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Catholic Relief Services leans on experience to fight coronavirus pandemic

Wed, 04/15/2020 - 15:00

Washington D.C., Apr 15, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- As aid agencies struggle to contain the coronavirus pandemic in parts of the developing world, Catholic Relief Services said it is relying on past experience in handling mass outbreaks of disease as it manages its own response to COVID-19. 

The aid agency, which is present in more than 90 countries and serves more than 130 million people each year, said Wednesday that it is ramping up aid efforts in countries across the world and taking a flexible approach to fighting the coronavirus. CRS is part of Caritas International, the global network of Catholic humanitarian organizations. 

Nikki Gamer, a spokesperson for Catholic Relief Services (CRS), told CNA on Wednesday that the organization is “working tirelessly to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to respond to its impact on some of the most vulnerable communities.”

“We are adapting existing programs to ensure things like social distancing and proper handwashing, for example, and are initiating new activities focused on creating awareness, prevention and quality care for those affected,” she told CNA.

Previously, CRS has worked to contain the spread of other infectious diseases and viruses, including tuberculosis, cholera, HIV, and polio. The organization worked extensively from 2014-2016 in various western African nations during the ebola outbreak, something that CRS President and CEO Sean Callahan said has influenced how they are handling COVID-19. 

“Our COVID-19 response will draw upon our experience in acute health emergencies,” such as ebola and HIV, said Callahan in a release issued Wednesday by CRS. “Our work will be informed by the local context and focus on some of the most vulnerable communities.” 

Callahan called CRS particularly “well-positioned” to assist throughout the world. 

“Our staff and partners have been a constant presence in some of the most vulnerable communities for more than 75 years and we are leveraging those relationships in times of an outbreak,” said Callahan. This extensive existing network has meant that CRS was able to “scale up” its efforts in key locations. 

Presently, CRS is focusing much of their efforts to combat the spread of coronavirus in parts of Africa, as well as Gaza and Cambodia. In Cambodia, which is not currently experiencing outbreaks at the same levels as other countries, CRS said it is working proactively with the country’s Ministry of Health and conducting health training at the provincial level to prevent mass spread of the disease from occuring. 

CRS has also sent nurses from its internship program to Gaza to help provide “surge staffing” in health facilities there.

In Kenya, CRS is moving to assist the health system in the capital of Nairobi through trainings on prevention and control of COVID-19, and has been training Kenyan healthcare workers located in areas where the disease may become prevalent. In Ethiopia, CRS has been providing workers at Catholic health facilities with personal protective equipment and isolation tents. 

As lockdown measures in many countries create widespread economic uncertainty and hardship for many families and businesses, Gamer told CNA that the organization faced similar challanges. 

“We are immensely thankful to know that the Catholic community always unites in crisis to come together to help those in most need,” said Gamer. “There is no difference now, even with the added layers of lockdowns and social distancing closing churches in our communities.” 

A person can donate through the CRS website, said Gamer, adding, “we thank all of our supporters for their collective efforts in helping us slow the spread of coronavirus for the most vulnerable people around the world.”

California churches sue governor to allow public worship services amid coronavirus

Wed, 04/15/2020 - 14:01

CNA Staff, Apr 15, 2020 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- Three Southern California ecclesial communities have filed a lawsuit against Governor Gavin Newsom, alleging that social distancing orders he imposed amid COVID-19 violate their first amendment right to freedom of religion.

Newsom imposed a stay-at-home order for the state March 19, mandating that nonessential businesses close their doors and restricting gatherings. Newsom’s order does not list houses of worship as “essential.”

The Center for American Liberty, a California-based nonprofit, filed the suit April 13 in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, as well as officials of San Bernardino and Riverside counties who imposed additional stay-at-home orders, are also named in the suit.

“If a Californian is able to go to Costco or the local marijuana shop or liquor store and buy goods in a responsible, socially distanced manner, then he or she must be allowed to practice their faith using the same precautions,” Harmeet Dhillon, chief executive of the Center for American Liberty, said in an April 13 statement.

The churches involved in the suit include Church Unlimited, a church located in Riverside county, whose pastor received a $1,000 fine for holding a Palm Sunday service.

The head pastor of Shield of Faith Family Church in San Bernardino county and the senior pastor of Word of Life Ministries International in Riverside county also are involved in the suit.

The churches argue that the state and local orders are overly broad, and that they can practice safe social distancing in the same manner as grocery stores and other businesses considered essential, the Associated Press reports.

San Bernardino county’s April 7 stay-at-home order mandated that faith-based services “must be electronic only through streaming or online technology,” adding that people may not leave their homes for “driving parades or drive-up services or to pick up non-essential items such as pre-packaged Easter eggs or bags filled with candy and toys at a drive-thru location.”

Riverside county’s order, imposed April 10, allowed for drive-up church services the weekend of Easter, but mandated that such activities would be prohibited after Easter Sunday.

On Friday, a federal judge refused to allow a small church in Campo, Abiding Place Ministries, to gather for Easter Sunday services, the AP reports.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread in the U.S., state and local governments have enacted various restrictions on public activities and gatherings.

Some officials have curtailed public religious services entirely and threatened serious consequences for churches which do not comply.

New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio threatened to close down churches and synagogues permanently if they still held public services. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear (D) said state police would record the license plate numbers of attendees of large religious services over Easter, with local health officials requiring them to self-quarantine for 14 days afterward. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) criminalized certain public gatherings of 10 or more people, which included religious gatherings.

In Kansas, Governor Laura Kelly (R) initially exempted religious services from the state’s limitation of public gatherings to no more than 10 people, but then included religious services in the regulations.

Local authorities on April 8 fined attendees at a drive-in service at a Baptist church in Greenville, Mississippi, prompting the Department of Justice to file a statement of interest on Tuesday in support of the church.

Attorney General William Barr issued a statement April 14 “on religious practice and social distancing” where he clarified that governments cannot put special burdens on religious practice that they do not also impose upon other activities.

“For example, if a government allows movie theaters, restaurants, concert halls, and other comparable places of assembly to remain open and unrestricted, it may not order houses of worship to close, limit their congregation size, or otherwise impede religious gatherings,” Barr said.

“Religious institutions must not be singled out for special burdens.”

Federal court says chemical abortions can continue despite Texas order

Wed, 04/15/2020 - 13:00

CNA Staff, Apr 15, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Chemical abortions in Texas will continue during the coronavirus pandemic after the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to overturn a lower court’s order on Tuesday.  

On April 9, the Western District Court of Texas placed a temporary restraining order on parts of the state’s ban on elective abortions during the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The court’s order allowed chemical abortions in the state to continue, as well as some surgical abortions.

Reviewing the court’s order on chemical abortions, a three-judge panel for the Fifth Circuit on Tuesday declined to overturn it, saying it had “doubts” about the state’s argument.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) had issued an executive order in March halting non-essential medical and dental procedures during the pandemic to conserve medical resources for treating COVID-19.

Attorney General Ken Paxton applied the order’s prohibitions to elective surgical and chemical abortions, except in cases where the mother’s life or health was deemed to be in jeopardy.

In a March 31 interview with EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, Paxton explained that the ban also applied to other non-essential procedures such as non-emergency dental and orthopedic procedures. The order was “something that could be used to save peoples’ lives,” Paxton said.

Abortion providers sued and the district court halted the abortion provisions of the order from going into effect, allowing abortions in the state to continue.

After reviewing the district court decision, however, the Fifth Circuit sided with Texas and allowed the state’s order to continue.

Then, on April 9, the district court applied a narrower restraining order on Abbot’s act, allowing chemical abortions in the state to continue as well as certain surgical abortions—in cases where women would be past 18 weeks of pregnancy and unable to access ambulatory surgical centers by April 22, or when mothers would be past 22 weeks of pregnancy by April 22.

The Fifth Circuit ruled on Tuesday that both the state and abortion providers failed to “settle” the question of whether or not the executive order “applies to medication abortions,” and thus “given the ambiguity in the record,” the judges concluded that the state failed to make its case for the district court’s order to be overturned.

Similar state actions in Ohio, Alabama, and Oklahoma have been halted in whole or in part from going into effect by courts.

A federal judge on Easter Sunday ruled that the goals of Alabama’s order, issued to conserve medical resources during the pandemic, “do not outweigh the lasting harm imposed by the denial of an individual’s right to terminate her pregnancy, by an undue burden or increase in risk on patients imposed by a delayed procedure, or by the cloud of unwarranted prosecution against providers.” 

Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser warned about an increase in chemical abortions as many parts of the U.S. are under shelter-in-place orders. She called chemical abortions the “next frontier” of the abortion lobby, in an op-ed for Townhall.

“The next frontier is the expansion, via telemedicine and the mail, of so-called ‘self-managed’ abortion (their term) using dangerous drugs,” Dannenfelser wrote, noting that chemical abortions already make up anywhere from 30 to 50% of abortions in the U.S.

Justice department backs Mississippi church over drive-in services

Wed, 04/15/2020 - 12:00

CNA Staff, Apr 15, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- The Justice Department (DOJ) is supporting a Mississippi church after local authorities fined attendees at a drive-in service during the coronavirus pandemic.  

The DOJ filed a statement of interest on Tuesday in support of Temple Baptist Church in Greenville, Mississippi, that held drive-in services where attendees listened to the service on their car radios. The church took the special precautions in response to the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, where the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended gatherings of fewer than 10 people, spaced at least six feet apart, to halt the spread of the virus.

In its brief, the DOJ argued that the church tailored its services to comply with public health guidelines, and that the city government acted unfairly in enforcing its restrictions on churches but not on other entities such as restaurants serving drive-in patrons.

“In addition to appearing non-neutral, the church’s allegations also tend to show that the city’s emergency actions are not applied in a generally applicable manner,” DOJ stated.

Mississippi’s governor Tate Reeves (R) issued a shelter-in-place order requiring citizens to stay at home except for certain reasons, and listed churches as “essential” institutions that could remain open while complying with certain guidelines.

