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Couple spends retirement sharing St. Hildegard of Bingen’s wisdom and faith

A group of pilgrims who followed the spiritual retreat with Claude and Marie France Delpech in front of St. Hildegard Abbey in Ebingen, Germany, Sept. 17, 2012. / Credit: Les Jardins de Sainte-Hildegarde

Paris, France, Sep 17, 2023 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Twenty years ago, Claude and Marie-France Delpech launched a family business in France called “Les Jardins de Sainte-Hildegarde,” selling products inspired by the life of St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179), an abbess and mystic proclaimed a doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 7, 2012.

Since then, the Delpechs’ mission has grown steadily, contributing to the rediscovery of the 12th-century German nun, celebrated in the Church calendar on Sept. 17, and her health remedies — as well as her little-known or understood spirituality.

St. Hildegard’s Abbey in Ebigen, Germany. Credit: Les Jardins de Sainte-Hildegarde
St. Hildegard’s Abbey in Ebigen, Germany. Credit: Les Jardins de Sainte-Hildegarde

The Delpechs, who are in their 70s and have three daughters and 11 grandchildren, became acquainted with St. Hildegard during Christmas 1994, when their eldest daughter gave them a cookbook called “Les recettes de la joie” (“Recipes for joy”). Originally from the Périgord region of southwestern France, the Delpechs were lovers of good food, and they tried the recipes out of curiosity.

The beginnings were simple: Marie-France cooked mainly with spelt — the dominant grain in St. Hildegard’s diet — as well as with herbs such as pyrethrum (derived from plants in the aster family) and galanga (the citrusy cousin of ginger), also recommended by the nun. Marie-France obtained her supplies from a small company in the Pyrenees that specializes in products and ingredients Hildegard used.

In 1998, as Claude prepared to retire, the couple was looking for a meaningful activity. During a charismatic prayer service in the Emmanuel community, they asked God for “something useful to do.” Strangely enough, all they got when they opened up the Bible were words about... plants. 

“I really couldn’t see what it was all about,” Marie-France said with a laugh as she shared her memories with CNA.

In the autumn of 1998, suffering from asthma, Marie-France went on a health retreat in the Pyrenees and took the opportunity to visit the business that sold products inspired by St. Hildegard. To her astonishment, the manager, who was about to close down the business, asked her to take over.

When she declined the offer because of her asthma, he advised her to try scolopendra wine (wine made from soaking a centipede in it) — in a preparation of St. Hildegard’s that included cinnamon, long pepper, and other spices. In the course of eight days, the asthma had stopped. The Delpechs asked themselves: “What if this is what the Lord wanted to show us?”

Claude and Marie-France Delpech, owners of a family business in France called “Les Jardins de Sainte-Hildegarde.”. Credit: Courtesy of Claude and Marie-France Delpech
Claude and Marie-France Delpech, owners of a family business in France called “Les Jardins de Sainte-Hildegarde.”. Credit: Courtesy of Claude and Marie-France Delpech

The more science progresses, the more we understand St. Hildegard

In December 1999, the couple set about researching the work of St. Hildegard, about whom they knew little. To do so, they traveled to the saint’s abbey in Ebingen, Germany. There they met a community of 60 nuns who were “extremely dynamic and full of ‘joie de vivre,’” they recalled. 

“The road was opening up,” the couple said in an email. “We felt we’d discovered a treasure, and we wanted to share it.”

Claude and Marie-France now work with German naturopath Wighard Strehlow, the successor of German physician Gottfried Hertzka (1913–1997) — a Nazi resistance fighter who rediscovered St. Hildegard when he was in a concentration camp. Strehlow has devoted his life to transmitting Hildegard’s medieval remedies “in concrete, accessible terms” for today’s generations.

“The more science progresses, the more we understand what St. Hildegard meant,” the Delpechs said in an email. “One of the latest examples is violet balm. St. Hildegard recommends it against cysts and mastitis, saying that ‘if it’s cancer, it will die when it has tasted it.’ It’s a bold thing to say in the 12th century... but last year, an Australian study demonstrated that the leaves and flowers of violets are powerful anti-cancer agents.” 

To date, only 400 of Hildegard’s 2,000 remedies have been tested.

Sample of one-week of spelt-based ingredients and foods inspired by St. Hildegard de Bingen from Les Jardins de Sainte-Hildegarde in France. Credit: Les Jardins de Sainte-Hildegarde
Sample of one-week of spelt-based ingredients and foods inspired by St. Hildegard de Bingen from Les Jardins de Sainte-Hildegarde in France. Credit: Les Jardins de Sainte-Hildegarde

Over the years, the Delpechs have collaborated with a group of French doctors and launched a summer university program. They combine dietary advice with a spiritual component, preached by theologian Father Pierre Dumoulin. At the request of the Catholic community Foyers de Charité, they also began offering a spiritual retreat with a fast based on spelt. The initiative has met with enormous success, with growing demand from people seeking deeper spiritual and physical well-being.

A message of personal unity

Today, the couple’s business, based in Coux and Bigaroque in the Périgord, employs about 15 people. They sell spelt-based products, plants and spices, essential oils, gemstones, flavored wines, cosmetics, and various books. 

The community of disabled brothers of Notre Dame d’Espérance participates in the preparation of the elixirs. 

