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What makes Dobbs the best, and possibly last, chance to overturn Roe? 

The exterior of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 28, 2021 / 00:00 am (CNA).

Part of a continuing series examining the U.S. Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a direct challenge to the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion throughout the United States.

After nearly a half century of legal abortion throughout the United States, that precedent could fall  — or stand  — through one critical case now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet what makes it possibly the most significant abortion case in decades?

The Supreme Court on Dec. 1 will hear arguments in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, concerning Mississippi’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks. The court will take up the question of whether all bans on pre-viability abortions are unconstitutional.

Legal experts say the case presents an ideal opportunity for the Supreme Court to reconsider previous rulings that upheld legal abortion nationwide.

The 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, Roe v. Wade, said that states could not ban abortion before the “viability” of the fetus — the point at which unborn child can survive outside the womb, determined by the court to be around 24 to 28 weeks into pregnancy.

Nearly 20 years later, the court upheld that ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, saying that states could regulate pre-viability abortions but could not pose an “undue burden” in doing so.

Mississippi’s law bans most abortions after 15 weeks — well before the point of “viability” as established in Roe and upheld in Casey.

“The Dobbs case presents a square challenge to Roe v. Wade,” said Michael Stokes Paulsen, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, in an email interview with CNA.

“So, Mississippi's law forbids abortions that Roe and Casey say must be permitted,” Paulsen said. “There's no way around the conflict between the Mississippi law and the court's precedents on abortion. One or the other has to go!”

Steve Aden, chief legal officer and general legal counsel for Americans United for Life, agreed that Roe itself is at the heart of the Dobbs case. 

“It is a tremendous historical opportunity for the court to review Roe, and finally throw it on the ash heap of history,” Aden told CNA.

While Mississippi’s law directly challenges Roe and Casey, those rulings themselves were already vulnerable and ripe for reconsideration, said O. Carter Snead, a law professor and director of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame.

Both Snead and Aden helped author separate amicus briefs at the Supreme Court in favor of Mississippi’s law. They both explained to CNA why they think Roe and Casey were so poorly decided.

“Defenders of Roe and Casey hardly ever argue on the substance of those cases’ reasoning,” Snead said. Rather, defenders of those cases appeal to the legal doctrine of stare decisis which “invites the court  — although it does not require it  — to consider the practical consequences of undoing the prior precedent,” he said.

Justice Harry Blackmun, who authored the majority opinion in Roe, grounded the “right” to abortion in the “right to privacy.” He considered it an “unenumerated” right, Snead said, one not listed in the Constitution but nevertheless believed by some to be a right that “we basically discover through our own reflection.”

According to Snead, Blackmun traced the “right to privacy” to the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, which says that no state can “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

However, at the time the amendment was added to the Constitution in 1868, “nobody thought that that [clause] prevented states from protecting unborn children. Nobody thought that,” Snead said. Abortion was outlawed in 30 states at the time, and the remaining states followed common law which also did not allow for abortion, Snead said.

Blackmun, influenced by a “novel” legal theory, disputed that abortion was prohibited under common law, Snead said, calling the argument “completely at odds with the historical record” and saying that it “has been debunked, but nonetheless, constantly repeated.”

The majority opinion in Roe set up a trimester framework for judging state abortion laws. States could not ban or regulate abortion in the first trimester, while they could regulate second trimester abortions but not ban them, according to the ruling. While states could ban third trimester abortions, they had to make exceptions for cases where an “appropriate medical judgment” deemed abortion necessary for the “life or health” of the mother,” Blackmun noted.

This “exception” could be interpreted in a liberal way to allow for many late-term abortions, Snead argued.

“Which means, in effect, that we have the most permissive regime of abortion, almost in the world,” Snead said. The United States is one of just seven countries which allow for legal abortion nationwide after 20 weeks.

Blackmun’s claims in the Roe ruling have not held up over time, Aden argued, including his skepticism over when life begins.

“Roe presumed that abortion would be a decision between a woman and her doctor,” Aden said, but “virtually all” abortions now are performed by doctors who are not a woman’s primary physician.

Roe’s assertion that abortion is safe “relied on eight different authorities, which were not peer-reviewed medical authorities,” Aden said. “In fact, abortion is not safer than childbirth,” he said, especially later in a pregnancy.

If the court declines to overturn the Roe and Casey rulings, however, it might raise questions as to when — if ever — it would reconsider those rulings.

“I would never say this is the last chance to do anything,” Snead said, adding that “no case could be better set up than this one [to repeal Roe.]”

If the court does not repeal Roe, “it won’t be the last opportunity,” Aden said. “This court may, in fact, want to take Roe in bite-sized pieces as it were, and not overturn it in one fell swoop, but in significant incremental decisions.”

For instance, he said the court could simply answer that not all state pre-viability abortion bans are unconstitutional, and send the matter back to the lower courts without having repealed Roe. When the lower courts then consider the lawfulness of various state abortion bans, those cases would probably be appealed to the Supreme Court. Then the court conceivably could repeal Roe in one of those later cases.

In the Dobbs ruling, the court could also set up a new standard recognizing legal abortion, Aden said, adding that this would be unlikely.

“That’s the challenge before the court: Can they find a new standard if they junk the Casey ‘undue burden’ standard? Can they find a new standard that’s understandable, predictable, and applicable across the board?” he asked. “My bet is that they can’t, because they haven’t been able to for the 30 years since Casey, and I don’t think anything will change in Dobbs.”

Snead also said that the possibility of such a novel legal standard would be unlikely.

“To simultaneously uphold the law in Mississippi and retain the court’s authority to be the ultimate arbiter of abortion in America, you’d have to reinvent another false, and untethered-to-the-Constitution, right to abortion,” he said.

“And I don’t think that there is an appetite for that among a majority of the justices.”

Paulsen emphasized that the Dobbs case is the ideal opportunity to overturn Roe.

“There is no way around it. There is no ‘middle solution’ — no ‘compromise’ between right and wrong — that is faithful to the Constitution,” he said. “This is the case. This is the time.” 

