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South Carolina signs six-week ‘heartbeat’ abortion bill into law

null / Shutterstock.

CNA Newsroom, May 25, 2023 / 13:15 pm (CNA).

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed a bill Thursday prohibiting abortion after six weeks of pregnancy that goes into effect immediately.

The Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act, passed the Republican-controlled Senate Tuesday in a 27-19 vote, a week after the House passed the bill. The new law includes exceptions for rape and incest, the life of the mother, and fetal abnormalities up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. 

“With my signature, the Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act is now law and will begin saving the lives of unborn children immediately,” the Republican governor said. 

“This is a great day for life in South Carolina, but the fight is not over. We stand ready to defend this legislation against any challenges and are confident we will succeed. The right to life must be preserved, and we will do everything we can to protect it,” he said.

South Carolina had previously banned abortion after 22 weeks. The change in the law makes Virginia the only southern state that has not added further restrictions to abortion since the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

The South Carolina Catholic Conference released a statement applauding the passage of the bill.

“The Fetal Heartbeat Act is the strongest pro-life bill the state General Assembly has ever passed. The Catholic Conference thanks Senate leadership for coming together to pass a life-affirming bill that protects babies and their mothers.  

“We anticipate the abortion industry will file an immediate legal challenge. The battle will now move to the courts. For now, this is an incredible victory for life in the Palmetto State. Praise be to God!” the statement read.

Abortion providers Planned Parenthood and Greenville Women’s Clinic have filed a lawsuit challenging the law.

“Abortion providers have asked a state trial court to block S. 474 on the grounds that it violates South Carolinians’ constitutional rights to privacy, equal protection, and substantive due process by banning abortion, providing inadequate protections for patients’ health, conditioning sexual assault survivors’ access to abortion on the disclosure of their personal information to law enforcement, violating the Medicaid Act, and improperly targeting Planned Parenthood through an unconstitutional bill of attainder,” Planned Parenthood said in a statement.

South Carolina’s Supreme Court struck down a six-week abortion ban in January. Justice Kaye Hearn, who authored the ruling, has since retired. Her seat is now held by Justice Gary Hill, who was elected by both houses of the majority-Republican Legislature.

‘We don’t have an agenda,’ Synod on Synodality organizer says in new EWTN interview

Cardinal Mario Grech, who serves as secretary general of the global Synod on Synodality, speaks to EWTN Rome Bureau Chief Andreas Thonhauser for an exclusive interview that aired on EWTN on May 22, 2023. / EWTN Vatican

Rome Newsroom, May 25, 2023 / 12:45 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Mario Grech, who serves as secretary general of the global Synod on Synodality, says the ongoing process underway in the Church risks missing “a moment of grace” if it focuses on polarizing issues raised during listening sessions, including same-sex marriage, abortion, and women’s ordination.  

In a sit-down interview with EWTN News, the Maltese prelate says that while he believes “a synodal Church is a more spiritual Church,” it is important to remember that the Church “is not a democracy.” He also addresses the involvement of lay men and women and other “non-bishops” in the synod’s assembly of bishops in October, and he draws a distinction between the worldwide synodal process and Germany’s Synodal Path, observing that the latter has “sent negative vibes” throughout the global Church.

The interview below has been edited for clarity.  

Your Eminence, you are responsible for organizing the synod’s assembly of bishops in October. A synod is not unusual, but this is a Synod on Synodality. Why does the Church, in your view, need a Synod on Synodality? 

These are two different words, synod and synodality. There can be synodality without a synod. But there is no synod without synodality.  

I’m not playing with words. It can happen that we have a synodal assembly without the spirit of synodality. We can and we need to become a more synodal Church, even without having a synod. 

Synods are an important moment in the life of the Church. In the past, the synod was a moment where only bishops were engaged. Pope Francis has introduced a new dimension of this experience that involves all the people of God.  

Everyone is being invited to reflect, to pray, and contribute to help us become more of a Church. After all, if we are talking about synodality, we are talking about the Church itself.  

Can you describe in a nutshell what it would look like for the Church to become more synodal?  

In simple terms, a synodal Church is a more spiritual Church. There is a temptation that we transform the Church into an NGO [nongovernmental organization], as the Holy Father underlines. The Church is the body of Christ and the anima (soul) of this Church is the Holy Spirit. 

A synodal Church is an invitation to the people of God to receive the presence of the Holy Spirit, who is the main player in this synodal process. The Holy Spirit is the protagonist of this process. 

To me, an invitation to a synodal Church is an invitation to give more space to the Holy Spirit. As a matter of fact, a key word in this simple process is discernment: How can we discern what the Holy Spirit is communicating to the Church today? 

One of the methods that really was effective in the continental assemblies is what we call the conversation in the spirit: spiritual conversation or synodal conversation. 

When we meet to discuss and listen in sessions, they are not purely human sessions. We have to invoke the Holy Spirit, we have to listen to the Word of God. Otherwise, the Church would be my project, our project, but the Church is not ours. The Church belongs to Jesus Christ. 

Can you explain why non-bishops are now being invited to participate in the synod assembly taking place this October in Rome?  

The synod is an assembly for bishops and it will remain an episcopal assembly. The nature of the assembly is not going to change. But the Holy Father decided, through listening to the people of God, to also invite non-bishops to the synod.  

By non-bishops we mean not only laypeople but [also] priests, deacons, consecrated people, religious, and permanent deacons. The total number of non-bishops is less than 25%.  

Why this percentage? We do not want to change the nature of the assembly. The synod is an assembly of bishops. The presence of other members of the people of God gives expression to the whole people of God, but their presence there is also a presence to guarantee that the process is being respected by the bishops participating in their synodal assembly. 

