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Catholic pilgrimages in the United States: a new renaissance?

Catholic pilgrims on the Katy Trail Pilgrimage begin the route from Augusta on Oct. 9, 2023. / Jonah McKeown/CNA

CNA Staff, May 17, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

This weekend, the longest Catholic pilgrimages ever organized in the United States — possibly the world — will commence on the edges of the country. 

The National Eucharistic Pilgrimages, organized as part of the multiyear National Eucharistic Revival, will see a group of young men and women collectively walk over 6,500 miles, carrying the Eucharist across four different routes and meeting in Indianapolis for the National Eucharistic Congress July 17–21. It’s not known yet just how many people will end up participating in the four pilgrimages, but organizers are hoping to attract tens of thousands. 

Arguably, in the past decade or so, Catholic pilgrimages in the United States have — if you’ll pardon the pun — hit their stride. The organizers of a number of prominent Catholic pilgrimages told CNA that they’ve seen interest among Catholics grow and promoted the idea of pilgrimage as a powerful means of spiritual revival. 

Catholic pilgrims on the Katy Trail Pilgrimage walk the route on Oct. 9, 2023. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Catholic pilgrims on the Katy Trail Pilgrimage walk the route on Oct. 9, 2023. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

‘So overwhelming and so beautiful’

A pilgrimage is broadly defined as a journey to a holy place and is traditionally associated with walking. The concept of pilgrimage in the Catholic tradition is far from new, of course — the most famous pilgrimage in the world is arguably the 1,000-year-old Camino de Santiago through Spain, Portugal, and part of southern France. Last year, nearly half a million people from around the world did the Camino, a new record. Thirty-two thousand of those people were from the U.S., the largest foreign group represented.

Though the many world-famous European pilgrimages with centuries of pedigree are indeed attractive, Americans aren’t only flooding those trails. Many are blazing their own here at home and have seen their efforts rewarded with growing numbers of participants. 

In just over a decade and a half, the “Kansas Camino,” also known as the Father Emil Kapaun Pilgrimage, has grown from just five participants the first year to more than 100 a few years later. Scott Carter, coordinator of the Father Kapaun Guild in Wichita, told CNA that this year over 400 people from at least 26 states signed up to walk the 60-mile route over Kansas backroads beginning May 30. 

Pilgrims walk the Kansas Camino, which goes from Wichita to Father Emil Kapaun’s home parish in rural Pilsen, Kansas. Credit: Diocese of Wichita
Pilgrims walk the Kansas Camino, which goes from Wichita to Father Emil Kapaun’s home parish in rural Pilsen, Kansas. Credit: Diocese of Wichita

Kapaun was a Catholic priest and military chaplain who ministered to his fellow soldiers during the Korean War. Likely buoyed by recent developments in Kapaun’s sainthood cause as well as the providential rediscovery of his body and return to Kansas in 2021, the Kapaun Pilgrimage has exploded in popularity. 

Carter said the founder of the pilgrimage, Father Eric Walden, was in the military too and wanted a way to enter more deeply into the life of Father Kapaun. The route of the pilgrimage takes participants from Wichita to Kapaun’s home parish in rural Pilsen, Kansas. 

Father Emil Kapaun celebrates Mass using the hood of a Jeep as his altar on Oct. 7, 1950. Public Domain
Father Emil Kapaun celebrates Mass using the hood of a Jeep as his altar on Oct. 7, 1950. Public Domain

Carter described the concept of pilgrimage as “sacramental in its nature, putting both our body and soul to work in response to God’s call.”

“On pilgrimage we contribute physically, mentally, spiritually to our prayers, and it often gives us comfort that we’re doing everything we can to leave our petition in God’s hands,” he said. 

On the Kapaun Pilgrimage, as on any pilgrimage, people walk for different reasons — some for a specific purpose or prayer intention, some seeking spiritual rejuvenation, others for the purpose of venerating the holy site at the end.

“I feel like everybody has their own story. Everybody has something that strikes them. But I do think there’s a unique way where the physical nature of the pilgrimage, the removal from our ordinary lives; it just invites us into something different and to experience something in a unique way,” he said. 

Pilgrims celebrate Mass on the hood of a Jeep during the Kansas Camino, emulating a famous photo of Father Emil Kapaun. Credit: Diocese of Wichita
Pilgrims celebrate Mass on the hood of a Jeep during the Kansas Camino, emulating a famous photo of Father Emil Kapaun. Credit: Diocese of Wichita

Carter said the joy that awaits pilgrims at the end of their journey is reminiscent of the joy we hope for as Catholics at the end of our life journey. 

“When you reach your destination, it was just so overwhelming and so beautiful, people cheering us on and everything. And so it’s a little hint, hopefully, of what heaven is like … the welcome that we’re going to receive when we’re finally walking through the pearly gates,” Carter said.

‘American Catholics are reengaging’

Gabe Jones, a father and a financial adviser with the Knights of Columbus, founded the Joseph Challenge Pilgrimage in 2015 in St. Louis. The roughly 24-mile annual walk aimed at Catholic men has grown from just a handful of friends in its first year to “just under 60 guys” in one of the post-pandemic iterations. Jones said they’ve had 30 or so participants on average in each of the nine years, with minimal promotion of the event apart from word of mouth. 

Even if their ranks aren’t quite as large as, say, the Kapaun Pilgrimage, Jones said he has seen the Lord working during the pilgrimage even if the number of walkers is small. One early year, he said, several fellow participants dropped out, leaving the number of pilgrims at just two. Jones walked with that one other man, who was at that point discerning his vocation. That man is today a monk at Silver Stream Priory in Ireland, Jones said. 

“You can never judge the fruit of [a pilgrimage] by the numbers,” he commented.