Everything you need to know about the Advent wreath

Advent wreath / Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Nov 27, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

During the holidays, nativity scenes and Christmas trees decorate most Catholic homes, but what about Advent wreaths? 

Advent wreaths are traditionally made from evergreen branches and have four candles. The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent—three candles are purple, and one is a rose color. 

The purple represents prayer, penance, and preparation for the coming of Christ. Historically, Advent was known as a “little Lent,” which is why the penitential color of purple is used. During Lent, we prepare for the resurrection of Christ on Easter. Similarly, during Advent, we prepare for the coming of Christ, both on Christmas and at the second coming. 

The rose candle is illuminated on the third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday. At Mass on the third Sunday, the priest will also wear rose colored vestments. Gaudete Sunday is a day for rejoicing and joy as the faithful draw near to the birth of Jesus, and it marks the midpoint of Advent. 

“The progressive lighting of the candles represents the expectation and hope surrounding our Lord’s coming into the world and the anticipation of his second coming to judge the living and the dead,” says the USCCB.

During the Advent season, the faithful will also notice a common theme in the Gospel readings. The readings focus on preparation or “making straight the path of the Lord,” penance, and fasting. All of these things remind us of the importance of preparing our hearts for the Lord and making room for his presence in our lives. 

Did you know?

The Advent wreath originated from a pagan European tradition, which consisted of lighting candles during the winter to ask the sun god to return with his light and warmth.

The first missionaries took advantage of this tradition to evangelize to people and taught them that they should use the Advent wreath as a way of preparing for Christ’s birth, and to celebrate his nativity and beg Jesus to infuse his light in their souls.

The circle of the Advent wreath is a geometric figure that has neither a beginning nor an end. It reminds us that God does not have a beginning or an end either, which reflects his unity and eternity. It is a sign of the unending love that the faithful should show the Lord and their neighbors, which must be constantly renewed and never stop.

The green color of the wreath represents hope and life. The Advent wreath reminds us that Christ is alive among us, and that we must cultivate a life of grace, spiritual growth, and hope during Advent. 

Bless your Advent wreath

The blessing of an Advent wreath takes place on the First Sunday of Advent or on the evening before the First Sunday of Advent.

When the blessing of the Advent wreath is celebrated in the home, it is appropriate that it be blessed by a parent or another member of the family.
To bless your Advent wreath at home, follow our guide, “How to bless your Advent wreath at home.

Award-winning artist David Troncoso on life in a camper van, the Renaissance, and learning from the masters

David Troncoso stands in his art studio with an altarpiece he recently completed. / Courtesy of David Troncoso.

Kingston, New York, Nov 27, 2021 / 07:42 am (CNA).

Sacred artist David Troncoso paints in the Renaissance style with DaVinci, Michelangelo, and Rafael as his guides. His art, he says, draws him closer to God and has deepened his prayer life. 

Troncoso, 35, a some-time resident of Long Island, produces large oil paintings with gesso and frames he makes by hand. When not at his physical studio in Kingston, N.Y., he travels and works from a camper van, which he renovated during the pandemic.  

His dedication to the daily craft of producing art led recently to a 2nd place award in the Catholic Art Institute’s Sacred Art Competition. The winning piece? A dramatic depiction of St. Michael slaying the devil on a golden background in a frame he built from scratch.  

Troncoso was featured on BYUtv’s series artFUL earlier this year, a series, which according to their website, is “about the inner workings of the creative spirit and how personal faith influences artists and their art.” 

CNA had a chance to talk with Troncoso about his art, his faith, and his plans for the future. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you discover art? Is it something you’ve always done or did you find it later in life?

I’ve always been drawing, ever since I was a little kid. I loved drawing Looney Tunes, and from there, I went to superheroes and comic book characters. I was constantly drawing portraits and making comic books. Then, as I got older, I learned more and more about artists of the past, and eventually what it means to be a renaissance artist. I wanted to learn from the best.

What has been the most meaningful experience in terms of your training as an artist? 

The most meaningful was that I studied at the Grand Central Atelier in New York City and that’s where I really learned how to refine my drawing technique to be more realistic. When I left there, I started going to all the museums in the city, especially the MET. I would spend every day copying and sketching old master paintings and drawings, and then do an exact replica of the paintings from the museum. 

What do you find beautiful or intriguing about Renaissance art?  

There’s many things; I look at it from so many aspects. First, there’s the craftsmanship involved, and how long it takes to make these great works of art. I know all the time that the artists put into it to learn anatomy, and how to draw correctly, how to paint forms. They studied for years and years under their masters, so there's just so much craft and technical knowledge that I love about it. 

Then, there’s the colors that I love that you maybe don't see in contemporary work. Then, what the paintings are actually made of — like the wood — all these paintings start from freshly dried wood and glue to make a panel. Then, you make the gesso out of rabbit skin and powdered pigment. You’re making it from scratch, you even make your paint. I like the idea that everything you are doing, you are making it yourself. 

Then, also, it's the spiritual aspects of it. I find, in these paintings, they're searching or they speak about higher things that contemporary work or modern work doesn't really do.

That actually leads into my next question: Would you mind telling us a little bit about your personal faith journey and what that means to you?

It goes along the same lines as I discovered Renaissance work. I became obsessed with wanting to make Madonnas, and at some point, I had to question, “Why do I want to make these beautiful paintings of Mary or Christ?” and it just led me down the path of questioning my spirituality and religion. I learned more and more about being a Catholic. 

The more I learned about Renaissance work and these Christian symbols, I began to pray more and pray to be able to paint beautiful things or to have beautiful ideas. It led me to, in the morning before I start, I would pray and ask God to guide me to make something beautiful for him.

My artwork and my faith is so wrapped up into each other, and it's this very personal experience. I have this feeling that your creativity, your imagination, it comes from the divine. It doesn't come from this world. It comes from the heavens. So, as an artist, it's like God speaking through you as a medium, and that's how I like to think about it.

Have you ever faced any kind of resistance or misunderstanding when you tell somebody that you enjoy painting religious art?

In the art world, I never feel like I really fit in. I never wanted to be an artist where I’m talking about myself or my ego. I never wanted to be that artist or “this show is about me.” I always wanted to make work for beauty, for God, for higher aspirations. 