The people of God that participated from the very start of this process are now also taking part in the final stage of the process. Their presence is there. Bishops are there because they are the shepherds, and there is no flock without a shepherd. And there are no shepherds without a flock. 

The reflection on the synodal Church brought up hot-button issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion, and women’s ordination. How should the Synod on Synodality help address these issues?  

During the first phase of consultation or listening phase, various issues were raised, as you are underlining. It was the first time that people were given this opportunity to speak out on these issues. The Church was listening to their needs. And I’m not surprised that certain hot-button issues now came to the fore. But at one point, me and Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the general relator for this synod, sent a letter to all bishops, highlighting the fact that the theme of this particular synod is for the synodal Church. 

Other issues will not be discarded. We will put them on the back burner, as they are not issues that should be tackled by this particular synodal assembly. If we enter into those issues at this particular moment, we will miss a golden opportunity, a moment of grace, a reflection on how we can really help the Church to become more synodal and create those spaces where all the members of the people of God, under the leadership and the guidance of their pastors, can really contribute to evangelization.

So, this should be clear. We tried to make it clear. Again, it’s not that we are putting away certain issues raised by the people of God. These issues need to be addressed. But I believe, and this is my personal belief, that once we become more synodal, the theologians become more synodal, then we will be in a better position to explain the Gospel to the people of God, and also address certain issues.  

At a press conference when asked if you were worried that some agendas will hijack the synod, you said that the only one who could hijack the synod is the Holy Spirit.  

I really believe that this moment of grace will help us to become more spiritual, because the winds of the world can also blow in the Church and we have to pay attention. We don’t have an agenda. The agenda is already set, set in the Gospel, set by Jesus Christ. We have to do our reflection and listen to the Word of God, in the light of tradition, in the light of the magisterium.  

We are not starting a fresh page today, as if nothing has happened in the past. There’s a continuity. But in order to engage in this spiritual conversation, in this spiritual conversion, because it entails a conversion, we need to make more time for prayer, to be able to kneel down in the presence of the Lord. 

The synod is consultative in nature. Having consulted with so many people from around the world, bringing in bishops, and also non-bishops, do you think the synod should become more of a legal body of the Church by making its votes binding? 

It’s not up to me to pronounce myself on this issue. And I’m being sincere. I would like the synodal assembly to say something about this. But the nature of a synodal assembly, as you’re saying, is consultative, because ultimately it is the Holy Father’s decision. When Paul VI instituted the synod, the aim was to help the Holy Father, to consult with the Holy Father. 

I think there is decision-taking and decision-making. Listening to all the people of God, especially the bishops convened at the synodal assembly, is part of this decision-making, which will enlighten the Holy Father to make his own discernment.

There is this ecclesial discernment going on. I also say, always underlying this, we have the gift of the episcopal ministry in the particular Churches that can guarantee that the people are not going astray in their discernment. And for the whole Church, we have the Holy Father, the Petrine ministry, that really helps and guarantees the whole Church that we are doing God’s will. 

There has been criticism concerning the process of the Synod on Synodality. Is there any criticism that worries you that you would like to address? 

First of all, I understand those who have doubts or fears or different points of view. 

For me, criticism is valuable and it should help us all in our discernment process. Nobody has to be excluded, even if one is critical, or has objections, everyone should be welcome on board. Let us not forget that we are one family. And it takes time until ideas mature, until one really understands what’s going on. 

I have my fears as well. For example, those who are opposing the people of God and the hierarchy now, because in this synodal process everyone was allowed to raise his voice, some might think that we are on a way leading to a sort of a democracy. The Church is not a democracy.  

The Church is hierarchical, constitutively hierarchical. The ministry of bishops, the Petrine ministry, are a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. And we need to treasure that.

So if those who are opposing, for example, the crowd, the people of God with the hierarchy, that really hurts me, because we have to walk together, respecting all the charisms and ministries.  

Ministries are a gift for the Church. And they can give us assurance that we are walking the right path.  

Your task of communicating and explaining the synodal process has not necessarily become easier with a parallel process in Europe that has raised a lot of attention — the German Synodal Path. What is your take on this and how is it seen in the context of the global Synod on Synodality? 

Unfortunately, the Synodal Path in Germany sent negative vibes in all the Church. I was in Africa, I was in Bangkok, and I listened to people who were a bit hesitant and worried about what was taking place in Germany. 

But I always say, do we really know what is taking place in the Church, in our sister Church in Germany? There are two different synodal experiences. 

It is not a synod in Germany. It’s a synodal journey. A synodal way, they call it. Canonically it is neither a diocesan nor a national synod, as far as I know. 

They are two different ecclesial experiences. One in Germany is trying to address issues that are recurrent challenges for the Church in Germany. And the other one is for the whole Church. And the themes are absolutely different. 

Perhaps the global, universal synod will help us, will guide us to avoid other difficulties in the future in our experience of synodality. 

It is true that particular local Churches are very important in the whole frame of ecclesiology. The Church is made up of particular Churches, and this is Vatican II, but no particular Church is autonomous, no particular Church is independent from the other Churches.  

And if synodality is an important element in the Church, also the communion among bishops is a value.  

I’m talking about collegiality now. The bishops in Australia, to give another example, because they had also a plenary council now, the bishops in Ireland, the bishops in Germany, they have their responsibilities and their challenges. And we have to help our brothers to address the difficulties. 

But bishops are not autonomous, bishops form part of a college of bishops, and there are issues that belong to the whole Church that need to be addressed by all the bishops together, together with Peter.

This might give us hope for the experience in Germany. I really have trust in my brother bishops in Germany that they are well-meaning. And I hope they will find the right answer to the issues raised in their synodal experience, and to the issues that the people of God in Germany are putting forth.  

Are there demands that the proposals in Germany that have been voted on as well as adopted be added to the agenda of the global synod? 

