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St. Patrick’s Cathedral offers reparation Mass after ‘scandalous’ funeral for trans activist

St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. / Credit: Richard Trois via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

CNA Staff, Feb 17, 2024 / 13:56 pm (CNA).

The pastor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City said the church has offered a Mass of Reparation after a controversial irreverent funeral service was held there this week for a well-known transgender advocate.

The Manhattan cathedral hosted the Feb. 15 funeral service for Cecilia Gentili, an activist who helped to decriminalize sex work in New York, lobbied for “gender identity” to be added as a protected class to the state’s human rights laws, and was a major fundraiser for transgender causes. Gentili was a man who identified as a woman.

Throughout the liturgy, the presider, Father Edward Dougherty, referred to Gentili with feminine pronouns and described the trans-identifying man as “our sister.” Additionally, during the prayers of the faithful, the reader prayed for so-called gender-affirming health care, while attendees frequently and approvingly referred to Gentili as the “mother of whores.”

On Saturday, Father Enrique Salvo, the pastor of St. Patrick’s, said in a statement on the website of the Archdiocese of New York that Church officials shared in the “outrage over the scandalous behavior at a funeral here at St. Patrick’s Cathedral earlier this week.”

“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.

“That such a scandal occurred at ‘America’s Parish Church’ makes it worse; that it took place as Lent was beginning, the annual 40–day struggle with the forces of sin and darkness, is a potent reminder of how much we need the prayer, reparation, repentance, grace, and mercy to which this holy season invites us,” the priest wrote.

“At [archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s] directive, we have offered an appropriate Mass of Reparation,” Salvo said.

Several mainstream media outlets had framed the event as a breakthrough occasion and a sign of the Catholic Church shifting its teaching — or at least its tone — on sexuality and human anthropology.

Time magazine described the fact that a funeral service for a trans activist was held in a Catholic cathedral as “no small feat,” while The New York Times described the service as “an exuberant piece of political theater.”

Organizers reportedly 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 New York Times.

Pope Francis launches study groups to analyze Synod on Synodality’s key issues

Pope Francis at the Synod on Synodality’s closing Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 29, 2023. / Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Feb 17, 2024 / 10:01 am (CNA).

The Vatican announced Saturday that Pope Francis has launched synodal study groups to analyze key issues ahead of October’s Synod on Synodality assembly.

Pope Francis has issued a chirograph asking the dicasteries of the Roman Curia to collaborate with the General Secretariat of the Synod to establish the study groups for “in-depth analysis” of some of the themes that emerged in the first Synod on Synodality assembly.

The pope did not specify in the chirograph published on Feb. 17 how many groups will be formed, what topics will be studied, or who will participate in the study groups.

The synthesis report published at the end of the first synod assembly lists 75 different “matters for consideration,” including women’s access to diaconal ministry, priestly celibacy, and “Eucharistic hospitality” for interfaith couples. 

These “matters of consideration,” which could not find a consensus in the first synod assembly, are defined as “points on which we have recognized that it is necessary to continue theological, pastoral, and canonical deepening.”

In addition, the synthesis report also calls for the establishment of a “special intercontinental commission of theologians and canonists” to examine the definition and conceptual understanding of the “idea and practice of synodality” and its canonical implications, as well as the establishment of a joint commission of Eastern and Latin theologians, historians, and canonists.

According to Vatican News, the study groups will require a substantial amount of time and will not “directly constitute the material up for discussion in the next session of the synod, which will focus on synodality itself.”

The General Secretariat of the Synod, led by Cardinal Mario Grech, will coordinate the work of the study groups among the dicasteries, which will “involve experts from all continents” following a synodal process, the Vatican’s state media outlet said.

The Vatican also announced on Saturday the dates for the second Synod on Synodality assembly and the appointment of six new consulters to the General Secretariat of the Synod.

The 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops’ second session will take place from Oct. 2 to Oct. 27. The participants in the assembly will arrive in Rome on Sept. 29 to participate in a two-day spiritual retreat ahead of the start of the assembly.

Among the new synod consulters, Pope Francis chose three female professors.

Dr. Tricia Bruce, a sociology professor at Maryville College in Tennessee and president-elect of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, and Dr. Maria Clara Lucchetti Bingemer, a theology professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, are both appointees.

Sister Dr. Birgit Weiler, a German missionary in Peru and theology professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, was also appointed. Weiler is a member of the Congregation of the Medical Missionary Sisters and has lived for more than 35 years in Peru, where she works with the Episcopal Council of Latin America (CELAM) and the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM).

The other appointees are Monsignor Alphonse Borras, a Belgian canon lawyer and specialist in the theology of the diaconate; Father Gilles Routhier, a professor of religious studies at Laval University in Quebec; and Father Ormond Rush, a theology professor at Australian Catholic University. Rush addressed the first synod assembly in October with a speech that focused on Vatican II’s discussion of tradition as the authority for the Synod on Synodality.