The city of Greenville, however, curtailed drive-in religious services until the governor’s order was lifted. On April 8, law enforcement handed out citations to attendees at a Temple Baptist Church drive-in service, with fines of $500.

According to the church’s complaint, attendees were inside their cars with their windows rolled up. Member Lee Gordon told the Delta Democrat Times that a nearby SONIC fast-food restaurant was open for drive-in patrons. 

The church said that many members do not have the ability to stream services online, and thus a drive-in service would accommodate far more congregants.  

In addition to the DOJ’s brief in the case, Attorney General William Barr issued a statement on Tuesday “on religious practice and social distancing” where he clarified that governments cannot put special burdens on religious practice that they do not also impose upon other activities.

As states and local governments have the authority to enact certain restrictions tailored to a public emergency, “the constitution does allow some temporary restriction on our liberties that would not be tolerated in normal circumstances,” Barr said.

However, he added, these regulations cannot impede religious practice while allowing exemptions for other public activities.

“For example, if a government allows movie theaters, restaurants, concert halls, and other comparable places of assembly to remain open and unrestricted, it may not order houses of worship to close, limit their congregation size, or otherwise impede religious gatherings,” Barr said. “Religious institutions must not be singled out for special burdens.”

In applying the test of the federal and state Religious Freedom Restoration Act—where a government must prove that its substantial burden on religious exercise furthers a compelling public interest and is the least-restrictive means of doing so—the DOJ said the city’s prohibition on drive-in religious gatherings likely fails the test, as it is being less restrictive of other establishments such as drive-in restaurants.

As the church requires attendees to space their cars out beyond federally-recommended social distancing guidelines, and to remain in their cars with their windows up, “it is unclear why prohibiting these services is the least restrictive means of protecting public health, especially if, as alleged in the complaint, the city allows other conduct that would appear to pose an equal—if not greater—risks,” DOJ stated.

As the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has spread in the U.S., state and local governments have enacted various restrictions on public activities and gatherings.

Some officials have curtailed public religious services entirely and threatened serious consequences for churches which do not comply.

New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio threatened to close down churches and synagogues permanently if they still held public services. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear (D) said state police would record the license plate numbers of attendees of large religious services over Easter, with local health officials requiring them to self-quarantine for 14 days afterward. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) criminalized certain public gatherings of 10 or more people, which included religious gatherings.

In Kansas, Governor Laura Kelly (R) initially exempted religious services from the state’s limitation of public gatherings to no more than 10 people, but then included religious services in the regulations.

Knights of Columbus in New Mexico, Hawaii help Native people during coronavirus

Wed, 04/15/2020 - 05:01

Gallup, N.M., Apr 15, 2020 / 03:01 am (CNA).- Native Americans have not fared well in pandemics and epidemics.

The smallpox virus, which killed the parents and brother of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, is estimated to have wiped out 90-95% percent of the indigenous peoples of the Americas in the span of about two centuries.

The H1N1 flu epidemic of 2009 had a death rate that was four times higher for Native Americans than for any other ethnicity combined, according to the National Library of Medicine.

And now, Native Americans are being similarly hard-hit by coronavirus, and reservation conditions mean the disease spreads quickly, and already-limited resources could soon run out.

“Unfortunately, on top of everything else that people are dealing with, adding this whole (coronavirus) situation is just going to make life that much more difficult for many families on the reservation,” Jeremy Boucher, co-director of the non-profit Southwest Indian Foundation, told CNA.

Since the Navajo Nation announced a shelter in place order March 20, Boucher and the foundation have been making food deliveries to a food pantry on the reservation to ensure that those in quarantine or far away from grocery stores had access to food.

But the Navajo Nation extends into three states - New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah - with several other reservations in the area as well. And local food pantry rules limited Boucher to delivering food within McKinley County, New Mexico.

“The (Navajo) reservation itself is about the size of West Virginia, and there is maybe a total of five grocery stores on the reservation, and most of those grocery stores are close to border towns,” Boucher said.

“And so Gallup (county seat of McKinley County) is really the central town for most people living on the reservation. So people sometimes drive two, two and a half, three hours to come into town to get supplies. And right now, they're facing a situation where, if they're home-bound under quarantine for 14 days, it's really difficult to have someone come into town for you and get a bunch of stuff with all of the limitations that are happening at the grocery stores,” he said.

“So if you're not able to make it, you've got to send someone for you, but then there's no guarantee that, when you come into town, you're going to be able to find what you need, because the stores are wiped out,” he added.

To expand the relief efforts, Boucher teamed up with Patrick Mason, a member of the Osage Tribe and the Knights of Columbus board of directors, to bring food to more people.

“We knew just from living out here - I was born and raised here - the need is out there,” Mason told CNA. “Whenever something like this hits, whenever an epidemic or pandemic hit, a lot of times it's just devastating.”

Besides direct deaths from illnesses, Mason said, ancillary suffering and deaths typically occur in such crises. Many elderly people on the reservation live in simple, traditional hogans and lack running water and electricity and the ability to get themselves supplies.

They rely on family and friends to look out for them, but they’re often the first people forgotten in a crisis, Mason noted. “Not intentionally, it's just, people are concerned, and they forget to go check on so-and-so. A lot of times they end up suffering in a myriad of ways,” he said.

When Mason heard Boucher needed help, he worked with the Knights of Columbus as well as Life is Sacred, a Native American pro-life organization, to organize and deliver food baskets to the Acoma people, a Pueblo tribe 90 miles away that includes Sky City village, the oldest continuously inhabited place in the United States.

They also consulted Lance Tanner, one of the owners of T and R Market (a family-run grocery store that primarily serves Navajo clientele), for the food baskets.

Tanner, also a member of the Knights of Columbus, knew what staples his customers would like in a food basket, including flour, lard, potatoes, coffee, and spam, as well as toiletries and water; and treats like Crackerjacks and Kool-Aid for the kids.

Once assembled, Mason said the baskets - which were actually three large boxes - contained enough food to feed a family for about two weeks.

“I had a trailer (from the Knights of Columbus) and we called it the COVID-19 Relief Canteen,” Mason said. They made their first delivery during Holy Week.

“Our first delivery went to the Acoma people, which is one of the old Pueblo tribes. Those are Catholic tribes. They've been Catholic for hundreds of years,” he said.

“They have some churches there that are hundreds of years old, and they're very faithful Catholic people. They were suffering, and they said that they had about 140 people that were in desperate need of food, so we did our first delivery there,” Mason said.

When they arrived, they were told by the local volunteers that 60 more people had called in that day looking for food.

Wearing facemasks and gloves, Mason and the Knights and local volunteers unloaded the boxes at a centralized distribution center. Mason said they worked with local organizations who were able to deliver the boxes to the families most in need.

As word spread through the region that the Knights of Columbus were organizing food baskets, “then names kept coming in” of more people in need of help, Mason said.

Mason added that he also learned that another member of Life is Sacred, Dallas Carter in Hawaii, had been organizing similar relief efforts with his local Knights of Columbus for the native and vulnerable people there, and was in need of some additional help.

“Independently from what we were doing, he was doing something similar down in Hawaii. I talked to him and I said, ‘Well hey, we need to support you too.’”

Mason said the New Mexico Knights were able to provide a grant to the Hawaii Knights to keep their efforts going for two more weeks.

“Caring for our kūpuna (elders) has always been an essential value to the people of Hawaii,” the Knights from the Diocese of Honolulu said in a statement provided to CNA.

“With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent mandatory state quarantine many of our kūpuna were required to stay home without regular access to their normal means of acquiring food and other essential items. In fact even many of the regular food pantries, which many kūpuna depend on, were completely shut down for the safety of their volunteers,” they said.

“Several Knights of Columbus in the diocese of Honolulu, with the announcement of the quarantine and its inevitable effects on the vulnerable, stepped into the breach and began their own personal initiatives to help the kūpuna and other vulnerable people in their community,” the statement added.

Like the Knights in New Mexico, the Knights in Hawaii were delivering food supplies for two weeks and other necessities to the elderly and vulnerable populations - and so far have served about 5,000 people in their efforts.

Mason said his group of Knights have enough funding to keep their own relief efforts in New Mexico going for another two weeks, but he is hoping they are able to garner more support to keep it going even longer.

“We want to get the word out there, because really, everybody’s suffering right now,” he said. “But I think sometimes...those people on the peripheries are sometimes the most forgotten and the most suffering. A little old, 80-year-old grandma living by herself an hour from the closest person, is one of the first people forgotten,” he said.

In a statement, the Knights of Columbus in Gallup said that while this has felt like a long Lent for everyone, “by standing together, the light of Easter will be upon us, and together we will sing the Non Nobis and Te Deum as the mists of darkness clear.”

US bishops join Pope Francis' call for global ceasefire to counter coronavirus

Tue, 04/14/2020 - 20:00

Washington D.C., Apr 14, 2020 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops have echoed Pope Francis’ call for a global ceasefire to help defend vulnerable populations from the COVID-19 virus and respond to the global pandemic.

Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Ill., who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, said the Pope's plea for peace seeks to deepen “fraternal bonds of the human family” in search of “lasting peace.”

“May God use even the difficulties of this moment to bring about peace and solidarity in the world,” Malloy said in an April 8 statement.

“May God’s grace open the hearts of combatants throughout the world so that they realize their shared frail humanity and allow a cessation of hostilities to come to pass,” he added. “With such cessation, corridors of humanitarian assistance can be established and strengthened to allow relief to reach those in greatest need.”

Malloy’s comments followed Pope Francis’ appeal for a global ceasefire as countries work to protect their populations from the coronavirus pandemic.

Close to 2 million people are confirmed to have been infected with the coronavirus, with some 125,000 dead and 470,000 deemed to be recovered. In some parts of the world the numbers of people with severe symptoms have overwhelmed hospital facilities. Efforts to halt the spread of the virus through mandatory self-distancing have led to business closures and massive new unemployment.

Even wealthy nations at peace have faced difficulties securing medical tests, protective equipment and hospital space in their responses to the novel coronavirus. These difficulties are amplified in regions at war.