No. They are two different experiences. The synod for the whole Church is about synodality. Now, if there are elements in the German synodal experience that deal with synodality, why not? But not everything that was on board in the synodal way in Germany fits in the synodal experience of the whole Church, because I repeat, they are two different experiences.  

Are there synodal elements to the upcoming World Youth Day in Lisbon? 

One result from all the continental assemblies was that we realized we need to create more spaces for the young generation. We need to find a new language so we can communicate with them. It’s a challenge. And obviously, World Youth Day will be an opportunity. 

Our secretariat is studying a project for how to be present on the ground so that we can also listen to the young generation. Because they are not only the future, but they are [also] the present. And when we made the invitation for the non-bishops for the synodal assembly of bishops, we indicated to the episcopal conferences to please also send young people. We want young people to be present to participate in this process. 

You have been asking people from around the world to contribute and participate in this process. Are there any inspiring ideas for evangelization you’ve encountered that are worthwhile to pursue? 

The idea of mission and synodality started from the Synod for Youth. In fact, in the final document of that synod the youth and the synod members spoke about mission and the synodal Church. Mission and synodality are the two faces of the same coin. We need a synodal Church in order to be more effective in our mission.  

How can we be really effective today? If all the people of God become conscious that we are all subjects of evangelization, that evangelization is not restricted only to a special class, a special group. But all the baptized are subjects and empowered by the Holy Spirit to announce the Gospel today. 

Everybody is invited and must feel duty-bound to announce Jesus to humanity today. This is the main objective of our reflection on a synodal Church.  

A synodal Church is for me mainly a spiritual Church. We need more prayer. We need more prayer to avoid the risk that the Church becomes only a human convention, a human institution.  

This is the reason why a few months ago, we sent an invitation to all bishops, so that during the month of May we organize a prayer at the feet of Mary, in the presence of Mary.  

Because Mary, the mother of the Church, our mother, she will guide us, help us, accompany us in this particular moment of the Church. I invite everyone to take part even with prayer in this moment of grace. 

Watch the full interview with Grech below.

Archbishop mourns loss of historic church in Alberta, Canada, destroyed by arson

The loss of St. Bernard’s Church in Grouard, Alberta, Canada, on May 22, 2023, makes a sad moment for those with memories of the church, said Grouard-McLennan Archbishop Gerard Pettipas. Two men have been arrested in connection with the fire. / Credit: Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan photo/B.C. Catholic

Vancouver, Canada, May 25, 2023 / 12:15 pm (CNA).

The archbishop of Grouard-McLennan in Northern Alberta, Canada, says he is saddened but “not overcome” by the loss of a 121-year-old church to arson.

Archbishop Gérard Pettipas, CSsR, released a statement Tuesday, May 23, following the May 22 fire that destroyed the historic St. Bernard Catholic Church.

Pettipas said the church was “irreparably destroyed” and marks “a sad moment for the many people who have fond memories of this church. Frequent Masses, baptisms, funerals, confirmations, and confessions took place between these walls, which are now charred and rendered as rubbish.”

The interior of St. Bernard’s Church in Grouard, Alberta, Canada, after it was destroyed by fire on May 22, 2023. Credit: Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan photo/B.C. Catholic
The interior of St. Bernard’s Church in Grouard, Alberta, Canada, after it was destroyed by fire on May 22, 2023. Credit: Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan photo/B.C. Catholic

Royal Canadian Mounted Police have charged two men in connection with the fire: High Prairie, Alberta, residents Kenneth Ferguson, 56, and Gerald Capot, 50, are both charged with break and enter to commit theft as well as arson.

The two will appear in court in High Prairie on May 29.

St. Bernard’s Church, built in 1902, served as the first cathedral in the Diocese of Grouard in Canada. Credit: Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan photo/B.C. Catholic
St. Bernard’s Church, built in 1902, served as the first cathedral in the Diocese of Grouard in Canada. Credit: Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan photo/B.C. Catholic

In his statement, the archbishop said St. Bernard was “a place of immense historical significance.” 

“It was not only a monument to the past but [also] a vital part of the present and a building our diocese has been trying to restore, little by little, to its original beauty,” he said.

Saying he greatly mourned the loss of the church and regretted “the incident that led to its destruction,” the archbishop said: “I am not overcome by this loss. Nobody lost their life in this fire.”

Archbishop Gérard Pettipas celebrates Mass at St. Bernard’s in Alberta, Canada, in 2021. Credit: Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan photo/B.C. Catholic
Archbishop Gérard Pettipas celebrates Mass at St. Bernard’s in Alberta, Canada, in 2021. Credit: Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan photo/B.C. Catholic

Although a church was destroyed, he said, “the Church — church with a capital C — will never be destroyed. The people of God, the body of Christ, lives on. A building is lost to the flames, but the flames of faith kindled there are not. The good news of Jesus Christ is as present and alive as ever.”

The archdiocese said the church was the diocese’s first cathedral, built when the episcopal vicar of Athabasca, Bishop Emile Grouard, chose Lesser Slave Lake Post as the seat of his diocese.

Grouard, a skilled artist, painted the mural that was displayed behind the altar. 

In 1942 the vicariate was transferred to McLennan, where the current cathedral was completed in 1945.

More than 50 Catholic churches in Canada have been vandalized or burned down since the announcement in 2021 that graves had apparently been found near a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.

The Catholic Civil Rights League of Canada maintains a Church Attacks Database at cataloging attacks against Catholic churches in Canada ranging from the breaking of stained-glass windows to acts of desecration and church burnings.

This story originally appeared on May 24, 2023, in The BC Catholic, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, Canada. It is used here on CNA with permission.

