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Woman arrested for silent prayer at UK abortion clinics gets police apology

“This isn’t 1984, but 2023 —I should never have been arrested or investigated simply for the thoughts I held in my own mind,” Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, who was arrested for praying outside of an abortion clinic, said Sept. 22, 2023. / Credit: ADF UK

CNA Staff, Sep 22, 2023 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, the woman twice arrested for silent prayer outside U.K. abortion clinics, has received a police apology and confirmation that she will not face charges for violating a local “buffer zone” protection order. 

Though Vaughan-Spruce said she would return to the clinic to pray, she warned that her treatment has implications for the future of basic freedoms in the U.K.

“This isn’t 1984, but 2023 — I should never have been arrested or investigated simply for the thoughts I held in my own mind,” Vaughan-Spruce said, alluding to George Orwell’s dystopian novel. “Silent prayer is never criminal,” she said in a Sept. 22 statement.

On March 6, Vaughan-Spruce was arrested for praying in a “buffer zone” outside an abortion clinic on Station Road, Birmingham. Local authorities had declared a Public Space Protection Order near the clinic, using a legal mechanism intended to prevent antisocial behavior. 

Prohibited activities in this zone include approval or disapproval of abortion through protest, which “includes but is not limited to graphic, verbal, or written means, prayer, or counseling.” The order also bars interference, intimidation, or harassment, recording or photographic clinic staff or clients, and the display of any text or imagery related to abortion.

Vaughan-Spruce was previously arrested Dec. 6, 2022, for silent prayer outside the same abortion facility, which was closed at the time. In February, the Birmingham Magistrates’ Court acquitted her of all charges related to the first case. 

Isabel Spruce-Vaughn was arrested twice for praying outside abortion clinics. Credit: ADF UK
Isabel Spruce-Vaughn was arrested twice for praying outside abortion clinics. Credit: ADF UK

West Midlands police apologized to Vaughan-Spruce for taking so long to close her second case. They said there would be no further investigation and no further action taken.

Vaughan-Spruce welcomed the end of the investigation and the police apology but said her case highlights “the extremely harmful implications” of what happened to her.

“What happened to me signals to others that they too could face arrest, interrogation, investigation, and potential prosecution if caught exercising their basic freedom of thought,” she said.

Police initially told Vaughan-Spruce the delay was due to her case being referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for charges, though CPS has denied this claim, according to ADF UK. CPS had no information about her second case and said police should not refer such cases to the CPS when they have the power to decide on charges themselves.

Vaughan-Spruce is the director of March for Life UK and helps support women in crisis pregnancies. She has regularly prayed near abortion clinics for 20 years.

“Now that authorities have twice settled on the conclusion that silent prayer is not a crime — a conclusion also reached by the Home Secretary last week — I am thankful to resume my practice of praying silently for women in crisis pregnancies,” she said.

Pope Francis entrusts to Mary ‘Mediterranean Encounter’ with youth and bishops

Pope Francis entrusted a meeting of Mediterranean bishops and youth to the Virgin Mary during the first appointment of a two-day trip to Marseille, France, Sept. 22, 2023. The model ships hanging in Marseille's Basilica de Notre-Dame de la Garde are a testament to the faith of the sailors who have relied on the intercession of Our Lady over the centuries. / Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/EWTN News

CNA Staff, Sep 22, 2023 / 14:33 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis on Friday entrusted a meeting of Mediterranean bishops and youth to the Virgin Mary during the first appointment of a two-day trip to Marseille, France.

After landing in the historic port city Sept. 22, the pope made his way to the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, or the Basilica of Our Lady of the Guard, to ask for the intercession of Mary together with local priests, deacons, and religious.

The 19th-century basilica sits on the foundations of an ancient fort on a 489-foot limestone outcropping, the highest point of the city in southern France. Before the basilica, there was a medieval chapel on the same site.

Pope Francis entrusts a meeting of Mediterranean bishops and youth to the Virgin Mary during the first appointment of a two-day trip to Marseille, France, Sept. 22, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis entrusts a meeting of Mediterranean bishops and youth to the Virgin Mary during the first appointment of a two-day trip to Marseille, France, Sept. 22, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media

Pope Francis is in Marseille to participate in the Mediterranean Encounter, the “Rencontres Méditerranéennes” — a gathering of some 120 young people of various creeds with bishops from 30 countries. The encounter is a “cultural festival” drawing together associations and groups committed to dialogue and ecological issues. 

“We place under [Mary’s] mantle the fruit of the Rencontres Méditerranéennes, together with the expectations and hopes of your hearts,” the pope told clergy at the basilica Sept. 22.

The pope will join in the Mediterranean Encounter on the morning of Sept. 23.

Francis’ 27-hour trip will include an address to religious leaders, a private encounter with the poor, and the celebration of Mass. He will also meet with France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne.

The last pope to visit Marseille was Clement VII in 1533. 

