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Biden mentions Our Lady of Guadalupe, shows rosary beads, in meeting with Mexican president

Washington D.C., Mar 2, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).- President Joe Biden cited Our Lady of Guadalupe and displayed his rosary beads in a conversation with the president of Mexico on Monday.

In the virtual conversation with Mexico’s President López Obrador, Biden—a Catholic—claimed a devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe from his previous travels to Mexico as vice president.

“During my visits, I got to know Mexico a little bit and its people, and paid my respects to the Virgin of Guadalupe.  As a matter of fact, I still have my rosary beads that my son was wearing when he passed,” Biden said according to a White House transcript of the event. He noted that he visited Mexico four times as vice president.

Biden has previously referenced his son Beau’s death from brain cancer as an incident where he relied upon his faith. In a 2020 campaign ad, he said that his faith supported him through tough times, noting that “I go to Mass and I say the rosary. I find it to be incredibly comforting.”

Our Lady of Guadalupe is patroness of the Americas, given the title by Pope St. John Paul II, and is also patroness of unborn children.

Biden is just the second Catholic U.S. president, and the U.S. bishops’ conference has noted the unique circumstance of having a Catholic president who upholds Church teaching on policies such as immigration and fighting poverty, but contradicts Church teaching on life issues, marriage, religious freedom, and gender ideology.

The USCCB formed a working group in November to advise the conference on how to deal with Biden; the working group made two chief recommendations before stopping its work in early February.

One of the recommendations was for USCCB president Archbishop Jose Gomez to send a letter to Biden that was pastoral in nature, but clarify areas of agreement and disagreement with the conference—especially his contradiction on the “preeminent” issue of abortion.

Biden has supported taxpayer-funded abortion and has pledged to sign the Equality Act, legislation the USCCB has warned would codify gender ideology in law and would "punish" objecting religious groups.

In a Jan. 20 statement for Biden’s inauguration, Archbishop Gomez offered prayers for the new president and emphasized his own role as bishop in forming consciences, rather than in being a partisan.

Biden, warned Gomez, “has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender. Of deep concern is the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences.”

Abortion, said Gomez, “remains the ‘preeminent priority’” of the conference, as it “is a direct attack on life that also wounds the woman and undermines the family.”

Although Biden’s staff have referred to him as a “devout Catholic,” the USCCB’s pro-life chair has said they should stop using that term due to his support for abortion.

“The president should stop defining himself as a devout Catholic, and acknowledge that his view on abortion is contrary to Catholic moral teaching,” said Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, in an interview with Catholic World Report published on Feb. 13.

Archbishop Naumann noted that “we bishops have the responsibility to correct him” for using the term. He added that Biden “is usurping the role of the bishops and confusing people” by calling himself a “devout Catholic” while opposing the Church's teaching on life issues.

At the bilateral meeting on Monday, both presidents discussed the COVID-19 pandemic, economic cooperation, and climate change.

During his conversation with Lopez, Biden also noted that he has a bust of Catholic social activist César Chávez in the Oval Office.

In response to Biden’s remarks on Monday, President Lopez thanked him through an interpreter “for your confession regarding your devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe.”

“We, as Mexicans, respect and admire two symbols,” he said, one being “the Virgin of Guadalupe” and the other being former president Benito Juárez.

This article was updated March 2 to include the title "patroness of unborn children" for Our Lady of Guadalupe.


Activists found not guilty of offending religious feelings in Poland’s ‘rainbow halo’ trial

CNA Staff, Mar 2, 2021 / 08:00 am (CNA).- A judge on Tuesday found three activists who distributed images depicting Poland’s Black Madonna icon with a rainbow halo not guilty of offending religious feelings.

Three women -- Elżbieta Podleśna, Anna Prus, and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar -- went on trial in Płock, central Poland, on Jan. 13 accused of offending religious feelings, a crime punishable by up to two years in prison.

The Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza reported on March 2 that the judge concluded that the activists did not intend to offend religious sensibilities or to insult the venerated image of the Virgin Mary.

The judge reportedly added that their actions were aimed at protecting people facing discrimination.

During the first hearing in January, a crowd of mainly young people gathered outside the courtroom, chanting slogans such as “A secular, not Catholic Poland” and “The rainbow does not offend.” 

Local media said that at one point the chanting was so loud that it was difficult for the hearing to proceed. Following testimonies from the first witnesses, the trial was adjourned.

The case concerned an incident in April 2019, when the three women placed posters and stickers of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa with rainbow halos on Mary and the Child Jesus on locations around Płock.

The activists said that they attached the images to walls and around the city’s St. Dominic’s Church in response to a display inside the church which listed “LGBT” and “gender” -- the Polish term for gender ideology -- as sins. 

Elżbieta Podleśna, a psychotherapist and activist, told the court on Jan. 13 that she regarded the display as “homophobic” and believed it could encourage the stigmatization of “people of non-heteronormative sexual orientation and gender identity.”

She was arrested in May 2019 at her home in Warsaw and taken to Płock for questioning. A court later determined that her detention was unjustified and awarded her damages of around $2,000.

The three women faced trial under Article 196 of the country’s penal code, which says that “Whoever offends the religious feelings of other persons by publicly insulting an object of religious worship, or a place designated for public religious ceremonies, is liable to pay a fine, have his or her liberty limited, or be deprived of his or her liberty for a period of up to two years.”

Karolina Pawłowska, director of the Ordo Iuris International Law Center in Warsaw, told CNA in January that she was confident that the trial had a sound basis in Polish law. 

“The image that is the subject of this case -- which depicts the Mother of God and Baby Jesus with the halos replaced with colors that are commonly associated with LGBT movements -- I think it’s one of the cases that fulfills all premises of profanation, which is defined in the Polish criminal code in Article 196,” she said.

Pawłowska pointed out that the “Rainbow Madonna” image was recently displayed during mass protests after the country’s constitutional court ruled that a law permitting abortion for fetal abnormalities was unconstitutional.

“Right now in Poland, we can see that this image is quite popular, especially among, for example, protesters that were using it during protests against the judgment of the Polish constitutional tribunal which banned eugenic abortion,” she said.

“And I think this image is very, very offensive to many, many people. And this is why it should not be promoted.” quoted Podleśna as saying that the prosecutor’s office was likely to appeal against the verdict.

Pope Francis appoints new bishop of US Virgin Islands

Vatican City, Mar 2, 2021 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis appointed Mgsr. Jerome Feudjio on Tuesday to lead the Diocese of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Originally from Cameroon, Feudjio has served as a priest of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ diocese for more than 30 years.

Commenting on Feudjio’s March 2 appointment, Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the apostolic administrator of St. Thomas diocese, said: “Bishop-Elect Jerome is no stranger to the people of the diocese. His long history of service and pastoral dedication to the people of this community of faith are well known and widely respected,” 

Feudjio, 65, currently serves as the vicar general of the Diocese of St. Thomas and rector of its Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul

The Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands was established in 1977 and is the sole suffragan see of the Archdiocese of Washington. The diocese is made up of 30,000 Catholics across the islands of St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas, and Water Island.

Feudjio first arrived in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1988 after Cardinal Seán O’Malley, who at the time was a coadjutor bishop of St. Thomas, invited him to work as a campus minister in the Saints Peter and Paul School. 

Two years later, he was ordained a priest of the Diocese of St. Thomas and appointed as parochial vicar of the cathedral. He taught French and religion at the Catholic school and went on to serve in multiple positions within the diocese, including as director of vocations, finance officer, administrator, and chancellor.

Born in Cameroon in 1955, Feudjio entered religious life at the age of 17 as a postulant for the Congregation of the Fathers of the Sacred Heart (SCJ). He attended their Saint Apostles Seminary in Otele, Cameroon, from 1972 to 1975, as well as the major seminary in the capital city of Yaoundé from 1975 to 1979.