The art world today, I don’t understand it. I can’t connect with it. Medieval Renaissance all the way up until the 19th century were, for me, the best painters, and they were all producing work about and for the Church. You had beautiful narrative paintings about biblical subjects. At some point, society turned away from history, religious narratives, and beautifying spaces. It’s moved away from trying to talk about the divine God, our spirituality, and our place in this world.     

What does a typical day look like for you in your line of work? 

I like to wake up early, have my coffee, and get into the studio early. My studio is in this old building from 1742 — it predates the Revolutionary War — and it has beautiful Gothic windows. It almost feels like I’m in a monastery. It's so quiet. As soon as I go there, I feel like it’s this very sacred sort of space. I like to say a prayer, focus, and get into my zone. 

Every day for the last seven or eight years, I’ve listened to the same music, these classical composers. I start the day, every day, with John Field’s “Nocturnes,” and then it eventually leads into baroque and medieval music. 

I’ll work on a painting for a few hours, and then I’ll have to put it aside so I don’t overdo it. Then, I might work on a new idea or finish up some old ones. I’m also a woodworker, so I build and carve all the frames that I have for my artwork. So, some days will be spent in my wood shop, carving and building elaborate frames that I gesso and guild myself as well. 

Beyond your studio, what does home look like for you? 

Well, I’ve been living in a camper since the beginning of COVID. My fiancé and I renovated a 24-foot camper and have been living in it and traveling in it. I have a mini studio for when I’m on the road. It’s so much fun, it just felt like the time was right. There’s so much of the country we want to see. We got it [the camper] from our aunt, gutted the inside and rebuilt everything, so it’s very homey inside. 

We park it at campsites or at family’s property if we’re in upstate New York. If we go down to Long Island, we park it at my parents’ house. We spent the whole summer at the beach. I can bring portable tools with me while I’m doing that, and I use hand tools as well, so I don’t need any power for that.  

I’m jealous! Of all the places you’ve traveled, which has been the most inspiring for your creativity? 

I don't know if it's because I grew up by the ocean, but I'm drawn to the sea very much. We love to go up to rocky, treacherous coastlines. We spent an amazing time up in Newfoundland for a few weeks, and that was an incredible experience with its rocky coasts. Also, Iceland was incredible. It was just out of this world, it was just such a special, amazing landscape. Rocky, stormy coastlines really gets me, and I feel that power of nature. When you feel that power of nature, then you also feel the power of God in a way.

In thinking a little bit about the many years you’ve produced art, have you ever come across a mental block or a time when it was really challenging to create? If so, what was that like?

Yeah, I feel like I go through that all the time. Being an artist, it’s like one of those things you just accept. It’s like this rollercoaster — sometimes you're producing a lot of work and you feel this creative spirit. There’s new ideas coming to you. 

Then, you work on a project, but when the project is over, you can fall into a depression sometimes. It’s almost like being in a relationship; you’re in a relationship with this painting, with this idea, and then once you close the book on that, it’s done. So, you could feel empty at times. 

It happens a lot, but once you get into those lows, I think those are the moments when you question things more or you question life more. It’s a time to rethink things. It could be a daily thing, it could be monthly, but it happens all the time. 

What are some ways or techniques you have to break through those creative blocks?

I find meditation and prayer works a lot, and then sometimes I just have to do something completely different from art. I’m really into vintage motorcycles, so something like that where you get away from your art world and you go onto something different. I’ll get one, strip it apart, take the engine apart, gut it, and clean it, and it’s sort of meditative. All the parts have to go back in the right place, and all your hard work when you try to start it up, and it starts up. It’s an amazing feeling. 

Also, I play a lot of instruments, so that’s something I might do. I’ll grab a banjo, ukulele, or a guitar and strum on that.    

Of all of the different pieces of art that you've created, what is the one that stands out the most to you or that you're most proud of?

I'd say the most proud of is this one I just finished up, the altarpiece I've been working on for the last few years. That's sort of the accumulation of everything I've learned, from everything I've studied at school, classical painting, old master works, and woodworking. I put a year of planning into it, making blueprints and sketches and bigger sketches. I built the panel that you paint on. I got raw lumber from a lumberyard — I cleaned it and jointed it, and learned how to glue up a large panel and made everything from scratch. It was everything I’ve been striving for as an artist.

The large piece you mentioned was temporarily installed in a church. What was it like to have a piece like that of yours installed in a sacred space?

I didn’t even know it was going to happen. When the artFUL crew came to film, I had the piece set up in my studio. They said, “No, this really belongs in a church,” and they worked some magic. They called up the church and they said we could install it there for a bit. We got a U-Haul and carried it around the block.  

It was all set up — they had the lights on, and I went into the church to see it. I became emotional. I didn’t realize it would affect me that much. I get hard on myself about my own work, but seeing it in a church was like it was at home. It was everything that I had been working so hard for all these years. It was a very special moment.

Tell me more about artFUL. I heard they just showcased your work. Can you tell us about how you got connected with BYUtv for the episode? 

I got an email one day and they were like, “Hey, we really like your work and we’d love to see if you would be a good fit for the show.” I had a phone interview, and a couple weeks later, they said, “We’ll be there in a month.” 

It was such a fun experience. They filmed for about two and a half days, from 7 in the morning to 9 or 10 at night, some interviews and some art. They got a taste of my life and whatnot. I’m a very private person, so it was very out of my element, but it was such a cool experience. 

David Troncoso was recently featured in artFUL, a series produced by BYUtv. Courtesy of David Troncoso

What advice would you give other budding artists, or perhaps, a younger David Troncoso?

Definitely study the old masters to the fullest — see what they did and try to learn from them. Then, the biggest thing is perseverance. I failed so many times and on so many projects, and I tried to give up art many times. You are an artist and you can’t give it up. Don’t doubt yourself, keep working hard, and have faith. 

What’s next for you? What other pieces can we expect to see in the future? 

I’m working on a whole new body of work right now, so that’s pretty exciting. There's a few Virgin Mary commissions, which will be paintings and frames, and some other work that incorporates a lot of woodworking as well.