Pope Francis entrusts a meeting of Mediterranean bishops and youth to the Virgin Mary during the first appointment of a two-day trip to Marseille, France, Sept. 22, 2023, at the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, or the Basilica of Our Lady of the Guard. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis entrusts a meeting of Mediterranean bishops and youth to the Virgin Mary during the first appointment of a two-day trip to Marseille, France, Sept. 22, 2023, at the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, or the Basilica of Our Lady of the Guard. Credit: Vatican Media

Father Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, also visited the city and the Basilica of Notre Dame de La Garde when he was a young priest studying in Rome.

Pope Francis said he is “in the company of great pilgrims” who have visited the basilica, such as Pope John Paul II, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, and St. Charles de Foucauld. 

“In the biblical reading, the prophet Zephaniah exhorted us to joy and confidence, reminding us that the Lord our God is not far away, he is here, near to us, in order to save us,” the pope said.

“In a way, this message reminds us of the history of this basilica and what it represents,” he continued. “In fact, it was not founded in memory of a miracle or a particular apparition, but simply because, since the 13th century, the holy people of God have sought and found here, on the hill of La Garde, the presence of the Lord through the eyes of his holy Mother.”

“That is why, for centuries, the people of Marseille — especially those who navigate the waves of the Mediterranean — have been coming up here to pray,” he said.

Francis encouraged the 119 priests of the Archdiocese of Marseille, which serves approximately 742,000 Catholics, to take Mary and her gaze as an example for their priesthood.

Pope Francis entrusts a meeting of Mediterranean bishops and youth to the Virgin Mary during the first appointment of a two-day trip to Marseille, France, Sept. 22, 2023, at the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, or the Basilica of Our Lady of the Guard. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis entrusts a meeting of Mediterranean bishops and youth to the Virgin Mary during the first appointment of a two-day trip to Marseille, France, Sept. 22, 2023, at the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, or the Basilica of Our Lady of the Guard. Credit: Vatican Media

“Even with all the many daily concerns, I beg you, do not detract from the warmth of God’s paternal and maternal gaze,” he said. “It is marvelous to generously dispense his forgiveness, that is, to always, always, loosen the chains of sin through grace and free people from those obstacles, regrets, grudges, and fears against which they cannot prevail alone.”

He reminded the priests of the beauty and joy of making the sacraments available to people in both happy and sad moments, “and of transmitting, in the name of God, unexpected hopes for his consoling presence, healing compassion, and moving tenderness.”

“Be close to all, especially the frail and less fortunate, and never let those who suffer lack your attentive and discreet closeness,” he said. “In this way, there will grow in them and also in you the faith that animates the present, the hope that opens to the future, and the charity that lasts forever.”

“Like Mary, let us bring the blessing and peace of Jesus everywhere, in every family and heart,” Pope Francis said.

Bishop Strickland: ‘no communication from Rome’ following apostolic visitation

Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas. / null

CNA Staff, Sep 22, 2023 / 12:25 pm (CNA).

Following a report that Pope Francis and Vatican officials held a meeting earlier this month to discuss requesting the resignation of Tyler, Texas, Bishop Joseph Strickland, the prelate said on Wednesday he has not been contacted by the Vatican about such matters.

In addition, Strickland said if Pope Francis were to remove him from office he would respect the Holy Father’s authority but would not resign if asked. 

“Last week an article was published on a website called ‘The Pillar,’ and the article alleged that a meeting was held with Pope Francis where some of the members of the Congregation for Bishops recommended that I be encouraged to resign as bishop of Tyler,” Strickland said in a Sept. 20 letter to his diocese.

“Let me be clear that I have received no communication from Rome regarding this. At this point it is simply an article discussing supposed leaked information from the Vatican,” he added.

“I have said publicly that I cannot resign as bishop of Tyler because that would be me abandoning the flock that I was given charge of by Pope Benedict XVI,” he said. 

“I have also said that I will respect the authority of Pope Francis if he removes me from office as bishop of Tyler,” he added.

The reported meeting follows a Vatican-directed investigation into Strickland in June called an apostolic visitation, which, according to a source, addressed the firebrand bishop’s social media use but also questions related to diocesan management.

Strickland, 64, who has served as bishop of the Diocese of Tyler since 2012, has been outspoken on certain Catholic social issues such as abortion and gender ideology. 

He has also been critical of Pope Francis, saying in a May Tweet that he rejects “his program of undermining the Deposit of Faith.”

Strickland’s statement on Wednesday marks his first public response following a Sept. 11 article by The Pillar, which, citing anonymous sources, reported that Pope Francis was to be presented with the findings of the apostolic visitation and would be encouraged to request the Tyler bishop’s resignation.

Strickland said he has not been contacted by any Church official since the apostolic visitation. He added that he wasn’t given a reason for why the visitation occurred and hasn’t received a report from the investigation. 

Strickland said he is grateful for the support and prayers that many have expressed.

“I continue to love serving as your shepherd and thankfully during all of this I have been able to visit many of your parishes and celebrate our Catholic faith with you,” he said. 

Strickland said he is “blessed” in his prayer life and feels “very close” to Christ, and supported by the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints.

“I am at peace with whatever the Lord’s call for me is; let us continue to pray for Pope Francis, the Church, and the Diocese of Tyler that we call home,” he said. 