While still in formation in 1980, Feudjio traveled to the United States, where he met the then Fr. Seán O’Malley, who invited him to stay and study in Washington, D.C.

Feudjio completed his studies in philosophy and theology in the Archdiocese of Washington at Oblate College, and in 1987 joined the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, making a temporary religious profession.

During his time in the U.S., Feudjio completed a graduate program at Southern Illinois University in the Administration of Justice Program, through which he interned at a local transitional house that helped former inmates readjust to society. 

In 2004, Bishop George V. Murry, S.J., who served as bishop of St. Thomas from 1999 to 2007, asked Feudjio to return to Southern Illinois University to pursue further graduate studies in Rehabilitation Administration.

Feudjio has served as rector of the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in the U.S. Virgin Islands since 2008.

As bishop of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Feudjio will succeed Bishop Herbert Bevard, who retired in September after he was hospitalized and airlifted to the U.S. mainland for medical treatment.

“Regrettably, I have experienced some new and unanticipated medical conditions that unfortunately preclude my ability to continue to maintain my position in the Diocese of St. Thomas,” Bevard wrote in a letter to the diocese on Sept. 18.

“I have loved serving the People of God; the clergy, religious, laity, and the entire Virgin Islands community in the Diocese of St. Thomas and will treasure the fond memories that we share together. It is this same love and concern for them, recognizing my own limitations, that now compel me to make this request,” he said.

Bevard, 75, has remained in North Carolina for ongoing medical treatment. He led the Diocese of St. Thomas for 12 years.

Pope Francis appointed the then Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington to serve as the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of St. Thomas until the new bishop is installed.

“I readily join the clergy, religious, and faithful of the Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands today in warmly welcoming Pope Francis’ appointment of Msgr. Jerome Feudjio as the sixth Bishop of this local Church,” Cardinal Gregory said.

“He now begins a new chapter in his own life and in all of your lives as well. Please keep him in your prayers as he transitions into his new office as I am certain he will hold all of you securely in his daily prayers from this day forward.”

Burmese cardinal: ‘Innocent blood may not be spilt on this land’

CNA Staff, Mar 2, 2021 / 05:15 am (CNA).- Preaching on the deadliest day of protests since Burma’s military coup, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo said on Sunday that “innocent blood” must not be shed in the country. 

In a Feb. 28 homily, the archbishop of Yangon lamented that the streets of Myanmar, as the country is officially known, had seen “so much of pain, suffering, and resistance” since the coup on Feb. 1.

“Slowly hatred seemed to infiltrate the peaceful marches. We pray that no violence happens. Innocent blood may not be spilt on this land,” the cardinal said. 

“We are all sons and daughters of the same land, same mother Myanmar and we need to exercise patience and tolerance.”

Bo was speaking on the day that clashes between priests and protesters left at least 18 people dead and more than 30 wounded, according to the UN Human Rights Office.

The UN said that the deaths reportedly resulted from live ammunition fired into crowds in Yangon, Dawei, Mandalay, Myeik, Bago, and Pokokku. 

Bo is the first cardinal in the history of Burma, a country with a population of 54 million people bordering China, Laos, Thailand, Bangladesh, and India.

Since his appointment as Archbishop of Yangon, the former capital city, in 2003, he has emerged as a leading advocate for democracy in the country.

In his homily on the Second Sunday of Lent, he called for the transformation of his homeland, focusing on the Gospel reading of the day, which told the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration. 

He said: “As Christians, our first duty is to bring peace. Hatred has no place in Christ. No hatred wins anything. For the last one month, we have pleaded with everyone: Peace is the only way; peace is possible.”

“Pope Francis has called for resolution of all differences through dialogue. Those who call for confrontation do not wish good for this nation.” 

He continued: “Social media, especially Facebook, is a virtual hell where hatred rules supreme; good people become violent in that virtual hell, destroying others. Humanity is disfigured in Facebook.” 

