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Azerbaijan unleashes military strikes against Armenian Christians in Nagorno-Karabakh

Armenians protest to urge the government to respond to the Azerbaijani military operation launched against the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region outside the government building in central Yerevan on Sept. 19, 2023. / Credit: Karenn Minasyan/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Staff, Sep 19, 2023 / 14:20 pm (CNA).

Azerbaijan unleashed military strikes against an enclave of about 120,000 Armenian Christians in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region on Tuesday, shelling buildings and firing on Armenian military and civilian positions. 

The Azeri government on Tuesday called their strikes “anti-terror measures” against “illegal Armenian military formations.” Azerbaijan said the attacks will not stop until the ethnic Armenians’ total surrender. 

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh since 1988. Today the region is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, though it is made up almost entirely of Armenian Christians. The ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh deny Azeri control of the region and claim self-sovereignty under the auspices of the “Republic of Artsakh.” 

The breakaway state’s “Artsakh Defense Forces” have been reporting Azeri small-arms attacks on ethnic Armenian military and civilians for months.  

The attacks appeared to escalate on Tuesday with the Azeri military unleashing artillery and mortar strikes on both military and civilian positions. 

Shelling continued through Tuesday, resulting in 23 civilian injuries and two deaths, including one child, according to the Artsakh Defense Forces. 

“The situation is horrible,” former Artsakh State Minister Ruben Vardenyan told EWTN in a video message. “We have a lot of civilians killed by the Azeri army. We have a lot of people injured. The operation started in the morning and has not stopped yet.” 

Vardenyan went on to urge the international community to demand action in defense of the Armenian Christians in Nagorno-Karabakh. 

“The Christian world needs to realize this is unacceptable,” Vardenyan said. “I believe that only together we can stop this war.” 

Artsakh foreign minister Sergey Ghazaryan decried Azerbaijan’s advances, saying in a Tuesday X statement: “We are witnessing how Azerbaijan, in order to implement its policy of genocide, is moving towards the physical destruction of the civilian population and the destruction of civilian objects of Artsakh.”

Eastern European news source Visegrád 24 reported on Tuesday that “large-scale fighting has just started in Nagorno-Karabakh” and that “artillery and suicide drones are in action by both sides.” 

According to Visegrád 24, it is “possible that another war between Azerbaijan and Armenia is starting in front of our eyes.” 

Why are they fighting? 

Though some see the conflict as strictly over borders, experts have emphasized that religion also plays a central part in the war between Christian Armenia and Muslim Azerbaijan.

According to Sam Brownback, former U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, Armenia wants to retain its influence in Artsakh, while Azerbaijan wants to expel the Armenian Christian population to solidify its hold on the region. 

In 2020, with the backing of Turkey, Azerbaijan reignited the long-simmering conflict by invading Nagorno-Karabakh. A six-week conflict ended in Azerbaijan seizing control of Nagorno-Karabakh. 

The war killed 6,800 combatants, displaced 90,000 people, and left approximately 120,000 Armenian Christians cut off from the rest of Armenia. A narrow road less than four miles long, called the Lachin Corridor, connects Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and is the only way to get food and supplies to the Armenians living there.

In December 2022 pro-government Azerbaijanis, ostensibly protesting Armenian environmental violations, began blockading the Lachin Corridor, cutting off all access to aid. In April, the protests ended after Azerbaijani troops, defying warnings from the international community, established a military checkpoint on the road, continuing the blockade.

Since December the Christian Armenians have been trapped, without food or medicine, behind the Lachin Corridor blockade. 

What is the latest? 

This week’s escalation shows the first indications of large-scale outright military conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh since 2020. 

According to multiple sources on the ground, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Artsakh, Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital city of Stepanekert has taken heavy shelling. 

The Artsakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported on Tuesday: “Azerbaijan launched a large-scale military offensive against the Republic of Artsakh. At this moment the capital Stepanakert and other cities and villages are under heavy shelling.” 

Robert Nicholson, president of the human rights group the Philos Project, said on Tuesday that “Azerbaijan has finally launched the war intended to erase Armenians from #NagornoKarabakh — and with Russian and Turkish permission.” 

Brownback said: “I denounce in the strongest possible terms this unprovoked attack by Azerbaijan on the peaceful Armenian Christians of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh)! This is wrong. It is an attack on civilians and it must cease immediately.” 

Azerbaijan justifies actions as ‘anti-terrorist operations’ 

For its part, Azerbaijan has denied targeting civilians and has labeled its activity in Nagorno-Karabakh “anti-terrorist operations.” 

In a Tuesday press release, the Azerbaijan Ministry of Defense said: “Local anti-terrorist activities carried out by the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan are ongoing.”

“As part of the activities,” the release went on, “only legitimate military installations and infrastructure are targeted and incapacitated using high-precision weapons.” 

Azerbaijan accused Armenia of deploying armed forces to help ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and warned civilians to not interfere.

“Considering the deployment of firepower by Armenia’s armed forces formations near residential areas, we urge the civilian population to stay away from military facilities and not support the formations of Armenia’s armed forces,” the Azeri release said.

The Azeri Defense Ministry also said that it is encouraging Nagorno-Karabakh residents to evacuate danger zones and relocate to “reception stations” they have established in the Lachin Corridor. 