At the inauguration of the new building, Claude Delpech shows the products on the shelves in Coux and Bigaroque, France, June 22, 2016. Credit: Les Jardins de Sainte-Hildegarde
At the inauguration of the new building, Claude Delpech shows the products on the shelves in Coux and Bigaroque, France, June 22, 2016. Credit: Les Jardins de Sainte-Hildegarde

Claude and Marie France remain as volunteers in their business, which they see as a mission of evangelization. 

“We’re very concerned that the spiritual side should not be neglected, but rather brought to the fore,” they said. For them, St. Hildegard is “a way of getting people to go to retreats they would never otherwise have gone to, because not everyone is interested in the Lord, but everyone is interested in their health.”

During these retreats, people regain their shape and vigor, but something also happens “at the heart level,” they noted. “When you eat less, less fatty, less heavy things, something also happens on the mental level, and there’s a facilitation on the spiritual level, too.”

St. Hildegard’s work, argued the Delpechs, is “a message of personal unification. As the saint wrote: ‘When soul and body function in perfect harmony, they receive the supreme reward of health and joy.’ Joy is essential to Hildegarde.”

The Delpechs said their aim is to restore St. Hildegard to her rightful place within the Catholic Church. 

Marie France prays in front of the relics of St. Hildegard, Eibingen, Sept. 17, 2012. Credit: Les Jardins de Sainte-Hildegarde
Marie France prays in front of the relics of St. Hildegard, Eibingen, Sept. 17, 2012. Credit: Les Jardins de Sainte-Hildegarde

“St. Hildegard was initially known in the New Age [movement], presented as a healer, as the first of the phytotherapists, as a magician, a miracle worker,” the couple said in an email. “But above all, she’s a Catholic saint with a unique charisma. The universe remains a great mystery, and for her, the Lord lifted the curtain. She was able to see the hidden subtleties of creation in the mineral, vegetable, and animal worlds. What a gift!”

Benedict XVI proclaimed St. Hildegard of Bingen a doctor of the Church not only for her spiritual work but also for “her holy medicine.” 

“For us, St. Hildegard could be the patron saint of integral ecology,” the Delpechs said. 

Irish-born founder of Boys Town, Father Flanagan, may soon be declared Venerable

Father Edward Flanagan with baseball players at Boys Town. / Credit: Photo courtesy of the Father Flanagan League

London, England, Sep 16, 2023 / 08:00 am (CNA).

A Catholic priest reputed for rescuing homeless and impoverished children on the streets of Omaha, Nebraska, is expected to soon be declared Venerable by the Vatican, placing him on the path to canonization.

Father Edward J. Flanagan, who died in 1948, was an Irish-born priest whose saintly life has been narrated in a recent documentary, “Heart of a Servant — the Father Flanagan Story.”

In a follow-up interview after the film’s premiere on July 26 in Sligo, Ireland, Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin, Ireland, told CNA that there is a good reason to hope that Flanagan will soon be declared Venerable by the Vatican.

In an email exchange on Sept. 5, he told CNA: “Father Flanagan is recognized as a Servant of God since his case was sent to Rome in 2015. Following the examination of the case by the various commissions involved with the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, there are grounds for hoping that he will soon be declared Venerable.”

Reflecting on the life of the heroic Catholic priest, Doran told CNA that Flanagan “rescued children from homelessness and poverty in Omaha and provided a place for them that they could call home.”

Doran explained how the children were not only provided with “all the practical and academic skills for daily life but also formed in faith and Christian living.”

He continued: “Father Flanagan is a saint, not just because he did these things but because he was motivated to do so by a deep personal relationship with God.

“Inspired by the same spirit of respect for others as the children of God, he opposed racism and sectarianism, even at great personal risk. He also reached out to refugees and especially children displaced by war. In truth, he ‘laid down his life’ in imitation of the Good Shepherd.”

When asked how quickly he thought the case of Flanagan would progress, Doran said these things were hard to predict. He continued: “An authenticated miracle is one of the requirements of beatification. This is taken as evidence that the Spirit of God is truly at work in the life of the one who is proposed for beatification. I am aware that a number of possible miracles have been and are being considered, but the criteria are very specific; generally relation to healing for which there is no medical or scientific explanation. This may take time. It is in the hands of God.”

When asked which causes Flanagan might become patron of should he eventually be canonized, Doran said there were several, in his opinion.

“Father Flanagan could be a patron saint under many headings,” he wrote. “Seminarians: because of the courage and faith he demonstrated in overcoming the obstacles he encountered on the way to priesthood; vulnerable children: because of the huge respect and love he had for children; ecumenism: because of his commitment to receiving any child who came to him, irrespective of religious denomination; migrants: because of his outreach to Japanese migrants interned in the U.S. during WW2; children displaced by war: because of his outreach to children in Japan, the Philippines, and Germany after WW2.”

Flanagan was born in County Galway in 1886 and moved to America in 1904. His journey through seminary was put on hold due to poor health, but he was eventually ordained in 1912.

Flanagan emigrated to the U.S. in 1904. Due to poor health, he was twice forced to postpone his seminary studies before he was eventually ordained in 1912.

Thanks to his incredible ministry toward young boys of Nebraska, he was invited in 1947 by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who was leading the allied occupation of Japan, to review the child welfare conditions in Japan and Korea. He was also invited to do the same in Austria and Germany the following year.

While in Germany, Flanigan suffered a heart attack and died on May 15, 1948. His body rests at Dowd Memorial Chapel of the Immaculate Conception in Boys Town, Nebraska.