“On this day when we contemplate transfiguration, we need to be extremely cautious about virtual reality and our mental health. Transfiguration was a virtual reality. It deeply impacted the disciples who were participants in it. They went back to announce the Good News.”

“On this day we also pray for the transfiguration of this nation. For the last 70 years [since Burma’s independence from Britain in 1948], we are looking for the grace of transfiguration of this nation. Like Jesus, leaders can make supreme sacrifices, like Moses, our leaders can lead this nation to peace and prosperity.” 

“Like Elijah, our nation can proclaim a new Kingdom of hope ruled by great men of peace and wisdom. This remains a dream, but like disciples we are not only to be engulfed by the magnificence of the dream, we need to return to hard life of creating hope and peace. Let it start in each one of our hearts.”

Bo,  who is also president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences,  described the coup as “shocking” in an outspoken statement issued after the military detained Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s elected civilian leader, and Burma’s President Win Myint.

The UN reports that more than 1,000 people have been arbitrarily arrested and detained in the last month, with some remaining unaccounted for.

Catholic nuns have reportedly taken part in protests held across the country.


In Myanmar, a nun asking the police not to hurt the people

— Myanmar Burma (@MyanmarBurma7) February 28, 2021  

The Vatican newspaper published an article on March 1 praising the actions of a nun who was photographed kneeling before a line of advancing police officers in Myitkyina, the capital of Burma’s northern Kachin State.

L’Osservatore Romano said that Sister Ann Nu Thawng, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis Xavier, ran out into the street on Feb. 28 as police fired tear gas at protesters.

“On her knees, she raised her hands to God and begged: ‘Don't shoot, don’t kill innocents. If you want, hit me,’” the newspaper reported, adding that the police halted their advance.

Concluding his homily on Sunday, Bo said: “Let our present suffering be a sign that this nation is in the throes of a new birth. Let all of us enter into a mindset of reconciliation and dialogue. A new nation is possible, let it be born through Love.” 

“Like the disciples, let us get down from our own mountains of virtual reality and come down and meet one another as brothers and sisters.”

“Let wars and conflicts become history. Let this nation be transfigured. Let a new nation be born!”

Meet Don Alberto, Italy’s new YouTube sensation

Rome, Italy, Mar 2, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Fr. Alberto Ravagnani didn’t set out to make a viral video. He was just trying to find a way to stay connected to the kids who attend his parish’s youth ministries after Italy went into lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.

The 27-year-old priest had never edited a video before and he rarely posted on social media.

“It was an experiment. I wanted to make something nice and useful to fill these two weeks -- what I thought the time of closure would be -- but the closure was extended,” Ravagnani told CNA in an interview.

The priest’s first YouTube video, uploaded on March 14, 2020, and titled “Praying in the time of coronavirus,” quickly rose in views as it was shared across social media and messaging apps.

His second, about how “10 minutes of silence can change your day,” was uploaded the following day and has been viewed more than 50,000 times.

Seeing that the videos were reaching people, he decided to continue.

“I didn’t expect all of this. Also because it wasn’t the objective, I wasn’t trying to get a lot of views,” he explained.

But when it happened, the priest said that he realized it could be a way to communicate with young people in a creative way -- and he had fun making them.

All of Ravagnani’s videos -- to date 46 -- have gained tens of thousands of views (several have hundreds of thousands). They touch on topics as diverse as the existence of God, video games, happiness, and why to pray the rosary

In the videos, Don Alberto (as he’s known in Italy) speaks quickly and has an engaging energy, which is coupled with fast-paced editing. And he does not deploy euphemisms, using language familiar to today’s adolescents and teens in each of his frenetic videos.

For example, a seven-minute video on pornography, uploaded to YouTube in October 2020, is his most-watched, with more than 396,000 views.

“In fact, with the passing of time, I realized that it had opened a path, social media too, to speak about the Gospel, and to reach many people. Many people who, probably, in our usual activities, we don’t encounter,” Ravagnani said. 