Pope Francis launches study groups to analyze Synod on Synodality’s key issues

Pope Francis at the Synod on Synodality’s closing Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 29, 2023. / Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Feb 17, 2024 / 10:01 am (CNA).

The Vatican announced Saturday that Pope Francis has launched synodal study groups to analyze key issues ahead of October’s Synod on Synodality assembly.

Pope Francis has issued a chirograph asking the dicasteries of the Roman Curia to collaborate with the General Secretariat of the Synod to establish the study groups for “in-depth analysis” of some of the themes that emerged in the first Synod on Synodality assembly.

The pope did not specify in the chirograph published on Feb. 17 how many groups will be formed, what topics will be studied, or who will participate in the study groups.

The synthesis report published at the end of the first synod assembly lists 75 different “matters for consideration,” including women’s access to diaconal ministry, priestly celibacy, and “Eucharistic hospitality” for interfaith couples. 

These “matters of consideration,” which could not find a consensus in the first synod assembly, are defined as “points on which we have recognized that it is necessary to continue theological, pastoral, and canonical deepening.”

In addition, the synthesis report also calls for the establishment of a “special intercontinental commission of theologians and canonists” to examine the definition and conceptual understanding of the “idea and practice of synodality” and its canonical implications, as well as the establishment of a joint commission of Eastern and Latin theologians, historians, and canonists.

According to Vatican News, the study groups will require a substantial amount of time and will not “directly constitute the material up for discussion in the next session of the synod, which will focus on synodality itself.”

The General Secretariat of the Synod, led by Cardinal Mario Grech, will coordinate the work of the study groups among the dicasteries, which will “involve experts from all continents” following a synodal process, the Vatican’s state media outlet said.

The Vatican also announced on Saturday the dates for the second Synod on Synodality assembly and the appointment of six new consulters to the General Secretariat of the Synod.

The 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops’ second session will take place from Oct. 2 to Oct. 27. The participants in the assembly will arrive in Rome on Sept. 29 to participate in a two-day spiritual retreat ahead of the start of the assembly.

Among the new synod consulters, Pope Francis chose three female professors.

Dr. Tricia Bruce, a sociology professor at Maryville College in Tennessee and president-elect of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, and Dr. Maria Clara Lucchetti Bingemer, a theology professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, are both appointees.

Sister Dr. Birgit Weiler, a German missionary in Peru and theology professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, was also appointed. Weiler is a member of the Congregation of the Medical Missionary Sisters and has lived for more than 35 years in Peru, where she works with the Episcopal Council of Latin America (CELAM) and the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM).

The other appointees are Monsignor Alphonse Borras, a Belgian canon lawyer and specialist in the theology of the diaconate; Father Gilles Routhier, a professor of religious studies at Laval University in Quebec; and Father Ormond Rush, a theology professor at Australian Catholic University. Rush addressed the first synod assembly in October with a speech that focused on Vatican II’s discussion of tradition as the authority for the Synod on Synodality.

Argentine nun remembered for her smile considered for sainthood

Sister Cecilia María of the Holy Face. / Credit: Dicastery for the Causes of Saints/General Curia of the Discalced Carmelites

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 17, 2024 / 09:00 am (CNA).

The archbishop of Santa Fe de la Vera Cruz in Argentina, Sergio Fenoy, signed the edict that begins the process prior to the opening of the cause of canonization of Sister Cecilia María of the Holy Face, a Carmelite nun from the province of Neuquén who died from cancer in 2016 at the age of 43.

Dated Feb. 14, the edict bears the signature of the archbishop of Santa Fe because the nun lived in the Carmelite monastery located in the archdiocese from 1997 to 2016, the year of her death.

Her testimony of “love and trust in Jesus Christ, even in the midst of the hardest trials, has awakened in many hearts the desire for a greater commitment to Christian life,” the edict states.

Thus “having grown, over the years, her reputation for holiness and for signs,” the beginning of the preliminary process to open her cause for canonization was approved after the postulator, Friar Marco Chiesa, formally requested it. 

The document calls on the faithful to communicate all information from which in some way elements favorable or contrary to the reputation of sanctity of Sister Cecilia María de la Santa Faz can be deduced by emailing [email protected] or by postal mail to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe de la Vera Cruz (Av. Gral. López 2720, Santa Fe, Argentina).

As part of the process, the archdiocese requests that anyone who has any writings by Sister Cecilia to send them in as soon as possible.

The edict will be published for three months in the Santa Fe cathedral, the St. Joseph and St. Teresa Carmelite monastery, and the archdiocesan basilicas and shrines. It will also be published in the official media of the archdiocese as well as in any place with a connection to Sister Cecilia.

Who was Sister Cecilia of the Holy Face?