In a July podcast, Strickland said that the apostolic visitation was “not fun” and added that the Vatican’s delegates were “looking at everything.”

The bishop compared it to “being called to the principal’s office.”

“It’s not something that I would volunteer for, to go through an apostolic visitation,” he said. “It kind of puts a shadow over the diocese.”

“There have been some administrative issues, and I’m sure people are concerned,” he said. “I’m sure there are people saying that there must be something really bad, and something’s really gone wrong for this apostolic visitation [to happen].”

“I’ve got nothing to hide,” he said in an excerpt of the podcast posted to YouTube.

Crediting God and the Catholic faithful, Strickland said the diocese is in good financial condition.

He said he thinks he was subject to the visitation “because I’ve been bold enough and loved the Lord enough and his Church, simply preaching the truth.”

UN adopts resolution to protect ‘reproductive rights’ during next pandemic

The United Nations General Assembly in New York. / Credit: Drop of Light/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 22, 2023 / 10:30 am (CNA).

Global leaders adopted a United Nations resolution this week that urged member states to take certain actions when preparing for and responding to a pandemic — one of those actions appears to ask governments to secure access to abortion. 

The resolution’s language states that the focus is “pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response” and asks states to commit to actions that are “driven by equity and the respect for human rights.” The section focused on equality includes a commitment by states to protecting “reproductive rights.”

“[We] call upon member states to take all measures necessary to ensure the right of women and girls to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health, including sexual and reproductive health, and reproductive rights,” operative paragraph 10 of the global “call to action” reads in part.

United Nations General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding and member states have wide discretion in how they interpret the text. However, some pro-life lawmakers are concerned about the language. 

“I think we are in a moment where people have to draw a line in the sand of what they will and will not tolerate,” Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Florida, told EWTN News Nightly.”

“And, for the pro-life community, they are now seeing that the work isn’t just here at home, it’s not just in our state capitols, it’s not just here on Capitol Hill,” Cammack said. “It’s a global fight that we have to undertake as well.”

The reproductive rights language was supported and endorsed by President Joe Biden’s administration earlier this year. In February, United States U.N. Ambassador Pamela K. Hamamoto specifically requested that the language be included. 

“Our work must be inclusive and applicable for the improved health and well-being of all people,” Hamamoto said in her statement to the U.N. regarding the pandemic resolution. 

“A commitment to ‘equity’ must address inequities not only between countries but also within them,” Hamamoto continued. “Not just protecting populations from pandemics — but also from illness, death, and disrupted access to essential health care services during pandemics, including sexual and reproductive health services.”

Stefano Gennarini, the vice president for legal studies at the Center for Family and Human Rights, told “EWTN News Nightly” that pressure from the Biden administration indicates that this section of the resolution is about global abortion access. 

“We know, given the Biden administration’s support for abortion, we know this to mean an attempt essentially to create an international right to abortion,” Gennarini said.

World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus issued a statement praising the resolution. His statement referenced the WHO’s support for equity in health care but did not reference the statement on reproductive rights. 

“I welcome this commitment by world leaders to provide the political support and direction needed so that WHO, governments, and all involved can protect people’s health and take concrete steps towards investing in local capacities, ensuring equity and supporting the global emergency health architecture that the world needs,” Ghebreyesus said.

The WHO is working with U.N. member states to amend international health regulations that focus on issues that arose during the pandemic.

Oldest monastery in the West was built on the spot of St. Maurice’s martyrdom

Aerial view of Saint-Maurice Abbey in the Valais region of Switzerland, Sept. 20, 2023. / Credit: Cyril Néri

Paris, France, Sep 22, 2023 / 04:25 am (CNA).

With over 1,500 years of history, the Abbey of Saint-Maurice in the Valais region of Switzerland is the oldest monastery in the West to have remained in continuous operation since its foundation in 515. The building stands on the site of St. Maurice’s martyrdom, celebrated on Sept. 22.

Chronicles tell us little about St. Maurice and his companions, who were killed around 300 A.D. “We know that they died here, that according to tradition they were members of the Legion of Thebes, i.e. from Africa, and that they were martyred for their refusal to obey the emperor’s impious orders,” archivist and librarian Canon Olivier Roduit explained to CNA.

A text dated back to year 430, La Passion des Martyrs d’Agaune (The Passion of the Martyrs of Agaune), written by Bishop Eucher of Lyon, had a major influence, helping to spread the cult of these martyrs throughout Europe and the rest of the world. Numerous villages in Switzerland, France, and Italy bear the name of St. Maurice, and there are more than 1,000 places dedicated to the saint worldwide.

Around the year 380, Theodule, the first known bishop of the Valais region, found the relics of the martyrs under the cliff and built the first church in their honor, as stated on the website. King Sigismund then founded the abbey in 515, instituting perpetual prayer on the site.

“Saint-Maurice is above all a place of passage,” Roduit explained. “It is located on an important international route, the Via Francigena, which runs from Canterbury to Rome.” The abbey’s influence was particularly strong in the 12th and 13th centuries. Kings and princes offered gifts, which today constitute a precious “treasure” jealously guarded by the canons.

