinds, of conscience, of power, spiritual, psychic, physical, and often even sexual.”

According to Kovač, 20 sisters were abused out of a community of 40 women.

For Kovač, the press conference was an opportunity to break the “silence” that victims have faced, which she characterized as “a rubber wall, which bounces off every attempt to cure the unhealthy situation.”

“We are sorry because the institutions, instead of taking inspiration from our experience to review their way of acting, continue to close themselves in silence,” she said.

Following their remarks, Sgrò, their lawyer, said she hoped the example of the two women would encourage other victims to speak out to civil as well as Church authorities.

“And they must not limit themselves from going to ask the bishop or the Mother Superior for help. They must go and report to the state courts, to the state authorities. Go to the police … go to a lawyer, go to the prosecutor’s office, because he who has done that to Gloria must go to prison,” Sgrò said. 

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the organization Bishop Accountability, a Boston-based organization that has tracked clerical abuse in the Catholic Church for the past 20 years, moderated the press conference.

She praised the women’s courage for speaking out publicly against Rupnik, whom she characterized as “a powerful cleric who’s been protected at the highest levels of the Jesuits and the Vatican.”

At one point, Doyle held up a poster with the images of Rupnik alongside Marcial Maciel and former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, declaring that like them, Rupnik is “charismatic … famous, a friend of popes and others in high places … like them, he is a serial predator.”

2024 International Congress of Families to be held in Mexico

Guadalajara Cathedral (Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady), Mexico. / Credit: Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 21, 2024 / 09:00 am (CNA).

With the theme “All Families Can Be Better,” the city of Guadalajara in Jalisco state, Mexico, will host the International Congress of Families (CIFAM) from March 1–3.

CIFAM 2024, an opportunity for meeting, learning, and intersectoral and interreligious collaboration, seeks to unite and equip leaders, organizations, and families to affirm, celebrate, and strengthen the family institution as the natural foundation of society.

The purpose of the event is to give continuity to the experience lived at the XIV World Congress of Families held in Mexico City in 2022.

The president of the congress in Mexico, Fernando Milanés, announced at a Jan. 31 press conference that the event will provide a time for “learning and collaboration to strengthen” the family.

Milanés recognized that families face innumerable challenges and thus CIFAM aims to “equip them so that they can be a source of security and comprehensive health, identity and belonging, planning, and purpose.”

Lupita Venegas, owner of Valora Radio and a spokesperson for the congress, highlighted the importance of addressing the various ailments that affect families, such as infidelity, depression, and domestic violence. She emphasized that CIFAM 2024 represents an opportunity to strengthen families and “change the world one family at a time.”

Karen Ahued, another spokesperson for CIFAM, focused on women and said that the congress will provide an opportunity to “improve our relationships with our children” and to seek “personal reconciliation and heal many wounds that are hard to bear and difficult to accept.”

The event will have four programs: general, youth, adolescents, and children. Among the prominent specialists will be Dr. Catherine L’Ecuyer, a world leader on the impact of technology on education, and the psychologist Isabel Rojas Estapé. International popularizers and specialists in family and education will also be presented, such as Dr. María Calvo and Dr. Rafael Guerrero.

CIFAM 2024 will have renowned speakers from Mexico, including Dr. José Medina Mora, national president of COPARMEX (Employer Confederation of the Mexican Republic); Dr. Julia Borbolla, a specialist in children and adolescents; and Dr. José Antonio Lozano, president of the governing boards of the Pan American University and its business school. The youth program will also include recognized talents and influencers such as Minesweeper and Rorro Echávez.

In addition, the event will feature the Family Expo, a space with more than 120 booths where various institutions will offer programs, activities, products, and services for families. 

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

Over 100 relics of Christ, Holy Family, saints to be displayed at New Jersey parish

The Titulus Crucis, the title panel of the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified. Written in Latin and Greek, it says "Jesus the Nazarene King of the Jews." / Daniel Ibanez

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 21, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

An exhibit that includes more than 100 relics of Jesus Christ, the Holy Family, and numerous saints will be exhibited at a parish in northern New Jersey on Saturday, Feb. 24, from noon to 7 p.m.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Oratory in Montclair, New Jersey, will host the exhibit at its Capozzelli Hall on 94 Pine Street. The parish is located in the Archdiocese of Newark, about 20 miles west of New York City.

“I think it’s going to be an experience for people — especially for an exhibit this large,” Joe Santoro, the regional delegate to the United States for the International Crusade for Holy Relics (ICHR), told CNA.

Santoro is supplying the relics for the exhibit, which he obtained personally through his work to preserve these holy objects. He said his preservation of the relics is “saving them from places where they’re not going to be honored in the appropriate way.”