What is incorruptibility? Here’s what you need to know

A man places his hands on the glass urn holding the remains of St. Pio in Pietrelcina, Italy, in 2016. St. Pio was found to be in a state of partial deterioration and partial preservation when his coffin was opened in 2008, but experts present at the exhumation have said there was no supernatural quality to what was preserved. Artificial preservation techniques have since been applied to conserve his body from further deterioration and a lifelike mask has been placed over his skull. / Ivan Romano/Getty

Rome Newsroom, May 25, 2023 / 09:33 am (CNA).

Catholic pilgrims are descending on a Benedictine monastery in rural Missouri after a seemingly incredible discovery.

The body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, OSB, the African American foundress of the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, appears to be in an unexpected state of preservation even four years after she died in 2019 at the age of 95.

When the abbess and sisters of Sister Wilhelmina’s community decided to move her body from the cemetery to a final resting place inside their monastery chapel May 18, they were surprised to find her body apparently intact, even though she had not been embalmed.

The sisters were also amazed to see that their foundress’ habit was also in excellent condition, despite the complete disintegration of the cloth lining of the wooden coffin.

The current abbess of the community, Mother Cecilia, OSB, told EWTN’s ACI Group a few days after the discovery that they believe their foundress could be incorrupt. 

But no investigation has yet been carried out to rule out any natural causes for the presumed phenomenon, and the Catholic Church has not ruled on Sister Wilhelmina’s case. A cause for the foundress’ canonization has also not been approved by the Church.

How does the Church define the incorruptibility of saints, and what does the phenomenon signify?

What is incorruptibility?

Incorruptibility is the preservation of the body from normal decay after death.

According to Catholic tradition, incorruptible saints give witness to the truth of the resurrection of the body and the life that is to come.

The Church does not have a cut-and-dried definition of what condition a holy person’s body must be found in to be declared incorrupt, and it does not necessarily require that the body remains permanently in the same condition in which it was found.

Incorruptibility, when proven, is considered a sign, because it cannot be explained by intentional preservation, such as embalming, or by unintentional preservation through natural causes, such as mummification. 

Identification of incorruptibles

The Catholic author Joan Carroll Cruz, who died in 2012, wrote about the phenomenon in her 1977 book “The Incorruptibles.”

She identified 102 saints or blesseds who are recognized by the Church to be incorrupt.

She said there were certainly many more, but these 102 are “the great majority, and certainly the most famous.”

Cruz did extensive research for her book and, because she was writing before the internet, corresponded with the shrines holding the bodies to authenticate their incorruptibility and to discover if they had been embalmed.

She noted that at the time she was researching and writing, there were errors, or “false rumors,” about the incorruptibility of some saints.

The poor quality of some photographs of saints’ remains sometimes have lead people to believe that the “simulated figures” holding the relics of saints were really unnaturally preserved corpses, she wrote.

An 18th-century pope gave his definition of incorruptibility in a treatise on the process of beatification and canonization of saints.

Prospero Lambertini, the future Pope Benedict XIV, wrote the lengthy work while serving in the Holy See’s congregation for the promotion of saints’ causes from 1708 to 1728.

Two chapters of the book, titled “De Cadaverum Incorruptione,” outlined the young theologian and lawyer’s position on the phenomenon of incorruptibility.

According to Cruz, Lambertini ruled “that the bodies of saintly persons that are found intact, but disintegrated after a few years, could not be considered miraculous preservation.”

“The only conservations he was willing to consider extraordinary are those that retain their lifelike flexibility, color, and freshness, without deliberate intervention, for many years following their deaths,” she noted.

Cruz’s book documented cases where this has happened, such as for St. John of the Cross, who died in 1591 and whose body, she wrote, “is still perfectly supple.”

More recent saints have also exhibited this phenomenon, such as St. Charbel Makhlouf, a Lebanese monk who died in 1898. 

Miracles also occurred around the time of St. Charbel’s exhumation from his dirt grave, a few years after his death. One was the presence of a fragrant scent, a common phenomenon with incorruptibles. A bright light also emanated from St. Charbel’s grave after his death, prompting devotees of the holy monk to ask for his remains to be examined.

Common objections

A common objection to incorruptibility is the idea that the body either must have been deliberately preserved, a practice since ancient times, or that the conditions of the grave or tomb allowed for natural preservation.

In at least one case, modern scientific examination has found that a saint previously believed to be incorrupt was likely not.

According to a 2001 article by Heather Pringle, a Church-sanctioned investigation by Italian scientists in the 1980s found that the 13th-century Tuscan saint Margaret of Cortona had received extensive embalming and other intervention after death. 

The scientists also uncovered documents that showed embalming had been requested by devotees of the saint, a patron of reformed prostitutes. But after the passage of years, the fact had been forgotten, and her appearance led people to believe it was miraculous.

The evidence had been covered by her clothes, and out of a sense of modesty a full examination of her body had not been carried out for centuries.

The same scientists, however, could find “not a trace of human intervention” on another 13th-century saint and well-known incorruptible in Italy, St. Zita.  

A more recent example of mistaken incorruptibility is that of Blessed Carlo Acutis.

Photos of the holy teen caused some confusion online after his body was displayed for public veneration leading up to his beatification in 2020.

The bishop of Assisi, Italy, Domenico Sorrentino, clarified that though Carlo Acutis’ body appeared intact in photos, that was due to the use of a silicone reconstruction of his face — the blessed’s body had been found in a normal state of decay when exhumed 14 years after his death in 2006.

Does any preservation exclude incorruptibility?

Cruz argued in her book that some deliberate preservation after death does not exclude the possibility that the cadaver could still exhibit an unexplainable condition many years after death.

She acknowledged that about 1% of the 102 incorruptibles she identified had received some intervention. Many others, however, certainly had not, as they belonged to religious orders that did not allow it.