I'm also starting to work with the architects and designers to make paintings for churches and cathedrals. My main ambition is to keep connecting with people and to keep making beautiful things for the church. 

Paris archbishop asks Pope Francis to decide his future

Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris. / Ibex73 via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Paris, France, Nov 26, 2021 / 12:12 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Michel Aupetit has asked Pope Francis to decide whether he should remain as the Catholic archbishop of Paris, according to French media reports.

The 70-year-old archbishop, who was installed in the French capital in 2018, told the Catholic daily La Croix that he had written to the pope out of a concern to preserve the unity of his archdiocese.

“The word ‘resignation’ is not the one I used,” he said. “Resignation would mean that I am abandoning my office. In reality, I am handing it over to the Holy Father because it is he who gave it to me.”

He added: “I did it to preserve the diocese, because as a bishop I must be at the service of unity.”

Aupetit, who had a late vocation to the priesthood after working as a doctor, was speaking after the French weekly magazine Le Point published a report portraying him as an authoritarian and divisive figure.

The report also raised concerns about Aupetit’s contacts with a woman dating back to 2012, when he was vicar general of Paris archdiocese.

Aupetit told Le Point that he was not in a relationship with the woman.

He said: “My behavior towards her may have been ambiguous, thus suggesting the existence between us of an intimate relationship and sexual relations, which I strongly refute … I decided not to see her again and I informed her.”

Aupetit told La Croix that he had spoken to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, about his situation, as well as to Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the apostolic nuncio to France.

“This is not because of what I should or should not have done in the past — otherwise I would have left a long time ago — but to avoid division, if I myself am a source of division,” he said.

Pope Francis attends student play on how the pandemic has affected young people

Pope Francis meets young people of the Scholas Community at Rome’s Pontifical International College Maria Mater Ecclesiae, Nov. 25, 2021 / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Rome, Italy, Nov 26, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis left the Vatican on Thursday to attend a theatrical performance in Rome by students on how the pandemic has affected young people.

The pope met with the Italian Minister of Education Patrizio Bianchi and a group of young people from 41 countries at the International Pontifical College Maria Mater Ecclesiae in Rome on Nov. 25.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

During the visit, the pope watched a show called “The faces of the pandemic,” in which performers covered their faces with decorated white masks to illustrate “the ‘face’ that the pandemic has left on young people,” according to a short statement from the Holy See press office.

Many of the students involved had participated in weekly virtual meetings organized by Scholas Occurrentes to share how they were coping with uncertainty and isolation when their schools were closed amid pandemic lockdowns.

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Pope Francis also listened to testimonies and answered a few questions from the young people.

A Rwandan boy whose parents fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the 1994 genocide asked what the international community can do to help refugees.

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

“Refugees who are fleeing have only one thing on their mind: leaving,” Francis said, according to Vatican News.

The pope underlined that refugees are not people who leave their country for economic reasons, but those who “escaped so that they could live.”

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

He asked the young people present to reflect on what lessons can be learned from the stories of refugees.

“Do you let your feelings grow so that you can discern them later, or do you cover them up?” the pope asked.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“If you let your feelings come out, you have the obligation to discern them and confront them,” he said.

The gathering was organized by Scholas Occurrentes, a pontifical foundation established in 2015 and charged with supporting poor and underserved communities around the world through education.

Christian-Muslim dialogue needs a foundation in everyday friendship, French Dominican says

People in Strasbourg, France, hold placards reading "Catholics, muslims, jews all are Charlie" during a unity rally on Jan. 11, 2015 following a mass shooting by Muslim terrorists at the offices of the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris. / Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Nov 26, 2021 / 00:00 am (CNA).

Progress in Christian-Muslim dialogue ultimately must come from Catholics and others who deliberately make efforts to befriend and understand Muslims, said the French-born Father Jean Druel, O.P. 

Druel, the longtime head of a Cairo-based Dominican institute on Islam in the Arab world stresses the need to have friendships, study and self-understanding that crosses religious lines.

“Maybe I’m very naïve but I’m a scholar in the end. I believe that intelligence and studying and reason, rationality, is the best weapon against stupidity, against violence,” Druel told CNA.

“Once you know why the other person says this, once you know why you say this, where this and that rule comes from, you get more freedom,” he said. “Freedom is the opposite of fear. If you know it, you gain freedom, you lose your fear, and you begin to engage with your own tradition freely, with a free mind.”

Druel is originally from the countryside of the Anjou region in western France. As a Dominican brother, he was sent to Cairo in 1994 for his two years of military service. He returned to Egypt in 2002 and specialized in Islamic studies, especially the Arabic language. He received a doctorate in Arabic grammar in 2012 from the Netherlands’ University of Nijmegen.

From an Islamic perspective, Druel noted, Arabic is a theological topic that belongs to religious studies. From 2014 to 2020, the priest served as the director of the Cairo-based Dominican Institute for Oriental Studies. The institute, also called by its French acronym IDEO, studies Arab Islam and cultivates academic and interreligious dialogue.

“There are a lot of misunderstandings about what dialogue is, with lots of very, very high expectations from everybody. There is a lot of frustration because of those very high expectations and misunderstandings,” he said.

In Druel’s view, high-level meetings between popes, other churchmen, and leading Muslim clergy are significant in importance, but only in a symbolic or diplomatic sense. For him, the basis for progress must include more Christians who actively seek out Muslims as friends and collaborators.

“You can never talk together, work together, if you’re not friends. That’s very basic,” he said. “If you put a Christian and Muslim in a room who don’t know another and you ask them to talk, nothing would happen.”

“If you don’t have a Muslim friend, you can talk about Islam for hours and hours but it does nothing. It’s a theoretical question. It’s absolutely pointless,” said the priest.

When Druel teaches a classroom of Christians, he sometimes deflects questions about Islam back on his students.

“You should ask your Muslim friends,” he likes to answer. “This results in silence, because no one has Muslim friends.”

“The day every Christian has a real Muslim friend, and the day every single Muslim has a real Christian friend, will be a big step forward,” said Druel.