Catholic families flock to Appaloosa Music Festival: ‘An encounter with God’

Festival attendees enjoying Appaloosa Festival, Sept. 2-3, 2023. / Photo credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 16, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Appaloosa Music Festival, a folk music festival in the Appalachian Mountains of Northern Virginia, offers Catholics a unique weekend of music, community, and the Eucharist.

This year Appaloosa, which took place Labor Day weekend, drew a record 9,000 attendees from states across the nation.

In the words of one attendee from the Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, Father Alex Brown, 26, the two-day experience is something of “an encounter with God.”

Though not explicitly a Catholic festival, Appaloosa is organized by the Irish folk band Scythian, which is headlined by Catholic brothers Dan and Alex Fedoryka.

Dan Fedoryka, one of the leaders of folk band Scythian and an organizer of the Appaloosa Music Festival, Sept. 3, 2023. Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA
Dan Fedoryka, one of the leaders of folk band Scythian and an organizer of the Appaloosa Music Festival, Sept. 3, 2023. Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA

The festival boasts multiple stages with a mix of folk, country, bluegrass, and Irish performances as well as food trucks, local vendors, and even a kids’ play zone.

Since starting in 2015, the festival has become known by attendees and musicians alike for its wholesome, family-friendly, and joyful atmosphere.

“There’s something different happening here,” Dan Fedoryka told CNA. “It’s contributing to a culture of life, but in the most organic way that I’ve experienced a culture of life.” 

Festival attendees enjoying Appaloosa Festival Sept. 2-3, 2023. Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA
Festival attendees enjoying Appaloosa Festival Sept. 2-3, 2023. Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA

‘An encounter with God’ 

Catholics, especially young Catholic families, flock to the festival in Front Royal, Virginia, every Labor Day Weekend. Despite high temperatures, this year was no exception.

Attendees posted up in lawn chairs and tents or sat under large awnings, enjoying the performances with the stunning Appalachian Mountains as a backdrop. In the evenings, warm campfires dotted campsites and families socialized with one another underneath the Virginia stars.

While many music festivals are known for drug use and sexual immorality, Appaloosa focuses on music and bringing people together to enjoy the arts in God’s beautiful creation.

At the heart of the whole festival, Fedoryka said, is a genuine love of God.

He called the Mass, which is held outdoors on Sunday morning and is heavily attended by festival goers, the festival’s real “headliner.” 

A string band and choir, led by Virginia-musician Ben-David Warner, lead the music during the Mass at Appaloosa Festival, Sept. 3, 2023. Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA
A string band and choir, led by Virginia-musician Ben-David Warner, lead the music during the Mass at Appaloosa Festival, Sept. 3, 2023. Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA

This year well over 700 attended the Mass, which had a string band and choir leading the worship. The Mass was celebrated by Brown and another young priest, Father Andrew Clark, 32, from the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia.

In his homily, Brown said the music experienced by the festival goers during the weekend calls them into the deeper joy of God.

“There’s something divine in music, something that reflects the great musician, God himself,” Brown said. “And that’s what we’re encountering this weekend.”

“It may be bold but not wrong to say that Appaloosa itself is an encounter with God, a glimpse into his sanctuary,” Brown added.

Festival attendees enjoying Appaloosa Festival, Sept. 2-3, 2023. Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA
Festival attendees enjoying Appaloosa Festival, Sept. 2-3, 2023. Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA

Building up strong Catholic communities

A Front Royal native, Clark said one of the root causes of society’s ills, such as record-high depression and suicide rates, is a general loss of identity and community rooted in God.

The reason Appaloosa is growing and resounding with so many people, Clark explained, is that it helps people truly experience the joy of being in a community built around God.  

“One of the things that the world hungers for is what it means to live in a community where Christ is king,” Clark said.

“Sin alienates us,” he said. “We feel like we don’t belong.”

“Yet the experience of Christ, when he becomes our brother, our savior, our king, he tells us, you belong, you belong to me, and you belong to my family,” he went on. “Having that experience of belonging here at Appaloosa is why families love it so much.”

Replacing secular culture with ‘Catholic culture’

Twenty-eight different bands and performers performed during the festival.

Though the performances were not explicitly Christian, the event still helps to build something one performer, Ben-David Warner, called “Catholic culture.”

A North Virginia-based musician, Warner is the director of sacred liturgy and music at St. Charles Borromeo parish in Arlington, Virginia. He also leads the folk-acoustic group the Ben-David Warner Band.

Warner said that in America “we don’t have a Catholic culture” but instead “we have a very secular culture.”

For many Catholics, Warner pointed out, the only time they spend with other Catholics is once a week during Mass.

“It’s good to have events like this because it’s an opportunity for a lot of Catholics to come together and have something outside the liturgy,” Warner said.

Maura Butler, a Catholic mother who was attending her fifth Appaloosa Festival, told CNA that she loves taking her family to the festival because it allows her and her husband to explore their passion for music in a safe and family-friendly environment.

“When we were dating, and even when we didn’t know each other, we loved music,” Butler, who is from Virginia, said. “Our kids love it, and we love to bring them up loving music.”

“Our children can see and admire and think musicians are cool and then see them at Mass, and that makes a good impact,” Butler said, adding that “you can’t really do that with kids very easily anywhere else.”

Shaping the future through music

According to Fedoryka, music is crucial to culture, and it can be used for good or for evil.