In 1262, King St. Louis IX presented the abbey with a thorn from the crown of Christ. “The king wanted to spread the ideal of the military saint in his kingdom,” Roduit said. “The abbey gave him relics of St. Maurice and in exchange, the king offered a small thorn from the crown of Christ.” 

Despite the French Revolution, fires, and falling rocks, the abbey was rebuilt but never interrupted. Since 1128, the abbey has been run by canons who follow the Rule of St. Augustine. “Our main mission is to worship the Lord at the tomb of the martyrs, faithfully since the beginning of time,” the archivist insisted.

One kilometer from the abbey is the Martyrdom Chapel. Built in the 18th century and renovated in the 20th, it stands on the exact site of the martyrdom. Its blood-red altar bears an inscription taken from the Passion of the Agaune Martyrs by Eucher: “We are your soldiers, O Emperor, but above all servants of God. We owe you military obedience, we owe him innocence.” According to the story, Maurice added: “We’d rather die innocent than live guilty.”

New Martyrdom Chapel, Saint-Maurice Abbey. Credit: Jean-Yves Glassey and Michel Martinez
New Martyrdom Chapel, Saint-Maurice Abbey. Credit: Jean-Yves Glassey and Michel Martinez

Canons’ missions

Today, there are 27 canons in the entire congregation, 22 of whom live at Saint-Maurice, hailing from several places: Valais, German-speaking Swiss, France, and Bavaria. The young people in formation are of Sicilian, Beninese, Togolese, Burkinabe, and Kazak origin.

The canons have three main ministries, beginning with education. They teach at the Lycée-Collège de l’Abbaye de Saint-Maurice, an institution of 1,200 students founded in 1806 under an agreement with the State of Valais.

They also minister in neighboring parishes, and — especially in the last century, given the dwindling resources nowadays — carry out missionary work, notably in India, Peru, Kazakhstan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Until the end of the 20th century, they carried out the famous Sikkim mission, in the Darjeeling Diocese in northeast India between Nepal and Bhutan.

New treasure room at Saint-Maurice Abbey in the Valais region of Switzerland, Sept. 20, 2023. Credit: Jean-Yves Glassey and Michel Martinez
New treasure room at Saint-Maurice Abbey in the Valais region of Switzerland, Sept. 20, 2023. Credit: Jean-Yves Glassey and Michel Martinez

The abbey’s influence

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, some 100,000 people visited the abbey every year. And approximately 15,000 visitors came to see the Treasure Museum. The abbey’s international reputation continues to grow, as the audio guides are now being translated into Ukrainian and Russian.

The Saint-Maurice Archives house an extensive medieval collection, with the first document dating back to 984. Their holdings have been fully digitized and made available to researchers on the Internet.

The canons also run a project to develop an organ culture in French-speaking Switzerland, with an organ school, a music season, and an international organ competition. Saint-Maurice is also home to Switzerland’s largest carillon (a bronze set of bells played with a keyboard), which will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2024.

The canons run a brewery — the Abbey of Saint-Maurice Beer — and maintain a 6-hectare vineyard, with which they will soon inaugurate Cuvée de Noé, a sweet dessert wine.

Every Sept. 22, the feast of St. Maurice is a highlight in the region. The canons organize a procession with the saint’s relics through the streets of the town and a three-day Monastic Market, attended by some 30 religious communities from France, Switzerland, and Italy.

The abbey is currently under the authority of Prior Roland Jacquenoud, since the Father Abbot of Saint-Maurice, Monsignor Jean Scarcella, elected in 2015, has stepped down pending the completion of an investigation requested by Rome following allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up aimed at various members of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference.

‘Destruction’ of ethnic Armenians is imminent, experts warn

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia Ararat Mirzoyan speaks during a U.N. Security Council emergency meeting on Nagorno-Karabakh at the United Nations headquarters on Sept. 21, 2023, in New York City. The security council held an emergency meeting to discuss the situation between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh. / Credit: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

CNA Staff, Sep 21, 2023 / 18:08 pm (CNA).

The “destruction” of an enclave of 120,000 Armenian Christians in the Nagorno-Karabakh region is imminent, warns Siobhan Nash-Marshall, a U.S.-based human rights advocate.

“The impact of the recent attacks and subsequent disarmament will almost certainly result in the destruction of the people of Artsakh,” Nash-Marshall told CNA.

In 2011, Nash-Marshall founded the Christians in Need Foundation (CINF) to help Armenian Christians in the region and in 2020 she started a school for children and adults in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Nash-Marshall said that as the Azeri government seeks to further assert its control over Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, the ethnic Armenians will be forcibly removed.

“There are those Artsakhtsi who will not leave their homeland — those lands that their people have inhabited for millennia. They will be forcibly removed or worse,” Nash-Marshall said.

For those Armenians who choose to leave, Nash-Marshall said they “will bear permanent scars akin to those of the descendants of genocide survivors.”

What happened?

Though internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh is made up almost entirely of Christian ethnic Armenians who claim self-sovereignty under the auspices of the Republic of Artsakh.

On Wednesday, ethnic Armenians in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh agreed to lay down their arms and dissolve their military forces following a short but intense Azerbaijan offensive on Sept. 19.