About 70 countries are engaged in some kind of conflict, with some conflicts dating back decades.

“Over a billion people on our planet live without access to the basic necessities of life. Over 70 million are displaced who already live amidst violent conflict and persecution,” Malloy said. “The unfolding global health pandemic and subsequent economic crisis only exacerbate their intolerable suffering.”

Pope Francis urged nations in conflict to respond to the March 23 appeal from the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who called for for an “immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world” to “focus together on the true fight of our lives,” the “battle” against the coronavirus.

“The current emergency of COVID-19 … knows no borders,” the pope said in his March 29 Angelus address.

“I invite everyone to follow up by stopping all forms of war hostility, promoting the creation of corridors for humanitarian aid, openness to diplomacy, attention to those in a situation of greater vulnerability,” the pope continued.

Francis repeated his call for a ceasefire in his Easter Sunday Urbi et Orbi address.

“This is not a time for division. May Christ our peace enlighten all who have responsibility in conflicts, that they may have the courage to support the appeal for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world,” he said. “This is not a time for continuing to manufacture and deal in arms, spending vast amounts of money that ought to be used to care for others and save lives.”

Some parties to war appear to have backed the call for a ceasefire, but such efforts could be tenuous.

Humanitarian advocates at the United Nations feared that the COVID-19 virus could be especially devastating in Yemen, which continues to suffer a five-year-long civil war between Saudi Arabia-led forces and the Iran-aligned Houthi movement, whose forces hold the national capital of Sana'a.

The Saudi- and United Arab Emirates-led coalition announced a unilateral ceasefire to begin on April 9.

Skeptical Houthi officials called it a “political and media maneuver.” Their counter-offer appeared to apply a ceasefire only to fighting between their forces and Saudi Arabia, and not to groups loyal to Yemeni leader Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reports.

Within a week the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition accused Houthi forces of violating the ceasefire. On the ground, few civilians think the ceasefire will be more effective than previous efforts.

Over half of Yemen's hospitals and clinics have been destroyed or closed by the fighting. UN officials say over 90% of the population could become infected by the COVID-19 virus. Only one case has been confirmed in Yemen, but there are almost no testing facilities there.

More than 100,000 have died because of the war, including 12,000 civilians dead in direct attacks. Another 3.6 million people have been displaced. About 12 million Houthis, about 80% of whom live in Houthi territory, depend on UN food supplies each month. About 24 million Yemenis need some form of humanitarian assistance, and close to 10 million people are considered to be on the brink of famine.

In Syria, where the civil war is now nine years old, fighting has calmed since Turkey and Russia agreed to a ceasefire. Russia backs the Syrian government in Damascus, while Turkey backs some rebel groups which oppose it.

At least one million people fled their homes since December during the Syrian government’s offensive in northwest Idlib province, Syria’s last rebel-held territory, which borders Turkey. Some displaced persons have returned home to Idlib, in part due to fears of coronavirus outbreaks in refugee camps, Reuters reports.

The Southern Cameroons Defence Forces, an armed rebel group in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon, announced a two-week ceasefire to begin March 29 as “a gesture of goodwill” and to allow testing for the new coronavirus, BBC News reports.



Judge rules abortion access outweighs efforts to fight coronavirus

Tue, 04/14/2020 - 19:00

CNA Staff, Apr 14, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- A federal judge said on Easter Sunday that the state of Alabama cannot move to limit abortion procedures through measures intended to focus medical resources on fighting coronavirus. 

Granting a preliminary injunction on Sunday, April 12, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson wrote that “efforts to combat COVID-19 do not outweigh the lasting harm imposed by the denial of an individual’s right to terminate her pregnancy, by an undue burden or increase in risk on patients imposed by a delayed procedure, or by the cloud of unwarranted prosecution against providers.” 

The defendants in this case were Alabama’s state health officer Scott Harris and Attorney General Steve Marshall. The case was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of Dr. Yashica Robinson. Robinson is an abortion doctor based in Huntsville, AL. 

Several other states, including Ohio, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alaska, Arkansas, and Texas, have attempted to classify elective abortions as non-essential procedures during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Many states have suspended medical procedures deemed non-emergency or non-essential in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus among healthcare professionals and to free up medical resources and hospital capacity. 

On March 19. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) issued a statewide order which stopped all medical procedures except for emergencies or those needed to “avoid serious harm from an underlying condition or disease, or necessary as part of a patient’s ongoing and active treatment.”

The order was later expanded to a statewide stay-at-home order on April 3. 

The suit was filed after Alabama health officials refused to clarify that abortion clinics would be permitted to stay open under the new directives. The injunction means that abortion will remain available in Alabama. 

Federal courts have issued a variety of decisions regarding a state’s ability to restrict abortions due to COVID-19. On April 7, a three-judge panel for the Fifth Circuit Court ruled in a 2-1 decision that Texas has the authority to halt elective abortions as non-essential medical procedures during a public health emergency. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued that order on March 22. 

Citing precedent, the court said that “the pressure of great dangers” constitutional law “allows the state to restrict, for example, one’s right to peaceably assemble, to publicly worship, to travel, and even to leave one’s home. The right to abortion is no exception.”

On March 31, the court had ruled in the state’s favor, putting a temporary stay on a lower court’s decision that halted Texas’ order from going into effect, and considering the matter further.

Other judges ruled the opposite for Ohio and Oklahoma. 

On April 6, separate courts both ruled that Ohio and Oklahoma cannot stop abortion clinics from operating due to COVID-19.

Ohio had ordered a halt on surgical abortions as “non-essential” medical procedures during the pandemic, before a district court put a temporary restraining order on that policy on March 30.

On April 6, the Sixth Circuit declined the state’s appeal of the decision, saying it lacked jurisdiction, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

That same day, Federal Judge Charles Goodwin of the Western District of Oklahoma issued a temporary restraining order on the state’s act to stop non-emergency abortions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Although the state can take lawful “emergency measures” during the new coronavirus crisis, Judge Goodwin wrote, such actions should not be “a plain, palpable invasion of rights,” including of “access to abortion.”

He concluded that the state “acted in an ‘unreasonable,’ ‘arbitrary,’ and ‘oppressive’ way—and imposed an ‘undue burden’ on abortion access—in imposing requirements that effectively deny a right of access to abortion.” 

Regarding its ban on medication abortions, Goodwin said its “minor” contribution to public health is “outweighed by the intrusion on Fourteenth Amendment rights.”

In New York, former Catholic nursing home opens as COVID rehab center

Tue, 04/14/2020 - 18:06

CNA Staff, Apr 14, 2020 / 04:06 pm (CNA).- A former Catholic nursing home in New York state is set to open as a rehabilitation center for coronavirus (COVID-19) patients who have been discharged from Catholic hospitals but are not yet ready to return home.

Mark Sullivan, president and CEO of Buffalo-based Catholic Health, said the facility will help to free up hospital beds in western New York ahead of an expected surge in COVID-19 patients in the coming weeks.

“From conception to completion, we were able to renovate and equip this facility to meet our high standards in less than two weeks,” Sullivan said April 13.

The facility is set to open April 14 in Orchard Park, New York, about 15 miles southeast of Buffalo.

Sullivan said Catholic Health— partnering with a nursing home company called the McGuire Group— is responding to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s call to prepare for a surge of COVID-19 cases in the area. Catholic Health worked with the New York State Department of Health to develop the plans for the facility.

The former AbsolutCare nursing home, where the center will be located, closed in 2019. The facility will feature 80 beds and will likely serve older, at-risk patients who are COVID-19 positive, the medical director told WKBW.

The entire facility will be divided into color-coded zones to keep appropriate distance between patients, modeled off of a 120-bed acute care facility that the health system opened near Buffalo on March 27. Most patients are expected to spend around 21 days at the center, depending on how well they recover, the medical director told WKBW.

Erie County, where Orchard Park is located, has over 1,600 confirmed cases of COVID-19. New York state as a whole has the most confirmed cases of any state, with nearly 200,000 as of April 14.


Pro-life counselors 'singled out' for coronavirus enforcement, lawsuit alleges

Tue, 04/14/2020 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Apr 14, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Lawyers have filed suit against the city of Greensboro, North Carolina, for enforcing public health restrictions in an allegedly discriminatory manner following the arrest of several pro-life sidewalk counselors.

A lawsuit filed on April 14 by the group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on behalf of pro-life sidewalk counselors alleges that the city of Greensboro selectively enforced county public safety rules against the counselors. 

The rules on social distancing and public gatherings were enacted to halt the spread of the coronavirus. Four counselors with the group Love Live were arrested on March 28 by Greensboro police as they stood on public sidewalks outside the local abortion clinic A Woman’s Choice. They gathered in groups of fewer than 10 people and people were spaced six feet apart, in an effort to comply with public health regulations.

The group’s president Justin Reeder and lawyer Jason Oesterreich were arrested again on the morning of March 30, along with a pastor who had joined them. Seven more arrests were made later that morning when other members of Love Life attempted to counsel at the location.

According to the initial March 28 citations, the counselors had violated the county’s rules by gathering with more than 10 people, but then the citations were amended to state that they were “travel[ing] for a non-essential function[/purpose].”

Guilford County enacted public health rules during the pandemic that included limits of gatherings to fewer than 10 people, spaced six feet apart, with hand sanitizer present.

The counselors were meeting these requirements outside the Greensboro clinic, ADF argued in its brief, showing that the city was enforcing the restrictions in a discriminatory manner.

County guidelines, issued during the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, allow for travel into or out of the county for “Essential Businesses and Operations” which include “organizations that provide charitable and social services.” ADF argues that Love Life meets this definition of a charity providing essential services, and thus should not be subject to the transportation regulation.

In its brief, ADF says the pro-life counselors were “singled out” by the city, which is allowing abortion clinics to stay open but was prohibiting the sidewalk counselors from exercising their ministry.

“The government can’t allow some people to walk and talk on sidewalks and then say that these pro-life citizens can’t walk and pray there,” ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle stated.

