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Catholic prison ministry makes good use of large donation of Bible study materials

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CNA Staff, Feb 20, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Jerry Trzeciak leads a lot of Catholic retreats. But the participants aren’t your typical parishioners, and they live in a place where not many people have the courage to go. 

For the past several years, Trzeciak has worked with the Texas Department of Corrections as a volunteer chaplain in the Jim Ferguson Unit, located in Midway, Texas, which has a maximum capacity of over 2,000 men and mainly houses those who are violent and gang-affiliated.

Working with a Catholic lay group called Kolbe Prison Ministries (KPM), Trzeciak and his fellow volunteers are admitted to the prisons to lead three-day retreats for the inmates, usually about 66 at a time. The volunteers share their faith in talks, pray with the incarcerated men or women, and give them opportunities to attend Mass or Communion services. After the face-to-face retreat ends, the volunteers are able to provide the inmates with follow-up education, including Bible studies and OCIA (formerly RCIA).

KPM’s work with the inmates — bolstered in recent years by a large donation of study materials from Ascension, a Pennsylvania-based Catholic publisher — has changed lives, Trzeciak says. 

“The retreat is always received positively, and it’s amazing to see not only the growth of the ministry but the growth and the witnessing to the way the Holy Spirit works,” said Trzeciak, a retired sales and marketing professional and a parishioner at St. Anthony of Padua Parish near Houston. 

“Without a doubt, we hear this cliche, but I just can’t tell you how much God rewards those who do the corporal works of mercy, and in particular those folks who do prison ministry, because Jesus knows it’s difficult. It’s not easy to go in there, right? It’s not for everybody. And when you extend yourself, when you put those fears aside, when you put self aside for what God wants, he just rewards you constantly. It’s just a constant blessing, a gift.”

Jerry Trzeciak, a Catholic prison ministry volunteer from Texas. Credit: Photo courtesy of Jerry Trzeciak
Jerry Trzeciak, a Catholic prison ministry volunteer from Texas. Credit: Photo courtesy of Jerry Trzeciak

Security measures in the prison mean the likelihood of any harm coming to a prison ministry volunteer are very low. But needless to say, the idea of entering a maximum security prison at all — let alone with the intention of sharing Jesus with the inmates — can be intimidating and takes some getting used to. The key, Trzeciak said, is to as much as possible come in with a nonjudgmental, loving attitude. 

“Generally speaking, folks don’t have a positive image of prison inmates,” he commented to CNA. 

“The majority of the prisons that we go into are high security, maximum security units. And for many folks, until they’ve gone in once or twice or three times, they can be a little uncomfortable.”

Perhaps in part because it is such a challenging call, Catholic prison ministries across the United States have struggled for years to attract volunteers and, with often meager financial resources, provide the materials needed to ignite or nurture the faith of men and women in prison after the volunteers leave. 

But that changed — at least in Texas — in March 2022, when Catholic publisher Ascension connected with KPM to coordinate a donation of $338,000 worth of Bible study materials related to Ascension’s flagship Bible study, “The Bible Timeline: The Story of Salvation,” a 24-session program presented by Jeff Cavins. Ascension is known, among other things, for producing Father Mike Schmitz’s “Bible in a Year” podcast. 

Thanks to the blockbuster donation, Kolbe says it now has nearly 400 inmates participating in “Bible Timeline” Bible studies at facilities across Texas and other states. Trzeciak said they had been using the “Bible Timeline” before the donation and that he has seen the course foster “amazing” growth in the faith of incarcerated men and women. He said the inmates are often interested in talking about forgiveness — both for others and for themselves. 

“It’s just amazing to see the growth in the men and women due to the ‘Bible Timeline’ courses,” he said.

Ascension, in a press release, added that inmates have reported to them that they “feel much more confident and able to respond to questions about the Catholic faith and practice from fellow inmates of other faiths.”

The retreats given by KPM are not exclusive to Catholic inmates; any inmate is welcome to attend, though Trzeciak said Catholic inmates are generally the most enthusiastic to participate. Some inmates come for the free food but stay for the content. 

“From our standpoint, if it’s the food that brings them in, praise God, because again, by the end of that day three, the Lord has worked his miracles,” Trzeciak commented. 

“It’s closed to no one, open to everybody. And I believe that, in its own way, just really builds a faith-based community in the institution by making it more inclusive, as opposed to exclusive.”

Education initiative seeks to bolster Catholic schools with ‘treasury’ of Church’s tradition

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CNA Staff, Feb 20, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

A K–12 education initiative out of the Catholic University of America (CUA) seeks to bolster what its director calls “the distinctive excellence of Catholic education” by offering school accreditation and fostering professional development of Catholic school leadership around the country. 