“Humanitarian corridors and reception stations have been created on the Lachin road and in other directions to ensure the evacuation of the population from the danger zone,” the release said. 

Christian Solidarity International (CSI), a humanitarian aid group, called this a tactic to cleanse Nagorno-Karabakh of Armenian Christians. 

“As it bombs civilian areas,” CSI said, “Azerbaijan is texting people in Nagorno-Karabakh, telling them to leave through the Lachin Corridor. The same road they’ve been blocking for nine months to starve the population, they’ve now opened for people to leave through. The goal is the same: to empty Karabakh of Armenians.”

How has Armenia responded? 

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has denied Armenian military involvement and despite the ongoing Azeri attacks has refused to respond militarily. 

Open Caucasus Media (OC Media), reported Pashinyan saying on Tuesday: “I want to go on record that the Republic of Armenia is not involved in military operations, and I want to go on the record once again that the Republic of Armenia does not have an army in Nagorno-Karabakh.” 

“At this moment, we should not carry out any unplanned, drastic action, any adventurous action,” Pashinyan added, according to OC Media. 

The Armenian prime minister’s refusal to become involved has caused significant unrest among the Armenian populace. 

Video taken outside Armenia’s capitol building shows outraged Armenian citizens attempting to storm the capitol building. 

Pashinyan reportedly had a phone conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday. 

According to OC Media, Macron informed Pashinyan that France called for an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss the military escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh. 

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee released a statement on X that said: “Azerbaijan’s brazen assault on Nagorno-Karabakh further proves [Azeri President Ilham] Aliyev’s malicious intention to wipe out the Armenian population there. The U.S. and international community must act.”

U.S. bishops urge ‘radical solidarity’ with mothers for Respect Life Month

null / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 19, 2023 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

The United States Catholic bishops are calling on the faithful to embrace “radical solidarity” with mothers who are facing difficult or challenging pregnancies this October, which the Church in the United States has observed as “Respect Life Month” since 1973.

Arlington Bishop Michael Burbidge, the chairman of the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, echoed St. John Paul II’s call for “radical solidarity,” which means, according to the bishop, “putting our love for them into action and putting their needs before our own.”

“This new mindset requires that we come alongside vulnerable mothers in profound friendship, compassion, and support for both them and their preborn children,” Burbidge wrote in a statement to Catholics for the 50th anniversary of Respect Life Month. 

“It means addressing the fundamental challenges that lead an expectant mother to believe she is unable to welcome the child God has entrusted to her,” Burbidge continued. “This includes collective efforts within our dioceses, parishes, schools, and local communities; engagement in the public square; and pursuit of policies that help support both women and their preborn babies. It all the more so requires our individual, personal commitment to helping mothers in our own communities secure material, emotional, and spiritual support for embracing the gift of life.”

“Radical solidarity,” the bishop said, “means moving beyond the status quo and out of our comfort zones.”

The statement cites Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, which says solidarity “presumes the creation of a new mindset” and does not simply refer to “a few sporadic acts of generosity.”

Burbidge added that although “ending legalized abortion remains our preeminent priority,” it is not enough. Rather, he stressed that “the most immediate way to save babies and mothers from abortion is to thoroughly surround mothers in need with lifegiving support and personal accompaniment.”

The statement encourages Catholics to ask themselves whether they know of efforts in their area to help women who are pregnant or parenting in difficult circumstances, what their gifts and talents are, and how they can adjust their schedule or budget to help mothers in need and their children. It references the “Walking with Moms in Need” parish-based initiatives, which help parishes become welcoming places for mothers facing difficulties, as a possible option to get involved. 

“Radical solidarity can be lived out in countless ways, including volunteering at your local pregnancy center; helping an expectant mother find stable housing; babysitting so a mom can work or take classes; providing encouragement and a listening ear to a mom without a support system; or speaking to your pastor about beginning Walking with Moms in Need at your parish,” Burbidge said. 

The statement emphasizes that “the transformation of our culture also requires continual conversion of our own hearts, so that we can recognize in every person the face of Christ and place their needs before our own” and that this must be a focus, in addition to promoting pro-life laws and policies. 

“This October, I invite all Catholics to think about building a culture of life in terms of radical solidarity,” Burbidge said. “We are the Church. Our prayers, witness, sacrifices, advocacy, and good works are needed now more than ever. We are the hands and feet of Christ in the world today and we each have a personal responsibility to care for one another.”

Blood of St. Januarius ‘completely liquefied’ on feast day

Archbishop Domenico Battaglia holds up the reliquary with the liquefied blood of St. Januarius on the martyr bishop's feast day Sept. 19, 2023. The announcement that the blood had liquefied was made at the start of Mass in the Naples Cathedral by Abbot Vincenzo De Gregorio. / Screenshot / YouTube channel Chiesa di Napoli

Rome Newsroom, Sep 19, 2023 / 06:10 am (CNA).

The blood of the martyr St. Januarius again liquefied in Naples on Tuesday.

“We have just taken from the safe the reliquary with the blood of our patron saint, which immediately completely liquefied,” the abbot of the chapel of the treasury of the Naples Cathedral announced on Sept. 19.

The declaration that the miracle had again taken place was made at the start of Mass by Abbot Vincenzo De Gregorio.

The archbishop of Naples, Domenico Battaglia, held the relic of the blood, moving the glass ampoules to demonstrate the liquid state of the blood to the sounds of strong applause, while the deputy of the wisdom of the people waved a white cloth.