Founder Gabe Jones, left, speaks to participants at the commencement of the Joseph Challenge Pilgrimage in May 2019. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Founder Gabe Jones, left, speaks to participants at the commencement of the Joseph Challenge Pilgrimage in May 2019. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Jones told CNA that most people he encounters find the idea of pilgrimage very appealing, in part because it is an experience that grounds you in reality in an age dominated by the virtual. 

“The world now, because we’re so digital and you can experience so many things that aren’t real on a screen — a pilgrimage reconnects you with reality. It reconnects you literally with the earth, because you’re walking for miles and miles and the pain that comes with that. You know, the discomfort in your feet and your joints from walking and walking and walking,” he said. 

“You encounter people. You’re walking through street corners, and people come up and say, ‘What are you doing?’ So I think there’s that desire in the human heart for an experience, for action. And I think American Catholics are reengaging with that.”

Men walk through St. Louis during the Joseph Challenge Pilgrimage in 2019 carrying a wooden cross and a Vatican flag. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Men walk through St. Louis during the Joseph Challenge Pilgrimage in 2019 carrying a wooden cross and a Vatican flag. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Large pilgrimage groups remain a relatively rare sight on U.S. streets, and Jones said often he gets asked by passersby what they’re “protesting” — which he finds ironic.

“Public witness doesn’t have to be in protest of something. You can do something publicly like this as a witness and as a testimony because of the things you love,” he noted. 

“I think it’s a beautiful thing to be able to offer to Our Lord is to say, hey, this beautiful place here is worth a little bit of pain and discomfort to offer up and unite my sufferings with yours.”

Participants kneel in front of the Shrine of St. Joseph at the conclusion of the Joseph Challenge Pilgrimage in 2019. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Participants kneel in front of the Shrine of St. Joseph at the conclusion of the Joseph Challenge Pilgrimage in 2019. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Father Timothy Foy, associate pastor at St. Clare of Assisi Parish in the St. Louis area, is the founder of the Katy Trail Pilgrimage, a roughly 50-mile walk to a handful of Marian churches along a trail that spans almost the entire width of Missouri. Last year’s pilgrimage in October 2023 attracted, at least for portions, approximately 80 people, the largest group they’ve had. 

Foy went on a pilgrimage in Poland in 2014, walking with a large group from Kraków to Częstochowa, the site of a famous Marian shrine. The roughly 70-mile, six-day trek inspired him to do a pilgrimage stateside. 

So a few years later, he and two other priests walked the Katy Trail, essentially the exact route they still use today. The next year, he invited others to join them and continued to put out the invitation annually, even through the pandemic years. 

Father Timothy Foy, left, leads pilgrims on the Katy Trail Pilgrimage on Oct. 9, 2023. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Father Timothy Foy, left, leads pilgrims on the Katy Trail Pilgrimage on Oct. 9, 2023. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Foy told CNA this week that for many people, the Katy Trail experience is their first exposure to pilgrimage. He said many participants tell him they find the experience rejuvenating. 

“It’s a movement of the spirit. It’s kind of like when you go on retreat, you know, we’re recharging … We’re going to find that solitude with God and letting him help fill up our souls with his presence and kind of recharge and a pilgrimage,” the priest said. 

Foy said he is glad to hear that pilgrimages are growing in popularity and that he is “happy to ride in that wave.”

“With a pilgrimage, you kind of go on the offense. You’re kind of sallying forth into the world,” he said. 

“You have a mission, so you’re never bored. You’re always making progress as long as you’re walking.”

Catholic pilgrims on the Katy Trail Pilgrimage walk the route on Oct. 9, 2023. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Catholic pilgrims on the Katy Trail Pilgrimage walk the route on Oct. 9, 2023. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

‘Know where you’re going’

Will Peterson, founder and president of Modern Catholic Pilgrim (MCP), a U.S. nonprofit that is coordinating the National Eucharistic Pilgrimages, called pilgrimage “one of the oldest forms of prayer in our Church tradition.”

“It speaks to who we are as Catholics … it’s accessible. You don’t need to have an advanced degree or a deep spiritual life to be a pilgrim. You just need to know where you’re going and what intentions you’re bringing to that space,” he said. 

Will Peterson (far right), founder of Modern Catholic Pilgrim, poses with a group of pilgrims. Courtesy of Will Peterson
Will Peterson (far right), founder of Modern Catholic Pilgrim, poses with a group of pilgrims. Courtesy of Will Peterson

MCP is a small operation and the National Eucharistic Pilgrimages will be by far the largest events they have coordinated. Peterson opined that pilgrimages are growing in popularity, in part, because many people are struggling to find purpose in life — especially young people.

In the face of this, “pilgrimages are all about purpose: My purpose is to get to this place, to give these intentions to God,” he noted. 

Jonathan Liedl of the National Catholic Register contributed to this story.

Harrison Butker supported by Kansas City bishop, prominent Catholics amid speech backlash

Kansas City Chiefs’ placekicker Harrison Butker speaks to college graduates in his commencement address at Benedictine College on Saturday, May 11, 2024. / Credit: Benedictine College

CNA Staff, May 16, 2024 / 18:37 pm (CNA).

Prominent Catholics are voicing their support for Kansas City Chiefs’ kicker Harrison Butker after he delivered a commencement address to graduating students at Benedictine College on May 11 that touched on hot-button issues, causing outrage among the left-leaning media and commentators.

Butker, 28, who has been outspoken about his Catholic faith during his career, received backlash for sharing his views on gender, abortion, euthanasia, and IVF.

He also took aim at several high-profile Catholics such as President Joe Biden and the former head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci. He chided certain unnamed bishops who were “motivated by fear” during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

In the speech at the Atchison, Kansas-based Catholic liberal arts college, he denounced “people pushing dangerous gender ideologies onto the youth of America” while calling on graduates to live out their vocation to “ensure that God’s Church continues and the world is enlightened by your example.”