“You just read Karl Marx — communists knew how to control the masses,” he said. “Music is the No. 1 way to get ideologies in there because it bypasses your intellect.”

This is further evidenced by today’s mainstream music industry, which Fedoryka believes is dominated by a culture of use and disregard for human dignity.

“You can really see how people are affected,” Fedoryka said, pointing to how many artists feel disillusioned and empty from their careers in mainstream music.

Through Appaloosa and his band, Scythian, Fedoryka is working to build something different.

Fedoryka and Appaloosa’s other organizers place a significant emphasis on developing the musical skills of children and young artists. 

One of the festival’s staple acts is a band called Pickin’ Thistles that is made up of three Catholic siblings: Hayden, 17, Josephine, 15, and Rosemary, 13.

Though still very young, the siblings have been performing at Appaloosa for years. It’s something they said motivates them and that they look forward to every year.

Fedoryka said he has a special connection to the young Catholic artists. He believes Pickin’ Thistles and many of the other young musicians performing and attending Appaloosa will go on to make a “big impact.”

But he doesn’t want them to seek success the way that the mainstream music industry defines it. He wants them to be artists that create music for others.

“My mom always said that music is for others, it’s a gift,” he said. “Just focus on the people and that you’re bringing them joy, then you start to forget about yourself. And I think that is the antidote for depression.”

“Depression and suicide are at an all-time high. But my mom had the secret,” Fedoryka said. “If you’re depressed or you’re suicidal, start giving yourself to other people and, after a while, you start to forget about yourself because you start encountering other souls.”

Three more pro-lifers guilty on FACE Act charges, face up to 11 years in prison

null / Credit: Brian A Jackson / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 15, 2023 / 20:20 pm (CNA).

Three pro-life activists who took part in an October 2022 “rescue” in a Washington, D.C., abortion facility were each found guilty of felonies that could land them up to 11 years in prison and fines as much as $350,000.

The verdict follows a separate trial in which five other pro-life activists were also found guilty.

The activists — 74-year-old Joan Bell, 73-year-old Jean Marshall, and 41-year-old Jonathan Darnel — were indicted on felony conspiracy against rights and violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, also known as the FACE Act. The FACE Act increased penalties for people who accost or obstruct women who are seeking abortion at clinics or pregnancy resource centers.

According to the Department of Justice, the three activists engaged in a conspiracy to create a blockade of an abortion clinic.

The DOJ claims that Bell and Marshall were among a group of activists who forcefully entered the abortion clinic and blockaded two doors with their bodies, furniture, chains, and ropes. The DOJ adds that Darnel remained outside of the abortion facility but livestreamed the group’s activism on social media.

According to the DOJ, Marshall and Bell traveled to the Washington, D.C., area to meet with Darnel and others to participate in the protest, which was directed by another activist.

“Joan Bell’s children were in the audience shaking and crying,” Bernadette Patel, a pro-life activist who did not partake in the rescue, told CNA.

“Joan took off her red shirt to reveal a bright yellow shirt with the words ‘Pro Life’ written on it,” Patel said. “Jonathan Darnel gave a wave before being escorted out. Jean Marshall brought a doctor’s note saying that she was scheduled for a hip replacement but the judge refused to keep her under house arrest and all were taken away. Chris Bell [Joan’s husband] teared up as he went to his car.”

A hearing for their sentencing is yet to be scheduled.

Five other pro-life activists who engaged in the demonstration were found guilty of a felony charge of conspiracy against rights and violating the FACE Act. These activists are also awaiting sentencing. Another activist pleaded guilty and did not take his case to trial.

Bishops celebrate National Migration Week, highlight overlooked ‘right to remain’

"Angels Unawares," a work by Timothy Schmalz on The Catholic University of America's campus, depicts 140 immigrants. / Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 15, 2023 / 19:10 pm (CNA).

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is highlighting the overlooked right to remain in one’s country during its weeklong celebration of National Migration Week from Sept. 18–24.

“For millennia, people have been forced to flee their homelands, seeking safety and security, because of factors beyond their control,” El Paso Bishop Mark J. Seitz, the chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration, said in a statement ahead of the celebration.

Bishop Seitz referenced the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt, in which the child Christ, the Blessed Mother, and St. Joseph were forced to flee to Egypt when King Herod intended to kill Christ by slaughtering infants. He said the flight “was not the result of a free decision, nor were many of the migrations that marked the history of the people of Israel.”

National Migration Week encourages Catholics to reflect on challenges that affect migrants, refugees, and those harmed by forced displacement, according to the USCCB. The week is also meant to celebrate the ways in which newcomers enrich communities and how the faithful are called to welcome them as members of the same human family.

The celebration finishes on the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which was established by the Holy See more than a century ago.

“Through our belief in Jesus Christ, we are compelled to respond with charity toward those who must uproot their lives in search of refuge, but efforts to manage migration — even when predicated on the common good — require that we also address the coercive forces driving people to migrate,” Seitz said.

“Only through collective efforts to alleviate these forces and by establishing the conditions required for integral human development can people truly avail themselves of the right to remain in their country of birth,” the bishop continued. “May God, through the [intercession] of Our Lady of Guadalupe, sustain us in these pursuits and protect those whose lives depend upon their success.”

The USCCB’s statement reflects the theme for this year’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which is “Free to choose whether to migrate or stay,” which Pope Francis announced in May.