On Sept. 19, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Januarius, bishop, martyr, and patron saint of Naples, Italy. Traditionally, on this day and on two other occasions a year, his blood, which is kept in a glass ampoule in the shape of a rounded cruet, liquifies.

It is believed the miracle has taken place since at least 1389, the first instance on record.

The liquefaction process sometimes takes hours or even days, and sometimes it does not happen at all. In local lore, the failure of the blood to liquefy signals war, famine, disease, or other disaster.

At Mass Sept. 19, Battaglia spoke about the miracle and what it is — and is not.

“Every year we see firsthand how the witness of a man who generously gave his life for the Gospel, until his last breath, until his last drop of blood, is not something of the past, a historic event useful only to write about in some pages of a book,” he said.

“No,” Battaglia continued, “it’s a testimony that is present, living, current, and capable of speaking to the heart of every believer, pushing him to more consistency, beyond courage, to a life of giving, steeped in sharing.”

He reminded those present that the blood of St. Januarius “is not an oracle to consult and even less a city horoscope whose function is to predict misfortune or fortune for the city. No, the relic we bless is simply a road sign, a finger that points us to the necessity, the urgency, the requirement to follow the Gospel in a radical way, being unreservedly attracted by its liberating beauty, listening with an open heart and mind to its word of life and hope.”

Battaglia said the blood of St. Januarius makes him think of the unjust bloodshed that happens every day “whenever a person is wounded, humiliated, not respected in his dignity.”

“I believe that the real miracle will take place the day this blood [of St. Januarius] is forever hard, compact, clotted!” the archbishop said. ”Yes, I believe that the real miracle will happen when justice kisses peace, when good overpowers evil forever, when the good news of Jesus Christ dries up the pain of the world, illuminates the darkness for good, brings all things to completion, enters so deeply into the hearts of men and women that their words, their deeds, their thoughts will be nothing but goodness, benevolence, beauty.”

After the Mass, the relic of St. Januarius’ blood will remain on display for veneration in the Cathedral of Naples until Sept. 26 in thanksgiving for the miracle.

Catholic imagery doesn’t belong in pro-abortion Ohio campaign ad, critics say

Original painting of the Divine Mercy, by Eugeniusz Kazimirowski in 1934. / Credit: Wikimedia Commons 4.0

Denver, Colo., Sep 18, 2023 / 17:40 pm (CNA).

A campaign ad for Ohio’s pro-abortion ballot measure Issue 1 wrongly used a Catholic image of Jesus Christ, several Catholic commentators say.

The newly released 30-second video ad from Issue 1 backer Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights shows a montage of people in various contexts, including a man kneeling in prayer in what appears to be a Catholic church. A divine mercy image of Jesus Christ hangs on the wall in the background.

“The ad describing Issue 1 dangerously misrepresents the proposed amendment and how the Catholic Church accompanies pregnant women in need,” Michelle Duffey, associate director for communications and outreach at the Ohio Catholic Conference, told CNA Sept. 18.

Issue 1, on the Ohio ballot this November, would amend the state constitution’s Bill of Rights to add a right to “reproductive freedom.” It would create an individual right to “make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions.”

Critics say the measure will strip all rights from the unborn child, allow abortion throughout pregnancy, eliminate safety regulations for abortion clinics, and end mandatory parental consent for minor children’s abortions or other health decisions.

As the montage changes, the ad says: “When we face personal medical decisions, we depend on our doctors, our faith, our family, and the last thing we want is the government making those decisions for us.”

The ad says the passage of Issue 1 would end “Ohio’s extreme abortion ban,” protect birth control and “emergency care for miscarriages.” The proposal protects freedom and means Ohio families will always have “the freedom to make the most personal of decisions.”

Duffey said the ad “nearly tells the truth” in showing a man in prayer while narrating how people depend on faith when pregnant and dealing with uncertainty.

“A woman can confidently rely on the Catholic Church to walk with her through pregnancy, support her material needs, and accompany her and her child after birth,” Duffey said.

Brian Hickey, executive director of the Ohio Catholic Conference, challenged the assumptions of the ad.

“Ohio cannot accept a definition of freedom that perpetuates a throwaway culture of only cherishing people as long as they are useful,” he said. “The Catholic Church has always advocated for and acted to protect the most vulnerable in society, including the indigent, migrants, and preborn children in the womb.”

“We will continue to do so by explaining the harms Issue 1 pose to women, parents, and babies with Catholics and all people of goodwill across Ohio and encourage a no vote on this egregious proposal,” Hickey said. “Ohioans deserve just laws that provide expansive resources and accompaniment to mothers and young families, not proposals like Issue 1, which does nothing to support women.”

CNA sought comment from Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights but did not receive a response by publication.

The group’s website lists dozens of groups that have endorsed Issue 1, including labor unions, LGBT groups, feminist groups, and medical leaders’ groups.

Among the endorsers is Catholics for Choice, whose claim to Catholic identity has long been rejected by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It drew criticism in January 2022 for projecting abortion advocacy messages onto the outside of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., while Catholics attended a pro-life prayer vigil inside. 

Other religious groups endorsing Ohio’s Issue 1 are the United Church of Christ and its regional conference, a Unitarian Universalist group, six Jewish groups, Faith in Public Life, Faith Choice Ohio, and the InterReligious Task Force on Central America.