“Our own nation is led by a man who publicly and proudly proclaims his Catholic faith, but at the same time is delusional enough to make the sign of the cross during a pro-abortion rally. He has been so vocal in his support for the murder of innocent babies that I’m sure to many people it appears that you can be both Catholic and pro-choice,” Butker said. 

Butker’s local ordinary, Bishop James Johnston of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, told CNA Thursday in a statement that “Harrison Butker’s passion for his Catholic faith and his family are beautiful and well known. And like most people, he also has strong opinions on where we are as a Church and as a nation.”

“The Catholic Church believes that God calls everyone to pursue holiness no matter what path they take. As St. Paul notes, that diversity of callings and vocations is essential to the life and mission of the Church. I support Mr. Butker’s right to share his faith and express his opinions — including those that are critical of bishops,” he said.

Johnston wasn’t the only one who spoke out in support of Butker. 

In a statement to CNA Thursday, another high-profile Catholic, Marian priest and author of “Consecration to St. Joseph” Father Donald Calloway, MIC, said: “I loved the speech!”

“His speech was inspiring and what the woke culture needs to hear. He exhibited real, authentic Catholic manhood. Good for him. I have no problem with anything he said. I wish more said it, especially clergy. God bless him. I look forward to meeting him. I loved it so much I went out and bought his jersey!"

Bishop Joseph Strickland thanked Butker for “speaking truth” in a post he shared Thursday on X. 

Strickland said that “it is no surprise that some are reacting with extreme negativity, too many today hate the truth and merely want ‘their’ truth, which is not truth at all. You are in my prayers.”

President of the Catholic League Bill Donohue wrote in a statement on Thursday that Butker “nailed it” during comments in his speech. 

“His courage and his commitment to Catholicism is laudatory,” Donohue wrote. “A heralded Catholic football player defends traditional moral values at a Catholic college — how novel — and within no time he’s being bashed all over the place. Had he endorsed transgenderism, or Hamas, he would now be praised to high heaven.”

Kristan Hawkins, a Catholic and president of the pro-life group Students for Life of America, wrote of the speech online: “If you watch one video today, this should be it.”

Hawkins shared a clip of Butker’s criticism of Biden, quoting Butker: “This is an important reminder that ‘being Catholic’ alone doesn’t cut it.”

CNA reached out to Benedictine College for comment but did not receive a response. 

Former Notre Dame football coach and Hall of Famer Lou Holtz publicly thanked Butker on Twitter Thursday for his speech.

“Thank you @buttkicker7 for standing strong in your faith values. Your commencement speech at Benedictine College showed courage and conviction and I admire that. Don’t give in,” he wrote.

In Holtz’s post on X, he linked to a petition in support of Butker, calling him “a true man of God.”

A separate petition by critics of Butker’s speech has made waves in the media calling for his Super Bowl-winning team, the Kansas City Chiefs, to fire him. The petition has already amassed over 100,000 signatures.

Additionally, Butker has been targeted by the city of Kansas City, Missouri, which shared a now-deleted post on X announcing what city Butker lives in, a form of harassment known as “doxxing.”

Kansas City’s X account later said: “We apologies [sic] for our previous tweet. It was shared in error.”

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas shared a follow-up post that said: “A message appeared earlier this evening from a city public account. The message was clearly inappropriate for a public account. The city has correctly apologized for the error, will review account access, and ensure nothing like it is shared in the future from public channels.”

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey said on X Thursday that his office would be taking legal action to protect the free speech of Butker and Missourians.

“BREAKING: My office is demanding accountability after @KansasCity doxxed @buttkicker7 last night for daring to express his religious beliefs. I will enforce the Missouri Human Rights Act to ensure Missourians are not targeted for their free exercise of religion. Stay tuned,” he wrote.

Much of the criticism of Butker’s speech focused on Butker’s comments addressed to the women among the graduates. 

Butker congratulated the female graduates but added: “I think it is you, the women, who have had the most diabolical lies told to you.”

“How many of you are sitting here now about to cross this stage and are thinking about all the promotions and titles you are going to get in your career? Some of you may go on to lead successful careers in the world, but I would venture to guess that the majority of you are most excited about your marriage and the children you will bring into this world,” Butker said.

“I can tell you that my beautiful wife, Isabelle, would be the first to say that her life truly started when she began living her vocation as a wife and as a mother,” he said.

“I’m on the stage today and able to be the man I am because I have a wife who leans into her vocation. I’m beyond blessed with the many talents God has given me, but it cannot be overstated that all of my success is made possible because a girl I met in band class back in middle school would convert to the faith, become my wife, and embrace one of the most important titles of all: homemaker,” he said.

His comments were followed by an almost 20-second applause from the audience.

In a statement shared with the media, the NFL condemned Butker’s comments, saying that he “gave a speech in his personal capacity.”

“His views are not those of the NFL as an organization. The NFL is steadfast in our commitment to inclusion, which only makes our league stronger,” said Jonathan Beane, the NFL’s senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer.

The Catholic advocacy organization CatholicVote penned a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell criticizing Beane’s statement, saying that it “calls into question your commitment to genuine diversity and inclusion.”

“Indeed, the NFL proudly boasts that it ‘honors and celebrates the broad ranges of human difference among us, while also embracing the commonalities we share, and to provide each individual with the opportunity to achieve their full potential.’ Does this inclusion include Catholics, pro-life Americans, mothers, and those who hold to traditional moral beliefs?” the May 16 letter said.