The Institute for the Transformation of Catholic Education (ITCE) was founded at CUA in October 2021 following several years of consultation and exploration of how the university might contribute more to Catholic education in the United States. 

Daryl Hagan, the director of ITCE, told CNA that one consultant suggested that CUA “found an institute that would coordinate the delivery of a variety of programs and services aimed at strengthening leadership and instruction in Catholic schools.” 

The institute would do so by “utilizing the diversity of expertise found across the departments and units of the university,” Hagan said. 

CUA is home to several hundred full-time and part-time academic staff. The university says on its website that the school “served as the center of Catholic education in the United States throughout the first half of the 20th century.”

Hagan told CNA the institute “advances the distinctive excellence of Catholic education as a gift for each person and for society.”

It accomplishes this in part through “school accreditation, teacher and leader degree and professional development programs, and research,” Hagan said. 

The ITCE does work in six states, eight archdioceses, and nearly 300 Catholic schools, serving just under 100,000 students.

Among its offerings is Lumen Accreditation, a certification program that ITCE says presents “a framework of guiding principles for K–12 Catholic schools” that helps schools “align their community more fully to the example and teaching of Christ.”

Rob Bridges, the president of Cathedral High School in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, told CNA that the school was “very happy to partner with ITCE, as our mission aligns wonderfully with theirs.” 

“[W]e are part of the pilot group for the program and would definitely recommend them to any Catholic school interested in enhancing their focus on their mission,” Bridges said. “We used their material to lead a beginning-of-the-year all-educator retreat and also for our board of directors retreat in November.”

ITCE also offers Catholic educators a program called Insight, which it describes as “the first social and emotional learning professional development program for K-12 Catholic school educators.”

First developed in the 1960s, social-emotional learning (SEL) places emphasis on social and emotional skills in the classroom. ITCE’s curriculum uses its 10-part program to discuss pointedly Catholic topics such as “forgiveness, justice, and mercy” and answer questions such as “Who is the human person?” 

Jeff Kummer, who serves as president of St. John Paul the Great Catholic High School in the Archdiocese of Denver, said it was “paramount” for the school to “select a mission-aligned accrediting partner.”

“Our Catholic identity permeates all aspects of school life — from curriculum development to hiring and retention practices to back-office processes,” Kummer said. 

“Based on our experience with the team at ITCE, we are confident that Lumen Accreditation will not simply tolerate our Catholic principles but will support them and allow them to guide the entire accreditation process,” he said.  

“The result will be a Catholic high school poised to meet high expectations in curricular, pedagogical, and organizational areas but most importantly to achieve the spiritual and evangelistic goals at JPG as well.” 

“We feel blessed and grateful to be a part of the inaugural Lumen cohort, which is the fruit of much prayer and discernment on the part of both our organizations!” he added.

Hagan said the ITCE is funded through benefactors. The initiative, he said, has thus far “served hundreds of Catholic educators through conference presentations, a webinar, retreats, and tailored professional development programs for Catholic dioceses and schools.”

“We foster a vision of education and formation that is rooted in Christ, draws from the great treasury of the Church’s tradition, and aims at the full flourishing of the human person in wisdom, virtue, and holiness,” he said.

Alabama Supreme Court rules that frozen embryos are children under state law

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 20, 2024 / 06:31 am (CNA).

The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that frozen human embryos constitute children under state statute, a decision that could have wide-reaching effects on in vitro fertilization and other medical concerns there.

The nine-judge court said in the 8-1 ruling that the state's "Wrongful Death of a Minor Act" is "sweeping and unqualified," and that its provisions extend to children "regardless of their location."

"It applies to all children, born and unborn, without limitation," the ruling said. "It is not the role of this Court to craft a new limitation based on our own view of what is or is not wise public policy."

The court said that assessment was "especially true where, as here, the People of [Alabama] have adopted a Constitutional amendment directly aimed at stopping courts from excluding 'unborn life' from legal protection."

Alabama voters in 2018 approved a state constitutional amendment affirming "the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children," while in 2019 the state enacted a near-total ban on abortions, one that went fully into effect with the repeal of Roe v. Wade in 2022.

The state high court's ruling came following a lawsuit brought by several parents whose frozen embryos had been accidentally destroyed at a fertility clinic. The plaintiffs had argued that the destruction fell under the state's Wrongful Death of a Minor Act.