“While we support the efforts of authorities to prioritize the public’s health and safety, people of faith can’t be singled out as the city has done here. If abortion businesses can stay open to perform elective abortions during the pandemic, Christians who abide by health and safety guidelines should certainly be allowed to pray outside.”

In a similar case, ADF sent a letter to the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, defending the right of pro-life sidewalk counselors to exercise their ministry as charity providing essential social services during the pandemic.

As the new coronavirus (COVID-19) spread through the U.S. in recent weeks, state and local governments have enacted various restrictions on businesses, non-profits, and public gatherings in an effort to contain the virus.

Many abortion clinics have remained open, including the clinics in Charlotte and Greensboro. ADF argues that if abortion clinics are allowed to remain open, then pro-life sidewalk counselors should also be allowed to perform their “essential” ministry.

Furthermore, the city reportedly claimed that they had the authority to curb all First Amendment activity during the pandemic.

On April 4, pastors and others who were regular Love Life volunteers were praying on the public sidewalk when they were threatened with arrest. According to ADF’s brief, an officer told one of the pastors that “praying is a form of demonstration” that is “outside the realm of the stay-at-home order.” According to the officer, citizens could use the sidewalk for essential activities such as buying groceries, but not for demonstrations.

In the brief, ADF states that a city attorney said people can travel on foot to a location to perform outdoor activities, but not by car. The attorney also said the counselors could “pray and speak at home.”

Justice Department to act on unfair religious restrictions during coronavirus

Tue, 04/14/2020 - 13:10

Washington D.C., Apr 14, 2020 / 11:10 am (CNA).- The Justice Department (DOJ) has promised to act on any abuses of religious freedom after some state and local governments sought to enforce tough restrictions on Easter services during the coronavirus pandemic.

On Saturday, DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec tweeted that Attorney General William Barr “is monitoring government regulation of religious services” in a week when Christians celebrated Easter and Jews commemorated Passover.

“While social distancing policies are appropriate during this emergency, they must be applied evenhandedly and not single out religious organizations. Expect action from DOJ next week!” Kupec tweeted.

As the coronavirus continues to spread in the U.S., state governors, mayors and county governments have issued various restrictions on businesses, transportation, public gatherings and religious services. There are nearly two million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with almost 600,000 cases in the U.S.

Some state and local governments have drawn criticism for allegedly burdensome restrictions on religious exercise.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear (D) announced on April 10, Good Friday, that State Police would record the license plate numbers of any vehicles seen at religious mass gatherings on Easter weekend. Local health officials would then contact the owners of the cars and instruct them to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“This is the only way we can ensure that your decision doesn’t kill someone else,” Beshear stated.

An executive order of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) that went into effect on March 24 criminalized public gatherings with more than 10 people present—including religious services.

Other states first restricted other gatherings before applying the same regulations to churches. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly on Tuesday of Holy Week extended a prohibition of public gatherings with no more than 10 people to churches, after previously encouraging churches to stop public services but not forbidding services with more than 10 people.

Some local restrictions have been overturned in court. In Kentucky, district court judge Justin Walker allowed a Louisville church’s drive-in Easter services to continue, ruling that that the city’s actions would “substantially burden” the religious exercise of On Fire Christian Center “on one of the most important holidays of the Christian calendar, Easter Sunday.”

Louisville’s Mayor Greg Fischer stated to WHAS11 local news after Judge Walker issued his temporary restraining order that “There was never a Louisville Metro Government ban on drive-in church services, as we would have explained in court if we had been allowed.”

“I urged, and will continue to urge, against these kinds of services, because I want to protect my city and its residents from the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” Fischer stated.

Action by the Justice Department is anticipated this week to protect the rights of churches and other houses of worship from unconstitutional limitations of religious exercise during the pandemic.

“Generally speaking, there are occasions where liberties have to be restricted during certain emergencies such as war, or in this case, a potentially devastating pandemic,” Barr stated in an April 8 interview on Fox News.

He added that such restrictions, however, must be “balanced against the civil liberties of the American people” and must be applied equitably across sectors of society, not imposing “special burdens on religion.”

In some cases, Barr said, the Justice Department has already “jawboned” local governments which had put special burdens on religious practices. The governments subsequently “changed their rules to be neutral in that respect,” Barr said.

Restrictions on religion should be temporary, he emphasized. “I would hate to see restrictions on religion continue longer than they’re strictly necessary,” he said.

Eric Dreiband, DOJ assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, also wrote in an April 9 Washington Examiner op-ed that government cannot “impose special restrictions on religious activity.”

“For example, if a government orders that houses of worship close or limit their congregation size, those limits must also apply to movie theaters, restaurants, concert halls, and all other comparable places of assembly,” he wrote.

Bishops pray for victims of Easter storms

Tue, 04/14/2020 - 11:31

Washington D.C., Apr 14, 2020 / 09:31 am (CNA).- The bishops of the United States have offered their prayers in solidarity with the victims of extreme weather over the Easter weekend. At least 30 people were killed due to severe weather across the southern U.S. April 12 and 13. 

“This Easter Monday began with the sad news that storms swept across multiple states in the South overnight, killing at least 19 people [at the time of this statement] across Mississippi, Georgia, Arkansas, and South Carolina,” said a statement co-signed by USCCB President Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, who leads the conference’s domestic justice and human development committee.

Storms also caused damage in Alabama, Texas, North Carolina, Louisiana, West Virginia, and Tennessee. On Monday evening, the death toll from the storms was revised to “more than 30.”  Recovery efforts are ongoing. 

The archbishops said Monday that “we must reach out and offer assistance to those affected, especially those who are grieving the loss of loved ones.” They acknowledged that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is harder than normal, but still essential. 

“We pray for those who are suffering, for those who have died, and for the first responders who are courageously offering help,” said the archbishops. “We also pray for those who remain in the path of these storms and for their safety and well-being.” 

The archbishops reflected on Monday’s Gospel, saying that the Lord told Mary Magdalene and the other woman at the tomb to not be afraid, and to go and tell the disciples that they had seen the risen Christ. 

Hope, said the archbishops, was described in the letter to the Hebrews as “an anchor of the soul, sure and firm.” 

“In the midst of disasters from weather and illness, we cling to this hope, that God can redeem our suffering and loss, that God is present to us even now, and that the Lord has conquered death for all time, inviting us to see Him face to face in eternal life,” they said. 

Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), who represents a district that was hard hit by the storms, said he was “heartbroken” by the damage, and that he found it “heart wrenching to see.” 

Fleischmann told CNA in a statement that faith is a source of comfort in these increasingly troubling times.

“Even in our darkest moments faith will always remain a source of strength and hope,” said Fleischmann. “As our nation deals with the adversity brought on by COVID-19, my community now has the added challenge of recovery from deadly tornadoes. I am praying for the victims and my staff and I stand ready to help our community rebuild.”

Supreme Court to hear Little Sisters of the Poor case by phone

Mon, 04/13/2020 - 12:00

Washington D.C., Apr 13, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- The Supreme Court announced on Monday that it will hear oral arguments by phone next month. Justices will hear arguments from lawyers remotely across six dates in the first two weeks of May in an effort to keep the business of the court moving during the coronavirus outbreak.

A statement from the Supreme Court, released April 13, said that ten cases would be assigned dates in the first two weeks of May.

"The Court will hear oral arguments by telephone conference on May 4, 5, 6, 11, 12 and 13," the statement said. "The following cases will be assigned argument dates after the Clerk's Office has confirmed the availibility of counsel."

"In keeping with public heath guidance in response to COVID-19, the Justices and counsel will all participate remotely. The Court anticipates providing a live audio feed of these arguments to news media," said the court's release.

Among those cases included in the revised schedule are the Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania and Trump v. Pennsylvania.

Those cases were originally slated to be heard April 29, but the court announced April 3 that they would be postponed, along with the other cases due for hearings across a two week window, “in keeping with public health guidance in response to COVID-19.”

The cases concern action by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to end the religious order’s exemption to the Department of Health and Human Services so-called contraception mandate.

In 2017, the Trump administration issued a rule exempting the Little Sisters and other religious entities from the mandate. State attorneys general for Pennsylvania and California then challenged the exemption in court.

The Little Sisters lost their case against Pennsylvania at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in July of 2019, and lost their case against California at the Ninth Circuit Court in October. They appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed in January to hear their case.

The release from the Supreme Court on Monday said that live audio of the arguments would be made available to media. Dates for hearing arguments in individual cases have not yet been assigned, the court said, and would be announced after lawyers in different cases have confirmed their availability.

The Little Sisters of the Poor have spent years in litigation related to the mandate. The 2010 Affordable Care Act mandated certain preventive coverage in health care, and the Obama administration interpreted the mandate to include coverage for contraceptives and sterilizations.

Religious institutions, including the Little Sisters and Catholic dioceses, said that a government “accommodation” still forced them to violate their religious beliefs in the provision of morally-objectionable procedures in employee health plans.

The Little Sisters’ case has already been heard by the Supreme Court in in 2016, when justices sent the case back down to lower courts, instructing the religious entities and the government to come to an agreement whereby the wishes of both parties could be attained. The Trump administration issued the exemption following that instruction, resulting the lawsuits by Pennsylvania and other states.

On April 8, Mark Rienzi, president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty which represents the sisters, said that religious order had been dragged through the courts for years.

“This, frankly silly, saga has gone on for eight or nine years with, at times, the federal government, and with, at times, state governments pretending that they need nuns in order to give people contraception, which has always been a whacky argument and a bad position for the government to take,” he said.

Also among the cases due to be heard remotely are Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel— both of which involve the “ministerial exception.” The cases focus on whether or not two Catholic schools in California are free to fire religion teachers without interference from the courts, due to the “ministerial exception” which exists under the First Amendment.

Becket, which also represents the schools, is arguing that the courts and government cannot “second-guess” the employment decisions of religious institutions on staff members who provide religious instruction to children.  