The attacks, which included rocket and mortar fire, were perpetrated by Azerbaijan under the leadership of President Ilham Aliyev.

In just over one day, over 200 Armenian Christians were killed, including 10 civilians, and many more were injured, the New York Times reported.

According to the Artsakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the attacks also forced over 10,000 people, including women, children, and elderly, to evacuate their homes.

Ruben Vardenyan, former Artsakh state minister, called on the United Nations Security Council, which will be meeting Thursday afternoon, to take “concrete steps” to protect the Armenian Christians in Nagorno-Karabakh.

“The U.N. Security Council must go beyond mere calls for action. No more empty rhetoric; we need concrete steps,” Vardenyan said in a Thursday X statement. “Currently, 120,000 Armenians are facing a dire situation, with hundreds killed, wounded, and missing. We urgently require a U.N. mission to be dispatched to Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh.”

Vardenyan said that without aid from the international community, “the risk of massive ethnic cleansing will inevitably increase.”

The Armenian people in Nagorno-Karabakh, who have been cut off from receiving supplies because of an Azeri blockade of the Lachin Corridor, are in urgent need of food, medicine, and doctors.

“It is imperative that you take action now!” Vardenyan said. “We implore you to show that words carry weight and that aggression and the use of force cannot lead to lasting peace. Dictators must be held accountable for the suffering they inflict upon humanity, and hatred directed at any ethnic group, in this case, Armenians, is unacceptable.”

Why the fighting?

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh region for decades.

Since December 2022, the single road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, known as the Lachin Corridor, has been blockaded first by Azeri-aligned protestors and then by the Azeri military.

The blockade has resulted in what Vardenyan has previously called a “humanitarian catastrophe,” due to a critical shortage of food and essential supplies.

For the first time since November 2020, the tensions in Nagorno-Karabakh erupted into outright military conflict on Tuesday, with Azerbaijan unleashing missile strikes and offensives on Artsakh.

Nash-Marshall said she thinks it is likely that the Azeri government will continue its blockade of the Lachin Corridor.

“The blockade, in my understanding, was a means for Aliyev. It locked up the people he wants to destroy,” Nash-Marshall said. “Now that he has invaded the lands of those whom he wants to destroy, will he open up the door of their prison?”

She also said she fears the Azeri success will encourage them to begin construction of a proposed railway cutting through the Zangezur Corridor in Armenia’s Syunik province.

“Another part of me is worried about the precedent that Aliyev’s violation of the cease-fire … that is the blockade of Lachin [sets],” Nash-Marshall added. “Will Aliyev begin construction of the Zangezur Corridor in Syunik?”

United Nations Security Council holds emergency meeting

The United Nations Security Council, at the request of France, held an emergency meeting Thursday afternoon to address the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

During the meeting, which took place in New York City, representatives from 16 different nations, including the U.S., Russia, and China, condemned the violence unleashed during the conflict, especially the violence against civilians.

The representatives also applauded the cease-fire but cautioned that more must be done to protect the human rights of the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Catherine Colonna, French minister for Europe and foreign affairs, said that “what is at stake is the possibility for the Armenian people in Nagorno-Karabakh to be able to live with their rights, history, and culture being respected.”

“France has taken note of the statement of President Aliyev made yesterday, affirming his wish to live in peace with the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh and to preserve their rights,” Colonna said.

Colonna went on to say that “if Azerbaijan really wants to arrive at a peaceful and negotiated solution it must here and now provide tangible guarantees” including that Azerbaijan commit to not use deadly force against the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, to grant amnesty to the authorities who surrendered, to allow international humanitarian aid into the region, and most notably, to “re-establish unconditionally and without delay traffic on the Lachin Corridor.”

Also present at the emergency meeting were the foreign affairs ministers of both Armenia, Ararat Mirzoyan, and Azerbaijan, Jeyhun Bayramov. The two ministers accused each other’s nations of violating international law and of being responsible for the outbreak of violence.

Despite France’s demands, Bayramov did not make any additional guarantees, only reiterating Aliyev’s position that the Azeri government wishes to peacefully reintegrate the people of Nagorno-Karabakh into Azerbaijan.

How is the international community responding?

Speaking to more than 15,000 people in St. Peter’s Square on Sept. 20, Pope Francis said he was troubled by the news he received about Nagorno-Karabakh, where “the already critical humanitarian situation is now aggravated by further armed clashes.”

“I make my heartfelt appeal to all the parties involved and to the international community to silence the weapons and make every effort to find peaceful solutions for the good of the people and respect for human dignity,” the pope said at the end of his Wednesday general audience.

In the United States Congress, Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, who called an emergency hearing to address the Nagorno-Karabakh issue in early September, called on President Joe Biden to take immediate action to help the Armenians in the region.

“Now more than ever, President Biden must immediately push the United Nations Security Council to establish a mandate and peacekeeping mission to protect the Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Smith said in a Wednesday press release.