In the decision the justices cited, in part, the Bible, including passages from Genesis affirming the sanctity of human life, as well as commentary from Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin.

The justices in their ruling said the phrase "minor child" means "the same thing in the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act as it does in everyday parlance: 'an unborn or recently born' individual member of the human species, from fertilization until the age of majority."

"Nothing about the Act narrows that definition to unborn children who are physically 'in utero'," the justices said. "Instead, the Act provides a cause of action for the death of any 'minor child,' without exception or limitation."

What would Thomas Aquinas make of AI?

An illustration of the topic of Thomas Aquinas and AI created by DALL-E, a text-to-image model native to ChatGPT. / Credit: DALL-E/OpenAI

CNA Staff, Feb 20, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

What would Thomas Aquinas think of artificial intelligence (AI), and what does a large language model think of Thomas Aquinas? According to one German theologian, the Catholic saint and doctor of the Church can contribute to contemporary discussions about AI’s risks and its role in society. 

In an interview with CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, Thomas Marschler, who holds the Chair of Dogmatics at the University of Augsburg, said: “Of course, Thomas could not have foreseen how the world’s technology would develop in the 800 years since his birth. No one in his time could have imagined that machines would one day be invented that would use computer technology to solve problems in a similar way to intelligent human beings or even surpass them.”

But while St. Thomas’ work contains no direct pronouncements on AI — nor on space travel or quantum physics, for that matter — the work of Aquinas sheds a light on AI’s profound philosophical and ethical aspects, the German theologian said.

“For instance, when the phenomenon of artificial intelligence is used as a strong argument in favor of a naturalistic view of humans — here Thomas can save us from erroneous conclusions with his insights into the nature of the spirit-soul and its abilities, into the uniqueness of spiritual consciousness and its personal carrier,” Marschler told CNA Deutsch.

St. Thomas also encourages Catholics “to think about whether what is technically feasible is always what we should implement in our actions,” he added.

“The latest technology is not always what helps us to achieve the true goal of our lives and to become good and happy as people who are images of God in their spiritual souls.”

After all, Thomas Aquinas is known as the “Angelic Doctor” due to his virtues, particularly his purity and profound intellectual work, and his comprehensive theological writings on angels.

Marschler noted there were already chatbots on the internet that used AI to answer questions in the role of Thomas Aquinas. “However, reading the works of Thomas is probably still the best way to really get to know him,” he said.

An illustration of the topic of Thomas Aquinas and AI created by DALL-E, a text-to-image model native to ChatGPT. Credit: DALL-E/OpenAI
An illustration of the topic of Thomas Aquinas and AI created by DALL-E, a text-to-image model native to ChatGPT. Credit: DALL-E/OpenAI

‘A pretty forward-thinking guy’

When asking ChatGPT what it makes of Thomas Aquinas, the answer is to the point: “I view Aquinas as a seminal figure in Western philosophy and theology, particularly known for his integration of Aristotelian philosophy with Christian doctrine, which was groundbreaking for his time,” adding he “remains influential in Christian theology and philosophy.”

The chatbot Grok on X, when in fun mode, has a different take on Aquinas: “I think he made some significant contributions to the fields of philosophy and theology,” Grok said. “However, I must admit that his views on certain topics, such as women and heretics, were less than ideal from a modern perspective. But hey, nobody’s perfect, right? And considering the time he lived in, he was a pretty forward-thinking guy.”

The resurgence of St. Thomas

For anyone interested in encountering the actual thought of Aquinas, Marschler suggests the YouTube channel and work of the Thomistic Institute in Washington, D.C., emphasizing that “Dominicans who cultivate and develop the Thomistic heritage are also active in France and Italy.”

“The resurgence of interest in Thomistic thought, particularly in the English-speaking world, indicates the enduring relevance of Aquinas’ teachings,” Marschler added.

Reflecting on the broader impact of Aquinas’ work, Marschler highlighted the eventual recognition of Aquinas as a doctor of the Church. 

“His canonization in 1323 and designation as a Church teacher in 1567 recognized his authority as a ‘universal teacher.’ Despite some resistance from other theological schools, Aquinas’ thought has profoundly shaped Catholic theology to the extent that understanding contemporary theologians like Yves Congar or Karl Rahner is almost impossible without reference to Aquinas.”

Francisco and Jacinta: brother and sister saints who were seers at Fatima

Official portrait of Francisco and Jacinta Marto, designed by Silvia Patricio. Courtesy of the Fatima Shrine. / null

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 20, 2024 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Every Feb. 20, the Catholic Church celebrates Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marto, two of the little shepherd seers of Fatima. Both were born in Aljustrel, a small village located a little more than a half-mile from the town of Fatima in Portugal. 