California teacher fired for religious beliefs gets six-figure payout in court

Jessica Tapia displays a sign outside the Garden Grove Unified School District board meeting on behalf of the Teachers Don’t Lie program. / Credit: Photo courtesy of Advocates for Faith and Freedom and Jessica Tapia

CNA Staff, May 16, 2024 / 18:04 pm (CNA).

A Christian teacher settled in court for $360,000 earlier this week after suing a California school district board for firing her after she refused to comply with gender ideology rules that went against her religious beliefs.

After refusing to comply with a preferred pronoun rule, Jessica Tapia was fired by the Jurupa Unified School District from her job as a physical education teacher.

“It ultimately really does come down to my faith and how I believe that it’s always worth it to stand for righteousness and fight for truth,” Tapia told CNA in a phone call. “And ultimately, I believe the word of God is that truth and is the instructions we’ve been given to live our life upon. There’s really nothing else or no one else that I lean on for that.”

After students reported Tapia’s private social media account to the school district, an account where she shared her views, the school district placed her on administrative leave and investigated her in 2022.  

“When I came to this position in my workplace and as a teacher where I was now being asked to do things that would go directly against what is the truth and what I am confident is best for children that I’m educating — and best for parents and best for myself — I knew it was time to speak up and not just bow down and go along with it like so many are feeling pressured and compelled to do,” she continued. 

The district asked Tapia to comply with a new rule that would require that she use students’ preferred pronouns, not tell parents if students were identifying as a gender different than their biological sex, and allow students to use their preferred bathroom regardless of their biological sex. She sought religious accommodations, but the board refused, firing her rather than accommodating her religious beliefs. 

Tapia said it was “scary” to be in that position, but she believed it would go against biblical teaching to “cave to the fear.”

“It really stretched me, and I had to really, really lean on the Lord like never before and look at what his word says and what the best thing for me to do in this situation — even if it was going to be the sacrificial thing, even if it was going to turn my life upside down,” she said.

Tapia said it wasn’t easy to take the risk, but the “timing” worked out, and now she gets to home-school her young children — ages 6, 4, and 2 — while heading the “Teachers Don’t Lie” program, encouraging teachers “not be compelled to lie in any way.” 

“We shouldn’t be lying to students about who God made them to be, male or female; we shouldn’t lie to their parents or withhold that information from their parents. If their own child is beginning to experience some confusion around their identity, that’s never something to be kept from their own parents — but that’s what school districts are asking teachers to do,” she explained. “Then thirdly, we shouldn’t have to be pressured to lie to ourselves about our own morals and beliefs and convictions — and that’s what I was being asked to do by my school district.”

Bethany Onishenko, legal counsel for Advocates for Freedom and Faith, the nonprofit law firm that defended Tapia, said they’ve seen “a huge influx” of cases of this nature over the last few years. 

“I don’t think we’re done yet. I think that this is only getting worse in our public school system right now,” Onishenko said. “But as we have more teachers like Jessica and more school districts stand up to these ideologies, well, I hope we start to see these cases lessen. But for now, they are raging on.”

When asked what she would say to concerned parents, Tapia said that while she personally doesn’t “typically advise people to put their kids in public school,” she’s “here for” those who do.

“I stand with them,” she said, adding: “I’m there for the parents who are choosing public school. I still think if there [are] children there, I believe Christians need to be there, too: people of morals, people of values, need to be wherever children are, protecting them.” 

Onishenko noted that parents don’t lose their rights when they place their children in public school.

Onishenko noted that “regardless of where you decide to send your child,” parents are still the primary caregivers for their children and have the right to be involved in the welfare and education of their children. 

“Parents absolutely have a constitutionally protected right to direct the care of upbringing and control of their children, and they don’t shed those rights if they do choose to send their children to public schools,” Onishenko noted.

Tapia said she has received a “truly overwhelming” amount of support from people, locally and worldwide.

But in a statement shared with CNA, a spokesperson for the school district said the settlement “is not a win for Ms. Tapia but is in compromise of a disputed claim.” 

“The district continues to deny any illegal action or discrimination against Ms. Tapia,” the statement continued. “As is clear from the settlement agreement, the district has not admitted any fault or wrongdoing against Ms. Tapia.”

Onishenko called it “a huge legal victory” in spite of this. 

“The district did not claim liability when they entered into the settlement, but we still see this as a big legal victory,” Onishenko told CNA in a phone call. “It serves as a reminder to everybody that religious freedom is protected no matter what career you’re in or what job you’re in.” 

“The settlement is just confirmation and a reminder that when teachers stand up for their rights or when anybody of faith stands up for their constitutional God-protected rights, they will be victorious when they stand up in faith … for the things that they believe in and stand up for the word of God,” she said.

Pope Francis says conservative critics have a ‘suicidal attitude’

In an interview with 60 Minutes' Norah O'Donnell, airing this Sunday, Pope Francis took aim at his “conservative critics” in the United States. / Credit: CBS News/Adam Verdugo

CNA Staff, May 16, 2024 / 16:58 pm (CNA).

In an interview with “60 Minutes” airing this Sunday, Pope Francis takes aim at his “conservative critics” in the United States, reportedly saying a conservative is someone who “clings to something and does not want to see beyond that.”

“It is a suicidal attitude,” the pope said as reported by “60 Minutes,” which released a brief clip of the upcoming interview conducted by CBS’ Nora O’Donnell. 

“Because one thing is to take tradition into account, to consider situations from the past, but quite another is to be closed up inside a dogmatic box.”

Francis has occasionally addressed criticism leveled against him during his more than 10 years as pontiff, saying in August 2023 that the U.S. Catholic Church is characterized by “a very strong reactionary attitude.” He has taken actions recently to limit the influence of some of his most prominent clerical critics in the U.S., reportedly taking some Vatican privileges from Cardinal Raymond Burke and removing Bishop Joseph Strickland, a frequent online critic of the pope, from his post as bishop of Tyler, Texas. 