Cecilia María Sánchez Sorondo was born on Dec. 5, 1973, in San Martín de los Andes in Neuquén province, Argentina. At the age of 24 she entered the Discalced Carmelites monastery in the city of Santa Fe, receiving the name Cecilia María of the Holy Face.

She was outgoing, spontaneous, happy, and embodied in her life friendship with Christ and love for one another. She dedicated herself to prayer and the contemplative life, played the violin, and was known for her sweetness and permanent smile.

She was diagnosed with tongue cancer, and her illness worsened due to lung metastasis, so she had to be hospitalized. But she didn’t stop praying and offering the sufferings she endured, certain that her encounter with God was coming soon.

Her last wish, which she wrote on a piece of paper, was: “I was thinking about what I wanted my funeral to be like. First a little intense prayer, and then a big party for everyone. Don’t forget to pray but don’t forget to celebrate either!”

Her testimony and the photos of her last days went around the world, especially because she kept her characteristic smile until the moment of her death, which occurred in Buenos Aires on June 23, 2016.

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

Seeking peace in Mexico, four bishops meet with organized crime 

St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in Chilpancingo, Mexico. / Credit: Mfrand/Wikimedia Commons

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 17, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Four bishops from the Mexican state of Guerrero recently met with members of organized crime in an effort to seek peace in a region shaken by violent clashes and death.

During a Feb. 14 press conference, Bishop José de Jesús González of the Diocese of Chilpancingo-Chilapa said that the prelates of the area “began to seek dialogue with the [crime] bosses that could bring us peace.” However, he lamented that his goal “was not achieved.”

Accompanying González at the meeting were the archbishop of Acapulco, Leopoldo González; the bishop of Tlapa, Dagoberto Sosa; and the bishop of Ciudad Altamirano, Joel Ocampo.

​The four bishops’ ecclesiastical province in southwestern Mexico has a population of approximately 4.8 million.

The main obstacle to these negotiations, according to González, is that criminals “covet territories.” The prelate pointed out that initially one of the criminal organizations wanted “a truce with their conditions,” but for their rivals “those conditions were not to their liking.”

Incidents of violence have increased in the state of Guerrero in recent months, and taxi drivers and truck drivers have been murdered.

“La Familia Michoacana” is one of the drug trafficking groups fighting for turf in the region along with the “Cartel del Sur” (“Southern Cartel”). Rival gangs include crime organizations such as “Los Tlacos.”

In the ranking of the 50 most violent cities in the world during 2022, prepared by the Citizen Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice, there are 17 Mexican towns. Acapulco ranks 10th on the list.

According to the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System, 1,398 first-degree homicides were recorded in Guerrero throughout 2023. Of those, 1,026 were carried out with firearms.

Mexican president comments on meetings

In a Feb. 15 press conference, the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, was asked about the bishops’ meeting with members of organized crime.

López Obrador noted that “priests, pastors, members of all churches always participate, help, in the pacification of the country. I see it as a good thing, I think that we all have to contribute to achieving peace.”

“Of course, the responsibility of guaranteeing peace and tranquility belongs to the state — that must be very clear,” he added.

After stating that the “customs” and “traditions” that persist “deep within Mexico” have “inhibited drug consumption” in the country, López Obrador stressed that “trafficking is one thing and consumption is another. The problem that our brothers in the United States, our American friends, have is consumption, which is why 100,000 young people lose their lives every year from consuming fentanyl.”

The president of Mexico reiterated that in his government “we see as a good thing” the dialogues sought by the Catholic Church but asked that “agreements that mean granting impunity, privileges, licenses to steal” not be made.

“But whoever wants to leave that hell ... whoever wants to get out of that can do so,” he said.

Drug violence affects the Catholic Church

Bishop González said violence in his area has directly affected members of the Catholic Church: “They’ve killed leaders of nocturnal adoration, they’ve killed the parents of altar servers.” 

In October 2023, Father Velázquez Florencio was shot at by assailants because of his human rights work while traveling on the highway that connects the towns of Tixtla and Chilpancingo in Guerrero state.

The bishop of Chilpancingo-Chilapa lamented that it seems that the authorities “have left” the population at the mercy of the violence. “We believe that the government has the solution and we would also like it not to be corrupted ... they have power, they have the resources, they have the means.”

Despite being unsuccessful in their attempts to dialogue with criminal organizations, González assured that “attempts by the Catholic Church to achieve peace will continue.” 

“We will have to continue with strategies to reach their hearts, to change the mentality [of the criminals],” the prelate said.

To that end, he urged the faithful to offer God prayer, fasting, and works of mercy for the conversion of criminals, trusting that these actions can “move minds and hearts.”

“As a Church [we are called] not to be indifferent to what is happening, not to close our eyes, our ears, not to keep quiet” and to be “with the poorest, with those most harmed, with the victims of violence; because there’s a lot of pain,” he said.