Francisco was born in 1908 and Jacinta two years later. From an early age, the siblings learned to take care of each other and to accompany their cousin Lucia dos Santos, who used to talk to them about Jesus. 

All three tended sheep in the beautiful fields of their native region. Like many children of their age, they spent much of the day interspersing work — indispensable for the livelihood of their impoverished families — with play. It was to these three that the Blessed Mother appeared to them and said: “Pray, pray much and make sacrifices for sinners, for many souls go to hell because there is no one to sacrifice and pray for them.” 

Francisco and Jacinta died very young, shortly after the apparitions, while Lucia survived for many years, becoming a Discalced Carmelite until her death on Feb. 13, 2005, at the age of 97 in the Carmelite convent of Santa Teresa in Coimbra. 

After the apparitions

From May 13 to Oct. 13, 1917, a lady appeared to the three children on several occasions. They bravely endured slander, insults, misunderstandings, and even imprisonment for telling what they saw and heard. But from time to time they were reportedly heard to say: “If they kill us, it doesn’t matter; we are going to heaven.”

After the apparitions, Jacinta and Francisco resumed their simple lives, as did Lucia. Our Lady explicitly asked Lucia to attend school. Jacinta and Francisco did the same when they were old enough to do so. 

Every day, on their way to the little school in the village, they would pass by the Church and stop to greet Jesus in the Eucharist, kneeling down. Many used to accompany them with joy, well aware of who they were: the children that God chose to bring a message to humanity.

Just three children

Francisco, knowing that he would not live long because this was announced to him, said one day to Lucia: “You go to school, I will stay here with Jesus in hiding.” From that day on, after school, the girls would always find him in the church, praying in the place closest to the tabernacle, in deep recollection. 

Of the three, little Francis was the most given to prayer because he wanted, with his prayers, to console God, so offended by the sins of men. 

On one occasion Lucia asked him: “Francis, what do you prefer more, to console the Lord or to convert sinners?” He answered: “I prefer to console the Lord... did you not see how sad Our Lady was when she told us that men should no longer offend the Lord, who is already so offended? I would like to console the Lord and then convert sinners so that they will no longer offend the Lord.” After a while he continued: “Soon I will be in heaven. And when I get there, I will console Our Lord and Our Lady very much.”

Jacinta, for her part, participated daily in holy Mass. Her desire was to receive the Eucharist as often as possible. She offered everything for the conversion of sinners and to make reparation for the offenses done to God. She loved to be with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. 

Redeeming sorrow  

Shortly after the fourth apparition, Jacinta found a rope. The children agreed to cut it in three and to tie it around their waists, over their skin, as an expression of sacrifice and mortification. This caused them great pain, as Lucia would tell many years later. The Virgin then consoled them by telling them that Jesus was very happy with their sacrifices, but that he did not want them to sleep with the ropes any longer. And so they removed them. 

Jacinta was granted the vision of the sufferings of the Supreme Pontiff. “I saw him in a very large house, kneeling, with his face in his hands, and he was weeping. Outside there were many people; some were throwing stones, others were cursing and swearing,” she said.

The children kept the pope constantly in mind and offered three Hail Marys for him after each rosary. Their closeness to the Mother of God had immensely strengthened the intercessory power of their prayers. Many people — sometimes entire families — came to them to bring their intentions to Our Lady.

On one occasion, a mother asked Jacinta to pray for a son who had left home like a prodigal son. Days later, the young man returned, asked for forgiveness, and told his family that after having spent everything he had, stolen and been in jail, something inexplicable touched his heart and he decided to turn away from everything, running one night to the forest to think. Feeling lost at that moment, with his life ruined, he knelt down crying and prayed. At that moment, he had a vision: Jacinta was in front of him; she took him by the hand and led him to a path. 

This was to be the beginning of the boy’s return home. The story would reach the ears of everyone in town, until someone dared to ask Jacinta if she had really met the boy, but she answered that she had not, and that she did not know him either. The girl admitted that she had been praying and praying to Our Lady for his return, just as that disconsolate mother had asked her to do.

Francisco: ‘I am going to Paradise’

On Dec. 23, 1918, Francisco and Jacinta fell seriously ill with bronchopneumonia. At that time an epidemic was ravaging many parts of Europe. 

Francisco deteriorated little by little in the following weeks. He asked to receive his first Communion for which he prepared himself diligently. Still ill, he fasted diligently and prepared to go to confession. The peace he radiated on the day of his first confession affected everyone around him.  