Ohio currently bans abortion after 20 weeks into pregnancy. The state Supreme Court is set to consider whether to reinstate a heartbeat-based abortion ban that bars abortion after six weeks into pregnancy, which a judge blocked earlier this year, WTVG News reported.

Donald Trump calls 6-week abortion ban a ‘terrible mistake’ 

Former President Trump addresses attendees at CPAC 2020. / Credit: Valerio Pucci/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 18, 2023 / 17:04 pm (CNA).

Pro-life leaders condemned President Donald Trump for calling a six-week abortion ban a “terrible mistake” during a Saturday NBC interview. 

Trump made the comments in reference to Florida’s six-week Heartbeat Protection Act abortion ban signed by his chief opponent in the 2024 Republican presidential primary, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. 

During Trump’s more than hourlong interview with Kristen Welker, he said: “DeSantis is willing to sign a five-week and six-week ban” and “I think what he did was a terrible thing and a terrible mistake.” 

“This is politically stupid,” Shawn Carney, founder and president of 40 Days for Life, told CNA. “No liberal will now vote for Trump because he’s less pro-life.” 

Though Carney said that “Trump is accurately labeled as the most pro-life president ever, by far,” he “continues to alienate those who elected him and shrink his base.” 

Carney, a Catholic, also added that “many pro-life Catholics were hesitant to vote for Trump in 2016 but the death of Justice [Antonin] Scalia and the importance of the court pushed them to give Trump a chance. It paid off greatly with the overturning of Roe but instead of bragging about his record, Trump has treated being pro-life as if it’s something we need to apologize for.”

“This is a loser disposition heading into the 2024 general election,” Carney said. 

Lila Rose, founder of the pro-life group Live Action and a prominent Catholic and pro-lifer, called Trump’s take “pathetic and unacceptable.”

“Trump is actively attacking the very pro-life laws made possible by Roe’s overturning,” Rose said Sunday on X. 

“Heartbeat [six-week] laws have saved thousands of babies,” she posted. “But Trump wants to compromise on babies’ lives so pro-abort Dems ‘like him.’”

Rose, who has previously expressed support for DeSantis, went so far as to say that “Trump should not be the GOP nominee.”

What did Trump say?

After calling a six-week abortion ban a “terrible mistake,” Trump went on to say that he would focus on reaching a consensus between Republicans and Democrats on abortion. 

Asked at what point of pregnancy he would ban abortion, Trump said: “We’ll come up with a number, but at the same time Democrats won’t be able to come in at six months, seven months, eight months and allow an abortion.” 

The interview, which covered a wide range of topics, included a 10-minute segment on abortion. 

During the segment, Welker asked: “How is it acceptable in America that women’s lives are at risk, doctors are being forced to turn away patients in need or risk breaking the law?” 

“I did something that nobody thought was possible and Roe v. Wade was terminated, it was put back to the states. Now, people, pro-lifers have the right to negotiate for the first time, they have no rights at all,” Trump responded. “The radical people on this are really the Democrats that say that after five months, six months, seven months, eight months, nine months, and even after birth, you’re allowed to terminate the baby.” 

When asked whether as president he would sign a national abortion ban, Trump said: “I’m going to come together with all groups and we’re going to have something that’s acceptable.”

Pressed further, Trump refused to say whether or not he would sign a 15-week abortion ban into law. 

“I’m not going to say I would or I wouldn’t,” Trump said. “I would sit down with both sides and I’d negotiate something and we’ll have peace on that issue for the first time in 52 years.”  

Though saying that “we will agree to a number of weeks where both sides will be happy” and that “we have to bring the country together on this issue,” Trump also said “I frankly do not care” when asked if abortion should be a national or exclusively a states issue. 

“Everybody, including the great legal scholars, love the idea of Roe v. Wade terminated so that it can be brought back to the states,” Trump said. “From a pure standpoint, from a legal standpoint, I believe it is probably much better, but I can live with it either way, the number of weeks is much more important.” 

Trump also noted that abortion bans should include exceptions for rape, incest, and to preserve the life of the mother. He did not answer whether he believes an unborn child, referred to during the interview as simply a “fetus,” has constitutional rights. 

Trump’s campaign did not respond to CNA’s request for clarification. 

What do pro-lifers have to say? 

Matt Walsh, a Catholic podcaster with the Daily Wire, said in Monday X post that Trump’s take is an “awful answer from a moral perspective.” 

“There is nothing terrible about stopping the satanic abortion industry from mass murdering human children,” Walsh said. 

“You can’t win over Democrats by going squishy on this issue. Republicans have tried that brilliant strategy for decades and accomplished exactly nothing by it,” he went on. “Defend life clearly and powerfully and unequivocally. That’s the only way.” 

Harry Scherer, a representative for Americans United for Life, told CNA that “we owe protection to preborn Americans at every stage of gestation.”

Scherer categorically said: “Americans United for Life is proud to stand with pro-life governors and legislators enacting lifesaving legislation in their jurisdictions.”

Though many pro-life advocates condemned Trump’s latest abortion take, Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, told CNA that the former president’s stance is rooted in the difficult political landscape currently surrounding abortion.

“The most prudent course going forward is to choose restrictions, which most favor, and then try to persuade the public to opt for further restrictions the next time this issue is put to a vote,” Donohue asserted. 