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

New series hopes to inspire Catholic parents to ‘fully embrace their vocation’

Luke and Sarah Hellwig in the new series “The Catholic Parent” on FORMED. / Credit: The Augustine Institute

CNA Staff, Feb 17, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Have you ever been the parent constantly running your child out of Mass for bathroom breaks or because of crying fits? Or have you spent a lot of time sitting in the pew giving your child anything you can find to keep him or her entertained and quiet during Mass? If you’re a Catholic parent, the answer to these questions is probably a resounding “yes.”

To encourage and empower parents on their journey to pass the faith down to the next generation, the Augustine Institute and Catholic Sprouts have come together to create a six-episode series highlighting Catholic parents as the primary educators of the faith for their children. It’s called “The Catholic Parent,” and it is now available to view on FORMED.

Nancy Bandzuch is a Catholic mother of six and founder of Catholic Sprouts, an organization that provides educational and catechetical tools designed to assist parents to teach the faith at home. She spoke with CNA about her own experience of trying to teach the faith to her children and how that inspired the work she does today.

“Being a Catholic parent was much harder than I thought it would be,” Bandzuch shared. “I had expected that teaching the faith would feel natural and organic, but it wasn’t.” 

She added: “As our family grew, it felt like someone was always crying, and my temper was much shorter than I thought it would be. Every time I tried to teach the faith it fell apart, and I felt like a failure.”

Out of desperation, Bandzuch started a short, five-minute podcast for her children. She explained that she wanted something that everyone could listen to while getting lunches ready and would “plant one little seed of faith.” These short podcasts would be the catalyst for the launch of Catholic Sprouts.

“After a while, I decided to share the podcast with the world, and it turns out that I wasn’t the only one struggling to teach the faith. Five years later, the ‘Catholic Sprouts Podcast’ has been downloaded over 12 million times, families and classrooms tune in from all over the world, and we now offer lots of other printed materials for parents to use in the home as they strive to teach the faith,” she said.

Bill and Nancy Bandzuch in the new series "The Catholic Parent" on FORMED. Credit: The Augustine Institute
Bill and Nancy Bandzuch in the new series "The Catholic Parent" on FORMED. Credit: The Augustine Institute

The inspiration for “The Catholic Parent” series came from a “desire to showcase and discuss the real struggles and blessings of being a Catholic parent,” Bandzuch said. 

“We wanted to create something that all Catholic parents would see and instantly relate to. Too often the media produced around Catholic families shows the ‘glossy ideal,’ when in reality, all of our families are imperfect,” she expressed.

“And yet, as this series shows, it is in our brokenness and imperfection that God calls us to holiness through the family.”

The episodes are roughly 20 minutes long and include testimonies from six Catholic families and teachings from Father John Nepil, S.T.D.; Sister Rachel Marie, OP; and Sister Francesca Igweilo, OP. The episodes also cover topics such as our Sunday obligation, confession, family prayer, generosity, sacrifice, and handing on the faith. 

Bandzuch explained that these specific topics were chosen from a desire to “create content that was 100% in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church, so we chose the precepts of the Church as an outline for the series.”

“To this we added tasks specifically assigned to parents in the catechism: teaching the faith and leading the family in prayer,” she added. “‘The Catholic Parent,’ therefore, is an exploration of how parents are called to live out the core actions of our faith in a unique and beautiful way.”

When asked why these topics are so important for parents to take part in with their children, Bandzuch emphasized that “as Catholics, we have set ourselves apart and, in many ways, we are asked to live a life seen as radical in today’s world.”

“Lots of important research has shown that if children don’t learn the faith at home from their parents, it is highly unlikely that they will remain Catholic,” she said. “Vast numbers of children who ‘grew up Catholic’ leave the faith every day, and the only way to change this is through the parents.” 

“The way that Catholic parents publicly practice their faith in front of their kids is hugely important not only for the sanctity of their family but for the sanctity of this world.”

After watching the series, Bandzuch hopes viewers will “see themselves and their own struggles.”

“Too often we feel alone. We assume that others have it easier or are doing a better job. This isn’t true,” she explained. “All of us struggle to bring young children to Mass. All of us dread stepping into the confessional. Tithing is tough for everyone, and no one enjoys fasting. You are not alone, and yes, these things are hard, but we can’t stop there.”

“We hope that parents will begin to see the privilege of being a Catholic parent and more fully embrace their vocation,” Bandzuch said.

And for those parents who are stressed or anxious to go to Mass with their little ones, Bandzuch shared this advice: “Regardless of how we feel or how our kids behave, Jesus Christ, the Lord of the universe, is present at the sacrifice of the Mass. This should be the reason that we go to Mass every Sunday. He is there!” 

“Even if you don’t hear a word of the homily, you have to run kids to the bathroom during the consecration, or an elder parishioner says something nasty about your kids, it doesn’t change the fact that Christ is there. When we continue to go to Mass through the difficult years of raising kids, it shows our children that we believe this and that nothing will keep us from being in the presence of Our Lord.”