Success on YouTube propelled the new priest to Italian stardom, with profiles in major Catholic and secular newspapers and, most recently, an interview spot on the newest talk show on the state-owned television Rai.

Ravagnani, ordained in 2018, is assigned to the Parish of St. Michael the Archangel in Busto Arsizio, a town of around 83,000 people just north of Milan. He is responsible for the parish’s large youth oratory, where he also lives. There he works with around a hundred youth from elementary through high school.

Speaking about his vocation as a priest, he told CNA: “In the midst of my faults, my limitations, my weaknesses, I know that where the Lord has planted me, I can bring forth fruit. Already I have seen some fruit. And I realize my life is for doing this.”

“Now I feel very happy, really, because I have found my place in the world,” he said.

But he did not always feel that way. Explaining that he did not grow up in a particularly devout Catholic family, Ravagnani said he was taught the faith in catechism classes, in his parish, and in youth group.

When he was in middle school, he became a catechism leader for younger kids, getting to play games with them and lead them in activities.

“This I liked a lot. I felt really fulfilled,” he said, “because I had the opportunity to do good for others through my talents, my abilities.”

But starting in high school, he “didn’t feel completely happy. There was something wrong.”

Everything changed for him when he was 17 years old and went on a week-long camping trip in the mountains, organized by his parish.

Ravagnani said: “There I am sure I had an experience of God that I had never had before in my life. And I felt really loved by God, and it changed me.”

“At that point, I met God. I began to pray, because before I didn’t have a particularly strong belief. And I decided to enter the seminary.”

Asked about the risks of internet fame for a Catholic priest, Ravagnani said that the temptation to make yourself the center of attention, or to craft a cult of personality, exists as much in the pulpit as on Facebook. 

“There are -- and I know some -- priests who really feel like they are ‘stars,’” Ravagnani noted. But he thinks this stems from a misunderstanding of the priest’s role as a servant of his people.

Flash forward three years into his priesthood, and Ravagnani has 130,000 followers on Instagram and more than 89,000 fans on TikTok. In February, he opened a “room” on Clubhouse where he gives a 25-minute reflection on the Gospel of the day, leaving space for questions from those who join.

He said that his YouTube videos would continue but at a slower pace as he starts yet another new project, one he is really excited about: a show on the live-streaming platform Twitch.

Ravagnani directs and hosts the hour-long episodes of “Doncast,” which he creates with help from around 20 teens.

In just the first three episodes, the priest has interviewed 16-year-old Federico Gardenghi, who at the age of 12 had already made waves as “the youngest DJ in the world”; Pietro Morello, a 21-year-old pianist who went viral on TikTok in 2020 and has a passion for missionary work; and Federico Patuzzi and his sister Susanna (who has Down syndrome), who have shot to Instagram and TikTok stardom with videos about their relationship as siblings.

After the interviews are streamed, they are also posted to YouTube.

“I guard myself [from the temptations] through the spiritual life and through friends,” Ravagnani said. “In the sense that I try to have people around me who love me, who want what’s good for me, and who keep my feet on the ground.”

On social media, he presents a certain character, he said, but he also lives in a community of people who interact with him every day, and know him and his faults like family members.

The young priest acknowledged that there are obvious limitations to social media.

“Social media platforms, as virtual spaces, miss the actual dimension of relationship: the here and now,” he said. “This is a structural limitation, but social media should not substitute the physical relationship, it should support it.”

“Certainly, it’s clear that there are risks, there are limits, but I think it’s wrong ... to put the risks at the fore and the opportunities in the last place,” he said.

Ravagnani is taking the opportunities and running with them.

“All of this is unpredictable. I never expected it, but the mercy, the providence of God is real,” he said.

And though he himself has embraced the virtual world of the internet, he had some different advice for teens and young adults, saying that “we can discover our vocation the more we throw ourselves into reality.” 