Why Christians believe in resurrection, not reincarnation

Sun, 04/12/2020 - 15:01

Denver, Colo., Apr 12, 2020 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- Every time Christians recite the Apostles’ Creed, they affirm their belief in what will happen to them after death: “'I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.”

The belief in the resurrection of one’s physical body at the end of time is central to Christian theology, and finds its basis in the resurrection of Christ, who rose in body and soul three days after his passion and death.

But according to a 2018 Pew survey, 29 percent of Christians in the US hold the New Age belief of reincarnation - the belief that when one’s body dies, one’s soul lives on in a new and different body, unrelated to the first.

The percentage of Catholics in the U.S. who said they believe in reincarnation was even higher - 36 percent; just shy of the 38 percent of religiously unaffiliated people who said they believe the same.

However, according to Catholic teaching, belief in anything other than the resurrection of the body is completely incompatible with a Christian theology and anthropology of the human person.

Where did the belief in resurrection come from?

Even before Christ, the belief that the body would rise at the end of time was becoming a more common, though not universally held, belief among certain groups of Jews, such as the Pharisees.

The Sadducees, for example, “were dubious about the authority to be given to the Prophets and other writings…(which included) skepticism about spiritual realities like the soul or even angels,” said Joel Barstad, who serves as Academic Dean and associate professor of theology at Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado.

“From New Testament evidence it would seem they were particularly hostile to the idea of a future resurrection of the dead,” he told CNA.

“The Pharisees on the other hand believed in angels and spiritual souls and the general resurrection of the dead,” he said.

As they became more convinced of the “radical faithfulness of God,” he noted, belief in bodily resurrection took root, paving the way for the acceptance of the resurrection of Christ.

“The resurrection of Jesus from the dead confirmed that belief, but it also gave it a deep and solid foundation,” he said.
What does belief in resurrection mean for Christians?
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The ‘resurrection of the flesh’ (the literal formulation of the Apostles' Creed) means not only that the immortal soul will live on after death, but that even our ‘mortal body’ will come to life again. Belief in the resurrection of the dead has been an essential element of the Christian faith from its beginnings. ‘The confidence of Christians is the resurrection of the dead; believing this we live.’ How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.... But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

The Christian confidence in bodily resurrection comes from Christ himself, and the New Testament promise that salvation comes through follow Christ in everything, including his death and resurrection, Michael Root, a professor of Systematic Theology at The Catholic University of America, told CNA.

“Salvation is unity with Christ, Christ brings the kingdom of God, and that kingdom is realized in the resurrection,” Root said.

There is a great deal of “fuzziness of thinking” regarding death that many Christians hold besides reincarnation, Barstad added, such as believing that after death one dies and goes to heaven and stays there forever, rather than joining with their resurrected body at the end of time.

“The vague notion that something called a soul or a spirit or a shade lingers after death in some kind of place or condition where it can be more or less happy is not Christian,” Barstad said. “A human soul without a body is a tragedy. Think about what a body is to the soul. It is the instrument, the nexus, the node, the vessel through which, by which, in which a soul establishes and sustains contact with reality,” he added.

A body, he said, has concretely experienced everything that a soul has gone through in its lifetime. It is the actual mode through which the soul has related to others. It makes that person who they are - the father of a particular son, or the daughter of a particular mother, the wife of a particular husband, or the friend of a particular person.

“A soul stripped completely of its body is literally nobody. Who cares whether such a nobody lives forever! A Christian is someone who wants to be this and after death and unto the ages of ages. But for that to be possible, I'll need my body resurrected along with the bodies of everyone and everything I have a relationship with,” he said.

“I have to die completely and be dissolved back into the dust from which I came; and then I have to be put back together again in a new kind of life,” he said. “The trouble is I would cease to exist at the midpoint of this process. Someone else has to hold me in being as I pass over from death to new life. Only because Christ loves me am I held in being, not just my soul, the nobody, but the somebody I am because I have this body.”

Why Christians should reject reincarnation

The two main reasons that a Christian should reject reincarnation is that it is opposed to the way of salvation offered by Christ, and because it goes against the nature of the human person, Root said.

“It contradicts the picture of salvation that we have in the New Testament, where our participation in Christ’s resurrection is what salvation is all about,” Root said, “and it gives us quite a different picture of what it is to be a human being - a disembodied self that isn’t related to any particular time.”

“Christianity takes very seriously that we are embodied beings, and any notion of reincarnation means that the real self only has a kind of accidental connection to any specific body, because you’ll go on to another body and another body and another body, and bodiliness ends up being kind of at best side point about who you are,” he said.

The belief in the resurrection is bound up with a Christian view of the human person, Root said, which is that a person will only ever have one particular body, and what happens in that particular body matters.

“There’s very little formal Catholic dogma about the resurrection details, but one that there is is that we will rise in the same body we now have. There’s no official definition of what ‘same’ is here, and there’s a big transformation, but nevertheless it is official Catholic dogma that we will rise in the body we now have,” he said.

The transformation of the body can be seen in the resurrected Christ who, once resurrected, was able to walk through walls, appear or disappear suddenly, and seemingly control who was able to recognize him, though he maintained his body, Root noted.

The Christian view of the human person also means that what happens with each person’s body matters. In the document “Jesus Christ: The Bearer of the Water of Life” by the Pontifical Councils for Culture and for Interreligious Dialogue, the Vatican said that belief in reincarnation is incompatible with Christianity because it denies the freedom and responsibility of persons who act through their bodies.

Reincarnation is “irreconcilable with the Christian belief that a human person is a distinct being, who lives one life, for which he or she is fully responsible: this understanding of the person puts into question both responsibility and freedom,” the document states. A Christian occupies a body, which is able to be judged for its sins, but is also able to participate in Christ’s redemptive work through its suffering, the Vatican noted.

“In bringing about the redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the redemption. Thus each man in his suffering can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ,” the document states.

Barstad noted that the New Age belief in reincarnation as something positive even contradicts most traditional religions that believe in reincarnation, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, which ultimately view reincarnation as something to be escaped.

“I am not aware of any robust doctrine of reincarnation, whether that of Western Platonists or Eastern Buddhists, that regards reincarnation of a soul as a good thing; maybe certain Hindus or a Stoic could see it as a benign cosmic necessity, like the physical laws governing the conservation of energy,” he said.

“But certainly the deepest aspiration of Platonists and Buddhists is to dissolve the nexus of temporal, bodily relationships once and for all; that is, to dissolve the relationship to body so completely that no further embodiment is possible for that soul. The goal is for the soul to become completely and permanently nobody.”
The hope of the resurrection

Christian hope lies in the belief that Christ has conquered death, and Christians will be able to be known and loved fully as themselves in eternal life, which will include their resurrected bodies, Barstad said.

“(A) Christian wants to continue to exist as himself. He knows that he is loved by his Creator and Redeemer who wants him to exist always. Consequently, he can have the courage to love himself enough to want that self, this somebody, to exist forever,” Barstad said.

While Christians may experience wrongs and sufferings in this life, they can have the hope of knowing that “they have been loved by Christ who through his own divine-human dying and rising can take them apart, to the very dust, and refashion them, making something beautiful out of the tangled mess,” he added.

Christians also have the hope that not only will they be resurrected individually, but that they will rejoin their loves ones, “living in a renewed and refashioned heaven and earth,” Barstad said.

“This is why we evangelize, this is why we repent and make amends for our wrongs and forgive those who wrong us, this is why we pray for the dead, and this is why the saints who already enjoy the (beatific) vision of God nonetheless still pray for us. They are still invested in this world and await with us the final revelation of Christ that will bring about the resurrection of everybody.”

This article was originally published on CNA Oct. 24, 2018.

'The Eucharist is only in this Church'- How one 2019 convert found, and embraced, the Catholic Church

Sat, 04/11/2020 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Apr 11, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Elise Amez-Droz’s journey to the Catholic Church began in a place well known for religious fervor, but not exactly known for Catholicism: Salt Lake City, Utah.

While at a conference in Salt Lake City, Amez-Droz, 24, met someone who was converting to Catholicism, which surprised her, she said. A native of Switzerland, Amez-Droz said the only Catholics she knew in her home country were not very devout.

“I was shocked that, clearly, he loved Christ, and I could see it,” she said. “But it just puzzled me that he was joining what I thought was a dead faith.”

Amez-Droz was raised an Evangelical Christian, and said that in her youth she had no thoughts of leaving her childhood faith.

But in gradute school, she struggled.

“I started really wondering about the purpose of life. It was a really rough time for me," said Amez-Droz. She started to feel as though her life was suddenly without purpose, she said.

In Salt Lake City, she decided to join her new friend for Mass - the first Catholic Mass she had ever attended.

“My first thought was 'well, it's not as heretical as I thought it was [going to be],’” she said.

She kept in touch with her friend, and asked him questions about converting and why he was becoming Catholic. After she moved to Washington, DC, she made many Catholic friends, and noticed “how good all these people were,” and that they practiced virtue, “without having an incentive to do it.”

She initially found their virtue “annoying,” and was “really struggling” with how nice her new friends seemed to be.

Still, she decided to learn more about the Catholic faith. In 2018, she entered RCIA. But before committing to an RCIA program, she checked out RCIA at several different parishes in the Washington, DC area.

“I was like, ‘this is a long process. I’m signing up for something that’s going to last seven, eight months,’” she said, describing her relatively unusual approach to RCIA.

“I wanted to make sure I could connect well with the leader of it and that I was going to be learning the true doctrine of the Church,” she added.

After a few weeks, she narrowed it down to two parishes, before deciding on St. Peter’s in Washington, DC. She said she was intrigued by the Dominican friars who taught RCIA at the parish.

Amez-Droz also appreciated the approach the parish took to RCIA, which was to include past participants who had already been received into the Church.

"I knew every Tuesday night that there would be a group of people who were going to be there every time," said Amez-Droz. "That really made a big difference for me, because it showed me that people were still learning and they wanted to do that journey with us."

Still, even though she had put in that much effort to find the right RCIA fit, Amez-Droz still was not entirely sold on entering the Church until just a few months before Easter Vigil.

She told CNA that she was convinced after a period of intense study and reading.