According to CBS, the pope in the recent interview “spoke candidly with O’Donnell about the wars in Israel and Gaza, Ukraine, and the migration crises around the world and on the U.S. southern border.” 

“The wide-ranging conversation also touches upon the Church’s handling of its own sexual abuse scandals; Francis’ deep commitment to inclusiveness within the Church; the backlash against his papacy from certain corners of U.S. Catholicism; and an exploration of his thinking on surrogate parenthood,” the network says, adding that the interview marks “the first time a pope has given an in-depth, one-on-one interview to a U.S. broadcast network.”

The full interview, conducted April 24, will air as part of “60 Minutes” on May 19 from 7-8 p.m. ET on CBS and will be available on Paramount+. More of the interview will air in an hourlong prime-time special on Monday, May 20, at 10 p.m. ET on CBS and Paramount+.

The interview comes ahead of the first-ever World Children’s Day, May 25–26, a new initiative by Pope Francis sponsored by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Culture and Education in collaboration with the Catholic community of Sant’Egidio, the Auxilium Cooperative, and the Italian Football Federation. The Vatican is expecting children from more than 100 countries to travel to Rome for the weekend event with the pope.

Thomas Aquinas College goes off the grid with green power plan

Mark Kretschmer, vice president for operations at Thomas Aquinas College (TAC), pictured with Thomas Kaiser, a biologist and researcher, and Lawerence Youngblood, an electrical engineer and director of Brompton Energy. / Credit: Thomas Aquinas College

CNA Staff, May 16, 2024 / 15:24 pm (CNA).

A sequestered Catholic college in the foothills of California launched an energy program that has nearly eliminated the college’s carbon footprint while saving $600,000 a year, giving the school more reliable energy than the state power grid. 

Thomas Aquinas College (TAC), a campus of more than 500 students, sits northwest of Los Angeles but offers something very different than the bustle and traffic of city life. Sitting on 845 acres, TAC’s discussion-based model of education is designed for a small, tight-knit community of students and “tutors,” who gather for class around round tables rather than desks.

“We are in the business of analytical thinking, of asking questions, of learning from and working with nature,” President Paul O’Reilly said of TAC in a May 7 press release. “And as a Catholic institution, we are very much in the business of shepherding our resources responsibly, partnering with our neighbors, and being good stewards of creation. Our new energy independence program reflects all these qualities.”

Thomas Aquinas College (TAC), a campus of more than 500 students, sits northwest of Los Angeles, but offers something very different than the bustle and traffic of city life. Credit: Thomas Aquinas College
Thomas Aquinas College (TAC), a campus of more than 500 students, sits northwest of Los Angeles, but offers something very different than the bustle and traffic of city life. Credit: Thomas Aquinas College

After a wildfire encircled the California campus in 2017, TAC’s energy was forever altered. High winds had sparked a fire from a high-voltage power line, turning a spark into one of the worst fires in California state history.  

Since the disaster, the state took precautions by cutting power whenever there were high winds, resulting in routine campus blackouts, while utility costs only increased.

Determined to avoid two acres of solar fields on campus, Senior Tutor Thomas Kaiser, a biologist and researcher, knew that solar panels would “despoil the campus,” but he thought he could work with the campus’ neighbor — an oil and gas field company. 

Working with electrical engineer and Brompton Energy Director Lawerence Youngblood, the two determined that a contract for free natural gas would be “a very economical decision.” 

The neighboring company, Carbon California, agreed to the proposal. 

“We knew that providing the natural gas to TAC, free of charge, was the only way for the system to be economically feasible,” said Jane Farkas, Carbon California’s vice president of land and regulatory affairs. “And we wanted to be a good neighbor.”  

Together, they found a way to reduce Carbon California’s flaring and generate efficient and green energy for the campus. 

“We have a gas stream that comes out of the wells near the campus, and we’ve allowed the college to tap into that line,” Scott Price, president of Carbon California, said in the press release.

The college installed the Capstone turbine on the lower campus and adjusted the electrical infrastructure of the upper campus during last summer and the beginning of the fall. 

“We had never done anything like this before,” Mark Kretschmer, TAC vice president for operations, said in the press release. “There’s no way we could have completed this project, let alone so quickly, were it not for the countless hours of technical support and manpower that Carbon California provided throughout the installation, and which it continues to provide as we work through all the engineering and technical challenges.” 

A sequestered Catholic college in the foothills of California launched an energy program that has nearly eliminated the college’s carbon footprint while saving $600,000 a year, giving the school more reliable energy than the state power grid. Credit: Thomas Aquinas College
A sequestered Catholic college in the foothills of California launched an energy program that has nearly eliminated the college’s carbon footprint while saving $600,000 a year, giving the school more reliable energy than the state power grid. Credit: Thomas Aquinas College

While the high-capacity Tesla battery used in the project was obtained for free through a state government program, the turbine installation cost $4.5 million. But according to the college, the project will pay for itself within six years due to tax incentives and energy savings.  

“According to the Air Quality Management District, the Capstone turbine uses the most recent, best available control technology on the market,” Youngblood said. “Rather than flaring at high emissions, we can burn gas using that turbine’s efficient combustion technology at much lower emissions.” 

“This energy-management plan and technology portfolio will put the college on such a high level that it will lead other universities throughout the United States,” Youngblood added. 

Youngblood hopes to develop a similar system at TAC’s recently established New England campus

“Why can’t TAC — which leads the way in Catholic liberal education — not also be the leader in implementing green technology as good stewards of God’s creation?” he noted.  

“While the college is not in the business of technological innovation, this sort of innovation flows naturally from what we do,” O’Reilly added.