“Usually people would wait for the pope to meet with an imam, but don’t do anything on their own level,” he said. “You can complain over and over that Christians are being persecuted in Pakistan. OK, but what are you doing with your neighbors? Are you visiting a mosque?” he asked.

Father Jean Druel (second from left) says friendship is the best foundation for inter-religious dialogue. Courtesy of Father Jean Druel
Father Jean Druel (second from left) says friendship is the best foundation for inter-religious dialogue. Courtesy of Father Jean Druel

'Do you think we are like that?'

For Druel, one of his most moving experiences with Muslims came in the wake of the horrific atrocities of the Islamic State group in Iraq, Syria, and other countries in the mid-2010s. Students from Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, one of the most prominent in the Muslim world, came to him and the other Dominicans of his community to ask their thoughts about ordinary Muslims and Muslim extremists.

“They came out and talked to us,” he recounted. They asked questions such as “Do you see us like that? Do you think we are like that?”

Another question they asked, he said, was this: “How do you do it? How can you at the same time be so religious, priests and monks, and so open-minded at the same time, and liberal?”

“For them it was a contradiction,” Drool said. “What they see in the media about Islam, just like everybody does, is you have to choose between jihad and atheism. And they said ‘we refuse to choose between the Islamic state and atheism. We want to be faithful Muslims and open-minded.’”

Druel’s advice for them? To study, to engage with religious traditions, texts, and interpretations, and to deepen one’s religion beyond the level of mere “identity.”

“Once you enter into this discussion, you become part of the discussion. You’re not at an identity level anymore. You gain some freedom and some empowerment in the discussion itself,” he said.

Christians, too, could follow this advice to get past the false dichotomies of their societies, Druel believes.

Pope Francis and Ahmed el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar, sign a joint declaration on human fraternity during an interreligious meeting in Abu Dhabi, UAE, Feb. 4, 2019. .  Vatican Media.
Pope Francis and Ahmed el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar, sign a joint declaration on human fraternity during an interreligious meeting in Abu Dhabi, UAE, Feb. 4, 2019. . Vatican Media.

Druel has his own analysis of prominent Christian-Muslim dialogue, such as when the pope meets a high-level Muslim leader, or a priest and an imam take pictures together, or a Christian woman and a Muslim woman appear on stage for a joint talk.

“This is very much symbolic. To be honest, there is no content. You can’t expect any content from these meetings,” he said. “For many people it’s the only thing they see of inter-religious dialogue, and they don’t understand why there is no progress, because that’s not the point.”

Pope Francis’ own recent collaboration with Muslims includes the February 2019 joint signing of a document on human fraternity, world peace, and coexistence with Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of al-Azhar. The grand imam heads the mosque linked to the university of the same name and is considered a major leader of Sunni Islam.

Such encounters are “diplomatic,” in Druel’s view.

“When the pope and Sheik el-Tayeb sign a document in common, the biggest thing they can say is ‘we are brothers,’” he said.

“We have not waited until 2019 to discover that we are brothers,” Druel said. While people can find this frustrating because they have such high expectations, these meetings are nonetheless very important.

“It is great progress in itself that most Christian and Muslim leaders are willing to meet,” Druel said. “This level of dialogue is extremely important, extremely needed. But it only brings symbolic results. If you don’t accept this you feel extremely frustrated.”

Scholarly interaction also key

For Druel, academic dialogue between Christian and Muslim scholars is “an extremely important part of interreligious dialogue.” This dialogue is not very visible, but these scholars deal with specific topics and benefit from not needing to serve as representatives of their religion. This work is “extremely rich in terms of content,” but “invisible,” he noted.

These efforts aim to reach agreement on definitions and history. They seek to answer questions like “Can we describe together the same events? Can we talk, on an academic level, about the history of the Quran and the history of Mohammed?”

Druel lamented that some academics, especially in France, show “a very anti-religious tendency” and have reservations about religious or theological studies. Only private French universities have theology departments. The German academic situation is somewhat better, where some academies have Christian or Muslim specialties.

Another way to think about Christian-Muslim dialogue is how to undertake common endeavors such as Druel’s institute, which employs people of both religions.

“We have to run a library. We have to publish a journal,” he said. “We don’t talk of religion, because nobody is a specialist. It would be dangerous to deal with religious topics. But we have actions in common. We learn about one another through doing things.”

He referred to the young adult association in France called Coexister, dedicated to bringing Jews, Muslims, Christians, and atheists to take community action together. One of its principles is not to talk about religion.

“It seems paradoxical: They do things like help the poor, distribute food in the streets, talk about citizenship, you’d expect them to talk about religion,” said Druel.

Similarly, the Dominican institute’s Christian and Muslim employees never talk religion because, in Druel’s words, “they do not have the tools, the epistemology, the experience, and knowledge to deal with this topic peacefully.”

“Any discussions would devolve into sentiments like ‘we are right, you are wrong’,” he said.

Nonetheless, their collaboration helps Christians and Muslims get to know one another.

“We go to their festivities, they come to ours,” said the priest.

From his work, Druel has learned of the need to hire both Christians and Muslims, through practicing what he called “positive discrimination,” roughly equivalent to what Americans know as affirmative action. This practice is against his first instincts.

“As a Frenchman I’m very much against it,” he said, but in the context of Egypt “one would end up in a ghetto very quick” without being intentional about seeking out religiously diverse employees. If the center only asked its Christian employees for recommended candidates for a cook or a gatekeeper position, they would only recommend other Christians.

He suggested Christians can think about this in seeking to rent an apartment to someone.

“Are you expressly going to look for a Muslim or are you going to spontaneously rent to a Christian guy?” he asked.

“How willing am I to rent my flat to a Muslim family? How willing am I to hire a Muslim employee?” he asked, adding, “Muslims should ask themselves the same about Christians.”

He suggested that those who read his remarks to CNA introduce themselves to Muslim neighbors or seek out Muslims to befriend. They should go to a mosque themselves.

“But if they are not willing to do this, then there is no point in talking about Christian-Muslim dialogue, and criticizing it. There is no point, at all,” he said. “This is a very realistic expectation, very easy to do, and it’s very rewarding. You can’t be disappointed. You will have an experience, I promise.”