“It became more clear to me that I could never go back to my Protestant faith, just having read too much history,” she said. She also was particularly taken by Augustine’s “Confessions,” and she was intrigued by “The Benedict Option.”

“I thought [The Benedict Option] was really interesting. I think it really warmed me up to tradition, considering what community life looks like,” she said. Another huge influence on her conversion was Christopher West’s “Theology of the Body For Beginners.”

“That theology made so much sense,” she said. “I was like, this is one of the most compelling things I’ve ever heard, and it’s from a pope. So that’s what made me think.”

One of the biggest ideological hurdles for Amez-Droz was accepting the authority of the Church. Once she did, however, it was relatively smooth sailing from there.

"As a convert, it comes down to 'do I accept the authority of the Church?' If I do, then everything else is true,” she said, and one must embrace the Church’s teachings.

Amez-Droz chose St. Therese of Lisieux as her confirmation saint, after first learning about her at a retreat.

She told CNA that she appreciated that St. Therese “emphasizes being great by being small,” and that she admired her humility. She also found it interesting that St. Therese died at age 24, the same age Amez-Droz would be when she entered the Church.

Additionally, Amez-Droz spoke French as her first language, the same as St. Therese.

The Eucharist was another major factor for Amez-Droz, and was the reason she decided to stick with Catholicism even amid the “summer of scandal” that plagued the Church.

She also said that she appreciated that the Catholics she knew were open and willing to discuss the scandals, particularly those concerning former Archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick.

"It helped me understand how Catholics were taking it,” said Amez-Droz. “It's true that every time I would hear 'but where else would we go? The Eucharist is only in this Church,’ and I thought that was true."

She explained that the scandals themselves did not impact her decision to join the Church, but did help her discern where to attend RCIA.

"I don't expect the Church to be perfect going forward, either. Ultimately, it didn't really affect my decision,” she said.

“I think the biggest impact it had for me was choosing an RCIA, because I wanted to make sure the priest wasn't involved with scandals himself."

Amez-Droz received the Eucharist for the first time on April 21, 2019 at the Easter Vigil.

She almost immediately broke down in tears.

She explained to CNA that she had spent the day with her best friend, and watched “The Passion of the Christ.” The movie, she said, made her feel as though she was “totally not worthy” of receiving communion.

“At the Easter Vigil, I was really happy and I was super-excited to get confirmed, but when it came to communion, it was like ‘this is what it's all about,’” she said.

“I was just overwhelmed that I could share in God’s very person in such a close way, even though I’m totally unworthy,” she said.

Amez-Droz told CNA that she feels entirely supported by her parish, and that she is fond of the structure provided by Mass, and the requirement that Catholics attend Mass each Sunday.

“There’s so many ways that Christ exposes himself to you in life. It’s not like you finding him, it’s like 'this is part of your schedule,'” she said.

“It’s making me a lot closer to God.”


This story is part of "The New Catholics Project," a CNA series profiling new converts to the Catholic faith. This article was originally published on CNA May 23, 2019.

Virginia bishops condemn Good Friday signing of abortion bill

Sat, 04/11/2020 - 16:20

CNA Staff, Apr 11, 2020 / 02:20 pm (CNA).- Virginia’s Catholic bishops lamented a decision by the state’s governor to sign abortion legislation passed in the Virginia legislature earlier this year. The bishops said it is offensive to pro-life Christians that the governor chose Good Friday as the day to sign the legislation.

“Yesterday, Governor Northam announced that he had signed the so-called 'Reproductive Health Protection Act'(SB 733 & HB 980). We are deeply saddened and disappointed by his signature of this legislation. That he would take this action on Good Friday, one of the most solemn days for Christians, is a particular affront to all who profess the Gospel of life,” Bishops Michael Burbidge and Barry Knestout said in an April 11 statement.

The Reproductive Health Protection Act first passed the state House, and then passed Virginia’s state Senate Jan. 29, more than 11 weeks ago.

The bill, which is now law, repeals a Virginia law mandating that only doctors can perform abortions, allowing other medical professionals, such as physicians assistants and nurse practictioners, to perform them.

The law also repeals requirements that women be given specific information about the abortion procedure before it takes place, and that an ultrasound be performed before any abortion.

The law also exempts abortion clinics from hospital regulatory standards for safety and cleanliness. It takes effect July 1.

“Over the past eight years, abortions have decreased by 42% in Virginia. Tragically but undoubtedly, these changes to our state law will reverse that life-saving progress and increase the number of abortions,” the state’s bishops said April 11.

“In February, we joined thousands of people of many different faiths to proclaim life at our state capitol at the second annual March for Life. Regrettably, the Governor and a majority of Virginia's legislators have adopted a far different message.”

“Though elected officials have stripped Virginia law of many longstanding provisions that protect unborn children and the health and safety of women, the pursuit of a culture of life in our Commonwealth will persevere,” the bishops added.

Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam said in a statement that “The Reproductive Health Protection Act will make women and families safer, and I’m proud to sign it into law.”

“No more will legislators in Richmond—most of whom are men—be telling women what they should and should not be doing with their bodies,” the governor added.

The governor did not indicate why he had chosen Good Friday to sign the bill.

For their part, the bishops said that pro-life efforts in the state “will continue to save lives because the sacrificial, life-giving love that Christ pours out on us is abundant, fruitful and overflowing.”

“As the Easter season begins, the Lord of life calls us to embrace new life in Him. Through this new life, let us come together with renewed zeal in prayer, advocacy and witness for life.”


Gomez, and Catholics across the US, look to the Sacred Heart in Good Friday litany

Fri, 04/10/2020 - 14:46

Denver, Colo., Apr 10, 2020 / 12:46 pm (CNA).- Isolated in their homes on a Good Friday unlike any other, Catholics across America tuned in April 10 for a litany to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, led by the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, who himself stood nearly alone in a cathedral built to welcome thousands.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said Friday that amid the questions raised by Christ’s death, and by the global pandemic, the most important answer is God’s love.

“We stand today at the foot of the cross with Mary, our Blessed Mother, and we look upon her Son, crucified. And we ask God: Why did he have to die? Couldn’t there be some other way?”

“Today we are also asking God: Why this coronavirus? Why have you allowed this disease and death to descend on our world?”

“We know that Jesus on the cross is the only answer,” Gomez said, in a homily he preached both in English and Spanish, while at least 10,000 people tuned in to a livestreamed broadcast of a liturgy of the Word, and a moment of prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.

“In the heart of Christ — wounded by the soldier’s spear, pierced by our sins — we see how much God loves the world. We see how precious we are in our Father’s eyes,” Gomez said.

“Jesus has opened his heart for us. He has given his life out of love for us. Now he calls us to entrust our lives to him — our whole heart, our whole mind; all our feelings and thoughts, our words and actions.”

“In this moment, Jesus is inviting every one of us in the Church to take up our cross and to follow him along the path of humble love, the path of reverence for God and service to our neighbors,” the archbishop added.

After his homily, Gomez led a litany, in which Catholics expressed their faith in the mercy of God. “Jesus, I trust in you,” Archbishop Gomez repeated, “¡Sagrado Corazón de Jesús, en ti confío!

In Wilmington, Delaware, Colin Stapleton-Bradley, 26, was consoled by the archbishop’s words.

“I thought that the litany helped me deal with the uncertainty of suffering, especially in light of the coronavirus, why it happens, and how we can use our own suffering to, in some small way, relate to Christ's passion,” he told CNA.

Robert and Jess Nayden watched the archbishop’s litany while their children, ages 3 and 1, ate lunch in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

“I really appreciated that Archbishop Gomez organized this. It was simple and prayerful, and his homily about trusting the Sacred Heart of Jesus spoke to a lot of what I’ve been praying about recently,” Robert told CNA.

“We’ve also struggled to get into live-streamed liturgies these past few weeks, but this was a moment where I felt united in prayer with people across the country,” he added.

Seminarian Ryan Mau of San Jose expressed a similar sentiment. 

“I was very happy to join other American Catholics in this,” he told CNA.

“I haven't been able to attend Mass since I was sent home from the seminary so to join in on a service like this reminds me how much I miss community and we can still be unified by prayer, even though most of us are not physically able to,” Mau said.

The seminarian mentioned gratitude for the witness of Gomez.

“I felt a sense of leadership and the guidance that really only a father can give me. I felt like he has been a great example especially in this odd time that we are all currently experiencing.”

Of a liturgy that switched between English and Spanish, Mau expressed support. “We need to reach out to all of God's children and need to be able to speak the languages necessary to do it,” he said.

Bo Bonner of Des Moines, Iowa watched the litany with his five children. He said he had a bit of difficulty with the livestream, and he wasn’t sure what he needed to do to obtain the plenary indulgence attached to the litany. But, he said, “I thought the recitation by the archbishop was good and that is most important, and his words were timely and appreciated.”

While he said he appreciated more the optics of the Urbi et Orbi blessing offered by Pope Francis March 27 than those of LA’s cathedral, “I am very glad we did it as a nation.” 

“I appreciate the opportunity to earn an indulgence during such a singular Good Friday,” he added.

Claire Breux of Washington, DC, also watched online. Family members in Louisiana and Salt Lake City alo tuned in, while they met together in a Zoom meeting to pray as a family, along with the archbishop.

Breux said praying with her family over Zoom has been edifying in a time of difficulty.

“We’ve done night prayer together this way a couple times already.  We all agree it gives the prayers an added richness- we feel closer to each other and more united and encouraged in growing in holiness while we are apart,” she told CNA.

“My whole prayer through this weird time has been for an outpouring of grace for holiness, that we see how much we need God- which of course is easier to miss when life is good- and that [God] has already provided everything we need.”

“Certainly on Good Friday I look at the cross and see that it’s all been accomplished for us,” she added.

In LA, Gomez, too, looked to the cross.

“Let us love one another, joining our sufferings to the heart of Christ, open for us on the cross. Let us sacrifice for one another, take care of one another, forgive one another,” the archbishop said at the conclusion of his homily.