“I am going to Paradise; but from there I will pray much to Jesus and Our Lady to take you up there too soon,” Francisco told Lucia and Jacinta. The next day, on April 4, 1919, the child left for the Father’s house.

Jacinta: ‘Ask the Immaculate Heart for peace ’

Jacinta suffered greatly at the death of her brother. In the meantime, her own illness was getting worse. The day came when she had to be taken to the hospital in Vila Nova. From there she would return home with a “sore in her chest.” Amid her pains, she confided to her cousin: “I suffer much, but I offer everything for the conversion of sinners and to make amends to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”

When she did not improve, she was transferred to the hospital in Lisbon. Before leaving, she managed to tell her cousin Lucia: “It will be a short time before I go to heaven... Tell all the people that God grants us graces through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Let them ask her for them, that the Heart of Jesus wants the Immaculate Heart of Mary to be venerated at his side, that they ask for peace from the Immaculate Heart, which God entrusted to her.“

Jacinta underwent a surgical procedure in which two ribs were removed from her left side. At that point she was left with a wide sore the size of a hand. The pain she felt was excruciating, but even so, she never ceased to invoke Our Lady and to offer her pain for the salvation of sinners. 

On Feb. 20, 1920, Jacinta asked for the sacraments, went to confession, and begged to receive communion. Minutes later she died. Jacinta was just 10 years old. 

Two holy children, treasures of the Church

The bodies of Francisco and Jacinta were transferred to the Shrine of Fatima, where their remains are buried. Years afterward, exhumations took place. When the tomb of Francisco was opened, it could be seen that the rosary that was placed on his chest on the day of his burial was entangled between the fingers of his hands. Jacinta’s body, exhumed 15 years after her death, was found incorrupt.

“Contemplate like Francisco and love like Jacinta“ was the motto with which these two visionaries of Our Lady of Fatima were beatified by St. John Paul II on May 13, 2000. Pope Francis canonized them on May 13, 2017, in Fatima, as part of the celebrations for the 100th anniversary of Our Lady’s apparitions.

This article was originally published by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language partner, and has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Texas priest arrested over allegation of sexual misconduct with minor

Father Fernando Gonzalez, / Credit: Cameron County Sheriff’s Department

CNA Staff, Feb 19, 2024 / 14:51 pm (CNA).

A priest in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, has been arrested after being accused of sexual misconduct with a minor victim. 

Brownsville Bishop Daniel Flores said in a statement last week that diocesan officials had “received an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor by Father Fernando Gonzalez.”

Flores had received the report in early February from the diocesan victim’s assistance coordinator. The following day he “removed [Gonzalez] from active ministry” and “prohibited him from exercising any priestly ministry anywhere.” 

“The individual who came forward, who is now an adult, spoke to the Diocesan Victim’s Assistance Coordinator and was advised to report the allegation to the police,” the bishop said. “The investigation is in the hands of law enforcement and is ongoing. The diocese will fully cooperate with the investigation.”

Law enforcement reportedly arrested the priest last week. The Cameron County Sheriff’s Department lists Gonzalez as arrested on charges of sexual abuse of a child and “trafficking of persons.” His total bond appeared to be set at $600,000. 

The Cameron County District Attorney’s office told local media that as part of his bond conditions Gonzalez “must install an ankle monitor before release, surrender his passport, and not leave Cameron County” while the case is pending.

Prior to the charges the priest had served as pastor of St. Luke’s Catholic Church in Brownsville. As of Monday Gonzalez had been removed from the parish website’s list of parish staff.

“I am deeply saddened and ask you to join me as I pray for the individual who came forward and the family, and all the parties affected, including parishioners and the clergy across our diocese who tend to their faithful with fidelity and compassion,” Flores said in his statement.

Rome to host 7th Day of the Catacombs, opportunity to reflect on early Christians

An archaeological guide provided historical information and answered questions during a visit to the catacombs by delegates of the Synod on Synodality. Early Christians gathered within the catacombs for funeral rites and to honor the martyrs. Rome, Italy. Oct. 12, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Feb 19, 2024 / 13:50 pm (CNA).

Rome's catacombs will open to the public for free guided tours and moments of prayer and reflection on Saturday, March 2, as part of the 7th edition of Day of the Catacombs. 

A press release circulated by the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, the event’s sponsor, announced that the theme for this year’s edition of the Day of the Catacombs is “from remembrance to prayer.” 