“The more we are attentive to what happens, to the people around us, the more we can hear God’s voice calling us,” he said.

English cardinal welcomes US investigation into garment-making industry

CNA Staff, Mar 2, 2021 / 03:05 am (CNA).- An English cardinal on Monday welcomed a U.S. investigation into alleged labor abuses in the garment-making industry in the city of Leicester.

In a March 1 statement, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said that a reported probe by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would bring attention to “the extent of forced and exploited labor” in garment factories in England’s East Midlands region.

“Actions such as these can bring pressure on anyone seemingly profiting from exploitation while avoiding all responsibility for it,” said the cardinal, who is president of the Santa Marta Group, an alliance of international police chiefs and Catholic bishops combating human trafficking and modern slavery.

Sky News reported on March 2 that CBP had seen sufficient evidence to launch an inquiry after the campaign group Liberty Shared submitted two petitions in February under Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930.

The Act prohibits the importation of “merchandise mined, produced or manufactured, wholly or in part, in any foreign country by forced or indentured labor.” Such products are “subject to exclusion and/or seizure, and may lead to criminal investigation of the importer(s).”

The first petition, submitted on Feb. 1, concerned apparel products sold by Boohoo PLC, one of the U.K.’s fastest-growing fashion retailers. The second, filed on Feb. 7, related to apparel businesses based in Leicester as a whole, with the exception of two companies, Basic Premier Limited and Ethically Sourced Products Limited.

In July 2020, the Sunday Times newspaper published an exposé on working conditions at a Boohoo supplier in Leicester.  

Boohoo asked lawyer Alison Levitt to conduct an independent review of its Leicester supply chain, which concluded that “allegations of unacceptable working conditions and underpayment of workers are not only well-founded, but are substantially true.”

The company promised to implement Levitt’s recommendations in full.

In a statement reported by Sky News, Boohoo said: “We are confident in the actions that we are taking to ensure that all of our products meet and exceed the CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) criteria on preventing the product of forced labor entering the U.S. (or any of our markets).”

"The Group continues to make excellent progress as it works to implement the Review’s recommendations and improve our supply chain in Leicester.”

Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster, said: “Pope Francis has graphically described profit made from the labor exploitation of any child, woman or man, as ‘blood money’ and the fight against modern slavery requires this kind of international cooperation if it is to register any progress.”

How to obtain a plenary indulgence during Holy Week

CNA Staff, Mar 2, 2021 / 12:43 am (CNA).- A plenary indulgence is a grace granted by the Catholic Church through the merits of Jesus Christ, Mary and all the saints to remove the temporal punishment due to sin.

The indulgence applies to sins already forgiven. A plenary indulgence cleanses the soul as if the person had just been baptized.

A plenary indulgence can be obtained during Holy Week for oneself or for a deceased person if one of the following works established by the Church is performed.

Holy Thursday

1. If during the solemn reservation of the Blessed Sacrament (typically on a side altar), which follows the Mass of the Lord's Supper, you recite or sing the Eucharistic hymn “Tantum Ergo.”

2. If you adore the solemnly reserved Blessed Sacrament for a half hour.

Good Friday

1. If you venerate the Cross in the solemn celebration of the Lord's Passion.

2. If you piously participate in the Stations of the Cross

Holy Saturday

1. If two or more people pray the Holy Rosary.

2. If you attend the celebration of the Easter Vigil at night and renew your baptismal promises, which is part of the liturgy of that Mass.

Conditions in all cases:

In order to obtain the plenary indulgence, in addition to performing the specific works mentioned above, the following conditions must be fulfilled:

A plenary indulgence requires that the individual be in the state of grace by the completion of the acts, and have complete detachment from sin. The person must also sacramentally confess their sins and receive Communion, up to about 20 days before or after the indulgenced act.

A single sacramental confession is sufficient for several plenary indulgences.

For each plenary indulgence that is sought, however, a separate Holy Communion and a separate prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father are required.

The prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father is left up to the choice of the individual.