She also rejected the idea that many cases could be explained by natural mummification, citing the lack of rigidity or hardness of the bodies, the normal condition of mummified corpses.

As evidence, she documented the conditions in which many of the saintly people had been found, such as in dirt graves or wood coffins with significant decay and deterioration. St. Charbel’s body, for example, was found floating in mud. She argued that these were not conditions conducive to mummification. 

At one time, the Church would accept a candidate for sainthood’s incorruptibility as one of the miracles required for canonization. This practice fell out of use because being incorrupt after death is not one of the requirements to be declared a saint in the Catholic Church, nor is it a definitive sign of having lived “a heroic life of virtue.”

And many of the saints and blesseds whose remains have followed the normal process of returning “to dust” have been displayed for public veneration using coverings or silicone masks, as in the case of Carlo Acutis.

The state of Sister Wilhelmina’s body, whether verified to be incorrupt or not, sends a message that “Heaven is real. The resurrection is real,” the abbess of the foundress’ community in Gower, Missouri, said.

“Have faith,” Abbess Cecilia said. “Life does not end when we take our last breath: It begins.”

This story was originally published in 2020 and was updated on May 25, 2023.

Pope Francis on care for creation: ‘God wants justice to reign’

Pope Francis delivers his Regina Caeli address on May 21, 2023. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, May 25, 2023 / 08:07 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has emphasized the importance of the virtue of justice in a message for the upcoming World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.

“God wants justice to reign; it is as essential to our life as God’s children, made in his likeness, as water is essential for our physical survival,” he said in the message, released May 25.

“God wants everyone to strive to be just in every situation, to live according to his laws and thus to enable life to flourish,” the pope continued. “When we ‘Seek first the kingdom of God’ (Matthew 6:33), maintaining a right relationship with God, humanity, and nature, then justice and peace can flow like a never-failing stream of pure water, nourishing humanity and all creatures.”

Pope Francis established the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation in 2015, to be celebrated every year on Sept. 1.

The ecumenical day of prayer is seen as a sign of unity with the Orthodox Church and launches what is called the Season of Creation, celebrated every year from Sept. 1 through Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

The theme of the 2023 Season of Creation is “Let Justice and Peace Flow.”

Pope Francis said in his message that the theme is inspired by the words of the prophet Amos: “Let justice flow on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.”

The pope’s message for the 2023 World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation was released during Laudato Si’ Week May 21–28.

Laudato Si’ Week 2023 marks the eighth anniversary of the publication of Laudato Si’, Francis’ landmark encyclical on the environment.

In his message on caring for creation, Pope Francis said the first step is the transformation of our hearts.

“This is essential for any other transformation to occur; it is that ‘ecological conversion’ which St. John Paul II encouraged us to embrace: the renewal of our relationship with creation so that we no longer see it as an object to be exploited but cherish it instead as a sacred gift from our Creator,” he said.

“Creation,” Francis continued, “refers both to God’s mysterious, magnificent act of creating this majestic, beautiful planet and universe out of nothing and to the continuing result of that act, which we experience as an inexhaustible gift.”

“During the liturgy and personal prayer in ‘the great cathedral of creation,’ let us recall the great Artist who creates such beauty and reflect on the mystery of that loving decision to create the cosmos,” he said.

Pope Francis also reflected on his visit to Canada in July of last year, especially a stop on the shores of Lac Ste. Anne in Alberta, which is a place of pilgrimage for indigenous people.

The pope used the imagery of water throughout his message, including the idea of thinking about how to contribute “to the mighty river of justice and peace.”

One step he encouraged people to take is to change their lifestyles and to repent of their “ecological sins,” in the words of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople.

Francis invited people, with the help of God’s grace, to lower their waste production and consumption, to be mindful about their habits and economic decisions, to use resources with moderation and sobriety, to recycle, and to make greater use of sustainable options.

Regarding public policies, Pope Francis said world leaders participating in COP28, the U.N. climate change conference at the end of the year, “must listen to science and institute a rapid and equitable transition to end the era of fossil fuel.”

“Let us raise our voices to halt this injustice towards the poor and towards our children, who will bear the worst effects of climate change,” he said.

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Reading 1 Acts 22:30; 23:6-11

Wishing to determine the truth
about why Paul was being accused by the Jews,
the commander freed him
and ordered the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin to convene.
Then he brought Paul down and made him stand before them.

Paul was aware that some were Sadducees and some Pharisees,
so he called out before the Sanhedrin,
"My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees;
I am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead."
When he said this,
a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees,
and the group became divided.
For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection
or angels or spirits,
while the Pharisees acknowledge all three.
A great uproar occurred,
and some scribes belonging to the Pharisee party
stood up and sharply argued,
"We find nothing wrong with this man.
Suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?"
The dispute was so serious that the commander,
afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them,
ordered his troops to go down and rescue Paul from their midst
and take him into the compound.
The following night the Lord stood by him and said, "Take courage.
For just as you have borne witness to my cause in Jerusalem,
so you must also bear witness in Rome."

Responsorial Psalm Ps 16:1-2a and 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11

R.(1) Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope.
R. Alleluia.
Keep me, O God, for in you I take refuge;
I say to the LORD, "My Lord are you."
O LORD, my allotted portion and my cup,
you it is who hold fast my lot.
R. Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope.
R. Alleluia.
I bless the LORD who counsels me;
even in the night my heart exhorts me.
I set the LORD ever before me;
with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.
R. Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope.
R. Alleluia.
Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices,
my body, too, abides in confidence;
Because you will not abandon my soul to the nether world,
nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.
R. Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope.
R. Alleluia.
You will show me the path to life,
fullness of joys in your presence,
the delights at your right hand forever.
R. Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope.
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia Jn 17:21

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
May they all be one as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that the world may believe that you sent me, says the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Jn 17:20-26

Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying:
"I pray not only for these,
but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
so that they may all be one,
as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they also may be in us,
that the world may believe that you sent me.
And I have given them the glory you gave me,
so that they may be one, as we are one,
I in them and you in me,
that they may be brought to perfection as one,
that the world may know that you sent me,
and that you loved them even as you loved me.
Father, they are your gift to me.
I wish that where I am they also may be with me,
that they may see my glory that you gave me,
because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
Righteous Father, the world also does not know you,
but I know you, and they know that you sent me.
I made known to them your name and I will make it known,
that the love with which you loved me
may be in them and I in them."