“The decision to migrate should always be free, yet in many cases, even in our day, it is not,” Pope Francis said in his announcement. “Conflicts, natural disasters, or more simply the impossibility of living a dignified and prosperous life in one’s native land is forcing millions of persons to leave. ... Migrants flee because of poverty, fear, or desperation. Eliminating these causes and thus putting an end to forced migration calls for shared commitment on the part of all, in accordance with the responsibilities of each.”

The USCCB said the right to remain in one’s natural homeland and not be forcefully displaced is a right that is often overlooked in the immigration debate in the United States. 

New movie explores Christian and Jewish perspectives of the Holy Land’s history

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks on the red carpet at the premiere of the film "Route 60: The Biblical Highway" on Sept. 12, 2023. / Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 15, 2023 / 18:10 pm (CNA).

Generally in “road trip” films, travelers on a ribbon of asphalt are taken on both a literal and figurative journey — sometimes one that leads them to a deeper connection with the transcendent and divine. 

The new documentary “Route 60: The Biblical Highway” is such a film, but the setting and the characters are far from ordinary. 

The movie features two powerful American former diplomats, both of whose tenures have helped shape the modern Holy Land: former Secretary of State and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, an evangelical Christian, and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, an Orthodox Jew, both of whom served together in the Trump administration.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, left, and Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Sept. 12, 2023, premiere of their movie "Route 60: The Biblical Highway" at the Museum of the Bible. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, left, and Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Sept. 12, 2023, premiere of their movie "Route 60: The Biblical Highway" at the Museum of the Bible. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

In the movie, opening Monday, Pompeo and Friedman travel together in an auspicious convoy of black SUVs down Route 60, a modern two-lane highway that runs through Israel and Palestine and exists within a vital and millennia-old transportation corridor. 

The 146-mile road, also known as the “Way of the Patriarchs” for its significance in biblical history, begins in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth and ends in Beersheba, today a hub of high technology. The vast majority of Route 60 runs through the Palestinian-occupied West Bank.

The movie premiered Sept. 12 at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. Pompeo at the premiere said Christian and Jewish viewers alike have much to learn from Friedman’s commentary on the sites they visited.

“[Friedman] is a Bible scholar, and so I learned an awful lot from him,” Pompeo told CNA at the event. “We would go to places, and I would hear him tell the stories from a Jewish perspective. And it always added color to the things that I’d seen in my life, whether it was when I attended a sermon or when I was trying to teach Sunday school.”

Pompeo said walking around the Holy Land and taking in the sites described in biblical accounts helped to make the Bible more real for him and remind him that the events described in Scripture really happened.

“There is no mistaking the history. It reminded me that what you’re reading is, in fact, the word of God,” Pompeo continued.

“And it was wonderful to get a chance to see and experience that in a way that I had never done.”

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, left, and Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speak before the Sept. 12, 2023, premiere of their movie "Route 60: The Biblical Highway" at the Museum of the Bible. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, left, and Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speak before the Sept. 12, 2023, premiere of their movie "Route 60: The Biblical Highway" at the Museum of the Bible. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

“Route 60,” scheduled to appear in theaters Sept. 18–19 only, was produced by Trinity Broadcasting Network, a strongly pro-Israel Christian TV network based in Texas, and directed by Matt Crouch, the president of TBN.

Friedman told CNA that while serving as an ambassador he had the idea to create a movie in the style of Anthony Bourdain, starting off in the country’s north and heading south, stopping off at places of biblical significance.

“What I thought was important was to explain this area,” Friedman told CNA, referring to the region of the Holy Land known in the Bible as Judea and Samaria. Route 60 traverses through this region. 

“It’s an area of conflict … the West Bank, a nondescript area. And it sort of sounds to most people like some strip of land 6,000 miles away, with people fighting over it for the last couple of hundred years,” Friedman said.

“I want people just to understand that there is massive history here, massive religious significance for Jews and Christians going back to Abraham.”

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Freidman overlooking Jerusalem during the filming of their movie, "Route 60: The Biblical Highway." Credit: Route 60 movie promotional still
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Freidman overlooking Jerusalem during the filming of their movie, "Route 60: The Biblical Highway." Credit: Route 60 movie promotional still

The images and sound design of the film are arresting, with the sweeping drone shots, artful illustrations and motion graphics, and booming score that cinema-goers expect from an epic documentary. It includes countless biblical references and passages as well as historical reenactments of biblical events as they are described. 

Sites visited in the movie include the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Rachel’s Tomb, and other places of significance to biblical figures such as Jacob, Joseph, and King David. The hosts also discussed the ecumenical nature of the sites, such as the Tombs of Abraham and Sarah at Hebron, which remains a place of spiritual significance for Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

“You can’t be in that place and not recognize how central this is to who we are as faithful followers in the Abrahamic tradition,” Pompeo noted. 

The men also visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which houses, according to tradition, the tomb of Christ and the site of the crucifixion. The church was first consecrated in the year 335 and is jointly administered by the Roman Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Church, and Armenian Apostolic Church. 

In the context of Middle Eastern policy, Friedman and Pompeo are perhaps best known for helping bring to fruition in 2018 former President Donald Trump’s controversial vision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a decision that provoked a mixed reaction from the international community, including expressions of concern from the Vatican (which has long supported a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict). 

The two men are also known for helping to broker the fall 2020 deals known as the Abraham Accords, whereby a number of Arab nations agreed to normalize relations with Israel. 