Marriage between Christians and Muslims is also an area for inter-religious dialogue, and a large focus of Catholic-Muslim dialogue in France.

“Interreligious marriage is beautiful and very rich and amazing, until you have children,” the priest said. “Then when you have children it explodes. Because you have to transmit something, you have to transmit your values.

“This is where most marriages would just explode, when children come,” he said. “Are they going to be Christian? Are they going to be Muslim?” 

People should not reject a friend or family member’s fiancée for being Muslim, but they should be realistic with the engaged couple about the difficulties of religious differences about their children’s future, Druel advised. These engaged couples should know that “most of these marriages fail because of the children,” he said.

The priest warned against a “rather fake” concept of Christian-Muslim interaction, as when people claim to know about Islam because they live in an apartment or a neighborhood with Muslim neighbors.

“But you don’t talk to them. And then you draw conclusions,” he said. Whether Christians live in predominant Muslim countries or in predominantly Muslim suburbs of French cities, many claim to know Muslims and Islam and “believe they are specialists” but “they have no Muslim friends, they have never been to a mosque, they never talk to Muslims or work with them.”

Secularism and ignorance can be a barrier, too, according to Druel.

“In France we have a problem with religion, not with Islam. Because people are so ignorant of their own religion — Christians and Muslims alike, and atheists, too. There is an illiteracy about religion.”

He continued: “Everything becomes ‘identity.’ You have to dress as a Muslim, or as a Christian; it’s nothing related to faith, or understanding, or intention. People fight over crosses in school rooms or halal meat at school just for the sake of identity.”

Druel reiterated that simply visiting with Muslims is the best way to overcome obstacles and misunderstanding.

“I’ve been to mosques every week for years. I’ve been taking non-Muslim friends to mosques. They’ve been frightened, worrying that something will happen, but nothing happens,” he said. “We’ve always received very positive reactions.”

Here’s what Italy’s Cardinal Zuppi said at the launch of a book on the papacy’s future

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, Archbishop of Bologna, Italy, in St. Peter's Basilica on Oct. 5, 2019. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

Rome, Italy, Nov 25, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).

No, it does not seem as if Pope Francis is going to resign. Indeed, his dynamism and desire to do things, working to bring the Church closer to the people, should be appreciated.

That is how Cardinal Matteo Zuppi responded when asked if the Pope Francis era was about to come to an end.

The questions, however, were legitimate because they were asked at the launch of a book explicitly addressing the papacy’s future.

Zuppi was on a panel for the Nov. 18 presentation of the book “Cosa Resta del Papato? Il futuro della Chiesa dopo Bergoglio” (“What Remains of the Papacy? The future of the Church after Bergoglio”), by the Italian Vaticanist Francesco Antonio Grana.

The book examines what the institution of the papacy is and what it can become after the resignation of Benedict XVI and the pontificate of Pope Francis.

It reconstructs the last part of Benedict XVI’s pontificate, revealing that among the few people aware of the forthcoming resignation was Italy’s then president, Giorgio Napolitano. The book also offers a glimpse of what the next conclave might look like.

Returning from Slovakia in September, Pope Francis had complained about the prelates who were allegedly already seeking to identify his successor. For this reason, the presence of a cardinal at the launch of a book that also looks at the papal succession risked being viewed as part of a “hidden electoral campaign.”

This is especially the case as Zuppi, the archbishop of Bologna, northern Italy, is seen by many as one of the possible papabili in a future conclave.

A leading figure in the Community of Sant'Egidio, and known internationally also for his role as a peace mediator in Mozambique, Zuppi has nevertheless always maintained a low-key and ascetic profile. This approach made him a beloved parish priest, first at the Rome church of Santa Maria in Trastevere and then in a parish on the city’s outskirts.

His hierarchical ascent began with his appointment as an auxiliary bishop of Rome in 2012. He was then called by Pope Francis to be archbishop of Bologna, a major Italian see, in 2015, receiving the cardinal’s red hat in 2019.

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi receives the red hat on Oct. 5, 2019. Daniel Ibanez/CNA.
Cardinal Matteo Zuppi receives the red hat on Oct. 5, 2019. Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Zuppi’s presence at the book launch was all the more striking because he is a cardinal loved by Pope Francis, who gives little indication of wanting to detach himself from the legacy of the reigning pope and always defends his pastoral activities. (The one exception might be his decision not to clamp down severely on the Traditional Latin Mass in his archdiocese following the motu proprio Traditionis custodes.)

The 66-year-old cardinal’s words at the book launch were cautious. He began by reflecting on the book’s title. He then focused on the Statio Orbis of March 27, 2020: the solitary prayer in St. Peter’s Square in which Pope Francis asked for an end to the pandemic. Zuppi said that on that occasion, “for the first time, Ecclesialese — the language spoken among us priests — became the common language.”

Speaking of the crisis in the Church, Zuppi said that “we can spend a lifetime arguing among ourselves, fueling an internal conflict. But the point is that it is a crisis, generative of something new.”

He stressed that John XXIII was considered “a simpleton, who seemed to impoverish the greatness of the Church,” and that Benedict XVI “defined himself as a humble worker in the Lord’s vineyard.”

In short, Francis is not, according to Zuppi, a pope who is diminishing the institution’s importance. Rather, he is giving it a new impetus. So much so, that there is “anything but an air of resignation,” Zuppi said. “In the many decisions he has made, and in the processes he has initiated, there is a great awareness and sense of the future.”

He added: “Pope Francis tells us that there is so much to do now, and he helps us not to have a renunciatory attitude, as a retreating minority. His significant reform is pastoral and missionary conversion.”

“He allows us to place ourselves in an evangelical, straightforward way, close to the people, and shows us some priorities for a Church that speaks to the heart. He helps us to be more Church, in a world that makes identity fade.”

There was also talk of the Zan bill, a proposed anti-homophobia law discussed in the Italian Senate. The Holy See presented a formal diplomatic note to the Italian state, highlighting that the bill violated the Concordat between the Holy See and Italy as part of the freedom of education.