“May our Blessed Mother Mary intercede for us in her sorrows today.”

“May she help us to be meek and humble of heart, and to persevere in this Good Friday of disease and death, to hasten to the Easter morning of the resurrection.”



How 5,000 relics found a home in a Pittsburgh chapel

Fri, 04/10/2020 - 11:00

Pittsburgh, Pa., Apr 10, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Nestled in a sleepy neighborhood in the hills rising over Pittsburgh lies a small chapel. Inside St. Anthony’s Chapel lies a piece from the Crown of Thorns, a tooth of St. Anthony of Padua, and more than 5,000 other verified relics, or remains, of saints from around the world.

Indeed for the fragments from the bodies and scraps of the belongings of countless saints, these relics continued to have earthly adventures long after the saints’ deaths. Many of the relics traveled across the world to escape war, confiscation, and desecration to make it into the safe hands of a Belgian-born physician and priest, Fr. Suitbert Mollinger, who founded the chapel.

The chapel now holds the largest collection of relics outside of Rome.

“Fr. Stewart Mollinger, well, he had an unusual hobby in which he liked to acquire relics of the saints,” Carole Brueckner, chairperson of the committee for St. Anthony’s Chapel, explained to CNA.

But in the midst of the political and social turmoil which Europe experienced at the end of the 19th century, this curious hobby was crucial to saving relics from across the continent.

Since the second century, Catholics have honored the relics of saints- either pieces of body parts or cherished belongings of holy men and women. While theologians and Church documents clarify that relics are not to be worshiped, nor do they hold magical powers, the teaching adds that relics must be treated with respect, as they belong to persons now in heaven. While relics do not have power in and of themselves, God can continue to work miracles in the presence of the saint’s body even after death, the Church teaches. Relics are present in, or below, many Catholic altars.

Because of their important place in Catholic devotion as well as their presence at Mass, relics became a target of anti-Catholic persecution in Europe.  

“It was a very chaotic time, in a sense, for Catholics, because people were fighting for territories and countries,” Brueckner said. During the mid- to late- 19th century the political boundaries – and also religious identities – of regions across Europe shifted as the modern nation-states of Germany, Italy, France, and Belgium formed, the power of the nobility and the Church ebbed, and secular governments arose.

Many nobles and religious “were afraid that their governments or the monarchies under which they lived would commit and confiscate the relics from them,” she explained. In some regions, Brueckner continued, authorities even “desecrated the relics and on occasion they would put someone in prison for having a relic in their possession.”

“Due to what was happening in Europe, this was an opportune time for Father to enrich upon his own personal collection of relics of the saints,” she elaborated. While it is forbidden for Catholics to sell or purchase relics, Fr. Mollinger was loaned or granted relics from friends in his home country of Belgium, as well as from his travels in the Netherlands, Italy, and elsewhere.

“Many times, his friends, who are also religious, would write and ask him if he could take some of their relics and keep them in safekeeping, until their countries or monarchies became stable, and Father always responded 'yes',” she explained. “Father also had agents that he had throughout Europe that were looking for the relics, because in essence, he would try to rescue them from being destroyed by governments and monarchies that existed in Europe at this time.”

Initially, Fr. Mollinger kept the growing relic collection in his rectory. Medical patients as well as faithful Catholics would visit the doctor-priest for both spiritual and physical treatment, and “they had the opportunity to venerate them those relics when they were there.”

Many pilgrims, Brueckner said, “were cured of their anomaly or disability” after receiving physical or spiritual aid in the presence of the relics. As a result, “Father was gaining the reputation as a priest-physician-healer,” she elaborated. Records of local Pittsburgh newspapers of the time documented Fr. Mollinger’s treatments, as well as the thousands of people who traveled to venerate the relics.

Fr. Mollinger, however, “thought they belonged in a beautiful church so that everybody could visit and venerate the relics,” and thus built with his own funds a chapel to house them.

The first section of the chapel was completed on the feast of St. Anthony in 1883, and houses the thousands of relics collected by Fr. Mollinger at the time. The second section was also completed on the feast of St. Anthony, nine years later in 1892, and contains the Stations of the Cross and relics collected after the chapel’s completion. Fr. Mollinger died two days after the last section of the chapel was completed.

Among the relics the chapel currently claims are splinters from the True Cross and the Column of Flagellation; stone from the Garden of Gethsemane; a nail that held Christ to the Cross; material from Jesus, Mary and Joseph’s clothing; a “piece of bone from all of the apostles”; and relics from St Therese of Liseux, St. Rose of Lima, St. Faustina, St. Kateri Tekawitha.

“If I had to name all the saints, we’d be here forever,” Brueckner exclaimed.

Nearly all these relics have been verified, as well.  

“When a relic is placed within that reliquary, it is sealed and it can never be opened again,” Brueckner said, explaining that the Church’s strict rules guard against tampering and forgery of relics. “For a relic to be venerated, you do need to have a document, and the document comes from the hierarchy in the Church. That document will tell you who the saint is, what the relic is, and it is saying that the Catholic Church has done their research and we can say what the relic is.”

“We do have the certificates of authenticity for almost all of our relics here within the chapel.”

While belief in the authenticity of the relics relies on a trust that “the Catholic Church has done their research, and I’m going to believe what the Catholic Church is saying,” Brueckner said, visitors still experience the same presence documented by the first pilgrims to the collection of saintly relics. “Many times when people come into the chapel they will say that they actually feel a presence.”

“I say that it’s like stepping into a little piece of heaven, because you are surrounded by so many people that our Church tells us are in heaven,” she remarked.


This story was originally published on CNA Aug. 20, 2015.

Not sure about 'Triduum at Home'? Here are some CNA Holy Week suggestions

Thu, 04/09/2020 - 17:40

CNA Staff, Apr 9, 2020 / 03:40 pm (CNA).- For many Catholics, this will be the first time the days of Holy Week are spent at home. If you’re not sure how to make the most of the Paschal Triduum and Easter at home, here’s what some of us at CNA have planned:


Courtney Mares, Rome Correspondent

Although we cannot attend Mass, I've found solace this Holy Week in listening to the Masses composed by Mozart and other classical composers. (Here is a link to a playlist of 10 hours of Mozart's Masses on Spotify.) Of course, I will be loudly playing a recording of the "Hallelujah" chorus from Handel's Messiah on Easter morning, as is my custom. I hope my singing Italian neighbors will join in.
This year, we also have the opportunity to make virtual pilgrimages around the world via Triduum livestreams. You can tune into Holy Thursday from the Garden of Gethsemane in the Holy Land, Good Friday veneration of Christ's Crown of Thorns from Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, a Holy Saturday livestream of the Shroud of Turin, and Easter Sunday Mass and the Urbi et Orbi blessing with Pope Francis at the Vatican through EWTN online.


Mary Farrow, Features Writer

I have been riding out coronatide with my husband and my now-31-week in-utero baby. This is a Holy Week unlike one I could have ever imagined. In a Zoom meeting with young adults from my parish this week, my pastor encouraged us to focus on quality and not quantity of prayer and at-home activities this Triduum, and so we are trying to do that. We will be following along with our parish’s resources. And of course having some Easter treats on Saturday night and Sunday to celebrate our Risen Lord.

Matt Hadro, Senior DC Correspondent

The biggest thing during our quasi-quarantine has been structuring our day, and for me, praying the Liturgy of the Hours has been a natural and quite helpful practice to center the day around God and pray with the rest of the church. I'll definitely continue this through the Triduum and beyond.

For the Triduum, this is what we have planned:
Holy Thursday
Livestream Mass of Our Lord's Supper
Afterwards make a holy hour at home.
Good Friday
Livestream the Good Friday liturgy from our local parish or diocesan cathedral
Pray the Stations of the Cross at home
Try to duck into an empty church that's still open
Limit screen time to watching liturgies or a movie like “The Passion.”
Holy Saturday
Cook and clean to prepare our home for Easter
Live stream the Easter Vigil from our parish or diocesan cathedral, and then break the fast like champs.

Christine Rousselle, DC Correspondent

I live 538 miles away from my nearest Catholic relative, so I typically do not go home for Easter even during non-pandemic years.

Here in Virginia, where I live, I had developed a routine over the past few years: Holy Thursday liturgy and seven-church pilgrimage with the Dominican House of Studies in DC, Good Friday at my parish in Arlington followed by a fish sandwich from Popeyes, Easter Vigil somewhere in the greater DC area, and then Mass on Easter Sunday at my parish in Arlington--followed by brunch with my friends who don’t celebrate Easter as they’re usually the only ones still in town. 

This year, I’ll be doing things a bit differently. On Thursday, instead of being with the Dominican friars, I’ll be on a virtual pilgrimage with the Diocese of Arlington. Friday, I plan on watching the pre-recorded Stations of the Cross that my parish released on YouTube--and maybe getting more Popeyes' fish delivered.

I’m not yet sure what the plan is for Saturday and Sunday. I have acquired Easter best-type outfits through my Rent the Runway subscription, so I plan on still dressing up, in order to maintain some sense of normalcy.

I find it hard to pay attention to streamed Masses, so I’m probably not going to stream the Easter Vigil--but I will likely tune in to Mass on Sunday morning. Afterwards, my roommates and I are planning on making pancakes and drinking mimosas. I’ve purchased some Easter candy and basket stuffers to surprise them (shh!), and I’m crocheting bunnies as part of my quaren-crafting.

This will be an Easter unlike any other, but that does not mean that the festivities have to have a cloud over them. Christ still defeated death and rose from the dead, so for that, I am grateful.


JD Flynn, Editor-in-chief

We're looking forward to a quiet Triduum.

In my own prayer, I'll read the Passion narrative of John's Gospel, and probably read Genesis 22 and the book of Jonah. 

We tell our kids a little bit about Christ's passion each night. Christmas, I've realized, is so much easier catechetically, because everyone understands birthdays.

But we've been talking about how Jesus was on the cross so that we wouldn't have to be, and how because of that, and because Jesus came off the cross, we can go to Jesus' house forever someday, and it will be great. We're not master catechists, but with three little kids who have no concept of death, let alone resurrection, we're doing our best!