For the readings of the Optional Memorial of Saint Norbert, please go here.

- - -

Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine; Psalm refrain © 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither this work nor any part of it may be reproduced, distributed, performed or displayed in any medium, including electronic or digital, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

PHOTOS: Hundreds of Catholics march through Washington, DC, for eucharistic procession

A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. / Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 24, 2023 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, two days after the solemnity of the Ascension. 

The procession, led by Catholic Information Center (CIC) Director Father Charles Trullols, began at the CIC building at 1501 K St., NW, and passed by Lafayette Square, which overlooks the White House, and by the Veterans Affairs Building. It ended with Benediction back at the CIC.

A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA
A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA

“This was the best event ever, because we honored Jesus Christ in the holy Eucharist downtown, Washington, D.C.,” Grace Sims, 66, Arlington resident, told CNA after the Benediction.

Procession participants knelt before the Eucharist displayed in a monstrance and sang St. Thomas Aquinas’ hymn “Salutaris Hostia” before beginning the procession through the city. Attendees stopped at three altar stations for silent prayer. At the first altar, Trullols read from the Gospel of John and at the second altar, he delivered a homily. At the third altar, he celebrated Benediction. 

During the procession, attendees prayed the joyful mysteries of the rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. They also sang hymns, which included “Immaculate Mary.” 

A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA
A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA

Edwin Salazar, a 27-year-old resident of Hyattsville, Maryland, told CNA that it was amazing how many people showed up to give public witness to their faith. 

“I think it was amazing; it was beautiful,” Salazar said.

“It really helps people ground their faith when they have a community backing them up.”

Another attendee, Sandy Cremers, told CNA that she had been to a eucharistic procession before, but this was her first time attending one in Washington, D.C. 

“We should do this every day until the country converts … and until our leaders convert,” she said.

A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA
A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA

Trullols told CNA that the procession helps Catholics see the “sense of the beauty that we all have to … give to the Eucharist and the devotion and reverence.” He added that it also helps bear witness to the faith in front of people who otherwise would not encounter the Eucharist. 

Some bystanders who were not part of the procession also showed interest. Several people stopped to watch the procession, some took pictures, and others asked a few of the attendees about the event. 

A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA
A few hundred Catholics marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., to publicly pray and adore the body of Christ during a eucharistic procession on Saturday, May 20, 2023. Credit: Joe Portolano/CNA

“I saw so many bystanders stopping, taking pictures, wondering what it was,” Trullols told CNA. 

Trullols said this was the first time CIC organized a procession and it “exceeded all of [our] expectations.” He said he hopes to organize another procession next year “to make this an annual event.”

Who was Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, whose body is now the center of attention in Missouri?

Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, whose body was discovered apparently incorrupt, founded the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles. / Courtesy of the Benedictines of Mary

Denver, Colo., May 24, 2023 / 15:45 pm (CNA).

When the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles exhumed the body of their foundress Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, OSB, on May 18, they found the unexpected: Four years after her death and burial in a simple wooden coffin, her body appeared remarkably well preserved.

The news quickly spread on social media about the unusual state of the remains of the contemplative order’s African American foundress, drawing hundreds of pilgrims to the monastery in rural Missouri.

A pilgrim venerates the incorrupt body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, OSB, on May 20, 2023. Lancaster was recently exhumed in Gower, Missouri. Credit: Kelsey Wicks/CNA
A pilgrim venerates the incorrupt body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, OSB, on May 20, 2023. Lancaster was recently exhumed in Gower, Missouri. Credit: Kelsey Wicks/CNA

Questions remain to be answered about whether an investigation will take place to examine her remains scientifically. In the meantime, many people want to know more about this woman who, at the age of 70, founded the order of sisters best known for their chart-topping Gregorian chant and classic Catholic hymn albums.

A vision of Jesus at her first Communion

The second of five children born to Catholic parents in St. Louis on Palm Sunday, April 13, 1924, Mary Elizabeth Lancaster (she took the name Wilhelmina when she made her vows) was raised in a deeply pious home. 

According to the current abbess, Mother Cecilia Snell, OSB, and as told in a biography published by her community, the future Sister Wilhelmina had a mystical experience at her first Communion at age 9 wherein Jesus invited her to be his. 

“She saw something of him at her first Communion. Maybe not very clearly, but she saw he was so handsome,” the abbess said. 

“He said, ‘Will you be mine?’

“And she said, ‘He is so handsome, how can I say no?’”

After this experience, at age 13 her parish priest asked her if she ever considered becoming a sister. Though she had not, she was quickly moved by the idea and wrote to the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore seeking permission to join, “but she was too young [so] she had to wait a little bit longer.”

The excerpt of the letter reveals a stunning straightforwardness and enduring faithfulness, given that she would die having lived 75 years under religious vows. 

“Dear Mother Superior,” it reads. “I am a girl, 13 years old, and I would like to become a nun. I plan to come to your convent as soon as possible. I will graduate from grade school next month. What I want to know is whether you have to bring anything to the convent and what it is you have to bring. I hope I am not troubling you any, but I have my heart set on becoming a nun (of course I am a Catholic.) God bless you and those under your command. Respectfully, Mary Elizabeth Lancaster.”