It was not an opinion of the Holy See, but rather a diplomatic initiative to avoid the violation of a treaty. One of the panelists, Peter Gomez, director of IlFattoquotidiano.it, suggested erroneously that the Holy See expresses an opinion and the secular state is free to make its own decisions. But this was not the focus of the discussion.

Zuppi has repeatedly refused to address the controversy publicly. Many have interpreted this as a tactical move. The general assembly of the Italian bishops’ conference is currently discussing who should be its next president. Zuppi is one of the leading candidates to succeed Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia-Città della Pieve.

Then there is the question of the next conclave that continues to hang over Zuppi. It was the author of the book himself, Francesco Grana, who sought to damp down any speculation. He explained that, despite its arresting title, the book was not presenting a manifesto.

He referred to a book recently published by Andrea Riccardi, founder of the community with which Zuppi is closely associated.

“Andrea Riccardi, the founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, wrote the book ‘The Church burns.’ And if the Church burns, how can we not ask ourselves about the papacy of the future?” he asked.

Parents who lost daughter in accident find joy in adoption ‘God has always been there’

Lisa, Katharine, and Bruce Alexander. / Screenshot EWTN Pro-Life Weekly

Denver Newsroom, Nov 25, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Biological parents to two daughters and two sons, Bruce and Lisa Alexander first considered adoption after their youngest was born. However, it was not until the 2012 March for Life that the Catholic couple decided to proceed. 

At the time, Lisa was thinking about adoption and decided to ask her husband about it. He was thinking the same thing. 

“From then on, the Holy Spirit was with us,” she said in a 2018 interview with EWTN Pro-Life Weekly that CNA is highlighting for National Adoption Month. 

Bruce recalled, “The fact that things lined up as quickly as they did, and what were typical … delays where the process normally drags on or gets held up — we didn’t experience that.” 

Realizing that they were older in age than most adoptive parents, the Alexanders decided to adopt an older child by making a switch from the infancy program to the early child program. On Jan. 14, 2014, they made their decision but, that same day, they received a call from the adoption agency. 

“She told me … ‘I know you’re interested in maybe switching but I’d like to tell you that we have a baby girl,’” Lisa explained. “Neither one of us needed to take any time. We knew that God had just placed this girl, even at that point, we thought that this was the child that was for our family.”

The little girl’s name was Katharine.

Holding back tears, Bruce added, “Even at the call, it was intuitively obvious we were being called.”

Throughout the adoption process, the Alexanders had been set on adopting a little boy. When they found out it was a little girl, they considered it to be a sign from above.

That sign came in the wake of tremendous heartache. In 2009, the Alexanders’ oldest daughter, Codi, was riding her bike home when she was hit by a car. Five days later, Codi died at the age of 16. 

“Our older daughter, who is with Jesus in Heaven, is who I prayed to and the Blessed Mother,” Lisa explained. “And I had a feeling that Codi had something to do with bringing this little girl to our family.”

This little girl, though, was born facing an increasingly common problem. Her birth mother was addicted to oxycodone. The adoption agency assured the Alexanders that she was weaned off, but did suggest contacting their pediatrician. 

“Their response was that there simply just isn’t enough research,” said Lisa. “We just thought that we would be provided for if Katharine needed something that later on in life that was tied with this addiction.”

Fast forward ahead and nothing is stopping little Katharine, or as she prefers being called, “Peanut.” 

Big brothers Chase and Brandon Alexander have embraced their new roles from playing baseball to tackling the playground with Katharine and welcomed the new energy that has filled their home. 

“A lot of the new creativity comes from her,” said Chase. 

While Katharine, now 7, brings a new energy into their home, there is also a sense of familiarity.

“It was the wittiness, I thought, that both Katharine and my older sister Codi had that they share,” explained Chase. “Not so much cracking a joke but more of like the comment at the right time that you wouldn’t expect from a four year old but just kind of fits in.”

“It’s not coincidence,” expressed Bruce. 

Lisa added, “I have always believed that Katharine was heavenly sent. … If you knew Codi, she definitely had her way with deciding who was going to come to our family.”

“There have been some tough times in our family, but God has always been there,” she concluded. 

Cardinal calls for action after 27 migrants drown in English Channel

Cardinal Nichols at Westminster Cathedral on April 18, 2019. / Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk.

London, England, Nov 25, 2021 / 08:05 am (CNA).

A cardinal said on Thursday that the death of 27 migrants attempting to cross the English Channel is “a tragic summons to action.”

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, appealed on Nov. 25 for “focused international cooperation” to prevent further deaths in the waters between France and the U.K.

“The terrible loss of so many lives in the Channel is a tragic summons to action. This event illustrates graphically both the ruthless evil of the traffickers and the desperation of those trying to escape poverty, conflict, or persecution in search of a better life,” the archbishop of Westminster said.

“Every one is a child of God, with an innate dignity and worth. Focused international cooperation, safe routes to sanctuary and joint efforts to tackle poverty are all needed in the face of a global flood of desperate humanity.”

The BBC reported that 17 men, seven women, and three children died on Nov. 24 when their boat sank near the French port of Calais. It was the deadliest incident in the Channel since the International Organization for Migration began collecting data in 2014.

French police have arrested five people in connection with the deaths amid an ongoing dispute between the British and French governments over a surge in migrants attempting to make the treacherous crossing.

Responding to the deaths, French President Emmanuel Macron, who is due to meet Pope Francis on Friday, said: “France will not let the Channel become a graveyard.”

The port in Dover, southeast England. Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.
The port in Dover, southeast England. Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.

More than 25,000 people have crossed the Channel in small boats this year — three times last year’s number.

Catholic leaders in the U.K. and France have repeatedly called for greater efforts to stem the crisis.

Four bishops of northern French dioceses issued a joint statement expressing indignation at the migrants’ deaths.

“Once again children, women, and men who have left everything behind in search of a better world have been crushed by the sea,” they said on Nov. 25.

“How can we not mourn them? How can we not be heartbroken? How can we not revolt against the ignominy of those who take advantage of their fragility and their hope for a better life for their families and themselves, to rob them before sending them in fragile boats to certain death?”