Despite the film’s laudatory and frequent references to these diplomatic accomplishments — not to mention conspicuous commendations of Trump — Friedman, at least, insisted to CNA that what they have made is “not a political film.”

“We don’t suggest solutions to any disputes. We just want people to care about [the region] and understand what’s there,” Friedman told CNA. 

Friedman expanded on this point while introducing the film with Pompeo.

“What we want people to get from this, if they can, is just to care about Judea and Samaria as the biblical homeland of the Jewish people, and as the wellspring of the Jewish and the Christian faiths,” he said. 

“I think if you’ll see that and I think hopefully it moves you, I encourage people to read the Bible. ’m sure many people here do. But there’s nothing like being there, nothing like seeing it,” he continued.

“There’s nothing like taking biblical stories that are in the nature of legends or myths to people and then all of a sudden you’re there and they enter the world of truth. And that’s extremely powerful.”

“Route 60: The Biblical Highway” will be in theaters nationwide Sept. 18–19 only.

Wisconsin Planned Parenthood resumes abortions after ruling against 1840s abortion statute

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 15, 2023 / 17:40 pm (CNA).

The abortion provider Planned Parenthood will resume offering abortions in Wisconsin in the wake of a court ruling that ruled against a putative 1840s-era ban on those procedures.

The development points toward continued national conflict after last year’s Supreme Court repeal of Roe v. Wade, with state governments, abortion providers, and pro-life activists jockeying to hold their respective lines amid a legal framework in which abortion is no longer a constitutional guarantee. 

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin said in a release on Thursday that it would begin providing abortions in multiple locations in the state next week. The organization said it had earlier “made the agonizing decision to suspend abortion services” in the wake of Roe’s repeal. 

The abortion provider pointed to a July ruling at the Dane County Circuit Court that ruled an 1840s Wisconsin law was “not enforceable for voluntary abortions,” as Planned Parenthood put it.

Sheboygan County District Attorney Joel Urmanski had said the state’s 1849 abortion law — which has since been subsumed by modern state statute — could be used to prosecute abortion providers in the state. But the Dane County court ruled otherwise, finding the law addressed only the legal act of feticide and not abortion itself.

The statute “does not prohibit a consensual medical abortion,” Judge Diane Schlipper wrote in the ruling; per the statute, she said, abortion providers only commit a crime if the abortion occurs “after the fetus or unborn child reaches viability.”

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin said it had made the decision to restore abortion services after “consultation with attorneys, physicians, partners, and other stakeholders.”

Urmanski did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday on Planned Parenthood’s resumption of abortion services and whether or not his office would be pursuing other means to prohibit abortion in the state.

Schlipper noted in her July ruling that the decision was “not a final ruling for purpose of appeal.” 

Pro-life groups were quick to respond to Planned Parenthood’s abortion resumption. Wisconsin Family Action called the decision “devastating news for innocent preborn children and Wisconsin mothers who deserve better than abortion,” while Pro-Life Wisconsin said it would continue to “fight for the enforcement of [the state’s] current abortion ban.”

In a statement to CNA, meanwhile, Erin Hawley, the vice president of the Alliance Defending Freedom’s Center for Life and Regulatory Practice, argued that Wisconsin law is “clear” in that it mandates “unborn children are to be protected from the harms of abortion.” 

“And under the Dobbs ruling, states can now enact their pro-life laws that have been on the books for decades,” she said. “Courts should respect this decision and allow states to protect unborn life and women’s health as much as possible.”

The 1849 provision had been criticized by Wisconsin Democrats following Roe’s demise last year. State Gov. Tony Evers and state Attorney General Josh Kaul had both advocated the repeal of the pre-Civil War law.

Wisconsin was among the numerous states with laws in place that were set to activate if and when Roe was finally repealed. 

More than a dozen states had passed “trigger laws” to automatically kick in after Roe’s repeal. Wisconsin was among the few states with a pre-Roe abortion ban still on the books at the time that Roe was struck down.

Seriously ill UK teen dies fighting mental competence ruling

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Denver, Colo., Sep 15, 2023 / 17:10 pm (CNA).

A 19-year-old U.K. woman with a rare disease has died during a legal fight to circumvent a ruling that she was not competent to make decisions about her care, despite her desire to go abroad for experimental treatment.

“I want to die trying to live,” the woman told a psychiatrist evaluating her. “We have to try everything.”

The woman, known anonymously as “ST” due to legal restrictions on reporting, died from cardiac arrest late on Sept. 12. She had been dying from a progressively degenerative mitochondrial disorder. She had hoped to travel to Canada to take part in medical trials for nucleotide therapy to help her survive.

However, legal challenges obstructed this effort. On Aug. 25 a judge agreed with an unnamed National Health Service trust’s doctors and ruled that she was unable to make decisions for herself.

After her death, her family released a statement through solicitors.

“The disease ST faced was immense, but she and we refused to give up hope, no matter how small that hope was,” said the family, who cannot be named until legal restrictions are lifted.

“ST was a committed Christian and firmly believed that life is the most precious gift we have from God. Every family faced with such a challenge and tragedy should have the opportunity to leave no stone unturned when trying to save the life of their child.”

“Instead in our hour of need, when we needed it most, we were taken to court and had severe reporting restrictions placed upon us. We were essentially given a choice: give up and let us prepare your daughter for death, or have your lives dismantled and torn apart if you wish to resist us,” the family continued. “We chose to give up everything for our daughter.”