You can find out more about “The Catholic Parent” series here.

These religious sisters are a ‘bridge’ between Israel and the Palestinian territories

A view of the separation wall between Israel and the Palestinian Territories from behind a window in the Comboni Sisters' house in East Jerusalem. / Credit: Marinella Bandini

Jerusalem, Feb 17, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

The Comboni Sisters have been living on the border of East Jerusalem since 1967. Running along the border of their property is a wall, constructed by the Israelis in 2009, dividing the village of Bethany/al-Eizariya — renowned as the site of the resurrection of Lazarus. The sisters’ residence remains on the Israeli side, while the church and the tomb of Lazarus are on the Palestinian side, on the other side of the wall.

“For us, the passage from Scripture that says ‘in Christ the wall of separation between peoples has been broken down’ is very powerful [Eph 2:14], especially when there is a physical wall in front of us that clearly indicates this separation,” Sister Anna Maria Sgaramella, provincial councilor and coordinator of the Middle East Zone for the Comboni Sisters, told CNA. 

Sister Anna Maria Sgaramella, provincial council and coordinator of the Middle East Zone for the Comboni Sisters. Credit: Marinella Bandini
Sister Anna Maria Sgaramella, provincial council and coordinator of the Middle East Zone for the Comboni Sisters. Credit: Marinella Bandini

Sgaramella arrived in Jerusalem for the first time on Sept. 26, 2000. The very next day, the second intifada — a major uprising by Palestinians against Israeli occupation — erupted. She witnessed the siege of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where she taught theology. 

Later, she was transferred to Egypt, where in 2011, she witnessed the uprising known as the “Arab Spring.”

Since 2013, Sgaramella has permanently returned to Jerusalem and now faces another long and bloody conflict. “I have always been struck by the deep sense of hope and determination to move forward among the Palestinian people. With this war, I see it weaker; people are more exhausted,” she said.

A view of the separation wall between Israel and the Palestinian Territories from the terrace of the Comboni Sisters' house in East Jerusalem. The wall, constructed by the Israelis in 2009, runs along the border of their property, dividing the village of Bethany/al-Eizariya in two, believed to be the site of the miracle of the raising of Lazarus. The sisters’ residence remains on the Israeli side, while the church and the tomb of Lazarus are on the other side of the wall. Credit: Marinella Bandini
A view of the separation wall between Israel and the Palestinian Territories from the terrace of the Comboni Sisters' house in East Jerusalem. The wall, constructed by the Israelis in 2009, runs along the border of their property, dividing the village of Bethany/al-Eizariya in two, believed to be the site of the miracle of the raising of Lazarus. The sisters’ residence remains on the Israeli side, while the church and the tomb of Lazarus are on the other side of the wall. Credit: Marinella Bandini

There are currently six Comboni Sisters in Jerusalem and each is involved in a specific ministry. They usually come together for morning Mass and evening vespers as well as for meetings and reflection. Their community house is open to religious individuals seeking periods of study or discernment and serves as a center of spirituality for both the congregation and the local Church. The sisters host educational workshops and spiritual exercises as well as welcome pilgrims.

The Comboni Sisters in Jerusalem in a recent photo at the Jordan River. The Comboni Sisters’ community in Jerusalem currently consists of six sisters and each is involved in a specific ministry. Credit: Photo courtesy of Sister Anna Maria Sgaramella
The Comboni Sisters in Jerusalem in a recent photo at the Jordan River. The Comboni Sisters’ community in Jerusalem currently consists of six sisters and each is involved in a specific ministry. Credit: Photo courtesy of Sister Anna Maria Sgaramella

Sgaramella shared with CNA what it’s like to live on the border. 

“With the construction of the wall, we found ourselves in the middle, between Palestinians and Israelis,” she explained. “The Palestinians attempt to bypass the wall — especially to pray at the Dome of the Rock — while the Israelis try to repel them in an endless game.” 

“Being in the middle is a physical position that has also become a spiritual one,” Sgaramella continued. “We had to reflect and decided to ‘stay in the middle,’ between these two peoples, to serve as a bridge between them. By placing ourselves in the middle, we listen to the injustice faced by the Palestinians and also to the fears of Israeli families.”

For this reason, the religious community has chosen to maintain a small presence in the Palestinian area. Two sisters reside in an apartment beyond the wall, about 100 feet from the Comboni Sisters’ residence. 

The exterior of the Comboni Sisters' house in East Jerusalem where the Comboni Sisters have been living since 1967. Credit: Marinella Bandini
The exterior of the Comboni Sisters' house in East Jerusalem where the Comboni Sisters have been living since 1967. Credit: Marinella Bandini

“We desired to stay and share the lives of those people and accompany the small remaining Christian community there. Every time they need to reach the community, they have to travel 18 kilometers [about 11 miles] passing through the Israeli checkpoint,” Sgaramella explained.