“It appears that this is what Trump may be getting at,” Donohue said. 

“What makes no sense is to allow the pro-abortion side to appear as though they are not the real extremists,” Donohue went on. 

“Most Americans want some restrictions on abortion, but when they are perceived as being too tight, they reject them,” Donohue said. “Ever since Roe v. Wade was overturned, states that are at least welcome to the pro-life message have drafted laws that have failed with voters in most instances, and that is because they are considered to be too restrictive.”

Erin Hawley, vice president of the Center for Life and Regulatory Practice with Alliance Defending Freedom, told CNA that “we support Florida’s efforts to enact its law protecting unborn babies the moment their hearts begin to beat, as well as numerous state efforts across the country that protect unborn life as much as possible and provide real support for women and families facing unplanned pregnancies.” 

“All life is valuable and deserves to be protected,” Hawley said. 

In a Sunday post on X, Kristen Waggoner, president of Alliance Defending Freedom, said that “governors who protect life should be applauded, not attacked.” 

“Laws protecting the unborn are not a ‘terrible mistake.’ They are the hallmark of a just and moral society,” Waggoner added.

What is the current law? 

Abortion is fully banned in 14 states, according to data collected by Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Currently, all total abortion bans on the state level include exceptions for cases of preserving the life of the mother. 

Additionally, 11 other states have varying levels of restrictions ranging from six-week bans, as in Georgia, to 20-week bans, as in Iowa.

The six-week ban signed by DeSantis and referenced by Trump during his NBC interview is currently blocked. Current active Florida law bans abortion after 15 weeks. 

Pope Francis says ‘no to war,’ urges climate action in livestreamed chat with Bill Clinton

Former President Bill Clinton and Pope Francis have a virtual conversation during the Clinton Global Initiative meeting at the Hilton Midtown on Sept. 18, 2023, in New York City. / Credit: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 18, 2023 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

During a conversation with former President Bill Clinton, Pope Francis urged stronger action on climate change, called for diplomacy instead of war, promoted greater health care access for children, and highlighted the crises facing migrants and refugees.

“It is important to spread a culture of encounter, a culture of dialogue, a culture of listening and of understanding,” Pope Francis said on Monday morning, appearing virtually at the Clinton Foundation’s 2023 Clinton Global Initiative meeting.

Pope Francis was the first of several guests to address the audience at the event in New York City, which was focused on various humanitarian efforts taken up by the nonprofit. The foundation played a video that showed the pope’s involvement with Bambino Gesù pediatric hospital, which is under the jurisdiction of the Holy See, before the former president asked him to “say what you believe about the obligation of ordinary people to make a difference” in society.

“It is necessary to share thoughts on how to contribute to the common good and how not to leave behind the most vulnerable people, such as children who, through the Bambino Gesù Foundation, are at the root of our meeting,” Pope Francis said.

During the conversation, the pope called for action on what he called “the ecological catastrophe” of climate change “before it’s too late.” He said people must take action “while there’s still time” and explained that this is the reason he is writing a new document to follow up on his environmental encyclical Laudato Si’.

Pope Francis also lamented the “wind of war that blows around the world,” adding that “we are in need of a great and shared assumption of responsibility.”

“It is time for weapons to cease and for us to return to dialogue, to diplomacy,” the pope stressed. “Let the designs of conquest and military aggressions cease. That is why I repeat: no to war; no to war.”

When considering the struggles of refugees and migrants, Pope Francis emphasized the need to talk about them as people, “men, women, and children,” and not simply think about them as numbers. He said people must think of “the eyes of the children we’ve seen in refugee camps.”

Pope Francis also commented on the work of the Bambino Gesù hospital, which he said “cannot solve the problems of all the children in the world; however, it seeks to be a sign, a testimony that it is possible through many struggles to bring together great scientific research geared toward children and the free welcoming of people in need.”

“In these terrible months marked by war, [the hospital] has treated more than 2,000 young patients from Ukraine who fled their country with their parents and relatives,” Pope Francis said.

The pope said that in the field of health, “the first and most concrete form of charity is science, the capacity to heal, which however must be accessible to all.” He referred to the hospital as a “concrete sign of charity and mercy of the Church.”

“There are illnesses that cannot be cured, but there are no children who cannot be cared for,” Pope Francis said.

The pontiff encouraged men and women to help each other when difficulties arise.

“Difficulties are part of life, and the best way to deal with them is to always seek the common good: never alone, always together,” Pope Francis said. “Difficulties can bring out the best or the worst in us. Therein lies our challenge: fighting selfishness, narcissism, division, with generosity and humility: better unity than conflict.”

Clinton thanked Pope Francis for addressing the meeting and “for saying something that I hope will mean something for every person.” He said one of the most difficult things in public life is “to convince every person that he or she has a role to play,”

“I think you make us all feel empowered and perhaps that is your greatest power as the pope,” Clinton said. “That you make everybody, even people who aren’t members of the Roman Catholic Church, feel that they have power and therefore that they have responsibility.”

The Clinton Global Initiative meeting began on Monday, Sept. 18, and will continue through Tuesday, Sept. 19.

Bishop Robert Barron speaks at Harvard University: ‘The glory of God is man fully alive!’