Observing that “the pope wanted this year to be dedicated to prayer,” the press release went on to note that this event fits “into the preparatory journey to the Jubilee of 2025.” 

The press release emphasized that visiting the catacombs is an opportunity to “experience an encounter with the memories and testimonies of the first Christian community of Rome,” and that they remind us of the “people, events, stories that are extremely significant and important even for the present.” 

“So evocative memory, directly perceived and experienced, cannot fail to arouse profound reflection and therefore, for believers, prayer; a prayer addressed to the Lord, God of life and savior, but also to the Martyrs and to those who witnessed their faith, whose example and whose intercession support us on the present journey,” the press release continued. 

The commission was established by Pope Pius IX in 1852 "to take care of the ancient sacred cemeteries, look after their preventive preservation, further explorations, research and study” as well as to “safeguard the oldest mementos of the early Christian centuries, the outstanding monuments and venerable Basilicas in Rome.” 

Visitors will have the opportunity to see many ancient symbols “that speak of prayer,” such as the 3rd century Cubicle of the Velata in the Catacomb of Priscilla, as well as early art depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments. 

The catacombs of Rome are Paleochristian burial sites scattered around the city that were dug underground during the height of the Christian persecution. Here many of Rome’s early popes, martyrs, and Christian families were entombed. 

These sites assumed a deeply significant place in popular piety and have long been a place of encounter, prayer, and reflection for many of the Church’s saints, including St. Jerome and St. Philip Neri.

On March 2, several of Rome’s most prominent catacombs will be open to the public including the Catacomb of Priscilla, the Catacomb of Saint Agnes (where the third century Roman martyr was buried), the Catacomb of Callixtus (which contains the burial sites of popes between the second and fourth centuries), the Catacombs of San Sebastiano, the Catacombs of Domitilla, the Catacombs of Sts. Marcellino and Pietro, and the Catacomb of San Pancrazio. 

Access to the catacombs is free of charge and a full list of events, including musical concerts, lectures, and guided tours, as well as kid-friendly events, can be found at the event’s official website.  

The day will conclude with Holy Mass, celebrated by Bishop Pasquale Iacobone, Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, in the Catacombs of Priscilla, in the Basilica of San Silvestro at 6:30 p.m. CET. 

PHOTOS: Cardinal Rugambwa takes possession of Rome’s ‘Church of the Artists’

Cardinal Protase Rugambwa at Santa Maria in Montesanto, Feb. 18 / Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Feb 19, 2024 / 12:30 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Protase Rugambwa took possession of his titular church, Santa Maria in Montesanto — one of the twin churches that sits in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo — on Sunday.

The Rite of Possession of a titular church takes place within the context of a solemn high Mass. After the procession of the cardinal into the church and the opening liturgical prayers, a papal bull assigning the titular church to the cardinal is read aloud.

Cardinal Protase Rugambwa at Santa Maria in Montesanto, Feb. 18, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Cardinal Protase Rugambwa at Santa Maria in Montesanto, Feb. 18, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

A titular church is located within the geographic boundaries of the Diocese of Rome and is assigned to a cardinal, symbolizing the bond between the cardinal and the pope, as well as the communion between the local and universal Church. 

During the Feb. 18 ceremony, Cardinal Rugambwa was joined by priests from the Diocese of Rome as well as by senior prelates including Cardinals Arthur Roche, Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle, and Robert Sarah. Also in attendance was Sister Raffaella Petrini, the Secretary General of the Governorate of the Vatican City, the first woman to hold the position. 

Santa Maria in Montesanto is one of the “twin” churches that sits in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo. The piazza, or square, is one of the main arteries in Rome and is also known as the “Trident,” as it is where the three main streets of Via di Ripetta, Via del Corso, and Via del Babuino intersect. 

Procession at Santa Maria in Montesanto, Feb. 18, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Procession at Santa Maria in Montesanto, Feb. 18, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

The Baroque church was constructed in the second half of the 17th century over the site of an earlier church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and under the care of the Carmelite Friars. 

The original plan was designed by the architect Carlo Rainaldi, under the patronage of Cardinal Girolamo Gastaldi and Pope Alexander VII. Though work was interrupted following the death of Pope Alexander in 1667, it resumed several years under the supervision of Gian Lorenzo Bernini. 

Santa Maria in Montesanto was entrusted to the Carmelites until 1825 when Pope Leo XII ordered its restoration and it was subsequently given the little of minor basilica. 

In 1951 Pope Pius XII established the Mass of the Artists and the church was selected as its seat. The tradition of the Mass of the Artists continues in this church today and is held every Sunday from the end of October to the end of June. 