Before her death, ST was conscious and able to speak. She had done well in school before her health declined after she caught COVID-19 in August 2022. Her disease did not affect brain functioning, though she suffered health problems such as impaired sight, hearing loss, chronic muscle weakness, bone disease, and chronic lung and kidney damage.

For more than a year, she had been in intensive care. She breathed using an artificial respirator, ate through a feeding tube, and underwent dialysis.

The two psychiatrists the hospital tasked with assessing ST ruled that she was free from mental health issues and had the mental capacity to decide for herself.

However, the medical professionals in charge of her treatment maintained that she was approaching, or had already begun, the final stage of her life and was “actively dying.” The NHS trust had asked the court to approve a palliative care plan for the woman that would remove her from dialysis and thus result in death by kidney failure in a few days.

In an Aug. 25 court judgment, Justice Jennifer Roberts of the High Court of England and Wales ruled that ST lacked the capacity to instruct her lawyers and said that the Protective Court should decide on her best interests. In Roberts’ view, ST was “unable to make a decision for herself in relation to her future medical treatment, including the proposed move to palliative care, because she does not believe the information she has been given by her doctors.”

Citing the evidence presented before the court, the judge ruled it probable that ST showed a “complete inability to accept the medical reality of her position, or to contemplate the possibility that her doctors may be giving her accurate information,” due to “the result of an impairment of, or a disturbance in the functioning of, her mind and brain.”

Both ST and her family objected to the ruling and had hoped to appeal it.

There are strict rules against reporting identifiable information about ST, her family, or the hospital involved due to a court-imposed transparency order dating to March. The order came at the request of the unnamed NHS trust, the Christian Legal Centre reported.

ST’s family has said they are legally prevented from public comment and media interviews about her situation. They have not been allowed to ask for prayers or raise money to pursue extraordinary treatment, estimated to cost about $1.9 million.

The family will seek to overturn reporting restrictions so that their daughter can be identified by name in public.

“We are not out for revenge but we want justice for our daughter and for other victims of this cruel system,” the family said. “ST found herself trapped in a medical and legal system governed by a toxic paternalism which condemned her for wanting to live. She was in a race against time to escape ‘the system’ and the certain death it wished to impose on her. The system has now succeeded, but this is not the end.”

“Day after day in the intensive care ward we and ST had to exist and keep going in an environment that had given up on her right and wish to live. Death we were told was the only remedy and the only hope,” the family added. “In such an environment, it meant we were afraid to leave her bedside and were therefore forced to give up our livelihoods to the point we now do not know how we will pay for her funeral.” 

The family had no legal aid and was paying its own lawyers until the Christian Legal Centre offered pro bono help. They are still paying legal fees and now must pay off their debts and pay for ST’s funeral, the U.K. newspaper The Daily Mail reported.

Now that the woman has died, her family voiced serious concern about how the medical and legal systems acted.

“Because ST and our family refused to give up hope, doctors said that ST could not possibly have mental capacity to make decisions about her health,” the family statement said. “Despite the fact that two court-appointed expert psychiatrists and the Office of the Public Guardian all agreed that ST did have full mental capacity, the court declared her to have no capacity either to make decisions about her health or even to instruct her own lawyers. From this case we have learned that if you disagree with the NHS, you must for that reason alone be considered delusional. This has been deeply disturbing and traumatic to witness firsthand happening to someone you love.”

The family called for urgent change to the health system. They were joined by Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre.

“The case of ST is not just about justice for her and her family but ensuring that justice in such cases is done with full transparency and proper scrutiny in this nation,” Williams said in a statement. “ST was truly a courageous and beautiful soul. She died advocating for the preciousness of life and importance of justice.”

COVID on the rise again: Which states now protect churches from closure?

A Dutch church closed because of the global Coronavirus pandemic. / Credit: Jasper Suijten/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 15, 2023 / 16:40 pm (CNA).

After hitting their lowest recorded levels since the start of the pandemic in early summer, COVID-19 cases have begun to increase again, raising the specter of new mask mandates and recalling the early days of the pandemic, when fears of COVID outbreaks led much of society to shutter — including, controversially, many churches around the country.

Yet legal protections afforded to churches have evolved considerably since the start of the pandemic. Many states have passed explicit protections for houses of worship, ensuring either that they will not be forced to shutter again amid a future health emergency or that they will not be treated more harshly than other “essential services” allowed to remain open.

CNA compiled data on which states now protect houses of worship as “essential” and which do not. Peruse the map below and see where your state falls.

Every U.S. diocese curtailed the public celebration of Mass in 2020 at the outset of the pandemic, many in response to state or local laws, which varied widely in their strictness toward religious services.

Data from earlier this year show that in-person Mass attendance among Catholics has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, and only about 4 in 10 U.S. Catholics say they attend Mass in person as often as they did before the pandemic. A quarter of all Catholics say they now attend less often.

There is now legal precedent at the federal level suggesting that states may never shut down worship entirely again and can limit indoor capacity at houses of worship to, at most, 25% of normal. 

The Supreme Court ruled in late November 2020 that New York state restrictions, which included restrictions on the number of attendees at worship services, during the coronavirus pandemic constituted a violation of the First Amendment’s protection of free religious exercise.

Data from the New York Times show that daily COVID hospitalizations among those 70 and older have doubled from roughly 2,000 per day across the U.S. in July to 4,300 a day in mid-September of this year. The number of weekly deaths attributed to COVID remains at an all-time low despite a very slight uptick in recent weeks. 