I've realized through all of this that during Holy Week, the liturgies of the Church catechize well before we have an intellectual grasp of what's going on -- and more than intellectual catechesis, they imprint experiences on us. So our goal, more than anything, is to imprint formational experiences on our kids. On Holy Thursday we'll sing the Pange Lingua, which my kids love, and I'll wash everyone's feet. On Good Friday we'll make some stations of the cross, and find some ways of making the day more muted, and on the evening of Holy Saturday we'll have a bonfire in the backyard and talk about "waiting for Jesus." 

And we'll listen to the Exsultet, the Easter proclamation, because it's my favorite liturgical moment in the Church's life.

Then on Sunday, we'll eat a lot.

I don't know what my kids will remember, but it's worth a shot!


Jonah McKeown, Staff Writer/Producer

Sarah and I are planning to get dressed up to watch the Easter Mass livestream. I'll wear a tie and she'll wear a dress, just to make it a more formal occasion as we celebrate Easter.

Carl Bunderson, Managing Editor

*Go to confession

*Breviary and Missae siccae

For a traditional (i.e. pre-’55) Holy Week, these are great resources to pray the Breviary and to pray the propers of the Masses, and Good Friday’s Mass of the Presanctified:

Set the date you want, and select "Divino Afflatu" for the rubrics. This will give you the texts to pray both the Divine Office and the Mass.

Maundy Thursday Tenebrae

Good Friday Tenebrae

Holy Saturday Tenebrae

Live streams of Tenebrae and other services at the FSSP’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish will be available here or here.

Tenebrae are traditionally anticipated the preceding evening, so Maundy Thursday’s should begin at 1900 MDT on April 8.

For more information about traditional Holy Week, this includes links to a wonderful series of articles describing the rite.

If you come across a hand Missal printed before 1955, buy it.

*Listen to these Holy Week meditations by Fr James Jackson, FSSP.

*On Good Friday listen to Bach’s St John Passion, Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ, Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater.

*On Holy Saturday read von Balthasar’s booklet Life Out of Death.

*On Easter Sunday, eat lamb. Do not cook it too much. Listen to Bach’s cantatas Christ lag in Todesbanden and Der Himmel lacht! Die Erde jubilieret, and the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles’ Easter at Ephesus.

*Throughout the year, support your local ethnic markets. I found this week that the nearby Polish market that I used to frequent, and where I always stocked up on kielbasa and other goodies for Easter, is no more. Now I have to search out a new Polish market.

Let this be a lesson to us all.



Catholic groups call for ethical healthcare triage in coronavirus pandemic

Thu, 04/09/2020 - 16:52

CNA Staff, Apr 9, 2020 / 02:52 pm (CNA).- Catholic healthcare and bioethics groups have called for national protocols that eschew discrimination by age or disability as patients of the coronavirus pandemic are assigned medical care, including scarce resources like ventilators.

“We call for a national set of clear and ethical triage protocols that affirm the dignity of all people. Until then, we urge hospitals and health care professionals to adopt protocols that protect the vulnerable and reject discrimination. The principle of the equal dignity and value of every human life depend on it,” the National Catholic Bioethics Center and the Christus Medicus Foundation said in an April 9 statement.

“America’s healthcare workers on the frontlines are already confronting this question as they work to save lives in unprecedented triage situations in our homeland. The situation will worsen in the coming days. Who is given lifesaving care in a time of limited intensive care capacity and rationed equipment is one of the greatest moral questions our nation has ever faced,” the statement added.

“How we respond is a reflection of our values, one that will define us forever.”

On Thursday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan agreed.

“I sit here in New York, the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis. It is imperative to provide our exhausted healthcare heroes with the tools they need to be able to make true and sound ethical decisions to all patients in their care. I join together with the NCBC ethicists, and others, in asking that all people are treated equally and with the God-given dignity they deserve,” Dolan said.

The groups said that making decisions about healthcare allocation should not include discrimination based upon age or disability, assessment of the “quality of life” of patients, or metrics based upon the likely remaining lifespan of the patient apart from the illness.

“We urge hospitals and healthcare workers to use survivability as the litmus test for rationing care during triage. Anything more is stereotyping. Once decisions are expanded to include nonclinical factors and value judgments, discrimination and injustice inevitably ensue,” the statement said.

Dr. Joseph Meaney, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, explained that “the ethical principles guiding such protocols must reject utilitarian or value-laden assessments that extend beyond the crisis situation and enshrine the view that some lives have more value than others.”

Healthcare rationing and discrimination has been a topic of controversy in recent weeks, amid the global coronavirus pandemic that has taken hold of the U.S. healthcare system.

On Wednesday, the federal department of Health and Human Services resolved a disability rights case with Alabama officials, after the state removed controversial triage guidelines recommending that people with severe intellectual disabilities be denied ventilators in the event of shortages at medical facilities.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said April 8 that it had conducted a compliance review of the state following complaints that its 2010 guidelines for triage care allegedly discriminated against people with intellectual disabilities. Alabama has agreed to remove its ventilator rationing guidelines from state websites, HHS said April 8.

“People with intellectual disabilities must be treated the same way, and not be treated as somehow less fit, or less worthy, of having their lives saved, compared to somebody who has greater intellectual abilities,” stated Roger Severino, head of the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR), in a Wednesday conference call with reporters.

More than 16,000 people in the U.S. have died of the novel coronavirus, and more than 460,000 have tested positive for it. Globally, nearly 100,000 have been recorded dead from coronavirus, and almost 1.6 million have tested positive for it.

Outreach just as 'essential' as abortion, say pro-life advocates

Thu, 04/09/2020 - 16:30

Washington D.C., Apr 9, 2020 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- As many abortion clinics remain open during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, pro-life sidewalk counselors argue that they too provide “essential” services and should be allowed to gather.

As the coronavirus has spread through the U.S., states, counties and municipalities have curtailed public gatherings of more than 10 people to comply with guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Some pro-life prayer vigils have been halted for weeks as a public health precaution. On March 22, the ministry 40 Days for Life ended its spring 2020 campaign of public prayer vigils outside abortion clinics as state and local restrictions on public gatherings increased in number and intensity.

Even as states act to prevent unnecessary gatherings and divert all available medical resources to fight the pandemic, in many places abortion clinics have been designated as providing “essential” services, and allowed to tremain open. In several states, orders to cancel non-essential medical procedures during the pandemic which included elective abortions have been challeneged in court by abortion providers like Planned Parenthood. 

While the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Texas’ abortion-limiting order this week, the Sixth Circuit allowed procedures to continue in Ohio. Federal judges in Alabama and Oklahoma also ruled against state orders limiting abortions in those states during the pandemic.

Some pro-life prayer vigils and sidewalk counseling have continued, but in several states participants have been subject to visits by law enforcement.

According to Live Action News, pro-life prayer vigils outside abortion clinics in Michigan, Ohio, California, and Wisconsin were recently approached by law enforcement and asked to leave for supposedly being in violation of state or local orders. No arrests were made in those cases. 

However, in two cases in North Carolina, arrests were made at pro-life prayer vigils for supposedly being in violation of the state’s prohibition on public gatherings larger than 10 people.

Pro-life advocate David Benham, president of Cities4Life, and other pro-life sidewalk counselors were arrested by police in Charlotte, North Carolina on April 4 for being part of a gathering of more than 10 people. They were praying and offering sidewalk counseling outside the abortion clinic A Preferred Women’s Health Center.

According to social media for the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department, around 50 people were observed by police to be gathered outside the clinic.

The department said that “officers observed approximately fifty (50) protesters congregating outside of the clinic. The gathering was determined to be a violation of mass gatherings in the North Carolina Stay at Home Order. Those who exceeded the allowed amount of ten were asked to leave.”

The state’s governor Roy Cooper had issued an executive order on March 27 ordering residents to “stay at home” except for “essential” activities.

In a video, Benham was seen telling an officer that he was part of a “recognized charity” that was “offering essential services” to women who were considering abortions.

He told the officer that he and other pro-life counselors were “practicing social distancing,” and that the police should “go in the abortion clinic and make the arrests there” out of concern for mass gatherings during the pandemic.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) tweeted that Benham’s arrest was “unconstitutional and a serious abuse of power.”

The legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) sent a letter to the city’s attorney on Benham’s behalf, arguing that Benham’s group and Love Life, another group of pro-life advocates, are not subject to the order’s 10-person gathering prohibition as they are charitable organizations providing social services.

Furthermore, on April 4 the pro-life advocates were outdoors with people properly spaced apart, ADF said. Counsel for the groups had previously confirmed with a police officer that they were within their rights to pray on sidewalks outside the clinic provided that they maintained a six-foot minimum distance between persons and had hand sanitizer available.

ADF argued in its letter that the pro-life groups are religious nonprofits “providing charitable and social support services to vulnerable persons” and thus “qualify as ‘Essential Business’” under the governor’s order and should not be subject to the 10-person limit on gatherings.

The right to free speech “in public fora like the streets and sidewalks” is “well-established,” ADF said, and “[a]ny prohibition on this expressive activity in these fora is subject to strict scrutiny.” The city’s act to disperse the prayer gathering of more than ten people outside is “arbitrary and a pretext for discrimination based on protected speech,” ADF said.

“Please instruct any City of Charlotte officers or employees to drop all criminal charges pending against my clients and discontinue their interference with their right to engage in assembly, prayer, counseling, and other expressive activities on public property,” ADF senior counsel Kevin Theriot stated in his letter.

Members of the group Love Life were also arrested in Greensboro, North Carolina on March 28 and again on March 30 while praying outside an abortion clinic. According to citations, they were arrested for travel[ing] for a non-essential function [/purpose],” unlawfully traveling by car to the location rather than on foot.

ADF also sent a letter to the city of Greensboro on behalf of the pro-life advocates, saying the groups limited their activities to fewer than 10 people to comply with local regulations, and that participants were spaced out more than six feet apart.