“The people of Nagorno-Karabakh are in a moment of grave danger,” he went on. “They have been forced to disarm and surrender their independence to a ruthless dictator whose government has repeatedly committed horrific abuses against them over many years, expressed its will to ethnically cleanse them, and even initiated a genocide by starvation with the blockade of the Lachin Corridor.”

“Tragically, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has called the Biden administration’s bluff that it ‘will not tolerate’ an attack,” Smith added. “I urge President Biden to immediately dispatch diplomats and expert observers in the Nagorno-Karabakh region to monitor the situation and immediately report any atrocity or abuse. The Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh have, as ever, every right to continue to live in their ancient homeland — and to do so in safety.”

Senate confirms military appointments, bypassing pro-life blockade by Tuberville

U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, speaks during a hearing to examine the nomination of USAF General David Allvin for reappointment to the grade of general and to be Chief of Staff of the Air Force on Sept. 12, 2023 at Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 21, 2023 / 16:20 pm (CNA).

The United States Senate began confirming military appointments one by one on Wednesday to bypass a pro-life blockade led by Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville, which has been holding up the usually routine process since February.

Military promotions and appointments to fill vacancies are normally approved in large blocks through the unanimous consent of the Senate, but one senator refusing to consent forces the chamber to take the votes up individually. Tuberville has blocked unanimous consent for seven months in protest of the Department of Defense’s pro-abortion policies. 

A new policy adopted last year provides paid leave and reimbursement of travel expenses for service members to obtain abortions, which was meant to increase access to abortion for anyone living in or stationed in states that impose restrictions on the procedure. It also covers travel costs for spouses or dependents to obtain abortions.

On Wednesday, the Senate voted 83-11 to confirm its first individual military appointment since Tuberville’s blockade began: Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Senate confirmed two more appointments individually on Thursday — Gen. Randy George as Army chief of staff and Gen. Eric Smith as commandant of the Marine Corps — but it’s unclear whether other nominees will get individual votes anytime soon. 

The blockade has caused a backlog of more than 300 appointments. 

Before Wednesday’s vote, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the blockade forced leadership “to confront his obstruction head on” by holding a vote but added that “this cannot continue.” He said the appointment would be confirmed, the DOD policy would remain in place, and Tuberville “will have accomplished nothing.” 

“What Sen. Tuberville is doing will set the military and the Senate down a path to vote on every single military promotion,” Schumer said. “It will make every single military officer’s promotion subject to the political whims of the Senate and even of one senator. It will change the nature of our nonpolitical military. It will hamstring the Senate and further bog down this body and make it harder for us to legislate.”

Tuberville responded to Schumer’s comments when speaking on the Senate floor later that day, saying that the Senate “could have confirmed these nominees a long, long time ago” but that Democrats have instead “spent months complaining about having to vote.” He said he will continue his blockade but blamed the backlog on Schumer for not holding any individual votes on the appointments. 

“My hold is still in place,” Tuberville said. “The hold will remain in place as long as the Pentagon’s illegal abortion policy remains in place. If the Pentagon lifts the policy, then I will lift my hold. It’s as easy as that.”

After the confirmation, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin thanked Schumer for holding the vote and criticized Tuberville for continuing his blockade.

“Sen. Tuberville’s continued hold on hundreds of our nation’s military leaders endangers our national security and military readiness,” Austin said in a statement. “It is well past time to confirm the over 300 other military nominees.”

Austin said Brown “will be a tremendous leader of our joint force and I look forward to working with him in his new capacity” and that the nominees are “well-qualified” and “apolitical.”

Federal law prohibits DOD funds from being “used to perform abortions except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term or in a case in which the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.” Although the statute does not expressly prohibit funding for travel to obtain an abortion, some Republicans have argued that such funds violate the statute. President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice told the DOD that such funding is permissible under the law.

Republicans have introduced legislation that would expressly prohibit agencies from funding ancillary expenses related to obtaining an abortion, but those efforts have failed in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Seton Shrine’s new additions offer interactive encounter with first American-born saint

The National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland, is opening a new $4 million state-of-the-art Seton Shrine Museum and Visitor Center on Sept. 22, 2023. / Credit: Seton Shrine

Charlotte, N.C., Sep 21, 2023 / 15:46 pm (CNA).

The National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland, is opening a new $4 million state-of-the-art Seton Shrine Museum and Visitor Center on Sept. 22, offering visitors an interactive encounter with the first American-born canonized saint.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774–1821), a widowed mother, opened one of the first free Catholic schools for girls in the United States and established the first order of women religious in the country — the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph — on the very grounds where her shrine and the new museum and visitor center are located. She was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1975.

 A view of the interior of the Seeker gallery at the new Seton Shrine Museum. Credit: Seton Shrine
A view of the interior of the Seeker gallery at the new Seton Shrine Museum. Credit: Seton Shrine

The shrine includes St. Elizabeth Ann’s original “Stone House” and “White House” as well as the basilica. With the addition of the museum and visitors center, pilgrims to the shrine now have the opportunity to immerse themselves in her life by walking in her footsteps where she lived and served, and through interactive displays and exhibits in the museum that are rich in American history and the history of the Catholic Church in America.