Pro-lifers imprisoned under FACE Act speak out

Washington Surgi-Clinic on F St. NW in Washington, D.C., on April 7, 2022. / Credit: Katie Yoder/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 16, 2024 / 14:48 pm (CNA).

After seven pro-life activists were sentenced to years in prison for a “rescue” attempt at a Washington, D.C., abortion clinic, some of the activists are now speaking out. 

Joan Andrews Bell, a 76-year-old Catholic and pro-life activist who was sentenced to two years and three months in prison, shared a statement in which she vowed to continue advocating for the unborn and called on others to join her in prayer. 

“The rougher it gets for us the more we can rejoice that we are succeeding; no longer are we being treated so much as the privileged born, but as the discriminated against conceived child,” Bell said in a statement obtained by CNA. “We do not expect justice in the courts. Furthermore, we do not seek it for ourselves when it is being denied [to] our beloved brothers and sisters.”

She said that she views her prison sentence as “a time of prayer and reparation” for “the sin of abortion in America.”

“God’s timing is perfect,” she concluded. “I may not see any fruits of these simple prayers and acts, but the Lord of all will do what is best. Please pray and do what God wants you to do.”

What is happening? 

Bell and six other pro-lifers were sentenced this week for felony crimes involving conspiracy against rights and violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, also known as the FACE Act. 

Signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, the FACE Act prohibits obstructing access to or destruction of abortion clinics, pregnancy centers, or church property. The law has been criticized by several lawmakers for being unevenly applied against pro-life activists.

The activists sentenced to prison this week are Bell, Lauren Handy, 30, John Hinshaw, 69, William Goodman, 54, Herb Geraghty, 27, Jonathan Darnel, 42, and Jean Marshall, 74. The sentences were given by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. 

According to the Department of Justice, the seven activists engaged in a conspiracy to create a blockade of the Washington Surgi-Clinic operated by Dr. Cesare Santangelo, an abortionist who has been accused of infanticide.

What are the imprisoned pro-lifers saying? 

Handy, who is the director of activism at the Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU), received the harshest sentence, four years and nine months, because of her role as the demonstration’s organizer.

Following her sentencing, Handy also vowed to continue her pro-life activism, saying: “I reject the use of fear and shame from outside and inside forces as a means to hold us back from loving preborn people as our equals. I reject calls to temper passionate responses to egregious acts of violence.”

“I embrace courage over comfort and right over easy. I embrace the uncertainty in a future full of hope. I embrace tenderness, joy, and love for my preborn neighbors,” Handy continued.

Hinshaw, 69, who has been sentenced to one year and nine months in prison, also issued a statement in which he referenced “the D.C. five,” five late-term babies whose mutilated bodies were found by PAAU outside the Washington Surgi-Clinic. 

He asked why his granddaughter who was born at 32 weeks could be treasured while babies at the same stage are killed and left in the trash. 

“There is a reason why today’s Gospel reading is to lay down one’s life for his friends. This is not a coincidence,” he went on. “I stand convicted, though guiltless. I take on the guilt of this judge. Accept my love for you, judge, as expiation for your guilt.”

‘A type of Lent’

Chris Bell, Joan Andrews Bell’s husband of 32 years, told CNA that he has not been able to see his wife since she was convicted and imprisoned in August 2023. 

According to Chris, while incarcerated at the Alexandria Detention Center in Northern Virginia, Joan has been kept away from her family. He said that despite her imprisonment, she is in “very good” spirits and is viewing her sentence as “a type of Lent.” 

Now that she has been sentenced, he expects she will be moved to another prison, but he has no idea where she will be sent. In the meantime, he said that her entire family is offering up their suffering for the unborn alongside her. 

“We have seven children, seven born grandchildren, and one grandchild about to be born. They are all deeply missing her,” he explained. “It’s really hard to know that your mother, your grandmother is in prison because she did something good. It’s just hard to know that she is separated from them. So, it’s hard. That’s part of our offering up to God.”  

Chris Bell said they are praying not only for the unborn but also for the judge, the abortionist, and all those advancing a pro-abortion agenda. 

“She knows that she’s doing this for our sins and the sins of abortion, so that keeps her focused and allows her to, even in this predicament, find God’s will and feel supported by that,” he explained. 

“When you’re doing God’s will, no matter how difficult the circumstances are, you find a deep peace. It can be challenging, but there’s a deep peace.” 

Slovak bishops call for peace after assassination attempt on prime minister

Archbishop Bernard Bober of Košice, chairman of the Slovak Bishops’ Conference, expressed deep regret over the violent incident and condemned what authorities are now treating as an act of attempted murder. / Credit: Marek Mucha/Slovakian Bishops’ Conference

CNA Newsroom, May 16, 2024 / 13:24 pm (CNA).

Following the assassination attempt on Prime Minister Robert Fico on Wednesday, Slovakian bishops have called for peace and unity.

“We must actively work for peace,” Archbishop Bernard Bober of Košice, chairman of the Slovak Bishops’ Conference, said in a statement on May 15.

“It is important that we respect each other and strengthen the good in each of us,” he said, calling on the public to reject all forms of violence and promote the good in people instead.

Bober expressed his deep regret over the violent incident and condemned what authorities are now treating as an act of attempted murder.

The gunman was described as a “lone wolf” who acted out of political hatred against Fico, Slovak news agency SITA reported. The attacker expressed his dissatisfaction with government policy in a video published online before the assassination attempt. He now faces attempted murder charges and life in prison.

On Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Robert Kalinak said Fico’s condition was still severe and that it was too early to tell if he would recover, Reuters reported.

Bober said in his statement: “I wish the prime minister a speedy recovery and ask the faithful to pray for peace in our homeland and for all citizens of the Slovak Republic,” Bober said in his statement. 