The exhibit includes a handful of relics from the passion of Jesus Christ: a small splinter of the cross, a piece of the crown of thorns, a piece of Christ’s tomb, and a piece of the column on which Christ was whipped before his crucifixion. It also includes relics from the Nativity, such as a piece of the Blessed Mother’s veil, a piece of Christ’s crib, and parts of the bones of the three Wise Men.

Other relics include a piece of skin and blood from St. Padre Pio’s stigmata, a piece of St. John Paul II’s hair, and the scarf of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (the first American saint). The exhibit will also include relics from the evangelists, the apostles, and other saints and martyrs.

The relics will be displayed in three sections: one for relics related to the Passion, one for the Nativity, and one for all of the other relics.

“It is a privilege and a joy to host a relics exhibit of this magnitude,” Father Giandomenico Flora, the rector at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Oratory, told CNA. 

“Some of them date back to biblical times and others are relics of saints of our time,” Flora said. “To have such an exhibition of relics is a blessing for the church [and for] people who will attend the event because it gives the opportunity to pray and to ask for particular graces.” 

Santoro said the relics can help the faithful become closer to God and help them meditate on the Passion of Christ near the beginning of Lent. “People are drawn to them,” he said.

“A relic doesn’t contain any magical power or anything like that,” Santoro added. “The people have to bring their faith and God performs these miracles through these great men and women.” 

The Catholic Church has three classifications for relics. A first-class relic is any part of a saint’s body, such as hair, blood, or bones, or objects directly associated with Christ, such as a piece of the cross, a piece of the tomb, or a piece of his crib. A second-class relic is any item that was used by a saint during his or her life. A third-class relic is an item that touches a first-class relic.

Although this exhibition is a one-off event, Santoro told CNA that he hopes there can be a tour in the near future. He said this weekend is “the kickoff to see how it goes.”

Pro-life advocates fight against euthanasia expansions across Canada, Australia

null / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Feb 21, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Pro-life advocates around the world are working to counteract continued efforts by euthanasia activists to pass and expand laws allowing doctors to help kill their patients. 

Euthanasia made global headlines this month when former Dutch Prime Minister Dries van Agt and his wife, Eugenie, chose to have themselves euthanized, both at the age of 93. The couple, who had been married for over 60 years, “died hand in hand,” the Dutch Rights Forum said. 

The Netherlands has among the most permissive euthanasia laws in the world, allowing boys and girls as young as 12 to end their own lives if certain conditions are met. Several other European countries — including Portugal, Spain, and Belgium — have also instituted liberal euthanasia regimes. 

In Canada, meanwhile, euthanasia and assisted suicide have been legal for nearly a decade after the government began permitting it in 2016. The Trudeau administration this month postponed until 2027 plans to expand the assisted suicide program to include those suffering from mental illness after a parliamentary report said the country’s health system is “not ready.”

Jack Fonseca, the director of political operations for the Campaign Life Coalition, told CNA that his group is planning a “major protest” at the Canadian Parliament for later this month, one that will “send the message to the prime minister and all elected lawmakers that a three-year delay in expanding euthanasia is not good enough.” 

“We want the government to completely and permanently abandon its plans to allow doctors to kill mentally ill patients and those who are depressed,” Fonseca said.

Fonseca said that Pierre Poilievre, a member of Parliament and the leader of Canada’s Conservative Party, has vowed to repeal the country’s Bill C-7 if he is elected prime minister next year. That law when enacted in 2021 permitted the pending assisted suicide expansion.

“I think every pro-life group in the country will now turn to holding Mr. Poilievre to his promise,” Fonseca said. “This is especially true since Trudeau’s Liberal regime is tanking in the polls, and it seems inevitable that Conservatives will take power in 2025.”

“Poilievre’s Conservative Party is expected to win the next election with a massive majority,” he said. “So, the pro-life movement is going to use every avenue we can to continually remind Poilievre, and his Conservative caucus, that he must immediately repeal Bill C-7 during his first term, within the first 100 days of his administration.”

In Australia, all six of the country’s states currently allow assisted suicide, or “voluntary assisted dying” (VAD). The Victoria state government is currently undergoing a five-year review of its own assisted suicide program, which it first implemented in 2019. 

That review is merely operational and is not recommending any expansions of the program as it currently stands. But Jasmine Yuen, the Victorian state director of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), told CNA that she wouldn’t “rule out future legislative changes.” 

“I believe VAD advocates will make good use of this review to push through some agendas,” she said, “and the government will use the feedbacks to justify future changes or expansion that could include telehealth services and removing the gag clause to allow doctors to recommend VAD to patients.”

“All pro-life groups, including ACL in Victoria and all states and territories, will be working against any expansion [including] the inclusion of children and other illnesses into the scheme,” Yuen said. 