The sisters do not do this simply in the spirit of altruism, explained Sgaramella, who is also involved in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. “We understood from the beginning that being in the middle comes at a cost. It often means getting hit from both sides. On one hand, there are stones and Molotov cocktails from the Palestinians that land on our property; on the other hand, we are under the smoke of tear gas launched in response by the Israelis,” she said.

One incident happened the night of Oct. 6, just hours before the Hamas attack on Israel. Some Molotov cocktails landed on the synthetic grass in the part of the property that houses the kindergarten, causing a fire — the signs of which are still visible today. The fire destroyed the grass, playground equipment, and blackened the recently painted wall.

The exterior of the kindergarten, housed on the Comboni Sisters' property. In the background is the separation wall that was  erected on the edge of the Comboni Sisters' property in 2009.
The exterior of the kindergarten, housed on the Comboni Sisters' property. In the background is the separation wall that was erected on the edge of the Comboni Sisters' property in 2009.

The kindergarten is a work that the Comboni Sisters have been carrying out since their arrival and today it serves as an important point of connection with the surrounding community. This significance has grown, especially after the construction of the wall.

“The presence of the kindergarten has never been questioned, neither with the wall nor with the war,” said Sgaramella, who is the director. The kindergarten is attended by approximately 40 children, all of whom are Muslims, divided into two classes. Formally, it is under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Ministry of Education. “It is a project that meets the needs of the people; furthermore, episodes of violence never occur during the day when the children are present,” she added.

Sister Anna Maria Sgaramella of the Comboni Sisters talks with the children in one of the kindergarten classes hosted at their home in East Jerusalem. The presence of the kindergarten has never been questioned, said Sgaramella, the director. Credit: Marinella Bandini
Sister Anna Maria Sgaramella of the Comboni Sisters talks with the children in one of the kindergarten classes hosted at their home in East Jerusalem. The presence of the kindergarten has never been questioned, said Sgaramella, the director. Credit: Marinella Bandini

Every morning, the children begin with a prayer. “We tell the parents right from the start,” Sgaramella explained. “It’s a prayer of thanksgiving for what God has created, for the day, for life, a blessing for parents, neighbors, friends, and also for children who suffer. We pray for peace in the world and in this country.”

Regarding the families, she shared: “There is great trust and respect. They usually choose to send their children here, especially for moral education and English-language instruction.”

Most of the children come from East Jerusalem, but some also come from al-Eizariya. One of the two teachers, Nihal Hashmime, who is also the vice director, has to pass through the checkpoint every day to get to work.

“With the war,” the sister told CNA, “we faced some educational challenges because initially, some children were absent. The work we do with them is to impart certain values, such as peace, friendship, love, and respect for differences.”

Play is also an important aspect. “Children here do not find toy weapons, and they are not allowed to bring them from home,” Sgaramella said.

“Our attempt in education and all other activities is to break down this wall that leads to seeing the other as an enemy,” Sgaramella said. “Sometimes it is difficult to recognize the universality of salvation. We know that Jesus died for everyone, but in certain conflict-ridden contexts, it is challenging to acknowledge the other as a brother. Personally, the field of teaching theology provides me with the space to build bridges among believers. Because in every religion, there are sincere believers seeking truth.”

UPDATE: Irreverent funeral service at St. Patrick's Cathedral for trans activist sparks outcry

St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York / John Bilous/Shutterstock

CNA Newsroom, Feb 16, 2024 / 22:15 pm (CNA).

A raucous funeral liturgy for a high-profile trans activist and sex-worker advocate was held Thursday in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, sparking an outcry on social media that the iconic church was misused to advance an ideological agenda at odds with Catholic teaching.

The Manhattan cathedral hosted the Feb. 15 funeral service for Cecilia Gentili, an activist who helped to decriminalize sex work in New York, lobbied for “gender identity” to be added as a protected class to the state’s human rights laws, and was a major fundraiser for transgender causes.

Organizers reportedly 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 New York Times.

Doroshow said that Gentili’s friends requested that the funeral service be held at St. Patrick’s because “it is an icon,” which is how they thought of Gentili.

Throughout the liturgy, the presider, Father Edward Dougherty, referred to Gentili with feminine pronouns and described the trans-identifying man as “our sister.” Additionally, during the prayers of the faithful, the reader prayed for so-called gender-affirming health care, while attendees frequently and approvingly referred to Gentili as the “mother of whores.”

It was not clear if cathedral staff were aware that Gentili was a man who identified as a woman. On Friday St. Patrick’s Cathedral referred all media requests to the Archdiocese of New York, which did not respond to requests for comment before publication.

The Archdiocese later released a statement on Saturday from Father Enrique Salvo, the pastor of St. Patrick's, who said that cathedral staff "had no idea our welcome and prayer would be degraded in such a sacrilegious and deceptive way."