Archbishop Stanislav Zvolensky of Bratislava posted a statement on social media expressing his prayer for Fico’s recovery and healing.

The statement stressed that Zvolensky was appalled by the tragic incident and announced that the archbishop would celebrate Mass at the country’s national shrine in Šaštín.

The basilica in Šaštín was built to honor the image of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, a figure so important to the people of Slovakia that Pope Pius XI declared her the country’s patroness in 1927.

The assassination attempt on 59-year-old Fico — who was raised and has described himself as Catholic — has shaken the Catholic-majority country visited by Pope Francis in 2021. 

The prayers and appeals from Slovakian prelates come at a critical time for the country — and wider Europe: The assassination attempt on Fico represents the first public assassination attempt on a European politician in more than 20 years.

The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, told journalists in an initial reaction on May 15 that he was “truly concerned about what has happened.” Parolin pointed to an apparent increase in politically motivated violence.

Slovakia’s President-elect, Peter Pellegrini, called on political parties to tone down their campaigning before next month’s European Parliament elections, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

Court says Maryland parents have no right to opt out of LGBTQ curriculum

Parental and religious freedom rights advocates, including a group of Muslim parents, on June 6, 2023, protest a Maryland school system policy that removes parents’ authority to opt their children out of homosexual and transgender coursework. / Credit: The Religious Freedom Institute

CNA Staff, May 16, 2024 / 12:49 pm (CNA).

A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that parents in Maryland have no right to be informed when their children are being instructed with LGBTQ materials or to opt their children out of that instruction. 

The legal advocacy group Becket Law, which is representing the parents challenging the Montgomery County Board of Education, said on Wednesday that the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling.

The firms said the ruling means that parents of children enrolled at Montgomery County Public Schools “have no right to be notified or opt their kids out of” materials that teach transgenderism and other sexual ideologies.

Becket, which specializes in religious freedom cases, said the parents had objected to their children being exposed to books that included materials that “champion pride parades, gender transitioning, and pronoun preferences for children.” 

Other books reportedly asked children to locate words such as “underwear” and “leather,” and to explore topics such as “nonbinary” identities, in which individuals believe themselves to be neither male nor female. 

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland had originally ruled against the parents in August of last year, arguing in part that the parents “are not pressured into violating their religious beliefs in order to obtain the benefits of a public education.”

The appeals court on Wednesday similarly held, in a divided 2-1 ruling, that the plaintiffs “have not shown a cognizable burden” to the free exercise of their religion. 

There is “no evidence at present that the board’s decision not to permit opt-outs compels the parents or their children to change their religious beliefs or conduct, either at school or elsewhere,” the court argued. 

The plaintiffs did not provide evidence that they have “been asked to affirm views contrary to their views on gender or sexuality, to disavow views on these matters that their religion espouses, or otherwise affirmatively act in violation of their religious belief,” the ruling said. 

Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in a statement after the ruling that the court “told thousands of Maryland parents they have no say in what their children are taught in public schools.” 

“That runs contrary to the First Amendment, Maryland law, the school board’s own policies, and basic human decency,” Baxter argued. 

“Parents should have the right to receive notice and opt their children out of classroom material that violates their faith,” he said. 

Becket will appeal the ruling, Baxter said.

The controversy has united a broad coalition of primarily Muslim, Catholic, and Ethiopian Orthodox Christian parents against the county board of education’s policy. 

Last August, ahead of the district court’s ruling, dozens of parents from various religious faiths rallied outside the Montgomery County federal courthouse in support of the plaintiffs. 

William Haun, senior counsel at Becket, told CNA at the time that “the point of this lawsuit is to restore the ability to give parents notice and opt out.” The school board originally scrapped the opt-out option in March 2023.

“The school board just took [the opt out] away without any public explanation,” Haun said. “The First Amendment protects against arbitrary power, and it protects the right of parents to direct their children’s religious upbringing.”

Lawmakers renew calls to repeal the FACE Act

PAAU activists hold a rally outside Washington Surgi-Clinic in Washington, D.C., May 4, 2022. / Credit: Katie Yoder/CNA

Washington D.C., May 16, 2024 / 12:19 pm (CNA).

As seven pro-lifers were sentenced to years in prison for their efforts to rescue unborn babies from a Washington, D.C., abortion clinic, several lawmakers renewed their calls to repeal the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. 

Lawmakers are claiming that the FACE Act, which was used to convict and sentence the pro-life activists, is being abused by the Biden Department of Justice to target and punish pro-lifers. 

Here is what’s going on in the pro-life fight this week. 

‘Biden’s two-tiered justice system’ 

After pro-life activist Lauren Handy and several other pro-lifers were sentenced to years in prison this week under the FACE Act, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, called for the measure to be repealed, saying: “It’s time to pull the plug on Biden’s two-tiered justice system.” 

Signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, the FACE Act prohibits obstructing access to or destruction of abortion clinics, pregnancy centers, or church property. The law has been criticized by several lawmakers for being unevenly applied against pro-life activists.

Roy urged House and Senate Republicans to advance a bill he co-sponsored with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, that would repeal the FACE Act. 

“Today’s outrageous 57-month sentence for a progressive pro-life activist is a stark reminder: Biden’s DOJ is fully weaponized against pro-life American citizens, and they are using the FACE Act to do it,” Roy said.

Meanwhile, Lee said that “unequal enforcement of the law is a violation of the law, and men and women who try to expose the horrors of abortion are being unjustly persecuted for their motivations.” 

“The Biden administration is using the FACE Act to give pro-life activists and senior citizens lengthy prison terms for nonviolent offenses and protests — all while turning a blind eye to the violence, arson, and riots conducted on behalf of ‘approved’ leftist causes,” Lee told the Daily Signal. 