Winona-Rochester Bishop Robert Barron, with Deacon Tim O'Donnell to his left, answers questions from the crowd following his lecture "The Catholic Intellectual Tradition" on Harvard University's campus on Sept. 17, 2023. / Credit: Joe Bukuras/CNA

Cambridge, Massachusetts, Sep 18, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Addressing a packed audience of approximately 1,000 on the campus of Harvard University on Sunday, Bishop Robert Barron offered those in attendance a window into the “Catholic intellectual tradition” by emphatically proclaiming: “The glory of God is man fully alive!”

The founder of the Catholic media apostolate Word on Fire, Barron is one of the most outspoken American prelates against the errors of “secularism” and its ever-increasing presence in Western society. Harvard, the first college established in the American colonies, was originally founded to train and educate Puritan clergy members in the New World and is completely secular today.

Barron said in his lecture that secularism is a reaction to what others perceive as a “threatening God” but said that “the world is most itself when it has found a relationship to the supreme good, which is God.”

Barron, who serves as bishop of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, spoke at the school’s Memorial Church, an interdenominational Protestant church dedicated in 1932.

Deacon Tim O’Donnell, executive director of the Harvard Catholic Forum — which co-sponsored the event along with the Harvard Catholic Center — told CNA that “Harvard’s church” was the chosen destination for the lecture because it would attract “more non-Catholics, seekers, and inquirers” than St. Paul’s Parish, the Catholic church where Barron celebrated Mass and offered a homily earlier in the day.

Memorial Church, he said, is better suited for the spoken word and also has a larger capacity. What’s more, its location was highly symbolic.

“We wanted to place Bishop Barron’s message about the Catholic intellectual tradition right in the center of the secular university, and in the center of Harvard in particular,” O’Donnell said.

Barron began his talk by saying that the “most fundamental claim” of the Catholic intellectual tradition is that “Jesus Christ is epistemically basic.”

In other words, Barron said, Jesus Christ is the “privileged lens through which the whole of reality is read.”

That claim is not “imperialistic,” as some may think, he said. Every intellectual system establishes an idea as epistemically (related to knowledge or the study of knowledge) basic, he added. 

“What I mean is that he’s not presented to us as simply one prophet among many, one religious spokesperson among many,” he said.

“Rather, we hear that he is the Word. He is Logos,” Barron said, adding that “the various sciences and perspectives have to be read from the standpoint of the Logos.”

Looking through the lens of Jesus, some aspects of life are seen “more clearly” such as God, humanity, and creation, he said. 

God is not competing with the world, as was made evident when he took on human form, Barron explained.

“God and a creature come together in such a way that neither one is compromised. How’s that possible? It’s possible only if God is not a competitive being among many,” he said.

“God is the sheer act of ‘to be’ itself,” he proclaimed.

Barron said that the closer God comes to humanity, “the more alive we are, the more ourselves we are.”

Barron pointed to the prophet Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush as an example. 

“How does Moses see God but in this great image of the burning bush, which is on fire but not consumed? The closer God gets to creation, the more luminous and beautiful it becomes without being consumed,” he said.

Offering what he called a “bold claim,” Barron said: “There is no humanism anywhere, East or West, anywhere across the ages, greater than Christian theology.”

Barron said that “divine freedom can come intimately close to human freedom and not compromise it, not crush it.”

Distinguishing between two views of freedom, Barron said the “modern sense” is that “freedom is fundamentally indifference in the face of the yes and the no.”

But in the “biblical sense,” freedom is “the disciplining of desire so as to make the achievement of the good first possible and then effortless.”

Barron told the crowd that his talk could be summed up in the simple words of one of his heroes, the second-century bishop St. Irenaeus of Lyons, who said: “The glory of God is man fully alive.”

“That’s a God who glories in our being fully human,” he said.

Speaking on creation, Barron said that anything that exists apart from God has come “fully and utterly from God.”

If everything comes from God, it must “be marked” by “intelligible form,” he said.

He said “this is precisely why the modern physical sciences emerged out of a Christian university matrix.”

“It’s the theological doctrine of creation which teaches this truth that we should expect finite reality in every detail to be marked by intelligibility that makes the sciences possible,” he said. 

Before answering several questions from the crowd, Barron concluded his lecture by saying that the Catholic intellectual tradition “stubbornly looks at God, the world, ourselves, and the way we organize our societies through the lens of Jesus Christ, and it sees them according to a divine light.”

Watch Bishop Barron's lecture at Harvard here:

‘This is the beginning’: Florida university system adopts Classic Learning Test

null / Credit: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 18, 2023 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

Prospective college students in Florida who want an alternative to the long-used SAT exams can now submit to a test that offers what its publishers call “foundational critical thinking skills” from a battery of classical subjects.

The State University System of Florida announced earlier this month that it had “voted to accept the Classic Learning Test (CLT) as a path to admission” in the schools that comprise its system.

“The system is pleased to add the CLT to reach a wider variety of students from different educational backgrounds,” the announcement said. “Not intimidated by controversy or critics, our focus is on the success of our students and the State of Florida.”

The CLT was launched in 2015 by Classic Learning Initiatives. The organization says on the test’s website that its exams “evaluate reading, grammar, and mathematics and provide a comprehensive measure of achievement and aptitude.”

The tests “emphasize foundational critical thinking skills and are accessible to students from a variety of educational backgrounds,” offering students what it calls “a more edifying testing experience” that “reflect a holistic education.”