What was formerly the provincial entrance near the basilica has been transformed into a modern and welcoming visitor center, seamlessly connecting visitors to the gift shop and museum galleries. Inside, the galleries paint an intimate portrait of Mother Seton through dozens of artifacts, visual storytelling displays, and digital interactive exhibits.

The museum houses three core galleries: the SEEKER exhibit, which delves into Mother Seton’s troubled childhood, fairytale marriage, bankruptcy, widowhood, and conversion to Catholicism; the SERVANT exhibit, which explores how Mother Seton founded a new community of consecrated religious and pioneered a way for women in America to serve God; and the SAINT exhibit, which provides insights into the dedicated efforts of thousands of Americans across four generations for Mother Seton to be declared a saint.

A commonplace book, one of several artifacts in the new Seton Shrine Museum. Credit: Seton Shrine
A commonplace book, one of several artifacts in the new Seton Shrine Museum. Credit: Seton Shrine

“One of my favorite exhibits is an exhibit which consists of a digital touch screen, showcasing the 14 Sisters of Charity communities,” said Rob Judge, executive director of the shrine. “The impact exhibit allows visitors to look all around the world at all the past and present missions that the hundreds of sisters have worked in over the years, showcasing the huge impact they’ve had in serving the poor. And it all came from a woman who decided to start a school after she was widowed and invited other women to join her.”

Judge notes that Elizabeth Ann Seton never set out to build a huge network. “That’s the beauty of it. If we are faithful one step at a time, that is available to all of us. The impact exhibit helps make that clear. Her life and work developed into so much more than founding a school. By a simple yes, so much good has been done,” he told CNA.

In addition to the permanent exhibits, the museum also features two special exhibits that will be on display for a limited time.

The first is “Fancywork: Early American Needlework from St. Joseph’s Academy and Free School,” an exhibit with more than 20 pieces of needlework dating from the early 1800s to the 1870s and the stories of the students behind the works.

The "Fancywork" exhibit at the Seton Shrine highlights needlework done by students in the late 1800s at St. Joseph’s School. Credit: Seton Shrine
The "Fancywork" exhibit at the Seton Shrine highlights needlework done by students in the late 1800s at St. Joseph’s School. Credit: Seton Shrine

The second is “Getting in the Habit: Iconic Clothing of the Daughters of Charity,” which displays dozens of historic artifacts that explore the ranging apparel of the Daughters of Charity throughout the years, exhibited by the Daughter of Charity Province of St. Louise, Provincial Archives. 

“This story from 200 years ago is worth telling today through this state-of-the-art facility,” said Tony Dilulio, director of programs for the shrine and a wealth of knowledge when it comes to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Dilulio coordinated the experts involved in the lighting, exhibits, and design — many of whom also created landmarks such as presidential libraries.

One of the interactive exhibits features the legacy of the Daughters of Charity, highlighting missions from around the globe. Sept. 20, 2023. Credit: Seton Shrine
One of the interactive exhibits features the legacy of the Daughters of Charity, highlighting missions from around the globe. Sept. 20, 2023. Credit: Seton Shrine

“I would love to challenge every visitor to be a ‘servant saint seeker.’ To seek God as St. Elizabeth Ann Seton did. To work as diligently as she did her whole life, and to be a saint!” Dilulio added.

With the addition of the new museum and visitors center, the shrine anticipates a significant increase in pilgrims, which averages 60,000 visitors annually.

“We need models and intercessors, and she’s par excellence,” Judge said. “We’re hoping that through these exhibits people get to know her a bit. She’s a very relatable saint. In order to relate to someone you have to know something about them. We hope this museum allows people to relate to her and get to know her better and seek her intercession in their lives.”

The Mass, blessing, and dedication Sept. 22 will be presided over by Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore. More information on the Seton Shrine Museum can be found on the shrine’s website.

Pro-life students harassed by ‘mob’ after VP Kamala Harris talk in North Carolina

Lydia Taylor (blue shirt), and other student pro-life protesters from across the state of North Carolina traveled to North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro on Sept. 15, 2023, to demonstrate outside of Vice President Kamala Harris's speech calling for the expansion of abortion access. / Credit: Students for Life of America

CNA Staff, Sep 21, 2023 / 14:53 pm (CNA).

A group of pro-life students who participated in a demonstration at a North Carolina college last week during a visit to campus by Vice President Kamala Harris say they were escorted off campus by police for their own safety after being harassed by a large crowd.

Harris’ speech at North Carolina A&T University on Sept. 15 was part of her “Fight for Our Freedoms College Tour,” an effort to mobilize college students to vote and support the Democratic agenda on a variety of issues, including the expansion of abortion. 

Before the event, a number of students holding signs with pro-life messages such as “abortion hurts women” and “fight for our freedoms” gathered on the Greensboro, North Carolina, campus.

According to members of the group, they engaged in positive dialogue with students on campus. When the vice president’s speech was over, however, things got ugly.

A video shared on X shows a crowd of young people stealing signs from the pro-life activists who were brought together by the group Students for Life of America.

One young man can be seen taking the Students for Life group’s marker and sign and writing “BLM,” otherwise known as Black Lives Matter, on it. The crowd cheered as he raised the sign and danced around. 