A Catholic education and lifelong vocation

Growing up under segregation, Mary Elizabeth was once taunted with the nickname “chocolate drops” as she ran through a white neighborhood on her way home from school, and although she also was ridiculed as the lone Catholic among Baptist and Methodist peers, she refused to harbor resentment for her treatment. 

When the local Catholic high school became segregated under the Christian Brothers and public school seemed like her only option, her parents went to great efforts to ensure that their daughter and her schoolmates could continue their Catholic education. 

According to Sister Wilhelmina, as recounted in her biography, her “parents, who did not want me to go to the public high school, got to work and founded St. Joseph’s Catholic High School for Negroes, which lasted until Archbishop Ritter put an end to segregation in the diocese.” 

She graduated as valedictorian of the school her parents helped to found and then entered the Oblate Sisters of Providence, one of only two religious orders for Black or Hispanic women. She would remain with these sisters for 50 years under vows. 

The habit and the Traditional Latin Mass 

During her 50 years in religious life, Sister Wilhelmina witnessed the changes brought by Vatican II and sought to preserve the habit, even constructing one of her own when the sisters stopped producing them.

“She spent so many years fighting for the habit,” said Mother Cecilia, who said Sister Wilhelmina took seriously the idea that the habit signifies the wearer as a bride of Christ. 

According to her biography, she made a habit for herself, creating parts of the headdress out of a plastic bleach bottle even as her sisters no longer wore theirs. 

As the Catholic Key reported, her homemade habit may have saved her life when she was working as a teacher in Baltimore and the stiff, high-necked collar known as the guimpe deflected the knife of a disgruntled student. 

Her biography tells of an occasion when a sister passing her in the hallway pointed at the traditional headdress and asked, “Are you going to wear that all the time?” 

“Yes!” Sister Wilhelmina responded and would later quip, “I am Sister WIL-HEL-MINA — I’ve a HELL of a WILL and I MEAN it!”

After years of trying to get her order to return to the habit, she happened to hear about the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter starting a group of sisters, and she had rediscovered the Latin Mass and fell in love with it, Mother Cecilia said. 

“And one day, she packed her bags — and she’s 70 years old, and she went to found this community — just a complete leap of faith.” 

In 1995, with the help of a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, the community began. Over time, it would take on a more contemplative and distinctly Marian charism, with a special emphasis on praying for priests. 

In her proposal for a new community, Wilhelmina said she wanted to return to regular observance, something she petitioned for during the general chapter of the Oblate Sisters of Providence. “The wearing of a uniform habit, the surrendering of all monies to a common bursar, the obeying of lawful authority in all departments, the guarding of enclosure and of times and places of silence, and the living together an authentic fraternal life,” she wrote.

In short, in her new community, she imagined a return to the ordinary discipline of religious life. 

The new community, which began in Scranton, Pennsylvania, followed St. Benedict in his Rule and chanted the traditional Divine Office in Latin. In 2006, the community accepted an invitation from Bishop Robert W. Finn to transfer to his Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri. 

In 2018, their abbey, Abbey of Our Lady of Ephesus, was consecrated with Mother Abbess Cecilia as the first abbess with Sister Wilhelmina under her authority. In 2019, seven sisters left the abbey to establish the order’s first daughter house, the Monastery of St. Joseph in Ava, Missouri.

Today, the sisters continue to lead lives of silence and contemplation, following St. Benedict’s Rule. They partake in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and use the 1962 Monastic Office, with its traditional Gregorian Chant, in Latin.  

The community records an album in the St. John's Chapel. .  Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles.
The community records an album in the St. John's Chapel. . Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles.

Devoted to the Blessed Mother 

Sister Wilhelmina is remembered for her love of Our Lady, even in the last years of her life, when she was suffering from fragile health.

Regina Trout, a former postulant who cared for Sister Wilhelmina and is now married with children and a lecturer in biology at Purdue University Fort-Wayne, recalled seeing her visibly moved.

“Whenever you would talk to her about Our Lady, you could just see that spark. She loved Our Lady so much, and that came through so strongly,” she said. 

Sister Wilhemina’s last conscious words — ”O Maria,” sung two days before her death as part of the hymn “O Sanctissima” — were a reflection of her deeply Marian piety as well as the charism of the chart-topping music that glorifies God that the Benedictine Sisters of Mary are known for. 

“She loved our Blessed Mother,” Mother Cecilia said. “That’s what she would tell everybody coming here. Pray the rosary. Don’t forget to pray the rosary. Love the Blessed Mother. She loves you.” 

“Her death was beautiful,” the abbess told EWTN’s ACI Group. “God arranged everything.”

“We were singing ‘Jesus, my Lord, my God, my all.’ When we got to the rest of the song — ’Had I but Mary’s sinless heart, with which to love Thee with, O what joy’ — she opened her eyes and looked up.

“I mean, she had been comatose. We know she could hear us, but she was just not responsive at all for a couple of days. And then she just looked up with this face full of bursts of love.”

For the abbess, it seemed like “she was just already in heaven” in those moments. 

Fort Worth nun forced to use bishop-appointed canon lawyer amid dispute with diocese

The Reverend Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, Texas. / Credit: Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity Discalced Carmelite Nuns

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 24, 2023 / 15:15 pm (CNA).

A Carmelite nun who accused the Diocese of Fort Worth and Bishop Michael Olson of violating both civil law and canon law is now appealing to the Vatican after the bishop refused to let her choose her own canon lawyer for representation in a diocesan investigation, according to a civil lawyer representing the nun.

The diocese has accused the Reverend Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach of violating her vow of chastity with a priest. Although the diocese claims she admitted to the misconduct, a civil lawyer representing Gerlach claims the admission came under heavy medication from a procedure and she does not recall what she admitted.