“How can we believe that closing borders and reinforcing security can provide a lasting solution to this migratory crisis?”

Archbishop Laurent Ulrich of Lille, Archbishop Vincent Dollmann of Cambrai, Bishop Olivier Leborge of Arras, and Lille auxiliary Bishop Antoine Herouard said that emotions were “running high” in the Catholic community and among groups assisting migrants.

A memorial plaque for migrants who have died in the English Channel in Dover, Kent. Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.
A memorial plaque for migrants who have died in the English Channel in Dover, Kent. Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.

“The challenges of contemporary migration are certainly complex, and we Catholics are also very small in the face of this,” the bishops said.

Citing the pope’s words at a 2018 Mass for migrants, they said that “with Pope Francis, we believe in the response ‘of solidarity and mercy’; ‘a response less concerned with calculations, than with the need for an equitable distribution of responsibilities, an honest and sincere assessment of the alternatives and a prudent management.’”

Cardinal Robert Sarah, the former prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship, told the French radio station Europe 1 on Nov. 25 that migrants’ deaths represented a “triple betrayal.”

“Young people from Africa are being taken away from their country, their understandings, their lifeblood,” the Guinean cardinal said.

“Then, these young people are presented with Europe as an Eldorado. They are told that they will have everything, when this is not true.”

“And finally, we do not react against the smugglers who take advantage of their naivete and make them die in the middle of the sea. We should fight this evil at its roots and present Europe as it is, with its difficulties too.”

Meet the young Catholics restoring wayside crucifixes across France

Members of SOS Calvaires, a group restoring wayside crucifixes across France. / SOS Calvaires.

Rome Newsroom, Nov 25, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

The missionary spirit of young people in France is being rekindled by the surprising success of an association that is restoring wayside crucifixes across the country — and attracting considerable media attention in the process.

SOS Calvaires was founded in 1987 in the Maine-et-Loire department in western France. It sought to bring together people dedicated to preserving the calvaries, oratories, and chapels that dot the French landscape.

SOS Calvaires.
SOS Calvaires.

The association gained momentum in 2015 when a group of young Catholics, who openly declared themselves “proud of their religion and heritage,” took up the mission under the leadership of Paul Ramé, who runs a carpentry business.

Julien Lepage, Ramé’s brother-in-law, joined the adventure in 2018 as a treasurer. He gradually rose to a leadership position, bringing with him great ambitions.

“I got to know about the association’s activities when my brother-in-law invited me to the laying of a calvary in our region, and it touched me very deeply,” Lepage told CNA.

“Indeed, to restore a calvary is very simple. But the impact is huge in terms of testimony, and I immediately saw the evangelizing dimension of it,” he said.

SOS Calvaires.
SOS Calvaires.

Lepage added that he soon challenged his team — whose members are all under 35 years of age — to restore one calvary a month in their region, instead of one or two per year.

Thanks to a growing social media presence, the association started to attract more and more young people willing to serve Christ in this way. They also drew the attention of Catholic and local media — until a well-known French YouTuber noticed them and things changed radically.

Baptiste Marchais was struck by the beauty and sincerity of the association’s mission. He is the French record holder in the bench press discipline. His YouTube channel, Bench and Cigars, has 230,000 subscribers.

Baptiste Marchais lifts a wayside crucifix into place. Screenshot from Bench&Cigars YouTube channel.
Baptiste Marchais lifts a wayside crucifix into place. Screenshot from Bench&Cigars YouTube channel.

In February, he joined members of SOS Calvaires in laying a 13-foot-high calvary. The video that he posted a month later quickly gained more than 200,000 views.

“This video has been an incredible game changer for us,” Lepage said. “We received thousands of donations overnight and people from across France asked us to restore calvaries in their respective regions.”

SOS Calvaires.
SOS Calvaires.

“We understood that there was something to be done, and we decided to embark on a national adventure, with new offices in different parts of the country,” he explained.

Lepage noted that the association had invested a lot of money to remain autonomous and be able to produce its own crosses.

Within six months, SOS Calvaires established 25 branch offices in France. To date, it has around 4,000 donors. It also has 800 members — up from 15 in February.

The organization is now restoring 10 calvaries a month across France.

The association occasionally provides calvaries to local pastors for their communities. It also sells some to private citizens who wish to plant a cross on their property.

SOS Calvaires.
SOS Calvaires.

“It is a way of letting people know that they are entering a Christian land, and we encourage these initiatives,” Lepage commented.

He said that the association’s growing visibility had great evangelizing power, especially among young people. He recounted that after Baptiste Marchais posted his video, priests received calls from young people wanting to go back to church.

The initiative not only offers young people the chance to meet together. The ceremonies at the laying of calvaries are also always accompanied by prayer, songs, and convivial meals.

“Nowadays, countless young people feel lost, and they seek action,” Lepage said. “Restoring and setting calvaries in place falls within their competence and gives them a sense of belonging. They can identify with a cause, and it gives them a brighter image of the Catholic world.”

SOS Calvaires.
SOS Calvaires.

“Many of them see France declining, collapsing, and they want to preserve the Christian roots of their country, whether they are practicing Catholics or not.”

The present situation in France, marked by waves of vandalism and desecration of Catholic monuments, has not dampened the enthusiasm of the association’s young volunteers.

SOS Calvaires.
SOS Calvaires.

“Some time ago, one of our calvaries was tagged [with graffiti], and we responded by publicly warning vandals that for each calvary destroyed, we would build two calvaries, and it never happened again,” Lepage said.

Following its rapid expansion, the association hopes to restore 250 calvaries in 2022, and 1,000 per year by 2024.

This ambitious goal will be supported by an app designed to allow members to geolocate and list all the endangered or dilapidated calvaries that they come across. A partnership with the Association of the Guides and Scouts of Europe is also helping members to map and reference the country’s calvaries.

SOS Calvaires.
SOS Calvaires.

But the association’s grand designs do not stop there. It is also moving into education, offering instruction in schools. It sees this as a way to prepare new generations to keep alive the flame of faith and Catholic tradition in France.