Other states in Australia permit doctors to initiate conversations about assisted suicide, Yuen noted, though the country’s federal euthanasia law imposes some barriers to the practice.

“It’s a matter of years that we’ll go further down the slippery slope,” she said, “but the pro-life groups will push back as much as we can for the sanctity of life.”

Paul Osborne, a spokesman for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, noted that “one of the most pressing issues at the moment in Australia is the push to allow doctors to undertake euthanasia-related consultations online and over the phone.”

“The Church says this is abhorrent,” Osborne said, “and the Australian government at this stage agrees that it is a bridge too far.”

Osborne pointed to a document released by the bishops’ conference there last year on the topic of euthanasia. “To Witness and to Accompany with Christian Hope” is meant as “a service to those who are called to attend to the spiritual and pastoral needs of patients who access or seek to access services that are designed to terminate a person’s life,” the manual says.

The letter instructed that priests administering sacraments to potentially suicidal individuals must endeavor to steer them away from that choice by explaining how the practice is “not consistent with respect for God’s gift of life.”

“If a patient is resolved upon a course of action, such as euthanasia, which is so clearly and gravely in conflict with the teaching and life of the Church, then — even if the patient believes they are choosing rightly — the patient should nonetheless recognize, or be helped to recognize, that it would not be right for him or her to receive the sacraments,” the bishops wrote in the manual. 

Dr. Moira McQueen, the executive director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, told CNA this month that the country’s euthanasia law “would have to be revoked” to halt the mental illness expansion there, an outcome she called “highly unlikely.”

Daniel Zekveld, a policy analyst for the Canadian Association for Reformed Political Action, said in a statement to CNA that the group has been opposed to the country’s suicide program expansion since 2021 via its Care Not Kill campaign.

“Like many Canadians, medical professionals, and other organizations, Care Not Kill has emphasized the importance of suicide prevention instead of suicide assistance,” he said. “Expanding euthanasia to those with mental illness encourages a culture of neglect and devalues the lives of those who are suffering.”

Care Not Kill has conducted extensive outreach to that end, Zekveld said, including a campaign that distributed 200,000 flyers. The group has also encouraged political engagement and has submitted briefs to the government commission studying the expansion. 

“These efforts will continue until the government puts a stop to the expansion of euthanasia for those with mental illness,” he said. “With another delay scheduled, we now have three additional years to advocate for caring for, not killing, those with mental illness.”

Fonseca, meanwhile, said the Campaign Life Coalition recently helped pass a policy resolution at the National Convention of the Conservative Party of Canada, one meant to further strengthen the party’s stance against euthanasia there. 

“We oppose MAID [medical assistance in dying] for people living with disabilities or mental illness seeking to die based on poverty, homelessness, or inability to receive medical treatment,” the policy said. “Euthanasia must not be an abandonment of people living with genuine needs.”

‘We are not going anywhere’: Knights of Columbus vow to keep up aid to Ukraine

Supreme Knight Patrick E. Kelly, center, and Ukraine State Deputy Youriy Maletskiy give out Easter care packages to Ukrainian refugees in Rava-Ruska, Poland, in April 2022. / Photo credit: Photo by Andrii Gorb, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 21, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Two years since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, the Knights of Columbus are vowing to continue their efforts to deliver material and spiritual aid to suffering and displaced Ukrainians.

So far, the Knights have raised a record $22 million and delivered 7.7 million pounds of supplies to victims of the ongoing war.

Szymon Czyszek, one of the Knights of Columbus’ head relief organizers in Eastern Europe, spoke with CNA to give an update on the Knights’ relief efforts as the Russia-Ukraine war hits its two-year mark. He said that though many across the world have started to become desensitized to the war, innocent Ukrainian civilians continue to suffer under constant bombardment and lack of basic resources.

The Knights of Columbus first announced their plans to help Ukraine just days after the invasion began. With thousands of members of the Knights of Columbus and their families directly in harm’s way, Czyszek said that the Knights felt they had no choice but to help. Now, he said, the need is as great as ever. With many Ukrainian men being killed in the conflict — casualty estimates range from the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands — Czyszek said the country’s many widows and orphans are the most vulnerable.

“The founding mission of the Knights of Columbus was to care for the vulnerable,” Czyszek explained. “Especially to care for the widows and orphans.”

Supreme Knight Patrick E. Kelly gives gifts to children in Lviv, Ukraine, in December 2022. Photo credit: Photo by Andrii Gorb, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus
Supreme Knight Patrick E. Kelly gives gifts to children in Lviv, Ukraine, in December 2022. Photo credit: Photo by Andrii Gorb, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus

“So, we may be far away from New Haven [Connecticut], but we are very close to Father [Michael] McGivney in the work that we are doing,” he continued. “With every care package that we bring, every piece of clothing or medicine, we really want to show people suffering, people of Ukraine, that God has not abandoned them, that God is still present, and that we can be like hands of mercy of Our Lord.”