“She did not have sex with a priest,” Matthew Bobo, the civil lawyer representing Gerlach, said in a statement.

Gerlach, who serves in the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity, sought out an independent canon lawyer to represent her in the diocesan investigation into the allegation, but Olson denied each of her suggestions, according to Bobo. Instead, the bishop appointed a different canon lawyer to represent her without her consent or approval.

“Bishop Olson denied Mother Superior’s right to independent canonical (Church law) representation with three different canon lawyers (advocates) and one procurator,” Bobo said in a statement. “Mother Superior rejects any and all representation by her current canon lawyer, appointed by the bishop without her consent, who is not independent nor representing her canonical or natural law rights.”

Bobo told CNA that the bishop-appointed canon lawyer, Michael J. Podhajsky, is already filing documents on behalf of Gerlach, despite her protest. Bobo said the canon lawyer does not represent the nun and does not have the authority to represent the nun.

“He has never had a conversation with my clients,” Bobo said. “He’s never talked to them.”

Bobo added that the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity is challenging the bishop’s rejection of Gerlach’s canon lawyer requests and “filed certain documents with the Vatican to address the actions of the bishop.”

A spokesperson for the diocese declined to comment on the matter. 

Podhajsky, who was appointed by the bishop, told CNA that he is aware that Gerlach did not agree with him being appointed to represent her. He said he has tried to work with Gerlach, but it is up to her whether she wants to work with him. 

“I’ve done my job to represent her to the best of my ability,” Podhajsky said. “I’ve made every effort to reach out to her.”

Gerlach and the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity filed a lawsuit against Bishop Olson and the diocese last week. The lawsuit seeks $1 million in damages and accuses them of invading the privacy of Gerlach and the other nuns. According to the lawsuit, the bishop confiscated Gerlach’s computer, cellphone, and laptop and subjected the nuns to lengthy questioning. 

The diocese asked the court to throw out the lawsuit, claiming that it is an ecclesiastical matter over which civil courts do not have jurisdiction.

Nebraska bans abortion at 12 weeks and sex change surgery for minors

Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen on May 22, 2023, signed into law a 12-week abortion ban and a ban on transgender surgery on minors. / Courtesy of the Office of the Governor of Nebraska

Denver, Colo., May 24, 2023 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

Nebraska will now ban abortion 12 weeks into pregnancy and ban gender-altering surgery for minors. A new bill, signed into law on Monday, also regulates other drugs used in purported gender-transition therapies for minors.

“It’s about protecting our kids and saving babies. Pure and simple,” Republican Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen said Monday, the Associated Press reported. The governor said the legislation sends the message that “abortion is unthinkable in Nebraska” and the state’s culture “embraces life and love.” The provision barring gender-altering surgery, he said, “lets our kids be kids” while they grow up, including “the teenager who may be trying to figure out who they are.”

Over 30 of Nebraska’s 49 senators joined the governor for the signing of the Let Them Grow Act. The bill passed 33-15 along party lines in the unicameral Legislature, which only has a Senate.

The new abortion ban replaces the previous 20-week abortion ban. The ban exempts abortions of unborn children conceived in rape and incest as well as cases of medical emergencies. It also specifically exempts ectopic pregnancies.

“Every human being has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” said state Sen. Joni Albrecht. “I look forward to the day when every child is protected from conception from elective abortions in the State of Nebraska.”

The abortion ban takes effect immediately. In April, the state Senate failed to pass a six-week abortion ban by only one vote.

The new law also bans purported gender-altering surgery for patients under age 19, the age of legal majority in Nebraska. Proponents present the surgeries, also known as sex-change operations, as gender-confirmation surgery.

The bill requires the state medical officer to create regulations for cross-sex hormones and puberty-blocking drugs for minors, which proponents call gender-affirming care. The regulations could include a full ban, according to the Nebraska Examiner. This part of the legislation will take effect Oct. 1.

State Sen. Kathleen Kauth said the legislation is “all about protecting children. It was an honor to be able to use it to also protect preborn children.”

“Every option is on the table to undo these regressive measures, including seeking justice through the courts,” said Mindy Rush Chipman, interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, in a Monday statement. Chipman charged that the bans will cause “significant harm.”

Lawmakers opposed to the abortion ban and transgender legal reforms filibustered all proposed legislation for months. They fell one vote short of the 17 votes needed to halt the advance of the bill.

On Friday hundreds of opponents of the legislation, including self-identified transgender youth, rallied at the capitol and some filled the capitol rotunda.

Supporters of the legislation included the Nebraska Catholic Conference. Marion Miner, the conference’s associate director of Pro-life and Family Policy, argued for the legislation in Feb. 8 testimony to the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee.

“A healthy culture promotes the integrity of persons, in part by cultivating manifestations of sex differences that correspond with biological realities. It supports gender expressions that reveal and communicate the reality of our sexual natures. A misguided concept of gender, on the other hand, denies, conceals, and distorts the realities of our nature and hinders human flourishing.

“Most alarmingly, it exposes emotionally vulnerable children to dangerous and sometimes irreversible wounding of their own bodies, permanently engaging in battle against what will be the body’s lifelong struggle to heal itself.

“As theories of sex and gender inconsistent with nature and the natural moral law are increasingly prevalent in popular culture, it is essential for the law to protect children while they develop and mature physiologically, emotionally, and spiritually,” said Miner, who cited several of Pope Francis’ statements against gender ideology.

According to Miner, foes of the legislation seek to respect those who feel “incongruence between their biological sex and the gender with which they identify” and who often suffer “feelings of anxiety and of being unaccepted.”

“Love, compassion, and respect for such persons, who are our brothers and sisters, along with an affirmation of their equal dignity and worth, is due to them,” he said.