Martin Cannon, an attorney with the Thomas More Society, which represented Handy, told CNA that the Biden DOJ’s “overreach” through the FACE Act will likely “galvanize the pro-life world” and motivate lawmakers to repeal the measure.

Handy received an almost-five-year sentence for being the organizer of the Washington demonstration. In addition to Handy, six other pro-lifers — John Hinshaw, 69, William Goodman, 54, Herb Geraghty, 27, Jonathan Darnel, 42, Jean Marshall, 74, and Joan Bell, 76 — also received FACE Act sentences ranging from 10 months to over two years. 

Arizona Supreme Court blocks law protecting life

The Supreme Court of Arizona on Monday issued a 90-day block on enforcement of the state’s law protecting life at conception. 

This comes after Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs signed a bill to repeal the pro-life measure on May 2. Though the repeal bill was signed into law it will not take effect until 90 days after the Arizona legislative session ends. 

Dormant since being invalidated by Roe v. Wade in 1973, the pro-life law was originally passed in 1864. The measure protects all unborn life from conception and imposes prison time for those who “provide, supply, or administer” an abortion. 

On April 8, the Arizona high court ruled that since the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Roe in the 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson decision, there were no legal reasons to keep the law from being enforced.

A new constitutional amendment guaranteeing a right to abortion will likely be on the ballot in Arizona this November.

Telehealth abortions now account for 1 in 5 abortions

A new “We Count Report” by the Society of Family Planning found that telehealth abortions accounted for nearly 1 in 5 U.S. abortions toward the end of 2023. 

A telehealth abortion is a chemical abortion administered remotely through an online appointment. 

With an average of 17,000 telehealth abortions per month October through December, the study found that this type of abortion represented 18% of all abortions in October 2023, 19% in November, and 19% in December.

According to the Society of Family Planning, there were an average of 5,800 telehealth abortions per month in states with laws protecting unborn babies at all stages or starting at six weeks. The Society of Family Planning said that the abortions were enabled by abortion “shield laws” protecting providers from prosecution for providing chemical abortion in states where it is prohibited or restricted. 

This follows another Guttmacher Institute report finding that chemical abortions now account for 63% of all U.S. abortions. 

Louisiana may declare abortion pills ‘controlled dangerous substances’ 

The Louisiana House advanced a bill to increase criminal penalties for forcing or coercing women to take abortion pills. The House also added an amendment to declare abortion pills mifepristone and misoprostol “controlled dangerous substances” under the state’s Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Law. 

The bill has already been passed by the state Senate and is set for debate on the House floor on May 20. 

Louisiana protects unborn life at all stages of pregnancy through laws banning surgical and chemical abortion. Louisiana allows exceptions for abortion in cases when the mother’s life or health is at risk and when the unborn child is not expected to survive the pregnancy. 

Hallow Summit strives to ‘facilitate an encounter with the Lord’

Attendees at the first Hallow Summit in 2022. / Credit: Hallow

CNA Staff, May 16, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

The popular Catholic prayer and meditation app Hallow recently announced its third annual Hallow Summit, which brings the platform’s digital community together for an in-person encounter with the Lord.

This year’s summit will take place Aug. 2–4 at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. Attendees will take part in prayer and worship, Mass, Eucharistic adoration, confession, and listen to Q&As and talks from speakers including Jeff Cavins, Dr. Scott Hahn, Matt and Cameron Fradd, Chika Anyanwu, Jonathan Roumie, and more. 

Attendees at the first Hallow Summit in 2022. Credit: Hallow
Attendees at the first Hallow Summit in 2022. Credit: Hallow

Bryan Enriquez, head of customer operations and founding team member of Hallow, told CNA in an interview that the first Hallow Summit, which took place in 2022, was launched as a test. 

“Up until that point, we had just focused on the digital experience of the Hallow app,” he said. “We had no idea if that would translate into an ability for us to host a high quality in-person experience.”

He noted that upon his own reflection, he realized that “some of my most powerful spiritual experiences had happened at retreats or conferences,” adding: “There is something special about a ‘mountaintop’ experience that jolts you out of your routine and creates an opportunity to draw closer to God with a new way of seeing the world.”

“I wanted to create an experience that combined the mountaintop experience with a practical roadmap for how to continue to engage with God after the event was over. Thus, the Hallow Summit was born.”

The theme for this year’s Hallow Summit is “Prayer and Surrender.”

Enriquez shared that the team wants participants to “reflect on the power of surrendering ourselves to the will of God.” 

“This is not easy and in our culture surrender has a negative connotation,” he added. “However, after our Lenten reflection on ‘He Leadeth Me’ by Father Walter Ciszek, we saw that this idea resonates with a lot of people.”

“We want attendees to have an encounter with Christ so that the Lord can reveal what parts of their hearts need his healing. The way to do this is through prayer and meditation. Our job is to provide an atmosphere that is conducive to this.”

He emphasized that the whole point of the summit is to “facilitate an encounter with the Lord.”

“One way we do that is by pairing talks with experiences. We don’t just have keynote addresses where someone talks at you for an hour,” he explained. “Instead, our keynotes combine talking with doing. We pair them with a spiritual exercise such as lectio divina or the examen to emphasize how accessible and powerful these techniques are.”

Alex Jones, CEO and co-founder of Hallow, speaks at the Hallow Summit in 2022. Credit: Hallow
Alex Jones, CEO and co-founder of Hallow, speaks at the Hallow Summit in 2022. Credit: Hallow

While the atmosphere at previous summits has always been joy-filled, Enriquez pointed out that there is also “an energy of Christ-centered fellowship,” which he believes is part of Hallow’s brand.

“We are known for being approachable yet profound, and I think that translates into the experiences we host in person as well,” he expressed. “We don’t water down our content but we don’t want to turn anyone away from experiencing the power of prayer.”