The CDC issued new recommendations Sept. 12 advising everyone 6 months and older to get an updated COVID-19 vaccine to protect against “the potentially serious outcomes of COVID-19 illness this fall and winter.”

Daniel Payne contributed to this report.

Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows reminds us of the redemptive and salvific role of suffering

Our Lady of Sorrows at the Church of the Holy Cross in Salamanca. / Zarateman via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 15, 2023 / 12:21 pm (CNA).

As an increasingly secularized and materialistic society encourages people to eschew suffering, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows provides a unique opportunity to reflect on the redemptive and salvific role suffering plays in human nature. 

The feast, which is celebrated Sept. 15, encourages us to reflect on the seven sorrows of Mary, which culminated in Christ’s death on the cross. Through this reflection, Catholics remember the unique role Mary’s suffering played in redemption and are reminded to “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow [Christ],” as commanded in Matthew 16:24. 

“If [suffering is] going to happen to the Mother of God, it’s going to happen to us all,” Joshua Benson, professor of theology at The Catholic University of America, told CNA. 

The Catholic devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows is nearly 1,000 years old. It gained popularity throughout the Mediterranean in the 11th century and the Servite Order, founded in 1233, helped spread the practice. The order received permission to celebrate a votive Mass to the devotion in 1668 and Pope Innocent XII instituted a feast day for the devotion in 1692. 

Our Lady of Sorrows focuses on the seven dolors, or sorrows, of Mary. They begin with St. Simeon’s prophecy told to the Blessed Mother and culminate in the events of the passion and death of Christ.

Benson told CNA that the feast day invites us to contemplate Mary’s suffering. He noted the importance of remembering the great hope for final joy, which Mary sees in the assumption, but added: “That’s not without the cross.” 

“A major part of discipleship and communion with Christ will be how we deal with suffering and how we deal with sorrow,” Benson said. “And there will be sorrow.” 

Redemptive suffering

Although Catholics are called to focus on Mary’s suffering on this feast day, the faithful should also remember that it is not just the Blessed Mother who is called to take part in the suffering of Christ on the cross; rather, it is a calling for all of humanity. 

“We experience sorrow in our life … so finding a way to connect to the mother of God in this makes sense,” Benson told CNA. “It’s important.”

St. John Paul II wrote in Salvific Doloris that the New Covenant speaks to the greatness of the redemption, which was accomplished through the suffering of Christ. Through the cross, not only is humanity redeemed, “but also human suffering itself has been redeemed,” he said. When an individual takes up his cross and his suffering, he is “spiritually uniting himself to the cross of Christ, the salvific meaning of suffering is revealed before him.”

“The Redeemer suffered in place of man and for man,” St. John Paul II taught. “Every man has his own share in the redemption. Each one is also called to share in that suffering through which the redemption was accomplished. He is called to share in that suffering through which all human suffering has also been redeemed. In bringing about the redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.”

Benson told CNA that through suffering, man “can be connected to and imitate Christ himself,” adding that “even suffering has some sort of purpose, has some sort of meaning” and those experiences can be used to “whittle away the things in me I don’t need” and that it can being a “greater dependency on God.” 

As an example, he noted that self-imposed suffering, such as fasting, can put the teaching that “men cannot live by bread alone” into practice, and a person can “open up space within [himself] that God can fill.” 

“[An individual’s] suffering has meaning as part of that corporate whole, the mystical body,” Benson said.

St. Josemaría Escrivá, who founded Opus Dei, emphasized the importance of pain and suffering in many of his writings: “Let us bless pain. Love pain. Sanctify pain... Glorify pain!” he wrote in “The Way.” 

“I’m going to tell you which are man’s treasures on earth so you won’t slight them: hunger, thirst, heat, cold, pain, dishonor, poverty, loneliness, betrayal, slander, prison,” Escrivá also wrote in the same work. 

Father Robert Gahl, an associate professor of Church management and director of Church management programs at The Catholic University of America, told CNA that Escrivá saying “let us bless pain” is a challenging text but that he is not speaking of this to encourage “some sort of masochism,” but instead, “it really revolves around love and the freedom of love.”

“Suffering is an opportunity to give oneself up to the Beloved” by offering up that sacrifice to Christ, Gahl said. 

Gahl added that people can lift up all things by offering them through “an attitude of self-gift to the Father,” which is “a viable path for redemption.” He said that by “uniting our activity and by uniting the world to the holy Eucharist, we can unite them to the sacrifice of Calvary” and “all things can be made holy.”

Although Gahl noted that “suffering is always negative and one can’t eliminate that because it’s always the lack of some good,” it can be elevated to a good when “one turns one’s mind … toward God and toward one’s labor” and “offers this to God … for love directed for the benefit of someone else.” 

Self-imposed suffering, such as fasting, Gahl noted, is “very often an opportunity for an act of charity” because one can forgo food and offer it up to another. A person fasting can also offer up a fast to the hungry through prayer “that through the communion of saints … we can send those graces instantaneously across the world.”

The suffering of others in the world also provides people with an avenue to serve Christ. Gahl noted that suffering in others is “a call to us, an invocation so that we might reach out to them, care for them, and find Christ in them and find Christ in the suffering.”

“Suffering is a call to offer oneself as a gift for the others [and to] go beyond oneself and give oneself for others,” Gahl said.