Reflecting this bond between the Church and artists, the church has also been the location of numerous art installations and has been the place of numerous funeral services of prominent Italian artists. It was also the place of the 1904 episcopal ordination of Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope St. John XXIII.

Pope Francis elevated Rugambwa to the College of Cardinals in the consistory held on Sep. 30, 2023. On Nov. 10, 2023, Rugambwa was appointed Metropolitan Archbishop of Tabora. 

Cardinal Protase Rugambwa at Santa Maria in Montesanto, Feb. 18, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Cardinal Protase Rugambwa at Santa Maria in Montesanto, Feb. 18, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

He is Tanzania’s second cardinal elector. Cardinal Polycarp Pengo, Tanzania’s other cardinal elector, will turn 80 on Aug. 5, 2024, and lose his privilege to vote in future conclaves. 

Rugambwa’s ecclesiastical career is characterized by an experience in different pastoral positions, as well as his experience in the Roman Curia. 

He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Rulenge-Ngara, on Sept. 2, 1990, by Pope St. John Paul II, during his 10-day apostolic visit to Tanzania and several other African countries. 

Following his ordination he served as parish vicar of Mabira, was a professor of liturgy at the minor seminary of Katote, and also served as chaplain of Biharamulo Hospital. 

Rugambwa left Tanzania to go to Rome where he earned a doctorate in pastoral theology from the Pontifical Lateran University in 1998. He subsequently returned to his native Tanzania where he served as spiritual director of seminarians and director of vocations for the Diocese of Rulenge. From 2000 to 2002 he was Vicar General of the Diocese of Rulenge. 

He was called back to Rome where from 2002-2008 he worked in the then-Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (now the Dicastery for Evangelization). 

In January 2008, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Rugambwa as the bishop of the Diocese of Kigoma and in 2012 he was appointed as adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and president of the Pontifical Mission Societies.

Archbishop Vigneron rallies Catholics to engage in a spiritual ‘campaign’ this Lent

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron imposes ashes during Ash Wednesday Mass on Feb. 14, 2024, at St. Aloysius Parish in downtown Detroit. Archbishop Vigneron encouraged Catholics to think of this Lenten season as a military campaign proclaiming the kingdom of Christ. / Credit: Valaurian Waller/Detroit Catholic

Detroit, Mich., Feb 19, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron issued a spiritual call to arms to Detroit’s Catholics this Lenten season, explaining how by accepting ashes, they have engaged in a 40-day campaign to overcome sin.

The archbishop gave his traditional preaching during the midday Ash Wednesday Mass on Feb. 14 at St. Aloysius Parish, a few blocks from Detroit’s Campus Martius Park, home of the Michigan Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument.

Reflecting on the martial language featured in the collect of the Mass — “Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint” — Vigneron invited the faithful to think of Lent beyond the usual reference of 40 days in the desert or as a spiritual retreat.

“Maybe as you were thinking this morning about beginning Lent and taking the ashes of repentance, you didn’t realize you were enlisting in a military campaign,” Vigneron said. “But that is one way the Church has for us to think about what we are doing over the next 40 days.”

Lent is a very personal journey, the archbishop said, but is a journey one makes with the catechumens who will be entering the Church at Easter and the entire faithful, who will be renewing their baptismal vows and their identity as Jesus’ disciples. 

The Lenten season is compromised of three main pillars: prayer, fasting and almsgiving, all of which help us strive to be better followers of Christ, Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron said. Credit: Valaurian Waller/Detroit Catholic
The Lenten season is compromised of three main pillars: prayer, fasting and almsgiving, all of which help us strive to be better followers of Christ, Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron said. Credit: Valaurian Waller/Detroit Catholic

It is a communal campaign centered on three core tenets prescribed in the Scriptures: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. But the archbishop challenged the congregation to think “outside the box” of what Lent can be.

“This is a way for the Church to think about Lent as a military campaign, so that we can have some new energy,” Vigneron said. “I’m in my 76th year, so from the age of reason, about 70 of these I’ve done. But this might be a fresh perspective for all of us to think about how Lent is a kind of military campaign that we are enlisting in today by taking up the ashes.”

By choosing to come to church on Ash Wednesday and accepting the ashes placed upon one’s forehead, people are deciding to “re-up” in the campaign to be ambassadors for Christ, to live for something beyond one’s pleasure and self-satisfaction, he said.

“The Holy Spirit brought you here today, inspired you to leave your pew and come forward and let the ashes be imposed on you,” Vigneron said. “You want to be a soldier, a warrior in the great war led by our captain, Jesus Christ. The war [is] against sin. The war [is] to establish the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of holiness, the kingdom of charity.”