Salvo said that Church officials shared in the "outrage over the scandalous behavior at a funeral here at St. Patrick’s Cathedral earlier this week." Salvo also revealed that a Mass of Reparation had been said at the cathedral at the direction of Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

In remarks previously made to The New York Times, archdiocesan spokesman Joseph Zwilling said that “a funeral is one of the corporal works of mercy,” which are “a model for how we should treat all others, as if they were Christ in disguise.” Other than its spokesman’s comments, the New York Archdiocese had issued no official statement on the funeral service at St. Patrick’s as of Friday night.

Several mainstream media outlets have framed the event as a breakthrough occasion and a sign of the Catholic Church shifting its teaching — or at least its tone — on sexuality and human anthropology.

Time magazine described the fact that a funeral service for a trans activist was held in a Catholic cathedral as “no small feat,” while The New York Times described the service as “an exuberant piece of political theater.”

Jesuit Father James Martin, an LGBTQ advocate whose approach to pastoral inclusion has courted controversy in the Church, initially offered his approval for the service.

“To celebrate the funeral Mass [sic] of a transgender woman at St. Patrick’s is a powerful reminder, during Lent, that LGBTQ people are as much a part of the church as anyone else,” he told The New York Times. “I wonder if it would have happened a generation ago.”

On Saturday, however, Martin clarified that he made the comment prior to service.

"Obviously, I believe that LGBTQ people should be as included as any other parishioner in their church. Just as obviously, I believe that churches are sacred spaces and certain actions are out of bounds," he said in a post on X (formerly Twitter), adding that he had been invited to preach at the service but was out of town.

"I've not seen the whole service as recorded, but some actions I've seen struck me as, while perhaps to the congregation joyful and celebratory, disrespectful of the sacred space that is St. Patrick's Cathedral," he wrote. "One can be both joyful and respectful, it seems to me."

Other Catholics, however, were more pointed in their assessment.

On X, CatholicVote described the service as a staged “mockery of the Christian faith INSIDE St. Patrick’s Cathedral” by trans activists.

Others called for Cardinal Dolan and the Archdiocese of New York to respond to what they considered to be sacrilege.

Many of the 1,000 in attendance wore drag and scanty outfits. At the foot of the altar stood an image of the Argentinian-born Gentili with a halo, surrounded by the Spanish words for “whore,” “transvestite,” “blessed,” and “mother.”

Trans activist Oscar Diaz told Time it “felt appropriate” to say farewell to Gentili with a funeral service at St. Patrick’s, describing the event as an act of bestowing “sainthood” on the transgender advocate.

The service for Gentili was marked by several moments that were out of the ordinary for a Catholic funeral and have raised questions of irreverence and sacrilege.

For instance, during the liturgy, attendees cheered, applauded, and chanted “Cecilia!” and “madre de putas” — Spanish for “mother of whores.”

A rendition of the “Ave Maria” by the cathedral cantor was interrupted when an attendee shouted “Ave Cecilia!” and danced down the center aisle.

A mid-liturgy lay reflection given from the sanctuary compared Gentili’s advocacy for normalizing sex work and lobbying for gender-related health care to Christ’s ministry to prostitutes and outcasts.

In another reflection, Diaz described the deceased as “this whore, this great whore, St. Cecilia, mother of all whores.” Those assembled stood and applauded as Father Dougherty remained seated in the presider’s chair, his chin in his hand.

After attending Baptist and Catholic churches, Gentili had identified as an atheist though suggested a recent interest in God in a November 2023 interview.

“Religion has been such a foundational aspect of my life that I’ll always have some kind of connection to it. I still crave a sense of community and belonging that I know a lot of people find in faith,” Gentili said.

Editor's note: This story was updated on Feb. 17, 2024, to include a statement from the Archdiocese of New York and Father James Martin's clarification that he gave his remarks to The New York Times before the service had taken place.

New York Times reports Trump backs 16-week abortion ban; campaign pushes back

President Donald Trump in 2017. / Credit: DropOfLight/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 16, 2024 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

A New York Times article published Friday afternoon claims that former President Donald Trump told advisers he would support a national ban on abortion at 16 weeks of pregnancy, but the campaign has somewhat pushed back on the report.

In a statement, Trump campaign spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt called the report a “fake news New York Times article” and said that Trump would do as he had previously stated: “sit down with both sides and negotiate a deal that everyone will be happy with.”

The campaign’s response, however, did not explicitly claim that any of the information in the article was inaccurate and did not comment on whether Trump would support a federal law restricting abortion at the 16-week mark.

Charlie Stadtlander, the director of external communications for newsroom and opinion at the New York Times, told CNA that the reporting is accurate. 

“The campaign’s statement doesn’t deny anything in The Times’ reporting, which we stand behind completely,” Stadtlander said.