A Ukrainian woman carries away a Knights of Columbus care package during a charity distribution event in Lviv, Ukraine, in December 2022. Photo credit: Photo by Tamino Petelinšek, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus
A Ukrainian woman carries away a Knights of Columbus care package during a charity distribution event in Lviv, Ukraine, in December 2022. Photo credit: Photo by Tamino Petelinšek, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus

Waking up to air raid alarms, missiles

Czyszek said Ukrainian men, women, and children in all parts of the country wake up each morning to the “constant” threat of bombings and the reality that “today could be the last day of their life.”

The sound of air raid alarms is also a regular occurrence, Czyszek said.

According to Czyszek, at this point of the war, 70% of all Ukrainians have experienced the loss or serious injury of a family member or close friend.  

“There’s this sense that people are surrounded by this fear and the sense of death,” he explained.

Not even pregnant and new mothers are safe from the violence, he noted, pointing to a bombing of a Ukrainian maternity hospital in Dnipro in December 2023 that killed six.

“While we try to promote pro-life and defense of life, we see hospitals where women want to take care of and welcome their children, these hospitals are being bombed. That’s the reality that you are facing,” he said.

Helping ‘the suffering body of Christ’

So far, Czyszek said that the Knights of Columbus have been able to help 1.6 million war victims throughout the country with food, medicine, help with shelter, and other necessities.

Their primary focus has been to help women and children as well as disabled and elderly people. To the Knights of Columbus, Czyszek said, war victims are the “suffering body of Christ.”

Father John Kalisch, director of chaplains and spiritual development at the Knights of Columbus, blesses a charity convoy in Lancut, Poland, in April 2022. Looking on is Supreme Knight Patrick E. Kelly, center. Photo credit: Photo by Tamino Petelinšek, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus
Father John Kalisch, director of chaplains and spiritual development at the Knights of Columbus, blesses a charity convoy in Lancut, Poland, in April 2022. Looking on is Supreme Knight Patrick E. Kelly, center. Photo credit: Photo by Tamino Petelinšek, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus

In the face of continued attacks, Czyszek said that the most vulnerable, such as the disabled, are often abandoned and forgotten. He described one situation in Ukraine’s northeastern city of Kharkiv in which many disabled civilians had been left in an apartment building without electricity. Unable to escape because of the lack of working elevators, the people had to wait until Knights of Columbus volunteers found them and helped them out of the building.

“Many of them, unfortunately, were just abandoned. Nobody was taking care of them. But our people were there to help them, bring them wheelchairs, mobility, and really just a sense of hope and a reminder that every person has dignity,” he said.

Although material aid is important, Czyszek said that the Knights, with the help of health care professionals, priests, and religious, are also helping Ukrainian soldiers and war victims with “deep spiritual wounds” get psychological and spiritual aid.

Prayer is central to the Knights’ relief efforts in Ukraine. In addition to their many other programs, the Knights of Columbus are building and equipping chapels for wounded victims and refugees and regularly organizing Masses and rosary events in Ukraine.

According to Czyszek, Ukrainian churches have also been a target of Russian attacks in efforts to erase the country’s cultural and religious heritage. These attacks, Czyszek said, are particularly concerning to the Knights of Columbus.

Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Vitaliy Kryvytskyi of Kyiv–Zhytomyr shares these concerns. He told CNA in October 2023 that the Church in Ukraine is facing extermination

“We don’t have to guess what’s at stake, we’ve all lived [through] the times of the Soviet Union,” Kryvytskyi said. “What will happen, if the Russian Federation enters our territories and continues entering our territories, is going to be practically the same thing that was before, during the Soviet Union.”

Czyszek said that “over 100 churches have already been destroyed in Ukraine.” 

He explained that in Ukraine “churches are not just like pieces of art, but these are the places where people’s identity is formed, and that’s the place that also creates this center of community.”

In response to these attacks, Czyszek said, the Knights of Columbus are partnering with other groups to take scans of Ukrainian churches in harm’s way to preserve and rebuild them after the war.

‘We are not going anywhere’

Despite the risks involved in going into an active war zone, Czyszek said that Knights of Columbus volunteers are resolved to help for as long as the suffering continues. The driving force behind their action, he explained, is that they “see in every person in need, Christ.”

“We pray that one day soon a peace, a just peace, will be restored to Ukraine,” he said. “But until that day, we’ll remain united with our brothers in Ukraine, united in prayer, in charity, and determination.”

“As Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly said,” he continued, “‘The Knights of Columbus are there, and we are not going anywhere.’”