Two others can be seen on video holding up signs that say “F*** dem kids,” while the crowd is heard chanting the same. 

Other profanities could be heard being shouted at the pro-life group. Photos from the protest show the pro-life group being taunted with obscene hand gestures. The group also claims they were “twerked on” (a type of suggestive dancing), which several photos confirm.

One of the Students for Life of America student leaders, Lydia Taylor, told CNA Wednesday that as the “mob” closed in on her and was waving signs in her face, the police intervened. 

“They immediately came in and said, ‘We have to go now’ and pulled us out of the mob. We were forced to leave a lot of our stuff behind,” the 20-year old said. 

The group ended up retrieving a bull horn, microphone, and some speakers but lost some of their signs and materials that are used at other pro-life demonstrations.

“It was so chaotic,” she said.

Taylor, who organized the group of about 10 pro-life students from across the state, is a student at Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina, about an hour and 20-minute drive away from where the protest took place.

When she heard about the vice president’s plan to talk about expanding abortion access at college campuses in states across the country, including her own, she felt called to spring into action. 

“We need to go and stand up against her pro-abortion extremism, especially since she supports abortion with no restrictions up until the moment of birth,” she said.

During her speech at the university, Harris called for greater access to abortion in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

“One does not have to abandon their faith, or deeply held beliefs, to agree that the government should not be telling [a woman] what to do with her body,” Harris said, taking issue with what she called “extremist so-called leaders” passing state pro-life laws. 

The vice president criticized those laws, especially those being passed without rape and incest exceptions, calling them “immoral.”

“What the [Supreme] Court took away, Congress can put back in place. Congress can pass a law that puts back in place the protections of a case called Roe v. Wade, which gives you the right to make decisions for yourself,” she told the crowd, urging them to vote for lawmakers who will do so. 

Taylor told CNA that before the crowd of students harassed them, her group had many positive conversations with students attending the vice president’s event on campus.

“We changed at least 10 minds and have connected with students there that are interested in starting a pro-life group, which was incredible,” she said.

Other university students approached Taylor expressing support for the pro-life cause, she said.

It was after the talk that things went south.

“I think it’s interesting that it went peacefully before the Kamala Harris event, but after hearing her speak, immediately, the first thing they did was come and harass us and vandalize our signs,” she said.

After someone wrote “Black Lives Matter” on the pro-life group’s sign, Taylor said: “Hey, we actually agree that Black lives do matter, and the abortion industry is targeting Black lives, and we’d love to have a peaceful conversation with you.”

But the crowd, which she said numbered in the hundreds, just became more aggressive.

CNA reached out to the university for a comment but did not receive a response.

Where is St. Matthew? A visit to his tomb

The statue of St. Matthew above the crypt altar beneath the cathedral of Salerno, Italy. / Credit: Berthold Werner/Wikimedia Commons

CNA Staff, Sep 21, 2023 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Sept. 21 marks the feast day of St. Matthew, also known as Levi, an apostle of Jesus and, according to tradition, the author of one of the four Gospels. 

Surprisingly little is known for certain about Matthew’s life, even though his Gospel is so crucial for the Church. The manner of Matthew’s calling by Jesus is well known — Matthew was a Jew but worked as a tax collector for the Romans in Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee, making him a pariah among his own people. When Jesus called Matthew to follow him, Matthew gave up his presumably materialistic life as a tax collector to follow the Lord. 

Jesus’ calling of Matthew led some religious authorities of the Jewish community to wonder: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” To which Jesus responded: “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

The Catholic Encyclopedia notes, however, that no further reference is made to Matthew in the Gospels, except in the list of the Apostles, and “of Matthew’s subsequent career we have only inaccurate or legendary data.” It appears though, according to a number of other ancient sources, that he evangelized for at least a decade and a half in Asia. 

Matthew’s earthly body is purported to lie in the crypt beneath the cathedral of Salerno, Italy. In the crypt, a bronze St. Matthew made by Michelangelo Naccherino in 1606 sits above the altar. The saint is shown writing the Gospel with a book resting on his left knee and a pen in his right hand. At his left side, an angel hands him an inkwell as he writes his Gospel. 

Alfano I, the archbishop of Salerno from 1058–1085, completed the crypt in 1081 and placed Matthew’s body in the sepulcher. The renovation in the early 17th century was carried out by architects Domenico and his son Giulio Cesare Fontana. 

According to legend, St. Matthew’s intercession helped to protect the city in 1544 from the dreaded pirate Ariadeno Barbarossa, supreme commander of the Turkish military fleet, when a storm that had been prayed for by devotees to St. Matthew in Salerno blew Barbarossa’s fleet away from the city. 

Eastern Catholics and the Orthodox churches celebrate St. Matthew on Nov. 16, along with St. Fulvianus, a prince who is recorded in some traditions as converting from paganism after Matthew’s martyrdom.

Pope Benedict said in 2006 that “in the figure of Matthew, the Gospels present to us a true and proper paradox: those who seem to be the farthest from holiness can even become a model of the acceptance of God’s mercy and offer a glimpse of its marvelous effects in their own lives.