The article claims that Trump has told advisers and allies that he likes the idea of a 16-week ban on abortion with exceptions for rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother. The article cites as its sources “two people with direct knowledge of Mr. Trump’s deliberations,” but both individuals remained anonymous.

According to the article, the former president has privately said that he plans to wait until the end of the Republican primary before giving specific policy plans about abortion so that he does not alienate social conservatives. 

The report further states that Trump is dismissive of Republicans who do not support “the three exceptions” when considering a potential vice presidential running mate. 

“Know what I like about 16?” the New York Times claims Trump said to one of its sources. “It’s even. It’s four months.”

Trump has a longstanding working relationship with at least two of the reporters from the New York Times who co-wrote the article: Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Swan. The former president has provided both reporters with exclusive interviews in the past.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, voiced support for setting a federal 16-week standard. The organization had previously feuded with Trump for not taking a stronger stance against abortion. 

“We strongly agree with President Trump on protecting babies from abortion violence at 16 weeks when they feel pain,” Dannenfelser said in a statement. “A majority of Americans support this compassionate position.”

For months on the campaign trail, Trump has sidestepped questions about the specific abortion policies he would support if he is elected president again. When asked, the former president has consistently said that the federal government should play a role in protecting life and that he would sign something that people will like.

In a Fox News town hall on Jan. 10, Trump told a pro-life voter that “I think you’re going to be happy in the end” and that “we’re going to get something that people want, that people will like.”

The Trump campaign’s response to the New York Times article echoed some other statements the former president has made, specifically in reference to Trump’s role in the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and his criticism of President Joe Biden’s pro-abortion agenda.

“President Trump appointed strong Constitutionalist federal judges and Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade and sent the decision back to the states, which others have tried to do for over 50 years,” the campaign statement read.

“Joe Biden and virtually every Democrat in Congress is on the record supporting radical on-demand abortion up until the moment of birth, and after birth, as well as using American tax dollars to fund the killing of the most vulnerable.”

Biden and most Democratic lawmakers support codifying the abortion standards that existed in the precedent set by Roe v. Wade prior to its reversal. Biden has rejected the characterization of his position as support for “on-demand abortion.”

The proposed codification language would legalize abortion nationwide until the point of viability, which is when the preborn child can survive outside of the womb. However, the language does not set a week-based limit. Instead, it allows the woman’s physician, who is often the abortionist, to determine whether the preborn child is viable.

Blessed Mother statue at D.C.’s National Shrine vandalized

The vandalized statue of “Mary, Protector of the Faith” on the grounds of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. The vandalism was discovered around 2:30 p.m. Feb. 15, 2024. / Credit: Alex Cranstoun/BNSIC

CNA Staff, Feb 16, 2024 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

In an incident that police are treating as a possible hate crime, a statue of the Blessed Mother in a prayer garden near a prominent Washington, D.C., basilica was damaged by an as-yet-unidentified assailant Thursday. 

The statue, located on the grounds of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, appeared to have been struck in the face with a hammer. Light fixtures along a walkway in the garden were also shattered.

The statue is located in Mary’s Garden, which according to the National Shrine’s website is shaped in a circle to symbolize eternity. The life-size statue called “Mary, Protector of the Faith” by Jon-Joseph Russo portrays the Blessed Mother lovingly cradling the infant Jesus. The garden and statue were dedicated in 2000. 

Monsignor Walter Rossi, rector of the basilica, said in a statement to CNA that a visitor praying the rosary in Mary’s Garden contacted a staff member to report damage to the statue of the Blessed Mother. The vandalism was discovered around 2:30 p.m. Feb. 15 and was likely a recent occurrence, Rossi said, as security staff inspects the garden as a part of regular rounds.

“Although saddened that acts of this nature take place, I am more concerned about the individuals who perpetrate such activity and pray for their healing,” Rossi said.

The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department informed CNA that the incident is “under investigation as a potential hate-bias offense.” In Washington, D.C., a hate crime is defined by police as “a designation that makes available to the court an enhanced penalty if a crime demonstrates the offender’s prejudice or bias based on the actual or perceived traits of the victim.”

Tom Lynch, supervisory public affairs specialist for the Metropolitan Police Department, told CNA via email that there is currently no reliable suspect information to distribute.

The latest incident is not the first instance of vandalism at the Marian shrine. In late 2021, a marble statue of Our Lady of Fatima outside the National Shrine suffered “irreparable damage” in an attack with a mallet or hammer-like tool. Police shared surveillance footage that shows a man wearing a mask approaching the statue and using the tool to strike at the statue’s hands and face, sending pieces of marble flying. 

That statue was valued at $250,000, according to a police report obtained by CNA at the time. That case was not treated as a hate crime, police said.

Though not an instance of physical damage, a pro-abortion group drew wide condemnation from Catholics, including Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, for projecting pro-choice slogans on the facade of the National Shrine during a Mass and Holy Hour on the eve of the March for Life in 2022.