Jeremy Tate, the founder of the test, told CNA in a phone interview that prior to launching the new testing initiative he worked extensively with standardized testing materials, including the SAT, which is published by the nonprofit College Board.

“My background was running an SAT/ACT prep company and working at a Catholic school,” said Tate, who is Catholic himself. “I really saw the influence of the College Board on this school in not-good ways, in some pretty negative ways.” 

“Most of what we did at the school for marketing — to get new students — almost all of it was connected to the College Board,” he said. “We were marketing on average SAT scores, AP (Advanced Placement) scores, on and on.”

The pervasive influence of standardized course material had a profound effect on student choices, Tate said. “So much so that when the Dominican sisters introduced an introductory course to philosophy, so many kids did not want to take it,” he said.

“The No. 1 explanation why: ‘Because it’s not any AP points.’”

The ‘A-ha!’ moment

Tate described that experience as revelatory. “It was this kind of ‘A-ha!’ moment,” he said. “Catholic kids in a Catholic school aren’t going to take philosophy because of the power and influence of the College Board?”

That dispiriting realization spurred Tate to found the CLT. The company offers a variety of testing levels for students incorporating a wide variety of subjects. Tests for third through sixth graders review “classic children’s literature, fables, poetry, historical nonfiction,” while the higher tests for middle schoolers through upper-level high schoolers focus on “verbal reasoning, grammar and writing, and quantitative reasoning.” 

Tate said that, far from merely measuring what students have learned, tests can play a major role in forming what students do learn. 

“​​We typically think of the SAT/PSAT as evaluative tools,” he said. “We argue that that’s true, but they’re also pedagogical tools. They teach.”

“If every kid knew that on the SAT or PSAT that they were going to see Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas, it would have a dramatic effect on the attention those thinkers get in the classroom as well,” he said. “Testing inevitably drives curriculum. What gets tested inevitably gets taught.”

A practice test on the initiative’s website includes material from Plato, Cicero, Thomas Jefferson, the German-Dutch Catholic priest Thomas à Kempis, and onetime U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, among other thinkers and writers.

After developing the test, the initiative distributed it at select schools in order to start quantifying the material. 

“You can’t have an actual standardized test until you have a ton of data,” Tate said. “We had an initial blueprint of the test and we went to colleges that we thought were missionally aligned and sympathetic. We submitted it to them to add as an additional option.”

Tate was unclear as to the exact details of the test’s acceptance by the Florida university system. “What I’ve been told is that it came directly from Ron DeSantis himself,” he said. “They wanted this to happen.”

For the test’s future, Tate said his team is five years into a 25-year goal “to be more important than the SAT/ACT.” 

“We believe we have better material and better technology,” he said. “I really think this is kind of the beginning of getting there.”

Historic twin marches for life in Germany face disruptions and defiance

Participants at the March for Life in Cologne, Germany, Sept. 16, 2023. / Credit: Martin Grünewald/CNA Deutsch)

CNA Newsroom, Sep 18, 2023 / 14:55 pm (CNA).

For the first time in the history of the German March for Life, pro-life advocates in Germany simultaneously took to the streets of both Cologne and Berlin this past Saturday.

The dual marches, organized by the German pro-life group Bundesverband Lebensrecht, drew thousands and were met with both enthusiasm and confrontation as counterdemonstrators attempted to disrupt the events in one city.

In Cologne, the march on Sept. 16 drew more than 2,800 participants but faced significant disruptions from feminist and Antifa groups, CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported.

In neighboring Switzerland, approximately 1,000 pro-life activists also took part in the March for Life in Zurich on Saturday. Swiss police were on site with a large contingent to protect the peaceful event against left-wing counterdemonstrators, Tagesanzeiger reported.

In Cologne, counterdemonstrators temporarily halted the march, leading to a two-hour standstill. Eventually, the organizers withdrew, escorted by police to the final rally point. The situation escalated when counterprotesters began dismantling pro-life event stands, with one incident resulting in an advocate being assaulted.

Police in Cologne struggle to protect pro-life protesters from counter-demonstrators at the March for Life in Germany on Sept. 16, 2023. Credit: Martin Grünewald/CNA Deutsch
Police in Cologne struggle to protect pro-life protesters from counter-demonstrators at the March for Life in Germany on Sept. 16, 2023. Credit: Martin Grünewald/CNA Deutsch

CNA Deutsch, reporting on the incident, also contacted authorities to provide further information and details after the alleged assault was published on social media.

Meanwhile, the Berlin march proceeded with fewer interruptions, attracting nearly 4,000 participants. Both events were linked via a live feed, amplifying their collective impact.

Catholic television station EWTN Germany provided streaming coverage of the dual marches, which were attended and supported by prominent German bishops.

Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg was among those present in Berlin, signaling the Church’s commitment to the cause. 

Thousands gather for the March for Life at the iconic Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, on Sept. 16, 2023. Credit: Anna Diouf/CNA Deutsch
Thousands gather for the March for Life at the iconic Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, on Sept. 16, 2023. Credit: Anna Diouf/CNA Deutsch

Earlier in the week, Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German Bishops’ Conference, expressed his gratitude to the organizers and participants for their “persistent commitment” to protecting life. Archbishop Stephan Burger of Freiburg echoed these sentiments, stating: “The gift of life is the highest good; we are convinced of that as Christians.” 