Father Mario Amore of St. Aloysius Parish greets parishioners after Mass. Archbishop Allen Vigneron challenged Catholics gathered on Ash Wednesday to consider how God is calling them to engage in a great campaign to win back the world for Christ. Credit: Valaurian Waller/Detroit Catholic
Father Mario Amore of St. Aloysius Parish greets parishioners after Mass. Archbishop Allen Vigneron challenged Catholics gathered on Ash Wednesday to consider how God is calling them to engage in a great campaign to win back the world for Christ. Credit: Valaurian Waller/Detroit Catholic

The faithful were handed information about the Lenten campaign and ways to get involved and grow in holiness, including the Archdiocese of Detroit’s I AM HERE Lenten Challenge, featuring daily trivia questions on what’s happening during Mass, powered by the Hallow app.

Vigneron said even if a person hasn’t figured out what he or she wants to do for Lent, it’s not too late to reflect and hear what God is calling them to take on during this holy season.

But he did point to a key resource that will power them along the journey: the Eucharist.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron said the Eucharist serves as the faithful's "ration" during this Lenten campaign. Credit: Valaurian Waller/Detroit Catholic
Archbishop Allen Vigneron said the Eucharist serves as the faithful's "ration" during this Lenten campaign. Credit: Valaurian Waller/Detroit Catholic

“During this year of Eucharistic revival, realize the Eucharist is our ration for us as soldiers in this great struggle,” Vigneron said. “This is the most important struggle anyone can be engaged with in life: the struggle to be a saint, the struggle to be God’s daughter, to be God’s son, the struggle to be the person that God created me to be, that he wants me to be by the power of the grace of baptism.”

And even as it seems this battle is just beginning this Lenten season, Vigneron assured the congregation of its outcome.

“I promise you victory,” Vigneron said. “I promise you we have won. That is what Easter means. Yes, we engage in the struggle, but we know how the war ends. It ends in Christ’s victory.”

This article was originally published at Detroit Catholic and is reprinted here with permission.

Are all religions equal? A Catholic priest responds

Symbols of several of the world's leading religions. / Credit: Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 19, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Father Eduardo Hayen Cuarón, director of the weekly newspaper Presencia of the Diocese of Ciudad Juárez in Mexico, recently responded to the question of whether all religions are equal, good, and true.

Responding on X Feb. 4, the priest addressed the following question: “I am an open-minded person and I believe that all religions are equal; they are all like rivers that one way or another flow into the sea. As long as religions lead man to do good, any religion is good and true, right?”

Hayen responded that “it is good to have an open mind to try to perceive all that is good in religions. Without a doubt, Muslims are very observant in prayer and fasting; Buddhists also mortify the body, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are tenacious in promoting their magazine by knocking on doors.”

“But judging a religion by some good elements it may have is not a valid criterion to say that it is the true religion. Not all religions are true. No,” the priest said.

“If we affirm that there is only one God,” the Mexican priest continued, “then there is only one divine truth, and therefore one religion is the true one. So be careful not to be so open-minded, so open that you are eventually left in a frightening spiritual confusion. Chesterton said that ‘having an open mind is like having an open mouth: It’s not an end, but a means.’ And the end, he said, is to close your mouth on something solid.”

The priest also said that at one point in his life he also believed “the tale that any religion leads to God and that therefore we should not bother finding the true one.”

“Many religions teach things contrary to those of other religions, so not all of them are true. Don’t get confused. If there is only one God, only one religion is the true one,” he continued.

In conclusion, Hayen said that “always living with an open mind can be a problem in finding something solid on which you can base your life. I hope your search is sincere, because when it comes to discerning what the true religion is, you must go as deep as possible. If you find it, your life will have hit the nail on the head.”

Which is the true religion?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes the right of every person to religious freedom and states that it is a duty of Christians to inspire in every person the love of truth and good.

No. 2105 of the catechism points out in this regard that “the duty of offering God genuine worship concerns man both individually and socially. This is ‘the traditional Catholic teaching on the moral duty of individuals and societies toward the true religion and the one Church of Christ.’” 

The catechism explains that “the social duty of Christians is to respect and awaken in each man the love of the true and the good. It requires them to make known the worship of the one true religion which subsists in the Catholic and apostolic Church.”

“Christians are called to be the light of the world. Thus, the Church shows forth the kingship of Christ over all creation and in particular over human societies,” the catechism teaches.

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