Paul Cullen, chairman of the Doctors for Life association and a board member of Bundesverband Lebensrecht, criticized the counterdemonstrators for their “intolerance and narrow-mindedness towards the weakest.” He emphasized the need to “resist and defend medical freedom of conscience.”

Susanne Wenzel, the national chair of Christian Democrats for Life, warned of deteriorating legal conditions and urged attendees to engage with politicians. Sandra Sinder of Aktion Lebensrecht für Alle spoke about the emotional and financial insecurities that often lead women to consider abortion.

Nuns attend the March for Life in Berlin, Germany, on Sept. 16, 2023. Credit: Anna Diouf/CNA Deutsch
Nuns attend the March for Life in Berlin, Germany, on Sept. 16, 2023. Credit: Anna Diouf/CNA Deutsch

The events also featured international pro-life activists from the Netherlands and Canada. Alex Schadenberg, founder and director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, highlighted that people usually opt for assisted suicide or euthanasia due to social isolation, poverty, and hopelessness rather than physical pain.

Despite the disruptions by radicals in Cologne, the twin marches marked a significant moment for the pro-life movement in Germany, demonstrating resilience and unity in the face of opposition. 

As the German Doctors for Life chairman Cullen said: “In Cologne, we want to send a signal for the fundamental human right to life, which precedes all other human rights and is therefore the most important of all.”

Sports anchor Sage Steele: ‘I wouldn’t be standing today without my faith’

Former ESPN sportscaster Sage Steele talks with “EWTN News Nightly” host Tracy Sabol on Sept. 6, 2023. / Credit: “EWTN News Nightly”/YouTube

CNA Newsroom, Sep 18, 2023 / 12:15 pm (CNA).

After former ESPN “SportsCenter” co-host Sage Steele settled a lawsuit with the network over comments she made regarding its COVID-19 vaccine mandate, she announced her departure in August after 16 years at the network.

“Having successfully settled my case with ESPN/Disney, I have decided to leave so I can exercise my First Amendment rights more freely,” the former sports anchor wrote on her X account.

Steele sued the network and its parent company in 2022 for violating her free speech rights after she was taken off the air and several high-profile assignments for criticizing ESPN’s and Disney’s vaccine mandate, the Associated Press reported

Although Steele complied with the mandate in order to keep her job, according to her lawsuit, she told former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler on his podcast that “while she ‘respect[ed] everyone’s decision’ to get vaccinated, she believed that a corporate mandate was ‘sick’ and ‘scary to me in many ways.’ She also indicated that she ‘didn’t want to’ get the vaccine but still complied in order to keep her job and support her family.”

Following these and other comments on Cutler’s September 2021 podcast, Steele was suspended from ESPN in October 2021 and forced to apologize for her remarks.

Steele recently opened up about the ordeal and about how her Catholic faith got her through it on “EWTN News Nightly,” hosted by Tracy Sabol.

“I’ve said this a lot recently — I wouldn’t be standing today without my faith, which has become stronger than ever before,” Steele, 50, began.

“This was a huge low point in my life when all of this happened,” she continued. “[The] last couple years I had just gotten divorced after marrying my college sweetheart — only boyfriend I ever had, married for 20 years, together for 27 years. … COVID hit like a couple months right after that was final.”

To add to the problems, many things were shut down due to the pandemic, and it was a difficult time for Steele and her three children. 

“It was brutal,” Steele recalled. “And then I happened to speak up [about the vaccine mandate] and got crushed for it. [I] thought my career was over.”

To top it off, despite having received the vaccine, the single mother came down with severe COVID. “I was in trouble health-wise with it,” she told Sabol. “At that moment, I just prayed.” 

One night during the illness her heart was racing so fast it woke her up. She was all alone — her kids were at their father’s house so they wouldn’t get sick. Her parents couldn’t help because her father was undergoing cancer treatments. She tried to get ready to drive herself to the hospital but fell over. She realized if she fell again and hit her head, no one would find her.

“That was such a scary moment,” she said. “I just got back in bed and prayed and prayed that I would wake up the next morning.”

She did wake up, but she was still alone, and it took her more than a week to finally start feeling better. 

“All I had was God,” she recalled. “Fortunately, I knew that he had brought me through so much … what am I going to do, not trust him now? So I literally felt him pull me up and say, ‘You got this, girl.’”

When she was finally well enough to return to work, her father — a former football player — mother, and best friend were there with her.

“Right as I walk out the door to go to work for the first time after the apology and being suspended and embarrassed and vilified, my dad said, ‘We’re gonna say the St. Michael the Archangel [prayer] … you know, having God protect us from the wickedness and snares of the devil and rebuke them we humbly pray… that moment changed me and changed our family,” she said.

Now that Steele has left ESPN, Sabol asked what the future might hold for the broadcaster.

“I don’t know, but I’m having some really fun conversations right now with all kinds of different people that work in the industry in different ways,” she said. “I would love to interview some Hollywood celebrities, a lot of people who have been canceled and it’s like, ‘Oh wait we’re still here.’”

Steele said she hoped to announce more of her plans in the coming weeks.

“I’ve been so flattered by so many people reaching out, but it’s a blessing to be able to finally be me,” she said.

Watch the full “EWTN News Nightly” interview with Steele below. Watch part one of her interview with Sabol here.